Writing A Eulogy

I just returned from NYC for the third time in a month. My uncle Bob was the only real uncle I ever had, and he died at the ripe old age of 98. Well, at least we think that’s how old he was. Unlike women, who typically take years off their lives when reporting their age, on each of his birthdays my uncle added a couple of years. Perhaps this was his way of telling us he was immortal, or maybe he wanted to garner more love, respect, and sympathy. We will never know.

As the family writer, I offered to write his eulogy, not always an easy task when you are the only one eulogizing someone who has lived for so long. As his only next of kin, I wanted to get it right. When writing eulogies, my motto is to be short and sweet, focus mainly on all the good attributes, who the person left behind, and their influence on their loved ones’ lives. For some people, writing a eulogy might seem like an overwhelming assignment, but writers typically welcome any golden opportunity to create. In fact, often we are known to do our best work in the midst of intense emotional upheaval. The words just seem to pour out on the page. I see it as an honor. However, it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to write a eulogy. The most important thing is to write from the heart or a deep place inside the self.

If someone has lived as many years as uncle Bob, it would be impossible to include all his life stories. When preparing my eulogy, I pretended I was speaking to an audience that did not really know him (actually a reality; he was a difficult person to get to know—very private). He had been married for 64 years, but unfortunately his wife, Silva, 89 herself, has severe dementia so could not serve as an historian. All she could repeat over and over was, “I miss Bob so much; what will I do now? Who will take care of me?” Silva’s pain was a sad situation for me to witness.

To organize my eulogy, before doing the actual writing, I decided to write a little summary about Bob’s life. In point form, I wrote the highlights of his life—when he emigrated to America, who he was with, what he did when he arrived, who was important to him, his long marriage; his influence on my life and my family’s life. As with any form of writing, when eulogizing, the more the writer shares anecdotes and images, the more compelling the writing. Just to say the person was generous is not enough. It is more helpful to share examples of how the person was generous. “Show don’t tell,” is something we can never do enough of. When possible, it is also amusing to add in a humorous story; everyone needs comic relief during a funeral service.

One common error in writing a eulogy is the person/writer focuses on themselves, rather than on the deceased. Of course, the eulogy is presented from the writer’s point of view, but it is not about the writer. Some of the most touching eulogies share simple thoughts, like, “What I will miss most are the weekly phone calls,” or “What I will miss most is the special dinner he/she prepared” or “their smile.”
For the past ten years, I have had a book sitting on my bookshelf collecting dust, but as I approach my 60th birthday, I think I will be referring to it more and more. Although I am sure there are many similar books now available, this one is called, Condolences & Eulogies: Finding the perfect words by Bettyanne Gillette. Googling on the Internet can offer some other wonderful tips.

There are some great websites that offer other ideas on writing eulogies. Such as:

Here are some tips I have accumulated over the years:

• identify yourself
• be positive
• decide on the eulogy’s tone
• consider the attendees
• focus on key ideas and events / life history / achievements
• offer specific anecdotes and favorite memories
• be succinct and interesting
• incorporate humor, if applicable
• finish on a positive note
• practice reading to someone you trust

Dreams & Fantasies

The subject of daydreaming and fantasies has been crossing my mind lately. It was initially sparked by my recent gig at The Poetry Brothel in New York. One day, it might very well be worth the subject of a book, but for now, I will offer this week’s perspectives.

Even though I had read about the history of the Poetry Brothel and thought I had a fairly good vision of what it was and what was expected of me, I must admit that the reality of the experience truly exceeded my expectations. We walked into the venue via a descending stairwell and then walked through a short underground pathway, accessed from a side street on the lower east side of Manhattan. Although in a relatively safe part of town, I was glad to be accompanied by my publicist, my daughter and her husband, as I was donned in a sexy black dress, fishnet stockings and rhinestone necklace and headband. I could easily have been identified by the wrong people as being too provocative. Although, this might sound sketchy to the individual who is not much familiar with the New York bar scene, this was really okay. I quickly realized that I had already been to this bar with my daughter and her husband years ago—a bordello-like ambiance decorated with curvy velour sofas and dim lights.

