Koa Books

Veterans of War
Veterans of Peace

How to Build Your Own Veteran Writers Group

Edited by Maxine Hong Kingston

Letters of Invitation

About two weeks before the veterans writing group gathers, the leader sends a letter of invitation to each participant. The letter suggests a theme for us to be contemplating. The leader usually chooses a subject he or she is concerned with at the moment. The letter also gives a schedule for the day. Some leaders include poems and stories. Later, just before the writing session, the leader speaks further about the theme he or she has chosen for the day’s inspiration. Here are some letters that leaders have written through the years, in no particular order.

June Writing Group Letter
Gregory Ross

Dear Fellow Writers,

I speak for myself, but in so doing, I make an assumption that what I say will resonate with many, veteran or not, in the group: my experience of war, my experience of resisting war and survivors guilt have often curtailed my experience of joy.

Participating in everyday American life; driving, watching TV or movies, eating out, all hold some guilt; if for no other reason than we acknowledge the “bottom line” of war. So, the theme for this meeting is happiness, mirth, unbridled joy. Remember it takes more muscles to frown than to smile.

schedule for the june 3, 2006, meeting:

  • 10:00       beginning meditation
  • 10:15       check in
  • 11:15       report from those who went to Hawai‘i
  • 11:45       meditation
  • noon      writing
  • 1:30         eating meditation [first 15 minutes in silence]
  • 2:15         reading [those who did not read last meeting first]
  • 3:30         walking meditation
  • 4:00         feedback to readings
  • 4:45         announcements, business
  • 4:50         ending meditation

s m i l e

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Does Writing Change Anything?
Fred Marchant

August 26, 2006

Dear Friends:

Yesterday I wrote up a sketch of what we might do in the way of writing at our next meeting, and as I often do, planned let it alone for a day before I sent it off to you. The topic was on courage, especially the new and surprising forms of courage our own quite troubled times are calling forth. But as the day passed into the evening, I became very glad I hadn’t sent that one off to you, as another topic started coming to mind with startling clarity, lovely timeliness, and bearing with it a kind of liberated feeling. So today, as I write this to you, I am not saying goodbye to courage, but I am shifting gears toward something I am guessing is already on (or soon will be) on all our minds.

The question I would like to pose to us all and have us write about at the next meeting is this:

Does writing change anything?

Some subdivisions of that question might be:

If so, what is changed?
If not, why not?
If so, how?
If so, how important are those changes, and how do we recognize them.

Now these are huge questions, with lots of corners and alcoves and grottoes in which one can ponder the individual way in which the overall question may touch or move or otherwise be meaningful to you. And of course I am sure there are scores of other related questions that might arise, and I would urge you to feel very free and associative as you ponder these. Let these questions take you where they may. Don’t feel obliged to answer all that come to mind, but feel free to hone in one or a few if you want. The main goal, however, is to come from our different angles at the basic question: Does writing change anything?

As a practical tip, perhaps there are stories to tell about how writing changed you or someone else. Perhaps also a certain writing changed something situation in the world, or did not. Tell those stories. On the other hand, maybe your imagination wanders in other directions, and you want to think about the exact ways in which written words live in our world or within you. Or you may want to reflect on what makes you write, or on what you believe writing should or should not do. As I say, I don’t pretend to exhaust the possibilities here. Please feel free to explore this question in the most rewarding ways you find, and that includes, of course, in either poetry or prose, or some combination of the two.

I would, however, like to tell you a little bit more about the origin of this question. Interestingly enough Ted Sexauer and I have had something of an ongoing dialogue about it, and that is what prompted my poem “ars poetica” of a few years ago, a poem I wrote with him in mind when he was a Witness for Peace in Baghdad. (It is a poem I think I distributed at an earlier meeting, but in any case, I will bring copies of it with me.) And of course we are all on the verge of shepherding a book of our writings into the world. This occasions all the natural anxieties associated with going public and being read by strangers. Our publication of this work has behind it, the fact that we all at one level or another have some tacit engagement with the question I have raised. To bring the question home to us, I could even imagine it being phrased in this way: Does our writing change anything? Will it? Has it already? What do we hope for with Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace? What do we know in our bones are the ways in which this book might change anything? Or putting it most bluntly, why are we publishing this work? These local questions might be doorways into the larger one I posed at the beginning of this letter. Does writing in general change anything?

Finally, in the past year PEN American Center in NYC, the national headquarters of that international organization, sponsored a panel of several well-known writers and asked each to address the questions I have posed to you. Their comments are published PEN America #7: World Voices. I will bring photocopies to our meeting, but for now I’d like to close with something that Salman Rushdie said in that symposium:

Tyrants fear the truth of books because it’s a truth that’s in hock to nobody. It’s a single artist’s unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it is incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book’s truth is slightly different in each reader’s inner world. These are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communion of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader’s imaginations. And the enemies of the imagination, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down and can’t. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have. But good books do have effects and some of these effects are powerful and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance. Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.

I look forward to seeing you all again on September 16, and wish you all the best of the end of the summer.


Fred Marchant

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Winter Retreat
Nancy Sue Brink

November 20, 2006

Dear Friends,

When Ted asked me if I would facilitate the December 2 retreat, I hesitated, then thought of a poem that led me to some questions, to an idea, and finally, led me to say yes.

Our December meeting feels for me like a special preparation for the dark time of the year. Whether it is a day of rain, or crisp, misty air, or unseasonable warmth, I take home with me a sense of communal light, of patience with darkness. Marg and Bill’s garden is pretty much done for the winter. Sometimes we’ve been without power. We are planning for the next year.

This year, as we approach our (almost) winter meeting, what comes to me are images of childhood winters in the northeast, where winter strips the landscape bare. Sometimes this stripping comes gently, gradually; sometimes it comes in violent storms and harsh winds. In any case, what is left behind are stark branches, fields emptied of all but stubble – undressed bones of a landscape. Wintertime is lean. The usual resources for nourishment lie dormant. There is death in winter – but also the hope of change, of rebirth.

This fall, I found myself stripped down by the deep and sudden loss of a love; my body resonates with the starkness of my childhood winters. I’ve found myself drawn to (and searching for) writings that give me clues about how to transform this raw state. Let me share with you a favorite poem of mine, Perhaps a Glimpse, by Lauren Rusk (from Pictures from a Firestorm, 2006,) which grows from a common winter image.

Perhaps a Glimpse

The way winter absolves the trees of foliage,
the way, especially at night, it picks out a denuded bush,
which in summer punctuated a stretch of lawn with common bloom,
and reveals that it too is a tree, the brief trunk
a braid of roots untwirling into reaches
of sinew and praise,

the way the spindly branches hold up like ornaments
a few brownpapery clusters of blossom,
each piled with snow, precarious–
but there’s no wind now–
reminds me of Gandhi, the bare limbs,

the shadow long uphill–his proposal
to be harmed but not fight back.

