Mar 10, 2014 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

Perfect Pitch, Poetry in Motion: Meet Lenny

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I met Lenny long ago when I was still a cop in Atlanta. Immediately, we were both rivals and the best of buddies. We loved all the same things: fishing, music, good times, dancing, and women. Friends for going on 30 years now, we have born witness to many changes in one another. As our friendship has grown, so has our mutual admiration. Once upon a time we partied hardy, now we hardly party. At least, not in the same way.

Lenny, a soul born with an incredible vocal range, she and I performed together first with the Atlanta Feminist Women’s Chorus back in the 80′s and 90′s. She was often asked to sing solos in her deep alto voice. I was not. She was the star of many shows back then and I loved watching her. I called her poetry in motion before I even knew the depth of my love for poetry, or for Lenny. A big woman, she could move across the stage with uncanny grace, and she won the hearts of many with her piercing blue gaze and perfect pitch.

But Lenny, like many creative and talented artists, had a monkey on her back. When we were young, we thought of them as habits. They were just the way we partied As we grew older we recognized them as the addictions they were. Lenny was in and out of sobriety a couple of times, visiting different rooms but for the same reasons as me. Yet it wasn’t until her early 50′s that Lenny finally let go of the addictions that were destroying her body and holding her back. When she got clean and sober over 5 years ago, the musical talents which had taken a backseat for so long, leapt to the forefront.

This is such an abbreviated version of a complex friend that it’s hard to write. But here’s the short version of how it went (sorry, buddy. Lenny’s not big on short versions): As Lenny was heading down the rocky road to sobriety, she picked up a bass guitar and began to thrum out a rhythm. She hummed some lines. She has the most diverse taste in music of anyone I’ve ever known: from hip-hop to gangsta rap to old country and bluegrass to jazz and rock and roll. She keeps thousands of songs, (no kidding) on her Ipod. She hears a beat in the clip-clap of the windshield wipers, a toe tapping in the click of her ring on the steering wheel of her old Camry, music in the wind and rain. She would arrive for a visit in Arkansas after the long drive from Atlanta with a song in her head that had to be written before we could sit down to dinner.

In these five years–and let me tell you watching Lenny achieve her clean and sober status after 50 made me oh-so-glad I made that change in my early 30′s–Lenny’s creativity has busted through like water through the floodgates of all those blocks she threw up during the hard years. She formed a band with long-time friend Beth Wheeler. First it was just the two of them playing on mandolin and bass covering some of their favorite bluegrass artists. Later they were joined by fine musicians, Becky Shaw, Linda Bolley, and Sonia Tetlow, writing their own songs and becoming the band many of us know as Roxie Watson.

527075_4469074135394_554713022_nLenny, a master electrician in her day job, also bought her first home in Decatur, GA. Her father was dying and her mother needed her. She was there for them. She was instrumental in her brother getting sober. She became a better friend and also invited me to collaborate on songs for the band. Leigh and I love to work with Lenny on lyrics for a song. It is always a great time spent with a great musician. In between girlfriends, gigs, and the daily grind, we would head out to the lake, float a boat and some bobbers, catch bream and catfish for a supper fry, and discuss Life.

Lenny has always inspired me, but in the past five years I’ve been in awe of what she has been able to accomplish. It’s not easy to start out late sharing your life in relationship with people, music, an audience, and romance. Being in a band and  collaborating with others is a tricky and difficult business. If you’ve attempted it, you know what I’m talking about. She has struggled with facing her demons head on instead of hiding behind a cloud of smoke or in the easy fog of alcohol. This shit is hard people. Really.

And yet, you watch Lenny onstage and she shines. Her song, “Shine a Light” on their new CD, Songs from Hell’s Hollow, tells the story. It is an anthem, a prayer, a boon to me in times of struggle. The song we co-wrote on this one is poetically sound and sad as hell. “No Good Way” is a really fine collaboration between two hearts that understand one another. I’m proud of every song we ever wrote together. And I’m proud to be a part of Roxie Watson in my own way, as contributor to songs and a promoting fan. Each musician is amazing and talented and watching them live is like seeing a work of art come to life. Audiences leave their concerts exhilarated, uplifted, thoughtful. They are original, as Lenny herself is original. She is truly one of a kind. I am proud to call her friend and the source of so much of my inspiration.

Roxie Watson has their 3rd CD release party for Songs from Hell’s Hollow coming up at the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points, Atlanta, GA. Shamelessly, I promote both Lenny Lasater and her band, Roxie Watson, for the Georgia Music Awards this year. I’ve gotten a group together here in Asheville as part of my 60th birthday present to myself to go hear them play this Saturday, March 15. Because if you haven’t heard this band perform live or heard Lenny herself sing in that amazingly deep voice with complete clarity, then you haven’t really heard them at their best.

