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South Dakota Poet Laureate? Not Right Now, Thanks.
"An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position."
Don't just click "like" about some political story you read.
Pick up the phone or write a letter and make a difference.
Ah! The Bathtub.
A brass hook on a nearby wall to hold my robe or a towel.
A removable wire basket stretches across the tub to hold my soap and sponges.
Valentine's Day candy hearts and old-fashioned cards.
All of these Valentine’s Day cards are from a scrapbook collection kept by my mother. The one just above is signed “From Stella, Feb 14, 1923. Eighth Grade.”
Now on Facebook.
If you Like me on this Facebook page you'll get notifications of my newly-posted blogs as well as announcements about my books, writing retreats, and other events to do with Windbreak House.
No kitten videos, but I post Tuesday Writing Tips, Wednesday Word Posts, and various other writing-related stories, announcements, book reviews, photos and the occasional joke.
Between Urban and Wild
Read about the author of this book in the September 15th blog.
Summer Basil, Winter Pesto
Read about Linda's basil harvest and how she saves it for winter in her September 10th blog.
Winter's Not Over Yet.
Want to know more about this critter?
See the Gallimaufry Page
for more photos and some odds and ends that don't fit anywhere else on this website.
More Stories and Essays by Linda
may be found on this website.
* Home Page Message archives
Many of these essays have writing advice. All have photos, some have recipes, a few have poems.
* Poetry Page essays
Read suggestions for writing and performing poetry and the stories behind some of Linda's poems.
* Critter Stories
Brief stories and photos of birds and wildlife seen on Linda's ranch may be found on this page.
* Gallimaufry Page
Stories and photos that don't fit anywhere else.
Linda on YouTube
Nancy Curtis, publisher and owner of High Plains Press, recorded a couple of videos of Linda reading her poetry and posted them on YouTube.
To see Linda read "Where the Stories Come From"
To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
Or go to www.YouTube.com
and search for Linda Hasselstrom.
You may also want to visit the High Plains Press facebook page
where you will find these two poetry videos and much more about the many great western books-- poetry and non-fiction-- published by High Plains Press.
# # #
click here to send an e-mail message to Linda.
If this link does not work-- some web-browsers are incompatible or perhaps your computer is blocking pop-ups-- copy and paste this email address into your email system:
or send Linda a letter:
Linda M. Hasselstrom
PO Box 169
Hermosa SD 57744
February 27, 2015
In October of 2014, I was invited by the South Dakota State Poetry Society to apply for the position of Poet Laureate of South Dakota.
Because many people urged me to apply and questioned my decision not to do so, I felt the simplest response was to explain my reasoning in a letter to the president of the SD State Poetry Society. I hope this examination of the obligations of the post will spark discussions and lead to some responsible changes that will benefit anyone who assumes the post of Poet Laureate of South Dakota.
Here’s an excerpt from my letter:
I certainly believe that asking the legislature to establish a term limit for the poet laureateship, and particularly at four years, is a useful idea. I also commend your efforts and those of the board to clarify the duties and requirements of the position.
I have studied the mission statement and have found what I consider to be innate contradictions in the current definition of the Poet Laureate position. As I considered whether or not to apply for the position, I considered some of the positive and negative aspects of doing so. I offer this analysis hoping that it may help the SDSPS as you work toward selection of a new Poet Laureate.
You indicated that SDSPS wants an active Poet Laureate, willing to travel to the state’s colleges and universities, public schools, libraries, book clubs and other venues to present readings, talks, and workshops. You mentioned that several poets have decided to “run” for the position; that description seems to be particularly apt since the job would require so much energy.
I believe this unpaid poetry ambassador needs a job other than free-lance writing, i.e., a secure position that allows frequent absences, possibly with an employer who would contribute toward the expenses in return for the prestige.
Conversely, it seems to me, the post of Poet Laureate is intended to recognize a poet for a lifetime of achievement in writing and in supporting the state’s cultural growth. These requirements suggest the Poet Laureate should be an older, much-published resident writer with a deep and broad knowledge of literature and culture in the state and region, and a record of working to enhance citizen appreciation of poetry. Further, as a representative of South Dakota’s best writing, this poet should be known and respected widely throughout the region and nation.
However, in this largely rural state, many writers who have achieved publishing success spent their early years as I did, traveling the state to promote writing while working for the SD Arts Council, a school system, or other entities. An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position.
Badger Clark survived on a limited income and the pittances paid for his graduation speeches, but he lived in the woods with few amenities. David Allen Evans had the financial support of a secure teaching position. I think it’s significant that, despite 60 years of involvement in South Dakota’s writing, I know almost nothing about the poets laureate Adeline Jenny, Mabel Frederick and Audrae Visser. I suspect this is in part because their employment precluded much travel, and their efforts to promote poetry were necessarily limited to chapbook production. The South Dakota Book Festival did not exist as an opportunity to showcase state writers.
