Sunday, January 27, 2019

Building a Free Ebook--Tri-Odd

I haven't published anything for a while beyond my blog--and I'm interested in getting back into my independent publishing part of my writing. Therefore, I'm putting together a free ebook of three flash fictions stories that were published in three online magazines a little less than ten years ago.

  • "Cull," in Metazen, 2010 (magazine no longer active)
  • "Spider," in Every Day Fiction, 2010
  • "In the Beginning," 365 tomorrows
I mention these three and more in a blog post, "A Cat Has Nine Lives--How Many a Writer?" that summarizes my publishing over the last years. I've tried quite a few different genres and formats!

I am glad that in this small way I'm refreshing my publishing sites, reviewing the steps of publishing, and reviving my writing beyond blogging. I'm also enjoying reminding myself how to do some basic work with photos in order to create blog headers and book covers. All good--and useful--skills.

It's a cold, cold Iowa winter, my wife's gone on business, and I'm looking forward to exploring a new publishing venture. Without cost to me or my readers, no worries! I'll let you know when the ebook is available.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The "Metacognitive" Blog Article

Camping with a teardrop or tiny trailer has many advantages not available with larger RVs.
For the author, writing when camping is a part of his glamping.
I'm sure this has been done before--lots--but I don't know the name for the blogging technique where the blog writer/administrator writes an additional piece that utilizes content from earlier, similar posts. Metacognitive means "thinking about thinking," and I use the term for this post to describe a post that reflects on the content, themes, and ideas contained in a blog's prior articles. Since my most active blog at this time is my camping blog, Green Goddess Glamping, I will reference that blog for illustrative examples of "metacognitive blogging."

I created Green Goddess Glamping almost six months ago and have posted twenty-six articles as of now, mid January. Learning from my earlier blogs, I have limited my labels for posts to eight, hoping I never get over a dozen. Too many labels, I feel, become so cumbersome that the organizing device stops working. The labels I've created so far are the following: Camp Cooking, Camp Routines, Gearing Up, Glamping, Holiday Themes, The First Expeditions, Why a Tiny Trailer? and Tiny Trailer Owner Profiles.

As I'm writing this in January, camping season is on hiatus--either that or I camp in single digit to below-zero weather. Analyzing the articles I've written, I realize that some posts have similarities, and since my opportunities for camping travelogues are zeroed out right now, one writing opportunity for the GGG blog is to reflect and write retrospectives utilizing content from previous posts. One such recently published article, which analyzes the content of three earlier blog posts, is "Why Choose a Teardrop or Tiny Trailer?" These three original articles had some diversity, being labeled under the categories of Why a Tiny Trailer?, Glamping, and The First Expeditions. Although the original articles had diverse focus, each did include the theme of the rewards of minimalist trailer camping.

Developing "Why Choose a Teardrop or Tiny Trailer?" not only creates new content for the GGG camping (and also this) blog, I'm also directing readers back to earlier articles by providing links, thereby encouraging them to spend more time on my site. The camping article also utilizes keywords for search engines because the article focuses on a topic or current interest for my website's content: teardrop or tiny camping trailers; that focus is positive and not contrived because it is a relevant topic explored in a useful manner.

My parents' mode of travel on their honeymoon, 1946.
The concept or "recycling" or reusing previous content is not new. I remember reading a while back about a freelance writer who traveled to a city and experiencing its charms--and then wrote three articles for various publications: one about the tourist sites, one about food, and a third about one of the city's historical sites. The author explained this as simply an efficient use of time. The same can be said for revisiting previously written blog posts. Some (and perhaps most) will contain facets that were in shadow during the first telling but which can be revealed to good effect with a shift of perspective a new article provides.

