Poetry Friday – Celebrate With Me, an Original Poem

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Happy Poetry Friday! Today’s poem is a throw-back poem from my series using famous poems as models for my own original poems. The model poem I used was Won’t You Celebrate With Me by Lucile Clifton.  Clifton’s poem really inspired me and I remember I wrote my first draft in a fast white heat and was surprised the next day when I chose to not edit much at all. Sometimes the muse is in alignment with me as I type.
 
I now consider this poem one of my personal anthems.
 

Celebrate With Me

won’t you celebrate with me
what I have become
a woman strong and brave
enough to speak her mind,
usually,
a wife, a lover
daughter, mother
a friend to few
I hold dear
a non-friend
to some
for reasons I don’t understand
born into confusion
about how to become
myself
how to trust I had
arrived
in all my glory
before barreling past
my destination
forgetting
not knowing
I was enough
I am enough
I AM ENOUGH
come celebrate
with me that
I have climbed
my mountains
cheered the sunrise
knowing, knowing
yes
I am stronger
at all the broken places.

—Susan Taylor Brown

 
 

Listen to me read this poem.

 
 
Last week’s Poetry Friday contribution was an original poem called Poetry Waits for Me.
 
 
Amy has the complete Poetry Friday round-up over at the Poem Farm.

 
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Thursday, September 18, 2014|Categories: Susan's Original Poems|Tags: |23 Comments

Crying With Jerry Lewis

Heidi, waiting for Jerry Lewis and the MDA telethon   Toby, waiting for TV time

I cried today. It was in the name of research and remembering but still, there were tears shed. For a good reason. Several good reasons.

I’m working on an essay. A very personal one. Okay, an essay by definition is personal but this one is more-so. It’s about me. But not.

I’ve been wanting to write this piece for a long time. I finally thought I felt brave enough to dive in.

So I did. And for a few hundred words the excitement of telling the story wiped out the basic fact that this was real and true. I wasn’t writing a novel. I was writing about things that really happened. And as happens when I am doing the freewriting, letting the words fly out willy-nilly and land wherever they want (because I know revision will clean things up in the end), I had a memory pop into my head.

It was from my childhood. That surprised me but it connected my childhood to the essay which was still about me. But not. And that connection was important to tying the essay together.

So I sat with that memory and jotted down all flashbacks that ricocheted around my brain and then, well then I decided to do a little time travel courtesy of YouTube and see what else I might remember.

It didn’t take long to find what I was looking for. The star, Jerry Lewis. And the show, his Labor Day telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. It was a tradition, every year, me and Jerry Lewis would spend the long weekend together while my husband was off for a guys-only weekend of hunting for deer.

A few clicks and soon I was listening to Jerry’s trademark laugh before he asked for new number on the tote board. He would cheer and the audience would cheer and then, with tears streaming down his face, Jerry would sing a song intended to move people to tears of their own and hopefully convince them to part with a few more dollars in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Today Jerry Lewis held my hand and took me back in time, and helped me remember so many things about that time in my life.

The house we lived in sat across the street from my then best friend. Most times our husbands were off doing things together Patty and I would be together too. Except for Labor Day weekend. That was just me and Jerry on our own.

I clicked on another video and closed my eyes while Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Junior did a duet that I could remember seeing for the first time so many years ago. Memory fragments surrounded me. The nubby brown and orange couch I sat on while I watched the alternately entertaining and heartbreaking telethon. How I would always try to stay up around the clock but never managed to do so. The too-dark fake wood paneling that was all the rage in the 70s. The old-fashioned TV in the big wood console. There were birds and hamsters (I still can’t remember how I finally managed to get rid of all those hamsters) in the spare bedroom and dogs, at one time  five of them, (then four after the turkey incident), wandering around the house. It was home. My first marriage. The early years.

There wasn’t a baby, not yet, but there was talk of one. Soon. But that’s a story for a different time. An essay of its own, perhaps.

Sometimes memories are a comfort. Sometimes they rip off scabs you thought had healed long ago. Sometimes they simply light the path you have to walk one more time before you let things go.

I cried today. I expect I will cry some more before this piece is done.

Because you can’t carry guilt about things you wish you could change forever.

And because the guilt you try to carry isn’t even real. It’s fiction, a story you tell yourself because if you’re making it all up you can make the story end a different way. The way you want it too. A happy ending.

But essays are a chance to tell the truth and let go of guilt and find the light, even if it is just a tiny light, that you can share with someone else.

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014|Categories: Essays|Tags: |3 Comments

When Words Return

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When words return
from a vacation they took without me
they whisper in my ear
of the many places they have been
mountains mastered, lessons learned
so many stories they share,
telling me jokes that make me giggle
until the dog raises her head
at the silence I have broken
while I race to write it all down
before the words wander off
alone, again.

 

 

 

 

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Monday, September 15, 2014|Categories: Susan's Original Poems|Tags: |7 Comments

Poetry Waits for Me

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Poetry Waits for Me

Poetry didn’t desert me
I deserted poetry,
left it to the elements of
popular opinion, negative reviews, and shrinking markets
until it faded to muted colors
that blended into nothing,
shades of gray left to whisper
save me
in a voice too soft to hear.

It frayed around the edges,
melting metaphors into
puddles of prose that froze my fingers
silenced a voice
I no longer felt original enough to share.

