The Zen of Soup-Making: Monday Meanderings

Photo: cincinnatiwaldorschool.org

Photo: cincinnatiwaldorschool.org

Most everyone who has visited my blog knows that my husband is the cook. I’m the housekeeper and laundress, but he is the chef. That does not mean, however, that on occasion I’m not drawn to the kitchen.

The “occasion” began yesterday when I had the bone of a turkey breast to dispose of and decided, instead, to begin a pot of soup. I tossed it in a pot, added finely chopped celery, onions and carrots, water and chicken broth and left it on its own over a low heat. Soon the house was filled with an appetite-inducing aroma. I waited for the Master Chef to do his magic with the spices then, after it stewed some more, allowed it to cool before relegating it to the fridge overnight.

This morning, as it began to warm up again on the stove, I took it a step further. That was when I came to realize that soup-making could, indeed, become a sacred moment and a powerful tool of the creative muse.

As I cut chunks of carrots, the sounds of the blade against the cutting board wed the song of finches eating from the feeder outside the kitchen window. Two dogs sat, ears pricked, eyes fixed on my every move, hoping I would notice and reward them with a tiny morsel. When I switched to celery, their interest waned.

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A few minutes later, a mallard couple stealthily made their way up from the pond, planning, no doubt, to encroach upon the smaller birds seed. I waved them off, reminding them that I would toss what was left onto their turf when the finches and sparrows had finished.

My chopping continued followed by clean up as I contemplated the wonder of simple tasks completed with awareness. It was a time to surrender to the stillness, to trust. A time to gestate.

Such is the magic of simple tasks, a spiritual discipline, an uncluttered mind.

On another note, I find I need to take some time to bring a couple of projects to completion. Although I will continue to post, my participation will be more limited for a while. I’ve made the difficult decision to step away from hosting a dVerse for a few months (after this weeks Meeting the Bar)–however long it takes me to publish a novel that’s sitting out there waiting for my attention. I’ve decided to go the route of self-publishing on this one. I will continue to share on-line, but in a more limited role. And I remain committed, of course, to comment on those who visit my work.

Teach That Old Dog New Tricks–Monday Meanderings

Photo: dogtrainingtips.com

Photo: dogtrainingtips.com

I have an insatiable need, an addiction really, to learning. If a day passes in which I haven’t had a chance to study, to learn something new, by day’s end I feel unsettled. Yes, I am an old dog and that means I may not remember every detail of the CD I’ve listened to. And I may need to listen twice or more to really hear what the instructor is saying. But I promise you I can tell you more about Othello or Waiting for Godot then I could a month ago. Or the relationship of neuroscience to spirituality. Or…well, that’s enough. But you get the idea.

Re-learning things I learned during my formal education takes on a totally new and exciting aura for me. Aside from the fact that most classroom learning occurs (for the majority of us) when we are young and, depending on how long ago that was, we may have forgotten a lot, adult learning acquires meaning that comes with living—experiences not accessible to us as a child. And for many of us, so much has happened in between—such as novels we didn’t have time to read when we were working and/or raising a family or new developments in science (there were no quarks during the four chemistry classes I suffered through.)

There are so many easily accessible sources of continued education. The courses I turn to most often are CD’s from The Great Courses—offered by The Teaching Company. Most of their courses are available in audio, digital download and DVR. Some are not offered in audio because of the need to illustrate. These include, for example, Art, Science and Math courses. Although I am a visual learner, I choose audio because of time restrictions. I listen daily while I do my half hour of floor exercises, so that both body and brain keep functioning. Also, they are a godsend for long commutes or road trips.

Photo: The Teaching Company

Photo: The Teaching Company

The Teaching Company courses are presented by outstanding professors in their field of academia. So far, the instructors I have encountered have all been widely published and are recipients of multiple awards. The lectures cover just about any subject in which you may have an interest.

They are a bit pricey, but if you get on their e-mail distribution list you will receive notification of sales and every course is offered for sale at least once a year. I rarely pay over $50.00 for a course and when I do it’s for one with a lot of lectures. The one I’m listening to now, for example, Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative, has 64 lectures.

Another resource I’ve just discovered a few month ago is offered through edX and also are taught by distinguished university professors. The course I’m just beginning is about Walt Whitman’s poetry. The professor is from Harvard. These courses are free unless you want a certificate. For myself, the knowledge is all I want or need. Fellow blogger, Amy of Soul Dipper introduced me to these courses last year (thank you, Amy) and I completed a session on early American poetry by the same professor. It was in an online video format and quite will done.

