Willie & Punkie

Willie & Punkie

Willie & Punkie

Willemma and Delonas were my mother’s two youngest sisters. I am not certain where the “Will” of Willemma came from; but, my grandmother’s name was Emma. Delonas is easier. She was born in 1934. My grandfather was a Roosevelt Democrat.

Their family called them “The Tykes;” but, my grandfather’s cousin referred to them as “The Little Punks.” Delonas got singled out as “The Punk” which became “Punkie.” The name stuck. Willemma got shortened to Willie. They were Willie and Punkie ever after.

Willie and Punkie were, respectively, 11 and 10 years older than I. From the beginning, they were more big sisters than aunts. I thought they were beautiful and I loved them more than I can say.

My sister and I spent summers with them while they were still in high school. They devoted their full attention to us filling our days with lifelong memories.

Every morning after breakfast, they would take us out on the lawn. They swung, chased, summersault-ed, and cartwheel-ed with us. They did handstands and jumped rope. We played ring around the rosy until we were dizzy.

And their hands. I can never forget the almond-cherry smell of their hands. Where did that divine smell come from? It didn’t occur to me to ask. I was determined, though, to find out.

I happened to observe that they ate Grape-Nuts every morning for breakfast. It was after breakfast while playing on the lawn that I noticed the smell of their hands. “Aha! It’s the Grape-Nuts,” my six year old brain concluded.

“Cornflakes or Cheerios, Denny?” Willie asked the next morning.

“Grape-Nuts,” I said.

“You won’t like them.”

“Yes, I will.”

Willie was right. I didn’t like them. But eating them was a small price to pay for cracking the secret of the scent.

Grape-Nuts were a disappointment. After breakfast, Willie and Punkie’s hands were almond-cherry scented. Mine were not.

Jergens ad circa 1957

Simple as 1-2-3 to stop “Detergent Hands”

I was an adult before I learned it was the Jergens lotion they rubbed on their hands after washing the breakfast dishes. Punkie used Jergens her whole life. Willie outgrew Jergens in favor of other, more sophisticated lotions. I will never outgrow memories of my beautiful and almond-cherry scented big-sister-aunts.

(Mis)Understanding Whitman

“To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.” –Walt Whitman

walt-whitmanWalt Whitman is the principal of my pantheon of poets. For 50 years, Whitman has been my muse. To realize I’ve misunderstood him is a serious blow.

In the “Who goes there?” canto (Canto 20) of “A Song of Myself,” Whitman states that the converging objects of the universe flow to him, as though he were an oracle whose job it is to define the objects’ meanings for the rest of us.

That’s not it. “That’s not it at all,” T. S. Eliot might say. Whitman is saying the objects “appear” to him to flow. They appear to be written objects and he must figure out for himself what the objects mean. That’s much different than being an oracle.

In my 50 year relationship with this poem, I have understood it literally rather than metaphorically.

“I’ve got something to show you,” says Michael Goldman’s Muse. “Stand here.” Maybe that’s what Walt has been saying to me. The converging objects of the universe appear to flow. Standing on the bank of the river in which I see the objects flowing, my eye catches a hieroglyph, a metaphor, or a symbol. Like a tarot card or an I Ching tetragram, it inspires interpretation. I must explain what the writing means to me.

I’ve thought of the “Who goes there?” canto as a manifesto or creed. If it is a creed, it’s Whitman’s creed. “These are my symbols,” Whitman might say, “and this is what they mean to me. You have to find your own symbols and write your own interpretation.”

Whitman has been a constant companion who has served me well despite any misunderstanding. The clarity with which I now see the poem deepens my admiration of Whitman’s art putting our relationship on a higher level of understanding.

When the Muse Comes

“When the Muse comes She doesn’t tell you to write; / She says get up for a minute, I’ve something to show you, stand here.” –Michael Goldman

bc-pilgraim-at-tinker-creekIn a previous post I commented on my struggle to read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The Blackstone Audio edition of Pilgrim, narrated by Tavia Gilbert, transformed my struggle into an epiphany.

As difficult as Pilgrim is to read, I am thrilled I found a way to access it. The book’s content is not interesting to me; but, Dillard’s writing style is poetic. The sound of her words, her detailed descriptions, and the exuberance of her feelings are breathtaking. The Muse had something to show Annie. And Annie shows us what she saw from where the Muse told her to stand.

“Show, don’t tell,” writers are told. “Use the words you have to paint pictures.” Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is about seeing; and, Dillard shows us what it means not only to see but to be “present” in the moment. Dillard writes to the bottom of every scene she describes. That’s probably why Pilgrim won the Pulitzer Prize.

I wonder what the Muse wants to show me. She comes and often I catch only a glimpse. Maybe I don’t stand in the right spot.

