Writing, Portents, and The Monkees


February 22, 2019
watercolor painted spiral by Suzi Banks Baum
February 2019

It has been a very long time since I have written a blog post.

I have been writing though.

Many waters have flowed over the dam. A few magnificent Moons. A newly sworn-in set of female Congress people have arrived. We’ve lost ground and gained winter and shed some socks (Marie Kondo-style) and taken on some cares (the Wall among other atrocious things.) Progress of the human sort has been made, in the flawed and perfect way that it happens.

I am in my deep winter writing season, working on the manuscript of my memoir about motherhood and daily creative practice, how they influence each other, how my life changed because of both and how I really don’t know which led to the other, but the way they come together in my life has led me here. To this very moment. On this website. With you.

I began this website back in 2009 as an author platform for a book I had not yet written. It seemed a necessary way to build out my life as a writer. What this action of “building” has done has led me to teaching and developing curriculum around daily creative practice through the literary and book arts. It has led me to drawing together a community of women who are interested in doing the work of rising forth from their most authentic selves, shaped by internal inquiry and creative expression.

snow covered laundry line on a writing winter day by Suzi Banks Baum

The reason you are here: Writing and the Woods

On Wednesday, I stalled in my writing. I was in need of the woods to clear my head. The weather in the Berkshires has been very gray and very icy and sometimes snowy. Our driveway is iced crud, a mix of mud and layers of snow then melt. Going outside is treacherous. But going outside is also key, especially in winter when it is so easy to simmer ideas while leaning on radiators. I figure that as long as the mailman is loping along our street delivering mail, then I can get myself outside. I walked to the woods a few blocks from my house.

As I entered the woods, I paused to listen on the path. I ask questions of Spirit on my walks in the woods and often get instruction in the form of short phrases, just enough insight to feel like guidance. So, I stood, hands clasped at my heart, and asked, “What do I need to move this manuscript forward?" I waited in the cold. I heard, “Do the work.” I asked, “Is that it?” "Do the work. Just do the work.”

I walked on, a little disappointed for the brevity. I chided Spirit a tiny bit, “Can’t you send me a sign or something?  I need a hint that I am on the right path."


I kept walking, watching the pine woods yield to oak and maple. I studied the rocks topped with snow caps, and the moist places at the base of some trees that are mossy and wet even in the winter. I moved off the beaten path and deeper in to the woods, hoping to see an owl or some portent.


Simply the woods in winter. I came out of the woods and noticed a man walking off the ice from the center of the lake where there were a few ice fishing tip-ups. These small rigs allow fisher-people to put several lines in to the water through different open holes in the ice. The rig tips up when there is a fish on the hook, telegraphing a catch. I waited for this man to come off the lake so I could ask about the thickness of the ice out there. He came near and we began a conversation.

He turned his back to the woods, and we stood shoulder to shoulder talking about the ice, which is thick, he said. And how the day before he had been out and heard the sound of the ice thunging, (I know no other appropriate word for the whale-like sounds ice sings in winter) and how those sounds terrify you if you are standing in the middle of a frozen lake. How your brain expects danger from this sound and your whole body goes on alert. We talked about getting used to that edge of danger and how our heads and hearts have to come into agreement that we are safe. All is well.

He then started telling me about a computer class he is taking, how his language skills are slowing him down and he feels self-conscious in the class, as if people are looking at him and thinking him stupid. I told him about the writing group I lead at our local library, where new writers venture on the blank page full of fear, but willing to experiment. He tells me in beautifully accented English, that his speaking skills are strong, but his reading and writing skills need help. He described his head warning him to leave the class, it is not worth it, his head tells him. But he wants to do the work so he can learn more, thus he stays.

I stopped him for a moment and asked him to repeat what he had just said. “I want to just do the work so I can learn more, you know, stay in the class even though I am uncomfortable, just like when I am out on the ice and I hear that sound.” I nodded. I rubbed my boots on the ground to make sure I was alert and not dreaming this moment. He did say, “Do the work” right? Indeed.

Since we’d gone from chatting about ice to revealing our vulnerabilities about learning new things, and he had, unknowingly, affirmed the message I had gotten in the woods, I offered him my hand, saying, “I’m Suzi. What is your name?”

“I am Angel.”


We talked until our legs started to get cold. We discussed when we might run in to each other again, here at the lake. I told him I live just down the street. He told me he lives down in town. “I just walk home on that path,” Angel said, turning toward the trees, “I disappear in to the woods.”

I walked home, pondering the delivery of my message, “Do the work.”

Thank you thank you thank you.

Later That Evening

Being the recalcitrant human that I am, I went into the evening doubting myself. I was alone, my husband out with friends, no one home to debate my condition. I lingered in bed reading the New York Times. Okay, I was reading the obituary section of the New York Times. Someone I know had died.

Musician Peter Tork, born Peter Halsten Thorkelson in 1942, was, according to the Times, the weakest singer in the Monkees. Fashioned by studio executives, faux-band though they were, the Monkees were a sensation in the mid-1960s. I was too young for the Beatles, and not enough of a television watcher to understand that the Monkees were modeled to be an American version of the Beatles, something to appeal to all the teens who weren’t distracted by the war in Vietnam. The Monkees were my first band-crush. Somewhere in my scrapbooks I have a stack of Monkees posters with which I plastered my bedroom. Tugged from the spines of Tiger Beat magazine, these posters withstood moving twice and rolls of Scotch Tape. I was in love with Davey Jones, like everyone else in the universe, but secretly loved Mickey because of his curly hair, (we matched!) and Peter, because he was the misfit.

The title of his New York Times obituary calls him the “Court Jester” of the band. We could have bonded over this, or we did, in my dreams as a 10-year-old. Now Peter Tork has died. But not without performing one small act of generosity to me. For in his obituary, I read these words:

“Like many artists, Mr. Tork concluded that happiness came simply from doing the work.”

Indeed. No Monkee-ing Around

While the world is shedding singleton socks and vases they no longer love, I am cleaning up this website, putting a few pages to rest for a while, sprucing up the Shop page and preparing my Offerings page for an upcoming season of teaching. Even my About page will change, time to shed another layer there.Wherever you are on this day, no matter which continent, no matter which confounding or difficult circumstances befall you, I happily share the message I got in the woods with you. Whatever it is that brings you happiness, that pulls away the extra stuff around your heart and lets you stand open to the world, that is the work you are here to do. And me.

Let’s go do our work.

Lake Mansfield ice and woods and sky. I go in to the woods when I need a break from writing.



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