Category Archives: Articles

National Poetry Writing Month

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by yeongkyeong lee

April is both National Poetry Month and National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). Also Global Poetry Writing Month (GloPoWriMo), if you live somewhere other than the United States.

For the last few years, I’ve been on the poetry writing bandwagon, writing a poem a day (well, I try to, anyway) during April and October (OctPoWriMo). I invite you to join me this year.

There’s a number of ways you can participate. Check out the official website for the NaPoWriMo challenge. Or, join Writer’s Digest’s Robert Lee Brewer for his Poem-A-Day challenge. You may find other poetry writing challenges online. You can use the suggested prompts if you wish, or not—they’re meant to be a starting point to get the juices flowing, but you can take off in any direction. You can post them online if you want, on a blog, in website comments, on social media. Or you can write them in your notebook and share them or not. You have incredible latitude.

I only became serious about writing poetry a few years ago. I’ve always loved poetry, but my early attempts at writing were so bad that I gave up. A book titled poemcrazy gave me some direction, and I love writing poems now. I mean to write a poem every other day year-round, but life interferes. Poem-a-day challenges help me be more intentional, although some days I can’t write a poem to save my life.

You can also celebrate National Poetry Month by reading poetry. Go to the library and check out a couple of anthologies. Or visit the two websites linked above (and ARHtistic License!) to read the daily offerings. Dissonance also posts daily poems. Poets.org has a poem-a-day page (you can sign up to have them email you a daily poem). You can also sign up for a morning poem email from The Paris Review. Or read poetry on Instagram.

Whether you read poems or write them, don’t let April go by without celebrating them.

Tasks That Can Be Accomplished in Just a Few Minutes

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It used to annoy me when I’m ready to go somewhere but my husband is not. “I just have to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth.” Instead of being mad or drumming my fingers or making impatient noises, I now try to use those waiting moments to accomplish something, anything. Often, I do things I’ve been procrastinating. It doesn’t take long to:

  • Move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer.
  • Take out the garbage.
  • Write a “thinking of you” card. (I have a friend who is medically fragile and has to limit her contact with people. I miss her so much and think about her all the time. A few times a year, I go to the dollar store and buy as many sweet or funny cards as I can find, and send one to her every week or so. I keep them in a plastic bag on my desk along with an index card with her address on it. Every time I realize it’s been a week, I dash one off to her. It only takes a couple of minutes.)
  • Wipe out the microwave.
  • Scrub the sink.
  • Dust one room with a feather duster. (Now you have an excuse to buy a feather duster.)
  • Do some lunges and stretches and yoga breathing.
  • Play some scales on the piano.
  • Sanitize the counter.
  • Brush the toilet.
  • Send up a prayer. (Can’t think of anything to pray about? Just say thank you. A spirit of gratitude improves your day and your relationships.)
  • Drink a full glass of water. It’s good for you, and sometimes we don’t drink enough.
  • Make the bed.
  • Change a light bulb.
  • Sweep the kitchen or laundry room or front porch.
  • Sew on a button.
  • Pet the dog or cat.
  • Tickle a child.
  • Comb your hair.
  • Make sure you’ve got your phone/wallet/keys/sunglasses.

Every time I’m able to accomplish a little chore in what could have been wasted time, I feel positively virtuous. When I’m stuck waiting away from home, I’ll pray or do some small exercises (neck rolls, tightening my abdomen, etc). And I always bring a book if I’m going to a doctor appointment.

Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with waiting? Are there activities you complete in random moments? Share in the comments below.

Hattie McDaniel

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Hattie McDaniel was a groundbreaking actress, the first African-American to win an Oscar for best supporting actress. Here’s her story:

I knew about Hattie McDaniel’s role in Gone with the Wind, but I didn’t know she was also a singer. Here she is in 1943’s Thank Your Lucky Stars, singing “Ice-Cold Katie”:

McDaniel costared with James Cagney in Johnny Come Lately in 1943:

Here is McDaniel with Ruby Dandridge on The Beulah Show in 1952. She passed away from breast cancer later that year.

Here she is in her most famous role:

Outstanding African-American Authors

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As an old white woman, I never knew until fairly recently that all my life I’d been the beneficiary of white privilege. I’d heard of it, but I didn’t think it applied to me, because I’m not rich. You have to be rich to be privileged, right?

