Devon Miller-Duggan Survives Hurricane Irene

I wish I hadn’t gone to snopes.com to check on the business of keeping a window in your house cracked during a hurricane. It was one of the bits of wisdom I grew up with–I think most everybody who grew up on the east coast knew that rule. It turns out that it isn’t true–in fact it’s one of the worst things you can do. It increases the chances that your roof will blow off. I went to snopes because my daughter, an inveterate checker-of-facts, had emphatically dismissed this and several other bits of receive, I checked and it turns out that not only should you not leave a window cracked, but taping your windows doesn’t do squat, and plywood is not actually a very good covering for windows since you don’t anchor it into the frame of the building, as is the case with proper storm shutters. Furthermore, snopes acquainted me with the very uncomfortable fact that hurricane winds can drive a 2×4 through a concrete block wall. So while, it was good to know we needed to shut all our windows, I ended up spending a lot of time taking possible projectiles out of my yard, perhaps to an excessive degree. None of which would have mattered if the tornadoes that we were warned about had materialized. One did form and touch down ruinously in the southern half of the state. So maybe it wasn’t entirely irrational that I stayed up all night watching local hurricane coverage until the tornado watch was over at 5 a.m., holding my breath and waiting to lose power (we were luckyluckylucky).

But I didn’t worry like this when I was younger. Once when my husband and I were living for the summer in the ground floor of my father’s oceanfront apartment building along with our three-year old daughter (the checker-of-facts–she was a skeptic even then, though the skepticism mostly manifested itself in questioning parental authority). A hurricane was coming up the coast and, though it wasn’t supposed to actually hit as far north as Delaware, we were supposed to get some big surf and big winds. We did. The winds actually hit 70 mph in gusts (chair rental sheds rolled down the beach) and the surf was very heavy. The authorities called a voluntary evacuation. We didn’t go. When my father showed up and asked somewhat frustratedly why we hadn’t gone, I explained that the building had survived the infamous ‘62 Nor’easter (the local standard for scary storms). He said that yes, indeed, the beachfront building had survived the ‘62 storm, but that it had been on the second block (Dewey Beach is now a 2-block wide strip of land between the Atlantic and Rehoboth Bay–I hadn’t known until then that it had been 3 blocks wide when I was little). We left.

I like weather. And I used to be reckless–rejoicing every August in swimming in hurricane-season surf off of the beaches of Rehoboth and Dewey, which are already fairly treacherous swimming–prone to nasty undertow and rip-tides. I used to be a strong, confident swimmer and had grown up swimming from Delaware beaches, and I suppose that heavy-surf-swimming was my version of an extreme sport. I was still doing it as recently as 12 years ago–swimming in storm seas off of the National Seashore on Cape Cod. And I still love to walk in my neighborhood without an umbrella in a heavy (lightning-free) rainstorm. And I love snow. And wind.

But something has shifted. I don’t think it’s age so much as the past 10 years’ sort of nasty confrontations with the fragility of things–my husband has survived a catastrophic staph infection and a really scary bout with feral appendicitis, and I’ve had 3 major surgeries (2 knee replacements and one I won’t go into here). And we’ve had a grandchild. Somehow the combination of facing the breakdown of our bodies and watching the bloodline continue in the tiny-yet-immense person of our grandson Oliver (aka ShortRound, The Schmuffin, The Tribble) has either made the world feel fragile to me or made me care about its fragility more than I used to. Or maybe I just need to adjust my meds… In any event, something has turned me into a worrywort. I don’t like it.

But no one we know sustained any serious damage (August had seen a record rainfall and we live in a neighborhood full of old trees, so there was real worry). Mostly the whole of the middle Atlantic suffered much less damage than we worried about. or prepared for (for which we are grateful–and my house is now properly supplied with re-chargeable flashlights). And I did make close to 200 pairs of earrings for the annual church bazaar while I was up all night guarding my family from tornadoes. But I also learned that tornadoes often form in the northeast quadrants of hurricanes and that with ocean temps of 80 degrees off much of the Atlantic coast, Irene may not be our last windy visitor for 2011. And I haven’t even mentioned the 5.9 earthquake from last week.

