Following The Signs and Symbols 2

Zentangle Mandala #1  Breaking Free Separately Together  7-3-09

This seemingly empty space has been calling to me for several weeks now. Invariably, my fingers twitch a bit when it does, but I find excuses not to answer that call: I’m too busy working on my project, need to find those pages in my computer files, have to work on those images I want to use, need to fix myself something to eat, and so on and so on.

Although I have been writing, it is poetry and that has been only once a week for the wordle challenge at The Sunday Whirl. Those pieces appear on my poetry blog at Soul’s Music. So this space remains blank. Empty except for all those old posts that people still come here and read.

This morning I was doing a bit of research, so headed to my closet/library, but couldn’t locate the book for which I was seeking. Did find a part of a journal I kept during my first ever road trip out to Montana in 1993. Several of those entries made me smile in recollection, and one had me laughing out loud.

Throughout those pages, I found comments I had made about all the birds and wildlife we were encountering. One especially, had me sighing in deep satisfaction. We had taken a side trip to explore a park, led there by a small road sign. It turned out to be over twenty miles, much of it through flat barren landscape. The ‘park’ turned out to be a historical marker with a set of swings for kids to play on and possibly to allow it to be defined as a park. Disappointed, we headed back to the car where my partner in crime decided it was her turn to drive. The way out was a straight gravel road about two miles long that led to a paved two lane highway. Upon reaching that intersection, my friend stopped and said she couldn’t remember which way to turn to get us back to the Interstate. Shrugging my shoulders, I pointed right with my thumb and said, “Maybe?”

Two huge ravens swooped past, low to the ground and following the road to which I had just been pointing. They were the first living creatures we had seen since leaving the Interstate in what seemed like hours. We followed the ravens. I remember making a comment about how their wing spread seemed to be as wide, if not more, than the rented minivan we were driving. They stayed, soaring just above the pavement out in front of us, until five minutes later when we reconnected with the Interstate, well over twenty miles from where we had originally left it.

As we settled into more driving, I turned to her and said, “You asked for directions and you certainly got it, and two guardians guides to make sure we didn’t get lost.”

So, here I sit, all these years later, knowing I’ve been lost for a while. Not even aware that I have been seeking direction, and yet finding it once again in my own words, carried on the wings of two huge ravens. Maybe next time, I’ll tell you about that episode that had me laughing out loud.

Note: Image is one of a series of pen and ink doodles I did several years ago, simply titled Fantasies.

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John Spencer is a new author. Round Prairie Inferno is his first book. He labels it a Western that takes place in Illinois, just prior to the Civil War. It is rich in details about locale, divergent characters that express the opposing forces headed toward that major conflict, and a main character who would rather be tending to his farm than enmeshed in the traffic and activities of the Underground Railroad. Yet, that’s exactly where he finds himself to be, when he responds to the request of a beloved sister who is an active abolitionist. Surge, short for Lycurgus, encounters many levels of the coming conflagration as he rides his horse toward a place of new awareness, and the reality that some issues force us to take a side and eventually to make a commitment.

I enjoyed reading the book for several reasons. My first Major in college was History and I have repeatedly told John that his work is an historical fiction, a good one. The details are well researched and the language is both rich and diverse. His own delight in History comes across well and lends credence to his story. And the fact that it is one of my digital paintings which John chose to grace the cover of his book was frosting on the cake.

If you are interested in taking a further look at John’s book, you can find details here, just click on the image:

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Stone Birds of Hope

Still working on my manuscript in bits and pieces, but also involved in other things. My niece has been posting photographs of her garden and backyard. I, of course, have to play with all of those colors. Today, I found a poem in the images I created. It spoke to me of my own meandering process.


Stone Birds of Hope

Have been swimming through a sea
of words. Some of them make sense
while others sound like croaking
frogs hidden in a swamp of lily pads.
No more than echo booms floating
through lazy summer afternoon,
joined by buzz and hum of unknown
busy insect seeking whatever
insects seek. Others are mere darting
shadows of small birds caught in side
glance as they search out insects
to bring home to ever-growing
fledgling offspring.

Had hope and simple single idea
when I started but path keeps parting
into new and different tangents, fast
becoming numerous fragments
of meandering memory and forgotten
feelings. It takes time to learn language
of darting shadows,
croaking booms,
and buzzing hums,
while hope becomes stone birds
taking majestic flight while still
seeking home.

