Life is gritty. Find the beauty anyway.

Holiday greetings to you and yours. As I write this post we are a mere day away from the arrival of Santa Clause. The Hanukkah candles have been lit and latkes consumed. Solstice is over. Kwanzaa is next week and then New Year’s. Whatever or however you celebrate I hope you are finding some joy and peace in this marathon season of good will.

Those gold and silver ornaments and red and green trim sure do brighten the place up. I don’t want to harsh your mellow, but you know that sooner or later, the decorations come down, the routine goes back to normal, and life is just a little bit less pretty.  The key there is “a little bit.” There’s always something beautiful to be found if one knows how to look.

Recently the online journal Politics/Letters put out a call for their annual run of car poems. It’s hard to describe this journal. They publishes essays, critical reviews, poetry, art, media, all with a liberal and intellectual bent.

Just this week, they published two poems for the car series by my dear friend Mary Elmahdy.  Please check out her beautiful work Eugene to Berkeley and Last Bus on the Last Day of 2017 Her language is rich and vivid. These poems are full of reality and grit, and depict locations and activities that I have not personally experienced, yet I feel as though I am right there in the action. I was privileged to read several early versions of them and offer suggestions and thoughts; but I am blown away by the final result. If you like her work, smash the Like button and support the arts.

By the way, one of my own poems will be published in their car series in January. Stay tuned for the link when it goes live.

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Problems and Solutions

Like elbows and ears, everyone has them. Unless of course, one is born into a differently-abled body, or loses them in an accident, in which case one has a different set of problems, like where to hang the earrings. But today’s politically incorrect blog post isn’t about either of those things. It’s about the 99 problems and 69 solutions I have which leaves me with 29 unresolved issues. I’m aware that doesn’t add up correctly but I’m a writer, not a mathematician, and it’s not important anyway. Don’t worry. I will not subject you to a numbered list, or any gory details, but there will be a representative sample discussed by way of illustration of tonight’s existential inquiry into the nature of problem resolution.

There are so many problems that can be solved with the liberal application of time, money, and elbow grease, mixed up and applied with a creative hand. However, there are, unfortunately, some problems that have no solution. I am often, and currently, frustrated because I don’t always know which problems fall into that category. Countless times, I have beaten myself bloody in a futile attempt to fix, solve or change someone or something that I can’t fix, solve or change. Sometimes the logical course of action is surrender and acceptance.

Here’s the example I warned you about. Yesterday I was sitting in the same seat I am in now, writing a blog post, in my blog editor, when I noticed something weird on the screen. I took action, then, insert mysterious technological hiccup, the post was gone. I had just lost 30 minutes of work. Could I have dug around and brought it back? Maybe. Probably not. Earlier in the day I had a long computer chat with a Microsoft representative who had to take control of my computer remotely to fix a problem I had spent two hours trying to fix myself. I was tired and ready for bed, so I powered it all down and here I am, almost a full day later with a new and different post. Yeah, I wasn’t about to recreate that hot mess! I’m OK about it now, but at the time, the situation was bleak indeed.

Where is the magical spot in the road where it’s clear that we must step back and take a different route, or just abandon a pointless struggle?

It depends on the circumstances.

And don’t that just suck?!

Welcome to life. It’s not fair, or easy. But it’s all we’ve got.

This is the part where I dispense basic practical advice. It can be useful to do a post-mortem, (or a case study if you prefer a different metaphor) on problems and solutions you’ve had in order to learn from your mistakes and successes. I also recommend continuing education, formal or otherwise, to prepare for future problems.

This is the part where I remind you of what you already know, and get a little mushy. Life isn’t easy or fair, but it’s all we’ve got. Do your best. Ask for help when you need it. Trust that time and effort will take you where you need to go. I wish you safe travels through this world, few problems, and abundant solutions.

Technology is Hard, Plus Publishing

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I can’t speak for every writer, but judging by the ones I know, most writers want readers. In order to get readers you must publish. Publishing, as a concept, an industry, an idea, is vast and wide and confusing. Consider that simply printing copies of your work and handing it to people counts as rudimentary publishing, and video files are also considered publications. There’s no realistic way for me to address it all in a blog post that is meant to be short enough to read while drinking a cup of coffee (or beverage of choice). Besides, I am not an expert. So today I’m just going to tell you about a recent experience that involved both technology and publishing.

Button Poetry put out a call recently for their Short Form Poetry Contest. Button Poetry is a well-respected poetry powerhouse. They were early adopters of technology and alternative publishing, starting with performance videos of spoken work poetry on YouTube. They’ve since moved (back) into the print world. I encourage you to check them out. https://buttonpoetry.com/

For this call, they defined “short form” as 250 characters or less. Writing tweet length, or micro poetry is a fun challenge. I like the simplicity and wit of a profound bon mot and I have a file full of scraps waiting to become real poems. Unfortunately, the site guidelines specified that poets must have an Instagram account to enter because the winners will be published on Instagram.  No! I don’t do Instagram!

OK. The truth is that while I am deeply insecure and want people to like my work, I am also just as narcissistic as the next writer. I wasn’t going to let Instagram stop me, and  I forged ahead!

I chose “jmowrites” for my user name but got a message that the name wasn’t available. What?! Who is the interloper using my name?!  I came up with another one and immediately searched for jmowrites.  Turns out, I was the interloper. Oh yeah. I forgot that I set up an account a while ago because I wanted to look someone up. I never went back and it’s been there empty and abandoned. Oops.

It took an hour+ to get into jmowrites, change the password, create an actual profile, disable the new one, and figure out how to put a post on Instagram, which I did. Then I submitted to the contest. That was two days ago, and now I wait.

