Browsing "Writer’s Life"
Feb 7, 2015 - Writer's Life    1 Comment

Inspiration from Rod McKuen(?!)

“If you go away on this summer day
Then you might as well take the sun away
All the birds that flew in a summer sky
When our love was new and our hearts were high
When the day was young and the night was long
And the moon stood still for the nightbird’s song
If you go away
Ne me quitté pas
If you go away
Ne me quitté pas” —from Rod McKuen’s “If You Go Away”

rodmckuen_picInfluenced by author-friend Jan Morrill’s post, Rod McKuen’s Time Machine, I felt inspired to write my own “in memoriam” for the poet who died last week at the age of 81.  Interestingly, as Jan is a bit younger than me, she had a different perspective on Rod and his poetry. For Jan, Rod’s death brought back memories of her mom, who listened to McKuen’s poems and missed Jan’s father who was serving overseas in the military. For me, Rod McKuen was my first poet, period. The first poet I ever really heard, and certainly, the first poet whose books I owned and read.

Referred to by many critics as the “King of Kitsch,” McKuen was also responsible for bringing spoken word to the everyday housewife, the romantic couple who was stepping together into a middle class life, and millions of regular folk who could comprehend his poetry simply by listening to it. For those of us who had his albums and read his books, Rod gave meaning to our sense of loneliness and longing in the early ’60’s, a time of strife, protest and general upheaval in America. His poetry was personal. We felt like he understood us.

As a diehard romantic from the day I was born, I would lie around on the shag carpet of my room listening to his albums, The Sea, The Earth, The Sky, which I paid for with hard-earned allowances from my parents. I was always delighted to find his books wrapped and waiting for me under the Christmas tree.

Everybody has to start somewhere, and my love of poetry started with Rod McKuen. Yes, I was influenced by the Beatles’ lyrics, and by Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin. When I first began hearing their raspy poetics, though, I was still too young to comprehend the complexities of their imagery and metaphor. Believe it or not, I was a naive youngster and wanted life to unfold like a fairy tale. Somehow, it just wouldn’t, and that depressed me. Rod McKuen understood that longing in his audience and talked about love and life in words my teenaged mind could assimilate into the world I occupied.

For better or worse, he helped me maintain the fantasy that everything would work out in the end, there was someone for everyone, and on some days, that kept me putting one foot in front of the other. There’s likely not a slam poet out there who would possibly identify with the likes of Rod McKuen, but let’s face it, he was performing poetry to music with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac before most of us were xx or xy chromosomes.

Born in 1933, he ran away from an alcoholic stepfather at the age of 11. He worked all the jobs that make good poets: dishwasher, ranch hand, surveyor, DJ, lumberjack. Because he had no formal education, he kept a journal of his adventures which resulted in his first poems and songs. Okay, unless you missed that in your quick scan of a post about Rod McKuen, he KEPT A JOURNAL which led to his poems and songs. This is how many poets begin. It’s how I began. lonesomecities

Sure, some of you may say, “Lord, I can see way too much of McKuen in Mendy’s poems and songs,” but this would not shame me. In his lifetime he sold over 100 million records and over 60 million books. He won a grammy and was nominated for a Pulitzer. He wrote lyrics for  the likes of Barbara Streisand, Petula Clark, Waylon Jennings, Chet Baker, Johnny Cash, Percy Faith, Dusty Springfield, Al Hirt, and Frank Sinatra. He was an American poet and songwriter who came up the hard way and softened his voice so that it could make its way into the hearts of the American people at a time when they needed a little romance in Life. 

So today, I want to honor Rod and his persistence–to fly in the face of the critics, to work hard at what he loved all his life, to create and to keep creating. I, too, turned my back on him. After reading Emily, Dorothy, Robert, Maya, Wendell, Elizabeth and so many more in classic American poetry classes; after attending readings and poetry slams all over the country; after struggling with my own work; after hosting events where the youngest writers wrote better than Rod, I long ago closed the book on him.

