Tag Archives: creative writing

Take Heart Day, Dear Valentine, A Parody: Breaking News by Ellen Benson

Ellen Benson, my Oaxaca artist friend who has wintered here for the past umpteen years, wrote these three pieces in the voice of Agent Orange as her way of getting through the political grief and PTSD that many of us experience.  Ellen is  the famed Philadelphia Dumpster Diver Diva and her art also reflects the way she sees the world.

Our Oaxaca hearts stretch out to you around the world

I hope you enjoy this. It is witty and funny. Perfect for a Take Heart Day.  I asked her permission to share it with you. I think we need this.

ONE: Congratulations from Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny

Yesterday Santa Claus called from the North Pole to congratulate me. Yes he is real,  and i’ve known him personally for many, many years. A fantastic, fantastic guy. He promised: no presents going to Mexico!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To keep those presents here,  Mike Pence has given Santa Air Force One, since I have my own plane,  but all reindeer will keep their jobs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. The Mexican children will get coal in their stockings which will also help the coal industry make a comeback. A win/win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Santa will be working directly with Ben Carson to move all low income housing to the border!!! Not just walls but whole housing complexes!!!!!!!!!! I’ve put Jared Kushner in charge, but Santa and 3 mice will administer the “blind trust.” Let’s see if the “failing New York Times “ even reports this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I also got a call from the Easter Bunny. Yes he is real, i know his whole huge family. A terrific terrific guy. He called to report that his personal hackers have found that a hamburger joint in D. C. has been putting pot in all its deluxe burgers with fries!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This hamburger joint is a front for the Clinton Foundation. Jewish columnists Tom Friedman and Paul Krugman have been seen in the vicinity. Information verified by National security Advisor-elect Mike Flynn!!!!!!!! Enough said!!!!!!!!! I’ve not even been sworn in and already Mike is arranging a  landing pad for UFO’s on the White House roof!!!!!!! Good work Mike.

The Tooth Fairy was also on the line but I couldn’t take her call. Yes, she is real. I definitely know her. On her day off from overseeing  her teeth- for -money program, she does hair dye jobs. And she’s the best. The very best. 

Melania and Ivanka are busily planning the inauguration. Unfortunately, due to construction on the White House to make it look more like the Hermitage, the inauguration will be held in New York. Any country where i have business dealings will have the chief executives of its BIGGEST COMPANIES invited to the festivities!!!!!!!!!!! Nothing expected in return!!!! this is how business is done!  Many of these execs are graduates of Trump University —so you can bet they understand the Art of the Deal!!!!! We are just now nailing down the entertainment. Very exclusive. Very in-demand.  It’s top secret classified but I’m the President-elect so i can tell whoever i want. The star attraction at the biggest and best inaugural ball will be the cast of the new musical, “PUTIN”!!!!!! Very hard to get tickets—believe me!!!  

TWO:  Breaking News, A Call From Humpty Dumpty

Mar-A-Lago seems to be sinking so I called in Al Gore just to hear his preposterous statements that people, like the overwhelming landslide number of people who absolutely love me, are the cause of so-called global warming. He thought i would offer him a Cabinet position but he did not give me a huge campaign donation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And even after his movie and speaking engagements he is not yet a billionaire or even a multi-millionare and he never even worked for Goldman or Exxon or even the World Wrestling Federation!!!! A loser! Everyone knows there is NO AIR POLLUTION IN THE USA!!!!!!! The Chinese have been manufacturing it cheaply and shipping it over here!!!!! I don’t need a focus group to know why Mar-A-Lago is sinking—my very large, enormous and gigantic brain tells me everything!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   And it is verified by my National Security Advisor Mike Flynn—The problem is caused by the lost continent of Atlantis rising!!!!!!!!!! Also—he saw a man jumping over the moon—and everyone knows the moon controls the tides!!!!! There will be a big big investigation of this after Jan 20!!!!

My good friend Humpty Dumpty called to warn me that many people want to see me fall!! I’m sick of all the lying media criticizing my Cabinet appointments!!!!!!! They have about as much credibility as Graydon Carter’s failing VANITY FAIR restaurant reviewer in the things he said about the Trump Grill!!!!!!!!!!Terrific terrific restaurant!!! Chris Christie and Jack Sprat love it!!!!!!!!!  I took Mitt Romney there!!!!! People think it was to discuss Secretary of State job. WRONG!! Obviously it was for Mitt to convince me as to why i should endorse his niece for RNC chair over the very very qualified BABAR, who i may still change my mind and endorse!!! And i keep creating jobs! just this week alone, i opened up positions at Goldman Sachs and at Exxon!!

