Heading home….

The view from my hotel room, looking north up Miami Beach.

I’m writing this from the Miami Airport, where the air conditioning is cold and the air outside is warm and heavy with humidity. I’ve been in South Florida for eight days now, and I’m ready to get home to the crisp and dry air of Southern Colorado. Even though it is cold.

Bitter cold: it was minus thirteen this morning, bound for a high today of 15 degrees above zero. It’s been so cold while I’ve been away that my water meter froze. If my neighbor Bev hadn’t been watching out for my house and the shop, I would have come home to a disaster….

When I left for Miami, the weather was seasonable, so I hadn’t prepared for this unusually bitter cold. And I haven’t had time to even think about it during Young Arts Week, six-plus days of non-stop teaching, mentoring, master classes, evaluations, performances, and generally celebrating and nurturing an extraordinary crop of young writers and their compatriots in dance, cinema, theater, music (jazz, classical, voice), visual art, and photography.

In addition to the day-long workshops and master classes, there was at least one performance every night in this one-of-a-kind, week-long celebration of the country’s best emerging artists aged 16 to 18 years.

A quiet moment in the courtyard at Books and Books, reading in the courtyard while waiting for the bus back to the hotel.

We writers spent a wonderful afternoon with novelist Rob Van Wagoner, hearing his new work and doing new writing ourselves, talking about story and ideas. Another afternoon we took at “field trip” from our base (the Deauville Beach Resort right on the beach) to go to Books and Books, where bookstore owner Mitch Kaplan, founder of the Miami Book Fair, talked to us about the business of writing and publishing.

Mitch also gifted us each a copy of Blue Christmas, an anthology edited by noted Miami fiction writer John Dufresne and published by the bookstore, along with a gift certificate, so we spent a happy hour browsing the store and selecting new books to read.

Bouganvillea grows “wild” through beach grass, Miami Beach Botanical Gardens.

There was the morning at Miami Beach Botanical Garden working with fiction writer Beth Kephart and her photographer husband, Bill, who are collaborating on a booklet of the writers’ work.

And there was “our” writers’ Friday night performance, a reading of two-minute excerpts of their fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction that had the audience hushed and on the edge of their seats, drinking in every word, and then standing as one afterwards to give these courageous and creative young writers an ovation as they danced their way out of the hall at the Miami Performing Arts Center.

In short, it was a magical, inspiring, high-energy, transformative, seriously exhausting week. Worth every minute.

I snatched 20 minutes to walk on the beach one day, long enough to actually get my feet in the warm Atlantic.

When I say I’m headed off to Miami to work with teen writers, people often assume we’re working with sappy, angst-ridden love poems with tiny hearts dotting the ‘i’s or stories about sports figures and video games. And that we get in serious beach time. False on both.

These writers may be short on years, but they’re long on wit and sophisticated thinking, depth, creativity and an enduring passion for words and story. Their writing is strikingly ahead of their age–I was not nearly so self-aware and focused when I was their age!

As I wrote in the introduction to the anthology excerpting the work of this year’s 24 finalists:

How does a young writer get to Arts Week? By paying attention to the craft, digging deep for freshness, authenticity, resonance. By having the courage and tenacity to pursue their unique creative voice–listening intently within, and by honing their words until those words sing, rail, make us laugh and sigh and exclaim out loud….

Here’s to you,Young Arts 2013 Finalists in Writing: Lois Carlisle, Kathleen Cole, Allison Cooke, Amanda Crist, Alexa Derman, Stefania Gomez, Emily Hittner-Cunningham, Julia Hogan, Shelley (Anne Shelton) Hucks, Flannery James, Libbie Katsev, Peter LaBerge, Natalie Landers, Amy Mattox, Annyston Pennington, Kathleen Radigan, Laura Rashley, Anne Malin Ringwalt, Lizza Rodriguez, Fances Saux, Lila Thulen, Victoria White, Catherine Wong, and Ashley Zhou.

I can’t wait to read more from you all.

Beginnings and endings

The courtyard between the lodge and the hot springs at Joyful Journey as winter sunset colors the Sangre de Cristo Range in the background.

