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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 Power of A Flat Character

Hey kids! Today’s blog is all about writing, specifically pinpointing a very prevalent problem novelists face.

Flat characters.

Now, most of my novels are character driven. That is to say, I begin with a person. A beautifully flawed and imperfect hero who has a problem. Hopefully a big problem. (If they don’t have a reason to cry, by God, I’ll give them one!) And normally, not to pat myself on the back, I can write a pretty interesting character. Someone readers want to follow through the ups and downs of plot arcs.

And yet…

When I found myself mired in yet another round of editing my latest novel, wondering why nothing was working and everything seemed so boring and flat in nearly all of my scenes, I realized the story was trying to support dead weight. That is…my character was not providing any sort of flame to heat the story. They were just being pulled along by their circumstances. She was the equivalent of a wet blanket draped across a closeline, pulling both ends of it down in the middle.

I started this novel many years ago around a situation. And the situation was driving the plot. Instead of my character driving the story, she was just a passenger. Not only does that make everything in writing your novel a struggle, it also makes it less interesting for your readers. No one wants to know about the girl sitting complacently in the back seat. They want to know who in the hell is driving the car and how close it is to the cliff.

All the rounds of editing were wasted in trying to make the scenes and plot more vibrant but it never seemed to be enough. Because it couldn’t carry itself and her lazy ass too. A flat character, lacking depth, quirks, a solid core of values or lack thereof, is like an empty billboard in the middle of a field. Taking up the view without contributing to it.

So I’m back to the drawing board and today, I’m going to start it right. I’m starting with a detailed account of just who this girl is and what drives her. If it’s not interesting enough then I’m going to try out some weird shit until that awe inspiring ‘ah-ha’ hits me between the eyes. And then I’ll re examine every page of her story to see if she’s behaving the way she would and saying the things she should. The story will change, scenes will change, her interaction with others and the direction they head will change. I’ve got a ton of work ahead of me.

It’s going to be like starting over and I’m a little disheartened by that. But if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right and I’m not ready to give up on her just yet.

After all, she does know how to shoot, bakes the best biscuits in the county, and can shear an angora goat in under a minute-thirty.

(By the way, the world record for sheep shearing is 37.9 seconds. Goats take longer, because they’re feisty and require a more careful ‘clipping’ technique.)

more you know

Don’t be lazy. In the same way certain Robin Hood actors wouldn’t learn a British accent (ooo, Kevin Costner BURN!) don’t half-ass your main character. They should carry the story, not drag it down.

What are some of your favorite character development tools?

VerseDay 6-20-19

Good Morning!

I’m so pleased and excited to feature this stunning contribution by Jennifer Carr for your weekly dose of poetry.

Jennifer Carr 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 (is there every enough 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!

 

The Map to Motherhood

Traveling on a good solid trail until a bump in the way
led me to a dangerous detour of winding twists and turns.
The route becoming more rocky – I never saw the speed limit sign
warning me to slow down so I continued speeding ahead
never realizing I was lost and alone even though I was about to crash.
Even when I came to the crossroads I still disappeared
into the shadows where thunderstorms washed away
any chance of me finding my way back home.
I stopped looking over my shoulder
as my dreams disappeared into grey skies
along with the the compass and my sense of direction
all hope seemed lost until one day a miracle happened.

green mountain
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

There was a ray of hope, a small ray of sunlight
beamed onto my path – I felt it and I followed it.
A heartbeat that was felt long before
his heart began to beat. He brought me somewhere
out of nowhere breaking into old lost forgotten dreams.
In a universal moment I was dancing in a different direction
towards tomorrow’s bright promise the compass that carved a new path
he was the map that led me to motherhood.
The son I would come to know as my “Milagro.”

VerseDay 6-13-19

Hello Poetry lovers…or maybe you’re just poetry dabblers. Whatever the case, and your current thoughts on the boiled-down marvel of words, here’s today’s poem. Share it, comment on it, like it or don’t.

Again, still open for submissions. I’m super excited to be featuring a beautiful poem next week from Jennifer Munoz, so stay tuned for that!

Enjoy!

 

The World on Two Legs

If you knew the tremulous

white water that thrashes

against the rocky shores in my brain

When faced with your tear-stained cheeks.

If you knew the worry, and sleepless dark,

I live in for the sake of your safety

If you knew that you were my only shore

If you knew

You my solid ground

If you knew the depths of love

The die-for-you-love

The beat-for-you

Rise-For-You

Live-for-you

Love

That arrived, right on time

with the pushing pain

The tearing and bloodied welcome

Sweaty brow, trembling thighs, weak from

40 weeks of creating

Such a miraculous being.