Even through the fear,
to resist: to love.

The sky falls slowly down in fragments
on a blasted flower’s head,

which Gandhi might cradle, observing how
lightly the snow traces the contour of its brow.

What strikes me each time I read the poem is the way the poet manages to leap from one concrete image to a second – which opens up and shifts our vision to larger, deeper realms. As disparate as the images seem, I can see Gandhi’s robes draped over those branches, I can feel the power of love in the cradling of the dead flower head. In this poem, winter not only strips us down, but also provides opportunity for a powerful, almost magical, transformation.

I would like to suggest that we frame our writing practice in December with these questions:

What happens when we’re stripped down to the essentials, without our usual protections and resources? What happens when we are left without pretense or cover, without anything that softens the bones of our reality?

How can we draw on the images of lean times and spare places to help us discover and share what we know about transformation?

And a possible exercise: Over the next week or so, observe the changing season. Try to bring with you – or discover in the Sebastopol landscape, or remember from another time and place – a concrete image to work with. It might be an object or a place or something completely unexpected. Look for "something that changes your breathing," as Lauren said when I asked her about writing the poem.

When you write on Saturday, look carefully at that image. Examine it, describe it fully, get to know it inside and out. Then allow yourself to see what else it might become, where else it might take you, what it might teach you. Make big leaps. Explore and play. Dig into your own knowledge, experience, and wisdom.

As usual, we will gather at Marg and Bill's (8915 Barnett Valley Road, Sebastopol, 707-829-6796.) Try to arrive by about 9:30, so that we can start at 10 a.m. with meditation. We'll spend the morning with a check-in and writing, the afternoon with sharing, walking meditation and feedback. For lunch, bring potluck vegetarian dishes to share. This is also our day to pick dates for the coming year, so check your calendars.

I look forward to seeing you on December 2. Have a peaceful Thanksgiving weekend.


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Hesitation Prompt
Fred Marchant

August 28, 2007

Dear Friends in the Veterans Writing Group:

In Book VI of Homer’s Iliad there is an incident that has always stayed with me. It occurs in the heat of a battle before the walls of Troy. Menelaos, the wronged Greek king, and husband of Helen, begins fighting with Adrestos, a Trojan, but a man who is also the son of one of Menelaos’ father’s oldest friends from way back, before there were any hostilities. Menelaos bests Adrestos, and the fallen man clutches the knees of the Greek conqueror, pleading for his life, and noting the old friendship between their forebears. Menelaos hesitates, and for a second contemplates letting Adrestos live. At that instant his brother Agamemnon, leader of the Greek armies, comes up and says in effect, “What are you waiting for? Kill him. Not even a child in the womb is to be spared.” Agamemnon pushes his hesitating brother out of the way and stabs Adrestos through the chest with a spear.

Let us flash forward to the first year of World War II. A young French philosopher named Simone Weil is writing an essay called “The Iliad or The Poem of Force.” In it she argues that the true subject of that epic is force itself. She defines force as anything that turns a person subjected to it into a thing. It is the exercise of force, she writes, that “is a spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us.” Weil’s also notes those who exercise superior force always forget that it will sooner or later pass to the opposing side. Somehow those who conquer always think god or the gods are on their side. Those who exercise superior force also think they deserve to win, and that there is no limit to what they can and should do. These observations surely reflect Weil’s response to the appalling rise of fascism in Europe in the thirties, and the first Nazi military victories of the war.

There is, however, another insight that Weil offers us, and it is the one I would like us to consider for our writing in the upcoming meeting. Here is the sentence that contains the thought; the italics in parentheses are mine, and are intended to help make the out-of-context sentence a little clearer.

“Since other people do not impose on their (the conquerors) movements that halt (a pause), that interval of hesitation, wherein lies all our consideration for our brothers in humanity, they conclude that destiny has given complete license to them.”

Ever since I read this sentence this past summer I have been pondering that part where she says a person’s halting, hesitating, pausing, and so on are valuable because they allow a consideration of our connections to other human beings. I literally love the way she describes that “interval of hesitation” wherein lies the space for an ethical path to be seen and chosen. I am reminded in a negative way of our President who, for example, says he never made a mistake. Who thinks it is good leadership that he never hesitated, never paused, never halted. It was his decisive, forceful, straight-ahead action drove us right to Baghdad. It seems now literally mindless, without thought of what this would mean to Iraqis, to American citizens, to our respective nations and their place in the world. It was the lack of a pause that has brought us to this terrible and bloody moment in our history as a people.

So I want to take a moment and praise hesitation. I want to write about pauses wherein one might have felt some consideration for our brothers and sisters in humanity. I don’t believe the old adage about “he who hesitates being lost”! In fact, I think it is how we might be saved. I think at their best pausing and hesitating can be signs of mindfulness, as Weil suggests. So perhaps you might want to write about such a pause or hesitation or halt you have experienced in your life. What do you think? Tell us about it? Was it a mindful pause? A helpful hesitation? Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe you might wish to argue for some other way of seeing hesitation. Perhaps too you might want to bring a favorite poem or other short piece of writing (multiple copies please) for reading aloud and sharing. The one that comes to my mind right away is William Stafford’s “Traveling through the Dark.” It’s a poem you can find easily online. Take a look at it. The climax it seems to me is a moment when a person hesitates, pauses, reflects about our connections.

See you soon. In peace,
Fred Marchant

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Walking Poem, or Prose Vignette
Phyllis Meshulam

Dear Vet-Writer Friends, new and old.

I am sending you the prompt that has been bubbling up in me for a while. But I also include this message from Maxine, aimed particularly at those who have been with us for a while: “I'd like to suggest an alternate writing assignment for them. (the veteran veterans) They could work on the ‘prompt’ that you give them, and/ or write something for the manual/handbook on How to have a veteran writers workshop. I'd like to get that manual/handbook going.”

In fact, it might be possible to do both at once. Read below to see what I mean.

In my readings, I have been struck lately with how some poems and examples of prose, too, have a contemplative, walking rhythm. In fact, on the Thistle and Shamrock last week I heard some walking songs from the Celtic tradition.

Rebecca Solnit in her book Wanderlust asserts that the mind travels at about the same speed as a human body while walking. Not as fast as driving or the internet. “Modern life is moving at a speed faster than thought or thoughtfulness.”

In our reading, writing, thinking, can we recapture that more organic pace? I’d like to share with you several examples. In some, the speaker is literally taking us along with him or her on their walk. In others, it is more just the sense of gradual unfolding or discovery. In either case, it seems to be a pace conducive to insight.

