The Butterfly Girl

9-24-2021

          Sometimes, if we are lucky, we get what we ask for. Not always. We can’t count on it happening every time, but if we are persistent, it just might happen. Today it happened to me. There is a place I often go so that I might walk and sit in quiet peace. It lies next to a river that is perpetually dry. On rare occasion one might see a coyote walking the dry riverbed in search of a mouse or rabbit to feed upon, or the glorious visual feast of sacred datura in full bloom.  I saw the white blossoms of the datura, the flash of the coyote avoided me this day.

          The park is a monument to a child who was killed in a mass shooting here in Tucson on January 8, 2011. Christina-Taylor Green was nine years old on that day. She, along with five others were killed and twelve others were wounded. The park is a beautiful tribute to this brown-eyed child. It is said she brought sunshine with her wherever she went, and Christina loved butterflies.

          I took my cup of tea, my notebook, and I walked along the edge of the riverbed. As I strolled, I kept thinking I wanted to write something about the amazing child that was and that is Christina. I turned over ideas, but nothing seemed to work. After I completed my walk, I sat on a bench in the park, and tried to come to a decision about what to write. It was early, maybe six a.m., unusually cool with the western sky slightly dimmed by gray clouds. I glanced up and the picture below was what I saw. I am not a religious man, yet I believe there must be something guiding this vast everything. I cannot put it into words that do any justice to what it is. I must leave that to those much wiser than me.

          Perhaps it was mere coincidence, perhaps it meant nothing more than an ordinary moment that occurs in nature. Yet, I was given a gift, a chance to see it, and I am grateful for that.

          I came home, and I wrote this poem. It is not finished to my satisfaction, but the words are what I have now, and I wanted to share them.

                  I dream of a child

I know little about life

    Being so young, I know only of

        Butterflies

I wish I was a butterfly

    Maybe I shall be someday

         Do you like butterflies?

Oh yes, very much

    My answer seemed small

    She knew my hesitation

    Smiling, she took my hand

Let me show you my magical place

    We must be quiet and happy

        If we are lucky, we will see them       

   We walked peacefully, silently

   Her child’s face grew serious

Do you know if there is a heaven?

    Not wanting to disappoint, I answered, 

I hope there is

She laughed, brown eyes ablaze

I know there is. You want to know how?

    Yes, tell me

Because that’s where butterflies go

    They rise into the sky

        Blue, red, green, and yellow 

And they are happy forever

    I want to be where the butterflies are

        When I go to heaven

But I know little about life

    Being so young

        I know only of butterflies

          In my seventy-three years, only one other time has something so overwhelming and so unexplainable happened to me. Perhaps that story will be told another day. This morning I sat and cried as I’ve often done in that park. Today there was my sadness, but there was also joy. I felt joy for the life of a child I never met. A child that in nine short years knew far more than I’ve learned in over seven decades. Christina-Taylor Green, a girl who loved butterflies.

Go well, David.

Take Risks

9-9-2021

          Writing can be bliss and it can be lugging a bag of cement across the Sonoran Desert in August. For me, most of the time it fits somewhere between the two. Maybe it tends to lean a bit more towards bliss. There is often that moment when I sit down with all the good intentions in the world of putting tons of brilliantly written sentences on the computer screen. I walk away, and my inner Faulkner feels more like my inner Pee Wee Herman. My little demon critic whispers into my ears, “Well, that was fun. Any particular reason you picked today to use every adverb and adjective you’ve been told a thousand times not to use?” But sometimes it feels RIGHT! I keep writing.

          I have some great writing friends. Maybe they are not great writers, but they are damn good. They pour their hearts and souls into their work, and they turn out some excellent work. One of them sent out an e-mail today saying she’s sent her manuscript to the book formatter and cover designer. My friends and I have watched her struggle, write and perfect her to-be book for the past year and a half. It is going to be very good, and I can hardly wait to hold and read it.

I had coffee with another writing friend recently, and I heard and saw the angst and effort he puts into his work every time he sits down to write. And it’s going to be good too. The story in his head is magical.

          Writing is a solitary endeavor, but how great it is when you have good honest friends to share it with, friends to pull and push you along, and then freely cheer when you have even a small success. That is to me the real joy of close friendships.

