Monday, August 29, 2011

Cracks in my Memory

File this under the corruption of memory. Memoir.

The whole time I was at AROHO I was trying to remember when I had visited my sister who worked at Ghost Ranch on college staff sometime in the early 1980s. I narrowed my memory down to Christmas. I know that much because we snowshoed back into Box Canyon and on Christmas Eve I hopped into the back of a pickup truck for a ride to Christ in the Desert ( I seem to remember the chapel being lit only by candles. After the service there was a reception where we ate homemade bread made by the brothers—and rang in Christmas Day as it was well after midnight when we left the monastery.

I had those memories, but had lost track of others. I also held onto a singular memory of being introduced to a nice young man newly married and his wife. My sister said he was going to be a turkey farmer. Later after returning home she wrote me to say that the young man had been killed, from a fall, during a hike on a mesa at Ghost Ranch.

Going back to Ghost Ranch I remembered all of this. So when I got a chance to talk to an old-time staffer (not an old-timer, about my age!) I asked about the young man. Ed told me his name was Dave and had grown up on the ranch as his parents had worked there. He said if I wanted to I could visit Stone Bear Memorial, a place set up to remember Dave.

I followed Ed’s map and wandered close to a mesa wall with a large debris field from where rocks had calved and fallen. I could see why they call it Stone Bear Memorial. A bear carved out of grey granite with dark swirls from an unidentified conglomerate graced the top of a rock with a plaque on it dedicated to Dave.

I didn’t really need to do this. I didn’t need closure since I’d never known the man. Yet having met him once, I’d never forgotten him. I was saddened at the awful news of his death, a life and marriage abruptly cut short; a tragedy. This memory has cast a shadow over me to where it influenced my marriage, how like a cloud sweeping over a vast landscape darkens momentarily a hillside, before a second later, returning to lightness and sunshine. I think starting out my married life knowing this might be temporary or inexplicably taken from me, I don’t know, made the marriage more precious.

Funny also how the words precious and precarious are so much alike on paper.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make with this blog was that I was shocked as I stood before the Stone Bear Memorial. This time not so much by his untimely death, but that he’d died in 1987. Somehow I thought it had been way earlier. My memory must be playing tricks on me again because I thought that December visit had been like maybe ’83 or ’84. Memory—it’s as unstable as the edge of the mesa from which Dave fell. We think we’ve got a grasp on it and then the rocks slide out from under us.

I left a stone at Stone Bear Memorial, in memory of Dave.

Friday, August 26, 2011


The women I was with at AROHO were a group of sighers. At the nightly readings at the end of a poem or prose piece there would be an audible exhale, an um hum—as if in agreement with the author.

A Room of Her Own Retreat was basically about synchroneity, similar to the other S word AROHO is famous for, serendipity.

But upon reflection, I’ve come to think of this external noise as an acknowledgment of beauty, a way of saying you touched me, for one small moment we connected—before the little bell rang to alert the reader that they’d gone overtime. Time for the next woman, sigh, to stand up, and evoke an “oh.”

Please consider applying to AROHO for their 2013 conference or atleast following AROHO online. They have several contests including the Orlando Prize as well as the Gift of Freedom Award

Into the Eye of the Hurricane

Accordng to Tom Skilling, WGN's TOP meterologist:
Here's Irene--645 mi south of Cape Hatteras with 115 mph sustained winds churning north/northwest at 13 mph. It's at lat 25.9N long 76.8W and has a central pressure of 951 mb (28.08"). It is generating 12 ft or greater ocean swells out 345 mi from its center and its tropical storm force (39+ mph) winds reach up to 290 mi from its center and hurricane force winds (74+ mph) extend out to 70 mi from the eye. Hurricane watches have been posted from Surf City NC to the NC/VA border & tropical storm watches are out for Edisto Beach SC north to Surf City NC.
 We just said goodbye to Grace who is heading into the eye of the hurricane. Not only do I have to worry about sending my only child off to college, to live in NYC, where she doesn't yet have an apartment and school starts in 3 days--that is if school starts on Monday, but now on top of all this I have Hurricane Irene to worry about.
 Good luck New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, etc!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Come back, you belong here, this is your real home

