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Jan 9, 2012 - How-To    1 Comment

Writing Dilemma # 5: Taking Down(Dream)time

For  Blue, taking downtime – time to nap, relax, ponder, stare into space – comes naturally. Unfortunately, we are notoriously known as a nation of workaholics. Our eyes remain fixed on the prize of a premium wage with benefits. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making money. I could certainly stand to make a little  more. But I refuse to trade the work my heart calls me to do, which revolves around writing and the creative life, for good health insurance and a big paycheck. Not that I could actually find a job offering these in today’s economy, so I might as well celebrate the choices I’ve already made.

I’m sure my faithful readers know there are few wealthy poets in the world. Go back through history and you will discover poets, playwrights, novelists, painters, and musicians who lived on the edge of poverty; often buried in obscurity and resurrected into riches long after death. Think Dickens, Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Mozart. So, if you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth or married into money, then you must create a lifestyle simple enough that even a poet can afford it.

We can’t let our physical circumstances discourage us as artists. We are busily setting examples for the rest of the world. And in order to perform at our highest level, we must have time to dream. Empty space must exist before it can be filled with answers, ideas, genius. My partner and I have discovered a way to make money at home, inventing our own business, which itself was a result of time Leigh spent thinking and pondering ideas. Her job as a hospice nurse presents her with driving time that, when the radio or IPod is turned off, can be used for unstructured thinking and the birthing of great ideas.

While Blue takes up two beds in order to make his long body comfortable, you can see that he’s not just sleeping away the hours here. Some of the time, at least, he’s awake and daydreaming, perhaps about the dinner he would like to have or that snappy little treat at bedtime. We, as driven creatives and artists, must take Blue’s example to heart. Information and experience are forever flying furiously in our faces in this modern, increasingly connected world. We need time to process it, find our own connections and metaphors, the imagery that suffocates soundbytes and brings all that abstraction to life on the page.

For all I know, Blue is busily writing his memoirs while he lies there soaking up the heat. They may not be interesting to us as most of the chapters will be about lying around and doing nothing all day until dinner. To dogs the world over, however, the book will be a bestseller. Every 4-legged will be instantly jealous and wish they lived in a household with 2 moms.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going…out to the hammock or the reclining lawn chair. Stretch out on a sofa in front of the wood stove. Recline. Sit beneath a shade tree and listen to the birds. Stare at the blank blue page of sky. Remember, all creation starts in the dark. You may hear answers whispered in the wind through the leaves. A dream can form during that nap next to the fire which might confirm the path you need to follow, the perfect allusion or image needed to move the work forward.

For these reasons, or for none at all, Americans need to relax. Take a siesta. Slow down. Dream. Notice I did not say do this in front of an active screen. No smart phone, no laptop, no TV or Kindle to replace the images that are waiting to form on the blank page of your mind. As my friend, writer/composer Billy Jonas says in his wonderful song, God Is In, ” Don’t just do something. Sit there.”

Getting somewhere by pushing harder and harder towards one’s stated goals is an illusion. We are all headed in the same direction, after all, and do we really want to be the first ones to reach The End? Ten out of ten hospice nurses agree that no patient has ever wished they’d spent more time at the office. Even those of us who love our work need time away from it. Truly, it’s part of the process.

So, please, my eager creatives, don’t forget your down(dream)time. It’s crucial to your work, your well-being, and ultimately to the quality of the love and life you experience while you’re here. You don’t have to take my word for it, just ask Blue.


Jan 3, 2012 - How-To    3 Comments

Writing Resolutions

The new year has begun. Three days in, and a lot of you are already saying to yourselves, “Well this is going badly. I haven’t written anything of worth yet. I didn’t even scrawl out my resolutions.” On the other hand, my lovely Type A readers have written dozens of lists, know exactly what they will do every single day, and are busily reading over it. Despair washes over them as they realize there is no way in the world they will ever be able to accomplish these feats akin to climbing Mt. Everest, swimming the English Channel, and running a marathon all in one year. They can’t write a word now.

Oh, the New Year can be hell on writers and artists. We expect so much from ourselves. First of all, we need to quit capitalizing new year. Yes, it’s new, at least by the calendar, but really it is simply another turn of the great wheel, or the next page. I would quote Janis Joplin again when talking about tomorrow.  She said, “Hell, it’s all the same f-ing day.” I tend to agree with her, coming from perhaps a more positive place. It’s one life and it lasts only so long. The cycle is endless and it really is all a mayfly day when you get right down to it. The question is, what will you do with it?