That is until my mom gave me some books she had been keeping for me for years, and there he was again. Memories crashed in on me like waves along the coast of Maine. Among those books were Listen to the Warm and Lonesome Cities. I found that Rod McKuen could still bring tears to my eyes as I was transported back to those teen years when his poetry was all I had to hold close to my heart. I had no boyfriends, no dates to the prom or football games, no hand-holding, kissy-faced young romance. I had Rod and I am grateful for his accompaniment through my own “lonesome cities.” Rest in peace, Rod McKuen. From one poet/lyricist to another, thanks for being there, and for the seed of inspiration you planted while I listened.

Jan 18, 2015 - Writer's Life    Comments Off on The Trouble With Ducks Part 2

The Trouble With Ducks Part 2

Fiona leads Glenda and Molly out to play.

Fiona leads Glenda and Molly out to play.

“More trouble with ducks,” you say? Good grief. When will we get out of this metaphor? Perhaps sooner than we all thought. Because the other trouble with ducks is that they are fragile and everything wants to eat them. When this happens you are ill prepared because you have fallen in love. You have protected them with an electric fence and a little house you lock up tight at night. You believe they are safe.Then two dogs bust through that electric fence on a Saturday morning and wreak havoc on your precious feathered friends.

I have a recurring nightmare. In it the innocent suffer. Oftentimes the victims are little wiener dogs run over by tractors; babies left behind by uncaring parents; bunnies, chicks, and ducklings destroyed in various ways. Innocent beings at the mercy of a careless or treacherous world. I know Jung believed that everything in a dream is an aspect of ourselves. I realize what this means is that I fear for my own innocence. Life should have long ago–through 4 years in the military, a 7 year stint as a cop, and just growing up different in a world where difference is seldom rewarded–wiped out any illusion that innocence survives. But it didn’t. I know for a fact that innocence is alive and well when we have the courage to foster it.

You cannot be a poet and destroy your vulnerability. You need it to write. You need it to be an artist. You need it if you are to remain authentic and real and if you are to touch others’ lives, whether they are people or dogs or ducks. Innocence is precious, even if it really does end in disaster. It’s hard to love something so much and to see it end violently. You do what you can to protect and preserve your little bit of wildlife and then the neighbor’s dogs tear through the electric fence in a frenzy of bloodlust and kill your Fiona and injure Glenda and scare poor Molly (who really does turn out to be the Unsinkable Molly Brown) nearly to death. It means an expensive trip to the vet to try and save them, and harsh words with the neighbor that sound a lot like threats in the heat of the moment.

Perhaps seeing this happen to the happy little ducks I loved and did the bobbing-head dance with everyday will end the dreams. I must remember that Fiona, with her one good eye and a history of hard times, had a great life at Five Apple Farm. She never stopped dancing. She bobbed more than anybody. Burying Fiona beneath the little oak we bought for our wedding tree in November could actually bring an end to my nightmares. I now have a visual on the facts. The innocent suffer; always have and always will.

Yet, just as I imagine that my little one-eyed Fiona will become part of the tree that commemorates marriage equality for Leigh and me, I will have to let my ducks loose again so they can enjoy the sun and the rain and their pond. I must not be afraid to allow the innocence in me out of the box where I sometimes try to keep her. She must be free to do her own head-bobbing dance,  whatever risk may exist. Without risk there would be no great artists or writers; no Sistene Chapel and no Mona Lisa. Too big, you say? Well, let’s bring it down to size. There would be no “Little Lazarus,” no Limbertwig Press, no Jane Voorhees calendars or cards.

Angel Wings

Angel Wings

It takes our most vulnerable selves to create. It takes risking our innocence to love. The failures and losses will hurt, without a doubt. But if we are strong, and determined to continue to create and to care, we will risk that pain again and again. We won’t give into criticism or defeat. We won’t give up on love. We will remember the happiness in learning a new dance and step out into empty space to see if we will soar; to dive into the deeps to see if we will sink or swim. This is the way it is, and unfortunately today, the way it has to be.

