Happy New Year!

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties. — Helen Keller

I don’t know if I’m the world’s worst blogger or not (I hope not) but I’ve clearly been very remiss. I made a commitment to this blog and all of you, my readers, but I dropped the ball when life got hectic. As my first act of the new year, I would like to apologize to you all for my silence. It is no excuse, but my new job has been very time consuming, in a good way. I’ve spent the last three months as immersed as possible in my new career to make sure I can do it to the best of my ability. I love the work I’m doing and the people I’m doing that work with. On top of that, in a moment of either clarity or insanity (I’m not yet sure which), I have decided to start grad school. My classes start on January. I’ve also had to deal with some health issues but I’m doing much better now.

I’m not someone who does New Year’s resolutions. I’ve honestly never made a resolution before in my life. But I am doing it this year and I want to share them with you. These are my resolutions for 2014:

1. Let go of my past so that I can enjoy my future.
2. Make myself stronger in mind, body, and spirit.
3. Write more.
4. Recommit myself to my blog and readers.
5. Do my best in school and my job.

I telling you and the entire blogging world about these resolutions that I am held accountable.

I also want to let everyone know that I was nominated by two different bloggers for the Liebster Award. Thank you http://consciouscacophony.wordpress.com and http://tlohuis.wordpress.com for your kindness. I promise that my next post (which WILL happen this week) will answer all of your questions and list my nominations.I hope you have a wonderful New Year’s Day. May 2014 be your best year yet. I am sending love and good wishes to all of you and your families. Keep writing!!

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Quote for the Day

Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, till the sun goes down. And this is all life really means. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Still here

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes. ~Henry David Thoreau

Clearly, I have been MIA for a while; for that I apologize. I have spent the last few months in the midst of a job hunt, which finally ended with a job offer last week. That search took up a great deal of my time. But there is more to the reason for my silence and I want to share that with you.

I haven’t mentioned it previously but I have a chronic illness. I was diagnosed with a primary immune deficiency known as Common Variable Immune Deficiency (or CVID) back in 2003. This is a genetic disorder and basically means that I don’t produce the immune system needed to defend myself from illness and infection. So I receive treatments made from donated human plasma to supplement my immune system, allowing me to live a fairly normal life. However, I still get sick more than the average healthy human. This particular illness also leaves me more susceptible to other chronic illnesses so I also deal with a severe migraine disorder as well as inflammatory arthritis.

Despite these diagnoses, I persevere. I write, I work full time, I cultivate friendships, I do everything that you would do. But sometimes I am weary. Sometimes I am in pain, or under the weather. On the days (or in this case, weeks) when you don’t hear from me, there is a chance that I’m not feeling well. Unfortunately, along with the job search, I have been experiencing more migraine issues. It has kept me off the computer, except at work, and has certainly kept me from writing. But, despite all this, I haven’t forgotten my readers or given up on this blog. I am here and I plan to persevere again and again. So stick with me, all, I’m still here!

Write It Down

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~Francis Bacon

For the next few posts, I would like to talk about process. The process of writing is very different for each writer. We are all unique in how we think, how we see the world, and what we do with that information.

Despite our “writerly differences,” there are a few things that I believe each writer should consider if not adopt. One of those things is journaling. Now, I’m not suggesting you sit at your desk every night writing “dear diary,” unless that appeals to you. What I am suggesting is that you have a way to keep track of your daily observations. You never know what might inspire you and we can’t keep everything in our heads at all times.

I personally carry with me a small journal that I consider my writing journal. It is always nearby, just in case I need it. Before I began carrying my journal around, I would find myself noticing things that inspired me to write but I would no way to put it on paper so I would chant things to myself over and over until I could find something to write on and/or with. Not a great system. The other lovely thing about having a journal is that if I feel like writing but am not feeling any immediate inspiration, I can look through my journal for writing ideas.

That said, I submit that it is worth your time to keep a journal (be it electronic or paper) with you for those inspirational moments that sneak up on you. Do what works for you. If it doesn’t feel natural to you, you won’t continue the practice. So if a notepad or journal app on your smartphone works best for you – great! If a little steno pad in your purse is what you want – super! Let me know if you have any other tricks for keeping track of those daily inspirations that we all have. Happy Tuesday!

The Cutaway

Poetry is prose, bent out of shape. ~J. Patrick Lewis

My memoir writing class is over and my world is slowly going back to normal. So it’s time for us to get back to poetic form.

Today’s form is the cutaway. The cutaway is a type of found poem, or a poem discovered in a place where one would never expect it to be. Found poems often come from works such as reference books or legal documents. The cutaway specifically uses words from a passage of prose, without changing their order, by selectively removing words that fall in between the portions selected. Lineation, meter, and stanzas are up to the writer. What I like about this form is that it gives the writer a chance to find poetry where we wouldn’t normally look. It’s not as easy as it seems.

