Movement: Mind and Soul

Movement: Mind and Soul

For the next six to twelve months, at least, I’ll be focusing on writing poetry. Not to the exclusion of anything else, of course – but with an eye towards publication. That means no more posting it online, until it has had its fair shot at the footlights of publication – poetry journal, contest, anthology, or book. No “previously published” material is loved in the hallowed halls, and I have been an undisciplined writer all my life, shoving scraps of paper in drawers, posting bits online, here and there. When you have a full-time career and no plans to leave it, it’s difficult to write poetry or fiction seriously. It simply cannot compete for time and energy. So you shove it into drawers. Or share it willy-nilly, like these:

And a few posts on writing poetry, if you’d care to join me:

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Little Prompts for People Who Think They Can’t Write a Poem

Little Prompts for People Who Think They Can’t Write a Poem

Recently, in the Garden of Neuro Poetry Circle, I ran across a poetry prompt:

Monday Poetry Prompt: Backyard

I thought that this might be an excellent exercise for young writers and novice poets, as well as those who are more experienced. As the prompt says, you can use your own, very real back yard – or the one that exists only in your imagination.

First, observe and take inventory. 

What does your “back yard” look like? It doesn’t have to be a yard, and it doesn’t have to be real. It could be the view from your window, if you are an apartment dweller. Maybe it’s a community garden. Maybe it’s the back yard you’d like to have, some day. Maybe it’s the back yard you have today – and the one you’d like to have, some day. Let’s take inventory. Write notes and take photos; don’t just trust to memory. Mine looks something like this:

There’s a ladybug, rescued from a little birdbath in the back yard. She was surrounded by debris, but when I put my finger in the water, her tiny legs began to wriggle. I left her to recover in the shade of the Daikon leaves, in my vegetable garden, where she is protected from birds. Not pictured, but seen within the past few days: crab-like orb-weaver spiders, praying mantises, and a scoliida wasp with blue-black wings and a blood-red body, frantically darting from one squash blossom to the next. Its nest appears to be in the bell at the top of our wind chimes. Perhaps not the wisest or calmest place to start a home.

There’s a nice green compost bin, and a holding pen full of brown leaves my husband’s collected, that will eventually be mixed into the green scraps. Herman the dog-vomit slime slime mold lives inside the green bin, and now sleeps in the rich soil of my vegetable garden, where he feasts on dead and decaying things.

That raised veggie garden has been a learning experience, and there is a corner garden that is more wild than not – with volunteer holly bushes, crepe myrtles, and a plethora of spider plants and canna lilies that have crept under our fence from the neighbors’ back yard.

There are tall trees that shade us and saplings that try to reach the sun through the dappled shade cast by live oaks and Bradford pears.

There is also a sundial and an area laid out with blue rubber tiles to be an outdoor exercise and play area. Because this is a recent project, there are scraps of wood, rocks, glue, and bags of sand and concrete laid around the patio.

This is all visual information.

Pay attention to all five senses!

What do you hear? Birdsong, a lawnmower, children playing on the other side of the fence? A garbage truck, perhaps. A leaf-blower. Cars. A summer breeze, tickling the windchimes. Waking up the scoliid wasp, maybe.

What do you smell? Flowers, compost, petrichor. Earth. Freshly rained on? Or parched?

What do you taste? I pulled a few of the Daikons from the garden – they were in desperate need of thinning. I couldn’t resist rinsing one off with water from the outdoor garden hose and biting into that underripe and slightly-too-bitter crunch. A basil leaf. A pinch of fresh oregano.

What do you feel? Focus on touch, not emotion. Did you wander the back yard barefoot? I can’t, these days – well, I risk a foot full of pricklers from the carpet of weeds that winds its way through the grass, if I do. Still, barefoot girl that I am, at heart, I do risk it. I hop from one sun-warmed paving stone to another, avoiding the pricklers and the river rocks, the bits of broken stone. I let my toes sink into the cool, soft dirt while I try not to think of what might be wriggling underfoot. I dig in a mud puddle with a stick and transfer an earthworm to the garden, marveling at how fast they are when they’re trying to get away.

What symbols or themes begin to emerge?

Glancing through what I’ve written, I see a whole ecosystem. But unless I want to write an epic poem, I may try to narrow my focus to something like “birth” and “death” – how new life emerges and is nourished by the old, the dying; how it breaks down and builds up before becoming part of the cycle, itself. That may lead outside the garden, into the philosophical. Sometimes, a “back yard poem” strays from the back yard and explores uncharted territory. Follow where your thoughts lead.

Or I may focus on something even smaller.

