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Apr 1, 2016 - How-To    Comments Off on April Fools, It’s 30 in 30!

April Fools, It’s 30 in 30!


We are all April fools in one way or another. Even the Earth, solid as a mother, is wonky come April. She likes to play a trick or two. Rain and flowers one day, snow and ice the next. A deep frost will kill off those carrots just beginning to poke their tiny green from the ground, but we will plant again. She is only up to her old tricks, at least up here in the mountains.  April is not a month you can completely trust, anywhere.  Isn’t that something we love about  her, though? Out soaking up rays one day, using the rest of the firewood the next.

There are a couple of things you can count on come April: someone will play an April Fool’s joke on you when you least expect it because you forget it is April 1st. And there’s the certainty, if you’re a poet, that someone will challenge you to take the dare: Let’s do a 30 in 30.

Every year about March 15,  I start to worry the idea of 30 poems in 30 days like a dog with a slow bowl. It’s a niggling feeling, like you haven’t really gotten all the good you can get out of this exercise yet. On the other hand, like the 28 foot cliff I jumped from into a pool of deep green water when I was 25, I think maybe I should quit while I’m ahead. Once was enough.

I don’t think so, though. I remember all too well the feeling I had on April 30th when I realized it was fait accompli. YAHHH!! Add the fact that a few of those poems were really good, and they got better and easier as the days grew longer (12, 15, 21, 23, 28), and I knew I would succumb again to the lure of writing a poem a day for 30 days.

So here I am and there you are. I am making the commitment. This is the hard part. Whenever I think, “I’m just going to do it and not tell anybody,” I know I’m not serious. I won’t do it if I don’t hold myself accountable. And neither will you. So that’s the first poem you write. The one that holds you accountable. The one you may not show anybody, but also the one you told everybody you would write. The one that proclaims there will be 29 more. Yes, haikus are acceptable. Limericks, too.

I have decided I don’t have to post all mine this year, as I did in 2014. I might, but it’s not a requirement. I know for a fact they won’t all be good. Maybe not even most; hopefully some. Still I have written a lot of bad poems, so I’m not shy, especially if it gets someone else writing. I will post a few hints throughout the month to help you along, should you falter. You can’t fail. You’ll just have fewer poems come Mayday.

Click the link below to read my first effort. This will encourage you and show you for a fact that you have to write some bad, or so-so poems, in order to write a good one. Also, as you will see should you read the poem, I do this partly because I have always been a fool in April.

ABC’s for an April Fool by Mendy Knott

Feb 24, 2016 - How-To    1 Comment

In Every Season and For All Time

IMG_4410SAD (seasonal affective disorder) infects a lot of people, especially sensitive people who make up the greater part of artists, poets, and writers. It is compounded by loss and personal tragedy, even by events occurring to our friends and loved ones.

I think SAD has been worsened by climate change, because a true “season” is hard to come by. One day it’s spring, the next, it’s dead of winter. Summer lasts through December, skipping fall altogether. It throws me off balance, along with much of the rest of the natural world.

The desire to throw up one’s hands and run away to Canada in the current political climate is as strong as the desire to spend long hours under the bright lights of a gym or snuggled beneath the blankets of a warm bed. Or perhaps like me, you can barely take your eyes off the embarrassing circus, as candidates outperform one another in order to become the next president. The knowledge that such buffoonery is being played out in front of the rest of the world is enough to give anyone cause for SADness.

Yet, this is the exact time and place and climate in which we must do our work. My writing cannot depend on the circumstances of weather, mood, or politics, no matter how dismaying. One very personal reason to keep writing at these times is that it may be the only thing that helps me feel better. No matter what I write, whether it gladdens or saddens me; brings me joy, comfort, or is a wake up call to face the deep secrets that are part of who I am, I know I will be changed by the pen moving across the page or my fingers tapping out these words on the keyboard.

As Leigh said, “There are days you are really glad you’re married while other days you stay married because you said you would.” That is the perfect definition of fidelity. Whether you are being faithful to that drawing a day, to those submissions every week, to the poetry you need to revise, or to a book you’re working on, this is what you do. You do it, despite everything.

