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Poet’s note: I am just coming out of a migraine that I had for the second half of the day (over 6 hours anyway). So this is late by 40 minutes but I technically started it early the morning of Jan. 10, so it counts. And you don’t really want to read what I was working on while in the depths of the Dantesque “Inferno” that is my migraine-state-of-mind.

Impediment

Laura asked, “Why are you a poet?”
It’s compulsory, I said, not because
I want to write; I cannot avoid it.

Long before I could hold a pen,
When I was little, I lugged a clunky
Tape recorder around our huge house;
I found an empty outlet and plugged
It in and pressed the chunky buttons
To record made-up poems and stories,
Read books about mammals aloud;
My toddler brother and I made gory
Cassettes with “haunted sound effects”
Then re-played them to entertain us.

In my thirties, once, as a failed
Experiment, I attended a support
Group (what happens in Anxiety Club,
Stays in Anxiety Club); a last resort,
Hoping to meet like-minded veterans
Of the literary profession, but this
Backfired. Novices, triology-obsessed
Novelists, trichotillomaniacs.

Compelled the way some people
Chew pens or eat paper, I have a literal
Fixation with words. I chew on them.
Verbs click against my teeth; marbles
Big glass shooters, and little onionskins,
Cane-cut swirls, blue specks of mica
Suspended in spheres of crashed glass
The speech therapist in elementary
School pulled me out of math class
And beseeched me to recite a
Sentence over and over in my sweetly
Crooked mouthfuls, I’d enunciate
To overcome a girlish lisp.

I still have it.

Tangible details—these are the closest
I’ll get to wearing braces; tight prose
Retains better than a paper clip,
Jammed like pretend orthodontics
I wore in 6th grade to assimilate.
My dentist—out of sympathy,
Explained, “I’d have to break
Your jaw twice a year. There’s
No permanent solution to fix
Genetic cross-bite like yours.”

Every other syllable

Slips

like drool

between

Partially sealed lips,
Deformed and thin as baleen
Stretched off-center, between
Rosy, frost-bitten cheeks.

This is what it’s like
Talking with marbles
In your mouth.

No wonder I write.

HeartShapedFaceLately I have been waking up with a poem in mind. It’s been months since this happened. Unfortunately, my spacebarisbroken. I hope I don’t become one of those dreadful streamofconsciousness poets in the process, for lackof a workingspacebar. The poem below, while it’s about a stream, is not meant to be a play on stream-of-consciousness poetry. Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for a 30/30 poetry marathon that will be part of a fundraising event for Tupelo Press in California. Along with a few other poets, I will write 30 poems in 30 days. I’m flexing my metaphorical muscles now…

Tonight is the New Moon and I definitely feel like a new chapter, or verse, is about to begin.

New poem I’m working on (full poem not included):

Evolution of a Stream

Red maple leaves spin, skate and skirt
‘Round rocks like bumper cars
Hurdling down a stream
At an amusing rate.

To the casual observer, this water moves fast
Hurries over obstacles toward some indefinite
Destination. At least, this is how you see it
On the surface.

A hydrologist plots the analysis
Upon closer study, sees the millions
Of sediments of silt and sand,
Mica and minerals carried along
Curved and suspended:
They lift and settle;
They shift and settle,
Gradually shaping and
Reshaping this streambed.

{…}

                   For G.

-LCS

SaintStatueLately it seems that I’ve been doing far more editing and texting than I have been writing. Not good. I’ve taken photos, collected snippets and story ideas over the past several months. In between blog posts, I usually write in my journal and let ideas percolate.  This has been a big trend in September (letting things percolate). Since the air has turned unseasonably cool prematurely, I haven’t been swimming either, not since early in September. Instead, I’ve hiked a mountain a few times, explored a sunken garden and prayed at the feet of a pregnant statue of Saint Guadalupe. More on this subject later (there’s a story behind this.)

I’m on deadline with the National Wetlands Newsletter but wanted to post something here to mark this period of …”busy work” – and the need to make up for it later. If you’re a writer and reading this, how do you make time to write? What have you found that really works?  In the meantime, I’m pretty happy. Work is keeping me on my toes, I’ve had new French doors installed for the patio entrance and I’ve gotten to spend time with close friends, including a trip to Simsbury, CT for my best friend’s baby shower. (Perhaps there was something in that wish and prayer I made on the statue of the pregnant saint! My friend certainly made out like a bandit at the shower.)

