Life, Love, Death, Dreams, Hope

We Must Ourselves Become The LightI picked up my cell phone just now to text a friend. Then I remembered, she’s gone . . . two weeks already. It’s the fifth time I’ve done that. An idea sparked a laugh, made me think of her, made me want to share a chuckle.

That’s how it was for 28 years, since long before cell phones.

But that’s the thing about the love we have for friends, for family, the way we want to share it, the way we continue to share it . . . even after they’ve gone.

Aside from my mom, Jeannie read more of my writing than anyone. Always supportive. Always reminding me that this thing I love, this thing that is part of who I am, is important. That I need to share my voice. That I owe it to myself, and to others.

Of course, she always added that she’d love to see more happy poems, more happy scenes. She didn’t hesitate to ask, “when are you going to write a poem about love?”

And I would remind her, that is how I try to live my life – full of laughter, of love, of positive thoughts. With my writing, though, that’s me exploring the darkness, the underneath. Trying, at the very least, to understand. To throw light upon it for others to explore.

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”  – Mary Oliver

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Live With Intention

Lafayette Wattles Writing

Lafayette Wattles At The Page

“Lean forward into your life. Begin each day
as if it were on purpose.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

I am starting a new trend for myself this very moment. From now on, I intend to begin each day as if it were on purpose. With INTENTION!

And that intention is to write . . .

I’m sitting in a hotel room in West Virginia waiting for my dinner to arrive via room service and I’ve been driving most of the day so I’m too tired to work on poetry right now, but I thought it might be time to return to Write Side Up.

When I got home from WOTM 2014 last June, I immediately started work for a new job and, as a result, I have only written 2-3 blogs posts in the past year. But the past four weeks in particular have been rather illuminating for me in a variety of ways, all of which keep echoing the same thing – I NEED TO BE AT THE PAGE!

Here’s why:

  1. When I spend even a brief amount of time at the page, I write – write – write!
  2. When I’m writing, I’m breathing. It’s that simple. Words are a different sort of air and I feel healthier and more energized and more alive when I’m writing.
  3. Look, I smile . . . all the time. Not for effect, but because that is what comes out of me. But there’s something different about a smile that comes from the heart and one that comes from the depths of your soul. I’m a genuinely happy guy. And I have been told my joy is contagious. In part, I believe, because it is genuine. But the way I feel inside when I’m honoring my soul and writing, that takes my typical happiness to a whole other level. Right now, as I sit here typing, I feel so incredible thanks to the past 10 days in New Harmony.
New Harmony

Roofless Church in New Harmony

Let me explain.
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Sweet Memories

"Memories" by Kaptain Kobold

“Memories” by Kaptain Kobold

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” – Antonio Porch

We may not spend our time consciously trying to live a life worth remembering, but I imagine many of us would like to mean enough to someone that we become a memory. A good memory.

I think the people who become the best memories never really give it much thought at all. They’re too busy living their lives and impacting ours by being themselves.

My best friend’s grandmother passed away recently. She was 99 and then some. A real Spitfire. The sort of woman who reminded me a great deal of my own grandmother.

I wasn’t able to attend her memorial service, but my friend was asked to say a few words. He hadn’t prepared anything, but as is his way he rose to the occasion and delivered a very thoughtful and sincere eulogy. He was later asked to write down what he had said for a few members of the family who weren’t there and he shared his words with me this past weekend.

I’d like to share what he wrote here in tribute to his grandmother especially, but also in tribute to him.

To those people who touch our lives. Family and friends who shape us just by being themselves. The people who become memories to us and who aspire us to become memories of our own.


“Sweet Memories”

I am a rich man. Perhaps not measured in the way that others may measure it with money or fame, but rich in memories.
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Bedtime Stories and Snatched Books

"Bedtime Story" by Chris Nitz Photography

“Bedtime Story” by Chris Nitz Photography

When I was a boy, you would have needed one of those super-powered commercial staple guns to keep me in place for longer than a few moments.

And those rare times when I did pause (like in the photo below of my sister on the stairs) you’d probably think I was up to something. That I was mischievous. I wasn’t (glowing halo appears over head). I prefer the terms curious (you know, about what might happen if say my sister sledded down those bumpy steps) and persuasive (an occasional ability to talk that same sister into trying crazy ideas that popped into my head).

