Tag Archives: Writing

May 25 – Lost Then Found

By Letty Watt

With eyes still sleepy I turned on the computer this morning to write. No plans on the calendar for anything but ‘write.’ I thumbed through books looking for inspiration from which to write a new “Found” poem. My eyes widened with a page showing words that matched my soul today, then my husband asked, “What’s for breakfast?” “Oh, hum. Let’s see.”

One hour later I’d lost my direction. By then we were in the yard in the cool of the morning. The wheels in my husband’s brain churned. Like the dog at my side, I waited. Then he pointed to the birdseed under the tree, and said, “Let’s start this project now while it’s cool, and then finish it over the weekend.”

I raked and vacuumed. I know. Not words we commonly use to describe gardening, but the birdseed needed to be removed. That was my chore. Near noon my job was done, and a shower refreshed me. He returned from Lowe’s with bags of topsoil and mulch; his job tomorrow.

Clean and invigorated I headed to my “Art Gecko” room to write, and no sooner sat down when I heard these words, “Before you get comfortable what do you say we fix a bite to eat?” “Sure,” I smiled half-heartedly.

I must admit my everything salad tasted delicious. What better combination than lettuce, leftover bacon, cheese, avocado, lamb from a Greek sandwich, and salsa? Jack devoured leftover grilled chicken.

“Now,” I said to myself, “I must write.” It took another hour before I ‘Found’ my poem. Thanks to SCN and Kitty McCord my brain and I have been delightfully entertained with a new format in poetry called “Found Poetry.” Today I finished my series of classes from Kitty and felt accomplished and yet empty. Kitty responded to my every poem with deeply thought-out descriptions of what I’d written. She lifted my writing soul and created a new focus to look at the written word differently.

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The idea in “Found Poetry” is exactly what it says. It is the art of finding the words on a page, from a book, newspaper, magazine, or other poems, and using the order given write a poem that has no connection to what the actual story describes. In other words, a poem that means the opposite from the context of the page.

Today, even though I lost a lot of time, I found time to write. I thank Kitty for sending me these words that pushed me. This is why I love art. There’s no test, there’s no formula, there’s really nothing that decides you are an artist, except you have to do it. Talent is having to do it. That’s all we know. If you have to write, you are talented. Period.

Writing soothes Letty Watt’s soul and clears her mind. She began writing a weekly blog over five years ago, with the purpose of building a repertoire of stories for telling aloud, but things changed. Now she writes because stories hidden in the recesses of her mind are begging to get out into the world. Check out her blog, Literally Letty, at https://literallyletty.blogspot.com.

 

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May 13 – Shaping Words

By Sara Etgen-Baker

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Winifred Christine Stainbrook-Etgen

Before giving birth, Mother undoubtedly read child development books and baby-proofed her house. But no one could tell her what to anticipate. No one could tell her that the little girl she’d soon birth would come with a personality all her own and it would often run in direct opposition to her own.

I guess what got me thinking about Mother was a Mother’s Day keepsake the six-year-old me prepared for her in school. Our teacher mimeographed pictures for us to color; I selected the rose picture and colored the roses red because Mother’s favorite flower was red roses. When I ran across the keepsake in one of my scrapbooks, my mind was flooded with memories of Mother.

I remember the summer I picked plums with her from the tree beside our house and made plum jelly. I remember walking with her to the nearby corner store, buying a package of M&Ms, and washing them down with a diet Dr. Pepper. I remember her making me peanut butter sandwiches; combing the tangles out of my wispy, fine, hair; and making me wear the itchy, frilly dresses that she made. I remember the five-year-old me sitting on her lap while she read me books. The older me remembers her reading the dictionary to me every night.

“Words are powerful,” she repeatedly said. “Learn their meanings, how to spell them, and how to use them properly.” The teenage me half-heartedly listened as she impressed upon me, “Choose your words carefully and kindly when conversing with others.”

