Monday, January 12, 2015

on being a writer: surround

                                                   New York City Poetry Festival, Governor's Island, NY, July 2014

As a holistic speech pathologist, I spend much of my work day actively engaged in the occupation of listening.  I listen to the monologues of children who have difficulty with social cues, and help to shape better conversation.  I listen to children who lack spoken words cry and discern the meaning:  I don’t want to do this, I am sad/angry, I am relieving my stress and thank you for hearing me.  With my sight, I listen for responses in eye contact and body posture.  Using my hands I listen for changes in tissue tension and respiration rate, for the tensing and relaxing of the body as it readies itself for processing and learning new skills.  I listen for distortions in vowel production in connected speech to tell me how the articulators form the vocal tract during the complex motor acts of speech sound sequencing.  I listen to parents as they share the concerns and triumphs of their child’s journey.  I give physical and emotional support, knowledge and provide a sounding board when needed, in an intimate, intense exchange for 6-8 hours daily. 

When I am working, I have designed my room to be as distraction free as possible.  I keep the same traffic flow, use soft lighting, and the walls are painted the blue of Bahamian sea and sky.  The womb-like atmosphere fosters a soothing space that allows the children to initiate thoughts and ideas, to be heard and ultimately challenged to grow.  It is very easy to stay in that concentrated mental state when I leave work, but that type of intensity isn’t necessary, or healthy, for the rest of my life.  I find that a change of scenery every few weeks helps my brain to reboot.  I will go into NYC for the day for a meal, or to a museum or concert, by myself of with a friend.  Sometimes I meet my daughter when she’s at work and enjoy some awesome Mexican food at the Hotel Tortuga.  I often escape to Ocean Grove, New Jersey, most likely in the off-season, to feel the crisp salt air, collect shells and to walk barefoot on the beach.  Weird sidebar:  When I walk barefoot on the beach in the winter, instead of getting cold, my feet actually heat up to the point where they feel like baked potatoes.  It’s a very wild sensation. J

My home contains mementoes of these trips.  I’ve traveled some amazing vacations, but mostly I’ve ventured out on day jaunts and short detours when I could capture the time.  There are memories and stories and people associated with most of the objects I have on display.

Last year, due to a series of unfortunate (and unrelated) neurologic events, I was homebound most of the time I wasn’t working (and I was working a lot less than usual).  My ability to focus for reading and writing was seriously compromised, and I started many thoughts, projects and books that I didn’t finish, or even forgot about completely.  As I am recovering, I have set up a new plan to organize and deepen my creative writing process.
Firstly, I have a pile of notebooks, books with pages marked, papers clipped together, notes on my iPhone and other bits and scraps of written phrases and ideas.  While that (lack of) system used to work when I wrote sporadically, it’s no longer practical and doesn’t feel as “artsy” and cool as it used to feel.  Instead, it’s become an island of undeveloped ideas that are waiting to be brought to fruition or laid to rest.  I plan to take these first three months of 2015 and mine this pile using the “adapt, achieve, abandon or archive” approach to dealing with them.  So far, it’s been fun to gather these ideas and work them out or file them accordingly, either here at the blog or in my simple system at Google docs. 

I have also committed to reading more fiction, especially short stories.  Over the last two years I have mostly read poetry and other “formation” books, either spiritual or artistic.  I am going through this pile that I have accumulated.  It’s not an obscene amount, but it needs attention.  Some of the books need to be prioritized to read, and some need to be passed along or returned because their focus is no longer relevant to me.  I am also going to read at least one short story per week, in preparation, perhaps, for writing one of my own.

This plan is really a continuation of habits that I started last year with the physical off-loading.  I am going to use up what I have already on hand before I look for something more to add to my writing life surround, and pass along what some else can use better.  An extended artist’s date without leaving the comfort of my home this chilly East Coast January.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

prayer of reconciliation

You know my heart, oh God, and how much I desire to belong
You designed me, Lord, to live in unity with Your Body,
Yet that knowledge alone seldom satisfies my need for security 

I seek the similar so I may feel safe
I serve the weak so I may feel strong
I harbor offense so I may feel righteous
And in my short, selfish sight, I fence myself into isolation
Forgive me, Lord, for every person I have shunned
Through too much activity, or not enough response
Through bitterness, unforgiveness, or the cutting blade of judgement
Let me break bread with every outcast and foreigner seated at Your table
Without first asking if they deserve to partake
For I, too, outside of You, am unworthy
To eat of Your flesh and drink of Your cup
But in communion, am reconciled to You, and Your people, and made whole.



