NaPoWriMo – Day 22

Melding prompts again today with Poetic Asides suggestion to take the name of a plant, flower or tree and make it the title of your poem, and the NaPoWriMo.net prompt to pick something impossible from a list of statements, and then write a poem in which the impossible thing happens. The statement I picked was The stars cannot rearrange themselves in the sky. Because it’s Earth Day, I was also thinking about humanity’s  propensity to shoot ourselves in our own earthbound feet.

 

Datura

 

Some things aren’t supposed to happen.

Stars aren’t supposed to rearrange themselves in the sky.

Flowers aren’t supposed to bloom at midnight.

We’re not supposed to be our own worst enemy.

 

Under the hood of night

Cassiopeia does yoga, corpse pose,

tries the lazy letter I on for size.

 

The datura opens, moonflower

swallowing the dark with her

soft white lips. Seducing

the sphinx moth with her scent.

 

The city’s backyard aglow

with the twinkling

oil refinery, burning 24/7.

Spotlight on

the dark side.

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November PAD – Day 11

The prompt today asked for an “unlucky” poem. I started thinking about all my favourite bad luck sayings and symbols, and the poem just grew from there.

11.

My grandpa used to say “You make your own luck.” A way to get us to work hard, stand up, fly right. I believed it, too. I wasn’t going to be one of those poor, unfortunate souls Ursula sang about in The Little Mermaid. I wasn’t putting my fate in the hands of a sea witch. I push my own luck. Deal my own hand. No deck-stacking, just a girl and her poor choices. The philosophers, they can debate the finer points. Epistemic luck, moral luck, and the reasons all our mouths taste a little bit sweeter when some bitter jerk gets his just desserts. If I make my own luck, do you make yours? Is it like a four-leaf clover pie, with only so many slices to go around? If the power is in both of our hands, whose fault is it that every day together is more black cats crossing, more stumbling under ladders? So much time wasted self-reflecting in this damn broken mirror.

PAD 2017 – Day 22

Happy Earth Day! Obviously every day should be Earth Day, but I think the planet deserves a special holiday too. Especially since humanity seems so determined to do harm. Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a Georgic poem about agricultural and using the land responsibly. I’ve tried to blend it with the Writer’s Digest prompt to write an animal fable poem.

Earthworm Offers Farming Advice

 

When you dig, do it with purpose.

Keep soil aerated, filtrated.

Soft brown dirt you can hold

in your hand, raise to your nose

to catch a whiff of genesis.

Give back to the earth

more than she gives you.

 

It’s a short poem today because I’m about to leave for a writing workshop with Griffin award-winning poet Jane Munro. Lucky me! It was at one of these fine Edmonton Poetry Festival workshops two years ago that I had the pleasure of meeting poet Naomi McIlwraith. Her poems incorporate beautiful tributes to family and to her Métis ancestry, and are always conveyed with such rich detail. But perhaps the most wonderful thing about much of her writing is that she incorporates English with Cree. Check out a few here, including one of my favourites, “nôhtâwiy opîkiskwêwin – Father Tongue”

The World Needs Us — Happy International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day to:

The mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends, and every woman who has laughed, loved, cried, bled, raged, hoped and dreamed.

The poets, the novelists, the playwrights, the storytellers, the comedians, the journalists, and any woman who wields the power of words.

The singers, the musicians, the painters, the sculptors, the dancers, and any woman who knows creativity can and does inspire change.

The scientists, the farmers, the nurses, the doctors, the chefs, the entrepreneurs, the engineers, the teachers, the caregivers, the drivers, the business leaders, the billions of women who work every day to build their families, their communities and their world.

What a gift to know I could never begin to list all the women who’ve inspired me, moved me, entertained me, cared for me, and taught me. The list is too long. The list keeps growing. You are on this list. Today, and every day, I appreciate having you in my life.

Today is just a day, but this year — this time in our lives when all that women have done and built seems so fragile, so in danger of cracking — it is also a rallying cry. To stay strong, stay hopeful, stay compassionate, stay bold. Be brave, and weird, and beautiful, and open, and crazy, and hilarious, and kind, and supportive. Be everything you already are and everything you can be. We need each other. The world needs us.

