Home

Reading, Writing, and Stargazing

Leave a comment

Kim Davis and car cameras, Serena Williams and Syrian refugees, Donald’s hair and Clinton’s emails . . . and September 11th, of course. Opinions and predictions, rages and laments. Words, words, and more words. Aren’t you sick of them? I sure am.

You might have noticed that I’ve taken a little break from blogging lately, after three years of being fairly faithful about it. Why add to the noise and hub-bub, when I have nothing insightful to say at the moment? And I’m hoping that my creative energies might build up to dramatic and explosive levels if I put a cap on the well and quit releasing little blips of creativity every week through my blog.

No great bursts of brilliance yet, but I’m certain there’s one bubbling up. Or not.

During this blogging hiatus, I have started writing Morning Pages again, the thirty-minute stream-of-consciousness-just-keep-your-hand-moving practice extolled by author Julia Cameron and other writing mentors as a way to access your subconscious and release your creativity. There might be something to it: I’ve recently drafted two personal essays that have potential, assuming I can muster the discipline to slog through the editing and polishing process. Attention Deficit Disorder lends itself to blogging, but not as much to focused writing projects requiring multiple revisions. My master’s thesis nearly killed me.

Julia Cameron also recommends a whole week of abstaining from all forms of reading, but I’ve always thought that impossible, if not outright insane. Who would do that? And why would that help my creativity? Every time I get to that chapter in Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I conveniently misplace the book. (ADD helps with that, too.)

Hence, I was surprised a few weeks ago when I got a strong inclination to quit reading fiction for a time. It’s torture, really, but it feels like the right thing. I get lost in novels, which is wonderful and relaxing and healthy, but it can be taken to the extreme. Right now I need to be more disciplined and intentional about my time and my reading. I want to focus on my new pastoral role at church, and I’ve been teaching some challenging writing workshops. So it’s strictly non-fiction for now, mostly spiritual, but also an outstanding memoir by Tobias Wolfe, This Boy’s Life.

I’ve been reading about prayer (I suppose some might call this fiction), and am learning a lot. But I can get trapped in my brain, and there’s a danger of my spending too much time studying prayer and forgetting to actually pray. So I’m also setting aside contemplative time for meditation and labyrinth walking and star gazing. Rough life, right?

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve missed you guys this past month. I’ll touch base again when I have some words worth saying. Peace to you.

Whiling away the time...

Whiling away the time…

I’m Not a Writer, But I Play One at Cocktail Parties

7 Comments

I took a writing workshop from author Nora Gallagher this weekend, and she pointed out that people who aren’t writers ought not to teach writing. Her tongue-in-cheek comment made me shudder. Is that where I’m headed?

After three years of blogging, a handful of published pieces, and a shiny new be-ribboned diploma from Hopkins, I am only just beginning to accept the moniker “writer,” and I think it’s because people are asking me to teach writing workshops. So I must be a writer, right?

As Nora painfully reminded me, it ain’t necessarily so. {For you non-writers, this is a “literary allusion,” a technique whereby an author references something like an idea or an artistic work, and it’s up to the reader to make the “connection.” In case your brain synapses are too youthful to make that connection: “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is a song from George and Ira’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.}

The technique I employed immediately after employing the “literary allusion” is referred to as “literary hubris,” whereby an author uses lots of random “quotation marks” and tosses around words like “whereby” and draws distinctions between writers and non-writers, and calls famous authors by their first names. Nonchalant laughter: “I’d like to get Sylvia’s take on that.” If you attend cocktail parties with “Writers” who “Network,” you may be familiar with this literary device. (Note: never ask who Sylvia might be. It’s the poet, Plath.)

How To Avoid Becoming a Poseur

How I hate the idea of being a poseur, someone who lives a writer’s life but feels like a fake. I’m not so much worried about what others think, as I am about coming to disrespect myself. What must I do to escape this fate? Should I decline teaching opportunities in order to avoid becoming Nora’s dreaded non-writing writing teacher?

