Thursday, December 20, 2012

A certain day became . . .

A certain day became
the beginning, 
child of my heart.
For the first time I see 
the end of my days
and a beginning for you, 
my daughter, and now, your child.
Dearest child, what lies before you?
I am privileged to watch you both
unfold into each day, 
blossoms unending.

Today's poetry prompt came from Julie Jordon Scott over at Facebook's Writing Poetry Group. Thank you, Julie. What else could I write about but Leda Rose who's just a little over 6 months old? Today also marks my last entry for the final ROW80 (A round of words in 80 days), a writing challenge for writers who are willing to post goals and check in twice a week.

So this has been a week of reflection and some work between sad, national news, snowfall and still coming to understand the joy of being a grandmother! This is my second round with ROW80, and I love the sense of community of writers and care about writing that has emerged -- as well as my own sense of accountability. One of the charming aspects of ROW80 is the recognition that our goals change constantly -- and that is OK. So here goes my last entry for 2012 with more to come in 2013.

WRITING:  I did reread Standing Stones and feel affirmed that this story is complete. I hoped to read the first draft of Years of Stone (YOS) before year's end (still have one week). Majorly revamped the opening for YOS. I think the goal of starting research for the next book in this series is too ambitious, though that still pulls me. Interlibrary loan came through this week. I found Lucy Frost's Abandoned Women: Scottish Convicts Exiled Beyond the Seas (Allen Unwin, 2012) impressively useful for YOS, set precisely in my time zone, even to including measurements for the Cascades Female Factory and insights into the staff there, as well as many other useful bits that help me flesh out that time and place, 1842, Van Diemen's Land. Another goal: to blog the Africa trip daily was a bit ambitious, but I'm still processing pictures and experiences, just maybe 2-3 times a week for the travel blog.

READING/CRAFT/MARKETING: Perseverance furthers. My goal to clean out a backlog of several years of writing magazines is not complete. But I did make progress. The stack is now only 6" high, so I have a chance to complete this goal before year end.

I now have my own copy of Bell's Plot & Structure (very useful). I'm getting more comfortable with LinkedIn and Twitter as resources for finding good articles on writing craft. Yes, I actually Twitter now several times a week. Amazing.

GoodReads has become another online writerly community. My list of "to reads" is longer, and I want to write at least 1 review a month for GoodReads. I ran into a snag when I began reading a well-loved writer's latest release and just could not finish it because the characters repelled me. I'm continuing to critique works in progress through the Internet Writing Workshop and did sub the new opening for YOS there. Surprise: Three points of view in the first chapter that I just didn't see!

I just joined LinkedIn's Fiction Writers Guild (excellent discussions here re online marketing). Marketing remains a challenge. I will work on more measurable steps, but I learned that asking folks to consider my books takes a raw act of courage. But one reader told me my stories brought tears to her eyes!

May you reach your writing goals in the coming year. May words come easily to bring to life those deepest held stories. And may we all celebrate and share each day with joy and hope.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Angels weep . . .

Angels weep as
sparrows hop along the white patio fence,
knocking off little drifts of snow
by the light of a pale moon,
their feet too small for frostbite
this cold, spare morning
with more winter on the way.
The bird feeder sways empty.
The house is quiet;
Sunday rounds the week
with dreadful deaths.
We fill the bird feeder
and mourn.

Who is not affected by the shooting deaths in Newtown, Connecticut, as the circle of violence and grief expands out to include us all. Yet each day begins anew. My report in for ROW80 will be mercifully short. I'm writing and making slow progress. Feeling sad.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Let us travel to Zanzibar . . .

Forodhoni Park, Zanzibar

Let us travel to Zanzibar,
wander the streets in Old Town,
past open air stalls, beaded crafts,
past women draped in brightly colored kangas,
down cobbled streets edged with
plumeria, tree ferns, and flamboyant trees 
filled with flame-red blossoms. 
The music of a language we don't understood
follows us to Forodhoni Park,
where men wear long white aprons and
lean over open pit fires to turn skewers of fish.
The boats come in from the sea, safe.
When the day is done,
we’ll return to our rented room,
draw the mosquito netting close,
and tell stories. We’ll remember
the sweet tastes of fresh coconut,
the smell of cinnabar and mint tea.

