Testing One’s Mettle

“What are you afraid of?” author Bob Mayer asked at a writing conference, “because that’s what’s holding you back as writers.”

At the time, it was social media–mastering new technology, committing to cranking out a weekly post. But I started a blog, and am glad I did.  Since my first blogpost I’ve made new friends, discovered photographic storytelling, which I love, and crossed a whopper off this writer’s to-do list.

Marriage was another commitment that terrified me, but I faced that fear too.

It took seven years before Thom and I felt brave enough to assume the awesome responsibility of parenthood.  It’s the most joyful, most difficult, most rewarding, and most important undertaking we’d ever signed on for, or ever will.

Whether we choose them ourselves or take what fate throws our way, the most daunting experiences are often the most edifying.

The most challenging ones tend to be the most rewarding.

With the toughest climbs come the best views.

After the kids were old enough to change their own diapers, we thought could rest on our laurels, but there was an unexpected twist to the parent/child relationship.

We raised kids who challenge themselves.  Bea watched her big brother do his math homework, and designed her own “Really Hard Math Problem.”

As they tested their own mettle, and created their own challenges…

…we were forced out of our comfort zones just to keep up.

Thom and I would never have chosen to go to the Amazon jungle if the kids hadn’t been keen to go.

It was hard to watch my kids twist and turn like little spiders on a web as they climbed 200 feet up into the canopy to zipline.  And for the first (and probably last) time in my life, I went ziplining too.  You never know when someone might need a bandaid or some bug repellant.

Only for my kid would I board a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, another thing I swore I’d never do. But it’s good to feel a fire in your belly and rise above your fears.

We are not extreme travelers.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: most of the adventures I have are in my own mind.  But for the sake of my kids, I’ve put on my big girl panties and donned a hard hat once or twice.

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.

 I appreciate people who can lure me out of my comfort zone.

Sometimes it’s good to commit to a path with unexpected twists and bends.

I’m sure I’m a better person for it. And if nothing else, Life Outside The Comfort Zone provides great material for a writer.

All images and words copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com.

Chasing Rainbows


If a tree falls in the woods and I don’t photograph it, did I really see it?

Last week, amidst the throes of last-minute packing for spring break in Hawaii, I was mentally outlining the next chapter of my manuscript. That’s the only excuse I can give for walking out of the house and onto an airplane…

Without. My. Camera.

So Thom gave me charge of his new toy, a Pentax underwater camera, for use in or out of the water.  My hero!

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Its zoom wasn’t as powerful, but I was grateful.  As they say, “Any port in a storm!”


I snapped a handful of shots before it died. We changed the battery and…nothing.  Arrrrgh!  I thought about buying a new camera, but it seemed wasteful; I’m happy with the one at home.  Maybe just a one-use camera, a single roll of film in a recycled plastic case?  No, those photos always look washed out. Then I thought, I’ve been to Maui, and I’ll be back.  How many sunsets do I need in my archives?

I don’t need to chase rainbows

I decided to make a clean break of it, go cold turkey.  Perhaps my travel experience might even improve without a lens between me and my world.

Look, Ma!  No cams!


I confess, I felt the pangs of withdrawal.  My photographs help refresh memories I might otherwise forget.

 With my camera, I am never alone.

I anticipate with pleasure the sharing of pictures with friends, family, my blogging community.  Even sans camera, I was constantly framing shots in my mind’s eye. Sea turtles gliding in ocean currents.  Two hotel maids walking arm-in-arm down a deserted hotel corridor.  The underwater service station run by a pair of enterprising Cleaning Wrasse, with bigger fish lined up like cars at a car wash, patiently waiting their turn to be picked clean of parasites.

Oh, yes, and the kid in neon snorkel gear who shouted, “Mom!  Dad!  I can hear the whales singing!”  Eli and I smiled indulgently at his vivid imagination.

The next morning we were snorkeling off that same beach when Eli said, “Mom! Dad! I can hear whales singing!”  I thought he was teasing, but I ducked under the waves, held my breath, and listened.  And I could hear them too.  For an hour or more, we held perfectly still, just letting the whale song wash over us. I’d been coming to Maui for twenty years, but had never heard them. Had they been there all along? I was an astronaut, observing an alien planet from my little floating bubble, and was unexpectedly invited in for tea!  And inside my snorkel mask I cried.

When we staggered onto the beach and looked out at the water, we saw them spouting, teasing us with glimpses of their fins and shiny black backs.  We also saw the whale watching boat hounding them. Had they been communicating distress or just watching out for each other?  Finally the boat left.  And the moment it did, the whales began breaching and splashing, showing their big white bellies, time and time again!  I suspect they were jumping for joy and shouting,”Woo hoo!  We ditched ’em!”

It was like discovering your house is haunted with friendly ghosts going about their business, oblivious to that other world, except on those occasions when your worlds intersect.  I decided the rolling ocean is The Poker Face of the World, and just beneath the surface, a swirl of emotions, life and death struggles, joy, pain, drama, and countless stories play themselves out.

There was no way a camera could have recorded that breathtaking experience, and no way I would ever need the help of a camera to recall it.  Just when I resolved and resigned myself to a camera-free existence, Eli and I went for an afternoon walk.

And he taught me how to take photos with his Smart Phone.

Okay, forget everything I just told you about a camera-free life.  Because then Saint Eli indulged me completely, taking me back to revisit all the beautiful sights I’d admired.  We snapped all these pics and more with his Smart Phone.

Pretty pictures of stationary subjects…

 …that practically come when you whistle for them.

Other photos depended upon conditions like weather.

Or light.

Or where our feet happened to take us.

 My favorite shots are the unexpected ones, that dropped like ripe fruit falling from a tree into my lap.

Sweet.

Sweeter.

Sweetest!

As we sat on the beach watching the sun set, directly ahead of us a whale leapt out of the ocean so close I could see the lines on its belly.  It thrust one long fin into the air and waved goodbye. Exhilarating! A flash of wonder!  A glimpse of the sacred just for us! It is forever engraved in our memories and upon our hearts.

But I’m THRILLED that Eli caught it on his Smart Phone!

 

Okay, time to come clean.  I ADORE chasing rainbows…

…and I will ALWAYS go for the gold!

WOO HOO!

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck (and Eli Garrard!)

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Tasting Life Twice and Other Writerly Considerations


We’re just priming the pump today for

Writers’ Fourth Wednesday.

Join us tomorrow for Victoria Slotto’s inspirational writing prompt.

Please feel free to link your response to Victoria’s post tomorrow to. Mister Linky will stay open for 72 hours.

