Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

On my 25th New Year I was in Bergun Switzerland with five friends in a bar. I was the only girl. I didn’t love any of them and they didn’t love me. We decided after a few pints of beer to take a train higher up into the Alps and ride a toboggan down the trail. Ben had read earlier in the day, in some flyer by the museum, that the trail was lit at night. We thought it would be a wonderful way to start the New Year.

I don’t remember being afraid, I don’t remember thinking that I should be. I know that Henry told me the sled could reach speeds of forty to fifty miles per hour and I thought that was slow…IN A CAR.

I wanted to go alone. I knew I wanted to drive myself, my two feet on the runners. I wanted to beat the boys. The first light, the big lamp over my head was a moon, the mountains felt like water. The first light was my only light. Once you begin there’s no way to stop, once you begin the only way down is to continue.

To the Swiss lit meant one light at the top of the trail and one light at the bottom. It was three miles of flying, of trying to see the curves ahead, of bending your body low, anticipating the path, leaning in the direction opposite of the one you needed to go. You forget after the fear stays in your throat, that you want to live. There’s no way to stop, no path to walk down.

Henry said he wet his pants before the first hundred yards. I ran over Ben after the second mile. I lifted into the air, held on. I know my body. I know water even when it is cold. I have strong legs and a great need to survive.

I wish I could explain the way it felt flying over the small bridges, of looking up and seeing the stars, how the trees huddled together and how sometimes when the incline straighten, when I looked below it was as if I was looking into a dark mirror, the nothing and endless miles of falling.

I remember thinking of my parents in Maine, asleep in their beds, safe and not dreaming. I remember missing the ocean, of feeling so strange in the Alps--the world didn’t go on, it somehow stopped here, with me. One girl, no one could imagine. No one could say I know Teresa Ballard, and this is what she is doing. This is how I think she will die.

When I reached the last curve I saw the light. I saw the small houses in the village, unlike the mountians from where I had been, so in need of order. I saw shadows walked across the orange light. I began to see other people. My body stretched out, relaxed. The land widen, the trees separated. I didn’t want to stop. I bent myself in half so I could keep going so I could find another place to take off.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

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Olivia says I cannot call us, THE GIRLS OF WONDER AND LIGHT anymore in public places like: hotel lobbies, elevators and on top of the water slide. She rolls her eyes and says, you’re a weird mom.

I tell my girls to look for what they love, mark it, remember. Today I took Bella to her first indoor ice rink. It was horribly romantic with its glass ceiling, piped in music. Bella tried to skate backwards first, I told her we might want to focus on straight ahead. No, she said, I want to go this way, I want to twirl.

Every time a girl would spin around us, she would be disgusted. I tried to explain lessons. I tried to explain practice. Bella would have none of it. She fell A LOT. She told me if you fall on your hands and lick your fingers, it feels better. Today Bella twirled and when I put her in the car tired and wet she said, I found it mom, the thing I love.

I talked to Liz about nomadic culture today. I told her in the desert the women carry the stones. They do these patterns with rocks so they know where they are, because in the desert everything looks the same, it’s easy to become lost. Sometimes, it even feels like you are in the same place where you began—it’s important to mark your way.

I am carrying the rocks in my pocket. Truth is, I always carry things in my pocket but I will not be like Virginia and walk into the river. I will put them down. I will mark my way.
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I am contemplating running away with the moose, he is solid. He doesn’t talk much. I have been on vacation with the girls. If I owe you proofs, recordings, emails, new poems I’m sorry. I am coming but the moose and I are taking our time. We need to catch our breath.

When I was a child my father would take us camping in the Maine woods. My dad and three children under the age of ten, in a leaky boat watching moose come down to the water, on their small spindle legs, their heavy heads. They’re not smart. They’re not beautiful but they are lovely in the way things are strong, not light, not water, nor wind just solid.
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Monday, December 26, 2005

be mindful

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Ballard's morning notes.

I woke up this morning to quiet. My thing for the New Year is to find my silence, the room inside myself and try to begin with it, before I start the day. I am returning to the first writing teacher I ever had, Madeline L’Engle. I blame her for ruining me for all other workshops and teachers, b/c she always told me no one could ever teach me how to write. No one could teach me how to listen to myself. That’s pretty powerful knowledge at 17.

