Writing: A Hermit’s Journey

If my life in books counted off the page, I could boast quite a social life. My diverse bibliodiet of fiction and fact includes Pulitzers I study, tracing the contours of the words for clues to their savoir-faire. Best thing is when I fall in, pestled upon a page of genius. I feel ridiculous. Don’t try to fool me into thinking it’s doable. High art is not five feet three. Art at its best shows me the by-ways behind the crags. It cuts and bruises. In The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr shares some questions she asks to “help students diagnose their own blind spots” ~

1. What do people usually like and dislike about you? You should reflect both aspects in your pages.
2. How do you want to be perceived, and in what ways have you ever been false or posed as other than who you are?

[Her answers]
1. My friends usually like me because I’m tenderhearted, blunt, salty, and curious. I’m super loyal, and I laugh loud.
2. People don’t like me because I’m emotionally intense and often cross boundaries….Small talk at parties bores me senseless…I’m a little bit of a misanthrope. I cancel lunch dates because I’m working.

She believes we are to bring to the page the best and worst of ourself, that is, our full and authentic self. Yes, I think you see me in clear color and dimensions, in fact more than the people in my life, at least those outside my family, do. One tempers into social roles and expectations, especially by middle age. These socks have to match. I also feel muted in the rituals we call socializing, not able to talk books or art in the circles that motherhood have circumscribed for me. I’m happier in company with the immortal dead and fellow hermits in the cave of their mind. When the tea party is over, I invite a wordsmith over for some wine – and days I need it, the scotch. Ah, the way good prose jolts, even in its beautiful ache. I want to drive under the influence – and once I’ve stepped out into fresh air, start climbing.

 

field of words

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this epicurean sea of wildflowers and opus
white blossoms stirs beneath a rising day

she spills seminal secrets as the bees and
winds drive pollen grains and promise past
the velvet parting into stigma and style

with the marksmanship of knowing.

this field, voluminous womb, awash with prose
drinks the sun that climaxes overhead. a rain
of white sapphire upon silken spires that
indemnifies last night’s shower,

and the dandelion memories too much
for me in the wind perish in a panoply of filaments

but here i lie on my earthen bed pregnant
with poetry, the story under stories of the grass,
translating the anatomy of nature’s mystery and
indulge myself upon this, my field of words.

The Writing Process II, Part 2: Let the Clichés R.I.P.

RIPWriting is treasure mining, isn’t it? The sifting of options among all that language has to offer. In the process, leave the hollow expressions that lie buried from overkill to rest in peace. Settle on what’s attractive and weighty. Don’t clutter your collection with dry, ossified castoffs of nature that add nothing to your art.

If you’re writing about any of the following, you might wish to tread carefully:

Clouds
Uh oh, yup: here come the tears. Or fluffy cotton. Sigh.

Rain
Please don’t pitter patter. Oh, please. If you’ll die unless you do, just patter.

Soft kisses
*sputtttter* Eww. Wipe off.

Caress
Do you know how many caresses happen to be velvet just like yours?

Something “coursing through” veins (usually passion)
Right. *shudder*

“Take flight”
Driver caution: slippery road.

Whispers of love
*Cringe* I’ll refrain.  Bad enough poor thing made my hit list.

Starlight
This one’s forever Madonna’s: “Starlight, Starbright, first star I see tonight.” Doo roo roo, yeah baby.

The Ellipsis…
It sits in the technical toolbox for a reason. So that we can use it. But all too often it becomes an easy substitute for fuzzy thinking or an attempt to sound deep and contemplative. Let your words – the content – provoke thought. Go back and try removing these emotional markers. Go on. You will sound more crisp, better grounded.

The Holistic Wayfarer’s Lexicon of Clichés includes the exclamation point because it’s often overdone! That point under the punctuation is a drop of neon off the brush! I promise no one will miss your fuchsia, whether it’s your lips or the streak on your running shoes! In preparing to paint our first home to move into, my husband and I delighted in the thumb-sized square of peach pink on the color palette. We went on to secure a tub of the shade from the store and left it in the room for the painter. When he called to report the room finished, we hurried over. Opened the door. And screamed, “AAUUGGHH!” Suggesting itself on a swatch was one thing. Exploding on our walls was another. There was just no way. Husband whitewashed the room, then called me in to present a lovely peach pink trimming around the windows. As he was whiting out the eerie gaudiness, he discovered that just a touch of the color worked like a lovely picture frame in this case and brightened up the room.

