A Life Raft

Credit: arcturusangel | morguefile.com

The artist, if true to his or her vocation, recovers the past and explains the present. The artist is the true chronicler of who we were and where we came from. Culture, in times of distress, is not a luxury but a life raft.

Chris Hedges

What’s the Point?

Credit: Beth-Alison Berggren

First published on Karen Cushman’s blog post “What’s New?” in response to the following question:  “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer.  My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them.  What’s a girl to do?  In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create?  Do you have the same thoughts?  If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing, troubling times?”


What ‘s the Point?


Mary Oliver:  I also believed and still believe, with more alarm as the years go by, that we are destroying the Earth.

Krista Tippett:  And you don’t write about that.

Mary Oliver:  No.  Simply that I think you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.  And there are some poets who pound on that theme until you really can’t take any more.  And I think that my way of doing it, saying this is what we have, let’s keep it, because it’s beautiful and wonderful and wondrous might work better.  Though probably it’s not going to work either.  We’re in deep trouble with the environment I believe.  And nobody’s going to stop this business of … of business, of making money, the amassing of things that will vanish for us as we vanish.  I’ll leave a few poems behind . . . but not much cash.

Unedited interview, On Being, October 15, 2015

So . . . Mary Oliver, from whom so many of us draw hope for our precious, struggling world, for our precious, struggling lives, despairs, too. How painful to hear!

And yet when I listened to that interview I only nodded and thought, Of course.  That’s the way it is, isn’t it?  We despair and, at the same time, we write about wonders.

Because what is the point of writing anything else? The wondrous, after all, still exists.  The wondrous in the natural world that surrounds us, the wondrous in human relationships, the wondrous that flows from the human mind . . . art, science, even technology. All worthy of honor.

I feel a powerful aversion to the message I’ve heard too often handed to young people, “We adults have failed.  The world is yours now.  Fix it!”

If I were young today I can’t imagine much that would fill me with more disdain . . . or more anger.

So I have recently spent intensive months first researching then writing and rewriting and rewriting a picture book text called EarthSong.  I don’t say one word in it about our collapsing climate.  I only celebrate. A hymn, not a sermon. My theory is that if I can fill a young child—and perhaps that young child’s caretaker, too—with wonder at our Earth, they will be more ready to take care than if I preach the fire and brimstone I can too easily see gathering at our feet.

And if, as I suspect, taking care in our individual lives is no longer enough to make a difference, then at least my words will bring my readers to the kind of deep appreciation that can change us today.

Of course, climate chaos isn’t the only threat I, and many others, see gathering around us.  We stand on the brink of war, war we can no longer simply export to other lands and pretend is not ours.  Our own society is collapsing under the burden of inequality, of a neglected infrastructure, of short-sighted and greedy economic policies.  Politics—all of it, not just the too-easy-to-name newcomers—has become a travesty, focused on power rather than the common good.

There are days when my most optimistic thought is that I’m old.  If I’m lucky, I will come in nature’s unerring way to that final exit before the collapse.

But then I have grandchildren.

I have grandchildren.

And young readers.

And the only answer I can find when I speak to them is to combine honesty with a deep honoring of the good, of the beautiful, of the holy.

Because it isn’t just that “you catch more flies with honey.”  That’s true, of course.  But what’s even more true is that we need, all of us, young and old, to live in that good, beautiful, holy place.  Otherwise, what is the point?

And if we need to live in it, then I need to write in it, too.

This is Precisely the Time

Credit: bluecot | morguefile.com

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

Toni Morrison

An Invitation

I’ve done it three times in the past few months and have loved it so much I’ve decided to make it a part of my life.  I’ve invited a writer into my St. Paul, Minnesota, home and provided comfortable, private space, meals and mentoring.

The writers who came to me were all previously published, though that is not a requirement.  All happened to have recalcitrant manuscripts they had been working on for too long.  Two of them brought novels that had grown cumbersome in their complexity, one a picture book that had seen many incarnations.  Each wanted a break, a new environment, nurturing, and one-on-one time with an experienced mentor.

And I wanted to dip back into teaching in a quiet way, have the pleasure of sharing my home and meals (I have more house than I need and I love cooking), and simply be of use to a fellow writer.  Women only, with apologies to any men who might be interested.

The way I’m framing this venture, now that I’m ready to embark on it more formally, is that the invited writer will arrive on a Monday afternoon and leave on Friday morning. I am ten minutes from the airport and will pick up and drop off.  Prior to your coming, I will read your manuscript.  No more than 40,000 words, which is approximately 150 pages, or if it’s picture books or easy readers no more than three, and I will provide a brief, written critique before you come.  A longer manuscript can be accommodated by judicious summary or we can discuss a different fee arrangement.

While you are here, I will go about my life and my work, but I will provide all meals and be available for further readings and all the consultation and good writer talk you need.  If you want to take time off for cultural activities—the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is rich in its offerings—or outdoors ones, I will join you.  (During good weather I keep a couple of kayaks on a nearby lake.)

If this invitation appeals to you, check out my website at http://mariondanebauer.com/mentor/mentor.html. If you’re interested, I’ll ask to see a small sample of your work to make sure I have enough to offer you, and after that we can talk about a time.  I’ll be offering these one-on-one retreats no more frequently than once a month.  First come, first served.

I have been publishing and teaching writers for more than forty years, and this kind of one-on-one mentoring feels like the work that my life has prepared me for.  I would love to welcome you and whatever manuscript you are working on into my home and my heart!




The odds against us …

Credit: cohdra | morguefile.com

…the odds against us are endless,
our chances of being alive together
statistically nonexistent;
still we have made it, alive in a time
when rationalists in square hats
and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses
agree that it is almost over,
alive with our lively children
who – but for endless if’s –
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies
and longings and lies and wishes
and error and humor and mercy
and journeys and voices and faces
and colors and summers and mornings
and knowledge and tears and chance.
Lisel Mueller