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A Literary Emergency!

literary emergency - Anna Elkins - If Words Create Worlds, What World Will We Create?A big hello to friends, near and far! This newsletter is a bit of a departure—if you recently signed up, know that this is not my norm 🙂

Yesterday I was (giddily!) accepted for a month-long residency in writing at Vermont Studio Center for this September/October. I’ve wanted to go for two decades, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity! And I’ve been using waaaay too many exclamation marks for the last 24 hours!

VSC is the largest, international artist residency in the US, and in addition to writing time with full room and board, residents get to connect with fellow artists and visiting faculty across genres. It’s a poet’s dream! Not only that, I’ve always hoped to visit New England in the autumn to see the leaves, so this is like a “two-fer” dream come true!

literary emergency - Anna Elkins - Autumn color in New England

That’s the good news. The mixed news is that though I received a grant that covers a small part of the fee to attend, I need to pay the $3000+ balance in exactly two weeks: on August 16. I paid my deposit on faith. I thought; if the dream arrives at your doorstep, you figure out a way to carry it inside! And that’s where I need some help.

Usually, I’d have time to apply for a professional development grant (I put myself through undergraduate and graduate studies on grants, scholarships, and fellowships—I’m always willing to do the work!), but since I was awarded a residency near the start of VSC’s academic year, I don’t have the time to go that route.

So I’m getting creative and inviting you to help me do something I would normally work out by myself. In fact: maybe part of my lesson in this is learning to ask!

And so…here are five different ways you can help:

1) Order from my online gallery

Scroll through my art gallery and find a huge range of reproductions from abstract to illustrative, from traditional prints to coffee mugs and pillows. Many of the originals are also available (click on an image to see if it’s for sale). If you’d like one of the originals, email me for a shipping estimate:  [email protected]

2) Buy my books

I’ve got fiction, poetry, and “children’s books for grownups” on offer! And it’s a bonus if you buy them directly via the links on my webpage. Find books here.

3) Order (lots & lots of!) Take Heart greeting cards

I named my greeting card line Take Heart because I love and live the art of encouragement. The image at the opening of this newsletter is from one of the cards, and you can see all 10 designs here: Take Heart Cards.

The cards feature a micropoem and watercolor image, are printed in Oregon, hand-embossed with my ae logo, and blank inside for you to spread encouragement in the world. They are great for giving or keeping, mailing or framing.

My ordering system is a bit more old-school for these, but here’s the breakdown:

~Any 4 cards for $10 (+ $3 s/h in the US)
~A set of all 10 cards for $25 (+ $5 s/h in the US)
~Two sets of all 10 cards for $47 (+ $7 s/h in the US)
~Three sets of all 10 cards for $65 (+ $10 s/h in the US)

For more sets, email me for a shipping quote!

To order, you can pay through the secure server at my website, here.
*Be sure to type “cards” in the description field and indicate your desired quantity.
Or you can reply directly to this email with any orders: [email protected]

4) Swing by my art show

If you’re in Southern Oregon, join me tomorrow, Friday, from 4-6 pm for my First Friday Art Walk reception at Tail of the Sun (567 Fair Oaks Avenue, Ashland, OR). In addition to the art on sale, I’ll be doing live watercolor painting—come get a favorite word or name on your own bookmark!

5) Donate (aka: create an impromptu community grant for Anna 😉

You can donate directly here (same link as for Take Heart Cards).
*Be sure to indicate “donation” in the description field.

Or send a check to:

Anna Elkins
PO Box 509
Jacksonville, OR 97530

What world will we create with our words? I’m hoping for a good one. And I’m hoping to do some of that creation at Vermont Studio Center. I’m immensely grateful for any and all support!

In delight & love,

Anna

PS: Fun fact: I used frequent flyer miles and got an airline ticket from Oregon to Vermont for $11.20! I figured that’s a good sign that all things are possible….

art + word + spirit

annaelkins.com

The Adventure of Quiet (Or: Sabbatical with Two Gum Grafts, One Unintentional Fast, and Zero Jet Skis)

In the US, July is the big, shiny, monster car of summer, revving up with lots of sparkly, high-octane adventures involving fireworks, waterproof SPF 50, and lifejackets. But my idea of summer fun has always been the quieter kind: a book in the shade. A swim in the lake. I’m a gear-free seeker of quiet where my thoughts can unspool long enough to hear Spirit speak.

