I don't post much over here anymore. You can most easily find me over on Facebook but for those folks who are still reading Livejournal I wanted to let you know that I have launched a line of greeting cards based on my nature photographs. Over 200 photos to choose from and custom-made to order.
I hope you'll come by and browse.
I wrote a letter for the Dear Teen Me website.
It was both harder and then easier than I thought it would be. By the time I was done writing the letter (and staying within the word counts) and then sorting through the photos, I had ideas for at least another dozen letters.
I think it's a great exercise for writers trying to bring up some youthful memories.
You can read the letter here and see some funny old photos of me and my sense of "fashion" too.
(And a reminder that I've moved my blog over to: http://www.susantaylorbrown.com/blog
Post # 1 in the month long series for National Poetry month.
Read an original poem, get a mini poetry lesson, and then write along with me.
Go here to read and vote.
Check out her kickstarter campaign to raise $50K in 30 days
Even small donations can add up and help get this new publisher off the ground.
And yes, I'm backing this wonderful project.
Thanks to all of you who voted and helped me win the first round in the March Madness Poetry tournament. My new poem for the next round is up now. This time it is translucent vs cement.
Please read & vote for your fav and help us get the word out. We'd like to double the votes from the last round. Voting is only open for about a day and a half.
I'd love the chance to continue but I have to win this round. I had the good/unfortunate luck of being seeded 16 which gives me the impossible words. I got nonconfrontational for the first round.
Anyway, they're short, 8 lines or less, and I'm begging for folks to go read, at least my match-up, and vote for the ones they like best.
Of course I hope you'll like mine enough to vote for me. :)
I hope you'll come by and say hello!
And I'm going to set it up so that only friends can comment on it. If you don't have a LiveJournal account, don't worry, I'll be posting the URL for the new blog here and you can follow me over there. This way I can still visit with friends who are just on LiveJournal and I can feel free to rant if I need to.
I was going to turn off comments and then I realized if I did that, all the comments from all the previous years of posts would be hidden and I didn't want to do that. I just went to grab some comments I had made in someone else's journal and they had disabled comments and now I can't find them. :(
For this entry, it's still open for the public.
First off, if you view my LJ in its own setting it might look a little wonky as I've been moving web hosts and forgot that I had my LJ graphics hosted on my website. I'll get those straightened up soon.
Second, I'm moving to WordPress, the transition is almost done. I know, I know, another one bites the dust. But I'm moving twice! Once for the writing blog and once for my garden/nature blog. I'll post the info here most likely next week.
Third, to prep for the migration of my old journal entries over to the new blog I'm going through and deleting some posts that were kept to a small private group. I've saved copies of them but I don't want them public if LJ should fall apart and when you import, quite often your private stuff goes public so I just want to remove that chance.
I miss LJ and connecting with all of you around our virtual water cooler, especially those I don't see over on Facebook which seems to be an easier place for me to be of late.
Hope everyone in LJ land is doing well.
The reading was hosted by The Willow Glen Poetry Project which is a terrific group that meets less than ten minutes from my house. I'm so glad I found them. After Dean's reading it was an open mic night and I got to hear a variety of talented poets read their own and a few poetry lovers read poems by other writers.
I decided at nearly the last minute to read too. An original poem that wasn't from my YA novel-in-progress, that wasn't written with my normal kidlit world in mind. These simple facts shouldn't matter but the thing is, they do. They do because I can't remember the last time I had such an adrenalin attack and then adrenalin rush. I speak in front of people all the time with no fear (anymore) but this was a brand-new arena for me where I was a total stranger. No one knew I had been published or not. No one was there because they paid to hear me speak. It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I love it!
This poem had it's genesis back in April of this year when, after taking the month of March off to play, I tried to distill the experience in a poem a day for National Poetry Month. The original poem appeared here. The new and much revised version is below.
Proof of Life
by Susan Taylor Brown
I find it hard to take anything on faith alone.
I want proof, facts to nourish the idea that mindfulness
is worth the time it takes away
from doing nothing.
Easier to cave in to echoes from the past,
nodding as they aim ink-stained arrows
at my list of undone dreams.
