Wishing well.

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I’m having knee replacement surgery tomorrow. I know I’m lucky that I can afford the health insurance that makes this possible, lucky that I’m in excellent health otherwise, lucky that my recovery will likely be smooth and complete, lucky that Dick will care for me through this. All week, messages have come from friends and family wishing me well. My knitting group, fantastic Duluth women, delivered a week’s worth of homemade food for us. I’m grateful for all of this. And yet, I haven’t shaken the feeling that it isn’t fair to interrupt my life for surgery so that I can simply enjoy walking again. There’s going to be a lot of sitting around before I can move the way I want to.

And then a couple of things happened that knocked me into a better perspective.

My dad, appreciative of the medical care my mom received in her final year, and mindful of the news from Aleppo, decided to donate to Doctors Without Borders instead of buying gifts for children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. He knows it’s a way to step outside the fortune of our family ties to acknowledge that families very much like ours have unbearably sad burdens that they somehow bear, every day. I’m glad he’s doing this, especially as we turn the corner into whatever the new year will look like, here in the U.S. and around the world.

Then, my Book Club in the Twin Cities decided not to continue the traditional book exchange where we all bring a wrapped book, open them one by one, and try to guess who gave which book. This usually becomes the larger part of our reading list for the coming year. But there are other ways to make a reading list. Instead, we are donating items requested by one of our members for her homeless clients. Jane, a former ballet dancer, went back to school a decade ago to get her R.N. degree. Now, she’s a public health nurse in St. Paul, who begins her days at 4:30 a.m. wearing a headlamp to visit homeless people wherever they are camped.

When we asked what we should buy, Jane answered by email:

The people on the streets are there for a variety of reasons; poor mental health is always a factor and most of the people I have met have fallen through the cracks, unable to obtain housing because they are not able to follow through a long list of requirements that would enable them to do so.  And, aside from other street homeless, they have few friends or family.

I do see women, but mostly men and except for 3 rather emaciated men, the majority are large — tall and big.  Big hands and big feet.

Anything you give, I will send you a story in return about who I brought that particular gift to and how they reacted to it.  I would imagine that not many of my people I see will be receiving wrapped gifts.  Whatever it is, please add a tag for me with what the item is and size so I can deliver what is most needed to a particular person.

What we need: I’ll start big to small:  pup tents; sleeping bags, sleeping matts for comfort; backpacks; battery operated radios with batteries; flashlights with batteries; warm clothing: gloves (warm gloves and socks (wool);  long underwear (tall  and large or extra large); warm hats (large sizes) and gift cards to restaurants downtown so they can get out of the cold early in the morning or late at night and go get something to eat and something warm to drink and so they can be inside out of the cold.  Some ideas are Brueggers, Micky’s Diner and Cosetta’s. Not Holiday (which is close to where lots of people camp) because they sell cigarettes. If you have second-hand jackets and second-hand boots  that you are discarding, please think of me.

While I was digesting this message, Jane sent another message:

