Raven Lessons

March 2, 2016 § 12 Comments

14755369665_86bdc33230_zby Diana Rico

The ravens have been visiting me. They’ve been catching my eye as they wing over the snowfields between my picture window and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They’ve been popping up in pictures on friends’ Facebook pages, on greeting cards at my favorite coffeehouse, on a children’s mural at the Taos Pueblo when I go to the rez to buy my vegetables at their Wednesday farmers’ market. More than once a raven has aimed its flight trajectory right at me as I parked my car in the driveway, gliding smoothly up above my head as it approached.

It’s Day 31 of their daily visits. I’m not one to ignore omens, so I look up “Raven” in Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small. I find stories of how, in indigenous Pacific Northwest lore, Raven was responsible for stealing the sun from one who would have kept the world dark. In other cultures she’s a trickster, a wise being, a shapeshifter, and a language carrier—one who can mimic the speech of other species. These totemic birds are, writes Andrews, reflections of “the strong creative force to which they have access”:

Each of us has a magician within, and it is Raven which can show us how to bring that part of us out of the dark into the light. Raven speaks of messages from the spirit realm that can shapeshift your life dramatically. Raven teaches how to take that which is unformed and give it the form you desire. . . . It teaches how to go into the dark and bring forth the light. With each trip in, we develop the ability to bring more light out. This is creation.

Andrews’ description of Raven’s process—traveling into the darkness, bringing more and more light forth—is a beautiful metaphor for my experience of the act of writing creatively, something it took me some years to come to. Starting in my twenties, I obsessively pursued work with words, first as an editor of other people’s writing and then as a journalist. I became an art writer for a major metropolitan daily, got myself into big-name magazines, landed a book contract and wrote a biography that got me interviews with Charlie Rose and Larry King. By my forties I was a staff writer-producer for a cable network, working twelve-hour days to turn out primetime-TV bio-documentaries on famous Hollywood stars.

The writing was always deadline driven, adrenaline charged. I loved what I was doing, but there was no time to delve into the deeper darkness, to bring forth the brighter light.

Then, in 2004, while laid up in bed after a car accident, my relationship to my writing changed. My brother Carlos (my champion!) had given me a directory of artists’ residencies that gave me something to dream about. I started applying to residencies and sometimes to be accepted.

I recall slow days in my adobe casita at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos in the winter of 2007. I sit at my window watching a cat stalk something in the field outside while I eat my breakfast of thick Irish oatmeal, chopped apples, good coffee. I do twenty minutes of yoga asanas on the floor next to the old baby grand. Then I sit down at my big table to do something I’ve rarely done before: contemplate.

Diana Rico

Diana Rico (photo by Ona Matulic)

In this residency, I have time to look at what I wrote yesterday and think about it. I have time to go through my reams of papers covered with notes, my stacks of Post-it-marked books all over the floor, my binders filled with precious research. I’m exploring a new-to-me form, the memoir-essay, giving a new kind of attention to what I have buried inside. Time slows down to match the stillness that permeates my cells. Sitting at my writing table, I watch moments of my current piece play out inside my head, like a secret movie, and I listen carefully for the precise word after precise word with which to pin these moments down on the page. At times I go outside and stand under my portal and watch the sky for birds. It’s the ravens who visit me most often, gathering in the cottonwoods or swooping down for berries or bulleting across the cerulean mountain sky, the biggest sky in the world.

That residency convinced me I needed to relocate from the Type-A urban pace of Los Angeles to the soul-nourishing natural beauty, seasonal cycles, and small-town community ambience of northern New Mexico. My writing life now is this: I hunt and gather information and images and feelings, I consume, I let sit, I synthesize and integrate, I permit my authentic responses to arise. Then come the words, which I string together like word-pearls with the intention that someday they will be picked up and rubbed between the fingers and maybe even worn with a gorgeous outfit for a while by a reader, and that this reader’s deep being will be nurtured by the feelings and images and insights my sentences stir up in her soul.

Yesterday morning I logged onto Facebook, and someone had posted a remarkable photograph of a rare white raven—a variety I didn’t known existed. It had a large red berry in its beak, like a miniature sun. I thought about Ted Andrews’ description and wondered if it was a sign—an emblem of extra-special magic, like the sacred white buffalo calves that are occasionally born in some Native American tribes. Then I went outside to offer prayers of tobacco to the four directions and to ask Spirit for inspiration as I began my writing day. As soon as I lifted my hands to the sky, a flock of ravens began cawing at me from the apple trees down my dirt road. They didn’t cease until I was finished. I thanked them, blessed them, and came back inside to commence writing, to enter the darkness and dream forth the light.


Diana Rico is a longtime journalist, book and magazine editor, and primetime-TV documentarian. Her writing has appeared in GQ, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other periodicals, and she is the author of Kovacsland: A Biography of Ernie Kovacs (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) and the producer-writer of numerous E! True Hollywood Stories. Her work has been honored with fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Wurlitzer Foundation, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and other organizations.


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