Jul 2, 2012 - How-To    Comments Off on Writing the Heat Wave

Writing the Heat Wave



It’s hot. Really, really hot. And Leigh and I have been discussing why, when there really is nothing else to do but stay inside during the mid-day hours, all we want to do is sleep or gripe about how hot it is. Here are all these lovely hours when I could be writing something new, revising something old, creating a poem or simply writing in my journal (not to mention working in the office). And yet, I sulk around and nap and wait for something “good” to happen; something that will spur me into action and force me to do the work that waits so patiently in the vacuum behind my darkened computer screen.

So, here I am writing you, my faithful readers, because that is what I do. Inspiring you inspires me. Now all I have to do is think of a way to do that. Here is a list of what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks while the temps were in the triple digits and the sky refuses to rain and wash some relief over all of us:

1) Went fishing. I know this doesn’t sound appealing to all of you, but really, what is writing but a sort of “go fish” game of chance. We hone our craft, just as we do our skill at casting or fly fishing. We must know the correct lure, fly, bait (phrase, word or metaphor) to use. There’s that sweet time floating in the boat on a lake all alone, the breeze whispering and the early morning shadows long. It’s a good time to get a little day-dreaming done. There is also the work; putting the boat in and taking it out again. Attempting to stay in the productive spot while the wind threatens to blow you to Mexico. Cleaning the fish and preparing them for the big fry later. Ah, how like writing it all is. I want to be in that productive place. I want to be editing and cleaning up that piece I need to submit by the middle of the month. Instead, I’m living the metaphor instead of writing it.

2) Read books. This is tricky territory because reading is essential to good writing. But reading what a I call candy books–you know what I mean–cheap mysteries, horror novels and romances (if you’re into that sort of thing), books that are nothing more than a page turners/time burners can be a great waste of time. This is why I’m not allowed to read these things during the morning hours. I allow myself anything I want to fall asleep reading at night, but mornings are for inspiration and practicing craft. Unless I go fishing, of course.

3) Work in the garden and water all the drying up trees and flowers. This is depressing work, but must be done. We do get to harvest because in the garden, we have an irrigation system hooked to a well (thanks to Leigh) and some things are not being cooked by the sun. So we pick and weed and put up produce. Now this is all good, but again, I’m not doing the metaphorical equivalent in my writing. I have an entire cabinet of work that needs to be weeded, pruned, and watered so it can grow into something worth reading.

4) Visiting with family and friends. I will not apologize even to myself for this one; especially since I have alone time so seldom with some of these sweet characters. Call it character development. How can I write about relationships and relating if I don’t do some. I’m not saying I’m much of a hermit to begin with, but I need to see the world the way someone who has lived their life differently than me sees it. Or else my characters are one-dimensional. Can’t have that.

5) Going to museums and admiring others’ artwork. I am looking to be inspired. Since I can’t find anything wrong with this, we’ll just move on.

6) Sitting in the cowboy tank trying to cool off and taking naps. Really, it’s hard to find fault with those two things either, unless they take up the majority of your day and then you stay up late watching movies from Netflix, which I can do for a really, really long time. I could say that I am studying for my next screenplay (something I’d really like to write) or serial, like True Blood or Justified, but that would be a lie and I’ve promised I wouldn’t tell any in my blog posts. It’s a good idea, but I get too caught up in the story to pay that writerly kind of attention. This requires watching it a second time.

There you have it, and I bet I’m not the only one procrastinating my way through these incredibly hot summer days. I even missed posting last week–and that is really a no-no. But there you go, we’re all human and we sometimes do let things like the heat and the drought, or the storms, or the world news get to us. Still, here I am, typing this slightly inane post to you to let you know you aren’t alone. We are not bad people. We aren’t even lazy people. We just wilt sometimes. Find the source of your water, and set your feet in it. Take a vacation and call it that and then it won’t be procrastination. You don’t have to go anywhere. Then pick up your pen, find a prompt, and write something. Anything will do until you find yourself leaning into it like a sunflower leans into the sun. Take some time off without berating yourself, and then…well, then get back to work because writing is the best job in the world.

