a poem

June 20, 2009

i know so little about the young sparrows that danced

all around the garden while i quietly ate today. even less

about the bluejay nesting in my front yard maple tree.

i can’t tell you the name of the orange flowers

that move so gently in the breeze along the fence,

by the gravel drive out back.


but i feel them, and my heart is alive to their

presence, learning each unique melody,

every sparrow’s particular personality.

i laugh that we would call it person-ality.


a poet does not need, i hope, to know already.

he or she is always open, always curious,

always learning — perhaps a little bit

in mind, but growing first in heart, because

we have to feel the orange flowers before

naming them, and i am beginning to name them.


i did not always have this capacity, my heart

was too small. but as the sun kisses my brow

with warm rays on this cool evening,

the final day of spring, i thank God that my heart

knows this warmth and this chill

more deeply than i know it in my skin.


a prayer for jacob

June 9, 2009

you must learn to let go

of the day, of the mistakes

of the words you left unsaid.

they must stay unsaid.


your planning, your painstaking

scripting of tomorrow …

it is not about tomorrow,

for that day will worry for itself.


you must let go. let your eyes

slip close. let them weep

if they need. let your fingers

write to quiet the nervous chatter


whatever it takes to find release —

sweet release, sweetest surrender —

to the night, to the grace,

to the angel you wrestle for his blessing.


close your eyes and dream

while i whisper your name —

softly, over and over,

so that you will never forget.

do not ever forget.


a little perfectionism doesn’t hurt (much)

December 4, 2008

Hmmmm … I keep thinking about the lines I wrote on my bike ride. Not so much about content as form. I just began reading a book on writing poetry, so I’m totally overanalyzing everything. It probably has something to do with needing to study for finals too.

Here it is as a haiku for fun …

Our eyes tell so much
truth, betray the fictions that
make young faces old.

I also thought about the following because I’m feeling kind of anal about line breaks today …

Our eyes tell so much truth,
betray the fictions that make
    young faces old.

Or maybe it’s just better that I wait until I’ve written some more lines. Maybe I’ll go through some of my complete poems and obsess some about their meter and line breaks to ease my mind. 🙂

And that reminds me … I’ve been writing some of my poetry into my novel, and the process has changed how I look at these pieces. It’s so exciting that I can barely contain myself!!!

AND … I’m thinking about sharing one scene from the novel on my blog. I was pretty timid about it at first. I wasn’t even going to tell too many people that I was writing a novel because I expected it to be horrible or that I wouldn’t actually follow through. But I have been writing. And I LOVE a lot of what I’ve written. It didn’t even take any (much) alcohol for me to share what I had written. I don’t want to share too much of it though; maybe just enough to get you interested.

So keep checking in, and maybe there will be a treat soon. Of course I’m going to have to do some editing on the scene before I post it … because you know I am a perfectionist and all of that.


the start of a future poem … maybe

December 3, 2008

This came to mind on my ride to school today …

Our eyes tell so much truth, betray
fictions that make young faces old.

I might continue it later, at the very least I’ll add a syllable and turn it into a haiku.  🙂


But creativity critics have feelings too …

November 23, 2008

The following dialogue was the outcome of my last blog post.  Apparently some I-Thou conversation was in order after I-It’ing the hell out of him in my previous message.  I should mention that both of these posts were copied from messages to a friend.  Also, I should point out that the previous post originally used the word censor rather than critic.  You’ll find out here why I had to make the change …

As I finished up that last message and hit send, I noticed Crotchity sitting in his corner tap tap tapping his wooden leg. I wasn’t thinking much about his feelings yet, so I just tossed out the suggestion that he take some time off for a vacation while I write for the next month. He didn’t answer, and when I looked at him he indignantly turned his head away. I was kind of fired up, but I could see that he was hurt. I softened my voice a little bit and said “Crotchity?” He peeked over out of the corner of his eyes, but quickly turned back around when he noticed I was watching. I tried again. “Crotchity, what’s going on?”

“You called me a censor,” he said without ever turning around. “I’m confused. Why are you so mad about that?” I replied. This time, he looked back at me over his shoulder. His face was stern, and his tone was sharp as he explained, “I’m a critic, not a censor. It’s Crotchity McGee, Creativity Critic … ju-just look at my desk … it’s on my name plate.”