A new dress that my birthday twin gave me.

A new dress that my birthday twin gave me.

The full moon yesterday drove me to tears. It’s the sort of energy that turns me into a wounded animal or cursed character from Greek mythology. Normally, a full moon in Aquarius sends me jumping for unexpected joy, since I was born with a triple blast of the cool, breezy and sometimes hurricane-like gales of Aquarian air.  While I’m “Aquarius Rising,” I’m a watery Pisces (Decan 1), which makes me stormy. Truly, I get most creative during thunderstorms, hurricanes and blizzards. Living in “Thunder Town,” where the radon in the granite and abundance of lakes and ponds attracts frequent thunderstorm activity has helped me to be productive and prolific as a writer, for the most part. (This past year has had its share of dry spells and strange weather.)

The incredibly beneficial Grand Water Trine with Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune in the three water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), with a cosmic “jackpot” moment the week of July 16-19th, was especially golden for those of us born in Decan 1 Pisces with Feb. 23 or 24th birthdays (like mine!), or born in the first few days of Pisces (Feb. 20-25th) more generally. Last week, when I got terribly upsetting news about my poetry manuscript, I thought, “Where’s my cosmic jackpot?” Then I had a wonderful meeting-of-the-minds with a fellow literary nerd, and thought, “Hmmm, perhaps THIS is my cosmic lottery ticket!”  Yet, I was wrong.  Someone yelled “Bingo” prematurely…and we all know that’s a ‘no-no.’ Thus, I had a few epiphanies during this blowhard of a full moon. Ugh.

Summer 2013 is odd in that it has not one but two full moons in Aquarius–one on July 22nd, which dared people (go on, I dare you, see what happens) and the second one on August 20th.  The August full moon is supposed to be aspected with far fewer challenging or oppositional energy for those of us with Aquarian traits (or Pisces, for that matter). I’m hoping for a creative splash of full moon energy to make up for the suck-the-life-out-of-you whirlwind we just had yesterday. Late August could heighten or inspire some cutting-edge ideas.

swimwear19565Fortunately that Grand Water Trine I mentioned has wonderfully magic effects that last into next year, with Jupiter in Cancer (for those of us Pisceans) until July 2014.  This is happy news, especially for my fellow mermaids & mermen looking for a true, soulmate love. But this is just the beginning…we have a whole year of this dreamy Neptunian influence. How lovely! Grab your retro glam swimsuit and pose like a ’60s pin-up girl at the beach. That’s the Pisces way.

If you want a video podcast of your August horoscope, check out Kelly Rosano’s podcast series. I like her. This one’s for Pisces (August 2013). You can find the others at her All Are One Youtube Channel. 

imagesAs luck would have it…

hemingway-and-gelhornI’m a little excited about this serendipitous turn of events at my local library tonight. I took a box of books to donate. Since I haven’t been able to write creatively for months, I thought I better clear away some distracting clutter. This includes donating old clothes to Good Will, a 1986 Volvo to Maine Public Radio’s Car Talk program and a bunch of books to the local library.  While there, I wandered over to glance at the summer book sale that they were just beginning to sort. Genres mixed together, a real free-for-all. I was the sole patron and started to talk with the librarian as she sorted. All my recent obsessive fantasies about Hemingway and Gellhorn came out, the film, how I’d hunted down a copy of a collection of his short stories including, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” which he wrote while he was in love with Martha Gellhorn, etc. She was a war correspondent and travel writer, well-known and well-respected in her heyday. While I’m gabbing away about the 10 year relationship between Hemingway and Gellhorn, I ran my fingers over the spines of various books, looking up at the librarian. She asked me something, I stopped and fingered the cover of one vintage book, a dark cover, without a book jacket or image. It did not have the title on the front. I opened the book to the dedication page:

“This book is for Martha Gellhorn.”