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http://roxiewatson.com/

Mar 6, 2014 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

Inspiration: Shared Experiences, Different Expressions, Mutual Admiration

 

photo(2)I met Trudy Harris in a VA group for women with post traumatic stress disorder caused by military sexual trauma. I certainly didn’t expect to meet a new artist friend, or really, any friend at all there. What started as a group of eight dwindled in 9 months until we were the last two standing. The group wasn’t for the faint of heart. Perhaps it was the fact that both Trudy and I had an outlet in our creativity that kept us coming back. We were artists, not only survivors, who were determined to paint the world we knew in colors other than black and white, camouflage, or the dull gray of depression.

I know one thing for sure–we wanted to see each other. We wanted to know that the other was in the world, sometimes struggling to simulate normalcy, and sometimes creating beauty in the small rooms we called our studios. And Trudy was and is, quite simply, the most deeply honest person I’ve ever known. That quality alone drew me to her like filings to a magnet. When someone is truthful with you all the time, it takes the sting out of the times we hope they might just this once, tell a little white lie to make us feel better. What I have come to expect from my friend Trudy is the raw, unvarnished truth delivered generally cussing, well, like a sailor, and with deep affection. I don’t know how she carries it off, but she does. Not every one appreciates it, but I do.

Friendship Book

Friendship Book

Trudy spent twenty years in the Navy. She served faithfully during a time when no woman under the rank of Captain succeeded in actually retiring from the Armed Services, any branch. She has been stationed in places as far distant from each other as Italy and Hawaii, sometimes moving as a single parent on a moment’s notice. Yet, when she talks about these stations, it is with a love for the beauty and culture of each place she served. Like so many of us, all she expected was the loyalty and protection of her fellow sailors and commanding officers, and yet they failed her, as they did so many of us. Still, she did not let go of her desire to re-create the beauty and passion she’d experienced in the world.

Trudy retired in her hometown of Bentonville, AR where she owns a small house that she presently shares with her son, who was a combat soldier in Iraq. Diagnosed bi-polar by the VA, Trudy struggles with migraines and the side effects of the drugs she takes for her condition. And yet, I walk into her tiny studio to find drawers of treasures she has collected over the years: buttons, beads, marbles, badges, medals, magazines racked that she uses to create her incredible collage pieces. Loose materials are contained in closed stacks of plastic drawers. Her work table is neat as a pin. Examples of her art hang on the walls and decorate her house, each piece telling a different story or maybe several interlocking ones. I am amazed at her ability. She accepts it as just part of who she is and what keeps her going.2013-02-04 11.44.58

 

2013-02-04 11.46.06 It took some persuading, but I finally convinced Trudy to enter one of her multi-dimensional collage pieces, “Remember Our Warriors” in the regional Veteran’s Creative Arts Competition. She easily took first place, winning her first blue ribbon for her artwork with a piece she created to honor her son’s memory of a brother veteran who lost his life in Iraq. Although she has occasionally let me buy some pieces to give as gifts, like the collaged clipboards I gave my writing group as Christmas presents, she mostly gives her art away: to friends and family members and to other veterans. My favorite gift has been the book she made by hand of a year of our friendship, especially wrenching as it was the year I left her, moving from Arkansas to North Carolina. She captured so much in this work of art, I could not put it down but read every word in one sitting, ignoring the workmen renovating my house, completely absorbed. It honored our friendship in the most amazing collection of pictures, emails, texts–all communications shared between us in a bound book with charms dangling from the spine. Beautiful. Truly, truthfully, Trudily beautiful.

When I asked Trudy for a quote for this post, she said simply, “I continue to work and get better every day.” That’s it. But let me say that both Trudy and her work are much more complex and inspiring than these words express. I know her and so I know the history behind them and what they mean; how hard-earned they are. I wouldn’t write a post about inspiration on someone who had not inspired, encouraged and bolstered me the way Trudy has if she weren’t “all that.” She is. If you are interested in Trudy’s art work, you can contact her by email at planted50@gmail.com. And thank you Trudy, for not just touching my life, but changing it. MULU.

Trudy's Honor Bracelet

Trudy’s Honor Bracelet

Feb 15, 2014 - Writer's Life    3 Comments

Friends that Inspire

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Creatives wander like zombies, mean zombies, when they lose their inspiration. The Muse gone missing is similar to being left by a lover. You were leaving each other love notes just the day before and you wake up and there’s no breakfast, no kissy face, no note of explanation. Who you gonna call?

