We had a fantastic writing workshop last Sunday. Thank you to the folks at Finnriver Farm who welcomed us to their beautiful land, and thank you to Lela Hilton for making us incredible food for the celebration afterward (almost every bit of it local!), and to Jennifer, for her chocolate “silk truffles” that make eating mindfully so easy and full of pleasure! Thank you to the weather gods who granted us the perfect fall day: sunny, with just a touch of coolness in the air.
Thank you to the participants who gamely did whatever we asked, whether it be lying in a field, while blueberry pickers passed by, and uttering loud, reverberant “AHHHH’s” as we breathed fully together; or thoughtfully examining a single blueberry, before rolling it on the tongue; or walking in mindfulness down the hill to commune with sunflowers, green tomatoes, pigs, or chickens.
For those of you who didn’t get to join us in person, here are a couple of the writing exercises we did together:
For an exercise around food, we looked at the Li-Young Lee poem, “Eating Together”:
In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.
We talked about how Lee’s attention to the simplest, physical details leads him seamlessly to more metaphysical concerns. It’s a great example of paying careful attention to what is right in front of you and allowing those details to lead you (and the reader) to a startling, yet inevitable, destination.
Then we tried it ourselves for ten minutes. Here’s what I wrote:
In the roasting pan is the chicken, stuffed with two lemons and a peeled onion, skin crusted with coarse salt and peper. We shall eat it for Shabbat: father, mother, brothers who will argue over the wishbone with greasy fingers. My father will pry the leg from the bird; my mother will cut thin, tender slices of breast. The candles burn, one of them in a glass jar for my grandmother, Beatrice, whose recipe is spotted with oil, whose apron now hangs limp behind nobody’s door. I’ll pick up the bones, smell thyme, sage, rosemary—herbs that are nowhere in evidence tonight but that will grace all my roast chickens in the future.
For another exercise, Holly read several poems about the land, including a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, called “The Mind of Squash”:
Overnight, and quietly. Beneath the scratchy leaf we thicken and expand so fast you can’t believe. Sun pours into us. We drink midnight too, blue locust lullaby feeding our graceful sleep. When you come back, we are fat. Doubled in the dark. Faster than you are. Sometimes we grow together, two of us twining out from the same stalk, conversational blossoms. Bring the bucket. Bring the small knife with the sharp blade. Bring the wind to cool our wide span of leaves, each one bigger than a human head, bigger than dinner plates. Wait till you find the giant prize we have hidden from you all along—no muscle-rich upper arm exceeds its size. But the farmer doesn’t like it. Too big for selling, he says. Only for zucchini bread. Never mind. We like it. We have our own pride.
We then sent everyone out to observe something on the farm and then sit with it for several minutes, writing. We could enter “the mind” of that object, or write an ode to it. Here is what Holly wrote:
Hanging out with the Green Tomatoes in the Greenhouse
Come in, they say. We’re all Romas here, green, yes, but in time we’ll ripen, our pendulous bodies blushing pink, then pimento red before fall. Don’t give up on us. It’s never too late to ripen. Just give us a little more sun and heat and the farmers who come each day to slake our thirst, our long tendrils reaching like white snakes into the black earth.
Yes, we’re a mess; we admit it. We sprawl on the weed cover with abandon, not climbing neatly onto the cages like the farmers wish. September, and still we wear our crown of yellow flowers, hoping for a few more hot days to ripen. Just don’t fry us or make us into that green tomato chutney–anything but that! Trust that we’ll ripen in time, that there’s always enough time, and if not, there’s always compost.
As the afternoon light ripened, we left each other with a final bell of mindfulness, a bow, and the knowledge that we can always gain access to our creative selves just by being here, fully present, to the all that the world offers us. And it helps to have a few good friends supporting you along the way.
Please try our writing exercises and let us know what you come up with! Wishing you a bright fall day, filled with abundance,