If you knew, If you really knew…

You’d never question how beautiful, how perfect

you are.

Old Stomping Grounds and New Crossroads

How does the song by Dylan go?

You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.

Last weekend I was able to attend a writers conference in my home state of Wyoming. I graduated from the University of Wyoming many moons ago. Long enough for them to completely move my Anthropology Department home into a brand-spanking new building and rearrange so many other departments that my morning run through campus was surreal.

Things change.

The world keeps spinning around us, and the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve been away.

The conference goers came from all corners of the state, Colorado, and even Florida. It was a small group but friendly and supportive. I enjoyed meeting everyone and getting a chance to speak about publishing options to a crowd of over thirty (I managed not to vomit, so let’s all take a moment in recognition of that).

I couldn’t help but notice, however, that during some of the talks about trying to bring more diversity into the state and the writing group, dissent from a few gentlemen at my table.

Eye rolls and curses, crossed arms and head shakes.

Psh…Diversity. Libtard Bullshit.

Some things don’t change.

And the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve grown into more decent humans, while our past stays stagnant.

Sometimes you move on while the world you once knew stands still. The world that raised you and built you; the world you want to be proud of coming from, remains encapsulated in a time and space that relies on fear and old beliefs to such a degree that you almost want to slink away and change your own story.

My sister and I have discussed this. She said she could never move back, that the minds were too small. And I agree. There are some pretty petty, tiny minds there.

But this weekend I also saw a lot of open and gracious minds. I met “typical” rancher types who wrote magnificently about the importance of land stewardship and the quintessential diversity and equality of hearts. I met people who shared poetry and thought even though it was hard for them, who took outsiders into their arms and world and accepted them. I saw the stirrings of change.

So I can’t agree with her.

The potential for something better is like a river being stopped up by a long-left beaver dam. If we refuse to take out the dam and just leave the stagnant pools lie, then we leave entire worlds and cultures isolated enough to breed their own hate and misconception. The more people start moving the wood, start letting the fresh water in, start encouraging the current, the faster and cleaner that river will flow. The more good and open hearts we put into a place, the more good and open it will become.

I’ve come to many cross roads in my life, I’ve had challenges both self created and imposed upon me, and it’s taken years of experience to know that growth comes with great discomfort. And choosing a road doesn’t always mean you’ll stay on it. And quite often we’re lost in the boonies…but it doesn’t mean we should stay stagnant, or allow others to stay stagnant when their potential is for something much greater.

Challenge yourself this week writer. Step forward into paths that scare you, take chances with your writing and your ideas. Join that critique group, invite an outsider in, always work on the side of fairness, equality, and love. IF we all choose that road, this life will be a much more beautiful place to travel in for all of us.

 

Standing at Attention

Hello Beautiful-stuffers,

I missed last week’s blog due to some conflicts with my reason to care, but I’m back again with a stirring edition of The Beautiful Stuff and today, I’m talking about kids. Particularly the three to eight crowd whom I typically work with in my karate classes. You see, this week is testing week.

It’s the exciting hours when those little bright-eyed darlings bound out on the floor (hopefully remembering to potty first and bow upon crossing the threshold) to ‘earn’ their brand new belt and no doubt bragging rights the next day.

Now heading the school’s instruction team is a stoic former Marine and a stalwart of rules and order on the floor. Absolutely excellent in the face of a rowdy teen or an unsure adult in need of the structure and control.

Absolutely useless and frustrated in the face of the giggling, juggling mass of pent up life force.

And testing time is rarely different.

Though the potential for their future of order and restraint is glimpsed (and I suppose that’s why they come to the school in part) some of the instructors will roll their eyes at the still inadequate control. While I stand in the back and  lament the beauty of their childhood being chipped away.

I was told repeatedly that “the Dragons class will eat you alive”. Both male instructors said so, shaking their heads and trying to bury the horrors of war. I nodded, in that reassuring way you do when someone has no idea.

Son (I call them son because I’m grow’d up over them by a few good years), I’m a mom. And on top of that, I’m a mom that actually enjoyed the ages of my daughters when I had to staunch nose picking while watching them ping-pong off the couch and sing “Let It Go” at the top of their lungs. Every day. All day. Seven days a week, most nights, and EVERY vacation.

So when those little bouncy balls landed on line tonight, wiggling in their gis until their belts untied themselves, and the jaws of less-seasoned warriors clenched, I glowed. I smiled. I adored and dote on.

