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I don’t know anything about classical music. I’ve played some — back in my mercifully short career as a high school flutist. I’ve sung a fair bit. I have favorite pieces. There are symphonies I love, composers who generally never let me down, but I don’t actually know anything. I haven’t studied, don’t understand intricacies or what makes one piece speak to me and another leave me cold. I’m that classic, “I know what I like,” kind of fan.

I could fix my ignorance, of course, take classes that would give me the background and vocabulary for all the things I don’t know how to say about this music. I don’t mind my not-knowing, however. Not really. I like coming to this music following my heart, my emotional response, rather than paying close attention to my head.

Last year and this — and again for next year — I have bought not one but two subscriptions to concert series at Carnegie Hall. And they’ve been all classical music all the time. Last year, one of the series was all Russian composers, and that was pretty fabulous. I hadn’t really thought about having a particular love for the Russians, but apparently my musical tastes run similarly to my early literature-reading tastes. Give me the Russians (shame to think this is something I’d have in common with THOTUS)!

The final concert of my subscriptions for this season, the last of my Philadelphia Orchestra performances, was Leonard Bernstein, Mozart, and Robert Schumann. Of the three, as much as I have discovered myself as a lover of Mozart (I resisted at first because it seemed too easy, too obvious — he was someone I was supposed to like), the Bernstein and the Schumann won me, with the Bernstein resonating most deeply.

Just as I love choral singing — my one voice melded into a crowd of others — I love orchestral music, love the singular pieces all playing together to make a whole. And the beautiful playing of the Philadelphia Orchestra under the dynamic and gracious conducting of Yannick Nézet-Séguin doesn’t disappoint.

Favorite moment? At the end of the first movement of the Bernstein, the percussionist is called upon toe use maracas (what does the scoring look like for maracas, I wonder) … and he picks them up … and uses them as drumsticks to play the timpani!! That, truly, was everything. Every last thing.

* * *

Not long ago, I posted on Facebook about how self-doubt creeps in on me, makes me question whether I’m really a writer at all, whether I should just quit messing around and use my time more productively. Watching the orchestra, I wondered if that doubt is fueled, in part, by the solitary echo chamber that is writing. As a member of an orchestra, you can see and hear your work every time you take up your instrument. Your place in the larger whole comes back to you as harmony, rhythm, a full and beating heart of sound. And watching the Philadelphia Orchestra reminded me of some of the self-care I know my creative self needs, things I haven’t been making time for.

I like writing in community. I don’t mean that I like working on group writing projects (although that sounds like fun and could someone please propose one for me to join you on?). No, I mean that I like being around other writers while I’m working. I like basking in and soaking up that creative energy. I like not being alone, like working next to folks who get what I’m trying to do, having those folks be right there when frustration or procrastination hit.

And I know this. But somehow I allow myself to forget. Over and over. Somehow I set aside this vital truth and, instead of finding more ways to write in community, I isolate myself so I can get some work done … and I grind myself down smaller and smaller until I get almost nothing done at all.

My smart, talented lovely friend Lisa wrote a manifesto for nurturing her creativity while nurturing her new child. She drafted it on a dramatic length of butcher paper and hung it on her wall. I’m thinking bout that now, the larger-than-life, in everyone’s face commitment of that butcher paper. I’m thinking I need something similarly large, large like the poster I’ll be making of the Joe Louis fist, large enough that I can’t help but see it and can’t possibly ignore or forget about it.

It needs to say obvious things like “write in community,” but also things like “keep your Carnegie subscription,” “go to the singalong Messiah,” “go to the theater.”

And you’ll notice how few of those things have specifically to do with pen and paper, with me actually doing some writing. But I think that’s another part of the point. Because yes, I need to sit down and work — with other people when that’s possible — but I also need to feed my creativity. When Julia Cameron wrote about “filling the well” in The Artist’s Way, she wasn’t talking about writing every minute of every day. She was talking about the exact opposite, about the fact that we can’t create if the well is dry, if we never give ourselves the chance to take in beauty, nature, music … whatever is going to replenish our spirits so that we can sit down and do the work.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is definitely a well-filler, but my Carnegie season is finished. I won’t be back in my second tier box until the fall. But there are so many things I can do in the mean time. I have a whole summer of well-filling ahead of me, a whole summer to remember to make artist dates and friend dates … and writing dates. I have a friend with whom I have semi-regular writing dates. First summer task: do a better job of making those dates more “regular” than “semi.” It’s a start.

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(There was no way I could resist using that title. As soon as I started writing this post, it came flying up from the deepest depths of my memory. I couldn’t even remember what songs OMD were known for, but the name was right there, ready for me to scoop it up. I went to The Google, and was reminded of If You Leave. Oh yes, it all comes back to me now …)



In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind. I committed to writing an essay a week … but fell behind behind pretty quickly. I’m determined to catch up, committed to 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride.

