Tag Archives: Books

Poetry Walk

Poetry Walk

I’m going to tell you a secret: I hate to exercise. Yet I recognize that it’s crucial to maintaining quality of life, especially at my advanced age. So, I either dance, or I go to the gym, or I walk. But when I exercise, I need a distraction so that I can forget I’m doing something I hate. Luckily, I love to dance, and if I take a fitness class, the other participants provide an interesting diversion. But if I’m hitting the machines, or I’m walking, I at least need my iPod to make it bearable.

Back in the 90s, I didn’t have a gym membership, so I walked most mornings on a canal path that passed my children’s elementary school. Often, I caught a glimpse of one of my little darlings at recess. While I walked, I listened to cassette tapes of the books of the Bible on my Walkman.

Since I started my blog, I often bring my camera along, in case I see something that would make an attractive illustration. One day I left it home, thinking I’d already seen everything there is to see along the way. That was a mistake—I missed two or three great shots.

I’m working my way through poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldrigdge in my effort to write a poem a day. One of her suggestions is to take a poetry walk, bringing a notebook and pen along to jot down any ideas that come. So on my next walk, I brought a steno notebook and, to my surprise, filled nearly a page with observations that I could develop into a poem.

Here’s one that resulted from that poetry walk:

January in ArizonaDSC00802

“You don’t need your jacket,” he says.
“I want my jacket,” I reply.
My jacket pleases me (I think to myself),
Hot pink and fleecy.
Besides, we just had a hard freeze—
Frost on the roof and the car rear window.
The neighbors’ bushes wear quilts.

I embark on my walk.
After a block, my jacket unzips.
After three blocks, the jacket comes off.
How will I carry it
So the keys don’t tumble out of my pocket?
I could turn around and drop it at home,
But then he’d say, “I told you so.”

So I hold it right-side-up,
Ever vigilant for the jangling of escaping keys.
The path is dotted with wildflowers,
Emboldened by the sudden warmth,
Speculating that spring has arrived.
The bougainvillea blaze red;
Were those blooms there yesterday?


Poetic Collage

Poetic Collage

Disclaimer: None of these gorgeous images are mine; I found them on Pinterest. If you know the photographer of any of these, please let me know in the comments so I can give them credit.

This collage is the result of an exercise in a book I’m reading, poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. The assignment is to collect words, and then use them to randomly label things. To see my labels, let your cursor touch the pictures. I was only mildly successful with this; most times my labels are somehow related to the picture, missing the whole purpose of spawning out-of-the-box poetic imagination. Oh, well. It was fun, anyway.


A Peek at my Work-in-Progress

A Peek at my Work-in-Progress

Just for fun, I’m going to give you a little glimpse of the YA mystical fantasy novel I’m writing, with the working title: The Unicornologist.

It’s set in 1967. To give you a feel for the time, here is what a McDonald’s hamburger stand (the setting of chapter five) looked like:

No drive through. You had to park your car and walk up to the sliding glass window to order, and wait for your food to be packed into a bag. No dining room. Some McDonald’s had a bench built into the exterior side wall, but most people just took their food back to their cars and ate while parked in the lot. And, yes, a hamburger cost 15 cents.

HillaryMy story centers around a New Jersey high school freshman, Hillary Noone, whom I picture as looking something like the girl on the right, except with glasses. She’s a nerd. Her mother died when she was eight, and her father recently remarried. Hillary, an only child, resents her stepmother, who kind of took over when she moved in, not respecting the routines that Hillary and her dad put into place to cope with her mother’s death.

TwiggyHillary’s best friend is her neighbor, Allie, who  wears her hair like Twiggy (see the image to the left), a popular British model in the late 60’s, nicknamed after her slender figure. Hillary and Allie grew up playing in the forest that surrounds their homes, and even have a tree they like to climb (where they talk about their problems and dreams), looking something like the big cedar tree to the right below.

treeThe story really gets going when the girls go on a school field trip to the Cloisters in New York City, the medieval branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (See my previous post, Cloister Me.)

