Veronica's Garden

I originally started this blog to promote my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. Now I write essays and poetry about everything, including the Flint Hills, healing, parenting, etc. WARNING: emotional content, sometimes intense. Read at own risk of feeling.

Tag: writing

NaPoWriMo Days 20/21: Rough Draft/To Be An Artist

I’m not sure these go together. Not entirely sure this is poetry. But I wrote them together over two days, so here it is.

I. Rough Draft

If these poems seem rough to you,
it’s because they are. It’s often eleven
before I pick up the laptop,
after the kids have finished their
homework, selected some pajamas,
put the pajamas on, brushed
their teeth until the top of the hourglass is
empty, plugged in their devices, taken
their last hug of the day, and, finally,
gone to bed. Then talked to each other
out loud for a while, then
quieted to whispers.
Before all that, I’ll have wandered
into the kitchen, examined the contents
of cabinets, the refrigerator, and freezer,
maybe perused a cookbook
and decided to do something I already
know how to make, washed a round of dishes
while I think about how to do it, tidied
some work space, prepared the food,
called everyone to dinner,
threatened to sit down and eat right now,
then waited anyway for everyone else
to come to the table.

Mornings are solitary, leisurely.
Yoga. Hygiene. Feed myself.

Afternoons I give my full attention
to one client at a time.

And every day, pretty much the same.
I do all the stuff. I get things out of the way.
Then when it’s quiet and too late
to make phone calls, too dark to clean house,
the cats are inside, the humans sleeping,
I clear a space on the couch,
sit down, open up the magical device,
and bang out a poem, hoping to have
something decent before
I fall asleep.

II. To Be An Artist

To be an artist, you have to want it
more than anything. You have to want it
more than you don’t want to be laughed at,
more than you don’t want to be told what to do,
more than you want all the other
things you want, more than you want
your children to wear clean clothes
more than you want straight As
understanding friends
organic home-cooked meals from scratch
and all the homeless housed.

You have to want to open more than you want to stay closed.
Want to fly more than you want to stay on the ground.
You have to want people to see your naked self
more than you want them to approve of your taste in clothing.

Want to make people feel all your vivid feelings more than
you want to protect them from feeling your pain.

Want to rip your heart out of your own chest and wave it
dripping in the faces of strangers on the street
more than you want to be intact and insulated and safe.

Whatever the medium—color, sound, words—it’s always the same.
Money, friends, stability—be ready to throw it all away
so that you can be here, now, you, all that you are, nothing more,
nothing less, nothing to hide behind, nothing to ask for,
strip off your costume, rip open your chest
so everyone can see the meat clinging to your ribs
and the glory of your gory, pulsating, squirming, bleeding
heart.

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NaPoWriMo Day 17: What the Ferals Hate

I open my eyes and it’s dark try to
read the clock through blurry eyes
and the numbers don’t mean anything
anyway. When they hit a certain
configuration, however, I am to
do something, so I stare at them until
understanding comes. Somewhere
between 2:30 and 3:00. I hear
the whoosh of wind outside
and the turbine vent groans
over my head. Now might be
a good time to write that poem
I owe myself, while the basement
door is ajar, and at the thought,
I hear them cry: naked hungry
children down there, saying,
drag us upstairs if you must, but don’t
try to change us to suit your will.
We don’t like your words.
You’d think they’d be happy
just to come into the light,
but no, until I accede
to their demands, they
refuse to cooperate.

The Author As Written By A Male Author

In response to a ridiculous bit of writing, which a male author claimed as evidence that he wrote an authentic female character, Whitney Reynolds suggested, “Describe yourself like a male author would.” She later claimed that she only tweeted that because it was 2:30 AM, she was drunk, and she thought it was funny, so let’s not take it too seriously. But I had a fun time writing this poem, for NaPoWriMo Day 3.

