The Climber (an old poem)

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When my daughter was four months old, I wrote a poem called “The Climber” which was published by Mothering Magazine in 2008. Because the magazine is now defunct and the poem is no longer archived online, I’m posting it here so I can share it with a Facebook friend.  (p.s. I always feel vulnerable when I put a poem out because I’m not a poet. And because this is old, I want to edit and make it a better poem, but I’m not going to tinker right now, and instead just share it. A new mother of my acquaintance describes how her baby and her body intertwine as they nurse, and when I think of that, I zoom back to those raw, free-falling moments of early motherhood, when the tiniest thing seemed also like the biggest thing, and vice versa, and I was so sleep deprived and confused, who could even tell the difference. I remember how hard that time was, and now just want to stand in the swirl of those complexities and say to anyone in the midst of any of it: you are not alone.)

***

The Climber

 

When I was twenty-one,

I went rock climbing in the Clifton Gorge.

 

The leader held up

a bandanna,

said:

we could use it

to climb

blindfolded

if we wanted to.

 

Late in the day, I decided to try.

 

Belayer below me,

blindly I climbed,

finding foot holds

by braille.

 

Later the other women said I’d picked

places to support me

I wouldn’t have chosen

with my eyes.

Crevasses chosen by touch, by feel.

 

Twenty years later, the rocks in the Gorge are off limits

to climbers–

there were accidents,

people got hurt

or worse.

 

So I hike there,

carrying you,

and find columbine in the rocks

I climbed before.

 

And at night, when you nurse beside me,

eyes closed,

your tiny toe finds my navel.

 

Okay, you be the climber,

I’ll be the rock.

Trust your toe holds,

don’t fall,

don’t fall.

And if you fall,

I will catch you,

breech baby climber,

head up.

 

Little rock climber,

four months ago,

you were on the other side of my belly button.

Your hand grips my thumb now

like a walking stick.

 

You came from here.

Tara Ison’s REELING THROUGH LIFE

 

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When I write about books on my blog, I aim to write smart, insightful posts. I want to sound like someone with important things to say, to say them with wit and economy, to sound casual yet sophisticated. This desire often stops me from writing anything, defeating me before I’ve tried. (The better I know the book’s author, the more pervasive this pattern and my anxiety.) Operationally, it goes like this: Read a (great) book, smile and glow and lovingly put the book on a pile in my office that I will write about some day. Sometimes I do write about the book. Sometimes the book just sits there waiting until I clean my office, and because it seems too much time has passed and no one in the blogosphere really needs or wants my opinion, I put it back on the shelf, and recommend the book to anyone I think would like it.

This dance has become unwelcome and leaves me with stacks of books, shame, guilt. But my inner story (that I am a lazy Literary Citizen, etc.) is no longer serving me, so I’m letting it go. From now on, my intention is to just write something, anything, about the books I want to tell you about.

**

I want to tell you about Tara Ison’s book, Reeling Through Life: How I Learned To Live, Love, And Die At The Movies.

I love this book.

I owned it for months before I read it. Though I was busy, I was also intimidated by the idea of not knowing all the films inside and out, and by how much I admire Tara and her work. Excuses, excuses! (Tara was among the fabulous core faculty at Antioch Los Angeles MFA program when I was there at school, and is an exquisite teacher and human. And since then, she’s become a friend.)

At night when I’m reading, it’s often in the last hour before sleep, and sometimes I’m so tired that I just fade out. I never faded out while reading this book. As I read it, I felt an urge not only to stay up too late, but also to eat the book—it was tasty and decadent and full of unexpected spice.

I know Tara, so I have the pleasure of hearing her voice as I read these essays. I’ve seen some of the films she mentions, not all, but for those I didn’t know, or didn’t quite recall, she gives context in graceful strokes. The experience of reading it was therefor not in the least disorienting. Nor did she overload on context. The balance was graceful and perfect.

Of the million gems between these covers, I marked a section on p. 107 (in “How To Be A Jew”): Tara’s writing about the film The Chosen (which I have not seen).:

“Next up for the boys, a movie house, for some Van Johnson musical confection; Danny is unimpressed, bored. But then the newsreel begins: The ‘Nazi Murder Mills,’ with documentary footage of American troops liberating the concentration camps. Here we go, I think, begin the parade of those brutal, brutal images I have seen so many times by now. Again, really? I do not want to watch them again, I do not want another fix—or want to trigger the need for another fix—but I find myself shaking, my heart quickening. And I realize what is moving me, here, is Danny’s reaction to them. It is his first time seeing these images, and his horror is newborn and unfiltered, uncynical, raw. There are tears in his eyes, his jaw is both tightened and slack, his face seems to lose its shape; he is disappearing into these images, the way I once did, and watching his pain both shames me and reawakens my own. This image of Danny, a fictional character in a fictional movie, does not detract from what’s real, or from what’s true; it brings me back to what is real and true, an essential part of who I am, as a human being and a Jew, and for that I am also grateful.

