Inspiring Blogger Award

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Susan Daniels recently nominated me for the Inspiring Blogger award. As I said to Susan, I’d like to send it right back her direction, because I am so impressed with the volume and quality of her writing. Thank you to Susan for the very kind compliment.

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The rules, as I understand them: if you accept the award, thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog, tell seven things about yourself, and then nominate 15 more blogs for the award.  Here goes.

Seven things about me:

  1. I am currently reading The E-Myth Revisited. It’s about entrepreneurs and the mistakes they typically make. I’ve heard of it so many times I thought I’d better give it a look-see. Mediocre writing, but good business concepts.
  2. I get irritated by business books that tell “stories.” Who Moved My Cheese? is the worst offender.
  3. I am a rower and a coxswain. I met my husband through the Des Moines Rowing Club. We mostly row on our ergs in the basement now. It’s just not the same as being on the water…
  4. We had a friend visit for the weekend. Thank goodness for company or the house would never get thoroughly cleaned.
  5. I made one batch of tomato soup and one batch of tomato sauce yesterday, and would have made more if I hadn’t run out of onions and tomato paste.
  6. I have red leather desk accessories. 🙂
  7. My favorite affirmation these days is “I am an endless source of creativity!” It helps me get unstuck when working on troublesome poems.

15 blogs that inspire me:

  1. Fighting with Faith
  2. SuzieQ Cottage
  3. 98dayjourney
  4. brainsmush
  5. Sell, Lead, Succeed!
  6. ManicDDaily
  7. lizbethwrightbooks
  8. Linguistic Legerdemain
  9. firsttimerecords
  10. playingwithmemories
  11. PluckyUmbrella
  12. joannagilmanhyde
  13. frangipani singaporenicum
  14. henry’s home for wandering trees
  15. Charles Gupton

Enjoy!

Deluge

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Red robin, green zebra, and summertime gold

rain from the garden.  The counter

is drenched. They keep

pouring in to join,

down in the freezer,

all manner of sauces and soups put up

over summer to winter us through,

me and my ‘mater man.

***

For Margo Roby’s Tuesday Tryouts, I tried a sentence acrostic.  With apologies to Peter Gabriel. 🙂

7 Books to Inspire the Writing of Poetry

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After discussing writing prompts and exercises with a friend the other day, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the books I’ve used over the years. With any of these, you have to jump in and try the exercises, even if they don’t necessarily appeal to you. Not everything will work out, but you might find some surprises. And if nothing else, you continue to prime your creativity for “the real thing.”

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The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron – A 12-week course to get you more in touch with your own creativity, whether it’s writing poetry, painting, or something else. You can sometimes find facilitated classes based on this book; I’ve not taken one, but from people who have, I understand it is quite a meaningful and enlightening group experience. I found the book itself to be revelatory for me.

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron – Short chapters with exercises that are not necessarily designed to give you a prompt, but to help you tap into ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that may lead to something. Great book if you want to write but need some encouragement.

The Practice of Poetry: Writing exercises from poets who teach edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell – Exercises from well-known writers such as Rita Dove and Stephen Dunn (as well as poets I’ve never heard of) with some insight about why they use these exercises in their teaching. This is one of my favorites.

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge – Reflections on poetry along with suggestions for practice.

Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse by Mary Oliver – An excellent guide to understanding the formality of poetry: feet, scansion, iambs—it’s all there for the learning.

Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio – Examples of poetry, what makes it work, ways to think about it, and suggestions for practice.

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit – I’m in the middle of this book right now. The author provides detailed analysis of sample poems and why they work or don’t, in some cases going through iterations to show how a poem can be improved. Quite a lot of ideas to generate your own poems.

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What other books do you suggest to inspire the writing of poetry?

Street traveler

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The wheelchair whirs, swerves

‘round cars, squirrels,

piles of burr balls.

I wave. Call

Hello. Then,

an arm jerks with

a quirk of the mouth

caught in an unshaven face.

Lessons in Contrast

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Harry Potter has returned to Hogwarts in search of what he thinks is Voldemort’s final horcrux; meanwhile, Voldemort’s forces prepare to attack the school. Professor McGonagall assures Harry they will do everything possible to give him time to search. On the steps of the school, she intones “Piertotum Locomotor!” thus calling the statues and suits of armor to their duty of protecting the school. The stone warriors leap from their high perches and thunk to the ground, crouched ready to pounce. The professor turns to Mrs. Weasley and giggles, “I’ve always wanted to try that spell!”