Mothers Day Card FrontFrom kindergarten on, she dropped me off at school. As she drove away, she rolled down the window and said, “Remember, you’re smart. You’ll do well in school.” Whenever I wrote a paper for any class, she always read it before I turned it in. Rather than offering criticism, she asked, “Is this your best effort?” Even now, her words echo in my mind whenever I’m critiquing or editing my own writing. Her methodology gave me confidence by teaching me to measure my own abilities and efforts from an internal standard and compass.

Mothers Day Card Inside

I thank Mother for her shaping words; words that made a difference. There have been those times in my professional career and personal life when I felt stretched beyond my ability. But I would always hear her gentle voice telling a younger me, “You’re smart; you can do whatever you need or choose to do.” Her words pushed me beyond where I might have been tempted to stop.

The much older version of me stares into the eyes of the reckless, demanding, know-it-all child I was; it must’ve been difficult to be my mother, for my personality and hers clashed. Frequently, I think about the words I said and wish I could take them back. I was unbelievably blessed with the quintessential mother. Were Mother still alive, I’d thank her for the words she gave me and the non-stop encouragement she administered; encouragement that’s sustained me my entire life.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice. 

November 25 – Taking Back MY Life

by Letty Watt

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One day this fall, while sitting on the front porch somewhat dazed with the day’s events, tears streamed down my cheeks, my stomach rolled over in a knot, and then I cried from deep within my belly. Letting it go opened my eyes to my heart.

Angrily, I pounded my fist on the bench, and to no one I muttered, “This is not the life I planned.” With this recognition the tears stopped. I stormed into the house, grabbed paper and pencil, and began to write. Rather than writing in story format, I found myself making a list of obligations: grandma, family, husband, dog, friends, golf, football weekends, house, chores, and even more excuses or things to blame than I can recall.

The tears and frustrations wore me down, and I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon siesta. Upon awakening I realized that my list should have read: “Letty’s List of Excuses.” It felt like being in a comic strip. The next frame read: “What to do Next???” Third: “Make a Plan!?” Last: “But, it’s dinner time, and I have things to do!”–imagine the foot kicking the cabinets.

During the night I remembered seeing a young writer’s schedule and notebook. She colored coded a clock face with every activity she performed throughout the day. Smarter than that, she blacked out three hours daily to write. As she explained, “Three hours is the least I can do and expect to be a writer.” At breakfast I drew a clock, and made a list of categories. Handing it to my husband, I asked, “Could you please use your computer to make a series of six clocks on a page with a ‘legend’ on the margin? It would help me so much to know where my time is going. The excuses have me worn down, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own.” We reflected on a time in the early nineties when we each followed a Franklin Planner to keep our lives on track. By noon he handed me the clocks, and I produced the colored pencils. We played with our creation for an afternoon.

I’d like to say that in twenty-four hours I managed to take back my life. The truth is that it took another month of diligently color coding those clocks before I honestly understood how I had given away my life. The twelve-hour clocks were mostly colored in greens (family/social life) and yellows (chores/errands). What I wanted to see were more reds (writing/reading) and blues (exercise/golf/gardening). After a week my mind yelled, “Relax!” so I added a soft purple box and began making time to relax. I smiled with relief.

I still spend time with family and friends. I do it on my schedule, not at the whim or whine from a phone call. For the moment, I’ve reclaimed my life, or maybe just today.

It’s raining. It’s cold. I’m inside and writing. No phone calls. No meetings. I’m writing. After retirement and a move, I readily admit that I lost control of my life’s dreams, to finish a novel. The color coded clocks redirected and helped me find my path.

Letty Watt loves to share stories that people can relate to. She has been writing stories on her blog, Literally Letty, since 2010.

August 6 – Retreat

by Linda Hoye

Canning Soup

Once a year my husband goes on a salmon fishing trip with a few of his friends. It’s as much of a pleasure for me as it is for him. While he looks forward to fishing and fellowship, and anticipates the salmon, halibut, and crab he’ll bring home, I look forward to time at home replenishing my soul with silence, simplicity, and solitude.

In recent weeks I’ve been planning how I wanted to spend these precious days. I decided that this year I would have a writing retreat and get back to a piece of work I started on last year. I’ve been rereading my outline, making notes, thinking about the premise of the story, and planning where I wanted to take it. I felt inspired and eager to spend a few days with no commitment but to write.

