The Memory Trees

I wrote this for a “tree-themed” poetry contest awhile back, but it was too long.  Adult poetry doesn’t sell, and I wrote this before I started writing poetry for children (which does sell).  However, I think it is one of my best poems, and I choose to share it today, as I believe that, due to its length, it would be a hard sell to publishers. 

Enjoy!  

rainy day

The Memory Trees

Whose house this is now,
I do not know,
but through the trees, I see,
a little girl in pants–
just as I used to be.

Circling the ring of dirt round the crab apple tree,
she treads the path I once did.
Bow and arrow poised,
she shoots at the fruit,
bagging her inedible loot.

The sweet gum tree my twin brother once climbed,
has now been carved into a London Night Watchman–
a sentinel amongst the imported palm trees–
a memorial of happier times,
happier memories.
The dying tree, given another chance at life,
has reached its prime, for it will grow no more;
like the cedar chest where I keep my daughter’s baby clothes,
the mahogany coffee table where I drew as a little girl,
looking much distressed,
the cherry hutch where my grandmother’s Wedgwood china is kept,
the corners as chipped as the teacups it holds.
These trees, unrecognizable from their natural state,
will live on as objects of beauty,
for as long as those who love them live.

Like me, these trees were,
growing until they branched out on their own,
flourishing until they were cut down.
Never, was I grounded like the trunk,
its roots running deep;
I am the scatters, the chippings,
pressed and formed into my present state.

The noises of the children break me from my reverie,
and I am in the present once more,
the twilight deepening.

Three little boys are gathered under the oak tree,
acorns peppering the ground like tiny pumpkins,
where the leaves of fall form a carpet like a peppercorn mélange.
They are playing in the dirt patch in the shade,
wearing holes in the knees of their jeans,
while a lady in Capris brings them lemonade.

A boy and girl play on the tire swing,
looking so much like my brother and me,
my heart catches, and memories come back in snatches;
I remember this–this was the swing my father built for me,
with an expired tire from Lila, Daddy’s old Caddy.
Twirling in midair like marionettes,
their skinny legs dangle like loose shoestrings;
their arms are stretched taut,
their fingers clutching the rusty, twisting chains,
chains that will surely leave behind a metallic residue.
They’re looking up at the sky–
an inky canvas with pinholes punched through–
screaming in dizzy, giddy delight.

The tree house where my brothers stashed their baseball cards,
stands at the edge of the woodland–
a reminder of what once was,
of the kind of magic only children understand.

Twas these living trees that nourished me,
in ways chopped down it could not–
the apples, too sour to eat,
were balls to throw for Halliday,
our German shepherd of fifteen years and so many days;
the apples had often been tossed into Mrs. Smith’s backyard orchard,
where a good many of her cats were interred.

The gum tree had been our Tree of Knowledge,
to keep away the evil fay that lurked in the forest,
waiting to steal our clothes that we left to sun on the rock
while we swam in the lake to a crickety, ribbety chorus.

The maple tree had been my canopy in spring,
like a green parasol to keep the sun off my shoulders.
Tea parties had been held under there,
with I, as mast’ress of ceremonies,
serving apple juice with newtons made of fruit.

The tire swing had been my way to weightlessness,
the treehouse–a special place for the boys to go,
whilst my friend Kippie and I skipped rope–
ponytails bouncing to and fro.

The years have all run together,
for so swiftly did we move from the city to the country,
away from it all, my parents had said,
though all had been everything to me.

I can still hear our laughter ringing in the hollow,
the lure of yesteryear pulling at my heartstrings–
memories of sweeter summers, of warmer springs.

The family tree hasn’t thinned,
for its leaves are waxing full–
the older leaves becoming thinner as they age,
like the skin that covers our bones.
Its branches have reached far from this place,
but I go back to my roots,
in remembrance of my childhood trees.

A Long Good-bye to the Slowly Waning Summer

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It is mid-September, and I am supine on my beach chair, soaking up the rays of late afternoon.  The chair is the aquamarine color of the bikini I always look for, but can never find in my size.  Half the problem is finding one of the two halves in my size.

My daughter is playing in her pink kiddie pool–her precursor to a bath.  Her menagerie of colorful bath toys make me think of sprinkles on a pink iced cupcake.  A cool zephyr blows through the tree behind our fence, stirring the tiny leaves.  She looks up, transfixed.  She is content.

