Browsing "Writer’s Life"
Jan 2, 2014 - Writer's Life    3 Comments

Two O’Clock JUMP!

Closing my eyes to hear the stream better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leigh's idea of a great Jump!

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

Jane has a successful apple Jump

 

 

 

Nov 13, 2013 - Writer's Life    4 Comments

Turning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 2, 2013 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

Labors of Love

Detail of "Kindness" by Gina Percifull

Detail of "Kindness" by Gina Percifull

It’s Labor Day and, strangely enough, one of my favorite holidays. Although, as a kid, it was the last day of summer vacation for us, this one day seemed all the sweeter. The pool taste of chlorine, the coconut reek of suntan lotion, the sun browning the already tan skin of back and thighs had to last for the rest of the year. Back then, I didn’t think of my PaPaw, Jethro Cross, and the sacrifices he made as a Labor Union man in Arkansas. He was a yellow dog democrat until the day he died, and he believed in hard work and the power of the workers united. Of course, I never knew these things about him when I was young. I just knew he worked the graveyard shift at the paper mill in Camden and that we needed to stay out of the house and be quiet when we were inside during the heat of the day.

I have a deep admiration for the working men and women of today. The kind of work, especially, that seems to be fading as technology takes over the workforce. But there are still farmers who grow plants with their hands, feed and water their livestock, “pick” the eggs from the nest boxes every morning, and milk their goats and cows. Nurses and aids are still turning patients who can’t move for themselves, changing sheets, bathing the sick and elderly. Men and women are working in garages, fixing your cars and motorcycles, bumping their knuckles and burning their hands. Bakers and chefs and moms are still cooking in kitchens where the food doesn’t come out of a microwave and the veggies must be chopped and the chicken cleaned and baked.

I have always loved work. Good work makes a person feel useful, healthy, productive. We feel like we are contributing to our world–whether that world is our immediate family or whether it is our communities or society as a whole– in a beneficial way. It’s a labor of love. Recently, Leigh went to visit her brother halfway across the country. His wife of only two years, his “ain true love” a woman for whom he labored tirelessly so they could go on motorcycle trips and adventures, was dying unexpectedly of a brain tumor. From the moment they knew, only a few months ago, she was given 2-4 months to live.

He immediately took a leave of absence, closing up his auto shop, in order to care for his ailing wife; in order to spend every moment he could with her. A big, strong man–a man’s man as they say–he lifts her, bathes her, feeds her–not even allowing the help who comes daily to do the job alone. He does not trust them to be gentle enough. This is a labor of love.

Leigh decided to go for a visit and to help with what will surely be her sister-in-law’s last birthday party. While she is there she cleans the house, does the laundry, entertains guests, and yes, even cooks for them (I am trying to figure out how to get her to do all this at home outside of dire circumstances) so that they can enjoy the few precious moments they have left together. This is a labor of love.

Back the the homestead house (still waiting for the closing of our next real home), I tend to the chores that are left for me to do, mostly take care of our motley crew of dogs, clean up the rental house, mow the lawn before the big rain. I make myself available for texts and phone calls from my beloved because I know how this sad ending to true romance at a young age will affect her, and that she will be strong for her brother. She sends me little pictures now and then and I try to see them through her eyes. I write and read poetry every day. I write for her because I know that while she is there, she can’t. I write her poems and songs. This too, is a labor of love.

As artists and writers, our labors are often under appreciated. The general public, in large part, thinks we are simply playing, like children with finger paints and crayons. They don’t see the education, the dedication, the commitment to continue our study and our work at the desk, sitting in front of an easel or at a potter’s wheel, always with a pad of paper, a pen, a paintbrush, a pencil, a piece of clay, an open book that is not National Enquirer (although it might be occasionally) which is the history of our labor. Our work must be a labor of love. We must do it because we love it. There can be no other reason that trumps this one; not a desire for success nor to impress our friends or family (this simply will not work, okay?) and not because there will be rewards in heaven.

