Jewel on Poetry

Long before I wrote my first song, words formed as poems in my journals; and poetry drives my song writing today. My songs are strongly influenced by Pablo Neruda, Bukowski, Octavio Paz; and musically I admire the great poetic lyricists like many of the writers of Tin Pan Alley, and others, like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits. Each forged the bridge from poetry to music.

I’ve learned that not all poetry lends itself to music. Some thoughts need to be sung only against the silence. There are softer and less tangible parts of ourselves that are so essential to open heartedness, to peace, to unfolding the vision and the spiritual realm of our lives, to exposing our souls. Poetry is a passage into those parts of our being where we understand who we have been, and where we discover and decide who and what we will be. It makes us intimate with ourselves and others and with the human experience. It stirs the Divine within us and whispers all the things there are no words for, and this is essential to bring balance and dimension to the human expression.

Poetry is the most honest and immediate art form that I have found. It is raw and unfiltered. It is vital, creative expression and deserves to find greater forums, to be more highly valued, understood, and utilized in our culture and in our lives. There is such wonderful poetry in the world that wants to be given voice. My hope is to help inspire an appreciation and expression of that voice.

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The Sharing

“Some people react physically to the magic of poetry, to  the moments, that is, of authentic revelation, of the communication, the sharing, at its highest level. A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.” (Dylan Thomas)


 

Struggling With Regret

None of us can look back when we’re at the end of our life and say, “I was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be.” Everyone has regrets. It’s easy in hindsight to see the road signs we missed. The forks in the road we could’ve taken. To think about all the bad decisions we made.

Regret is a negative cognitive and emotional state that involves blaming ourselves for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been, or wishing we could undo a previous choice we made. For young people, regret, although painful to experience, can be a helpful emotion. The pain of regret can result in refocusing and taking corrective action or pursuing a new path. However, the less opportunity we have to change the situation, the more likely it is that regret can turn into rumination and chronic stress that can damage the mind and body.

Researcher Neal Roese of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University is a leader in the field of regret research. His studies of younger people have shown that regret was rated more favorably than unfavorably, primarily because of its informational value in motivating corrective action. Interestingly, regret was rated highest of a list of negative emotions in making sense of the world, avoiding future negative behaviors, gaining insight, achieving social harmony, and improving your ability to approach desired opportunities.

Regret can have damaging effects on mind and body when it turns into fruitless rumination and self-blame that keeps you from re-engaging with life. This pattern of repetitive, negative, self-focused ruminative thinking is characteristic of depression. Other research, reported in the AARP Newsletter, indicates that regret can result in chronic stress, which can negatively affect hormonal and immune system functioning. Regret impedes the ability to recover from stressful life events by extending their emotional reach for months or years.

What can you do to cope with regret? First of all, it is important to harness the functional aspects of regret. Regret, like all emotions, has a function for survival. It is our brain’s way of telling us to take another look at our choices. It’s a signal that our actions may be leading to negative consequences. Regret is a major reason why addicts get into recovery.

If you get stuck blaming yourself and regretting past actions, it can lead to depression and damage your self-esteem. You have to find a way to forgive yourself and let it go. Try thinking about what you would say to a friend in the same situation to make them feel better. Most people have an easier time forgiving others than forgiving themselves. Try thinking about life as a journey. Everybody makes mistakes, and these can be opportunities to learn important lessons about yourself, your ways of reacting, your values, your vulnerabilities and your triggers.

When you find yourself focusing on regret, shape your thoughts by exploring the silver lining in whatever you did. Ask yourself what lessons you learned. Figure out how you gained wisdom out of a particular situation. In the case of an unhappy marriage, for example, celebrate the children that came from it. That doesn’t change anything about the marriage, but it makes it easier to live with the situation.

