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A Special Kind of Grateful

September 10, 2018

There’s just something about a fellow writer’s success that feels different from the normal happiness you feel when someone succeeds.

Normally when my granddaughter dances well, when my older daughter sells a nice portfolio, when my younger daughter lands a challenging design project, or our son speaks on a panel of experts, the pride is immense and the joy is deep.

But, when fellow writers have a book birthday or book signing event, when announcements are made on the acquisition of their book rights, when they are featured authors on blogs, in interviews, or in articles–I have deeper and different emotions altogether.

I feel not only proud for my writer friends, but proud for me, and the many authors that make up our community of word and picture artists. Yes, the writers did the work, performed the diligence, with grit and love held to the task and pursued their particular, beautiful dreams.

But I know that community, camaraderie, and common purpose had their hands in the life and birth of the book. From mere bits of encouragement at the conception, to the labor pains of style decisions, editorial tasks, and marketing pushes. Many hearts and hands are involved.

That’s why I was so happy I could get to Kansas City and the Shawnee Mission Johnson County Public Library yesterday to be at Traci McClellan-Sorell‘s book signing for Otsaliheliga-We Are Grateful. This rich book is an instant treasure in my library, a beautiful glimpse into the seasons of life for the Cherokee Nation, by this talented Native American author.

I met Traci in Houston several years ago at an NF4NF conference, a small gathering of nonfiction-minded authors who share a passion for writing about real things for real children. Pat Miller brought together for a few years writers who bonded in that shared passion, and the bond was lasting, as evidenced by hugs and smiles and excitement whenever these ‘folks’ meet in new and varied venues.

And, it’s just a given that when one of us succeeds in a task associated with this passion–whether it be publication of an article, a book, or getting to attend a conference–we all feel grateful. To me, success for one of us is success for all of us. I think it’s the same for other writers, too.

It’s a special kind or grateful, because when it’s for the children, it’s for us all.

What a Hiatus…

August 13, 2018

I have severely neglected this blog. I apologize to my few followers, with an honest expression of the fact that I want to do better.

Over the last more-than-a-year since my last post, a lot has happened. Mom’s health declined, we committed to building a home in North Arkansas, and welcomed two orphans from Africa into two church families. I engaged in some reenactor events (including an authentic real life keelboat wreck) but finally, at summer’s end, spent most of my hours preparing to say a final goodbye to Mom. Cancer reoccurred in her and after many prayers, angels ushered her to her eternal home.

In and across and thru all of that time my writing has been inexcusably thin. You’d think that something as authentic as a real keelboat wreck would be fodder for writing. Or that months sitting beside Mom, reminiscing and valuing the rich life we have had, would provide deep inspiration. Certainly, at least, time for editing, rewriting, submitting.

But I think my problem was focus. I faced contrasting venues: Mom’s intensifying care needs, and decisions required to build a future home. And then I began to sense the unavoidable but impending distance I would soon experience from church, family, and friends. A focus on writing seemed to be a low priority among these thoughts and concerns.

Mom’s sweet release, however, seemed to be a point in my time-line where I could regroup my thoughts. I found myself refocusing, sometimes out of a necessity to do something in place of my previous constant caregiving mode.

A timely event has assisted my refocus. The most satisfying writing venue I’ve been a part of, Poetic Bloomings hosted by Marie Elena Good and Walt Wojtanik, has re-emerged after a long rest. The garden gate has reopened, and I find myself wandering along paths flowered with verse, where old friends and new ones are found around each bend.

It is a refreshing and renewing opportunity for my writing life. A weekly prompt offers glance into the souls of peer poets, a gentle dare to challenge my skills, a nudge to write for shared poetic joy.

It is a fortunate mercy I’ve been waiting for, and one I plan to relish.

It’s a focused mercy my heart has needed. Poetry is at the root of my writing passion. So it feels right to get back into writing–for children, for hire, for myself–along a lyrical path like Poetic Bloomings.

Go to my poetry page here to see this week’s attempt to creatively explain what my website means to me… as you might suspect, poetically expressed.

Rowing, Cookies, Camaraderie, Rum!

