Thursday, March 24, 2011

Also This


I've been away from my desk lately, helping out a friend who is running 8 ultramarathons 8 days in a row to benefit a homeless shelter in Chicago, Cornerstone Community Outreach, where I volunteer to facilitate a creative writing group.

If interested in Paddy's run click here.

There's also a video the team has worked up.

The point of Strive4More is to create awareness for the issue of homelessness in America and specifically in Chicago where CCO welcomes and shelters the homeless in addition to offering basic services to meet their needs. We are one of the few shelters in the city to take in WHOLE families without splitting them up. We took in a family who had an autistic child, that child needed his dog, the dog got to stay too. We take in families with teenage boys, always a liability in a city riddled with gang violence. The children can live with their parents and continue to go to school.

Strive4More asks the question: When is enough enough?

If this guy can push himself to run not just a marathon, but AN ULTRAMARATHON and not just for one day, but for 8, then what can I do?

Most of us can't answer that question because we haven't seen the limits of our strength or challenged ourselves to that point. The cool thing is that there is a group of soldiers in Iraq that are planning a 100K-relay to benefit the shelter and a school group is planning an accumulated run of 30 miles (what Paddy plans to run for those 8 days straight). Anyway, ask yourself--can you go the distance? And maybe help out CCO.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dark Soul of the Night*

*from wikipedia
Dark night of the soul is a metaphor used to describe a phase in a person's spiritual life, marked by a sense of loneliness and desolation

I was there this winter, actually early winter. In November I was feeling the loom of doom. My "career" was going nowhere. Writing was stupid. Why in the world had I wasted so much time? My life!

You can see the thread of despair here. It's probably the same argument most people involved in the arts has at one point or the other. Art at times can be invisible--like air. You work all day on something still unpresentable, left unfinished. And, sometimes, never done. It's a lot like explaining feelings. Harder yet when no one "gets" those feelings.

That's why it is so important to have a support network. For me that translated into starting a critique group. I know it doesn't sound like rocket science, but it is trickier than one thinks. For years I investigated the world of critique groups. At one point I looked into graduate school, getting an MFA at either Northwestern or Roosevelt, Columbia College offers an MFA in Creative Writing, but is very specific. I actually got accepted into a program--only to learn I'd have to ransom my only child to afford the tuition. I was under some kind of illusion that I could get a TA or a scholarship. Nope no funds available. It was then I asked myself, Is $30,000 a year worth it for a critique group? (I know, the programs are MORE than this, but in essence I was looking for a really smart critique group.)

That's when I decided to start my own. I also liked the idea of control. I'd attended a couple groups where attendance was opt in/opt out and they met like 2 times a year. It was ridiculous. I wanted a program where I wrote, vetted a piece, revised, and then submitted. Or else revised some more. I'm a focused writer and individual and I was at the time focused on making writing more than a hobby. I wanted to be a writer.

My group was terrific. I call it the Prairie School of Writing, a nod to F.L. Wright and his style of incorporating nature into design, using one's environment to inform the craft.

We have flucuated between 3 to five of us and give lots of attention to the work when we meet. But more than Marla helping to organize Freeze Dance or Mary Jo saying this needs more work or it's READY, I've come to appreciate the group for their emotional support. In November when I was experiencing my dark night of the soul they were there for me. Claudia, herself a published author with awards and a fledgling second novel ms, told me to apply for grants I listened, and when Mary Jo told me to start a blog, I dutifully acquiesced, though I didn't think the world needed one more blog.

Well all this advise is now paying off. I love my blog. I'm getting visits, and more importantly it is something to put down in my grant applications, which I followed up on and just this week: I got an individual artist grant from the Illinois Arts Council.

I'm grateful for the council's recognition of my work--though the state is broke and I might have to wait for the $$.

So it looks like winter is turning to spring. There have been some rejections--an application to the After School Matters program--and some cool things, like going to New Mexico for the Starry Night Retreat. And now--who knows? I'm vanquishing my dark night of the soul.

