Browsing "Writer’s Life"
Sep 29, 2012 - Writer's Life    5 Comments

Two Writers, One House: The Power of Words

“We were born before the wind/ Also younger than the sun…/Hark now hear the sailors cry/Smell the sea and feel the sky/ Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic…/ I want to rock your gypsy soul…”  Van Morrison “Into the Mystic”

Van’s song has been haunting me lately as I get ready to make yet another move in my wildly mobile life I’ve lived here in Fayetteville, Arkansas–in this house on this particular 3 acres of paradise, for 7 years–making this site, at least, the longest domicile of my 58 years. Some of you are shaking your heads at this moment, but let me say that I am my mother’s child in this regard. I come by my moving genes honestly.

Lovers should be careful how they form their pet phrases for one another in the beginning of their relationships. These can become oft-quoted in times both good and bad. Two writers who fall in love must be even more careful as they tend to write them down.The power of written words doubles, at least. Memorize the sayings and you’re sworn to them for life. Leigh and I each wrote a promise to one another which we felt exemplified the measure of our love. We say or write these things to one another whenever we face what could be a daunting desire expressed by one or the other of us. Sometimes it takes a day or two, but inevitably, we remember.

What I said to Leigh was, “I love you beyond all practicality.” I’m not even sure why I said it then. I was crazed with love is all I know. The words just popped out. The reason was revealed to me as our life together unfolded and first she wanted six chickens which became sixteen; one bee hive which became four; a garden which grew exponentially bigger every year although we still ate the same amount. And then there were the goats. These things just seemed a bit over the top for me, who wanted to wander and explore and go on vacation, that sort of thing.

If anything, her declaration of love was even more dangerous than mine. Shortly after I agreed to move into her little West Asheville house, I stipulated that I wanted to be living in the country by age 50. That was still 5 years away and I thought it gave us plenty of time. She promised, “I’d go anywhere with you.” We proceeded to move from the middle of Asheville to the wilds of the Black Mountains in WNC and then across the country to the wild west of Fayetteville, AR. Now I’ve got her going back to southwest Virginia; same Blue Ridge mountain range, different state. Who wants to live in the same state twice?

Yet, when she wants to profess her love on paper, she writes the very same thing, “I’d go anywhere with you.” She will, too. She has proven it many times. And when she tells me the bees are going with us in the back of the pickup truck to Virginia, what can I say but “I love you beyond all practicality,” even as I wonder how the hell we will accomplish this particular buzziness.

There is power beyond imagining in the words we write. In this story, it is a beautiful thing. These are our professions of faith in one another. They are more powerful than anyone else’s words (“in sickness and in health, etc, etc..) because we made them up specifically, one for the other. There is power in words, which should serve both as a promise and a caution. Be careful with the arrows you sling. Words written carelessly can come back to haunt, even hurt you. Ask me how I know.

But this is a love story of two writers in a household. And these are the promises we made and the promises we keep. She will rock my gypsy soul and I will pack up bees in the back of ole Betty even if it doesn’t seem practical to me. Practical is not exactly in the vocabulary of a woman who drove down the highway with a goat bleating out the back window of her Saturn. She says I knew this about her before I promised “beyond all practicality.” If not, certainly it was a premonition. In the end, we have proven that we are both women of our words.

 

Aug 26, 2012 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

Writing Is One Way of Healing

I apologize to my faithful readers for being delinquent in my posting of late. Even though I was out of town and then recovering from a cold, the real reason I’ve hestitated is that I am reconsidering what it is I want to do with my blog. I’m currently in transition with what I’m doing here; not in the larger existential scheme, perhaps, but then again…What is true is that I may be moving into a different phase with my blog. I need a little change. I think at this point, I may help my readers more by simply sharing the events of my writer’s life rather than actually trying to prompt you or give advice. “What the heck is she trying to say here?” you may well ask. Nothing, except my writing may become a little more personal and present tense. You can draw your own conclusions and decide whether it inspires you or not, rather than my actively attempting to inspire, encourage, or force you (if I could) to write. While I’m in this semi-confusing phase, I don’t want you to have to look at the same thing all the time, so I’ll throw a little of this and that at you and see where that leads us. For now, here is a souvenir from my trip to Western North Carolina where I was surrounded by my beloved Appalachians. Hopefully, you will see this poem again as a collaboration with my friend and well-know artist, Jane Voorhees. May your creativity and the beauty of Earth heal you at every turn.

