creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, October 30, 2009

Writing Spaces

Vermeer, A Lady Writing.
(National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC)

image: Wikimedia Commons

Writing Exercises

Using the spell-check for a little book I made in Blurb/Booksmart, I was charmed by the contrary choices it gave me—almost willfully obtuse at times; at others playful; at others trying to rewrite history.

For pinenuts, "did you mean pimientos?"
For 16th, "did you mean Utah?"
For chapati, "did you mean chaplain?"
For cowsmilk, "did you mean cornsilk?"
For Bonnard, "did you mean bombard?"
For Vivaldi, "did you mean invalid?"
For palazzo, "did you mean Paleozoic?"
For raddicchio, "did you mean addiction?"
For operahouse, "did you mean powerhouse?"
For Uffizi, "did you mean fizzier?"
For Tuscan, "did you mean Toucan?"
For Gloucester, "did you mean Leicester?"
For t'amo, "did you mean Tao?"
For piĆ¹, "did you mean ICU?"

There's surely a writing exercise in that.

And another: Describe what you would like to be for Halloween.

I'm thinking a medieval mystic, a Black Mountain poet, a torch singer, someone who keeps bees in blue boxes in the mountains above Delphi. But then, above all else I want to be the woman who got on Caltrain in South City—probably not as much as twenty, wearing short black leather jacket, black boots, heavy canvasy pants with big pockets at the knees, some kind of cargo pants or riding pants. Black hair in dreadlocks past her waist. Not a big woman, but with enormous hands, like a man's, someone who could coax a basketball through a far hoop with a whisper, hands shaped to the ball, someone with absolute assurance. And yet a very feminine woman, for that. Her knuckles plated, crusted in silver, in rings, like gloves of silver or chain mail. An East Bay sorceress, inner city Medea, like the play we have just seen. I want for one changed night to be this woman, utterly unknown to myself.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Writing Spaces

Still Life: Writer with Laptop and Cathedral.
National Cathedral, Mount Saint Alban, Washington, DC.

image: Christie B. Cochrell

Shells and Bones


I like the Laura Gilpin photograph best of everything at the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the Legion of Honor, better even than the utterly purple—almost black—petunias, the drenched colors of the other flowers. It seems to me a perfect portrait of the artist, though she isn’t actually in it. A portrait of those things that have made her what she is, which names the exhibition: “The Poetry of Things.” A row of oil paints in silver tubes, paintbrushes of various widths and bristles, a horn curved like an elongated S, a little puddle of river rocks, the Abiquiu desert country beyond.

In other of the paintings and photographs there are the rough Penitente crosses said to be place holders in the vast desert space; the door and the covered well in the patio where she grew desert sage; a little track of sunlight across an adobe wall; shells and bones from the high desert, once the bed of an ancient sea. These bleached things are restful but evocative, like the Greek temples with their garish paint worn off which we imagine were intended that way.

All these things remind me of a past I never had.


Last summer I went to Taos for the first time, though I grew up only two hours away. I’d always been led to believe it was prohibitively far or hard to get to. I was angry for what I knew then I had missed, for having been kept from what might have filled in some of the holes in me, without such a struggle. I didn’t get it.
“Why didn’t we ever go to Taos?”
“I never liked Taos much,” my mother said. “It’s sort of weird.”
As am I, Mother, I want to say, but as usual don’t.

I took pictures of blue doors all afternoon, and bought soap with juniper berries, then drove out to the D.H. Lawrence Ranch, five miles of dirt road in from the highway in a canyon just north of Taos. The best part of the day, which I almost, feeling guilty, skipped—late aready getting back to Santa Fe.

The drive was through gorgeous New Mexico countryside, that high desert, with sage, rabbit brush, piney green hills, a shimmer of cottonwoods wherever there’s any possibility of or memory of water, and the beautiful substantial clouds, clouds piled by wind. The ranch was given to Lawrence’s wife Frieda by Mabel Dodge Luhan (whose spinach enchilada recipe we have, or once had) in exchange for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers. Sitting on a wooden worktable inside the window of his cottage is his old manual typewriter, and in a line or two the story is there. I took a picture of the blue bench under the high pine tree where he sometimes sat and wrote or gazed up into the cathedral-tall branches that Georgia O’Keeffe later painted when she stayed in the cottage.

Her painting of that pine is in the show at the Legion of Honor. We got so close there, for a just a minute, years apart.

But back in Santa Fe I am unsure again. And I am unforgivably late.


Maybe I will live in New Mexico again someday, but on my own terms. I’ll take the fossil fish that’s on my writing desk, the white shells from Cape Cod, my Greek octopus pot, the postcard of “Black and Purple Petunias.” Maybe I will regret what I’ve become, in exile, when I look back. I’ll speak bitingly of The California Years. I wonder if I might even live in Taos someday, or if it’s too late for that? I’ll frame the triptych I’ve made of my photographs of the Ranchos de Taos church and the monastery on Santorini six years ago, which are so remarkably alike. The world I’ve found for myself has turned out to be very like that other one I never knew was there.

Maybe someday I will bleach too, like the pieces of wood and bone the artist loved, and maybe then, maybe in my old age, I won’t seem weird any more—or will at least stop minding that I irrevokably am.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Writing Spaces

A monk signing a temple book at the Byodo-in—

image: Chris Gladis


The sun’s gone but I work on in the garden, wanting to get the old dead rosebush out. I feel its reluctance, and coax it slowly from the heavy citrusy leaves. A broken branch scratches my arm as the bush suddenly gives. But it’s still hung up; I need to unlace the wooden trellis from the hedge, too—the way it was when I moved out of my rented Victorian sunporch and everybody laughed at me for having to saw my bicycle out of the vines that bound it, the old turquoise English racing bike I loved once, for its poetry, but never rode.

Because it feels like summer I make some of the margaritas I’ve invented with blue agave tequila, Key Lime juice, and apricot liqueur, shaken in an old jar. The tequila is called “reposado”—Resting? In repose? The thought of it is almost better than its taste. In it, reposado, azul, is the desert at dusk, the blue shadows of the hills around Tucson or on down into Mexico. There’s a tequila shortage, I heard the clerk at BevMo tell another customer this afternoon. Disease, maybe, or agave thieves in rattly old pickups?

I try not to kick over the glass in the dark, set on the sidewalk against the house wall while I hack a little more off of the hedge with my loose-hinged kitchen scissors.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Writing Exercises

Describe what happened here.

Image: Dead woman on floor by desk, with chair, spittoon, telephone; Denver, Colorado. Photo, Harry M. Rhoads c. 1920

Writing Spaces

Bench overlooking the Western Meadow in Fish Creek Park in Calgary Alberta Canada.

Image: Chuck Szmurlo

Things I Know I'll Never Have

that dammuso with an Arab garden on Pantelleria
a cape schooner
a child
a little red brick house on Beacon Hill
prize-winning marrows
an Olympic medal
homing pigeons
a lap pool
the ability to carve gargoyles
the George Harrison album I gave away
an igloo
a unicycle
Barbra Steisand’s nose
a chinchilla
a blind date with a satanist
a comet named for me
another model riding school
a button factory
my name in the Minoan textbooks for having translated Linear A
a Golden Wedding anniversary
a zydeco band
the ability to suffer fools gladly