Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gretchen asked...

Gretchen asked...

Is this the method where you don't know the end and find it by writing? Or do you finally have the end and have figured out the steps along the way and will weave mystery into the journey? Or have you found a new way in to alter the whole tone, plot, characters and landscape? Or??? Curious minds want to know---


All of the above, I think. Since the story is based on an actual journey I took with Allen in 2005, I have lots of material, but I've just begun to discover the characters. I don't want the characters to be thinly disguised versions of Allen and me. The challenge for me has been to forget the "real" experience enough to be imaginative with the material. I want to stretch myself and do something different than I've done before. I could write a book based on what I've been doing all along, but there doesn't seem to be any point to doing that. It would yield a book but not the experience I want. I do have a vague idea of what I want the characters to achieve, but everything is fluid and subject to change.

Friday, December 28, 2007


1. Got up much earlier than usual, after just a few hours of sleep.
2. Had coffee by the fire.
3. Took bath and dressed for shopping and a movie.
4. Found out both music stores Allen wanted to go to were still closed for the holidays.
5. Went to the big cineplex to watch Sweeney Todd. I'm not a fan of musicals but am a fan of Johnny Depp. He did not disappoint. Only afterwards did I read the review of Sweeney Todd by Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. Travers nailed it. The end of Travers' review:

As the film follows its tragic course, Depp scores an explosive triumph. Covered in blood, Sweeney is finally engulfed by his emotions, and Depp finds the character's grieving heart. It's a staggering moment in a spellbinder of breathtaking beauty and terror.

6. Bought our son a microwave as a belated Christmas present. Well, he did need some way to warm all the leftovers I sent him home with Christmas night.
7. Came home and ate a bowl of ice cream while watching The Sopranos which was received from Netflix today.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Best Cake in the World

I was given this recipe in 1987 by Jean Kinney, a woman I was in the MFA Program with. She had brought one of these cakes to a class party. I thought it was the best food I'd ever put into my mouth. It is my family's favorite cake. Even Dale, our oldest son, who never brags about anything, brags about this cake.

It is best served warm. But warm or room temperature, this cake will not last long. It should be made in a bundt pan or two small loaf pans. I've been using the throw-away loaf pans lately, and this works well.

My Christmas present to you all:


8 TBSP (One stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1 tsp. vanilla extract
grated zest of 2 oranges
*Orange Glaze

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease 10-inch bundt pan (or two small loaf pans).

2. Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

3. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Mix well after each addition.

4. Fold in poppy seeds, vanilla and grated orange zest. Pour batter into the prepared pan(s).

5. Set on middle rack of oven and bake for 50-60 minutes (less time if baked in loaf pans), or until edges shrink away slightly from sides of pan and cake tester inserted into center comes out clean. Let cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes before turning it out onto a cake rack.

6. When cake has slightly cooled, prick holes in it 1 1/2 inches apart with a long toothpick and pour the *Orange glaze evenly over top. Serve warm. Disposable loaf pans work great for this, as the pans hold all the glaze and keep the cake moist.

*Orange Glaze

1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar.

Combine orange juice and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a light syrup forms.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I know I've said this before

I know I've said this before. But I've got an idea for how to do the Ohio River book. It has been two years since my Ohio River Journey, and I've struggled with how to write about it. I have hundreds of pages written, but no direction. Last summer I wrote fifty pages of what I thought was "the book." I gave up because the writing didn't excite me. It was too plotted, too planned. I knew the outcome. Boring. My new way preserves plenty of mystery. I need mystery. That is what keeps me coming back to write, the need to know how it will all turn out.

Friday, December 21, 2007

New writing

I began a new piece of writing last night that I feel pretty good about.


The short stories of Andre Dubus are beginning to work their magic on me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


1. Fixed a chicken and rice dish.
2. Sat by the fire and had coffee.
3. Watched the news.
4. Researched about the sitar.
5. Read three short stories by Andre Dubus.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Power outage

The lights flickered at about one in the afternoon. The digital clocks blinked fast, as though to warn us. The televisions, which were turned off, also blinked in the dim rooms. The pantry refrigerator was overcome from the fluctuations and sparked. Allen threw the breakers. We were out of electricity for about five hours. When we saw the lights come on at our neighbor's, Allen went back to the fuse box and let the electricity flow back into our lives again.

It is a completely different world without electricity. Even in your own house, you notice it, how quiet the world is. How turned in you are to your own thoughts. How alive the walls are, catching the light from the flickering candles.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


1. I didn't mention that I brought my black cat inside, out of the cold. I gave her a whole can of Friskies and some cream. She crawled into a chair and slept a long, long time.

2. Tonight I read an article in The New Yorker about the author Malcolm Lowry who wrote a book I'd not heard of, Under the Volcano. Lowry lived a tumultous life, it seems, but reading about how important writing was to him was inspiring.

13 Ways

1. I start the Nan. I make the dough so it can rise while I prepare the rest of the meal. I use my best Nan recipe. It calls for a half-cup of plain yogurt. This makes the bread flavorful and soft. To the yogurt you add ¾ cup boiling water and a package of dry yeast, a tablespoon of sugar, salt to taste, ¼ cup butter, a large egg. Mix it all around. Then put in your flour, 3 cups, unbleached. It will be soft and sticky. Knead it until it is smooth. Oil on the hands works good for this.

2. You have to let it rise until double. The back of the cook stove works good for this. Your partner has the house nice and warm, although it is cold and snowing outside. He has lots of wood stacked inside the house. Wood stoves make the best heat. A warm house makes better bread.

3. It takes a lot of onion to make good curry, about two cups. I peel two large onions and dice them, cooked them in oil until brown. I grate the ginger. Have you ever tasted freshly grated ginger? It is pungent and hot. It burns your tongue. Once you have tasted it you won’t want to use ginger from a jar. Then all the spices! Cumin, turmeric, ground red pepper, paprika, garlic, coriander. Add the tomatoes, blended smooth. Add meat, if you like, lamb, chicken, or beef. Add a little water. Cook for an hour and half.

4. When it’s done, make the spinach. Add onions to the spinach and lots of spice.

5. Add the spinach to the curry.

6. Make the rice. It has to be basmati. There is no other kind of rice, is there? To the water add some turmeric, a little bit of fennel, flax, and coriander seeds. Boil. Put in the rice and wait. It’s hard to wait, I know, but you will be busy. You still need to fix the Nan.

7. Punch down your dough and shape the Nan. You will have eight rounds. Bake them at 500 degrees for about 5 minutes. Try to brown them on both sides.

8. Now the rice is ready.

9. Put it all on the table in pretty dishes. Play music by Ravi Shankar. Taj Mahal Beer is the best. But if you don’t have that, try champagne. It doesn't have to be expensive champagne. Ours isn't.

10. Don’t eat too fast, even though you are hungry. Savor it. This has all taken about five hours to do. Don’t rush the actual eating part of it.

11. The champagne will make you laugh. You will clinck your glasses together and make toasts to the two of you. Your partner will eat the bread and tell you to smell the bread. It smells like life, he will say. It smells like you, he will say. Ravi Shankar will be playing in the background. Every time you listen to Ravi Shankar you realize how whole his music makes you feel.

12. Smile when your partner tells you it’s days like this that remind you what a good life you have.

13. Don’t forget about your after-dinner treat. Yogurt, mango, sugar and ice make something called a lasse. This goes will with the movie you watch together, Satyajit Ray’s The World of Apu.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


1. I took a really long and really hot bath.
2. During the bath I read 40-pages of Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words by Steven Gould Axelrod. (1990)
3. I also read 40-pages of Four Poets and the Emotive Imagination by George S. Lensing and Ronald Moran. (1976)
4. Reading Four Poets felt strange because the authors kept talking about James Wright as though he were still alive. Which, of course, in 1976 he was. But reading this book feels like being caught in a time warp.
5. Reading Four Poets makes me sad for what has been lost with the death of James Wright.

