i thank You God…

Photo Credit: Luci Shaw

Photo Credit: Luci Shaw

You need poetry today, right now. You maybe didn’t know it but it’s true. I ran across this poem today and I thought I’d toss it out there to you, to me, to all of us.

This is fresh for me, right at the front of my mind and heart. It feels vital and immediate for me probably because I’ve been reading Wendell Barry’s “Life is a Miracle” or because I attended readings by Scott Russell Sanders and lovely poet Luci Shaw, last month. In any case my pals, here is this today.

i thank You God for most this amazing

by E. E. Cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Advertisements

Leveling Out

Leveling up

If I ever meet you in person and give you the “distracted brush off” I want you to tell me to knock it off. You know that look, don’t you? It’s the “I’m standing in front of you and nodding at semi-appropriate intervals, but really I’m looking around for someone else to talk to” look.

I’m willing to admit here and now that I often read social cues incorrectly. It’s a thing for me, always thinking I stayed too long in a conversation, expecting that my conversation partner is bored and hoping to move on as it were. Sometimes, though, I think I have it right and having had this experience again recently while in a large group of people I’m here to tell you that it feels awful.

I leave those conversations feeling vulnerable and generally I blame myself for that feeling. I think, “I’ve said something offensive” or “I’m the least interesting person ever.” But most likely it has nothing to do with me at all, at least that’s where I’m hoping to land these days. This constant berating myself– questioning every word I spoke, questioning whether I forgot to wear antiperspirant or needed mouthwash– all points to a preoccupation with me, myself and I. That’s no good. I’m 48 years old (almost) and it’s probably time I cut myself some damn slack for a change.

Backing away from the experience for a moment I’m able to place some new thoughts into the pigeon holes of judgement I use to catalogue and store those rough conversational transactions. I think it has a great deal to do with positioning. My wise friend, Jude once (more than once) told me that relationships have levels and that we tend to work in those levels. She’d use her hands to show me the level she intended to meet other grown-ups, which is equal, at the same height, adult to adult. Then she said that when we lower ourselves below people we meet, or lower other people it sets up a different dynamic.

If I’m your boss, maybe that lift is merited. If you’re my mom, I’ll gladly move you up a few notches (or more, my mom is awesome.) But for the most part, her point is that we need to meet grown-ups at equal levels to keep the relationship right. She’s very smart and I think she’s right especially in this.

When I walked up to this person and introduced myself in this most recent interaction I felt intimidated, I felt “lower than.” In her defense, I set up the dynamic. In my defense, she did nothing to alleviate it. We were set up for that crazy eye darting, ‘get me the hell out of this conversation’ trap. No wonder I felt both relieved and dissed when we both finally wandered out of that conversation. See how complicated we are?
Humans. Pfft.

So this is why I am just telling you that if we ever meet in person and you ever feel me instigate this odd tension between us, I want you to tell me to knock it off. In fact, you can just hold your hands up, side by side, showing us as equal and that will remind me. I need this because I forget and I imagine the older I get I’m bound to land on one platform or another, above or below, if I don’t spend some active time leveling out. Let’s do this thing.

On Moving and Standing Still

News from my “other” blog, Nearly Orthodox 🙂

Nearly Orthodox1

IMG_4582This morning I am pleased to be sitting in a quiet, sunny living room in Middle Tennessee. The vacation house is intimately familiar as I lived in this log home for five years when my children were very young. We turned it into a vacation home a few years ago, when we moved back to Chicago. I cannot remember it ever being this quiet. In those years, they would wake me up in the mornings, early. We were transplants from Chicago, homeschoolers, maybe more than a little bit isolated. We did not intend it that way.

When we bought this house in middle Tennessee we thought we were meant to form an artist community here. We thought that “if we built it they would come” but though we gave it our best shot, it never really worked out the way we’d hoped.

From our five years in this house, however…

View original post 579 more words

Racism 101

I wrote this a couple of years ago. In light of the recent tragedies in South Carolina, I am reposting it. I wonder how many times and for how many years or decades yet it will still ring true and still feel reflective of the times.