Dear Max by Diana Ceres

Dear Max,

I hope I was right and that you have unlimited access to catnip and tuna now.

Do you miss us?

I try to fill the void in my heart with laughter, chocolates, and assorted trifles.

I even had a boyfriend for awhile.

He didn’t last.

They rarely do.

The pain of breaking up with someone pales in comparison to the vastness of your absence.

I think you would like Austin.

Feel free to visit any time.

I would be honored to be your mom.

Again.

Diana

Writing Prompt: The Letter–Memoir Class Fall 2011

The fall semester is here, and it is exciting to be teaching two full (to overflowing) sections of Memoir at Santa Fe Community College. People really want to tell their stories. This week we’ll address the letter form. Is it still valid in a world of tweets? I’m re-blogging the piece below from an earlier post of mine. Whether or not you are in a class–enjoy!

The Epistle
The letter is one of the most ancient and basic forms of writing. Part of its power is that it communicates so directly. It usually has one author, one recipient–the audience is clearly defined and the piece specifically tailored for him or her. Letters are also part of the origin of the novel. One of the first novels in English, Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, is written in the form of letters. On a more contemporary note Alice Walker’s beloved The Color Purple is also written in letters. There are Epistles in The New Testament. You can use this pithy form to add structure and intimacy in your own writing.
Dear Diary
Part of what can make diary writing stagnant over the long run is that the form can be purely introspective. Of course some diaries, like that of Anne Frank, are written to an imaginary friend. Using the epistle form can add a new level of liveliness to a diary.
The conventions of the letter are basically the salutation (Dear So-and-So) and the complimentary close (Love always, X or See you in court, Y). Make sure you use these; they are certainly simple, but will key both you and your reader that you are using the epistle. Most of us have spontaneously written unsent letters in our diaries. There is nothing like a broken heart, for example, to create an outpouring of letter writing–and most of these are indeed better not sent! But you can also create such a letter with the intent of giving your writing some shape and focus.

1. Write a letter to someone you know who is dead. Fill him or her in on what is new, and say whatever else you need to. Don’t be inhibited by your idea of what the person can or cannot respond to. Just start writing–and soon the letter will flow. This can be an emotional exercise, so give yourself some quiet time and space to it.

2. Write a letter to yourself as you were ten or twenty years ago. Use the exact name or nickname you went by at the time. Add some details, such as the place you were living, what kind of clothes you wore, work you did. What would you like to tell yourself then that you know now? Address that younger self, and watch him or her come to life again.

3. I like the Jewish tradition of leaving an ethical will. Indeed, the practice has been taken on by people from various traditions. Write a letter to your heirs not about your property but about the beliefs you value. Say what has been important to you, and events you have learned from.

An Epistlatory Story
A piece of fiction does not have to be composed completely of letters for the form to work in a story. A letter, or in contemporary times a bit of e-mail, can add life to your fiction. In Ana Consuelo Matiella’s short story “Home” (in The Truth About Alicia and Other Stories, University of Arizona Press) the narrator writes a letter to the house she is leaving:
Dear House,
The roots are deeper than I thought.
So long ago I asked for a pact and you came through with your part of the bargain. And now it’s time for me to go and thank you for all your years of home. Someone kind will come and fill your space, and children will once again run down the hallway.

The speaker then even “mails” the letter. She says: “ I didn’t sign my name. I taped the note to the door, confident it would be read. When I settled into my sleeping bag, the house creaked and the redwoods rocked. And to me the owls said their last good night.” The letter adds directness and emotion to the story here, just before the ending.

Some ideas for letters that add a fictional technique might include taking Matiella’s idea and writing a letter to something inanimate:

1.. Write a letter to a cat, dog, tree, or plant.
2. Write a letter to anything non-human. It could be your favorite place in nature, or even a city. Let your imagination go wild here.
3. Write a letter to a historical or fictional character.