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Illustrations: Anais Nin, Writing Is Like Sex* (https://www.facebook.com/writingislikesex); Epic Novels, Literary Word Count Info Graphics; Tim H. Vine, Rejection slip bingo

BARDO NEWS: reader and writer achievements, Victoria’s books, the growth of Niamh Clune’s independent press, Second Light Network calls for submissions

800px-Rafael_-_El_Parnaso_(Estancia_del_Sello,_Roma,_1511)WE CLOSE THE YEAR WITH KUDOS ALL AROUND for prodigious bloggers of every ilk with their plans for 2014 and their successes in 2013. So many of our readers and writers rose to the WordPress challenge of a post a day. Others took on special challenges related to seasonal changes or holiday events or their own personal sense of adventure. To name just a few:

  • From November 28 on, Terri Stewart (Slow Down, Begin Again: Spiritual Practices in Context) incorporated the work of many bloggers into a creative and joy-filled Advent Light event.
  • Instead of counting down on an Advent calendar, Priscilla Galasso (scillagrace) has been counting the free gifts we all get every day in a series of Advent essays that are beautifully written and both thoughtful and though provoking.
  • John Nooney (Johnbalaya), a faithful reader here, successfully incorporated his prodigious works from several blogs into one compact blog where he shares his many talents and interests including essays, poems, short stories, photography, and a love of music.
  • Beatrice Garrard (Adventures in Hats) started her first blog and will be joining us in 2014 as our college reporter with a monthly news post covering the arts and other topics of interest to us.
  • Liz  Rice-Sosne a.k.a. Raven Spirit (Noh Where) a devoted friend to Bardo has joined us as a core team member and will take an active leadership role in our collective Voices for Peace project. This is no small gift to us since she is also now a volunteer teacher of English-as-a-Second language. We hope she’ll share her thoughts and experiences on that effort as well. We have officially partnered our Voices for Peace project with 100,000 Poets, Musicians and Artists for Change.

There are many among us who don’t aspire to publication, but many do and they have successfully sold work to magazines and anthologies, won contests, and/or attracted publishers or chose to self-publish.

Victoria Slotto's Mom
Victoria Slotto’s Mom

Not the least is Victoria C. Slotto whose first novel was published in 2012 by Lucky Bat Press. From that experience she moved on to publish Jacaranda Rain: Collected Poems, 2012, now in a newly-minted paperback edition, and  Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage DementiaWe took the time to read the latter this month and found it to be chockfull of commonsense suggestions that are easily incorporated into daily activities with which you can encourage your loved one. This work was inspired by Victoria’s care of her elderly mother and her experiences as a nurse.

The first section, Shoring Up Memory!, is alone worth the price of admission. She advises phone logs, maintaining a memory board and lists, and a commitment to maintaining a Day Timer and a journal. Other advice includes simplifying life: no over-booking, doing what can be done to minimize stress, and reworking the home so that it is as danger-free as possible. She provides information on getting legal advice, creating a team of helpers (our term, not hers), finding doctors and other health care providers. Victoria emphasizes the importance of physical and mental exercises, faith and prayer, and family support. Well done, Victoria. (Photo copyright, Victoria Slotto, All rights reserved.)

PLUM TREE BOOKS and THE BARDO GROUP have tied the knot and are collaborating to evolve our collective of artists and musicians, poets and writers, encouraging fellowship and appreciation.  Plum Tree Books (PTB) CEO, Niamh Clune, writes about PTB’s latest effort: “This is the bones of the news…  I have created, Plum Tree Books ~ INSIGHTS ~ A magazine about publishing, writing, children’s books, illustrating and poetry. I am receiving so many of your wonderful poems, and requests from people who would like to write for Plum Tree Books, that I thought this would be a great chance to expand our horizons and include more of your work as well as sharing insights into how we are growing, creating, and collaborating. This is all part of building the Plum Tree Books’ platform to give some of the wonderful talent expressed through FaceBook, blogs and The Bardo Group a broader exposure. Coming in January!”

A FINAL REMINDER ABOUT THE SECOND LIGHT NETWORK’S CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR THEIR 2014 ANTHOLOGY. The deadline is 15 January 2014.

51rk8frRwfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Her Wings of Glass (the title a quotation from Sylvia Plath) is to be a 200 page anthology that will complement but not repeat Second Light’s previous anthology (with Arrowhead Books), Images of Women. The focus of this anthology is ‘big issues’, for example the future of the planet, good and evil aspects of our relationship with the natural world and with each other, different aspects of our imaginative understanding of ‘who we are’.

The invitation is for up to six poems per submission, not more than 200 lines in total, with three copies of each poem to Dilys Wood at 3, Springfield Close, East Preston, West Sussex, BN16 2SZ, by January 15th 2014 together with the administrative fee of £5 (Second Light members) or £8 (non-members). Cheques payable to ‘Second Light’ or pay online at the poetry p f (online shop (filter to ‘Wings’). Non-UK submissions may be sent by e-mail as .doc or .pdf attachments, only to Second Light Administrator (poet Anne Stewart. ) Anne Stewart is a fabulous help with your technical questions. [Check out Anne’s poems HERE.]

Issue 11, November 2013 of ARTEMISpoetry is available now through Second Light Network and submissions are currently being accepted for the next issue. Details HERE.

BLOGGERS IN PLANET LOVE: This is a heads-up on our event in the planning for Valentine’s Day 2014. Details to be determined and announced. Look for more news about this collaborative effort addressing climate and environmental concerns and the meaning of nature in our lives.

WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY with Victoria C. Slotto will resume on 22 January 2014, running every month up-to-and-including 22 October 2014.

… and, as the saying goes “last but not least” … a WW I memorial project of John Anstie’s (My Poetry Library and 42church group from Christ Church Stocksbridge featuring poet Ian McMillan …

Best wishes for the New Year from all of us to all of you. If you missed the deadline for this post, feel free to leave your announcement in the comments section. If you have something you’d like us to include in the next news post, leave a note here in the comment section as well or under any upcoming post and someone will get back to you. The next news post will go up on January 26, Sunday at 7 p.m. PST. The deadline for news submissions is Friday, January 24.

– The Bardo Group

Unreality

[Terri’s latest enchanting piece, “Sacred Space for Particles”, brought back to me a poem I wrote after seeing an absolutely riveting documentary – on the BBC’s often excellent science programme, “Horizon” – about the search, by Particle Physicists for the Higgs Boson particle. It’s a pretty crude poem, but encapsulates the essence of what my scientific training allowed me to understand, with a sprinkling of poetic licence]

461px-Candidate_Higgs_Events_in_ATLAS_and_CMSHow far can poets go, then,
down into ‘icle physics?
To discover parts of subatomic mass,
so small it is beyond minute
and, in just a second, what happens is
really unbelievable, beyond imagination.
Protons collide with protons
and create a random mess
of particles, so mini and invisible,
that they cannot find them all!
There’s one they really had to find:
and in ten years, they found top quark.
So small it was that it could not be seen
or heard or measured, but they did…
they did, the clever buggers, they did!