Why I March

womens-rights

In the last few months, I’ve started but never finished several posts and poems that try to somehow capture what’s going on in my head and heart since the American election. I think these false starts were probably just because I felt, and continued to feel, so overwhelmed with emotion and berated with information and misinformation. Some days I think “I will not read, listen to or watch anything political” and hope that will bring me peace of mind. But it doesn’t.  So then I try to engage fully, read widely, discuss with anyone willing, rant and rage , and hope that will bring some relief.  But it doesn’t.

This morning I read an extraordinary essay by Rebecca Solnit.  If I could write even a tenth as good as Solnit, or if I had her insight as an actual American, I think this is what I would want to say. I shared the article with my Dad, and other family members and friends, because as intelligent and empathetic as the people in my circle are, I sometimes get the sense that they don’t understand why I’m taking the election results, and all the insanity that’s followed, so personally. Honestly, I don’t exactly know either, but I do know I cried several times the day after the election and a few times since, simply because it was the only emotional reaction that seemed to fit the combination of anger, and disappointment I felt inside. And I’m not normally a “crier”.  But then again, nothing about the world feels quite normal.

After watching the Trump press conference yesterday, I was an angry, aghast mess. My Dad got an earful on the phone just for simply calling to say hi. I told him I planned to go to the Women’s Solidarity March in my city, and planned to bring my daughters. When he asked “why?” I went off a little. Not at him personally, for I know my wonderful father is no misogynist, and was more just asking about the logistics of taking kids and myself out to a politically charged place in the winter cold. But the question “why?”, combined with the reading of this article, did spark some need to express, or at least try to express, why the anger, the sadness, and the resistance matter.

I am going to that march on January 21 because these issues certainly don’t stop at the American-Canadian border. Because there is a new wave of misogyny surging in my province. Because I have daughters, and hoped (still do hope) that the cards will be a little less stacked against them as they grow up. Because it’s 2017. Because as angry and ranty as I’ve been about all of this since well before Trump was “elected”, my overwhelming feeling is still sadness. Because I have always been an optimist at heart, and I have to do something to restore the belief in my heart that the world is good.

I know my personal world is good. I know I am surrounded by beautiful, smart, loving people. The very fact that I feel safe enough to express these thoughts speaks volumes about how good my personal world is. And sure, if we choose to view the world through the lens of how women and minorities are treated in other countries, or how women and minorities were treated in the past, then we might be left with this feeling of “I really shouldn’t complain.” But to see privilege as a reason not to speak out, rather than the very reason you should speak out, is wrong. And to think that ground once gained cannot be ripped out from under you is foolish. And because wanting  the world to be fair and safe for everyone — not because of who or what they are or aren’t, or what they do or don’t believe, but because they are people — is something worth fighting (and marching) for.

My Breakup With The Walking Dead

My Breakup With The Walking Dead

CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD

Ya, I know this is normally my spot for poetic stuff, and the occasional dark story, but forgive me today for using it to talk (rant) a little TV. I used to work for a TV magazine and I miss the days when 10 raised-on-80s-sitcoms nerds would stand around every morning rehashing, trashing or praising whatever happened to be on the night before. It was a long time ago. Netflix wasn’t even a thing. But  I still miss the TV babble. My hubby indulges me a little with the incessant post-watch analysis, and I love him for it. But last night he wanted to sleep, while I kept spinning my feelings — or lack of feelings — about this show around in my brain.

Then, this morning, my dear friend texted me that the episode gave her mild PTSD. An understandable reaction shared by many fans. When I admitted my boredom (yes, boredom) with an especially graphic, gore-filled episode that killed off two very beloved characters, she was  a little stunned. And then she made me laugh, heartily, by saying, “Maybe this is how Donald Trump’s friends felt when they realized he was a psychopath?”.

