The Fox at Dawn


Dusk and Dawn 10.9.21

Men and their leaf blowers have no love for the unwinding of the day as the sun slips down between late afternoon and evening. I shake my fists at them and walk by with my middle fingers in my ears. I know I am invisible to them, all they can see is their task. My neighbors in the big white farmhouse have set up a long, long table in the middle of their yard with white linen and enormous candelabras. I expect the Mad Hatter and the March Hare will arrive soon followed by a sleepy Dormouse and then a befuddled Alice.  It is a delightful sight. It’s a Friday night and once again I am home alone, breathing a sigh of relief. My week is always so very full, so many students, colleagues, all in motion, a buzzing hive of exploration and things that must be done.

Home again from school and from retrieving my dear old cat Piper Rose from the vet I set some things right in the house and step out again with my binoculars and field bag holding my eyeglasses and journal, intending to find magic, intending to take my time walking and looking at the world as if it were new. Remembering the owl’s song this morning, calling from the languishing black cherry in the back of my yard, I do not go far. I can hear the cars rushing along Brownsboro Road, folks hurrying home to their weekend, blind to everything thing else- I don’t wish to be swept into their current. I walk slowly around the little wood behind my garage, then slowly around the block, letting the tiresome leaf blowers complete their tasks. I sneak up the wooded lot next to the new neighbor who has never actually moved in, though she bought the house back in May. I stop every few steps to look, to see, to take a breath. A pair of young squirrels run off a tree in a game of chase, one of them nearly runs up my legs as if I were another tree but swerves at the last moment, unconcerned that I am human. It makes me smile, I feel honored. Now, here I am at the picnic table in the little wood where no one ever sits except me, once in a blue moon. 

The trees are so patient. I sit and wait with them. Still holding their summer leaves for a little while longer, except for the tall black cherries who are starting to let those tired old things go. The green is giving way to gold and yellow, other colors creeping in. The sun is setting soon. I look for the owl and hope to hear its call before I head into the house. I wait, the trees wait, the traffic roars in the distance, the crickets sing, the breeze disappears, voices from Alice’s party grow merrier and louder as the guests arrive. Owls do not care for parties. There’ll be no calls this evening, but I’ll be back before dawn. 

Saturday morning, I am here and so is the owl. Alice’s party has been long dispersed, the tea has grown cold. I woke at six, fed the clamoring cats, put on clothes to protect me from tick and chigger and mosquito, picked up my binoculars, journal and a little lantern and stepped quietly out the art room door to the call of the owl, sitting high in the black cherry, my old friend Orion shining in the sky behind it. Good morning, my blessing.

            I’m at the table writing by the light of the lantern, the night insects sing. The owl moved from the cherry into a tree here in the little wood where it sang a while longer and then grew silent. Perhaps it has moved on. Perhaps it will come back. I hear the distant hum and thrum of the roads, even early on this weekend morning people have places to be that aren’t where they are. I dream of living where I cannot hear them, cannot hear their busyness. I dream of living where the song of God quiets the noise in my head.

            I do love it though, my house on the hillside, my willful yard, this hidden little wood and lane behind it, right in the heart of Crescent Hill. I love that owls live here, that foxes and deer have made their way here from time to time. Raccoons, possums and rabbit are longtime residents. I love that I can walk to the library, bookstore and bakery, to Oscar’s hardware and Tammy’s consignment shop. I can stand in the road and talk with my neighbors, be part of block parties and celebrations. It is good, so good. The stars peek through the trees, the sun won’t be up for another forty-five minutes or so, the night sings on.

I’ve been reading The Tapestry Room, the book I am writing, here by the lantern light. Little insects make their way across the page, I note their progress. I look up to see the morning light creeping in. Suddenly a bird sings, she has seen the dawn too. More birds are joining in. I can see the ground more clearly, can hear the traffic grow louder, more insistent on its importance. The stars have disappeared. Night’s song is over- not quite, not quite- the owl is back, calling ‘who cooks for you? who cooks for you?’ I do, my friend, I do. I turn back to my reading, live inside the world that is as real to me as any. Each time I look up from it, the outside world has changed. Color is creeping into it as the earth turns toward the sun. 

(Drawn with plants from the neighborhood.)

My neighbor Bob just walked past on the little lane, off for his morning walk and coffee. I don’t think he even saw me sitting here. I turn off the lantern, useless now, and go into the house.



Hindman/Home

“You gotta make the work sacred,

because it happens to be sacred.”

-Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani was the keynote speaker for the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop at Hindman Settlement School this year. On Zoom she was powerful, intimate, dynamic, funny, full of respect and truth. I’d want her in my corner when I’m on the ropes. She’d find a way to get me up and fighting again.

            Here’s the struggle- for one almost whole week I had the great gift of being at the writer’s workshop there at Hindman where all my needs were met- really delicious food (dessert with every meal!), a lovely room, inspiring and generous teachers, trails to explore, quiet places to sit and think, a beautiful campus rich with history, and a community of old and new friends all working to shine some light in this world. All week we were surrounded by beauty and art and heritage. We were in a place that has a long history of lifting people up. It is sacred ground, truly. And now I’m home.