Sometimes I loose my way. Okay, I loose my self a lot. A few years ago I met a teacher who told me Teresa, you need to invent your self as a writer, create your image as a poet--market, connect. He, honestly is probably the most financially successful writer I will ever meet and he’s damn good at this. I am not. Or maybe I am, sometimes I get lost in my own stories, which I’m sure is how Hansel felt when he tried to return home following a trail of bread. No one expects the birds.

Chekhov : you must once and for all give up being worried about successes and failures. Don’t let that concern you. It is your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures.

Dialectic Number One: I spend a great deal more time thinking about what kind of writer I want to be verses actually writing.

Dialectic Number Two: Writing and thinking is key to my survival as a being. It frees me and entraps me, sometimes simultaneously.

When my sister’s son died four years ago I was there, when other people were throwing up in the bathroom or crying in the waiting room, I was rubbing her back, telling her stories b/c even though he was dead she had to give birth to him. When the nurse, took me aside and told me the baby might be born in pieces, that I should be prepared. I wrote myself a story. I said, here I am, I will write my way out of this someday, I will forget. I have never forgotten.

The stories (poems) we keep writing are the things we may never be free of. I know every detail of that room, his foot print on paper. I know you can enter a place, thinking you can be respectful of someone’s grief, enter into their pain b/c you love them and yet it’s a goal you can never attain. I also understand sometimes you can become trapped. There are rooms in love you cannot enter. Places you cannot be.

Pay attention to the dialectics. Be mindful of the birds.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

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They were up at 7 am, my little wonders. This is a year of first: Olivia shoveled for two weeks to get enough money to buy everyone their own gifts. It was very cool. I now have lotion that makes me smell like cinnamon cookies. Oddly, it’s incredibly sexy.

My favorite thing though was Bella’s note cards in purple crayon…I hope you love your prosite. I read it about five times thinking she was trying to spell prostitute. Thus the whole present time was filled with Merry, Merry prostitute and if you need help with your Christmas prostitute. Please yell. I saved each and every note so when she grows old I can sell them back to her.

We the Girls Of Wonder and Light, wish you a very Merry Christmas.
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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Oh and this is me with flower hands

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Today was the last art class of ten boys. We built a snow dog to celebrate. I use to teach grownups b/c well, I thought it made me more important but those people annoyed me. They would stand around me chattering like chickens and tell me things like I can’t paint. Anyone can paint, my students and I know this.

The other reason was, adults give horrible Christmas/ teacher presents and well here’s what I got today: a chocolate cat, drawing of a chocolate cat, four candles, Georgia O’keefe Calendar, a dragon kissing me on the cheek; chocolate covered pretzels; gift card to Target; gift card to Barnes and Noble, orange slices, baked bread, a letter with the entire alphabet and a little boy flying a rocket to the moon.

Truly I am ruined for men over three feet tall. John gave me the rocket and said Teresa, I love you and I always want you to remember. John and I went to space together. I call him John John the Astrotron. He hugs me and does not bite my belly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bella and her prom date Posted by Picasa

Grocery Shopping with Ballard

To the woman who tried to seduce me in the grocery store with liver pate---it almost worked.

To the butcher who followed me around with a meat thermometer---well that was just creepy.

And for this conversation:


Me: Hello

phone: Hi, it’s your good looking brother…

Me: I’m sorry you have the wrong number. I don’t have a good looking brother.

I swear to God I called him right back but I almost peed myself in the veggie isle.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I broke a pattern today. Deliberately, isn’t that how patterns are broken? I made a different choice. I said out loud, I am not the same person I was four year ago and I meant it.

Last night I went to see BrokeBack Mountain. It made me sad. Possibly b/c I was positioned between three people who were sobbing yet I did not. I don’t know why? I’m not a closet crier and yet sometimes silence is good.

In November I stood in a three block line to see Pride and Prejudice. I love that I live in a town where ppl read. Two girls were in front of us and they said, they couldn’t remember any lines memorable from the book, not like Romeo and Juliet. Blah, blah… we are all fools in love, I said. My date was not impressed. I thought it was pretty impressive. Okay, it could be I spent the rest of the evening moaning, “Where oh where is my Mr. Darcy?” That might be it.

Charles Wright has a damn fine poem in The New Yorker. Damn fine. Worth the whole price of the magazine. Also an interesting article about William Woodworth, how he was mocked so much during his writing career, how he has forty years of work no one has ever read, how he did his best writing in his thirties but even then he wasn’t really, ever respected in the literary community.

