Dec 16, 2011 - How-To    1 Comment

Writing Dilemmas #3: Holidays/Holidaze

Allow me to address the holiday dilemma while square in the midst of the most difficult one for almost any artist–Christmas. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Solstice, or nothing at all, Christmas will invade your life like the Roman empire invaded Europe. Or Europeans invaded the Americas. Whatever, you get the picture. No matter your beliefs or practices, Christmas (as long as it has been celebrated) has overwhelmed every creative that ever lived. Go ahead. Try to ignore it. Well-meaning friends and family simply won’t allow it. They want YOU there for the holidays, not the book you intend to publish in the coming year. Your presence, if not your presents, is required.

My personal policy is to simply give into it. I enjoy colored lights, wrapped packages, buying gifts, lively parties with friends, seeing my folks, the smell of evergreen, and writing and receiving cards. I try to make as much of it about writing as I possibly can. I assign myself a seasonal poem or story to write and put it out there at an open mic, in a blog post, or send it off to some magazine or journal, usually too late for them to get it published in time. No matter. I wrote it.

I give gifts to my writer and artist friends that hopefully will inspire them in their craft–things to write with or on. Magical rattles that bring the muse running. Calendars to help them keep up with their crazy, non-traditional lives. Gift cards to independent bookstores or coffee shops where they can take an artist date and a break from the insanity of doing too much in so little time. Magazine subscriptions that encourage creativity or offer writing prompts are good. I write an annual letter with my partner, Leigh, and send it in personal cards to friends and relations everywhere. (This is actually a great tool for reminding yourself just how much you DID do in the last year.)

Then I let all these things count. I AM creating. I AM writing. Perhaps everything I write during those two weeks can’t be used in the memoir or short story I hope to publish in 2012. That letter to the friend I haven’t seen in 20 years may not have anything to do with the screenplay I’ve been busting my ass on for the past 10 months. But I can’t fight all this holiday spirit, and I don’t want to depress myself by arguing with my reflection, “Oh, you should be doing this or you should be doing that.” It’s tiring and wasteful of whatever energy I happen to have left.

Maybe you can run away to Paris or the Keys or Hawaii for Christmas. I’ve always thought I might ignore the holiday if I were somewhere far away and could just write, write, write. But since I’ve never done it, I don’t know if it’s true or not. Besides, if I were to try a trip like that, I’d go to South Africa where it’s summer and thoroughly confuse myself. Personally, I find it easier to give in and enjoy. I received a comment recently that said, “But what about making memories?” Well, here’s your chance. But make sure you stay sober enough to remember the occasion or else you really are wasting your time.

It’s true that there are times to simply be present in the moment. I envision my writer self, though, with a little tiny observer, an elfin reporter, sitting there on my shoulder like the proverbial angel/devil decider, and taking in all that is occurring even as I am as “with” the people I love as I possibly can be. I don’t know if I learned to do this while policing, or if it is simply in the creative’s repertoire and only needs practice to work. When I was a cop, I did a lot of counseling and talking and de-escalating trying to keep people, especially upset family members, out of jail. Especially at Christmas. At the same time, however, the little recorder was up there noticing everything–the grimace or unseen gesture made behind the wife’s back. The uncle who suddenly disappeared into the back room. This enabled me to act safely and to write a great report should an arrest prove necessary.

I realize this post is slightly all over the place. But remember, I’m in the midst of the holiday dilemma myself and have lowered my standards. My advice is for you to do the same. Do what suits you; what feels most comfortable. Enjoy yourself–that’s at the top of the list. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t finish the book by Christmas Eve. The new year is only a week or so away. You’ve got all of 2012 to complete that final draft. Count the writing you do manage. Throw in a haiku or poem to stay in shape. Attend a poetry reading or a play. Read a book about your craft. Open your heart to the love and the confusion and even the contention that a holiday like this always brings with it. Jot down some notes, and let your little angel/devil reporter do the rest.

See, I got this post written. Now I’ll wish you, faithful readers and writers, some happy holidays of your own. May peace, poetry, art, and laughter fill your lives in the coming year. Maintain your sense of humor–you’re going to need it in this election year. And remember, you can stand up nearly anyone and be forgiven, but never ignore your Muse. She, too, requires the gift of your presence.

Dec 9, 2011 - Writer's Life    4 Comments

Writing Little Miracles

When I travel and when I write, I notice that little miracles tend to occur along the way. That longed-for phrase finally pops into my head to fit the sentence perfectly. The metaphor I’ve been chasing like a loose rooster suddenly stops so I can swoop it up and put it in the pot to stew.

