Not only does Lori Walsh’s presence continuously remind me how important it is to write, her collection of work shows us what it looks like to write with compassion and grace. Lori is a freelance writer in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, area who has had hundreds of her pieces published — including poems, newspaper and magazine articles, essays and reviews. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and she is currently enrolled in programs with the Loft Literary Center and the Therapeutic Writing Institute. Read her work at www.lotusandrabbit.com.
Name: Lori Walsh
How can people connect with you? (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Website):
Website: Join me in my virtual sanctuary at www.lotusandrabbit.com
Where do you live now? Where do you call home?
Sioux Falls is my home, but since I was born in Minneapolis and much of my family is planted in Minnesota, I sometimes call Minnesota home as well. Both these places are deeply significant to my identity and to my art.
Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.
With something of a rebellious spirit, I have been known to mightily resist external structure (and, my editors know, quick deadlines). Whenever possible, I wake up when the sun invites, eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired. Certain activities ripple through everyday: Writing, reading, art or photo making, deep conversation, solitude (plenty), time in nature, more writing, home – creating (prep the meals, fold the laundry, shuffle the books and papers around) and, most importantly, “soft time” with my family (humans and animals included) where we do nothing at all … together.
Good intentions sometimes jump the rails, of course, and then I spend the day thoroughly unravelled and dashing in circles. Those are the days of deep sighs and intentional self-compassion.
What projects are you currently working on, both in your career as well as hobbies or passions?
Right now, I am diving deep into coursework (through the Loft Literary Center and the Therapeutic Writing Institute) on everything from the form and function of fairy tales to visual journaling to understanding labyrinths. These efforts have been supported by a grant from the South Dakota Arts Council, bless their generosity in aiding teaching artists.
I’m collaborating on a poetry and photography exhibition with a friend, which has been a challenge, a gift and a learning experience all in one. I’m just now beginning to explore visual storytelling through photography and video. And, since traditional storytelling was so well-received in my creative writing residences last season, I’m working on adding more oral-tradition stories to my repertoire to share with children (and adults?) this season.
I also have a novel I’d like to shop around and a new novel in sketch. It’s thrilling to have so much going at once; it allows me to dip into whatever suits me at the moment without ever lying stagnant. I’m very patient artistically. Not everything has to be finished or even on track. But I do need variety to dig into on any given day.
What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?
I generally dislike dealing with money, technology, or marketing — which sounds acutely snobbish, but there it is. So, in my perfect universe, the tech would always function smoothly and working creatives would receive compensation fairly and on time. Oh … and you would never have to pitch your novel to someone in 60 seconds.
Those are cultural things over which I have scant control. So, in reality, I’d like to overcome my aversion to the business end of the creative life.
If you could do any job, what would you do and why?
I love what I’m doing, so I’m not in the market for a new career. Having said that, I would like to be a musician. It’s a shame you have to start relatively young, invest so much, and study for decades to truly excel. In classical music, there’s no shortcut to quality.
With writing, you can begin in the middle of your life and change the world with your words because, in fact, those stories have been incubating for a lifetime. You can build a career as an insurance salesman and still become poet laureate. But not so with cello, piano, oboe, violin.
Musicians fascinate me. My highest respect is reserved for phenomenal musicians.
What’s your desert island album/book/TV show/movie (answer one or all)?:
If ever stranded upon a desert island, all I truly need is a book with very detailed instructions for getting off a desert island.
I’m a slow learner, really, and by no means a natural survivor, so the book better be top-notch. Seriously … books have taught me to cook, sew, and do laundry. These are things normal people figure out for themselves. Me … not so much.
Also, I’d need a blank journal and a waterproof pen. I’d fill the journal with letters, poems and drawings for my daughter. I’d give it to her when I returned home to remind her that she never, not for one moment, leaves my heart, no matter where I am in the world.
Since you live in one of the OTA states:
• Why do you choose to live here?
In the military, I’d done a fair amount of traveling in a short period of time, so I wanted to settle here, in the middle of everything, and let the world come to me for a change.
• What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the region when it comes to your career?
There are great writers in the region, but we’re not as saturated as you might think. It’s a remarkable time to create the artistic community that you want to be a part of. And we’re relentlessly nice around here, so you can call up an artist you admire and have a conversation. Jim Reese and Patrick Hicks might have lunch with you and talk poetry. Dave Evans will teach a free class at the library. You can afford a ticket to the Symphony and thank the musicians when they exit the hall. Plus, we have little things like grass and clean water and air you can breathe. Trust me. Not everywhere is like this.
• What’s one thing you would change about the OTA region?
Honestly, I’d like to read more high quality local arts coverage. I’m working to do my part on that end as a writer, and OTA is definitely doing their part. In order to have a truly healthy creative scene, however, we need more exceptional journalists, editors and art critics devoted to intelligent commentary.
• What’s one thing that most people don’t know about the OTA region?
I don’t think people know much about us at all. Which is a fabulous opportunity. We don’t fear insignificance. I’m big on that. An artist must risk insignificance on a daily basis.
Where do think good ideas come from?
So many amazing artists have answered this question with humor and wisdom. My favorite is Ray Bradbury who said he had to be careful not to step on the ideas when he got out of bed every morning. I can get behind that.
What’s one current trend you think will change the world?
The democratization of movie-making is a trend to watch. Nearly every kid can access video equipment on her phone. The potential for visual storytelling that can come from this generation is limitless.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Girl, do not join the Marine Corps.
