Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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My week has been graced by the presence of a real writer. I went to hear the poet Simon Ortiz who was in Tucson for a reading of his work. I was deeply moved and highly impressed with his writing, which he delivered with lavish explanations about his process. He is now writing an epic poem, an idea he joked about by saying there is no real rule about exactly how long an epic has to be. He will include within the epic some of his older works, which he shared with the group who had come to the U of A Poetry Center to listen to him. I purchased his book, Sand Creek, which he signed for me after the reading. I told him how much I loved hearing him and he responded that he really loved reading to us. His genuine joy in sharing his work was evident. We were all truly blessed to be there. Some of his poems are funny, and some carry tragic stories from history, like Sand Creek.
The Poetics and Politics of Water series has evolved. Dr. Ofelia Zepeda is a poet and professor who collaborates to put together this very special program of Native American writers. She and her colleague Larry Evers introduced Politics and Poetics in 1992. I look forward to the next reading which will be given by Dr. Zepeda herself. She uses her native language from this region, Tohono O’odham, to welcome the visitors to her land and bless the participants. It is beautiful. She translates the traditional greeting in to English when she is done.
I have written and read some this week with mixed results. I believe the most profound thing that happened to set my poetic self on the path was my chance to hear Mr Ortiz. He said prose and poetry are all the same, and in the end, all language is poetry. He certainly was all poetic in every part of his being. He talked about his own recovery from alcoholism, and his father’s inability to recover from it. His identity as Acoma with deep religious and cultural heritage is important to him. His father exposed Simon to sorrow through addiction, but he also taught him his traditional language and mystical history. The last poem he read to us was about his father’s death. It was sung as a song, a chant, a rhythmic tribute to the spirit of his father and all he had inherited. It was a wonderful way to show his talent and end on a solemn, serious, meaningful note.
Alex Seotewa was our guide to the mission church he had painted in Zuni pueblo. We had driven there to see the interior of the mission church with the spectacular kachina murals which I had seen once briefly with a Catholic priest. My fascination with this epic work of art started when I saw a television special, maybe even the program above, about Zuni, kachinas, and Alex. I convinced my erstwhile father-in-law to land his private plane in Zuni to see the mural. At that time the church was locked and there was a heavy smell of smoke damage because there had been a fire in the building. I guess that was about 1988. A priest had the key and showed us the inside of church for about 10 minutes, with no background information. There were buffalo heads on sides of the altar. It struck me as not only amazing art but a highly sacred place. It was obviously not in use, and the priest did not expect it would be used in the future.
I tried to see it once again, while driving back to Tucson from a ski trip in Colorado. I jumped out of the car in my pink fluffy ski jumpsuit and asked the people at the convenience store at the turn off for Zuni on the highway for directions to get to the church to see the interior. They insisted there was no church with kachinas. I was adamant that I had been to it. They became highly annoyed with me. I finally got the message that I had behaved badly in that culture and was not welcome. I was confused, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. The mystery of the access to the kachinas in that mission church continued to intrigue me. On my third visit the kachinas themselves must have arranged special treats for us. We had a loft bedroom at a small hotel run by a French guy who runs the general store. We arrived in the late evening. At the tourist office in town I asked the young woman at the desk how I could see the kachina mural in the mission church. She said she had never seen it, so I had little chance of being so lucky. This was a real surprise, since she was a member of the tribe about 20 years old. I wondered why it was so difficult.
In the morning I headed downstairs for coffee and encountered fellow residents gearing up to go hunting with a Zuni guide. They were eating breakfast, so I joined them for a cup of coffee. The group had flown in from Atlanta for the privilege of hunting there. They were all excited because they would be in the company of the local expert, which one of them had done previously. I asked this hunting guide if he had any idea how I could arrange to see the inside of the mission, since that was our mission. He made a phone call to his wife and arranged for his father, Alex Seotewa, to meet us at the church and give us a tour. He left us a phone number to reach his father later, since it was only about 6 am, then took the happy hunters off in his truck. I knew this intervention had to be a special reward for holding the images of the kachinas in my mind for so many years. They must have answered my desire to see them again.
