Wednesday, December 04, 2019

IWSG December: Living the Dream

November's National Novel Writing Month is now over, as is Thanksgiving as we tunnel through winter to the end of the year.

Outside my apartment window, rain, instead of snow, pelts an amazing pile of abandoned furniture next to the community garage, a stranger's untold story.

Today, this Wednesday, as part of IWSG's monthly challenge, we're asked to describe our future writer's self -- what it looks and feels like -- IF we are living the dream. Or, we could talk about what our life as a writer is like IF we are already there. And what would we change or improve?

I'm never sure about these questions or where they'll take me. As an older than average writer, I am, like many, poised between becoming a better writer and being, that is, practicing the craft of writing every day.  Simply put, that's my dream, and I'm living it.

Last month's NaNoWriMo pushed me to face stories I've never told as I took a mini-break from my current novel to begin a memoir. Some 35K words later, I'm pleased by my start, to look critically at those events I've wrestled with in my fiction, but never easily talked about.

Yes, I read pretty voraciously. Do you? This week, I forced myself to finish a book that will remain nameless, for it disgusted me. The novel, this month's selection for a book club, read as if it were a memoir, but without grace or insight. The main character divulged an atrocious childhood and then transformed into a money-grubbing, amoral, self-obsessed individual. The book ended with no transformation of the character's many flaws, no hint of change or redemption, but promised this was Book 1 of more to come.

Aargh! I may not know where my writing will take me, but please, I hope to write stories that encourage us to face evil with courage, despite many obstacles within and without.

For many writers, the dream is recognition and perhaps more than a livable wage. I'm retired with few wants. Do you remember Hemingway's very famous short story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?  Hemingway shows us, with bare prose, the value of simple acts. How we choose to live with empathy and courage. For we know, don't we, that some -- even us, at times -- despair, and this leads us right back to bedrock: that regardless of circumstance, we have the freedom to choose how we live and what we do. 

That's my dream: To live and write with a sense of harmony and grace, regardless of circumstance. I think I'm living the dream. That could be an illusion, but it's one that sustains me.

That's me with my cousin,
Bainbridge Island,
about 1953
One last note: It's too close to Thanksgiving not to truly be thankful for much -- my family and friends, my life companion, and, not least, those readers, primarily from the States, Scotland, Australia, and Canada, who read my stuff.

And a special thank you to the  co-hosts for the December 4 posting of the IWSG are Tonja Drecker, Beverly Stowe McClure, Nicki Elson, Fundy Blue, and Tyrean Martinson!

May you all live your dream in the year ahead.









Wednesday, November 06, 2019

IWSG November: Researching the Unimaginable . . .

Each month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group posts a question for writers to ponder and write about. This November's question: What's the strangest thing you've ever Googled in researching a story?

I've done my fair share of researching serial killers, the mafia, how quickly rigor mortis takes effect, and royal intrigue, among many other topics. Today's response is inspired by Google research about a bar in Edinburgh and about a fish that lives on the bottom of the sea.

BACKGROUND: While living in Edinburgh to research Standing Stones, we lived in a 5th floor walk-up apartment overlooking a 16th Century Writer's Museum, located in the  courtyard in Lady Stair's Close. About half a block away, on the corner, we passed by many times a very famous bar called Deacon Brodie's Tavern. Sadly, we never visited there until I began my current romantic suspense novel.

From The Seventh Tapestry

So, I'll let my hero, Neil McDonnell, art crimes investigator, describe the history of this very special tavern, as he meets with my heroine, Sandra Robertson, curator at an Edinburgh medieval arts museum, over lunch at Deacon Brodie's Tavern:
---
   “Ah,” said Neil. “Now, we enjoy. So, did I tell you about Deacon Brodie?” 
    Sandra shook her head, too busy with her salad to talk. The scallops, embellished with crunchy bacon and a light vinaigrette, were perfectly cooked and chilled.
    “Brodie lived in this neighborhood back in the 1700’s, a pretty well-respected cabinet maker and locksmith. At least by day. At night, he gambled. Got into debt. Turned his locksmith skills into copying keys to mansions.” Neil paused. “Rather like today. Somebody at your museum might have been tempted for some easy money. Maybe got in over his or her head with gambling, just like Brodie. ‘Tis as much a problem today as it was then.”
    He nudged his oatcake with a fork. “Anyway, Brodie continued to steal for the next twenty years, hiding in plain sight. Until he was finally discovered and then hanged. Pretty gruesome talk for lunch.” He smiled. “Did you notice the slogan on the front of the bar?”
    “No, too noisy and too many people. But it’s nice and quiet up here.”
    “Well, the slogan is one that every Scot knows. ‘In love and life I hath no fear, as I was born of Scottish blood.’”
    “‘In love and life, I have no fear.’ I like that. I think my father would like it too.”
-----

And now a grim, little poem, inspired entirely by research! I no longer remember why I researched hagfish. Perhaps I found a mention somewhere, but here's the resulting poem.

Hagfish

Almost as long as my thigh bone,
she burrows into the bottom of the ocean floor.
Spineless, she circles and scavenges
her way into the bodies of the dead and dying
and eats her way out.
She sucks life through her skin;
at the same moment she swallows,
her cartilage-teeth move horizontally in and out
on two plates, and her whiskers quiver,
catfish-like, her pink skin deepens to purple,
her skull defined as if some sluggish, evolutionary
brain were trapped within,
some mindless, predestined intelligence
behind her eyespots.
She carries her eggs casually.
If caught, she covers herself with gill-clogging slime
and twists herself into knots to escape.
I would say this hagfish is a survivor,
550 million years old,
with dark lessons for us all.

