Gloom & Joy

One more thought on Christmas before we move onto New Year’s and I resume my goodbye posts.

The first Christmas without Mom was hard. All the fly-fishing family members from Wyoming came down — something we’d talked about for years but never managed to actually do. Until then. That Christmas was one of gloom (missing Mom) and joy (everyone gathered together).

Three Christmases later, when Every Day Poems featured “The Oxen” by Thomas Hardy, I saved it because it includes the word “gloom,” which is as much a part of the holiday season as all the joy, especially when we are remembering a person who isn’t there. I reread the poem recently. It wears well.

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.

“Now they are all on their knees,”

An elder said as we sat in a flock

By the embers in hearthside ease.

 

We pictured the meek mild creatures where

They dwelt in their strawy pen,

Nor did it occur to one of us there

To doubt they were kneeling then.

 

So fair a fancy few would weave

In these years! Yet, I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve,

“Come; see the oxen kneel,

 

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb

Our childhood used to know,”

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so.

 

Thomas Hardy

 

Gloom, we know. Joy, we work for.

Moana

So it’s been a month and a bit more since I’ve been here. I could tell you what I’ve been doing but the only thing that matters is that I saw Moana.

moana_soundtrack

*Spoilers follow*

Give Disney credit: They evolve. From Snow White‘s “Someday My Prince Will Come” to Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go.”

There is no love story in Moana, unless you count the love story between Moana and her people. That love is in tension with Moana’s love for the sea, the sea which chose her as a small child.

Moana is the chief’s daughter, and she will be the island’s new chief. That fact is not in question. Her conflict is how does that fact reconcile with her pull toward the sea? How can she be who she is, where she is?

The answer lies—as it often does in stories—in a cave. That’s where Moana has a vision of her people, who they used to be. As incoming chief it is her destiny to cross the sea and save them by helping them remember who they are.

To accomplish this mission, she’ll need the help of a demigod, Maui, and together they’ll face down various monsters. Including a goddess who forgot who she was when she lost her heart.

I’m happy to leave behind the songs and messages of Snow White for those of Moana. To be honest, I am a little weary of the sayings I grew up with: Be all that you can be. You can do anything you want to do. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to.

Not always, dear graduates.

There is a call. We all have one. And it is about us, sure, but it’s not only about us.

And the call isn’t out there it all it’s inside me

It’s like the tide always falling and rising

Yes always, dear graduates. The call is not static. It moves us out and calls us in. It ebbs and flows. We strike out then fall back; hang back, then surge forward.

We have a call not for self-actualization but because the land and the people have a need. The coconut trees are wasting from disease. The reef has been overfished. The only way out is for you to be who you are. Where you are will sort itself out.

Same goes for me. For all of us, worldwide.

The first scene that grabbed me is when Moana is leaving the island, hoping to sneak away when no one is looking, and Sina, her mother, finds her. Her mother knew—because mothers always know. She hugs Moana and lets her go. At this point, neither of them know that leaving will save the people. Sina lets Moana go anyway.

And always, in life and in death, Gramma Tala is there to direct, to guide Moana. Plus the woman has a tattoo of a stingray that essentially becomes a patronus. (Dear J.K. Rowling, please set a future Harry Potter story by the sea. Hogwarts South, if you will.)

The songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda are incredible, as I expected them to be. He knows who he is, and he writes songs and such to remind us who we are, wherever we are on this earth.

And in the end Moana and her people find that where you are doesn’t matter as much as who you are. In the final scene she and her people are living their destiny as voyagers. Where will they land? It doesn’t matter.

They know the way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PV3TN1rsCk

 

 

 

Book love at Tweetspeak Poetry

Happy October!

Tweetspeak Poetry has been running a series about the writing process behind my book, The Joy of Poetry. It’s adapted from a series I ran here earlier this year.

We’re only two posts in, so it’s not too late to join us!

And the next post will run this Friday, October 7.

On Being Asked: Creating The Joy of Poetry – Part 1

What to Do with the Elephants: Creating The Joy of Poetry – Part 2

 

2 October 2016

the washing machine

broken since the last poem

is finally fixed

24 July 2016

Perhaps I am a goat

The goat doesn’t mind
the drought, doesn’t mind the flood.
Survives on paper.

Monica Sharman’s “Behold the Beauty”

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Monica Sharman, author of “Behold the Beauty,” calls herself a left-brained person who has learned to be a right-brained person. She studied physics at Caltech, the California Institute of Technology. Let’s call that her left-brained side, the side that wanted to write textbooks.

