Writing Memories 9

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Writing Memories  9

Module 4.1: Love in Old Age

We discussed love in old age, how it happens, how it continues, how it changes with age, how important it is. As usual, we began with a poem and, since Princess Squiffy, aka Vomit, features in the above photo, I will begin with a speech, or maybe it was a rant, I overheard when my beloved was away in Ottawa and I was talking to her on Skype. I knew the cat talked, but I didn’t know exactly what she was thinking until I heard this.

Poem 1:

In Absentia
Princess Squiffy

“I hear your voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by your plastic plaything.

You aren’t here. He is. I can hear you
talk. I stalk to his noise box and see a
shadow, moving, but I can’t make it out.

My muscles first tense, then stiffen. I sniff,
lean forward, but find no trace of female
smell. I cannot sense you. You call me by

my favorite names, mew at me, and I
respond. Shifting shadows, your haunting tones,
memories dancing to the music of

your absence. I can’t eat. I bristle when
he laughs. Where are you, my love? He doesn’t
care for me the way you do. I loathe him.”

Commentary: Since these are the cat’s words, not mine, I do not think it would be right to alter them in anyway. Therefore they must stand as they are. Oh dear. Meanwhile, we must contemplate the love we have for animals, so important as we age. And yes, I love my cat, and my dog, and my false, stuffed Koala Bear, and my old goat, even though I am well aware that yes, Goats do Roam.

Poem 2:

Lost
for my beloved

My body’s house has many rooms and you,
my love, are present in them all. I glimpse
your shadow in a mirror and feel your
breath brush my cheek when I open a door.

Where have you gone? I walk from room to room.
When I seek, I no longer find. When I
knock, nothing opens. Sometimes I am scared
to enter a room because I know you’re
in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.

Your voice, some days, breaks the silence, whispers
my name in the same old way. How can it
be true, my love, that you have gone, that you
have left me here alone? I count hours,
days, clutching dust motes, finding no solace
in salacious sunbeams and troubled dreams.

Commentary: I wrote this poem while my beloved was away in Ottawa, visiting our granddaughter. We Skyped regularly and it was during one of those Skyping sessions that the cat ranted the first poem. Love in old age takes many shapes, even for a poor little pussy cat. I guess I’ll just have to live with it.

Poem 3:

Le mot juste
for my beloved

Le mot juste, the exact word that sums it all up,
catches the essence of the thing painting it with care.

Seven colors stripe the rainbow sky, each with its name:
it seems so simple, but the world is changing every day.

Think color. Think blind. Think color blind. Imagine
the world we see reduced with failing eyes to grey scale.

Think flowers now, roses, daffodils, a hollyhock,
hydrangeas, hyacinths, hibiscus, poinsettia,

or the scent of early morning grass as it falls
beneath the blade. I look across the breakfast table

and see my wife of fifty years, a teenager reborn,
walking towards me in the café where we first met.

I search my mind for the words to describe her,
but I can no longer find le mot juste.

Commentary: What more can I say? I tried to rewrite this, but it is “so hard to recapture that first, fine, careless rapture” (Robert Browning). And I am many things, but certainly not a wise old thrush, singing each song twice over, though I wrote the above twice over, as you will see.

Le mot juste [Prose 1]:

Le mot juste
for my beloved

Le mot juste, the exact word that sums it all up, catches the essence of the thing painting it with care. Seven colors stripe the rainbow sky, each with its name: it seems so simple, but the world is changing every day. Think color. Think blind. Think color blind. Imagine the world we see reduced with failing eyes to grey scale. Think flowers now, roses, daffodils, a hollyhock, hydrangeas, hyacinths, hibiscus, poinsettia, or the scent of early morning grass as it falls beneath the blade. I look across the breakfast table and see my wife of fifty years, a teenager reborn, walking towards me in the café where we first met. I recall the café’s noise, the taste of the coffee, sugared, with cream, its bitter-sweet smell, the pink tip of her tongue testing her lipstick the hot, salt bite of melted butter on toasted crumpets. But when I search my mind for the words to describe her, I can no longer find le mot juste.

Commentary: No way, José. Great ideas, but they don’t cut it. Just stick to the original.

