SUBTLE AS A SLEDGEHAMMER

This morning, I was talking to a dear friend who said that while he loved the story I told at Urban Storytellers, I was "subtle as a sledgehammer." That was a really scary thing to hear, but I later decided that this is going to be my new motto. Jamie Subtle-as-a-Sledgehammer Shanahan has a nice ring to it, after all. Subtle as a Sledgehammer also nicely describes recent events and mood on social media, and otherwise (that thing formerly known as real life.) Trump could also be described as Subtle as a Sledgehammer. He sure sledge-hammered the crap out of me. I didn't realize so many people were struggling that hard and I feel like a blind idiot.

Before you think I'm some entitled schmuck, I'm not saying I've had it easy- I can compare making a living to pulling a rabbit out of my ass for my entire working life. I graduated with an English Literature degree during the great Recession, which basically means I'm a really good waitress with a ton of student loan debt. I've done everything from ski-instructing to childcare, dishwashing to cleaning motel rooms. I've worked for non-profits for nearly ten years in every capacity imaginable. Yes, I realize I should have majored in something that would have made me more money, but do you remember what it was like in 2001? We all believed that college was the best investment you could make. I thought I'd be a teacher. But now, there is no way I'm going into any more debt to enter the teaching profession. This is a whole 'nother blog post, but after working in school systems throughout the State of Oregon I don't believe teachers are treated well or properly compensated. My Uncle, who ironically gave me my first job, and my second, emailed me recently and said, "I just realized you're too young to remember what it is like to have a prosperous nation, what it is like when everyone has a chance at a good paying job and you have many career choices." These are wise words, the kind that make me re-think everything I know. 

Today, a friend was talking about the holidays, already feeling the blues of not having family around, of going through another Christmas alone. She also questioned why the idea of Christmas alone made her feel so bad, when her family drove her nuts anyway? She said, "You know when all of a sudden you're with your family and you don't feel like yourself anymore and you're just your father's daughter, or your sister's sister?" I feel like this right now about this country. Like I'm just my country's citizen. My fellow citizens made this decision, electoral system aside, this happened because other Americans wanted it. 

Excluding the actual nut-jobs who voted out of hate,I don't think that it's very likely that that many people are actually crazy or evil. By calling them crazy or saying that every Trump supporter is an extremest, we are in fact normalizing this type of hate and stigmatizing mental illness by associating it automatically with a vote that we feel morally offended by. I think that a lot of Trump voters felt forced to overlook their morals out of desperation for change. We have to think of them as citizens just like us who made a really tough call- some of them even Bernie supporters who flipped to Trump because they were that unhappy with the way things are going for them in this country. In our country. Again, electoral system aside, I don't think that what many Americans said last night is that they stand behind hate. I just can't believe that. I think what many Americans basically said last night was that the Democratic Party is fired.

My hope is that this is some kind of moral rock bottom that we needed to hit as a nation to make real change, and by moral rock bottom I mean a world where people believed that they had to elect someone like Trump just to get rid of what they view as incompetence. I hope that instead of the sociopath many of us fear him to be, Mr. Trump makes good on a couple of his unclear and murky promises. I hope he gets a therapist and develops an allergy to spray tans. I'm not building a bunker yet, because the best measure for good health is the hope for good health. I'm holding hope, and I'm holding out against the idea that I am seeing all over social media right now- that I'm better than other people because of my vote. And I hope the media figures out how to report a less-biased reality, because what I don't understand the most is how we were all so surprised. Maybe it's because we "unfriend" everyone who doesn't share our beliefs. Once someone told me there are beings on this earth that are put here to look after us, and they are each other. Maybe we have to start listening to each other and watching out for not just people who we agree with, but for everyone. 

 

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A BOWL OF APPLES

    

 

 

There is something about a bowl full of apples that makes me feel like everything is going to be alright. Here's a bowl full of apples at my house. Isn't it beautiful?

I had to wake Dan up in the middle of the night on Wednesday, my entire face, throat, and even my teeth were in the type of pain that you have to concentrate on, that makes you wriggle around, that you have to breath through. I'd had a flu for about a week and the pain turned out to be from an ear infection. I've had trouble with these in the past, but never had pain that radiated around my whole face. I was so relieved when the Doctor looked in my ear and said, "Oooooo. Yeah. That's bad," that I started crying, humbled. Please, no get well wishes. I am on the mend- send your prayers to someone who needs them more. 