 

The Author As Written By A Male Author Who Writes Fantastic Female Characters

“Describe yourself as a male author would” — a tweet

As I walked by the mirror, I couldn’t help
but catch my reflection, which isn’t too bad,
if I say so myself. Sure, you wouldn’t mistake me
for a woman who hasn’t popped out a baby
or two, but regular yoga keeps my petite frame
somewhat fit. I’ve always been endowed upstairs,
and, let’s face it, a good bra is a woman’s best
friend. I like my brunette hair to look like
I’ve just come from a day of wandering the
windswept prairie. You’d never guess that
I purchased my tasteful reading glasses at a
dollar store, and along with my burnt orange
tunic sweater that could be worn as well
by an artistic crone ten years my senior,
I cultivate a sophisticated, arty, professional
appearance. A classy, no-nonsense gal
who hasn’t the time for teeth whitening,
confident enough to go boldly
to the laundromat without a stitch of make-up.

selfie laundromat

The Blank Page

NaPoWriMo, Day 2

The Blank Page

Time to write a poem.
Let’s see what the page has to tell me.
It says that white, Chinese symbol of death,
is emptiness that must be filled. I defy you,
death, by placing black marks upon your face.

White in the European tradition
is purity and cleanliness, and this too
calls for defilement. That which is virgin
must be acted upon. That which is empty
must be filled. If you have a flashlight
in your hand, there is no question but
you are required to test the switch.
Turn it on. Go on, see if you can resist.
Perhaps we should call that bright beam’s
hue the color of compulsion.

White the blank mind. The fluid that
corrects mistakes. The deadliest
sweeteners, saccharin, aspartame,
sucrose. Winter. Sleep, fog, high
cloud cover at noon.

Is white the absence of color, or the presence
of every color? Ask a painter and a
lighting designer and lock them in a room
until they agree.

Do I have enough words yet? Can I call this
a poem? Have I left enough black on the page?
Or too much, left not enough white?

Solstice Dream

“. . . the Cancer Solstice pulls us within to explore the deepest desires of our heart, while also calling us to express our feelings and visions in our wider community, finding appropriate forms and mediums through which to communicate our message.”Gray Crawford, astrologer

I was going back to school, my alma mater, Knox College. But I was going into a graduate level program in some kind of health field, something that would lead to a professional career that would build on the healing work I’ve done as a massage therapist for the last twenty years.

I met another student with whom I would be working frequently. She was young, just out of undergraduate study, and she was enthusiastic and energetic and made friends with me immediately. “So, what number would you call me?” she asked. I didn’t understand. She explained to me that it had always been her fond wish that someone would give her a numerical nickname. “So what number am I?”

How on earth could I give somebody a number? Numbers are so impersonal. “Well, what’s your favorite number?” I asked, but she was gone, leaving me puzzled and amused at the idea that somebody would actually want to be known as a number.

Looking over the curriculum, I read that some students in this program still had their Hematology textbooks, which would come in handy. Hematology? I know nothing about that. I knew many of the students in this program had come from the nursing field, but I hadn’t thought it was a requirement. I must be in way over my head. Maybe I should drop the whole thing now, before it went any farther.

But, the school had accepted me to the program. They knew my history, and clearly believed I could succeed. If they believed in me, why shouldn’t I? It would certainly be a big challenge, but I could tackle it, with determination and my natural ability to learn. I could get through this education, and graduate, and go into a serious professional job, with responsibilities and a salary, more money than I’d ever made. I could support my family.

And it would be a full time job, and I would not have time to write anymore. I would never write again. The pain was visceral, wrenching my gut, the realization that I would never be a writer again. How could I possibly have chosen this? How could I live with this choice?

Journal 2

50 years: forties

This’ll bring us up to the present. First decade, second decade, twenties, thirties.

41. Kiran was about seventeen or eighteen months old when my Mom died. “Baba” was grandma since Rowan started to talk, and we saw Kevin’s mom frequently, so my mom became Baba Leona. A few weeks before she passed, Kiran started calling her Bona.

There was a period when Caryn Robson came over for a couple hours every week to watch the girls so I could write. I didn’t get much writing done, but knowing she would be coming every week was a lifeline. Often we would spend much of the time chatting, or I would be just getting around to putting lunch on the table when she arrived. After Mom’s funeral, the next time Caryn came over, we ended up sitting on the floor of my bedroom, Caryn behind me, releasing trigger points in my shoulders. When I started crying, she wrapped her arms around me and held me. Kiran was nearby, solemnly watching.

