My Thoughts · Writing

Writing Groups—A Best Kept Secret for Writers?

Writing groups

Are writing groups one of the best kept secret in the writing world? Not for me! Currently, I take part in two groups, each one focusing on a unique part of writing.

East Mountain Writing Group

In 2016, I joined the East Mountain Writing group. This group has played a key role in my preparation for the publishing of my last three books. Presently we have four in our group, but we have had six. We meet monthly for a couple of hours and submit work to be critiqued. These in-depth critiques substantially breathed life into many of my submissions, which later became my published books.

I can’t compliment this writing group enough because of their dedication to specificity. Each time they critiqued my work, I always looked forward to their comments because I knew my writing will improve. Also, I have the privilege of reading and critiquing their amazing work.

Over the years, our socializing time has grown because we’ve become deeply acquainted with each other’s lives. Because of our longevity, our familiarity with each other’s work causes check-ups on long-term projects. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop us from meeting. Immediately, we jumped on the Zoom wagon for our meetings.

Colorado Writing Practice Group

In March and April 2021, I took part in Natalie Goldberg’s “The Way of Writing” class, focusing on her “writing practice.” In 1986, Natalie’s book, Writing Down the Bones, began a new practice for writers, a ten-minute timed writing practice that changed the writing world. I used this book and her idea when I taught writing to my sixth-grade language arts classes, but got away from it.

Fast forward to this year—during her class, Natalie suggested we join a writing group that focused on writing practice. So, using Zoom, I joined one in Colorado and one in New Mexico, but the New Mexico group didn’t continue.

The Colorado group started out small, with just a couple of us. Then we had some writers join and leave, but currently we have five committed members. We meet weekly at 4:00 PM MST for an hour.

This is how this group differs: our faithful leader comes up with two thought-provoking writing prompts, and we do “writing practice.” The rules are simple:

1. Keep your hand moving. 2. Don’t cross out. 3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. 4. Lose control. 5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. 6. Go for the jugular.

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (1986): 8.

In 1990, Natalie added a couple more rules:

1. Be specific. 2. You are free to write the worst junk in America.

Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life (1990): 3-4.

After we have done the timed writings, then we each read our writing. How it differs is the response of the listeners: all we do is listen and thank the writer—no comment, no critique! So, you might wonder about the benefit of this writing group. We’ve met weekly since March, so we’ve become familiar with each other’s’ voices, and I can see how each writer has grown as a writer during our time together. When I write, I know beforehand that I can write “the worst junk in America,” so I can risk going deeper, being authentic! My writing has improved because of this group and this discipline.

Finally

Each writing group offers something different. Each one feeds my writer’s soul distinctly. If you haven’t joined a writing group, find one that meets your needs and then commit to attend regularly.

Are you in a writing group? If so, how does it help you? Share your comments below (Scroll down)!


Starting on November 2, I joined the Ultimate Blog Challenge, a challenge to write a blog post every day of November. For the first week, I focused on writing topics.

Last Week’s Ultimate Blog Challenge Posts:

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VISIT MARY ZALMANEK, A FRIEND’S BLOG: Cooking in a One-Butt Kitchen | Eating Well in Small Spaces: https://cookinginaonebuttkitchen.com/

Books · My Thoughts

My Bookshelves: What Do They Reveal?

Stack of books - bookshelves

Bookshelves reveal so much about a person. All my life I’ve loved libraries and bookstores. The stacks of books, big and small, comfort my spirit, so I’ve created a mini version in our home. I have a very eclectic combination of titles, so I’d like to share my bookshelves with you.

One of my bookshelves
One of My Bookshelves

As an English major, I collected Norton’s Anthologies at Colorado State University, books three to four inches thick, forty years old, and I still can’t let them go. They feel like good old friends. While at the university, I added to that collection Milton and individual Shakespeare plays I studied in my upper level classes. I have one Louis L’Amour book, Sachett, which we read in my Shakespeare class when we were reading Julius Caesar, comparing the two characters. I’ve revisited the Shakespeare’s plays over the years when I’ve wanted to renew my acquaintance with a specific play. Also, I have kept The Iliad of Homer and The Odyssey of Homer.

