Remembering Why I Write

Free speech has been a hot topic in recent months, from banned books to educational gag orders. Friday’s outrageous attack on author Salman Rushdie reminds us that people put their lives on the line to defend freedom of expression. It also got me thinking about what a privilege it is to be a writer, and prodded me to remember why I write.

My writing life has two tracks: freelance content writer and creative poet and nonfiction writer. As a freelance writer, most of my work days have a predictable routine: check emails for new assignments, write to meet those deadlines and gratefully buy groceries.

I’m most energized, however, by my creative writing, which often happens in our backyard under the shade of a walnut tree. Timed writing exercises, poetry, journal entries and essays take shape as I watch our blonde Shih Tzu chase squirrels, who stay just out of reach. Many poems go into blogs or self-published books. Sometimes I get paid to write creative nonfiction pieces about human rights issues I care about. Other times, I join an online haiku challenge.

Whatever shape my creative writing takes, it sets my inner voice free. And you have the freedom to read my words and “hear” my voice — and maybe think to yourself, “you mean I’m not the only one who thinks that way?”

You see, that’s why I write: to connect. To contribute and receive ideas, courage, humor and other nourishment from the written word. The written word can change history. It can teach us to laugh at ourselves. It can help us hang on one more day.

But the only way words can do all these things is if we give them the freedom to say what needs to be said. That includes ideas that may offend your school boards, city councils, presidents and religious leaders.

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.” Salman Rushdie

Friday morning, we were shocked into remembering that freedom of speech is vulnerable everywhere— even at the Chautauqua Institution in the United States. It is ironic that Rushdie was stabbed as he was waiting to speak about the United States as an asylum for exiled writers. Indeed, the audience members who ran to the stage to help Rushdie were likely writers and readers themselves.

After the attack, Chautauqua’s president Michael Hill said, “We will return to our podiums and our pulpits at Chautauqua and we will continue to convene the critical conversations that will help bring empathy — obviously, which is now more important than ever.”

A good reason to write, don’t you think?

Garden Spider

Image by Ray Shrewsberry • *** from Pixabay


She is no ordinary spider. At least not to me. Argiope aurantia is her name, and she dazzles in the morning sun next to our front step. Now and then she repairs her zigzagging web, tugging and testing the strands, making adjustments where needed. But mostly she waits. Quiet, brilliantly beautiful, hard-working, yellow and black lady. She conquers my terror of spiders and draws me into a world where two-leggeds are not as clever as we think. Red and gold maple and oak leaves fall. Argiope aurantia slows down. One crisp morning she is gone. Disappeared. No upside-down body with legs in the air. Just gone. Underground? Eaten by another predator? My grief catches me off guard. I thank her for enlarging my world.

tattered spider web

abandoned as days shorten:

I’ll tell your story.

Seeing Sunlight

I look up from where our Shih Tzu and I sit under the black walnut tree. Warm evening breezes carry honeysuckle perfume. Multi-hued sunlight filters through and plays among hostas and honeysuckle leaves, setting them rustling and shimmering. Patio door slides open across the yard. “What are you thinking about?” you ask, smiling, in your robe. Thank you for asking. Thank you for seeing. Our dog and I stand up and walk into the house, as I chatter on about how evening sunlight has intoxicated me since childhood. “Help me open the shutters again,” you say. A house finch, perched on the plum tree outside our window, warbles in agreement.

previous words fall

and dissolve into nothing:

sunlight bathes our world.

Who Is She?

How do I see her?
Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven, Virgin Mary:
these are names that people have given her.
But who is she?

When I see the mother of our Savior,
I see the courage of women:

She said “yes” and stepped into the never-before,
the great unknown,
unfairly judged by neighbors,
nearly losing her betrothed at a time when “unmarried” and “pregnant” meant banishment or death by stoning.

I see the strength of women:

A pregnant teenage girl,
she rode 100 miles on a donkey,
sleeping on the ground,
surrounded by Roman oppression.