What exactly, are creative friends to do for one another when their art collapses like a punctured lung and they find it increasingly hard to breathe? Hopefully, we know CPR (creative pulmonary resuscitation) enough to inspire when we feel blocked, stymied, stuck, are short of sacred breath. Whether you work alone or collaborate, the friends we choose to be part of our life experience are the ones we will turn to in our despair or discouragement, and who will turn to us, as well, to be uplifted and reinvigorated.

Miriam-Webster defines inspiration as: 1) a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify them to receive and communicate sacred revelation. 2) The act of drawing in; specifically the drawing of air into the lungs. Breathing. In other words, inspiration is creative respiration which can come from some divine entity, from our surroundings, or (most likely) from a creative friend or teacher who believes in our purposes and intentions to also create.

I call my friend, Trudy, “Hey, I’m so depressed. The VA screwed me over again. All I can do is smoke cigarettes and pace.” And she says, “What are you writing? When is your next blog post? I’m waiting.” Jane calls me.”Damn it, I broke my arm, My right arm, the one I PAINT with. How will I do my drawing a day?” And I say, “What about trying to draw left-handed?” The answer could be, “Screw you!” if she hasn’t taken a pain pill, but she’ll think it over, give it a try, and call you back with a thank you. My best buddy and I share this one. “The gal left me. Again.”  The short answer is, “Maybe we should write a song about that…”

I am not belittling the gruesome losses we suffer in life. In fact, I seem to grow more familiar with the deadly kind as life goes along into my 6th  decade. However, there has to be a way we can deal with these things together, and mostly in a productive, creative way–so we don’t end up sticking the knife in our ear instead of just pantomiming it. Lately, the news is heavy with artists killing themselves using overdoses or cars or bullets. All we hear about are the famous ones.

Think of how many fine writers, painters, potters, and poets commit suicide, if not physically then spiritually, everyday. Because they believe they aren’t good enough. Because they can’t make a living at it. Because nobody likes their work. Because they get stuck and forgot that they can get unstuck, too. Or simply because, for highly sensitive people, which many artists are, life simply and inexplicably sucks sometimes.

I frequently identify with other artists for whom their work is their life raft. When they grabbed hold of that rubber ducky, they were drowning. They dragged themselves painfully over the sides and named their lifeboat, Art. For these reasons perhaps, they are always willing to reach out a hand to other creatives in pain, flailing in the water, forgetting how to tread, and lift them in long enough for the newbie to learn how to paddle. We must remember though, not everybody we find swimming in the ocean of life will be a friend to us. Inspiration is mostly a reciprocal act. You don’t want to pull a shark into your lifeboat with you. It’s dangerous for you and hard on the boat. As your momma said, “Choose your friends wisely.”

In my next few posts, I will tell the story of a handful of people who most inspire me; not only through their art, but by their willingness to work under almost any circumstance. Some of them, like me, have clawed their way into an art raft from storm-tossed seas where we were truly drowning. Others may have resided in the boat all their lives, but instead of taking this good fortune for granted, they have lent a hand repeatedly to help lift others from the water, either by doing what they do with skill and determination, or with a sense of purpose that this is the true meaning of life and they want to share it.

Each person–Trudy, Jane, Lenny, and Malcolm–will have their own post. I will tell a bit of their story. Each of these people is a living inspiration to me because of where they’ve been as much as where they are now. They have lifted me up and set me afloat when I was floundering and I hope I have done the same for them. Through encouragement and collaboration, we have found a way to make our lives a work of art instead of simply making some art while we are alive. Both are good, but one is a life-saver.

Jan 8, 2014 - How-To    2 Comments

Re-Boot

Finally, here is the obligatory New Year’s lecture on writing daily, writing with discipline, getting the work out there, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. It is but it isn’t. I really just want to share with you what I did this January to try to get myself back in writing mode after moving to a different state. I mean that in both a physical and mental way.

Let’s see, how to keep all this in one paragraph. We moved my parents first, from Little Rock to Dallas. Then we sold our house in Fayetteville, AR. We moved everything we owned including 4 dogs, 4 beehives, and a business to a small rental house outside a small town in the mountains of WNC. We hunted for a new house and finally found the one we could fall in love with. We moved (4 dogs, 6 beehives now, and the business), and are still moving in. Actually, there are two houses on the land, both of which required renovation and repair. We are still in that process. Meanwhile, several family members (in both our families) died or got very ill. A favorite niece got married in Dallas. We both have traveled far, even after the long move here, both in body and mind. Whew! That’s the short version. Perhaps you can imagine the effect this had on my writing.