All three camping articles I used for my new article dealt with concepts relating to having a fulfilling camping experience, an experience with "a balance of simplicity and comfort, ease and elegance." Each article illustrates a different facet of that positive, balanced camping experience. Each article provides examples of how camping in a tiny trailer provides a unique, satisfying camping experience.
My reflective, "metacognitive" overview of my camping experience as revealed in specific a blog post is first of all instructive to me, providing me with clues as to how I can personally increase the rewards of camping. It is instructive for me both in terms of personal pursuits and also as the owner of a tiny trailer. The focus of the article also increases its impact; by targeting a specific audience, the article differentiates itself from more general articles. If we write not only to teach but also to learn, then "metacognitive blogging" allows a writer to both reflect and publish, a win-win writing situation.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Nine Years Since Publishing "Bare Ruined Choirs"

It's been nine years since I published my poetry book Bare Ruined Choirs, and I'm still proud of those poems.

Writing poetry is certainly different than prose--more than usual meaning and manner, to paraphrase the Romantics. Writing those poems took time, often years. I was in no hurry to "finish" a poem; the process of revising and refining itself was fulfilling. The poems in the book suggest the life cycle of a relationship, from first meeting to last good-bye.

Autobiographical? Of course . . . but not exactly. Beginning with personal experience or emotion, the process of refinement was a movement from personal and specific to universal. I think this is true of all art, discovering the ocean in a drop of water.

So in celebration of how those poems resonate with the universal ocean of life, of which my poems and I are but a drop, I post today these words and cover photo of my book.

Here is a link to two poems from the book, audio recordings by me of "Sleeping Magnolia" and "I Forgive Your Death."

Saturday, December 22, 2018

What Is the Purpose of My Life?

As I sit to write at early, early Friday morning on the winter solstice, a north wind blows outside and the sun has not yet risen. Sunrise is two hours away, and as I walked in the darkness this morning to the garage for a galvanized metal bucket so that I could empty the ashes from the woodstove, it was not excessively cold but rather just under freezing. Even the north wind with its bite was not ravenous.

The fire is busy now warming, my wife sits beside the stove drinking tea and enjoying the dancing light of the fire, and I type out words to explore: What Is the Purpose of My Life? I write these words without heaviness. This is no dark night of the soul. Purpose reminds me of Archibald MacLeish's poem "Ars Poetica," which ends with “A poem should not mean / But be.” The Poetry Foundation tells us that this poem is just one of a long series of poetic meditations on the art of poetry, and provides a number of references.

If art mirrors life, then it can be said that our lives are not meant to mean but be, that who we are is more important than what we do, that who we are is the foundation of what we do. Being precedes becoming. I think of my life: I am a man, a teacher, a husband, a father, a writer. "I am" is the foundation and the continuity. "Man, teacher, husband, father, writer"--the list could continue forever, for howsoever many words or concepts exist, and then simply flip the polarity and define oneself by what one is not: I am not a woman, a monk, a surgeon, a danseur, a diamond. That which remains steady is that continuity of consciousness, that "I am."

I remember--one of my earliest memories at four or five years of age--when my family lived "out in the sticks," as my father said, in Northern California, near the Feather River in the black oaks of the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I was out by myself, walking our long gravel-and-red-dirt driveway, and I stopped before a tangle of brush beside a gnarled digger pine tree. It was as if I were passing a neighbor and stopping for a hello. My awareness recognized another awareness, yet "my" and "other" are misleading words--more that I looked into a mirror and saw myself looking back: my eyes looking into my eyes looking into my eyes, an infinite loop of awareness. I said my greetings and moved on, but I have always had a special fondness for digger pines, a conifer with long, gray needles, the seeds from its large cones eaten by the Maidu Indians, who were the indigenous to that area.

When I grew up and moved away to college, there was a tree on the UC Davis campus that I would sit beneath and rest and read, a digger pine. Although I never hugged those trees, they connected me. I find my "retired" self now remembering that digger pine as it leaned toward the sun and so silent yet so alive, its roots reaching deep into the subsoil to find moisture; find myself remembering the rough bark of that pine on the college campus, my back pressing to its rough surface. It's as if my roots reach back through the years of experiences and memories to those early beginnings of an awareness of silence, a commonality of consciousness, as if those silent trees taught me how to dig deep into the soil of my being. Awareness curves back upon itself and perceives the continuity, sun warm upon a young face and woodstove warmth upon an elder. First we are; then we grow, expand, and take joy in our expansion. First the stillness, then the myriad bustle of the world.

