Monday, April 30, 2012

Happiness is...a day in orbit.

I have a friend who is enamored of planes and space ships and things with big engines that soar and fly and circle the stratosphere. This past weekend he and I spent several hours wandering through the Udvar-Hazy air and space museum ogling the evolution of manned and unmanned flight from the earliest of attempts up through the space program and military gadgets of today.

Thanks to his extreme knowledge and passion I got a personal and in-depth tour and explanation of nearly all the vehicles on display.  (It's always fascinating to hear information from someone who is truly excited about something, their enthusiasm is contagious and you can't help but be excited about it too!)

The highlight by far was the newly arrived Space Shuttle Discovery. I missed the grand flyover last week, its final spin through the air over the city on the back of the jumbo jet, (darn that job that keeps me inside and on a schedule), but was able to witness it in all its used glory; chipped paint, after burn streaks and all. I have to say it was pretty impressive. It's been to space 39 times and is the first of the retired craft to find a home on display, signaling the end of an era.

Part of me would love to sail above the sky, among the infinite blackness (and the other part of me got claustrophobic just thinking about it!) There's something magical about space and the endless possibilities found among the stars. It makes me feel both grand and insignificant at the same time. I'm barely a speck in the vastness that is the universe and yet I marvel at the mechanics and intricacies that make up humanity and our world within that vastness. To me it bears testimony of a divine and omnipotent creator who cares for both the smallest minutia and the broadest scope. One day perhaps I'll have the chance to view things with His eye, to see the perfection of the spheres in our solar system, to skip among the Milky Way and slide upon the rings of Saturn discovering the truths of life on other planets and comprehending eternities. But for now I guess I'll have to be content with my occasional journeys in the passenger planes above the clouds to exciting, if merely terrestrial, locales.

Happiness is...having a poem in your pocket.

Keep a poem in your pocket
and a picture in your head
and you'll never feel lonely
at night when you are in bed

The little poem will sing to you
the little picture bring to you
a dozen dreams to dance to you
at night when you’re in bed

keep a picture in your pocket
and a poem in your head
and you'll never feel lonely
at night when you’re in bed.
~Beatrice Schenk de Regniers 

Like many teachers I used this poem often in my classroom to encourage my students to read, memorize and enjoy poetry. The last few years there has even been a formal celebration of ‘poem in your pocket day’ where people are encouraged to keep copies of their favorite poems in their pockets literally, and then to give them out and share them with people the encounter throughout the day. 

I love this idea. I love this intimate and emotional transfer of information between friends and strangers!  But even more, I love the idea of having poems readily available, at your disposal for any need or occasion. But barring keeping a poetry book with you at all times the easiest way to do this is to have one or two (or more!) memorized.

I mentioned earlier that I used to be a memorizer.  I haven't done much of it lately but even now snatches and lines of verse and rhyme will enter my thoughts unbidden and when I stop to think about it I can cobble together bits of Louis Carroll, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and even Shakespeare. However it’s not often in a way that would bring honor to the writer; stanzas often come up missing, words get swapped and thoughts are truncated. If I put a lot of thought and effort into it I'm sure I could eventually do them all justice, but my brain has fallen victim to the adult onset ADHD mentality and I don't/can't concentrate the way I used to. And it's a sad thing when I think of all the friends I might have made, just waiting for me to commit them to memory. It's like having a friend to call on any time of day or night. You know just what to expect and how they'll make you feel. They can keep you company when you need it, share your tears, cheer you up, make you laugh, commiserate your loses and heartaches, take your mind off of something troublesome or just help you to pass the time.

Today marks the final day of National Poetry month so I wanted to give you a few last poems to ponder and carry you through the next little while.
  Maybe one of them will make it into your pocket, or better yet, your head!

Ars Poetica
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
As old medallions to the thumb,
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown –
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind –
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
A poem should be equal to
Not true.
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea –
A poem should not mean
But be.
~Archibald MacLeish

April Rain Song
Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.
~Langston Hughes

"Nature" is what we see
"Nature" is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
~Emily Dickinson

I Am in Need of Music
I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.
~Elizabeth Bishop

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happiness evening at book club.

I was able to go to book club this evening for the first time in months. What with vacation and coming home and getting sick and struggling to get back on top of things it's been awhile.  I've kept up on reading most of the books but just haven't been able to make it to a meeting.

I was reminded not only of how much I love books and reading but how much I love to talk about reading and books.  Sometimes it's great to talk to someone who is a non-reader, to explain to them the magic of finding just the right book or convince them to just give it a try (huge thanks to Harry Potter and Twilight and Hunger Games and the like for making reading a bit more mainstream and for crossing boundaries in gigantic's so fun to have conversations about the exact same book with a 10 year old, a 20 year old and a 50 year old!  You get such a great perspective that way!)

