Tag Archives: Wild Writing

Wild Writing: Watermelon Dream

Written in my Wild Writing class, inspired by two different poems: “A Prize Watermelon” by James O’Hern and “Prayer on National Childfree Day” by Abby E. Murray.

watermelon

I’m in the watermelon dream. As a kid, even though my grandparents had a farm and we had a large garden, we didn’t grow watermelons. Maybe it was too wet in Oregon, or there wasn’t enough sun. Watermelons were the stuff of picnics, barbecues, special occasions in summer, something you bought at the store. I don’t remember ever buying a watermelon for us to eat at home. Maybe they were too expensive, or maybe my parents didn’t like them, or maybe I just don’t remember.

As I got older, lived on my own, I never thought to buy a watermelon, unless it was for a picnic, barbecue, or special occasion. I didn’t think I particularly liked watermelon. But then I moved to Colorado, and they grow watermelons here — crispy, sweet melons that are local and in season for a month towards the end of every summer. The first year we bought one for no special reason, just to eat, it was so good we ate half of it immediately, standing over the kitchen sink with two spoons, eating straight out of the melon, juice running down our arms. We obsessively ate watermelon that summer, couldn’t stop, never felt satisfied no matter how much we ate, even when we made ourselves sick to our stomachs from eating so much.

lastwatermelon

Then one year, as our garden got bigger and bigger and we had to come up with more different things to plant, we decided to try watermelon. At the end of the summer, two tiny green striped melons sat in our garden. We picked them, so excited because everything else we’d ever grown proved to be better than what we could buy in the grocery store — we gobbled tomatoes right off the vine, standing in the sun, the fruit still warm, and I ate whole cucumbers raw. But we cut into those first watermelons and they weren’t even pink yet, a pale fleshy white dotted with black seeds, wholly inedible.

We tried again the next summer, had more fruit, but still none of it ripe. Maybe our growing season wasn’t long enough in the north? Last year, we tried one more time, researched how to know when they were ripe — you had to wait until the little curl at the end turned from green to brown.

Blessed are the poems you scratch into the ground. The watermelons, those round green poems scratched into the ground. Our mistake in years past was picking them too soon, even though everything else in the garden was done — except for the tomatoes and strawberries, which slow down for sure but as long as there is sun and the nights didn’t get too cold, they’d keep going. We learned we had to wait, until the tiny green curl at the end of the fruit turned brown, and then they’d be ready.

watermelon02

This year they were bigger, maybe a different variety than we’d tried before but we’d lost the tag so couldn’t be sure. There were six of them. It was very late, summer practically over when the first curl turned brown. We took the melon inside and set it on the counter. We were both skeptical, didn’t really believe they would be any better than before, but when Eric split it in half with the knife, the flesh inside was deep pink and juicy. He leaned in close, took a deep breath, and said, “well, it smells like a watermelon,” but neither of us really believed the fruit would be tasty, anything we’d want to eat.

We each took a bite, our eyes widening as we chewed, smacking each other on the arm before our mouths were empty enough for words. It was good. It tasted like watermelon. We moved half the melon into the sink and another spoon so we each had one, and like that first time, ate half a watermelon standing over the sink, spitting black seeds into the compost container on the counter, the dogs hovering by our feet, begging for a bite.

A watermelon, from my garden!

We could hardly believe we’d done it, that there were five more huge watermelons in our garden that would soon be ripe and ready to eat — their seeds were poems we’d scratched into the ground, our garden yielding the watermelon dream.

What we remember, what I write might all be fiction, but it’s also the truth — pink, juicy, and full of seeds.

Where Music is Part of the Failure

onourwalk

I wrote this at the last meeting of my Wild Writing class this session. The prompt was “Music for Guitar and Stone” by Ruth Schwartz.

On our walk this morning, after being on our own for a whole week, two days longer than planned because of the snow, I start thinking about discomfort. The first “noble truth” of Buddhism is that life is suffering, but that’s hard for people to get their heads around. It gets confused with the perspective “everything sucks, so what’s the point?”

It’s easier for me to understand it as “life is uncomfortable.” And what follows is that the source of that discomfort is our desire to be comfortable. It pulls us out of every moment, a constant longing for some other now.

As we walk, my thinking, my internal narrative is constantly interrupted by the need to reroute, because of mud or another dog and its person heading straight for us or a rabbit frozen on the side of the path or a pile of horse poop. It’s also interrupted by the need to respond to the dogs, a tangled leash or the young one about to eat something he shouldn’t.

