Friday, January 29, 2021

Perseverance: a Message from the Past


"Clinging Juniper"


by Joyce Wycoff

Two hundred years ago today Nanzan brushed
perseverance on a scroll and added his chop.
Did he know I would need that message
on this very day when my spirit dropped?

What was he doing on that day
long ago that focused him so
on this one word among all others?

I see him sitting there, brush in hand,
ink pots ready, rice paper stretched flat:
His heart dripping rejection onto the paper,
His mind retracing the long, circular track.

What dream had just died?  What
long-held belief turned brown on that
winter day?  Which lover walked away?

See him as his chest rises on a deep
inhale and releases in a day-long sigh.
He looks around, sees what no longer is,
Picks up his brush and puts away why.

What brings him back to this place 
of paper and ink?  What solace is there
in this forming of art from pain?

We see him bent over the page, characters
flowing, his graceful, steady hand 
sending his only gift down the days and
hours straight into the waiting pool of our minds.  
What bridge carries his touch across two
hundred years to give me the strength
to pick up my choices once more?

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Amanda Gorman: The hill she climbs

Click here for Amanda Gorman at the 2021 Inauguration.

Amanda Gorman decided to be president long before she was chosen as the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration. In her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” she alludes to a speech impediment but it wasn’t evident in her presentation.

When I found a video of her presenting at a Moth GrandSlam almost four years earlier, I had a better idea of how far she has come. (She won that competition held at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, 2017.) 

Wikipedia provides some background on Gorman who was raised by her single mother, Dr. Joan Wicks, a sixth grade teacher, and two siblings, including her twin sister Gabrielle.
Gorman has an auditory processing disorder and is hypersensitive to sound. She also had a speech impediment during childhood. Gorman participated in speech therapy during her childhood and Elida Kocharian of The Harvard Crimson wrote in 2018, "Gorman doesn't view her speech impediment as a crutch—rather, she sees it as a gift and a strength. Gorman told The Harvard Gazette in 2018, 

"I always saw it as a strength because since I was experiencing these obstacles in terms of my auditory and vocal skills, I became really good at reading and writing. I realized that at a young age when I was reciting the Marianne Williamson quote that "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure" to my mom"
While she looks younger than her 22 years, Amanda already has a long history of accomplishments and firsts:
  • Youth poet laureate of Los Angeles (16)
  • Published poetry book The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough (17)
  • Founded the nonprofit organization One Pen One Page, a youth writing and leadership program (18)
  • The first author to be featured on XQ Institute's Book of the Month, a monthly giveaway to share inspiring Gen Z's favorite books
  • Wrote a tribute for black athletes for Nike
  • First youth poet to open the literary season for the Library of Congress (19)
  • First person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate (19)
  • One of Glamour magazine's 2018 "College Women of the Year” (20)
During the week before the inauguration, she told Washington Post book critic Ron Charles, "My hope is that my poem will represent a moment of unity for our country" and "with my words, I'll be able to speak to a new chapter and era for our nation.”

After her inaugural reading, Hillary Clinton tweeted her support for Gorman's 2036 presidential aspiration. At the rate Amanda Gorman is going, she might just make her sixth grade dream a reality.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Warrior Spirits, Art as Writing Prompt

Flying Teepees by Becky Ripley

Recently, Becky Ripley shared her amazing art with me in the form of a set of greeting cards. I coveted them too much to think about sending them to others, so I began to take each one as a writing prompt. It amazes me to see how these images take me into unexpected territory.

Here's the writing that came from this sparkling image:

Warrior Spirits

It is said that when a brave one is lost in battle, Great Spirit lures him home with a glowing teepee. Hidden by moon and stars, these bright sanctuaries can only be seen by spirits as they leave torn bodies behind, and by a few heart-pained land-walkers.

After a great battle, these golden banners shine in the night sky, beckoning the broken warriors, reflecting the river of tears to come, heralding a time of mourning. Throughout three days and three nights, the shining path flames, while flute players sing their spirit-healing songs and beating drums call the warrior spirits to their next journey in another land.

For three and thirty nights, the land melds into the blood and bones. Winds carry the sounds of grief through the leafless fingers of trees while coyotes howl in fury as the earth beneath them cracks. 

Much is lost; little is gained.
Other Art as Writing Prompt Images:

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Love Letter to my life #31: Some love letters are hard to write

by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)    

We in the United States of America have not experienced war on our own shores. We haven’t seen bodies piling up in the streets, or walked through the rubble surrounded by snags of bombed-out buildings. Some of our older neighbors remember the rationing of sugar and meat, but only those of us who have come from other countries have directly experienced the famine of a years-long war or the presence of armed invaders parading past our homes. 
Perhaps that’s why January 6 has hit us so hard. We’ve seen … on the news … genocide caused by tribalism in other countries. We’ve seen the creeping devastation of the Israel/Palestine conflict … on the news. We’ve seen the before and after pictures of the Middle East, again on the news. 

