Saturday, May 31, 2014

Thumbelina: Innocence Found

Still from Thumbelina, photo by Robyn Beattie
“...all the while she was really the loveliest creature that one could imagine”

Thumbelina the poem is live in Issue #1 of the NonBinary Review—available to download as a Zoetic Press app through iTunes (for viewing on iPad 2 with ios 7 minimum). Or if you want to hear the poem poured over images, cue up the photo poem montage of  Thumbelina Robyn and I put together, accessible on YouTube, featuring Stephen Pryputniewicz (my father) on keyboard with his spare and lovely adaptation of Mort Garson’s Taurus, The Voluptuary from the album “Cosmic Sounds: celestial counterpoint with words and music” (originally released in 1967).

Thumbelina, the sprite, remains for me a tiny harbinger of the time before—as the saying goes—“innocence was lost”…I must have been about eleven years old, coloring in the outlines of Thumbelina in my upstairs bedroom in the sleepy town of Villa Grande on the Russian River. Surrounded by cutouts of the mustached black and white Purina Cat Chow cats I’d taped to the walls with their silky angelfish whiskers peering over my shoulder, I lay across a pink bedspread on a white and gold canopy bed I’d inherited from an older girl, my new best friend, up the street. On her way to high school she’d leave me handwritten notes on my gatepost….before “it” happened and I had something to hide forever.
Such simple joy—coloring in the flower on which stood the bare-legged Thumbelina, each petal a different color like Joseph’s coat of many colors. I was not a mother then. Unaware that the story of the mother would matter someday. Her loneliness at the end having to let Thumbelina go. More the idea of daughter than the real time daughter.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
I’m surprised to find, in writing the poem, that girl, mother, and flower coexist in the imagination alongside an innocence I thought lost, beside a self I thought irreparably fractured.  I'm also surprised to discover it takes years to undo certain misassumptions.  Several years ago, I approached a community service agency about applying for a grant to fund a project focused on using writing to help rape survivors. One of the staff members casually said something like:

“You know, families come to us absolutely devastated, thinking they’ll never get over it (sexual trauma to a child or teen). But of course everyone can, and does, they just need to hear someone say it with conviction. Of course both the child and the family can heal.”

I nodded as if I knew, “Sure, of course.” But internally, I was elated. No, I didn’t know. For years I assumed one had to go on, irreversibly damaged. And that the only option was to cloak and hide carefully enough so others would not divine the broken core "you."
We didn’t get the grant, but I made out like a bandit with the gold at the end of the conversation’s rainbow with that one insight. Fast forward a couple of years, at which point I met Saddle Road Press sister Michelle Wing (author of Body on the Wall). In her I found a kindred spirit, already doing beautiful work with a program she started called Changing Hurt to Hope (which she describes in this interview conducted by Erica Rothberg at The California Journal of Women Writers).

Healing happens with naming, just as pain softens when witnessed or shrouded. Like the pale white cloth in the still Robyn and I chose for our movie to accompany Thumbelina’s admonition to her mother, “It still ended with you, childless again at the window…” I love the image, a veil over the shared fragility and strength of the mother/daughter bond. Artist Victoria Ayres (creator of the artwork in that frame) writes in her statement:
In my current work using silk/cotton thread panels and stressed tissue paper, which overlay the figure and elicit a sense of masking or covering over, the viewer sees only parts of the image. This work speaks to the layers of experiences, both painful and affirming, that mold who we are and who we become over time…

My gratitude, then, for the gift of writing, for the chance to try on viewpoints and imagined incarnations like robes in a closet. And then to shed them.

I suppose Thumbelina reminds us (fairytale mothers and earth mothers alike) that our daughters are neither ours to keep nor give away. And that we arrive of our own accord, to find our way along a trail littered with joys and devastations in uneven measure that magic will, god-willing, offset, and on good days, trump.

NonBinary Review’s layout for Issue #1: A Grimm Collection of Modern Fairy Tales gives you the option to read the Grimm’s version as well as contributor versions of Snow White, Little Red Cap, Cinderella, and the Pied Piper, to name a few. Through July, they are taking submissions based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the issue after, L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. Submission guidelines here.

