Monday, September 28, 2009

Reverie Lost, and Regained(?)

I’ve been spending significant (for me) drive time in the car lately. When my oldest started middle school last year, with after-school extra-curriculars all year, I felt like I was entering a long, dark tunnel of chauffeuring—most of it east-west (the worst way in Bloomington)—that I wouldn’t emerge from until 2017 (her younger sister’s high school class). It made me just want to lie down and cry for our Cambridge days, when we walked the same infant child everywhere, taking the car out of the garage once a week for groceries from Star Market.

However, over some months, I have devised several strategies to improve the drive time:

When other drivers are crazy and erratic, I practice mindfulness, cultivating a sense that I can afford to be generous, patient, and safety-conscious, letting other cars in and stopping for pedestrians. In short, PRESUME GOOD WILL, the mantra of WWF(a)C. After a recent devastating student pedestrian death on campus, I am aggressively stopping for walking students, even as I fear it will make them ever less wary about the dangers they seem so oblivious to. It fills me with a genuine sense of gratitude and a desire to foster good will and protect my fellow vulnerable humans, and frequently leaves me calmer and more positive than when I climbed into the driver’s seat.

Another informal therapy I engage in while driving is NOT multi-tasking. I multi-task so intensively all the time “on the ground” that I often fail to listen to the very answers to questions I have solicited from my children. I almost never talk on the phone while driving, can’t focus on the GPS while navigating, and more and more often, don’t even turn on the radio, news junkie though I may be. Often, I will find myself entering the kind of open, “mental space” that I find essential to writing poetry, and have conceived a number of poems while driving. (Of course, even to note ideas briefly puts me back in the multi-tasking dilemma again, and many would-be-poems have been lost in traffic.)

Other days, I find blaring classic rock music with the windows open a fabulous way to regain the youth I never had in a car (so wedded was I to the red Raleigh Grand Prix bought with babysitting money that I swore I would never learn to drive or get a license). Cheap and effective therapy also.

On the carpool days, I get to listen in on the lives of my children and their friends, which is fantastically informative. (I am not so good at not entering the conversation, my daughters report with annoyance; several years ago, I asked my oldest which parent in a multi-family carpool was the best driver, in a general sense, and was told in no uncertain terms that the best is the best because she says nothing.)

Finally, I am endlessly fascinated by people, watching the worlds and populations I drive through. In recent years, I have felt somewhat sad at how many pedestrians are plugged in, listening to or talking with someone else instead of thinking their thoughts and allowing time for some precious reverie. I will always remember a handwritten letter I received in England from one of my dearest friends, recently returned to the States, in 1983. She wrote of her daily walk to and from Harvard Med School, and what she thought, and what she sang under her breath (Linda Ronstadt’s “I never will marry, I’ll be no man’s wife, I expect to live single, All the days of my life,” after a breakup with her old sweetheart).

My kids, hemmed in by an uncrossable state highway, walk very few places, although they have had the privilege of walking to a neighborhood elementary school and we water our dog around the neighborhood several times a day. I don’t walk many places either, for reasons of time and traffic and multi-tasking. In place of the reverie once enjoyed while walking through our lives, I’m trying to restore a new version in my car.

Mary Peckham for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Is Blogging?

This blogging thing fascinates me. Part self-expression, part conversation, part art form, part media, and fully difficult to define. I’ve been blogging since April 2005. I still can’t articulate a precise definition.

My blogging has evolved. The journey started as an experiment. I had the assignment to develop blog training for my high-tech company. I had no experience with blogging and wanted some street cred, so I started a personal blog. I considered the blog a temporary trial. I never dreamed it would become what it has, an outlet for my creative energy and a community to support my passions. Over 800 posts later, I’m still going.

Interestingly, for me at least, I find it much harder to write a posting for this Poplar Grove Muse blog than for my own. For my personal blog, I churn out 3-4 postings per week without much trouble. For this blog, with a relaxed deadline of once per month, I struggle. What’s the difference? I don’t have to look far for an answer. It’s my perfectionist side: the good student, the editor, the sometimes-insecure adult who cringes from criticism. What if I have a misplaced comma or misspelled word? What if my message is lost? Or the ultimate fear for many bloggers – what if no one leaves a comment?

While I can’t draw and diagram exactly what blogging is, I can tell you clearly what it has taught me. Blogging is all about the raw, soulful story and the deeply personal snapshot of life. It is not about perfection. It is about heart, passion, wonder, struggle, life. Some of the most popular blogs are full of comma splices and spelling errors. My best blog postings have been written in a whirlwind of inspired heat. They make me nervous. They make me reach out and claim myself. Blogging has taught me to embrace my story, trust myself, and put it out there.