The foot bridge over Troublesome Creek at Hindman Settlement School in Knott County Kentucky. That’s Uncle Sol’s cabin in the distance. It was his desire to educate his children that was the catalyst for the school.

            Last year I attended the workshop online along with everyone else. Hindman did a great job with it, but we all felt the loss. At home, I tried hard to make the time sacred and for moments I could fool myself that I was there, lose myself in the readings, the discussions, the sharing. Just hearing everyone’s voice was enough to keep me afloat. But there was always the moment of hollowness when the Zoom screen disappeared and there I was sitting alone at home about 30 seconds away from having to take care of something or someone. I remember sitting there feeling like all the water just drained out of the tub. It was heavy work hauling myself out and putting myself into motion again. I do not think I was alone in feeling this. I know I wasn’t. And I know that those who attended online again this year felt it again, even more so. It just hurts.

Former Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon, a most remarkable writer and teacher. She looks kind of mean in this photo but it simply isn’t so. This is what the set-up looked like from our classroom on campus this year.

            Lucky, so lucky to be there this year. It was an oasis I badly needed, an oasis I hated to leave. The degree to which I am mourning it shocks me- do I really dislike my life so much? The one I made all by myself over all these years? Of course not. But there are so many things I dread and even despise about what everyone agrees is the necessary business of life. Not so long ago I wrote in my journal that as I lay dying (someday far far from now) that I will toss bouquets to heaven, rejoicing that I will no longer have to fill out financial aid forms, file taxes, pay bills, navigate mortgage refinancing, fight property valuation increases, rob Peter to pay Paul. ‘Hallelujah!’ I will shout- or gasp, or whisper or maybe just think- ‘I can just be me again!’

I always see turtles when I hike up on the trail behind the school. They always tell me the same thing: You already have everything you need.

            That’s what it felt like this last week. I was just me. Not responsible for anyone else. I am amazed at how little I thought of my family, those I’ve lost, even my daughter who is everything to me.  I forgot all week that I was a mother, a daughter, a teacher, an employee, a homeowner, all of it. I allowed myself to simply be. I didn’t have to justify the time I spent reading, writing, listening, making art, exploring or simply looking out into the distance for long periods of time. I mean justify it to myself because it’s mostly me looking over my own shoulder saying ‘don’t forget you have to… remember to… it’s been a long time since you… you really ought to- clean, cook, shop, weed whack, visit, call, pay, plan, work your two jobs since that is what pays you.’

Circle time with new and old friends in the evenings was a great joy after the last 18 months.

            I am not alone or unique. It is what many experienced at the workshop. This glorious week and then we go home floating high with what we have learned, experienced, created. And there are our lives waiting for us to pick up the reins again. How do artists, writers, dreamers keep it all going? Those dear mothers of small children have an especially hard time because finding time to write feels like stealing time from your babies. Say what you want, that’s what it feels like and how can anything beautiful come from what is stolen? I remember well that precious, tender, terrible time.  We talked about this in our last class with the remarkable George Ella Lyon who is a wonder and a gift. She walks us through our own mansions with an enormous keyring at her waist unlocking door after door for us, saying ‘here, did you know you have this room in your house? Now you can come in anytime.’ But on our last day, many of us were despondent- how on earth can I even find that room again once I get home?

Every morning, spiders webs magically appear on the bridge over Troublesome.

            I have some thoughts on thresholds and doors you can close. When everything shut down in March 2020, we all went home. It was exciting at first, an adventure, something new. I require solitude, crave quiet. The busy-ness of traveling here and there, being split between my two jobs can be very wearing, so being at home really appealed to me. In some ways life was more peaceful, in other ways it was maddeningly loud inside my head. Suddenly there were no boundaries between work and home, between my two jobs, between my family and my writing life. No thresholds to cross, no journeys to help reset and refocus for the next task at hand. There were no doors to close to keep the outside from coming in and I felt I had to be reachable at all times. Tethered to the computer screen, I worked to figure out how to teach theater online, how to have Sunday school, how to keep children from feeling the way I did- unconnected, unreal, unimportant. Truly maddening. 

Statue of boys sledding high on the hill in front of Preece House.

            My office at home isn’t a room exactly, more like an odd-shaped hall at the top of the stairs leading to other rooms, a feng shui nightmare as energy hemorrhages from that space. It’s okay for business type stuff but not for the deep dive needed for writing. I fiddled with spaces all last year- found the best settings for my various zoom classes, rearranged furniture, created a writing space in my bedroom where I actually have a door to close. I designated different desks in the house for different endeavors. I have a ridiculous number of desks, perfect for someone who habitually takes on too much. 

So here’s the current line-up: 

The Business Desk: At the top of the stairs. It is an office type desk with filing cabinets that I bought at Big Lots ten years ago. It’s for businessy type things, including my work for school or the church. 

The Letter Desk: Not six feet away is my childhood dresser desk, a Victorian affair with drawers and a desktop you lower to reveal cubbyholes. For letter writing and my international postcard obsession, for correspondence of any kind that involves paper and pen and the stamps that I love so much.

The Poetry Desk:  A small cherry school type desk with a sloped top that I got in a neighborhood second-hand shop. It sits in a window dormer to the right of the Business Desk. It has been largely ignored these last couple of years but it is reasserting its importance.