Because I studied the classics, I added Ernest Hemingway’s short stories, Walt Whitman’s poetry and T. S. Eliot’s poetry. This summer, I focused on Hemingway’s writings after watching the Ken Burns’ document. I read The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast to sample one of his novels and his memoir, but I’ve labored long on his short story collections. It fascinates me how he can take a single moment in time and write it to the fullest. At the university, I studied Charles Dickens, and I’ve stored his books in our storage shed.

My other bookshelves
My other bookshelves

I love poetry. On my poetry shelf, I have several books by my favorite current poet, Mary Oliver. I also have several poetry collections, and a slim Emily Dickinson book highlighting her special poetry. I also have a local Mexican poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca’s book, Martín & Meditations on the South Valley.

Being in the Southwest, I love reading books about Native Americans. I have two classics, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Black Elk Speaks. Surprisingly, you won’t see my favorite author, Tony Hillerman’s books on my shelf because my husband has them on his. Several years ago, I collected the Don Coldsmith’s Spanish Bit Saga series with rich stories about the Plains Indians dating back to the Spaniards coming here.

One of my favorite educational professional development workshop was the Latin America Database Workshop, and I gathered a nice collection of Latin writers like Eduardo Galeano and Rigoberto Menchú.

Over my years in recovery, my bookshelves dedicated to this vital part of my life have grown, but my mainstay is Alcoholics Anonymous. I have many other books addressing alcoholism, codependency, family of origin issues, and incest.

Because of my wide reading in recovery, I met Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, and stockpiled several of her books on my bookshelves. My favorite is When Things Fall Apart. I also learned about Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, in my recovery wanderings and have a collection of his poetry.

One of my largest collections is my religious books. I have an assortment of Bibles, commentaries and study aides. My favorite commentary is the William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series on the New Testament. I read one of these daily.

Included in my religious collection is C. S. Lewis’ The Narnia Tales, which I reread last summer after a forty-year break. How delightful that was to revisit Narnia and get reacquainted with Aslan.

As a middle school English teacher, I collected so many books over the years to have available in my classroom for my students, but I have given most of them away. I kept limited books from teaching years like Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl and books about her life. Also, I have all the Harry Potter books, but they’re in my husband’s library. I will never forget seeing a small sixth grader carrying around his copy of one of the Potter books and it was almost as big as he was!

My professional library of books addressed class managing and other education topics, and you guessed it—writing! But I gave most of them away, except for Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequality, a book telling the sad tale of the inequality of education across the United States.

As a writer, I’ve gathered writing books for many years. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones heads my list of Nat’s, but I have several of her books. I used that book in teaching writing to my middle school students, changing my attitude towards writing. It freed me up to see myself as a writer, and many of my students did the same. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way changed my life many years ago with her tool, Morning Pages. I still do them every morning.

To date, I also have an extensive digital library on Kindle, iBooks and Kobo. I joined the digital world with reluctance at first. But now, I enjoy using my iPad to read a book, especially when we’re traveling.

Recently, as I looked at my bookshelves, I saw several books I bought, put on the shelf and never read. I decided it was time to read them, so I’m working my way through those titles right now.

In conclusion, I hope you’ve enjoyed your travels through my personal library. What you see here is a wide range of interests and flavors—that’s me! I believe in diversity and a multitude of possibilities.

What do your bookshelves look like if you have a personal library? What are your favorite books?


