Finding Kansas (and That’s All She Wrote): Everyday Magic, Day 1049

A KAW Council campout at Lake Kanopolis in 1982 with, from left, Dan Bentley, the late Mark Larson, Kelly Kindscher, Victoria Sherry, me, Suzanne Richman, and in front of us, Joe Greever, and behind us, Ken Lassman, Shannon Greever, Larry, and Dave Ebbert

I was lucky: I found a place that made a satisfying click when I set foot in it, and I knew.

It was April 30, 1982, I was living in Kansas City, MO at the time, and I had never been to Lawrence. In fact, the furthest west I had been was KCK (Kansas City, KS). With my friend Ira, I was heading toward the first Kansas Area Watershed Council gathering, just 15 miles west of Lawrence. Ira and I liked to talk, and at the time, we had some weeks of life details to catch up on, so trying to head out from Kansas City, we missed the exit to I-70. We went around the maze of highways to take another shot at the exit, but talking so fast and much, we missed it a second time…..and a third time. It turns out the fourth time was the charm.

“I want to stop in Lawrence on the way,” Ira told me. There was a great band playing in South Park, the fabled Tofu Teddy. So we did and we danced. It was relatively warm out, sunny, and the world felt light and easy. Then we were hungry, so: enchiladas. Then it was dark, and we decided to spend the night at a friend of a friend’s house, a bungalow in East Lawrence. There were a few extra bedrooms, and whoever owned it was out of town.

Climbing the stairs to the porch of that bungalow on that spring night, lilac, dirt, and wonder in the air, I felt the weight of a voice on my right shoulder. “This is your home for the rest of your life.” A click of recognition went through my body, and I slept soundly that night. The next morning, we would get to KAW, where I met some of the people who became my best beloveds for life, including Ken, who became a good friend, then the love of my life.

Cobra Rock while it was still standing

I also fell hard for Kansas, and I’m still falling. Not just Lawrence, which of course I adore with all its artsy, activist you-can-make-anything-happen-here (but you might not get paid much for it) energy, but often-ignored corners and crannies of the state. Having roamed Kansas widely, as a visiting scholar for Kansas Humanities since 1992, and later, as a Kansas poet laureate — not to mention all the KAW Council campouts in caves and fields, sleeping bags unrolled under Cobra Rock before it collapsed or in Hutchinson living rooms — I’ve seen a lot of this place. But not nearly enough yet.

Put me on a long drive through the Flint Hills or even across the much-maligned Kansas chunk of I-70 going through ranges of hills and high, dry places where you can see 100 miles or more, and I’m a happy camper (sometimes literally). Serve me what surely feels like the official Kansas dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn, and I’m thrilled. Add some fresh apple pie, and what could be wrong with this ailing world?

I’m often enthralled with the communities I’ve dipped into even if they sometimes/often contain people who vote in ways that are incomprehensible to me. I have yet to spend time in any small Kansas town without glimpsing some wild quirks and beyond-any-stereotype humans. “Here’s the master key — just go through every room you want in the hotel and choose whatever you want,” the receptionist at the beautiful, vintage, and haunted (as I soon found out) Midland Railroad Hotel once told me (turned out the whole third floor was once a chicken coop that supplied dinners served on the first floor). I can’t visit Pittsburg without discovering yet another bevy of poets, and I’m sure that town has has many poets per capita as any place in the world. I dig the leftover famous tree stumps in Council Grove and visionaries I’ve met in Garden City. I’ve encountered opera singers on the street, abstract painters who took over old bank buildings for studios, and I even stayed in a grain bin transformed into a bed and breakfast filled with kittens. I’m delighted with the infinity of birds that cross and roost in the flyway as well as all other other wilds ones I’ve seen — bobcats on rare occasion and wild turkeys and massive crows regularly, and once, even a cougar.