The last few days

1. Fog settled low over the gray fields. It lasted all day.
2. I watched a woman in tight pants carrying a paper sack by the handles. She was a large woman and her hips were beautiful as they swayed inside the pants. The sack seemed empty. She passed a building which had been blocking the wind. I watched the wind blow the sack behind her as she held fast to the handles. I couldn't stop looking at her and became so involved in watching her that I didn't think about the wind as I, too, passed the building. The wind blew off my hat. The hat went tumbling over the wet ground. I chased it but couldn't get it until it, mysteriously, stopped and lay still long enough for me to pick it up. Allen was waiting for me in the truck. He didn't see me. He was looking at The New Yorker!
3. I had lunch today with my friend Debbie at Call of the Canyon Cafe. She paid! We had a great window seat. I thought I saw a snowflakes now and then.
4. When we left the cafe, I told Deb, "It's colder now!" She said it just seemed that way because all the blood was flowing to our stomachs to help digest our meal. That made sense! It was a good time.
5. Allen and I stopped by the grocery store to stockpile items for the snowstorm which is supposed to arrive sometime tomorrow.
6. I read a very good short story by Tobias Wolff. "In the Garden of North American Martyrs."
7. I read two essays about Wallace Stevens's poetry.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Tonight it is snowing. I spent a long time in the bath reading something that moved me, that made me want to move on to the next sentence, and then the next. The writing surprised me, excited me, fulfilled me. It had power. I thought, I want to write like that. This is how I want to write.

Outside it is so cold. We will get two inches, maybe three. Inside the fire is burning.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Just trying to keep fires burning--in every way.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Last Week of School Then Finals Week Countdown

1. I lost Saturday. I slept and lay around all day. I was really sick with something.
2. I did watch three episodes of The Sopranos late Saturday night.
3. Slept a lot Sunday, too, but got up feeling better.
4. Had coffee by the fire.
5. Fixed a simple supper for us. I even made a sweet potato pie.
6. Graded papers and recorded grades.
7. Accidentally let the fire go out in the woodstove.
8. Broke sticks to build a new fire.
9. Got the fire going again. It will be cold tonight. It is so windy!
10. Even though I was sick, enjoyed watching the first real snow of the year.
11. Thought about my writing, what to do, where to go with it. Decided it excites me enough to forge ahead.

Friday, November 30, 2007


1. A little under the weather tonight. Felt bad all day. Felt it coming on the last couple of days. I'm going to go to bed after I write this. I hope to feel better tomorrow.
2. When I came to my computer room, I glanced out the window. The night looks so deep tonight. I saw the tail lights of one lone car out on the highway.
3. Drat this body; my mind still wants to write.


1. I ate supper with Allen. We watched Survivor. James was voted off because he didn't play the idol.
2. I enjoyed watching the dogs play and dance for Milk Bones.
3. I played on the computer.
4. I took a long bath and read an essay about Emily Dickinson.
5. I washed my hair.
6. I put on my bathrobe and walked quietly out of the room where Allen was sleeping.
7. I turned on the computer and went to my secret blog: there I wrote a poem.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Today during office hours

1. Listened to Adam* talk about his presentation topic, Joy Harjo.
2. Listened to Jared* talk about his presentation topic, Dennis Banks.
3. Got off topic with both Adam and Jared and started talking about what it means to really be and feel alive.
4. Adam and Jared talked to me about dreams they have about doing their art.
5. Patrick* came in to talk about Modern Poetry. We talked about Emily Dickinson and how visiting her poetry was like visiting his ancient aunt (in a good way).
6. Patrick also talked about William Carlos Williams. We read a poem by WCW and discussed what it might mean.
7. I told Patrick he should write a poem or story about E. D. and his aunt. I hope he does.

*First names of students in my various classes.


1. Listened to presentations in the Native American Class.
2. Played parts of two videos in the Modern Poetry Class.
3. Talked about Trickster characters in the two Response to Lit. classes. Played two excerpts from Modern Times.
4. Picked up some groceries on the way home.
5. Ate supper and cooked ribs for tomorrow.
6. Took a long bath and read an article about Saturday Night Fever.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Dream

Last night I dreamed I went to a grave yard. It was huge. There was also a huge barn that was full of graves. I dreamed that Erin came to meet me at the barn. She brought me roses and a chocolate cake.

After the holiday

1. The first day back after a holiday is always hard.
2. It rained.
3. It was supposed to snow later in the evening.
4. When I came out of my last class @ 7:30 I looked up at the streetlight to see if it was snowing.
5. It didn't snow.
6. I was disappointed that it didn't snow. A little snow would have been nice.
7. I was reminded today about how much I like William Carlos Williams.
8. I found out that several of my students aren't wild about e. e. cummings.
9. Students in my Response to Literature class read their favorite lines from Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek. It was hilarious.
10. Today Allen surprised me by buying a cable that I have wanted. It hooks my iPod up to my big stereo speakers.
11. After supper, we kept the TV off and listened to music from the iPod on the big speakers.
12. I read about Emily Dickinson while Allen read a boat magazine.
13. I didn't want the evening to end.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What I Did Today

1. I slept late.
2. I sat by the fire and drank coffee.
3. I enjoyed silence. We didn't turn the TV on all day.
4. I took out my writing about Emily Dickinson.
5. I decided my writing about Emily Dickinson wasn't bad at all.
6. I worked on a novel. I wrote several pages in long hand.
7. I put wood on the fire.
8. Allen and I talked about rivers.
9. I wrote about rivers.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What I Did Today

1. I slept very late.
2. I sat by the fire.
3. I had coffee by the fire.
4. I warmed up leftovers from yesterday.
5. Allen and I talked about what a good time we had yesterday.
6. I played around with some writing I've been doing about Emily Dickinson.
7. I got frustrated with the writing about Emily Dickinson and temporarily gave up on it.
8. I sent some digital photos to Brian's Facebook account.
9. I watched PBS.
10. I listened to Allen talking about rivers.

Thanksgiving was excellent

Thanksgiving was excellent. Everyone was well, and the food all turned out fine.

macaroni and cheese
noodle salad (with garden peas, broccoli, red pepper, green pepper, celery, grated colby cheese)
baked beans
sweet potato casserole
cranberry sauce (whole berry)
banana bread

We all laughed a lot. I got some good photos.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What I did today

1. I don't go to campus on Tuesdays, so I slept late.
2. I made fruitcake from my mother's recipe. I know a lot of people don't like fruitcake, but this fruitcake is moist and good. I put the batter in four 6-oz loaf pans. Two of the loaves got the rum treatment!
3. I took a really long bath and skimmed through a book about Emily Dickinson.
4. I commented on Vanessa's note at Facebook.
5. I put some ribs into the oven to slow-cook.
6. I went grocery shopping for Thanksgiving.
7. I thought about how the semester is almost over.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Later on Sunday

Later on Sunday

1. I wrote another poem about Emily Dickinson and revised it several times.
2. I ate supper while watching 60 Minutes.
3. I finished grading two sets of papers.
4. I thought about what I want to cook for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

So far, today

1. I had coffee.
2. I had bloody mary mix, extra spicy (no vodka, just juice). It's good!
3. I have put leftovers in the oven.
4. I wrote a four page letter to Beth on my manual typewriter.
5. I listened (again) to Beethoven's string quartets.
6. I acknowledged several e-mails from Gretchen.
7. I made out a check for car insurance.
8. I thought a lot about Emily Dickinson.
9. I revised my poem about Emily Dickinson.
10. I checked my Facebook profile for any changes.

Con Te Partiro

I can't help it; I can't get enough of it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What I Did Today

1. Stayed up until the wee hours of the morning.
2. Read a chapter in the Emily Dickinson biography.
3. Read the introduction to a book of criticism about Emily Dickinson.
4. Wrote a poem about Emily Dickinson.
5. Put wood on the fire.
6. Went to bed in the cold bedroom. (I enjoy a cold bedroom)
7. Had strange dreams.
8. Got up late.
9. Made roast beef, potatoes, carrots, onions, rolls, salad. Drank coffee. Drank homemade wine with supper.
10. Read a little more Emily Dickinson Biography.
11. Listened to Ravi Shankar, Andrea Bocelli, and Beethoven (String Quartet in F Major).
12. Gave special treats to the dogs and to the cats.
13. Pet the dogs.
14. Pet Mojo (my favorite tabby).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Emily Dickinson Dysfunction, Part 6

Strange day. The weather was odd for November. Fast changing, like Spring. Chilly in the morning. Then the sun came out for maybe ten minutes in the afternoon. It felt warm. Then clouds closed over the sun. It got windy and cold. Then in the evening came lightening. Thunder rattled the windows in the house. Finally a drenching rain.

