Writing, Portents, and The Monkees



watercolor painted spiral by Suzi Banks BaumIt 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

Writing and the Woods

On Wednesday, I felt stalled in my writing and 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 in to 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 on 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

But, being the recalcitrant human that I am, I went in to 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.”


No Monkee-ing Around

Stay tuned here on this site for updates. 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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Showing 24 comments
  • Diane Husic

    Oh Suzi, This is so wonderful and feels so familiar. Being “stuck” in our work, the “thunging” sound of lake ice, the memories of the Monkees, the early crush on Davey Jones…I can relate to all of those. Perhaps we are twin daughters from different mothers, raised with similar nurturing of the woods and lakes of the U.P. Thanks for sharing your writing and these memories. xo

    • Suzi

      Diane, I agree with you. We have so many related passions. When I stepped in to your kitchen, it felt almost familiar. Thank you for reading. Lots of love, S

  • Janet

    “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 in to agreement that we are safe. All is well.”

    THANKS TO YOU, I’m sitting here thinking about how my brain is like my laptop, in that I understand a tiny fraction of its workings and capacities, and am similarly limited in harnessing it to my desires. Monkee brain and lizard brain–all these “background” programs running that in fact we are ruled by. Oh, and Angels in the atmosphere. SO much! xxoo to you and to Peter and Nana.

    • Suzi

      Yes, Janet, I agree….all those background programs, shadows that filter, and feeling in full capacity. For what it is worth, I find that meditating lets me be aware of more of what is going on…but I feel like that fox we followed last night, so many smells, so many enticements, yet a strong sense of forward. I wonder if all that background stuff ever gets revealed. And to continue your metaphor, what is our internal “Finder” function? Could it be daily practice? Walking dogs in woods? xoxoS

  • Suzi Birdsall

    This is amazing, Suzi – I really enjoyed reading it. xo

    • Suzi

      Thank you for reading Suzi. I am sure you have some stories of your own about Angels, eh? xoxoS

  • Cheryl Paley

    Thank you for this Suzi. A wonderful piece. In the middle of my “opus” and losing my dad at the same time I am out there “on that ice.” You and your “Angel” guide me this morning.


    • Suzi

      Dear Cheryl, You have been on my mind. Just right there where your heart cracked open? I send you slow breaths and lots of ease. xoxoS

  • Evelyn Asher

    Suzi, Thanks for yet another treasure, your risking weather like the postman and your resounding message of just doing the work. In the wee hours I hear what I thought were deliberate thuds on my roof, the hoof walls of deer on the small deck adjacent to my bedroom which brought my body to full alert. For naught, but perhaps to stimulate my thinking. I felt most at home with writing friends this week, then listening to Hebraic melodies at services but sensing change in an aging congregation. Writing this note makes me think how much I needed and valued those connections to be present to facilitate a writing journey this week. The sun has come out in N GA, a day of renewal to fuel a project I feel passionate about. I so value your Rising Forth Sisterhood.

    • Suzi

      Dear Evelyn, You are such an astute note-taker on the unexpected gifts of any day. I love hearing what you see and sense. Thank you for reading and as always, for sharing. Yours, S

  • Anne-Marie Oomen

    Suzi, it seems fortuitous that we are in Guatemala when I read this. Indeed, we did a few days’ volunteer work at Safe Passage, an NGO that helps the children of the families of the Guatemala City dump. The motto of the late founder of the organization was, “We’ve got work to do.” That phrase, a variation on yours, had been haunting me. I’m thinking this message may be in the air for many creatives.

    Thanks for making it real again.


    • Suzi

      And dear Anne-Marie, thank you for being our hands and hearts in Guatemala. I wish you safe travels and much love as you go. Thank you for reading! xoS

  • Julie

    Sistah schmoozie, you are so in tune! And you spotted the magical message 3 times! This has also been my mantra for the last several weeks ~ my astrologer friend confirmed that all planets are ‘direct,’ at present, which in laymen’s terms means something like, “we can get shit done.” So let’s just show up in peace and joy, and do the work. The woods, Monkees and Angels are cheering us on! Love you so xoxoxo

    • Suzi

      Dear Joolz! I am so happy to hear a burst of rainbows and sparkles from you. Thank you for reading and commenting. It’s good to get a little nod from our support system, right? Lots of love, S

  • Ann

    A joy to read Suzi – thank you. I have my boxes packed ready to move for a new beginning. What it will be, I have no idea. I’ve done the work of packing and Kondo-ing and will be on my way next month. A leap of faith.

    • Suzi

      Dear Ann! Oh my dear Down Under brave heart! I wish you all my love for this big transition. I love hearing from you. This new location will call new things to you. Do you know John O’Donohue’s book, To Bless the Space Between Us? If you can locate it, look up the prayers for transitions and for a new home. I think you will find comfort in the way he tacks down blessings on each step of challenging transitions and by naming them, allows or invites in a host of support. Much love! S

  • Bryan

    Suzi, this was great! I felt like I was following you on your path that day, and is it a message I too needed to hear and heed? Yes. PS Peter was my favorite. I think because of all those goofballs, he was the goofballiest. Thank you!

    • Suzi

      Bryan, you know I write with you in my heart, always, right? It never surprises me to hear that something I write touches you, but I always love hearing that it does. And as for Peter, I learned in his obit that GB is less than an hour from where he lived out his life and played music. Sometimes I wonder if we cross paths with our influences without knowing it.
      Miles of love to you and thank you always, for reading. xoS

  • Kathleen Quigley

    Wow! What a beautiful post. I think you outdid RB. No loose ends. Wonderful connections and moments of serendipity. What a wonderful lesson to us creatives….slow down, listen, be aware.

    • Suzi

      Thank you Kathleen! I am so glad you stopped in to read. I want to continue to experiment with the three things thing. I like the rhythm of it. Much love! S

  • Sue Wiethoff Richardson

    Suzi, I LOVE your listening love affair. You were walking and listening. Visiting and listening. Living and listening. You model a spiritual life very well. ????

    • Suzi

      Thank you Sue! I am so happy to hear your voice here and glad you read this piece. Every day, right? One step forward, listening. Lots of love, S

  • Nancy McMillan

    Suzi, I love this post (as I love all of yours), especially the way our request for signs is always met, but usually not in the way we want. And I appreciated how you were open to the conversation with the stranger, and stayed to listen and connect. You’re an inspiration.

  • Nancy McMillan

    Suzi, I love this post (as I love all of yours), especially the way our request for signs is always met, but usually not in the way we want. And I appreciated how you were open to the conversation with the stranger, and stayed to listen and connect. You’re an inspiration.