Sure, I get to push books on unsuspecting library patrons all day long but usually those conversations are brief, the plots boiled down to one or two sentences and it's rarely a hard sell.  Sometimes you just need to get in depth, discuss the intricacies of 'who dunnit' and why, share your favorite characters, laugh and cry over their various exploits, expound on what you might have done in their places, mourn when the book ends and re-live the best parts over and over in the re-tellings and sharings.

So, thank you ladies, for the laughter and the insights, the new ways of thinking, the book recommendations, the friendship and the food! (Btw, we read Cold Sassy Tree this month.  We loved the  quirky characters and southern vernacular.  You should have heard us all trying to imitate it!  Southern belles we are not!)

I came across this quote the other day from prolific children's author, Richard Peck. The dedication of his autobiography reads:

"I read because one life isn't enough, and in the page of a book I can be anybody;
I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life;
I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I'm just beginning myself, and I wouldn't mind a map;
I read because I have friends who don't, and young though they are, they're beginning to run out of material;
I read because every journey begins at the library, and it's time for me to start packing;
I read because one of these days I'm going to get out of this town, and I'm going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready."

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Go make a friend, live an adventure, make some magic, discover new worlds, be taught and uplifted, scared and entertained. READ!  (And don't forget to tell someone all about it!)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happiness is...a few random bits of pleasure.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...these are a few of my favorite things from the past week:

  • kamikaze squirrels  
  • gearing up for the next concert by listening to this album over and over and over!
  • chocolate cake with to-die-for peanut butter frosting
  • a night filled with Frank Sinatra tunes courtesy of this show at the Kennedy Center
  • This scripture: 

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18

  • driving with the top down along winding country roads at sunset 
  • not having to wear a sweater at work (the window for this is miniscule and often non-existent, we are either suffering from the cold winter wind blowing in from outside or chronic over air-conditioning)
  • getting a massage
  • creating things

This collage to hang in my dining room
Birthday Party in a Box packages to be sent out to several relatives celebrating big days this coming week

Lemongrass salt scrubs-some to keep and some to gift!

  • bridal showers: visiting with friends, hugs, laughter and amazing food
  • leftover Easter Egg salad sandwiches sprinkled with smoked paprika
  • cleaning out my closet
  • this book
  • homemade blueberry basil preserves (a little smear of heaven on my toast! Mucho thanks Madame K :)
  • This quote:  
...the definition of humanness is the opportunity to marvel at the majesty of creation...  ~John Green

  • and then marveling!

How has your week been?  I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Happiness is...unexpected poetry.

I love when poems show up randomly in narrative fiction.  Often I'm not brilliant enough to pick up on it and occasionally the authors realize that the lay reader won't be and stick a bit of translation in the text to help us out. 

So, right now I'm reading  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (the title, as he so kindly pointed out, is a reference to Shakespeare, not a poem actually but Julius Caesar when Cassius states, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves.") Anyway, Green is one of those authors that has collected a fan following of cult status. He has a particular way of writing that is akin to reading one of the heavier episodes of the Gillmore Girls. The characters all speak in these brilliantly convoluted sentences with vocabulary and philosophical grasps like no real teenager I've ever met.  I've read several of his books so far and enjoyed them alright but have not seen it necessary to launch myself onto the John Green train...until now.

I'm not even half way through this one so maybe it's too soon to speak but I must confess Mr. Green, I am in love.

The book is heavy, the main character is a sixteen year old fighting cancer and while there are plenty of realistic moments and tough discussions and situations going on Green's writing keeps it from becoming maudlin or depressing (so far!  I reserve the right to change my opinion if Hazel dies at the end!) Take this exchange for example:

"Swing Set Needs Home," I said.
"Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home," he said.
"Lonely, Vaguely Pedophilic Swing Set Seeks the Butts of Children," I said.
He laughed.  "That's why."
"That's why I like you.  Do you realize how rare it is to come across a hot girl who creates an adjectival version of the word pedophile? You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are."

Commenting on the thought "Without Pain, How Could We Know Joy?"

(This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.)...

And this comment when Hazel's newly acquired friend whips out a cigarette:

"The whole thing where a boy who is not unattractive or unintelligent or seemingly in any way unacceptable stares at me and points out incorrect uses of literality and compares me to actresses and asks me to watch a movie at his house. But of course there is always a hamartia and yours is that oh, my God, even you though you HAD FREAKING CANCER you give money to a company in exchange for the chance to acquire YET MORE CANCER. Oh, my God. Let me just assure you that not being able to breathe? SUCKS. Totally disappointing. Totally."

...and so far there are at least 8 poetic references! Way to sneak in some additional culture.

