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The Beautiful Writers Workshop #18 Writing Challenges: Why Word Counts and Time Limits Work

Today’s blog will be short as I’m embarking on a new writing challenge brought to me by the fantabulous people over at Zombie Pirate Publishing. Not only is it a genre that I have yet to dabble in, but the subject has to involve a planet I know relatively little about.

What madness would possess me? Well…I don’t like boxes. I don’t like to be put into one, and I don’t like to contain anyone else in one. I think we were gifted free-will for a purpose. I also believe that it’s a lot more fun to participate in life than it is to sit on the sidelines, stuck inside some box somebody once, a long time ago, put you in.

So while I’m busy researching space travel and alternate dimensions and typical characteristics of rebellions, I encourage you, sometime this summer, to find a writing challenge that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and into that strange and beautiful place of self-awareness.

You see, until we’re faced with a challenge, we never really know what we are capable of. If we are always comfortably in our box, we assume those lines around us won’t bend; that the walls can’t be broken. Challenge brings change, and with it a casting off of limits. When we break through walls/limits we come to understand how amazingly capable we really are, and then realize how much our excuses have held us back.

I believe in every single one of you. I believe you can write 15,000 words in seven days, edit it, and submit it for consideration in a publication. I believe you will finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. I believe these things because I’ve seen it happen. Because I’ve done it. And I’ll keep doing it, especially in times when my tank is empty and I start to question my worth. Because I know I am capable…deep down. I just need reminding. We all do.

Writing challenges not only force us to sit our asses in the chair and knock our procrastination methods to the curb, they also show us how much we can actually write when we focus. Sitting for thirty minutes on a good stint will sometimes give me 1,500 words. (This doesn’t account for the editing which probably will drop a third of that). The point is, when you know you don’t have the time to second guess or organize your sock drawer, you give yourself the freedom to just write the damn book.

And, sad as it may seem, sometimes that’s all we need; permission.

Go and write. Look into the Zombie Pirate Publishing site, check out local groups in your area. I did an amazing one a year or two ago for the Rocky Mountain Writers that lasted one weekend and garnered 12,000 words. One of the most fun novellas I’ve ever written and my first foray to action/spy-fi (yes…spy-fi. It’s a genre I just now made up. Copyright.)

That’s it…that’s all I’ve got. No fun pictures or anything. I’m on a mission now, I ain’t got time for that. I gotta make up some swinging character names and decide how genetic mutations might let someone breath H2 and He.

Go find a mission. If you can’t find one, make one. Give yourself a time limit, and a word count and make it a little more than you think you can handle. Hell, make it a lot more than you think you can handle and watch how you surprise yourself.

I’ll be back next week with a full report of how often I found myself crying in the closet and banging my head against the wall for comfort.

Until next time, kids, happy writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #17 Drunk and In Charge of A Bicycle (or How We Should Be Approaching Life in Difficult Times)

Before anyone gets their knickers in a quandary… (see, fancy words are still running over from last week)…I am not, nor have a I ever been (well maybe once but it was completely unintentional and never repeated), drunk and in charge of a bicycle.

Bradbury_2240962bThat line actually comes from an Irish Police report retold by Ray Bradbury in his book, “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Bradbury was talking about the way we approach storytelling and writing, and that is: drunk with life and not knowing where off to next. Such a trip, he wrote, is one half terror and exactly one half exhilaration.

So many schools of thought exist on how best to write your novel or short story. Plan it out, with all of the beautiful arcs, subplots, crises and climaxes, and scientifically bring it home with a satisfying resolution.

Or just write it, in wobbling paces of exhilaration and stumbling wrecks of metal and wheels.

One brings about better structure and fewer injuries…er…plot holes. It also makes the revision process shorter.

The other burns with uninhibited joy and rides the coaster of character dilemmas into the natural hills and valleys of human failure. It is organic and creative, and often a bitch to edit.

I tend to believe that not every writer is always one or the other. Usually, it is a balance between the two…much like riding a bike. The drunk part comes in when we let go of the inhibitions that close down creativity, and/or let our work be curtailed by criticism. Self or otherwise.

This is a time of both terror and not knowing what will come next. A less playful and lighthearted scenario than Bradbury probably meant.

All around us, voices are shouting and arguing. Outside there is a divisive and angry cloud, smothering the world. We are beset from all sides with advice about what we should do, should be doing, should have, should not have, what to feel guilty about, what to embrace…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

etc
Come on…”The King and I”? This is classic stuff! Yule Brenner! Somebody better be impressed.

We run the risk of letting all of these limitations and confusing ‘advice’ smother the bumbling beauty of writing the stories and characters that intrigue and bring us joy.

It doesn’t all have to be hard-hitting commentary. Let’s face it, we’re in the midst of the first three story arcs of a dystopian novel already. And if we know anything from those story lines, it’s that the true worth of the human race is often preserved in the beauty and art we are capable of.

Writing, drunk in love with the art, is Katniss putting flowers on Rue’s grave, and Peeta painting sunsets while other tributes throw spears around him. It’s Tris not choosing any one trait to define her, but embracing the balance of being a little bit of everything.

 

It’s in the saving of books instead burning them.book burning

So, the exercise is simple.

Write.

This week write. Something beautiful. Something true. Fly by the seat of your pants and damn the torpedos (yeah, I mixed my metaphors, what of it?)

Find a reason to fall back in love with your art, your characters, your world. Find a reason for us to go on. Shut the door and unplug the news, and try embracing something other than the fear and hatred that have become our everyday.

What will save the human race will be the dreamers who live, half in terror, half in exhilaration, and not knowing, exactly where we’re off to next, but knowing its beauty is only limited by our imaginations.

That takes the kind of courage rarely seen in the world today.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #16: High Emotion Words

…did no one else start singing Whitney Houston after that title?

“I get so emotional baby, every time I think of yoouooouu…”

No?

Well then go back to bed, get up again, and rethink your life.

Whitney
I don’t know why I like it…but I just do.

Today we’re getting off the poetry train (thank god, we thought it would never end!!!–ungrateful louts) and getting back into other aspects of writing, specifically word choice.

Now, I guess you could argue that this is related to poetry but right now I want you to think about words in terms of the emotions they convey and why using the wrong word can lead to either a tepid response in your reader or just plain confusion.

This is a good time to bring up the death traps of “very”, “really” and any “-ly” word you tend to over use. Chances are if you are using one of these precursors or the dangling adverb-maker, there is a better word out there for the emotion you are trying to evoke.

(He wasn’t very sorry. He was contrite, remorseful, ashamed. She wasn’t very pretty. She was luminous, stunning, bonnie or even fetching if you feel somewhat Scottish)

Remember, your ultimate goal is not to have your book or story be the one that readers want pick up because it’s an apt substitute for melatonin. You want them to not be able to put the book down, unless they need an emotional respite from the roller coaster you sent them on. So your word choice, in addition to being like an arrow to a bullseye, needs to light up hard or intense emotions in their brains.

I’m going  to offer an important disclaimer…I’ll even go so far to say as it’s imperious. Just like eating cake every day for every meal, or riding twenty rollercoasters back to back to back, too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing. When you overuse these impactful words, they start to over power the reader’s ability to keep up, in addition to that, you start to sound like a goddamn narcissistic douche bag.

“Watch me word, Underlings! Witness the power of my supreme expression of the English language! Cower to my mighty thesaurus and the power of my underused MFA!”

scholar
Sure, but it keeps him from licking his balls.

ahem…you get the idea. Overuse of ‘heavy’ or ‘flowery’ language will disenchant your readers and come across as dishonest (i.e. fake like a Kardashian’s talent).

Take a scene from your current book and highlight or “find” all of your adverbs and precursors. You don’t have to replace them all but particularly (yes thats a -ly word) pay attention to the ones that describe meaningful or pivotal scenes, where you want the reader to feel what your character feels.

Jane wasn’t very sad. She was decimated. Desmond wasn’t very angry, he was enraged. Katelyn wasn’t very happy she was glowing with a newfound sense of hope.

There you go. That’s your job for this week. Oh, and here are a list of heavy-emotion words if you need a little help. If you find one or two inspirational, meaty if you will, find a home for them in your work, where appropriate.

Positive:

Jubilant, elated, ecstatic, contented, serene, vivacious, encouraging, blissful, pleased, enchanted, warm, sunny, joyful, anticipation, admiration, exquisite, graceful, delighted, amused, amiable, dazzling, mesmerizing, captivating, invigorating, splendid, charming

Negative:

Oppressive, sardonic, overbearing, irritated, obnoxious, disgruntled, disenchanted, distressed, miserable, sadistic, resentful, aggravated, sour, crippling, debilitating, horrified, heavy, loathing, disgust, desperate, contempt, brutal, bloody, flawed

Others:

Evenhanded, indifferent, passive, apathetic, secretive, secular, pious, composed, awestruck, mysterious, ambivalent, horrified, pragmatic, cautious, accepting, reserved, pensive, vigilance, ancient, delicious, feeble, solemn, famished, puzzling, complicated, massive, skeletal, tremendous, efficient

 

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #15: Poetry and An Easy-Sleazy Exercise

As we are in the last week of National Poetry month I have a couple to share from last week’s exercises before we get into some fun little distractions from your current pandemic confusion.

But first…some Verse…

 

LESSONS

 

The children must be taught

But why?

So they can “grow up”?

So they can feed this horrible and unequal shipwreck of a country?

This continuous machine that steals their joy

and forces them into tiny boxes of pre-approved paths?

Paths that continue to feed the privileged?

who ride, like great white kings, on the backs of former dreamers?

Dreamers forced to live on the crumbs of cake that fall

from their slovenly white jowls?

The children MUST be taught

A new lesson.

A new way…the way of their heart.

The way their soul already knows.

The way that shouts out,

“You don’t get to tell me what my potential is–

You don’t get to standardize my worth by tests and deficient wages.”

The lesson of straightening spines

To topple the oligarchy from their shoulders

and down into the mud, to take their turn in wallowing.

Lessons must be learned.

The children must be taught.

 

–J. McLaughlin (Fort Collins, CO)

 

And from Miss Elliana (past contributor) :

 

IMBALANCE

 

And so it is,

Not one damn word in my head,

While the world rolls and sways,

Constantly tipping the balance point

Now to humanity

Now to the hungry gnash of teeth.

And I can’t remember the last words I said to you.

I can’t remember if

I was human that night

Or gnashing.

I must have felt the full and oceanic spectrum

all the love

and the hate

desire

and regret

Heart and mind, a mirror of the worldly indecision.

I like to imagine I was kind.

Even though I’m well aware,

of the splendid mess I am

for that boy.

A stammering, uncontrolled fool.

But these are stammering, uncontrolled and

foolish times.

 

–Elliana Byrne (Boulder, CO)

 

Finally, because I cannot ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself I decided to experiment with storytelling/dialogue in poetry:

 

TRUTH

 

“The truth–“she breathed. “The truth is that love changes.

In ways we don’t expect when we first fall.

It grows and festers, or it cools and softens.

It recedes and fades.

Sometimes it aches,

like a bone that healed wrong.”

 

His thought crashed out loud.

Thick skinned rhino parting reeds.

“How did you love me?”

 

Heavy stillness settled

Hot, lazy, savanna swelter

hanging over, waterhole dried.

Air so thick, she could cut it

With the truth.

 

“The festering, aching way.”

And, since it’s still Poetry Month…here’s some ideas to squeeze in a few more exercises in the art for this last day of April!

You’re welcome.

  1. Write about something that will always be out of reach (everything from the cookie jar to the corner office)
  2. Write a poem where each line/sentence is about each day of a week (maybe last week, maybe an alternate universe week)
  3. What does your favorite color taste like?
  4. What it feels like when you don’t belong in a group of others. (do you want to belong or are you trying to stay an outcast? Play with the difference in those emotions.)
  5. Start the first line of your poem with a word or phrase from a recent passing conversation between you and someone you don’t know. (it can be a simple, “how’s your day going?” from the clerk at the grocery check out line, or more intrusive like a “Have you found Jesus?” concern from a person on your front door step. Maybe it’s the “It’s called a blinker, jackass!” you hear from behind you in traffic (back in the day when we sat in traffic).

Happy Writing!

 

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #14: Poetry: The Quarrel with Ourselves

“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” –William Butler Yeats

 

I cannot believe it’s taken me nearly all month to remember that it is, in fact, National Poetry Month. I think I may have skimmed over something in the deluge of news clips and overthought, under-edited articles that pervade my cyber space, but in a world where days blend together, I nearly missed it.

You know what coming next, don’t you?

Oh,I’m not being lazy! It’s good practice!

And its more a matter of economy–I’ve got end-of-school projects due and a Black Belt Progress check this week, and therefore, my plate is a little full. So this week your exercise is simple. Go outside, mask it up if you find yourself in a bustling park, of course, but if it’s a deserted early morn, breathe the un fettered air, allow a scrap of paper and pen to tag along with you.

Take ten minutes of just being aware of the moment. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? Use these observations and notice how they filter and affect the thoughts already on your mind. Have a quarrel with yourself and see what arguments emerge. What solutions? What epiphanies?

Then go find yourself a favorite place to sit and write me a poem.

I was going to give you some restrictions but I think we’ve all had enough of those. Any length, any form, rhyming or blatantly against, iambic pentameter–why the f%*k not? Limerick or Odyssey, dark or light, whatever is on the tip of your brain, no matter how sharp or dull.

Send them along, and let me know if you want me to include them in the weeks to come.

I’ll craft one as well.

Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Lucky Number Thirteen

Let’s talk luck.

Serendipity is a fickle and chaos driven goddess. Sometimes she saves us from that random bus only to drop us into an elevator shaft while we’re reveling in our good fortune. As a writer, it can often feel like some guys (and gals) have all of her attention and the rest of us are left, toiling in the trenches for even a kind rejection letter.

But most self-earned successful people will tell you its not so much about being in the right place (or write place?) at the right time, so much as creating the right place consistently.

How do we create an open door for “luck” in our lives? It’s not too difficult, but it does require patience, perseverance, and consistency.

“Damn it! I knew there was a catch! This is bullshit! I want overnight success!” 

Don’t we all, skippy…but unless you’re planning to marry a train wreck of a Kardashian you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned way.

1.) Just like the lottery, your chances of winning increase by how much and how often you play.

You can’t expect to get that six-figure deal with one query letter to one big agent. Think of querying like a giant firecracker filled with the sparkly goodness of your novel, not a single-tipped arrow. That doesn’t mean you don’t bother aiming the damn thing, but you find the publishers and publications who take your kind of crazy, you follow their guidelines, and then you fire that baby off into the universe.

Wile-E-Coyote
Don’t singe yourself

 

2.) Make the chances you get work for you

Okay, you’re not always going to get the acceptance letters you were hoping for, you’re not always going to get the speaking gig or to meet with the agent you’d planned on at a conference. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing but a blank slate out there. Serendipity  exist in the overlooked opportunities.