In reality, I suspect my 18-year-old self would still sign that contract, and I’m glad she had the courage to do so, as well as the courage to leave that world behind. My time in the Marines was formative. But I’d like to tell that young lady to bring along her notebook and write down everything that happened, good and bad. I did very little writing back then for fear of being outed as Creative and, therefore, not entirely trustworthy.
Also it’s possible (being part of the fewer-than-one-percent-female contingent in my field) I was very busy looking at cute boys. And going on some thumping good adventures. With cute boys.
The Marine Corps can be very distracting. Ah, youth. I am no longer so easily swayed from my path.
Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?
My daughter, hands down. If you assign her a drawing of a bowl of apples, she’ll draw one apple with a secret message tucked beneath—an entire story blossoming behind a single image. She even breathes creatively. My greatest honor is raising an artist and hanging out with her. There is no one I would rather discuss art or story or music or movies with.
The girl lives with intention. She is an old soul.
Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?
Sherry DeBoer, with the South Dakota Humanities Council. She knows everyone. She reads everything. She is dedicated to the humanities and to South Dakota. Also, DeBoer has an incredible radar for quality and depth as well as a commitment to inclusion. No town is too small or too remote to be part of the conversation. I love that.
Everyone should be nice to Sherry, by the way. Without her, we have no Festival of Books.
Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?
Delta David Gier, the conductor and music director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. As a journalist, I wrote a piece about the Lakota Music Project last year, and Gier blew me away. You can’t hang out with symphony folks very long without being reminded that they serve the entire state, community by community. Theirs is a program melding centuries-old music with the traditions of First Nation peoples. They go into schools and goof off for the kids. Then they put together this season of world-class offerings. They never forget their audience. You just don’t see that combination of art and service in other places.
Keep your eyes on what Gier and company are doing, even if you’ve never been to a concert. The ideas I’ve been hearing float from mind to mind are game-changing.
At what intersection do you live your life? (ex: creativity and community, humor and humanity, art and athletics)
I live at the intersection of Story & Light.
Who are the three people you need to have coffee with when you visit Sioux Falls?
My favorite people to have coffee with happen to be three people with whom I almost never have coffee. Focused and successful artists don’t always have time for hanging out.
Lisa Conlin is a dancer and choreographer who has been kind enough to invite me to collaborate on a few projects. I absolutely love to watch her mind work, which often means watching her dancers express her ideas in beautiful and innovative ways. As a collaborator, she is intelligent and generous. As a friend, she is loyal and kind. My dream is to create more with Lisa. Also, if I could dance even remotely like Lisa dances, it’s the only thing I would do … all day long.
Jeff Paul is the principal oboist with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, a phenomenal pianist, and a gifted composer. At times, we don’t even speak the same language, something I find really exciting artistically. So, no, we don’t get together much, though I would dearly like to. We do get to communicate via art fairly frequently. Once I crouched in the back of the room and feverishly scribbled poetry in my notebook while Jeff played Thelonious Monk for the audience. The rush of writing to live music is new to me — I highly recommend it — even though it may be a tad rude. (I hope no one noticed because I must have looked pretty demented. Sorry, Jeff.)
Finally, writer Rebecca Johnson. My life would be dimmer without occasional coffee with Rebecca, which is like coming home and not having to say a word because the other person understands exactly what you mean before you think it. Seriously, I’d be comforted and energized sitting in her living room and soaking up her energy. Sometimes I just drink hot chocolate by myself and pretend Rebecca is with me, encouraging me to put one more word onto the page.
What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?
I don’t think there is any magic recipe here. You really have to take the first step, and no one can take it for you. One useful tool is journaling. If you keep an inspiration journal of your own design, sooner or later, you’ll be so overwhelmed by your own multitudes, you’ll be compelled to take action.
Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?
My daughter. She is the primary audience for nearly everything I write. What would she think of this today? When she was younger? When she is an adult?
Of course I hope my poetry and fiction and nonfiction reaches an audience, and one never knows what kind of legacy story might leave. But I find if I focus too much on readers, I tend to lose my own voice in the noise of the culture. So I imagine my daughter is the only one who might read my work or examine my life. That’s the best way I have found to maintain integrity.
Who’s one regional writer/artist/leader/entrepreneur we should pay attention to?
Lisa Conlin and Raena Smith. These two are working on some pretty electrifying things in the world of dance. I’ve seen Lisa’s full-length shows and never been disappointed. I think dance is an art form we need much, much more of and if anyone can raise the barre, it’s these two.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Leaving work to focus on writing. I mitigated the risk by telling everyone I was leaving to stay home with my new baby (14 years ago). That’s right, I used motherhood as an excuse. I’m that kind of person. Then I bought myself a fancy notebook. It took me four years to get my first poem published, and my family was so ecstatic we held hands and jumped on the bed. I was paid 25 dollars for that poem, but it was still bed-jumping-worth.
The risk never goes away, did you know that? Every time you sit down to write, you risk failure, embarrassment, insignificance. Cheerful, yes? Well, you may as well have guts. I learned that in the Marine Corps. And by becoming a mother. Mostly I learned it by sitting down to write.
What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?
I’ve learned so much from the jobs I have tried and failed at. Pity the poor women and men who endeavored to lead me during my attempts to flounder about in the world, functioning as normal folk do in 9 to 5 careers. Sooner or later, artists must answer that still small creative voice. Before we do, we show up late for work and ask too many questions. And wear the wrong shoes. Once I received a performance evaluation that said my shoes were always wrong. And my socks. What … every day? I never did get that corporate shoe message right.