As I look at the pictures we took in Zanzibar, there's so much that is hard to put into words. We're home now, it's snowing here in Spokane, and Africa seems very far away. But the writing focuses everything else and it's time to close down this Sunday with my ROW80 check-in

  • WRITING: pretty good progress on reading/making notes for Years of Stone; lots of work on Author Info sheet (bio, market plan, deadlines).Can't quite blog daily re the Africa trip, but a few poems are starting to emerge, posted on this blog (See more photos on the Travel Blog here). 
  • READING/CRAFT: Goodreads turning out to be very useful in identifying books I really do want to read. I made a commitment to post reviews for the books I do read. So far, so good. Just finished M. J. Rose's The Book of Lost Fragrances and now must try to read J. K. Rawlings' The Casual Vacancy in three days (can't renew at the library as it's a new book).And The Writer mag just came in.
  • MARKETING/PUBLISHING: Taking a dive here and hope to submit by Jan 5, thus avoiding the black hole of the holidays when no one wants to read anything from anybody. Google+ is picking up steam a bit (or I'm learning about circles). All together, it's been a pretty good week, birthday breakfast and food poisoning notwithstanding. 
To all ROW80 participants, may the end of the year go well for you and your writing projects!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Birding in Tanzania . . .

Flamingos in the Ngorongoro Crater

I never saw a crocodile bird,
nor the village weaver with its round bush nest.
I missed the Eastern Paradise Whydah
and the little red-billed fire finch.
I looked unsuccessfully
for the yellow-eyed babbler,
and the red-cheeked Gordon-bleu.

But I saw waves of pink flamingos rise from a marsh,
one Gray Crowned Crane, far from home,
and a Masai ostrich court his mate.
I fell in love with the bright blue eye patch
of the friendly Helmeted Guinea Fowl,
watched baby Francolins skitter away in the grass,
and admired the stately walk of a Secretarybird.

I once slept in a tent in the grasslands of the Serengeti,
and heard lions cough at dawn.  
The long-tailed widowbird never appeared. 

Helmeted Guinea Fowl
Slowly, slowly, I'm putting together pictures and stories about our three-week stay this November in Tanzania in my Travel Blog, On the Road Again. Words don't seem adequate to describe the scope and depth of what we saw.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

ROW80 update . . .Weds check-in

"One must also be able to dance with the pen." So Nietzsche once said. This quote stares me in the face when I'm drinking tea or coffee, especially nice now to soothe my sore throat.

But, the point is that somehow we writers must shake loose those doubts and dark days when little goes well. Writing can bring joy, especially when we simply let go of expectation and write. So we begin with hope and vision. We pursue those glimmers of poetry and story that slide between that 'next big step.'  Participating in ROW80 with daily writing and daily goals (and accountability to writing colleagues) helps me to keep thinking about my writing and what I really want to do to improve my writing craft, marketing, and publishing skills.

This morning, I'm dancing. A little. I found an indie publishing house for Standing Stones to investigate further that I really liked. Their website has a rich historical fiction flavor, and their author information form requests a nicely fleshed out marketing plan -- including a summary of the research that's been done. So before the end of the year, I will submit to this currently nameless publisher.

Meanwhile, back at the keyboard, Years of Stone gets another read through, also before the end of the year. I'm working on synchronicity, that coming together of inner and outer events, that weaving together of threads that will make these two stories cohesive.

Standing Stones tells the story of the exodus of the MacDonnells from Scotland in 1842. In Years of Stone (nearing final draft at 80,000 words), Deidre follows Mac who's been transported to Van Diemen's Land (1842-1844). Sometime in 2013, I will begin researching the third book in this series, Rivers of Stone, set in the Pacific Northwest (think Dougal MacDonnell, violins, the Hudson's Bay Company, and Mary Margaret, his sweetheart, disguised as a boy).

ROW80 winds down sometime in December, but it's been a good round and a good year. May it be so for you.

Monday, December 03, 2012

ROW80 Update . . . Cinderella redux

I put first dibs on the crust when I was growing up. No one else wanted to eat that often dried out, unwanted end piece. Except me. I was voraciously hungry all the time. At 11 and 12, I could out-eat my 6' 4" stepfather who worked in a steel mill and wore steel-tipped boots to work every day.

I'm thinking about Cinderella as a muse for writers, thanks to Elizabeth Anne Mitchell from ROW80. There she is, Cinderella, sitting in the ashes, hoarding her crusts, just one more starving, unpublished writer, hoping for transformation, that wave of a magic wand, yet bemused by the array of choices facing her just-finished novel.

Anne R. Allen's excellent article on the state of e-publishing/publishing in general, "Indie Publishing in 2013: Why We Can't Party Like It's 2009," intimidates as much as it informs. Amazon's recent spate of changes, Allen intimates, marginalizes the small, indie writer.

After what I thought was a careful comparison of Smashwords to Amazon as e-publishers, I chose Amazon to trial publish The Mermaid Quilt and Other Tales, largely because of their stand on DRM (the digital rights management debate). E-pubbing on Smashwords, with its multi-platforms, could allow the unscrupulous to carry off all those hundreds of writerly hours of hard work to new markets.

So I learned how to set up Kindle and paperback formats via Amazon (KDP and CreateSpace) and ventured out into the big marketplace. I'm still learning -- and will re-e-pub (if there's such a word) my collection of short stories with Smashwords and Kindle (taking a lesson from another ROW80 Colleague, Alberta Ross), on February 18, 2013, my personal liberation day from KDP Select.