I think I'm finally (okay, just beginning) to understand.
Be here now is not defined
by climbing mountains and vanquishing dragons,
it is a never-ending journey
the me I can never trust
is good enough.
Today I shadow-step the dog on garden patrol,
down the path behind the hedgerow where unwelcome Bermuda grass
creeps under the good-neighbor fence,
along the side yard filled with dogwoods, leaves still clinging
to the almost-red-for-winter branches,
and past the pond where goldfinches gather for their morning bath.
Nose to the ground, she gobbles any bugs that cross her path,
bugs that will make her throw up in the middle of the night,
bugs she will happily eat again the next day.
This is her religion, her testimony to me.
She will keep me safe from all things,
even from myself.
We weave a new path through the overgrown herb garden
until the scent of mint and sage clings to us both
until she has finally sniffed everything that could be sniffed
until she is content to sprawl in a puddle of sun,
trusting I will not stray far.
She knows how brave I’m not.
A lone, but not lonely Ceanothus
hugs the fence, just beyond her shadow.
Industrious honey bees,
plump carpenter bees
and hover bees that look like flies,
all swarm the blue blossoms,
ignoring the now sleeping, snoring dog
ignoring each other
Faith isn’t always found in stained glass cathedrals.
I let go,
let go of unclimbed mountains and dragons still breathing fire,
let go of everything that isn’t here and now,
let hungry, happy bees buzz all around me
and listen to the concert
I almost missed.
© Susan Taylor Brown
All rights reserved.
Jama has the Poetry Friday Round-up at Jama's Alphabet Soup. Please check out all the great postings. And come back next week when I'll share some of the poetry books I'm reading as a panelist for this year's Cybils!
You two have been together a long time. Why? Tell me what attracts you to her. I know a lot of your downs, mostly hers. I don't know any of the highs. You can't hang around in this book as some sort of eye-candy. That's not going to work.
Tell me what she does that really ticks you off. Tell me why she doesn't have any close girlfriends. Tell me if you think the two of you will still be together by the end of this book.
Dear Little Brother of Sister #1,
Tell me your favorite memory you share with your sister. Is she nice to you? Does she help you clean your room or do your homework? Do you ever spy on her?
So far you're acting a lot like a dog in a book, a dog that doesn't really need to be there. If I can yank you out of the story and not notice, well, you're going to be history pretty soon.
Dear Mother of Sister #1,
Do you have a backbone or a heart? I can't figure out which.
Have you told her the truth or nothing but lies?
And that husband you have now, how much does he really know about the real story?
I'm having so much fun.
And I can't figure out if I should do strictly video stuff on YouTube or just audio or a combo of both.
Here's the journey through a recent piece of art I did for a memorial book for a friend who had recently passed.
This was the beginning.
Next phase after many more layers.
And the final version.
I learned a lot through this process.
It was just a little thing to read seven poems about one of the sisters in my novel. Really. Just a little thing. Or was it?
I've been away from writing and sharing and critiquing for a while so the thought of putting myself and my words out there made me feel all quivery in my stomach, just like a brand-new writer. But I printed out some pages and put them in the car before I could give myself a chance to change my mind. After all, I didn't have to read them if I didn't want to.
At my goal's group we go around the room and share the progress we've made in our creative life over the last week and talk about our plans for the coming week.I listened to a couple of friends, one beating herself up for not getting things done and another who regularly sets and achieves her goals. And then it was my turn.
The last few months while I've been getting physically healthy I've been doing a lot of thinking, trying to let go of excess emotional baggage (okay, all emotional baggage is excess and needs to be dumped.) I've spent many years measuring my writing worth against too many of the wrong things --- Whether I write like someone else or as often as someone else. Whether I sell to a certain publisher or make a certain amount of money. Whether I get mentioned some place or not. Whether my reviews are good or bad or whether my books are even reviewed.
Like I said, all the wrong measurements.
Because for me, my writing worth can't be measured by what someone else does or doesn't do for me or to me.
I needed to remind myself of that. The reason I write may not be the reason anyone else writes and that's okay. I've felt a change in my writing self the last few months. Less need to compare, to feel jealously, to worry that I am somehow not doing it right.