There’s no argument that new technology has changed the publishing world. I would say mostly for the better, but it isn’t always easy. Personally, I feel like I am on a never-ending learning curve, struggling to remain current as technology races ahead of me. On the other, non-technical, side of the submission process, writers, artists and creators of all kinds, stand in the the lonely place of uncertainty and doubt. It is emotionally stressful to sift through one’s work, attempting to evaluate it objectively the way an unseen editor might, and finally release it into the world, to perhaps find a home.

Do it anyway! You’ll be glad you did. Good luck!

“And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin

Counting Lessons

“One Fish. Two Fish. Red Fish. Blue Fish.” ~ Dr. Seuss

Yesterday I took out the trash, then I voted, in the rain. I think that counts twice, right? Vote early and often!*

Disclaimer: One person=one vote.

Let’s Sestina!

Wake up sleepy head! It’s sestina time, not siesta time!

From the Italian word for six, the sestina form of poetry has been around for several hundred years. The poet selects six core words that are rotated and repeated throughout the poem. Each 6-line stanza repeats the end words on each line of the first stanza, but in a different order. Then the final 3-line stanza, called an envoy, repeats those six words again, two per line.

It was invented  by traveling troubadours and was a popular form of verse, which makes sense if you stop to think about the fact that people were largely illiterate then. By building repetition into the poem, your audience is more likely to remember it, and you. Keep your audience coming back for more. It’s all about sales!

And speaking of sales, I’m pleased to tell you that my poetic colleague and friend, Aruna Gurumurthy, has just published a lovely collection of sestina poems called Puppet Dolls. With an emphasis on art, love, travel and children, the poems are a welcome relief from all the bad news on the nightly news. In full disclosure here, I will tell you I edited the book, and may be a wee bit biased. However, I am also impressed with Aruna for taking on the challenging yet venerable sestina format and making something beautiful!

Check out Puppet Dolls, now available on Amazon

Drop me a line in the comments and tell me what your creative jam is. If you are a poet, writer or other artist, share  your preferred style and genre.

Poetry at the Miss America Pageant

Sunday night, 9/9/2018, I tuned into the Miss America Pageant a little more than half-way through the program. There was POETRY! Ellery Jones, Miss Colorado, performed an original spoken word poem in the talent portion of the show! My geeky poet heart SQUEE’d!

As usual, the talent portion of the show was a mixed bag. There were singers and pianists among the 10 performances with various degrees of talent. There was the obligatory ballerina, and one contestant gave a Ted Talk-esque original monologue. The other top performance for me was Miss Connecticut. She wowed the audience with her Irish step dance/moonwalk combo.

Was Miss Colorado’s performance the best spoken-word piece I’ve ever heard? No, not by a long shot. But it was good and America got to see poetry as entertainment that requires talent. (Now if we can just get the Washington Post entertainment journalists to understand that spoken work poetry is NOT a “monolog!”)

Just for fun, I looked up “weirdest talents at the Miss America pageant.” In 2016, Alayna Westcom, Miss Vermont, mixed chemicals on stage during a science demonstration. Check out the bit on YouTube. The one that really took takes the cake, though not the crown, was Carol Jennette, Miss Maryland, who in 1955 packed a suitcase as her talent. I have already checked. It’s not on YouTube darn it.

Beyond my snarky critique of the talent competition I feel compelled to touch on the snarly political aspect of this beauty pageant and it’s almost 100-year turbulent history. The civil rights movement, the rise of feminism, and even the MeToo movement have taken their toll and the pageant has lost popularity. They are struggling to remain relevant in today’s aggressively competitive media market, hence the launch of the Pageant 2.0 with no swimsuit competition.  I have not been a regular viewer in a long time, but I had to check it out.

At first the changes I saw all seemed to be in the wardrobe area. Contestants wore more casual clothes for some of the interviews. Then I realized, there was a lot more talking. That’s a good thing, as is the continued, though gradual, increase in ethnic diversity.

I’m no longer the starry-eyed little girl that watched faithfully all through my formative years. Neither am I the budding, self-righteous feminist railing against the tyranny of this barbaric practice. I’ve long since settled into a neutral pragmatism. I never had the high ground and despite my cheeky assessment of talent and gown choice, I will not judge these women for choosing to be part of this event, and this life. I support women. If a girl or woman feels empowered by this environment, whether she does it for fun or for a shot at the prize money, then she should go for it! There’s nothing wrong with putting on a pretty dress and stepping out with your best foot and face forward. Congratulations to all of the ladies and especially to Nia Imani Franklin, our newest Miss America.

Union and Reunion

About a year ago I wrote about a beautiful and talented friend of mine who had just passed away.  Judy and I connected where words meet the page. (She was my favorite and best editor.)  She had a big family and lots of friends that I didn’t know, except for Lee, who I had met just a few times. At the memorial Lee and I exchanged email addresses, although I admit I have only used it twice.  Last month Lee put the call out to her book club, which Judy had been part of, to gather and celebrate Judy’s birthday and she graciously invited me to attend.

Those that know me well, know that I’m chronically late. In my defense, this time I can blame my late arrival on the cable company and an hour long call (most of it on-hold) with tech support. In any event, I finally made it and despite not really knowing anyone except Lee, I was greeted warmly.

Given my physical limitations and  social anxiety, it takes a lot of physical and psychic energy to get me out the door. But once I’m there, I’m there.  I make the effort to talk to people and listen to them. Almost every social event has something to enjoy, and certainly this was true last week with these lovely folks who are bright and educated and engaged with the world.  By the way, Lee is the charming and lovely spitfire seated in the middle of the first row.

I was at this gathering because I was lucky to find someone who shared my love of writing and learning.  One connection makes another. It’s how networks are grown and life is enriched.  Find your kindred souls and share your gifts. Wishing you great connections today and everyday.