Friday, March 18, 2011

.00001 Longer

I just heard on NPR that last week's earthquake affected the earth's rotation and that our day is now A LITTLE longer.
My question is this: How come I still have a hard time getting everything I want to do to fit into one day?

It should be getting easier.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Time is Now

I write this after losing an hour of sleep because of Daylight Savings Time.

Some people might be wondering: what does a person get out of a residency/artist retreat? Or what could I accomplish by having a chunk of time to devote to my art?

Here is my response:
23,000 words to finish a first-draft ms
66,000 go over a ms and revise, using specifics given by my agent
300 words, a new piece inspired while here at Starry Night (really prose poetry)
5,000 words revising a short story that is sure to raise canckles (is that a word?)
2,500 word story revision, that I'm hoping to sell or include in an anthology

what is that? about 110,000 words for 14 days, 2 spent in travel, not bad
but if you don't want to go strictly by the numbers
then this:

Last night was the grand opening of Estrella Gallery, Monika Proffitt's baby. She had her art and art light installations lining the walls. We probably had over 100 people drop by and I sold all together about 8 books.

We stayed until 9 pm talking with people in the gallery. I did on-going informal readings that people really appreciated.

That, my friend, made me feel like a real writer.

Tomorrow I leave T or C, but I'll be back. This place is magic.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why Take a Retreat or Artist Residency

There are probably technical definitions that explain the difference between the two, but for this blog I'll treat them as the same thing.

Retreat/Residency both mess with our routine. I work on my writing whether I'm at home or away. What makes this so different is something I can't get at home and that is NEW. We need NEW to inject vitality and hope into our art.

The day here is 24 hours just like it is in Chicago. But a new environment and new people are stirring my creative juices.

Also  solitude--it creeps in as well as NEW thoughts. Just like new tastes in our mouth. We discover a new dish or restaurant and it is suddenly life-changing.

There is a downside to NEW I feel compelled to mention. Fear, unknowing, the idea of surprise. Many people avoid risk because of this very thing."Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can only be explored by those willing to take risks." 20th c artist, Mark Rothko--though in full disclosure, he did commit suicide. Again the downside.

So within your artist residency find a balance. Maybe call it FUN FEAR. That is using fear as motivation, fuel for the creative fires, and at the same time, using fear as a guage to know when to stop.

Stay open and know yourself.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

So Deer to my Heart

*the title of this piece is taken from a really syrupy Disney film--about as far from this post as you can get

So yesterday as I was trying to recover from my arduous day of hiking and biking during a windstorm, I was telling Monica and Edna the workers here at Starry Night all about it. When I got to the part about the dead deer they were like oh my gosh. I've never seen women jump so fast. Within minutes we'd all changed out of pajamas and Edna had grabbed work gloves and a hand saw (?) and we were out the door to go back for the parts.

I directed them down the dirt road that borders the Rio Grande. As soon as we got back to the sandy washout where we picked up the dead deer trail Edna had her gloves on. She picked up a leg and gave it a quick twist to disconnect the sinews holding it to the hip bone. When the girls saw the skull they were like down in it taking pictures with their cell phones.

Where am I? I was starting to wonder. Who are these people?

Look at them teeth, Edna said and Monica replied in a purr--so white!

Come to find out that they consider the deer remains as art. Hart Art, I just made that part up. Anyway, they were so stoked that they collected 3 legs, the skull, and I'm not sure what else. We left the hide if any of y'all are interested in that, you can go back for it yourself, cause I'm all done.

Today is Ash Wednesday. I'm planning on going back to the Methodist church I attended on Sunday where one of the parishoiners gave me a crocheted cross for a book mark. I so love these people in T or C for all their layers and complexities.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

T or C, the Windy City

This is an unforgiving land.