A day of contradictions. Chilly and warm. Sun. Warmth. Wind. Cold. Lightening and Thunder. Blue sky and rain. Serenity with an underlying sense of power, violence even.

Emily was like this.

Emily Dickinson Dysfunction, Part 5

Portrayals of Emily

1. Agoraphobic
2. Afraid of her surroundings
3. Eccentric
4. Spinster
5. Innovative pre-modernist poet
6. Rebellious and courageous woman

Emily Dickinson Dysfunction, Part 4

Emily Dickinson's struggles:

1. Faith
2. Domineering father
3. Mortality
4. Challenges of being a woman
5. Challenges of being a woman and a poet

Emily Dickinson Dysfunction, Part 3

I came up with an idea tonight that I am hoping will contribute to a cure to my Emily Dickinson Dysfunction (EDD). I have started a secret blog dedicated to nothing but Emily. I will continue to thrash out my thoughts and discoveries on Emily here (along with my other ramblings). And then once I have digested the material enough, I will turn to the secret blog and record my journey there in a more "finished," "polished," or "poetic" form. I would like to try this experiment for at least a year. At the end of the year, I would like to have a personal notebook (case study) representing my journey to know Emily. This seems like a fun project. Most of all, a worthy project. I hope I will not quit on it. I hope my curiosity about Emily will sustain me for 12 months. I think this project will make me a better teacher and writer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Emily Dickinson Dysfunction, Part 2

I might not have ever come back to Emily Dickinson, except that I felt I had to cover her to some extent in the Modern Poetry course. Almost all the textbooks credit Whitman and Dickinson as being important forerunners to Modern Poetry. While discussing Dickinson, however, I had to admit to my students that I felt as though I was being "busted," my lack of appreciation for her work made real in front of my captive audience. Some of the students spoke of their appreciation for her work; others fell in my camp, not totally turned off to her but rather perplexed regarding her work.

Subsequently, I have made it my goal to get to know Emily as best I can.

I used to be disappointed in myself for not being a fast learner, for being someone who had to struggle toward enlightenment. But now I recognize that for me the struggle is part of the blessing. Getting to know Emily and to admire her work (as I feel I am capable of doing) is going to be a significant journey for me.

As it has turned out, I share more with Emily than I ever could have imagined.

Although in the past I have been put off by her stark style, her ambiguous punctuation and capitalization, the contradictory interpretations of her work that perplex, I am just now coming to know the brilliant possibilities of her poetry.

More to come.

Monday, November 12, 2007

On Nov. 12

On this day in 1935, 27-year-old Theodore Roethke was hospitalized for the first of the manic-depressive breakdowns that would recur throughout his life. Roethke had just begun a teaching post at Michigan State University and, according to colleagues, had been drinking heavily all semester, dozens of cups of coffee and bottles of cola a day as well as alcohol. On the previous evening, a cold one, he had taken a long walk in the woods without a coat and eventually with only one shoe; the next morning, after deciding "to cut my eight o'clock class deliberately just to see how long they would stick around," Roethke took another walk in the woods, also coatless. He was shivering and delirious when he arrived at the dean's office, where he planned "to explain one or two things about this experiment"; the dean, trained as a mathematician, called for the doctors. Roethke later told friends that while on his first walk he had had a mystical experience with a tree -- even pointed out the tree, while retrieving his shoe. The tree taught him "the secret of Nijinsky," he said, perhaps referring to that passage in Nijinsky's diary -- written while Nijinsky was a mental patient -- that describes learning from a tree that "human beings do not understand feelings."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Emily Dickinson Dysfunction, Part I

A confession: I have trouble reading Emily Dickinson's poems.

My first encounter with her was probably high school, probably, "I'm nobody, who are you?"

In college, her Complete Poems in my hand, I convinced myself I was indifferent to her work. More likely I didn't like the feeling of being trapped in the corridors of her mind.

Whitman was a different story: "I depart as air," he wrote.

I longed for a transcendent experience like Whitman's; I still do. Whitman gave me hope of shedding this mortal coil. Dickinson did not. Her isolation, her "madness," her constant tracings of mind-shifts, the volatile underpinnings of her seemingly quiet existance were all things I did not want for myself.

More to come.

What I Did Today

1. Slept very late.
2. Made coffee and scones.
3. Enjoyed petting my black cat.
4. Watched 3 episodes of The Sopranos.
5. Thought about Emily Dickinson.

Friday, November 09, 2007

When I Went To Vote on Tuesday

It was cold when we went to vote on Tuesday. We drove through the little town in which we vote (in the Fire station), and the neon lights outside the little stores and restaurants looked both sad and beckoning. An American flag flapped in the wind and then wrapped itself around the pole.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Unsettles Complacency

"Poetry unsettles complacency. It refreshes the familiar by dissolving the encrustation of cliches." --Robert Pinsky, "Poet's Choice"

Pinsky excerpts from Reed Whittemore:

A certain gravity,
A solemn pose denoting
Grief well-borne
Is probably correct.
At parties be reserved.
Restrain the raucous chuckle
And the dirty joke.
Drink less,
Incline to thoughtfulness,
And dance, dance
Those melancholy tunes.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hundreds of Geese!

Hundreds of Canada Geese in a man-made pond beside the freeway.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Being a mattress

Allen said that last night he dreamed he was an old mattress with broken springs and that the dogs were jumping on him and he couldn't move or do anything about it.

I said, "You did not!"

He said, "I did, too!"

So apparently he did dream it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

As usual...

"As usual, there's more garbage than cans."
--Theodore Roethke, Straw for the Fire

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A dream

Last night I had the nicest dream about a rugged, wind-swept, and lonely beach. Allen and I were walking along this beach, looking for the best place to put our tent for the night. It was evening and I carried a lantern, which was not lit. We used only the stars for light. We set up the tent and then I turned on the lantern. It was only then that I saw little pockets of snow on the ground. The effect of the snow on the rocky shore, along with the ocean sounds just beyond, was beautiful.

Don't say...

"Don't say: create."
--Theodore Roethke, Straw for the Fire.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Oyster River

There is a movement toward spiritual unity in Theodore Roethke's "Meditation at Oyster River."

There is a tension in the poem between disunity/unity, and there also is a fear of death being expressed in the poem.

The poem is Whitmanesque for me in the way opposites come together, such as here: "A twilight wind, light as a child's breath / Turning not a leaf, not a ripple. / The dew revives on the beach-grass; / The salt-soaked wood of the fire crackles; / A fish raven turns on its perch (a dead tree in the rivermouth), / Its wings catching a last glint of the reflected sunlight."

The image of twilight (endings) juxtaposed with that ofchildhood (beginnings), the fish raven (fish = infinity or God) with the dead tree. The wings of the raven catching the "last glint" of reflected sunlight.

While this juxtaposition of opposites is Whitmanesque, Roethke is not nearly so optimistic as Whitman. There is something malevolent in nature, in the life force, and life is tinged by the inevitability of death:

In the next stanza, Roethke says:

"The self persists like a dying star, / In sleep, afriad. Death's face rises afresh, / Among the shy beasts..." and then the tide comes in, "tongues of water, creeping in, quietly." This is where a transformation occurs.

I deeply appreciate: "In this hour, / In this first heaven of knowing..."We understand Roethke is reaching his "paradise," his moment of unity.

Even better are the lines: "I rise and fall, and time folds / Into a long moment; / And I hear the lichen speak, / And the ivy advance with its white lizard feet-- / On the shimmering road, / On the dusty detour."

Talk about permeable boundaries.

The last two stanzas can be contrasted to Eliot's "The Waste Land" quite neatly. Eliot's landscape is dry; Roethke's is wet, and water equals life. Roethke even says: "Water's my will, and my way, / And the spirit runs, intermittently, / In and out of the small waves, Runs with the intrepid shorebirds--"

Yet something dark remains: "How graceful the small before danger!"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Something more...

"Not the boring moments, the small gratifications, but the struggle where we become something more than shadows."--Theodore Roethke, Straw for the Fire

Student surprise

I was surprised by the level of discussion that happened in my two intro. to literature classes today. We were comparing and contrasting Ovid's Icarus telling to Auden's "Musee Des Beaux Arts." We had also recently watched The Bridge, the documentary about people who committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge (students also read "Jumpers" from The New Yorker.)

These are late afternoon/evening classes (4:30 and 6:00). I've taught classes at the time for several years. Students tend to be tired after a long day or sleepy because they've just eaten supper. But all semester the students have been awake and aware.

