Poem-a-Day 2017 Writer’s Digest Challenge #16. Theme: (Blank) System


The Integumentary System

It is what the world sees,
from ivory to ebony,
symbolic of heritage and health.
It advances with age—
the more lines,
the longer the timeline.

Twenty-two square feet of a durable, elastic material,
sometimes marred with scars,
or uneven pigments—
indicative of disease—
it drapes our muscles,
our bones—
a cutaneous covering
that secrets the workings underneath.

In shades of white-blond
to tar-black,
it is a glorious crown;
sometimes it’s sensitive
and has a bad day.
Some is fine and straight,
others, kinky,
both enduring color and heat
in the name of beauty.
It frames the eyes like fans,
adds ten years to young men’s faces,
or falls out,
adding ten years to old men’s heads.

It was the glory of Samson,
Rapunzel’s ladder,
Jo March’s independent currency.
It is shaved in protest and
in camaraderie for others with cancer;
it is refrained from clipping for salvation’s sake,
even as it is sold for its preciousness.

The weapons of mass seduction,
painted in assorted colors,
and sometimes the indigestible chewable
of a nervous habit.
Whether weapons in defense of rape,
or branding tools of mates during orgasm,
they are the crescent moons
that grow on the ends of fingers.

It is the cover we wear—
our identity—
easily changed through chemicals,
or surgery.

It encompasses the cup fillings
that nourish the children,
that make children of men,
that must not move
in polite society.

And for some women,
it must all be covered,
for it offends a man’s perception of
the God who created such heavenly creatures.


Book Review: The Laws of Subtraction


To be fair, I didn’t finish this book (which is why it gets one star). I was only able to finish the Introduction (which was promising), and most of the first chapter. When Mr. May talked about design (and I’m not even a design major, much less an artist), I was engaged, but as soon as he started talking about cars, I could feel myself enter outer space.

I like to say that “Brevity is literary minimalism”; Mr. May broke his own rule by using the phrase “shrug our shoulders” (xii)–what else would one shrug?

I was actually looking for a book on minimalism (not the art, but the lifestyle), and this book just seemed to go on and on about other things. I must say, the title was clever, but the six simple rules he comes up with don’t make a lot of sense to me, such as “Doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing”. (One could replace “doing nothing” with “doing something else”.) That said, I did like his “better with less” (xiii) adage (in conjuction with, but not opposed to, “more with less”). Another quote I liked was “The ability to use patterns to create meaningful relationships from seemingly unrelated elements is a uniquely human attribute and the hallmark of creativity” (12). This has to be one of Glenn Beck’s favorite quotes.

However, he lost me when he said, “If I could figure out how to get this particular portfolio of insight and inspiration into your head with an affordable form of magic that removes the written word entirely, I would” (xv). A writer wishing the abolition of the written word? I don’t think so. Not enough people read now.

I do believe that “what isn’t there” is as important as “what is there”. We always talk about the need for plenty of white space in writing or “reading between the lines”.

I tried to read a few of the contributors, but couldn’t get into those either. This book might’ve made a good series of heavily truncated blog posts, but that’s about it.

2016, A Year in Review (and a few resolutions, too)


Twenty-sixteen was my best year yet when it came to writing (not so much the number of words, but the number of finished projects, publications, and contest wins).  I’ve decided my minimum is 300 words (Stephen King’s is 2000, but unfortunately, I’m unable to write for a living yet).  If I want to go over that, that’s wonderful, but the overage won’t count towards the next day.  I have to keep myself accountable.

I have several New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Get more organized.  This will waste less of my precious time.  I have spent part of the last day of the year clearing out my favorites, deleting e-mails, organizing my USB drive, transcribing my notes that are scattered from pillar to post, polishing the drafts in my blog account so I can either “plush or slush” them (this I’ve done over the last week, explaining my prolific posting).
  2. Do more, and by that, I mean trying different things (especially physical ones, liking biking, climbing, etc).
  3. Plan meals so that I never have to wake up needing to cook.  (I hate cooking in the morning; I’d rather have fish for breakfast…and I have.)
  4. Write something using dictionary.com’s “word of the day”.  This will help me remember it far more than simply memorizing it.
  5. Don’t start writing any more books until I’ve finished (and edited) the ones I’ve written.  (This will take all year.)
  6. Keep coupons in the car or purse.  I am just too forgetful.
  7. Don’t respond to outlandish status updates on Facebook or you will be expected to post one.  I’m sorry, but these really piss me off.  Just like the ones that say “If you love Jesus, you’ll share this”, and others of its ilk.
  8. Include, in my daily to-do list, all the activities I want to do with my daughter.  This includes not just reading stories at bedtime, but other books during the daytime.
  9. Make at least one video of my daughter a week.  I’ve slacked on this as it’s harder to edit videos (or take good ones) than it is a photograph.
  10. Wear less black and gray (yes, it’s slimming).
  11. Do different things with my hair (it’s one of our greatest accessories).  I dug out my old crimper (I’m an eighties girl) and got many compliments on my new look; got a snood for Christmas and if you don’t know what that is, look it up.
  12. Work on Christmas gifts all year long (which would include trying a new recipe weekly).

