Saturday, July 31, 2010

10 Reasons to Write (or Not) a Book About Writing


I woke up thinking about reasons to write a book about writing. The slant of light behind lemon curtains and room-darkening shades told me to go back to sleep. It was too early to think about such things.

By 6 a.m., my thoughts were so loud I had to leave my warm, ivory cotton sheets to make a list of reasons (to do or not to do). The list is not a promise, it is a question.

1. I wonder if writing about writing might make me a better writer— it seemed to work for Anne Lamott and Annie Dillard

2. It is so predictable— a writer writing a book about writing

3. A handful of my favorite books are... books about writing

4. Is there a writing quota one must meet before writing a book about writing? Maybe I haven't met it.

5. I should write about what I want to write about. I have always wanted to write a book about... you guessed it :)

6. There is nothing new under the sun. Why do I think I will uncover something fresh? (Note to self: writing in place may be the key)

7. In Bradley's comment box, I said I wasn't going to write another book for a good long time. I should stick with my story.

8. People have enormous expectations when they open a book about writing. What if I disappoint people? (I think I am getting ahead of myself here.)

9. My daughter thinks I write boring books (translation: I don't write sci-fi fantasy). What if I disappoint my daughter by choosing to write on yet another non-fiction subject?

10. I am too busy to write a book about writing. This is an excuse of course. But it may be a good one.

My list is not a promise. It is a question. I'm trying to remember it's perfectly within my rights to answer it any which way I want— yes or no... or perhaps, maybe.

Fireworks photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

On, In and Around Mondays: Tweety, Tea and She

Girls in Pink

I am in the living room.

Here are the signs that on Saturday we did our girls' annual combined birthday party: my guitar is turned towards the wall in its stand— evidence that a child must have been in need of deterrence. To my right, an African basket, big as the circle of my arms if I were to hug you, lies flat and displaced. Boys thought of boats or cars or a hot air balloon and were told by a grandmother to move on— baskets are breakable.

African Basket

To my left, gift bags (one pink with hearts, one lavender striped) hold necklaces, drawing pads, Natalie Merchant (we'll be singing The Janitor's Boy now), "Safari" ceramic beads. A tea party book tells that we tried to do Victorian tea. The cucumber sandwich on its cover is far more artful than mine, which were put together hurriedly while I chatted with early guests.

The Tea Table

A Tweety bird, who must have been hopefully given by a young child, is lying face down, lavender-brimmed hat to mahogany (faux) round lamp table. Tweety stares continuously at his reflection in shining wood. This might seem more narcissistic if he were not bowed in worship before a black and white photograph of my mother as a child.

She too wears a hat, black, to match her worn black girlish coat. Her milk-white skin frames dark, startled eyes and soft lips set apart in surprise or maybe fear. Shyly and intently, she stares into the room as if to say, I saw it all and I wished... I wished the necklaces and beads, the guitar, the African basket, the ride in a hot air balloon, the scones and tea had been mine.

Girls Opening Present

Birthday Party photos by L.L. Barkat.


On, In and Around Mondays (which partly means you can post any day and still add a link) is an invitation to write from where you are. Tell us what is on, in, around (over, under, near, by...) you. Feel free to write any which way... compose a tight poem or just ramble for a few paragraphs. But we should feel a sense of place.

Would you like to try? Write something 'in place' and add your link below. If you could kindly link back here when you post, it will create a central meeting place. :)


Claire, Kelly and Sarah just started a new photo place. Cool. "Home" is their first prompt! Go Claire, Kelly and Sarah!

This post is also linked to Emily's Imperfect Prose.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You Are Real: Reading, Speeches and Poetry


Over at HCB, we're hosting a project called You Are Real, about the realness (or not) of online relationships. It seemed fitting to ask a real online friend to guest-post for the occasion. I think you'll especially like what he has to say about something called "secondary orality." Kinda cool, from my friend Glynn Young...


I've always been a rather voracious reader. I don’t know exactly when I learned to read, but I remember one of the first books I read by myself – Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion. I was almost 7 and bought it for 59 cents (hardback) at the local dime store.