          The following words are those of Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite authors. These words were spoken in his acceptance speech delivered to the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

“The glory of the world is transitory, and we should not measure our lives by it, but by the choice we make to follow our Personal Legend, to believe in our utopias and to fight for our dreams. We are the protagonists of our own lives, and it is often the anonymous heroes who leave the deepest mark.”

          These words have resonance with me. No matter why you write, why you run, work, or why you dream of and work for your utopia, it is transitory and yet – It Has Meaning. Even if only to you. No matter how small or how large our dreams, they will never come to fruition if we are unwilling to fight for them. And who knows, you, or me, or anyone may end up leaving the deepest mark.

          The critique group in which I belong recently, as a diversion from what we generally do, decided to write a critique of Ernest Hemingway’s – Hills Like White Elephants. The short story was written in 1927. To make a short story even shorter, none of us was very impressed. One of the group members later wrote a satirical version of the story that was far better and more fun to read. Hemingway was perhaps a bit like Scotch, an acquired taste. Yes, I know, hard to dismiss his success, and hard to forget how his life ended.

The best writing leaves some lasting impact on the reader. You may like it, hate it, want to forget it, or forever remember it, but it needs to leave some effect on you. Here is a short poem that demonstrates that sentiment. It shows it like few others.

It was written by the Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, born in 1903 and died in 1946. The poem is called Incident.

Once Riding in old Baltimore,

Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,

I saw a Baltimorean

Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,

And he was no whit bigger,

And so I smiled, but he poked out

His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore

From May until December.

Of all the things that happened there

That’s all that I remember.

If that poem does not evoke something deep inside you, perhaps you need to see a doctor. It is not my place to tell anyone what they should feel, but I risk saying that we, as a species, must feel something about writing that precise, that powerful, and that beautiful.

For those of you who are writers, trust yourself and write. For those of you who do other things, do them with enthusiasm. Another quote I saw recently, No Guts, No Story. That same sentiment applies to many things. Take risks, it’s scary and yet far more fun than playing Tic-tac-toe or being satisfied with “good enough.”

I wish you the best success. Go well. David.

Rambling Thoughts (Read at your own risk)

8-25-21

          This post is not about books, writing or anything that I usually write here. And forgive me, but I think I needed to put these words on paper for myself.

          For more than thirty-five years, my career was that of a social worker, therapist, and administrator. During the time I was working as a therapist, I used one particular analogy often. When I was seeing someone who was under a lot of stress, I would say something like this to them. “Imagine you are one of the old school pressure cookers your mom or grandmother used. It had water in it, the lid locked down to the base and it had one of those little doohickeys, (technical term) on the top. When on the stove, the steam built up and the little apparatus on top slowly let out steam so the pot would not explode.” It was at that point some clients were ready to get up and leave my office muttering that I needed therapy. Then I would finish. “Imagine your body is that pressure cooker. When stress builds, and builds (i.e. steam) and you don’t let some of it go, one of at least two things are going to happen. You will get sick, or you will explode, most likely from anger. Therefore, you need to be aware of what’s happening and make sure you are letting some of the stress escape.”

          Now we flash forward to 2020 and 2021. You remember that time when none of us had any stress, the world was running along smoothly, we were all happy as the proverbial clam, and everyone was saying ‘let’s hope this time never ends.’ OK, not funny. The world was introduced to COVID, and we became terrified. Hurricanes, giant fires, floods, and everything except Santa Claus was telling us the world climate was going to hell in a hand basket. Let’s not forget another civil war in our country was close to erupting due to our political divide, and remember we passed 20 years in a war that not one in every 500 people could say why we were still marching on, marching on. The blame game has become our national pastime. I believe there is more than enough blame to share.

          So I ask how you came through that, or better still, how are you coming through it. Because nothing has really changed, except the names and the dates on the calendar.

Stay with me a few more minutes. Maybe we can think of something a little more positive.

          There is a small bright spot if you live in Tucson, Arizona like I do. We recently received more rain in the past three weeks than we had in the past 18 months. No, global climate change has not been reversed, but those of us who’ve seen our green (yes there is green in AZ., not like Colorado, but there is green) become dirt brown, lasting for months are stopping to appreciate the change. We can actually see green on the distant mountains. Tic, tic, tic, a little steam escapes on early morning walks.