I picked it up (!) and turned it over in my hands. It’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Hemingway, 1940.  It is said that Martha Gellhorn inspired For Whom the Bell Tolls.  The librarian thought it was “spooky” since it was the only Hemingway book in the whole library, to her knowledge, and I happened upon it at the moment I mentioned Martha Gellhorn. I can’t tell what edition it is, if it’s a first edition, or second, but it just has the 1940 date, which is when it was first published. This sort of thing has happened to me before. I once found a 1955 first edition of Rachel Carson’s “The Edge of the Sea” at the edge of a dump in Southwest Harbor and I salvaged it. It inspired me to take some dramatic action at the time. I take these sorts of things very personally as signs or omens the way some people interpret bird droppings. There is a John Donne quote on the opposite page facing pg. 1 of Chapter 1 starting with, “No man is an island…” which is one of my favorite lines of all time. Here is the John Donne quote that appears at the start of Hemingway’s novel:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

In finding this 1940 edition, I feel like I have a new crush, an infatuation with their words, an old story…their love story, their exchange of ideas, letters, writings and the energy between Hemingway, a Cancerian man, and Gellhorn, the war journalist and writer, a Scorpio, over the ten years they were together (as lovers and during their short marriage). It’s been a while since I’ve had a crush like this. It makes me happy and I feel inspired, too. Energized. I’m on a deadline, so I am pretty focused on the newsletter right now….but this happenstance puts a little more pep in my step!  If you’ve found a rare gem of a images-1vintage book, and it’s inspired you, leave a comment.

Everybody loves Raymond(s). Or at least, I love the writing advice they give.

Ray Bradbury said: “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

Raymond Carver: “Get in. Get out. Don’t linger.”

And Raymond Chandler: “The more you reason, the less you create.”

Recently I discovered Ondine ~ a brand of pre-cooked lasagna pasta, named after the Ondine, a mythological mermaid (or group of mermaids), who dwelled along the rivers. Also spelled “Undine,” they were water spirits who showed up in European folklore. In one eerie version of the story, the Ondine had the ability to “gain a soul” by marrying a man and bearing his child. In a German version of the myth, called “the Ondine’s Curse,” the water spirit, or mermaid, casts magic on an unfaithful man so that he would stop breathing during sleep. Apparently this “curse” and mythology fed the early medical thinking on those who suffer from frequent hyperventilation. I’ve heard several variations of the diagnosis for my sudden and frequent lapses in breathing–but from now on, I am going to think of it as my Ondine’s curse. That’s a little easier to swallow than all of the other freakish-sounding medical explanations from doctors over the past 25 years. It’s my spiritual mermaid self just channeling ancient memories.

NymphsI was nine years old when I stopped breathing one day, while washing my hands in the bathroom sink. I had no way of calling to my mother for help, so I clapped my hands and banged against the counter. A sharp pinch in my lung prevented air from going out or coming in, so I couldn’t breathe in either direction. My mother called 911 and the first responders arrived, and examined me in the living room. I hadn’t been breathing for several minutes–but suddenly began to inhale and exhale tiny puffs, like sipping the steam off the top of hot cocoa. My chest burned. I gathered from the look on my brother’s face, I was turning funny colors, and freaking him out. One of the emergency responders told me I had a touch of pleurisy, an inflammation in the lining surrounding the lungs. It causes sharp intense pain in the chest (the lungs, specifically) and can be brought on by taking a deep breath, coughing, or even laughing. Over the years as I grew up, and to this day, I occasionally stop breathing. Sometimes I am engulfed with laughter with friends, or talking on the phone, and suddenly I go dead quiet. My closest friends and family know this about me, so they know to either wait it out, or my best friends will continue laughing–since frequent hyperventilation is inconvenient and embarrassing, and sometimes funny. Not in a ha-ha kind of funny, more of an obtuse Addams Family dinner way. Oh, she’s stopped breathing again. A part of me wants to think this is the basis for my constant need to speak fast and furious, and to interrupt others with enthusiastic bursts of creative thinking–because there is the likely scenario that I might stop breathing mid-sentence and lose the thought completely. This is a bit difficult to explain to people in the work place, and can sound melodramatic. When I taught writing classes in my usual exuberant and entertaining way, I sometimes clutched my chest and lost my breath. After this happened once in front of horrified students, who thought I looked young enough to be one of their classmates, I explained it away in my best impression of SNL “Coffee Talk,” and told them I was verklempt and for them to “talk amongst themselves.”

Now I find myself sipping raspberry zinger at my desk. The inside flap of the box has this description of the tea: “According to Roman legend, raspberries were originally white – but turned red when the Cretian nymph Ida scratched herself on a thorny raspberry bush.” (Celestial Seasonings) It’s too bad these descriptions don’t make it on the grocery store shelves like the hand-written recommendations of bottom-shelf wines: “Full-bodied and dishes it right back.” I think in another life, I’d like to be responsible for writing the descriptions of teas and under-sold wines. raspberries

Ondine Movie Pic“Ondine” is also a beautiful 2009 Irish romantic drama starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda. This is one of my favorite movies from recent years. It makes me want to go to Ireland really really bad. (Plus, I’m Irish.) Check it out: http://www.ondinefilm.com/

Tonight I shall experiment with tomato Ondine lasagna with roasted root vegetables, goat cheese and tomato basil sauce.

