A Conversation With Rattle Editor Tim Green by Cati Porter

We’re again in the midst of National Poetry Month, so I thought it might be a good time to catch up with one of our regular columnists, Timothy Green. An avid supporter of the literary community, Tim recently moved from Los Angeles to Wrightwood, a move that has proven fruitful for him and his family. Here is our conversation:

Cati: Inlandia is all about celebrating the region, so tell me: you’ve been living in the Inland Empire for a few years now. What convinced you that moving to Wrightwood was the right move, and how does it compare to where you were living before?

Tim: I grew up in western New York, and my wife in rural Washington, state. We moved to Los Angeles to work at Rattle, but we were never meant for the City of Angels. We managed for a while, avoiding crowds by time shifting our weekends and work hours, but then we had kids and realized we needed a change. We chose Wrightwood for the seasons, the nature, and the easy drive up—coming here felt like coming home. I’d never lived in a small town before, and now that I’ve experienced the friendliness of the line at the post office and how much everyone cares about things like Little League, I’ll never be able to leave.

Cati: Most people who follow this column know that you write for Inlandia Literary Journeys and by virtue of that know that you are the editor of Rattle, a prestigious literary journal based out of Los Angeles. You mentioned once that you read something like 80,000 submissions each year—is that right? How do you get through so many submissions?

Tim: Writers send us 100,000 poems a year now, which is 250 a day, every day—even Easter. When you consider that the average book of poetry is about 50 poems, that’s five books before bed each night. I don’t know how we do it—my wife Megan and I read everything, and we’re always reading. But, then, this is the 21st century; everyone is always reading. We’re just always reading something very specific: boxes of submissions.

Cati: Can you tell us about the literary community in Wrightwood? I understand there are a number of writers who live there? You’re a writer as well as an editor—how has moving to Wrightwood affected your writing?

Tim: Wrightwood is a great place for writers—it’s almost in the name, right? My office overlooks a few dozen Jeffrey pines, all of them full of squirrels and quail and Stellar’s jays. It’s a great space for daydreaming. And there are writers here—I met a few through Inlandia: MJ Koerper and Victoria Barras Tulacro. But there hasn’t really been a literary community; there hasn’t been a nexus to bring us all together.

Cati: Today in my inbox, I received notice that you are planning a Wrightwood Literary Festival? Can you tell me a bit about it—where did the idea come from, and what kinds of activities and special guests do you have planned? I understand you’re also leading a workshop, on polishing your writing for publication. That’s a great opportunity for folks who want an editor’s insider perspective.

Tim: We’re having this festival to bring us all out of the woods, so to speak. The festival was borne mostly of jealousy, to be honest. I love Wrightwood, but I wish there were more of an Idyllwild element to it. Wrightwood is a great gateway to skiing and hiking, or day-tripping the Angeles Crest, but it isn’t known for art—why not? There are artists here, many visual artists, many musicians, many writers. I thought we could show off the beauty of our mountains, while also giving our local artists something to rally around. 

Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado is giving a keynote presentation on hiking and storytelling, followed by creative workshops with local artists. It’s really a retreat: our goal is to provide a space where participants’ personal stories can come to life. The wildflowers will be blooming, the pine scent on the air will be at its peak—it will be a respite from the daily grind of the Inland Empire, capped off with a lively open mic.

My contribution will be a workshop on how to really move an audience through writing. We all have important stories to share, each one of us, but how do we make a complete stranger want to listen? As an editor, that’s been my job for the last decade, and I’ll share what I’ve learned.

Cati: Do you think the festival will become an annual event? If so, what do you think future years will have in store?

Tim: The festival is definitely going to become an annual event. We wanted to start small and build outward, and in the future we’d like to make it a whole weekend, spread across multiple venues in town, including more visual arts and theater. For now, more information for the May 30 event can be found at www.wrightwoodlitfest.com.

Bats in the Belfry by Joan Koerper

It’s true. My first encounter with bats actually was in a belfry: the bell tower of St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church on Livernois Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. Entry to the tower was forbidden to all but a chosen few. I’d begged my father, who was the organist at the church, to be my partner on an adventure and climb the long, winding staircase of the looming, mysterious bell tower. As an avid reader of mystery stories my nine-year-old imagination ran wild with excitement. Would we find the “secret of the bell tower?” Or the “mystery of the hidden staircase?”