I never did turn into a famous author of science texts, but during my Caltech years I started reading the Bible,” Sharman writes.

Sharman had always loved reading. So much so that she cannot remember not knowing how to read. Once she became a mom, she read to her children, a habit that has stuck even though her boys are big now. Meanwhile, Sharman started to write children’s books, which led to trying what she called “artsy things,” like poetry.

“Now I’m a right-brained person, but I still retain my old nerdy engineer person,” she said.

Sharman approaches Bible reading in unusual ways—some more left-brained, some drawing from the right side. That’s what “Behold the Beauty” is all about.

The inspiration for Sharman’s book was, of course, another book, Karen Swallow Prior’s “Booked,” a memoir told through Prior’s favorite works of literature.

“Because of that book people started reading the classics,” Sharman said. “So what if I did that with the Bible?”

Like Prior, Sharman employs a memoir-like approach to “Behold the Beauty.” The beginning of each chapter is a moment in her life — such as her reading history as a child or her time at Caltech — and the end of each chapter she calls an “invitation.” Each one is a particular way of approaching reading the Bible along with suggested Bible passages.

Memories, invitations, suggestions.

“It’s initially subtle, indirect. If you read the chapter and wonder, ‘What does this have to do with Bible reading?’ that’s intentional. Subtlety shows a certain respect for the reader,” Sharman said.

“Behold the Beauty” started as a Bible study Sharman taught at her church. She called it “a heart approach to Bible reading.”

“I wanted to make it really different,” she said. “I would play music, or we’d act it out.”

Sharman found that in a traditional church group setting, adults were afraid to answer questions, even easy ones.

“One thing you see a lot is they skip the straight observation. They feel like they have to come up with some deep answer,” she said.

But straight observation, Sharman believes, is a valuable tool. It’s one she learned through reading poetry.

“It helps me slow down. It helps me savor the words and notice the words. Sometimes I think, ‘I don’t know what that means, but that is a cool phrase.’ I appreciate the words simply for the beauty,” Sharman said.

One woman who came to Sharman’s Bible study told her that she liked the title “because a lot of churches don’t emphasize beauty in the Bible.”

Slowing down is a discipline Sharman continues to cultivate, especially when reading Christian articles or books or even blogs that contain Scripture.

“They quote a Bible verse, and I think, ‘I already know that,’ so I skip it. I have to back up, reread it. That’s where the slowing down helps,” she said. “A warning light comes on when a familiar passages comes around — let’s see if I can notice something I haven’t noticed before.”

Often the details stand out to Sharman. She mentioned 1 Samuel 6:12, when the ark of the covenant is being returned to Israel on the backs of cows: “Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing as they went; they did not turn to the right or to the left.”

Did you notice anything interesting in that sentence? Sharman did: the lowing.

“Maybe it’s the detail of the sound, ‘lowing as they went.’ I keep laughing every time I read it,” she said. “It’s where poetry and children’s books come together. When I’m reading, I have a picture, and when I read the Bible, I have pictures too. You get the picture of the cows, and then I heard the sound in my head.”

Another way Sharman notices is by doodling or sketching a Bible passage, especially a difficult one.

“It helps, if I come to a confusing part. I can just draw a diagram, kind of like a flow chart. Family trees help. Sometimes I really like diagramming sentences because it can make a confusing sentence more clear,” she said.

Basically, Sharman just likes paper, an obsession she describes in chapter 4. She likes to read on paper, write on paper, sketch or diagram on paper. And she likes to fold paper. Origami.

Paper remembers,” Sharman writes. “Origami is possible because paper has a memory. Every crease remains.”

Sharman says she first found the word “memory” used in conjunction with paper in an origami book.

“That’s what it is—you can’t uncrease a paper. It’s a permanent memory,” she said.

Sometimes Sharman comes to the Bible using what she calls a “filter,” looking at a passage the way a journalist or a movie director might. She has a list of suggested filters in chapter 5. Number 9 on her list is “Discoveries About God.” It’s also the one she says she uses most often.

“Sometimes I’m having a hard time that day, say with a relationship with a friend or a relative. It’s always on my mind. I lose sleep because of it,” Sharman said. “I keep going back to what can I know about God, or what do I need to know right now? How is that going to fit into that relationship problem I’m having?”

In between her introduction to Bible study at Caltech and now, as a wife and mother of three boys, the stories resonate in different ways.

