Poem: Within Fire

I read a poetry prompt somewhere that suggested looking at a poem you like by someone else and using the first word from each line as the last word in a poem of your own on a different topic.

I chose “My Mama Moved Among the Days” by Lucille Clifton.

Here’s my poem:

Within Fire

Within fire I discovered my
own ash. My fear reduced me to
a sapless stump that seemed

resigned to its destruction, seemed
sprouted with the knowledge of the pain it
was destined for. Until a burn. Then
I healed right
up. Scarred but upright.

NaNoWriMo as Therapy

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

National Novel Writing Month — cheaper than therapy and you get stories out of it.

For real, though. It’s been a therapeutic month for me. In other years, when I’ve seriously pursued my NaNoWriMo 50,000 words, I’ve had one large project to focus on, an actual novel. I filled in my word count with a few smaller pieces of original writing, but had a path already started and more or less went down it.

This time, my goal was to finish the first draft of a novel that was already nearly complete and then write a bunch of short stories and essays. I’m never at a loss for ideas. I always have too many works in progress at any given time, to be honest. I knew a couple of the story ideas I wanted to work out, but hadn’t decided on all of them when I began the month.

Now I’ve completed six new short stories and three essays, two of which are memoir. If you ever want to have your brain talk to you about what your issues are, push yourself to write a bunch of new stuff in a short period of time.

Even though my short fiction pieces all had different settings, themes and characters, looking at them now, I can’t help notice a couple of things I keep inserting in my stories over and over. I love for my characters to rescue vulnerable animals. And food insecurity pops up repeatedly. I know some reasons why this might be.

Then the memoirs. Oh my goodness. I most likely will not share them with anyone ever. At least not without severe redactions. The piece I wrote this week presented me with a major psychological breakthrough. I began writing about one incident from high school, planning to include everything I could remember about it and use it in the future to mine for bits and pieces I could include in other projects. Not too far in, I realized there was a kind of sidebar that needed to be explained for context. Well, the sidebar explanation took over and became the core of the memoir.

In fact, the more I wrote, the more I saw how this thing I was explaining had influenced me. (Sorry to be cryptic. I only want to share the effect and not the details at this time.) I kept believing I was nearly at the end of what I had to say about it, and my brain would nudge me. Dig a little deeper. There’s more. I kept putting words on the page until I had a walloping epiphany about the root of many of my triggers and anxieties. There’s a situation from my formative years that has so obviously informed my life and actions and reactions for decades. But I never consciously realized the extent of it until I wrote it out.

Here’s what I will be open about. My anxiety has been spiraling lately. And now I see how my feelings about current life events are largely reactions to similar past life events. That alone has relieved a lot of the angst and was worth the price of admission.

Writing doesn’t have to be for someone else. Even if you don’t ever want to share a single word you put down, take some time to write for yourself. It’s damned good therapy.

NaNoWriMo Goals, Lagging and Met

Happy cat
This guy is my writing companion, or writing hindrance, depending on his mood.

Once again, I have signed up for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I’m a semi-rebel this year. Instead of attempting to write one single new novel, my goal is to reach 50,000 words in thirty days through a mish mash of projects.

Number one on my NaNo to-do list was finish the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on for a year. After that, I hoped to fill out my word count by writing a variety of short stories and essays.

I regret to say, I am lagging badly in word count and might not hit 50,000 this year. I even scheduled time off from my day job for a couple of days at the beginning of the month in order to get ahead early. Then I ended up using part of the time picking up gigs for a side hustle I do, because I need the money. I guess that’s life.

In the good news category, I’m pleased with the goals I have met. I did finish my novel’s first draft. I also have completed one long, rambling memoir/essay, which will need a lot of editing. And I’ve written complete first drafts of two different short fiction stories, both of them turning out better than I had hoped when I started. Even if I don’t “win” the word count, it’s been a great writing month for me.

The novel has a fair amount of dark humor. The short memoir/essay piece has a theme of thumbing one’s nose at “the system.” One of the stories has characters working to save a cat, and the other has characters just trying to eat their lunch, damnitall. So basically, adhering to the “write what you know” adage.

Happy wordsmithing, fellow NaNo participants!

Thoughts on Mary Oliver

Now seems like a good time to repost this. RIP Mary Oliver.

Nomadic Noesis

“And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe…” – Mary Oliver, Upstream

upstream

I’m a big fan of Mary Oliver’s writing. She makes connections, or rather shows connections, that are not obvious on the surface. Her descriptions of nature do more than make you want to re-read the passage. They make you want to go see the world for yourself and then re-read the passage. Her poems are bereft of sentimentality, but full of mindful observation. And I can guarantee there’s some sweat behind those words.

Here’s the thing about writing poetry — it takes work…

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A Word About Redemption Stories

I love a redemption story as much as anyone. But there are certain necessary elements — remorse, concern for people who may have been hurt, an attempt to make amends, a change in behavior going forward. If those pieces are missing, it’s not a redemption arc. It’s a story of a stunted character trying to shirk responsibility.

Patricia Highsmith is the only author that immediately comes to mind who successfully made a character like this the main focus of her stories. Usually, a character of this nature would have a starring role only as an antagonist to the hero. And if said character gains power, that’s not evidence of redemption. That’s just upping the stakes.

Yes, these thoughts were prompted by current events.