Alex was in poor health, but obviously enjoyed telling the story of his art work, his tribal culture, and his calling to preserve his traditional heritage. He spent about an hour with us answering questions and telling us about his life and work. I will cherish the time we spent in his presence because the kachinas came to life with his explanations. There has been controversy and dissent within the community between Catholic and traditional use of the mission. When Alex’s father was a child the church was in disrepair, but it had punitive kachinas painted on the walls. An agreement was made to restore the images between Alex and a priest who thought it was a good idea. Subsequent Catholic clerics have not been as enthusiastic about preserving Zuni religious practice within, or consecutively with their own practices. Alex stopped attending services held by Catholics, but continued to feel his work depicting the kachinas was eucharistic, and a gift given from above. He was a buffalo dancer in ceremony. He described choosing the buffalo to kill and creating the heavy mask he wore for hours. He told us what the importance of the buffalo was to his people, and why it was his responsibility not just to wear that mask, but to become a buffalo in spirit to keep his religion alive. I have a strong memory of the authenticity of his thinking, his truly welcoming appreciation of our visit, and of the moment he showed us his spirit as a buffalo. The old man turned his head away from us then slowly brought his upper body to face us with a steady, fierce gaze. This was not an impersonation of an animal spirit…it was the spirit inside the man. It was touched and grateful to be given the special gift. I consider our time with Alex to be a kind of miracle. Have you ever had an experience of an extraordinary spiritual nature?
This week I invite you all to join me for Saturday brunch at Maker House downtown Tucson. They serve very good coffee and tea all the time. On Saturday there is a special brunch menu and mimosas are on special for $1. A DJ plays in the courtyard, and vendors are set up selling art,clothing, jewelry, and more. This is, by far, the most hipster of hip places to be in town. Please join me outside to enjoy the warm cloudy weather. There are plenty of tables, and some are equipped with paper and tins of colored pencils for our amusement. In the announcement I read for the event art classes were advertised, but I saw no evidence that they were being taught. This may happen later in the day. I had a good time drinking a cappuccino and doodling to the music. Other drinking doodlers soon appeared, some with coffee and others with mimosas. Those on a budget could buy 4 mimosas for the price of a cappuccino, so they are popular with many of the customers. Since your are arriving by transporter cloak they will be digital, so you can have as many as you like and still cloak home. I can highly recommend the breakfast sandwich on the house made croissant. Everything I have ever ordered here has been fresh and delicious. Next time I plan to try the breakfast pizza.
I look forward to hearing about your week and seeing your drawings. It feels good to enjoy the music and take time to relax. I am in no rush. The week has been low key. My tax preparation is in order for the accountant, so I feel accomplished if not giddy. I don’t know why I always dread the tax thing..it is really not all that bad. When I am done for the year it is supremely liberating to me. Other than that mundane task I have written poetry and attended a wonderful poetry reading by Simon Ortiz at the U of A Poetry Center. That was the highlight of my week. I bought his book Sand Creek and he signed it for me. He said he can’t tell the difference between poetry and prose. That was liberating for me and I thanked him for it as well as his beautiful reading.
Before you leave Tucson I hope you will look around the historic mansion that is Maker House. It has special murals and wonderful detail, like copper ceilings. There is a classic game arcade, free wifi, and craft beer. We love the events they host and their constantly evolving food service. Now they deliver food, coffee and beer downtown, which should prove to be popular. We are happy the architecture is being preserved while serving a diverse and extremely hip customer base. It is one reason our downtown has become much more desirable. If you have cloaked in from up north you will probably like the weather best of all. It is rodeo week for those of you who want to feel that you have truly been way out west. Head south and buzz the rodeo grounds on your way home for a total Tucson tour. We hope you will like your digital visit enough to come in real life someday.