I love the expansiveness of this place, the big skies that felt and still feel like the perfect balm for my crowded mind, and after many years, 40 this spring, the exterior has infused the interior. My thoughts and thinking feel less compressed, frenzied, and way less tortured than when I first climbed the steps to that bungalow. I’m home here, and the thing about homecoming is that it’s a continual unfolding and practice, a life-long love affair with being where and who we are. Thank you, Kansas, and hey, Happy Kansas Day!

When I Don’t Know What Else to Do: Everyday Magic, Day 1025

Since the riots of hatred last Wednesday, it’s hard to get my bearings. Like most of the people I know, the word “unbelievable!” peppers many conversations which are often about despair, fear, insomnia, and especially how little we can do to change this situation at the moment. This is not to say that we-the-people don’t have some power and agency overall, but between now and the inauguration, there’s just a fog of foreboding and uncertainty.

What do when I don’t know what to do? Something/Anything, to riff off the name of one of Todd Rundgren’s old albums. I broke through some of the stagnancy Sunday by cutting colorful things up or out: fabric and vegetables. Finding a quilt pattern involving 128 triangles helped tremendously even if the pre-requisite was searching through my fabric collection, then ironing a whole lot of things. Slicing and dicing cauliflower, pears, potatoes, onions (for a great soup recipe), apples for an apple crisp, and a mess of tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, and zucchini (for a veggie lasagna) helped enormously.

Yesterday, I played with color in designing some memes for upcoming workshops, and later, I immersed myself in the chilly sunset sky by walking the wetlands with Kris. I remember how, in much more dire circumstances depicted in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved (also one of the best books in the universe), Baby Suggs — anything but a baby and dying — could only find meaning in the colors of her quilt. “Took her a long time to finish with blue, then yellow, then green” is a line that stays with me.

Right now though, I look across my room, thankful for the blues and golds in the quilt on the bed and the sky-filled windows. And that’s enough.

A Small Thanksgiving With Too Many Cranberries: Everyday Magic, Day 1021

Like most of us living in the ever-expansive pandemic lands, I’m looking toward a pocket-size gathering of just our household and our sister-in-law (part of our posse and pod) with the windows cracked open, chairs set far apart, and masks on when not eating. Two out of our three kiddos will be Zooming in, and we’ll likely call other family, including my sisters having a bigger outside gathering because they don’t live in a place that hosts winter.

It’s an odd sensation to be planning a meal for so few. While my sister-in-law is doing the heavy lifting of heavy carbs (stuffing, mashed potatoes, dessert, and oh yeah, the turkey and gravy), and my son is baking the rolls, we’re all about the fruit and vegetables here. We seem to be mainly about cranberries though. I bought four bags of them, figuring we might as well have twice what we need for Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish (oh, the wonders of mixing sour cream, onions, horseradish, and cranberries). Then Ken, thinking we had forgotten the cranberries, bought a whole bunch more. In the end, we probably have 32 ounces of cranberries per person, so they’ll likely be cranberries in the carrot salad, cranberry muffins, cranberry stir-fries, and other ways to use these tart little bursts.

Then again, when I think about it, the cranberry might be the perfect fruit for the resilience and adaptability we need for 2020. They usually need to be sweetened to taste good, but they fare well frozen, fresh, dried, or tossed into an infinite amount of recipes. They also call on us to be more imaginative and adventurous while tending the home fires (or stovetop or oven). They also bring together, in one small bite, the sweet, tart, tangy, bitter, and surprising taste of time.

Which leads me back to this time when all these holidays and traditions we do alone or with our laptops at the table, will next year (I hope and pray) seem so outrageously rare. What will it be like to look back on 2020 Passovers, Easters, July Fourths, Thanksgivings, and all those fabled December holidays as the great exception to the rule, the big rock in the river of our lives that we paddled around, the deviation to the norm? At the same time, like biting into an unexpected cranberry, this time is the strange episode that makes us see the story behind and ahead of us with new eyes that can take in a wider vista of gratitude.