Maybe they’re in things that you feel are beneath you, maybe they’re in jobs or gigs that you feel you aren’t exactly qualified for, maybe they’re unpaid or paltry in payback. But part of building your platform is taking risks, chances, and putting out there what you do have.

Volunteer to teach a writing class to an elementary school, offer up your book for free or discounted to book clubs that may be interested, try selling it at local coffee shops, be a beta reader for a fellow writer, guest speak at conferences or writing group meetings. It’s not just about marketing, its about seeing where the world can use your talent and opening your arms to offer it. Sometimes when we do this, Serendipity takes our hand.

two person hold hands
Gosh, I hope she washed it first. (Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com)

Disclaimer: When I started out as a writer, it was a non-negotiable fact that you took any guest blog, free article, un-paid ad copy you could to build your resume and presence. But you can’t work for free forever, and please don’t. You should reach a point where you request and follow leads that will compensate you for what you’re worth. If they don’t, load that shotgun, and take a new aim.

3.) Finally, luck is made, not stumbled upon, by those who look for it, work for it, and build their lives and routines around the openness and willingness to jump at the chances that come their way.

Saying yes. Especially when it scares you. Saying yes, even when you might stumble down that elevator shaft. Saying yes even if you’re not sure you’re good enough or bright enough. Saying yes, even if it means stepping off your life-path for a glint of time.

Yes, I’ll send my novel out to three agents today. Yes, I will write that article. Yes, I will stand up in front of a crowd (well, a ZOOM meeting these days) and talk about what’s worked for me in plotting my sci/fi/cowboy/romance/horror trilogy (hint: its probably a lot of post-its and some mind-altering substance).

Serendipity is a seedling. She might show up randomly in our garden, in a burst of color. But we increase our odds of seeing her if we tend the ground, water and feed her, and give her plenty of light.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

How will you make your own luck today?

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #12: It Can’t Rain All The Time

I used to consider myself an optimist.

But if you’ve been following me lately, you’ve probably seen a shift in demeanor. Let’s face it, nothing is normal in the new ‘now’ and I am no exception. You see, I’m a creature of routine. I’m an early-rising, mile-running, kettle-ball-swinging, lunch-packing, 1,000-word-before breakfast machine. I live my life by the beat of the day and the rolling pace of a full life. I’m going to school. I started an internship. I was in the process of finishing books and starting a new blog series.

Then…well. You know.

Life stole my beat. Circumstances started to peel away the fullness of my life. Tasks dropped off like over-ripe fruit, destined to waste on the ground.

And all I could do was watch. All any of us could do was watch.

And half the world shouted to get up and do something with this opportunity but I don’t think many of us felt the drive in our heart to listen. The other half shouted to self-care ourselves into a state of zen-like enlightenment, unicorn pajamas or Netflix binges.

But the paralysis settled, a blocked river swelling the banks with murky and stagnant water.

We were not given the time to grieve the loss of the life we were building. We have no assurances that it will ever come back, only the knowledge that nothing will ever be the same.

And maybe we feel guilty that we don’t want to let go, and we feel morally responsible to accept the change, and we feel angry, and we fell regret, and we feel lethargy, and we feel our pants get tighter and our morning’s wasted with a paralyzing sense of not knowing what will come from this. Or even what we should do in the present hour.

And the voices from all around shout well-intended advice about all of our spare time and howling at the moon, but to some, spare time means no job and rent coming due. Some don’t get spare time, they get understaffed and over worked in under prepared hospitals, fighting governments that horde supplies for what purpose I don’t know (except I’m sure there’s a profit in it for those who need the profits the least). And howling together isn’t as effective at showing solidarity by voting for someone who would have actually taken care of our neighbors four years ago with better health care, or one who would have listened to science and helped to prevent the worst yet to come.

But this morning, I got up early.

I got up early, and though my gym is closed and I miss the familiar faces that I never really talked to before, I got on the Peloton and listened to some size-two Brit tell me to take back my day. And I had a quiet cup of coffee with my cat resting on my shoulders and I wrote. I listened to Hozier and sang back-up to the words

‘I came in from the outside, burned out from a joyride”

And I made my own normal in a time that is not normal.

I miss my job. I miss my routine. And though everyone touts that we’re in this together, the truth is that we are all in this alone. We all may be experiencing the tsunami, but no one else is in your life-preserver.

So, here’s my advice to you;

Grieve as long as you need. Pajama all you want. Cry and scream and be a pessimist for as long as you feel it, and get the hate and frustration off of your chest. But do, eventually, get it off your chest. Because the world will have to reemerge sometime, and we’ll need to come out with it. And when we do, rather than have a false sense of hope that someone else guilted you into feeling, come out with a heart that has been made stronger by the process of loss. One that chose to come back in its own time, and in staying true to itself, can do the work needed without a fluffy layer of guilt to drive it. One that knows the work lies in the painful changes of growth that mean fighting some big fights to protect everyone in this country, not just the shareholders.

Because right now it’s dark, and that darkness isn’t going to go away when we’re all allowed to ‘go back’ to the life left outside. We don’t need false sunshine and social-media guru’s, we need our own resilience to look at the world as a realist does. Accepting there will be clouds. Choosing to fight the man-made shade that still seeks to darken our collective sky. Knowing there is light behind it.

After all, it can’t rain all the time.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #11: Nothing But Time (and a few expletives)

Hello writers and readers…so by today…wait, what day is it?

Fuck if I know.

I don’t know the last time I took a shower, or ate something that wasn’t in the carb family. I do know that this debacle has taught me I can’t have bourbon on an empty stomach without severe physical, emotional, and social consequences.

So, what day is it?

It’s today.

Today you may have some time on your hands. Or…on the other hand (ha–see what I did there? Clever girl) you may not have a concept of time anymore so that last sentence is moot point. In any case, you have time to read this, ergo, you may have time to write a little bit and if there’s one thing you should definitely be doing these days, it’s writing.

So let’s be like frogs and hop to it…

(Yep…I said that. Shit, dude, I don’t know, I’m in a weird place, I think it comes from not wearing real pants for three weeks and giving up alcohol…)

Last week I encouraged you to journal throughout this strange, disconnected/connected world we’re in.

Example:

(Sometimes I think it would be easier to be all the way disconnected. Enough of this social teasing and lamenting not getting to hang out. (Introverts are adjusting well, except that all the people who normally leave our lairs during the day for school and work are now part…of…our…lairs…permanently. Thus the pajamas, and carbs, and sparkling water). And while we’re breaking apart some falsehoods about the benevolent humanity bandied about on-line, a pox on the trolls that come out on NextDoor to shame neighbors they no longer have to face in person for walking past them momentarily, within five feet instead of six. They’re just trying to get out of their lairs with their lair-lings before someone ends up in a shower curtain, so chill the fuck out)

Ahem…back on topic.

Assuming you are journaling, keep at it.

Every day on this wild ride is a different day and the elation and hope of one moment are just as important as the desolation and dark of the next. Write it all down.

But if you find you have some of ‘today’ left this week, I want you to write a short fiction piece and here are your topics to choose from:

1.) Write about the first year following an epidemic. If you’re a non-fiction writer, fill it with facts and likelihoods. Inspirational/psychological/self-help, write what you think the world will have learned (if anything). Dystopian/pirate/sci-fi–this is your moment to shine, baby. The point of view can be from one character, a country, or even from the perspective of a tree, street, animal…whatever paints your wagon.

2.) If you’re tired as fuck of thinking about epidemics, and fear, and empty toilet paper shelves, and the loud shouting voices on every screen you turn on… write a short story about a person who decides to spend a year of their life alone in the woods (a la Walden, if you will) What magic can be found in that solitude? What darkness? What does lonely mean to your character? Is it peaceful or is it exile? Write it from your POV, or pick a character you’re already working with…whatever slays your dragon.

I’m not talking long here, 5,000 words tops.

Happy Writing.

It’s Thursday.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #9: Mental Floss

My daughter and I recently had an interesting discussion due to a class assignment on mental health concerning OCD, depression, and various other mental challenges. Trying to explain some of the behaviors and levels of severity made me think about my own quirks and habits that can be both positive and bordering on detrimental.

 

Creativity comes with certain mental “flourishes” that often translate into some pretty tortured souls out there, creating brilliant works of art, whether it be through paint, words, sculpture or music. In fact, I think society tends to think one almost must be tortured in some way to create.

I was listening to an interesting podcast with Florence, from Florence and The Machine, and along with her brilliant Scottish accent I was captivated by her story of alcoholism and how she used to think she had to drink to be creative. That she had to suffer, and to be spiraling down to really get to the good stuff of the soul and write music that mattered.

But then she sobered up and realized that it actually got easier to write without the heavy chained idea that suffering is the only way to make meaningful art.

It got me to thinking about how we can turn the chaos inside, into something beautiful by not fearing it. By not suppressing it or numbing it. By accepting the quirk that is you.

It’s like the person with OCD who uses their energies to post-it the hell out of an outline instead of writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” five-hundred times.

It’s all about how we use our quirks.

This week’s workshop is about finding your quirk. I don’t just want the strange dance you do when you walk through a spiderweb kind of quirk. I want the chronic kind. The one that makes you desperate for a piece of wood to knock on when the slightest terrifying thought crosses your mind. Or that makes you have to park in the same spot at the grocery store, every time.

Write a bit about your quirk, then go a level deeper and see what comes up. Why do you think you do it? Do you remember when it started? What fear drives it? What desire does it fulfill or captivate inside of you?

How can you shift it to work towards your advantage in your life and in your writing?

If you can’t think of anything, can you use your quirk IN writing as a character trait and follow how it changes your character’s life, behavior, and relationships. Write a poem about it and get past the grizzle and into the bone, or find the ridiculous humor of it to laugh at.

Self-reflection isn’t always easy and we often discover things we didn’t know were hiding in there. You aren’t required to share, but allow yourself to hurdle over the fear and discomfort to know thyself a bit better. Turn your downward spirals into whirlwind of thought and brilliance. See you next week.

It’s Here, It’s Here! It’s Finally Here!

Hey ya’ll.

I know I’ve made a lot of empty promises and delays in this project, which is misleading because it is something so dear to my heart. But there have been life hiccups and unexpected formatting issues (one just last night that came to my attention and pushed back the release by a day!)

Needless to say, this project has been on the drawing board far longer than I anticipated.

But like all good things…sometimes you just have to love it (warts and all) and let it go. So, without further fanfare, I invite you to purchase and peruse “No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2019-2020”, available later today at Amazon.

Here is the link:

No Small Things Poetry Anthology

Thank you so much for your patience and support for all of the great poets who contributed. Share this around and help spread the love for artistic endeavor. Sometimes this life can be so ugly and harsh, we have to nurture the beautiful no matter how small.

If you are interested in purchasing a signed copy directly from me, please feel free to contact me via The Beautiful Stuff contact page or at sereichert@comcast.net

Until then, Happy Reading.

 

Tightrope

“Let us be kind and compassionate to remove the sadness of the world.”

 

This is a brief blog today. I’ve got a lot on my plate this week and I have to boil down the process. First, thank you for sticking with me through the new changes and I hope some of you are enjoying the writing exercises on Thursday.

In the next few months I’ll be walking a tight wire, wobbling side to side in the effort to stay balanced and I am committed to making sure my writing is still something I carry with me, despite the extra weight it sometimes brings.

So today, in honor of some of my new obligations and the every-moment-filled reality I’m currently living in, I wanted to drop a gentle reminder.

This world we live in is unbalanced and filled with sadness. Each one of us carries a weight that no one else can completely understand.

Each one of us is on a tightwire.

Sometimes it’s razor thin and sharp. Sometimes it’s wide and steady.

But the drop is all the same.

I urge you, in whatever cycle of the wobble you’re in, to remember three things:

  • Breath. In, Deep and full. To the very tops of your lungs, plus one sip. Exhale, heavy and slow, to the very bottom of your belly. At least three times, three times a day.
  • Go out of your way to be kind to others. It costs nothing, not even much of your time in its truest simplicity. But it can mean the difference between that razor edge and solid footing for someone else.
  • Be kind to yourself. Not one of us is perfect, and we’re not meant to be. Give yourself grace, to wobble, to tumble, to rest and retry.

 

On Thursday I’m going to start the blog off with some fantastic first lines from contributors as well as my own. I hope you, and your badass kind self, can join me.

Oh…and about that Poetry Anthology…Thursday. I promise, something on Thursday (she said, wobbly and arms outstretched).

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week #4 Hear Me Out

 

Last week we explored some fun little writing prompts (by the way, I’m all aquiver in anticipation for those to start rolling in so…don’t keep a lady waiting, it isn’t polite). I hope that you found out something fun, disturbing, and original to spark some new projects. You clever writer, I bet they are fabulous (send them in)!

This week, in order to give your creative noodle a break, I thought I’d switch more to the editorial aspect of writing. Specifically, the sound of our writing and what it means for our readers.

Whether it’s poetry meant to be read aloud, stumbling through your first chapter at a promotional event, or having your book read by a parent to their child, the flow and sound of your “writing voice” matters and reading it out loud changes a lot about what you can only see on the page.

So, let’s talk about the benefits of using oral…

laugh

Okay. Sorry, that was the fifteen-year-old boy part of my brain thinking he’s clever.

Ahem.

Apologies.

This exercise doesn’t take much effort and is an easy way to edit a work in progress that may be in its final stages of completion. Or, if you’re a poet, this is by far the best way to gauge the power and purpose of your work.

Print out a chapter of your novel, a poem, or a short story (I suppose you can use your device or laptop—the girl who loves the feeling of paper between her fingers sighs to the encroaching dominance of technology).

Then read that piece out loud either to yourself or to your unwilling cat.

adorable angry animal animal portrait
*note: It isn’t that your cat doesn’t like your work, I’m just saying cats don’t, in general, like anything that doesn’t meet their own needs, and writing that does anything but pay homage to their divinity, tends to fall short in their demographic. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

 

If you don’t have an audience, I encourage you to use a mirror.

Read vibrantly, read purposefully, read with intonation and depth. Meet your eyes in that mirror and feel the story, the dialogue; that stanza of hard cutting thought.

You will start to hear your particular voice emerge and you will also find editorial errors that are invisible during the brash sweep of only eyes without the mouth getting involved.

So, get your mouth involved (*snicker* *snort*)

Oh man… come on!

I think I’ll stop there for the week.

Go read your stuff out loud. Make marks on the paper (or device) where you notice inconsistencies, mistakes, or ‘not right’ words.

Change them, make it better.

I’ll catch you next Tuesday for exciting news about the Poetry Anthology.

The Beauty of Quiet

You can feel it, like a vibrating pulse, constantly surrounding us. It’s in the buzz of the lights, the ringing of phones, the blip of messenger, the ping of news alerts. It’s the hum of electrical devices and the glow of screens. It’s a blanket of noise and light, sound and motion. It’s the modern, ‘marvelous’ world we live in.

