There is something about fall and a pair of horses that grabs at my heartstrings. It’s my favorite time of year. Why? Because I get to return to school where I’m a visiting writer helping to turn kids on to the writing process. And, as always whenever I set about teaching something, I learn a lot from students.
This fall we’re starting a new project—a student newsletter. The first edition will be written by third graders who are proud to be reporters. Their classroom teacher bought them all nature journals as our focus is going to be on what they learn and discover about the natural world this fall.
One of the students—I’ll call him Billy, which isn’t his real name—noticed that a tree on the school grounds had been blown over by the wind. That led him to think about trees and their value to the ecosystem. He then looked at the sample newsletters and newspapers I had brought to our workshop, and asked, “Won’t trees have to be cut down to make our newsletter?”
He decided to write about how we can protect trees. A classmate decided to write about his idea to help trees: put up woodpecker houses because woodpeckers pick alien bugs out of the trees that might harm them.
I told Billy I thought that there is an organization that certifies paper that has come from sustainable forestry practices. When I got home, I consulted Google to find out more. There is such an organization—the Forest Stewardship Council. Further research indicates it does good work. Look for the green tree symbol on paper products. Not all environmental organizations give it an A in all parts of the world, however.
We can, of course, buy recycled paper to print our newsletter and recycle it after its read. It might be a good idea to incorporate a recycle reminder on our front page. And some will read it online.
I’ll tell him during the next workshop about bamboo paper products. I researched toilet paper made from bamboo because relatives of mine use it. I discovered bamboo products might be a good thing and might not— not is when growers cut down standing forests to plant bamboo. Another not is when chemicals are used to turn bamboo fiber into cloth. Another not is the greenhouse gases created when products are shipped long distances. My research says bamboo grows fast, doesn’t need herbicides and pesticides and can be planted in places where other crops don’t like to grow such as steep hillsides. But yet another not—when growers use herbicides and pesticides to boost yields.
All of this because some manufacturers are eager to capture the burgeoning green market. But all that advertises itself as green isn’t necessarily green.
The complications and nuances blow me away. Obviously, Billy isn’t going to write all that in his article. He will do his own research and choose what to write. But in doing the research to answer his question wisely, I learned a heck of a lot.
It reminds me why I write: because when you consider what you will bring to the page, you realize how little you know. The writing process is at its core all about learning.
The Last Leader, Joe Moody’s just-released sci-fi novel, is fun, inventive, suspenseful and accomplished. Joe and I are members of a writing critique group that meets at the Box Factory for the Arts in St. Joseph, Michigan. Every one of us is a fan, and we’re very happy for him. Congratulations on a job well done, Joe! MooingAround is proud to bring you his guest blog. Please continue reading to see what Joe has to share.
I am so happy to announce that the 2019 Evening Street Press spring issue contains my short story, “Margrethe’s Winter Coat.” Follow this link to read it.
This story is loosely based on my paternal grandmother’s life. She always scraped our teakettle clean when she came to stay with us where I grew up on an Iowa farm in the 1950s. She was just a little bit of a woman, but buckets of determination were to be found in the way she bore down on the inside of that teakettle to free it from lime and calcium deposits from our well water. I love the remembrance of her doing that so much, I wrote a poem about it and named my writing business Gritty Teakettle LLC. You’ll find a gritty teakettle in this story, too. I welcome comments.
Fear of facing the blank page delights in disguise. The Mask of Procrastination loves to do its dirty business in my subconscious. I intend to write first thing, yet when I’m paying attention, I recognize a few troubling warning signs. Why am I ironing, cleaning the refrigerator, or snoozing for five more minutes?
As if every day were Halloween, writers may glimpse a few masks that hide the fear of writing floating about in subterranean lairs. Writers, being creative sorts, can come up with a mob of them.
In addition to procrastination, you may notice:
Self-Doubt Mask – Who do you think you are? There’s nothing new under the sun. There’s nothing you can write about that hasn’t been written before by better writers.
White Rabbit Mask – I’m late, I’m late for a very important date! Arrive at work early to jump-start climbing mountains of tasks, and hurry, hurry, hurry all day and all evening. No time to say hello, blank page.
