December marks time like no other month.
Tomorrow the winter solstice brings us the shortest day of the year followed by the longest night ... and days later, the end of one year and the beginning of another.
I’m thinking about how I can add light to my days and mark new beginnings. Not just new beginnings on the calendar, or the light from longer days, but the light and change that comes from doing things differently, seeing things in new light, and being curious.
Last week we had a snow storm ... a big one. Most of us got anywhere from 18 - 24 inches. And as it so often happens, the next day it was glorious. Sunny and bright and fresh.
After the storm, we took a ride ... uptown to State Street, left at Longfellow Square ... and there it was. A rainbow. Shimmering in the windblown snow hanging in the air.
This week's calendar ...
Thursday is Egg Nog Day. Are you a fan?
You'll also see that today is Poet Laureate Day. Because the statue in the rainbow photograph is poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, I want to share a post I did a while ago on blackout poetry.
Follow this link to read more about Longfellow and blackout poetry, and give it a try. Use it to create a poem. Stick it to the refrigerator or mail it to someone. It may add new light to your day.
After all, you could be a poet and don't even know it.
Even if you don't want to try the exercise, click through to read Longfellow's poem, Holidays anyway. It's fitting for this holiday season ... one that is so very different from so many others. Read it and let me know what you think.
And if you create a poem, share it with me. I'd love to read it.
p.s. There's also a link in the post to Robert Frost's poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. You can read the poem and find out why it's one of my favorites.
A less intimidating approach to journaling
This is my second hand-made journal. The first was the October journal - 10 pages folded in half to make 40 pages. At least one page for every day of the month.
I decided to create my own journal book because big, blank journal books are intimidating. So many pages to fill compounded with the idea that the pages should look good, my handwriting should be at it's best, and what I write should matter.
But I've discovered those things don't matter. With a small, monthly journal, the pressure is off.
Why have a journal?
My goal is to write once a day. To mull over what I'm trying to get done, how it's going, and what I need to do next. To ask questions of myself. Writing helps me work through the tough stuff, make sense of what's baffling, and record my progress...and success. However small.
And I get to create a new cover design each month.
In the front of last month's journal I wrote two goals for the month. To finish my letter writing book and a book about birds and birding.
I accomplished the first. Still working on the second.
To be honest, I forgot that I wrote my goals in the front of the book. When I flipped through the book at the end of the month, it caught me by surprise. The other thing that caught me by surprise was that I wasn't disappointed that I hadn't completed both.
I'm thrilled that I completed my first goal (I'm waiting for the final proof of A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice to arrive in the mail today(!)), and I'm working on the second.
The second book is underway, but far from complete. I think the reason I felt okay about it all was that I've been working on it. Making steady progress.
It's hard to know exactly how long it will take, but I do want to push myself and try to finish it by the end of the month.
What I'm discovering, though, is that working toward something is just as important as finishing it by a certain date. The work is the reward. It makes me feel productive, engaged, and ... just better.
And that's why I wrote, "Just the beginning..." on the cover of this month's journal. Because after I finish the birds and birding book, I've got another idea, and another. And that means beginning ... all over again.
Every day is the beginning of something. Maybe it's because something ended yesterday, maybe it's because we discover a new approach, trick, or method, and we're starting in a new direction.
The key is to keep going. Plugging away at things. It's amazing what can get done.
Every day we begin. We can toss aside a bad habit or distraction and focus on something we deem more important. Or not.
If it doesn't work today because you're tired, or not feeling well, or someone needs something you can't put off, you can begin again tomorrow.
It's up to us to do what we tell ourselves we're going to do. Because in the end that's what matters most. I don't want to disappoint anyone ... but most of all, I don't want to disappoint myself.
What are you beginning?
And give them something to hold on to
It's hard being apart from the people you love and like best. Texts, phone calls, and social media are great, but sometimes it's just not enough.
What can you do?
Write a letter. Yes, an old-fashioned pen on paper letter. And mail it. Write to a friend or family member. Tell them you're thinking about them. Write about what's happening in the neighborhood, that disaster of a recipe you cooked last night. Or the yummy cookies you baked today.
No, it won't replace a hug or having a conversation across the kitchen table, but it will give them something to hold onto.
And people love getting mail. They really do.
Embarrassed by your handwriting?
A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice will help.
Was you school one of the schools that dropped cursive writing from the curriculum? Has it been a while since you've handwritten ... well, anything?
A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice has instructions for writing each letter of the alphabet, tips for improving your handwriting, and all you need to get started writing letters:
- ideas for who to write to and what to write about
- how to address an envelope
- where to the stamp
- how to set up your letter
Springsteen's newest title track and album: Letter to You
For true fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, every song is like a love letter. But this new release, "Letter to You," really is a love letter. A letter to who? We don't really know. About what? He doesn't say.