For writers and others who enjoy people watching, the scene was truly a feast for the eyes. We were greeted at the entrance by a beautiful woman with a rather large afro and wearing a t-shirt and fishnet stockings as if they were pants. I thought that a bit risqué but I soon learned that it was comparatively sedate compared to the rest of the scene. We arrived 30 minutes early to get situated, hang my winter coat and change out of my boots into my sleek sandals. We met The Madame and Pink Alexander who run the monthly event. I felt most welcomed and definably dressed in character.

The lighting was dim and sexy and the staff and the attendees wore a skimpy and sexy outfits feeling like I was in bordello of the 1920s—feathers, fishnets, makeup, short skirts, boas, cigarette holders, platform shoes and stilettos. The eye contact between the ‘dressed up whores’ and the attendees was seductive and revealing. There was a fortune teller in the corner and a man wandering around with a cigar box of tokens where you could pay to have a private tarot reading and/or a private poetry reading with either of the nightly featured poets, who on this night was Mark Doty and myself. My publicist promised she would join me on these readings, but as it turned out, there were no requests, or I left before they arrived.

My entourage and I were escorted to a reserved and private table in the rear of the venue. We were easily able to view the early introductions of the whores, each of whom read a couple of verses on a microphone on the stage with the band.

The experience transported me to a different time and place—which was surprisingly comfortable in a warm and bizarre kind of way! The event continued until 1 am but we left at about 11, feeling tired and also as if we stayed for the highlights

I left thinking it would be fun to be on a book tour that featured these types of readings off the beaten track. I sold a couple of books and it’s unclear of these or any events really sell books anymore, but I still left feeling satisfied.

My daydreaming and fantasy-like thoughts continued to the airport where I picked up the March/April issue of Psychology Today and flipped to an article entitled “Daydreaming: How Fantasies Shape Your Future.” Scott Barry Kauffman did a terrific job presenting this subject from various different perspectives and angles. I am tempted to write a series of blogs/articles on the subject, however, as it pertains to daydreams, he revealed that a mere 5 percent of daydreams have to do with sensuality or sex, but perhaps that is outside the Poetry Brothel venue. He suggested that studies done by Jerome Singer at Yale revealed that there are basically three types of daydreaming each connected with a specific personality profile.

The first one he identified is connected to poor attention control or those who are easily distracted by happenings in their environment or mind. The second type of daydreaming features unpleasant emotions, such as guilt, anxiety, fear of failure and obsessive tendencies. The third type is the positive and constructive form of daydreaming where ideas, imaginations and feelings are brought to the forefront. These might be the ones connected to brainstorming article or creative ideas that some writers seem to have more readily than others. The researchers agree that the content of your daydream can be a clue to valuable information about yourself and your deepest desires and needs.

So keeping a daydream journal might be a great idea after all. You just never know what you might tap into!


The Joy and Lust of Poetry

This blog is a day early because tonight I am doing something completely different. I am honored to be reading from LUST, my latest poetry collection, at The Poetry Brothel in New York City. The theme for the weekend’s event is, “The House of Illusion.” Mark Doty and I are the featured poets, which is very exciting.

When I first mentioned THE POETRY BROTHEL to my son, who is ensconced in the literary world, he immediately said, “I don’t like the idea of my mother being called a ‘whore.’” I explained that I am not a whore and where I will be reading is not a whorehouse. I was pleased to meet Tayannah McQuillar, the publicist for the series, a few weeks ago while reading at Babeland in Brooklyn. She was sexy, smart, and welcoming. “We are so excited to have you with us in a few weeks,” Tayannah said following my reading.

The concept of THE POETRY BROTHEL is to bring poetry out of the classroom, bookstores and lecture halls and bring it into the lush interior of a bordello. It is about creative expression in a completely uninhabited venue. New York is not the only city where there is a Brothel. Currently, there are brothels in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Kingston, New York Barcelona, Madrid, Zurich and Bogota. There are more brothels planned in San Francisco, Detroit, Portland, Venezuela and South Africa.

