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Culture » Book Talk

WRite: From the Margins

Being an artist doesn't take much, just everything you got. Which means, of course, that as the process is giving you life, it is also

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Being an artist doesn't take much, just everything you got. Which means, of course, that as the process is giving you life, it is also bringing you closer to death. But it's no big deal. They are one and the same and cannot be avoided or denied. So when I totally embrace this process, this life/death, and abandon myself to it, I transcend all this meaningless gibberish and hang out with the gods. It seems to me that that is worth the price of admission.

- Hubert Selby, Beat writer

Think of your death now. It is at arm's length. It may tap you any moment, so really you have no time for crappy thoughts and moods. None of us have time for that. The only thing that counts is action, acting instead of talking.

- Carlos Castenada

Journey to Ixtlan

There is nothing most writers would rather do than talk about writing. There is nothing most writers would rather not do than write.

I am an authority on both. So I'm constantly grateful for my agent, my editors, other writers and my students - all of whom remind me that wanting to give everything for your work is a rare blessing.

Elizabeth Quinn, editor of High Desert Journal, gives everything to her work. She and I sit at the edge of the sunflower jungle in my front yard. I ask her how making High Desert Journal excites her.

"I love the process of working with authors and artists, Thomas Osborne Designs, everyone at Ryder Graphics and Bend Mailing to get an issue out into the world. But before the "birth" of an issue, is the exciting part - the searching. Especially in this open high desert where I get to turn over rocks and look under thorny bushes, and then share the beautiful things which I find.

"Sometimes I think it's a bit egocentric - "I like this so LOOK." But it's really about place and story, people and caring, all mixed in with my reverence for the desert, art and words."

"If you," I say, "could publish one sentence that might bring the change you most deeply desire, what would be its theme?"

"Taking care of one another," Quinn says, "I wish humankind did not have to continually bid for power, and that the needs of others were more necessary and honorable than the needs of self."

"Others are also other-than-human?" I ask.

"Of course."

"Where does good writing come from?"

"From connection," she says, "deep connection - to an experience, idea, desire, emotion, dream, place and/or person."

I read a Terry Pratchett quote and ask her how HDJ resonates with it.

(DEATH speaking, HE always speaks in caps) YOU'VE ALWAYS KNOWN. YOU REMEMBER EVERYTHING. SO DO I. BUT YOU ARE HUMAN AND YOUR MIND REBELS FOR YOUR OWN SAKE. SOMETHING GETS ACROSS, THOUGH. DREAMS, PERHAPS. PREMONITIONS, FEELINGS. SOME SHADOWS ARE SO LONG THEY ARRIVE BEFORE THE LIGHT."

Quinn nods, "This quote and the work I do with HDJ incite desire in me - to know, to get past the place where the mind rebels, to know more about who we are in this landscape. I'm fascinated by the infinite - though never original - ways and expressions we continue to create from. I believe Picasso when he said 'Nothing is original'. All of our stories are the layers of a place. My hope is that by revealing some of those layers, HDJ provokes connection.

"John Sterling interviewed Terry Tempest-Williams in HDJ issue 9. She said, 'I think that people who work on the margins - and I consider myself one - make people uncomfortable. You have to think about the world in a different way and your responsibility to that. It serves the status quo to marginalize those individuals. I remember Wendell Berry saying that social change always begins at the margins and moves toward the center. I think that's important.'"

"The margins," I say, "movement."

"My favorite topics," Elizabeth Quinn says. " William Stafford once wrote, 'justice will take us millions of intricate moves.' I believe that when we connect we are more likely to reach out to one another, to offer kindness, to help, to, maybe, just maybe, make some of those millions of intricate moves towards justice." - Mary Sojourner.

Editor's note: Mary Sojourner is an author, writing teacher and NPR commentator. Her new novel, Going Through Ghosts, comes out Spring 2010, U. of Nevada Press. She makes her home in the High Desert and will teach a six-week writing circle at Dudley's beginning October 5. She welcomes reader feedback, and for writing circle info: bstarr67@gmail.co

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