Wrong.

Every day, I am the recipient of advantages that aren’t offered to my darker brothers and sisters. I am spared the assumptions made of people of color just because my skin is pale.

Three things made me aware of this phenomenon—an article in my Lutheran denomination’s magazine, and two groundbreaking books by African-American authors.

When I read the nonfiction book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, I realized how much I take for granted, and how many obstacles to success people of color face. It opened my eyes and broke my heart.

Next to The Holy BibleHidden Figures is the most important book I’ve ever read. As a boomer born in the 1950s and living through the tumultuous 1960s, I thought I knew all about the civil rights movement. It turns out I knew very little. I thank Margot Lee Shetterly for educating me. For example, I didn’t know that long before I was born, thousands of African Americans graduated from historically Black colleges and universities. They were every bit as highly educated as white college graduates, but had trouble finding employment in their fields. Many entered the teaching profession, working in Black schools, offering hope to the next generation. Good work, but low-paying, especially the farther back you go.

The book is very well-written. It reads like a novel, though it is nonfiction and scrupulously annotated. I am humbled to learn about the Langley Research Center computers, and I believe Hidden Figures should be required reading for everyone in the United States, especially white people like me. The movie based on it is often on TV, and I watch it whenever I can.

I read Angie Thomas’ YA novel, The Hate U Give, to find out what all the fuss was about. I was prepared not to like it, but it transcended my expectations. The story is multi-layered, with difficult family issues, and yet you understand that Starr and her parents are people with principles who want to do the right things. Thomas does a great job of weaving a spellbinding plot. I’m not sure if her aim was to give white people an idea of what it is like to be a Black person in America today, but The Hate U Give has opened my white female senior citizen eyes. When people started saying, “Black lives matter,” white people, me included, said, “All lives matter,” to which Black people replied, “You don’t get it.” Thanks to this brilliantly written book, I am beginning to understand.

Not every book by a Black author needs to change the world. Some are just good stories.

I’ve read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and it transported me to a different world. Drawing from West African myth, Adeyemi created the kingdom of Orïsha (which on the endpaper map looks a lot like the continent of Africa). Its citizens fall into two groups: the diviners, distinguishable by their white hair, who could perform magic; and the kosidán, who can’t. Eleven years before the beginning of the story, magic disappeared from Orïsha, the same night as the Raid, a genocide of the diviners orchestrated by ruthless King Saran, who believed magic was destroying Orïsha and was determined to wipe it out. And that’s all I’m going to tell you, because if you are tired of the same old fiction, you are ready for Children of Blood and Bone. One warning, though—things do not get wrapped up at the end, so you’ll probably have to read the second and third installments.

Years ago I read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale, and Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress. I’ve read at least one Toni Morrison book, but I can’t remember which.

I love Maya Angelou’s poems and wisdom. I’ve read two of her autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in My Name. They barely get her out of her teens; I’ve got five more to go. She lived an amazing life and overcame huge odds. Did you know she was a teenaged madam? She also wanted to join the Army and qualified for Officer’s Candidate School, but that dream ended when she was accused of being a Communist. She danced professionally for a short time; then her partner reconciled with his ex and fired her.

While researching for this article, I came across many authors whose names I know but whose books I haven’t read: Octavia Butler, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Marlon James, Colson Whitehead, Jessmyn Ward, Jacqueline Woodson, Zora Neale Hurston, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Hopefully, I will read some before next Black History Month.

A Black History Month Treat: The Other Mozart

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Joseph Bologne, le Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Joseph Bologne was born December 25, 1745, on the island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies. His father was a minor French noble; his mother was the African slave of his father’s wife.

His father adored the baby boy, and couldn’t help noticing his quick intellect. He wanted nothing more than for Joseph to grow up and take his place among the nobility. He even gave him a special title: le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. His early education included learning to read and write in French, riding, shooting, and playing the violin.

When Joseph was eight, his father moved him and his mother to Paris. Joseph was enrolled in an exclusive academy. He became an accomplished swordsman, virtually unbeatable at fencing. He was also an elegant dancer and very popular with the ladies.