May November bring you good reading and good writing!

Why not visit what other writers have written this month, for the purpose behind the Insecure Writer's Support Group  is for writers at all stages and genres to connect with each other, sharing our doubts and celebrating the writing life.

Special thanks go to November's co-hosts: Sadira Stone, Patricia Josephine, Lisa Buie-Collard, Erika Beebe, and C. Lee McKenzie!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

OctPoWriMo #31: Peace

Forest Walk (pixabay)

It doesn't matter where we are.
Truly. The young ones grow up;
we elders pass like seasons;
every decade brings its own challenge,
and, at the end, a few memories
remain: the birth of our child,
a hike around a mountain lake
shimmering blue in the sun.
We did climb the heights at Macchu Picchu,
gasping for each breath,
sitting on stones,
contemplating ruins of stone
made in another time long before us.
What will I remember
when memory fails me?
Will we hold hands,
fully at peace?
Will the world, so full of chaos,
be at peace as well?
I am at once filled with doubt
and hope.


Morning Fog (Pixabay)

Today is the last day for this challenge to write a poem each day for the month of October. You can still visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written and perhaps comment. 

Thank you so much, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge. You have given us all gifts of language and feeling -- poetry!


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

OctPoWriMo #30: Me

These are my hands, not privileged,
gnarled with seven and a half decades of living,
maybe at a slightly slower pace, yet
ready to work, reach out, embrace,
not alone, but connected
to circles of family, writers, quilters,
and that sense that cherishes
each morning: for I am still here,
facing down that blank page
and writing.

Hand of an Elderly Woman (Pixabay)

Tomorrow's prompt: Finding Peace.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written and for writing prompts for tomorrow's poem. Why not join in? You still have one more day!

Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

OctPoWriMo #29: Lightness of Being

If I could be one
with nature, 
I would be here at dawn, 
rising with those mystery birds,
like leaves blown free
from that tree,
the horizon edged with blue,
the last of night
fading into this fresh today
with you.

Dawn (Pixabay)

Not enough time, I chant to myself as I start today’s writing, inspired by this lovely picture from Pixabay, reminded again of the importance of cherishing each day. You sleep. I type on the computer. Today begins.

Tomorrow's prompt: Me or Who I am.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written and for writing prompts for tomorrow's poem. Why not join in?

Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Monday, October 28, 2019

OctPoWriMo #28: Mending the Broken Places

This fog-bound broken place I know,
abandoned cottages, their stones
scattered in the hills, deep
in the highlands, along the coasts.

In the 1840's, families left, 
carrying their belongings in blankets 
when they could, 
in that time when factories sprang up in cities,
when crofters were replaced by sheep,
the lairds comfortable in their manse or
down in London, counting receipts.

Some of the people left entirely, a Scottish
diaspora to new places, Australia, Canada, and India,
not lost and not broken, 
but fierce carriers of culture, tales of
the old country to bolster their courage
on dark, hungry nights and stormy seas.

In time, these tenacious people mended.
One day at a time, one lost child to mourn, 
each new birth creating the world anew,
their homes, their history not forgotten. 

Abandoned stone cottage (Pixabay)
NOTE: A college class about the economic history of Great Britain led me to study the Industrial Revolution and its impact on average people whose lives were transformed by events they could not control. My fascination with mermaids inspired my earliest storytelling, about Finnish men in tiny, seal boats who plied the coasts of northern Scotland, in search of wives; locals called them 'mermen'. 

These two improbable events combined in my first book, Standing Stones. We were fortunate to take a two-month research trip to northern Scotland, where one can still see those abandoned cottages, their stones strewn in fields and abandoned. But, their history is not forgotten.

Tomorrow's prompt: Lightness of Being.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written and for writing prompts for tomorrow's poem. Why not join in?

Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.



Sunday, October 27, 2019

OctPoWriMo #27: How Did I Get Here?

I am still that little girl with glasses
looking on from the outside,
the new kid in a different school,
happy to hide in the curtains
at sudden noises or find quiet solace
in any book.
Once I came down the stairs,
dressed like a goddess in someone else’s gown,
and saw you, stunned to silence.
I am the earth to your sun,
forty-four years circling,
following you to desert valleys and lakeside mountains.
Once, we slept on a night train up the Nile Valley,
your shoes were my pillow,
we stared in awe, breathless at temples in Macchu Piccu,
made homes in whatever state or country we felt like stopping,
until our daughter came along, an anchor,
slowing us down to one place until she was grown,
our desire to give her what we never quite had,
a home. For now, we are here, downsized,
bookcases crammed with just our favorites,
a corner for quiltmaking, and on every wall,
photos, textiles, and paintings that remind us,
how we got here. 

Rachel and me, 1978
Tomorrow's prompt: Mending the Broken Pieces.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written and for writing prompts for tomorrow's poem. Why not join in?

Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

OctPoWrMo #26: What has been unspoken . . .

Baked a spaghetti pie this morning,
sweet smell of basil and tomatoes,
saved for supper. Made sandwiches for him:
one for breakfast,
one for lunch.
Last night we watched TV,
Ken Burns' country music special,
companionable,
Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash.
music from the 1960's, the Vietnam era.
He told me a few stories,
and I remember when we first met,
that flash of understanding,
night terrors we both knew.
We listened with tears in our eyes,
each in our Lazy-Boy recliners,
far from war.