Today, however, electronic venues such as email, Facebook, and websites would make the job of bringing poetry to citizens much easier. A Poet Laureate might, for example, provide examples of inspiring poetry and commentary to English teachers via email or Facebook, so the teachers could incorporate the poetry into their classroom at their convenience. This might offer a more efficient use of the poet’s time than driving for hours to reach a single venue where attendance might be sparse
I wonder if the solution might lie in acknowledging these differences in what a Poet Laureate might do, and changing the definition to fit modern circumstances.
Perhaps the governor could be encouraged to appoint a Poet Laureate who is honored for his or her lifetime achievement as a published poet. This position would not be applied for, but conferred. SDSPS would nominate candidates from the state’s best-known poets who have also worked to encourage the writing and appreciation of poetry by others. Since the intent would be to honor the poet, the Laureate would be invited to attend major events such as the South Dakota Book Festival, gatherings of state poets laureate, and other important events, but would not be obligated to do so. Instead, the poet might continue to do what he or she has done best: promote poetry by writing it, and supporting poetic literacy in whatever ways he or she has always done.
Second, the governor might also appoint, from a qualified body of applicants selected by SDSPS, a second poet who would actively promote poetry throughout the state. This poet, who might be called the State Poet (Nebraska) or Writer in Residence (Idaho), might be in the position of an apprentice, a “laureate in training,” and might advance to the post of Poet Laureate in later years. Perhaps the legislature, the poet’s employer, or the SDAC and SDHC could contribute compensation in some form to help this writer fulfill the duties of the post without financial hardship. A few four-year appointments of traveling poets would provide the state with a group of writers who were experienced in teaching and speaking. If they continued to write and publish their own work, a Poet Laureate might be chosen from among them.
These ideas have been as part of my thinking about whether or not to apply for the position of Poet Laureate. I offer them in the hope you will find them useful in your discussions.
Respectfully, for the reasons I have outlined, I decline to apply for the position.
My thanks for the hard work the SDSPS has always done in promoting the benefits of poetry in our state. Your work on these issues is incredibly important, offering the first chance in eighty-seven years to alter the original plan. I send my warmest wishes as you lead us into a new era in Writing South Dakota.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
* * *
While I rarely join organizations because I preserve my time for writing, and have not been a member for some years, I have always urged state writers to support the work of the SDSPS.
See their website:SDStatePoetrySociety.WordPress.com
Follow them on Facebook:www.facebook.com/pages/South-Dakota-State-Poetry-Society/212808486683
, the official literary magazine of the South Dakota State Poetry Society, is published spring and fall. See their website for information on how to submit work or obtain a copy.
As of January 28, 2015, applications for the Poet Laureate position have been closed and a nominee has been forwarded to the Governor.
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February 24, 2015
The abandoned dogs stare out of the screen with huge innocent eyes.
A bald eagle peers down at me from his perch just over my head.
I seem to hear the cries of abused babies echoing in my office until I click on a photograph of a castle on a misty isle.
A politician stands tall as he utters inanities. A group of young men in kilts play drums on stage.
Within ten minutes of beginning to look at Facebook, my head is spinning as my brain switches moods from anger to pain to pleasure to outrage to pleasure and back down the same trail again. I’m exhausted by the emotional turmoil.
Writing requires sustained attention. I believe most worthwhile activities require sustained attention. The whirlpool of emotion offered by Facebook is so distracting that on the days when I’m writing, I have to stay away from the site until evening.
Of course I empathize with the poor dogs and children and all the other ills being perpetrated in the world. I also appreciate the folks who call to my attention cheerful news focused on the world’s joys instead of its sorrows.
But after a few minutes of the muddle I turn away in frustration.
If I see a lost dog as I drive down the street, pick it up and take it to shelter, I’ve helped that dog’s life improve, at least temporarily. If I give money to charity, ditto. When I send a hand-written note to a friend who’s having a tough time, I’m doing a positive good.
Clicking “like” doesn’t fix anything.
I find it contradictory to click “like” under a story of a politician speaking proudly of how he’s misrepresented me today. I don’t like what he’s done at all, though I’m glad to know about it.
More importantly, however, a thousand people could click “like” beneath that story and the politician might never know how much we disapprove of his actions. Unless he has a staff member who keeps in touch with social media, collecting the comments folks who agree with one another make under these news stories, the politician will remain clueless.
To express my opinion in a way that counts, I need to write, call, email or fax my message directly to the congress person’s office.
In addition, I have to be wary of posts that appeal too much to my prejudices. I have to ask is this story true? Rather than ignoring my suspicions, I must go to a reliable site and check for its authenticity before I pass it on. Otherwise, I may simply become one more strand in a web of untruth that’s hard to untangle.
