About a month ago I created this art piece at a “crochet” gathering at my friend Brenda’s house. I learned to knit one hat in college over 20 years ago, but never picked up knitting needles again. At Brenda’s, I tried my best to crochet, but my hands and mind weren’t quite on board. I was able to make one string of crochet loops and my mixed media mind took over. There is a certain impulse or urge I feel in my body about creating mixed media works. I think it’s the impreciseness of it, the different textures interconnecting, and surprise meaning created by unusual juxtapositions.
I pulled out a large envelope of collage materials, scissors, glue, pens, and needle and thread and went to town in an old notebook. This is the piece the emerged from that art-making session:
For a month, I’ve been staring at this piece, curious. Why is time not sad? I kept asking. That bit of text was cut out of some poem or magazine article and called me to use it. Art-making is mysterious this way. So this evening, while dusting off my shelf where this piece sat in waiting, I spent some time with it and this line emerged in my mind: “time is not sad — we are,” and then this poem flowed out, as if the art piece was making the call and the poem was giving the response. Here is the poem:
Time is not sad – we are.
It’s an emotionless tick-mark passing
through an invisible scrim.
We are sad because it doesn’t bend
for us, makes no special accommodation,
doesn’t write a letter of excuse, gives no
pardons, makes no concessions or apologies,
never moves up our appointments, delays
our arrivals, suspends our goodbyes.
In fact, it doesn’t even know we are here –
such an absent companion – and still
we obey its laws, follow its cycles,
and surrender to its every minute,
our bodies pressed into it, leaning forward
as if walking into the wind, eyes watering.
The moral of the story is this: trust your creative impulses, let your work develop for you — it will always have a message — and try allowing one art form inform another, as if in dialogue.
Wishing you creative bursts of insight,
c. 2017 Courtney Putnam – all rights reserved in all media
It has been seven years. If you had never gotten sick—if you had lived—who would you be now? Would you still love peanut butter sandwiches and fishing in the waters of Puget Sound? Would you still be a golfer and a jokester and the grounding force in every room? Would I still see tears in your eyes when you are moved by social justice? Would you still say to me (now at age 39, almost 40) “Way to go kid”? Memory is sometimes fickle, other times an iron burning a deep mark in wood. Here is one of those deep marks distilled in a poem. Here you are, a version of you from many years ago, still clear in my memory.
WATCHING HIM TIE THE CORDS
for my father
One summer, they come—
pups with wet fur, slick in their amniotic gloss.
My father flops each black body over like a fish
to reveal the pink bellies and the gray umbilicals.
He cuts and ties each cord like a fishing line.
I recognize his gentle one-handed turn,
remember when the knife sliced
the salmon’s pink flesh, scored the scales
and one glazed fish eye stared back at me
across the bloodied sink.
Today, he strokes each tiny body, ties
the cords into knots and places the pups
at their mother’s row of plump nipples
for their first suck of life.
c. Courtney Putnam, 2015
Let’s burn those traditional New Year’s resolutions. Take all of your “to-do’s” and “shoulds” and “have to’s” and place them in a pile of kindling. Watch them curl and scorch and turn to ash. Feel your body lift and lighten as the smoke rises. Listen to your heart’s caverns expand. Be present to how those “shoulds” have held you back, kept you from rising. Replace them with “I am” and “I want to” and “I am becoming.” Write your way into a brand new year of self-love, self-compassion, deep listening, and creativity. Listen to your body, write from your body, let your body speak.
The ZenPen journey begins on January 12, 2015.
Join me for body-based writing for healing, personal growth, and transformation.
$69 for the entire six-week e-course!
Give ZenPen as a gift to someone you love this holiday season!
The Goodies: What You Get in this E-Course
- Six weeks of “Lessons,” each covering a different ZenPen theme.
- A guide to body-writing basics, including the “ZenPen Kata” and “Trigger Point Writing.”
- A personal video from me once a week.
- Body exercises to try (breath, movement, meditation, etc.).
- At least five body-based writing prompts per week.
- Inspirational quotes, videos, images, and links related to each theme.
- An “Inspire-Me-Thursday” post with inspiration and motivation to keep you writing.
- Responses to and feedback on your posts on CourseCraft and in the Facebook Group.
