Friday, April 27, 2007


I wrote this in response to a prompt given at our journal group.

Fiction gives us the chance that life denies us. Paul Theroux

This quote reminds me of the story of how Sue Grafton began writing. She was angry with her ex-husband after her divorce. She said she felt like killing him; since that wasn’t allowed, she wrote a murder mystery with him in mind. And after it was done, she sold it and started her series of Alphabet Murders! I don’t know if it’s true, but I like that story.
I know that when I read a good story, I am transported into the life and locale of the book. The characters, the places and the events become real. I get to travel and live right along with the characters. I can jump through time and space, through gender, through circumstances.
I may never get to Prince Edward Island, or Tuscany or Ireland, yet I’ve already lived there. I’ve been orphaned, a governess, a writer, a Civil War survivor who will never go hungry again. I’ve lived in Chicago, in Iowa, and in the Deep South. I’ve solved mysteries with my gang of friends and with my two cats. And I’ve done all these things while sitting in a chair with my nose stuck in a book. So, yes, fiction does give us chances that life denies us. It can also create new choices and new chances. After we read about these people and places, we can choose to go and experience them in our real life. Or we can write about them and share with others.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Painting a Promise

In honor of National Poetry Month, here is one of my favorite poems written by one of my favorite poets, Luci Shaw. This one is found in her book, Polishing the Petoskey Stone.

How to paint a promise in January
for Lauren

Here in my winter breakfast room,
the colors of rainbows are
reduced to eight solid lozenges in a
white metal tray. A child’s brush
muddies them to gray in a
glass of water. Even the light breaks down
as it pushes through the rain-streaked
windows and polishes the wooden table
Green leaves always turn
brown. Summer died into the dark days
a long time ago; it is hard even to
remember what it was like, stalled
as I am in this narrow slot of time
and daylight.
Until I look down again
and see, puddling along the paper,
under a painted orange sun
primitive as the first spoked wheel,
the ribbon of color flowing out of
my grand-daughter’s memory—a new
rainbow, arc-ing wet over strokes of grass
green enough to be true.

Luci Shaw

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Okay, in my last entry I wrote about showing up every day, doing a little bit consistently, not binge and starve, feast or famine. Then yesterday, I read about an excellent teacher, writer and poet, Sebastian Matthews, in a post at 37 Days (a wonderful, thought provoking website). Sebastian Matthews is William Matthews’ son. William Matthews was a poet. After following the link to Sebastian’s site and reading some of his prose about his father that just blew me away, I read a few of his father’s poems. And the binge and feast was on. I immediately went to the library and checked out five of William Matthews’ books—I would also have checked out Sebastian’s but the library didn’t have anything of his. So, anyway, I checked out the five books of poetry, took them home and spent my evening reading one poem after another, calling my friend and reading poems aloud to her, then reading some more. And I was happy.

And I realize that I am not naturally a little by little, day-by-day type of person. I prefer to do things in fits and starts with great swoops of activity followed by long periods of doing nothing. I could blame it on my mother, I guess, although that would be the cowardly thing to do!

My mother hated doing inside work. Put her outside on a tractor or in the garden, and she was happy. Inside was a different story. Things would pile up around the house until she couldn’t stand it any more. Then she’d announce one morning, “It’s time to give this room a physic!” And she’d flinter in to it (that’s how she described it). She’d work like a woman possessed, scrubbing, tossing, dusting and arranging until the room was spotless and beautiful. Then the cycle would begin again.

Either by habit or by nature, I have adopted this as my modus operandi. But somewhere along the line, my episodes of giving a room a physic—which I never realized until I was an adult was another name for a laxative and probably meant the room was full of crap—have slowed down. My flint has lost its spark! This is especially evident in my study/office/studio—my all purpose hideaway that is filled to the brim with all the books, papers and magazines that I’ve binged on. They’re everywhere.

Today I’m trying to make some progress in clearing it up. I’ve sorted mail, shredded junk papers, piled books, and made some order. I’ve been thinking of the poems that I read last night. Thinking of life in general and wondering how to be happy with who I am while I’m still trying to improve. I’m listening to Charles Mingus clips on my computer as I type these words, thanks to reading about the love William Matthews had for jazz and for Mingus’ music. And, in my usual manner, now I want to go out and buy tons of jazz cds and fill my ears with those while I fill my heart with the poems.