If we had an outdoor shower, I would be taking all my showers outside, for everything is better outside during the summer, eating especially.  Every day of summer feels like a holiday, which is why it almost seems strange to be inside working.

I live in my flip-flops; I can be heard slip-slap-slopping down the shiny corridors at college.  When I leave and the warmth rushes in through the heavy door (a respite from the chilly building), I am flip-flop-flapping my way down the stairs.  My bikini top is a comfortable, makeshift bra, and my hair is still wet from the shower, but I don’t get sick in the summer.  Barefaced and barelegged, I am ready to go.  There is no having to warm Lila (our almost 25-year-old Cadillac), or putting on socks or hose, or using the hairdryer.  A swipe of lipstick and I am ready to go.  I will never understand women who will apply a full face where the humidity is about a hundred percent.  I choose to let my skin breathe; the sun is nature’s foundation.

Though my freckles become more pronounced, I have no desire to cover them (a la Jan Brady).  They make me look younger.

The inflatable pool we got on clearance from Target (they still think summer ends in July) is filled with water as clear as vodka, and I get in to cool off my skin, feeling that faint tightness that relaxes as soon as it hits the water.  I rest my head on the edge and close my eyes for a bit, listening to my daughter splash.  She loves the warmth and the water as much as I do.

I decide I want to plant some honeysuckle next year, maybe some ivy.   Once I have dipped my head in the water, cooling my scalp, I lay back on my chair as the sun lightly browns me once more like a piece of French toast, giving me that vitamin D and mood boost I need before I spend half the night studying.

As I lay there with my face in the hole facing the grass, the pool water long having evaporated, I brainstorm about the collection of nursery rhymes I am working on.  I have shelved my adult writing for a time.  As it says in the Bible, there is a time and a season for everything.  I don’t have the time.  I close my eyes once more, dreaming of Campbell, Missouri peaches.  I am unusual in that I don’t like watermelon (something about the gritty texture turns me off), so I opt for a refreshing mint iced tea, the glass of which I keep under my chair, in the shade.

Hannah starts to let me know she’s getting tired, and I go to bathe her, the water warmer now (hopefully not with pee) than when she was put in.  I make a game of naming each animal (I have to make it interesting somehow):  There’s Escargot the Snail, Soup the Turtle, Gucci the Alligator, Cracker the Goldfish, Jonah the Whale, Prince Frog, Plucky Ducky, Hannah Swan, and so on.  Of course, I change up the names a bit each time (I love naming things, probably because I love to create characters) to keep it fresh, and I teach her the colors (as each has a “color mate”), but what really delights her is when I toss them up in the air and call out, “One little, two little, three little animals”, etc.

Tomorrow is the thirteenth–I will be thirty-three.  I remember reading somewhere long ago that that is considered one’s prime (I daresay, Miss Jean Brodie was well past that age!), because Jesus was at His prime when He made the sacrifice.  It has been tradition that every year on my birthday, we go to the Cactus Flower Café.  (We started dining at their beach location last year.)

We always choose to sit outside, away from the noise of the diners and the overhead music, with the breeze blowing in from the sound side of Pensacola Beach.  I always get a sangria and a chicken-stuffed chili relleno, topping it off with a homemade flan for my free birthday dessert–creamy and caramelly, smooth and cool to the mouthfeel (texture and temperature in food is as important to me as taste).  The material of whatever flowing dress I’m wearing feels wonderful against my exfoliated, shaved and lotioned legs.  I slide off my flip-flop and rub the bottom of my foot, smoother now, on the rough, unfinished boardwalk beneath us.  I am already feeling the effects of the sangria; I feel like laughing.

The food is fresh, abundant in color–thick, verdant lettuce, spicy, chili pepper red tomatoes, and beans and rice perfectly seasoned.  I close my eyes to savor, just like I can hear better when I close my eyes.  Dull one sense, another heightens.  I’ve heard that eating in the dark can enhance the dining experience, but I have never done so.  I want to see what I’m being served before I eat it, as I eat with my eyes first.