The next day, or maybe the day after, she said to me, “Bona died.”

“Yes. Bona died.”

“I saw Bona.”

“We saw Bona at the funeral home.”

“Bona was hugging you.”

“When was she hugging me?”

“Miss Caryn was here.”

“I was sitting on the floor and Miss Caryn was hugging me.”

“Yes. Bona was hugging you.”

“Bona was hugging me when Miss Caryn was hugging me?”

“Yes.”

“You saw Bona?”

“Yes.”

I had many more questions, but we seemed to have reached the limit of her ability to verbalize. She stopped talking then, satisfied that I’d gotten the main point, that after mom died, Kiran saw her with me, holding me in my grief.

Kiran doesn’t remember it anymore.

42. I wasn’t sure I wanted to send the kids to school, and preschool seemed like basically an ad for school. Rowan was very attached to me anyway, but because she was born in early November, she was almost four by the time the school year started. Still, I hesitated. My mother-in-law was on the preschool board, so I felt a certain amount of pressure to send her. I resisted. If she went to preschool, it would be that much harder to say no to school later. She would think of homeschooling as a deprivation.

One day Rowan was driving me crazy. Whatever I said, she ignored. Whatever I wanted her to do, she did the opposite. It went on all day, and really it had been building for a week. Clearly I had no control over this child whatsoever. Finally I’d had enough, and the words just came out of my mouth: “That’s it! You’re going to preschool. We’ll see if someone else can do any better with you than I can.” Sending a child to preschool because she was beyond my control seemed like the weakest possible reason, but I really was at my wit’s end. I couldn’t think of any other way to deal with her.

Her behavior changed immediately. Rowan started preschool a couple weeks later. She loved every minute of it, and was even disappointed when she found out it was only two mornings per week. Later I looked back and realized that it was precisely what she’d needed: to assert her individuality, to take the next step in separating from me. The words that popped out of my mouth were exactly the right ones.

43. I don’t remember what we were thinking when we planned this trip, but Mark Ferguson was getting married in Chicago, and I wanted to see my sister in upstate New York, and Niagara Falls was between the two places. When I saw it as a child, I was impressed, but as an adult, it was profoundly moving. We took an elevator deep into the earth, then walked a long tunnel to a boardwalk so we could walk right up to the edge of the falls. A little stream broke over a rock and fell onto the platform. That tiny stream was immensely powerful. This place where the water would devour the earth, were most of it not diverted before it even gets to the falls. And yet, this little bit of the remainder packed easily enough power to knock a person down. I planted my disposable sandals on the wet wood and held out my arms to open myself to the full force of the water. It was a ritual bath. It was a baptism. For days I was stunned, wondering that anyone could leave that place not knowing it is a sacred node of water energy.

As we returned to the surface, five-year-old Rowan said, “That’s the wettest I’ve ever been in my life!”

IMG_000744. I was working on the novel that would become Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. I was well into it with maybe 40,000 words. That doesn’t sound like very much now, but it was a huge struggle at the time. One day I was sitting in front of the computer, not feeling too inspired, when the phone rang. I got up to answer it, and when I came back, Toulouse was sitting on the keyboard, and the screen was blank.

Yes, the file was empty. The cat had deleted my entire novel.

Yes, I had a back-up copy. I only lost a few sentences.

45. Trying to learn and use Photoshop had always been an exercise in pulling out my own hair. I asked Kevin to help me design a cover for my book, but he bogged the project down with alternative ideas that would make the whole design much more complicated, but, in my opinion, wouldn’t improve it significantly. I decided to bite the bullet and learn Photoshop. Whenever I had a question, I googled it, a strategy Kevin often espoused. Each step took forever, but somehow I managed to create a workable design. It was an amazing achievement for me.

Later, when I tried to make a cover for another book, I found I could neither remember nor figure out how to do what I’d done before. It was as if it had never happened.