And that makes me think of the way Susan Piver shifted the Four Noble Truths, came up with Four Noble Truths of relationships, of love — the first being that relationships are uncomfortable. She explains that the root of that discomfort is the way we cling to comfort, the ways we blame the other person for causing our discomfort.

I call dogs one of my practices, (along with writing, meditation, and yoga), because in that relationship, primarily on our long daily walks together, I can see all of it — the ways I fuck up, the ways I’m winning, the mundane and the magic. When I see how happy Ringo is to find the perfect stick and carry it, I expand, my heart opens. When he tries to eat a huge pile of cat poop that will surly make him sick, I feel myself contract in fear and irritation. It’s all there, and I’m just trying to get comfortable. I notice that and try to shift, attempting to be okay with the discomfort, to allow it — “where failure is part of the music.”

Registration for the next round of Wild Writing with Laurie Wagner just opened. This time it’s a shorter session, only four weeks. After this, classes won’t start up again until the fall, so if you’ve been wanting to try it this is a great opportunity. It truly is a magic practice and Laurie is an amazing teacher.

Wild Writing: “As You Go Through Life”

The Poudre River, from our walk this morning, just before I noticed a mink running along the ice

The Poudre River, from our walk this morning, just before I noticed a mink running along the ice at the edge

We recently started our spring session of my Wild Writing class, and I’m so glad to be back at it. In class on Friday morning, after I read my last piece, Laurie said “blog it” before moving on to the next person, so here it is.

Prompt: As You Go Through Life by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Laurie doesn’t typically share poems that rhyme, but like she said, this one just has too many good lines. I was surprised when I Googled it to find a link to share with you that it was published in 1910, that the poet is long gone.

“Bend and let it go over you.” I keep coming back to this when I’m teaching yoga — that balance isn’t about finding a fixed point and sticking there, stable and still, but rather it’s about all the tiny (and big) adjustments we make to keep from falling over, to stave off collapse, and how even collapsing, giving up and going over, is part of balance. We fall over, we soften into it, and then, if we’d like, we get up and try again.

It reminds me of the story Pema Chödrön tells about her teacher, how she asked Chögyam Trungpa in a moment she was having a really hard time what she should do, how to handle it, and he told her it’s like standing in the ocean, how each wave crashes into you, knocks you down, takes you in and under, but you get back up. And in time, you get stronger, you learn to move with the waves, and instead of feeling like you are drowning, like it’s so bad and so hard you are going to die, you are able to move with it, to meet and ride the wave. Bend and let it go over you.

I wonder if students who aren’t teachers understand that a teacher only ever teaches one of two things — what they know so well they have it memorized, so it’s safe and easy, requires no real effort and little attention; or we teach what we need to learn, what we are trying to figure out, what seems so big and complicated it feels like we’ll never be able to understand it, what terrifies us, what makes us tender. In one case we phone it in, in the other we send out an S.O.S., it’s almost a cry for help, but we know, we trust that there is help to be had, that our bones know, and if we keep asking the questions, either answers will come or we’ll surrender to not knowing.

Remembering Obi

obihewlettgulch

He had such a great smile.

Obi was my first dog. His name was of course a nod to the Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise Jedi master, but it also translates to mean “heart” in Igbo, a Western African language. It’s the most perfect dog name ever, and perfectly fit this dog, who was all heart.

Obi died six years ago, today. He had multicentric lymphoma, which in dogs is treatable but not curable. He was diagnosed only a month after he turned seven years old, and died just a few months before he would turn eight. It seemed incredibly unfair, as these things always do.

I’ve written a lot about Obi, lots that I haven’t published anywhere yet. Probably because the anniversary of his death is approaching, I wrote about him in my Wild Writing class a few weeks ago, and thought I’d share it here today — in honor of Obi, one of the best dogs ever, and in honor of the rest of us, opening our hearts and loving each other like crazy even though we know it’s going to end badly, every time, no matter what we do.

The day we adopted Obi, April 20, 2002

The day we adopted Obi, April 20, 2002

Poem prompt: Unforced Error by Meghan O’Rourke.

