Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beyond FINDS: Carleen at Pajama Gardener and Jodi at Reimer Reason

I spent half an hour earlier this morning surfing favorite blogs despite the little voice that kept telling me to clean the kitchen, start the laundry, figure out what I’m going to do with my (very long straight) hair when I finally get it cut later today, finish the vacuuming I started yesterday, pull some more weeds before it pours again this afternoon, etc. etc. Oh yes, and get back to the various WsIP waiting in the wings. Funny thing about procrastinating with me, though: I always know when I’m doing it that there’s a reason. And right now I’m very glad I “wasted” half an hour reading blogs because I discovered two Mother’s Day columns that not only deserve to be read but deserve to be featured.

Once again Carleen Brice over at Pajama Gardener amazed me with an insightful column, this one about “the motherless.” While I enjoyed yet another wonderful phone conversation on Mother’s Day with my mom who’s in her seventies and lives with my dad in the house I grew up in, I suspect this holiday has been challenging for her since her own mother died 60 years ago. Though you’d never guess it. Growing up, my siblings and I simply regaled her with our own Mother’s Day wishes and hand-made cards and school projects and assumed that was enough. As an adult, however, I began to wonder.

Mom has a 5x7 black-and-white photograph of her mother on her dresser, and when I wrote her a poem about being a mother and a daughter after my first child was born, she placed the poem with the photo. That simple placement made me realize how much she missed her mother and how much she’d still like to tell her. The gist of the poem centers on gratitude and understanding. It begins “While I’ve always known you loved me, I never realized the strength of the ties that bind a mother to her child” and finishes “I know how much you love me, Mom, now that I’m a mother, too.” Carleen’s column pays tribute to my mom and to each “motherless child” who mothered themselves—and others—for so many years, who still wonder “what if” or think “if only” when thoughts of a missing mother come to mind.

My second find thanks to this morning’s procrastination: Kristen at From Here to There and Back directed me to Jodi at Reimer Reason, who reprinted a stunning tribute to fellow moms with children with special needs. For a glimmer of what these very special moms endure and share and overcome on a daily basis, read this piece by Maureen K. Higgins. (If anyone can direct me to a website by or about Maureen, I’d appreciate it.) My favorite line: “You are compassionate beyond the expectations of this world.” Despite the fact that so many mothers, as Maureen puts it, get up every morning wondering how they’ll make it through another day and go to bed every evening not sure how they did it, such women show us over and over again the strength and power each of us possesses. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to read and write about them, maybe that’s why I continue to seek out their unique, hard-won perspectives. We’re all just passing through this world, as Maureen again so eloquently puts it. Despite constant and immense demands on their time, energy, and sanity, many fellow travelers like moms with children with special needs generously share what they’re going through along the way, inspiring us all to keep plugging despite the life challenges we’re destined to face.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Beyond FUNDRAISING: Direct Donations to Desperate Myanmarians

I’m tempted to apologize for a dire call for donations on Mother’s Day, but as we move on to other pressing issues I’m afraid the people suffering untold miseries in central Myanmar will be quickly forgotten. Since the onslaught of Cyclone Nargis on May 3, aid has been notoriously slow in arriving to those in need thanks to the idiocy of the military government in this country formerly known as Burma. So I understand why many in the West would hesitate to donate via the typical aid organizations.

But there’s another way, and it’s an ideal way to get funds directly to the front lines of the current war (and yes, these people are fighting a war every minute against depression and despair after the sudden loss of loved ones, against homelessness, starvation, fatal water-borne illnesses, lack of security, the fear of impending violence) in this impoverished delta region via those on the front lines: Burmese monks.

According to the impressive international internet-advocacy organization, “the monasteries are the only source of shelter and food for Burma’s poorest people. They have been on the front lines of the aid effort since the storm struck.” To send your donation to the Burmese monks “the most trusted and reliable institution in the country” of Myanmar, go here. reports it’s already raised over a million and half dollars in this week-old effort.

If you’re still unsure, imagine you’re a mother whose children are dying for lack of clean water to drink and a protein-rich biscuit to eat, a mother who’s children are not only dangerously ill but who have nowhere to sleep and feel safe, a mother who may be sick and dying and grieving herself. Let’s help the Burmese Monks do what they do so well by flooding them with tangible proof we truly care about these mothers and their families on this day we call Mother’s Day. Then let’s spread the word so others can pitch in and feel good and confident about where their donations are going. The hardships these poor people are facing aren’t going to go away overnight; neither should our concern for them or our determination to help.

Photo © Associated Press

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Beyond FAREWELL: Mildred Loving

Madame Carleen over at Pajama Gardener served up a sweet tribute on May 7 to Mildred Loving (pictured above with her husband, Richard), who died earlier this month. Mildred Loving was a lady whose determination to do what was right for herself and her husband and family resulted in the monumental Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia that ultimately impacted her entire country. Carleen’s personal notes about her marriage echo mine. My thanks to the Lovings also extend to my husband’s parents who were brave enough to marry across the huge racial divide of 1964, and whose son (my sweetie) arrived on the scene in 1965.