I am amazed to find such a vast network of poets and poetry exchanges on the internet. This #ROW80 has enlightened me, encouraged me, and introduced me to resources I might never have discovered on my own. One of the most interesting sites I have found for writers is Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. This group creates a daily writing challenge of a different nature. Today a short story about an imaginary dinner party in 500 words or less stimulates the imagination, but other days poetry or fairy tales are featured. The regular assignments are all geared toward teaching participants to improve their skills, exactly like this literary soiree in which we find ourselves. I believe the best result for me here is the idea of stepping outside my comfort zone, reporting facts. I sometimes include opinions in my posts, but I see the merit in using creative writing to express both opinions and emotions. Strong impressions can be made by using literary devices. “Just the facts, ma’am” can become kind of flat, especially after a while.
When I was in 9th grade I attended a small school run by an oil company in Venezuela. The teachers came from the US and were all vastly more eccentric that the teachers I had known in Pennsylvania. Our English teacher, the memorable Pina Sue Sturdavant, was also our physical education instructor. She was from the panhandle of Texas and had such a strong and ridiculous accent that it would have been impossible not to make fun of it. She was unpopular with the students because she was just too weird for us. She announced we would study propaganda in our English class for 6 weeks. We thought she was insane because in the 1960’s propaganda was something we thought was for Russians who lied to the public. She proceeded to teach us the principals of advertizing, which have served me well since that time. She explained that certain methods of persuasion could convince us to want things we did not naturally want. This is, of course, rhetorical truth, of which we hear so much around political election time. Not all of it is subliminal. Alliteration is a favorite device because it sticks in the mind and on the tongue. Libby’s, Libby’s Libby’s on the label, label, label was the example Pina Sue used to illustrate successful use of alliteration. Dr Seuss is a liberal user of this device, to great effect.
Marketing logans and jingles are carefully designed to be catchy. In the old days rhyme was used more profusely than it is today: Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. These marketing devices also work in poetry. A poem sells an idea, or a personal glimpse of reality, an interpretation. Tonight I will attend another reading at the Poetry Center on the politics and poetics of water…they have already used alliteration in the title of the seminar. My goal this week is to continue writing poems and work to use alliteration within them. It was always my favorite device. Starting with this one, I may continue to enjoy other structural restraints. It would be fitting if I could write a poem about Pina Sue herself…We shall see. She does have those two S sounds at the end of her name, and I remember her vividly.
My second great grandmother was born in Alabama. Her parents came from Mississippi and they owned slaves. In the 1840 census, when Sarah was 11 years of age, her mother was already dead. Her household contained 4 white persons and 44 slaves. 27 of them were involved with agriculture. I guess they grew cotton.
In 1845 Sarah’s father died and she married Thomas Armer, my 2nd great-grandfather. She had 13 children, 8 of whom were still alive in 1900. My great-grandmother was her oldest daughter. In 1850, when her daughter was 3, she and her husband lived in Lowdnes County, Alabama. Her husband’s occupation was listed as overseer. Everyone on the census page is either a planter or an overseer by trade. This is extremely creepy because they must be growing cotton and Thomas Armer was a slaver overseer. This was the time in which they lived, but it seems like such an outrage to think about it.
The Black Panther Party was born as the Lowdnes Country Freedom Organization. In 1965 the county was 80% black, but not a single black citizen was registered to vote. Between 1850 and 1965 not that much had really changed.
By 1860 the family had moved to Old Town Dallas, and Thomas was listed as a farmer. No planters are listed on the page with them. Engineers, physicians, and other farmers are their neighbors. No slaves are listed in the household. I think they have moved away from plantation life and started to farm for themselves. When the war broke out Thomas was conscripted to work in the Shelby Iron Works steel mill from 1861-1865.
After the war in 1870 the Armers moved to Waller County in east Texas, traveling in ox carts with their extended family. In 1871 they founded the Shiloh Baptist Church with other veterans of the war in the membership. Thomas died in August of 1900 at the age of 75, leaving Sarah a widow. She applied for a Confederate pension based on his service:
Sarah E Hughes (1829 – 1911)
is my 2nd great grandmother
Lucinda Jane Armer (1847 – 1939)
daughter of Sarah E Hughes
George Harvey Taylor (1884 – 1941)
son of Lucinda Jane Armer
Ruby Lee Taylor (1922 – 2008)
daughter of George Harvey Taylor
I am the daughter of Ruby Lee Taylor
Sarah is buried with her husband and some of her children at the Shiloh Baptist Church, in Prairie View, Waller County, Texas.