When I travel, invariably someone, often a stranger, performs an act so kind that I can barely believe it. I can only hope that I am that person for someone else once in awhile. These things I call “little miracles.” They happen all the time; everyday, I’m sure. But we have to be paying attention in order to catch them before they fly past. And (this is the hard part) we have to show a little faith in the basic goodness of life (even in these “mortal coils” we call our fellow beings) in order to catch the miracles at work.

Leigh and I were five hours into our Atlanta vacation where we were headed to hear our favorite band, Roxie Watson, play when the first “little miracle” occurred. We got away from Fayetteville later than we intended (of course), so by the time we reached Russellville, AR we were already hungry. Well, I happen to know that the best hamburgers in Arkansas happen to be in Russellville, so we pulled off at exit 81, and turned into CJ’s Butcher Boy Burgers.

Now, I’m not kidding about these burgers, y’all. (This post may not be as appetizing to you vegetarians, but it’s still worth reading.) The beef is ground and weighed into 1/3 lb size balls, then hand-flattened into patties and grilled in the best old fashioned way. The hamburger, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and potatoes for french fries are visible right there in the front case. The menu is small: Hamburgers or cheeseburgers, french fries, sodas, and 3 kinds of milk shake–chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. To me, a small menu can only mean one thing; they make the best whatever it is they are advertising.

Anyway, Leigh had never eaten there and we loved our first road repast. We knew that every place we stopped would not be nearly as good, so we ate heartily. Then we headed out, changing drivers in the parking lot, and took off towards Memphis. We had been cheered by the decorations of the old-fashioned hamburger joint with its red booths, juke box, and shiny chrome fixtures. The staff was friendly and efficient even though they were busy, as always. I made Leigh wait while I took a few pictures to document our first cool oasis on a long, dry interstate.

On the other side of Memphis, we stopped for gas and drinks. I reached in my comfortable traveling sweatpants pocket to pay, only to find that my favorite money clip–a gift from two of my best friends–was missing, along with the $90 in cash it clasped. You know that sickening, sinking feeling where the hearts seems to drop down into the belly like you swallowed it accidentally? That’s the feeling I had. More than the ninety bucks (hard enough to come by in this economy), I’d lost one of my most prized possessions, the mother of pearl money clip given to me as a birthday present from Lenny and Jane. Very unhappy moment.

I tried to recall, as we do, every place we had stopped. I stop a lot, so this took a minute. Besides CJ’s, we had stopped at a gas station and a rest area bathroom. Part of me wanted to give up; to just say okay, these things happen. I could tell Leigh agreed, although she said nothing except to express her sorrow at my loss. But that money clip kept calling my name, and there was something about CJ’s, too. If I lost the money there, then somehow, some way, they might still have the clip for me. It was worth a try.

I called information and got CJ’s number. Meanwhile, I was not acting like the sweet traveling companion that Leigh had started out with. I felt sick at heart over this (when you think about the state of the world) small loss, but luckily my companion is a hospice nurse and understands loss, both large and small. I could tell she thought my call would most likely be futile, but she said nothing as I made it.

“CJ’s, Lisa speaking.”

“Hello, my name is Mendy Knott, and I ate at your diner at about 12:30 this afternoon. While I was there, I lost a money clip containing $90. I don’t suppose it was turned in, or one of your employees found it.”
“Hold on a sec, hon.”
She half covers the receiver and hollers, “Did anybody turn in a money clip with $90 in it today?”
I hear a muffled, “Yeah. Ask ’em what the clip looks like.”
Lisa says to me, “Can you describe the clip?” I wonder how many other people left $90 in a money clip there that day, but you never know.
“It’s abalone-looking; a mother of pearl finish on one side.”
“Yeah, hon, we got it.”
“You do? You actually have it?”
“Some guy found it in the parking lot and brought it in here.”
“I’ll be gone a week to Atlanta. Will you keep it for me?”
“Sure, no problem. We’ll put it in the safe with your name on it. You just stop by here on your way back through and we’ll get it for you.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much. You just made my holiday.”

“No problem.”

Sure enough, seven days later, we were back at CJ’s and Lisa, the manager, washed her hands from the burger she was mixing, and retrieved my money clip and money. Most of our trip was delightful in every way. Of course, there are always a few bumps in the road. But this incident stands out in my mind as one of the finest memories I brought back with me. Something so unexpected; something as beautiful as the true meaning of Christmas started out to be. Something about hope and faith and like I said, miracles.

In the great scheme of things, this tale may be small to everyone but me. Getting that money clip, and even the cash back, felt like a big deal. It deepened something like faith in me, when it’s so easy to give up on humanity these days. I mean, we rarely hear the good stories, right? That’s one reason I’m writing this one. And so you won’t miss the best hamburger in Arkansas when you whizz by Russellville. Make sure you stop at CJ’s, exit 81. And be sure to say “Hey!” to Lisa for me.