Amy3 stone birds

Elizabeth Crawford  7/22/14

Notes: If you click on the second image (kaleidoscope image I made from the first photo) you might see the flight of the stone birds I found. They could also be prehistoric moths come to make holes in my future plans, or gigantic butterflies that speak of transforming stone dreams into breathing reality.

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Lost And Found

Believe it or not, I’m still sorting through all that old poetry. Lots of memories, and yes, a few pieces I have no memory of ever writing. Recognize the handwriting, but nothing else. Many of the poems take me back and I can actually remember where I was sitting while composing them, know what I was feeling, and even why I chose the words I used. Others are a complete mystery as to what I was trying to express and now, I may never know. But most of them hold bits of my story that I felt were noteworthy at the time.

Some of you have heard the story of my first difficult creative writing poetry instructor. He held me up for a lot of hassling inside his classroom. But, I was determined to learn how to do this thing, despite his need for a scapegoat. And I did learn a great deal. How to tighten a poem until it ‘sprang’ from the page. Metaphor, especially extended metaphor, something I was apparently good at without a lot of trouble. The biggest lesson, however, came long after I left his classroom with the intention of never writing poetry again. I learned what I would never do to another human being when I became the teacher. Perhaps the most important lesson of all.

However, during that semester, I could most often be found with a pen in hand, bent over a notebook, writing poetry. And that was not just on campus, I carried my notebook with me at all times. As I have been rifling through all of those notebooks and old folders, I have come across most of those first attempts. But, there is a big hole in that pile of papers.

You see, during that same semester (about half way through), my father died from pancreatic cancer. He had always been my strongest emotional support. My marriage was shaky at best, I had filed for a separation, but had put that on hold when my husband went into rehab and joined AA. I figured that I needed to honor the over sixteen years already invested and at least give it a second chance.

Writing had become my means of getting through all of it. When my mother called to say that Dad had lost most of his motor nerve control, and she needed help, I immediately did several things. I called my best friend who promptly offered me a car to drive while I was gone (her hubby had a huge automotive service). Then I called all of my current teachers at school and told them why I would be gone and didn’t know for how long of a period. Then packed, including my notebooks and pens, and drove the 150 miles to help out.

I was elected to be my father’s main nurse, and had to learn how to give him insulin shots. A few years before, I had taken a course in Hospice training because I understood that this day would come and I wanted to be as prepared as I possibly could be. It goes without saying that nothing prepares you for that reality. My father passed away a few days later and I stayed to help through the funeral and with some of the legalities that Mom had to face. Two weeks later, I went back to school. My first class was creative writing poetry with my nemesis and I was carrying a notebook with about a dozen new poems in it.

We were to have a guest poet (another English professor) that morning. But, before introducing his guest, my instructor stood up and gave us a personal lecture about what happens when you lose someone close to you. He and all my fellow students knew exactly where I had been. He explained in great detail, that because we had the inner drive to write, such an experience would fuel our pens. Then he became adamant, telling us that because grief was an emotional thing, what we would write during that time would be nothing but sentimental tripe that no one would or should be expected to read. And God forbid that any of us would even consider turning in any such garbage for assignments in his classroom. He went on and on, and I shrank into my desk with every word, knowing this was all directed at me personally.

I stayed in my seat for only one, make that two reasons. I refused to let him know he had definitely scored a bull’s eye, and the young man (a particular friend) who sat in the desk in front of me. About half way through this uncalled for harangue, my young friend turned completely around, grabbed my clenched fists in both of his hands and clearly said, “Some people have a need to be assholes, know that this too shall pass.”

At the end of the semester, I decided on, and promised myself two things. I would never write poetry again, nor would I ever enter a small space with that man even if my life depended on it. The first promise was kept for a year, until I messed up a mid-term in one of my History classes (my major at the time), and my Professor insisted that I could make it up by writing a twenty page paper on a subject of my choice, but it had to include a poem about that subject. When told that I no longer wrote poetry, he simply said, “If you want a decent grade you will.” I did. And finally realized my life wasn’t life without poetry.