An article in 2008 in The New Yorker by Jenna Krajeski called, “The Joy of Poetry,” was very informative and enlightening about the New York venue and made me feel more comfortable ABOUT my upcoming gig. At that time, the events were held in various venues around the city, but now there is an actual location, The Backroom Bar, which was at one time a real speakeasy. The article claimed that the “classic sugar-coated fashion promises a little sex with your verse,” as poets red in a fabricated whorehouse which includes a bar, gambling, music and tarot cards. If an attendee chooses to pay extra, they will get a private reading with the featured poet.

As someone who just released a poetry collection called, LUST, it might seem as if this is the perfect venue for me to do a reading, and as the article claims, “Maybe poetry really can make great bedfellows of us all.” It excites and scares me how, in fact, this might be the absolute perfect venue for my poetry, even if it means offering private readings, amongst the surreal and magical environment which strips everyone of their boundaries, bringing out the sensual and perhaps, at times, animalistic tendencies.

I read that the New York Brothel’s Madame often walks around holding a martini glass, and I surely fantasize about doing the same, except in my right hand I will be holding a copy of LUST, opened to some of the steamiest poems in the collection. It is my understanding that everything seems to flow at the Brothel, the drinks go down easy, and the poems are easier to digest in this very unusual and stimulating milieu. My only concern is how will my aging eyes read in this darkened place. I think my first stop will be for a pair of sexy shades, with rhinestones perhaps, and certainly a trip to the hairdresser to hide the 60 years which have been creeping up on me.

Looking forward to this event… with trepidation and excitement. Stay-tuned to the next installment of how it went. And who knows, maybe someone will tell my fortune and I will learn even more about the destiny I always wondered about.

Writing Courage and Relinguishing Fear

“The best way out is always through.” ~ Robert Frost

Whether we write poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, being fearless is an important part of the equation. In reading books such as Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, we begin to understand the importance of a sense of courage as a way to get our messages into the world at large. Having courage also involves a certain amount of transparency, which I believe walks the same path as courage.

Sometimes we want to sit down and craft a story that is burning at our psyche to write or explore, but just cannot find what it takes to get those words on the page. These might be the raw stories that reveal the deep and personal aspects of our lives. They might take more than putting sticky notes on our computers saying, “Be Courageous,” or “Have No Fear,” but that also might be all that we need to boost our confidence.

Developing courage often involves just coming face to face with our fears. In her book, Writing As A Sacred Path, Jill Jepson recounts a story shared by Buddhist nun and writer Pema Chodron about someone who had recurring nightmares about being chased by monsters. In her dream, she eventually stopped and faced those monsters and stared at them in the eye. As she did so, the monsters began to fade away and eventually disappeared entirely. Obviously this exercise is all about facing our demons and how it will serve us in the long run.

While such suggestion might sound overly simplistic, it does have its merits. Jepson also offers the following ideas: First, slow down your writing and stop where you are. Take some deep breaths and repeat to yourself that you are ready to meet fear head on. The acknowledgement alone will help you move through it, like Frost suggests in the quote above. Second, try to address your fear directly. This means having a dialogue with your fear and listen to what it says to you. When you ask your fear what it wants you are disempowering it and allowing it to weaken. Once the fear is weakened, it is easier to tell it to get lost so that you may move on.

In the end, it’s about positive thinking. Writing offers the opportunity to whisk away worries. Another suggestion is to journal about your fear—its origin and reason for being. Maybe try to write a poem about it. Hearing the voices of others who have experienced fear can help give voice to your own, and may also help you develop other coping strategies.

Sometimes, I find reading quotations by other writers to be quite helpful in dealing with certain emotions. Here are some famous quotations by other writers which might help you navigate through your own fear and give you courage to do whatever you need to do, whether it is has to do with writing or making a other changes in your life. Remember, in the end, we all want to be happy. The world tries to pull us in the other direction. It’s time to look all the negativity in the face and turn the other way—toward positive thinking.