Lap Desks: I have these two very old pressed cardboard lap desks that I got when I helped my cousin clean out an old relative’s house decades ago now. They have held up remarkably well. They travel out on the patio if it’s nice or beside the fireplace if it’s cold or in the armchair upstairs that looks out into the yard if I want to keep an eye out for the birds and the postman. This is where I do most of my journal and blog writing and my reading.

The Magic Desk: In my bedroom/meditation room with a door I can close, a gift from a family friend long ago. It’s an antique secretary desk with a drop front and cubbyholes, like the letter desk. This is where I work on The Tapestry Room, a historical fantasy novel for young readers. It’s a solid push week or two away from completion. Here is the one place in the house I can close the door. If I mindfully cross the threshold into this room, say ‘I am a writer entering a sacred space’, the chatter in my head quiets down. I close the door, take the three steps down in to the room, play the music that is my touchstone and almost immediately the peacocks swish their tails and I can enter the world of the book. 

The Magic Desk

By moving from desk to desk, I can change gears and officially set aside the thoughts that do not belong to that desk. It’s how I trick myself into focusing and mostly it works, helps keep my work separate and clear. It helps to make a little room for the private work of my soul. I write, not because I especially like writing, but because I love having written. It’s a lightening of the heart, the spirit, a secret bright joy. But then that feeling wears off and you have to write again. Patsy Kinser, one of the remarkable poets in my class, said that writing is her exhalation. She breathes in life, loss, love and exhales poetry. I love this. Inspiration, exhalation. Yes.

The Chapel up the hill by the burial places of writer James Still and teacher Elizabeth Watts.

In her keynote, Adriani (I feel we are on a first name basis now) told us to set our alarms two hours earlier to write, fresh from sleep, before the world starts making demands. She said to create a sacred space for writing, even if it’s just a corner of the kitchen table. A woman after my own heart, she advocates getting dedicated notebooks for projects- no writing the grocery list or the household chore to-do list in the novel notebook. She said ‘Love everybody, take care of everybody, but put yourself on that list too’. Over and over her message was: Don’t waste time, don’t kick that can down the road, you’re feeling pretty good right now- get it down. Don’t. Waste. Time.

On the last night, it’s a longtime tradition to read The Brier Sermon by Jim Wayne Miller, one of the founders of the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop. It’s about being born again to the birthright of Appalachian heritage. Everyone in the circle reads a part of it and joins in on the refrain “You Must be Born Again”. We ended this year by singing Will the Circle Be Unbroken, hoping that next year everyone will be together on campus.

            Making time to write is very difficult, then actually writing is harder still. The world leans in hard telling us that what’s in our hearts and heads can wait, isn’t important, will never lead anywhere. That’s the voice of Death. It will come soon enough, no need to listen to it right now. Write. Glory.



2.16.21 Mr. Darcy is Gone
February 16, 2021, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,
With his friend Dill earlier this month.

Mr. Darcy, a great friend to everyone, is gone. He died at home, where he always longed to be, after a sudden and catastrophic decline. He did not suffer long and that is a great comfort. He was the sweetest and the most loyal lieutenant, a good boy to the end. He was an exquisite artist in his younger days, pure poetry in motion as he played frisbee. He could spot a rabbit in the dark at 50 yards, alert us quickly to anything unusual happening without making too big a fuss, and was a patient mother to a number of kittens over the years.  A friend to all cats, mail carriers, neighbors, visitors, small fluffy dogs and his best pal Johnny, Didi will be sorely missed. He loved his family most of all, and never left my side, even if I wanted him to. Separation was his greatest trial. It is a blessing that his passing took place at home, in my room, where he has slept for the last ten years. May his great spirit be Home at last.

I wrote the following poem yesterday as part of a class on epistolary poetry I am taking. It helped, a little.

Dear Cindy, 

friend poet,

.

You write of the peace 

of butterflies

And for a moment 

I am filled with breath

Like the opening of soft wings

And it is a balm.

.

I never knew

How soon the tongue blackens,

How quickly the limbs stiffen,

When life has left.

I never knew,

As my body knows now,

What it means to move

dead weight.

.

Our sweetest boy, 

Died in the night

By the foot of the bed

At his post to the end.

.

Frozen rain hits the window,

The hearth fire crackles,

All I see is where he ought to be but isn’t.

.

You write of wild horses 

And warm empty beaches,

Of bioluminescence and butterflies,

.

I take a breath,

Feel the soft wings flutter.



2.11.21 Good morning poet friend
February 11, 2021, 12:58 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Writing | Tags: , ,

Were the world arranged solely for my pleasure

most winter mornings would begin like this one

with a slow dawn on a fine snow blanket

covering the ice that fell

all night long

leaving the roads

blessedly empty of their daily business

because the stakes are just too high.

.

I am thankful for the quiet

for the gathering of cardinals

so grand against the winter white

for the way I must plan each step outside

turning the morning walk with dogs

into a small pilgrimage

as the mind is bent on exactly now-

snow crunch silhouette of trees

twinkling ice made prisms of the dawn.

.

I am thankful that I can lay a silver branch before you

from the land where all night long

twelve princesses danced through their shoes.

.

Good morning my poet friend.



