Lament of an Unknown Poet

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My words will never know the feel of a hesitant dissection
or the ink from the trembling pen of a first-year English major
who is asking herself how she wound up in a place so very strange
and far away from home.

They will never know the thrill of being scanned and combed
and underscored
by her damp green eyes 
as she thinks about the friends she left behind,
the boy whose heart she broke,
or the Irish Setter who is probably lying by the sofa,
whimpering and wondering when
she’s going to return and toss the rubber ball again.

They will never be her reading assignment,
the academic equivalent
of an arranged marriage,
one in which she might learn to love my work
despite her initial preferences for Chaucer.

They won’t even have the chance
for an accidental meeting
on the third floor of the library
as she’s making her way
through an anthology for a paper due
on Wednesday by 10 AM.

Her thumb will never brush carelessly against them
as she turns the page and lifts,
sending every stanza floating
for a moment
in an arc
before they softly land
on a chewing gum wrapper
she’s been using as a bookmark.

No, the beautiful girl from Kentucky
will never even know my words exist.
They’ll live out their lives in chests of drawers and envelopes,
in shoe boxes on closet shelves,
and occasionally in a frame
hung in a hallway
among some photos of the dogs or grandchildren,
and the women who hold them
will be relatives and friends
and perhaps an old lover or two
who may not even appreciate them
but care an awful lot for me.

Sister Dorothea

She was a ghost of a woman with a pale white paper face wrapped in a black habit, cold blue eyes framed by horn rimmed glasses, and she was always watching even when she wasn’t looking. There was no escaping her between the hours from 8 am to 3 in the afternoon. From the first bell to the last, every kid at St Ignatius Elementary was hers.

But her reach extended further than that. She would notice if you weren’t at Mass on Sunday. She knew your family history. She had the power to discover all your sins, even ones you committed on the walk home from school, even ones you committed only in your mind.

She wasn’t all convent grade blue steel. She’d been known to cry, but only when telling gruesome and fantastic tales of the suffering of Capital S Saints of the canonized variety.

I witnessed this once when she read aloud a brief biography of Sainte Germaine who was treated cruelly and banished from her home by her stepmother. Sainte Germaine devoted her life to Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, then died on a bed of vine twigs at the age of 22. Such is the life of saints. Occasionally they get to play with animals or write books, but they frequently meet a sad and/or grisly death.

Perhaps this is why Sister Dorothea had little affection for the well fed farm children of Lambert. They’re suffering was far too minuscule, but her devotion to rectifying these deficiencies was legendary in the hallway and on the playground of St Ignatius.

How to Zig When Everyone Else is Zagging

zigzagThe world is whizzing by and your head’s spinning.Change isn’t just constant. It’s freaking relentless. The information flow’s a gusher. The order of the day? Chaos. Let’s see. What was that plan you made to stay sane?

You could just join the nearest crowd or take your place in the longest line. After all, there’s safety and comfort in numbers.

But here’s something to consider. One cool way to cut through the madness is to forge your own trail. Cutting left when everyone’s heading right can be a great adventure. Alternative wisdom is the backbone of every great breakthrough.

Think Einstein. Think Curie. Think Picasso. Think. Ready to move in your own new direction? Here are: 7 Ways to Zig When Everyone Else is Zagging

1. Steady your pace when everyone else is accelerating.

Faster, faster. It’s the call of the modern age. We have the need for speed, or so we think.

But while you’re pushing the pedal to the metal just to keep up with the Joneses, ask where everybody’s going and why they’re in such a hurry.

A lot of people got behind the wheels of some pretty dumb loans and drove them down the drag strip towards ridiculous homes they couldn’t afford. Everyone was high on the exhaust fumes, until they crashed and burned. The winners, much to our dismay, are the ones who took the slow road, saved their money, and lived within their means. Hmm. Interesting.

It’s an old saying, but it’s still true. Slow and steady wins the race. Find your pace and know where you’re headed. It’s better than getting nowhere fast.

2. Follow your instincts when everyone else is following trends.

When I was in college, I made a dumb move. I tried to be practical. Turns out, I suck at it.

I read the career guide magazines, the ones that blathered on about the hottest industries and the top ten careers for anyone with a brain. Those magazines left out a few things like interests, passion, and strengths.