Mr. Excuse Mask – This writer rationalizes away writing time as if it were a commodity to be bartered, making elaborate excuses. I would write now if I could, but I can’t because . . .
Flawless Mask – I produce perfect manuscripts. Maybe I’d better wait to share this poem-story-novel in case I missed a mistake. I’ll just polish it again.
Shine the powerful tool of awareness on them and their true identities under the masks can be uncovered. I’ll share a trick to reveal them in a moment, but first, boo of what?
Boo of Moo comes from a chapter in my handbook, The Moo of Writing: How to Milk Your Potential. The chapter looks at ways we writers unknowingly impede ourselves.
Moo of Writing is a process centered on the writer as a ruminant, digging down into the subconscious to pull out—voila!—creativity. It’s also meant to conjure mu, a Zen koan whereby you find your work by getting out of your own way.
The dairy cow symbolizes the process because while she stands in the meadow peacefully chewing her cud and swishing her tail, she produces five gallons of milk every day. She’s relaxed, and she’s productive.
I don’t think she’s beset by the Boo of Moo.
But the human ruminant—gnawing on his virtual pencil and sensing something is not quite right—faces a formidable opponent that rings his doorbell most days dressed in the mask of the moment.
What lies beneath?
Consider how closely writing is tied to your identity. When I’m producing, I feel centered and grounded. I know who I am. Conversely, when I question my worth as a writer, a pall settles over me, and placing words on a page seems futile. Fear of unworthy writing threatens my raison d’être, a heavy burden to place on words.
Living in the Information Age, peace seldom settles lightly beside us. We have become a society of scurriers. I’m late, I’m late for a very important date! Hence, the popularity of quick-fix escapes such as beer, movies, whodunnit novels (my personal favorite—just one more chapter, one more chapter), the elsewhere of smartphones. We have kids to raise, livings to earn, appointments to keep and toenails to clip. Writing deadlines challenge us. It’s easy to morph those into stress. The White Rabbit Mask usurps focus.
If a desire to escape butts you relentlessly on the backside, take stock. Something is amiss. Try some quiet time to meditate, ground yourself and restore balance.
Rationalization is a tricky mask. When I find myself in a logic labyrinth, rationalization is the culprit. To recognize it, I must step off the path and observe my thoughts. For instance, I have no time to write tomorrow because I must do this and this and this. What? Wake up earlier? That would be unhealthy. I need my sleep. Can you spare 10 minutes? Stupid! What can I possibly accomplish in 10 minutes? I must get into the flow.
Rationalization, especially when played with the topic of time, can leave you trudging on a circular path forever lured by the carrot, I could write this except for . . .
Perfectionism kills even the desire to write because it forever leaves us tilting at windmills of illusion.
In Moo of Writing, I suggest an exercise to help writers identify masks and uncover fears:
· Gather drawing tools such as, crayons, pencils, markers, colored pencils, scrap paper, or sketch paper. If you’re comfortable with a drawing program on your tablet or computer, use it. Relax. Visualize yourself in safe space. Invite your mask into your vision. Without thinking, sketch it. Again, without thinking, write its name. You have named your fear, and when you name it, you own it.
When I did this, I drew a long, red rectangle-shaped face. Two black horizontal slits slashing across the page became eyes. The nose was a red, backwards comma. I interpreted the down-turned partial black arc mouth as aborted self-expression. “Hopeless” popped into my mind. Hopeless because? A moment’s thought and I had it: The mask showed me that I’d been letting rejections get me down. When I peeked beneath the mask, fear said, “What’s the use? The path ahead is strewn with rejections.”
· Write an affirmation to resolve your fear. Make it short, specific, and use the present tense. Examples: I acknowledge my fear of ________and move forward. Or, I write even when I feel fearful. Or, fear, I recognize you behind that mask of ________. I enjoy writing.
Affirmations are powerful tools that help you overcome fears you have dragged into the light. I wrote, “I choose hope” and placed it on my nightstand. “Hopeless” hangs in my writing room as a reminder that if I value my work, that value may be mirrored back to me by editors and readers. Poor “Hopeless” actually amuses me now, he’s so pitiful.
