Gathering Supplies: Day of the Dead Grotto Installation

While gathering supplies for our Day of the Dead grotto installation,
I'm thinking about what Adam said,
that he feels I am concealing more than revealing,
and that he wishes things would be more like My First Garden,
and less like Listen to the Leaves Crunching.

For the installation, Elyse has gobs of cupcake papers.  
I have a box of clothespins recently purchased at an estate sale.  
Pouring them onto the carpet I wonder
Whose dust am I breathing in?

Elyse stops by with the perfect piece of tupperware for my Bride of Frankenstein costume.
It is my go-to costume.  Along with Frida Kahlo.

All I need is the wedding dress.  
When we were in college 
L. found it at a thrift shop and gave it to me.  
I wore it that Halloween 
a most transformative experience
when I dressed as my own ghost 
and spend the night jumping on the couch. 

I look for it and can not find it.  
I search in all the places it would be. 
I know I should drop it, but I can't help it.  I keep looking.  
I get frustrated.  I look places where it isn't likely to be.  
I can perfectly picture it in its plastic bag. 
I begin to think I must have given it away.
I berate myself for doing something so stupid.

Drop it!  I scold myself. 

I sit on the floor and wonder what question to write for the dead.  

Suddenly, the answer comes to me.


Art School Teacher: Moments of Reflection

Now I am back from class.  Now I think to tell him that what his story needs are moments of reflection.  Why couldn't I have thought of it in class after he'd told more dangerous and compelling anecdotes about getting drunk with his crazy cousin?

How could I not have thought of it when five minutes before we had watched a video of Ira Glass explaining how the two building blocks of stories are anecdotes and moments of reflection?

But I was busy worrying about what would happen if he told such a story in front of the parents at The Refuge.  So all I could think of to say was, "Wow.  Well, you never did that again, right?" to which he just laughed nervously.

Now that I'm back home I can clearly see that what I should have said was, "How did that make you feel?"


Art School Teacher: On Having a Listening Practice

I thought class would be one way, but it turned out another.  We went outside to listen.  Later some of the students reported the leaves were crunching too loudly for them to listen.

We rushed to get back to class before the drill, and of course, when we rush, we can't listen, the students noticed.

What gets in the way of our listening?  One girl points to her head with both index fingers.  She doesn't often talk.  We all know what she means.

It was a yellow drill where we imagine an intruder and lock the doors and hide away from windows and be very quiet.

But some report it is too quiet to listen, disturbed by the pulsing of their hearts in their ears.

They grow sleepy.

How does listening feel in our bodies?

They are not sure.

This week, practice listening.  Every time you think of it, take a minute to just listen and notice how it makes you feel.


goodbye from far away


I will always be grateful
that you called me out to see the moon, 
that you taught me Sango and how to cook ngozo,
and how to tell off men who were up to no good,
how we laughed about so many things!  
I will remember you like this, a great friend with deep understanding.
It saddens me that our paths never crossed again.


Recipes from Johanastan: Purple Soup

My husband brought home a giant purple cauliflower 
that sat in the back of refrigerator for a while, 
until the weather turned cold and we needed some soup.

Purple Soup:

Fry onions, garlic, and ginger.

Add purple cauliflower.

Cook with broth.


Serve with cottage cheese (slightly past expiration date is fine), 
and any raw vegetables that are sitting out.


Day Dreamer Excursion: Which Way Does Your Wind Blow?

I am still interested in The Pillow Book, the writings of an 11th century Japanese courtesan, 
Sei Shonagon who kept musings, lists, observations, opinions on papers she hid in the pillow box 
of her bed.

Word got out, and at one point, a lover stole her manuscript and passed it around the court.
Sei Shonagon was upset, but also anxious to hear what people thought of it. And here I am, a thousand years later, searching for her book at the Appleton Public Library.

It is checked out.

I browse the 952's, 
hoping to find a book about The Pillow Book
but instead find a book about Basho.

Matsuo Basho, born in Uneo, Japan in 1644, an ambitious and popular poet, fell into a despair so deep that he felt his only way out was to shed all earthly attachments. 

At 40, he took to traveling, though precarious and inadvisable, on his quest to restore his true identity, "the everlasting self which is poetry." His travel sketches are prose interspersed with poetry, both his and those of poets he encounters on his journeys.

They write about black rice, 
globefish soup,
drizzling rain,
and soft beams of the moon. 


Art School Teacher: Lessons from Storytelling Class

Today they told stories about an awkward new year's eve encounter on a cruise ship; a reckless camping trip with a wayward cousin; a difficult start to middle school; the first time behind the wheel; a girl who made a friend who became a boyfriend.

One student began to cry part way through his story.  He was standing on the stage and we were watching him.  And he said he was sorry and we told him it was okay, to take his time.

After each story we write the teller's name on a card and give the story a name.  We write something we appreciate and then some suggestion, usually a way to expand or complete the story.  And after all the stories are told, we discuss.  And the first thing we discussed today was how brave they are to stand before us and allow us to witness this raw unexpected emotion brought on by telling a story.

Why do we tell stories?  What would human life be without stories?  What do stories do to us?  Have you ever known a person who has never told a story?


Dear Liam, Dear Me

Dear Liam,

After you called, I went to find the package I had sent, months back,
returned for lack of an apartment number even though you insisted there was none.

I found the note I had included and was shocked and disturbed
to find written exactly what I was planning to write to you now
except that now I didn't have to because I had already written it.

Dear Me,

Have I become so predictable as to be writing
the same exact banalities
over and over again?


From the Tiny Songs Concert Tiny Set "Songs About Bric-a-Brac"

the little man carved out of wood

stands by the window cross-eyed offering his blessing with an ironic little smile


tad neuhaus, ukulele
joanna dane, vocals


Art School Teacher: Composition Lesson First

When I give them each a pile of coins, 
some of the students immediately start arranging, 
others sit waiting for directions.  
I wish I could be more patient and just sit quietly, 
waiting to see what they will do.  
But I quickly grow uncomfortable 
with their discomfort of my discomfort 
and say, yes! arrange them.  

It is Twyla Tharp's suggestion in her book 
The Creative Habit on which the class is based.  
I chime the bell and we stand 
and walk, witnessing all the arrangements.  
I put a pile of stones by each paper 
and chime the bell again 
and we all sit in new places, repeating, 
with rubber bands, then pushpins.  

It is quiet, everyone focused on arranging.  
Afterward, some report arranging with a story in mind.  
Others used the objects to paint a picture or to make patterns.  
The girl in the red flapper hat 
who confessed to being a perfectionist 
says it made her feel like a kid again.  
Here we are all equals.  
All arrangements are non-perfect.
All arrangements are interesting.  

Could that be why kids are so thrilled playing in the sand?
Is there a human instinct more basic than the desire to arrange?  
What more is any art, than arrangement?