What I Do: Vision Statement #makered

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My friend Stephanie challenged me to write a marketing plan for my business (Watermountain Studios), in sonnets.  I don’t know that I can write a marketing plan in sonnets, but I can write two that qualify as a vision statement, I suppose.

The human hand used to shape all our needs
and make all our wants from creche to casket;
the old factory is now choked with weeds,
and we mock those who can make a basket.
Robots build cars, machines sew our raiment
and the sweat of slaves dapples our plastic toys…
our children sit idle, workshops vacant —
we test to exhaustion both girls and boys.
Yet numbers and letters can still be learned
through artisan’s arts of loom, forge, and press.
By hand and eye’s labor are truth discerned
and concrete order made from abstract mess.
Children learn best when their hands learn to make,
for artistry helps our minds to awake.

To start a MakerSpace right now is hard:
we sold off the shop tools and burned the scrap,
put abstract thought on every student’s card,
and put computers in each student’s lap.
We tested for phonics and random facts,
and jumped for joy at every new reform —
yet abstraction has been a kind of trap
to make a man who thinks instead of acts.
Ask me — I’ll guide you through these thickets,
to where your students thrive with tools in hand
making theater props, posters and tickets,
costumes, the stage — instruments for a band.
When children make, they become more adept
at fixing the world that broke while we slept.


Tai Chi Poem on Amazon

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I’m pleased to report that the Tai Chi Poem I composed in 2015 is now available for Kindle from Amazon.com.  All sixty-two sonnets in order, together with the diagrams I composed for the poem, are now in a single digital document and available for $4.49.  You can go through the back entries of this website and find all the poems — they were composed in 2014 and published here — but now they’re available as a convenient download.

The Tai Chi Poem


In 2014, I composed sixty-two sonnets describing the process of moving through the tai chi form that I first learned in 1998 in northeastern Connecticut.  That sonnet sequence is now available as a downloadable Kindle file from Amazon.com.

Like most of my sonnets, these are Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnets, in iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme running ABABCDCDEFEFGG.  Some portions of the sequence may be useful to tai chi teachers for creating effective mnemonics for their own students, but I don’t recommend trying to learn tai chi from reading the poems aloud or reciting them.  Some things are better left to professionals rather than me.  I also think the poems are quite beautiful on their own.  My goal, overall, was to create something akin or in the tradition of the traditional martial arts and tai chi manuals, a combination of simple diagrams and poetic descriptions of the movements. The work is dedicated to my teacher, Laddie Sacharko of Star Farm Tai Chi.  The tai chi poem will always be available exclusively from Amazon in print form.

Other Works

The Tai Chi Poem also joins my other book, Poems for the Behenian Stars  for $9.99 on Amazon.  This second book, a poetic exploration of the fifteen stars of H.C. Agrippa’s list of the major stars of the northern celestial hemisphere, is also available as a PDF download from Etsy for $10.  I earn more royalties from an Etsy download, but I understand that Kindle grants me access to a wider audience.  Feel free to tell your friends!

Poem: Sunflowers for Healing


A friend of mine is quite ill at the moment, and she’s asked her community of healers and well-wishers to imagine a field of sunflowers as a place from which she can draw strength and healing energy.  Many have sent her photographs of such fields; I chose to send a poem.

The greenery overhangs the fences,
the railings shielded behind lancet leaves;
each leaf absorbs sunlight and condenses
sugars into a stem of woody greaves
that reaches skyward to support a Sun.
Earth thus stretches upward to touch the sky,
and in this field, a nursery’s begun—
a nebula, from which new stars shall fly.
Broad the field where ten thousand new stars bloom,
each itself a sun—each a source of strength,
shining yellow even in twilight’s gloom,
facing the Sun across the meadow’s length.
no flower blocks light for another’s seeds—
but each spreads its shade to starve out all weeds.

I ask you, readers, to read this poem in particular aloud, to allow the shape of your breath to help you connect your breath temporarily to this image of the field of sunflowers, and to imagine that field as a place of health and healing.

Tai Chi Y3D242: Drawing in Arms


Back on Day 125 this year, I began the sonnet project.  On Saturday (yesterday), Quin decided to try to learn my tai chi form from my sonnets, but admitted he’d need some diagrams to help him.  So I decided, it’s time to make the diagrams that go with the tai chi sonnets, and I started drawing.

So yesterday I did the Opening. Today is Circling the Arms:

Both hands rise up to the height of the shoulders,
while feet, planted firm, stand shoulder-width wide.
The hands retreat, like a pair of soldiers
on guard, overrun by opposing side.
Ere they retreat all the way to the chest,
they stop and resist; and the knees sink low.
The hands remain just a moment at rest,
then they, too, press downward, following flow
of chi — that eternally-living flame.
The knees unbend and the body ascends,
though hands still press opponent down in shame,
’til fingers impress with their last extends,
how direct forward motion does not land,
but tumbles down by the circling hand.