I was out this morning (with our doctor, Mark) and saw someone I neglected to think about for gifts…  I will call him C. His first language is Spanish. He lives about 2 blocks (for lack of a better easily understandable reference) down a bluff deep into the trees (now bare, of course). One couldn’t see him from the road or even at the top of the bluff, but once I start walking down the bluff, I am able to spot the top of his blue tarp. There is stuff jettisoned everywhere —some of it from previous occupants. I spot a typewriter, old baby carriage, bicycle tires, a bike pump, a urinal (someone visited a hospital), old shoes, old Kowalski bags, a baseball bat, a soccer ball, an old sink, a stuffed pink bear that is missing an ear, a pile of summer clothing, old broken bottles of every manner of drink. The usual junk we see — but here there is something magical: C has pots of fake flowers everywhere. He told me he loves flowers and tried to grow roses last summer. A little shady here for roses. He also has Christmas ornaments strung up, a shrine with Mary and Jesus, and a makeshift door (an old cupboard door strung with rope). He has hanging bells so he can hear visitors.
When we look at these pots of flowers, Mark and I cry. C is very fearful of people. When I inspected the skin condition on his hands the first time I met him, I asked him what happened to his finger.  He said he was attacked at age 7 and the people who accosted him cut off his finger. He used to work as a dishwasher or line cook in a Mexican restaurant on the west side but was told to leave because of his skin condition. This morning at 6 a.m. he was getting ready to go to work. He was so proud of the fact he was just hired to clean a different Mexican restaurant in off-hours. He is happy to have any work. He walks about 2 miles to the restaurant…
Last night he hardly slept for fear of missing his first day of work. So, what does he need?  A watch. A simple inexpensive watch. Probably better than a battery operated clock that could get wet.  Because of his skin condition, he needs a non-metal band on the watch.  The simpler the better.
We serve the undocumented, but C is very fearful.  Like the fox and the little prince, where the fox tells the prince he has to return at the same time and same place every day if he wants to tame him or make friends with him, Mark and I went back every week at the same time and we started by leaving bag lunches and notes. It took almost 4 months for C to talk to us. C also needs boots… his shoes are falling apart. They are too big, plastic and have holes (Crocs).  
So… as I stored the delicious food my friends made for me, I thought of Dad’s decision to donate. I thought of C and the rest of Jane’s clients. I tried to imagine what it feels like to be alone — to feel absolutely alone — in the world.
And I couldn’t imagine it. The truth is, when difficult things have happened in my life, there have been people who wished me well, and who helped my life become well.
There are people who wish me well. Such a simple thing — shouldn’t everyone be able to count on that? And yet… so many people can’t.
I’m going to have a lot of time sitting still in the coming weeks to think about what I can do to change that.

4 Authors, 4 Books Published

Last Saturday, October 29, in the lovely space at Duluth’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation, four local authors talked about the road to publishing their most recent books — an event organized by Lake Superior Writers, thanks in part to a grant from Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. All photos above by Maddie Cohen.

I learned something new from each of the four authors:

Alice Springer Marks, Missing, published privately 2016
A former pre-school director and teacher, Alice turned to writing when she retired. She’s published some of her short stories in anthologies, and has written plays for non-profits. She and her husband, Sam, moved to Duluth 3 year ago and live in the Lincoln Park area of Duluth. Alice has a friend who self-published medieval stories set in Texas (I think I have this right!) through Women Addicted To Heroines — this friend encouraged her to join the ranks of “indie” authors to publish Missing, the story of two detectives who solve the mystery of a doctor who goes to lunch one day and never returns. Some of Alice’s points:

  • It took her seven years to write Missing, but only one year to write the sequel.
  • As an older author (her term, not mine!) she didn’t want to wait around for the typical submission/publishing timeline.
  • Revising is hard work.
  • She uses her computer like a typewriter, so she hired someone to format her manuscript.
  • Next project: sequel to Missing, called Break, starring the same two detectives who solve a double-identity puzzle.

Lucie B. Amundsen, Locally Laid, Penguin 2016
Lucie and her husband, Jason, own Locally Laid Egg Company in Wrenshall, MN, a “middle-agriculture” farming operation, where chickens are pasture-raised. Lucie’s background is in marketing; when her freelance career collapsed in 2008 she entered Hamline University’s MFA program (which she notes is no help at all in selling her writing).

  • While there, she wrote a manuscript for a graphic novel, queried five agents (researched them, followed them on Facebook, i.e. “benevolent stalking”). All passed on her manuscript, but one asked to see her next book.
  • Locally Laid is narrative non-fiction — Lucie jokes that this means, Where do you shelve it?
  • This personal story has a couple of arcs — memoir, then the business story arc, then the teaching stories (among them, explaining “middle agriculture”)
  • She sent 10 book proposals over an 8 week period to her agent. More or less a full-time job, on top of real life, getting to a satisfactory book proposal that her agent was willing to sell.
  • Offers came from Harper Collins and Penguin within nine days. Lucie chose Penguin because they wanted a teaching book — but Penguin wanted the book to be 40% longer.
  • 18 months after submitting the final manuscript, the book came out.
  • Then — she began marketing the book, a nearly full-time job on top of other full-time jobs like farmer, mom, marketing department at Glensheen, etc.
  • Next project: book about marketing and entrepreneurship for farms; nervous about the first draft — which is like shoveling dirt, then crafting sandcastles.

Felicia Schneiderhan, Newylweds Afloat, Breakaway Books 2015
Felicia worked as a freelance writer for several years in Chicago and elsewhere, and has published essays, short stories and poetry; she’s a regular writer for Lake Superior Magazine.

