Poetry at Dawn

"Your very flesh shall be a great poem." -Walt Whitman

Making myself…

(This is a throwback post from a prior blog published on Jan. 29, 2014; bare with me as I continue to merge my writing selves into one sentient being.)

Quite honestly, I hate exercise. I can admit I like the after effect some days, but often, when I work out at the end of the day, it just makes me feel more exhausted, rather than energized and ready to face the rest of my evening.

But…

That’s it, really…there’s always a lingering, finger-wagging “But”. The alpha conjunction, ever vigilant of the possibilities and ever-ready to point out the other side of the argument.

I’m painfully aware that as I age, it’s becoming harder and harder to stay in shape. It’s so easy to say I have housework or errands, or papers to grade. The excuses are plentiful. And even when I do all the things I must to motivate myself (pay for a membership to guilt myself, financially, into working out so I’m not wasting my investment…sign myself up for marathons…schedule out my weekly workout in my planner…) I still talk myself out of it.

For now, it’s really a day-by-day thing. A daily goal to do “something”…anything really. Walk the dog, run, walk, go to the gym and do weights, yoga…whatever.

And I know I’m not the only one. This whole, working full-time, being a mom, being a wife, and trying to have all my sh** together everyday seriously makes a girl feel inadequate on the best of days. I can usually do ONE thing well in a day. My house can be spotless, but I’m still in my pajamas and my son’s played video games all day. I’ve spent time with my kid, but the house is a mess and there’s a giant stack of essays that didn’t get graded. My husband is happily satisfied (more on that later in another post, promise), but the kiddo had to go to grandma’s and the laundry is piled ceiling-high. I’ve just run 3 miles and have worked up an admirable sweat and an adrenaline-caused glow, but I’ll be going to bed at 8:00 leaving all the housework for another day.

So, yes, I know I’m in good company. In fact, I don’t even have it as hard as some moms (especially single, working moms or moms of multiples). And I can admit, that during the summer, when it’s just me and the boy, and I have no work-related constraints, I find it just as difficult to motivate myself to work out.

I have this good friend from junior high who’s running the Boston Marathon today. I’ll be tracking her progress via text today (using a really cool “follow your favorite athlete” app). It’s ladies like her that make me feel hard-pressed to complain. She’s a teacher, too…so she works really hard, multi-tasking like a fiend all day and fulfilling the demands and needs of hundreds of people (mostly young and rather attention-greedy). She teaches athletic classes after work. She has two kids. She runs at 4 in the morning to fit it in. She goes to church. She doesn’t drink. And though I’ve never been there, I suspect she has a nearly immaculate house.

She’s my hero and my nemesis all in one.  And what it comes down to is…every woman has her hurdles to jump, her mountains to climb, her obstacles to overcome. Mine is often self-motivation. I stress easily, criticize myself on a whim, and then find myself tired and irritable, cleaning the house and telling everyone around me to “wait”…including myself.

Life is short. And it’s easily to lose one’s priorities amidst the ocean of readily available obligations. Some of us have better compasses. Others of us, just have to fight through it on a daily basis, reminding ourselves to be kind to ourselves and just keep going.

So, today (don’t know about tomorrow - I’m not setting myself up for failure on this), I’m going to focus on what matters. My family, my friends, my animals, my students, and myself. The living things that care if I forget them, not the inanimate objects and responsibilities that only have a demanding voice because I let them.


Embracing a Messy Life

(This is a throwback post from a prior blog…published 1/28/2014.)

They leave little messes all over the house. They’re there when I get home from work; they’re there when I wake up in the morning. I notice them with a growl and a sigh as I step over them to get to the coffee maker, or move things on the couch so I can sit down and enjoy my first cup. When I walk into my son’s dark bedroom to wake him up, I trip over them. They pile on my office floor. And strewn across the dining room table at any given time, there they sit, making me crazy. Those little clutter piles, shoes, books, drawings, bags, stacks of mail, all the contents of my husband’s pockets…they annoy me to no end. But try as I might, pushing my family to the level of order that I require just doesn’t work.

