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March 19, 2020

from “Last Words,” by Douglas Cole

JD Mason on

“When my grandfather was dying in the hospital, his body almost done with, he struggled mostly to breathe. He had been good and strong his whole life, never went into the hospital that I knew. Then something happened with his stomach. I was never sure what. He vomited and aspirated some of the vomit and developed a lung infection and that was it. Another doctor said it was emphysema. What difference does the name make at that point? I went to see him in the hospital, the last time I would ever see him, and like in a movie, when he saw me he took hold of my wrist and through his oxygen mask said, ‘Think good thoughts!’ . . .

“I’ve been mumbling it for years. Think good thoughts. As simple as pipe smoke. Think good thoughts. As beautiful and graceful as his garden. Think good thoughts — in the forest when there’s nobody to hear, as enigmatic as his life, his character, but elegant and clear as well — think good thoughts. It’s almost a kind of Zen koan. A pragmatic American pioneer law: think good thoughts. That’s all I know. And so I think, okay, I’ll try to think good thoughts.”

—Douglas Cole, “Last Words,” Still Point Arts Quarterly Spring 2020

March 17, 2020

from To Everything a Season, by Janet Sunderland

BlueCanoe, White Wild Indigo, 2011. WC CC
When did I fall in love with the road? I wonder. It seems most of my life has been lived watching a double yellow line. When I was less than a year old, my mother, my sister, and I moved from San Francisco to Kansas while my father went to sea; a year or so later we moved back to California; then to Arkansas; then to Barnes, Kansas—all before I reached five. I remember a roadside neon sign on the highway going to Grandma and Grandpa Sunderland’s—maybe in Marysville since that’s the only town between Barnes and where they lived. EAT GAS it said—the red neon EAT in vertical letters while the horizontal red neon GAS met at the middle A. And I remember a winter’s night drive from Grandma and Grandpa’s, snow billowing from every direction as it does so well in a Kansas blizzard. My father hit a patch of ice and the truck flipped over to land on four wheels in a snow bank. At least that’s what I remember. We might have just spun off the road. There had to be at least five of us in the cab since three sisters and two parents had moved from Arkansas, but I don’t remember anyone hurt. And I don’t remember a baby, so I don’t think Julia had been born yet. And Jack wasn’t born until five days after my father died. And then, a year after my father died, Mother married Dad and we moved to the farm. At seventeen, I married a soldier and went off to see the world. When I divorced, I kept on moving: Kansas, Texas, California, Louisiana, New York, Old Mexico, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Georgia, New Mexico, and back to Kansas. I’m still traveling—following the yellow line on the three-hour stretch to visit my mother in the small-town nursing home where she now lives.

—Janet Sunderland, “To Everything a Season,” Still Point Arts Quarterly Spring 2020

March 12, 2020

from On the Arts, by Naomi Beth Wakan

Having ploughed through a thousand pages of adultery, I have now definitively selected de Maupassant as my role model for future short-story writing efforts, and I have three hundred of his stories to learn from. By the way, Guy de Maupassant penned his own epitaph: “I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing.” I won’t follow him in this respect, and I hope mine can read: “I have taken pleasure in everything and coveted nothing.”

—Naomi Beth Wakan, On the Arts

March 11, 2020

from Can Love and Manners Get Us Through? by Angela Wright

Levi Clancy, Holding My Grandmother’s Hand When
She Was 87 and I Was 26, 2017. WC CC
I didn’t become the good southern girl my grandmother wanted me to be. Instead, I became an activist for social justice and a pastor—roles she found unbecoming, especially for a woman, and more especially for one of her granddaughters. I marched, lobbied, and advocated for all kinds of things she didn’t agree with: labor rights, voting rights, immigrant rights, civil rights. As smart and independent as she was, she didn’t even agree with the notion of women’s rights. When I asked her to help me pay for seminary, she said, “No one wants to hear a woman preacher. They want a man’s voice because it sounds like God.” All this she said while writing me a check.

After seminary, I strayed even further from my roots. I started an alternative church in downtown Birmingham where Black, Brown, and White people worshipped, worked, and gathered at the table together. And I fell in love with a Black man.

Regardless of our disagreements, every time I turned into my grandmother’s driveway, I found her standing with the screen door wide open, a huge smile on her face as she called out, “Hey, Sugah!,” and walked toward me to gather me up in her arms.

March 9, 2020

from “Home-Canned Magic,” Still Point Arts Quarterly, Spring 2020, by Anna Leigh Morrow

Catherine Scott, 2008. WC CC
My Nana’s house is magic to me. Of course, it’s really Nana and Papa’s house, but Nana is so completely the queen of her domestic domain that I often use only her name when I talk about their home. It’s nothing fancy — just a little white Kentucky farmhouse, two stories and a basement. The closets smell like mothballs, the linoleum floors smell like Lysol in the brown bottle, and the kitchen smells like homemade cinnamon rolls hot out of the oven. I have twenty-three years of memories made in that house, a lifetime of living next door to my grandparents, of humid summers spent drinking milkshakes and climbing trees in the front yard, of frosty winters spent eating piping-hot buckwheat cakes after the men of the family came in from deer hunting with cold fingers and hearty appetites.