  • Her book started as a blog during her “liveaboard” days, along with her husband, Mark, on his boat Mazurka, in downtown Chicago.
  • She published articles based on the blog that later became chapters in the book — this helped her define a larger audience.
  • She queried 10 agents — of the 5 who replied, 3 asked for sample chapters or 10 pages of the book.
  • Learned BEFORE you query, you should have the whole manuscript ready!
  • Applied for and received an ARAC grant to finish a novel during this time, so she was working on more than one project.
  • She googled boat book publishers and found Breakaway Books, a small independent publisher, in upstate New York — publishers of outdoor adventure books with a literary tone. The owner and publisher does everything and outsources what he can’t do himself.
  • Queried them anonymously — now, she knows better! — but they wanted it.
  • Due out in Fall 2015. That August, publisher announced he didn’t have enough time to provide Advanced Reader Copies. (aka ARCs, these are the books sent to reviewers ahead of publication.)
  • NOW she knows that ARCs are REALLY important — almost no one reviews a book after it’s published.
  • Next project: She likes accumulating the “dirt” of a manuscript; feels elation and grief upon finishing a book, then sees “here’s the next thing and maybe I can say it” with writing.

Julie Gard, Home Studies, New Rivers Press 2015

Julie is an accomplished and award-winning poet who teaches at University of Wisconsin-Superior. She lives in Duluth with her partner, the poet Michelle Mathees. Julie says she’s been a writer all her life; her work has been published in chapbooks and literary journals. The 59 prose poems in Home Studies (a finalist for the 2016 Minnesota Book Award) were expanded from 18 poems she wrote between 2004-2007 when she and Michelle lived in North Dakota and adopted a 9-year-old daughter from Russia.

  • The book is divided into three parts. The middle section of the manuscript was going to be another project, but the [poetry] genre is flexible, so work can fit into different genres; this middle section was written in Duluth from 2007-2015.
  • She tends to overwrite, then pares back. She also writes more poems than she will use in a collection, then pares back the number.
  • In summer of 2012, she decided to put together a book, sent it out to contests and presses and queried 5-8 places.
  • Like Minnesota writer, Alison McGhee, she was prepared to go up to 80 queries!
  • She knew she wanted small literary presses, rather than an agent. The manuscript for Home Studies was the winner of the 2103 Many Voices project at New Rivers Press, a teaching press located at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
  • Next project: Living in the uncertainty of beginning another book. “This (Home Studies) is a book — will my next ideas be a book?”

    ASSORTED WISDOM FROM THE Q&A:
  • Contests often require a fee; in effect, you’re paying someone to read your manuscript
  • Marketing your book is a lot of work — and it’s expected no matter which publishing route you go
  • Consider low expectations — then, when people respond it’s great
  • Do a great job getting pre-copies out to reviewers (aka Advanced Reader copies)
  • Felicia noted that ARAC provided a grant so she could travel to the East Coast (where she’s from) to do readings
  • Poets & Writers database is a good resource
  • So is Writer’s Digest
  • Alice says Reader’s Digest usually pays $100 for 100 words
  • Lucie suggests a tiered approach to getting published: devote X number of weeks or months to 1) securing agent, then 2) small press, then 3) self-publishing an e-book.
  • With every query you write, you are sharpening the marketing of your book.
  • amazon has resources for self-publishing; mixed-genre books can do well with this
  • Book talks appeal to larger audiences than a book reading — tell how you wrote the book or researched the subject. An entertaining presentation draws an audience. Lucie: “Making it funny is coping.” (Meaning your book content and/or your presentation.)
  • Business Facebook gives you many options for targeting audiences for small cost.
  • Couple a visit to a library (for a book signing) with a writing workshop that you teach — much more fun than sitting in a bookstore hoping people come by.
  • Write from your gut and heart first. Later, you can fine-tune the message.

So there you go — see what you missed? You’ve gathered by now that none of our four authors published their books expecting, or even hoping, to get rich. But they all found it satisfying. What will you do to make finishing and publishing your book a good experience?

The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council provides funding and support to Lake Superior Writers, and a host of other regional artists and arts organizations. “Funding for ARAC programs and services is provided through appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Arts and Cultural Heritage Amendment, and a grant from the McKnight Foundation.”