These Healing Mountains

In these healing mountains,

a kindling flame dwells–like love,

which burns from the inside out.

Whether autumn leaves are turning

or it’s the time of tender green,

you can watch the changing of the light

as each season comes then goes;

surrounded, as if by friends encircled and embraced,

comforted, never alone.

From what we know as cold, gray stone

warmth emanates, reaching out

through bony fingers of towering trees;

each solitary leaf

flames from a multi-colored match.

Sunlight patterns our sight–

here, an avalanche of black-eyed Susans,

there, fire pinks and violets.

Open to these mountains like a soul

surrendering and willing,

warming like a late May sunrise in your chest

or slumbering softly through a soaking rain

that fattens up the creeks and rivers

until the trout rise high with it,

until you yourself are fresh and green

sap rising

healed.

Jul 10, 2012 - Writer's Life    1 Comment

Writing Silence

Almost every friend or family member who visits us from the city comments after their first night here at Larrapin/Longview, “It’s so quiet here.”  They say this with a sigh of relief, as if noise were a heavy burden that has been lifted from their chests and at long last they can breathe. Some of them, however, feel differently. “Man, those bugs are really loud. I couldn’t get a wink of sleep.” Or, “I’m just not used to all that silence. Kept me up all night long.”

It is quiet here at our 3 acre farmette, but it is never silent. I hear the breeze rattling the dry leaves as I write this. The fan turns above my head with an unsteady engine and a little click of blades as they spin round and round. The cicadas rise and fall with their own rhythm, a living mystery. When I walk through the yard the grasshoppers thump and whir as they make room for the human who would use them for fish bait if she could only catch them. Handsome, our rooster, crows. The guinea, that god-awful Hell Kevin, starts quacking at the water hose mistaking it once again for a snake. Titmice and sparrows chirp at the feeder. A hummingbird whirs past, letting me know she needs more sugar water.

This is what we call quiet around here. But it isn’t silence. Silence anywhere is truly rare. The deer approaches the water dish we have set back toward the woods in silence. At least from here, she’s silent. The only way we know she’s out there is if Buster sees her and barks. But she is used to him, and comes on to the water on her hard, silent little hooves. If she runs, we will hear her crashing through the undergrowth or catch the sound of her hooves as they beat the path her tribe has made through the ravines. There is a sound even to snow, which you know if you have ever been quiet and stood among the whirling flakes. It’s a soft, shurring sound, the very epitome of quiet. But not silence.

Janisse Ray in her book of nature essays called Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land  contains a short chapter on the nature of silence.  A line from her essay on silence reads, “Silence is the ghost of the panther screaming like a woman in the flatwoods. Silence is the lostness of packs of red wolves.” Throughout these passages, Ray equates silence with death and disappearance; what is no more and can never be again. Yet, she also equates it with healing, ancient wisdom, peace, and contentment. Silence is so rare in our world today that we hardly think of it at all; certainly not as a word full of paradox. My partner, a hospice nurse, is well acquainted with silence–the silence when breathing stops or the blank in space when the heart quits beating. I have been silent meditating in a Buddhist temple; not because nobody’s stomach growled or no one sighed or shifted. But because I went into a place inside me where silence is born, and where it lives easily within my reach. I only have to sit quietly and breathe to find it there.