And that’s just the beginning, but it’s a start.


One of my proudest moments this year was winning first place (in the same contest I placed in second twice last year) for my story, “The Punch Drunk Potluck”, about what happens when a saucy girl brings pot brownies to a Mormon Church party and spikes the punch.  Let’s just say everyone’s spirits were lifted.  (I will post the link when the online newspaper editor has it up.)


I was also published in Bella Grace magazine, for which I wrote a narrative poem about the magic of childhood.  The magazine seemed tailored just for me, with its almost “Pollyannish” take on life (Pollyanna being one of my favorite movies).

I also got published in the anthology below.  This site, http://writingcareer.com/, has been a great help to me in finding places to submit.

I wrote for the student newspaper this fall semester, am writing still for a parenting blog (https://getconnectdad.com/?s=sarah+richards&lang=en), and help write and design the newsletter for a local veteran’s organization.

As far as my personal writing goals, I got on a blogging schedule, where I only have to create new content once a week (the Writer’s Digest Wednesday Prompt); for the months of April and November, I successfully produced a poem a day.  My Monday and Friday posts come from what I’ve tweeted out, which I artfully compile.  I’ve started a Facebook page with writing tips and truths (https://www.facebook.com/sarahleastories/), also of which will someday end up on this blog (waste absolutely nothing you write).  All of these things have helped me become a better, and more confident and prolific writer (and it all counts towards my daily 300).

Though I’ve enjoyed this year immensely, I am never sorry to see it go, because every year just gets better and better:  I learn more, I become more.


Sarah Lea

Collegiate Blue is the Warmest Colour


This was my second year in community college.  I’ve learned as much about myself as I did about MLA formatting, medical coding, and how to write captions and headlines.  Life often works in mysterious ways, for I went back to school to specifically learn how to become a medical biller and coder, only to find that I don’t anymore.  The semester I couldn’t get into any classes in my major but one, I took a creative writing elective so I would still qualify as a part-time student.  That semester, I won a couple of writing awards, and began to wonder if I could bridge my career path with my passion.  When a friend of mine got a job at a hospital writing press releases and health writing campaigns, I knew it could be done.

This past semester, I interned at a hospital and that is when I discovered that coding wasn’t for me, and not because I did poorly (I made a 90% in Beginning Coding).  I just had to take something I wanted to know I didn’t want it anymore.  That said, I still have two more coding classes to go, which I consider to be “paying my dues”, for everyone has to take a class or two they don’t particularly like.

My dream is still working in a cold hospital rather than a hot kitchen, so my question to myself was, “Where do I go from here when I am two-thirds deep into my degree?”  I don’t want to be a professional college student, I want a career while I take one class every semester while building my career until I get my Masters in English and Communications, for it will be my medical degree that will pay for the other.

When I confided in my instructor about my feelings and she told me there were a multitude of jobs I could do with an HIT degree—that I wasn’t limited to coding—I felt like I’d released a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding.  Because the one hospital I hoped to be able to work for someday had fired all their coders and contracted them out remotely, I wanted to do something else in the healthcare field; I still wanted to work in administration, because I cannot stand the sight of blood (not even my own).  How glad I am that I chose to get a well-rounded degree I could build on to rather than a college diploma, where I would be stuck doing one thing.  The only thing I’ve ever known I wanted to be is a writer, and I’m still discovering, at the age of an old millennial, what I want to be as I continue to grow (being grown up already).  I remember someone told me once, “It’s never too late to redefine yourself.”  He was right.

When I got a scholarship for my articles written for the student newspaper, I realized I’ve made a fair amount of money from my writing this year, whether through scholarships or submissions.  I say I went back to school to find myself, only to lose myself in it, so that I could find my new self.  I don’t know exactly what I want to do with this degree, but I know what I don’t want to do, and I know where to look for the career I want.  My ENC1102 professor told me that’s what makes a person educated—not that they know the answer to everything, but they know where to find the answer.