If this Cinderella is sitting in the ashes of the fireplace, tearing her hair out and gnashing her teeth, it's because all of this is prologue. Publishing The Mermaid Quilt was a trial balloon to help me decide if I should e-pub my historical fiction, now up to two books. And the writing goes well on my main works in progress: I'm just finishing a "final" read through of Standing Stones, editing critically one last time. Do I sub to indie publishers? Do I self-publish? I honestly cannot decide. Your two cents???

Brown spotted hyena taking a mud bath
ROW80 UPDATE: WRITING: Looks like I'm on track to finish reading Standing Stones (95,000 words) and Years of Stone (80,000 words) for continuity before December 31st. Yipee! Or should I say Yahoo! I've been able to blog most days about the trip to Africa (despite a nasty cold) in my travel blog, On the Road Again,  MARKETING: Slow but steady. This week will write a press release and have posted some funny tweets re mermaids and stocking stuffers. CRAFT and PUBLICATIONS: Doing fine with reading writing magazines/books. The latest Writer's Digest reports that several "breakout" authors went through 40-60 submissions. So, I think I've only done about 20. Maybe time to dive in again. Standing Stones made me laugh and cry this week. I still believe in this story.

May your writing week go well.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

After Africa . . . what?

Suitcases unpacked, photos downloaded, jet lag nearly overcome. The cold I caught on the airplane still hanging around. Three weeks in Tanzania, Africa, gave me a big break from writing. No netbook; no computer. No notebooks. One travel journal and a camera. Sixteen people, a tour guide, and two drivers. 4:30 am wake-up calls for "game drives" through three of the most beautiful national parks and game preserves in Tanzania.

Game Drive in Serengeti National Park: Wildabeest & Zebra Migration
Altogether, the trip was unforgettable and not just for seeing zebras, lions, jaguars, monkeys, baboons, wildabeest, and giraffes in their natural habitat -- and the beginning of the Great Migration. Yes, that's one of our jeeps in the photo, right in the middle of wildabeests and zebras crossing the road.

Our group (in 10 days) also visited a coffee plantation, a Maasai compound, an elementary school in Keratu, and a Iraqw family (brickmakers). We sang, danced, learned a little Swahili, talked, ate, and took photos. Lots of photos.

The trip changed my perceptions of Africa. I'm trying to assimilate what we experienced in a daily post  of photos, videos and commentary in my travel blog! So head on over if you want to see elephants eat a Baobab tree, or baby lion cubs playing with their mom -- or in coming days, Maasai women dance a welcome dance.

For this trip to Tanzania did give me a wonderful break from writing, but now it's time to get back to work.


  • WRITING: Now that the first draft of Years of Stone is complete, I'm rereading Standing Stones (the first book in this trilogy) with new eyes, section by section, with particular attention to character arcs and tension. Then I'll jump back to Years of Stone, hopefully for final revisions. The deadline for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's literary contest is February 22, 2013. I would like to be ready!
  • CRAFT/READING: Setting weekly goals seems to help me keep on track with specific action steps. So here, I'm making steady progress in reading writing mags and currently working through Bell's Plot & Structure.  Is anyone else on GoodReads? I'm finding them very useful in identifying good historical fiction and currently am reading T. C. Boyle's San Miguel (literary fiction) and Annelie Wendeberg's The Devil's Grin (popular fiction), a story of a female doctor and Sherlock Holmes, set in Victorian London (sort of my era). 
  • MARKETING: As a somewhat terminally shy person with an outgoing style, I find it difficult to promote my own work. But by keeping this goal of developing a marketing plan and testing it with my collection of short stories (i.e., The Mermaid Quilt), I'm finally finding specific steps to take here too. One example: Brian Johnson's "How to Launch a Book". So that if I do self-publish my historical fiction, at least I'll have more than motivational pats on the back. And three people from the Africa trip expressed interest in my writing! A writer from the Internet Writers Workshop sent a press release to everyone on his e-mail list. I may try this.
  • SOCIAL NETWORKS: When people comment on a blog posting, do you respond right on the blog? In the past, I've tried to reciprocate with comments on the person's blog, but interactivity, that is responding directly to people's posts, is another way to connect with readers. Twitter is starting to feel more comfortable and by gradually "following" other writers, I'm learning how to promote my work without being too obnoxious (I hope!). 
Long story short. Now it's time to hop on Twitter and Facebook and find out what other ROW80 writers are up to. I still feel that participating in ROW80 has been so helpful this last year. May your writing go well.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

November 1: Hiatus

Just a note to say that we're on the road and in Amsterdam, today being the first day we have access to Internet. So we are sitting in a very large and moern library, one Euro for 30 minutes, and next to us, two women are chattering away in some unknown Arabic language, studying. We have walked along the canals here, enjoyed the European flavor, polyglot languages, and are getting ready to fly to Africa tomorrow morning at 4 am. I did not bring my computer with me, but I have a journal and write everyday, pondering what to work on when I return home in three weeks.