My best writing is done in silence. I must have quiet to write at all. No radio or TV can play in the background. Nobody can say anything to me now and then. But all those “quiet” sounds I mentioned earlier are accompaniment to my work. The cardinal’s song gives breath to the sentence, makes it sing. But when I enter the zone that artists and athletes talk about, I hear nothing but the next word and the next and the next. I lose all track of time. I am not to be trusted to know when to get up and stretch or keep a date with a friend. There are pictures and there are words, but they are not my own. I read once, and this was some time ago, that there are only a handful of places left in the world where you can hear nothing but Nature–it is no plane’s fly zone. There are no roads and no people live there. We have eaten up these places with our 6 billion lives milling about, talking and laughing and crying out to have our most basic needs met.

Yet, there is a silence we can all attain. As creatives we need to access our quiet place, our soul’s silence so we can write or paint or build the deepest truths we may discover there. I am blessed to have such a quiet place in which to live. Reaching for true silence, though, is still up to me. I know many writers who can find their silence in busy cafes and even in bars. For them, noise is no block to their ability to create. For me, it’s a different story. I need stretches of time and tons of quiet, and then maybe, just maybe I can reach the silence.

Write what silence means to you. Make a list first of the places you find this elusive quality. What does it sound like to you? Then write a poem or a bit of prose about silence or the quiet you find in your own life. And try hard to get a little every day.

 

—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010). To order your copy of A Little Lazarus directly from the author, please click here. Or, if cookbooks are more your style, get a copy of Mendy’s family cookbook Across the Arklatex at www.twopoets.us.

Jun 11, 2012 - Writer's Life    6 Comments

Inspiration in Dry Times

“As I went down in the river to pray/ Studying about that good ol’ way/ And who shall wear the starry crown?/Good Lord show me the way!

O sisters let’s go down/ Let’s go down, come on down/ O sisters let’s go down/ Down in the river to pray.”

(“Down To The River To Pray”  by Alison Krauss)

Writers and artists are constantly on the lookout for inspiration; for whatever  may bring that golden moment we can transform into poetry, prose, music or art. We look so hard and wade so deep, we often forget that inspiration is all around us and can be found in someone else’s joy as well as in our own.

When Leigh told me we had been invited to little Abe’s baptism in the West Fork of the White River on Saturday, I immediately wanted to go. Yes, you may well say, that sounds about right for a preacher’s kid. But the truth is I’m no big church-goer and have no real denomination nor any set belief concerning religion. I try to respect what others find sacred and I find sacredness in all of the “original text” of creation, as Thomas Berry calls the universe. I express my gratitude to Big Spirit; my own conception of God as a mix of the Native American Great Spirit, and an African woman holding all of us in the folds of her big star-printed skirt.

I am in love with rituals of all kinds and am sorry we have left so many of the good ones in the wake of our motor boats and jet skis. There’s so much motoring we have to do once we leave church on Sunday, which is where we leave the Sabbath, too, I’m afraid. Sitting alone in the vacant pews with the church doors locked. I miss the all-day Sunday sings of earlier days and replace them with my version, a hootenanny of singer/songwriters and audience participants once a year. I miss dinner on the grounds and so attend potlucks and throw fish fries as often as I can. Although baptism in rivers was never a part of my rather staid Presbyterian upbringing, my 85-year-old momma’s preacher-grandaddy used to baptize souls in the muddy rivers of the South.

Abe’s baptism managed to satisfy all my needs at once. We had dinner on the grounds, were witness to a beautiful baptism by a young Lutheran minister in a river that flows into the source of all our drinking water, and we even sang a little (although there could have been much more of that as far as I was concerned). Love that singing!

Wading in those shallow waters caused by drought, we were refreshed and renewed. We were reminded that miracles occur by pictures of Abraham born at 1lb 8oz and hooked up to half dozen machines in the NICU. But always, always surrounded by love–of his parents, grandparents, and dozens of caring friends and family members. Now he is a healthy infant, pink and smiling and big-eyed with fascination for a brand new world outside the hospital. Truly, this was Abe’s baptism into the natural world; a real river surrounded by green overhanging trees, rocks, sun, shade, and humans making goofy faces and noises at him, holding him so they could nuzzle his sweet baby head.