Similes refused to dance the hallways of my heart,
consigned, like rhyme,
to the dark
unmarked corners of my life

Poetry never came to me
begging for attention.
It never cared about being center stage
or cashing checks
or gold stickers guaranteed to land a book
on a special shelf at the library.

Poetry simply wanted
to be heard
to be remembered
to be consumed.

I wanted to be famous
or something close enough
to be remembered
if not for all time
for some time
time enough
to make my mark on the world.

But mark making is exhausting.

Eventually,
though I never said the words
give up,
I gave in
to popular opinion, negative reviews, and shrinking markets.
I shuffle-stepped sideways until
poetry and I were in different waiting rooms
without windows
waiting but not wishing
on endings that might or might not
be happy ones.

Poetry simply was,
simply is,
an experience
waiting to be shared
and in the sharing,
the consuming of poetry
both the poet and the poem
are remembered.

I give thanks to poetry
for being an expert waiter,
waiting for me to remember
how wonderful the world can be
when viewed through a poet’s eyes
and then shared
like a feast of favorite foods
for the world consume.

—Susan Taylor Brown

 

Want to see more Poetry Friday posts? Go check out the complete list of links at No Water River.

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Friday, September 12, 2014|Categories: Poetry Friday|Tags: |13 Comments

Sometimes it Really is That Easy

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Sometimes we put off doing things for so long it almost seems easier not to do them at all. We make a list and then we delete the item off the to-do list with our fingers crossed behind our back.

I have been putting off doing a major website upgrade. First there was the update that needed to happen on WordPress. It should never really be a big deal to update WordPress but all too often it turns into a nightmare or a headache or both. Then I needed to update my theme which, if you use one of the freebie themes offered by WordPress is not a big deal at all.

Except I don’t do that. (You knew that already, right?) No, when I rebuilt the website last year I chose to use the intensely intricate but highly customizable and awesome Avada theme by Theme Fusion.

The people at Theme-Fusion are great at offering support for their theme. There are lots of knowledge base articles on how to do things and a forum where you can ask questions and get answers quickly. They roll out updates in a timely fashion. They let you know (when they can) what will likely break as a result and how best to fix it. They even help you with tweak your code to make your site uniquely yours. (Within reason.) As if that’s not enough support there’s a group of folks on Facebook who use the Avada theme who have formed a support group where we can all post questions and share answers.

So why was I dragging my feet to update?

The short answer? I have no idea.

The longer answer. Fear. I didn’t want to deal with broken things. My code brain was retired. I spent months building my site and getting it to look just the way I wanted it to. An archive of sorts. A hub where all my creative lives would intersect. Did I mention that the site has 117 pages? Something was gonna break. No doubt about it.

So I continued to drag my feet on the project. I spent a week reading the forum and everyone’s complaints about the last few upgrades because I hadn’t upgraded, well, in a long time. And you know, people don’t go to a forum to post about how great something is. They go over there to complain about things that are, well, broken.

I stuck my head in the sand. I wanted to do fun stuff like take photos and work on the novel and play with Zoey. I did not want to do the upgrade.

Then I saw the notice about a security vulnerability on one of the sliders I use and I knew that I had to do the upgrade not soon but NOW.

Gulp.

So I contacted my site host, the wonderful people at Winding Oak  and asked them to run a backup. Then I backed some things up here at home. Then I took screen shots of a bunch of settings and copied a lot of custom CSS and then I took a deep breath (after warning my husband I was about to barrel straight ahead into crazy town) and I started the upgrade.

And in half an hour I was done.

One half of one hour. Thirty minutes. 1,800 seconds.

Sheesh!

Yes, there were some little things that broke. All the pages now had sidebars because they did away with the full page template. So I zipped through the pages that used to be full page and turned off the sidebar and it was no big deal. A few custom menus have gone missing but they won’t take long to put back in place. Everything works just fine and looks almost 99% like it used to.

Why do we, okay, why do I always make things so hard for myself? I borrow trouble where there is no trouble on the horizon.

Sometimes life IS hard. Sometimes books are rejected and the reviews of the ones that get published are rotten. Sometimes family members disappoint us or we disappoint them and sometimes the family pet will chew up that sentimental something you left too close within their reach.

But not always. Sometimes it really is that easy. Know what you want to do. Then do it.

Then carry on with the business of living.

 

 

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Thursday, September 11, 2014|Categories: Random|Tags: |4 Comments

What I have been doing when I haven’t been blogging

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When I did the whole big website overhaul a while back, the intent was to bring all my creative efforts together by using the website as a hub. I sorta forgot to do that. So after the whole, let’s sell the house, and let’s do it without an agent, and oh yeah, let’s move ourselves too thing, I’ve been focusing on photography. Some people might call it writer’s block but I prefer to think of it as filling the well.

I haven’t gotten the galleries populated here on the site yet but you can pop over to Flickr and see some of my nature shots, like this album from Shoreline in Mountain View which has various water birds, including egrets and a great blue heron.

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There’s also this album of some of the many Dogs of North Park. I’m continually amazed at the variety of dogs we meet each night at the park here at the complex.

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Or heck, you can just go right to my stream of photos of Flickr and find your own favorites.

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Psst. Want to get my blog updates right in your email in-box? All you have to do is hit the SUBSCRIBE button in the top right corner of this page. Then you won’t miss a post. If you haven’t subscribed in the last 6 months you will need to resubscribe as my database was lost. Thank you. Go on, you know you want to.

