Wednesday Wonders: How to Walk from Poetry over to Sculptures

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Last weekend, I went to Western Washington University for the first annual Poetry Camp. After the end of the sessions and right before Jack Prelutsky, the first Children’s Poet Laureate, gave his fantastic reading of ‘Rat for Lunch,’ I went for a walk around the campus where I once went to school.

I was hunting the outdoor sculpture collection. 

A few pieces stood out in my memory from the time I went there and I looked for them like old friends. Others I had forgotten but as soon as I saw them I wondered why they hadn’t stuck around in my mind.

And some were new. Many of those were installed in 1999, several years after I left Bellingham.

Seeing them all felt like another kind of poetry all together.

Here was my view of ‘For Handel’ by Mark di Suvero from the 6th floor window of Wilson Library. It is huge, orange, and unforgettable, even for me.img_8400

This is one ‘Untitled (Steam Work for Bellingham)’ by Robert Morris. The steam wasn’t running that day, but when it does, you can use your imagination to create sculptures from  what you see.

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This new one was massive and on a newer part of the campus.

‘Feats of Strength’  by Tom Otterness was my absolute favorite of the new ones and maybe even of all the sculpture collection. I loved the sense of play and the balance of those rocks.

The buildings begged to have their pictures taken, too.

And I wasn’t the only one with the idea that afternoon.

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I didn’t get to photo them all or even put everything I found here. You can check out the spectacular photo gallery online for more. Or better yet. Walk around that campus some day.

In my twenties as a new English teacher, I gave my Japanese and other international students tours of the campus. Over and over they would point to some object with no practical purpose and ask me what it was with a puzzled look.

Back then I said, “If you don’t know what it is, then it’s art.”

Thinking about it more this past weekend, I would change my tour guide statement. Now I think:

“If you don’t always know how it makes you feel but it absolutely makes you feel more than you did before, then it’s art. For sure.”

 

Which is, of course. too long. My students learning English would have looked even more puzzled. I’ll have to go back, soak up those sculptures, and come up with something better.

I hear they will have a Children’s Literature Conference in February.

May you find art and may it find you looking-

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P.S. Inside Wilson Library was also amazing! What a place for poetry to happen.

Wednesday Wonders: How to Get Yourself to Write

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How to get yourself to write in nine easy steps:

  1. Tell yourself to take the week off.
  2. Give yourself some terrible, awful, no good house chore that you think will be fun like painting your front door. (Simple laundry or bathroom cleaning chores won’t work. It must be something dreadful.)
  3. Ask at least three cranky over-worked and underpaid home improvement store workers how to paint over a (maybe) oil-based stain.
  4. Take the cranky advice and buy super toxic striper that has dire warnings on the can.
  5. Follow all the advice about cleaning and wearing chemical proof gloves. (Here you will begin to wish you were writing already. I swear. It’s like magic.)
  6. Attempt to strip the door. Despair quickly at the 2 hours it takes to remove stain from a 4 X 12 inch section.
  7. Wait two days and try not to hate yourself for the terrible, awful, no good idea to paint that raser-fracking door with the impossible lion carving, of all the ridiculous things. You know you will never get that lion striped. Never.  (Here you will sneak in some research and a coffee shop write. No joke.) 
  8. Whine to your sympathetic, wise, and not-at-all cranky mother.
  9. Take her advice and do it ANOTHER WAY. While you are sanding those snarling lions, you will mentally compose a blog post about the whole adventure and look forward fondly to the time when you will go back to teaching and writing as usual.

In all honesty, those steps are about as easy as pulling your toenails off with the screwdrivers you used to loosen the second door. But they work.

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Wednesday Wonders: The Conceit of Blue Snake Poetry

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Warning: This post has reptiles. If slithering snakes give you the heebie jeebies, you may want to skip this one. 

For my birthday this year, I went to see the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, WA. From this trip with my husband and six-year-old, I managed to squeeze a poem.

I suppose I should start by saying that poetry has been haunting me lately. It started when my friend Lorie Ann Grover posted that she’d be teaching at a poetry camp in Bellingham this October. The idea of it intrigued me and reminded me that, once upon a time, I thought poetry would be my thing. I considered signing up and then poetry was suddenly everywhere.