 

 

One River, Many Stories

The St. Louis River, April 2016, near the Clyde Avenue landing

The St. Louis River, April 2016, near the Clyde Avenue landing

I’ve just finished my term with One River, Many Stories — the amazing year-long collaboration created and developed by the grant team of John Hatcher and Jennifer Moore of University of Minnesota Duluth’s Journalism program, and Paul Lundgren of Perfect Duluth Day (with help early on from Chris Julin and Emily Haavik).

I met good people doing good work for this storytelling/media/journalism/community project, and I’m looking forward to watching the reverberations around Duluth and our region for a long time to come. Read Paul Lundgren’s essay on Mike Simonson and the project’s beginnings.

Early on, the grant team asked a simple question: What happens when all the storytellers in one region turn their attention to one topic, the St. Louis River? I’m still blown away by the amazing variety of river stories produced by journalists, writers, artists, art students, poets, broadcasters and just plain folk.

There’s even an interactive map where you can scroll in and out along the river to place many of the stories in their geography along the river.

Enjoy. And get out on the river! You’ll see Duluth and our surrounding region from a whole new vantage point.

 

 

Been a while.

The Lakewalk, Duluth, March 6, 2016

The Lakewalk, Duluth, March 6, 2016

There is something spectacular about light around water. Even on a cold and cloudy day here in Duluth, light bounces around in fascinating ways over the Lake, but along the stream beds and rivers, too. Like having a magnifying glass everywhere I go, ready to frame what I want to see most.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, when two dear friends (world travelers both) came to stay in Duluth for a couple of days. I’ve written about my travels with Nathalie and Michele before. I love these two women, and I love the gift of seeing my new hometown through their eyes. They wanted to go every where I go in my daily life, and we did. Somewhere during our tour days, I realized we were always near water of one kind of another: the Lake, of course, but rivers and creeks and streams, too. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to live here, but they understand why I do!

I’m getting ready to teach a writing workshop at Waite Park Library for Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud. Hence, the visit to my own web site to update the resources I like to have ready for students.

Most of my time in recent months has been taken up by One River, Many Stories, the journalism and storytelling project about the St. Louis River that’s led by UMD. We moved here for the Lake — an adventure to get to know the city from the perspective of its River.

Saturday, March 19, I get to see the Mississippi River and its tributary, the Sauk River, and talk to writers there about their relationship to their rivers.

Water, water, everywhere!

 

A poem in process.

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Kudos to Carol Scott for sharing her writing process! Three versions of her poem, “Honey Crisp” appear below, and I hope you enjoy seeing the poem’s evolution as much as I did. Carol participated in a Writing Visually class I taught earlier this summer at Carver County Libraries that was geared toward their Poetry/Art Collaborative. Here’s my post about the poem we wrote as a class here.

Participants were encouraged to take the rough draft and run with it to create their own work. And Carol did! I hope she’ll enter her poem once she’d finished. The Library is accepting entries until August 3; there’s also a call for artists. Email Angela Hunt for more info — ahunt AT co.carver.mn.us

