poetry, Uncategorized

Things of Lasting Value

notebook2redMy grandfather’s oldest brother was quite the fastidious businessman in his day. I inherited his desk, books, and office supplies, and I’ve found there’s so much to discover about people from the objects that filled their lives.

For example, my great-uncle was a Master Mason and a Shriner, an avid hunter, gardener and golfer, and he was a careful record-keeper. He believed in refilling complimentary ballpoint pens rather than simply tossing them out, keeping matchbooks from places he visited, and holding on to extra nails, screws, hooks, and tacks “just in case.”

When he purchased something, he made sure it was going to last. This new old desk I have received is a testament to his insistence upon quality. A dark, heavy hardwood, its fixtures are real brass. Most of them are still shiny, despite decades of use. He topped the desk with a larger piece of lacquered wood, and he attached felt pads to the topper’s underside to assure that the original desk would remain unscratched.

The lamp that accompanies the desk was made sometime, I would venture to say, in the 1960s. It is a heavy brown metal drafting lamp with fluorescent bulbs, and it can be pivoted and adjusted for different perspectives on projects. Turning the lamp on is like taking a trip back in time, as the satisfying click of the red “on” button bespeaks another era — one that was marked by products made for near-permanence.

Even the electric pencil sharpener that came with these items is remarkable. I know the brand — it is one that has frequented my classroom for many years. The difference is, this one was made nearly 50 years ago, and its motor has yet to burn out. Yes, the unit is heavier and bulkier than today’s model, but the machinery that comprises it has yet to fail. I go through electric pencil sharpeners in my classroom at an alarming rate. I’m lucky if a modern sharpener made by this same company lasts a full school year. And yet, here is this dinosaur, still grinding down wood and graphite with precision and speed. Granted, this model hasn’t undergone the abuses and rigors of a secondary classroom, but nonetheless, its continued functionality is commendable.

I bring up these examples not as a maudlin longing for simpler times, but instead, to launch into another point: what we produce as writers can be quick and slick like dollar-a-pack stick pens, or we can endeavor to create something a bit more like the aforementioned desk, lamp, and pencil sharpener — something that endures. One of my goals as a poet has always been to create work that will be read in classrooms and checked out from libraries 100 years from now. Some would say that such an ambition is unrealistic and naive. I prefer to think that considering legacy when writing is much like investing in quality items of a more tangible nature. It ensures that when the people we care about look back over our lives, they can safely say we, too, insisted on quality.

Among the books I’ve received from this great uncle are several Bibles and dictionaries. All of them have been used with frequency, but also with a sort of care that shows reverence and admiration. My hope is, in using and appreciating these everyday items, I might somehow pass on that great tradition of surrounding oneself with matter that matters. May our writing be done in such a way that, when others hold it like a leather-bound inheritance, they treasure it equally every time.

 

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poetry, Uncategorized

A Quick Thank-you and A Longer Thought

notebook2red To those of you who have eagerly taken advantage of my free book weekend offer, I offer my deep gratitude. Your acceptance of my work shows that you believe it has potential. For this vote of faith, I thank you. Other followers who have not yet seized the opportunity to get your free Kindle copy of Growing Moon, Growing Soil: please do so! I’d hate to tell my writer friends that I couldn’t even GIVE AWAY my poems…how embarrassing.

On a separate note, I’ve been reading a lot of advice lately from writers who encourage others  to “write about those things that you would never want to write about.” This near-cliche is usually followed by an admonition to confess fears, secrets, undisclosed parts of one’s past, etc. in the name of soul-cleansing and “honest art.”

Here’s where I disagree with these well-meaning pseudo-sages: Writing poetry is supposed to make the world a little better, a little more beautiful, or a little more meaningful. Some things simply don’t need exploration in poetry, however. Remember how, in junior high writing classes, they taught us to “consider our purpose and our audience?” That rule hasn’t changed. What audience is going to want to read about how you wouldn’t wear sandals to the beach because of toenail fungus? More broadly, why write about the baser matters of life when there’s so much beauty, so much history, so much grander inspiration to seize?

Maybe my gripe here comes from a biblical background: Philippians 4:8 comes regularly to my mind while writing. I use it as a test to see if my poetry bears relevance and worth. That verse reads,  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” I feel an obligation as a poet to produce work that causes people to contemplate life using these criteria. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that my poetry always is autobiographical or just about the “warm fuzzies.” But, if I can get people to think in a way that this verse speaks of, even if it’s using something made up (like Christ’s parables), I’ve done my job.

