Over the last few years, I have been happy that my son is experiencing success as a husband, father, accountant manager, and baseball coach. He is in those very busy years. I admit sometimes I have wondered if I know how to be the mother or grandmother he needs me to be. Sometimes it even feels that I’m not needed.
People always said that a successful parent works themselves out of a job. The kids grow and establish themselves as adults. I get that. It’s probably true. I’m happy my kids are high-functioning adults, but there is sometimes a loneliness I feel that is hard to describe.
Today, I took my son to have surgery he needed. On the way, he was very quiet. I knew he was nervous, and I struggled to find words to comfort him. I found myself missing MY parents. I wanted to ask them how to do this phase of life, (parenting adults) but they are both gone. I kept my thoughts to myself and tried to be calm and reassuring.
On the way home, he was still coming out of the effects of anesthesia. It lowered his guard just enough. He was actually pretty hilarious–singing, and asking funny questions. He sang a high note. “That’s a C-flat.” Haha. Then, a low note. Then he sang some of Bach’s “Air for G-String.” So amazing how fast his brain was circling.
He asked me several times, “Did they get it? Did you see it? I didn’t die, right?”
But then he said, “Thanks for taking me, Mom. You’re a great mom. I’m a lucky boy.”
As a music student, I was introduced to the concept of musical forms such as the sonata, fugue, or symphony. My teacher felt that a study of form across disciplines plus a study of how to listen would provide a deep education for anyone who pursued that path. I became a better listener of music when I knew more about form.
Fast forward nearly 50 years and I am back in the study of form. This time poetic form. My task this week was to write a poem in a form created by Marilyn Singer called a Reverso. You can read about the form and her poetry here. I have struggled to write such a poem, but I did learn a practice technique that helped me.
First, draft your thoughts.
Next, write words, phrases, or sentences on strips of paper (1 line of poetry per strip).
Then, play with the strips. Change the sequence or tear it in half to make two lines. Discard unnecessary language. Add necessary language or revised language.
Finally, decide on the order that becomes the poem you want to write.
My poem-draft is too rough to share here, but below is a picture of my workspace. This practice technique took away some of the frustration and fear associated with writing a reverso. Maybe it will help you or your students with their poetry!
The light turned red. I slowed to a stop and looked to my left. A few black crows rose up from the parking lot to the telephone wires above the bank. One crow had something in its mouth. It proudly perched with its find of the hour. Another crow stopped by to see what it had. That crow held on to its treasure. He wasn’t going to share.
“What is that?” I thought.
I couldn’t believe it, but there it was. A black crow, puffed up with the 2021 emblem. A mask.
The Virginia State Literacy Association Conference 2021, “Illuminating the Path to Literacy.” I found the Zoom link. Click. Author-Illustrator Jarrett Lerner was on the screen. He had a baseball cap on his head backwards. He asked, “Please type ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in the Chat if you feel you are creative.
Yes! No! Sometimes! Yes, in certain situations, but I cannot draw at all.
Jarrett said it was his goal for all of us to come away with a greater understanding of the creative process and a stronger belief that all human beings have an innate creative energy. He said that our culture has bought into a false notion that drawing is a “You can.” or “You can’t.” ability. When and where did we come to believe that? I remember my first doubt about my drawing happened in 2nd Grade. By 8th Grade, the belief “I can’t draw” was entrenched.
Today, Jarrett Lerner taught me that drawing is an act of seeing and doing. He said that what artists and illustrators do is try to simplify and deconstruct the thing they are trying to draw. They look at what is easiest, what shapes, lines, letter formations could represent the object. All attempts are kept. Then the artist takes a look. What needs changing? What could be added? This is revision and every mistake is an opportunity to learn. We can grow our visual vocabulary and try a variety of tools.
He was right. When we use even a little of our creative energy, we are happier. I’m grateful for the moments of happiness learning with Jarrett Lerner today.
Recently, I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which contains thoughts about the creative process, writers, writing, and challenges to the creative life. I never finished Eat, Pray, Love, but I really liked Big Magic.
She wrote about the importance of finding our own voices and expressing ourselves. The term “creative outlet” was used often. I got to thinking about creative outlets in my life such as playing the piano, writing, and dabbling I’ve done with painting and other arts over the years. These experiences help me in the moment to feel present and even happy. They do give me an opportunity to share something of myself.