          Last night in Japan the opening ceremony for the Paralympics was aired on TV. Having watched the Olympic Games last month, I was awed by the athletic ability of those participating and by the pageantry of the opening ceremonies. What I watched last night was far more moving. Hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes have again gathered to compete. Each has some form of disability. Each athlete having trained for years to compete in these games. Observers were told that 15% of the world’s population have a disability. The opening ceremonies were a wonderland of sights, sounds and bravery. One could not watch the pride, beauty and determination of the men and women who will compete without shedding tears. It was magnificent. I can hardly wait to watch the competition. And it really doesn’t matter which individual wins or which country takes home the most medals.

          I too could not watch without feeling an incredible humbleness in recalling all the minor things I complain about daily – not enough ice in my tea, my pillow too soft, I had to wait nearly 45 seconds at a traffic light.

          Only a single thought about the current events in Afghanistan. Compassion cost you, me, and everyone nothing. Be as political as you want, pick the party you like, but be compassionate. It’s FREE! Tic, tic, tic, a little more stress is released.

          Today, by some lucky happenstance, Suzanne and I saw a beautiful and uplifting movie. CODA (Child Of Deaf Adults). It was a beautifully made, acted, sung, written, and filmed movie. It was told in an honest manner that didn’t shy away from everything good and bad that can come to a family. I cried throughout the film, not from sadness, but from the beauty and joy on the screen. It is an unflinching story about life. Tic, tic, tic,  more pressure, stress released.

          After the movie we had lunch at a Turkish restaurant (Istanbul) here in Tucson. Our waiter, a young member of the owner’s family was as polite, friendly, and helpful as a person can be. The food was delicious, and the beer was cold. We finished our meal when the young man brought us each small glasses of Turkish tea. We left full and smiling. Tic, tic, tic, more steam released.

          So what does all this mean? Our personal problems and the world’s problems are not going to go away today, maybe not tomorrow, perhaps never. It has been 50 years since I was sent to war in Vietnam. A disaster in which we as a country apparently learned little or nothing. We are now trying to extract ourselves from our most recent 20-year disaster. What will we learn from it?  Let’s hope, work, and vote so that this country does not again become entangled in another senseless war. We have a responsibility to our kids and grandchildren. We have a responsibility to ourselves.

          For me, I’m going to try and keep the steam, the stress, the anger, and the blame at a minimum. I’m going to try and remember the bravery and determination of the athletes who are in Japan now. A ballpoint pen running out of ink, isn’t the end of my world. I’m going to try and remember that. I’m going to try and remember with gratitude that I’m not blind or deaf. I’m going to try and be grateful that all of my limbs are intact and that I have, for some unknown reason, been allowed to live a ‘normal’ life. But I know that no one’s life is normal, it is just our life. Everyone has stress, sadness, pain. The one life we are given is all we have, and we can either open our eyes, look around and be grateful, or we can allow the steam to build until we get sick or explode.

My highest thoughts go out to all. Go well.   David.

I Wish

8-21-21

As my friend Wes let me know, I wrote in my last blog that Eleonor Oliphant may not have been the best book I’ve ever written, but it’s without question the most entertaining. That statement has been corrected to the best book I’ve ever read. But oh how I wish it had been true and that I had written it.

Mish-Mash of writing & reading thoughts

Critique Group

          Every two weeks, four friends and I meet to discuss, critique, and support each other’s writing efforts. The most important word in that previous sentence is friends. Rarely does a meeting pass without someone expressing with enthusiasm how much our meetings mean to them. Without question, that zeal echoes my sentiments. It is one of the highlights of my life.

          We laugh, tell stories, interrupt each other, applaud the efforts of our small club, and eventually get around to offering ideas and suggestions for writing improvement. An obvious but important element of these meetings is the trust we share. We take our writing seriously and I believe we adhere to a standard that urges us to do our best. Although the suggestions are always given in a respectful manner, we do not hold back in offering ideas that will push us forward. I personally would have it no other way. It is a fine balance between criticism and encouragement, we’ve found that balance.

          I would without hesitation suggest that anyone interested in becoming a better writer, find comrades that are willing to assist and be assisted and are willing to critique and be critiqued. I have watched each of my friends become wonderful writers as we have moved along the long and slow learning curve. I know my writing is better as a result of our group. Trust takes time to build, there is no question about that. but the effort is worth every minute getting to that destination.

          I owe a world of gratitude to Karen, Deb, Devi, and Brad. -THANK YOU!