I will never forget.”

(This, this, is how fiction matters.)

So for anyone interested in how the cinematic image can inform, bend, and shape our lives, I recommend this book. But the book is not just about film. The generosity, the humanity on the page affirms life, makes me feel more human. Tara is willing to air her frailty. While she never seems to obscure a corner of her messy inside story, none of it feels gratuitous. Her acts of humanity in this work are evident and unvarnished. It’s deeply satisfying as a memoir and a study of (capital S) Story.

If you are interested in writing sentences, read this book, because Tara’s sentences will help you learn about writing tight, gorgeous sentences.

And on a larger level: how she weaves film with her life story is a model in hybrid models…the form she’s made feels so inventive. I haven’t read anything quite like this. To me, it seems that Tara has created in these pages a new form.

**

So there it is. I could have agonized and shaped this post more, but instead I’m going to go smile at Reeling Through Life, and then hold it in my hands for a few moments before I shelve it where I can find it when it’s time to reread. (And try not to eat it.)

(And I’m grateful, because I still have Tara Ison’s story collection, BALL, to look forward to!)

transportation via image

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(Dollhouse dollhouse, kitten, Tiger.)

A week ago, I returned from the Omega Institute where I attended Lynda Barry‘s 5-day workshop called WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE. (I know that I will be writing about the experience for a long time, so I’m not even trying to encapsulate it all here. I do know that the time I spent in that workshop will affect my work and life in ways I can’t yet imagine, and probably for the rest of my life.)

Barry’s work had us considering what is an image but here “considering” is the wrong word: instead of an intellectual brain-ing activity, we considered via specific remembered images…with the moving hand and what she calls the back of the mind, and our friendly Professor Andretti (her workshop code name) guiding, prompting, timing us. We worked like dogs! (It’s a cliche, but also an image, and a puzzling one: aside from working dogs, do dogs work?) On the drive home, almost every song I heard had a mystery in it.

Images are everywhere, and I’m almost 50 years old, and I feel like I am just now noticing this!

Doing this work was the kind of experience that opens the senses. I’m noticing so much, so much more fully, in a more embodied way. I have not yet opened my composition book where the work from the workshop is contained. I’m following Professor Andretti’s advice and waiting, so the images have time to coalesce. It’s a magic process, and I don’t want to disturb it.

But I did open a small box of stuff that’s been sitting in my office for almost a year. The box is full of items from my (long-gone) childhood dollhouse. I still have most of the contents and inhabitants (Steiff and Schuco mohair bears, mostly, and some other species). A couple years ago, I moved the things out of boxes onto a bookshelf in my office, and having it out in the open makes me so happy. But today’s box was undiscovered until my mother found it at her house last year. (When she gave it to me, I opened it and looked through quickly, but didn’t have time to really peruse it, so I put it away. Now I am wondering if I put it off not only because of busyness and inertia, but maybe also something like the composition book from the workshop: maybe in that box there was still something magic happening that needed to be undisturbed.)

Tonight when I looked through the tiny items with my daughter, among the treasures (some pictured below) I found a tiny sample bottle of Estee Lauder Youth Dew. (Lynda Barry writes and talks about how sometimes an image, a song, will transport us back to a forgotten corner of our lives. If you are a child of the 1960s and 70s and you don’t believe me, try smelling some Youth Dew!)

This is one of those times I’m glad I’m a packrat.

Here are some things I found.

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“Dear Flipper, I went to Mexico with my family last summer. I saw a burro that…:”

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“…looked like this: …Isn’t this a cute burro? Love Kristy”

 

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Tiger and Deer were already in my office dollhouse, but in the new box…

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Tiger and Deer found their letters!

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“Dear, Deer I love you. Please write soon. Love Tiger Baby p.s. I coming over.”

