A Visit From the Muse


 

 

1.

One thing that always motivates me is a deadline. Having a calendar of coming events, coming obligations, is a not so gentle reminder that I need to take action. Time moves on, and me doing other things or not paying attention of the business at hand, gets me into trouble.

I’ve wanted to do something different at the monthly community open mic that I’ve helped get started. I do a lot of promotion for it and I always have something to read there.

Being the essayist, the book writer, the poet is a comfortable role. And, reading off the printed page is not threatening. I’m not totally drenched in nervous sweat when I read at a public event.

Many of my friends come, and the event is developing into a nice cultural event for this small town. One of my friends is now the regular emcee, and he does a fine job. Lately, he’s been “suggesting” I do something with my guitar. I play in a community country rock band; we’ve done public performances. And, I played my guitar while my wife sang at a friend’s wedding last year. So, I’ve dipped my toe into the public waters.

This past two weeks, I’ve flipped through several song books, and listened to some of my new favorite CDs, hoping to find that perfect “cover” song to play. If Willie or George or Pete can sing and play something in public, well maybe I can copy that.

I even found one of my first favorite songs, from when I was literally just a babe. “This Old House” was the number one song when I was one year old, and I annoyed my mother to no end playing it again and again on my little kid’s record player.

This week, I learned that Rosemary Clooney sang it in the key of Eb and it now is seen as a Gospel song. But, after a few hours, I realized it just wasn’t working for me. At least not with a deadline of tonight.

The last few days, I’ve felt that the song to be done is a blues song, and I found the rhythm and key that fits. All I needed were lyrics.

An article I read said that songs that work are about things you experience and have feelings about. I kept thinking about it, even when I was stuck in traffic. My home town is going through construction madness this summer. All the tourists plus construction of a new highway intersection, a town plaza and new sidewalks has often brought traffic to a halt.

I went home and sat down with my guitar and a quiet hour on the deck. Just me, my guitar, a pad of paper, and, hopefully, my new song.

I played my chords, got my rhythm, and wrote down a few thoughts about the traffic. Then a few more words, and more guitar strumming. I gave it space, and let the Muse settle in for a visit. More words. I put down the pencil, and found a pen. The pen somehow made it easier to write what came to mind.

Yeah, a lot of words and phrases came to mind, got written down, then crossed out, or new words and phrases stuffed in.

I looked up, taking in the coming sunset, took a break, got a glass of water, and wrote some more. And, edited, rearranged, mulling it all over.

I went to bed, feeling that this thing, this “song” was about there, and had been, well, created.

Overnight, my brain mulled it over again. At 2 a.m., I woke with the first verse fully in my head, and it was good. At 6, I sprung out of bed and wrote another verse, and revised several others, all before coffee. The Muse can be demanding.

Later, out of respect for my wife’s ears after only one cup of coffee and the morning hour, I waited until she went outside to the garden before my song rehearsal. The pen made a few more word changes, and then even editor’s remorse, and some editing was undone.

I relaxed, guitar pick in hand.

“Let the words guide the music,” the Muse whispered. “And relax.”

“Just let it flow.”

I like it. It’s a song. It’s good entertainment, too. Fun. Whimsical. And, a new side of me that I haven’t let too many people see. I haven’t let me see it very often, either. Playing that tonight will be fun, and my friends will be surprised.

Me, too.

2.

The Muse stayed with me, as I brought my guitar into the yogurt shop. I took it out the case, tuned it, and set it up near the microphone. I brought my music stand and put the printed words out there.

Nerves set in, as I waited for folks to gather, and we finished setting up the space. I sucked down a whole bottle of water, my mouth parched by the warm day, or was it nerves? My buddy started us off, and others played their music, read their poems.

It was a comfortable night for everyone, or so I thought. Old friends, reading new works, sharing deep emotions. Just like me.

Soon, it was my turn. And instead of having an essay or poem in my hand, it was my old familiar guitar. I strummed a few chords and off I went.

The song went as planned, and it came out the way I thought it should go. And, I got a nice round of applause at the end.

One friend admired the fact that I’d done something different tonight. We’re both poets, so he asked how writing a song was different.

“Still a poem,” I said, “but one with more dimensions.”

I’ve tried something hard, but it felt good, felt right. For what I wanted to say tonight, it was the way to go, a blues song about my little town, and what was going on affected me, changed me. That’s what a good poem, a good essay, or even a book chapter does, too.

Life is like that, offering challenges, new ways of saying things, getting things out.