Enjoy the reading and then think of writing a poem or prose vignette, (or contemplation of how others might create a group that would provide the healing and creativity we have found in ours.) In any case, consider moving at the speed of walking. It can be a walk remembered, an exploration of your setting with your eyes, an amble through your thoughts, noticing things along the way, reminiscing, predicting, being open to insights. Do not rush yourself or the reader.


Old Walls
W.S. Merwin

When the year has turned on its mountain as the summer
        stars begin to grow faint and the wren wakes into

singing I am waiting among the loosening stones
        of the enclosure beyond the lower door of the far barn

the green stitchwort shines in the new light as though it
        were still spring and no footprint leads through it any longer

the one apple tree has not grown much in its corner
        the ivy has taken over the east wall toward the oak woods

and crept into the bird-cherry here I listened
        to the clack of the old man’s hoe hilling the potatoes

in his dry field below the ash trees and here I looked up
        into the quince flowers opening above the wall

and I wanted to be far away like the surface
        of a river I knew and here I watched the autumn light

and thought this was where I might choose to be buried
        here I struggled in the web and went on weaving it

with every turn and here I went on yielding
        too much credit to an alien claim and here I came

to myself in a winter fog with ice on the stones
        and I went out through the gap in the wall and it was done

and here I thought I saw myself as I had once been
        and I was certain that I was free of an old chain

He Entered the New Year in an Empty Train
Eduardo Galeano

        from Days and Nights of Love and War

Ariel left the home of a Chilean who had just died. He had died far from his own country.
The air would soon be gray, announcing the first day of 1976. Ariel was also far from his country and the coming daybreak in France would be meaningless to him. In Ariel’s country it was another time, Chilean time. Around the tables in Chile there were empty chairs and the survivors were raising their wine glasses and just beginning to celebrate the end of a lousy year.
Ariel Dorman walked, slowly, through the streets of this remote suburb.
He sank into the train station. He listened to the echo of his own footsteps and looked for some other human being in the empty train cars.
He found the only other passenger and sat down in front of him.
Out of his pocket Ariel pulled the novel The Clown and started to read.
The train departed and a few moments later the man said,
“I’d like to be a clown, “ looking at the black window.
Ariel did not look up from his book.
“Must be a sad profession,” he said.
“Yes,” he said, “but I am sad.”
Then they looked at one another.
“I am sad, you are sad,” Ariel said.
The man said that together they could make a fine pair of clowns and Ariel asked him where, at which circus.
“At any,” said the man. “At any circus in my country.”
“And which is your country?”
“Brazil,” the man said.
“Chucha! Then I can talk to you in Spanish!”
And they flew into a conversation about their lost lands as the train slid toward Paris.
“I am sad,” said the man, “because I want us to win, but in my heart I don’t think we will.”
Then they said goodbye, with raised fists.

Poem in October
Dylan Thomas

           It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbor wood
          And the mussel pooled and the heron
                    Priested shore
          The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
          Myself to set foot
                    That second
          In the still sleeping town and set forth.

          My birthday began with the water-
Birds and birds of the winged trees flying my name
          Above the farms and the white horses
                    And I rose
          In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.

High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
          Over the border
                    And the gates
          Of the town closed as the town awoke…

Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
          To the rain wringing
                    Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me…
          There could I marvel
                    My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

           It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
          Streamed again a wonder of summer
                    With apples
          Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
          Through the parables
                    Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels
          And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
          Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                    In the sun.
          It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood
                    O may my heart’s truth
                              Still be sung
                    On this high hill in a year’s turning.

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Hello, Writers
Phyllis Meshulam

Hello, writers.

I'm looking forward to seeing you one week from today.

Unless you are traveling by plane, bus or train to be
with us, do try to pack plates and and silverware so
that we don't have to use disposables.

And don't forget that making a commitment to spend the
whole day together greatly enhances everyone's
experience. Here is an approximate schedule:

9:30 Hellos and settling
10:00 Meditation
10:15 Brief check-in from each of us
11:15 Introduction to the writing
11:30 - 1:00 Writing in silence
1:00 Eating a potluck lunch, 1st half-hour in silence
2:00 Reading aloud and listening
3:00 Walking meditation
3:30 Responses to writing
4:30 Announcements
4:45 Meditation
5:00 Goodbyes


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Writing from Story
Clare Morris

You are story. I am story. We all flow in a river of stories. We live inside them, see through the windows of their perspectives, are often certain that they are true.

Some stories rise like great trees out of roots of human experience, and carry in their shape and language what all humans know to be “the way it is.” We can recognize ourselves reflected in the characters and events of these universal tales.

“Salmon Boy,” from the Northwest tribes of the United States, is just such a story. In its creatures and its movements, we can find situations that are familiar to us through all times, including the 21st century. It is a story about communication and the neglect of communication. It is about the consequences of taking relationships for granted. It is about conflict and what helps brokenness heal.

Salmon Boy
As told to Barry Holstun Lopez in River Notes, Andrews & McNeel, Inc., Kansas City, 1979, pages 74-75.

Before there were any people walking around this valley, there were Bear People. They had an agreement with the salmon. The salmon would come upriver every fall, and the bears would acknowledge this, and take what they needed. This is the way it was with everything.

Everyone lived by certain agreements and courtesies.

But the Salmon People and the Bear People had made no agreements with the river. It had been overlooked. No one thought it was even necessary. Well it was.

One fall, the river pulled itself back into the shore trees and wouldn't let the salmon enter from the ocean. Whenever they would try, the river would pull back and leave the salmon stranded on the beach. There was a long argument, a lot of talk. Finally, the river let the salmon enter. But when the salmon got up into this country, where the bears lived, the river began to run in two directions at once - north on one side, south on the other - roaring, heaving, white water, and rolling big boulders up on the banks.

Then the river was suddenly still. The salmon were afraid to move.

The bears were standing behind trees, looking out. The river said, in the middle of all this silence, that there had to be an agreement. No one could just do something, whatever they wanted. You couldn't just take someone for granted.

So for several days they spoke about it. The salmon said who they were and where they came from. The bears spoke about what they did, what powers they'd been given. And the river spoke about its agreement with the rain and the wind and the crayfish and so on.

Everybody said what they needed and what they would give away.

Then a very odd thing happened. The river said it loved the salmon.

No one had ever said anything like this before. No one had taken this chance. It was an honesty that pleased everyone. It made for a very deep agreement among them. They were able to reach an understanding about their obligations to each other, and everyone went their way.

This remains unchanged. Time has nothing to do with this. When you feel the river shuddering against your legs, you are feeling the presence of all these agreements.

A Writing Process for Salmon Boy

I use writing and story in my work as a psychotherapist. From my point of view, all of the characters and events in the story are like parts of our inner life. Any of us could then say, I am like the salmon, the river, the bear people, the trees, the white water, the agreements. Each part of the story has its own voice. Each part can speak with us through our pen.

