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Monarchs and Perseverance

Karen Shoemaker

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The monarchs migrated through our patch of the plains this week. My husband and I met them on the walking path near our house. At first it was just 3 or 4 fluttering around us, but when we walked through the small grove near the park a few became many and their presence broke through our conversation. We stopped to see if they’d found a resting place for the evening. In years past they chose to overnight in our yard, but a windstorm or two took down their favored trees, so we’ve not been so lucky recently. We stood and looked up into the patch of sky above us and saw dozens of fragile beautiful determined butterflies doing what butterflies do so well – fly with what appears to be drunken abandon, floating on unruly air as if to offer evidence of the power of perseverance and determination.

A day or two later, after a front came through and turned our area decidedly from late Summer to Fall, I went for a walk with friend and colleague Lucy Adkins. Lucy is currently leading a Larksong workshop on memoir writing. In that workshop Lucy is sharing techniques used by successful memoirists and offering advice and writing prompts to help people discover and record their own stories. Those of you who know Lucy will be happy to hear she’s not only loving this current workshop, but she’s excited about doing more like it. Stay tuned on that front. We’re in the planning stages of future workshops. (Now would be a good time to contact us and let us know what sort of workshops you’d like to see offered at Larksong, btw.)

The Monday night workshop I’m leading brings me great joy – and as near as I can tell I’m not the only happy face in that Zoom “Brady Bunch” grid. The format for this workshop is a little bit MFA-style workshop and little bit informal writers’ group. In the MFA style, a leader -- that being me in this case -- guides the conversation about the writing we’ve all read that week, offering lessons on craft and suggestions for further reading. (Each participant shared one story, essay or excerpt at the beginning of the session, and we spend one meeting on the work of each of the writers in the class, talking about the piece assigned for that week. Each writer gets the eyes and insights of all the writers in the workshop, not just mine.) After the guided conversation we relax into discussions about the joys and difficulties of trying to lead a writer’s life. How do you find the time and focus to stay with the page?  -- is a question that comes up often in these workshops. So many other things need – demand – our attention. And really, we too often tell ourselves, does anyone care if I sit down here and selfishly scribble away when the world needs so much from us. What’s it all for? Will the world be a better place if I do or I don’t write?

The thing about monarchs that really gets me is that the butterfly that breaks free of its chrysalis in, say, Alberta, Canada, never makes it to the species’ wintering place in Mexico. Each individual monarch flutters and weaves its way across the miles, lays its eggs on a receptive spot, and from there its offspring continues the journey. A massive, relay race of hope that has been occurring each spring and fall for millions of years.

What I love about workshops with these earnest, caring writers is how they are able to speak the truth to one another about how hard it is to keep going sometimes, but they also speak the truth about why they do it. The work itself, they say in one way or another, is the thing itself. What we do when we pick up our pen or open up our laptop is part of something so much bigger than the individual project or writer, we’re part of a movement we have to trust even when we can’t feel it. We’re all part of humanity’s journey.

Staff Meetings, Poetry, and Why We Do What We Do

Karen Shoemaker

Friday, September 25, 2020

Our Larksong staff meetings, even the long ones requiring close attention to long and detailed legal documents, are as close to what they could be to a dream I might have had about how staff meetings should go – if I’d ever dreamed about staff meetings at all. We’re reasonably organized: we set an agenda for each meeting, but we write it in pencil because, well, Life. We know we need to roll with whatever it throws our way. We understand the importance of living integrated lives. Needs of Larksong, of family, of our creative dreams and plans, all deserve attention when the attention is needed, not just when we “have” time for it.

This morning’s meeting, for example, was to be dedicated entirely to reviewing the documents needed for completing our application for non-profit status, but first Linda had a poem revision in want of attention, one that she had been working on since the workshop with Grace Bauer last weekend (the beauty of Grace’s teaching is the time-release quality of it. The lessons just keep on giving). So, we added time for poetry to our agenda. That seems not only reasonable for an organization dedicated to the literary arts, but necessary to it. Plus it was down-right fun to play with poetry for a while!

As we were wrapping up our “pop-up” poetry workshop, one of us commented that we really know how to curate a staff meeting, and the other one said, “I love that word, ‘curate’.” Well that sent us down the ever-inviting rabbit hole of etymology. We had to track down the origin of the word. Turns out it comes from the Latin word cura, meaning “care.” On its way to English, via Old French, it took on the meaning of “looking after” and eventually led to the English word “cure.” In the odd way of language development, the word also gave birth to both “curious” and our word of the day, “curate.”

The modern definition of the noun “curate” includes “one responsible for the care of souls.” The verb means “to act as a curator for” – to select, organize, and look after the items, performers, or performances in an arts event or program.

It struck us that that’s not too far off from what we do here at Larksong – we select and organize and make things happen for writers. That the word we were drawn to encompasses the idea of caring for souls, not just offering classes and reading, gives you an idea of how seriously we take our work, even when we get distracted by poetry or other stories.

Though we didn’t plan it, that diversion was the perfect entryway into the task actually on our agenda for the day: reviewing 40-plus pages of by-laws and other legal documents. The meaning of every word became even more important, though not necessarily as entertaining. We knew we were in for a long slog when we turned our attention to the task, but having that word “curate” in our pockets as we set off on that journey of precise and belabored reading seemed to make the trip easier. It was a reminder of why we’re doing what we do and who we’re doing it for – we belong to a community of literary minded people, writers who love words as much as we do, and our mission is to care for – to curate – this small acre of that community – the one we named Larksong and are loving into being, one productive, meandering staff meeting at a time.

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