Why I Write

Pookie, our tortoiseshell cat, watches over my Morning Pages in the Great Book

Today, October 20, has been declared the NCTE “National Day of Writing.” The challenge is to respond to the cosmic question, “Why do I write?”

This morning I am writing my Morning Pages in a huge 19” x 24” leather bound book with wonderful, thick pages of handmade paper that take the movement of a roller ball gel pen with just the right amount of satisfying push and pull. I write every day in this giant book, so obviously, writing must be important to me. But why and how?

Pookie, our tortoiseshell cat, watches over my Morning Pages in the Great Book
Pookie, our tortoiseshell cat, watches over my Morning Pages in the Great Book

I live in an analogue RW–Real World. Analogue writing slows the pace of my thinking, so when I write, I am shaping actual thoughts into ideas at the biological pace of mind under the control of hand.

When I don’t do this, thoughts flit across my monkey mind, and I dart around online in meaningless meanders, jumping from one thing to another. I often stop in mid-jump to ask, “Now, what was I doing?” Monkey mind goes so fast that memory can’t keep up with it. This is not what I want for my brain.

Writing, especially writing by hand, slows me down, forces me to shape my thoughts into the grammatical structures of my native language.

Writing helps me plan for the future and to set goals, get things done that I really want to get done.

Writing by hand keeps me smart.

Writing gives me a way to think about the past, mull it over, act on it or let it go.

Writing gives me a way to talk to both the living and the dead when they are far away. It is a way to enter my dreams, react to the news, consider what I’m reading. Right now, my husband Peter is reading Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Odyssey out loud to me, and I write to interrogate Homer, Odysseus, Penelope, the Bronze Age, which I often compare to our own. What has really changed since then?

Writing shapes the responses of my heart as well as of my mind.

I do wonder what the brain of an emotionally mature adult was or is like in a pre-literate world controlled by intuitions, cultural story cycles, and the grammatical shapes of a language that understands the world in a very different way than my own, like Penelope’s , for example.

But to do that wondering…I write.

Media Referenced:

A Faraway Gaze

A Faraway Gaze

My friend Alan Levine who blogs with his dog out of Strawberry, Arizona, had a fun and interesting challenge up the other day. He and other blogger friends of mine are finding it fun to do a random blog post search of their sites, then interrogating that random post thusly:

  1. What, if anything, is still relevant?
  2. What has changed?
  3. Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
  4. What is my personal reaction to it?

So let me digress briefly into the alien guts of the English/Writing teaching profession. During my quarter century flapping my clipped wings in that particular zoo, it was very popular to have students collect their writing in portfolios–nowadays, e-portfolios. The one thing all the free range chicken writing instructors seemed to agree on was the value of metacognitive writing, which you might call reflective writing, but no, we gotta call it metacog ‘r nuttin’.

The concept here was that it would be good for students if they reflected on why they made certain writerly choices in their portfolios and not others. This is supposed to push them to do synthesis, the highest order of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, and, in my observation, students hated it pretty much across the board. It was just another bloody hoop to jump through on the way to their dental hygiene or sustainable energy certification where most of them hoped to God they’d never have to either write or self–reflect on another essay in their lives.

And I don’t blame them. It never did much for me to read that pained and painful writing, and after a long, downward spiral of disillusion, I gave up on portfolios altogether. Now all I do in retirement is teach Technical Writing online. Students like it because to them it is more cut and dried, seemingly more objective than the navel gazing of the Frosh Comp writing sequence.

Okay, end of crawl through the murky craw of Alien.

Back to our regularly scheduled programing. I may have lost faith in the value of metacognition, uh, I mean navel-gazing, uh, I actually mean thoughtful self-reflection for students en masse, but personally, I find it interesting and useful.

That said, I spun the wheel of Mind on Fire. The arrow made distressed clicking sounds as it went back in time, but it finally hesitated and jolted to a stop, pointing firmly at Dec. 30, 2011, a blog post called “Boketto.” “Boketto” means “a faraway gaze.”