And it’s killing us.

Our brains are beautiful machines, designed to process incoming information from our senses and filtered through our own experiences and knowledge until they are the equivalent of a constantly running mainframe that makes millions of decisions a day, from a billion different choices and scenarios. And we live in a world where the information is at hand in any moment we desire, from thousands of different outlets and devices, constantly spewing out anything you’d like to know and most things you wish you didn’t.

And yet our brain no longer knows itself.

With a constant barrage of noise and information from outside along with the endless distractions permanently affixed into the palm of our hands, we have lost our ability to know who we really are and what is really important to us.

After all, without quiet alone time, our thoughts and therefore our minds become products of all that we take in. Without solitude for true self-reflect, unplugging, and just being in our own heads, we become part of the noise, this capitalist driven machine that has stopped questioning what it really means to be happy. Implanting ideas of material wealth and social forum acceptance as the cure all to the emptiness we feel.

We are too busy, we are too distracted, we are devoid of personal and private time. Our lives have become fishbowls; both open for inspection from anyone paying attention and also offering 360-degree views of everyone else’s business.

When was the last time you took 15 minutes of complete silence, without any external distraction?

Don’t have the time? It’s equivalent to about two Facebook checks, three cute cat videos, or two over-polarized news articles.

Don’t think silence makes a difference?

In a study published by Psychology Today, quiet contemplation was proven to dramatically improve our brain’s ability to sleep more soundly, stave off depression and anxiety, improve cognitive and behavioral function and even help fight chronic pain.

(Ahmad, S. (2019, July 17). Meditation and Mental Health. Retrieved January 19, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/balanced/201907/meditation-and-mental-health)

We all know what happens when a computer overheats. Shit starts to go wrong.

Very wrong.

Depression and anxiety have never been at higher levels. Everyone on this planet is walking around with their nose stuck to screens waiting for the world to tell us what to value, what to be, what to feel…Waiting to tell us that we’re good enough. When the only person we should be seeking these answers from is ourselves.

I know it’s a little ironic to be preaching a sermon on getting off your tech from the pulpit of a blog. It doesn’t escape me that I’m keeping you here for some of those minutes we waste. But I’m doing it as a public service.

Get off your screen, take a break from the games, and social media, and frenzy of sound and light.

Because while the outside world is distracting you with all of its splendor, you’re missing the really beautiful stuff, the REAL stuff, that resides right in your own head. Go have a thought. All on your own. Follow it around for a bit without Google force-feeding you the answers.

Please. For your health, for the health of this planet and all human beings, do this thing.

Living beautifully means living. Not just watching fabricated life from the strangest social experiment ever concocted, but really spending time with yourself, with face to face conversations, with the space to breathe and let go of all that nonessential bullshit and make peace in the quiet.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week 2- Mission Possible: Drafting A Writing Statement

Read that title, again would you?

 

I know, right?! SNOOZEFEST!!!

I promise, this isn’t going to be as painful as it sounds and it might be one of the most useful tools you have when it comes to guiding your writing. A writing mission statement turns vague hopes for an outcome into solid ideas and language.

So what is it that you want your writing to do?

Last week I asked you to compose some answers to questions about your writing in hopes that you can expand on those answers in the coming weeks and use them in addition to our exercises to flesh out your writing career.

From those answers, you should have written down aspirations for what you wanted to accomplish in a year, month, week, etc, and the small manageable goals that can get you there.

This is a little different.

Thinking about the work in progress you’re embroiled in (be it a novel, an article, an essay, or directions on how to make a giant rooster shaped cake)

rooster cake2
Join me next time when I explain how writers are masters of procrastination. Like, looking up images for rooster cake.

I want you to write down what you hope to accomplish with this particular work. We’re talking end game stuff here. What do you want the people reading your work to walk away with afterwards?

Example 1:

Say you’re working on an article about the wage disparity in large corporations.

Take ten to fifteen minutes and write what outcome you want to see as a result of your article. How do you want people to see your subject of the story? How can you make them identify with the people involved? Is it to educate? To change policy? Do you want to give them the tools to make changes, or just to think about it in a new light and in a way that encourages discussion?

Once you know the end goal, it will affect how you write the story.

 

For novelists a mission statement is integral to developing a relationship with your reader via your characters.

Example 2:

I want my readers to identify with a cranky, semi-violent spirit, haunting an old seaside house and fall in love with him. I want my readers to feel the sting of being trapped, and the power of love to soften hurt.

 

Writing about what you want to write will actually help you know what you need to learn in order to accomplish this mission statement.

 

So here’s your job this week:

  • Write a short mission statement for your work in progress or your next work.
  • Share it with someone (accountability bitches)
  • Where is the next, imagined destination of this work?
  • If you have time—study some of your old work, and see if you can write a mission statement for them—what did you learn from each?
  • If you have time—think of your favorite articles, books, masterpieces and see if you can decipher what the mission statement was for them.

Oye, so much work. Don’t make me crack a whip.

Again, feel free to share. I love hearing about your purpose in writing and remember that sharing that will help to manifest your goals!

Next week we’re dipping into some heavy creative work to balance out all of this business side.

 

Take care!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Welcome!

Good morning writers, authors, editors or accidental guests.

This is the inaugural blog for The Beautiful Writers Workshop, a year-long journey into developing your craft through exercises in creativity, editing techniques, inspirational prompts, and building the framework for your writing career.

Some of the blogs will inspire. Some blogs will lean more to the technical side of writing. But whatever the weekly topic, you can be assured of two things:

  • You’ll have a prompt or exercise to help develop your writing (and the opportunity to share it)
  • I’ll try to keep it spicy enough to be enjoyable.

 

So let’s get rolling! I searched through nearly all of my favorite books on writing for a perfect topic for our first lesson together but the truth is, there are just too many (good and bad) ideas out there.

So I’m going to start simple and ease you in gently to this process.

If you’re here you are either interested in writing, or are already doing it and are looking for something to add to your tool box. In order to appeal to all levels today’s workshop is centered on the basic purpose of your writing.

Below are a few questions that I’d like you to read, think about, and journal down your answers to. You can share them, you can keep them secret, but DO WRITE THEM DOWN.

Something amazing happens when we write down goals and steps to reaching them. The process becomes manageable; the goals become real. It’s one of the many beautiful and powerful attributes of writing.

  1. Without judgement or discouragement, and being as direct as possible: what is the ultimate, lifetime goal you have for your writing?
  2. What can you do to kick start this goal in the next 12 months? (hint: where do you need to start, where do you need to grow most for the big picture)
  3. Is this yearly goal attainable? WHY OR WHY NOT?
  4. Of your reasons from #3, think about the fears, limitations or concerns that formed these reasons. Name them. What do you foresee keeping you from moving forward on this yearly goal?
  5. Of the fears, limitations and concerns, what are the possible solutions or actions you can take to eliminate them? (hint: each limitation/fear/concern gets its at least one action you can take to overcome it)
  6. If you have a planner or calendar, write down one weekly goal (eliminating distractions, word count requirement, number of submissions out, editing, classes etc) that will help overcome the hurdles you have to your writing.
  7. Looking at these weekly goals, find specific and measured times you have to dedicate to their success and write them down.

Okay, that’s it! I know, it’s a little dry but when building a house you have to have a solid foundation first or none of the pretty architecture above it will survive. So build your foundation, know where you’re coming from and next week we’re going to talk about:

Mission Possible: Drafting your Writing Mission Statement

(that sounds super boring but it will help writer’s across the spectrum. I promise!)

 

New Beautiful Stuff

 

Welcome back to The Beautiful Stuff!

It’s been a few weeks so I wanted to offer my sincerest thanks my readers out there for having patience while I took a little break from the blog. It was a perfect time to reset the old creative battery, try out a few new avenues, and make the new (and hopefully attainable) goals for the beginning of the next decade.

 

Last decade-turn I was stupid-big with my second baby and can’t recall much except I got winded a lot and had a really big problem with Whole Foods two-bite cannolis.

cannoli.jpg
I think I had at least a hundred two-bites in that last trimester…that’s two hundred bites

The baby turned out to be an amazing individual who is turning her first decade this year. Needless to say, back then I wasn’t thinking of the significance of a new ten years. I was thinking about potty training the oldest and trying not to tumble over while tying my shoes with a mouthful of cannolis.

But now here I am, in a less-rounded ten years and more in control of my mental faculties (still not so much control in the sweets department, but I’d be boring without SOME imperfections) and ya’ll are getting new and improved writing tools, inspiration, and help in the coming year.

First and foremost, (drum roll please) at the end of this month I’m launching The Beautiful Stuff’s first ever poetry anthology, entitled “No Small Things”.

I’ve been working hard over the holidays to get it organized, edited, and prepped. I must say, this is a beautiful little book with some amazingly talented writers contributing. I will give you updates on its release, book signing information, local stores who will be carrying it, how to get a copy if you aren’t local. If you are a writer or even just an avid reader interested in providing feedback and reviews for the book, please contact me and I’ll hook you up with a free copy.

Secondly, on Thursdays instead of the VerseDay you’ve grown accustomed to, I will be offering mini workshops; aptly named The Beautiful Writers Workshop, to get your creative juices flowing. If you’ve been inspired enough to write something you’d like to share, I will be offering a Monthly Writer Showcase, where you can promote your work, give a short bio, and/or provide a guest blog with any useful information you might have or want to share.

The Tuesday blog will move to only bi-monthly and will be more focused on The Beautiful Stuff of human existence outside of writing.

So there you go.

Recap for those of you who are cleansing and are a little foggy:

  • “No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff 2020 Poetry Anthology” is out at the end of this month
  • Thursdays will feature The Beautiful Writers Workshop– free craft exercises to help break up the monotony and spark some inspiration.
  • Monthly Writer Showcase: Contact me if you’re interested in contributing!
  • Normal blog will be every other week on Tuesday and will center around The Beautiful Stuff of life.

If you’re in the middle of a learning new, healthier habits, I wish you good luck. If you’ve decided you’re just fine as is and aren’t changing a thing, I say good on you and keep on keeping on.

See you Thursday.

(By the way, The Beautiful Writers Workshop totally constitutes a valid excuse for buying new pens and pencils—you’re welcome.)

VerseDay 12-19-19

Watch

 

i was dying,

pared open on the floor, crying the way you do,

when no noise comes out anymore

and your face hurts from the skin being pulled too tight

over bared teeth.

 

Between silent sobs

i was dying

then i heard

the faint heartbeat, a whisper stroke

i stilled to listen,

right on the second

every monosyllable played precise

and the battle i’d been fighting on the floor

fell away in the space between tick marks

i clung to the sound like the edge of a cliff

something real, but soft

something consistent and true

 

i pulled open the dresser drawer and found

an old watch

face up beneath the quagmire of things i’d shoved in

band frayed

years neglected

but still beating.

And i thought…maybe

maybe if i just focus on

the ticks

the right on time,

instead of the death within me,

i could calm myself enough to sleep.

 

i’ve been wearing it now for three days straight

so when i remember my heart is gone

it lends me its own.

i hold it close to my ear

and listen for the next mark, and the next

and in this way i go on

 

i don’t know what I’ll do when the battery dies.

 

 

Yes, My Dearest, There Is A Santa Claus

Okay, you can call it a cop out, but I loved this blog and I’m rerunning it.

It’s that time of year when we are faced with a choice that defines our humanity. The choice to either believe in the light of the season in all the forms it takes and spread our own joy to illuminate the shortened days, or the choice to be petty and divisive and shit on other people’s beliefs.

Don’t be petty and shitty, not any time, but especially not this time of year.

The world is dark enough as it is.

Be good to each other.

Psst… if you’re looking for a way to be good, especially after you read this tear-jerking post then click on this link (or find the similar site for your own state) and spread some joy:

Colorado Gives Day

And now, grab a tissue and enjoy…

 

Dear Madelyn and Delaney…

I hear there have been some questions at school and amongst your friends, about if Santa Claus is real.

There comes a time, in most kids lives, when they are taught to grow up and out of what some adults call “silly, fanciful, daydreams.” And so adults and peers will go about destroying everything that even whiffs of magic, and work hard to wipe away every ounce of stardust from the eyes of children who believe.

To this I say…shut it your mean-hearted pieholes, you wankers. (And anyone who hasn’t, at some point in their existence, called a middle schooler a wanker is probably lying. Let’s face it, middle school was/is not our finest hour as humans.)

I’m willing to bet that these are the same little judgmentalists that gave you sideways glances for not attending a church (particularly one of a Christian persuasion).

These are the people who will say it’s obviously impossible for a generous old guy to deliver presents to kids one night of the year, while simultaneously cherishing and accepting the “fact” that a deity impregnated a virgin and their child wiped away the entirety of sin in the world…

…uh…

nativity

 

If they can suspend reality, even base their lives around an idea of, albeit a cool, hippy/demigod, is it such a stretch to believe in a jolly old elf that spreads the ideals of generosity and selfless giving for just one day?

(To be clear–I’m an equal opportunity believer so I won’t touch your demigod hippy if you don’t touch my fat guy in a red suit.)

jesus-santa-bff
I bet Jesus calls him St. Bro-cholas.

I refuse to lose my stardust. As Anne Shirley would say; I refuse to be poisoned by their bitterness.

You want to know if there is magic? If Santa is real?

Here’s what I know…

 

Santa is real and magic exists.

 

How can I be sure?

I’m here aren’t I? You’re here, yes? We’re all here.

We were sprung from the unlikely combination of a chemical lottery and dumb, cosmic luck. We went on to survive hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary death traps.

If that’s not magical, what is?

Here’s what I also know.

 

There are two types of people in the world.

Those that destroy joy, and those that spread it.

 

I say, it does no harm to believe in something better, more beautiful, and magical in our lives (Hippy Demigod or Santa Claus).

I say, it does no harm to fill our eyes with wonder and joy in the midst of the darkest day of the year.

I say, it does no harm to hope and anticipate.

I say, it does no harm to walk into these short cold days with elation in our hearts.

I say, what a horrible, dark and sad world it must be for those that seek to take away such light; those who disbelieve and ridicule others who hold magic in their heart.

 

It does harm to take someone’s joy.

It does harm to smother the fire of giving and generosity.

It does harm when we seek to oppress the light of selflessness in a world so dark.

 

I know this; each one of us chooses what we believe.

 

We choose what we fill our hearts with and in a world that can be so gloomy and wretched, why would you want to fill your heart with anything that would make it even more so?

 

I choose to believe.

 

I believe in Santa Claus and I believe in magic.

 

I believe that there is light in the darkest of times. And I believe that the joy radiating from the hearts that hope, and love, and give, is more real than any hot air getting blown around by a bunch of self-conscious, hormonal, dying-to-fit-in middle schoolers.

