Heart, Soul, and Rough Edges — A Gypsy Journey of Words and Wonder

Archive for the tag “Michele”

Going Deep


Eyeing Einstein (Washington DC, Len Graf 2006)

Today I wrestled and won a round with the mind-messing monkey that clings to me, snickering about all the things I should do, know I should do, intend to do, but never quite get around to doing.

You know the one — we all have them. Usually nags with “someone’s voice of reason”, at a time we’re feeling vulnerable. I hate this voice because it sings off-key, with nasty words that are too true.

In just over a week, I’m going semi-bionic, as I literally leap for that moment when my new left knee replaces the constant pain I’ve been in for a long time. Rehab will hurt like hell, I know, but, at the other side . . .

. . . assuming I make it to the other side. What if I don’t? What if something goes wacky? Expert worriers like me have long lists in our heads, and perhaps on paper. I trust my doctor, rehab team, hubby, hospital, and my own desire to experience some of the good life I’ve eliminated as pain and meds have limited me.

Enough of this! Today, I finally attacked and updated our wills. Nothing fancy, but they now reflect our intentions when it’s “time”. I raged at my mother for several years prior to her last illness and subsequent death, fifteen months later.

“Please!” I begged her. “I don’t care who you leave anything to, but DO SOMETHING. Don’t leave me with a mess to handle when you’re gone.”

“I’m taking care of it,” she kept reassuring me. “I’ll get it done when I’m ready. Dammit, Michele, stop bugging me!”

So she died at 2:00 a.m., on a Sunday morning, in a nursing facility, nothing updated, never told me her wishes, or anything of consequence. The result, as I probated an almost-twenty year old will, fractured the family almost beyond repair.

Fast forward a dozen or so years. Our lives are radically different than even three years ago, when I last updated our wills. Major changes to make so we don’t repeat our dysfunctional history. By the end of Monday, the new wills “should be” witnessed and complete. Then I can breathe, sleep, stop stuffing my face with ice cream (my drug of choice when stressed), and prepare for surgery with a clear and healthy mind.

In honor of my big step, I’m sharing one of my poems from LIFFELINES. May all of this help you make a good choice to finish something very important for your peace of mind.

Restless Peace

I remember…

…How excited you were
to start college at fifty-three,
wanted me to be part of it,
but how nervous I made you.

…Your camel ride,
and how you danced the Hora
without your cane
the last night in Israel.

…Your glitter days of decorating,
the treasures you collected
— herd of elephants,
music boxes, clowns,
gypsy violins,
Lladro figurines.
And flowers—
velvet red roses, especially.

Raw, returning reminder
of sorrow’s bloom.

…You were loyal to your friends,
ecstatic with their triumphs,
anguished in their agony,
fiercely protective of those in need.

…You felt whole when you gave
beyond your limits
of time and energy and hope
then crashed. Again.

And I remember…

…All the times we dealt
in guilt and blame,
held onto hurts and slights,
refused to let them heal.

…Your choices tore us apart,
those left behind.
Impossible to make peace
with your unfinished business.

…You told me, even at the end,
we were supposed to keep arguing.
When you stopped fighting,
I’d know you’d given up.

…We swapped mother-daughter roles
several lifetimes earlier.
I couldn’t parent you any better
than you tried to do with me.

…You had the last word
when you died.
Why do I
keep arguing with you still?

Michele M. Graf


Creativity and the Decluttered Knee

DSCN2012 - Version 2Soon, I shall experience full knee replacement surgery, leap from hobbled old Crone, muttering to myself and others through a pain-med haze, foggy-focused at best most days.

I’ll push through worse anguish for a bit, then — magically — break through to the exquisite tedium of a lifetime of daily attention to reach a level of mobility and sanity I’ve missed. My world has become smaller in scope, narrower in experience, limited by decisions I’ve made to balance constant pain vs. clear-headedness.

Thinking (and writing) have receded to the background. Every six hours, I joust the bits of my brain that control pain receptors. I succeed at times, but the price is an ongoing trip to la-la land. One small knee twist reminds me to be grateful for the advances in medical technology, and keen to get this over.

A couple of weeks ago, tripping in my la-la land, I discovered a site called 365 Less Things, a journey of decluttering life as well as belongings. Yes, the blog owner is aware of the grammatical situation. People who cannot see beyond the title are missing out on a huge benefit.

As I read the archives, from the first post, comments, links that still work, etc., I’m fascinated. I’m up toApril 2012 posts, getting closer to current in snatches online.  I’ve followed the joy, sharing, and breakthroughs of this international community. Watched them mature, fine-tune their concepts as well as their tactics. I recently sent in a couple of ideas for future posts.

I’m always looking to get my life under control, to make it easier to sit down and work instead of clear my space (and head) in order to attack my writing time productively. The 365 Less Things blog is shifting my life.

I declutter my house by noticing what’s in front of me. I’m looking at my office supplies and books (THE most difficult things for me to let go of) with new eyes. Took extraneous “stuff” off my dining room table. Checked out how to recycle an older iPad and iPhone for a Mini Mac; if we could figure out what to do with the dreadful Windows 8 computer we got hubby late last year, we’d do it in a minute.

But back to my knee –the shredded ligaments, cartilage-less kneecap, shifting lower leg bone, and lots and lots of pain. (I don’t know what they do with old knees; maybe bone donations? They have my okay already.) For my new knee to work, I must exchange my old lifestyle — give up non-productive habits, like I have eliminated gluten from my life — in order to truly live.