When I began the #ROW80 journey with fellow writers I had an expectation that I would become a poet by grinding out a poem a day for 80 days. 54 days of this trip are now water under the bridge. I am happy to report that I have not only established a habit and practice of writing poetry, but have learned a lot about creating better, richer written work. Both my plain brown paper wordpress blog and my illustrated poems on Tumblr need new perspectives, interesting characters, and dazzling descriptions of scenes to be more compelling. I am grateful to other writers who have shared works in progress and personal creative systems. I have been too eager to finish and move on to another brief encounter with poetry to spend a proper amount of time revising and refining my first drafts. I have rushed as if I had a quota of quickie poems to write, and then I would start creating more meticulous work. I see the folly in this speed system. I can only become meticulous by practicing specifically to choose each word above all other words for effect and artfulness. I am practicing taking more time and trying on subjects I have not used in the past. So far, so good. I am going for quality, not quantity.
Lunar cycles are central to agriculture and other businesses that need to work with nature. I observe the new moon each month with a clean slate for new intentions and projects. I keep a bundle of marjoram in each of the four corners of my home. This little charm grown in our garden is used to protect our home from harm, both physical and psychic. I empty the old herbs and replace them with freshly picked marjoram that smells delightful. The picking of the herbs includes a little ritual, and I treat the old plant material as depleted magic waste. I return it to the earth as compost or as mulch in my back yard. By refreshing these four sachets on the new moon I remind myself to start again on stalled projects, or refresh commitment to ongoing goals. We have had two new moons during the 80 day challenge. I do notice a difference in my willingness to write creatively. The first new moon found me enjoying the poetry discovery, but not personally applying myself very much to improve. This second new moon that just passed last week was a commitment to the poetry writing goal, but with a shift in attitude. The unexpected consequence of meeting writers and learning about their processes and goals is a much higher standard for my finished product. I have a big realization that bursts of zen poetic flashes are just not sufficient. The first shot is rarely good, so I need to go back to enhance my initial inspiration, work with my muses, and labor a bit.
Next month the new moon will include a solar eclipse on 20 Mar, 2015. This event has symbolic implications beyond the normal new moon. The shadow of the moon is cast on the earth, blocking the sun. The solar eclipse is a time to turn within and come to terms with any unfinished personal business from the past. Our 80 day written program will conclude just after this auspicious occasion in March. I believe this exercise will benefit me long after we stop our check ins. I think the next new moon will bring unexpected gifts. We have only to find them and put them to use.
This week people are tired of being cold, so I have thought of a good way to warm up and meet for coffee at the same time. We will use our terry cloth transporter cloaks and magical bathing suits (we all look very good in these) to visit Desert Hot Springs, California. We will sit in warm and hot pools right on top of the San Andreas fault and ask the poolside server to bring our drinks to us in the water. We are going to spa down today, my friends, and feel much better for it. We will soak in the sun and the minerals in the soaking pools at Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel, possibly the most bizarre place in the universe. Since this is a day trip I think this is the very best place to be in town to meet. I look forward to listening to your stories of the week. Mine has been easy. My dog has taken a positive turn in her health, which makes our family happy. She still has some frailty, but is not suffering. We are feel lucky to spend more time with her in good spirit and decent health. She is in her doghouse resting, so she will not even notice I have flown to California for a while.
If we had an overnight I might consider one of the small mineral water hotels with more privacy, but for coffee and a sun tan this is a funky fabulous world I know you will love. There are Russians and eastern Euros here every time I come, and I expect to hear some Canadian snowbirds in the crowd too. There is such a demand from the Russians that the weekend servers speak Russian and take care of the customers in their own language. For some reason the eastern Euro/Russian spa bunnies prefer this older vintage style hotel. The sister spa next door is very popular with Korean mineral water lovers. Both groups are fun to watch for fashion thrills. You will see some bathing suits that you know for sure have not been purchased in the US. Since we are wearing magic (digital) suits, it is okay to copy one that you like and wear it home. Make sure you fill up your drinking water bottles because the town has sweet, untreated drinking water that wins competitions and comes right out of every tap. It is delicious, and you need to stay hydrated while you soak.