A Writing Consideration

          I’m in the process of reading The Best American Short Stories – 1996

          Being interested in writing better short stories, I find if I actively read the work of others, I inevitably learn something that will help me. The second story in the book mentioned above is called Firesby Rick Bass. What I quickly found helpful about this story was his ability to show and demonstrate specific details in his writing. That detail is explicitly about color. I think sometimes we are hesitant to repeat words or a theme in a short piece of writing, yet Bass has shown this can be done with great skill. Here is the second paragraph of the story. Note his use of certain colors.

          The snowline has moved up out of the valley by April, up into the woods, and even on up above the woods, disappearing, except for the smallest remote oval patches of it, and white as to the gardens’ fresh berries and green growing grasses; but you can see the rabbits coming a mile away, coming after your berries – hopping through the green and gold sun-filled woods, as white and pure as Persian cats, hopping over brown log, coming down from the centuries-old game trails of black earth.

          The author names specific colors in this sentence 8 times. Did you notice I said this sentence? Because it is only one sentence. There are over 100 words in this one sentence. That is an accomplishment that would impress Faulkner, and one that most of us have been told not to try. There are few of us mortals who can write a coherent and correctly punctuated sentence of so many words. There are other things to notice in this paragraph. Look at the repetition of words coming (3),up (3) the use of commas (11) and (1) semi-colon. Look at the alliteration – green growing grasses, a metaphor – white and pure as Persian cats.

          While you may or may not like this paragraph of one long sentence, I think we can agree that there is a clear demonstration of skill used in writing it.

          Aspiring writers are also told repeatedly they must read a great deal in order to be a good writer. I believe there is merit in those words, still I would add that you have to be an active reader in order to gain the most from this activity. Glossing over a hundred pages might be entertaining, but unless you’re paying attention to how the piece is written, what skills are being used, what means the author uses to make the story interesting, to move the story along, it is just that, an entertaining use of time. I certainly claim no expertise in reading actively or how to incorporate that reading into my writing, but slowly and with effort, I am learning.

          As Francisco Cantu wrote on a book I purchased from him, “Read without borders” I think that applies to what I just said. Read widely, actively, and without borders.

Louie’s Book Bark

I would be remiss if I didn’t urge everyone to read Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman. It is a brilliant, funny, moving, and completely entertaining book. As I’ve said to others, “It may not be the best book I’ve ever read, but it is without question the most entertaining.”

Arizona Summer Beauty

Writing for Fun

5-19-2021

It was a dark and stormy night. Not to your taste, how about it wasn’t the best of times and it wasn’t the worst of times. OK, so maybe I better leave that sort of writing to others. My writing friends and I often talk about what works and what doesn’t, and about what’s fun to write and what isn’t. I’ve written and self-published two novels and looking back, I can’t say either was a great deal of fun. Flash fiction has been a new thing to try, but in the end, it hasn’t grabbed my interest. It is in writing  short stories that seem to give me the space to tell a story, to be creative without requiring the time commitment of penning an 80,000-word novel. Commercially, I’m not sure short stories ever get to the top of any best-selling lists. But then again, I’m not getting calls to do NPR or Oprah interviews for my novels.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to write and why. I just finished reading a book that has helped move me along in this process. The book title is First Person Singular by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. He is a novelist who has also published a great deal of short stories. The book I just mentioned was a collection of eight of the most quirky stories I’ve ever read. One was about a monkey that could speak to and understand humans. To add to the story, the primate stole parts of the names of females he found attractive and, made them forget who they were. Yep, it not only sounds quirky (a technical term) but maybe sounds so off beat and bizarre that you might wonder why anyone would like it. But I loved the stories. Murakami is a very skilled writer, but I liked his work mostly because it was so entertaining. The stories were simply fun to read. And as a result, I couldn’t help but think they must have been fun to write. Emphasis on the word FUN.