That’s not to say there won’t be times when we must hit the pause button. Your parents need you. You’re sick. You’re sick and tired. So take a few days to work in the garden, go for long walks, or to be compassionate. Better yet, do something different, something that takes minutes instead of hours. You may be delighted with the results as you catch your conscious self off guard.

Every time I go to church with my folks, I manage to write a poem on the bulletin between the time the organist begins playing the prelude and the minute the first hymn is sung. True, I can’t always find the right page in the hymnal, but heck, a preacher’s kid knows the first verse anyway.

So here I am today, telling you I don’t feel like doing this, but I’ve left you hanging long enough. It’s my other “I do.” It’s my commitment to work. Like marriage, there’s no vacation (even when you’re away) and no retirement. It’s only over when it’s over. Get a ring or a rubber band. Marry yourself to it. I like ink because right there, on my wrist where I can’t miss it, is the reminder of my commitment to my art. I made it impossible to ignore, and I’m glad.

Write. This is what I do.

Dec 28, 2015 - How-To    4 Comments

The Un-Rain Dance

Mendy One Thing Pic (1)

Leigh and I stand in the kitchen on a late December day discussing at year’s end our successes and (perceived) failures of 2015. How could we transform our lives to better reflect our goals in the new year? For instance, in 2016, I intend to write the memoir I’ve been talking about and writing around for years. It is my number one priority. Now, how do I get there from here?

Leigh loves a list. She lives for a well organized life and a “normal” day. Please don’t ask the obvious question. While I spent my childhood playing soldier, spy, doctor, cop, robber, and cowboy, Leigh was busily organizing her desk as she played “office.” Otherwise, she was designing hutches for her rabbits and guinea pigs or hooking up her own phone.

She separates her days into “chunks” into which certain activities fall. Her grocery lists follow the aisles of the store we shop most often. These things make her fast and highly efficient. I wander the aisles of grocery stores “shopping.” Honestly, I do get home with much of what’s needed, but it’s slow going and I always forget something.

I keep the notepad handy, “I will do one thing today ________.” Leigh has a pad, too. It says, “Notes from the voices in my head.” I think these two pads say a lot about us. She keeps her many voices (ideas) in order with lists and drawings and boxes and you know, geometry. I grab hold of that single bone that is my one thing to do today and carry it everywhere I go so that I won’t forget that this memoir is my priority. Not just today, but every day. I can carry only one #1 priority in my head at a time. I’m doggish that way. Some might say bull doggish.

Despite all our notes and lists, though, life stops for no one. No matter our priorities, we must learn to roll with the punches. I’m lucky to be a writer as it requires so little (physical) baggage when it comes time to get on that plane to Dallas and go see my elderly parents. I can carry it to Asheville in a notebook or a laptop and write before or after appointments. I can even pull off the Parkway at an overlook and get in a good 45 minutes sitting in my truck. I simply cannot be burdened with more than that if my art is to be as portable as it must be.

Where my life feels cluttered and chaotic, strangely enough, is at home. Leigh and I agree on this. The less you have, the less you have to deal with when it comes time to get down to the work about which you are passionate. What do we do with the accumulated STUFF of life? The woman who loved to play “office” (I’m sure she meant boss as opposed to say, secretary) as a child gets very excited as she outlines what she plans to do differently in 2016. The child who played cowboy stares morosely out the window at the rain, wondering how to drive all those cattle in an orderly fashion through the omnipresent mud.


“How do you do a dance to make the rain stop?” I ask, not only for myself, but thinking of friends in AR and TX who are literally underwater right now. Leigh said, “Do it backwards.” “Ha!” I love her surprising quips that bring me to the surface laughing when I would drown in the doldrums. Immediately I had a thought about the un-rain dance as it applied to un-“stuffing.” But Leigh kept talking, driving home a point which began as a joke, while I was already writing a poem about the un-rain dance in my head.

(to be continued)


Nov 18, 2015 - How-To    1 Comment

Family Matters (Part I)


IMG_3779Recently I attended the Cross family reunion in Rosston, Arkansas, population 265, duly noted on the city limits sign. This is south central Arkansas and these are my momma’s people. There are branches on the Cross family tree with which I am barely familiar. But I feel my kinship to them, not only in the blood we share, the pure genetics, but luckily in a certain generosity of spirit and stubbornness they carry with the gentle manners of good Southerners who are decent folk. I am proud to be counted among them.