 

Dec 12, 2014 - How-To, Writer's Life    6 Comments

The Trouble With Ducks

15819055027_363651c437_zRecently, we acquired some ducks. They were a wedding gift. This is how it is if you marry a farmer. You give her a ring. She gives you….ducks. Three ducks to be exact. Three beautiful white and gray Ancona ducks. Actually, she says she is giving me a “lifetime supply of ducks”, since ducks are as tempting as chicken to most predators. I have high hopes for my ducks anyway; that they will live long and happy lives. So far, so good.

Today’s blog may be more parable than post. The ducks came from a place called Duck Dance Farm. Visiting Pat and Andrew, the owners of Duck Dance, was a treat. There were ponds and pens with little houses and baby swimming pools scattered all around the place. Geese honked, ducks quacked, chickens clucked and there seemed to be much general happiness amongst the feathered tribes. Andrew, who seemed to be knowledgeable in all things watery, told me about ponds and ducks and minnows and how all these systems worked together. He said a little food and a lot of water were essential for a waterfowl’s happiness. I thought, “How hard can that be, right?”

Andrew explained that ducks form affinity groups and they do not like to be broken up. This is why, he said, we were getting a one-eyed duck with our little group of three. It was either that or he would have to break up their trio and add a different duck, leaving little One-Eyed Fiona for the pot, I feared. Leigh was more disturbed by our little misfit than I was. After all, it was her wedding present to me. But I have always loved an underdog, or duck in this case, so we packed her in the crate with the rest. Besides, ducks are funny creatures and Fiona was pretty hilarious as she could only swim in circles and had to really crane around to have a look at you. I saw endless hours of entertainment to come.

Leigh had renovated the Frankentractor, which I really thought we were done with once the new henhouse was built. Oh, but our ducks loved it. They trooped in there, nestled into heaps of straw, and stared at us. They didn’t even quack. So began one of the longest stand-offs between human and animal in history. You might be able to see how frustrating this was for me. I immediately made the metaphorical connection between the ducks and my Muse. They sat there like blocked writers in front of a blank page. Zen-like, they remained in a happy state of meditation for days on end. I’ve always worried about meditation and writing. I mean if meditation makes you content with life as it is, what is there to write about? My ducks happily proved the point.

I had given them good, honest, active duck names. The big white girl was the Unsinkable Molly Brown. My gray-tinged girl I called Glenda, Good Witch of North Carolina. And then there was the prettiest of all with her soft gray angel wings, One-Eyed Fiona. I love that Lyle Lovett song. Who knew I would ever have occasion to name anything after it? I talked to them constantly. “Hey Molly. Come on out, Glenda. Fiona, you sweet thang, come swim.” No response. I could tell they were learning their names only by the nodding and soft chuckling that occurred when I called out to them. Nodding back, I felt like Japanese cartoon characters constantly bowing, “Thank you.” “No, thank you.”

We filled up an oval tank from Tractor Supply for their swimming pleasure. (It takes a lot less water area for a duck than one would think.) When they wouldn’t bother to check it out, I put a smaller pail next to it. No dice. Perhaps the sides of their pond were too high, so we built them stone steps, then a ramp, then a larger ramp. Then a ramp with a deck at the top. I bought them special kibble which they ignored. Worried that they would dry out into some kind of shrunken head replicas of ducks, I finally put a chicken watering can in their “house” with them. Warily, they approached and began blowing bubbles into the trough around the bottom. I supposed they were drinking.

The ducks were beginning to make the chickens look smart. Finally, it rained. I remembered the old saying, “It’s great weather for ducks!” Sure enough, they ran out of the house to play in the rain. I mean, they absolutely adored the rain! Of course, it couldn’t last. Soon they were tucking their heads under their wings in the “If I can’t see you, you don’t exist” position. We would be out there for hours encouraging them to get in their “pond.” They’d venture out. If a bird flew overhead, back inside they’d run. If Ada the dog approached, back inside. If the wind banged the chicken house door shut, they flapped and ran. These were incredibly high-strung animals. Leigh worried. Here was my wedding present, refusing to respond to me, refusing to swim or eat,  or do any duck-like things. And then of course, there was Fiona.

