Writing Toward Home

Writing , Ideas, and Encouragement

Wordplay Wednesday: Two-Word Tenets

Wordplay Wednesday: Two-Word Tenets : Precepts Simplified

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my plan to abandon resolution-making and instead adopt precepts, which are “words to live by.” I have deliberately chosen  this more gentle and gradual approach to changing certain aspects of my life, because I realize, perhaps rather belatedly,  this is the only way true and lasting transformation takes place.

 I am using the precepts from 365 Days of Wonder by R.J. Palacio as my guide and muse for this endeavor.  Each morning I read the quote or saying for that date and then use it as the jumping off point in my Morning Pages journal.  My responses can be a bit of a stream of consciousness ramble, but eventually I find some direction in the tangle of thoughts and words. 

My next step is to clarify and distill the precept(s) down to a two-word tenet that I can use to direct my actions in many areas of my life.  I like the idea of making  my goals  short and memorable and therefore livable.  As I said in the previous post at the beginning of the year, I am trying to develop ways of being rather than doing. These precepts/tenets therefore become a way of living that does not need to be completely overhauled at the beginning of a calendar year. It takes away the stress and pressure of having to start so many new habits at once, which for me seems to never result in lasting change.

  I have been pleased to realize that the topics of the precepts and my journal responses have already circled back  to repeated themes in the first 17 days. The best way to learn and retain anything is through  many repetitions which leads to what scientists  call  “overlearning.”   Overlearning leads to a behavior being more likely to be maintained over a long period of time. This is what I need to pursue : meaningful, long-lasting change  rather than a temporary burst of frenzied activity.

Here are the tenets I have adopted so far:

Embrace Wonder

Choose Kindness

Love Fully

Live purposefully

Be Yourself

Continue Learning

Keep Trying

These  may appear to be too general, but within each tenet there exists a multitude of  behaviors that can be nurtured. For instance under “ Choose Kindness”, I can decide each day how I can show compassion toward others and toward myself. In kindness to others I need to be aware of those around me who may require encouragement or a smile or perhaps more tangible assistance. In kindness to myself I can choose to eat better/ move more or engage in an activity that feeds my soul or mind.

With “ Keep Trying” I can remind myself that this  path of change is a journey, not a  50-yard dash and that when I inevitably  encounter difficulties, I just need to keep going.

I am looking forward to seeing where the ideas of precepts and tenets lead the course of the year and beyond.

Do you have a tenet that you live by?

Wordplay Wednesday: Calling all Word Nerds!

Wordplay Wednesday : Calling all Word Nerds!

 

Monday, January 9 was National Word Nerd Day. I love having my own special day, don’t you? I am an unabashed, unapologetic Word Nerd. I love words of all kinds, phrases, quotes, poems, word puzzles, word games and of course stories and books!

I am an habitual word collector and I have lists of words I love everywhere: on index cards, scraps of paper, receipts, bookmarks, notebooks and so on. I am an insatiable reader and when I read I keep a pen and some kind of paper close by to record words or phrases I want to savor, remember and use in my writing.

I also love learning new words. Just this week a fabulous artist and fellow Word Nerd shared a new term which is so perfect: “OKOMO” which refers to a person who is beautiful inside and out. My friend who shared the word is exactly that and I aspire to be a OKOMO, too.

 

Some words are just so much fun to say or have such wonderful meanings that they deserve special attention. The following are some of my favorites from recent reading. Try reading the words aloud and you will see what I mean. If any are unfamiliar, look them up.

 

accoutrements   opalescent   impertinent vociferous numinous

festooned   unfathomable   exultation   jubilant beseeched

insurmountable   conciliatory giddy   luminous stupendous

ethereal frivolity nostalgia traipsing unquenchable cantankerous

 

Eventually, my gathered words are archived into my Lexicon, which is my word book where I formally collect words. I use a sewn, bound notebook for this purpose. I have a section each for nouns, verbs and adjectives, plus in the back I make word lists: color words ( periwinkle, azure, chambray, cerulean, lapis, cobalt, indigo), names of trees, breeds of chickens and so on. Intentionally collecting the words and periodically reading through my Lexicon is a way of growing my vocabulary and improving the quality of my writing. Plus it’s fun!

 

I encourage you to collect words that are new to you or that you love and use them whenever you can in your conversations or writing.

 

Do you have some favorite words? I would love for you to share! Word Nerds UNITE!