 

Thursday, September 11, 2014|Categories: Random|Tags: |0 Comments

Home is …

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Home is not where I am right now. Four months ago we sold our home, our house, in San Jose and moved into these apartments, also in the city, while we continue to look for our dream home, the home of our hearts.  We went from a 6,000 sq ft lot with a 2,500 sq ft house to a 700 sq ft apt surrounded by, well, cement and lots of other people. Most of our stuff is in storage. Our desks. Our  ergonomic office chairs. My art supplies. My blue and white collections. The tole trays that hung on the wall. The artwork chosen so carefully over the years. My husband’s D&D books. Most of his cookbooks. Yes, it is only stuff but it was the stuff that surrounded our house, the stuff that hung on the walls and filled the shelves and helped turn our house into a home.  We could have brought a few things with us, things to hang on the walls perhaps and try to claim this sterile space as our own but I confess, it was too hard to make those sorts of decisions in the last days of packing to get out of our house before escrow closed. And even then there are things we brought to the apartment that we eventually had to move to storage because there wasn’t enough room. And we pay $500 a month for the privilege of not having our stuff with us. Seems like there is good money to be made in renting out storage units.

Yes, this is a bit of a whine because we have been here long enough for the novelty of it all to wear off. I miss my own office space and I know my husband misses his. I miss my own dirt to dig in and funny things like the hose at the kitchen sink or my own washer and dryer and walls that aren’t white. I miss having a day when I can just let Zoey out in the yard because I am head down to the computer and want to keep working but she needs to take care of business and while we are here, that means putting her on a leash and going for a walk. And yes, walking is good and I am walking more now than I have in years but I am just going to say it, I am tired of being here in this apartment. Very tired of it all. And I know it could be months, another year even, until we find a place to buy.

It’s hard to wait.

Right now the kitchen table that used to sit in the sunny breakfast nook is being used as a desk by my husband, for both his work and home computers, and my corner of it is an end table for my phone and coffee cup. I work with my laptop on a lapdesk which is balanced between my legs on a pillow because I can’t have the weight of it all on my legs or my knees.

Another thing I miss. My big monitor. Editing photos on the laptop is hard. Every flat surface in the apartment is covered with just the day-to-day living things. Zoey’s leashes hang on the coat rack along with the bags for grocery shopping, the hats for walking, the backpacks and computer bags and the occasional coat all piled on top of each other out in the open because of course there is no coat closet in the hallway to keep these things out of sight. So much visual noise. Toilet paper and paper towels are stored in the only closet we have, in the bedroom. Houseplants are taking up valuable surface space and I am about ready to move them out to the patio (where they will slowly die or collect bugs or both) because I could use the space they are taking up but they also soften some of the sterile feel of the place so I keep flip-flopping back and forth.

If you have to live in an apartment it is not a bad place to live. If you follow me on Facebook you’ve seen the pictures and you know there are lots of dogs around and Zoey gets lots of doggy social time. It’s nice place to live but it’s not home.

Billy Joel has a song about how the person he loves is always his home and if I were a better person I would say to my husband, “This is enough. I have you, I have Zoey, it’s okay.”  And most of the time it is. But I do not want to grow old and gray living in this apartment.

The silver lining, because of course I must look for one even while I whine, is that we are learning what stuff we truly miss and what stuff we will be able to let go of in a new place.  We are learning how much space we really need to live in and how how we want to fill it. We are weighing our wants and needs and, luckily, we are both on the same page with about just about all of them. But that knowledge can’t help us pick a home in a real estate market with so few options in the areas where we want to live.

I have never been good with delayed gratification.

More silver linings. There is more time to do things because there is so much less upkeep around the apartment. I spend the time walking and writing and taking photos. (I do not spend the time making art because, see above, art supplies in storage. I did not think I would miss it as much as I do.) There are lots of dogs running around which means lots of opportunities for me to practice my photography skills. There’s a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee twice a week which gives me more photography practice. On Sundays the food trucks from Moveable Feast are here and we can walk down to the park and get something to eat and listen to the music and watch the kids chase giant bubble across the grass. My husband and I are both introverts but being here, taking Zoey out to visit with her doggy friends, it is helping us get better at speaking with strangers, making small talk. Hubby is a mile from work. There are swimming pools and water fountains and plants and fitness centers and maintenance men to come fix things when they break. They even replace the light bulbs.

Sometimes looking for silver linings is not enough. Sometimes it is all we have while we continue to find our way home.

Home is not where I am, yet.

 

 

 

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |4 Comments

Dear Blog, I Missed You

DSC_3753Dear Blog,

It has been a great many months since my last post. I can cite all sorts of reasons but honestly, the biggest one is that I fell out of love with you because I’m pretty sure I was blogging for some wrong reasons, some right reasons, and some reasons that are less important to me now. Which pretty much confused me then overwhelmed me then made me want to crawl into a hole for a whole. So I did.

What does that mean for our relationship? It means we are going back to basics and we are going to get to know each other all over again. It’s gonna be mostly you and me kid because, well, when you drop off the blogging merry-go-around your friends, people who comment on your posts and interact with you, well they tend to disappear. Blog, don’t feel bad. It’s not you, it’s me. I stopped commenting on other blogs so people stopped coming over to check mine out and well, that’s the first step in a break-up, people stop really talking to one another.