If you are aware of other places to feed my addiction, I hope you will share them with us in the comments. Have a blessed, creative week. Keep on learning! 

Note: I will be “unplugged” until Tuesday PM. “See” you then!

Image: coetail.com

Image: coetail.com

Writing Critique–Monday Meanderings

Two People - Business Meeting

Since the first writing conference I attended (2004, I believe) I have been involved in writing critique groups. It was for that conference that my work was first accepted for work-shopping and I was sure that I had arrived. A well-known published author led the two-day process and there were about nine of us who submitted work to the other members of the group for critique. It became a turning point for me as a writer. I came to accept the fact that my novel was not quite as brilliant as I perceived it to be.

A few of us from that group went on to meet on a regular basis. Since then I’ve participated in several other critique groups. Here are a few things I’ve learned that have been helpful.

  • Don’t submit your work before you’ve completed your first draft. It is important for you to have a clear idea of your story line before opening it to critique.
  • As a group, decide on guidelines at your first meeting. How many members will you have? Will you submit your writing before the meeting? Will you read work aloud at the meeting? How many manuscripts/how many pages will you discuss? (Don’t forget a “group” may be as few as two people).
  • Be sure to balance your positive and negative feedback. Your goal is to build up one another, not destroy. One time a fellow-writer told me, “I would never read this novel.” That discouraged me to the point that I gave up working on it for a few months until I figured out that she was trying to tell me that the prologue was a turn-off.
  • Give specific advice. For example, instead of saying “This moves too slowly,” try something like “Consider using active verbs instead of passive voice,” or “That long sentence drags down the narrative–maybe if you wrote that paragraph in a few clipped phrases it would be more suspenseful.” Avoid general statements such as, “That just doesn’t work.”
  • Learn to listen to suggestions without trying to defend yourself. One group that I have been a part of had set the rule of “silence” until all critiques had been given. But take good notes while you listen. I bring a copy of my manuscript and jot down helpful advice in the columns.
  • Understand the differences between genres. If you write literary fiction, for example, don’t expect the same complexity of characters from your friend who writes sci-fi. And visa versa.
  • Don’t revise immediately after your meeting, except for grammatical and spelling errors. Definitely do not make significant plot changes. Remember, your story is YOUR story.
  • At the same time, be open to suggestion. My writing has been much enriched by plot twists or questions posed by members of my critique groups. Ask clarifying questions if needed.
  • There is a time for critique and a time to write. Understand what works best for you and realize that your needs change at different points in the writing process.
  • And finally, be grateful to your fellow writers. It was through this process that I have met some of my dearest friends. Don’t forget to celebrate one another’s successes!

While these insights apply to fiction writing, it’s possible to extrapolate and apply them to any genre, including poetry and non-fiction.

Happy writing. Enjoy the process.

November–Monday Meanderings

wiki

The month of November witnesses the transition from brilliant color splashes of autumn to the stark barrenness of winter. As I walk by the Truckee River or sit in my sacred space, looking out the window at the ornamental pear tree and the birds who drop by for a snack, nature offers inspiration, often only as an opening line to a poem. This morning, while walking the dogs, I discovered the body of a woodpecker laying on a boulder. In its stillness I was able to observe it in detail, the perfection of patterns in its feathers, the play of color, the blend of beauty and fragility. Later in the day, or possibly tomorrow, I expect a poem to write itself. A clear theme of dying, the reality of loss, reflects the change of seasons and my years of work with death and dying.

What influences your writing? How do your poems most often present themselves to you? Is it, perhaps, in the unfolding of your daily life, the prompts that are offered at dVerse and other poetry communities? Or is it always something unexpected, surprising?

I’m pleased to announce that print copies of Jacaranda Rain, Collected Poems, 2012 are now available through Amazon.com and are offered through all of their distribution sources. There are revisions and additions in this copy.

Cover Art: V. Slotto Photo: D. Slotto

Cover Art: V. Slotto
Photo: D. Slotto

I will revise the Kindle edition as well, as soon as I recover from an elbow tendonitis. In the meantime, I’m having to limit my use of the computer though, as always, I will visit those who comment, post (I hope) on Open Link Night and host Saturday’s Poetics. In the meantime, have a happy, productive week.

Monday Meanderings–Nervous Breakdowns and the Internet

Photo Credit: Victoria Slotto

Photo Credit: Victoria Slotto

Greetings from Palm Desert where I’m trying to grab a bit of solitude for writing purposes. I’ve discovered an inherent bipartisanship between Time Warner (the Internet provider here) and Charter (my e-mail provider). They can’t seem to come together on anything…sound familiar?