Poem 4:

Still
for my beloved

She moves more slowly up the slope, pushing
against the hill’s shallow grain. I know so
well her swaying grace of old, but now she
shuffles with the drag-foot limp of the aged,

and aged she has, like a good wine in an
oaken cask. Her beauty still lingers in
my memory, lodges in my mind and
still I see her as she was, and for me

still is, beautiful in body, mind … slim,
graceful, a joy to hold and behold. Her
eyes still sparkle and she bubbles still with

a champagne thrill that draws me to her, and
still she enhances each room she enters,
filling me, body, soul, with warmth and light.

Commentary: It is so difficult to watch other people age. It’s hard enough to work out what is happening in our own bodies and minds, but it is even harder to imagine what other people are going through. I look back on my grand parents, my parents, my own ageing process. Then there were cats, dogs, friends. I blinked twice and our daughter was suddenly entering middle age. My beloved and I have been together for fifty-eight years, fifty-three of them, married, here in Canada. So many memories. So much love. Sometimes words fail me. How can I say any more?

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Writing Memories 8

 

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Writing Memories 8
Module 3.1: Illness

We talked about illness in old age, how our systems weaken and break down. Above all we discussed the difference between minor illnesses, the coughs and chills that, if caught in time, do not threaten to carry us away and the serious illnesses that are life-threatening or that steal our loved ones, still living, away from us as they shut themselves into the prisons of their own minds. Sad and serious faces filled the room. Everyone knew a friend or a family member that was suffering from, of had suffered from, Alzheimer’s or some form of cancer. It is not an easy topic: how could it be? Yet it is one that, as writers, we must often face and to which we must bear witness. How do we do it? Now that is the question. Here are two poems in which what turns out to be a minor illness is treated with humor.

Poems 1 & 2

Two Gnomes

Two small gnomes camped
last night, one in each of my lungs.

All night long they played
their squeeze-box, wheeze-box
concertinas, never quite in unison.

Sometimes they stamped their feet
and my body rattled with their dance.
Their wild night music caught in my throat
and I coughed unmusical songs
that spluttered and choked.

An east wind blew outside my window.
It whistled and groaned
as it herded the stars from left to right.

The stars pursued the westering moon.
The planets danced to the rhythms
of the accordion music playing in my chest,
and the sky’s planetarium folded and unfolded
its poker hands of silent cards marked with my fate.

Pibroch

This morning, the bailiff, Mr. Koffdrop,
evicted the two gnomes from my lungs.

Landlord Bodie placed an ad on Kiji
then rented the free space in the left lung
to a tiny piper who took up residence by my heart.
This piper piped me a highland pibroch
on his whisky-worn pipes.

A pack of miniature wolves infiltrated
the midnight forest flourishing in my other lung.
When the pibroch played, they pointed their noses
at that spot in my throat where the full moon
would have been, if she could have broken in.

They mingled their howls with the bagpipes’ caterwaul
and I lay awake all night with my heart beating
arrhythmic suspicions on its blood red drum.

The drum played, the pibroch wailed,
the wolves howled, my body lay scarred by
an absence of sleep and the presence of moonlight
that drove stars from the sky and filled the room
with shadows and shifting shapes.

Commentary: These poems recall several sleepless night when the wheezing kept me awake. I remember watching stars and moon outside the bedroom window and thought long on the Platonic dance of the spheres. In fact, I composed these poems in bed on different nights and wrote them down the following morning. They certainly amused me at the time and I am certain that the maintenance of humor in the face of disaster is a gift from the gods. It bolsters our will to fight and makes light of the ills and evils that sometimes surround us. The prose versions clarify the poems.

Two Gnomes & Pibroch [Prose 1]

Two Gnomes: Two small gnomes camped last night, one in each of my lungs. All night long they played their squeeze-box, wheeze-box concertinas, never quite in unison. Sometimes they stamped their feet and my body rattled with their dance. Their wild night music caught in my throat and I coughed unmusical songs that spluttered and choked. An east wind blew outside my window. It whistled and groaned as it herded the stars from left to right. The stars pursued the westering moon. The planets danced to the rhythms of the accordion music playing in my chest, and the sky’s planetarium folded and unfolded its poker hands of silent cards marked with my fate.