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~HAVE YOU ORDERED YOUR AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF THE FLIPPO BIOGRAPHY? Go to the homepage on my website & pay for it there: https://www.laradasbooks.com

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~VISIT MARY ZALMANEK, A FRIEND’S BLOG: Cooking in a One-Butt Kitchen | Eating Well in Small Spaces: https://cookinginaonebuttkitchen.com/

My Thoughts · poetry

Haiku—A Trip Down Memory Lane

Walking down memory lane to haiku
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

Haiku, an ancient Japanese form of writing poetry in three lines, has become one of my rediscovered loves. Since I took part in Natalie Goldberg’s “The Way of Writing” Workshop in March and April, and she instructed us in haiku writing, I have become enchanted anew. When I taught writing to middle school students, I included haiku as one of their poetry assignments, but I forgot this. As I remember now, I loved teaching haiku. I enforced the rule of syllable count for each line, which helped my students understand syllables. When writing one, they would tap out the syllables on their desks—and finally they understood syllables.

As I remembered my beloved poetry unit, what my students wrote blew me away! They loved the strict format of haiku, forcing them to focus. Also, it didn’t have to rhyme, and that freed them considerately.

This afternoon, I needed to see my students’ haikus again, so I just ran out to my storage shed, open up a box I have kept treasured “Teaching material,” in and rummage through certain assignments I’ve kept for decades. As I moved through the stack of papers, I held my breath. First, I found one folder named “Haikus.” Delicious short poems about middle school life in English and Spanish from my students—I taught Spanish so my students wrote haikus in both languages. I would love to share them with you, but I better not because of privacy issues, but once again I read haikus six-graders wrote in heartfelt three line poems about their lives. Still precious as ever.

Then I found my beloved poetry unit and read through the various poems I shared so any years ago, wanting to ignite the fire of poetry in them, and often I did! Because I guided them carefully with examples and then subjects to write about, many shared their deep hearts’ concerns and loves. I felt privileged to witness their poetry.

When I taught my poetry unit, I read them a large variety of poetry to whet their appetite. The haiku example I read them was one of Sonia Sanchez. I probably picked a Hispanic poet to connect my students to her because the majority were Hispanic.

Haiku by Sonia Sanchez

 

Today I participated in a three-hour writing workshop with Natalie, entitled “Write Your Pandemic Story—Three Lines at a Time,”—that’s what stirred up my reminiscing about my students and haiku writing. We delved in deeper with her, giving more instructions on writing haiku. She read premiere haikus from the ancient Japanese greats, then also haiku from more modern Japanese poets. After listening to these great poets, we wrote our own, divided up into breakout rooms of five and read some we just wrote. What a rewarding experience. We repeated going to the breakout room a second time after another teaching from Natalie and read again after writing more.

Traditionally haiku is written in three lines: five syllables for the first line, seven syllables for the second and five for the third. Natalie was first introduced to haiku by Allen Ginsberg in 1976 at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He discouraged his students in adhering to the syllable count, because we have words in English that have less importance, like articles of speech (the, an, that).

“The only real measure of a haiku, Allen told us that one hot July afternoon, ‘is upon hearing one, your mind experiences a small sensation of space’ — he paused; I leaned in, breathless — ‘which is nothing less than God.'”

Natalie Goldberg, Three Simple Lines: A Writer’s Pilgrimage into the Heart and Homeland of Haiku (2021): 4.

In Allen’s introduction, he identified four famous haiku men poets: Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki. In her book, Natalie added a woman, Chiyo-ni.

For more information, here’s a website that talks about the four men poets: Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki: https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-haiku-poems.html

Here’s one about Chiyo-ni: http://www.earlywomenmasters.net/chiyo/

So, what’s the attraction? For me it’s the brevity, the crispness, the focus. It’s like taking a picture of something valuable in words then ending with an emotion. Also, I realized as I wondered back to my teaching days how much I loved haiku then and that love spurred me on to take this workshop today.

Since my workshop in March and April with Natalie, I’ve tried my hand at writing haiku. Let me know what you think.

March 22

 Life so wonderful
 So deeply charismatic
 A jingle daily! 

 One foot here on earth
 Gather deceived loved one near 
 One foot there with you!

March 23

 I hate politics
 Republicans, Democrats
 Families divided!  

 Eight years ago, Mom
 Left here, entered a new sphere
 Relief in her eyes. 