One afternoon they approached the smaller pail of water. They motored their bills around it. They ducked their poor dry heads to the bottom of it. Glenda even tried getting in, but it was so small her feet banged the sides and out she came. Progress! They began to eat. Finally, Glenda (leader of the pack) made her way trepidatiously up the ramp. She dipped her head in. She thought about it. She spread her wings in the sun, and then finally, FINALLY she made her leap of faith. Molly followed and they splashed and swam happily around and around. It took Fiona awhile; head cocked to the side, walking around the pond many times, getting depressed and going inside until she, too, spied the ramp and made it into the pond! (Watch video of water frolic below.)

There was a set back one day when the precip froze on the ramp and Molly slid back down to the ground. Another couple of days in the house. Once again, we had to go out and hang out with them until they were brave enough to get back in their tank. If anything at all untoward occurred, they would not go near the pond. These were the biggest chickens ever! Today, I will go out and fill up the pond. And wait. And quack. And call. And spread kibble around. I’ll watch them dip their beaks, walk away, then walk up the ramp to the deck Leigh built. Then they’ll go back down again. Eventually, they will get in the water and clean the mud they’ve created, and which they love, from their lovely little white and gray bodies.

And so everyday, my three little amusing Muses remind me of how hard it is to be an artist or writer; to take the plunge and make that leap of faith. We creatives love to procrastinate. We pray and meditate. We get close to writing, then we run away. We hide from ourselves. We take to the fainting couch should we hear the flutter of our Muses’ wings in close proximity; should we see her shadow pass overhead. We have nothing to quack about. We wait for a rainy day. We require constant reinforcement and admiration, and no criticism or loud noises, please. We keep looking for our affinity group, our safe house.

Given enough dream time, though, and a little personal praise, we will head for the deep end. We really can’t help ourselves. We are drawn to create–well, the way ducks are drawn to water. Persistently, we dive for treasure at the bottom of the pool. Occasionally, we forget ourselves completely and motor around with our muddy pens creating tracks and signs which read, “We are here. We have something to say, and it is this. Life is incredibly mysterious. We love it.”

Unlike Glenda, Molly, and Fiona, though, we must create our own safe space. We must encourage ourselves to swim, and search out our affinity groups. Even if we are the one-eyed Fiona of our coop, we must feel loved and led, even if we must circle and dip and do it ourselves. Once we take that scary step off the ramp and into the dark water, we will set our souls free to soar, no, swim. Whatever. This is self-fulfillment. This is what all that meditation leads to. Motoring around in the mud, looking for answers to the Grand Mystery. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. Now I gotta go feed my ducks.

Dec 5, 2014 - Writer's Life    4 Comments

Generosity–An Inside Job

IMG_1740 “’Tis the season.” You’ll hear this repeated dozens of times in the next several weeks, at least here in the USA. Whatever your spiritual persuasion, it might be good to reflect on the old stories that got these songs and celebrations started in the first place. Most of them are about poor people who brought what they had to the table. Having few material goods, they usually brought themselves and their talents. Tara Brach tells us a story in her podcast, “A Generous Heart.” A group of very poor villagers go to the wise man who presided over their small town. They had a question that had been puzzling them since his last sermon on generosity. They said, “Wise One, what in the world can we give to others if we have nothing to give.” And the wise man answered, “Go, and make everyone you meet feel cared about.”

This was a very wise teacher, as is Tara Brach. Along with the many great teachers of our time, I believe there have to be those of us still learning and making ridiculous mistakes; those of us willing to stand before you and tell the truth so you won’t feel alone in your ineptitude. I say this in the most empathetic way.