Pibroch: In the course of the night, the bailiff, Mr. Koffdrop, evicted the two gnomes from my lungs. Landlord Bodie placed an ad on Kiji then rented the free space in the left lung to a tiny piper who took up residence by my heart. This piper piped me a sad-to-play pibroch on his whisky-worn pipes. A pack of miniature wolves infiltrated the midnight forest flourishing in my other lung. When the pibroch played, they pointed their noses at that spot in my throat where the full moon would have been, if she could have broken in. They mingled their howls with the bagpipes’ caterwaul and I lay awake all night with my heart beating arrhythmic suspicions on its blood red drum. The drum played, the pibroch wailed, the wolves howled, my body lay scarred by an absence of sleep and the presence of moonlight that drove stars from the sky and filled the room with dancing shadows and shifting shapes.

Commentary: Both of the pieces seem finished and I really have no desire to plump them out further. I feel that way sometimes with a piece of writing: “No la toques más, así es la rosa / don’t tinker any more, roses are like that” (Juan Ramón Jiménez). It is so easy to write those words from the great Spanish poet and Nobel Prize winner. But one would do well to also remember these words from Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken.” And yes, we may all be mistaken, especially when we believe too strongly in our own infallibility. Dealing with serious illness is a much more difficult proposition.

Shadows
Self-portrait

My front door stood open, but I thought
I’d left it closed. I tip-toed in and called:

“Is anyone there?” Echo answered ‘… there, there,
there …”
then silence. I walked from room to room,

startled by shadows. I opened doors, looked
under tables, searched behind chairs. No one.

Ghosts flitted deep in dark mirrors. Curtains
shivered in an unfelt, worrisome breeze.

The house stood silent and empty, save for
the fear, the silent fear, that lurked
like my remembered cancer in each room.

Commentary: This is a poem from a sequence of poems …  A Cancer Chronicle … to which I do not wish to return or, in the words of the immortal Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote it all happened: “En un lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme / in a corner of New Brunswick, whose name I do not wish to recall …” But this is one of the joys of writing: it permits us to bear witness to anything we wish, no matter how terrible it is. More, it allows us to face the unfaceable, to bear the unbearable, and to control the uncontrollable.  In our own little worlds we are indeed, as Alexander Selkirk discovered in his solitude, the masters of all we survey. This is, surely, an enormous consolation and comfort when we live in this brave new world in which we actually control so little of what happens around us.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.
Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.
Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.
Write from an image or a metaphor.
Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.
Letter style: write to a friend.

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Writing Memories 7

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Module 2.3: Accidents

We are talking about accidents, but this segment offers a transition between accidents and illness. To a certain extent, accident prevention or at least the check-ups that lead to illness prevention is key here. Blood tests rate high on that scale and I am tested regularly, at least once every six months, sometimes more often, for the different levels of chemicals in my body that may signify that all is good or that something may ultimately go wrong. Blood testing has become quicker and easier. I used to hate the sight of the needle, but now I concentrate on the nurses who work with me, some especially those nearing my own age, very sympathetic, others, younger, setting out on their nursing careers, so young, delicate, and full of enthusiasm. Sometimes I feel attracted to these young creatures in a sort of May to December match up of care-giver (her) and care-needer (me). I find this both curious and funny: si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait  / if youth knew how, if old age was able to … I have learned to laugh with delight at the incongruity of these silly moments and I am amazed how much humor can help, even in the most serious moments. First, the poem.

Love at Last Light 

A teenage apprentice with a little plastic badge
bearing her name asked me to reveal my birthdate.
This apparently confirmed that I knew who I was,
so she bound my arm with a thick rubber thong.

My veins swelled up, long thin leeches, slowly fattening.
She told me to make a fist and pouted as she probed
with slender fingers, feeling in vain for a fresh vein
from which to extract, then bottle the necessary blood.

I watched my body’s sap pumping out in tiny, sad spurts
driven by that tired flesh-and-blood machine known as
my heart. Drip by febrile drip my blood accumulated.
The young girl smiled with youth’s perfect lips and teeth.

My heart was a time-bomb ticking beneath her fingers.
I dreamed for an instant of walking upright and free,
a stranger in the paradise of a long-promised land.

Then she handed me my gifts: a throw-away plastic potty,
three disposable spatulas, and an air-dry sample card,
with written instructions, date stamped, bearing my name.

Commentary: I like this. It might benefit from more dialog, an insertion of personalities, an exchange of wit, dry science on the one side, an old man’s take on life on the other. I’ll think about that. Meanwhile, we have all been to a local hospital or clinic for blood tests of various types and we are all familiar with the situation. I don’t know how other people feel, but here’s my prose take on the situation.

