Wednesday Wonders: Door of Doom Update

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This will be a short post. The door is done! Done! (I ache to replace the hardware with silver but have no more oomph for that sort of insanity.)

For now, I’m back to my usual groove of teaching and writing. A new quarter begins this Monday and I am gearing up for a poetry workshop followed by my favorite retreat of the year.

The home improvement stores can rest easy once more.

From the blasted start to the blessed finish:

 

Wednesday Wonders: How to Get Yourself to Write

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How to get yourself to write in nine easy steps:

  1. Tell yourself to take the week off.
  2. Give yourself some terrible, awful, no good house chore that you think will be fun like painting your front door. (Simple laundry or bathroom cleaning chores won’t work. It must be something dreadful.)
  3. Ask at least three cranky over-worked and underpaid home improvement store workers how to paint over a (maybe) oil-based stain.
  4. Take the cranky advice and buy super toxic striper that has dire warnings on the can.
  5. Follow all the advice about cleaning and wearing chemical proof gloves. (Here you will begin to wish you were writing already. I swear. It’s like magic.)
  6. Attempt to strip the door. Despair quickly at the 2 hours it takes to remove stain from a 4 X 12 inch section.
  7. Wait two days and try not to hate yourself for the terrible, awful, no good idea to paint that raser-fracking door with the impossible lion carving, of all the ridiculous things. You know you will never get that lion striped. Never.  (Here you will sneak in some research and a coffee shop write. No joke.) 
  8. Whine to your sympathetic, wise, and not-at-all cranky mother.
  9. Take her advice and do it ANOTHER WAY. While you are sanding those snarling lions, you will mentally compose a blog post about the whole adventure and look forward fondly to the time when you will go back to teaching and writing as usual.

In all honesty, those steps are about as easy as pulling your toenails off with the screwdrivers you used to loosen the second door. But they work.

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Wednesday Wonders: The Conceit of Blue Snake Poetry

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Warning: This post has reptiles. If slithering snakes give you the heebie jeebies, you may want to skip this one. 

For my birthday this year, I went to see the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, WA. From this trip with my husband and six-year-old, I managed to squeeze a poem.

I suppose I should start by saying that poetry has been haunting me lately. It started when my friend Lorie Ann Grover posted that she’d be teaching at a poetry camp in Bellingham this October. The idea of it intrigued me and reminded me that, once upon a time, I thought poetry would be my thing. I considered signing up and then poetry was suddenly everywhere.

When I went to Seattle, I even saw it on the side of a bus demanding that I “Write a Poem” in letters so bold and big I could not ignore them. I gave in to the universe and registered to go to that camp. (Apparently, poetry on buses is a thing. It even has it’s own website.)

Then a free online class popped up in one of my newsletters. I began the course with Douglas Kearney at the California Institute of the Arts.

In the third module, I came up against the assignment to write a conceit–a metaphor that makes the reader stretch into the ridiculous. An example of this is The Flea by John Donne where the poet compares a parasite to the marriage bed. It would embarrass me to explain the connection but here is a clear explanation of what that far-from-prude Donne was going on about.

I thought of how I would write my own conceit and what sort of ridiculous connection I could make of my own and decided to tie together reptiles with poems since they seem so far apart and since I knew I would make the trek to Monroe.

I let those ideas hang loose in my mind as we made the hour and a half drive from our home through some seriously traffic infested areas of our state. I don’t remember where but somewhere along the line, I came on the idea of skin shedding and writing a poem. By the time we got to the zoo, I was set to look for more information on snakes and how I could use them in my poem.

I’ve said it before but one of the best parts of the writing life is the way it brings meaning and focus to every moment of my life even when I am not sitting at the keyboard or with a pen in my hand. 

After my field study (which my six-year-old enjoyed even more than I did), I researched snakes geeked out on how they shed their skin.

Pasted far below you can see what I came up with. It’s still a draft and it scares me to post it here. Poetry has a personal exposure for me that my prose does not. But I like those snakes and this particular exuviae enough to take the risk.

May you find your own conceits in the adventures of your day-

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In the Blue

 

Skin dull

Spectacle covered

Opaque

Blue

 

Blind with nervous behavior

Not eating

(Or eating baked Cheetos by the pound).

 

Seeking rough surfaces

Like coffee

Or long walks

Or daydreams

In the red minivan

On the way to the Reptile Zoo

 

Molting at last

The exuviae

Shed on the page

 

Poem written

Ecdysis over

 

The poet’s skin

Shines vibrant now

Larger

More colorful than before

 

And the spectacle

Is transparent once more

Wednesday Wonders: Seeking Life’s Rhythm

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Last night, the director kept stopping us in that annoying way that band leaders have.