My family, past and present, are people who love the land more than money. The land we stood on all weekend has been in the Cross family for generations, and will remain so if cousin Jim has anything to do with it. My great grandpa raised his large family, including my PaPaw, in the house where we all gathered for the weekend. That house has survived the vagaries of the worst Arkansas weather. My PaPaw was born in 1900, and his mom and dad lived there before him, which means that old clapboard house has stood for at least a century and a quarter.

As tradition dictates, when the Crosses get together we eat a lot of food. There was enough for 100, even though half that many came. Cousin Jim alone bar-b-cued ribs, brisket, pork loin, hamburgers, and hot dogs. His wife, Eddie Jane, made 7 or 8 cakes by herself. We provided the rest. You get the picture. A Cross family reunion is no place for weight watchers. You might as well just put that diet down.

I’m writing this because the older I get the more family matters. Also because family matters can get in the way of good writing like nothing or nobody else. I thought I would think about these things on the page for a few posts and see what comes of it. The following poem arrived via the Rosston reunion. IMG_9928


The Stuff We’re Made Of   (for Patti and Jerri)

Three cousins dig under an Arkansas sun.
It’s early October.
We are on the land that birthed the Crosses.
This tough stuff we scrape with a long stick and sharp stone,
this hard red clay, used to tornados, drought, flash floods–
this is what our moms are made of.
And we are part of them. You can see it in the way we dig
this bottle with stick and stone in ground that will not give.
We will not quit until the treasure is uncovered.
We are part of one another.
Cousins. Family. Related through our mothers.
Here is where my great grandfather farmed and forged
and here, my PaPaw born.
Here is where my MaMaw had most of her ten children.
I feel her smiling in the sun that shines on us
while we dig at that old dirt;
in this same soil she made food grow,
fed her children, our mothers.

Three cousins, we dig in concert with each other,
a winning team of diggers,
though we may differ in politics or religion.
There may be little enough we actually agree on,
but that blood coursing through our veins
holds us together like the clay
we scrape and pound to get at one glass bottle.
On this we all agree: blood is thicker than water,
and it’s a good thing since there ain’t much water
‘round here right now.

Cousins, I am glad for your presence
and this strange and simple task we’ve set ourselves.
There is something so symbolic in it
that words fail even me. Truly,
I am grateful to you,
hard as it was for me to get here from where I began.
I can hear my panting breath, feel my pounding heart again,
remember everything we ever did
in Camden or in Minden.
I love you more than I ever have before.
Blessed as I am by your patience and persistence,
I feel MaMaw in us all.


Jul 20, 2015 - How-To    1 Comment

Disappearing Ink

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye


The following poem is a sort of Part 3 to the last two weeks’ posts. All three writings are, in large part, a response to a book I’m working called, Poetic Medicine The Healing Art of Poem-Making by John Fox. You may remember him from a much older book, Finding What You Didn’t Lose. With these two books (and only these two), he has proven himself both inspiring and helpful in so many ways.

In my struggle to cope with Dad’s dementia with patience (for myself) and understanding, Poetic Medicine is proving an invaluable tool. One of Fox’s early assignments is to take a difficult situation involving a loved one and use metaphor or simile in place of the thing itself. That is how “Green as Grief” came to be, and as I was better able to name my sorrow, “For the Love of Words.” My poem, “Disappearing Ink” was also born with help from his pages.

The response to “For the Love of Words” was so strong, I know that this must be a familiar story to many of my readers. If so, we know there will be things left unsaid, gifts that we can’t say “thank you” for, anger that has no place to go except into the promised land of forgiveness. Hopefully, we will finally find ourselves able to drink from the clear, deep well of acceptance. I thank author, John Fox, for his aid in helping me to to manage all these conflicting emotions with a modicum of grace.