One Saturday in October, Dad granted my wish as part of my birthday present that year. After his long morning of playing daily mass, funerals, and weddings he drove ten miles home to West Bloomfield, fetched me, and we headed back to the church for our rendezvous with the unknown.

The tumbler clicked in the wide, heavy, sculpted, solid wooden door as Dad’s key turned in the lock. Our footfalls echoed off the stairs against the cement walls of the narrow, curving passageway. Higher and higher we ascended. My heartbeat quickened until we reached the first open space with floor to ceiling vertical slits in the exterior walls. Then, mounting even narrower, twisting steps, my heart raced as we reached the steeple and confronted the beauty of the bats, the bells, and the view. It was a dream come true, one of the thrills of my young life.

I wasn’t afraid of the bats in the belfry. My father would never put me in danger. As an educator, he educated me. I knew we wouldn’t be “attacked,” and that it was extremely rare for bats to be rabid. Instead, we were visitors in their home.

I’ve had many other encounters with bats since then: while in Detroit, as an Investigative Police Officer (detective) searching old buildings, attics, and cupolas for young missing children, and working crime scene venues. And in caves I’ve explored across the country. While living in Northern Minnesota, I was introduced to the idea of bat houses. My friends the Kargers, along with other residents, specifically built and positioned houses for bats who were especially welcomed for their role in consuming mosquitoes and other flying insects in summer. Now, living in Wrightwood, I’ve observed a number of homes also providing bat shelters.

In western society in particular, bats get a bad rap. Some say it is because bats are nocturnal, creatures of the night, and part of the “dark side” because they go into damp, dark places, make no noise, and are mysterious. Whatever the reasons, misconceptions and superstitions surround bats, especially in western society, fostering fear, and even panic. Simply put, humans too often fear what we don’t know and are all too ready to declare the unknown as “evil.” Wildly exaggerated rumors, such as the common misconception that bats are rabid, abound. Or that they are some sort of flying rodent, or closely related to rodents, when they are actually more closely related to primates than rodents.

Last week, on October 28, I was standing in the Wrightwood Branch of the San Bernardino County Library, admiring the images and figures of bats hanging from the ceiling as part of the Halloween decorations when I found the book, America’s Neighborhood Bats: Understanding and Learning to Live in Harmony with Them by Merlin D. Tuttle (University of Texas Press) on a Friends of the Library sale shelf. I snatched it up. This beautifully produced book with full color photographs, intended to educate the general public about bats, won the Conservation Education Award by the Wildlife Society. The author, Tuttle, is the founder and science director of Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas.

Once home, I read it in one sitting. Soon I realized I should have been sipping a margarita or tequila sunrise while reading.

Yep, heads up tequila drinkers! Without bats there would be no tequila! Tuttle reveals, “agave plants, from which tequila is produced, are so dependent on bats for pollination that without them, the probability of successful seed production drops to one three-thousandth of normal.”

In light of the astonishing information I learned about bats, I thought it might be fun to briefly recount a few bat facts here:

  • Bat fossils have been found that are approximately 50 million years old, and today’s bats closely resemble those ancient bats.
  • Bats are mammals: the only flying mammals at that. Bats account for one-quarter of all mammal species. Scientists have placed them in their own group, Chiroptera, which means “hand-wing.”
  • There are nearly a thousand species of bats that come in a fascinating array of appearances.
  • The Bumblebee Bat of Thailand, the world’s smallest mammal, weighs less than a penny, whereas the Flying Foxes of the old-world tropics can have six-feet wing spans.
  • Bats are not blind: many have excellent vision.
  • Bats hunt by echolocation, or emitting high-frequency sounds that bounce back to their ears. This enables them to detect minute objects in complete darkness. Their unique echolocation systems “surpass current scientific understanding and on a watt-per-watt, ounce-per-ounce basis has been estimated to be literally billions of times more efficient than any similar system developed by humans.”
  • Most bats living in temperate zones in the US and Canada mate right before entering hibernation in the fall.
  • Like humans, bats give birth to poorly developed offspring and nurse them from pectoral breasts.
  • Bats can live up to forty years producing only one offspring a year, although few survive more than thirty-four years.
  • They are clean, cuddly and sociable.
  • Seventy percent of bats eat insects, though many tropical species feed on fruit or nectar exclusively. A few are carnivorous, eating small vertebrates: fish, frogs, mice and birds. Of the nearly 1,000 species of bats, only three species are vampire bats and they live only in Latin America.
  • Insect eating bats are essential to keeping night-flying insects in check including beetles, moths and mosquitoes. For example, “the 20 million free-tailed bats from Bracken Cave in Central Texas eat more than 200 tons of insects in a single midsummer night.”
  • Pollination and seed dispersal activities of nectar and fruit eating bats are a key to the survival of the rain forests and entire ecosystems. “Bats may drop up to 95% of the seeds that produce the first ‘pioneer’ plants in a clearing.”
  • In the Pacific Islands and Asia, where the species of bats called Flying Foxes live out in the open in the tree tops, and have wingspans of three to six-feet, they are not feared. Instead they are depicted as heroes in some legends. In China they are held in high esteem as omens of good luck and happiness. And there is much more.