Writing a poem a day for October was somewhat challenging. What I learned was I cannot focus so much on my own writing when working on poetry. For me, the paths are very different. But I enjoyed meeting a new online community of writers and will persevere with ROW80 (a round of words in 80 days).

Right now I am drawing my main characters and writing back story, something I haven't completely done.  Here in Amsterdam, the people ride everywhere on bicycles at a hectic pace, drive tiny little electric cars and park them in impossibly small spaces, and eat and drink with great gusto. Our bed and breakfast faces one of the canals. Every so often we are treated to a boat full of tourists pointing up at our old house, build, I think, in 1716.

I think the hardest part of traveling is being so far from family and friends, but last night the moon was full, Amsterdam at night is all lit up with little lights over the canals, and I feel at peace to be once more on the road. May your own writing projects go well!

Friday, October 26, 2012

October 26: Better You Than Me

I remember the sting of a willow whip
on the backs of my legs,
later a thick, leather belt,
or a smack in the face.
I went to school with bruises,
carefully hidden under my sweater.
I forgave you for drinking long ago,
the day you leaped out of a moving car
because I wouldn’t stop at that tavern.
Researchers say we repeat the actions of our parents.
We speak, surprised
to hear our mothers’ voices in our mouths.
I choose not to. Tenacity,
this is the gift I learned at my mother’s knee.
I know down to my bones
we do not have to repeat what others have done.
My own daughter, her hands,
like my own,
only touch her daughter with love.

Today’s prompt from Octpowrimo (write a poem a day for October) asks us to
consider forgiveness, not an easy topic. In fact, when faced with danger, we fight or
we run away. Some say we can choose to “go with the flow.” Though being quiet,
unassuming, leery of argument, and somewhat shy, I generally choose to fight. My
husband says we forgive the foibles of those we love. I agree, most of the time.

But there is much in the world to fight against. I do not forgive the mean-fisted failures of
our governments, our soldiers, our social institutions. Even the smallest interactions
between parents and children can go wrong. No child should be hungry. No child
should be alone. No child should be born addicted to drugs. No child should wake to
bombs in the night. Personally and collectively, we do know better.

I love the line that Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of
the light.” In fact, Thomas was a poet who died at age 39 from a heavy drinking bout.
But his words still resonate for me.  Here’s his poem, a villanelle, in its entirety to
celebrate October.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Source of Dylan Thomas' poem HERE.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25: Love

I have never torn off my clothes
Or run naked through the mountains,
But I have followed you, love.
Only two continents left to explore –
Africa and China, and a subcontinent, 
if we choose India. 
In four decades,
never has one of us said,
 “What if we went to . . . “
without the other saying, “Where are
the suitcases?”
I would rather go together
than alone.

Rumi once said, “Love is a madman, working his wild schemes, tearing off his clothes, 
running through the mountains.” This quote is part of today’s prompt from Octpowrimo 
(a poem a day in October), to write of love. Read what others have written HERE.  

We leave on Sunday morning, just ahead of a snow storm, for a month-long trip to 
Africa. I will still write my poem a day, but you’ll have to check in at the end of 
November to catch up. Thank you for reading – and writing!

October 24: Bare Bones

I wake up with poetry lines shimmering,
a distraction. My house, every room,
speaks of chaos. In three days,
we’ll be gone to Zanzibar.
My plants need watering.
One has outgrown its pot,
its broad green leaves reach to the sun,
the lower leaves fall away,
as I will do one day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 23: Travel Preparations

We leave for Africa in four days.
Travel books warn: Carry cash
for the hotel, the airline.
We stand at our bank, watching the teller
count dollar bills. No credit cards.
Once, between flights, I slept
spread out atop my luggage.
So we will sleep in Dar el Salaam,
no cab ride into town at midnight.
I sew secret pockets for shirts and pants
of nondescript colors.
We will travel alone for eight days
before joining our group.
We are older.
We are ready.

When I first met my husband, he explained he couldn’t really settle down, for he loved to travel. I was hooked, for better than libraries was the draw of seeing the world.

My husband has a facility for languages. He talks outrageous politics with cab drivers, the policeman on the corner, the shopkeeper. The closest I came to this kind of encounter was in San Cristobal de las Casas, in southern Mexico, just after the government negotiated peace with the revolutionaries. A woman in the corner grocery store we had patronized for two months spoke to me out of the side of her mouth. What was it really like in the United States, she asked. Could she truly find work if she crossed the border?