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That’s about how I feel tonight. Entirely zombified. I’ve been staring at my computer screen all day, trying desperately to write a thing that really doesn’t seem to want to be written. I’ve got many sentences strung along together, and a few outliers flitting about hoping they’ll find their way into the mix. I also have a deadline 24 hours from now. What I don’t have is even a handful of intelligent, well-articulated ideas.

Sigh.

I’m not giving up, of course. I’m determined. And I’ve made a commitment to myself to get this written and submitted, so I will. I just need some sort of magic elixir to turn my brain from mush to mighty.

What I want to say

I’m looking for words,
the path to understanding
the way I’ll show you,
make my writing breathe, dance, sing.
How else will you know
I’m the one you’re looking for,
I’m the worthy one
to whom you should hand the prize?
But if I can’t speak,
if I can’t find my meaning
how will you know me,
see me in the shadowed crowd?
So I push forward
clock ticking like a soft threat
counting down and counting down.

And so another Poetry Month winds down. Me and my chōka have made it through the month! How’d you do with your 30/30 if you took on that challenge? How’d you like the A-to-Z if you took on that one? I think that — with the exception of the essay work — I need to back off of these writing challenges for a while. I’m exhausted!

____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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Say what now? Yes, Yoctosecond. A yoctosecond is one septillionth of a second. That’s right, a unit of time equaling 10-24 seconds. Apparently, “yocto” is a prefix that attaches to a bunch of things, things like “newton,” “volt,” and “watt.”

I chose it because not only does it sounds silly and I am a fan of silly-sounding things, but also because yesterday I met a family member for the first time, and a yoctosecond was about as long as it took for me to know how much I was going to love her.

I have a small family. Painfully small. Various issues and estrangements on both sides have left us with precious few connections. We’re tight as can be with the few of us there are, but that wider circle decoupled a long time ago, and for pretty much my whole life, we’ve been our small unit. My mom has reconnected with some of her cousins, and I met the granddaughter of one of the cousins. And I’m so happy I did.

It’s definitely not a given that I would adore any family member I got to meet. There was a reunion of sorts when I was in my 20s, and those folks were kind of awful. My cousin is from a different branch of the family tree, so I wasn’t worried she’d be like those cranky, classist, petty folks I’d bumped up against 30 years ago, but still. You don’t know what you’re going to get until you get it.

And what I got was a lovely, smart, funny young woman with whom it turns out I have a lot in common.

Feels nice to stretch out a little, make room for more family in our tiny circle.

Our tiny circle —
mother, brother, sister, me.
Small, smaller, smallest.
The shrinking net around us
now stretching open,
now stretching wider, wider
welcoming new ties,
our whole makes a greater sum.
We are expanding,
spreading our arms, embracing,
opening our hearts to love.

__________

Only one more day of writing chōka left! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the end of this challenge, but I’d also be lying if I said I hadn’t enjoyed this month. I’ve really liked exploring this form. I might just have to continue chōka-writing after April’s done. I’ll take that fun offline, though, and certainly won’t be aiming for a poem a day! It’s time to turn my attention back to the #52essays2017 challenge, start playing catch up with all these missed weeks that are glaring at me from my calendar.

____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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It’s about hospitality to strangers, which reads to me like kindness and generosity.

Tonight was the sixth anniversary of a women’s poetry salon I’ve been attending off and on since the summer of 2014. (Yes, for someone who spends a lot of time talking about how she isn’t a poet, I sure spend a lot of time immersed in poetry, don’t I? I know.)

The salon is a lovely space, a welcoming group of women who are unfailingly supportive and encouraging of one another. There are a couple of guys who attend, and they are just as lovely.

Aside from the beautiful welcome the salon extends, I feel free there. I let down my writing defenses — the ways I try to keep myself “safe” when it comes to writing poetry. I have let myself write in new ways, let myself stretch and try and trust the moment in ways that I would have had to struggle to do before I joined the group. One of my strongest Black Lives Matter pieces came, nearly whole, from a writing exercise we did in the salon.

Tonight was the 6th anniversary party, and it was great! Excellent readers, friends in the audience I haven’t seen in ages. Nice all the way around. Tonight’s chōka was inspired by one of the conversations I had early in the evening.

Plumped and Full

I said to a friend
I feel like I’m coming back,
back into the world.
It’s a good feeling — airy,
light, full of power
like everything is open.
It’s a good feeling,
finally back to myself,
my lungs plumped and full.
It’s time to stand up, to sing,
take pleasure in all of me.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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My friend — who, for the purposes of this post and the poem that follows, I will call “Saadiqhah” because it means, “true, sincere, faithful, veracious, a woman of her word” — is about to leave town. She is moving clear across the country. I am going to miss her for so many reasons. She is one of the friends that VONA has brought into my life to make my world bigger, richer, better. She is smart and funny and strong and clear-eyed and honest and thoughtful and caring. The Bay Area is about to be super lucky to have her.

