"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What Would You Do With A Day Of Solitude?

Alone for the day. They ask, What are you going to do in that quiet house, all alone? What will you do with ALL that time? 

Shall I waste it? Daydream and piddle it away?  Drink, dance, light candles and incense, play music and write? Write and write and write? Time well wasted. A beautiful wasted afternoon. 

But dusk gathers, and I’m a chicken farmer as well as a writer. Eggs are gathered in baskets and await their sorting and boxing, but now I must go outside into the bitter cold one last time to shut the hens in for the night.

In the light of the quarter moon, the greenhouse glistens like a snow globe and each frosted blade of grass across the expanse of lawn is an ice crystal twinkling like fairy dust in the headlights of my pickup. I’m a chicken farmer and winter has arrived at last. The ground is frozen so my boots won’t sink into the mire that surrounded the chicken coops from the rain and slush preceding Christmas. There was no hope of it drying under the gunmetal sky with the low light of the winter solstice. No hope of a terra firma without the air temperature dipping into the twenties and staying there. Staying there.

I’m a chicken farmer and with dusk the chickens are back inside and roosting, and I must shut the coops. Roosting, they are vulnerable to any creature that might chose to invade the coop under cover of night: the coons and the skunks, the mink, fox and ground hogs, all hungry for a tasty chicken on a cold winter’s night, a meal worth the risk of a foray into populated areas. So I must cross the poultry fence in the light of the headlights I aimed to light my way. I traipse across the frozen blades of fairy grass that crunch underfoot like tiny bones to secure the coop, shut out the varmints and protect the sleeping chickens that turn comatose with the setting of the sun. Lively creatures by day, they turn silent and immobile by night, becoming even more defenseless than they naturally are. 

The stars that populate the sky and the moon at half-mast help to light my way and I reach the open door without tripping over the poultry fence or the feeders or the big stick one must carry by day to ward off the rooster with his spurs. The hens are lined up on their roosts like sparrows on a high wire. The white rooster is on the top rung surrounded by his adoring flock. He lifts his head and gives me a baleful look but doesn't budge from his perch. I slam the door shut and wedge a board against it for added protection against the crafty coon with crafty hands that can turn handles and unlatch fences. Sleep settles over the coop buttoned up for the night, and all are safe. I’m no longer a chicken farmer. I’m a writer.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cursive Writing vs. Alzheimers

My father has made an odd request of his children this Christmas. He wants a handwritten letter from each of us telling  him what we've been doing. That's all he wants. People used to write letters, especially at Christmas and I think he misses it. My parents don't have a computer so it must seem like nobody is communicating anymore. The art of letter writing is fading from our curriculum. We don't have the mastery of language and penmanship of our ancestors. We think of our great grandparents as being unschooled but they could write circles around us and I wouldn't want to take any of them on in a debate.

There is a current article in The Guardian about the cognitive benefits of cursive writing. Many handwriting advocates and neuroscientists think that penmanship is still mightier than the keyboard, that mastering penmanship has certain cognitive benefits. This makes sense to me. Every letter on the keyboard requires the same action: peck peck peck, while each letter of the alphabet requires a different stroke, engaging our brains in deep thought.  It takes us several years to master this precise motor skill. Cursive writing might even stave off Alzheimer's, that dreaded disease that is predicted to affect 50% of the population by 2050.

The keyboard can't match the emotion of handwriting. As stated in this article, "Each persons' hand is different, the gesture is charged with emotion, lending it a special charm." Maybe this is why those little icons that show emotion were invented, to make up for the soulless keyboard.

So, as I sit down to write a letter to my dad, (even found a pad of unused stationery in a desk drawer) I thought I'd throw out a challenge to everyone. Write a letter to someone this Christmas. It'll make someone's day.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Them



photograph by Robert Doisneau

Oh, for war's sweet end,
to be grounded in home,
freed from the smells
of goreI mean glory.
We kiss and
we kiss
and would do it again
do it all over again,
not me, not us, but them
they'll do it again 
for there's always a them
a new wave of them
who yearn for the glory
of the lock and load,
for the trill of the bugle
and the fame of a kiss.
Again.

This image comes from Magpie Tales, the blog dedicated to honing the pens of poets and writers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Highest Form Of Art (and goodbye to the G-Man)

                       "If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything." - Mark Twain

I recently found an old journal from a creative writing class in college in which I jotted down everything that teacher said. She told us that the highest form of art is literature and all art is about loss. I didn't understand that at the time, but I wrote it down, sitting on the edge of my seat and taking it all in. It seemed deep, like the Albert Camus novel,The Plague, which my sister gave me to read when I was only thirteen. She had high hopes for me, and I knew I was supposed to like it, but I didn't understand it.

When my brother's house burned to the ground, I wrote a poem. When we found out a family member had cancer, I wrote a poem. When my mother broke her leg and my father couldn't get out of his chair, I wrote a poem. Driving home from the hospital and forgetting the order of the Sorrowful Mysteries, I wrote a poem.

I just found out this morning that Galen Hayes, known in the blog world as Mr. Knowitall, the host of the Friday Flash 55 I participated in for several years, has died.  In one of his last posts he wrote, "Thanksgiving is not about Black Friday sales, or kicking off the Christmas shopping frenzy, it's about family, friends, and the joy of living." I did not know Galen personally, yet felt I did. I sat here and cried for this man I never knew but who touched my life and encouraged me to write my best. I would write an eulogy in 55 words but it seems this would cheapen the loss his family must now live with.

I feel guilty, relying upon tragic events for inspiration, taking advantage of misfortune to compose a sonnet, using the pain of others as fodder for my writer's ambition, my selfish dream of one day being remembered.  Must we experience tragedy and hardship to write anything worth writing? Can a youth unbowed by life write anything that will last beyond their years?

And what about memoir? After writing one, will your family still talk to you? Will they smile when they see you, or will a cloud of hostility color your gatherings, making you an outlier at the table? As a writer, if we aren't telling the truth, is there any point in writing at all? In the back of this old bedraggled journal I'd scribbled, "Write the truth as you know it."  With memory such a fickle creature, that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Then there is also what Emily Dickinson so wisely said, "Tell the truth, but tell it slant."  I like that.  Goodbye Galen.  I will miss you.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hounds On The Loose (flash 55)

A pickup truck stops in the middle of the road.
Hounds loosed from the back,
buck their handlers, heels grounded.
The old man looks out his window and wonders
what they’re looking for in his ditch.
He gets his cane and lumbers to his feet
wishing he could run a dog across the snow-swept field.



Time for a Flash 55. We only have 14 hours to save the earth! Rally your words and hurry over to The Imaginary Garden With Real Toads to aid the effort.

Flash, I love you!