Poem-a-Day 2017 Writer’s Digest Challenge #14. Theme: Pick a Popular Saying (and make that the title of your poem)

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That Was Just the Way Her Cookie Crumbled

When Blondie Brown—
a not-so smart cookie—
made her chocolatey chipper cookies,
they wouldn’t make it home
before dust, but
when she went down South,
through word of mouth,
she discovered butter
(and kicked margarine to the curves).

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-april-pad-challenge-day-14

Poem-a-Day 2017 Writer’s Digest Challenge #10. Theme: Travel

Considering I just returned from a journalism field trip yesterday (explaining my delay), “travel” was a timely theme.

Sunday and Monday, our Corsair group (The Corsair is the Pensacola State College newspaper: http://ecorsair.com/movie-review-like-water-for-chocolate/) went to Tallahassee to attend the “Word of South” festival and tour the old and new capital buildings. We also got to talk to a lobbyist about guns on campus and educational funding, and visit the Tallahassee Democrat, the last of which was the best part of the trip, as we got to talk to student reporters of the FSView (the Florida State University student paper) and the editor of the Democrat. We also got to see how newspapers were made, and though I love the look and feel of a print paper, I don’t believe print (books, perhaps, but not periodicals) will be around in 100 years.

I learned that degrees matter, but majors don’t have to lock you into a field. Just because I’m majoring in health information technology doesn’t mean I must work in the healthcare field. I would still love to work at Sacred Heart Hospital (I’ve always said I’d rather work in a cold hospital rather than a hot kitchen), but if I could work for a newspaper, writing about the healthcare field (perhaps with a human-interest slant/angle) I would like that even more. People who write don’t just write—they are doctors, lawyers, politicians, pilots, business people, etc. I’m a writer who happens to be majoring in something that is more medical coding than creative writing.

A question I asked on the trip was if this editor only hired journalism majors. He basically said he would hire any person with expertise, provided they could write well about it. (One of the ladies who worked there was a theatre major.) Everyone I know believes I am an English major, and I guess you could say I had gone after what I was supposed to want, not what I really wanted, because I was afraid what I really wanted wouldn’t pay the bills, but this was something I had to find out for myself. I live my life without regrets—pursuing this medical degree has brought me to where I am now, and I love where I am now.

I had this life plan all mapped out, and even though the map is constantly being redrawn, it isn’t frustrating—it’s liberating. Life is a process, always.

hassee

Tallahassee, 10 Apr 2017

She thought she had come too far to change her mind,
but the choice she had made for the good of her family,
would not limit the choices she could make;
for majors did not determine the only thing she could do—
it simply paved the way to greater things.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-april-pad-challenge-day-10

 

Summer in Spring: Love in the Afternoon

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Though I love the holiday season with all its glitz and glam, it is the warm season I long for, with its relaxing vibes.  I like to say eighty-two degrees with a breeze is my ideal.  I spend at least three hours a day outside during the summer.  If I could, I would live in a bikini, cover-up, and flip-flops year round, with my hair thrown up into a messy bun (the other kind makes me look bald).  I like not having to warm up the car, or bundle up before going outside, or having to worry about blow-drying my hair after a shower.  Summer is low-maintenance.

I guess you could say I have spring break fever.  I spent the late afternoon sunbathing on a sand-colored fleece blanket on our weedy grass, my neighbor playing “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack on the radio.  The late afternoon sun waned as I waxed philosophical, thinking about life’s unanswered questions (like “What exactly is a peanut-butter haircut?” and “If the whole world was naked, would we be skinnier?”), while my  three-year-old daughter fed sticks and leaves to the A/C fan unit.  It was the ultimate relaxation, saturated with sunshine that turned my creamy skin into brown butter.

So often, I’m doing, and I forget to just be.  I didn’t even bring a book to the blanket.  I don’t need constant stimulation.  I was letting myself have some quiet time and my daughter, some unstructured play.  I delight in the way she loves the outdoors, though she still turns into a glassy-eyed zombie with a hearing problem when she plays with our old cell phones.