I’m not one to ascribe blame like so many in the world of politics do. Both sides of an opinion or ideology have valid points, as well as those that are the product of skillfully spun untruths or exaggerations. Mind you, I won’t sit back and be passive. I’ll vote and express my opinion to those who should do something about it, but most often ignore my views. But here I am…sunk in the sludge of politics when I’m really talking about ISP’s who seem to forget the service part. Gee, that sounds like politics too, dosen’t it?

There, I just saved this document since the one I’d written before is somewhere in cyper-space…along with a few e-mails I’ve tried to receive or send, and the one that translated itself into Greek.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I’m living in a world of uncertainty for a few days, learning to live with ambiguity and, perhaps a bit more solitude than I’d planned on. If you see me, you’ll know my two opposing Internet entities have achieved detente. If not, I’m off spinning poetry and stories for a later date. And that may not be such a bad thing.

One goal I had was to do a bit of tweaking with my blog, set up new pages, refine it a bit. Perhaps all parties will behave as they are at the moment and that will happen. Perhaps I’ll be able to link to dVerse and other blogs. Perhaps not.

And maybe I’ll just need to chuck the whole project till I get home and go out, enjoy the gorgeous weather we have right now and play some more golf. Or dream!

Photo Credit: David Slotto

Photo Credit: David Slotto

Psalter Poetica–a Tribute to Poet David King

A song of praise, of poetry of King, David on the Lute

Photo: hebrewpsalms.com

Photo: hebrewpsalms.com


Praise to the poet who charges words with meaning,
who dallies with the sacred—touching life’s
moments that unfold the mysteries of earth.

Praise to the poet, co-creator,
cleaving the mundane, the ordinary,
reaping beauty from the microcosm, from the universe.

Praise to the poet birthing feelings,
pain and joy, bliss and fear and all the rest,
speaking on behalf of those now silenced.

Praise to the one who fashions poets,
fills them with a breath divine and just.
When they leave, the world’s a better place.

Written for fellow poet, David King, who passed from this life on October 4, 2013 in Surrey, England. I thank him for his many gifts to our poetry communities. If you are not familiar with his work, which runs the gamut between mirth and loss, check out his blog at http://picsandpoems.blogspot.com/ 

Visit us at dVerse Poet;s Pub for more poems honoring David and friendship. The doors open at 3 PM EDT.

Dave King, RIP

Dave King, RIP

Monday Meanderings–Why Do I Do This to Myself?

I golf, or pretend to anyway. Once a week when I’m at home and more often in the desert where membership includes unlimited golf, I’m out there. I’m a really, really pathetic golfer. I have the highest handicap they allow (for those who don’t know about golf, that’s not good). I mutter words to myself I don’t usually use. I often ask myself why I engage in such tortuous sport, and yet, I love the game. Why?

Photo: V. Slotto

Photo: V. Slotto

• Golf is a game in which I compete against myself. It goads me to be a little better,  to work a bit harder in order to shave a stroke or two off of my score, and learn from my mistakes.
• My game improves when I remember to relax and let the club do the work. When I try too hard, swing too hard, all sorts of bad things happen, often ending with a splash or a lost ball.
• It teaches humility. Almost every time I think I’ve licked a problem, the next time out I fall flat on my face.
• Golf is a game of focus. When I remember to keep my eye on the ball and set aside the hundreds of swing thoughts that can pop into my mind, the shot will do what it’s supposed to.
• In golf, I’m learning to not worry so much about what others think. I promise you, if you’re not a pro, and out to impress your foursome, you will be brought down.
• It’s a game of the present moment. How many putts have I missed when I think, If I make this, I’ll have a birdie (or, for me, a par). See the caption below. Things go better if you just take it one stroke at a time.
• Golf teaches me to laugh at myself. If I couldn’t see the humor in some of the mist-hits I come up with, it would be so depressing.
• Golf is a sport you can do well into old age. This year at our home course in Palm Desert, we have a lady who belonged to the 18-Hole Women’s league. Now that she’s turned 90, she thought it might be a good idea to become a Lady 9’er instead.
• It’s exercise. As one who has done everything possible to eschew the e-word, who has nary a drop of athletic DNA, golf is fun. And it gives you a handicap to level the playing field.
• The game is played in the beauty of nature. Most courses offer landscapes that highlight the characteristics of the natural environment. Reclaimed water is used to maintain the greens and fairways. The course I have been playing this year here in Northern Nevada plays host to rabbits, coyotes and so many other species of wild life and birds. The “rough” consists of the natural desert. There are signs on some of the area courses warning golfers not to try to retrieve their balls from these hazards because of rattlesnakes.