That's not the point.
The song is a reminder that letters are a way for us to exchange our thoughts, ideas, and feelings. A unique and personal way of sharing ourselves with one another.
Listen here, think about someone you could write to, and as Springsteen does, grab a pen send a letter.
Last night we saw fireflies in the corner lot where the grass grows tall.
We stopped so we could see more, and again and again, we pointed and said, "There's one. Over there." And, "Wow!"
Now I want to go back and see them again.
Qwirky, QWERTY Love: It’s Typewriter Day!
Last year I wrote a love letter to my typewriter and I want to share it with you.
When I composed the letter, I included as many typewriter terms and sounds as possible:
- cap lock
- royal (Royal)
- space bar
Each typewriter has a different touch on the keyboard and unique bell tone. I typed the love letter on my Olivetti Lettera 35 (with great care ... nearly holding my breath, straight through, with no mistakes...whew!).
Do you have a typewriter? What do you write on your typewriter? The manuscript for a book? Poetry? Love letters? I write lots of letters ... and sometimes, love letters.
p.s. What is QWERTY love? QWERTY comes from the first five letters on the upper left of the keyboard. The term is used to identify the standard layout on an English language keyboard. I do love my typewriter(s)!
Three words on a signboard in front of a local church. Hope was at the top, coming soon sat at the bottom of the sign, referring I’m sure to the day they might welcome parishioners inside. The words weren’t meant to be one phrase, but that’s how I saw it. I like to think hope is all around us ... it’s good to know more is on the way.
I HeARd the CaRDiNal siNGing before I saw it
PerCHeD in the BiRcH tree
a CAt LOOkiNG At mE, LOOkiNG at iT
And, ONe MoRe SaP BUCket
tHat MaKes ThrEE
This is a throwback: a collage and poem I created a few years ago. It's still one of my favorites. You can see I was starting to use sheet music in my work.
It's also got a bit of shorthand mixed in: that line with the dot below it.
Do you know what it means? Morning. That simple line with a dot = a word.
Shorthand is a symbolic writing system used by office clerks and secretaries before voice recorders were available. I'm not fluent in shorthand. It comes from a shorthand instruction book I found at a secondhand shop. The book has an index, so it's easy to pull a single word.
It's like code writing because so few people still know shorthand. Don't you think it would be great for a secret diary or message? One big drawback, though, you'd have to learn shorthand to make it work.
And the poem?
I don't consider myself a poet, but sometimes I like to combine words with images to tell short stories. I don't remember now why I used upper and lower case letters for the poem, but it does make it interesting.
If you'd like to write more, short poems could be a starting point.
Not my hobby.
Even if you don't stick with it, a new hobby might lead to something else. I haven't done much more with poetry, but the collage was the beginning of a lot more collage work. I now work entirely with sheet music and really like collage.
Do you have a hobby that started while you were doing something else?
This post is a continuation of the May theme, birds and birding.
If you have ideas or work you'd like to share, get in touch. I'd love to see what you're doing.
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The first time I saw her, she was tucked in a corner behind bars in the entryway to the Portland Public Library. I might not have noticed her that day, or any other, if it wasn’t for the whirlwind of dried leaves and rubbish swirling at the base of the statue.
It was the Little Water Girl, a charming bronze statue of a young girl, and I wondered who she was.
I did some research and found an amazing story, and it made me wonder about other statues in the city.
There’s the The Hiker in Deering Oaks park, the Lobsterman in Canal Plaza, filmmaker John Ford in Gorham’s Corner, and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Congress Square. Each one revealing more history and intrigue than I could have imagined. I uncovered information about a poet and a filmmaker, yellow journalism, a horse named Madge, Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, air pollution, prohibition, and the World’s Fair.
After doing my research, I wanted a record of what I found, so I wrote essays and created posters for some of the statues. Here are three of them.
Little Water Girl
Barefoot with outstretched arms, the Little Water Girl is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Lillian Stevens, a dedicated advocate for women and children, and the third president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
Founded in 1874, to “combat the destructive powers of alcohol and the problems it was causing their families and society,” the WCTU banded together in prayer, protest, and pledge—a pledge of total abstinence from alcohol.
Prohibition and Water Fountains
In an effort to curb the temptation of saloons the WCTU fought for Prohibition, encouraging members to install public drinking fountains in their communities where “men could get a drink of water without entering saloons and staying for stronger drinks.”
The Little Water Girl is one of those fountains.
In support of the WCTU, Lillian Stevens a committed and independent woman, traveled by carriage with her horse Madge some 50,000 miles lobbying for Prohibition.