This cannot be a sprint — ever. Every day, I must re-earn the right and ability to walk and get around. Every day, I must push beyond my ingrained procrastination genes, well-developed excuses, and creative idiosyncrasies. Embrace boring, mundane, and important actions.

Photo on 2011-10-09 at 10.15During recovery, as I come off drugs that have kept me from screaming and behaving even crazier than I normally do, I’ll have time to rethink and rework other parts of my life.

I WILL put rehab first in my life. Choose small changes in my mental and physical environment, Clear space, be ready to write during my “writing time”. Play during playtime. Prepare and follow-through with what’s appropriate to heal body and spirit with nutrition, sleep, and attention to the present.

In a strange way, I’ve been heading to this crossroad for the past year. Prior to the 2012 Muse Online Writers Conference (this year Oct. 7 – 13, 2013), I promised my husband I’d turn over my major role in 2013 to others, so we could celebrate his 70th birthday in style. Since his big day comes right after the conference, he’s had a frazzled wife for the past five years.

My present was to be present for him this year. We planned a nice trip, and I worked on a surprise party for him. A couple of weeks ago, we knew this is not the time for this trip. I can barely get around, and can’t imbibe bubbly spirits.

So, no trip, no party, but no other obligations through the end of this year. Nothing else to sneak ahead of what I will do to bring congruence into my life. I’m approaching TaCaMeFi from a very different direction.

I hope you have an opportunity to reassess what’s important soon, but not because you are forced, like I am. May you keep your personal North Star in sight to guide you in all seasons, and enjoy your journey.



Clouds in Flight

Cloud in Flight

Clouds in Flight, Judy Hayden 2012

“Ah, yes, I remember it well”
Maurice Chevalier, in GiGi


I see and remember
through filters
of place and need,
hunger and fear,
time as instant as breath

You see a cloud
slide through the sky
I feel dragon’s breath
claim the ground
above the trees

Your wide-angle mind
grasps the world’s entirety
— so easy, you say —
it’s all clearly there
fully defined and framed

My mind cannot hold
virtual, visual
logic-formed snapshots,
all pixels in place

Darkroom details,
emotions, shapes,
visceral images
revealed in layers
are my truth

raw word-pictures,
mental music . . .
objects defined
by their given names . . .

we each see and say
our imprinted version
of reality as it never is

Michele M. Graf

This poem grew out of a discussion my husband and I had with friends, when we were each describing what we saw and did on part of our life on the road. How could two people come away with such different memories of the same shared event? One of the best parts of being married to one’s absolute opposite is laughing at all the ways we interpret “Life, the Universe, and Everything”. (Thank you Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

In June, I was co-presenter of the Eugene Public LIbrary Summer Reading Series Poetry Workshop and Showcase. Judy Hayden’s photography was on display as part of the celebration. I went wild when I saw her bird in flight cloud photo — the clearest image of what I’ve tried to explain about how I process the world. Sentimentally, watching cloudscapes and the moon were my special moments with my father when I was young.  Judy graciously agreed to share this magic image with the Poetic Muselings in this post.

A bit about Judy:  I see light and line, color and texture, gladly through my lens; both still and moving images in nature; blessings from the earth, sea, and sky. 

Inspiration for the cloud photo:  During my annual women’s retreat in Eastern Oregon, a time to laugh, cry, and nurture, this amazing bird-like image appeared briefly on our morning walk, bringing us much appreciated joy and inspiration.

Thank you, Judy, for capturing that bird, and allowing it to soar here! We hope to collaborate on other poetry-photo projects in the future, so watch for more.

Why and How I Write Poetry

On June 1 and 8 this year, I co-presented a two-part poetry workshop at the Eugene Public Library, as part of their Summer Series. I described the method of my madness about a couple of poems I’d written recently, and some of my Poet’s Toolbox techniques that helped me polish the poems. Let me know what you think, and any other tools you could share to help others. I finished this portion of the workshop with a very different poem — much lighter.

Inside My Head:

I see the world in images, flashes that bounce around in my head, the equivalent of “ear worms” – a brilliant term I read recently that describes snatches of songs that pop into consciousness and won’t let go – usually until shoved aside by a new ear worm.

I also feel the world viscerally. Words can choke me, make the hair on my arms stand up, surge through my gut like a gallon of bile, leave me speechless with tears – any number of physical, emotional, and/or mental reactions that sneak up to replay unexpectedly, any time, anywhere.

Words and images power my life, clutter my brain, and beg to be put to paper if I ever hope to understand and process them. I will share three poems, the first two described below. Poem #3 is a change-of-pace / true slice-of-life about the bossiest member of my family.

About these Poems:

In April, Annette Funicello, died. I watched the Mickey Mouse Club as a kid, but I had no fan connection to Annette, and read the first obits without any sense of loss of someone I’d miss.

I knew she had MS, but no clue about how completely her form of the disease devastated. Then I followed a link and watched a short clip showing what her life had been like, having lost most of her ability to even communicate. She resembled a sloppy rag-doll version of her former self.

After the clip was made, she went into a coma and was kept in that state for “several years”. I was haunted by the images, her extended coma, and why, ultimately, the plug was pulled. Two poems, Why No Mercy? and And The Answer Is …, are my attempt to make sense of it.