1.30.21 The First Bloom

I have loved Cave Hill Cemetery all my life. I grew up a few blocks away and have been exploring it now for decades. It’s close to downtown Louisville, but is hundreds of acres over rolling hills, sinkholes, an extensive cave system, a rock quarry and a few lakes fed by springs. It is an arboretum along with being an historic cemetery and the final resting place of over a hundred thousand souls. Some are known names like Muhammad Ali, George Rogers Clark, Colonel Sanders, while others are names long forgotten like hundreds of women and children cast away by society, and thousands of men thrown into the teeth of the Civil War. There are endless stories at Cave Hill. A few days ago I took a long ramble there, thinking my thoughts and feeling the presence of a friend long gone.  I  chanced upon a tree by the lake that was actually blooming- so early! So unexpected!

That evening I took part in a workshop on Zoom called “Writing with Scissors” facilitated by the delightful writer Dianne Aprile. In it we explored a few forms in which we could combine collage with writing. Creating collages is deeply comforting, something about the action of cutting and pasting is healing. Unexpected relationships emerge, the sum always greater than the parts. I wrote a Haiku about the morning’s walk at Cave Hill and created a small collage triptych in the form of a little book.

This is the front:

It opens to this:

Then fully opens to this:

The back of the above page looks like this:

The day was a balm. It’s been a year of walls closing in, anything that opens them up is a great blessing.

The quarry at Cave Hill Cemetery.



9.26.20 A New Pen
September 26, 2020, 1:52 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Writing | Tags: , , , ,

 

Notes from my journal

A new journal, a new journal cover, and a new pen. Or at least a different pen. I am at a sudden loss. I feel unmoored and adrift. My beloved Waterman fountain pen is no more, after decades of service. It was not in great shape. The cap was cracked, held together with super glue. The clip on it had been bent and was loosening. A while back, Waterman, in Paris, offered to fix the cap for me if I could find the original receipt or certificate, but I could not find it. And I could not stand the idea of shipping it off and being without it for so long. So I kept it. It was not in great shape, I admit it. Still, I thought I would be writing with it the rest of my life. Then a new journal was delivered and I went upstairs to gather my pen, the journal I was just finishing and my glasses (I retrace my steps, replay this moment over and over in my mind). Coming down the steps, my pen flew out of the temporary case it was in for safety (my black leather pen holder has disappeared somewhere in the house in the last month and I cannot, cannot find it- was this a sign, a portent I should have seen coming?) The pen flew out of that velveteen pouch, hit a step that knocked the cap clean off, then went into a perfect swan dive onto the tile of the kitchen floor below bending that gorgeous 14k gold nib back like eyelashes. It was a trajectory that would be impossible to recreate. Honestly, it felt like the hand of God smote that pen out of my hands.

My heart stumbled when I saw what had happened to the nib. I did try to bend it back but it was clearly never going to write again. There’s no going back, only going forward. But it hurts. That pen has been my constant companion since 1998. It‘s been everywhere with me, all around the United States, to Canada, Europe, Asia, Central America and South America. It’s helped me navigate both joy and grief. It’s what I write with. Plays, poems, journals, papers, essays, notes, letters, lesson plans, stories. My Waterman fountain pen with the gold nib. It was a tremendous expense when I bought it for myself at the start of my life as a solitary, after my divorce from Patrick.  I knew I was embarking on an independent life, a new journey, though I didn’t know at the time that it would, in fact, be a solitary one. The pen was a gift to myself, one I saved for, bought from an ancient pen store on Jewelers Row in Chicago. I do not believe it is still in business.

The death of this pen seems to be a portent, all of a piece with these tumultuous times. Nothing is the same for any of us this year, either personally or nationally. The old ways of doing things have been completely disrupted. I am making the choice not to mourn its loss- the pen, the old way of living and working, the old way of seeing the world. It is a new beginning for me. I think. While I am as solitary as ever, I am more connected in friendship with others than I have been in years. I seem to be extending myself to others in ways I haven’t had the energy for in a long time. I feel a generosity of spirit in myself that I have long missed. I am learning to value and respect myself, even to love my Self in ways I don’t think I ever have before. Belief in my work is growing, as a teacher, as a writer, as an artist. Perhaps it’s only right that I lay my dear workhorse friend to rest and take up a new pen with which to explore the gifts of these troubled times.

Right now I am writing with a pen I bought at the Crescent Hill Fourth of July fair a couple of years ago. It’s a fountain pen made by a local craftsman. It’s heavier than my Waterman, though the weight is not unpleasant. The nib is finer, and though gold in color, is not gold in fact. It’s marked “iridium German nib” but a little research reveals that to be a false claim too, like the gold color. It’s a steel nib, made in Asia, and it scrapes on the surface of the paper, not like the smooth effortless flow of the Waterman. But it will do for a while. A great deal has been lost these last four years, and this current year is one for the history books. My heart, like so many hearts, has been heavy, yet somehow I feel lighter tonight. My beloved pen is gone but I can feel there is a gift barreling down on me and I will accept it with joy when it comes. The right pen will come to me and I will feel that I am meant to have it. What’s more, it will be a gift of love.