Some inspiring quotations on courage:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” ~ Mark Twain

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” ~ T.S. Eliot

“Courage is grace under pressure.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

“A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” ~ Aristotle

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” ~Red Smith

“Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival.” ~ Hannah Arendt

“Courage is the power to be cheerful under circumstances we know to be desperate.” ~G.K. Chesterton

“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~Viktor Frankl

Without courage wisdom bears no fruit. ~Baltasar Gracian

“You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” ~Mary Tyler Moore

Brain Injury Awareness Month

On the airplane back from New York last week, I read that March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, which seemed very apt in view of the fact that my visit to New York (in addition to a reading for LUST at Babeland and visiting my daughter and her husband), revolved around dealing with my 84-year old mother’s post brain injury.

It is beyond belief what has been happening to my previously independent mother since she developed the flu two months ago. I remember a friend once telling me after her mother died at the age of 85 that each year over the age of 80 her mother seemed to age five years. Now I understand.

Ever since I can remember, my mother’s priority in life has been her horse. As a matter of fact, growing up our Sunday ritual was driving an hour to the stable. On our outbound trip, the backseat of the car was filled with hay, and on the return it would be filled with buckets of manure to fertilize her small backyard vegetable garden.

Along with any sport or passion there are risks. The risk of brain injury in horseback riding accidents is huge. In fact, falling off a horse is similar to being pushed out of a car going 12-15 mph, and even more severe if the horse is trotting or galloping. I cannot count the number of accidents my mother has had over the years, but after the most recent one four years ago I told her “It’s time to stop mounting that horse.” Up until then she had broken her pelvis, ribs and leg bones, not to mention all the times she was kicked by horses, which resulted in huge scars to her shins.

In 2010, my mother was in a horseback riding accident that nearly killed her. The helmet she was wearing did not provide enough protection when she fell hard on the ground. It was probably an older helmet that slid during impact. I would not have known about the accident had the friend she was riding with not called to tell me she was unconscious in the ICU. My mother was in the ICU for two weeks and had no memory of the accident at all. That’s when I decided enough was enough. Like my father who did not give up smoking until he coughed up blood as a result of Pneumothorax, she agreed to stop horseback riding after this accident.

The skull might be tough, but like any previous injury, whether to bones or brains, the ramifications often surface years later. I know this from a whiplash accident I incurred at the age of 30—and I still suffer from periodic neck pain before the rain. The fact that my mother forgot the accident, forgot that she was in the ICU, where her grandchildren visited daily, and forgot what she said months of rehab is a scary thought.

Back to the flu two months ago: My mother always had a strong immune system: people could cough in her face and she never got sick. This time the flu (maybe Norovirus) really got her. She was vomiting for 4 days and sounded weak on the phone. I called a wonderful Polish neighbor to check in on her and she ended up bringing her homemade soups for a week. It was a tough winter and the snow was 6 feet high around her house. One day the woman knocked on the door and there was no answer. She made her way to the back of the house and peeked through my mother’s bedroom window to find her on the floor beside her bed. She climbed through the window and discovered that my mother had fallen on the way to the bathroom and was incontinent and could not get up unassisted. As a nurse, alarms went off in my head and I suggested an appointment with her internist. Long story short, she had a neurological consult because it turned out that she’d a few falls in the past month. She’s always lied about her age and of course she lied about the falls too. The neurologist suspected hydrocephalus (water in the brain) probably secondary to all the head injuries from the previous horse accidents.

During last week’s visit I noticed a stack of unpaid bills and a VISA card that was being declined at stores. We took her to the stable to visit her horse and an hour later she did not recall, but she did remember the president’s name. We are now on the path of diagnostics and possible surgery.

All to say: Happy Brain Injury Month and as always,

Lust for life… because we just never know!

Building Community – Interconnectedness

This past weekend at the annual AWP Conference, I moderated a panel on building community in low-residency MFA programs. I began by saying that I am a low-residency addict. In 2003, I received my MFA from Spalding University and I am currently working on my PhD in Psychology. There are a lot of good things to be said about low-residency programs, and providing a sense of community is essential for their success.