Really, I barely knew anyone who was there. But I fell in love with Abe immediately, and of course, that’s all it takes for an infant’s family to like you back. I went because I knew in my poet’s soul that my need for inspiration would be fulfilled at the river’s edge that day. I would be afforded an opportunity to rejoice on someone else’s behalf. When Abe was lowered to that clear running water, everyone there was of one mind in their prayers and hopes for the babe and his moms. As soon as the minister walked clear of the water with Abe, here came a water snake just getting it up the middle of the river until he made the safety of downed limbs on the far bank.

Snake, who for Native Americans represents transmutation; the ability to turn hardship, even that which is deadly, into something healing and bountiful for the people. Snake who, unable to lie, can only tell the truth. Snake, who strikes fear into the heart of so many, but actually harms so few. Abe has his totem, and it is a powerful one indeed. And I have my inspiration and am writing this to share it with you.

Think of the inspiring moments you have had during this long spring. Share them with someone(s) else, so they, too, can learn to look for inspiring moments in the everyday experiences of life. Write a poem, a short piece, or make up a song. Honor your inspiration with ritual, small or large. Baptize your own bad self in a lake or river. Repeat your poem or chant when drought sets in. Be grateful for every golden moment you get. And thank you Abe, Sarah, and Kelly for sharing yours with us.

May 28, 2012 - Writer's Life    Comments Off on Letter to Michelle: A Peace Poem for Memorial Day

Letter to Michelle: A Peace Poem for Memorial Day

Dear Michelle,

While everybody is busy complaining to your husband about the economy and the election, I thought I’d send this letter to you. I was sitting in church Sunday trying to pay attention but my mind kept wandering to the Peace Open Mic later that night, and I’m thinking, “Really, what’s left to say?” We’re all so disappointed with the way things are going, you know, war-wise particularly. I’m not one to place blame; after all, there I was in church supposed to be focused on the body and the blood but it was all the bodies and all the blood I kept seeing behind my closed eyes. Don’t ask me if this was inspired by the Christ–I don’t know for sure. It’s all a mystery to me. But I started writing this letter then from the stark middle of those images and I thought maybe it was time to appeal to you; a little woman-to-woman, hoping you might listen if I could get the words right, make my plea clear, take us both somewhere we haven’t been before. I was so taken with this idea, this letter to you, that I didn’t make it home but pulled into the first coffee shop I came to, dug around my bag until I came up with a pen and a teensy pad of paper that would hardly hold a paragraph of mine so I had to write really, really small. I ordered coffee and sat down to get started but happened to sit right in front of an art photo hanging on the wall. As a veteran, it caught my eye then held my attention. It was a field full of American flags, big ones, full-sized, billowing in a breeze and I knew then this letter just had to be. The photo is titled “Valor, Innocence, and Justice” and was taken by Ellen Gregory of Farmington, Arkansas. It was simply hanging there with those red, white and blue words, “Valor” and “Justice” but it was the “Innocence” that got to me. Please know, I write this in all innocence; a patriot, a flag billowing in your direction. It seems I digress, but I believe in synchronicity and all the signs were right for this letter to you. I should probably start over after this lengthy prologue. The letter which became a poem is not really all that long.

Dear Michelle,

The next time you lay down with your husband and for a moment

he is just a man, your man, the man you love more than anything–

put your arm around him, pull him close,

your breasts against his chest

and think…peace.

Wordless, let your hands and body say

with all the love you feel inside

that thousands are counting on him to save their lives.

Remind him he is a mother’s son,

your husband and your lover,

father to your daughters. No words now–

stroke his head, his hair short and graying

with the pressure of too much power,

and remind him that other mothers, wives and daughters

love their men

the way that you love him.

