Tuesday, September 26, 2017

THERAPY AND SELF-AWARENESS IN JOURNALING

guest post by Samantha Case

Note from Lynn: I've been an admirer of Samantha's ever since she launched Wyoming Women Rise, a nonprofit that is working to get more women into elected office. When I saw that she had started working with WyoFile (one of my must-read sources of news), I chased her down for a post. 




jour·nal·ing v. to write self-examining or reflective entries, especially in school or as part of psychotherapy 
When my mom gave me advice in preadolescence to keep a journal, it would take me several years to realize that she had given me the gift of therapy that would prove to be my own personal time capsule.

My early days of journaling were primarily motivated by a desire to document the day’s events: who kissed who in 7th grade, a friend and I getting into a fight one day, how outrageous my parents were acting the next day, and other thoughts that occupy a teenage mind. It’s entertaining to read now, but I know in the moment it was relieving to translate my thoughts and emotions into symbols on a page and not have to worry about the consequences of storing unfiltered words somewhere other than my mind.

As I passed through several more years of life, what I wrote about began to morph in really profound ways. Instead of writing about the latest thirteen-year-old gossip, my mind began to grapple with thought-provoking questions like my purpose, the meaning of life and observations I had of the world around issues like privilege, oppression and suffering. I wrote about how earth’s seasons could apply to the cycle of life: heartbreak and healing; suffering and blessings; growth and stagnation could be better understood by appreciating the differences between winter, summer, fall, and spring. It was through writing that I was able to grasp these more complex thoughts – not necessarily in a single writing session, but over the span of a few months, a year or several years.

I wrote about everything: questions, answers, random thoughts that popped into my mind while driving home one night, fears, aspirations, love, lust, passion, mysteries and my desire to solve them all. I wrote letters to people I’d never send, I expressed my feelings of gratitude and joy when I felt them, and I wrote through my sadness and worries in a way that encouraged me to understand and wrestle with those emotions.

In many ways, just the simple act of writing felt like unraveling a hairball of ideas, emotions and words in my mind; that’s where I found medicine in ink.

I have learned that perhaps even more healing than the writing, however, is the process of reading through phases of my life and reflecting on my own experiences from a place of greater maturity and wisdom. It’s the process that empowers me to witness the lessons I have learned, the questions I had once fiercely grappled with that I no longer do, and the ways in which I had transformed as a person from one phase of my life to the next.

When enough time has passed and one looks back on their writing, it’s like observing oneself from an entirely different perspective. For me, past writing serves as evidence that I have completely outgrown a phase when I’m able to reflect back with a high degree of impartiality. In those moments, I’m able to understand my thought process in that time as if I were observing a younger sister, a daughter or a friend. It is reassuring and restorative in its own way to see one’s own process of growth and transformation play out between the lines of paper.

When I look back over my writing, whether I was in preadolescence or an eighteen-year-old woman grappling with thought-provoking concepts, it’s compelling to witness the phases of my life and how they all connect together figuratively but also in a literal sense – woven together with a line of ink. It helps me form a solid sense of self-awareness that is rooted in a foundation of words written in genuine, raw moments of life.

The mind tends to reflect on memories from the perspective of the present moment. Therefore, it’s difficult to contemplate who one really was in any given moment and to observe how one’s thoughts have changed over time. Human beings are dynamic; we change the way a riverbed transforms into a canyon over time due to the force of the water. If there’s no documentation of that journey from one point to the next, how do we fully understand our experiences and ourselves?

I have come to learn that writing is the most genuine, organic form of documentation of a single life. Now that I fully grasp the significance of the advice my mother gave to me at a young age, I now hope to pass that advice on to others. For the person who feels stable, to the one searching for a sense of self, the one grappling with depression or anxiety, the person overcoming hardship, the one experiencing bliss and for the child navigating the unknown: writing may not be your cure, but I promise you that pen and paper will prove to be a friend, a therapist, or maybe just a deeper relationship with yourself.



Samantha Case is a recent graduate from the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor’s degree in Gender & Women’s Studies. In early 2017, she launched Wyoming Women Rise, a nonprofit organization to encourage women in Wyoming to run for public office. Samantha works full-time for WyoFile, a nonprofit dedicated to in-depth reporting of issues critical to Wyoming and its people. On her free time, Samantha enjoys fleeing for the woods, traveling and writing poetry and narrative essays. She shares her writing on her website www.samanthacase.com and on Instagram under the username samcasee. 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Writing Opportunities in Wyoming

Susan here: today just want to let you know about some contests and events coming up for writers in Wyoming and beyond. Both these organizations are near and dear to our hearts — Susan is president of WyoPoets, and Lynn serves on the board of Wyoming Writers, Inc. We encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities:

WyoPoets Chapbook Contest
Deadline extended to October 31, 2017
This is a members-only contest, but it's easy to join WyoPoets, and only $20 a year to be part of a wonderful organization.