 

Following their advice, I ended up banging my head against the work for decades.

Those years are gone, but I still have today and so do you. If the hot trends leave you cold, follow the trend from within. It’s the surest way to a path that keeps you warm.

3. Work on mastering the pieces when everyone else is working on a masterpiece.

Everyone wants to be a master, but mastery takes practice and that just bores some folks to tears.

Some want to write the great American novel, but won’t take the time to craft a great sentence. Others dream of being millionaires, but would never dream of doing all the stuff that millionaires do.

While everyone else has their eyes on the prize, focus your sights on the hundred and one steps it takes to win it, and master them one at a time.

You’ll need to learn to draw a straight line before you can paint the Mona Lisa.

4. Speak softly when everyone else is shouting.

When every thing’s printed in bold red letters, a message written in small italics stands out. When everyone is clamoring for attention, you can’t help but notice the quiet and the calm.

Do what it takes to build a quiet brand of confidence and people will take notice. In the midst of all that noise, some peace and sensibility is precisely what people will be looking for.

5. Decide who you’re going to be when everyone else is deciding what to do next.

A whole lot of people are looking for instructions, a set of blue prints, for the seven steps to everything.

Have you looked at the self-help section of your local book store? Looks like everybody’s got some secrets and they’re selling them for 19.95.

Few, however, take the time to ask, “Who am I?” or “Who do I want to be?” Figure that out, and the doing comes natural. It’s like you have an inner filter. You know what works and what mucks things up. You know what to let in and what to keep out. You know what to do and what not to do.

While others are looking for the secrets of success, take the time to define what success actually means to you. Achieving it will be less of a mystery.

6. Seek to build relationships when everyone else is seeking to build a fortune.

If you really want to feel rich, accept all forms of payment. When it comes to happiness, studies show that beyond a certain point, money’s just added padding.

Love is the real gold standard. Connection, interaction, contribution, and intimacy, believe it or not, are better than a three car garage and a big screen TV.

While the others are counting their assets, be one to the people around you. You’ll get a greater return on investment.

7. Focus on being purposeful while everyone else is focusing on being productive.

It’s great to be productive if your productivity has a purpose, but a lot of people are burning their way through to-do lists like it’s an Olympic sport and they’re going for the gold.

“Look at all the things I got done!” they shout, “Now, what was the mission?” But if you’ve steadied your pace and followed your instincts, practiced the pieces and built that quiet brand of confidence, know precisely who you are and use that knowledge to be an asset to the people you meet, you’ll know what your mission is.

 

Better than a list of things you’ve done, you’ll have a list of reasons for why you do anything and you can use that to guide you.

So, What Will It Be?

Are you gonna zag, or are you gonna zig?

My No Regret To Do List

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Sit down and write. Get up and run. Those are the only things I have to do each morning before I start the rest of my day. If I do those two things, it doesn’t matter how that rest-of-my-day goes. I did what I promised myself I’d do, and there’s a very good chance I’ll do it again tomorrow.

This is the only thing that works for me. Every other method I’ve attempted to use to move forward has either left me standing still or falling behind. Nothing gets written. My middle expands. My body, brain, and mood slowly atrophy. It gets harder to get up, get back, and get on with it.

That’s a painful place to be. It hurts like your spirit has a migraine. An even greater danger is the possibility of going numb, forgetting what it feels like to feel anything at all. I’ve been there. It’s the ever loving pits.

Writing and running are two things that keep such ailments at bay. How? I’m not really sure. I only know that I have never felt an ounce of regret for doing either of them.

What are your no regret activities? Painting?  yoga? practicing your scales, listening to music without thinking of anything else, caring for animals, tending a garden, hugging loved ones, paying sincere compliments, doing favors for those who are truly in need of some?

When was the last time you did them? If it’s been a while, how can you get back in the swing of things? Could you start small? Could you make it a part of your routine? Is it really that much harder to fit into your day than brushing your teeth, combing your hair, or stopping to grab something to eat?

When is the best time? When you first get up? Right before you go to bed? Smack dab in the middle of your day so you can take time to breathe, relax, and refocus? Only you can answer that. Will you?

