A Writer Finds Hope Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

I’m receiving varying messages through my artistic virtual channels.  Some of my friends are sheltered in place writing, and painting for hours on end.  Their creations, I am certain, will reflect the circumstances surrounding their current reality.  Those feelings, those never before felt nuggets, will flow through them onto a blank page, or canvas.  For some the message will be easily understood, in full display for all to see, while for others it will be hidden, like the Easter eggs I wish my grandchildren could be searching in my back yard on Sunday.

Then there are those who say they can’t seem to create a thing.  I hope for them to have clarity soon, because I find being able to immerse myself in any creative endeavor the best way to soothe my frantic nerves.

Unfortunately, I have not been sheltered in place.  But luckily, there are only a few of us working in the now closed facility, and we can easily manage the six-foot distances, and then some.  As a small business manager, I have been going to my quiet office and attempting to make sense of with the mountains of paperwork necessary to keep said business viable and able to reopen when allowed.  I hope to have dug myself out of this important task by next week. And like many of my creative tribe, I hope to be able to allow myself the grace to not force creativity, permitting it to instead flow easily, and at its own pace.

It seemed fitting since it’s National Poetry Month, and also because this poem begged to be written, that I carve out time to place it’s somewhat chaotic voice upon the page.  Is it the poem’s voice, or my own?  I leave you with these thoughts to ponder as you read on…

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C is for the many closets and cupboards which will be sorted and left spotlessly clean.

Who can sit to write when those cluttered spaces whisper and beg for a bit of much needed hygiene?

But rest assured, when all is put to order, your creativity will kick in.

The laptop, pen and paper,  will come out, and your writing will begin.

 

O is for the oath you took, once self-quarantined,

Yes, we all had this eloquent, if not, foolish dream.

To sit, and not get up until you’ve written at least a thousand words a day,

please for our own sanity, and those with whom you live, let that vow slip away.

I promise it will all be, okay.

 

R is for the mounds of reading you will undoubtedly get done.

Please don’t forget, when your massive pile is down to one, or none,

remember to support your local bookstores, in any way you can.

After all, when your books were published were they not your biggest fan?

 

This O is for those organizational skills not so readily seen, but who have now magically been awoken.

Those stories tucked in desk drawers and saved in computer files are calling to you. Send them forth, for they have spoken.

Now that it’s done, don’t you feel better?

No don’t begin to obsess over some phantom rejection letter.

 

N is for a different type of novel.  The one you’ve labored over for years, the one you know needs just one more revision.

Let’s let this one go.  Why, you can even call it your pandemic decision.

Think of the mighty fire it will create outdoors.

While you keep a six-foot distance as you roast yummy, melting, smores.

 

A is for all the other artistic skills you may possess.  Rip up that shirt or dress,

and make masks so those in need can stress, less.

Or what about planting something green, be it a flower or a vegetable.

Think of the accomplishment when you’ve grown something deliciously edible.

 

V is for the victory and validation you will feel,

when one of those stories comes back with a contract deal.

By then I’m certain you will be able to socially celebrate.

But if not, Zoom with willingly hook you up with at least one writing mate.

 

I is for the insecurities you will have as you sit quietly with all this time to think.

When it gets too much to bare, please call someone before you succumb to that 3rd or 4th  drink.

I is also for the abundance of imaginative stories and illuminating art that will be birthed from this pandemic.

I have been assured of this phenomenon by friends both alchemic, as well as academic.

 

R is for the formidable resilience each and every one of us will possess.

After we’ve come through this arduous cosmic test.

And what about all the budding new relationships that will be born,

as they visited virtual movie rooms, while eating popcorn?

 

U is for the Universal Unity which will ultimately defeat this foe.

Through our joint socially distancing efforts, we can, and will, stop its flow.

Then think of all the varying stories, from every corner of the world, we will write,

Of the time when human beings around the entire earth stood still, to fight.

 

S is for the symmetry this virus has allowed us to glimpse.