Ben Carson was honest enough to admit that he knows nothing about housing or running a government agency. That’s refreshing! Just the kind of experience I’m looking for! He tells me his decisions will be guided by the invisible hand of the market. Rep. Tom Price will not only repeal Obamacare but will cut out all waste in the Medicaid and Medicare programs. As I’ve said many times, it is a BIG FAT WASTE to cover disabled people!!! We will keep the good parts of Obamacare: lobotomies, breast enhancement and hair transplants will still be covered. 

Full steam ahead on the inauguration!. Kanye West, if he had voted, said he would have voted for me!!!!! We are working in how to blend mental health meltdowns, inflammatory tweets and the Kardashians into a program that THE WHOLE COUNTRY WILL LOVE!!!!!! There will be heavy- duty medication at every banquet table instead of flowers!!!! (Kanye’s idea!  Brilliant!!)The Breitbart event will be giving out free taco bowls and free tickets to the new big hit musical PUTIN!!! which Rex Tillerson and I are backing!!!!!! And of corse, catering by Hardee’s! Kudos to Labor Secretary-elect Andy Puzder for a brilliant idea: food of the little guy! All servers at the inauguration will get free Hardee’s gift certificates in lieu of minimum wage! Can’t wait to see Ivanka’s dress! The president of Taiwan made it herself!!!!

THREE: Breaking News, I would have won the New Hampshire primary

I just want to remind the American public that i would have won in New Hampshire if outside voters had not been bussed in by the thousands, a FACT that is WIDELY KNOWN!!!!!!!!! What you don’t know because the failing New York Times refuses to report it, is that drones also transported hundreds and hundreds of people from Nigeria and Ivory Coast  to polling places in North Carolina and other places EVEN THOUGH THOSE PLACES ARE HARD TO FIND because we had to shut down so many polling places where the blacks might vote!!!! Some of Obama’s Kenyan friends got in too! Somehow they found polling places and i will have the FBI look into it!!!!!! I will have a floating wall built the length of the Atlantic Ocean to prevent such blatant disregard of our borders. As we speak, Mike Flynn is trying to shut down the underground tunnels to the pizza parlor in DC that is now the hub of voter fraud activities!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SAD!!!!!!

I am sooooo proud of Jack Kingston, Representaive of Georgia for his stand against free lunches for poor children! of course they should sweep cafeteria floors to earn their keep and learn the value of a buck! My little Ivanka had to go all the way to China to check out the floors of the manufacturing sweatshops that make her clothing line !!!!They made her look through fabric swatches for hours before they even gave her an egg roll for lunch!! And when they were kids, Donald Jr. and Eric had to pick up all their candy wrappers from the floor of the limo, right outside the BEST PRIVATE SCHOOL in the U.S., maybe the world!!! —before their private chef would even give them a taste of their grilled salmon with caviar!!!!!!! 

And contrary to what the lying media are saying, the fCalifornia  armers are doing just great!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, we did have to round up thousands of their best workers and put them on cattle cars back to those swamps they came from!! !! But now, under my new regime, poor school children can be hired after school to work off their subsidized health care!!!! It’s a WIN-WIN!!!!

Can’t wait til Neil Gorsuch is confirmed!! EVERYONE wants him!!!!!!!!! He has told me privately that not only are corporations PEOPLE with rights to free speech, but cars and refrigerators are people too!!!!!! That’s why the new cars  cars  can drive themselves!!!!! Next year, cars and refrigerators get the vote in all red states!!!! And—cheeseburgers, in their role as citizens, are inundating the Republican party with contributions to fund our agenda, whatever it may be!! Even the little guys—Big Mac Jrs.— are getting in on it with small but important contribtions!!! 

Putin requested that nukes be considered people but i’ll let Gorsuch decide—we DO have separation of powers, you know!!!!

Everyday Life in the Campo, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Those of us who live here in Mexico probably do much the same things that you do every day. Food shop, clean house, exercise, visit friends, read, write, take naps, volunteer, etc. Most of the immigrants I know are retired and live here either part or full-time. We’re from Canada and the U.S.A. for the most part, but Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans are among us, too.

Oaxaca Red casita color. With Gar Bii Dauu. Local endangered succulent.

Oaxaca Red casita color. With Gar Bii Dauu. Local endangered succulent.