We must, like Leigh’s brother with his wife, treat our work tenderly and open our hearts to life and the love of life and whatever art work we have taken on, and do what comes naturally to us–create. We must do this work even when it breaks our hearts. That is a labor of love.

 

—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010). You can order books, make a comment or subscribe to blog posts by email at her website www.hillpoet.com.

Aug 22, 2013 - How-To, Writer's Life    1 Comment

The Discovery of Poetry–A Brief Review

Mayes_cover

As I was saying in my last post, times are hard here on the farm for writers, even though when I look over how my time is spent I do see plenty of time for writing. There it is in the morning before the dogs get up and need to go out or be fed. There it is at 4 am and I’m awake while Leigh is sleeping. Here is time in the afternoon while we are awaiting word from the now notorious Big Bank (in the post boom days) to see what kind of irrelevant piece of paper they need next in order to get our house loan. Leigh jokes that the only thing they have not requested from us yet is a DNA sample. We are ready, though, with tongue depressors and coffee stirrers from Starbucks.

Then there’s the time waiting at the VA as I reestablish myself in a new town. There’s no need to go into the horrors of that particular story. However, there is a lot of waiting around that could be put to use writing. I tried this however, and what came out was so terrifying that I was afraid I would scare off patients who were awaiting scheduled procedures. But I did write. It just didn’t seem like publishable material, although most veterans could certainly identify.

So, what may sound like plenty of downtime for writing, is actually spent waiting. Unfortunately, waiting is difficult to translate into writing. It’s the wrong kind of tension, at least for me. However, the time can be used wisely for reading, and even penning out an exercise or two that may come in handy later. There’s really only one thing to do: find or buy a book that will entice me into reading and writing when I can. And THIS means I get to go to a BOOKSTORE!!! An independent one is best, of course. With coffee. My Fayetteville readers will know I’m talking about Nightbird Books on Dickson St. Here in Asheville, although there are actually several independents, Malaprop’s is an experience unparalleled in both book-buying and coffee. Despite my persona non grata status due to a poetic dispute with the owner, I cannot tell a lie. It is simply a delightful place to hang out and experience the rich texture of being surrounded by some of the best books ever written, sip delicious hot brew, and leave with the unusual sensation of money well spent.

I know I need a book that will inspire and direct. I drag my good friend, the former manager of Malaprop’s, with me. She is like Super Bookseller. (This would make a great comic, don’t you think?) If anyone can help me find the book I need, simply by a vague description of what I’m looking for since I’m not sure myself, it’s Jane Voorhees. She’s so fast, we miss some of the fun of perusing. Within ten minutes I am holding the book I need in my hot little hand. All I feel I have time for is poetry– and because poetry is good practice for any other writing I may want to do later–I choose a book on both reading and writing poems. The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, appears to be exactly the book I need. As I do when book-shopping, I thumb through it, read a few pages, and carry it around with me while continuing to look at other books. The heft and weight of it, the paper and print, as well as the poems, are all important in deciding whether or not to purchase. If I never set it down in pursuit of something else, it’s the one I need.

In this very fine book on poetry, Mayes offers access to a variety of poems she has chosen to illustrate the art of poetic device. The exercises are brief and leave the bulk of the work to the readers’ imagination. I find both of these things refreshing. It’s a grown up poet’s book. She expects you to know how to read and appreciate poetry. She uses examples from both past and present day, English-speaking and translated poets. She asks you to do the work yourself. I give full credit to the fact that I am, at this stressful time in life, able to string a line of words together to Frances Mayes and her The Discovery of Poetry. In my case, perhaps, the re-discovery of poetry. For poetry is a form I must discover and uncover and recover time and time again. And each time I am astounded at “what is found there.”

This is what writers do when they are stuck. They look for and buy a book that will, by its flow and fire, move them forward in their work and allow them the room they need to write. The book allows us to roll words around in our mouths and taste them– salty and fiery as cayenne, bitter as a fine home brew and sweet as Leigh’s honey. Good books like Mayes’ can rekindle the tiniest glowing ember and put ink back on the page where it belongs. I recognized the right book for me and here it lies, already bent and creased in all the write places. 