I love visiting the Poets & Writers Magazine website. It’s turned me onto many useful Tools for Writers. Even though there is an excellent searchable database for literary agents, I wish there was a better match-making service online for pairing writers and agents, writers with publishers and even writers with editors. It’s like online dating for writers without the romance or personal stuff, unless that is, your genre-of-choice is a bodice-ripping memoir. I belong to an online writers forum called She Writes, which has some fantastic resources for women writers. But it still lacks this kind of match-making system that I’m talking about. The challenge I often face is that my writing is usually a cross-hybrid, e.g. natural history-memoir, or humor/parody/sci-fi/creative nonfiction. It makes it difficult to check off 1 box on a searchable database and find an agent, publisher or editor who works with such mixes of genres. Same goes for the Writer’s Market reference guide, another favorite resource.

An online writing profile might offer these things:

Name: Leah S.
Years Actively Writing: 30+ (started with a tape-recorder when I was 5)
First publication: Short piece in Wiscasset newspaper, circa 1983 (on wanting to be a journalist)
Genre(s): (List predominant genres as well as those tossing around in the back of the dryer) Creative nonfiction, poetry, environmental science & nature writing, technical, children’s fiction, short fiction, novelette, screenwriting, blogging

Describe writing: My fiction is a hot mess with a chip on her shoulder and a fascination with the absurd, e.g. surfers and the sharks who become them; sexual predators devoured by invasive fish. Creative nonfiction is my practical side. Keepin’ it real. Poetry–Mainiacal. Yes, spelled with two Is and a capital M. That means “from Maine” and “of or related to mania, or a maniac.” 

My writing has been compared to: Kerouac, Millay.
No Regrets: Don’t mention Muppets.
Current obsession: hybrid genres
Editors say: Leashless energy, arresting imagery – essentially stop-go-stop-go traffic patterns
Biggest Hurdles: Dysfunctional computer and printer; oppressively red walls in writing room
Favorite writers: Shirley Jackson, Terry Tempest Williams*, Annie Dillard and other chain-smokers
(Note: *Williams is not a chain-smoker to my knowledge)

Fern Gully in early spring

A few years ago, I bought a cottage on a small lot of land near a pond. It looked like a good place to live and write. I was 32 and writing about wetlands for a nonprofit organization. During my first few months, a rainy Maine summer, I fell deeply in love with my new environment. Ferns unfurled, like fingers from clenched fists, and everything gave sway to the unrelenting rains. My little four-acre refuge soaked up the water without flooding my basement. It did a job: the land, freckled with ferny wetlands—a seep, a vernal pool and a perennial stream flowed into the pond, all diverting the floodwaters. Sunlight reflected off the pond in the mornings, bouncing through the trees and in through my windows. Rays off the pond showered mirrors and walls with shapes of light like sunfish swimming from one room to another. This seemed magical to me since I didn’t have a water view or access to the pond from my property directly, but the water still made its way to me. From my upstairs windows, I looked down into a woodsy glen, a bird-haunted haven for deer, fox and porcupine. Though I’ve never been much of a fan of amphibians, I became intimately connected with the daily lives of endangered wood frogs, crawling out of the vernal pool in my woods each spring, passing by the gang of poisonous toads that lived under my deck. Their transformative life cycles and dark-throated hunger for resilience impressed me—I became obsessed and passionate about their survival. I also swam with loons here—on a regular basis, to the point where I became known as a “loon lady” in the neighborhood. I discovered rare butterflies and hummingbirds also thrived here—as would I.

Virginia Woolf’s line, “Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate…a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself,” resonates with me. I come from a long line of women’s suffrage and a firm belief in female empowerment.  Many of my literary heroines, Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter, for example, wrote at a time when women were not encouraged to think for themselves, let alone express their ideas in writing.  I grew up in a Victorian family a century after-the-fact; I came of age in Victorian homes, and quite literally, one of my childhood bedrooms was in a tower. My perception of what I could do and could not do as a girl was not metaphorical; I sometimes locked myself in a walk-in closet for some privacy to write in my journal and there was nothing proverbial about having a tower bedroom as a pre-teen girl with long blond hair. A locket of my grandmother’s, that I wear around my neck, her initials dented into the back of it, reminds me of my ancestry, my heritage. I was born into the oldest women’s organization in the country: the Female Charitable Society provided education funds to young women. (I’m also a descendant of Erastus Foote, Maine’s first attorney general, born 200 years before me, and I grew up in his house, the Wood-Foote House in Wiscasset, where the FCS formed its first chapter and held its meetings at my grandmother’s house.)