No! I lead workshops because I like leading workshops. I take writing classes because I like writing classes. I read books about writing because I like books about writing. I even embarrass myself by reading at open mic poetry nights because I like reading my poetry, unsophisticated as it may be.

The thing I’m missing is the writing. I haven’t been writing. I can barely get a blog post together.

I should write. Every day. Blogging counts, but it’s more like warming up for the “real” thing — I know this sentiment probably annoys some bloggers. Sorry. But I see true writing as a marathon. Blogging is the warming up, the keeping in shape. The long race takes discipline and endurance and perseverance and strategy and real tough stuff like structure and pacing and cohesive narrative arcs. And something worth saying.

Because I’m not sure I can pull all that off, I don’t start. Well, not true. I start quite frequently. I just don’t keep going. I skip the discipline and perseverance part.

But somehow, I still think I’m a writer.

That’s new. That’s good. That’s a start. Now I just need to write.

Me, posing as a writer doing a book signing. It's actually an anthology, which means it's really someone else's book; I'm just in it.

Me, posing as a writer doing a book signing. It’s actually an anthology, which means it’s really someone else’s book; I just have an essay in it.

That’s a Strange Post for Martin Luther King Day

Leave a comment

Ignominious. Isn’t that a marvelous word? I thought it might be fun to pull a favorite word out of my gray matter once in a while and write about it. Kind of stream of consciousness, but not entirely because that’s hard to do without sounding ignominiously affected. Virginia Woolf, I am not.

Anyway, ignominious is an adjective that means “deserving or causing public disgrace or shame.” Some synonyms include humiliating, undignified, embarrassing, and mortifying. I’m not sure why the word popped into my head this morning. Perhaps it’s because some friends and I were talking about family alcoholism and drug addiction, and stories of shame and disgrace naturally came up.

I’ve been thinking about alcoholism a lot lately, I guess because of the drunken fiasco in the streets of Philadelphia that I witnessed on New Year’s Eve, and because a friend of mine’s husband just died from the disease. I drafted a blog about alcoholism, but it’s on hold, along with yet another one about differing views on God, this one brought on when my atheist neighbor passed away last week.

I’m not writing about those things, though, I’m writing about ignominiousness. Ooo – it’s even better in the form of a noun, isn’t it? It somehow brings to mind the sound a spider might make skittering along it’s web to bind up fresh prey. Ignominiousness, ignominiousness . . .

I read in the Oxford dictionary that there are few words that rhyme fully with ignominious. The name Phineas, as in, “The dirty dancing of Phineas was ignominious.” And another word — new to me — consanguineous, which denotes people descended from the same ancestor: “My attempt to prove that Virginia Woolf and I are consanguineous was ignominious.”

And my favorite ignominious-rhyming word, which probably deserves a whole blog post of its own: sanguineous. I’ve always loved the word sanguine, meaning optimistic or positive, especially in the face of a bad situation. I love what it means, and I love how it sounds.

And what about the noun, sanguineousness? That sounds nothing at all like skittering spiders — more like a sea otter gliding across the ocean on its back with a pup on its tummy.

Well, even a stream of consciousness post must have some sort of point. Since it’s Martin Luther King Day, let’s make it about racial justice. And here it is: despite many being in positions of power, despite some being armed to the teeth, despite having a legal system skewed their direction, opponents of racial justice in America will eventually go down in ignominious defeat.

Like the police who turned firehoses full-force on peaceful African-American marchers so many years ago and created for themselves an eternal, ignominious reputation, the systems of white privilege, which many white people are unable to see simply because they know nothing else, will — eventually — be nothing but an ignominious chapter in the history books.

And that’s not just sanguineousness. That’s the arc of history bending towards justice.

DSCN4423

Want to Know My Dream?

13 Comments

The question makes me laugh: “You just inherited a dilapidated, crumbling-down grand mansion in the countryside — what do you do with it?” As it turns out, this is not a theoretical question for me. Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt is, in fact, a reality in my life.

All except the second part of the prompt, “Assuming money is no issue…” That part is definitely theoretical. Oh, and the part about it being a grand mansion. That’s not exactly true either.