Reading led to writing; writing led to journalism; journalism led to corporate communications and speechwriting. I'd been writing speeches for more than 15 years when the online world erupted with email and the worldwide web. The transition from written word to virtual word was almost seamless for me. It didn’t make any sense, though, so besotted as I was with the written/spoken word, to embrace the online world as fast as I did.

Except. Except that speechwriting is creating in one medium – the written or typed word – to be communicated in another medium – the human voice – for understanding in a third medium – the human ear (and mind and heart). I was used to crossing media to communicate. Academics have studied this and say that electronic communications is a kind of secondary orality – like a return to an oral culture before we had the printing press.

A lot of people, mostly those who avoid social media like Twitter and Facebook and look at the web only when they have to, look rather darkly at all of this. This isn’t real, they think. This is fleeting, moving and disappearing as fast as the last tweet.

And yet, for me, it’s very real. It’s my day-to-day work, for one thing. For another, it’s how I’ve found myself in a community of people I’m coming to know, admire, appreciate and like.

I first met Laura Barkat in the pages of Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places, while I had an oxygen tube up my nose and several broken ribs from a bike crash. Through her book, she kept me company during a dark summer night in the hospital, while I listened to the man in the next bed moan through the hours before his early morning surgery. From there, I found this blog and then Laura on Twitter. And then came a poetry jam (on Twitter) and an online publication called TweetSpeak Poetry.

I met Bradley Moore in the comment box on a web site about work and faith, and then through his blog, and later being edited by him for online posts.

I met Marcus Goodyear on Bradley’s blog, and then his own, and then being edited by him, too, for publication.

Somewhere in all of that I met Maureen Doallas, and eventually was interviewed by her and then I interviewed her for an article. (It’s intimidating to interview Maureen; she is the best interviewer I’ve ever met.) One day nAncY Rosback at Poems and Prayers popped in. And so many others.

I became part of a growing community, and I began to grow with it. And the people are real. With real hearts and minds and hopes and dreams and fears. (Some I’ve talked to on the phone. Laura and Marcus, for example; they sounded like I expected them to sound. Bradley, on the other hand, didn’t sound like the business executive he is; he sounded like a writer and – forgive me, Brad – a poet.)

So friendships and community are born and grow. So are they real.


Glynn Young is a corporate Social Media Director, an award winning speech writer, and a Contributing Editor for HighCallingBlogs. He is also a businessman turned poet, and serves as Editor of TweetSpeak Poetry.

Flash photo, by Sonia, age 10. Used with permission.


HighCallingBlogs We Are Real

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Monday, July 19, 2010

On, In and Around Mondays

new york city

"I'd love to see a few regional poems in the collection," I told him. "It's what distinguishes a poet."

The idea had been on the tip of my consciousness, though it was the first time I'd articulated it that clearly for myself (or someone else). I'd been reading Wendell Berry's Imagination in Place. I'd been reading two poets concurrently, Mahmoud Darwish and Marcus Goodyear. I'd been thinking about how the presence of jasmine and doves and chinaberry trees in Darwish gave me such a different feel from Goodyear's sotol sticks, succulents and open roads.

We live in place. And when we write in place it provides a deeper sense of who we are. It is partly what distinguishes one writer from the next. I was struck by this again when I posted On the Table Where I Write. A handful of you responded so warmly, even offering your own descriptions of what sits on your tables.

I loved that. It gave me an idea for a more regular way for us to write-in-place. On, In and Around Mondays (which partly means you can post any day and still add a link) will be a regular invitation to write from where you are, and tell us what is on, in, around (over, under, near, by...) you. Feel free to write any which way... compose a tight poem or just ramble for a few paragraphs. But we should feel a sense of place.

Mine, today, might go something like this...