I believe in this. I also believe you deserve this, not because you’re better than anyone else, but because you’re so very much like everyone else. Because you’re human. It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to not be a superhero who never gets tired and never has needs. It’s okay to take time each day and do something that nourishes you.

Sometimes people need to be reminded of that. I know I do. I’m assuming you do, too, so today I sat down and I wrote this. Now I’m going to get up and run.

 

 

That is Not This

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You can’t defend an action by pointing to the actions of others, not in a courtroom, not in politics, not in an argument with your significant other, not anywhere, not ever.

Yeah, but he did, she did, or they did doesn’t excuse what you or whoever you’re defending did.

This is something we all should have learned when we were five years old. If we missed that lesson, it’s time to catch up.

I’m saying this because I’ve noticed  people have a habit of attempting to excuse one person’s bad behavior by pointing to someone else’s bad behavior. Oh, you think THIS person told a lie, committed an act of violence, started a war, misused their power, acted like a dim-witted bogot? Well, what about what THAT person did?

What about it? What does that have to do with the thing we’re discussing right now? Are we expected to ignore a broken bone because cancer exists?  I don’t get this line of reasoning.

You wouldn’t leave a pile of crap on your rug because there’s a bigger pile of crap on someone else’s. Crap is crap. Acknowledge it and do your best to clean it up. Then we can talk about how to deal with the next mess.

The Museum of Awkward Beginnings

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I’d like to build a museum and exhibit the works of all the greats. Picasso,  Da Vinci, you name them; I’d procure them.

But there’d be no Mona Lisa, Girl Before a Mirror, or Birth of Venus. Instead, I’d exhibit the masters’ early works, and I mean very, very early works. I’d show Da Vinci’s Wretched Sketch of an Apple and The Mucked Up Flower by Georgia O’Keefe. On every wall in every hall I’d display the failed attempts of our finest artists.

I would then give tours to busloads of aspiring painters.

“Look here,” I would say, pointing to a piece by Matisse, “See how he struggled with color?”

“Quick, follow me. You won’t want to miss Van Gogh’s lack of perspective.”

There would also be a room housing the Angry Fit Exhibit, a collection of broken brushes, ripped canvases, and dented paint containers once hurled against makeshift studio walls.

“Do you feel it?” I would ask, “Can you sense the frustration?”

At the exit would hang a large plaque engraved with giant letters, and it would read, “You see, there are no angels here. No gods. No geniuses infused with inborn talent. Just men and women and their efforts. What lies between the works you’ve seen today and the ones you’ve always known are lifetimes. You too have a lifetime. How are you going to use it?”

Flicker and Flash

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One year, I spent the summer writing love notes to an invisible woman,
jotting them down on sticky squares of paper,
writing them at different times and posting them
in different places, uncertain about the habits
of a person you can never quite see.

I looked for signs but never found confirmation,
was never quite sure if she’d read them
or even noticed them, but hoped a great deal,
wondering if my words had power, wondering if
they could make the invisible visible again.

I imagined her fading in as she read the first,
fading out as she moved to the next,
and running, desperate to read them all,
from one note to another, faster and faster,
until she flickered quick and bright.

Always out of sight, she faded even further
and my thoughts moved on to other things,
but I know one flash of ghostly light
would’ve sent me carpeting the floors and
papering the walls with the silly, little, yellow things.

The Lousy Service at the Idea Cafe

imageWouldn’t it be great if your ideas arrived fully cooked and ready to consume?

You could dig in, enjoy them, then sit back and wait for the next delivery. And I’m sure you’d appreciate it if they could at least show up in a timely fashion.

But, you probably know this already: the service at the Idea Cafe is lousy.

Here’s how it usually goes.
You try to make a reservation and the surly voice on the other end of the line snickers and says, “You can come by anytime you like, but you’ll need to bring your own chair.”

So you squeeze some time into your busy day, bring your chair, and speak to the host who couldn’t seem less interested.

“Um, where should I sit?” you ask.

“Anywhere ya like.” she says while chomping her gum, smoking a cigarette, and texting her boyfriend.

You stare. She drops the cellphone and gives you a look. “Just park your ass, honey.” she says.