A Letter To The World
You can also use the letter form to create a short prose poem, or its own entire piece. Classical poets such as the Roman Horace used the epistle form in his poems to discuss philosophy and politics. You can use less weighty matters, too. When my daughter was tiny, I left her for a few hours at her godmother’s while I taught a writing class. Like most new mothers, the separation made me nervous, even though I knew she was in capable hands. I wrote a piece called “Postcard To The Baby” (Baby Baby. Noctiluca Press.) which began “You are just across town on Agua Fria but I wanted to drop you a note to tell you not to cry but to be nice to Debora who loves you because she saw you get born.” I concluded, more to reassure myself than anything, “I will see you at 9:07 sharp. Be there.” Since I still had time to spend writing in class, I dove into fictional technique and let the baby write back. She “wrote,” perhaps less than reassuringly, “I know you think I like you the best but I really like the parakeets the best because they are the only people in the house I am smarter than.” And she concluded: “I will see you at 9:07 sharp. Be there.”
So when you use the epistle, have fun and allow it to take you in unexpected creative directions. Letters have a strong sense of voice, and of intent. If the only letters you write are an annual holiday report and an occasional thank you note, now is the time to expand your range and use the letter as a part of your memoir practice.

Janet Vincent Taylor on Letter Writing

When I told a friend that I was going to offer a class at Ghost Ranch Fall Writing Festival called The Art of Letter Writing, the truth as he saw it slipped out before he had a chance to censor himself. “If that class makes it will be full of old people.”

He teaches college kids so perhaps he doesn’t realize the pleasure and vitality of the over-fifty set. (these are my people, friend!) Besides, have you noticed that young people have taken up knitting, canning, gardening, pin-hole photography and the ukulele, all antique arts now born again with a 21st century sensibility ? Letter writing may be the next new thing.

Letters stuffed into an envelope and sent at the current rate of 44 cents could make a comeback, not for expediency sake, for sure, but for art’s sake. Whoever turns up in my class, of whatever age, will be invited to think about letters and why they matter, both historically and in the current context.

Letters from prison, letters from the road, from wars, and letters of comfort to parents, to children, and love letters. We’ll read letters and write some of our own.

What role did letters play in keeping alive the marriage of Georgia O’Keefe to Alfred Stieglitz over such long separations?

The writer Leslie Marmon Silko says to the poet, James Wright, after taking up a whole letter describing the personality of her rooster in the yard: You never know what’s going to happen in a letter.

Charles M. Russell had few grammatical skills but he dashed off illustrated letters and post cards, keeping friendships alive with little more than a savvy sentence or two.

The letter is one of the most familiar forms of communication, and one of the most intimate. Letters can be exuberant, sad, bossy, philosophical, fragmented, long-winded, and funny, but they are most enduring and artful when they are revelatory and honest in personal expression.

Charles Lamb, the 19th century essayist and avid letter writer, said writing a letter is like whispering through a trumpet. Write a letter today. Let it whisper or let it trumpet. Please, let it do more than tweet.

***
This author is blogging at Room of One’s Own.

Call for Submissions: The Rag

The Rag, an Albuquerque monthly poetry broadside which has been distributed free at coffee houses and bookstores throughout the city for over 10 years, is seeking submissions. Poems should be no longer than thirty lines including stanza breaks. Previously published poems OK. Rhyming poetry is not generally published excerpt for form poems. We are looking for new poets as well as previously published poets. Email submissions to theragabq@yahoo.com or send to Karin Bradberry, 11322 Campo del Sol NE, Albuquerque, NM 87123. Authors receive 2 copies of the Rag as payment for published poems. Subscriptions also available for $15/yr. Send check to Karin Bradberry at the same address.