When I studied Zen Haiku with writer and artist Jeb Barton (Here is a link to Jeb's Zenga paintings) he said that when you see something beautiful what is really happening in that moment is that you become beauty. Last night, after I finally slept for a little bit for the first time in nearly 48 hours, we put everyone in the car and drove a block to the little park near our house. It was a beautiful fall evening, the sky was orange, the leaves were dusky pinks and reds, and the trees were black silhouettes. I drank the beauty in like a glass of cool water and was nourished.

When I first began studying with Jeb, he told me that Haiku was anti-poetry. It's cutting out the tools that writers most depend on- descriptors, metaphors, and language that tries to "do" something. Haiku is about the moment before a moment. It's when something strikes you and you don't know why, and you examine what's in front of you and try to get back to the source of what struck you. It's trying to get to that pure place where you were struck, before any of your thoughts got in the way and tried to impose meaning and story. It's actually quite difficult to do. (Oh and also, forget the whole 5, 7, 5 thing being a requirement. Apparently it doesn't really translate from Japanese to English.)

I wish I could write a Haiku about the bowlful of apples and figure out why it strikes me and comforts me, but I'll have to let that one percolate. Anyone have any Haikus they've written? Or want to share a moment of beauty that nourished them this week?  

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IKIGAI: A REASON TO GET UP IN THE MORNING

Today, I was going through student writing and one poem in particular struck me as powerful, yet in the piece the student stated "I'm not smart" and "I'm not good at studying." This happens often, students who think of themselves as "not good students" find their voice through poetry. Sometimes they believe me when I tell them that they are powerful writers, sometimes they do not. I've even had students like this actually shut down when I encourage them, like they have lost a bit of trust in me when I disrupt the negative self-talk they have come to believe. More often, these students light up when I share their writing as an example of what I am looking for in student work because their work has seldom been held up as an example. 

Please do not read this as me blaming teachers for these self-confidence issues. The teachers I work in with in schools do everything in their power to help students succeed. Let me just say that again, as I don't think we say this enough: The teachers I work with in schools do everything in their power to help students succeed. They buy their own supplies, work overtime without pay, and educate themselves continually on new and better approaches. They rock and should get paid way more. 

I think it has more to do with standardized testing and curriculum that makes some students believe they aren't "smart." There is so much I want to say to these kiddos, but I know I'm but a tiny voice in a cacophony of voices telling them what they need to do to be successful. Truthfully, I worry about the over-achievers even more than the students that are struggling. I want to tell them to relax, to remain open to life and the opportunities it will bring. I want to tell them not to lock in their identity in high school, as that often brings pain later when they realize life is about more than your typical version of success. The new term for this is "growth mindset," which is basically the belief that intelligence can be developed, versus the belief that intelligence is fixed (a fixed mindset). Kudos to the Oregon elementary schools for incorporating this into curriculum and school goals! I think this is one of the single most important messages we can send to kids- you can always change, you can always improve, your fate is not fixed in the results of one test or even one school year, good or bad. 

I like to show students, especially freshman, this diagram and talk with them about Ikigai, which is a Japanese word that translates as "a reason to get up in the morning." I hope it helps students think about their life as a whole, apart from just their performance in school. I hope it reaches both students who consider themselves smart and those who don't. What is your Ikigai?

 

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KIDS THESE DAYS

Today, as I was talking with a student about her passions, Korean Pop music and representing women as a female (video) gamer, a thought crossed my mind that I’ve had before- kids these days are so awesome. I’m tired of hearing about millennials being too into their phones. Yes, devices do get in the way of class sometimes, but this happens just as often in groups of adults. What the internet has meant for young people is that they have had information at their fingertips for most of their lives. They are better critical thinkers because they have grown up comparing and cross-checking whatever they hear from adults to the information out there in just a few clicks. Students also seem more accepting of differences then they were when I was in school, or even in the past decade since I’ve been teaching. Kids who aren’t into more mainstream activities like sports can become virtual experts in, say, Korean pop music. They can even find other 14 year olds who are also into Korean pop music online and form communities. 

