“On Going Home” by Joan Didion (response)

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In On Going Home, Didion tackles themes such as belonging, family and home by telling the story of a time when, without her husband, she took her daughter “home” to celebrate her first birthday to the hometown where Didion grew up in the house where she lived with her mother and premarital family. The essay deals with Didion’s personal issues as she compares and contrasts her current life with her husband and their child versus her life and experiences growing up. The essay speaks to the internal conflict many of us feel as adults once we leave the nest, so to speak, and go out into the world to find new “homes” while always looking back to our pasts. I felt connected to this piece and that connection inspired me to want to dive deeper.

This essay spoke to me on various levels but the main reason why I chose it is because I could see myself in it. Both as a mother of a young child and as a married woman who has chosen to live far from “home,” I felt connected to this piece and to Didion as its writer.

I have traveled with my daughter, now age four, back to visit my family in Philadelphia numerous times since she was born. When we lived in New York, I made the drive three to four times per year and now that I live in Iowa, the frequency has diminished to an annual flight but she and I still find ourselves making the trip without my husband, due to his work schedule.

Our recent two lectures discussed the importance of “place” and its meaning in our writing. Unit One discussed place as a specific location and Unit Two took the discussion to another level by looking at “place” in a broader sense as culture. In “On Going Home” Didion uses place in both ways. She discusses her childhood home, in the Central Valley of California, the specific place where she grew up and where her mother resides, and as she shares her memories and experiences with the location itself, she also gives up insight into her history, culture, what her family is/was like and how that place affected and still affects her emotionally and how it compares to the home she’s made with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles.

This week’s lecture states: “What emerges in essays like these is the way in which paying attention to one’s culture or geographic surroundings can be key to building a compelling essay, one which engages your reader on multiple levels. At its best, writing about place challenges us to rethink the way in which we view our own place—what we take for granted, how we choose to define ourselves, and what we mean to others.”

Didion’s essay had a profound effect on me. It caused me to reflect on my own life and to think about where I came from versus where I am now and where I’m going. I’ve lived in various places and have considered each one my “home” at one time or another. Although Didion was talking about her own life, I felt as though she might as well have been talking about me and mine even though I no longer think of the house I grew up in as my home. While the elements were different, there were so many similarities. It was like meeting someone at a party and realizing you and he or she have so much in common that you can literally talk for hours.

Didion’s tone is sad and frustrated, tinged with bitterness, and her language throughout reflected that. I think this is where we as writers can learn the most from Didion in this essay. Her tone is consistent and by using words like “uneasy, troublesome, difficult, oblique, degradation, condemnation, fragmentation, rejection, dread, graveyard, abandoned, ambushes…” throughout she keeps us firmly rooted beneath her tone the entire time. Even when discussing happier elements, for example the idea that this homecoming is for a birthday celebration for her child, Didion continues to use words that keep reminding us that this is not a happy story. Through her language and descriptions, it is like she’s telling us she is unhappy in both places.

I think while “place” itself is important in writing and in many ways is highlighted in this essay, as Didion compares and contrasts the two places she calls “home,” in a way Didion is showing us that it’s not about the place itself but more so the people who make a home. Both the people from our past and our present mold us into who we are. Didion longs to unite her two families and she expresses the desire for each to love the other, as they love her. She seems to want everyone to cohabitate happily and, yet, she has resigned herself to the fact that that will never happen. I sometimes compare my biological family with my marital family. Don’t we all? I can’t help it; they are so different and, yet, I love them both. Both sides of my family get along well, thankfully, despite their many differences. That’s not to say there aren’t moments when one irritates, misunderstands or maybe even wants to strangle the other. That’s life. And life, as well as relationships, takes work, communication and compromise. Didion doesn’t speak of these things. She focuses most of her essay on the differences, the issues and the problems without taking action or attempting to find resolution. She seems satisfied in separating her two “homes.”