The Tool Box:

1. My CRITIQUE GROUPS said my images were confusing, when I shared my original poem; they didn’t know if I was talking about a person or an animal. Didn’t get the terrible core – how I was now aware of yet one more way we can die while being forced to keep breathing. After my revision and edits, I read them again to my Crit Groups to see if I’d fixed the problems.

2. I used a partial “LEAPFROG” or “LEAPING POETRY” effort with the poems, looked at each line, image, phrase; the sequence and flow; to dig deep for the truth of what I was trying to say. Sometimes I must write so I can excavate the words for the critical essence, figure out how the parts fit, and fashion bridges to connect what is known with what is missing. Sometimes the results have little in common with the original poem, except the heart.

(There are multiple approaches to Leaping Poetry – most bordering on deep surrealistic juxtapositioning of images, the conscious and unconscious minds, etc. The simpler one, my method, is to look inside each image and phrase, then “leap” to what it conjures up, to see if that’s closer to what I want to say. The new image or phrase replaces the previous one, thus “leaping” closer to my target.)

3. “…Mercy…” became a PERSONA poem, written from the narrator’s point of view, changed from third-person (outside) to first-person (inside the poem).

4. Where possible, I edited to present tense for a sense of immediacy.

5. These are PHOTO/ART poems, inspired by the video described above.

6. Both were written for PROMPTS (to write a Hunter poem and a Hunted poem) during the April 2013 Poem A Day (PAD) Challenge on Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides. (Link below)

7. I REVISED for content, then EDITED to polish the poems.

8. I READ MY POEMS ALOUD several times before they reached the current version, to see how the words flowed (or didn’t), pacing, and “mouth feel”.

Revise and Conquer: 

 Revision is not a dirty word – it’s the first step to clarity. None of the tools in my arsenal could be used until the words were down on paper. Think of it as a Treasure Hunt; you gotta start your search somewhere. Take what you write today and explore where it wants to go.

I had to admit to myself that the poems clearly were not about Annette. Her life and death were merely the vehicle for an emotional overload of my inner, stinging terror at losing control of my life, unable to make my decisions or wants or needs known. Perhaps it’s a form of claustrophobia, fear of being locked into a tight space, unable to think or help myself, not knowing who holds the key, why I’m being held, or if I’ll ever be released.

So, as you read the poems, know that I’m sharing my own nightmare, and attempting to reason with my own psyche. The poems are still works in progress, delving deep into the whispered realms we seldom share.


1. A version of the video about Annette:–ds

2. Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog:


First Draft Opening Lines:

The Hunted:  Why No Mercy?

Last night, in voyeur garb,
I saw the ravaged carcass
of what was once a beautiful creature
the image of wholesome grace . . .

(I include a reference to Oregonian Ken Keysey’s 1962 novel (and 1975 movie) One Flew Over The Cookoo’s Nest. The revised poems follow.)

A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes . . .”
Title of former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello’s 1994 autobiography, named after the song from Cinderella.


Why No Mercy?

Last night, my gauzy,
sooty voyeur’s shroud
snagged, ruthlessly tangled,
caught on demon’s flypaper,
sucked into someone else’s life

a once beautiful creature,
the image of wholesome grace,
now a ravaged carcass

tortured, slowly, methodically,
prisoner entombed,
hidden away allegedly with love,

but shown no mercy

Locked in a body no longer mine,
I rage in limbo, not dead, perhaps,
but surely not alive

How long did they keep me
in that madness?
— several years, I heard –
tethered to the eternal drip
of excruciating, painful optimism

For whom, I wonder. Who gained
as I wasted away
to less than nothingness?
Why NOW did they release me?
Why not before?

Ken Kesey had it right.
My Cookoo’s Nest needed a fly-by
many moons earlier, someone
to give me passage by pillow,
admit, like the Indian,
it wasn’t me any more.

May my memory be a blessing
and a warning, give pause.
This is not the dream,
the wish my heart made.


And The Answer Is …

‘Twas done for love
The chance we’d find
That bit of magic,
The only thing left,
To bring you back

 Agony does not do justice to
our hopes dashed, crashed
repeatedly on the rocks
as we prayed to any deities
on call who would, could, respond

We conjured spirits
begged them
for a sign we’d been heard,
acknowledged by the cosmos,
… A single candle’s flicker …

Something, anything, to show
there is — or was — a reason
to believe in belief itself

If only we held on long enough,
prayed hard enough,
sacrificed whatever was required,
perhaps . . .

Finally we knew
No One was home,
wherever home was,
to take the call

Our only mercy
was to let you go.

Perhaps your molecules of pain
were all we had left
to pray with, be heard
not by Gods on high,
but creatures of the earth.
Michele M. Graf


My Birthday and Paul Revere's Horse

I promised myself I would memorize Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” by the time I reached my ninth birthday.

I’d already mastered the spelling of “antidisestablishmentarianism” — I had no clue of its meaning, but someone bet my third grade teacher that she couldn’t teach at least one of her students to spell it. My memory is that she asked me, the star speller in our class, if I’d like to give it a try.

I loved school, loved Miss Elliott, was an obsessive reader well beyond my grade level, and was excited to be picked. To this day, I can rattle off the letters correctly, as long as I do it quickly and don’t over-think.

When we read “Paul Revere’s Ride” in class, it was immediately my favorite because that famous ride happened on my birthday, “the eighteenth of April”. I mean, how cool is it to share my day with Paul Revere and his horse? I still remember several stanzas.