Disappearing Ink

My father is a blank page now.
You can write anything across him.
It’s disappearing ink.
He is in the eternal present
for he forgets the past
and can’t remember having had a future.
He knows me when he sees me.
I announce myself on the phone before he has to guess
so he can conjure up a picture in his head I hope
of his eldest daughter.
The minister who was a dapper dresser,
even in his yard clothes, neat,
sweet-smelling, smooth cheeks–
grows whiskers he will shave in patches
with shaky hands for his wife’s sake.
He will not shower unless reminded.
He wears the same clothes every day.
He forgets he should not drive; grows
anxious searching for his keys.
The dad-like stuff he used to do:
fix a lock, mow grass, chat with neighbors,
know which gadgets to pick at Lowe’s,
are but shadows in this mystery.
He’s forgotten how to grill.

He remembers the Sabbath. To keep it holy,
he gets up at five for church at ten.
It takes a long time to get ready.
He worships
although guilt and shame have disappeared
like a puff of Vatican smoke,
vanished where no angels stand to roll the stone away.
In the pew, he recites the Apostle’s Creed, sings the Doxology.
Blameless as a newborn, his memories have been traded
for a good night’s sleep.

What remains belongs to me:
Holding hands with him after a football game
he took me to because I didn’t have a date;
him watching me shoot hoops, swim;
going fishing,
sweating in the garden.
That long, hard drive to the bus station
when he wouldn’t look at me. I cried,
“Forgive me, Father…”
but I could not change my self.
He can’t remember that.

I think about this meditation
that he has never practiced.
His prayers consist of names without faces,
go unanswered, but then there’s
his new inability to care.
I ask him on the phone what he has done today
and he answers truthfully,
He sits quietly on the couch waiting for the train.
His wife of over sixty years wades through deep
long silences, not ready yet for him to board.
Will he remember passengers once he takes his seat?
It’s impossible to know.
Perhaps he’ll be given pens with good, black ink
to cover his blank page with names of new acquaintances
and places he has never seen.

Mendy Knott July 2015


Mar 31, 2015 - How-To    1 Comment

April’s 30 in 30–Not Just Any Challenge



There is no poem too long or too short that might catch at one’s sleeve or spark the shirttail with an image fiery enough to blaze in the chest, burning the heart down to something clear and clean and sharp as steel.

It’s that time again, April, National Poetry Month, and time for 30 in 30. I love this crazy exercise which makes my heart go all arrhythmic, skipping beats as I try not to skip a daily opportunity to become more aware, to read more poetry, and to write a poem a day for 30 days. This year, as if that weren’t enough to overlay my overwhelm, I’m adding sketching to the mix. That’s right, a sketch and a poem a day for 30 days.

While I’m doing that, I will also pack and prepare myself to fly to South Africa where I will remain for the entire second half of this exercise. I’m sure this sounds crazy to you, but it’s not as nuts as it seems. After all, I will be on a plane for 15 hours flying non-stop over a lot of ocean with little better to do than draw all the strangers surrounding me and write about my not-so-secret dread of crashing into a deep blue ocean from 35,000 feet high into perpetual darkness from some unknown time zone. I could finally find out if that darn floating seat really works. See all the good poem material, and that’s just getting to Jo’berg!

I have not found out who made up this insane exercise, but I would personally like to thank them. If I should happen not to read a poem from my long shelves of poetry for an entire season, I can no longer ignore them come April. If poetry seems to abandon me, (although I know it is I, shoving off in my busy little pirogue into a swamp of inattention) then April returns me to myself, challenging me to “..row your boat ashore, Halleluia!”

Finally, I make time for the important idleness that leads to a greater appreciation of life. Besides, it only looks like idleness to outsiders. To insiders, the mind is at its peak when it is emptied. It’s a koan, zen masters. I made it up, but you know what I’m saying. That’s why 15 hours of nothingness will be really good for me right in the middle of this exercise. It will also keep my mind occupied and off the poem I wrote on Earth Day last year called “Lost.” You can check it out in Notes on my FB page, where I posted last year’s 30 in 30.