Didion shares vivid details to make her points about the differences between her current life/family and her background and in doing so she reveals some positive but mostly negative qualities about both. It is as though she’s saying she’s unhappy in both places. I loved the story about the dust. By telling us that it was so dusty that her husband could literally write the word “dust” in it, it shows how unkempt the house is while also showing the condescending and pretentious qualities of her husband. The dust speaks negatively about both sides of Didion’s life.

I loved this essay so much, I think, because I could relate to it. The story connects so well to the feeling many, including myself, get when they grow up, marry or enter a commitment with someone from a wildly different background. It’s so easy to see the differences, both positive and negative, between the families we are given and the families we choose. For example, I grew up in the inner city in Philadelphia while my husband grew up on a farm in Iowa (keeping in mind that while I grew up in Philly, I currently live in Iowa with my husband and daughter). It’s impossible to ignore the many glaring differences between the two that I often find myself loving and hating one over the other and shifting back and forth between which one wins or loses the individual battles of comparison. For example, while I love that my husband comes from a large laid back family with so many cousins all living nearby and the fun and festivities which come naturally with that, I hate that everyone knows each other’s business. Of course, there are also things I love and hate about my own premarital family, too, like the faster paced life of the city and the way that we, as a small family, all truly seem to “get each other.” But while I love “going home,” when I do there are moments when I feel like Didion as she revealed in her essay.

My favorite aspect of this essay is how Didion lets us in. She welcomes us into a very personal part of herself and does so in such a casual way that we feel like we belong there, like we’re not snooping around in someone else’s business. And the surroundings are familiar, like when a good friend invites you over and doesn’t bother to clean up. It was like she was saying “my home is your home” and “good, bad, or indifferent, I have nothing to hide from you.”

Didion is obviously conflicted between her childhood family life and her new family life as an adult. It doesn’t help that her husband looks down on her premarital family and how they live and how she acts around them. Personally, I wish Didion would have gone deeper into this aspect of her struggle. While her husband’s discomfort was obvious through his absence and through her recollection of his experiences there and his negative, snarky, condescending attitude toward Didion’s family’s “inarticulate” ways as well as the dust that disgusted him and mementos which confused him and though the essay seems to point to issues in the marriage, Didion never quite fully admits or commits to them. On page 3, she says “I come to dread my husband’s evening call…” and I wonder if there’s more here that isn’t being said or revealed.

The essay, especially the ending where Didion is reflecting on all the things she cannot give her daughter in her current “home,” made me wonder more and more what her current life, and in particular her marriage, is like by comparison. Structurally, I wondered if this was perhaps part of the reason the essay was so short—did Didion not want to get into that part?

Personally, I think if you are happy where you are and with whom you are with, then you consider that place home and its people your family—whether they’re blood or marriage related family or friends. While I look back at my family and the place where I grew up happily and love visiting, for example, I’m perfectly happy where I am now. It’s not that I don’t look back fondly, but I spend more time looking forward. In this instance, it is as though suddenly the concept of “place” isn’t all that important anymore—at least not by comparison to the people.

There were so many things about this story which I found relatable, but I also loved it for the parts I found unrelatable. For example, while I can certainly relate on so many levels to Didion’s story and her struggles, a part of me felt sorry for her because she seemed to be lost in the in between place between her past and her present. Even though she has family who she loves and who love her back, in a strange way, it was like she was homeless. To bring this back to our lecture on place, it was as if Didion was admitting she didn’t know where she belonged. Instead of embracing the differences between the home where she was raised and the home where she lived currently with her husband and daughter, Didion seems consumed by conflict. This made me sad. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Didion had chosen to be unhappy and alone.

My husband, Jason, and I, since we’ve been together, have lived together in New Jersey, Texas, New York (twice) and now Iowa. Add those to places he and I’ve lived on our own prior to meeting and we also have Pennsylvania, Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska, California, Connecticut and even China.

As the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is…” and I love him and our daughter so much that it really doesn’t matter to me where we live. In this case, place doesn’t matter because they are my family and they have my heart so this—wherever this may be—is our home.