I see the wisdom of women:

It was time.
She knew that her son was ready before he knew it.
“Do as he tells you,” she told the servants at the wedding. And then there was wine,
and the greatest ministry of all time began.

I see the anguish of women:

She visualized her son’s destiny as she nursed him,
cleaned him,
baked bread for him.
Her heart nearly stopped when she couldn’t find him,
and then rejoiced when he turned up
discussing theology with scholars:
a prelude to a future loss,
that horrific afternoon at the foot of the cross.

I see women celebrating:

Beyond all human-sized hope,
her son conquered death.
She had dared to believe in hope,
and when hope’s light seemed extinguished,
she hoped one more time.

Who is she?
She is each and every one of us.
Whole, messy, wounded, blessed.

Bewildered by the mystery of it all,
yet willing to try one more time
to comprehend God’s purpose.

Learning to receive God’s mercy and grace,
realizing that we are seen and loved
beyond our understanding.

The Unheard Cry

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;”
Job 12:7

In the hours before the sun reveals
The stains of our assaults upon the earth,
I pause and listen to the silent sky
Listen with me to the unheard cry

The stains of our assaults upon the earth,
The grief of honeybees and mother wolves:
Listen with me to the unheard cry
Of innocents in bondage to our greed.

The grief of honeybees and mother wolves
The lonely calves in their darkened crates
These innocents in bondage to our greed
Wonder when the sun will shine again

The lonely calf stands in a darkened crate
Silent but speaking to us all
He wonders when the sun will shine on him
Like it did when he was new and free.

Silent but speaking to us all,
Their blood washes through the floor,
Conveyor belts carrying what’s left
In the hours that the sun reveals.

Weeping Cherry

Words burn. Wounded words
Smolder from the day before.
Scorched, we mourn in the stench of scorn.

I sit at my computer screen.
You stare out the door
At your weeping cherry trees.
Bereft, we gather what is left.

An unknown bird, brilliant yellow,
Lands in a weeping cherry tree.
Offering his bell-like song,
He cocks his smart red head.

I freeze. You tiptoe toward your camera.
A joint mission takes the place
Of bitter and bewildered thoughts
And leads us where we both belong,
Dizzy in the healing heights
Of chasing God’s own creature’s song.

Lens Poet

He traces with light,
Sets the scene right.

Aperture set,
Assignment met.

With one shutter click,
He cuts to the quick.

Frozen in time,
A moment so fine,

A girl and her pup
Didn’t have to look up.

No need to pose,
That’s how it goes

Lens poet so fine,
Memories of mine

Draw a tear.
Hold us near.

Image courtesy of John Gregory Evans

Kitchen Counters

Kitchen counters dusted in white flour
Witness countless afternoons like this.
Fingers dipped in oil pass the hour
Forming dough as daughters reminisce.

I’ve witnessed countless afternoons like this,
Kitchen windows hot with with noonday sun.
Dry skillet, water droplets hiss,
Hinting that our work has just begun.

Kitchen windows, hot with noonday sun
Reflect rows of spices rarely used.
Hinting that our work is never done,
Herbs flavor best after they’ve been bruised.

Amid the rows of spices rarely used,
Unwritten verses loose their ageless power.
Herbs flavor best after they’ve been bruised
On kitchen counters dusted in white flour.

Come to Terms Quickly

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Matthew 5:25-26

I don’t think in a straight line.
My thoughts lead to places unexpected,
That make no sense to the casual observer.
Tell me to put two and two together
And you may regret it, or at least walk away
Shaking your head, bewildered and frustrated.

In fact, my thoughts will do that for you —
Walk away shaking their heads, that is.
A brilliant idea will feel ill at ease, unwelcome and unwanted.

The Savior says, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser.”
This morning, original thoughts, feeling broken and betrayed,
Stare at me from the mirror, attempting reconciliation.

“Your accuser will hand you over to the judge,” the Savior continues,
I glance at that lonely original thought, whose accusing eyes brim over,
And my stony heart melts.