Love at Last Light [Prose 1]

A teenage apprentice with a little plastic badge bearing her name asked me to reveal my birth date. This apparently confirmed that I still knew who I was, so she bound my arm with a thick rubber thong. My veins swelled up, long thin leeches, slowly fattening. She told me to make a fist and pouted as she probed with slender fingers, feeling in vain for a fresh vein from which to extract, then bottle the necessary blood. I watched my body’s sap pumping out in tiny, sad spurts driven by that tired flesh-and-blood machine known as my heart. Drip by febrile drip my blood accumulated. The young girl smiled with youth’s perfect lips and teeth.
My heart was a time-bomb ticking beneath her fingers. I dreamed for an instant of walking upright and free, a stranger in the paradise of a long-promised land. Then she handed me my gifts: a throw-away plastic potty, three disposable spatulas, and an air-dry sample card, with written instructions, date stamped, bearing my name.

Commentary: This stands up. It is short, to the point, and makes a point at the end. Or does it? Maybe I need to expand the ending, insert some direct dialog, I need to think about this. No problem: there’s lots of time. I’ll go out for a little walk and see if the muse descends while I am walking. The muse arrived and whispered in my ear, and I expanded the piece from 170 to 415 words, virtually doubling the word count. Was it worth the effort? You must be the judge.

Love at Last Light [Prose 2]

A teenage apprentice with a little plastic badge bearing her name asked me to reveal my birth date. I gave it, and this apparently confirmed that I still knew who I was. She offered me a quick twist and pucker of the lips and I interpreted this as a smile. My left arm, sleeve rolled up, lay flat against the little work area beside the chair. “This arm?” she asked and I nodded. She bound my arm with a thick rubber thong. My veins swelled up, long thin leeches, slowly fattening. She told me to make a fist and pouted as she probed with slender fingers, feeling in vain for a fresh vein from which to extract, then bottle the necessary blood. Then, she took a new needle, checked it, concentrated on her chosen spot, and slipped the needle into the web of veins just inside my left elbow. I felt the needle tip slice through the flesh, but I felt no pain. With the needle in, she attached the shunt to the needle end, and I watched my body’s sap pumping out in tiny, sad spurts driven by that tired flesh-and-blood machine known as my heart. Drip by febrile drip my blood accumulated in the container. When the first container filled, she attached another, and another. “Wow,” I said, remembering the immortal words of the comedian, Tony Hancock, “that’s a whole armful.” The young girl smiled with youth’s perfect lips and teeth and my heart fluttered. My heart did more than flutter: it became a time-bomb ticking beneath her fingers. I remembered how easily I bruised and tried not to think about the red, purple, and blue sunsets that sometimes spread across my inner arm after these exercises. I dreamed instead of walking upright and free on the golden sands of a Caribbean beach, hand in hand with this stranger as the sun slipped into the sea for its final bathe of the day. A stranger to my present self, I felt young again as we walked together in the paradise of a distant but well-remembered land. “I’ve got a present for you,” said my new found companion as she handed me my gifts: a throw-away plastic potty, three disposable spatulas, and an air-dry sample card, with written instructions, date stamped, bearing my name. “You know where to put the samples when you have produced them?” I nodded, sighed, picked up the anonymous brown paper bag, and walked away.

Suggestions for the writing exercises included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.
Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.
Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.
Write from an image or a metaphor.
Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.
Letter style: write to a friend.

Beginning Writers: Just write, using the prompts to help you get your own words and experiences and memories on the page. Use dialog where you can.
Intermediate Writers 1: Try and concentrate, while writing, on including at least one sense (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) within your piece.
Intermediate Writers 2: Try and combine two or three senses within each exercise.
Advanced Writers: Use the prompts as you will and concentrate on imagery, metaphors, letting the language doing the work, and combining or mixing the senses. You can also experiment with free-writing, interior monologue, and surrealism.

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Writing Memories 6

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Writing Memories 6

Module 2.2: Accidents

Accidents are not pleasant, nor are trips to the doctor’s surgery where the fear that something might have gone wrong and that the doctor might find out what it is and might then want to do something about it always haunts us, well, me at least. That fear is something I carry around in the back pocket of my jeans. Sometimes it hides in my backpack or my brief case. I am afraid that one day it will suddenly leap out and frighten me. That said, waiting rooms and coffee shops are among the world’s greatest places for listening and hearing what is happening, not to our selves in our own inner worlds, but to other people, real people, who also live and suffer like you and me. So here’s a series of conversations overheard in a waiting room. First, as always, the poem.

