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Jul 2, 2012 - How-To    Comments Off on Writing the Heat Wave

Writing the Heat Wave



It’s hot. Really, really hot. And Leigh and I have been discussing why, when there really is nothing else to do but stay inside during the mid-day hours, all we want to do is sleep or gripe about how hot it is. Here are all these lovely hours when I could be writing something new, revising something old, creating a poem or simply writing in my journal (not to mention working in the office). And yet, I sulk around and nap and wait for something “good” to happen; something that will spur me into action and force me to do the work that waits so patiently in the vacuum behind my darkened computer screen.

So, here I am writing you, my faithful readers, because that is what I do. Inspiring you inspires me. Now all I have to do is think of a way to do that. Here is a list of what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks while the temps were in the triple digits and the sky refuses to rain and wash some relief over all of us:

1) Went fishing. I know this doesn’t sound appealing to all of you, but really, what is writing but a sort of “go fish” game of chance. We hone our craft, just as we do our skill at casting or fly fishing. We must know the correct lure, fly, bait (phrase, word or metaphor) to use. There’s that sweet time floating in the boat on a lake all alone, the breeze whispering and the early morning shadows long. It’s a good time to get a little day-dreaming done. There is also the work; putting the boat in and taking it out again. Attempting to stay in the productive spot while the wind threatens to blow you to Mexico. Cleaning the fish and preparing them for the big fry later. Ah, how like writing it all is. I want to be in that productive place. I want to be editing and cleaning up that piece I need to submit by the middle of the month. Instead, I’m living the metaphor instead of writing it.

2) Read books. This is tricky territory because reading is essential to good writing. But reading what a I call candy books–you know what I mean–cheap mysteries, horror novels and romances (if you’re into that sort of thing), books that are nothing more than a page turners/time burners can be a great waste of time. This is why I’m not allowed to read these things during the morning hours. I allow myself anything I want to fall asleep reading at night, but mornings are for inspiration and practicing craft. Unless I go fishing, of course.

3) Work in the garden and water all the drying up trees and flowers. This is depressing work, but must be done. We do get to harvest because in the garden, we have an irrigation system hooked to a well (thanks to Leigh) and some things are not being cooked by the sun. So we pick and weed and put up produce. Now this is all good, but again, I’m not doing the metaphorical equivalent in my writing. I have an entire cabinet of work that needs to be weeded, pruned, and watered so it can grow into something worth reading.

4) Visiting with family and friends. I will not apologize even to myself for this one; especially since I have alone time so seldom with some of these sweet characters. Call it character development. How can I write about relationships and relating if I don’t do some. I’m not saying I’m much of a hermit to begin with, but I need to see the world the way someone who has lived their life differently than me sees it. Or else my characters are one-dimensional. Can’t have that.

5) Going to museums and admiring others’ artwork. I am looking to be inspired. Since I can’t find anything wrong with this, we’ll just move on.

6) Sitting in the cowboy tank trying to cool off and taking naps. Really, it’s hard to find fault with those two things either, unless they take up the majority of your day and then you stay up late watching movies from Netflix, which I can do for a really, really long time. I could say that I am studying for my next screenplay (something I’d really like to write) or serial, like True Blood or Justified, but that would be a lie and I’ve promised I wouldn’t tell any in my blog posts. It’s a good idea, but I get too caught up in the story to pay that writerly kind of attention. This requires watching it a second time.

There you have it, and I bet I’m not the only one procrastinating my way through these incredibly hot summer days. I even missed posting last week–and that is really a no-no. But there you go, we’re all human and we sometimes do let things like the heat and the drought, or the storms, or the world news get to us. Still, here I am, typing this slightly inane post to you to let you know you aren’t alone. We are not bad people. We aren’t even lazy people. We just wilt sometimes. Find the source of your water, and set your feet in it. Take a vacation and call it that and then it won’t be procrastination. You don’t have to go anywhere. Then pick up your pen, find a prompt, and write something. Anything will do until you find yourself leaning into it like a sunflower leans into the sun. Take some time off without berating yourself, and then…well, then get back to work because writing is the best job in the world.

