Monthly Archives: July 2011

summer writing retreat

I cried as I drove out of Alpine, Texas, nestled in the high desert of the Glass and Davis Mountains. I knew I would. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I die before I wake, feed Jake…he’s a good old dog played on the radio as vast vistas, burned by wildfires, spread out on either side of me. I was driving back to real life….what’s happening with my book, will the rosebush live, what are they doing about the debt crisis….

I came into Alpine on my broom…..part Nanny Mcphee, part tattered good fairy whose tutu is too tight, part secret wild-eyed, owl-faced shaman woman with sharp talons. There were 17 small eggs in the nest that was my class this time. All had cracked open their shells. A few nestlings were out, peeping, ready for food, ready to fly. But as always, too many had crawled back in their broken shells in discouragement, and some were already trying to peck themselves to death. I say, in the come-on of the class, that it’s about novel basics, some craft and technique you need to know. But I throw in one line, about wounded or stalled writers…that it will good for them, too. I know about being a wounded and stalled writer and am on a rescue mission.

My real work is to make them feel safe. My real work is to get them to spread their wings. My real work is to get them to believe in themselves again. I start by sitting on the nest and just warming things up. They break into small groups and start to know one another in an easy way that grows really large as they share, only with each other, the fast bits of writing they’re doing. I assign the writing in fast bits because they don’t have time to argue themselves out of it, and they’re always too polite to refuse to write at all. I eye-dropper facts and technique into their mouths just so they won’t leave and the really tough ones will shut up for awhile.

By midweek, some are flying around the room. I send them on a walkabout, out of class, to stretch and dream and play with creativity and writing. They’re beginning to share with the whole class. There is a lot of laughter. There is awed respect. There is no denying their gifts. They are hearing them. By Thursday, some of them are willing to read at the student open mic. Those who aren’t reading are there to cheer classmates on. Pin feathers are on all of them. Some of them are chirping, preening, clearly too confined by the classroom. They’re ready to be out soaring wind currents in their own skies.

Friday, it’s over. I stand before them, tugging my tutu, some of my owl feathers molting, and we do our last bit of business, which is to say goodbye to one another and to be reminded that we are writers whether we get published or not and to honor that need to write in each of us. One by one, I watch them fly away. My heart always hurts. While they’ve been doing character sketches from all that is around them, I’ve been doing character sketches on them, and I love them, each and every one of them, their protests and fussiness and impertinent questions….but mostly their trust. I love what they created during the week.

So I pack away my broom and medicine balls and moth-eaten tutu to drive home, listening to laying me down to sleep and feeding Jake. They must remember to feed themselves, I think.  But they’ve learned that. Time to move on. I’ve got a rosebush to water.

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bubbles

There’s a beveled glass window set high in the wall of the master bathroom. In the afternoons, the sun shines through it to make prisms of light on the tile floor. When my first grandson was very small, he saw them one day and exclaimed, “Rainbows!”  His seeing them, his excitement, touched me. And then he became older, as did I, and we forgot about them.

Now my second grandson, not 2 yet, has seen them. “Bubbles,” he cried yesterday in a voice of wonder. He walked among them, putting his feet in each and every one, looking at me and smiling. I see them every day and never think to exclaim at their beauty. I don’t notice them. I don’t put my feet in them in delight–which is the wonderful thing about being around young children: their wonder at the world. It reminds me of the mantra I want to age by: make me sweet again, fragrant and fresh and wild and grateful for any small event……like my youngest grandson….

Another note: Headed west today to teach a writing class in Alpine, Texas . Passed through a lot of big country, little civilization, country that reminds you you are not the center of the universe, that you’d better work with the universe to survive. Neil Young sang as I drove….This old guitar is only mine for awhile…..

redo

Sometimes I leaf through my journal looking for the little chunks of observation that reside there. This happened when I was working at the University of Houston. I was walking across the street to my car when a woman sitting with her child at the bus stop caught my eye……..it’s been on the blog before, at its beginning, but it’s worth repeating…..I keep redoing the ending attempting to convey how much this impacted me.

 

that woman today at the bus stop with the little boy in her lap she so tired so gallant looking the sadness of her mouth the worry on her brow the boy so fat brown succulent so good as if he knew he mustn’t stress his mother at all the way she held him in her lap at first i thought he was asleep but he was just still very still like a baby animal that senses danger her shoes her best black slightly frayed at the heels uncomfortable for walking she was hot and tired of carrying the heavy baby hose a dress not flattering but good why was she dressed up for an interview was she a student did she speak English my throat got tight with my lack of Spanish what if I’d spoken to her told her how lovely her brown eyed still boy was the van that drove up was new was nice was she distressed i thought so beautiful little boy whose face echoed your mother’s your quietness won’t leave my mind…..

sweet again

I found this quote from Rumi, and it stopped me in my tracks:

Make me sweet again,

fragant and fresh and wild,

and thankful for any small event.

How I want that. It’s harder as I age. I can feel the faintest tinge of bitterness always there to shade its color in me….an is that all there is? Or…I knew you’d do that….as if too much life experience or being around people long enough has given me an inevitable edge of distrust.

I want to be the best of the girl I was: open, trusting, assuming good would happen. A wise man once asked a group of us, what is good? That which is nondisturbing? That which pleases you? What if that isn’t good to another? What then is good?

Ah. That brings God/higher power/universe aspects into the picture. The old Zen story of the boy who broke his leg (bad, right?) only that meant he couldn’t be dragged away from his family to be a solider when an army passed through. Or the rain that floods one place and heals another. The truth is I don’t know what good is, nor bad, at a bigger level, from a larger gaze that takes in more than me.

So I want to be sweet again, fragant and fresh and wild, and thankful for any small event. That, now, is good.