Exploring the secret of the bell tower provided me with my first face-to-face encounter with an even greater mystery….the stunning beauty and intelligence of bats. Through curiosity, fortuitous circumstances, and now a breathtaking book, I have been guided to new learnings. My respect for the vital role these incredibly diverse, beautiful, and gentle animals have in our ecosystem, as well as so many other facets of their physicality and nature, has multiplied and deepened.

It is no coincidence, really, that for most of us bats come to mind at this time of year. The trilogy of All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day have their origins in the ancient Irish and Druid traditional seasonal quarters. October 31 concludes the quarter season of Lughnasadh, Autumn, which is the time of harvest, maturity, physical, and spiritual garnering. Samhain, Winter quarter, runs from November 1 to January 31 and, with the cold weather closing in, it brings the gifts of restoration and renewal. It is a time to celebrate wise elders, and all those whose actions and sacrifices have brought new life.

Considering that bats have been around for fifty million years, live similar life spans as our human ancestors, and that we are all made from the same stardust, it is time for me, and hopefully other humans, to honor and celebrate bats as wise elders whose actions and sacrifices continually bring new life to our earth.

Darkness converges on the final night of this year’s sacred trilogy: All Souls’ Day. The light of the ascending moon glistens on ice covering the watering holes in my front yard where birds bathed and languished just a few days ago. I light the wood stove, a stick of sandalwood incense, and raise my tequila sunrise, or in this case tequila sunset, with a nod, and smile in deep gratitude and admiration: praise to the bats of the past, present, and future. May you continue to thrive, nurturing Mother Earth and her propitious inhabitants.

Notes: All quotes in this piece are directly from Tuttle’s book. Tuttle’s book also has chapters addressing: resolving misconceptions, dealing with unexpected visitors, evicting unwelcome tenants, living in harmony, and getting to know your neighbors. It contains A Beginner’s Key to American Bats as well as Suggested Reading.

I found Tuttle’s book, and the following article in Popular Science, highly readable and transforming.

America’s Neighborhood Bats: Understanding and Learning to Live in Harmony with Them Revised edition by Merlin D. Tuttle. University of Texas Press. 1998. ISBN: 0-292-78148-2

“This Halloween, Celebrate The Beautiful Bat” Popular Science. Source: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-10/why-you-should-care-about-bats-beyond-just-halloween

Connections: Huxley, Stravinsky, Krishnamurti &Wood by Joan Koerper

“Human beings are multiple amphibians, living simultaneously in half a dozen radically dissimilar universes—the molecular and the ethical, the physiological and the symbolic, the world of incommunicably subjective experience and the public worlds of language and culture, of social organization and the sciences.” Aldous Huxley from the Foreword in You Are Not The Target, by Laura Archera Huxley

My paperback copy of Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World almost disintegrated in my hand when I was packing last October to move to Wrightwood. I’d had it since early high school. I carefully placed my hardback copy of Island, a softback of The Art of Seeing, along with my also falling-apart-at-the-seams copy of Laura Huxley’s 1976 edition of You Are Not The Target, into a carefully packed, plastic box of classics by George Orwell, Edward Bellamy, Ernest Callenbach, Hermann Hesse, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, a lost feminist utopian novel, and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, among others. I had no clue at the time that I would be living less than a mile from a house Huxley once owned.