I can see and hear and feel him
stirring in his grave; Albert is excited
at the very thought of contemplating
the distinct possibility that space-time,
(that is the space-time he invented)
could actually be outside the universe
or is that what he meant by relativity?
Is it perhaps, therefore inside itself?
Who will win the race to tell?
We know they’ll find a smaller particle
[they say they know of one already] that’s
smaller than top quark, so small it cannot be,
it couldn’t even exist, until another brain
turned it round and called it by
a human name; Higgs-Boson is…

Well, he is like a wanted criminal
only, so romantic, all the greatest
physicists and philosophers of the world
want a piece of him, or her.
They have a huge accelerator,
deep under mountains, under ground,
where no harm can come to us.
They justify the billions by saying
that the quest is so enjoyable;
so much a part of human instinct
to enquire about the boundaries,
[if they exist at all] of our perception..
..of reality, by physics and philosophy.
The journey’s worth the cost, they say,
but all the poets, they know so much more.

They know the nature of the universe
may be measured in very ‘icle parts,
so small, so infinitesimally small,
that we suspect they are beyond
description using epithets. Oh no,
they’re under the spell of mathematics!
No earthly words suffice, not there.
Even the ancient Greeks didn’t know this;
their Alpha has been squared, and will
Omega cubed and integration, calculus
return the answer they all crave?
Or will the search for ultimate smallness,
through fuzziness, get us to the end?
Is the start to finish of a shrinking universe,
rather like a journey round the Circle line?

So we could arrive back at the point
where it all started; where we all began:
four dimensional Space-time Relativity.
The structure of the universe, a hologram?
Could we be a product of our imagination?
To recapitulate, then, we are in search
for something that is so damned small,
that we can’t see it, hear it, measure it
in any human way at all!
And yet, theoretical physicists claim
that one day soon, they will exclaim
Eureka! We have found Higgs-Boson!
But if they can’t describe it mathematically,
the beginning and the end of everything
is the poetical imagining of unreality.

– John Anstie

© 2011, poem, John Anstie, All rights reserved
Photo credit ~ LHC -CHERN Cocument Server licensed under CC A-SA 3.0 Unported License

John_in_Pose_Half_Face351w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer. John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (cover1UK).

John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

* Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.

To Edit, Perchance to Publish …

(On use of the English language)

” … To edit perchance to publish: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that edit of death what publishings may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause … “

(Editing liberties taken with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, with thanks and apologies to William Shakespeare)

Jamie Dedes suggested that I should write about my experience of publishing.  I thought about this, but came to a conclusion that it would be pretentious to do so, because it would appear like someone, who had just successfully completed their first length of the swimming pool, writing a book on swimming the English channel!  However, there is something to write about in any experience, however humble.  So, I decided instead to write about it from a perspective, where I have a little more to offer.  This is the business of writing the English language.

Designing the book’s layout, selecting and agreeing cover designs, which fonts to use, finding someone to write a foreword, or not, decide who should write the introduction is much to do with publishing.  Reading it all front to back, back to front, several times over, has more to do with being competent in the language and brings much to bear on the business editing!

product_thumbnail-3.phpTo cast a glance at the experience I had in publishing “Petrichor Rising“, before the publisher came along, thinking that we might have to self-publish, I designed the layout, asked one of the group to write the introduction and, after playing with the idea of asking an award winning published poet I know to write a foreword (with the vain idea that it might give the book some kudos), eventually decided to write it myself.  All that remained was to get the covers designed and … Edit!

After several runs through it, I got to a point where I needed to ask ‘editorial questions’ of the contributing poets, which were in a variety of different forms. I felt sure that, if I were to uphold the integrity of the book, I was compelled to verify some of the simplest things, like spelling, grammar, English usage, the odd neologism and even the position of punctuation marks.

My golden rule was always that I should change not one single word without the consent of any of the authors.  So, I grabbed the horns!  Accordingly, I received a variety of responses, which ranged from unquestioning acceptance of my suggested edits, through “no that’s the way I intended it” to a significant re-editing of a poem. This was, or so I thought, one of the final hurdles to publication.

I eventually submitted the whole book to the publisher, who, within a short time had clearly read it through very thoroughly, because they returned it with a whole list of further edits, which comprised of spelling errors, general typo’s, even punctuation and the odd grammatical error!  An even greater shock to my pride was that a number of them were within my own writings! I had to agree with almost all of them!  What am I like! Evidently rather poor at self-editing!

As for English grammar, there are some rules that I’m keen on.  Even in poetry, I prefer to write English in complete sentences between full stops, with any main or subordinate clauses that have a subject and a predicate, any phrases suitably punctuated, words chosen for their proper meaning, as defined by a recognised dictionary (my preferred backstop is Fowler’s Concise Oxford English Dictionary) spelled correctly and, particularly in poetry, with no unnecessary repetition.

Amongst the rules I use, that I can rarely bring myself to break, include the use, in comparisons, of certain prepositions after the word ‘different’.  My personal loyalty lies with the traditional ‘from’; there are no circumstances under which ‘from’ cannot be used in this context; the alternatives used are ‘to’ (don’t know where this came from, but it is widely used in the media) and ‘than’ (more popular in North America), which sometimes permits a greater economy of words when ‘different’ is followed by a clause. So, in my book, it should be “different from”.

The next one is the split infinitive.  Once again, I would argue that there are no circumstances in which the infinitive form of a verb has to be separated from its preposition (‘to’) by any other word. The only possible exception could be in poetry, where one might want to split the infinitive for the sake of maintaining consistent scansion.  Even then, I would argue that there is no sentence that cannot be re-written in a different way, expressed with different words, to achieve the same effect; such is the variety of the English language.

Poets and writers have a great responsibility to communicate accurately, however perverse, complex or deep the story line. This super-fast digital age, with its plethora of social communication devices, has encouraged a laziness in the use of language and, therefore, a greater risk of misinterpretation, which transfers to our working lives too.  In the last twenty-five years of my working life, I witnessed a tendency for the generation, who have grown up with the digital computer age, to be ‘quick’, to empty the overloaded inbox as fast as they can and, in so doing, often write incomplete sentences that are easily misunderstood and that consequently waste time in clarification or, worse still, cause decisions to be wrong!

Economy of words is important in all writing, particularly poetry, which can only be enhanced by choosing the right words and concatenating them so as to achieve the meaning intended and, in this way, one should always aspire to achieve synergy, which is to say making the whole, the final result, greater than the sum of its parts. Shortening sentences, however, for the sake of speed is just lazy and symptomatic of an unwillingness to think more carefully about the language.

