Saturday, April 28, 2012

Books 4 & 5, 2012: A Double Life and Bring Down the Little Birds

In the quiet hours after my children fall asleep, after the whining and the bickering, after the requests for snacks and meals and drinks and games and puzzles and cars and hold me and carry me and tuck me in and sing me a song and just one more song, after all of that, I am the mother in Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Gimenez Smith.  All I want is me for a minute.  Me.  Who is that?  Separate from mother, distinct, other-- is there such a division?  Can there exist such a division?  Bring Down the Little Birds is a quick and unsettled memoir searching for identity, balance, and some kind of reconciliation... or perhaps at least a handshake... between the many roles, wants, and needs of a mother who is also a daughter who has a mother who had a mother once too, who all had other selves they protected or neglected or hid or buried or dissolved entirely from their lives as mother.

I hear Edna Pontellier.  In those quiet hours alone, sometimes I hear myself.

Tonight I rolled on our bed with Henry, blew raspberries on his belly and he laughed and squirmed and laughed. He patted my face with his pudgy palm.  He concentrated on the blank screen of my phone and pushed with all his might to make it do something.

Earlier, I watched Miss Lydia kick a soccer ball and felt my heart swell with pride and wonder at how she's gotten so tall and fast, how determined she is, and I wondered at the complicated blending of personality and skill sets and talents and looks and how similar and different she is from her brother, and how much alike and different the boys are from each other, and so on.  How we are a unit.

I was frustrated to be standing out in 40 degree weather watching a soccer game with my kids and also proud of myself for managing all three kids, proud of her competitive drive, proud of my boys under blankets in the wagon, proud to give this to them, this part of myself, this time.

The more I give of myself the more I seem to get back.  The more I give of myself while retaining my self, my identity, the fuller I experience my life.  It is not this or this or this, not one piece of myself exchanged for another without negotiation.  It is this and this and this and this.  And all of these things make me.  This is the reality echoed in Lisa Catherine Harper's book, A Double Life.  In it, she celebrates with awe and wonder the changing self, the changing sense of who she is as writer, wife, and now mother, how each feeds the other, and how both home and self/career are good and important places.  She shares with the reader the transition of becoming mother and what that can look like.  It is a memoir that celebrates a relatively normal pregnancy, a relatively normal delivery, and a relatively normal first year.  It is a memoir that celebrates.

Two memoirs about motherhood.  Two vastly different approaches, both real and true and beautiful.  I recommend both.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Three 2012: Pitch by Todd Boss

So, I finished another book toward my thirtieth year goal to read ten books, A Double Life by Lisa Catherine Harper, but I just started Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Gimenez Smith, and I think it'll be fun to blog about those two together, since they are both on mothering.  Instead, let me tell you about Pitch, the second collection of poems by Todd Boss.

I love Todd's work.  There are not many poets paying as close attention to the music of poetry as Todd. Because I have so much fun reading his poems, it seems clear to me that he had to have had a blast writing them.  They are tight, twisting, leaping little things, short lines jammed and enjambed with rhythms that drive you through the poems and straight on through the book.  There's nothing laborious about this collection - every page makes me want to find out what fun Todd is going to have in the next piece.

This is not to say that the poems are all sunshine and butterflies; Todd's subject matter is deeply felt, familial poems, subjects familiar to any reader who has ever had a father or mother, or been a father or mother, or had a childhood, or bore a child.  They ricochet off each other like marbles, as in "Marble Tumble Toys," and they consider the commonplace right alongside the cosmos, as in "Lordship."  There are really too many good and lively poems that seem to be jumping on a trampolene to cite them all here.  In fact, I think I'll leave you with the words of Robert Root, whose endorsement I just discovered on the inner jacket of the book:

"A poem by Todd Boss will often delight me, amuse me, stir me, surprise me, and startle me. All that from a single poem, from almost any poem. What seems to promise something commonplace ends up offering something profound, an unexpected insight in the slightest turn of phrase."
There it is. I aspire to that kind of writing. For me, a great collection of poems makes me want to try to write great poetry, compels me to my computer or my notebook or the back of a random receipt.  Like a wild-haired conductor, Todd's work spurs along the desire to draft my own music. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Festival of Faith and Writing, Writing Process, and Writing Writing. Writing.