On other days, days when I am alone, towards late afternoon, I can roll down the windows and leave them down, not at all worried about my hair getting messed up, as it’s always in a ponytail.  For this reason, I never have a bad hair day during summer.  The rushing air cools any perspiration that collects on my scalp.  I will be listening to Dave Ramsey or Branden Rathert on the radio as I cruise over the Three Mile Bridge into Gulf Breeze, the water the color between sapphires and emeralds.  The boats and the rocks below are picturesque.

Twilight has always been my favorite time of day–a time to settle down, but not turn in.  I’ve always associated periwinkle as being the color of twilight; thus, it was always my favorite color in the Crayola 64 pack.  Periwinkle, besides its whimsical name, was always the stars, the sun and the moon–all in one, a celestial hue.

Summer is wonderful at night, too.  The surfside beach is still warm, and the sand sparkles pristine, like tiny, ground pearls, moonstones, and stardust sprinkled with salt, luminescent in the silvery moonlight.  The view is otherworldly.  The sand is cool beneath my toes; I think of Abraham’s descendants.  I dip my feet into the water, the salt burning the open pores on my legs.  The sand beneath me is squishy now.  I bend to pick up a broken sand dollar, skipping it a few times in the water.  We walk for a bit, hand in hand, the different colored beach houses visible, but seemingly so far away.

The drive home is subdued, but the silences don’t stretch too long.  The radio is off.  Somehow, turning it on would break the spell of the magic of the evening.

Once we’re settled in for the night and get into our house clothes, I return to my beach chair to unwind, squeezing the last drops of enjoyment from the remains of the day.  I pick up the beach read I was reading.  The light from our patio gives just enough of a glow for me to see, but it still dim enough to feel private.  The next door neighbor’s sprinklers come on, spraying the exposed bottom halves of my calves; I let my foot just graze the tops of the moist, cool blades of grass.  I feel myself drifting off for a catnap, until I hear thunder rumbling in the distance.  The air suddenly smells sweeter; the atmosphere is breathless with expectation.  I put the book down and lounge a bit longer, just being, and then go inside when I feel the first raindrop on my head.

There is a gritty film noir on our DVR, and as it starts to pour (summer rainstorms are the best), the raindrops like a drumbeat on Hannah’s pool, I curl up on our couch with the fleece-tie blanket one of the ladies at Grace Lutheran made for Hannah.  As my husband sits in his recliner and I curl up on the sofa, the black-and-white images shadowing my rosy face, I can already feel my eyelids getting heavy.  It has been that kind of a day.

 

STEPHEN KING’S TOP 20 RULES FOR WRITERS

Originally posted on Creative Talents Unleashed :

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STEPHEN KING’S TOP 20 RULES FOR WRITERS

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or…

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Words/Phrases that should be banned

The use of clichés (unless your character uses them) is considered poor writing.  I avoid clichés like the plague (cliché intended).  There are many phrases that make me cringe when I hear them; I will share my Top 10:

  1. “That went well.”  People say this whenever the opposite is true.  I don’t know why this is funny.  It’s mean to be sarcasm, but it’s a cliché of sarcasm.
  2. “Bless this mess.”  Cleanliness is next to godliness, so I’m not sure how God is supposed to bless a mess.  That makes about as much sense as saying a blessing over a McDonald’s “cheeseburger”.
  3. “In harm’s way.”  I hear this whenever people talk about the troops.  I’m tired of hearing it.  “On the battlefield”, to me, sounds better.
  4. “Purple people.”  Whenever people talk about race, they tend to mention imaginary purple (or green, blue, etc.) people.  It is ridiculous.
  5. When people say “N as in Nancy” (to cite one example).  When people feel they must spell out a word because it is easy to confuse a B with a D, they could use a little more imagination.  How about “N as in Nightingale”?
  6. “Have a blessed/blest day.”  I live in the buckle of the Bible belt, and I’ve heard this many times.  I don’t like this saying; “Have a good day” is sufficient.
  7. “I don’t read fiction.”  When someone says this, it comes across as snotty.  I want to ask, “Do you watch movies based on fiction?”  Chances are, they do.  I think it’s a little more intellectual to read fiction than it is to watch it where you don’t have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks.  Furthermore, it is insulting to say this to someone who writes fiction.
  8. “Step up to the plate.”  I hear this on reality cooking shows.
  9. “In English, please.”  People often say this when a doctor isn’t speaking to them in layman’s terms.  Just ask for the doctor to use simpler language instead.  They are speaking English, whether you understand it or not.
  10. “Hook, line, and sinker.”  Too wordy.  Just say they swallowed it whole, or fell for it completely.  Something along those lines.