You might say poetry is my jet ski. It’s all the adrenaline rush I need. And this July has been my writing sabbatical, so it’s been a good ride.
At the beginning of the month, I had another gum graft over two teeth, and that has meant soft food only. But for the first few days after the procedure, eating anything more solid than a liquid hurt, so I ended up fasting for a bit. Without much energy, I pretty much just laid on a blanket on the lawn beneath the trees, watching the leaves and clearing my mind and heart to write.
Those three days on the blanket are the highlight of my summer so far (even though one of them was spent with a bag of frozen peas on my swollen face). In that time and quiet, I let a year’s worth of worry dissolve in the breezes, caught up on forgiveness, and recommitted to my quietude. 
Alas, I had reached that point I thought I’d finally grown wise enough to avoid; needing an external circumstance to slow myself down. Without the gum graft, I would have written, sure. But I doubt I would have given myself permission to take the lengthy stretches of silence that exponentially fed my writing for the rest of the month.
As of today, my last day of sabbatical, I have a working manuscript of poetry (as in: the poetry still needs work, but it’s a manuscript!). I am positive that much of its inspiration and creation came from those three days of complete chilling.  
Not everyone gets excited about a quiet month to write poetry—or even about quiet itself. But it might be worth trying the mellow way when the chance arises. In the past, I’ve tried a few of the louder and splashier and gear-laden adventures—not my cup of tea, but glad I tried. Hey, if neoprene and wingsuits float your speedboat, knock yourself out (but not literally!).
It’s great to enjoy adventures of motion, but it’s also great to enjoy adventures of stillness. Quiet doesn’t make much noise, so it doesn’t get much press. But oh, the power of it!
I’ll be in motion again soon—a little journey that I’ve been prepping for, like I do all journeys, big or small. That prepping reminded me to put the same effort into planning times of stillness in the future. May I never need another gum graft to remind me!
We all have our ways of moving through this world. Personally, I’m thrilled to lie still and watch a tree on a summer afternoon—a tree so full of leaves, it would take days just to truly see each one, let alone imagine the story of their growth. I highly recommend it.
Here’s to hearing the quiet things,

Anna

Pie in the Sky

The other day, I was hunting for a file deep in the recesses of my Dropbox folders when I found a document from over twenty years ago. It was a self-assessment essay, written for my senior portfolio as an undergraduate.
At some point, I must have transferred it from a floppy disk, and I hadn’t read it since I wrote it. I winced before clicking “open,” wondering what young Anna had “assessed.” I started to scan the double-spaced, Times New Roman font. Two paragraphs in, and it wasn’t as terrible as I’d thought. I read on. In one section, I detailed the then-highlights of my writing education. One was a seventh-grade project on The Odyssey. Calypso’s fire of the future inspired me, and I wrote an essay musing on my grown-up life.  
I was simultaneously back in my college basement apartment writing that memory and back in the grade-school classroom writing the original. Meta-historical-memory, maybe.
Toward the end of my nine-page self-assessment came this paragraph about my post-graduation dreams: “Once I have the diploma in my hands, I could find myself teaching, working on the staff of a literary magazine, publishing, curating…or even traveling as a freelance artist and poet. I cannot predict what will burn in Calypso’s fire this time, and I do not want to. Through serendipity and grace, the right things come. I am willing to wait.”
I blinked. I hadn’t realized my twenty-year-old self had known all the things she wanted to do. And then I realized I had done them all—including the “or even” of being a traveling freelance artist and poet—the least likely element on the list at the time, especially since I had no role model for that in pre-social-media 1997. It was my pie-in-the-sky dream.
Young me just reminded middle-aged me of serendipity and grace: Thank you, Anna.
Let’s remind ourselves of our dreams, live them, and keep hatching new ones. Apparently, it’s time I hatch some new dreams….

And apparently, there’s pie in the sky after all!

Growing Roses

I did not inherit my Grandmother’s green thumb. Alas, the extent of my gardening skills is buying basil plants from Trader Joe’s in the spring, plunking them into clay pots filled with soil, and watering them. Somewhat to my surprise, they are bright and abundant and flavorful—often well into October.