we were torn apart
(she and i were torn apart)
a detachment
a specter of myself
and i was afraid
to be her
afraid that she would
shatter on contact or
pull me into her current
sweep me away
in her riptide

although she had no body she was drowning


inexplicably entwined
we once upon a time
made peace
reacquainted we spent the day
building sandcastles at the shoreline
the safest place to be
where the incoming tide
erased mistakes with ease

what is constant in this inconstancy
the roar of our great mother
the ocean
drowned out curses
and our pleas
to each other
to be right
to be loved
to belong


the tides will rise and fall
the moon eventually
switches place in the sky
with the morning sun
(who is not an equal partner
by any means
but the source
of sustenance
for us all)

everyone knows he would be nothing without her


arms of seaweed wave at me in the surf
and I reach for the gift
taking time to braid each strand
so at least to the casual observer
there seems to be some order

in the beauty

Monday, January 5, 2015

on being a writer: arrange

In February 2013, my daughter and I lived in an apartment in Montmartre, Paris, for 10 days.  Spacious by Parisian standards, the apartment contained one bedroom (where I slept) and a good-sized living area with a kitchenette, a queen sofa-sleeper, and a dining area that doubled as a writing space for my daughter.  The apartment was warm, inviting, and very simply stocked.  Everything we needed to prepare and eat meals was there, but not too much extra.  I often looked around, pondering how much easier, and how freeing, how inspiring, it would be to keep a home that was so simple.

Every morning, I journaled at a wooden writing desk in the bedroom.  The grainy surface of the desk, the scratching of my pen across paper, and the texture of the aged wood floors under my socked feet, sealed the sensory experience of my records that rushes to my consciousness with the slightest trigger or call.  Even the memory of riding the coffin-like elevator from the fourth floor to street level and stepping out onto the cobblestone streets sends me into a giddy escape. 

I still dream of Rue Lepic.  For a time, Van Gogh lived at 54 Rue Lepic with his brother, Theo.  Artists and writers drunkenly stumbled and loved and cheated and created along those streets ages before me.  I can hear the clop-clopping of horses and the click-clackling of the wagons behind them, sometimes darting to the curb to avoid getting run over by their ghosts.  Aromas of chocolate, coffee, bread and the sweetest fruits mixed with cigarettes and wine, no matter the time of day, entice even the sleepiest, unhungry palate for just one sip, just one bite, and then one more.

Returning home after our travels, Tori and I were on the verge of major life transitions; she, heading off to college in NYC, and I, in a new season of singlehood.  I didn’t realize I was preparing for a move of my own, but I started to offload household items anyway.  Over the 16 years we lived in that house I had collected pots and pans, kitchen utensils, doubles, triples of things, glassware and dishes, decorations and furniture…I didn’t realize how much was there, because I had the room to neatly store or house it.  Now it was time for a change.  I had a vision of that Parisian apartment, and I wanted to live into it.

It was really so much fun to give things away, where they would be better used.  I prayed over the items, prayed for the volunteers handling the items and the people who would receive them.  I thanked God for His abundance.  Even after months of giving stuff away, I had more than enough, but was surrounded by just the things I loved.  I was thankful to be in a position to give, and mindful of the times I had a need that someone anticipated and met.

Then, last January, it was time to GO!  I moved to a condominium a few towns west, not as small the Parisian apartment, but closely resembling it. For the most part, this space is mine. (Just don’t tell Lucie, my cat, that I said it that way).  Thankfully, some weekends and school breaks when Tori comes home, we are making new routines and memories together, too. 

As I settled into my new home, I left a lot of open space to allow new living habits to develop.  One conscious choice was not to set up a “home office”, for several reasons.  Firstly, I own my own business and have an office to myself just a few miles from where I live, and I tend not to bring work home with me.  Secondly, I wanted to test the need for that type of space in my new area, or see if I could integrate it somehow into the general living space.

This past year, I wrote at the dining table, at the computer workstation, sitting on my sofa; basically, wherever I landed for the allotted time.  Although I was able to produce when the ideas arose, a structured writing life did not emerge.  After reading through Chapter 2,  I realized I do have a need for a dedicated creative space.  What to do?  I really missed my desk from the old place.  It was a simple Ikea put-together, but a had large, flat surface, too big to fit anywhere now, or so I thought.  It had been sitting in my basement, waiting to be relocated.  The only possibility, after a careful survey, was in my bedroom.  Pushing all of the furniture about 3 feet to the window wall opened up a perfect space to fit my desk.  It was like Santa came down the chimney with my desk for Christmas morning! 


Now I have been reunited with my desk, and the space is separate from the household workstation I established elsewhere.  No bills or errands to list here.  Just an easy plugin for my laptop, a few seashells from my latest winter beach excursion, a repositioned lamp, et voila!  Under the glass I have a few of my favorite photos, and to the upper right edge is a stack of books that I use to keep me moving deeper and forward with this craft.

When I look at this space, I breathe.  It’s a lovely feeling. And when I think about writing more regularly, I am ready to make that space in both my home and in my schedule.  I’m still working out the specifics, but I also enjoy the freedom to let a process unfold.  I’m a good meanderer, un veritable flaneur

I do plan to blog a narrative post, something other than poetry, once a week for the next three months.  These posts are hard for me!  I start them all the time, but abandon the thoughts before they are complete.   I have also found a writing partner to hash out the road blocks and cheer me along.  We are not working on the same projects, but we have taken online classes and know we work well together.  I’m excited and encouraged about that!


Even if you are not a writer, or don’t intend to pursue writing in any way, I am sure you have places in your life that can use some off-loading.  Even good things can be a burden, or a block, to a new focus or endeavor.  Read along with me over the next three months.  Maybe you will want to make that next step wherever it may lead.  Let me know?