But Blog, here’s the other thing, times have changed. I started blogging back when writers weren’t blogging very much at all. My very first blog was over on blogspot and for a long time the only conversations were between me and Don Tate who was also a pretty new blogger. Back then Don was just circling the publishing mountain and oh boy, now he is doing all sorts of things, writing wonderful books, creating terrific art, and speaking out for diversity in children’s literature.  Through it all, Don kept on blogging, kept rolling with the social media changes. Me, not so much. I’m an early adopter. A sprinter. The long-haul commitments have been hard on me, especially when things feel one-sided as they often do. Not just for me. For many of us.

Anyway Blog, you remain my first love. Twitter took me away from you for a time as well and Facebook but my heart, really, my heart belongs to you Blog because I can tell you things more in-depth than I can post in any of those other places.

I jumped on the blogging bandwagon and loved it, especially when I moved over to LiveJournal and met so many of my friends there. We closed the circle around the water cooler and vented and cheered and cried through so many things together. I was going to try and list everyone and I realized, my goodness, I simply couldn’t because there are so many of the kidlit bloggers that I got to know when blogging was hot and heavy and took up most of my day between writing posts and responding to them. But know that I love you all and am so grateful you came into my lives.

So I’m back. And I’m going to try and do this a little differently this time because really, I have no choice. Times have changed. Everyone is blogging and no one has time to visit and comment on the gazillions of blogs being published every day. So instead of letting that make me feel bad, I’m going to try and let it make me feel free. Free to explore my writing world and how it has changed and what I plan to do next. Because I feel sorta lost in the publishing world lately. It’s been years since my last book came out and I’m not sure what direction my writing is going to take me next. Well, I have a few ideas and I’m going to explore them here. With you. Because I know you understand.

And if it is just you and me doing this dance with no one watching, that’s okay. It just gives us more freedom to explore and go crazy.

Blog, we’re going to get to know each other really well. Some serious navel-gazing about to take place. Are you up to the challenge?

I thought so.

To start with I am going to try, no, never mind. I’m not going to tell you what’s coming next. I’m just going to come over here and sound off when something strikes me and share it and move on. You’ll never know if I am going to talk about writing or art or photography or looking for a house or dealing with a dog or the fact that there is no chocolate in the house when my craving for something sweet threatens to overtake me.

You’ll be surprised by how much I share with you. Again. The way it used to be.

Trust me, Blog. This is going to great.

 

 

 

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014|Categories: Random|Tags: |8 Comments

Waving the White Flag to National Poetry Month

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Today is the first day of National Poetry Month, that wonderful month where poetry lovers and writers share and celebrate the joy of writing and reading poetry. For the past few years I have been writing and sharing an original poem a day on my blog as my way of joining in the celebration. I had big plans for this year’s participation, actually several versions of several plans, but midway through today I decided to hoist the white flag and release myself from the idea. We currently have our house on the market and are selling it ourselves which pretty much means my life is turned upside and shaken all around while keeping me in limbo all at the same time. Not a situation designed to bring out my creative best.

But then, as soon as I told myself I wasn’t going to do a poem a day I wanted to beat my head against a proverbial wall because that’s what overachieving perfectionist people do when they realize they are not going to be able to accomplish something as planned. Luckily common sense (and some Zoey kisses) kicked in before then and I was able to calm myself down and relax (mostly) about the idea. There’s always a war between rational and irrational thought going in my head when I make this sort of a decision. It goes something like this.

Real poets write every day. If you were a real poet, you’d honor that emotional commitment you made and get that poem a day written.

Sure, you could write a poem a day for a few days and then what happens if you house sells and suddenly your life is turned even more while you try to find a new place and then you have to get ready to move and don’t forget the Zoey factor in all of this. You’re already stressed out and not sleeping. You want to pile even more stress on yourself? So not a good idea.

I thought you were going to write poems about this house, use it as a way to say goodbye? Make peace with leaving.

I’m ready to leave now. I don’t need to make peace with leaving I just want the house to sell so we can move and I can get out of limbo land.

Don’t you want to record the memories of living here? I thought you loved this house, this garden.

I have lots of notes about living here. I have a Scrivener file full of poem ideas about this house and all the things that have happened to us while we have been here. It’s just that I don’t want to write about it while I am still here. I can’t. I’m like Hemingway  in A Moveable Feast, when he said, “Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.” When I am not in this house, then I can write about this house, this garden, this life we built here.

A real poet would suffer for her art.

Horse-feathers! (or your expletive of choice)

Not writing a poem a day this month does not mean I am not a real poet. It just means that right now I am choosing to take care of my mental health first. I found that as soon as I waved the white flag about a daily poetry push that I wanted to open my current work-in-progress, a young adult novel in verse, and get back to work. So perhaps this freedom I am giving myself is bringing me another gift, a door that opens, a path that leads me back to finishing the story about two sisters and their lives and the choices they make.

There are lots of people doing daily activities to celebrate National Poetry Month and the always awesome Jama Rattigan has rounded many of them up here.