For me, community is defined as a group of people with varying backgrounds linked by a common perspective or goal. Whether it is a virtual MFA class or a physical community of writers, they are typically dedicated to a life of poetry, fiction or nonfiction. Maintaining that sense of community requires doing whatever it takes to unite the members and direct them toward a common goal. When at Spalding for my MFA in Writing, this sensibility was instilled in us by our director on on day one. hen Sena Jeter Naslund, the Program Director, delivered our plenary lecture. She said: “There’s one thing you should know—your main competition is not in this auditorium; it’s in the bookstore.” Sena’s words set the stage for our palpaple sense of community.

Our first residency began days after 9/11, an experience that helped unite us spiritually, and also in a literary way when we were asked to write about our reactions and feelings towards the tragic events of that day. As a country we were petrified. We were scared to travel and scared to go home. This already united us in a very unique way. Our shared love and devotion to writing helped calm us.The next time I realized the sense of community was on the first night of residency sitting in the hotel bar sipping on my first “ever” glass of Kentucky Bourbon. When you have a first drink with a group of people in such a setting, there’s potential to be friends for life. Plus, for ten days, we lived in close quarters while faculty and students shared and reflected on their common goals.

Low-residency MFA programs have been around for a while. One of the originals was at Warren Wilson which started in 1976. Today there are almost 50 low-residency programs in the US.
There are many advantages to these programs, mainly the flexibility and how they work around individual schedules. Most of these programs have two annual residencies ranging from one to two weeks. These are intensive gatherings for lectures, seminars, workshops, and networking. These are opportune times to form the bonds of a writing community. The paradigm for each program is different, but typically a student is either paired with a mentor for one term, or online classrooms are set up. Sometimes both paradigms are incorporated into programs.
Writers, by nature, are independent and solitary creatures, but once in a while we need to get out of our writing trance and find community. When I firsts started my low-residency program in 2001, outside the biannual residencies, email correspondence was the only sense of community since social media did not yet exist. Today, community can be built via email, social media, online discussions, telephone calls, and Blackboard. Even with these tools, in most cases it seems, students and alumni have to work hard to develop community in low-residency programs.
The interesting thing about being asked to moderate this panel was that if it wasn’t for the social networking community, I would not have had the opportunity. The original moderator was not able to attend so another panelist found me on “She Writes,” a literary social media site. She spotted my name and contacted me. So when my publicist tells me that I have to tweet or post on Facebook because it encourages community and a sense of connectedness, I do. You just never know what types of connections you can make!

One thing is sure and that is there needs to be a combined group effort to form community. It’s the organization which keeps communication channels open by sharing updates, successes, losses, and celebrations. Newsletters and social media are extremely helpful. As a healer and a writer I believe that community can help build bridges and create masterpieces.

Sexual Awakenings !

The recent launch of Lust has sent me into new pathways of discovery. The most recent example was last week’s visit to my Los Angeles Holistic Internist, an amazing doctor, diagnostician, and human being born Jewish and converted to Sikhism as a young man. As part of his spiritual practice, he meditates and practices Kundalini Yoga. Already interesting, right? Just wait.
During my last office visit in December, I brought him a bookmark for Lust. He was so excited he stuck it in the top pocket of his white lab coat. “I want everyone to see this,” he told me, smiling beneath his turban and chest length beard.

This enthusiasm and gesture came as a surprise to me because for some reason I thought he was a bit prudish in that regard but then I thought, it’s wonderful that he’s so proud of his patient’s accomplishments. After my follow-up appointment last week, I handed him the newly-released book and offered my autograph. To an onlooker it might have seemed as if I had handed him a golden nugget. His reaction was that positive. He hugged the book to his chest and said, “Thank you. I’ve been waiting for this. Thank you so much.” He gave me a hug and said, “wishing you lots of success with this; I cannot wait to read it,” then shook my hand and headed to the door for his next patient. I stood there frozen in time as to what just happened, and all tongue-tied said, “Yes. Lust is important in all aspects of life—intimacy, love, work, pleasure.” “Yes it is,” he responded.