While examining the Unicorn Tapestries housed there (see my previous post, Unicornucopia), something happens that imprints the unicorn in her heart. She becomes obsessed by unicorn lore and learns everything about them, especially their use as a symbol in medieval art.


That’s all I’m telling for now, but at a later date I’ll spill more about Allie and Hillary, and about Robin, the boy they both fall for. And about how complicated things get for all three of them when life imitates art.

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Monday Morning Wisdom #12

Monday Morning Wisdom #12

“In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.”–Anna QuildlenMMW

Top Ten Ways to Combat Writer’s Block

Top Ten Ways to Combat Writer’s Block

Let’s face it—writer’s block is a universal experience among writers. We all deal with it at one time or another. As discouraging as it is to face a project that defies you to start or make progress, you can prevail unto victory. Here are some strategies that work for me.

  1. Persevere. That means don’t give up. Think Winston Churchill. This is hard, but imperative. (By the way, perseverance has applications in all other aspects of life, especially work, sports, and the arts. And parenting.)
  2. Write every day. Even if you can’t seem to write a word on your project, write something. Write a shopping list or a to-do list. Write a stream of consciousness. Write a Facebook post. Write a breakdown of your project into easily accomplishable tasks. Write pages that you know will never show up in your final project. Just write something—shoot for at least 500 words. Practice daily writing as a discipline. Take Jeff Goins’ 500 Word Challenge. You will build impetus and fight inertia.
  3. Believe in your project. You have a message, or at least a story to tell. And even if it’s already been done, no one call tell it the same way you can. Remember why you are doing this. If your only motive is money, that’s probably not enough to sustain your work. While we all have bills to pay, that’s no reason for your manuscript to exist. You should want to touch people’s lives, encourage and uplift them, help them, educate them, entertain them. If your project doesn’t have a meaningful purpose, it doesn’t deserve your effort. Have a project worthy of hard work. Then work hard.
  4. Do something mindless. Physical movement helps, but I prefer something you don’t really have to think about, like ironing or walking. I used to walk every morning. I learned to take a notebook with me, because invariably something intriguing would pop into my head that I would forget if I didn’t write it down. It’s challenging to write while you’re walking, but you can do it. Or capture your ideas on your smart phone or a portable recorder.frustrated-writer-2
  5. Make a story board, or write an outline. Try taking 12 index cards, one for each phase of The Hero’s Journey. (Click here.) Then write down your scenes on the appropriate cards. While you are not bound to this sort of a framework (and Stephen King produces book after book without bothering with one), it can show you how to fill the holes in your project.
  6. Write out of sequence. Maybe you know what the next-to-last chapter of your nonfiction book needs to cover, but you just can’t make progress on chapter five. You don’t necessarily need to write each page in order. If you’re stuck, try writing a particularly vivid scene that will occur further on in your novel. You will probably have to throw most of it away later, because details will be all out of whack. But what you write may give you clues about the progression of your story line. Getting words on paper is the important thing. You can always rewrite later.
  7. Think about improbable next steps for your work-in-progress. Maybe your 1800’s character witnesses an alien spaceship crash. Or maybe the next chapter in your economics book should be about the history of tic-tac-toe. Don’t knock it–I sometimes get usable ideas from this strategy. Or write a minor character’s back story. This is more useful than it sounds, because if you do the work of getting to know him, he will behave much more believably in your story.
  8. Don’t aim for perfection—at least until after your first draft is done. Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. First drafts are supposed to suck. They’re the raw material for your rewrites. Every writer rewrites. Don’t edit as you go. Instead, get the whole thing down. In his book On Writing, Stephen King recommends writing your first draft, then putting it in a drawer for six weeks while you work on your next project. Then go back and read the draft, see if it holds together, and make any major corrections and changes before starting at least two very serious rewrites.
  9. Give your subconscious the assignment of figuring out the next part. Before you go to sleep, or as you start a brainless task, remind yourself that you need to figure out how you’re going to get around your blockage. Some writers find it helpful to reread their last few pages before they go to bed. My friend Gloria Jean, a ballroom dancer who designed and sewed all her dance dresses, kept a sketch book next to her bed. She saw dance dresses in her dreams and drew them when she woke up (sometimes in the middle of the night!) while they were still fresh in her mind. You might keep a pad and pencil by your bed so you can record ideas (sometimes shockingly bizarre) that come to you in your dreams.
  10. Above all, never, never, never give up.