My basil’s success (or the fact that it doesn’t shrivel and die) is largely due to good soil from the Grange. The rich, composty stuff that kind of smells when you upend it from its unwieldy bag.  It’s all in the soil. I take zero credit for my basil.
You might be wondering why I called this post “Growing Roses” if I can barely keep a store-bought basil start alive. Well, I grow supernatural roses, if you will. And from seed, no less.
In short—as in short enough to fit on the back of a seed packet: Life is full of shit. You can either sit in and complain about the smell, or you can choose to grow roses in it.
Me? After trying both options through many seasons, I far prefer growing roses. And though I recommend this choice highly, I would add to this “seed packet’s” suggestions for care, along with the proper watering, pruning, et cetera: once you’ve made this choice—once you set your attitude out in full sunshine, don’t be surprised if you encounter people who want to stand over your new start, casting over it the shadow of their own unhappiness.
Years ago, I stood in a kitchen, cooking with a friend and her sister. I shared a story of a lesson I’d learned from a bad circumstance and how it had turned into something beautiful. My friends sister turned to me and said, “Well, don’t you just shit and it comes out roses.”
Nope. But I have learned to grow ‘em. And my secret isn’t Miracle-Gro or Garden Organics. It’s choice.
That moment in my friend’s kitchen, I saw how many connections are established in commiseration. Group lament, even when staked with humorous sarcasm, is stenchy decay at best.
But spend enough time with others who are growing roses, and before you know it, you’ve got a riotous swath of them, and the air begins to fill with their sweet fragrance.
Just as I can learn to keep plants healthy and happy in my garden if I really want to, I can learn to keep my attitude healthy and happy if I really want to. Even when things are shitty—or especially when they are.
May we all choose to cultivate green thumbs in the spirit.
Happy gardening,
Anna

These Beautiful Blues

From a visit to Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle a couple of trips back
In March, Deep Travel Workshops enjoyed Larry Habegger as our instructor in Morocco. For one of his sessions, Larry asked us to write about our intention as writers—what did we hope to convey to others?
I hadn’t exactly articulated that before, and this is what came out:
“As a child, I wondered if we all saw the same colors. Is my green your blue? Is your red my yellow? With my writing, I think I want to figure out what I see, taste, feel…and to share it. To hear back what you see, taste, feel. To compare notes and knowing. To shimmy about in a synesthesia of experience—borrowing and lending. Giving and taking. Eventually, I imagine that what I write could be a color of my own mixing—a new pigment that someone else can use like I learned to use the colors of others. Maybe I hope to concoct a Majorelle blue like that of Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech. A blue I fell so deeply in love with, I took its powdered pigment home, not knowing that by merely unscrewing the lid, the particles of color would rise up and land everywhere, turning everything I touched the color of distant seas and skies. I want to make and share an indelible reminder of unexpected beauty.”

Thanks for that prompt, Larry! (And I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that pigment….)

Travel Philosophy with Bathtub

Fun with Photoshop: Silly Illustrations!
I was recently asked to share my travel philosophy. I couldn’t remember ever having articulated one. For years, the closest I came was a maxim I’d heard from a friend: “Take only photos, leave only footprints.”
I followed that advice as best I could, even though for many pre-smart phone years I traveled without a camera. Thankfully, I took notes. Then I started sketching and painting.  My souvenir rule for most of my 20s: whatever I brought home had to fit in the pages of my journal.
But that maxim only addresses the moments of being in a place, and I realized that if I have a philosophy of travel, it starts well before I leave home. So I decided to borrow another friend’s idea, one she passed on to me in the form of the John O’Donohue poem, “For the Traveler.” Here’s my favorite part:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life…

The whole poem is beautiful, but I found myself drawn to this section about preparing for the journey. As someone who loves to plan, I’m not surprised this resonated with me. And it’s good advice whether you’re heading to the new coffee shop around the corner or to the ancient medina of Fez.
There is no one way to travel—as evidenced by the diversity of our seatmates on an airplane or the camels carrying us across sand dunes. But the beauty of taking time to bless our journey before we go is that we’ll have grace to deal with those seatmates, whether they have bad breath or bump around a lot (which applies to both plane passengers and camels, come to think of it). Preparing our hearts opens us up to discoveries that can get lost when we haul the ballast of our hearts around with us, leaving no room for treasures.
I have several pre-departure rituals. One is to take a bath before a long journey, even if that means turning on the tap at 4 am. The bath helps me to do several things: to choose to make moments of stillness in the busiest times in my life. To metaphorically wash away any anxieties and limiting mindsets I don’t want to bring with me. To literally be as clean as I can before hours or days of airports and unreliable hot water. And to bless the journey so that when I return home and next sink into my claw-foot tub, I’ll be a kinder and wiser traveler than when I left. Ideally, I’ll have changed my own world to better love the wider world.
Many grand quotes turn into clichés (what a wonderful problem for a truth to become familiar, right?). So I’ll end by borrowing yet another travel philosophy for daily living, this one from Proust. You’ve heard it before, but then you’ve also bathed before—some things are worth repeating on a regular basis!
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Bon voyage to all our comings & goings, near & far!

