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Melanie Rae Thon's most recent book is the novel Sweet Hearts. She is also the author of Meteors in August and Iona Moon, and the story collections First, Body and Girls in the Grass. Originally from Montana, she now lives in migration between the Pacific Northwest and Salt Lake City, where she teaches at the University of Utah. Her new work appears in Pushcart Prize XXX, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006, Pushcart Prize XXXII, Conjunctions, Five Points, and at www.drumlummon.org.

You can connect to Melanie Rae Thon’s Web Page by going to University of Utah, Department of English.

Love is life. All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.
—Leo Tolstoy

Writing, like prayer, must be a daily practice. For twenty years I've kept what I call an "Image Notebook," a private place where I record moments of wonder, miraculous encounters I wish to remember. I have no rules: the notebooks include visions of loons and owls, saguaros and grizzlies—the last words of my father's last days—my sister Wendy playing Beethoven on our grandmother's piano. A hurricane splits trees, and I go out walking to smell them after. My brother kneels to wash and bandage the open sores on my father's feet. At twilight, soft copper light holds my sister Laurie as if it has chosen her above all others. Yes, we are safe now. A grasshopper leaps in the lake, and my mother calls me down to the dock to save him.

The notebooks feed my fiction. One brutal Boston winter, I filled the pages with blizzards and birds, a sculpture of starved horses, my frigid attic room, a hundred homeless children. I knew then that the children had broken into my heart, and I tried to tell their stories. I needed to understand how they survived on the street while I struggled to stay warm in my apartment. Pigeons flapped at my tiny window. The snow melted and froze, and another storm roared in from the Atlantic.

The Kingdom is here, on Earth, waiting for us to step into it. Ansel Adams says: I believe in beauty—I believe in stones and water and air and soil—people and their future and their fate. If we believe in these things, then the love and patience required to evoke them for our readers becomes sacred. Art is an Affirmation of Life—not only our separate lives, but our lives within the endless body of all living things, our lives as they are connected to stones and clouds and wolves and spiders.

Write every day for the rest of your lives! Fill your pages with fiddlers swaying in the wind and white roses waving. Don't forget the lizard with a crooked tail or the cactus wren nesting in your mother's teapot. Include poems you love, photographs you've taken. Draw what you've seen whether or not you think you are good at it.

The blank page is a mysterious place where we learn through joy to pay attention. In A River Runs Through It, Paul Maclean says: All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren't noticing which makes you see something that isn't even visible.

I see an ant carrying a dead moth, and another one lifting the bleached leg of a crawdad. What is my strength compared with yours? I see a whole tribe of ants, each one holding a single pink petal. They move in a meandering line across the sidewalk. Some carry their blossoms straight above their heads, floral crowns of rose and purple. The petals are five times the size of the ants and seem to float around them. That's what I notice first, floating petals—and then, those astonishing beings beneath them! I follow the ants down a slope to discover they are covering their little hill with torn flowers. I don't know why—do the petals keep the anthill moist and cool, safe from the blazing sun of Arizona—are the ants drunk with sweet scent—enchanted by the silky texture?

Years later, a vision comes to me at the edge of sleep, an utter profusion of flowers—bed, floor, walls, ceiling—each petal glowing as if lit from inside, so luminous they cannot hold their shapes: they dissolve into particles of light until they are only fiery sparks surrounded by vast darkness.

Then bliss comes, and sleep takes me.

I realize I have had my own vision of Rabbi Luria's description of the beginning of the universe: these sparks of holy light are hidden in everything and everyone, everywhere in our broken world. It is our blessing and our joy to recognize and restore them.



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