Picture?  Oh boy. This is where things get complicated.  Can I do this?  Probably.  But probably not immediately or swiftly. Guess what, even though I just did this in my tai chi form, I’m having to stand up, do it again, turn on the iPad, try drawing, stop drawing, do the movement, pick up the iPad, draw again, and so on.  Sorry Quin — this is not going to happen nearly as fast as either of us would like…

CircletheArms Well. What have I learned about drawing so far?

I’ve learned that it’s going to be more challenging than I’d imagined when I started.  Here, I think I left out a step. The arms are at the sides at the end of Opening and the start of Circling the Arms. Then they rise up — and I missed a step here, the palms facing the opponent. It’s worth noting that although I show the palms rising up to the right, they actually are straight out in front. Then the arms bend at the elbow, and the hands push down from by the shoulders. One doesn’t squat into a horse stance or a squared-off position, either; but one does sink down quite a bit, before rising back up to a normal posture.

This is going to be hard.

Quin asked me to comment on color in the diagrams. Basically, the figure and the physical movements are going to be in black or possibly black and green, for Earth-based or physical movements. Blue arrows will indicate the flow of fluid weight — how the body goes through shifts in its fluid from one posture to the next; this is the Water of the posture.  Yellow, usually circles or arcs, will indicate the flow of chi from one part of the posture to the next — the breath or Air of the movement.  And red will be the fire — which energy centers should be active during the movement.

Ideally, every diagram would be colored with all four colors. But in truth, just because I am diagramming them, doesn’t mean I understand how all four elements move in each chart in each movement. Getting these diagrams created, revised, corrected and understood is probably going to be my work for the next few hundred days. What am I getting myself into?

This morning has also been complicated by illness. In the middle of my tai chi routine, I suddenly felt enormous pressure in my gut, and realized I was going to vomit.I spent the next hour and a half either on the toilet, bowed over it, or waiting to go back to it. It’s taken me most of the day to feeling up to finishing the tai chi…

Tai Chi Y3D241: Beginning a Project


A while ago this year, starting back on Day 125, I wrote a series of poems about my experiences doing tai chi. The first one was the Opening:

At the opening, breathe in deep three times,
and soften the eyes to see land and sky —
Begin at once, at the day’s dawning chimes,
before the pigeons have a chance to cry
or the wren has chittered in the branches.
Begin with bent knees, but so your toes show;
tuck your buttocks in and tense your haunches;
begin to move, and turn from the waist slow.
Lift the left foot, and widen out your stance—
lift both hands, and then push down and away.
Move, as in syrup, in water, or trance,
with muscles in tension and mind at play.
Be all curves, and relaxed in this rebirth,
suspended from heaven, anchored in earth.

Commenter Quin has promised/threatened to try to learn tai chi from my description of the movements.  Ack.  I feel for him— I’m not sure it can be done. But he’s asked for a set of photographs or something to work from. Ack. Again, I’m not sure that such exist. At the same time, though, I thought… hey, what if I made the diagrams? What would that look like? Feel like? Could I do it?

Challenge? Accepted.

1. Opening

1. Opening

It’s a new way to grow my practice, which I’ve been casting about for, and a new way to develop my skills in relationship to this practice called Tai Chi.

So, I immediately did a drawing.  There’s four pieces of Opening, namely breathing in and filling the lungs three times, and then connecting heaven and earth by sinking into the floor and straightening the spine (by tucking the butt under), and then twisting to the right while anchoring the left foot and weighting the right arm, and then turning back to center and getting ready for the next motion.

Quin intends to start learning the form on 11/22… that gives me today, tomorrow… a seven-day head-start on him.  A week.  Yikes.

I don’t think I can do it. It doesn’t feel like enough time. I don’t think I can create two drawings a day for thirty days straight instead of writing, so that he can learn the form in thirty days.  Certainly not more than this sketch (made with Paper by fiftythree.com), which doesn’t feel like it’s really enough to do the form.

But, OK.  Even if all I do is this quick set of sketches, it’s still more than I have now. And it’s something daily, probably for considerably more than a month of practice.  And it will get me out of my current funk.  And it’s something I was planning on doing with my practice anyway.

OK! I’m beginning — drawings to accompany my tai chi poetry, and the beginnings of a manual, of sorts, to learn this tai chi form.

I must be out of my mind. Really.

Tai Chi Y3D163: Step back to drive the monkey away


Successfully did 20 push-ups this morning without stopping. Then did, separately, one nose-to-the-ground push-up.  Hanging out at a beautiful cabin in Maine for the weekend, a lovely place to work the druidic form, in all honesty.  The weather is beautiful, and I was able to do tai chi and qi gong outside on the tiny lawn with woods all around me.  If you came here looking for the poem for the First Decan of Virgo working, on Sunday morning at your local sunrise, here’s that.

Today’s movement is Step Back to Drive the Monkey Away. I always liked its name, but I don’t really understand how it’s to be used. My teacher taught me that it was the retreat that follows the attack.  You may recall that in yesterday’s movement, Double Punch, I ended the poem not entirely happy with it. Still, both hands were in the air — our weight was balanced on the right foot —the left hand is positioned above the right; the left hand is flat, and the right hand is over the right knee and balled in a fist. And I note that I used “our” in the last sentence, kind of like a “royal we”, and I realize that I do tend to think of myself as many-parted: the tai chi-doing me often feels like a different me than the me that writes about it. Are they they same?