When I went to Seattle, I even saw it on the side of a bus demanding that I “Write a Poem” in letters so bold and big I could not ignore them. I gave in to the universe and registered to go to that camp. (Apparently, poetry on buses is a thing. It even has it’s own website.)

Then a free online class popped up in one of my newsletters. I began the course with Douglas Kearney at the California Institute of the Arts.

In the third module, I came up against the assignment to write a conceit–a metaphor that makes the reader stretch into the ridiculous. An example of this is The Flea by John Donne where the poet compares a parasite to the marriage bed. It would embarrass me to explain the connection but here is a clear explanation of what that far-from-prude Donne was going on about.

I thought of how I would write my own conceit and what sort of ridiculous connection I could make of my own and decided to tie together reptiles with poems since they seem so far apart and since I knew I would make the trek to Monroe.

I let those ideas hang loose in my mind as we made the hour and a half drive from our home through some seriously traffic infested areas of our state. I don’t remember where but somewhere along the line, I came on the idea of skin shedding and writing a poem. By the time we got to the zoo, I was set to look for more information on snakes and how I could use them in my poem.

I’ve said it before but one of the best parts of the writing life is the way it brings meaning and focus to every moment of my life even when I am not sitting at the keyboard or with a pen in my hand. 

After my field study (which my six-year-old enjoyed even more than I did), I researched snakes geeked out on how they shed their skin.

Pasted far below you can see what I came up with. It’s still a draft and it scares me to post it here. Poetry has a personal exposure for me that my prose does not. But I like those snakes and this particular exuviae enough to take the risk.

May you find your own conceits in the adventures of your day-

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In the Blue

 

Skin dull

Spectacle covered

Opaque

Blue

 

Blind with nervous behavior

Not eating

(Or eating baked Cheetos by the pound).

 

Seeking rough surfaces

Like coffee

Or long walks

Or daydreams

In the red minivan

On the way to the Reptile Zoo

 

Molting at last

The exuviae

Shed on the page

 

Poem written

Ecdysis over

 

The poet’s skin

Shines vibrant now

Larger

More colorful than before

 

And the spectacle

Is transparent once more

Wednesday Wonders: Curiosity is the Cousin of Art

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On Sunday, I drove across the Cascade Mountains to sunny Yakima for a three day teaching conference. In this city my grandparents once called home, I let the sun melt away my everyday stresses and felt my curiosity perk up.

While strolling the neighborhood, I discovered churches with large blocks of  dark stone rising above the city streets of downtown. One sits just outside my hotel window.

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Those churches make me wonder.

Where did the stone come from? Who built these churches? Many of them are up for lease so what happened to make the churches fail?

I bet there is a story or five in those answers.

And then in my session yesterday, I had the good fortune to sit next to a mathematician. (I began to suspect he knew more than the rest of us when he launched into a description of vectors and their relationship to area.)

When we started using manipulatives to demonstrate how a negative number multiplied by a negative equals a positive, he mentioned that there is a mathematical proof for that.

That intrigued me.

So I asked if he could do it. He began working on it and says he’ll bring it for me tomorrow.

I can smell a story in that answer, too.

I have no idea if I will comprehend the proof but just trying to grasp the puzzle of it brings me joy. If nothing else, the experience could lead to the story of the linguist who fell in love with numbers later in life.

Earlier that same day, a teacher who works in the prison system read a poem to us titled ‘I See Something in You.’ She tells us she reads it aloud to the inmates in her class and that these men she works with can see right through insincerity. She’s got to give them her honest self, or she will fail as only a teacher in front of a class like that could fail.

I wonder what it would be like to have her job and asked for a copy of the poem so I could adapt it for my own students. Right after that, I wondered if I would have the courage to read it to them.

Maybe I will write those stories and the poem.

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, I love the way life tingles when the stories all around me get to whispering. I feel like my black cat checking out the vacuum cleaner hose at the top of his cat post, pulling himself up to see what all the noise is about or teetering at the top of a ladder just to get a new view.

Like him, I know there is danger tucked into the moment but, also like him, I measure that danger against the intrigue and zing of a life chock full of curiosity.