Try it. Choose a part—the one that has most energy for you. Then talk to it. Listen to it. Let a dialogue unfold. Read it aloud. Write some more. Read it again.

Be sure the voice that you call "I" begins and ends the exchange. That way, you'll remember that you are not only the part you're talking with, but you are also all the parts in the story - and much more.

Be experimental. Put the pen you use for your own voice, the one you call "I", in the hand with which you usually write. Now put a second pen in the hand you never use for writing, and let it write whatever words come from the part with which you are dialoging. You might feel awkward, and the writing from the untrained hand may look like a kindergartner's. Don't worry. Keep going.

You can also write your own version of the whole story. How is it like one of your own memories? When have you left out, or taken for granted, a significant dimension of your life? For example many people neglect, or aren't even aware of, the body's needs. Is this true for you? If not, what else might be unappreciated? What happens when a part of yourself is excluded? - apparent draught? - white water running in opposite directions?

You might want to write the story of Salmon Boy from different points of view. Imagine into how the trees would tell it. What might be the river's tale, as the other creatures use it, take from it? What is the voice of draught? White water? How might each character play a role in the drama of your life?

What about "agreements"? What does the word evoke in your experience? What memory stories do you have of agreements made, unmade - or not even thought about? When have you known the healing power of the many ways of saying "I love you"?


We used Salmon Boy for a prompt in the veterans writing circle one Saturday. As I sat in the presence of the story, and the people around me, a memory came. In it, I experienced a strong connection with water, moss, a redwood forest and a spider. I think of the event often, and feel gratitude for its simple drama. I decided that the memory wanted to inhabit a few words, as a response to the story of Salmon Boy.

Afternoon, by Curly Creek

I leave the harbor village and tourists
thumping wooden sidewalks. I leave the stalls
of prints for sale, images of what can't be caught.
I leave the smell of crab, shrimp, coffee, tobacco.

I walk into redwoods and quiet. I walk into alone
along the banks of Curly Creek, and listen
to its water speech, story-telling as it flows.

I hear it tell of springs, trickles, drips and seeps,
of rain, drought, floods and falls, of where it has been
sprayed, sprinkled, spat, bled. It sings of giving
to all who thirst.

How long I stop I do not know. Time vanishes.
We become forever, Curly Creek and I, here, now,
next to a redwood tree. What the water tells rides
my breath, travels my blood. What it knows, I know too.

Shadows bridge the banks as time returns. I must go,
they say, down to the sea before dark. I move slow,
unfold my body piece by piece. Then I see
a single strand, silk in the afternoon sun. A spider
has spun itself from the redwood tree to my shoulder,
presuming I would be still, could be trusted.
As I rise, the swaying thread lets go, floats free.
I turn toward home, taking with me the water's flow
that does not cease, the shining thread that does not break.

One Drama — Infinite Variations

Pay attention to the different ways stories come to meet you. They appear in dreams at any time of day or night. They tantalize in snippets of conversation overheard. They are written on faces, told in body language, heard in all sound and voice.

Everyone and everything tells its own tale. We are as one world, circled around a campfire, telling who we are and how we live our being, our sacred being.

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Letter from Ghana
Miki Kashtan

May 17, 2008

Dear Writers,
I am writing this invitation from Ghana, where I have been since Monday and will be for another week as part of my work. I have been on the road since April 24, coming home on May 28. It’s hard to imagine, while here, that three days later, on May 31, I will be together with all of you in Sebastopol.

As I have been reflecting on our time together, this poem by Dawna Markova kept coming to mind.

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
Of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me,
To make me less afraid,
More accessible,
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing,
A torch, a promise

I choose to risk my significance;
To live so that which
Came to me as seed
Goes to the next as blossom
And that which
Came to me as blossom,
Goes on as fruit.

- Dawna Markova

How do we overcome fear? What allows us to choose life? How do we turn not only the seeds of transformation, but all of what we have experienced into blossom? What helps us risk our significance?

The mystery of the day will unfold in its own rhythm, as always, with the following schedule to guide us:

9:30 Kitchen chats, morning munchies, hugs
10:00 Meditation
10:15 Brief check-ins
11:30 Writing in community
1:00 Lunch (potluck)
2:00 Sharing our writing
3:30 Walking meditation
4:00 Feedback or more reading
4:30 Announcements
4:50 Meditation
5:00 Goodbye

with love,

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Letter from Maui
Maxine Hong Kingston

February 15, 2005

Dear Veteran Writers:

Here I am writing to you from the aloha-filled home of Therese Fitzgerald and Arnie Kotler, who helped us begin our sangha almost eleven years ago. Today, they showed me how to dive into the ocean, stay under, and listen for the sounds of the whales. I kept popping up without hearing them, but did see them —a row of water spouts along the horizon.

I am reminded of the discipline we must practice to live life truly. On March 12th, I want to teach again the basic principles of writing and meditation. As we Veteran Writers and Writer Veterans have become comfortable with our meetings and with one another, we have relaxed and forgotten to be rigorous with each and every event that takes place during our day. A day together is seven hours long:

10:00 Beginning meditation
10:15 “Checking in” - Introducing ourselves
11:15 Teaching
11:45 Meditation 15
12:00 Writing
1:30 Eating meditation
2:15 Reading and listening
3:30 Walking meditation 30
4:00 Responding, Mindful speech
4:45 Announcements, business
4:50 End-of-day meditation

Please notice that the day is made up of rhythms of silence and speech. We have an experience, and then time to live with that experience by oneself, then with others. We express ourselves, and we listen to others. We tell our troubles, dive deeply, and by day's end may hear the whales sing. The day culminates with the sangha in harmony. If we arrive late, if we leave early, we deprive the group of the benefits of our presence. We need to dedicate the entire day to one another, to sing, and to listen to others sing.

Arnie Kotler is re-entering publishing, and invites us to submit our anthology of veterans’ writings. Let’s concentrate on putting together a clean manuscript. Everyone, including those who’ve already sent me their work, please make a hard copy of the writings you want in the anthology. Give me a story or poem or essay from your early writing, and a piece of your latest writing. That way, readers can see your progress. And write a biographical note, about a paragraph long. Double space everything. What an important contribution this book will make in this terrible war time.

Aloha! Maxine

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Texas Veterans Writing Sangha
Doug Zachary

Dear Ones,

On June 7, 2008, Mike Wong (featured in the film Sir, No Sir!) will come to Austin to aid Austin VFP in conducting the inaugural session of the Texas Veterans Writing Sangha. Fifteen years ago, Maxine Hong Kingston began an experimental writing group for veterans based on the Zen Buddhist teachings and meditative practices of Thich Nhat Hahn, that would lead to Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace (www.vowvop.org) and to the truly remarkable healing experiences of scores of military veterans and their allies in the Peace Movement. Here in Central Texas, we are close to Fort Hood and there are literally thousands of soldiers who have served in the Occupation of Iraq.