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser,” Jesus continues,
“Or you will be thrown into prison.”
By now, I’ve opened a notebook
And write the beginnings of a story
That may or may not make sense to every reader.

“You will never get out until you have paid the last penny,”
My Lord says.

By now, the words are tumbling onto the page,
Singing and skipping and keeping up perfectly well
With my zigzagging logic.
The fine is erased from the books
And the prison door is flung open,
Unable to hold back the colors, sounds and smells
Of free thinking.

Liebster Award

Many thanks to John Evans for nominating me for this blogger award. I highly recommend John’s poetry and creative writing blog. You’ll find plenty of good reading on a variety of topics, from social justice to spirituality. John will inspire and encourage you as he demonstrates the healing power of creativity. Do pay a visit to his blog!

Here are the rules for award nominees:

RULES

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  • Share 11 facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 5-11 other bloggers.
  • Ask your nominees 11 questions of your choice. I did not as they already have the same 11 questions as I did.
  • Notify your nominees once you have uploaded your post.

My Answers for John are as follows:

Have you or do you ever want to write a book?
I have written a poetry book titled I Left Her There and a novel, A Certain Woman. The novel is a Christian fantasy story that places Biblical figures in modern times. Both books are available at Amazon.com.

How long have you been blogging and what is your favorite subject to write about?
I’ve been blogging for 11 years. My favorite subject? That’s difficult to narrow down, but I seem to always go back to poetry and nature. I especially love writing about plants!

If you could move to a different town, state or country… where would you be?
I love my current home and community, but if pressed to choose, I’d say Italy or London. My father was Italian and my mom’s family is part English and Welsh, so those places intrigue me!

What is your favorite quality about yourself?
Probably my curiosity. I love to learn!

Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert or even both?
Both. I’m pretty much a homebody, but I like to be involved in causes and organizations that are important to me.

What is THE JOB of your dreams?
Either writing or ministry, or a combination of both. I’m interested in many things, and I can always write about them. Also, I am active in my church and I’m a member of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans.

Other than blogging/writing what is the one favorite thing you LOVE to do?
Probably reading, especially about spirituality or nature.

Where is one of the first places you plan on going after quarantine is over?
There’s a coffee shop down the street that’s a perfect place to sit and write. I’ve only been there twice, but plan to go back when I can!

Speaking of Covid-19 is there anything that you learned about yourself or will be changing about yourself when ‘life moves on?
I hope I remember how important it is to stay in touch with friends. My pastor reminds us to check in with each other, send encouraging notes and so forth. During the quarantine, I’ve kept in touch with friends and people in my faith community more than I usually do. Best not to wait until the next pandemic to let friends know I care!

Is there anything as far as food that you will absolutely NOT eat?
Veal.

Do you own a website for your writing?
Yes, mainly my poetry blog As I Write and Breathe. Also I write in my devotional blog Coffee and Good News.

11 Facts About Myself

  1. I studied classical violin for 10 years, starting at age 9.
  1. I was a professional folksinger in the 1980s and sang on New Hampshire Public Radio.
  1. I am an herbalist and studied herbal medicine with herbalist and author Susun Weed.
  1. I’m a graduate of Vermont Law School.
  1. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I found out that I’d have to be good at math, so that was the end of that!
  1. My favorite poet is Jane Kenyon. I love the way she wrote about everyday occurrences, and her deceptively simple language.
  1. I enjoy knitting and crochet, although I haven’t worked on anything in a while!
  1. I enjoy learning languages, and have studied French and German. Next language I hope to learn is Italian!
  1. I’ve practiced yoga since I was 4 years old, when I would watch a yoga TV show with my mom.
  1. I love to read about the Lewis and Clark expedition. I’m happy to live in a part of the country that is rich with their history.
  1. I have been to 29 states in the USA!

My nominees:

SnowHearT

WoollyMuses

Cristian Mihai

Syl65

Damyanti Biswas

I admire and appreciate each of these talented bloggers. You’ll want to visit each of these blogs, too!