As I thought, I decided that “creative inlets” are just as important to me. Just as inlets of water provide the right set of conditions for certain ecosystems, creative inlets provide the right set of conditions for ideas to grow, for healing to happen, and for beauty to refresh the soul.
I realized that I need to pay more attention to inlets. What am I inviting and allowing to flow inward to nourish my creative ecosystem? The world is sometimes harsh and the news brutal, but nature teaches us about seasons, ebbs and flows, and surprises us over and over with beauty. I think I need more time outside.
I’m taking a short course with Georgia Heard on poetic forms. Last night we talked about forms of poetry that are created by borrowing words from other writers. Some in the class said they felt like they were cheating by borrowing, but I found it really fun and stimulating. T.S. Eliot said, “Good writers borrow; great writers steal.” I didn’t know that he borrowed heavily from other writers when he wrote “The Wasteland.”
For my practice, I turned to one of my new favorite books, WORLD OF WONDERS, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Her writing about natural phenomena is gorgeous. I was sure I would find words to borrow there.
Here is my FOUND POEM after “Firefly” in WORLD OF WONDERS:
The first glimmer-pop of firefly light, electric dress, a small flame sputtering erratic flashes of light through the navy blue pause just moments after twilight.
Such a degree of tenderness the quiet reassurance their light rhythm recalibrates sending out their love-light signals a lime glow to the summer night air.
Tonight, I am tired. My children are all grown with children of their own, yet my mothering is not yet finished. I don’t want it to ever be finished. In the last 24 hours, I have had conversations with each of my children and my husband. I am no expert on any of the topics below, but I found it interesting when I stopped to consider the content of our conversations. It’s no wonder I’m tired.
Topics discussed in no particular order:
Zillow listings for purchase of a house. Zestimates. Is it a bad idea to finance a down payment? The Landlord called. Rent increase because of 13% HOA increase. A baby’s projectile vomiting. Kindergarten interview for admission to a private school. Summer jobs for teens. Receiving tenure as a professor. Gallbladder attack and acute cholecystitis. Recommendation of a surgeon. Pandemic weariness. Misinformation and mask controversies. Spring break with stepchildren. What’s for dinner? Medical records for taxes. A1C numbers. Anti-inflammatory diets. Gauge swatches for knitting. What’s for dinner? Again.
Today was the day to resume regular routines after my trip to visit my daughter and grandchildren. Before I retired, I often stayed up too late on Sunday evening getting my ducks in a row for Monday morning. Last night, I found myself doing the same thing. It was well after midnight before I slept. Did I really need to do that much preparation? Why do Mondays still feel like first days after so many years? I’ll figure that out another day.
Alice signed on to Zoom and we picked up where we left off. She had been struggling with rhyming, but today, she nailed it. Yes! We moved on to the other parts of the lesson. Again, she was strong! Yahooo! Then we re-read a book from 10 days ago. She read beautifully with expression.
“Alice, did you practice this book while I was gone?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t really read much. Sorry, Grandma!”
“Well, you are doing great today! Let’s pick another book!”
She beamed. We picked another, because there are always more books.
In Jon Acuff’s book FINISH: GIVE YOURSELF THE GIFT OF DONE, he addresses the many ways perfectionism and its accompanying reflection, procrastination, can influence our productivity and sense of well-being. He says that the most important day is the day after you have messed up or broken a streak in a habit you want to create.
The habit I’m working to improve is daily writing. For the last seven years, I have had 100% days of writing and posting a slice of life during the month of March. This is the first year in my eight years of the March SOLSC that I have neglected to write on a day in March. This year, I have already not written three times. I have to pause and ask, “Why did I let that day go by without writing?” Being away from home, playing with grandchildren, and evening fatigue all contributed to my not writing. But I think there was more.
Maybe I didn’t write because I let myself believe I didn’t have anything to say. Maybe I didn’t write because writing can bring up feelings that I’m too afraid to put in print. Maybe I didn’t write because I couldn’t be as clever, as interesting, or as spot on as my fellow slicers.
I used to think that I was the only one who ever felt this way. Now I know that all writers face these questions and challenges at some point in their writing process. What matters is how we respond.
I’m getting back up on the horse today. I’m giving myself the gift of Done and recognizing that no one is asking that I be perfect. No one is requiring that I write like Wallace Stegner or Robert Frost. It’s okay to put words on the page each day, even if they are not amazing words, because someone, somewhere may be needing my words today. Even if it’s only me that needs to write and read them.