I hope, in any future attempt to publish a book, that I will remember this; remember how important it is to communicate our meaning accurately, and, thereby, truthfully.  As far as I am concerned, I am still learning.

– John Anstie

© John Anstie, essay, all rights reserved

RELATED FEATURE:

“Petrichor Rising” and how the Twitterverse birthed friendships that in turn birthed a poetry collection, by Jamie Dedes, The Poet by Day, the journey in poem

John_in_Pose_Half_Face351w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a member of the core team here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer. John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK).

John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited the  anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears in The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

For the Innocents

emilie-parker-conn-shooting-victim-ap-578kb_606
Emilie Alice Parker

.

A year ago today, a man in Connecticut opened fire on innocents and educators. This poem is for them.

.

what evil wrought the twisted brier

causing him to open fire ~

slaughter hearts of innocents,

sweetest gifts of angels sent

among us, to remind us of

what’s essential, what is love

twisted mind whose wielded ‘right’

expressed his hate with gun of might

and snuffed them out, the madness toll

killed them twice ~ crushed the soul

put out the moon, pull down the stars

wrap the babe’s unsightly scars

make a shroud of blackened sky

so cold the slab on which they lie

cancel Christmas for all time

leave tears, for this, the greatest crime,

to wash their wounds of powder blast,

then dress them well, for this, their last

sleigh ride, to Santa’s sombred cave

then send them to their silent grave.

(c) Niamh Clune 2012, All rights reserved
Photo courtesy of the Parker Family via AP photo

430564_3240554249063_1337353112_n-1orange-petals-cover_page_001DR. NIAMH CLUNE (On the Plum Tree) ~ is the author of the Skyla McFee series: Orange Petals in a Storm, and Exaltation of a Rose. She is also the author of The Coming of the Feminine Christ: a ground-breaking spiritual psychology. Niamh received her Ph.D. from Surrey University on Acquiring Wisdom Through The Imagination and specialises in The Imaginal Mind and how the inborn, innate wisdom hidden in the soul informs our daily lives and stories. Niamh’s books are available in paperback (children’s books) and Kindle version (The Coming of the Feminine Christ). Dr. Clune is the CEO of Plum Tree Books and Art. Its online store is HERE.  Niamh’s Amazon page is HERE.

Sacred Space at Disneyland

I am at Disneyland right now! On vacation! Sometimes I find myself frustrated at the crowds around me and at certain comments from my family (just as I’m sure they are frustrated with me at times!). But my husband said something very wise as we cued up for the Haunted Mansion – he said, “It is like a labyrinth.”

It was! The difference being the labyrinth leads to a holy space and returns you on the same path. And a cue leads to an event and you exist on a different path. But do we really need a bunch of tools in our tool kit to create sacred space? Do I need my Mary Oliver book, my Bible, my candles, a labyrinth? Or do I need to simply be open? In this instant, in this place, simply being open became enough.

I proceeded down the path towards the Haunted Mansion with my heart stretched and my ears open to the sounds of conversation, of the mechanisms of the ride, of the water nearby, or the staff. And I felt the connectivity with the cosmos. The sacred was there. In the cue at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland.

Of course, intellectually, I know this. But experientially, I forget. I get caught up in being right (if it is my family or politics) or caught up in impatience (a 45 minute cue?!). But if I slow down and begin again, I can recall myself to the center and extend my consciousness outward from my body into the world around me. Greeting my loved ones, strangers, trees, all of it – the cosmos.

The cosmos is also within us, we’re made of star stuff. ~Carl Sagan

We just have to remember!

star stuff drifts

through the cosmos

salvation’s quest

It's A Small World (c) 2013, T. Stewart Cell Phone
It’s A Small World
(c) 2013, T. Stewart
Cell Phone

Shalom & Amen!

Terri

P.S. – I’d love for you to drop by www.BeguineAgain.com and see some of the Advent reflections taking place. Today’s reflection is on World AIDS Day from an unsung hero, Tracy Daugherty.

© 2013, post and photos, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriREV. TERRI STEWART is The Bardo Group  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.comwww.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

As You Like It (Reflections Upon the Art of Aging)

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”


My mother and her sister Loena were best friends.  Wherever Loena went, she would sing or hum quietly to herself.  My mother used to introduce her to friends saying, “This is my sister Loena.  Don’t mind her; she hums.”

Mom was the one who used to bust Aunt Loena out of Detroit for road trips.  Sometimes to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister Miriam, to Maine to see my sister Constance, or to see me and my siblings in Seattle, especially if the Tigers were scheduled to play the Mariners.

Driving cross country to attend my wedding, they made a late-night stop at a hamburger joint in Iowa. They were laughing so hard the young man behind the counter came to their table and said, “Ladies, I don’t know where you’re going, but I want to come with you.”

Less than a year after Mom died, my first baby was born.  It was a wonder-full time, if bittersweet.  Aunt Loena’s visit was the next best thing to seeing my mom holding my baby in her arms.  I felt my mother’s presence, watching, smiling, loving.

But it was hard for Aunt Loena to get away.  She spent two decades housebound while caring for her mother-in-law, and then her husband.  No one blamed him for his frustration, but he yelled at everyone who came to visit or offer aid, and fired everyone my aunt hired to help with housework and eldercare.  It was emotionally isolating and physically exhausting.  She never complained, and joked that at least her medical appointments for heart trouble, cataract surgery, and blood transfusions got her out of the house.  Like my mother, she knew how to look for the bright spots.

The 911 response team knew her by name, as she had to call whenever her husband fell out of the recliner where he slept.  It was time for a nursing home.  She visited him twice a day, until she caught meningitis.  Her doctors didn’t think she’d survive.  I flew to Detroit to say goodbye, but Aunt Loena is a two-time cancer survivor, who has come back from the brink so many times she makes Rasputin look like a weenie.  It was a wake-up call, however.  She checked out of the hospital with a bucket list.  My aunt is 86, anemic, subject to dizzy spells and shortness of breath.  Oh, yes, and always up for an adventure, so long as it is wheelchair accessible.

https://i1.wp.com/i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/IMG_7262-2-1.jpg

Aunt Loena with my sister Lee and my son Elijah

Our first adventure was a trip to Seattle.  We knew she had a great time, because wherever we went, she hummed to herself like a purring kitten.  That trip was just a warm-up for her dream trip to New York City.

Aunt Loena in Central Park with Bea and me.

When it was time to leave New York and go our separate ways, it was too sad to say goodbye, so instead we said, “Where to next?”  She’d always wanted to go the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  So that’s what we did.  My son Eli flew in from college in Maine, I flew from Seattle, and my sister Lee joined us from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

 We went in October, to take in the fall colors as well as the plays.

