Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trust the Vortex

So long since the last post, I suppose it's appropriate that when I post again it's back from another visit to Bennington. This time for the Bennington Writing Seminars 15 year all class reunion. For me, it is 2 1/2 years, since I graduated in January 2007. Two of my classmates, Jan Johnson and Woody Lewis were there - whom I haven't seen since graduation. So good to see them! And others, from other classes, Tanaya, Nancer, Suzanne.....the faculty and staff. New friends made from other classes, in our poetry craft gathering with Henri Cole - we hung out in the dorm living room and dug ourselves deep into discussing a few works from Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Talking about poetry re-energizes me. I also signed up for the nonfiction gathering with Bob Shacochis - mostly hanging out with good discussions and a bit of workshopping. I am working on memoir and playwriting and it's good to have feedback from non-fiction writers.

I went back for a two main reasons -
1. To reconnect with friends - life is short. Sue Case, our class of Jan 2007 passed away this spring- her cancer came back. This was a bit of a surprise, as I thought she was doing better and she will be missed by all of us. I don't know when I will see classmates again, so I needed to get out there. Jan and Woody made it and we had a lot of fun reconnecting - besides a kick-ass time out on the dance floor! Woody, you always beat me partying every time, rumors were that you jammed with the Dog House Band till the wee hours (I missed that one, dang!) and hit the Blue Benny diner at 5 am and someone was tree climbing. That's all I say about that one. I took care of Jan and I - we both so needed to escape and relax from work and everything else.

2. To recharge my writing batteries and creative spirit. Sometimes I have to leave Minneapolis and get out of my groove here to re-connect with the wild woods of Vermont and sit in the vortex awhile. It truly is a magical place for me.

I had a bit of a change of plans at the last minute. My classmate Mary Elizabeth (my Auntie M as I call her) were going to meet in Hartford, CT and drive up together. She had a funeral to go to at the last minute, so she wasn't able to go to campus, so I rented a car and drove up and then stayed with her on Sunday evening so we had a day together before I had to leave on Monday.

Whenever I drive I get more of a feeling for a place. I drove up I-91 from Hartford, all the way to Highway 2, in northern Massachusetts - I've always wanted to see what that road is like - gorgeous! Through the Green Mountains - pouring rain all the way, but creeks and streams, forests, hairpin would be cool to hike and explore that area more. I stopped at North Adams, MA - a college artsy town with a lot of galleries. Then a short drive up to Bennington - this time I stayed at the Best Western - I've stayed there before when the June heat got to me and I couldn't stand my dorm room another minute - but this time it was raining and cool and it was getting late so I got a few comfort foods from the nearby Hanaford grocery and settled in my room to watch cable TV and veg out. Those 4-pack single serving wine boxes are nice! Vermont has wine, beer and groceries in the same store - will Minnesota ever catch up to that? "That 70's Show" was on; love the reruns. Eric's girlfriend was becoming best friends with his mom and he hated that - but she didn't have her mom to hang out with, so they were going shopping, baking cookies, doing mom/daughter things. This triggered an emotional outbreak - my issue has always been family. I'm realizing I married the first time for the family I thought I didn't have, I haven't been that close to my mom until recently, and when my parents moved out of state 18 years ago; well let's just say I don't get to go shopping with my mom much. I now call my parents once a week or so - I used to go months without keeping in touch. Friends have always been like family to me. I missed my girlfriends which I don't see enough of - I've been in a bit of a funky anti-social depressed spell since the last blog post. I wanted to remedy that.

I also feel very midwestern whenever I travel east - Vermont has all these wonderful 'farms' - vegetable gardens, mostly. I think of farms as those vast stretches in Iowa where one can see for miles....Names I only heard about in books were now on highway signs. Hamden, New Haven, Yale, Middlesex, the Berkshires, Appalachian Trail. I didn't grow up around colleges and English Lit majors, I've learned more from experience than someone pointing me in the right direction. But that's what the Vortex is all about - make your own opportunities. Read hundreds of books. Write one or two of your own. Always Be Closing. The trip begins when I arrive on campus Friday morning.

Bob Shacochis had the first lecture that I attended, at 10 am - "Postmodernism 2.1 - the Blurring of Genre." I like Bob, some women seem to hate his male chauvinism, or they call it that and he can piss some people off. I like that quality that he tells it like it is without the academic babble and game playing. Be real. Life is unbearable without illusions. What is unrecognizable in yourself? No one ever knows themselves. When writing, let the conversation (dialogue) speak for itself, tell vs. show. Sometimes truth needs lies. The 'control' of life is a facade. Genres can be bent and twisted. A collage has to be edited to be art. Selective imagination?

By now it's stopped raining. Sun peeks out, more humid. I walk to the 'end of the world', that group of rocks at the end of the commons lawn to sit in the armchair for an hour and close my eyes in the sunlight. I only have to write one poem - maybe. I know I can always come back here, and that is comforting. I start writing....

Alumni dinner in the yellow dining room, Jan hasn't made it yet, I won't see her until later this evening in the student center....she drove in from New Hampshire from work. Welcome, everyone, we are back together, some haven't been back for years and years, some many times. We toast to Liam. Share stories. There is someone here from every graduating class!

At the evening guest/faculty reading we have Mary Gaitskill and Nick Montemarano. Mary's work is enchanting - she wrote the story "Secretary" that was the basis for the feature film of the same name. She reads a bit from "Don't Cry," her new collection of short stories. "It was a sad situation....except...." (write from there!)
Nick talks about the Law of Attraction and I realize he is reading from his novel with the protagonist as a motivational speaker dealing with is fears - of doubt, his sickly wife. A new life, the one you've always wanted...start now....