It is so interesting this whole career perspective. I always find it interesting when people say to me I'm the real thing. What does that mean? I mean, I get they are giving me a high compliment and I do try to take it as such, but the real thing? Does validation of work make it art? And if so, is it the artist’s own validation or the general community?

I love the poem “Chicken Little.” I wrote it three years ago before chicken poetry became popular. Yes, there was a rush. I’ve never published it…maybe b/c there was a huge flood of poultry poetry. I don’t know? But it still took me awhile to figure out that I could still be proud of it. I could still like it, that it didn’t need outside validation.

I'm not the same woman I was four years ago.
Oh exciting news. My friend Alex Lemon first book of poems Mosquito, is going to be published by Tin House Books in late 2006. I'm so happy--blessings on his head and blessings on the book. I can’t wait. This is going to be a wonderful read....

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not Waving

When I tell my non writing friends that I have been solicited or that I am working on submissions they always think I’m talking dirty and even when I cure my friends of the smirks on their faces, I still can’t talk about it at coffee shops, or I get smirks from other tables.

Yesterday I was solicited and it made me wish, it really had something to do with sex, b/c I came face to face to the realization I am not producing like I use to. My new favorite word for the week is “viscous.” I taught it to my second graders yesterday while doing a unit on liquids, after reading “My Life As A Wave” by Octavio Paz.

My mind has grown viscous and though it sounds really beautiful, it is NOT a good thing. I realize I will not write all the books I want to write. I hunger to withdraw and just create and yet everything I know pulls me back into the world.

I feel like I attend more meetings then Jesus and though I pride myself on actually loving this holiday, I find my myself quoting Stevie Smith daily I was too far out all my life, not waving but drowning.

So my question for the day is how do we remain artists in a busy world, when our jobs, children, society constantly calls us to be external and our writing pull us under? And is great art created by a balance of some sort or must you choose one, to withdraw or to be present?

You all nibble on that a bit, while I go out grocery shopping in three feet of snow…not waving but….

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I spent all day at AVEDA SPA---go ahead smell me!!!

Yesterday Morning: Starring me as the Mom and Olivia as the Daughter

Me: Did you tell your teacher I am not coming in today.

Olivia: Yes.

Me: Did you tell her I was busy.

Olivia: No.

(these one word conversations can go on for hours)

Me: What did you tell her?

Olivia: I told you were writing?

Me: Ohhhh (surprised and delighted)

Olivia: I told her lost a big contest last week and if you didn’t write now, you’d never write again, and then there would never be books, you’d cry….


Olivia: Yes.

Me: Well that's a bit dramatic. (thinking of reasons not to kill my child.)

Olivia: Well it is YOU, mom.

and this ends the never ending tale, proving once more that no one can NAIL YOU like your own child.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The things about NOT being a deletor is that you get to go back and read pervious entries and see that you were a hell of a lot interesting a year ago, not only that but “the other me” had mailed gifts to her parents, baked cookies and had a few new poems. It is absolutely depressing. I’m so going to start erasing things.

Today I built luminaries with about forty people. We drilled into soup cans, cut paper lanterns, and my favorite “ice luminaries”. Peter and Rebecca may give you all wonderful recipes but here is how you do art:

Take a plastic container, fill the base with about four inches of water and leave overnight outside (unless you live near Charlie then stick in your freezer.) Collect shells, pine cones, branches and the next day add to the container. You can also add food coloring to the water fill to the top. You may also want to add a small plastic container to the top to leave an indention for the candle. (I use cool whip containers.) Let freeze over night or two, depending on the weather then pop out like a big ice cube. The results are amazing. We do a whole line of them and light them on Christmas Eve.

Hell I could be Martha Stewart. Now go forth and make some Art!!!!!
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Friday, December 09, 2005

I painted with my students today. I talked to them about Impressionist Painters. I talked to them about Van Gogh. What do you feel when you look at this? I told my students to find the thing they loved in life, the place where time stops, that is what they should be, that is what they should do.

I told my most talented pupil, “this is beautiful, it is a safe and beautiful and someday the paint with tell you to do more, to risk AND it may not be as beautiful and when you’re ready, you will listen to it. I could tell you to put leaves, here and here. I could tell you to take risks but you must decide. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”

R. has told me all session she cannot paint. I told her, she needed to give me three classes without saying this to me. Three classes, without negative self speak. Three classes and I will give you the jewel that is in my pocket.

Today she painted Monet’s haystacks. Today she did the best painting in the class. She took chances, she trusted the paint. R. held her dry brush, her wet brush, she said, Teresa I think my other art teacher is an ass (at school) he always told me I couldn’t do this. We do not say ass in my classroom but there are some exceptions.