“I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago. The hurts I’ve received and given, all that comes into play every time I come to the Bible,” she said. “It’s like when I first read ‘David Copperfield,’ this friend, [James] Steerforth. I thought, ‘Why are you befriending this guy?’ It was actually annoying. Then when I read it later, I’d had close girl friends for the first time, and I thought, ‘I understand why David [Copperfield] did this, why he pursued and maybe even idolized Steerforth.’”

What Sharman has learned about God through reading the Bible, through paying attention to the details, is the simple truth that God loves her.

To feed my excitement over God’s love for me, and to be more and more convinced of His greatness, I look carefully into the details of His Word,” Sharman writes.

The chapter in which that statement occurs is called “Food Love.” It’s about a time Sharman catered a women’s retreat. She describes what she cooked and how, with loving detail. At one point a mistake turned into a scrumptious dessert. Those 32 attendees might not have realized it, but they were tasting love — love from Sharman, love from God.

 

“Behold the Beauty” is available at Amazon. For those of you who know Dan King, the book is published by Bible Dude Press, a division of Fistbump Media.

Sharman is not the only writer in her family. Her husband, Charles Sharman, is the author of “Through the Bible with my Child.” He is also the inventor of Crossbeams, a building toy and prototyping system for advanced children and adults.

The Sharmans live in Colorado with their three sons.

Holiday Haiku 7

Holiday Haiku 7

Purple now. Advent

candles, teacups, even straws.

Favorite time of year.

Holiday Haiku 6

Sometimes an email

can make your day, sometimes not,

but Sometimes it can.

Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! It’s here!

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I’ve been looking forward to this one! “Rooster Stories” is by Anna Mitchael, and the description on Kindle Singles says, “Part memoir, part screed, part whatchamacall it, Rooster Stories shows that sometimes the life that makes you happiest is the one you never, ever, not-in-a-million-years imagined you’d be living.”

Perfect. And a tad profane, but I don’t mind. In full disclosure, I edited an early draft of the book, but I still enjoyed reading the final version last night. It’s short, the equivalent of 40 pages.

Anna writes a monthly column for the WACOAN magazine called “Notes From a New Mother,” although she’s not so new at motherhood anymore or at country living. But she combines the two in ways I, as a city girl, would never think to.

My favorite part is near the end, when after returning from a sonogram appointment, she sits on the front porch “for five solid minutes,” and she has, shall we say, a moment with a chicken. Followed by an imaginary chewing-out from her rooster, (King) Kenny III.

My children are nearly grown—one in college, one a junior in high school. I have no advice for moms, new or otherwise. Some days I think I’m going crazy. “But crazy felt more honest than yet another apology.” Observations about the behavior of a succession of roosters named Kenny (after Rogers) and a duo of chickens nicknamed The Uglies in the context of early parenthood makes so much more sense to me than the latest mommy manual.

And when Anna said she had stopped flashing forward because “I discovered it was not in my nature to flash forward to times of sweeping happiness,” I nodded my head in understanding. Like her, I’ve found happiness in unexpected places, even in a fresh egg.

Talk with Ann & Charity, “On Being a Writer,” part 1

On January 16, I spoke with Ann and Charity separately on the phone. Some of the questions were the same, and some were different. I’ve combined them here and will post sections of the interviews for the rest of the month (actually, through Friday).

Today’s questions are about writing groups and how writing changes when your life changes.

Megan: In the Acknowledgements, you say, ‘Also, our heartfelt gratitude to the 12 participants who signed up for The Writing Life workshop and taught us so much about the role of friendship in the writing life.’ Can you elaborate?

Ann: The advantage of a workshop is you get input not just from Charity and me but the input and interaction from other people, all at different places in their writing life — an advanced novelist with a new poet. We tried to model an uplifting, encouraging kind of tone, but that was their natural mode. They were really investing in each other, week after week, day after day.

There was a blossoming of friendships that continued long after the workshop ended. It was seeing the power of friendship within the world of people’s writing life. It’s not just the tasks. It’s not just the projects. It’s not just the doing. It’s the interdependence that can take your writing life to a new level. We saw a synergy happen, where writing lives expanded because of the surge of support from multiple people: ‘I’m behind you!’ and, ‘You can do this!’ and, ‘Yes, you have the skill!’ and, ‘Look how good you are at this!’ It was all written, too, in that space. Things are being written down so you can go back and reread it.

We had very different types of writers — people who viewed themselves strictly as bloggers or strictly as poets, and they encouraged each other outside of their genre. We [tend to] kind of think we should have a poetry writing group, that would be great, but it was intriguing to me that we could get together people from a wide range of types of writing.