#1 HONEY CRISP  by A. Carol Scott

Its bee-kissed bloom
fractured;
long since faded
for this very moment
Of lusty, earthy perfection.
Wise men infused  their gifts:
Shapely perfection,
Silken beauty,
Flamboyant tenderness.
Minnesota nativity testifies:
This beauty is not like others,
Those from far away,
Those foreign to this fertile place.
No. Cloaked seductively in a
Shiny green-accented
red envelope modestly
Enfolding velvety succulence,
This enchantress is poised,
Suspended tauntingly
Out of reach like a star
Twinkling a promise,
Eliciting Pavlovian reactions:
Stomach pit pain, yearning,
Igniting textured memories of
Dewy trails tracing down wrist
Leaving a honeyed kiss
On pulse point
Breathing a delicate,
Heavenward, fragrance
Tempting those vulnerable
To pluck stabled treasures
From straw laden manger.
#2   HONEY CRISP by A. Carol Scott
Its bee-kissed bloom
fractured;
long since faded
for this very moment
of lusty, earthy perfection.
Wise men infused their gifts–
silken perfection,
unrelenting fragrance,
flamboyant tenderness.
Minnesota nativity testifies
this beauty is not like others,
those from far away,
those foreign to this fertile place.
No. Cloaked seductively in a
satiny green-accented
red envelope modestly
enfolding firm white succulence,
this enchantress is poised,
suspended tauntingly,
out of reach, like a star,
igniting textured memories–
stomach pit yearning,
dewy trails tracing down wrist
leaving honeyed pulse-point kisses.
Bearing its sweet bouquet
on heavenward breezes,
the vulnerable are beguiled.
Bowing to temptation they visit
the orchard’s straw laden manger,
select bag-swaddled treasures
to offer consuming praise in private
#3 HONEY CRISP by A. Carol ScottIts bee-kissed bloom
fractured;
long since faded
for this very moment
of lusty, earthy perfection.
Wise men infused their gifts–
silken perfection,
unrelenting fragrance,
flamboyant tenderness.
Minnesota nativity testifies
this beauty is not like others,
those from far away,
those foreign to this fertile place.
No. Cloaked seductively in
satiny green-accented red,
this enchantress is poised,
suspended tauntingly, a star,
igniting textured memories–
stomach-pit yearning,
dewy trails tracing down wrist
leaving honeyed pulse-point kisses.
Bearing its sweet bouquet
on heavenward breezes,
the vulnerable are beguiled.
Bowing to temptation they visit
the orchard’s straw laden manger,
select bag-swaddled treasures
to offer consuming praise in private.

My poetry/art collaborative

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For a recent workshop, I put together an afternoon about writing visually. The workshop was a kick-off to Carver County Library‘s unique Poetry/Art Collaborative, a new event this year that challenges poets to submit poems about Carver County — places, events, people, activities, objects, scenery, etc. — and challenges artists to create work for an exhibition in November.

Doesn’t seem right to ask my students to do something I haven’t attempted, so I wrote a poem about the apple tree in my back yard and challenged my beloved, Dick Osgood, to create a photo that reflected my poem. Dick’s beautiful photo is above. Here’s my poem:

Apple Tree, Spring

This morning
a pink gull passed over
the bluesilver lake.
Under her rosy wings,
ten thousand ancient spurs
newly white.
Eighty years
twenty-nine thousand evenings
past the careful parsing of
youth and the prudent provisioning
of prime, every year a glorious
exuberance. Because any year
might be the last.
Bushels, baskets, climbs, nests, forts, bees,
swings, kisses, robins, jays, picnic blankets.
The annual passerines for two weeks
every May. Bud, flower, fruit and
fruit-fall. Malus domestica.
The star at the white heart
of every apple.

 

And, but, yet.

Poetry tip of the day: Eliminate and and but and yet from your poetry. See if you can get rid of them in your very first edit, simply by using punctuation or line breaks or re-arranging words. You may even find you need fewer words to say what you mean. Which is, after all, the point of poetry, isn’t it? Conveying meaning with the rhythmic lilt of carefully placed words and spaces.

I don’t remember where I first heard this — I’ve used it for a long, long time; most teachers emphasize this for all writing, not only poetry. It’s a quick way to focus your ideas, challenge yourself to choose your words carefully, say what you mean with clarity.

See? In the paragraph above, every time I could have used and, but or yet, I chose punctuation instead, or I re-arranged words.

It’s not that you’ll never see these words in good writing. You will. But using them sparingly   guides attention to your main point.

Writing Visually, and a collaborative poem

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

Writing Visually, and a Collaborative Poem Setting: Saturday afternoon, June 6, at the Chanhassen branch for Carver County Library’s class on Writing for Real People: Writing Visually. Purpose: to have fun with words! And to get ready to write a … Continue reading

A handout!

Here’s the handout from a wonderful class last night — not at all the same as being there, but this version has live links!

Writing An Artist’s Statement, TEXTILE CENTER, Minneapolis, October 7, 2014

My beloved partner is a scientist; he’s convinced physics explains the world. I’m pretty sure poetry does. Makes for interesting dinner conversation. Here’s the thing, though. While physics certainly existed before language and poetry, we humans needed crafted language — poetry — to explain physics to each other.

 ART = PHYSICS AND POETRY

Physics is what allows us to manipulate materials into art, and physics holds the materials together to match the artist’s vision. (Or fails to hold them together, in the case of intentional or unintentional deterioration.) Poetry is what the physical manifestation of art says to us, how it connects to us as humans.