Here’s another problem.
I remember the activism of the 1960s, when a lot of folks were protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War. Many of these people believed that marching down the street on a sunny day constituted political action. A few got additional exercise by waving flags or extending middle fingers to those who lined the sidewalks. If the thousands of people marched, and the cameras rolled and the news media showed the waving flags and shouting multitudes on TV screens all across the country that night, perhaps the action had an effect on our leaders. But for many protestors, writing to a Congressperson was just too darn much work.
Similarly, I’m afraid that clicking “like” may become a substitute for taking action. After a half hour on Facebook, righteously hitting that “like” button and writing a few comments under news stories, I might feel as if I’ve paid my dues for my citizenship in this country.
Look at what I’ve accomplished already and it’s only ten o’clock in the morning! I’ve let a lot of people know how much I disapprove of the actions of my state’s representative in Congress. I’ve shown that I empathize with abused dogs and those who rescue them. I’ve demonstrated my love of cuddly animals, birds of prey and a few artists, and I’ve approved of some humorous grammar corrections. Whew! What a workout!
But what have I accomplished?
I haven’t compared the statistics on the percentage of people who use social media to those who vote, because I’m afraid the figures would be depressing. It’s a lot easier to click “like” than it is to study all the issues, drive to the polling place, show ID and register your opinion in a lasting way.
I don’t mean to suggest that Facebook and other social media are without value. Each is a tool, and like any tool can be useful—and may be misused. But on days when I’m deep into a writing project, I intend to limit my time with these diversions for my own mental health.
And when I want my legislators to know how I feel about their actions, I’ll write to them, investing my reasoning, my time, and a stamp to be sure they get the message.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
# # #
For more information:
How to write, call, or email the White House
How to call or email a member of the US Congress (House or Senate)
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February 20, 2015
Reading a book in the old cast iron tub.
The tub is surrounded by curtains hung on a framework of copper pipes suspended from the ceiling by chains.
One of my favorite methods of dealing with pain, with lack of inspiration or with almost any other problem is a hot bath.
The main ingredient for a truly inspiring bath is a cast iron claw-foot bathtub, which holds heat as no modern plastic tub can do. The one in my basement, though, is somewhat shorter than I am, so a relaxing soak requires some bending. As I sink into the hot water, I often dream of the six foot long tub I discovered in Scotland. Even as short as it is, though, the tub fulfills its promise as a Writing Aid.
Turning the hot water on full, I pour in an herbal mixture that includes eucalyptus, peppermint, wintergreen, clove and juniper oils to soothe muscle aches. Then I’m ready for the ritual.
First one foot-- if the water is too hot, I may have to modify it, and I've scalded my poor right foot several times. If the water is perfect, I step in, sit, cross my legs to fit in the tub, and lie back with a sigh. Sometimes I just close my eyes and visualize how the hot water is soothing muscles and sinuses. Secure in the knowledge that no one will disturb me, I can let my mind free of everything that has concerned me for days or weeks. I may immerse myself completely in the steaming, echoing water, hearing the cast iron ping and bong as it absorbs heat.
I may try to remember the words to the Janis Joplin song “Mercedes Benz,” or think of a poem I memorized in high school. When I sit up, spluttering suds, I feel renewed.
When I’m conducting a writing retreat, my first task in the hot bath is to think of the writer I've been working with during the day. What have I failed to mention? Have I been encouraging enough? Are there other resources to suggest, or other handouts I could provide?
Almost always, I capture a thought that I missed while I was intently reading the writer’s work, or talking about it, so I've made a hot bath part of every retreat so I don’t miss that vital notion. I apply the same logic to my own work when revising: a hot bath often reveals an answer that eluded me during days of walking, thinking, and staring at the computer screen.
Sometimes I take a book to read, placing it on the table behind my head as I scrub or while I meditate. I love to read until the water cools enough to remind me it’s time to get out. But I have to exercise care not to drop the book-- especially if it’s from the library.
But most often, after a period of reflection or reading, I write.
On a shelf at the head of the tub is a stack of small squares of recycled paper and a pencil. It’s easy to grab one of the little squares, scribble a thought, and toss it on the rug beside the tub.
Thinking is writing, I've often said, and lying back in a tub at the perfect temperature is conducive to thinking.
One idea often sparks another, so that at the end of a truly great bath, the rug is littered with a half-dozen little squares of paper.
After I’m dry, I gather them, stacking them by topic, and carry them to my computer desk, where I’ll find them the next day-- and get a great start on the day’s writing.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
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February 13, 2015
My permanent Valentine:
a black, heart-shaped stone.
We’re really celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, going all out. I think our celebration will be entirely unique, even for us.