Works Cited:

Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Creative Nonfiction: Didion and Sedaris

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My focus for this reading response is on the following four essays: Joan Didion’s Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 3-28), California Dreaming (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 73-78), On Going Home (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 164-168) and David Sedaris’s Go Carolina (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 3-15).

I enjoyed all four essays but to different extents and for different reasons. While I appreciated the first two (Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream and California Dreaming) primarily from a stylistic standpoint and because they gave insights which sparked my curiosity, I connected on a more personal level to the other two (On Going Home and Go Carolina).

In Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 3-28), Didion tells the story of “Lucille Marie Maxwell Miller” (AKA: Lucille Miller) who allegedly murdered her husband, Gordon “Cork” Miller by setting his car on fire with him still alive in it late one night on Banyan Street nearby their home in the San Bernardino Mountains in California. While Lucille Miller eventually gets convicted and sentenced for this crime, Didion never seems to pass judgment on her or settle on any particular conclusion of guilt or innocence in the story she tells. Instead, Didion seems to use this particular story as commentary on this place and the type of people who live there, as well as food for thought on the case, our legal system and society itself.

Stylistically, this essay struck me as both beautiful and functional. Didion’s transitions worked especially well as they allowed her to move the essay masterfully back and forth between the facts of the case and the illusions of opinion. Transitions like “Of course she came from somewhere else” (7) and “Unhappy marriages so resemble one another that we do not need to know about the course of this one” (8) gave Didion the ability and flexibility to weave in and out of the information she wanted to share and leave out things she deemed unimportant to her essay. These transitions allowed Didion to tell an otherwise tangled tale in an easy-to-digest way.

Didion’s California Dreaming, a much shorter essay though equally revealing story, is about the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, “the current mutation of the Fund for the Republic.” It’s in the little details where we as readers learn the most. For example, by choosing to use the word “mutation” here Didion is able to make a subtle though still poignant statement. In this essay, Didion takes what’s on the surface, or otherwise known as public knowledge,” and adds details, like the nepotistic aspects of the society for example, and even makes a few cult-like parallels, to make us curious about what is really going on here. Though Didion herself avoids making accusations and seems to almost dance around what she really thinks, she gives enough information so we, as readers, can come to our own conclusions.

In both essays, Didion take news stories and public information and dives deeper into them to reveal the aspects anyone not paying close attention may have missed. In doing so, she provides a unique insight into California culture while showing an uglier side of the so-called “American Dream.” In both essays, Didion uses imagery and description exceptionally to add layer after layer, while transitioning smoothly between those layers, to build toward climax. I felt myself being pulled so deeply into these stories that I was itching to know what would be revealed at every turn. And, even though neither essay provided a sense of closure, both gave me so much to think about that I could happily chew for days on certain paragraphs in an effort to try to figure out what Didion really thought about the people and events she was writing about.

On the downside, both Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream and California Dreaming struck me as a bit rushed, perhaps due to the sheer quantity of information being shared. And by rushing and squeezing so much in, I think, both essays also dismissed a sense of human connection and feeling. These essays, while profoundly interesting and stylistically beautiful, struck me at times as a collection of informative facts and quotes with little to no emotion.

The final two essays, Didion’s On Going Home (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 164-168) and David Sedaris’s Go Carolina (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 3-15), also made good choices stylistically but they didn’t make those choices at the expense of emotion and in doing so they were able to reach the next level by making the personal connections the other two essays missed. Both relied more heavily on opinion and feelings over “just the facts” and gave very personal accounts of the writers’ lives to give insight into perhaps why they are who they are.

In On Going Home, Didion tells the story of a time when, without her husband, she took her daughter “home” to celebrate her first birthday in the home where Didion grew up and with her premarital family. The essay deals with Didion’s personal issues as she compares and contrasts her current life with her husband and their child versus her life and experiences growing up. Didion shares vivid details to make her points about the differences between her current life/family and her background and in doing so she reveals positive and negative qualities about both. For example, I loved the story about the dust. By telling us that it was so dusty that her husband could literally write the word “dust” in it, it shows how unkempt the house is while also showing the condescending and pretentious qualities of her husband.

