Thursday, January 29, 2009

Facebook has more than my Face

That's it. Today Facebook got my heart.

I knew it would happen eventually. When Friendster was around I was too young for reunions. Didn't want all those High School or Junior High School compatriots to track me down yet. I said things like "Didn't know him/her that well then, who knows now? Could be a serial killer!" After a bad date experience to top it off, I left Facebook.

But now I am married and not looking to make any new relationships there. Just keep in touch with the past, and somewhat the present. Little did I know that what little there was of the past could be remade now, or affect my life so much. Touch me. So deeply. I sound horribly romantic right now, and I won't deny that I am. But this is a deep strike. How 25 things about me meme and Memory of Me meme both cropped up the anniversary of my mom's death. And how the tiny vestiges others have of that life - both from the BFF's and also the supporting actors, or even side technicians (DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE TECHNICIANS!) could offer up bits and pieces to put back together the whole story it once was. This story, this one I am so grateful for.

Sniff and bawl, but in a good way. Yay!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Generosity with Vulnerability

I don't have much to say about this. A student said this of another student's piece yesterday:
"The piece is very generous with its vulnerability." The phrase made us all gasp, and then I teared up as I spontaneously semi-exploded that that phrase is not just true of that student's writing, but of all the classes, and then someone else chimed in that it's key to good writing, and then someone else that it is key to good living. We all sat, stunned. I asked the "author" of this term if I could use it for promo/tagline today, and she said:
"Of course. You know that I secretly want to be the tipping point for certain words or phrases. So I'd only be delighted if I started to hear it in everyday conversation."

So would I.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Air and Simple Gifts

(title of the John Williams composition that Yo Yo Ma and others played just before Obama's vow)

I am not standing, I'm sitting. Listening with my whole body. Breathing Air, the simplest gift of all. The laughter is strong as he takes the vow. Simple gifts. Life. Hope. Things we don't notice we don't have until they have been gone.

He's not Jesus. He can't be perfect and he won't be. But the congratulations is appropriate. Barack Hussein Obama, 44th president of the United States of America, welcomes Amy Goodman over the radio. Woo hoo! Let's breathe, baby! Time to let in the Air.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Truth Ecology

(a long prose poem/lyric essay)

"A lie cannot live" - Martin Luther King Jr

The truth tries to hide in the wide blue sky. Snickers behind a thicket so thick one cannot see through to the other side. Sidles up to a small child and says "Boo!" in order to surprise. But truth cannot lie, cannot get away with trying to be other than what it is. A naked emperor, an oil slick; truth, whether sick or well, dispels all lies. The sun sword of truth cuts through lying fog, clouds and storms. Truth may be camoflauged for awhile, wear a black cloak, in a dark alley, on vacation or put in a dusty trunk for a decade, but it cannot die. No matter how stifled, dried up, left to wink out like an exploding star it is, truth cannot *not* exist.

A lie, on the other hand, cannot live. Sometimes it survives a while, wearing oxygen masks of truth. Hiding behind the pink elephant in the room. Secreted away in the cellar, held under cinder blocks and fed special meats so one day it will grow strong and conquer. But as soon as lies see the light, as soon as they grow limber, they fall like rotten timber, lost amongst other wasted untruths.

In the mixed use forest of life, lies are the fodder that feed the truth. They become rotten matter, broken down into less than bones and flesh. Lies only have second lives in the form of truthful tree trunks, youthful vines and the sun that turns both green. When truth dies, it never really goes away, given over to the neutral ground which feeds the beetles who breed and shit out more fertilizer for truth to speed up from. As sprouts and shoots, the weak new truths are equally vulnerable and shot down, stomped upon, shut out from the sun they so need. Yet, unlike lies, which must die, the truth never subsides (though it may hibernate) never disappears, never fear.

