Last night I watched a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I couldn’t help but mourn this incredible actor yet again. He had the uncanny ability to breathe life into the smallest of roles as if by magic. The reality, however, is that Hoffman worked very, very hard.
Because actors are artists, too, we writers can learn from our thespian friends. Even though Hoffman died so tragically and far too young, I am forever grateful for his shrewd words. “Success isn’t what makes you happy. It really isn’t. Success is doing what makes you happy and doing good work and hopefully having a fruitful life. If I’ve felt like I’ve done good work, that makes me happy.”
The beloved poet Maya Angelou had similar thoughts. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Let these wise words guide you in your work. While it’s wonderful to be published and even win a prize in a contest, these are ephemeral moments at best. A life devoted to words offers many smaller and more enduring rewards. Such as nudging an exciting new word into your writing vocabulary. Getting over that pesky little hump in your current project. Savoring the words of another writer, you know what I mean, the book waiting for you on your nightstand.
Yesterday a fellow writer, much more talented than me, followed me back on Twitter. Bliss indeed. That didn’t just make my day, it made my year. And 2022 is still young….
The list goes on and on. So let me ask you, writer friends. What made you happy today?
This weekend I had the pleasure of traveling with my friend and fellow writer Mary Barnard (whom I met through the CCCC Creative Writing Program) to the second annual Your Daily Poem workshop at the tranquil setting of Lake Junaluska.
Poets are known to take little detours so please pardon me for digressing but Mary and I took the scenic route and ended up in Mocksville, which we learned was a boyhood home of Daniel Boone and actually the site of his parents’ graves! (Where is Daniel? The remains of this famous frontiersman are actually in Frankfurt, KY.) One detour led to another and somehow we ended up eating lunch at Maria’s Salvadorean restaurant where we had our first pupusas and taste of horchata. Delicious!
Because the workshop didn’t start until 6 p.m., we decided to go to poet Carl Sandburg’s house in Flat Rock first. This poet, historian, musician, essayist, and novelist spent the last 22 years of his life here. Although I’ve visited numerous literary sites in my time, ironically, it was only now that I ventured to this fabled site in my own home state. And what a treat! Those who know me best know how much I love plundering through the personal possessions of writers!
The interior of Sandburg’s beloved Connemara is currently undergoing renovations until 2018; however, there remained enough of a footprint to imagine the daily life of a man once described as the “voice of America.” Yet in spite of his Pulitzers, he rejoiced in the simple things, as evidenced in his poem Happiness. His simplicity is also illustrated by what is not on the property. There still exists a concrete-lined hole in the front yard because once he bought the estate, Carl had the fountain removed because he thought it was too pretentious!
We ended our visit by strolling down to the goat dairy established by Sandberg’s wife Paula. She was a tour de force in her own right, and among other things, a linguist, literature teacher, activist and champion breeder of Nubian and Swiss goats. Bottlefed since birth, the friendly descendants of the Sandburg herd are quite unafraid of humans. And they still win awards for their milk production.
We were a little late for dinner at our workshop, but we were heartily welcomed nonetheless by the poet Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, the creator of this wonderful online poetry community that now boasts thousands of subscribers.
On our first evening, we were treated to the toe-tapping rhythms of Twin Courage, fronted by Rachael Gallman and Jayne’s son Jaron Ferrer. Their music is influenced by the writing of Ray Bradbury and their own affinity for the natural world (“Black Bear” was a favorite of mine!). The two-day workshop (even amidst unexpected Saturday rain) brought fellowship and instruction. The participants, poets across the nation, learned from celebrated writers Richard Allen Taylor, Dana Wildsmith, Phebe Davidson and Joe Mills. We tackled topics such as line length, images, metaphors, and poetic devices, all important tools in the poet’s backpack.
On Saturday night, we enjoyed hearing from our workshop leaders and each other, as we took turns reading from our own work. A highlight was Mary’s poem “Orange,” which magically wove together Halloween and the flight of monarch butterflies.
Alas, it seemed that Sunday came all too soon and we had to say goodbye to many new friends, but we eagerly traded hugs and email addresses so I hope we’ll stay in touch.
On the way home, we stopped by the mountaintop home of Mary’s friends Lynn and Ben, where we savored a last glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here we were treated to Mexican Tabouli Salad, which I’m happy to say is my latest obsession!
Want more poetry? Don’t forget to join us for the October 23 Open Mic reading at CCCC! Here students and members of the public alike will have the opportunity to read from their work for up to 6 minutes.