.
Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash sing "Girl from the North Country."

Tomorrow's prompt: How Did I Get Here.


You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written and for writing prompts for tomorrow's poem. Why not join in?

Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Friday, October 25, 2019

OctPoWrMo #25: White

I've been given advice.
Haven't always followed
what well-wishing loved ones say.
Maybe that's why mice
have swallowed
all the food in my fridge today.


Meme found on the internet
which matches my mood precisely.
Concisely.
Nicely.
The year before we moved to Spokane, Washington, it snowed so much that roofs collapsed at some of the big name shopping centers around the city. Our apartment building was safe, but when winter comes, I now tend to watch how much snow is falling

Winter at Manito Park, Spokane

Tomorrow's prompt: What has been unspoken.

Why not join in? For your daily poetry prompt, visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/  Post your poem on your website and read what others have written. 

Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

OctPoWriMo #24: Breathing

If I could breathe underwater,
I would swim beneath ice mountains,
chase narwhals,
sink to the bottom of the sea,
befriend a mermaid.
Far from the ocean, I can dream
of glaciers that don't melt,
of tomorrows without end.

Underwater Polar Bear (Pixabay)
Imagine a Halloween party with fifty or so parents and kids, many aged from 5 to 7 in amazing costumes. I came home early, even though it was fun. Tomorrow's a rest day, and tomorrow's prompt: White. Ooops. Should have saved this last-minute prompt for tomorrow.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

OctPoWriMo #23: Fur Babies

If you had a mouse
Living in your house,
Would you set a trap?
Snap!

If a bat settled in your eaves,
Would you pull down your sleeves,
think of vampires?
Hot wires!

If a furry baby cat,
Brought you the dead body of a rat,
Would you feed him a treat?
Sweet!

If you found a deer,
Drinking all your beer,
Would you hesitate?
Desolate?

If a lion set up residence,
Would you commence
to worry?
Sorry!


Lion sleeping in a tree (Tasmania, 2012)
Today's prompt led me somewhere quite unexpected. Too much work to do and not enough time for poetry. So, inspired by the mice trying to find a warm place for winter in our house (and my debate over whether to set a 'real' trap), I found this poem.

Tomorrow's prompt: Breathing.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

OctPoWriMo #22: Broken Pieces

A large brooch with a sedate row of trees
and three junks on a calm river
in conventional blue and white ceramic
was placed next to a row of pillboxes,
each differently, delicately colored,
no dates, no names.
The placard simply read:
"Poetry shard: Cultural Revolution."

I knew what these bits of Chinese ceramics meant
as they lay before me:
Remnants of sanctioned violence,
a pillaging of lives, of history and art,
visible symbols
of a rampage against artists and intellectuals,
the military boot crushing
tiny thousand-year-old tea cups,
‘decadent art’ students and soldiers
could tear down, rip, smash, kick, and destroy;
this cultural legacy lost just fifty years ago.

How did this pin come here, to this small museum store?
The slope of the pin holds the shape of the large urn that once was,
its slight belly bulging outward, rimmed in silver.
The ceramic piece is thick, yet I can see through
its traditional milk-blue stone.
Did its owner survive? 
Did some Chinese entrepreneur bake these shards
last month, last week, 
manufacturing fake artifacts
to feed nostalgic capitalism, a knock-off
of early 20th Century trade goods?

Of course, I wear it.
I really don’t care if the pin is authentic or not.
Wearing it affirms what was lost.
For a few years more, this shard will be treasured.
The barbarians at the gate can’t destroy everything.
An artist’s work has its own meaning
and makes its own transformations.

The Chinese brooch, found at a small museum store.

Tomorrow's prompt: Fur babies.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Monday, October 21, 2019

OctPoWriMo #21: Don't Go Screaming . . .

Don’t go screaming into the wind.
Boundaries and routines are meant to be tested,
and we test them.
Van Gogh knew this as he painted his way
into what others could not see.
Sometimes if we cross a line,
we can’t go back.
Perhaps we'll be measured by what we can accomplish,
by our failures, and by those times,
we give into sorrow and joy.

Vincent Van Gogh (Wikipedia)
I remember standing in the rain for three hours to see an exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh's works at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, several decades ago. Perhaps Don McLean's song, "Vincent," captures the essence of this artist's life and works, what it took to create his paintings, and his influence that crosses so many boundaries.

https://youtu.be/oxHnRfhDmrk


Tomorrow's prompt: Broken pieces.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan DragonwillowMichelle VecchittoEsther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge. 


Sunday, October 20, 2019

OctPoWriMo #20: Yellow Tang

Deep in the wild blue sea,
somewhere off the islands of Hawaii,
the Yellow Tang saltwater fish,
its length a little longer than my hand,
swim along reefs anywhere from 6 to 150 feet deep,
hungry for algae, beaded on the backs of turtles,
like tears from a mermaid.
Perfectly balanced, its brilliant yellow
no camouflage, not even at night,
the males shimmer when they mate.

I could stare at such a fish for hours.
If its tiny brain has a goal,
would the Yellow Tang be aware of more
than warm water, the scent of algae?
Would this fish worry about tomorrow?
One day at a time; perhaps one hour?



Yellow Tang (Pixabay)


Tomorrow's prompt: Screaming into the wind.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

OctPoWriMo #19: If I Could Dream . . .