Today, we listened to Sekou Sundiata’s poem “Shout Out.” You can listen to him read the poem below. Doesn’t he have a beautiful, hypnotic voice? Ms. Newton pointed out that “Shout Out” is similar to Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” and I love that comparison. They are both odes to all the different types of people, for Whiteman specifically, different types of people in New York. As my dad always told me, it takes all kinds. 

Students quickly picked up on the concept of celebration and giving “shout outs” to things we appreciate in life and even things we find annoying or peculiar, such as, in Sundiata's poem “people who don’t wait in the car, when you tell them to wait in the car.” I love sharing odes with students, as so many of them come to class with the idea that poetry is depressing. How do you celebrate different types of people? What would you write an ode to? Neruda wrote odes on everything from salt to socks. Sundiata gives shout outs to  small things, “a low-cholesterol pig sandwich smothered in swine without the pork” as well as big things, “promises that break by themselves.”

Here’s to my students, who inspire me to keep putting myself out there. Shout out to my dogs, who take me for a walk every day, even when it rains. Here’s to the internet, for giving anyone who can type a voice and a way to put it out there. Here’s to listening. Here’s to being heard.

Sekou Sundiata was a Grammy-nominated poet whose work blurred the barriers between music, theater and literature

SUNDAY BLUES

I don’t mean the sad kind. I mean the why-can’t-Sundays-be-forever, bittersweet sense of how quickly Sunday evening arrives, then Sunday night, which means that in the morning it will be Monday and we all know about that, there's whole songs written about it. I remember being a kid, when saving all your weekend homework until Sunday night made it infinitely worse.

When Dan and I made a Home Depot run today I saw all the people going about their Sunday business and wondered where they were hurrying off to or home from. It reminds me of a line from a poem I once loved: “many arose whose lives stood for golf.” I wish I could credit the author, but it was from a battered old literary magazine, I don’t even remember which one, that I threw out last year. If it rings a bell for anyone, please let me know.

What you dedicate your Sundays to reflects what your life stands for. Sundays just seem to be weighted more heavily than other days, maybe it’s partly a reflection of how the majority of Americans structure their work week, or maybe it’s because it’s the day when folks who go to church go to church. Even people who don’t go to church have family dinners on Sundays. Heck, even the cast of MTV’s The Jersey Shore had Sunday family dinner, cookin’ up the sawsages and peppas and onions, as Paulie D. would say.

Many did arise whose lives stood for golf, football, or, more increasingly, brunch. You can’t tell me that Sunday brunch isn’t more romantic than Saturday brunch. It just is. For others, Sunday means a family hike or bike ride. Sundays are sacred, no matter how you choose to spend them. What are your Sunday rituals? What does that mean about what your life stands for? These days, Dan and I usually take the dogs somewhere, go out for coffee, and then work on the house. I like puttering Sundays, especially ones that include baths.

More importantly, how do you combat the Sunday Blues once the night rolls around? How do you prepare for the week? If you are like me and work part of the weekend, just think of whatever day you have off, and I hope you have at least one because working 7 days a week just isn’t sustainable. Even God took Sundays off- perhaps he was golfing.

 

Heart Voice

Today, I observed Ms. Gomes' creative writing class that I'll be a guest teacher in for ten sessions this winter through Literary Arts Writers in the Schools program. She and her students saw author Louise Erdrich at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall last night (through Literary Arts Students at the Schnitz program) and they discussed a metaphor Erdrich had used for character development. She compared creating a character to using those old magnetic drawing sets where you used a magnetic pen to create a face. It comes together slowly, each little bit attracting another little bit. If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google Wooly Willy. I am not responsible if something dirty comes up. 

At my Urban Storytellers one-on-one session today I met with storytellers and founders of Portland Story Theater, Lawrence Howard and Lynne Duddy. Portland Story Theater's mission is to build community, promote understanding, and foster radical empathy by giving voice to the real, true stories of ordinary people. Two hours sounded like a long time to meet with just me but they flew by as I talked over my story and I left realizing that I wanted to tell a different story than I had originally planned. Lynne and Lawrence direct Storytelling students to use their heart voice. It may sound cliché, but I could tell a lot of stories out of my head, and they might be funny, shocking or sad, but figuring out what is really true for me at this moment in time seems to be the real work of it, and the only muscle up for the job is the heart. 

