The Zen of Forgetting

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

— Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

I met this week’s guest-blogger, Cassy Soden, at Elk Plain Elementary School–when I was eight years old. Though it wasn’t until after college we grew close, we had worked together on Bravetalk, the high school newspaper. We played basketball on the same team at Bethel Junior High. Tomorrow is Cassy’s birthday! Though I’d love to be up in Seattle eating sushi with her at her celebration, publishing her story on L.I.T. is the next best.

Cassy Soden is a multimedia producer, writer, and story strategist. A story maven and student of the art of storytelling, her focus is to document and tell stories that reflect people’s inspiring passions. She seeks to make known stories that create learning opportunities, encourage positive change, and deepen cultural understanding.

I hope you will enjoy the personal and powerful post and poetry she has written for us. You will find an invitation, too–in her conclusion. I appreciate so much that she has offered to share this experience with us, an experience that will certainly touch many lives.

DSC03150BloomMarch stirs with rain, wind, and glimpses of the sun. It is a time when the wet Northwest blooms and vibrant colors pop against gray skies. It is against this backdrop that for many years my dad and I celebrated our birthdays with a communal cake. I remember wishing him a happy half-century birthday. Now, on the dawn of this same age, it is so strange to be here myself, my father’s life a lesson carved into my heart.

Two years ago instead of a birthday celebration we held a memorial service for my dad, Terry. In attendance was a special person, Penny, who knew my dad for only a short time but had become an important lifeline and ally in the final years of his life. Continue reading “The Zen of Forgetting”

Risk, Reveal, Relate: The Poetry Circle Goes to Manzanita

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer,
it sings because it has a song.”

Maya Angelou

 

IMG_20150126_124136Last year my friend Stacey Hill told me she’d begun a ritual of gathering herself up three words to guide her for the year. She challenged me to do the same, and I did. But, by 2015 I’d already forgotten our new “ritual”. Stacey, of course, was on top of it, and I found a good old-fashioned letter in my mailbox: She announced her three words–“C” words.

“What are yours?” she wrote.

Finally, weeks later, mine woke me in the night–“R” words this time.

In the morning, they were still in my mind, so I texted Stacey. (No time for the old-fashioned letter, I wanted to tell her NOW.)

Only minutes after I’d sent the text, my phone rang–or, rather, sang.

“I love your words!” said Stacey. Which made me happy, and I asked her about her own, and we talked about the mountains of snow that kept her home from school for yet another day–as she drove her car home.

“Hang on a minute, Deb. The plow truck’s in my way!” Her driving in post-blizzard Massachusetts had me feeling nervous–but that’s another story.

Yes, in 36 inches of snow, this New Englander was talking to me (hands free, of course) while she drove home from a cafe! Continue reading “Risk, Reveal, Relate: The Poetry Circle Goes to Manzanita”

Certainty, Insanity in Paris

“We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values. Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity… We will answer hatred with love.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

More than a million people demonstrated for peace on the streets of Paris–40 presidents and prime ministers from around the world, leaders from diverse religions, ordinary people like you or me–and they marched together to show solidarity against a latest act of terrorism..

This outcry comes after 17 people died this week from an outrageous assault on the staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The writers and cartoonists dared to express themselves. The attackers did not agree with the magazine’s editorial decisions and chose to kill the people who held and shared opinions unlike their own. Continue reading “Certainty, Insanity in Paris”

Get L.I.T.! Saying Goodbye to 2014

“To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest source of all personal happiness.”

Bertrand Russell
(favorite reminder-words of the year!)

 

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Kalaloch, Pacific Coast, Washington

It’s been a world of L.I.T. in 2014–Lives Inspiring Today.

Thanks to each of you who have traveled along. It’s been a pleasure to notice and note so many people who are making a difference in our world–and doing good stuff.

From friends Julie Buccerri and Stacey Hill in Massachusetts who are teaching kids to think and act with care, to the many poets who invite us to feel and see in ways we might not otherwise–Peg Edera, Esther Elisabeth, Carolyn Norred, Sarah Kinsel, Glenna Cook and John Fox: Thanks for letting me talk with you, for letting me write about you, and for letting us feature your work.