 

 

Wordplay Wednesday

Wordplay Wednesday: Replacing Resolutions with Precepts

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Happy New Year! For many years I anticipated the beginning of the year by engaging in the time-honored tradition of making resolutions and goals for myself in a host of areas. To be frank, in my enthusiasm I tended to go overboard in this endeavor and after a few days of frenzied activity I’d lose momentum and most things fell by the wayside. Since I can be a bit hard on myself, the whole resolution-making process ended up being more harmful than beneficial.

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This year I have decided to replace resolutions and goals with precepts, which are defined as “words to live by.” I stumbled across this idea after reading R.J, Palaciao’s middle-grade novel Wonder. (As an aside, the book is a terrific read for adults as well as children. I highly recommend it.)  In the story, a teacher presents one precept per month to his students which they discuss and later respond to in an essay. As a follow-up book, Palacio published 365 Days of Wonder, which is a collection of daily precepts focusing on the virtues of kindness, strength of character, overcoming adversity and making the world a better place.

 

I decided that rather than compiling a huge, overwhelming list of goals, I would use the book of precepts and approach the year as a growth mindset, using a day-by-day, step-by-step process. The precepts are not a list of things to do, but rather ideas about how to be. I have decided that what I do should reflect who I am and who I want to become.

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As a way of internalizing the precepts I am using them as writing prompts for my Morning Pages. I write the precept at the top of the page and then respond to it. I think about what the precept means in terms of how I view the world, how I treat others and what actions it leads me to take. From my Morning Page reflections on the precepts I am uncovering what actions or course of behavior I need to adopt in the areas of relationships, creativity, intellectual growth, spiritual growth and health.

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For instance, the entry for January 3 was a quote from Henry James: “ Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind.” As I pondered and wrote on this precept I thought about what it looks like to be kind to others and also to myself. These ideas will now inform my actions going forward as I adopt behaviors for kindness to my body, my mind, my creative nature and my relationships with family and friends.

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This gentle, intuitive and thoughtful approach to change and growth feels much more natural and doable to me. In the past I felt harried and pushed by trying to keep up with a checklist of too many new things to do. So far I am experiencing a sense of possibility and anticipation as I daily embrace the precepts and really think about how to apply them to my life.

 

My precepts so far are:

Choose Kindness.

Embrace Wonder.

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Both of those short statements offer a multitude of choices for thoughts and actions I can apply daily for the rest of my life. I am excited about what practices and ideas I will adopt as the year unfolds.

 

If the idea of resolutions leaves you overwhelmed, I encourage you to try precepts.

 

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Wordplay Wednesday: What I Know By Heart

Wordplay Wednesday: What I know by heart

This weekend, the calendar, in a rare, serendipitous juxtaposition, ushers in both Christmas and Hanukkah, followed by the beginning of Kwanzaa on Monday.  To me, it is a perfect year for the holidays to overlap so completely. We need unity in our celebrations of what we all believe and hold dear. And we each need to articulate those things to ourselves and to one another.

I am reading an Advent devotional book called Why This Jubilee?,  written by a local church pastor, James C. Howell. It contains daily meditations on the meanings of specific lines from familiar Christmas songs. It is a lovely book and filled with many  memorable phrases that I have jotted down. One in particular made me stop and reflect over the last few days since I read it.

James Howell asks the reader to consider what we “know by heart.”  On the one hand to know something by heart means to have something  committed to memory as  a  well-loved song , poem or quote.  Another way to think of  knowing something by heart is to reflect on those things that our heart tells us  are true no matter what is going on in the world around us. It is this concept that I want to ask you to consider with me.

What do you know “by heart?” What does your heart tell you about the world, faith, people, circumstances, right and wrong?  I think that at this time of year and in this year in particular it is  something we should all consider.

Here is some of  what I know by heart:

No matter the circumstances in the world, God is still in control.  I can trust  in His goodness and sovereignty even when politics, governments and mortal humans disappoint.

All people are made in the image of the Creator and have innate worth, no matter their race, color, nation of origin, faith or  financial position. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, compassion and courtesy.

Despite the skewed version of the world given by the news, most people in the world  simply want to pursue a quiet life in which they provide a  safe home, enough food and hope for a better future for their families..  Everyone deserves a chance to  pursue those dreams.

Every person is created on purpose and for a purpose. We are all individually  designed to offer our unique gifts and dreams to the world.  We are given skills, talents and abilities not to hoard, but to share with others in order to enrich all of human experience.

Being kind, considerate and generous are not weaknesses, but are the true measure of a person’s strength.  To quote George Eliot, “ What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

What do you know by heart?