Waiting Room
words overheard while waiting

Back turned to the world, my good ear trained on two gossips
who chatter about friends, family, acquaintances,
the intimate details of childlessness, caused by
cancers and sudden sicknesses, all laid out before me,
willy-nilly, to root, grow, and fester in my fertile mind.

Never will I put a face to those girls with breast cancer,
the overweight women with diabetes, the old men
with their heart attacks, strokes, and haemorrhaged brains.

“Just one of those things,” one of them whispers, “my husband
gone and me alone with all the grand kids.” “Was it four years
ago? Or five?” the other replied, “I remember his name, but I forget his face.”

“I’ll cope somehow, and the fourteen-year old, with her belly
already swelling.” A subtle silence wraps a scarf around
their flapping mouths. Lives and worlds end and begin. Words settle.
Fine dust dances in a sun ray that spotlights floating motes.
I think of my own lost loves, buried before their proper time.

Commentary: This snapshot in time resonates with me. I never saw the faces of the speakers, they were behind me, and I only heard their voices as I waited outside the doctor’s office for my beloved. I usually take a book to read, or a notebook in which to write some of the snippets that come floating across to me. In this case, I wrote down the gist of the conversation, I would like to say verbatim, but there is more than a touch of creative in this particular non-fiction which transforms itself into fiction because it is no longer real, even though it may have started out that way. And that’s what happens: reality metamorphoses into a fictitious entity that, if it is well-written, then becomes a new reality, linked to, but not the same as the original itself. The secret of art is this process by which the real becomes fictitious then becomes real again. It’s like walking a tightrope blindfold or walking hands before your face in the dark trying not to stumble into objects. Clearly, some do it more easily than others, but all of us improve as we learn how to sharpen our creative senses of touch and balance. Here’s the prose version that I read on Sunday (March 10).

Waiting Room [Prose 1]
words overheard while waiting

Back turned to the world, my good ear trained on two grandmothers who gossip about friends, family, acquaintances, the intimate details of childlessness, caused by cancers and sudden sicknesses, all laid out before me, willy-nilly, whether I want to listen or not, to root, grow, and fester in my fertile mind. Never will I put a face to those girls with breast cancer, the overweight women with diabetes, the old men with their heart attacks, strokes, and haemorrhaged brains. “Just one of those things,” one of them whispers, “my husband gone and me alone with all the grand kids.” “Was it four years ago? Or five?” the other asks. “I remember his name, but I forget his face.” “I’ll cope somehow, and the fourteen-year old, with her belly already swelling.” A subtle silence wraps a scarf around their stricken mouths. Lives and worlds end and begin. Words settle. Fine dust dances in a sun ray that spotlights floating motes. I think of my own lost loves, my three missing brothers, buried before their proper time.

Commentary: The introduction of the intensely personal at the end changes the sense of an ending, but does not materially transform the piece. I have revisited this piece, but feel unable to transform it further. It is stuck in the sands of time and no amount of pushing and shoving will budge it. It is just there. And there I will leave it. The last thing I want to be, as a writer, is a dog who chases his tail round and round in ever-decreasing circles until, tired and dizzy, he keels over and drops off to sleep. If fresh inspiration is to come, it will. It will not magically appear just because I keep rubbing and rubbing at that old brass lamp, hoping for the genie to emerge and grant me one more wish. So, there it is and I’ll let it be.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

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Writing Memories 2

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Writing Memories 2

Thoughts and exercises on the role of memory as we grow and age.
“We are not just writers, we are re-writers.”

“Every attempt
is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
because one has only learnt to get the better of words
for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
one is no longer disposed to say it.” (T. S. Eliot, East Coker)

Module 1.1: Triumphs

I began this section with a poem, quiet short. When I wrote it, I liked it. I revised it a couple of times. Here it is.