 

Jun 18, 2012 - How-To    Comments Off on Write Walking

Write Walking

(photo by Jane Voorhees)

You’re probably muttering, “Oh, now that it’s blazing hot, she wants me to go walking.”  It may not seem like the right time for this post, just before summer solstice, but walking daily is as important as writing daily. In fact, unless I am on such a tight deadline that I simply can’t find the time, then I walk as regularly as I write. In the blazing summers of Arkansas, I walk early or I walk late, but I walk.

Walking is a tradition among writers, as a matter of fact. Walt Whitman walked miles through New York City day after day. Stephen King still walks even though he got hit by a car and it nearly killed him. Eventually the driver of the car that hit him died “of unknown causes,” but perhaps we shouldn’t go there. Think about Thoreau or Mary Oliver, Julia Cameron or Natalie Goldberg. Try to walk where you can avoid cars altogether. I highly recommend strolling country roads or quiet neighborhoods as opposed to walking alongside traffic on busy thoroughfares. If you live in a big city, find a park and walk. Trees and green and birds and water are calming influences on the writer’s mind. Whether at home or away (as in the above pic, I’m in Washington State) I walk wherever I am.

Think of this time, not as exercise, but more as a meditation. In fact, clear your mind and simply pay attention to what you see, hear, smell, and feel out there in the natural world. We spend an awful lot of time at desks and typing on computers, working inside both our homes and our minds. We need to step out of that place just to breathe what is fresh and to see what is waiting to grab out attention. Quiet the mind. Take some deep breaths. Feel the earth beneath your feet and remember that we are part of it. Beauty isn’t simply pretty words on a page. Life is our inheritance and it is big and broad and endlessly fascinating. Feel each step as you stretch your legs out and find your stride. Allow your mind to wander freely. Questions about your work over which you’ve puzzled endlessly, may be answered on your morning walk. Relaxed, our thoughts find the space to move around and spread out some. No longer confined to the page, the mind is able to find the answer was waiting there all along, just outside the margins, down a gravel road or next to a sidewalk in Central Park.

All you worriers are thinking, “Well, how far do I have to walk? How much time is this gonna take?” I believe the ideal write walk is 3 miles. This gives the body time to relax and the mind the opportunity to shift gears. You need to put aside 45 minutes to an hour at the coolest hour (in summer) to do your walking. If you aren’t use to exercise or walking, start with what you can do. I live on a little 3-acre farmlette in NW Arkansas (often referred to as Arklahoma). One of the first things I did once I moved in was clear a quarter mile path around the perimeter of our land. Part of it goes through the woods; part of it leads through a row of pines so that your feet sink into brown pine needle padding. There are spots along the path where I can see the vegetable garden, the chickens, and the dogs barking because I didn’t take them with me and I forgot to shut them in the house.

Four times around my path/track is a mile and the things I see and hear while walking in this bit of nature are amazing. Pileated woodpeckers, flickers or yellowhammers, hawks, snakes, skinks, deer, and the occasional owl in the evening are common sights. And all this is right in my own back yard. There are a thousand poems waiting to be written in that 1/4 mile walk. It’s good for me and it’s good for my land. I think about the land as I walk my path. I love it back, the way it has loved and fed and watered me. I make a protective circle around it, a boundary against bad people or harsh events. Despite an ice storm which took a lot of trees, we have been lucky in rough weather where our home is concerned.

Don’t take my word for it. Get up a little earlier than usual tomorrow. Scribble in your journal or do a timed writing or two to get warmed up. Then put on your boots or sneakers and head out for a walk. Open up you heart and mind and body to whatever may appear. Then watch what happens to your writing when you return to the page. And wave if you see me out there, too.