Mrs. Metaphor

The first book of poetry I owned was “Those who ride the night winds” by Nikki Giovanni. It’s safe to say that the reason I began writing poetry was because that book was given to me. My early poems sounded an awful lot like a 12 year old German Catholic white girl from Cincinnati, Ohio trying to sound like Nikki Giovanni. It was not pretty. I think I’ve gotten a little better since then or at least I sincerely hope I have gotten a better.

When the AWP conference chose Chicago as its location for 2012 and I saw that Nikki Giovanni would be speaking it sealed the deal for me. I try to keep my “conference” and “workshop” attendance well spaced for the most part but I made an exception for this one. I’ve never heard Ms Giovanni read her work in person and there is something magical…

View original post 795 more words

Your lucky day!

17949_1321788561867_1220318_n

I’ve been blogging so long now I have to say that coming up with great titles to posts has become somewhat difficult. You’d think it’d get easier right? Not so. The competition is steeper round these parts, people. Everyone has new content going up every single day, sometimes twice a day. I’m lucky if I get words on the internet to update my status update these days.

I do have some words up though at Ruminatemagazine.com and I’ll say they are nice words. Mostly, they are Luci Shaw’s words which means that they are far sweeter and much more luscious than anything I’ve put down lately.

If you have a moment and perhaps, even if you don’t, you should read them…and then you should read Luci’s work. Ruminate aims to make that a whole lot easier for you in fact. If you simply leave a comment on the blog post over there at Ruminatemagazine.com you can win a copy of her book.

And you should want to do that because the book is wonderful…and Luci is wonderful…I want to be Luci Shaw when I grow up.

So go, my feisty friends! Go and read and make merry that this is indeed your lucky day! But go FAST! The drawing is tomorrow.
🙂

Click the image below, what are you waiting for?
LUCI1

Lessons in publishing…

NearlyOrthodoxI’ll start with a caveat- I’m not saying that I have this figured out. I’m just saying that the struggle is real.

When my book was published I spent far too many clicks of the refresh button checking out the sales ranking. I felt like the rats in those experiments we read about in High School, the ones who had their pleasure centers stimulated every time they pressed a certain button. The rats would forgo food and water in order to press that button hour after hour, day after day. Sometimes they would die from it. I pressed the button. Sometimes the reward was there, sometimes it was a punch in the gut. That’s hard to take on an empty emotional stomach, I’ll tell you.

Now that Nearly Orthodox has been on the shelves for almost a year I don’t refresh as often but I do still refresh, hoping for the stimulation of the pleasure center, more often getting the punch in the gut. My publisher is happy with the progress of the book. I am happy with the quality of the writing and the effort I took to make it beautiful. Mostly. I suppose if we, as writers, are completely happy with the finished product always and forever then perhaps we’re doing it wrong. So, there’s that.

Being “post publishing” has lead to more angst that it took to get me to the editor’s “in” box. It’s more than it took me to wait those months for a contract to come and more than the angst that comes when the book first releases. As time wears on I wish I could say that good sense has led me to not care how anyone else’s book is doing or how often someone else gets an article published but alas, I’m not quite there yet.

That being said, I have learned some things (in theory, at least if not yet practice)

1)Keep writing, all the time

Whether it’s your blog, your status updates, your stream of consciousness journaling, your novel in progress, keep writing. All the time. Your work improves with practice. Do it. Stop worrying about what other people are doing at that moment. Write.

2)Keep reading, all the time.

While I advocate not worrying about what other people are doing, I do not mean to imply that we ought to seal ourselves off. Reading excellent work leads to writing excellent work. Join a writer’s group, read a classic novel, pick up the latest best seller. Whatever it is, keep reading. All the time. Read.

3)Keep your eyes on your own submission pile.

When a friend has a piece accepted I have to work hard to not be jealous. I admit this. I’m not happy about it but it’s true. When I also get a rejection that same day (and that does happen, bleh) I have to work even harder at reaching in toward gratitude and reaching out with congratulations. It’s a worthy struggle. Don’t quit the worthy struggle. Find an authentic place in your writerly heart and reserve it only for well wishes for fellow authors whether you know them or not. We’re all in this together, truly. Keep that space nice and clear of envy or jealousy and when that fails in a weak moment (because it will sometimes fail) take a deep breath and see numbers 1) and 2) then get back to 3). Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Keep your eyes on your own submission pile because jealousy and envy are creativity and relationship killers. Those killers will lie to you and tell you that you’re better or it’s a travesty but don’t listen. Just wish well to your fellow author and get back to work. 