What is true is that I have inherited the loveliest piece of real estate on the planet, named Quiet Hills by my grandmother Beedie who purchased the place in 1940. The old (1782) Cape Cod in the countryside of New Hampshire could probably be described as somewhat dilapidated, but I don’t see it that way. 

Quiet Hills

Quiet Hills

Because of the money issue, I don’t spend time dreaming of what it might become, I just enjoy it for what it is: a wildlife sanctuary of woods and meadows and a quaint house full of ghosts and massive old furniture, which I imagine house servants slathering with beeswax back in the day. It smells of lavender and witch hazel and my grandmother’s face powder. 

On still nights, I can hear the Ashuelot River rushing over boulders at the foot of the hill. The Hermit Thrush announces the setting of the sun, and the Great Horned Owl welcomes the falling of darkness. I can’t say what happens at dawn because that’s not my thing. I always stay up too late reading Beedie’s musty old novels to see the dawn.

But . . . but — what if I had money?

A Writer’s Haven

No question. Quiet Hills would be a retreat house for writers and nature lovers and spiritual seekers. I’d give classes in writing techniques and in contemplative spiritual practices like Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina (sacred reading). 

We would have silent retreats, too, and I’d have someone teach yoga  and tai chi. I’d set up nature trails on the property with prayer prompts along the way, and build a prayer labyrinth with benches and weeping birch trees around the edges. People would frequently have life-changing spiritual epiphanies there.

Prayer labyrinth

Prayer labyrinth

I’d run a bed & breakfast for my retreatants, and every morning my helper would get up early and make a humongous country breakfast. Our speciality would be blueberry muffins with berries from our fields and fresh butter from two dairy cows who roam the meadows and come into the old coach house for milking. And eggs, too, from my chickens who eat the pests in the vegetable garden where lush tomato vines are heavy with warm fruit and the aroma of sweet basil is overpowering. There would be no meat in our meals, and no one would miss it.

Eggs, not meat

Eggs, not meat

I’d fix up the massive barn; one end would be a huge picture window overlooking the woods — that’s where we would hold workshops, and there would be sleeping quarters in the lofts above. In the corners of the barn I’d have mounds of brightly colored handmade quilts for people to snuggle into each autumn and to spread out in the meadows for writing and naps in the summer. 

I’d get custom-made windows for the main house, and insulation, so I could be there in the winters, too. I’d build a big stone hearth and fireplace in the living room where the small wood-burning stove is now, and expand the kitchen to fit several long tables where people could eat together. Why not put a fireplace in the kitchen, too? And a big bay window with lots of hummingbird feeders just outside. Everyone would marvel at the constant comings and goings of the hovering jewels.

I’d have all new (but vintage) wallpaper and curtains and oriental rugs, and wall-to-ceiling bookcases in every room, because after all, this is a writer’s retreat. I’d have lots of bathrooms, and instead of the dug wells that run dry in August, there would be an artesian well sunk deep into cold, underground springs. There would be a jacuzzi. 

Best of all, Quiet Hills B&B retreat house would be free for those who couldn’t afford my already reasonable rates. Money should be no hindrance to dreams.

And that, WordPress Daily Prompt, is what I would do with my dilapidated inheritance if I had money. Now – please tell me that this is actually a contest, and I win, and the prize is that you’re going to fund my dream. 

Fall2013.drive1 001

Musings on Hornet Sex, Snakes, and Being a Failed Writer

8 Comments

I hate being a writer. I shouldn’t even call myself a writer. What am I doing on a writing retreat with actual writers? I suck.

The voice in my head prattles on, and now I realize there’s a new voice picking up the theme.

“My poetry sucks,” calls Sheila from the yard where she sits on a blanket in the sun, looking every bit a writer.

“No! You’re great. Keep going,” says Sarah from her perch on the front porch. She, too, looks like a writer, surrounded by books and papers riffling in the breeze.

Sheryl sits next to me on the second floor porch, Mac Air open on her lap. She’s watching a pair of hornets. “Are they having sex?” They are, his furry rump rhythmically bouncing against the female’s smooth one. Sheryl and I comment that neither of us has ever envisioned bee sex, despite the proverbial birds & bees. The male hornet abruptly flies off and the female methodically wipes her hind parts with her back legs and departs in another direction.