46. After a couple years of occasional puttering, I got my studio not entirely complete, but into a condition in which I could work in it. Steve Thompson did a lot of work. Without his input, I  couldn’t have gotten it done. I chose a gaudy, sunshiny yellow for the walls. Steve thought that color was totally wrong, and tried to talk me into something softer, but I ignored him. It’s a room where I’ve had days of sitting at the desk for hours, writing, revising, publishing, promoting. I go in as early as I can get there in the morning, and if I let myself, I can get lost in the work.

Costa Rica Journal47. Our trip to Costa Rica straddled my birthday. It was my second time there. The first I wished I’d journaled more; so this time I made time during the trip to write down as much as I could remember, most days. After we got home, I started blogging our experiences in this magical place, and intended to write at least one post for every day we were there. I did several, before the project faltered. But still, I think the Costa Rica Diary blog posts are some of my best writing here on Veronica’s Garden.

48. Shortly after the new year began, before the end of my term as a 48-year-old, I made these goals/resolutions for the year:
Have a working dishwasher.
Girls have their own rooms.
Publish 2 more short stories.
Have a solid draft of Witchcraft novel by year end, ready to seek an agent or self-publish.
Find my birth dad, George Mah.
Manage my health effectively for lasting wellness. (Yoga 4x/week)
Massage Kevin regularly, minimum of 12 times through the year.
Clear/organize house.
Make progress on back debt.

I published four stories, so I exceeded that goal. I’m averaging yoga twice/week these days, and seeing benefits from it. Massaged Kevin three times. As for the others, I failed every last one.

49. What I did instead of working on those goals was spend most of the year struggling with bureaucracies. The Kansas Dept. of Revenue was claiming we owed back Transient Guest Taxes from the motel we’d closed two years prior, while our health insurance premiums grew to unmanageable magnitude. Talking on the phone, navigating institutional websites, hunting through files for papers, these became my unpaid part-time job. Astrologer Kaypacha, aka Tom Lescher, said repeatedly in his weekly forecasts that 2016 would be a year of purification. Apparently, for me, purification means doing the tedious business of managing finances.

Sometimes it occurs to me, normal people do all these things all the time. I don’t know how they do it. And people who work forty hours/week, when do they do these things? Living as a normal adult continues to be my biggest struggle, my most persistent failure.

50. On my birthday, I had a wonderful massage from Lana at Southwind Health Collective in Lawrence. A few minutes into the session, she said, “I’m getting that there’s something that you’re really, really worried about. Is that right?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “I’m also getting the message that it’s gonna be all right.”

***

So there we go. It may be as hard for you to believe as it is for me, but I have lived fifty years. I have the memories to prove it.

Read At Own Risk

I’ve been reading the Divergent series this past week. I’m a binge reader. I dive in and don’t want to stop until it’s over. You wouldn’t get off a roller coaster in the middle of a loop, sit down to lunch, and come back later, would you? About halfway through, I thought, is this book written by an evangelical Christian? And at the end, I saw that Roth’s first acknowledgement is to God. So be it. I thought Divergent was okay, kind of stupid, not as compelling as Hunger Games, but more of a love story than I’d expected, and I kind of liked that aspect. I guess I’m getting more romantic as I get older.

Because my two daughters are also reading this series now, we happened to have all three of them out at the same time, from two different libraries. So I went straight into Insurgent, and right away I was caught up. Tobias loves Tris even when she tells him what he doesn’t want to hear, makes mistakes, and breaks promises. He admires and nurtures her strength. When they work together, they’re a great team.

Whenever I find myself in the middle of a love story, I get in over my head. I can’t stop thinking about it. I feel all the feelings as if it’s my own story unfolding, my own love at stake. I worry for the safety of the lovers, and suffer their separations.

Maybe what makes the greatness of a love story is the way it inspires the reader to love. I found myself musing on how much I love my husband, and everyone, and being alive. I’m grateful that we don’t have to risk our lives protecting one another, that every day we have the opportunity to see and touch each other and live our love as we choose. This is what a great love story does: it awakens love in the reader, to manifest into your own life.

By the end of Insurgent, I was thinking, great love story, but the stupid parts of the plot might be about to be replaced by something even stupider. But still, their love was strong enough to survive. It was the kind of love that lasts a lifetime, not just through the devastation of war but also through the changes that take place in people as they go through their lives.

