TAKE NIMROD WITH YOU

Nimrod Porch Shot

Admit me to the school of skittering

minnows and the raw skin of the sycamore 

where silent, water-light movies play

beneath the leaves and limbs.”

Cathryn Hankla, from RIVER SCHOOL, Artemis 2020

Nimrod Hall in Bath County has been one of the best places on earth for me for years. I go on retreat there every summer, for time to write but also for time to renew my sense of “what’s right in the world.” Like most places Nimrod has had its share of intrigue and problems, but it’s still a transcendent getaway, a reminder to me of what’s possible, what’s good, what’s humanly admirable.

The writers who have been with me at Nimrod know I avoid saying good-bye. I just don’t like those words—they’re so final. Like our beloved Cowpasture River, I prefer to roll on. So I choose to say, instead, “Take Nimrod with you.”

Since I won’t be going to Nimrod this summer—the Summer Arts Program is closed now due to covid—I’ve been thinking, myself, about what that means to me. How can I take Nimrod with me, keep it with me for as much as another year until I’m able to return? I’ve come up with four “gifts” Nimrod has given me year after year.

Less really is more. Proprietor Frankie Apistolas taught me that I need not pack a suitcase for a stay at Nimrod; a laundry hamper would work just fine. For many years I’d return to “my” room—Frankie’s growing-up bedroom on the second floor of the old, original farmhouse. The furnishings were “antique” in the well-worn version of old, original furniture. A dresser, a chest of drawers, a big double bed, a bedside table, and a rocking chair. Some years I brought a folding table; in the past decade I threw a towel over the mirror and used the dresser for my writing desk. I needed so little but found myself filled with the delight of simplicity, of shedding all my “stuff” back home. We didn’t have television or phones in the rooms. It took years for Verizon service to connect us to the outside world. But I found a peace and even joy in that simplicity. My brain sharpened. My sense of kindness, not envy, was enhanced. I smiled more.

Respecting my writing time is up to me. From grad school in 1985 until now, I’ve written five novels (three published), two short story collections (many of the stories published), a memoir (soon to be published), a chapbook of poems (coming out in August), and many isolated poems. I’ve had a full writing life. When people asked me, before I retired three years ago, how I was able to write when most people can’t “find the time,” I used to answer, fliply, “I don’t clean my house or watch tv.” Nimrod taught me, more than anything, to respect my writing time. When I first designed “a typical day” for writers at Nimrod, one agenda item was absolute: Sacred Writing Time. That meant no distractions, no visiting, no conferences, between after breakfast and before lunch. People could nap, take walks, soak in the tub, but the time was devoted to writing and thinking about writing. That Nimrod lesson has stuck with me and enabled me to set aside the solitary time to write. That hasn’t always been in the morning, like it is at Nimrod, but the lesson is “If I don’t respect my writing time, who will?”

Other peoples’ writing and ideas help me forge and deepen my own. As writer-in-residence I’ve always had a “sidekick,” the REAL writing teacher. For over twenty-five years that’s been Cathryn Hankla. It pleases me to say that many of the writers who’ve attended (and many have come back year after year) have called us “the dynamic duo.” We shared a writing philosophy: Bring writers voices’ to the front. Let them be heard. We wanted to help all of the writers find and sharpen those voices. Workshops and readings invited praise first, then questions about troublespots, and, finally, suggestions. Interaction was based on respect. This is the only way I know to teach. But the wonder is, it’s actually a way to learn, from one another. People talk of “being afraid” of workshops; many started in that posture when they first arrived at Nimrod. Most left our gatherings fired up to write. That’s the point.

Nature is there for me, sustains me, sustains my writing life, if I only pay attention and dive in. The Cowpasture. The Smith graveyard. The bull gates. The walks, the tubes, the night swims: those nature adventures glued us together at Nimrod. I saw ball lightning from my second floor porch—I never knew there was such a thing as ball lightning. I met Naked Lady Lilies—and came to wait to see them year after year. The garden vegetables, tomato and cantaloupe and squash—were fresh veggies EVER better? Nature’s bounty and beauty have fed me and healed me year after year.