Regret happens when you don’t forgive yourself. When your mistake feels final, like going too fast on a highway and then getting a speeding ticket. It is too easy to feel regret. However, forgiveness is a powerful catalyst. Forgiveness is one of the most loving actions you can take for yourself. While regret holds you back in the past, forgiveness helps you move forward. Tell yourself that was part of who you were then. The mistake can help you grow into a better person. Forgive yourself and resolve to move forward. Send negative feelings about your actions into the past where the action occurred. They don’t do you any good now.

Let go of the past and build a better future.

Where Did We Get Our Sinful Nature?

Stop! Just stop it right now! Why do you do these things? Why can’t you behave?  Of course I had no answer. I never knew why. I just did whatever came to mind. My biggest problem was self-centeredness. Throw in a pinch of poor impulse control and you have the ingredients for the making of a hellion. This, of course, is nothing we haven’t seen a thousand and one times before. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Left to our own devices, we live in the flesh. People lie, cheat and steal. They feed their vices at the expense of others. They argue and fight. They fail to love and refuse to forgive. They hate and “give paybacks” to those who have wronged them. They take the Lord’s name in vain. They covet. They judge others while failing to “take the plank out of their own eye.”

Is man innately evil? Why do we sin? Has it always been this way? Or did humanity inherit a “sinful nature” when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden? God placed Adam and Eve in the midst of a veritable paradise. “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen. 2:9) God gave Adam dominion over everything as far as the eye could see. God had just one condition. He said, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) God did not create the human race sinful, but upright. We fell into sin and became sinful due to the disobedience of Adam.

Paul talks about man’s rebellious human nature. He describes our flesh as being in an unregenerate and sinful state. The New International Version of the Bible consistently translates this meaning of flesh as “sinful nature.” Paul teaches that the fallen human nature is inherently rebellious against God. We inherited this nature from Adam and, unfortunately, it was not eradicated when we became Christians. It is still within us, but we no longer have to be under its thumb, following its dictates. We don’t have to be led around by the nose. As stated in Romans 8, once our spirit has been reborn, we have the Holy Spirit within us Who is strong enough to keep the flesh from getting the upper hand.

Our flesh motivates the selfishness we sometimes feel, the whining about our circumstances, the petty jealousies, the jockeying for power in the office and in our marriages, the lure of pornography, the desire for money and possessions, and all the rest. Galatians 5:17 tells us that the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other. The New Living Translation puts it this way: “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”

As Galatians 5:19-21 says, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Man in his present fallen state is not basically good. He is deceitful and conniving. Yes, there is some good in him. But the good is corrupted. No part of man is any longer perfectly good. All is a mixture of good and evil. And certainly man’s “flesh” is corrupt. In Romans 7:18, Paul says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”

Unrighteousness is often spoken of in Scripture as something belonging to the human race as a whole. This implies that it is the property of our species. In other words, sinfulness is considered a property of human nature after the fall. Thus, it must be concluded that we are all born sinners, since we are all born human and sin is regarded as a property of humanity. Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

Your flesh is the tangible part of you where sin resides. Sin lives in your flesh, not in your soul and spirit. It is important to recognize this, or else your identity is all about sin management. If you can believe that you are now a child of God, that your nature is reborn, then there is hope to live a victorious life. You can conquer the flesh, because Christ did. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

But I still sin, you might say. So do I. As long as you are alive, your flesh will be prone to sin. But, God somehow uniquely separated your soul and spirit from your body when you became a believer. Your body is dead to sin. Romans 8:10 says, “If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” In Christ, God considers your body dead because of sin. So, we are encouraged to do the same: “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)

 

Once In A Blue Moon

Once in a blue moon. Now there’s a very compelling saying. A cliché, and yet much more than that. The phrase originally referred to the appearance of a second full moon within a calendar month, which actually happens about every thirty-two months. There have been five blue moons since November 21, 2010. Pretty rare, right?