For full details of the historic Loving v. Virginia decision of 1967, check out the New York Times obituary referred to in Carleen’s post. And for insights into Mildred Loving and her perspective regarding the rights of all people to marry, read the powerful Loving for All statement she presented at the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia last year on June 12...a date now known as Loving Day.

Carleen also noted Barack Obama’s heritage as a son of parents who crossed racial lines. I find it intriguing that Mrs. Loving’s passing occurred in the same year our first presidential candidate of color is campaigning. I hope she felt proud of what she accomplished and that she enjoyed the many later years she was able to spend back in her beloved state of Virginia.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Beyond FINESSE: Poet Mark Strand on Narrative—and Personal—Destiny

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand visited Lighthouse Writers in Denver this past weekend for a reading and Q&A session on Saturday followed by a discussion of craft (and poets, cooking, art, translation, travel, etc.!) Sunday morning.

When novelist Eli Gottlieb introduced Strand on Saturday he referred to the poet’s “ongoing creative growth through a life of art.” Since the early ’60s Strand has published eleven poetry collections as well as books of prose, children’s books, and volumes of translations, anthologies, and monographs. Originally a visual art student, his appreciation for the craft of painting remains evident in his writing, his outlook, his conversations about living a creative life. As does his love for Kafka, for lines of prose so original he “can’t anticipate” how they’ll turn, for lines that inevitably surprise him and yet exist in perfect harmony within a text.

Both days Strand mentioned the importance of his friends, fellow writers who serve as “ballasts” and sources of “confidence in the face of apathy,” especially during periods of self-doubt. He spoke of going two years without writing, and how he always trusts he’ll return when it’s time:

“It’s a question of time,” he said, “of what’s going to make a difference, of what matters, of what doesn’t bore me to death. And of course there’s a book that comes along.” His eyes brightened as he asked if anyone had read A Heart so White by Spanish novelist Javier Marias, a writer he praised for his sentences, his investments in the “smallest details,” his nuanced expositions.

When he does write, Strand emphasized his preference for writing in longhand because he wants to “slow things down.” Noting that the look of a computer printout is “too final,” he said, “I want to resist that as long as possible, to feel [a poem] is mine until I’m certain it’s absolutely finished.” And he added that when he writes in longhand he’s “hearing” his writing to make sure a poem’s “cadence asserts itself independent of its performance” because “poetry insists on cadence.”

Strand described himself as a fantastical poet who stresses the “psychological imperatives” of a character’s personality quirks (yes, Carleen, that quirk meme is a great tool for character development!), noting the fun that can be had when what an unusual character considers normal behavior is considered bizarre by others.

With all that, a poet (or a fiction writer, I’d argue) must “offer a narrative scheme to keep the reader on track.” A reader will stay with a piece as long as he/she is confident “there’s a destination.” Easy enough, right? Until you take Strand’s next piece of advice to “incorporate absurdity into the narrative destiny.”

But take heart if you’re feeling at all discouraged by the art you’re striving to create, absurd or otherwise. Strand, who fully deserves to rest on his laurels as one of the most widely awarded poets of our time, admits he’s often frustrated: “[There exists] a consistent aesthetic that operates when I write,” he said, “but I want to dismantle it, to write vastly different poems.” He also noted, however, that what you write at a particular time in life is influenced by “the shape of your inner life” and that “a style picks you,” not the other way around. Yet he noted top poets, especially American poets who often “feel their belatedness,” must “take extreme measures to be original” in order to differentiate their new work from everyone else’s—and from their own.

I especially appreciated Strand’s practical advice regarding writing and revising poetry, advice I know I’ll use for everything I write from now on: “[When you have] a vague idea of what a poem should be, revise toward that image,” he said, adding: “In an ideal state, you’ll see it first. Develop that idea as you write. Sometimes you have to change the idea if you’re fighting it too hard; then develop the poem in [the new idea’s] direction.”

“A poem is finished when you can’t do anything with it,” he also said, “when you’re excited about it, when you keep it a while…and are still excited about it.”

When asked if he thought he was a good poet when he started out or even after he’d achieved some notoriety, Strand shrugged and said, “I thought I was good enough to continue.

“I still think I’m not the bee’s knees,” he added. “I do what I do…. We each do what we’re coded to do.”

So…what are you coded to do? Something to think about, isn’t it?

Photo of the poet © Emily Mott at Blue Flower Arts

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Beyond FANTASTIC: Lisa Alvarado: “From the Tips of My Fingers to the Tips of My Toes”

Poet and author Lisa Alvarado writes often for La Bloga. I’m so pleased to have stumbled across her amazing May 1 essay, “From the Tips of My Fingers to the Tips of My Toes.” Consider her opening:

“This is about my hands and feet. Actually it’s about work and its remnants, about being working-class, Chicana, about going where you don’t belong, or where you think you don’t belong, or no matter where you go there is always some part of you on the outside, watching, seeing what gets played out, wondering how you fit in, what you need to do.”