But his greatest talent was his musicianship. He was a virtuoso violinist. The young queen, Marie Antoinette, herself a fine musician, invited him to come to Versailles and play with her. Joseph was also an acclaimed composer and a sought-after conductor. He aspired to be the director of the Paris Opera. But the three divas of the opera company complained to King Louis XVI that it was beneath them to take orders from a mulatto. The king left the position unfilled.

Eventually, Joseph became aware of the longing of the French people for a more egalitarian form of government. He sympathized with the cause of the Revolution, and became the commander of a regiment of a thousand black soldiers. After the overthrow of the monarchy and the beheading of Louis XVI, the Reign of Terror began, and the nobles’ lives were at risk—including the Chevalier’s. Joseph was imprisoned. Ultimately, he kept his head and was released.

Today Joseph Bologne, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, is known for the beautiful music he composed. Sadly, after his lifetime, his music fell out of favor and was not performed for almost 200 years; but in recent decades, it has been rediscovered and new audiences appreciate his genius. He is thought to be the first Black classical composer. His style is often compared to Mozart’s.

If you have some time, the following video gives more details of his life and features some of his music. WARNING: Some scenes are not appropriate for children.

Ideas for Valentine’s Day During the Pandemic

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Ideas for Valentine’s Day During the Pandemic

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day with your honey this year? During the pandemic, your options are limited. You’d better start planning now if you don’t want to disappoint your loved one.

You might not even be getting together face-to-face. Maybe you’re separated by distance, or maybe a health concern has kept you isolated. Maybe spending face time in FaceTime is your best option.

Even under the best of times, going out to eat on Valentine’s Day is a challenge, because, guess what? It’s everyone’s Valentine’s Day; unlike birthdays and anniversaries, which are spread out among 366 days. And in the time of Covid, dining venues are limited. Most restaurants that are open have fewer tables available (unless they’ve built plexiglass partitions); and they’re in high demand because, as stated before, it’s everybody’s Valentine’s Day.

So, maybe you can make a special dinner for your Valentine; that is, if you can even be in the same room together. Or, maybe you can order takeout. Or maybe you can send him or her a specially delivered meal.

You can’t go out to the movies, but maybe you could stream a romantic movie together.

You can always send him or her flowers or candy or a gift. It’s tried and true, but somewhat of a cliché.

Better yet, you could give the gift of yourself. What are your special talents? (Oh, my goodness! That’s not the kind of special talent I meant, but okay then. Moving on. . .)

Can you write a love poem? It doesn’t even have to rhyme. And if you can also play an instrument, maybe you can make it into a song with a simple accompaniment, and video yourself singing it, and post it on his or her Facebook page. (Um, even as I’m writing this, I’m seeing potential for disaster. . . maybe you could just email the poem.)

Can you draw or paint? Make some artwork especially for your beloved. You know what he or she likes. Landscapes, or flowers, or puppies, or even a portrait. That’s it! Make a portrait of your Valentine, and frame it in a gorgeous frame so he or she can enjoy it forever in a place of honor. (What could go wrong with that idea?)

Or maybe you’re a photographer. Enlarge a favorite photo that you know would have special meaning for your loved one, and frame it.

Are you a woodworker, or a quilter, or an upholsterer? A beautiful item that you made with your own hands will be treasured as evidence of your love. Who doesn’t love a quilt or a piece of furniture?

If all else fails, there are always gift cards. That mega-million-dollar internet order company that has fast delivery is very popular during the pandemic, as is that expensive coffee place with the drive-up window with cars backed up to the highway. Or a gift card to a grocery store. Actually, depending on your situation (and your sweetheart’s), one of the most appreciated gifts you could give might be a donation to the local food bank in your Valentine’s name. Some states (Arizona among them) might even give you (or your loved one) a tax credit for it.

Now it’s your turn. What great ideas do you have for celebrating Valentine’s Day during the pandemic? Share in the comments below. And however you spend Valentine’s Day this year, have a happy one.

Writing Christmas Fiction

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Since my children were small, there’s been a basket in the corner of our living room filled with Christmas books. Some are children’s books, some are grownups’, some are fiction, some are non-fiction. They’ve been collected over decades, and I reread a few every year. I’ve even reviewed a few of my favorites.