"Every mesa was duplicated by a cloud mesa, like a reflection, which lay motionless above it or moved slowly up from behind it. Those cloud formations seemed to be always there, however hot and blue the sky. sometimes they were flat terraces, ledges of vapour. . . .The great tables of granite set down in an empty plain were inconceivable without attendant clouds, which were part of them, as the smoke is part of the censer, or the foam of the wave.
--Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

The above is a quote from one of my favorite books--ever. I probably reread it every year and for someone as busy reading new books such as myself, you have a sense of how important this book is to me. It is considered a novel, but is based on a real person, Father Jean Lamy who, after New Mexico was annexed to the United States, became the first archbishop of the territory. I'm sure he had his faults, history never serves its heroes very well. Fiction on the otherhand truly elevates Father Lamy's story. Death Comes for the Archbishop in my opinion is more about friendship, friendship in a magical landscape. And that landscape was the exact place I was last week.

Victor Higgins, Taos Valley, 1932 - 35

You see I forgot my camera, so until AROHO sistas can send me some pics. I'll just use paintings to give you an idea of the terrain.

Barbara Zaring, Red Rock/Blue Sky, 1990

"I felt reluctant to leave those brutal and rugged mountains, the dry, scorching plains, to abandon for good that long dim trail that lay over the sandy desert like some big lazy snake asleep in the sun. . . . The life is wonderful, strange--the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen animal--it seems to whisper, 'Come back, you belong here, this is your real home.' "
--N.C. Wyeth, 1904

Blue River (Chama River) by Georgia O'Keefe

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Loneliness at AROHO

My goal before leaving for AROHO was to make connections, forge relationships. AROHO is big on Serendipity, which I interpreted as I am going to make such good friends.

So of course the first three days of the conference I was disappointed. I wasn’t meeting anybody. I kept seeing women sitting around lunch tables laughing and having such animated talks. At dinner more of the same, though they lingered longer. I imagined they were working out the mysteries of life—or if not that then unraveling the secrets of the universe.

I’ve always had the misfortune of entering dining halls and becoming paralyzed. I never know where to set my tray—thus I find either an empty table or the seat furthest away, perhaps sending the signal that I want to be left alone—or, hell, I’m not sure people even think about signals. More likely they just want to eat.

So with this dining hall affliction, the problem of over-thinking where to sit mixed with fears of rejection and knowing I am utterly ruining the AROHO magic by trying to plan serendipity, I missed out the first three days.

Thus, I spent time alone, where I was forced to see this stupid facet of myself and question my reason for existing. Extreme, I know, but I tend to mentally walk off cliffs.

Then by Saturday, the last day I started to think about the idea that it’s okay to choose the furthest seat or even to be alone. That in sitting and contemplating the Pedernal (Georgia’s mountain,, I’ve been given a great gift. Maybe in fact others are sitting at their tables wishing like me, wishing they had more serendipity.

So in this way we have been in synch. I love this thought—and the potential for community.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Burros Bite! at AROHO

At AROHO I met so so many cool women who were at all different points in their careers. One of the participating writers was Sandra Jean Ceas ( The whole point of her art work is not to make any money; she builds her installations only to dismantle them. Her intention is not to create archival work, but to create community. Her goal is to involve others, bring them together. That’s her art.

One day as I was walking to the dining hall at Ghost Ranch where the AROHO retreat was held, walking past the prayer labyrinth and a barbed-wire enclosure warning Burros Bite!, I paused for a second to dwell on Sandra Jean. For many of my readers you’ve noticed that at times I grumble about being poor, about free content, about publishing being a bit of a joke. No one is making money. Okay, maybe the celebrity authors. The world of publishing is becoming anachronistic. Someday a child will ask, Mommy what’s a book? Just like kids these days are confused by old technology—You mean you used to have to cart all these CDs around with you? The extent of video games was Mario and PacMan!? You mean you don’t have a chip embedded in your brain?

It gets scary, the pace of change.

So back to Burros Bite! I stood there under the New Mexico sun, humbled by the expansive blue sky above me and Sandra Jean. Truthfully what she does could be called pure. I asked myself how often do I write without a long view of publication. Never. As soon as a piece has landed on paper, I immediately think about where it might fit.