I might look stupid to that mathematician, I might find stories that wound me underneath those churches, and I know, like only a classroom teacher can know, that a poem could be the start of painful humiliation in front of a class of forty students, criminals or not.

But I also know if I follow those leads to the stories and the people tucked into them, I might get the gift of an artful life. Most days the falls are more than worth the climb up that ladder.

May you see the stories of beauty and joy all around you,

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Stone Churches…

 

A quilt of the Fred Redmond Bridge crafted out of fabric and curiosity by the “Anything Goes Quilters”: Deborah Ann, Anna Assink, Sally Fitch, Barbara Green, Sue Grimshaw, Nancy Rayner, and Jeanne Strater. I love their group’s name! I think my writing group needs a name like this.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Wonders: Where to Find a Good Read

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I have two places to find books when I want to know what to read next. It was strange to me that in those two separate places I found first Moriarty and then Holmes, two books I adored.

1. My Mother’s Kindle

A while back, my six-year-old dropped my electronic book. This is what I read with most nights. I love the way I can lay in bed and flip through the books if I need to or play solitaire on occasion. The light turns off on its own when I drift off into sleep, saving me the trouble of turning one off or burning up flashlight batteries.

My generous mother gave me her old device after the dropping disaster, and now I have a library of someone else’s books at my finger tips. Some of them are odd things her book club assigned. Others are wonderful treasures I might never have found without her Kindle’s help.

Recently, I fell into a delightful story called The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (no relation to the fictional character).

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In this story, a thirty-something woman chaperones a young starlet named Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922. The chaperone has trouble with Louise but is also on a secret mission of her own to discover her past.

The book covers so much of the era in a compelling storyline that drew me in and revealed secrets I didn’t even suspect in the character’s lives. (This makes it a challenge to write about since I wouldn’t want to spoil any of those surprises for you.) Most of all I admired the way the characters stood up to the social norms of the day or found ways around them rather than conforming. Their rebellions didn’t always work out, but I sure cheered them on through all the pages and the ending came out reasonably well for them all.

2. My Booklist

Whenever someone tells me of a book they read and loved, I whip out my phone and write it into my Evernote program. Then when I am at the library, desperate for my next book to curl around, I pull up the list and request it or track it down on the shelves.

This is how I found The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or On the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King.

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If you like Sherlock Holmes, you may well love this one like I did. King took the years of Holmes’ beekeeping retirement and turned them into an apprenticeship of a the young woman protagonist who matches him in wit and intelligence. I am ready to request that next book in this series just as soon as I make it further on my booklist.

I only have one thing to change about this system of finding books: I need to write the names of those who recommend the books next to the titles so I can thank them and, of course, talk about the book.

I’ve forgotten who recommended King’s excellent work so now I can’t do that. I’ve even made the mistake of gushing at someone about my latest find when she was the one who told me about it in the first place. Sheesh!

May you find great books wherever you go-

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Wednesday Wonders: The Miracle of Wounded Art

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Over ten years ago, I took a class on adult psychology in a small classroom on Pill Hill in Seattle. The professor stood in front of us in a button up shirt with slacks that blended into the dark background of the room behind. As he described his experience of a wrenching divorce, he said he did not try to push through his feeling of pain. That did not work for him. Instead, he suggested that it worked better to fully feel emotions.

He used this story to illustrate a psychological principal that I no longer remember. I don’t even remember his name.

But I do remember seeing his pain.

We students saw his heart bleed although he said the divorce happened years before.

I don’t think he had yet found a way to heal. Even if I had been able to say something to him, he might not have received it from the ESL teacher in the back of the room.

But if could speak to him now, I would tell him to try art. 

Get out your paper and glue for a collage, crack open an old instrument case, write a poem, or take photos of falling down buildings in your neighborhood, I would say. I have no idea why it works or if science will back me up. I only know it works as well as any psychological treatment I known or tried on myself.

In a TED Talk by Angélica Dass, I listened to her tell of the searing comments and prejudices she has endured because of her skin color.

Then I watched her speak of the project she created to help herself manage this pain. Even as she described the way she photographed the people from around the world, I noticed her shoulders ease and her voice warm to the telling.