Yesterday I got up early, before sunrise, to pack and get to a trailhead to start my hike.
First mistake: I went by myself.
I had to ride a ricekty old bike with only 3 gears six miles and half of that was on dirt road, following the oral instructions of the girl who works at the hot springs spa. I found the parking lot she told me about, really just leveled off dirt and saw I had to go through a barbed wire fence, this type of fencing is everywhere out here. So still nothing new. I thought about using a stick to separate the wires and reached down for what I thought was a stick.
It was a deer leg, perfectly intact, hoof and all. I screamed and backed over the deer head. Once on the other side of the fence I began seeing more and more macabre deer parts. Possibly torn apart by a predator or a serial killer.
I was told by spa lady to go up an arroyo, a wash out that when during dry season become a path. I hiked that--there are ways to get lost and I did lose the path for a while--up to what looked like a road. I kept wondering why spa lady didn't tell me to just walk up the road. I took the road that appeared to be a 4-wheeler thing, lots of erosion etc, there were lots of loops and turn offs and choices.
I finally decided to turn down to go to the mt getting closer, but still in the distance.
I saw that the trail was going to wind my up the southern flank. Cool, the trail kept getting tinier and tinier and harder to follow. No big deal. I just climbed over the boulders and tried to avoid the cactus. I couldn't put my hands down ever for balance while climbing because of all the cacti and spines, etc. At a certain pt as I got closer to some cliffs I knew I'd have to use my hands. They got all chalky white with speckles--a result of all the quarts and crysal in the rocks.
So here I am, up high with the birds, a terrific view of the Rio Grande valley, the wind making a hollow sound off the sides of the mt and I thought ---- this isn't a trail! I'm like free-climbing something I'll have to come back down.
So I stopped and had a tea from my thermos and a piece of chocolate and tried to make my way back down. My pants are full of so many cacti spines, I've decided to retire them.
Anyway, nothing is ever as straight forward in this unforgiving landscape. Once I get to level ground, the road, the wind picks up. It's like blowing me over. I have to hang on (to what?) so that I'm not blown over into a ravine. (Later I find out it's a wind storm with continual wind blowing at 40 mph).

So I turn off the road for the arroyo and start going down. Remember on the way up I sort of got lost. Well I'm on it now and then I realize I'm ascending into a canyon where there are steep drop offs. I don't remember this going up. Now I'm stuck and have to just keep going. I somehow scramble down.

I make it back to my bike and the dismembered deer. But now I have to ride 6 miles INTO a windstorm.

Let me tell you, the first thing I did when I got back--which took me twice as long as getting there--was brush my teeth. I still have grit coming out of my eyes and ears. At one point the wind was so strong a giant tumble weed the size of a man started coming at me. I had to swerve to miss it. The gusts literally blew me into traffic. Thankfully not too much. Still I was freaked out and shakey from exertion by the time I made it back

Taking it easy today. Oh and by the way, finished my bigger project and now on to smaller stuff like a revision of Masterpiece for my agent. Should be a piece of cake next to that hike yesterday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Big Butte Burger

Saturday I got a treat. James Durham, a local T or C author came and picked me up and rode me around the area. We went up to the Elephant Butte resevoir and saw the dam and the lake. Later he took me to the Ivory Tusk for a burger. James ordered the Big Butte burger and I got the Good Dam Burger.

T or C is filled with artists and I got to meet a few of them the other night at the reception. At the end of this week, there is an art hop in town where I will give a reading.

On the work front: I finished the longer project I brought with me. Whew!
But, no worries, have a novel revision I need to finish up for my agent as well as some shorter pieces to write and work on. I even submitted last night to some journals. And guess what! The rejections are already piling in--faster than the pony express.

Okay, gotta go. I" going to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to go climb Turtleback Mt. described as a strenuous hike. I wonder if there is a dead zone like there is on Everest.
also described as a 4-hr round trip hike, so I doubt it.