Theme is Hunger and Yearning: Hunger denied and yearning fulfilled. Dreams dashed and wants satisfied. What do your mind, soul, body ache for? What is your deepest desire? Have you found it, or do you still long for it? Our judge, Art Elser, suggests this might include:

  • Hunger for justice 
  • Hunger for a simpler life 
  • Yearning for some life-time dream 
  • Yearning for someone long lost friend, person, parent 
  • Yearning of a teenager for city life 
  • Yearning of someone who wants to go back to childhood 
  • Hunger for peace in the world 
  • Yearning to be a better person, poet, writer, parent, grandparent 
  • Yearning for a trip to the home of immigrant grandparents, parents, great grandparents

These are just idea-starters -- there are many other variations on this theme.

Download the guidelines and send your entry by Oct. 15, 2017. Chapbook contest open to WyoPoets members. Not a member? Join us! You may send your membership fee separately to our treasurer, or include it with your submission. Questions? Contact wyopoets@gmail.com.

WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest
Opens October 1, 2017; Deadline December 15, 2017
The WyoPoets invite submissions to the 2018 Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest. First prize is $100, second place $50, third $30, and fourth $20. Up to five honorable mentions will be awarded. Poems, published or unpublished, of up to 40 lines, including title and line breaks, are eligible. Entry fee is $3 plus $1 per poem entered, no limit on number of poems entered. Questions may be directed to Katie Smith, contest chair, at wyopoets@gmail.comDownload full guidelines.

This annual contest is named in honor of Eugene V. Shea of Hanna, a long-time member and past president of WyoPoets. Shea chaired the national contest for eight years, represented WyoPoets at numerous meetings of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and served as a juror for poetry contests in other states. A prolific writer, he wrote more than 1,300 poems and published eight volumes of poetry.

WyoPoets 2018 Spring Workshop
April 27-28, Cheyenne, Wyo.
WyoPoets is pleased to announce that our 2018 workshop will be held in Cheyenne on April 27-28. Friday evening at 6:30 we will meet at the Laramie County Library, 220 Pioneer Ave., for an open poetry reading. On Saturday from 9:00am to 4:00pm, award-winning Colorado poet Art Elser will share his insights on poetry at the Lions Park Community House in Cheyenne. A light morning snack, coffee, and lunch will be served. The cost will be $50.00 per person, with some youth scholarships available. Please contact Chere Hagopian at 307-287-6413 or chere@batteryship.com with any questions. More info coming soon at http://www.wyopoets.org/spring-workshop.html and on our Facebook page.

An added bonus to the conference: Dubois is beautiful!
Wyoming Writers, Inc. 2018 Conference
June 1-3, Dubois, Wyo.
Save the date! Lynn here: if you're like me, your summer gets planned out well ahead of spring (aka mud season). I already have several dates on my calendar for June--yikes! That's just the way it is for people who have a lot of interests, family and desire to travel when it (hopefully) isn't blizzarding out.

One of the dates, a very important one, is for the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference, June 1st through 3rd, 2018. The conference is going to be in Dubois, which is a lively small community, nestled in a beautiful part of Wyoming. I'm on the WW, Inc. board this year, so I've gotten to hear about all the great presenters who are going to teach and inspire us. Not my role to divulge yet, but the program is definitely going to be diverse, engaging and ambitious. Worth a spot on your calendar so go write it down, right now! June 1st through 3rd, 2018.

Check out the website. If you're on social media, follow Wyoming Writers on Twitter and the Facebook page and group. Consider joining! It's the most encouraging group of writers you'll find, and open to all.

A few bonus items
And don't forget...
You can find Writing Wyoming on Twitter and Pinterest, too. We'd love to have you follow us!
 



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Metaphor and Magic in Poetry

by Susan

Anyone who's ever taken a high school English class has, at some point, been introduced to simile and metaphor.

  • Simile compares one thing to another using "like" or "as" or a similar connector: Her eyes are like the sea
  • Metaphor doesn't just compare. It equates the two: Her eyes are the sea.
Both are used often in poetry. Both are powerful techniques. Neither is necessarily better than the other. Yet, I find myself drawn more to metaphor because for me, it evokes a tinge of magic.

When you say her eyes are like the sea, it draws on my senses and logic. Say her eyes are the sea, on the other hand, and it draws on my dreams and imagination. I picture not just the gray-green of her irises. I feel the cresting wave from the kraken rising from the depths, wrapping its tentacles around a doomed ship, its sailors paling with fright.