I used to think pressing forward was the point of life. Last night in the kitchen with Eric, we got to talking about Obi, our first dog. It’s coming up on the 6th anniversary of his death, and I keep getting notifications from the Facebook “memories” feature and my Timehop app on my phone about things I was posting six years ago. Yesterday it was a status update about how one of Obi’s tumors (he had multicentric lymphoma, so every node was a potential tumor), one of his tumors was growing close to his throat, so I was listening to him breathe, knew we didn’t have much time, and I was right, we only had 13 days left. And in the kitchen last night with Eric, he told me that was the moment he became an adult. That experience was the end of innocence for him, a moment when he realized bad shit happens to everyone, and everyone you love will die. He grew up in a military family, his dad was in the Army, so it was just him and his sister and his parents. Relatives were people he only heard about, saw once every two or three years, strangers really, and no one in his family had yet died when Obi was diagnosed, not anyone close, not anyone he really knew. So when Obi got sick, and the diagnosis was “treatable but not curable,” it hit Eric hard. It was the first time I’d ever seen him cry, 16 years in and I’d never seen him that upset about anything. Before that, he was rarely even unhappy. A life can be a lucky streak, and up to that point, his was. It wasn’t that he believed he was special somehow, that bad things wouldn’t happen, just that the reality was so distant to him, unreal. And then it knocked on his front door, moved in, and he wasn’t sure how to handle it.

obisyard

Still a puppy

Poem prompt: The Future by Billy Collins.

It was like this, when we first found the lump it was so tiny we didn’t think it was anything to worry about, like a grain of rice buried just beneath his shoulder, a spot where I didn’t even know dogs had lymph nodes. Eric noticed it first one day when he was petting him, told me about it a few days later, couldn’t even find it when he tried to show it to me. A few days after that, I was petting him and found it, and as soon as my fingers pressed around it, Obi gave me the weirdest look. I’d come back to that look days later, when we knew, and wonder if Obi knew what was happening to him before we did. And still, we didn’t make a special trip to the vet, just reminded ourselves to mention it when we took him in for his next checkup a few weeks later. We even joked about how obsessive we were, that other people wouldn’t have even noticed it, teased each other that Dr. Mulnix would just tell us to “keep an eye on it” just like he did about every other worry we brought to him. But he didn’t say that. Instead he wanted to do a biopsy right then and there, put in a long needle and get a sample, send it to the lab. Later, after the shock of the diagnosis — cancer — wore off, Eric and I realized that Dr. Mulnix had known as soon as he felt the lump, had seen the same too many times in his 40+ years of practice, wanted to be wrong, sure, but was pretty certain that was what it was. When he called later to confirm, I didn’t understand. Lymphoma is one of the most treatable cancers in humans, and Dr. Mulnix only gave me the name of the thing, no details and certainly not a prognosis, just told me to call and make an appointment with Oncology at CSU. It wasn’t until later, home alone waiting for Eric to get back, waiting to tell him the news, that I Googled it and kept seeing the same thing, site after site, link after link, “treatable but not curable.”

obi

Poem prompt: Want by Carrie Fountain

This is the heart’s constant project, trying to understand how we can love so much, so deeply, so intensely that it eclipses everything else and we think we’ll die without it, when the reality is every relationship ends badly — if we don’t beat it to the punch with a break-up it eventually finds one of us involved gone, gone gone, the big gone, forever gone, and it ends that way. And we know this, even someone like Eric, so removed from it for so long, so distracted by the lucky streak of his life and disconnected from the reality of it, even he knows this is how it will end. And sure, some of us try to avoid it by not loving, not letting anyone get to close, but I don’t think it even works for those people. I see them working so hard to distance everyone, classifying every human on the planet as either an asshole or a jerk, but it doesn’t even work. I watch my dad feeding a stray cat, acting like he doesn’t care, but it’s a lie, he does care, even if it’s “just a cat,” he can’t help it. We can’t help it. So this is the heart’s constant project, learning to hold hope and hopelessness together, knowing that love is impossible without the loss. I was telling my friend this the other day, after we’d shared a blog post from a person whose dog had just died, and I told her that even though I don’t ever want to experience it again, I keep getting another dog. I know how it will end, how much it hurts, and yet I do it again. And then I saw a video later about pet loss and one of the people said that she knew it was hard to get another pet when you know how it will end, how hard it will be and how much it will hurt, but the inbetween is so good.

The inbetween is so good.

obilastday

This picture is hard for me to look at, and yet it’s so precious to me. It was taken the day before Obi died, and you can see so clearly — he loved us so much, didn’t want to leave, but he was so ready to go. Good boy, Obi.