 

Jun 18, 2012 - How-To    Comments Off on Write Walking

Write Walking

(photo by Jane Voorhees)

You’re probably muttering, “Oh, now that it’s blazing hot, she wants me to go walking.”  It may not seem like the right time for this post, just before summer solstice, but walking daily is as important as writing daily. In fact, unless I am on such a tight deadline that I simply can’t find the time, then I walk as regularly as I write. In the blazing summers of Arkansas, I walk early or I walk late, but I walk.

Walking is a tradition among writers, as a matter of fact. Walt Whitman walked miles through New York City day after day. Stephen King still walks even though he got hit by a car and it nearly killed him. Eventually the driver of the car that hit him died “of unknown causes,” but perhaps we shouldn’t go there. Think about Thoreau or Mary Oliver, Julia Cameron or Natalie Goldberg. Try to walk where you can avoid cars altogether. I highly recommend strolling country roads or quiet neighborhoods as opposed to walking alongside traffic on busy thoroughfares. If you live in a big city, find a park and walk. Trees and green and birds and water are calming influences on the writer’s mind. Whether at home or away (as in the above pic, I’m in Washington State) I walk wherever I am.

Think of this time, not as exercise, but more as a meditation. In fact, clear your mind and simply pay attention to what you see, hear, smell, and feel out there in the natural world. We spend an awful lot of time at desks and typing on computers, working inside both our homes and our minds. We need to step out of that place just to breathe what is fresh and to see what is waiting to grab out attention. Quiet the mind. Take some deep breaths. Feel the earth beneath your feet and remember that we are part of it. Beauty isn’t simply pretty words on a page. Life is our inheritance and it is big and broad and endlessly fascinating. Feel each step as you stretch your legs out and find your stride. Allow your mind to wander freely. Questions about your work over which you’ve puzzled endlessly, may be answered on your morning walk. Relaxed, our thoughts find the space to move around and spread out some. No longer confined to the page, the mind is able to find the answer was waiting there all along, just outside the margins, down a gravel road or next to a sidewalk in Central Park.

All you worriers are thinking, “Well, how far do I have to walk? How much time is this gonna take?” I believe the ideal write walk is 3 miles. This gives the body time to relax and the mind the opportunity to shift gears. You need to put aside 45 minutes to an hour at the coolest hour (in summer) to do your walking. If you aren’t use to exercise or walking, start with what you can do. I live on a little 3-acre farmlette in NW Arkansas (often referred to as Arklahoma). One of the first things I did once I moved in was clear a quarter mile path around the perimeter of our land. Part of it goes through the woods; part of it leads through a row of pines so that your feet sink into brown pine needle padding. There are spots along the path where I can see the vegetable garden, the chickens, and the dogs barking because I didn’t take them with me and I forgot to shut them in the house.

Four times around my path/track is a mile and the things I see and hear while walking in this bit of nature are amazing. Pileated woodpeckers, flickers or yellowhammers, hawks, snakes, skinks, deer, and the occasional owl in the evening are common sights. And all this is right in my own back yard. There are a thousand poems waiting to be written in that 1/4 mile walk. It’s good for me and it’s good for my land. I think about the land as I walk my path. I love it back, the way it has loved and fed and watered me. I make a protective circle around it, a boundary against bad people or harsh events. Despite an ice storm which took a lot of trees, we have been lucky in rough weather where our home is concerned.

Don’t take my word for it. Get up a little earlier than usual tomorrow. Scribble in your journal or do a timed writing or two to get warmed up. Then put on your boots or sneakers and head out for a walk. Open up you heart and mind and body to whatever may appear. Then watch what happens to your writing when you return to the page. And wave if you see me out there, too.

 

 

 

May 21, 2012 - How-To    2 Comments

Passing the Passion

There’s a reason it’s called communion; that passing of the passion so many of us remember from going to church or  mass or whatever religious institution you were forced to attend as a child. (Hopefully you only attend as an adult because you want to.) But I’m not talking religion here, unless it’s my particular form which is Creativity-Centered. I DO believe, I DO believe. It’s my passion and I find it necessary to pass that passion on if it is to stay alive and working in my own life, as well as the lives of others.

Imagine this: A group of women (or men or both) gather together to enjoy a weekend in the woods somewhere. They camp and eat and fish and swim and play and maybe drink a little beer or whatever. Some know each other well. Some are strangers in their midst. Then someone says, “Hey Mendy, why don’t you lead a writing workshop?” Internally I groan a little because I am here strictly to have fun. I don’t want a responsibility, even one I usually enjoy. But I say, “Okay,” because, well, because that’s what I do and I know darn well something good will come of it. It’s a job I not only enjoy, but feel divinely ordained to do.