Ratified five years after Stevens’s death, Prohibition didn't last, but more than 70 fountains inspired by the WCTU initiative remain standing across the United States, in Canada, England, and Australia.
The Little Water Girl by British sculptor George E. Wade was commissioned by the WCTU for display at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Copies of statue can be found in Chicago, Detroit, and London.
Note: Why was the Little Water Girl behind bars? She was moved to the secure, gated entrance to the Portland Public Library after she was vandalized in Deering Oaks park. When the library was renovated, the Little Water Girl was restored as a working fountain and moved inside. Today she greets patrons as they enter the library.
Although the Hiker is larger than life and perched on a six-foot pedestal, the Spanish War Veterans memorial on the north lawn of Deering Oaks Park is easy to overlook.
But do look—it’s a beautiful statue.
From the soldier’s wadded and rolled sleeves to the leather satchel reminiscent of today’s messenger bag, the details are captivating. The Hiker is sculptor Theo A.R. Kitson’s most well-known work—more than 50 copies of the statue are installed across the country.
Under the rallying cry “Remember the Maine,” the Spanish-American War secured Cuba’s independence and remains one of the shortest wars on record. But that’s only the beginning.
Dig a little deeper and fascinating tales of science, circumstance, and cowboys emerge. For it was during the Spanish-American War that army medical scientist Dr. Walter Reed isolated the cause and stemmed the transmission of yellow fever plaguing the troops; eager journalists and competing publishing magnates gave rise to the dirty business of yellow journalism; and Teddy Roosevelt’s volunteer militia, The Rough Riders, found glory.
It was a short war, but a war with a decidedly jaundice pallor.
Note: There were at least 50 copies of The Hiker cast and placed in cities across the United States from Texas to Minnesota, and Georgia to Maine. Here’s a list of cities where The Hiker was installed. See if there’s one where you live.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
He broke bread and corresponded with the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Dickens.
Born in Portland, Maine, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a linguist, professor, and poet.
A graduate of Bowdoin College, Longfellow yearned for a life in literature. And so it was.
Under agreement with his alma mater, he set out across the Atlantic to study European language and literature. He would return to teach at Bowdoin and then at Harvard College, but writing would prove to be his vocation.
Longfellow's well-known works include Evangeline, “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” and “Paul Revere’s Ride. He was a best-selling author and enjoyed considerable success with his work but he suffered tremendous loss in his personal life.
His first wife and childhood friend, Mary Storer Potter, died following a miscarriage. And his second wife, Fanny Appleton, with whom he had six children, died after setting her dressing gown afire with candle wax. Forever saddened, Longfellow did little writing after Fanny’s death.
Sculptor Franklin Simmons’s bearded Longfellow sits with a stack of books at his feet and scroll in hand.
Like Longfellow, Simmons was born in Maine and became a well-known artist in his day. A second sculpture by Simmons, Our Lady of Victories stands just blocks away in Monument Square in downtown Portland.
How could you interpret statues and landmarks where you live?
We're all poets, even you(!) ...
I think it was in middle school. The assignment was to memorize and recite a poem. I chose Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
I think I liked it because it sounded poetic, but it also made sense to me.
The poem isn't terribly long, and I practiced well enough to remember now that I felt pretty good when I sat down after my presentation.
I can't say the exercise inspired me to write poetry, but I have churned out a few poems using the blackout poetry method.
It's easy enough, and I've created a worksheet (2 pages) that makes it even easier if you want to give it a try.
Chances are you've got some extra time on your hands, it's Poetry Month afterall, and given the circumstances we're all in, a little distraction goes a long way.
Share the worksheet and invite someone to try it with you.
Here’s what you do. Find a short story or article (a printed page from a newspaper, magazine, an old book, or something you've written). Read through the text and select an anchor word. Something that catches your attention. String together a few others words to form a thought or sentence. Be sure they read as traditional writing does. Left to right, top to bottom.
Blackout the words outside of the words you circled and you’ve got a poem.
Here’s one I did. It's remarkable how simple yet thoughtful is it ... don't you think?
Now it’s your turn.
Click on the poetry sample above to get your worksheet download. It’s two pages (instructions and a short poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) that will get you started.
I selected Longfellow because he was from Maine and he is my choice for a writer/poet.
Longfellow is a prominent figure here in Portland. There’s a fabulous statue of a seated Longfellow at the intersection of Congress and State in downtown Portland. He's positioned so that he's looking down Congress Street, toward the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, his boyhood home and home of the Maine Historical Society.
p.s. Did you pick a writer or author for the April Playbook? Haven’t picked anyone yet? It's not too late, grab the state fact sheet and get started.