At the golden granite counter, I stand and notice our white toaster flecked with crumbs. Cat in the Hat Beginner Spanish Dictionary sits nearby, and I remember this morning with Neruda. (I walked in circles over these red oak floors, stove to counter to sink to window, and tried to put his words in my mind... Inclinado en las tardes tiro mis tristes redes/ a tus ojos oceanicos... leaning towards evening I cast my sorrowful nets/ to your ocean eyes). Now my red Neruda sits beside me (I had to see if indeed my memory had held his words; it did). A wood handled hair brush says I just brushed Little One's amber hair. It says, too, remember LIttle One. She is part of your place in this day. It says I like to brush words from the air and put them in your mind. It says, hold me in your hand, I wait for you...


Would you like to try? Just write something in place and add your link below. If you could kindly link back here when you post, it will create a central meeting place. :)

New York City photo by L.L. Barkat, which I am sincerely hoping has some kind of thirds or ninths thing going on for Photoplay. :)

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

What I Should Be Writing


We rounded a set of stacks, looking for books on the Victorian Age. "You should write fiction," said my older daughter. "You'd be good at it."

I'm not sure what I have done over time to give her this impression. I explained that fiction is something I don't feel I can do right now, maybe ever.

This week, when I sat down to do Julia's writing Initiation Tool, I felt equally unsure about what it said to me. If I put all the pieces together (my favorite movies, books, fairy tale, top things I think about), it appears I should be writing something along the lines of romantic business management books or dramatic treatises on education. It is possible I should also be writing these in broken French.

We'll see. For today I am writing this, about what I should be writing. And I am saying goodbye to Julia's book The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. Which leaves me back at the beginning. What should I be writing?

Once upon a time, there was a romantic writer who spoke very little French...

Peony photo, by L.L. Barkat.

HighCallingBlogs Follow Your Bliss
Erin's A Contract for a Life of Writing Bliss
Cassandra's High Stakes
Nancy's Choices and Voices
Glynn's Looking for that Toy Radio
Lyla's Inside Out

Charity's Writing in Vein

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

On the Table Where I Write

Mother and Child, by Sara, 12

"Why do you always say what Julia says? I am tired of hearing from Julia."

He was being honest, and it made me chuckle.

Well, I am saying what Julia says, because I am writing these posts for the HighCallingBlogs book club. But if I tell the truth it is more than that. For better or worse, I like Julia. I don't agree with everything she says, but I like her. And it may even be possible that she has changed my life.

That feels like a big statement. And I suppose it is. For today I am not going to try to defend it. It is part of the table where I am writing my life.

This week, in her chapter "Roots," Julia opens with talk about her actual table. Funny, she is also writing in what she calls "high summer," on the Fourth of July. Gracing her table is evidence of the season... roses, rambling and red.

I look at my own table. It doesn't seem graced so much as cluttered, with seasons present and past...

Faded yellow table cloth, French style. A painted mug, Picasso colorful—given to me by a student once—and a sculpture of mother-and-child made by my older daughter. Stubs from bills, summer camp papers, a travel alarm clock, a recently recovered-from-being-lost voice recorder. The impressive looking heft of Julian Bell's book Mirror of the World nicely diminished by a dried up grape stem that looks like an old woman's hand.

My table says a lot about me. Things that Julia can't say. That is how it goes. Someone can change your life, but she can't live it for you. Your life is yours to write.

Mother and Child Joined, by Sara, 12

Mother and Child balance sculpture by Sara, age 12. Photo by L.L. Barkat.

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Driving to Words


Go driving, said Julia. It will give you miles to unwind.

I don't really like to drive. All week I drove my daughter back and forth to camp. I used it as a time to listen to music. But I was relieved when Friday came. Driving doesn't do for me what it does for Julia.

I prefer to unwind across pages or back porch mornings. Dew on begonias, sage, the lemon-thyme I just transplanted—these things give me rest, open me to write. While driving through Julia's words, I found a sentence that made me pause...

This is the molten light filmmakers call "golden hour," she said.

I liked that. I let it take hold of me. It tickled out an Independence Day poem of sorts...


This is the golden hour,
when I can play out my life
in hot pink,
cherry red,
and instead of giving me
that look, you will
love me for it, ache
for tomorrow, ask me
to do it all over

1-white fireworks

1-heavens fireworks

1-yellow fireworks

1-constellation fireworks

Fireworks and Girl photos, by L.L. Barkat.

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