When I’m trying to arrange my writing life, it doesn’t matter whether I’m a blogger or a poet or a columnist at a magazine. It’s what does my schedule look like? What does my space look like?

Charity: Particularly in the workshop, we were able to see — first it was an observation — that the women who were there, some of them had been friends before, and some of them were new. And we saw that around this idea of writing, that the women were very open to inviting new people in. Writing became an inclusionary activity rather than something that excluded people. That was one thing.

Also the way they would encourage — that’s an overused word — the way they would support each other’s difficulties in the writing life. They’d offer suggestions, they’d share their own stories. And then they would, in turn, share resources, offer to help each other.

Friendships that form in the writing life are like friendships that form elsewhere, but to see that writing could draw people together. What happened is Ann and I didn’t remain workshop leaders, but the way we were able to interact with the women extended beyond the professional, mentoring relationship. We were able to speak into each other’s lives.

Also, with friendships, there is the great potential for competition and jealously and one-upsmanship, so I think we were aware of that, and we acknowledged that. It wasn’t so superficial that we didn’t acknowledge the full range of joys and difficulties that come with friendship. As part of the workshop, we brought it up. The writing life inherently possesses those elements of friendship, and maybe because we were so intentional, we fostered that [friendship].

Megan: Ann, at the November 15 workshop I attended in Round Rock, Texas, you talked about writing within the realities of life. That’s something we don’t talk about enough. What adjustments have you made recently? I know you have an aging parent.

Ann: When my kids were little, I knew a little more what to expect out of my days. It kept evolving, but I could modify my writing routine — it was pretty much squeeze it in. It was more or less predictable.

The curveball of my aging parent came from a sudden and acute event, so it suddenly threw us. It wasn’t this slow evolution. It was this sudden change that involved many, many different things, from paperwork to being on hand to interacting with medical staff to making long-range plans. So I had to very suddenly adapt my writing life while having teen kids at home and college kids to attend to.

The best solution I have is one I used extensively when my kids were younger — to create a portable office. I make sure I have what I need in my pink backpack. (I have a pink backpack. It happens to be pink. I just happened upon a pink backpack at a good price.) Into it goes the laptop and charger and phone and charger. The phone has a hotspot so I can get internet. [The backpack] has paper, pens, Sharpies, all kinds of typical office stuff, and that has allowed me to, if I get a sudden call to a hospital or need to quickly go to a doctor’s appointment, and I find myself with hours of sitting, it allows me to continue my work.

I did have to slow down on things like blogging. I have not actually re-upped that.

I also often, during early stages of [this] event, I had a lot of drive time. I would use my phone to record ideas, whether with a voice recorder or text with a voice transcription tool. I had some kind of note-taking system that was mobile. (I was driving down country roads without much traffic.)

Megan: Charity, how has your writing schedule changed since 1) getting married and suddenly becoming a stepmom, 2) freelancing full time?

Charity: Just marriage, I actually never worked full time while married. A week or two later [after we got married], I worked part time — 30-some hours — but those other hours were the hours I wrote. I haven’t figured out yet how I’d do something full time, have a family and write. I don’t know how I would do that. I don’t write when [my husband] and the boys are here, for the most part.

As a freelancer, I do all kinds of writing and editing, so most of my days are spent — 10 hours a day a lot of the time — is spent writing and editing or doing the work that supports writing and editing. It’s easy for me to spend lots and lots of time in the life of words.

However, I don’t just get to sit around and write whatever I want. I don’t know that I could do that 10 hours a day. That would be creatively exhausting. I do corporate writing. I edit books. I design and edit newsletters for clients. I do educational-type writing. I do some copyediting. Even though I’m doing it all day long, I have to fight for the time to do my own work.

The way I’ve had to adjust that is to get clear on what I want to accomplish in my personal writing, which sometimes mean saying no to work that would pay more. Thankfully, I have enough paid work that I don’t have to have full-time paid work to help our family. It’s more like 15-18 hours a week. I don’t know why I didn’t do this years ago. That’s the big surprise is even as a freelancer and full time, most of the time I don’t have to take on work that I hate.

I still have to fight my schedule to take on my own creative projects. I play around with it all the time. The things that compete against it aren’t really my clients; the things that compete against my writing time are promotion of other writing things and the admin stuff involved in being a freelancer — lots of emailing and invoicing and tax stuff and all that. On some level, I knew there would be paperwork involved, but it can be overwhelming sometimes. I’m really good at spreadsheets. I don’t know how people do it if you don’t have some level of proficiency with those skills.

Tomorrow, just Ann.