Monday, March 23, 2009

True Life

© 2009 Karen Van Fossan

A Scene from True Life

Setting: Not quite the standard nursing-home bedroom.
One of the decorations reads, "War Is Not The Answer."

KAREN: Hello, Ferne! It's Karen.

Ferne (at nearly 100 years old) lifts her chin from her chest.


Karen improvises a weather report, giving the shapes of clouds, the progress of the birds. Soon, Karen will read to Ferne from progressive magazines. But first, they chat about peace. An idea --

KAREN: I wonder if you have any words of wisdom to pass along to the next generations of peacemakers...?

Chuckling --

FERNE: I doubt it.

After a thoughtful pause -

FERNE: I think peace has to start within oneself.

Ferne's roommate, Marilyn, makes a giggling sound. Karen turns and smiles.
Marilyn says to Karen

MARILYN: You have...real...nice...teeth.

End of Scene

Marilyn has a knack for this kind of humor.

Her impression of daytime soap operas:

"Do you love me? Yes, I love you. No, I don't love you! Is anybody dead? No, nobody's dead. But let's talk about it first!"

Not as comedic as Marilyn, Ferne's wit tends toward the profound:

"We always prepare for war, when we should prepare for peace."

I gather their words of wisdom.

And (I confess) I gather yours. For instance...

"My wish for you is to see wild horses."
Julie Huwe, peacemaker

"I'd rather sit down and talk with a pig than eat one."
William Glen Van Fossan, my grandpa

"Let your life speak."
Tim Mathern, North Dakota Senator (adapted from the Quaker saying)

“We aren't the best looking, the richest, or the smartest – but we're the ones who live here.”
Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth

"I like crocodiles!"
Student, Head Start

"I like snakes!"
Harley, my young cousin

"I eat until I'm full."
Connor, first-grade friend

"Through my moving body I discover my multiple names."
Louise M. Pare', women's spirituality author

"It's not a haircut unless you regret it. And maybe cry."
Ramona Redding Lopez, artist

"Love delights to surprise you."
Lisa Bassett, poet

Setting: True Life

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Being Brilliant

© 2009 Karen Van Fossan

The motto of my life has finally appeared.

It all began (like much of my life) at the Seeds of Hope thrift store -- with Ruth Hauff, Eva Hartnett, and "Mrs. Walter Ell."

As far as I know, I've never actually met them. But at 50¢ a piece, their artwork is now on proud display in my office. They signed their work on the back (in Palmer-style script, of course), complete with Minot addresses.

How their art journeyed from the Minot City Art League to a thrift store here in Bismarck -- I can't begin to guess. But it brought me to my motto.


First, the "Celebration of Women and Their Music" in Fargo.

I saw Susan Phelan surf her upright bass, Brenda Weiler ache for her sister, Angie Stevens cast a spell of enchantment on every one of us, and Kris Kitko make us laugh our pants off.

Pants or not, I was getting closer to my motto.

Then there was today. Well, last night.

Lately, my nighttime ritual has been this:
1) Read passages from The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler.
2) Imagine myself in an ancient culture of peace and art and equality, where art by women, music by women, is everywhere and everything, the joy of life itself.
3) Cry myself to sleep. (Sometimes literally.)

Last night, as I did all this, I anticipated today -- and the adolescent girls' Creative Writing Group.

As their co-leader, what could I offer?

Respect? Yes.
My training? Sure.
But what did I hope they might learn?

The girls wrote powerful pieces today, bravely giving them voice. And I was able, at last, to say these words:

We do not try to be brilliant. We try to be authentic.
In being authentic, we are brilliant.

My new motto.