Saddle Road Press sisters Michelle Wing (author of the poetry collection, "Body on the Wall") and Ruth Thompson (author of the poetry collection, "Woman with Crows") and I will be reading at Moe's Bookstore in Berkeley on Thursday, June 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the invitation of Poetry Flash. Thompson's "Woman With Crows" was reviewed earlier this week at The California Journal of Women Writers.

Up at Mother Writer Mentor this week, Lifting the Domestic: A Conversation with Jayne Benjulian in which Benjulian deepens a conversation started at TCJWW about Barbara Rockman's poetry collection, "Sting and Nest." Benjulian remarks, "To lift the domestic into the poetic is quietly radical..."

Photos of the bird in this post are by Robyn Beattie, as is the author photo and book cover for November Butterfly on this poster; book cover design by Don Mitchell.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

My Bicycle, My Chariot and The Angel Tree: Writing Despite Chaos

Amos Robinson, My Bike, Tidelands Collection
Oh my bicycle—

Forgotten Chariot, spin

Me across Earth’s loom…

I got back on my bicycle this month thanks to the misadventures of April. Though I’m blessed to only be bound by one appointment a week (teaching a night blogging class), I’ve been at the mercy of new variations on the chaos the kids typically reserve for outwitting homework and undermining chore schedules. And it has me second guessing pursuing my writing life outside the house.

When the kids were little I could pretty much perfect a day’s trajectory and control outcomes. Strollers give you walking restraining systems. Cars, car-seats. You see, hear, and smell your little people twenty-four-seven, for better or for worse. You just don’t go anywhere without a sticky chubby hand or three holding yours.

Silver Strand Nature Discovery Trail, words by Edith Purer
But now I have a very new teen, a tween, and the youngest long since out of diapers. My teen was set to fly alone on a teaching day when the spiral started with a last minute flight delay, husband working a night shift. I had just enough time to walk my kiddo to the gate and trust her to board within the hour. I popped in to a coffee-shop, scanning the kid-list in my mind for reassurance: one son at soccer practice with instructions to bike to the neighbor after, the other with a friend, and the teen happily Instagramming Selfies and eating Starburst at the airport gate.

As I stirred brown sugar into my coffee, I relaxed into the music coming out over the speakers: gentle guitar, a woman’s voice I couldn’t place, and the refrain, “Don’t pick a fight with a poet”(a song by Madeleine Peyroux I'm in love with takes you to a montage on Youtube).
I’m feeling smug, that’s right, don’t get between a poet and her words. It takes the length of the song for me to fully relax into adult land. Two hours later, on an inspiration high from brainstorming with my bloggers, I glance down at my phone to see I’ve missed five calls. My girl mixed up her destination cities, missed her boarding call, could I come pick her up. Followed by one last “Never mind” message--she was boarding a back-up flight.

My mom friends came to my emotional rescue (swiftly as Jagger’s fine Arab chargers) attempting to staunch the hemorrhage of mother guilt. Don’t take it so hard to heart, they said, this experience will give your daughter the opportunity to troubleshoot without you. They’re right--later my girl gleefully recounts the short journey from Lost to VIP. She asked for help, got an escorted tour of secret passageways between gates, and made it to her final destination in one piece.
Every time I think some kind of artificial boundary exists between my family life and my writing life (as if!), I learn again that they are inextricably braided. Earlier that afternoon, rushing to get my son across the school parking lot, so anxious to get on the road to the airport, I’d stopped in my tracks in front of a tree covered in pale grey curled layers of bark furling back on themselves. A writer’s dream of a tree offering its harvest of scrolls to the human eye. Some furls were soft, outer texture that of moth wings or wasp nests. Other furls were hard. That’s my son’s hand in the photo…we both lingered.

I took one more parting photo on the fly, and love how the tree seems to be dancing.

When I showed the photos to my friend Barbara Rockman (author of the poetry collection Sting and Nest), she tells me a childhood story about climbing her first tree. Which prompts me to ask...What is your tree story? Your tree poem? Which tree do you call home?