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“Dear Tig, You can come over. Sat + Sun”

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more tiny letters and cards (and pencils)

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Handmade dollhouse TV. (Antenna=tootpicks)

Lynda Barry, Omega Institute workshop (scratching the surface)

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(words by someone else, drawing by me)

I can’t yet write deeply/fully about my experience at Lynda Barry’s WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE Omega Institute workshop last week, because it’s all still coalescing, and it’s summertime, and I just don’t have the mind space word space right now.  But I wrote a message to my former students and couple colleagues, because the message does scratch the surface (cliche, I know) in telling about how it was to be in the room with LB. More, more deeply, when I can.

***

Hi, all,

I’m just back from an amazing workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where I spent the week along with 70 others working with Lynda Barry.  Some of you know her work, maybe some of you don’t…but I wanted to pass these links along in case they are of interest to you.
If you like her vibe and work, I recommend the workshop very highly. It got me moving in the creative flow, writing and drawing and working really hard, and also unlocked a lot of stuck ideas I had about making art and what it’s all about.

(Or, in shorthand: Lynda Barry rocks! And so can you!)

She’s very generous about her teaching.  She considers her work open-sourced, and wants anyone and everyone to have access to it.  Her book that contains the most teaching stuff in it is Syllabus, but it has as much for the maker of art as the teacher.  (Okay, by now you know how I feel about Lynda Barry’s work.)
Here’s her TED talk, a good, longish introduction to her work:
And here’s a link about her work as it pertains to ACADEMIC WRITING as well…

***

Love, Rebecca

How can we move beyond misogyny?

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shrine for dead fish, arranged by children (July 2016)

Last Saturday on a road trip, I stopped for lunch at the Globe restaurant at Truck World in Hubbard, Ohio. As I filled my plate from the salad bar, I heard two men (and maybe a woman, it was hard to discern) conversing about the presidential candidates. Here is what I captured:

Man 1: Who’re you voting for?

Man 2: Oh, Trump, all the way. Everybody in this area is voting for Trump.

(Someone, then others, chiming in): (Benghazi, Benghazi, sick of these liars, etc.)

Man 1: About all Hillary’s got going for her is her looks.

(Someone, maybe a woman): She hasn’t even got THAT going for her, she’s getting older.

As I listened, nausea filled my bones, my gut. As I type the words now, I feel it again: fear, vulnerability (as a woman, traveling alone, and also myself “getting older”). Part of me wanted to say something to them, but I sensed that nothing I could say (nothing I could think of on the spot) would change their minds.

I did not feel safe to speak. (This is too often the experience for many women.)

But this is my blog, and I’m speaking now:

I am finished with misogyny.

I am done. Overt hatred like at Truck World, or subtle slights like in places where I work with people who might consider themselves liberal yet (due to ignorance or passivity or whatever reason) perpetuate the notion that women are lesser. No matter its shade or flavor, misogyny tastes like ash in my mouth.

It is the flavor of bullshit. A dead flavor.

I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Ohio primary, but when he did not emerge as predicted to be the Democratic nominee, I immediately planned to vote for Hillary Clinton in November. I have no patience for those who equate Hillary Clinton with Donald Trump, saying there’s really no difference.

BULLSHIT.

There are HUGE differences between those two humans that go deeply to the core of who they are. Reading this blog post from Tribe of Dreams helped me reframe the importance of this moment in history, and made me feel even more right about supporting Hillary Clinton. Some of the post:

This is a medicinal moment for humanity.

This statement is not an ignoring of Hillary Clinton’s sins or ignorances or dangerous choices or allegiances

nor is it a free pass for her to lead without continued immense pressure from those of us she leads to make choices that honor life, peace, people, and planet

but even with all of her shadows out in the light

Hillary Clinton is holding within her body right now an apex of the return of the Feminine

a center point of the tipping of the scales back into balance on planet Earth.

Here’s the thing that we (especially, I think, women) who are lefter-leaning and progressive can do: Help Hillary Clinton. Forgive her. Allow for the reality that—as least in her version of the journey to this point in her life—if she had not made a million compromises, she would not have made it to be, potentially, the first American woman to serve as President. She would not be poised to help us heal. (p.s. I would not want that job.)

I intend to do what I can, even if it’s just on the energetic plane. I intend to encourage Hillary Clinton to trust, deep inside herself, what Clarissa Pinkola Estes and others call The One Who Knows. Because that deep, feminine power is some awesome medicine. I have experienced its wings. The kind of transformation we would like to see takes a long time, takes patience and work, but as the song says, “One by one everyone comes to remember we’re healing the world one heart at a time.”