 

I can’t decide for you, but neither can they.

 

So you choose.

Embrace the joy, be the magic, and light up the dark… or reject the lot of it and wipe the stardust from your eyes.

 

As for me and my heart; I choose joy.

 

I choose to believe.

 

What will you choose?

red and white ceramic santa claus figurine
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

VerseDay 12-5-19

To the moments that change us. Those irreversible seconds, milliseconds, and angel-blinks, that unpend and rearrange the perspective of our lives. May you get upended occasionally.

 

The Moment

 

It took just one

One moment

One pitiful moment

For my heart to fall

In the sanguine, irretrievable way

Blood loss, heavy weight of love gain

 

One moment

And my skin ached

For even the slightest brush

Touch of finger pad,

The heat of your chest against my back

The press of thigh and breath

Drifting warm over my throat.

 

Even if it hurt.

 

One moment

And my world was

you

It was the tenor of your eyes

And the color of your voice

And the expectation and the push

And the never living up to it all

But reaching for your stars just the same.

 

One moment

Was one moment

too long

 

Too long for this heart to sustain

Too long for this soul to survive

You were a flash cannon going off

On the precipice of my too-late blink

 

Such a brilliant scorch,

Killing instantly,

even before the pain could hit

And what a lovely light remained

burned into the back of my eyes

 

One moment and still

you

were the last thing

I ever wanted to see.

 

VerseDay 11-28-19

I probably should have stuck to a Thanksgiving type of theme. But maybe this could be considered in gratitude for the strength we house within ourselves. The strength that keeps us standing up for every knocking down we take. Be grateful for all you have, but don’t forget to include your amazing human-ness.

Travel safe, enjoy the company you keep, and take the moments you can to breath and be present.

 

 

Acrobat

 

Tin cup chalice

Beaten down vessel

Watched by the hungry darkness

of her heart

To fail.

 

The told-you-so on the tip of lolling tongue

Ready to fire as I teeter on the edge, unbalanced.

The narrowed gaze of predatory glee

 

Any day now,

She’ll fall

Any day now,

She’ll wear out that last leg

She’s so precariously perched on.

 

Waiting to be the first

To gloat over my fallen corpse.

 

But I don’t fall

 

And I don’t wear out

 

I bear the dents,

Scratches and cracks

And still

 

I hold true.

 

I always hold true.

 

Any day. Every day.

 

If you really knew me,

The miracle you made

 

You would know this first.

NANOWRIMO Week Four: The Final Countdown

Good morning!

For those of you who’ve been following me through the month of November, this marks the final installment of surviving NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I’ve been flowing with a life-stages theme, and had intended to title this week “Retirement” but the thing with NANO is that only for some will the last week be about resting and reaping the rewards of a month packed with hours of dedication to your project. The others of us may find this final week to be the last desperate attempt to finish.

So this brief post is for those who are struggling through the last four to five days to make up those words, or at least push to do what they can.

I hope, more than anything, and even above the lofty goal of 50,000 words, that you are still trying. That you haven’t given up. That you have built a habit of writing so that you don’t feel complete in your day unless you’ve spent at least some time on your work.

Because, I really think that’s the whole point. This month is more about teaching us to prioritize our lives to include our work first (or at least at the top of the to-do list) and know that we CAN accomplish great things when we give it the time and love it needs, than it is about reaching the specific goal.

So often in our lives we self-limit. So often we are told it can’t be done, we can’t, the work is too great, the effort pointless. So often we are told that struggle and toil is worth little for the likely outcome. But those voices and those opinions fail to factor in that it is not just the outcome that is rewarding. That it is not all we are working for.

When we challenge ourselves, the bigger reward lies in the struggle. New ventures, hard  and thankless work, and lofty goals teach us how to plan, how to plot, how to push ahead when we simply don’t feel like it or when others around us question or scoff at the ideas before us. Challenges shine a light on how amazing and resilient we are, so that, no matter the outcome, we learn what we can do. And once we know what we are capable of, the bonds of doubt weaken and we begin to believe that if we can write a novel in a month, we can edit it, publish it, write another, and another, and another. And if we can write a book we can take a class, or teach a class. We can climb a mountain, we can travel across the world. We can do anything we set our minds to.

We can.

You can.

You’ve only got a few days left in this month and I BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN do anything you’ve set out to do. You are amazing. You are imperfectly perfect and there’s no one in the world who can finish this month the way you will.

Deep breath writer. Don’t let the home stretch scare you. Let the struggle instead be your gift and what which you are thankful to work through. You can. You will.

VerseDay 11-21-19

Good morning Poetry aficionados, thanks for joining me here on this blustery fall day. I think we’re beginning to finally see the petticoats of winter and the darkening days are upon us.

Sometimes, my friends, I come across a poem so powerful, so raw, so honest, that it moves me from some deep well inside. It connects me to my humanity and to the visceral pain of life and what it takes to come out the other side still kicking.

Today’s guest Verse is brought to you by Kathryn Balteff.

Kathryn Balteff is a poet, writer, and artist who currently moonlights as a used book, gift, and coffee shop owner, although over the years she’s also worked as an educator, sheep farmer, veterinary technician, and veterinary practice manager. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and an MA in English from Oakland University.

While Kathryn mostly is known for her poetry, she also pens essays, fiction, and killer to-do lists. Drawing inspiration from the landscape, sea, and the cosmos, Kathryn often can be found wandering the rocky trails near her home along the coast of Downeast Maine with her husband and their collie dog, Lady Kate.

Enjoy, share, and if you like it, let her know.

 

Good Daughter

 

You threw the plate to the floor at her feet.

The damn eggs were overdone, not over-easy, how stupid was she? I listened

and watched

while you cursed, threatened, and bullied my mother. Strange how I remember the first time, but never the last.

 

When I was older, Maybe nine,

I protested

Standing over her,

futile, scraggly-legged, human shield while she cowered on the floor

shards of broken gin tumbler around her feet.

You paddled me until I screamed

then made me write part of a Bible verse

1000 times at the desk in the corner of my room

Black-and-white grade school composition book chewed-end yellow Number 2 pencil

King James in childish printing.

“Thou shalt honor thy father. . .Thou shalt honor thy father. . . Thou shalt honor thy father . . .

 

I was stupid like her and

Ugly too.

 

I did not want to be that girl.

 

When I was eleven there was a college kid, Noreen, one of your students,

around our house,

a lot.

She was there so much my little brother named a stray cat after her. I hated that cat.

There was a party near the holidays.

Rock music, too loud laughter, cigarette smoke creeping upstairs under the door of my room where I

was supposed to be sleeping. I snuck down,

three stairs to the first landing, to see.

 

You in the dark hallway

with Noreen smashed up against the wall.

You were laughing.

She struggled silently against you. She looked up through tears.

She saw me.

 

Quickly I pushed myself backwards, sliding up the stairs. I crept into my room,

eased the door shut,

pushed my nightstand under the knob. hid in my closet, blanket over my head.

 

In the morning my mother was trying

to scour away the stench of stale alcohol, cigarettes, and something else I sensed, but did not understand. Because I moved my furniture without your permission, you made me scrub every inch of my room

and the bathroom again

and again

until you decided they were clean enough. I did not want to be that girl.

In high school I ran. I ran.

You bragged of being a track star when you were in school. You would be proud, I thought.

I was good.

For a girl.

But never good enough.

 

Still, I ran.

The day you finally left us,

I came home from track practice to find my mother ironing your shirts so you could pack them in the backseat of your car.

She was crying,

You were screaming obscenities at her. I shrieked at you to leave her alone. Just. Get. Out.

 

You pushed me hard to the ground

One leg buckled underneath, my other knee sliced open wide on a rock in the dirt.

Hot blood dripped down my leg onto my turquoise running shoes.

You told me that I got what I deserved

Again.

 

 

Who did I think I was?

I would learn my place. I ran.

A friend’s mother patched me up.

She never asked what happened.

I didn’t say.

I would not be that girl. I kept running.

Medals of tenacity clinking a rhythm against the varsity letter on my jacket. Years and years now

I have not run.

Still I hear those medals

as they marked each footfall that took me farther.

 

 

“I am dying,” your note says.

“You should be a good daughter.” “You should come to me.”

 

I will never be that girl.

 

You have been dying four long years since the cancer first arrived in your alcohol-preserved liver. The first year I grieved the what-ifs and could-have-beens,

the if onlys.

 

I lived sorrow, angst, guilt, anger, and more.

 

Those gaping, bloody wounds the years had slowed, yet not fully healed,

tore open.

Ugly infectious mess

seeping out onto my clean, though imperfect skin.

 

I am my own.

Only what I create.

Myself.

I can at least thank you for that.

 

I trim the ragged wounds with a new blade, delicately slicing away rot and neglect.

Pull the edges together,

Stitch neat, tight, hidden rows sealing up leaky vessels.

Add a drop or two of glue for good measure.

 

 

Mending well is hard work through so many layers.

 

There.

I look almost new again. I am this woman.

 

Kathryn Balteff

 

NANOWRIMO Week Three: The Midlife Crisis

Hey there writer.

I know I don’t have to thank you for being here with me because if you are akin to me, you’re looking for any excuse to change up the monotony of this novel-writing month and escape that mad-dash. Perhaps you’re feeling like this story you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into for what seems like years is starting to stale. Things are getting drab. The plot line is petering out. The characters have run out of things to say.

This is the dreaded, dead-ended doldrum (say that one a few times over fast) of week 3. And it can often feel like middle age in its sunken sails, stagnant air, and the questioning of the choices that brought you here.

With only 11 days left in this crazy adventure, you may feel like you just don’t want to go on. That perhaps it would be easier to abandon your project all together and take a hot little novella out for a spin. Maybe start seeing some poetry on the side. Perhaps dabble in a little erotica?

While I encourage some dabbling (especially in erotica) I would argue that all of those exploratory practices can be done right in your own work in progress. So you’re bored, so you don’t know what the characters will say to one another…I urge you to start a new chapter, in the same document, where your characters take a jump off of the tracks and do something completely unexpected. Put them in a different time, put them in a different dynamic…hell, switch their genders and see what happens. Write a poem that serves as a synopsis to the story, first from one character’s perspective, and then from another’s.  All of this play might help unlock the paths your novel needs to get going again. Think of it as putting some wind in those sails. A little spice in between the pages.

And all of those words you put down, even if they may be edited out later, still count as words towards your 50,000. Let’s be honest, at this point in the process, any word count is better than none.

It’s normal to feel a bit discouraged and bogged down in week 3, but what you’re building is worth hanging on to. It’s worth the investment of time and thought in this, the darkest, dreaded, dead-ended doldrums.

Hang in there kid. Go get freaky with your WIP and spice things up to see you through to the end.

Next week, look for the final, and highly inspirational installment of my NANOWRIMO survival guide.

VerseDay 11-14-19

Happy VerseDay my dear readers. Today’s contribution and ode to the brave and selfless men and women of our military comes a from a long-time (I wouldn’t say we’ve known each other since we were knee-high to a grasshopper, but pretty damn close) and dear friend, Ethan Hejki.

Enjoy, share, and take a minute to contemplate what it means to serve our country, and the high costs both to body and soul it demands.

 

 

Untitled

 

I was that which others did not want to be.
I went where others feared to go.
I did what others failed to do. Not by choice

but necessity
I asked nothing from those who gave nothing.
I took nothing from the unwilling.
I was the hero and the villain.
I have accepted the fate of eternal loneliness

and damnation for my actions

I have seen the face of terror

and the face of happiness
I felt the stinging cold of fear

the searing heat of rage
I have heard death’s whisper, beckoning to me.

Soon, soon
I enjoyed the sweet taste of love

the bitterness of loss

I have cried pained and sorrow. but most of all,

I have lived times others would say were best forgotten.

At least some day I can say that I was proud of what I was.

A soldier.

 

Ethan Hejki

NANOWRIMO Week Two: Here Comes a Writer With a Baby Carriage

Hello!, and thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

 

VerseDay 11-7-19

A cold and blustery day calls for something fitting.

Enjoy the cold embrace of Fall…from inside, hopefully cuddled in your pajamas with a furry beast close by.

 

We

We are the Autumn, love

the life of us, shrunken and dry

And the icy fingers of wind

Slip beneath our coats

And the days are short and gray all round.

 

We know the dark horizon lies ahead

straight from the one track road

our hands and eyes have fallen to

And all that was spring,

Rounded and succulent

Is nothing more than shriveled blooms

Long ago spent are the fickle buds of youth.

 

We are not buried yet,

Beneath the ground, the snow

But we will not again crash into the world

like vibrant green and cherry blossom pink.

Such a subtle death is ours to claim.

Beneath the acrid crunch of leaves

And the ceaseless, howling gray.

NANOWRIMO Week One: The Honeymoon

Ah, yes, the glorious stage of excitement and foreplay. The thrill of fleshing out your characters, and having them say clever things to one another, and building beautiful worlds with soft hues and brilliant sunsets. It’s champagne and butterflies, it’s rainbows and 3 hour love-making sessions with your laptop (please, God, not literally…the keys are hard enough to keep clean with just my coffee and pastry habit).

The words come easy, the beginning is new and exciting, the chemistry is just right. Possibly you’ve been planning this novel for awhile, maybe you even used October to plan it out and things are running smoothly and in great gushes of inspiration and excitement. (I think ‘gushes’ might be just as bad as ‘moist’ for cringe-worthy words).

OR

You’re stuck in front of your blank page and wondering why in God’s name you agreed to this. The stress of completing such a herculean task is causing every neuron to march around your addled brain with tiny little picket signs protesting the ridiculous workload before they even endure it.

You’re thinking of giving up. It feels as though you agreed to do this on a brash weekend in Vegas and you might have done so under the influence of alcohol and you really don’t know this book that well and what will your parents say and… is it too late for an annulment?

In the first case: Congratulations, keep going! If you have the stamina and inspiration to do so, front load these first couple of weeks so you can have a few days to ride if you need to recover. (I can’t help but hear Sheriff Bart’s voice in my head “Man, them schnitzengrubens will wipe you out!” Come on, people…Blazing Saddles)

In the second case: Don’t give up just yet. So she/he’s a gamble and you may have rushed into things. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s normal to feel like there’s nowhere to go. But you’re a writer. And writer’s do best when they stop questioning the end product and just write. See where that impromptu spouse will lead you, let it play out for a few days and enjoy the crazy weird ride that you’re on.

The secret to NANOWRIMO is to not overthink it. Because that’s when you start looking for all the imperfections and plot holes that send you into editing mode and canceling out any forward movement you have.