I confess, I haven't done a lot of poetry reading this month. I had great expectations for devouring Leaves of Grass and The Collected Emily Dickinson while exposing myself to new names and verses while perusing some anthologies and such, but, well, the best laid plans as they say.  So, many thanks, John Green, for giving me an extra dose of much-needed verse (and for making me laugh while appreciating the fact that my life could be a heck of a lot worse!)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Happiness is...creating a poem.

There's a particular challenge that comes in trying to write a poem, to choose the best words to share your message, or even in deciding what message to share. There is a world of possibility, millions upon millions of words at your disposal to be rearranged and organized in the most particular way, a way that's never been done before. Sometimes it seems daunting at best, impossible at worst. And yet it happens every day.

But there's also a recent (at least I think it's recent) trend to create poetry from words that already exist. Found poems, using others' words to create a meaning all your own. Sometimes you choose words from books, newspapers, letters to tell your own story and create a new thought while sometimes you seek to preserve the original thought but in your own way (creative summarizing if you will.) The words remain in the same order you found them but with giant gaps and chunks removed in between. I've read a few historical fiction novels in verse that were created this way, using a person's letters, journals and more to authentically tell their own story in a poetically abbreviated way.

Then there are black-out poems, created by blacking out (!) all but a few words from the page in a book or a news article or something, leaving behind a poem.

Here's one I created out of the recent Alexandria Times:

The show's the thing
never a string
of fate
not a brief experience
foreshadowed and boasting
neither a prerequisite
for frequent choice~
Instead the missing treasure,
full potential from within
Imagine the potential

I'll admit, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but it sounds poetic, yes? (It's a bit harder than you might think, making meaning within the parameters of someone else's pre-composed words.)

And then there are the book spine poems. Using the titles of books you create a stacked and visual representation of your poem. Again, a bit harder than it sounds seeing as you are confined to a lack of conjunctions and connections to help create full sentences and aid in flow. But here's one I threw together today at work.

waiting for normal
before I fall
inside out and back again
the sky is everywhere,
so be it!

What is your favorite form of poetry? Are you a fan of diamante and shape poems, haiku or limericks? Or do you prefer free verse with no real rules or limitations?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happiness is...a poetic song.

There's a power in music and the combination of words and tune are one of the most powerful forces on earth. So it's no surprise that song lyrics are one of my favorite kind of poetry. It's often hard to separate the words from their musical casing, to consider each piece separately will often cause a disservice to one or the other (think of the countless yeahs, ahs, and ooh babys that somehow sound brilliant surrounded by pounding drums and wailing guitars yet utterly ridiculous on their own). As with any poetry, sometimes the words simply create a beautiful image, others are powerfully profound, still others seem to concisely and precisely express what your mind has been chewing on and muddling through for days while others rip open your heart and lay it bare for all the world to see though you could have sworn you were the only person to ever have felt that way.

Here are a few bits of some of songs that have popped up on my random playlist this week. (All are listed simply by the title and the artist whose version I listened to.)

The Bells of New York City
-Josh Groban
It's always this time of year that my thoughts undo me
With the ghosts of many lifetimes all around

Helplessness Blues
-Fleet Foxes
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking I say I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving some thing beyond me

And So It Goes-Billy Joel
In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along

Harbor-Vienna Teng
Fear is the brightest of signs
The shape of the boundary you leave behind
So sing all your questions to sleep
The answers are out there in the drowning deep

Homeward Bound
-Simon and Garfunkel
I'm sittin' in the railway station.
Got a ticket for my destination.
On a tour of one-night stands,
My suitcase and guitar in hand.
And ev'ry stop is neatly planned
For a poet and a one-man band.

The Cave- Mumford and Sons
It's empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you've left behind

Across the Universe-The Beatles
Words are flowing out
Like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe

Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my open mind
Possessing and caressing me...

Angel-Sarah MacLachlan
Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There's always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
Oh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty
And weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

Vincent-Don McLean
Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Stairway to Heaven-Led Zeppelin
There's a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook
There's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven

Heart Half Empty-Ty Herndon
Will the memories taste sweet as they linger
Or the bitterness stay on my tongue
Is my heart half full of the love you gave me
Or my heart half empty cuz your love is gone

The Man That Got Away-
Judy Garland
The night is bitter,
The stars have lost their glitter,
The winds grow colder
And suddenly you're older,
And all because of the man that got away.
No more his eager call,
The writing's on the wall,
The dreams you dreamed have all
Gone astray.

Breakup songs are a lot easier to relate to it seems. Somehow the pain translates to words better than the joy does. But I love the unique way this song puts it.

How Your Love Makes Me Feel-
Diamond Rio
It's like just before dark, jump in the car
Buying ice cream and see how far we can drive before it melts kind of feeling
There's a cow in the road and we swerve to the left
Fate skips a beat and it scares you to death and you laugh until you cry
That's how your love makes me feel inside

And this post wouldn't be complete without mentioning one of the most poetic bands working today. I was going to post the lyrics but decided to just let you listen to the fabulous words as they sound in their natural environment. But if anything could qualify as a poem entirely on its own, I think this song could.

