Sunday Best: Writing Workshop

This past week, I attended a four-day writing workshop at The Sheridan Senior Center. We met for two hours each day. The instructor was Jane Elkington Wohl, a local author who taught English and creative writing at Sheridan College for years and has published several books of poetry.

This workshop focused on writing personal stories. Many participants were senior citizens. The main objective was for us to have tools to work with in our future writing. Jane gave us some great prompts, and we even learned about metaphors. Most of us, myself included, loved the workshop, and Jane promised to do it again next spring. I’ll be using some ideas I picked up in future blog posts, so stay tuned.

What’s the best thing that happened to you this past week? Please tell me about it in the comment field. I hope something good happens to you this coming week.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

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Poetry that Influenced Me

In a recent post, I mentioned a correspondence course I was taking from the Hadley Institute. I’m now pleased to announce that I’ve passed the course with an A Plus. For our last assignment, I was instructed to pick three poems, write about them, then compose a poem in the style of one of the poems I picked.

My three chosen poems are: “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” by Francesco Marciuliano, “The Lanyard by Billie Collins, and “In Praise of Joe” by Marge Piercy. “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” comes from I Could Chew on This, a collection of poems that tell stories from a dog’s point of view. This poem provides a humorous look at what can happen when a dog is left at home, reminding me so much of the Irish setter we had when I was a teen-ager. Marciuliano tells this story in one stanza with many short lines.

In “The Lanyard,” Billie Collins tells his story in a different way. Using several stanzas with many short lines, he shares a memory of creating a lanyard for his mother when he was a boy at summer camp. He starts in the present. Apparently bored, he’s thumbing through a dictionary when he finds the word lanyard, and that gets him to reminiscing. You can click below to hear the author read this poem.

 

Marge Piercy uses many stanzas containing several short lines, but in this case, she’s not telling a story. She’s describing the many ways she drinks coffee and extolling its virtues. It inspired me to write a poem about Dr. Pepper, which appears in my own collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

Now here’s a poem I wrote in the style of “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” and other poems in Francesco Marciuliano’s collection. It was also inspired by a visit to my brother in Florida, who has two dogs, and by something I see every day while walking. You can click below to hear me read it.

 

Four Ways a Dog Looks at Life

 

1.

 

I’m too outspoken

so must wear a special collar

during the day while no one’s home.

When I alert the empty house,

it vibrates against my throat,

feels weird, sometimes uncomfortable,

causing me to whine

when I speak my mind.

Life is “ruff.”

2.

 

“Turkey muffin, turkey muffin,”

you squeak, as my leash clicks into place.

What’s a turkey muffin, anyway?

It doesn’t sound nearly as appealing

as that rotten fish head in the alley.

Now that’s what I want.

 

3.

 

Oh, you’re hungry?

You don’t live here,

so you don’t know where anything is.

You don’t see very well, huh?

Well, how about some potato chips?

I know where they are,

in the pantry. Open this door.

They’re right here on the floor.

Now here’s one for you, five for me,

one for you, ten for me,

one for you, twenty for me,

one for you, forty for me.

Oh, the bag’s empty.

Just throw it away.

They’ll think you ate all the chips. Ha ha.

 

4.

 

What’s that on the other side of the fence?

A white stick it is,

rolling along the pavement.

A human pushes it.

I want to chase it.

I bark and bark and bark,

leap in the air many times,

try to fly over the fence.

I’m ignored.

Human and stick walk and roll away.

***

Have any poems ever influenced you? Please tell me about them in the comment field. I leave you now with the hope that someday, you can read a pile of perfect poems.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

Thursday Book Feature: Writing past dark…

Writing past dark: envy, fear, distraction, and other dilemmas in the writer’s life

By Bonnie Friedman

Copyright 1993

 

In this collection of essays on the writing life, the author, through stories of her own experiences and those of others, explores such topics as envy, distractions, and success. She talks about attending a writing school and how it didn’t help her. She asks the question of whether or not to write about someone you know and reflects on the loneliness of the profession and the need for perfection. In the end, she shares how she was affected by one story being accepted for publication by The New York Times and a string of rejections that soon followed.

I was compelled to read this book because of an upcoming appearance by the author at one of my writing group meetings. Because her writing can be abstract, parts of the book didn’t hold my attention. Her comparison between writing and the Biblical story of Abraham sacrificing his son to prove his faith in God was, to me, absurd.

However, I found most of her stories interesting, like the account of how her parents reacted when they read a book she wrote about them. It made me think of my own memoir. I’m thankful I didn’t have anything really bad to write about anyone in that book. To learn more about My Ideal Partner, click here.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Breaks Are Important

Thanks to Linda Hasselstrom for inspiring this. Linda runs a writers’ retreat facility in South Dakota. In a recent post, she shares how one of her clients showed her the value of taking time to enjoy what is around you. She and this client have a point.

