I’m really pleased to welcome author Carolyn Walker to SunnyRoomStudio. Sometimes life calls us to cope with the unexpected. Nearly always, in fact. And when the unexpected involves the people we love, we usually feel uncertain, unprepared, and overwhelmed. So Carolyn, like many of us, decided to write about her experience in a memoir (Garn Press, January 2017) called Every Least Sparrow.
“No one is without troubles, without personal hardships and genuine challenges.
That fact may not be obvious because most people don’t advertise their woes and heartaches.
But nobody, not even the purest heart, escapes life without suffering battle scars.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway
WORD AFTER WORD
by Carolyn Walker
I remember vividly the day I announced to my mother, while the two of us stood in our living room, “I am going to be a writer.” I was ten years old. I had no idea, of course, how to generate, or recognize, good ideas, push through rewrites, or use imagery and grammar. Having not yet discovered Nancy Drew, I wasn’t even much of a reader. Nevertheless, in my innocence, I somehow foresaw that writing would be my calling. At that age, I couldn’t know that it would become my platform.
I began writing by producing silly poems, and my mother, a secretary given to organization, became my biggest supporter. During my teenage years, when I was especially prolific, she surprised me with a green and white filing box to hold my writings, and during my adulthood, clipped my weekly columns from our small town newspaper and slipped them beneath the cellophane sleeves of a scrapbook. My mother’s actions empowered me, and helped me to believe my words had value.
During my childhood and adolescent years, we lived in an idyllic, small village that included among its residents a round, wide-eyed mentally handicapped woman who liked to float on an inner tube in the local lake, and a woman who probably had cerebral palsy, who rode about the village on a three-wheeled bicycle. If there were any disabled children in the neighborhood, I didn’t know them, although I did attend junior high with a few who had mental handicaps and who were sequestered most days in a private classroom.
Sometimes I would sit at the kitchen table and talk about these folks, their differences, the teasing I saw them endure, their obvious loneliness, while my mother did the dishes. She’d listen and then say, “There but for the grace of God go you.” This was her way of telling me that disability could have been mine, and I should be grateful that it wasn’t.
But then it was.
In 1977 I gave birth to a daughter who has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, which affects her IQ, various body functions, and her appearance. She was followed ten years later by my son, who is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, and who coincidentally is gay. Those dual challenges have rendered him a true eccentric who has been devastated by bullying.
Whatever I imagined for my career as a ten-year-old, writing about disability and equality was not it. Even early in my marriage I couldn’t have guessed that children with these kinds of complications would come my way.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with my children, and raising them has made me reevaluate any preconceptions I harbored as to what is beautiful, what is normal, and what is acceptable.
I often wrote about my children in my column, and later personal essays and memoir. I found that the page gave me a place to think deeply about what it means to be human.
My daughter and son are adults now, but when they were little I would sometimes stand at their bedroom doors and consider them as they slept, as I know my mother did with me. I’d look at their peaceful faces and think about the difficult world they would have to live in. This made me wish I could change the world, help it to become a more understanding and compassionate place. After half a century of writing, I believe I can, word after word. ~
Fire tests gold, suffering tests brave men.
Carolyn Walker is the author of the memoir Every Least Sparrow, a book about raising her daughter Jennifer, who has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome. In May, 2017, the book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by Garn Press. Walker, memoirist, essayist, poet, and creative writing instructor, worked for twenty-five years as a journalist, before returning to graduate school. She earned her MFA in Writing degree from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2004. In 2013, she was made a Kresge Fellow in the Literary Arts by the Kresge Foundation. Walker’s work has appeared in The Southern Review, Hunger Mountain, The Writer’s Chronicle, Gravity Pulls You In: Parenting Children on the Autism Spectrum, HOUR Detroit, The Detroit News, and many other publications. Her essay “Christian Become a Blur,” published in the literary journal Crazyhorse, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Walker is a creative writing instructor for Writer’s Digest University, Springfed Arts, and All Writers Workplace & Workshop. She has been a writing resident at Vermont Studio Center, and Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard. She is a lifelong Michigan resident, and the married mother of three adult children.