Want to know why?

One of the greatest beautiful moments in life is when the life in us cannot be contained in man-made illusions of order. It’s in the misdirection and distraction. It’s the exuberance and unconditional love. It’s all that we lose as we age, either by the weights of life tying us down, or from being told repeatedly to stand straight and stop wiggling.

Ok. I understand that order has to exist. Ask any of the poor souls on I-25 while the uninformed attempt to merge. We do have to learn order and self-control. Or everyone would just live on cake and would never go to work, and we’d get into fights and stray from our homes… I’m not saying that order isn’t important.

But order imposed on a mind still fluttering like a million startled butterflies in a sunny meadow, is like trying to…well catch a million startled butterflies in a sunny meadow. At some point. You need to just let go and enjoy the ride and the sunlit flash of pure color. Keep them safe, keep them engaged, and love every odd-ball story and uncontrolled giggle.

I hope you realize I’m not just talking about from kids here. From the people in your life. Encourage, especially the adults in your life (You TOO reader), to barrel through it all with a bit more frivolity and joy.

Sometimes we’ve been so long from it that we’ve forgotten how. It’s not so hard to find your way back. Here are some things that may help:

Go barefoot in the grass

Dig for worms, put them back in the garden.

On the way to your car from the grocery store, work up a good speed and hop on the back of your grocery cart…ride it all the way to the car.

Say no. To them. To yourself…to every “how to be perfect” blog or article you read.

Read the comics first and throw the rest of that shit away.

Go for a bike ride with your kids around the block and name your bike like the noble stead it is.

Tell a dirty joke.

Laugh at dirty joke.

Laugh at a fart.

Fart (and pull the covers over your spouse’s head so that they may truly enjoy it…if your marriage is really meant to last it won’t matter. If it matters well…then I’m going to let you think about that for awhile)

Belch in front of your kids, and follow it with a “Holy cow! That was awesome!”

Grab a bowl of lucky charms and watch some cartoons (Teen Titans is my fav these days).

Wiggle

Dance

Sing “Sweet Caroline” LOUDLY out your car window at the stop light. Those who don’t join in or at least smile are to be pitied.

Never say no when a child wants a hug.

Always kneel down to meet them, their perspective is so much better anyway.

Tell people you love them.

Tell them you love them without needing it to mean anything more than just what it is.

Move on.

Forget.

Someday, remember just the good bits, fondly.

You see, kids and older people get what we’ve forgotten. That the beauty of life comes from the dancing in chaos, not the standing still on line.

Still, go potty before you try the standing still…it does help the wiggles.

 

VerseDay 5-30-19

Belated is better than be-not-at-all-ed? Okay, I’m a little loopy from a day of summer kick offs and emotional rollercoasters from various areas of my life. Here’s what I got. They can’t all be pretty.

Don’t forget to send me your stuff…seriously. I will print it.

 

 

Amend

Sometimes the battle cry at end of day,

Is nothing more than a whimper

a sigh.

A pitiful resignation

Of body into sheets and tired eyelids pressing

 

Sometimes the battle cry at end of day,

Is the knife you did not take up,

The pills still stacked in unopened bottles

The liquid in bottles still stoppered,

House loud with the unopening of vessel

Human or otherwise.

 

Sometimes the battle cry at end of day,

Is the giving into the aching vice of bone

And the people we cannot change

And the problems we cannot solve,

It is a cry of letting go,

A world we cannot Amen-d

“Living is Easy With Eyes Closed”

John Lennon’s quote is the basis for my Tuesday soapbox.

Listen, I do write about writing. I do want to inspire your creativity and help you along with your craft. It’s integral to my purpose in life.

But part of inspiring creativity means reminding you of the massive computer sitting atop your shoulders and why we should never forget to use it.

This week I’ve been researching statistics, studies, and references for an article (probably a book one day) on the staggering racial disparity present in our privatized prison systems, in particular, how it affects young black men in our communities and the short and long-term damage it causes to their families as well as to our society as a whole.

So you know… a real fluff piece.

The problem with scrubbing off a bit of dirt from the surface of something like this is that you expose a teeming cesspool of disease and horror beneath. And once you look into that darkness, falling ever-deeper into that rabbit hole of associated cultural setbacks, systemic traps, and loopholes for those in power, you CAN NEVER NOT KNOW.

You’ve opened your eyes.

You swallowed the red pill.

You know the truth and life becomes difficult.

(Well, if you’re a human being with a heart and a decent-sized sense of empathy, and compassion, life becomes difficult.)