I know that sounds like big talk, right? Divinely ordained, just like a preacher. Well, I come by that honestly enough. Admit it, there is something you feel “called” to do, isn’t there? If not, I suggest you keep trying out things until you find the passion that suits you. It’s out there waiting for you to pick up the gauntlet and holler “Yes! Here it is!” For instance, Leigh has been called to beekeeping. I believe this with all my heart. She has also been called to hospice work, which requires a special kind of person. Not just any nurse will do.

I am called to share my creative passion; not just to practice it but to pass it along to others so they too have an outlet for their need to create. We all have a need to create and the fact that there are so many people who work all their lives but never really follow their creative calling, as vocation or avocation, speaks to the state of the world. It is hard to be destructive when we are busily creating. We find a new passion for all life. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, and generals should all be writing poetry.

Back at my little gathering in the woods, I believe there were 7 or 8 of us. Several had not written in years. Some had never written while a few had a daily writing practice. We did three freewrites (timed writings where a suggestion or prompt is given and the writers don’t lift the pen from the page until time is called) which kept our inner editors out of the picture. Everyone shared what they had written. They didn’t have to–they wanted to. This phenomena, all by itself, is amazing. Some of us had never even met before this weekend and weren’t sure of each other’s name. It wasn’t important. What was important were our colorful perceptions, our shared hurts and joys and pleasures and the fact that we just wrote about them, using the language to heighten the senses and explore ideas and then share our selves with each other.

Trust, compassion, truth, bread, body, blood, wine of creation–passed among us in communion. With pen and paper we explored the good earth, the “original text”  of creation as Thomas Berry likes to call our universe. We sang our little hymns of self-exploration and found we had more in common than we thought. At talent night, some of the women braved the throngs and read aloud to the whole camp. Oh, happy preacher of creativity!

This is why we pass the passion. It doubles and triples as it is handed from one to the other, like loaves and fishes, it multiplies. If you have a creative passion–whether it is writing, painting, cooking, sewing, canning, gardening, beekeeping–I beg of you, pass it on. I never beg, so you know I mean this. It could be the most important thing you ever do for someone else in your life, whether you know it then or not. You’ll have to take my word for it because I’ve proven it over and over again. Feed one another and pass the passion, please.

 

 

 

May 16, 2012 - How-To    1 Comment

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Metaphors of  gardening used in exchange with writing and painting are well-known, perhaps to the point of cliche’. Many books have been published about famous poets and painters who have also been fabulous gardeners. I don’t think we can emphasize enough the importance of a little beauty in bolstering the creative spirit, though. Whether you grow a vegetable garden in the back 40 or pot your pretty plants in a hanging basket overlooking the French Quarter, tending to beauty in a physical way reminds us to tend to the beauty of our spiritual selves. (See my garden above.)

Now, I live with a gardener. A real gardener who would rather be out in that garden planting, picking rocks and planning than anywhere else in the world. I’m not kidding. This is her passion, at least for now. She works hard at it every day. And everytime she comes in from working the rows, she is happy and content. She is also a great poet, but that is on the back burner for now while she tends her bees and hoes to the end of the row. (See Leigh’s garden below).

I am a writer with a garden. It’s a small garden that sits in front of my screened in porch. Since the name of our garden is Larrapin and the theme is that everything feeds something, it took a moment for me to convince my gardener that the beauty of my little garden feeds my soul. That it is, indeed, food. Food for thought. And it gives me a break from sitting when I get tired. I simply walk out the door and do a little weeding and planting and picking. My tiny flowers fit in tiny vases that sit on the shelf where my desktop rests. I admit that I insist on having some of Henry Chotkowski’s peonies, which are not small, but who can argue with such a grand and glorious flower?

So this brief post is just to say, if you don’t have one already, plant a little garden today. Get your hands dirty, for creating can be dirty work. Plant some seeds. Every idea is a seed waiting to be planted. Feed and water them with dedication and determination and they will grow. Watching your garden flourish can be a wonderful antidote to waiting for that submission decision. The rewards of gardening are obvious and fairly quick in comparison. And don’t forget to pull those unsightly weeds. Even a garden needs editing. Don’t be fooled by the thistle with the little flower on top–it, too, must go if the rest of your garden is to thrive.