When I felt I just could not get underneath my writing and push up shoots on my own any longer, I signed up for an online class. I have never done, or even entertained, the idea of doing such a thing. Taking classes at universities is bad enough, at least in my experience. How much more difficult would it be online when they didn’t have to look in your face to say something bad about your writing? But I needed help and I knew it. So I ignored my fears and signed up for “Writer’s Boot Camp” through Creative Nonfiction’s online workshop program. I’m in the first week and trying hard not to be the Type A student who does all the homework as perfectly as possible and takes all day to write 300 words.

Daily I have to remind myself that this is not a test. I paid $250 to take this 6 week course and I get to do it (or not) however I like. This reminder simply keeps me from getting too anal about it all. Already I have written two little essays and the teacher, who I am sure is overwhelmed at the number of students, has not yet commented on mine. This both hurts my feelings and is a great relief. Since I don’t know what she’ll say, I stew about it. She has been nice to the 3 or 4 people whose work she commented on. She seemed helpful and upbeat.

I am a writer and have been practicing hard at it for 20 years now, but one would not think so to see me all aquiver. Really, I act as if my life, my entire writing career, hinges on a few words by a teacher I never even heard of. (I’m sure she would not like me ending my sentences in all these prepositions. Although, how would I know since she has not commented on my writing yet.)

Can you believe this? How worked up I am after 3 days, THREE DAYS, of my online course. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps I’m not ready to write and receive any critique at this particular juncture in my life. Perhaps I needn’t worry as she may never get around to my essays. Maybe she hates them. Maybe she doesn’t even read them. Then why the heck am I doing this?

I am sharing all this with you under the duress of great embarrassment. But I wanted you to know you aren’t alone in your writerly anxiety. Even those of us who have been writing for years and live under the illusion that we are fairly good at it, can freak out when we move outside our comfort zone. This seems to be a time in my life when that has become necessary. I may not have a choice, so I may as well go all the way. Taking a course, online or in a classroom, is a great way to test your own mettle. Writing under the gaze of others, writing under pressure, writing with a deadline, and most of all writing with your true voice and remaining open to suggestions and criticism from others is not for the faint of heart. But it is important for the real writer to attempt once in awhile. I can’t think of any better way to get yourself in shape than to go to bootcamp, do some metaphorical pull-ups, stand before the drill master and take note, help your mates and allow yourself to be helped by them.

Last of all, don’t forget to rebel a bit. Since the prof in this case has written that she will not critique any of your work unless you do 3 out of the 5 300-word exercises per week and the 1000 word essay over the weekend, I felt the need to not write one today. Besides, it was on “breaking a rule” and I have broken all the rules all my life. This would be nothing new. It was a goal of mine as a child, and I have accomplished it. I didn’t know which broken rule to pick, so I broke my own about writing every essay I was given in this class. In order to write this blog for you today.

I expect I will break this rule weekly. And really, I feel better for it already.

 

 

Jan 2, 2014 - Writer's Life    3 Comments

Two O’Clock JUMP!

Closing my eyes to hear the stream better

You’re probably expecting a long diatribe on resolutions, re-ordering our lives, or simply retrieving the discipline we sent sailing like a wadded napkin into the holiday basket. Maybe you expect me to tell you how to stop talking and start writing. Frankly, I’m not there yet. For the contemplative week between Christmas and New Years I attended a Dallas wedding. That would be Texas. Need I say more?

So my first blog of 2014 focuses instead on an action I feel is as crucial to my writing as good pens and decent paper. The idea, motivated by a noxious moment in my every day, convinced both me and Leigh that this small change could actually be crucial to a happier, healthier, more creative life. We call it the “Two O’Clock JUMP!” even though it may not necessarily happen at 2 on the dot. Sometimes it depends on the weather. Or the whether. Like whether we have things that must be done at 2; appointments or deadlines. If we are home, though, the Jump comes first.

The idea stemmed from an obnoxious alarm on my phone which goes off at 2 pm to remind me to take my meds, something impossible to remember were I left to my own devices. This terribly repetitive piano trill plays until I turn it off and take the drugs. I should be grateful that technology has allowed me to forget about this until that moment, but I’m not; or at least I haven’t been until recently.

I try to believe in the particular hoodoo­ that states almost any negative thought, action or bad thing (for lack of a sufficient phrase) can be turned into something at least useful, if not positive. So I decided not only could this be a reminder to take my meds, but it might also serve as a poke in the mental ribs for me to do something different. The alarm could serve to remind me that I could change whatever I was doing and actually jump in a new direction for 30 minutes or an hour or even longer, depending on my needs. 