Read on to the end, which is just as powerful as the beginning. Then again, every line of Lisa Alvarado’s writing packs a punch.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Beyond FAMILY: “The Color of Love”

Jodie over at Jodie’s Random Thoughts knows a thing or two about love. A mom of four kids—teenager Colin, almost-four-year-old Tyler, three-year-old Emmalee, and eight-month-old Nathaniel—Jodie has been spending a lot of time at the hospital lately with Tyler, who has Down Syndrome and earlier this year was diagnosed with leukemia. While her love for her family has always been evident in her blog posts, Jodie’s admiration and adoration for her brave little boy and his siblings really shine through in the CaringBridge journal updates she writes.

With all Jodie has going on, I was happy to read she’s been squeezing in a little reading of her own and was intrigued by her May 1 link to an article on trans-racial adoption that recently ran in Women’s Day Magazine. Jodie’s baby boy, Nathaniel, is black while the rest of her family is white. The article features a black couple who adopted a white baby boy and then became pregnant with their own baby boy a couple years later. While WD articles tend to be pretty light, this article examined the father’s concerns regarding the adoption in nice detail. “‘I couldn’t help but wonder what I, as a black man, would have to face when we went out together,’” the dad said, certain they’d “get stares.” “And what if he had to discipline the child in public?” the article continues. “How would other people react?”

I believe the writer at this point meant “How would other people react to the adoption” but the first time I read it I immediately related it to my husband’s concerns when our son was little about how others would react whenever he had to discipline his son in public. While my girls resemble my husband’s family to different degrees, my son resembles me: light hair, light eyes, light skin (though his tans; lucky duck). I’ve told the story before of my husband having to carry his screaming little boy out of a furniture store. Imagine what you’d think if you saw a black man carry a screaming white child with blonde baby curls out of a store. Now consider the possibility someone might call the police and you have an inkling of what was going through my husband’s mind at the moment.

Luckily for the dad featured in the article, his wife’s calm approach to the adoption and conviction (that he immediately shared once he held his first newborn son) that this child was meant to be part of their family helped him cope with his very real concerns. But I imagine he still worries “what others think” at times, and I appreciate articles that promote such understanding. I also appreciate folks like Jodie—and the couple featured in this article—who open their hearts and homes and lives to others despite the challenges inherent in adopting across racial lines, especially in a world that still isn’t sure what to make of such choices.

Stock photo from WD site

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Beyond FINDING A WAY: It’s the Little Things

I’m having a rollercoaster week. The husband’s out of town, which I usually handle okay unless I try to get way too much done without him around to say “Relax and have a glass of wine, sit down and watch something funny on TV with me,” that sort of sweet thing. Good for my soul but not for my to-do list, and I have to admit I love getting things done. To an unhealthy degree sometimes, and this week is a case in point. Last week was my birthday and it was easy-going and fun. One of my sisters sent me a very sweet card that arrived on Saturday, the same day I received a rejection letter from an unimpressed agent of my dreams who’d been intrigued by my query but not so crazy about the partial of One Sister’s Song she’d recently read. In blatant rebellion on Monday and Tuesday I wrote 2,000 words each day to start a new novel. Not the first novel (One Sister’s Song) I’ve been trying to sell to a bigger publisher for over a year (with my original publisher’s blessing; thanks Sherry!); not the second novel (Under the Humming Tide) that’s been sitting, complete but unworkshopped, in a proverbial drawer for TWO years; not the collection of short stories (The Average Weight of the Female Heart) I’m halfway through. A third novel. Which I hope to finish within record time for me, maybe even a few months. We’ll see! Another reaction to my latest rejection letter (you know it’s bad news when they actually use that damn SASE!): I told someone yesterday I’m just going to write as much as possible and it can all be published after I’m dead for all I care. Some days that really does seem like a good way to go (literally!).

And in the midst of all this, I get:

1) a hilarious quirky tag from Carleen (see if you can read her quirks without cracking up);

2) a kind, encouraging note from Rebecca Burgess on my last post; and

3) a surprise review from Lisa Kenney, who recently read One Sister’s Song (which is still in print with my original publisher; thanks Sherry!) and apparently really enjoyed it. Either that, or she’s just being nice because I know where she lives. Either way, I’ll take it! Woohoo!

It’s friends like these who remind me that even when it’s cold and gray and snowing (!!) on May 1st here in the south suburbs of Denver, much sunnier days lie ahead.

And now for a brief glance at quirky me for Carleen’s meme:

1) I know all the words to the song “Misty”;

2) I’m a compulsive picker-upper (who would probably drive Carleen and Lisa’s Scott crazy; my husband swears the second he puts down anything in our house I’m there to snatch it and file it away);

3) I have a bizarre memory for things I saw or heard even in early childhood;

4) I’m blind as a bat (i.e., extremely nearsighted) but have acute hearing;

5) my ears hurt when I’m tired or stressed; and

6) I can wiggle both my ears.

I just realized half of my quirks involve my ears. Hmmmm!

As for tags for this unique meme (please see Carleen’s post for the official rules, ladies): Lisa, Rebecca, Larramie, Judy, Patti, and Kristen.

And one last quirk: I talk to myself. A lot. Which is probably why I love to blog so much! Thanks—as always—for listening.