And if you want to read some of my own original poems from previous years, here are some links to a couple of my favorites: In 2010, I wrote a poem a day about the father I never knew and in 2012 I wrote about how you could Kick the Poetry Can’ts with easy poetry exercises to get you started.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014|Categories: Random|Tags: |15 Comments

Looking Ahead to National Poetry Month – Your Chance to Ask Me Questions

ask-npm2014After a blog hiatus I am back, and as often happens when I take a hiatus, I come back to blogging as National Poetry month approaches. In the next few weeks I will be moving all my old Grace Notes over here (if you follow me on Facebook, you already know what I mean. If not, stay tuned.) But for now I am thinking about April 1 and how it signifies the month long celebration of poetry lovers everywhere.

Here in the blogosphere many poets, myself included, set a challenge to write and share a new poem each day. I’m planning on doing that again this year but what I have been pondering to do is a topic to build upon for the month. In the past I have written about my native garden, about taking a month off to learn how to play, and about growing up without knowing anything about my father (and then finding him after he was already dead.)

This year I thought I would solicit questions from friends and readers and then pick one each day to use as a jumping off point for my poems. So here’s your chance to have a say in what I write about, at least during the month of April. Leave me a question in the comments and at the end of this month, I’ll print them all out and toss them in a bowl. Then each day for National Poetry Month I’ll pick on question and write an original poem around that question.

Oh yeah, there’s the fear that even with 27 days left in this month I might not get 30 comments with questions to answer but I have a plan B for that – if I don’t get enough comments I’ll hit up friends via email until I have my quota.

I think this could be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to seeing what questions people might ask.

Note: If you subscribed to my blog in the past, there’s a chance that the subscription did not make it over to the new website so I invite you to subscribe again, please, so you don’t miss anything. The subscription notice is on the top right corner of the blog page. Thank you for staying connected.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |8 Comments

Do You Need a Mission Statement?

susan3As I tip-toe my way back into my blogging on a regular basis I thought I’d talk a little bit about my newly designed website. When I began the massive undertaking all I knew was that I wanted to combine my writing, my art, and my photography under one website. It meant it would be huge. It meant a lot of work. It meant I walked around for a few days mumbling to myself about having no idea where to start. So I decided to do what I always do when starting a new book – I reread old material. In this case I started with rereading some grant applications I had written a few years ago. They were for a writing project and I remembered the process of writing the grant really helped me better define my identity as a writer. So I decided to apply the same technique to creating my website, beginning with a mission statement.

A mission statement, at its most basic level is who you are and why you are doing what you are doing.

Before people start jumping up and down about the differences between mission statements and vision statements and artist statements I’m going to say that I rolled mine all up into one. As the sole proprietor of my creative business venture, that works for me.

I think my first introduction to mission statements came many years ago when the company I was working for adopted the Franklin Covey Habits of Effective People. It was a personal productivity program about getting things done but also about having a good idea of your personal and company values and how they could work together for success. An old version of Microsoft Word even had a mission statement template built into the software. It wasn’t easy but the program asked you simple questions which you answered and then it spit out a draft of something you could then edit. Okay, for the heck of it I just Google mission statement generator and Franklin Covey offers a free one here. It might be a good place to start. If you Google mission statement template or generator you can find lots more.

As a writer I do a lot of revising. In fact I’d say my best writing often comes from revising. The new website is about revising my own way of looking at my creative life. It is about defining myself as not just a writer, but as a writer, an artist, and a photographer. And now when I have doubts about my creative identity, I can reread my mission statement and be reminded of the path I am meant to be on, even if sometimes life is a bit too foggy for me to see the path in front of me.

So do you NEED a mission statement for your website? Maybe not. But it might not be a bad exercise to try and see where it takes you.

You can read my mission statement here.

Note: If you subscribed to my blog in the past, there’s a chance that the subscription did not make it over to the new website so I invite you to subscribe again, please, so you don’t miss anything. The subscription notice is on the top right corner of the blog page. Thank you for staying connected.

Monday, December 2, 2013|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |4 Comments

I Found the Courage to Create

stbFor many years the sound bite I used to describe my creative life was that I was in constant motion, always searching, always trying, to find the courage to create. I hesitated to claim certain book publications because they were published by small presses or in foreign countries. I worried about calling myself a poet even after I published a verse novel. I couldn’t imagine calling myself an artist even though I had some of my work hanging on the walls of an art gallery. I resisted calling myself a photographer despite the many people who bought my work.

I told people, I told myself, I was trying to find the courage to create.

But I lied. I was creating all the time. What I needed to find was the courage to claim my creative identity.

Hello, my name is Susan Taylor Brown and I’m a writer, of books and poetry, of essays and more. I’m an artist, with a weakness for mixed-media featuring dogs, and I’m a photographer who stands still in the garden and waits for the birds to pose in front of my camera.

This new website brings, at last, my three creative identities together under one roof. This blog will dip into all areas of my creative life. I give up trying to keep the writer, the artist, and the photographer in separate rooms. Why should I? They inspire each other, they feed off each other, they need each other.

I found my courage to create.

Thursday, November 28, 2013|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |4 Comments

And Sometimes Life Has Other Plans

Poetry month is over and I didn’t make it through the month with my mentor poem project. I do want to return to it but sometimes, you know, life has other plans.

One of the most difficult things for me has been to find mentor poems that we also available online so that other people could read them and teachers could use it as a resource. I have some poems left that will make good mentor poems but they are long and didn’t work in the short pockets of time I had available.

This was my 5th year doing a poem a day and the 1st year that I failed to make it through the month. I’m not going to list excuses because it doesn’t really matter. In fact, I’m not going to call it a failure, just a postponement while I find my footing once again.