If I could dream my way
into a purple sky,
at dawn or dusk, I’d admire
the stars all over again, dotting what unknown
trajectory, maybe the half-moon,
on its own journey, clouded with purple mist.
I could float my way
to a lavender-filled field, 
discover a bouquet of lilacs bursting with spring, 
even a single, dignified purple rose 
that marks more than farewell.
I’ll remember the color of your backpack as we hiked
around a mountain lake to watch the Northern lights,
sheets of green and purple falling over us,
promising the only gift that Nature gives:
this moment.

Girl Asleep in a Field of Lavender (Pixabay)

Tomorrow's prompt: Mountains or Oceans.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan DragonwillowMichelle VecchittoEsther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge. 


Friday, October 18, 2019

OctPoWriMo #18: A Quilter's Patience

I have collected this aboriginal fabric,
inspired by Australian culture,
now tucked in a little blue bin.
Enough for a quilt, but I’m waiting for inspiration.
I don’t want to stitch up alternating squares or blocks
in a borrowed European hierarchy,
but some design
that captures the essence of those aboriginal maps,
where each mark carries meaning.
I’m waiting, hoping the ‘right’ pattern
searches for me,
maybe discovered in a dream
or inspired by dreamtime.
Maybe that design already lives in my heart.

Beth's fabric bin (2019)
TODAY'S NOTE: The aboriginal art I’ve seen, paintings, maps, and drawings, meanders in circles, with symbols I can’t easily decode. But quilts made of aboriginal fabric (also that I’ve seen so far) impose an artificial order (those blocks), in sharp contrast to the organic, flowing, circular designs of aboriginal paintings. I don’t want to be disappointed (today's prompt) by the design I use, for the fabric is so lovely, evocative of a culture thousands of years old.

You can see some of the images I've collected of aboriginal art at my Pinterest site here:

Aboriginal art (Pixabay)


Tomorrow's prompt: Purple (this prompt should be easier since purple is the favorite color of a dear quilting friend).

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

OctPoWriMo #17: Am I a Clone?

Am I a clone?
Woke up dreaming lines
from some forgotten life, 1-2-3 diversity:
My family a community
of quilters and writers, each stitching
our way into something new.

I have a nest and all the rest,
you, sweet kids, sweeter grandkids,
not suburbia, those tidy rows, ack!
Even my quilts don’t line up properly,
I’ve dropped a comma or two,
try to follow the news,
not too much because, I’d lose
whatever individuality I possess.

Isn’t that the point? I’ll confess,
I’ll cherish my family, my life each day I have,
Not counting to the end, just aware
I’m not a clone.


Not a Clone (Pixabay)

Inspired by my sci-fi writer/friend's first poem (see Sue Eller here), this poem flew off the keyboard. Thank you, Sue. And then today's news. I'm saddened to learn of the early death of Congressional leader Elijah Cummings, a stalwart voice for the unheard.

Tomorrow's prompt: First Time I Was Disappointed????

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

OctPoWrMo #16: Father Time

On a small patio made of stone, blue sky above, 
I turned my tricycle into another circle,
my baby sister watching me.
Did we have any sense of time? Maybe bedtime.
When was mother coming home?

Dark. Alone with my sister. Something fell on the bed and then
another something scrabbled towards us.
We ran out of the small room, screaming.
Police cars filled the parking lot, red and blue lights flashing,
and then mother came, running down the street to the motel,
talking to the officers, and talking. We were together again.

For my 16th birthday, she took me to the nightclub
where she worked. The band played
for a long time before we went home.

Another afternoon, I was driving her home.
She wanted to stop for a drink, and I said no.
I was old enough to say no by then.
She opened the door of the car to step out,
pavement moving beneath us; her foot moving down.
I stopped the car. I let her go.

She died when I was long gone from home,
as far away as I could get, until that phone call.
Went fishing, they said, we was just fishing
there by the rocks, up on that cliff
by the ocean. A wave came, and she fell,
fell into the water. The waves took her away.

All these memories drift into words on a page,
leaves in a closed book, long past over.
Time shifts, even so. I cherish each decade
since I met you, the life we’ve built,
our world a little smaller,
the doors now closing.

Wintertime (Pixabay)
Tomorrow's prompt: Family.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

OctPoWriMo #15: Mother, May I?


I wasn’t as pretty as my sister.
Wearing glasses, awkward and tall, I was invisible
as I cleaned up after my mother’s parties, the stench
of stale beer and full ashtrays tickling my nose.
Once, I saw stars when she hit me,
something I’d said or didn’t say.
She ran for a washcloth. “Don’t tell anyone,” she said.
We never told, and I didn’t ask ‘Mother, may I?’
when I turned seventeen and left,
my sister, pregnant at sixteen, on her own journey.
and my baby sister, alone.


My mother was a beautiful, charismatic woman who drank too much. Her life was chaotic, as was mine, in and out of foster homes, until at seventeen, my aunt invited me to live with her and go to college. Everything changed. The only surprise? The anger this poetry prompt brought, even though she and my sister died years ago, and my own wonderful daughter doesn’t quite understand why sometimes I flinch. 

Tomorrow's prompt: Father Time

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Monday, October 14, 2019

OctPoWriMo #14: Bowerbird

In the spring, the bowerbird gathers leaves and flowers.
We suppose, being male, he doesn’t have a nest in mind.
He brings a certain rock or mushroom in his beak,
found or stolen from another bowerbird nearby,
and lays in pattern all those elements of art --
color, texture, line -- to entice her eye.