Sometimes even the great beauty of wherever you may live is not enough to make the writer write. Sometimes it takes the hand of an experienced author to help us find our way to the page; to inspire us to look beyond the limitations of our own day-to-day and realize there is an entire world out there waiting for us to discover it. In this case, Frances Mayes leads us into that world, past and present, by her own Discovery of Poetry.

 

—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010).

Jul 20, 2013 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

The Bridge

All my life I’ve wanted a bridge. It seems an odd desire, taken out of context. I suppose it means, to me anyway, that I would also have a body of water to cross if I had a bridge. Now it looks as if I may soon have two. One is a simple beam construction and the other is mostly natural, made of soil and clay and reinforced by stone. From my bridge, I can stand above a tumbling stream and stare down at the water constantly flowing from Pine Ridge mountain above me and entering the South Toe (Estatoe) River below me. The bridge is a perfect metaphor for this juncture of my life, having recently moved back to the Blue Ridge as I bear down on the age of 60.

According to Wikipedia,  the bridge is a “structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley or a road.” The design of the bridge depends on its “function, the nature of the terrain, the materials used to make it, and the funds available to build it.” Musically, too, the bridge stands as metaphor for this juncture of my life: “The bridge is often used to contrast with and prepare for the return of verse and chorus. Lyrically, the bridge is typically used to pause and reflect on the earlier portions of the song or to prepare the listener for the climax.” The bridge is obviously different than the rest of the song and can add a whole new observation in both tune and lyric. It is a reflection on what has gone before and where the next movement will lead. 

Leigh and I left Fayetteville , AR at the vernal equinox; the exact same time we arrived 8 years prior. Our years in Fayetteville grew us up. They taught us to forgive things that seemed so harsh upon arrival: the rocky soil, the heat, snakes and bugs, drought, tornados and storms, family members, and ourselves. In Northwest Arkansas we discovered new friends and a new way to have friends. We worked harder than ever at the things we wanted and believed in: justice, right livelihood, a book or two, local food and farmers, reconciliation. We learned to rejoice in the company of others and to share what we had accomplished with our new community: music on CD’s and New Year hootenannies. We swapped poetry, essays, and stories at HOWL, our monthly open mic readings. We celebrated life with fish frys and campouts and joyful birthdays. We discovered there ARE good neighbors to be had. People were good to us and expressed their love in the Ozark way, by sharing what they had with us. We bartered with talents and veggies alike. I had my parents nearby and we recorded the history of their life together in our hearts as well as on video. I spent time with my sister and brother-in-law with whom we celebrated the maturing of my nieces and the losses that are common to all of us as we age…or really, just as we go about life in this world.

The 8 years I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas became a bridge for me that spanned a period I required for greater acceptance of my limitations and enabled me to relax as to what the future might hold. I watched my work mature and was able, for the first time, to hold that work as physical materials–books, CD’s, money, awards–in my own two hands. Even better, I could watch my work being enjoyed and inspiring people I loved and admired. I learned the value of a consistent and committed, as well as extremely gifted, writing group. I pushed myself physically to be part of a team, swimming for gold with the Ozark Streamers. I matured in my relationship with my beloved, accepting her new interests and a whole different set of friends and relationships. These 8 years were a period marked by growth and tendered by loss. Saying good-bye to family and friends was one of the hardest things either of us has ever done.

At the house which I sincerely hope will be home by autumn equinox, I will have a real bridge. It crosses from the finely kept lawns and gardens of the neat little house into a beautifully unkempt field that was once used by Indians (I assume Cherokee) for their summer hunting village. Wild turkey, deer and bear eat, sleep and nest there now. Finally, I will see every day an actual reminder of how the stages of life are but bridges to the next level. When I stand on my new bridge and look down at that clear running water, I will remember that nothing stays the same. You quite literally “can’t cross the same river twice.” Nor do you want to. At least I don’t. Even though I have returned to the home of my heart here in Appalachia, I am not the same person who left. The Ozarks and her people, my people now, changed me–for the better.