Kam is a big believer in the health benefits of the Jump.

I might be working at Limbertwig or unpacking boxes or ordering closets or cleaning the house. Maybe I’d be raking or weeding or even driving to Asheville. I might even be WRITING. You never know! Doesn’t matter. When that alarm goes off, if we haven’t done it already, then it’s time to go outside, get some sunshine, take a walk, dig a hole, move some rocks, walk up the mountain, play in the stream, stroll to the mailbox or William’s store, take the dogs to the Indian field, pick up kindling, or wander the paths I’ve cut in our woods.

It does not matter if it’s bitter cold. Dressed warmly enough, we’ve found the cold (without too much wind) is bracing and good for our bodies. If it’s raining or the weather is just too miserable, then we pull out the yoga mats or head down to the basement for a ride on the stationary bike. The important part is to get the body moving, change the mindset, and if possible soak up some outside.

I read a book once about our comfort zones and how important it is to get outside them. The author’s example was this: a man is reading by a fire while the snow blows outside his window. He needs to go for a walk, but he doesn’t want to move from his lounger by the fire, put on his outside clothes, or even open the door. Yet, he also knows that if he does, takes that mile walk down to the post office to mail his letters, when he returns he will experience a whole new gratitude for the warm fire, the comfy chair, his fascinating read. His senses will be sharper and his delight palpable.

Leigh's idea of a great Jump!

All I can say is that if you happen to visit us and are here when that obnoxious little alarm on my phone sounds, be ready. We won’t make you do it, but as for me and my household, we will jump! Jump up from what we are doing and dance or sing or stretch or walk. Most likely it will entail going outside so that we are reminded of where our food comes from, rejoice in the star that powers us; and acknowledge the earth to which we will one day return. Happy is the friend who joins us because this may be the most joyful moment of their time here. Certainly it’s a time of gratitude and pleasure. And brought to my awareness daily by a crazy little piano trill which, strangely, I have grown to know and love as the “two 0′clock jump!”

Jane has a successful apple Jump

 

 

 

Dec 18, 2013 - How-To    4 Comments

Write Your Way Through the Holidays

"Five Apples" Pastel by Susan Voorhees

Holidays. It’s the time of year when visual artists flourish. All their hard work over the past six months comes to fruition. At last they get their pay off. Creative people who work in kitchens, arrange flowers, craft strange and exotic pieces, pot, or paint will try during this season to make up for the barren winter months to come when tourists are few and their regular patrons are broke. The visual artist has worked and polished all year for this: the art shows and craft tours that are the delight of aficionados everywhere, and the money these people bring in that must last until late spring and early summer when the big spenders return.

It’s a perfect time for an artist’s date and the best way I know to spend money. I hand over my check, credit card or cash with a smile on my face and drink a cup of cider or cocoa with the artist while I observe the studio where the gift I just purchased was made. There are no home made cookies served on a hand made platter at the mall. It’s a great way to spend, and a wonderful way to spend a weekend, especially if you live in the mountains where fine art and folk art can be found a hill or two apart. I believe in supporting artists and I want my dollar to stay as close to home as possible.

Pottery Vase by David Voorhees

For writers, though, the holidays can be a hard time to remain true to ourselves and the work we do. It’s a social time; a family and friend time where festivities and smoozing abound. Like everyone else, we bake and cook and buy and wrap and sing carols or chant or whatever our celebration calls for. The solitude and quiet that a writer requires like oxygen and water become thin and hard to find. We find ourselves in a desert of too much; too much activity, too much fun, too much food and wine and socializing. Our resolve to write falls away and is smashed to bits like a glass ornament shaken loose from the tree of our intentions. Where in the midst of all this clatter and clutter, admidst the pleasure of seeing old friends and family, of eating and drinking too much, do we find the quiet centered place from which we write?

I’m lucky to have someone like Leigh in my life who understands that it’s crucial for me to have private time in order that we may both survive the holidays. Watching as I begin to spin faster and faster out of control, she takes my hand and leads me to my room, places a notebook and pen and cup of coffee in my hand and whispers gently (or not), “Write something. Anything. Please, for both our sakes.” And writers, where will you find more material than a family reunion with crazy Uncle Howard and nosy Aunt Sue unless it’s a drunken party of old friends gossiping and re-telling stories of  past relationships, successes, failures and flub-ups. This, my friends, is fertile ground. Don’t waste it.