Sunny and yellow
Herman, Eukaryotic,
Greets the squash blossoms.

Silly little Haiku! But it’s a start. Start small; start big. They key is to start.

Elegy at the Bird Bath

Lady, who told you you could swim?
You were meant to fly;
Not to float upon your own reflection
Waiting for a clever robin,
Or a hungry, ill-tempered jay
To pluck you from the placid pool –
Cool on a bright, June morning –
To pick you, all blushing red
And speckle-freckled
For their breakfast appetizer.


Lady, you were meant to bring me luck.
To dine, yourself, on sweet little aphids.
Oh, how they rejoice at your downfall!
But Heaven helps those who pray for their prey –
The mantis exacts swift vengeance,
Leaving the summer squash un-nibbled.
And I have pre-empted the robin’s repast –
A wriggling earthworm, uprooted,
Dumped beneath the Daikons, unaware
Of criss-cross shadows, a netted sky,
Shielding it from the watchful jay.

Now, it’s your turn. Please give this a try, then share your poems in a comment or link to one in your own blog. I look forward to reading yours, too!






Fun with Instagram! #30DaysShowVSTell (#AtoZChallenge)

Fun with Instagram! #30DaysShowVSTell (#AtoZChallenge)

I was distracted from the #100Words100Days flash fiction challenge on Instagram by the annual A to Z Blogging Challenge; then I was distracted from the #AtoZChallenge by the #OWFI21 Instagram Photo Challenge. I was distracted from all of them by the Toastmasters District 56 International Speech Contest, and the only prize I won all weekend – May 1, 2021 – was First Place in OWFI’s Technical/How-to category. As a retired technical writer, it would have been embarrassing to admit that I hadn’t even placed in that one!

At some slap-happy point in the week leading up to juggling both Toastmasters and OWFI conferences, I discovered that I was far more popular impersonating a sunny yellow slime-mold than I was as an author. In just 24 hours, “Herman,” a boisterous and personality-loaded example of Fuligo Septica, aka “dog-vomit slime mold,” the sentient alien-like creature that came from my compost bin and invaded my veggie patch, had garnered his own fan club and started an Instagram account.

This was all so much crazy fun that I decided to throw you all a new Instagram challenge! But instead of being strictly photos, I thought it might be fun to illustrate writing concepts using visual imagery and words. Feel free to sketch, draw, paint, use photos – go wild! (Well, keep it PG “wild,” please!) I don’t believe in asking people to do anything I’m not willing to do, myself, so I’ll be playing along! Start whenever you start – you don’t have to wait for the first of the month, or a month that has only 30 days in it, or a month with an R in it as if diving for oysters. Start tomorrow. Skip a day if you need to – self-care matters, too! But put some thought and creativity into it and let’s see what we can come up with. They say “show, don’t tell”? Well, let’s show the world what that looks like, while sharing some writing tips or examples! Homeschooling parents: Have the kids join in the fun.

30 day instagram challenge using writing concepts

Be sure to use the hashtag #30DaysShowVSTell – I’ll follow it, and feel free to leave your links in the comments, below.

I also use Instagram to promote Cy-Fair Super Speakers Toastmasters Club and bToasty Toastmasters Club. Both of these clubs welcome visitors during any regular club meeting (we meet online, and Cy-Fair Super Speakers has resumed “hybrid” meetings: both online and in-person, simultaneously).

In case you’re thinking, “Hey, isn’t the A to Z Challenge thingy over already?” Yes. Yes it is. But I signed up, and I’m determined to finish what I start!

I’ll tell you about another “distraction” in an upcoming post! Distractions are better than dogged determination to plod through life without ever veering from the plan. Trust me on this.


Honesty – #AtoZChallenge

Honesty – #AtoZChallenge

Ask my kids, “What’s the one thing that’ll make your mom really angry?” They’ll tell you: Dishonesty.

There are two exceptions to the rule: little white lies and the so-called “sin of omission.” I like to think of the latter in terms of discretion being “the better part of valor.” You don’t owe anyone answers to inappropriate questions, and you don’t need to inflict ruthless honesty on everyone when there’s nothing positive to be gained by it.

“Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” Men recognize this as a trap. But what if she asks this at home, before a party? What if there’s a dress that flatters her figure more, and you see it hanging, clean, in the closet? How about, “No, but I like the burgundy one better – it brings out the color of your eyes”? Of course you wouldn’t say this once you’ve arrived at the party and there’s no alternative to the fat-dress. That’s where the little white lie is fine – just leave it at, “No, honey!” and add a little reassurance, “I think you look beautiful.”

Guys, wouldn’t you want to be told, discretely, if your fly was open? Or if you had toilet paper trailing from a shoe? Little white lies serve no one here. And the “sin of omission” is cruelty, when the flaw is so easily fixed.

Let kindness be your guide.

In my book, A New Leaf for Lyle, poor Lyle’s got a habit of lying over the most trivial things. Sometimes, it’s to stay out of trouble – so why does it seem like lying always gets him into more trouble? Sometimes, a fib just seems to sound better, and less silly, than the truth. But he’s picked up an unflattering nickname: “Lyle the Liar.” And now, even his mom and dad don’t believe him when he’s telling the truth! What’s a kid to do?

Lyle discovers that once you lose someone’s trust, it can be hard to build it back up again. But with enough love and effort, Lyle learns he can turn over a new leaf.

A New Leaf for Lyle is a full-color children’s picture book, available for Kindle or in Paperback.


Genre – #AtoZChallenge

Genre – #AtoZChallenge

“So, what do you write?”

What don’t I write? Porn? Probably not. Annual reports? White papers? Not anymore! I shrug. “Everything? Whatever tickles my fancy?”

“Yes, but what’s your genre?”

I take a good swig of Bourbon and I’m immediately reminded of why I’ll never write like Hemingway. I cringe at the question, fighting the urge to cough as the alcohol fumes travel back up my throat. I want to say, “That’s a stupid question,” but there are no stupid questions. Nearly 30 years after everybody found a way to get online, there are only a devastating slew of stupid answers. I consider giving one. It would be so freeing.

I did used to answer “What do you write?” with “Cue cards for Vanna White,” or “those blurbs on the back of your cereal box – that thing you read when you’ve plowed through all the good books in the house, and it’s raining.”

Genre. Hmm. Technical manuals. That would be an honest, dreary answer.  But really, is “Whatever tickles my fancy” a genre? It might be easier to answer by process of elimination. What doesn’t interest me enough to write, ever?

I’m drawn to fantasy, in part because everyone’s a critic. These days, I can’t fool you if I write about Podunk – someone living in Podunk will get on the Internet and tell the world it’s obvious I’ve never been there. Someone else will rush to my defense, saying the residents of Podunk should just be happy for the good publicity, and glad I didn’t plant a strip club where the local Methodist church actually stands.

In an era where half of all readers want to escape into an alternate reality and the other half insist on scrupulous accuracy, it’s tough to write realistic fiction.

Horror is fun to write, but hits too close to reality, some days. And again, even if you write about vampires, someone’s going to Google “vampire facts” and pick their fangs with the pages of your novel. Fiction’s the one place where it is perfectly acceptable – required, almost – to create a world of “alternative facts.”

But why should anyone choose one genre from such a sumptuous smorgasbord? Just write. Let booksellers figure out where to shelve the thing.

After all, humans can’t be easily shoved into pigeonholes, why should stories be? The most interesting stories are written about humanity – our strengths, our flaws, and our foibles. Genre – if it exists at all, will out itself in time. One may elbow its way past the others to cry out, “I am the beast of Gothic Horror!” as the romantic heroine laughs, muttering, “The creature of comedy, more like…”

As Queen of the No-Niche Niche, I’d rather write “supremely entertaining, genre-bending works of fiction.” That’s it, in a nutshell. That’s my new mission statement, as a writer.

What genre do I write? You figure it out.


Freedom – #AtoZChallenge

Freedom – #AtoZChallenge

“Freedom is a state of mind, I said wondering where I’d heard it before, not a state of being. We are all slaves to gravity and morality and the vicissitudes of nature. Our genes govern us much more than we’d like to think. Our bodies can not know absolute freedom but our minds can, can at least try.”

― Walter Mosley, Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel

To have an active imagination is to always be free. It also enables us to enlarge our happiness and exaggerate our fears. From moment to moment, we make choices – whether to focus on the positive or to dwell on the negative. Both these things are always present, always waiting, always screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” Never forget the parable of the two wolves. Nourish the good to bring more of it your way.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” My mother once said, “Don’t let your possessions possess you.” Seems to me, that’s what Janis is singing about – and in the end, we can’t “possess” one another, either.

But having said that, it’s not a bad thing to trade a little “freedom” for love, family, and home.

“And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone”

Senseless conventions and expectations of strangers, on the other hand… Let’s just say that this is the only life we’re guaranteed, so we ought to make the most of it and allow others the freedom to do the same. Short of hurting others, we should all want to break free of the traditions that don’t serve us well.

“I want to break free…”

Now, tell me, in the comments – aside from the word freedom, what do these three videos have in common?