Today, given the subject matter (suicide), I expected nervousness and silence, but they were talkative and engaged. I was proud of them.

Warm October

It was much too warm here to be the middle of October.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Inside My Head With Bach

Right now I am listening to Bach's Cello Suite #2 in D Minor.

It takes me to a place outside myself. I am walking down a long, wide hallway. There is no end. I am wearing dressy shoes, slick-soled, like the kind I wore as a child. The shoes click against the shiny floor. The sound echoes in the vast space.

On the walls are beautiful paintings.

I don't have anywhere else to go, nothing else to do.

I will walk here all day.

Gathering Wood

We bought our first batch of wood for Winter today. We are late doing this and are lucky to have found some. Allen came home with the wood at around 5:30. I went out and kept him company a while as he stacked. Inside, supper was cooking in the oven: one of my infamous casseroles made from whatever I could find in the house. It felt like when we were first married.

All that wood. Preparation for rough and raw days ahead.

All that possiblity.

I Can Be Quite Dense

I can be quite dense when it comes to understanding some authors.

Emily Dickinson is an author I have not been able to get close to. However, I am ever creeping toward some discovery. I am slowly developing a relationship with her.

I have been doing some reading lately about how her mind shifted from Puritanism to Transcendentalism.

According to Transcendentalism, we each have an "Over-soul," which is the means by which we are made one with every other thing. I am beginning to understand how Emily, perhaps, longed for spiritual nourishment but was unwilling to seek this within the confines of Puritanism. Rather, though her poetry, she sought to discover her "self."

In other words, the Punitan God is no longer the center of her world but rather something "unknown," something outside of what her mind could grasp:

I dwell in Possibility--

A fairer House than Prose--

More numerous of Windows--

Superior--for doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--

Impregnable of Eye--

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--

For Occupation--This--

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise--

Here she goes beyond doctrine, beyond certainties: she moves toward essences. Possibility is poetry. Through the imagination, and alone, she can find Paradise (knowledge of self).

My reading and thinking have lately brought me closer to Emily Dickinson. I will continue to work at this.

PS. Over-soul is an idea discussed by Emerson:

"The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every man's particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart."

and ...

"We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Shining/Hour of the Wolf

I've been on a Ingmar Bergman jag the last few days.

What I like about Bergman is that he doesn't tell us how to react or feel but leaves us to make our own judgments.

The DVDs that I purchased have interviews with Bergman on them, and from what I can gather, Bergman went through a lot of struggles personally and artistically. There are interviews with Liv Ullmann, also. Ullmann starred in several Bergman films and also was romantically involved with him. She had a child by him.

One of the things she says in her interview about The Hour of the Wolf is that she should have listened to her character, Alma. If she had, she might not have spent so much time trying to work it out with Bergman, trying to live with a man who had so many issues he was trying to work out.

I thought his comment was telling.

Another thing Ullmann talks about is that when one lives with a person who is disintegrating, one runs the danger of being prone to the same forces as the disintegrating person. In other words, if you live with a disturbed person, you can take on qualities of being a disturbed person yourself. The Hour of the Wolf, like so much great drama, exaggerates the crisis, and to great effect, I think.

King plays around with the idea a bit more, gives the Torrance child a special ability to see into another reality. So the situations in the two films aren't parallel right down the line, but the caparisons between the two are pretty fascinating.

Another comparison: in both The Shining and The Hour of the Wolf, the wives are enablers. They believe that if they love their husbands enough, help them enough, support them enough, then things will turn out fine in the end. This is a dangerous assumption.

Narcissism in an artist is dangerous because it kills the art he or she is trying to create. I think it's interesting that in both works, the artist either kills or attempts to kill a child. What does the child represent? Perhaps his creative effort? It's hard to say, but intriguing to think about.

*****Subsequent thoughts*****

The Shining is a novel by Stephen King and was also made into a movie (actually, two movie versions of the novel have been made). The Hour of the Wolf is a film by Ingmar Bergman.

Both The Shining and The Hour of the Wolf are about artists. In both cases, the artist falls prey to inner chaos, causing complete personality disintegration. In The Shining, Jack Torrance takes a job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. He wants quiet time in order to devote to writing his novel. He is also attempting to escape personal and social problems stemming from an incident of abusing his son.

In The Hour of the Wolf, Johan Borg goes to a remote island in order to paint. He is also escaping elements of his past, including a love affair which turned out badly. Both artists live in seclusion with their wives and slowly go mad. There are also erotically charged elements to both works. For instance, in The Shining, Jack finds himself seduced by a woman who at first appears to be beautiful and young, but who shifts into a hag resembling a rotting corpse.

In The Hour of the Wolf, Johan finds himself in an embrace with an old woman and, later, confronts his former lover who at first poses as a corpse.

I believe the artist must go through a death embrace in order to create. The ego must dissolve and part of the consciousness of the artist must die. But there is a danger, too, in losing the ego all together. Somehow, a balance must be struck within the artist if he or she is going to survive the creative process in tact.

Ingmar Bergman said in a late-life interview that he felt as though he was always only a few steps from chaos. His fear of losing control is dealt with in several of his films, including The Hour of the Wolf.

All artists, to some degree, recognize the danger of what they do. In order to create, the artist has to draw from the dangerous well of the unconscious. There be dragons.

The passion for creating art can be destructive as well as creative. Both The Shining and The Hour of the Wolf show what happens when the destructive quality of passion is allowed to take over. The artist becomes a prisoner of the imagination, just as Jack Torrance becomes a prisoner of the Overlook and as Johan Borg becomes a prisoner to his humiliations.

Both artists "die" because they cannot reconcile the dark forces of the imagination with Apollo, the light of reason. Indeed, in The Hour of the Wolf, Bergman touches on the idea of darkness and light by integrating elements of Mozart's The Magic Flute into the film. Jack Torrance quite literally freezes to death. Apollo, the Sun god, is no where in evidence. Torrance is slain by the dark forces within.

Both works, too, feature "castles" which are labyrinthine in structure. The Overlook Hotel is a kind of huge, sprawling castle. In The Hour of the Wolf, Johan visits a castle where strange and horrific things happen. In both cases, the castle represents the sprawling and confused mind of the artist.

Both works are instructive to artists and fascinating to me, especially as I began to compare them. I know there are some artists who won't relate to this idea of the dark forces within, but many artists will.

Monday, October 01, 2007

I've Been Simpsonized!

Click Here.

Dry Grass

Allen and I took a Sunday walk on some state land near our house. Part of the path was through trees. Big brown leaves crunched loudly under our feet. Then the path wound through tall brown grass, higher than our heads, that tall. The path was soft green grass.

It was quiet except for the tall grass.

The tall grass made a dry, rasping sound in the wind.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pow Wow

I was tired from a week of teaching and slept late. Allen got up early with the dogs and drove a few miles to Perrysburg and attended a Pow Wow. He returned after noon and I was still in bed. He'd bought me a cap, black with pretty feather designs on the front and back. I dressed and we went back to the Pow Wow. I got a piece of fry bread and split an "Indian Taco" with Allen. I bought a book about Native American mythology and the skull of a snapping turtle. After the Pow Wow, Allen and I got some tacos at Taco Bell and drove to a place beside the river.

We sat on the tailgate of the truck, looking out over the river. The river was low and you could see the rocky bottom in many places. Water birds stood on these rocky islands. Allen and I sat and watched the river. The sun went down. It was the best part of the day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dark Patches

It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
The Best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious,
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?

Walt Whitman.

Friday, September 21, 2007

In a Ditch

Tiny orange butterflies on the
ground in the wet part of a ditch

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New website

I am going to try this website on for size. It still needs work. Today I haven't been able to access the features due to "a busy or broken server." Also the contact feature does not seem to be working. Maybe they are just having a bad day. So far all the web builders I have been using are free. I like this one, drag and drop: it is easy. But if it isn't consistent I may have to eventually pay for a site.


Another thing you notice about Big Sur (and towns nearby) is how floral the landscape is. Top photo: a flowering tree in Carmel.
Bottom photo: succulent ground cover behind Robinson Jeffers's Hawk Tower in Carmel. By the way, locals call the house in the distance the "butterfly house" because of its odd roof. Someone told me this house is on the market for twelve million dollars.


Allen stands inside one of the redwoods at Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur.