“We’ve got to get those triplets sharp. Some of you are thinking you can just slip through them at a relaxed pace and it’s throwing us off,” he said.

“I am not in a parade up here waving at you like a princess from a float.” Here he wiggled his fingers at us like he does when he needs the whole note people to shush so the melody people with their quieter instruments could get heard.

And then he would have us practice. Again. Start at measure forty seven. Again.

We didn’t always get it exactly right. But he made us repeat until it was at least better. After three or four or more times, we got a little more together or the parts balanced each other out. If we remember to do it that way on concert day, it will be a lovely small miracle.

The band isn’t the only place where we humans in community need to be in sync or to quiet down so others can be heard. 

I just got off of teaching our last quarter this August 17th. This summer more than any before it, I felt the distinct pain of working through the time when other teachers are off. I have never had three whole months like many teachers get, but our college used to line up better with the K12 rhythm when we finished at the end of July.

I am not complaining, exactly. I adore my time off and there are even benefits to getting out so late. I will have time to help my kids get going in their own schools. I get to enjoy fall in ways that many others might not with day trips to the mountain while others are gearing up for their new school year.

But I feel apart. Separate. A little like I am playing triplets that don’t match the ones played in the next section. Or worse. Like that one instrument that comes in during the measure when the whole band has a rest.

This asynchronous rest of mine has taught me something. It matters when I am together with the group. There is a power in the rhythm of habits for writing and music practice that gets even stronger when others work along with me.

I am not going to whine about it (much more). Instead, I am going to remember that lesson the next time I am in charge of my own schedule.

May you find joy in the rhythms of your community-

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P.S. We’ll be playing at the Showplace Stage near the Blue Gate on Thursday, September 8th and Monday, September 19th from 7:00-7:30 . Come by if you’d like to hear whether we remember what the director said.

We’ll play Hogan’s Heroes, The King and I, and the Pink Panther along with a few others.

Finally, for just a little extra, here’s one of my all time favorites on rhythm and what it’s like to align with an even greater song.

Wednesday Wonders: On Breaking Rules

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I once cut in line.

It wasn’t that long ago.

I was following my six-year-old and eager to see the clouded leopard cubs at the Point Defiance Zoo. Not realizing that the ten-foot wide mass of moving children and parents actually signaled a place to wait patiently, I chased my own little boy up past the crowd straight to where a zoo worker stood, patiently holding back the mob and letting a trickle of people in to see the baby critters in their enclosure behind a protective wall of glass.

“Um, you have to wait your turn,” the soft-spoken young woman in the zoo uniform said to my back after I had passed her and peered toward the cubs with Quinton pulling me at full speed.

At this point my teenager, who could see there was a line, had abandoned us in embarrassment. He went to the back of the mass of humans and waited for us to join him there.

I stepped back to where the young woman was, still not realizing I had cut and trying to wrap my brain around what was happening while dragging along a squirming kid.

“Did you just cut in front of all these people?” a lady asked in a voice that carried across the chaos and made everyone turn to look at me.

As she spoke these words, she looked down on me in utter disdain. She reminded me a little of Mr. Dursley in female form with short cropped hair and the air of someone who always followed the rules would never dream of having a squirming kid.

I didn’t make eye contact with the much taller woman. Instead, I turned to the young zoo worker with long blonde hair.

“Is there a line?” I asked her in a half whisper.

She smiled kindly at me and nodded.

I mumbled something about not knowing that, stammering about a need for more signs even as I knew I was in the wrong.

I literally hung my head, still holding on to my boy and making my way back to the teenager.

We moved on to the tigers, never getting to really see the cubs that day.

Yesterday, something happened that reminded me of that moment only this time I was the Dursley lady.

Quinton and I made the trek up to our favorite mountain lake at the top of Chinook Pass. Lake Tipsoo sits in a place full of traffic where thousands of travelers stop at the crest of the highway. In the past the tourists trampled it, but now the rangers and signs guard the area, telling all  to kindly stay on the paths rather than kill the wildflowers, butterflies and tadpoles with our clomping feet.

I spent a good deal of motherly energy teaching Q how important it is to walk gently so we all can enjoy the beauty.

Right before we left, he insisted we go back to view the tadpoles one last time and see if we could find that salamander who hides under the foot bridge.