I dare you to do this. Be the tomboy daring to leap from a cliff into the deep green waters of a forbidden quarry. Having jumped once, I must feel the chilling thrill of the fall once again. Only this time, I will add 30 sketches to the dare. Oh, don’t be amazed or impressed. This is my job, after all. Instead of willy-nilly as I am wont to do, April helps me see the value of practicing and appreciating creativity every single day.  No matter who is visiting; no matter the garden needs weeding or the clothes must be hung on the line or the dogs fed. There is always something to do, and doing it as if each duty were a poem to be written or a sketch to be drawn, well, it makes us more alive. It makes us feel more alive. No lie.

IMG_3005Let the poetry begin! Let the tomes full of poems pile up beside the bed like towers of color and imagery! Life is waiting to leap from the page toward the heart in living color, in all its lion-ness, its passionate desire to become part of who we are and who we can be. A poem, an essay, a free write, a sketch. One a day for 30 days. You can do this. And if you think you can’t, read a poem a day for all of April. See if one of those poems doesn’t oxygenate something longing for breath in you. Then think of what writing one will do.



Feb 20, 2015 - How-To    2 Comments

It May Look Like Crap, But…


…it’s not. It’s yours. It’s your toilet and your bathtub, your bathroom and medicine cabinet captured by your own hand using your own two eyes. This drawing may look like I only have one, or maybe none, but that’s just how I see it at first. Drawing is the hardest and most fun thing I’ve done in years. I love it and it scares the shit out of me. Actually, Danny Gregory said draw what you see from your bedroom door and there you have it.

Fear is so common we don’t even call it that anymore. Apprehension, worry, defense strategy, self-protection, etc. In me it often looks like anger but only if I’m really freaked out. If I feel pushed or cornered or criticized around this new thing I’ve taken on, I am likely to shove back, shout, say “Get out of my face! I already do one thing well! Whaddya want!?” But my friend Jane knows how to gentle the artist out of me, out of anyone, I believe. As we work on writing/sketching a book together, we are learning so darn much en-couraging one another, I’m wondering how we’ll fit it in to one book. She is writing and I am sketching and that is a complete turnaround for both of us. We are somewhat terrified of the process. But going through the process ourselves is the only way to write the book! How can we ask someone else to do it when we haven’t done it?

So our assignment for this week is to write a blogpost concerning overcoming fears when starting a new creative form. We are to give you at least one way you can overcome yours, too. Of course, I always have more than one rabbit in my hat. The very first thing I recommend is to find a friend who is creative and is willing to share their creativity with you. Whether that means listening to you read a poem, looking at your first drawing, or humming along with the song you’re writing, this is a crucial element in continuing the process. Your friend must be someone you trust and who is not your spouse or lover (because what’re they gonna say, really?). It helps if this individual has some talent in the direction you are headed.

I don’t want to make this too long, because I want you all to read it. I think this stuff is really important, facing our fears and creativity and how that just touches on nearly everything. I’m not kidding. It does. Fear has an energy behind it, a push that you can use. I know that sounds crazy unless you are familiar with the old “fight or flight” theory, which you probably are. I personally think there are more responses than just those two to what you can do with that welling up of adrenaline when you feel your old friend Fear knocking, knocking at the door to your heart. Use it to make yourself brave. Teach yourself to stand there and feel afraid then pick up your pen or pencil and draw that damn toilet over again, or write that haiku 167 times until you have said what you truly want to say.

Here are a few other things I do: drink a lot of coffee, eat chocolate, ride the stationery bike, walk up a mountain road (anything that sweats the demons out). I do the drawing over and over again until I get it right. I throw away nothing and I correct mistakes right there on the page the same way any writer would who was revising a poem; cross-outs, insertion marks, and curses included. If you have ever loved a writer and have discovered some of those first drafts, how lovely it is to see those corrections on the page. That it didn’t just flow from their pen like water or ink. It took going back in, going back in. That is what my friend Jane keeps telling me. “Use a little water and smooth that edge. Oh, dab a little kleenex there in all that blue and make some clouds. It’s not messed up. Here’s another kleenex. Now go back in.”


