the write stuff

I write every day for a living, and as a hobby, I also write (and take photos).

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If I could do this any other way, I’m sure I would. But perhaps you can relate–knowing what you are here to do brings a kind of peace along with torment . . . the poison and the antidote . . . the creative imperative . . . the sleeping and waking. Elaine Pagels quoted it best here:

“If you bring forth that which is in you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is in you, what is in you will destroy you.”
– Elaine Pagels quoting from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

What’s in a Name

dancing shoesCurrently editing my client’s book about 30 years in Indian Country (after 30 years growing close as family to a tribe, you get to say Indian Country, I’m told). Loved this story:
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When I first met Dani Not Help Him, I asked about her surname: Not Help Him. I assumed that it was a name depicting someone who had somehow been shamed and not deserving of help. I did not understand “Not Help Him,” so I asked Dani to explain the meaning. She told me that the surname is derived from members of one of the warrior societies among the Lakota comprised of men who were destined to be the first line of defense against invaders or other tribes who might raid or battle the Lakota.

A warrior designated as Not Help Him was said to be so brave and so dedicated to the safety of the village that he would lay down his life for the tribe or village and nobody was supposed to help him as he performed his sacred duties to protect the village. She said that some Not Help Him warriors would go so far as to sink a stake into the ground and have another warrior lash their leg to it so that they could not retreat in the face of certain death. You were not to help him, Dani explained, because his death was in furtherance of the protection of his people. Just thinking of this, the dignity, the courage, and the generosity of these warriors brings a lump to my throat, to this day.

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*(The man with the drum is a Nottawaseppi (the people who can hear the river) singer. This tribe has lived for generation upon generation in the Michigamme/Michigan: the place where food grows on water–a reference to wild rice. If I had a picture of a Lakota Not Help Him, I’d use it. My pictures are from Pow Wows in the Michigamme and markets and mountains in New Mexico where I love to walkabout listening with my lenses.)

What an incredible name. I had to see if I could find Dani Not Help Him by GTS (google that shit). I couldn’t, but I did find this obituary with a name even more incredible: http://www.lakotacountrytimes.com/news/2014-04-24/The_Holy_Road/Marie_Theresa_Not_Help_HimFox_Belly.html

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littorally

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After work last Wednesday, I dropped the kayak in and paddled up river to the beaver lodge, taking in the only news I can stomach these days.

 

A pair of trumpeter swans (black billed) have found a congenial welcome by Keats, the omnipresent mute swan (orange billed). Keats is a curmudgeon with uncompromising rules about his territory. Yet there he was being nice. This is above-the-fold news, people.

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As the sun set, I paddled back towards my house on the peninsula. There’s plenty of yard work to do and writing deadlines weighing me down, yet the water gives me a sense of calm. It’s hard to feel pressure or anxiety here. I am happy with the idea of growing old in this littoral place that is now serendipitously mine . . . the hard work of getting here rewarded by a contentment both unfamiliar and constant.

IMG_5690I may just mark my height on a doorsill and measure how much shorter I get every year I grow older and new in this place.

“I told him about chairs but not about bushes.”

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Plans are underway for an international conference set for this June in the lovely resort town of Bad Ischl high up in the Alps. I’m on the planning committee for this event and had to go looking this morning for some photos to use for promotional purposes. Here’s a shot I took and will use, along with what I wrote in 2016 that won’t make the promo:

I can’t recall why she said it, but the woman who said “I told him about chairs but not about bushes” is from Lithuania and struggles to express herself in English . . . so does the man from Mauritania who always smiles and has an enthusiastic YES down pat, but little else. He is a medical doctor in his world, but in this country he can barely order schnitzel. He greeted me over midmorning tea with, “How fine are you?”

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The communication misfires are nothing short of poetic at times. I’m at a conference where at least 39 countries are represented, many of them small developing nations. I’ve rarely felt so ethnocentric (and ashamed of it). Elvira from Herzegovina says the flowers are so smelly here in Austria. Yes, I nod in agreement, they certainly are.

Chris’mas Story

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Winter Light at Wild Turkey Road near Sebewaing, MI

Along about Exit 88 on I-94 Westbound, there is a plastic Santa Claus sitting on top of a steel fence post, part of an old woven-wire fence that separates the highway easement from a swampy horse pasture.  He’s back in there a little ways, hidden in the brush and hard to see.  It looks like someone was picking up cans, or generally policing the road bank, and found him there.  What do you do with a good Santa Claus that you may have found while picking up cans on a summer day?  Put him up on a post for others to enjoy, of course.  My wife, Jamie, and I rarely pass that way without trying to spot Santa.  He always makes our day.  We wave and say “Hi Santa!” Be it midnight on a Tuesday in June, or four pm on a random February day.