Place the palm of your hand over his beating heart

and try to imagine life without him–

gone to war, to kill the “enemy,” some other mother’s son.

Imagine him coming home estranged or crazy or in a flag-draped box.

Remind him this Memorial Day there will be

such flag wrapped packages

delivered to mothers, wives, and daughters

when the doorbell rings

and they were expecting UPS or FedEx,

but it’s a captain and a chaplain.

Woman to woman, I’m asking on behalf of all women here,

in Afghanistan, in Iraq, everywhere–to let him know by loving him

that we don’t want this anymore.

Show him you’ll do anything,

anything–one long romantic, rose-filled, red wine, candle-lit, well…

you know the rest…anything for him,

if every mother’s son or daughter

could just come home for this evening’s fried chicken,

and homemade ice cream.

Michelle, my last good hope,

clasp his hand, embrace his body, entwine your legs with his,

and hold him tight, tight.

Let your heart drum out this simple word;

for you, for him, for all of us…”peace.”

Whisper to him in his sleep,

“Peace, my beloved. Let there be peace.”

You know hearts speak louder than words.

Let peace be in your every breath,

in your laughter and your love until he hears it,

until he gets it loud and clear,

wakes up with it engraved upon his heart,

and thinking he has had a great idea,

says, “Peace. Why not?!”

I’m writing you because I need this hope;

the belief that things can change, wars can end.

And I know women are the arbiters of change.

Thanks for reading this, Michelle.

I know you must be busy.

I mean no disrespect.

Poets go where their minds lead them,

even beneath the comforter

with the President and First Lady.

We can’t help ourselves.

We still believe in dreams and visions.

Foolhardy we follow

the wanderings of our imaginations anywhere they take us,

searching for hope, looking for peace.

I’m just doing my job.

Will you  consider what I’ve asked you here?

Because I have every faith in you.

Peace.

From a poet and one of your admirers…

(photo from donkey dish .com)

May 8, 2012 - Writer's Life    1 Comment

Creative Breaks

Nobody wants their head in a book all the time–whether it’s a sketch book, a notebook, or a novel. You can miss a lot of fun and education if you aren’t paying attention and participating in the life around you. That’s why this blog is called A Creative Life. It’s not just about “the art, dahling.” Keeping your head down writing, painting or throwing pots can get tiresome, not to mention that crick in your neck. We can run the wellspring of creativity dry if we never take a break and try our hand at something new.

In order to accommodate what might be considered a handicap, I try to use my ADD tendencies to my best advantage. I can’t write in just one genre. I write poems, essays, short fiction, songs, blog posts, letters, inspirational talks, plays and screenplays. I am never bored. Some readers will think, “How do you ever get good at one thing?”  The short answer is: I write every day. Most of the famous dead white writers wrote in more than one form. Most of them (think Shakespeare) at least wrote poetry, as well as plays or fiction.

Occasionally, one should get away from writing altogether and dive into a different form of creativity. I love to watch a woman knitting. I enjoy playing with clay. I like gardening when it’s not too hot and there aren’t too many bloodsucking insects. But most of all I like to cook and concoct yummy things to eat.

I get my ideas from poring over cookbooks. Then I figure out what I like the best about each recipe and put together something new. Isn’t this like writing? You read a lot of other people’s work, mull it over, then use what inspires you to create a final product that is essentially, uniquely you.

This year my strawberry crop was, well, a bit overwhelming. I had gallons and gallons of  beautiful red berries. I won’t go into how hard it was to pick them, but next time you eat fresh strawberries for dessert, give a thought to the man or woman’s aching back who picked them. Anyway, I wanted desperately to preserve some of those berries for cold winter days when that bright red taste would remind me that summer would come around again. So I made jam.

It was my first time and I made a mess. Nothing worked the way it was suppose to. Sticky red smears covered my kitchen like a crime scene. I’m not new to cooking, so I figured if I did this, then that would happen, and so on. I read the essentials then rid myself of the recipe altogether. I have good luck with cooking and fishing. I don’t know why I haven’t stuck with those two things. I guess I love a challenge.