And you see why I have trouble sticking with cleaning—right here in the middle of it, I had to stop and write down all these thoughts that have been swirling around my head! I had to make the connections, get these thoughts in order and then share them with the world. Now that I’ve done that, I guess it’s time to flinter in again!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Show Up. Take Action. Read Poetry.

April is Poetry Month. I’ve been reading several other blogs, and they have entries listing their favorite poems, poets, original poetry, etc. Alice Friman is one of my favorite poets. I attended a poetry reading by her on March 29. She read from her new book The Book of the Rotten Daughter, poems that were written while she was dealing with the death of her father and mother. The poems are powerful, and they show how much grief and death are a part of life.

The following weekend, I attended a workshop given by Jennifer Bosveld of Pudding House Publishing House at the Writers’ Center of Indiana. The workshop was valuable and interesting even though it was not what I expected at all. I thought I was signing up for a workshop on writing and critiquing individual poems; instead the workshop was geared toward looking at poetry chapbook collections and possible publishing by Pudding House. Since I haven’t even written enough poems to fill a chapbook, let alone have that many published, I wasn’t sure that I was in the right place. I still learned a lot about writing poetry from Ms. Bosveld and about publishing, chapbooks, and life in general. One of the first things I learned was “Turn off your cell phone BEFORE the poetry reading starts!” I rarely get calls on my cell phone, so I forgot. Guess what? My phone rang right in the middle of a reading. That was embarrassing!

Another thing on my mind is “showing up.” I’ve been reading a lot of personal development websites and also Kate DiCamillo’s journal on her writing site. She has an article about the importance of showing up, every day. Almost all of the personal development people emphasize the habit of showing up. Last week, I decided (and even wrote in my journal) that I was going to show up. Show up on my blog, show up at exercising, show up to write every day, show up in all the areas where I want to improve. Even as I wrote that, I realized that that is a lot showing up! And now that I’ve tried to live the showing up for a week, I also realize that if I show up for everything, every day, including my full time job and the normal everyday house and food activities, then I am going to have to quit showing up for sleep! If I try to do all those things, I stay up late, get up early and then crash by the time the weekend gets here. And if I go to bed exhausted, then I don’t show up for my potential practices. (Of course, I DID manage to show up for Dancing with The Stars and American Idol—I couldn’t miss those! Especially Dancing with the Stars—watching that show satisfies my soul. Seeing all the contestants, both professional and celebrity, glide, stomp, shimmy and shake across the floor just makes me happy. I love dancing, love to do it myself and love to watch others dancing. So I couldn’t give that up!

Steve Pavlina wrote about being consistent and showing results. He wrote about “self-help junkies,” people who read self-help books, who are always looking for that next magic piece of knowledge that will change their lives, yet their lives never change. They never apply what they DO know. That struck home with me. I own and read tons of self-help books. I own and read tons of writing books. Books about diet, exercise, becoming wealthy. Yet I read them and the knowledge just stays inside my head. Or I try different strategies, and then let them go. So the message, “Show up! Take action!” comes to me through several messengers. I really think this is the lesson for me to learn right now. SHOW UP. TAKE ACTION.

Another fantastic writer, David St. Lawrence had some good advice on his blog, Ripples. He wrote about how to make a fresh start and get yourself out of “almost any hole you have put yourself into.” He says to “write down your most immediate and serious problem. Find one thing you can do about it today and do it.” Once you’ve done that, then pick your next step and do it. Then the next step. And do it. Eventually you will work your way out of the pit. This message gives me hope. It’s doable. If I show up.

Be sure to check out David’s blog. All of his articles are well written and thought provoking and enjoyable to read.

Back to poetry: one of the things Jennifer Bosveld had each participant to do was name our favorite poets. Among the wide variety of favorites, one name kept repeating: Mary Oliver. Billy Collins, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, and William Stafford were mentioned more than once. I also like Luci Shaw—one of my dreams is to meet her some day and take a poetry workshop from her. I love Billy Collins; he’s funny and wonderful to listen to. I like Beth Ann Fennelly, Andrea Potos, and Greenish Lady’s poetry. Oh, and Linda Pastan and Nancy Willard. The longer I think about poetry, the more poets I remember. I know some one on some site that I came across during my web travels recommended reading a poem a day for the month of April, in honor of National Poetry Month. And by reading one poem a day, every day for thirty days, rather than bingeing and then starving throughout the month, we can practice being consistent. Show up. Take action.