The second promise was tested about two years later when I finally decided that I had already accumulated over half the credits for a second major in English with a writing concentration. Problem being that the head of the English Department was none other than my nemesis, who was still harassing me from afar by physically describing me and telling his students that I was the poorest example of a student he had ever come across, because I couldn’t tolerate the slightest whiff of good healthy criticism. Several of them came and asked me if it was indeed my person he was talking about. Seeking guidance from an individual in authority, I was told that my only recourse was to submit a formal complaint. My entire academic career was riding in the balance. I said I needed time to think about it.

I got less than 24 hours. Somehow the whole thing was leaked out and my nemesis was visiting all of his colleagues on campus, telling them about an impudent middle-aged student who was talked into forging a harassment complaint against him. Within 45 minutes I received visits from no less than three individuals all carrying the same message. This was all clearly a mistake and all I had to do was go to his office and we’d talk it out civilly. The first visitor was the Assistant Dean of the campus, a woman I had worked for as a Teacher’s Assistant my first year in college. The second was the Dean of the History Department and the third was my current poetry writing instructor. I guess you could say the Big Guns.

I carefully explained to each of the three about the promise I had made to myself and my intention to keep it. Then gave them a few brief examples of what the man had done to me while in his classroom, especially the already mentioned episode after my father’s death. When asked if I was going to go through with the harassment complaint, I honestly said that I was still considering that whole possibility. I was and continued to do so without discussing it with anyone. I came to a conclusion which I didn’t speak about with anyone. I was now where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do with a Mentor I will always respect and admire. I declared English as my second Major and went on with my life knowing that to lodge the complaint would simply turn me into some awful form of my nemesis and keep me embroiled in the good-old boy system of the college hierarchy for who knew how long. I didn’t have or want to take the time for all of that.

There were at least two consequences from that episode. I couldn’t stand to look at the poems I had written about my father’s dying process, hid them away in a folder buried deep in the filing cabinet. At the end of that semester I was publicly awarded the highest honor awards given by the History and English Departments. I didn’t feel great about either of those things but life goes on and I was learning.

About fifteen years later, in a close knit writing group created while I was teaching, the group itself decided to have a bonfire and burn whatever writing we couldn’t find peace with, that simply embarrassed us, or could not find a permanent home after years of searching. While looking through my files, I found the folder with those death and grieving poems in it. I still couldn’t touch or read them without a very dark cloud surrounding me, so I tossed them into the bonfire and slowly walked away.

Which brings us to this current moment. As I have been sorting through my files, I have been aware that I didn’t have those pieces about my father’s death and what I absorbed at that time. That made me sad as I thought I might have used one or two of them in this current manuscript I am creating. At least in some revised or reworked format. But, yesterday, I found complete drafts of three of them mixed in with other pieces from different times and very different circumstances. There is a God and I do believe. I cried when I read a letter I sent to my father several months before his death. It included a poem I had written directly to him based in a song that made me think of him the first time I heard it and every time I heard or sang it afterward. My intention is to post it to Soul’s Music when I finish here.

I am still working on the manuscript but it may take a whole lot longer than I first thought. I’ve written a lot of poetry in over thirty years, but this sorting is worth every minute of the time I use up. And I thank God for that woman who was and is a poet, but who also became a pack rat in the process.

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Process Notes

Zentangle #21  8-13-09

Finally got up the courage to start going through my two huge filing cabinets that stand against the back wall of my bedroom closet (it’s a very large space, almost an extra room). Also dug out a memory stick with nothing but poetry on it. Hit the mother lode in the top drawer of the second cabinet. Most of my class folders from college, including those from my four different semesters of Creative Writing Poetry. Exactly what I had hoped to find.

Went to college late, started when I was thirty-seven, and my first day there coincided with my youngest’s first day of kindergarten. The irony isn’t lost on me, it makes me laugh out loud. We were very much in the same exact place, except I drove myself to school, after watching her board a school bus with her much wiser fifteen month older sister. Yes,
I wished I’d had my sister with me.

What I found in those folders, besides the poem I had been looking for to fill that hole I mentioned last time, was the basics of my own writing process. There are as many as five different drafts for each piece. Many of them make huge cuts to the original writing, while others only change one or two words. I might have been a kindergartner in the classroom college scene, but I was old enough to comprehend that first time around is only a try-out and you build experience and knowledge by repeated applications. Practice, more and more practice.