And here we are right back where we started. At toilets where you can get rid of your kleenex or toilet paper or whatever you used to make those corrections. And here is my second drawing of essentially the same scene done only minutes after completing the first one. Yo, buddy! I almost got that toilet right!!! I like the clear bathtub curtains and the curve of the cabinet. I’m getting closer to that old perspective thing. Obviously I don’t see lines like everybody else. All my lines have been poems and lyrics until now. No wonder their wonky. Their hooks. But they’re original to me.

I hope you can see the difference. I have a long way to go, but finally, finally I’m able to push off on the fear like a diver does a platform in order to spring into something totally new; what I’ve longed to do–but buried beneath my fear instead–all my life.





Jan 9, 2015 - How-To    2 Comments

The Power in Perspective

IMG_2715I like big ideas. As I learn to draw and comprehend perspective, I’ve come to see the truth of my title in a brighter light. It’s not a new idea, but it takes on greater meaning as I begin to study perspective in detail. Recently, I decided to take up sketching, or drawing, even some painting. Call it what you will, but for a writer whose primary tools have always been words, visual art is a whole new language requiring a completely different skill set.

One of those skills is called “perspective.” The tools of both crafts may appear similar–pens or pencils, paper, journal or sketch book, etc–but the essential building blocks (words) will not make drawing one whit easier, no matter how much of a command of the language you may have. How does a writer, once safe and satisfied in the world of words, come to this alien planet of  art seeking entry into a place occupied by a plethora of truly great artists? With humility, for one thing. But also with determination and commitment. (I blame the ducks. They are so darn cute! I wanted to capture them with drawings, not just words.)

I simply decided words weren’t always enough to express my Self, my feelings, my sense of how lucky I feel to be alive to experience all this beauty. I didn’t want to just write about creativity, I wanted to ILLUSTRATE it. I wanted to throw in some sketches, throw a few pots, throw down my writing pen in favor of paints, clay, and #2 pencils! I wanted to get back to that pure state many artists and Buddhists refer to as “Beginner’s Mind.”

Beginner’s mind is actually common to all of us. Remember back in elementary school?  Do you recall learning to read; the actual moment when you didn’t need the illustrations any more because the words alone made sense? Wow! It was a miracle! Truthfully, it took me a long time to want to read a book without pictures because they were so beautiful. Those illustrators (Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, Wizard of Oz) were so gifted. But as soon as we realized words were all we needed because we could IMAGINE the pictures in our minds–whoa!–a whole new world, and thousands of books, opened up.

The same was true with writing. There we were busily copying A a, B b, C c and the next thing we know we are writing our names! We are writing letters to our Mommas in those big blocky letters with #2 pencils on Big Chief tablets. Yes! (I do hope kids still do this. If not, it explains a lot.) Beginner’s Mind starts with those sweet “ah-hah!” moments when we discover we are capable of creating something new. We can communicate our ideas in a different and exciting way. We require this principle so we remain vital in the world. This is how life stays fresh, we remain involved, why we long to learn something new. Beginner’s Mind is the beginning of discovering a new perspective.

Step #1 to getting into this frame of mind at 60, or at any age, is to try to recall what it is you always wanted to do. Was it to become an accomplished cook? A master mechanic? Did you want to create beautiful objects from clay? Make hilarious cartoons? Be a stand up comic? C’mon, you know there’s something. I wanted to draw like my friend Debbie Kelly, especially because she always had her art to occupy her during church. I watched her draw on the bulletin, fascinated by the worlds she created. I tried, but mine looked nothing like hers.

Step #2 is to gut it up and actually try something new. Oh, how we hate to get out of our comfort zones. Somebody might laugh at us. They might make fun of what we have spent hours creating. They may shake their heads and say, “Shame, that.”  Probably, nobody will give a damn what we are about. And if you are in a class like Sketchbook Skool, which has the beginningist beginners posting before and after the most experienced artists, you will find endless comments of encouragement and help from everyone, no matter what level they occupy in the high rise of artistic ability. There is kindness after art!

Okay, that’s two steps steps and enough for today. Ponder them. Trust me when I say that you will learn much more than you think when you take on something new. The first thing I learned with my beginner’s drawing mind is that the world is not how I imagined it. The old way of looking at things and describing them with words will not work in my sketchbook. I must learn to see things differently; like an artist as opposed to a writer or regular person. Not only is learning perspective necessary for drawing, it’s beneficial to my writing, and helpful in my relationships.