Clichés are the balloons that had pepped up the party but in the day-old aftermath lie lifeless, asking for the dignity of disposal. They are the makeup as obviously tired as the woman by the time she resigns the bar at four in the morning. I am not saying there is no more room in the literary world for cloud and tears. All right, I’m trying to be polite. But my Bible is right. There is nothing new under the sun. We all grow in the womb, cry at birth to cry in life, fear to love, love to laugh, wonder, hope, do not know, learn, believe, strive, sleep, sweat, dance and trip, birth children and dreams, eat and forget to nourish ourselves, work and work, and expire. But we want to say what is universal in our own way. You don’t need clichés muddied with handprints of the well-meaning masses. Make each your own description.

On Poetry

Crack
       open time

Poetry sifts the moment

The lyric of dreams
       aborted hope
            hearth of pain

Poetry is the  space  between
          the noise outside  and  my voice

Poetry reasons

          is intention 
      question
   assurance
a luscious joy 

Jealous for beauty 

Poetry, watercolor memory
surfaces to clear lines, light

Poetry
       is breath

womanwater1

My Dear Readers, The Sun Stole The Poem I Had For You

I started a poem in my dream. I worked and worked through the rigorous process as I do in the day, felt the thrill of seeing the words come together. I wrote a real poem in my sleep – actually, a pretty good one. And then I — WOKE. I surfaced tired from all that thinking and by the time the grogginess had lifted, I’d lost the precious fruit of my labor to the daylight. It would’ve been too late to snatch it, preserve it, even with my blog book on hand. Aughhh. How do I take the notebook into sleep with me?

Microchip it.

Samsung, Dell, Apple: Here, your next patent idea. I want 30%.

My Pen and I: In Sickness and In Health, ‘Til Death Do Us Part

BlogBkSo I had told myself I wouldn’t post personal updates. I want to give my readers more. But I hope you get something out of these stories. This post is about my blogging journey. How I’ve been on my face in the dirt this month, knocked over by hail and tree. How those nearest and dearest to me sat me up to the sun.

The happy part first: The friend who taught me to pilot this blog sent me a birthday ecard this week. I had to share it with you. No bolt of revelation, no profundity to shake anyone. But it’s been a hard month and it felt good to smile:

A little girl, dressed in her Sunday best, was running as fast as she could, trying not to be late for Bible class. As she ran she prayed, ‘Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late! Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late!’

While she was running and praying, she tripped on a curb and fell, getting her clothes dirty and tearing her dress. She got up, brushed herself off, and started running again!

As she ran she once again began to pray, ‘Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late…But please don’t shove me either!’

————————————————

Gift Number Two, this one from a fellow poet. It was perfect. Yes, the picture on top. All last year I wanted to get myself a nice blank notebook for the on-the-go writing. You should see the piles of haphazard blog notes in my office. I’ve started filling in my precious blog book with future posts, my heart to yours.

Gift Number Three, a card printed just for me. My husband hit bull’s-eye. It was the most thoughtful card he’s ever picked out. Many of you have read of my daily struggle to keep up the writing while homeschooling and dreaming about vanquishing the dishes.

BdayCard41InsideCard
These gestures of love sweetened the bitterness of February. I can share only a glimpse of what it’s been like but the flu got me good this time. I could count on one hand the number of decent night’s rest I got all month, barking my lungs out ’round the clock for a brief reprieve at three in the morning. There’s a lot more I could regale you with. So why did I continue writing? Because I couldn’t talk, teach, read to my son for all the coughing, but I could talk to you. At least after someone stopped hammering my head and rubbing jalapeño all over my skull. Why am I talking to you?

My brain kept writing.