I snickered a little bit because his voice cracked on the word “my”. I tried my best to hide it so that I could soothe his anxiety. “Calm down Crotchity. I didn’t mean to offend you. My vocabulary is just not quite as accessible at 1am.” He rolled his eyes. Clearly, he did not believe me. “No,” Crotchity insisted. “No, Mr. McGee?” I inquired with a little bit of shock on account of his attitude. 

I could tell that he was about to let me have a piece of his mind. I was trying to think of a way to defuse the situation, but I wasn’t fast enough. Crotchity turned completely around now. His shoulders tensed up and he craned his head forward as he began to answer, “No! You can make all of the excuses you want, but we both know that you use me!” I was caught off guard. This was unsettling because I usually don’t let myself get caught off guard. I tried to defend myself, “Crotchity, I don’t think I use y-,” but he didn’t even let me finish my statement. “YES! You do use me! You use me all of the time as an excuse! I am a critic, not a censor. I never stopped you from writing a single word, and you know it!” Crotchity shouted. I think he realized at this point that he was starting to lose his composure, so he paused to recollect himself. 

I sunk back shamefully, and I waited silently now because I could see where he was going with this. He began again with a little more kindness in his voice, “I know you wish I’d go away and leave you on your own to write, but I promise that I’m trying to help you. This is the only way I know how. And I don’t think the problem is all me. I think you hear what you want to. Because you and I both know how many good things you have to say. And we both know how many of them you refuse to put on paper. And every time … EVERY TIME you blame me! So tell me Clinton, how do you expect me to respond when you speak so harshly about me. I’m not a censor! I’m a critic!” Crotchity was quite forceful in his delivery of these last few sentences.

I sat for a moment with these words. I knew he was right. He was so right, and I couldn’t even look at him because I felt so guilty. Crotchity moved from his tall chair in the corner to his desk. He leaned forward in his seat and watched me. I could feel his gaze, and it unnerved me. 

“You’re right,” I said. A smirk started to appear on Crotchity’s face. He was pleasantly surprised by my confession. I continued, “You’re right to say that I use you. I made you out to be some monster that wouldn’t ever let me speak. And the only way I knew to deal with you was to make fun of you, and to dehumanize you. And that’s really sad Crotchity, because you are part of me. I don’t think I can hold all of this guilt by myself though Crotchity.” We were actually looking at each other now. I finally moved out of the position which had seemed appropriate when I began to cast judgement on him, and I slowly walked over to Crotchity’s desk. There was a comfy chair with wheels sitting off to the left, so I pulled it around and took a seat

Crotchity was intrigued by my last statement and the implication that we somehow shared the guilt. As humbly as possible, I offered my explanation, “Crotchity, do you realize how critical you sometimes come across? I mean, I know I always have the choice, but I don’t always feel strong enough to keep going when you assure me that I’m going to fail.” Crotchity accepted this truth with sadness in his eyes. He knew that we had been colluding to keep our thoughts silent. “I guess I can see why it was easier to laugh at me now,” he said. 

I took another moment to consider my response, and I felt a tiny rush of excitement. It blew past the back of my neck, and ruffled Crotchity’s silly hair. We both smiled. “You know,” I began. “Maybe we just need to learn to work better together. I’d like to think I could accept your voice and still be true to my own. I’m not sure I’m completely up to the challenge though. Maybe we both need some time to figure that out. What do you say to taking a vacation until I finish the first draft of my novel?”

He thought for a moment and offered to make a deal, “Are you going to post your description of me on your blog like you threatened? If you’ll promise me to Search and Replace critic for censor, I’ll take a vacation. I just wouldn’t want to people to get the wrong idea about me.” I quickly replied, “What about the other mean stuff I said in there? About how you look and sound? Don’t you want me to change that too?” 

“No, no,” he said, “I can deal with all of that. Besides, I was somewhat proud of what you wrote.” I was shocked, “Really?!?!” “Definitely,” Crotchity said with a smile. “You never write like that. You never let yourself play with words and imagination. I wasn’t sure you had it in you. I tried to taunt it out of you, but I guess I see why that never worked. Your writing always comes out of your sadness and anger. I like what you say there, but it was good to see you play.”

With those words, we smiled at each other. There wasn’t anything else that needed to be said. Crotchity slowly stood up, carefully balancing himself since it’s not so easy to walk with a wooden leg. I watched him hobble across his corner of my brain to a closet where he disappeared for a moment before emerging with a suitcase.