Wordplay Wednesday: Inspiration in the Words of Others

Wordplay Wednesday: Inspiration in the Words of Others

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As a word nerd and bookworm I love quotes. I often come across sayings that are just so right, so perfect for my life at a particular moment. When I discover a new one it is that feeling of “Yes! That is exactly how I feel. How clever to put it that way.” ( or sometimes,” I wish I had said that!” )

 

I think it is a great gift to be able, in just a few words, to aptly delineate feelings and emotions that resonate with large numbers of people. It is as if the originator of the quote has tapped into a collective conscience and then summed it up in a memorable phrase.

 

I know this love of quotes is quite common: think of all of the pillows, t-shirts, mugs, posters and pieces of art that are sold with various famous sayings on them. A quick tour of Pinterest reveals numerous boards devoted to quotes. I happen to have one myself. There is something almost universally satisfying about discovering words that speak to you, whether they are funny, sad, motivational or inspiring. It is validation that someone else thinks like you do and that in turn connects us to other hearts and minds.

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I think most people have several quotes or sayings that are particularly meaningful to them. Of course, depending on one’s temperament, experiences and life situation a certain quote will more important. Can you recall some personal favorites?

Do you have t-shirts or other items with a favorite expression? Have you ever posted or shared a saying on social media?

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Today I want you to take some time and think about a special quote that has made an impact on you. I invite you to ponder why that saying is so special and then journal about it.

Write the quote at the top of a piece of paper. If you feel particularly artsy, make use a fancy lettering style or colorful markers. Now, as a free-write, quickly journal about what this quote means to you.

 

Here are some questions to guide you as you begin.

 

What was the original context?

 

What does it reveal about you?

 

Does the quote invite some action on your part?

 

Does it validate a belief?

 

I would love to hear about your favorite quotes . Perhaps you can turn your quote into a mixed media journal page, or a water colored and inked poster to display where it can constantly inspire you. Or just write it boldly in pen on a sticky note and attach it to your bathroom mirror or the corner of your computer screen.

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Here’s one of mine:

Ancora Imparo! ( this translated means “ I am still learning!”) It was said by Michelangelo when he was 87.

 

I first heard this quote when I was in the sixth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Baeszler, was an amazing woman. Despite the fact that she was likely past retirement age when she taught me and three years later my brother, she had a vibrancy, energy and zest for life that was unmatched. She challenged us to read, ask questions, to find a passion and to pursue learning for its own sake. She was the inspiration for me choosing to be a teacher.

 

I embrace this quote for that reason and also because it is central to the kind of life I want to live. I desire to always be growing learning and challenging myself to acquire new skills. To that end I am an avid reader of newspapers, informative blogs, histories, biographies, science and   more. I take art , writing and Bible study classes to improve my skills and knowledge in those areas. I also view/listen to lectures online about topics that capture my interest. I haunt bookstores and course catalogs looking for new sources of information.

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There’s so much to be interested in and to learn about in our world. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time that offers so many ways to access knowledge. I find it exciting and sometimes a bit overwhelming. But, I am never bored and never will be. I hope to be able to say at 87 and perhaps beyond:

 

ANCORA IMPARO!

 

Now I need to go make a poster!

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Happy Thanksgiving! An Attitude of Gratitude

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This time of year  in our country we turn our eyes toward gratitude and thankfulness. Sometimes it may feel cliché to talk about being thankful, but it is an important and necessary part of being human.  All cultures have ceremonies and seasons of thanksgiving in which they enumerate their blessings.  Being able to reflect on the positive aspects of our lives and circumstances helps keep us balanced emotionally, relationally and cognitively. No matter what life throws at us, we can find specific, maybe small, things to appreciate in our unique situation.

Sometimes it takes some reframing or reflection, but if you have an attitude of awareness,  you can think of many things that you enjoy and can be thankful for in your every day life.

Sarah Breathnach  challenged people to keep a gratitude journal when she appeared on Oprah years ago. She advocated making a daily list of 10 things in the journal. Ann Voskamp in her book 1,000 Gifts, challenges the reader to keep thinking of items, both  small and large, until the list numbers 1,000. You cannot make a list of that size without having your mindset altered.

My challenge is for you to make a list of things for which you are thankful. Perhaps you can turn the list into a poem, prayer or essay. The second challenge is to read your writing aloud today. You can share it with family or friends as you gather around a table or you can speak it out loud to the Creator who made all good things for His people to enjoy or you can go outside and share it with the Universe.