Suddenly, with your eyes open, you see it everywhere.

You see it in the unarmed black woman body-slammed by an officer twice her size, when she wasn’t even fighting back. You see it in the teenagers of color who are convicted of crimes while their white counterparts go free. You see it in the wary HOA’s that lodge baseless complaints against a family because the color of their skin makes the neighbors ‘nervous’, and cause entire families to lose their homes.

I’m not talking about 1955 Alabama here… I’m talking today, here. In our city. In our community.

And I’m ashamed of us, and I’m shaky, and I’m pissed off.

I feel like if I were the mother of dragons…I might pull a Season 8 Episode 5 and burn it all down to rebuild from the ashes.

sack-of-astapor-s3e4
What bells? I didn’t hear any bells…

 

The problem is too big.

That’s what we’re told right?

You can’t fight the system! It’s so much bigger than us. We don’t have the power. The government controls it. The rich control it. The churches, the states, the universities, the public schools, the whole of American culture…

But if you will remember…

The computer on top of your shoulders. The big 10 pounder. The one that processes thoughts and emotions, chemicals and body regulation, the one that creates poetry, writes novels, formulates complex plot and character design.

That’s not nothing.

That’s a powerful weapon in the hands of an informed public. And the way I see it, once we open our eyes, it’s our duty to shake as many egg pods as possible, peel back some eyelids and make the world pay attention.

Two open eyes becomes four. Becomes eight. Becomes sixteen. Becomes hundreds…

The Beautiful Stuff has everything to do with facilitating the best version of humanity we can muster. The most compassionate, fair, and just human we can be. And when we are faced with a hard and ugly cesspool, teeming beneath a society built on the death and destruction of so many lives, we can no longer live easy.

So neither should the powers that be.

 

pawns and king
Never underestimate the power of a well-informed populace with like-minded goals.

My eyes are open and I will do my damndest to keep those that benefit from the broken and ugly system from covering them up.

We may not have the money. We may not have the loopholes and congressmen in our pockets. We may not have law degrees, or time, or the power of influence on large groups of people.

But we have our words. We have our minds. We have our actions and, I hope, enough anger to bypass our fear. Pay attention and acknowledge that this is a problem. Shine a fucking light on it so the rest of the world can’t ignore it anymore.

Find that spark in your chest. That pinprick of light that knows every human deserves to be safe, to be heard, to be healthy and fed, and treated with respect. Find a way to make it grow. Let it lead you to do what you can to change the inequality of the world around you.

You can always do something. Little. Big. It doesn’t matter the size of the action but the heart you put into it.

One water droplet may not have much impact, but a rainstorm can change the landscape.

Go out there. Be bold. Be heard. Stand up for each other.

grayscale photo of man woman and child
Photo by Kristin De Soto on Pexels.com

Writer; Know Thyself

Today’s blog comes to you from a second-floor hotel room after a full and productive day of classes at the 2019 Northern Colorado Writers Conference. The second floor is also hosting the attendees of the Brewery Collectable Club of America, so this humble blogger has witnessed some interesting trade deals in the world of rare Colt 45 paraphernalia.

On to my point:

For every year I attend the NCW Conference, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what, and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.

 

The whole that is me as a writer.

 

And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience.

 

Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one class to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school, brown-nosing self.

 

Then…Something happened last year, when I drug myself to the meet and greet “networking” event, long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field, I stood on very shaky ground. I spilled my drink, I felt like crying,

 

I didn’t want to be there.

 

I hated that I hated being around other writers. Which seems a terrible thing to say, but bear with me.

 

I didn’t know I had a limit to writing.

 

I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. I could go to class for days!!! Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.

 

But…the more stories I heard the more I questioned if I was doing enough. The less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.

 

Until everything was just noise and words.

 

Then I learned a secret.

 

(come closer…closer…)

 

You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it.

 

Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scenario. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans in many aspects of our lives. It comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.

 

During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write. If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes for the mad scribble of thoughts.

Did I miss some parts of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.

Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. And the presenters this year gave me more than a notebook full of query-letter tips or copy-editing tricks. They gave my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls. And in stumbling and unorganized prose/poetry form I filled over ten pages of free-form when it was all said and done.

In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.

So this year, after a relaxing dinner and a fabulous keynote speaker, I said goodbyes to new and dear friends and retired to my room for quality pajama time and a little writing.

I reserved a room, not so I wouldn’t have to drive the five miles home, but because I knew I would need quiet alone time to decompress after a long day of people and ideas, and focus on my own personal craft and projects I love.

