Monday coffee: Writing “happy”

Mahlzeit für einen Binturong

By 4028mdk09 CC-BY-SA-3.0

This silly looking beast is a Southeast Asian Bear-Cat. Otherwise known as a binturong.

Binturongs are distant relatives of civets. They walk low to the ground, have prehensile tails and are the size of a very large dog. They waddle like raccoons, except when they leap straight up in the air (all four paws off the ground) to jump on ducks. No, not kidding. I had the pleasure of meeting one at the San Diego Zoo – he was one of their “Animal Ambassadors.” He did, as binturongs are reputed to do, smell exactly like Fritos.

20130311-150354.jpgI often hope that Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) got to meet a binturong. With their funny tufty ears, their habit of hanging upside down from tree branches to sleep, and their spray of whiskers, they are as close to a Dr. Seuss animal come to life as anything on Earth.

Our friend, Linda, is having a terrific contest in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The contest ends on the 16th of March. If you haven’t joined in yet, please do – even if you’re not “a real poet.” Dr. Seuss is for everyone.

I haven’t, myself, written a poem for the contest yet. My six year old has, but I haven’t been able to. Why? Partly because I’ve been overworked, but mostly because I’ve been a bit blue – a delayed effect of a lot of kind of yucky stuff from the past couple of months finally sitting down on my head.

Young pet bear cat in Taman Negara Malaysia

By Bart Van den Bosch CC-BY-SA-2.5

Until today, I have been waiting to “feel happier” before trying to write my Seussian poem. Which is why I ended up looking up pictures of binturongs. And it was when I found this little guy that I realized that…as a writer, you can’t always wait to be happy before you write. Because sometimes it’s the act of writing, the being at one with your creative nature, that is happiness. I’m happy when I’m writing – even when I’m grumpy about what I’m writing or even just bored. So instead of waiting to write until I am happy, or trying to jolly myself into happiness, I’m going to write myself happy. In fact, I’m going to do it now. This post is just by way of thank you to Linda H., and all the other writers I know (at PA friends, and HMPDYWT, and Posted Asides), for reminding me, however indirectly, that to be happy, writers…we write.

Monday coffee: Glorious words, or The Secret Life of Twitter

Blue Dacnis, Dacnis cayana - Flickr - Lip Kee (1)

by Lip Kee cc2.0

First, a note, and then, a sort of confession. The note: Linda, one of our writing friends, posted a great question (as in, really great question) for those of us who participated or followed along in the Brighter Light Challenge. Please stop by so we can share our experiences!

And  now, pleasant duty over, it’s time for that little confession. For someone who lives right in the heart of Silicon Valley – like 10 minutes north of Adobe and 15 minutes south of Facebook – I was very slow to create a Twitter account. I just could not see the point of it. Sometimes, people described Twitter in a way that made it seem like being mute witness to lonely shipwrecked folk helplessly throwing messages in bottles out to sea from millions of individual deserted islands. Other times, I imagined that it was like standing in the middle of Grand Central Station yelling at every passing patron while each of them yells their thoughts into the big, echoing chamber as we passed one another. Either way, it sounded less than appealing.

What finally forced me to get a Twitter account was an acceptance of a  poem by an online magazine that asked authors to include in the bio 1) a web address and 2) Twitter “handle” (what you’re called on Twitter). Well, then. So I gritted my teeth and did it.

And…like most things I balk at, I am enjoying Twitter immensely (this willingness to balk at enjoyable things is, I’m told by those who know, related to my astrological sun sign). There is lots of great get-started advice for writers on creating a Twitter platform for yourself (among the ones I can recommend: Robert Lee Brewer’s starter advice, Debbie Ohi’s writer’s guides, Nathan Branford’s how-to which makes me wish he was still with a lit agency so I could write something he’d want to agent). But what can get lost in all the technicalities (though all 3 blogs mention it) is how RELAXING Twitter is.

