Old School Inspiration

Yuself Komunyakaa is one of my favorite poets. He writes about love and passion, loss and war – all kinds of war, including the Vietnam war in which he served many years ago. Although he’ll write about, he won’t talk about it.

One of the many mysteries of poets. Sometimes purging our pains in poetry is so much easier than clearing our mind with conversation.

I love reading poetry because it inspires me. Does it inspire you?

 

The Soul’s Soundtrack

When they call him Old School
he clears his throat, squares
his shoulders, & looks straight
into their lit eyes, saying,
“I was born by the damn river
& I’ve been running ever since.”
An echo of Sam Cooke hangs
in bruised air, & for a minute

the silence of fate reigns over
day & night, a tilt of the earth
body & soul caught in a sway
going back to reed & goatskin,

back to trade winds locked
inside an “Amazing Grace”
that will never again sound
the same after Charleston,

South Carolina, & yes, words
follow the river through pine
& oak, muscadine & redbud,
& the extinct Lord God bird
found in an inventory of green
shadows longing for the scent
of woe & beatitude, taking root
in the mossy air of some bayou.

Now Old School can’t stop
going from a sad yes to gold,

into a season’s bloomy creed,
& soon he only hears Martha
& the Vandellas, their dancing
in the streets, through a before
& after. Mississippi John Hurt,
Ma Rainey, Sleepy John Estes,

Son House, Skip James, Joe
Turner, & Sweet Emma,
& he goes till what he feels
wears out his work boots
along the sidewalks, his life
a fist of coins in a coat pocket
to give to the recent homeless
up & down these city blocks.

He knows “We Shall Overcome”

& anthems of the flower children
which came after Sister Rosetta,
Big Mama Thornton, & Bo Diddley.
Now the years add up to a sharp
pain in his left side on Broadway,
but the Five Blind Boys of Alabama
call down an evening mist to soothe.

He believes to harmonize is
to reach, to ascend, to query
ego & hold a note till there’s
only a quiver of blue feather
sat dawn, & a voice goes out
to return as a litany of mock
orange & sweat, as we are sewn
into what we came crying out of,

& when Old School declares,
“You can’t doo-wop a cappella
& let your tongue touch an evil
while fingering a slothful doubt
beside the Church of Coltrane,”
he has traversed the lion’s den
as Eric Dolphy plays a fluted
solo of birds in the pepper trees.

 

Weathering the Storms

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Is there anything worse than a bad review?  Probably, but we don’t think so when we get one.

But ask yourself why you’re upset.

1. Is there some truth to the review? No – then forget it! Yes – then what is it?

One woman relayed that her one star review mentioned grammar and punctuation errors. She said, “I know there are some, but there’s not that many!”

It seems she knew she put out work that was not of a superior quality; she can’t be upset when someone calls her on it.

2. Is it someone who just wishes to malign you? Accept that there are going to be haters. Everyone has them. Remember this quote: “Well behaved women rarely make history.” If someone dislikes you – you might just be doing something right.

3. Someone told me – it’s only the writer who reads all the bad reviews. I think that’s supposed to make us feel better. But it’s true. When you look at reviews, do you search out every bad review there is? or do you read maybe the top five or ten of all the reviews?

I, personally, read a few of each. A few of the five star, a few of the three star, and a few of the one star – critical readers can tell if someone has an ax to grind or if they have real concerns.

Protect the Process…

processDan Brown believes strongly in protecting the process.

By process, he means, the writing schedule and habits that create the difference between a writer who produces and the writer who does not.

This has become personally important to me; and lately it has come to my attention that there’s more to protecting the process than just showing up.

It’s about protecting yourself from the negative forces that affect the writing.

We are often disturbed and distracted by people and events around us. I’m not talking about the road raging driver or ineffective salesperson- we should never allow such an insignificant person or event to affect us at all.

I believe we have to prioritize who and what is important – they come first in our lives either before, after, or within our process. The rest of the world must fall away.

I don’t make appointments during my writing time. That has become a habit for the last some years. However, I have allowed other things to interrupt my life, things I thought were vital. This is mostly due to what is expected of me as a social, agreeable person. Lately, though, I’ve realized do have a choice.

I don’t care if I come across as a little anti-social or less agreeable. I’m protecting myself from people and events who will affect my time, writing, and state of mind.

I used to see a writer regularly arguing with others on social media. I asked him why he didn’t just ignore these people. He said it didn’t bother him, they needed to be taught a lesson.

Recently, he deleted many of his social media accounts and limiting his time on others, telling his followers that all the interactions were causing him distress and he hadn’t been able to write.

I’m not only talking about social media, but the regular, sometimes expected, social interactions we have. If they are draining, why do we take part in them? Expectations? Do we get anything out of it?

If not, then rethink it.

 

Dare to Suck

indexSteven Tyler of Aerosmith says, “Dare to Suck.”