Dolphins swimming in Venice’s canals is not mere happenstance.

Where once there was death,

Mother Nature has been allowed to take a long, overdue breath.

Now it is up to we the human race to follow suite.

How do you feel about a socially sensible reboot?

 

What creative projects have you taken up, or completed as you shelter in place?

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Patiently Pondering Puddles in Pursuit of Poetry

by Christina Lay

The other morning as I pulled out of my driveway on the way to work, I found myself waiting for a little kid who, squirrel-like, was meandering around in the street right behind my car. I watched him out of my rear view mirror until he was finally far enough away I could continue. Only then did I see what he was doing.  He was going puddle to puddle and jumping in each one, then standing there, transfixed. Maybe field testing his galoshes, or measuring the depths in scientific pursuit, or imagining what it felt like to be a tadpole. Probably delaying arriving at school, much like I delay arriving at work every day.

As I drove away, I flashed back to myself at that age—about seven-ish, I’d guess—and a rainy day on my way home from school. I had to cross a big playing field and that day, the field was more pond than grass. Oblivious to everything else, I wandered back and forth, jumping in puddles, watching the ripples, most likely feeling how cold rain water and wool socks aren’t a good mix and basically having a jolly good time until I heard a car horn beeping. My mom, in a valiant effort to save me from getting soaked in the torrential rains, had driven the five blocks from our house to the end of the field to give me a ride. And there she sat, watching her crazy kid go puddle jumping.

Not much has changed, I’m happy to report. I’m still much more a first-grader in galoshes wandering through the world in questing admiration than a sensible adult who actually arrives at work on time.  But what, you might ask, does any of this have to do with writing?

Not a hell of a lot, except for the fact that it’s April (or was when I started writing this), which means torrential spring rains and poetry. April is National Poetry Month and my first thought as I drove away watching that crazy kid standing in the gutter was that he was seeking out little moments of poetry. A scrap of haiku.

Puddles in the path

How can I not jump when

School, the big nap, waits?

So I’m not a poet. But poetry has always informed my writing and when I want to go deeper into a character’s emotion, or the quality of a setting, or the truth behind a relationship, it’s the quiet moments that I seek out. The feel of rain soaking into socks. The reflection of a hazy sun in a puddle.  The things not said.

I’ve been attending the symphony a lot lately, and one thing I’ve been learning is how to appreciate the silences. The purposeful pause, the breath held. With all those instruments clamoring away to create a glorious noise, the moment of silence can be an extremely powerful thing.  As can a reflection in a puddle.

I am naturally a curmudgeon and the louder things get, the faster, brighter, ruder, and more brutal movies, books and music seem to become, the more I resist. The more I want to be the kid in galoshes, oblivious to all but the simple wonders. Like waiting for a hummingbird’s buzz or the trickle of a stream, it takes more effort these days to hear the silence and notice what is not moving, what is not flashing, blinking, or shouting for our attention.

If your characters are in the middle of a screaming argument, a sudden silence might be much more powerful than a string of obscenities. If your character is racing to battle, the sensation of rain soaking into his boots might give us a better glimpse into his heart and mind than the thunder of cannons and the vision of body parts flying.  If Cinderella is arriving at the ball, having her notice a dandelion sprouting through the cracks in the brickwork might prove more telling than an extended description of the palace.

And then everything can explode. Or not.

As entertainers, we do tend to focus on the grand and exciting moments. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we don’t forget the importance of the threads that hold the crazy quilt of reality together. When the ordinary and divine meet, and we look up from the page, and say “oh”. When we as artists achieve the goal of expressing the inexpressible and using words to say what is beyond words.  That’s poetry, and we could all use a little more of it.

Necessary Evil

By Christina Lay

Part of my morning, pre-writing routine is to read a poem. By doing this I hope to nudge my brain toward a more graceful, flowing state of being. That’s the idea, anyway.