Now, if you intend to read Allegiant but haven’t, stop here. I’ll give you some cat pictures before the spoiler, just in case your eye accidentally strays down.

Okay. Here’s where it gets heavy. I read Allegiant in under three days. Finished it yesterday while the kids were in swimming lessons. And I was really angry at the end. I didn’t even cry, I was just angry. Why on earth did it have to end that way? There’s no reason at all. It could have been different. Who has an NDE and goes on and dies anyway? Why is that end better, or necessary, or more beautiful than staying alive? They had begun to build a foundation for a great love; they’d come so far, but it was just beginning. Is love through adulthood so unattractive it’s better to eliminate the possibility? It’s tempting to suggest some authors enjoy the sadistic power of crushing their readers’ hearts. But I don’t really think that’s the case here. And I’m trying hard not to make snarky comments about certain religions and the fetishization of sacrifice.  But really. Really.

I was out of sorts all day. I was depressed. Everything seemed pointless. I wondered if I should adjust my meds again. I tried to distract myself, get back into the real world with some facebook, but it was more full than usual with anguish over more people being shot. Just how far away are we from the violent, hopeless dystopias we read about in popular fiction? After a while I realized I was grieving. The love of Tris and Tobias had somehow become attached to something in me, and if their love couldn’t live, something in me was threatened. How did I let this happen? I guess it’s one of the risks of living and loving, and keeping your heart open, even to imaginary characters in a book.

And this, too, is what a great love story can do to you.

Read at own risk.

Kevin and Rachel

Chiron Return

Let’s get this out in the open: I rush to publish earlier than is probably advisable. Last week I published a poem that I edited twice in the next two days, then revised it so substantially that it should probably get another post altogether.

If I come across as half-assed, and valuing my work beyond its worth, I’m okay with that. That’s what blogging’s all about, right? Take it or leave it.

But it appears some people actually do like my poetry. For you, enjoy.

 

Chiron Return

Did Chiron get fed up with the body
he’d been issued, that stubbornly refused
to heal? Did the master healer hope,
month after month, to find an efficacious
blend of herbs to stanch the bleeding,
or did he know this injury
would be the downfall of a demigod?
Did he struggle to comprehend
the incongruity of a wounded immortal?

Was he annoyed to hear humans claim
as identity afflictions that ought to have
healed decades ago? “I hate to cough because
sixty years ago I had pertussis.”

Did he see the forty-nine-year-old woman
with the heavy bleeding, the torpid thyroid,
incontinent bladder, presbyopia, insomnia,
and toothache—close his eyes, feel the throbbing
of his own nagging wound, and think,
this is what it’s like to be mortal?

Palermo house

Costa Rica Diary: Hanging Bridges in the Matrix of Life

The Monteverde area has many more ecotourism parks and reserves than it did twelve years ago. Andrea at La Colina Lodge recommended Selvatura Park for a zip line tour, but they have much more to do there than that. We took a walk in the bridges hanging in the cloud forest before our zip line adventure. It might sound pedestrian (no pun intended), but I’d rank it among my favorites of all the wonderful activities we did in Costa Rica.

It’s an understatement to say that it’s wet in the cloud forest. It’s not like the ethereal fog we have infrequently in Kansas. It’s like the air is hypersaturated with moisture. You get thoroughly wet just being in it. We couldn’t quite decide if it was sprinkling or not, and half of us put up the hoods on our rain jackets, half did not. Though there were other people around, we let them walk past us, and lingered in the quiet. We saw a slate-throated redstart and emerald toucanets, and other birds that I wasn’t able to identify.

Epiphytes grow everywhere. Wherever a seed or spore can land, it can grow. Trunks of trees are covered in shades of green, from so many kinds of plants that they would defy counting. The hanging bridges connect the steep sides of the mountains, so we walked among the clouds, wisps of which swirled silently among the trees. Looking down, I’d see a fern with leaves longer than my arms; when I’d crossed the bridge and come down the slope a bit, I could see that huge fern was growing from a crook in a tree, twenty feet off the ground. With so much water, who needs soil to grow in?

