Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Pickers: On running, berry picking, and losing an old friend

"It is the sea's reach and retreat that reminds me that we have been human for only a very short time." Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

From Mountain House Studios


I am thinking of my cruel heart when I pass the berry pickers on the road.

Running, I search the field for them and only catch a glimpse of bodies crouched low in the brush. Sometimes I want to close the door on something, someone...to shore against the chaos, to not have to think of or feel the sadness of loss. I don't lead a sad life. Little occurs here in the woods. I've jogged past tall pines on a forest path. Pines planted a long time ago, older than me, perhaps than my parents--their trunks reaching three stories before branching out. I love the feel of sweat over my forehead as my feet hit the sandy path. I don't exactly like running, yet I do. I like the power of it; I like the feel of my body in motion. And maybe, just a little, I like pushing through the pain. My thoughts collect there. Underfoot.

The pickers are a special people. They know the right picking weather; they have their spots. Some cultivate their own patches. They go in secret. Return filled with the joy of the scavenger.

The sky at night as I float on my back in the lake reminds me of insurmountable distances--lifetimes cast ashore, one's memories of childhood, the richness of God. Forgiveness. But I am just now learning to lose my old friend again. Just now, giving-up. It feels like a turning away from the sky...a silence like an open wound, and an emptying of blue.

Blue turns to red in the air, a warning aginst loss. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

10 Notes on the Meditative Essay


Vermont Summer

During my last VCFA workshop, Robert Vivian often sat in front of the window. Framed by the purplish hue of the waning winter afternoon, he quoted other writers as though inviting them into our discussions. He has a way of honoring the writing of a student by asking sincere questions of the work without agenda and with an open curiosity typical of his humble nature as a writer. Patrick Madden has always felt like an old friend to me.  Dressed in sporty shirts and slacks, he seems too young to be the father of six children. He asks the hard questions because I think he wants to push his students beyond the comfortable limits they’ve set for themselves. Pat has a special dedication to the history of the essay but is also a student of its current forms.
Eight months pregnant, I relished this workshop because both Pat and Bob approach the essay with due reverence for its vital need to lay bare the soul of its writer. The essay is a place where we meet our reader with more than courage, but with an enduring trust in her humanity. As Vivian writes in “The Essay as an Open Field,” “(T)he best essays function as places of intimate encounter as we get to know the “I,” the writer at a very deep level even as we come to a better understanding of ourselves.” Rereading my notes from their workshop on the meditative essay, I realized I’d jotted down a number of quotations that offer particular insight on the subject. Here is my top ten list:

10. “The meditative essay is a piece that allows us to think along with the author.”

9. “I like boring essay titles. There is a tradition of boring essay titles that start with ‘On’… such as On Lying in Bed, On Laziness, On Chasing After One’s Hat. Patrick Madden

8. “Perhaps the meditative essay is about observing or noticing more than it’s about ideas.”

7. “Loss becomes a form of longing.”  

6. “I’m not sure thinkers can experience awe.” Robert Vivian

5. “Begin by realizing that the world is in you, not you in the world.”

4. “The consciousness that said ‘I think’ is not the consciousness that said ‘I am’.” Sartre

3. “Start with something humble and small and see where it will take you.”

2. “People experience sacramental moments—moments that remain with us our whole lives.” Czeslaw Milosz

1. “Distance is the soul of beauty.” Simone Weil


For more on the meditative essay, see Robert Vivian's "Thoughts On the Meditative Essay"
An incredible library of essays can be found at Quotidana, Pat Madden's website

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Estimations: Between Now and the End of Summer


Household of 7 plus 1 baby

0: The number of dollars I’ll earn this summer

7: The collective average number of hours spent online per day

2: The average number of hours I’ll spend writing per day

3: The number of shots Moses will get this summer

15: The number of times I’ll question the risks of immunizing him but ultimately decide it’s the best choice

9: The number of household magazine subscriptions

12: The collective average number of cups of tea or coffee consumed per day

37: The number of saunas I’ll take at dusk

10: The number of times I’ll float on my back in the lake after sweating in the sauna, and look at the stars coming out and remember a line from a book by Terry Tempest Williams: City lights are a conspiracy against higher thought

34: The average number of hours Josh will spend working at Do It Best Hardware per week, located in the basement of the family drugstore

5: The number of Casey generations that have run the family drugstore in Chisholm, MN, Casey Drug

45: The number of times I’ll wash other peoples dishes as long as the dish washer remains broken

60: The number of hours planned to spend preparing for teaching a class at CCV

62: The collective average number of miles run per week

77: The average daily temperature in degrees Fahrenheit  

150: The number of times Moses will wake-up at night and want to nurse or be comforted

250: The number of bug bites I’ll get

300: The number of photographs we’ll take of Moses

350: The number in dollars spent in a week on food for 7 plus people

500: The number of times Moses will roll from his back to belly and decide he doesn’t like being on his belly but is unable to roll back


1000: The number of times I’ll think about how fast my son is growing up