Our published example is by Scott Wiggerman, the inventor of this method. His poem was created using the last paragraph of Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

Calm

I woke with stars in my face,
sounds of the countryside,
smells of night and earth,
wondrous peace.

Sleeping summer flowed
through me like a tide.
I thought about her life,
why she had played
at beginning again,
there, where lives were
fading out and evening
was a kind of wistful respite.

In that night alive
with signs and stars,
I opened myself
to gentle indifference.
The world, so much like myself,
so like a brother,
everything less alone.

Copyright © by Scott Wiggerman.

To give you an idea of how the cutaway works, here is the full passage that Wiggerman used to create his poem. As you can see, the end result is very different in theme and tone from the original paragraph.

“With him gone, I was able to calm down again. I was exhausted and threw myself on my bunk. I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up with the stars in my face. Sounds of the countryside were drifting in. Smells of night, earth, and salt air were cooling my temples. The wondrous peace of that sleeping summer flowed through me like a tide. Then, in the dark hour before dawn, sirens blasted. They were announcing departures for a world that now and forever meant nothing to me. For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a ‘fiancé,’ why she had played at beginning again. Even there, in that home where lives were fading out, evening was a kind of wistful respite. So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her. And I felt ready to live it all again too. As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself – so like a brother, really – I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

It took me quite a while to find a passage that I felt worked for me and then to pull out pieces that I felt made sense. Ultimately, I used the first chapter of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Here is what I found within.

Silver

The village lay under
two feet of snow. Windy
corners flashed cold

fires and clumps
of bushes made black
stains. Where the road

fell away, the church reared
its slim white steeple. And
where the ground sloped, light

shot long bars, illuminating
fresh furrows on the white
earth. The hush of midnight

gathered in the pure
and frosty darkness. The beauty
evoked a touch of wonder.

The sight and sound of silver.

Copyright © 2013 by Tommie Marie Cassen.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this form, as well as some cutaway poems you’ve created. Best of luck!

The Power of Criticism

People who avoid all criticism fail. It’s destructive criticism we need to avoid, not criticism in all forms. ~Timothy Ferriss

A couple of weeks ago, my memoir essay about my mother’s death was critiqued in class. I really like everyone in my class and was looking forward to their comments and suggestions. I got some great information and feel my essay has greatly improved thanks to their input. Surprisingly, one classmate was a bit unkind. Not in criticizing my work but in criticizing the way I viewed my mother’s death. He said that the death was “anticlimactic.” That no one just stops breathing. In fact, he made no comment about the writing itself. Not in his notes, nor in class. I must admit that I was shocked and hurt by his words. Clearly, I am still affected by them or I wouldn’t be writing this post.

Everyone deals with death differently. Everyone grieves in their own way. No one should ever judge the way another person sees or handles death. When my mother died, it wasn’t with a bang but a whimper. She was sick for almost four years. The final year of her life, she couldn’t lie down or she would suffocate from the tumors in her lungs. So she slept sitting up and basically lived in one chair, day in and day out. She was on oxygen. She wore an eye patch because the tumor in her brain had affected her vision in one eye. During her last year, I woke up with her at night and missed school many mornings. I bathed her and wiped her and held towels to her mouth while she coughed up crap from her lungs.

I began grieving for her just days after my 14th birthday. She died two months before I turned 18. I cherished every moment we had together but feared her death every single day. I was afraid to go to summer camp for fear she would die while I was away. When I was gone, I called her at least twice a day because of that same fear. As of July 8, she has been gone 21 years. And I still cry when I think about those last four years. I still grieve.

This man’s only notes were that there wasn’t enough dialogue and “didn’t anyone have to pee?” In my family, my mother was the only one to face her death head on. My father grieved in private – in the garage, in his truck, at his business after hours; never in front of me or my brother. My brother cried alone in his room or with mom. I don’t know if he had friends to talk to and he rarely spoke to me about it. Much like him, I cried with mom and on my own but I was also lucky enough to have a couple of amazing friends to grieve with me. There was very little dialogue in my essay because there was very little dialogue that night. We spent a great deal of time sitting together in silence. I purposely wrote the piece to feel muted. I wanted the silence to be deafening for the reader, much like it was for me.

This is a very long way of saying that, when you critique someone’s work, you should give thought to what you are critiquing. Had my work been a piece of fiction, his comments on believability could have been appropriate. But this was a piece of creative nonfiction, a memoir. It is important to be both honest and considerate when commenting on a piece of writing. If there is a section that doesn’t make sense or something that needs fleshed out, don’t be afraid to speak up. But there is also no need to be unkind. I ask that we all bear that in mind the next time we are in a writer’s workshop or circle.