When it’s time to rest, sit back and study the loveliness you’ve brought into the world. Rest your eyes on it. Allow it to soothe your soul. Red and purple and green and yellow–these are the colors of success that serve to encourage our mental constructs and creations. Throw in some herbs and you can even smell the rich variety of Earth calling us to create and recreate. Grow your garden. Feed your birds. Never be afraid to start from scratch, because that is mostly how it’s done. We wrap our hand around the shovel or the pen, and simply begin. Believe me, there will be flowers in the end.

May 3, 2012 - How-To    1 Comment

Realizing Dreams

When we say the word dreams, we think of many definitions. There are night dreams we have when we sleep–last night mine had the word “deviated septum” in it as a struggled with the stuffy humid weather outside. Strange and fantastic sleep dreams have always come easily for me.

We associate the word dream with desires we’ve had since childhood, or maybe even since we’ve grown into adults. Those who are natural dreamers can’t imagine that there are people who never learned to dream at all. These non-dreamers are often busy surviving life and do not think about what could or might be. There are addicts who may have once dreamed, but have forgotten how and must learn all over in their sobriety. Forgetting is influenced by addiction to money and greed. They know what works and makes the bucks. Why try something new for the pure joy of it? Oh, we take our dreams for granted; those of us who dream easily.

But dreams are simply ephemeral wishes if we don’t do something to make them happen. My advice is to dream big, but start small. You want to write and have your memoir published. Good luck with that! Just kidding. You don’t simply expect the big, bad world of publishing and agents to open up to you. First, you teach your Muse to trust you by reading, studying and practicing. You begin submitting your essays or poems to journals and contests.You get rejected or accepted, but celebrate every time you put one in the mail. Pay attention to the suggestions of other writers concerning your writing or places to submit. The writing gods work in mysterious ways. One thing is sure: you won’t get published if you don’t get the work out in the world.

My partner Leigh is a great example of making dreams come true. I use her, not simply because she is available, but because she happens to be good at it. She has a vision. She begins to study books and attend classes and go online to figure out how to recreate her vision in real life. Then she tries her hand; whether it is gardening in the rocky soil of NW Arkansas, beekeeping, starting her own business, or having a booth in a farmer’s market. She does the groundwork needed to get started, gathers her materials, and begins. She is willing to fail a few times as she proceeds. But she does not give up when the bees swarm and fly away. She confers with old beekeepers, more books, and buys more bees. She tries again.

Leigh is no day dreamer.I have been around long enough to see how much work and determination go into making her dreams come true. They are not pipe dreams. She builds them solidly with a strong foundation. And they become realities; whether it is the business that pays the bills, or a booth at the Green Fork Farmer’s Market. She is my shero when it comes to realizing dreams. And I do my best to emulate her when I write and enter and study and take classes and do my damndest to become the best writer I can be.

Our dreams are valuable, both to us and to a world that needs its dreamers more than ever. Most often, our dreams are revealed in quiet moments when our minds are turned off to everyday duties. To get started, close your eyes and simply remember something you always wanted to do as a child. Write about it without thinking of all the reasons it won’t work. Pretend it will. Some people, like Leigh, are good at making their dreams come true. Some people like me, a recovering alcoholic, get off to a late start and have to remember how to dream. It doesn’t matter when you start; only that you start.

Dreams are not just for the lucky, or the brightest of the bunch. They are for everyone. Find your passion. Figure out how it works. Work at it. Believe in your ability to create your own reality. Choose a dream and take the steps necessary to get there. Be practical at  first. You can’t have a farmer’s market booth if you haven’t grown the produce or made your potions first. Expect to fail occasionally, yet do not accept failure. Get up and go at it again. If you can realize even one dream, you will gain the confidence to make other, even bigger ones come true. In the words of one of our most amazing dreamers, “Imagine.”

Apr 20, 2012 - How-To    2 Comments

Write Details

Some say God is in the details. Some say it’s the Devil. That only goes to show that heaven and hell aren’t as far apart as one tends to think. In this photograph, the subjects are  5″ tall or less. Yet, each object is a library of detail. This window looks out (or in) on at least a hundred stories. Looking out, the tale could be about a gardener. Gazing in, the poem might be about a cook. Or the scene could be used for something as simple as illustrating a blog post about capturing detail in your writing.