Even as I stood by the labyrinth, I knew I wanted to blog about Sandra Jean and the audacity of making art that just is.

my new best friend, really they're ALL my favorites

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Only 3 More Days!

"Solitude, competitiveness and grief are the unavoidable lot of a writer only when there is no organization or network to which she can turn."—Toni Morrison

What We Know:
Powerful things happen when creative, dynamic AROHO women meet.
The high desert of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch is a place of unique inspiration and energy.
Taking time apart for oneself and one’s work fosters unique artistic transformation, fresh work, and startling insight.
Sometimes writers get stuck. Sometimes we need a shake, a shove, a push. Sometimes just an encouraging word.

What We Propose: Shake it up, together!
Consider joining an honest discussion among craftmasters in a thriving literary community of eighty women. Everyone speaks. Everyone listens. The AROHO Retreat is designed not around the needs of students, but from the passions of peers. AROHO women are building this retreat with their enthusiasm and concerns, and you could be part of it all.
At the 2011 AROHO Retreat we will: Gather. Engage. Write. Transform. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Wow! What a day!

I've lived four--maybe 5 lifetimes today. I get up QUITE early to cook breakfast for the community--about 350 people. And on Wednesdays I have to transition quickly, get on my bike, and make it to the Green City Market where I sell Flamin' Fury Peaches. I got done at 1 pm and hopped on my bike and decided to REAL QUICK visit a friend. Well, with these people nothing is quick. I got invited upstairs to a luncheon--yes, it was nice--wonderful after-lunch espresso, good conversation. I love this kind of spontaneity. Then in the middle of that I remembered my dentist appt. Yes! I was going back to the Art of Modern Dentistry--hoping for a teeth cleaning. I got there with five minutes to spare on my bike. I got the DEEP CLEANING--and boy does my mouth and teeth feel GREAT. I will add that they were very kind and gentle and did a thorough and excellent job. I plan to amend my blog from a few days ago--update it, I guess.

Then I got home just in time to turn around and grab the camera for this:
That's President Obama!!! He's at the Aragon Ballroom for his 50th Birthday party/fund raiser.

I wonder what other great things are in store for me tonight.

All this on top of hearing Paul McCartney at Wrigley. Of course, we didn't have tickets. We had poor man seats outside the stadium where we could hear EVERYTHING.

I LOVE this town.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Wilder Life

The Wilder Life is a new non-fiction book just published by Wendy McClure

Wendy is a Chicagoan and a fellow blogger and SCBWI member. This book is her memoir about Laura Ingalls Wilder's fictionalized memoir. Basically the Little House books are a house of mirrors. I'll let you read Wendy's book for the REAL STORY.

Truthfully, Wendy's reflections are not all that unique--and that's the genius of it. WE CAN ALL RELATE. I, too, had the dream of being BEST FRIENDS with Laura. I also had a plan where I would travel to all the Little House sights and document them. I was also aware that there were some inconsistencies shall we say with the story.
snip from book

You mean Laura Ingalls Wilder was bullshitting?

Another snip

"I guess Laura never figured that there'd be people sitting around and able to look up every little detail of her life . . . "

The books have stood the test of time--just not of veracity. Of course for Laura, (she published the series as fiction) it was much easier to compress, conflate, or simply make stuff up than to try to stick to an exact timeline. And as readers, do we care? Isn't it the descriptions, the adventures that put us there, that drew us back again and again to the books. I WAS Laura.

My friend Mary Jo who just returned from a revision retreat put on by the Highlights people, see Founder's Workshops
where she met a mother and daughter team of writers--does this sound familiar? Laura and Rose--who were trying to write a memoir, but were having trouble deciding how much of it was true. Finally they decided to write it as a book for children. This approach, they decided, would free them, not limit them like memoir would. I'd hate to think of me and my mother writing a memoir--it would probably end in murder.

Anyway, tomorrow of the day after I plan to blog on my preparations for AROHO.

I'll be gone from August 8th - August 17th. A combination of planes, trains, automobiles, etc--not exactly covered wagons like Laura, but I'm sure I'll have some adventures.