Blog on that later.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I've Had Enough

Yesterday the wind picked up. It came sweeping down from the mountains and howling over the plains of the Rio Grande. I needed a human voice. When my daughter called we talked for awhile, but after I hung up I felt even worse. I think they call this condition cabin fever.

It fits. I'm in a cabin. An old CCC living barracks. After the crews were done constructing the Elephant Butte resevoir the whole building was floated down the river. Monika purchased the 4-unit building for Starry Night Retreat and is slowly rehabbing the units. So think hunter's cabin or garden hut and that's about the size. Very reasonable for a writer who only needs a place to lay her head--and INTERNET.

When I got here for some reason I couldn't get the Internet. Monika offers it with the residency and gave me all the passcodes, etc; it was just me. Well, flusd with excitement, I said, no problem. I don't need it. If I do I'll go up to the library. It will be an excuse to get out. So everyday I cycled up a HILL to the library or else the computer lab at the senior center right next door.

Except it would be closed for the weekend. So Friday night I was feeling very edgy.

On top of everything else I needed some tunes. I'd brought my Ipod, but hate those little ear buds; can't use them continually without feeling like I'm stretching my ear canals. The little radio I bought for $3 only got three stations. I discovered another on the AM dial. It is local. So local it reads the school lunch menus as if it were news. Also the obits and crime sheets. It made me feel more claustrophobic than ever.

So last night I broke down and called home on my track phone that I'd been saving for emergencies and got the proper codes to set the laptop I'd borrowed. Oh my gosh. What a differnce.

I think I'm going to make it. Got my hot tea, some of my music, and I'm HOOKED UP.

I'll still get out often--maybe to hike and not just to the library!

this not Starry Night but to give you an idea of what the building is like.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Literary Description of T or C, not literal

I think barren is not too strong a word to describe the landscape. There's not a lot of green and the flowering cactus have died off--this would have been the season for that.

You see right when Chicago was having its blizzard, this part of the southwest experienced historic record-breaking low temperatures. For 4 days the thermometer stayed BELOW ZERO. Bobbie told me last night that the century cactus growing in her yard succombed. The century plant flowers every ten years (I know it sounds crazy) and it was just about to blossom. Then came the cold. All the pipes burst and the ice cactus, yet another variety, ironically froze. Now they look like a nest of yellow worms full of puss. It will take months for the pipes all to be repaired and years for the cactuses to come back. How long for the century plant--I'm not sure.

All this to say that today the expected high is supposed to be 70 and tonights low 39. Lots and lots of sunshine.

If you don't like my Truth then take the Consequences

Many of you have already Googled or looked up the name provenance for the town, but here are some things I just found out.

Last night I had a couple over for dinner that I had met my second night in town at a reception held in my honor at a gallery on Main St.

I invited Bobbie and Andy over because they are neighbors and because I am so daggone desperate for company. I'm getting 4,000 words in a day with little else except the characters' voices inside my head. Stir crazy, but literarily functioning.

At dinner our conversation turned to the town. Of course I am curious about the people here and what goes on. Bobbie said that within the past 2 years there's been something like 15 murders*--not including that serial killer back in '85. Then she proceeded to list off the murders and the grisly details. Did I mention that we were by this time sitting around a camp fire. Edna and Blake, more about them later, had started one in the court yard. So we were sitting around the fire and listening to Bobbie recount the T or C murders and just about every last one of them dealt with someone seeking justice or revenge. They were committed by people who knew each other.

*correction more like 1 murder fifteen years ago; I do not want to leave my readers with the wrong impression
Somehow this didn't help me to feel any better.

So this morning when I woke up early and decided to go for a sunrise run my mind wandered back to the evening before. I was running on a dusty dirt road down by the Rio Grande River. If I screamed no one would hear me except the blue heron that thunderously takes off from the banks whenever I get near. Just as the sun was cresting the ridge of Turtleback Mt. I thought to myself, I've got to get back before the serial killers wake up.