Detail is like a fact checker. If the writer or artist paints in specific details, we believe them. They couldn’t have made it up;  how that blood red rose is from  the “Men Only” bush out front, so named because the bush was a congratulatory gift from a lover to the writer for a play of the same name. The plant is also called a “knock out” rose, partly for the ease by which you can cultivate it. What is its name; that bird, that tree, that flower over there?

The pink rose was a present bought for a loved one’s birthday at Austin’s Zilker Botanical Gardens. Since  the two farmers invite wildlife of every kind to the yard and keep bees, all the roses must be hardy because they can’t use pesticides. Obviously, this is early spring, a good time for roses. The Japanese beetles have not yet attacked them.

The bee vase that holds the roses was purchased in Asheville, NC at a gallery called the Woolworth Walk, so named because all the art is housed in an old Woolworth building. There, you can still sit at a bar, eat a hotdog and drink a coke after touring a wonder world of arts and crafts. The vase was a souvenir bought for the beloved beekeeper.

The fuzzy, bright green mint tells endless stories to every Southerner. You can taste the fresh hint of it in a tall glass of iced tea. You may be sipping the scent through a straw planted in the middle of a mint julep. Mowing sends mint wafting through the yard every time you accidentally clip the edge of the bed. Where does the smell of freshly mown grass mixed with mint take you? Knowing how mint spreads reminds me of how those tiny purple flowers on kudzu vine smell like grapes.

By now, I’m sure you are getting my drift. Within every object we treasure resides a plethora of detail that tells a thousand different stories. We authenticate our stories, poems, songs, pictures with our details. The poet was in Austin, Texas in the spring of 2008 and we know it because she bought the rose bush that blooms like a waterfall outside her window and perfumes the house with a delicate pink scent. From the beekeeper who owns the vase there is, outside the frame, a jar of honey floating red and pink rose petals on its heavy surface. But that’s another story.

Find a spot in your own home that holds a handful of objects that are precious to you. Make a list of them. Beside them list their physical properties. Beside that, list the places and events that come to mind when you see them. Do a freewrite on what you see in your mind’s eye, the story in the details of either one or all of the objects. From your freewrite, form a poem using the details to define the experience. Put your reader right there where you were. Add several unusual specifics to authenticate your experience. “The rose wound itself in and out of a crippled bike; a thorny red dragon’s tail capturing forever a blue knight in mid-flight.”

Mar 27, 2012 - How-To, Writer's Life    3 Comments

Rejection–Ouch!

Why bother, you may well ask, risking rejection when you have a perfectly good place to read your work to an appreciative audience every month? Isn’t that enough for most writers? In a word, “No.” If you want a larger audience than the one you have at home; if you long to see your work in someone else’s book or literary journal; if you want a publisher for a large body of work (say a memoir, novel or book of poetry), you must send the work out. And if you send the work out, then you must be ready to have your work rejected.

Recently, I worked long and hard on a policing essay (see the earlier post) for a literary journal honoring law enforcement. Since I was personally invited to submit, and because I happened to fit the criteria as a former cop, I felt sure that my acceptance was a given. Really, I had every confidence that my essay would be accepted. However, the answer turned out to be a no-go. I was caught off guard. I felt and still feel that the piece was well done. I thought it fit the parameters as outlined in the submission guidelines. I revised and had others read and make suggestions, many of which I followed. Where did I go wrong?

Certainly, this is not my first rejection. As a working writer, I’ve opened many a letter beginning, “We’re sorry, but your work doesn’t fit our needs at this time…la, la, la.” No matter how many rejections I receive, after all this time, the words still sting. As you sit quietly weeping and gnashing your teeth, you must also be prepared to hear those old familiar words, often from those who love you best, “You can’t take it personally.” But you can and you will. Your loved ones aren’t putting their hearts and souls on the line. Too often they’re unfamiliar with this sort of rejection, avoiding it whenever possible. It’s you who have taken the chance, the risk, that can lead to a temporarily broken heart, bitter frustration with yourself and the offending publication, and a hard loss of self-confidence. All these feelings are okay to have. They are a natural and, unfortunately, reoccurring phenomena for the real writer.