I chose our motel for its name.

https://i1.wp.com/i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/IMG_7280-1.jpg

In Stratford I discovered the secret to longevity–a nightly dose of Miss Vicky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips!  Aunt Loena is a teetotaler, but she’s not afraid of a little salt and grease.  Got sugar?   Bring it on!

Each time we part, I fear another long drive or a cross country flight will prove too much.  We make a date and look forward to it, but  I always check before I make plane reservations.  “You’re sure?”  And she always says, “Oh, yes.  As long as I’m sitting down, it’s almost just the same as sitting at home.”

We promised to bring her to Seattle for fish and chips this summer, but Lee couldn’t make it.  I asked my friend Monica, also a Detroiter, if she’d consider escorting Aunt Loena.  The next morning I got her reply– she would be delighted!  What a gift to us all!  We couldn’t have pulled it off without her.  Monica and Aunt Loena had been hearing about each other for years, and felt like they already knew each other.  We kicked off a week-long PJ party by attending a performance of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”   We also enjoyed Teatro Zinzanni’s very silly but impressive dinner theater show, “Gangsters of Love.”

Aunt Loena made her famous egg salad sandwiches.  Years ago, when we all drove to D.C. to visit our sister Miriam, we weren’t out of Detroit yet when Mom said, “Who’s ready for an egg salad sandwich?”  It was 10am, but so what?  We were ready for another one by lunchtime.

We picnicked at Green Lake–egg salad sandwiches, my brother Lew’s homemade cookies, and Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.  We couldn’t get to a picnic table, because we didn’t have an all-terrain wheelchair, but from our park bench we had a gorgeous view of the lake.

I would love to take Aunt Loena to Hawaii or Europe; even she feels it might be too far.  But her eyes lit up when she said church friends had gone to a casino, and she thought it might be fun to try her luck just once–if there was a smoke-free one with wheelchair access.  I don’t know anything about casinos, but an internet search and a few phone calls was all it took to locate a smoke-free casino in Toledo, not far from their wonderful zoo.  I sent Aunt Loena home with a roll of quarters and a promise.  Guess where we’re going next spring!

Saying goodbye is hard.  Aunt Loena said Mom always told her, “Whatever happens, we won’t cry.  We’ll smile, kiss the kids goodbye, and stop the car around the corner to do our crying.”  And that’s what they always did, she said.  But this time we all had to cry, just a little.

Most people in my aunt’s situation prefer the security of a recliner, the proximity of their own doctors, and to be in control, even if that just means the remote to the television.  Who can blame them?  With advanced age, circumstances often change, especially where health, finances, and family support are concerned.  Aunt Loena lives her life as an adventure, and adjusts the size of her dreams as necessary.  But for her, everything is icing on the cake.  New York is as good as Hawaii, and Ohio is as good as New York.  But she would be just as happy humming quietly and playing cards with a friend while snacking on a bag of Miss VIcky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.

I want to grow old like Aunt Loena, to go out swinging or at least singing.  When I told her she was brave for coming all the way to Seattle, she laughed and said, “All I need is a wheelchair, and someone to push it.

You got it, Aunt Loena.  And you don’t even need to ask.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Through the Looking Glass

The months have been busy with storytelling– dusting off old stories, rehearsing new ones, attending to related business correspondence.   Last week I was pressed for time, polishing a story for its public debut, when I heard a little thump.  I peeked through the French doors onto the deck.  A tiny olive gray creature, scarcely bigger than a hummingbird, lay stunned and shivering where it fell after flying into the glass.

It was a male Golden-crowned Kinglet, with a bright orange and gold crown.  They favor coniferous forest; this one was likely nesting in the grove of cedar, hemlock, and Douglas Fir in our backyard.  Kinglets are monogamous, and raise two broods each season.  As soon as the first nestlings can fly, Mama Bird lays another batch.  While she protects the new eggs, Papa feeds up to ten fledglings until they can take care of themselves.  Good Daddy!

Perhaps the little bird was an adolescent, driving too fast on his first solo flight, or maybe he was an exhausted frantic father trying to feed his hungry brood.  Birds are delicate, and often die of stress.  Not wanting to frighten it, I didn’t open the door, but I kept watch through the glass for neighborhood cats and hungry crows. What would happen, I wondered, to the fledglings if their Papa died?  How might his mate manage as a single parent when the next brood hatched?

As The Bard said, all the world is a stage.  Everywhere tiny dramas–life and death performances–are played out.  Most will never be witnessed or even imagined, completely lost in the big picture.  Or worse, they will be observed by cold and uncaring eyes.

On my deck, in city streets, in our wealthy country, and all over the world, baby birds are not the only creatures who slip between the cracks, with no voice, and no champion to speak out for them or watch over them.

I turned for an instant to check the clock.  When I looked again, the little bird was gone.  My eyes stung with tears of relief.  Someone looking through the glass onto my deck would see only a few bird droppings, but to me it’s a reminder that life can get messy.  Not everyone has a safety net.  Not every story has a happy ending.  Sometimes we can only  look helplessly through the glass at the world’s suffering.  But sometimes it falls within our power to change the world, one tiny story at a time.

Something to think about.

All words and images c2013 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Simply Ceremony

We have been working on the Fall calendar for JourneyWorks, and ceremony has a prime place in the schedule. A couple of days ago Jennie noted that we have been a bit lax in doing ceremony since our experience with the crow.  Last week I found myself in discussions with different folks about what constitutes ceremony. Maybe the persistent presence of ceremony in our conversations explains why I awoke this morning thinking about it.

Maine mushroomsWe all have ideas about ceremony. A couple of years ago a couple attended our Day of the Dead ceremony. At the end of the evening they said, “We didn’t expect the evening to be so Indian.” I don’t really know what they meant; perhaps they were expecting something more Latin. Other people have asked me about sweat lodges and pipe ceremonies, neither of which I am trained to do. I’ve noticed many folks seem to equate ceremony with the ceremonial traditions of Plains and Southwestern peoples. That makes sense as those are very powerful traditions that are well documented.

We do ceremony that arises from shamanic training. Usually it is pretty straightforward. We light a fire, acknowledge the Directions, and request the presence of the Creator, Ancestors and spirits. We offer food, water, and tobacco, and light sage. Often we drum and journey. We give thanks for our lives and the bounty of the land, ask for healing for those who wish it, and close the altar, expressing gratitude to all who have participated. The altar is simple: a crystal or two, a few stones, flowers, and the other offerings. After the ceremony those present share food, stories, and dreams. It’s simple.

One of my teachers used to say that all that is really needed to create an altar is a single leaf from a supportive tree. Maybe the more elaborate ceremonies we humans create are simply extensions of that elemental altar and the relationships with ALL That Is the altar represents. After all, the altar is just a simple, sacred map of our relatedness to all of Creation, a reminder that we belong.