I know when my mind is best, and after 8 pm is not that time. That’s my repose time. I had to make that OK for myself in order to get the most out of my time.

Conferences, classes, and meet ups like these open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy or overwhelmed to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson. Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged, yourself, you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds.

So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired.

 

 

Minding Our Manners

 

In the karate school where I volunteer the word of the month is courtesy. It’s not a new concept in martial arts. Courtesy and respect are two of the most fundamental principles of the art. Respect for each other, respect for the rules, respect for the art and for the generations that came before us. Courtesy to our sparring partners, our instructors, and people in general.

The basics of courtesy often start with the ‘magical words’:

Please

Thank you

You’re welcome

I’m sorry

I forgive you

 

These words are like leaves and branches of language that convey the deeper roots of courtesy and respect. Simple polite words that are just the beginning of a much bigger lesson wherein we acknowledge the validity of other humans as equal and important by showing them kindness, compassion, and empathy; the cornerstones of living a beautiful life.

By this time in your lives you have probably all been taught about the “Magical Words”. Magical because they can open doors, springboard friendships, heal broken ties, and encourage smiles.

The typical phrases your parents and grandparents tried to instill  greased the wheels of everyday interactions but also taught you something much more.

By saying “Please” we are acknowledging that we need help, and that we aren’t afraid to ask for it.

By saying “Thank you” we acknowledging that the action of giving requires another’s time and effort and we understand the amount (small or large) of sacrifice involved and are grateful for it.

By saying “You’re Welcome” we acknowledge that the favor was done willingly and we are happy to help where we can. This can leave a lasting warmth between people that perpetuates reciprocity and trust.

By saying “I’m sorry” we acknowledge that our actions or words have harmed someone else. That we have done damage, either intentionally or not, and now regret the pain we’ve caused. Showing regret shows that we are empathetic to what the other person has gone through on our account.

 

I’m saving the hardest one for last.

 

By saying “I forgive you”, I acknowledge that you hurt me and I am choosing to let it go.

 

Forgiveness goes beyond common courtesy. Forgiveness is next level stuff, and it’s the hardest thing we’ll ever have to learn when it comes to compassion and empathy.

Pain serves as a powerful teacher. It reminds us to not make some mistakes over and over again. And when we are hurt we want to hang on to it, for the stupid reason that we don’t want it happening again.

But that’s the thing. We hang on to it.

And by remembering we relive, and by reliving, we stay hurt, we stay angry, and the pain is done to us over and over again, not by the original perpetrator but by our own insistence to keep it close to our hearts. That’s how we build walls against compassion and empathy to others.

 

So here’s what I offer instead:

 

By saying I forgive you, we are also showing courtesy and respect to ourselves. We are choosing to acknowledge the “I’m sorry” (even if there isn’t one) by letting go of the harm so we can keep our hearts open for something better than pain to fill it with.

And to those who are truly sorry, who offer up their apology from a place of genuine desire to make right a wrong, we give a gift that is priceless with our forgiveness. We acknowledge to them that we are human too.

All of these phrases can be used without thinking. They are often just little idioms of our nature; thrown around without realizing we do it.

But this week I’m challenging you to think about them, consciously. Understand them before you say them and mean them when you do. It will make a difference. It may only be a difference in your own mind, but that’s where the power of those words really comes from anyway.

So, please…do something kind and courteous to yourself and others today. You’re welcome for the reminder. Thank you for reading this blog; it means the world to me that you do. I’m sorry if I tend to wander in thought and subject from time to time. But I forgive myself and the creative process that demands a little haphazard chaos in the order of life.

 

Be polite today. Be kind.

 

Mind your manners.

VerseDay 4-25-19

Mornin’ kids. I hope your Thursday is starting off sweet and slow.

No matter what your plans are or how many ‘to-do’s’ you’ve packed into this day, carve out some time to get outside and find your quiet.

Haze

 

Gray cascades of fogged memory

Blanket the distance

And everything seems so much closer now

Kinetic in wait.

 

The world was never so quiet

Nor so still.

Even as rain needles pierce my neck

And trace frozen rivulets down the valley of my shoulder blades.

More pleasant a day I have not lived.

 

Here in the stillness.

The quiet and uncomfortable

The shivering slip of feet and

Icy hands

Scuffed against granite and lichen

In search for hold.

 

How we’ve come to fear being alone.

How we shy from homegrown reflections,

And shudder at the thought

Of being solitary amid the rain and rock.