No, we’re not reserving a suite at a fine hotel, with lobster and filet mignon. No champagne in my slipper. I don’t expect diamonds or a dozen roses. I'm expecting much, much more.
Like many U.S. holidays, Valentine’s Day probably began as a liturgical celebration for one-- or maybe more-- early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines, and all are associated with February 14.
One account says, for example, that Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. As if that weren't enough, according to legend during his imprisonment he healed the daughter of his jailer. No evidence whatsoever exists for this lovely myth or other religious associations for Valentine, but these fragile foundations support immensely profitable enterprises.
The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages when the tradition of "courtly love" flourished. Unlike many examples of real love, "courtly love" emphasized nobility and chivalry. In other words, the lovers might not consummate their love but enjoy all the fun of a flirtation, complete with sighs, illicit meetings, and secret messages and gifts.
In 18th Century England, lovers began to express their love on Valentine’s Day by offering flowers, sweets, and homemade greetings which became known as “valentines.” At this time, some of today’s symbols evolved, including heart-shaped outlines, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid.
In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Too bad some of today’s love-song-writers don’t have a copy!
Printers had already begun producing cards with verses and sketches, so when postal rates dropped during the next century, sending valentines became more popular. During the early 19th Century, paper valentines were assembled in factories, with real lace and ribbons used to create the fancier ones. In the U.S., the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were made around 1847 by a Massachusetts woman whose father ran a large book and stationery store.
Later, handwritten valentines were mostly replaced by mass-produced greeting cards. Encouraged by manufacturers alert to the power of the dollar, many lovers sent gifts such as chocolates in red, heart-shaped boxes, flowers, and jewelry. The diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day with vigor in the 1980s.
Today, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that about 190 million valentines are sent each year. On Valentine’s Day 2013, according to the experts, the average American spent $131 sending greetings-- mostly to family members and teachers.
The rise of the Internet is creating new traditions as millions of people send digital greetings-- e-cards, love coupons, or printable greeting cards. An estimated 15 million e-valentines were sent in 2010.
None of this hoopla will make the slightest difference to me or to Jerry. We’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day in our own ways, and our expenditures will be considerably less than $131. Possibly nil.
Since the holiday falls on Saturday, I hope to entice Jerry to make crepes, which I’ll fill with strawberries and sour cream with a touch of powdered sugar. I plan to spend the rest of the morning doing what I love: writing, and being as grateful as I am every day for my freedom to choose my work. I’ll have lunch with two women friends, and spend the afternoon helping them clean the Hermosa Arts and History Museum. Because I want to.
Meanwhile, Jerry will be attending a special blacksmithing event called a “Hammer-in.” He’ll spend the day firing up a forge, heating chunks of iron until it glows like the fires of hell or the glowing eyes in those tacky werewolf movies. The hammers will clang and ring as he discusses with like-minded friends-- not all of them male-- the fine points of blacksmithing.
At the end of the day, we’ll get together, share a meal and tell each other how much fun we had. For dessert, I’ll serve some old-fashioned heart-shaped candies with loving slogans on them; I paid thirty-three cents for the box. We’ll probably play Scrabble.
We’ll do this because we know what sustains real love isn't chocolate-- luscious as it is-- or greeting cards or diamonds. Love means allowing the loved one the freedom to choose, even on special days.
A month or so ago, as we walked the dogs up the driveway, I picked up a black stone that resembled a heart. Jerry promptly claimed it. A day later, he gave it back to me slightly reshaped, and polished. I often carry it in my pocket. That’s my permanent Valentine card.
I hope that you and your special loved one will enjoy the same loving freedom, on Valentine’s Day and for the rest of the year.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
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February 10, 2015
Cowboy Poetry Gathering Autograph Session.
While I was signing books with John Dofflemyer of Dry Crik Review, a writer who had attended a retreat at Windbreak House waaay back in 1997 stopped by with her daughter and grandson. Meeting old friends is one of the great things about gatherings.
A week ago, on February 2, I arrived home from the 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, sponsored by the Western Folklife Center.
A trek to the Gathering from South Dakota requires a serious investment of time; Elko is about 800 miles from Hermosa. I left home Monday, January 26, to drive to Glendo, WY, to meet Nancy Curtis, who had agreed to drive from her home, and Yvonne Hollenbeck, who, like me, was an invited performer.
I consider the financial compensation for this gig to be perfectly adequate, especially considering how poetry is valued in this country, but I suspect nobody goes to The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering just for the money.
So why do we go, I’m asked every time. I always think of an old cowboy song I hear on every visit, “The Night Rider’s Lament.” Part of Michael Burton’s chorus to this song is:
He asked me why do you ride for your money
Why do you rope for short pay
You ain’t getting’ nowhere
And you’re losin’ your share
Boy, you must have gone crazy out there.