I'm doing it the only way I know how. My way.
Writing has always been my way of making sense of the world. I write to discover who I am and why I think and feel the way I do. I write to explore the implications of choices I have made and to investigate the whys behind those choices. I write because writing defines me.
So today, when it was my turn to share about my week, I picked up a few poems and shared a bit of my WIP with readers who just wanted to hear an interesting story. They laughed at what I thought were the funny places. They gasped when I shocked them. And I could see in their eyes that question that every storyteller hopes to see in their audience, "What happens next?"
The best stories, the ones that stick in our hearts and minds, are the ones that reflect life as it is, not as we wish it were. The ones that bring us up close and personal. Sometimes the significance of a piece of work is not just in the work itself but in the memories each reader, and each writer, brings to it.
This is why I write.
I'm going to try and remember that.
Number one, a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of going to Las Vegas to speak at their SCBWI conference. I had a wonderful time talking about creating characters and met some enthusiastic writers. But if that wasn't enough of an event, the day after the conference I had the pleasure of finally meeting the half-sister I never knew I had.
My lovely niece capture the very first hug.
What do you think, can you see a resemblence?
We spent a wonderful day together talking about similarities and differences and telling family stories. And as I posted on Facebook (forgive me for those of you reading this/seeing pics a second time) there will always be a hole in my heart from not knowing my dad but getting to my sister and some of the rest of the family goes a long way toward filling that up again.
Second, I've been spending a lot of my time and energy on learning how to eat in new ways and man, that takes more time than I realized. It's taken most of my focus just to get into these new habits but now I'm feeling like yes, they are habits. I'm maintaining the healthy course I want to be on and I don't feel at all deprived. I've lost 38 pounds so far and plan on keeping with the program until I am as healthy as I can be and then staying on the program to keep myself that way. And by "program" I don't mean something like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or some diet with a catchy name. I count calories and track it every day. I've cut out sugar and flour except for rare occassions. And that's about it. It really is that simple.
And third, I've been able to focus on my writing again. At last. In the past year I've let go of a ton of emotional baggage that has been weighing me down for years. And then there's the whole getting healthy thing. Not eating the right foods was rotting my brain and affecting my ability to focus. So I'm back to work, hard and fast, on my YA verse novel, coincidentally enough, about a very interesting pair of sisters. I'm sure you'll get to know them a bit better as the character letters start going back and forth again.
I'm a lucky gal. Life is good and I'm smart enough to know it. You know those songs where they say, "I feel like I could fly..." Well it's like that.
Yeah, just like that.
So hello blog, I've missed you.
Poor lonely bubbling rock. Maybe some birds will come to visit soon.
I actually think there might have been more than eight on there at one time but I was so memorized watching them swoop in, race off, and swoop back that I forgot to grab the camera right away.
It was a good day. I expected it would be. It happens in all the residencies I teach in detention facilities - a really bad day gets a few kids in trouble and then the next time I come in they do pretty well. I have four sessions left and the last three, I just found out, will be with a substitute in the class. That makes things really tough. Substitutes usually bring out the worst in them.
One girl got out yesterday so we had a new girl today. Pretty low key though she participated right off the bat. That doesn't usually happen. It's so hard to look at these kids and not know their stories, what brought them to such a place.
The word for the day was TRUST. Here's their group poem:
Feels like an unbreakable bond, like someone catching you when you fall
Trust looks like two lovers holding hands and it sounds like best friends gossiping on the phone.
It smells like incense in church
Trust tastes like leftovers your mom made and tears.
They wrote individual poems about trust and a few of them shared their writing.
We did another group poem, a sort of mad lib.
This is the poem
that goes in the place where you have to stay on your toes
because it runs through our veins
because we said so
and when thugs cry at night
happy, alone, solid,
this is the poem
that runs from the ground up to our soul
Another warm-up we did was envelope poems. I have a stack of envelopes, some have cards in them, some have paper folded up. Some just have a postcard. The envelopes are sealed and they are all different. Different colors, shapes, sizes. Some have stamps. Some don't. Some look like they've been folded in someone's pocket for a long time and some have words written on the outside. The idea was for them to have written a poem that is inside the envelope. Some of them did pretty well with this. Those that didn't, well, I think I need to do a better set-up to invite them to write.
