Monday, September 15, 2014

writing class

When opportunity comes knocking, I usually shut off the lights and pretend I'm not home.
But this time I signed up for the writers' workshop.  It's my first workshop, except for a felted slippers workshop, in which I successfully crafted a pair of serviceable felt slippers. This success may have been the source of my confidence to write the check. Do I want to write? Yes, I do, and I would like to write better. I'm excited. I buy a new notebook, with college spaced blue-lined paper.

In my first fiction writing class there are 12 writers writing, including two teenagers, two men,  and mostly people I know already.  I hear the instructor promise that no one must read what she has written aloud. We will be given a topic, and a time limit in which to write about it, using a technique called "free writing" in which nothing matters but to keep the pen on the paper,  pushing on even in the absence of an idea.  We are learning to access our creativity, without judgement. My first idea is that I'll not touch my pen to the paper until I have an idea, technically adhering to the rule of not stopping once I start.  We're given our subject:  an old worn object.

The story of my life! There's so much I could say. I gaze into the distance of the middle of the floor of the room where we are assembled at desks.  When was I last seated at a desk?  Every writer is writing furiously now. (I didn't expect the writing workshop to feel competitive). But, I'm going to wait until something comes to mind, as it surely will, so I may set my pen to paper and begin.

Next to me, a dazzling young woman, a dazzling and accomplished writer I have known and admired for several years, is writing to the bottom of her first page.  She has a very fine pen, I notice, with very slippery, fast ink.  I know myself, and though the time must be already half over, I'm not concerned. But, no. The time is actually over, and we are told to stop.  Desperately I look into the inside of the front of my forehead. Two words swim up from the gray murk, like a magic-8 ball. I scribble them.

Now the vibrant writing woman next to me volunteers to read what she's written. I'm not shy, she says.  Her piece starts with a small worn fragment of cloth, a fragment of an old worn story, a child's blanket, a color,  rose, a bit of cashmere, a mystery, that ends half way down page 2 with a sentence that pulls at my heart. It is a beautiful piece about a bit of textile, which sounds beautiful but, after the first two sentences, I honestly can't hear what she's saying.  I look down at my own paper, on which I've written, interestingly, two words:  tuna fish.

My friend Judith says, about taking workshops,  I don't want to be the worst. I don't have to be the  best, but somewhere in the middle. I just don't want to be the worst.

7 more writing classes. If I can last.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

at the lake

 This summer may be the last time I can take a sauna here, in my mother's sauna.  Each summer,  I think this.  It's all so familiar, the rugs she wove, on the floors and benches, the sauna stove, the tin tub on the wall that the kids would play in, and the noodles! She built a fire, in the sauna stove. She likes to build fires.  She grew up on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota and has been building fires in wood stoves most of her life. When the sauna was pretty warm, we went in together.  Though it was cool and windy, I went into the lake twice to cool down. Lake water, after being in the sauna, feels so soft and silky. I float around as long as I can, lazily swimming, listening to the little splashy noise  my hands make in the water,  with the good taste of lake water at the back of my throat. I like to sink my face down into the water until my eyes are just at lake level, and look across to the far shore. 

My mom kept sticking her head out of the sauna screen door to check on me! Then she came out the door in her bra and underpants to hang her towel on the line.  I'm not coming in, she said. How is it?  Is the water nice?

  It's cold, but there are warm spots, too.  I knew she wanted to come in.  She loves the water.  She was a good diver. I remember when we grew up, that she was the only mother at our neighborhood swimming pool who would swan dive off the high dive.  The  stone steps down into the lake are uneven, though, pushed by the crazy ice melt last spring, and we both know she shouldn't try it.   

Here they are, my mom, Irene, and my little sister,  Jody, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

tapes without measure / books without words

I was weaving a new tape without measure on a small loom, when some visitors
arrived.  I showed this list of measures that it might include to one, who said, Well, that looks like a poem.  I agreed.

Another person said, How are you going to do that?  Simple, I said. The person I'm making it for  sent me the list, and also sent a long string with knots on it, that goes with the list.  I just put the marks into the weave where they are supposed to go.  My visitors left wondering why on earth  anyone would try to reinvent the measuring tape. I feel good if my work causes anyone to wonder at all.

After a while, though, I decided to drop the string knot, and improvise.  It is a collaboration, after all.  I was weaving late, almost midnight, when a dog started to bark in town. Each time it barked, I wove in a dark blue thread, for just 5 minutes.  Not exactly a coyote's crazy yipping, but I thought it sufficed. Then, I decided the tape was long enough, and that was pretty much the end of it.