Oh, they try. Sometimes. But, they forget. Not because they don’t value a clean home (they appreciate that more than they know) and not because they take for granted that mom will take care of it because she’s a neat-freak like that (although I do think they assume that occasionally). No. They just don’t need it to be as tidy as I do. When their stuff is in a pile by the door, it’s easily accessible and won’t need to be found in the morning when they need it. That pile of odds and ends and change from my husband’s pockets? We’ll it’s going right back in, so why would he put it away?

I’m not saying no one should clean up their stuff. I couldn’t breathe if everyone just gave up putting their things in the proper places. And I’m pretty sure they’d all be concerned if I up and stopped the record player that is my litany of requests to “put it where it belongs….and if you can’t find a home for it, you’ll have to get rid of it.” My son has become a genius at finding “homes” for things. For, in his little mind, nothing is meant to be thrown away. Every little scrap of paper, tiny plastic toy, and t-shirt that no longer fits is dear to his heart. And he comes by his “packrat” mentality honestly. My husband is nearly as bad.

And then there’s me. I’d just as soon put it in a bag and drag it to the thrift store as put it away — one. more. time.

That’s not to say that I don’t create my own clutter. Because I surely do. I think they annoyance comes, though, from knowing that I’m the only one who’s is really bothered by it…and therefore, I’ll be the one left to pick it up…or request that it be picked up by someone else. There is actually a chore in our house called “clutter patrol”…and it has to happen on a regular basis. Mostly because the little messes drive me crazy and make it seem as if the house is actually dirty, which it isn’t.

Oh sure…I could really become a Nazi about the whole thing. I could rant and rave and groan and buy bins and label them and neurotically require everyone to put everything away in it’s properly marked spot. But I know that will be an impressive failure. Why? Because even now, the dirty socks sit right beside the laundry bin…on the floor. The back pack is 3 feet from the hook where it should be hanging. The “properly marked spots” already exist. It’s just that no body seems to care about them. Maybe if I made it a game and gave away prizes…or if I added a monetary incentive…or if I threatened someone with an early death…I could get them to put their stuff away…every time.

That got me thinking…why do I try so hard to keep it all together? What exactly is the point? Especially when, no matter what I do, even if I can control my own messy life and keep some semblance of outward order, I most certainly can’t control anyone else’s.

It’s not that I’m planning to stop asking everyone to put their things away. Someone has to do it, after all. But, I can let the little messes stop bothering me so much. I can look away sometimes. Even better, I could learn to embrace them.

After all, every little mess is a reminder that someone I love lives here. Really lives here. They leave their mark all over this house, and in all honesty, if those little messes weren’t here, my house would lack personality. The clutter in our house is evidence that we are here, inhabiting this space, making it our own. I’d much rather have their little messes than not have them and instead have a home that looks like the airbrushed perfection on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens.

That isn’t my life anyway. My life is a blissful, glorious little mess, full of love, and laughter,a nd activity…and we have the clutter to prove it.


"Snuggle Time"

(This is a throwback post, originally posted on a prior blog on Jan. 27, 2014.)

I’m. Not. A. Morning. Person.

I can’t stress that enough.

But…there is something about being awake before the buzz of the day sets in. Before the animals begin requesting to go out or be fed (they all seem to like to sleep in as long as possible these days). And before my son or husband wake.

It’s quiet. All I can hear is the dog snoring at my feet and the cat snoring beside me on the couch. Maybe the tapping of a few claws on the laminate flooring as another cat makes her way from here to there. A lone meow. The humming of the appliances. The soothing waterfall of the fish tank’s filter.

When I wake, there is a routine. There has to be, since my brain must be on autopilot for me to function. I turn on the “less bright” kitchen light, make my coffee, and then shuffle my way to the couch to write by the soft glow of two living room lamps.

I usually have about half an hour of uninterrupted quiet. Which, in any family household, is a blessing and a miracle.