He’s been gone for six years, and it still wrecks me. I know that some people totally understand, and others think it’s a sign that something is wrong with me. I agree with both perspectives. There is something deeply and profoundly wrong with me, but if we are honest, it’s the same thing we all suffer from — we all have hearts, and they are breakable. We love and what we love will eventually be lost.

But the inbetween is so good.

That they loved…

twoIn my Wild Writing class yesterday, Laurie offered “On the Lemur” by poet Lisa Jarnot as a prompt. The line I chose to work with was “That they loved…” When I read what I’d written, Laurie said it could be a blog post, and because I trust her and also liked what I wrote, I’m sharing it with you here, kind and gentle reader.

That they loved to yell at the garbage trucks, the people with dogs walking down our street, the cats in our yard, the delivery trucks — the UPS and the FedEX, both with the same squeaky brakes. That they loved to bark and bark until they were just barking at each other or barking at nothing, or just barking so I’d tell them to come inside and they’d be so happy when they listened to me and shot back in as fast as they could go through the dog door that I’d give them a cookie in thanks. That they loved to sleep when I didn’t need them to but the second I needed quiet, needed for them to settle down, they would explode in a burst of noise. That they loved how that felt, that surge of energy, that feeling that if the people or vehicles or animals left they knew it was because of the noise they’d made and they felt success, again. That they loved to check every inch of the yard to see who’d been where, peed on what. That they loved to go back to sleep after breakfast, leaving me quiet time to meditate and write before having to leave the house on the long walk, which starts now in the dark and apparently there might be bears so we need to be awake, alert, ready, aware. That they loved watermelon and carrots and blueberries and frozen green beans and the skin off the smoked salmon. That they loved getting ready, getting to ride in the car, hanging out in the back yard or on the couch. That they loved even getting to go to the vet because they got cookies and Dr. Mulnix always told them how good they were but now he’s gone, not retired like he’d planned but gone gone and I’m afraid to go back, afraid the first time we go and he’s not there, that in the knowing why I won’t be able to stop myself from crying. That they loved that dumb fighting game they play where they lie on the floor and knock their teeth into each other, slobbing all over each other’s heads, getting dog hair everywhere. That they loved. That they loved has saved me, again and again, and will keep doing so as long as they do.

How to be Happy in Tiny Slices

feathergrassseedAfter spending so much time bitching about the heat, and having it last for so much longer than usual, I find myself today feeling melancholy about the end of summer. Eric is hiking with the dogs, and I’m trying to not feel too sorry for myself that by the time I can go with, the aspens will have dropped all their leaves. I was at the grocery store this morning and noticed that they had de-icer, ice scrapers, and snow shovels on display. Ringo will turn two years old in another few months, the day after I turn 48. It’s all going by so fast.

A few weeks ago, at the last minute and not knowing how I was going to fit it into my schedule, I signed up for Laurie Wagner’s online Wild Writing class. I’ve taken an online class with Laurie before, (Telling True Stories), and been lucky enough to do a few sessions of Wild Writing in person with her, sitting at the long wooden table in her dining room at 27 Powers. It’s a particular kind of magic, that place and that person and that practice. To say it’s transformative doesn’t even begin to explain it. Now that I’m back at it, I can’t believe I waited so long. As much as I do to be present and awake and engaged, this practice in particular makes me come alive.

Last week, one of the prompts Laurie shared was by one of my favorite poets, Maya Stein, a poem called “How to be Happy in Tiny Slices.” Maya has a way of writing an ending, a final line, a last moment that breaks the whole poem wide open, every time, and this poem is no different. I liked what I wrote in response to the prompt, a messy start to something or simply a glimpse of something passing, and wanted to share it with you, kind and gentle reader.

How to be happy in tiny slices: Feel the pop of the cherry tomato and taste the warm sour sweet of its juice. Notice the tiny yellow birds, pause to watch them knowing they are rarely still enough to allow themselves to be seen. Slide the mala beads between your fingers, noticing how they go from cold to warm in the heat of your hand. Halfway through, when the words of the mantra no longer make any sense at all, translate them to what you need, like on the dark mornings when the only thing that works is “it’s okay, I’m okay, everything is okay,” even when it’s not. Taste a fresh peach, the tart bright sweetness, knowing it won’t last, that even the very next bite of the exact same peach won’t taste the same. Remember all those that will never taste another peach or cherry tomato and how weird it is to be human and never really know which one will be your last bite, and how tender and sad it is, that hope that the last bite, if it’s to be the last bite, be sweet. Feel the way the sun warms his fur, smell that spot on the top of his head, remember what it was like when he was just a baby, at the same time you know how awful it will be when he goes. Sit in the sun. Be still. Be quiet. Breathe. Move, as Osho says, the way joy makes you move. Sleep, put clean sheets on the bed, take a shower and put on clean pajamas — but wait, I said that all backwards, didn’t I? So next would be to wake up, and when you wake up, get up. Stretch. Drink some water. Meditate. Light the candles. Turn down the lights, get a blanket for your lap, make sure you have your favorite pen, put one word in front of the other. Forgive them, let it go, start over. And when you find yourself confused, off track, stuck in a dream or caught up in a feeling, let go and come back.