Often, contemporary poetry elicits thoughts that meet some of these qualifications, but certainly not all. Keats’s Grecian Urn aside, truth is not always beauty. I know that’s unpopular talk in our culture today, with Facebook and other social media serving as conduits of over-sharing and gross uber-transparency. Where, however, is the beauty in rape? In murder? In cannibalism? This series of questions beckons back to undergraduate courses in ethics and philosophy, but no matter what school of thought you follow, you must confess: Some factual things do not pass the test for beauty, even if “beauty” is subjective (or, to quote an old aphorism, “in the eye of the beholder.”) If beauty is a matter of perspective, then certainly some twisted minds will find reasons to admire all forms of ugliness. Still, “Truth is beauty, beauty, truth” might make good verse, but too many great minds, both in and out of the humanities, have discredited it over the centuries.

Likewise (on the reverse side of this same coin), something can be lovely without necessarily being pure — think about those intricate bacteria you viewed beneath a microscope during high school science labs. Beautiful? You bet. Pure? Not in the least. My theological friends will tear apart this argument, no doubt, noting that human or scientific truth, beauty, nobility, etc. are not the issues about which Paul was writing. His aims were higher than enlightening our temporary mortal existence. I get that, but his words make a pretty great checklist for poets to strive toward also. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for artists of every genre to contemplate the audience effect achieved in Paul’s terms. Imagine the renaissance we could ignite if painters, sculptors, dancers, writers, photographers, and other creatives used Philippians 4:8 as their common assessment rubric. What bright, radiant, vibrant works could result!

I’ll step down off my soapbox now. Some things just need airing, and tonight, this little rant happened to be one of them. I hope, once again, I haven’t distanced too many of my fans or followers with this post. I would love to hear opposing or coinciding viewpoints in comments below, and PLEASE remember to take advantage of FREE BOOK WEEKEND (details below). Good night, dear readers.

poetry, Uncategorized

Lawful and Profitable?

thinkingboy_outlineRecently, my mind has been consumed by choices. As many of my readers know, I just had my paperback transformed into a Kindle edition, and I’ve also been interviewing for various higher education positions in my area. In addition, my financial situation has recently encountered some modification as well. In all of these matters, however, some words of advice from the apostle Paul keep popping to mind:

I Corinthians 10:23: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.”

In other words, I can do anything, but that doesn’t mean I should do everything. With the pleasure of increased choices comes the burden of amplified responsibility. I can choose to market my Kindle edition through any number of means, but only a few of those are actually going to work. It becomes my job to decipher which methods are not only permissible, but will result in the greatest outcome. Likewise, I can pursue any number of jobs within academia, but only that job that best fits my abilities and life calling should earn the “brass ring” of my acceptance.

Now before my friends judge my limited interpretation of Paul’s words above, allow me to elaborate a bit. In my current workplace, we’ve recently been exploring the notion of “getting to yes.” In a nutshell, that idea states that businesses should inform customers that “we can do anything, but we can’t necessarily do everything.” So when I encountered Paul’s echo of this sentiment (only in a more spiritually minded fashion), the correlation between my “worldly” situation and a more supernatural piece of wisdom organically began to bridge with one another. I’m not advocating a “prosperity gospel;” instead, I’m simply tying two areas of my life together with a common thread of philosophy.

As I’ve gone along life’s path lately, this little scripture has returned again and again, rearing its head everywhere from the boardroom to the dining room table. It has influenced my decisions daily, and caused me to cast new light on old issues. Paul’s test of worthiness causes one to pause and analyze, examining each set of options with a magnifying lens of overall benefit: Which choice is not only going to be allowable, but will also provide the biggest or best return? Please don’t think I see this from a strictly monetary perspective — “returns” come in both intrinsic and extrinsic forms, and research time and again has shown us that the most intrinsic rewards are the best for us as humans.

And certainly, there are other religious tomes out there that equally advocate balanced decision-making. However, for my purposes in my daily life, Paul continues to speak truth into my everyday practices. Something as simple as flipping a light switch can become a moment for reflection, and something as complex as intelligent investing can be critically viewed equally well using this tiny phrase of ancient proverbage. Give it a try yourself — who knows what great decisions wait right around the corner?