 

We don’t even know to mourn

The tremendous loss

of keeping our own company.

 

Perhaps the gray residing in our hearts would be lessened,

The stormy mind;

Hurricane of worry and doubt, would dissipate

If we more often paroled our bodies to the rough beauty of nature

The purity of what is real might bring us back ’round.

Clarity borne from the muddled haze.

IMG_0008

The Giant But

Nope. I didn’t miss a “t”. And this isn’t a self-reflective rant about the aging spread going on behind me. Today’s blog is about excuses, dare I even say… self-imposed limits.

I believe I’ve talked about the dangerous ‘but’ in terms of how we love one another, and how we limit feelings by making excuses from perceived imperfections. However, today’s talk is more about the detrimental “but” that gets between us and our dreams.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances the exact phrase:

“I’d love to write a _______ but…”

But…I have no time. But…I just can’t get started. But…I’m not very good. But…It’s hard to publish these days. But…people may not like it.

 

No.

Nope.

Stop it, no.

Nuh uh.

Not valid (and who cares if they like it?)

 

Article done! BAM!  Shortest blog ever. Happy writing!

 

Okay…I’m kidding.

Those big buts up there don’t lie. They are all valid excuses. Excuses that we build like walls in front of our potential. Walls of excuses to keep us from even attempting the loving art of writing because it also keeps us safe. Safe from rejection, safe from the work, safe from the expectation. Safe from failing. Safe from succeeding.

But is a wall builder.

But builds walls based on fear and hatred and not scientific, psychologically proven facts.

(Maybe I am missing a couple of T’s up there and a title…like President Butt…ahem. *Awkward throat clear*…back on topic.)

Same principle.

But keeps you away from ever having to actually start.

Now I’m sure there are people out there saying they want to write a novel to make me feel like I’m not so strange, all wholed-up in my pajamas, afraid of the general public. Maybe people tell me they’d “love” to write more, to make polite conversation.

This blog isn’t for those small-talkers (but bless your heart for trying to make me feel comfortable about my chosen/driven profession despite its financial drawbacks).

This blog is for those whose eyes shine with longing when they talk about that book they want to, need to, would love to write. This is your permission slip to the great unknown outside your stuffy, self-imposed safety.

No more buts.

Try this:

Say it outloud…softly “I would like to write a book.”

Little bit louder now: “I would love to write a book!”

Say it like you mean it!: “I want to write a book!”

So the people in the back can hear!!: “I WILL WRITE A BOOK!”

Deep breath you crazy loon.

And rejoice in not using the but.

You will write that book.

Stop looking at the world as a place of excuses waiting to trip you up and make you fail and start looking it as the beautiful, messy experiment that has no wrong turns, only lessons.

Need help starting? Great! Let’s strike while your fire is hot!

If you have an idea for your novel, or article, or short story, write it down. Loose outlines are great but if you are a type-A outliner, then give yourself an hour or two to adequately plot it down. There are some great computer programs if you’re that kinda nerd. Or if your MY kind of nerd, post-it notes on a wall or story board are awesome.

Chances are if you’ve been thinking about a book then you already have some characters in mind. Spend twenty minutes (or whatever you can spare at kid’s practices or boring meetings) writing down your main and sub characters’ physical attributes, their strengths, their weaknesses. Write about their childhood, their friends, their parents…none of which needs to go into the book, but it will help you understand their motivation so that when you write the story, they behave in ways coherent with their core.

Join a writing group and take the classes they offer. Todd Mitchell (Todd’s Website) once offered an amazing four week class on writing a novel that covered everything from plotting, to dialogue, to genre, and story arcs. It was maybe the most profound and important class I’ve taken and I highly recommend you start with something like that if you are struggling at the start. Plus going to classes and joining groups helps to build the immensely important network of friends and cohorts who will help you along in your process.

Stock up your library. One of the first things I did after scribbling down a rough outline was lay in the fetal position in tears (well, not quite that dramatic but it makes for a better story) and wonder how someone actually created a functioning plot. Enter the Write Great Fiction Series. They’re some of my favorite resources and they offer everything from plot and structure, dialogue, character and viewpoint etc.

Final bit of advice. Don’t let the but come back into your process. (I’d love to edit my novel but the laundry needs doing– the vacuuming, the scope of work meeting notes, the kids fiftieth soccer game this month.)

Nope. Fuck that noise.

There is time in your life to write a novel. You just have to want it and learn to say no to buts.

giggle
Come on. It’s a but joke…

 

You have to make your word count your priority. And no cleaning for god’s sakes until your daily goal is met. No video games or puttering around either.