Every day, in as many ways as I can imagine, I try to live creatively. Take this strawberry jam, for instance. I couldn’t just label the stuff “Strawberry Jam.” No, I used a name invented by my chosen family of friends we call the Bickersons. Everyone had to have a name that started with a B, and I got Bubba. That’s where Bubba B’s came from. The jam itself is the essence of strawberry, so very strawberry that I call it strawverry. Sure, these things are silly, but they’re fun. And fun, to me, is essential to living a creative life. Once in awhile, try something that won’t break you heart, only a few glass jars, should you fail. And success; well, success leads to strawberry jam on hot buttered toast in December!

Apr 6, 2012 - Writer's Life    1 Comment

Write to Win

“Sometimes you win sometimes you lose/And sometimes the blues just get a hold of you/Just when you thought you had made it./ All around the block people will talk/But I want to give it all that I’ve got/ I just don’t want, I don’t want to waste it.”  Carole King from the song “Sweet Seasons”

Okay, so I thought I had won a swim meet instead of a creative writing contest when I got this package in the mail last week. You have to understand, the military always shows its appreciation with stars, bars, and ribbons. Nevertheless, I proudly hung my blue first place and red second place ribbons on the door to my office to remind me that last week I was writing about rejection and this week I’m writing about acceptance. What a difference a week makes, right?

I entered this creative writing contest offered by the VA at the very last minute. I admit, I didn’t think they would like any of my work. My perspective on life seems at odds with what I assume most military minds are like. I must admit, the rejection of my cop essay from a law enforcement edition of “Rattle” left a slight aftertaste that had me believing that I couldn’t possibly fit my work into the military code. Still, these are my people, too – these military veterans whose health care package (like mine) comes in the form of VA hospitals and clinics. Not that I’m complaining, but one can see why the wealthier set wants to pay for their own health care. It’s like the choice between buying a new Mercedes or a used Ford. Personally, I think health care would move up several notches on the healing scale if we all used the same plan. Just sayin’.

Anyway, I pulled a couple of poems together, worked a little revision magic, and to my surprise and delight  won first and second place in two of the creative writing categories. I should not have attempted to read the mind of the VA judge any more than I should have assumed I knew the mind of a cop editor who read my last essay. The difference was that by not assuming I would win, I had no expectations about the outcome. I worked on these two poems every bit as hard as I worked on that essay. As Carole King says, I gave “it all that I got” both times. The truth is “sometimes you win sometimes you lose.” It’s that simple.

Always write to win. That is my policy. I didn’t say expect to win. If you can, leave your expectations out to pasture where they can graze and chew their cud without getting all worked up about the outcome. If you knew in advance what score you would make, would you take the test? Take the risk? Try so hard?

Write to win every time and you will. Give it your best shot and you won’t regret it whether they choose your work or not. If the journal publishes you, great! If you don’t win the grand prize, so be it. You want to know you did your very best work. If you believe that in your heart, you won’t be disappointed long.

In the final analysis, your commitment is what counts. Never give up on yourself. Send it in, send it in, send it in again. This is how it’s done. Writing to win is hard work. The joy is in knowing that you are doing what you love.

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

Rejection–Ouch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Mar 8, 2012 - Writer's Life    1 Comment

Writing with Roxie

Yes, this is another post about collaboration. I know, I know, many of you like to fly solo and your creative juices seem to flow only when you’re alone. But even those of you who write novels on a mountaintop must have an editor, an agent, a publisher, a place to sell your book and someone to set up a reading for you. No author is an island, no matter how much a loner they may be when writing the original script.

Even Leigh and I, two of the most independent minds I know, will often collaborate when it comes to songwriting. I believe we should probably give the Atlanta “alterna-grass” band, Roxie Watson, the credit for inspiring Leigh Wilkerson to take time out from gardening to write a song now and then. She loves music; especially old time, blue grass, blues, and the original country that is difficult to find anywhere. So writing with a member of the Roxie band proved natural for both of us. We just love the kind of music they love to play.