Words tell the story of the art and the artist — that’s the artist’s statement.

 “In general, an artist statement should address what you make, how you make it, why you make it and your understanding of your work’s meaning.” — from the Writing Center at Claremont University

Here’s a word person talking about an artist: He still does not really believe that an artist needs occasionally to use words. David Hockney’s English teacher when he was 13 years old

And here’s a musician talking about words: I like to think that when I sing a song, I can let you know all about the kicks in the ass I’ve gotten over the years, without actually saying a word about it. — Ray Charles

The challenge in writing an artist statement — in writing anything, really — is to write like we speak. To say what we mean, and trust that our experience, our truth, our story will shine through.

The goal by the end of the two-hour workshop is for everyone to have at least an elevator speech about their work, a sound bite. (OK, we can say ick! But sound bites existed long before modern media communications — it’s how we humans listen.) Here’s my elevator speech when people ask me what I do: “I’m a freelance writer. Most of my work this year is with older adults who want to write their life stories — fascinating twist to 30 years of telling stories with essays and poetry.” Gives me openings to say more about life story writing, or about essays and poetry, depending on which my listener is most interested in.

I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances. — Anne Tyler

On to a review of the exercises we covered:
LIST POEM #1
Write MY ART at the top of a blank page
Freewrite 3” – everything that comes to mind about what you make, how you make it, why you make it, what it means to you
End with a noun, concrete depiction of material or tool. Use adjectives if you like.
EDIT — circle anything you like or want to work with, cross out stuff that doesn’t belong

LIST POEM #2
A painted picture is like a vehicle. One can either sit in the driveway and take it apart or one can get in it and go somewhere.Mark Tansey

Write MY ART at the top of a second clean page
Freewrite for 3” — Where does your art take you?
Freewrite for 3” — Where do you hope your art takes others?
EDIT — circle anything you want to keep, cross-out what you don’t

EXERCISE 3 — MICROSCOPE, TELESCOPE
Adapted from exercises created by:
Sarah White, Madison, WI
Cara Ober, MICA

Sometimes I see the world as one gigantic sewn image, held together with small, neat stitches.— Sherry Brody.  Dollhouse Room by Miriam Shapiro and Sherry Brody features Brody’s handmade lace

Top of new page, write the noun from the last line of List Poem #1
Now the Microscope/Telescope part: Most of us tend to write from big picture to small — which can result in too much extraneous background before we get to the action or tension or question. This exercise helps focus our writing on the essentials first, then we add background. We write three paragraphs. (Or we write lots more than that and winnow it down. Working from abundance, we say.)

Write these pages one at a time:
1) OBJECT — Describe your materials and tools, noting anything unique about the way you use them
2) SETTING YOUR STORY/CONCEPTS/COMMUNICATION — how do you use these materials/tools and what do you make with them? Tell us what that means to you, or what you’re communicating or questioning or exploring. Use List Poem #2 to help you start.
3) ACTION/TENSION — How do 1 and 2 interact in your work to reinforce or contradict one another? What does your art DO?
EDIT BY GUT — put these paragraphs in the order you like them at the moment

In class, we share our writing and ask others to respond to phrases and concepts they find effective, or to ask us questions about something they want to know more about. We can also ask family, friends and colleagues for this type of feedback at this point before proceeding.

EXERCISE 4 — FINISHING WITH QUESTIONS
Good writing, writing that we humans want to read, either asks or answers a question. And the questions are almost always more important than any particular answer.

Suppose no one asked a question. What would the answer be? Gertrude Stein

There are certain mysteries, certain secrets in my own work which even I do not understand, nor do I try to do so. — Georges Braque

I’m not qualified to, nor particularly interested in, generating a discussion about art vs. craft. But I like this definition from Mary Hark, an expert papermaker who teaches at MCBA and the University of WI-Madison: “Tension is what makes art. Tension is what draws our eye and holds our attention.” There’s tension in unanswered questions, sometimes even in asking a question. That’s a good thing. It’s an invitation for people to engage with you and your art.

EDITING THE THREE PARAGRAPHS — WHAT’S YOUR QUESTION? TO CONVEY THAT, WHAT’S MISSING FROM YOUR STATEMENT? ARE THERE WORDS OR SENTENCES THERE THAT YOU DON’T NEED?