If you want the novel; if you want to unleash the story burning inside of you, then stop giving yourself the excuses to not write it.

Make the time. Make the novel. Banish your but(t)… to the chair.

To write your novel.

Go.

 

VerseDay 4-18-19

In observance of the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred 6 years ago Monday, I’m reposting a poem I wrote the day after.

Running on a dark highway, under speckled stars and the approaching dawn, I felt the legs of thousands of runners alongside me. The shrapnel of fear and terror, echoing thousands of miles away, gave rise to such indomitable hope and strength for so many.

runner

Runner

 

Today I ran.
Not out of fear,

not out of obligation to a scale or a time.

Today I ran to remember why we run,

to share the heavy hurt,

to find the solace that only comes in the gentle cadence of the body and road.

Today I ran for them,

For the hearts and soles that carry the world with them as they go.

just as I do.

Down pavement, and sidewalks, and dirt trails we fly

Down these paths to lighten the burdens of life.

Today I run with my countless brothers and sisters.

Those who came before me,

those paced beside me,

those still on their way.

For all of the tireless legs, the calloused feet, the hardened lungs and loosened smiles.

For those that find their peace and promise where feet connect to Earth.

I don’t have to know you, to know you.

You are me.

In the dark morning, pavement shining in just-stopped rain.
In the quick wedge of afternoon between meetings and bus drops.
In the long weekends when we find out what we really can do in the hours

and hours

of loving devotion.

With hope and in respect,

Today, I’ll carry your burden,

Until you’re back on your feet.

Today I ran.

Conferring on Conferences

 

 

Okay, so I promised two weeks ago that last week we’d be talking about writing conferences. Then my squirrel brain shouted “I do what I want!” and flicked its squirrel brain tail and stole some nuts and ran off on a tangent.

 

Adult Sarah remembers. So without further prodding, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writers conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.

If you’ve never been before or even if you are old-hat in the world of conferences, here are a few tips on how to choose the right one for you, how to get the most out of it, and how to not feel completely overwhelmed in the process.

 

How do you choose which one to attend?

 

  • If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference (including travel and accommodation expenses) against what classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.

 

  • Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America is hosting its annual conference in New York City this year…but, as my first bullet point states, it’s a little too much expense for my budget. Plus, I like to flirt… (outside of my genre, that is *wink)

 

  • If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.

 

 

How do I get the most out of my conference?

 

  • Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes. They start the year before, during writing when you (hopefully) self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:

 

  • Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter, trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. “But Sarah, why do I need to grow as a writer? I’m practically perfect as is!” Of course you are…but I ask you this: why does an athlete cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.

 

  • Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert from up there) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.

 

How do I not get overwhelmed?

 

  • For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes! Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into my mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own. Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round.

close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-mashed-potatoes

 

 

  • If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.

 

  • If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.

 

  • Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (okay, I’ve never been addicted to nor have I ever even tried crack but…you get the idea) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you have things to do tomorrow and Underoos stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail.

underoos1

 

Well, good luck out there writer. Go find you a conference and learn to mill about in the wealth of knowledge and inspiration. Leave any comments or helpful hints you’ve gained over the years here, or even your worst experiences. I can’t wait for you to jump into one and discover how decadent it feels to immerse yourself in the craft you love.

 

VerseDay 4-11-19

Sometimes, as a poet and writer, it behoves us to stretch ourselves and try out new forms, word use, and technique. I encourage you all to step out of your normal patterns of verse and play with alliteration, assonance, and the ever-popular to say but disastrous to spell: onomatopoeia.

Enjoy this little experiment of mine and pass it along.

DON’T FORGET TO SEND ME YOUR OWN POETRY TO BE ENTERED INTO THE ANTHOLOGY AS WELL AS TO BE FEATURED AND PROMOTED HERE ON THE BEAUTIFUL STUFF!

 

sky space dark galaxy
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Effervescence

 

I am the marksman and martyr

The ever-present effervescence.

 

Symbiotic soul-light, illuminating illustriously

Black nebulous annihilating, extinguishing entirely

 

A Universe boundlessly unfurled

A speck of compressed silicate,

 

Wider than infinite relativity

brief as an angel blink

 

Temporal finitism laid against,

the inconsequential ticks of time.

 

All and none,

Faith fashioned from fear

Release reborn of resistance

 

The ever present effervescence.

 

Fear and Loathing in Middle Age

Hey kids…

Let’s talk about fear and how it changes us, how our fear changes over time, and what purpose it all serves.