And once she comes, he sings and
dances while she watches.
She may return.
They may mate.
Then she moves on alone to
build a nest, the bower abandoned
in the forest or the field, a singular work:
he tidies up; he preens for the next female.

We marvel at these elaborate patterns here,
for what if the artful bower just does not appeal?
What if she doesn’t come, drawn by some strange mix
of biologic chemistry and art, made by birdy eye and birdy beak?
Even in the deepest forest, art is created, unknown to human eye.
We make our nests, and sing and dance,
And believe all is left to chance.


Satin Bowerbird

Tomorrow's prompt: Mother May I?

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

OctPoWriMo #13: Hug a Tree

A walk in the deep forest reminds me
of the serenity of uncluttered time,
cloudless blue sky, green pines, and a winding, mountain trail,
days without end, perhaps a connection to something
more, something spiritual.
Once, on a spring hike, we crossed a meandering stream
and spotted fresh bear track on one of the large stones,
just made minutes before, water dripping.
We had no whistles.
We were far from the trailhead. We listened
and heard nothing. No bird calls to warn us of danger,
just that absolute quiet.
I would not hug a tree, for out here, different rules apply.
Survival. Here, I am defined and redefined, for
that bear has cubs to feed in the spring.

Paw of Grizzly
(Source: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/diary/january_2015.html)

Just a note: I'm grateful for every element that protects me from the wild, especially with winter on the way. Yes, I romanticize 'nature' in paintings and postcards for its sheer beauty. But on a cold winter's night, I am inside.

Tomorrow's prompt: Mother Earth.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan DragonwillowMichelle VecchittoEsther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge. We're nearly half way through!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

OctPoWriMo #12: Black

You don’t have to use black
when you paint; it ain’t a color
you need at all. Nobody needs black.
Just mix blue and orange up together;
put that brown shading where it’s needed.
See how that lovely stretch of color
reaches deep without the abyss.

I don’t like black,
not unless it’s a black night sky,
peppered with white, falling diamonds,
or witchy costumes on Halloween,
black pointed hats and diadems,
maybe a little black paint anointing the eyes,
enough to conjure up a dream.


Painter (Pixabay)
Tomorrow's prompt: Hugging a Tree.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge. We persevere!

Friday, October 11, 2019

OctPoWriMo #11: Silence

Someone else is reading my words.
My fingers slide across the page
as I listen for discrepancies, her voice
twists the story with surprising accents,
inflections I never heard when these characters
came to life out of silence and
spoke to me, fifty-seven chapters
winding through to resolution.
The voice stops.

Somewhere, someday, these words will fill
the silence of a big rig as a trucker heads down a back road
or distract a slow-driving day-commuter.
These words are no longer uniquely mine.
I cannot do one more edit. What flaws there are will remain.
‘Dinna worry,’ Mac’s words fill the silence of my office,
and I sit by my computer, not quite ready to let go
of beginnings and endings,
only knowing the next story will start the same way,
word by soul word, a bit of history, images gathered slowly,
love and loss I truly cannot heal.
‘Bend, don’t break.’ Deidre adds,
‘In love and life, have no fear.’

Today’s poem comes from my listening to wonderful voice actor Amanda Fugate-Moss transform my second book, Years of Stone, into an audio book, with a unique accent for each character. Her voice adds an unexpected depth of emotion – shock, sadness, joy – to this tale set in 1840's Australia, when Mac, a transportee and prisoner, and Deidre, his sweetheart, travel by sailing ship to Tasmania, hoping to build a new life.


Hobart Prison, Tasmania (Pixabay)
Tomorrow's prompt: Black.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge. We persevere!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

OctPoWriMo #10: Museum Visit

At first glance, this Celtic head appears to have been
severed from its body. Enigmatic eyes,
a mouth that gives nothing away, cloven ears.
I lean forward to read the card beneath:
Romano-British, second century, and yet:
this head was moved from place to place,
never attached to a body, protected,
some say worshipped.
I want to reach through the glass,
to feel that old, rough stone.
How do we touch the sacred?


Celtic Head (Berndwuersching)


Tomorrow's prompt: Silence or noise.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

OctPoWriMo #9: I See You

When I write, the world around me seems closer – whether I walk out in nature, noticing clouds or falling leaves, or spend time with family and friends, cherishing each moment, or look into the past to wonder what life was once like. Mostly, I strive for a positive outlook, especially these dark days. My apology as I grow older than dirt? I don’t have the stamina any more to do what is needed here or there. But I hope never to stop seeing what struggles others face and how decisions made in haste can bring great suffering.

I see you. Do you see me?
I am homeless, sleeping on the street in winter snow,
the mother in northern Syria who doesn’t hear the news
and scrambles to bring her three children to safety,
but there is no safe place after today;
the elderly man who cannot read insurance forms
and ‘forgets’ to pay his bills,
the 6th grader sitting in the back row of my classroom, hungry,
the child bride bartered for drugs,
the college student who apologizes for not attending class,
covering her black eye with her hands,
the veteran who talks of bubbles in his brain after serving in Afghanistan,
but his VA doctor won’t listen to his symptoms, and
the immigrant who seeks asylum and must wait and wait,
a two-year backlog before her case is heard.

You say, ‘”Let them find work and make their own way. I did.”
And I say, “But for the grace of God or the fickle, fickle finger of fate,
you would have a life like theirs.”

I see you. Do you see me?