Because I taught, each summer gave us opportunities to travel. We were not wealthy; we took buses and trains. We saved up airline miles. But travel requires certain preparations, and I am a coward. A friend boarded a subway in Mexico City. Within minutes, his backpack was slit with a razor. He lost his wallet, his shoes, and his glasses.

We explored a beautiful colonial port town in Montevideo, Uruguay. As we walked downhill to the sea, I was a little ahead, camera out, when I heard a grunt and turned to see Allen, crumpled on the ground, a young man racing back up the hill. I chased him, screaming Spanish curses I didn’t know I knew.

Street musicians outside our hotel
in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

In Salvador, Brazil, where the smell of feijoada, a fish stew, carries on the air as you pass Mama Rosa’s restaurant; sometimes your back tingles as you walk along cobbled streets. We stepped on a side street. Two men rushed after us, a mix of Portuguese and English, “Don’t go that way.” We turned back to our hotel room, La Sirena, in a city of mermaids and samba.

When we flew back from Costa Rica 24 hours after Allen’s stroke, a volunteer met us at between planes  and walked us through customs, her bright face unforgettable; her litany of words, a prayer; I was not afraid, for we live in the world, not apart. Past, present, future, we are all connected. Tanzania, Zanzibar, its people, its history are calling. We leave for Africa in four days.

Octpowrimo (write a poem a day for October) is nearly winding down. Today's poetry prompt was to write about a challenge. Read what others have written HERE. Morgan also challenges us to actually record our favorite poem from this month and post it (a skill I've thought about and never tried). Maybe later. The bulldozers are pretty busy outside our apartment this morning! And I'd like to read what others have written. May your day go well!

Monday, October 22, 2012

October 22: At random

I feel nearly invisible
In my own skin 
as we rush to complete
Photo of L. M. Montgomery,
taken at random,
a woman traveler
our list before we leave.
Snow is expected Sunday,
but we pack for Africa,
a trip almost at random,
the first in nearly two years,
our suitcases half-full,
What do I take?
What do I let go?
Three weeks, impossibly short
for travelling, yet
too long to be away.
I only know we are going,
you have the tickets, the map,
you know the way.

Today's Octpowrimo (an poem a day in October) prompt asks us to have fun, to play with random facts (such as the brain of a Neanderthal is bigger than a human brain). But my head is full with plans and packing for we actually do leave for Africa this Sunday at 6 am and a great snow storm is expected. When we retired, we thought we would travel at least for seven years, living here and there at random, but two years ago in Costa Rica, Allen had a stroke. Everything changed.We came home, and I have learned finally perhaps the greatest lesson: that every day is precious.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 21: Woman Weaver

Huipil pronounced whee-peel
Young girl weaving huipil, Antigua, Guatemala (2001)

Since the beginning,
I have seen my mother 
weave huipil.
She would set me 
to sorting colorful threads 
while I watched  
mountains and birds take shape
under her fingers. 
The women weavers,
chattering softly in Spanish,
worked around us, 
all leaning on the leather belt
of the backstrap loom.

Only when I was thirteen
Did I begin to understand
What it meant to wear huipil:
I became the center of the universe
as I slowly pulled the huipil over my head
and emerged transformed, a woman,
between heaven and the underworld,
guardian of the past and the future,
keeper of my culture, weaver of huipil.

Huipils are traditional garments designed by men but woven and worn by Mayan women all through MesoAmerica. I took the picture of a young huipil weaver in Antigua, Guatemala, in 2001, while staying there in the summer, a break from teaching. Each village has a slightly different design, but the symbols are generally of nature, fantastic birds and flowers, or geometric mountains and birds. I treasure three huipils of my own to remember this time in Guatemala.

Octpowrimo's poetry prompt today was to write a poem about whether your life would go smoother if you would simply go with the flow -- Weave and flow. Once I read the word 'weave', though, I was lost in memories of Antigua. Read what others have written HERE or on Twitter @octpowrimo   More about huipils here.
Bird Huipil, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala, 2001
ROW80 (Round of Words in 80 Days) UPDATE:  The Quilt Show is over today! Maybe 4,500 attendees and over 600 fabulous quilts. I trashed my feet walking and looking and dreaming about quilting. Worked the Boutique during rush with a high tech cash register. Programs were great! Now I collect survey info and plan for next year.

WRITING: By making the chart, I actually wrote on my wip 4 out of 7 days, and am still holding to a poem a day for Octpowrimo (a poem a day for the month of October). I'm learning that if I write poetry, I don't have so much time for my wip. Must do/will do one critique today for NOVELS-L (else I am banished for the group for not doing two critiques this month).