There’s a line from an old movie about married women being like a solved crossword puzzle, but that isn’t true; I’m still solving my own clues, because we’re human beings, subject to change—yesterday, today, and forever.  And yet, perhaps I haven’t changed at all—I’m simply discovering that I am more than what I thought I was.

Poem-a-Day Writer’s Digest Challenge #18. Theme: Mash Poem (using 6 words)

For today’s prompt, write a poem that uses the following six words:

  • band
  • logic
  • pack
  • web
  • froth
  • clean


When Cella White Left Big Red

Logic dictated she should pack her coffin and clean him out,
cut through his web of pink froth with her rhinestone band,
for she was tired of him giving her the cool Dracula treatment,
turning her into an anemic plasma donor with periods infrequent.


Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #371; Theme: Ekphrastic Poem


Static Girls (inspired by Girl Before a Mirror by Pablo Picasso)

Upon waking, she cuts her eyes to the looking glass
to gaze upon her self-reflection.
The lass stares back at her—
the changeling in utero,
a petrified baby girl
with her snatchlet of hair and single tooth,
lies so wee and still in her fetality.

The unknown lithopedion calcifies
into intricate stonework,
and the heart of the lass
on the living side of the glass.
She is the mummy of the mummified.

Her body is a little one’s coffin,
the lub-dubs of her heart bleating a lullabye,
the ribcage a home for the little bird
who has no voice or personhood.
Her hollow womb is an empty tomb,
from which no thing will rise or rush,
or rapidly form.

She lifts the frame off the hallway wall,
only to see (through) it was a transparency—
a capturing of herself in that last month
before the water and the blood,
from her wounded body which flowed—
the afterbirth of instant baptism.

*a lithopedion is rare, medical phenomenon in which an unborn child dies during gestation, and calcifies within the mother’s body.



Book Review: Talk like TED


When my husband and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University as part of our premarital counseling, I remember Dave saying (though I wasn’t sure if it was in the DVDs or on the radio) that everyone should read at least one nonfiction book a month (my goal is two; the other this month was Stephen Hawking’s, “An Illustrated Brief History of Time”, but I didn’t understand all of it quite well enough to write a review), and that reminded me of this list:  http://www.daveramsey.com/blog/20-things-the-rich-do-every-day.  I’d tried to keep it in mind, but it serves me better on my fridge, where I’ve posted all my other goals (most of them writing, ones but that narrow focus has made me well-rounded in all of the wrong ways).

So, the first Tuesday of every month, I’ll be posting a nonfiction book review, as I didn’t care for the way the Goodreads widget looked on my blog. 

Even if you’re not a public speaker, you will love this book (especially if you’re a writer), because it will point you to some really great TED talks.  (TED stands for technology, education, and design.)  Even though I don’t plan on public speaking any time before I graduate from college (too many irons in the fire), one thing Mr. Gallo said resonated with me, and that was that PowerPoint sucks.  I wish my online instructors would use the TED template for teaching some of their material so I wouldn’t find myself spacing out during “lectures”.  I’ve often found the text on PowerPoint slides to be distracting (like closed captions on television, even though background noise over dialogue forces me to resort to them); stunning visuals (or slides) should be used instead.  It was how Al Gore convinced people of man-made global warming.

However, even though Mr. Gallo claims that talks shouldn’t be more than 18 minutes, I’ve listened to professors and speakers for three hours, and, as long they were interesting and I had an intermission, I remained engaged.  Think about it:  How many men watch a four-hour football game or how many women binge-watch “Big Love”?  If they can sit through that, they can sit through more than an 18-minute talk.  Joel Osteen, a wildly popular, “pop” minister, often speaks well over that time frame.  The problem isn’t with the length (albeit within reason), it’s with our attention-span.  Maybe we need to learn how to focus on listening more and talking less.  We are overstimulated as a society with our cell phones, we can’t just be.

That said, I agreed that the objective of a talk should be able to be expressed in “Twitter time” (140 characters or less).  Creativity does thrive under constraints, because I’ve found it easier to write for a deadline, a certain word count, or theme, as it gives you a framework.

When I watched David Christian’s talk, “The History of our World”, I was left wanting more, but maybe a Ted Talk is supposed to leave us feeling that way, so we will explore the issue further.  See:  http://www.ted.com/talks/david_christian_big_history?language=en.  That talk led me to reading Stephen Hawking’s “The Brief Illustrated History of Time” (I don’t claim to understand everything in it, but even if you don’t, you will get something out of it; nevertheless, it’s a fascinating read).