In my beloved tallgrass prairie, soil is the source from which springs everything that lives. There are insects and animals in the grass, and in the sky, and in the rivers and ponds; but the grass that anchors it all comes from the soil. It’s a thin but incredibly rich source of nutrients and moisture and the microorganisms that make other life forms possible. Old gardeners will tell you that the key to gardening is to feed the soil. Poets and scientists speak of soil in reverent tones. Soil is the matrix of life.

Monteverde cloud forest is so saturated with water everywhere, that the entire ecosystem itself is that matrix, from the soil up through the underbrush, and on up, two hundred feet into the tops of the trees. Many of the forest’s creatures rarely or never even touch the earth. If the prairie’s soil is a two-dimensional plane, the cloud forest is life exploding into three dimensions.

Amidst this fecundity, my Costa Rica story began to conceive itself. My character would have to journey from San Jose to the cloud forest. (There would be similarities to Maeve’s journey to the prairie, don’t you think?) I told Kevin about this as we walked, and he suggested mixing in some study of botanical medicines. Yes, I thought, she would be sick, seeking healing that couldn’t be found in civilization. What kind of illness? What sickness can only cloud forest heal? Forests are the lungs of the earth, so it would be a lung ailment, one which becomes more prevalent as the forests are inexorably razed. Somehow that led to the question of to what extent plot is necessary. Some authors (myself not included) excel at plot; I find myself moved more by other elements, as a reader and writer. Some books I’ve loved didn’t have much plot. We thought of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as an example of a story with not a lot of plot, but a journey.

If I were to make my story a heroic journey, then the heroine would have eventually to go back to her home, to bring newly acquired wisdom to share with her people. What form would that take? What wisdom will she find, and how will she share it?

I’d thought, I can’t write about this place without being here for a while, living in Costa Rica for months, learning the language and studying the culture. I’ll put this story on the back burner. But once I start talking about a story with Kevin, it takes on a life of its own. The story has no regard for my timelines and preferences. The story does not care that I don’t belong here, that I have deep roots and commitments elsewhere, that my eyes haven’t yet learned how to see this place. The story wills itself to being through me, its vessel. The story has magical power I cannot constrain, especially in this fertile matrix of life.

Practical Conscious Dreaming

Someone asked on Twitter what writers do for inspiration, and I mentioned that I had recently dreamt an idea for a novel. “Lucky duck!” she replied, which slightly surprised me. Lucky to have dreams? Like saying someone’s lucky for having two eyes. Well, yes, I am, but most of us do, and you probably do, too.

I wasn’t consciously looking for inspiration that day (or night, rather), but if I had been, dreamwork might well be a method I would turn to. I wrote previously about how I’ve cultivated my dreaming over the years. If you feel a lack in your dreaming, I’d encourage you to try it. You might be surprised what you can discover in dreams.

If you do remember dreams, here’s an exercise you can try tonight. Deep winter is a good time for dreaming, though you can do it any time of year. Prepare yourself to sleep in your usual ways —put on pajamas, brush your teeth, whatever you always do before going to bed. I’m getting sleepy just thinking about it. Take your journal to bed with you. Clear your mind of extranea (that sounds like a real word, don’t you think?). Keep only the question you want to ask. Write it in your journal, as clearly and specifically as you can. Then set the journal near enough to reach when you wake up. Turn out the light and let the question float around in your mind as you fall asleep. As soon as you wake, write everything you can remember.

Sometimes when I do this practice, I get amazing insight into my question. Once, Kirstie Alley appeared and gave me some sound advice. Other times I don’t find anything I can make sense of regarding the question or any dreams I might have had. Sometimes I have a strong feeling that a dream is meaningful, but I can’t find a way to relate the dream to the question I asked. In those cases I suspect that the question wasn’t really right to lead me to a useful answer.

Whatever happens, I love dreaming and dreamwork. If I can’t apply a dream to a particular problem, it could well be fertile material for some other project, such as a poem or a story. I hope later this month to release a collection of surrealist short stories based on a series of dreams I had years ago, when I first started writing fiction.

What do you dream? How do you inspire yourself to dream? How are you using your dreams in your waking life?

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