Mommy Truth

Mommy Truth

No

You can’t have the last cookie

It’s been a rough day, week, year

That oreo is all that stands

Between Momma and losing her fingernail grip on sanity

Do

You want to risk life as you know it

It’s been a rough day, week, year

There isn’t any wine in the fridge

But there is a stack of bills on the table and not enough money

So

You are right about hugs

It’s been a rough day, week, year

The day will come when I have lots of time and money

Give me another hug then go ahead and eat the cookie

A Walk Through the Forest

A Walk Through the Forest

Today I chose to make my poetic adventure a walk through the forest. OK, not a real walk, but rather a metaphorical walk that I first took years ago under the able guidance of my amazing friend (and total rock star teacher) Liz Prather. I have used this writing prompt to inspire poetry more than once and I hope you find it useful. Here is the lesson plan she uses with her students. I have slightly adapted her prompt for personal use below.

Liz notes: “Poetry seeks to reveal the unknown and give a home to those abstract thoughts through sensory image and detail. This activity is designed to extract clues from [your] subconscious, to unearth the vast stores of imagistic material that makes great poetry.”

Liz likes to use a timer to keep the writing moving and to ensure that no one overthinks each writing prompt.

You are walking through the forest. Describe the trees.

(One minute writing)

You continue in the forest and on the path, you notice some keys. Describe the keys.

(One minute writing)

You continue in the forest and on the path, you notice a cup. Describe the cup.

(One minute writing)

You continue in the forest and you come to a wall. Not only describe the wall, but tell me what you do when you come to the wall.

(One minute writing)

You go pass the wall and continue in the forest. You notice a bear in the path. Describe the bear.

(One minute writing)

You have finally come to the end of our journey. You have made it through the forest and come to a beautiful sunny meadow. Before you enter the meadow, you come to a stream. Describe the stream and what you do when you come to the stream.

(One minute writing)

Now it is time to explore the meaning behind the images you have chosen.

The Key:

Trees = Parents

Keys = Money

Cup = Love

Wall = Problems and what you do to the wall represents how you solve your problems

Bear = Death

Stream = Afterlife and what you do represents if you embrace/reject your ideal eternity

Think about these ideas. Using the information retrieved from your psyche, write a poem that is an extended metaphor starting with the line that identifies the item and its abstract counterpart. Liz suggests 10 lines but I think for a future writing retreat I have planned I will challenge my writers to use the Tanka form.

Example of first verse (originally shared by Liz):

Love is a Dunkin Donuts cup

Dirty leaves dot the bottom

lipstick stains ruin the rim.

The poem I wrote the first time I embarked on this journey is Love. Please share the poetry this prompt inspires using the #JustWrite hashtag.

Love

Love

Love is a carved wooden goblet

Wood darkened by age and use

Base sprawling wide, solid, unshakable

Stem spiraling upward

The generous curve of the goblet whispers stories once carved deep

now erased by the caress of countless touches

While the lip of the cup runs round endless and smooth to the mouth

The well of the cup dwells deep and dark

waiting to be completed with something rich and filling

Love is a carved wooden goblet

 

This poem was inspired by Liz Prather’s A Walk Through the Forest prompt

Artwork by Lesley Shepherd

You need more poetry in your life

You need more poetry in your life

You need more poetry in your life. I was sharply reminded of this epic truth this weekend when I was cleaning. I hate cleaning and often listen to NPR podcasts to make unpalatable tasks more bearable. As fate would have it, the podcast I chose was new to me although after this weekend’s binge I am a big fan: Al Letson‘s State of the Re:Union.

However, it was the Poetry Month show: The Poems, The Poets, The Power that reminded me that poetry is so often the solution for everything that ails me. My life hasn’t been so great lately. I won’t bore you with the details because there are many many people so much worse off than me, but Friday afternoon was a low point for me. I was just so worn down and worn out that I didn’t know what to do. There were some blog posts I wanted to write, but I just couldn’t settle with all these emotions teeming and roiling inside.

That is how I ended up cleaning – I thought maybe if I took control over one small corner of my life and created order in one room that I might be better able to tackle something larger. Isn’t that one of the things people tell you to do when you are overwhelmed? Focus on some small, simple task you can accomplish?