Saying the words aloud creates energy . A voice raised in thanks is a powerful force that can be contagious. May we spread an attitude of gratitude this day and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Anagramming or How to be a Super Word Nerd

Anagramming or How to be a Super Word Nerd

 

 

I recently read   Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players. It is a fascinating look inside the insular world of SCRABBLE tournaments and the subculture it has created. I have enjoyed playing SCRABBLE since I was 6 years old, but I am only what the professionals featured in the book dismissively call a “living room” player.

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As a “Word Nerd” I enjoyed learning about how one goes about becoming a ranked championship player. It involves prodigious word knowledge which means initially memorizing lengthy lists of words sanctioned in the Official Scrabble Dictionary (OSD). You begin with all of the official 2 letter words (like “AA” and ” KA”) , then 3 unusual letter words (“KAB” and “DEP”) , all the words that have a ‘Q’ without a ‘U’  ( “QI” and “QAT”)and so on. The best players memorize thousands of words in various categories. Whew!

 

The other skill that the highest ranked players develop is the ability to quickly anagram or rearrange any combination of 7 letters on the SCRABBLE rack into as many playable words as possible and scan the board for  places to play the words for the best score. The idea is that  you want to play all 7 letters on your rack in one turn order to create a BINGO which adds a 50 point bonus to your score. Games at the championship level often feature games with multiple BINGOES.

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For hard-core tournament players it is all about anagramming and making any word, no matter how obscure as long as it is in the OSD. The players do not bother learn what the words mean, that just slows down the process! In fact some of the top players in American tournaments  can barely speak English, but their abilities to memorize lists and anagram allow them to play competitively. They play word  like LINTERS and ACAROID, never learning or caring what they mean.

 

To practice, they choose 7 random letters and then proceed to create as many words as possible with those letters. Then they look them up in the OSD to see if they are “legal.” It was surprising to see some of the letter combinations that are actual words.

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Another strategy top players use is to play anagram PHONIES which are letter combinations that look like real words but are not official. If their opponent does not challenge the word, they often can succeed with the ruse.

 

So here’s a fun word challenge. Grab some letter tiles or just choose 7 letters at random and then anagram them to make as many “words” as you can. You can make up your own definitions and create a story using them. You can also look them up to see if they are real words and then learn the meaning. Who knows you may create a new term or phrase or perhaps one day amaze friends/family in a game of SCRABBLE!

 

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Have fun as a Super Word Nerd!

The Secret to Story

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The Secret to Story : Ask 3 Questions

 

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After months of playing with words, and exploring poems, book and song titles and linguistic devices,, it is time to get to the big idea of writing: STORY.   Whether you write poetry, fiction, memoir or essays, you are telling a story.

 

We human beings are hard-wired by the creator to think in story. Our brains love a good story whether it comes in the form of tales around a campfire, gossip, a great novel, a movie or your favorite Netflix series. Stories entertain us, aid us as we navigate the world, assist us in making sense of events ( even politics!) and help us remember.

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So, what makes a good story? We have all watched shows or movies or read books that did not resonate for one reason or another. Sometimes we can point to a certain flaw that makes a story not work, but often there is just a vague sense of something not fitting. We may not be able to define it, but our brains innately recognize a story that is well told.

 

While it is easy to detect a good story, it is harder, much harder to actually create one. There in a nutshell is the struggle that writers, especially novices, face. While the following advice is not foolproof, it will help you get started with a story that has potential.

 

When you want to begin a story, ask and then answer the following three questions:

 

What if? Who cares? So what? Let’s take each in turn, realizing that all three must be represented in a “good” story.

 

 

~ What if? In asking “What if?” you are setting up the premise of the story. Many writing prompts online and in books start with “What if?” to set up a certain situation.

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~What if a man overhears his boss planning to let him go?

~What if a woman discovers a shocking secret about her new husband?

~What if a man discovers a stolen art masterpiece in his mother’s basement?

~What if a young woman opens a letter that contains a key and a set of instructions that promise risks, but also rewards?

 

 

What if questions like these and many others make great story starters, but the premise cannot be sustained until we ask the next question.

 

~Who cares? In asking “Who cares?’ you are making decisions about the protagonist or main character of your story. Who is this person that has found themselves in a particular situation? Is the person , a hipster, an heiress, a con man, a grandmother, a writer, a crime boss, a priest, a news anchor, a struggling single parent?

Deciding who exactly the story is about determines how he/she will respond to the “What if?” question. Their values, life circumstances and personal history will all play into what they do when faced with that situation.

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Once you answer the “Who cares?” question, some storyline options open and others close. Knowing who you have in the driver’s seat of the story helps you decide where the action will lead.

