Spring: Blooming Where We’re Planted

Last year, during a series of poetry workshops I facilitated at Magnolia Clubhouse, one of the writers, Anna, discovered a pansy that had rooted itself and sprung up against all odds in a tiny crack between some bricks next to the building. She photographed it, wrote about it, and shared with the group how she’d taken to watering it, and had swaddled it in moss to help protect it from the elements. Anna and her pansy made a great metaphor come alive for all of us: whether our origins were nurturing or challenging, whether the conditions we are confronted with each day support us or test us, we are here, and we all contain the possibility of living out our great beauty. And yes, a little water and warmth can go a long way.

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Anna’s Pansy

I have found, both as a writer and as a facilitator of writing, that this is one very important concept to cultivate. Having lost my mother to acute leukemia when I was 12, I entered my adolescence as a pretty fragile flower. And even with the kind care of those around me, I struggled mightily, having no one to share my deepest questions and my intense, hormone-heavy experiences with.  My journal became my best confidante, and poetry, my refuge.  So my writing has always been about my life experiences, written from wherever I happened to be “planted” and growing at the time to help me figure things out.

Quiet, Quiet, Lyrical Miracle

It’s drizzling this morning on my new plaid dress. The rain makes it smell like bug spray, and I’m worried he’ll smell it. Yesterday in Family Living, which we all know means Sex Education, the nurse said, “remember “vagina” by thinking “Virginia.” He breathed into my hair, “that’s my aunt’s name…I hope I don’t get mixed up.”    When I look up, his bus is already here and then he’s walking so close by I see the freckles on his neck, the soft white hair on the tops of his ears.   And that’s when it happens.  Right near my hip bones, but deeper in my body, I feel two “pings” like guitar strings being plucked—just where my ovaries are—I saw it on the Family Living chart. At first I’m scared and worry it made noise, but no one’s looking. So I think that maybe I ovulated for the first time ever, and I marvel at the power of my love for Joe Edwards, that it could turn me into a woman while I stand here in the rain.

Cindy Washabaugh

Well, no, it didn’t come out this way in my journal when I first wrote it. This is the prose poem it became when I reexamined this early experience in light of my greater journey of becoming a woman whose life, whose ways of being, have been informed by the early loss of her mother. This summer, a chapbook of poems I wrote with this in mind will be released by Finishing Line Press If I’d written about anything other than my own experiences and my unique reflections of what calls to me in the world, this book would not be.

Cindy and Donna with Bee TaraBee Tara with Cindy and Donna 5-2014 012

Here I am with the amazing artist, Donna Drozda,  standing in front of a painting she made in response to my poem, “The End of Bees.” I wrote it when I first read about the dire condition of our world’s honeybee population as a way to move through my own grief and to sound the alarm in my own community in the best way I knew.  Donna created the Bee Taraspiritual protector and healer of bees—out of her connection and response to the bee’s plight.  I’m so happy to report that Bee Tara will be the cover illustration for my chapbook, Sings the Body (of course without the two of us in the foreground)!

So the gift goes on. There are certainly many, many valid ways to write, to make art, many valid topics to pursue.  There will never be a shortage. For me, writing from my own center and from my own experiences is most satisfying. And connecting with others via what comes from their lives, their own deep interiors, is equally satisfying.

Think about this today. What is important to you? What memories keep floating up to the surface of your pond?  What is your particular take on things that trouble or elate you in the world at large or around your own dinner table? Take out a pen and paper or start tapping your keyboard.  After all, it’s spring—it’s time to bloom.

Farewell, Warm Winter

No, I did not go to St. Thomas for the season. But I find that winter is plenty warm if you just stay inside and turn up the heat. There’s so much to enjoy as long as there is a window between you and the snow. It’s kind of like reading a really good, gut-wrenching novel—you enter an alternate reality, but without actually suffering any of the emotional or physical pain of the novel’s characters. Call me a wimp, call me whatever you like, this is my path and it works for me.

Cindy and Steph: Annual Mother-Daughter Christmas Getaway, DT CLE

Cindy and Steph: Annual Mother-Daughter Christmas Getaway, DT CLE

At times of brief thaw, I did venture out to walk the cats.

End of the Catwalk for Marli

End of the Catwalk for Marli

And yes, there is an extra cat in this photo.

Lorelei the Mermaid on Lake Erie Beach

Lorelei the Mermaid on Lake Erie Beach

We adopted Lorelei after Steph and her friends found her (or she found them) in Tremont one night. She was so tiny they thought she was a kitten. Turns out she is at least 12-years-old, but was chronically malnourished and wasted from lack of food. Not anymore. And she has taken to the beach as though she was born for it.

Other than these rare forays onto the cold beach, my outdoor life has consisted of skidding along icy sidewalks as speedily as possible to enter or leave some warm and wonderful refuge: the Art Museum, the Cinematheque, Nighttown, the home of a friend or family member. OK, yes, the grocery store, the drugstore, the vet, etc., but you get the picture.
Cinematheque sign

It’s time to come out of hibernation though, and as long as I have to do it, I am happy to say that I’m doing it in style with two planned readings and participation in an art show in Virginia Beach. And what’s really cool is that all of these events are “ekphrastically bound.”
…or vice versa, I might add.