 

 

 

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 21, 2012 - How-To    2 Comments

Passing the Passion

There’s a reason it’s called communion; that passing of the passion so many of us remember from going to church or  mass or whatever religious institution you were forced to attend as a child. (Hopefully you only attend as an adult because you want to.) But I’m not talking religion here, unless it’s my particular form which is Creativity-Centered. I DO believe, I DO believe. It’s my passion and I find it necessary to pass that passion on if it is to stay alive and working in my own life, as well as the lives of others.

Imagine this: A group of women (or men or both) gather together to enjoy a weekend in the woods somewhere. They camp and eat and fish and swim and play and maybe drink a little beer or whatever. Some know each other well. Some are strangers in their midst. Then someone says, “Hey Mendy, why don’t you lead a writing workshop?” Internally I groan a little because I am here strictly to have fun. I don’t want a responsibility, even one I usually enjoy. But I say, “Okay,” because, well, because that’s what I do and I know darn well something good will come of it. It’s a job I not only enjoy, but feel divinely ordained to do.

I know that sounds like big talk, right? Divinely ordained, just like a preacher. Well, I come by that honestly enough. Admit it, there is something you feel “called” to do, isn’t there? If not, I suggest you keep trying out things until you find the passion that suits you. It’s out there waiting for you to pick up the gauntlet and holler “Yes! Here it is!” For instance, Leigh has been called to beekeeping. I believe this with all my heart. She has also been called to hospice work, which requires a special kind of person. Not just any nurse will do.

I am called to share my creative passion; not just to practice it but to pass it along to others so they too have an outlet for their need to create. We all have a need to create and the fact that there are so many people who work all their lives but never really follow their creative calling, as vocation or avocation, speaks to the state of the world. It is hard to be destructive when we are busily creating. We find a new passion for all life. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, and generals should all be writing poetry.

Back at my little gathering in the woods, I believe there were 7 or 8 of us. Several had not written in years. Some had never written while a few had a daily writing practice. We did three freewrites (timed writings where a suggestion or prompt is given and the writers don’t lift the pen from the page until time is called) which kept our inner editors out of the picture. Everyone shared what they had written. They didn’t have to–they wanted to. This phenomena, all by itself, is amazing. Some of us had never even met before this weekend and weren’t sure of each other’s name. It wasn’t important. What was important were our colorful perceptions, our shared hurts and joys and pleasures and the fact that we just wrote about them, using the language to heighten the senses and explore ideas and then share our selves with each other.

Trust, compassion, truth, bread, body, blood, wine of creation–passed among us in communion. With pen and paper we explored the good earth, the “original text”  of creation as Thomas Berry likes to call our universe. We sang our little hymns of self-exploration and found we had more in common than we thought. At talent night, some of the women braved the throngs and read aloud to the whole camp. Oh, happy preacher of creativity!

This is why we pass the passion. It doubles and triples as it is handed from one to the other, like loaves and fishes, it multiplies. If you have a creative passion–whether it is writing, painting, cooking, sewing, canning, gardening, beekeeping–I beg of you, pass it on. I never beg, so you know I mean this. It could be the most important thing you ever do for someone else in your life, whether you know it then or not. You’ll have to take my word for it because I’ve proven it over and over again. Feed one another and pass the passion, please.

 

 

 

May 16, 2012 - How-To    1 Comment

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Metaphors of  gardening used in exchange with writing and painting are well-known, perhaps to the point of cliche’. Many books have been published about famous poets and painters who have also been fabulous gardeners. I don’t think we can emphasize enough the importance of a little beauty in bolstering the creative spirit, though. Whether you grow a vegetable garden in the back 40 or pot your pretty plants in a hanging basket overlooking the French Quarter, tending to beauty in a physical way reminds us to tend to the beauty of our spiritual selves. (See my garden above.)

Now, I live with a gardener. A real gardener who would rather be out in that garden planting, picking rocks and planning than anywhere else in the world. I’m not kidding. This is her passion, at least for now. She works hard at it every day. And everytime she comes in from working the rows, she is happy and content. She is also a great poet, but that is on the back burner for now while she tends her bees and hoes to the end of the row. (See Leigh’s garden below).