Short of pulling our hair out or beating our heads against a brick wall, how do we deal with rejection? Give yourself a time limit. Do not pull your hair out, which, if you are my age, may already be thinning. Do not bash your precious brain into anything which may shorten your already fallible memory. Crying is allowed. Cursing loudly is fine. Jumping up and down and punching the air is good for the body and soul. Just don’t waste a lot of time with all this.

I have a rule at my house. I get an hour to be as dramatic as I like. I take it whether my partner likes it or not. They can go work in the yard if it bothers them. If you are not used to rejection, you may need a little longer than an hour. Do try to get over it in a day or two. The old “get back up on the horse and ride” trick is true in this case. Call your writing friends for encouragement and consolation. Let them tell you that you didn’t want to be published in any old “Poetry” magazine anyway. Go ahead and feel your feelings. Don’t, however, let negativity stand in the way of getting back to work in a day or two.

Realize that your piece may well need some work or revision. More likely though, your piece really wasn’t right for what the editor wanted and it simply needs to find its proper home. I have always said that there is a lover for everyone in the world, if only they don’t give up trying to find their match. I feel the same way about writing. There is a place for your essay, your poem, your short story. Believing your work will find its home the first time you send it out is like thinking you will win the lottery the first time you buy a ticket. Surely this has happened to somebody sometime, but has it actually happened to anyone you know? Or anyone you ever even heard of? That’s my point.

Rejections builds our confidence muscle like resistance training builds biceps, triceps and abs. The callous on your thumb and first finger come from using that pen daily; from writing your little heart out and not quitting. This is metaphorical if you use a typewriter or a computer. Persistence is the key to getting published–ask any published author. You must dig deep for the courage to overcome that hour of sadness and self-pity and find another place to send your work. This is the only way to find your match–keep looking. Never quit. Write, revise, put it in the mail. Only this will help heal rejection. At least until the next time. Then you simply begin again.

Remember, all your favorite writers have been rejected; most of them many, many times. If they had given up, you wouldn’t be reading that Pulitzer prize winner today.

 

 

Feb 21, 2012 - How-To    1 Comment

Inspiration–A Quick Breath of Fresh Air

Merriam-Webster defines inspiration as “the act or power of moving the intellect or emotions.” That’s the short version from the paperback on my desk. My commitment to write today is my inspiration for this post, even though I am preparing for a weeklong trip that culminates in a wedding. As some of you may guess, church weddings and country clubs are a stretch beyond my comfort zone. This is what I call a risk adventure of the major kind which involves nice clothes and good manners, many of which I have lost over time. However, I know it will be inspiring, as Webster defines it, and as I define it, too.

Webster’s definitions of both “inspire” and “inspiration” employ the words inhale, animate, excite and spiritual. The question for many creative people is how do we get inspired in a world as materially-focused as this one? The answer comes through our own inspiration, the breaths we take that lead to our exhalation of the animating spirit. Our job is to move those who involve themselves in our art to feel, perhaps even to speak or act, differently. How hard it is for us to assume the responsibility to inspire others! But to whom shall we leave it otherwise? Will we leave it up to our politicians and economists, the bankers and realtors to inspire the people? The short answer is: only if they all become poets and painters!

It’s not easy to find inspiration in a world rife with need and greed. Yet, that deep breath, the inspiration you’re looking for is as close as your front door. It’s rolled into your yoga mat or sitting squarely on the floor where you meditate. It can be an open window through which the breeze blows across our bed or how we hear the peepers as we drift off to sleep at night. The smell of coffee stimulates my imagination as much as the caffeine stimulates me. We don’t need much if we are paying attention.

I’ve lived in both the city and the country during my short 58 years of life, and I have found inspiration in both places. True, I’m a country kind of kid by nature, but I understand the allure and intensity of city living. It’s hard to think of more intensity than working as a cop in Atlanta, GA. Now I like my little AR home and farmlette, three acres outside the city limits of Fayetteville where we can watch the hawks mate and hunt right outside our office window. This is what inspires me now. I would also be inspired by a trip to Paris (France or Arkansas for that matter). It’s paying attention to the breath, the moment, the next cool thing that happens that will inspire.

If we are alive, then we must inhale. That next breath is an absolute necessity. Americans are a people spoiled by entertainment. We want to sit back and let it unfold in front of us, requiring no more action or risk than pushing back in the barcalounger and hoping it won’t tip over. Now, I love my retirement chair (thanks Liz Lester) as much as the next person come the end of a long, hard day on the farm or in the office. But I rise from bed early, opening myself to inspiration as quickly as I can, for the pen and blank page await me.