In the vast open space of sky the truth glimmers, invisible as the actual horizon, which only grows further away, bigger, more open and without end the closer you try to get to it. Even the astronauts, so surprised at the sight of their own earth as they ventured out to find other truths in space, could not see all of the horizon. The fact is that whether flat or rounded or spherical; the truth, like the horizon, is without shape. When cutout clouds cover the sky they prove how temporary shapes are, how impossible a life as anything other than shapeless space is. Just ask a satellite, a telescope, a telephone, a radio - anything that seems to transmit lies. Deep underneath all we think we see and hear, the vibrations are clear as day, as truthful as space itself, without form, without bias, without shape.

Though all that space is endless, it has no air for lies. Lies choke on themselves like light-blocking vines, roped into rassles, lost in the hustle and bustle of themselves. You can know the space of truth, as it always emerges from the tussle of lies on the ground, proud even if wilted, withered or worn.

A living lie is living a lie, for a lie cannot live. The very idea of its life as a lie is a lie. Even after a lie is dead we still give it weight. A corpse on the ground, unable to move. We mistake it for a mountain at first, solid and real. But the further we move away from a dead lie, the more we see around it. The more time insists, the less we resist and the more the lie fades, until we see that what we thought were cliffs are only clouds, and beyond those mists, truth and space perpetually persist.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book cover is in - please order!

Here we are! They picked the cover I wanted - I took this shot in color at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago (a poster, not a real bird!) and converted to b/w.
And scroll down to Miriam Hall to order...any orders before March 1 count toward what they will print - for 105 pre-ordered they'll print 500, for 201 they'll print 700...

Other news and entries soon! But none this significant for sure!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Busy day/ Buy my poetry book!

Dear friends, students, fellow writers and/or family,

My poetry chapbook is in pre-publication sales state now! It will be published on April 10, 2009, which just so happens to be my mother's birthday.

However, if you buy it before February 26, any sales between today and February 26th will contribute to the total number of copies of my brand new first ever chapbook of poetry printing. The more you all buy, the more they will print. Goal: at least 105 sales in the next month and a week, for which the press run will then be 500!

Help me out! Follow the link, slide down to my name (almost halfway, alphabetical by last name) and click on the buy now link.

A collection of travel tales and speculations, this is a selection of poetry from the last 10 years of writing, including my "PGI work", poems which came out of my writing studies with Paula Novotnak and Natalie Goldberg, and edited with all the groups I have worked with over the years. Most of this manuscript I finished three years ago at Vermont Studio Center while in residency there. And now it is out!

$12.00 cover price, with $1.00 for shipping and handling. There will be ample opportunity to buy it from me in person or from your favorite local bookstore later, without shipping, but if you buy it now, your purchase will contribute to the number of copies they print!

Sample Poem:

Coban, Guatemala

She knows photos
are an object,
color trapped so it can be sold,
like a poem, or
a painting, the blue
eternally showing
her poverty through a hole
in a woven bag.

She tells me
there is no white here.
In the cloud forest,
colors go home at night
to myriad birds,
trees and earth,
and leave only black.

None of it fabric
a Gringa can buy.

She smiles and steps aside,
lets me make my own
mistakes, my skin
under the sun’s gaze.

I photograph the
hibiscus swallowing
the rust on her roof.
My Pentax eyes
eat her children alive.

Thank you for all of your support!

Again with the link, at which you scroll down to my name to buy:

Art We All Want

In honor of my latest flash fiction story (To Paint is to Live), I want to draw attention to two very interesting posts/shows. It seems there's been a lot of attention lately around some experiments made regarding the universals of art...

Review of the new book The Art Instinct by Jonah Lehrer on his blog:

And This American Life episode with the exact same experiment and a very funny related music result:

How needed is art? Very. But evolutionarily needed? I always hesitate at the transom of determinism. So I'll refrain from picking a side. But some fascinating stuff from the annals of art meets science...