I return to a new bridge. Here, I hope, I will make the final crossing which I pray is still a long way off. But the River Styx awaits us all and I might as well not ignore it. In fact, I want to embrace it, embody it in poetry, songs, essays; whatever I might write next. I want that knowledge to flow into and out of me without fear and create in me a fresh love for life, family, friends and my dear partner. Because now I have a bridge to help me make that passage. And should I fear or face discouragement or frustration with aging, then I can simply cross my bridge and walk in the field where many souls have walked before; who drank from these same clear springs, and were refreshed.

Apr 2, 2013 - Writer's Life    1 Comment

Meeting the Master–A Night with Garrison Keillor

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of watching Garrison Keillor perform at the Walton Arts Center here in Fayetteville, AR. Most of us are familiar with “A Prairie Home Companion,” the weekly NPR radio broadcast with its mixed media of stories, songs, jokes and poems which true fans will go to most any length to hear every Saturday or Sunday. We are addicted to Guy Noir, Tales of the Cowboys, Lake Woebegone. We need to hear powder milk biscuit  encouragement and be reminded why it’s important to eat ketchup. These are the vignettes I supposed I would be hearing that Thursday night. I was wrong.

For Garrison was actually celebrating his 70th birthday with a revue of stories, poems, and songs that would have burned the ears of some of his most faithful listeners. Few of us were actually prepared to hear the bawdy comedian who graced the stage that night. He embarrassed his 15-year-old daughter with a song about how, when she was a child, he “held out his hand” to catch whatever inappropriate bodily expulsion a toddler might emit at any given moment. He emphasized the story with a beautiful little song that highlighted fatherly love. I was not surprised when the couple in front of us with horrified expressions did not return after intermission. I was thrilled however, since it opened up a wonderful gap for better viewing as the great man continued his act.

Garrison allowed us back seat views of  dates from his high school years using songs of the era to set the stage. He had one gifted female singer with whom he sang harmony and two incredible musicians who played synchronized  compositions on giant grand pianos. The two grands, fit together like a yin-yang symbol, took up over half the stage. Altogether, there were four people involved in the entire onstage production of a musical revue that took us on a journey through the lifetime of one of America’s most gifted storytellers. The story-song accompanied by the pianists of how he explained to his daughter how life used to be “in the old days,” before internet and cell phones, would have been worth going to hear all by itself. Yet, he continue to regal us with collages of his young life through songs, sonnets, and poems, all of which he penned himself. He even took the audience on a merry turn about town to Penguin Eds and Dickson St., a piece he must have composed that very afternoon.

Besides being a master storyteller, Keillor is a prolific writer. Certainly you understand he must write all this stuff down, just as a minister prepares a sermon each week. However, he carries no notes, and he appears to allow himself the freedom to range a large area within the script, wandering from the path and returning, wandering and returning, but remaining true to the tale in the end. He is after all, an English Major with a “radio face,” gruff, serious, seldom smiling, and yet he insists he is quite cheerful. And he sounds it. He has and is still enjoying life. He appears to have invented the perfect job for himself. This is what I call “right livelihood.”

I feel sure it is not as effortless as it sounds or appears. But he does make it look and sound that way. He is a radio man, a fact made obvious by his lack of visual connection with his audience. For him, they exist at the other end of his voice. He is a writer and his stories are driven by sound and content. His voices is mellifluous, pitched so perfectly that one could listen to it all day. It’s easy to forget that he is a writer first, a performer second. Standing in line to shake his hand and get my book signed, it’s obvious this is true as folks waited to have their programs signed instead of purchasing a book. Come on Fayetteville, I thought. The man is a world-renowned artist. Buy a book.