 

–Neal Lemery, 7/23/2017

Great Books on Writing and My Writing Principles


Neal Lemery’s List of Suggested Books on Writing Craft and Guiding Principles

 

 

Stephen King, On Writing

 

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

 

Lisa Cron, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentenc

 

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

 

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

 

 

 

 

My Guiding Principles

 

  • Write what you know
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Write often, even if it’s the grocery list
  • Carve out a time and space to write and do it regularly. (Make an appointment with yourself.)
  • Carry some paper and a pen everywhere. The Muse strikes unexpectedly.
  • Give words to someone’s story. Give them a voice.
  • If the story is too close, too painful, write it as fiction, or in third person.
  • Writing folders on your computer, on the desktop. Yearly Journal. Subjects. Don’t trash anything. Every writing work is a seed.
  • Read great writing.
  • Do a blog. (self imposed obligation to write, and gets you “out there”)
    • com
    • com
    • (My blog turned into two books)
    • group blog
    • guest blog (post someone else’s writing on your blog)
    • Link to your Facebook page, or blog directly on Facebook
    • Photo blog/Instagram
    • Link to Twitter

 

 

http://neallemery.com

 

In The Writer’s Zone


 

There are dangers in being a writer. The jaws of the Muse’s trap can take form in the laptop by my chair, waiting for me and the Muse to connect.
Often, the Muse doesn’t come. It’s not always my procrastination. But when she does, she’s sneaky. She will wait for me, hoping I’ll be there to catch that poem by its tail and write it backwards, as it slips through my life. That’s what Elizabeth Gilbert thinks. And she’s right.
In that “writing it backwards” before the Muse laughs at you and slips out of the house, that I must pounce and capture the idea before it leaves.
All else stops, and time becomes something else, not anything like clock hands moving around the circle, or even the sunbeam silently moving across the floor, until I suddenly realize its dark outside and maybe I should turn on a light. It’s another world, this writing life.
Yesterday, I decided to boil eggs, so that I would have some hardboiled eggs for my breakfast the next day. We were going out of town, to a hospital for a medical procedure for my wife. I don’t wait well in hospitals anyway, and waiting rooms and I don’t do well together on an empty stomach. We had to be there just after six, and my wife couldn’t have breakfast, or even coffee. So, I needed to be sneaky, and smuggle my breakfast into the waiting room.
I had a writing assignment for a newsletter. I’d been obligated to write a short piece, just three to four hundred words. Something chatty and newsy, about something related to the work I was doing for the group.
“Do something fun, whimsical,” the newsletter editor had told me. “It’ll be easy for you. You write a lot anyway.”
Doesn’t she know there’s always blood involved in this writing thing?
Of course, the idea for it hadn’t arrived in my brain yet, and I was fretting about the deadline in a few days, and not having it done. And, I had to get it done before we were off to the hospital, and the couple of nights in a motel, so that my wife could recover, yet be near the doctor if anything went wrong. Hospital waiting rooms and motel rooms with bandaged limbs and ice bags and rows of pills on nightstands aren’t good writing venues.
All the usual pre-op anxiety wasn’t good for my chatty little writing assignment, and so I procrastinated.
But, when the eggs were done, I WAS going to sit down and write. Maybe something would come.
I put the eggs on to boil.
“No need to set the timer,” I told myself. Once they boiled, I was just going to leave them in the pan for an hour and they’d be nicely hardboiled.
I put the eggs in the pan and turned on the stove.
“I’ll flip open the laptop, and get myself set up to write,” I thought.
“I’ll be right back.”
Ha! That was not to be. As soon as I sat down and got going on the computer, to set up that scary fresh new page on the computer screen, the Muse decided to pay a visit.
“Oh, that’s a great idea,” I thought, and started to write. First a sentence, then another, and the first paragraph shaped up.
On to the second paragraph, and a third. A little editing, a rephrasing, and off I went.
Lost to the world, oblivious of anything around me. I wrote and wrote, and a good first draft of the essay was there, right in front of my eyes.
“”What’s going on with your eggs?,” my wife asked.
“What eggs?” I said.
“Oh, those eggs. Oh, I’ve forgotten them,” I said, hurriedly putting down my laptop.
Reality again.
Most of the water had boiled away. And that was an accomplishment, as I’d put a glass lid on the pot, one of those with the little metal rimmed hole, so just a smidgen of steam can come out. Unless you forget and just let it boil and boil, until that essay is looking good.
It must have boiled for quite a while, as only about a tablespoon of water was left, and the shells looked grayish brown, almost smoky. In another two or three minutes, they would have started smoking.
I wondered what burned hardboiled eggs would be like, how the house would probably be filled with clouds of burned hard boiled eggs. Sulfurous. Nauseating. A stench that would still be noticeable a week later, leaving me to explain to friends and visitors what that stench was, and how it came to be. How I came to ruin a perfectly good pot. How to explain why I can’t seem to even be able to boil some eggs.
And why Bon Appetit or Gourmet magazine won’t be asking me to contribute a story.
I could blame it on the Muse, couldn’t I? Wasn’t it her fault, waiting around until I put the eggs on, and flipped open the laptop, when she struck. Distracting me, leaving me to forget a scant two minutes into my project, that there was a decent essay in the room, and I needed to get it written. Forget the eggs.
And so I did. I moved into another dimension, leaving my wife to come by in the nick of time, and rescue the household from another one of my cooking disasters, one of my projects gone awry.
I’ll blame it on the Muse. It’s all her fault. Even when she shows up.

 

–Neal Lemery June 19, 2017

Grieving


 

 

 

They come into my life and then, too early, they are gone. And I mourn and grieve, cry and moan. I am angry at my loss, my pain, the void in my life as their sudden absence is a bleeding, infected wound that never quite seems to heal.