Getting Through February (the Longest Month): Everyday Magic, Day 965

A moment yesterday (big round thing is rain barrel we’re repairing). Note approaching deer.

As life has repeatedly, February is the longest month. Maybe it’s the overwrought repetition of cold, ice, and snow after months of winter. Maybe it’s the shy hints of spring to come — often snow drops before they get snowed under, or days like Thursday, when Harriet and I walked unfettered by heavy coats andg ear in 55 degrees — before the heavy hand of the winter storm warmings land again. Maybe it’s more personal because this is the month when my beloved father-in-law died (10 years ago as of the 10th) as well as my dear friends Weedle and Hadassah died during the shortest month that is anything but short.

Yesterday it snowed, enough so that much of my area of the country was closed to all but those intrepid drivers who ventured out while the accident blotters grew.  Tonight, maybe some freezing rain. Tuesday, more snow. Our local school district has now had so many snow days that even the teachers I know are jonesing to get back into the classroom.

But it’s not just snow and ice flying around in single-digit winds. February is often when I see the most winter birds, having tried of thrashing against winter enough to just watch the bird feeders and Cottonwood Mel fill with juncos, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, bluejays, flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers, cedar waxwings, and usually at some point soon, bluebirds. Squirrels stand on the deck railing, ferreting out the leftover black sunflower seeds. The deer bravely slink across the field to surround the bird feeder too while we hold the anxious-to-protect-us-from-them dog by his collar and tell him to chill out. Yesterday, in the middle of the whirling snow, it looked like a scene from Snow White outside our living room window while beef stew made its way to perfection in the crockpot and I whipped up a batch of applesauce muffins.

As the first February in 23 years that I’m not spending half the month at Goddard at a residency (on unpaid leave this semester), my view is uninterrupted (although Vermont does February seriously). When the sun returns, like right now pouring over my typing fingers as I watch a chickadee hop across the snowy deck, I forget the length and weight of February. Instead, I see how much there is to be with right now. Spring will come, but here is the continual flight of winter wrapping us in its surprises and surrenders.

The Hospitality of Writing: Everyday Magic, Day 951

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hospitality in relationship to both writing and self-care. As someone who loves home (and also roaming widely), and making  welcoming spaces in groups, rooms, and my little heart, I realize that there’s an intimate connection between hospitality and the creative process. The more we can invite ourselves onto the page (with grace and tenderness), the more we can show up for our writing. Plus, showing up for our creative sparks is great training for being more present in our ever-shifting lives.

This led me to develop “A Leap Forward Writing Retreat” for Nov., 3, a day I welcome you to my home to write while having someone else (namely me) support you with a  mini coaching sessions, writing materials and resources to peruse, lovely spaces to perch, and all else I see as creativity hospitality, particularly food. We’ll enjoy healthy, and inviting food when we gather at 10 a.m. and get to know each other, share a bit about what writing we’re each planning to do, then head out to the wilds of the work. Of course, there’ll also be lunch, a chance to check back in with each other, and at the end of our day, something like a Kansas version of an English tea to talk discoveries and next steps.

As for ambling into the wilds, I welcome you into the indoor or and outdoor spaces where I can sit quietly, notebook or laptop nearby, and see what shows up on mysterious page or screen. This post includes photos of some perches for writing while you’re here. You’ll have lots of sky to help clear your mind and nearby woods to show you the details of the up-close and always-in-motion world. By early November, there shouldn’t be any annoying critters in the grasses, and weather-permitting we may even go on a little prairie walk with Ken (my husband and a prairie plant expert).

If a “Leap Forward Writing Workshop” speaks to you, more details here. Whether this works for you or not, please consider however you can bring greater hospitality to your writing, even if it’s just to create a lovely space, meal, or walk to support what wants to be created. After all, writing is a way of coming home to ourselves, so let’s come home to our writing in the most welcoming ways possible.