Mike Wong was a 1st Lt. in his High School ROTC and later a U.S. Army soldier who, after learning of the massacre at My Lai village in Viet Nam and the lies and manipulation of the U.S. government in creating and waging the war, deserted to Canada where he “was a member of a hippie counterculture community known as Rochdale College ... We were a world unto ourselves, with our own government, a free medical clinic, a movie theater, a library, a health food restaurant, a store, a dance studio, and a host of other features of a community.” During the first Gulf War, he was a GI Hotline counselor and joined a veterans antiwar group that would evolve into the San Francisco chapter of Veterans for Peace.

Mike will lead the meditation and teach us the writing and deep listening skills required to provide a safe environment for veterans' and others who have experienced extreme violence in their lives. Veterans who are heard in this way are able to tell the stores that they have suppressed for years, thereby beginning the healing process. Military veterans will have the first priority, but please do not hesitate to join us if you have not served in the military. The original sangha includes combat veterans, medics, and others who served in war; gang members, drug users, and victims of domestic violence; draft resisters, deserters, and peace activists.

The Texas sangha will be the first, we hope, among many such sanghas across the country. All military veterans and their allies are welcome to participate in the sangha. Please call Doug Zachary at 512/581-0372 or Cell 791-9824 or email him at dbzvfp@gmail.com to reserve a spot.

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Fred Marchant

Our Meeting on Sunday, September 21, 2008. Beginning at 9:30, ending at 4:30. William Stafford will be with us at least in spirit in our upcoming meeting. I have a poem of his in mind, one that raises matters that might prompt us in our meditations and writings.

Thinking for Berky

In the late night listening from bed<
I have joined the ambulance or the patrol<
screaming toward some drama, the kind of end<
that Berky must have some day, if she isn’t dead.

The wildest of all, her father and mother cruel,
farming out there beyond the old stone quarry
where highschool lovers parked their lurching cars,
Berky learned to love in that dark school.
Early her face was turned away from home
toward any hardworking place; but still her soul,
with terrible things to do, was alive, looking out
for the rescue that—surely some day—would have to come.
Windiest nights, Berky, I have thought for you

and no matter how lucky I’ve been I’ve touched wood.
There are things not solved in our town though tomorrow came:
there are things time passing can never make true.

We live in an occupied country, misunderstood;
justice will take us millions of intricate moves.
Sirens will hunt down Berky, you survivors in your beds
listening through the night, so far and good.

From Traveling through the Dark, 1962, and in The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1999).

Responses and Reflections. This poem makes me think of the following sorts of questions that might prompt some writing, either in prose or poetry:

a. A Lost But Significant Other. Think back to someone in your past, not necessarily someone you were close to, but someone you cared about, perhaps from afar as in this poem. Think back to someone who never seemed to have a chance, someone who seemed to be fated for trouble, someone against whom the cards seemed stacked. What did happen to that person? When and why do you think of that person now? What thoughts and feelings does that memory prompt in you? Tell the story of that other person, and why he or she is important enough to you to still resonate in your memory.

b. Occupied Countries and Intricate Moves. The memory and anxiety about Berky in this poem prompts Stafford to say that we live in an occupied country and that justice will take millions of intricate moves. I wonder how those ideas resonate for you in our present tense lives. Do we live in an occupied country? How can justice exist in and among us? What are the “moves” that are required of us? Are they millions or more? Or fewer? Are they intricate or simple? Tell a story from your own life about the time or times justice made its presence felt and known.

c. Other Trails, Happy or Not. I think this Stafford poem might prompt you to write in ways not addressed by any of the categories I propose. If so, by all means take this opportunity to follow the trail wherever it leads.

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Spring Equinox Veterans Meeting 2009
Joanne Palamountain and Earll Kingston

Dear friends,

Our next meeting is two weeks away, on March 21. I know that some people will have a conflict with the peace demonstrations going on that day. Follow your best lights. We have two, count them, two, dynamite facilitators in Joanne Palamountain and Earll Kingston. Personally, I'll be at the Writers' Group soaking up that wisdom and erudition. Here is the prompt.

Ted S.


Spring Equinox Veterans Meeting 2009

Spring invites us to look around, to see (and listen and smell), to observe the new being born. But this time, we're going somewhere else. Maxine tells her students at Cal that fiction is a compassionate form because it causes us to get out of ourselves, to see the other. Let's do that, and in this way: Look at other people, see them, bring them to life on the page.

Populations of characters tumbled out of Shakespeare's magic box. Let's try for one (or two). Today we listen to the voices of our fellows. Breathe them and their stories in. Yesterday we did the same, and tomorrow we will too. Let's turn our experience of others into words, get out of ourselves as Spring invites us out of doors. Get someone else into your poem, your dream, your vision. Any form or combination is fine. (But nature people may not cheat, a la "Ms. Owl" or "Mr. Tomato Plant.")

  • 10:00 Meditation Check In
  • 11:30 Writing Prompt
  • 11:45 Meditation Write
  • 1:15 Lunch 2:00 Reading
  • 3:30 Walking meditation
  • 4:00 Feedback
  • 5:00 Announcements
  • 5:20 Meditation
  • 5:30 Put space back in order, and say goodbye.

REGULATIONS 1 Calitornia, riding through Chinatown

At the Powell stop, doors bump open.
Thirty people wait to squeeze inside.
An Asian woman climbs on first,
carrying groceries and a live chicken.
"Lady, you can't bring that bird on the bus."
"My dinner."
"Fine, but you can't get on with that chicken."
"My dinner."
"You have to get off - now."
He stands up.
She backs down the stairs.
She swings the chicken at a lamp post.
She's still first in line.
She climbs on again,
chicken limp over one arm.
"OK now?"

                               - Clare Morris

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Two announcements 1. from Gary Gach,

Attached herewith is a poster for the upcoming Mutanabbi Street reading which marks the 2nd anniversary of the Mutanabbi Street Bombing in Baghdad, Iraq. We don't want the world to forget this tragic event and we want to share the poems and essays written by Iraqi and American poets and writers on March 11, 2009 at the Great Overland Bookstore in San Francisco at 7:30 pm. We are featuring the work of Iraqi poets and writers whose work has been translated into English and will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Mutanabbi Street Starts Here (Red Hen Press, October, 2009).

Poems and Essays by Iraqi poets and writers will be read by:

  • Deema Shehabi
  • Hayan Charara
  • Beau Beausoleil
  • Esther Kamkar
  • Summer Brenner
  • Persis Karim

and other friends . . . Please join us for evening of remembrance! See attached poster and please pass it on!