But Garrison didn’t seem to mind. After all these years, I’m sure he’s used to it. He has probably signed millions of programs instead of books. He treated each person with quiet dignity as he touched them on the arm, had his picture made dozens of times with cell phones, shook hands. I was so excited to meet the great man (and have my book signed) that I could barely contain myself. He told me I was awfully lively for an English major. “Didn’t I think they could be terribly stuffy and rigid?” he asked. At first I didn’t think so; not the ones I knew anyway. Then I realized I didn’t really know that many English majors. I knew writers, from all walks of life. And that made the difference. I only hope some of his mastery rubbed off on me as he took my elbow and shook my hand. Thanks, Garrison, for making the long trip from Minnesota to Arkansas. And for making the life of the writer/performer something I can claim with pride I share with you.

 

Nov 28, 2012 - How-To, Writer's Life    6 Comments

Writing When You’re Down

As I experience my 7th day after Achilles tendon replacement, I’m starting to feel a little limited by the fact that I must use crutches to get around. We thought our house was accessible to all, but now I see that some significant doorways (like bathrooms) are not wide enough to accept the easier alternatives. I have, so far, slung myself into chairs, dropped from great heights onto sofas, lost control and fallen into doors and dressers. My shoulders ache and my good leg cries for a break; not literally.

It’s easier to stay in one or two well-cushioned spots with the bad foot up. I study Buddhism, meditate, read bad novels, watch “Glee,” and thumb through journals like Writer’s Digest or my current favorite, The Writer, for inspiration as I try to keep up my practice. I would love to begin and even complete my first TV series while lying around for several months waiting to heal. Then I can run off again. I’ve decided that’s why you have to hurt something once in awhile­–so you can complete a long project. However, I must be able to do without the painkillers before I can begin my series in earnest.

Meanwhile, I came across a creative challenge in Writer’s Digest to write a form poem called a nonet. The word nonet is is defined as a combination of nine musical instruments or voices. The form is fun, only slightly challenging, and there are no definitive rules aside from the structure: The poem is nine lines long. The first line is nine syllables, the second line is eight, and so on until the last line finishes in a word. The form, as many do, force you to keep the poem short and concise, use vivid imagery and verbs, and compress your lines.

In “Sundowners,” I try to express a syndrome known to the elderly, the dying, an injured middle-aged drama queen poet, and most of us during the season when the light starts leaving the sky earlier and earlier each day. It seems better to turn these “negative” feelings into art so that, even if they seem dark, there’s a shine that comes off them like a low light bouncing off an unsunk eight ball.

Below, you’ll find my nonet. I challenge you to try your hand at this form. If you’d like, you can paste your nonet into the comments section and I’ll put them in a blog post for all my 31 ½ readers to see. Just kidding, but you won’t need to feel overwhelmed by the publicity. I can use your name or a fake name or no name. If you like this idea, just put “can include” next to your nonet. I will also pick my personal fave and send the winner a prize, which will be a writing book or mag to inspire you onward. I’ll contact you through your email on the comments page. I realize authors and poets fear putting their work on the web, but I’ll cover that fear in a post soon. For now, here’s my nonet:

“Sundowners”
Leaves copper with shine, wings flicker, suns fire
until the sky’s gold-coin brightness
silvers to a fifites’ dime,
darkens to old penny
flattened on a track.
No way to flip
back to light
leadens,
gone.

 

 

Nov 5, 2012 - Writer's Life    Comments Off on Just for Fun: Haunted (Part III)

Just for Fun: Haunted (Part III)

Just when you thought it was over, the truly extraordinary was beginning to unfold. On All Souls Day, we attended a Zombie house concert at friends’ Kelly and Donna’s place. You may know them as Still on the Hill. You may have heard them in concert. You may own some of their CDs. You may have visited their famous Ozark Ball Museum. But all these pale in comparison to their zombie house party.