Stephanie Wilson, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Saturday, we spent the morning with Jane Kenyon and Mary Oliver as part of the Poetry Detective Club’s new monthly initiative at the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse. Rebekah Spivey led us in discussion of two seemingly small poems.

For two delicious hours in the dappled morning light and shadows cast from our own Black Walnut Tree against the green walls of our meeting space, we basked in the profundity of simplicity, in the idea of poems as talismans.

The poems grew as we talked, expanding in many directions, taking us deeper –I dare say --into our own experiences of release and poetic sight. This felt like a “spirit bath” to me; soothing, stimulating, restorative on many levels.

We discussed “Let Evening Come”, Kenyon’s meditation on surrender. We talked about breathing rhythms, the psychic and bodily sensations we got listening and reading out loud, and the tensions created by carefully juxtaposed images. We teased out meanings. We discussed masculine and feminine energies held within the poem, and much more.

In Mary Oliver’s “Summer Poem”, we moved from the concept of surrender to the call to “sight” and the illustration of a kind of attention poets pay, not only to what they find right in front of them the moment they walk out their front doors, but in the making of poems. I don’t want to give it away, but there’s a wonderful surprise found ; a form within the form in this poem near the end.

Check out the Poetry Detectives for details on when the group meets, copies of these poems, and more information on this new group. Join us on 2nd Saturday Mornings if you’d like to read and discuss poetry.

I offer here a poem of mine that Rebekah remembered. Mostly because she remembered it and then I read it and thought, well, it too illustrates a kind of seeing I aspire to cultivate over my lifetime.

Unnatural Order

Walking the border of stubbled cornfield
one day I looked up.
A grey-brown tangle of fur fluttered
from a high net of branches, flopped
lifeless, animal dish rag
tossed up to dry.

Tail rings identified,
the twist of her neck suggested
a quick though grizzly end.

I pondered from my place on the ground:
What could she have known of flight
washing her paws, minding her
own moonlit business there by
the stream?
What terror in the elevation,
her perilous decent?
What forces of night or miscalculating
bird of prey caught her
lifting her mask—
swooped down for the silver reflecting
from un-shaded eyes,
then realized, mid-air
what was too weighty for wings?

It comes to me now:
Foiled ambitions litter the canopies
of our lives
Every unexpected
turn of event,
a trembling song on the high wind. --Beth Lodge-Rigal

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Art Fair for Words?

Sitting outside at the WWf(a)C table on Saturday at the annual Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts made me think about how a festival of stories and poetry might look.

Of course, there are writer's conferences every where which feature public readings of fiction and poetry as well as workshops for aspiring novelists, poets and playwrights. But what about a beautiful tree lined street filled with tents and booths and inside would be a poet or a short story writer fingers posed on the keyboard, muse at the ready?

Or you would see samples of their words on the tent walls and you would order a poem for a special occasion or you would ask for a short story that featured and old woman and a yellow teapot. Perhaps some tents might have earphones that you put on and you would hear TS Eliot reading the Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock or Sylvia Plath reading from the Bell Jar. Another tent would be filled with picture postcards from the 1930s when people stuck a penny stamp on a picture of Yellowstone National Park and wrote a great sentence about the weather.

Another booth would be a circle of chairs with a candle burning in the middle, where women are furiously writing in notebooks and reading to each other from their fast writes.

Another tent would be short dramas for the young at heart and singer songwriters would be leading songwriting workshops. The tents would have to be further apart than at the art fair. It would prevent us from having to shout to be heard. The spoken word can be a delicate thing. I love the idea of a word fair. What kind of booth would you like to see there?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Women Writing and Women Dancing--Thrill the World

Looking for something unique? Like to Dance? Want to help a good cause? Want to figure out the best way to remember Michael Jackson but are just not sure how? I spent a few hours on Saturday afternoon learning to dance to the famous Michael Jackson song Thriller: the song that featured zombie dancing in the graveyard. If you came of age in the 80's you must remember where you were when this music video premiered on MTV. Michael Jackson songs, in fact, Thriller, provided the soundtrack to most of my high school years.

My dear friend Alice is rounding up as many of us as she can who are nostalgic for Thriller, zombies, Michael J, and 80's dancing to participate in Thrill the World 2009. The idea is that people from all over the world will gather in an appointed spot in their community to dance to Thriller at the same time. The goal this year is to get 270,000 people to dance the same dance and win a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Anyone can join: kids, parents, zombies, 80s freaks, Michael J look-alikes. There are a few rehearsals between now and October 24th to actually learn the dance. I went to one today, and my kid and I had a great time. Alice knows how to teach the dance and by next week we should have it down.

Here in Bloomington Thrill the World will be a benefit for Middleway House. Participation is free but donations are accepted. We are fortunate to have this award winning and much needed service in our community. It would be great if Women Writing for (a) Change friends and fans would sign up and dance for a great cause.

Come on you know you want to!