I am a free-lance writer, editor and writing teacher. I begin to think about credentials and balk. You can google Mary Sojourner to find my books and articles, my NPR commentaries and writing conference gigs. Here is what is important:
Last night I walked out over the desert, into light that went from too much to burnished to cool gray. I was heading back when I saw a jade-green snake coiled in a perfect circle. Its head was slightly raised, its tongue testing the air.
A few seconds later I found a delicate feather, downy white near its spine, barred cream and brown toward its tip.
I had spent the day fighting various ghosts of "what if". The snake and the feather slowed my heart.
I bring to publishers, writers and students my willingness to walk out over the desert alone; to watch the ground; to look up; and to fool the various ghosts of "what if". Those phantoms block beauty. I teach my students how to float with them.
I teach for writing conferences, in private circles (will travel throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado; you organize your circle and bring me in), and one-on-one through e-mail, phone and/or face-to-face meetings. $175. for an initial individual consultation (my written suggestions on maximum of 20 double-spaced pages) and 30 minutes phone time. I work with fiction, essay, poetry and the transformation of journal writing into what comes next... My fee for writing circles depends on location, number of writers and length of time.
I edit that which needs a razor's edge and respect.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Down the road
WORDSMITHING: they say
Father, father, we don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today
What's goin' on what's goin' on, what's goin' on - what's goin' on
Heah, what's goin' on - what's goin' on, oh, what's goin' on - what's
---What's Goin' On?
Marvin Gaye, 1971
I fall in love with the old times
I never mention my own mind
Let's f..k the world with all it's trend
Thank god, it's all about to end...
They say it's all about to end...
Scars on Broadway, 2008
"Thank god, it's all about to end..." That's got to be an old broad
talking or an angry geezer. Daron Malakian just turned 33. He was
lead singer for hard rock band, System of a Down. He now fronts SOD.
They Say registered 100,000 downloads when it went up free on ITunes.
Four years ago, Big Dog publisher, make that rabid Big Dog publisher,
Scribner's released my memoir, Solace:rituals of loss and desire
(this excerpt records a reading in Denver in 2002):
I paused and asked for questions or reactions. A young woman
in a bright red t-shirt raised her hand. "Something has been
troubling me for a long time," she said, "long before your reading. I
have two small kids. I am terrified for their future. I've been
taught that life moves in cycles of expansion and contraction. I see
growth exploding. Will there be a contraction? Are the cycles still
I wanted to to say easily, " Yes, we move in cycles, our earth and
our huge little species are moved in cycles. It will all come out
just fine." But I remembered a moment from the day before and could
not. At an off-ramp gas station in Colorado Springs, a furious kid in
a pick-up truck had squealed out of the lot, his back tires tossing
rock like shrapnel. Ev had vice-gripped the door handle of his truck.
"I want to go after that kid and beat the shit out of him," he said,
then shook his head. "Which makes me him. We are all spinning out."
I lsat on the edge of the stage.
"I'm deeply afraid," I said, "that the incredible speed at which
most of us are moving is carrying us out of the natural spiral. We
have exceeded some inner and outer gravitational pull. We are flying
out of control."
"But, where," she said, "is the hope?"
Before I could answer, her friend stood. She was a woman in her
impeccably groomed, hair cut beautifully, her feet in polished
top-of-the-line cowgirl boots. I would have said we were about as far
apart as two women can be. And then I saw the pain in her eyes.
Her words came slowly. I had heard them three other times on this
trip, once at the Albuquerque reading, once during a radio interview,
once between old friends. "My only hope," she said, "is that some
day, maybe even soon, our species will be gone."
Four years since Solace was published. Six since I listened to
those mothers longing for hope. Thirty-six years since Marvin Gaye looked
deep into the terrified heart of America and asked, "What's Goin' on?"
Every day I hear someone say: "It's coming apart. This cannot
continue." They speak about home foreclosures, gas gouging,
unemployment, food banks stretched as thin as Depression potato soup,
the obscene flaunting of wealth by them that got it...
You can say "It's coming apart." Or you can say "It's goin' down."
And, the question I ask myself every day is this: "Where do I stand?
And, when it's gone down, where will any of us stand?"
A friend read my last column and wrote: Your last column in LIVE
troubled me. Your current sojourn in the desert sounds more like an
austere and lonely exile than a fresh start set some distance from a
casino. Is there anything I can do to help you?
His last sentence is the beginning to the answer to the question:
Where will any of us stand?
For all of us.
WORDSMITHING: with all due respect
The planet isn't going anywhere; WE are!
by way of old comrade, Bob Katz (Lippman)
Western laziness consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues.
I am lazy. I am compulsive. The real issues hung out with me for a couple years. They would not go away. I couldn’t. The real issues worked on me.. They used sand-paper and evisceration. When they were finished I was a parchment bag of bones and not knowing.
I cast my bones into the future. They brought me here. This place is merciless. Molten. These times even more so. No work. Frightened people.
And still, around 6:30 in the evening, the light cools. I step out my door and am immediately in the presence of radiant sand, dark mountains and human debris. I am in the Mojave Desert.. I set out.
Three nights ago I came across a pale yellow cabin. The windows were boarded up. One nail held the door shut. There were words painted in flamingo pink on the door:
PEOPLE! If you are the ones that stole the chair,
go ahead and break in again. There is nothing left to
Hey, Dougie, here’s the phone number...
...if you want...a shower.
BEWARE OF SNAKES!!!
I began to try the door and stopped. It was not the possibility of serpents that stayed my hand. It was the certainty that the lives of the people who had written on the door were none of my business. It was the dozens of abandoned shacks, houses and trailers I’d found near Twentynine Palms, the currents of lost hope and despair that seemed to wind through those phantom neighborhoods and the stories I knew needed to belong to people who might have lost everything.
I walked east. I’d gone no more than fifty yards when I saw a ripple of jade and gray gleaming in the sand. The snake lifted its head. It flicked its tongue and tasted what might be coming toward it.
I stepped back. “Sorry,” I said. “This is your neighborhood.”
I went through old papers that evening. I hunted nothing. What I found was an invitation as big as the hopes of people building a homestead cabin and as precious as light swimming along a rattlesnake’s curves.
January 1, 1990: On January 14, I will turn 50. Please join me and a few friends for a birthday witness at the proposed uranium mine site near Red Butte. No present, please. Bring music, food and the willingness to stand outside the wire fence that still encloses the intentions of a Denver mining company, a company a few of us stopped cold. Love and Respect, Mary
There was the the hand-drawn map still incised in my heart. And, there were the memories of a miracle. A few of us had caravanned over frozen dirt roads. Bob Katz drove his truck. I drove mine. We parked outside the concertina wire. The head-frame and the workshed had not been taken down---in case the price of uranium went up, in case the Havasupai and a few of us forgot.
We heard dogs barking. I walked up to the locked gate. Bob opened the truck doors. “Let’s do it,” I said.
I’d brought two tapes: Aretha Franklin singing “R.E.S.P.E.C.T., and the Gaden Shartse monks chanting a Tibetan Buddhist prayer for the Earth. Bob slid in a tape and turned up the volume.
“Wait a second, “ I said.
A door opened. Two dogs barrelled out of the workshed. Their fangs were bared. “Hit it,” I said.
The low thunder of the monk’s chant moved out into the air. In that instant, the dogs went silent. They dropped to their bellies. They crossed their front paws, lowered their heads and looked calmly up at me. They did not move, even when their owner walked up; even when he asked us what we were doing and we said, “Praying.”; even when he said, “O.k.”; even when the chant faded out and the black diamond of Aretha Franklin’s voice glittered over our heads---and we began to dance.