I go for that last walk of the evening knowing that something will happen, whether I’m by myself or deep in a discussion with Leigh. An observation, on my part or hers, will put my thoughts to flight or give me philosophical food to chew like the cows with their cud in the field next door. Inspiration is everywhere. It comes in the quiet of prayer and it rides on a siren’s wail. It hides beneath the next rock we turn up in the garden and it’s as obvious as the little dog that lies at our feet. Inspiration is as natural as breathing and as unnatural as noticing that breath. Attention is needed. Both God and good writing are in the details.

We have to be willing. Cheri Huber’s book Willingness is the Key is a great way to learn more about the power of being willing; to take risks, take a walk, or go to a wedding in what to me will feel like a foreign country. It requires us to go outside our comfort zone, breathing and open, just ready for something wild and unexpected to happen. If we leap, the net of all possibilities will catch us up in a virtual web of inspiration. Take some deep breaths, faithful readers, and go forth into this wild, wonderful, completely undependable world. Risk the unexpected happening to you, not just to others. I promise, inspiration waits for you right around the next turn in your path. Take a quick breath of fresh air and allow yourself to step towards it.

Feb 13, 2012 - How-To    5 Comments

Poems from the Heart

("Heart in Hand" by astrangegirl/Flickr)

The same time every year, the same thing happens. Valentine’s Day arrives and many of us have not noticed, or have remembered and  forgotten, or have spurned it altogether for its bloody roots. As far as I can tell, loads of holidays have bloody roots, so that’s no reason not to celebrate–especially love. Come on, love is a feeling we don’t celebrate nearly enough. All kinds of love, not just the romantic sort.

Of course, Valentine’s is traditionally known as a sweetheart’s day. But love is love and come in all shapes and sizes, covered in skin, fur or feathers; arrives like a cherub from the womb and departs as a wizened old granny or gramps or crone or crazy uncle. Think of all the love they’ve seen if they’ve lived with an open heart; how much they have given and received.

That is what this post is all about. I want us to celebrate love and show our respect and gratitude for those who love us. I try to write a Valentine’s poem every year. I haven’t missed many since I took up the writer’s life around 20 years ago. Some of those poems are good and some are not. The quality never mattered to the recipient. The heart it took to write it did.

Let me just say that if you want to have a really good time on Valentine’s Day, write the lady a poem. Not that all you women shouldn’t write a poem, as well. You should. It’s just that I have often thought about leading a workshop for guys on how to write a Valentine’s poem. Your sweetheart will swoon and cover you with kisses and she will keep your poem forever in a safe place and read it again and again. I can just about guarantee this.

The truth is that in this particular case, the poem doesn’t have to be great, okay? What matters is that you open your heart, thank them for all they have given you, don’t mention the things you wish they’d given you, and be as romantic as your usually rational, logical mind will allow. Try it and see what happens. It doesn’t have to rhyme, but it’s fine if it does. Alright, this year you don’t even have to give it to anyone if you chicken out. Just write the darn thing. Go that far. Put your big boy or girl boots on and try your hand and heart at a real valentine instead of one from those terrible writers at Hallmark. You don’t know who wrote those words.

This year my valentine is for you, faithful readers; as well as for my sweetheart, friends and loved ones. I covered a lot of ground because I had a lot of people to say I love you to. I actually sent several of these out with little heart stickers all over them, sealed in these shiny purple envelopes (remember, presentation IS important) with cool stamps. Sending the valentine through the mail makes for bonus points. But I ran out of materials before I covered everyone. So I’m hoping you will accept this post as your Valentine from my heart to yours. You know who you are. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Valentine