Perfectly defines the attitude of a lot of folks about writing cowboy poetry! If I’m crazy I’m in good company. One night I sat under the spotlights on the stage of the G3Bar in the Western Folklife Center in the company of Wallace McRae, Paul Zarzyski and John Dofflemyer. I was marveling at the fact that 300 people had paid $30 or $35 each to hear us read and recite our poetry. No musicians, no other attractions shared the stage-- just poets.
But the audience doesn't necessarily have to pay to hear the greatest cowboy poets and musicians in the nation. During every day of the Gathering, many sessions are free in the convention center. If you’d wandered into the Turquoise room last week, you could have spent an hour with me, John Dofflemyer, and Elizabeth Ebert, from Thunder Hawk, South Dakota, who was a closet poet until 1989. In 2005 when she was 80 years old, then-Governor Mike Rounds proclaimed February 24 as Elizabeth Ebert Day. (Learn more about her at www.cowboypoetry.com
). Her work is hilarious, honest, and bone-deep true.
I admire the hard work the staff does to name the various sessions, especially since they know the writers will interpret the titles any way they darn please. This year we had titles like:
Love of the Well-Crafted Line
Living the Deep West (a prose session with me and Wally McRae, hosted by Texas poet Joel Nelson)
And We Shall Ride
Stories in Verse
Best Laid Plans
Southwest Song and Sonnet, and
Dames Don’t Dally, among many others.
Or you could wander up to the high school building behind the convention center where volunteers kept the music going all day long-- some of it open mic and some from respected and well-known musicians. One of the highlights of this gathering was listening to the music of Baja California Sur played by residents of that lonely place, who also set up an exhibit showing how they live.
Besides all the poetry, there are sessions on a variety of other subjects. The early part of the week is usually devoted to workshops on writing, rawhide braiding, silversmithing, ranch tours, talks and discussions about conflicts between ranchers and others. Students from Owyhee Public School and other filmmakers worked on videos about the Deep West.
One of my favorite musical events at this year’s gathering was watching Glenn Ohrlin, 88, play and sing with Brigid Reedy, 14. The two shared a real joy of music, and it was a joy to watch them tease each other. Watching Glenn was painful, because he was so thin he looked like a walking skeleton, but his voice and mind were clear and strong, and he played beautifully. We heard that he drove to the Gathering with a passenger who was not happy with his driving. Ohrlin always preferred to travel by pickup truck. His rule was that if there was more than one way to get somewhere, he always took the road he’d never traveled, even if the distance was longer and the road narrower. Glenn lived in Mountain Home, Arkansas, where he operated a cattle ranch and lived in a stone house he’d built himself. As I finished writing today, I got word that Glenn has died.
Keynote speaker Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-known nature writer, food and farming activist and proponent of conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. He has been honored as a pioneer in the local food and seed-saving communities by a half-dozen magazines, and written numerous books. (I was once fortunate enough to dine with him at one of the local Basque cafes and immediately became a fan, though he’s been writing books faster than I've been reading them.)
Gary spoke about the work on conservative conservation being done by a group of ranchers and environmentalists loosely organized as the “radical center.” Groups like the Quivira Coalition (quiviracoalition.org
), founded by two environmentalists and a rancher, aim to “build resilience by fostering ecological, economic and social health on western landscapes through education, innovation, collaboration and progressive public and private land stewardship.”
Nabhan quoted Aldo Leopold on a fact much of our society has forgotten, “People starve when land and water are degraded and forage declines.” But he had good news too: the market for grassfed beef is growing faster than that for any other commodity, as 60% of the farmers and ranchers in the U.S. have made changes in their methods that lead to better conservation of resources that belong to all of us. The Cowboy Poetry Gathering always features keynote speakers who challenge and enlighten.
Another pleasure of going to Elko is eating Basque food available several places that originated with the Basque sheepherders of the region. My favorite meal this trip was a pork chop at the Toki Ona Basque Diner, accompanied by salad with a zingy dressing, soup, spaghetti, and Potatoes Ana. Our waitress, Kelly, happily described how to make Potatoes Ana, and I've made them twice since I got home. If I make them any more before July, I won’t be able to fit into my jeans.
Another important part of the travel to the Gathering, at least the way I've done it fairly often since my first invitation in 1993, is the companionship of the trip. Driving can be a challenge, but it allows for long and deep conversations. Some of my best friendships have deepened and matured as we rolled along I-80, through Rawlins, Rock Springs, Evanston and the Three Sisters-- the three long hills truckers hate. We slide through Salt Lake City and pass the great lake and wheel along the broad flats where travelers stop to arrange rocks in messages and symbols. In Wendover, Nevada, the casinos are always lit and very few people notice the shabby trailers and shacks housing the folks who keep those games spinning and those motel rooms clean. And then Elko, which I am told is surrounded by beautiful mountains and desert; I've rarely gotten outside the streets and sites of the various programs.