Maybe that psychology professor already knows about this trick of art and how it lets you fully feel without smashing you to bits under the weight of being human. 

Perhaps he even knows what a gift that art can become to others.

I hope so.

The beauty of Dass’s work cuts through so much of what we use to separate us. I don’t pretend to know why gifts to humanity need to spring from nearly unbearable pain like prejudice and divorce. I only know that they often do and that the art soothes the sufferer when she throws herself into the making.

I also know when someone pulls some once of goodness out of their wounds, everyone touched by the art is the better for it. 

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Did I mention baking? I made these in response to having a crown and root canal this week. They helped. Art with chocolate has to be the best of all.

Wednesday Wonders: When You Lose Your First Dream But Then Win

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The moment I waved the gate card at the unresponsive lock, I knew I should have read the email before making the hour and a half drive out to Lake Trask.

My boys and I looked up to see the sign on the gate boldly telling us to park our vehicle and check in at the office. Access to campsites would be limited.

I thought again about the email from a few days ago labeled: “Important! Please Read!”

I had tried to read it at work but couldn’t pull it up.

“I’ll check at home,” I thought. Then I promptly forgot until staring at the locked gate at the lake near Shelton where we have a camping site.

In that moment, the boys and I saw our day shift into another place.

We parked the van and walked through the fence and down the gravel road to the clubhouse. They stayed downstairs with the pool table while I climbed up the steep stairs to the office definitely built before ADA regulations.

The woman at the desk stared out at me from behind the sliding glass partition, tensing and holding the counter for extra support in case I attacked. I imagined other campers had not read their emails and taken their frustration out on her.

“Can I help you?” she asked without a smile.

Her face relaxed a bit when I confessed I should have made myself more aware of the situation at the lake before coming out. She then told me that the construction workers had torn up the roads to repair the ancient meandering plumbing system. We could only get to our site by riding in the ranger’s truck and had to stay there until escorted back out for our safety.

With a crackle of the radio, she called up the ranger.

Although it wasn’t the day we planned, we ended up having a fabulous time. The boys got to ride in the bed of the ranger’s truck and thought that might be the very best way to travel ever.

Most campers read their email and stayed home. We had the place to ourselves aside from the ranger and the lady in the upstairs office.

We ate lunch and played a wild game of chase while throwing midget pinecones — an adventure middle-aged women don’t often get to enjoy. A mouse scampered in front of us on the path, probably shocked campers dared to come.

We found no frogs but not for lack of trying.

It wasn’t the trip we planned. I couldn’t haul in my books because there wasn’t room in the ranger’s truck. We could not leave our site or hike around. We didn’t even go swimming and had to leave by 3:00 pm.

In spite of all that, our day trip may have turned out better than we imagined before the unread email slapped us at the gate.

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View looking up at the origin of pinecone grenades

It sounds like I’m making a frog leap, but I’ve noticed a similar wonderful thing happens when I lose my writing.

I have lost a lot of writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate feeling that my precious creation is gone forever, and I am always sure I’ll never ever be able to do it again. I work hard to hold on to my creations just like I worked hard to plan my trip with the boys that day.

But sometimes the computer crashes, or I don’t save well enough. Sometimes my notebook falls into the pile of the missing. Sometimes – like last time — I think it’s in a recent notebook but it’s not. I wrote a snippet long before I thought I wrote it, and the scribbled out words were tucked into a different journal from a month ago.

Here’s the thing.

When I am finally able to let go the old version and rewrite it, the new creation turns out just as okay as the first time I wrote it. 

Never the same. But just as okay. Sometimes even a smidgen better.

I know because when I do find the original writing (like I did in the month-ago journal), I can compare.

I often end up weaving Version A and B together to make a beautiful version C.

Trips to the lake. Writing stories. Having kids. Fostering cats. Living life. These things never quite go as planned, even when the gates aren’t locked and the notebook doesn’t get lost.

I still intend to have a grand time with the tiny pinecones and the Version C. It’s seems like the best option, and it sure is more fun than yelling at the lady in the office.

May you find your own rewritten path-

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From the trips before that went as planned…