Perhaps it's because I've always loved fairy tales and magic. Give me a world where wolves speak, rivers demand the occasional drowning victim, and a little girl built of snow comes to life and runs through the woods in a red cape, a red fox companion at her heels.

Metaphor breathes life into inanimate objects so that I can enter into an almost human relationship with them. It makes abstract emotions and experiences concrete so that I may experience them with my senses. And it evokes my sense of wonder.

Lyndi O'Laughlin is a fine Wyoming poet from Kaycee. She has graciously allowed me to publish this poem of hers from Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers (ed. Lori Howe, Sastrugi Press, 2016), that deepens beautifully as rock turns to metaphor partway through.

















Kayak on Spring Run-off

It's a small boat I'm in, a thumbnail really,
spit down the Shoshone as if a tongue
were trying to separate itself from a seed,

and there is a lichen-covered boulder
squatting in the middle of the river,
at its base a muscular current,

like a toilet flushing, and it threatens to
block any forward progress I might be
entertaining in my mind, sucking me

and the kayak closer and closer
until I can't help but notice the tiny
snails attached to the rock;

they must think I'm one of them,
just another snail hauling her house
around on her back.

The boulder has a deep voice,
and he pulls me alongside and asks
if I will stay with him forever;

tells me that he knows how hard
I have tried, and asks me if I am
maybe growing a little exhausted

from all my clamoring for approval.
I jam my paddle in his eye to free myself,
and think of you, what you asked me

on that day before I left you
standing on the porch --
"What's wrong with you?"


Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with simile. I use it myself. And many fine poems employ neither metaphor nor simile. Be aware, however, if you have a simile only because of hesitance to make the leap. Don't let it be a bashful shuffling of the feet or a literary throat-clearing. I dare you: go out on a limb. Make that connection concrete. Her eyes are the sea. See if it creates the magic. If it doesn't, you don't have to use it.

What brought this all to mind was preparing for a poetry reading and presentation. It dawned on me that many of the poems that speak most to me -- including my own -- are those that employ metaphor and let me dabble my toes in fantasy. With that, I'll conclude with one of my own, also from Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. I'll leave it up to you as to whether the metaphor succeeds.


Canoeing on Saturday

I want to wear this day
raindrop rings on pale olive water
circle upon circle
spreading, joining, fading

I want to wear
fuzzy, waddling, gold-brown goslings
silver trout breaking the surface
yellow warbler -- an egg yolk in flight
slicked umber otter swimming
within and oar's length

"Three yards of this fabric, please."
The clerk grasps the bolt by its clouds
water splashes against her fingers
ducks scatter before her scissors
geese honk in the crisp paper bag

I spread the lake on a table in a sunny room
pin brown tissue pattern to shoreline
run shears down grassy sleeves
toll tracing wheel along the darts that slip
between willows and snags
match front side to front, sew a 5/8" seam
I sew a sheath of rain

At the party, the hostess takes my hand
"That dress is beautiful," she says
"Oh this? I smile,
"I'll have it forever."

-----

Thank you, Lyndi Bell O’Laughlin, for allowing the reprint of her poem. Lyndi's poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press, Fall, 2017), Troubadour: An Anthology of Music-inspired Poetry (Picaroon Poetry Press, 2017), Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers (Sastrugi Press, 2016), Gyroscope Review, The New Verse News, Picaroon Poetry, Unbroken Journal, and elsewhere. She currently serves as Vice President of WyoPoets.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

KIDS AND STRAWBERRIES

post by Lynn

Mom, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Barney
I have been blessed to spend lots of time around kids through the years—the children of friends, my niece and nephews, step-grandchildren and now my grandnephews.

I’ve found that there’s nothing like a kid to bring you great ideas, an amusing twist on life and plenty of chuckles. Not to mention somersaults and bubble gum.

And for writers? Kids are the mother lode.

We can look to them for…

GIVING FRESH WORDS TO SENSORY EXPERIENCES
One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.                                                                          - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It was the child of a friend who first pointed out to me that sagebrush has a lemony aspect to its scent, and another child who told me that raw broccoli tastes a lot like crunchy dirt.

Kids express their immediate, unsullied reaction to the things they encounter in the world. They haven’t learned all the clich├ęs that adults use. Because of this they can be wonderful guides in explaining things in fresh ways.

Ask a child, "What do you think that smells/tastes/feels/looks/sounds like?"

Take notes accordingly.


MASTERFUL WORD PLAY

As writers we often get into vocabulary ruts. We really need to lighten up and play with words, the way kids do. Even mistakes can be turned into fun new words and phrases to bring originality to our writing.