“Begin as you intend to continue,” my Scots grandmother used to say. Which to me means,

Be thoughtful about how you enter into something, whether a project or a new year. Don’t rush into it; take care with your intentions and dreams, what you hope to achieve and how you imagine getting there.

I heard Grandmother Chris’ lilting voice in my head last Friday during a trip with girlfriends to soak in the hot springs at Joyful Journey Spa. A chance encounter with the conference coordinator  led to my learning that the lodge and events center had an opening for a group the first weekend of spring.

Begin as you intend to continue. 

I’ve been considering beginning a series of writing workshops that nurture both spirit and creativity, based in comfortable surroundings in places that inspire awe and deep thinking. Joyful Journey fits that bill: the small lodge and spa encompass a rural hot springs with a panoramic view of snow-capped peaks, star-studded skies at night, and the peace and quiet of Colorado’s “forgotten” San Luis Valley. Especially in spring when the entire Rocky Mountain Flyway population of sandhill cranes, 20,000 or so statuesque, long-legged and long-necked birds, arrive to dance their spring courting rituals and call in their percussive voices.

So I’m taking a leap and beginning a “Write & Retreat” workshop series offering time out for creative renewal and writing practice, time to let the community of nature work its magic on heart, spirit and inspiration. The first workshop, “Write & Retreat: Cranes & Hot Springs” will take place–appropriately for the renewal theme–on the first weekend of spring, March 21-24, 2013, at Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa, about 3.5 hours southwest of Denver and an equal distance north of Albuquerque.

Sandhill cranes in the San Luis Valley in spring.

The agenda for this four-day retreatful writing workshop is simple: soak, write, read and talk writing in a small-group workshop setting, retreat into contemplative time, take a drive to watch and listen to the spectacle of the cranes’ dawn flight and dancing, write, read, soak, contemplative time….

Imagine these four days as time to nourish your inner self, to take your writing to new, richer places with an intuitive and experienced teacher, and to practice retreatful habits to bring home to your daily life.

Begin as you intend to continue.

If you’re interested, let me know. I’m still working out the details. Spaces are limited by my preferred workshop size (10-15 writers; there’s also room for companions who come along to soak and see cranes, but won’t attend the workshop).


Trimming the window over the kitchen sink. One down, 36 more to go….

The endings of the title? My new sideline as a trim and finish carpenter is something of a gentle transition (gentle emotionally, if not physically!) to a rather huge ending. Once I’ve finished trimming all 37 openings, put up what seems like miles of baseboard, and invent a shower and tub surround plus a counter for the master bath, this whole half-block property will go up for sale: the house with its custom sculptural sinks, cabinets and sandstone shelves, the cozy guest cottage, and the historic shop (plus the pentanque court, organic kitchen garden and wildflower “lawn”).

I’ll move around the corner to a tiny house built just for me, plus a studio over the garage to house guests and Terraphilia residents.

Endings and beginnings

None of this will happen overnight, which is what I mean by a “gentle” transition. Regardless, I’m ending my time in the house my love helped design and build for us, the place we imagined living out our lives together. We did that, only the end of “together” came sooner than either of us could ever have imagined.

I’m beginning this new year as I intend to continue, walking a mindful and loving path as writer, teacher, and–this I would never have guessed a year ago–finish carpenter. Building a new life with care, and a great appreciation for the community of lives with whom we share this green and blue planet, sparkling with life.

On the Road Again….

US Highway 285 across South Park

I’ll be hitting the road in a few minutes, headed to Denver tonight and flying to Miami tomorrow for a week of reading submissions to the annual Young Arts program. Over the coming week, my fellow writing panelists, poet David Lee and novelist Dianne Nelson-Oberhansly, plus our terrific Coordinator, sculptor Mary Lee Adler, will evaluate 200 or so 20-page manuscripts from outstanding 17- and 18-year-old writers all around the country. (The other writing panelist, poet Gailmarie Pahmeier, can’t join us this week.)

Our task: select the top 25 young writers to attend Arts Week in January, where they’ll take workshops and master classes (last year master class teachers included Robert Redford; this year, Bobby McFerrin is on tap, plus novelists Rob Van Waggoner and Beth Kephart). They’ll see performances and shows by other young artists in dance, music, theater and visual arts, and prepare for a gala public reading of their work.