And in Elko, we are hip by haunch with folks who come to hear cowboy poetry. In some cases, the clothes they are wearing would buy the ranches of the folks who are reciting on stage.
I always admire the togs, but I’m there for the company of people who were writing about rural western life long before cowboy poetry began to attract crowds. As Badger Clark remarked, we just love “slingin’ ink and English” among other folks who understand the job that we've taken on: telling the truth about our rural western lives.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
# # #
For more information:
See the Western Folklife Center's website at www.westernfolklife.org
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February 5, 2015
Sunrise February 5th at Windbreak House.
Photo by Jerry Ellerman.
Sunrise this morning began while I was sitting in bed writing in my journal-- just a long stripe of light blue beneath a shield of heavy black, like a crack opening into another universe.
I’d let the dogs out and logged into email to find a tangle of conflicting, angry messages from members of a group of which I am a member. Glancing through them sent my stomach roiling, so I shut down and climbed back into bed with today’s book.
The book, while it means well, concerns recovery from stroke, so while its message is upbeat, the general topic did not especially cheer me.
So I put it aside and pulled my journal out from under my pillow-- I like to keep it handy for late-night inspiration-- determined to write something positive to offset the email clamor I’d have to face later.
As the light grew with the earth’s slow rotation, I realized that this was going to be one of our especially gorgeous sunrise experiences. What looked like a flat, heavy layer of black clouds began to ripple as the light strengthened, the clouds heaving and shifting in shades of gold and peach. Swells of light like the ocean’s waves rolled across the prairie’s beach.
Below the clouds, the air was still at twenty degrees or so, the grass still dusted with snow. But the light promised that the day would improve.
As Jerry took the photograph, I realized that the very best sunrises are those with clouds in them. When the sky is clear, the sun’s light simply flows like honey over a table, golden and lovely-- but flat.
Clouds ripple and heave and turn from black to blue. Clouds churn and lunge and wrap around each other. Their darkness should encourage us to appreciate sun’s light and warmth.
The metaphor was so obvious I laughed out loud, startling the dogs out of their post-awakening, pre-breakfast nap.
When everything in our lives is streaming along as smoothly as a river in spring, we may not appreciate just how lucky we are. Clouds-- murky, roiling , threatening-- make us pay attention, and remind us that things could be considerably worse.
That barbed-wire tangle of emails waiting to snag my attention made me appreciate the complications of sunrise. How fortunate I was to have this quiet time to read and write before the day’s concerns began to rise over the edge of the horizon.
The troubles I encounter every day should remind me how fortunate I am for days when there are no complications, when my writing flows like honey.
Today’s clouds encouraged me to appreciate the light around their edges. When I return to the computer, I’ll answer those emails as quickly as possible so as to get back to the day’s bright promise.
Or perhaps I’ll put the emails off until sunset.
Linda M. Hasselstom
Windbreak House, Hermosa, South Dakota
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January 26, 2015
The Westie rock in a jar of other little items. A red outline of a sitting West Highland White Terrier on a yellow limestone rock.
“Look what I found for you!” my friend said, handing me a chunk of sandstone. “A rock like your dogs!”
I looked at her smiling, eager face, and then at the rock, trying to sputter a response. The chunk of tan sandstone filled my hand, but it looked nondescript to me, a big chunk of driveway gravel. Originally oval, it had flat faces where it had been broken. A reddish stripe ran up one side, and there was an odd blotchy red line on the side.
She pointed at the mark.
“See?” she said. “I thought of your dogs as soon as I saw it: he’s sitting back and howling.”
I could picture one of our white Westies sitting on his haunches, nose pointed to the air, his white carrot tail lying flat on the ground behind him.
And there he was on the rock. In the side view, I could see one closed eye and the ear lying flat against his head, even the line of his mouth. Was he howling? Or gazing up in expectation of a tasty treat?
“Oh!” Finally I could say something. “I do see it!” I’m sure I still sounded doubtful.
“I was taking a walk on the hillside,” she said, “and glanced down and there it was. It’s yours,” she said, and I tucked it into my bag to take home and we went on with our talk and preparations for the dinner she was serving.
When I got the rock home, I put it into a glass jar on a bathroom counter, beside a green jade disc she’d found on a California beach and given me on another occasion. This is a woman who appreciates rocks, and knows I do too. I treasure her insights and the growing friendship between us.
But I’m not sure she realized, any more than I did at that moment, what this particular rock signified.
Each morning, I look at the red outline of the dog, his head thrown back, and I smile. Somehow that little figure embodies the Westies’ stalwart natures, and their cheery steadfast solidity.