As I’ve grown older, I have a little more of everything than I had when I was young. Still, even at the most difficult times in my life, I found a way to give. I had hard-working hands, maybe a poem, some little thing I made or found. I would cook a meal if someone else bought the groceries. Material/physical gifts are easy for me to give because it comes naturally. Really, I was born this way. (Some of my relatives believe I “may be too generous for my own good.” I chuckle at this. I mean, how’s that possible?) It is not in giving material things—money, clothes, help, my truck—that I have trouble. No, it is giving my heart, my listening ear, my patience, (particularly my patience), my willingness to understand, and perhaps even to change, with which I have difficulty.

Let me tell you a story: I was home visiting relatives over Thanksgiving. During my trips to Dallas I stay with my parents who have an extra bedroom. They are in their late eighties. We enjoy one another for the most part, although as anyone knows who still have parents, there can be trying times. I’m sure the reverse is also true for parents with grown children.

This story centers around my dad. He has memory loss problems and I know it can be frustrating for him, as well as for my mom and others. We all encourage Dad to do the things he enjoys, or at least used to enjoy. So he is grilling pork chops for dinner and I am out watering their desert garden. Instead of waiting for the coals to burn down to that gray on the outside, red on the inside color, Dad just throws the chops on as soon as the flames die down. I heard my mom tell him right before he started to wait until the coals got gray, but he paid no attention. 

I said, “Dad, the coals aren’t ready yet.” He said, “Well I put these on there so they’ll get ready.” I guess he meant the fat would make the coals flare up. I said, “Well, that is no way to cook a pork chop.” And he said, “Look, I do this all the time when you aren’t here.” I worried about that a second. I said, “Well I am not eating a pork chop cooked like that!” And he said, “Well don’t then! You don’t have to!” And I yelled at him, “You don’t even have enough patience to wait for the coals to get ready!”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I thought, well that’s a great example to set; yelling at him about not having enough patience. Way to go. I was still mad, even though I felt stupid, and stormed in the house. This is where my lack of generosity shows up. Both my sisters have more patience with Dad than I do. My mom is surely earning an extra pair of wings, since she already owns a set from raising me and my brother. Here, right here in the back yard with Dad, is where I am lacking in generosity; generosity of spirit, of kindness, of true compassion.

The poor villagers, if they followed their guru’s instructions, have it all over me. How do I make everyone I come in contact with feel cared about– whether it’s a family member or the person gassing their car beside me at the pump? This is the generosity I am challenged to learn. Material gifts look easy next to this commandment.

My friend Trudy taught me a valuable lesson in showing me how to care just a little bit more. Every time we go to the grocery store, Trudy reads the name tag of the person checking us out, as well as the young person bagging our groceries. She says, “Thank you, Darcy. Thank you, Henry. I appreciate you. Have a wonderful day.” This. Just this.

This is more than a lot of us do on any given day. There is always more room in our hearts than we think. There is always time to show someone we care. If I had it to do over again (and I probably will) I hope to say, “Well, Dad, I guess that’s one way to cook a pork chop. I appreciate you wanting to cook for me. Can I help?” Whether I eat it or not is beside the point.

Enough. How can we say we don’t have enough…whether it’s time, money, food, love, kindness to family or stranger? There is enough– time for patience, to listen, to lend a hand. This is the generosity I am learning now—that there is enough of me, and enough time, to “make everyone I meet feel cared about.” 

 

Nov 19, 2014 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

I Do

10802041_10205722795215943_4058391110424018512_n

This is the poem I read to Leigh at our wedding.