It does feel a little crazy to give up on a show that I’ve invested six years in. I am usually quite loyal to my shows. I’m one of those seven people who actually liked the Lost finale. There was once a deep love in my heart for The Walking Dead, too — even as I could admit that every season had its share of silly writing and plot holes you could drive a semi-full-o’-walkers through. EVEN AFTER the “Them” episode in Season 5 when the miraculous tornado kills off a horde of zombies but, of course, spares our plucky gang of survivors. EVEN AFTER Rick’s supposedly impassioned speech to rally the troops included the ridiculous line: “We are the walking dead.” I mean, c’mon! But, still I stayed, because of the characters. I loved those characters. Well, most of them — I cheered inside when Lori and Andrea died. But I still miss Hershel. And I think the performances on this show are, for the most part, stellar. If anyone could ALMOST pull of the cheesiest line ever written for cable television, it’s Andrew Lincoln.

But last night, the super anticipated episode….who will the big boogeyman Negan kill? What will be SO SHOCKING in this episode that made that ridiculous Season 6 cliff hanger worth all this wait? For weeks leading up to the premiere there was chatter about who was and was not safe, contrived remembrances of what all our heroes have gone through so far, articles every fricking week in EW promising us that Season 7 is SO RIVETING and OOO….NEGAN IS THE WORST. VILLAIN. EVER. And I tried to go along with it because “Ya! This is The Walking Dead! I love this show!” But instead I started ignoring all the hype. Instead, I sighed in annoyance at how long it took to delete all the TWD marathon episodes that showed up on my PVR. Instead, I woke up yesterday and saw all the anticipatory chat about the season premiere on Twitter and was like, “Oh yeah. That’s on tonight.”

But still, I sat down with my snacks, about to hit play after the kiddos had fallen asleep. I told my hubby that I thought it was Abraham who’d be the goner, or maybe Glenn or Maggie, because the show never likes to let people be happy for too long, and then I realized that I didn’t care. At all. I didn’t care if it WAS Glenn, or Maggie, or even Michonne, who has always been my favourite character. I found myself hoping it would be Daryl or Rick (even though I knew that would never happen), just to shake some stuff up. And as it played on I thought to myself, “Hmm, this is interesting…I am completely ambivalent about this show now.”  I am totally repulsed, but not all emotionally stirred, by this villain brutally bashing the skulls of two characters I used to be so fond of. I know he’s supposed to be terrifying, so why do I find him sort of folksy? I see Glenn’s disgusting, bulging eye, and his heartfelt last words to Maggie, and I think, “OK, then. Maybe this means Steven Yuen can be in some other cool roles now!”  I watch the snot dangle from Rick’s nose as he pleads with Negan not to make him chop off his son’s arm, and I think “Get on with it.” I actually laughed a little when Carl said “Just do it, Dad” because yeah, just do it. Just do it, Rick. Just do it, show. Just do it, AMC.  Just end it so I can go to bed. Maybe this is sorta how people feel when they roll over one  morning, look at their long time partner and think numbly, “I just don’t love you anymore.”

Raising the stakes is essential in any good story. When you can do it more than once, and keep the viewers moving right along with you, that’s awesome television. Breaking Bad did this. My current favourite show, The Americans, does this. In this age of super-amazing-creative-tense-superbly acted television, many shows do it. Who has time for the ones that don’t? The Walking Dead doesn’t do it for me anymore. It hasn’t in quite some time, but the loyalty outlasted the emotion. Maybe it was just one cheap plot device or death-tease too many. Or maybe it’s because the “real world” we’re all witnessing right now is a million times more tense and terrifying, and I want to invest my hope for redemption in real world heroes. There are many reasons why this affair should end.

But honestly, I will probably let it drag on for at least a few more episodes, just so I can read the hilarious love-to-hate-it TWD recaps every Monday on FunnyOrDie.com.  It’s like going to couples therapy,  falling in love with the therapist, and keeping the relationship going just so you can get some thrill out of those weekly appointments. A terrible reason to stay in a loveless union. But after six years, it’s something.