9.22.20 The Day Dawns
End of Summer 1

Monday evening, September 21st 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died a few days ago and like so many, I’ve been battling the waves of darkness that threaten to pull me under. It’s a truly awful time. I am not alone in feeling that our democracy is in real peril. I have taken it for granted all my life. I believed our system of checks and balances so carefully constructed and time tested that it could withstand anything, anyone. But I am wrong. The constellation of evil, the triumvirate of greed, bigotry and ignorance that is holding sway in positions of power, is sweeping all balance away. Every day we grow sicker, angrier, more divided as a nation.

I cannot write of it anymore this evening. I remind myself to breathe. I make myself look around, see where I am, see the goodness that is all around me. It’s grown dark. I sat outside in the dying light drawing until I couldn’t see my marks anymore. A clear cool night, the insects sing and bats take to the sky. The hummingbirds have not all left yet, but soon. Inside now, I sit in my dad’s leather armchair, the one he bought when we lived in the grand old house on Cherokee Parkway. I remember it was a big purchase, a long considered one because of the expense. It has a matching leather ottoman too. He bought it for the library where he could sit and read his papers, his endless line of Civil War books, Lonesome Dove. He was an infamously slow reader but a steady one. Dedicated. He always said that his reading was ruined when he took Evelyn Wood’s speed reading course in college. It took him two years to finish Lonesome Dove, but he kept at it. It makes me happy sitting in his chair, the worse for wear, the better for memories.

The Palette

Drawing brings comfort, especially the land drawings. It was my friend Reba Rye who first showed me it was possible to gather up things around you with which to draw. You needn’t be dependent on what you can buy in a store. Such a simple idea and yet it was a revelation to me. You can take leaves and petals, press and pull them across the paper. Charcoal from fires, red dirt, certain rocks are good too. Lately I’ve been gathering plants on my evening walks- flowers that grow in the alleys, leaves along the railroad tracks. Sometimes I surreptitiously pull off the heads of flowers that grow on the edges of my neighbors’ yards and slide them into my pockets. I only take them if they won’t be missed, if they are drooping and ready to fall, part of a profusion of cosmos, sunflower or crepe myrtle. I’ve some to know which flowers and leaves make the best color, (weeds are the most generous green). Rose of Sharon and day lilies are too watery , they ruin the paper. Zinnias are too dry. You can only make marks with your thumbnail scraping an imprinted line. Roses are wonderful, and cosmos and sunflowers. Black eyed susans are terrific because you can draw with the hard brown head of the flower as well as the yellow petals. Poke weed berries are amazing- such a dark purple stain. You have to be careful or it will take over the page. I love the leaves of the hearty begonia because one side is green while the underside is red and you can do a beautiful blend with it.

 When I get home from gathering, I lay my palette on a table. It’s hard to put into words why it is so satisfying to draw with this gathered beauty, to see their color transferred from petal to page. I draw imagined landscapes with the landscape itself and I am completely absorbed by it. It is a deep meditation that allows me to rest. I take my ink pens to define the shapes, add shading perhaps, shapes of its own. I don’t think, I let the color lead the pens. It’s another layer to the meditation, another part of the labyrinth. I may leave the drawing for days before coming back to it with the pens or to add more color. It feels effortless. It’s a conversation I’m having with myself, with the land, with being, simply being. There is no argument.

It is fully night and I need to turn my thoughts to bed, the book I am reading before sleep, the rest, the dreams that will come whether I want them to or not. The school where I teach is gearing up to have students back in the building for the first time in over six months, in a wildly different school day as we try to keep everyone safely distanced. There is much craziness to navigate involving the simultaneous teaching of students in the room, on video to different pods of the same grade level and students opting to stay at home on Zoom. I cannot begin to describe it all tonight. If I try, I’ll never fall asleep. If I check the news on Twitter, I’ll never fall asleep either. Better to move the pen across the page. Better to finish the landscape drawing. Better to read the words of a generous soul written long long ago. I am simply being tonight. Tonight I will not argument with myself.

            This is the solace I have been seeking as of late. 

Tuesday September 22nd. Walking the dogs before dawn, I see my old friend Orion in the sky and I know that the season is turning. It’s the turning I hold in my mind as I drive my daughter to her job at sunrise. My city is about to explode. Today is the day that Kentucky’s Attorney General announces whether or not there will be charges filed against the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. The downtown has been boarded up again, troops have been called in to surround federal buildings. Businesses have announced they are closed today. The courthouse is closed today. Everyone expects that it will be announced that there are no charges being filed. Everyone expects there to be a violent collective protest in response. The city holds its breath this morning. So much pain, anger, anxiety, fear everywhere we turn. On the drive with my daughter we are quiet for different reasons. She is still half asleep, facing her long day only a moment at a time. I am thinking about the sky, the changing light, what I wrote last night, what we are facing today. I know now what I am seeking when I put petal to paper, I know what it is that I love. It’s being part of the great circle for a moment, where creator and creation are one.  The energy of the sun brought the flowers and trees into being. The art I make from them becomes part of the circle, my impulse to create makes me part of the circle too. The earth spins on its axis as it circles the sun in a solar system that travels as one of millions or more in a galaxy that circles with numberless others within the ever expanding mind of God. The act of drawing (drawing out what? Beauty? The essence of a moment?) helps me step out of human time, that loud clockwork affair, and into God’s time. That which remains when all the clocks are broken, when there are no verdicts to return. I am not powerless there. There, I am home.