(Insert Your Context Here)

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“Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do.” –Cheryl Strayed, “The Love Of My Life

Winnowing stage directions (trusting the reader)

IMG_9821Often, new writers use extraneous stage directions and phrases that aren’t needed to show characters action. (So do I.) The reason, I think, is similar to my last post: First, the writer needs to see it all happening, in detail. Once that vision is established, however, it’s great to trust the reader to and winnow what’s possibly bloating the sentences.  Here’s an example from my novel:

FIRST VERSION: (I had to figure out where the character was going, and sort of lay it all out, with too much stage business describing what’s happening.)

She stumbled through the fire pit and into the hotel, quietly as she could, and went straight toward the stairs, but was stopped by Mr. Suspenders’ voice from the direction of the kitchen, where there was a light. “Whoever you are, a little help!”

PARED DOWN: (Once I realized I could see it, I pared down.)

She stumbled into the hotel, quietly as possible, and went toward the stairs, but Mr. Suspenders called from the kitchen. “Whoever you are, a little help!”

 

Strata (of a sentence, of a novel)

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subject to change…

I just had that feeling again: Final tweaks to my carnival novel, paper manuscript having been read aloud by me, inked notes having slashed many paragraphs, sentences, and words, now typing it up…

…this novel’s first of its nine lives was so overwritten, so many adjectives…I piled them on until the pile slid down into a word-hoarder’s jumble and hid the story…

…but the feeling I just had, again, slashing, slaying, comes back to TRUSTING THE READER…but also remembering that as writer, first, I had to KNOW (that the goggles were cloudy and tight, the straps were safe, there was “so much wind and motion”)…

…I had to see it & know it before I could show it…

…a very satisfying feeling, knowing now what I don’t need to say on page…

…there must be a word for that feeling…the first-knowing-then-trusting-before-being able-to-do-the-showing…

(to be continued…)

Alice, Although (Come support the Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse)

 

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I sent this letter to the editor of the Yellow Springs News. I’m posting it here I missed the paper’s deadline.

**

To The Editor,

If you missed the Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse production of Alice, Although last weekend, you’ll have another opportunity June 30 through July 3. The ambitious show’s focus is on the scandalous and influential life of Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice.

The production features a cast of young eagles, rough riders, reporters, “It” girls, four Alices, the Roosevelt family, and a snake named Emily Spinach. Through creative staging and hard work, the play’s original script by Jill Summerville and music by James Johnston have been brought to life by the children under the guidance of Ara Beal, AnnMarie Saunders, Eilis Price, Melissa Heston, Jennifer Gilchrist, and Barbara Leeds. YSKP is known for its inventive, exuberant productions, and this summer’s offering is no exception. These children are serious about their work, and it shows.

I grew up doing theatre in Yellow Springs, at school and at Center Stage, and studied theatre at Earlham College. But even for those of us who didn’t follow an academic or professional path, the value of community theatre is deeply felt and far-reaching. At its best, creating a theatrical experience nourishes the imagination and builds generations of humans who are capable of imagining the world anew.

Although the YSKP is grateful to receive donations and grants, the organization depends on ticket sales for funding. In addition, YSKP offers scholarships so that a child can participate regardless of a family’s financial circumstances. Packing the amphitheater next weekend is one way to support this gift of building children’s’ confidence and imagination. Collaborating in the expressive arts helps humans learn about cooperation, and helps build empathy in a world where we sorely need more. In our small way, by turning up to watch the show and supporting organizations like the YSKP, we can help make the world better.

So come see the magic emerge against the cyclorama of Washington DC in rosy hues, reminiscent of a Maxfield Parrish sky. Performances continue at 7:30pm at the Antioch College Amphitheatre (moving inside the Foundry Theatre if the weather doesn’t cooperate) Thursday, June 30 through Sunday, July 3. Dinner and dessert will be offered by Sunrise Café—convenient if you have a busy schedule. (Did I mention the peach pie?)

Sincerely,

Rebecca Kuder (YSKP volunteer and parent of an “It” girl)

“Run like hell my dear”

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Years ago, my friend Pegah gave me a book called The Gift, with poems by Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky). When I need inspiration, this book always helps. As summer solstice approaches, here is something that sparks me. (If I can remember these things, if I can remember and live these things…)

Here it is, from Hafiz (and Ladinsky):

We Have Not Come To Take Prisoners

We have not come here to take prisoners,
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.

We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.

Run my dear,
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.

Run like hell my dear,
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.

We have the duty to befriend
Those old aspects of obedience
That stand outside of our house
And shout to our reason
“O please, O please,
Come out and play.”

For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wondrous spirits,

But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom, and
Light!

—by Hafiz
(translated by Daniel Ladinsky)