August 10 Journal Reflection on Writing

All around us there are the sounds of construction. Hammers pounding away as workers put down shingles on a new roof, the beep-beep of construction trucks backing up to unload all that goes into building a house, pipes and frames and HVAC equipment, while in the almost completed homes the sounds of saws buzzing away, windows being put in and in some cases the finishing touches. Across from us are several large digs, the soil that once covered the land now in piles along the huge hole, where some have had cement poured into what will soon become the base frame. It’s a busy place, from early morning till late afternoon, the workers trudge to and fro doing their assigned jobs so that one day someone will be able to have a new home. We moved into our house a month and a half ago, brand new with more room than we ever had before. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a full, albeit, unfinished basement. Our master bedroom has this nice space, the one I’m writing in right now, an extra little sitting area where I can retreat to and allow my thoughts to flow. We have a sunroom, that will be nice once the cold winds of winter arrive and we will no longer be able to sit on the deck, then there’s that, a deck. The deck is positioned perfectly, in the late afternoon with the sun setting into the west, the deck is shaded and pleasant to sit out on while in the morning with the sun rising in the east, our porch is the one shaded, there we can enjoy our morning cup of coffee. Yes, we do have a porch, I know isn’t that awesome but we’ve never had one before. Walk-in closets, a first floor laundry room, a full two car garage although we only have one car. I was thinking, if I could only have had this back up in Massachusetts I may not have moved, but we didn’t and in fact to have a house with all of this would have cost us way more than what we are making and so, here we are living in Smyrna Delaware. It’s really not so bad although we do miss a few things like decent shopping stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s, and we definitely miss fresh, Atlantic fish, Cod, Haddock and the occasional Swordfish, all of which are hard to come by down here. There is also, how do I put this, slowness to this part of the state, a slowness in everything that is done. To drive means being behind a slower driver who may or may not signal his/her intentions. In the grocery stores you encounter them in the aisles, browsing ever so slowly, examining each package before putting it in their cart or putting it back on the shelf. Now, with so many retiring here one would think, “hey, they are old and old folks are slow,” but surprise, even the young folks are slow if not slower. There are times when I feel that I am in a tortoise vs. hare race and I’m the hare, just trying to get what I need, then get out of the store. Okay, I know I sound frustrated, but that is the way with those of us who grew up in more metropolitan areas. Growing up with traffic, with noise with the congestion that comes with it, is the cross I bear as I try to get used to this slower, measured pace. Maybe there is a lesson, one that I need to learn as a budding writer, slow down, take your time, allow your mind to wander and just write. Write with no agenda, write with no end point or even a well developed theme, just write. Maybe later, maybe in what I’ve just written there is something that will take root and grow into an essay or a story or even a poem. Sometimes I feel that I’m trying to hard to catch up and that is actually holding me back from just writing. I want the words to be perfect, I want what I say to mean something, not just to me but to someone who is reading this, now, yes you, the occasional blog browser who does a daily random search and lands on my piece to read. Maybe it’s shit, maybe it’s okay, but maybe it offers something beyond the words, hope. That if you to are a beginning writer, an older writer who feels that life and opportunity have left you behind, then maybe this missive will give you some hope and courage to write anyway. I am far from perfect, my grammar sucks, if it weren’t for spell check then I would be doomed but still I write, my imagination isn’t dead. As I look out at those workers, as they go about building these homes I am reminded that even the best of them had to learn their trade, they had to make mistakes and try again, but that is the way of life. As writers, and yes I’m addressing all of you who blog, write poetry, essay’s, fiction, nonfiction whatever, just keep at it, make mistakes, but keep at it because now more than ever we need more writers, we need deep thinkers who are willing to go into those places where few dare to tread, to mine for words of healing, words of substance. So, what are you waiting for, write.

To Parker J. Palmer

You are an elder

or so I’ve read

a sage

filled with wisdom

for the age

a voice of reason

in unreasonable times

I read your books

and wonder

if I will ever achieve

that place of honor

of being an elder

filled with wisdom

whose words

are quoted

by the likes of ones

like me

who strive to write

with the same passion

and depth

or will I fade

into the twilight

a mere shadow

of who I once was

whose words are dust

that blow away

in an autumn breeze

never to return

lost forever to time.