I published in 2009 a book of poetry, Bare Ruined Choirs, and one of the poems in the book is "Winter Solstice," first published in 1993 in the Hiram Poetry Review. It's about reaching back, reaching deep, about our infinite depths and the roots of our lives.

Winter Solstice

Clouds like branches heavy with fruit
sag in the sky above the orchard,
raindrops leaning toward their long fall.
Day greys, moss blurs the being of stones,
horizons erode, ravines ruin the sky.

If I could gather enough silence,
I would root myself to this moment,
turn the inedible rind of the seasons
to rhymes ringed in the flesh,
to plum leaves drifting from the branch.

The worm breaches the red flesh of the plum;
leaves burst green from our scars.
The storm works in wet rhythms above me,
air fringed with beads, dark with cloud.
Rain drops from eaves, craters the stillness.

Beyond branches, tendrils of cloud
twine the seams of trellised sunlight,
break through this least of days.
Cloud, rain, this thicket of the sky.
Leaves burst green from our scars.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Book Review: Wild--from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I came to this book via the back door, a little over fifteen years after Wild--from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was published. The book's author, Cheryl Strayed, had authored an article for Vogue magazine on glamping, the angle being the Queen of the PCT taking on glamourous camping. I wrote up a response to the article after some research on Strayed, published it on my tiny trailer camping blog ("How Does Vogue Magazine View Glamping?"), and then ordered Wild for a read. I was not disappointed, Strayed displaying a strong ability to vividly describe both her experience of the Pacific Crest Trail and also the mental landscape of her gruelling challenge, not to mention her early-life challenges that brought her to the trailhead.
"At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her." (web page blurb)
The book reminded me of Miles from Nowhere, Barbara Savage's chronicle of a bicycle tour around the world. Both Savage and Strayed begin without experience, endure hardships, and prevail. Strayed's story, though, is much more wild, at least her life prior to the journey. The lost-to-found subtitle is appropriate for the book, for the first section describes Strayed's descent into her wilderness of despair. Both books won awards, and Strayed's Wild was the first selection for Oprah's Book Club 2.0. The book was also adapted to cinema in the movie Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. The book strikes a balance between Strayed's struggle and her indomitable desire to persevere. I'm not sure if the visual adaptation can as successfully maintain that balance. Reading Strayed's recollection and reflection on family abuse and heroin addiction is a different experience than watching its cinematographic representation.

Thank goodness the pre-journey set-up is not too long, and thank goodness that there is a years-after objectivity to Strayed's description of  her travail, a knowingness by the reader that she did make it through. This, at least for me, increased my attention on the author's fortitude and just plain stubbornness as she struggles her way to the PCT's trailhead and then plunges into her wild adventure--unprepared, ignorant, out of shape, and with a knowingness that she had nothing to lose. A great deal of the pleasure of reading this narrative was to witness the slow (and painful) progression of the author to both inner and outer strength. As the story progressed and the author grew more trail savvy, the story developed its own momentum, its own increasingly headlong dash to self-actualization.

I bicycle camp, tucking my living not into my backpack but into my bike's panniers. Wild made me want to hit the trail, and not just because of the author's turnaround of her lifestream. Her ability to describe the beauty of the trail, even with its many challenges, was revelatory: sun and sky, earth and stone, the green world and the clouds and rain.

Over fifteen years later, Strayed glamps for Vogue, and even with tent-cabins and massages and gourmet meals at the lodge, she still narrows the experience of the wild to being outside, blue sky above and mountain smells as the feet hit the trail. The unbounded immensity of nature, whether inside us or outside, is there really a difference? There need not be. Beneath the grime of the toil of the trail lies the bare bones of the earth--or the bare bones of the soul, beautiful in their austerity, in their sharp, hard lines. One reviewer praised the narrative because of the power of the author's voice, and I can concur. The author in this book has found her voice, a voice speaking with authenticity from the wilderness. If we step onto the trail, we can hear its haunting song.