“I had an idea for a new forward for my memoir, but now I can’t remember what it was.” Sheryl sighs, gets up, and goes inside.

I’m left sitting here with two dead-end memoir trails and two crappy poems that I’m embarrassed to even save on my computer after hearing Sheila and Sarah read their poetry last night.

I was excited about this trip to The Porches, a writer’s retreat in the foothills of southern Virginia. A few of us came last year, and I’ve thought of that trip with longing all year – Wow, can’t wait to get back to The Porches; I’m going to get so much done!

The Porches  Writing Retreat

The Porches
Writing Retreat

Now that I’m here, I begin to recall the painful false starts and fruitless scribbling I experienced on my last visit. Then, too, my harsh inner voice called “Failure!” I had brought along a file full of scenes and characters for a short story everyone said needed to be a novel. I was ready to launch my literary career.

I can’t remember what I ended up writing, but it wasn’t a famous novel. It wasn’t even fiction. As much as I wish I could write fiction, it rarely happens because there’s this little element called “plot” that completely escapes me.

I probably wrote a blog post about what a fraud I was, and how I wasn’t really a writer and what was I doing on a writing retreat anyway?

Maybe the muse will strike this afternoon. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll just spend the rest of the weekend reading a book I would never have glanced at a few years ago, but which I’m finding fascinating: The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters.

It’s much easier to read about writing than to actually write.

Still, it’s a lovely day – spring has fully arrived. The redbuds on the sides of the road boldly claim their moment, and the trees along the river are dusted mint green.

Quince Blossom

Quince Blossom

Narcissus and Violets

Narcissus and Violets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I came across a lively black snake this morning celebrating the sunshine in a newly planted bed of pansies. Maybe she’s my muse . . .

Slithering Muse?

Slithering Muse?

The Books on my Doorstep

6 Comments

Like many of you, I am a book addict, so although the arrival of two brown, rectangular packages on my front porch was far from unusual, it nevertheless occasioned a quick intake of breath and a widening of the eyes, if not an actual skip of my heartbeat.

The best part about such parcels is the element of surprise, in that I often don’t remember what I’ve ordered during my mad midnight searches for a satisfying read. The other best part, which is unique to this particular delivery, is that I have been stuck in William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 British satire “Vanity Fair” for nigh on four months, and I am a mere one hundred pages from the end of the eight-hundred-page tome. I can see the light of approaching freedom as sure as the days are (finally) getting longer!

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray – Doesn’t he look like a jolly fellow?

I always read a long, dense novel during the winter, usually of the Russian variety but sometimes an Anthony Trollope, which are lighter but still qualify as dense by virtue of their length. But Thackeray — well, I don’t know if I’ll read another one. It’s not entirely the  book. This winter has been insufferably long and cold and dark and dreadful. It’s not Thackeray’s fault my brother died in December. Still, good riddance to both the book and the winter.

Presents to Myself

It was this anticipation of escape from England in the Napoleonic Age that imparted an extra dose of excitement as I tore into those rectangular packages yesterday. Here, because of your intense interest in my personal life and inner musings, is what I found:

  • Portofino by Frank Schaeffer: This is the first in a trilogy, recommended by one of my favorite friends who is also an author with a great nose for a great read. He used to be an English professor and he reads incessantly. If you don’t know Brian McLaren and his books, especially if you are spiritually inclined, you should visit his website. I was attracted to Portfino because it’s set in Italy, a country that won my heart in one two-week stay four years ago, and because the reviews call it “richly ironic and satirical . . . hilarious . . . laugh-out loud funny.” I need that. It pokes “gentle fun at the foibles of religious zealotry without disparaging the deep dedication behind it.” There’s apparently a character in it who always packs a ski sweater and a small Bible in case the Russians invade and send them to Siberia.
  • Elsewhere by Richard Russo: This is Russo’s recent memoir. I only just discovered him a few years ago, and I enjoy his novels for a light read. He’s amazing at creating characters and local color, and I figure those quirky folks and locales must come from his life experience; I want to meet them. Because I like writing memoir and would like to learn to write it in longer forms, I plan to read a lot of quality memoirs this summer. Do you have any suggestions for me? I’ve got quite a collection started, but am always open to recommendations.
  • Anna: A Daughter’s Life, by William Loizeaux: I am reading this out of a deep respect and fondness for the author, a writing professor I had at Johns Hopkins. This, too, is memoir, and no doubt memoir at its best. Bill taught memoir and personal essay, and this book is about the loss of his infant daughter. It is about grief, which will resonate with me, and it’s based on Bill’s journals, which also tracks with my journaling habit. “Stunning, clear-eyed, and lyrical . . . remarkable eloquence, passion, and honesty,” says the Washington Post (reviewed back when the Post had something useful to say). This sounds exactly like the Bill Loizeaux I know.
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye: My appreciation for poetry is really quite new, so this is a big step for me. Nye’s is only the second book of poetry I’ve ever purchased. I once bought a book of Wendell Berry’s poems because it needed to be on my bookshelf – he’s an icon. I had read an excerpt from Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray” a year ago and found it very moving, so I put her book on my “to buy later when I like poetry better” list. The time was right.

photo (15)

Here is the opening of Naomi Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray”:

∠∠∠

“There was the method of kneeling,

a fine method, if you lived in a country

where stones were smooth.

Women dreamed wistfully of

hidden corners where knee fit rock.

Their prayers, weathered rib bones,

small calcium words uttered in sequence,

as if this shedding of syllables could

fuse them to the sky.

∠∠∠

There were men who had been shepherds so long

they walked like sheep.

Under the olive trees, they raised their arms –

Hear us! We have pain on earth!

We have so much pain there is no place to store it!

But the olives bobbed peacefully

in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.

At night the men ate heartily, flat bread

and white cheese,

and were happy in spite of the pain,

because there was also happiness.”

 

Lovely as her poetry is, I will not allow myself to begin any of these new literary adventures until I make peace with Mr. Thackeray. The daffodils are blooming, and it’s time to leave my winter read behind. Way behind.

What are you reading that’s good? Don’t forget to recommend a memoir for me! Happy Spring.

 

Related Posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/for-book-lovers-only/

Other bookish blogs I like:

http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/best-of-my-bookshelf/

http://teabooksthoughts.wordpress.com/

Although I’m not a huge beer-drinker, check out my friend Oliver’s blog Literature and Libation. He’s a talented writer.

A Fourteen-Sentence Glimpse into My Journal

10 Comments

Why not? I’ll give you treasured readers a glimpse into my treasured pages – I’ve been keeping a journal since I was fifteen. A while. While much of it is drivel, if you make like a butterfly and just flit across the pages alighting here and there, you’ll find my life.

So here, in single sentences, is my recent two-week trip to my retreat in New Hampshire:

NH Nov2012 002b

Nov 7th: The visit started with a dent in my force shield, with the discovery that X had been here and stolen Bambi from the entryway.

Nov 8th: And it was evening and it was morning, a second day.

Nov 9th: Laugh for the morning: I’m reading about four qualities that often go with living with alcoholism — martyrdom, management, manipulation, and mothering, and I find myself thinking, “Oh my God, with this situation with X, my default has been to feel like a martyr, to try to figure out his motivations so I can manipulate him, and to manage his behavior – hmmmm, maybe I should try mothering him.”

Nov 10th: After four years of this, I’ve finally called a lawyer; so now there’s nothing else to be done except homicide, and that’s frowned upon.

Nov 11th: My tailbone is bruised from a twelve-hour-sit in a straight-backed wooden chair – I’ve got to get this thesis done!

Nov 12th: Just the sense of being thoroughly present at this kitchen table is pure joy, although out the window the field needs mowing badly – but there’s nothing I can do about that today.

Nov 13th: I dropped too much money at the Monadnock Co-op, but there’s no use crying over spilled walnuts, olives, and organic cheese curls.