I suppose that’s why I love the warm so much, because when it’s cold, I don’t spend any more time outside than I have to.  Even bundled up, it’s not comfortable to be wearing so many layers, and fun in the water is out of the question.  I love the season of chocolate bars melting before you get to the car, of ceiling fans cutting through our thick, humid air, and stroller walks at twilight, the smell of meat grilling on the back porch.  As I walk through our neighborhood and pass each house with a lighted window, I think of them as their own separate universes–our neighborhood a solar system.  It’s like walking in space.

While I walk (today, it was while I sprawled), I thought about a butterscotch milkshake I had once.  It was at Spencer’s Drive-In in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, but the place is just a memory now.

 

When my daughter and I went back inside, I take a cooler shower than usual.  When I dry off, the smell of bleach from my white towel makes my nostrils smart.  (Bleaching whites are part of my spring cleaning routine.) My face feels deliciously tight, and I am ready to make my kitchen cabinet casserole (what I call spring cleaning the fridge) while my daughter, freshly-bathed and smelling of lavender and innocence, jumps on my grandmother’s love seat with the cushions out.

All is calm, all is right, until she sneezes, and I am running from the next room, scrambling around to find a wipe while begging her not to touch “it.”

 

#Micropoetry Monday: Our Beautiful South

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Over sweet tea on the verandah,
two Southern belles
& two Southern gents,
decided to be Yankees for a day,
& butter was no longer a staple.

Growing up working class,
with collars as blue as the Bonnie Blue flag
& politics scarlet-red,
with a bloodline as white as Irish potatoes
that ran through their veins,
the O’Mara family was becoming gone with the wind,
their Confederate grey ashes blowing in the breeze.

Wilting on the front porch in blue rocking chairs
with sweet tea in Mason jars,
Miss Iris & Miss Lily spoke of the war no one felt anymore.

Ida Claire, a Southern belle
who identified as a Yankee—
suddenly found that her time was
cut by half & unable to roll her r’s,
for they had disappeared.

They ate grits sweet & savory,
in the sweet & low country,
elevating them with the spice of life,
& the herb that grew in Bubba’s hanging garden–
a potted plant or a planted pot–
they never knew what.

#Fiction Friday: #Micropoetry from the Book

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Their culture was foreign to me—
with their big families, their big love,
their absolutes over theories.
They were so damn sure of themselves.

I’d never know just when it was
Elder Roberts fell in love with me,
but I’d know the exact second,
like a knot on a chain,
when it was he fell out.

I saw in Elder Roberts a longing
that mirrored my own.
However, the love I had for David,
would lose me the love I had sown.

Over gumbo & greens,
we broke cornbread with the elders.
They were our friends—
one would become family,
the other, an enemy.

A Catholic nun was seen as the highest thing
a woman could achieve,
in Mormonism, a stay-at-home mom.
Both required submission under a man.

#Fiction Friday: #Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

Mother didn’t like to talk about her childhood, & I began to wonder if there was something in it that would explain what was happening now.

Mother told me not to love David too much, but I wondered, how could I love him any more?

I didn’t want to hear how my father had loved me, for I’d chosen David over him since the first time I saw him.

“Someday, you will understand, Katryn,” Mother said. “Just know I will finally be able to pay the debt I owed your father.”

Something wonderful was going to happen—I could feel it. Just then, I saw Mother remove her wedding ring & give it back to the man who had placed it on her finger.

I’d never been startled into consciousness with the shrill ringing of an alarm, but rather, gentled into wakefulness to Mother’s dulcet tones.

We washed away the grime of sleep, our hair drying in the summer air on our way to the cemetery, leaving us smelling like a spring rain.

The fragrance of the roses, mingling with the honeysuckle, made me think of an old dowager entertaining little children with sticky faces.

Only God, & perhaps the dead who had been perfected in Him, could hear our thoughts. It was why Jesus had said to go into thy closet to pray.

