norbert blei | acknowledgements

19 06 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No.186 | June 19, 2009

Norbert Blei

“When the student is ready, the teacher arrives”—old Zen saying

To know, to recognize, to confess…

I tend to be overly critical of those who for whatever reason (usually ignorance) fail to say a simple Thank You for any goodness graciously bestowed upon them. A lesson, supposedly learned in childhood. But one too often forgotten these days, when every good act seems taken for granted—even worse, deserved.

If anything, I am usually overly thankful for just about anything anyone does for me, from a waitress pouring me yet another cup of coffee; a bartender ‘topping off’ my Scotch; a mechanic who makes a minor adjustment on my car and sending me off with a wave-of-a-hand and a “Get outa here,” as I open my wallet. Random acts of kindness, all. Thank you.

All of which leads to why I am so perturbed by my own inexcusable behavior, unexplainable action of failing to acknowledge an incredible act of beauty, wonder, and kindness bestowed upon me by a group of my old writing students from The Clearing, almost a year ago.

In an attempt to make both this and a long story short, I left The Clearing in June of 2007 after my annual writing class. I was unhappy with the new management, the new approach to an old, wonderful folk-school created in 1935 by an extraordinary man, a landscape architect, Jens Jensen, at the age of 75. And though I began working with writers at his school about twenty years after Jensen’s death, I felt I knew him intimately through his writings, through friends of his who became my friends, through the very setting itself, a landscape of woods and water, which became part of you as you became part of it, part of the greater wonder of the natural world which Jensen surely inhabited and wanted to share. To know this place was to know him.

But all of this, to my mind, seemed threatened by the usual forces of mostly well- meaning people, good intentions…and sometimes questionable personalities and deeds–though the board that governed it was a good one led, till just recently, by Tim Stone, who devoted a good part of his life attempting to honor the Jensen philosophy of leaving well-enough (nature) alone.

Still, it was not the place I remembered. (Irreconcilable differences.) And so ‘the teacher who arrived” in the 1970’s decided it was time to depart, much to his sadness.

[Ed. Note: Confirmed sources report that when present management is asked around The Clearing dining table: “Why isn’t________ teaching here any more?” The management response is: “He retired.” Correction: He never retired. He resigned. He left.]

A year after my departure, a group of my old (and some new) writing students decided to keep the class in session. If not The Clearing. Elsewhere. Too many bonds had been made that refused to be broken. As plans were being made, I informed these good people that whatever they wanted to do was fine with me—but not to count on me teaching. I made a promise to myself—and Tim Stone– that I would do no teaching for a year. Wait things out.

My old class met last year at the Little Sister Resort in Sister Bay, Wisconsin less than 10 miles south of The Clearing. A similar, beautiful setting. They organized their own class, did their own teaching, had one great time. I stopped by on the last night, for the usual Friday night party and reading. (I really missed these folks.)

The upshot of that week became a book from that class—A SLENDER THREAD –which they dedicated to me. And so here it is, a year later, I’m still searching for a way to acknowledge this, the gift of themselves, their words and images, their love for the small community of writers we developed over the years in a setting of peace and contemplation envisioned by one man search for community in a natural setting.

In fear of turning this into an Oscar “Thank you” marathon of everyone imaginable (including God)…I want each of them to know that this is it—the Big Thank You. A year late. I could hardly bring myself to open the book in all that time. I learned as much if not more from each of you that you may have learned from anything I brought to the table all through the years.

Few but the writers within these pages have seen this book. Which, perhaps, is as it should be. I doubt any library has a copy. I doubt the Clearing has one. It doesn’t matter. I suspect one might be borrowed from one of the contributors—or tracked down through the publisher, Ralph Murre.

Speaking of those contributors, my fantastic former students who appear in this volume, here are their names: Albert DeGenova, Alice D’Alessio, Bobbie Krinsky, Cass Hale, Catherine Hovis, Don Fraker, Emily Rose, Jackie Langetieg, Jude Genereaux, Karen Yancey, Kris Thacher, Maja Jurisic, Ralph Murre, Richard Finch, Sharon Auberle, and Susan O’Leary.

Seven of these students had their first books placed/published by my small press, Cross+Roads Press, and five others appeared in a best-selling, world-wide anthology of writing I edited and published in 2007, OTHER VOICES.

I thank my high-energy partner, Jude, with love-galore…a sort of house-mother to the group helping them organize/find the right location to keep the party going. I thank you all, in particular, Ralph, Sharon, Jude, and Susan for spear-heading the book, A Slender Thread. Susan, who became my teaching assistant/partner …is a special Eastern soul-woman of mine who breathes quiet in her very presence. (I was her high school English teacher many years ago. Another time. Another place. The wheel keeps on turning.)

I wish I had time and space to print everyone. Here are just a few offerings which lend, I trust, both an overview and an insight into who these people are, what they are all about. And why writing matters to us.

A Note From the Editor …

There was once a group of writers.

There was, for many years, a teacher.

There was once a school and times there that felt, to the writers, almost vital to their survival. They thrived in that school, learned, put out work even they didn’t know they were capable of. They were happy.

And then things changed, as they are wont to do. The teacher, for good reason, needed to move on to other things. The students were suddenly adrift, rudderless, lost.

Though the circumstances that had kept them close were gone, the group remained connected by a slender thread. They were supportive of, and inspirational to each other. This must not happen, we must remain connected, they all agreed, and so the Nota Bene Group was born—nota bene being Latin for note well, which is, of course, what a writer should always be doing. And a place was chosen—not the same place— changed things should not, must not, be the same. Little Sister Resort beckoned, drew the students in for a look. It was a warm and welcoming place, beautiful in its own, old Door County feel and the writers thought, yes, this could be the place.

Two teachers, former students of the old master, stepped up and offered to walk with the students. And the writers thought yes, this might work. And it did.

This book is the result. – Sharon Auberle


– for NorbertO’

Cool of a June-soft summer morning
aaaaaaathe Oven bird calls
“… teacher- Teacher- Teacher!-TEACHER!!”
aaaaWe walk the new road, find
same pearlescence of sky and light;
Spruce-poplar scent branding the air –
alimestone bluffs guard the bay, their
cedar arms encircle the fresh water sea
aaaarolling smooth the rush inside;
aaUnsure if this can be made right again
we search for the Way we thought we knew;
aaaabut that bird and I are still calling
… teacher- Teacher- Teacher!-TEACHER!!

Jude Genereaux

A thread joins us
aaa slender enduring thread

no matter how many miles or hours apart
no matter those times we’ve circled each other in distance

as thread is wound onto a spool
in one unending line
following the sure pattern it comes to know
day by day
the thread has wrapped and held in our lives

it has worked in dailiness
in the simple straight stitch
that loops surely through our fabric
securing separate patterns
beginning and ending the day

and it has embroidered love
drawn our symmetry
met at our edges
chosen full color

as spools can sit unnoticed for years
lined up in a drawer
their own particular lavender
patient among azure among sage among linen
our thread has waited ready
to darn the hole
to mend the tear
we have found it each time

in missing you I imagine
that thread stretched heart to heart
if from this place I slowly unraveled a spool
brought it to the highway

and loosened it

it would in unfurling
in traveling those hundreds of miles to you
it would know its way home
it would hold the space
of the years we have sewn

Susan O’Leary

Night Poem

It’s too late,
Too late to call you.
It’s not just the clock.
I want to call
Who you used to be.

Kris Thacher

Looking at Night Poem, the teacher, the writer in me senses:
There’s such a sadness in those three words, “used to be.”
There’s a story there somewhere.
A novel.
A whole life.

Norbert Blei