Some writers read some writing, and we have a good time.

Thank you, thank you, to the writers who read their work for Some Writers Reading on Saturday, March 25, and thank you to the Grand Marais Public Library for sharing their lovely space for this “disruptive public event.” We writers sat in a loose circle in comfy chairs; people who were interested pulled up chairs around us. Comfortable and casual, and a whole lot of fun. Thank you again to Arrowhead Regional Arts Council for awarding me a 2016 Career Development grant, which made possible my time in Grand Marais. Good place here to note: 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. Yay, Minnesota!

As we settled into our seats in that welcoming library space, I said I hoped to listen for the different worlds each writer creates in their prose — a physical description of the world, an emotional landscape, the world inside someone’s head. We heard all that — and so much more.

Shelley Odendahl talked about creating four different time periods for one character, spanning several thousand years, for her romance novel. Gene Glader described his research into Grand Marais’ downtown history, block by block, inspired by the accelerating rate of change in the area in the decades he’s lived there. Joan Crosby read a delightful passage about the year she and her husband lived 40 miles up the Gunflint Trail, off the grid, before that was a thing. Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux read an engaging passage from her middle-grade novel, and when she couldn’t find the second excerpt she’d planned to read, she performed from memory, encouraging us to act it out with her. Sandy Bloom read a powerful and poignant passage from the novel she’s created by fictionalizing her partner’s years as a young nun, living in an isolated convent. Staci Drouillard recounted an interview with an elder, who remembered walking the mile-long “Old Road” into Grand Marais with his grandmother, a journey long enough that she packed a lunch to share with the little boy. Shoshanna Matney read a moving passage based only tangentially on childhood memories, but still a brave choice with her (supportive) sibling in the audience; she talked about creating fiction from the smallest piece of real life and trusting imagination to take it from there.

Enthralled with the Q&A and conversation after each writer read, I didn’t take very good notes. But here is some of what sticks with me:

 — When you grow up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, you are always looking for doors into other worlds.

 — Responding to change, and planning for change are not the same thing.

— Roads are conduits between worlds, bridging distance, culture, time.

 — When we name something, we have a responsibility to preserve it. Writers do that by storytelling.

 — Writing true is important and essential and the only kind of writing worth doing.

 — Things often (usually?) fail to turn out the way you planned. This is good.

— Making stuff up is fun. Revision is usually not.

 — There are as many ways to write a story as there are writers, but there might be only a few reasons to write.

And everyone promised to get a copy of their book to Steve Harsin at the Grand Marais Library. Surprise of the day… Steve has a novel manuscript in progress, too!

Continue to part two of my musings, Increasing “the ambient intelligence.”

Some Writers Reading.

Participants in the 2016 Grand Marais Art Colony Mentorship in Fiction with Faith Sullivan, who is seated in the center.

SOME WRITERS READING
Saturday, March 25 from 12:30 – 2:00 p.m.
at Grand Marais Public Library
104 2nd Avenue West, Grand Marais, MN  55604

Please join us as alumni from Grand Marais Art Colony‘s 2016 Mentorship in Fiction gather at Grand Marais Public Library to read from their nearly-completed manuscripts — Sandy Bloom, Joan Crosby, Shoshanna Matney, Shelley Odendahl, and Judy Budreau. We’ll be joined by some of your favorite Grand Marais writers — Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux (YA fiction), Gene Glader (Cook County history) and Staci Drouillard, who’s finishing a book about Chippewa City for the University of Minnesota Press. After the readings, we’ll have plenty of time to answer questions and talk about the writing life. Free and open to the public. BTW, that’s me, seated at lower left.

This event is made possible by the 2016 Career Development grant I was awarded from Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. 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. Thank you, Minnesota!

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.

 

Writing Visually, and a collaborative poem

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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.

It’s here! Carver County Library Writers’ Retreat

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Registration is now open for the Saturday, September 13 retreat from 10 AM to 3 PM. Call Tari Clay at Carver County Library at 952-227-7609 for details and directions. We’ll do lots of fast and fun writing exercises, with a couple of breaks for quiet writing time on the grounds of the retreat center.

Sharpen your pencil, pack a lunch and join us!

Local workshops coming up!

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I love traveling to teach, but I’m thrilled to offer these workshops and retreats closer to home in the Twin Cities:

Monday, July 21 from 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm at Deephaven Education Center. Register at Minnetonka Community Education. If it’s a beautiful evening, I promise we’ll go outside!

Saturday, September 13 from 8:30 am to about 3:00 pm — Carver County Libraries Writers’ Retreat at Charlson Meadows Retreat Center on the border of Excelsior/Chanhassen and Victoria, just off Hwy 7. This is going to be so cool – details soon!

Book Art — several people have asked me about teaching an altered journals or book making class. I’m still playing around with all of this, but will post photos and info soon. If you’re really eager, sign up for a class at Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

 

Join us at The Blessing House on Saturday, January 11.

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Stephanie Friant has invited me to teach a writing workshop at the Blessing House in Victoria, Minnesota this coming Saturday, from 9 am to Noon. We’ll be talking about writing your own life story, or family stories, and we’ll do some fast and fun writing exercises together so everyone has a head start. The Blessing House is a peaceful and contemplative place to enjoy a winter day — and Saturday may even be sort of warm.

I met Stephanie last summer, and quickly discovered that we share an interest in spiritual writing, and in spirituality as a journey. She’s a thoughtful and humble writer – visit her blog when you’re looking for food for thought, and she’ll point you in all sorts of interesting directions.