A Novice Writers Blog

Cycling gives me time to think, if only I could figure out a way to get those thoughts down on a page then I would be golden. As it is, a thought is fleeting, there for but a brief moment the lost to the myriad of other thoughts that blaze across the screen, that is my mind. One though did stick and I need to journal a bit about it and this thought has to do with my blog. Yes, I have a blog on WordPress, I’ve used it to write some of my musings, poetry and an essay or two, but really haven’t caught on to the blogging concept. Good blogs have something that grabs peoples attention. There is something in the way a blogger writes that is engaging, informative and needed by those who subscribe and read the blog daily. Readers offer comments, many are helpful, some complimentary while there are the few who are negative if not down right mean. My blog has not caught on fire, even though I have over 200 followers, my blog is missing that “it” factor, the thing that makes it interesting, a blog that people want to read. So I thought, why not make my blog about writing from my novice perspective. A blog about trying to overcome all of the obstacles that stand in the way of my writing. I could use it to vent on a shitty day of writing, or ask for some advice on a piece I’m working on, or just tell about a possible project I’m attempting. Maybe someone will read it, maybe someone, another novice writer, would find it helpful. I can’t say that it will bring me fame and fortune as a writer but it does get me out there in a way that is accessible for most folks. Whatever I do, it will be raw, filled with mistakes and poor grammar. It truly will be a shitty first draft and maybe that’s not so bad because it’s from those shitty first drafts that I learn from, and hopefully will help others learn. Throwing oneself out there can be a two edged sword but that is the nature of the beast. Writing without any kind of critique is just a lot of words on a sheet that mean nothing, writing that is exposed is writing that has potential, we just never know what that potential is until we hit the publish button. So, here I go, I’m going to now take what I’ve written, copy and paste it into my blog, and then see what happens.

Measure of My Life

What is the measure of one’s life?

In the still moments where alone I sit

writing out the words that play

along the horizon of my mind

darting to and fro

seemingly solid at once

then becoming ghosts the next

whispers that speak in the dark

that have no meaning

as I try to grasp what to do

my writing is weak

my poetry is nonsense

but the words taunt

they jump about,

just out of reach

the feelings are raw

how do I measure my life,

by what I do,

or what I don’t do?

Is it worth the effort

or the critique of a thousand voices

that all yell and scream.

Life is measured in the seconds and minutes

in the hours of the day

in the seasons as they change

in watching the summer fade

and falls colors drop away

as winter winds blow them around

down empty streets

where lovers clasp each other tightly

holding themselves against the cold

of their own feelings and doubts.

What is the measure of my own life?

What will I leave behind to be read

and thought about?

Night Watch

Here I am playing with iambic pentameter for this little piece. Being a beginner in the poetry genre I thought it couldn’t hurt to try writing like this. It’s not Shakespeare but it is fun working out the phrases.

I love to watch as you slumber at night

the rise and fall of your breasts with each breath

the way your face looks serene and at rest

for in that moment my world is at peace

you are the anchor that holds my heart close

and my love for you reaches into the depths

where I need not fear the darkness of night

nor the ghosts haunting my mortal souls life

I Need to Stop

I think I need to stop,

just stop.

Not slowdown,

not take it easy

no, just stop

just don’t move

and feel the earth

under my feet

feel the air

on my face,

listen

as the trees rustle

and the birds sing.

Just stop

because

it’s the only way

to feel,

hear,

smell

and know

that I’m connected

to this earth,

to nature’s movements,

connected to the stars

in the heavens

as they reflect

Divine love

in the dust we share.

Stories are Everywhere

I’ve been sitting here, staring at that blinking cursor and blank white screen trying to figure out what to write about. Do I write a piece of prose, a bit of nonfiction or fiction, do I write a poem about a tree? There are millions of ideas that float across my mind and like a school of fish they slip past quickly before I’ve had any chance to grab even one. Stories are out there and stories are within, the trick is to start digging away and just write what you see and damn the consequences.