If you’re having trouble with getting your word count every day here’s some tips that have helped me:

  1. Break it up into smaller sections. A little in the morning, a little at lunch, some at night. Carry the laptop or notebook with you and write a few lines whenever you have a chance
  2. Keep your characters in your head with you at all times. How would they react to what you’re doing? What would they say to each other in the grocery store line? Let them talk to each other while you’re doing the dishes or in that third useless meeting of the day (come on, we all know at least 2/3rds of all meetings are just wastes of time that allow one person to hear themselves talk).
  3. Strike when the fire is hot. If you are on a roll, do everything in your power to keep writing…then in the middle of a paragraph or even a sentence–stop. Yeah, you read that right. Stop. It will frustrate you and keep your mind on what will happen next until you pick it back up. Foreplay people…there’s nothing like a little flirtatious teasing to make the next interlude all the more passionate.
  4. DO NOT be discouraged if you have a short day. Every word counts and a 400 word day is still 400 words. Like running or training, or anything really–great things are accomplished not always in leaps and bounds but by small progressive steps forward.
  5. Rest your fingers and your brain. Take breaks, sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get away from it throughout the day. Burnout probably happens most in the first couple of weeks when our inspiration gets ahead of our ability to keep at it with the same frantic pace.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Remember, comment below with how it’s going or send me quick email with any frustrations or elations you have and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

Good skill Writer.

VerseDay 10-31-19

I hope you’re all getting into the spirit of Samhain and doing your best to ward off the evil spirits (or inviting them over for drinks and merriment). Today’s foray into the art of verse is brought to you by the lovely Kathryn Balteff.

Enjoy, share, and monitor the mini chocolate bars…they can sneak up on you.

 

Moonbeam Tango

 

I often wonder why

was I sent to this place?

Tending the magic left behind.

Struggling to cultivate

and coerce it into

petals of diaphanous colors

with only lemon salt tears,

hot love, and strawberry memories

for sustenance.

 

Still,

I keep on.

What else would you have me do?

 

Most nights my feet are bound to earth.

Loosely tangled

yet tethered still.

But tonight . . .

Ah, tonight

 

Moonbeams unravel the ribbons

and I tango alone along the Milky Way

to my tryst with Orion.

 

The sea hears my heart,

but the stars

they listen.

 

Kathryn Balteff is a poet, writer, and artist who currently moonlights as a used book, gift, and coffee shop owner, although over the years she’s also worked as an educator, sheep farmer, veterinary technician, and veterinary practice manager. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and an MA in English from Oakland University.

 

Challenges, Fears, and What it Means to Tackle NANOWRIMO

Can you feel it in the air? The tingle of excitement in the tips of every writer’s fingers? The antici—–

–pation of the challenge and the reward? The insane gauntlet thrown down to write the better part of a novel in the short span of 30 days? I feel it in a new way. A frightening way.

For the first time since I started participating, I’m wondering if this might be the year that I fail.

It’s probably no surprise for those of you who follow the blog that I’ve been a little…down… lately. And with that comes a starkly lowered self-esteem. Add in a dash of mental block and creative fizzle and I’m having a hard time believing I will have enough clout to make it through 1700 words per day and finish a victor.

So what do I do? Not try at all? Shelve it for this year and treat myself with gentleness? I’m all for self-care, but I gotta be honest, lately I’ve been giving myself a little too much grace. I’ve been allowing myself an out from writing in every basket of laundry, sudoku puzzle, floor mopping, and random ten minute cat nap (that’s a nap with my cat on the couch) I can find. I’ve been so ‘busy’. But the truth is, it’s because I’m afraid to face the blank page that sits inside my head lately. I’m so certain it will end up a blank page on my screen that I’ve let the fear and disappointment of that possibility keep me from writing at all.

After all, if I don’t try I can’t fail, right? Ergo, if I don’t sign up for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) I can’t fail at it. Plus…what will it do to me in my delicate mental state? To face such frustration and probable defeat?

The dark voice says it will break me. It says it will keep me from ever writing again, it will unhinge me. It will rob me of time better spent napping and such.

But there’s this other me that’s been trapped inside with the dark and she’s having a real teeth-grinding, fist-clenching, stand-up moment.

She says we can. She says she’s not afraid of a blank page, and she’s not worried that there aren’t any more ideas left in me. She says she knows people and characters, she knows struggle and strife, and the harsh realities of human frailty. She says there’s another novel in there, locked away behind the dark and she wants to flip the switch and shed some light on the subject.

You see, self-care is not just about bubble baths and indulging in your psychotic cat’s demand for a nap at ten in the morning. Sometimes, self-care is about knowing what you love and not letting yourself give it up when things get tough. Sometimes the deadline and the challenge is a sense of purpose in disguise that we gift to ourselves. The pursuit of your happiness is, quite possibly, one of the most important things you can do and not just for yourself, but for everyone who loves you.

So here it is, writers. If I can drag my ass to the computer and invest in my work (and myself) every day for a paltry 1667 words, then you don’t have an excuse not to. We’re all busy. We’re all tired. We’re all at a loss for ideas. The world around us doesn’t make it easy to dream. It’s loud and impatient. It’s riddled with worries and doubts, and problems bigger than any of us can solve on our own. But if we all start by investing in our art, in rising to the challenge, in reclaiming our power and self-belief, then we will become better people. And better people make a better world.

So go do something amazing. If you’ve never NANOWRIMO-ed before, check out their website to learn the rules here:

National Novel Writing Month

Most cities and states have local chapters for the event that will organize meetings, writing sprints, coffee, happy-hours and all sorts of other social stuff to keep you encouraged and give you a clan to check in and commiserate with.

Or if you’re more of a solitary beast, like myself, you can get tips and inspiration emailed to you, or join on-line forums in your underoos. Once you sign up you get a nifty author page where you can log your words per day and check on your progress (this is HONESTLY one of the best motivators for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited about blowing the curve, you know what I mean? Wow, that sounded pretty naughty…not sorry.)

The beauty of this event is that it teaches you to establish a writing habit, and shows you that even when you only have a few minutes here and there in your day, if you dedicate them to writing you CAN complete a novel in a month. And that makes all of those excuses for not finishing your work in progress kind of null.

Maybe you’re ready, maybe you’re not. Either way…do it. You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. Of if that’s what motivates you, give the world a daily tally to keep you honest. You don’t have to write the next best seller and you don’t have to finish the story. The only thing you need is to do is dedicate the time to your magnificent imagination.

I originally thought I’d be putting The Beautiful Stuff blog on hold during this month since I’ll be otherwise ocupada…but after thinking it through, I will continue to write to you. I’ll let you know my progress, I’ll ask you questions about yours. I’ll offer advice as we get started, how to continue the momentum, how to get through the doldrums (shit yeah, that’s totally a real thing and it happens around week three) and how to finish strong, catching every last minute to cruise into the 50,000 word goal.

Then we’ll celebrate. With cat naps, or champagne, or a good cry in the shower, you know…whatever it is you need to unwind.

To inspire you further I offer this:

One lucky reader who takes a minute to let me how the process is going either via email or comment on the blog, will receive a congratulatory package after your awesome accomplishment with all kinds of goodies, including a signed copy of “Rise: An Anthology of Change” a beautiful little book of stories and poems about the power and folly of change and the human condition. Look at the pretty cover:

Rise Anthology

 

Take a deep breath writer, start brainstorming some ideas or dust off ones you’ve shelved for too long. Saturday we begin a new chapter, a new book, a new start.

 

VerseDay 10-24-19

Hello my fine, friends and a fantastic VerseDay to you.

I’m so excited to share this poem with you from previous contributor and writer extraordinaire, sid sibo, who says:

“Initially, I resist resistance. I prefer (in the notion of what you resist, persists) to throw my heart toward the vision of what I hope to see, to co-create with other love-filled visionaries

But…maybe we still need to recognize what’s wrong, on our way forward.” 

sid, your words are dynamic, thought provoking, and beautifully written. Please enjoy this poem and share.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 12.47.11 PM

 

sid lives on the west slope of the Rockies and works as an environmental analyst.

Follow here: sid sibo

VerseDay 10-17-19

Humans can be profoundly affected by our geography and by the environments we inhabit. We experience differences in our inner thought processes, comfort level, and overall spiritual and physical health depending on where we are in the world.

Some places unsettle us and can even cause physical reactions (Las Vegas does that to me). These environments rub against the grain of our constitution and basal genetic code, causing us to feel uncomfortable in ways we can quite pinpoint, anxious to not dawdle and even frantic in trying to find your equilibrium in every passing moment.

But sometimes you find yourself in a place that seems to run roots up through your feet from the minute you land. Those places that feed your soul, encourage your balance, and fill your blood with calm and connected joy are a rarity. It can feel like the land itself speaks to the deep timelessness of your stardust and reminds you of who you are deep in the marrow.

I’ve found only two or three such places in my short time here on this earth.

DSC_0208

Tnûth

The green valleys of hillside walls and

twisting archaic roads, tucked like snakes between.

Veining through time-forgotten land.

Vibrant and wet.

The countryside sewn with patches of heather and stone

And endless fields lit from Godspeak skies

give the feeling of being an island apart

from the insanity of the world

Stone fences encroached upon by lusty green growth,

Hugged tight to the tepid handy work of man,

as if to say that magic still breathes here,

and it will overtake our fleeting pillars.

My lungs indulge the mist of Loch Skeen’s mare.

And shoulders let go the weight of the lies I have lived.

Where the loamy peat and woodsmoke hearth

of cottages rendered from stone and thatch,

Nestle into knolls dotted with contented woolen faces

Call to me in dreams, once and again over,

She settles into my bones,

and fills my blood

I know this land somewhere deep in my veins.

This is where my heart lies

She is the place that calls my soul home.

The gray shores of rock and sand,

The moor I miss is more than I am used to yearning for.

So pray, Caledonia, beckon me

Come home, mo ghràdh,

And I will answer.

 

 

 

 

 

On Poetry

Okay, I know.

I’m a novelist. And believe you me, I’ll be getting into some hard-core, novel-in-a-month advice the next couple weeks, but until then….let’s talk about poetry.

 

(BECAUSE I KNOW YOU’RE ALL PREPARING SOME AWESOME POEMS TO SEND MY WAY TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THE 2019-2020 ANTHOLOGY, RIGHT? STOP SHIFTING UNCOMFORTABLY AND SEND ME THOSE VERSES. I’m really quite lovely and so excited to read your stuff. I’m a big, snuggly, softy posing as a hard-nosed writer.)

black vintage typewriter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Long before I wrote novels, I was a poet. In retrospect, I’m kinda amazed at how easily I would could a page with stanza after stanza.  It took time to develop, but the poems progressed from what would rhyme to what would bleed just the right color.  My poetry led to some hurtful, terrible and cathartic things on the page.  Words were raw and emotional in ways I never knew they could be.

Each one of those poems pulls me back to the time and events that they were borne from.  I remember the exact person that inspired each.  I can sometimes even remember the exact night they were written.  That’s powerful stuff.

Words, in their inherent singularity, are powerful. One word can command meaning, history, and intention just by its existence on the page. Words can change and shape how we experience our human existence throughout time.

Knee-deep in a novel, it becomes a challenge to capture the same essence I once had in writing poetry.  I’m too used to telling a story in pages, not lines. Heavy worded and filled with the need to explore each step of a character’s journey, I can sometimes lose the contrite honesty of being a woman of few words.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, novels or short stories, practicing poetry is an excellent skill for all writers.  It will improve the preciseness of your writing.

How do you say the most with the fewest?

Here are some exercises (that’s right you beautiful, wordy bastards, I’m giving you homework) to help you boil the most important elements of an idea down into its thickest, richest concentration.

Throw some words down from this exact moment of your existence and make each one count.

Do it fearlessly, because there’s no judgment between you and the page.

Send it to me, or don’t but keep it and use it to understand your skill and how you can grow even further in your art.

 

*Describe the chair you’re sitting in in six words.  Try four.  How about two?

 

*Describe the person in your chair (yes that’s you—maybe it’s two of you—I don’t judge) in six words.  Try four.  How about two?

 

*Describe the best day of your life in six words or less:

 

*Describe the worst:

VerseDay 10-10-19

Good morning! Today’s slice of life comes from the talented Jennifer Carr.

A previous contributor, Jennifer lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her partner and two children. She is an EMT, Firefighter and Poet. When she is not working at the local hospital or firehouse, she spends way too much time reading and writing poetry.

Her poetry has been published in print by Triumph House Poetry With a Purpose and in many anthologies. Her poetry has been published on-line most recently in the Organic Journal ‘Under the Basho’ in the Modern Haiku section.

Jennifer loves flying by her own wings and looks for any opportunity to soar to new heights. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter @PoetryHaiku13 (https://twitter.com/Poetryhaiku13).

Jennifer can be found on Facebook as Jennifer Carr Munoz or on Instagram.

Enjoy this moment of life, and the undeniable love that makes the world go round.

The Gift Of Life

Sweetest
baby
by God’s creation
you latch onto my bulging breast,
I watch you in awe.

Last Call

Okay, Y’all.

This is that golden hour, wherein if you want a chance at something, you’d better stand up and grab it.

You know those moments– those deciding moments that can change the course of our lives for better or worse. That instant you have to take hold of an opportunity, say yes to that job, kiss that girl, let go of that dream, grab hold of another.

Today is the final call for poetry submissions for the 2019 Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology: “No Small Things”. I’ve already gathered an amazing collection of beautiful stuff and am only looking for a few more slots to fill.

While this isn’t as life-changing as a new job or as thrilling as a kiss, it can be a launching place to your belief in yourself and your work. It can be the one step closer to your dream. It could be the declaration, anonymous or not, you’ve always wanted to write to that girl, or the world at large. A lightening of the weight in your soul, so to speak.

So take a chance. I’ve made it a safe place to land. Submit your poetry via these guidelines and see where this last call can take you. Submissions will close December 1, 2019. The anthology’s expected release date is January of 2020.

Here’s the boring part:
Poems may not exceed 80 lines, must be previously unpublished (unless if it was on authors own website), and must be the original work of the author. Please send all submissions to: sereichert@comcast.net, or via The Beautiful Stuff website: (https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/contact/) with the subject line “VerseDay Submission Last Call”.

Please include the title of your poem, your name, and a short bio in the body of your email. You may submit as many times as you would like and up to three poems per email, but please no repeated work sent. If your work is a simultaneous submission please let me know.

There is no fee for submitting.

Every submission will be read and, if selected, the author will be notified of the date of their poem’s publication on The Beautiful Stuff. Promotional links will be provided to make it easier to spread the word about your poetry.

Poets selected for the anthology will receive a free copy of the finished book and the option to purchase more at a discounted rate.

You may email me or message me via Facebook with any questions or concerns you have about the contest rules and submissions.

That’s the long and the short of it. So send me something good. Give me guts and heart, all the dark and light of your thoughts. I look forward to reading your work!

VerseDay 10-3-19

Good morning!

I’m excited to be featuring the astounding and talented Kathryn Balteff. Residing in a state that I have a deep, personal love for (just ask Destiny), she was gracious enough to send in some of her beautiful work that I will be featuring throughout October and into November.