March 24

 Mom’s unique fragrance
 Covered my heart yesterday
 Thanks for the visit.

March 25

 Spring snowstorm blankets
 The piñon trees in white shroud
 Green, white and blue skies.
  
 Can square dance survive?
 We love to dance and connect
 Celebrate the beat! 

March 27

 Words hurt; words can heal
 Like a bomb or like a salve.
 Today I chose health. 

Simple, direct! Haiku poetry began in the thirteenth century and has gained momentum recently. I wrote many of these poems during my daily walks—the words, the themes and imagines came. I beat out the rhythm of the syllables with my fingers like my students did so many years ago, ran home and jotted them down before I forgot them.

How about you? Three simple lines to describe something specific in your world! If you craft one, share it with me. I’d love to know I’m still a teacher of haiku! To make a comment and/or share your haiku, scroll down below the following information.


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Coronavirus · My Thoughts

Did the Coronavirus Change the World?

Way to change

Change is the only constant we can depend upon. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the consistent year-after-year happenings lulled me into complacency, making me believe 2020 would be a duplicate of 2019, a little different but with unknown adventures and a lot of the same ole same ole!

         As you know, 2020 and even the first quarter of 2021 have been grueling. I now look at the world and my past as pre-coronavirus and post-coronavirus. I’ve had over a year to labor long and hard over how I would allow this to affect me. Many others in the world have pondered this too.

         By now, you know me—a poem is brewing!

Growth & change

Growth and the Coronavirus Pandemic

April 18, 2021

Growth and 2020 in the same sentence

         Seems like an oxymoron.

                   Such contradiction

2020

         The worst year of my life

                   Yet growth?

                            Really?

I faced it

         I worked through it

Often I succumbed to outrageous emotions

         Fear

                   Anger

Then heartwarming feelings

         Empathy

                   Love

And went on.

So as I evaluate what happened,

         I can say,

                   “Yes, I grew! I’ve changed!”

                            Like so many of you.

Forced to stay at home, isolated

         I stopped my hectic schedule

                   I listened to life

                            I embraced nature

                                     In a deeper way

                                               I met me,

                                                        In a fresh way!

Yes, nature became the conduit of healing

         Lin’s luscious garden

         Birds attracted to his many feeders

         Jesse, my cat, and

                   His allegiance to me and our routine.

         A daily walk

                   Which feeds my soul

My God in all of this.

I didn’t want

         To grow

I didn’t ask

         For it

Thrust unknowingly

         On me

                   On our country

                            On our world

So what happened to me? What changed?

         I listened to

                   The meticulous flapping

                            Of the hummingbirds’ wings

                                     Hovering over bright red penstemon stem.

                   The hectic dinnertime feeding

                            At the bird feeders

                                     Wings fluttering,

                                               A storm of color and commotion

                   The quiet afternoon breezes

                            Singing through the piñon trees

                            Bouncing our chimes, creating a heavenly melody.

Yes, it happened.

         Did it happen for you?

*****

Let’s focus on the positive change from the pandemic. I found an article, “15 Reasons to Feel Positive about 2020” on the internet.

https://www.openarms.gov.au/about/news/2020/15-reasons-feel-positive-about-2020

Topping the list is “Nature is thriving—Sightings of wildlife have increased worldwide and a reduction in air pollution is giving the planet a chance to rejuvenate.” I love that because it coincides with my top idea—many people took up gardening, bird-watching, outdoor activity, and seeking refuge in nature.   

Look at how change occurred in our home!      

SpringWatch - our change in the world

SPRINGWATCH 2020

            Besides Lin’s gorgeous garden, we connected with nature when we found SpringWatch 2020, a TV show featuring wildlife and nature of Great Britain. Their 2020 version really focused on the effects of the pandemic on wildlife and encouraged people to find solace in nature. Originally SpringWatch airs on the BBC, but we watched it on BritBox.