Nov 30, 2011 - How-To    Comments Off on Writing Dilemmas #2 Traveling

Writing Dilemmas #2 Traveling

I’m writing this post in a hurry because I am in the midst of writing dilemma #2 myself. I am suppose to be packing, doing some last minute snack shopping (who can eat that stuff offered on the road), cleaning up for the house sitter, and in general, getting ready to go on a trip. Yet, I’m determined to get a post written before I leave.

I am a traveler by nature. I love going, especially if it means seeing new places, seeing old friends, or visiting family. You wouldn’t consider me a world traveler simply because I don’t have the financial resources for that sort of jet-setting. Still, every chance to go someplace new offers a different perspective, whether it be your own, a stranger’s, or a family member’s. Every new experience is worth writing about.
Lunch in Holly Spring, MS can offer as much inspiration as Paris, France. Well, that may be a stretch, but not much of one. So much depends on one’s state of mind, open heart, and willingness to be present wherever you are. And you have to carry that notebook, that ipad, that laptop in your luggage. Then you have to use it. Taking notes as you roll or fly along is a viable option to writing long treatises. Jot down what you hear at the table next to you at the diner or the fine restaurant. Then compare your notes. Great characters are born from simple eavesdropping.
You have to stay somewhere, so there will be time in the motel room at the end or beginning of each day to capture some of the most memorable moments of your trip. Time is of the essence; I don’t care if you’re 15 or 75. We never know how long we have here on this wildly spinning planet and the time we take to jot down our memories are always worth it. I sometimes think that if I were to have a bed-bound illness, reading over the memories I’ve captured on the trips I’ve taken will be a great joy. I consider memories and the words they inspire sacred. Let’s face it, a lot of the world’s great works are based on memories. Consider the New Testament, written long after Jesus was gone from the earth. That’s just an example, so don’t get nervous, readers of other or no religious persuasions.
I’ll be taking my laptop and my notebooks and pens. I keep a notepad small enough to fit in my backpack so it can go anywhere with me. I take a larger journal for those lazy mornings with coffee in the Hampton Inn. The laptop can go to the bookstore or coffee shop in the town square with me.
When traveling alone, I’m famous for pulling off the road at a nice little roadside or state park and writing about what is found there. Just ask my friends and family, who are at the other end of the road usually waiting dinner on me. Leigh has learned not to wait. We always eat popcorn and apples when I get home from a trip.
If I’m traveling with someone, I utilize the power of collaboration. Challenge each other to write a song, tell stories, share metaphors and images. Driving through south Arkansas with my parents recently, they told me stories about their childhoods that the passing scenery inspired: my dad’s job as a teen working on a cookie delivery truck and staying in a small hotel in Magnolia, AR, which is still there. My mom’s long walk from her house to the small town of Rosston–a 4 mile round trip because her mom needed something from the store. She was eight years old and it was a huge adventure to be out on her own. They are in their 80’s now and these memories are precious indeed.
My friend Katey Schultz (pictured above with her car, the Claw) may be the best example of the writing traveler. She has been at it for nearly two years, and her writing gets better and better. Through her, I am able to visit places I won’t see in this lifetime. That is a special gift. You give it to others when you share what you’ve written while you’re away–the best souvenir is taking others to places they won’t see without you.
Next time you hit the road, don’t forget your writing tools. They are every bit as important as your camera and your underwear. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then paint yours with words. When you’re a writer, traveling is no excuse for not writing. In fact, it’s a good reason to keep that pen moving. And don’t forget to send a few postcards!
Oct 7, 2010 - How-To, Writer's Life    Comments Off on Buy your copy of A Little Lazarus with free shipping here!

Buy your copy of A Little Lazarus with free shipping here!

BUY THE BOOK!

Support you favorite hillpoet by purchasing your book here via the “Buy Now” button below. You signed copy will come directly from Mendy. Your credit card will be processed via Leigh & Mendy’s Limbertwig Press. (Your statement will show “Limbertwig Press.”  We can accept Visa/MC/Discover. )

In Fayetteville, copies of A Little Lazarus are now available at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street. You can also order your copy from any bookstore with this information:

  • A Little Lazarus—Poems by Mendy Knott
  • Paperback: 114 pages, 6 x 9 in
  • Publisher: Half Acre Press (September 7, 2010)
  • ISBN-13: 978-09829455-1-3
  • List: $16.00

To see Mendy’s book at her publisher’s website and/or to order via Amazon.com click here:

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