Monday, January 15, 2018

Why a Wordsmith Should Read Poetry

My father was a poet.  He wrote amazing, long, rhymed poetry for all occasions – birthdays, weddings, holidays – and gave them away as presents. 
He read Shakespearian iambic pentameter and Neruda’s long, laborious odes (in the original Spanish) to me before I knew who these poets were.     
During the day my dad was an accountant, but his real love included music and poetry.  I did not inherit his musical ability (you do not want to hear me sing or play the kazoo), but I did inherit his admiration of poetry.
My own poetry is forgettable so I prefer to relish in the poetry that isn’t. 
My Catholic elementary school had a tiny library.  It fit in what used to be the janitor’s closet, but right there tucked among the hundreds of books on the saints and martyrs was Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  She was neither a saint nor a martyr. Her Sonnets to the Portuguese made me break out in goosebumps. Her profession of love to Robert Browning made me wonder if something so bold did not break a Commandment or two.
In high school I discovered e. e. cummings.  Poems did not have to rhyme.  They could take liberties with convention.  I ate up every poem of his, delighting in his puzzling lyricism.
For years I taught Frost and Dickens and Eliot to reluctant readers. I tried to infuse them with the thrill those great, famous poets gave me.  I may have failed but I had fun trying.
For my own pleasure, I read Billy Collins and Nikki Giovanni and Naomi Shihab Nye, and I pretended to like Silverstein and Prelutsky only for my children and students’ sake, but I still have their books of hilarious poetry on my shelves.  
As a novelist, reading poetry is a daily brain exercise, a study of ideas and images, an interesting formation of sentences and lines, all using an economy of words.

All of this may be why my father was fascinated with poetry. There is a common base to mathematics, music, and verse.  They all have an internal beat, a systematic form, a message to be portrayed.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Finding My Zen in Writing


One of the perks of spending more than half of my life teaching secondary school was the amount of reading I had to do to keep up with the students’ curriculum.  The secondary reading list (grades 6 -12) had been vetted on so many levels that by the time it got to me, it was a guaranteed must-read.
I read hundreds and hundreds of books. Some authors were not my favorites, but then others changed my life.
Ray Bradbury was one of those. “All Summer in a Day,” “A Sound of Thunder,” “The Small Assassin,” Something Wicked This Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451.  All deliciously creepy, sad, or shocking.
“To keep a muse, you must offer it food.” He wrote and read daily from childhood until his death – poems, essays, anything and everything - especially other authors who did not think or write like he did.
“Not to write,” he states in his book Zen in the Art of Writing, “is to die.”
Truth in those words.
He perfected a writing process that worked for him, making daily lists of word associations.  He delved into childhood fears and personal nightmares, writing down everything he could remember of each, and from there created short stories that might later become novels.  He said a writer should be excited about the work he or she creates; he suggests “burning down the house” or “standing on a land mine.”
When asked if he wrote prophetically, warning his readers of the future, he stated he only wanted to prevent it.
About the benefit of literary criticism or creative writing degrees, he stated that the only degree or direction a writer needs is to find his own “Zen,” a mindful DAILY writing practice, a routine by which the author comes to an honest understanding of what works and what doesn’t on the page in front of him or her.  Write until at ease with the writing.

Some people call it voice or style; Bradbury called it Zen. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reap What You Sow


When I walk into a grocery store, I avoid what does not appeal to me – the pet food aisle, the baby goods, the canned foods.  When I walk into a department store, I have no use for the men’s department, the petites, the evening gowns. When I go to a craft show or an antique sale, I avoid any and all that doesn’t appeal to me – jewelry, pottery, paintings.
Likewise, with social media.
I have no tolerance for foul language, graphic videos, and opinionated slander. I have no use for hate, anger, and bullying.
Social media “sells” to me, so I have the choice to avoid them, “unfriend” or “block” them, or erase them all together from my feed.
“Persons reap what they sow,” so I will feed my soul and mind what I aspire to be.
I refuse to be bullied into accepting what others (who are no better than I) think is cool, trendy, or viral.