I just so happened to have another copy of the book and I handed it to his nurse of 13 years. She chimed into the same enthusiasm. I bought some herbal supplements and left the office shaking my head. “What was that all about?” I wondered, “Why are they so excited about this book?”

At home, I immediately googled, “Sex and Kundalini Yoga” and got an overwhelming selection of articles. Years earlier when we lived in Florida, I had practiced Kundalini yoga, however, I did not immediately see the connection, but this is what I learned.

Kundalini yoga is about awakening Kundalini energy through meditation, yoga and breathing exercises. Its focus is on compassion, increased capacity for love, and increased consciousness. In Sanskrit, Kundalini means, “coiled” like a serpent goddess or life force which remains dormant in the root chakra at the base of the spine. When sexually activated the energy or life force travels up the body, through all the chakras, and ends at the crown chakra resulting in various states of well-being and euphoria. When the energy is first released, it can be quite intense. It has been suggested that the best intimacy occurs when an individual surrenders and relaxes into the intimate experience, thereby activating the delta and theta brain waves. This can provide a transformational or spiritual experience.

Like my internist, for years mystics and gurus have spoken about the connection between yoga, meditation, lust, and love. They suggest, and I agree, that the sexual experience offers a special type of transcendence. The French term for orgasm is “la petite mort” meaning “the little death,” referring to the idea that an orgasm brings a transcendent experience of heightened awareness and also a sense of tranquility and calm.

Before Kundalini can be released, surrendering and desire is a very important component. In my book I insinuate a lot about the spiritual connection to sensuality and the importance of desire and lust. Those emotions just intensify the already wonderful experience. I concluded my little research project the understanding of why my internist was so excited about receiving the book. He was thinking that this might be an additional way to awaken his Kundalini energy. For me, I might have found a new market for LUST.

Lustful Readings

The official launch of my latest poetry collection, LUST happened during a full moon week. I enjoyed giving three readings and signings in Santa Barbara and I am very grateful to my community for all their love and support. This is my ninth book and I must say, I have never had so many people turn up. It could be that it was the timing of Valentine’s Day, but I rather believe that people are simply hungry for lust in their lives.

Watching people’s reactions to the book has also been an interesting study in human behavior. Like hungry vultures, some people are so drawn to the subject, while others approach the book with caution and fear. If they have already made the decision to attend a reading or buy my book, then that’s already a big step. It acknowledges a desire for a subject that resonates with so many of us.

For the most part, once I actually do a reading and explain that my work is about lust for life and not just intimacy, people tend to loosen up. According to most definitions, lust is a feeling of very intense desire. To me, lust is an embodied emotion felt in our bodies, whether it is for intimacy, knowledge, food, work or pursuing a passion. It’s a deep yearning for something. Lust is the pursuit of happiness that takes whatever form is right for us at any given time.

As writers, we often read reviews of our books with both caution and skepticism—one eye opened and the other closed in fear that the review will not live up to the reviewer’s expectations. As humans, we are vulnerable. By the nature of our profession, writers are also sensitive and tender. As much as it is easy to say that we must believe in our own work, regardless of what others think, we are no different than anyone else, in that we want to be accepted, loved, and respected for our creations. We also want to be understood.

Once in a while, a review will arrive and you say to yourself, “This person really got my book’s message.” I felt that way about the blurbs chosen for the book jacket. However, I felt that rush again during my signings when I could see the smiles and expressions on people’s faces as they enjoyed the intimate sharing of my narrative poetry. As one of my “big birthdays” approaches, I feel myself becoming more brave, in a way that really accentuates the fact that, “I don’t care what anyone, neighbors or the universe thinks. I need to do and say what I need to do.”

In either case, it always feels good to receive positive feedback. As an example, a few days ago a review landed in my email box that made me smile. Here’s what the person said about LUST and I thank the reviewer. “Lust is a steamy, seductive, and enthralling book, underscoring how sex is basically psychological…The author’s exploration of sexuality, its psychology, and the dynamic between two lovers, or lack thereof, artistically and sensuously reaffirms the old adage that sex happens between the ears as well as between the legs.”