So I thought I’d list a few ways you can keep the pen moving across the page during this insane time of year:

Studying Jane Voorhees watercolors at the Voorhees Family Art Show

#1 Do take an artist date and go on one of the many art and craft tours that are available in your area. They are everywhere and I know my blog followers live in some of the best places for these events. Getting out is good for the soul and seeing where and how other artists work is stimulating and inspirational. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Really, these artists can go a long way on your heartfelt praise. It’s also a good way to get some really fine snacks and beverages.

#2 Hide in your room pretending to sleep late. Say you are wrapping presents or shopping online if pestered by family or friends. Don’t answer the phone or text. You can usually steal an hour or two to yourself in this fashion. They won’t miss you. You won’t miss them. But you will miss having written if you don’t do it, and believe me, sooner or later it will show in how you handle yourself in public. As the old flight attendant saying goes, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.”

#3 If you have a roommate, as is often the case in these overcrowded reunion accommodations, leave for a bit. Go find a coffee shop, a cafe, or even a bar where no one you know can follow or simply show up. I have written in bars and cafes on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, even New Year’s Day. You are spending time in a veritable wonderland of writing prompts with all these folks and all their emotions displayed like shiny objects in a shop window. Use them. Write about them. Hide your notebook well when you return to the fray.

#4 Remember, writing is your safe harbor. If ever there was a time that a sensitive writer needs a place to hide away, it’s between Solstice and New Years. Your sanity depends on it. Possibly someone else’s does too. Your Muse doesn’t take time off and she waits for you to show up at the page, Christmas concert or not.  You can’t expect to wake up on New Year’s Day, groggy or hung over, and have those brilliant writing resolutions simply appear. You must write your way toward them. The best ones require thought and refinement on the page.

So don’t worry about being the humbug in the family. Be a happy humbug. Steal that hour or two you need for yourself and write your way through a happy holiday. Or not. Then let me know how that worked out for you.

 

Dec 3, 2013 - How-To    1 Comment

Show and Tell

We’ve all heard the complaints from certain art critics and snobs. (If you can’t do the work yourself, you can always be a critic, right?) Now you think you need to know everything there is to know about what you’re doing before you let anyone experience it. You need to study forms, take classes, practice for years and years before you have the confidence or competence to share your passion, whether it is visual art, poetry, music, acting, or cooking. Remember Mom said, “Never prepare a dish the first time for guests.” I beg to differ.

Simply being human makes us all works in progress. We mustn’t let perfectionism push us back in the closet. Neither the outer critic or the inner one should be allowed to captain our ship or be the master or mistress of our Fate. Critics are a bully bunch and like to tell you when you’re ready and emphasize that you rarely, if ever, are good enough to share your work. Turn your head away from that rude bunch and listen to my voice telling you that the only way to get ready is to do it. Except for the few Emily Dickinsons of the world, (and even she slid a poem or two or ten underneath the door to a publisher once in awhile) we benefit from sharing our works as they are, as we are–in progress.

Sure, when your are finally working on the Great American Novel, you may want to conserve that energy for the next page. It may be time to keep that passion bottled up while you pour it into your book or onto the canvas. Meanwhile, before you have begun those long and sometimes lonely chapters, sharing what you are doing will only improve it. Hosting open mics for over 15 years has proven me right on this particular phenomenon.

This is how the magic works: even without critique; with only the polite but enthusiastic applause of a kind and considerate audience, a door within each of us that was only cracked before, begins to open. The light comes in. That tiny bud of confidence that forced our shaky hands to pick up the pen or pencil, or inspired us to hold the paper in front of our faces and read with stuttering voices in front of a mic for the first time, blooms when it’s attended by those who left their critic at home; those attendees who pat you on the back or hug you and say, “Look at you! Look at YOU! I didn’t know you could do that!”

A collage treasure-box by artist Trudy Harris (Bentonville, Arkansas). Trudy has recently begun sharing her work with a larger audience. This year she won first place in the Arkansas Veteran’s Creative Arts program.

 

This is collaboration of the highest and hardest order–to stand and deliver long before you feel ready. To bare your heart and art before others, to stand naked in the light of whatever self-esteem you may have, to hold out before the world (because it will seem that way) this bit of self you’ve worked on, loved, and worried over like a single mother–this my friends, is what courage looks like. I think this is the greatest collaboration, the one between you and your audience. Whatever your skill level may be, your desire, the pure passion you have for your art, will make you better than you think. This difficult 2 or 5 or 10 minutes of your life will do more to improve and expand the sense of your creative self and help you find your community of peers, than anything else I know. More collaboration will follow and you will get better and better at what you love to do.