Kathryn is a poet, writer, and artist who currently moonlights as a used book, gift, and coffee shop owner, although over the years she’s also worked as an educator, sheep farmer, veterinary technician, and veterinary practice manager. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and an MA in English from Oakland University.

While she is mostly known for her poetry, she also pens essays, fiction, and killer to-do lists. Drawing inspiration from the landscape, sea, and the cosmos, Kathryn often can be found wandering the rocky trails near her home along the coast of Downeast Maine with her husband and their collie dog, Lady Kate.

Today I chose her poem “Letting Go” as a breather for a lot of the serious business going on here lately. Read, enjoy, and support Kathryn by sharing it around!

 

Letting Go

I feel the winds

Deep in my gut they rise

and stir

Tickling up dust

Particles from items long forgotten

on the floor of my heart.

Maybe they were just tucked away
so I could pretend not to see them as they languished there . . .

All that
is of no consequence.

The winds have come again.

This time

different.

I feel their swirling momentum

reaching up into my being

pushing
tugging
chafing

They spin me

round

and round

I can’t know where they will take me.
I only know —
This time
I will not hold fast to the binding post of the closest excuse
This time
I will stretch open my arms to embrace the power the winds bring

This time
I will raise my face to the sky triumphant
I will soar.

 

Weapons Used Against Me: Racial Inequality in Fort Collins Today

This story was originally supposed to be printed in a newspaper who’s name I won’t mention. They were interested. They wanted it. They gave me their advice on how to ‘soften it’ so as to not offend readers.

I asked what was offensive.

They backpedaled and shuffled their virtual feet and said it didn’t have interview accounts from the police officers involved. I reassured them that I had all of the police reports as well as the actual court documents in my posession.

(Worthy to note, they had no intention of paying me for an already well-researched article but required a lot of unnecessary leg work for the same answers I had right in front of me).

They rejected it, saying it was too emotional, that it would make people uncomfortable.

Ultimately, I feel, they feared that the potential backlash would hurt their advertisers.

I don’t have advertisers.

Hell, I barely have a following. But here we are.

I could have abandoned it, given in to the fear of upsetting the city council, or the jail system, or the law enforcement or DA offices.

But then this quote from the Talmud comes to mind:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

So here’s the article that was too uncomfortable for the newspaper to print. Here’s what’s happening in your community today. Do what you will with the information, but do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, and do not abandon the work.

 

Weapons Used Against Me: Racial Inequality in Fort Collins Today

 

Staring out the rain-speckled window at a coffee shop in downtown Fort Collins, Queen (formally Dedria Johnson) bows her head into her hands. The heavy blanket of gray outside mirrors the burden in her heart.

That’s the way it feels, she says; when your son has been stolen by a system so large and corrupt that you’ll never own enough power to get him back.

Like the world will always be gray and heavy.

Queen moved with her sons to Fort Collins in 2007 after escaping an abusive relationship. She hoped to secure a brighter future for them. She thought Colorado’s Front Range could offer that.

But the same oppression, disadvantage, and racial segregation lay beneath a false sense of community.

On an early summer night in 2018, with the boiling point mixture of teenage hormones and escalating tension between two young men, a fight broke out in a deserted lot between Loveland and Fort Collins. The teens surrounding the action pulsed with on-edge excitement. The bright glow of cell phones lit the darkness and videos skyrocketed out into social media. Witnesses would later say they could see the victim’s teeth flying through the air when the other boy hit him. By the time the police came, the fight was done and online.

Dontre’ Jahkal Woods, Queen’s son, was at the fight and recorded it from the sidelines along with other teens in the crowd.

Only Dontre’ had already had been suspected of throwing a rock through a car window (an incident where several witnesses attested to his innocence). He was also issued a ticket, under the wrong name (Dontre’ Johnson) for a supposed assault on a peer which was never taken to court.

Dontre’’s name was considered an alias even though he never gave officers anything other than his real name, which set an unfounded precedent for suspicion in the eyes of the law.

So when officers took names around the circle of teens, his record marked him as a ‘trouble maker’.  Weeks later, the Loveland police came to Queen’s house, in the presence of his younger siblings and older brothers and took Dontre’ away to be charged with complacency.

Complacent, because a nearly sixteen-year-old boy who knew he could get in trouble for even touching another kid, didn’t step in and stop a fight that lasted less than two minutes.

A public defender was assigned to his case since Queen, raising a family on her own in the high-priced housing market of Fort Collins, couldn’t afford the $5000 retainer for a private lawyer.

In the coffee shop, Queen tells me about her experience with the public defender and the gentleman at the table beside us clears his throat and moves away. When she goes into the details of the lawyer laughing and bragging with the prosecutor, about how many similar cases he’d managed to get through in record time that week, a lady behind us shifts uncomfortably in her seat and leans away as if Queen’s pain is too uncomfortable to share space with.

But Queen continues her story amid the tell-tale signs of white guilt and discomfort that flow along the banks of our culture’s dirty hidden underbelly.

Her son’s life was not worth fighting for, the public defender told her. It would cost them time and money. Dontre’ would be sentenced to 7 years in prison if they went to trial and lost. And with his questionable juvenile offenses, the lawyer continued drolly, they’d lose.

Seven years for a sixteen-year old boy, is a lifetime. It meant the loss of his education and the opportunities his mother fought so hard to win. If they took a plea deal, he advised them, from a well-read script, Dontre’ would serve at least 18 months plus a mandatory 3-month probation period.

The hearings, meetings with the public defender, and the arduous task of getting all of her son’s records from Larimer County, made it nearly impossible for Queen to keep steady work and raise her other children. The family was thrown into disarray. Seats sat empty in schools while his family attended Dontre’’s hearings or went to visit him in the detention center. She missed appointments and work, her own mental health suffered with the trauma she knew Dontre’ was experiencing and the impact it was having on the rest of the family.

The system held out Dontre’’s life like a carrot for them to chase. Queen’s mental health suffered. His younger siblings and older brothers felt the strain on a family already struggling to prove they were worthwhile to a town that only seemed to want them on their school’s athletic teams or to tout them as their “diverse” population.

Now Dontre’ sits in juvenile corrections in Denver (a sometimes three-hour car ride for his mother to make), trying to stay out of the trouble that boils around him, but it’s a hard culture to rise above. Provided he can ‘behave’, his sentence will remain the same.

When I ask Queen what ‘behave’ means exactly, she rolls her eyes. A kid like Dontre’ doesn’t have to misbehave to get thrown into a place like Rites of Passage, or even sent to prison.

He just has to be black and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Dontre’ lives in a constant and heightened state of self-preservation and fear. Scared that when he’s released he’ll be too behind in school to catch up. Scared that his mother will break, fighting a losing battle that’s existed since the dawn of our country. Scared of a future where the mark on his record, for offenses still not proven, will mar his chances of landing a decent job. Scared that from all of this, the cycle of poverty will begin again, and again, over and over like a river that started flowing long before he was born.

Theirs is just one story of a broken system; a small piece of a larger cultural problem that perpetuates a history America should be ashamed of. One that’s destroying hard-working families like Queen’s right here in our own community.

Despite the hardships, the openly racist comments, and thinly veiled prejudices Queen and her family have endured. She still stands tall with a spiritual height that surpasses what life has handed her and serves as a beacon to all of us.

Queen founded Nu Eyes Village, a faith-based, grass-roots organization assisting under resourced families and establishing modes of self-sufficiency. She created the gatherings after completing a 20-week leadership and civic engagement course through the Family Leadership and Training Institute.

Her hope is to bring families out of poverty and offer support in areas of mental health, childcare, financial literacy, and mentoring programs in order to empower underserved communities. She’s a board member of the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County. She’s a current member of the Family Voice Council and the CDHS, and she is the President of the Healthy Larimer Committee which her son Donovan co-chairs.

She stands in the knowledge that change can only come at the level where laws are made or repealed. Still she remains openhearted, ready to engage in useful conversations that heal the chasm between communities and work towards a more inclusive and egalitarian city.

Put on your thinking hats, Colorado, with your innovative and brilliant minds, and strip away the illusion that clouds this difficult and uncomfortable issue.

If you have white skin you have privileges not guaranteed to those who do not. You’ve inherited the benefits of laws and systems that have worked to keep people of color and other minorities from reaching the same goals and potential as you. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t ask for this privilege and it doesn’t do any good to just feel ‘bad’ about it.

What matters is using the gifts you’ve been given as a result of that privilege to invoke real change.

Start by admitting that a group of people cannot ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ when they’re kept barefoot in the dirt all of their lives.

Start by speaking out against injustice in policing policies and the expansion of for-profit prison systems.

Start by honoring the higher law that shouts we are all human beings, mothers and sons, daughters and fathers, designed by the same divine intervention, and worthy of dignity and respect. That every child born deserves the opportunity to shine and the benefit of doubt while they test the boundaries of youth.

Start by volunteering, donating, or simply just connecting with other people. Expand your knowledge and understanding of the challenges minorities face in our communities by holding real, compassionate, and non-ego driven conversations with each other.

Check out Nu Eyes Village at the Heart of The Rockies Church and support the opening of Nu Eyes Community Connection Center.

 

At the very least, take a moment and put yourself in Queen’s place.

Imagine the police taking your child away. Watch them bully and coerce him. Watch his sense of self deteriorate every day. Really feel it, in the pit of your stomach.

Then look in a mirror and know that nothing more than a lack of melanin and an ignorant historical bias ensures you’ll probably never know that pain.

That your child will never know Dontre’’s pain.

If you can really feel that, and still not be emboldened to act, then maybe it is all just heavy and gray.

 

 

 

VerseDay 9-19-19

Happy Epic Palindrome Day!

Funny-Celebration-With-Cat

 

Ok, that’s not really a thing. I just…

*sigh* I’m a little off from all of the serious and ADULT-like writing I’ve been doing lately.

I’m overcompensating with frivolity. It happens.

Here’s your Verse, you ungrateful math-hater (oh and by the way, it’s quirky too).

 

Ghost Writer

While you were asleep, I borrowed your pen and scratched ink over that dreadful book you’re writing.

Just a reminder that this was once my house, before you banged open the door and disturbed my rest.

Before you halted my slumber with your key-clacking and plastered that fluorescent post-it monstrosity over my Schumacher wallpaper.

Of all the idiots to suffer, why’d it have to be a writer now at my desk?

What editorial mistake did I make in life to land you here?

I fixed your opening line.

 

 

Higher Learning

We live in a world fueled by instantaneous information and misinformation. The overtaking of the Internet as our ‘news source’, social media, online anonymity, and the dangers of segregation through groupthink mentality have created a strange, and quick moving divisiveness that’s drawing hard lines through and around our community.

I live in Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University (not a CSU alumni myself), and the newest controversy involving a group of white students involved in a racially charged incident. Four of CSU’s students donned charcoal face masks and referenced Black Panther in a photo now widely dispersed on the internet.

What’s the big deal, right? Kids are young and dumb. They do stupid shit all the time.

Yeah…that may be true, we all do stupid shit. ESPECIALLY in college. But this isn’t throwing a chicken into a bar or lighting fireworks out of a car window.

This is racism. And no racism is done ‘in good fun’.

Living in today’s world with access to limitless information means that we have a responsibility to understand where we’ve gone wrong as a country and why we are always responsible for our actions, specifically how we treat our fellow human beings.

Being young is no longer a viable excuse for this kind of behavior. Theirs is the generation that has seen the thick disease of racism, white nationalism, and ethnocentrism bubble up to the surface. They should understand it better than any of us…maybe they do, and perhaps that’s what’s most disturbing about this incident.

The only person to come forward said it all happened so fast, that she didn’t even have time to question if making the gesture from Black Panther was right or wrong.

I call bullshit.

If you’re ‘clever’ enough to think of the reference while your white face is covered in black clay you’re clever enough to understand what it means to American culture and the disturbing history we share.

And if those students haven’t ever learned this history then here’s a quick recap for any of you out there who aren’t sure what the big deal is.

In the 1850’s black face (a white person painting their face in shoe polish, coal dust, etc) began as a way to portray African American people on stage for the entertainment of Antebellum era Southerners still miffed that much of their free labor had been emancipated. Actors played black characters in ways that perpetuated inaccurate stereotypes of them as being lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, criminal and cowardly.

It wasn’t right then. It certainly isn’t now.

Now listen…I am human. You are too. We screw up.

Once, I was driving a friend home from a race and belted out the lyrics to a DMX song (because I love post-race DMX) and she stared at me in horror before I realized the word I’d sang along with. I still feel bad about it to this day…so I’m not sitting here on any sort of high horse.

But what I can say is this, when we make a mistake we admit it, we understand it and we OWN it. Meaning that we don’t try to turn the situation around to how our wrong behavior has “victimized us”.

I read through the young woman’s apology (side note and something we should all be aware of when looking at the whole picture: the female from the photo, Leana Kaplan had her apology printed in The Coloradoan even though they don’t accept outside articles or personal letters. Turns out, her father, Les Kaplan, owns the building that the newspaper resides in. Can you say “conflict of interest”, kiddies?) Her apology turned from seemingly genuine regret to her own hardships resulting from the incident. She even went on counter attack saying it was all a political ploy by a prominent educator, Tay Anderson, who is running for the Denver School Board.

I have to call bullshit again. You are responsible for how you behaved, you can’t be mad that people are raising awareness of the racial inequality which brought about such behavior. It’s not all about you, princess.

Public shaming is completely acceptable when you’ve been a total douche about something.

CSU is facing its own backlash and I say it’s about time. The predominantly white upper-class college isn’t a stranger to this kind of behavior from it’s students. In the past two years there have been a string of racist and anti-semitic crimes, including a noose hung in a resident hall targeting a Black resident assistant, graffiti proclaiming “Fu%& Jews”, and even CSU security calling the police on two Native American students who were on a tour of the college. Despite all of these hate crimes, CSU and its board of directors have done little to combat the behaviors that make its minority students feel threatened, anxious and segregated.

Speaking of threats, and to return to a more balanced overview, Miss Kaplan has had death threats (over 50 she claims) due to this incident, and has lost her job, causing ‘financial hardship’.

While there’s a lot to be said for the shady nature of white privilege in this story here is where I want to end this discussion with:

Firstly, if your dad owns buildings that house newspapers, I’m inclined to think that you don’t have nearly the ‘financial hardships’ that other disadvantaged students are facing.

Secondly, no matter how stupid or blindly privileged you are, you are still a human being and no one should be threatening your life.

This is a strange and hard time to live. Especially for those of us with hearts in the right places and genuine care and concern for all the people we share this world with. I feel like a momma to the expanse of the world sometimes, holding my hands out to each child, trying to keep them from hurting one another.

Stop.