Now, in our own living rooms, we have watched deadly conflict taking place in an icon of our country. We are hearing our own neighbors call for insurrection and civil war. We are holding our breath as what has been a routine rite-of-passage … our peaceful transfer of power ... becomes a powder keg of potential conflict. 

This letter is supposed to be a love letter to my life. This month, it’s hard. If I draw a small circle around my life, it is still wonderful: I’m healthy, connected to family and friends, have a roof over my head, food in my cupboards, and a beautiful oak forest surrounding me.

However, if I draw the circle a bit larger, people are suffering and dying from an out-of-control virus as well as hatred between neighbors. An even larger circle finds us listening to the groaning of our planet from the wounds we have inflicted on it.

I remind myself that other civilizations, other countries, have died, and yet humans have survived. I remind myself that even if humans do not survive, our planet will survive and repopulate itself with other species … perhaps with species more wise than we have been. Those reminders are cold comfort as my heart breaks thinking about all the young people who will be impacted by our decisions.

I am grateful to be alive, grateful for my wonderful small circle, and hope to be able to write a different kind of love letter next month. 
May we become wiser and kinder in the coming days.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Olalaberry Lonesome

Olalaberry Lonesome

by Joyce Wycoff

Words call like forgotten lovers,
detouring sleep into lost alleyways.

    Ambergris … aardvark
    Adenoids … alchemy
    Aubergine … apoplectic
    Abattoir … argle-bargle
Jigsaw puzzle pieces … 
Seventeen sometimes … 
Dusty, wind-blown words 
follow Highway 66 
like high plains drifters. 

    Dweeb … dangle
    Doggerel … decidophobia
    Dillydally … doodle
    Dandelion … dotish

Every lost word frazzle-worn
from endless attention clamoring

    Calamity … catacombs
    Cabochon … cabriolet
    Candescent … calumny 
    Candalabra … constellate

Purple words with chartreuse edges.  
Dusty, old maid words left too long on the shelf.
Zingy words, here today and  tomorrow … poof!

    Pabulum … paparazzi  
    Pattycake … pendulum
    Panache … palpable
    Pandemonium … pecuniary

Lonely, lost, abandoned, alone,
Solo, solitary, isolated, inconsolable,
Deserted, desolate, empty, estranged,
Rejected, renounced, forgotten, forsaken.

Waiting to be embraced, entwined,
Folded, fondled, cradled and cuddled,
Hugged and held once again 
In the family of words.

    Warp … washout
    Wheelhouse … whiffle
    Wondermonger … warble
    Whack … wobble

Olalaberry lonesome no more.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Tohubohu message from the trees

This morning, I awoke with a new word in my inbox: tohubohu … a state of chaos or total confusion. Seemed like a perfect word for these days when the bedrock of our democratic republic has been under attack, not by foreign intruders but by our neighbors. 

I paid homage to this new word, crafting a colorful meme to post later on social media, then went for my morning walk. It’s a chilly, January morning tempered by full sun and sky laced only with cirrus threads ... a combination that always makes my spirit turn cartwheels in delight to be alive, to see one more day of beauty and walk through the trees quietly sending me oxygen and life. 

I inhale deeply and their generous gift brings tears to my eyes. It made me wonder why I would stay in a state of tohubohu when I am surrounded by the most amazing beauty and birdsong. The trees don’t tell me about chaos and violence; the birds don’t whisper stories about my neighbors; the quiet doesn’t fill my brain with moldy spaghetti thoughts.

Returning to my tiny home in this oak woodland, I find the internet down. Although my phone is a hot spot backup,  I sat in my favorite, comfy chair (there are only two), striped by the warming sun, and decided to extend the moment, letting words meander along their own paths while the cinnamoned coffee warmed me.

The world goes on without me. Good guys will do good things. Bad guys will do bad things. And, everyone in the middle will follow their beliefs or their hearts, kiss their kids, post puppy pictures, put on their work pajamas and try to make sense of their day and the world around them. 

Nothing will change as I sit here watching the rythymic dance of the oak branches while a gray squirrel digs for the acorn he buried months ago, waiting for just this moment of hunger to uncover his stash.

I do wonder though … what word occupies the other end of the spectrum from tohubohu? ... Peace? Contentment? Order? Understanding? 
Maybe rutabaga, sound cousin to tohubohu, and the purplish-orange root vegetable I just hacked apart and fed to the Instapot of lentil soup-to-be. The internet is down so I can't plunge pell mell into Googleland and find the source of such a word as rutabaga. However, its final ahhh sound seems friendlier than the weeping sound of tohubohu.