“How long will I need to wait?” you ask.

“As long as it takes, sugar.” she says.

You take a deep breath, find a spot, and do as you’re told.

Then you wait.

Time passes. You can hear the ticking clock and you wonder who you have to know to get a muse around here.

Finally, someone talks to you, some guy in cutoffs and a wife beater t-shirt.

“Someone says you want ideas.” he mutters.

“Uh, yeah. That’s why I’m here.” you say.

“Well, it ain’t that easy, pal.” he says, “You have to do something.”

“Do something?”

“Yeah, do something. You think we just give these things away?”

He has a point, you concede. “What would you like me to do?” you ask.

“I dunno,” he says, “Whatever it is you do. What are you? A writer? A painter? One of those business people? Anyway, doesn’t matter. Whatever it is you do, you have to start doing it.
That’s the way we work. Don’t like it? Go watch TV.”

“No, no.” you say, “I’ll do it. Just bring me some ideas. I’m hungry.”

“You and everybody else, pal.” he says and walks off.

Once again, you do what your told and start doing your thing. Eventually, an idea arrives.

It’s not what you ordered. It’s cold. It’s tiny, undercooked, and half or more of the ingredients are missing.

You flag down Mr. Cutoffs and say, “Excuse me, this isn’t what I ordered.”

“Yeah, but it’s what you’re getting. The rest, my friend,” he says, flashing a toothless grin, “is up to you.”

So you do what you can. You move it around on your plate. You look at it and think of ways it could be improved, what could be added to it, and what you can make of it. And when it’s time to leave, you wrap it up (You don’t bother to ask them to do it.) and take it with you.

Later, you unwrap it, throw it in a crockpot, and leave it to simmer and stew. You pick up some ingredients here and there and toss them in. You take a peek and a whiff and a taste every now and then. You stir things around and start to notice how much better it’s becoming.

And one day, you think to yourself, “This stuff is ready to serve.”

You dish it out and scoop it up with a spoon and you have to admit it’s pretty darn good. You share it with others and they like it too.
“Where did you get it?” they ask.

“Oh, I got it at the Idea Cafe.” you tell them.

“Oh, do they take reservations?” they ask.

“Not really.” you say, “Besides, You can always get in. You’ll just have to bring your own chair.”

Saturday Morning

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She is two years old and seething with anger and desire. Her arms stretch like chubby rubber bands being pulled upward and almost snapped by an invisible force she has no time to question.

Her eyes pour out raging waters. “Cacka,” she screams. “Cacka!”

High atop the flat peak of a rugged mountain lies the object she cannot live without. She slams her fists against its base and lets the curses fly.

Cacka!
Cacka!
CACKA!

When she sees me, she takes a quick, deep breath. Her head droops and her shoulders sag. “Cacka,” she whispers.

She watches as I scale the porcelain, wood, and stainless steel terrain to obtain everything that has ever eluded her.

“My god,” her eyes say, “he’s a giant.”

“Crackers,” I say as I hand her the sacred sleeve. “Eat those at the table.”

Forest Crashing

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I’m sitting on a black rock, seeking knowledge from a wise looking chipmunk, but before I can learn anything useful, the damn thing takes off and darts beneath the bones of a fallen and forgotten tree. That’s how all these creatures are: skittish and untrusting. The birds scatter in all directions every time I approach. The squirrels act like I mean to do them harm and climb up fast to the high limbs like bottle rockets with legs.

They never go very far. Just enough to let me know I’m not one of them. I guess I’m getting used to it, but sometimes I say, “Come on, guys. I’m out here every day.” They just twitter and chirp and all that other woodland stuff. I think I hear them laughing.

The ticks and mosquitos, on the other hand, they all love me. They buzz around my head and try to hitch rides home on my ankles. Meanwhile, I can still hear the birds flapping just a few yards away.

Sometime I imagine that the flap, flap, flap of my tennis shoes on the trail is the sound my wings would make if I had myself a pair. That’d be something. Really something. Those little snobs would treat me different then, I bet.

But right now, I’m too big and slow and loud, I guess. It’s just me and the ticks and mosquitos trying to eavesdrop on conversations taking place just a few safe feet away from us.