Children of War (JaneB on Pixabay)
Tomorrow's prompt: Touch.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

OctPoWriMo #8: Scent

Scientists say smell and taste are closely linked;
some 20,000 different scents can be found in the kitchen,
that vary by 10 levels of intensity.
Welcome to my kitchen and that aromatic lifting of spirits
when cinnamon rolls cool on a rack,
or ribs grill outside, rubbed with rosemary,
the smoke rising to tease the neighbors.

I remember the sweet smell of you when you were a baby.
Well, not always sweet, but I would snuggle close to breathe in
that baby shampoo on your silky hair or
peanut butter or spaghetti sauce smeared on your face.

We actually do smell pheromones, taking in that special scent
of our beloved. Unique, yes, but not just blue eyes or brown.
Scientists do say we’re drawn to those beloveds who possess
very different DNA, perhaps instinctively,
so our babies will be stronger.

Which smells do we remember?
The smell of the woods, leaves crunching under our feet,
lilacs in the late spring, or that tickle
in our nose that says rain is on the way.
Sometimes while hiking, 
we’ll note the stench of death as we pass by,
true nature, unromanticized. I wonder:
Can we know by scent when danger is near?
Maybe that next time you take a deep breath, 
you'll find a survival skill.

Hiking along a creek
near Eagle Crest, Oregon
I puzzled over today’s poetry prompt (Scent), most of the day, but did get some other writing done earlier. You might find these two articles fascinating: Sarah Everts, “The Truth About Pheromones” here https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-truth-about-pheromones-100363955/ or this shorter discussion of that link between the nose and taste at Alimentarium https://www.alimentarium.org/en/knowledge/senses-%E2%80%93-smell

Tomorrow's prompt: Eyes or What do You See?

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow.

Monday, October 07, 2019

OctPoWriMo #7: My Viking Blood

Today’s prompt for OctPoWriMo is ‘tongue: tasting and speaking.” I must confess my mind was filled with images I truly didn’t want to write about (although, one, that of eating roasted grasshoppers while traveling in Turkey reminded me of unexpected tastiness).

Something Morgan Dragonwillow wrote about what words we might use to comfort us brought me right back to the current story I’m working on – set in Scotland. Yes, I found and loved for a very long time this Scottish proverb: “Bend, don’t break.”

In my current mystery, The Seventh Tapestry (forthcoming 2020), Sandra, a curator at a small museum in Edinburgh, meets her new boss at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern.
Deacon Brodie's Bar
Edinburgh, Scotland

Now, in real life, despite having lived just around the corner from this rather famous tavern for nearly a month, we never dropped by. Thanks to internet images and articles (even a menu), though, I feel as I have spent time here.

Emblazoned on the bar, “A pledge for all Scots: In Love and Life I hath no fear, for I was born of Scottish blood.” This resonates for me. ‘In love and life, I have no fear,’ and thus, this poem.

I’ve always been proud of
my Viking blood for it sings with fight
when I’m cornered.
I appear soft and sweet, no doubt,
even glasses perched on my nose,
an illusion. Inside, a warrior awaits,
battle-ready to scream profanity
in the face of a mugger, inches away,
shocking him to run.
That actually happened.
I didn’t need my sword.

Those workplace meetings too, when
tongues try to wind those webs, I start quietly,
reason reassured, crisscrossed by budget, staff, and vision,
not always able to change harsh reality.
I wiggle my eyebrows and explain,
“It must be my Viking blood.”

And love, my love, I’ve never needed to battle,
for we share words in the night,
dreaming, hoping, ready for what comes next.


Tomorrow's prompt: Scent.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

OctPoWriMo #6: Blue

Remember Sandra Bullock’s awkward portrayal of a pageant queen, half cynical and half hopeful plea for ‘world peace’? Lately, I’ve been feeling discouraged and pilloried by sniping political posts, sarcastic clips on all the news channels, right and left, and anger-filled twitter feeds, political in nature, literally distracting us away from those issues that matter. That’s where this ‘blue’ poem came from.

We live together on a great blue marble
floating in space, held in place
by physics, hope, and faith
that somehow we will not destroy
our blue sky mornings.
Inspired by children marching
for more than talk
at which we balk,
blue, blue blues, a jazzy mix,
I’m more than sick
of violence against just anyone
who’s different, who doesn’t live
in some pricey, gated suburb high on a hill,
You got it all. The votes, the money, the guns,
the ability to snipe away
at people sleeping in the street,
building walls against the American dream:
MAGA, you ain’t it.

NOTE: In 1984, the Statue of Liberty was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO "Statement of Significance" describes the statue as a "masterpiece of the human spirit" that "endures as a highly potent symbol—inspiring contemplation, debate and protest—of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy and opportunity." 


Tomorrow's prompt: Tongue, tasting and speaking.

You can visit OctPoWriMo http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, for hosting and inspiring us all!

Saturday, October 05, 2019

OctPoWriMo #5: Doorway, Open or Closed

Windows is for looking out.
Doors is for comin’ an' goin’.
We moved so many times when I was a kid,
I guess it stuck. You told me once you
liked to travel, that you’re not
the marrying kind. I wiggled my eyebrows.
I like goin’ on the road as much as you, I said.
Now I’m like a rumpled sheet
I’ve slept in so many beds, as they say,
domestic an' foreign.

Comin’ in filled with hope. Maybe a pretty place to set a spell.
Goin’ out, sometimes on the run, not always ends the story.
But I’m still here. Even if we travel slowly,
an’ he cain’t carry me over that threshold,
an’ he’s more likely to set in his rocker,
that view out our window is good enough,
green pines and green hills,
an’ that door is open.