READING: Slower progress in reading James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure, so I'm downsizing my goal to 2 chapters a week. Still making a steady dent (one magazine a day) in that pile of unread material. Posted a review in Goodreads for Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant, an absolutely engrossing read that's set, of course, in colonial Australia. What I appreciated most is that the conflict was mostly inner and mostly moral, leading me to ask what moral dilemmas my own main characters face and with what commitment. Feeling more comfortable with Twitter and holding to daily reads of what others have written.

MARKETING: Goals met for Marketing this week. In some ways, here I face the biggest challenge (is anyone else a shy writer?). But I'm pursuing a book group reading for January (just picked up my courage and asked! They said yes), and will also start attending an author's monthly lunch in December. I distributed mermaid bookmarks at the quilt show. While on Goodreads, I discovered Mike Lopez left a lovely review of The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales!  Now time to reset that chart and get to work on the critique!

May your week go well.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 20: Song to the Saguaro Cactus

(pronounced sah-wha-ro)

hike in
Canyon to see
the great, green Saguaro standing as guards,
in the thousands along the valleys in this
canyon, each one
unique, grave,
The Tohono O’Odham call these persons,
and so they are, arrayed in arroyos
as sentinels,
their slow-growing
well pocked with nests for cactus wrens or owls.
Ah, Saguaro, you live longer than the
people, whose years
are measured
flowering and the fruiting, the hungry
times, the longest nights, the coldest, short days.
The people come
to make wine
from your
to give thanks in the proper season and
to dance safe, under your sheltering arms. 

Octpowrimo's prompt today was to take an old poem and play with a new form. I chose this poem, written in January 2011, after a stay near Tucson, immersed in desert culture, because the order and harmony of the form made me think of the order and harmony found in Native American beliefs and nature itself.

The poetic form (found on Shadow Poetry) is a Tetractys. In its shortest forms, syllables for each line  must measure 1, then 2, 3, 4, then 10. Here, the form is extended: 1,2,3,4, 10, 10, 4, 3, 2, 1, and repeated again. Somehow the lines on the page remind me of the arms of the Great Saguaro, the name itself a poem.

Read more about the Tohono O'Odham HERE, the earlier version of this poem HERE, and what others participating in Octpowrimo (a poem every day in the month of October) have written HERE.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19: A Griffin and a Sphinx

We were brothers once in Egypt, you and I.
I left for Knossos, that island in time,
Griffin fresco in the "Throne Room",
Palace of Knossos, Crete, Bronze Age (Wikipedia)
and you for Thebes.
Seduced by the Greeks, you still have
our lion’s body and wings, but now
you’re graced with a woman’s face
and a serpent’s tail.
I cannot answer your riddle, but I know
you will not bite my throat.
I could save you from these Greek witches.
Just one of my feathers will cure your blindness.
We could guard Alexander’s tomb together.
I could fly you to the Andes far from here.
I will protect you, Brother Sister.
Transform me into bronze,
Dumbledore’s staff.
I will stay by your side.

Marble Sphinx dated 540 BC Acropolis Museum,
Athens (Wikipedia)
Today's poetry prompt from Octpowrimo (write a poem a day for October) is "Seize the Day!"  Read what others have written HERE.

But, I was intrigued by Lena Corazon's poem, “A Griffin guards my dreams . . .” and the beautiful cover of her writing journal, and so wrote sideways about the conversation a Sphinx might have with a Griffin. I had fun reading about both mythical creatures on Wikipedia.

What was the riddle of the Sphinx? Two versions: The most common, “Who walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?” If you were unable to answer, the Sphinx would bite your throat, strangling you and holding you down until you died. 

But Wikipedia reports a second version: "There are two sisters: One gives birth to the other, and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?" I can imagine this second question being asked by the later, feminized Greek Sphinx. The answer is Night and Day.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 18: Time

Chuck Segars said, “Calendars
are for careful people, not passionate ones.”
I imagine ripping a calendar apart,
tearing the pages away to those moments
that cannot be held by 24 hours
or measured tick-tock:
When you said, “Enough about
me, tell me about you.”
When you held our child
for the first time and crooned
you, my love, my center.
Yes, my life’s been ruled by work
commitments and deadlines,
all those hours of commuting,
totting up and keeping track,
I would rather walk with you along the wetlands,
morning or night, mesmerized,
I unfold myself to you and see
Van Gogh stars – infinity. 

Today's prompt from Octpowrimo asks us to explore a sense of time. Today marks the anniversary, just one year, of my sister's husband's death. I remain so aware that every day is precious. Read what others have written here

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October 17: San Miguel de Allende

Who could forget walking your cobblestoned hills,
the surprise of history in carved wooden doors
and dark, aged, stone Gothic churches,
the cacophony of market day,
the wonder of dancers at fiesta
with fireworks strapped on their backs,
spiraling stars through the crowd?
The flakes of pastry that clung to our fingers,
the sweet smell of rosemary and marguerite from our garden,
as we sat on the patio roof of our rented house,
watching the sky turn pink with memory?