Everything at Big Sur humbles you, reminds you of your smallness.

The Ocean at Big Sur

Big Sur is primal. It brings you to an encounter with your deepest self. Everything there is about height and depth, the vertical; whereas here in the flatlands of Ohio, where I live, it is all about the horizontal, flat, seemingly endless space. The change of geological perspective was good for me. My room at Esalen was right next to the ocean. My windows were open and I could hear the ocean constantly. It was quite loud and utterly contagious.

The Long Journey, another view

This photo shows another view of the odd geological features that are sometimes found beside Highway One near Big Sur. This angle shows how close the rocky soil is to the highway. On the other side of the road, not visible in this photograph, is a steep cliff. At the bottom of the cliff, or course, is the ocean.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Long Journey

Along Highway 1, near Big Sur, California. This is me standing at the base of one of the most curious land features along this highway.

Many people come to the Esalen Workshops in order to put their experiences into a context. They want to express their pain without being trite or luridly confessional.

During my workshops, I saw people dealing with all the aspects of the human experience with perseverence, courage, and dignity. I saw people laugh (great celebratory laughter) and I saw them weep at what they had written. It all happened in the most supportive atmosphere I have ever experienced.

Big Sur is an excellent setting for writing because so much of what is going on in the landscape mirrors our own interior journey. The ocean and the rocks are important symbols of experience; however I found this roadside phenomenon to be most characteristic of people's experience at Esalen. This is not stone; it is a mixture of sand, clay, and small stones, shaped by the wind and the rain. It crumbles easily and yet it has a deceptive appearance of solidity. This geographical feature is right next to the highway, and it makes me recall one of my favorite poems by Theodore Roethke:

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones. ...

--excerpted from "Journey Into the Interior" by Theodore Roethke

Something that happened at Esalen

She was tall and slender. She came into the workshop in a sleeveless blouse. She had a tattoo encircling her upper arm. From something she'd read to me earlier, I knew she had a dying child. She listened to my prompt and wrote for twenty minutes. She read. It was a delicate ending to the book she would someday write. I could see the book in my mind's eye. When she finished reading, I closed the book gently and put it on an imaginary shelf. I wanted to cry because the book was so beautiful and now it had ended.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hurry, hurry

Well, I had to scrap the website I had been working on for so long. I started building the new one. Hurry, hurry, if you want to see it, because I know I'll do something soon to screw it up. It has an excerpt from "Trash" on it.

I'll keep working on the site. Hopefully I won't have to scrap this one.

Click >here< to go to the site.

Strange Days

What a strange few days it has been. My mother-in-law died. I dislike the term, "mother-in-law," but it answers the question of relationship. I shall not say much, except what is obvious. We are all sad.

Meanwhile, my trip to California is coming up quickly. Some of the luster is gone because of the family tragedy. Allen even mentioned not wanting to go. My desire faltered as well. However, we are going. I will be teaching writing workshops again at Esalen in Big Sur. I have been looking forward to it for several months. Ultimately, I am happy to have the opportunity to see the Pacific Coast again. Brian (our son) will be living here and watching our animals.

My story "Trash" just came out in The Sun which has a new website. You can look at the contributor's notes of the issue that my story is in if you click >here<

Speaking of websites, for some weeks I have been trying to put together a website for myself. I had basically finished it except for a page where links got ruined. They still work but look bad. Now the site won't let me fix anything; it just keeps prompting me to make a new blog. I can't even delete the one I just finished. Oh dear. Maybe this is what I get for using a free service.

Strange days, strange days.

Posting is likely to be irregular until I get back on my pony again.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The waiting

When you know someone is going to die soon, the waiting curls up inside your body. It feels like a wet rag or sponge. There it expands until you think you can't take it anymore. Then the person dies. Then you are left with a black hole and nothing to fill it with.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why I am afraid of Bees

Photo taken this afternoon in our yard.

When I was little
I went into a house my
father was building.
I rocked in a little
red rocking chair he had
made me. On the
back of the chair
my father had painted
my name. I rocked very
fast. As I rocked, I hit
an empty box with my
feet. Soon I felt a terrible
pain and saw a bee climbing
slowly down into the box.
I cried as my father put
chewing tobacco over the
poison. He told me the
bee would die now because
he had planted his stinger
in me. A wasp can sting over
and over and still live, he said,
but not bees. I thought of
the bee climbing into the
darkness of the box to die,
and I was glad.

Outside the insects are screaming

Photo taken this afternoon in our yard.

August 28
Outside the insects are screaming,
"It's still summer! It's still summer!"
Bees and butterflies
work in the sunflower middles.
Butterfly, elephant-fairie, dipping
your long trunk into the blossom.
Bee, I'm afraid of you, though I know
you will not sting me.


Hector with the lazy eyes.
Hector with the lazy eyes and lazy feet.
Hector who has no job.
Hector, Hector.
Hector who is a mama's boy.
Hector who will eat at no other table than his mother's.
Hector who turns his lazy, beatific eyes to hers,
giving thanks.

Something I wrote today for a new friend (JM)

The words "tulip tree" seem unbelievably tender to me today.

Five questions that destroy you

  1. Don't you love me anymore?
  2. Why couldn't you see that? ~or~ Why couldn't you see that?
  3. What were you thinking? ~or~ What were you thinking?
  4. Didn't you hear me? Followed by, "I said..."
  5. Oh, were you serious?


Redemptive powers of the imagination.

Destructive of the social self.


The magical unity of an image.


Today was a red book bag.
Today was a black pair of socks.
Today was eight elevator rides.
Today was a cracked sidewalk.
Today was a small package in the mail.
Today was Hamlet's heart breaking.
Today was a dog with a stick,
my husband saying, "Good boy,
that's a good boy.
Yeah, that's a real good boy."

It's good to laugh

This photograph of Buddha

makes me laugh. It's good to laugh.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

In the Yard, Looking

Allen and I walked around the yard looking for monarch butterfly caterpillars. We found several and also a new cocoon. So new it was wet. Drops of liquid shone on the cocoon like jewels.

My Wild Yellow Cat

Yellow cat

Yellow cat with pale green eyes. I pet him carefully.


A dragonfly hovering over a mound of gravel.


Cricket chirping in the attic.

More birds

Yesterday, a hundred
black birds in flight.
They landed,
in the green grass.

Today, a vulture
circling over
our field. I made
a head
count of our cats.

PW and RB

  • Read several articles in the new Poets & Writers Magazine last night. Excellent article about Junot Diaz. It took him eleven years to publish a new book after his debut fiction Drown. It was instructive and inspiring to read of how he found his next book topic. I feel I am going through a similar experience. A big topic I love and want to write about (Ohio River), but smaller voice calling to me: "Write me, write me."
  • Read Downstream From Trout Fishing in America by Keith Abbott last night. Parts of it very good; missing a lot of heart and soul, though. Maybe I'm just spoiled by Ianthe's beautiful and generous recollection of her father.

Surreal Experience

Going shopping is a surreal experience for me. Here is a collage I did to show people what shopping feels like to me. I call the collage "Taking Denise Levertov to the Mall."

A love poem

Yesterday (Saturday), I wrote a love poem for my husband and gave it to him.

Dog sleeping

When did I get used to having a gassy dog napping in my lap?

Today I bought new clothes

Today I bought new clothes. I hate shopping. I hate trying clothes on. Pushing and pulling the clothes over my tired body. I also hate spending money on clothes. I bought two pair of pants, four shirts, four pair of cotton socks, and three pair of cotton underwear. It cost $130.00. A hundred and thirty dollars just for cloth to drape around my body. Outrageous.

Dark sky

Bright green earth against dark sky to the east.

A hawk on a wire

A wire crossing the road.
A hawk on the wire.
A sentinel.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Dream I Had Last Night

I wished for
then walked
across the yard
and picked up
the garden

A voice
out of the hose

At Three in the Morning II

I am sleepy, but I
don't want


want to
know something
I don't know
what I
to know.


At Three in the Morning

At three
in the morning
I think
about my

Yellow for you

My sunflowers
standing in the yard.

Today I stood among them,
another blossom.

Feet, hips,

My love, I am sorry you are

My love
I am sorry
you are

My love
for you
is still


in my

A sunflower--
its seeds
were hard

My Ghost II

My Ghost
The walls
Of my

My ghost

Gonna give
up the ghost
if it don't
cool down

Mother Teresa

She said she could not express
the state of her soul, how dark
it was, how terrible.
Her thoughts to heaven rained
down on her like sharp knives.