This week I am heading north to the big mitten for the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing.  I am looking forward to giving a presentation on "Poetry as Worship, Poetry in Worship: Inviting Creativity into the Worship Experience" - and with a title like that, who could skip it, right?  I'm also moderating a small poetry press panel Saturday on the joys and challenges of publishing poetry.  It should be a great weekend - as always it'll be a stretch to step out of my introverted tendencies and pretend to really, really like social engagements, but it'll be worth it to mingle with a bunch of like-minded people.

April poem-a-day hit a small wall over the weekend, but on the plus side, I got my really super cool and neat presentation all set and read lots of really super cool and neat poetry in order to prepare for it.  We're half way there now, and I've gotten a few good poems out of it already, maybe a few potentially good poems, and a handful of crumbs that might make good compost out in the garden later on this spring.

I had a great conversation today at lunch with some folks from Ashland University's English Department and Richard Hoffman, who was the nonfiction visiting writer that presented this afternoon.  Part of our chit-chat was about writing process, which is inevitably the topic of choice with a writer.  Am I writing enough?  Should I be writing more?  How do you do it?  When do you do it?  Pen and paper or computer? Revise right away or wait a few weeks/months/years?  Can you teach it?  Help me! 

My writing process is pretty basic: live in and be awake to the world around you so that the stuff of poetry and writing can get lodged under your gritty fingernails to be picked out when the time is right.  "The time is right" when there is some of it - when the kids are asleep and the husband is watching sports, or when the kids are asleep and the husband is out of town, or when the kids are watching a show and you just can't wait until after they go to bed for the good idea itching in your head to be scratched and placed on the page.  That's about it.  I got nothin' else except a notebook in my purse and a pen in my pocket, y'all.

Speaking of notebooks and pens, I eked out another poem for poem-a-day today, and since I haven't shared any of the other works-in-progress, I will drop this one in here.  I think it illustrates the kind of thing I'm talking about, re: writing process.

The Inspired Works

During my daughter’s soccer
practice, I sat cross-legged
on a blanket. Something between
the kindergarten giggles
and parent chatter muffled
by wind gusts across the field
sizzled in my mind and I reached
beyond the diapers and teething
rings, fiddled over hardened
gummy bears and crumbs to the pen
at the bottom of my purse. If only I
could write a word or two before
the thought is gone, I thought,
but my drool-mouthed son
came over to consider the paper
and tore off a corner. He frowned
and flopped back on his haunches,
pudgy feet and double chin
working out the wonder of it.
He worried it over in his fingers
then figured maybe it’d be tasty.
A saliva grimace and tongue
delivered the corner into my palm
and then with nothing left
to crinkle or eat, he turned
his attention to the grass,
so cool and green and itchy,
and the blanket, so soft and red
and blue. The sun moved
quicker, the air cooler.
Soccer was almost over but
there was my chance. I perched
my pen above the line, wrote
“I” in a cursive loop, prepared
for the verb but then,
then my other son’s hand
landed hard on my book.
He laughed at how I couldn’t
write around it, laughed
as I darted from finger to line,
top to bottom, then wriggled
his bony body between me
and the sheet, both hands
splayed across the page.
I traced around his fingers,
down the edge of his thumb,
filled the page with his mittens,
his imprint one of many
this evening that leave these
impressions long after soccer
and whatever it was I thought
was more important is over,
the red wagon loaded down
with balls, bags, blankets,
and a wrinkled sheet of paper under
my daughter and my boys.