I prefer the term imaginative. Yeah, imaginative!

And I blame it all on my super-hyper-can’t-sit-stillness.

Crazy thing is, I would spend hours every day in my room, alone, playing with some toys, sure, but mostly playing with my hands and imagining that they were monsters and heroes and all sorts of things. I remember my parents whispering about my habit of playing without toys more than a few times.

But, see, my hands could become anything. My “action figures” were much more specific – G.I. Joe, and Cornelius from Planet of the Apes, and so on. I spent those hours making sound effects for the adventures and the battles.

I spent hours creating my own stories.

That may seem odd since I didn’t read books. And since I don’t ever remember having bedtime stories read to me (not by my parents or by any of my grandparents). It took me at least two more decades before I could slow down long enough to read stories on my own and I know how much they have impacted my life since then.

I can picture myself as a six-year-old who couldn’t wait each night to climb into bed and to have stories read to me. I have a feeling that would have been very important to me: the special time shared with mom or with dad or with one of my grandmothers, and also the stories themselves, the characters and the absolute wonder of being transported to other worlds.

I imagine if someone snuck into our house and the only thing they snatched was my favorite bedtime story, it would have been worse than if they had stolen my bed or my food.

Lafayette Slows Down Only Long Enough To Think Of New Ways To Terrorize His Little Sister

Lafayette Slows Down Only Long Enough To Think Of New Ways To Terrorize His Little Sister

The idea of such an undertaking doesn’t stir up a sense of danger, really, nor feelings of lost safety that come from someone sneaking into your home and taking things. The idea of story books being stolen, of someone only targeting those secret passageways to other worlds and other lives seems so much more intimate. So much more personal.

But the reason behind the act is even more powerful. Why would anyone do such a thing?

Helen and Thomas Docherty explore that question in their wonderful picture book The Snatchabook which I’ll get to shortly.

I mostly write poetry, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction, but over the summer I started envisioning story concepts for a dozen different picture books (characters, obstacles, etc).

Some people might think, well then you’ve got your book, only writing a picture book isn’t as easy as that. As a matter of fact, I recall the time in grad school when everyone in the program was given the assignment of writing a picture book, and the novelists and poets and playwrights, most people I encountered during residency, found it to be the most difficult task. Much more so than they had ever imagined.

So, this summer, I spent some time reading as many picture books as possible. Actually, I have three out from the library right now.

I’ve looked at a few classic stories, but mostly contemporary books, popular books, award-winning books. Books with a fair amount of prose (since I tend to be long-winded) and wonderful wordless books like Journey and Flora and the Flamingo (which I wrote about here). I highly recommend those, by the way.

I haven’t found too many rhyming picture books. In part because publishers have been shying away from them the last several years, or so I’ve been told, since getting the right rhyme and rhythm is quite challenging. Then I came across a book that had an endearing protagonist and, I suppose you’d call the little book thief an antagonist of sorts, but a sweet antagonist. The book – The Snatchabook – had wonderful illustrations and a beautiful story

The Snatchabook by Helen and Thomas Docherty

The Snatchabook by Helen and Thomas Docherty

The story takes place in the woodland world of Burrow Down where all the forest creatures and families enjoy their bedtime stories.

But one by one, the books start disappearing.

Turns out there’s one creature in the forest who has no family. No one to read to it. At least not at first.

Since the story is, in some ways, about fitting in and about being part of something (whether it’s a family or a community), I was immediately drawn to the characters. The Snatchabook is not only an adorable little creature that is, it would seem, alone, but it’s also a misfit. It’s unlike every other character in the book, except for one thing at least. It loves stories.

If you have kids or grandchildren or you just love picture books, I’d recommend checking out The Stachabook. I found the concept behind the story very clever and the verse and pictures a lot of fun. For a little information on the team from the UK who created the book, writer Helen Docherty and artist Thomas Docherty, check out some of the interviews I did with them below.
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The Best Things I Learned From My Dad

Lafayette & His Dad Listen,” my dad said. “Be a good listener.”