This last thought leads me to how Murakami’s book has helped me come to some decisions on what I want to write. Confession time. Whenever I’ve turned my nose up a bit and allowed myself to think that I try and write for something more than entertainment, I end up realizing all I’m doing is being snooty and my nose is in the air. I like books with some “moral” element to them and I think consciously or unconsciously I’ve also tried to write with some moral or ethical bent. I realize that far more often than I’d like to believe, it comes off sounding more like an old Bible thumping preacher, who goes on far too long and offers far too many “shoulds” and “should nots.”  What can happen is little fun for the reader and little fun for me as the writer. I have no desire to be a preacher or a moralist. Although it’s often said, “find your own voice,” I believe we all to some extent try and emulate those writers we admire. As my friend Wes says about himself, “I’m no Hemingway,” I can add to the choir that “I’m no Steinbeck.” I do strive to move closer to my voice, although I admit it often sounds more like a rooster with  laryngitis than a rock star.

I’ve also dipped my toe in the water writing poetry. Again the effort of writing something new puts me in a category of a novice writer of poorly written limericks than it does in the category of Langston Hughes, Mary Oliver, or Nikki Giovanni. Still, it is fun and gives me something new to learn. The learning curve is steep, but it’s keeping my brain active. Did you notice I again used the word fun?

Lastly, I’ve come upon the activity of making and reading chapbooks. If you are unfamiliar with them, they are generally only 20-to-40-page booklets that are most often books of poetry or short stories and are often handcrafted or produced by small publishers that specialize in this type of writing or printing. They are inexpensive and date back hundreds of years. Mostly they are fun to write and make. Three funs in a row and they become a winner for me. So now I’m focusing my efforts on improving my short story and poetry writing skills and creating chapbooks. To this point it is a blast.

If you ‘re interested in finding chapbooks, look on the ETSY website and then search for chapbooks. Shameless plug – my two chapbooks, Finding Home and Common Ground can be found there. There are many to locate on Etsy, or you can simply google chapbook publishers to find more.

So now I want to spend a bit of time finishing up a new story I’ve been working on. The Reverend David says you “should” find what brings you pleasure and do that thing. Writing, reading, climbing Mount  Kilimanjaro, or counting ants crawl across your kitchen counter. It really doesn’t matter if you enjoy it. I’m now going to spend some time doing just that. I wish you great luck and success.

Do yourself a favor – read First Person Singular

Denni’s Wise Words

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.”

                                                                                                         Les Brown

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the soul on fire.”

                                                                 Ferdinand Foch

Barbie’s blog and other tidbits

5-5-2021

While driving home from the coffee shop, I listened to a story on NPR. The discussion was about the recent decline and again rise of the Barbie doll. As a seventy plus old man, I gave up playing with dolls many years ago, but the story caught my attention. There was one part of the discussion that made me take notice. In the reshaping (no pun intended) of the Barbie, it was noted that Barbie now writes a blog. She not only writes a blog, but she also has 10,000,000 followers. Yep, 10,000,000 – that’s with seven zeroes. I have xagbugmgfdmbfkl followers of my blog. Am I jealous? Intrigued? Hopeful? Amazed? All the above and more.

To the point of this factoid, it made me stop and once again think about why writers write. As is often stated, fame and fortune await in all would-be author’s dreams. In my novel The Unusual Man, this desire for literary fame and fortune didn’t turn out well for one of the characters.

More modestly, I think many of us write with the hope that others will read our work. It usually does not take long, especially for self-published authors to realize they may not want to order that new Porsche based on expected royalty payments. Still, I believe that any author would be lying if they didn’t get a thrill when reading a review that someone liked their work or identified with a character. As Dr. Hook once sang, there’s no thrill like the thrill you get when you get your picture in the cover of the Rolling Stone. Not the same, but it is a thrill to read – “I really enjoyed your story.”

The human species has been designed or has evolved to create; some of us create by writing. Putting words to paper, revising, editing, adding, reducing, changing, moving and at some point, being satisfied is a thrill. I recently visited with a friend who is an artist. She creates beautiful work on a canvas, some several feet in width and height. When asked about it, she said, “It’s the creation of something beautiful.” She was not bragging, (although she has every right to) she was being honest. I believe most writers wish to fulfill that same goal, to create beauty.

Another part of that discussion was about doing the best we can. Not just showing up but showing up and giving our all. As my good friend Wes says, “”I’m no Hemingway,”  but he is Wes, and he writes well and gives his best effort when he does. I think that’s enough.

I have recently experienced an event of nature that somehow seems to fit into this discussion. A young mama dove giving birth to two hatchlings. She laid the eggs, she sat patiently for nearly two weeks until they hatched and now sits and lets them grow. Soon they will leave their nest, they will make lives of their own. A bit like the human species. But carefully watching this event has moved something inside my soul. Maybe learning, accepting this ‘something,” is the essence of being human. Observing carefully and watching something beautiful and natural take form. It may sound like hyperbole but in some way, it has had a profound effect on my life.