Once again, we have written (because we’re writers) an arm’s length-long list of resolutions when what we really need is a sticky note that will fit in the front of our notebook or journal; take up a tiny spot on the bathroom mirror. A small reminder we can read daily so we don’t forget what we’re up to, or up against, as the case may be. This year, Leigh (my sensible Virgo) helped me with my mile-long list by making two simple statements that she wanted to live by in 2012. I asked her permission to print them because they shortened my writing time considerably, and I think they may help you keep it simple, too.

Leigh said her markers on the playing field of life would be two question/statements she could refer to daily: 1) “Have I moved the ball forward?”  This would pertain to one’s large goals in work, relationship, writing, community, personal development, both physical and spiritual. The second statement of purpose pertains to 2) “mindful maintenance.” Was I fully present when I washed those dishes, wrote in my journal, took that walk, swept the floor? Did I allow myself to be part of what I was doing instead of just doing it, grumpily at that? Meditation, prayer, journaling, housework, feeding the chickens or the children, cooking for yourself–these all fall under the category of mindful maintenance.

You can’t beat these statements for simplicity, so I quickly made them my own. Did I move the ball forward today? This blog post is proof that I did. I feel sure even those of you who are not football fans understand the metaphor. And the fact that every single yard counts towards a first down, eventually leading to the Score! You can’t get there without the incremental runs. Sometimes your daily moves will look like a “Hail Mary” pass. Other days they’ll be measured in inches. All are an effort toward achieving the long term goal. Sometimes those six inches are much harder to push for than the exciting, hard run kick-off return. You did it! Now, jump up and down and thrust a fist in the air. High five yourself.

As an Aries, I will add another to my two goals of moving the ball forward and mindful maintenance and that is: 3) one simple act of pure pleasure. Do one thing for yourself daily that brings you personal joy, for no other reason than it brings you personal joy. A cup of tea while you watch the birds feed. A slow, contemplative walk, not for exercise, but for ecstasy. A short nap in your favorite chair. Reading a poem or two. A good laugh with a friend on the phone. Life should not be, according to this minor guru, only about what purpose we serve, or achieving goals. We are here for the celebration, too. Joy is an end in itself.

So go…move the ball forward even a little today. Do some mindful maintenance of your home, body, soul. Don’t forget to experience a little (or a lot) of joy along the way. Be grateful for your great, good fortune. And have yourself a happy and productive new year.

Dec 28, 2011 - How-To    1 Comment

Writing Dilemma Number 4: Digging Through the Blues

There’s nothing like the post holiday blues to really stifle the creative in us. All of a sudden, we’re looking at the end of one year (giving ourselves a hard time for all we DIDN’T do as opposed to what we DID) and the beginning of a new year which, let’s face it, looks an awful lot like a blank page.

I know I allow mood to influence my daily writing. Especially after the all-too-common holiday overindulgence when I’m sated as an ancient Roman on a barcalounger. I get depressed with my own lack of self-control and laziness, and won’t write. I feel useless and then set about proving it by continuing to do nothing about it.

Here, during the longest nights of the year, in the dark hours before dawn, hide the biggest diamonds. You won’t know this until you look; until you dig deep and dig when it’s hardest. Go ahead and let the darkness in. Pull it around you like a cloak. Hide beneath the hood of it, pen in hand. Then dig.

Last night I dreamed I was trying to get into the Air Force pilot’s program. In order to do this, everyone had to pass a series of tests, one of which included being wrapped tightly in some mummy-like material and locked in a steel box for an undesignated period of time. I’m not sure what they were testing–your ability to remain with the plane at the bottom of the ocean like a good captain perhaps?

Like any sane person, I kept putting the test off while completing all the other requirements. Claustrophobic as hell, I just couldn’t bring myself to submit. So I went to the little group garden spot where we each were allowed to keep a small plot that belonged exclusively to us. (Are you picking up on the death inferences?) Mine, however, was at the end of a row and was consistently being run over by the maintenance man on his riding mower. My little garden was all short and stubby, pitiful as the ones we tried to work under the heat dome here in Arkansas this past summer. From a distance the green looked beaten up and barren.

Sorrowfully, I dropped to my knees to see if there was something I could do to help it. To my great surprise, I discovered green beans growing. Digging in, I found onions, beets, even carrots under the black soil. Soon I had a small basketful of the jeweled fruits of my labor in hand. Happiness and pride swelled within me, and I was even able to track down the murderous mower and get him to agree to quit chopping my crop. I never returned to the scary test. It’s only purpose seems to have been to propel me towards my garden.

