Nov 17, 2012 - How-To    2 Comments

When Words Fail

You might be the most prolific writer in the world, but sometimes words will fail you. Yes, even you and me. Words can’t always express the fullness of the feelings we hold in our hearts: the fear of an upcoming operation for you or a loved one; the anger we experience at yet another war beginning or the next oil spill; the love that fills us when we look upon our friends and family and know, just know, how lucky we are; the angst of understanding that we really might ruin the world for the next generation; the horror generated by more news of murder and rape. Already, this post in almost too cheery for words!

So what does a writer do when words fail them, even temporarily? Often, I write anyway. I allow myself to write about anything. It doesn’t have to be good or significant to anyone but myself. Sometimes I blather on like an idiot. This is what I call journaling and I consider it to be primarily for mental health. Should something significant appear, it is purely by accident. Later I will rip that page or two out and put it some place safe. The rest is fuel for my New Year’s bonfire.

Allow yourself to play with artistic expression that has nothing to do with your specialty. If poetry or prose is “what you do,” but you find yourself momentarily blocked, then draw. You can take a drawing class, but it’s not necessary. I created a whole book of stick figures documenting an anniversary trip Leigh and I made with some friends to a cabin in WNC one year. I had copies made and each of the four of us had a funny souvenir to remember that year. Most often I wrote a poem of our time spent together, but that year just happened to be a drawing year.

As I prepare for surgery on my achilles tendon shortly, I find that I am again at a loss for words. Well, words that you would want to read anyway. Words are often my greatest comforter, but not now. I think they will be again some time after the operation when I’m not laying about in la-la land. I fully expect my vocabulary to return in full. At least I hope so. Right now, and through a great deal of this autumn, I have taken more joy in photography than in writing. I am not a great, or even good photographer, really. I just happen to love taking pictures.

Pictures, at least for the moment, seem to be worth more than a thousand words. All of a sudden, the smallest things glow from the inside out. This gift of seeing more than I usually do, touches me deeply. The beauty, the life and death inherent in every object in every moment, can only be captured in a picture. That’s if the photographer is both good and lucky. And since the invention of the digital camera and photo shop, even the most amateur photographer can feel okay about the outcome. I can take picture after picture and never worry about running out of film or how much it will cost to get them developed. I know my shots are mostly good for reminding me of a special moment of beauty. Still, I find I do have a good sense of composition. When I consider the fact that I’m primarily a writer, having a feeling for composition makes a kind of sense.

Since I am about to undergo foot surgery, I may be delayed in my next blog post– hopefully, not for long. Only until the worst of the pain has passed. Then I will need to write to you, my faithful readers, and tell you what is going on in this strange and crazy brain pan of mine. Then I will be forced to write because my ability to get out and take the pictures I love will be limited for awhile. I feel grateful for all the outlets that exist for anyone who desires to be creative. Almost anything you need with which to express yourself is within easy reach. Just put out your hand and, abracadabra, make it happen.

 

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 23, 2012 - How-To    Comments Off on Haunted (Part I)

Haunted (Part I)

“Something Wicked This Way Comes,” one of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories, floats into consciousness like the drifting leaves this time of year. October is a ghostly month and never fails to bring out my closeted admiration for the thrill of a fine, haunting story. Ghost stories instill a sense of mystery in me as large as death and as horribly fascinating as the tiny microbes feeding on compost in the big black box out back. After all, things are dying out there. They’ve been doing it forever; we’ll join everything else eventually and so perhaps should sit up and take notice. Writers and artists owe it to themselves and to their audiences to honor the darkness that grows long with the shadows in the fall of the year.

Horror is often an under-appreciated form of storytelling. One can see why by observing the scary story’s evolution at the theater. “Halloween 1, 2, 3, 4, etc” and the infamous Jason capitalize on gross visual and sound displays. Not that I don’t admire a really good screamer; I do. Think of Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho. I simply prefer my blood to be thick with meaningful content. Raw gore and guts have slowly replaced the elements of surprise, mystery, setting, and the silent scream stifled in our breasts at certain unspeakable thoughts.