San Miguel de Allende (Rosewood)
Today's Octpowrimo poetry prompt is inspired by Maria Ranier Rilke's reflections on Venice and Florence and asks us to bring a place to life. Simply that. I remembered our days in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, when all was new. These are cherished memories. Read what others have read HERE.

ROW80 Weds Update: Inspired by how other writers participating in ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days) report their progress, I made a weekly chart to show this week’s goals only and can report (Yahoo!), that in spite of deadlines and commitments everywhere, I’m writing daily on my work in progress, writing a poem daily for Octpowrimo, reading James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, and posting in Twitter. Biggest challenge this week was to work on the marketing plan. Very slow going here, but because I am accountable Weds and Sun, I took the plunge and pitched a reading to a writing group. Thank you!  May your week go well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October 16: Happenstance

Just as the African violet unfolds
another deep purple flower, anonymous, unseen,
I am caught between my last breath
and the next, my past, constructed reality,
and the future, unknown, I build words across
the abyss, a world without meaning. At any moment
we face whimsy or tragedy:
Someone makes a left turn instead of a right turn
and another car plows into yours.
Happenstance it is you rather than me,
or me rather than you who suffers.
I strive to write poetry that sings
some sense of order, harmony,
each day a quilt of many blocks,
Sisyphus stitching yet another day.

Which side am I on? Hot or cold, am
I in the middle? Heartsick at suffering,
too hungry for beauty, unable to let go of joy?
Even when I fear the consequences of any action or inaction,
even if there were no meaning at all to this round of days,
I can still choose.
I breathe in another moment, another choice,
I choose to not exist in the middle.
I am free to choose.

Today's poetry prompt at Octpowrimo asks if we are in the middle, either/or, yes or no. And I thought of the existentialists, an awareness whether or not we believe in a God, that we shape our own futures with our choices. In fact, we cannot blame our past for what we choose to do today. Consciousness. Today's acts lead to who we will become. Accountability. If I am caught in the middle, I need to work to synthesis, and trust in the inherent common values we affirm. I will not say that life is 'nasty, brutish, and short' but rather, each day we have the responsibillity to re-invent ourselves and work for the good in ways small and large. May it be so. 

Photo African Violet (Wikipedia).

Monday, October 15, 2012

October 15: Rachel's violin

When I hear you play
I remember hours of practice.
When you were six, we couldn’t get you to eat.
You wrote crayon stories about the violin,
I think you slept with the violin.
Other parents would ask:
“How can you stand the missed notes;
they screech through the house?”  But you
had perfect pitch. Your fingers knew what to do.

When you were eight, somehow we arranged
for you to play Bloch’s Nigun at an Anne Frank exhibit.
You were introduced with an apology to the audience of 200
who chatted and smiled to see a small child, 
alone, unaccompanied. 
They were shocked to silence when you played.
Only music drove you.

As a teenager, you confided,
“Any boyfriend will have to understand music comes first.”
Recitals, performances, auditions, summer camps,
your growing up years were filled with music.
You graduated with a music degree to play
on the streets of Portland. You wanted to bring Bach to the people
(that was a year of worry).
Then you met a musician who cares
as much as you do about music.
Now you play in a symphony.  
The music informs every day.
Now you are a mother.
Now you talk of getting a real job.

Leda Rose, 3 months, in her father's viola case

Octpowrimo's prompt for the 15th day of October asks us to write a poem to someone you cherish about something important to them. Bloch's Nigun remains my favorite piece that you play, Rachel.  Here is Joshua Bell.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 14: Reflection

I could avoid looking in the mirror
or looking within, but not what I see
when I look at you, daughter of my heart,
from my flesh and from my bones.
I cherish this old photo taken in San Francisco,
just after I learned you were resting in my womb.
I remember longing for you, daughter,
the dream of night visions realized.
Today, you bless your own child with love,
one generation and, as the poet says,
“Joy on joy,” now two, sweet reflections.

Today's prompt from Octpowrimo simply asks us to look at our own reflection, and if that is too difficult (as evidenced by my frequent breaks from writing this morning), to reflect on Eric Hoffer, "With some people solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves. For they see in the eyes of others only a reflection of themselves." So the prompt goes: What I see when I look in your eyes. There are some 50 of us trying to write a poem a day. To read what others have written, click HERE.

ROW80 UPDATE: Skipped Weds update. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by travel preparations and the quilt show (this coming week and then done!). When the "to do" list is too long, time management gurus say to tackle the hardest task, the one you least want to do. So yesterday I sewed secret pockets in my two travel pants.

BUT the good news is I have begun working through  Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. A chapter a day. This process feels like it's more connected to the revision I want to do, even if the coming three weeks in November mean I will be far from home or computer. Still have two critiques to do for NOVELS-L. But I am writing a poem a day (and reading what others have written, sheer creativity!). Bell says set a writing quote for each day and then stick to your writing until you achieve it. I need to hear those words, though I'm setting goals, not a word quota  -- yet. 