Van Gogh was a great painter b/c he understood loneliness, he understood it to such a depth that we can feel it on canvas. He is the most mass produced artist that has ever lived and even in that, there is loss. It is not the truth. Look at his paintings. Look.

What is the one thing you can do without question? I will give you the rock in my pocket. I will give you the jewel. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


In the mail box today, so many things.... a wonderful new poem by Lee in the Mid-American Review and two new poems by that Ballard girl.

Karen Craigo is one of my favorite editors.

ps: Ballard also wins second in the James Wright Award
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Tuesday, December 06, 2005


1. You hear colder than a witch’s tit in public conversations.

2. You leave your groceries on the kitchen table, come back twenty minutes later and the milk is still cold.

3. You face tingles and then goes absolutely numb.

4. Your teeth get cold with your mouth closed.

5. Ice forms on the inside of your windows.

6. Everything outside look shiny and LICKABLE.

7. You tell children not to stand under icicles b/c they could die.

8. You sit in your warm car and watch people run for things.

9. You get ice coffee every morning.

10. And at the end of every day, you thump your hands to your chest and say I AM ARTIC GIRL... I can do anything

twenty years ago- (because I'm that old;)

I am eighteen. I have left home. I have left the United States. I live in Belgium. The first place where I feel like I have fallen into my skin. I tell people that I have lived here in another life. I know where to go, I never get lost. I eat in my favorite place with a cat on the table and a dog at my feet. I drink dark coffee; I sit on a bench in the town square while young American men with backpacks and bad accents try to pick me up in French.

In a few hours, I meet my best friend, we ride the trains. We pretend to be someone we're not. We carry an empty cardboard box on to the train and pretend there’s a cat inside. We make weird noises. We cause a whole car load of people to move to another part of the train. We are full of our power and laugh at the joy of it.

Ten years ago:

I have an almost two year old, who could walk at 9 months and run at 10. I work as a nanny 50 hours a week for this very wealthy woman whose main job is to think of new ways to charge people for solar power, once it becomes assessable to everyone. She is very corporate. She uses the phrase “the correct way to do things” daily. I am in the beginning years of my marriage with a man that I love. I live in a 200 year old turret house which has horse hair in the walls and an English garden with my great-grandmother roses.

I am very far away from myself though I believe I have everything I want.

I am not writing at all.

Five years ago-

My daughters are 6 and 2. I am working part time as an art therapist at the local community center. I love my job. I adore my students. We throw paint on the walls, clay on the tables. For a whole afternoon we make a space ship out of boxes. We pretend we can not breathe the air in the room, we wear space helmets and walk with our feet heavy around the moon, tie ourselves with a rope so we don’t float away.

I dread going home. I miss my oldest daughter terribly when she is at school. I drive Bella to a Waldorf preschool so she can sort wool and bake bread. I feel frozen. My husband goes days without talking to me and I don’t understand why, he has told me that he does not love me or the children. He says he is not made for this life but he does not leave.

I sleep in a cot in the baby’s room. I rub Olivia’s back till she falls asleep. I look at the clouds in my daughter’s room and I wonder where I am. I am seeing a therapist because I believe I need to get a divorce b/c if he does not love me, how can I possibly stay? I do not want to be that woman. I walk around it, under it but not through it. It almost kills me.

A stranger kisses me on the couch while my family is sleeping. I go to a therapist to see what this means. I ask all the wrong questions.

I begin writing my way out. I have not written in five years. I begin publishing poems. One of my first ends up in a gumball machine, for a quarter you can have a piece of paper with my words and a gum ball. The first line reads, if you wish to die, do not drown yourself in shallow water. I am drowning and I have no idea how to save myself or my girls. But I will soon.

A year ago-

I have a new boss from hell, who calls me “the craft lady”. She has never worked with children before; she sits in on one of my classes. This will be the one and only time, she tells me I am too involved with students, she tells I am too involved with my families. I keep doing what I do and we avoid each other.

My daughter Olivia writes her first opera. She is filling her book with stories. She joins the swim team. Bella can walk on stilts. She somersaults through the house. She rolls her eyes continually and tells me I am EMBARASSING HER.

I live in a house with puppets in the basement. I am in a relationship, that I’m not sure is good for me. I am writing all the time. I have sent my manuscript off for the first time. I am having strange peace. I believe my kids are happy even though their parents do not live in the same house. I get my first acceptances from major journals. I get my first fellowship. I begin the slow decent out of grieving for what I cannot change. I forgive myself.