Lust, in all its delicious forms, is intellectual, imaginative, romantic and emotional. It is the fuel that drives us to wake up in the morning and want to go on with our day. In the event that you are still wondering, my hope is to instill you with that sensibility,

Remembering Creative Stars_HOFFMAN and KUMIN

In all honesty, my mission for this blog has not been to solely honor those who have passed. Yet, looking back on my most recent posts I seem to have been doing this a fair amount. It seems that good people die in waves or maybe I am at an age now I notice this more readily.
Either way, my intent is to celebrate the spirits of creative individuals who impact many people’s lives—those who contribute to making this world a better place, whether they bring smiles to our faces or joy into our hearts.

This past week, we tragically lost actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Just the other day, we also lost the wonderful poet, Maxine Kumin, whose poem “Looking Back in my Eighty First Year,” arrived in my mailbox from Poem-A-Day about the same time—even before I learned of the news of her passing, so I found it a little spooky. My dear friend Laure-Anne actually told me. Thank you.

I love Maxine’s work, particularly that recently posted poem, for all its honesty and richness. For me it reflected on the decisions we make which can change our lives forever. It’s never possible to know how much of a poem is fiction or nonfiction or solely the poet’s imagination, and really it does not matter. As I said in my reading of LUST the other night at Granada Books in Santa Barbara, poetry is about creativity. It is about story. Whether something really happened or not is irrelevant. If the poet is able to move the reader, then that’s all that matters.

The narrator of Maxine’s poem spoke about having been married for 60 years. She is looking back and wondering what life would be like if, instead of marrying, she chose to study the works of Stendhal (one of my favorite novelists), at the University of Grenoble. The poem reveals that in either case, her husband said he would have waited for her if she decided to follow other pursuits. She made me think about the ramifications of each and every decision we make.

Reflecting upon the idea of decisions affecting futures, I am often fascinated how one right or wrong decision can change a life forever. We never know what or where the other path would take us and we presumably make the right decision for us at particular time. I believe in trusting and following our instincts. I think we have to trust ourselves more, and often we don’t trust our inner voices enough.

But, if for a moment we consider the life and death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, we can only wonder what his instinct was when he put that needle in his arm. Did he realize the ramifications of that decision or was it an act of desperation or impulse? Kumin left us at the ripe age of 88 and presumably had a fulfilling and productive life, and as far as I know was still producing powerful poetry. Hoffman was half her age, in his prime with so much talent and so much to live for.

But we all know that there is more to happiness than “having a lot going for us, or having a lot to live for.” Since Hoffman’s passing, I have read a number of articles about him, one of the best in the New Yorker written by Daphne Merkin, called, “A Small Boy Chased By Furies.” (Thank you, dear Amy Ferris for sharing).

Merkin pointed out how Hoffman emanated a little boy’s façade and a sense of youthfulness, but behind that façade, one spotted chaos and turmoil. As she suggested, while we saw a stellar actor performing in poignant roles such as Truman Capote, we could just feel a sense of discomfort in his own skin and maybe even a little resistance to being a celebrity. The point is, Hoffman, like many addicts, are battling demons. Those demons are often unable to be conquered in safe and healthy ways. As Merkin deftly states, “the demons lurk, waiting for a weak moment to reassert themselves.” This is exactly what happened to dear Hoffman, leaving behind children and a long-time girlfriend.

As lovers of creativity, we just have to hope that the demons of creative individuals are crushed before they are able to take a strong hold. We can only do what we can, in as many ways as we can, offering love and sending positive energy their way, and try to help before such tragedy shows its ugly face, accentuate the positive and send positive and healing energies.