Super-egos, creativity critics, and other sinister characters of my inner world

November 23, 2008

I woke up at about 12:45 this morning and realized I wasn’t going back to sleep for a little while.  I started thinking about a conversation I had earlier in the evening, and I decided to do some writing.  I had an idea of where I wanted to pick up in my novel, but I knew that there was something else I needed to do first.  I needed to pay some attention to my inner critic because he has really been slowing me down lately.  I hope this is as entertaining for you to read as it was for me to write.  I normally don’t do silly, but it seemed important last night.  The description isn’t quite complete because my critic felt the need to defend himself.  I’ll post that dialogue next …

My critic is picky about how he’ll “let” me describe him. He wants me to use perfectly balanced sentences without too many commas or non-sense words or fantastic images. He says in his scratchy voice, even as you clutched your chocolatti across the table and asked me his name, “If you can’t say anything well, don’t say anything at all.” And he gives me a stern look from his high perch in the corner of my brain when I start to think about thumper the bunny and his cute little voice, when I start to think about how my critic’s voice sometimes sounds a little bit like thumper, in between scratchy spells. I imagine him sitting in his chair, adding “Mama says” to the start of every dull command he utters.

My critic wants me to edit that last paragraph. He wants me to fix the punctuation. He wants me to take away the “childish” references. “You just sound like a dork now Clinton,” he tells me in his awkward voice — that scratchy, squeaky voice that makes you think of Thumper going through puberty or Urkel from that ninety’s show family matters. He made me fix the punctuation in that last sentence. I let him. I gave in. But I still refuse to fix the capitalization in the previous paragraph!

I told him that I’m going to tell you his name. He is so demanding, squeaky voice little nerd that he is. He sits on his perch like he’s all that. I’m rolling my eyes at him now though. I’m noticing that he’s actually quite pathetic! You see, his name is really quite silly. But he doesn’t want me to tell you that. He says to me “Why don’t you keep thinking on this one until you can come up with the perfectly fitting, “normal” name that seems to describe my character?” As if Jim or John or even Judas could ever describe such a d-bag as my critic. No no no!!!

He is pleading with me now. He’s saying, “Now Clinton, real writers have normal names for their critic friends. They are kind to them. They realize that we’re really here to make them sound good.” Obviously he doesn’t think that having him sit around in his little corner of my brain with a name like Crotchity McGee will ever lead me to fame and fortune. That’s right, Crotchity McGee with the scratchy, squeaky little voice and the peg foot that he tap tap taps to get my attention as I sort through the dusty files of child-like and childish thoughts I’ve been keeping in the farthest corner of my mind.

“Is it farthest, or is it furthest” he asks me in his best attempt to derail me from this project of painting his portrait with words. “Maybe you should google that one to be sure,” he says. I’m mocking him now. “Mama says, maybe you should google that one,” I repeat with a mischevious sneer. “Tap away critic,” I say, “because I’m not listening to you!” I put my thumb to the tip of my nose, wave my fingers in the air, and let out a loud “Pffft” in his direction.

He’s trying a new approach now. He’s telling me that I’m going to lose all credibility if I share this conversation with you. “What if I post it on my blog,” I taunt. “You wouldn’t dare,” he says. We locks eyes in a battle of determination. I up the ante one more time, “What if I ask her to help me illustrate this as a children’s book that I can pull out and read every time you start to give me problems? And what if I post a copy of our book on my blog?” I raise an eyebrow indignantly!

Crotchity McGee looks nervous in his corner. He shifts from side to side as he tries to come up with a response. I think he knows that I’ve turned my stubborn nature on him now. He knows about my stubbornness, but he never thought he have to do battle with it. He begins his lame attempt. “You w… You c… You couldn’t do that if you wanted to,” he says as he lifts his hooked nose up in the air. I call him a twit and say, “Oh I couldn’t.” He’s gained a bit of confidence back now, so he adds “No. No. You couldn’t. You don’t have enough of an imagination to make children’s book.”

I defeat the urge to legitimize his words as I walk across the room and lick my finger before sticking it in his ear. That hairy, awful ear. I immediately regret my decision. I will certainly be washing that finger before licking it again.

Now that I’m nearby I take a close look so that I can tell you more about him. I’ve never looked closely enough to really describe him. “What are you looking at me like that for?” he asks me nervously. He’s actually kind of cute when he is nervous. His knobby knees protrude from his shorts. I suggest to him that we might want to update his wardrobe. “Nobody wears shorts that short anymore. You’re like one of those basketball players from the 80’s. That’s bordering on obscene Crotchity.” Of course, he could also stand to pull the shorts down a little bit. They are definitely approaching his arm pits, and it’s not like the high waist look does anything to hide his beer belly.

