40 Days of Book Praise, Day 38

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 38, “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver Continue reading “40 Days of Book Praise, Day 38”


In honor of Memorial Day, the Get Out & Write! Community Free Write devoted two prompts to commemorate the holiday: “in the trenches” and “poppies.”

The poppies prompt was inspired by the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915 by Lt. Col. John McCrae, but instructions were to write anything related to poppies.

Below are several of the results of our POPPIES prompt:

“The field next to our house was planted with wheat, and poppies, gorgeous, velvet and red, grew in among the stalks, as well as morning glories, the black throats of the poppies and the white throats of the blue morning trumpets like ventriloquists’ dummies mouthing the liquid songs of invisible skylarks overhead. Before the combine harvester came through, and again after the harvest was cut down, we children would rescue nests of harvest mice to save them from being burnt up in the stubble fires, carrying the squirming little drops of pink in their round purse-pockets to the hedgerows where we thought they might be safe. There were endless jobs to be done at home, but our parents didn’t realize how many impossible jobs we were also trying to do in the wider world, where the wheat fields filled with pockets of mice stretched to the horizon.”Maggie Rowe

“I found the poppy on a grave. It was because the poppy was there, like a bright splash of blood, that I noticed the grave at all. Obscured by grass, the marker, a gray, shapeless lump, had all but dissolved. Other markers near this one, of a similar stone, appeared to be from the same time period. All were weathered, streaked and discolored, but the names of the dead were still visible. Why then was this one stone in an extreme state of decay? And, I wondered, if this grave was the same age as its fellows, who was the nameless soul buried here who still attracted visitors bearing flowers 150 years after his or her death?” – JM Reinbold

   “It’s a derivative of poppies.” His eyes are glazed, the pupils so dilated they seem to be devouring his irises. “It’s natural.”
   “Dog shit is natural, but I wouldn’t want to grind that into a powder and snort it,” Kelly says.
   They sit together, knees brushing. Dave nurses a beer, while she sips a flat Captain and diet.   The bar is crowded; it’s the only one within ten miles of the dry college campus. It’s dim and smoky, and the people are hushed, dismal and attenuated like the cigarette smoke floating in the air. Dull eyes. Everyone’s got such dull eyes.
   “It’s not that easy. You’re so judgmental.” Dave looks down and starts peeling the label off his Stella.
   “I am. You’re right. I miss you, though. I miss my brother. Where did you go?”
   “Oh, Kelly. I think I must have left when Mom did.” He grimaces at her boxy suit and conservative shoes. “Don’t try and pretend that you didn’t leave, too.” – Kristy Truax-Nichols

“Every year my two brothers and I met at Mom’s to plant the annual garden. Never before Mother’s Day and mostly on Memorial Day weekend, we would gather before the break of dawn on the front porch that looked a bit more forlorn each Spring. My brothers, never early risers, would wait for me, coffees in hand,and sleep still clinging to their eyes. I would pull the flats of flowers from the backseat of my Toyota while the two of them watched from the top of the steps.   A tray of Dusty Miller for the border, a few pots of Snap Dragons, Mom’s favorite, and a box of red Poppies to honor Dad.
   Mom never came out until she called us for breakfast about an hour or so after we arrived. My oldest brother, Paul,had begun raking while Billy gave advice as to how he could do it better if the raking were his job.” Kimberly Kurth-Gray

“I heard a marvelous story about “Tall Poppies” that turned a paradigm on its head.  I’ve forgotten what country or culture it is, maybe Australia, but they teach their children not to be “tall poppies” – for it is the tall poppies that get noticed and cut down, presumably for floral arrangements or, maybe, to make all the flowers the same height, a strong message for fitting in.  So the children grow up in fear of being cut down one way or another, and they rarely dare to let their special gifts raise them above the average level.