Déferlement St-TugenRelaxing? Yes, actually When I first created my Twitter account, I found people I love to read (Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Richard Blanco, Steve Martin, Eric Idle, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry  to name a few) and signed up for their tweets. And now, when I need a break, I just log onto Twitter and read. It’s not like being overwhelmed by random people yelling at you. It’s more like standing at the edge of a cool ocean of WORDS as the tide’s coming in, feeling clean air and fresh, blue water, washing over you. These are people I chose, for their wit, intelligence, and vocabularies, with interests and causes and I get to just…listen. As Humpty Dumpty says, “That’s Glory for you.” And it is – it’s glorious. It’s like a private word-concert. If you’re on twitter, or if you’re about to give it a try, and if you are/do please let me know – I’d love to follow your wonderful words, too.

Monday coffee: In which I celebrate many things

My family celebrates a lot of winter holidays.We’re pretty muchPopof in celebratory mode from November 1st until January 2nd. After which, I spend the next few weeks putting away candles, sweeping up the confetti and  trying to remember where I’ve put the spare keys.

We celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving, Diwali, Chanukah,Christmas and the New Year. I used to celebrate both Kwanzaa and Yule, but the loved ones for whom these were special holidays now live far away so I can’t celebrate with them except in thought.

Today I have something new to celebrate. Remember the Burning the Midnight Oil contest which Andrea helped so many of us enter? While people were submitting their poems, Andrea showed me a poem she’d written and was thinking about submitting. I cried a little when I read it – poems about the realities of war always make me sad and this poem is vivid, short, and ends with – well, a short line that just tried to tear my heart right out of my chest.

I am so delighted that her poem “The Grass is Green” won*.

This also delights me: the top 10 poems and the hon. mentions included a lot of people who hang out with us at this blog, including (but not limited to, and please forgive me if I missed your name) Linda Hofke, Sara McNulty, SE Ingraham, and Mariya Koleva.

To celebrate the gift of others’ voices is something I find myself wanting to do more and more often. I wonder if, as one writes more and more, one appreciates the good writing (the good reading!)  of others more. Regardless, congratulations to Andrea and to the others in the contest : what a  lovely way to head toward a new year ~ ina
Cone and holly

*I am waiting to hear if Andrea’s poem will be posted at Write Helper. If not, I will certainly ask her if i can share it here.

Connecting Over Monday Coffee: “The Next Big Thing”

Wilhelm Schreuer Kaffeekränzchen In our previous post, we mentioned that we were invited to participate in a blog chain called My Next Big Thing.  This blog chain isn’t a chain letter but a chance for writers to connect with with one another over the blogosphere – and isn’t connecting what writing is all about? I want to say “thank you” again to our lovely friend Dr. Pearl Ketover Prilik for this chance to share what one of us is up to these days. Please check out Pearl’s Next Big Thing at this link. And after you’ve read Andrea’s description of this *amazing* project she’s working on, please stop in and say hello to the talented people with whom we’re next sharing this chain! – Ina

The Camino near Burgos

The Camino, near Burgos

Andrea’s Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book or project?

AH: The Tartan Pillow Lead

What sparked the project/book/work off?

AH:I walked the Camino in Spain in 2006 – and why did I? I needed to explain to myself why I did it but after I did it, I most of all wanted to preserve a beautiful picture of the wonderful people I met on the road, The Camino.

The Camino! The Way! People from all over the world walk the Camino every year, and we are following a trail of hundreds of kilometers up north in Spain. There are around 25 kilometers in between the towns and the beds where you can sleep, so for many people the options make it possible. A lot of men wrote about their external sufferings and inner revelations walking these hundreds of kilometers, and I don’t understand this because the majority of people I met on the Camino back in 2006 were women. Women from all over the world losing weight.

I never intended to walk the Camino, but a friend of mine wanted to go there. She had breast cancer, and in a hospital bed without breasts, she cried, “Now I can never walk the Camino.”

And I said, “Of course you can.”

And she said, “Will you bring me?”