A decade or so ago I found myself in a cave in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. My teachers had told us the cave had been a place of ceremony for 20,000 years. They lit a candle, started some incense sticks, invoked the Directions and spirits of place, sang a couple of songs, said a prayer, and we were done. The ceremony took maybe ten minutes, yet more than ten years have passed and I’m still thinking and writing about it.

Jennie and I also do ceremony reflective of her Jewish roots and Buddhist training, and my Christian upbringing. Most of those ceremonies are also brief, although there are a few that are not. I remember those same teachers expressing confusion when asked about the conflict between their shamanism and their Catholicism. They simply do not experience any discord or conflict between the two traditions, nor do they understand the traditions to differ. They would probably say that after 500 years of intermarriage, it’s all good.

As we prepare for our very active Fall schedule, it is pleasing to reflect on ceremony. Ceremony is, after all, at the core of healing, and central to the work we do. It is, indeed, good.

– Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY SELF-CHALLENGE: Stream of Consciousness Writing

Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is a gift of Victoria C. Slotto (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts). Victoria is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel.  A second novel is in process.  Jacaranda Rain — Collected poems, 2012 is available on Amazon, as is the hot-off-the-press nonfiction, Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s poetry collection and non-fiction book are free to Amazon Prime Members.  Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page

Eons ago, when I was a student nurse, I did my psychiatric nursing rotation at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, California. At the time, before these institutions were decentralized (and before homelessness became an issue) the hospital was a veritable city, caring for over 5000 patients. Many of these were classified as simple schizophrenics, people whose only pathology was that they couldn’t function in society (a number of today’s homeless.)

Image: deviantart.com
Image: deviantart.com

One day, the instructor gave us an assignment to spend a day, journaling ALL our thoughts. By the end of the day, I was ready to self-commit myself. I learned that my thought processes, feelings, perceptions—all flit about like the bees and hummingbirds in our flower and vegetable garden. The object of the exercise was to show us that there was a very slim thread between those of us who thought we were normal, and our patients.

In the post-realism period of literary history, the era when James Joyce, William Faulkner, Marcel Proust and other literary greats emerged and opened the door to modernism (1930’s and 1940’s), stream-of-consciousness writing became another literary device in the tool box of both fiction writers and poets. More contemporary figures in the world of poetry who turned to this technique include Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath. In stream-of-consciousness writing, the poet or novelist turns to the flow of ideas, observations and emotions that invade our consciousness. Novelist Virginia Woolf described this process as “an incessant shower of innumerable atoms.”

Photo: sameeart.com
Photo: sameeart.com

This type of writing often produces a fair share of challenges for the reader who may struggle to find a sense of connection between one thought and another. With careful reading, it may become apparent, or maybe not.

Here are a few hints to help you work with reading and writing poetry or prose that uses the stream of consciousness technique.

Choose a topic. You might think of a person, and activity or even a dream. Take a walk, go someplace public.
• Write with pen or pencil on paper. Draw pictures. You may even choose to use your writing journal to jot down your own little (schizophrenic) episodes.
• When you write in your journal, be different. Write with your non-dominant hand, write all over the page, not just in lines, write from bottom to top. Write in spirals or shapes. Forget grammar and syntax.
• Review your writing for any connection you can discover between words and phrases and see where your poem will take you.
• Put your work aside for a while before returning to it.

Image: canyoustayfordinner.com
Image: canyoustayfordinner.com

This can be a very fun and freeing exercise—I hope you enjoy it. Whether or not you choose to share it here is up to you, but if you do, you will give others an opportunity to see it put into practice and thus, to learn from you.

To participate:

• Spend some time playing with your mind, using the above suggestions.
• Write your poem and post it on your blog or website.
• Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and provide your name and the direct URL to your poem.

I look forward to seeing what your muse inspires, to visiting and commenting on your work. This is not a challenge in the sense of a competition, but rather one for you. Thanks for joining.

– Victoria C. Slotto

The Equinox and the Medicine Wheel

Early Autumn color, Vermont

Editorial note: My apologies to readers and to Michael for not scheduling this in sooner. An oversight on my part. J.D.

This is a reblog of a recent post to Dreaming The World.

This week marks the Autumn Equinox. The Equinoxes and other aspects of the calendar round are markers made by people; we need markers to make sense of our lives, to place ourselves in relationship to All That Is. Sometimes we forget the markers are of our creation, and we imagine they hold intrinsic meaning, rather than the meanings we assign them. This is a dangerous assumption as it tempts us to believe there is only one story, and it is true for all people, everywhere. Such thinking always causes great suffering.

Next week, in class, our friend, Alicia Daniel, is leading us in the creation and exploration of a Medicine Wheel. Alecia allows participants to explore, and assign values to, the directions.Given the freedom to make meaning opens the students to Mystery and Wonder. Not surprisingly, the values discovered by students often resemble the attributes assigned the directions by the Indigenous peoples who have lived here for thousands of years.

I usually teach the Medicine Wheel using attributes for the directions as I have been taught them by teachers from the Northeast, where we live. While there are small differences between tribal, even band, understandings of the directions, the general framework holds firm. As I understand it: The East is the place of birth and death, sunrise, spring, mentation, air, and all beings who fly. The South is home to fire, warm bloodeds, and the plants. It is the place of healing, noon time, and high summer. It is the direction of physicality, and in some traditions, sexuality. The West is home to water, dreaming, evening, and autumn. It is the place of responsibility and parenting, and of the Dream Time. The North is the home of the Ancestors and the rock people, the place of winter and night, the direction of clearly seeing the big picture, of vision. We journey sun-wise around the wheel, returning to the east to die and be reborn.

My Lakota kin likely say we are born and die in the West. That makes sense to them, where they live. The Medicine Wheel is a teaching about our locale and inner worlds, telling us much about local ecology, culture, and understanding of self. Wherever we are the Medicine Wheel speaks to us of our life journey, a road we share with the people and other beings who comprise the community in which we live.

In Western culture the wheel has a bad rap. Rather than a map for living a joyful, fulfilling life, it is often emblematic of being caged, or of soul killing work. In the East it may be something to be escaped. Yet, in Indigenous cultures around the world the wheel remains a powerful symbol for relationship, connection, and the good life.

This week we take a few minutes to acknowledge the Medicine Wheel that is our calendar year. We will express gratitude to Father Sun, and acknowledge Grandmother Water. Without them we would not have life. It is good to do this, and to have the opportunity to do so openly, for we remember the times, some quite recent, when we could not do so.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Praying in Color

Praying in Color is a prayer or meditation practice that utilizes what I would categorize as doodling to help focus on that which you would pray or focus on. I consider it to be fun, but as previously discussed, I have spiritual ADHD and am inclined towards using visual tools in my spiritual expression. I developed this practice for myself using the book Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God by Sybil MacBeth.