Another event, seemingly no more important recently occurred. I watched a PBS special of the late John Prine in concert. I’ve liked his music for decades, but this brief program conveyed his musical genius in a simple manner. He stood and simply played his songs. I suspect he knew at some level that he was not long for this life. For some unexplained reason I found myself crying. I think, and hope it is in part because I’m taking a bit more time to see what I see, to hear what I hear and to feel what I feel.

So I will continue to go about putting words to paper, watching baby doves hatch and listening to John Prine sing about Muhlenberg County and telling me to Come On Home.

“In nature nothing is perfect, and everything is perfect.” Alice Walker

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu

Louie’s Book Bark  

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano is a wonderfully written novel. A commercial airline crashes and 13-year-old Edward is the only survivor. Napolitano tells a masterful story of his life and his attempt at understanding after the death of his brother and parents while at the same time bringing to life several of the victims of the crash. A worthy book.

Go well, David.

Writing With Joy and Angst

4-18-2021

         Like most writers, there are times when the words come easily. Then, out of the proverbial nowhere, they seem to hide around the corner, mocking my ineptitude. During the past week it has been the second situation in which I find myself. Words in my native language have become as indecipherable as Egyptian hieroglyphics.

         It is in part; I’ve determined because of finding myself in a state of great joy while also being in a state of immense angst.

         This joy comes from my recent observation of a small wonder of nature. Although I risk sounding hyperbolic with my previous words, I find them to be accurate. I am watching daily a wonder of nature. She is a small and young gray dove nested outside my bedroom window. I watched her carefully as she went about with great skill building her nest in a planter box. With expertise she began placing each twig and piece of string until she was satisfied. Now she waits with absolute calm as she sits upon the two-nut sized white eggs that will become her babies. I’ve named this mother to be, Patience. A moniker completely appropriate to this small bird. I watch her small black dot like eyes blink away the time, hour by hour, day by day. If it is possible to put a human emotion to an animal, this small creature has the absolute look of peace and contentment.

         In my awkward attempts to speak about this to others, the same response occurs. The response a single word, “Instinct.” Although I in the most basic sense agree that the word is true, in a deeper way it is far too inadequate to explain what is happening. Who or perhaps What forces allow her to sit without movement for countless hours when her nature is to fly? In my seventy plus years of life, I have never witnessed such patient resolve in any human. I look into her beautiful tiny eyes and see nothing but a calm acceptance of the moment and an understanding of her role.

         I not only have a lack of understanding, but also an inadequacy of words to express my awe.

         And then I leave Patience for a while and turn on my TV. There is little hope or expectation that I will watch something new. And faithful to my prediction, there is little I’ve not before seen. What there is to see, to hear, is another story of death, another story of hatred. Mass shootings and the continued deaths of our brothers and sisters have become our daily diet of Dante’s Hell. The name of George Floyd and Christina Taylor-Green will not leave my mind even long after the newest report has ended. Christina, a beautiful nine-year-old child was gunned down ten years ago in Tucson. She, along with eighteen others, were shot outside a Safeway grocery store. Christina and five others died at the hand of a crazed killer.

         George Floyd was tortured over nine minutes until all life was wrenched from his body nearly a decade later. Perhaps it could be dismissed as two unfortunate incidents had these two episodes been the only senseless deaths in ten years. We all know they were not. There have been so many incidents of wanton murder that we no longer remember where or when they occurred. So many hundreds of deaths that we can no longer count them. And yet the cowards, and yes, they are cowards in elected positions, sit and offer nothing more than hollow prayers for the families of the dead. Empty promises that things will change, that this is not who we are as a country. And yes, it is who we are as a country. The politicians strut away from the slaughter, smug in their words of comfort to mothers, father, brother, sisters, and children of the slain.

         And like trying to unearth adequate words regarding Patience, I cannot find the words to describe my emotions about our national slaughter. Feelings of rage, sorrow, and the fearful knowledge that nothing will ever change. What else can we believe except that this country loves guns more than humans? That this country loves power more than life.