This past birthday occurred in the middle of a critical week in Boston. Broken-hearted, I watched, read and listened to more news reports than I’d done for several years. The courage and resilience Boston and the rest of the country showed touched me deeply.

I had planned to post a wacky “coming of age” poem, about what it means to turn sixty-five. (That’s 455 dog years, if you we’re wondering.) I’ll hold that for another time.

Instead, I decided to share Longfellow’s poem, written in 1860, at another critical point in our history. Yes, Longfellow took some poetic liberties in this work, but his message shines through. As you read it, see if the strong spirit that moved me nudges you a bit, too — especially the first and last few stanzas.


Paul Revere’s Ride

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,–
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,–
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

The Mark of Abel, by Viola Ryan

Mark of AbelSo exciting to introduce you to Viola Ryan, an amazing woman in her own right, plus two of her Main Characters who insisted on getting in on the act today to discuss their new book, The Mark of Abel, (details below) the first book in her series. I’ve heard about these MC’s, read some of their words, but this is the first time they’ve been let loose in our blog.

Some teasers before the interview:

Is a frustrated artist Lucifer’s ticket back to heaven or will falling in love with her reawaken the compassion that got him expelled?

Lucifer is fed up with humanity. He created hell to deter evil, but man’s inhumanity is only escalating. He just wants to return home to heaven, but ever since that little problem in the Garden of Eden, the Pearly Gates remain firmly shut to him. It doesn’t help that he’s the first vampire, an abomination in God’s sight.

Fortunately, two thousand years ago Lucifer’s estranged brother, Jesus, gave him a prophecy. To fulfill it, all Lucifer has to do is find the right artist, study her artwork and the path back to heaven will be revealed. The artist even bears a symbol so he knows who she is. Too bad she is murdered every time he finds her.

Janie’s a frustrated artist and college art teacher who wants two things—a guy she can show her paintings to and a night without nightmares. Each nightmare plagues her until she paints it. She doesn’t realize these paintings are key to unlocking her destiny, one that could redeem the original fallen angel.

Wow! Ready to meet the gang?

Michele: Welcome, Viola! You and I have talked about your artistic and poetic characters, and I know you’ve all had quite a busy month. I’m going to let you play lion-tamer here, and be your spotter during this interview. So, the stage is yours, to mix my metaphors . . .

Viola Ryan:  Thank you for inviting us! Both Lucifer and Janie are anxious to explain why they are each right and the other is . . . not-so-on-track. They promised to behave, mostly, so we’ll see. So, I’d like to welcome Lucifer and Janie, the stars of my debut release The Mark of Abel, to The Poetic Muselings.

Lucifer: Roses are red, Violets are blue, Hell is hot, and so are you.

Janie: Luke! Shame on you. Michele was nice enough to let us be here and Viola took time aside from writing the sequel. (aren’t you dying to find out what she’s going to do to us next?) Poetry is important.

Lucifer: What do you know about poetry? You’re an artist. A picture speaks a thousand words.

Janie: But that’s what a poem does. It isn’t the sum of its words. It paints a picture every bit as much as my paintings do.

Lucifer: So no dirty limericks?

Janie: NO! Viola please continue. 

Viola: Thank you, both. You can see why he’s so much fun to write.

Janie: When he’s not brooding over how God has wronged him.

Lucifer: God wronged you, too. And I don’t brood.

Janie. Sulk? Pout? Whine?

Lucifer: Not funny. 

Janie: Not even a little bit?

Viola: (laughing), more than a little bit. Back to the interview you guys. Geeze, it’s like I’m  writing The Mark of Abel again. You two like to go on your own little paths regardless of what I want you to do. 

Lucifer: And you love every minute of that.

Viola: Maybe.  Back to the interview. Since we are at the Poetic Muselings, I thought we’d talk a bit about Janie’s art and art in general. Janie’s been reincarnated many times, but she’s always an artist of some sort. Why do you think that is?

Janie: Art always speaks to something deep in me. I have to paint or express myself someway or I’ll explode.

Lucifer: You are creative and a priestess. Put those together and you get some type of artist. Poets, too.

Viola: What do you mean a priestess?  You aren’t exactly chummy with God anymore. 

Lucifer: There is a greater truth to this universe that supersedes even God. Janie’s art helps people reach that. That’s what good art does.

Janie: I didn’t know you felt that way. I’ve always believed that. Art is a way to reach a deeper understanding. That’s why I teach art appreciation at Archer College. Art speaks a language that lives deep inside us. A picture does more than speak a thousand words. It speaks things words themselves cannot. It reaches our souls. It feeds our souls, something modern society starves for. That’s why society needs artist of all sorts, including poets.

Viola: You mentioned you’d explode. Can you go into this?

Janie: I have horrible nightmares. If I don’t paint them, they build up inside me. The pressure is intense. For awhile I tried to resist painting them. I want to paint happy paintings, like Renoir. First, my muse fled. She wasn’t going to let me paint anything pretty. Then I felt tingles in my extremities. I was constantly flexing my hands to try and shake this off. It didn’t work. Eventually, I felt like I was having a heart attack, like my heart was actually being crushed. I had to give in. As soon as I started painting my nightmares, the pain went away.

Lucifer: It’s a good thing you kept painting them or we never would have figured things out. They were–

Janie: No spoilers.

Viola: Thank you. Your paintings are one of the most important twists in the book.