3 Questions for Lorraine Schechter

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the line? (Could be poetry, drawing, or both) That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

Mark. Line. Shape. From my earliest drawings as a child, I loved making big, loopy, circular lines…lines which filled the page and which I filled in with a rainbow of color. I fell in love with Calder’s wire sculptures—lines drawn in air—and Matisse’s line drawings: three or four lines and a face or body was full-fleshed. I wanted to do that too!

I spent years drawing with line (contour drawing, it was called) when I worked from life. Joined lines describing very specific shapes came later. Later still as my work became more gestural, calligraphic marks evolved into actual words. Line: both a basic design element and a significant, emotional narrator.

Word. Line. Phrase. Line in my poems comes from breath…the music of the word…the spaces in between.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing/art and the human body? Or between your writing/art and your body?

When I taught art, I’d invite my students to explore how their shoulder, arm, hands and fingers affected the marks and lines they could make. We did a series of exercises investigating the affect of tension in the body, and how this tension affected their capacity to move their body as they drew or painted…how deep feelings (anger, love, sorrow, joy) evoked different kinds of lines, marks and shapes which were readable by others.

My body is my vehicle for expression—how I physically engage with the space of a small drawing or painting is different than with a 7’ canvas. Whether I sit or stand affects the extent of my reach, my movement, and the expressiveness of my marks and brushstrokes.

Music. Sound. Silence. Part of the sensate body. Early on I worked with rock’n’roll as a background beat. Later, Philip Glass’ music was the sound matrix for my painting. For a long, long time I stopped having music as I worked, allowing my inner music to guide movement and provide the emotional framework for my painting. These days, Bach holds center stage. I’m continually surprised by his inventiveness; the pure beauty of his music is so compelling I stop what I’m doing and listen.

Writing. Hand writing is how poems are made. As in drawing, the immediacy and freshness of the hand, body, mind/heart connection is essential.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being an artist/poet?

I ‘m a maker. The ability and willingness to devote my life to art and poetry has been a gift and a blessing. Not easy. Not without sacrifices. Not without a certain sense of alienation from the mainstream. Not without an enormous amount of work/play. All of that has been an on-going lesson and wondrous.

Marketing my work—getting it out there—is less so.

***

Lorraine Schechter received her MFA in printmaking and painting from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, where she was later given an Angell Post-Graduate fellowship in Graphics. She lived in the south of France and the hills of northwestern Connecticut where she was manager of the Alexander Calder home and studio before settling in Santa Fe in 1988.

An early innovator of three-dimensional cards, her designs were first published by MoMA/New York. She has had numerous exhibitions of her mixed media paintings, prints, and constructions, which are in museum, corporate and private collections.

Lorraine’s poems have appeared in a variety of poetry reviews and anthologies. She is a winner of the Recursos/Southwest Writers Discovery Contest. A collection of her poems, The Seasons of Yes: Poems and Images won the 2008 New Mexico Book Award in Poetry. The Songs of Yes, a musical composition by Lawrence Axelrod based on Lorraine’s poems was performed by CUBE Contemporary Chamber Ensemble in Chicago in June 2010. In January, 2011 she published a second collection of poems in her chapbook, A Thousand Wings Fluttering.

A teacher and arts administrator for forty years, Lorraine recently passed on leadership of the several arts programs she developed and directed to return full time to the studio. She is working on a new series of mixed media paintings called One Earth (see below). Her work can be seen at her website.

In praise of

the calligraphy of roots
the tight compression of energy
of a baseball, frayed
skin peeled back, revealing
its skeleton
compassion for the tenderness of paper,
the emptiness of space
for black, the collector of color

sacred geometry
sensuous, loping lines
circle in, circle out again
a square dance
a tango
mark becomes pattern
pattern becomes grid
image becomes metaphor

the edges permeable

the edge
between structure and chaos—
garden and wilderness
dissolves

simply trust
don’t the leaves
flutter down
just like that?

***
Artwork by Lorraine Schechter above:

Aspen Vista/Fall 2010
Stormy Skies/Santa Fe, July 2010