When my son wakes up, I fight the urge to continue writing and remind myself to be present in the moment with him…to suck in every second that he seeks to snuggle with me in the pre-dawn. We’ve been doing this for a long time. It became a tradition several years back when I was trying to come up with ways to spend quality time with my son during our very busy days. I was feeling like a disconnected parent, doing nothing but directing and dictating, just making it through from morning to evening without killing anyone. So, “snuggle time” became a positive way to begin our day. Fifteen solid minutes of one-on-one closeness.

We don’t always talk. Sometimes he tells me about the dreams he had (good or bad). Sometimes we just plan out or discuss the coming day. And it usually ends with him begging for “just one more minute”. Sometimes, it irritates me…because my mind is already abuzz with all the dozens of things that must be accomplished in the next hour for us to get out the door on time. “No…we have to get going, or we’ll be late.”

But, quite honestly, I should cherish that extra minute every single time. There are a lot of things I cannot say yes to. “No, you may not have candy for breakfast.” “No, you may not wear shorts to school in the middle of winter.” Those things are parenting common sense. But, saying, “No, you may not have one more minute of my time…no more of my attention or awareness…it is now time for me to get dressed and make the lunches and put on my make-up and do my hair and run breathless out the front door while dragging you by your unwilling little arm and ranting about how late we are going to be,” seems ludicrous.

So, this morning…and every morning that I can possibly remind myself…I will say yes. “Yes, you may have one more minute of my squeezing and physical contact that you may no longer want in just a few years.”

One more minute is the least I can give. If nothing else positive happens today, at least I can say that we had this time. And I’m grateful for it.


100 books that have changed my life

Every book I read changes me in some way…but a few have made an astounding impact.  Here is my list…in no particular order.  I’ve read them over the course of life.  Some I’ve re-read, some I’ve lost, and some I have kept and hoarded to display on my shelves and make my house feel like a home.  Many of them have traveled in boxes from place to place from my first move to the dorm to my last move in Washington.  Some are classics.  Some are from my childhood.  Some are modern…and even quite silly.  Some are plays, some are collections of poetry.  And every one has changed me in some way…big enough to leave an impression that I would remember forever.  Of course, some of the books below are by authors whose works I love and have read everything they’ve written…I just chose the work that is the most memorable to me (not always their best known or most read).

This actually isn’t a bad activity for any reader.  It’s like a walk down memory lane…or talking to an old friend.  It took me a few days to create this list…deleting, adding, changing.  I really had to think.  But it’s a living list and will change as I continue to read.  After nearly 30 years of reading, I’ve accumulated a list that I’m fairly proud of.