How are you doing with your poem project for April, if you have one?  Any luck?  Getting stuck?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Haiku for Kindergarteners

Tomorrow I'm going to Lydia's kindergarten class to talk a little about poetry.  Her teacher is pretty stinkin' awesome at everything, but one of the things I love is that the kids typically have a poem homework assignment each week where they read and analyze the poem for syllables, sounds, and rhymes.  Since it's National Poetry Month, I thought it might be fun to finally make an appearance in Lydia's class.  So tomorrow, I'm going to talk about haiku.

For those who don't know, haiku are cute little poems that do not have to rhyme.  They are three lines long - the first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the last has five.  My plan is to start with a haiku, count each line's syllables and then explain the "rules" of haiku and talk about its origin.  Then, I am going to read a few more haiku and let the students pick an activity - they can illustrate one of the haiku, copy the haiku, or try to write their own haiku... or, if her teacher has some other ideas, something else entirely.

So for my poem-a-day today, I wrote a few haiku that I think the kids could relate to or illustrate.  I don't usually write haiku - I prefer longer poem forms - but like the limerick project, I really enjoyed this little exercise.  It's also been a good break from longer, more stretching poems.  And, I have a few ideas I'm excited to jump into tomorrow night to continue the poem-a-day challenge.

Haiku for Kindergarteners

Cherry blossoms pop;
the sidewalk is littered white
with petals like snow.

I walked with my friend
through the woods, sunbeam halos
landing on our heads.

In the bright green field,
yellow dandelions wave.
Little girls wave back.

Playground stairs and slides,
cowboys and Indians chase
princesses and queens.

Grapes and bananas,
peanut butter sandwiches,
lunch of champions!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Three Limericks for My Kids

It's day eight of Poem-a-day April, and I'm feeling fresh out of ideas today, so for fun, I wrote a few limericks for Lydia, Elvis, and Henry.  It was a fun little project, actually.  Here they are:

There once was a girl named Lydia
who flew to a town in Australia.
She arrived too late
for her dinner date
but made it for the koala polka.

There once was a boy named Elvis
who went to the moon on some business.
He wore a red tie
and the aliens asked, "Why?
We only dress formal on Venus."

There once was a boy named Henry
who climbed to the top of a tree.
He looked all around
from the sky to the ground
and then said, "I saw all I can see."

I didn't pick easy names to rhyme, apparently.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spring break 2012 - girls gone wild! With poetry!

I am sitting in the house I grew up in with all three of my kids sound asleep by 8 o'clock, drinking a glass of wine and writing poetry. This has been one of those amazing weeks you can never plan or count on happening for fear of disappointment, but when they come about, all you can really do is just rejoice and be glad.

We kicked off a week and a half vacation with the exciting news that my first full-length collection of poems was accepted for publication by Wipf and Stock Publishers. I don't have a contract in hand yet, so hopefully this announcement isn't premature. I am still in a bit of shock about this good news. I continue to be humbled and in awe at the work of Providence to have placed me in the unique and wonderful position I have with my job. The opportunities and relationships that have developed because of my work and the atmosphere I work in have really compelled me to write and propelled me forward in a way that would have been much more challenging were I to have gone about it my own way, and I thank God that he knows the plans he has for me better than I know for myself.

I am extremely grateful for the encouragement of my "poet mentor," Michael Miller, without whose encouragement I probably wouldn't have been writing as fervently or with as much zeal. There are of course many other influences (to be thanked at a later date) but most assuredly I wouldn't be here, writing about a forthcoming book, without Michael.

So with the happy news of a book coming out in the near future, we embarked on a trip to D.C. with the kids. It was our first family vacation with the five of us, and although we approached it with some apprehension, the trip went swimmingly, partly due to the opportunity to swim (ha ha ha). The kids all slept well in the hotel room, and that is the sort of thing that can make or break a trip for us. Henry was mostly cooperative except for riding in the car, which he hates, I guess, because he screamed 70% of the time. Other than that, we ate well, swam a bunch, saw lots of animals both stuffed and alive, and walked all over the place.