I handed out copies of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's How Do I Love Thee? I tried to get a discussion going about what they thought meant but that fell flat. I ended up just reading them the analysis. Then we brainstormed various ways you could let someone know you loved them without actually saying the words, "I love you." They were slow to get started but eventually filled the board. From there I had them write their love poems that never used the words love.
Again, only a few girls shared.
I handed out a copy of the poem You Learn (which I have attributed to Jorge Luis Borges) and this poem they felt more able and willing to discuss. They liked it a lot, especially the last line, "with every goodbye you learn."
Then they wrote their own versions of what they had learned and they wrote some marvelous poems.Really good stuff.
I read them the last pages of Hugging the Rock which then lead to a discussion about how come writers don't make very much money.
As I gathered up the folders one I asked one girl if she was doing okay because she didn't share anything today and she usually does. She said, "I'm okay. But I don't know what wrong me lately. All of the sudden my poems getting personal and stuck under my skin."
I told her good. That means you're a writer now.
One of the chapters had an exercise about using someone else's title as the jumping off point for a poem of your own. The title I chose to write to was "How to Listen".
Here's my version.
How to Listen
Put down that stinky cigarette,
the one you promised to stop smoking.
Quit fiddling with the piano
and no, you don't need another drink.
You never need another drink.
Pretend if you have to ---
you're at work,
uniform neatly pressed,
just like all those lies you told me.
Eyes straight ahead.
Must. Not. Move.
Look at me, no, really look at me
in the eyes, those windows to my soul
you tried to crush.
I know I'm angry.
I want you to know it too.
I want you to hear what I'm saying
with my entire body.
I may not get this brave again.
Don't look down
or away with that
"you just kicked a puppy" expression on your face.
It doesn't work any more.
Focus on me,
the way you used to focus on me,
before vodka became your lover.
That pause between words
isn't an invitation for you to interrupt and tell me
how the world is against you.
I don't care.
You don't have to listen long.
Just long enough
for me to say goodbye.
© 2011 Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.
The Poetry Friday Roundup is with Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference.
We had a substitute teacher, the same one we had a week ago and that the girls have quite often. They should have been fine but they were rowdy, talkative, up and down all the time. When I came in two girls had already had incident reports filed on them. One more had been yanked out to talk to a counselor and mental health pulled a different girl out every ten minutes for "check-ins" which makes all the girls uncomfortable.
I persevered but I knew right away it wasn't going to be one of their better days.
Several of the girls had pulled prompt cards on Monday so they could write on their own time. I didn't know if anyone would share but three of them did. Long poems. I was pleased and they immediately asked if they could have new prompts for today. (At the end of class 4 girls took 2 prompts each.)
The word of the day was SATISFACTION.
Here's their group poem.
Satisfaction smells like victory.
It tastes like your favorite food, something you just cooked, sweat dripping off your cheeks after you win a softball game.
Satisfaction feels like a ton of weight lifted off your shoulders, a medal hanging around your neck.
It looks like somebody climbing the highest mountain in the world
Satisfaction sounds like windchimes, applause, someone chanting your name over and over again.
We did individual poems on satisfaction but too many of them veered off into inappropriate topics. We tried "I seemed to be, but really I am" poems and we had rounds of "I don't get", "this is dumb" and "I'm done," even though the page was blank.
We tried some "I am" poems.
We tried to talk about Langston Hughes and "a dream deferred".
We brainstormed nouns, adjectives, emotions, and verbs on the board, picked a few out of each column and wrote poems on that.
I handed out prompt cards of unfinished sentences and had them finish the sentence and write a list poem.
Some girls wrote. Some girls popped up and down and asked to sharpen their pencil before every poem.
When I stopped to ask one girl if she needed help she asked me if I thought they were doing good today. I asked her what she thought. She said she didn't think they were having a very good day. She was right.