The End of Summer 2



Sunday Morning & the West Coast Burns 9.13.20
September 13, 2020, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,

Sunday Morning September 13th 2020

I sit at the glass top table on the patio, a cup of coffee sweetened with honey and a tiny apple pie are my breakfast, one that was leftover from the batch I baked special for my daughter and her friends. The late summer insects sing with the birds, the air is full of petrichor from the night’s rain. It is greener than most Septembers that I have known. I listen to a radio interview with a woman who has been keeping an audio diary about helping her three children with their online schooling during the pandemic for NPR’s education segments, only this morning her family has had to evacuate from the fires raging near her small town in Oregon. They are all in a hotel with their two dogs outside of Redmond, Washington. Even there, you can see smoke in the air. The woman’s voice is calm and clear, all her strengths mustering in this moment to hold her family together. To keep them safe. To keep fear from knocking them flat. They will do their best to keep up with school online, she said. Her son was doing his online English assignment as they were packing the car to flee. She apologizes for not giving very specific answers to the questions about education, she laughs a little and says ‘it’s maybe not the first thing on my mind.’ I listen to her voice and understand that she is speaking from inside the hotel bathroom or the closet, while her family is in the room, perhaps sleeping, perhaps watching the news, texting their friends. What have you seen? How is our house? Is it close now? I look down at my little breakfast. The little pie I made with love sits before me. How can I allow myself its sweetness?



L’Heure Bleue

On Monday night, close to midnight, I began a new book- The Blue Hour, a biography of Jane Rhys who wrote The Wide Sargasso Sea, a stunning and disturbing book that has haunted me since I first read it last month. In the preface, Lilian Pizzichini describes L’Heure Bleue, a perfume by Guerlain that figures in Rhys’ first novel Quartet and that was her favorite fragrance. “The scent itself is dusky, as though bought from an old-world apothecary on a forgotten street in Paris. Its hints of pastry and almonds make L’Heure Bleue a melancholic fragrance, as though in mourning for a time passed by. The curves of the Art Nouveau bottle, the stopper in the form of a hollowed out heart, allude to the romance of the years leading to the First World War.”

            I put the book down and picked up my tiny research assistant- L’Heure Bleue was created in 1912 (my year!) by master perfumer Jacques Guerlain as a way to capture that magic blue hour in Paris before the sky finds its first star. That’s what I found out. And that you can still buy it. And suddenly I wanted that scent more than anything. I, who never wears perfume, was suddenly certain that this was my fragrance and that it would be mine the rest of my days. I ordered a bottle of eau de parfum from my bed before turning out my light to sleep.

            In the days while I waited for it, I watched a video of someone reviewing the perfume. Nine minutes of a beautiful French man talking about what this perfume means to him, how it smells and how he wears it whether it’s for a man or not. I read up on Guerlain and the inspiration for the perfume. I thought about how much my relationship to my body has changed. How for decades now I have abused it, ignored it, hid it, and felt ashamed of it and how it looked. How with no one to love it, it has gone unloved and uncelebrated. I’ve taken so little care with my appearance- how I dress, what I do with my hair. I’ve stopped wearing jewelry and make up. I slumpf around in overalls, an old farmer. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror and don’t even care.  Sweet, hardworking, talented, strong, resilient old body. I will do better. This perfume I’ve ordered feels like a secret I can keep with myself. I may look like a farmer but if I ever let you come very close, you’ll be reeling with the discovery of the secret garden that is in me.

            Yesterday it came. I took the package along with my library copy of The Blue Hour out to the porch. I took some photos of the two together, the bottle still wrapped in its box. I took my time removing the plastic- when would I be able to smell it? Would it come through the box once the plastic was gone? A little, a very little hint. I opened the box and pulled that beautiful bottle out. Could I smell it now? A little more. I took more photos, delaying the moment I would finally know if I made a mistake or not. Then I did it, I pulled the stopper and breathed it in. Heaven. All I had hoped for. I sprayed my wrists, misted my neck. Oh my. I love the liveliness as it first makes itself known. But then it settles on you, settles in you. Becomes something else. Throughout the day I am called to tenderly smell my own wrists- ah, then the sigh of release. I did not expect to find the smell so comforting. It is achingly lovely, yes melancholic, the vanity table of a long ago lady, evening falling, the tinkling of crystal prisms hanging from my grandmother’s lamp. 

I have been wearing it two days now and no one in my small family has noticed or at least remarked upon it, so that is reassuring. It is not obnoxious. It is my own secret with myself after all. I have fallen for this scent and its remembrance of loving and being loved. It fills my heart with longing and somehow answers that longing too. It tells me my own story of a lifetime of love. It is a reminder to love myself, to cherish this sweet old body, honor its journey and delight in its present. I was right to order this perfume at midnight, I’ll be wearing it the rest of my days.



Troublesome: Hindman 2020
August 8, 2020, 2:47 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,
With the Land:5 drawn with leaves & flowers from the yard, and ink.

We have all of us felt it, all of us lucky ones.

We have felt that thing that happens when you cross over the little bridge spanning the creek. The creek. Troublesome Creek.

It’s a homecoming.