“Yet, the questions dance around us, and only poetry can find the rhythm.”
―D.A. (Daisy) Hickman, ANCIENTS OF THE EARTH: Poems of Time
However you feel about poetry, whether or not you love it or not exactly, I have just published a new collection that might pique your interest. Why? It’s about a mysterious subject we all must contend with. It’s about the limits and the luxuries of time, and how it quietly manipulates our lives in the background. Wanting to probe this mystery for insights, I explored time’s powerful dictates via poetry, and came up with a collection that, much like a timepiece, moves along quickly, persistently, and confidently, while allowing ample space for personal (and subjective) interpretation.
How do you experience time? How has come to impact your life? Do you often wish it away, or clamor for more?
Where did the title come from, you ask?
It was a wonderful, last-minute discovery. I already had a title. One I really liked.
But … when I began searching for an intriguing line of poetry, a quote, an epigraph, to open the book, I turned to Alfred Lord Tennyson‘s work. He was a favorite of my grandmother’s, and I try to weave him into whatever book I’m working on. In my memoir, THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A Memoir of Time Undone, I had a chance to mention his 1850 collection, “In Memoriam.” As many of you know, when Tennyson was only 24, his very good friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, died. Alfred then spent some ten years writing over a hundred poems dedicated to his dear friend, Arthur.
I was not familiar, however, with his famous poem that was published as an actual book in 1842: “The Day-Dream.” Scanning the book I soon ran across these intriguing lines: “For we are Ancients of the earth, And in the morning of the times.” Immediately, I knew that was my title. Historically, as I mentioned in my new collection, as a continuation of all that has come before us, we are all “ancients of the earth.” And since I was focusing on time in my poems, Tennyson’s reference to time via “ancients of the earth” seemed like the perfect fit for my first book of poetry. I guess we never know how our literary efforts will be resurrected by others with the passage of years. Alfred probably never imagined that someone publishing in 2017 would decide to use a line from his work for their title.
At any rate, here is the lovely book cover … there is another story behind the cover art. I found the photograph by Jon Firskr Larsen (Spearfish, SD, photographer) in 2015 and decided to buy it, knowing I would need cover art for the books I was writing. So when my collection began to take shape, I remembered his photo, Sunrise Goose, and knew, like the Tennyson quote, it was the perfect fit.
Probing experience and knowledge through the hypnotic lens of time, Ancients of the Earth penetrates the haziness of existence.
Where does time hide? Can we ever really “find” time? Without a doubt.
Poems that weave a captivating story, that spotlight a persistent wondering, invite readers to explore,
personally and symbolically, the powerful dictates of time anew.
The collection is available on various popular book sites. As you read, I hope you find it compelling and memorable. Please share a reader comment on amazon once you read the book, as other readers, and, certainly authors, depend on your keen impressions.
Poetry grew on me very slowly over the years … but now, it seems perfect for our harried, chaotic world … a slice of brevity that manages to convey real emotion, fruitful contemplation. I know we are all too busy, but I try to read at least one poem a day, because I can always “find time” for that. It’s not a bad way to go either. A strong poem can sustain me throughout the day … often longer.
What do you think, ever had this experience? How do you like to read poetry, large chunks at a time … or more slowly, deliberately?
August is the bridge to autumn, and though I’m reluctant to step onto that bridge sometimes, “time” continues to demand it. That alone is a fascinating thought … so back to the keyboard. Another collection of poetry is already taking shape. It won’t be about time, per se, but it will be something you’ll definitely want to read! More details … 2018!