Donna Stjerna is one of the most creative people I know, and Kelly Mulholland is one of the finest musicians in the country. The best thing about both of them is that they really know how to play. Not just with musical instruments and voices, although there must be a reason why what musicians do is called “play.” While writer’s write and artist’s paint and sculptors sculpt, musicians play. Kelly and Donna really know how to play, and they invite others to create playtime along with them.

This year Donna was bit by a Zombie and decided to “zombie the house,” as Kelly called it. She would jump up in the night with a new idea and run off and do some more zombie stuff. There were zombie baby dolls, and zombie faces pasted over pictures of family members as well as fine art that hung on the wall. Nothing was too sacred to escape zombieing. There were zombie drinks and zombie food–zombie fingers, skin chips, and mucuous dip. Even the ball museum was zombied. Then, of course, there were zombie guests who brought zombie offerings of music. All of them were terrific.

Art should be joyful. Sure, sometimes it’s full of angst, as is life itself. But on the whole, art is about the joy of creativity. You know you’ve jumped into the flow when you work for hours then look at the clock surprised at how much time has passed. You know joy has entered your work when you find yourself laughing at your own ideas. You are truly playing when you invite others to collaborate and play along with you. Such was the zombie house concert.  The offerings of the zombie guests were awesome and truly quite haunting. The Halloween carols using Christmas tunes to recreate them so everyone could sing along were a riot. The fire outside and the gypsy readings inside added to the happy, spooky atmosphere. I actually think Kelly took the prize as the creepiest costume. He didn’t want to be a zombie, so he dressed as Hello Kitty in a long pink dress with a ruffled flower top. Watching him riff on his stratocaster in his Hello Kitty getup was a moment I’ll never forget.

I went as a Cockney gravedigger who steals from the dead but gets his comeuppance when partner Jim gets a little too greedy. The piece is called The Gravedigger Blues, which I’ll include as a link. Just remember your Cockney accent and don’t forget to have as much fun reading as I did writing it. Thanks to Kelly and Donna for reminding us again what fun creativity  can be.

 

 

 

Oct 28, 2012 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

Haunted (Part II)

Autumn in Arkansas is a great time to think on the vagaries of both nature and human nature. Go for a drive anywhere in these ancient Ozarks and you will be reminded “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So said Hamlet as he explained the ghostly presence of his murdered father. Oh, that Shakespeare, he was a fellow much in touch with the preternatural. He would have felt right at home traveling the Arkansas hills during these days of the dying light.

Sit by a campfire with some old-timers in October as they listen to the lonely baying of their hounds, and you’re bound to hear a scary story or two passed around with the ‘shine. Or go for a long walk in Devil’s Den State Park around sunset, kick at the colorful leaves, and feel the ghosts exhale a whisper from the Devil’s Ice Box. Drive through the Ouachitas on a dark night roiling with clouds, a storm flashing bright and quick as the light bouncing off a disco ball, electricity drawn to the crystals and mineral properties of that strange east-west range. My friend Jane and I were forced to stop in a church drive, hold hands, and sing campfire songs until we were brave enough to continue along the snaking electrical wire that was Highway 7 one wild night. We were not ashamed to be 50 years old and scared out of our wits. It made perfect sense.

I’ve always thought of the Ozarks, vacation land for a child who lived in Louisiana and Mississippi, as one of the haintiest places in the entire universe. All those deep crevices we call caves around here have hidden a multitude of sinners, murderers, ghosts and goblins. It’s a bad idea to wander too far from the trails. There are deep ravines where a person might easily be lost, especially after dark. You might awaken hours, or even days later, with a bellyful of stumpwater and nightmares of ancient beings who find these wild and ragged places perfect for skittering around with snakes and howling in tune with crazed coyotes.

Yesterday I went for  my annual autumn drive, getting lost on the back roads up in the hills around Fayetteville. I always start out for White Rock Mountain with it’s fabulous 360 degree view, but for some reason I can’t seem to reach the top. There’s a turn or a curve, something I miss, and I always end up in the Crosses’ Creek churchyard.  It’s a shady little cemetery, even on the brightest October day, and I love the chill I feel there. Mostly, I have a good relationship with the dead–but I only stop by during daylight hours. Visitation ends at dusk.