I used to craft my spoken word poetry in my head, without writing it down, there are a few pieces that have never been written down, so writing in my head isn't what feels different about storytelling. Its the lack of figurative language that poems can somehow cloak stories in that scares the shit out of me. I think in the best poems there isn't any actual cloaking going on, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. In storytelling, there's not going to be any metaphors and if there are, I know they are not going to act the same as they would in a poem. It's coming together, bit by magnetic bit I'm figuring out what seems to be the most true.

A mantra I like is: "I control nothing. I sit in my truth and act from there." I wrote it on my mirror last winter and often say it to myself, shortening it eventually to "I control no thing." It's like a very short hand version of the Serenity Prayer, just acknowledging that I am not in charge, and that anything I am worrying about that I can't control is pointless. Now, I see that I've been making a  mistake leaving off that last bit: "I sit in my truth and act from there." That's the important bit, or at least the bit you get to put your hands on, the action of the story, the part where you get the chance to be the hero, whatever that means. Sometimes the hero is also the fool, more on that later. 

I trust my story will take shape in its entirety in the next couple of days, and I'm letting go of trying to force it or shape it. Don't forget to get your tickets if you want to come! They usually sell out- link below. And check out all the other amazing readings and workshops that Wordstock will offer Nov 4-6. 

LInks:

 Literary Arts 

Portland Story Theater

The World is All That is the Case

Today I’m a bit down. I’d rather not label it sad or mad, so let’s just say I’m a grump. My nose is out of joint, my knickers are in a bunch, I got up on the wrong side of the bed. It doesn’t really matter why, and it’s not one thing or another. It’s a combination of things, it’s everything and nothing all all.

“The world is all that is the case," a friend used to say to me. Wolf, if you are reading this, hello, and tell me how I screwed up what I am about to say next, just like in the good old days when we used to wax philosophic at the coffee shop. (I'm nothing if not sentimental.) I take that to mean that no matter what is going on and no matter how you feel the world is as it should be. That's my (sentimental) take on it. Wittgenstein suggests that philosophy is a bunch of made-up problems and made-up answers, and that trying to understand the world through these terms is a bunch of bullshit. I think that is true because I rarely encounter a human problem that there is just one answer to.

One of my favorite poems is "Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat" by Robert Bly. He says "We are admired in a thousand galaxies for our grief." I love the idea that our grief reflects how great our capacity for love is. I love the idea that it is what makes us unique as humans, this capacity for love and, inevitably, for grief. I personally think that includes other species too, but again, I'm sentimental. He also says, "don't expect us to appreciate creation or avoid mistakes." Bly speaks to the grump in us, the stubborn ego that resents being born and fumbles along, making the same same mistakes over and over.

Another of my favorites, David Whyte, says that "anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you." And then he says it again, because he says everything twice. When he came to Bend he said he often repeats lines when he reads, because people don't really listen the first time. It also has a hypnotic effect, if you ever get the chance to see him don't drive for twenty minutes after. (Kidding, not kidding.) He also said that when he wrote "anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you," he didn't necessarily mean in intimate or family relationships. He said that sometimes, in long-term relationships, you have to keep finding a window back to each other.

I think that the world is as it should be, regardless of how I feel. I think I have control over very little, and I might as well roast a chicken and throw in some of those potatoes. I might as well scrub them clean and rub down the chicken with olive oil and salt. What grief would you be admired for in other galaxies? What or who brings you alive? What is your window back?

 

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100 REJECTIONS A YEAR

It’s not the first time I've heard this but recently, an article from Lit Hub showed up on my feed about how every writer should have a goal of 100 rejections a year. 100 rejection emails- funny to remember how they used to come in the mail, when we used to actually carry our manuscripts down to the Post Office and give them a little kiss before sending them off. If you know what a SASE is you are probably over 30. 

I remember in high school some of the girls started the Wall of Rejection, where we posted all the letters from colleges we didn't get into. The staff discouraged us, but when I taped my letter up from Middlebury I somehow felt better. When the Wall of Rejection grew larger it was a collage of letters representing the blood, sweat and tears we had all put into the college application process. More importantly, it was a visual reminder that we were not alone. And like with submitting writing, we eventually got some acceptances too. 

