haiku for the day: words

There are days when I sit down and start to write. For the next couple of hours, I slog through ten words. Nothing but nothing comes. No inspiration. No story. Just crap. And on the crap scale, not very good crap. It’s enough to make a fellow want to give up on the writing. No matter how hard I try the words can’t be forced. 

Then there are other days. Those are the ones I live for. Words upon words. Sentences upon sentences. Paragraph after paragraph come tumbling out of my subby-conscious. Like some train, they roll down the track and onto the paper with such ease I ask myself where they have been hiding all this time. Suddenly that story that’s been hiding for months shows its face and I catch it.

Some call it the Muse. I am not sure what to call it. Maybe it’s the payoff for showing up. At least, that’s what I want to believe.

a phalanx of words
birds swooping down from the sky
for the the empty pages

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Near 500 words: Something Wonderful

Everywhere I see stories. I see a woman waiting on a bus and I have a story. I see a cat chasing her tail and I have a story. I read a gravestone and I have a story. There isn’t anywhere that I can’t find a story. But it wasn’t always so.

I have come by this ability to see stories only by spending a lifetime of trying. It has taken years and years of putting my imagination to work. And often coming up empty handed. I’ve banged my head against the wall and sweated tears enough to tell you it wasn’t talent that made a storyteller out of me. It was persistence.

I can remember exactly the moment when I realized that I wanted to be a storyteller. I was nine years old. I was sitting on my mother’s couch. I was reading a story called “Jack the Giant Killer”. I finished the story, then I had a revelation. I could do that. I could tell stories just like the one I read. Even more than that. I had to tell stories. That was my purpose in life. If I didn’t tell them, they wouldn’t get told, darn it.

Now you would think I would run out and start creating stories with that kind of discovery hanging over my head. But no. I didn’t. I was too damned scared to try. I was afraid of what other people would think. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of success.

I walked around with an umbrella over my head, preventing the light from getting to me. I did that for years. But I didn’t forget that moment when I was nine years old. While I was out trying to make a living doing this, that and the other, I was reading. I was studying. And what was I reading and studying? The art of storymaking.

Beginning in the 1980s, six things happened to me that changed my life into a life of creativity. I performed in a church drama group and wrote a musical, which we produced. I had an article published in a national magazine. I came upon an essay by the poet, Richard Hugo called “The Triggering Town”. And I chanced upon Robert Ray’s “The Weekend Novelist”.

Then I joined a creative writing group. We met weekly for over twenty-five years. And the sixth thing that happened to me? In the early 2000s, I attended a series of workshops facilitated by a wonderful local teacher, Jamie Morris. Those workshops taught me the importance of prompts. How a series of prompts could take me through a novel.

So how did I get so good at writing stories? And how did I come up with the ability to create story after story after story? Persistence. In good times and bad, I have been at it. I’ve got out of bed when I had a 102 degree temperature to put in a half hour to write my 200 words for the day. I have sat myself down and wrote my 200 words during Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma. I have written at least 200 words a day for the last several years. And day by day I get better.

The one thing I know is that my writing and my pursuit of storytelling has not made me rich. But it has enriched my life in ways I can never express. It’s been Some Kind of Wonderful this life of creativity that was chosen for me and I plan to keep on doing it. Even after I have passed on to the Other Side.

So here’s my hand and my wish for you. Join me and let your creativity out. Let your voice sing. Let your feet dance. Let your fingers type the words. Let your plants grow. No matter how your creativity directs you, water it, nurture it, and let it grow. You won’t regret it.

Grandparents

La Grand Mere. We, in the family, knew no other name for her. Not Grandmother. Not Grandma as in Grandma got run over by a reindeer. Not Granmama. Not Granny. Not Nana. All those names were fine for the grandmothers of other people. It was Le Gran Mere for our grandmother.

You would think she was off-putting with a name like that. She wasn’t. She was the warmest of human beings. When she smiled, that smile could fill a room with its warmth. Now our grandfather, Grumps as we called him, was not like that. He was one sour puss of a human being.