U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts medal (Photo courtesy of Young Arts)

Arts Week is an intense and inspiring gathering; these talented kids take home a renewed passion for their work, lasting friendships and mentors, plus scholarships for college. And a handful–the best of the best–are honored as Presidential Scholars in the Arts in a ceremony at the White House. Heady stuff at any age, stratospheric for 17- and 18-year-olds.

I’m excited about discovering this year’s crop of submissions, even though I know it’ll be serious work. I’m excited about simply going to Miami, even though the most I’ll see of it will be the twice-daily walk between our hotel on the shores of Biscayne Bay and the new Young Arts campus. Still, South Florida in November is not a shabby place to be holed up inside reading!


Cottonwoods line a stream in the Oklahoma prairie along Highway 412.

Before I hit the road, I want to share a story from my long New Mexico-Texas-Oklahoma-Arkansas road trip.

I stopped at the Starbucks in Enid, Oklahoma, a regular stop for Richard and me on the drive between south-central Colorado and northwest Arkansas. (It offers free wifi and great hot drinks, both of which are in short supply on that 800-mile trip.)

The last time I stopped there was a year ago, on the way home from that rushed trip to take Richard to see his Arkansas family while his failing body (barely) allowed him to travel with dignity.

Richard had gone back to the car to get something, then had wandered into the home healthcare office next door, thinking it connected to the Starbucks. The staff, he told me later, very kindly redirected him next door and turned his confusion into a gentle joke. (Later, a staffer came to the Starbucks to check on him. She took me aside and asked if he was okay. “No,” I said. I told her he had brain cancer and was in hospice care. “I’m a hospice nurse,” she said. “Just come next door if you need help.”)

This trip, I remembered that small incident of kindness and on impulse, stepped into the Carter Healthcare office to thank them for being so kind to my love. I said that a year ago my husband had gotten confused thinking he could get to the Starbucks through their office and I wanted to say thank you for how kind they had been to him.

“I was there!” said the woman sitting at the desk. “That was me!” I thanked her and explained that he had brain cancer and his tumor had given him spatial confusion. She asked how he was. My eyes filled. I told her that he had died a month later, and that hospice had been a huge gift for us.

“I am so sorry for your loss,” she said. “That’s why I do this work. It’s an honor to help people at the end of their lives.”

Kindness in a cup of cocoa….

I thanked her and left without even getting her name, tears in my eyes, focused on the long drive ahead. That brief encounter warms me still as an example of the power of simple, everyday kindness.

Kindness is basic to being human. As I walk this path I never imagined, my intention is to spread the kindness I’ve received, sending it rippling outward across a world that needs it more than ever.

News: Love Every Moment & Young Arts

I’ll be on the road for much of the next few weeks, teaching, speaking, and visiting Richard’s family, so forgive me if blog posts are less frequent. But I wanted to share some good news before I head over the horizon.

First, my TEDxHomer talk from July is finally up on YouTube. My presentation received a wonderfully warm reception from the audience at the Homer, Alaska, event and from those who watched it on the LiveStream. It’s the deepest and most difficult talk I’ve ever given, coming straight from my heart. (Please bear with the microphone buzz at the beginning. If you turn down the sound, it helps.)

I am honored to have taken part in TEDxHomer, “Let’s Play,” and I am grateful to those who made my talk possible, especially Kathryn Haber, Adi Davis, McKenzy Haber, Janine Oros Amon, and Bill Tweit and Lucy Winter. (And of course, my friend and excellent traveling companion, Roberta Smith.) Please share the video link if you feel so moved.

The next news involves an organization I’m proud to teach for, YoungArts, the Miami-based national program that rewards excellence in young visual, literary and performing artists aged 15-18. Twice a year, I head for Miami for YoungArts: In November our writing panel gathers to read some 200 creative writing submissions from around the country (a preliminary panel winnows those from several thousand). Our job is to select the 25 or so top writers who will join us in Miami in January for a week of workshops, talks, and performances, where they’ll meet their peers in the visual artists, dance, theater, and music. The very best of “our” young artists are nominated for President’s Scholars Medals in the Arts, awarded at the White House each spring. (Five young writers won President’s Scholars Medals in 2012.)