As fate would have it, I chose to listen to The Poems, The Poets, The Power while trying to take control over one small corner of the chaos that is my life and I found myself laughing and crying and, more importantly, writing poetry. It has been weeks since I wrote a poem and clearly there was a log jam of emotions that needed to be cleared. I dumped three word avalanches onto the pages of my journal, cleaning and writing and cleaning and writing and cleaning and writing.

I have since shaped one of those word dumps into a poem (see The Sandwich) and am still working on the other two — in part because I still haven’t settled on the form I need to harness (direct?) all the emotion wrapped up in those pieces. But this is why I need to write more poetry and you do too!

You can’t tell me — in these times and in this world — you do not have a similar log jam of emotions causing all sorts of problems. Put down the whiskey and the antacids and pick up your pen. Don’t believe me? Listen to The Poems, The Poets, The Power and accept your fate as a poet. You don’t have to share your poems as I do although you should. I share my work not because I think I am an awesome poet because I am still very  much a poet in progress. I share my work because I believe poetry inspires more poetry. I hope to make you think “well if she can write poetry” or “my poems aren’t any worse than hers”.

Whatever you think of my poetry, I hope you will pick up a pen and write a poem of your own to release the log jam inside you. And if you feel like sharing please use the #JustWrite hashtag.

What Do You Believe?

What Do You Believe?

I recently read This I Believe, a companion book to the NPR program of the same name, because we will be using the book in our First Year Seminars this year at Morehead State. I really enjoyed the book and now I’m checking out the extensive collection of This I Believe essays and recordings available on the web. I am not sure yet how I will exactly use this book and web site with my students, but I can already see how much potential this offers as a writing prompt. I was so enamored of the idea I have already written a This I Believe essay of my own (see Empathy is Always the Answer).

The idea is simple. Focus on one core belief that really shapes the way you think and the choices you make. Tie your explanation to a personal experience. Write about something life affirming although it can be heartwrenching or humorous (or both). Then hone your message down to between 350 and 500 words. That is not easy, at least it wasn’t for me. Maybe it will be easier for you.

After reading and listening to a number of personal essays it was fairly easy for me to identify what I believe, but if you need more time to process it then a good place to start might simply be to write your way into your day for a few days or perhaps explore the idea of what the world needs. It was more challenging for me to think of a good personal experience that I wanted to use, but then I am a terrible anecdote collector so others might find this process easier. Check out the web site (or book) for more tips about writing your own This I Believe essay.

Crafting your own This I Believe essay can be a good way to learn more about yourself and your guiding beliefs. A little introspection is always good for your soul. Furthermore, psychologists have observed that thinking about the stories of your life is also a healthy thing. Now go forth and write about your own belief! Don’t forget to share them using the #JustWrite hashtag.

Empathy is Always the Answer

Empathy is Always the Answer

I believe empathy is always the answer. Hate seems to dominate the news and social media. This hurts my heart. I don’t understand how anyone can spend so much priceless life energy on hate. I turned 50 this year and the one lesson I have learned is that hate never solved anything. Love is the opposite of hate, but for love to stand a chance against hate we must first have empathy. I envision empathy as the roots of a tree. While the first roots may be small and tender, eventually they delve deeply into the earth to both feed and support the tree. The deeper and stronger the roots grow then the stronger and taller the tree. In my metaphor, the roots of the tree are empathy and the tree itself is our humanity. Empathy is essential to our humanity, because without it we cannot love. Empathy is the beginning of understanding and understanding cures hate. Empathy helps us see other people as human and builds connections between us that make it harder to sustain hate. Once we have seen that others are like us we can no longer see “others” as something frightening, alien, and less than human – less than us.

My first Ph.D. class was online. A few weeks into classes, my grandfather died. The timing of the arrangements combined with my work schedule put me on a plane during our scheduled weekly class. The next week we experienced severe thunderstorms which knocked our power out – moments before class was due to start. Missing two classes in a row is a pretty big deal for graduate classes. When I contacted my instructor to explain myself, again, all I could think about was the many students who have shared similar versions of back-to-back catastrophes and my frequent skepticism (the grandparent death toll at midterms and finals is alarming). I was sure he wouldn’t believe my explanations, I would fail the class, be kicked out of the program, and so on. None of those things happened. He graciously accepted that sometimes life happens and we discussed how I would make up what I missed. I did the work and we moved on. I aced the class, stayed in the program, and earned my Ph.D.