I’m the type of person who likes to make a plan and follow through with it. No one could accuse me of being carefree and spontaneous on a regular basis. So, it was with mixed feelings when I decided to buy fifty pounds of tomatoes, twenty-five pounds of peaches, and twenty-five pounds of pickling cucumbers yesterday–the day before Gerry was leaving, the day before my personal writing retreat was scheduled to begin.

As Gerry hefted the large boxes of produce onto my kitchen counter so I could survey the bounty and snap a photograph I understood that I would spend the next few days, not working on my novel, but in the kitchen canning fruit and vegetables. I realized that I would fall into bed at the end of the days bone weary, with sore feet and a sore back, and that I would sleep well. I knew that I would spend my time creating canned goods instead of chapters.

In reality my plans changed as soon as I saw the flyer showing the produce on sale at the green grocer.  Perhaps it was because the course change was my own doing; or maybe it was because I might be as passionate about canning as I am about writing; whatever the reason I was out of bed before dawn this morning bidding farewell to my husband and chopping tomatoes, eager for my counter-tops to begin filling up with jars full of canned soup. The change of plans didn’t bother me in the least.

As I write this I’m tired and my feet are sore. Maya, my Yorkie, looks at me from her bed across the room with a look that seems to ask why we didn’t get to spend much time outside today. Ah, but there are eighteen quarts and thirteen pints of tomato soup on my kitchen counter, I’m thinking ahead to tomorrow’s canning plans. And I am writing.

It seems I will be able to have both–a writing retreat and a canning retreat—after all. Bliss.

meLinda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and somewhat-fanatical grandma who recently retired from a twenty-five-year corporate career. She lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier and finds contentment in her kitchen, at her writing desk, behind her camera, and in her garden. She is the author of Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude and blogs at A Slice of Life.

March 31 – Settle In

by Nancy Davies

There is a fine mist hanging from the grey Oregon sky as I sit down to write this afternoon. It usually takes me awhile to settle into a focused frame of mind when I am writing during the middle of the day. My first reaction is that I am squandering my time, being frivolous with precious moments that I can’t get back. I feel this need to be doing something “constructive” during the daylight hours, and have something to show at the end of each day; a clean house, a weed-free yard, some money in the bank. When my husband comes home after another stress filled day at the office and asks me innocently, “What did you do today?” I want to be able to recite a litany of accomplishments that make him believe it is more important for me to be at home than grinding out another day in the work force. But in reality, I think it is me who I’m actually trying to reassure. After years of raising kids, working, volunteering and being generally insane, it’s difficult to get used to so much unscheduled time, and at the same time it’s so amazing!

I have taken this past year off and I am now looking back and viewing this as a year of learning. In a sense, I have become a student of all the things I previously never had time for. I have read books and watched videos of all kinds. I took a class on mindfulness and started a meditation practice. I have tried to make it a point to work on the internal makeup of my life much more than the external. And I’ve been writing, which helps me to straighten out my thoughts. My hope is that once these thoughts are on paper I can step back and see them from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps try to look without judgment; even reflect back and see some sort of growth occurring. My intention is to open up with no expectations and see what comes out, not unlike walking through life with your arms wide open ready to catch whatever might drop down from the heavens.

What is emerging from all of this for me is the appreciation that life is not a to-do list. By pursuing activities that are meaningful to where I am right now, I’m convinced I will not look back with regret. At the end of the day, by enriching my own life I am, in turn, enriching everything around me.

Recently retired, Nancy has rediscovered long walks with her dog and the joy of a flourishing garden. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Tom and dog, Ella.