I hope other Nimrod artists and writers will add their comments on the ways they “take Nimrod with them” into their creative and active lives. I’m a different person because of Nimrod, a better writer and woman. How do I take Nimrod with me: It’s in my mind, my heart, my soul.

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“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

I do believe it will finish, I do  believe it will finish.” Gertrude Stein

IMG_2005

Gertrude Stein’s stream of conscience poetry feels fitting in more ways than one today.

My birthday rose that I posted June 12 still hasn’t dropped its first petal; the bud that I rued cutting in order to bring the rose into the house is blooming. A rose is a rose is more than a rose.

And when I looked at the poem that embedded Stein’s famous rose line, “Sacred Emily,” I was taken with how absolutely appropriate it is for my corona mind these days. The line “I do believe it will finish” jumped out. Stein entered my muddled mind and connected, boom.

I’ve been thinking about connections between minds these days and how books and movies and poems and works of art enable them. Remember that ad “You are what you eat”? I have no idea what it was marketing, but the idea has stayed with me in one of those wacky memory tricks that enable me to call up something I’m not thinking about–I don’t think–and not be able to remember something I’m desperate to recall. My mind IS what it “eats,” what I feed it.

Reading the Shirley Jackson biography by Ruth Franklin, A Rather Haunted Life, I wanted to go visit Shirley and have a meal with her and spend time talking about everything, not just writing. Mothers and husbands and children and ideas and minds and the tricks they play on us. Her novels shook me and moved me when I read them, but I had no idea what a complex, complicated, conflicted woman she was. We would’ve had a lot to exchange, I’d like to think.

Weird: that bud blooming on my birthday rose has made me more optimistic than all the things I’ve read lately and all the art that’s been posted that I’ve looked at and all the poems I’ve tried to write. Why is that? Maybe it’s Mother Nature at work, saying don’t give up, “I do believe it will finish.” Or maybe it’s the simplicity of beauty. Or maybe it’s that sliver of the human spirit that more often than not refuses to give in.

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My get up and go . . .

Turtle

Never discourage anyone . . . who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” Plato

Ever hear the saying “My get up and go got up and went”? That’s how I’ve felt this week.

This turtle showed up in our front yard the other day. I was so excited about the “intruder” that I had to take its picture. That’s my level of stimulation these days: I got excited about a turtle in the front yard.

For weeks I’ve been an optimist in the face of this covid-19 scare. I’ve committed to being grateful and steady and committed to doing those things I’m able to do. I’ve revised a novel, with the aid of my friend and writer Laura in Brookline. That exchange has been a lifeline. My lifelong habit of reading has sustained me, too, so I’ve been a  “good literary citizen” as my friend Cathy calls it, purchasing novels on my Kindle, posting about those novels on my Facebook page. I’ve been the cabin cook for me and John, planning and preparing the meals. These are small, I know, but they’ve sustained me.

John has gone “out in the world” for us. He still goes to the studio every day. I haven’t even been in a store yet. I see this as civic responsibility, not a deprivation of my freedoms.

For over two weeks I followed my children’s advice and didn’t post about the current political unrest. I gave thumbs up to the ten photos of joy and the ten best books and works of art and the recommended art projects and the pictures of being a mom. Those were great, gave me smiles.

That all changed May 25th with the public homicide of George Floyd. One daughter lives a block away from the Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia. Another lives across the street from the Virginia Museum, where the United Daughters of the Confederacy building that was damaged the first night of protest is located. My granddaughter and her boyfriend with asthma are marching in Seattle. One son is with his family in Santa Monica blocks away from where the riots occurred. Another works for a delivery service in Richmond. I am personally invested and involved, having committed to civil rights when I was 16 years old and left my church over their stand on segregation. I can’t go out myself, now, because of age and compromising conditions, but I can no longer sit on the sidelines without making my voice heard via social media.

These times remind me of my freshman year at Mary Washington when the assassination of President Kennedy stopped me in my tracks on my way to my 2:00 class. Some students went to DC, but many of us hovered around the television, riveted by the scenes from Texas, on the airplane, at the police station, during the funeral. I remember feeling paralyzed, perched in my bed hours on end crying. That’s what could happen when political division was out of control. That happened too often since then, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.