I kept picturing the hillside where my friend and her husband have made their home. Typical of the Black Hills foothills, it’s rocky, grassy, studded with pine trees. Naturally, their construction carved new shapes as they created a basement, driveway, and space for adjacent buildings. I suspect this stone was always resident on the hill.
As I walked with her to an outbuilding later that day, I noticed many similar stones scattered through the grass, observed them the way you do when you don’t want to trip, only as obstructions. We walked and talked, enjoying the air, but more intent on our conversation than on our surroundings.
As a writer, I pay attention to my surroundings. I pride myself, apparently too much, on my ability to recall and describe what I see. Yet I can describe that walk and those stones only in very general terms. I might have stepped over a dozen stones with figures outlined on them that day, and not known it.
At home, I measured the figure of the dog on the stone: it’s three-quarters of an inch high.
She was walking on her hillside, perhaps getting out of her home office for a few minutes to relax. Her profession requires her to listen sympathetically every day to people talking about their problems, so she may have been considering a specific issue. I imagine her striding along, breathing deeply of the fresh air, straightening her back, clearing her head-- just as I walk on my hillside. Thinking.
Somehow, she looked down and in an instant saw that figure and thought of my dogs.
How do our brains make connections? All I know is that odd conjunctions happen. A scent can trigger an ocean of images; a sight can remind the viewer of anything that may reside in her tangled brain. Thinking of what has triggered poems, I could name a dozen unlikely sparks. From these inexplicable linkages come art, poetry, music, and a dozen other disciplines that engage our brains.
But in order to catch the poetry, the art, the beauty, we have to see
. If we stumble blindly up the hill concentrating on not tripping, or trapped inside our minds with anger at what the day has done to us, we may miss the clue.
One of my axioms in writing has been Norman Maclean’s statement from A River Runs Through It
“All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren't noticing which makes you see something that isn't visible.”
Seeing. That’s the key to writing, and I believe it is also the key to living consciously, to getting as much from your life as you can: seeing every day, as much as you can, in as much detail as you can.
The more you see, the more likely you are to see something you weren't noticing, which makes you see something that isn't visible-- but that invisible image may hold the key for which you have been searching.
So every day, when I look at that little red dog on that piece of sandstone, I remind myself to see. And I thank her for seeing.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
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January 5, 2015
I've just had the sad experience of reading a cheery Christmas card I sent last year to a good friend with whom I've been corresponding for about 15 years. Though our meeting was brief, at a conference where we were both speakers, we bonded instantly and immediately began exchanging holiday letters. We wrote only once a year, but our letters were individual, personal and long-- about our writing, about our gardens and the things we were cooking. We exchanged recipes and recommendations for books to read.
Last year at this time, I was looking forward to receiving her holiday letter. She was a role model for me. In her 80s, she remained vigorous and curious, working on a long book that depended on her Greek translations. She’d given up a summer place to move full-time into her primary home, but she showed no signs of mental decline. Her most recent book had been about death and dying, based on her experience with her mother. It remains on my shelf, still unread.
In my Christmas card, I asked her how her new book was coming along, and conveyed to her the compliments of a friend who was enjoying a previous book she’d written. I asked about an older book of hers I wanted to locate.
Why am I reading this letter again?
Because her card came back to me marked “UTF”: Unable to Forward.”
My heart told me what that meant, but I spent considerable time online finding her address, mapping the location of her house and looking at a photograph of it, overgrown and neglected.
And then I found her obituary-- she had died “after a long illness.” But she had written to me the previous Christmas, filled with good cheer and encouragement. I cried for an hour.
I know this woman had a daughter, though another daughter had died some time before. I know she maintained a hearty correspondence with many people and was beloved by many more who had read her books.
I deeply sympathize with whatever hardships might have accompanied her illness and death. But I can’t help wishing her remaining daughter had turned to my friend's no doubt meticulously maintained address book and to let her friends know she was ill, or that she had died.
And here's the purpose of writing about this: If a loved one in your family has died this year, please make that final effort: write to their friends. Even a postcard would do. Think of the people who, like me, were enjoying this season and anticipating that annual letter. Let them know; if you can’t bear to provide all the details of the death, at least give them the fact that it has occurred. Let that be your final gift to your dead loved one.
When my mother died, I found her address book to be fairly confusing, with scribbled-over addresses going back years. But with help from her companion, I went through it and notified everyone whose address I could decipher. In return, I received letters about friendships that extended through fifty, sixty, seventy years, from people saddened by her loss, but grateful to hear from us, glad to know that, as one woman put it, “the song has ended.”