February 11, 2017

I was excited when Lori (a  friend in a virtual-writing-neighborhood) offered to take a look at a work-in-progress I recently posted about.  I don’t have a critique group at the moment, but here was Lori offering to give the idea a fresh pair of eyes as I attempt the next major revision.
kb-12-27-2016-day-1-10This kind of generosity, helpfulness, and encouragement in my writing communities made me reflect on my keelboat trip after Christmas. I had never met any of the men whom I was to travel with, and had only talked to the captain on the phone.  I wasn’t sure what the trip was going to be like. They didn’t know me from Adam, and I didn’t know them at all.  I didn’t know anything about keel-boating.  This was my first re-enactment. How would they react to my mistakes? What if we hit a rough spot, and tensions rose?

Would I be a modern day Jonah, and get thrown overboard?

Within minutes, as I helped load the boat with tents and poles and water and gear, my anxieties eased.  Humor and laughter helped. Being useful helped. And I gained confidence when Captain Ed and No-Nose tutored me on the fine points of survival:

  • (1) keep a three-point connection to the boat at all times (e.g. two feet and a hand, or two hands and a foot);
  • (2) row in sync with the man in front of you (as a general rule);
  • (3) have fun–we’re here to have fun.

Okay, I could handle that. And when the captain accepted my required 2-dozen cookies, and put them in the keg, I knew I was a crewman. From that point on I began to relish not just the journey, but a new camaraderie with the crew.

As we talked and rowed, I discovered we were a motley crew. A marine, a sailor, an engineer, a teacher, a statistician, a blacksmith, a preacher, and me. Despite our differences, we committed to our task, and every man put in the necessary ‘umphh’ and  ‘grunt’ to accomplish our goal. We did hit a few rough spots–lost the push poles, lost an oar, raked a tree-top in a vicious bend. But they did not throw the odd new man overboard.

The diversity was delicious–like a keg-full of all kinds of cookies. The captain dispensed those cookies to us, passing the small keg around for each mid-morning or mid-afternoon break.  The cookies, as a special delight,  were critical–you expend a lot of energy rowing for an hour. To wash them down, we had a shot of rum. Good rum. Rum that warmed your insides again, and renewed your rowing gumption.

What could be better with cookies than a hearty beverage distilled from molasses, and shared with a crew who share a passion, who row together toward a common destination?

I realize, now, how critical a ‘crew’ is to a pursuit. Regardless of who serves as fellow sailors, all contribute if their goals are aligned–if they row together.  But the rowing is a necessary part of the journey.  With the rowing comes the delights.

That’s my keelboat crew.  And that’s my writing community.  I’m still rowing, and going to row and write onward. I hope that whatever passions you pursue, you have what I am blessed to have: rowing, cookies, camaraderie, and rum!

Rudders and Oars

February 6, 2017

On my keelboat trip after Christmas, we had a routine governed by a tiny brass hourglass that hung in the cabin, just within the sight of the rowing team. We sat for duty on our benches facing the stern of the boat, side by side, watching the sand trickle, grasping and pulling on our heavy 18-foot-long wooden oars.

kb-12-27-2016-day-1-11The captain would flip the glass every 30 minutes. For our hour-long turns to row, we took our places on the port or starboard side of a bench, and grasped the oars resting in the pins. Starboard (right side) oars had red paint, and port oars (left side) had green. Based on our positions, we rowed together to propel the boat forward–down the unseen river behind us.  That took a little getting used to.

We’d listen for instructions from the helmsman who, at the rudder, and behind the cabin, was out of sight. He stood looking from the stern, over and around the cabin, and downriver. He guided our boat around bends, away from sandbars, along the current, and often against gusts that seemed to think our little cabin was a sail. It often seemed to be a mean wind.

Our trip took advantage of the current, and our general direction was clear…we were going downriver.  But, like the writing life, rivers have bends. They have sandbars. They carry along logs and debris. And are often visited by mean winds.

As I began my first keelboat rowing experience, I  realized that just moving  with the current isn’t sufficient. It became obvious that movement within the current–faster than the movement of the water around us–was pretty critical to the helmsman being able to direct us with the rudder!

A rudder does nothing, and has no effect, unless it is moving through the water around it.  That, my friend, requires the boat to move faster than any current it is in.  To navigate to port or starboard (and indeed to turn about if we lose an oar, or a push pole), we must move through even moving water to steer.