So the truth about Truth or Consequences is: try not to make anyone mad. Here is a pic of Turtleback Mountain.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Went for a Soak

Truth or Consequences or T or C as the locals call it is famous for it's hot springs. The town is situated right along the Rio Grande before it winds its way down to the border. The aquifer which sits underneath the town is hot and full of minerals. At the Starry Night website there is a list of the what's in the water.Starry Night

So last night I rode my bike up to La Paloma the cutest little motel around. The bathhouses sit right over the springs so when you go in it's like entering a cave. Right away the heat hits you. I immediately wanted to strip down to a bathing suit. But that's not necessary. The rooms are private.

There are all sorts of amenities--candles, atmospheric music, and for some reason a rope. Danielle who showed me--ahem the ropes--said it was so that in the middle of your medicinal soak you could reach up and stretch. And you know what! It worked! She also showed me some crystals that were supposed to have powers, but to my eye just looked awesome in the low light.

As I mentioned earlier in my posts, T or C is a place where people can come to do their own thing. The shops are very ecletic, selling everythinhg from southwestern sweaters to witches spells. And, for those who know me, some second-hand thrift stores. But back to the soak.

They rate the pools according to temperature. Danielle apologized that the hottest was only 107 degrees. No problem! I paid $4 for a half hour soak. There is a punch pass 6 soaks for $20, but I wanted to get one soak under my belt first before I signed on to that. Let's just say after 15 minutes I was dizzy. I knew it was working, but it's a little bit like faith--you can't SEE anything. The water is clear; you can see the smooth pebbles at the bottom, but it has some powerful magic. After a half hour I thought I was going to pass out.

Danielle asked me if it was good and I smiled numbly and told her yes. I rode home in the DARK. Did I mention that T or C is in the middle of nowhere. It isn't called Starry Night Retreat for nothing. The stars guided me back to my hut where I collapsed into bed.

BUT I awoke this morning without an ache or owie feet which has been a complaint of mine as of late. I went for a 4 mile run just as the morning light was breaking over Turtleback Mt. I'm telling this place is GREAT!

Oh and I laid down 4,000 words yesterday, not great words and I took back half of them this morning, but progress is being made.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Starry Night Retreat

I've decided to blog my artist residency while here in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

A couple things straight off. I'm probably going to run out of toilet paper and the little radio I bought at the T or C thrift store only gets 2 radio stations, a mexican one and a christian one. I think this sort of sums up my experience so far.

About the toilet paper. This a.m. I woke up early, like 6 a.m. to write. It's the desert and cold in the morning. During the night the intense heat of the day radiates out into the huge sky and temps drop to around 30 degrees. Thus, the desert gets cold at night. Many of the houses around here are not set up for cold temps. The doors and windows let in plenty of sunshine, but aren't a tight fit. So my little writing cabin--about the size of a gardening hut, gets pretty cold. So in the a.m. I wake up and make hot tea and sit and write.

Yesterday I put in 2,500 words. I drink tea, tap at my keyboard, and pee. An endless cycle. So I hopped on the bike provided for me here and rode around town looking for a grocery. Found it. It's called Bullocks, an unfortunate name, and bought lettuce and TP.

Then I rode to the library to use the internet. This really is a small town. Two streets run one-way thru it. At the edge is the new Wal-mart where some of the newer homes are going up. It's a sleepy town. Many people come here to retire because of the sun and hot springs for which the town is famous for. More about that later.

The truth about Truth or Consequences is that people do their own thing here. They come here to live free or die (I know that is the state motto for some other state.)--New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment.

So please keep checking in. I wondered when I was accepted into the residency why there wasn't more about it on the internet--well the reason is it's just the first year for the program, and I'm only one of three artists who have so far come for the program. These blogs might encourage others to apply.

Listen WHO wouldn't want to come to New Mexico in the middle of a Chicago winter. Today's high: 70 degrees.

see Starry Night Retreat for more details