Stop thinking its funny and no big deal to make fun of a history that destroys lives, ruined families and entire cultures, and ripped our country in half. Be a better person, goddamnit, and understand that your actions have the power to either perpetuate hate and divisiveness or love and compassion.

Stop.

Stop threatening to take someone’s life for making a mistake. I understand that you worry that by offering forgiveness and a second chance you think they won’t learn…that they will just keep on doing hurtful things. But taking someone’s life makes you no better a person. Causing them fear and anxiety, while seemingly just punishment, is the low road to take.

This post’s exhausted me. I hope you all can take one thing away from it: That you are responsible for your behavior and the consequences that it brings. You are responsible for the world you create through your actions and words…so Be Better.

 

Priority

Hello writers and readers. I hope you all enjoyed a long weekend and had some time to yourselves for writing or exploring your creativity. I have been balancing the new school schedule as well as social engagements, old-dog vet appointments, and enrichment programs for my kiddos. I’ve been logging extra miles in preparation for the Colorado Ragnar Relay and juggling the details of 12 individuals coordinating 36 hours of their lives together.

What I haven’t been doing is writing.

Or editing.

Or even brainstorming.

It doesn’t bode well for a blogger who touts being a writer to not write. So what does one do, when life around her seems to sap every moment? She prioritizes and shakes off some of the unimportant to feed her soul. After all, that’s what I’m always preaching to you fine people to do, right? I can’t very well tell you how to walk the road while I muck around in the ditch.

So I’m back to the computer this week, setting up some goals for the year. My 40th trip around the sun should have something monumental yes? Besides my body falling apart and gravity being especially cruel on all my jiggly bits? I need something uplifting to balance it all out. So I’m making lists and culling the overgrown herd of obligatory adulting.

We all get overwhelmed and distracted with life and let our time to write, or to paint, or knit or whatever it is that feeds our bigger brain get kicked off the schedule. My hope is that we understand how empty that missing piece leaves us and work to fill it back in again.

As this is my case, I will only be contributing to this blog four times a month (2 blog posts, 2 VerseDays) in an effort to put more of my time towards my novels and the new Poetry Anthology coming out in the Spring.

I’m not sure who will miss my weekly thought purges, but rest assured, I will still be darkening your door, just a smidge less.

Please feel free to send me your poetry or flash fiction, I’ve extended the deadline to December 31st for inclusion into the poetry anthology, “No Small Things”. Even if you’ve contributed before, I’d love to hear more. Thanks for your time and consideration!

Until next week, go work on your stuff! I want to know your time isn’t being wasted and that we’re all doing well by ourselves and our passions. Reach out to me, if you do have a spare moment, and let me know what you’ll be doing to prioritize your creativity in the next few months!

Love ya,

Sarah

VerseDay 8-29-19

I’m not sure where this came from. Maybe it was my old high-school track coach telling me that if I quit, I’d never finish anything in life. (Hey, Mr. S and Mr. R…turns out I CAN actually finish something, including two marathons, half a dozen halfs and six relays, give or take).

Maybe it was the instructor who berated me for “letting” my daughter quit, saying that I was teaching her to give up when things got tough.

To those instructors, I offer this:

A child who knows how to pursue their own happiness, that knows their own heart and can let go of situations that are abusive or dangerous and move on to something better is a child who will surpass us all, because they’ve learned that other’s expectations are not as important as their own mental health and physical safety.

Let’s do one better and become this kind of person in our own lives, starting today.

Let’s be the parents that recognize happiness isn’t measured in instagram likes and crappy plastic trophies.

Enjoy…or get uncomfortable. Either way.

 

Perfect

Born into arms which penetrate hearts

Inject the belief

we were meant for greater things, pal.

Capable of great feats,

(greater than that loser Tommy two doors down)

Set expectation high and don’t ever

Ever

Ever

Settle for less.

 

Aim for the stars kid, and you’ll at least hit the moon.

 

So we aim, eyes glancing back to expectant faces

Waiting for the brag worthy photo to be posted later

Thinking

They’ll surely love me then.

By the measure of counted likes and tiny hearts floating

to the top of screens they rarely look up from.

 

We will excel. We will be better.

We will hurtle faster into adulthood,

And pound on depression’s door with a signed note,

Tug along our anxieties to the bus stops and soccer practices.

Bite nails, inhale, drink it down,

and give the captain of the football team

whatever he asks for.

 

We’ll aim for the stars

hurtle our broken bones and burst ligaments once more

like they’ve pulled a catapult’s lever to expunge us again and again

If it only would mean

They would love us.

 

Maybe when we get on the Varsity team,

Maybe after our third ACL replacement before graduation.

Maybe after the fourth ivy-league school accepts.

Maybe when we’ve lost enough fat to crown the top of the pyramid

In tiny skirts designed to make it all our fault.

 

Watch our faces fall every day

As we are shoveled into cars and

Paraded down sidelines,

Dressed in tutu’s and reminded not to eat too much

Sent to the psychologist because

‘she just can’t focus’ in a force-fed day

Gorged on Latin and dance, soccer and flute,

Math club, robotics, and the triple threat; tap.

 

Future problem solver

Can’t even solve her own problems

Pop a pill, darling, it will help you get our dreams.

 

Never really understanding that the only real problem,

Is the one that tucks us into bed,

Sighing, resigned, that maybe tomorrow will be better.

The ones that feed us breakfast and

Don’t search the backpack for the needles,

Because “he’s born with natural talent”

 

Twisted Sister could have taught you something

Darling perfects

about their trite and jaded ideas

screaming you are not enough

Just as you are,

Just ask you like.

 

You will excel,

Like they never did.

You will severe their noose of tough love

Drop it in your sweaty gym bag,

burn it with your test score report and tap shoes.

 

Do not let them force you

to relive their spent dreams.

Be all. Be nothing.

Land lightly in the space between…

The space that is you.

Soul Nap

Hello after a much needed hiatus, I hope that the last few weeks have been grand for you all. I was on a little vacation and decided to allow my normal schedule to soften a bit in all aspects of my life. Writing fell by the wayside, I slept in and skipped out on the morning miles. I just let myself be.

Those are the times that do us strangely good. Now, granted, you can’t stay in that kind of state if you hope to advance your work in progress or be prepared for that fastly-approaching relay race (yikes, maybe I should have ran a little more…) But the respite is an important part of any successful endeavor. I don’t actually know if that’s scientifically proven, but I do know about burnout and I know the only way to avoid it is to rest once in a while.

Plus, life is short…we should pause to enjoy it occasionally instead of hurrying ourselves into the grave.

One of the best things resting can do, is reorient yourself to the quietness inside. When the demands of the world are so loud and the shoulds, and have-tos, and oughts are always at the forefront we often forget what it is we really want. We forget to check in and see if what we’re doing is really what we need to be doing. What we want to be doing. Does it serve our happiness? Or someone else’s?

I’m not sure if it’s viable for you, but I encourage you as a writer, a parent, an athlete, or whatever label you’ve had slapped on your ass, to step back once in a while. Even if it’s just taking a ‘mental health’ day from work to change up your routine. Purposefully don’t do what you always do. Refuse. Resist. Sit quietly with the only person that’s really in control of your situation (no not the toddler, I know it feels that way, but…)

Reacquaint yourself with you.

It can be kind of harrowing. The quiet removal of all you ‘live for’ in a day has the effect of taking a car seat out of the back of your car after a year. You might see a lot of trash and rotting debris beneath all that was so ‘necessary’ (quotes are for effect of the comparison…car seats are TOTALLY NECESSARY). The clear space of you that’s been neglected for a long time. Sometimes that space has been neglected for so long that it, itself, has become rotted and unstable. And with that can come the clarity of why everything that rests on it, all the things you do in a day, feel like they’ll topple over at any second.

A neglected core is unstable ground for building a life.

It can be scary to find that what you once clung to so fiercely is not really what you want deep down. You can’t heal that wound until you clean it all out, study it, and treat it. Life leaves us scars in this way. Places we’ve been, people we’ve loved, that no longer make sense to the path that’s at the true core of our center. They may even throw our center completely off for other areas of our lives. So cull the herd. Start from the bottom and build new dreams, new goals, that fulfill what you need today, not five-ten-twenty years ago.

Don’t forget human, you’re meant to change over the years.

Get deep. Get dark. Get to know yourself again, then work your way up.

VerseDay 8-15-19

Hey there kids.

It’s been a whirlwind on my end of things the last few weeks and I’m trying to catch my brain up to my heart in a lot of respects. So this one feels…tepid. Like unsatisfying tap water…too warm to be refreshing, too cold to be comforting.

We all have our days.

 

 

Missfit

 

She doesn’t go

In the lines they drew,

She slithers out

Spills over edge.

 

She doesn’t fit

In labeled boxes and

Carefully thought out plans

She escapes over walls

And flies the coop

 

She doesn’t match the furniture

Or compliment the wall paper

She doesn’t shrink to fit the space

Or diminish into corners.

 

She is not refined in fixture

Not the gray of peripheral

She is ill-placed and jarring

Color splashed on white walls

She lacks pattern and structure.

 

She misfits this world,

Careens past the bullseye,

To shoot wild

Flies across the sky

In dodging weaving trails

Floating butterfly

Stinging bee

 

She is uncontained

And worrisome.

VerseDay 8-8-19

Good morning poetry hounds!

I’m pleased and excited to feature the latest submission from K. W. Bunyap, for your VerseDay pleasure. K.W. is an avid hunter and fly fisherman. He’s an airline pilot by day and a novelist by night, creating beauty with images and words to balance out both sides of his beautiful brain. If you want to hear more about how amazing this guy is (including surviving a bear mauling and poor luck with rental cars, check out his awesome website:

K. W. Bunyap

Today, K. W. will be wowing you with a poem that settles into a special corner of my heart and it’s love of Autumn. Enjoy!

 

Aspen Autumn- 

I watched the aspens turn today 
And witnessed nature’s majesty. 
Orange and gold replaced the leaves 
Of green, and leapt from tree to tree. 

The rising sun poked shafts of light 
Down through an emerald canopy. 
I lay beneath those dark scarred trunks 
Of white, and lounged in reverie. 

I watched the colors of autumn 
Slowly replace where green should be. 
The hues revealed the steady march 
Of time, no more a mystery. 

Deep in that secret mountain glade 
The pigments were a potpourri. 
Above, I heard a rustling sound 
Of leaves, and something stirred in me. 

The leaves were changing, Fall was here, 
I felt the warmth of Summer flee. 
Watching the aspens turn, I thought 
Of love, and gave my heart to thee.

VerseDay 7-25-19

Today’s featured poet, sid sibo, is an immensely talented writer and poet, currently living and working as an environmental analyst on the western slope of the Rockies. sid shares an amazing connection to the land and is quite possibly one of the most profound poets I’ve been blessed to meet.

You can find more inspiration and writing at their website: sid sibo

Please enjoy this delicious gem.

 

Rendezvous
Rime dampens leaf crackle;
your boots lift peppered scent.
Hunt camp disappears behind
cedar bog.
Squat. Touch fungus. Listen.
Other
footsteps pause and proceed,
pause and advance and
through breathing balsam
thrusts midnight wolf, eyes
intrepid suns,
nose lifted to strange reek.
Three strides apart;
you ingest each other.
Raven calls out.
But wolf ears—steep
mountains—focus
only on mystery.
Onyx lips open to glacier grin.
Ferned plume of tail
spins past.
Ancient air pours through you
and you sink like
rain into the duff.
Wait. Lichened greenstone
on trembling tongue.
Knowledge, basaltic,
rises along your backbone.
Footsteps circle around,
returning.
Deep forest dark together,
Gold fever curious.
Exchange breaths, learning.

Because A Dog Can’t Eat Your Virtual Homework…

All right, friends and neighbors, the homework I assigned last week is only due for me. You can send me your 0-1000 word story/poem from the prompt: “Write about something you left behind by accident and/or Write about something you left behind on purpose” anytime between now and September 1st.

Remember, you not only get featured on the blog, you get a free set of my steamy romance novels signed by me and braggin’ rights. So get me those entries, send them to the contact info on this site.

In the spirit of being a good example, I’m including not only a flash fiction piece but also a poem. Because prompts are expandable, remember I said that. Be creative. Hell, you know what? If you have a photo that you feel might fit with this prompt, send that in too! I’d love to see it…In fact, today’s photo was a result of said inspiration.

Get out there, get writing. Here’s my homework (you’re welcome to print it out and grab a red pen but you can’t send it back…)

 

Hyde-Park-London

Hyde Park

 

I left your scarf on a park bench

The sun came out

It was too warm

 

I pulled at it, slipped it down one side of my neck,

Set it beside my tea

And went back to the newspaper

 

The orb blazed brighter

Dropping my mind

into a haze of preoccupation

 

I tossed my cup in the bin

Tucked the paper under my arm

Fled the barrage of summer

 

And came home

Without your memory

hanging around my throat

 

That’s how you finally forget,

I suppose

Letting go happens when you’re least expecting

 

In the heat of a Tuesday afternoon,

On a bench in Hyde park

With a mind full of other things

 

Besides the tender hands that first placed it

In a sodden field,

blanketed with rain

 

The sun came out

It was too warm

I left you on a park bench.

 

Part The Second: The flashing fiction bit…

 

Diamond Trees Don’t Root Like Potatoes

So finely honed was the veiled disappointment in her face that I didn’t even need to look to know it was there.

“I’m sorry,” I shrugged over the potato peeler and the growing pile of gritty brown scraps beneath it.

“I just can’t believe you lost it!” her pitch rose and startled me.

My mom’s passive aggressiveness was legendary. She didn’t wield a battle-axe; she used a scalpel. She didn’t say outright what she meant; she kept the grudge seething for decades. That’s how the poison worked in our family. The curse of material prestige, the “what we owned” owning us. The things handed down like shackles being snapped into place.

“I said I was sorry,” I muttered. “It was an accident.”

In the way digging a hole and burying something akin to nuclear waste beneath an old billboard welcoming folks to Beautiful Bonnie Bay, Minnesota was an accident. Oops, I tripped and fell into a purposeful purge. Maybe a black little tree of greed would grow up from the seed. The idea was both ridiculous and frightening.

“She told me not to leave it to you until you were older! I should have held on to it,” she wiped the sweat from her forehead, and resumed her agitated pacing from pot to oven.

“No, you shouldn’t have,” I whispered.

“What?” Pacing stopped. “What did you say?”

Her new direct approach was something I attributed to the magic of the hated object lying beneath three feet of dirt and unable to inflict its venom. It could’ve been that she was just really…really pissed. That was okay, because at least she was being honest.

“I said,” I turned wielding the starchy peeler like an accusing finger. “That you shouldn’t hold on to it. To any of it, Mom.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“She spent years holding all these ‘treasures’ over your head, just like her mother did to her and probably hers before…making sure you stayed in line if you wanted to inherit–”

“That’s not true!” she shouted.