Quotes from Mother Teresa
"I am told God lives in me -- and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul," she wrote in one of the letters.

"Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love -- the word -- it brings nothing,"

In my soul, I can't tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible -- I feel like refusing God."

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Mind Never Rests

The Mind Never Rests. Theresa Williams. Collage.
I'm tired today. I think I'll try to rest.

A Man Standing

From the window of our truck,
A man standing at the edge of his house.
He held a gardening tool with a long handle.
The handle at a diagonal in front of his body.
At first I thought he held a guitar.


Both sexes
are blood
Only the female
gets greatly


Like a whirlpool.
Kept pulling me in.

Good Earth

There's good
earth that hasn't
been covered. We must
build more stores.

Sunflower petals

Sunflower petals
on a baby's

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is gone

The bar of sunlight is gone.


  • The leaves on the green pear tree in the wind.
  • A bar of sunlight across the latch on the door. Shadows of leaves.

My Sleeves

Yesterday (Wednesday) I showed Modern Times to my Modern Poetry students. I laughed so much that my eyes filled with tears. I had to wipe my eyes on my sleeves.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Today it rained.

  • Yesterday...
  • I tore small pieces off my spinach pie and fed them to the dogs with my fingers. Each time, Sweet Pea gobbled hers down immediately. Buddha always smelled his first.
  • I reread Hamlet and remembered why I love it. I am Hamlet. I am Hamlet. I am Hamlet.
  • I sent back Season 3 disc 3 of The Sopranos (to Netflix).
  • I made my reservation for a room at Hotel De Anza in San Jose.
  • I took a bath early in the morning. I had not been to bed yet. The insects were loud outside the bathroom window. Once in a while, I heard a car on the highway.
  • Today...
  • My son Allen called today. We had a good talk. He wanted to know if I liked the CDs he let me borrow.
  • It rained, so I couldn't ride my new bike after work.
  • A young man came up to me after literature class and wondered if the detail about the torches storming the castle was in Hamlet. I said, "No, that's in Macbeth." He said, "Then Macbeth is my favorite play."

Today I had watermelon.

Today Allen fixed my supper. He cut chicken breasts into strips, breaded the strips and fried them. They were spicy and good. He stir fried vegetables and warmed spinach pie left over from yesterday. For dessert I had watermelon.

I release you...

One thing that started to bother me about my blog is that I started thinking too much about my readers.

Now, dear readers, I do love you. However, I began to worry too much about how I was dispensing information. I felt I had to present a coherent idea each time. And that began to put too much pressure on me.

I was afraid to be fragmentary or brief, for fear readers would roll their eyes and say, "She expects a comment on this?"

Therefore, I say to you, dear reader, I release you. I release you from all responsibility. You must not feel you have to comment on any of my entries. And if an entry looks esoteric, nonsensical, mediocre, tedious, or just too strange, just shrug your shoulders and go on.

I came to the conclusion that sometimes I might just want to jot down fragmentary thoughts or brief statements about what I did or saw that day. I came to this conclusion after reading Ianthe Brautigan's memoir of her father, Richard Brautigan. She reveals that Richard kept cryptic records about his days. Reading them, I was very touched. In a way, his short notes brought me closer to the man than lengthy autobiographical excursions would have. They also open me up, my mind, my heart. Hardly any adjectives, no sensory details. Just short, simple, declarative sentences. Elementary. True. Here are some examples:

Tuesday, September 2, 1975
My daughter and I talked about the FBI

Friday, September 19, 1975
I had a pleasant time with my daughter.

Friday, September 21, 1975
I had a long and very rewarding conversation with my daughter.

Friday, September 26, 1975
--We drove over to Bozeman to take my daughter to the dentist. She was in a very chatty mood.
--I went for a walk with my daughter down into the big fields, and I had a long talk with her.

Thursday, October 16, 1975
I bought a waffle iron for Ianthe, she's wanted one for a long time.

Saturday, October 25, 1975
Ianthe and I went into town and got some bulbs for planting. I want some daffodils in the spring.

The last two tug on me, in particular. It is touching to me that he bought his daughter the waffle iron. And it says something about his capacity for hope that he wanted to plant daffodil bulbs.

I am going to start posting some entries like this, and I'm going to see where the process takes me. It's an experiment. Maybe it will free my mind. I hope to discover some important truths this way.

Don't worry. You don't have to say anything at all. I release you. By releasing you, I am releasing myself.

This is one change I am making. I want to make more. More on that later.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Wave (or Hamlet's doubts)

There is an excellent book called The Wave by Morton Rhue which explains how people can be seized by forces seemingly out of their control. Such a wave--a wave of doubt--seized me prior to writing my last entry, and I gave in to it. I have such doubts from time to time. As I look at the entry now, it seems like a cry in the wilderness more than anything.

I have never been good at keeping diaries or journals. I always give them up. This journal (blog) is the only personal reflection that I have been able to keep going. I have always quit them before. They start feeling too self-conscious, they start to feel like I'm telling lies, and I start to get a little tired of myself. I figure if I'm getting tired of myself, others must be getting tired of me. I wasn't sure I had it in me to take this project through a transformation. It seemed easier just to quit.

But my personal habits are so chaotic that perhaps this is the only forum that will allow me to keep any kind of record of my being at all (other than the stories that I write, which always come first). I should keep going. I am trying to build some confidence in myself that I have things worth saying. Maybe that will come to me in time.

I am already caught in the maelstrom of school. Tomorrow I must talk about the first act of Hamlet. So I guess I better go prepare.

Hamlet was a doubter. And look how he turned out.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Drama of Life and Death. Theresa Williams. Collage.

I look back at the person I was when I first started blogging and I feel she is very different from the person I am now. Once the blog fulfilled a need I had to figure out who I was artistically. I'd pushed a book out into the world but felt lost about my where to go next with my writing. I was full of doubts. I felt bogged down in my academic work. I was trying to find myself artistically and professionally.

Lately, I've been thinking about quitting the blog. I've been thinking I don't need it anymore. I'm starting to feel grounded in my writing life. My teaching excites me in ways it hasn't for a long time. I have more ideas for stories than I will ever be able to write in a lifetime. I've found out why I write and why I write about what I write about. Many of the friends I started out with in the blogging world have disappeared. Their interests, too, have changed, and they don't come here anymore. I feel a pulling away where I once felt a strong connection to others out there. This place is visited less all the time; the comments are sparse. It may be time for a change. That may mean it's time for me to quit.
On the other hand, I don't want to be a quitter. I need to sort through my feelings about all this.

If I stay, this blog will no doubt change from what it has been. It may become more an academic exploration of subjects I'm interested in, a beginning place for some things I'd like to flesh out. It may become more about my teaching, too, than it once was. I just don't know.

I'm staying for now. I'm thinking it over. I'm thinking out loud. I probably shouldn't mention it, really, but if I don't, then I'm perpetuating a sort of lie and holding it inside myself, and that has never been good for me.

Classes start on Monday. I have finished all three of my syllabi, and there are many new people who will come into my life once again. We will go on a voyage together and hopefully create bonds, and good memories.

I am going to California in September, to Big Sur, to teach workshops at Esalen again. It was overcast today, breezy. The humidity was low, the air crisp and cool. Such days make me feel alive.

I read an entire book this afternoon and evening, something I haven't done in a long time. I've been picking up books for weeks and only been able to tolerate them in short bursts. My thoughts slide away and I have to put the books aside. But I read Ianthe Brautigan's memoir straight through today. It is about how she dealt with the suicide death of her famous father, Richard Gary Brautigan. I ordered the book after doing a short review at a book group at Library Thing called books compared. Doing the review made me curious about Richard Brautigan again. I have always felt a strange connection to him, a connection I've welcomed but that has always made me a bit uneasy, too. Doing the review and reading Ianthe's book, You Can't Catch Death, makes me want to write about the connection I have with Brautigan as an attempt to understand it.

I've met some new friends at Library Thing. I even started a group over there called Art is Life. I've looked in on message boards and groups before and have been frankly appalled at what I saw: a lot of cruelty, sniping at each other, and worthless conversation. I've never seen a group I wanted to belong to. But people at Library Thing are more like I am, I feel. I am at home there.