That’s why the phrase is now used widely to mean “very rarely.” In my case, especially when it comes to making friends, in the past it has meant “not very likely.” As you might know from reading my blog and my About Page, I was in active addiction for thirty-seven years. I didn’t understand the meaning of friendship. I didn’t know what love meant, or how to respect others. I used people. I took from people. I manipulated people. I’ve been married twice, but I basically “took hostages” rather than wives. The depth of my selfishness was alarming.  I was able to quit drinking in 2008, but continued to abuse narcotic painkillers for some years. Even after getting off all mood-altering substances, learning how to be a true friend took a lot of hard work. (Still not one-hundred-percent there.)

If there’s one thing all of us are in need of, it is a few close friends. It is interesting to note how many people struggle in creating quality, long lasting friendships, and how difficult their lives can be because of that challenge. I remember having a small group of friends in high school who consistently put me down, made fun of me, and got their kicks from saying very mean things about people who were different from them. I was friends with them for years because I was afraid no one else would be my friend if I left them. I was also bullied a lot, so I was reluctant to reach out. I usually took the back allies home from school, some times having to run the last few blocks to my back yard. In addition, we moved around a lot. I went to three high schools in my senior year. So, yeah, forming good relationships was difficult.

Friendship for most people is a combination of affection, loyalty, love, respect, and trust. The general traits of a friendship include similar interests, mutual respect and an attachment to each other, and in order to experience friendship, you need to have true friends. The emotional safety provided by friendship means not having to weigh your thoughts and measure your words. True friendship is when someone knows you better than yourself and takes a position in your best interests in a crisis. Friendship goes beyond just sharing time together, and it is long lasting. A true friend inspires you to live up to your best potential, not to indulge your basest drives.

It took a long time for me to understand that friendship is a two-way street. We need to treat others the way we would like to be treated. We can’t act as thought they’re above or below us, but rather are our equal. Our friends are allowed to have a different opinion to ours, which is what makes us all individuals. Disrespecting those opinions will destroy a friendship. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Follow through with it. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

A true friend is someone who has touched your heart and will stay there. Someone you care for, and who cares for you. Someone you can do the stupidest things around and always be forgiven. Someone you’ll instantly remember in ten years because they are in your heart and not just your mind. They have the ability to change you, even if they don’t. They will be etched in your memories forever. I have experienced this depth of friendship over the past eleven months. I started working part-time at the Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library in Northumberland, PA. One of my co-workers was David J. Bauman. We became instant friends. Despite our differences in politics and other matters, we have mutual respect and admiration for each other.

David has influenced me and encouraged me. He helped me learn how to navigate Word Press and set up this blog. His poetry is compelling. His ability to recite from memory freaks me out! I don’t even know my own poems by heart yet. David is one of those shining stars that cannot help grab the attention of others. He left our library last week to accept a position running the Plains Township Library, a branch of the Osterhout Library in Wilkes-Barre. This is, of course, a great loss for us, but a wonderful find for the Plains Township Library.

So, unfortunately, we cannot always hold on to our friends. At least not physically. Geography, opportunity, contingency, happening, good fortune, stroke of luck, occasion, whatever you want to call it, will sometimes grab people away from you. All you can do is wish them bon fortuna and hold them dear to your heart. Thankfully, social media makes it quite easy to keep in touch. I miss David already, and it’s only been three days since he left. I told him in a Facebook comment a few weeks ago that the Plains Township Library better know how lucky they are that he accepted the job.

“If you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” (Muhammad Ali)

David writes a wonderful blog which I recommend you check out at http://dadpoet.wordpress.com. 

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Alone”

I was putting books back on the shelf the other day at the Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library when I discovered a book called “Favorite American Poems.” There was a section on the poems of Edgar Allan Poe. I am embarrassed to admit I’ve never read “The Raven.” When I opened the book to that poem, I noticed another he’d written called “Alone.” It is an amazing work. He describes his own soul, which gives us some idea why he wrote his stories and poems. I think you’ll enjoy this little bit of insight.

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were – have not seen
As others saw – I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I lov’d, I lov’d alone.
Then – in my childhood – in the dawn
Of a most stormy life – was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that ‘round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold –
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by –
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Some Writing Tips

For my followers, old and new. Very poignant tips on writing as originally posted by Emma Coats, a story artist at Pixar.