I Do
 
Sixteen years and here we are saying it again, “I do.”
I do take you, choose you, want you, love you. I do. 
Only queers must say it formally so many times
to the same person, and sometimes,
I love this–I do–but sometimes I rebel 
because you know it’s true that I love you:
like freshly mown grass and clean sheets
like the light in the east
growing bright until I’m blinded by my love for you.
I love you as much as Romeo ever loved a Juliet
no matter who is playing who.
However, it’s annoying to have to say it
in front of witnesses over and over
as if we might have been lying when we said “I do”
the first time in a civil union in Vermont.
That didn’t really count in a Carolina court.
We repeated vows in Arkansas, for our friends,
and Mom and Dad who unable to affirm the first time–
could be present, give their blessing.
Now here we are again.
This time the State will back us up
as if that made loving legal, which I guess it does,
and I do want that, I do.
But let me say this to you, too:
I never minded all those years as love bandits,
stealing kisses, secret handholds in the dark.
We acted out “I do” long before we got the State to listen.
“I do” promise to love you, to stand by you
when the world will not. I would go to jail for you,
stand outside your sick room, waiting,
while all those who could not love you, all of a sudden do,
and I, who did and do, wait and watch and pray for you.
I do willingly take turns washing dishes, scoop the poop,
vacuum, cook, shop—which I know you like to do
alone, because I take so long, but then I do 
insist we share. I do
love you like the mountains, that old metaphor
but still steadfast, unmoving, in every season beautiful,
never going anywhere.
I love you like the last red leaf, frosted, hanging long
before it drops to leave us lying in the dying day.
I do love you now, and then, and again and again
and nobody can ever change the simple fact
that love outlasts the law.
I do want to step with you into the light of a legal day,
get that marriage license framed and hang
it up where everyone can see me say, “I do.”
I do love you just enough to let the bandit go,
the one who stole your kisses, your heart, your clothes
when nobody said we could, but so?
We did it then and we still do.
The State can say whatever, but I declared it 14 years ago,
“I do,” and these same witnesses affirm
those vows bound you to me and me to you.
We have been faithful, not because some law said we should
or a messy divorce might ensue
but simply because we wanted to.
We knew we would be when we said “I do.”
Finally, here is the moment we have not been waiting for
which I never expected to happen in my lifetime
when I started this outlaw life some 40 years ago.
I have mixed feelings I admit, but not about you.
For you, my love, I’d do anything, everything
over and over and over again and you know it’s true
because I do. I do. I do.
 
Mendy Knott Nov. 3, 2014
 
 
Nov 8, 2014 - Writer's Life    5 Comments

Change: “Let Your Light So Shine”

The ring of joy

The ring of joy

My answer to changing the world is so small, you might be disappointed. You may not even believe me. Because I think one of our most compelling actions is to share our happiness. There is nothing that changes hearts and minds like a good attitude. Joy openly expressed, a smile, a song or poem on the lips is hard to deny. Some days this is difficult. Some days it takes all the courage of one’s convictions.  More’s the reason to make the most of the days when happiness comes easy. Like Luke Skywalker’s light saber, joy is a most powerful weapon. Let me tell you a story.

Just before my legal wedding in NC (imagine!), I took a day to myself in Weaverville. I like spending my money in small towns, in independent stores when possible.  I was nervous, but I was getting married. It was to be expected. Also, I was marrying another woman.  I wasn’t sure of the places I needed to go, how they felt about marriage equality. I did know the flower shop was cool because a former neighbor worked at Brown’s on Main Street, so I started there.

I told Susan I was getting married and needed help with flowers. “Congratulations!” she yelped, and came around the counter to hug me. My confidence grew. A few boutonnieres, roses, and a tussy mussy later, I was ready for the ring. I asked where an independent jeweler might be. The owner of Brown’s suggested I cross the street, but that store specialized in art jewelry. I needed something more traditional. She then directed me, rather reluctantly, to the Karat Patch. I worried about that reluctance, but climbed in my truck anyway and headed for the Karat Patch.

I walked into a really nice, really big family-owned jewelry store. An older woman came out to help. I worried about how I was going to establish the rapport I needed in order to buy the perfect thing. In my boots and jeans, my shaggy hair hanging over the collar of my cowboy shirt, I could tell she wasn’t quite sure what to do with me. Meanwhile, I heard a customer leave, and there were a lot of “God bless” and “We’ll be praying for you” and the sort of thing that could make a less than devout lesbian-looking-for-a-wedding ring nervous.