Somewhere in that mother-lode, I also found a copy of the campus newspaper with one of my first poems published in it for winning first place in the first writing contest held at the University. That took place before the poetry writing classes and determined my strong and driven pursuit of learning how to do this stuff. The story of that experience can be found on the About Page of my poetry blog, here:

I didn’t know anything about poetry, so how could I win a Poetry Contest? Mainly through the help and support of a very kind man. And later, through those repeated drafts of practicing this craft of honing words. Those drafts were my own process notes. I never forgot how lost I felt when encountering that first section of poetry in my English 101 class. We’d dipped our fingertips in High School, and I was simply grateful to get through and out of it alive. It was a foreign language to me and I hated it because I loved words, language, music, and story-telling. This should have been easy for me, yet was anything but.

Last time I posted here about leaning in to listen to my own voice. These posts are very similar. They are process notes. We learn best from our own experience. So, although these posts have been done on the spur of the moment, they are me making a map of the current process I am involved in, writing a book of poetry. Putting all the pieces together, one at a time. Staying aware of the larger picture, while honing the individual and separate small pieces as best I can.

Who knows? Maybe there is another individual out there who needs to hear what I am in the process of doing. Maybe not the same, but a similar process, and needs an encouraging and supportive hand. I did.

Image is another early doodle done in pen and ink.

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Leaning In To Listen To Own Voice

10-21-11 Tangle #19a4

Have been trying to stick with my own schedule for days. But find that I am stuck. Found a hole in the story I am constructing from my early poetry and sort of got lost trying to fill that gap. Went looking for an earlier piece of writing that could be patched in. What I found was a mountain of poetry, the result of having been writing the stuff for over thirty years. Can you say side-tracked? Distracted? Especially if you realize that in the past two days, I’ve barely scratched the surface of that mountain.

Today, I decided to write a completely new piece and see if that would work. It didn’t. The voice I own now is far different from that of those early beginnings. It’s been through over thirty years of experience and has learned a great deal (both good and bad) and probably lost some of its original edge. Trying to put on a Beginner’s Mind is not as easily done as said.

But, I did try. Spent some time cutting away what I wouldn’t have written years ago, fearing that meaning would be lost, or sound be disrupted. I understand that I have become comfortable with the sound of my own voice. Maybe too much so?

Although I did create something that might work to fill that hole, there is still that sense of uncertainty easing its way through my system. And the high level urge to seek out those distractions that have always called me away from this process, never to return. So, deliberately chose to do something different. I’d clean out some of my computer files, let today’s creation rest, but not get pulled into those more casual doings.

Funny thing is, the first thing I pulled up was a journal page from February of 2013. Have no clue why it was there, standing alone, and not properly filed with the rest of my journal entries. Began to read it and promptly started laughing. It began pretty much the same as this current post. All about getting distracted away from my current project, knowing that it was happening, and yet letting it continue. Gotta love that synchronicity.

However, within that one page entry were the details of a dream I’d had about this place I was in. The details of the dream went a long way in helping me understand what was happening and even what I might do to change all of that. It helped me then, and helped me now. By leaning in to listen to my own voice, I felt a release of the tension and anxiety that had been building over the past few days. It filled the gap I had created all those years ago, and let me know that I can and will continue.

The image is a doodle I created a few years ago. I reminds me of life’s up and down journey, bending back to relearn what might not have been heard clearly the first time around.

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Another Process

I’ve been writing every day, working on a book manuscript. Although I’ve started innumerable manuscripts, the majority of them have fallen by the wayside. I could easily say that life was just too busy, too hectic, and got in the way, distracting me from ever finishing. That isn’t quite true. The problem goes a bit deeper and resides within my own psyche. I was just plain scared, so I let life step in and distract me away from this dream I have carried within me for over half of my existence.

I have published some poetry in small and large presses. One poem became the anchor piece for an anthology that was later turned into a set of tape cassettes and then was nominated for a Grammy Award (you can find that rather lengthy story here –
I’ve published prose, having my own column in a monthly magazine for about three years. I’ve put together and published chapbooks for other writers, and several filled with my own work. So, what’s the big deal? Why do I have so many beginnings, but nothing to show for all of those good intentions?