My Top 100 - 

1.Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice

2.Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

3.The Diary of Anais Nin - Anais Nin

4.Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller

5.The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

6.The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

7.The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway

8.Hard Times - Charles Dickens

9.Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare

10.Vanity Fair - William Thackery

11.Emma - Jane Austen

12.Prozac Nation - Elizabeth Wertzel

13.Go Ask Alice - Anonymous

14.The Cat in the Mirror - Mary Stolz

15.The Dollhouse Murders - Betty Ren Wright

16.An Unquiet Mind - Kay Redfield Jamison

17.The Kiss - Kathryn Harrison

18.Refuge - Terry Tempest Williams

19.The Blessing - Richard Jones

20.Flowers of Evil - Charles Baudelaire

21.A Daughter’s Latitude - Karen Swenson

22.Hinge & Sign - Heather McHugh

23.Animal Farm - George Orwell

25.The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

26.O Pioneers! - Willa Cather

27.Affluenza - DeGraaf, Wann, Naylor

28.On Writing - Stephen King

29.Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

30.The Giver - Lois Lowry

31.Tunes for Bears to Dance To - Robert Cormier

32.Collected Poems - Rimbaud

33.Muscular Music - Terrance Hayes

34.A Natural History of Love - Diane Ackerman

35.Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott

36.Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver

37.Collected Poems - Sylvia Plath

38.Paradise Lost - John Milton

39.A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh

40.The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton

41.I, Claudius - Robert Graves

42.The Rainbow - D.H. Lawrence

43.Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

44.Howard’s End - E.M. Forster

45.Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

46.Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

47.Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

48.The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan

49.South of Heaven - Thomas French

50.Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf

51.Roman Fever - Edith Wharton

52.Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

53.Anne of Green Gables - Lucy Montgomery

54.Rebecca - Daphne de Maurier

55.The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka

56.Wings of the Dove - Henry James

57.The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

58.Outlander - Diana Gabaldon

59.The Horse Whisperer - Nicholas Evans

60.Where the Heart Is - Billie Letts

61.Snow Falling on Cedars - David Gutterson

62.The River Why - David James Duncan

63.Haunted - Chuck Palahniuk

64.The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein

65.Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

66.Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

67.To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

68.Lord of the Flies - William Golding

69.The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

70.Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson

71.White Fang - Jack London

72.The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

73.Harry Potter… - J.K. Rowling

74.Hungry for the World - Kim Barnes

75.Beloved - Toni Morrison

76.A Lesson Before Dying - Ernest Gaines

77.Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

78.The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein

79.Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

80.Carrie - Stephen King

81.Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston

82.The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe

83.The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

84.The Trouble with Poetry - Billy Collins

85.Utopia - Sir Thomas More

86.The Total Money Makeover - Dave Ramsey

87.Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard

88.Mariette in Ecstacy - Ron Hansen

89.Housekeeping - Marilyn Robinson

90.The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley

91.The Reader - Bernhard Schlink

92.The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - John Boyne

93.The Book of Ruth - Jane Hamilton

94.Talk Before Sleep - Elizabeth Berg

95.Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

96.The Thirtieth Year - Ingeborg Bachmann

97.Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt

98.Bridget Jones’ Diary - Helen Fielding

99.White Oleander - Janet Fitch

100.Beowulf - Seamus Heany


The Power of Words

I had a dream the other night that a student challenged me on the importance of reading literature (go figure…I’ve never had a student do that before).  She was a prototype student - a conglomeration of every kid who ever looked at me in defiance and questioned, “Why do we have to do this?”  Of course, in my dreams I’m always full of inspiring speeches…so I went off on this child with a rant of the century that went something like this:

Why is it important to read literature, you ask?  Because words are power.  The right words spoken  or written at precisely the right time can change the world.  Think of the great speeches:  Four score and seven years ago, I will fight no more forever, I have a dream, Ask not what you can do for your country…Speeches are nothing but words written and spoken at the right time by the right people…and they changed everything.  Maybe not directly.  But they shifted people’s thinking.  Validated their feelings.  Created an emotional unity.  They produced ideas.  They sparked plans.  And those people and ideas HAVE directly changed the world.

Words can lead to revolutions. (Thank you, Thomas Paine…Susan B. Anthony, MLK, Jr….)  They are activism at its finest (ahem…Pablo Neruda?).

And it doesn’t have to be instant.  Words can stew for years.  And then rise up out of the pit of your stomach and leap forth with such force you’ll wonder how you could have missed them for so  long.  They hide.  They sneak up on you.

For example, you might read a novel and one line grabs you.  It smacks you in the face.  You connect, you commit, you address your confusion.  That line is now a part of you.  It will never leave you.   

It might be a whole chapter, a whole book, a poem, a speech, the lyrics of a favorite song.  But the words that grab you don’t ever let go.  They shape your thoughts, your character, your life.

Words lead to war.  They can hurt, leaving an indelible impression more lasting that a slap to the face or a bruise to the skin.

Words can heal, they can answer, they can question, they can manipulate, shock, make you laugh (politicians, teachers, lawyers, activists, and advertisers are geniuses at this).

Words are dangerous.  They can be banned a hundred times over, but they cannot be silenced.  Once they are spoken, or written, they are out there.  Like a virus, they multiply and infest, if only underground.  There is nothing like being forbidden to lend words even more power and dedicated readership).