I'm not quitting the blog yet. I haven't decided yet what to do. That is the truth.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Dragon Lady

Dragon Lady. Collage, pen & ink. 8 1/2 x 11. Theresa Williams

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Got Milk?

Got Milk? Collage. 81/2 x 11. Theresa Williams

I have a few of my collages to share; here is the first.

A good complement to this collage is the song "Cemetery Polka" by Tom Waits.

What can I say: I have been in a strange mood.

Cemetery Polka:
Uncle Vernon, Uncle Vernon,
independent as a hog on ice
He's a big shot
down there at the slaughterhouse
Plays accordion for Mr. Weiss Uncle Biltmore and Uncle William
Made a million during World War Two
But they're tightwads
and they're cheapskates
And they'll never give a dime to you Auntie Mame has gone insane
She lives in the doorway
of an old hotel
And the radio is playing opera
All she ever says is "Go to hell" Uncle Violet flew as a pilot
And there ain't no pretty girls in France
Now he runs a tiny
little bookie joint
They say he never keeps it in his pants Uncle Bill will never leave a will
And the tumor is as big as an egg
He has a mistress, she's Puerto Rican
And I heard she has a wooden leg Uncle Phil can't live without his pills
He has emphysema and he's almost blind
And we must find out
where the money is
Get it now before he loses his mind

Bridge Collapse-part 2

After looking at the comments I received on my first entry about the bridge collapse and after listening tonight to some tapes about Langston Hughes and Wallace Stevens, I finally have something to say about meaning.

I have never been afraid to cross bridges. Of course, it goes through my mind, "What if," every time I'm on a bridge. But then I calm and trust everything will be fine.

For many years, I was trusting. I took people at their word, and I trusted that the people who designed bridges knew what they were doing and had my best interests in mind. The same with leaders, people in authority, like teachers and doctors.

You live and learn. Slowly my trust began to crumble and erode. Now I fight cynicism almost every day. There's plenty to be cynical about, but I don't like feeling that way. It really bothers me. I hate it.

I've built many bridges in this life. I've tried to make meaningful connections the best way I could.

If one of my bridges should collapse, I have others. Hart Crane saw the bridge as Faustian, as a symbol of human intelligence, ability, and power, but bridges aren't forever.

Listening to the lives of poets on my tapes, I was reminded of how poets of that time were influenced by the philosopher William James.

How do we make meaning? What happens when we have the will to believe and nothing to believe in?

There are no large solutions. Truth is momentary.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bridge Collapse

I have been thinking about the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis. I recently wrote about the Golden Gate Bridge and have been reading and reviewing Hart Crane's great poem, "The Bridge." Crane's poem heralded the wonders of the bridge. Even so, it was a symbol to him of humankind's Faustian urges. Both of these ideas seem relevant to the time Crane was writing, in the early days of the 20th Century. Now in the early days of the 21st Century we are made to understand that a vast number of bridges in the U.S. are structurally unsound.

If the bridge stood for wonder and Faustian urges nearly a hundred years ago, what does the bridge symbolize today?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cool Me Off!

This video, in part, is about how two middle aged people cope with a couple of active Boston Terriers. I love watching animals, and it's good to see Buddha and Sweet Pea so happy and healthy. The video is also about loving to see our animals on top of their game and enjoying them while we can. We lost a cat in the Spring. He was old and one day he just disappeared. I knew. I told Allen if he found any trace of him I wanted to know. Yesterday, he found a cat's skull in the field, and I feel sure it's Bubba's.

When you're an author and you have animals, those animals inevitably find their way into your work. Bubba was in one of my short stories that was published in THE SUN. We got him from the animal shelter in 1999, and he was old then. He was declawed, and yet among our cats he was King of the Road, Top Cat. He would try to knead his claws, still. It was sort of heartbreaking to watch that. It was the crippled nature of his paws that drew me to Bubba as a story element. His amputation matched the protagonist's amputated spirit.

I miss him.

Later today Allen and I are going to Toledo to see the movie RESCUE DAWN. It's directed by Werner Herzog. I like his work. We'll try to catch the early show. Until then, I'm going to work on a short story. The story has been sitting a few days, long enough that I can see how to shape it better.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


This is a repost from my old AOL Journal which I left after AOL put Ads on the journals of its paying members. That's why, by the way, this blog is called "exile edition."

Cynthia recently posted something about having a "calling" and I thought I remembered doing an entry at the AOL Journal about "the call." I wanted to repost it for her. But I couldn't find it. However, I did find this one. I wrote it back in 2004, not long after I started the journal. It seems to me to be relevant to a good number of things in my life right now:
The word "seek" is etymologically related, not to "see," as might appear to be the case, but to "sagacious." What is needed is not simply seeing but a quality of discernment regarding what is seen, a piercing insight that looks deeper than mere surface appearances. --Natalie Baan

Being a writer also means being a seeker. This means finding the clear path to my creativity, which is the same as finding a clear path to my "self."

Life's troubles, like the devil, can waylay you as you try to walk the path. The path is the way, in other words, freedom. The Chinese call this concept tao. They were well aware how easy it is to lose one's path. Lao-tzu wrote, "Heaven and earth are ruthless. To them the ten thousand things are but strawdogs. Life imposes its troubles on us and is indifferent to our longings and fears."

As a writer I want to aspire to be a sage, one who understands the tao of things and is not unduly disturbed. I don't want to become entangled with everything I meet and become untrue to myself. Chuang-tzu says of people who are untrue to themselves: "Day after day they use their minds in strife. Their little fears are mean and trembly; their great fears are stunned and overwhelming."

I want to become a person true to myself, my path. "The 'True Person'of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu lives fully in the world without being overwhelmed by its frenzy and muddle. He is impervious to the social pressures bearing down on him. 'He can commit an error and not regret it, meet with success and not make a show.'"

Lao-tzu says the way of the sage is like water, which "benefits the ten thousand creatures; yet itself does not scramble, but is content with the places that all men disdain."

Can the way of the writer, then, be like water? A flowing and nourishing act? That is how I would like writing to be for me.

Everything is a pitfall for the unwary and the faithless. And nothing is a pitfall for the courageous seeker who just shakes it off like a bear. --Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari

Ideas about tao taken from Stephen Batchelor's "The Devil in the Way."

Apology, by Richard Wilbur

The poem "Apology" by Richard Wilbur is on my top 25 list of songs or poems listened to by me in the last year. Here is the poem:

A word sticks in the wind’s throat;
A wind-launch drifts in the swells of rye;
Sometimes, in broad silence,
The hanging apples distill their darkness.
You, in a green dress, calling, and with brown hair,
Who come by the field-path now, whose name I say
Softly, forgive me love if also I call you
Wind’s word, apple-heart, haven of grasses.
--Richard Wilbur (1956)

So simple and elegant, an ode to ephemeral beauty, to nature's continuity, to Eros: this poem nearly brings me to tears each time I hear Wilbur's recitation of it. Wilbur's voice is both strong and gentle; it gives a sense of both agelessness and time passing.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ezra Pound 5

This is not my video; it was done by a talented young man who posted it to YouTube and I found it there...

Here, Pound is at the end of his life, having been imprisoned during the War for making radio broadcasts deemed "anti-American" and then kept for several years in an insane asylum, where he wrote some of his greatest work.
This is not an Entry for Judi Heartsong's Artsy Essay Contest, but her topic did start me thinking. This is a poem from Ezra Pound that our class will be studying in the Fall, and I think it expresses my thoughts on possessions. I think we can't know what our dearest possession is until we are brought to nil, until we have come close to or have lost everything we thought our lives were built on. For most of us, this happens not just once but perhaps many times. Each loss (or near-loss) is an opportunity to rebuild ourselves and deepen our lives. What we love best "remains," says Pound, and the rest is "dross." Nothing that is man-made can "remain," for these posessions are mere "vanity." Only the spirit, the soul, the capacity to endure is worth keeping: the rest is "dross."
What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance.

‘Master thyself, that others shall thee beare’
Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail
A swallen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half black half white
Nor knowst ’ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity,
I say pull down.

But to have done instead of not doing
this is not vanity
To have, with decency, knocked
That a Blunt should open
To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
Here error is all in the not done,
all in the diffidence that faltered.

Ezra Pound. Canto 81.