It seems that he and his band mates have a regular meeting in which they bring the wildest, crappiest, outlandish ideas to toss them around and see if they work.

9 out of 10 of those ideas have to be trashed – but the tenth gets you something like “Dude Walks Like a Lady.”

Why not throw around ideas that seem completely outrageous?!  They can always be strays.jpgcanned later, but in the meantime you have some ideas to play with and you might, well, come up with something good.

I wrote the line, “When I killed my neighbors dog…” My friends said, you can not use that. But I played with it to see where it might take me, and I wrote “Of Strays and Exes” by just playing with this strange line that came to me in a dream.

It was accepted for publication in Pilcrow and Dagger almost immediately and later made into a podcast. You can find it kindle now, or search P&G’s podcasts.

**Disclaimer: No animals were killed or injured in the writing of that story.

 

Hours Vs Pages – Writer’s Choice?

timeIn writing groups, the question often floats around the room, do you do hours or pages? Then there’s always some friendly disagreement over which is better.

I, personally, do hours. I get up and sit at my computer and write for a certain amount of time.

I’ve heard arguments that if I force myself to write at least a page or a certain number of words, I would be more motivated. But, see, I don’t have a problem with motivation. Many days, I get up with an idea ready to flesh out. Other days, I struggle. Like all writers.

One writer told me to do pages or word count, so when I’m done I’ll know I’ve accomplished something.

However, I recently heard an argument that made complete sense to me and might to you as well.

The writer said – do hours. That way, if you have a bad day, you know you can get up and Yellowed pages from a dictionaryleave when your work day is over. If you have a bad day when you’re doing pages – then you’ve struggled with a single page for however many hours and you’re less likely to want to come back the next day, and when you do come back, you’ll realize the page you struggled with has to be deleted anyway.

I imagine some people who chose pages to rush through on some days so they can get on to other things or give up when the page doesn’t come. One woman shared she writes pages so she can get on to other things.

I guess, I feel, I’m not in a hurry to “get on with other things.” Whereas it she sounded happy to get up and get on with her life, I’d sometimes like to sit and write longer than I’m normally free to do.

Perhaps the best choice for each individual is based on their personality. But I vote for hours. I still know I’ve accomplished something – stuck with my commitment and ritual – whether I have a page or a finished short story.

A Writer’s Space

2018_09_30+Scientific+writing2Do you feel the need to have a certain, special place to write? Maybe you have little items you feel inspire you sitting around your desk, computer, in the same room, maybe there is a stone of carnelian or citrine to spark creativity, or even big dark shades to hide you from the world.

My writing space is usually the dining room table, two windows, a bird feeder on one so my cat, usually sitting beside me can be entertained. But I also write on the couch in the living room with a lap desk, and sometimes in my bed.

Dan Brown (author of the Da Vinci code and many others) believes writing space isn’t important. It’s the ritual and the commitment, not the space. He relates a story in which he was visiting his parents and he wrote in the laundry room, lap top on the ironing board while sitting on milk crates with the washer running – because he needed an undisturbed space.

I’d say that space would disturb me – and talk about holes in a story. My apologies, Mr. 0 v7CyD5RM41-JF6Kk.jpgBrown. However, if he gets up at 4 a.m. to write (as he states), who is doing laundry at that time? And, if the laundry was put in later, then obviously someone came in to disturb you. And, by that time, he couldn’t move to another room?  Okay, sorry, sorry. Back to the point.

We do need a space to write. Ideally, we want to have certain creature comforts around us; for me, it’s a cup of tea. However, I have written on concrete benches, lying across the hotel bed, in a tiny corner that had a table and chair, in coffee shops with noise, and alone in my house at 4 a.m.

The point is our desire for the ideal space should not limit our writing time or commitment (and I think this was Mr. Brown’s point as well). If we limit our writing to the ideal, we’ll have an excuse to not write when any little thing is out of place.

Brown states he writes 365 days a year. That’s what this blog is about, right? 365. It’s about commitment. It is my challenge and my commitment to write 365. I’m doing okay, regardless of the space I’m writing in.

The Writer’s Support System

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Maybe it’s me, but I doubt I’m alone in this: A writer’s support system sometimes seems a shaky and insecure. Some people do not understand, others say ridiculous things, and some are even jealous of our steps forward.

Finding a support system is an active and ongoing endeavor. People move on, they step back, and we need to keep moving forward, be unwilling to let negative people and comments to hold us back.

Don’t be afraid to move on. It doesn’t mean you have to cut contact with everyone or even anyone, but you certainly want to keep those who are positive supporters of your in the forefront of your mind and heart.

Sometimes, we feel very alone. Writing is a solitary act, but we don’t have to live in a bubble. Make contact through writer’s groups, online and in person. Meet other writers at conferences or critique groups and stay in contact with them. Join a book group, we need friends.

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Photo Credit: Noreen Lace / Here in the Silence