The Accidental Poet

Here are some writing tips that were originally posted by Emma Coats, a story artist at Pixar.

You have to admire a character for trying more than for their successes. Keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about until you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. (Kill your darlings.) What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal with what you put them through? Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, so get yours working up front. Finish your story. Let go…

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Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

I found this on Pinterest. Very good stuff.

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialog.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said,” such as “he admonished gravely.”
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

When I Was A Child

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (NASB 1 Cor. 13:11)

We expect children to behave in certain ways—to talk, think, and reason like children. Childhood is marked by a particular way of talking and thinking. “I thought as a child,” said Paul. Children are basically selfish. They develop a “me first” attitude, and can even become quite greedy. As far as a child is concerned, the whole world revolves around him. He thinks only of himself, and wants immediate gratification. Due to a lack of discernment, children are not always aware of danger. He or she is easily influenced, and is extremely gullible.

Another characteristic displayed by children is shallowness. They have no capacity to understand the rights and feelings of others. Children are capable of having temper tantrums in which they scream and kick and fight, becoming quite aggressive when not getting their way. Children wear their emotions for everyone to see—good or bad (usually bad).

I never wake up today and find myself sucking furiously on my thumb. I don’t grab my bat and ball and stomp off in the middle of a softball game. I do, however, still lick the beaters after I make homemade icing. Especially if it’s peanut butter. Haven’t splashed through puddles for a very long time. Unfortunately, I still pick my nose. (What is it with that one?) Of course, this is not what Paul is talking about. He is saying we can listen to people who claim to have been Christians for years and yet they talk like a baby Christian. Immature speech in people who have been Christians for many years is to their shame, and Paul is challenging the believers over this. So immaturity in Christians is just like the painless pursuit of childhood, characterized by baby talk, selfishness, and shallowness.

Paul is saying we need to demonstrate the love of God through mature speech, selflessness, and discernment. As Christians, we need to love one another and put away childish things. Remember the attributes of true love, as outlined in 1 Corinthians 13? Love suffers long and is kind. It is not puffed up. It does not behave unseemly. Love does not seek its own. In other words, it is not selfish or childish. Paul illustrates this by talking about how children grow into their adult understandings. As children, they look at things in a childish manner, but when they grow up, they think about things with an adult mind. As we grow into our understanding of pure, agape love, we leave behind our old, less correct ideas and embrace a better understanding.

Ephesians 4:13-15 says, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [mature] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children . . . but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15).

So in our “outward” relationships to God and to others, we are to be childlike (trusting and honest, not malicious), but not in our understanding. Regarding what we take “in” from the world, we need to be wise, not carried off or tricked by others. Note that this wariness is necessitated by the fallen state of men, who desire to deceive. Ephesians 4:14 says “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” Know this: wariness is something that is generally lacking in children, as well as in unwise adults (a fact that is sadly taken advantage of by many).

In our view of life, we need to “put away childish things.” The one who believes in Jesus, has confessed Him before men. (Romans 10:9-10). He has turned from sin, and has been baptized into Christ for forgiveness of sin. (Acts 2:38). He can hope one day to be “clothed” with a new permanent body. (II Corinthians 5:1-4). When we face decay of the flesh, it is not a loss. It is a reminder that salvation lies nearer and nearer everyday. (Romans 13:11).

Sure, it is sad to put away the childish things that brought us temporary joy, but as Christians we must cling to the mature hope of those things which will bring eternal joy.

From the poem “When I Became a Man,” by Caleb Jones:

When I became a man
I learned to love my brother;
I’ll share my heart, my hug and my hallelujah
Because a hug and a hallelujah without my heart
Leaves room for his spirit to respond with “I never knew you;”
I became a man so that when he became a man
He would know a man
Who picked up the gospel and put the toys away.

When I became a man.