Lucifer: Hey, what about me? I’m not the red horned, pitchfork wielding Devil everyone knows and hates.

Viola: I know. I said, ONE of. Of course the reimagining of Judeo-Christian stories is the most important twist and a lot of fun to write.

Lucifer: I like being the first vampire.

Viola: I’m glad. It’s getting to be dinner time here for me, so do either of you have anything else you’d like to say?

Lucifer: Ladies first.

Janie: Isn’t he cute? He really is a gentleman in many respects. What I’d like your reader to do is give him a chance. A lot of what you’ve heard is wrong. He’s no teddy bear, but he’s not a bad guy.

Lucifer: Thanks. I should say something nice here about Janie, but she’s laid her heart out and there is nothing more beautiful than that. Words would just mess things up. I  wish I could write a poem demonstrating how wonderful she is, but I can’t. Maybe your readers can do that.

Viola: Thank you both for coming. Thank you Michele for having us. Feel free to ask us anything in the comments. We’ll be around if you want to chat.

Michele: Thank you, Viola, Lucifer, and Janie. I love the intricacy of your story, the intensity, and creative re-presenting of issues. Things are never what they seem. I know you are all working madly on the next book, and hopefully, working together! We’re so glad you joined us.

Our readers can add their comments to this post, and we’ll make sure you have a chance to respond.

Holy-Hell-Blog-Tour-Mark of Abel

We’re including links to your awesome Book Trailer, (LOVE the soundtrack!) and publishing details. The Mark of Abel is in ebook now, and will be in print in September 2013.

MuseItUp Publishing:


 Trailer Link:

Viola RyanAnd a bit about Viola Ryan:

A very good friend of Viola Ryan in high school said, “You don’t think outside the box. You blow the thing up.” Sometimes boxes need exploding. That’s why she’s here. She has a whole bag of C4 and isn’t afraid to use it. She’s blessed with people who treasure her eccentricities or at least put up with them.

Sometimes the box can be a cozy place. Without some sort of stability, her two daughters’ and her life would be unmanageable. That stability comes from her husband. He’s the rock holding her family together.

On the flip side, his career is anything but stable. He’s a Chief Marine Safety Technician in the US Coast Guard. They’ve lived from Kittery, Maine to Yorktown, Virginia. Fortunately, the moves have all been on the east coast. Then again, the Coast Guard tends to guard the coast.

Her oldest daughter (16) was born on Cape Cod, not far from Plymouth. Massachusetts. Her youngest (12) was born in Yorktown, Virginia, down the road from Williamsburg. Viola jokes they’re doing the colonial America tour.

Social Media Links:
Amazon Author Page:


Boundaries and Compassion: Relationships

Our thanks once again to mega-mentor Lisa Gentile, for this follow-up to Boundaries and Compassion (Part 1).

Harlee-sketchLisa’s thoughtful response to the questions at the end of the post were what I needed recently to reframe a situation with someone I trust and worked closely with in the past. We hit a couple of communication and expectations bumps that left us both at odds. (Continued at the end of Lisa’s post). 

How do you choose your confidant?

In general, confidant candidates appear randomly in my life. A client of mine recently said that when she shares a little, enters a vulnerable space, and her conversation partner then shares a little bit in that vulnerable space they can begin to build trust. It starts with a risk. It takes trust to build trust.

I am grateful to have a handful of confidential relationships. We can go to each other to share aspirations, successes, confessions, and challenges without fear of eliciting resentment or judgment from each other. But these feelings do come up, we’re only human. We try to be compassionate toward ourselves and each other and say, “Hey, this topic is awkward for me right now. I’m not up to this.”

When I need to share something specific I consider who is physically, emotionally, and mentally available and maybe who is already close to the topic at hand. I suspect that I also consider which of my friends seems to reflect the image of myself that I want to live up to through the matter of the moment. That gives me a sense of safety when I’m vulnerable. This bias is natural. However, I do trust my confidants to hold me accountable and to call me out on flawed logic or restrictive thinking.

How do you recognize and communicate the type of feedback you need? 

First I spend some time in my “cave”, in the swim lane, or on the trail trying to figure out whether and where I am stuck. I try to notice which thoughts are circling in my mind, where I draw blanks, or what I feel I need to express. The researcher in me likes to determine what information I need in order to reach an actionable decision. Then I can go to a friend and say, “I need your help in looking at blank.”

But it’s not always so simple to reach a clear hypothesis. So more and more I do myself the favor of realizing earlier in the process that I can explore these very questions with a confidant or, depending on the topic, my coach. I can bring in support sooner rather than later.

How do you recognize unjust and/or inappropriate comments or actions from others?

It starts in the gut, the heart, or the brain. Pick an organ. We all want to feel appreciated for who we are. If I feel unheard, used, or otherwise discounted I hold back. If I think that the other person is determined to project his or her own agenda rather than respect my effort to share myself and reach out, I am discouraged from sharing more at that time. It might be that the timing is bad for one or both of us. It might be habitual.