Fear and plain old anxiety. It is so much simpler to write short pieces and post them here. If I make mistakes, I can easily correct them. But a printed book is just that: a printed book. No room for errors to be corrected. It stands or falls on its own. When it comes to writing I am quite methodical about the process: checking it over and over again. Yet, I found when creating those small hand-made chapbooks, that no matter how many times I reread and went over the contents, once printed, there was at least one or two small errors (typos or misspellings of one sort or another) in most of them.

And the anchor piece for that anthology and Grammy Nomination? Yup, one wrong word choice which no one, including myself, ever noticed. Except for a woman who had some sort of personal conflict with me. She made it her mission to see that I was dressed down for such a (profoundly irresponsible piece of carelessness that needed to be thrown in the garbage). Coming into my public work place to let me know that. I’m fairly certain she would have really enjoyed it far more had there been a bigger audience.

There is an old saying about when you stick your head up above the crowd, someone is definitely going to take a shot at it. I’m fairly certain that didn’t happen to most of those magazine articles. If it did, one could always blame the magazine’s printing process, right?
I suppose I could do the same thing for this book I’m working on, except that it will be a self-published reality. A print on demand proposition. So, the errors will all be mine.

I know I can quiet most of that constant static by simply reminding myself that I am only a human being. Human beings are not perfect, and thus, they do not usually produce perfection. They can and do come quite close at times, but only on rare occasions.  Mostly defined as such by someone other than the artist or author herself.  I also know, there will always be someone out there with a need to point a finger, and make sure I understand that I have sinned (original definition for the word sin is to miss the mark). So, the best I can hope for is that I might come close to perfection, while knowing that is most likely impossible. And if I’m honest, that’s good enough for me.

Which brings me to the deeper aspect of my fear and anxiety dilemma. Will anyone be harmed by what it is I am writing? It’s poetry. I most often write personal or confessional type poetry. We are told that we can not write about something we do not know. Even when we write fiction, or tell about someone else’s experience, we must come from what we know and we know what we have experienced. We may have theories, but those are also developed on what we know and believe about how things work.

When I was in my senior year in college I was directed to create a senior thesis for my degree in English with a writing concentration. I and my adviser knew that would be at least fifty pages of my poetry. When it was finally finished, I was surprised at how few errors my adviser found in it. I let my mother read it (she’d been asking to see something of my poetry for a couple of years). Before I gave her the manuscript, I removed a few of the pieces, knowing they might upset or hurt her feelings. She promptly took it to her room and read it from beginning to end. Then brought it back and handed it to me saying, “This is not like the poetry I am used to reading.”

I explained that was because she didn’t usually read poetry other than on greeting cards, or in the family section of the local newspaper. She agreed, then paused for a moment and asked, “Why do you write so much about yourself?” I took some time and tried to explain what personal or confessional poetry was all about. She took a step back, gave me a small smile and said, “Well, when you get really good at this stuff, maybe you can find something else to write about?” End of discussion.

I sent a copy of everything I published to my mother, including every copy of the small writer’s zine I published until my computer crashed and I couldn’t afford a new one. She kept the calendar created from the above mentioned anthology hanging on her wall, long after it was out of date. When she passed away, four years ago, my sisters found a drawer full of all of those things and gave them back to me. She also kept every art gift I gave her. A young friend who got very close to my mother, told me that Mom had poured over every word I had ever written and often discussed it with her, seeking to know if she understood it correctly. Perhaps that is why my sisters are fond of saying that Mom saved all the big questions for me? Including the one she asked in our last and final conversation, “Maybe it’s time to give up, now?”

I don’t know the answers to all of that. I do know it’s time to be writing this book. So, each day, I get up, wash my face, brush my teeth, comb my hair, and sit down to write for two and a half to four hours. I do it because it is my deepest dream. It is time I got past all my personal ‘willies’ and get it finished. If my own mother found, in my words, a person she could trust enough to ask those big questions, then I am the only person who can write this book.

When I stop writing for the day, I turn to something that will calm and relax me. That usually means coloring or working with my templates. Last night, I worked a bit more with that doodle I posted about recently and found some things I really really like.

ex2a (2)abex2d1ex2d5ex2a2 (2)abex2a3 (2)abI call them Black and White Lace.

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