So, I’ll take it. I’m going to spend today being all rutabaga and leave tohubohu behind.

Postscript: The internet is back and I found out that rutabaga is a Swedish word meaning, basically, a bunch of roots. Wikipedia is a favorite, but it doesn’t have much of a sense of humor or romance. 
Postscript #2: A Facebook friend adds to the understanding of this word:
'Tohu' and 'bohu' are actually 2 very ancient words, meaning similar but not identical things. They came down to our modern day from one of the oldest books that has survived, the Bible. Specifically, the second verse of the first book of the Bible. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was an UNFORMED WASTELAND (Hebrew: tohu) and DESOLATELY EMPTY (Hebrew: bohu), darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters." The words are used 2 other places in the Hebrew Scriptures: Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23. To me, these historical usages and antecedent meanings of the two words add a profound depth of meaning to them.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

My 4-week 4-hour Body Commitment

 DAY 1: 1/3/2021 

I am a 75-year-old, covid-haired woman who has been carrying around 25 pounds (35 if I were being honest) of extra baggage most of my adult life. Today is the day I change … with the help from one of the most unlikely sources, prompted by a horrific year that we just tossed into the dustbin, and a complete turnaround on the way I have looked at many things.

My guide: Tim Ferriss came into my awareness shortly after his mega-hit The 4-hour Workweek stormed the best-seller lists. I dismissed it as a gimmick and refused to open it even as it stayed on the best-seller list for four years. 
I’ve always thought of myself as open minded; I may need to challenge that belief

The prompt: A pandemic that turned the world upside down and sparked a personal commitment to sucking all the juice from life while I could. Result: a shift to a different life-style, closer to nature, with more time for walking, reading, and contemplating. Enter podcasts … many podcasts … with a favorite turning out to be Tim Ferriss’s.

The turnaround: I tiptoed into Ferriss’s podcast, determined not to like his macho self, writing him off as just another egotistical, materialistic marketing wonder, all fluff, no substance. One podcast led to another … and they are LONG, sometimes close to 2-hours … and, gradually, I came to respect Tim’s meticulous research, his ability to draw out amazing stories and practices from fascinating people.  Soon, I became a devoted fan … of the podcast, but not his books.

When the new year tiptoed in, I wondered what I would make of it. Before I even had a chance to mull over the possibilities, I was startled to find myself on my Kindle, downloading Tim Ferriss’s The 4-hour Body book. The ground had been plowed as I listened to a podcast on my way home the second day of the new year. Podcaster Guy Raz was interviewing Tim Ferriss and it was the first time I had heard his story and my predispositions began to shift. 

Listen here:

How I Built This — Key Lessons, Critical Decisions, 
and Reinvention for Fun and Profit (#489)

I was only going to read the free sample of The 4-hour Body, but wound up accidentally ordering the book (something I have never done before). Thinking I’d reach the end of the sample and then make a decision about whether I was going to do this thing that I had failed at so repeatedly over the past several decades, I just kept reading. 

I was 95% committed before I realized I had made an ordering error. I could have told amazon that I had ordered it accidentally. But, I didn’t. I was in. I wanted to know if I could follow his process and succeed in a part of my life that was littered with failure.

So here I am. I'm not about to share one of those revealing, “before" pictures although I did take a couple. Vomit. I am going to use this space as my accountability partner.

Tim’s process (we’re now on a first-name basis in my mind) starts here:

    “For a long time, I’ve known 
that the key to getting started 
down the path of being remarkable in anything 
is to simply act with the intention 
of being remarkable.” 
— Tim Ferriss

5 Slow-Carb Recomp Rules
(Tim calls it a diet, the worst four-letter word I know.
He also introduced me to the word "recompositioning" ...
meaning losing fat and gaining muscle.)


Eat protein, legumes and vegetables with every meal. Eat enough not to be hungry, approximately four hours apart. Meals will be repetitive and effective … but not fun. Make a list of all of your cravings and eat them on the DAY OFF**.

Eat 30 grams of protein within an hour of waking up. Take photos of everything you eat ... before you eat it.

** For those of us who have traveled the long road of weight loss, this "day off" sounds absolutely absurd! (But totally fun.)

My commitment: 
  • Follow Tim’s plan for four weeks. Then re-assess. 
  • Take photos of food before eating for at least one week.
  • Blog update every Sunday. 
Caveat: Make your own decision
Before posting this, I read all the 1-Star reviews on amazon. 3 said the program didn't work, 2 said chapters were missing, some didn't like Tim, and some thought it was a waste of money.
I also read many of the 5-Star reviews (there were over 3K). It's obvious his target market is young males.

I'm intrigued enough to make a four-week commitment and will give you my feedback along the way.