Day of Rest

While at 27 Powers this past week, I was lucky enough to get to sit in on one of Laurie’s Wild Writing classes. How the class works is Laurie gives a prompt, reads a poem and then gives a line or two to spark the writing, which is 15 minutes of never letting your pen leave the page, seeing where it might take you, and she offers three rounds of the practice per class session. On this day of rest, I’d like to share a bit of what I wrote.

At the start of the second session Laurie read us Maya Stein’s poem, this is how you do it, and gave us the lines “this is how you do it” and “you were trying to save the world, that’s all.” I wrote,

This is how you do it, tender imperfection and fierce compassion and the dirty dishes and the bills and the way he looks at you and the burs and slivers and stickers that need to be carefully removed, the broken bits to be swept up and tossed or glued together depending on how precious the piece or how much it feels on this particular day like you need it, even if it is only a shadow of whole.

This is how you do it, you get on the plane, rent the car, show up in space, come in from Colorado or Monday or a dream, you show up, you are present, and when it’s over, you go back home. You kiss the boy, then the other boy, you leave the bag packed in the corner, eat dinner, go to bed, get back to work the next morning, digging in the bag for what you need right now, but still not unpacking.

This is how you do it, you get back to practice — you pull a card, write the words, sit and follow your breath, walk the dog, move your body into the poses. You show up, return, let go and come back, again and again.

This is how you do it, you write the content, edit the pieces, code and publish, answer the questions, troubleshoot the issues, get paid.

This is how you do it, even though you know the deal, impermanence, death is real, you’ve lived with it, been there, let it in, let it go, even thought it’s like stripping naked and handing them the sharpest knife, this is how you do it, allow it all in, to touch you, beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible, the mess, the dirt, the stink, the blood, the light, the laughter, you let it warm you, burn you, destroy you.

This is how you do it, bird by bird, every day, every moment, showing up for when it’s brilliant, for when it’s sharp, for when it’s the same old shit again, you show up, you stay with it, even when it makes you want to poke your eye out with a pencil, to run away screaming, to smash something, anything, to be anywhere but here, you show up, you stay, you keep coming back, letting go. You are trying to save the world, that’s all, and this is how you do it.

27powerslightIn the last round, Laurie read Maya Stein’s poem trash mandala, and the prompts were, “let your pain become a trash mandala” and “what’s torn away can steer you.” This round, we were running short on time, so we only wrote for 10 minutes. I wrote,

Let your pain become a trash mandala. So, unlike some who build a shrine, a dwelling, or worse yet a home or a fortress from what’s been lost, what hurts, who move in and live there, nail “no trespassing” signs to a fence made from bones and knives and broken liquor bottles — not like that, not that way, but rather pick up the pieces, what’s torn, the bits of what is lost, what is left, what you’ve found, and arrange it, shape it into something that heals, the kind of thing that wouldn’t have been possible without the broken bits, the left behind, the lost. Make what only you are able to see, looking in the cracked mirror of your grief.

Let your grieving meet the shoreline, walk into the water and let the waves knock you down, then get back up. If you keep practicing, it will get easier, you’ll get stronger. Pick the pieces the waves offer you, what calls to you, sparkles when the light touches it, pick them up and put them in your pocket, keep walking, keep collecting.

What’s torn away can steer you. Your life, all the struggles, what you see as obstacles, this is the path, this is the stuff to work with, this is your material, this is the trash, the treasure.

Let your pain become a trash mandala. Maya will make a bike, you could string together a trash ukelele, someone else might grind it all up and make paint, or medicine. See what you see, offer it and let it go — don’t move in and live there.

I hope you go to Maya Stein’s website and read more of her poetry, kind and gentle reader. She’s amazing.