I really loved this story, and will likely use it as my second reading response later this week. I loved it so much, I think, because I could relate to it. It connects so well to the feeling many, including myself, get when they grow up, marry or enter a commitment with someone from a wildly different background. It’s so easy to see the differences, both positive and negative, between the families we are given and the families we choose. For example, I grew up in the inner city in Philadelphia while my husband grew up on a farm in Iowa (keeping in mind that while I grew up in Philly, I currently live in Iowa with my husband and daughter). It’s impossible to ignore the many glaring differences between the two that I often find myself loving and hating one over the other and shifting back and forth between which one wins or loses the individual battles of comparison. For example, while I love that my husband comes from a large laid back family with so many cousins all living nearby and the fun and festivities which come naturally with that, I hate that everyone knows each other’s business. Of course, there are also things I love, especially by comparison, about my own premarital family, too, like the faster paced life of the city and the way that how we, as a small family, act in times of struggle like it’s us against the world and how we all truly seem to “get each other.” But while I love “going home,” when I do there are moments when I feel like Didion as she revealed in her essay.

Not only was this story far more personal and emotional than Didion’s other two essays, in the other two she goes to great efforts to set up her stories before revealing the underlying issues and elements, while in this one she gets to the main points almost immediately and was far more conversational and raw, both personally and emotionally, than the other two.

Go Carolina (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 3-15) by David Sedaris made similar emotional connections for me as Didion’s On Going Home but while it had some similarities to Didion’s other two essays it maintained a style of its own. Like Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream and California Dreaming by Didion, Sedaris goes to great efforts to set up his story before jumping into its true themes and getting to the good stuff, so to speak. I liked his quirkier style and specifically how he used elements from a young boy’s imagination, like referring to the speech therapist as “Agent Samson” and his younger self’s creative problem solving, like avoiding the Ss. But what I really liked about this particular essay was the smart humor throughout and the way in which Sedaris set up this story—how he leads us to believe that this is a story about a boy who battled a speech impediment, but as the story builds the story behind the story is revealed and this is where Sedaris shares a far more personal journey and his issues with his sexuality.

Like Didion’s On Going Home, my favorite aspect of this essay is how Sedaris lets us in. He welcomes us into a very personal part of himself and does so in such a way where we feel like we belong there, like we’re not snooping around in someone else’s business.

Didion’s Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream, California Dreaming, On Going Home, and Sedaris’s Go Carolina are exceptional examples of how to weave a story that will grab and maintain a reader’s attention from start to finish. In all four of these essays, Didion and Sedaris use dark humor to deal with dark topics and some intense issues as they lead us down various well detailed paths in what felt to me, at times, like layered labyrinths. But none of them strolled too far down any particular path long enough for me to nod off, stop reading or skip ahead.

What I admire most and aspire toward, as a writer and writing student, is how Didion and Sedaris masterfully set up and paced their stories, as well as how they grabbed and kept my attention from start to finish by revealing just what I needed to know just when I needed to know it. Each told unique stories in his and her own unique ways and in reading them I feel satisfied by what I’ve consumed and yet I am still left thinking and wondering and wanting more.

Works Cited:

Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.

“Untitled”

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I wrote this “poem” a few weeks ago in response to an event that happened with my dad. He’s been going through a lot of changes lately and, as a family, we’ve been struggling trying to seek medical assistance and a diagnosis. Yesterday, he was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Dementia.

The following is less a poem and more or less a vomiting of my feelings onto the page. It’s raw and unedited and I plan to leave it that way.

I’m going to see my dad tomorrow. So I’m sharing this with you now as a way of getting it, along with some of the feelings and fears it represents, off of me as I move with my family into the future and try to figure out what this diagnosis means for my dad, for my family and for me.

Untitled by Val Zane
It’s not so hard for me to think of you as crazy considering you’ve always been completely nuts
For as long as I’ve known you. That’s right. Forever. Or for my forever anyway.
“They either love him or hate him,” I always say.
I bet you don’t even know that I say that about you. Well, I do.
But who cares what they think anyway? Or what I think or say for that matter.