Do literary snobs frown on the likes of Stephen King? Of course they do. He’ll never win a Pulitzer, but I’m sure he could care less as he banks another  few million from books like Carrie, Salem’s Lot, or The Shining. His early works were some of the most terrifying tales I’ve ever read, and several of the screenplays created from his stories even did his writing justice. He also wrote a wonderful book for writers called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Anyone who has read him must admit that he is a master storyteller, has a genius for characterization, and tops a long list of authors in his chosen genre.

Yet, no writer explodes full blown from the publisher’s brain. We form a long line of inspiration and are always reaching back to grasp the hand that held the pen before us. King hails from a most honorable gallows of  thrill-seeking writers. Mary Wollstonecraft created  Frankenstein from the fragments of a dream. She was challenged to pen her story by a group of writing friends including her future husband Percy Shelly, Lord Byron, and John Polidori as they swapped ghost stories during a winter’s rain around a blazing fire. I’m sure King, like many authors, was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, civil war veteran Ambrose Bierce, British author Algernon Blackwood (whose scary nature stories top my list of favorites), and Bram Stoker who brought the living dead to life.

Count Dracula was so real to me as a seventh grader that I had to put a bible on top of the book before I could go to sleep at night. He was a vampire’s vampire before they became fodder for teen movies, leading simple everyday adolescent lives full of affection and sweet teen sex. Stoker gave me a taste for blood and every year at Christmas, a book of horror topped my list of wishes. I’m sure Santa was slightly horrified, but I got my book of stories by Alfred Hitchock and Twilight Zone shorts written by authors who were unafraid of the dark, or were at least willing to face their fears in order to make us shiver.

This year, read at least one ghost story or novel that will scare the wits out of you. Read it a second time in order to study how the author managed to elicit such a response. If you think reading such material is a negative way to spend your time, I dare you to compare the scariest fiction with the present state of the world or the ongoing presidential election. Now that is frightening! Haunted tales are a great way to shapeshift us out of the mundane. They sharpen our powers of observation and imagination, and remind us that there is more to life, and death, than meets the eye.

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.

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.

 

Sep 9, 2012 - How-To    1 Comment

Writing: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Four Inspiring Writers: Mendy, Jan, Britt, Kam

The other day, a friend asked me for a bit of “coaching” advice. I’m not an official writing, life, football (altho’ I’m kind of wishing I went into that line of work about now) or any other kind of coach. But I am one helluva cheerleader for those wanting to deepen their relationship with their creativity. If I had a long line of creatives wanting to be advised, I might charge or barter. Since I don’t, my shared inspiration, like my blog, are free. This way no one can get mad if things don’t work out the way they hoped. At least they won’t have spent any money. Besides, I often get inspiration in return. This works out well for everyone.

My friend, who is a talented poet and essayist, had been on a long retreat from writing. Busy with entrepreneurship, passionate gardening, and beekeeping, she’d left serious writing behind for awhile. Everyone takes time off, but real writers always return to the page eventually. It is true that the longer you’re away, the longer it takes to reclaim the level of writing you had attained. Like riding a bike, you won’t forget, but you must be patient as you practice the balance and spin of writing well.

She said that, as she was turning 45, she wanted to commit to 45 pieces (short essays) in 45 days. As she talked, she repeated the word “commit” several times and I noticed each time the wince and swallow that accompanied it. Listening, I realized the word commitment is overused and perhaps abused. We tend to associate it with whips and chains, being tied to a chair with our nose to the grindstone. The word feels more like an anchor tying us to our creativity than a hot air ballon that lifts us up above the ordinary.

So I surprised her when I said, “Oh, you want to give yourself the gift of your writing back for your 45th birthday. Congratulations!” We smiled at one another. “Think of it as the birthday present you are giving yourself rather than a commitment. How about that?”

“I’m going to start right now,” she said and disappeared while I began mowing. I’d finished when she reappeared. She looked both pleased and slightly distressed. “I did it,” she said, giving the nod to her accomplishment. “But it took me nearly two hours. That’s too long.”

“Oh, yeah,” I replied. “We didn’t finish talking about your guidelines. You only get 45 minutes to write your 45 pieces in 45 days.”