And I said, “I’ll carry you all the way if necessary.”

My friend recovered, and every now and then she reminded me of my promise, so one day we were there. “Hello 500 kilometers ahead of you,” I thought one day in Burgos in Spain. It turned out to be a painful nightmare for the first couple of days because I did not know anything else than walking these 500 kilometers (approximately 300 miles) to reach the airport in Santiago to get safely home to Denmark. How would I ever succeed?

I got lost from my Danish friend after two days. Only I met a lot of other people. People from all over the world. People from Holland, Germany, England, Ireland, Canada, America, Australia and yes, all over the world.

I walked all those hundreds of kilometers mostly with three Australians, but I met my Danish friend after 19 days in Santiago. When sitting in a restaurant with my Australian friends, whom I walked with for what felt like a lifetime, my Danish friend asked me, “Andrea, why do you speak in English?”

And what did I say? Likely that it was important for me that everybody around the table understood what I said – only the fact was that I felt more or less Australian. I become “a mate.”

When I returned to Denmark, I started writing about all the experiences with all those hundreds of people that I’d met. I wrote in English, and after three months I ended up with a book manuscript of 72,000 words, now wondering:

Who doesn’t need to follow a long-haired, American anorexic pilgrim walking out there with her plastic bags?

“Being a Franciscan believer doesn’t allow me to own anything,” she said. Only I for one would have loved to buy a rucksack for her. Listening to her endless packing and unpacking of her noisy Spanish plastic bags at 5 o’clock in the morning was hell.

“Sorry, but I need to arrange all my stuff right,” she said.

Or the polite British pilgrim who wore his trekking trousers inside out, explaining to me that the trousers belonged to his dead friend who had wanted to walk the Camino.  He promised this dead friend’s wife that he would wear these trousers along the entire journey, and there he was, “saving” these trousers for Santiago where he would put them on right.

“What an odd promise,” I said.

“Yes, you might say so,” he said, “but that’s how she wanted it, and I do it because she promised me his old car when I return to England.”

How would you describe your project/book/piece of work?

AH: I guess my problem is that I don’t know how to describe it. When you just write like a mad for 3 months and then polish, polish and polish – then you end up wondering what you wrote.

Only basically the genre is non-fiction. I describe poignant incidents but most of all I hope that I meet my fellow pilgrim, Susan, who said: “On my first Camino, I cried – on my second Camino, I laughed.” And I met Susan on her second Camino, luckily, and it should be impossible to be mistaken about cathedrals, towns, roads – but we went lost all the time – in fact we found a cathedral which turned out to be a flamingo dance hall.

And why did we get lost all the time? Because we were two middle aged women who had long lives behind us and needed to tell each other all about them so we missed towns, cathedrals and the arrows on the road because we were so engaged in our conversation. We didn’t see a thing until it was kind of dark or the road, the trail, suddenly stopped.

Only wherever we went, we always were rescued. We, I, were part of a team and we followed Susan who had a tartan pillow so when we saw that pillow in the hostels, we knew that we found the right place, so we booked and stayed there together.

How long did it take you to find your own style and voice?

AH: I love a short and fresh style and I love when I can break it when I need something poignant to be added. And how did I find it? I guess it’s just me like I’m born with this style of mine.

In what ways do you think ‘writer you’ differs from or has similarities to the everyday you?

AH: These are two different characters, sort of. Being a writer, I’m a lot of things but most of all, I’m sharp. In my everyday life, I’m not. Once I wanted to be but life taught me that I’m just a very ordinary kind of quiet person but when I’m writing, well, I’m normally nice but I can be horrible. You see when writing, I am completely honest.

 Who or What makes you pick up that pen or start typing at the keyboard?

AH: I guess that you, the reader, make me want to write. When I was twelve I wrote an ongoing story for a school magazine and when my fellow students protested when the editor wanted me to stop my ongoing story, I felt fine.

I don’t know, really. I’m not much of a speaker, so I guess that writing is a way for me to express myself and when I created something, I always feel fine.