During make-believe time my granddaughter Claire said to me:

“Okay, you are gonna be the momma alligator. I’ll be the ala-baby-gator.”



And not long ago my grandnephew Mason was asked about where he lives. His response?

“We live in the middle of the nowhere.”

He does have a point there...

Last summer at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Colorado, there was a marmot sitting in the grass next to the river. I showed it to my grandnephew Lance. He called it a hedgehog.

“No, it’s a marmot,” I said.

Whereby Lance ran around telling everybody, “Come and look. There’s a varmint in the grass!”

OUT-OF-THE-BLUE COMMENTS

Need to get whacked out of logical thinking in order to write more imaginatively? Follow a kid around for a day.

Inside a big gazebo at Elitches amusement park in Denver, there was a sea of colored balls for the kids to play with. Mason was in heaven.

I noticed he only picked up the green balls, though, and asked him why.

“Those are good for the birds,” he said, as if the answer should have been obvious, and went on playing.

Whaaaa? 

SURPRISING WISDOM

I wrote a blog post about the motivating kick-in-the-rear I got from Lance one day, with a simple statement,

“I do my part.”

 AN APPRECIATION OF BOOKS

Jen Campbell, poet, short story writer and author of the Sunday Times bestselling “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” series, shares some stuff kids have said in her bookstore:

Little girl: I’ve written a book.
Me: Have you? What’s it about?
Little girl: I don’t know. It’s in my head. I haven’t read it yet.

and...

Little girl (whispers): They gave us Kindles to use at school, but I prefer books.
Me: What do you love about books?
Little girl (thinking hard): I like how quiet they are.
Me: Yeah?
Little girl: Yeah. Stories should be quiet, and whisper to you inside your head.


Author and Illustrator Bill Peet collected a few humdinger things kids have said about his books in their letters to him, including:

“I like your books. My whole family likes them. My cat does not know we have them.”



 … NOT TO MENTION A DOSE OF HUMILITY

Another of Bill’s pen pals wrote…

“I am in grade two. I enjoyed your books. What do you do for a living?”


How can writers capture these pint-sized verbal pleasures? Here's a few suggestions...

Find ways to be in the presence of children.

If you have your own, or plenty of young ones in your family or neighborhood, you’re all set. If not, you’ll have to seek out settings where kids are talking and then eavesdrop shamelessly.

For Cheyenne folks I highly recommend the second floor of the Laramie County Library as a spot to listen and watch kids. I’m sure other county libraries would work well too.

Fast food restaurant playgrounds are another hot spot for kid watching.

Lance being, well... Lance
When we lived in Lusk, my mother, husband Mike and I were “Grandma Readers” for the local kindergarten class. (Yes, Mike was a Grandma Reader too. No gender bias in that designation, eh?)

In this role, we would go to the school, gather our assigned 4 or 5 kids, and read books out loud to them. Lots of chatter about book-related and not-so-book-related topics went on. Maybe your community has such a program?

Slow down and really listen when you are in the presence of children. 

This takes discipline and effort. We adults are always trying to get someplace or get something done. But the rewards are immense when we take time out to really hear what the kids are saying.

Ask questions, and give the kid plenty of time to respond. 

I was one of those kids who mumbled, stammered and talked in convoluted circles. Lots of kids do as they are learning to talk.

Patience with these ramblings will not only allow you to gather all those good things kids say, but will also present the child with a great bonus: the gift of your attention and practice in putting their squirmy thoughts into spoken form.

"Dragons are very stretchy," notes Mason. 
Designate a notebook just for their words. 

When I started to take care of my grandnephews, I bought a small notebook in which to gather snippets of things they have said along, with descriptions of memorable events. Initially my goal was to share the notebook with their parents someday, and eventually with the adults that Lance and Mason will become.

Now I admit I do it mostly for myself—for all those insights, revelations and chuckles that I get when I look through the pages. And, of course, to pilfer all those unforgettable, juicy-squishy words.

My "Lance and Mason" notebook
Do it--find a kid and get 'em talking...

This is perhaps the best writing assignment I could ever share with you. Follow through with it, and I promise your writing (and mood) will improve.

But just remember…

“When you are dealing with a child, keep all your wits about you, and sit on the floor.”                                                                                                    - Austin O’Malley




CRUCIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6th, 2017) is National Read a Book Day.  To celebrate we are invited to grab a book and spend the day reading.

Alert your boss as to this important directive immediately.



 




Resources for this post included:
Children Say the Best Things in Bookshops, Jen Campbell
What Kids Say, Bill Peet