With a clean sheet before you (or a good computer finger painting app – I used the app “Fingerpaint” for the Surface) and pens, markers, crayons, or pencils in hand, I invite you to enter into prayer…

To begin, draw an imperfect shape and write the name of the person you wish to pray for:

1

Alternately, you could begin with your image of the divine, your own name, or even leaving the shape empty embracing the idea of the mystery in our midst.

Next, begin to add detail to the drawing…dots, lines, squiggles, wiggles, whatever you want! Don’t overthink, just go with the flow. This is not a place for your inner art critic to emerge. This is simple prayer. Continue to add detail to the drawing-each pen stroke an intentional prayer.

2

When you feel that this is complete, draw a new shape and add another person. But first, take a moment to close out the first person with some sort of closure to the prayer or meditation (amen, so be it, shalom, etc.). Also, you may want to take a cleansing pause before jumping onto the next person.  Or you may want to immediately move forward to the next person. Do what is right for you and the situation.

Repeat the process of drawing. Add doodads, color, and details.

4

Add another person to the prayer list. (And so on).

5

The most important thing to remember is that there is not any rules. You should follow the process where it leads you. And you will then create a personal prayer icon for you to carry with you throughout the day or days. You may even choose to post in someplace visible like your refrigerator! or you bathroom mirror. Or begin to enhance it further as days progress by adding words to focus your intentions.

6

If the words are distracting, put them away.

There you have it! Praying in Color – yet another way to access the deep love, mercy, and justice that resides within us all. You could easily do this and zip out names of people and zip in parts of the world worthy of deep concern … Syria, Kenya, Afghanistan…

Shalom and Amen!

~Terri

 

© 2013, post, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY: Character Development in Fiction

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Photo Credit: Pinterest

A while back, I attended a writer’s conference session about character development. The speaker suggested using astrological signs as a means to create believable, consistent characters. My knowledge of astrology is scant, but I tried to apply it to the characters in my first novel, Winter is Past. The results weren’t what I’d hoped for.

When I worked in the area of nursing education, human resources and spirituality, I had the opportunity to delve into Myers-Briggs…a personality evaluation tool that assesses behavior based on four areas of response: Introversion versus extraversion, Intuitive versus sensate, Thinking versus Feeling and Perceptive versus Judgmental. The latter may not be so self-explanatory but I use the example of my parents: my dad would be ready to go somewhere 20 minutes ahead of time, while my mother would change her mind a few more times about what she wanted to wear. Think: structured versus easy-going.

I returned to my draft manuscript, and applied the Myers-Briggs, using this tool to help me re-create the major characters with the result of more consistent, believable players. For my second novel The Sin of His Father, I wrote out character profiles before I even began to write, again using the Myers-Briggs. It has made it so much easier.

Photo Credit: vivalamanosphere.com
Photo Credit: vivalamanosphere.com

There is an old book called Please Understand Me that explains all the possible profile combinations and how they play out in real life. If you can find it, it’s been a godsend.

I’m addicted to The Learning Company‘s Great Courses, university level programs presented by the highest quality professors. One of the courses, The Art of Reading is taught by Professor Timothy Spurgin of Lawrence University. The lectures are well-organized, clearly presented and as applicable to writers as to readers.

An important point from the lecture on characters addresses developing round characters. The concept of a round character, as opposed to a flat one, was presented by E. M. Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel. Simply put, a round character is one who will capture the reader’s interest because of his unpredictability, his complexity and the changes he undergoes during the course of the story. And this is key: “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.” (Forster)

While a protagonist needs to draw the sympathy of the reader, he should have some character flaws. Inversely, your antagonist should have something that makes him, if not attractive, at least capable of being understood. Just like us–no one is all good or all bad.

As you write, reflect upon your own reaction to the key characters in your manuscript. Are you able to identify with them to some degree? Are there things that, if you were that person, you might be ashamed of or want to change? Are there events or reactions which are surprising without being totally out-of-character (unconvincing)? Is your character someone you would want to know, or avoid?

One thing I find helpful when writing fiction is to base my characters on a composite of people I know or with whom I have been acquainted. You can even take someone who is in the public eye. I try not to use one person because I would never want anyone to say to me, “That’s me, isn’t it?” My mother once thought a character was her because I set a scene in a room in her house! And this secondary character was not, initially, a nice person.

I hope this brief reflection on characters will be helpful to those of you who have an interest in writing fiction. In a future post, I’ll share a character development worksheet that I prepared for  a character in novel #2 to give you something to hang your words on!

We’d like to invite you to share a brief paragraph or poem of your own presenting a character you’ve created or known somewhere along the road. There are two ways you can do it:

  • Preferably, post your description on your own blog or website, then copy and paste the direct URL into the Mr. Linky, which is included at below at the end of this post.  He will also ask you to include your name or another identifier.
  • If you prefer, add your character sketch to the comments section.
  • It’s nice, though not required to read others and leave a like or comment. I will visit all of them.

Happy writing; enjoy the process!

– Victoria

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Linky is below Victoria’s bio ~

Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer's Expo March 2012
Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer’s Expo March 2012

jr-cover-2VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~  is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012is Victoria’s first novel.  A second novel is in process.  Jacaranda Rain — Collected poems, 2012 is available on Amazon, as is the hot-off-the-press nonfiction, Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s poetry collection and non-fiction book are free to Amazon Prime Members.  Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.

Let Your Light Shine On

Finding Light
The Light Shines On

Where is your light today? What is leading you? What is giving you hope? Joy?

“When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see,
there will be an answer. let it be.

Let it be, let it be, …..

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me,
shine until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be, …..”
― Paul McCartney

A note about the light fixture:

I photographed this light at the Merchant’s Cafe in Seattle, Washington. It is the first cafe in Seattle and has seen several iterations of its business as it was built, burned down, and built again. The interesting thing is that it is in the oldest part of Seattle (of course!). It was built in a building near first avenue. The tidal flats used to flood in every day, twice a day, up to third avenue. This makes doing business quite difficult! Seattle then had businesses build their buildings at least two stories tall. Then they raised all the roads, surrounding the existing buildings with raised roads. For a while, they put ladders at the streets so people would go off of the road, down the ladder, into the businesses.

Finally, they built sidewalks that connected the streets to the second story level of the buildings. So today, in Pioneer Square, when you enter the buildings, you are, in fact, entering the second story of the buildings that were placed there. If you look down, you will notice odd glass squares in the sidewalk. Those were originally skylights so that the first story of the buildings were kind of like an inside shopping mall with a view to the sidewalk above. So even there, in the midst of a buried first floor of these buildings, the light was still able to shine!

Such a fun history!

Shalom and Amen.