When we are relaxed and warmed to the bone, I hope you will visit the museum up the hill that will show the story of the discovery of the special wells that made this historic spa famous. The other wonderful sight to see before you leave is Joshua Tree National Monument, just a few miles up the road. It is popular with rock climbers for the vertical challenge and spectacular views. Desert wild flowers will be in bloom now at different elevations, flashing intense saturated colors. I wish you a safe and happy flight to your destination. Thanks for dropping in on our spa coffee break.
Words make things happen. In most cultures spoken ceremonies are repeated verbatim purposefully. The sacred nature of both written and spoken language is celebrated around the world. The Torah, Koran, and Bible are viewed as sacred texts to be studied, read and taught. Art depicting religious stories was used to teach in the times before reading was common. Art and design of a religious nature is preserved to demonstrate to future generations the devotion the ancestors had to their beliefs. Sites that are sacred to people for thousands of years become inundated with the energy of pilgrims and believers who have visited throughout history.
In the fast paced and highly saturated language designed to sell products we experience subliminal suggestions buried beneath images and characters. Appeals contain images and voices that speak to our deep unconscious. The investment and energy required to sell Coca Cola around the world now is probably greater than investments in creating sacred art and literature. Political campaigns burn resources and overwhelm the public awareness. Messages bombard the audio and the visual landscapes. The plentiful access to information is both miraculous and sinister. The power of the published word, once reserved for exclusive use by a small group, has been granted to a much wider population. This expansion has created a deluge of spoken and written language available in the blink of an eye on the internet. The cascade of words never ends.
I think it is important to remember that everything we read, write, say, hear, and repeat (or retweet) is power. How do you filter the words you give and receive? I limit the number of ads I see by not watching much commercial television. I don’t buy magazines, and rarely buy papers. Most marketing messages reach me by internet. This makes it simple to delete, unsubscribe, block many of the unwanted communications. The companies that continue to fill my mailbox with catalogs after I ask them to stop sending them invoke my ire. I decide they are too rude to have my business if they will not manage one simple customer service request to stop bombarding me with glossy paper. The world has changed, and so should the unwanted advertisers who think they are reaching me by mail.
Lately I have discovered the vast selection of poetry available free on-line. This filter, which includes several apps for my phone and the voca library, has changed the kind of words I receive on a regular basis. The essence of the poets who crafted those words is portrayed in print and audio. I am making the acquaintance on-line of poets writing now that I like to read. It is fun to be able to comment in real-time on a poet’s blog. By shifting my attention to poems and the use of words to capture time I am pleased to report that my own world is richer and more creative. Words are magical, indeed. My magic words for the year 2015, patience, persistence, and poetry are proving to have the ability to open new realities to me. The are providing a portal into a place of poets, and are just the medicine I needed. Do you believe in magic words, gentle reader?
Spring has sprung here in Arizona. We have another month of daily ruby red grapefruit harvest, which is my favorite crop of the year. I juice them and think they do wonders for my health. Since we have had a very mild winter, with the exception of a harsh freeze that ruined some plants, the trees are in bloom early. This can mean that we will be sure to have an early crop of peaches, or it could mean that survival is all the more tricky since we may dip back down in temperature before the fruits can ripen. Gardening requires both close observation and plenty of patience. Nature sometimes thrills us with the delicious outcome of our labors, but just as often some pest or weather storm renders our efforts useless. I have had some kind of garden for all of my adult life. I have had a revelation about gardening and writing that I want to share with you in this post.