“This compendium of elegant poems will both root you firmly in the earth’s rich soil, and give you wings to soar to other dimensions.” —Matthew Peters, PhD, novelist
“A powerfully evocative exploration of humanity and the journey through time that we all share, if not always comfortably. Finally, a deeply insightful book of poetry that leads me to myself.” —Mark David Gerson, author, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write
“D.A. Hickman’s poems brilliantly illuminate a subject that eludes us all—time. A vivid and intimate examination of time’s boundaries, time’s passage, this beautifully curated collection will change the way you think about the past, experience the present, and meet the future. Spellbinding and provocative, ANCIENTS OF THE EARTH will fill you with wonder, time and time again.” —Laurie Buchanan, PhD, author, Note to Self: A Seven-Step Path to Gratitude and Growth
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits. See you again soon!
FEEL caught in the trap of quantifying your life? I notice it all the time.
People measuring themselves via numbers, scales, lists, contests, competitions, etc. But doesn’t this leave a lot to be desired? Isn’t there much more to life than how many, how much, how … something? Awareness around this dynamic seems limited, however. Many seem to just “go along” with this limiting mindset, assuming everything should be quantified, rated, and analyzed. Assuming this is all an inevitable aspect of daily life.
For the next week, though, try unplugging to all the rating games … try looking at the depth of an experience or the quality of something instead of immediately zeroing in on measures of quantity. I think you’ll find it’s very liberating to avoid mainstream patterns that are habitual and often unnecessary. Clearly, an “awakened” perspective quickly looks for the deeper story and shuns the old-fashioned, senseless number game whenever possible.
Do we really have to “measure up” in the eyes of someone else, all the time? Of course not. We can choose an alternate path, a more mindful path. We can decide to focus on substance and meaning and depth instead of counting everything.
“Numbers do not feel. Do not bleed or weep or hope. They do not know bravery or sacrifice. Love and allegiance. At the very apex of callousness, you will find only ones and zeros.” ― Amie Kaufman, Illuminae
Does the incessant hunt (and dependence on) for numbers wear on you? What have you done to upgrade your own existence by ignoring that senseless cultural game?
There is MORE to all of us, just look a little closer the next time some dumb number comes into your day.
Numbers can seem easy, however, and are readily substituted for depth of thought or personal insight. Sometimes it’s merely a convenience thing. I wonder how many times a day some sort of number comes to mind or is relied on for something totally inappropriate. How many calories? How much sleep? How far did I walk or run? How long was I out running errands? Did I get enough pages written today? How many books did I read last year? How many blog posts did I share? How many friends did I make? How many … how much … how soon … this futile game is endless, isn’t it?
But there is another way ….
Seems like a summer break from numbers isn’t a bad idea. You might find people around you still want to pressure you to constantly evaluate, count, and measure. But is this need, this behavior pattern, mostly subconscious, part of our conditioning? Has counting become part of our identity, our collective psyche?
“Isn’t it sad that we have to gain control of the artificial numbers placed upon
us by others to regain some control of our lives?” ― Rick Gregory
Thanks so much for stopping by this creative sunny space for kindred spirits. See you back here soon when I’ll be sharing the details of my forthcoming poetry publication, ANCIENTS OF THE EARTH: Poems of Time.Until then, skip the numbers!
A pear in a cup. What does it mean? What could it mean? Why is it interesting, even curiously captivating?
Well, to a poet, or to anyone charmed by the unusual combination that stirs the imagination, a pear in a cup could create a certain joy. Yes, joy. The joy of discovery that follows when we are alert and observant and tuned in to the messages of the universe, right?
But, in my case, there is a little story behind this particular pear … this particular cup.
“The final lesson a writer learns is that everything can nourish the writer.
The dictionary, a new word, a voyage, an encounter, a talk on the street, a book, a phrase learned.”
– Anais Nin
I did not grow up loving poetry. I did not even love poetry into early adulthood, so I can’t be sure how or why I finally discovered its ability to illuminate the more meaningful layers of life.
Now, however, as a poet, my appreciation for this art form only increases.