Just tell me another joke. I need to laugh.
What happened to the eight again? Or was it the nine?
No wait. Now, I remember. It was the seven who ate nine and ten.
But when you tell it, it always sounds so dirty.
I’ll never be able to tell it like you.

It’s like asking a stranger for directions.
“Excuse me.” Smile, nod. “Make a left at the McDonald’s?” Uh-huh. “Thanks.” Smile again, then wave cordially and drive away, when I’d rather just skip ahead to the part when I call you.
“You shouldn’t talk to strangers,” you’d say with a quip that no one’s stranger than you.
It’s certainly strange how you always know how to find me and guide me home
Even from a payphone in the middle of nowhere. Do you remember payphones?
You were my compass before GPSs were ever invented.
With you I’m never lost.
But without you?

Mom said she spoke to the doctor.
Undiagnosable.
Well, sure, that goes without saying because you’re nothing if not interesting
Isn’t that what you always say?
Maybe you could use your map and point them in the right direction?
Oh I don’t know. It’s probably in the trunk of your car with your wallet and your keys.
They should’ve said: “We don’t know but whatever this is, it sucks.”
When they came and took you away the other day, I wasn’t there. That sucked more.
Maybe it’s your medicine. Or just old age? Dementia? Alzheimer’s? Senility?

It’s funny but I still see you and hear you the way you were. The way you’ll always be to me.
Or maybe that’s not so funny after all. See, you’re not the only one who’s confused.
Remember that time we were talking and walking together hand in hand and you stumbled and tumbled ass-over-teakettle, then stood back up and kept on walking like nothing happened?
That’s the stuff legends are made of!
You’re my hero. And anyone who says that’s cliché is just another asshole.
Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. Right?

Is that what this is, just another one of your jokes?
It’s like you’re faking it, pulling a prank, playing a game.
Are you testing me, like way back then when you tested me on the state capitals?
Well the joke’s on you because I’ve forgotten most of those too. Have you?
Maybe it’s not me you’re trying to trick. Maybe it’s him. The hooded dude with the grim expression. Do you honestly think if he thinks you’re crazy, then maybe he’ll walk on by?
I’m not sure that’s how it works, but I guess it’s worth a try.

This just doesn’t feel real to me. Why do I refuse to believe what everyone else sees?
Even the butts of your best jokes are laughing at me.
But that’s okay because they don’t know you like I do.
You’re the opposite of… or was it the epitome of charming?
“But looks aren’t everything,” you’d say.
Tell me again about the man from Nantucket who uses his bucket for God knows what
And that thing he used to say… what was it again? Oh, does it even matter what he said?

When, in the scheme of things, I’m trying to recall all the things you’ve said along the way
All the laughs we’ve shared, your words of wisdom and the lessons you’ve taught me.
But I can’t. Oh great. Now I’m crying. And through all those empty threats, this is the first time you’ve actually given me something to cry about.
In a way, it’s like you’re already gone. Or not yet gone but already forgotten?

How is it I can recall all of the pointless, useless information?
Cross on the green, not in between. Or how E equals MC squared. All the things that Rob Base knows about and the ingredients to that cheesecake Mom loves so much. How flared jeans make my butt look small(er) or your secret for making the world’s best pancakes.
I remember it all but I’m forgetting you? Maybe I’m going crazy, too.
The irony is that if you weren’t stuck on a loop right now you’d be mad at me for making this about me. But don’t even try to deny the truth because we both know that’s what we do.

You’re the one who taught me ten and two. Don’t you remember?
And the best advice anyone’s ever given me: “If you feel like you’re going to fall, fall on your ass.”
And you know what? I still do that all the time.
Fall on my ass that is.

You asked me to write your stories down but they’re your stories, not mine.
I’ve given you books, journals, voice recorders.
Damn it, Dad. I don’t want to be mad at you but…
Couldn’t you grab a spare square from the diner or that coffee truck you loved so much?