Don’t get all caught up in analyzing this dream, my Jungian and psychologist friends. For all you know, I’m making this up. Simply accept the point I’m trying to illustrate: Don’t give up on your art just because you got the “morning after” depressed and sads. Even if you have to, metaphorically or otherwise, get down on your knees and dig among the fear and despair that pass for our gardens of joy and fulfillment at times. Remember this: the roots of the Blues were buried in dirt just like this. Somewhere in there may lie the perfect words that will feed your soul and bolster the hearts and minds of others, too.

Dec 16, 2011 - How-To    1 Comment

Writing Dilemmas #3: Holidays/Holidaze

Allow me to address the holiday dilemma while square in the midst of the most difficult one for almost any artist–Christmas. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Solstice, or nothing at all, Christmas will invade your life like the Roman empire invaded Europe. Or Europeans invaded the Americas. Whatever, you get the picture. No matter your beliefs or practices, Christmas (as long as it has been celebrated) has overwhelmed every creative that ever lived. Go ahead. Try to ignore it. Well-meaning friends and family simply won’t allow it. They want YOU there for the holidays, not the book you intend to publish in the coming year. Your presence, if not your presents, is required.

My personal policy is to simply give into it. I enjoy colored lights, wrapped packages, buying gifts, lively parties with friends, seeing my folks, the smell of evergreen, and writing and receiving cards. I try to make as much of it about writing as I possibly can. I assign myself a seasonal poem or story to write and put it out there at an open mic, in a blog post, or send it off to some magazine or journal, usually too late for them to get it published in time. No matter. I wrote it.

I give gifts to my writer and artist friends that hopefully will inspire them in their craft–things to write with or on. Magical rattles that bring the muse running. Calendars to help them keep up with their crazy, non-traditional lives. Gift cards to independent bookstores or coffee shops where they can take an artist date and a break from the insanity of doing too much in so little time. Magazine subscriptions that encourage creativity or offer writing prompts are good. I write an annual letter with my partner, Leigh, and send it in personal cards to friends and relations everywhere. (This is actually a great tool for reminding yourself just how much you DID do in the last year.)

Then I let all these things count. I AM creating. I AM writing. Perhaps everything I write during those two weeks can’t be used in the memoir or short story I hope to publish in 2012. That letter to the friend I haven’t seen in 20 years may not have anything to do with the screenplay I’ve been busting my ass on for the past 10 months. But I can’t fight all this holiday spirit, and I don’t want to depress myself by arguing with my reflection, “Oh, you should be doing this or you should be doing that.” It’s tiring and wasteful of whatever energy I happen to have left.

Maybe you can run away to Paris or the Keys or Hawaii for Christmas. I’ve always thought I might ignore the holiday if I were somewhere far away and could just write, write, write. But since I’ve never done it, I don’t know if it’s true or not. Besides, if I were to try a trip like that, I’d go to South Africa where it’s summer and thoroughly confuse myself. Personally, I find it easier to give in and enjoy. I received a comment recently that said, “But what about making memories?” Well, here’s your chance. But make sure you stay sober enough to remember the occasion or else you really are wasting your time.

It’s true that there are times to simply be present in the moment. I envision my writer self, though, with a little tiny observer, an elfin reporter, sitting there on my shoulder like the proverbial angel/devil decider, and taking in all that is occurring even as I am as “with” the people I love as I possibly can be. I don’t know if I learned to do this while policing, or if it is simply in the creative’s repertoire and only needs practice to work. When I was a cop, I did a lot of counseling and talking and de-escalating trying to keep people, especially upset family members, out of jail. Especially at Christmas. At the same time, however, the little recorder was up there noticing everything–the grimace or unseen gesture made behind the wife’s back. The uncle who suddenly disappeared into the back room. This enabled me to act safely and to write a great report should an arrest prove necessary.

I realize this post is slightly all over the place. But remember, I’m in the midst of the holiday dilemma myself and have lowered my standards. My advice is for you to do the same. Do what suits you; what feels most comfortable. Enjoy yourself–that’s at the top of the list. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t finish the book by Christmas Eve. The new year is only a week or so away. You’ve got all of 2012 to complete that final draft. Count the writing you do manage. Throw in a haiku or poem to stay in shape. Attend a poetry reading or a play. Read a book about your craft. Open your heart to the love and the confusion and even the contention that a holiday like this always brings with it. Jot down some notes, and let your little angel/devil reporter do the rest.