When I look back over the months, it is fun to see some of the people I’ve met this year- Continue reading “Get L.I.T.! Saying Goodbye to 2014”

Poetry: Writing Our Relationship with Trees

“What we are doing to the forests of the world

is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing

to ourselves and to one another.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Cape D 2011 070Not long ago, John Fox led a poetry writing workshop in Portland, Oregon. The theme, “Writing Our Relationship With Trees” seemed ho-hum–until I attended.

During these two days I witnessed the wonder of words and sharing that happened as John offered prompts, read poems by Wendell Berry, Jane Hirshfield and Naomi Shihab Nye–and invited the rest of us to write and share.

It’s amazing what can happen when we sit to write about and with these tall lives from deep root to branches–and when we write from our memories associated with maple, cedar, apple and pear. Trees help us to breathe, yet how often do we stop to contemplate their impact?

This week I want to share some of the writing from that weekend by Carolyn Norred, Esther Elizabeth and Peg Edera–all poets who have been previously featured on L.I.T..

On the second day of the weekend-workshop, we gathered around a near-by Red Cedar. If you haven’t leaned against one of these giants lately Continue reading “Poetry: Writing Our Relationship with Trees”

John Fox, Poetic Medicine & the Art of Listening

“Wherever I can find a place to sit down and write, that is my home.”

Mary TallMountain

John Fox
John Fox at Gleann Cholm Cille in Ireland

At Groiler’s, the one-room poetry bookstore in Harvard Square, back in 1996, I bought a copy of Finding What You Didn’t Lose— John Fox’s first book, subtitled, “Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making.”

“It’s important to be a witness and to be present to someone so they can edge out a little, then a little more. If I can be without judgment–or at least not show it–people feel safe,” he tells me.

It would be almost two decades before I would meet this kind listener, poet and poetry-therapist, though I thumbed through the chapters year-by-year–always a believer: Writing can heal. Writing does heal.

In the English 101 courses I taught for almost 20 years, I saw it happening. In essays students wrote week-by-week, journals they kept, conversations we shared, the world shifted.

Students  learned about themselves, writing words on the page. And we read poetry aloud and talked and wrote in response. They–and I, too–made connections and discovered possibilities for our lives. It was fun, and some who had recoiled in the beginning opened with the poetry.

From a young age, John knew he was a writer. Planning to study poetry with Ann Sexton and George Starbuck, he went to Boston University. Sexton would leave before her time, of course, and eventually John would transfer to Bard College. He continued his studies of literature though never called to deep-academia–earning a Ph.D. or publishing scholarly articles about Renaissance-men. He memorized Blake, Yeats, Ezra Pound and began exploring his spirituality with the likes of Ram Dass, later Stephen Levine, and he would eventually meet Joy Shieman–a poetry therapist Continue reading “John Fox, Poetic Medicine & the Art of Listening”

“Kindness”–A Poem For All Times, by Naomi Shihab Nye

“I write to learn rather than to spout off what I already know.”

Ellen Sussman

naomishihabnyeI learn a lot when writing these blog posts–usually when writing anything. This week’s musing on the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye led me to new places. I had to think about why I’d been drawn to the poem so many years ago, and I also learned what led her to write the poem. It had been too long since I read “Kindness” out loud, and then I listened to her reading–which you can find at the end of this post (the 3 min. video where she tells how she came to write this and another poem!)

When Ludger and I got married, it wasn’t fancy, and it wasn’t long-thought-out either. Invitations were sent a few weeks before the late-December date because his parents and brother would be visiting from Europe.  My father canceled his plans to take his family to Arizona, and they drove down, the almost-two-hours, to be with us on our marriage day. My sister threw me a wonderful shower sometimes that December , and we found a dress, special earrings–and spent the night at a bed-n-breakfast sort of place the night before.