To Paint is to Live

To Paint is to Live
(flash fiction story I wrote while on retreat this last weekend)

He was a regular Picasso as a kid. Always inventing new techniques, totally unrecognized by his peers, parents and school principle. Renditions of his dog, amber-colored and old, he’d even go down to the concrete skate park after built it and do portraits of dudes on wheels. Everyone mocked him, but a silent, reverent mocking, so that he felt their disdain but never had audio evidence of it. Somehow everyone seemed to know this was what he was supposed to do, that he loved it, and they hated him for it, but also admired him for it.
That all changed at age 13, when a lot of things change quite suddenly, all at once. First he stopped painting. He put away his oils, acrilycs, even the watercolors he hadn’t used in years. First into a box in his closet, then into the trash. Out went his pastels, his colored pencils and markers, his special pens. His parents showed more curiosity than concern, plus a little bit of stingyness, since they had spent many portions of paychecks paying for these supplies. He claimed he was aiming for simplicity, felt his work had gotten too cluttered, and they nodded as if they understood.
He kept on attending to his regular unrequested gigs – portraits at the pond, sketches at the skate park, landscapes. But they were all done in pencil, a bit like how he drew in elementary school, when his talent was first recognized, then denied. Even this struck him as too much, so he moved on to total abstraction, focusing on forms, simple squares and clutterless circles, pointed cones and long lines. Finally, even the pencils found their way into the same demise as the rest of his art supplies. Though he could still be found in his old haunts, he was at last only tracing what he saw with a finger in the sand, then, finally, toward the end, doing nothing at all, a ghost himself, staring at walls and speaking to no one, hands mysteriously still.
His parents, worried that he was ill, made him an appointment with a therapist, though generally they were against that kind of thing. He went, but said little, and was sophisticated enough that the therapist believed him. “He’s fine,” she told his parents, “just give him some time to come back around again.”

Soon after that appointment, maybe within a week, kids at school realized that their friends who lived on the edge of town were no longer coming to school. Within a couple of days, everyone could see the haze that encircled the entire town of only a few hundred folks – as if the horizon was made entirely of fog, or as if a huge snow or dust storm was encircling them from all sides. Everyone checked the weather, their farmer’s almanacs, even a few pulled out their witch books and did a few spells. But nothing changed; if anything, the storm, or whatever it was, crept closer each day. Boys would challenge each other to go up to the edge of it, whatever it was, and occasionally, some would get lost this way and never come back. Those who lived on the edge of town moved in closer, in with relatives or friends, or even enemies – everyone got so scared finally that they really bound together. The school took on the role of bomb shelter, like it had been designated in the Cold War period, and within a week of the haze beginning it was close enough to the center of town that all communications were cut off and no one could leave or come in.
Everyone huddled in the basement of the school, some praying, some singing, some going clearly insane. The boy was amongst them, having lived next to the school all along, and though his parents’ house no longer stood, he had been out on his regular course, wandering through the schoolyard, looking at objects idly, when the dean of the school pulled him in by the collar and dragged him into the cellar. He was bored down here, a kind of blank boredom that no one fights, you just sort of succumb to. In fact, it was a rather cool boredom, not idle at all, and out of his boredom came a clear desire to draw. Having no pens or crayons, he traced his finger for the first time in two weeks over the dust, and there was a lot of it, since they’d had no time to clean before the crisis, and drew a path from his school to his parents house. His dog, lame and nearly blind, but still loyal. His father, who never understood him but always loved him. And not long after he finished his father, there came a knocking at the door.
“It’s my SON! His lack of creating made our town disappear! Someone give him ink and paper and he can save us all!”
Now no one took art THAT seriously in the town. There was no theater to speak of, not even a cinema. You had to go down the road for that. A town newspaper never included poetry and was far too cheap to narrate stories with photography. Even puppet shows were not common amongst the children. So to say that an artist, to even call him that, then claim that it was he who put the town in peril, and was needed to be the superhero of the day, this was outrageous. But then again, the town completely disappearing was outrageous, too.
“Listen. It’s not a fog, it’s not snow. It’s not weather. The town is simply DISAPPEARING. I couldn’t believe it either. But look at his sketch in the dust!”
They did, the dozen or so crouched under a single lamp in the dank. And sure enough, the boy’s father, mother, dog and house stood clear as day on the bench.
Without further hesitation, the principal took the notebook he always carried with him, one of those tiny jobbers spiral bound at the top, and his best waterman pen, and handed them to the boy. “Go for it, son.”
The boy drew the skate park back in, as he knew it best. Soon they heard echoes of plastic wheels outside the steel doors of the school cellar. then all of the trees, the houses, surrounding the schoolyard, and by then he was out of paper.
“Draw yourself a new pad and pen, son.”
And so he did, and in a matter of only a couple of hours, he drew the entire town, give or save a dog or two, back into existence.