Perhaps it is the incomprehensible abundance of words and opinions in our world that seem to weigh us all down emotionally and spiritually; perhaps we see more of the complexities of existence as we mature. The tangled web of darkness and light, for instance. The human quest for truth in an age of nonsensical proclamations. Whatever it is, poetry seems to reach into the very soul of life in ways often difficult to achieve otherwise.
And all of this leads me back to the story … of the pear and the cup.
I found the small, still unripened pear while walking Noah, a beloved schnauzer no longer with us. And the petite white cup had been floating around our house for a few years … blissfully unattached to the other three cups that were part of the “set” we had purchased once upon a time. But, you may rightly wonder, why did I imagine the two seemingly unrelated and disconnected items together. Or did it just happen one day … a fluke, a funny idea? Why, you may also wonder, would I pick up a small (ordinary in every way) pear on the ground and bring it home in the first place … or do you sometimes do things like this, as well?
“We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.”
~ Thomas Merton
I guess I could explain this in several ways but, mostly, I simply felt enchanted by the pear and had no idea what I was going to do with it. It sat on our kitchen ledge for a few days, deepening in color ever so slightly. I sort of forgot about it, actually. But a few days later, it caught my eye again, probably after I’d also seen the small white cup sitting aimlessly on a forgotten shelf. And, thus, this fun pairing was born! Unusual, yes. Yet, the creativity in unusual combinations is endlessly intriguing … at least for many writers, poets, authors, artists, and readers. Of course anyone engaging in research, i.e., scientists, librarians, also will see great merit in looking for that “eureka moment” in unlikely places and situations.
There is a certain joy in this arena of thought. A certain fascination with ordinary items becoming “something new” when paired in less-than-ordinary ways.
But I especially appreciated the creative inspiration of this pairing, enough to take several pictures. Enough to write a poem about it one day. Enough to send the picture to my daughter and ask her to paint it (which she did)! Her painting is framed and on display in our home. I look at it nearly each day with a profound sense of joy, yes, but also with a nod to the unmistakable wisdom of taking the time to actually “see” a small, unripened piece of fruit on the ground (with many other apparently unwanted pieces of fruit). Then to also notice the empty white cup not serving any purpose at all, other than to add “clutter,” right? Haven’t you also had objects in your home that seem to float aimlessly from room to room, shelf to shelf, etc., never really finding a useful purpose? Until one day … they do find a purpose. An artistic and inspirational purpose that no one would have predicted or thought likely.
“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.”
― Gustave Flaubert
As you can see from the pictures … I saw this as an opportunity to stretchmy imagination, to lookfor the unspoken, the unseen, even the magical in our very midst … I let my intuition guide me.
So one day, when I decided to write a poem about this experience, I also realized that poetry was something I wanted to spend a lot more time writing. I’d been dabbling in it for quite some time, but that was about it. Now, though, I was feeling strongly drawn to its brevity, depth, precision of thought, the endless juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, seeing what is right before our eyes, yet, missed or overlooked in the mad (sometimes senseless) rush of daily life. Simplicity coupled with complexity also flows from strong poetry and, thus, we are allowed to see more deeply into the days of our lives, but we are also given a glimpse of the inevitable paradox of nearly everything around us.
“You will never find yourself unless you quit preconceiving what you will be when you have found yourself.” ― Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
But, honestly, when it came to my quiet desire to delve into the world of poetry (I’ve mostly been a nonfiction author, to date), it took me quite a while to take myself seriously. At least 10 years, in fact.
Had I read or studied enough poetry to understand the quirks of the genre? Did anyone read poetry anymore, or had the art of verse quietly skittered off the table of life … replaced by fancy phones and such?
In the end, I didn’t have specific answers to such questions, but kept working on poems whenever time allowed. And it felt “right,” so I stayed with it. Becoming a poet was a quiet journey of reflection, but also a matter of trusting my literary instincts to lead me in the best direction. Now, as I look forward to the release of my first collection in August, I have detected a certain joy. A deepening sense of gratitude. If I hadn’t been open to a nudge from within … if I’d closed the door on my creative instincts … if I’d tried to push myself in other, more expected or safe, directions … my “poems of time” would never have come to life.