The Art of Adventure


[I] look out on a land of mists and mysteries; a land of trailing silver veils through which domes and minarets, mighty towers and ramparts of flushed stone, hot palm groves and Atlas snows, peer and disappear at the will of the Atlantic cloud drifts.—Edith Wharton, In Morocco

We have one last spot on the upcoming Deep Travel Morocco trip! Join us from March 22-29:

Come experience sensory-rich Morocco with travel writing guru Larry Habegger. Larry co-founded Travelers’ Tales books and edits the Best Travel Writing anthologies. He is also known for skillfully coaching many novice writers from first draft to their first publication. We will begin our writing workshop in the Fez Medina—a UNESCO World Heritage Site of over 9,000 byways. From there, we will venture into the Middle Atlas for some retreat time in the mountain village of Moulay Idriss. While in Moulay, we will visit the 2000-year-old Roman ruins of Volubilis, tour Morocco’s wine country, and enjoy daily life in this small, enchanting city before returning to Fez. Along the way, we will meet local artists, restaurateurs, change-makers, and traditional storytellers. An adventure awaits you!

More info at DeepTravelWorkshops.com or email [email protected]

#WinterLove

I meant to write about Mexico, having just returned from a few weeks of sun, sand, and cerveza (I was working, really). But what I returned to was a deep joy at deep winter. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Montana. Maybe it’s because, to the best of my knowledge, most of my ancestors roamed northern climes. Or maybe it’s because there is something about owning the cold and bare and dark seasons. About not running from them but burrowing into them and learning how to warm and clothe oneself and how to seek the light. I mean coats and scarves. I mean joy and love.  
Around the time I turned forty, I was talking with a friend about love and how we so often wait and want for someone to love us. We want to say “he loves me” or “she loves me.” At one point in the conversation, I laughed and surprised myself by blurting out, “I love me!” I used to teach English; I know it should be “I love myself.” But I think wanted to hear aloud the words I thought were only true if they started with someone else.
In an interview, Michael Bernard Beckwith said: “And when you can fall in love with yourself and like yourself when you’re by yourself…you can be with others.” If not, we’re essentially relying on others for our joy. No bueno. 
I think I love this particular winter because it’s the first one that’s found me, myself, and I completely content with ourselves and therefore far more able to be content with others. Of course, contentment isn’t a synonym for complacency. As my wise mom says: we can be content while contending.
From this new place of contentment, I’d like to contend for loving ourselves—just because but also because we will better love each other.
May winter clouds be filled with hidden blessings for you.
Love,

Anna

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The Daily & the Doing

I started to write a list of the year’s highlights—a fun gratitude practice. But I discovered that the entire list could—like a good caramel sauce—be reduced down to this one, sweet dollop from Julia Cameron: “Creativity lies not in the done but in doing.”
I first read that line seventeen years ago, and it has taken me all of these years to begin to learn it. In fact, as I was fiddling with the now-defunct list and getting annoyed at my inability to get it to flow, I took a break for gingerbread and cloud-watching. This little post and yours truly are both the better for it. 
And so, in this season of celebration and on this shortest day of the year, here’s to celebrating each short moment of our days—whether writing a to-do list or a cycle of poems, warming leftovers or concocting a five-course feast, sketching a poinsettia or painting a twenty-canvas series, sitting still for five breaths or walking five miles. Even beyond any good outcome, let the daily and the doing be our creative delight.  

Bells & Angels

The Guardian Angel of Mount Angel Abbey
As I begin to write, the bells begin to ring across the monastery courtyard. Between the bell tower and my window, a statue of a guardian angel stands in the rainy courtyard. I woke to bells ringing at 5:20. They have names, which I’ve already forgotten.
I came here on a mini-retreat, bringing my own bag of coffee and zero expectations. As a Protestant visiting a realm of Catholicism and monasticism, this feels more observational than participatory. I am partly here because I read Kathleen Norris’ book The Cloister Walk, about her seasons spent at a Benedictine monastery in the Midwest. I made this reservation after finishing the book this past summer when I imagined the weather being exactly what it is at this moment: rainy and gray.
Earlier this month, I thought I knew the reason I was coming here, but that morphed to the real reason: to not need a reason. To simply take time away to rest for no other purpose: no multitasking, not even the justification of a tax-deductible tripas most of my freelance artist-writer life is. I logged no miles driving here, even though I will spend this morning in the curvilinear, mid-century library looking through books on Saint Teresa for a current writing project. Therein the happy problem when your work is your love: what does rest look like?
The guardian angel stands, implacable, in the rain. I write like I’m trying to rest: with no purpose. I see the angel. I hear the bells. I drink my coffee. I stare at my socked feet, propped up on the squeaky bed I slept fitfully in. Soon, the library will open. Before long, I’ll start craving not just spirit food but food for this body. Maybe I’ll eat the kale-beet salad I brought. Maybe I’ll walk into town and treat myself to spaetzle at the German restaurant. Maybe I’ll fill myself with bells. I have learned to live with hunger.
The angel keeps watch. The bells will ring again soon.