Living in Teotitlan del Valle is different from being a city dweller. This village of indigenous Zapotec people holds to a strong, powerful and ancient culture. Many work at weaving wool rugs. Some are musicians. Others are shopkeepers or run comedors. Some are bakers and butchers. A few sew clothing. Many are farmers. In times when there are fewer tourists, many weavers supplement their income by growing and harvesting food.

Plowing my neighbors corn field, a five-hour project

Plowing my neighbor’s corn field, five plus hours of labor

I live in the campo. Out beyond the hubbub of town, amid the traditional milpas of corn, beans and squash. I’m surrounded on three sides by maize fields. Some are tasseling now. Here, the tradition is to plow the furrows when the corn is waist-high to break the crust and allow rain to penetrate earth. This is living close to the soil. Organic. Honorable.

It’s rainy season. Green stretches for miles. Today I awakened to whistling. Out my window was a young man driving a team of bulls plowing the field next to the casita I live in.

Rene's Volkswagen van. Can you guess it's vintage?

Rene’s Volkswagen van. Can you guess it’s vintage?

I grew up in Los Angeles. Miles of freeways. Concrete. Tiny lots separated by six-foot block walls. School yards paved with asphalt. I remember scraped knees and elbows. The hum of car engines passing. We were all jammed together, a jam of humanity. Even more now. Gridlock. I think I’ve become a country girl.

The crop was planted in July. There wasn’t much rain in June and farmers worried about another year of drought. In my absence over the last five weeks, seems that weather has played catch up and everything is growing.

Two teams of bulls on two days, one white, the other black. Take a rest.

Two teams of bulls on two days, one white, the other black. Take a rest.

The young man plowing the field rents out his services. His two bulls are tethered with a hand-hewn yoke that supports a wood plow. He guides the curved stick deep into the earth with one hand to keep the furrow straight. In the other, he holds a switch that gently prods the animals to keep on the straight and narrow. Farm machinery cannot do this job well enough.

A perfect day for plowing the fields.

A perfect day for plowing the fields. From my living room window.

This is his second day at it. Both days, he started at eight in the morning, ended around two o-clock in the afternoon, just before lunch. People work hard here. Five plus hours plowing the field with no break in the heat of the day. The monotony of walking back and forth. The patience of walking back and forth.

Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, March 2017

My friend, plumber and handy-man extraordinaire René asks me if I know what the greca (Greek key) symbol means that is woven on village rugs.  It’s the step-fret carved into the Mitla temple walls, I answer.

Grecas, Mitla archeological site

Grecas, Mitla archeological site, post-classical Monte Alban

Yes, and more, he says. The ancient Zapotecs believe the two interlocking hands that form the pre-Hispanic greca represent the serpent deity duality and the life-giving connection between earth and sky, water and fire.  

The transformation. Beige to red. Another symbol.

Rene executing the transformation. Beige to red. Symbol of change.

We are eating lunch and the thunder is rolling in. The sky darkens. Earth gives off the aroma of on-coming rain.  The just plowed field next door will soon drink its fill. René packs up his painting supplies. Paint does not do well with humidity.

Handwoven indigo rug with greca design

Handwoven indigo rug with greca design, Teotitlan del Valle

The exterior walls of the casita I live in are getting a makeover. The wasband liked beige. I’m in the mood for Oaxaca Red.

From rooftop terrace, a 360 degree view of Tlacolula valley

From rooftop terrace, a 360 degree view of Tlacolula valley

2017 Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing + Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice

For the 7th year, women will gather in retreat for a week of creative writing, daily yoga, meditation and exploration in Oaxaca, Mexico. Our workshop is limited to 10 people. Will you be one of them? Some of us are novices. Others are published poets and writers. All are welcome and encouraged. If this is something you have always wanted to do, please do not hesitate. We fill quickly!

In 2017, we are based in Oaxaca City — a UNESCO world heritage site!

Arrive by Friday evening, March 3. The workshop ends Friday morning, March 10, 2017.  The workshop fee includes 7 nights lodging in a top-rated Bed & Breakfast Inn, all instruction, daily yoga, personal coaching sessions, daily breakfast and some lunches.  You might want to arrive a day early to settle in, avoid a late night arrival or missed connection.

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico from rooftop terrace

Chicken at the Tlacolula Market: The Gift

A group of 12 women are immersed this week in our sixth annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat. All except two have never been here before. Two came all the way from Melbourne, Australia.

Chicken on the spit, seasoned with local chili salt and delicious!

Chicken on the spit, seasoned with local chili salt and delicious!