I guess there is more than one moral to this story of the pear in the cup.
Publishing details will follow soon.
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits! Since so many of us are busy with summer projects and vacations, I’ve turned off comments for this post. So go enjoy some beautiful weather!
“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
WE all wonder how authors find their material, their voice, and the insight to turn meaningful concepts and words into books. So it’s a real pleasure to have Heidi Barr as my Studio Guest in SunnyRoomStudio this week. Heidi’s guest post tackles author inspiration and sustaining a career of words when it’s also completely normal to worry about “ideas,” and where the next one will come from. If at all, right? Regardless of your creative focus, I think you will enjoy Heidi’s perspective on this. She also poses some great questions at the close of her piece. We all need a meaningful prompt now and then, don’t we?
Heidi Barr lives near the St. Croix River Valley in Minnesota with her husband and daughter where they tend a large organic vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. She authored Prairie Grown: Stories and Recipes from a South Dakota Hillside and will soon release Woodland Manitou: To Be on Earth. Heidi’s book is forthcoming (September 19, 2017), so I’ve shared the pre-order link in case you prefer a head start.
I think you’ll really enjoy getting to know Heidi. I love the quote she posted with this picture on her Facebook author page. “Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.” ―Thoreau
I asked her about this picture, how it came to be … because I thought it captured something important about her and her work as an author in today’s frenzied world. She replied that the picture was taken “out on the little lake we live on” … she was with a friend (in another canoe, hence the photo), and that it was “one of those days to just paddle around slowly, taking in the energy of the afternoon.”
The importance of time like this can’t be stressed enough. And reading a book by someone who “gets this” … could change your life perspective, or confirm it. Either way, I’m happy to share Heidi’s guest post here in SunnyRoomStudio. Welcome, Heidi!
Heidi is a mother, spouse, gardener, and writer; she is committed to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet. She loves putting words together to paint pictures of ideas, as well as walking with others as they explore what it means to live well on a finite planet. Hiking through forests and across prairies, wading in streams, digging in the soil and surrounding herself with natural wonder help her stay grounded in reality.
“Trust that in your head, in your heart, in your skill, there are more ideas, hundreds, thousands of them.
Some of them are half-finished on the page; some of them are hiding under the weight of that
thing you feel obligated to finish. Let it go.” ~ Allison K Williams
THE LENS OF GRATITUDE
by Heidi C. Barr
On good days, I call myself a writer. I wake up feeling like I have something to say, and I figure out a way to put words together in a way that makes sense to other people. I enjoy the work, and if it’s hard, it’s hard in a way that makes me want to keep at it. On less good days, I wake up feeling like I have run out of ideas, that my well of words has run dry, and that calling myself a writer just isn’t accurate anymore. I wonder how I ever thought of all of those sentences and ideas and posts and books, and I imagine what life will be like now that I no longer have anything to say.
Fortunately, those little negative voices on the less good days always get overshadowed by a new idea, even if it’s writing about how I can’t think of anything else to write about. Life has a way of providing material, whether I like it or not. As Annie Dillard writes, “Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”
I see my work as a writer to be that of giving voice to the beauty that can be found in the ordinary, and that of telling the truth as I see it unfolding in my own life. Many of the other writers I know have said something along the lines of “I write because I can’t not write.” I can claim the same sentiment: I write because it’s a way of wrestling with what’s going on in my own head, in my community, and on the planet. It’s a way of figuring out how I truly feel about something and putting my introverted and often soft-spoken voice out into the world.
Part of my story is writing about what I notice and sharing it.