Re-visioning Revision

There’s a quote by Raymond Chandler that I remember reading: “Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.” I love this quote, not just for the nostalgia invoked by the word “typewriter,” but because it succinctly captures the importance of the two things I find most difficult about writing — not editing myself before I get the words down, and then really editing myself once they’re on the page.

Until recently, I’ve viewed revision as a loathsome process. When I’ve stopped doubting myself enough to actually get a poem or prose piece finished, it’s still far from polished. The scrubbing, shining, rearranging business that’s necessary in order for something to go from done to good is the hardest part, especially when mine are often the only set of eyes examining the writing. On any given day I can go from thinking a particular line is the best thing I’ve written, to wondering why I even bother with all the ridiculous word goop I’ve blarbed onto the page. My inner voice is a mess of contradiction, but I console myself with the knowledge that this is the case with pretty much every writer.

The struggle comes in trying to shut my mind-yabbering up long enough to actually get the revisions done. When it comes to my poems, it helps if I can put them away for awhile —weeks, sometimes even months— before trying to fix them. After a break, I can sometimes see more clearly what I’m trying to say, and ways to say it better. But this isn’t always the case, and when it doesn’t come easily, my instinct is to just ignore the poem, like a cavity. I know it won’t heal itself, but I think if I just forget about it, it won’t cause too much trouble.

Of course it will cause trouble, eventually. All those cavities will just get me a mouth full of holes, not something I want to show off or be proud of. I owe it to myself, and my poems, to do the work necessary to make them better. This is the best of many lessons I’ve learned so far as part of my apprenticeship with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program. My wonderful mentor, Sue Sinclair, has shown me see that the re-writing can actually be the most rewarding part. It’s easier, now, with her experienced voice telling me “this is what’s not working and this is how to fix it.” But I’m learning to see it for myself too. I’m learning to re-vision revision. I’m approaching it with a more open mind, less fear and discouragement, and the knowledge that the hard work of editing, while still not enjoyable, is the path that leads to real rewards. I can’t just throw up all those words and leave them. If I want people to come over — and I do — it’s time to make this mess into something pretty.

Resolve

 

This morning, my six-year-old daughter asked me “What’s a resolution?” My flip response was going to be, “Something Mommy never does because she always fails.” Instead, I told her, “It’s a promise you make to yourself to do something you should do, or to stop doing something you shouldn’t be doing.” I swear I saw the little light bulb over her head as she said “So, I should have a resolution to eat more healthy food?” I told her yes, in fact that’s something probably everyone should do. “It might be hard though,” she said, thinking. Then: “But I when you do something that’s hard to do, you feel really happy about it.”

This optimism and sound logic is just one of many reasons why my kids teach me as much (or probably more) than I teach them. I rarely make resolutions, because when I inevitably fail to achieve those lofty goals, made at the bright, hopeful dawn of each new year, I end up feeling pretty crappy. Why try if you’re going to fail, right? Except, this is a terrible lesson to teach my children. As the supposed adults in the house, my husband and I are constantly preaching the “it’s better to try and fail than to never try at all” philosophy. On firmer, Yoda-inspired days we might even give them the ol’ “Do or do not, there is no try.”

This week my daughters went from never wearing a pair of skates, to gliding around the ice rather confidently, in a matter of hours. They fell down many times. They got up. Their noses were red, their toes were cold, their elbows were bruised, and still they didn’t want to leave. They keep asking when they can go again. Yet there was me next to them on the ice…in my sturdy boots. Why? Because I can’t skate. I tried, feebly, when I was a kid and when I didn’t instantly succeed, I became soured on the whole experience. Now, here I am, with older knees and less resistance to the cold, watching my daughters learn to skate and wishing I could skate along beside them. Wanting to do things with, and for, your kids is pretty strong motivation. Maybe even reason to make a resolution or two.