In the meantime, if you know of short poems that would be good for models, and that are available online, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013|Tags: |4 Comments

In the style of Rudyard Kipling, If

I love using this poem, If by Rudyard Kipling, in the classroom. We dissect this poem line by line and we don’t go on to the next line until we’ve talked through the one before. This is hard for a lot of the at-risk kids I usually work with but the eventually work their way through it. I have them what they think Kipling meant and then I have them talk about it as it compares to their lives. Then I ask them to write there own poem modeled on the poem.

 

Here’s a version of one my tries at this.

 

If you can learn that your value comes from being yourself,
not who the rest of the world thinks you should be

If you can recognize that no one person
sits in judgement of you

If you can lean into the understanding that difficult people too,
carry their burdens

If you can not cause pain to yourself, to others

If you can freely share your knowledge
knowing it will just increase your wealth
and manage your wealth so that the
seeking of it doesn’t manage you

If you can let go of hate and anger and fear
and all the useless emotions that hold you back
while at the same time filling yourself
and the world with love and laughter and compassion

If you can encourage dream following in everyone you meet
while nurturing dreams of your own

If you can let yourself believe
in yourself

There is nothing you cannot do.

–Susan Taylor Brown

In the Style of Rita Ann Higgins, Be Someone

I really liked the direction my poem took after I read Be Someone by Rita Ann Higgins. I would use it in the classroom along with IF and MY CREED to help kids develop their own guidelines for living.

Here’s my first draft.

Be Someone

Be someone who is kind
more than someone who is indifferent.
Indifference kills more things than
hate or anger ever will.

Be someone who dreams
and someone who helps other people
make their dreams come true.

Be someone who is not afraid to say you are wrong
and someone who doesn’t always have to be right.

Be someone who understands
that being yourself is enough
and that you don’t have to remake yourself
into something else
to make someone love you.

Be someone who loves
a lot
with all your heart
and no holds barred
because love heals
and help you grow
and it feels good too.

Susan Taylor Brown

 

Thursday, April 18, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |4 Comments

Inspired by J. Patrick Lewis, What to Wear Where

Today I picked this fun poem by  J. Patrick Lewis called What to Wear Where as my model poem. I really wanted to do something light and fun but my muse had a different idea. Here’s my first draft.

 

What to Wear

When you visit someone special
what you wear doesn’t matter
you will be cloaked
in hugs and laughter
or silence smiles
that sing a love song
of understanding and
together you will braid
a tapestry of memories
that will keep you warm
even when you are miles apart.

Susan Taylor Brown

Wednesday, April 17, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |8 Comments

In the Style of William Bly, Things to Think

I think this poem by Robert Bly, Things to Think is an interesting one to play with. It would be fun for students to experiment with thinking of things as opposites. I didn’t quite get where I wanted to with this first draft but I have something to revise down the road.

Here’s my first draft.

 

Things to Think

Think in opposites
If you’re hungry
think of vegetables as the new chocolate
and bread and sugar and steak as
something that makes you sick to your stomach.

Think that there is no greater high
than working out
and that watching television will make you fat
Think that there is good in everyone
even the people
that make you mad
or make you cry
or walk out of your life without a decent explanation.

Think that you are beautiful and healthy
and that the reflection in the mirror
is someone you used to be
not someone you are now.

When the world threatens you
think that it is just a passing storm
about to drench the fields
to help the flowers grow.

Susan Taylor Brown

Tuesday, April 16, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |5 Comments

In the Style of Tupac Shakur, The Rose that Grew from Concrete

Today’s model poem for National Poetry month is The Rose that Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur

My students often want to read and share Tupacs poems and lyrics and this poem of his one of the cleaner ones that I can use in the classroom. I’ve never tried to use it as a jumping off point for my own work but when I reread it, I had a vision of all the dogs that are thrown away and how some of them, like my Zoey, are lucky enough to be rescued and find a new forever home. Here’s my first draft.

 

The Dog That Remembered How to Love

Did you hear about the dog
thrown to the side of the road
because someone didn’t want it anymore
left to fend for itself
with no guarnatee of food or water
no microchip or tag to know where home was
no a soft bed to curl into at night?

Did you hear about the dog
not much more than skin and bones
seen skulking in the alleys
digging through garbage
scratching at the fleas that covered her body
and the foxtails that filled her ears
and the parasites that filled her belly.

Did you hear about the dog
they couldn’t catch
because it ran so fast
like white lightening
running running running
faster still when someone shot it
burying a slug of metal in her hip
faster faster faster
until finally they set a trap
and caught that dog in a cage
and put that dog in a car
and took that dog to another cage
where that dog waited.

Did you hear about the dog
that got lucky
that got found
that got saved
once
twice
that dog that found a different kind of home
that dog that got food and water
and a bed of its very own
that dog that got clean
that dog that got healthy
that dog who still loved to run
run fast.

Long live that dog
that remembered how to love
the humans who loved it back
after so many other humans
turned away.

Susan Taylor Brown

In the Style of October by Bobbi Katz

October by Bobbi Katz is a fun poem to model and could lead to a wide variety of other new poems. My rough draft is pretty rough but I like the direction this is taking and I will come back to play with it some more. Since my garden is full of native plants, I do my planting in the fall, not the spring like so many other folks, and I like the idea of building on this poem.

