Optional Writing

Red Leaves on Stone

It's true.

I never make my girls write.

Some would say this makes me a terrible writing teacher. I would say I teach all the time, but not by assignment. Especially for writing, I teach only by example. In our little "school," this has worked just fine.

Last week, for instance, when Dave made his dare, I told my daughters about it. Then I wrote some poems and read them aloud.

My 13-year-old said she didn't think she could write a poem about a Christmas ghost. We talked for a while about what a "Christmas ghost" might mean. She still didn't think she could write about it.

Then she handed me a sestina. It's a 39-line poem that repeats end-words (or slight variations on them) in a rolling fashion. The final stanza includes all the end words. It's amazing what someone will write if you don't make her write it.

Here's the poem. Not really rocket science, but it's a nice beginning. :)

The Christmas Ghost

Hello, I called.
Hi there, Anyone?
(I've got a problem. I need a ghost.)
not just any ghost, oh no—
I need a ghost of Christmas.
Past, present, future: doesn't matter!

Doesn't matter!
I'll take any called
anything— so long as it's for Christmas.
Yes, I know...
a ghost?! You want a ghost?!

You are thinking, who wants a ghost?
This is the truth of the matter.
I don't need one that can't write or at least dictate. No.
I need a ghost who can make a poem. I've called
for a while, but no one came. Not anyone.
Just for the eve of Christmas.

Please. Just for Christmas
Eve I need a ghost.
Have a ghost, anyone?
Or better yet, maybe it doesn't matter!
Listen— it's called...
a poem about a ghost! Yes! Oh, no.

Uh oh, oh no.
Here's finally a Christmas—
Cool... a ghost. It's not made of matter.
(What is it made of... hmmm? Anyone?)

Help. Hold my hand! Anyone.
No, no, no...
Why am I here? Who are you? he asks. I answer, Um doesn't matter.
I thought I needed a Christmas
but I don't! Sorry I called!

I bite my lip. Oh, but by the way, anyone... uh, ghost sir, while you're
        here, I need a Christmas
poem. Know any? About a ghost.

But... he's gone. It matters. I'm standing in a cold house sorry I called.

Poem by Sara, 13. Used with permission. Photo by J Barkat. This post is in honor of Random Acts of Poetry and One Shot Wednesday.

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Being Nice is Not Enough

red leaf

Have you ever met someone who seems to care, who is basically a "nice person," but who doesn't seem to "get you"?

That's how it went with the new president, in a merger situation discussed by Henry Cloud, in his book Integrity. The president was nice. He had good ideas and good intentions, but he didn't "get" people and it eventually cost him his ability to work with the Team.

Here are a few things the president said to various people's questions, in a meeting designed to build trust as the merger began...

"Well, that's not going to be a problem."

"You won't have to worry about that at all."

"That won't get in the way."

"That will work out okay. I think when people get the big picture of what is happening here, they will be happy..."

Essentially, without meaning to, the president invalidated people's experiences. He moved quickly to try to make people feel better, without giving them a chance to really be heard. Says Cloud, "You could feel the air kind of going out of the room." He concludes, "...although [the president] had their attention through his position, he did not have their hearts."

What happens when we don't gain people's hearts?

They become discouraged and unplug. They disconnect, give up, find another place to be heard.

Reading this chapter, I thought of the many times I've said to my kids, "Don't worry about it honey. It's going to be fine." The truth is that everything is not going to be fine if this is how we deal with people's complaints, worries, and hurts. Kids detach. Friends walk away. Employees quit.

Being nice is not enough.

Cloud shares a simple formula for "getting" people (though it may not always be simple in practice! :) ...

They talk >
you experience them >
you share what you've heard and experienced about their experience >
then they experience you as having heard them; they know you are "with" them

None of this may change how you help solve the issue. Or it may totally change how you help solve the issue. Or maybe you'll find that the solution isn't your purview anyway.

The point is connection. And in the end, that's the nicest thing you can do.

Leaf and Branch photo by J Barkat. Used with appreciation. :)

Integrity, opening post

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Eat Your Pumpkin Cupcakes

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Yesterday my girls wanted to make pumpkin cupcakes. It seemed like not-the-thing-to-do when I had so much else going on. (I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year for the first time in years!)

But they'd found a recipe, and they were dreaming. So I surprised them, and on the way home from an errand, I stopped at the market and bought the requisite white cake mix.

Later on, I rewarded myself with a pumpkin cupcake, around the time that our Tweetspeak Poetry party was starting. I tweeted about the cupcake, and it ended up in the party tweetstream. Perfect for making a poem.

In addition to the pumpkin tweet, thanks to these poetic tweeters for the use of their words: @doallas @mdgoodyear @jamesrls @llbarkat @ericqweinstein @mattpriour

Recipe for an Evening

Eat your pumpkin cupcakes,
I'll sit here and sip,
meet the dew;
he'll be with college students
as usual on Tuesdays,
she'll be completely
lost, and she'll check in
while he just stumbled in.
Pass the basket across
every lap,
another and another,
they mount up,
spread evenly the golden light
over white cups and white

Pumpkin Cupcake photo, by L.L. Barkat.


Were you at the party? Write a poem from the tweets and share it at Tweetspeak Poetry.



Acorns on the Way

acorns frilly

Pound Ridge, Leatherman's Loop

The hills are littered
with acorns
scattered—moldering wheels
that could take you down
long before you look out,
over maple-cradled

Acorn photo generously lent by Susan Etole. Thank you, Susan! :) Photo below by L.L.

Leatherman's Loop Lookout

This post is for One Shot Wednesday.

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Why I'm Reading a Book I Didn't Plan to Read (and Talking About it With You)

Water Ripple

I walked past my husband's night stand. Usually it is covered with gadgets, receipts, cuff links. I keep moving. Usually.

But a few days ago this book caught my eye: Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. I wasn't inclined to pick it up. I know what integrity is, don't I? I know when I have it and when I fail to have it. I certainly don't need to read a book that makes me feel guilty about the don't-have times.

Still. I am a sucker for a cool book cover, so I stopped and opened the book.

Since that moment I've been reading it every day. I love it.

It's not like I'm unfamiliar with some of the precepts. It's just the way Henry Cloud talks me through it all. I seem to be able to hear him. It could be the easy tone. The compassionate approach. The clear eye. Or the fact that it's framed in business terms with, surprisingly, a subtle spiritual touch. No matter. Last night I told my husband that I'm actually learning something from this book. Enough that I want to do a series on it.

I hope you'll join me for the next few weeks, and maybe we can learn together. Here's what Cloud promises...

You'll learn about the kind of character that:

1. creates and maintains trust
2. is able to see and face reality
3. works in a way that brings results
4. embraces negative realities and solves them
5. causes growth and increase
6. achieves transcendence and meaning in life

Cloud maintains that these traits "supercede gifts, talents, and ability," allowing the people who have these traits to succeed. People who don't have them often flatline, even though they may have started well.

Are you ready to hear a more nuanced definition of integrity? One that will help you succeed in business, and maybe even at church and home? I am. Let's see where Cloud takes us.

Ripple Photo by L.L. Barkat.

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