Please, for the sake of those you loved, tell those that they cared about that they are gone. They’d thank you for it if they could.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
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December 5, 2014
The Authors Guild "Model Trade Book Contract and Commentary" booklet
The cover is rather plain, so I present it here in my greenhouse with one of the Flamingo Family. In late October, when the photo was taken, I still had some pepper plants fruiting. Ahhh.
Once you begin to think of sending your work out for publication, you might consider joining an authors group. Benefits of membership often include vital information that can save you time, energy and money.
The Authors Guild, founded in 1912, is the oldest and largest association of published authors in the U.S., but it has specific requirements for membership. Check on those at www.authorsguild.org
I've been a member of the AG since 1991. One of my favorite parts of membership is the consultation on publication contracts. For example, a member can send a contract to the AG and get a lawyer's comments on its provision. This has saved me from several bad mistakes.
This fall I received the latest publication, MODEL TRADE BOOK CONTRACT AND COMMENTARY, updated to include recent changes in the treatment of digital rights.
The pamphlet-- 80 pages-- provides a clause-by-clause commentary on an entire sample book contract, from the grant of rights through warranties and indemnities, proofreading, advances, royalties, first serial rights, accounting, revision, bankruptcy, and agency clauses. Besides providing a much-needed update on subsidiary rights that are non-print-related, electronic rights and audio downloads, the booklet lists "unacceptable provisions." Wary and careful as I am, I found a clause that exists in one of my contracts listed under this heading.
This booklet complements one of the sessions I went to at the Women Writing the West conference in October, 2014. Susan Brushaber, an intellectual rights attorney, discussed how the Internet and other kinds of publication have altered what we need to look for, and be wary of, in contracts.
I highly recommend that, if you qualify, you join the Authors Guild.
# # #
For more information:
See the Authors Guild website at www.authorsguild.org
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October 31, 2014
. . .
I’m always reading about private lives. Since I conduct writing retreats, much of what I read when working with prospective writers is about their struggles to live satisfyingly and with meaning. I've never become cynical about these writings because every one of us is doing the same thing: trying to figure out how to get the most from our time on earth. We can learn from one another.
Mary Beth Baptiste’s Altitude Adjustment
has joined my shelf of books I will recommend to writers who are trying to figure out just how to write about that divorce, that disastrous love affair, or that terrible loss. With courage, and a discerning eye, she has looked at her own past, at the way she left a bad marriage in suburban Massachusetts to become a woodswoman in the Rocky Mountains.
Have you got a difficult story to tell? Read this book for clues on how to do it.
How do you handle the reactions of relatives to your decisions? Mary Beth’s parents weren't happy about her divorce or her plan to move west. Sounding a lot like my mother, hers said, “No man would ever want you again.”
How do you handle swatches of your life that you don’t want to write about, because they were unsatisfactory or boring or nobody’s business? She tells us enough about the marriage she left to be convincing, but doesn't hammer at the subject, understanding readers don’t need every detail in order for us to understand. In a sentence or paragraph, she summarizes several events that aren't part of the quest of the subtitle.
What about love and sex? Mary Beth handles scenes of intimacy with relish but with restraint; your mother won’t be embarrassed to be caught reading this book.
Readers always ask writers of nonfiction, “Is this true? Did this really happen?” We've all become a little cynical after learning that writers we trusted made the whole thing up. Mary Beth has written an author’s note that clarifies the way she has handled the truth so well that I must quote the whole thing:
“I sincerely hope that those who recognize themselves in these pages will understand that I wrote this story from a place of love and gratitude for all of you who crossed paths with me during this magical time of my life. The events in the narrative did occur. Whether others will recall them as I have is debatable. To protect privacy, I changed some names, genders, physical identifiers, draft numbers and birthdates, radio call numbers, and other finger-pointing characteristics, and I created a character to take the heat. Some local place names have been changed.
A chronology of events does not a memoir make. To create narrative flow, I reconstructed dialogue, scrambled chronology, and compressed time. To keep the book to a manageable length, some people and events had to be left out.”
Besides all this, she writes with skill about her new home and the people in it; her prose is lyrical and strong. “Snow sheets over the ground and feathers up the mountainsides, lending a paradoxical softness to the landscape.”
Writing about your life? Mary Beth shows how to do it honestly and with grace. Mary Beth writes, ”The mountains called, and I came. I found my way home. . . . I finally feel the power of my life, and it matters. . . . I don’t pretend to understand it all, but this I know: Dreams won’t die, no matter how hard we try to slay them.”
She's not only provided a lesson in writing about your life, but the book will give you goose bumps too.
# # #
For more information:
Altitude Adjustment: A Quest for Love, Home, and Meaning in the Tetons,
by Mary Beth Baptiste
Helena, MT: TwoDot, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press.
ISBN 978-0-9134-7. Paperback. 272 pp.
Visit the author’s website at: marybethbaptiste.com
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