That’s where the good stuff is. That’s where the reward rests. That’s what we’re meant to be doing, right? Keep on keepin’ on, friends. 😉

Better questions than “What do you do?

2000px-Hello_my_name_is_sticker.svg

“What do you do?” might be the worst question to start out a conversation with a new person and yet it’s the one we all seem to ask at the outset. It’s our default question. It’s our “go-to.” It’s frustrating to ask and frustrating to answer so why do I keep falling into that trap every time? I suppose it’s easy and it cuts through that lengthy silence right after, “Nice to meet you” or maybe it’s just a matter of habit in modern conversation. It’s what we do.

It’s been hard for me to answer the “what do you do?” question over the years because I’m self-employed, because I’m a stay at home mother, because I “do” a lot of things, who knows. When it’s asked of me I find a way to muddle through eventually. Usually I just say, “Laundry. I do a lot of laundry.” But no matter how well I answer the question or how much of a chuckle I get from my conversation partner, I find I am still unsettled by it.

Worse than that, I find I am still likely to ask it in response. It’s like a knee-jerk response for me. It got me to thinking about what we are really doing by asking what someone “does.”

Recently there have been articles floating around the interwebs dedicated to the psychology behind asking “What do you do?” Some say it’s a leveling maneuver, some suggest that it’s elitist and demeaning or that it’s all about positioning. For most people though, I’d say what we’re really asking is “who are you?” and then “how are we connected?” I like to think to ask what a person does isn’t merely a function of placing them into a box or jockeying for position but rather a desire to understand how we can best relate to each other.

Unfortunately, the question itself as an opening to a conversation is more likely to lead to stalled answers and the awkward shuffling of feet. So while learning how to answer the question better is one step in the process of evolving in this whole “get to know you” dance I’d say that what we need to do is learn to ASK better questions. Otherwise, we’re just part of the social status quotient problem after all.

So rather than continuing to further that awkward shuffling of feet, here are 5 things I thought might be better questions than “What do you do?”

  1. How do you know (insert name here)?

When we ask what someone does we’re trying to figure out how we’re connected and so asking about the human relationship in the room can be a great way to know that connection without relegating someone to their job.

By defining “relationship” in the first few minutes of a conversation, we bring everything to a human, personal level. Another way to put it might be “what’s your connection to (this place, this event, this pep rally) if you don’t actually have a personal connection at that moment. Even this question develops connection rather than setting up a job-based hierarchy.

  1. What’s a nice girl/boy/person like you doing in a place like this?

This one has a bad rap and perhaps you’d frame it a bit differently depending on your circumstances and location, but it still gets across the more rude version, “Why are you here?” Another way to phrase this well would be “What brings you here?”

This gives people a chance to place themselves rather you placing them according to their vocation. And at the same time it opens the door to a smorgasbord of follow-up questions related to this place, this setting or this location. What we’re after in asking about the location and a person’s connection to it is to build some connection through a sense of “place.” This can be a great foundation for the rest of the conversation and help people to connect at deeper levels.

  1. I love that scarf (hat, coat, eyeliner) where did you get it?

Now, this question is a little tricky. First off, don’t give a compliment that isn’t true, that’s like offering someone a counterfeit quarter. Choose something that really does strike you about that person and pay that compliment with real sincerity.

Asking more about a trait or fashion choice shows you are taking an interest in them and, of course, that’s what we’re aiming for when meeting new people. What works well with this question is that it might begin as a surface observation but again, it opens doors to other topics to discuss and that can help to bring about more engaging dialog.

  1. That was an amazing speech (concert, pep rally) earlier. What did you think?

This works best when you’re having a shared experience. The danger is that your conversation partner might not think it was an amazing speech (concert pep rally) at all, certainly but it’s worth the effort to at least test the waters and get a conversation going.