If you are receiving this poem
it means you own a part of my heart
not that my heart is all divided up like an anatomical drawing
auricles and ventricles, arteries and veins
that sort of thing.
You don’t fit in a box like dress shoes in a closet
or even an oval of pearls laid out on blue velvet.
What I mean is you have your own room
in the home of my heart.
Didn’t Jesus say, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms”?
My heart is a mansion even though I myself
live in a long little house
like a European train station,
a short stop on the journey that is my life.
Leigh says my heart is as big as a Texas sky
(how I love her for that)
and there you all fly
birds, broad-winged and soaring
on the currents of my affection.
This Valentine’s I wanted to say it
then send it
because we never, ever say it
show it
write it down enough
even though it is so true
that you, you, and you
are special to me
have moved me
steered my life in a new direction
taught me to fish from both sides of the boat
talked philosophy or fed me
in a thousand different ways when I was hungry
visited with me when I was ill
clothed me with gifts new or from Goodwill.
At some point you sang
or wrote or taught me a song
said, “Here, have this book”
shared a bit of your art
which I have cherished and kept
like a Valentine
in that particular part of my heart you own
and knowing because of you
I will never be alone–
I had to say I love you.

—by Mendy Knott

Jan 16, 2012 - How-To    2 Comments

Writing Dilemma #6: Daily Journals–yes, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes…

Keeping a journal is one way we make friends with our writing. It can take the edge off our perfectionism when we do sit down to work on a piece that requires thoughtfulness and craft. For me, it’s right-brain practice for left-brain work. Done with a loose hand and a free mind, keeping a journal teaches us to write without editors putting in their 2 cents every few seconds. You can rant, rave, rhyme, remember without fear of outside criticism.

A journal should be a map of your inward journey. It’s not a high school diary that simply records everything you did yesterday or are going to do today. I suggest writing in your journal the same way Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way advises keeping what she calls “morning pages.” Pick any subject at all, then dive in and dive deep. Write for 20 minutes without lifting your hand from the page, without stopping to think about how you actually felt or what really happened. Let your heart and your hand lead the way. This is not record-keeping. It’s creative writing. Your life is that of a creative person. It’s crazy, unpredictable, hilarious, heartbreaking, beautiful, ugly, and risky and it’s worth writing how you feel about this.

Keeping a journal also keeps me sane(r). I put on the page what I would rather not do or say in public. If I can just get to the page before I open my big mouth or send that friggin’ email I wish I could get back one minute later. That’s why I try to have a notebook close at hand at all times. Losing my journal is not an option. What I write there is my business. If I’m putting it on the page, I’m not throwing it in someone’s face. At my house, we are two writers living together. The rule is: If you sneak a read, you deserve what you get. We can’t go crying to one another. As far as I know, neither of us has ever risked it. If so, we kept our mouths shut, as agreed.

So many poems, essays, and ideas come from the pages of my daily writing. Quite often, my best work begins on a typical Tuesday morning when I’m doing nothing more than chatting with my confidant and friend, my personal journal. Of course, there’s plenty of trash there, too. Yet, if I write 20 pages of proof that I am indeed mentally and emotionally challenged, then I may come up with one idea that transfers into an award-winning screenplay like “Men Only.” Almost all the poems in my book, “A Little Lazarus” began in my journal.

When I recognize something is happening in my writing that is more than just the daily la-la-la, I star it. I take a highlighter to it. I fold down the page. I don’t want to forget where it is. When I’m ready, I move it to the computer where editing can begin; where right brain meets left brain and, hopefully, shake lobes.

The excuse I hear most often is, “But what I write is so negative.” The page isn’t negative. The pen isn’t negative. It’s we, ourselves, who are negative, and in order to change that, there is no faster way than to complain to the page over and over and over until you are sick of it and create the needed change. Otherwise, whether you write about it or not, it will remain stuck in your craw. Visible or invisible, your attitude, positive or negative, will affect your life.

Pay a therapist $100 an hour to get your relief, but even that won’t work if you don’t practice at home. And be forwarned, a lot of shrinks are now using writing as a way of getting down to the bone more quickly. Pen and paper are cheap. The advice you get will be your own. It won’t yawn in your face and it can’t leave you either. Besides, somewhere in all that angst lies a creative answer.

So, go ahead and try it. Give it a month anyway. Write 20 minutes a day as fast as you can. Don’t stop to think or get the chronology right. Oh, don’t even tell me, “I could be exercising.” Look, if you can’t move a pen across a page for 20 minutes a day, you can forget about a regular exercise program. Just set a timer and go. See what happens. I’m no math major, but if I figured this out correctly, you’ll spend a total of 10 hours in one month at 20 minutes a day writing. That leaves you 710 hours to do everything else. I know you can squeeze it in. Surely you deserve an unconditional friend.

 

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