Words are infectious.  They can be beautiful, damaging, precise, vague.  They can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misrepresented (pretty much every religious text out there falls under this category).  They can transcend, mutate, evolve.

Words have been with us forever.  Without them, we would not be human.  Language allows us to communicate.  From words, culture is born - art, music, theatre, film, conversation. Words allow us to communicate specifically.  We can name our world, our feelings, our needs, our desires.

So, yes, literature is important.  In fact, it is imperative.  Without it, our culture, our history, and our shared experience would not exist.  You would not exist.  I would not exist.

Our understanding of the world around us is created through language.  So reading these books, these speeches and documents…is more important than some might think.

In Howard’s End, the main character wishes to “only connect.”  It is the prime objective of humanity, to connect.  We do this through language.  The themes of life, the great ideas, the questions and the answers have all come to us through words.

In my dream, the student is silenced.  She looks down at her lap and harrumphs.  But she opens her book.  And she does not argue.  She doesn’t have to.  I have the language to name her behavior.  And it is understanding.  It is connection.  Between us.  Unspoken language is sometimes just as powerful as the spoken.

The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.  It has led to many a battle and many a compromise.  And it will continue to do so for as long as we humans exist.

When I woke up, after this dream, I remembered that many years ago, I used to keep a word list.  I collected words like a lepidopterist collects rare butterfly species.  I looked constantly, open always to the ecstatic experience (as Emily Dickinson suggested) of finding new words.  Nabakov’s Lolita was probably the first time I noticed the abundant complexity of language.  I came across so many words I didn’t know that I began reading with an open dictionary next to me (I didn’t feel so bad when I figured out that many of those “unknown” words were Nabakov’s personal concoctions).  I started writing the words down.  After that, my inclination was to obsessively hunt down every word I didn’t know.  Obviously, it’s a hopeless goal.  But a noble one, I suppose.

I don’t hunt for them as much anymore.  But, I do collect them still.  Because if words are power, then knowing more of them is probably a good idea.  It’s like creating an armory for your intellect.

"Words are the voice of the heart." - Confucius

"A bad word whispered will echo a hundred miles." - Chinese Proverb

"Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few." - Pythagoras

"Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality." - Edgar Allen Poe


The poet’s impact

This a “throwback” post from a few years back - New Year’s…

I’m sensitive to language.  Always have been.  Words can hit me harder than fists.  They grab deep into my gut and rip out my liver.  They seduce and enrapture.  Yes, I wax poetic.  Maybe my prose is purple (I have certainly been admonished for that).  But, words are pretty damned important to me.

Today, mid-afternoon, I am enjoying a glass of leftover New Year’s champagne…the really good stuff with a screw cap that reseals.  I’m joking.  But, I’m not joking about the phenomenal text I’m reading.  (Really, how perfect can this afternoon get, a brand new t-shirt and jeans, an adult beverage, a new book on my kindle, a sleeping toddler, and a blue sky…it’s cold as hell outside, and the only thing that could make this any better is a roaring fire in a fireplace that I don’t have.)

So, I’ll share a bit of what impressed me: (taken from Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life) -

I came as a thief to the poet’s ball.  I envied the way they could make language smoke and burn and give off a bright light of sanctuary.  The great ones could fill what was empty in me.  In the vast repository of language, the poets never shout at you when you pass them by.  Theirs is a seductive, meditative art.  They hand you a file to cut your way out from any prison of misrule.

On my writing desk, I always keep the poets close by, and I reach for them when those silver, mountain-born creeks go dry or when exhaustion rearranges the furniture of my fear-chambered heart.  The poets force me back toward the writing life, where the trek takes you into the interior where the right word hides like an ivory-billed woodpecker in the branches of the highest pine.

Poetry is like that for me, too.  Both reading it and writing it can be a painfully cathartic and life-altering epiphany.  Like Conroy, The poets sit closest to my writing space.  Right above my eye line…I look up to them and gaze their ranks.  On my shelf reside the countless hours of blood, sweat, and anxious searching of Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Robert Wrigley, Billy Collins, Chaucer, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker, Sharon Olds, Karen Swenson, Heather McHugh, and Richard Jones…just to name a few.