This applies so readily to my writing life.  I’ve been writing seriously now for some six years.  I discovered early the adventure of the on-line, elbow-to-elbow, and face-to-face writing community. My writing friendships are priceless. I am challenged, encouraged, and urged forward.

But it’s not enough to ride, if I want to steer around obstacles (like life happening).  It’s not enough to just float if I want to keep from beaching on a sandbar (writing slump).  My writing life requires rowing.

Rowing will carry me purposefully and deliberately through my writing life. Sometimes I can flow gently with the current.  But sometimes I need to break away from mid-stream. Sometimes I need to choose which angle in the river my boat moves. The winds and gusts of life try to blow my writing life into a steep muddy bank. But in every circumstance, I need to row, row hard, to pull my rudder through whatever water I’m in, to allow my helmsman to steer my chosen course.

That means writing not only in-stream, but through-stream. Writing not just for the current (my writing peers around me, the community of writers I travel this river with), but for my own journey.  I’ve recognized the voice I hear, the helmsman standing there, grasping the rudder at the stern, calling out commands. He is my own writing heart. I need to hear my helmsman, and row as ordered, for my situation: day-by-day exercises, a promising work-in-progress, or an inspired idea. My heart stands at the stern and sees over me, to the river coming into view behind my back He sees all the distracting dangers it may hold, and the course I need to avoid them.  I need to write accordingly.

“Make-way all!”  “Hold water, green!”  “Pull hard, red!” These gruff-voiced calls still ring out loud in my river experience memory, and I now have them embedded in my writing perspective.

There is nothing I am enjoying better in life now than my river trip, and the current of my writing community.  In the history I like to write about, rivers were roads…they were often the only way to get anywhere.  I know I can’t leave the river.  I just have to learn to navigate it well.

Often writers say among ourselves, “I need to get my B-I-C (butt-in-chair) and write!”
By this rich metaphor I’ve had the privilege to experience, I say, “I need to get my B-O-B (butt-on-bench), and ROW!”

What Will Float My Writing Boat in 2017?

January 27, 2017

My writing sunk in 2016.

I seemed to have dropped the ball long before the year ended. Or should I say dropped the oar. As far as writing goes.

I started out strong a year ago, joined 12×12 as a Silver member, was somewhat dutiful in Poets Garage critiques, and actually–thanks to a 2 week heavenly writing retreat at Writers Colony of Dairy Hollow–produced a new picture book in a series I’m doing. I even wrote and handmade two fiction storybooks for my granddaughter.

But sometime back in May my writing like began to take on water. I can’t seem to put my fingers now on just what went wrong then. Looking back it’s a fog. But my production slumped. Not a poem or story or even an idea came out of me. My most promising picture book project didn’t get any serious attention from me. In spite of inspiring  webinars, I didn’t feel inspired.  No ventures into real writing. Thus, no submitting to publishers  or pursuing of agents.

I struggled to bail and row, without any real success. Only feeble attempts here and there.

I have set out on a new commitment however to my writing.

At years end I had the chance for some real research … a keelboat trip down the Black River the week after Christmas. It was a dream of mine to experience some of the history I was writing about.

On day three,  in a furious windswept and current-driven sweep around the outside of a high-bank river bend I hung onto the side of the cabin. I saw the bank approaching quickly from behind me and a snarl of a ragged incoming treetop ahead in our path. “Green hold, red ROW!” the helmsman hollered attempting to turn us back toward midstream. I prayed the limbs wouldn’t snatch me off the boat and hang me dangling above frigid rolling water as my peers disappeared downstream. The angry treetop  raked across the cabin planks and grabbed at my back. And I wondered: Why am I not writing about this?

Survival, in life and writing, can be motivating.

Early in January I invested in 12×12 as a Gold member. I printed and signed a challenge from Pat Miller (my NF4NF leader) to set manageable goals for the month. Today I committed in writing to my Poets Garage promise in black and white (email). Tomorrow I am going to apply for the March Madness competition. I’ve scheduled a March trip for further research on my historical fiction  work in progress.

And somehow I believe,  along this journey, the spurring  on I get from our community of writers will propel me thru my writing year–like wild 40 mph wind gusts and choppy rushing water carries a keelboat into adventures unknown and dreamed about.