And progress on yet another sideways marketing goal: gain skills on Twitter. Yep. I'm twittering. Twitter posts take me to very useful articles on writing craft -- and connect me with other writers. If you twitter, try @bluebethley  May your week go well.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 13: Buddha Babe

The Buddha rests,
feet folded above the pink lotus,
its roots mired in mud.
His belly is full, his face reflects contentment,
his thoughts float far away,
yet I’d rather see him laugh, now,
his belly shake in sheer enjoyment.
I am surrounded by illusion.
The first winter winds sweep
yellow and red leaves up into a gray sky.
Two Canada geese honk their way south.
My African violets quiver in morning light.
Winter comes. My writing rests.
But I remember laughing,  
for I hold a four-month-old baby.
Her eyebrows lift and her lips
curve into welcome,
a grand chortle
worthy of any Buddha.

Today's Octpowrimo prompt is laughter. How lucky we are when laughter informs each day.  Click HERE to see how other writers celebrate laughter.

Real life swirls around me. Change is constant. Commitments and obligations yammer away. I'm truly not able to do all I'd like to do. Yet these moments of laughter hold all together. May your week go well. Tonight I see Leda Rose once again and will watch her face transform with joy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12: Passion

Bang.  Slam. The house tilts.
Presidential debates notwithstanding,
the living room fills with testosterone.
I hyperventilate. Not even national policy
can be decided without an argument.
We have forgotten civility,
punctuation that brings order to discourse.
“Madame Chair,” pause, paragraph unstated,
I give you snarky innuendo, road rage.
You are the enemy.
We smile with all our teeth.
We have guns. We have heroes.
We circle in for the kill.

October 11: Biden/Ryan Vice Presidential Debates
Source: Associated Press, ABC
Day 12 Octpowrimo, a poem a day. Surely others found something other than this national argument to remind us that poets can celebrate passion? Click here to read 57 other takes on "passion," today's prompt. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October 11: Was She Pretty?

Here she comes,
my mother, trailing five husbands.
Hollywood starlet, she never asked
if she were pretty. She couldn’t sing.
She couldn’t dance.
Her death began when she was knocked
eighty feet down the freeway;
a roaring semi-truck couldn’t stop in time.
She couldn’t stop in time.
What was she doing on the freeway,
crossing over to the other side?
Trying to cross over to the other side?
Crossing over the road to that wayside tavern
for just a little drink along the way.
Ever truly dizzy after that, she finally fell
To her death off a rocky cliff.
Was she drinking? Yes.
The ocean held her innocence one last time,
A blonde mermaid awash in the drink, gone,
a loss I still don't understand.

Today's Octpowrimo featured Katy Makkai's famous poetry slam performance, Pretty. We were to write about something we resist saying, something that moved us. But first, watch Katy Makkai before sinking down into the poem we wanted to write. And this poem came slamming out of my past. It's not the poem I wanted to write. I know very well what I want to resist, what I need to say and do. But the issue of "pretty" is charged for women of any age. I've always felt that poetry is for those times when we have no words to say what we feel. We read poetry and it eases something deep within. May it be so.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October 10: Morning

As I savor that first easy transition from night to pale dawn,
I leap out of bed and wriggle into the 19th Century,
already setting the scene with storm und drang, the sense
of sea or prison or some aspect of colonial life
in Van Diemen’s Land in 1842.
Mac and Deidre now deep in the angst of their own morning;
my body becomes their bodies, bruised and shaken,
far from home, lost to each other by convoluted
plot twists. By 7, my cheeks hollow out.
Coffee made quickly.
Granola poured in the first bowl I touch.
All carried into my office, and morning begins.

Octpowrimo's prompt for the day:  Morning, that moment when mind connects with body. Read what others have written here:

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

October 9: Retirement

Steady tick, tick, monotonous tock, an empty sound
this morning, and then tick, tick, tock again.
A battery-run desk clock should not tock,
the inexorable shock of time unraveling.
Outside about a block away, a thrum of cars hums,
stop and go at the corner.
I balk at the mad rush and sip my coffee.
Ah. Clock sounds fade,
the ‘paper’ on the screen invisible.
I write pock-marked scratches,
chalk lines soon erased, unfinished,
take stock of what is left to do, and hear again
the clock inventory my days.

Octpowrimo's prompt (a poem a day for October) has us exploring sound, poetry as music, and maybe playing with onomatopoeia, no doubt to make our readers flutter, bang and whir through the rest of today, October, the beginning of fall, a time when red and yellow leaves swirl to the ground, and we hold to each day, reminded that winter comes. Check out the link to see what others have written.

Fall leaves,West Virginia