They are instant therapy…at less than 20 bucks a piece.  They ask questions deeper and more thoughtful than any shrink would dare to ask.  And sometimes, they answer.  Which is more than I can say for a lot of psychologists and psychiatrists.  Plus, they add insight and experience instead of asking, “How does that make you feel?”  Bonus.

Maybe a few new books of poetry are in order for the new year.

"There are years that ask questions and years that answer." - Zora Neale Hurston

May this be a year of both.  Happy New Year.

"I wish you would read a little poetry sometimes.  Your ignorance cramps my conversation." - Anthony Hope Hawkins ;-)  (I first saw this quote in the signature line in the email of one of my best friends.  Thanks for that, A.  It always made me smile.)


dear “certain” tumblr “followers,”

i do not care
that u r a leo

or that u r
a “gender-fluid
pansexual”
(i wuzn’t aware
that labels
had grown so
unwieldy)

it duz not matter
that u r 18
and “like catz”
(as if that were
somehow ironic
or existential)

y do u feel the need
to introduce urself
like a menu:

"hi, i’m jennaveeve"
(apparently ur mother
didn’t read,
either)…

…”i’m an cosmatolgyst by day,
a writer by night”…
(sharing only other people’s
quotes, memes, and gifs)…

…”i like art and music
and am a post-modern
feminist”
(because apparently
this makes u deep
and more aware of
something)

i’d be more likely
to fall in love with u
if u told me
u liked to let
raspberry popsicles
slowly melt between
ur fingers
so u could 
watch the blue
pioneer tiny rivers
parallel to ur veins

Write to me
like a poet
and I’ll follow you
like a hungry
scavenger
sucking up
what u have
left behind.

But if all you have
to offer is
a demonstration of
how well you can
click a heart
in the corner of
a post,

or sing your own
praises like a
dirge song,
black, intense,
and limitlessly
vapid,

or fill the screen with
insipid, cliche love
lamentations,

I have no use for you,
your clear-cutting syntax,
your disrespect for
the rules of English
or your uncommitted
attempts at connecting.

This is not what
was intended.

(poetry-at-dawn@tumblr.com)


Argument over reading Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to kids…

image

Several months back, I ran into this little “gem” of a debate on Brain, Child. It’s funny, because I’ve actually considered the issue before. 

I loved the book as a kid. And I still love it, though…much like Huck Finn…it has to be read in context and used as a teaching tool for kids. It’s a lovely story, with an interesting ending and can be interpreted in so many ways (isn’t that what makes great literature?). So saying that we shouldn’t read it to our kids is asinine. Like anything we share with our kids, we should do it responsibly - and with gusto. Opening our kids eyes to the complexity of story while they are young is the best way to make them analytical readers and thinkers throughout life. Sheltering them from things because “they might get the wrong idea” (i.e. not the dogma we want planted in their head) is just plain ignorant.

When my son was little and I read this story to him, it was just a story…about a boy and a tree. And we talked about the poor tree. And we talked about the greedy boy. And we talked about what time does to things…eventually bringing everything to it’s inevitable end. Karma? Forgiveness? 

And as he got older, our conversations about the story got a little more intense. We talked about taking advantage of things, asking for too much, not saying please and thank you, entitlement, etc. Yes…he’s 6. He was maybe 4 when these conversations began. And he got it. I didn’t plant the ideas…I asked guiding questions and let him analyze the story and make sense of it himself.

To assume our children are too “dumb” to get the complexity of a deceptively simple story like this is foolhardy. Our kids are a hell of a lot smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. And a hell of a lot more “human” than a lot of adults who might also read this story, get it, and ignore it’s implications. Kids drink it in. They learn values and morals and how to connect through literature like this.

Why would I ever keep my son from such an important cultural text, just because someone decided it was a sexist plot to encourage young men to take advantage of their mothers and other women (who society has “obviously” pigeonholed into being “giving trees” who never stand up for themselves and give every part of themselves to those they love)?