- A community of like-hearted people with whom to share writing, insights, experiences, and resources.
- A 30-page ZenPen course document that is yours to keep at the end of the e-course.
- Unconditional love and support!
Here’s what ZenPen graduates have to say about the course:
“I love that we incorporate our bodies into our writing — or rather, let them do the writing for us. I’ve been trying to learn more about how to heal through my body and what it remembers, so I’m excited to add one more process in my journey. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to explore and heal here.” — Faith
“Your prompts, and the writing I crafted in response to them, at various moments made me take deeper breaths, burst into tears, listen more closely to various parts of my body, feel connected and warm, mourn, hope, build courage, and so many other things. Thank you.” — Jessica
“I have been journaling and studying all things journaling for four decades and the content here is very interesting and the information was new to me. I know have a whole new landscape to explore in my journaling. Thank you. — Bheki
“That’s why this course has been so helpful: little by little, I am seeing small ways to improve my awareness of my body, and now I can include it in that powerful triumvirate of mind-body-heart. I am only starting on this kind of awareness training, but I am already seeing the benefit: I am more present, less violent with my language towards myself, and much, much more forgiving of my ‘human-ness.’ Your course is tying in nicely with everything else I am learning about right now.” — Lauren
“Courtney is amazing. And I was needing a ‘reason’ to start writing again, but felt like if I just tried it on my own I’d be discouraged with more grocery-list type entries (from the head) rather than really getting some creative writing out. Through the ZenPen process, I learned that my body has a whole lot more to say that my Big Bad Mind won’t let it. Sorta like a stern parent, my mind REGULATES, and so when I can put my mind in time-out, then my body feels free to open up and give me lots of good stuff to work with!” — Jenna
“I learned to not rationalize too much, to listen to my body, to trust myself and my instincts, and to know that it’s OK to not make sense! I struggle with anxieties that something is wrong with me because I find great differences between me and many other people, but I’m slowly learning/struggling/challenging myself to believe that my differences are me and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve gained new perspectives from this course and I am very grateful for you Courtney.” — Hafsia
“ZenPen is helping me to be more present and loving with myself. It is facilitating a deepening relationship with myself that is necessary for me to be more of ME. I love your insights and exercises and the way you share yourself — very inspiring!” — Rachel
“The ZenPen E-course was outstanding in quality and quantity. I liked having lots of things to return to throughout the week — writing prompts, body work, videos, mid-week inspiration, and posting. Courtney’s replies to my CourseCraft posts were the highlight of the course for me! Through the e-course, I learned that I can do what I thought I couldn’t (write from my body) and that it’s an ever-expanding opportunity I can keep returning to and deepening.” — Nicole
A brand new year is on the way. How are you going to show up for yourself in a deep and meaningful way?
Repair by Courtney Putnam
As I try to digest the horrors of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am reminded of a poem I wrote in graduate school. The setting and context is not about this conflict, or of any war. It’s a poem of yearning for connection and understanding — a kind of resonance that can reach across oceans and through nations and beyond seemingly indestructible barriers. And it’s also a reminder of the energy of children who know no boundaries and exude curiosity and compassion despite politics, religion, distance, and difference.
This poem is for them — for the children.
WHAT RESIDES THERE
“Dear Diary, today is April 26, 1986. I haven’t written in a long time. Today was pretty good. We had some hail. In the Soviet Union something blew up and so radiation is floating around.” –my diary entry, age 11
When St. Helens erupted, my brother
filled Jiffy jars with water,
placed one in each of our bedrooms.
Did brothers in the Ukraine do the same?
As I watched the news flash footage
of Chernobyl’s smoke and flames,
I pictured myself there
filling jars of water, placing them
on nightstands and under beds.
It occurs to me now how the word
here is always part of there—
the way loved ones live
inside me like stones at my core,
the way we nestle inside one another,
curious and unafraid.
Many of you know that I am a long-time vegetarian and a forever animal lover. I think I came out of the chute part-bird, part human, and fully empathic (thank you for this, ma!).
My animal compassion decisions and actions have never been difficult; they’ve been givens, as if my soul just can’t do certain things when it comes to animal suffering of any kind. This just is. There is no hierarchy I build, no harsh comparisons I make, no holier-than-thou judgments I put on others. I have eaten my baked potato and side salad next to steak eaters and had a grand time. (Okay, it was a little gross, but I could handle it.)