Writing a poem a day from scratch is not the easiest endeavor, but it’s a good way to start the day. I’m reading a mystery, The Clincher, by Lisa Preston, a mystery about a woman who shoes horses for a living. Her voice is entirely eastern Oregon country, influencing today’s poem. My husband and I are both afflicted by wanderlust, although after near 45 years together and some 25 countries, we’re slowing down a bit.

Hiking on Dishman Hills (Camp 2018)

Why not click over to OctPoWriMo http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written -- and join in? Here's tomorrow's prompt: Blue.

Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, for hosting and inspiring us all!

Friday, October 04, 2019

OctPoWriMo #4: Cages

What happens when words begin to slip away,
like threads of pewter, silver, or gold?
First nouns, then numbers. One day,
whole memories are simply gone.
Faces are next.
I’ll sit in my wheelchair, 
my hands restless over my lap quilt.
I don’t remember who made it for me.
I don’t remember who I am.

My grandmother had dementia. Just before she died, she spoke only in Swedish. My aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease; she forgot that she loved to drink wine. 

Today’s prompt for OctPoWriMo http://www.octpowrimo.com/reminded me that the ‘cages’ or boundaries that limit us are only sometimes of our own making.

Comfort Quilt (Beth 2018)

My sister sent me a pattern for wheelchair-sized comfort quilts from Carolyn's Homesewn that features a pocket for those cold hands. I can't wait to make this one. A quilting friend told me that often quilts are made with extra pockets for Alzheimer patients with restless hands.

Tomorrow’s prompt: Doorway, open or closed? Why not join in?

 



Thursday, October 03, 2019

OctPoWriMo #3: Womb

If ever a child was meant to be,
singing ethereal songs, floating
in this hollow place within me,
it is you – beginning as
streaming, bumping cells,
simply loved,
uniquely yourself,
now a mysterious, genetic X.

It is you I have asked for over the years,
I have asked for this moment:
a name for an egg;
this I asked for 
awake in the night.


Source: How Babies Grow in the Womb (Dainik Bhaskar, Youtube) 

Today's poem is part of Morgan Dragonwillow's OctPoWriMo, that writing challenge that asks us to write a poem every day for the Month of October. Thank you, Morgan. I have no excuses. Just wanted to share a revised version of the poem I wrote when I learned I was pregnant with my daughter, who now has two amazing daughters of her own.

Tomorrow’s prompt: Cage: Pewter, Silver, or Gold. Why not join in? http://www.octpowrimo.com/


Wednesday, October 02, 2019

IWSG: On Reading and Writing

On the first Wednesday of the month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group, posts a question. This month, the question challenges us to think about writers who read what others have written -- and those who don't.

This is not an easy question. I still remember the thrill of holding my own book, sitting in a straw-backed chair just my size. Later, I loved reading as a way to distance myself from the chaos around me. I used to pace up and down the rows of books at the school’s library, choosing the thickest books. Jump a few decades forward, and, my husband and I would prowl used bookstores, spending hours to find the perfect read. As a teacher, I needed to read voraciously. Think 70-hour weeks, research for class prep, student papers, and, of course, whatever was on my ‘to read’ list. Which often meant another trip to the library. Then came the internet. More reading.

I always knew that someday I would write my own stories, though I wasn’t quite sure what they’d be about. Poetry and short stories kept that part of my mind and heart occupied between work commitments. Once retired, I took a class in creative writing, hopeful of finding a direction, perhaps to finish that serial murder story I’d started. My teacher stood up on the first night of class and told us we could write whatever we wanted – except a story that involved violence. Oops. Well, I thought, if I can’t finish my stories, I’ll just write about mermaids.

That led to my first book, an anthology of short stories about mermaids (The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales). One of those stories about a selkie off the coast of Scotland morphed into historical fiction about the impact of the Industrial Revolution on a small family of fishermen who were ousted from their homes and replaced by sheep, during a time known as the Clearances. The novel (Standing Stones) took three years to write and included a two-month research trip to Scotland. Since then, I’ve written two more novels in this series, set in Australia (Years of Stone), and Canada (Rivers of Stone), all roughly in the 1840s. Really fun. Not always easy.

How could I not read what others have written? These days, I’m drawn to studying what makes good fiction work and how to improve my writing productivity. After all, as a writer in her mid-70’s, how many stories can I tell?

To the question: Do I still read voraciously? Yes, but now for relaxation (genre fiction), and for research (just maybe Egypt, for the next story). After 26 years as a community college English teacher, I find it quite hard to separate reading for entertainment from critiquing what I’m reading (theme, plotting, characterization, style, and, yes, even typos). I’m thrilled when I can follow the hero or heroine’s journey in well-written genre fiction.

For that’s one responsibility I embrace: How to write a story that reflects those mythic journeys of my characters and helps us understand what others have experienced in other lands and other times. Oh, the humanity! For our writing is shaped by all we’ve read. No writer can really ignore the passion or the insight of classic writers like Aristotle, Dostoyevsky, Camus, and many others, or deny their writing has not been shaped by every story he or she has ever read. Do you remember the thrill of discovering the wolf in Grandma’s bed, awaiting Little Red Riding Hood?

For those who write their own words, as if stories sprang unique and unencumbered by what others have experienced and/or written about, write on! But I don’t quite understand how writers cannot love reading. Maybe when I’m deep in my own stories, I set aside some of my outside reading. For a time measured in days. But there’s always a book waiting.

