Driving Through the South on Christmas Eve

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Through the snow-sprayed window, I see
a Christmas tree—white, blue, and beachy;
seashells, starfish, and sand dollars adorn,
shiny packages atop a white shag skirt well-worn.

The porch light is on, and carolers come in shorts,
standing on the stoop in flip-flops—a casual sort;
holiday movies are playing in the living room,
Christmas lights twinkling to dispel the twilight gloom.

A lady in a sundress and sandals opens the door,
calling her husband and children away from the décor.
Candles rather than logs glow in the fireplace,
while stockings with names do the mantle grace.

Marshmallows swirl in hot chocolate bliss,
bringing warmth to the silvery winter solstice;
the hydrangeas and azalea blooms will be here soon,
but in the meantime, the festivities brighten the dark afternoon.

The bells of St. Luke’s toll in the steeple bower,
as do the bells from the college clock tower;
at the Mount of Olives Church, a wonderland of white lights
shine like ten thousand halos—a billion stars burning bright.

Choirs of young schoolchildren sing in rows,
paper snowflakes completing the wintry tableau,
while older children perform A Christmas Carol,
donning their turn-of-the-last-century apparel.

The streets glisten with neither sleet nor snow,
but with the reflection of lights and candle glow;
a mist has imbued the balmy, breezy air,
silhouetting the trees, their branches bare.

The beauty of the beach is pristine and clear,
for it is deserted this Yuletide time of year;
standing on a dune is a snowman with eyes of charcoal,
made of white sugar sand and a conch for a nose.

Families fill polished, wooden pews for Midnight Mass,
moonlight shining through windows of stained glass,
their faces patterned like a fragmented kaleidoscope
with the colors of awe, wonder, peace, love, joy, and hope.

Strains of “Silent Night” sung in German,
followed by a Christmas sermon,
swell the hallowed, high-ceilinged space,
for surely, His presence is in this place.

Punch cups of eggnog, laced with cherry brandy,
complement a plate of pecan divinity candy.
Santa will be sated, and the kids will vigil keep,
with flocks of pillowy sheep to count before they sleep.

Neither sleds nor snow blanket the ground,
and there are no days spent snowbound;
yet Christmas here in this little town of Southern parts
is every bit as wonderful and real as those in Yankee hearts.

What I’ve Learned (so far)

What I learned from Creative Writing is that you don’t take it with the notion of learning how to get published–you take it to learn how to become a better writer so that you will have a better chance of getting published.

What I learned from Computer Concepts… Well, that would be nothing. Nothing at all.

What I learned from Ethics was “The Silver Rule” (or what I call the passive rule, as it concerns not doing something), and that I can Kant.  (I also learned that I love philosophy.)

What I learned from Poetry was that rhyme is limiting (take that, Robert Frost–I play dangerously without a net!), and that a person who wears a “Make America Great Again” hat wants to discuss more than mere poetry. I also learned that with workshopping, it’s wise to abide by the admonition of Cinderella, which is “to have courage and be kind.”

What I learned from English Composition II was how to write a research paper on a subject I knew nothing about (i.e. horses) and that Shakespeare is more fun to discuss than read. (I also learned that ratemyprofessors.com is pretty accurate.)

What I learned from Intermediate College Algebra was that I was not necessarily brilliant, but persistent enough to not allow the fear of algebra keep me from finishing college a second time.

What I learned from Security Awareness (besides finding a cure for insomnia) was that I could go viral (if not bacterial) on YouTube and make lots of money producing cat videos.

What I learned from Contemporary Literature is that a playful syllabus is indicative of a chill professor. (And a chill professor won’t take it personally if you kill him off in one of your stories. He just might laugh!)

What I learned from College Publications, Reporting, and working on the student newspaper is that I can make 24-hour deadlines. I learned that being a humor columnist would be my dream job (as I will never have a passion for reporting “ticker-tape news,” but for what comes after).

What I learned from medical coding classes what that I hate medical coding, but in learning that, I also learned that no education is ever wasted, for it took a wrong turn to get to the right one.

And what’s more, I learned that with a career and a family, it will take me longer to finish my education, but that’s okay, for as my college newspaper adviser says, “No one has ever asked me how long it took to get my Ph.D.”

There is time.

My Poetry Manifesto

So we’re making chapbooks for our final project in our poetry class, and I’m taking the easy (but more expensive) route–I’m doing mine on Shutterfly because I’m not that crafty yet.

Our professor wanted us include our manifesto on poetry, and so this is mine:

Manifesto

I grew up on Mother Goose and Eugene Field, in the voice of my father.

As I matured, I turned to longer works; it wasn’t till I had my firstborn that my love for such rhyme and whimsy was reawakened.

“I have fed you with milk, and not with meat” (1 Corinthians 3:2). My dad had fed me the milk, nourishing me so that I could hunt for my own meat. Many years would pass before I realized I had been brought up on one of the most influential books of poetry the world has ever known: The Holy Bible.