While I stared overwhelmed at all the bling, a more typical customer came in and she moved to help him. A younger woman was sent from the back to take my case. She introduced herself, shook my hand and asked my name, then said, “Diamonds or color?” I said color. Things got a bit clumsy as I tried to avoid talking about who the intended recipient of the ring was. Finally, I understood I could no more buy a wedding ring for a woman without saying “she” than I could write a poem without picking up a pen first.

As I turned a beautiful little band with diamonds and sapphires, the saleswoman asked me what kind of person the ring was intended for. I looked at her and she looked at me, and finally I shrugged and said, “Well she’s a farmer. She has to be able to wear this ring while pitching straw at chickens, picking eggs, weeding a vegetable garden, or working honey bees. And it can’t come off or get hung up in a glove. You got anything like that?” She smiled and said, “Now that’s a nice little ring you’re holding in your hand, but there are prongs that will hang up in a pair of gloves.” I was amazed. She had dealt with this before!

“Now this ring, ” and she lifted a ring with four sapphires set flat in white gold with little diamonds flashing between, “won’t hang up and is smooth all the way across. This style appeals to a lot of nurses.” “She’s a nurse too!” I couldn’t believe it! I was pretty well sold then, although I stuttered slightly at the difference in price. “Of course, it costs a little more,” she smiled. Of course. But hey, I’d been waiting 16 years to marry my farmer, I had to get the ring that worked! And it was beautiful. And I was in love. The saleswoman seemed happy for me, and possibly happy for herself, too, but that was fine. I paid. I needed it sized and I had a fancy hairstyling appointment. She said, “No problem. We’ll size it while you get your hair cut. Come back and pick it up after that.” What service, I thought!

I got my haircut at Aabanni’s, another splurge, but by this time I needed the head massage with the calming scented oil and the great shampoo. A young stylist, Candace, soon caught my excitement at the wedding, the flowers, the ring. She asked me why I was nervous since I’d already had a civil union and a tenth anniversary party which included a renewal of our vows. (She was probably 8 when we got together.) I told her that this time it was for real, that I never thought I would see this day in my lifetime. She paused in her clipping. “Oh, that gave me chills when you said that.” She warned me against seeing the bride on the day of our wedding and sent me off with my new hairdo.

Back I went to the Karat Patch. I entered the store and everyone who worked there–owners, jewelers, sales people–came out of the back to see my hair and to congratulate me. They showed me the ring, which looked perfect, and I watched as they put it in a beautiful black box with a gold latch, and then into another black box. I was grinning and blushing and thanking them as they thanked and congratulated me. It was a beautiful moment in marriage equality history as these conservative folk caught my joy and excitement and gave it back to me in full measure.

So that is my simple story. Take from it what you will. But know this: joy made that day one of the best days of my life. And for a moment anyway, it was contagious enough for everyone to celebrate, no matter who they were or what they believed. Changing the world is so damn incremental, you have to take the long view. One smile at a time.

Jul 25, 2014 - Writer's Life    4 Comments

Sometimes a Toothpick

toothpick in feederNo matter what you may have bought, borrowed, or been given, at some point you will experience a lemon. Yes, I know the old lemonade cliche’ and dislike it. It’s just so smug, for one thing. Life doesn’t actually throw you a lemon most of the time. Lemons appear on your doorstep as the new car that won’t run properly or the book that had a publisher’s promise and then they “reconsidered.”

All of us can remember a personal lemon; an unexpected guest in the middle of your most productive creative moment, and they’re a relative, who is ill maybe, and always loved you when you were a kid…whatever. You simply can’t say no. And while I am a big believer in the “power of no,” I am almost always swayed in the direction of “yes.” And here’s why: because I have so much to learn from a lemon. Whether it is a moment in time, an interruption in my flow, a new trolling motor that won’t work once you’re in the water, or in this case, a straight run of Heritage breed chicks, one of which has a crossed beak. And also a heckuva lot of roosters in the hen to rooster ratio. To us, basically, that means more meat than eggs so I’m not complaining. Well, except for all that crowing going on beneath my window every day.