As Scarlett O’Hara’s home was in the South, I felt mine was somewhere up in New England, where there were four seasons, rather than two.

Book Review: The Headmaster’s Darlings

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Had I not listened to the author speak at my college, I probably would’ve never picked up this book.  Books about teachers who live to teach (what I call “vocational novels”) aren’t generally my thing, simply because I learn a little something from every teacher (good and bad, but never online), rather than a lot from one.  I prefer books about relationships, be they friendships, love stories, etc.  All of the relationships in this book are superficial, at best, nonexistent, at worst.

Before I continue, I will say that Ms. Clark’s “book talk” was fantastic.  The way she described her childhood home of Mountain Brook, Alabama, painted an intriguing picture; I was also riveted with the second part of her talk on her friendship with Pat Conroy (author of “The Prince of Tides”).  Though I’m the type of person who is impressed with credentials (Ms. Clark graduated from Harvard and has a Ph.D), I will say I’ve never found that the more academic or educated one is, the better writer they are; Ms. Clark is no exception.  Creativity and imagination can be nurtured, but I don’t believe they can be taught.

Though Ms. Clark is an engaging speaker, and this book is based on what she knew—real life high school teacher, Martin Hames, who changed her life (though I’m not quite sure how, judging from this book) and was, literally, larger than life (i.e. not fun-sized)—it stirred absolutely no emotion in me.  I did not care about any of the characters, including the one I was supposed to care for.

In her talk, Ms. Clark mentioned how it was important that even heroes have their flaws, but there was one thing Norman Laney (i.e. Martin Hames) was a party to that I found reprehensible (75).  Laney never seemed to care about helping his students grow as human beings, but only getting them into an Ivy League school (219).  That’s impressive, but there’s a whole big world out there that isn’t concentrated in the Northeast.  Rather than help students find the college/university that would be a good fit for them, his “one-size-fits-all” solution was to push them into the Ivy League.  I never saw him guiding his students to pursue their passions or help them choose a major.

I remember at the talk, when Ms. Clark was talking about Mountain Brook being an elitist bubble, one of the ladies spoke up and said, “Kinda interesting you went from set of elites to another?” (referring to Harvard).  I could tell Ms. Clark didn’t like that very much, but the woman was right:  the “Hah-vahd” types may promote diversity of race, gender, etc., but not diversity of thought (Christianity or conservatism, I imagine, isn’t very popular there).  I can read an author by his/her book, and it is clear that this author has a disdain for the blue-collar worker—those who don’t get a prestigious education and who prefer to work with their hands in a non-artsy way.

One interesting analysis occurs with the “dull” Midwestern doctor who tells Laney “…the South clings to the worst things about itself simply because it’s afraid it will lose what makes it unique if it changes” (222).  I can see this translated to food; the South is knowing for frying everything edible in existence, and our region, in particular, is weighed down with an obesity epidemic.  One of the missionaries I knew who served here (she was from British Columbia) gained 15 pounds while on her mission.

This book had so many different characters flitting in and out, I felt they were mere names in an obituary, for all I got to know any of them.  I think this would have been a stronger book had the author focused on one (perhaps herself in character form), or just a few students, whose lives were transformed by this particular teacher.  I believe it would’ve been even better had it been told with the immediacy of the first-person point-of-view (even if it was told through several viewpoints).  Moreover, the reader is never privy to Mr. Laney’s classroom lectures, but, I suppose, like plays, the real action happens behind the scenes (or, in this case, in his office).

If I was Martin Hames, I wouldn’t have appreciated this shady portrayal.  There was a bizarre chapter where he suffers from paranoia, thinking people believe he’s a pedophile (162), which was never mentioned before, and it’s never mentioned again, by him or anyone else.  Because of his morbid obesity, he is stereotyped as having no sexual feelings, because what would be the use?  (Lots of obese individuals still get married and have families—they’re just like anyone else, except bigger.)  I can understand his size making it extremely hard to get a date, but to never struggle with such feelings at all made him seem less realistic.