With Bobby I was teaching first grade on a military post. I told the children that “violence never solves anything.” I know some activists disagree with me on that, but while I advocate for peaceful protest for civil rights, I cannot support violence. Wrongs don’t resolve other wrongs, to my mind. Looters and destroyers detract from the cause.

Many caring, concerned people have faced the fear of covid and joined protests against police brutality and systemic inequity. Instead, these times have robbed me of my mojo. My get up and go got up and went. I think I should be writing nonstop, but I can’t put pencil to paper, for some reason. My turtle moves are on simple tasks of daily living. I wish this weren’t so.

I’m kinda sad, too, for selfish reasons. I’m the girl who didn’t fly up from Brownies to Girl Scouts cause the thought of selling cookies terrified me. While I love to do readings of my work, and teach workshops on writing, and talk at bookgroups, I’m still frozen when it comes to selling my books. So the deadline for presales of my poetry chapbook hovers (June 12) and I’ve sold nowhere near 250 copies. https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/time-travel-by-charlotte-g-morgan/ That means the title won’t be picked up by the large purveyors that sell to libraries and bookstores. Bummer. That’s a fly speck compared to the human struggles playing out in our streets and halls of power, but I’m trying to be honest about the mix of emotions that scramble my brain these days.

This turtle ramble twists and turns more than most of my blogs. I think that reflects my jumbled thinking right now. I’m trying. I am. I stay in touch with loved ones. I read and watch movies and do my chores. I post about injustice. I hope Plato’s right, and despite the fact that my progress is turtle slow I will overcome these corona blahs. Bob Dylan has to be right: “The times they are a’changin’.” I hope tomorrow I wake up and I’m changed back to my more optimistic, active self.

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TO SHARE OR NOT TO SHARE?

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  Andy Warhol

Marilyn Trapped

“Trapped” by John Dure Morgan

The word “SHARE” is loaded for me. As a participant in many psychotherapy sessions, my own as well as family members’, the word share has taken on a bit of a psychobabble phony-baloney connotation. People in groups are often invited to share, provoking them to perhaps reveal when they’re not ready to reveal or, in some cases, elaborate or even fabricate. Mind you I’m aware that in effective psychotherapy that isn’t a problem, but I’ve been there, so to speak.

In today’s social media world the word SHARE has a more powerful denotation, as a choice and as an action. Authors, artists, vocalists, many of us jump on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to post our latest work in the hopes that it will “take off.” Those who SHARE creative endeavors help get the work out into the world. Cybergalleries were popping up all over the internet long before the virus hit.

But this has heightened with the coronavirus isolation. No doubt some of us are feeling “Trapped,” as conveyed in my husband John’s collage, above. Now people are SHARING ten favorite albums, or ten photos that give them joy, or ten works of art, or ten books (one friend is sharing thirty!) that have mattered in their lives. This new focus, just this month, on things that give us pleasure and inspiration are a positive, refreshing  relief from the neverending uncertainty and dark nature of the current medical and political posts.

The One World Together At Home concert came at a moment of need for me, It was a lift, hearing all those artists contribute their talent for the benefit of our medical personnel who face the danger of coronavirus every day to heal the sick and comfort those in need, often alone and afraid. And the 2020 Graduation broadcast made memories for a whole nation of high school graduates who missed out on all those moments, not just graduation: proms, picnics, senior skip day, beach week. Yo-Yo Ma playing “Tis A Gift to Be Simple” was a unique gift. He didn’t have to do that.

As Elvis might say, “Whole lotta sharing going on.” He was noted for his generosity, giving away cars and horses and even houses. He never forgot what it was like to need a boost. My neighbor Lucia gave me flowers, this week; she invited me to come to her yard next door and cut peonies. Former student Mari sent a lovely hand-written note. Aunt Helen sent a photo of my grandmother when she was a girl.

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I’ve made an effort to spread the positive as well. Friend Debby Freed posted her most recent whimsical pottery animals and I’ve shared them. Artist David Csicsko posts amazing coloring book pages that I send along. Daily I share art work by our many artist friends on Facebook and Instagram as well as poems and books.