Triumphs

Waking to birdsong in the morning,
making it safely to the bathroom
without tripping on the rug in the hall,
shaving without cutting my face,

getting in and out of the shower
with neither a slip nor a fall,
drying those parts of the body
that are now so difficult to reach,

especially between my far-off toes,
pulling my shirt over wet and sticky
patches still damp from the shower,
negotiating each leg of my pants,

tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold
that allows my socks to glide onto my feet,
forcing swollen toes into undersized shoes,
hobbling to the top of the stairs

and lurching down them, cautiously,
one step at a time … on guard for the cat,
the edge of the steps, the worn patches
where my stick might catch or slip …
one more step, and I’ve made it down.

Commentary: Triumphs in our daily lives. That is the theme for this first module. For many of us, at our age in life, just surviving from day to day is a triumph. I welcome each dawn. I am happy to get out of bed. I love my early morning sit at the computer, my first cup of de-caffeinated green tea, my breakfast. However, I did not know how many of you, if any, wrote prose rather than poetry, so for the purpose of this workshop, I turned my poem into a prose poem by eliminating the line spacing and running the lines together. This is the result. At first it doesn’t seem that different, but really the pieces are now miles apart.

Triumphs [Prose 1]

Waking to birdsong in the morning, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall, drying those parts of the body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between my far-off toes, pulling my shirt over wet and sticky patches still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants, tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows my socks to glide onto my feet, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them, cautiously, one step at a time … on guard for the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my stick might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down.

Commentary: In many ways, it’s the same piece. However, I have eliminated a word or two and expanded on a couple of things. “The olde order changeth lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” (Tennyson, The Idylls of the King, I think. Memory sometimes fails me). Does the poem function as a prose piece? I didn’t think so and I decided to change it.

Triumphs [Prose 2]

    Waking to moonlight in the middle of the night, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, managing to pee without splattering the floor, the seat, the wall, or my pajamas, climbing back into bed, staring at the stars’ diminishing light until I manage to fall back to sleep. Waking to birdsong in the morning, walking to the bathroom without bruising my left arm against the door latch, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall and without dropping the soap, drying those parts of my body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between those far-off toes that I no longer see with regularity, pulling my shirt over those wet and sticky patches of skin still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants hanging on to the arm of the rocking-chair so I won’t fall over,  tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows each sock to glide onto my feet, hoping my toe-nails, uncut for so long, will not catch in the wool and that the heel will end up in the right spot, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them, one step at a time, with my stick in one hand and the balustrade in the other, … always on guard for the quick, unsuspected rush of the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my cane might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down. The first of today’s tiny triumphs.

Commentary: Which version is best? Does each version improve upon its model? I think that the answer to those questions will vary with each writer / reader. The author of this piece must choose between poetry and prose, between a brief prose version or a longer one, between a fairly straight-forward version and one that employs layered rhetorical techniques.

The most important thing is for the writer to be aware of the possibilities inherent in each of the three versions. Equally important is for the writer to know that s/he can experiment, write, revise, rewrite. In the workshop, I read the third version and invited the participants to write about triumphs in their own lives. I also suggested that they experiment with different forms of writing. Here are some examples.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

It is easy to experiment with pieces such as these. I have used first person singular [I]. Try using the second person [you]. Try using the third person [he or she]. Change the person, change the point of view. Each writer will say something different and add something different when observing from a different position. And it’s fun to take out the personal and add in things that are more objective.

“You awoke to moonlight in the middle of the night. You made it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall. You manged to pee without the sound of floor splatter. When you came back to bed, your pajamas were still dry. When your head hit the pillow, you went straight back to sleep and  started to snore. I lay there staring at the stars, hoping to be visited by sleep.”

The observing “I” creeps in at the end, but it doesn’t have to. Different story, different people. But remember: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. And remember, too, that writing is fun. If there’s no fun, there’s no future.

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KIRA Writing Retreat #2

KIRA Writing Retreat #2

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A second KIRA Writing Retreat will be held from Sunday, October 14, 2018 to Saturday, October 20, 2018. A maximum of five participants will be selected to work with the Kingsbrae  Artistic Director, Geoff Slater, Professor Emeritus and Award-Winning Poet, Dr. Roger Moore, and Award Winning Short Story Writer, Jeremy Gilmer. Full details are available from the Program Director, Mary Jones, at kira@kingsbraegarden.com or by telephone at 506-529-8281.

Click on the attached link for A Brief Overview of Life and Art at KIRA.