"My" hole at Pinehurst #2. I drove the ball to about 4 feet from the hole and was so excited I missed the birdie putt. Photo: D. Slotto The Zenith of My Golf "Career"

“My” hole at Pinehurst #2.
I drove the ball to about 4 feet from the hole and was so excited I missed the birdie putt.
Photo: D. Slotto
The Zenith of My Golf “Career”

Of course there are downsides to golf. For one thing, if you take yourself and your game too seriously, it can be miserable. Also, until recently, it has been considered too expensive to be easily accessible to many people. That is true in many cases. There are courses I would never be able to play because of the greens fees. My golfing highlight occurred at Pinehurst #2, the course that will host the US Open next year…and that happened only because my husband won an all-expense-paid vacation there by participating in a survey about golf equipment preferences.

Efforts are underway to make golf available to more people—for example, The First Tee Program, that introduces the game to children of all income strata and is supported through donations.

I’m not sure why I chose to write about golf this week. It’s an activity that gives me a bit of balance in my own life, that demands focus, and lifts my spirit. Except on those days when I do feel like tossing my clubs in the water hazard.

May each of us find balance in our life. For those of us who write, it’s too easy to be wrapped up in our heads, settled in front of our laptops, isolated from everyone and the beauty of nature. I guess, bottom line, my hope is that we each will find joy aside from that which writing gives us. And that we may learn the lessons it has to offer, whatever it is.

Footnote: I will not be doing much blogging this week. Sometimes a girl just needs a break. It may be, if the weather keeps on like this I won’t golf…this kind of wind can make it even more challenging. And then there’s the garden, begging for attention. Have a happy week, writing and blogging and whatever else you do. Blessings.

Monday Meanderings–On Keeping a Journal

This is a post from a long while back. I’ll give you an update at the end.

Photo:naturalscience.com

Photo:naturalscience.com

I’ve been keeping a journal for longer than many of you have been alive. Right now, my journals fill up the better part of a book-case. I don’t revisit them and have no idea what to do with them but some force compels me to hold on.

Perhaps the day will come when I’ll peel out the earliest tome and peruse the state of my soul way back when. I know the journey will lead me through angst, joy, guilt and growth. That’s it. I hope the growth will be the theme I take away.

For the most part my journals consist of the insights and roadblocks I’ve met on my spiritual journey. My dreams are there, too–along with my understanding (at the time) of the messages they’ve imparted. There are periods of time when I journal every day, and then there’s a drought where there’s nothing at all.

I have a smaller stack of writing journals, too. Notebooks overflowing with ideas, descriptions, outlines, writing how-to’s–you name it. Those I have revisited and culled a line here or a description there that makes its way into a poem or short story.

In a way, I guess, posting on a blog is a form of journaling–but doesn’t allow the freedom you have when what you’re writing is a part of your “secret diary.” I don’t think a journal should be shared or written with anyone else in mind except yourself.

If you haven’t tried this practice, I suggest taking a look at “The Artist’s Way.” Journaling is an asset, not only to the spiritual journeyer, but also to the writer, poet, artist–the creative spirit within you.

Journaling remains an important part of my life. I try to maintain a practice of three 8.5 X 11 pages daily, as recommended in “The Artist’s Way. In the meantime, I have begun those re-visits with an eye toward the growth that’s happened and that which still awaits me. I have notice, perhaps as a function of easing toward the end of life, there is more gratitude, less striving and more self-acceptance.

Have a happy week with pen and pencil whether you’re writing for yourself, or penning under the influence of your muse for the delight of all. Creativity rules!

Photo: creativesomething.com

Photo: creativesomething.com

Monday Meanderings–Television: A Blessing or a Curse?

Photo: Lorna's Voice

Photo: Lorna’s Voice

(If you’re here for Sunday Whirl, it’s the previous post).

Before I get into the topic that struck me this week, I’d like to introduce you to Lorna Lee. Lorna’s blog, Lorna’s Voice, is one of those blogs I visit for a bit of vicarious humor therapy and an occasional dose of good common sense. A sociologist of the PhD variety, a humorist, and a published author whose writing skills are indisputable, Lorna makes sure that a visit to her blog brings joy and insight to her readers.

Last week, I had the honor of being interviewed by Lorna. As a great advocate of her fellow writers, this lovely lady does all she can to make sure our newly released work receives attention. She was able to take my responses to her questions and inject them with fun…and most of you know that I’m, perhaps, way too obsessed with death and things dark. Well, in my writing, anyway.