Our long weekend ended with a short stay at my in-laws and a visit with Brandon's brother who drove Great Mom-O up from Florida. It is always a joy to see any part of the Florida Wells clan. We returned home for a couple of days and enjoyed the brief respite of our own private quarters. AND! Aaaaaand, we found a new home for the dingo dog! Yes, that is right, Beans the great menace of a pooch has moved on to happier hunting grounds. No, he didn't die, but I am sure he feels like he is in heaven, with a family that likes him and another dog to play with in a yard three times as big. Poor guy. It was all sweet and no bitter in parting, especially when Lydia discovered her most recent favorite dolly had been disemboweled. Suddenly, Beans leaving for a new home wasn't such a bad idea. I really don't want to think about how much that dog has cost us in stuff he chewed up, never mind all of the usual doggy expenses.

Aaaaanyway, happiness flourishes in the Wells house once more now that our fourth unruly and disobedient child has moved out.

The remainder of our vacation (or my time off of work) has been spent with family. Brandon's grandma is beginning to lose her short term memory, or has lost it completely, depending on who you ask, and on top of that she's quite deaf. Upon returning from Florida, she needed to get some of her household affairs in order, so we have spent some time (hours) at her house helping her out (throwing out magazines from 2001, sorting through junk mail, setting up the voice mail on her phone, writing notes to help her remember what we did, etc.). She knows she is losing it, which makes it a little easier to help her. She receives the help with a little more grace and a little less stubbornness than she might have a year or two ago.

We met up with my family for my mom's 50th birthday mid-week, and we did a few errands at home, paid taxes, that sort of thing, then packed up again for Easter weekend. I colored eggs with the kids and made homemade peanut butter cups (mmmm google chocolate covered Katie and you will find the recipe) yesterday while Brandon did some yard work at his folks' house, and then we went out together alone for the first time in a while. It was a way overdue night out, in my opinion, and we had a grand time, listening to Blue Lunch at Northside in Akron. We even got up and danced a couple of songs. Anyone know a place to learn some couple dances in the Ashland area? I would love to force Brandon into it.

Finally, (whew! I bet you thought this would never end) I spent today with my cousins and their kids who all played together for about four hours with not a single whiny tear or complaint. It was amazing! I always feel as if going home to family or friends that have known me a long time is one of the rare moments when I feel most myself. I do not have to think much about what I say or how I might come off because, well, these people KNOW me. They know the awkward lanky me and they know the me that has three kids and a slightly crazy look in the eyes around 7 o'clock at night. They know the anti-alcohol (and everything else) me, and they know the wine guzzling me. Isn't there a George Strait song along these lines?  All of Sarah arrives around family. There's no leaving part of the package behind.

Now, back where we began, I am happy to wrap up this post with a pat on the back to myself for seven solid days of poem-ing for the start of National Poetry Month and writing a poem a day. Maybe I can whip out another book... ;). My best work is behind me, might as well call it a career and retire to needlepoint and quilting. Who am I kidding? I know nothing about either of those things. I'm doomed to a life of writing poetry, the only thing I can pretend to be good at ( yup, I'm going to end that sentence and this post with "at").

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Two 2012 - Celebration of Discipline

Our small group worked through Richard J. Foster's Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth the first few months of 2012.  In an effort to put spiritual disciplines into practice, our group spent a week on each chapter trying out the Inward Disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study, and the Outward Disciplines: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service.  The third section, the Corporate Disciplines: Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration, we didn't practice as a group but read through nonetheless.

As Foster repeats over and over throughout the book, spiritual disciplines are not meant to enslave us to rigid guidelines but rather are meant to set us free in all of the ways that we are to be free in Christ (if Christ has set you free, then you are free indeed!).  This freedom is important to remember throughout each chapter and throughout the practice of each discipline; otherwise, we start practicing each discipline for the discipline's sake rather than growing closer to God through the disciplines, which is the true goal.

There are far too many gold nuggets worth quoting to list them all here.  I appreciated each chapter immensely, felt challenged and encouraged each reading.  This is a book worth reading and returning to.