I’ve always wanted to write a Christmas story of my own. About a year ago I came up with an idea of a retelling of a classic Christmas tale—and that’s all I’m going to tell you about it, because I’m working hard at finishing it, and I’d really be bummed if you took my idea and did a better and quicker job of it than me.

Writing Christmas books is much like writing any other kind of book, but with a few slight differences. The same expectations for all fiction also apply to Christmas fiction: a vivid setting, a conflict, a main character who grows through time; a beginning, middle, and end; an arc with escalating action that leads to a satisfying conclusion. Christmas fiction also needs to evoke the feelings of the holidays, awakening associations through the senses: the twinkling lights, the smell of pine, the flavor of gingerbread, the sound of jingle bells. Christmas stories can be shorter than other novels, like 50,000 to 65,000 words rather than 90,000 to 300,000.

Christmas books generally sell from October through December. New Christmas books typically appear on shelves the first Tuesday in October. If you self-publish, you’ll want to launch in early October as well. Your book will languish from January through September, but you’ll be wise to self-promote it again starting each October.

Are you thinking of writing a Christmas book of your own? These articles may help you:

The Creative Soul

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I’ve been introspective lately, thinking about big topics, such as the presence of God in our lives. I want to be a person who is led by God, and I’m having trouble hearing Him. This would normally be a topic for my Religion and Politics page, but I’m going to leave it here, in the main part of my blog, because it’s also related to creativity.

God is the Creator, and He made us in His image. That means that to a certain lesser extent, we are creators also. We’re cooks and builders and artists and inventors. We make stuff.

I believe my ideas come from God, but sometimes I don’t know what to do with them. I’ve come to a dead stop on some of my books because I know they have the potential to be so much more than they are, and I don’t know how to get them there. I need God to show me what His plan for my work is. I want to catch His vision. I want to plug into His creative power, but I don’t know how to access it. Where is it? Can I reach it with my mind? Or is it deeper still? Is it in my heart? My soul? My spirit?

I’ve prayed about it, and waited quietly for an answer, but it’s been months and I haven’t heard anything yet. And so I wonder.

A book I’ve been reading with my Bible study group mentioned that the soul knows when you’re on the wrong path. I feel like I’m on the wrong creative path and I’m searching for the right one, but I’m so lost. I sensed a whisper that I should define soul, so I’m following a rabbit trail trying to get a handle on it.

Is my soul the same thing as my spirit? I googled the difference between soul and spirit, and one of the articles that came up looked at scripture for answers.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (NIV).” The way the sentence is structured in the original Greek infers that we are made up of three distinct parts: spirit, soul, and body.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV).” You can divide the soul from the spirit just as you can separate joints from marrow; they are two distinct things. But they are also intertwined; it takes something sharper than a double-edged sword to separate them. Have you ever tried to sever a chicken leg joint in order to cook or serve dinner? It helps to have a sharp knife, but even that isn’t enough by itself; you really need good technique not to botch it up. Why? Because it isn’t designed to come apart easily. It would not be beneficial to the chicken for her legs to come off with ease. The word of God divides soul and spirit. What does that even mean?

Glory Dy, the author of the article I read, says “The soul is basically our mind, our emotions, and our will. It is who we are as human beings.” When I tried to define soul in my Zoom Bible study on Monday, I said it is our true self, our essence. I’m not sure I have it nailed down.

In contrast, Dy says, spirit is where we experience God. It is how we connect to the divine.

I’m sorry that my post today raises more questions than it answers. I’m not being very helpful today. If you have insights on the soul and/or the spirit, please feel free to share in the comments.

More thoughts on soul vs. spirit.

Hummingbird Habitat

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Over the past few months I’ve noticed that some of my friends have posted beautiful photos of the Hummingbird Habitat in Desert Breeze Park just a few miles south of my house. And the last time I ventured out of my house for a photo shoot was May.

So on Wednesday, I bravely drove to the park.

I love parks. Desert Breeze has a lot of nice features. There’s a lake for urban fishing. There’s a little train. (One evening around Christmas many years ago we took the kids for a train ride around the holiday-lit park and then drank hot cocoa.) There’s a playground with a splash pad where kids were cooling off from the heat. (This is Arizona, where it’s still summer, with 100 degrees + temperatures.)