That book has illuminated my being with its powerful message: that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and are of inherent worth, for “ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:23). That value is something no one can ever take away.

As I entered adolescence, I discovered Poe, Tennyson, and Frost–the classics–but it wasn’t until I took a college level poetry course that I began to appreciate adult, non-rhyming poetry.

And it was when I began to recite at and attend poetry readings that poetry became alive–something not just to be seen, but heard.

Poetry, for me, is a distilled form of literature, a purer form of language. It is life with the water taken out, and yet it flows like the blood of the one who wrote it.

Above all else, poetry has been, for me, the way to express all the things I could never say.

Dad

Me and my dad, circa 1982, who always read to me not from books, but from loose pages with illustrations, and who taught me to say “Three foul balls in a tub” instead of “three men in a tub” (on “Rub-a-dub-dub”)

Micropoetry Monday: Realms of Motherhood

Vintage Anne.jpg

She loved her baby for who she was now,
not for who she might become.
She’d love her in all her forms,
for every 7 years, she was a new being.

The long-awaited child was an unsolved crossword puzzle
without clues to fill in the boxes.
Love & care were the only answers.

Every night,
her mother read her fairy tales,
nursery rhymes,
& stories just-so;
every weekend morning,
it was poetry from Frost & Field,
the fables of Aesop,
& artful science articles;
but it was when she read to her Bible stories,
like a Prophetess—
a Prof & Poetess of Fire & Lit—
that her child’s universe was expanded,
& her little girl saw her place in it.

He was the key,
she, the lock,
& when they were
fitted together,
they unlocked that door
of opportunity
called parenthood.

She was not unemployed,
but had been placed in a
permanent volunteer position, with a
job description that changed daily.

The Trees of Life: A Poem, and other musings

It has been almost a month since my last posting.  Spending more time with family, enjoying summer, and wading through all the red tape to go back to school has taken up most of June.  I have been hopping from Building 5 to Building 2 to back again for weeks now, and I have yet to make it to the beach.  It is the raining season in Florida.  One year (I don’t remember which, but it’s been within the last three years), it rained every day in July.  I have, however, made use of all my old seashells (pictures to come later).

I have finished my story for the Saturday Evening Post Great American Short Story contest, and I got together with a friend of mine over coffee to help me edit, and hopefully, publish and market “Golden Stars and Silver Linings”, my collection of children’s nursery rhymes (50 in all), complete with a few recreational drug references and double entendres (however unintentional).

Though I don’t consider writing poetry a waste of time (they’re great writing exercises and fun to write, too), poetry for adults just doesn’t sell; though I have several favorite poems by the greats (Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe), I never read modern, adult poetry.  I’ll still enter free poetry contests for which there is a cash prize (a pine needle in a hay bale?), but I refuse to pay any more entry fees when it comes to poetry contests.  Poetry isn’t hot (people like stories), and so those venues that publish it have to charge entry fees just to stay in print because they don’t make money off subscriptions.  Harlequin romances sell, and that’s my focus right now (as far as adult novels go).  Poetry might be more fun to write, to do, than to read (like tennis is more fun to play than watch).  I tend to feel about poetry in novels like I feel about paragraphs written in italics:  (obvious) dream sequences bore me as much in novels as they do in movies.

There is one movie, “The Woman in the Window”, with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett (highly recommended), in which almost the entire movie is a dream, but that’s okay, because we don’t know it till the end.  The fact that it was all a dream was a bit of a letdown.

Though Dorothy’s adventures in Oz also turned out to be all a dream, I prefer to believe she somehow, telepathically, traveled to a parallel universe.

The poem you about to read is based in reality, though creative license was taken.  It was entered into a tree-themed poetry contest.  I never heard back, so I assumed it wasn’t chosen.  I have noticed that many journals that publish poetry specify they don’t care for rhymed poetry, that it reads better, blah, blah, blah.  I believe there is a certain snootiness where rhyming poetry is concerned–it is seen as not edgy or provocative, but trite and childish.  I disagree, as long as the rhyming isn’t forced and is written well.  With this poem, I experimented with rhyming every first and third line, and every second and fourth.  It was a very difficult task, and quite unnecessary; second and fourth would have been sufficient.

However, here it is:

The Trees of Life

Twas under the magnolia tree with its voluptuous, white blooms,
where I read piles of books while drinking sweet tea from a tall glass;
by the light of the pearl moon I read, the honeysuckle releasing its perfume,
my pillow a denim backpack, my bed a lush patch of St. Augustine grass.

Twas under my grandmother’s dying hickory trees,
that I wiled away the lazy summer days in sweet repose,
writing the kinds of stories I loved to read,
the scent of peach pound cake teasing my nose.

Twas under the ancient oak at my parents’ house on Jackson Street,
that my husband-to-be, knelt in the sand on one knee;
*his grandmother’s band of rose gold with a pearl solitaire,
slipped it on my finger–this intricate heirloom of sentimental wear.