Remember those road trips when we’d just talk? The turnpike was so beautiful at night.
Or that time we went out of the way to cross the Brooklyn Bridge just because?
Or when we drove straight from Philly to Florida and I read every single sign while Mom slept?
You said it was my responsibility to keep you up. See, you taught me about responsibility.

It’s so easy to remember your stories when I’m in them but I guess those are our stories
But the others? The ones which came before me?
Well, this is precisely why I wanted you to write them down!
Not just for me. For you. For mom. For the princess who calls you “Pah-Pah.”

“But I don’t write,” you said. “That’s what you do.”
And you’re right. You’re always right. And in a way, you’re the reason why I write.
But to write your life story is… well it’s impossible.
“Nothing’s impossible,” you’d say. “If you work hard enough for it.”
Shut up, Dad!

No, wait. I take that back. I’m sorry. Please keep talking. Start from the beginning.
Because I need your help. That’s why.
Because I can’t tell your stories—not like you do. At least not without you.
Oh no, you’re fading again.

So you have the stories and I have the pen. Is that how this works?
Well, then I think you’d better start talking because you’re running out of time

And I’m running out of ink.

Autumn Alarm Clock (revised as an aubade quatrain)

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Autumn Alarm Clock (Original):
Mother tapped on my window this morning
Seizing my skin with her breeze and my mind
With the click-clack of leaves falling from trees
Still I squeezed my pillow in denial
My eyes holding on tightly to slumber
And pressing hard on my subconscious snooze
My loving mother found another way
She sent the rain to trickle and tickle
Sweetly on my subconscious mind with its
Dripdropdrip Dripdropdrip
Autumn sensations replaced with those of
Coffee and cream and delicious caffeine
Suddenly I’m awake.

Autumn Alarm Clock (Revised as an aubade quatrain):
Mother tapped on my window this morning
Seizing my skin with her breeze
And pleasing my ears with the click-clack-
Click of leaves falling from trees

Though I realized you were gone
I still squeezed your pillow in denial
Then pleading to be released
I pressed hard on my mind’s snooze

Nature found another way
She sent the rain to trickle,
Tickle and tease me with its dripdropdrip
Dripdropdrowning out my dreams

Still I refused to believe
In reality without
You beside me I’d rather
Stay here sleeping the day away alone

Finally, Autumn retreats
Her sensations are replaced
By temptations of caffeine, cream and you
I rise to delicious coffee for two.

Haiku and Haibun Fun

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As I wind down toward the light at the end of the tunnel of this eight week poetry class, which has been a wonderful experience all around, these have been my favorite forms so far!

Haiku was awesomely freeing. I loved writing haiku (even though I sort of hate that the plural form of haiku is haiku; it just seems so pretentious, doesn’t it? Just me? Oh.). Anyway, I feel like I could write haiku all day long. Not just the word “haiku” though that’s fun, too, but haiku themselves. In fact, yesterday when I wrote my haibun/haiku, my husband and I started randomly free styling haiku. The game got old (rather quickly, especially for him) but we both had fun.

Even though I read it’s not necessary to stick to the 5-7-5 format, I somehow found safety and comfort in counting syllables and always felt finished once I liked the poem itself and landed on the correct, so to speak, count.

I also really enjoyed the haibun aspect of this. It was different than my typical prose in that I felt it needed to sound more poetic, if that makes sense, so I worked to include images and descriptions. Still, I wanted to stay true to my style so I kept it as tight and concise as possible and I tried not to go overboard (for me) with the flowery descriptions which aren’t quite me. I went as far into the descriptions as my skin would currently let me. I’m comfortable writing prose though and I’m no stranger to present tense so for me this was natural and fun.

Content and form seemed to play equal roles in haiku/haibun. This week’s class activity was to wrote a haibun containing haiku (see my previous post for the product of said activity). For me, while the haiku portion was easier, for lack of a better word, to write, the haibun grew naturally out of the haiku. While the haiku is a sort of clever and mysterious little poem, the haibun was like the haiku’s helper. It broadened the message, added clarity and together, I found, they told a real story.