This story is about my little lemon, the crossed beak chick, or Toothpick as she came to be known. Chickens are almost always he’s to me before they start laying, so should I call Toothpick a he when I believe it was a she, please forgive. It doesn’t matter anyway. See, Toothpick’s deformity made it look like he always carried a toothpick hanging from the side of his mouth. Unfortunately, this charming characteristic also made it hard for him to eat and drink. He learned quickly to dive head first into the feed bucket so that he could work, work, work at getting enough food to stay alive. The same was true for water. He had to shoulder his way up to the trough with birds twice his size and use his tongue to lap up the water like a dog.

photo (8) This all kept Toothpick from growing big and tall and strong like all the other roosters and hens. Oh but s/he was tough. Toothpick strutted his stuff just like everyone else and as far as I could tell, he was never molested or pecked by the rest of the flock. I swear he pretended to pluck at the grass like the other birds, even though there was just no way for him to get a blade of grass with his beak at cross purposes. Toothpick let nothing stand between him and the pleasure he took in life. He ran and flapped and ate and drank, not exactly like the other birds, but he managed to live for an extraordinary 3 months.

It was the WNC rain that got him in the end. We had rain out here in this Black Mountain valley for 6 weeks running. Every day and sometimes all day, the water just would not quit pouring, dropping, dripping from the sky. The gardens flooded, the roads eroded, the rhododendrons bloomed furiously, the rain forest loved it while we gloomed our way through day after day. For those in drought country, I know it’s hard to believe, but there is such a thing as too much rain. The summer was starting to look a little lemonish.

Meanwhile, I had grown to love my personal little lemon. Being always great supporters of the underdog, Leigh and I protected and favored Toothpick as much as possible while allowing him to remain part of the flock. The chickens are in an electric fence with a moveable shelter we call the Frankentractor until a solid and more sane coop can be built. The constant rain forced the chickens to remain in the tractor more often than not. There was fierce competition for food and less for them to do besides sit on a roost and try to keep their feet above water. “Mad as an old wet hen” might come to mind here.

Toothpick could not withstand these less than favorable conditions, being one down already. And so, on a rainy Saturday, with my friend Trudy visiting us, Leigh let me know that she had moved him to the dry shed and put him in the hospice box. I went out to visit him and knew he wasn’t long for this world. I held him, said goodbye to a sweet cheep, and lay the light bundle of feathers back in the pine shavings where he died warm and dry.

Trudy, who as far as I know, has never written poetry, wrote these words to honor him: It doesn’t matter how/ small the life/ Or how short the life/ just that the life was felt./ The breath was warm/ and the kindness felt by both./ Here’s to you, Toothpick. We loved you./ It’s still raining–tears.   I know, Trudy, I should have gotten your permission, but you left it for me and Toothpick, and how could I not use it?

What Trudy doesn’t know is that after we froze the body until the rain let up, I buried our bird beneath a newly planted Birch by the guest house. I dug the hole deep, but I wanted a rock to ensure he stayed where I put him. In the ditch across the road, I found a huge stone exactly the shape of an arrowhead. Arrowheads, for which Trudy and I searched diligently on mountainsides and in streams while she was here. An arrowhead for a warrior, who appeared at first to be a lemon. Ah, how appearances, on which so many Americans base their opinions, can fool.

photo (9)

There are lots of lessons here, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Mainly, I just wanted to tell you a story.

Mar 10, 2014 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

Perfect Pitch, Poetry in Motion: Meet Lenny

67370_1597125698478_7498618_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1898614_10203300295138577_951116033_o

http://roxiewatson.com/

Mar 6, 2014 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

Inspiration: Shared Experiences, Different Expressions, Mutual Admiration

 

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

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

Friendship Book

Friendship Book

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

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

 

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

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

Trudy's Honor Bracelet

Trudy’s Honor Bracelet

Feb 15, 2014 - Writer's Life    3 Comments

Friends that Inspire

photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pages:«12345»