We don’t decorate for holidays much at our house.  We have dogs and a cat.  They wreck stuff.  We kind of feel that a lot of seasonal decorating is for retired people who have time and money.  Our money is tight and if we are not working we need to sleep.  Life has tired us out. We used to paint the town red every weekend, Hell, we’d give it two coats and stay up for 3 days to watch it dry.

Now we are exhausted, and things that mean more work  just don’t make sense to us. We’ve seen lights, we know a lot about conifers, and wreaths of arborvitae. Holly grows in the swamp down past the old farm. Seen it all. Did it. Know where it is if we need it, don’t feel the need to drag it into the house so we can clean it all up again in three weeks.

But if you want to see a couple in their 50’s get excited, just watch along I-94 at Exit 88 when we come by.  We’ll be craning our necks to see if we can spy Santa sitting on his perch, bringing joy to people like us, too tired to decorate at home, but not too jaded to appreciate the random gift of a stranger who thought Santa would look good on the fence.  It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if we start collecting  Santas to stick on fence posts wherever we go.  Decorating the house for Christmas is an overwhelming task.  For some reason scattering Santas around the countryside doesn’t seem like too much work.  Merry Christmas!

(Guest Blogged by Chris A. Ross, Attorney, and a BFF since 6th grade. Thanks, Tallz!)

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Somewhere up near West Branch, Michigan, where the hills in the distance are sand dunes.

“Can I take your picture?”

Kit, age 12
Kit, age 12
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Rabbi on a cell, O’Hare Airport, 2013

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G. Breedon, Cromarty Firth, Scotland, October 2013

Ilya Kaminsky, April 2014, Kalamazoo Poetry Festival
Ilya Kaminsky, Poet, Kalamazoo Poetry Festival, April 2014

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Faegheh, Arrowtown, Aotearoa, November 2011

Still James
James Still, Pulitzer-nominated playwright & author, November 2014

china doll
the little sister, Whangerei, New Zealand, December 2011

one goodfella
William Ellwood, actor, Kalamazoo, April 2015

young bear
Young Bear, South Dakota 2012

pinklet
Apple of her Daddy’s Eye, Madison, Wisconsin 2012

Gabriel
Walter Gabriel Trachsler XIII, lead vocalist & guitarist with the Rotting Corpses, August 2014

Makena, 17
Makena, St. Joseph County, Michigan, Fall 2014

Jonathan
Jonathan Hall, actor, October 2014

Terri
Terri, the Brown-eyed Girl, Atlanta, 2014

Huingangutu, her Moko
Huingangutu, Aotearoa 2011 (her name means “people gathered to discuss something important”). The chin tat is called a “Tā moko” and it’s considered a sign of beauty.

Nicholas
Nicholas Baxter, musician, April 2015

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Lhaoghiere, Hill of Tara, Eire, June 2014

henri
Henri Medinilla Grau, photographer, New Mexico 2014

The Gilmore Keyboard Festival 2014
Elizabeth Joy Roe, The Gilmore Keyboard Festival 2014

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Sarah, student, Spring Semester 2013

Giuseppe Q
Giuseppe Q., actor/director, Albuquerque 2014

ari
Ariel, Prom Ready in Vicksburg, Michigan, 2014

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Lynn Manning, Actor, New York City, March 2013

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Makena, age 16, northern Michigan

Susan
Susan in the bathtub of the first home she owned alone, Des Moines 2014

Kansas farmer
A Kansas Farmer, Fall 2014

another dancer
Hubbard Street Dance Studio, Chicago, April 2013

IMG_3265Bell Book & Canto, February 2016

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Wm Roberts, classical guitarist/composer, Kalamazoo 2017

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Anna Marie Crovetti, artist, Chicago 2015

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Majken Ruppert, 2019Seaver_2895
Alexander Harsha, senior picture in front of the schoolhouse his ggrandfather built, Vicksburg 2018IMG_1488-001Byce Evergreen, age 15, Freeport, Michigan

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Stephanie Evergreen & Michael Doyle on their wedding day 16 May 2020