I chose the word “boketto” to go with my current mood this stormy day at the end of 2011. I had dreamed about searching for my grandmother in the river of my childhood, and she had appeared for the third time in a dream as a great fish. I have often seen my father (who passed long ago in 1979), with that boketto look on his face. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/
I chose the word “boketto” to go with my current mood this stormy day at the end of 2011. I had dreamed about searching for my grandmother in the river of my childhood, and she had appeared for the third time in a dream as a great fish. I have often seen my father (who passed long ago in 1979), with that boketto look on his face. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/

What were the chances?

Life likes to rhyme.

Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.  I am deep into archiving his legacy in a variety of forms–prints, books, and front and center is a new website Warren Brown Photography

Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.
Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.

This is a huge project I only dared begin after I retired. Although I have made stories about my dad before, this sorting of his slides takes me deep into my Myth of Psyche place where Psyche (who represents the soul–her animal aspect is a butterfly) is given the first of four tasks by Aphrodite to sort all the seeds in a pile of grain. The seeds represent all the possibilities that ever were for my dad and for me; they are all the emotions I have to sort through as I bring his legacy to order and to beauty.

Psyche’s first reaction is despair, and I get that. Image by Kevin J. Beltz. http://conveyorbeltz.wix.com/kevin-portfolio#!__psyche
Psyche’s first reaction is despair, and I get that. Image by Kevin J. Beltz. http://conveyorbeltz.wix.com/kevin-portfolio#!__psyche

Both the inner and outer challenges are overwhelming. I have to wrestle the great Bear of Guilt to the ground with every slide I throw into the “reject” pile.

But Psyche gets help from–of course!–the ants. Like the ants, I sort slides into piles called “Mountains,” and “Flowers,” and “Family,” and the heap of rejected slides grows like a giant ant hill in the center of the table.

So that’s where I am right at the moment I spin the blog random-o-matic meter and come up with a five year old blog post called “Boketto,” or “a faraway gaze.” The faraway gaze is in the photo of my father, and I write in the blog post about a dream I had that night about my father, who died of a brain tumor in 1979 at the age of 54.

When I woke up, I made a page in my art journal illustrating the dream, My dad is entering the Museum of Modern Art of MOMA, which is his soul mate connection to my MOM. (It was also five years ago that I began reviewing art on the radio for KLCC four months after this dream. So there’s that…)

I pulled the skein of my artwork and dreams together into this poem. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/
I pulled the skein of my artwork and dreams together into this poem. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/

Life likes to rhyme.

Now to the metacognitive questions:

  1. What is still relevant? I am still haunted by my legacy responsibilities to my father. He is still in my dreams, and I am still doing dream art.
  2. What has changed? Five years ago, he was still far away and ill. In my dreams since then, he has come back to us but still thin and not vibrant. However, now he or his spirit or how I internalize his memory, is much more with me on a daily basis watching me shoot, giving me advice on composing shots, clearly an active parental muse.
  3. Does this reveal anything about my discipline? I have had a lifelong connection with my father and have never given up on trying to provide a legacy for him. Before blogging, I kept and continue to keep, handwritten journals, so my discipline extends back to April 1964 when I first got serious about blogging uh journaling at age 14.
  4. What is my personal reaction now to the Boketto blog post? I value this piece of art a lot because it expresses and recalls what has been going on at the level of dream. Part of my father’s legacy website will be my videos and art (and that of other family members, too) about him, and I would have forgotten this piece.

This is just another piece of evidence showing how valuable the Daily Create is, and how valuable it is to have creative friends like Alan Levine to spin off new posts, new lines of thinking, and, dare I say it? Self-reflection.

My dad’s gaze is no longer boketto or far away. It is focused and interested. He’s pretty excited about having his very own website!

This guy looks a lot like his four brothers, but you can tell its Warren by the camera.
This guy looks a lot like his four brothers, but you can tell its Warren by the camera.

A Story

Me probing the muddy bottom of the lake of time.

Strange Falling Out Among Relatives

The rumor sifted up out of the layers that settle on the muddy bottom of the lake of time. In the 1940s, two families, the Brightwells and the Touchstones lived across a vivid lake from each other, each with seven children. The oldest two, Autumn Apple–she was a Brightwell–and Cougar Blue, a Touchstone, married.