We hang out in the 'new' student center - at least the lights are dim and the Doghouse Band is about to play (Sven on guitar, David Gates on guitar too and others...) but Jan and I miss the old one. Change is the only constant. She's had a rough year, both parents died, a feral cat she was taking care of wrecked her apartment and she had to move, but we survive and move on. Her book is out there, yay for that! I watch everyone dance. I am relaxed, I feel at home. I wish I stayed on campus now, but it is too late for that.

Saturday graduate lectures - I miss the first one, but didn't miss a quick cafeteria graduate (Rider Strong, what kind of cool name is that?) does an excellent piece about Ernest Hemingway and omissions - he ties it in nicely by starting off with how his wife packed his manuscript and carbon copy in a suitcase to take to visit him in Paris, and it was stolen, so he lost everything. How did that affect his writing style? An exercise to consider for yourself - write your first draft, then, without looking at it, rewrite it.

Panel of 3 alums and Sven - the Life of Letters post-Bennington. I'm glad they called this the Life of Letters vs. something with publishing. It's all about closing, creating your own opportunities, letting the vortex help you out....

Our poetry session with Henri Cole - he is now visiting faculty. I never had the chance to have him as an instructor, so it was good to get to know him better - and the other poets, all new friends. By this time I was ready to write again, but the graduation ceremony for this year's grads was looming in a half hour, so quick changed clothes and walked over to Usden Hall. It is different without Liam, and Sven Birkerts does a fine job. He laments a bit about the future of reading and writing (see any of his books on the subject) Mary Gaitskill was the commencement speaker, who also shares some stories about students who - if they don't read much, or aren't exposed to much art or music - they still feel the power of it, they RESPECT it. She told the story of a renowned classical musician who played for 45 minutes in a subway station in New York City. Only 3 people out of a thousand stopped to listen. One recognized him, the others paused, one was a child who wanted his mom to stop, but he had to move on. All were in a hurry. What are we listening to? Will we stop to listen to something on the street that people pay high ticket prices for in a concert hall? All I can hope for is that people will hopefully feel something that is real once in awhile.
Dinner, wine, talking with everyone, a good time had by all! And dance, dance, dance...there were hula hoops too...something finally clicked in me about halfway through the dance in the student center - and I let go and we all danced till closing. It was REAL. The DJ was okay, he kept playing weird mixes. I requested "Fame" by David Bowie for old times sake (my graduate lecture used that as a theme song).

Sunday morning breakfast, Bob's workshop and on to our alumni luncheon in the Carriage Barn. Last chance to see everyone, along with faculty, Ed Ochester my instructor was there too. Closed with a reading by Henri Cole, Jill McCorkle and Bob Shacochis. There were more activities planned, but it was time for me to leave...hugs, kisses, goodbyes and my drive on south Hwy 7 to I-90 across the mountains again - more pouring rain for a bit - I listen to Garrison Keillor on the radio. I-91 to Hartford, and then Cheshire, CT where Mary lives. (about a 3 hr drive) It's always good to see her, she is so sweet to have dinner ready, and her husband Bruce joins us as we all chat and have a good time talking at the dinner table, and more wine in the living room. Her kitty, Elliot, passed away since my last visit, he was 16. I am happy and peaceful and in a much better place emotionally than I was in January. The next day (Mon) she drives us to Guilford on the coast and we do some shopping and eat at a Thai place for lunch. I leave her some books to ship back (I always bring and buy too many books to haul back!). I love seeing the coast off Long Island Sound.

We drive back past Sleeping Giant State Park and she tells me the legend behind the name. Sleeping Giant was a Chief who enslaved many people and he ate a lot of oysters (oyster harvesting was in the area, and still is) until he ate so many that he bloated up. He is now the mountain that is in the area. The environment was destroyed, the people were enslaved, the oysters were over-harvested. Many lessons here, still going on today. Maybe someday Mary will come to Minnesota, she has never been here.

Hartford airport is nice and cozy compared to Minneapolis and I breeze through security and wait awhile before my flight. Slowly come back to my other world, make a few calls to friends and family. Landing in Minneapolis it is 95 degrees and sunny - wow, it's hardly ever nicer here than where I'm coming from, and I take my time getting home. Step off the light rail onto Nicollet Mall and walk the 6 blocks to my apartment downtown. A band is playing at Peavy Plaza so I sit a bit in the heat with a brat and an iced tea and enjoy the downtown scene. I am grateful that I have a good place to live, and the front desk people are feeding my cat, Cleo, when I am away. She is, of course, happy to see me when I walk in the door. I sit on my balcony and say hi to my neighbors and we make plans to get together soon for dinner, something I've been meaning to do for a long time. The next day I will visit my sick friend, my boyfriend, go to work in the evening....but for now I am back home and I am content. Life, the vortex, trust it.

Photos taken by Jules in order of apperance:
1. Bennington Commons
2. Jan Johnson and Jules
3. End of the World rocks on campus
4. my feet
5. Green Mountains
6. David Gates and Doghouse Band member
7. me with new poet alum friends Debra, Leslie, Tim
8. me, Jan, Woody at Grad dinner alumni table
9. Mary Elizabeth Lang at Guilford, CT area coast
10. me at Guilford, CT area coast off Long Island Sound

NEW BOOKS I'm reading:

"Rudyard Kipling in Vermont" (Birthplace of the Jungle Books) by Stuart Murray ISBN 1-884592-05-8

"Naming the World and other Exercises for the Creative Writer" edited by Bret Anthony Johnston (Bennington bookstore, Random House ISBN 978-0-8129-7548-2

"The Art of Time in Memoir" (Then, Again) by Sven Birkerts (Graywolf Press) ISBN 98-1-55597-489-3 (actually re-reading this one)