The dozen or so in the shelter emerged out of the darkness into their town. Or a sketch of their town. For there was no color, everything in grades of black and white and grey. The boy’s father knelt down next to him and gave him his very first phrase of praise: “Good job, son! You have saved us! Let’s go get some ice cream!”
Everyone went over to the parlor together, wondering at the reemergence of their home. Some of the kids went to get their parents, some wandered off to friend’s houses, but most stayed together. They entered the shop only to find a wan ice cream server, who quickly informed them that the ice cream no longer had flavor, because it had no color.
The boy spoke for the first time in weeks, in fact, some had never heard him speak before.
“I need color.”
“But there are no markers, color doesn’t exist anymore.”
“That’s not true. Back at the school, the bricks are still red, the sky is still blue and the fallout shelter sign is still yellow. Scrape some of each off into your hands and bring it to me.”
So they did. His father gathered some of the sky, the principal some of the school and some boys ripped off the entire shelter sign – the same one they had thrown rocks at nearly all of their lives for the delicious “ping” it created – and they all arrived back at the store with their hands covered in color. They found the boy had drawn a paint tray, with brush and all, and he requested they put the colors into certain slots, where he then mixed them with water, then each other, to make all the other colors he needed: green, purple, orange and even brown.
He started with the ice cream first, which made him a town favorite for years to come. Then he strung color along the path back to the school, made his favorite lifetime dog a sweet amber color again, and worked his way back out to the edges, bringing cedar color to the hedges and encouraging the flowers to bloom again.

PINGO EST VIGO was the motto for the new art school (mandatory for all kids and adults to attend at least one art class a week) built in honor of the boy saving the town. “To Paint is to Live”. Never did anyone again doubt the power of art.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A date I'd make with my Mom if she were still alive

In the shower, relaxing after preparing for a retreat I am running this weekend, out in the country, in a cabin in the snow, which I know my mother would have loved, I realized I want to do some things that I would have done with her, had she come to visit me in this life. When I was younger and she was still alive she was forever dragging me out to nature to take walks, garden with her, listen to classical music. It's hard for me to make time for these things now in my life, because I don't prioritize them. But if I pretend like my mom is visiting, like most kids have to do at some point, then I can do them for "her" and me.

I like that idea.

Also, in class the other day we collectively came up with the idea of making a drawing of your mind every day. A woman had drawn her mind as an open circle of space and an arrow pointing to the center of the space. We all wondered: what would I draw my mind as right now? And tomorrow? And yesterday?...

Off to Black Earth. Stay warm everyone!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Her First Day

Her First Day
(flash fiction piece)