“Mom! There’s a lady in the water!” Quinton said as we got to our favorite spot.

Sure enough. Some foolish and uninformed woman stood up to the middle of her calves in previously untouched mud. She had not seen or ignored all the signs telling her not to wade, not to touch, and not to leave the path. She was squashing the tadpole territory and looked like she enjoyed doing it.

I did not make a cutting comment to her. I did not, as my son suggested, tell her not to do that.

I took his hand and we left even as she spoke to my son about how cute the tadpoles were. I got the feeling she thought I was a mean mom for not letting him get a better look.

In my head, I was furious and didn’t trust that I could say anything to her without making the whole situation worse.

I wish I could have said something kind and true to her, but even as I imagine it, I can’t come up with a good thing to say.

So, dear readers, here are my writing prompts for you today:

Non-fiction

When did you break a social rule like cutting in line or stepping off the path? Did someone point it out to you? How did that go?

When did you see a rule broken and it hurt your heart? What did you do? 

Fiction

When did your character break a rule or see a rule broken? What happened next?

And if you ever successfully pointed out a transgression with a kind heart, I’d sure love to hear about that!

May you walk gently and get to see the leopard cubs,

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Wednesday Wonders: When You’re Not Done Yet

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Have you ever thought you were done? And then you weren’t?

Yesterday, I thought, was my last day of this never-ending summer quarter at school. I woke up early, eager to get to the day.

I took a shower, fed the critters, and shocked the coffee shop I go to by getting there two hours before my usual. I couldn’t stand the thought of writing at home when I had my last day waiting for me, so I plunked myself down at a small round Starbuck’s table to scribble away before driving on in to work.

I arrived at the school at 6:30 am, thinking I would catch up on all the last minute details and then use a few personal hours to take today off.

But I am not done. I have a staff meeting today, it turns out.

It will be fine. We’ll debrief what we’ve done this year and make excellent plans for the fall.

But I really did think yesterday was it. I’ve had the 16th set in my mind for months.

This tiny tale of a mistaken ending leads me to my latest idea for the blog. 

A friend and I have begun to meet and talk and free-write together over tea. We usually pick a writing prompt and then use it to write about the characters in our current works in progress.

So, my blog-reading friends, here is a prompt for you, should you choose to use it:

When did you think you were done but then discovered you had more to do?

Or for your work of fiction:

When has your character thought she had reached the end, only to discover that she had another day (or more) to go? 

May you finish all your work in good time and then know rest-

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Wednesday Wonders: Stretching Some Sentence Skills

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Not too long ago, I was correcting papers and wishing the writers would not be so inventive with their sentence structures and vocabulary.

I would see something with a phrase, a comma, or an unfamiliar word like ‘thalassemia’ and sigh.

I had an prickly sense that something was off but wasn’t strong enough on the structure to make the fix without some checking. Only after looking up the words and the grammatical structures, could I make the right corrections.

I thought to myself: “If I were writing, I would never have tried it this way.”

Then it occurred to me.

If I stick to only what I know, I won’t grow in style or ability. The writers making those mistakes did me a favor by making me stretch.

Pricilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor also pushed me with the suggestion that I take a sentence from another writer and make it my own. To do this, I must carefully examine how the writer creates the sentence and then craft my own sentence in the same form.

I chose two lines from ‘Welding with Children’ by Tim Gautreaux.

“Tuesday was about typical. My four daughters, not a one of them married, you understand, brought over their kids, one each, and explained to my wife how much fun she was going to have looking after them again.”

The first structure is something I might write on any given day. It’s simple with a subject, verb, and adjective phrase.

The second sentence structure never would have come to me with its interruptions and commas sprinkled all over the place. It’s the kind of thing that gives a grammar teacher headaches, and, yet, it works so well to give voice to Gautreaux’s character and set the stage for his conflict.

Here is my version, using that same foundation, worked through with the meaning of another story:

Football night was the usual. My new friend Susie, never one to worry about style, you know, fiddled with her neon spirit hats, two of course, and listened while Josie the cheerleader was babbling at me once more.

It’s turtle-slow work, this sort of sentence skill building. I know, for example, that the last verb form I used is not quite the same as the original version, but I couldn’t quite make it work. And I sure wouldn’t want to craft like this while trying to make a word count.

Still, I do like it. I like the stretch from both proofing those papers and the sentence work. Language  holds more twists and blind corners than I figure I’ll ever have time to explore.

That’s just the way I like it.

May you stretch in words and other ways-

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