Nov 14th: I’ll light a fire early today – haven’t had one in a few nights.

Nov 15th: I slept in this morning because I stayed up too late reading and drowsing by the fire; then woke to find the kitchen pipes froze last night – hope they’ll thaw without excitement!

Nov 16th: It gets dark so early now – the sun has gone behind the mountain at 4:30 and it’s cold and I’m sad.

Nov 17th: I sent my last essay to S and she says it’s FABULOUS and I’ve done great work – so there you have it, I HAVE FINISHED MY THESIS: This is happening, folks!

Nov 18th: Two days behind schedule, gotta put up the storm windows, clean out the fireplace, haul in the picnic table, vacuum, scrub mildew, visit T and ask him to shut off the water . . .

Nov 19th: No entry

Nov 20th: It’s very good to be home and done with travel for the year.

Nov 21st: Today is another day: I have tea, I have cats, life is good – my plan is to unpack, clean, and prep for the upcoming Advent spiritual retreat.

Highly Impractical and Completely Unanticipated

7 Comments

This December I’ll be earning my Masters in Writing, a highly impractical and completely unanticipated happenstance. I am, shall we say, beyond college age.

graduation cap short tassle gold

My thesis has obliterated my actual life. Communication with normal people is out of the question. I went to a party on Sunday and the only topics of conversation I could conjure up were grammar rules and formatting templates. I think I had better stick with other thesis students for the time being.

I’m currently writing this post to avoid doing footnotes. My nails are bitten to little nubs, there are colorful life forms growing on the dishes in my sink, and my butt is numb from sitting at my computer.

In the words of David Byrne  and the Talking Heads:

“You may ask yourself, well — how did I get here?”

Good question.

As with most worthwhile endeavors, there was some loss and letting go involved before new life could take root. A couple of years ago, my world got weird when I lost my mother to the Great Beyond, my brother to mental illness, and my job to burn-out.

I was adrift, and life held nothing but questions.

Embracing the Counterintuitive

I began attending workshops at the Bethesda Writer’s Center near my home, hoping that writing might be therapeutic and perhaps even unleash new energy and indicate a new life direction. I filled journal after journal. Fortunately, I had a decent savings account, but I occasionally worried about what was next. Freelance writing, after all, is hardly a lucrative pursuit, especially if it’s primarily of the angst-filled, navel-gazing variety.

Then one day, a young man read a sentence in our workshop.  His name was Robert, and his sentence had something to do with a soccer game and a boy leaping into the air. It was beautiful. Magical. I saw that boy leaping into the air. I heard the smack of the ball.

Soccer Player Kicking A Soccer Ball Clip Art

“Where did you learn to write like that?” I asked Robert after class.

“I just graduated from Johns Hopkins in Writing,” he said, his brown eyes shining with pride. “It’s a part-time program with great teachers. You should check it out.”

I sensed that Robert had something I wanted.

Turns out that there was an open house that very weekend, and I went. Over crudités and seltzer water, I fell in love with the idea of becoming a fifty-something “returning student.” It sounded so — what? So risky, so bold, so romantic, so very not me.

I’ll admit it’s counterintuitive to spend your retirement savings on tuition, but I believe in destiny, and this felt like it. Or at least like fun.

I promised myself I would never take a class I wasn’t completely psyched about – the goal was not the degree, it was becoming the very best writer I could be and enjoying every moment. Losing my mother had taught me that life is short. I have kept that promise to myself and am having a blast. Okay, so maybe the writing conference in Florence, Italy was a bit extravagant, but it gave me memories, friends, and writing colleagues for life.

One Step at a Time

A year ago, nearing the end of the Hopkins program and still unsure of my future direction, I took a class in teaching writing. I thought maybe I could teach a workshop at a local community center or a nursing home or maybe even return to the Writer’s Center as a teacher.

Our first assignment was to create a syllabus. Ugh . For a college freshman composition class. Double ugh. (That’s literary language for ewww…) Mindful of having fun, I almost dropped the class but decided to stick it out another week to see what would happen.