 It is not hard to compose, but it is wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table. — Johannes Brahms

FURTHER REFINING. LATER. AT HOME, OR WITH FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES. OR THE PEOPLE SITTING NEXT TO YOU IN THE COFFEE SHOP. Again, put these pages you’ve written in the order you like them at the moment — go with your gut. Read them tonight. And again tomorrow or next week when you have time. Live with your words for a while; make notes and doodles to yourself. Then try to connect these paragraphs into a story, adding and subtracting words and sentences until it tells your story. Re-arrange your paragraphs as you like, and strive for three beautifully constructed paragraphs that only you could have written about your work. Our best art, and best writing, comes from our gut, our heart, our core, whatever we call the essential part of ourselves that makes each of us a unique human being. We can trust this to connect us — and our work — to other human beings.

Even in the most sophisticated person, it is the primitive eye that watches the film. — Jack Nicholson

Every story is completed by the reader. — Grace Paley

RESOURCES:

Analog: Textile Center Library, local libraries, Springboard for the Arts workshops and services (some of them free), workshops posted on mnartists.org, other artists working in your area or other areas.

Upcoming mnartists.org workshops about their new web site, free at Walker Art Center:
Thurs, Oct 23, 2014            5 – 7 pm
Thurs, Oct 30, 2014                       5 – 7 pm

Digital:
Springboard for the Arts
mnartists.org

 Alan Bamberger’s site artbusiness.com has an excellent article: “Your Artist Statement: Explaining the Unexplainable”: “On this planet, people communicate with words, and your artist statement introduces and communicates the language component of your art.”

Leslie Pontz, recent Mondale Gallery exhibitor, wrote a beautifully direct statement about her art

Matt Siber’s advice for a photography seminar at Columbia College, Chicago explains how statements “provide insight into the artist’s concept and motivation behind making the work.”

Daniel Blight’s advice in the UK Guardian on the pitfalls of International Art English: “…writing about your work should be an open and compelling activity…”

Iris Jaffe on hyperallergic.com: “The Anti-artist-statement Statement”

Robin Grearson on hyperallergic.com: “In Defense of the Artist Statement

Cara Ober on BmoreArt.com leaves her notes after teaching a class at Maryland Institute of Art on Professional Practices for Visual Artists: “What does your work DO?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace Paley and me at Carver County Library Writers’ Retreat.

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Last Saturday was the Carver County Library Writers’ Retreat at Charlson Meadows in Victoria, MN — a wonderful day funded by Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.  The librarians who organized it were hoping to attract a mix of members from their established writing groups and people new to writing. They succeeded. An interesting and engaged group of people paid attention to each other, and to writing, all day.

I carry Minnesota writers with me wherever I go — in my head, quoted in my notebooks, passages copied into my calendar. Minnesota is awash with talented writers. When I teach, I read passages from their books — Alison McGhee, William Kent Krueger, Louise Erdrich, Tim O’Brien, Joyce Sutphen, Patricia Hampl. Because I was talking with other Minnesotans in Minnesota, I relied even more on local writers for this retreat.

But I was pleased that heads nodded at this passage by Grace Paley, who knew a thing or two about good writing. From her essay, “Some Notes on Teaching, Probably Spoken”:

“It’s possible to write about anything in the world, but the slightest story ought to contain the facts of blood and money in order to be interesting to adults. That is — everybody continues on this earth by courtesy of certain economic arrangements, people are rich or poor, make a living or don’t have to, are useful to systems or superfluous. — And blood — the way people live as families or outside families or in the creation of a family, sisters, sons, fathers, the bloody ties. Trivial work ignores these two FACTS and is never comic or tragic.”

A good reminder, especially when writing memoir, to LET SOMETHING BE AT STAKE. Because something always is. In any good story, there is always something at stake. Something changes between the beginning and the end of the story. It’s the reason the writer needs to tell the story. It’s what keeps the reader interested. Whatever is at stake is what connects two human beings who might otherwise never encounter each other.

On Saturday, we were talking about memoir, a particularly personal kind of writing. But I maintain that all writing is personal. All good writing either asks a question, or answers a question. As long as we keep that question in mind as we write, we can’t go far wrong.

We ended the day with William Stafford’s poem, “You Reading This, Be Ready,” written just two days before he passed away. I cried when I read it. I always do.