This all began in yesterday’s yoga class when we were told to try a handstand, with and without the use of the wall. The instructor is amazing and even at 5:30 in the morning, she’s been able to get into my pre-caffeinated head and merge my body and mind in a beautiful symbiosis of breath, and heat, and general bendy awesomeness.

But yesterday…

Yesterday I began the morning by suffering through five miles of a run I didn’t enjoy. The week itself had been long and the weekend was short on sleep…yesterday was a cumulation of unhelpful factors.

So even though I was on my mat, carving out my own space in the universe to detach for an hour, I was still too much in the world. And watching my tiny little guru flip herself upside down effortlessly, knowing that my ass is WAY bigger, and understanding that I wasn’t on the most solid of ground emotionally, didn’t help my middle-age sense of insecurity.

While hopping up on one leg repeatedly in a effort to find balance the thought of “Why is this so hard, I’ve done cartwheels, I’m tough…my ass is big but I’m a sturdy girl all round, I got this…why, can’t I just–“?

*grunt*, *groan*, *heave*, *plop*.

It came down to fear.

I was afraid.

I was afraid that my own body would overcorrect. That to avoid pain, I’d swing my pendulum too far to the other side and really end up in a mess. Even though the wall was right there to catch me and there were no demands for me to even achieve the pose.

My physical fear was manifested out of my emotional fear of going too far.

Sure I worry for my rotator cuffs, and I don’t like the idea of barreling into the wall, but I think I was more afraid I would leap out into the world, heart on sleeve, hope in eyes, and fall off the edge. The headstand was a metaphor, for the cyclical “Why bother–you’ll just end up hurt” pattern that affects so many of us.

I held myself back physically. Because I was trying to protect myself emotionally.

I gave it effort, but not:

maximum effort

 

I knew I could do it, if I’d let go of the expectation of perfection and the fear of falling. Just like anything in life.

But humans are funny creatures and we spend a lot of time trying to protect ourselves from past physical and emotional pain by avoiding the effort that resulted in that pain.

Yesterday’s lesson brought up an honest question about my fears and where they came from and how they became so entrenched beneath my surface.

Fear serves the purpose of protecting and defending your life and your livelihood. But it also cages you. It stops attempts before they start. It can even set you up to fail.

Now failure isn’t a bad thing. It helps us grow and learn. And it’s not as Churchill so aptly said, “fatal”.

So why can’t I put my ass over my head?

Maybe the answer lies in the day I was having, maybe it’s that I wasn’t physically stable enough yet…maybe it’s because I’m afraid I’ll get it right.

Because sometimes failure is more easy to accept than success.

Why is it scary to succeed? Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do, in life, in our writing, in our day to day?

You’d think that’s what we want for the effort we put in. But self-sabotage is something most of us have done before especially at that hair-breadth distance away from obtaining our goals.

Maybe it’s the unknown aftermath of success…or the expectation to always be searching for the next success, climbing ever farther, faster, higher. If we stay mediocre. If we give up or don’t try…then we can stay nicely tucked into our pajamas on the couch midday, and no one would expect anything more.

Maybe if we start off mediocre, then any effort or tiny improvement we make seems like a mountain climbed.

And that’s just us lowering our standards.

Is it good to let our fear pigeon-pose…er…hole us into mediocrity?

I dunno. I think that’s something you need to talk to yourself about. Maybe it’s a good measurement of what we really want in life, and what we really hold dear.

If you no longer want to give it your best then maybe it’s not worth doing all

Thoughts and comments appreciated on this discussion.

Until I hear from you, I’m going to go find myself a wall and see if I can hoist this ass over my head, in the privacy of my own home where my grunts and groans will be mirrored in the aging basset taking over my yoga mat.

 

grayscale photography of basset hound sleeping
Photo by Maximiliano Ignacio Pinilla Alvarado on Pexels.com

VerseDay 4-4-2019

 

 

What We Lost In The Fire

 

The favorite,

The only.

The irreplaceable

Warmth of need

Burned down to ashes

And the lies we told ourselves

To keep it from leaving

Gone.

Orange and black wisps in swirls of wind

We destructive pillars

That love

only to destroy

That shield

only to suffocate

That want

only to deny.

Fickle-hearted arsonists,

Love and burn

Cherish and consume

Better to see objects of affection destroyed

Than ever set free.

Rather let the memory burn,

an inextinguishable flame

Than free ourselves from the shackles of desire.

Never understanding,

how much of ourselves sits smoldering alongside

Until all we are

Is ash and loss.