Through the tears and the hopeless madness, my brain went off on a life of its own. I’ve experienced in a fresh way how powerless artists are against our calling. It is the sunflower that knows to follow the light, the monarch butterfly that migrates to the same place every year refusing to be deterred by 2000 miles of wind and elements. Life tries to get in the way but nothing can bridle a writer’s reflex. Clutching my ribs, I hacked away and reached for my pen like the half-conscious addict who gets his hand around the bottle. I was rehearsing what I realized I will be doing on my deathbed. Raise a stick of a finger to entreat pen and paper so I could share what it was like, night’s closing in on me. I haven’t stopped writing because that’s what we freaks called writers do.

Young Writers in Their Dreaming

I got to do the fun stuff with my students when I taught the Gifted and Talented in the 90s. The elementary school kids in the program left their classroom and came to me bright-eyed, bushy-taled. Grounded in the basics, they were ready for a session of poetry or creative writing. Here are some activities the second graders got a kick out of one year. They were reading fairy tales in class so we played with a number of enrichment exercises around the subject of gnomes. We brainstormed the things these creatures might eat and need. See what the kids came up with:

Gnome4
Gnome Foods by Anna

1. Chocolate Mushroom cake
2. Chocolate-covered leaf
3. Jellyfish tuna sandwich
4. Buttercup cake
5. Smashed Grass and Fish Salad
6. Nectar shake

Tap the list on the right to zoom. The word that’s hard to read in no. 5 is cockroach.

Ad for Gnome Furniture

for the Gnome News by Jackie

New. Acorn fillings sofa bed with cotton flower pillow. The pedals help you fall asleep and in the morning they help you wake up rested. And in the night you have no bad dreams. Yours, for only 10 pinecones. Pillows free.

Oh, where are those pinecones?

Gnome Illnesses by Julian

1. Nox Shadis Feveris (Nightshade Fever)
Carrot infusion and agave minted green
Drink 1/2 cup every morning.

2. Lox Gnomigus (Lou Gnomig’s Disease)
Black tea with Meridian grapes
Take 1/4 cup a day after lunch.

3. Gnomhizerus (Gnomheizer’s Disease)
Cyprus fruit with citrus.
Take 1/2 cup five times a day.

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Several years later a private student of mine came up with a Narnian menu Mr. Tumnus the Faun presented Lucy in his cave.  Daniel was in third grade.

Tumnus Café

 Dessert

Cookies n Cream Reindeer Pie with boba nose and cinnamon antlers
Rocky Road Unicone with roasted pink marshmallow shreds
Wildberry Cheesecake topped with sliced acorn and nutmeg
McCherry Sundae with toasted TumFlower seeds
Rainberry muffins with vanilla icing
Strawberry Upside-Down Cake (for birthdays. Please call in advance.)

 Iced Beverages

Snowberry lemonade
Rainbow punch with banana-flavored straws
Snowplum smoothie
Morning dew shake topped with moon peach slices

 Hot Drinks

Green apple cider with star sugar
Fire Diamond milk
Dawn Wind mango boba with dessert dream sprinkles
===========================

Hear the poetry in some of these lines? Young writers at work, frolicking in a field of ideas. What a delicious world they created. Where imagination took these children is the runway of the Shel Silversteins, J.K. Rowlings, Alice Walkers. An old friend reminded me yesterday that English was my second language. I wonder where I’d be now if in the formative years I’d been given the permission and direction away from the glory of grades to dream, just dream.

The Writing Process II, Part 5: The Gift of Time in Revision

If this one isn’t short and sweet, hopefully it’ll be short and sensible. Before publishing anything, take the good that time offers and – where at all possible – step away from your work.

Stephen King says, “With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development…Your mind and imagination…have to recycle themselves.” (On Writing) But he doesn’t get into why the brain welcomes this respite in the first place.

PocketWatch2Without it, we’re too deeply IN IT. It’s the reason we’re convinced we’re in the right, glued to our own voice in an argument. No objectivity.

The distance of time, even an hour, can lend legibility to the written thought as it renews the writer and quiets the talker in us.

The Holistic Editor offers a word on healthful writing: we require balance in all areas. Wordaholics of all people benefit from activity that redistributes blood and energy from the brain to the rest of our anatomy. As we are physically more than the thoughts we hear and devote desk hours to, we need to nourish our organs with the balance of movement. Enjoy some fresh air, tackle the dishes, pump those limbs, sing, dance, sleep. And return with a fresh eye to the words you were eager to print.