I’m here to tell you that no one knew how those two ended up together. No one. When we asked La Grand Mere, she said, “Ask your grandfather.” When we asked Grumps, he just grunted and returned to what he was doing.

It became a joke in the family. Our parents made up stories. Our grandparents on my mother’s side made up stories. My wife’s stepmother and her stepson had a story. My best friend Jed and his stepfather and his stepbrother offered even more stories. I am here to tell you no one in the family knew the truth of the matter.

But the ones with the best story were our twins. One day they came into the kitchen and said, “We know why La Grand Mere and Grumps are together.” They had mischievous smiles on their faces.

“Why?” my wife asked for me as well as for herself.

They sang, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

The Bard

There aren’t many things I know. In fact, there is only one thing I know. I am a Bard, a curious calling, but one which I came to early. I tell stories, I rhyme rhymes, I wish stories into existence, I remember tales that so many have forgotten, or would like to forget.

I reach into the air and they are there, just waiting to be told. I am not a Shaman, only a Bard. I sit by the fire, my voice rising and falling with the story others want to hear, a story that falls from my lips with words, precious words, my words, words of power and despair, hope and adventure and laughter, of times when men have laughed so hard they split a gut.

What shall I tell these kings, these warriors who sit by the fire and wait upon the Bard? Perhaps I shall tell of Queen Maeve in the West. She went to war over a cow and it wasn’t much of a cow either. Cuchulain—the Cuke we called him, great warrior that he was—the Cuke had the cow and pride would not let him surrender it….so he and Maeve went at it and had themselves a war.

Shall I tell of Krishna, the little blue boy of the Hindi who had all the women eating out of his hands? Now that sounds like a job I would enjoy.

Maybe the story of how pissed off Hera was because Zeus went out chasing the girls again. Or the tale of the dragon who farted so much he forced all the people to evacuate the land. If they’d only had a virgin. Virgins made good snacks for dragons. It became the custom for the king to devirginalize all the virgins in the land. Shall I tell the story of the man who was obsessed to the point of madness with the Great White Whale enough to chase that leviathan to the ends of the earth?

There’s the story of Dick Whittington. That one I like a lot but nobody else seems to know. It’s not even on Billboard’s Top Forty Fairy Tales Chart. So what story shall I tell to those fellows, sitting around the campfire?

How about this one.

Ships. The Trojans looked out to sea and they saw ships. Ten thousand ships. The great kings of the Greeks and the minor kings, the great warriors, sons of gods and the goddesses and sons of mortal men. They were coming. They were coming for the city, for the beloved Ilium, Troy to the Greeks.

All because Paris had to go and ‘nap a Greek queen from the king of Sparta. Like Priam’s youngest couldn’t have any lady he wanted. All the Trojan women were doing moon pies over him. No, he had to go messin’ where he shouldn’t be messin’. Now those Greek boots were going to be walkin’ all over Troy.

Hector, the great Hector, called for his father Priam, the king. He came to the battlements and joined Hector and saw the great ships of the Greeks. He almost despaired. But he did not, for he stood by his greatly skilled son, Hector, and said, “Let the Greeks bring it on.” He knew his city was safe. None could penetrate the great walls of his city, Ilium.

“Prepare the city,” Priam said to Hector, then went to the Temple of Poseidon, the Sea God, the Horse God, the Patron of Priam’s City and the Patron of its citizens. To despair would offend Poseidon.

The gates opened. The peasant-farmers from the countryside rushed through the thick gates and into the city. On the horizon and behind the city a legion of Amazons, those female warriors who could give a warrior a run for his money, came looking to fight for Troy. They were led by Penthesilea. She wanted to make amends for killing her sister.

Soon there was a council, Priam’s Council, in the city with the kings of all Ilium’s allies. They debated the fate of the city, whether they would surrender the well-stacked Helen, Menalaus’ beautiful blonde-haired wife. Paris refused to surrender his mistress. Instead he offered himself for exile. Banished from his father’s kingdom forever for the sake of a city, always a pilgrim, always longing to return to his father but he would never return. If the Council decided so, as the city prepared.

In the distance there were sounds, sounds of war. The Greeks were coming! The Greeks were coming! The Greeks were coming!