Interruptions INTERruptions IntERRUPTIONS

As soon as I almost (almost) get the thoughts into the corral, I’m texted by my daughter who needs me to come downstairs immediately to zoom in with the therapist who is helping her to dig herself up and out of the eating disorder vortex that has sucked her in during the pandemic lockdown. And so I go and just like that my thoughts, feelings and words gallop off in three different directions.

When you cross Troublesome, those interruptions stay home. They have to go to great lengths to track you down.

 

With the Land: 1. Flowers, leaves, pencil, ink.

Troublesome Creek runs through Hindman, the seat of Knott County in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. It is the home of the Hindman Settlement School, founded in 1902 by May Stone and Katherine Pettit. It was the first rural settlement school in the United states and is one of the few remaining. Its programs have changed over the years, but its mission has not: Honor the past, improve the present, and plan for the future of Central Appalachia. They have dyslexia programs for children, parents and educators, a burgeoning foodways program that is revitalizing agriculture in Appalachia and many cultural heritage programs, one of which is the Appalachian Writers Workshop. For 45 years it has been both incubator and life raft for writers with ties to Appalachia.

The last week in July, we lucky ones get to cross the bridge and spend a week in this place that has been held sacred for generations. Every year I reflect on what it is that transforms a place into sacred ground. It is a collective project undertaken by all who come. Everyone who crosses that bridge is there to teach or learn or to somehow support the work that is being done there. Minds and hearts are bent on exploring, discovering, sharing, expressing, supporting, celebrating. There is tremendous joy in such company. This joy creates a light that shines in the day to reveal hidden paths and glows through the night to heal the soul. It sounds hyperbolic written here, but anyone who has been will tell you that this is so. The busy-ness of our everyday life cannot reach us for a blessed while. Us! What happiness to be an us, to be a we not a me. In this company we do not need to explain or defend ourselves. We do not need to hide.  

With the Land:2. Flowers, leaves, pencil, ink.

This Year of the Plagues or Year of the Great Reckoning, Hindman was online. 

Enormous collective sigh. 

Collective mourning, too, of all that we would lose:

-The rituals of arriving, claiming your bunk, finding your roommates.

-The Welcome lecture that never fails to mention snakes.

-Hugging old friends, catching up in a heartbeat.

-Three delicious meals a day magically appearing just when you need them, eaten in lively togetherness. (Never underestimate how far this goes in setting the muse free)

-Dishwashing duty with old friends and new friends and literary heroes.

-The sparkle of dew on the morning spider webs spanning the footbridge to class.

-Staying up late talking in groups, talking in pairs, singing in circles, at the Gathering Place, on porches, up in the open air chapel on the hillside by the graves of James Still and Elizabeth Watts, passing moonshine in jars until far too late.  

-Negotiating sleep in the bunkbeds, being reminded of what it is to snore.

-The revelation of the participants readings, hearing a poem by your new dishwashing friend that makes you gasp, then cry, then laugh again, leaving you full of wonder.

-Laughing at Robert Gipe’s masterful introductions in the evening readings, performance events unto themselves. 

-More revelations as the instructors read their work. Damn, they can write, words so evocative and well-aimed that they can split a tree in two. 

-Feeling that time has stopped as you sit in your workshop class, finding facets in your own work you didn’t know were there, like that reoccurring dream you have of finding new skylit rooms in your house.

-Hiking the loop up behind the highest cabin, looking for the box turtles that always tell you the same thing: you already have everything you need. Just write.

-Listening to the keynote speaker after an unforgettable Appalachian feast. Such as Nikki Giovanni beginning her talk with “The penis is in trouble y’all”. And the glory of Dorothy Allison’s thunder and lightning, her gentle rain and the sun coming out, her benediction shooting us from the cannon: ‘Now get the fuck out of here and write!’

-Partaking of holy communion in the ritual reading of Jim Wayne Miller’s “The Brier Sermon”, a poem that exhorts us: ‘You must be born again`.

And we are, every year. 

We wondered, I wondered, each of us wondered- would any of this survive the 2020 Pandemic edition?

I had my doubts. For one thing, there would be no journey. There wouldn’t be planning, packing, securing the household for my absence, loading up the car and pulling away. There wouldn’t be the long drive from the flatlands, to rolling farms, to foothills and off the highway into the mountains. I wouldn’t see my cell service come and go, pass the signs for Frozen, Typo, Flat, Mary, Dice, Pigeonroost, Rowdy and Dwarf. I wouldn’t rejoice when I finally get WMMT on the dial, wouldn’t feel my heart quicken when I got to Hazard, frown and shake my head as I passed the Lost Mountain, smile the rest of the way up the Daniel Boone Parkway, still refusing to call it Hal Rogers, positively sing as I take that turn past Yoder’s, down the big hill into Hindman, turning left onto the James Still Highway at the Midee Mart and right again over the bridge spanning Troublesome. And there I am, looking for a parking space and scanning the porch at May Stone- who is already sitting there rocking away, waving as the cars pull in?

Clicking on a Zoom link is a poor substitute.

With the Land:3. Flowers, leaves, pencil, ink.