". . . Don't live in the world as if you were renting or here only for the summer, but act as if it was your father's house. . ..Believe in seeds, earth, and the sea, but people above all. Love clouds, machines, and books, but people above all." Nazim Hikmet, 20th century Turkish poet

Persis M. Karim, Ph.D. ([email])
English Dept., San Jose State University/1 Washington Square
San Jose, CA 95192/[phone number]

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IVAW Winter Soldier event
Subject: IVAW Winter Soldier Berkeley

Testimony from veterans of the Global War on Terrorism of theirexperiences from within the military.

Date: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Time: 6:00pm - 9:00pm

Location: UC Berkeley, 150 Goldman School of Public Policy (GSPP)

The GSPP is at Hearst and LeRoy along the north edge of the campus, one block up from Euclid, and right next the parking garage, in grid A5 on the attached map.


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The Conscience Prompt
Fred Marchant Sept. 12, 200

Some Background Questions and Thoughts

What is conscience? How do we know it or get to know it? What does it mean to live or act according to one’s conscience? Why should we trust it? What is a “good” conscience? Is conscience the supreme example of the sacredness of the individual? Or is conscience somehow connected to our relations with others? What are some acts of conscience you know of, in your life, in the lives of others close to you? What do these acts tell us about the nature of this that we call conscience?

These are some of the many questions I have about this word that has been with me all my life, and yet still remains a source of strength and an ongoing puzzle. So I’d like to propose we meet to write, to discover, to forge and try to say what we can about conscience.

Prominent in my mind these days is the possibility that conscience is more than an individual matter. As the structure and etymology of the word suggests, maybe it is con-science, a “knowing with.” To me this suggests that conscience might be an ongoing effort, process of trying to be in right relation with one another, with the world around us, and with ourselves.

How does one know what those right relations are? Well, I suspect they are perhaps there to be discovered via careful, sustained attention and response to ourselves and others around us.

Our writing might be thought of as exploring such ideas and questions as I have listed above. The writing as always could come in the form of poetry or prose. Our goal instead will be to extend the horizons of our thoughts and feelings about the given topic topic. If anyone would like a more specific prompt, I offer the following: think of this writing as an examination of some aspect of conscience. Maybe tell a story of when you felt it stirring? Maybe recount how you began to listen to it? Maybe tell us what it says, or sings to you? Maybe tell us how it feels to have a conscience, or—and this is just as human and valuable as anything else, a time when conscience was abandoned, forgotten, or neglected and in need of rebuilding.

II. The Day’s Plan

We will meet at Marg and Bill’s at 9 a.m., and work until 5 p.m. in our usual manner. If anyone has a particularly favorite text on the subject and would like to bring it for discussion and/or distribution, please do so. I will do the same. Along with this letter there should also be a two page poem of mine from The Looking House. Perhaps a line or two of it might prompt or other wise help. See you soon.

Yours, in the work of peace,

Fred Marchant

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The Salt Stronger

I have seen the legislators
on their way,
the jacketless men
in mid-winter who will cast
their votes like stones for this war.
Men who have to cross the street
through slush
and over gutter, their cuffs
now vaguely blued with a salt
that dries in dots where it splashes,
and mingles with the finely
woven cloth
of the chalk-stripe suits,
the soi-disant practical men,
you can see them now tiptoeing,
now leaping, balletic, windsor-knotted,
and shaved,
they pass, they pass
the window of the Capitol Deli
wherein I am writing to my friend
in Baghdad,
he a “witness for peace,”
a poet who for years has wondered
what good poetry is or has been or does.
I compose today’s answer from here,
I think of poetry
as a salt dug from a foreign mine
that arrives like a miracle in Boston
as pellets to break underfoot
and melt
the dangerous plated ice
and cling to the acknowledged lawmakers,
to stay with them in their dreams,
(over, new stanza)
to eat at the cloth and reach down
to the skin
and beyond the calf
into the shin. I think the soul
is equivalent to bone, and that conscience
must hide in the marrow,
float in the rich fluids
and wander the honeycomb at the center.
There, and not in the brain,
or even the heart is where
the words attach, where they land
and settle,
take root after the long
passage through the body’s by-ways.
Just think, I write, of how some poetry rolls
off the tongue, then try to see the tongue
in the case
that faces me, a curious,
thick extension of cow-flesh
fresh from a butcher’s block, grainy and flush.
I think that if my tongue alone could talk
it would swear
in any court that poetry
tastes like the iodine in blood,
or the copper in spit, and makes a salt stronger than tears.

--Fred Marchant, The Looking House, Graywolf Press, June 2009

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Love Letter to My Enemy
Tom Harriman


As Maxine is a tough act to follow and I am a FNG (new guy), please bear with my ideas for our June 4th meeting. Of course, we will heed Maxine’s call at the last group to follow the basic principles of writing and meditation, and so I urge you all to arrive before 10 a.m. to give you a chance to put away your vegetarian contribution to the lunch potluck and begin decompressing from the beautiful drive to Bill and Marg’s. Plan to arrive early to park and greet each other, and then plan to stay until the end of the day at 5 p.m. Let us remember to maintain silence in our writing, the first part of our meal, and our walking meditation.

Maxine has impressed on us all the importance of compassionate listening, which to verbal people like me is a challenge to shut my mouth and truly hear what others are saying, and trying to say. My challenge to you comes from Creating True Peace, by the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, from the chapter "Peace Begins With Us: Taking Your Practice Into the World."

"Writing a Love Letter: People often think, If only I had a chance to express my frustration and pain, I would feel better. Yet many of us have tried this in the past, and it has not helped. We have vented our frustration and anger, our pain and our complaints many times, and still we feel unsatisfied. There is a better alternative.

"When you have practiced transforming your own inner pain, you can begin to learn how to express yourself in a way in which the other person can listen, so that he or she can really hear what you have to say. If we only insult or condemn, our speech will be of no use. With mindfulness, we practice to be honest and to be skillful at the same time. Many people are capable of writing a letter of protest, a letter of dissatisfaction or a complaint, but not many of us are capable of writing a love letter. Expressing yourself with love is an art."

My idea is to write a love letter, be it to your enemy or some one you love. It could be a poem or an entreaty to an enemy. Let your love show through. Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say that if you act with the Mind of Love, "Your letter will reflect your calm, your clarity, and your compassion, and the other person will receive what you want to say."

I look forward to sharing your compassion and listening to you on June 4th.

Tom Harriman

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The Crescent Moon Bear
by Clare Morris, based on a telling by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

For December 5, 2009

Dear Writers,

As winter approaches and the nights grow long and cold, many of us experience memories and feelings we had easily pushed aside in summer’s warmth and sun. What angers and sorrows do we carry as a counterpoint to December’s season of festival and rebirth?? How can we wisely work with what we feel?

In response to these questions, I want to tell you a story. It is an old tale, which, like all stories, we can assume describes happenings within us, as well as around us. All the persons, animals, objects, landscapes, weathers and situations are parts of ourselves. Read the following story with that perspective.