Today I taught a poetry lesson to a group of Freshmen and they had to use a photo of themselves that they didn't really get to pick out. I pretty much had their teacher ambush them, take the photos, and we did a project around them immediately. Watching them work with photographs of themselves they didn't like all that much was super interesting, sort of like watching them grapple with self-rejection in a 50-minute period. I think what made it work was that we were all in it together, bad fluorescent lighting and all. Though next time I might give them more agency and have them bring in a picture they like, it reminded me so much of the writing process in general. You start with a piece of something, it might not be that great but it’s something, and you figure out what’s strong about it. Maybe it’s one line, maybe it’s one word, and you go from there. It’s a process, it’s imperfect, and once you get out of your own way it’s a lot easier to do. We are the first line of rejection that has to be crossed before we can even begin writing at all. 

In Aurthurian Legend, (Chrétien's Perceval, 1180) the Fisher King is a character that appears in different versions, always as a mortally wounded King who cannot move his legs and is the last in a long line of guardians of the Holy Grail. When Percival, a Knight searching for the Grail, happens upon the Fisher King's castle his arrival is celebrated with a huge feast. An elaborate procession passes through the dining hall containing a candelabrum, a bleeding lance, and a grail. Percival watches the show, eats dinner, and goes to bed. When he wakes up, the castle is in ruin and everyone is gone. Chrétien died before story's completion, but I think his point was that the Holy Grail passed right under Percival's nose, but he failed to ask the important question and it changed the course of reality. 

What if we aimed for 100 rejections a year but not just within our art form? What if we challenged ourselves to go out on a limb, ask for what we want, offer what we have, and be open to all responses? We might get a no, but we also might get a not right now, a wait and see, or even a yes. How can unasked questions change the course of our reality? How can we view rejection as a stepping stone to acceptance? 

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When Does Inspiration Come?

Yesterday, I was at Relish rolling silverware and I felt that certain peace of mind you only get when doing something mundane that your hands have done a thousand times. At the storytelling workshop, Lynne said your story will come to you when you are washing the dishes, because that's when your mind is quiet. As a writer, I have found this to be true, there is only so much work you can do on paper, and then the rest of the story, poem, song or essay will come to you when you are walking to your mailbox or ironing. Especially endings; they love laundry day. 

I find it a bit sad that we don't quiet our minds more intentionally or train ourselves to slip into this state of day dreaming more often. I had a therapist once who challenged me to do nothing else while I ate. Just eat. This felt like torture to me, I prefer to read while eating, and when I reported this difficulty he said, Ah, now I know something about you- you like to multi-task. And it's so true, there is nothing I love more then a good hardcore multi-tasking session. My comfort place is on my couch with a movie playing and surfing my phone or texting friends at the same time, food and drink handy, probably my laptop open too. Lately I've been challenging myself, if I decide to watch a movie, can I just watch the movie?

Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk, scholar and poet, also spoke about dishes, saying that while washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes. This week I am going to work on this. I'll leave my headphones off when I walk the dogs, maybe I'll even try driving without my podcasts on. Maybe an ending to a story or a start of a poem will come to me quietly, sneaking in only when I stop thinking about it, while I am folding a sheet, warm from the dryer, matching its corners and creasing its edges. 

When I was at Smith I took a drawing class and though I wasn't very good, I fell in love with the concentration it takes to draw. Contrary to what I thought, drawing isn't about looking at the drawing, its about looking at the object you are drawing. You can lose yourself completely in this way of looking, you start to see that there are more colors then you previously believed. The sunlight on the flower is not yellow, it is yellow and white and red and orange and pink and purple-tinged. Its shadow is green. But its not just green...... you get the point. I asked another student what kind of music he listened to when drawing and he said he didn't like to listen to music while drawing because he was a musician and he wanted to leave space in his head for his own music to come in. 

I had another friend that told me the best way to learn how to sing, to really sing, is to drive your car really far out into the desert and learn first how to scream as loud as you can, as if no one would ever hear you. If you decide to try this, please do not hurt your throat. Find a non-harmful scream and go from there. See how free you can get. See how much space you can make for yourself in the world with your own sound. Its about giving your voice permission to be whatever it wants. Many people have not done this since they were a kid, or have never done it at all. Some have only done it in anger or fear. 