I have often thought about this experience. Life happens to students and sometimes those students have made mistakes and bad choices. Now that I’ve been on the other side of the desk it is easier for me to give students the benefit of the doubt. I know life really does happen. I strive to apply this lesson outside the classroom as well. There is an old saying: “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” This is a very ancient saying I’ve heard attributed to many cultures, but it is a universal truth. Until we share someone’s experience we cannot understand them. While we certainly don’t want to truly experience the difficulties and tragedies of others, and most people wouldn’t wish us to, we can all benefit from imagining ourselves in others’ shoes. I wonder how much tragedy could be averted if we did this more?

Write your own This I Believe essay and learn more about the NPR program, companion book, and web site.

Artwork by Picography on Pixabay

Your Elevator Pitch: #Writing Meaning Into Your Life

Your Elevator Pitch: #Writing Meaning Into Your Life

Recent graduates and other job seekers are often told to create an elevator pitch for job interviews and networking opportunities. These job-focused elevator pitches are usually crafted to a specific job or profession. I was originally taught this concept when I was a struggling young novelist trying to pitch my book to publishers and agents, but the idea is the same – sum up your message in just a few simple, focused sentences that could be delivered in the time it takes for an elevator to travel between floors or for you to introduce yourself over a handshake.

I think it is important for us all to spend some time thinking about our elevator pitches from time to time. We meet new people all the time – waiting at the car dealership for an oil change, over coffee before church, and on the bleachers at the local park. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an answer to the common question, what do you do, that invites a conversation rather than stops it (Believe me, nothing stops a conversation like telling people you are an English teacher, they always assume you are the grammar police)? However, there is an even more important reason to have an elevator pitch – crafting that message will help us dig in and discover/uncover the answer to a much more important question – what is our life purpose?

Answering that question is important to our happiness. The answer can, and should, shape our lives in important ways and help us make important decisions about our education, our career, and our life. It can lead us in new directions and help us say no to things that do not serve our purpose. Even more important, understanding this purpose can help us tolerate and even accept some aspects of our life that might be challenging if they help us achieve that greater purpose. As Friedrich Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

nietzsche-why...how

Of course, crafting that answer is a lot trickier than writing an elevator pitch for a job interview, because even when we are reasonably happy with our life and our job it isn’t always easy to zero in on our life purpose. That is also what makes this a terrific writing prompt as it is a question we should explore from time to time.

Some questions to begin your initial writing:

  • Who do you want to help and/or inspire? Who do you want your life to impact and influence?
  • What do you make? What do you want to make?
  • What makes you come alive? What do you love to do? When are you happiest?
  • What problem do you (or can you) solve?
  • How will you measure your life?
  • What will you stand for?

As you ponder these questions, I ask you to watch this slam poem by Taylor Mali written in response to the question: What do you make? Now spend some time just writing about what you do or could do or should do to make a difference in the world…

Now look back over your writing. When I consider these questions I often end up in tears because these are things that I really care about, ideas and challenges that I am passionately invested in. That is the point of this writing exercise to tap into to your heart and soul to uncover what really matters to you. This is not the moment to be practical, instead think about what touches you on an emotional level. Have you written about that?

When I ask my students to write elevator pitches for their class projects I ask them to think about their answers to three important questions:

  1. Who do you want to help/serve?
  2. What is their problem?
  3. How can you solve it (ie. what can you change/do)?

For me, like Taylor Mali, I am a teacher and I believe in the importance power and magic of this job, but more than that I am a writer who is happiest when I get to spend time writing and sharing with other writers. I believe in the power and magic of writing to help us grow and heal. I believe writing can be fun and playful (something we all need more of in our lives). The best writing activities offer both fun and meaning. That is my passion project – helping others become writers whether they are my students, young writers just finding their way, or adult writers whose faith in their writing ability is broken. I want to provide inspiration, guidance, and support for writers who want to play, learn, or discover/reconnect with their muse. I want to provide meaningful writing opportunities that offer fun and growth to writers of all ages.

I make writers for a living and for the sheer joy of it. What do you make? Pablo Picasso once said: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” What is your gift?

Pablo-Picasso-Quote-The-meaning-of-life-is-to-find-your-gift-The

Artwork by kelseyannvere via Pixabay