The first stop, made last night (Thursday, March 20 @7 pm) was Heights Arts Gallery where my Take Nine sisters and I read poems we wrote in response to art works featured at the current Heights Arts show, Alternate Routes to Outer Space http://www.heightsarts.org/events.php. I had a great conversation with photographer, Ben Hauser, whose work I responded to.
heights arts sign
Heights Arts Outer Space Show
The next happening is full of ekphrastic reflections from the other side of the mirror. Nine women artists from a group in Virginia Beach, Virginia, have each created a piece of visual art in response to a poem written by each of us who are members of Take Nine! One of the artists, Donna Drozda, is from Cleveland and had previous connections with members of our group (in case you’re imagining that we are national celebrities or some such). After several of those “wouldn’t it be amazing if…” conversations, she has lead her group in making this wonderful thing happen. The show, 9X2, will be hung in a gallery space in Virginia Beach from April 1 to May 30. We are in the midst of designing a road trip that will let us travel there for a reading some time in May. While this is a bit of a haul for most northerners, even if they are poetry and art enthusiasts, it makes a great excuse to go to the beach, right? I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, here is a taste of Donna’s amazing work (the other eight artists are all wonderful as well). She shared with me this image of the painting she is doing in response to my poem, “End of Bees.” You are the first to see it–she has not yet finished it! The painting is called “Bee Tara.” I almost cried when I first saw it, it resonates so deeply with the poem’s sense of both dread and hope for our bees. You can find more of her gorgeous, soulful work at http://www.donnaionadrozda.com

Bee Tara, by Donna Drozda

Bee Tara, by Donna Drozda

Next month, we have a reading scheduled (Thursday, April 30) at Betram Woods Library’s Poetry in the Woods Series http://www.shakerlibrary.org/. We’re calling it 9X2 in CLE. We plan to read the poems that Donna and her group responded to and will have small copies of their art works with us for the reading; this, of course, for those who can’t make it to the beach.

I guess this is enough to awaken me from my hibernatory state and send me back out into the now-a-bit-warmer world. It’s been nice watching the winter go by, though.

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To warm days ahead, wherever you are.

Happy Deep Autumn!

When living in Cleveland, one should develop a hearty measure of acceptance for cold winters. Alas, I have not. This is why I squeeze each fall completely dry before letting its crackling husk shoosh away on the Erie winds. Recently, Patrick and I took the kayak out one last time on the open water.

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My mom and I journeyed to Hocking Hills, which, if you can get to Southern Ohio, is a must fall activity.

Ash Cave Recreation Area

Ash Cave Recreation Area

Ash Cave Recreation Area

Ash Cave Recreation Area

We stayed in a thoroughly charming cabin called The Poet’s Tree. It was full of warm pine and inspiring poetic works and perched on the edge of a wooded ravine.

The Poet's Tree

The Poet’s Tree

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I confess I wrote not one word of poetry there, but read a lot and definitely brought home some inspiration. I took along Ruth Stone’s Second Hand Coat, among others, and found so much resonance there with her poems set in rural locales. This from “Communion”:

The sky, vague blue behind a gauzy cumulus;/Pale fall sunlight glazes the barn shingles. /Now a chorus of bulls forcing music out of their bodies,/ Begins and begins in terrible earnestness./And the birds, undulating and rising, circle/And scatter over the fall ploughed strips./What they are saying is out of their separateness./This is the way it is. This is the way it is.

I also read with my Take Nine soul sisters at the wonderful Mac’s Backs Bookstore in Cleveland Heights. Because we didn’t have a planned program, we dropped our names into a trick-or-treat bag and asked attendees to pull them one by one to determine who would read next. I got to play emcee and felt a bit like PRI’s Michael Feldman as I made the rounds—we even had an audience member all the way from Olympia, Washington (and no, she didn’t come all that way just for our reading).

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I have always been a sucker for picking things out of a bag. The fun of feeling around and pulling out something unexpected: “And the winner is…” It makes for a great writing exercise, too. Collect words that appeal to you—simple, concrete nouns and interesting verbs work best—and place them together in a bag or small container. When you need a jump-start for your writing, pull a few words and see where they take you. The more disparate, the better—in a workshop I facilitated recently, someone pulled blink, hyacinth, liver, wander and chime from my word-box.

Maybe these are already working on you right now.

Happy deep autumn, happy writing, whatever your weather.

Happy Autumn!

To end the summer, we spent a week on the beach in North Carolina. I love the gluey salt musk of air you can nearly swim through, 53 shades of weathered wood, 553 shades of ocean, painted in play with sun, cloud, wind. And diving into that water—that gorgeous envelope of water opening and folding around the body.

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I took long, shelled walks on the beach, my step-daughter Molly identifying everything for me—scallop, cochina, kitten’s paw, prickly cockle, buttercup, jingle shell—an artist’s delight. It became difficult to actually walk—more of a hobble and stoop, hobble and stoop—to name and touch everything at our feet.

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When I returned home, I was (kind of) ready to catch up on grant applications, start fall journal submissions, all the fun stuff of being a writer. After a couple of hours of a different kind of hobble and stoop, I extricated myself for a quick break—coffee, stretch, message check, and returned to this:

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I guess some people (small, furred, pointy-eared people) who didn’t get to go on vacation needed some attention.

So we took a walk down to our Lake Erie beach (yes, some of these feline people like to take walks to the beach) to stretch our legs. As we did, I felt some slight lamentation at the absence of things: hot salt air, the deep beach with its finely-ground sand, those treasured shells. But then, hey—look over there—the shape of that stone, the rounding of that water-worn brick, the sword-shape of that piece of wood, thrown out and washed back again and again.

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Trite but true, that thing Dorothy says about your own backyard (still, it’s good to go to Oz once in a while). It reminded me of a writing exercise I learned long ago, have used myself and re-taught in various forms over the years: meditating on a simple object, apprehending it with all of the senses, then letting symbol, metaphor sneak in as you write.  Another wonderful way to enter an alternate world. And more fun than pecking away at applications and submissions, for sure.

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Happy trails, happy writing, wherever you are.