 KIRA Promotional Video

 

 

Metaphor: Wednesday Workshop

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Metaphor
Wednesday Workshop
26 October 2016
Revised
31 May 2017

Metaphors: What are they? I must be honest: I don’t really know. I don’t understand them. I never have. I probably never will. This morning, I determined to find out what a metaphor really is. So I Googled metaphor and came up with the following definitions.

  1. A metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.”
    Well, that is pretty clear, isn’t it?
  2. A metaphor is “something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.”
    No doubts there.
  3. “Metaphor is a figure of speech which makes an implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristics. In other words, a resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is made based on a single or some common characteristics.”
    I know exactly what they mean. Or do I?
  4. “In simple English, when you portray a person, place, thing, or an action as being something else, even though it is not actually that “something else,” you are speaking metaphorically.”
    No misunderstanding here.
  5. “A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two ideas. Where a simile compares two items, a metaphor directly equates them, and does not use “like” or “as” as does a simile.”
    Slightly clearer, but not as clear as daylight.

I turn to my blog in search of metaphors that I have created in my poetry and read that “The egg of my skull / shows hairline cracks: / tiny beaks pecking / fine-tuned sparks of song”. “This piece,” Tanya Cliff writes, “offers a unique and beautiful perspective on the theme (of birds).” I think I can do without the dull, dry definitions set out in the definitions above and understand metaphor as “a unique and beautiful perspective”. This functions for me. Thank you, Tanya.

Two more sequences, this time from October Angel: (1) she gathers her evening gown / and walks among ruined flowers (Meg Sorick’s choice) and (2) a snapdragon opens / the frosted forge of its mouth / and sprinkles the sky / with ice-hard shards of fire (Tanya Cliff’s choice). I can understand the first in terms of “a unique and beautiful perspective” since the picture of the October Angel is clear in my mind. In addition, evening / evening gown / ruined flowers are particularly evocative. The second sequence is much stronger as anyone who has seen the snapdragon flowers braving the ice and frost will testify.

After thinking about these three examples, I think I can now understand metaphor a little bit better. I would now define a metaphor as “a brief verbal sequence that creates a new reality that offers a unique and sometimes beautiful perspective on something that we have long known and accepted but now, thanks to the writer / poet, see in a different light.”

This personal definition allows us to distinguish more easily between dead metaphors and clichés like dead as a door nail or avoid it like the plague while allowing us to enjoy the permutations that spring from the innovation of the true metaphoric sequence. The metaphoric sequence also allows us to distinguish between a two word metaphor and a series of metaphors that are thematically linked.

From my own poetry, ruined flowers would be an example of the first while the longer sequence a snapdragon opens / the frosted forge of its mouth / and sprinkles the sky / with ice-hard shards of fire would be an example of the second. Iterative thematic imagery, a form of sequenced metaphor chains, then links the whole work, be it poem or longer piece, within an associative semantic field of parallel meanings. This also illustrates the idea of differentiating between the inorganic and organic conceit, where the inorganic conceit is the example of a single, independent instance while the organic conceit is woven into the fabric of the oeuvre.

In the WFNB Workshop on Metaphor, held in Saint John on Saturday, 27 May, 2017, we had a two hour, in-depth discussion on this topic. We began the workshop with a meet and greet and ice-breaker. Then we offered a pictorial definition of a metaphor. We generated a series of dead metaphors, to be avoided like the plague, except where we use them to define a character, or make fun of them, or use them in a new fresh light that resurrects them and brings them back to life. This was a great deal of fun. We then indulged in a series of creative writing exercises that focused on the creation of new metaphors. We finished the workshop with a “song of craze” in praise of the joys of metaphors. What a day!

The structure of the workshop was very simple. We had 120 minute (two hours) and broke them into 3 sessions of 20 minutes, a 5 minute break, 2 sessions of 20 minutes, and  a grand finale composed of 3 sessions at 5 minutes each. The twenty minute sessions broke down into 5 minutes writing, 7 minutes small group discussion (4 participants per group), and 8 minutes full room participation. The five minutes writing centered on each person writing to a topic. Each member of the group then shared what they had written with the other group members. This helped develop individual voices (the theme of the conference) and showed how each individual approached a single topic in a multitude of different ways. A representative piece from each group was then chosen and the writer read the creation to those gathered in the full room participation.

As a result, everybody was actively engaged in the thinking, writing, creating, reading, and critiquing process. A considerable number of what I call “writing starts” were made. Hopefully participants will continue to develop these writing starts and develop something from them, long term.