The Boo of Moo concept has been helpful to me. I hope it is to you. May you happily wander about in creative pastures wearing unmatched socks, sketching fears in your notebooks.
Please excuse me now, my computer screen needs dusting.
my thanks to thewritewaycafe.blogspot.com for first publishing boo of moo: how to unmask your writing fears
In modern times, Adolf Hitler was a big fan of the big lie. His writing on the topic in his Mein Kampf is exquisitely evil.
Lies are a propaganda tool. Think what Hitler and his propaganda henchman Joseph Goebbels could have done if they’d had television and social media.
Think what they did without them.
Hitler accused the Jews of using “the big lie” to blame Germany’s loss in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff, a nationalist and anti-Semitic political leader.
Hitler claimed that they were – “inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
“It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X, according to a translation by James Murphy.
Jeffrey Herf, a distinguished professor of modern European history at the University of Maryland whose field is 20th Century Germany, maintains, according to Wikipedia, that Goebbels used the Big Lie to turn long-standing anti-Semitism into mass murder. The “big lie” went like this: Germany was besieged by “international Jewry” which started World War I. Jews held all the real power in Britain, Russia, and the U.S. Jews had begun a war of extermination against Germany so Germany had a duty and a right to annihilate the Jews in self-defense.
Now let’s look at a contemporary “big lie.”
In September of 2016 Bloomberg Businessweek wrote about investigations by media, including the Los Angeles Times, and by the NY State Attorney General that as early as the 1970s Exxon Mobil understood more about climate change than it had let on and had deliberately misled the public about it.
Bloomberg quotes environmentalist Bill McKibben, originator of the worldwide environmental organization, 350.org., saying, “Exxon helped organize the most consequential lie in human history.”
Exxon denies its culpability.
Meanwhile, Exxon’s investments in Russia to develop oil fields, were sidelined by sanctions slapped against Russia after it annexed Crimea and fomented war in Ukraine.
Now, Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon Mobil, serves as secretary of state and a climate change denier serves as head of the EPA.
The New York Times reported in December 2016 that Tillerson has opposed sanctions on Russia, which are the single greatest obstacle to foreign investment in that country. Russia has two enormous areas for new oil development, in the Barents Sea and a shale field in western Siberia. They’re essentially closed to development because of a lack of foreign capital and expertise. Exxon was poised to invest in both areas before the sanctions.
When it comes time once more for the slogan “drill, baby, drill,” I predict we’ll experience another round of attempts by the fossil fuel industries to debunk scientific facts. I see the denial of climate change by the U.S. Congress as simply a façade in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of its urgency—an excuse to enable further fossil fuel production and pollution by the oil and gas industry that pulls the strings of many a Congressional campaign for re-election. Congress and the current Administration already are rolling back clean air and water regulations vital to human health and the viability of life on planet Earth, crucial to us all regardless of our political positions.
Some of you may know that poison ivy and cockroaches thrive on a warming planet. Although I spent 30 years as a newspaper reporter, I now write poetry. I’ll close with my poem,
The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. …Psalm 37: 35,36.
There’s something about solstices and equinoxes that turns my creative mind to nature. My talented husband Ron DeKett wandered with his camera down the steep path behind our house to Love Creek at the bottom of the ravine we call ours. He found beauty. (And below is a poem to accompany it). Happy Solstice!
It’s a joy to read and to write poems. I can’t resist stopping to write a few lines even when on a walk in the woods. Ron DeKett shot this photo while we were hiking in a natural area at Traverse City, Michigan, this spring.
Today, I share with you the joy of two new poems by MooingAround contributor and poet, J.D. Have fun reading them and happy writing!
Fellow writers, this summer, I am learning to respect and admire people with disabilities even more than I did before. I have a friend who has muscular dystrophy, lives in a big city, and succeeds in taking a city bus to work every day. I’ve been reminded of her pluck every day this summer while I am wheelchair-bound with a broken leg and compression fracture in my back. What challenges she faces for the rest of her life! I only have to survive this for 12 weeks.
Of course, one of the biggest challenges is mental. Most of the time, I have the eight walls of our living room and kitchen/dining room to look at. (My husband moved a bed into the living room for me).