But we can be more methodical about identifying unsafe harbors. One approach is to be aware of I-statements that are really you-statements in disguise. I-statements are meant to be assertive or declarative without being offensive. An example of an I statement is, “I feel that my share of the work is too large.” This opens the conversation up for empathy, problem solving, and collaboration. An example of a cloaked you-statement is, “I feel that you are not a team player.” This statement bypasses the opportunity to solve the practical problem, puts the receiver on the defensive, and further isolates the sender. Few people will warm up to hearing “I feel that you . . . “

Especially in the creative world, I-statements can be pivotal in providing constructive criticism and even in giving compliments. The Wikipedia article on I-messages gives a nice example of feedback: “ . . . one might say, ‘I had to read that section of your paper three times before I understood it,’ rather than, ‘This section is worded in a really confusing way,’ or ‘You need to learn how to word a paper more clearly.’ (

When it comes to compliments, I would much rather hear, “I like it when you synthesize and reflect what I’ve said. I know you are listening,” than, “You are good.” The former is specific and describes a connection. The latter is a judgment.

Of course confidants can get away with more because they have trust equity. They are not evaluating the entire relationship after every sentence and they have time to elucidate messages. Furthermore, our interpretation of language is filtered by our beliefs and cultural norms so it makes sense to not be too quick to rule someone out. Deborah Tannen developed an interesting theory that we care about how the information we pass effects the receiver as much as we care about the information that we pass.

It would be nice if we all had the time, energy, and presence of mind to polish our communication skills from time to time. Short of that, if we continually encounter someone who doesn’t match our expectations of personal responsibility, it might be a good idea to keep a polite distance.

Does it happen repeatedly with the same person or people?

Difficult people have good days and easy people have bad days. I have grown close to people who initially offended me. I hope that others have given me a second, third, and fourth chance. But when it’s a recurring issue, I detach.

Specifically, what tactics have you developed to protect yourself in these situations, separating you (the recipient) from the message and sender of that message?

No kidding, when a comment catches me off guard I sometimes visualize an aikido turn that is designed to let the offending gesture roll past me and return me to my center stance.

If I must socialize or work with someone who probably means well but with whom I don’t feel mutual trust, I try to limit our interaction to group activities where there is not much pressure on one-to-one experience.

How and what do you communicate in this scenario?

It depends on the context and our relationship. Sometimes it’s helpful to “check-in.” I might ask whether there is something specific on the speaker’s mind. I might say I need a time out to sort out the issues. I might ask whether we can separate the issues together.

One conflict resolution technique that I use in the Moxie Mavericks Team Strengths Builder workshop can be useful here. Conflict often leads to mutual feelings of disrespect. Sometimes it helps to stop and share what we each value most in the situation—which signature strengths we are trying to express. Then we can appreciate each other and find a way for both objectives to be met.

How do you remain compassionate, but protect your personal boundaries?

Oh, the forgiveness I have received!

Life can be hard for all of us. At times people have assumed things about my life and therefore how I should behave. I’ve learned to try to not assume things about the lives of others. I don’t know what I don’t know. Hopefully, we don’t have to condemn others to protect ourselves. We need to nurture our own emotional resiliency.

Contracts are helpful. My sister and I are both business owners and sometimes we collaborate. When we do, we write and sign a contract. Some people think we’re silly. But we clarify and document our expectations so we can focus on collaboration. We define our boundaries for that particular aspect of our relationship.

How do you heal yourself after such an encounter?

To sustain performance, we have to manage our energies through a regular cycle of expenditure and recovery. Emotional energy is one of the four types that requires special attention. To recover my emotional energy after a difficult encounter, I acknowledge my negative feelings and show myself a little compassion. I use Dr. Kristen Neff’s guided meditations for self-compassion. They are available for free at

Sometimes it helps to make an effort to empathize and forgive, to consider the situation from the other person’s perspective. Then I do something that I enjoy in order to move toward positive feelings again.

What form of creativity helps you re-center and move forward again?

I like working in the yard or at the workbench because the projects require decisive action and the results are somewhat immediate. There are usually half a dozen projects that I can sand, paint, saw, drill, or dig at a moment’s notice. I like a walk in the woods, a swim, or a sail to really refresh. Knitting works in a pinch. These activities help me discharge energy from adrenaline and cortisol. Journaling and sketching help me sort out residual thoughts.

Lisa Gentile, M.S.
Moxie Mavericks Life Coaching


Thank you, Lisa!

Identifying your own responsibility in these interactions, and engaging with coping skills to deal with the flow –  rather than reactive response – is something I need to remember. . . at the time of encounter. I need to also remember to breathe OUT without words or monkey mind thoughts to get my bearings.

Trying to get it all figured out before asking for help is another biggie — I’m really glad you stated that here. Too often, we — the helper types — think we should be able to handle “it” ourselves, and can waste precious time, psychic energy, and generate huge amounts of destructive worry and adrenal overload when we don’t consider our resources (like trusted confidants).

I’m glad I had your wisdom before I talked to my colleague. I addressed, and cleared the air, about one of our issues in a way that was constructive for both of us. My gut kept me silent about the other at that time; something wasn’t “right” about how I wanted to talk about it. Rereading this post made me realize I was approaching the problem with pseudo-“I” statements that were really “you” criticism.

Boundaries, Compassion, and Relationships — the very heart of so much of our poetry, no?



Meet Kitty Barton, Author and Emerging Poet

Today we’re delighted to have Catrina (Kitty) Barton join us. Kitty became a new Moderator during the 2012 Muse Conference, and was an active member of our Poetry Workshop. She considers herself more of an author than poet, but we recognized the lyrical quality of some of her writing, and the depth of emotion in several of her poems, so we believe she can proudly wear the title of Poet, too.