A far-seeing woman in the States heard this teaching and was very troubled by it.  She knew it is our special gifts that raise us to our highest potential.  Kendall SummerHawk wanted to encourage this in other women.  So she started a program for women called “Tall Poppies”.  She sent out the word, seeking women who dared to believe that with support they might fulfill themselves and become all they could be.

I don’t know the details of this program but from other programs of Kendall’s I’ve been in, I would hazard several guesses.  Most likely they explored their dreams and unfulfilled goals.  Probably the women wrote and talked about what they’d been discouraged from doing or being, things like

“Don’t be so sensitive.

 “Of course, there’s nothing beyond solid, scientific fact.”

 “Curb your exuberance.”     

 “Writers and artists can’t make a living at their craft.”

 “Major in something practical.”

 “Women can’t …….(fill in the blank).”

 “People in our family don’t do that.”

And from what I have heard I imagine that the women listened to their hearts and their spirits.  They became tall poppies, supporting each other and going for their dreams, exploring their talents and taking big risks.  They rose to heights never before attempted – and no one was cut down.”  –           Betty Powell


The Chicken, The Egg and Wet Mr. Darcy

Not long ago, I witnessed a debate on a professional list-serve about creativity. The conversation questioned if artistic, creative people are born that way, or if art and creativity can be taught.

It was interesting to read people’s thoughts on this topic. But then it began to turn into one of those conversations that go round and round in chicken-or-the-egg fashion, like nature vs. nurture in genetics; should prisoners be punished or rehabilitated; does spanking create bullies; and is Colin Firth the one true Fitzwilliam Darcy?

After a while, I checked out of the conversation because my own opinion is, in practical terms of life and work, Who cares?

If I want to improve my skill set as an editor, writer, or any other creative endeavor, I’m going to do so by practice, education, and trial and error. That’s what works for me. In my mind, and world, it makes no difference if my working skills came as a gift I learned to use, or a skill I learned to develop. I just want them, as many as possible, and I want to use them in the best and most efficient way possible. That means learning. Sometimes that means school.

In 2009, when I received an Artist Fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts, I used part of the grant funds to attend a week-long short story course at Rosemont College, in Bryn Mawr, Pa. The Rosemont Writers Retreat is presented by Philadelphia Stories and taught by Elise Juska. Spending a week immersed in short stories, with a small group of writers, was right up there with a week at Pemberley, in my book.

This year, I’ve decided to start 2011 with more school, so I enrolled myself in Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors online workshop. The course began on New Year’s Day with a bang of students describing projects and working on premises. Three days in, I have a notebook going full of insightful questions about my own WIP, and a list of books and films to study as structure models. Already I feel I’ve more than earned back the (shockingly small) fee I paid, and there’s still two more weeks to go.

But I confess that while this course is great, story structure is not wholly new territory for me. If I really want to expand my skill set, I need to try a new area of creative work, and push my comfort zone as an artist. This is scary stuff. It’s putting yourself out there. Sort of like what this guy had to do.

You can’t learn if you don’t try, so I’m going to do it. After Alex’s course on story structure, I’m plunging right into…..a poetry class.

Yes. Poetry.

I am not a poet. I like poetry. I read it. I have friends who are poets. They are just like me, except they know how to write poetry. Were they born with that skill, or did they learn it?

I don’t know. I do know that I’d like to know how to write poetry, so I’m taking a course, sponsored by the Delaware Literary Connection and taught by Maryland poet Josiah Bancroft.

Will I write decent poetry? Is there a little poet person living inside of me since birth, just waiting to get out? Is there a black hole where my inner poet should reside and I’ll take this course and find that out? I don’t know the answer. But I know I’ll never know if I don’t try to find out.

Are you starting a brave new decade with trying to learn a new skill? Taking a course? Writing a poem? If so, I’d like to hear about it, so I can applaud your efforts.

I’m not sure it really matters how you learn to create, as long as you answer whatever part of yourself urges you to do it.

It’s sort of like this question: Is there such a thing as too many wet Mr. Darcys?

Tell me about it.