When my good and gifted friend, Lenny Lasater, one of the founders of Roxie Watson, comes to call a couple of times a year, we sit around with her bass guitar, pens and paper and lots of laughter and scrawl some lines until we have a song we hope the rest of the band will like. Sometimes we write lyrics here at home and send them along to Lenny and see what she does with them.

Here is how our process usually works: Leigh is walking around her garden or driving in the car and is struck by a line that she thinks would be good in a song. This is called a “hook.” This is the most important line of the song, of course. She pretty much thinks her work is done, then, and I am left writing verses and choruses that suit the hook. Well, someone has to do the rest, and I don’t mind. We send the lyrics to Lenny, who usually adds or subtracts a little, finds a tune and tries it out on the band. Then the band adds their magic through the strings of their many musical instruments and talented voices, and voila, a song is born!

The sheer wonder of making a song with folks when you live over 600 miles distant is part of the joy of collaboration. Their success is our success. When they celebrate a good song, we celebrate, too. Every concert they play is music to our ears. This is the main reason I believe in collaborating with our creativity. It brings us together over the miles. It unites our world into something joyful and has naught to do with war or politics. Collaboration is one of the reasons I say creativity can save us.

Following this post, you’ll see the lyrics we wrote for Lenny for her birthday one year. It is now the second song on their new CD, Of Milestones and Moonpies. We love the driving beat Lenny invented with her bass guitar. That dirty harmonica playing in the background takes you to an old roadhouse off a dirt road in the deep South back when the music just happened spontaneously and, yes, in collaboration with whoever showed up to play. Go to their site and purchase their CD or download some of the music. It leaves you feeling alive deep down in your roots. No kidding.

And later, after you’ve listened to what collaboration can do, get together with a few of your friends and make something happen: a play, a song, a documentary. The fun is in the process. Working out the knots and tangles teaches us how to get along with each other in a world that seems intent on ruling out compromise as a way of accomplishing a common goal. Collaboration teaches us that the outcome is more important than the individual ego and, believe me, that is a lesson we can all use.

Honey, What We Gonna Do Now?   (commonly referred to as “the recession song”)
It’s too cold to plant and too wet to plough
Credit man came and took away the cow
We’re down to three chickens and one skinny sow
Honey, what we gonna do now?
Honey, what we gonna do now?
Suppose’ to be Spring but there’s snow on the ground
I guess I could hunt but the dog’s at the pound
I’d get a job but there ain’t none around
Honey, what we gonna do now?
Honey, what we gonna do now?
Baby we’ll lay in the hammock and I’ll pick out a song
You can throw out a line, fish all day long
Won’t mix up the when with why or the how
That’s what we gotta do now
Honey, that’s what we’re gonna do now!
We can’t make the payments, won’t make the rent
Can’t pay the taxes to the government
Just can’t figure where the money all went
Honey, what we gonna do now?
Honey, what we gonna do now?
It’s too early to dance, sun ain’t gone down
The landlord’s coming, lord, he’s wearing a frown
I’d try to run, but the car’s broke down
Honey, what we gonna do now?
Honey, what we gonna do now?
Baby, we’ll lay in the hammock and I’ll pick out a song
we can call up some friends from the neighbor’s phone
Won’t mix up the when with the why or the how
We’ll have us more fun than the law will allow
That’s what we gotta do now
Lawd, that’s what we gonna do now!
That’s what we ‘re gonna do now…
That’s what we’re gonna do now.
©2012

 

—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010). To order your copy of A Little Lazarus directly from the author, please click here. Or, if cookbooks are more your style, get a copy of Mendy’s family cookbook Across the Arklatex at www.twopoets.us.

 

 

Mar 1, 2012 - Writer's Life    6 Comments

Creating “Dig In!”