Honoring the Chinese New Year, Deities and BARRY SPACKS

Barry Spacks, February 21, 1931- January 28, 2014

Friday was the beginning of the Chinese New Year, a celebration that lasts about two weeks and traditionally honors the deities and ancestors. While I am not Chinese, an intuitive some time ago said that I might have been in a previous lifetime. In view of this and my recent passion for calligraphy art, I will make use of another annual celebration. More importantly, I want to celebrate the life of a wonderful man and friend who passed away this week, Santa Barbara’s beloved Poet Laureate Emeritus Barry Spacks.

While I believe that mourning is an important part of living and loving, I also believe it is even more important to celebrate the lives of wonderful people who have passed, and Barry was definitely one. To celebrate his life, the day after Barry’s passing, I returned to an art exhibit he had at Art Resources in Santa Barbara. The exhibit opened in early December and that was the last time I saw Barry. I am extremely grateful for the few minutes we spent together walking around his exhibit and him explaining the alchemy of his art. On that visit I bought a piece of art that resonated with me as a memoirist and poet. It said, “No one said we were born to tell one story.” On my visit back this week, I bought two more pieces that reminded me of Barry’s essence (see below). As I slowly meandered the exhibit I silently thanked Barry for all his creative contributions to our community and beyond.

The following day, I returned to the exhibit with my dear friend, Perie Longo. I suggested we first have a coffee at Muddy Waters beside, the place I met Barry for the very first time. I was somewhat shy at the time, new to town and attended an open mic reading there. I brought some poems to read, but my plan was to just listen. However, Barry’s presence changed my mind. Noticing that I was new to the scene, he sat beside me and asked if I was new to town. I said I was. He asked if I was a poet, I said, “I write poetry.” “Will you read?” he asked. “I’m unsure,” I replied. “You should. You really should,” he said. I felt immediately welcomed by a community which I felt a little intimidated by. With Barry’s encouragement I read a poem. It was a sexy poem and for some reason I was feeling braver than usual. I will never forget his clapping and comment to me when I sat down. “I really loved that; I especially liked the punch at the end. Do all your poems do that?”

Although I had not thought of my poems in that way, Barry opened my eyes to viewing my poetry in a different light. His succinct comment has continued impact on me, and I consider them whenever editing my work. From what I understand, Barry was impactful on so many people. He was humble about his own work and respected and loved nurturing the other poets. Barry was a poet’s poet and as my friend Perie wrote on her Facebook page the day he passed, “What will we do without him?”
Since his passing, I have been thinking a lot about Perie’s question. Barry was the officiant of my middle daughter’s wedding in 2010 held in my backyard. It was wonderful having both Barry and Kimberley, his lovely wife share in the festivities. I think about my other two children, who will not have the honor of being married by Barry.

I have also been thinking about the fact of how blessed I am that Barry blurbed my latest poetry collection, LUST released this week. When I saw him, he said he was looking forward to introducing me at my first Santa Barbara reading. I am saddened to know that will never happen, but more saddened to know that his offerings to our community only live in our memories now. Barry’s warmth, inspiration, wisdom and legacy lives. It’s lovely that our current poet laureate Chryss Yost is setting up a few events in town to honor this wonderful man and capturing the mentor he was for and other poets in Santa Barbara.

The 2014 Chinese calendar is known as The Year of the Horse, representing a new cycle of change. Doors will open that have never been opened before. As I was born in the year of the horse, I feel this is an important year for me. I feel as if I will be journeying into new territories with a yearning to be freed of the limitations of the past. This is the year to ride the waves and see where they take me. Traditionally, those born in the year of the horse tend to be energetic, active and animated much like horses. They are straightforward and have a positive attitude towards life, and easily able to become independent. I was glad to hear that they are witty and known for their communication skills.

Barry was born in 1931, the year of the sheep and I find the descriptions of those born in that year to be quite apt. It has been said that those born in the year of the sheep find daydreaming heavenly, they are creative and esoteric and appreciate time alone nourishing the muse. Those born in the year of the sheep are also great teachers and find riches in their own imagination. They are always respected and admired by others. They are pure and kind and ready to help. That was Barry in a nutshell. May he rest in peace, knowing that he is deeply missed.


SPACKS_Wordless Poem