March 7 – On Writing Memoir

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

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I opened the I Ching at random this morning and came up with #38, K’uei / Opposition.  The commentary says it is common for two opposites to exist together, needing to find relationship. I realize an opposition is being set up just in the act of writing Drop Out. My inner writer will be observing everything I do closely and recording what she finds valuable. I’m reminded of a review of Journey into the Dark: The Tunnel by William Gass that appeared in The New York Times Book Review:

Writers double themselves all the time in their fictions, of course. That’s one of the reasons for writing them: to clone yourself and set yourself out on a different path, or to reconfigure yourself as a marginal observer of your own childhood, as Lawrence does with Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, and as Woolf does with Lily Briscoe in To The Lighthouse; or to split yourself in two and reimagine one side of yourself through the eyes of the other, as Joyce does in Ulysses, and as Nabokov does in Pale Fire.

. . . The reason for this is that making copies of ourselves and setting them in motion in imaginary space is built in to the way minds work. We do it all the time–when we plan for a future event, when we relive the past, when we daydream. (July 13, 1995)

I like the idea that I’m daydreaming myself into existence, that day and night dreams, which can be in opposition, work together to make a creative entity. I’m actually making a fiction in my memoir, just as we all are fictions, walking around. I can’t possibly capture my whole life in these pages, so in making the choices I do and recording them, I’m altering my experience, describing a fictional “I” and transforming my life and my experiences. They are both mine and not mine.

In fact, the act of writing these things and reflecting back on them alters that period, transforms it, just as the moon’s reflection changes what it touches, causing us to see a landscape differently at night than in the day time under the sun’s glare. The moon softens surfaces, embraces them. The sun brings out an object’s hard edges and distances us from it. It makes an object seem farther away than the moon’s light does.

In a way, I’m creating a character named Lily, just as other writers recreate themselves when writing memoir. By organizing our pasts as we do, we eliminate a good deal, including only what fits the page limitation and what we’re willing to reveal. Of course, this is how we give shape to a self anyway, by uncovering/discovering it, bit by bit. All of our personality doesn’t show at any one time. Maybe over a long period, the different parts of ourselves will come forward and be exposed. But we are always selecting, choosing.

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Lily Iona MacKenzie sprouted on the Canadian prairies under cumulus clouds that bloomed everywhere in Alberta’s big sky. Her first creative writing instructors, they scudded across the heavenly blue, constantly changing shape–one minute an elephant, bruised and brooding, the next morphing into a rabbit or a castle. These billowing masses gave her a unique view of life.

August 20 – Summer Waning

by Morgan O’Donnell

Photo-Aug-09-8-01-30-PMSummer is waning. I know this because the soft glow that seeps through the blinds comes later each morning. I know this because each evening the rich shades of burnt sienna and crimson and twilight lavender color my living room wall earlier. Normally, the end of my summers are frantic, filled with hurried preparation for the fall semester, advising new graduate students who are worried about being back in class after many years, and calming faculty who are wrestling with ornery technology for their online classes. Usually, I am so busy that I barely register the change in light as autumn comes creeping in.

The summer is different. This summer, for the first time in well over a decade, I am not involved in the fall semester prep, filled with both excitement and stress. Instead, I have left my job in higher education to take a break and see what I can do with these words and ideas that have been tumbling around in my head for so long. Instead of putting them into emails that welcome and calm new students or memos that cajole and console weary faculty, or impromptu pep talks to coworkers, I want to see if I can wrangle these words and ideas into the shape of a book.

Each time I tell my story of how I ended up in the mountains of New Mexico watching summer wane, I realize there are many beginnings to it, not just one. The career mentoring sessions with my dean was one beginning. Listening to my boss tell stories of her close friend who had always talked of writing mysteries and then suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s before those ideas reached paper was another beginning. Yet a third beginning was seeing people smile or hearing them chuckle over some quip or crazy Tumblr post I created and realizing that just maybe I could add a little fun to someone’s life. Each time I tell the story I learn something new myself, some little nugget I hadn’t recognized before.

So this summer, for the first time in years, I am measuring my days by the waning light, the gentle chill of the pre-dawn darkness, and the feel of my pen as it glides over paper while I wait to discover where the story will take me.

 Morgan has done a little bit of everything from serving as a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army to public relations coordinator for a boys’ ranch to graduate advisor. She has spent the last 10 years guiding college students of all ages. You can follow Morgan’s adventures in the Land of Enchantment at www.morgankodonnell.com.