“That won’t work. I’ll never reach my goal that way.”

I smiled, “Sure you will. You’ll get faster as you go along. Plus some pieces may be shorter than others. They don’t all need to be the same length. Perhaps the rule should be you BEGIN 45 pieces in 45 days. If you don’t finish one, you pick it up the next day until you complete it. Then you begin the next piece, even if you only get 5 or 10 minutes in. You’ll catch up to yourself eventually.”

“Got it,” she grinned. “You should blog about this–creativity as a gift to  yourself rather than a commitment,” she tossed her own advice over her shoulder as she headed for the garden.

 

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.

Aug 2, 2012 - How-To    2 Comments

Writing When You Have to Dig to Do It

Hopefully, you have been watching some of the Olympics this past week. All those fine young athletes and their incredible bodies are something to behold. One thing I love about watching these young men and women give their best is seeing how differently they are all built. To me, this is real beauty, and not the anorexic model so many in the Hollywood and magazine industry set as a standard, especially for  young women, in the 21st century. I digress, but only slightly. We’re talking about strength and the form it takes. This is how it looks physically. Like an Olympian.

I have been working so hard to prepare an essay for the Southern Sin contest and publication in Creative Nonfiction that I have hardly come up for air these past two weeks. Keeping my head down and working was made somewhat easier by the fact that it was not possible to be outside in the triple digit heat and drought, anyway. But it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t particularly fun either. Essays are new territory for me and I am a self-taught writer. I read books about craft. I read essays and more essays. I turn my work over to my partner Leigh, who has a natural knack for the essay. I have yet to take a real workshop or class, but I’m trying. The one I signed up for in October with Janisse Ray (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood) was cancelled due to a family emergency. I haven’t given up, though. I’ll keep looking until I find the right class. And I’ll keep writing and submitting, learning what I can from books and other writers.

I don’t know when I’ve worked so hard as I have on the last two essays I’ve submitted. I actually went out and bought  the  2012 Poet’s Market so I could stay with my commitment to submit something every month, realizing I can’t possibly make it an essay each time. Good lord! I love to write, but what I love to write most is the original draft. Sometimes those first drafts are the best drafts I’ll do, but most of the time they are not. The elephant’s portion of the work comes in rewriting and revising. Sentence by sentence and sometimes word by word. As the deadline approaches, I get a little more panicked each day. Leigh hands me back another draft with red ink bleeding down the page, and I think I will just throw up. How can I work it again? I don’t even like the damn thing anymore. But I always go back in. I put my head down and I dig. That is the best term I know for it, “Dig.”

When I was a competitive swimmer, both as a youngster and then as a master swimmer, “dig” was the term that was used by the coach to try to wring the last bit of fire from you. You make the final turn. You see the flags pass overhead (backstroke). You turn your head slightly and see the woman in the lane next to you. You are neck and neck. Somewhere from another planet, a dry planet, someone is hollering your name. They are shouting “Dig, girl, dig! Do it now! Dig!” And just when you think you have nothing left to give, there it is– that final spark, the fire that will push you to the wall. That is the finest feeling in the world, a lift of the spirit that feels physical, like your body has lightened and suddenly that resistance which has been fighting you gives and you are uplifted; I don’t know what else to call it. But you know you can make it. Ask any athlete, that final dig only comes from practicing, practicing, practicing.  It is a final show of strength that you have earned because you gave your best all along, and not just when it came time to run the race. If all that beats your competitor is the brush of a finger, you will know that you truly earned it.

If you , like me, seldom take gold because there are those out there who are gifted beyond the ordinary worker bee, know this: steady-be-working builds strength. Strength builds character. And character builds commitment. So don’t be surprised when one day the tortoise beats the hare because that old turtle knew how to dig while the rabbit dilly-dallied, distracted by a dozen other things. Turtle kept her head down with one goal in mind, and she dug the shit out of that essay. Besides, digging is its own reward. It feels great to know you have the determination to work that hard and not give up. So, dig, writer, all the way to the deadline!

Photo of Missy Franklin by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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