More often than not, it leads me to spend precious writing time on Google Translate, as I try to outwit the interpreter and discover what the poet really meant. My favorite collections are by foreign poets that include the original version of the poem printed alongside the English translation. I entertain a little conceit that I’m teaching myself French, Spanish and, god help me, Czech, in this way.

Currently I’m working my way once again through Flowers of Evil, by Charles Baudelaire. As I was listing the French words and phrases that I wanted to look up and explore further, it struck me that Baudelaire should be the poet laureate for ShadowSpinners.

Here’s part of the list, which doesn’t really require a trip to Google translate to get the gist: Sinistre, mysterieux, malefique, macabre, etrange, ce poison noir, un malheureux ensorcele, flambeau des graces sataniques!

What sort of French I’m a learning here, anyway?

Baudelaire was possessed by the same fascination with the dark side of human nature as we are here at ShadowSpinners. He found a way to make horror beautiful, suffering sublime, death alluring. This snippet from L’Irremeidable (The Irremediable) seems to capture the essence of our shared malaise:

Un Ange, imprudent voyageur

Qu’a tente l’amour du difforme

An angel, rash wanderer, who craves

To look upon deformity

 

(Irremediable means “impossible to cure” by the way. Had to look up that as well.)

What? Doesn't everyone keep rose brambles around  for photo opps?

What? Doesn’t everyone keep rose brambles around for photo opps?

And because looking stuff up is easier than writing this blog, I had to find out which six poems in this collection were banned one month after the book was published. (Baudelaire was tried for obscenity in 1857). As usual, the reading public found sexual images much more horrifying than horror.

Last week our guest blogger Stephen Vessels spoke most eloquently on why we writers (and painters, poets, filmmakers, etc) are so compelled to create what is termed “horror”. As I mused on my thirty year fascination with Baudelaire and revisited the banished poems— Lethe, Les Bijoux, Lesbos, Femmes Damnes, Les Vamperes Metamorphoses, and To Her Who Is Too Gay— I found myself asking, how is it a poem can threaten the very fiber of society? How can a few paragraphs frighten the powers that be enough to get the poet locked up in jail? (Baudelaire got six months).

I looked up the definition of obscenity, which of course has changed many times over the past 150 years. This is the supreme court “test” I like best—“Whether the tendency of the matter charged is to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.”

Because it’s a simple thing to not read, see or listen to works of horror, what is it that worries us about other people being exposed to these things? (Us referring to society and our shared culture). Do we really think horror inspires more horror, horrible acts? Or is it simply that these are thoughts that should never be admitted to, that might threaten to expose our own inner turmoil?

Victor Hugo said Baudeliare created un noveau frisson, a new shudder, or thrill, in literature.

The new shudder or thrill: when a poet speaks that which should not be spoken, expressing what should not be felt, or thought, or brought to light. That which should never be admitted to. Shameful secrets. Evil tendencies. Baudelaire went too far.  He committed the ultimate literary sin of writing about sex and death.

Obviously there’s nothing I can say on the topic that hasn’t been said, but because it is National Poetry Month, and because Baudeliare still speaks to my hidden dark side over the gulf of a century and a half, I felt I must take note of his bravery. While mulling over what it was I wanted to say, I stumbled across this quote from poet Patricia Smith, (thanks again to S. Vessels) which pretty much sums it up.

“I teach a class called “Writing on the Other Side of the Wall.” The concept is that we constantly write “toward” a wall — sometimes we even get close enough to touch it — but it’s formidable, and it draws us near while pushing us away. The raw, terrifying, necessary writing is on the other side of that wall.”

Baudelaire spent his poetic life on the other side of the wall, writing what was necessary.

I’m  tempted to include all sorts of excerpts glorifying evil here, but I’ll leave us with this, as inspiration for all the creators approaching the wall today.

 

From The Sun

I practice my fantastic fencing alone

Dueling in every corner with the hazards of rhyme

Stumbling over words like paving stones

Colliding with verse from old dreams sometimes.