Nana’s house is a map of my childhood. Memories linger with a faint glow in the corners, on the kitchen counter where I used to sit and eat cookies and chatter ceaselessly while Nana baked, in the spare bedroom with the lace curtains where I slept when I spent the night, in the wood-paneled basement where all the Morrow kids played dress-up and Legos and board games. This is the magic: how memories accumulate like snowflakes over the years, drifting through time, settling lightly on the windowsills, covering a plain white farmhouse in layers of moments, giving it texture and meaning and power beyond its four walls and shingled roof. It is the magic of how a house becomes a home.

—Anna Leigh Morrow, “Home-Canned Magic,” Still Point Arts Quarterly, Spring 2020

February 25, 2020

from Radioactive Painting, by Bronwen Mayer Henry

There are so many parts of life that unfold with time.  This also happens at the canvas or while writing, It is true in marriage and in parenting.  And it is true in prayer.  There are key milestones and rituals that are singularly important, but most of life happens through daily repetition.  Gretchen Rubin, in her podcast Happier, has described this well: “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in awhile.” The everyday part matters.  The choosing kindness again and again.  The choosing commitment again and again.  The choosing to show up and be present, to offer care, to be bold, to do your best, to keep going even though you aren’t sure of the destination. There is always a moment when I look at a big canvas, even with my preliminary sketch on it, and think, “Oh my, where do I even begin?” So I begin somewhere small, doing a little work.  Then, with time and repetition of effort, it all comes together.  By painting a little bit each day, I get somewhere.

—Bronwen Mayer Henry, Radioactive Painting

February 11, 2020

from Oblique Music by Elizabeth Bodien

I relish
for today
being unknown
no one in this city
can call me by name
— Elizabeth Bodien, Oblique Music

February 10, 2020

from On the Arts, by Naomi Beth Wakan

Solitude isn’t loneliness; it’s different. With solitude, you belong to yourself. With loneliness, you belong to no one. You choose solitude, you drift into loneliness. When you experience loneliness, you’re not happy about being alone; the reverse is true when you experience solitude. Solitude is a paradox, for in its depths one realizes that, though alone, one is linked to everything.

Loneliness is being painfully alone, existing in an impoverished state, and feeling that the action is always somewhere over there. I remember after a long meditation period abroad, on the liner coming home, friends knocked on my cabin door and asked me why I wasn’t where the action was. I recall telling them, “The action is here.” On looking back, I see that moment as a very liberating one. Isolation kills. It can certainly tip one into illness. The obvious one is depression, and anxiety follows on its heels. 

Solitude is the enriched state of being alone. But it is not just being on your own. Solitude is you experiencing yourself, providing yourself with sufficient company. You can attain the state of solitude by having a certain independence from day-to-day matters. We need solitude to find a balance that daily life knocks askew. 

—Naomi Beth Wakan, On the Arts

February 6, 2020

from On the Arts, by Naomi Beth Wakan

One needs a reason to survive and mine is curiosity, the curiosity of a child wanting to know how the story will end. Can curiosity possibly be my survival tool? It would be so convenient if it was.

—Naomi Beth Wakan, On the Arts

February 5, 2020

from On the Arts, by Naomi Beth Wakan

If we start by considering the very beginnings of the creative act, we find that the first strange and often confused feelings of excitement can build up to American scholar John Livingstone Lowes’s “surging chaos of the unexpressed.” Here we have the ill-defined yearnings, the vague idea, glimpses of an image. It can feel like boredom, but with a strange distant tug. It’s as if a passing phrase we have read germinates inside us; the sound of distant bells stirs up an image; two colors oddly juxtaposed stay with us and dive underground to fertilize each other. . . . 

There may be a problem to be solved running around in your head, and a vague feeling may be the germ of an answer. Even though it is only a hint, a slight feeling at this moment, it still must be noted if it is to manifest at all. There is a heightened awareness that something is happening. Yet it can’t be grabbed or looked fully in the eye, for like a pixie, it will vanish immediately if you try to confront it. One has to stay in an almost trance-like state, an unfocused, eyes-half-closed state, giving the creative impulse time to pace itself. This incubation period may last minutes, days, or years. It demands patience on the part of the creator until things become clearer, for the conscious can handle the known, but not the unknown. It is almost as though the artist has to step aside and surrender to the process. Too much forcing or use of one’s conscious will can result in a sadly misshapen birthing.

—Naomi Beth Wakan, On the Arts