And even if they don’t agree with your perception of the event, it may help you to expand your own perception of what’s going on. Asking what people think is a good way to get to know them but also a way to keep an open mind in general and that’s a good thing especially when getting to know new people.

  1. What do you do?

Okay, I admit this works against the premise of this article but honestly, at some point in the conversation this will most likely surface. It’s not ALWAYS a bad thing to ask about someone’s work, it’s just not always the most expedient way to know him or her better at the outset.

So that being said, it’s not a question to be completely taken off the table; it’s just a better question to save until after dessert. Most of the time starting with one of the other four questions will answer this fairly easily and in a more natural and authentic way but if it flows with the conversation, this is a perfectly fine thing to ask someone new.

So for those of us who hate “what do you do?” let’s make a social pact to stop scratching the surface of conversation and find the deeper connection waiting underneath. Why not? Let’s walk into new situations and new introductions with an eye toward knowing more than we knew when we walked in. We might learn something amazing. We might realize the person before us is like lost kin or a potential best friend. Maybe they have hiked Mt Everest. Maybe they have swum the English Channel. Maybe they know the secret to the very best chocolate chip cookies. These are important things, people.

The best way to discover all of this is to be interested and curious. Don’t fall into the easy trap of simply asking first where someone fits (or doesn’t) into the workforce. Take an interest, channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and learn to ask better questions. It’s worth the effort!

Times Change and Sands Shifting

10446489_10152106237197035_592801096653710064_nI’m going to pretend that after my daughter winds up her last days of High School this week that nothing will be different. What’s nice is that she’s decided to take a year off before starting her study in Animation at a college in New York. It’s nice because we’ll both have a year off in essence. I won’t have to launch immediately from the shifting time sand spot straight to shopping and prepping for shipping her off to college. It’ll come on gradual-like.

Still, I’m going to pretend that after my daughter winds up her last days of High School this week that nothing will be different. I’m going to pretend that everything will be the same and life will always be this sweet in between time. Rather than opening the front door in August and finding that huge pile of time-sands waiting to cave in on me I imagine I’ll be sweeping it away daily as we track it in on our shoes and dump it from our pockets.

It’s worth mentioning that it’s possible while using this strategy (some might label “denial” ha!) that when the shifting of the time-sands really starts to pile up at my front door it’ll come as the shock it is intended to be. And maybe that’s all right. Maybe that’s what finally gets the blood pumping and the excitement running. Maybe the adrenaline of it all will be what makes the lengthening of our lives bearable at moments like this when a kid gets ready to go out on her own.

In any case, I’ll set myself up for the big sweep when the time comes, when it catches up to me, when the tears come at last but in the meantime I’ll take this sweet in between. I’ll take it with both hands, holding tight.

Once more on Mother’s Day

IMG_3486

I am thankful, finally, as I approach Mother’s Day this year. Generally I’m known for being a little, let us say, cranky, about the holiday that Hallmark made. I have historically set expectations high or set too low or have ruminated too long on the past or the future of this Mother’s Day thing.

This year I’m approaching the struggle from another direction, trying to stay rooted in the present and in gratitude. I think it’s possible I might be maturing but don’t hold me to that.

I’ve been spending some time on a little social media platform called Prose lately. It’s kind of a sweet way to get writing prompts when I need ’em and to see what other people are coming up with out there. I’d say it’s like Twitter for writers. You should check it out. I’m MrsMetaphor over there (and everywhere, really.)

In honor of Mother’s Day I’ll post a short poem I started on Prose one day. Be ye warned, though, it’s so far from my normal curmudgeon-y self where this topic is concerned it’s almost scary.

🙂

….

Pulling Focus

to judge by the images
on television
i might expect
soft focus flowers
long, languishing in white blankets
and clean sheets-
crisp bacon
black coffee
eyes wrinkling at the edges
while smiling

and yet
here we have
sloppy kisses upon waking
a kind of pancake breakfast in bed
glitter doused cards
and syrup spills
i’ll clean up later

if the images on television
are to be believed
i might be led
deep into discontent
deep into disillusionment
deep into doubt
I might forget
to be
here
now

thankful for this moment