Going to the Tlacolula market is a highlight for any visitor, especially for those who have a gift list. And, we are writers, so before boarding the Teotitlan del Valle bus and entering the frenzy of market day, Professor Robin Greene, our instructor, gave us a prompt to tie the often dizzying experience to the written word:

  • What does it mean when we give or receive a gift from someone?
  • What do we remember about childhood gifts?
  • What associations do gifts bring up for us?
  • How was a gift received and by whom?
  • Is giving a gift about asking for forgiveness? For showing love?
  • For expecting something in return? A transaction?
  • Who deserves what type of gift and why?
  • When we buy something for ourselves instead of someone else, what comes up?
  • Is a purchase associated with a relationship between the person who sold it and why?
A new artisanal mezcal from Miahuitlan

A new artisanal mezcal, Tzompantli, from Miahuitlan

At the Tlacolula market, there are the obvious gifts: bottles of artisanal mezcal from Miahuatlan, colorful embroidered blouses from Mitla, hand-woven tablecloths and napkins, brightly painted gourds from Guerrero, hand-hewn wooden trucks for little boys, flouncy dresses with lace trim for little girls, a new apron for grandmother.

These did not turn my head.

I saw a lot of chicken today. I don’t know why I focused on chicken. Barbecue chicken. The women selling cooked and raw chicken. Whole chickens and parts.

There was chicken roasting on the grill. Chicken turning on the spit. The people sitting at long tables eating chicken. The chicken legs and thighs at Comedor Mary that could be topped with mole negro or mole rojo.

Chicken at Comedor Mary ready for mole negro

Chicken at Comedor Mary ready for mole negro

I ate chicken for lunch at Comedor Mary although there were many other things to choose from. Took the meat off the bone. Looked at the bone and the meat and thought about my grandmother from Eastern Europe. She killed what she cooked and then ate it.

Rosticeria, where roasted chicken is prepared.

Rosticeria, (roas-tich-air-ee-ah) where roasted chicken is prepared.

Most people here do that. Have a reverence for raising the animals, then slaughtering them for food. Would they say a prayer like my grandmother did? Do they imagine the food as a form of gift? Protein is still scare here for those who don’t make more than 150 pesos a day. That’s about $9 USD.

A chicken on Sunday is a gift. I thought so.

Portable outdoor butcher shop

Portable outdoor butcher shop

 

 

 

Memoir Writing Workshop: Pilgrims, Immigrants, and Travelers

Memoir is a way to express where we are, where we have been and where we are going. Both women and men are welcome to participate. Everyone has an important story to tell.

Arrive Sunday March 13, 2016 and depart Saturday, March 19, 2016.

This six-day intensive writing workshop uses memoir to position the self and understand our worlds. We’ll focus on themes related to life’s journeys, starting with roots and family stories. Using inspiration drawn from food, art, nature, politics and more, we’ll tell our own tales of culture, identity, change, loss and transformation.

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As a literary nonfiction genre, memoir represents reminiscence — a story, an event or a turning point. Akin to autobiography, memoir can have more focus and is similar to narrative nonfiction. However you choose to approach it, each of us has a story to tell about the evolution of our life and how we came to this place called now. We open this door to you to bring your memoir to life – to start it, continue it or take it to its rightful conclusion.

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Memoir writing raises the issue of truth—is what we remember accurate, and is that even important? Craft and focus allow truth to emerge within the container of writing. Ruth Benedict beautifully said: Experience, contrary to common belief, is mostly imagination. Combining both experience and imagination, we’ll tell our stories.

We will also learn and explore classic and traditional memoir forms, including the letter, the list, the diary, personal essay, and the haibun (poetry with prose). Expect examples from the ancient world, Japan, Mexico, and contemporary literature.

In addition, there will be an emphasis on revision and completion, and on writing for an audience. We include an overview of markets for memoir, including short pieces, personal blogs, and independent publishers. Each participant will also meet with Miriam privately for a personal review and coaching session.

About Workshop Leader Miriam Sagan

Miriam Sagan, associate professor in creative writing at Santa Fe (NM) Community College, where she created and directs the creative writing program, is our memoir writing workshop leader. Miriam has over twenty-five award-winning books of memoir, poetry and fiction published with academic presses, independent publishers, and well-known literary presses. Honors include a New Mexico Book Award, Best Memoir of the Year from Independent Publishers Association, Pushcart Prize nominations, and a finalist from New Mexico PEN women, and Mountains and Plains Booksellers.

miriam

She has taught workshops at the Aspen Writer’s Conference, Taos Institute of Arts, Wheaton College, Antioch College, Colorado College, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the Border Book Festival.