Yet, there are blessings. My confinement presents its own entertainment. I have time to read books. A chipmunk’s antics viewed through our dining room window delights and inspired me to write a children’s story. When my accident happened and I came home from the hospital with a metal plate and screws holding my tibia plateau together, people emailed me—you’ll have plenty of time to write! The thing is: it’s really difficult to use a laptop lying down, and my painful back allowed for only very short sitting time. Only now, after 8 weeks, can I sit long enough to use the laptop for an hour or so. But, I learned I can still write using pen and paper. I wrote the chipmunk story in a small journal a good writing buddy gave me.
I’m discovering the fascinating world visible from our kitchen. There’s a little spider living in a windowsill that I have struck up a friendship with. He crawls around on the screen while I’m standing at the kitchen sink on one leg brushing my teeth.
But most exciting of all – I was sitting in my wheelchair staring out the window daydreaming when I saw a plant grow!! My grandson, Little Dude, and I had started flowers from seed in my sunroom early this spring. Some of them are morning glories which we planted in window boxes under the kitchen windows. One had been curling up tall enough to be visible from inside the house, and as I watched, it popped taller! I saw a plant grow! Maybe as much as a half inch.
I saw that as a miracle.
And it is one that never would have happened if my 80-pound granddog hadn’t crashed into me running full speed and laid me down on the ground on Memorial Day weekend.
So, I am grateful for miracles, and my friend who is spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair—my hat is off to you!
It is a privilege to publish three new poems by the very talented Josette Davison. She rose to the challenge of writing poetry to mark April as National Poetry Month. Click on the titles to read her excellent, heartfelt work. Thank you, Josette! A Prayer, The Night, and Wondering.
The Moo of Writing process worked for me. I wrote 30 poems in 30 days for a challenge thrown down by Local Gems Press. Those of us who participated in the chapbook contest have until May 5 to email the ms. to Local Gems. I sat each day with my Moo Stone for a short time, did deep breathing and meditation. Once I had the first line of the poem, I was off and running. I didn’t know whether I could produce a poem every day, and was thrilled to discover I could! Those who didn’t participate in the Local Gems contest, but would like to see their poems published here, please send them to me. Writers, we can accomplish more than we think we can! Happy writing and good luck with the contest.
Poets, how are you faring? We are on day 26 of writing a poem per day for national poetry month. So far, I’m 26 for 26, some of which I’m happy with, and some of which need tweaking. Moo of Writing has been working for me. When I relax and don’t try hard, the words flow. Some days I feel like this nesting mother goose waiting for eggs to hatch. How about you?
Will you rise to the challenge of writing a poem a day during April? So far, five of us are in—Adamy Damaris Diaz, Jacquelyn Weddington, Cindy Carver Hosea, Cathy Zellmann and me. Choose a theme (which can be changed up to mid-month). Adamy is looking at “Memory Lane.” Cathy may choose “Places.” I’ve already changed mine—as a warm-up exercise I’ve been writing a poem a day and discovered I can’t keep to a topic. Instead, I need to write what the Muse inspires, so I’m thinking of changing my theme from goddesses to something less specific. We’d be happy to consider publishing the poems you wish to share here at mooingaround.com. Happy writing!
Will you join me in a challenge? In my handbook, Moo of Writing, I advocate a belief in abundance. We can all be like Linus in the pumpkin patch, believing with all our heart that a great pumpkin bursting with the seeds of prolific writing will descend upon us, indeed lives within us every day! I am now throwing down a challenge to myself—and I invite you to join me—to enter a contest. We will pick a theme and write one poem a day every day for the month of April for a total of 30 poems in honor of National Poetry Month. The contest is sponsored by localgemspoetrypress.com, and they want $25 from you by March 25 to enter. If you choose not to enter the contest, but want to participate, send me your poems through this website by May 1, and we’ll choose some to publish here. Usually, I spend weeks if not months on a poem, keeping several in the hopper at once, returning to them to reconsider, putting them through critiquing workshops, mulling them over, sleeping on them. In April, I will allow myself no such luxury of time. Winner of the contest receives $300 and Local Gems Press publishes the winner’s chapbook. I’m excited about the challenge. Time to see how well Moo of Writing really works! Moo/Mu!