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

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

But first…some Verse…

 

LESSONS

 

The children must be taught

But why?

So they can “grow up”?

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

This continuous machine that steals their joy

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

Paths that continue to feed the privileged?

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

Dreamers forced to live on the crumbs of cake that fall

from their slovenly white jowls?

The children MUST be taught

A new lesson.

A new way…the way of their heart.

The way their soul already knows.

The way that shouts out,

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

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

The lesson of straightening spines

To topple the oligarchy from their shoulders

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

Lessons must be learned.

The children must be taught.

 

–J. McLaughlin (Fort Collins, CO)

 

And from Miss Elliana (past contributor) :

 

IMBALANCE

 

And so it is,

Not one damn word in my head,

While the world rolls and sways,

Constantly tipping the balance point

Now to humanity

Now to the hungry gnash of teeth.

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

I can’t remember if

I was human that night

Or gnashing.

I must have felt the full and oceanic spectrum

all the love

and the hate

desire

and regret

Heart and mind, a mirror of the worldly indecision.

I like to imagine I was kind.

Even though I’m well aware,

of the splendid mess I am

for that boy.

A stammering, uncontrolled fool.

But these are stammering, uncontrolled and

foolish times.

 

–Elliana Byrne (Boulder, CO)

 

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

 

TRUTH

 

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

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

It grows and festers, or it cools and softens.

It recedes and fades.

Sometimes it aches,

like a bone that healed wrong.”

 

His thought crashed out loud.

Thick skinned rhino parting reeds.

“How did you love me?”

 

Heavy stillness settled

Hot, lazy, savanna swelter

hanging over, waterhole dried.

Air so thick, she could cut it

With the truth.

 

“The festering, aching way.”

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

You’re welcome.

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

Happy Writing!

 

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

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

Fuck if I know.

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

So, what day is it?

It’s today.

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

So let’s be like frogs and hop to it…

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

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

Example:

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

Ahem…back on topic.

Assuming you are journaling, keep at it.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Writing.

It’s Thursday.

Tightrope

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

 

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

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

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

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

Each one of us is on a tightwire.

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

But the drop is all the same.

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

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

 

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

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

The Beauty of Quiet

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

And it’s killing us.

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

And yet our brain no longer knows itself.

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t think silence makes a difference?

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

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

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

Very wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

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 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

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.

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