“She poisoned you!” I blurted out into the room still ringing with the echo of her voice. “She poisoned you into believing all those things were your worth! That they were her love. And you had to earn them, and that she could take them away just like that!” The snap of my fingers startled her like a coma patient waking.

“I don’t… know what–” she sputtered and took hold of the counter with fingers clenching.

“You deserved loved from her. You deserved better! You are worth so much more than a broach, or a set of dishes, or a closetful of linens. And you’ll always have my love, no matter what you give me, even if it’s just the time you spend yelling at me over a piece of cut rock. I’ll love you! ‘N you never have to buy it, or earn it. It’s just there.”

It would have been customary for one or both of us to turn away or huff off to a different room where we’d place the grudge dutifully on our shoulders. But she came to stand beside me, facing out into the kitchen and catching her breath, slowing into calm.

I picked up the half-naked potato and finished his delicate undressing so he could join his skinny-dipping friends in the pot.

Mom sighed while her eyes closed out the room and her mind reread every cursive note attached to every object filling the boxes in the attic.

I leaned the warmth of my hip against hers and listened to the jangle of sharp metal over thick skin. Finding the white tenderness, separate from all the dirt, gave me appreciation for the rugged beauty of rooted things, and the glimmer of hope for a barren ground above the broach’s final resting place.

 

VerseDay 7-18-19

Last night was my last class, officially, teaching at the karate school I’ve been at for nearly five years. It is a necessary step that had to happen for the health of my heart and mind. I’ll be taking the next month completely out of that world to reset my perspective and see where my love and energy really belongs. Perhaps I will return, refreshed. Perhaps the universe has other plans for me.

This is the way of the orbiting dance of life.

Even when a move feels like the right one to take, it can be difficult. What we leave behind can often open up holes of melancholy and bittersweet sadness in our chest.

So this is for you; those who are leaving, those who’ve been left. If you are in one of the hundreds of delicate transitions that come with the years of breathing, take heart.

And leave heart.

 

UnDeparted

 

I leave behind pieces of myself

In every heart that I have loved.

So that I may live a thousand different lives

And share their journey in a million different moments.

I spread toes in broken sand

and sing with the breath of black loam forests.

Blaze in pursuit of sunsets and stretch,

reborn to every dawn 

 

I leave behind pieces of myself

So that every pulse

in every heart of my heart

Is a star in the sky,

An adventure, 

An eternity

 

I leave behind pieces of myself

In every heart that I have loved

So that I may touch the world with their hands

See the world through their eyes,

Beg them lay still when they need rest

And filter and fiber their blood as they race

down dusty borders of earth and sky

I aid the fire and fever as they fall to love

and mend softly the wounds suffered there after 

 

I leave behind pieces of myself,

In every heart I have loved

So that I may live a thousand lives

Be born and grow old,

Laugh out joy

Cry through despair

 

So if I am far away from you now, 

By streets or by stars.

Know that I am not gone.

I am stitched into your heart

A patch of peace, when the weary world shouts too loud

If out of sight, I am yet undeparted 

I’ve left a piece of myself

In your heart.

 

 

 

Homework

Oh, you’re in for it now.

Listen, sometimes I get down to the dirt of it all and give you the best writing advice I’ve got and all you have to do is sit back and absorb my witty information dumps.

But I’ve got a case of summer boredom and am itching for something different. Something a little more…interactive. So, today, instead of me expunging on the benefits of plot arcs and character development, or raking you through the coals of The Chicago Manual of Style, we’re gonna play.

I say “play”. You might say homework.

Pota-toe. Potaah-toe.

Here’s the rules. I’m going to give you a writing prompt. You send me your 200-1000 word result. It can be fiction, nonfiction, prose or in poetry form, written in chocolate pudding, or Latin (or in Latin, in chocolate pudding)…the possibilities are all before you.

I’ll choose a winner, send you a set of my signed novels, and feature your story on the blog with all the bragging rights that come along with it. Cool?

And because, I’d never ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, I’ll be featuring my ‘homework’ on next week’s regular Tuesday blog.

So…you see, writers that suffer together…give each other awkward, virtual high fives afterwards? Drink heavily and question the purpose of their existence? I vote the first one.

Because I’m feeling generous, I’ll even give you two options to choose from.

 

Here’s your homework:

 

Write about something/one that got left behind by accident.

or

Write about something/one that got left behind on purpose.

 

On your marks….get set…

 

VerseDay 7-11-19

photo of durga statue
Photo by Khirod Behera on Pexels.com

 

Knowing

 

This is for the endless breath

This is for the heat and the trigger.

This is for the light within

And the power; contained.

The swirling will-o’-the-wisps

of color and hope

That drive like engines in

Thumping

Thrumming

powerstroke diadems.

This is for the me that

Centers

The call of the universe and

ties to the settling of the earth

And all I am

Balanced Between

The goddess infinite and

The root of birth and blood.

This is for the knowing.

Kats n’ Dogs: The Importance of Conflict In Writing

I live in a veritable menagerie of animal and child chaos. Now, we’re down by one basset just this last year and it’s been more quiet without our Bailey girl, but her brother still manages a good ugly face when the cat garners more attention than he thinks she should. Yet she keeps insisting that he enjoys her arching-cat rub beneath his saggy jowls, calico tail flicking into his cataract plagued eyes.

He secretly does.

Until he sees us watching.

Then he’s all bark and tiny overbite snaps at the air above her.

“Knock it off, I don’t like it. I don’t like you.”

But we know better.

It got me thinking about conflict and what makes it work in our novels and stories.

We all know the basics of conflict as it pertains to our writing. That it needs to be between our main character and some other source (i.e. a person, technology, the weather, the government, their past etc.). That it drives the character to escape, succeed, fail, run (to or from) all important story climax points that keep the reader engaged.

But when I think of this kind of conflict, I think about writing romance.

Ok, look away and or stop reading if you think this has nothing to do with your historical fiction on the Prussian War…but I’ve only got a few more words left and it may give you a little insight.

Sometimes the conflict comes in the not wanting to want what we want. It comes when two characters rub each other the wrong way, precisely because it’s kind of the right way and they both hate admitting it. Two characters (leads in your story, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation) who get riled up by the other are usually, in some way, riled up about how much they don’t hate them despite knowing they should.

patrick and kat2

One of the best examples of this is Kat’s final speech in 10 Things I Hate About You. (I GET that its from a teenage snippy version of ‘Taming The Shrew’ but bear with me because that movie is actually quite brilliant and the principal is a romance novelist who spends a great deal of the movie looking for synonyms to the word “penis”).

It is a play on the beloved Shakespearean 141st Sonnet, beginning with “In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes…” and underscores this principle of why not wanting to love someone can be the most powerful motivator of behavior and conflict.

“I hate the way you talk to me
And the way you cut your hair
I hate the way you drive my car
I hate it when you stare

I hate your big dumb combat boots
And the way you read my mind
I hate you so much that it makes me sick
It even makes me rhyme

I hate the way you’re always right
I hate it when you lie
I hate it when you make me laugh
Even worse when you make me cry

I hate the way you’re not around
And the fact that you didn’t call
But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you
Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.”

It’s in the breaching of walls, the naked vulnerability, and the human exposition that binds us as readers to the character, and makes us fall just as hard as they do.

You may not have swooning shirtless people with wind machines in the background, mussing their perfectly golden locks, while they embrace ecstatically, but I bet that you have a character that you want your reader to root for. And that means creating conflict that resonates with the deeper tendrils of human emotion hidden beneath the layers of caustic comebacks and snide remarks.

Your conflict doesn’t have to drive your character into the arms of their reluctant beloved, it just has to drive them into the hungry hands of your readers.

Happy Writing!

VerseDay 7-4-19

I’m not going to lie. This last week has been a bit of a bear. The emotional lows and highs, the stress and worry have been compiling. All of it, building up blocks to my creative mind. I spent three hours in a car yesterday staring out of the window, unable to put words to paper or even to reshape my work in progress. I couldn’t see out behind the wall of self-doubt and defeat.

So I’m here, trying to bang my head against the keys and make some sort of poetry come out to assuage my weekly quota, but all I really want to do is crawl back into bed and forget that I ever had words to say. That’s how the muddle of depression hits people sometimes. It’s not always tears and fainting dramatically across couches… sometimes it’s just the stagnant stare across a rolling landscape trying to recuperate what was lost.

So for today, and I hope you’ll forgive me the rough outline and nature of it, this is what I’ve got. Thanks for sticking with me, thanks for reading my words, even when they come in stuttering, halting steps. I have to believe that it will get better. It has to get better.

 

The Place

 

There is a place somewhere that lost you.

Took you

Shattered the universe you were

And glued back the leftover branches and brick brack

Into jagged and hurt lines.

 

I cannot replace the one-of-a-kind soul,

And I cannot repair the jumbled carnage.

Because there are pieces still lost

Out there, in that place.

 

And I try to understand what’s gone wrong,

A puzzle to reassemble

Find the edges first and work in to your center.

Separate it out by sky and earth.

But the colors mute into all one gray.

And none of them fit quite right.

 

There is a place, a moment in time,

When the swirling wonder of light 

Faded into a dying star, 

A pile of poorly cut cardboard, 

A disassembled soul, sitting stagnant

In that place.

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #19: Writing Your Truth

In the midst of a nation undergoing painful and necessary growth, I’m happy to have you joining me here today.

If you follow my writings and my blog, you know where I stand on the issue and I want to take a moment to urge every white person in this country to re-examine their own lives, understand the privileges they have, and really start opening your hearts, minds, and ears to listen to People of Color.

Keep your mouths shut and listen.

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your guilt, it isn’t about how it makes YOU feel. It isn’t about arguing your way out of the discomfort. It’s about anyone and everyone who has had to limit themselves out of fear, who was held back or down because of the color of their skin. Listen, work to understand and ask what you can do to be the most effective in fighting alongside them. Let’s start working towards a country and nation where we are all free to walk down the street, drive our cars, go out for ice cream, go out for a jog without being pursued, punished, incarcerated or killed.

Now, in line with that, I wanted to talk about a program that I had planned to start this summer with a beautiful human and social organizer, Queen (you may remember the piece on her son Dontré. If you haven’t read it, please do: “Weapons Used Against Me”)

Queen and I had envisioned a free writing workshop for disadvantaged youth and others in the community who’s voices were constantly being silenced or marginalized. The idea was to encourage and teach them how to find their true voice (outside of influence), to tell their story, in their truth and have a safe place to do so. A place where it wasn’t about the moderator’s discomfort, or what could or could not be said. A place for them to find power in their own purpose. Then, how to take those words and get them noticed. How to be heard in a world that is too used to turning away when something makes it uncomfortable. I had hopes of finding publishers for their work, and if nothing else sponsoring publishing of their work myself with all proceeds going back to the participants.

Then COVID came along and sort of blew it all to hell. But, I’m in contact with Queen and will find a way, in the next coming months, to bring the workshop back to the table. Because writing things down matters. Because putting emotion, thought, and personal truth down in words on paper immortalizes the truth of you and your place in time. And the more voices we listen to, the bigger the truth we find.

Today’s exercise is about finding your voice. And that can be scary as hell. We humans can harbor some pretty dark shit in our souls. We hold on to traumas like moths in a closet that we’re afraid to let out. But they slowly eat away at everything we own. We shrug and say “It’s okay, it’s no big deal how I feel, how I felt, how I survived…”

Humans, it is a big deal. It matters and you matter. So write it down.

Write down what you’re feeling about today’s social climate. About your own feelings about racism, what you notice in yourself at the bridging of the topic, what you wish for, what you hate about yourself, what you love. What can you change? What will you change?

I will keep you updated on the progress of the class and how you can participate, contribute, or spread the world to people who may need this kind of therapeutic and power-restoring practice.

Normally I’d say “Happy Writing” but today I’ll leave you with this.

Write in Truth.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #10

I know it’s been a couple of weeks and I don’t expect this blog post is going to wow anyone or cause massive social change. It may not even get read, after all, I’m not here to give you the latest updates and numbers and calamity that’s been shouting, ceaselessly, in our faces for the last few weeks.

I’m here to tell you I’m not ok. As my friend sid says, my “give-a-shitter” is effectively broken and I haven’t been able to write much of anything. I swing from anxiety for my parents and at-risk loved ones to rebellious trips to the grocery store for an onion and a bottle of shampoo.

It shouldn’t make sense that I’m not writing, I have so much time, right? So much freedom to not go out and just hang in my pajamas. An introvert should be ecstatic that she no longer has to find excuses to not attend social obligations. But this introvert is also distrustful of the institution that has so easily taken the choice. This introvert has gone from someone who had at least a few hours alone time in the day for free-thinking, to someone who is a full-time-stay-at-home-mom-teacher-comforter-researcher-scientist-gym teacher-housekeeper-spanish teacher-stoic-source-of-calm who feels inadequate at all of it and obligated to keep being the ideal citizen. I should be able to thrive under any condition you put me in and raise a fine bunch of kids while doing it.

But I’m not thriving. Not creatively. Not in any way.

I sit down, in front of screen or page and the ideas that I know are bundled up inside feel trapped, covered by a very particular sense of gray and a heavy blanket of anxiety. I don’t have the luxury of this time. Shouldn’t I be planning a lesson or getting my kids out for a walk, or writing some cheery optimistic chalk bullshit on my neighborhood sidewalks so we don’t forget ‘we’re in this together!” Of course we’re in this together, we’ve got no other choice. It’s like walking into a prison and have some lemon-sunshine blond smile with perfect teeth and giggling “Welcome to Camp! We’re gonna have loads of fun! Just go with it! Oh, and if you complain you’re a vile piece of shit who doesn’t care about your neighbors! Here’s your pajamas and a set of sidewalk chalk!”

Overall, its as if my mind is holding in all of this beautiful stuff, interesting threads of story and plot in its sweaty, clenched hands and it looks at the world shouting the same repetitive rhetoric around, shrugs and says, “why bother?” Then pretty soon those ideas fade under the weight of gray around them. Until they disappear completely and all that’s left is the repetitive rhetoric.

So this lesson has no title. It has no direction. Except to say this, these are strange and harrowing times. You can argue there is hope in the social solidarity we are forming from six-feet away. But something feels off about this and I don’t know how the history of it will be written. So, I’m journaling every day. Words others will probably never see. Thoughts that can be as dark and complex or stupid and shallow as I need them to be on that particular day.

So that’s your assignment for the remaining weeks of this thing. Journal. The thoughts, fears, anxieties, joys (if you can find them good for your sunshine-blond soul), that change in every moment with the wobble of this event. Someday you may come back to it, read and remember. Or you may chose to burn it and hope never to go back to the person you were in those moments of dark. History is going to be written from these events, don’t let theirs be the only version.

Oh, and get outside. Its the only thing that’s saved me from some severe physical/mental damages (minor ones are still fair game). It’s actually quite pleasant when you can catch nature on her own.