         I turn off the television and return to the window and watch my beautiful little bird. She continues to sit and blink her eyes and I want to ask her, “How?” And I know it is unanswerable question.

         I will continue to write; I will continue to try to find words. When I see a dove flying, I know I shall never see them as I once did. I will see Patience sitting, I will see two tiny white eggs and a mother’s love for what will become. I will also continue to walk in the Christina Taylor-Green Park and weep. As one witness testified in the George Floyd murder trial, she apologizes to George for not saving him. I too feel a need to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Christina. I’m sorry, George. Yet I know those words are not enough.

Go well, David.

Trust Yourself, Trust Good Friends

3-21-2021

I got lucky yesterday, no not in that way, I really got lucky. Jon lives out of state much of the year, and it’s a rare occasion when we have the opportunity to spend a couple of hours talking. Yesterday we met, had a cup of coffee, and chatted. The usual stuff at first, how’s the family, COVID sucks, glad the election is over. Then we got down to what I wanted and needed, our talk about writing. Jon is a poet, not a guy who dabbles in poetry, he is a POET. He is also an open book in sharing his knowledge, his thoughts, and his support. I had a list of questions and he did his best to answer each of them.

          That discussion brings me to three points I want to share in this posting. The first is being a generous writer and friend. During the morning, I’d met on Zoom with the folks in my writing critique group. We routinely meet to share our writing efforts, offer suggestions, help, and support each other. The critical word is support. Critiquing others can take on a negative or frightening connotation, there is nothing negative about our group. There are also no pansies in our little gathering; we tell each other what we honestly feel, what we believe to be good in the writing and what we feel needs improvement. We trust each other and therefore take no offense when we get a poke in the ribs. If a critique group is to be successful, that is how it has to be.

          Later, when Jon and I were meeting, he told me about what he calls the “Sandwich’ method of helping in critiquing someone’s writing efforts. It went something like this – The top of the sandwich is bread, “That’s good, I like how you opened the story, it’s  intriguing.” Then it goes on, the bottom slice of bread – “I like the ending, it is a good surprise, it made me smile.” A person might then add, “The meat of the story is well laid out, it gave me a better understanding of the main character.” Then comes the next part. “I think it might add to the sandwich (story) if you added more detail about how the character was raised.” The point is, a person needs to feel good about what is good in the writing, and needs to listen to ideas that might make the work, or the sandwich, more tasty. Never attacking the writing or the writer, but again constructive help.

          The above might sound common sense, but often it doesn’t work that way for either side. Jon told me when he first started writing, a professor agreed to read some of his work. Jon reluctantly gave five poems to him. A week later he met with the professor. “This is rubbish!” That was the professor’s feedback. My friend said he didn’t pick up a pen to write for five years.  Thankfully he did start writing again, he was the winner of the 2013 Utah State Poetry Society Manuscript Contest. My friend is a talented and knowledgeable poet and when he speaks, I listen.

          My second point to this post is the value of having a strong ego and being willing to not compare yourself to the “Greats.” It could be a mantra, “I am what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.” Wait, I think that’s Popeye’s mantra. Let’s try this, “I can do my best and it’s enough.” Write your own mantra, it might be fun.

          During the last critique group, my friends pointed out something about me and about my writing. The “about me,” issue was they see I spend a lot of time in comparison of my efforts and those of other writers (Steinbeck, Urrea, Woodson etc.). Obviously I always fall short of those men and women. It serves no purpose in making me a better writer and only adds to insecurity in my writing. The second thing which was pointed out to me is the need for me to trust myself and to use my voice, my own words.

I was thinking about that last advice. It is common to hear someone say, find your own voice. In my case, it better not be my singing voice. My dogs come and shut the bathroom door and run into another room when they hear me singing in the shower. Finding our own voices as writers is a different matter. Writing as David never seems as worthy, smart, or skillful as trying to write like John Steinbeck. The real issue is I’m not Steinbeck and trying to imitate him is a pitiful practice. After the conversation with my critiquing friends, I’ve decided I will either write in my voice and try to improve or I will forever be only someone attempting to copy someone else. No one wants a copy of Picasso; they want the real Picasso or nothing. Therefore note to self – Find your own voice or start being honest and say I use my computer to try to copy someone I’m not.