Do I wish that our culture would eat fewer animals overall? Yes. Do I wish that factory farms didn’t exist and instead animals were free to roam and without being injected with harmful hormones and other yuckitudes? Yes. Do I wish that sometimes I could save every animal on the planet? Yes.
And yet, I know life is complex and eating habits run deep and that I can’t save every animal. But given the chance, I try my best. I even save the littlest creatures of this earth. I save spiders, ants, potato bugs, flies, bees, and yes, even slugs — even slugs that are chomping on my garden. (I can hear some of you gasping! It’s okay, really, I am fine with it.)
I don’t think I’m crazy. If you were part-animal and all-empath, wouldn’t you feel compelled to do the same?
In honor of the animals of this world, I give you a poem I wrote in graduate school in 2002. Okay, perhaps I’m a little crazy, but a big heart and a strong conviction are kind of sexy, right?
in slimy goodness,
You slide up the railroad ties
to the vegetable garden
like land-born leaches to suck
the life from the bush beans,
red leaf lettuce, baby carrots.
I creep outside with a flashlight
to remove you from a slow
salted death from my father’s
slug bait, follow your silvery
mucus trails, those lustrous
streaks painting the garden bed.
I pick you up with maple leaves,
clumps of grass clippings, place
you under the deck, away
from the garden, sprinkle
raspberries near you as a gift
for this sudden relocation,
this interference. I did not know
you’d become bigger,
stronger, and multiply
from these sweet meals,
that I’d run out of raspberries,
that my father would set more bait,
or that you’d summon your friends,
their swelled bodies hungry
for the surge of succulent red juice.
c. 2002, Courtney Putnam
I am feeling a bitter-sweet buzz inside my chest as I look at the cover of The Cancer Poetry Project 2, a powerful anthology of poems edited by Karin Miller. One of my poems appears within these pages and I feel honored, humbled, and a-flutter.
This collection of poems is composed of words by patients, spouses and partners, family members, friends and caregivers — all who have been touched by cancer.
The first anthology, published in 2007, has been described in the following ways:
“Readers will recognize themselves, find validation for their innermost feelings, and derive comfort from knowing that they are not alone on the road they are traveling.“
—Geri Giebel Chavis, The National Association for Poetry Therapy
“This collection is so poignant, so honest, so cellular, I could barely read more than one poem at a time without pausing for my heart to heal.“
“Every stage of the cancer journey is expressed and described in vivid and unforgettable language. You cannot fail but to be inspired. These poems will touch your heart.”
—Sharon Bray, Ed.D., author of When Words Heal: Writing Through Cancer and A Healing Journey: Writing Together Through Breast Cancer
This anthology is not yet in stores or on Amazon (yet), but you can pre-order a copy here at the Cancer Poetry Project website. You seldom meet a person who has not been impacted by cancer in some way. Because these anthologies come from a variety perspectives, it is true: you will recognize yourself in some way as you allow each poem to expand your heart and warm your bones.
I now share with you the poem that I submitted to the project and that will appear in beautiful pages of The Cancer Poetry Project 2:
One Small Pleasure
Today I am an alchemist, combining the ingredients
into a small glass bowl: sugar, dried rosemary leaves,
and peppermint with warm almond oil.
I roll my dad’s khakis up to his knees,
and with a white towel under his legs to catch
the sprinkling of my exfoliant mixture, I softly scrub
the dry, scaly skin chemo has left.
He closes his eyes as I massage the mixture
from the bottom of his feet, circling up his shins and calves,
to his knees and back down again. With warm moist towels,
I wash away the excess and see his legs turn pink
and smooth. “Feel how soft they are, dad,” I say,
as he smiles and rubs his shins, then asks for more.
This is one small pleasure—
to be touched without latex gloves, skin to skin, sugar
and herbs instead of alcohol and iodine,
his own couch to sink into,
his wife nearby watching this experiment unfold,
and his daughter saying through her touch,
This is one thing I can do, dad. This is at least one thing.
Courtney Putnam c. 2013
in peace, healing, and strength,