 

~”So What?” Now that you have your specific character in a certain circumstance, you need to decide why this situation matters to this person. What are the stakes? What about her life will change because of this? How will relationships be altered? How will he change internally because of this scenario and the choices he makes? What will she give up or gain? What will your protagonist learn about himself and the world?

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The answers can lead to success or failure, happiness or despair for your protagonist and therein lies the rest of your story.

 

In a nutshell then, a story is about how a specific person responds to a certain situation and the changes that result from choices he makes.

 

Start a story.

 

  1. Choose a “What if?” scenario. You can use one of the ones I provided or your own.
  2. Then decide “ Who cares?” about this circumstance. Choose a certain sort of person who gets caught up in this situation and must do something in response.. The more specific about your character you can be, the better. Who he is will determine what he does.
  3. Next, have your character begin to make decisions or take actions. Those decisions will have implications that will change his life for good or ill.

 

 

As you write, keep asking those questions until you feel that the situation has been resolved satisfactorily. Congratulations, you have a story!

 

Happy Writing!

 

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Wordplay Wednesday: Take a Hike!

Wordplay Wednesday: Take a Hike! ( or maybe just a walk)

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Sometimes the creative life, whatever its form, needs a rest or a change of venue to become fresh again. As much as I love to write, there are times when my ideas and words refuse to play well together and my determined attempts to wrestle them into submission are to no avail. When that happens, as it has recently, I know I need to step away from the story before I strangle the life out of it.

 

I need to, as Julia Cameron puts it, “ fill the well.” Filling the well means to replenish yourself with something that is enjoyable and restorative that gets you away from the project at hand.

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For me that means is getting outside more and walking. This week I have been taking long walks alone each morning on the greenway that runs near my home. My senses have been soaking up the sounds, sights, sensations and smells of early fall: birdsong, the movement of clouds, the emergence of fall wildflowers, cool breezes and the crisp, pungent smell of fallen leaves.

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I have made mental gratitude lists, said my prayers and let my mind wander. I have also made myself pay attention to my surroundings with more focus and as a result, my well has been filling back up.

 

I have resisted the impulse to come home and write about the images and ideas right away. For now I am storing the them for future dips into the well instead. After five days I am almost ready to face my story again.

 

 

My suggestion to you is to take a hike or a walk and look at your surroundings with new eyes. There are people, animals, weather, nature and all kinds of activity to take notice of that might spark a poem, essay, character sketch, story or art piece.

 

When your creative work is not working, or you need some fresh ideas, take a hike!

 

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Wordplay Wednesday: Poetic Prompts

Poetic Prompts

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So far in Wordplay Wednesday posts we have used word lists, book titles and song titles as sources for writing ideas. Today I am going to suggest one of my favorite places to find prompts: poetry.

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Poets possess a gift for succinctly expressing common emotions, ideas and experiences in a way that makes us nod our heads in recognition. I am no poet, but I have great admiration for what they do. Often I have the experience of reading a poem and wondering how the poet could to aptly express what I think or feel with such precision and beauty, I have found many writing ideas in poems; sometimes from a single line  or more often from reading an entire work as an image or memory gradually emerges.

At other times I struggle to understand the meaning behind the words, but the act of wrestling with the confusion is also of great value for bringing ideas to the surface. Not knowing can be an illuminating path for a writer to navigate and see what discoveries can be made.

Today I invite you to explore poetry as a way of prompting your creativity, Taste in poetry varies widely, but with an attitude  of openness I believe most people can find poems they can enjoy and relate to. The public library and the internet are both great resources for discovering poets and their works.

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Here are some of the poetry collections I own and dip into for inspiration:

Good Poems selected by Garrison  Keillor

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

Finding My Elegy By Ursula K. LeGuin

Below are lines gleaned from the volumes mentioned above that can be used as prompts for your creativity:

I sometimes fear that the younger generation will be deprived of the experience of….

Everything changes, we’re told, and now the changes are everywhere…

It is in the small things we see it…

And another regrettable thing…

There are many that I miss…

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant…

Nothing is simple anymore…

You’d think we had enough of…

The dead are always looking down on us, they say…

As if, one by one the memories you used to harbor decided to retire…

This is the force of friendship…

Your grief for what you lost lifts a mirror…

There is a deliverance that comes…

The way of love is not a subtle argument…

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Did any of these stir an inkling, an idea, a memory?

Do you have any favorite poems or poets to suggest?

I would love to hear about them.

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