Tis every birthday, under the curving colonnade on Twelfth Avenue,
my husband takes me to the Cactus Flower cafe,
classical music playing with the window down partway,
the breeze blowing through my hair those warm, September days.

Tis past rows of swaying palm trees I walk,
flip-flops slapping hot concrete on the way to the boardwalk–
the beauty of the Emerald Coast shimmering in the background,
full of seashells—jewels of the sea–just waiting to be found.

Tis under the Christmas tree,
I lay my baby daughter beside me,
to look up at the twinkling lights–
lights in red, green and white.

Tis amongst the pine trees in the park we watch our children play,
picnicking on our tattered blanket of blue and white squares,
enjoying a Southern smorgasbord of homemade foods artfully arrayed,
whilst a spray of dandelion seeds and yellow butterflies float in midair.

Tis under trees of various species,
we gather ’round the table in our backyard,
enjoying the warmth of the bricks under our feet,
the steaks juicy, the peaches deliciously charred.

And then the day will come and so it will be,
that under the shade of a weeping willow tree,
I will return to the earth in eternal rest,
peace in knowing I have lived my best.

Easter Sunday 2011

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest

So I have entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.  I waited till midnight on the dot before filling out the form, as the contest caps the number of submissions at 10,000.  I wasn’t taking any chances.  I had just cancelled my subscription to Microsoft Office (which was set to be renewed tomorrow, and I didn’t have the money for it), and a part of me feared that would be the only format the contest would accept my novel in.  I was relieved when that wasn’t the case.

I have noticed, so many contest deadlines are at the beginning of the year, so it’s been hectic, as a few of them, I didn’t find out about till close to the due date, and, to me, it’s hard to crank out a quality piece of writing in just a few day’s time.  I like to write something, work on it for a week or two (I’m talking short things here), and then put it away for awhile and go back over it with fresh eyes.  I have entered three poetry contests (one about trees in observance of Arbor Day, not in tribute to Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees”, another in the spirit of Emily Dickinson and then Robert Frost), in addition to a regional contest in which I won first place for a epic Greek myth style poem when I was sixteen.  (That’s what you call hanging on to every blade of grass, as my dad would say.)  I haven’t entered that contest since the Last Millennium, for I’ve been treating writing as a hobby and not a profession (though I wouldn’t quit my day job, if I had one) the last ten or so years.

I have faith in my writing, it’s just that I don’t have much faith in other people seeing that it’s good.  I polish my work to a fine patina, and when it doesn’t win, I go back over it again.  I am a perfectionist that way, and in other ways which, ironically, impede achieving perfection, or something close to it.

With the exception of my blog, I am ready to take a weeklong break from writing.  I need to rest my eyes.  It was wonderful yesterday, Valentine’s Day, just enjoying family time and dinner out with my husband (without the baby).  Unplugging and recharging.  I want to spend more time with my daughter, reading to her, learning new songs to sing to her, among these other things:  http://lovelivegrow.com/2011/12/45-things-to-do-with-a-6-month-old-baby/.  <<This link has given me some great ideas.  I can’t wait till it’s warm again, where I can take her to the park across the street and blow bubbles.

I want to try new recipes, get together with a friend (also a writer, but we don’t talk shop the entire time) over coffee, and finally start on the soap-making business my mother and I are starting.  I need to clear my head.  It’s so easy to lose ourselves in our work, and lose perspective on what’s important (not that writing isn’t, but when my daughter is in a playful mood, I need to go to her–my writing can wait).

There was a time a few days ago where I was getting so frustrated because I was in the middle of something and couldn’t concentrate.  I’d done everything I could for her, and that’s when I realized that I needed to stop what I was doing, and focus on her, because she was the most important thing, and just that reminder gave me such peace.  I felt the anxiety just seep out of me, because I needed that break from my writing, too.  I almost always have my mind on other things when I start playing with her, but if I let myself, I get in to it.  The smiles alone make me not want to put her down or stop what I’m doing.  It’s so easy to get caught up in other, more exciting things, but we need our quiet, simpler times, just as they do.

When I started rereading some of Emily Dickinson’s poems (to prepare myself for the poetry contest in honor of her) and learning more about her, I was amazed that she wrote over 1800 poems in her life, but then I realized they didn’t have television and Facebook to distract them and occupy their time.  I know if we didn’t have cable, we wouldn’t watch as much TV.  I am much more selective about the programs I watch, and even those, I fast forward through the boring segments (like news shows).

I won’t let myself become one of those mothers who is too busy for her children, even when I do go back to a job outside the home.  I have to make time for them, even at the expense of something else (time I spend watching “I Love Lucy” reruns).  That’s why time, in so many ways, is a far greater sacrifice, or gift, than money.  You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.

This is a great quote about time from http://www.sunnyskyz.com/blog/116/A-Husband-s-Amazing-Response-To-She-s-A-Stay-At-Home-Mom-What-Does-She-DO-All-Day:  “We seem to value our time so little, that we find our worth based on how little of it we have.”  If you have time (pardon the pun), it’s worth reading.