Leigh in Larrapin Garden

Three local gardening angels have created a sensational weekend for all those who love food, gardening, or all things green. This is an example of using one’s creativity to inspire and enlighten while at the same time bringing together community in order to make the world a better place to live. Does that seem like a lot of praise? Am I overdoing it? I can only ask you to find out for yourselves by visiting the website Dig In! and attending this weekend’s movies, classes and seed swap.

Leigh Wilkerson is the founding gardener, but she could not have grown this project without the help of sister farmgirls Cheri LaRue and Charity Lewis. These three have used every aspect of creativity in order to make this event a success. They have written. They have been interviewed by the paper and on the radio. They have sketched logos, and they have drawn on the knowledge and wisdom of their own learning experience, as well as those of every gardener and beekeeper whose books they’ve read over the years.

Cheri of Green Fork Farm

“Dig In!” is, in the tradition of most great creative projects, an act of love. These three have set out to share a love for the land, a passion for gardening and farming, a need to share what they have learned with their community, and a desire to create a better NW Arkansas by trying to “keep it local.” I don’t mean to advertise, but if you want to see what the collaborative efforts of creative minds can do, then come to “Dig In!” this weekend and enjoy yourselves as you learn. What better way is there to get an education? First, though, read the following poem. Then, after you’ve attended the conference, I challenge you to write a poem or an essay, or hey, go plant a garden yourself!

Charity (shown serious, on left) mentoring new beekeeper Leigh

Gardening Angel
 
She grasps a fistful of soil and squeezes.
Is it too damp or crumbling with fertility?
Should she weed, plant or allow it to lay untouched just one more day?
Finally, her mud-stained gardening gloves
furrow, scoop and shape the earth to rows and hillocks,
fingertip a tiny fertile valley black with year old compost.
She always overseeds.
It’s her generous nature.
She plots small jungles full of fruit:
beets, greens, onions, taters, tomatoes, carrots, squash, okra, beans,
mmmm…melons.
My gardening angel isn’t heaven-oriented but grounded.
She is made of earth like Eve,
only she hails from Alabama
instead of that oh-so-easy garden, Eden.
Soon we will be Arkansas
as we feed on vegetables and minerals that in seven years
will remake us from Appalachia into Ozark.
She is saving me from fast food disaster, fending off microwaves
frozen dinners and all the devils who mass produce meats.
My gardening angel does a lot of this alone
with a hoe, a pick axe and a shovel.
She’s my here and now PRN,
practical nurse, gardening friend.
I glimpse her wings now and then
where they beat the weathered ankles
of her caked and battered boots.
At moments I forget her halo, then catch her unawares
praying in the garden, sunlight scattering the dark silk hair
feathering her smiling face in spring or summer breeze.
Her bright white hands are doves which wing
among the leaves of a tiny apple tree.
Sometimes she simply stands and oversees her queendom
this little plot of Earth that’s been given to her care.
The love with which she oversees her subjects
would stir my jealousy but for the fact
they’re mostly plants and chickens, worms and bees.
The kitchen counter top becomes a crowded altar
with baskets piled with veggies, berries, eggs.
She assembles an old juicer, rinses (oh, so tenderly–
think Mary with Jesus’ feet) every earthy body
free of soil, trims and chops then feeds them
to the whirring blades.
No one said garden angeling was easy.
She thinks of all my achings,
knows this miracle will help me.
Soon she’ll lift the chalice of her labors,
red as Beaujolais or Pinot Noir,
rich soil smell captured in the blood
tasting of the Mother’s heart,
sweetened with an apple sweet and tart.
Wholly, I will drink it down
feel the energy run through me
renew me
make me one again with rock and plant, water, soil;
with bird and bug and worm
breeze, rain, shade, sun–
part of me now, part of me!
So faithfully my gardening angel
reminds me gently in her healing way
that Earth is Paradise
and every day spent gardening
a blessed Eternity.

 

Mendy Knott
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