You won't often find me discussing politics here. But I took this quiz and behold, I do very much like both of these candidates. An Aquarian, I like idealism and I think it's an important part of being a LEADER. Not surprisingly, one of the biggest criticisms of me through the years is that I'm not "realistic" enough. Perhaps I turned to writing because there I could create my own worlds.

You're Kucinich-Edwards!

As Dennis Kucinich, you are perceived as being just a bit outside. Despite not fitting in,
well, anywhere, you maintain a vocal presence and try not to let anyone get away with ignoring
you. This would make you the classically annoying kid on the fringe of a group if you weren't
proven right so darn often. Since you are, you end up being more like a really tactless prophet.
No one can say your name five times fast.

You select John Edwards as your running mate after he charmed you into picking him.

Take the 2008 Presidential Ticket Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

The Sound and the Fury

Ha, ha, ha!

I took the quiz that I saw on Cynthia's blog. The quiz tells you what "book" you are. According to the quiz, I am The Sound and the Fury.

I'm not sure about it, though. Do I really signify nothing? Ha, ha, ha!

I do love Faulkner, however. My friend and colleague Julie tells me she thinks my writing owes much to Faulkner's dark, southern, tormented epics.

You're The Sound and the Fury!

by William Faulkner

Strong-willed but deeply confused, you are trying to come to grips
with a major crisis in your life. You can see many different perspectives on the issue,
but you're mostly overwhelmed with despair at what you've lost. People often have a hard
time understanding you, but they have some vague sense that you must be brilliant
anyway. Ultimately, you signify nothing.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

What day is this, anyway?

It's almost 2:30 in the morning, and I'm trying to grasp what day this is. I went to bed just after my last blog post and have just now gotten up again. I slept all of Sunday!

I'm not sure if I had some kind of illness or if I was just exhausted from so much writing. If it's the latter, then that isn't good. I've tried making bargains with myself before that I wouldn't do that.

I started feeling poorly on Friday. Allen and I were at the Ann Arbor Art Festival. I'd felt pretty well going up, and we'd had a spirited discussion about my story that is soon to be published. Not long after looking at artwork, however, I began to feel nauseus and dizzy. Allen collected me in the car and brought me home. I went to bed and slept a long time. Saturday, Allen made me a teriffic lunch, and I ate everything and went back to bed. I got up briefly to do the blog entry Sunday Morning. I ate some leftovers from Allen's terrific meal, and then I went back to bed. That was at about 4:30 Sunday a.m. Now it's 2:30 Monday a.m.!

When I get to writing, I lose track of everything, time, animals, meals. It's a wonderful feeling for the writing to be going so well, but it's disorienting and you do leave yourself open to harm when you do that. It's a trade off.

There's so much fear that if you stop, the muse will abandon you.

I routinely did this when I was young, going to school, and bringing up babies. Night was the only time I had silence to work. So I worked and didn't sleep. I don't know how I got through it except to say that I depended on my young body to get me through it. I'm 51 now, though, and my body is much less cooperative than it once was.

I've read so much about authors who have written themselves to exhaustion. Carson McCullers did when she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. John Berryman did that several times. In the wonderful series Faith and Reason with Bill Moyers, Pema Chodron counsels against such a practice. She explains how she stops writing, even as the writing is going well, in order to meditate or to rest. She says it's a willful action to keep writing just because you can. That your body and soul need rest. She is right, of course. And I've talked to my students about the obsessiveness of writing until you drop.

Now here I sit with an empty stomach and an awful headache.

What day is it again? :-)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Theresa's Top 25

Ever since I got iTunes and my iPod, I've been quite obsessive about keeping up with the number of times I play my songs or poems. I saved my top 25 list last year because I wanted to compare that list with this year's. Here are my top 25 for July 2007. I think a person's playlist says a lot about how she thinks and changes (or how her needs change). It's like a mini-biography of that person.

*I currently have 5019 songs or poems in my music library.

This year's Poems (red)
The top songs/poems for 2006 are in blue.

1. Mad World / Michael Andrews (from the movie Donnie Darko)
1. Mad World / Michael Andrews (from the movie Donnie Darko)
2. Once I Was / Tim Buckley
2. Epistle to be Left in the Earth / Archibald Macleish
3. Paradise / Bruce Springsteen
3. Something in the Way / Nirvana
4. In a Sentimental Mood / John Coltrane
4. Ghosts in the Maze / Richard Thompson (from the movie Grizzly Man)
5. The Earth is Broken / Tim Buckley
5. Devils and Dust / Bruce Springsteen
6. Epistle to be Left in the Earth / Archibald MacLeish
6. What to Do (poem) / Hayden Carruth
7. Pleasant Street / Tim Buckley
7. Mad World (shorter version) / Michael Andrews (from the movie Donnie Darko)
8. Phantasmagoria in Two / Tim Buckley
8. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road / Elton John
9. Ghosts in the Maze / Richard Thompson (from the movie Grizzly Man)
9. Ecstasy (poem) / Hayden Carruth
10. The River of Bees / W. S. Merwin
10. Layla / Eric Clapton
11. The Prayer Cycle: Movement I-Mercy / Jonathan Elias
11. Horn / Nick Drake
12. The Waking / Theodore Roethke
12. Know / Nick Drake
13. Jezebel / Iron and Wine
13. Goodbye Blue Sky / Pink Floyd
14. The First Cut is the Deepest / Cat Stevens
14. The River of Bees (poem) / W. S. Merwin
15. Know / Nick Drake
15. How Many Nights (poem) / Galway Kinnell
16. Something in the Way / Nirvana
16. Fruit Tree / Nick Drake
17. Apology / Richard Wilbur
17. Once I Was / Tim Buckley
18. Take Me to the River / Al Green
18. Wanted Dead or Alive / Chris Daughtry
19. Starwalker / Buffy Sainte-Marie
19. At the Ancient Pond (poem) / Davis Daniel
20. Dream Song 4 / John Berryman
20. Good Riddance / Green Day
21. If You Could Read My Mind / Johnny Cash
21. The Last Poem in the World (poem) / Hayden Carruth
22. Fruit Tree / Nick Drake
22. Somewhere Over the Rainbow / Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
23. And It Stoned Me / Van Morrison
23. The Tangent Universe / Michael Andrews (from the movie Donnie Darko)
24. Maybe There's a World / Yusuf (Cat Stevens)
24. Black Eyed Dog / Nick Drake
25. Love's Been Good to Me / Johnny Cash
25. One Perfect Rose (poem) / Dorothy Parker

Saturday, July 21, 2007


How wonderful it is to be recognized by one's peers. Judi Heartsong has bestowed the "Inspirational Blogger Award" on this blog. These awards originate from Writer's Reviews . The idea is that now I get to recommend five blogs for this award. The bloggers I name may also recommend five bloggers each, if they wish.

Here are my recommendations:

See How We Almost Fly by Alison Luterman. I met Alison in 2005 at Esalen in Big Sur, California. We both taught workshops. Alison is an award winning poet and playwright. At her blog, you can get a good idea of the ups and downs of the writing life. Her blog is inspiring because it shows her endurance.

Schizophrenia: A Carer's Journal by Mike is a frank portrayal of the difficulty of having a son with schizophrenia. I especially appreciate Mike's honesty about the emotions involved, as well as the difficulties of dealing with "the system." Mike's blog is inspiring because it shows genuine hope in the face of so much heartache and trouble.

Talking to Myself by Judi. Such wonderful humor; she shows us now not to take life so seriously. But her blog is a good balance between humor and seriousness. This blog is an exceptionally good read. Judi's family has recently experienced a tragedy, so if you've not been there in a while, be sure to do so and wish her well. Judi's blog is inspiring because she has so much life and loves being her age (57).

In a Dark Time by Loren Webster. The title is taken from one of Theodore Roethke's poems. Loren explores poetry, history, and photography, among many other things. Here you can get criticism on poets you may have never heard of or a history lesson about the Indian Wars! Loren's blog is inspiring because he's retired from teaching but not from learning, not from life.

Erin's Everyday Thoughts. Erin is a student of mine from the late nineties at BGSU. It does happen sometimes that students become your friends. I'm lucky to count Erin among my small number of genuine friends. Erin's blog is inspiring because she shows how she tries to juggle her career with her writing aspirations.

Thank you Judi Heartsong for recognizing my blog.



About Me

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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Epistle, by Archibald MacLeish

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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych



Little Deer

Little Deer



Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back

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