Saturday, October 19, 2013

Your Inner Seven

Packing to be at Ghost Ranch for two weeks teaching and writing, I decided this time to travel light – one bag of clothes, one sack of books, one bulging file of handouts/exercises, flashlight, and homemade (thank you, Margaret!) cookies to lure friends to my room for happy sugar hour.

I also carried with me, like a lucky penny, a shiny bit of wisdom which came unbidden from my oldest granddaughter, Laken.

Why do you always have to go to Neww Meexxico? she complained, and rightly so, since I was going to miss her soccer tournament.

I have to see my friends, and also teach a class.

What class?
Not to complicate matters with words like sense of place, landscape, open genre, memoir, I kept it simple: I show people how to make a poem.Silence. Furrowed brow. Wide-eyed wondering. Incredulity.

Grandma, I write a poem nearly every day…all by myself.

Oh, for the capacious mind, the confidence and intuitive powers of such a seven-year-old. Oh, for the gift of truthfulness and sudden ego-thumping.

It was enough to make me consider for just a second staying home and yelling for the North OKC Reds. (It turns out those girls took the trophy and didn’t even need my extra cheering.)

My Fall Writing Festival class was actually called: This Land – Writing Out of the Places We Know. Laken’s reminder that we probably all have an inner landscape where language is not inhibited by someone else’s sense of form and beauty was more important to me last week than clean underwear or a nighttime flashlight.

Like seven-year-olds on the cusp of reason but clearly committed to imagination, all the writers who joined me at the Ranch this year took Laken’s exclamation to heart and revisited that place where, as Sandburg said, we were first given a song and a slogan to sing.

The Spanish have a word : Querencia – the place where you feel you are your most authentic self.

These talented students mined those places and found ways to revision them– the forest, the creek, the flood, the chine, a sandy parabola, the grain elevator, the dogs in the street, the deadly wave, even the Amazon forest, where one woman had lived, was brought into our small room with the most vivid description of clear cutting I’ve ever heard. Among this group of ten was demonstrated both the child’s wonder and the mature woman’s braided complexity. Trust ensued. Generosity flew around the room like party confetti or at times like Kleenex. Oh, not “like” Kleenex. It was Kleenex.

In the end, the wave that broke a girl’s neck was given a name, a woman waiting for her lover in the airport made place out of that placelessness we call a terminal, an ancient mother was given voice, a flood was brought to life, erosion was honored, green was deepened and made real, a family that didn’t seem containable was poured into a fine container, the Continental Divide rose up nicely, a raven shook things up, and then at the end of a street where you would think nothing was going to happen, profanity found the perfect place to speak, and speak she did.

Oh, and that poem which got the whole Ranch laughing on the final night’s performance, The One Good Thing, the one about the passing of the girdle, I know it wasn’t exactly about landscape and sense of place, but the point was taken: let’s not constrict our bodies and separate ourselves from all that moves and jiggles and breathes. Let’s live in the world full of every kind of contour.
And let’s make sure our granddaughters ask us: what’s a girdle? Incredulously.
Thank you, Jeanne, Louise, Marilyn, Rosemary, Susan P., Susan J., Jane, Kathy, Dorothy, and Helen. You are my favorite ten each with a lovely inner seven.