Based on a telling by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

There was once a beautiful young woman who lived in a little house surrounded by a fragrant pine forest. She and her new husband built it before their marriage, and moved into it after their honeymoon.

While they were still newlyweds, her kind and gentle husband was called to fight a war in a far off land. He was gone for several years.

One day, she heard he would soon return. She rejoiced, and immediately began to cook for him. She filled her cupboards and cellar with every one of his favorite foods. While she chopped and stirred and baked, she imagined what their meals would be like together, and their long delicious moments of intimacy. It would be a second honeymoon.

Every day she went to the brow of a nearby hill, where she could see the the curving road through the forest. She would wait there for a while, hoping to catch the first glimpse of her beloved.

After many weeks of looking, cooking, waiting and hoping, she saw him. How slowly he walked. How bent. He limped, as though in great pain. His clothes were in shreds, his shoes only rags and rope. He was covered with mud and dried blood.

She ran toward him on the road, her heart beating a welcome. Oh how she had waited for this day. She opened her arms to embrace him, but he lunged toward her, pushing her away.

"Get away from me!" he shouted. "All I want is to be left alone!"

Dazed, confused, she could do nothing but turn away and walk toward their home. When she reached it, she called out to him, "Come inside, sit by the fire, eat some hot food, drink a fine wine, sleep in a warm bed!"

"No!" he answered. "My home is in this forest. I will sleep on branches and stones, eat grubs and squirrels, berries and roots."

In the days and nights that followed, his raving and wailing could be heard through the forest, the sky above it and the hills all around it.

Day after day, his wife would bring trays and boxes of aromatic food and drink for him. Gently, without intruding, she would kneel near wherever she found him, and lift the lids of the plates and bowls to show him what she had prepared. Again and again, he would spring to his feet and kick at the feast, spilling, ruining, stomping on the fresh bread, eggs, meat, pie, milk, fruit–whatever she had laid before him.

"Let me be!" he would shout. Then he began to shake his fists at her, and finally, one day, he brandished a rusty knife, and brought it close to her face.

Her fear grew to terror, and she stopped coming to feed him. Instead, she found her way to the cave of a healer who lived not far away. He was a good man of many years, and could be trusted.

She told him her story.

The healer saw how distraught she was, and felt compassion for her. He said, "I can help you, my daughter. But I need you to do something for me. You see, I am completely out of a special ingredient for the remedy. It’s a small thing, but I must have it.

"Of course, anything!" she said.

I need a hair from the crescent moon bear. So, would you be so good as to climb the mountain to the east, find this hermit of a black bear, and pluck a hair from the white, crescent moon patch of hair at his throat? Then you will have what you need."

Now some women would have drawn back from such a request, some would have thought it was impossible, or too dangerous. Not this woman. She was, above all, a woman who loved. So she said, "Now I know that something can be done, that I can help. I will do it!"

She went home, made a few preparations for her journey, and set out at dawn the next day for the mountain in the east. As she walked and climbed, walked and climbed, she sang to the earth, as was the custom of her people: "Thank you for letting me walk and climb upon your body."

Her ascent was difficult. She encountered boulders she had to crawl over, thorny thickets that tore at her clothes and skin, and trees with long tangled moss. Still, she climbed and sang her thanks to whatever crossed her path.

Once, clouds of dark birds flew at her. She knew they were souls of the dead who had no one to remember them, so she sang for their rest and peace, as she went.

She climbed so high that she came to the mountain’s snowy peaks. A storm gathered there, and snow and sleet fell in great swirls of icy needles that blew straight into her face and deep down into her ears. She was almost frozen, and could barely feel her feet. But she went on, singing to the storm as she inched her way forward. Truly, she was a woman who loved.

She found a cave, pulled herself in, rolled in a blanket she carried on her back and slept.

In a few hours, morning sun awakened her. She sang her thanks and turned her attention to finding the crescent moon bear.

She searched all day through the snow fields, and near dusk found thick cords of scat, as well as deep, enormous paw prints. Then she looked up and saw a gigantic black bear lumber over a pile of rocks. The crescent moon bear roared, scented the air, and disappeared into his cave-den in the mountainside.

She took the bundle from her back, found a bowl in it, measured out some of the food she had brought, and carried the bowl up the mountain to the bear’s den. Then she set the bowl down near the entrance, and ran as fast as she could to a boulder far enough away to be safe, and near enough to the den so she could watch.

The bear smelled the food, came lurching out of his cave and roared so loud that icicles and cornices on the frozen mountainside came tumbling down. He circled the food, scented the air several times, and ate it all in one gulp. Then he reared up on his hind legs, stretched, and returned to his den.

This feeding went on for many evenings, and each time the woman came a little closer to the den. Then one evening, she felt brave enough to stand right by the cave’s opening.

As usual, the bear lumbered out, lured by the food smell, but this time, he saw a human woman standing by the bowl. He reared up and roared so loud it made the mountainside and the woman’s bones hum.

Bus she didn’t move. The bear roared and roared again, opening his huge mouth so wide she could see his teeth and tongue and ribbed mouth roof–a mouth big enough for her whole kitchen to be put inside it. She shook and shook at the sight, but did not move.

Then the bear reared up and circled her head with his forepaws. Their claws hung like knives close to her scalp. She trembled, but did not move away from the magnificent animal.

"Oh please dear bear," she called in a voice like singing. "I have come all this way because I need a cure for my husband." Then she told him her story.

The bear brought his paws to earth with a mighty thud, spraying snow over her entire body. He looked straight into her determined eyes. For a moment, the woman thought she could see entire mountain ranges, rivers, forests, skies and clouds in the bear’s ancient gaze. She felt a deep peace being near this immense creature.

"Please, dear bear. I have been feeding you these many nights. Would you grant me the gift of a single hair from the crescent moon at your throat?"

The bear paused and thought. She would be easy food all right, but he felt a wave of sadness for her. "It is true," he said very slowly, not moving his claws away from the hairs on her head, "You have been good to me. You may have one of my hairs. But take it quickly, then leave and return to your own."

The bear raised his great snout, so that the crescent moon on his throat showed, and the woman could see the bear’s heart pulsing there. She put one hand on his neck and with the other pulled out a single white glossy hair. She pulled it quickly. The bear roared, as though wounded.

"Thank you, thank you," she cried. The bear roared again, and took a step toward her, growling in a language she had somehow known all her life. She turned and ran down the mountainside as fast as she could. She ran through snow fields and sang to them. She ran through the tangled trees, the thorny thickets, over the great boulders, and sang to everyone and everything.

She ran to the cave where the healer waited. "Look–look–I found it, I have it!"

"Ah, yes–I see!" And he held the hair to the light, measured it with his finger and declared, "Indeed, this is a hair from the crescent moon bear." Then he threw the hair into his fire, where it popped, crackled and exploded into an orange flame.