But back on this coast, we had a party last night to celebrate our friendships with her. The party included an open mic, since many of her friends are writers or performers. I wanted to read something of mine, but I also wanted to read something from VONA and something that was created just for her. In the end, I read two super-short poems by Ruth Forman (“Let Down All Your Doors” and “The Sun’s One Good Eye”). I read the poem I wrote on Sunday about people trying to touch my hair. For the final piece, I wanted to copy a thing I participated in many years ago.

I read in a great reading for Valentine’s Day. The reading was called “Love and Chaos,” and was organized by a lovely poet, Patricia Landrum, who has since passed away. For her piece in the reading, Patricia did an audience participation poem. She asked us to shout, “Chaos!” every time she gave us the signal. Her piece was fun and funny and wonderful. I wanted to do something like that for Saadiqhah, and I wanted the poem to be a chōka. And it started to feel silly once I put it together, but I read it anyway. And (of course), because everyone in the room was there because they all love Saadiqhah, it worked exactly as well as I’d hoped it would!

I Love Saadiqhah!

I love Saadiqhah
and I know I’m not alone
I Love Saadiqhah!
so many conversations.
I Love Saadiqhah!
She doesn’t pull her punches.
I Love Saadiqhah!
Saying what I need to hear.
I Love Saadiqhah!
She is always right on time
with friendship, wisdom, and love.

(I could have gone on and on, but decided the occasion — and the patience of the audience — called for a shorter chōka.)

(I’m a day late, but will try to catch up tonight or tomorrow, can’t fall off the challenges this late in the game!)

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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I mean, of course. I am outrageously vain, after all. Nothing if not vain. I talk about this all the time: how vain I am about my hair, my hands, my knitting, my … everything! Truly, the list goes on and on. I’ve embraced my vanity in recent years, make a point of telling folks just how vain I am.

But

I’m realizing tonight that my vanity is a bit of a sham.

Tonight I am working on a letter of recommendation … for myself. I am drafting a letter that I’ll send to the person who is doing the recommending, and she’ll tweak it to make it her own.

I’m doing this because I’m working on an application for a writing residency. I’m doing this because I refuse to let the deadline for this residency pass me by as I have done with several deadlines in the last few months. I’m doing this because I have to push myself in this way, force myself to apply for things. I’m doing this because I want this residency, because I want this gift of time.

But oh, how I also want to push this away.

I’ve known about this application and its soon-coming deadline for more than a month. Proceeded to ignore it for weeks. And when I did think about it, I decided that I couldn’t possibly get it, so therefore I shouldn’t apply. And when I thought about it again, I reminded myself how busy I am at work and how much I don’t have time to work on the application because I’m just too tired. And when I thought about some more, I realized the really what I needed to do was encourage all my eligible writer friends to apply because obviously this was perfect for them.

Yeah. All of that. Me, body-slamming myself again and again into the wall of Impostor Syndrome.

This is why I say my vanity is a sham. I walk around thinking I’m so in love with myself, but clearly that love is only on the surface, only for surface things. Because I also walk around running myself down, holding myself back from things I should be racing toward.

Sitting here tonight, trying to find a way to type out nice words about myself as a writer is crushing me. And the truth of that is breaking my heart. I shouldn’t be this difficult to say that I’m passionate about writing, that the project I’m proposing is a good and worthy one. Shouldn’t be. But is.

I know I have a lot of work to do with this. I guess what I’m realizing is that the work is that kind of every-minute-of-every-day work, that I have to pay closer-than-close attention so that I can see when I’m holding myself back, giving in to the inner critic. I have to be hyper vigilant … and make that my V word for today and every day.

Not an Impostor

How to see myself
to look uncritically,
to see all my flaws
not as flaws, just who I am.
To see my talents —
acknowledge that they exist,
that I do have skills,
that I have earned the things I have,
my jobs, my awards,
that I haven’t just been good
at fooling people.
How to see myself,
take my first real, honest look
silence my critic,
the one who uses my voice,
who knows all the ways
to bully, cut myself down.
This is behavior
so old, so painfully known.
This is who I am
to myself. I need to change,
find the vanity I claim.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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I had plans for tonight, a treat. I dressed up, did my hair, was ready for a little showy fun.

But no. Work had other plans, plans that required me to stay at my desk late, later, latest. And then this storm, reminder of the dreary turn of my events, the washing out of what should have been a fun evening. Sigh.

Night Storm

And the sky cries rain
pours it down in waves, in sheets,
looking like my mood
this grey and ugly Tuesday.
And my plans are smashed
I am sour and prickly,
wishing myself done —
away from anywhere here.
Not as bad as that —
not really. The sound of rain
sings on my windows,
Makes me remember
AC singing Nora Jones
under his tin roof
his laughter making me smile.
Makes me remember
red pants, their dye running down
turning my sneakers
from cream white to fuchsia pink
bringing more laughter.
Good to recall other storms,
changes in old plans,
that the storm isn’t to blame.
Good to remember
these other moments, laughter,
possibilities.
Good to remember myself,
sitting quiet, listening.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



 

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