Last night I went to an outdoor screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. The movie reminded me again (I’ve seen it several times…) of the importance of balancing darkness with light, heaviness with humor. The last Harry Potter movie carries a great deal of darkness, visually and thematically, but the creators excelled at inserting contrast into all that darkness.

On the eve of battle, we see a combination of imminent danger, fearful power, and childlike pleasure. The humor allows the audience a momentary break from anxiety. The levity stops the movie from taking itself too seriously.

Likewise the film contrasts the visual darkness (gray to the point of difficulty in making out details at times) with the brilliant scene where Harry meets Dumbledore at what appears to be a very clean version of King’s Cross Station. The white light, almost blinding initially, certainly would not have the same impact without so much darkness surrounding it.

I’ve noticed this need for contrast in other media as well. For example, it’s tough—really tough—to get vulnerable when you are giving a speech, to share something sad or disturbing from your own life. And as hard as it is for the speaker to say, it’s sometimes even harder for the audience to hear. Even if they empathize with you, your sharing of an uncomfortable experience makes them uncomfortable. But balanced with an eensy-weensy bit of lightness or humor or joy, the discomfort becomes bearable. (Easier said than done.)

I have a friend who is a leadership coach. I admire him and I’ve learned a lot from him. But I’ve almost given up on reading his newsletters because everything is so. heavy. I want to say “Dude! Lighten up! Can’t you see the humor in this situation? Everything is not suffering and sacrifice.” As someone who dealt with a parent’s Alzheimer’s for many years, I recognize that laughter can bring as much enlightenment as tears.

In my writing, I find each poem has a certain flavor—dark, light, humorous, cynical—but collectively I think I have a balance of different feels and emotions. I think I avoid monotony (tough to judge one’s own work though).

How does the idea of contrast affect your creative work? Is it a conscious consideration? Does it just come naturally?

Rima XXXVIII (translation) – G. A. Bécquer

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Sighs are air and go to air!

Tears are water and go to the sea!

Tell me, woman, when love is forgotten,

do you know where it goes?

***

Los suspiros son aire y van al aire.

Las lágrimas son agua y van al mar.

Dime, mujer, cuando el amor se olvida,

¿sabes tú adónde va?

***

The original Spanish is the beautiful work of Gustavo Adolpho Bécquer. Any errors in translation are entirely my own.

Independence Day

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Sparklers flaring

A burn on my arm

I stick with snakes

for years after that

 

Breakfast at Wimbledon

Glorious Sundays when

American gents have

tussled before Brits

 

Fire truck siren

circles the park

leading a parade of

crêpe paper spokes

 

Capitol lawn

sprawled with Riesling

Stars & Stripes

(and traffic) Forever

 

Miniature flags

in pots on the porch

Red, white and blue

We’re home, We’re free

***

A “list” poem, prompted by Margo Roby. Thanks, Margo!

Here’s hope for all the aspiring novelists out there

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The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel

I just read (well, skimmed) The Art of Racing in the Rain.

It’s for a new book club I’m visiting next week, so I wanted to like it. I really really wanted to like it so I could participate enthusiastically (!) in the discussion, but I knew I was in trouble by page 7.

Wow. Can you say “trite,” “unoriginal,” and “one-dimensional”?

No character development. Shoot—no characters! Only stereotypes!

Completely predictable, not to mention unbelievable, plot. The whole thing reads like a bad Lifetime movie (apologies, Lifetime).

I struggle to see how nearly 2000 ratings on Amazon come up with 4.5 stars. That’s either a comment on the sophistication of the reading public, the success of Garth Stein’s marketing machine, or a whole lot of hope given to those of us still honing our craft.

Publishers, you can do better than this!

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Science Fiction

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(NOTE: This post is a version of my 10th Toastmasters speech, which I gave earlier this week. You’ll just have to imagine the gestures, facial expressions, and vocal variety!)

I am a science fiction geek. Always have been; always will be. Books, TV shows, movies. Doesn’t really matter. It’s a special filter through which I see life. I’ve learned a multitude of life lessons from sci-fi. Here are five…

Lesson 1: DON’T PANIC!