I grew up as a fan of superheroes, sure, and of mountain men, and of good-guy gunslingers who disappeared after the town was saved, and of self-less soldiers, and of super-sleuth detectives (and we can’t forget NINJAS), and of all sorts of heroic types my dad and I watched together in movies . . . and of amateur and professional athletes, of course, but for me there was really only one true hero. Only one adult of whom I was the biggest fan.

MY DAD!

I’m not just talking that common boyhood idolization of someone who could do just about anything. It wasn’t just about his physical strength or his vigor, nor his confidence, nor his ability to figure things out, nor his super-fine motor skills which he demonstrated on the field and the court and the course.

All those things certainly influenced the level of awe and admiration I had for him (and still have).

But it was more than that, really, much more, that made me look up to my dad so much.

He never went to college. Back then, most people didn’t. He did, however, have specialized training in several areas – first while in the Army years before I was born, then after he got back home as an apprentice in a trade that required the use of mathematics and intricate measurements on a daily basis, not to mention a lot of physical labor.

My dad worked hard for most of my life. Actually, from the get go, that’s all I knew him as – this hard-working man, this talented athlete and this great coach (for me and for several teams over the years), this very loving father.

My dad has also been (and still is) one of my greatest teachers.

Not about books or academics, but about life, about living. Things that have shaped me. That have even shaped my writing (not to mention my chasing my dream in the first place).
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Time: Making Every Second Count While Chasing Your Dream

caffeinating, calculating, computerating by ryantron

caffeinating, calculating, computerating by ryantron

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine
how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg

Believe it or not, I barely had enough time to get this post done. And I’ve been working on it for the past three weeks. But I digress. Sort of.

This is a post about chasing dreams. And about time. And about multi-tasking, in a manner of speaking.

I have long accepted the fact that I have a jiffy-pop brain. My thoughts, though linear at times, tend to pop all over the place about seemingly unrelated or random things. Of course, they pop even more frequently about related things – as in things related to my dream of being a full-time professional writer.

As a result, I have several projects going on all the time. Like this very moment, I’ve got a new Reading Series that launches tomorrow at Ravines Wine Cellars, I leave a week from today for Historic New Harmony to co-host a week-long retreat for writers and other creatives (which means I’m still fine tuning workshop ideas and materials). I’m tutoring my niece for all sorts of 10th Grade Regents Examination Craziness, and working my job. Oh, and trying to keep up with this blog and work on new poetry for the YA novel-in-verse, and there’s the very cool collaboration project I’m working on with the artist who helped create this website and . . .

You could call it multitasking, I suppose, though recent studies suggest that term to be a misnomer – as we are really only able to truly focus on one thing at a time, we’re just able to move from one thing to the next thing and back again almost instantaneously.

The human brain is wired in such a way that allows for that ultra-fast processing (a.k.a. what we call multitasking), but because we have that capability we often fall into the habit of non-stop multitasking. And that can be a problem (on so many levels).

Our brains are designed to scan, to search for potential dangers, to be on alert. It’s a survival mechanism.

I could go into the potential physiological problems that arise from the growing trend to have our brains in the fight-or-flight state most of the time, but I’ll leave that to those more qualified. Instead, I’ll allude to the quality of work such rapid-fire focus produces. Or, in particular, working on multiple projects simultaneously has worked for me.

One of the interesting paradoxes of creativity is that we need to focus on the task at hand in order to turn inward and to mine the gems deep inside. We also need to be open to whatever comes our way, to be receptive.

Sometimes we force ourselves to focus so hard on what we believe we’re supposed to be focused on that we actually prevent ourselves from receiving creative impulses and ideas rushing toward us. Of course, sometimes we get so caught up in starting every idea that comes our way, that we never complete anything.

Such is the juggling act of the writer, the artist, the creative.

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Dear Mom

Lafayette's Mom Who At 18 Was Named Miss Lake Street Bridge

At 18, Lafayette’s Mom (pictured with some fan mail and news clippings) Was Named Miss Lake Street Bridge

Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children 
because they are more certain they are their own.” – Aristotle

Gotta love that Aristotelian wit.

Though, doubtless, there have been many moments when my mother has scratched her head and wondered that very thing.