Kitty Barton

Catrina Barton is a real go-getter, who turned her avid reading addiction into a vigorous passion for writing. Especially Young Adult Romances. She draws on her knowledge as a Kung-Fu Instructor to make her fight scenes both realistic, and action packed.

When not indulging her fertile imagination to craft stories for your reading pleasures, she enjoys hiking with her family, and amateur belly dancing.

Her love of writing, and her family, rival by her exhilaration from helping fellow writers. She is a proud member of many writing and marketing groups, an active participant at Critique Circle, and several other crit groups.

She’s sharing three poems. The first two were written before the work shop. The final on was written during the workshop, during the Persona Poem exercise. Enjoy her poems and comments, below.

My one, my only

Cold and lonely was my life
Lost in darkness knowing only strife
Forever to drown in sorrow and shame
Until into my life you came
Appearing before me pure as a dove
To show and teach me a miracle called love
Never again will I be lonely
Thanks to you, my one, my only.

Only Bliss

Surrounded by mist
We dance and twist
Our bodies in tune
Beneath the moon
Both in our prime
In a rhythm old as time
Entangled like this
We know only bliss

Persona Poem:

My computer

I sit before you each day, watch you staring at me but we never play.
You use me to play with others but never give me a passing thought,
unless I act up and then you’re annoyed.
Show me some love and help fill my void.

 Kitty says:

I adored the variety of enlightening workshops and have applied all of the lessons I learned to my writing since them. {Especially to my upcoming novel release} I enjoyed meeting so many awesome people, who are as passionate about writing, reading, and helping others as I am.

I am a published author since June of 2012. First full length novel due out the end of March.

Words of wisdom: Do not miss the next Muse Online Conference. 🙂

Favorite personal quote:

“An author cannot grow without both constructive criticism and encouragement.”

My blog for writers:

Other Social Media Links:

Meet Melanie Hamilton, Our Muse Conference Moderator

Every October, we engage in a week-plus of utter madness and frenetic activity with the Muse Online Writers Conference —  a free, international event filled with close to forty hours of real-time live online chat-format workshops, plus dozens and dozens of forum workshops on various aspects of writing, editing, web presence, and much more.

Those who attend are involved for about ten days of action. Behind the scenes, however, a group of about thirty members of the ModSquad handle ALL the bits that make the event possible. These are the chat moderators and forum facilitators; coordinators of schedule, presentations, handouts; handlers of registration problems and lost people. They help the presenters figure out how to use the system, do all the foot-work to see that everyone who is supposed to pitch to one of the publishers or agents makes it to the right place at the right time.

The ModSquad is like the 7/8ths of the iceberg you don’t see — the part that supports the gorgeous crags that leave you breathless.

The Poetic Muselings taught a weeklong forum workshop, plus three hours of live chat-workshops, during the Oct. 2012 Muse Conference. We had a blast, met some amazing poets, and helped connect a few to form their own critique group. During the month of February, we are honored to introduce some of these poets, and present work they did during that week, as we explored poetic forms and followed inspiration.

We lead off our series with Melanie Hamilton, who handled Moderator and Facilitator duties for the Poetic Muselings, as well as for several other presenters. Melanie kept us calm, organized, taught most of the group how to do what was needed to function, which made my job as Head Moderator much easier, since I could concentrate on the major fires, and didn’t have to worry about our workshop.

Melanie, we thank you for your courage to share, wild sense of humor, and all that you did for us. We are delighted you agreed to join us here on the Poetic Muselings blog. Congratulations on rediscovering your other creative talents, like the photo, below.


Highlighting Pleasure

A single finger
sweeps across my skin
friction releasing me
mote by mote

A focused thumb
presses me down
while fingers stroke
highlighting “pleasure”

M. Hamilton 1

Girls’ Love

You found out I kissed her
Pressed my lips against hers
Felt her teeth, hard and sharp

You found out I laid on her
My body long and thin
Felt her ribs, hard and round

You found out I wanted her
and placed me
behind the garden wall still


About Me

I am round soft
I love deep warm
I laugh bright loud
I dance easy liquid
I sing dark low
I touch strong light
I see true clear
I speak straight craftM. Hamilton 2
I dream wide new

do not think me
gentle for all that

I am strong
I love fierce
I laugh wicked
I dance raw
I sing blue
I touch hard
I see truth
I speak Yes!
I dream the world right


My name is Melanie Hamilton and I can usually be found as MMV Hamilton. I do have other personas on the net. Meham and Meela are the usual alter egos. I’ve been writing all my life. I remember writing something about a bunny in third grade, and writing stories and poems when asked. I started writing poems more seriously as a teen but circumstances intervened and I stopped. Stopped writing except in journals.

Decades passed while I tried to figure out what kind of writing I wanted to settle on, until I finally gave in and started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I was forty-something. That is when it all came together and I was introduced to Nanowrimo. In the meantime, I stumbled across a local class Writing as a Form of Healing. The class is based on the work of Pat Schneider. She created the Amherst Writers and Artists group which supports the voices of everyone. Their premise is that we tell stories so we are all writers. While I was about four novel drafts into Nanowrimo, this class had the effect of freeing my poet’s voice again.

Two years taking workshops with Savvy Authors has yielded a portfolio of short stories and lots of confidence in my prose writing. From Savvy Authors I followed a few of the workshop teachers over to the Muse Online Conference and fell in love! Almost at once I wanted to be part of something larger than just writing. I found my opportunity becoming a novice moderator.