See, I got this post written. Now I’ll wish you, faithful readers and writers, some happy holidays of your own. May peace, poetry, art, and laughter fill your lives in the coming year. Maintain your sense of humor–you’re going to need it in this election year. And remember, you can stand up nearly anyone and be forgiven, but never ignore your Muse. She, too, requires the gift of your presence.

Nov 30, 2011 - How-To    Comments Off on Writing Dilemmas #2 Traveling

Writing Dilemmas #2 Traveling

I’m writing this post in a hurry because I am in the midst of writing dilemma #2 myself. I am suppose to be packing, doing some last minute snack shopping (who can eat that stuff offered on the road), cleaning up for the house sitter, and in general, getting ready to go on a trip. Yet, I’m determined to get a post written before I leave.

I am a traveler by nature. I love going, especially if it means seeing new places, seeing old friends, or visiting family. You wouldn’t consider me a world traveler simply because I don’t have the financial resources for that sort of jet-setting. Still, every chance to go someplace new offers a different perspective, whether it be your own, a stranger’s, or a family member’s. Every new experience is worth writing about.
Lunch in Holly Spring, MS can offer as much inspiration as Paris, France. Well, that may be a stretch, but not much of one. So much depends on one’s state of mind, open heart, and willingness to be present wherever you are. And you have to carry that notebook, that ipad, that laptop in your luggage. Then you have to use it. Taking notes as you roll or fly along is a viable option to writing long treatises. Jot down what you hear at the table next to you at the diner or the fine restaurant. Then compare your notes. Great characters are born from simple eavesdropping.
You have to stay somewhere, so there will be time in the motel room at the end or beginning of each day to capture some of the most memorable moments of your trip. Time is of the essence; I don’t care if you’re 15 or 75. We never know how long we have here on this wildly spinning planet and the time we take to jot down our memories are always worth it. I sometimes think that if I were to have a bed-bound illness, reading over the memories I’ve captured on the trips I’ve taken will be a great joy. I consider memories and the words they inspire sacred. Let’s face it, a lot of the world’s great works are based on memories. Consider the New Testament, written long after Jesus was gone from the earth. That’s just an example, so don’t get nervous, readers of other or no religious persuasions.
I’ll be taking my laptop and my notebooks and pens. I keep a notepad small enough to fit in my backpack so it can go anywhere with me. I take a larger journal for those lazy mornings with coffee in the Hampton Inn. The laptop can go to the bookstore or coffee shop in the town square with me.
When traveling alone, I’m famous for pulling off the road at a nice little roadside or state park and writing about what is found there. Just ask my friends and family, who are at the other end of the road usually waiting dinner on me. Leigh has learned not to wait. We always eat popcorn and apples when I get home from a trip.
If I’m traveling with someone, I utilize the power of collaboration. Challenge each other to write a song, tell stories, share metaphors and images. Driving through south Arkansas with my parents recently, they told me stories about their childhoods that the passing scenery inspired: my dad’s job as a teen working on a cookie delivery truck and staying in a small hotel in Magnolia, AR, which is still there. My mom’s long walk from her house to the small town of Rosston–a 4 mile round trip because her mom needed something from the store. She was eight years old and it was a huge adventure to be out on her own. They are in their 80’s now and these memories are precious indeed.
My friend Katey Schultz (pictured above with her car, the Claw) may be the best example of the writing traveler. She has been at it for nearly two years, and her writing gets better and better. Through her, I am able to visit places I won’t see in this lifetime. That is a special gift. You give it to others when you share what you’ve written while you’re away–the best souvenir is taking others to places they won’t see without you.
Next time you hit the road, don’t forget your writing tools. They are every bit as important as your camera and your underwear. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then paint yours with words. When you’re a writer, traveling is no excuse for not writing. In fact, it’s a good reason to keep that pen moving. And don’t forget to send a few postcards!
Oct 7, 2010 - How-To, Writer's Life    Comments Off on Buy your copy of A Little Lazarus with free shipping here!

Buy your copy of A Little Lazarus with free shipping here!


Support you favorite hillpoet by purchasing your book here via the “Buy Now” button below. You signed copy will come directly from Mendy. Your credit card will be processed via Leigh & Mendy’s Limbertwig Press. (Your statement will show “Limbertwig Press.”  We can accept Visa/MC/Discover. )

In Fayetteville, copies of A Little Lazarus are now available at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street. You can also order your copy from any bookstore with this information:

  • A Little Lazarus—Poems by Mendy Knott
  • Paperback: 114 pages, 6 x 9 in
  • Publisher: Half Acre Press (September 7, 2010)
  • ISBN-13: 978-09829455-1-3
  • List: $16.00

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