The park is four acres, and I didn’t know exactly where the hummingbird garden is. The first parking lot I pulled into was next to the lake. I didn’t see anything that could be a hummingbird garden.

The next lot I visited was next to the train station. I could see tennis courts and the playground. I parked the car and looked for a directory to show me the way to the hummingbird habitat. I found none, so I started walking. How far could it be?

Besides the kids in the playground, I saw groundskeepers striding around and people jogging, but instead of flagging them down, I kept my social distance. With no idea where to go, I took out my phone and looked for a map of the park. Why didn’t I do that when I first got to the park? Well, I tried, and I asked Siri for help, but I’m new to smart phones and I don’t know what I’m doing. I managed to find a map, and tried to enlarge it. An annoying little dialog box kept popping up saying “Chandler Parks wants to know your location” and I clicked “Don’t Allow” several times while trying to get my bearings. Finally, I clicked “Allow,” and a dot appeared on the map. As I took a couple of steps trying to determine where I was on the map, the dot moved. The dot was me! Who knew?

Then it was a snap to walk to the Hummingbird Habitat. Too bad I’d walked in all the wrong directions. I would never have found it without GPS. But my efforts were so worth it.

There’s an archway with a giant hummingbird at the entrance to the habitat. And just inside is a pond complete with waterlilies and a little waterfall.

A giant tree sculpture with a circular bench offers a place to sit.

There are lots of live trees, too.

And other plants.

Hummingbirds love trumpet-shaped flowers. Due to the heat, there weren’t very many of these left.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single hummingbird. It was already nearly noon (this is Arizona, where it’s still summer, with 100 degrees + temperatures), so I suspect the birds were resting wherever they could find shade. Next time I’ll go earlier. Or later.

On the way home, I drove around the neighborhood until I found the way to the parking lot that is only steps from the Hummingbird Habitat.

Ways that Technology has Changed the Writing Profession

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Ways that Technology has Changed the Writing Profession

 

Technology is both a blessing and a curse. Technological advances have effected every occupation, and writing is no exception.

From typewriter to computer

When I started freelance writing in the early 1990s, I wrote my drafts by hand either in notebooks or on loose-leaf paper, and when I was satisfied with my final draft, I typed it out. That sounds easier than it actually was. I was a terrible typist: I rarely had only one error per page, and retyping the page didn’t guarantee I’d have fewer mistakes.

Personal computers were just becoming a thing, and they were expensive. Instead, I bought a word processor, which worked fine for me, but one of my editors preferred to get manuscripts via floppy disc, so we eventually bit the bullet and bought a computer. This was a bare-bones Mac with no internet capability. Now every few years we upgrade (kicking and screaming) to a more current machine. I currently use a geriatric MacBookAir running High Sierra, which will have to be replaced soon.

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From snail mail to email or other electronic forms

In the old days, I had to mail my manuscripts, enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the reply and/or return of my manuscript. (No SASE, no response. Otherwise, you got some sort of acknowledgement, although you might have to wait six months for it.)

Now, virtually no one wants to deal with paper. Which is alright by me. But I am offended that so few agents and editors respond to a submission. They tell you upfront in their contact info that they are too busy. (In contrast to writers, who have nothing but time.)

From hard copy books to e-books

Electronic books were supposed to make hard copies obsolete. Instead, they are a purchasing option. Most books come out in both formats, and most readers buy some reads as e-books and others as hard copies.

And access to low-cost e-book production means that authors whose work isn’t snatched up by a traditional publisher can self-publish much more affordably than they used to (though it takes a lot of study to learn how to do it yourself).

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From publisher-sponsored publicity to the rise of author websites, blogs, and social media

Once upon a time, the publishing house had a small promotional budget for even their unknown authors. Nowadays, unless you’re Stephen King or a Washington insider writing a Trump exposé, you get zip. You’re responsible for creating your own buzz. You’ve got to be an influencer, or know a few. You’ve got to blog, or at least have a good-looking author website. You’ve got to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and whatever social media launched five minutes ago. Some publishers want to see how many followers you have before they even read your proposal.

Though I admit technology has made some aspects of my life easier—Google means I can do research without even leaving my home!—there are some things about the old days that I miss, such as getting a mailed acknowledgement of my submission, even a rejection slip.