"No! What have you done?"

"All is well, my daughter," he said. "Remember each step you took to climb the mountain, each move you made to capture the trust of the crescent moon bear, what you saw, what you heard, what you felt?"

"I remember it well," she said.

"Go home now with your experience and understandings. Proceed in the same way with your husband. Slowly, very slowly, healing will sprout, grow and bloom between you. Wounds may be life-long, but healing is always available to you.

You have learned how to stand before your own wild and roaring rage–all that you held inside after your husband returned. What you have done for yourself, you have done for the relationship."


The story offers a way to integrate the energy of any difficult feeling.

  • - Realize the need to regard the feeling as a teacher.
  • - Ask a wise someone, or a wise healer within you, for help.
  • - Take with you provisions for the journey (food, warmth, light)
  • - Climb the mountain, through writing, painting, (any art form) walking, reflecting, offering gratitude for the privilege of walking on the mountain’s earth.
  • - As you climb, meet each difficulty as best you can, remembering each apparent obstacle is a way of knowing that is needed for the journey. Sing to whatever comes across your path.
  • - When you have a chance to earn the trust of your crescent moon bear, slowly learn to relate to it. Look into its eyes. Be seen by it.
  • - Take what you learn down the mountain, make it practical, apply it.


As always during our writing days, do what you need to do, write what you need to write.

Our schedule will be as usual:

  • 9:30 Arrival
  • 10:00 Opening meditation and checkin
  • 11:15 Writing prompt review
  • 11:30 - 1:00 Writing
  • 1:00 Vegetarian potluck (1st half hour in silence)
  • 2:00 Readings
  • 3:30 Walking meditation
  • 4:00 Responses to writings
  • 4:40 Closing meditation and announcements
  • Joy and I are looking forward to being with you–
  • Clare Morris and Joy (wag-wag-wag)

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The Current That Brought Us Here
by Nancy Brink

May 16, 2010

Dear friends,

As I started to think about the writing prompt for our Saturday, June 12, meeting, I was handed an unexpected gift. After a perfect day on the North Fork of the American River, I was sitting on a hillside watching clouds form, vultures soar, and hawks circle (you know me, can't take my eyes off the birds!). My kayak buddy, Steve (the "fine teacher" of the kayak lesson poem that sprung out of the March meeting, those of you who were there might remember,) began to explain the winds in the valley, how and why they change direction, how cumulus clouds form and break apart. I was enchanted. Although I had heard explanations before, I had never heard it like that. I could see it. Currents in air took on form and life that I had never experienced.

I thought about being at Marg and Bill's home -the broad valley, the eucalyptus grove, the distant hills, the hawks and vultures and birds that always seem to join us (and often seem to fly into my poems, no matter how hard I try!) I could take what my fine friend had shown me in the Sierra foothills and transpose it to our valley.

Then I started thinking about the currents that have brought us all to Marg and Bill's, how they resemble the currents in air, the currents in water (which I had been learning about all day on the river - reasonably successfully, I guess, since we didn't end up upside down in the river.) How they swirl, change, come together, move apart, cross and create disturbance and power and waves.

So my suggestion is today, look more closely at the currents that move in the valley, examine them as you look off the back deck, feel them as our walking meditation moves out of the eucalyptus grove. Feel the breeze rustling grasses as it goes one way or the other along the hill. Let this extraordinary natural phenomenon be a springboard for playing in our writing with currents in our lives that have led us to one another, to Marg and Bill's, to the stories and poems that we share during our exquisite days together.

I have permission to share with you Steve's story of air, wind, and clouds, which he kindly wrote down for me when I was trying to remember the names of the upstream and downstream winds. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Take a few minutes now and again when you're standing outside on Saturday to feel and "see" the currents in the air:

The upstream wind caused by solar convection is Anabatic flow.

Catabatic wind is the evening/afternoon subsidence.

Both can be valley winds.

Picture air wanting to rise directly but managing only to trickle uphill, clinging until it reaches a cliff, or a hilltop. Or maybe the trickle is sucked towards a patch of dark rock baking in the sun.

A continuous stream of super-buoyant air makes the break. If the air is humid enough, a cauliflower cloud appears as the air mass cools to dew point. The cloud grows. Along with its thermal umbilical cord, it tilts in the prevailing wind. That wind meets the cloud and the thermal, swirling around and over them as if they were a rooted tree. Finally, the cloud's tether stretches too thin; the thermal breaks and the cloud becomes flotsam, slowly disintegrating (or maybe not depending on other factors.)

Back on the ground, maybe there is a little protected hollow. As the day matures the air puddle slowly warms until it reaches critical mass. The whole bubble lifts off, pulling air from every direction, but mostly from downhill. It's gusty midday in the mountains, isn't it? The bubble is depleted for now, but it's early enough to pulse again and again.

Late in the afternoon some of the dark rocks lose direct sunshine and stop producing their energetic, sharp-edged plumes. Meanwhile, the forests have slowly heated. The trees don't get very hot in the sun, but as the ambient air cools, the trees also reach criticality, and bleed off their heat: much slower than the rocks, but more continuously. The uphill wind is still strong, but it's steadier for awhile, as the forests slowly deplete themselves. The heating stops, but it takes awhile for the upward, westward moving mass to lose its momentum. Finally it does. Hotter topography averages out the cooler, but locally the winds are light and variable due to differences.

The slack tide is a prelude to its change. The momentum of all that hot air lofted high in the sky made a hump in the atmosphere. The hot plumes mixed and yielded their heat into the atmospheric ocean. Convection stops, and gravity levels the hump. More air moves down now than up, and if global wind patterns don't oppose it too much, a gentle downward breeze materializes. The coldest, heaviest air finds its way to the most direct, unobstructed routes downward. Maybe we're lucky enough to be sleeping there with water and air in harmony. Eventually the big bump in the sky flattens. The air is still: all the better for hearing a slight murmur from the stream.

- courtesy of Steve Rock


As usual, the prompt is there to use or not, as you need. As for the day, try to arrive early enough to settle in and be ready to come together at 10 am for meditation and check-in. The day will follow the usual order, with the usual approximate times:

9:30 Arrive and settle in

10:00 Meditation and check in

11:15 writing prompt

11:30 Meditation, and time to write, in silence...

1:15 Lunch (Potluck, vegetarian, and always incredibly delicious; the first half of lunch is in silence)

2:00 Sharing of the day's writings

3:30 or so, Walking meditation (in the eucalyptus grove or inside)

4:15 Sharing of thoughts, reactions, and feedback to other's writings

5:00 Announcements

5:20 Meditation

5:30 Put things back in order in the space, help clean up, and take the extraordinary energy of the day back out into the world.

In peace and anticipation, Nancy




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