What are certain words or phrases that are so cliché, they make you cringe when you read/hear them?

 

What I learned at my local writer’s group meeting (and then some)

All writers need a platform.  I’d never heard the word pertaining to authors before, just politicians.

Because I’d read an article in the Writer’s Market that an author should have an online presence, I started this blog.  A writer now, has to do more than just write.

I am a somewhat shy, introverted person, so if it was up to me, I’d have someone else market my writing instead of me marketing myself.  I’d love to just be responsible for the creative end and have someone else do what I think is the grunge work.  However, in this modern era, such is not to be.

When I watched “Return to Peyton Place” (a worthless piece of celluloid that didn’t even pick up where its predecessor ended–I don’t refer to “Peyton Place” as a prequel, when it was such a fine, stand-alone film), watching Allison Mackenzie’s editor helping her edit her book, I remember thinking to myself, That would not happen today. 

There are so many ways to promote ourselves now (even from our mother’s basements), for instance, through YouTube videos (I’ve considered doing a series of reading my own nursery rhymes; if you’ve never seen the nineties TV-movie, “The Story Lady”, with Jessica Tandy, I highly recommend it).  Personally, I’d much rather scan a blog than have to sit there and watch a video, but that’s just me.

I am seeking out guest blogging gigs, and it was suggested to me that because I am a mother of a young child, writing for a motherhood blog would be a good fit.

Life experiences are the most fun things to blog about, because that’s where inspiration comes from, and I am always seeking to have more experiences, even if the new experience is nothing more than playing a new board game or trying a new recipe.  Going back to school in my thirties, I think, will be a more fun experience than the first time around, because I know what I want to do with my life, career-wise.

When I was twenty, I felt like Jenna Rink in “13 Going on 30″, but now, with thirty-three (which is considered someone’s prime, as Jesus was at His prime when He sacrificed Himself) coming up in less than a month, I feel I’m finally on the path that will lead me to becoming my best self.  At our writer’s meeting, we discussed self-actualization, and how so few people achieve it.  I’m not there yet, because I’m what you would call a constant work in progress.  I’m always trying to improve myself (or at least accomplish more).

Right now, I’m juggling a part-time job outside the home, a more than full-time job inside the home, and now school three-quarters time.  I’m still trying to get used to getting interrupted while engaged in a task, which often makes me feel less focused and less accomplished; I just can’t get into “my zone”.   I have never had to be so aware before.

I’m not where I want to be in my writing career; my problem isn’t that I don’t produce (I’m not the stereotype of the writer who goes away to some cabin and just sits there staring at his typewriter), it’s that I don’t submit enough.  I am committing to submitting at least one piece a month, but I often write whatever I want first, then try to find a market for it, rather than the other way around.

I am also setting aside at least twice a week to blog, write, edit, etc.  I’ll need the mental release from dry, medical classes, though at least I know studying hard will pay off.  I dropped my Intermediate Algebra class in favor of Anatomy and Physiology because that will give me a year to find out whether or not I have a learning disability when it comes to math.  I wouldn’t mind studying hard if I knew I was going to “get it”, but I could tell the instructor was going to be going too fast for me, and I knew I was going to have to devote all my time to that class, to the detriment of my others.

I had never considered I had a learning disability till one of the advisors strongly recommend I get tested.  I thought I would give it a try (I wanted to get the algebra out of the way), but I knew by the second class I should have bought myself some time, which I have done now.  I had spinal meningitis when I was six, and lost all hearing in my left ear.  My mom is convinced that that may have impaired me in some way (I never could learn to read music either, and I’ve always heard that music is mathematically related), so I am going to find out, because if I do have a disability, no amount of studying is going to make a difference.  It is frustrating that algebra isn’t required if you have a disability, so it’s obviously not needed for the field I’m going into (Health Information Technology).