When readers force an interpretation on a text, it is in the best interest of other readers to come up with their own. 

And talk about it. Debate. Learn. 

That, my friends, it one of the greatest values of literature.

Here are the links to the latest debates on the book:

"Reading The Giving Tree to Our Kids: Two Perspectives"

"Is The Giving Tree Good for Our Kids? Moms Face Off"


15 authors who’ll always stick with me

(a Facebook chain letter - “throwback post”)

So, I don’t bite on these FB things very often, but when it’s about stuff like this, it’s hard to resist.  A friend of mine sent me her list, which I enjoyed reading, and it led me to thinking instantly about my own list.  All sort of authors flooded my mind.  But this is the narrowed down list:

Childhood:

1)  Beverly Cleary:  As far back as I can remember…Cleary was a favorite.Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and the Ramona Quimby books were some of my favorite reads of all time.  I’m sure these books motivated me, in part, to become a very young, motivated reader.

2)  Shel Silverstein:  ummm…duh.  What kid hasn’t enjoyed Silverstein’s imaginative and humorous poetry and the sad tale of a boy and a tree (one of my all time favorite books: The Giving Tree).

3) Louisa May Alcott:  my love affair with Alcott began with the expected choice, Little Women.  I’ve never forgotten this book, and I’ve re-read it dozens of times at different stages in my life.  It is poignant, simple, and beautiful.  A true classic in every regard.

4) Lucy Maud Montgomery - that saucy, mischievous red-headed Anne swept my imagination right out to the fields and down the dusty dirt roads she traversed.  The Anne of Green Gables series stole my heart, and remains there still.  A perfect literary world for a young girl to explore the disappointments and promises of adolescence.

5) J.R.R. Tolkien- it all started with The Hobbit.  Later in life, I would revisit my old flame in Medieval Literature.  Rick Fehrenbacher…a fab, yet unconventional professor at the University of Idaho, used this course to teach, by backdoor method, the works of Tolkien, which, though not medieval themselves, were based on elements of and his study of early literature.

The teen years:

6) Daphne de Maurier - 8th grade honors English…we read Rebecca, and I can remember vividly hating the cover of the book.  I was not at all convinced that I would like it.  The boys were even less impressed with the teacher’s choice.  We took it home to do our first night’s reading assignment, and everyone of us returned, changed children, ready to continue with vigor.  I have always loved this book (and the film wasn’t too shabby, either).

7) Christopher Pike - my love of horror grew to exponential heights during my early years of high school.  It’s probably fairly common…and Pike is the perfect weekend read for a kid.  Just enough scary, just enough drama, it’s like the pre-cursor to “I know what you did last summer”, but better.  Or at least that’s the way I remember it.

8) Anne Rice puts Stephanie Meyer to shame when it comes to creating a realistic world of Vampires and their interactions with the human world.  When I picked up Interview with a Vampire, my world spun around, and my reading tastes took a giant leap into the risque.

9) Charlotte Bronte - I remember the first time I finished Jane Eyre.  It was well into the middle of the night.  I was probably 14.  And when I reached the final word, I literally threw the book on the floor and cried.  I was so angry at the ending.  But, of course, I hadn’t learned to love the haunting nature of unhappy ending yet.

10) Stephen King - while I don’t find him very extraordinary anymore, I can’t leave him off the list, because I was obsessed with his books in high school, especially the early ones.

11) Marion Zimmer Bradley- I’ve always been into Arthurian legend.  But Bradley brought it to new heights.  I loved her version of the story so much that I bought the book (The Mists of Avalon) for every one of my friends at the time.

The college years:

12) Anais Nin/Henry Miller - I’m cheating, I know, but they are like two very different sides of the same coin.  I can’t remember when I found Nin.  It could have been in late high school.  I remember hearing her name while watching The Bridges of Madison County - something to the effect of, “Wow, our mother was a regular Anais Nin.” I was intrigued, so I looked her up.  I became more intrigued.  And then I began to read.  I haven’t stopped.  And of course, one can’t read Nin without encountering Miller.  Crass, arrogant, and brilliant.  He’s a must read.  I’ve collected nearly all of their books via used book stores over the years.