Do you have a blockage-busting strategy that works especially well for you? Please share in the comments below.

In the Meme Time: Seuss

In the Meme Time: Seuss

Not exactly a meme, but I just had to share what media specialist Laura Thornburg at Weinberg Elementary School in the Chandler AZ school district did on the wall of her library:

weinberg library

What Is My Calling?

What Is My Calling?

If you asked me a few years ago what my calling was, I would tell you I was born to teach. I loved being around elementary school children, seeing the world through their eyes. I taught music, and I loved seeing the kids build skills, learn concepts, and enjoy making music.

Then everything changed. Without going into detail, teaching became a burden rather than a joy. Recognizing that the educational paradigm was shifting, I tried to roll with the changes, telling myself I could hang on until things got better.

They only got worse. Demands increased as resources dwindled. Morale at my school plummeted. My stress level rose. After grieving for three years over my profession’s shift from rewarding labor to drudgery, I resigned in May of 2014. I had to. I couldn’t suffer it one more day.

I immediately underwent an identity crisis. What was I, if no longer a teacher? And what was I going to do with the rest of my life? I was too young to retire, too young for Medicare.

Signing the deal

I returned to Tuesdays Children, the writers’ critique group I was part of a decade before, when as a stay-at-home mom I tried to write for a living. It was my logical fall-back, since I always said I’d return to writing when I wasn’t teaching any more. These wonderful ladies decided to launch a group blog, Doing Life Together, and I wrote a post about my transition from teaching to the unknown. (Click here.)

Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins

When Jeff Goins, a writer whose blog I follow (click here), recently published his book The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do, I knew I had to read it. And since I am participating in the Around the World Reading Challenge sponsored by the blog Booking It (click here), I am reviewing it here as my entry for North America. (Jeff Goins lives near Nashville, Tennessee.)The Art of Work

In this book, Goins explains that everything that happens in your life is preparation for what is to come. Sometimes when you seem stuck doing something you never wanted to do, you are actually busy acquiring skills you need to accomplish your (as yet undiscovered) mission in life. Most people work at multiple occupations during their lifetimes, and none of those are wasted in the big picture, though it may take the perspective of looking back through decades to be aware of how vital those experiences were to your growth into the person you were always meant to be. In fact, if you think your calling is only one thing, you’re wrong—it will be many things over time. The path isn’t straight, it’s loopy. And what seems like backtracking isn’t necessarily lack of progress.

My favorite chapter of all is 5. Pivot Points: Why Failure Is Your Friend. It made me realize that my time teaching needed to be over because my apprenticeship there was through. Teaching helped me hone two skills I need for my writing—crafting words to make concepts crystal clear, and using design software. (One of the many expectations teachers comply with is maintaining a webpage about what they are teaching in class; another is advising extra-curricular activities. I volunteered to produce the school’s yearbook for three years. Little did I know how much it would help me later in designing my blog.)

After a year of agonizing over what I should be pursuing, praying to the Lord for direction and not discerning any, applying for jobs and not finding a good fit, reading The Art of Work confirmed for me that I am already doing exactly when I was meant to do at this point in my life. A year ago, God immediately answered my prayers by placing me precisely where I needed to be.

Monday Morning Wisdom #4

Monday Morning Wisdom #4

“Books are like mirrors: if a fool looks in, you cannot expect a genius to look out.”     –J.K. RowlingMMW