I am a writer with a garden. It’s a small garden that sits in front of my screened in porch. Since the name of our garden is Larrapin and the theme is that everything feeds something, it took a moment for me to convince my gardener that the beauty of my little garden feeds my soul. That it is, indeed, food. Food for thought. And it gives me a break from sitting when I get tired. I simply walk out the door and do a little weeding and planting and picking. My tiny flowers fit in tiny vases that sit on the shelf where my desktop rests. I admit that I insist on having some of Henry Chotkowski’s peonies, which are not small, but who can argue with such a grand and glorious flower?

So this brief post is just to say, if you don’t have one already, plant a little garden today. Get your hands dirty, for creating can be dirty work. Plant some seeds. Every idea is a seed waiting to be planted. Feed and water them with dedication and determination and they will grow. Watching your garden flourish can be a wonderful antidote to waiting for that submission decision. The rewards of gardening are obvious and fairly quick in comparison. And don’t forget to pull those unsightly weeds. Even a garden needs editing. Don’t be fooled by the thistle with the little flower on top–it, too, must go if the rest of your garden is to thrive.

When it’s time to rest, sit back and study the loveliness you’ve brought into the world. Rest your eyes on it. Allow it to soothe your soul. Red and purple and green and yellow–these are the colors of success that serve to encourage our mental constructs and creations. Throw in some herbs and you can even smell the rich variety of Earth calling us to create and recreate. Grow your garden. Feed your birds. Never be afraid to start from scratch, because that is mostly how it’s done. We wrap our hand around the shovel or the pen, and simply begin. Believe me, there will be flowers in the end.

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!

May 3, 2012 - How-To    1 Comment

Realizing Dreams

When we say the word dreams, we think of many definitions. There are night dreams we have when we sleep–last night mine had the word “deviated septum” in it as a struggled with the stuffy humid weather outside. Strange and fantastic sleep dreams have always come easily for me.

We associate the word dream with desires we’ve had since childhood, or maybe even since we’ve grown into adults. Those who are natural dreamers can’t imagine that there are people who never learned to dream at all. These non-dreamers are often busy surviving life and do not think about what could or might be. There are addicts who may have once dreamed, but have forgotten how and must learn all over in their sobriety. Forgetting is influenced by addiction to money and greed. They know what works and makes the bucks. Why try something new for the pure joy of it? Oh, we take our dreams for granted; those of us who dream easily.

But dreams are simply ephemeral wishes if we don’t do something to make them happen. My advice is to dream big, but start small. You want to write and have your memoir published. Good luck with that! Just kidding. You don’t simply expect the big, bad world of publishing and agents to open up to you. First, you teach your Muse to trust you by reading, studying and practicing. You begin submitting your essays or poems to journals and contests.You get rejected or accepted, but celebrate every time you put one in the mail. Pay attention to the suggestions of other writers concerning your writing or places to submit. The writing gods work in mysterious ways. One thing is sure: you won’t get published if you don’t get the work out in the world.

My partner Leigh is a great example of making dreams come true. I use her, not simply because she is available, but because she happens to be good at it. She has a vision. She begins to study books and attend classes and go online to figure out how to recreate her vision in real life. Then she tries her hand; whether it is gardening in the rocky soil of NW Arkansas, beekeeping, starting her own business, or having a booth in a farmer’s market. She does the groundwork needed to get started, gathers her materials, and begins. She is willing to fail a few times as she proceeds. But she does not give up when the bees swarm and fly away. She confers with old beekeepers, more books, and buys more bees. She tries again.

Leigh is no day dreamer.I have been around long enough to see how much work and determination go into making her dreams come true. They are not pipe dreams. She builds them solidly with a strong foundation. And they become realities; whether it is the business that pays the bills, or a booth at the Green Fork Farmer’s Market. She is my shero when it comes to realizing dreams. And I do my best to emulate her when I write and enter and study and take classes and do my damndest to become the best writer I can be.