The sound of the oats in water surprised her. Every evening before going to bed, she carefully laid two cups of steel cut into just enough water to cover them. In the pot she would light in the morning to cook, the oats soaked covered with the lid. She couldn’t recall ever really hearing them before.
Stirring them moved her, somewhere deep inside. She felt suddenly alive, charged with a sense of love. From the oats on the stove, she moved to the refrigerator and found the cream, full clot like she had always eaten on the farm (only this was pasteurized, but you can’t get it in the store like mom would make it) and orange juice. Poised to empty a canister of concentrate into their plastic pitcher, she glanced over at some navel oranges, a gift for Christmas from a coworker at the salon, and chose to make fresh squeezed instead. Two days after the biggest holiday of the year, and this was a day special for no one, not for her people anyway (it might be the start of Kwanzaa, she had heard on the news, but she wasn’t sure). Somehow, though, she knew it was a fresh-squeezed kind of morning. The delicate twist of her wrist, asking the blessings of the juice on her breakfast of ordinary oats and cream. Enough for two. Enough blessings and food for two.
The phone lay silent. The dog, satiated from her wet food and a small run in the backyard, unusually warm and foggy for late December, snug in her bed in the warmest corner of the kitchen. No light but for the tree, always lit overnight, and the wreaths they kept on the front and back door, which somehow even reached her in the kitchen, penetrating the 5am pre-dawn she woke in even at this time of the year. Farm days will do that to you. She prepared the breakfast in relative silence and lightlessness.
The scrape of the spoon culling the last of the cream out of the container. The hush of oats shuffling into two bowls, both rimmed in geese leaning into each other with ribbons daintly draping over their long necks. Two sunny glasses with small wedges of watermelon along the side jumped out at her from the shelf. She picked them, knowing he could chide her for her choice. He always mocked those glasses. “If them’s was real watermelons, they’d be made only for the mouths of mice,” he would laugh, then puff his pipe with a self-satisfied smile.
She half dreamt of him still sleeping upstairs, and laughed to herself, a woman married to a man now for over thirty years. The same loud voice, the same scent of smoke trailing after him as he barked orders to her from across their two-acre yard. He wasn’t perfect, no. But she had never once considered leaving him. Somehow this moment, the juice carefully metered and the oats steaming from the twin bowls, seemed to verify her choice, even vilify it. Yes. She had done right, by herself, by her family. By staying with him.
It’s her daughter who had brought their marriage to question. Her daughter, who had lived with them for the last six months, after her husband left her in the cold, no alimony, for another woman, with a six year old son. Who’s she to give marriage advice, she snarked in her head for a second before recalling her daughter didn’t know any better.
“You know dad is gruff, Mom. We’re mostly out of the house now. You could leave him. He could handle it and you could, well, you’d be fine. You know that.”
“Brenda, he ain’t never beat me. Ain’t never done me wrong, cheated on me or raised a hand to me.”
“Sure, Ma, but he’s loud like and often makes fun’a you. That ain’t right. It’s ok to leave you know, if it ain’t goin’ right.”
But she still loved him. His broad back a strong roof over her head, the smell of his sweat after a weekend of camping with friends better than any elixer. And as she set up the tray, one side each containing separate napkins and spoons for the oats, which now slid slightly as she picked up the tray, she felt compassion for her confused daughter, now so alone in her big suburban home, without the kind of history she and her husband had.
Up each of the steps in the dark. She knew he hated breakfast in bed (“Too many chances to stain them good cotton sheets!”) but hoped he would see it as a treat, just this once. The children cleared out, their daughter staying with a friend and son back with his family just on the other side of town. Just the two of them, and their old sweet dog, a small black poodle without any fancy frill haircut, who sidled up the stairs with her in the dark, slowly giving over to light. She didn’t even need to count the steps, knowing them so well from so many ascents in the dark. Not even the scent of the full cream threw her off. Not even the coffee she thought of just a moment too late – she’d get it when she finished his plate for him, always a step behind her, as she savored every last morsel.
Slowly, she opened their bedroom door. He had finally fixed the creak last week, before the kids came home for the holiday. She slid the tray without a sound onto the dresser and turned on her bedside light. A soft glow illuminated his head, and his white hair turned sunrise alive. He lay, face up, blankets carefully tucked under his thick arms, old navy tattoo still barely discernable on his right bicep. She took his food and placed it, cup by bowl by napkin, on his bedside table, and placed her own on the right side of the bed, where she had slept no matter where they had laid their heads for over 30 years now.
As she raised her glass, the tears in her ears caught in the sunlight of the rising sun. She closed her eyes, setting the tears off, and they cascaded into her orange juice, which she soon swallowed whole. She then set her spoon into her oats and cream, slowly mixing them, listening to the sound as if it were the last she would ever hear, or the first, as his freshly cooling body, cardiac arrested, did not protest her.