Now to my last point. I recently finished reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. I highly recommend the book for anyone who is a reader or a writer. Near the end of the book, he said something I desperately need to heed. He said, “There is an old tradition in poetry of writing a short stanza at the end of a poem ( an Envoi). A brief summation or conclusion. One said  – “Well little book, you’re not that much but you’re the best I could make you. Now you’ll have to make your way in the world the best you can. Fare thee well.”

Anyone who has ever attempted to write something they hope to have published has struggled with when is enough, enough? No matter how many times you edit, rewrite, edit again, rewrite again, there will always be something else to find, to fix, to improve. I believe there never comes a point where we say, “It is perfect now.” We must find a point when we can say, you’re the best I could make you, now you have to find your own way.” Your retort may sound something like this, “But what if I get it rejected by a prospective publisher because it has an error, or needs a little more work?” I say, if you know it’s the best you could do, then believe that, let it be and start a new project. It will never be perfect.

I wish you nothing but the best success in finding good friends to critique your work, in finding your own voice and in knowing when enough is enough.

Go well, David.

My friend Jon Sebba wrote Yossi, Yasser, & Other Soldiers. It is beautiful and powerful poetry about being a soldier during war. Jon writes from experience and from the heart. It is available only as an e-Book on Amazon. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with Jon.

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” Leo Tolstoy.

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.”  Barbara Kingsolver.

Losing a friend, finding a friend

3-9-2021

On February 25, I posted a blog and wrote about not putting off doing those things we want to do in this life. I repeated something we all realize and all too often disregard. “We never know when our last day on this earth will come.” A few days later I received notice that a dear friend and valued member of the Oro Valley Writers Forum had died of COVID. Helmut’s death came as a shock to all who knew him. He was a talker and always had something to add to any conversation. He was funny, smart, and sometimes a little over-bearing, but also always a kind and generous man. Helmut was a man of deep faith who was never hesitant to share his belief that there was something greater awaiting us after we leave this life. I hope my dear friend was right.

Helmut published his book Nobody’s Coming under the name of HJ Seifert in 2019 and was rightfully proud of his work. It had been what I think, a long-standing item on his bucket list. Something he’d accomplished with some pride. His plans for a second book were set aside in order to assist his elderly parents and to be a husband, father, and grandfather. I feel confident that he would tell us it was a good use of his life. I’d agree.

We will miss Helmut.

While I already miss my friend, I have also taken comfort in considering those gifts that others bring to us. Another writing friend loaned me a book that has brought great joy. A new friend in my life. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a force to be reckoned with. 349 pages of beautiful, approachable, honest, and beautiful verse. The reader is taken on a wonderful journey of a young African American girl caught between two lives. One in the deep South, the other Brooklyn, New York. Woodson who was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate has won more literary honors than would fit in a museum.

You could do far worse than spending some time on a warm Spring afternoon getting to know this remarkable woman.

I have a bookmark that contains a simple message – “So many books, so little time.” I am grateful that I have met some of the greatest humans that have ever lived. John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, Barbara Kingsolver, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, and the list could go on forever. What I wouldn’t give to buy them a beer or a cup of tea and try to express my gratitude for the gifts they have given me. I may not have heard their spoken voice, but the voices I have heard in their writing are clear and beautiful.

Many years ago I had an acquaintance who told me something like this, “Reading kills brain cells, so I don’t read.” The man was serious, and I believe faithfully followed his belief. He did offer that there was one exception, he’d occasionally read hunting and fishing magazines. I guess there are some things that are worth losing a few IQ points.  I suspect it is with some hyperbole that I say I can’t imagine life without reading. I would manage, I would find other things to fill my time, but my life would be far less enjoyable and far less full.

Writing and reading are for me a great joy. I fumble with words when I write, I hesitate in my effort to put together a sentence, but in the end, I always find fun and reward in those efforts. I firmly believe that everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes that story is told verbally, sometimes it is told in the written word, and sometimes it is kept silent. It is in this silence that the tragedy occurs. I hope everyone finds their story and lets the people of this world share in it. They deserve to hear it, and you deserve to tell it.

Now I’m off to buy another book. I wish my friend Helmut peace and I wish you good reading. Be kind and go well, David.

“Even the silence has a story to tell you. Just listen. Listen.”

                                         Jacqueline Woodson.

“Time comes to us softly, slowly. It sits beside us for a while. Then, long before

we are ready, it moves on.”  Jacqueline Woodson.