I keep abreast of the news, I check sources, I keep an open mind, but I also want to live a healthy, happy, hospitable life. 
And that is how I will start 2018. I hope you join me in this venture. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Marital Blitz


Both in our fifties, HoneyBunch and I met on an Internet dating site.  It matched us by age and interests. We married after three months, so there was no time for HB to learn the truth that all of this was not natural beauty.
After the wedding, I kept up appearances for a while by disappearing one day each month to visit my hairdresser.  It wasn’t until I got sick and couldn’t keep my appointments did he learn the truth - I dyed my hair, grew a healthy, robust unibrow, and had an unruly cowlick the size of a Category 5 hurricane.
As we near our eleventh anniversary, all my beauty secrets have been lain bare. All of this has been nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
He tries not to laugh each time I have had to prepare for a colonoscopy – smiling at him one moment, running to the bathroom the next. He cautiously fed me Sprite and soup the week I contracted the Asian flu – fluids went in and flowed out from every orifice. Then there was the time I had my rotator cuff surgery and I slept sitting up for six months, and learned to bathe and comb my hair with the “good” arm.  He helped me with the contraption I had to wear that made me look like a cross between Igor and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. There was no combing the cowlick during any of this.
As I get older, it gets harder and harder to keep up all of this.  Most often it takes all the energy I have to look presentable, much less attractive, and nix trying for sexy, so God bless HoneyBunch for sticking through it all. 
While I am confessing all my physical shortcomings, I might as well admit I snore loud enough to set off a car alarm.  I have the propensity to lead when HB and I slow dance, and I have a serious milk allergy that makes me no fun to be around.

Last week I got a fever blister the size of Rhode Island. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

From Genesis to the Gospels


In a few weeks I will have completed one of my New Year Resolutions for 2017.  I will have read the Bible.  Every book, including the additional, apocryphal chapters included in the Catholic Bible. 
It is not the first time I have done this but it will be the first time I have done it with such purpose and intention.  I am nowhere an expert, but I consider it a good start into the study of the Good Book. I might do it again in 2018 just to get a better look at its message.
Thanks goes to the friend who coordinated the Facebook online group.  The guide we used broke it down into weekly reading assignments which made it manageable, but it also presented the readings in chronological order.  We started at the beginning but often jumped ahead several hundred pages to other books that “happened” at the same historical time.  For instance, while reading Genesis, we skipped ahead and read Job, then came back again Genesis.  The Psalms were interspersed wherever they fit into the Old Testament. It gives a better look at the historical timeline of the Old Testament.
We are presently in the second week of November and reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Jesus has been arrested and next week’s readings will take us into his passion and crucifixion. It is interesting reading the Gospels simultaneously; the story repeats itself four times, but it is told in the different styles of each of the Apostles.
Folks ask if reading the Bible has affected me in any way.  Burning bushes?  Apparitions on mountain tops? Angelic visitations?
I hate to disappoint anyone, but – no.
One thing I can offer is that all the books really do lead to Jesus.
Another is that we humans are a predictable, disobedient, and arrogant lot.    We continue to wander away from God and He continues to offer redemption. Every generation must have thought it was the last one and the end of the world was imminent, but we are still here. The sad reality is that one day we will run out of chances and the Apocalypse will happen.
As I near the end of the books in the Bible, I feel a true sadness.  I know how it ends – the death and resurrection of Jesus – and though I know the necessity of this sacrifice, I feel a true loss that someone so magnificent gave his life for me and you and for all of creation.  
I am glad I did this for myself. Doing it over the course of a year, gave me time to think and meditate over the words. I have pen and pencil marks all over the pages, notes in the margins.  I have a notebook full of verses and questions and summaries.
But the best part of all, is the indelible mark it made in my soul.