Back in “normal” time or “before” time or whatever we call it, artists showed their work in galleries. Authors did readings at libraries and bookstores and colleges. I could teach with my colleague Cathryn Hankla at Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program, welcoming writers, novices or experienced, for a week honoring their talents and works in progress.  The connection and interaction at that retreat sent us all back into the “real world” with a sense of connection. Those physical options no longer exist, so we creative people have to develop new ways to share what we create and to promote our work. A few weeks ago BookNoFurther sponsored a cyber reading by Lee Smith of her new work, Blue Marlin. Over 400 people participated. Most of us writers would never get 400 people at a reading anywhere, any time. My husband John, who has avoided social media like a plague, now posts his work daily on Instagram. He’s pleased to get likes and comments, but especially shares.

All this is to say that I see the need to SHARE, now, in a way I didn’t before. The LIKE button is great, but it’s SHARE that has the power. That button is a bit of a lifeline to friends and family and like-minded strangers, as well as an opening to an audience for my books and poems. The word no longer feels like psychobabble to me. I SHARE, and I’m grateful to others who do, also.

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https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/time-travel-by-charlotte-g-morgan/

SMELL THE ROSES?

Rose trellis 1940

“Attitude is not everything, but it is almost everything. In fact, in many situations, it is all we have.”     Mary Pipher

In one of those cheer-you-up memes posted on Facebook this week titled Not Everything is Cancelled, complete with drawing of a very Pooh-like bear, the unnamed author advises, in part:

“naps are not cancelled

devotion is not cancelled

music is not cancelled

dancing is not cancelled

imagination is not cancelled

kindness is not cancelled”

There’s more, but those especially connected with my experience. Since I didn’t get my flu shot this year, and I haven’t had the requisite pneumonia shot for people of a certain age, John has been the one to go to the grocery store and Lowe’s (when we needed a new filter for the HVAC system). I’ve ridden with him to the bank a couple of times, but those are the extent of my outings. So I’ve truly been “sheltering in place” this entire time, ever since I returned from Richmond March 22. We’d been confined there, with daughter Melissa’s hospitalization and post-hospitalization, but our circle of family had been larger. Since I’ve been home socializing has been cancelled. Daughter Miranda (from that circle) came for three days–what a lift she was, with her laughter and energy and wacky sense of humor–and that break reminded me again of what a gift motherhood has been in my life.

John came to bed last night (I was already propped up reading) and said, “Bill Mahar predicts a lot of divorces when this is all over.” We laughed. But I thought to myself that, as Shakespeare observed, true things are said in jest. We’re lucky we “get along,” as we call it in Virginia. And he’s able to go to the studio most days and isolate there without seeing another living soul. So we have togetherness and apartness. Even at home he can watch sports in one room and I can play Words With Friends in another and we’re not “stuck” trying to force conversation when neither of us wants it.

We’ve had a lot of laughs, who knows why, and shared sad moments–John Prine’s death. We’ve listened to old favorites like Lucinda Williams and new-to-us singer/songwriters like Sturgill Simpson. We’ve looked forward to and enjoyed every episode of Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts–what an American talent Ken Burns is. And all three of those Roosevelts, flawed human beings, have lessons we should attend to today. I’ve been revising a novel, John’s been working on a series of collages, and we’ve been able, some evenings, to sit outside on the deck, enjoy the roses that truly have been a knock-out this spring (no smell, but the metaphor still works), and discuss our work. We take walks. Our Standard Poodles Jackie-Oh and The Drifter make us smile.

I seek a positive attitude and so does John, but some days we’ve both “hit the wall,” even though we are grateful and strive to stay productive and positive. John and my children encouraged me to stop channeling my political junkie (I went to Girls’ State in Virginia the same year Bill Clinton was at Boys’ State in Arkansas. I was only a Mayor, though.). I was posting too much on Facebook about my political concerns and fears–“screaming into an echo chamber” as my older daughter called it. So I’ve stopped that, though I continue to post about art and books and movies and to support other creative friends and cyber friends. My beloved Nimrod art retreat won’t open this year, looks like, and that’s a blow. But it’s not the blow of losing someone to this horrible virus. Attitude IS everything. I AM fortunate.

Maybe now we need to dance.

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