When I learned Huxley was Wrightwood’s most famous one-time literary resident I engaged in online research and hoofed it to the Wrightwood Historical Museum to see what info could be gleaned in person. There is a display case dedicated to Huxley at the museum, and also a bit of filed material on him.

In my first round of research on Huxley after moving, I found a photo on www.WrightwoodCalif.com in a blog posted by Graham_Ranch on 12.7.2007. It was an image of Aldous and Maria Huxley, Mr. and Mrs. Igor Stravinsky, J. Krishnamurti and Radha Rajagopal (Sloss) at a picnic in Wrightwood in 1949. I looked up Radha and identified her as the daughter of Rosalind and D. Rajagopal who lived with Krishnamurti for a number of years, located the photo at other places online, then put the photo and the information in my mental “revisit later” file while I continued to unpack.

In early July, coinciding with the scheduled talk at the Wrightwood Museum about Huxley, I was asked to write up a short biography for the museum’s newsletter, a distasteful task at best. I was copying the sentence, “Joan (MJ) Koerper is passionate about exploring our souls as artists: the intersection of art, music, creativity, writing, and human emotion in the everyday sacred of our lives” when my mind flashed on the photo of the Huxleys, the Stravinskys, Krishnamurti and Radha. I returned to explore it.

I began meandering: about my relationship with these people and their works, their relationships with each other, and how they influenced each other…how their lives, ideas and arts intersected.

Huxley, as you know, and was previously noted in another of my blog entries, is considered one of the most important literary and philosophical voices of the 20th Century writing in English. Huxley’s classic, and other works of his, were required reading in both my high school and undergraduate classes at Michigan State University, as well as simply pertinent works to read and re-read over the years.

Growing up in the home of a musician, the works of the Russian-American composer, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), oft considered the most versatile and greatest composer of twentieth century, was well known to me. I met him once during my early years. Whether I liked his music or not, I gave one of his books to my father as a birthday present one year. I just let it go during my “great giveaway” prior to moving to Wrightwood. Somewhere in my memory I knew, but was recently reminded, that in the 1950’s there was even talk of Huxley, Stravinsky and Martha Graham turning the Tibetan Book of the Dead into a ballet with a Greek chorus.

  1. (Jiddu) Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was a world-renowned spiritual teacher and philosopher. In the winter of 1991, tricycle magazine reviewed the book Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti written by Radha Rajagopal Sloss. Radha was in the photo taken in 1949. The introduction to that piece noted that “… by the time he [Krishnamurti] died in Ojai, California, in 1986 at the age of 91, he had helped-perhaps more than anyone in this century-to introduce Eastern teachings on the nature of mind to the West.”

Krishnamurti’s works, and in particular the book Education & the Significance of Life, were required reading, and the centerpoint of much discussion, in my doctoral program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Krishnamurti believed it is necessary to face experience and disturbance as it comes to keep “intelligence highly awakened; and intelligence highly awakened is intuition, which is the only true guide in life” (1953:11). He further posed that if we are being educated to simply get ahead, obtain a better job or more power, “then our lives will be shallow and empty…Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult. Conformity leads to mediocrity. To be different from the group or to resist environment is not easy and is often risky….” (1953:9).

He spoke of two kinds of revolt: violent, which is reactionary against an existing order and without understanding. The second is the deep psychological revolt of intelligence.

Perhaps, most importantly, Krishnamurti spoke of integration: “We may be highly educated, but if we are without deep integration of thought and feeling, our lives are incomplete, contradictory and torn with many fears; and as long as education does not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance” (1953: 11).

When I was working on my doctoral thesis, a work of creative nonfiction exploring pottery and writing as expressions of our souls as artists, I had the opportunity to learn about the pottery of Beatrice Wood (1893-1998). I visited her studio in Ojai, CA, in 2001, where Wood continued to work until the age of 104. I was totally enamored with her studio, her determination, the ceramics she produced and collected, and most of all the immersion in nature with which she surrounded herself. Her pottery wheel sat in front of a large window looking out over the valley. How could anyone fail to call forth songs from their soul to be transformed into clay in such an environment?