As for Susan Cain’s talk, “The Power of Introverts”, (https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts?language=en), it inspired me to read her book, being an introvert myself.  I remember in school, if you were introverted, you were considered an outcast, except with other introverts, but I look at it this way:  When you’re an introvert, you love your own company, and you’re less likely to be bored.  Boredom is something I haven’t experienced since I was a child, and even then, I found my own way out of it.  Maybe that’s why I loved making up stories, spending time with people who didn’t really exist.

Another book I was inspired to check out was “The Book of Awesome” (see:  http://1000awesomethings.com/the-top-1000/); however, after seeing “picking your nose” on the list, I’m dubious (maybe he ran out of ideas?).  I prefer Maria von Trapp’s “favorite things”, or maybe even Oprah’s, as I’m currently reading through some of her Book Club selections.  When my cable went out for about a week, I’d felt more at peace than I had in awhile, for I’d grown weary of the talking heads and punditry.  It was like a spell had been broken.  I didn’t need to know what was going on at every minute of every day, and I hadn’t realized what a negative effect it had had on me.  I find myself longing for the days when I was a little girl and news was a 30-minute primetime event.  I remember growing up to the calm, comatose-inducing lull of C-SPAN at my maternal grandparents’ house.  I dug out my old “Wings” collection and it was nice to laugh about silly things, rather than be entertained by “political theatre”.

Sir Ken Robinson’s speech on education (https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en) was my favorite (and not just because of the English accent).  Large portions of his speech are included in the book, but it was nothing like listening to him give it.  I’ve heard that poetry is best when read aloud, and now I know why.  Sir Robinson’s speech only confirmed my belief that education is on the decline.  Case in point:  I will never forget my tenth-grade English teacher telling me the epic poem I wrote for our semester project (our theme that year was Greek mythology) was too creative.  She gave me a C, and I can still remember her face when I showed her that I won first place in fiction in a regional writing contest (and this was at the age of 16).  That said, she was a good sport and had me read it in class.  It was one of the few times my shyness (now having matured into introvertedness) was forgotten.  I believed in what I’d written, for someone else had believed in it, too.

However, he was careful to say don’t just live inside your head.  You have a body, too, that can do amazing things.

Needless to say, I got more out of this book than mere information, which has led me to seek more information; it also inspired me to do a TED talk someday many, many years from now.  When a book inspires you, that’s saying quite a bit.  Furthermore, I learned more from reading this book than I did taking a Basic Speaking and Listening class at college.

One of the things I agreed with the author about was that it isn’t wise to tell jokes unless you’re a comedian.  Rather, weave anecdotes into your story/narrative.  This goes for being a writer, as well, and I have to say that I don’t care for stand-up comedy, but I love (good) situation comedy—humor that arises organically through situations, with characters you get to know more than you do in a movie.  I rarely ever tell a joke in any of my stories, because it takes you away from the story.  The only time I’ve used a joke was through the voice of a young girl who fancies herself as a comedienne, where the jokes are intentionally lame, where the joke is simply a tool providing insight into the character and not about the joke itself.

Mr. Gallo did promote TED speakers as much as he gave advice, but I didn’t mind.  Though it sounds rather crass, we are all in sales now.  We’re all in the business (or should be) of selling ourselves to an employer (also known as an interview).  Many things sell themselves, but they have to be presented in the right way, which is what a TED talk does—it presents information in a fun, conversational way—not as a series of bullet points on PowerPoint, but through a multi-sensory experience.  Stories that employ the use of metaphors and analogies are my favorite (after anecdotes).  Even Jesus used parables to convey His message, and relate to His audience.  Images, videos, quotes, and props, also add to the experience (and they don’t even have to be your own).

A few tidbits from the book.  The three components of inspiring presentation are (and forgive the bullet points):

• Emotional—they should touch your heart
• Novel—they should teach you something new
• Memorable—they should present content in unforgettable ways

According to Aristotle, the power of persuasion resided in three things:

• Ethos:  credibility
• Logos:  logic, data, statistics
• Pathos:  appealing to emotions

I like to say I prefer movies that were made back during a time when people were more sophisticated than their technology, but believe it or not, people are getting smarter (p. 127). That alone gave me hope. I was also heartened to read that it’s never too late to learn something new (p. 33).  “Neuroplasticity…as a person becomes an expert in a particular area….the areas of the brain associated with those skills actually grow.”  Being an avid, lifelong learner, this made me realize I still have time to learn all the things I wish I’d learned as a child that my undomesticated goddess mother did not know how to do.