Imagine someone waved a magic wand and you were only able to write one book in your lifetime and you knew it would be perfect and say exactly what you intended and be understood and appreciated by everyone; what would you write about?

AH: I always wanted to create the perfect love story. I’d say “The Tartan Pillow Lead” is a kind of love story so maybe I already wrote it.

So yes, a love story.
Photograph of Coffee Break at National Archives and Records Service (NARS) Conference in the Late 1970s

And  with that perfect ending, here are InOurBooks’ pings for the My Next Big Thing blogger chain:

  • Regina Swint, author of The Other Side of 30
  • Amy Harke-Moore author of poetry, short stories, and non-fiction and editor at The Write Helper [click her link for more info]

Monday Twinings Tea

Sitting somewhere and enjoying a proper cup of tea? Coffee? Well, whatever you have and wherever you are, we’re here, and just now, I’m here, Andrea speaking.

William paxton2
No New York here, no cafés, no places to hang out, no corner for me to sit building up audiences of casual guests looking at me and thinking that I am something special. But oh, I’d love it – sitting somewhere being special – I could drink lots of coffees, I’m sure, but as it is, I like to admit that I also drink tea.

I sit in my kitchen, looking straight into my microwave oven, that is if I look up, and cafés: there is the grocer’s which is DagliBrugsen where I live. And just now, it’s tea and you out there. How I love to be connected.

So here I sit in my quiet kitchen and see Ina got something published somewhere. My fellow blogger or to be honest, the head blogger here, made it through!

Poem at Right Hand Pointing

Ina writes about breast cancer and this wonderful medical development that makes it so true to use a metaphor with koi and a frog.

But I sit a little quiet, thinking about my friend, Neser, who didn’t make it. And thinking about Neser, I always end up laughing, though now it is so many years ago. I also know that she likely would have loved Ina’s poem.

I put in another lump of sugar in my tea. It’s cold outside – please see Sidse’s picture from today:

SidsesColdWorld

I feel so lucky that the internet is working today which means Amanda down in Brisbane can announce her recipes for me and for the citizens of Sejer Island.

Amanda, we’re ready. We can’t wait for the lamingtons because they look so good on the pictures. I hope I can squeeze in some more details here though I know that these details might not be in our books – only this blog kind of taught me that maybe they should.

But what is our blog post for today?

Ina and I are running a blog about writing. And we want to introduce a poetry challenge for you:

An Adult-Kid poeming month in January 2013.

  1. You must have an agreement with someone on writing 16 poems for January 2013. You, being the poet, and this other someone, a kid, must create a poem according to the prompts that Ina and I will put here on the blog during January.
  2. You must enter a name – “the rocking tigers” or something like it. You must come up with a name for your team and you must submit this to us along with a short description of who you are.
  3. And I’m sorry but the poems must be in English.
  4. Ina and I will be ready with awards.

Tea tins in kitchen, mostly TwiningsThe prompts will be about describing the world. So we’ll just say, for instance, “England.” Then you will have to come up with a poem about England and then we might say “Bulgaria” and so on.

So here with my Monday tea, I hope I have inspired you all to set off
for yet another challenge.

Please tell us what you think.

Monday coffee: This lovely weekend

To cut branch of coffee treeI spent Thanksgiving with my spouse, child and my inlaws. Today we went to see a production of “The Nutcracker” – which has become a family tradition. The Fresno production is lovely – the children are always ridiculously cute; the Sacramento Valley Ballet (the performance  is a joint production between a local ballet studio and the Ballet Co) is wonderful, and the dancers work really well with their young counterparts. The sets are also beautiful – the whole thing, down to the way that Dr. Drosselmeyer’s silly magic tricks conceal his true magical abilities) comes alive on stage.

Child and I visiting The Woozle House

On the way home from the theater, we stopped to check out the ongoing development of a Patrick Dougherty installation, called “Learning Curve.” We have a Doughtery installation more local to us as well. My son calls it “The Woozle House” – which has always struck me as just right.