Grief dances its macabre and bittersweet retinue of every emotion, taking fiendish joy in ambushing me when I least expect it, when I am least able to cope with the pain.

Yet, deep down, I still carry their light and their love, and sense their their soul, still resounding with me, still an integral part of my life.

Why? What was so special about that person that I am so profoundly affected by their passing? What was it about them that reached me, touched my heart, and brought them so close to me, such an essential part of my life, my own story? What is the lesson to be learned?

I just read that plants emit light frequencies in a part of the light spectrum that is invisible to our eyes, yet photography is now able to record those images, those vibrations, and reveal another dimension of the profound beauty and intricacies of these living beings.

Is it that much of a stretch in thinking that people also emit vibrations and frequencies of light that is invisible to our eyes, yet sensed in a much deeper level by us, on a different, yet intuitive, level.

“You are special. You bring something into my life that is beautiful, meaningful for me.”

Attraction.

The law of attraction teaches us that we attract to ourselves the emotions, the feelings, the vibrations that we need. And when we open ourselves to those feelings, the presence of what we crave, then we become more complete, and more able to live the life that we deeply desire. We come closer to fulfilling our true purpose in this life.

And when a special person leaves us, there is a void, an emptiness, a loss. Yet there is also the knowing, deep down, of what they have brought to us in our all too brief time together. That memory serves us well, teaching us what we had needed and desired, to be a better, more complete person.

In that loss, that death, there are lessons to be learned, lessons on what we have needed and taken in, and grown from. When the class is over, only then do we fully appreciate the lessons learned, the experience gained, the real benefit of being present for the lesson, the experience.

At the end of a particular journey, the end of that special time when a special friend has come into my life and walked with me, only then do I first realize what I have experienced, what we had set out to learn, and how I needed to grow. I look back, and only then see from where I have come, how far I have traveled, and the name of the road I am on.

These dear ones who have passed on, the ones whose light I have needed along my own journey, have taught me great lessons, and deeply impacted my life. I find that when they are gone, only then do I start to fully realize the gifts they have given me, the lessons they have taught me, and the special places they have held in my life. Only then do I fully appreciate them, and find some sense of completeness and understanding of their presence in my life.

Somehow, their teaching to me is not complete until they are gone. Only then do I learn all the lessons they have been teaching me.

Only then is the full spectrum of the light they have shared revealed to me.

Only then can grief lead me to the understanding I have been led to eventually discover.

 

 

–Neal Lemery 6/16/2017

Taking Non Violent Action


“Non Violent Action”. I came across that phrase today, quietly found in an article in the midst of all the news of violence and political dystopia.

 

How do I respond? I speak up, I voice my opinions, I keep informed. People have invited me to march, write letters, sign petitions. But is that really engaging me, really making a difference?

 

I believe I can do more.

 

I try to give back to my community. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself, and help others. And when we learn to work together, we change ourselves, our neighborhood, and, eventually, the world.

 

I’m helping to start a non-profit foundation to improve local parks. Working with others, maybe we will build a trail, help someone to experience nature, find some inner peace, connect with the world.

 

I’m helping to set up an art gallery to support local artists and bring art to the heart of my town. We are teaching art to kids, and planning a mural to brighten the downtown. I need to make art, too. Creating is part of me, and essential to a balanced, healthy life.

 

I’m helping other master gardeners in a variety of community projects, teaching each other and others about gardening and scientific inquiry and curiosity.

 

I play in a community band. We help each other be better musicians, and we’re playing at a cancer charity event this summer. Every week, we play and laugh and build a better community.

 

There’s a groundswell of community engagement going on. People volunteering, initiating projects and events, and helping others better their lives. They cheer me on and I cheer them on. Together, we are moving ahead and taking non violent action to change the world, one person at a time.

 

 

 

Neal Lemery 6/5/2017

Building Community


Building Community

Takes time.

Time for coffee with a friend, time to say hi on the street,

Time in the grocery store to ask how someone is doing,

Time to listen, and have that five minute conversation, and

Not worry about the to do list, the errands yet to be run.

 

Building community

Is giving someone else the credit, get the award,

Have the idea you had become theirs,

Letting someone work through the process and stumble

When you could do it twice as fast, knowing that they are learning

And will be proud of their accomplishment when the work is done, and to

Know we will all be better off because of that.

 

Building community

Is teaching skills and quietly providing tools

Helping someone grow in confidence and pride

While you stand back, and just coach, mentor, applaud,

Brag about them to others about how they are growing.

 

Building community

Is letting the gossip stop with you, not passing it on,

Not finding something to criticize, or mock, or disparage

And instead, to praise, to applaud, to find the good in something,

And let the flowers bloom in someone else’s yard,

To quietly weed when no one else is looking, and let someone else

Take all the credit.

After all, don’t we just want the flowers to bloom?

 

Building community

Is to keep smiling, to praise, to recognize the good in someone,

To remind yourself that you haven’t walked that mile in someone else’s

Shoes, that you don’t really know all of their story,

And that we are all on a journey

Together.

 

–Neal Lemery 5/16/2017