I loved it! I created a detailed syllabus based on a topic I’m passionate about, environmental protection. When the professor returned it to me, he said I had gone way beyond what was required by designing field trips, including reading lists, and identifying guest speakers. At the end of the semester, he told me, “You would be a terrific writing teacher, just by being yourself. You absolutely have what it takes.”

It feels too good to be true, and it probably won’t pay much more than freelance writing, but I believe I’m being guided, one counterintuitive step at a time, to a new career doing something that I’m going to love!

I’m not going to do the graduation gown thing. I’m just inviting a few friends to the public reading where they’ll get free wine and cheese and listen to me and my twenty-something colleagues read our work.

Thanks to WordPress for the challenge to write a story backwards, starting with an event in the present and then following the wandering path back to the story’s  inception. And thanks, Robert, wherever you are. It’s been a fun ride.

And now back to my footnotes.

path on peat moor in sepia colour

The Wandering Path

I Don’t Like Poetry, but I’ve Written Some

8 Comments

I recently went to a prose poetry workshop at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. An oxymoron, right? I thought that prose and poetry were by definition different animals. Not anymore, not in the postmodern era when anyone gets to do whatever they want and call it whatever they want.

Prose poetry is basically poetic prose – regular ol’ writing with some of the elements of poetry, like rhythm and repetition and word imagery and  “compression,” which means getting rid of extra words. Obviously the latter is not something I’ve mastered. (Compressed that would read: I blather.)

I was excited to learn about this literary form; it changes the way I think about poetry and makes it more accessible.

I have never understood poetry and always wondered why writers can’t just say what they mean without getting all complicated and obtuse.

In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate poetry (or at least poets) through the Johns Hopkins Masters Writing program . . . but only the teensiest bit. I still have a problem with poetry, but at least I know it’s my problem, not the poet’s.

In fact, I want to be a poet. Then I could wear a beret, right?

Which is why prose poetry is good news for people like me. I love playing with words and sounds and flow and metaphor. Perhaps we non-poets can aspire to poetry?

Anyway, in celebration of doing whatever I want and calling it whatever I want (hey, in summer anything goes), I’m going to share these with you and call them poetry.

Planet Prose Poetry

Night Magic

A winking airplane is as magical as a firefly

If at first you think

it is a firefly.

Renewal

Where the trees stood,

Before the chainsaws came to kill,

Now raspberries and wildflowers grow

And deer come to eat.

Oh Well

The wells don’t dry up anymore,

And I can shower in August

Since the flooding began.

Climate change, they say.

Oh well.

I can shower in August.

Hello?

On the crest of the mountain

Grow two cell phone towers painted blue and green

To match the sky and trees.

How stupid

Do they think we are?

Thanks for humoring me. Poets among you — I would love your feedback in the comments!

For Book Lovers Only

2 Comments

This morning I was doing some housecleaning. Perhaps you felt the shift in the cosmos? I wouldn’t have been doing anything so drastic if it weren’t for the fact that I’m inheriting a new dining room table from some friends, and it’s much bigger than my old one. Rearranging is in order and that means digging out.

The first task in cleaning any room in my house, after gathering hundreds of papers into piles to do deal with later, is books. They accumulate around me like treasures in an archaeological site; when unearthed, they provide clues to how life was once lived in vaguely chronological layers.

Dusk mask in place and dust rag in hand, I offer a few fun finds you might like:

My New Favorite Author

The Shadow of the Wind, which I recently finished, was on top of the mound. Not only did this book expose me to my new favorite “undiscovered author” (who seems to be known by everyone else on the planet), Carlos Ruiz Zafon, it also opened a new world of book lovers to me.

A few months back, I queried my “friends” (or so I supposed) on Goodreads for recommendations of good novels in which I could completely lose myself. Much to my surprise, I got recommendations from total strangers all around the country!

Pretty cool.

Zafon’s book was recommended by a guy named Steve, I think in Seattle, with whom I’m now friends. I’m mining his reading list.

Sifting Through Spiritual Stories

This spring I co-led a spiritual practices group at my church, so I had hauled out many books in that vein and left them lying around.