Don’t let this Fall pass without paying homage to your fine sense of the supernatural. Write a letter to Poe, or even Shakespeare. Tell them what scared you most about their stories or plays. Read a frightening piece of work from the huge list of authors, past and/or present, who work hard to scare the wits out of us. After you’ve indulged your inner stalker, sit down and pen a haunted poem or story of your own. Remember, “There’s more in heaven and on earth…” than can be explained by modern logic. I dare you.

Oct 9, 2012 - Writer's Life    Comments Off on Two Poets, One House (cont.)

Two Poets, One House (cont.)

Poems, songs, stories, screenplays, essays–you’d think there would alway be something cooking in a house with two writers. We seem to be able to give into our excuses not to write when we are together the same way we do if we are alone. We can be each other’s distraction, too. When we’re hot, we’re hot. When we’re not, nobody writes a thing. Even weeding a garden row sounds more appealing than putting pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard. Unless, of course, it’s 104 degrees and dry as dust. Then, even if we’re inside, we are too downcast to write. Well, there you are. There are always more reasons not to write than there are to write. If writing were easy, everyone would be doing it. Still, when the going gets tough, the tough inspire one another. Or pull out the bungee cords, bind ourselves to our desk chairs; or maybe bake some brownies which we can’t eat until we have worked at least two hours on something, anything that has to do with writing. Depends on what works on any given day, punishment or reward.

Actually we don’t usually have to be that dramatic. We love writing, and even when we don’t, we love having written. Oh, the great high of having spent two hours writing like a wild woman, reading over it, and finding even one paragraph, even one sentence, that was brilliant. Or so it seems in the moment, and that’s when you close the notebook and let it stand. Or if we’re feeling particularly brave, or feel we’ve done more that a zero draft, (a draft we wouldn’t even call a first draft, it’s so rough) we may share it with one another. Even after 12 years of living together, this is still not easy. We are complete opposites. She reads non-fiction and informational books. I read novels. We both read poetry. She listens to pod casts. I listen to Roxie Watson CD’s. She plays on the computer while I watch “Dexter.”

Opposites can be very good for one another’s writing however. If someone always likes your work, and never has anything critical to say about it, you will not improve. Unless you are a genius, and there are so few of us out here. Just kidding. Everyone needs a good listener or reader to bounce their work off of. For this, you both need patience, a suspension of judgement, “fair and balanced” critique, and an ear for what makes for good writing. This quality comes from reading a lot. For instance, I am a good listener for Leigh because she writes non-fiction. She wants to appeal to a wide audience and not just academia.I represent her wide audience. For these purposes, she requiress a bit of story. She has to make it personal to hold the reader’s interest, and I am all about personal. I was born to tell a story. And I can tell one to death, too.

What I need is to appeal to an editor. So Leigh helps me edit all those words into something an editor might actually feel they have time to read. I can write all day, happy as a clam, revising very little until I’m done. Or at least I think I’m done. Until Leigh looks at it or listens as I proudly read it aloud. She mutters, “That’s nice…” or “With a little work, that could be really good piece.” When I get it back from her, it will be half as long and as concise as a magazine article. She cuts the blather and leaves in the important stuff. It’s just I thought  a lot more of it was important than turns out to be.

Everyone needs a writing buddy, at the very least, if not a writing group. They don’t have to be a spouse (in fact this can be quite tricky at times). The fact that their interests are different from yours can be helpful, offering insights you might never have envisioned by yourself, because, quite simply, that’s not how you see things. Trust is inherent to this process. The understanding that you are asking for their help (they didn’t volunteer) is a fact you will want to remember the first time they kill your favorite line. Think it over before you bite their head off. You may find they’ve done you a big favor. They may even be right. Besides, they have your best interest at heart. If they don’t, they aren’t the critic for whom you were searching anyway. Keep looking.

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