Perspective allows us to step back and observe the difference in how we perceive our immediate surroundings, our world, the Big Ideas. If we can see and sketch this perspective for a friend, an ally, an opponent, or even an enemy, we may realize we are looking at the same thing from a different angle. It only appears different to each of us because of the place we occupy. Shift slightly right or left and the picture changes. The thing itself could be as common as sliced bread. It’s all in how you look at it. So let’s sit down where we are, sketch it out for one another, and share a sandwich. Any way you look at it, the ability to share our varying perspectives can only be an important tool to have in a combative culture.

IMG_2745*Note: Since beginning this piece, the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris occurred. Twelve people, mostly satirists and cartoonists, are dead. There is power in perspective and in expression through art. I stand for freedom of expression and the right to create art as each of us sees fit. No artist deserves to die for their images, but many have and, no doubt, many more will. My heart goes out to all those families affected by this useless massacre.

Dec 28, 2014 - How-To    1 Comment

The Dusk of Our Discontent

IMG_2695It’s December 28th and I find myself in a place I recognize from holidays past. I don’t think I’m the only one. Many of us wander in those days between Christmas and New Years as if we lost our way in route to a joyful event being held at a neighbor’s house. We have the directions. We’ve been there before, and yet every year we wind up on a foggy mountain road wondering how to find the party.

Our Swedish neighbor, who knows much of what it is like to be lost in the dark, says that the Swedes take a week off every Christmas and celebrate as if there is no tomorrow. And truly, once the partying is over, they will be in the dark for many long months to come. When we talked to him after Christmas, he told us the Swedes have a name for this time between Christmas and New Years–only it doesn’t sound as cheerful in English. So he said “Happy Continuation!” Basically it means the good cheer keeps on flowing until everyone returns to work again. I wanted to tell him that I think most Americans think of it as the “In-Between.”

I equate this time of year more with the way our chickens and ducks feel in the evening just before roosting or resting time. The chickens are quite noisy about it. They fight for a place on the roost; flapping and clucking and even fighting in a most unfeminine pecking order. “I want this spot!”  “No, that’s mine, I always sleep there!” Squawking and running around and fluffing up ominously until, at last, all are settled someplace whether they like it or not. This feathery mayhem can last for as long as an hour.

We finally had to move the ducks from their place beneath the apple trees where they joyfully motored in mud for most of a month. They now reside under the chestnuts. The dip in the land beneath the Crow’s Egg and the big yellow apple trees held water until we had a virtual duck soup. Our feathered darlings, which we always thought were such clean little birds in their white suits, billed holes in the mud and at the roots of the trees into which they could disappear their entire heads. Besides being somewhat horrifying, we figure it was not doing the land a lot of good either. So we moved them and their house and play yard to drier, if not higher, ground.

But birds have no sense of home as the house which is their abode. Fresh straw and water, a full tray of food notwithstanding, every IMG_2576evening they stand like statues staring forlornly back at the mudhole from whence they came. They do not motor. They do not swim, but sit in the water comforting themselves. In the evening they all three stretch out their long necks and look back, still as statues. At dusk, we must herd them into their same old house in this new location, which is obviously not home yet.

Leigh likes to call this time of day, the “dusk of their discontent.” I suppose, here at the beginning of winter, we could still use Shakespeare’s term, “the winter of our discontent” but actually, I prefer dusk for this particular time of the year where we are treading water between the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Sure, we have all these new resolutions but we are waiting to begin them until New Years Day. There’s a Mardi Gras feel to this. I need to party hardy: drink all I want, smoke my last cigar, eat tons of sweets before I give it all up in just a few days. Even for those who don’t take our “continuation” on in exactly this manner, there’s a kind of discontent about not doing it in that way. What do we do with that time between the end and the beginning?