The blue-tiled tower of the Bacardi campus with the Jewel Box in the background.

The exciting news is that YoungArts has just purchased a campus overlooking Biscayne Bay, just north of the arts district where the Arts Week performances are held. Not just any set of buildings either: the Bacardi Tower and “Jewel Box” Museum, an architectural landmark in tropical modernism style. Architect Frank Gehry has agreed to develop a master plan for a new arts campus, which will include performance spaces and year-round programing. It’s a huge and visionary leap for an already excellent program, and I’m honored to be involved in a small way as chair of the writing panel.

One more piece of teaching news: Lynda Hoggan, one of my coaching students, is featured on the front page of RedRoom this week. Lynda’s story, “Jungle of the Heart,” is a courageous and insightful coming-out of sorts for this talented writer who is also a professor of health and human sexuality. It’s the first in a collection of memoir-based essays about love, sex, and intimate relationships. Congratulations, Lynda!

The new moon setting over Mt. Ouray, a crescent note in a musical score drawn by utility wires.

Tonight I watched the new moon set over the Sawatch Range of the Rockies from my porch; tomorrow I’ll load my Subaru and hit the road for Santa Fe and then Albuquerque, where I’m a keynote speaker at the Women Writing the West conference.

On I go into this new phase–new moon, new path–loving my moments as best I know how.

Blessings to you all!

Headed for the river, despite myself

My personal stuff pile, including my new day pack, bought to replace the ratty, thirty-year old canvas one I’ve had since my climbing days….

A tidy pile of outdoor clothing takes up the end of my bed; a pile of camping gear is mounded of the floor next to the bed. There’s a pile of books and writing gear in my office. I’m getting ready to hit the road–and then the river.

Tomorrow I’ll drive to Vernal, six and a half hours away in the northeastern corner of Utah, where I’ll join a Colorado Art Ranch “floatposium”–a float trip with workshops and talks along the way. I’m the resident writer, leading workshops as we go, and reading selections from great writing about the place and its stories.

Friday morning, we’ll put in at Gates of Lodore just downstream of Browns Park. We’ll take out Monday afternoon at Split Mountain, having followed the Green right through the heart of Dinosaur National Monument. (Click on “View park map” in the lefthand column to see the terrain. Click here for some impressive photos of the canyons we’ll float through.)

We’ll spend four days bouncing through rapids and idling in smooth water beneath towering sandstone walls, listening to the voice of the river as it changes from crashing to murmuring and to the sweet descending trills of canyon wrens, camping on river-beaches, smelling the metallic tang of the water and the pungent fragrance of sagebrush, and watching the stars blaze in the blackest of night skies.

The anthology What Wildness is This, from Story Circle Network and University of Texas Press

If it all sounds idyllic, it can be. But as I wrote in “Riding the River Home,” an essay in the anthology What Wildness is This,

I am no river girl. Whitewater terrifies me. Drowning is the worst death I can imagine.

Still, I rode the river then, and I’ll ride it again on this trip. I won’t be the one excited and cheering when the river’s voice changes from a murmur to a hissing rumble and the steady thump! thump! of the boatman’s oars turns to splashing and hollering, but I’ll be okay. What I learned on that river trip still holds true:

As we rode the river into the quiet of the canyons, as I told story after story about that slickrock landscape, I remembered what it is to be at home in a place, to belong in a way that touches your very cells. The river’s lessons were written in the dazzle of stars overhead, the hiss of water, the warmth of silky black schist, the trilling of canyon wrens, the curving shapes of redrock canyon walls, and the metallic taste of my unceasing dread. They reminded me of the connection between place and the human heart, of the necessity of belonging to the whole landscape, to the parts we love and the parts we fear. They reminded me that home is not an abstract concept, but a real and often problematic place. I’ll never be a river girl, and I no longer mind. … In a very real sense, I rode the river home.

The other reason this won’t necessarily be an idyllic trip for me is that my dear friend Carol Valera Jacobson, writer, bookstore owner, teacher, gardener, passionate liver of life, drowned in Triplet Falls in Lodore Canyon on the Green three summers ago. We’ll be camping by Triplet one night. Carol’s husband, Craig mayor Terry Carwile, will be with us.

It seems as if my lesson these days is letting go, and doing so with grace. I’m working on it.