Terri

© 2013, post and photos, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved, originally posted at http://www.cloakedmonk.com

terriREV. TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Light from the Times

Food prices rising. Proposed Food Stamp cuts would boot 5 million people from the program. Americans following this blog may want to consider voicing their opinions to the people on the Hill. The Ven. Bhikhu Bodhi outlines this situation today on his blog, Buddhist Global Relief. J.D.

Buddhist Global Relief

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

On Wednesday of last week, the same day that I was writing my recent blogpost highlighting the need not to make cuts to food stamps–“Nourishing Change,” published August 1st–the New York Times published an article about the likely impact that cuts in funding for food stamps would have on the poor.  I only got to see the Times article Friday afternoon (August 2nd) through a link sent to me in an email. While my post was written independently, the Times article confirms my case.

The article, “House Plan on Food Stamps Would Cut 5 Million From Program,” by Ron Nixon, features a study released on Tuesday by the Health Impact Project in Washington, which points out that if the House proposal to cut food stamps by $20.5 billion were enacted, 5 million people would lose eligibility for the program. Of these, a half million…

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Sacred Space

Sacred Space
Sacred Space

Have you had that day? Ever? When your last nerve has been strung and compassion, justice and mercy have fled your body? I have that day sometimes. Usually, on those kind of days I like to retreat to sacred space. Space that can be my family, my friends, my books, my camera…some place where I can be filled up with the qualities that have leeched out.

But sometimes that is not possible!

I could be at the detention center where I work. Conflict and craziness do sometimes abound among the incarcerated and sometimes among the staff and volunteers. One night I was working and a fight broke out right in front of me. Other nights, down the hall. As staff rush towards the chaos, I sit frozen (as I am instructed to do) and then proceed in the opposite direction. I often retreat to the library where the clanging is at least muted.

Or I could be at my home and expectations meet reality and voices rise in anger or disappointment threads the air. Then my retreat is not a retreat. Mostly, we are loving. But there are times when love seems miles away.

During those times, I need to create sacred space where it seems that there is no room for it. Hopefully, I am not alone in feeling this way! I would like to offer you one simple practice that can be done anywhere at any time. You can create your own sacred space with a piece of paper and a pen. No! This is not a writing assignment. It is a wholeness assignment.

Temenos (Greek) is sacred space. Or land that is set aside for royalty or the priesthood. In Ancient Greece, it would be the place reserved for worshiping the gods. Jung further expands on the concept of temenos as a place where you can encounter your unconsciousness, bringing the shadow into the light. A place of healing, acceptance, worship, encounter, and sacredness.

I am connecting these ideas to the ancient labyrinth where, at the very center, is the temenos.

I have a portable labyrinth that is used in my work with incarcerated youth. Teens can be so funny when they first encounter the labyrinth! They look at it as a maze, at first. But then as they slowly progress through the turns of the labyrinth, focusing on their chosen word or phrase, something happens. Softness overtakes them. They slow down. The rhythm of the room deepens. Their shields begin to drop. Sometimes, they arrive at the center and just sit for a long time. It is also a place of safety, even in the midst of incarceration, a place of danger.

However, we are not all blessed to have a labyrinth stored in our garage! Luckily, we do not need the full meal deal to create a labyrinth. Just pen and paper (or crayon and paper!).

As you set about creating your own labyrinth, set your intentions. When I am in the detention center and do this, I am often focused on peacefulness. Then, when you are done, walk the labyrinth with your finger. Focus on your intention. It is said that there are three stages to walking a labyrinth.

  1. Purgation:  purging yourself of your thoughts that are attached to the world.
  2. Illumination:  opening yourself to enlightenment, inspiration, reception of the other
  3. Union:  becoming one with ______________ . I will let you fill in the blank with your understanding of what we are in union with.  This could be anything from unity with self, others, the cosmos, the divine. This is where we sit and hold the space.

It only takes a minute to draw a labyrinth and to create an opportunity for your own sacred space no matter where you are or what your are doing. It could be as simple as a doodle on a napkin at lunch!

Shalom & Amen,

Terri

© 2013, post and photos, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriREV. TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Enter the Story – An Ignatian Style Meditation

St. Ignatius of Loyola
From Wikipedia

St. Ignatius of Loyola, over time, became very concerned with spiritual practices. He developed one particular method that uses the imagination. It is sometimes called “Ignatian Contemplation.” Ignatian Contemplation uses the imagination as its center piece. In particular, using scripture and entering it using all the senses–feel the heat of the day, the dust in the road, or the smell of livestock. Enter the story in a complete way.

Today, I offer to you the story of the first king of Israel, Saul, and how he became the king. I ask you to use all your senses to enter the story. You may enter it as one of the characters or you may be a bystander. You may even be livestock! Whatever you choose, extend your reading of the story into your senses–taste, touch, smell, sight, sounds.

Take a moment and ground yourself. Sit comfortably, whatever that means for you. Take a breath in and release it.

Saul was at home, hanging out with his family and some of the donkeys escaped. Now Saul was a young, teenage boy–not viewed as a testosterone filled leader (although he is reported to be quite handsome!). Saul’s task, assigned by his family, was to go get the donkeys and return them  home!

So Saul goes on the road. He looked here and there, and the donkeys were not there. He looked over there and over here, and the donkeys were not there. Finally, the servant travelling with Saul says, “Let’s go ask the seer in town!” The seer was the prophet Samuel.

Saul travels to the seer, Samuel. Samuel tells Saul that he is destined to control the future of the Israelites. Saul says, “I’m a Benjamite, from the smallest clan! Surely not me!”

Samuel and Saul eat and then Samuel anoints Saul to become the king. Samuel then sends Saul on his way home.

Saul travels home with Samuel’s instructions. He travels home and even encounters other prophets on the road, goes into a prophetic frenzy with them, and continues towards home.

Upon his arrival home, his uncle asks, “Where have you been?!”

Saul said, “Well, we couldn’t find the donkeys, so we visited Samuel.” Saul says nothing of the anointing by Samuel, the prophetic frenzy on the side of the road, or of being made king! Nothing!

Then, Samuel comes to seek Saul out. Samuel gathers all the tribes together to “determine who will be king.” Samuel “casts lots.” (Throws dice!) Among the gathered tribes, he throws his dice, and Lo! The Tribe of Benjamin is chosen. Among the families in the tribe of Benjamin, he throws his dice, and Lo! The family of Matri was chosen. Among the people in the family of Matri, Samuel throws his dice, and Lo! Saul is chosen king.

But Saul is not there! They go to find him and he is hiding in the supply closet. Then Saul becomes the king.

What questions did that raise for you? Where were you in the story? Who were you? What will you become?

Shalom & Amen,

Terri

© 2013, post, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriREV. TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com