2015 was an emotionally exhausting year for me. My Mom died in February, and though it wasn’t unexpected, it was still extremely difficult. But one of the many important lessons my Mom taught me, both through words and through action, is that you have to keep going. Keep trying. If my Mom had given up, or thought, “Hell, I’m dying anyway, so why try to live?” she never would have met her second grandchild, or seen her son get married. She never would’ve witnessed how the family she helped build could grow stronger and closer in the face of crisis. Every day she lived was a gift to us, but also a gift to herself. I believe my Mom died with the knowledge that she lived a good life. Of course, like everyone, she surely had regrets, but likely not too many. My Mom embodied the word resolve.

I am optimistic that 2016 will be a great year. Many aspects of 2015 were great too. Losing someone is the best reminder of just how important love is, and just how many people there are to be thankful for. This week, standing on the cold ice while my daughters learned to skate, I was flush with gratitude. I am inspired by them, and by my Mom, to do more. To be better. To try. For the first time in 15 years, I’m going to make a list of resolutions. Number 1, learn to skate. Number 2, tell everyone I love how important they are in my life. Number 3, don’t let fear stop me from trying…anything.

Why I Write — Today’s Answer

My favourite word guru Chuck Wendig posed a challenge to his writerly blog followers to answer the question: “Why I Write”. This came out of me.

Why I Write — Today’s Answer

There’s this song I like, “Born With A Sound” by The New Pornographers. In it, vocalist Daniel Bejar repeatedly laments “I had a sound in my head, but I couldn’t find the words to get it out. Now I know love is the way. Get it out. Get it out.” It’s nothing fancy, but I adore these lyrics, because they remind me of my own feelings about writing.

Sometimes, often out of frustration, I ask myself “Why do I write?” The cheeky answer I give myself is that it’s because I can’t sing or paint. In many ways, it’s the truth. The images, characters, and words that spin around in my brain need to get out. This is true of all humans, whether we call ourselves artists or not. The funny, scary, beautiful stuff that grows in our imagination is never exactly the same as the melodies, sculptures or sonnets they ride to get out of brains, but without that artistic vehicle, they’re nothing. In my brain, those ideas take the “writing” road, because — though I have to work at it every single day — this is mode of creation that’s been my thing ever since I was wee. Some inborn love of reading, making, saying, playing with words, is what gives all those goopy ideas in my skull some shape. Writing is a necessity.

Often I think the ideas I have would be better expressed in song, or some gigantic art installation, or made into the wickedest film the world has ever seen, but I don’t have any innate skills in those areas. And yeah, any “talent” is really a combination of natural ability and a whole lot of practice, so maybe I could learn to paint. Some people are gifted in a whole whack of creative arts. I admire them up the wazoo for being able to throw all that creative energy into so many different cakes. For me, it all tends to get dumped in the word batter.

One of my favourite writers, George Orwell, answered this “Why I write”question three decades before I was born. It’s a brilliant and funny piece of writing, and also more than a little humbling. He asserts that all writers do what they do out of some combination of 1) Sheer egoism; 2) Aesthetic enthusiasm; 3) Historical impulse  and 4) Political purpose. When I first read this I, of course, thought “Pshaw! I don’t write to be clever and impressive! It’s #2 all the way baby….I live for the artistic pleasure of it.” But, I’m honest enough with myself to say that, yeah, of course I write to be read and to impress the people who read what I write. Narcissistic? Sure, but it can also make us all better writers. Hopefully. What’s the point of writing if there isn’t someone there to enjoy and connect with it?

Behind that ego though, behind the need to spew it out, fueling the creative juices, I think there’s a mystical soup brewing. About a year ago, I pondered the “Why Do I Write” Q on this blog, and then, I said:

“Words are for me, both in creation and consumption, an amazing route to bliss. If I am inspired, I want to inspire. If I am moved, I want to move. It’s contagious. Or at least I hope it can be. It’s not an intellectual pursuit. It’s a soul pursuit.”

A year later, I still agree with me. And Orwell. And Bejar. And probably all the other writers who will take up Chuck’s challenge today to navel gaze on their own art. Tomorrow, or five years from now, I might have a different answer. It’s not an easy question, but it’s a great one to ponder.