New job? DON’T PANIC. New baby? DON’T PANIC. Starting your own business? DON’T PANIC. Fire in a crowded movie theater? Even then—DON’T PANIC. It rarely does much good, so DON’T PANIC.

Those are the words inscribed in large friendly letters on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the best-selling travel guide in the universe!

I first read Douglas Adams’ book, about poor Arthur Dent, dragged about the galaxy after the earth is destroyed for a planetary byway, when I was 18 and traveling the trains around Europe. This was well before the days of Kindles, back when travelers still traded paperbacks to have something new to read.

DON’T PANIC was particularly helpful advice for a young person traveling alone for the first time, nervous, frequently lost, and—let’s face it—a little bit panicky. Plus, it made me laugh hysterically. Did you know it’s practically impossible to panic when you are laughing?

DON’T PANIC.

Lesson 2: Engage!

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there is always a “situation”—a problem to solve, a disease to cure, a civilization to rescue—and it generally involves flying off into space somewhere. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Be still my heart!) orders the course to be set. “Course laid in, captain.” The captain points his finger and says, “Engage.” And they fly off to save the universe.

I had a prickly relationship with my father growing up, and when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I went home to spend some time with him. Every night we would watch reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Watching Jean-Luc point his finger and say “engage.” That was how we were able to engage—a common interest, a common experience, a common love of science fiction.

How do you engage with life, engage in intellectual pursuit, engage with family, engage with friends? However you do it, just engage!

“Engage.” It’s more than an order—it’s a philosophy.

Lesson 3: If you want to do something, you have to go do it!

Octavia Butler was rare in the literary world, an African American female science-fiction writer—and the first sci-fi writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

I discovered her work many years ago through a science fiction book club. We all loved her writing so much that when we saw she was going to be at a sci-fi conference a few hours away, we eagerly jumped in the car to go see her.

At the conference we were enthralled with her speaking and followed her around like puppies waiting for a treat. I had her sign all my books and I told her how much I loved her writing and that I wanted to be a writer too, and her response was “Well, you know what you have to do to be a writer? Write!”

I’m a slow learner, so I’ve picked up my pen and paper occasionally over the years. I’ve taken writing classes. I’ve experimented a bit. But I never really committed until I started this blog for my writing challenge “May Manuscripts – 31 Days of Meeting the Muse.”

You know what I learned? I’m a writer! When it comes right down to it, when I commit, I am a writer.

What is it you want to do? Have you committed? Lesson #3: If you want to do something, you have to go do it!

Lesson 4: Be magnificent!

Lesson #4 comes from the British TV show Doctor Who, which has been around since 1963, with 11 different incarnations of The Doctor. The Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through time and space in his ship, which happens to be a blue British Police phone box. The Doctor is particularly fond of Earth and its human inhabitants, and typically has a human “companion” who travels with him.

In the episode “The Runaway Bride,” Donna is accidentally transported to The Doctor’s ship—in the middle of her wedding. Confusion ensues, and she spends the episode traveling with The Doctor to save the world from the evil Empress of the Racnoss.

At the end of the adventure, The Doctor asks Donna what she’s going to do next. She doesn’t know. He asks her if she wants to travel with him, to become his companion. But Donna decides The Doctor’s life scares her to death; she declines.

He looks at her with sadness, but understanding. “Thanks, then, Donna. Good luck. And just…be magnificent.”

How many times has anyone told you to be “magnificent”? Or “wonderful”? or “spectacular”? Choose your own adjective.

Donna’s response: “I think I will, yeah.”

Lesson #4: You don’t have to save the world from an evil empress, but whatever you choose to do, be magnificent!

Lesson #5: Pursue Love

Our final lesson comes from a giant in science fiction Ray Bradbury, who wrote The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and The Illustrated Man.

A few quotes…

  • “People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.”
  •  “If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical… Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
  • “Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything.”
  • “My job is to help you fall in love.”

Do you see the lesson? Science fiction is not about the science. It’s about the humanity. It’s about understanding the human condition. It’s about love. Pursue love.

It’s true I’m a science fiction geek. Science fiction is the filter through which I see life and learn the lessons I need to learn. Don’t panic; engage; if you want to do something, you have to go do it; and then…whatever you do…be magnificent. Be magnificent and pursue love.