When I told them there were no treats to hand out today no one argued with me. They knew.
It wasn't the best day but it wasn't the worst. As the substitute they had today said, all we can do is come in with a pure and open heart. The rest is up to them.
|From Poetry Prompt Cards|
|From Poetry Prompt Cards|
|From Poetry Prompt Cards|
|From Poetry Prompt Cards|
I confess, it was hard to gear up the energy to go back there today. Two bad sessions in a row knocked the gumption right out of me. It's not that my other sessions have always gone perfectly. There's always a time you hit the wall but you can still see over it to where you know you're heading. But that last week left me feeling like I was floundering, unable to give them that undefinable something that is a gift from a teacher to a student, a power that I know comes with being able to voice your feelings.
I prepped hard all day Sunday. I had tons of writing prompts and ideas and lyrics to some of their favorite songs and a bag full of full-sized candy bars.
And oh how they surprised me. It's not that they suddenly became devoted fans of poetry. It's that they took chances and engaged with the process of writing.
On Friday several of them had asked for one of my prompt cards so they could write some extra poems on their own time. They shared those before we got started today. Then it was time to do a group warm-up on the board. I loved how they all begged for a chance to pick the word for the day. The word they chose was NORMAL and here's what they came up with.
Normal tastes like oatmeal and water and sometimes like Kool Aid.
It feels dull, boring, like tears or a paper cut 'cause life hurts sometimes.
Normal smells fruity like Mango-Tango and flowers and the air around you. It's like when you walk into your grandmother's house and it smells like food.
Normal sounds like your family talking, your favorite song on the radio, my mom
Normal looks like a boy and a girl in love, a girl and a girl in love, a boy and a boy in love, a drag queen.
Normal looks like the girls in here.
From there they went on to write their own poems on the topic of "normal." One wrote about how normal for her means getting up early to take care of children that aren't hers and making sure her mom has something to eat when she comes down from her high. Another wrote about how normal was being molested by her father. I was so proud of the writing they did even though I had to shove my hands in my pockets to keep from handing out hugs.
We talked about various poetic devices in general and then more specifically as it related to the song lyrics they asked me to bring in. And then they wrote their own poems modeled on the songs. They all participated and before I left, most of them had asked for new prompt cards so they could do even more writing on their own time.
What was different this time from the last two times? I don't know. I was just thrilled for them to have such a good session.
One more thing was different from last week. This time, when I handed out chocolate, they said "thank you."
It's killing me. Not just the work, which is emotionally draining, but it is killing my spirit. My confidence is melting.
We had a new student today and she loves to talk and loves to be the center of attention. Major extrovert. Good for her but hard to teach around, especially with little backup from the teacher. Because she was new, the rest of the girls in the class were more interested in hearing her stories than doing their work. I brought in chocolate as a treat for the end of the day and their comment to that, "Whatever. I don't care."
We did the word courage as a group poem. It took twice as long than usual. I read to them from Ruth Gendler's book, The Book of Qualities. It should have been a nice lead from the emotions we did with the group poem but when I asked them to write one of their own they all said, "I don't get it. Can we do something else?"
We watched Sarah Kay perform her wonderful poem HANDS and managed about a two minute discussion on hands before they wrote their own. Only one person wanted to share.
I gave up and moved to art, asking them to trace their hands and decorate them, telling them it would be some of the art we would use to decorate the poetry collection we were building. I brought in lovely zentangle hands and encouraged them to try some tangles. Nope. Not a one.
The entire day the new student was up and walking around, going over to read the other student's work, constantly in motion, constantly talking (but she did do the work.) No matter what I said, she couldn't keep still for long. The teacher finally said something.
Something happened with one girl. She was called out of the room and when she came back she just slumped in her chair and cried. I couldn't ask why but I offered her paper and encouraged her to write about it. I told her she could tear it up when she was done. She just nodded, clutched the pencil tightly in her fingers, and continued to cry.
I don't know what else to do to try and reach them. They won't talk, won't interact so the time just stretches on and on.
This is hitting every single one of my insecurities. 7 more sessions to go. I have no idea what I will use to fill the time.