I sleep late. I make breakfast for Bella and her best friend. I take Bella to her dad’s. I do a birthday party for a family at my new work place. It is a school where the walls are clear, where saws are hooked up to bicycles, where you can climb, build anything you want. I take them there, instead of the other school where I teach because my client just lost her sister to breast cancer a few weeks ago. She has told me she needs the kids to be happy, to have all three of their birthdays at the same time, she needs it to be easy, to be magic. So I build robots with 23 kids, do cat sculptures, we hide under blankets and say our secret names.

In the afternoon I read Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End. I finish the book. I make hot coco for the girls and their dad when they come home. We talk about Christmas. He and I are friends. I can forgive him for things, as my friend that I could not forgive him for, as my husband. We are incredibly lucky.

I watch a movie with my girls. We spend the evening talking in English accents. We say, pardon me, and yes mum. They’re incredibly polite and pliable till they figure out I am trying to get them to bed.

I do laundry. I work on the new poem. I realize again, that for the first time in my life I am making money as a writer. I feel the heaviness of it and the lightness. I drink hot tea. I dream.

Monday, December 05, 2005


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I am giving myself two presents for Christmas (not including the red suede boots I have hidden under my bed for the girls to wrap.) First is an open studio class on figure drawing starting in January. I see big windows; I see my tool box full of charcoal, snow falling and naked people standing still; permission to draw a whole Saturday morning away.

Secondly, I’m going to take a class on Chekhov and Munro because it’s snowing here and I cannot think of anything more delightful than curling up in a blanket, reading and rereading stories by Anton then getting in my red boots, stomping through the snow to talk about books.

I am giving myself these things in theory because I want to, because I don’t have to figure out childcare yet or feel guilty about the other things I'm not doing like laundry and being a good mother. I sometimes wonder what I’ll worry about when the girls are done baking, when the questions of my goodness do not appear so often.

But today these gifts have no other need, besides to sit in my head and bloom. I am watching the snow. I am in the studio. I am in Anton’s field. I am open to gifts.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I woke up this morning speaking out loud a line Yusef Komunyakaa:

"We had moves we didn't know we had
our bodies spun on swivels of bone and faith,
through a lyric slipknot of joy
and we knew we were beautiful
and dangerous."

I want to beautiful and dangerous, slide through a lyric slipknot of joy.
It is the kind of day I desire.

Bella had a sleepover last night with her best friend “Steven”. They fell asleep singing Bob Dylan. It was nice to have boy energy in the house. He woke up this morning, telling me he heard an animal in the middle of the night, he made rhythmic grrrrr noises, over and over and it took me about ten minutes to realize he was describing me snoring;)

I’m beautiful and dangerous and I sound like a bear.

I am doing a birthday party this afternoon with four year olds at the invention studio. We are going to build sculptures of cats from metal containers. We are going to enter the slipnot.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

We did not believe in anything, salt stayed away from our shoulders even our shadow did not follow. Wistfully we untied our fingers, spoke every prayer backward, waited for emptiness, the pure abandonment of it.

Our hearts became ponds, shallow inlets of water. Cold, the one word we said without guilt. We named each other. What covered our hunger was like a mirror but not smooth or clear, distorted by temperature, a lake we did not walk upon. Water we could not drink.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Okay this is hilarious. Going around blog sphere: type in your first name in google and then needs. This pretty much sums up my day.

Teresa needs help.
Teresa needs you.
Teresa needs to work on her math’s skill.
Teresa needs one more miracle to be a saint.
Teresa needs to back off and accept the consequence of her actions.

And this is even in order. God, some days I love google.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Here’s a secret: when I’m sad I book flights to other places. I arrange hotels, tours. I plan my days, know what I will pack. Today I went to Norway. I went to look at beautiful sculptures, the world in white stone. I wanted to see gardens and castles. When I was 17, I went to Denmark. I was alone, and crossed the ocean on a boat. I loved the way the island came to the sea, as if it knew it would not be defeated.

Another secret: I took my class of boys out to play in the snow today. We all ran to the top of the hill, ran down and fell to the ground. We made angels. You cannot walk through them. You can stomp over them but these babies are solid.

After class A. ran up to me and hugged me I love you Teresa, I’ll see you next week then he BIT me.

I told his mother sometimes love is like that….. Posted by Picasa