While Wood originally lived across the street from Krishnamurti when she moved to Ojai, in 1974 she was invited to move her home to the grounds of the Happy Valley Foundation in the upper Ojai Valley. In her autobiography, I Shock Myself, Wood relates that Dr. Annie Besant, Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, Dr. Guido Ferrando and Rosalind Rajagopal founded the Happy Valley Foundation in 1927. The Happy Valley School, where Wood also taught ceramics for many years, was a project of the Foundation. She speaks of Huxley’s frequent visits to Ojai to have long talks with Krishnamurti about education, thus she was able to see the Huxley’s often. Huxley also served on the Board of the Happy Valley Foundation for fifteen years. Her home, studio, work, library and massive collection of folk and Eastern art were gifted to the Foundation upon her death. So there I was, back in 2001, in Beatrice Wood’s home, studio, and walking the grounds where she, Krishnamurti, Huxley, Anais Nin, Alan Watts, no doubt Stravinsky, and so many others gathered to socialize, exchange ideas, challenge, and nurture each other as friends do.

In 2001 I also had the outstanding good fortune to meet world-renowned woodworker, or furniture craftsman, as the Smithsonian refers to, Sam Maloof (1916-2009), when he hosted an event on his property to honor the potters of Mata Ortiz. A night under the full moon I will never forget. A story in itself, for another time. When Sam Maloof took us on a tour of his home, I recognized a number of Wood’s pieces about the premisses. He knew her, of course. We discussed Beatrice’s unique style and unconventional life among many other topics.

And so the linkages continued. I needed to take it further. It’s the detective in me. The researcher. The scholar. I wanted to observe the resulting affects of these relationships without having to get bogged down with all the details. I wanted to grasp the larger picture.

I re-visited some of Huxley’s stories and essays, picked up a new addition to my library, The Divine Within: Selected Writings on Enlightenment (Jacqueline Hazard Bridgeman, ed.), put my nose to the pages of Krishnamurti’s writing, re-read Beatrice Wood’s autobiography and played some of Stravinsky’s compositions I have in my music library. I was able to perceive, with much more clarity, how these great minds influenced each other, and subsequently influenced me. Each expressed similar ideas using different mediums.

I was spurred onto this recent voyage of the integration and expression of ideas, philosophies and talents by one photograph of a musician, author, and philosopher…people with whom I’ve been familiar with since my youth.

Truth be told, for me, all forms of life are creative, and all life is art. One of the many uncoverings I learned by studying linguistics, for instance, is that in Tewa, Navaho, and most, if not all, indigenous languages, there is no separate word for art. Tewa potter and poet Nora Naranjo-Morse relates that in Tewa there is, “the concept for an artful life, filled with inspiration and fueled by labor and thoughtful approach.” Educator Kenneth R. Beittel, in Zen and the Art of Pottery (1989) writes, “From earliest times, art and life have been one.” Conceptual artist Damien Hirst and naturalist and writer Terry Tempest Williams both write that every society and each person designates what is art. “Art’s about life and it really can’t be about anything else.”

These quotes are only a smidgen of those I’ve gathered confirming what every child, indeed every animal, knows instinctively.

Yet in the Western world, the social construct of dualism is the foundation of our philosophical and psychological worldview. It teaches us to separate all aspects of our lives…indeed to separate us from our lives, our minds, our souls, our artful life. It is indeed a challenge when one embraces the whole while living in a society based on dualism. Hence, speaking in Western terms, I look at how the intersection of these perceived disparate parts of our lives form a much larger worldview. I like to explore how they unite us…how they come together to make us whole. Because when the focus is really on the art that is our lives, however it is expressed in the everyday sacred, it inspires us to be more fully creative beings.

My research offered me a glimpse into how the creative lives of Huxley, Krishnamurti, Stravinsky, Wood, and others, including Alan Watts, intersected: how they came together to nurture, inspire, enjoy and support each other. They carried forth the art of their lives into different mediums and, in turn, produced opulent, radical, lasting, artistic, literary, and philosophical gifts for the world. They were revolutionaries, in the intellectual sense of which Krishnamurti spoke. They impacted each other, and generations to come, including me, as they engaged each other and practiced the arts of their lives. For me, this dialog and communion of minds became yet another example of how important it is for us to have our own commitment to depth, breadth, vision, imagination, integrity, and integration, as well as a wide range of interests, friends, and colleagues who express their art in different mediums. And how critical it is to relate with people who care enough to honestly share, listen, dialog, mentor, honor, and nurture each other. Finally, this voyage into connections became an opportunity to express my deep gratitude for all who have cared enough to share their art of being, expressing, transforming and living with me.