            “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 series, starting on 25 May, did not come from a central base. Instead each presenter appeared from a location near their home, respecting government guidelines on social distancing.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springwatch#Series_16_(2020)

            We thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous photography, witty story telling from the four main naturalists who hosted each episode. But our favorite part became the Mindfulness Ninety Seconds, where they encouraged the viewers to put down any distraction and simply enjoy the scenery. Then, for ninety seconds, we heard nature sounds and saw beautiful landscapes with a variety of animals. So refreshing!

            The show weaved a variety of topics through the hour-long presentation. One particular episode focused on the healing power of nature. Chris Packham, the primary host, suggested a book, The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us by Emma Mitchell. Of course, I bought it and read it and learned a lot about nature’s curative powers.

            When SpringWatch ended, we didn’t want it to end, but we found out about AutumnWatch and WinterWatch. So we continued our celebration of British wildlife and nature.

GARDENING

            Chris Packham on SpringWatch2020 and the other Watch shows commented often about the uptick in gardening in the UK, but it was worldwide.

            “Within six months, the home garden industry saw a quantum leap in sales and new customers, with revenues magically levitating 60%, a seismic event in a tranquil nonindustrial industry.”

https://www.mcall.com/opinion/mc-opi-gardening-popular-2020-covid-20201215-xdo63kfl2jdpljbnjinstfnvda-story.html

         I’ve told you before about Lin’s gorgeous garden. Well, he has expanded his garden, a change against my wishes. He promised when he first started gardening that he would limit the size of it, but every year I watched him edge out more and more. This spring he made a decisive step and has enlarged it to more than double. How can anyone be upset with having more flowers to look at? And he loves it so.

WALKING

         I started walking January 1, 2021 because of my lethargy in 2020. Usually I’m physically fit because of all my dance activities and exercised, but I became a couch potato last year. One night after showering, I looked at my legs one day and saw bumps. Gasping, I thought, “Cellulite!” For most of my life, I have kept active, but the cellulite bumps sprung up overnight.

         What to do? My answer—I had to do something, so walking was my answer. I started slowly and increased my time. I have the pleasure of walking a country road, free of noise, pollution and people. Today my butt cheeks hurt after my daily walk. I’m up to 45 minutes a day and going over 9000 steps daily. I know the optimal number is 10,000 steps a day, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

Zoomin’

THE WAY OF WRITING WITH NATALIE GOLDBERG

         March 6, 2021, I started an eight-week writing workshop online with one of my writing mentors, Natalie Goldberg. This was a dream come true! I first read, Writing Down the Bones, her first book in the late 80s then collected and read several more of hers.

         We met twice weekly—for three hours on Saturdays with Natalie and one hour on Wednesdays with her assistant. What a rewarding experience I’ve had.

         Natalie lived in New Mexico for many years, and I attended day workshops of hers, but I couldn’t afford her longer ones. This online class was very affordable and doable. Another change to my life from the pandemic and staying home.

MEETINGS

A big change came for all of my regular face-to-face meetings: recovery meetings and the board that runs the Albuquerque Square Dance Center. Zoom saved the day. I easily made the change to Zoom meetings and added some special ones like monthly chats with a roommate and friend from Colorado. The three of us hadn’t been together in thirty years. I’ve also had family reunion meetings and more. The sky is the limit with Zoom.

JESSE, MY CAT

Jesse, my cat, enjoying the change
Jesse, my cat, ready for a night of TV!

         When we danced and traveled so much, we had few rituals that Jesse knew. Now nightly, Jesse crawls up on the arm of our loveseat on my side, positioning himself for watching TV with us. Each morning he snuggles as close as possible to me during my Quiet Time. Daily at breakfast, he supervises our Cribbage game. Jesse has convinced Lin he knows who will win the game by where he lays—near my side or Lin’s.

         The world has changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Too horrible to mention in many ways, but I wanted to highlight some of the positive changes.

         How about you? Have you had any positive changes this last year? If so, what were they? (Keep scrolling down to make comments!)


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