We are all on a journey – a journey of present moments that really has no end point – to figure out what it means to exist in our fullest version of truth. We all have a unique way of being that is life-giving for ourselves, our communities, and this planet that we all call home. We all have the capacity to live in a way that feels right, even though we are born into a life situation over which we have little control. Some of us have a much easier time of it than others — privilege is a very real phenomenon in our world and one that must be considered constantly. But maybe we all, somewhere inside when everything external is stripped away, have the capacity to look at the world through a lens of abundance and beauty, rather than one of scarcity and lack. Those who have little and can find the joy in what they have are some of our greatest teachers. Gratitude has saved more than one life on this earth.
Turning to Annie Dillard’s wisdom again, “We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—even of silence—by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting.”
When I can stop fighting with myself and just let the words come when they come, I find myself living in a way that feels right because I am able to be fully in my life, instead of trying to force an outcome that I think I should want. Yielding to what wants to speak through me has allowed me to plug into that pulse and tell the stories that want to be told.
How about you?
Whatever your creative practice might be, from writing to sketching to gardening to caring for children, how do you stay present to what your life wants to speak through you? How do you ‘stalk your calling’ and yield to it? What helps you stay in the conversation (with yourself), while avoiding the fight?
Here is the beautiful cover to Heidi’s forthcoming September release. When asked to read the manuscript for a possible cover quote, I was happy to do so. My first book,Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place, was written straight from the heart about the prairie landscape and lifestyle I’d grown up with. I sensed we were moving away from the wisdom of our hearts when I published the first edition of this book in 1999 (William Morrow, Eagle Brook imprint), and when I noticed that this trend was merely intensifying over time, I decided to publish a second edition in 2014. As a 15th Anniversary edition, the ideas still ring true, even more so with the passage of time. Long story short, Heidi’s new book immediately resonated with me.
Living deeply maybe isn’t for everyone … but those of us who value it and find a way to manifest it … can’t imagine living any other way. Thank you so much, Heidi, for being my guest here in SunnyRoomStudio.
Here, by the way, is the cover quote I had the opportunity to write, along with a brief excerpt from Heidi’s book.
“To the extent it is ever possible to make sense of the human condition, Heidi Barr has done an incredible job within the illuminating pages of Woodland Manitou. The search for life meaning is never simple but, in adopting a seasonal theme, Barr provides a context that will enliven your search. Her heartfelt perspective about the challenges of the human story bridges moments, days, and years in a beautiful and compelling way. With nature as her touchstone, the author sheds a timely light on issues and dilemmas we are destined to encounter. A dynamic and inspiring book for today’s world!” –D.A. Hickman, author of Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place
“Ah, summer. The time of the year when the days are long and life seems to somehow speed up and slow down at the same time. The work around the land and garden is demanding, but the days are long and support our efforts with the grace of lingering light and warmth. There is time to play and rest amidst the needs of caring for the garden and household. The cool rush of water over bare skin in the evening, the feel of the warm wind whistling the scent of hot pine down into the valley, the way a tomato tastes like a burst of sunlight straight off the vine…these details bring out the color of the days and remind me that the earth does indeed laugh in flowers, as Emerson wrote all those years ago. Summer is paddling and running through forests, sleeping outside and slapping at mosquitoes. It is finding ticks and going back outside anyway. It is the neighborhood buzzing with activity because everyone is outside more than any other time of the year. It is feeling bone weary at the end of a long hot day in the sun and collapsing in gratitude for the opportunity to be alive. It is thunderstorms and picnics, nurturing and sowing, and giving and taking in the dance of abundance.” –Heidi Barr, Woodland Manitou: To Be on Earth.
“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
I’ll be back soon with more about my summer poetry release: ANCIENTS OF THE EARTH — Poems of Time.
Until then, please check out Heidi’s blog and leave a comment for her … whatever comes to mind or offer your thoughts on the questions she posed. Thanks again, Heidi. Best of luck with your September release!
SPECIAL NOTE: Heidi’s guest post will always be easy to find … just visit the Studio Guest tab above.
She is my 46th guest in SunnyRoomSudio!