His hair is wiry. (I should admit hear that I checked the dictionary for the correct spelling of wiry. Crotchity may have suggested this act, but I’m going to pretend I did it on my own volition right now.) Like I was saying before. His hair is wiry. In the front it puffs up kind of like that airport worker in “The Wedding Singer” who really adores Flock of Seagulls. And in the back … it’s definitely a party. Yes … sigh … I let my critic get away with having a mullet.

One of the lenses on Crotchity’s glasses is broken and there is a ball of tape holding the frame together at the nose piece. I feel somewhat neglectful that I’ve never taken the time to notice. “Crotchity, why didn’t you say something about your glasses? I would have fixed those,” I ask. He averts gaze as he says, “I have much more important things to do than worry about my appearance. I’m hear for you, not me!” He’s getting noble apparently. I try to keep a straight face, but am not completely successful.

I strain to look through the thick lenses. I’ve never noticed this before, but Crotchity’s eyes are different colors. One is green. A nice shade of green actually. The other is … well you’re not going to believe I haven’t noticed this before. I blame the broken lens. The other is hot pink. Yes, Crotchity McGee has one hot pink eye. 


The long awaited #2

November 23, 2008

Once upon a time, in March actually, I started to blog about my dreams for the time before I reach 30.  The first entry told the story of my trip to Jost Van Dyke, and my plans to go skinny dipping again in the near future.  I came close one cold October night at Golden Gardens before MHGS reading week.  I definitely went into Puget Sound in boxers, but I wasn’t quite up for a skinny dip that night.  Anyway, I’ve known since I started that list what #2 and #3 would entail, but I couldn’t keep my momentum to get them posted.  I’m going to try again though.  I want to tell you about #2, which I’ve actually started on recently.

So, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer.  The second item on my list is to write a story.  When I started the list, some changes were beginning to take place in my writing and my thinking about writing.  I’d never attempted fiction before, and I was thinking that maybe it was something I could do a pretty good job at.  At least I was somewhat certain I wouldn’t fail miserably at the task, and this was a big step from my long standing belief that “I just didn’t have fiction in me.”  

After all, I once was convinced that I didn’t have poetry in me either.  And one night in my first term at MHGS, a poem just tore its way out of my brain.  I don’t think I could have stopped it if I wanted.  It wasn’t bad either, at least not by my standards.  I read it and thought, “Huh, maybe I am a poet.” And there was also the Harry paper that all MHGS first years are required to write.  Seven pages of nothing but dialogue.  I was surprised at myself there too.  Who knew that I could write a fictional dialogue and actually like the result.

Moments like these have been piling up for more than a year now.  And a couple of weeks ago, with a little bit of prodding from a friend, I decided to give in and try.  It was November 6th when I came across the website for National Novel Writing Month, a contest that challenges writers to compose 50,000 words of fiction within the month of November.  The focus is quantity over quality, because you have to be willing to write crap if you’re ever going to finish a project!  I knew that 50,000 was beyond my ability with competing demands of work and school.  But I also knew I’d have time during the last half of the month and early December to accomplish the task.  I was intrigued, and my friend Courtney who writes and tells stories pushed just enough to convince me.  I went ahead and told a few other friends, Julie and Robin, so that they could keep me going when I decided that this was beyond my ability.  I set a goal of 30,000 words by the end of November and a complete first draft by Christmas Eve.   Robin decided to join with me.

I’m not too far along right now.  Still under 3,000 words.  I am still determined to accomplish my goals, and I think I’ve figured out how to deal with some problems that are slowing me down.  You can check my progress on the contest website, http://www.nanowrimo.org.  I don’t know if this story is one I’ll ever share with many others.  I have promised a copy of the first draft to two of my siblings as a gift I owe them for last Christmas.  Beyond that, and the friends I mentioned above, you’ll just have to wait and see.  

One thing is for sure, I have already grown a lot in the past few weeks through writing, research, and conversations.  At the recommendation of a couple friends, I found a great amount of inspiration this week in the words of Flannery O’Connor and in P. T. Anderson’s movie Magnolia.  I also have taken some time to face the inner critic who I blame most for slowing me down.  Julie gets a lot of credit for this accomplishment.  I’ll post the results in a few minutes, and I hope you enjoy them.  Now, I have to get back to my novel … I have 27000 words to write in seven days.