October

October is
when the dirt bed
throws back its sheets
and welcomes bulbs and seeds
to have a slumber party
hoping they will move in
and improve the neighborhood.

October is when leaves are
starting to fall into compost piles
to feed the worms who will cook up
a nutritious meal for the native plants

October is
just before the rain begins to fall
in California
when the garden grows
underground
where you can’t see it
and hope for spring
surrounds you.

Susan Taylor Brown

Sunday, April 14, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |4 Comments

Another in the Style of William Stafford, my poem What's on My Desk

I adore the poem What’s in My Journal by William Stafford because it is deceptively simply and equally deep. You think you are going to read a list of tangible things and yet there is so much more. I want to revisit this poem and try to do the same but for today’s rough draft, I took the easy way out.

 

What’s on My Desk

Expected things, like pens and pencils. Art
things like crayons, scraps of handmade paper,
a paintbrush I forgot to wash. Stuffing from a
dog toy, stolen from the dog just before she ate
it. A Christmas card I forgot to mail. An empty water
bottle. A dirty coffee cup. Dead batteries and a dead fly.
Evidence of my poor housekeeping skills.
A paper dictionary I never use anymore. A quote
to help me be more focused. A rock I found in the
backyard. The collar from my only cat,
gone 10 years now. Two crumpled pieces of paper
torn from a notebook. My tolerance for clutter is high
yet I rarely work at my desk too surrounded by
things to sidetrack me from creating something new.

Susan Taylor Brown

In the Style of Major Jackson, How to Listen

Today’s model poem is How to Listen by Major Jackson. A few years ago I read this poem and used the title as a jumping off point for a new poem of my own with the same title. That one turned into a a pretty angry poem so I wanted to give it another try.

How to Listen

Go outside
find a spot in the sun
the garden is best
close your eyes, gently
inhale
exhale
breathe slowly
slower still
repeat
until nature’s orchestra
hums in your ear

Susan Taylor Brown

Friday, April 12, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |8 Comments

In the Style of Elizabeth Alexander, My Poem Ars Poetica #1: Learn to See

 

This was a fun one to model, even if I didn’t follow the idea exactly it was a nice jumping off point for me. Read the original poem Ars Poetica #100: I Believe by Elizabeth Alexander.

Here’s my first draft.

Ars Poetica #1:Learn to See

Let me explain.

Poetry is that first sip of coffee in the morning
a fresh orange
cod liver oil.

Poetry is the exactly right shade of pale yellow
to match the roses that climb the gazebo at the park,
the cinnamon red of my favorite boots
the rusted rims of the old car deserted in the woods.

Poetry is the smell of chopping onions for dinner
wet dog and cotton candy
the garbage can overflowing behind the fish market.

Poetry is my husband’s kiss goodnight
the soft velvet of a hazelnut leaf
A snake. A slug. A snail.

Poetry is my grandson’s giggles
my mother saying “I love you” on the phone
my daughter’s tears.

What do you mean you don’t understand poetry?
It’s all around you.

Susan Taylor Brown

In the Style of William Stafford – Things I Learned Last Week

There are a lot of examples of list-like poems but since I would swoon reading William Stafford laundry list so it’s no surprise that his poem, Things I Learned Last Week is one of my favorites.  Each line could be reworked into a poem of its own.

Here’s my first draft.

 

Things I Learned Last Year

Good friends
are not as large in number as you might think
when you first start counting.

Not everyone you meet will want to be your friend.

Just because you work with someone
doesn’t mean they are going to be your friend.
When you no longer share the same job,
don’t be surprised if you hear silence
instead of something more.

Some people you once called friend will turn out to
just be people you met once upon a time
and not much more.

Some people you hardly know will come to your rescue
before you realize you are in trouble.

Even when someone tells you it’s not about you
it still feels like it is all about you.

It’s up to you how to react to realtionship changes.

A real friend wants to hear all about you
even the yucky parts that might make them uncomfortable.

If a friend doesn’t understand
something  you’re doing or saying
or something you’re not doing or not saying
they’re not afraid to ask questions.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a good friend.
Sometimes it’s scary.
And sometimes it is a whole lot of really tough work.

Good friends are rare
and that’s a good thing I learned
because we take special care
with rare and beautiful things.

— Susan Taylor Brown

Another poem in the style of Eve Merriam, How to Eat a Poem

There are a lot of great examples out there of “how to” poems but How to Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam has always been one of my favorites.

Here’s my first draft.

 

How to Be Beautiful

Stand up straight.
Smile at everyone you see.
Smile at the tired clerk at the store
and the guy who cuts you off in traffic
and the homeless man begging for change
outside the library.
Smile big and wide
and don’t worry if your receding gums show.
Let your smile dance up to your eyes
until the sides of your face pull up into
little lines of happiness
then watch your smile somersault
away to dance for a stranger.
You do not need perfect skin
a perfect body
expensive clothes
in order to be beautiful.
Just smile.

Susan Taylor Brown

In the style of, Martha Baird – Do Not Make Things Too Easy

Today I chose the poem Do Not Make Things Too Easy by Martha Baird for my model. It took an unexpected turn and I’m looking forward to coming back and working it into even more of an anthem. I really encourage people to give this a try. I’m not spending more than half an hour on these first drafts. These are just emotional dumps from me after I read the model poem. Then later I will have fun with polishing them in the revision stage. It’s very freeing to know that these are quick drafts and don’t have to be perfect.