So find a place, a group of friends, an open mic, an art show. Pick up your instrument and sing. Show and tell. This is how it begins.

 

Nov 29, 2013 - How-To    1 Comment

Hallelujah


 
hal·le·lu·jah (From the original definition found in American Heritage Dictionary) interj. Used to express praise or joy.
n. 1. An exclamation of “hallelujah.” 2. Music. A composition expressing praise and based on the word “hallelujah.”
[Hebrew halllû-yh, praise Yahweh : halllû, masculine pl. imperative of hilll, to praise; see hll in Semitic roots + yh, Yahweh]
 

Hallelujah (a little known verse in the lyrics) by Leonard Cohen

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well, really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
 
These days I walk the winter woods here at Five Apple Farm, also called (by me) Five Acre Farm. Dressed warmly, I love the openness of the land, the stream and bottomland, the rolling lawn leading to an uncut field. Most of all I love the wooded hill behind the house. It seems more blessing than any person should receive in one short life. Hallelujah, though, for its stewardship falling into such capable (Leigh’s) and appreciative hands.
 
The fruits of my labor remain largely invisible to the naked eye, but I believe they are there. The job I feel most comfortable with, and indeed most competent at, is simply loving the land where I stand. The bible says to “pray without ceasing,” but my interpretation is to “praise without ceasing.” I touch the trunks of trees older and wiser than me, and tell them I love them; that I will do all in my power to protect them. Sometimes, I lift up my voice and sing to the woods, the flowing branch, the vast blueness of sky, the sun, these mountains that cradle me. I walk. I write poems and make up songs. Hallelujah. 
 
Within each of us is a hallelujah waiting to be expressed. We find it in whatever our passion, our creative expression may be. Whether it is spoken, sung, or silent–if we are true to our very individual, original, authentic hallelujahs, we do our part to heal our world. Indeed, we will be less than perfect. As Cohen says, and as I can see myself on this winter day with the rhododendron leaves frozen into green fingers, an icy wind shooting the valley, tree branches bare and splintery, what we have to give are often “cold and broken hallelujahs.” This is all the more reason to express them. Practice. Praise without ceasing. 
 
 
Despite our despair at the depletion of a planet which continues to give of herself, there is always beauty to be praised. Something hears us. It’s organic to be creative and creation is organic. This I believe. There is no sorrow that will leave us more bereft: to ignore the hallelujah within us. In our own re-creation of the universe, we reach out our hands, raise our voices and try to make the broken whole again.

Hallelujah.

 

 

Nov 13, 2013 - Writer's Life    4 Comments

Turning

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” So speaks the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and so it seems to me to be. I watch my own seasons turn, from  child to youth to woman to my croning (this would be a mixture of wisdom and some brand of hooliganism which must be just part of my personality). I realize I am entering the winter of my life and my writing. I no longer crave fame or fortune as I once did, foolish or not. Looking good is not as important as my sense of beauty. Writing well is important only because I have a sense of integrity that I don’t want to compromise. And writing often is even more important than writing well.

Believe me, I’m not necessarily pleased at the infrequency of my writing of late. I have made a major move from Northwest Arkansas back to Western North Carolina. At least the words north and west keep showing up, grounding me in similar parts of any given state. And the states are always in the South. As I told Leigh when we decided to move back in December, this will take a year of our lives. And so it proves to be.

We have been here but a short time, and already much as taken place. We lived in this crazy, kind of wonderful rental while we looked for home. The fact that it was only 700 sq. ft. made our new place, Five Apple Farm, seem huge. Leigh and I still text each other in order to figure out where the other might be in this upstairs-downstairs, nearly 5 acre wonderland of a mountainside.

The day after we moved in, boxes piled haphazardly about the place, my parents came to visit. Luckily, we had fixed up the little guest house, our Jewel Box, while the farm house was still under renovation. My folks loved it there. With all the comforts of home and a place they could call their own for the duration of the visit, we were able to entertain them even as we were living in chaos ourselves. When it got to be too much for them, they just headed for the bright lights and steady warmth of the Jewel Box next door. As Leigh said, when your parents are in their mid-eighties, you don’t wait for the perfect time for them to come. To every thing there is a season. There is no perfect time; just a time to every purpose under heaven.

I know this is a bit rambling and I apologize. I have been away too long and must start somewhere. Here seemed good enough for a beginning. Start here. Start there. Start somewhere. Hell, just get started. All I can do as I unpack boxes, clean years of grime from a house that sorely needed cleaning, and get ready to make a kitchen I can love for the rest of my life–is to write from where ever I may find myself. I invite you to join me as I turn, turn, turn into my new life; actually into my new old life here in the Black Mountains of NC, where Mount Mitchell is visible from almost any walk I take.

