Thursday, February 27, 2014

Housekeeping Poetry

     The other day I found a poem posted on Facebook that made me laugh aloud. "Dust If You Must," by Rose Milligan, offers lively rhyming words that convey the same message as the modern-day acronym "Y.O.L.O." (You Only Live Once), and the classic Latin admonition to live in the present, "Carpe Diem." Each verse begins with the words "Dust if you must, but…," following up with questions and comments that point out all of the more fulfilling alternatives to spending one's life dusting, such as: "…wouldn't it be better/ To paint a picture or write a letter…rivers to swim and mountains to climb…." The wry ending elicited my laugh:

          "Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
          Old age will come and it's not kind.
          And when you go--and go you must--
          You, yourself, will make more dust."

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes--so why waste time dusting, right? Life is an untidy business, which can only be relished, not controlled. And "good housekeeping" may be a cover for a person who yearns to be more adventurous, but chooses to play it safe for fear of the messiness of a life lived with abandon.

     Immediately, I recalled an old poem I wrote, also about housekeeping, also wry in its tone:

Rug Raker

Raking your rug,
Not hitting your kids,
Not breaking a plate,
Or slamming a door.

Raking the shag,
Not talking it out,
Not cleaning the shelves,
Or calling a friend.

Raking your rug,
Not crying your tears,
Not showing your pain—
Or feeling it.

Raking, you made
The living room die,
Track-free, preserved,
Museum-room style.

     While Rose Milligan's poem contains a warning to live life while you can--a warning that could have benefited this woman who perpetually raked her shag carpeting--my poem is more of an observation about housekeeping as a coping method. Rug raking is seen as a means of avoiding stress, honest communication, necessary confrontations, and emotional upheavals by keeping occupied with outward tidiness.  

     As I look around at my messy countertop, my computer surrounded by a crumb-covered dish, an empty coffee cup, an empty water glass, pens and paper, and a cell phone on which I now note an illuminated text from my precious daughter, I feel joy for the untidiness of my life and my ability to take the time to write this post, even though I need to get work done on my novel-in-progress. Dust abounds, and that's just fine with me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Words of Love I Remember

In honor of Valentine's Day, I will post the lyrics to the first love song I ever wrote for the love of my life, Barry K. Lipson:

Only This Will Do
by Susan L. Lipson

You are the sun and the rain and the sky;
I know it's cliche, but that's what comes to mind
Whenever I think of you,
Whenever I dream of you.

If I could give you the sparkling stars in the sky,
I'd mix them in a glass of black velvet night
Served on a silver tray--
Champagne to toast the day.

There are many ways to tell you
How I feel for you;
Many love songs have been written, but…
Only this will do, 
Only this will do.

You are the roots and I am the tree,
So you're always supporting me,
Even when strong winds blow,
Making my branches bow.

If I could give you this wonderful day,
I'd wrap it up in grass and tie it with hay--
A gift of green and gold,
A gift of new and old.


You are the flower and I am the bee,
I give to you and you give to me,
Helping each other grow,
We meet after every snow.

If I could give you a mountain to call all your own,
I'd drape it with flowers like a royal throne,
With the sky as your canopy,
You'd be Nature's royalty.



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Read To Build Memories; Write To Evoke Them

 The books we read build layers of memories, like sedimentary rocks, offering us new vantages from which to view the world and share our unique perspectives via our own grains of truth. Choose your literary foundations carefully.

          According to Samuel Johnson, "The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new." In other words, authors have the power to evoke déjà vu and to rejuvenate memories. I have never been in combat or survived horrific traumas, yet I feel empathy for such survivors partly because of the vivid words of authors (and screenwriters) who have brought me, safely, into battle zones as a fly on the wall. I have never lived a life of crime and drug abuse, except for when I lived in worlds that rose around me as I turned the pages of a novel set in that world. I did not lose my parents as a child, but I can now almost feel the pain of an orphan after reading a number of books narrated by endearing kids who are braving life on their own. The list of emotional memories I have compiled in my mind owes almost as much to books as it does to life experiences. (Movies do the same for me.) By making the unfamiliar familiar and pulling me into scenes, these authors evoke empathy, not just sympathy, via carefully chosen, multi-sensory details and characters who seem to have walked out, in 3-D clarity, from the author's private mental world. 

          Ask yourself what new "things" are now familiar because of your reading about them. Which books made them familiar? Then reread, or at least review, those books to see HOW they added experiences to your memories--experiences you never actually had, except through the lens of another writer's prose. 

          Also ask yourself what familiar "things" or experiences, as presented via an author's perspective, enlighten your own memories of things familiar. Was it your own first love, a powerful school memory, a trip to another state or country?  Again, reread or review the books that made you nod and say, "Oh I can relate to this--but I'd almost forgotten how it felt!" Do it before you forget those books and those feelings. Do it to add layers to your memory banks and enrich your writing.

     Coming-of-age books are a perfect example of how authors make "familiar things new." I love reading them because they reawaken my own memories and often make me forgive myself for my foibles of the past, for my immaturity as a teenager, and for my failure to apply those lessons today. In fact, they sometimes help me to see myself in a broader way that benefits me as a parent. Pick up one of your old favorite coming-of-age books and read it today for a very eye-opening experience. I have reread, for example, The Catcher in the Rye at various stages of life, and each rereading offers me a broader view of young adulthood and how I've become who I am today. I always advocate rereading those books you deemed "life-changing" in your late teens or early 20's as a method of self-examination. It also does wonders for your own writing. 

          Introspection elicited by the words of others will help you create words that elicit the same in your readers. Take the time to read, reread, and ponder in between typing. Your words, and your readers, will thank you. 

          I need to go read now.