Patrick Doherty sculpture, in process, at CSUFresno

These sculptures: you can be in them, around them, look into them, look through them, and they smell like fresh wood. The one near us sometimes has squirrels playing in it, and there’s almost always kids playing around it – weaving in and out and through it – during the day time. They’re sustainable and they give back to the earth. They make people, even sensible grown people, want to play. But what I love best about Dougherty’s  work is that sometimes the support posts – cut willow put directly into the ground, start to take root.  They literally root and grow leaves and sometimes have other plants use them to grow. The one near our house is now about half green. The art actually comes alive.

Something to strive for, I think.

Monday coffee: in which I give thanks and introduce cows

Artists at All City Coffee 25

In the U.S. the holiday of Thanksgiving is approaching. It’s a kind of odd holiday: people’s kids are in school plays where they dress in Pilgrim gear and worry about starvation, and later that week we have a huge dinner at which we usually overeat. Sometimes we do this while watching sports games on the largest screen we can find. And the very next day, we start a frenzy of Christmas or Chanukah shopping (in my case, both. So glad Diwali is already past!) that looks like sharks converging on an unfortunate school of gift wrapped fish – so scary that it’s even called Black Friday.

And yet, Thanksgiving simultaneous manages to have meaning to almost everyone here, even hard boiled cynics, that goes beyond the physical. It’s almost like the indulgence in the very material parts of our being (buying, eating) gives our hearts some unimpeded time to move towards others, their concerns, their needs, their lives.

Art tends that way too this time of year; the rain starts here in California, and the call from the artist world is expressive, connective. I love the idea of collaborative individuality in Laura Hegfield’s Gratitude Quilt. For a really, um, unusual physical piece of  gratitude artwork, one of my favorite art shows is featuring, this year, a Gratitude Cow (really!)* And for sheer gut-wrenching honesty, painter and poet Stuart Sheldon’s blog post, “Thank,” still  does it for me as it does every year since he wrote it.

I don’t tend to express gratitude publicly, including through writing. I’m too worried about people starving, and difficult court cases, and the Middle East situation, and my friends’ healthcare concerns, &c. You can imagine the sort of thing. But I am grateful for a lot of things, and when I was talking them over with my six-year-old, I was surprised to find that my typical top-10 list (my family, my lovely friends, my eyesight, etc) came up with an addition: this blog. It’s a pleasure taking part in its writing but even more of a pleasure connecting with my blogging partner and with the people who read and comment on and about this blog.

So, thank you, friends, for making this blogging thing such a joy.

*If you’ve never run across the Cow Parade, well, you’re in for a treat!CowParade Prague 2004 023 ALCHEMICOW

Monday Coffee with cream and definitely stirred.

James Bond and Barrack Obama are all over the Danish television at the moment but mind you, we’re writing poems and some of us are even writing NaNoWriMo as well. No time for a lot of blog reading in November for sure.

Cup of Coffee with Whipped CreamOnly we launched a notice board here on InOurBooks last week and we’re so glad that Amanda from Brisbane, Australia, used it to promote her blog. Amanda is a member of the Scandinavian club there and she also reads a lot of books and so do so many other members of this extraordinary club. I’m not sure whether they read that much poetry but here I’ll let Amanda correct me if I’m wrong. Still, there is this club where people can meet and have new friends, having delicious meals and having so much fun with their children.

I’m a teacher at the local island school – today   was “a theme day” and the theme was English.I asked Marilyn Braendeholm or MiskMask for a good recipe for a “four o’clock tea” last week and she sent me two recipes of how to create the best sandwiches the English like. I also studied websites about how to tie a tie.

So today it was. The students appeared wearing ties and were pretty excited. An English day? In the first lesson we studied the recipes in English but we also learned how to use Google Translate and in the second lesson we studied how to tie a double Windsor knot and this work went on, off and on. And that was great because I was to fetch 3 packets of black Tiger prawns and other ingredients which were scheduled to come by the ferry at around 9.00 and yes, everything was there.