When my next teaching day rolls around, I’m thinking no problem—I can do this. No one has a flight to catch, I just need to teach a two hour class. But unfortunately, we find ourselves down a car—the van remains on the aerial jack at the shop awaiting new brakes and my husband has the night shift again. I’m set to hop on my bicycle to ride the five miles to town when my son comes to me clutching his throat. Something about a splinter in his throat…which turns out to be a sunflower seed wedged behind his tonsils.
Nothing my husband can’t eventually handle with a wooden spoon and salad tongs, though I’m not there to witness this practical tweaking of a favorite motto my husband has taught our family (improvise, adapt, overcome).  Next time we’ll just hit Intermediate Care (where we’d taken the youngest several weeks prior after he took an exuberant leap onto, and through, a hard plastic car travelling case. Withdrawing his leg left him with an eye-shaped tear below the knee which the doctor stapled shut for us, no problem).

Silver Strand Nature Discovery Trail, words by Edith Purer
Right or wrong, I rush once again out of the house, this time to the din of a gagging child. My savvy traveler, the teen back from her trip, sees me and says, “You’re teaching in that? You can’t wear that…” as if our roles were reversed, as if I were wearing a bikini to the library instead of modest blue striped sweats. No choice but to roll a dress around a pair of sandals, all the while muttering something about what else could possibly go wrong. In the garage, I discover my bicycle has a flat, so it’s off to ride on my son’s bike, knees skimming what’s left of my chest after breastfeeding those three kids when they were babies.

Then I’m free, loosed out into the elements on my chariot with a burning set of thighs, a fierce headwind, and the open miles of path along the Strand’s Discovery Nature Trail, the promise of bright minds in town on the other end.

I cycle to teach

Dusk and a dress on my back,

Spare shoes. Lessons too.

Related links:
I wrote the two haiku in this post in the Haiku Room, (a Facebook group of poets creating content while they play). Here are a few blogposts  in alphabetical order written by participating poets about various kinds of haiku joy:

Pam Helberg: X is for April Haiku Review
Lisa Rizzo, includes 17 haiku: Can you Haiku?
Ruth Thompson: The Haiku Room
Ellen Tumivacus: Thinking in Haiku

At Transformative Blogging: a guest post by Erica Goss: Fairytales, Facebook and Poetry Prompts about the way her book of poetry Prompts, Vibrant Words, grew out of her regular postings of prompts on Facebook. Also includes a beautiful poem of hers and a way for you to think about fairytales to inspire your writing.

June poetry reading:

I'm heading back to my home roots in Sonoma County this summer, and will be reading with Michelle Wing and Ruth Thompson at Moe's in Berkeley at the invitation of Poetry Flash. Would so love to see you there.

June 19, 2014
7:30 -9:30 p.m.

Link to event information and a map up at Poets and Writers.

In the works:

Ceramic handprint by Orion James, photo Robyn Beattie
Photo poem montage to accompany the poem Mordred’s Dream. The text of the poem is forthcoming online at Poetry Flash in May (and will also appear in my first poetry book, November Butterfly, due out in November 2014 from Saddle Road Press). Robyn and I are busy putting images to the soundtrack we recorded several  years ago (syncing beautiful flute by Lori O’Hara to sound recording of her stepson Ben Greenberg reading the poem for us).

Half-way through the micro-movie draft, our Siberian husky escaped from her bath. Somehow in her mad dash through the house, shaking and flinging water droplets everywhere, she hooked a pair of my daughter’s jeans across her back. When she swirled past me, the jeans snagged the power plug to my laptop and crashed the project.

T with Sisu, crasher of the poetry movie
But we now have a restored full working draft...I’m including one of the opening images here. I adore making these movies and feel so blessed to have Robyn’s eyes…she continues to expand my world by taking photos as she goes about her rich art-walk, camera ever in tow. She gives me the opportunity to congregate visually with artists I've yet to meet. I'll be sure to give you the link to our complete movie. To see the five other micro movies we made for Nefertiti, Lady Diana, Amelia, and Guinevere, visit my Youtube channel. To see more of Robyn's amazing photos:

And here's the latest Perhaps, Maybe, written in collaboration with the lovely Liz Brennan:
Attempting the Impossible.