Stories come from our everyday experiences, those seemingly small moments that we don't think are very important but when we begin to unpack them we see something of ourselves. Yesterday I had one such experience, a connection made with a man named George. George has been hanging out in our church yard, using the picnic table to have his breakfast and coffee. George is one of those characters that seem to gravitate toward the church. They are lost, lost in the world, lost in society and lost within themselves. He’s not a dangerous person, he’s not unintelligent, he’s just lost. That is something many people just can't wrap their heads around, that here is a man, who is educated, seems smart and yet can’t seem to find his way. Yet, here he is, struggling. In his mind, in his lostness, he is wrestling with God in his own wilderness. The spiritual struggle some of us go through as we seek our place in this craziness called life.

George and I have now spoken several times and with each conversation another layer of his complex personality is exposed. That he was married, that he was a lawyer, that he had gotten involved with a fundamentalist religious group, and with their blessing went over to Europe to begin a ministry of house churches. Along the way he lost his purpose, he lost his wife and children to divorce and he may have even lost his connection to family and friends.

I sit here, a conduit to God’s grace, a conduit that is in itself flawed by my humanity. I sit and listen, I can offer no quick fix, no special prayers, or some magical incantation, I’m not a Shaman or a mystic, I’m just the person God created me to be. There are stories to be told, to be written down and shared. Stories of our common humanity, of our need for one another, not just when things are going great, but also when we are traveling along a darkened path. Life is a struggle and for some, like George, it is a greater struggle. That is why we need to share these stories because if I were to I be honest, if we were to be honest, there is a bit of George in all of us, that small, scared child who fears what is under the bed or the monsters lurking in the dark closet. Our lives are connected in that mystery we Christians call the Incarnation, the Divine Presence of the Word which called us into being out of the dust.

Maybe that’s why I’m writing this piece, because there are moments when it is easy to get oneself lost. I know there have been those moments, when the darkness of my own mind has overwhelmed me and I found myself struggling to find the path. I don’t believe there is not one human being alive who has not faced their own dark night of the soul, who have wondered about the choices they made and the consequences of those choices.

I read something yesterday stating that what anyone writes is not something original, but mainly a reworking of age old stories. Stories of love, of death, of growing up and coming of age. We all have those stories in the deep well of our memories and it is my task to dip into that well and draw upon those deep waters. Some of the water will be sweet and fresh, and some will be brackish, but it all comes from the same well.

I can say with complete confidence that I am no genius. I struggle with my grammar, I’m unsure of punctuation and word usage, but at least I’m willing to expose these thoughts to the world. Creating anything, whether it is a piece of art, a poem, a story, even a life, requires taking a risk. It’s all too easy to sit on social media posting someone else’s words, it’s something else to post your own. Maybe it is because in taking a moment to try and see the world through the eyes of another, I have been granted a gift and that gift is these words that I write.

Writers Block or Not

I can’t really call it “writers block” since I just read a litany of quotes that deny the existence of such a malaise, for instance:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.”

– Elmore Leonard

“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.”

– Jennifer Egan

“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

– Philip Pullman

“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen — whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book — it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”

– Jeffery Deaver
“Writer’s block is a luxury most people with deadlines don’t have.”

– Diane Ackerman

“Lower your standards and keep going.”

William Stafford

I love the last one from William Stafford mainly because, I can’t lower my standards much more than I have already. Then again, what are my standards? That’s a good question and one I’ve never given much thought. Sure, I would love to write that one great piece or that one great novel or poem, but do I really have the stuff, the inner smarts, to write like that? No matter what some may say, I believe that the really great writers have a skill that us mere mortals do not. Somewhere in the genes, in that magical mix that makes us human beings, the great writers got something else, a bonus gene that allows them to see the world through different lenses. Sure, many of us can describe a sunrise or sunset, a forest full of tall pines or the view of the ocean from atop a mountain, but can we see what’s underneath, the glimmer on the glass, the undulating waves, the various shades of green that fluctuate as the shadows of the clouds pass over the distant scene.