Recently when I returned home from entertaining at a nursing home, my plan was to take a nap, walk on the treadmill for half an hour, then finish a blog post and schedule it to go live in a couple of days. However the afternoon was sunny, though a bit windy, and a dip of salted caramel ice cream from the stand in the park called my name. I decided to skip the nap and walk to the park for that ice cream. That way, I could satisfy my craving and get my exercise in at the same time.

It was wonderful to sit at a picnic table near the ice cream stand and watch people come and go while enjoying my treat. After days of ninety-degree heat, I appreciated the cool breeze that rustled my hair and threatened to snatch my extra napkins.

It only took me about an hour to walk to the stand, purchase my scoop in a dish, eat it, and walk home, probably less time than if I were to have taken my nap and walked on the treadmill instead. When I returned to my computer, ready to finish my blog post, I was refreshed.

What do you like to do to give yourself a break and enjoy your surroundings? I look forward to reading about it in the comments field.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Thursday Book Feature: Recipes for a Beautiful Life

Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories

By Rebecca Barry

Copyright 2015.

 

This isn’t a cookbook, although there are recipes throughout. Instead, this #1 New York Times bestselling author explores what it’s like to balance writing with marriage and family in a failing economy. Through an introduction, epilog, and journal entries spanning from 2008 to 2012, she talks about how she and her husband and two small boys started a new life in a small town in upstate New York.

She describes the difficulties of writing while trying to care for a big house and two small children, especially when her husband’s work took him to New York. She discusses how she and her husband struggled to make ends meet after he was laid off from one of his jobs, how they tried and eventually succeeded at producing a magazine, and how, after working on a book for a couple of years, she realized it wasn’t publishable and the sense of failure she had as a result.

She describes her close-knit family, the reason she and her husband settled where they did. She talks about her sister, who wanted a baby and finally adopted one, and her mother’s diagnosis with kidney failure. In the end, she explains how a new book idea and the success of their magazine gave her a new lease on life.

This book frustrated me at times. Like many of today’s parents, Rebecca Barry and her husband Tommy weren’t as authoritative as our parents were when my younger brother and I were growing up. As a result, their little boys walked all over them.

If I had yelled at three in the morning, “Mommy, get up now!” I would have gotten a spanking, which I would have deserved. When my younger brother acted out in a restaurant, Dad took him outside, put him on the hood of the car, gave him a talking to and perhaps a spanking, which he also deserved. Talking back was not an option. Children must learn to respect others, to take responsibility for their actions, and to do things they don’t want to do like putting on their pants and going to school. That’s how I was raised, and I’m proud of it.

That said, this book helped me put my own life in perspective. I’m so thankful I wasn’t trying to write a book with a traditional publisher’s deadline looming while caring for two small children, especially in a society where spanking is taboo. All I had to contend with while getting my novel, We Shall Overcome, ready for publication was my late husband Bill’s partial paralysis as a result of two strokes. Oh, there were interruptions galore, since he could do little for himself, but at least he didn’t throw things or pee in the bathtub.

Then again, the comforting thing about being a parents is that your children will eventually grow up and be able to fend for themselves. However, when you’re caring for a loved one who will probably never walk again, things don’t usually get better. You can learn more about our struggles by reading My Ideal Partner.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Conversations with Me

Thanks to heylookawriterfellow for inspiring this. In his post, he shares things he and his wife do that drive each other nuts. It gave me a good laugh when I read it, but it also got me to thinking about one thing I did that annoyed my late husband Bill.

When I was a child, my mother talked to herself, even when I was around. As I grew older, I met a few other people who did the same thing, so the habit wasn’t hard to develop.

It was definitely a hard one to break, though try I did after I married Bill. He even hated it when I read my stories and poems aloud to myself as part of my editing process. That changed after he suffered his first stroke.

While he was recuperating in the nursing home, and I was home alone, I made an effort not to talk to myself. I vowed that I would be completely over this habit by the time he came home. I read my work to myself softly instead of out loud.

I succeeded, for the most part, in breaking this habit, but when Bill came home, he said he liked it when I talked to myself because he then knew where I was and what I was doing. When you can’t see, and you only have the use of one arm and leg, hearing the one you love and depend on to care for you can be a comfort. You can learn more about our life together by reading My Ideal Partner.

Since Bill passed almost five years ago, I’m back to my old habit. I talk to myself all the time and answer myself. I even say a sentence out loud before I type it. When I finish writing this, I’ll go back and read it aloud to myself, as I correct mistakes and make changes. No one is around to hear, so what does it matter?

What do you do that annoys your significant other? What does your significant other do that annoys you? I look forward to reading about it in the comments field.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Whitney Common (Poetry)

I wrote the following poem years ago, inspired by a park I still enjoy walking through today. I posted it this here in 2010 when it was published in Serendipity Poets Journal. Now, it appears in the summer print edition of The Avocet. Click below to hear me read it.

 

 

 

Whitney Common

 

 

I walk along the smooth sidewalk

surrounded by lush, green lawns, benches,

trees in the first stages of growth,

the scent of newly mown grass,

cries of children as they swing, slide,

play in the gurgling fountain,

inviting on a hot summer day.

I’d rather walk here than through the streets.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.