Too deep for a journal entry this early in the morning, really. In Step Back to Drive The Monkey Away, the body swings right, and the weight shifts right; the left foot steps back. The arms and body swing left from the waist after the weight shifts back to the left foot. The right foot steps back, and then the body’s weight shifts once more to the right foot, so the arms wind up in a position akin to Roll Backwith the right hand pointing up into the sky, and the left hand gently near or touching the right elbow.

The waist winds up, and tenses on the right,
and flinging both arms right, open-handed.
The risk upon your left is real, but slight —
your time with left foot forward is ended.
Shift your left-side weight to the other side,
and step back, to reduce flank exposure.
As soon as you’re firm, at once, start to glide
your weight to left foot, with calm composure—
and as you shift shape, swing both arms around
both open-fisted, and flat to the foe.
Do not attack forward nor stand your ground,
But once again rightward, your weight must go,
followed with flailing arms, pulled from the waist
the post on which this movement’s hinge is placed.

Tai Chi Y3D146: Twist


It’s been a complicated day.  Christine, I’m very much enjoying the Kathleen Norris book on Accidie, and more on that when I’ve finished it. Right now I’m at about the half-way point, but I keep getting distracted or pulled away from it by various prep-work for the start of school, which is approaching like a freight train faster than I’d like.

This morning Dad took me to visit the pool nearby before I’d even gotten out of bed fully.  I did 20 lengths (10 laps) in the pool again, followed by my two qi gong forms and my tai chi form on the pool deck afterward.  And then, when I got back to mom and dad’s house after that, things got very crazy for the rest of the day.  I realized that tomorrow is the self-imposed deadline, as well, for an upcoming project, so I’ve been working on that, too. When did my life shift into overdrive as I got ready for school?  Something like six days ago, I think, except that it should have been two weeks ago.  Yikes.

There’s this little flip at the end of False Close, from yesterday, that really should have been included in that poem, rather than in today’s.  It’s not a separate movement, really, just a step behind, followed by a Roll Back.

So, think of it this way, as I’m trying to… first, False Close.

Withdraw the left foot and pull back both hands.
For now, keep your weight latent on the right.
Hands protect the face; beware shifting sands
underfoot, for now. Keep open a slight
distance between arms and line of the chest.
Fill this ‘balloon’ with chi for your defense.
Yet remember that left foot! Stand light, lest
you brace too heavily: be as a fence,
able to let the windy words blow by,
but strong and sure to keep the bulls away.
Yet stand softly, for your hands must deny
any strike that comes. For now, this is play —
imagine the foe coming from behind,
step back left and twist: defeat what you find.

From this ending position, which I’ve actually described incorrectly — note the part highlighted in red, where it says “Step back left and twist.” There’s a weight-shift in there, from right leg to left leg, and it’s actually the right leg that steps back.  When I think about it, I realize that the part in blue is wrong, too — it’s important to note that this is where the weight is supposed to shift from one foot to the other.  The twist doesn’t happen counterclockwise, from right to left; but left to right, clockwise. The step that gets taken backward is taken with the right foot, not the left.  How to fix this?

We need to take an editing pen to the mess:

Withdraw the left foot and pull back both hands.
For now, keep your weight latent on the right.
Hands protect the face; beware shifting sands
underfoot, for now. Keep open a slight
distance between arms and line of the chest.
Fill this ‘balloon’ with chi for your defense.
Yet remember that left foot: Switch weight, lest
you be caught off guard: left leg’s post of fence,
able to let the windy words blow by,
while strongly standing to keep bulls at bay.
Bend knees softly, for your hands must deny
any strike that comes. For now, this is play:
imagine the foe coming from behind,
step back with right, so twist comes as designed.

And now I look at my poem for ‘tomorrow’, namely the poem from a couple of weeks ago for the Roll Back movement.  A couple of small changes here, reveal that the motion of the right hand in the first line is upward, and the left hand’s motion is sidewise in line 3.  I read today that repetition prevents the build-up of gunk, so I think I’m going to review and edit a few small changes in the poems for the repeated movements, and then continue on.

From this braced posture, the right hand retreats, (swings high)
but right elbow remains just in its place
The left hand rises toomoves also, and it entreats (cuts by)
the opponent as it travels side-swipes through space
until fingertips graze the bent right arm.
Thus a right angle is ordered — and stands
between the forearms on the right and left:
This is a posture of defensive hands,
for the arms can shift with movement so deft
to deflect the strike.  Once the hands are firm,
weight can shift away from the front right foot;
the left leg can carry the weight a term —
but neither leg should move from where it’s put
Sweep both hands down and sideways to the left,
to guard the flank that in this move’s bereft.

So this holds up pretty well.  I can discern the movement intended in these two poems much more effectively now, and I feel that they’re right, despite the hiccups.  This process is not going as smoothly or as cleanly as I originally anticipated; but on the other hand maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t get through 20 poems without needing to make major corrections.

Sleep well, everybody. See you tomorrow.

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