How could you not fall for a face like that?

My other lesson is being flexible, and adapting to change. One of the changes in my life after Richard, on this new and unlooked-for path as Woman Alone involves another male. This one is four-footed though.

I’ve applied to adopt a rescued Great Dane. The one I’m considering is 5 years old, and a blue-eyed Merle Mantle (blue merle with white feet, a white nose, and a white chest) He’s got some medical issues, but he sounds like a real gentleman and a sweetheart. I don’t know yet if I can afford his care, or if he’s the dog for me. But I’m keeping my mind open.

Why would I want to add 135 pounds of dog to my life? That’s for another post. I’ll be offline until next week, once I return from the river….

More on YoungARTS week

I promised to write more about YoungARTS Week when I had more brain power and wasn’t so exhausted. Then I plunged back into getting caught up on my various deadlines, and filling out more after-death paperwork (I’ve come to think that paperwork is perhaps the only eternal part of our existence) and the week flew by. So much for good intentions.

(The photo above, from poet and finalist Maggie Zhang, is our writers at Books & Books, downtown Miami’s fabulous indie bookstore, where we had a master class with fiction writer John Dufresne and store owner Mitch Kaplan.)

YoungARTS week is the flagship program of National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, and it’s open to kids who will are seniors in high school or who will be 17 or 18 in the year they’re applying. (They also need to be U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents, but don’t necessarily need to be living in the U.S. when they apply–one of our finalists this year is at Bath University in England and grew up mostly in Africa.)


For the 2011-2012 year, over 5,000 kids applied to YoungARTS in nine artistic disciplines: dance, cinematic arts, jazz, visual arts, music (all instrumental except jazz), photography, theatre, writing, and vocal. Some apply in more than one discipline–these are truly talented kids. The 150 kids chosen as finalists, those who attend YoungARTS week, come from high schools that specialize in the arts, prep schools, and ordinary public high schools.

Three things unite the writing finalists (and I suspect the finalists in other disciplines too, but I only work with the writers): a passion to be heard, a hunger to learn more about writing, both craft and art, and a yearning to be around others of their kind.

Watching our 22 young writers bond over the week was just sweet. We told them repeatedly that they weren’t competing with each other, and they took it to heart.

By the end of the first full workshop day they were clustered at dinner, exchanging stories. (They had formed a Facebook group when they learned they were finalists for YoungARTS week, so their meeting was punctuated with cries of “I recognize you!” “So you’re…!”) They each were chosen based on a submission in a particular genre: short story, creative non-fiction, or poetry–we didn’t have any playwrights or novelists this year.

That first night they began helping each other cut down their winning pieces their three-minute selections for the big Thursday night reading. Over the course of the week, they gave each other constructive feedback and support in workshop, and continued working and playing together outside workshop.

By the end of the week, they were inseparable. For young artists, finding compatriots who understand their passion for something society often sees as a “frill” at best is critical to their survival. (They’re still chatting away about adjusting to life after YoungARTS week on that Facebook group.)

If past years are any guide, at least some of these young writers will be friends for life. And we’ll be reading their words in coming decades.

We nominated ten of our writers to be considered for the twenty total slots (among all nine disciplines) as Presidential Scholars Medals in the Arts. The winners will receive their medals at the White House and read at the Smithsonian Institution. Heady stuff. But they’re that good.

So yeah, I worked too hard (our teaching days begin at breakfast and end after the last performance at ten or eleven o’clock at night), got too little sleep, ate too much, didn’t exercise enough… And it was more than worth it to work with these talented young writers, and with my fellow panelists, poet Dave Lee, novelist Rob Van Wagoner, and poet Gailmarie Pahmeier, and our coordinator, visual artist Mary Lee Adler. You all rock!


Now I’m home in the land of spectacular dawn skies, working to finish up projects with immediate deadlines and looking forward some time to think about what’s ahead now that my life has been radically reshaped by the death of my husband, sculptor and economist Richard Cabe.

I didn’t imagine that our nearly 29-year partnership in love, life and art would dissolve this soon. But it did. Which gives me the opportunity–perhaps unwanted, but still an opportunity–to reshape my life, rethink my path. Thanks for walking with me…