Now that I am regularly spending time listening to and reading poetry I see that a well manicured garden resembles a well tuned and well edited piece of writing. Even though all the writers have different styles, I notice that the choice of words as well as the way the sound works has been nurtured and fed. Some of the initial choices have been eliminated, just as weeds are pulled and mulch set on the ground to keep them from returning. The editing process creates a stronger work just as thinning makes larger sweeter peaches. Keeping every one of the fruits is penny wise and pound foolish. After the muse brings the word or the subject or the image to light, the writer must work the creative mental soil, feed the story, and decide when and where to trim for effect. The volunteer plants and some of my current work have something in common. Although they have not been fully worked, or given time to evolve into something more complete, they grew up naturally from a seed that had fallen in the past. Like yellow pear tomatoes, this natural offspring of my imagination, can turn out never ending butterfly psyche poems, if left undisturbed.
Spending more time taking notes, spinning rhymes, and considering new territory for my writing I am pleased with all I have learned. My #ROW80 mates have inspired as well as instructed me in ways I had never expected. Thanks to all of you. I have found a great resource to consult that some of you may also enjoy. The U of A Poetry Center, of which you have heard me tell, has a library of recorded readings called voca. Poets read from their work and explain some of the process they used. This has opened my eyes to the many devices and forms that might be used to write a poem. Everything can be used as inspiration, and any writing has the possibility of becoming great, if edited with sensitivity.
What does the word masquerade mean to you? Do you have a secret identity known only to yourself? How would you dress if you had no formal dress code to satisfy? Do you think you would make any changes to your present wardrobe? When I was a child my mother kept a very big cardboard moving container in the basement full of her old dressy clothing. This box was provided for dress up when I had friends over to play. We used it extensively. I have some fuzzy memories of my friends in hats, gloves, and formal dresses. None of my other friends had one of these, but it was not until later that I knew it had been a great idea.
I had my first job in my life as a costumer and a singer in an outdoor drama. This show, Unto These Hills, was produced in a large amphitheater, so costumes were very important part of telling the story. One of my jobs was to assist in the quick changes of costumes. I helped an eagle dancer turn into Andrew Jackson, replete with long cape, in about 2 minutes. There were a couple of other quick changes, but that was the one that required the biggest transformation. I was never on stage in Cherokee, but in the choir behind a curtain when we sang. I was the youngest (17) and the lowest paid member of the staff. I think I made about $35 a week after they paid for my room and board out of my check. I don’t think about it very often, but last week I saw a bluegrass band from North Carolina and the memories came into my mind like a flood. I am craving hush puppies and thinking about some of our crew that have already left this world. I am remembering laughing so hard I thought I might die right there in the Great Smokey Mountains.
I had careers in both spa fitness and travel, which required me to switch costumes, sometimes quick change. I wore bathing suits a lot of the time for teaching, and often went to the travel agency at night to print tickets and work on my clients’ trips. They were two distinct work environments, so mixing them was a bad idea. I had one briefcase for each job, and had to make sure I kept them separate. This became more defined when I started to work in Mexico at Rancho la Puerta. I was asked to do something to perk up the bingo game because guests were complaining about it. Without consciously bringing it to mind, I reinvented my cardboard dress up box from the basement of my childhood home. We collected ridiculous Vana White style evening wear and used it for bingo. This bingo persona got out of control. Regularly guests would as me if I was there for the week just as bingo queen. Either they missed my classes, or did not know I was the same person who had taught them. This game went on for years, until the guests themselves wanted to dress up and wear wigs. Eventually I distributed all the contents of the bingo costume box and started again. I wore a sheet toga and flowers in my hair for bingo and said I was Spring, the season.
I recently did a big purge of my closet in order to feel focused and clear. This has been a wonderful change, leaving me space and a better curated wardrobe than I had. I no longer need to dress for a job, or to impress anyone. I dress for comfort and also like to express my personal style. My secret identity is ace detective. I am curious to a fault, and enjoy nothing more than stealth. I am not particularly fond of being recognized because I love to slip around in a crowd to eavesdrop. If I could use a cloak for invisibility I certainly would. My signature look, in my own estimation, should be one that shape shifts. I need to maintain a level of mystery. What do you want from your costuming, gentle reader?