Though I am enjoying being a student, I know I’m going to have to work twice as hard to make the same grade as some other students.  I’m going to have to stretch those memorization muscles.  At least my critical thinking skills are adept.  Had I chosen to become an English major, I know I wouldn’t have had to work as hard, but I chose the practical path, rather than pursuing my passion for creative writing (which I can do with or without a degree).

Why I Write (among other things)

August has been a busy month.  My daughter’s first birthday was on the sixth.  Interestingly, my husband’s two sisters’ firstborn children were both girls, born on the seventh of August.  Tootie and Becca are only a year apart in age, but my daughter Hannah, is the true baby of the brood, with seventeen and eighteen years separating her from her eldest cousins.  I’d tried to hold out till the seventh, so as not to break with tradition, but it was so not happening.

In a way, I don’t mind so much, because it’s nice not having to share Hannah’s special day with anyone.  We had a small birthday party for her (an excuse to show her off and catch up with my husband’s side of the family).  We got a free “smash” cake from Publix, and though I rarely post pictures of my child on here, this one I have to share.

Squints

I just started school today, and this blog post is a brain break from algebra homework.  I’ve neglected my blog a bit for the past month, and all writing in general.  My friend, Mandy (who has inspired me in so many ways), has been reading my nursery rhyme collection for me; we’ve decided to see if we can find an art student (she works at a university) who would be willing to collaborate with me.

I would prefer to have illustrations to submit along with the stories (but I won’t let it stop me if I don’t); just like a photo on a blog catches the eye, it’s the illustrations that catches the eye when it comes to children’s books.  I’ve never been a fan of Dr. Seuss (story or illustration-wise), and I would be horrified if that style of garish, hideous drawings accompanied any of my work.  I prefer what I call softer illustrations–like a cross between Dick and Jane and Norman Rockwell; those types of drawings would complement my rhymes, which I believe have the charm of Mother Goose, still popular today.

However, these are the best young children’s books I’ve come across.  I never tire of reading them.

crown

They are beautifully written, and beautifully illustrated, and by the same author, too.  Someday, I hope to be talented and skilled enough to do the same.

Though I write primarily because I love it, I came up with several other reasons why I do so:

Top 10 Reasons I Write

  1. I love to make !@#$ up.
  2. I love to kill off people in my stories–people I loathe in real life.
  3. I believe an imagination is a terrible thing to waste.
  4. I want something of my own mind (if not by my own hand; no writing longhand for me) to live on after I pass away.
  5. I am naturally good at it.
  6. Writing is a way to produce something wonderful, while consuming little.
  7. One can make lots of money doing it.
  8. I love to read, therefore, I love to write.
  9. I can do it in my skivvies (and look like hell while doing it).
  10. I…can’t…stop.

32 Going On 17

schoolbooksI am doing in my thirties what I should have done in my twenties, and that is finishing college.  I have made about twenty trips to Pensacola State College over the summer (sometimes from Building 2 to 5 and back again in the same day), and my funding, schedule, et cetera, is finally in place.

I say I am doing now what I should have done then, even though I didn’t know what I wanted to do then.  All I ever knew I wanted to do was write.  I had thought I wanted to be a chef, just because I liked to cook.  I would have been miserable in that field.

I look at my schedule now, fifteen years later, and see Intermediate Algebra (which I am already stressing about, and is the reason I will only be taking nine credit hours instead of twelve; I will be making up the remaining three in the summer–I will have to concentrate on the math); I will also be taking Health Care Law and Medical Terminology.  I see these courses and wonder if I am trying to be something I am not, but then the scene in “Legally Blonde” comes to mind when Luke Wilson tells Reese Witherspoon that just maybe, she is trying to be something she is.  For years, I have believed that although I am talented on the creative end, I am not all that smart, and have allowed my belief that I cannot pass algebra at the college level keep me from reaching my full potential.

The medical field is a practical choice; I can do my writing anywhere.  An English degree would have been more fun, but maybe on my own dime…someday.

I am excited to begin this new chapter of my life.  Because I am trying, I am gaining confidence in my abilities; giving up (or giving in to one’s insecurities) inspires none.  I know self-confidence comes from inside us, but this degree will give me that when I go career searching (not job hunting).  Though I was brought up to believe that if you’re good, you needn’t toot your own horn, I have come to realize it helps to toot a bit softly, and with humility (you just have to be able to back it up).  I can do that with confidence now.