13) Terry Tempest Williams - I first opened one of Williams’ books in a college class (I forget which one).  It was Refuge, a memoir of her battle with cancer juxtaposed with the recession of the  Great Salt Lake and surrounding bird sanctuary.  It was undeniably beautiful and transformative.

14) Kim Barnes - I feel blessed to say that Kim Barnes was one of my teachers.  I took her Creative Non-Fiction course as a graduate student and felt completely out of my league as a Literature, Technical Writing and Education major.  I wasn’t sure I could measure up to the talent surrounding me.  But, Kim was a gentle, yet firm guide.  I learned a lot from her, and read the first of her memoirs, Into the Wilderness, while I was taking her class.  All I can say is that it was unbelievable, and I felt much closer to her after I finished it.  I have since read her second memoir, and hope to someday see the third that she planned to finish off the trilogy.  I am sad to say to say that I have not been as blown away by her fiction.

15) David Gutterson was my introduction to the Northwest.  Snow Falling on Cedars felt like a haunting memory of a place I had always known, though I’d never been.  I took a course on The Northwest Novel with Ron MacFarland, and did my author study on Gutterson, reading all of his works to complete the project.  I didn’t regret my choice.

And because I just couldn’t manage to narrow it down any further, I’m going to cheat and add a few for my post-college years -

Diana Gabaldon - good lord that woman can write…and write…and write.  I bought all of her books in paperback simply because the hard covers were too big and unwieldy.

 and

Dan Brown - could. not. put. his. books. down.  And I’m pretty hard to impress anymore.  His books have all been weekend (or week) reads.  Little else gets done, when a Brown book is waiting on my nightstand.

And two that I just didn’t know where to put -

Ernest Hemingway - I don’t remember when I fell in love with Ernest.  But I did.  So here he is.  The Old Man and the Sea, “Hills Like White Elephants”, A Moveable Feast…too many to mention.

And Mark Twain - I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this guy.  The first time I read Huck Finn,  I yawned.  The second time, I drooled.  And then I took a course in college that helped me muddle my way through the text in a much more sensitive way.  I told the professor up front that I hated the novel.  He told me to just give it one more try.  With his guidance, I saw the novel, and the writer, for what they truly were - pure genius.  Ever since, Huck Finn has been a dear literary friend.


The myth of the muse

Creativity is a certain tenuous type of lunacy.  A psychotic episode, lasting moments or a lifetime.

The desire and ability waxes and wanes…it cycles…it revolves and has the power to move oceans.  It lights up the night — sometimes so brightly it keeps me (and everyone else in the house) awake.  Sometimes, I can’t see it for all the clouds in the sky, or because it is just a small sliver of silver against a vast background of black nothingness. 

Sometimes the drive to write eradicates the need to do pretty much anything else (including shower or eat - much to the chagrin of those who share my space).  And sometimes it abandons me utterly.

The muse is a fickle lover…or a beautiful excuse.

Most often, like everything else that I avoid doing, excuses drive my lack of production.  The same thing that keeps me off the treadmill keeps the pen on my desk.  Laziness.

I do not believe in the muse.  I believe in routine, hard-work, and plodding forward even when I don’t want to and everything spilling on to the page is ghastly crap I’d never share with anyone.

Most writers who make their living by the light of a laptop would probably agree.  Waiting for a muse to invoke imagination and inspiration might be possible if one never really intended to write.  But if writing and producing is the goal, then writing on demand is necessary.  Writing daily, for a set period of time.  And if, like me, there are dozens of other tasks at hand and a “day job”…writing daily, for a short period of time, will have to suffice.  

Living the writing life entails writing.  Not just talking about it.

"One reason I don’t suffer Writer’s Block is that I don’t wait on the muse, I summon it at need." 

—Piers Anthony


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