The Wood-Foote House belonged to my family for 200 years

In my thirties, I mentored young women, twenty-somethings who wanted to go to college. I designed a college transitions class and inspired “success stories” among my students, helping them to build self-confidence and to see their own potential. I think I inherited that trait—to help others come out of their shell—from my grandmother.

The power to think for oneself strengthens a woman’s ability to listen to her own voice, her intuition and to trust that her memory is valid. It takes courage to see the truth and relevance in one’s own perception without constantly having to temper that narrative in a socially correct way based on outside influences—parents, employers, teachers and authority figures. For me, the power to think for oneself drives the ambition to command my voice, rather than to quiet it. This power to think for myself is a motivating force, a true north by which I navigate with an inner compass and conquer private fears of getting lost in a wilderness of my own making.

Nixie’s Vale

Working on a new essay. The assignment? What writing means to me. I still struggle with this type of assignment. Taking a stab…here are bits.

Sheepscot R. Maine Natural Heritage photo

Estuarine life, and my love of writing, spawned at the mouth of the Sheepscot River. From a young age, I participated in writing groups. Over thirty years of writing, I have grown accustomed to recognizing new and seasoned writers. New writers like to talk about writing as a process, what writing means to them and their identity as a writer—flexing and focused on it like a newly-muscled limb on a lithe and growing body. These writers flush pink at the mention of their love for the craft. Seasoned writers dive off the deep end of the writers’ group: they read or share their pieces without preamble. They cut to the chase, as if following Raymond Carver’s rule for writing: “Get in, get out, don’t linger.”

I found my voice early. Long before I learned how to write with a pen or pencil, I understood how to record and narrate. I lugged a heavy tape recorder around the house when I was little. I found a quiet room, plugged it into an outlet and pressed the chunky “play” and “record” buttons together. The blank tape hummed, an insect buzzing as the tape wound ‘round in the radio. I talked into the microphone, a bull’s eye that saw and heard my stories.

For a seasoned writer, the writing process is a solitary act, for the most part. I belong to two writers groups (one in-person, one online).  Writers foster a creative and supportive community with one another but the act itself, I’ve always observed, is best to do in private. Writing is right up there with installing obnoxious curtain hardware or eating sandwiches too big for one’s mouth, dripping with caramelized onions. There’s always the off-chance that I might have a witness, but the writing process is not performance art. That would be the most awful—and embarrassing—act to sit through. Scene: Writer is lying face-down on the living room carpet surrounded by pages, presumably doing “nothing.” Audience reads program and it says, “Revision.” Revising can look like a very bad hair day when things are going well. I like to work at my writing desk, an antique trestle table built by my great grandfather. The dented, dark mahogany wood grain is as soft as blotting paper and smooth as driftwood.

Jackson

One of my favorite authors, Shirley Jackson, is considered “a writer’s writer.” That means she appeals to writers rather than readers of other vocations. When I read Jackson, I feel like she’s sharing an inside joke with me—and I get it. I understand because we both walk the path of the writer. Sometimes this is a solitary, unpopular path; other times, we’re suddenly the popular girl at the party with the best stories. I look to Jackson’s writing as a set of teachings. Her novelette, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, for example, reads like a creepy fictionalized (and maniacal) version of my childhood, complete with children’s taunting of an eerie, imaginative narrator. It’s a brilliant plot twist.

Wading into eel grass, I trudged into tidal waters off my favorite swimming rock, where no one else but my hardy grandmother liked to swim. I came of age skimming a rocky bottom, strewn with sea glass and broken beer bottles.  I parted the itchy blades, sharp as steak knives, and numbed my skin to the frigid temperature of the river. Kicking against the current, I tread water under trestle bridges and soaked my senses with that saltwater. It seeped into me, semi-permeably. I write to channel that energy, the teachings of my spirit guides and favorite writers, and the passionate impulses of my imagination. I don’t write because I want to be a writer. I am compelled to write because there’s always material.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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