That Colin Meloy is gifted, no?

This is by no means a complete or anywhere near perfect list, just a few that caught my eye ear in passing.  For a much different and obviously more thought out and 'professional' list check out  this article from Huffington Post.

What are some of your favorite lyrics? Please share!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happiness is...a springish list.

Here are just a few of the things that have made me happy and kept me busy this past week or so...

  • key lime cake
  • flowers in surprising places
  • dyeing Easter eggs
  • this book (exquisitely charming!)
  • the news of newly arrived babies and babies soon to arrive 
  • getting a pedicure
  • the sound of toe shoes on a stage
  • this movie
  • and this book(sweetly imaginative and poetic)
  • spring cleaning
  • long talks with old friends
  • opportunities to start over
  • this song (sometimes you just need to sing 'the blues'!)
  • writing poems*
  • planning road trips
  • eating Peeps!
How have you been spending your Spring?

*for those who were curious...

strength comes in tiny packages,
in little morsels over time
often unrecognized
at the moment of delivery~
like fragile strands of twine,
mere breakable bits of string on their own
yet wound together
you find yourself bound
for greatness

cAmy McMillan 2012

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Happiness is...a spiritual uplift.

This weekend I had the opportunity to listen to prophets and apostles of God speak and preach and testify of Christ, to warn and exhort and expound doctrine, to encourage and love and bless all within the sound of their voice.  I get to have this amazing experience every six months as the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints gather for general conference. We forgo our regular Sunday church meetings and tune in on cable channels, satellite broadcasts, and through the internet all across the globe to be spiritually fed and taught by leaders who love us and want nothing more than to help us become more like Christ so that we can eventually return to His presence.

It's been a rough couple of months with the health challenges I've frequently complained about (sorry about that) as well as a few other things going on that I have felt pressured and confused and stressed over. I'd love to say that I got all the answers to everything I was questioning and worrying about but that didn't happen.  Instead my mind was stilled, my heart was comforted, and I was given peace and the reassurance that I'll be okay and things will work out the way they're supposed to. I was uplifted and renewed and reminded of what is truly important (*hint-it's rarely the things I actual spend time worrying about!)

If you've ever questioned where you came from, what will happen to you after you die, why you are here, if there is a God or what you should be doing in any aspect of your life I encourage you to listen to or read the messages found at the link above. Pray and ask for confirmation of the truthfulness of those things you learn.  I promise you will find peace and comfort and guidance if you have an open and willing heart. Or if you are curious about who Mormons are and what we truly believe you can go here for explanations and real member profiles.

And in the meantime, I'd love to hear what brings you peace and guides your life.  (One can never have too much peace!)

Happiness is...a spot of poetry.

April is National Poetry month and I thought I'd kick it off with a few thoughts on the power that can be found in reading and enjoying carefully composed verse.

I'm most often a straight forward message/story type poetry reader. If things get too cerebral or hazy I get lost in them and my attention wanes. I often feel as if I'm not smart enough to understand much of poetry
and I tend to enjoy a good rhyme or meter more than free verse (strangely enough, however, when I write it's usually free verse that oozes from my pen.)  I think that hearkens back to the days when I used to memorize things on a semi-regular basis.  It's much easier to memorize something that has a rhythm to it.
But every once in a while I like to read something that I don't understand at all and just glory in the sound (if not the meaning) of the words, letting them paint abstract images in my mind much as one might imagine while listening to certain pieces of classical music.   There are no concrete 'answers' to what you are supposed to be hearing or seeing (though undoubtably the authors would argue) just impressions of mood and shape.

And much like those musical pieces touch our hearts and leave us a bit smarter and wiser and more in tune with the world around us, so the words of the poets can impress themselves in the crevices and folds of our brain in ways that we might not understand or appreciate, but they are there nonetheless.

In his book Zen in the Art of Writing Ray Bradbury (one of my favorite authors) put it this way:

Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don't use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand. And above all, poetery is compacted metaphor or simile. Such metaphors, like Japanese paper flowers, may expand outward into gigantic shapes...What poetry? Any poetry that makes your hair stand up along your arms.  Don't force yourself too hard. Take it easy.  Over the years you may catch up to, move even with, and pass TS Eliot on your way to other pastures. You say you don't understand Dylan Thomas? Yes, but your ganglion does, and your secret wits, and all your unborn children. Read him, as you can read a horse with your eyes, set free and charging over an endless green meadow on a windy day.

So, go find a poem. Read it and revel in it and let it sink in to your soul. Even if you don't know what it is talking about! (And then share with me some of your favorite poets or poems in the comments. I'd love a running dialogue on what words and thoughts move you and just might move me too!)