I’ve felt I was led by the Muse; but, nothing of the depth Dillard describes. I know you can’t just sit and wait for the Muse to tell you where to stand. You have to write. A lot. The Muse can only tell you where to stand if you show up.

I’ve begun writing many times waiting for the Muse. Until I read the lines of Michael Goldman’s poem, I thought writing was taking dictation from the Muse. Goldman turns that idea on its head.

“Stand here,” says the Muse. “What do you see?”

The Muse is not going to tell me what she expects me to see. She’s showing me what is there to see. It is up to me to find the words to describe what I see.

I’ve written enough to know the difference between showing and telling. I can spot it in my writing and I am quick to point it out to fellow writers in critique groups.

We tend to write the way we speak and end up telling because so much of every day speech is telling. We say or show little of the affect of our experiences.

“I’ve something to show you, stand here.” Often what I am shown is a metaphor. When that happens I pay attention. It has happened several times.

Sometimes I resist following the Muse. I’m involved in another project and don’t want to be distracted. I make note of it what the Muse shows me; but, I don’t always get around to writing about it. Ignoring the Muse’s inspiration leaves me spinning my creative wheels as I stubbornly pursue my own agenda.

The Muse is patient and continues to show up with images, scenes, and metaphors. She doesn’t care what you do with them. As long as you show up, the Muse will show up, too.

“Stand here,” says the Muse. My eye catches an object, a metaphor. I don’t take dictation because I have to get what the object means on my own. The Muse’s job is to suggest where to stand to see the scene to its best advantage.

The line from Michael Goldman’s poem handed me a paradigm shift. Reading Dillard’s book has more than served its purpose.

A simple declarative sentence. “Stand here,” says the Muse. See the universe unfold before your eyes.

“Catch it if you can,” says Annie Dillard.

Blogging a Life

blog-pen-44I began journaling 30 years ago. To give my journal a focus, I created an imaginary alter ego to whom I bared my soul. I began blogging seven years ago without knowing to whom I was writing or why. I wrote whatever came to mind and posted it.

I don’t promote a product or a service. I don’t tell or show anyone how to write or how to blog. I observe and comment. What I observe triggers memories. I write about the memories. Often I write about doubt or I pose a question: Why is this situation the way it is?” Before I know it, I’ve written several lines or even pages. The doubt is dispelled and the situation is clarified.

I write with a pen on lined spiral notebook pages. I thought blogging would change my writing process. I tried composing at the computer keyboard but found it a distraction. I am constantly correcting, editing,  and revising. When I write by hand, the words spill on to the page. Later, I transcribe what I’ve written and revise and edit. At times I keep only a small portion of what I wrote to use for a blog post. Other times I find enough for two, three, or four posts. Writing surprises me.

Writing is therapy. Writing is positive addiction. Writing is spiritual practice. My life would be dark without the light writing shines into its corners and dark areas. In Pat Schneider’s words, “writing is how the light gets in.”

Blogging enlarges my life. Through blogging, I engage with others who share my interests, positive attitudes, and gratitude for all life gives me. I was pleased to learn that blogging about my life makes me a “lifestyle” blogger. I have a focus.

Building a Web Site, Creating a Blog, & Gratitude

div-bloggerMy online life began in late 2006. The rationale behind an online existence was to create a space to share aspects of my life with family and friends through writing supplemented with photographs.

With the help of a professional web designer, I built a web site. The web site design was beautiful and functioned exactly as I wanted.

My blogging career began with derwerffblogg, a wordpress.com hosted blog linked to my web site. I chose “people, places, ideas, and events that enrich my life” as the blog’s tag line. I have covered a lot of ground since my first blog post on September 9, 2007.

Maintaining the web site became more work than I wanted. With the development of web technology and content management systems, I discovered a blog was what I wanted.

After five years, I abandoned the web site and moved derwerffblogg from wordpress.com to a self-hosted site using the WordPress platform. That has worked well and I am pleased with my decision.

I’ve gone through dry spells in which I haven’t posted for months. I’ve traveled and kept up the blog on a regular basis. I survived the April 2013 A to Z Blog Challenge.

At present, I am launched on a personal blog challenge, a response to my desire to honor a commitment to write regularly. A blogging buddy with whom I “bookend” keeps me accountable.

The more I reflect on what enriches my life, the more I find I have to be grateful for. So, my blog is both a place for reflection and for gratitude.

As part of my daily writing, I make a gratitude list. Certain things I list daily. Other days, a thought may occur that reminds me I am grateful for one more thing. I add it to my gratitude list.

Focusing on gratitude opens space in my life for more good and more reasons for gratitude; and, gratitude eases stress.

One morning last week I received an email from a friend who follows my blog. “More fine words on your recent ‘blogg,’” she wrote. “I look forward to these little luminaries as they shine into my inbox.”

“Luminaries” that shine into anyone’s inbox are a source of deep gratitude and all the reason I need to continue blogging.