When do your stories come to you? How do you leave space for them to come in and through what door? How do you give your voice permission to be whatever it wants? 

 

The Edge of A Typhoon

My words from yesterday about Typhoon Songda feel foolish now, it sounded poetic at the time but this morning two tornados hit the Tillamook coast. Videos show a monstrous black form sweeping across the face of the water, blue lightning at its base. There is massive damage and a state of emergency has been declared. Let's all send any support we can to those who have been hit and stayed tuned.....there's still news breaking about the extent of the damage. 

As soon as we got the first sun break here in town the dogs and I walked to the park. As usual, someone asked me if I'm a professional dog-walker or if those are all my dogs and I give my usual response, saying I'm just a crazy person. He replies that's a lot of dog food. I'm relieved that the dogs are pretending, for the moment, to be well-behaved and walk perfectly on their leashes, Potato's white tail bouncing in a curlicue over her back. I wonder if he thinks he's the first person who's made that joke to Dan and me. 

I had my first session with Portland Story Theater last night in preparation for the Urban Tellers Wordstock Edition. I will be telling a ten-minute story along with five other women. Get your ticket now to see me make myself all vulnerable and stuff- the last one sold out. 

Trying to decide what story to tell is much different than writing poetry. Even though some of my work is quite confessional, it's somehow not as personal as telling a true story about your life in front of an audience. They recommended that we tell the story we most need to hear, the story that will empower us in our lives right now. They said to ask yourself what story you hold in your heart that gives you courage to get up everyday.

If I'm honest the stories that seem most empowering to me personally right now also contain some pretty ugly bits. How do you tell those stories from a place of love, so that actual empowerment occurs? Empowerment is a word we throw around a lot, so much that it has lost meaning. To be empowered means to give power to. How do you give power to yourself while also making sure you don't take other's power away? This is important to me. 

This morning on my walk I realized this is actually a non-problem that requires not-doing. I find this with most things I make into problems in my head. The solution is simple, but difficult to do. You just make the story about you. Other people are in your story, but you don't say anything that's not yours to say. My dad immediately leaps to mind as someone who's really good at this in general in life. I did not inherit that asset. 

So there's just the work of figuring out what's your work to do and what's the work you can leave for others, what words you say and what to leave for others to say, or maybe not to say at all. Some things are just for the ether or some alternate universe. In real life nothing is tied up neatly like a poem. Sometimes you make amends in dreams, or after someone's gone, in your kitchen making a recipe they taught you or brewing coffee at the same time you cook because they taught you how nice those smells mix together.  

Sometimes you're just waiting on the edge of a storm, wishing you hadn't spoken at all. 

 

 

 

 

What is poetry?

The storm system has moved in as promised. I'd like to say that we are at the edges of Typhoon Songda, but that's not until Saturday. Today is just a normal storm. 

I've been thinking about how difficult it is to really define Poetry. Yesterday someone said that they heard once in a workshop that language is poetry, and poems are about lines. That makes some sense to me. Another mentor once told me that poetry is the base of all writing, that everything starts with poetry. 

A poet once told me that all language is unnatural, that its ALWAYS about translation because we are always trying to communicate what is in our consciousness and words just don't really cut it. Hence the need for music, or movement, or ways to stretch language to its fullest capacity- like poetry. This felt closer to the truth to me. I think poetry is a way of noticing, pre-verbal, occurring in those moments when you are present. 

From an evolutionary standpoint, the language centers of our brain were some of the last to develop. Since none of our most basic instincts are in any way connected to spoken or written language, why is it that words can wound us so mortally, sticks and stones and all that? I think its because we are still hardwired for communication, linguistic or not. Even our reptilian brain, our brain stem, reacts with the most ancient of conversations- fight or flight. 

Be gentle with your words to others, but especially to yourself. Think poetic thoughts about yourself as you sashay down the street, down the hall, where ever you might have a chance to boogie. I myself have been known to cut quite a rug from an office chair. You are bewitching, you are a superhero, YOU my friend, are a poem. 