And yet- it was there after all. The Hindman Heart. I felt it pounding as I clicked on the links. My friends and teachers were there and new folks too.  Their talent and courage and generosity touched me even as I sat curled up in the armchair by the writing window with my cat Dr. Wilson. We had our classes, the daily participants readings, the evening readings. We had nightly Zoom hangouts with conversation and music, the evening beverage of your choice. My young friend Clayton started a Zoom breakfast club that quite frankly was the highlight of the week for me, coming closest to the pleasure of sitting down and sharing a meal together. I hadn’t realized how much I needed company. We even had suggested attire for each day- formal wear one day, western wear the next and so on until we had a bona fide spirit week. Again, I hadn’t realized how much I needed play.

For the first time this year, Zoom felt homey to me, a comfort. This is miraculous, because after teaching online all spring and having my second job online as well, I have come close to flinging my small screen overseer into the fish pond on many occasions. Sure there are ways that the virtual workshop might be improved if, god forbid, it has to be online again next year, but the school did an amazing thing in building a platform that could support the spirit of the workshop in this grand online experiment.  We even managed a reading of The Brier Sermon.

“They say people can go blind gradually.
They say people can go deaf gradually.
Lose the sense of taste little by little.
They forget the shapes of leaves on trees,
forget the sound of the creek running,
the world just blurs, grows silent.
They forget the taste of coffee and all their food.
Now what would it be like if that sight were given back?
If they heard the creek running again, or a crow call?
If suddenly they could taste their food again?
Something is restored to them, a richness.
They’ve found something they didn’t even know they’d lost.
They’re born again to sights and sounds and tastes.

Oh, you must be born again.”

With the Land: 4. Flowers, leaves, ink.

Were we born again? Here I leave the we and go back to just me.

Rebirth? No. But I have been given enough gas to get to the nearest service station. And I am learning how to create the space my own work requires so that I don’t  lose my mind once and for all. Some folks were able to go off and get a hotel room or arrange things so that they had utter privacy as they engaged in the virtual workshop, others continued to work and fulfill family obligations while attending, most tried some sort of compromise between the two. When the children hollered ‘Mom! The dogs got into the garbage and it’s all over the house and they’re throwing up everywhere’, they hollered back down the stairs ‘I’m not here, I’m at Hindman!’  Those people are my heroes. But damn it’s hard to set those boundaries. For me there is tremendous mental resistance and guilt. I’m up against my own fundamental belief that my work is not nearly so important as working the jobs that pay the bills and tending to those I love.

If I don’t fight for the time, I won’t get it. No one else is going to hold that sacred space for me the way Hindman does one week out of the year. I have to hold it sacred myself.

At the beginning of the summer all sorts of little IED’s exploded in my road. Exhausted and depressed from the online school semester, there was the discovery that my daughter had successfully hidden the resurgence of her eating disorder, the failure of a class at college and the subsequent loss of financial aid for the coming year. She was in big trouble, all hands on deck. Weeks were spent wrangling her back into an Intensive Outpatient Program, having to play the villain to get her to eat again, and appealing the financial aid decision based on her learning differences, the pandemic and her mental health. Then there was the pain I felt in not being able to help my mother and her own pandemic isolation because I was spending so much time putting out the fires at my house. I watched my plans for writing retreat further and further down the calendar.

One night in mid-June, I felt particularly low. To distract and amuse myself, I pulled up the Randonautica app,  an oracle adventure designed by quantum physicists. Set an intention, (you don’t enter it, you just think it), keep this in mind as you click on the app requesting a destination that is generated through random quantum calculations that I cannot even begin to understand. I have had remarkable experiences doing this, the interconnectedness of thought and manifestation on full display. My intention: Giving myself permission to write. I got a location that took me to this newish house on Rudy Lane, not far from my mother where I had spent the evening. It was a large house that appeared to be empty. I pulled into the circular drive but felt like I was trespassing, so I pulled out again, drove a little ways off and stopped the car to write my report in the app as being not meaningful. You win some, you lose some. I wrote ‘Just an empty house, maybe I’m missing something’. I decided to ask for a second location, I used my same intention with a great deal more mental intensity “to give myself permission to write, to make the space for it without guilt”. It seemed to take longer than usual to get a destination point. Then there it was- the exact same location I was given before. This had never happened before. I was stunned. Clearly I had missed something.

I did a quick search to confirm that the house was indeed empty- it had been sold only three days before. I went back, parked the car and went to the back of the house where the destination beacon blinked. There was a creek running right behind the house with steep banks shored up in places by caged rock to fight the erosion. The creek was nearly dry, (leap minnow, leap), but evidence was everywhere that it could be wild. It could be, well, troublesome. Of course. That’s where I give myself permission to write. That’s where I give myself permission to think only of myself. It was very green behind that house, thickly shaded by trees on the banks, the light beautiful as it faded. I quite forgot that I was in the middle of Louisville. There was a soggy deck off the back of the house that looked right over the creek. I walked up on it and then saw that there was a wooden footbridge across the creek, where the property expanded into an open field. I crossed the bridge. Permission to write. I need to cross Troublesome Creek here at home.

And that is what I am learning to do. It’s a struggle to override decades of programming. The virtual week at Hindman has given me the fuel to power on. I must cross Troublesome Creek for a time every day, speaking firmly into my own ear- You have nothing to feel guilty about, nothing to fear. Waste and lose no more time, poet. You must be born again.

The palette.