What an amazing experience. The intensity of coralling, I mean gathering teachers and students into a learning environment that is both fun and informative feeds the part of writing that I don’t get to experience often. Helping.

By day, I work as a home-care LVN working in a family with a special needs child and her sister. OK let’s call it what it is—specialized babysitting! Some days it’s just one long play date. Others it’s rescuing a family from stresses they were not expecting waiting for their first child.

I’m getting close to retirement and I know that some of what I receive from half a lifetime of helping must go with me. I am hoping that writing and my writing communities will give me that. Meanwhile, I write, with fellow Savvy members, on our blog The Speculative Salon ( and am getting my shorts portfolio ready for submissions. I’ve had micro success being published so far. Micro Horror took my Zombie Walk story and Apollo’s Lyre received my shorter short, a six-word story both thanks to the tuteledge of Jim Harrington.

Flash fiction is close to poetry, the link between poetry and the longer forms of story and novel. I like the shorter pieces because they are satisfying to complete and give me the opportunity to investigate aspects of the novel worlds I build that don’t fit into the larger work. They let me world build through characters. A little like playing Dungeons and Dragons again.


Boundaries and Compassion

imageLisa Gentile, Moxie Mavericks Life Coach and Mentor Extraordinaire, has pushed, prodded, and supported the Poetic Muselings from early in our adventures. We’ve maintained an on-going exchange of ideas, building on our progress and plans. With the new year’s map unfolded on our virtual table, it seems a good time to share some of Lisa’s material on setting boundaries while maintaining compassion. Food for thought, with our reactions and additions woven in.

As the recent series of posts show, we’re excited about our projects, and new ways to approach them. Balancing the Plan Stage with the Action Stage is always difficult.

We encourage each other to stretch, do big, hairy, scary things. Act as cheerleaders and critics, as the situation called for. We try very hard to listen to the words, and hear what’s behind them, to temper our support.

Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we need to pull back; we, as friends and professional colleagues, cannot fulfill all the roles all the time. Sometimes, the subject is too close to us for us to separate ourselves from the problem.

We each have our own networks of friends, acquaintances, professionals, and family, who are the intricate web that support or entangle us. Sometimes both. We’re called on to provide support to those “others”, and rely on them for the same. What we need isn’t always what we get.

What follows is from Lisa. In many ways, her words grant us permission (if we need it) to step back, reclaim our space and know we deserve to protect ourselves — with tools of compassion for all parties.

It’s okay to protect ourselves from someone who has behaved unjustly. We can strive to do it without judgment.

From “Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff:

“Discriminating wisdom clearly sees when an action is harmful or maladaptive, and when we need to protect ourselves from those with bad intentions. However, it also understands that all people are imperfect, that we all make mistakes.”

“It’s useful here to draw a distinction between judgment and discriminating wisdom. Discriminating wisdom recognizes when things are harmful or unjust, but also recognizes the cause and conditions that lead to situations of harm or injustice in the first place.”

When we feel vulnerable and we need to reach out for compassion, it’s okay to be selective about our confidant.

From “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown:

“We have to own our story and share it with someone who has earned the right to hear it, someone whom we can count on to respond with compassion . . . We definitely want to avoid the following…:

The friend who takes on your pain so you end up comforting her.
The friend who responds with sympathy rather than empathy.
The friend who is disappointed in you.
The friend who is so vulnerable that she scolds you or looks for someone to blame.
The friend who is made so uncomfortable by mistakes that she denies your story.
The friend who speaks as if one-upping you is the same as connecting with your vulnerability.”

We all do all of the above from time to time and may continue to be good friends to others. But when we are vulnerable we need the right friend for the occasion.

“When we’re looking for compassion, we need someone who is deeply rooted, able to bend, and most of all, we need someone who embraces us for our strengths and struggles.”

Our exchanges have given me something to think about in terms of tactics for erecting these boundaries. I am open to further thoughts on the matter.

Lisa Gentile, M.S.
Moxie Mavericks Life Coaching


imageOnce again, thank you, Lisa.

Building on what Lisa has identified above, we invite you to ponder the following questions, and to answer with your heart:

How do you choose your confidant?
How do you recognize and communicate the type of feedback you need?
How do you recognize unjust and/or inappropriate comments or actions from others?
Does it happen repeatedly with the same person or people?
Specifically, what tactics have you developed to protect yourself in these situations, separating you (the recipient) from the message and sender of that message?
How and what do you communicate in this scenario?
How do you remain compassionate, but protect your personal boundaries?
How do you heal yourself after such an encounter?
What form of creativity helps you re-center and move forward again?

Please share your ideas, and what you’ve learned on your life’s path. Recognize your strengths; identify where you may need to establish boundaries; trust yourself to try effective methods others have developed; and maintain a sense of compassion for yourself.

In a few weeks, we’ll collate the responses into a follow-up post, so, you can continue to add to your own comments, and build on the thoughts that other people present – like an ongoing dialogue.

Thank you for your courage to participate.

(If you would like your comments to be anonymous, you can send them to me at the following, and I’ll add them in:

Michele Graf — poetic DOT muselings AT gmail DOT com. Drop the spaces, and substitute the dots and at.)

Note – these photos were copied from internet sites before I knew how to identify their priginal sources. I’m searching for that info, so I can properly credit them; if you know the source, please tell me so I can add it in. Thanks.

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