January Newsletter: The Writing Life

Hello out there! Here is a link to see “The Writing Life,” where I share cool stuff, including a featured writing — Kansas Poet Laureate Kevin Rabas this month, a writing prompt (this month focused on saying hello and goodbye to what we welcome and release with the year), and a writing tip (“Read like a maniac” this month, and always always). There are also updates to what I’m up to, including upcoming in-person (in Emporia, Kansas) and video-conferenced workshops on “Blogging for Your Soul and Audience,” a perfect workshop if you have a blog or are considering starting one as a way to build your audience and/or build your writing practice.

Kevin Rabas, This Month’s Featured Writer

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Maybe We'll Know What We Meant When We're Dead: Everyday Magic, Day 231

Yesterday was extraordinarily charged in a quirky, painful and tender way. Within several hours, I stumbled into an unexpected heartbreak, punctuated by a media interview for Poet Laureati, a bevy of criss-crossed and tangled emails about an event months away, payment processing for the event, and deep talks with two friends while bumbling around downtown Lawrence. By the time I landed home with the kids, I was feeling particularly baffled about what I’m doing in life.

But the universe seems to not just fill all voids but overwhelm bafflement with wonder. A friend called to let me know that someone who took a writing workshop with me years ago remembered that class as vital to her eventually finding her way out of severe poverty and cycles of self-destruction. She’s now in med school.

I often tell Ken that I don’t believe we can tell the value of what we’re doing and how we’re living until after we’re dead, and believe me, from the other side of this life, I hope to have a long look at what it all meant. One of the sweetnesses of life is that we can’t see the whole view while standing in the center of it. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the angels who bring us glimpses that sometimes the pebbles we drop in the water make a difference to the shore.

Wabi Sabi Gratitude: Write Where You Are: November

Wabi Sabi is the Japanese term that points to the perfection of imperfection, and the beauty in what’s aging and changing. It literally comes from the beauty of old tea houses, falling apart, overcome by vines and fallen leaves, but still stunningly and vividly alive.  It’s a great term to wrap our arms around as we get older and hopefully even wiser.

Instead of applauding the sparkling new Broadway play with all its bells, whistles and curtain calls, wabi sabi holds out his long arm and gestures toward the bare branch in a tree that had most of its leaves yesterday. Wabi sabi lifts its eyes to the pale gray-blue clouds swimming in the cold front behind the tenderly-moving ponderosa pine. Wabi sabi says, “Look, the world is made of beauty and time pouring right past our vision all the time. Listen, look, taste, smell and touch. All you want and need is right here.” Then wabi sabi serves tea in an cup and saucer from our great aunt, and for once, we really savor the warm and flavor of the tea.

When it comes to counting our blessings, it’s easy to name what’s new and shiny: the first grandchild, the new used car, the big soup of just-made chili. Yet when we look at what sustains us through our life changes, we often see the wabi sabi world: the home where we live which, no matter how big or small, probably needs some small or big repairs; our bodies gathering new wrinkles and extra skin in all the wrong places; our weather-worn friendships and relationships.

For this month’s writing exercise, make a list of your wabi sabi gratitudes. You needn’t go anywhere for this. Just look around, and start typing or writing. From my perch at the back table in the cafe of the Community Mercantile right now, here’s what I see:

Old American flag rushed by the wind in front of the Phillips 66 station.

Last dark rust of the wavering oak trees.

Dull shimmer of three white, one blue and one red car in the parking lot.

The slow twirl of one chandeleir while the others hold stillness.

The quiet hum of two men, one old and one young, talking.

A mother and her son reading their books on high stools in front of the windows.

A gleaming photograph of radishes, reddening at their tops.

My 51-one-year-old fingers on the keyboard, writing themselves home.

Try your own wabi sabi list of observations, and you can also write about other wabi sabi moments in your life when the simple surroundings of your days and nights renewed your wonder and illuminated your vision.

A Week Later, Remembering the Big Cookie: Everyday Magic, Day 14

One world encompasses me so completely that it’s hard to remember the life I just left, the one in New Jersey and New York where, a week ago, Ken and I celebrated our anniversary with a big cookie, family and friends. At my mother’s apartment in central New Jersey, close to where I grew up after our family fled Brooklyn in the Levitt-town diaspora, we gathered with my mother and aunts, uncle Lou (who took the great pictures), and friends Yvette, Kenny, Kelly and Scott to eat Chinese food and a very big cookie.

The trees were a few days ahead of the trees here, the wind was smooth, the temperature was brisk, and we had the pleasure of remembering with those who were there and those who weren’t what exactly happened on our wedding day. This included how the barn for the barn dance was, despite people’s surprise, a real barn (not so good for high heels), and we did get married on as much of a mountain that you’re bound to find in Kansas. We also talked about how everyone met one another, whether by blind date, just hanging out and then discovering one or the other thought it was a real date, or falling into a new life together without looking.

By the end of the night, there was just the crumbs to sweep up and a sweetness marking the merging of the old life with the new life, the family of origin with the newer friends, and one world with the other to come, just 1,400 miles west and right ahead.

Pictures, from top: Ken & Caryn, my mom and Aunt Rhoda, Yvette and Kenny, Scott and Kelly, and Ken and Aunt Jill. Thanks Lou Mazza for the great photos!

The Autumn & Woman That Won't Let Go (So Far): Everyday Magic, Day 114

It’s well into November, and many of the trees around here still are holding tight to their leaves although those leaves are often dark brown paper bags of their former selves. Similarly, I’m having a hard time letting go of various things in my life, which lead to that kind of leaf-gripping worry that disrupts my day, aims me toward watching youtube videos when I should be working, and keeps me up at night.

Walking is the only thing that makes sense at times like this, and lucky for me, I got a long walk along the river and through part of the river trail with Danny mid-day and then through the tree-lined fields near Haskell Indian Nations University Kris near sunset. All around, I saw that the wild trees — the native ones — had a much easier time disrobing, standing bare-ish in the too-warm-for-this-time-of-year day while the domestic trees, the one brought here from there, still had a death grip on their lives, mostly rust, dark yellow, or the kind of green about to die.

I think there’s something to that: what’s wild and rooted here can go with the flow much more. What’s trying to make a life here while having evolved in other weather, other climate, has a harder time trusting the change in the season. Meanwhile, the birds flow overhead, heading south. The trees continue to rain down. The wind lifts and falls. What are you afraid of, and what good does it do to hold onto whatever is changing? the world sang to me. Let go. Besides, winter is coming, and it’s okay.