So happy new year. May you retrieve all your oars and easily repair your broken rudders. And above all, hang on tight. I hope in your writing  year you will find a crew like mine.

A Thinking Break

April 12, 2016

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In the middle of ‘productivity’ on a writing retreat, you still need breaks. Your brain needs a breather. A stretch of sorts, just like your muscles and your butt.

My walks around Eureka Springs have been the best of breaks, more than I could have asked for: gentle crisp early spring air, blooming trees and gardens so bright they look painted, and surprises around corners.

That combination stirs the poet in me, and I’ve written several pieces that I am very happy with, between my work sesssions on non-fiction and the prairie project, which is my first goal for this retreat.

Sunday afternoon I walked downtown and back.  A creature I’d not seen before in a garden spot on Spring Street appeared and posed a question for me.  He dared to stretch my mind. Here’s the result:
If They’d Had Lights

If they’d had lights,
they would not be extinct.
I thought so when I saw him,
the stegosaurus made of stone,
bedecked with strands of mini-lights,
a string of large bulbs, smartly laid,
strung where his plates would be.

If they’d had lights,
survival would have been
a matter of the brightest,
the dusty air no sweat for them,
despite the skies made dark and dim
when asteroidal impact made
their forage hard to see.

If they’d had lights,
they still would roam the earth.
I wonder, though, if whether
an allosaur’s electric grin,
a flashy T-rex, or his kin
might blinking, blind us, and between
their teeth, extinct, we’d be.

© 2016, Damon Dean

Treat of a Retreat…

April 2, 2016

I am on cloud nine… or ten, or more! I am in the hills of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

LastWP_20160401_18_17_29_Pro summer I applied to the  Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow for a residency fellowship called the Moondancer Fellowship. This fellowship is a paid two-week residency for writers about nature and the outdoors. Since I’ve been in a non-fiction mode for two years, and have several projects I’m working on about nature, and since my poetry is almost 80% about nature, I thought I might be a good match.  I sent samples, a bio, and explained my works in progress.

I was notified last September that my application was not selected, but was asked to apply again next year, and that I had been a 2nd choice.  Naturally I was a bit disappointed, but still honored to be considered (tho I’m not sure there weren’t only two applicants! )

In January I got a call from the director, Linda Caldwell.  The selected recipient from Boston had taken a job as a television broadcast writer, and could not attend.

“Would you like to attend in 2016 as our 2015 Moondancer fellow?”

I remained calm. I replied professionally.  I gratefully accepted. I hung up.  I jumped on the couch, bounced off the ceiling, and sprung out the door.  I was ecstatic.

Nothing enhances my writing more, in either productivity or purpose, than being on a retreat.  I find that like many writers, my life (my good life–I’m not complaining) gets in the way.  I really feel like writing is a calling to me, but the necessities of life impose and hinder and detract, and my writing (which for years I treated as a ‘hobby’) suffers.

Several years ago I took a week for a retreat at White Oak Lake State Park, in a camper.  I was refreshed deeply, and in that week wrote some poetry and developed some ideas for projects that couldn’t have happened in the normal stream of my life. That poetry, those projects, still hold momentum from the full attention I gave them  during that week.

I fully expect what I take home from my stay at the Colony will have  the same benefit.
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So I begin my fellowship stay today, for two weeks, April 1-15, when I get to write write write write write nap write write write walk write write write nap.  And then eat.  Dinners are provided by a wonderful chef named Jana, and they are superb.  This is the off season and there are no other writers here during my stay. Usually there are several residents, who gather for dinner and talk about their art and craft. That is an experience I also want in my writing journey.

During the week I get to serve the community by working with students in a nearby school, so I’m working on poetic elements on two Thursdays.  Also, I get to meet with kids at a coffeehouse after school since I’m here the first Tuesday of the month with their creative writing teacher, Kenzie Doss.  She holds an event called ‘The Buzz’ which usually brings in middle school and high school students.  I plan to lead them in a discussion on ‘personification’ and engage them a related writing activity.

I’m thrilled, and just had to share the news. They’ve initiated April to celebrate National Poetry Month, and we hung poems with some other poets and kids at the Basin Springs Park downtown on the Poet-tree.

Visit the Colony page, and take a look at the wonderful gift I’ve been given.  It is a treasure of a retreat for me, and for my writing.

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