The “shrugging of shoulders”, “nodding of heads”, and “hung up the phone” were annoying.  He shrugged/she nodded/he hung up is sufficient.  The phrase “allowed for a pregnant pause to gestate (105) I thought an odd choice of words, though I understood the play-on nature of them.  I think many well-placed metaphors might have improved the book.  We see, we hear, but we don’t touch, taste, or smell.  Overall, the book was well-written, but it lacked any kind of warmth, levity, or humanness.  Though I did finish it, it was a task, because I was craving to feel something; I’ve read nonfiction books about business that have evoked more feeling in me than this book.  I don’t like to write a negative review about a local author, but it did win a Southern fiction award, so what do I know?  I simply know how the book made me feel (or didn’t feel); though I’d checked out her other Mountain Brook novels, I traded them in for something else.  I’d had enough of the secular deification of Norman Laney.  He just wasn’t all that inspiring to me, but I guess I had to have been there.

Ms. Clark was quite vocal about her upbringing, but her portrayal of Mountain Brook seemed very one-dimensional.  It strained my credibility to believe that “Brookies” thought everyone from New York was a Jew—never Irish, never Italian, but always Jewish.  That type of ignorance in the eighties (and yes, even in the Deep South) was hard for me to believe, though she lived there, I did not.

What rubbed me the wrong way about Norman Laney was referring to someone as a barbarian because they liked to hunt, fish, and watch Alabama football (and I say this as someone who hates spectator sports) is an elitist attitude.  One could say people who enjoy such things are uncultured, yes, but not a barbarian, however polite (130).  If there weren’t farmers, Norman wouldn’t eat.  Moreover, he talks about how this certain barbarian would never once go to Europe (lots of people can’t afford it), and they’re not going to fill their homes with fine art when they need that money to feed their families.

Part of society’s problem (in my opinion) is when we squirrel ourselves away in academia too long, we lose our spirituality (I’m not talking about religion, but just communing with nature).  “You’ll never catch me gazing at mountains or wildflowers…I want to see paintings and sculptures!  Don’t give me what God can do.  I want to see what man can do,” quoth Laney (124).  How unfortunate that someone would prefer to see a painting of a flower than a real one, but maybe, this is one of those character flaws the author was talking about.  Perhaps it is in this way that Laney is a bit hedonistic, as he is in his eating habits.  A piece of fine art goes up in value, whereas flowers die, so perhaps this was his thinking.  It was interesting how Laney made his glorious fat work for him, but for him to think that his outward appearance was what made him special was sad.  He was a one-man body-acceptance slow movement (131), though he did choose to get bariatric surgery in the end.  Laney was the type of academic who was only focused on his mind, and not his body, but if the body dies, the mind dies with it.

I know it sounds like I hated this book, but there were a few gems, such as Laney’s philosophy that Arts and Culture were integral to personal growth, even if one was majoring in one of the STEM fields (though the term STEM wasn’t used), or going to MIT.  “…his long-held belief that those who lived for Art and Culture had the greatest chance of fulfilling the best part of themselves” (74), as reading and writing strengthen empathy and critical thinking skills.

There was also an interesting quote at the bottom of page 97 I thought quite profound (about the interconnectedness of all things).  I won’t cite it, but if you ever come across the book, look it up.

One of the best quotes of the book was by one of the female colleagues of Laney’s: “…the need for future mothers to have an education worthy of their most important task of raising the world’s children” (141).  A well-rounded education is good for all moms—whether stay-at-home or working-outside-the-home.  Even Latter-day Saints are big on higher education for both genders, per their belief that “the glory of God is intelligence”.

One of the worst (three) parts of the book is when, towards the end, Laney starts spouting spurious, uncontested claims about Ronald Reagan having Alzheimer’s while in office.  My take:  the author wanted to get her dig in by “speaking through her character”.  These were the final sour notes in the book, and added nothing to the story.  The ending didn’t pack a punch, and seemed a bit rushed, after such laborious reading.

Though this was definitely a comedy of manners, there wasn’t much funny about it.