I want to invite you to check out the interview  (Victor Isn’t Talking to Me, but Victoria Is). Follow her site for your own humor break and be sure to check out her memoir, How Was I Supposed to Know: the Adventures of a Girl Whose Name Means Lost. It’s a fun read but full of wisdom.

Photo: Lorna's Voice

Photo: Lorna’s Voice

Now just a few reflections on television:

When I read about some of you who do not have television, I feel a tinge of envy. I think of how much time can be wasted in such passive activity, how much improved communication could happen, how much fun could be had, how much work I could get done.

I was five when we got our first TV, a 12” screen in a ginormous box with three channels that went fuzzy at night-time. The first show I remember watching on it was about the release, at last, of Dr. Salk’s polio vaccine. And, of course, Howdy Dowdy.

1950-Zenith-G2957R

The reality is that my husband loves television. He loves sports, 70’s TV Land programs and sports. I already said that, didn’t I? I’ve made friends with the whole situation. We are together and when he watches, I make jewelry, or knit, or (now) write if the program is something I can tune out. Oh, there’s a few things that get my full attention: a drama like Blue Bloods, Longmire or Person of Interest, 49’er football, and TCM classic movies.

A few nights ago we watched a program that David had recorded: the 30th anniversary celebration of M*A*S*H. This was a 2 hour+ discussion with the cast members, producers and screen writers who were still alive. They were all older, just as I am. Hawkeye and B.J. looked like you would expect. Hot Lips had way too much Botox, no doubt in an attempt to live up to her persona. The conversation was peppered with snippets of shows that demonstrated the discussion topic.

30th Anniversary Show

30th Anniversary Show

At it’s conclusion, I asked David to save it. I intend to zip through it sometime (if I can figure out the remote) and take notes. There was a wealth of valuable insight and information on plot, character, and so much more that applied to us as writers.

If I’m able to pull it off (manage the remote, that is), maybe I can share my thoughts in a future post. But one thing I want to offer you to think about today is their perseverance. The first season was a dismal failure. It ran against Disney’s crowd pleaser and was about the Korean War, during the Vietnam War. When the script writers took it from pure humor and brought out the deep emotional component of loss and war, it moved from the world of Sitcom to a compelling message written with ample doses of humor. The producers and studio hung on and we all know how that ended up. The show had a message and a mission—war is an atrocious futility.

I have a little different take on TV now. When I watch drama, I will pay attention to plot and character development. I’ll look for themes in a series. I’ll note what works and what flops.

So, take what you like from this. I hope it gives you some food for thought and maybe a different take on television.

Have a good week with the pen or keyboard and don’t give up!

Oh good grief. The holiday confused me. I had this scheduled for Monday night instead of Sunday night. So here it is!

Key M*A*S*H actors

Key M*A*S*H actors

Poetic Immortality–Monday Meanderings

May I venture a guess that most of dream  of or hope for immortality? There are those of us whose faith promises life hereafter.   And those who live on through their offspring. Many of us hope that our creative contribution will endure through many generations and that we will join the ranks of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Ginsburg and…you name your poetic hero or heroine. At the same time, we know that, realistically, there will only be a chosen few that make a lasting impression.

For the rest of us, I offer these words, re-posted with the kind permission of my friend, Jamie Dedes who blogs at Moonlight Musings.

“I is for immortality, which for some poets is a necessary compensation. Presumably miserable in this life, they will be remembered when the rest of us are long forgotten. None of them asks about the quality of that remembrance–what it will be like to crouch in the dim hallways of somebody’s mind until the moment of recollection occurs, or to be lifted off suddenly and forever into the pastures of obscurity.

“Most poets know better than to concern themselves with such things. They know the chances are better than good that their poems will die when they do and never be heard of again, that they’ll be replaced by poems sporting a new look in a language more current. They also know that even if individual poems die, though in some cases slowly, poetry will continue: that its subjects, it constant themes, are less liable to change than fashions in language, and that this is where an alternate, less lustrous immortality might be.

“We all know that a poem can influence other poems, remain alive in them, just as previous poems are alive in it. Could we not say, therefore, that individual poems succeed most by encouraging revisions of themselves and inducing their own erasure? Yes, but is this immortality, or simply a purposeful way of being dead?”

books

The Weather of Words: Poetic Inventions by Mark Strand (b. 1934, Canada), American poet and essayist, Poet Laureate Consult in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1990-1991), Pulitzer Prize (1999) for Blizzard of One, Gold Medal in Poetry (2009), American Academy of Arts and Letters.

And so, my fellow poets, write on and enjoy the moment of creation.