Wednesday IWSG October 2 question - It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?

Thank you to this month's co-hosts: Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Mary Aalgaard, Madeline Mora-Summonte, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!  Check out what others have written by going to IWSG's website. Read around a little, leave a comment. How would YOU answer this question?

Getting ready for NaNoWriMo?

OctPoWriMo #2: Changeling

Like a mermaid twisting in the green surf,
always on the outside, watching, dreaming,
you shift over and over,
not realizing
how much transforms with each turn,
not just the loss of those iridescent scales,
or the ability to breathe underwater,
or to sing with the fishes.
You gave up your voice.

Aren’t we all changelings, shaped by our hopes,
promises made under summer’s sun or
winter’s cold, that chance meeting, a forgotten book, or a thread of melody heard long ago?

I only know this: I would choose
to be a changeling all over again
if it brings me here, to you.

Today’s poem for OctPoWriMo comes from my long fascination with mermaids and a sense that each decision we make brings change – sometimes unanticipated, some with great loss, and some with a sense of coming home.

Tomorrow’s prompt: Womb. Why not join in? http://www.octpowrimo.com/

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

OctPoWriMo #1: Dark Night of the Soul

That moment when
all has failed,
again,
and you realize
only you can decide
to rise up on shaky legs,
move out of that safe, dark closet,
vulnerable and worn,
eyes open to frailty,
recommitted to this day,
this coming month, this short life,
armed with courage and hope.

October begins with OctPoWriMo, a writing challenge created by Morgan Dragonwillow. She has posted a writing prompt for the next thirty-one days, around the theme, “diving into the shadows to mine for gold.” Go to Morgan’s website http://www.octpowrimo.com/ to read what others have written, to comment, and, if you wish, to post a link to your own poem. 

Today’s challenge: Dark Night of the Soul. Writers are often drawn to write stories about the journey of the hero, a multi-layered and mythic, step-by-step retelling of our very human efforts to become our true selves. This ‘dark night of the soul’ happens when all is lost, and the hero or heroine decides whether to stop trying or to slay the inner dragon and continue the journey. Of course, this happens in ‘real’ life as well. The dark night is when you face down all that could destroy you and decide to believe in your dreams – and yourself.

Tomorrow’s challenge: Changeling. Why not join in?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Writing, Revising, and Deleting!

Stephen King advises writers to "kill your darlings." He was talking about characters, though, not scenes.

Now that the first draft of The Seventh Tapestry is relatively complete, I'm at what's called the structural level of editing. That's when I go through the entire story, looking for what doesn't fit the overall theme or what's missing. In the process, big chunks may get added and some scenes deleted. So, Neil now has one brother, not two. And, Sandra, new to Edinburgh, finds her own apartment -- without Neil's help!

Here's the scene that got cut today -- for your reading pleasure.

     Neil strode away from the Royal Chip Palace, wondering what he was going to do about Sandra. He couldn’t help his reaction to that glimmer of vulnerability in her eyes, that honey blonde hair, maybe falling to her shoulders, and the way she pulled it back into a business-like scruff at the back of her neck. He wanted to touch that hair.
     Her no-nonsense approach covered a glimmer of vulnerability in her eyes, and her outfit couldn’t quite hide curves, though she’d tried with a simple gray suit. When she stood, her long legs took her nearly to his chin. But, she was an American. Probably high maintenance. Or that’s what Ian might say.
     “How about I meet you there?” she’d said. So, she didn’t want him to know where she was staying. No, that wasn’t it. She needs an apartment. He tapped a number on his cell phone. “Colin, can you help me out?”
     “Aye, me brother.”
     “I just met someone. I’d like you to help her get an apartment.”
     “Whoa. Slow down. You just met someone, and you want me to do what?”
     “It’s not like that. She’s working undercover and just got to Edinburgh.”
     “And I wanna meet her.”
     “Not a chance.” Neil grimaced. OK, I don’t want either one of my brothers sniffing around, but I shouldn’t get involved with her either. Even if I want to. He sighed. “Just send me a list, no?”
     “Okay. Short-term or long-term?”
     “I dinna know yet. Maybe three- to six-months?”
     “Nobody’s in the apartment over my shop,” said Colin. “We could keep an eye on her.”
     “I’ll see her tomorrow and let you know. So, anythin’ new?”
     “Nah. Ian’s coming over the night for dinner and a few beers. You want to join us?”
     “I’ll be there. Headed to work now. Thanks for offering the apartment. That might work out very well, if she says yes.”
     “And if she says no?”
     “Dinna worry. That’s why I asked you for a list.”
    “You like her, don’t you?”
     Colin’s laughter echoed as Neil hit the end button on his mobile. Maybe he should just introduce Sandra to both of his brothers and get it over with. But he didn’t want to.

What I learned about Scottish dialect from writing this scene? Just as we almost unconsciously adjust our word choice based on who we're talking to, people in Scotland will use Gaelic slang most with those who are closest. Kind of like not swearing in front of your grandmother. So if you are American or English, expect pretty 'normal' wording with less dialect, unless the situation is charged with emotion.

Other News: My entry, "A Poem for Frida" made the short list for WEP's August Challenge, the Red Wheelbarrow. What a really fine surprise! You can go HERE to read the winners and other submissions and find out more about WEP's every-other-month writing challenge. (WEP stands for Write . . . Edit . . . Publish.) Why not consider entering their October challenge -- just in time for Halloween!


And what are you up to, now that summer is definitely turning to fall?