A versatile author, Miriam Sagan’s published books include poetry, fiction, memoir as well as writing techniques. In the past several years, she has participated in mixed-media installations that include writing, poetry and art.

Miriam’s work has appeared in over 200 magazines in the United States, Canada, England, Japan, and France, including: Agni Review, American Poetry Review, Blue Mesa Review, Boston Phoenix, Christian Science Monitor, Exquisite Corpse, Family Circle, Fish Drum, Frank, Hollis Critic, Indiana Review, Luna, Mademoiselle Magazine, Maenad, Mothering Magazine, Ms. Magazine, New Mexico Humanities Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Paragraph, Permafrost, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Now, Poets On, The Sun, Yellow Silk, and West Branch.

She is editor of Another Desert: Jewish Poetry of New Mexico, Sherman Asher Publishing 1998, with Joan Logghe; and New Mexico Poetry Renaissance: 41 Poets, a Community on Paper, Red Crane, 1994, with Sharon Niederman. Benjamin Franklin Award.

Miriam Sagan holds degrees in writing and English from Harvard University and Boston University.

Her blog, Miriam’s Well, has a thousand daily readers. The blog has published and promoted the work of hundreds of writers and artists, with a special emphasis on Santa Fe’s West Side and Railyard neighborhoods

About Norma Schafer

Norma Schafer has produced arts and educational programs in Oaxaca, Mexico, through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC since 2006. She is a published writer and photographer. The workshops she organizes are attended by participants from throughout the U.S., Canada and from as far as Australia. During her twenty-five year career in higher education, Norma has produced national award-winning programs for Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University, and The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She holds the B.A. from California State University at Northridge and the M.S. from the University of Notre Dame.

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The Workshop Schedule

Our location is inspiring and tranquil. You are immersed in an indigenous village with 8,000 years of language, history and culture.

Sunday, March 13:  Arrive and check-in to our Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, B&B inn. Informal supper included for those who arrive by 8 p.m. (D)

Monday, March 14 to Friday, March 18: After breakfast, meet for learning session and workshop. The workshop is time to give and take feedback about works in progress. Take a lunch break and then use the afternoon for independent writing and/or to explore this ancient Zapotec village. Dinner is daily at 7:30 p.m. You may want to gather on the rooftop terrace to watch the sunset, sip a refreshment and talk with instructor and participants, or spend your time in evening writing and reflection.

Friday, March 18: End-of-Workshop Evening Celebration and Reading – an opportunity to select your best of week work to read before the group.

Saturday, March 19: After breakfast, leave for home or continue your travels independently.

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What Is Included

For participants in residence, daily 8:30 a.m. breakfast and 7:20 p.m. dinner are included in your workshop fee. Daily lunch is on your own. The workshop includes all instruction, a private coaching session with Miriam, and the gala celebration dinner. For non-resident participants, lodging and meals are not included except noted below.

Optional Activities

During the week, we will schedule optional outings that are sure to inspire your creativity: cooking class, temescal sweat lodge, Zapotec massage, weaving and natural dye demonstrations, local hikes, visits to nearby archeological sites and more. We will send more details and costs of these activities to you before the workshop starts.

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About Lodging and Accommodations

Our workshop is in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle. Yes, there is Internet connection and coffee shops that prepare good cappuccino and chai latte! The bed and breakfast inn where we stay is a family home within a large patio. Accommodations are clean and basic. We offer a few rooms with private bath. Other rooms share a guest bath across the courtyard.

Workshop Cost

Non-Resident Participant:  $695 per person, does not include lodging or meals. It includes all instruction, one private one-hour coaching session, one gala dinner.

Resident Participant: A limited number of double occupancy rooms with private bath, and single occupancy rooms with private bath are available. Please indicate your preference below.  Requests are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

[  ]  $795 per person, shared room, double occupancy with shared bath.

[  ] $995 per person, shared room, double occupancy, with private bath.

[  ]  $1,095 per person, single room with private bath.

Residency Program cost includes 6 nights lodging, 6 breakfasts, 6 dinners, all instruction, one private coaching session for one-hour.

The program does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit guarantees your reservation. The last payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be made by January 15, 2016.  We use PayPal for all deposits and final payments.  Tell us you are ready to register and we will send you an invoice for the deposit.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After January 15, 2016, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before January 15, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

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Required Travel and Medical Insurance

We require that you take out an international travel insurance policy that includes $500,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for proof of purchase. Thank you for understanding since unforeseen circumstances are possible and that’s what “accidents” are.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact:  norma.schafer@icloud.com

Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, produces this workshop.

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