Holy Silence is a quiet little Quaker book that I rediscovered when we studied meditative silent prayer in our group. I’m fond of J. Brent Bill’s books. They simply say “Quaker” — small, unassuming things with black and white drawings on the covers. The books contain nuggets like, “Quakers call the presence of the Holy Spirit working within us a ‘sifting silence.’ It separates the worthwhile from the worthless.”

I think we could all use a little more of this sifting silence in our lives.

In the same stack of spiritually themed books, I found one of my absolute favorites. It’s the first one I read by Father Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M. I love, love, love this guy. I had lent my signed copy of Everything Belongs to a friend years ago and only just got it back.

I know everyone’s journey is different, but for me, this is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.

Rohr talks about “spiritual capitalism,” trying to acquire new things and knowledge to attain spiritual growth. “In reality,” he says, “our growth is hidden. It is accomplished by the release of our current defense postures, by the letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Thus, we grow by subtraction much more than by addition. It’s not a matter of more and better information…Once our defenses are out of the way and we are humble and poor, truth is allowed to show itself.”

Another spiritual book that I just got a few weeks ago but which was already being buried under the detritus of my life is Anne Lamott’s new one, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I never regret spending time with Anne; she always makes me laugh out loud. This one’s a very short book, so I’m waiting until the proper time to savor it. Maybe I’ll read it all in one sitting later in the summer when I have some time alone.

005.lamott

Me Giving Writing Advice to Anne Lamott

The Goddess and Mona Lisa

The Goddess and Mona LisaMy Friend Joe  B.

My Friend Joe B.

A friend of mine passed away last winter and his wife did a wonderful thing. She held a big party for all his friends and family at which she laid out his things and said, “Have at it. He would want you to have his stuff.”

Clothes, musical instruments, tools, houseplants….and books. Tons of books. I helped her shelve them in preparation for the party, so I got first pick. A couple I particularly liked were As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway, and Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwartz. I enjoyed thinking about Joe reading and reacting to them as I made my way through the stories.

Writing Books

I fear that I’m in danger of becoming one of those writers who spends so much time reading about writing that she never gets down to actually writing. I have a ton of books on writing, and I enjoy reading journals by writers about the writing life. I’m currently reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, which I find eerie because she’s living and writing in a little white house in New Hampshire, like me, and her days are so similar to mine. Taciturn neighbors coming to hay the fields, same flowers blooming, black flies biting, raccoons gadding about in the trash.

I have several volumes of Gail Godwin’s journals on writing. I find her writing inconsistent, so she’s not one of my favorite authors, but some is quite good, and I like her “voice.” So I think I’ll enjoy the journals when I get around to them.

I was especially glad to find a Natalie Goldberg that’s been MIA for a long time. It’s my go-to writing book, called Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. It has great writing prompts and is far better than most of those types of books.

One of her prompts led to a moving experience for me, writing about a bicycle I had when was eleven – it was olive green.

“Why would I get a green bike,” I wondered, “since I don’t like green?” I came to realize through my writing that in fact I had stopped liking green as an adolescent because it was my father’s favorite color and I was angry at him for his drinking. A simple but profound realization that is helping me redeem my relationship with my late father and also with the glorious color green.

Reading Books

Near the bottom of the piles was a book that I’m truly looking forward to falling into. For now I’m leaving it out of my boxing-up project so that I don’t lose track of it again. A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel is not the type of book I usually read. At almost 400 pages, it’s a dense tome of nonfiction. But ever since I first flipped through it in the used book store, I feel excited at the prospect of tackling it.

As Manguel writes, “We come to feel that the books we own are the books we know…to glance at the spines of the books we call ours, obediently standing guard along the walls of our room, willing to speak to us and us alone at the mere flick of a page, allows us to say, ‘All this is mine,’ as if their presence alone fills us with their wisdom, without our actually having to labour through their contents.”

This challenging read has been standing guard long enough – it’s time for me to labor through its contents!

I hope you get to enjoy some good reading this summer.

Any suggestions for me?

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: