Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Fun: A Joke from Emily

I hardly ever tell jokes, because I can't remember them. One of the few I can remember is:

"What's the difference between a Jewish mother and a vulture?"
"A vulture waits until you're dead to eat your heart out."

I always thought that was funny. Mom still doesn't agree.

But here's one even Mom would like -- although, she never cusses and this does have an obscenity in it. Can you deal with it? OK! Here's your Friday funny from my friend Emily:

A man takes his family to the zoo. When they get there, much to their surprise, they discover the zoo only has one animal -- a dog!

And the man turns to his family and says, "It's a shih tzu."

(Ha! Makes me laugh every time. Go out! Have fun this weekend!)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Fun: A Perfect Match

After almost eight years of dating (not that I was counting), Tom and I got married on Oct. 27, 1985. I was excited about the wedding. Not so excited about the event planning.

I remember walking into a store one day with Mom, so we could order invites and thank you notes and napkins and all that stuff. I was overwhelmed. I couldn't make a decision. And then I saw the corniest matchbook cover of all time, and immediately said, "That's it. I have to have that."

I still have a few of them and they still make me laugh. Laughter, I've found, is the key to staying together through 30 years of marriage. And eight years of dating. Not that I'm counting.

And, in keeping with that theme, here's the wedding invite I would have ordered, if only they had offered it back then. Because we only go around once. And we might as well go around happy!

Happy weekend! I hope it's full of treats. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween 2015: Change is Scary

For decades ... decades ... we've had Mom out to our house for Halloween. The tradition is simple and dear: Tom makes his world-famous taco soup, we have dinner, then I get Mom set up at the front door, where she hands out candy to all the adorable trick-or-treaters.

During the past few years, I've been impressed with how well behaved the kids are, as they patiently wait for Mom to ooh and ahh over their costumes, and then try to drop the candy into their buckets. Her macular degeneration is at the point now where she can't see the buckets. (I'm not sure she can see the costumes either, but she certainly acts like she can.)

One mother told me that her children always look forward to going to the house with the nice old lady.

This year, the nice old lady won't be there. I've decided she's just not up to it. Mom turned 94 in April and the past year has been a difficult one. She rarely stays up past 7 p.m. Unusual activities exhaust her. Her memory is no longer linear. One day she'll know me and everything about me. The next day, she'll wonder if I'm her sister.

She can't remember ever being at my house. I haven't had the heart to ask if she remembers Halloween.

So, this year, I'll be at the door and I'll do my best to live up to Mom's example. I'll ooh and ahh and hand out the treats. I know some of the kids will be disappointed that the nice old lady isn't there.

I just hope they have no idea how disappointed I am.
Letting go of what has been? That's tricky.
Holding these memories close? That's a treat. 
Sidenote: Post 60 is a digression on the Creative Instigation blog, part of my 60th year celebration. We'll count this as post 14 of the 60. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Creative Time Management: Forget the Phone

Happy Monday! Welcome to a new week and a new, totally sporadic Creative Instigation feature: Creative Time Management.

Tip 1: Don't take your phone into the bathroom.

  1. It's not sanitary
  2. It's not necessary. You're not that essential. Isn't that nice? The world will still revolve while you take care of business.
  3. It's time consuming. If you think my reference to "taking care of business" in the previous line referred to actual business, WRONG. If you're checking email, texting or taking calls while in the bathroom, you're spending extra time in there. 
And that's why today's clean living advice qualifies as Creative Time Management! Your job now? Easy. Wipe out any doubt you have about being away from the phone for 60 seconds. 

Good news, CI team.
I'm flush with ideas for this new feature.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Creativity Tips: Enjoy Stupid

Before we begin, let me explain that I treat my Outlook email inbox like a Something, Someday to File Box. And, as we all know, someday never comes ...

I hardly ever use my Surface tablet, but this past week I turned it on and punched the little envelope button to check my email. Bad move. Bad, bad move. The Surface downloaded all the emails that I had on my server. One thousand or so. (Go ahead. Judge me. I understand. But I was going to file those emails. Seriously. Someday.)

Anyhow, after the Surface downloaded all the emails, I thought I'd be smart and erase them all, so the tablet's memory wasn't bogged down. After all, I had the emails on the server. 

You see where this is going. Yep. Outlook was carefully programmed to delete all the emails everywhere when I deleted them on the Surface. No problem, you say? Just go into the Trash folder and rescue them? 

Well, hell's bells. Great idea! Except for one teeny, tiny fact. I was being SO SMART that I promptly deleted all the emails from the Trash folder. 

By the time I realized what I'd done, well ... all those work emails and the recipes I forwarded from various sites and the photos I sent from my phone and all of it ... all of it ... was gone. Including the email that my friend Michelle sent me years ago -- years ago! -- with a subject line that said: Jan Sokoloff Harness Rocks! She is the Ultimate Writer!

I used to look at that subject line when I was having a bad day. And, speaking of bad days, I started the work week with an email to clients, confessing that I'm a moron and throwing myself on their mercy re: missing emails. 

Now, on the Surface of things, this would appear to be a technology disaster. But here's the thing: It's not. It's the most wonderful technology oops I've ever made, and I've made a lot. My Outlook inbox is clean. It's clean! I have seven emails, and I will delete them as soon as possible. All the others that came in since the Big Erase have been filed or deleted. 

That's right. I am free. I am free-ee-ee. I feel lighter just knowing all those emails are gone, gone, gone. 

So, what have we learned from this? Simple! We have a new codicil to the classic You can't fix stupid
Enjoy Stupid. 

You make a stupid mistake? Terrific! Slap your head, groan and then consider if there are any benefits. I can now look at all my emails on one screen and I know exactly what I'm doing with them.

But what if you lost something really important? you ask.  If I did, it will come back in one form or another. Like love. Or, email Zen, as my friend Cheri says. 

Now, if I could only find a way to accidentally delete all the stuff in the basement that I've been meaning to go through. That would really improve my Outlook. 

P.S. If you sent me an email and I haven't responded, I'm sorry, it's gone, please try again!  

Sidenote for those of you just joining the fun: Post 60 is a digression on the Creative Instigation blog, part of my 60th year celebration. Although I've filed this under Creativity Tips, I think it also qualifies as a Post 60, making it post 13 of the 60. Party on!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Fun: Bored?

I'm easily amused and easily bored. Last week, boredom won. So, I did what any creative genius would do: I typed bored into Google and hit enter. And was magically transported to The Bored Button. Happy weekend! Enjoy.

P.S. Yes. I clicked the Bored Button repeatedly. And discovered, among other things, that I am 21,992 days old today. Woot! Party on ...

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Fun: Once In a Blue Moon

There's nothing more grounding than the sky. Once in a blue moon, it's absolutely necessary to go outside, look up, and simply be grateful you're alive. Make tonight the night. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Creativity Exercise: Mark Twain

While doing research for a client, I stumbled across a Mark Twain quote I'd never read before:

Is that perfect or what? It's perfect. And to make it even perfecter, show me the fire. This quote screams out for some kind of illustration. A painting, a photograph, a doodle. Go! Do!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

You're Not My Typo

In the past three days, I've had three people express angst over sending me an email or text with a typo or grammatical error. One person? No biggie. Two people? Maybe they're neurotic. Three people? Yikes. I'm going to own that.

So, just for the record, let me clarify: I'm not judging your intellect, creativity or all-around wonderfulness by the grammar and spelling in your emails and texts. Yes, I am a writer. Yes, I'm more aware of grammar than your average bird. Yes, I typically notice those typos and grammatical mistakes.

News flash #1: Noticing doesn't equate to judging.
News flash #2: I make typos and grammatical mistakes myself. Especially in texts. (Let's all pause now for a collective gasp.)

You may be like me in this -- I generally see my own mistakes right after I send a text or email. And, as you know if you've been on the receiving end, I frequently send an immediate correction. Because I am a tad obsessive-compulsive about my own spelling and grammar.

On the other hand, I'm delighted that you are communicating with me at all. I work alone. It's a delight to hear from someone. I'm not reviewing and criticizing every word. Writing two when you mean too does not make you an idiot. You can even use 2 rather than too and I'll keep breathing.

On the other other hand, the same does not hold true if we're working together on copy for a client. Then, I do aim for perfection. They're (there their) paying me to aim for perfection.

So write away. Right away. I love to here from you. ;-)

P.S. OK, I can see why I make people neurotic. Even leaving the intentional typo in the last line, complete with the winky face, is making me crazy ...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creativity Tips: End of Retirement

Earlier this year, right after my husband retired, our financial planner sent a document outlining how long our savings could last from first withdrawal until the end of retirement. I am embarrassed to tell you how long I stared at that chart, fighting disappointment over the concept that I had to go back to work in my 90s.

Fortunately, even a dim bulb shines a little light.

I did have the good grace to laugh at myself when the light went on and I finally realized that end of retirement didn't mean I'd be hauling my 90-year-old self up to the office to write ad copy again. I'm still laughing -- the phrase may be my all-time favorite euphemism.

And yet ... consider this: The dictionary defines a euphemism as "a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing."

Has death really become something that even financial planners find too "unpleasant or embarrassing" to discuss? Oy.

Here's my advice: When you're trying to communicate, say what you mean. Choose the right words and use the right words. Should you watch your tone? Certainly. But don't obfuscate.* We have enough trouble understanding each other as it is.

End of retirement. Seriously? You're killin' me.

Scottish proverb -- and one of my mom's favorite sayings. :-)
* Can you use words not everyone knows? If they're the right words, heck yeah. I'm all in favor of expanding vocabularies. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Fun: Do you see what I see?

Thanks to CJ, Leslie and Hedy for their responses to Wednesday's post! Always fun to ask creative questions and be reminded by the answers that we all see the world differently.

It's a lesson to remember. After all, our eyes don't really see. Our brains see. Our eyes just transmit the info.

With that in mind, the creative instigators my brain sees in the photo below are the same ones CJ saw -- but for slightly different reasons:

  1. No Service. How wonderful. When was the last time you were completely out of reach -- with no guilt? I remember when a drive in the car provided that kind of freedom. No phone. No one could reach me. No one knew where I was. These days, I avoid using the phone when I'm in the car, but I still know it's there. Sure I can turn the ringer off. I can even turn the phone off. But the guilt of choosing to ignore the world? That's harder to disconnect.

  2. The camera. What an amazing, handy creative tool. Photography -- like other artistic endeavors -- improves with practice. Shoot a thousand shots. Edit them. Trash them. Save them. Post them. Play with them. Write about them. Use the tools at your fingertips. You're not a photographer? Maybe you could be with a little practice. (FYI, the camera works even when there is No Service.)

  3. 95%. The battery is almost full. After a two-week vacation, I came back with a creative battery fully charged. Writing is fun again. How's your battery? Need some energizing? Read outside in the shade of a tree. Go for a walk. Blow bubbles with a kid. Or a dog -- they're hysterical chasing bubbles. Speaking of hysterical, watch Ghostbusters. Laugh until you snort. 
We all need a break now and then -- a real break, where we put down the day-to-day responsibilities and deadlines and pick up our toys. So here's my Jewish momma advice: No matter how hot it is where you are, take some time this summer to just chill.

Happy weekend! Go! Play!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

#Creative Exercise: Find the Instigators

Hi, CI buds! Long time no talk -- I've been on vacation. Now I'm back, with a quick quiz for you. Look at this screenshot I grabbed while on the road. Along with the two humans, there are at least two other creative instigators in this photo. Hmmm. Maybe three. Tell me: How many do you see? And what are they?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday Fun: Take a Chance

When I submitted a story idea for the 2015 Twitter Fiction Festival, it wasn't my usual well-planned, carefully edited copy. I had an idea, I didn't have time to mess with it, I sent it in.

And they liked it. My story idea was accepted and I had the joy of being part of the festival, giving me the opportunity to happily-forever-after tell people that I was listed in the same L.A. Times article as Margaret Atwood. (See me there? Fifth paragraph? I'm one of the lesser-known authors.)

Take a chance, folks. Stop over-thinking every word, every brush stroke. Stop agonizing over every creative decision. Take a chance, put it out there and see what happens!

By the by, if you're not offended by the F-word, you can find the archived version of my story here. If you are offended by the F-word, you can still find it. But you shouldn't look. Trust me on this.

P.S. Think the creative tools you use don't matter? Think again. Not only did I use crowd-sourcing as part of my content generation for the 2015 Twitter Fiction Festival, but I had an awful moment where the computer froze at a critical point of the story line. Terrifying. And yet another reason to love my Moleskin notebooks. They never freeze. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What if Robin Williams Didn't Kill Himself?

Words matter. And I can't think of a time when they matter more than this:

A young man from my synagogue, Jason Arkin, died last week, five days before his 21st birthday. Jason's obituary, written by Mollie Chesis, notes that:

"Jason graduated from Blue Valley Northwest High School in May 2012 as a National Merit Scholar and he was currently a junior at Northwestern University studying electrical engineering. Jason struggled with clinical depression and ultimately passed due to his illness. Jason was one of many young adults suffering with mental illness in a time when mental illness remains stigmatized and misunderstood."

Mental illness is just that -- an illness. And, as is often the case with an illness, it can be fatal. The way we choose to describe suicide, the words we use, matter. Imagine the impact -- worldwide -- if we all had said Robin Williams struggled with clinical depression and ultimately passed due to his illness.

Puts it a whole different light, doesn't it?

I didn't know Jason, but I've been told by many in the community that he was a sweet, kind young man. Memorial contributions in his honor can be made to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

P.S. Today is Mollie's birthday. And it is completely appropriate to celebrate this amazing young woman, along with her wisdom. Happy birthday, Mollie! Thank you for giving us the right words.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

#TwitterFiction Festival: I'm In!

On my desk, amid the clutter, you'll find this quote: "At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you."

The universe was apparently assisting when I sent an idea off to the 2015 Twitter Fiction Festival. I made the first cut -- and then the final cut! I'm happy to announce that I'll be one of the featured writers during the festival next week. Whoo hoo!

What story will I be telling? Here's the basic premise:

Tyler lives in Kansas. His parents (aka SpermDonor and M) are right-wing Kansans who faithfully support the First Baptist Church of the Lamb, going every Wednesday and Sunday. Tyler, days away from high school graduation, is ready to claim life as a girl. But it’s tough being a transgender teen in Olathe, Kansas, and Tyler doesn’t want to come out, horrify the parents and be all alone during the transition. So, before Tyler becomes Taylor (a simple switch from the current name and a homage to Taylor Swift), this smart, sarcastic teen decides to use Twitter to create a new support system – a new family. The question is – does Tyler2Taylor really want a new family or acceptance from the family of origin? Is it possible to live with people for 18 years and not know them? 

Tune in. Tweet on. Find out.

Yes. That's right. My name.
Right there with a few your might recognize.
Life, my friends, is good. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Poetic Present: Linda Penner

I know. I know. It's May. National Poetry Month 2015 is over. BUT, there were a few days where I didn't post. And it's Friday. So it's only right to wrap things up with one more poem!

And what finer topic for our final poem than love?

Linda Penner, our poet of the day, is one of the dear women in my Writers Workshop. She makes me laugh, she inspires me, she teaches me, she surprises me. And, when you read the poem below, don't think I made a typo. Her hubby's name really is Merv.

For Merv on his birthday
by Linda Penner

Seventy years --
darting away
like a hummingbird
hovering here for an instant
a smudge in a distant tree
the next

I've walked years
by your side
or ahead
or behind
occasionally crossed
(like our purposes)

Separate -- but
matched, curiously
as if posed
in tuxedo and slinky black
for a photo
at a formal event

or joined
by an invisible electric thread
that quivers
when you read my mind
when I read yours
like the tiniest marital umbilical
keeping us
when dark threatens
when one of us
floats away

Life novices,
we've bumped and stumbled
through four decades
threaded together,
generous you
feeding body and spirit
as if two arms weren't enough
to give all you wanted

So here,
let me give you something
Take this poem
my bouquet of words and love

It's your birthday

Thursday, April 30, 2015

#npm15 -- Deb Hallowell and we're not done yet ...

Hey ... did you notice I missed a few days there? Life got a little crazy busy. I forgot to post one day, and simply ran out of time the next.

But, never fear, I will give you the full month's worth of poems -- even if it takes me a few days in May! Because I have saved some of the best for last, the work of amazing poets in my Writers Workshop.

Today, this visual beauty by a woman I'm honored to call my friend, the incredibly talented, smart, kind and huggable Deb Hallowell. The words, the birds -- there is beauty in our lives every day, everywhere, just waiting to be recognized:

Monday, April 27, 2015

#npm15 -- Two from You!

Every once in a while, someone will say to me: I don't like poetry. And I wonder, how is that possible? That's like saying you don't like food. There are so many varieties, so many flavors, how can you not like any of them?

Today, a wonderful example of that. Vicki suggested the first poem:

After A While 
by Veronica Shofstall

After a while you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
and company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child
And you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn that even sunshine burns
if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and that you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
with every goodbye you learn...

You like that? Yay! You don't like it? Totally cool. Maybe you'll prefer Erin's suggestion: The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It's a longer poem, so just click on the link to read!

Friday, April 24, 2015

#npm15 -- Among the Things He Does Not Deserve

Here's a quick National Poetry Month creativity exercise for you -- write a list poem. Start with a topic. Any topic. Let's say, life advice. What to do while waiting for a friend at a bar. Reasons you love Sunday. Places you want to go. Places she should have taken you. 

Or, all the things he does not deserve ...

Among the Things He Does Not Deserve
by Dan Albergotti

Greek olives in oil, fine beer, the respect of colleagues,
the rapt attention of an audience, pressed white shirts,
just one last-second victory, sympathy, buttons made
to resemble pearls, a pale daughter, living wages, a father
with Italian blood, pity, the miraculous reversal of time,
a benevolent god, good health, another dog, nothing
cruel and unusual, spring, forgiveness, the benefit
of the doubt, the next line, cold fingers against his chest,
rich bass notes from walnut speakers, inebriation, more ink,
a hanging curve, great art, steady rain on Sunday, the purr
of a young cat, the crab cakes at their favorite little place,
the dull pain in his head, the soft gift of her parted lips. 

From The Boatloads
© BOA Editions, 2008

Coming up next week: Poetry from my writers workshop buddies, and more poems suggested by CI readers. Here's to a great weekend -- go write!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

#npm15 -- My Favorite Poet

Those of you who know me well might guess that my favorite poet is e.e. cummings. Or Robert Frost. Perhaps Dorothy Parker? I love 'em all. But none of them compare with my first and favorite poet: Lillian Sokoloff.
This is from her 90th birthday.
What a cutie!
Let me tell you a story about Mom, who celebrates her 94th birthday today. When she was a young woman, she was offered a job writing greeting cards for Hallmark.

Janet: "Why didn't you take the job, Mom?"
Mom: "I didn't want to write for them, Janet. They had too many rules."

God bless her. Here's a poem from Mom that has been published in several magazines and in The Kansas City Star. She wrote it according to her own rules:

On Criticism
by Lillian Sokoloff

Too quick are we to criticize,
Too slow are we to praise,
The comings and the goings
Of other people's ways.

If only we would stop to think
Before the words come out,
Perhaps a nicer thought would come
For us to talk about.

So next time you are tempted
Unkind things you are about to say,
Stop, reflect, remember,
What you have read today.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

#npm15 -- On Turning Sixty

I love coloring books. I don't just color within the lines -- I trace the lines, outline them with a darker color. Creativity with boundaries, with rules, gives me the wonderful freedom of structure.

Given that, it's no wonder that haiku is a favorite of mine, and the poetic form I chose for today:

On Turning Sixty
by Jan Sokoloff Harness

I hold the railing
now when I go down the stairs.
Aware. Not afraid.


Earlier in the month, my friend Connie asked for a poem that I wrote years ago -- she first read it in The Kansas City Star, back in the good old days when the paper still had a Poetry Corner. So here -- by popular request! -- is that poem:

Found Poem: Rural Route 20, Oklahoma
by Jan Sokoloff Harness, June 2006

An unintentional poet summed it up
on a swinging sign
outside an auto parts store
near Tulsa.

Jesus is Lord
Everything is for sale

Amen, brother.
Amen and hallelujah.

Ya gotta love Etsy. Find this here

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

#npm15 -- Michael Blumenthal, Here You Are

I haven't read enough of Michael Blumenthal's work, but I like what I've read! That's part of the joy of National Poetry Month -- finding new poets.

Here You Are

It’s such a relief to see the woman you love walk out the door some nights
for it’s ten o’clock and you need your eight hours of sleep
and one glass of wine has been more than enough
and, as for lust – well, you can live without it most days
and you are glad, too, the Ukrainian masseuse you see every Wednesday
is not in love with you, and has no plans to be, for it is the pain
in your back you need relief from most, not that ambiguous itch,
and the wild successes of your peers no longer bother you
nor do your unresolved religious cravings or the general injustice
of the world, no, there is very little, in fact, that bothers you these days
when you turn first to the obituaries, second to the stock market,
then, after a long pause, to the book review, you are becoming
a good citizen, you do your morning exercises, count
your accumulated small blessings, thank the Lord
that there’s a trolley just outside your door your girlfriend
can take back home to her own bed and here you are
it is morning you are alone every little heartbeat
is yours to cherish the future is on fire with nothing
but its own kindling and whatever is burning in its flames

it isn’t you and now you will take a shower and this is it. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

#npm15 -- e.e.cummings i thank You God for most this amazing

Happy Monday! Today's National Poetry Month poem was suggested by two wonderful women -- Terri and Cheri. (Terri and Cheri. That's poetic right there ...) You know I love e.e. cummings and this poem is the perfect start to most this amazing week!

i thank You God for most this amazing 
by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing 
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees 
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything 
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth 
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay 
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing 
breathing any-lifted from the no 
of all nothing-human merely being 
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Illustration found on Etsy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Fun and #npm15: Judith Viorst

If the only thing Judith Viorst had ever written was the name of her popular children's book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, she'd be certifiably wonderful. But, of course, that's only one of her many writing accomplishments.

My dear friend Hedy, who walks in beauty and simply makes the world a better place by being, suggested this Viorst poem. Thanks, Hedy, and happy weekend everyone!

A Whole Other Stage

I've reached the stage where my lawyer, my broker, my allergist, 
   and my president are all  significantly younger than I.
 I've reached the stage where I recognize, when I am buying new 
   living room drapes or a new set of dishes, that  they're  likely to 
   be the last ones I'll ever buy.
And when I'm starting to tell my friends some really terrific story,
   and I ask them whether I've told  them this story before, and no 
   matter what story I've started to tell, they say yes.
I know that I have reached a whole other stage.

I've reached the stage where I find that most of the spaces I used to 
     park in are now too small for my car.
I've reached the stage where I'm no longer able to call myself
    middle aged because that's where my children are.
And when going to see two movies at two separate theaters on the 
   same day, followed by by eating a sausage-and-anchovy pizza, is
   what I'm defining as orgiastic excess.
I know that I have reached a whole other stage.

I've reached the stage where a lot of the reading I'm doing is at
   the market checking salt-free and fat-free and expiration dates.
I've reached the stage where nobody bothers to look at my driver's
   license when I purchase tickets at senior rates.
And when I'm out of town and I phone my husband at six A.M., 
   and I ring and ring but he doesn't answer the phone, and my
   first thought is not infidelity but cardiac arrest,
I know that I have reached a whole other stage.

I've reached a stage where people with whom I once
   discussed Marcel Proust are discussing inheritance taxes and
   living wills.
I've reached the stage where I couldn't leave my house for
   twenty-four hours unaccompanied by eight different kinds of  pills.
And when I have to admit that, offered the choice, I'd -
   unhesitatingly- give up a wild rapture with Denzel
   Washington for a nice report on my next bone density test,

I know that I have reached a whole other stage.
-- Judith Viorst, from Suddenly Sixty and Other Shocks of Later Life

Thursday, April 16, 2015

#npm15 -- Rod McKuen, Twenty-Five

I'm not gonna lie. When I thought about doing this National Poetry Month series of posts, I immediately considered a Rod McKuen poem. Why? He was the first poet I "discovered" outside of the classroom. I loved his poetry, his albums. I loved his raspy voice. Mom even took me to see him perform once.

But the literati typically sneer at McKuen, so I waffled. Then I read the news of his death, and that made the decision for me.

I've mentioned before that any landing you walk away from is a good landing. Any poet who inspires you to love and read poetry is a good poet.

Twenty-Five / The Coming of the Rain
by Rod McKuen

Where were we
when the coming of the rain
made us turn from conversation to the window?

In mustard fields maybe,
                   or the love jungle,
and as we talked
we were with others, not ourselves.

I was thinking of old birthdays and holidays gone wrong
                      and pretty people seen on streetcars
          but never met.
Selling soda bottles to pay for movie matinees.
               I was twelve.
     Tarzan was the man I most resembled in those days.
How can I have grown so old without once swinging on a vine?
                Did you think of party dresses
    and high school plays
                    or hallways full of lovers not yet met?

The mind is such a junkyard;
                      it remembers candy bars
                                       but not the Gettysburg Address,
Frank Sinatra's middle name
                but not the day your best friend died.

If in your mind there is some corner
      not yet occupied with numbers you may never need,
remind your memory of the day
                      we turned to watch the rain
    and turning back forgot
             that we belonged to one another.

--- from Listen to the Warm, 1967

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

#npm15 -- Ozymandias

What would a National Poetry Month collection be without a few classics? The great and wonderful Bud suggested the sonnet Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. And it does seem an appropriate choice, as we "look forward" to another political season.

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Sidenote: Every version of the poem I looked at had some variation in capitalization and punctuation -- all of which matter a great deal in poetry. Let's hope this is close to what Shelley had in mind. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

#npm15: Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher

You may know Raymond Carver for his short stories -- which are wonderful. I also love this poem he wrote, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis:

What the Doctor Said
by Raymond Carver

He said it doesn't look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when  you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him 
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

I had the pleasure of meeting Carver's widow, the poet Tess Gallagher, years ago -- back in 1994. And, now that you've read the above poem, you'll more fully appreciate this sample of her beautiful work. 

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do. 
I bring the arms of his shirt 
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done. 

Tess Gallagher, from Moon Crossing Bridge

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Fun and #npm15: Eating Poetry with Roz Chast

Poster designed by Roz Chast, with a line from Mark Strand's "Eating Poetry"
P.S. If you haven't read "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" by Roz Chast, you need to do that. Now. Today. Because it's really, really, really, really good. Really.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

#npm15: Yehuda Amichai

I Know A Man

I know a man
who photographed the view he saw
from the window of the room where he made love
and not the face of the woman he loved there.

Yehuda Amichai
Translated by Chana Bloch 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

#npm15: Stop all the clocks

My buddy Maureen suggested Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden for our National Poetry Month observance, describing it as possibly the most beautiful love poem.

It is absolutely heart-rending. Poem below; video online.

Funeral Blues
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

#npm15: Shel Silverstein wishes Eva a happy birthday!

My baby sister Eva is celebrating her birthday today! And, she doesn't have a card in the mail from me because I lost it. That's right. Spent the typical 30 minutes wandering around the Hallmark store reading every sister card, chose the perfect one, bought it.

Lost it.

So, for now, here's your birthday card, Eva! Happy birthday from me via the wonderful Shel Silverstein:

For Sale
One sister for sale!
One sister for sale!
One crying and spying young sister for sale!
I'm really not kidding.
So who'll start the bidding?
Do I hear a dollar?
A nickel?
A penny?
Oh, isn't there, isn't there, isn't there any
One kid who will buy this old sister for sale,
This crying and spying young sister for sale?

If you think it was easy growing up with me, think again. Eva and I shared a bedroom until I left for MU. I would lock her out frequently, even though there was no lock on the door. I walked over her bed, whether she was in it or not. I took her with me sometimes when I went out with friends, but grudgingly. Very grudgingly. On the other hand, I adored her completely and still do.  Happy birthday, Eva! I promise I'll find the real card eventually ... 

Lovely photo by the lovely Leslie Adams

Monday, April 6, 2015

#npm15: Ogden Nash

Happy Monday! To start the week off, I'm going to sneak in two short poems by one fascinating poet, Ogden Nash. The first is an example of the humorous poetry often associated with Nash:

A Word to Husbands
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; 
Whenever you’re right, shut up. 

The second contains a closing line that has stayed with me over the years, a line I reflexively remember whenever someone says, Well, he had a good long life ... 

Old Men
People expect old men to die, 
They do not really mourn old men. 
Old men are different. People look 
At them with eyes that wonder when… 
People watch with unshocked eyes; 
But the old men know when an old man dies.

Friday, April 3, 2015

#npm15: Pablo Neruda

Thanks to all the CI readers who suggested poems for inclusion in our National Poetry Month celebration! First up, my buddy Karol and her buddy Jessica, who both suggested poems by Pablo Neruda.

Karol's choice? Tonight I Can Write (The Saddest Lines). And Jessica pointed us toward:

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,   
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:   
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,   
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries   
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,   
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose   
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,   
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,   
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,   
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
Pablo Neruda, “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII” from The  Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, edited by Mark Eisner. Copyright © 2004 City Lights Books.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#npm15: Dorothy Parker

What can I say about Dorothy Parker? I've loved her poetry, short stories and reviews since I was a teenager. She hung out with the guys. She defined wit. She defied expectations.

Bottom poetic line? She makes me laugh:

If I don't drive around the park,
I'm pretty sure to make my mark.
If I'm in bed each night by ten,
I may get back my looks again.
If I abstain from fun and such,
I'll probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

#npm15: Cascando by Samuel Beckett

National Poetry Month is here! Whoo hoo!!! As promised, I intend to post a poem every day this month, including the ones you suggested. Thanks so much to all of you who sent poems my way.

I'm going to start the celebration with a long-time favorite. Some poems leave a mark. I first read Cascando by Samuel Beckett when I was in college. Not long after, my grandmother died. Maybe that's why the phrase, "there is a last even of last times" stayed with me. There is a last hug, a last look, a last smile -- and we rarely know when the last of last times will be.

Another plus for this poem? For a writer, it's hard to find a line or word more accurate and descriptive than wordshed.


why not merely the despaired of
occasion of

is it not better abort than be barren

the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives

saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words
terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending
I and all the others that will love you
if they love you

unless they love you

Monday, March 30, 2015

Post 60: My Favorite Daughter

Looking back over a few of my recent posts, I realize I've written more about Kate than about Mary. As a good mom, this makes me twitch -- I try to keep things as balanced as possible with the girls.

Although, as Kate will tell you, Mary is the "chosen" one.

I always laugh when she says that, but I'm going to tell you a secret. This is a deep, dark secret no mother ever reveals. By disclosing this confidence, I permanently surrender any claim to the coveted Mother of the Year award. Ah well. Here goes ...

Mothers do have a favorite child. 

That's right. All those times when you asked your mom if she had a favorite and she responded, Of course not, sweetie! I love both/all of you equally! -- well, she was lying. I'm truly sorry to crush your illusions.

Naturally, this revelation brings us to the obvious question: Is Kate -- my opinionated firstborn -- right? Is Mary -- my sweet baby -- the chosen child? Is Mary my favorite?

The answer reveals the rest of the secret: Yes. And No.

Mothers do, at times, have a favorite child. But the favorite child changes, sometimes within a minute. Mary strides into the kitchen, grabs her favorite wooden spoon and bakes up a batch of the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. Favorite child. Kate looks at me with those eagle eyes that miss nothing. Favorite child. Mary asks me to go get sushi with her. Favorite child. Kate invites me to spend Saturday with her, wandering through antique stores. Favorite child.

All things being equal, love isn't. So, I confess. I do have a favorite child.


P.S. I know of only one mother who doesn't follow this pattern. My mother. Because I am definitely her favorite child. Always. (Harry and Eva, if you disagree, all I can say is: Get your own blog.)

P.P.S. Maturity is way over-rated.

Sidenote for those of you just joining the fun: Post 60 is a digression on the Creative Instigation blog, part of my 60th year celebration. This is post 12 of the 60. Party on!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Fun: Happy Birthday, Kate!

Sunday is Kate's 25th birthday. 25. Isn't that amazing? Over the years, I've probably shared 25 tales about Kate here on the blog ... including the "bird is dead" classic. And there's the shoe story. And let's not forget the downhill racer conversation. 

Today I'm going to tell you something completely different about Kate: She reminds me to take my vitamins. 

She's 25 years old; she has a demanding real estate career; a crazy schedule; dear, fun friends; and a pup that loves attention and long walks. Yet, in the midst of all that, she thinks about me and my vitamins. 

Kate, at 25, is one of the finest people on the planet. And it's an honor to be her mom. 

Happy birthday, baby! Here's to the best year ever!
And, yes. I took my vitamins. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Post 60: It Could Have Been Us

April 13, 2015, will mark one year since the murders at Village Shalom and the Jewish Community Center in suburban Kansas City.

The writer in me feels obligated to acknowledge the anniversary.

The reporter in me wants to provide accurate information on the tragic deaths of Terri LaManno, William Corporon and Reat Underwood.

The mother in me wants to say, "It could have been us. Thirty minutes earlier, and it could have been us."

On April 13, 2014, my daughter Kate and I both went to visit mom at Village Shalom. It was a Sunday like any other, and that meant bingo at 11 a.m. Since Kate was there to help her grandma, I helped another elderly woman.

I helped Terri LaManno's mom.

A little after noon, Kate and I left her car in the parking lot at Village Shalom -- we both got in my car and drove off for an afternoon of lunch and shopping. About 30 minutes after we left the parking lot, Terri LaManno drove in.

William Corporon and Reat Underwood had already been shot. Terri LaManno was next.

It could have been us. Thirty minutes earlier, and it could have been us.

That's 1,800 seconds -- 1,800 seconds between life and death in the parking lot of my mother's assisted living home, a beautiful facility named for peace.

As soon as we heard the news of the shootings, Kate and I drove back to Village Shalom. Naturally, the police wouldn't let us back into the parking lot, so I drove away -- knowing only that a woman had been killed. I wasn't sure if mom was OK. I drove for a few blocks and then pulled over and parked -- unknowingly, right around the corner from where the shooter was hiding.

It could have been us.

I can't tell you why three wonderful people were killed that day. I can't tell you why Kate and I are still here. I can only tell you that Mindy Corporon -- who lost her father and son in the shootings -- is absolutely, 100 percent right: We cannot be overcome by evil and we can overcome evil with good. I encourage all the Creative Instigation readers in the Greater KC area to take part in the Seven Days event that culminates in a faith walk on April 13 from the Jewish Community Center to the Church of the Resurrection.

I can also tell you this -- we are all connected. The first call I received after the shooting came from my friend Denise, who works at the Church of the Resurrection. She knew mom lived at Village Shalom and wanted to make sure we were all OK. At the time she called, I didn't know who had been killed. Later, after finally reaching mom, I called Denise back to tell her we were all fine. And she told me about Reat, the dear young man who had been one of her youth volunteers.

Reat Underwood is gone. William Corporon is gone. Terri LaManno is gone. Kate and I -- and you -- are still here. And it is up to us to do all we can to bring peace and understanding forward.

Because we are all connected. And it could have been any of us.

Post 60 is a digression on the Creative Instigation blog, part of my 60th year celebration. This is post 11 of the 60. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Post 60: Lost

Yesterday's post reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago and recently edited. It's a visual poem -- the list and last line form the letter "L" for lost. I mention this because it matters, and I'm not sure it will be apparent in a blog post.


And the stillborn we chose not to name.


And, on a completely different note, yesterday's post also reminds me of another poem I wrote, one that I think Mrs. Dougherty would have enjoyed:


I told him
he was a
good for nothing
son of a bitch
and I meant
every word but
every word was a lie.
His mother was really
a lovely person
and he was very good
at some things.
Very good,
if you know what I mean.
And you know what I mean
because we’ve all been there.
We’ve all been in love
with a good for nothing
son of a bitch
and the horse
that he rode in on.

Sidenote for those of you just joining the fun: Post 60 is a digression on the Creative Instigation blog, part of my 60th year celebration. This is post 10 of the 60. Party on!