With that in mind here's my favorite definition of poetry from some extremely magical 9th graders in Ms. Work's class at Gresham High, spring 2016.

POETRY IS

Poetry is both the sun on the horizon
and the sunset on the coastline
It’s a person crying out for help
Writing poetry is like walking
it comes naturally
Poetry is a lost thought of your childhood dog
Poetry can take any form it wants
Poetry is the words you forgot to say
your secrets revealed in a beautiful way
Poetry is that moment when you wake up
and want to tell someone your dreams
Poetry is your audible thoughts
when you are tongue-tied
Poetry is the life in the brain
And the spark in the light bulb
Poetry is home
Poetry is the picture
flowing through your mind
Poetry is the kid who is always bullied
but becomes more successful than anyone
It’s the moments where it’s too much
when you’re too happy or too upset
It’s the feelings that can’t stay inside you
Poetry is the song you listen to
that makes everything hurt a little less
Poetry is old shoelaces strapped on to new shoes
because you’re convinced they’re lucky
since you got first place in a battle of the books competition while wearing them
Poetry is the flow of low tide
Poetry is smart people writing down stories that are very vague and don’t rhyme
Poetry is the wind blowing through the windows on a cloudy hot day
a present on your birthday
that you thought no one remembered
Poetry is the color of grass in the summer and the heat of the sun
Poetry is waking up to a road full of snow
Poetry is laying on your back in the snow
After racing your best friend down the hill on sleds
looking up at the falling flakes
Poetry is the rough draft of your music
Where you can enter your own world
And live freely
What you won’t let your body say out loud
Poetry is what is hidden deep down
Poetry is the tunnel to the deepest darkest corners of your mind
It’s what keeps the light from shining so bright it blinds you
It’s the dull light at the end of the tunnel
Poetry is the language of our hearts and our minds
written and not found until searched for
Poetry is the building designed by the architect
all of his thoughts and ideas put into one building
where people can see what he wants them to see
Poetry is a mask covering the face of the monster inside
A fire burning inside your gut
A beautiful light in a dark room
A symbol of you
Poetry is the light from the moon
that never leaves you
An invisible hand
Your touch on the world is poetry
Poetry is everything

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WELCOME

Dear Friends, 

As we sit here at the end of the harvest, poised to enter the dark period, which here in Portland means rain, I am not much compelled to get to the hard work of being a poet. I'd rather make pies- pumpkin, pear-cherry crumb, apple. I'd rather walk the dogs. Potato the puppy is now 7 months old and has begun to ask for walks herself, bringing a leash to your hand and contorting herself into an animal version of the word "please," a white flash wiggling under your hand, urging you outside. 

Someone once told me that poetry is like a bad boyfriend- never calling you back. I know what she meant and I have been thinking of it often. I've been playing the Buffalo drum I made this April, stitching all my hopes for the coming years into its hide. I've organized the office, the whole house really. It seems as though it took me a year to believe this is really my house. Now I go through fits of organization, everything must have a home! Dan retreats to the garage. 

There have been a half-dozen rejections on the chapbook, but I've done some readings from it and felt that the pieces connected. I'm re-writing now. Again. I often wonder how to communicate to my students the sheer vastness of the re-write. Nothing is ever done. Well, nothing is hardly ever done. 

We planted a blueberry, two raspberries, deer ferns and sword ferns on the bank to replace the invasive ivy we have been pulling- that we will be pulling back as long as we live here. It's kind of like writing- it never really ends, keeps growing when you do your best to kill it off. 

I play the ukelele instead of writing. I run the stairs. I take epsom salt baths so salty and stinky with essentials oils I am limp as a rag after, curling up in our bed with the sliding doors open so the breeze can blow on my face while I trap my body heat inside the blanket and snuggle Potato. And I write. When I am uncomfortable and there is nothing else to do I write. Or re-write, or send off my little poems through the darkness of the internet to some unknown editors praying they will like it and pay me nothing to publish it. But at least it will have a life on paper. In hands. 

I'm teaching for Writers in the Schools (http://www.literary-arts.org/) in Parkrose and Madison this fall, and will be participating in Urban Storytellers (http://www.pdxstorytheater.org/) more on these and upcoming projects later. What are you doing this October? How are you preparing for the dark?

J

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