The project developed as an exchange between Velma Bolyard, artist from upstate NY, Wake Robin blog keeper, and myself: a woven tape without measure in exchange for a handmade book, seen here.  I think we recognize in each other  a similar laissez-faire attitude to what happens in our projects.  The ideas that propel them are down to earth, well grounded, but when things happen that we didn't expect, we are willing to deviate.  Her paper making and book construction appeals to me. The images she has been able to draw from detritus of the ditch (she collected the material, hortus siccus, used to make the images in my book in frozen January!) appeals to my love of graphic design, and the mystery created by shapes and line.  I see faces, claws, paws, ladders, webs, polar glaciers,  and lights-at-the-end-of-tunnels. Nothing is flat on the page, due to the line and shadow. I don't know how she does it, frankly, but I'm so drawn in. This is a graphic novel, with images that mysteriously appear and disappear in it, as I try to relocate them.   Until I realize that I am probably holding the book upside down, and everything is different, from this new  perspective.

An object that shows me the limits of my assumptions has earned its keep, as far as I'm concerned.  It doesn't even have to be beautiful, but this is.

Long ago, when I first dipped into the the www-stream,  Velma B sent me a message out of the blue. I was so amazed to be connecting to a cyber being, as if the Ouija board could possibly be believed.  In the end I was also amazed to find a small piece of paper weaving (shifu) in my actual mailbox,  woven on nails she'd pounded into the endgrain of a wood block, to make a loom.  The paper was hand spun yarn, with little knotty places.  You see how this all comes back, to her string of knots, that I used as a guide.  Now it has found a perfect place in her book.  I care for my internet friends and the ways we can inspire and affect each other's real hands-on work.  Thanks, Velma, that was fun, even if I couldn't fit "desire" onto the tape.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

lush life

The wedding party celebrated in the campground across the road, kept us awake with a band playing loudly until the middle of the night. It was a soft, sweet summer night, with a few early Perseid meteors streaking across the north sky.  The half moon was still orange, though it was high overhead, because of smoke from all the forest fires burning now in the Pacific Northwest.

We have a fresh maitake (chicken of the woods ) mushroom to shred, fry in butter and oil, and eat to our heart's content. It is a rare treat to find one wild in the woods, that someone doesn't mind us

I ride my bike everyday this summer! Today,  I climbed up the overgrown driveway where Veva's house stands, though she died years ago.  She was the artist of Avalanche back in the day, and a very sweet woman.

When my kids were little we used to find our way up this path on Halloween night,  to Trick-or-Treat.  Veva came out on her porch wearing a little Martian helmet with springs sticking up on top. Little handkerchief ghosts came flying out of the woods on strings, pulled by a neighbor boy hiding in the bushes. Her house is tangled in brambles and brush now, and my hair bun got stuck in a blackberry vine while I was climbing the overgrown path to her place.

I felt a little panicky,  as I tried to untangle my hair from the thorn bush, because it was a little bit creepy up there, and I didn't want to hang around.  There was a rock root cellar behind the house, and the door was off. It looked black inside, and If I'd been braver, I'd have gone over to have a look. As it was,  I took a couple of pictures, just to prove to myself I went up there, and to my relief,  there is no face in any of the windows!

The trailer house is still empty where a popular shade tree mechanic lived when we first moved to Avalanche, but he also died years ago.

I started this blog quite a while ago.  At first I was afraid to write words and send them out on the Internet (no, really) so I just posted pictures.  One of my first posts was a picture of the fairy candle flowers blooming along the highway.   Here they are, blooming again!

The last picture is from my friend, Judith, who was recently in County Clare, Ireland, and draped
a scarf I wove on a rock there!  What a thrill for me to see it there. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

now it's the elderflowers

These elderflower banks are killing me.  Large flat plates of creamy umbrels, and a honey scent that
envelopes me as I ride my bike through an invisible cloud of it.  I manage to keep my balance, but try not to fall for all of this. And, then I do.  The old Avalanche chapel continues to attract me, with its empty rooms, and faded, kitchen curtain folds behind old glass windows.  It's crazy out there, even in the practical daylight. After dark, the full moon's glow, mingles with, yes, clouds of lightning bugs twinkling across the hay field and a gauzy layer of ground mist.  Too Beautiful.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

more (useless) beauty

It had been a sultry day, thick air, and then storms.  Suddenly the house filled with  an amazing light. We went out into the yard and saw this show above us.

Friday, June 20, 2014

arctic dreaming

Midsummer.  I ride my bike after supper up County Hwy S. The peonies are past their bloom, now,
and shatter petals on the top of the woodstove when I try to take them out to the compost heap.  I'm still sucked in to the picture archive of N. Sweden. The archive is from 1929, not that many years ago, but it looks like something from a completely different era.  I can't explain, even to myself, why this is so rich and affecting.

I can't read a word of it, and yet there is the stark reality, not sad, not joyous.  It just seems true,
and full of mystery. Black kettles hang over smoky fires in tents with warp weighted loom woven Sami grene weaves on the walls in the background. A reindeer pelt moults against the head of the woman milking it; a midwife sits complacently beside the bed of the new mother. On the pillow next to her is the small, dark head of the newborn. It does and doesn't seem like a miracle.

Storehouses, draped with garlands of drying animal pelts, vast forest covered hills, cut by wide, fast Arctic rivers, landscape that dwarfs the lives of humans and animals. No fences. Boats and sleds, few roads.  I don't want to be there, but I'm hovering there in my imagination.