Our dreams are valuable, both to us and to a world that needs its dreamers more than ever. Most often, our dreams are revealed in quiet moments when our minds are turned off to everyday duties. To get started, close your eyes and simply remember something you always wanted to do as a child. Write about it without thinking of all the reasons it won’t work. Pretend it will. Some people, like Leigh, are good at making their dreams come true. Some people like me, a recovering alcoholic, get off to a late start and have to remember how to dream. It doesn’t matter when you start; only that you start.

Dreams are not just for the lucky, or the brightest of the bunch. They are for everyone. Find your passion. Figure out how it works. Work at it. Believe in your ability to create your own reality. Choose a dream and take the steps necessary to get there. Be practical at  first. You can’t have a farmer’s market booth if you haven’t grown the produce or made your potions first. Expect to fail occasionally, yet do not accept failure. Get up and go at it again. If you can realize even one dream, you will gain the confidence to make other, even bigger ones come true. In the words of one of our most amazing dreamers, “Imagine.”

Apr 20, 2012 - How-To    2 Comments

Write Details

Some say God is in the details. Some say it’s the Devil. That only goes to show that heaven and hell aren’t as far apart as one tends to think. In this photograph, the subjects are  5″ tall or less. Yet, each object is a library of detail. This window looks out (or in) on at least a hundred stories. Looking out, the tale could be about a gardener. Gazing in, the poem might be about a cook. Or the scene could be used for something as simple as illustrating a blog post about capturing detail in your writing.

Detail is like a fact checker. If the writer or artist paints in specific details, we believe them. They couldn’t have made it up;  how that blood red rose is from  the “Men Only” bush out front, so named because the bush was a congratulatory gift from a lover to the writer for a play of the same name. The plant is also called a “knock out” rose, partly for the ease by which you can cultivate it. What is its name; that bird, that tree, that flower over there?

The pink rose was a present bought for a loved one’s birthday at Austin’s Zilker Botanical Gardens. Since  the two farmers invite wildlife of every kind to the yard and keep bees, all the roses must be hardy because they can’t use pesticides. Obviously, this is early spring, a good time for roses. The Japanese beetles have not yet attacked them.

The bee vase that holds the roses was purchased in Asheville, NC at a gallery called the Woolworth Walk, so named because all the art is housed in an old Woolworth building. There, you can still sit at a bar, eat a hotdog and drink a coke after touring a wonder world of arts and crafts. The vase was a souvenir bought for the beloved beekeeper.

The fuzzy, bright green mint tells endless stories to every Southerner. You can taste the fresh hint of it in a tall glass of iced tea. You may be sipping the scent through a straw planted in the middle of a mint julep. Mowing sends mint wafting through the yard every time you accidentally clip the edge of the bed. Where does the smell of freshly mown grass mixed with mint take you? Knowing how mint spreads reminds me of how those tiny purple flowers on kudzu vine smell like grapes.

By now, I’m sure you are getting my drift. Within every object we treasure resides a plethora of detail that tells a thousand different stories. We authenticate our stories, poems, songs, pictures with our details. The poet was in Austin, Texas in the spring of 2008 and we know it because she bought the rose bush that blooms like a waterfall outside her window and perfumes the house with a delicate pink scent. From the beekeeper who owns the vase there is, outside the frame, a jar of honey floating red and pink rose petals on its heavy surface. But that’s another story.

Find a spot in your own home that holds a handful of objects that are precious to you. Make a list of them. Beside them list their physical properties. Beside that, list the places and events that come to mind when you see them. Do a freewrite on what you see in your mind’s eye, the story in the details of either one or all of the objects. From your freewrite, form a poem using the details to define the experience. Put your reader right there where you were. Add several unusual specifics to authenticate your experience. “The rose wound itself in and out of a crippled bike; a thorny red dragon’s tail capturing forever a blue knight in mid-flight.”

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.

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