Here’s my first draft.

Do Not Tell Me I Cannot

Do not tell me
I cannot climb mountains you can’t see
I can be
anything
my mind conceives.

Do not tell me
you do not believe in me
I can be
so much more
than you imagine.

I am sick of dishonesty
believe me
I can be
true north on my own
alone
I want dreams to be met by dreams
If I am amazing, and trust me, I am amazing,
Do not tell me you are surprised.

Susan Taylor Brown

 

Monday, April 8, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |4 Comments

In the Style of George Ella Lyon, Where I'm From

I assign this poem to students all the time but I’ve never tried to do it myself so today’s mentor poem is Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon.

Here’s my first draft.

 

Where I’m From

I am from sunshine
clothes hanging on the line
oranges and apricots
(not a fan)
walnuts and almonds
(could never get enough)
I am from catfish
caught by papa
frozen by nana in a wax milk carton
to feed us in the winter months.

I am from Captain Kangaroo
Miss Nancy’s magic mirror
Bosco syrup and KoolAid
Red Skeleton and Ed Sullivan
G.I. Joe full-size and Barbie
with no moving parts.

I am from White Gloves and Party Manners
dresses made at home
winter coats from Rhodes
the PowWow parade
and fireworks at the high school on the fourth of July.

In my attic bedroom
I slept with open windows
the smell orange blossoms
carried to my dreams
by the ghosts that shared my space.

Susan Taylor Brown

Sunday, April 7, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |12 Comments

In the Style of Eve Merriam, Metaphor

Today I used the poem Metaphor by Eve Merriam as my model. I am finding this a really interesting exercise though finding the mentor poems is more difficult than I originally imagined.

Here’s my rough draft.

 

Metaphor

 

Evening is
a photograph
of how you spent your day.

Focus on the moments
large and small
you want to remember
blur the rest.

Capture colors.
Distort.
Sharpen.
Adjust.

Each day
becomes a masterpiece.

Susan Taylor Brown

In the Style of Donald Hall, My Poem, The Garden

 

Today’s mentor poem for me is called The Things by Donald Hall.

As often happens when I pick a mentor poem I don’t try to follow a form or idea exactly but rather use the mentor poem as a jumping off point for something new for me. Instead of looking inside my house, I looked outside my back door to the huge Japanese Maple tree that sits outside my office. It is the only plant growing in my backyard that is not a California native plant but it is such a large tree, that we let it stay. The vines that I planted, are one of the few true vines in California native plants. And the butterflies I wait for are the Pipevine Swallowtails, whose only food are these vines, and who used to be prevalent in my area but whose numbers have dwindled greatly over the years. I have no butterflies, yet.

Here’s my rough draft.

 

The Garden

When I step outside I see a giant Japanese maple
planted near full grown by another family
lowered by a crane over the top of my tall home
because impatience
was the food they used to fertilize most everything.
A tree, healthy, green, growing tall,
wide enough to shade the patio and my office
and just kiss the edge of the roof,
a beautiful specimen but it’s not mine
even though its roots tunnel throughout my yard,
I did not nurture it through drought and frost
and I curse the tiny seedlings that sprout everywhere
but in spring it fills with birds who nest and sing
so I let it stay and plant pipevines at the base
and encourage the vines
to travel up the trunk and across the branches
like tentacles dripping with funny pipe-shaped blossoms
while I stand in the shade of the massive maple
and wait for butterflies.

Susan Taylor Brown

In the style of a song from One Republic

Songs are great poems to use as models. This is an example I’ve shared in the past but it is still one of my favorites. It’s modeled on the song called SECRETS by One Republic. You can read the lyrics to the song here.

 

Here’s my poem modeled on the song.

I NEED

I need to know
that getting up in the morning
matters to the world
to someone other than the man
who matters so much to me,
the man who may not understand
why I need to know
that I matter at all.

You can tell me
it shouldn’t matter
but it does.
You can tell me
I matter in ways
I may not understand
in so many ways I can
only hope to believe

But I need to know
the kind of knowing that comes
from some place deep inside
some place I don’t reside
I want to run and hide because
what I fear is the world
discovering
uncovering
pieces of soul
I don’t want the world to see
what I fear
is that what I need
matters too much to me

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved.

Your turn. If there’s a song you feel drawn to, search for the lyrics online and then try to model a poem based on that song. Good luck!

Thursday, April 4, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |7 Comments

In the style of e.e. cummings, My Poem, Let it Go

 

Today’s model poem is let it go by e.e. cummings

In his poem I think cummings is talking about letting go of all the negative things in your life in order to make room for love to find you. For my poem I decided to apply it to my life with Zoey.

Here’s a first draft of my poem

 

let it go

the clean carpet,
upstairs
downstairs
the hairless furniture
unblemished wood
anywhere there stands a door
a single slipper, socks
my favorite jeans
the claw foot of an antique table
they are all just things
and things are not mean to stay
forever

let them go
the young, now leafless manzanita
the irises and the yarrow
too tender to hold their ground
the row of wax myrtles,
green soldiers guarding the fence
the blue-eyed grass
the monkey flowers
the delicate violas
you must let them go
let all of them collapse
into compost
food for future years
when you can plant again

let all go
sleeping late
silent quiet days
walks unfettered
let all go
and embrace
celebrate
rejoice

life with a dog

 

Susan Taylor Brown