I don’t know. When I don’t know what to do with myself, I write in my journal, post a blog, read a book, attempt to better myself even before the New Year begins. Even if I am half-hearted about these things, it mostly prevents me picking fights with the other hens. “No harm, no fowl” as they say; or at least as we say around here. The leftovers are gone, the bad cookies have been fed to the chickens, and there’s no more candy. Time to eat that salad we’ve been talking about needing for days. Pick up the house. Take a hot shower. Go for a walk. Gather some kindling. These things bring some satisfaction, but really, the dusk of our discontent will continue until we get used to these new digs, which will happen hopefully with the dawn of 2015.

Dec 20, 2014 - How-To    1 Comment

Beating the Holiday Blues

IMG_2619Not everyone loves a holiday; many, for good reasons. Those days strung together like brightly colored lights everywhere can bring back bitter memories. Some sufferers simply don’t believe in all that anymore. They may object to consumerism. Some will have suffered a painful loss at Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Years. Some folks may be in the process of losing someone now.

No, not everyone loves a holiday. I don’t think they are Scrooges; they are lost in these dark days of Winter Solstice. For whatever you may or may not believe, Solstice and the dying of the light happen. And that fact by itself is enough to make you want to take to the bed and stay there.

This is why there are celebrations, lights, shiny red objects, and evergreens spread around this time of year. To remind us that as the light dies, the days immediately begin to grow longer again. According to my Nature text, that’s what happens anyway. And the return of the light; whether it be days growing longer, a foggy depression lifting slowly, a new idea starting to form, a list of things we would like to make happen in 2015 (a list unaffected by outside influences–our list) signifies there are yet days to open and open like presents under under a tree.

No matter what religious holiday one celebrates, or if none is celebrated at all, it seems to me that any reason people find to be kinder to one another, more generous, to smile and greet each other in the street or at checkouts, is worth celebrating. Maybe we give to our favorite charity, or donate a big box to Goodwill, or pay for someone’s coffee behind us in line, as my cousin’s husband did before he died last year. His death was a great loss to his family, but he left behind a legacy of generosity and this small tradition to commemorate and continue.

So here’s a list I use to beat the holiday blues, or when I feel the holiday blues are beating me. You might try just one or two of these and see if it helps. And if you don’t want to be helped, well, no judgement here. Sometimes it’s best to sit with what troubles you until it passes. But should you tire of that, try one or two of these:

1. Write your way through the holidays. (Check out another year’s post on this very thing.) Do it for yourself, in your journal. Write in a bright and bustling cafe. Even better for beating the blues, write someone you love or a friend you haven’t contacted in years. No card is necessary, but you might support an artist by sending one of theirs.

2. What the heck? String a couple of rows of lights. They make LED’s now and they are low energy users, especially in exchange for the uplift they bring.

3. Go listen to some live music; choir, bluegrass band, or rock ‘n’ roll–uplifting for you and supports your local musicians. Go out to eat or drink and overtip the waiter, the waitress, the bartender. Write “thank you” on the check.

4. Bake some cookies or loaves of bread to give away to neighbors who have suffered a loss as well. Keep some for yourself. Some sugar can be good for the blues, says Dr. Mendy.

5. Invite some neighbor kids to visit if you have none of your own. Serve them cocoa. Give them a small gift. Even more important, listen to their stories and tall tales. If you find this difficult, spike your cocoa.

6. Sing along with the radio and have a party with yourself. Dance. Howl. Sit quietly and meditate; on the snow, the crows, the evergreens. Go for a long walk in the cold, observe winter’s stark beauty, then enter a warm place and cup your hands around something hot to drink.IMG_2637

7. Keep your expectations low. I expect a lot of myself in holiday seasons. This causes stress. I am only just learning to let go a little, and let the thing unfold, remembering I’m suppose to be on holiday, too.

8. Make some art. It doesn’t have to be great art. Or perfect. It’s the process, not the product.

9. Talk to an elder or a person with a handicap. Give them a hand with something that’s hard for them that you can do. Smile while you are doing it.

10. Give, give, give. That’s my best prescription for healing the holiday blues. That’s my prescription for a good life. However much you have, there’s always a way to give. There are always those in greater need than we are. And I believe with all my heart, when we give to others (people, animals, the earth), we give to ourselves and lighten our own load.

There you have it; my prescription for the holiday blues. The rest is up to you. Happy holly days to all!  Love, from the Hillpoet

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