And the sandwiches? Marilyn, here I was among people who love “fuldskaver” which is a Sejer Island specialty I can’t explain, but something completely different compared with these sophisticated English sandwiches.
They loved them, Marilyn, and they also loved the tea, and we did heat the milk. We were supposed to speak English, only English, for almost four hours and we did the first two of them but when we created that delicious “four o’clock tea” experiment, the words switched to Danish all the time. Now here I sit and smile thinking about all these good things that come out of poetry.
And poetry! Poetic Asides! I have so much trouble posting at Poetic Asides. It says I’m posting too quickly and I don’t understand. I went through lots of trial and errors but whatever I do it says that I’m posting too quickly. Too quickly? I live on one of the slowest internet connection places in the entire Denmark.

So I began posting my poems on our notice board and what a wonderful surprise!
Claudette responded. Linda Hofke responded. Janet Martin responded. Ina. And there I sat. “Thank you” written all over my face. And here I am to say thank you. You make me so glad.

The worst part is that I’m not sure I know how to reply directly on our notice board yet – I only figured out how to paste so far but I will find out, hopefully. And now Vivienne Blake. Thank you and especially for your expression: “He would flip his lid.”

Now, let’s enjoy our Monday coffee, only mind you, I might suggest some real English tea some day with heated milk – shaken, not stirred.

Monday coffee: A month of living dangerously

For many creative writers who have writing lives on the internet, November is a month in which one walks softly and carries a big coffee cup. Why? Because November is when all the challenges Douwe Egberts koffie kopcome out of hiding, and it’s so hard for a writer to resist. To name just a few:

And these are just a few of these events.

Each of these events has detractors. And they are often right to point out problems. Some argue that really good writing needs to happen in its own time and under its own steam. Others believe that the process of creation is more important than the goal (whether that goal is a number of poems written or the number words on a page), but that some of these events focus on goals and discourage mindfulness. Some people need to move on – to pass up the “game” feeling and do the serious, ugly work of revising. Still others have tried one of these events and found the month to be frustrating if one has more than one outside responsibility.

So why do any of these things? Last year,  I did two of these events simultaneously.One of them was the November chapbook challenge. But the other? That was Nano.

I’ve always said I could never write a novel – I’m a short form gal – and I decided to put my money where my mouth isn’t. I decided to prove myself right by trying to write a novel while taking care of my kid (who has some special needs involving lots of doctors and therapists) and holding down a full time job. And I felt GREAT. I was sleep deprived, and overworked; I got carpal tunnel, and the resulting novel was and is truly lousy. And I still would not trade that month for anything.

What I learned was that, really, when all is said and done, I may not be a novelist, but I love writing. I love the words, I love the turn of phrase, I love the transfer of images from my head onto the page. That recognition – the recognition of one’s self as a writer? That’s priceless.

So will you share with us? You know you’re an artist (a writer, a painter, a sculptor, a director…) or you wouldn’t be here at this blog. Are you participating in any or all of these writing events? What does participating, or not participating, tell you about your own creative heart?

Monday Coffee

Do you take the blue cup or the red cup of coffee at 7-Eleven?
You might need a Danish to go along, I’d say – especially because “blue” means “right wing” and “red” means “left wing” here in Denmark so I would be pretty confused if I needed a cup of coffee in a 7-Eleven in the US for the time being.

Well, in fact I’d feel pretty odd to order a Danish.

Only for the time being we’re thinking of Sandy and we follow this huge giant, to be honest no one thinks of politics today here. We might drink our coffee, sort of color blind, and we don’t write any poems and we think of Pearl and all the other 400,000 people who had to be evacuated. In fact we think of all the millions of people who are right there.

For the next six hours we hold our breath and wish that people from the New York area (and the rest of the North and East Coast) can drink all the coffees they want, blue or red, tomorrow and have them enjoying all the good wishes from all around the world.