I really love where I ended up with this and I want to write more of these. The haiku (man, I really want to write/say “haikus”) just spilled out of my brain! On that note, what a wonderful way to rev the creative engine and get pumped up to write more? I think haiku would also work well to get the creative juices flowing and maybe even serve as a weapon against writer’s block.

Since I’m usually writing longer projects, like novels and screenplays, this was a refreshing break from the norm. While some of the longer poetic forms, like the sestina, frustrated me, there was nothing frustrating about haiku. It was simply nice to write something so small and yet still so meaningful and creatively fulfilling.

Of course, I can’t speak for the quality of my haiku since I’m so new to poetry in general and am learning as I go but I truly enjoyed the process of writing it and I’m happy with my results. I wonder if I could write a haiku a day… I bet I could!

This poetry class has been a great experience for me and this week was the icing on the cake. It’s hard to believe that in just one more week it will be over. These eight weeks truly flew.

Planting Words (a sestina about writing)

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Planting Words (a sestina about writing)
Money doesn’t grow on trees
They say.
But who are they anyway?
Because as a writer who writes
What I know
I’m sure that’s where my fortune grows.

It takes love and time to grow
A tree.
Plant a seed and wait, you say?
So who are you to show the way?
We’re writers
And we must write. That’s what we know.

But how did we come to know?
We grow
Up this way and like the trees
We find our strength in what we say
Our own way.
It’s what it means to be writers.

And we’ve always been writers,
We know.
Like a seedling knows to grow
Toward the sun to become a tree.
We can say
The same. We know no other way.

If there was another way
Writers
Are savvy enough to know
That like a wild fire grows
Through the trees
We must share what we have to say.

And we have so much to say.
This way
There’s no deadline for writers.
We may be starving but we know
Our faith grows
Beyond the forest through the trees

It’s the truth trees and writers know
For there’s no other way to say
We plant our words to watch them grow.

(Not So) Deep Thoughts on Billy Collins and on Writing Sonnets

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I really enjoyed Billy Collins’ poetry book Sailing Alone Around the Room. To me, it felt like stories and there was a casual quality to it that I truly enjoyed. Also, I found many of his poems/stories so relatable that I can’t help but think how awesome it would be to sit at the same table as Billy Collins at, say, a wedding. It seems to me there’d never be a lull in the conversation… though who am I to say? Maybe he’s better on paper than in person! In any event, I loved this book and have added it to my list of books I won’t sell or give away.

Regarding writing a sonnet, I struggled with this form at first. I started and stopped several poems before finally being inspired to write and complete my sonnet about being hung over. That one came to me quite easily the day after my family’s annual Independence Day party. To that end, I think when I’m inspired to write something the writing comes easily despite any particular format, genre, rules or instructions. Once the inspiration for this poem hit me, the words came and sort of slid into the sonnet form. It’s hard to explain, but I imagine you will understand what I’m trying to say here.

I think the sonnet itself has been such a lasting form because it’s fun. For one, it’s short and although that brings with it its own struggles and complications, for the most part I found that the length itself and the rules brought about an interesting and playful challenge. Even though writing the sonnet wasn’t an easy task, it was a fun challenge and I enjoyed it. Also, having rules helped to set parameters for the poem and that was nice in that it allowed my thoughts to be presented in a neat little package. In other words, knowing the rules gave the poem a shape to strive for—much like having a diagram helps a pile of wood eventually look and act like a book case. Knowing I needed to write a sonnet helped my words become one. Without these rules, I’m afraid I might have gone on and on about drinking and being hung over without ever finding a form. In fact, I’m not sure I would have written this poem at all.

After writing a sonnet myself, I can see why so many poets write sonnets and also why so many seem to write them specifically to get their writing gears greased. The sonnet put me in the mood to write more. In a way, it reminded me of the 3AM Epiphany and 4AM Breakthrough books which are full of writing exercises meant to battle writer’s block and inspire writing students to write. As I sit down to write more poetry in the future, I think I’ll try a sonnet from time to time just for fun and for the challenge of it, but also to see if they positively affect me and my writing as they seem to have positively affected so many other writers and poets.