There is a sense of the magical, of wonder and desire that some people can easily write about. Love in it’s infinite ways of being, how it feels in the deepest parts of our souls, how just to look at one’s beloved brings a depth of feelings right into the core of who we are. No wonder we say, they are broken-hearted, for love can and does not only break a heart, it shatters the fragile flesh.

There I go again, off on a tangent not at all sure how I got to this point when the point was about writers block and my own style. Maybe, and this is a big maybe, it’s really not a block but a more of a drought. Ideas, ones you thought would make for a great story, once written down seem flat, dead and rather silly. Yet, each day I try to write, something. A small piece, a bit of poetry, micropoetry, something that forces me to dig below the surface and mine the richness that is waiting to be exposed to the light of day. That is if all I discover is a vein of fools gold, it looks all bright and beautiful but upon inspection and retrospection is found to be worthless. As I write this, I’m thinking, isn’t this all part of writing and wanting to write, the self doubt, the fear and wondering if what is written is any good?

I’m sure that most of this sounds familiar to many who have read some of my stuff, it’s become my theme and maybe my vocation. It allows me to express my doubts, fears and inadequacies and put it out there for all to see and read. I also hope that by voicing my own lack of confidence that it might just help someone, who has more talent, to go ahead and write that one piece that has been rattling around in their head for so long. As for me, I’ll continue throwing out the words that I see with my minds eye. I will continue to write knowing that I tend to jump from one thing to another in the most haphazard of ways and really, isn’t that the reason to write?

The Headache of Zeus

I’m looking for that perfect sentence

the one that will open this poem

the perfect metaphor never used

so that you will read my poetry.

I even bought a book or two

to help me on my quest

to find the right combinations

of those words that I seek.

Poetry for Dummies is one

that claims to help demystify poetry

only will it help demystify me.

I dream, dreams of words aligned

all in perfect poetic order

then when I sit to write they are a jumble.

Outside the sun shines bright

and I hear the birds singing

the world is slowly waking up 

as I emerge from the dreams.

Now I sit here writing once again

looking at the blinking cursor

on the blank screen of the iPad

trying to remember what I dreamed

in the midnight hours

because what I saw was that sentence

all pretty and perfect

just waiting to be birthed

a sleeping fetus

enclosed in a darkened womb

of my mind

the headache of Zeus

that refuses to be born.

What Tale do I Tell?

What tale am I to tell? 

Where does my story begin?

Where will it all end?

I look about and see poetry

in the trees as the wind blows through the leaves

in the songs of the birds nesting in the branches.

There is poetry in the love I share

in the tears I shed

in my own imperfections.

I look up at the clouds scudding across the sky

changing shape molded by unseen hands

creating a story that is timeless.

I am such a small part of the greater whole

seeking to discover that one great purpose

writing these bits and pieces of poetry

hoping to see in the words a reflection of my soul.

Perfection is a dream, a fantasy of youth

these words are imperfect as is the language.

It can never describe those deeper feelings

that lie at the core of my being,

a being fraught with fear and anxiety

of knowing I am not enough on my own.

What tale do I tell? 

What mystery lies at the root of my heart?

The roads I have travelled were never straight

winding through a landscape at once beautiful and terrible.

Through the gauntlet of people and places

faces haunting the edges of my memory

now I stand on the precipice of the future

as I stare out across a valley shrouded in fog

wondering where my story will take me.

Time grows shorter with each passing year

I now have arrived at a point where there are less tomorrow’s

and I can no longer sit idly 

as that enemy time, 

gnaws me down into dust.

All is sacred, all is holy, if I dare to look outward

fear is the cage created to justify our own failures

and I have failed and fallen so may times

yet, like the Phoenix I have risen from the ashes

to stand before the judgement seat of the Holy

the mystery of unconditional love

that calls us out of our tombs

unbinding our tortured souls

and bathing us in the light of truth.