Follow me along the path I cut through the “laurel hells” up the side of our hill and back down again until we reach the beehives situated in the Indian field. Observe us planting the poor wayward peonies that have come all the way from Henry Chotkowski’s Ozark garden bought on seven consecutive Mother’s Day celebrations to be stuck in the ground at the rental, then replanted yet again around the clothesline poles at Five Apple Farm. Smell the apple pies, taste the tangy applesauce, and toast apple walnut bread for breakfast. Think of as many ways to use apples as you can. Help me find a cider press.

If this journey appeals to you, come along for the hike or hayride. Wade the waters of the South Toe and lay a fly so light and dainty that even the native Brookies will be fooled into striking. Or simply take a winter walk with me to see what we can see. The view–winter, spring, summer, fall–is always spectacular with a beauty that is constantly turning, as I am turning, as we all are turning on this incredible, unpredictable planet we call home.

Sep 22, 2013 - How-To    3 Comments

First Day of Fall

Sept 22nd and here we are, Leigh and I, back in the WNC mountains for fall. Although we had planned (in our crazy secret heart of hearts) to be happily planted in our new garden of delights in some county not far from this tiny rental in Mitchell Co., it simply took longer than we thought, as these things will. We just knew that we would already be established, moved in, working at our business, planting garlic and scattering the seeds for new poems. Reality can be a hard reminder that Spirit does not have our time constraints and the Earth moves at a pace which is not always in synch with our own. So, on the first day of Autumn Equinox, we’re painting and digging and waiting for workers to come and help prepare our place so we can move in and make more plans.

The most important part of the job is done. Five Apple Farm is found, along with the Jewel Box. I only asked for a guest room and got a guest house! The universe is so generous at times, remembering of course, it both giveth and taketh away. The location, as the crow flies, is actually less than a mile from where we lived when we left NC for Arkansas eight years ago. Out of a four county radius, we landed right back in the S. Toe Valley. I, for one, couldn’t be happier about that.

We are, however, nowhere near moving in. The house, built in the 1960′s with paneled walls, thick carpeting, and harvest gold appliances (that actually work) must be renovated before we can leave the rental to live at Five Apple, which Leigh named for the trees thick with multi-colored fruits grouped at the edge of our property. Besides the creek that cuts through the front part of nearly five acres, my favorite place is the “Indian field.” I call it this because rumor has it, and arrowheads and pottery shards seem to prove it, that the Cherokee camped there during the summer hunting and harvesting months. The spring which they discovered is the same one we will be drinking and bathing from. It all feels so, I don’t know, sacred or magical or holy. We are blessed and we are aware of it. However, as the nights drop down into the 40′s, we are ready to be moved and living at our new place.

As you can imagine, all this renovating and motor-vating back and forth between the rental and the real house leaves little time for motivating you or even me to write, read, or follow through on my real work. Drawing out a bead of paint along a baseboard is not the same as following the golden thread of inspiration, but hard work is good for the soul, and I like touching my home all over. The mind and body are one, after all. I am making this place my home as I sand, clean, and paint it. Yet, I must have one day to devote to my real work, the writing down of all that experience. So today, for the first day of fall, I spent an hour reading poetry and then wrote one of my own to honor the season I love best. I try to mark this especially poignant and haunting time with a piece of writing every year. Perhaps the shortening of the days and the lower slant of light inspires you, too. Don’t ignore that nudge of intuition (as my friend Liz calls it), but allow yourself to find the palette or the page and draw your own conclusions.

First Day of Fall
 
Here in the mountains
there is a true change of seasons, so sharp
and clear in evening light:
trees are cut-outs of themselves and every blade
of grass on the hill or in the field is singular, blood-tipped
inspiring the scarleting of leaves.
The sun breaks like an egg upon the crest
pours light down the ridges
flows into the rivers below,
gilding water reflection-less.
Heavy dew heralds October frosts
soaking canvas sneakers we trade for leather boots.
Waves of hardwoods twitch with first color
knowing how naked they’ll be by November.
Halloween is real here;
not little ghosties with holes cut for eyes, but spirits
who’ve haunted these hills thousands of years
appear as mists, spin through the valleys
rise from the mountains whiter than sheets
losing themselves in the slanting sun
only to reappear at night
touch us with a hint of ice–
this temporary ending
seeming 
such a deadly thing 
to a summer fling.
 

 

 

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