The most fun I had preparing for the ceremony and reception involves the poem “Kindness”: It was one of the poems I chose to include in a collection we put together. Ludger translated some of the poetry into German so his parents could read, and we hung the poems around the room. After our wedding day, we bound them between purple cover pages, for keepsake. More than photos to remember the union-day, I have the poetry to remind me of our vows.

“Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye was read aloud–by my friend, Najeea. It had been an important poem. I discovered it when a teaching colleague lent me the collection Words Under the Words (isn’t that a super title!?!) Those were the years just after I’d lost my mother. This was a poem I read and reread, and it gave me comfort. Then, when I moved to a small town where I felt alone and out of place, I read it as meditation and often to students those years when I would begin every class meeting with the reading of a poem. Continue reading ““Kindness”–A Poem For All Times, by Naomi Shihab Nye”

Glenna Cook: Gentle Voice Telling Her Truth

“Finding beauty in a broken world may be creating beauty in the world we find.”

Terry Tempest Williams

 

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Poet, Glenna Cook, visiting us in Portland

Almost twenty years ago, I met Glenna Cook in a poetry workshop. Six of us gathered round a dining room  table in Tacoma, Washington. We talked and wrote, wrote and shared. Glenna was twice my age–literally–and back then it seemed a lot of years–a huge gap.

To my younger self, our life-experiences and concerns seemed unalike. Nonetheless, outside of our poetry workshop, we met up at the local Borders Bookstore, swapped a poem or two and traded stories. We witnessed each other’s writing struggles and stubbornness, and once went to the Skagit Poetry Festival together and shared a room at a motel in Mt. Vernon. When I moved two hours south for a full-time teaching gig, we stayed in touch.

Those thirty years between us don’t seem to matter much anymore: The truth is, I appreciate Glenna now more than ever. A lot’s happened since I was 30, in that poetry workshop writing some of my first poems: Loss and gain, birth and death, anniversaries and marriages–sharing stanzas by email most of the time.

Our friendship is a gift which gives me a glimpse into life from a woman who’s lived a few decades longer Continue reading “Glenna Cook: Gentle Voice Telling Her Truth”

Crayfish in Timothy Lake & “The Peace of Wild Things”

“If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was ‘Thank you,’
that would suffice.”

-Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

Mt Hood from Gone Creek campground
Mt Hood from Gone Creek campground

One way to love the urban life yet stay refreshed is to get into the woods, especially the nearby Cascades. We hadn’t done it in way too long. And though we’re self-employed and rather flexible –you would think–we sketched in a couple of days at the end of June to “get away”.

Go we did! We packed the car, arranged for Cam, our neighbor, to visit our cat and water plants in the greenhouse. We left on Sunday by noon and wove our way out of Portland–which took almost an hour! Our timing must’ve been perfect because once we found Timothy Lake and began our campsite-search, the pickings seemed beyond good luck.

Site #31 at Gone Creek Campground was a walk-in–and on a tip of the lake: Hemlock and Vine Maple provided natural border on either side, and a drive-in loop gave us some distance from the road so we hardly noticed passersby. Continue reading “Crayfish in Timothy Lake & “The Peace of Wild Things””

Here’s to Jack Gilbert–Who Could Have Been Famous

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Jack Gilbert

Last week, Peg brought Jack Gilbert’s poem “A Brief for the Defense” to our early-morning poetry circle.

Sun Magazine published this poem along with a short biography and their regret that they hadn’t known of Gilbert’s work until reading about his death in The New York Times. Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012, lived “mostly off the poetry grid,” the article said.

He rose to the top in the poetry world and then chose to step away, travel and feel his way through the world. He chose to study living rather than study academically–or be studied. In 1962, at age 37, he won the Yale Younger Poet’s Prize but six months later bowed away from public view. Over the years he gave few readings and taught only off and on at universities–both in the USA and in Europe–to earn a living.

I hadn’t realized just how lucky we were when he visited our little college in the early 2000s. Continue reading “Here’s to Jack Gilbert–Who Could Have Been Famous”