Last week I wrote about being different. Well, there’s no way I’d have survived being different if not for my mother, not to mention the fact that she’s been one of the people encouraging me to be different my entire life.

I never told my parents (or anyone at all) about the things I endured during Middle School. But hey, that’s the beauty of being a writer. I get the chance to do that every day now with the hope of making similar odysseys a bit easier for misfits today who might find themselves on the periphery, belonging to some degree perhaps in every group, but not quite truly belonging to any.

This post is a rather informal ode to my mom.

She has an expansive heart. She’s extremely loving, caring, conscientious, empathetic person. Someone who tends to put others first. Though that can get in the way of her own happiness sometimes, it’s just who she is. It’s not intended as some noble thing. It’s not something for which applause or praise are expected.

Truth is – if she didn’t think about how this or that might impact everyone else, she simply wouldn’t be being herself.

Below I’d like to share a few thoughts about what a mother is, and about my mom in particular, and I’d also like to share a poem I recently wrote especially for her.
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Utopia, Dystopia, and A Love of Life

“Life is a precious gift . . .” by Doug88888

“Life is a precious gift . . .” by Doug88888

“Every utopia – let’s just stick with the literary ones – faces the same problem:
What do you do with the people who don’t fit in?” Margaret Atwood

It’s true that the people who don’t fit in – the misfits – are often perceived as “different” by others. But sometimes they’re also the ones who feel that way about themselves.

When it comes to adolescents, quite a few don’t fit in (either when compared to the norm by others or as a result of self-perception and how they feel).

Dystopian novels and television shows and movies are especially popular these days.

Last weekend I saw Divergent with my niece and I will be reading the books soon. I catch Revolution each week with my dad. And I’ve enjoyed reading the Hunger Games and Maze Runner books. Back when I first discovered my love of reading, as a twenty-six-year old, I also discovered Brave New World and Anthem and Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Clockwork Orange and The Giver.

One of the concepts often found in these stories is that even in those future worlds that are supposed to be  “perfect,” life is anything but perfect.
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Laughter, My Favorite Exercise

Laughter by Symphony of Love

Laughter by Symphony of Love

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” – Victor Borge

So many times, laughter has saved me.

And some of my best friendships have been forged over laughter, some of the best moments in my life. Including times I’ve ended up laughing at myself.

I hadn’t thought about that until the other night during one of the NCAA basketball games. A commercial came on and my mom laughed. And I saw her dad in her then, the way he would break open in a soft smile and the way that smile would quietly sparkle with laughter.

And I thought, at that moment, laughter might just be one of the best things ever.

I recall being a boy (no, it’s true, despite the common theory that I just showed up with a receding hairline and a silvering chin) and watching this amazing pianist on one of the shows my parents liked to watch and his fingers were like Olympic hurdlers racing across the keys. And, yes, that was impressive.

Only I was like six and as appealing as it would have been to have fingers that were fast as gazelles (I could imagine their usefulness for hiding peas at dinner or tangling my sister’s hair), but what I wanted most at that time were legs that were cheetahs, so I could run all over the neighborhood (which I did anyway) faster than anyone (which I so didn’t do).

But then the piano guy stops playing and makes a sound or a face or he does some crazy thing or he makes some tangential comment and I laughed. We all laughed. It was unexpected and a bit absurd, given the seriousness of the music, and absolutely wonderful. And it was also something my family and I shared.

Those moments laughing.
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The Things We Learn From Kids

JOY by Symphony of Love

JOY by Symphony of Love

Not intending to downplay the words of wisdom my parents have shared with me over the years, but I recently realized that all you have to do is study a child to learn everything you’ll need to know about how to live. Truly live, that is.

I’m not talking about elements of survival like how to get your own food, but more about how to be happy.

Of course, when you’re a child the last thing you’re going to do is intentionally study one of your colleagues to learn a thing or two. The whole center of the universe thing can get in the way of that and is, perhaps, the one downside to my theory.

But before we chuck it altogether, consider what follows.

As an adult, I have been reminded about some of the essential ingredients to living a happy, fulfilled, compassionate life.

Here are just some of the things we can learn from kids:

Unbridled Joy
Love
Kindness
The Essence of Play
Anything is Possible
How to Live Creatively

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