But apparently there were a few other connubial pairings going on in the many secret love bowers afforded by the almost grotesquely lush vegetation surrounding the sparkling green eye of the lake.

Great Grandma Brightwell let it slip before she died that the family of Autumn Apple and Cougar Blue had a double cousin, a child born of two younger siblings, Unholy Annie and Bear in the Air (so called because he was very light on his feet), a child born in secret, given away and forgotten.

Why fifty years later did this rumor or remembrance bubble to the surface like gasses released from organic matter decomposing at the bottom of the lake?

Or was it a collective dream they were all slowly swimming through like green bottle glass? Because with strange inevitability, the adopted child, Angelica, now in her late fifties, began her search for her roots and found the Brightwells to glad cries of reunion and jubilation by her newfound cousins.

The Touchstones grew angry at the accusations that Bear in the Air might be the father of this sudden stranger in their midst. “You are slandering the good name of our brother, father, grandfather!” Dragging his name through the mud.

However, these are modern times, and the DNA test proved negative for Bear in the Air’s possible paternity. It was Angelica’s mom’s husband all along.

Yet that wasn’t the point to the Touchstones, and that side of the combined family withdrew without discussion or confrontation. The outward silence was inwardly fueled by gossip until the imagined slight achieved the status of epic insult.

This peculiar boulder lodged in the streambed of the once freeflowing river of the Brightwells and Touchstones, the extended two family family.

It was twenty-four months before the four Brightwell sisters found out about the silence they had suspected but only recently confirmed.

One night, they began to text each other, brainstorming a solution. A letter of apology? A phone call? The texts flew back and forth until they had woven a kind of counter-dream that floated above them all, misted out over the lake, the mountains and over the Touchstones, too.

That night, each Brightwell sister dreamed of speaking to a Touchstone uncle. In the dreams, barriers fell; the old camaraderie returned.

In every dream, the dreamers walked by that shimmering lake, and the overgrown leaves and branches reached out to brush their backs, their shoulders, to tangle briefly in their hair.

They passed through the old love bowers and finally came to the shore. They stood together on the wooden dock, looking out across green water.

It was so deep and so still.

 

Rainy Day in July

Morning Glory on a rainy July afternoon.
Morning Glory on a rainy July afternoon.

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.

–Roger Miller

I went on a Gratitude Walk yesterday on what was supposed to be a cloudy day, but the last mile and a half, I got thoroughly rained on.  This videoito is my thankfulness visual journal entry for A Rainy Day in July.

Lavender Festival

On Gratitude Walks

Sometimes it is just super important to hear other people validate that what I am doing is a process that others value, too.

I loved hearing my instructor, Laura Valenti, talking about the spiritual value of a Gratitude Walk. I realize I was raised doing these daily walks with my photographer father and family. I have continued the family tradition into making these little videoitos of my walks 2-3 times a month probably.

Sometimes I have gotten discouraged because I think, “Oh, there is no story, no action,” but then on the next great walk, I can’t resist making another one. They are like daily journals. I post them on Facebook, on my Tumblr, and on my Mind on Fire blog. I might get a few comments, but then they just wash under the bridge in the great River of Time.

I love having this new name, “Gratitude Walks,” for them.

I’m excited to get out and see the world all over again!

McKenzie Lavender Festival

Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram; The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun, and with him rise weeping.

–William Shakespeare

Petre and I joined our friends, Paul Hawkwood and his wife, up the McKenzie River for the Lavender Festival. Festival events were happening up and down the river, but we homed in on the McKenzie River Lavender Farm. The fields were in full bloom and real camera candy. The smell had everyone in a state of happily suspended animation.

It always seems to me as if the lavender was a little woman in a green dress, with a lavender bonnet and a white kerchief. She’s one of those strong, sweet, wholesome people, who always rest you, and her sweetness lingers long after she goes away.

–Myrtle Reed
I made a Gratitude video. Peter didn’t think the flashy lights “look” of it was the best approach, but, as always, I am experimenting, trying out new approaches.

Forgiveness is the smell that lavender gives out when you tread on it…

–Mark Twain