JC’s Confessions #26

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

Ugh.

Folks who have been reading my blog regularly (thank you!) know that I have been dealing with a lot of loss and stress in recent years. I’ve been struggling to find energy to accomplish things and often feel like I can’t concentrate.

I’ve taken a lot of steps to cut down on what I’m trying to do in a day/week but there are still days that nothing of import gets started, much less done. I’ve tried to reach out for additional support but there are times when I can’t even manage to gather the energy needed to reach out and arrange to meet. Granted, the pandemic waves aren’t helpful, either.

I recognize from friends who study such things and from my reading that I am still grieving and that my brain is quite literally rewiring itself in line with my new reality.

A few weeks ago, I decided to try to shift my perspective. I decided to set aside some things I had been trying to do/worrying about and to give myself more grace/space to wait out the brain changes.

My doctor warned me it would be difficult and it is.

There have been little glimmers of hope. I’ve been able to arrange for some self-care appointments that I need. I’ve managed to post every day this month so far for Just Jot It January, although I confess I’m looking forward to February when that pressure I’ve put on myself will be off. I’ve made progress on preparing my chapbook manuscript for publication.

Overall, though, I am still struggling and struggling to accept that I’m still struggling, which is a large part of what I was hoping to do.

Maybe that is the way things must be for now.

I just need to accept it.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/27/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-27th-2023/

Hyphens

Today has gotten away from me, so I’ve decided to use the prompt from Linda’s Just Jot It January for a quick post.Today’s prompt from Sally is “hyphenated.”

I love to use hyphenated words. I find hyphens useful in visually clarifying words, which, no doubt, means that I overuse them.

For example, I’m inclined to write non-fiction rather than nonfiction. Somehow, including the hyphen makes it easier for my brain to process the word.

Does anyone else share this quirk?

role reversal

While I don’t usually use the prompts that Linda helpfully lists for Just Jot It January, I decided to use the prompt today from Sadje, reversal.

I immediately thought of role reversal in the context of family, specifically as it pertains to generational caregiving. As a child, my parents took care of me and my sisters. When I became an adult and especially a mother myself, I appreciated that my parents continued to care for us, although in a different and appropriate way than when I was a child.

As my parents aged and encountered health problems, though, our roles reversed and I became a caregiver to them. That being said, caring for an aging parent is different than caring for a child. My parents had chosen to enter a senior continuing care community, so household help and the ability to move between levels of care from independent to assisted to skilled nursing was available to them. I was able to concentrate on helping with medical needs, handling bills, chauffeuring, running errands, and emotional support.

Our roles reversed in terms of caregiving but not in personal terms. They were always my parents and I was always their daughter. Even though they have both passed away now, I’m still their daughter.

That will never change.

I’m thinking about this in a particular way right now as I’m preparing my chapbook Hearts for publication later this year by Kelsay Books. The poems center around my mother, particularly her last few years battling heart disease. There are several poems that deal with the generations of women surrounding her, her mother and me, her granddaughter, and great-granddaughter.

Earlier this week, I received a beautiful blurb that will go on the back cover. It referenced this generational element in the manuscript.

I cried.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Details here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/13/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-13th-2023/

Saying good-bye to Anita

This morning, I sang for the funeral of Anita Alkinburg Shipway. She was a member of the music ministry at a church that I attended for a number of years, but our primary connection was through poetry.

When I joined the Binghamton Poetry Project in 2014, Anita was already involved. I got to know her better when we were both invited to join Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry workshop convened by Heather Dorn. We later also participated in some workshops with the Broome County Arts Council.

I always admired Anita’s storytelling ability both in conversation and in writing. She often used the tools of narrative poetry to reveal the truth – and quirks – of human nature. She smiled and laughed easily while also being very sympathetic when we most needed it. I appreciated the depth of her wisdom as an elder.

When the pandemic moved the Binghamton Poetry Project to Zoom, Anita joined us as often as she could, despite some technical challenges. We often joked with her about the cuckoo clocks in her home that would add their voices to ours. She shared a poem about them here. You can find more of her poems in the Binghamton Poetry Project online anthologies.

Originally, Anita was scheduled to participate with me in a Zoom reading for National Poetry Month in 2021, sponsored by the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace. Unfortunately, she got trapped in the Zoom waiting room and wasn’t able to be recorded. I sincerely regret not being able to share any video of her reading her work.

Anita died at Mercy House, a residence for those near the end of life. Anita had volunteered at Mercy House and it’s a comfort to know that she was in such a familiar and peaceful place in her last days.

I was upset to learn that COVID played a part in her death. Apparently, a COVID infection interacted with other medical conditions and Anita could not recover. It reminded me again to remain cautious. I know that, despite my best efforts, I may someday contract COVID and could infect someone else, but I don’t know if I could forgive myself if I was being cavalier about infection and passed the virus on to someone who suffered grave consequences.

Anita visited Top of JC’s Mind and would occasionally comment on posts. More often, she would write to me directly. I remember having a discussion with her about what it means for something to be “top of mind.” Apparently, her Midwestern upbringing a generation before my New England one resulted in a different interpretation of the phrase.

No matter.

Today, Anita is at the top of JC’s Mind.

Rest in peace and eternal joy, Anita. May choirs of angels greet you and lead you to paradise.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/10/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-10th-2023/

New poem at Third Wednesday!

I’m excited to share that my poem “April 19, 2022 – Vestal, New York” has just been published by Third Wednesday Magazine on their website and will be included in their quarterly print edition this spring!

This poem began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt on that date from workshop leader Suzanne Richardson. We were studying the use of a central image or metaphor. We were meeting via Zoom as I sat at my desk in the midst of a late snowstorm, so snow/storms became the central image.

One thing about writing from prompts in a workshop is that there isn’t a lot of time for planning, so I tend to go with the first thing that presents itself. Fortunately, I had experience with snowstorms, so my mind had somewhere to turn.

I workshopped the poem with the Grapevine Poets and did revisions before sending it out. I’m grateful that it has found a home with Third Wednesday!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/09/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-9th-2023/

Small Constellation

So, I had a post all prepared for Just Jot It January for today until I went to Linda’s blog to get the link to add to my draft and saw that Willow had chosen “constellation” as today’s prompt.

Given that I had planned to do a shameless promo later this week that involves that word, I will postpone my planned post and do that now.

It was my honor to be featured with an interview in the new issue of Portrait of New England. My currently unpublished poetry collection Small Constellation is mentioned a number of times in the interview. This is my first ever featured interview and I’m still super excited about it! Many thanks to editor Matthew Johnson for making it possible!

Earlier in the issue, there is my poem “State Line” which is part of the collection. The title Small Constellation comes from another poem in the collection “Monroe Bridge Mail” which you can read here in Wilderness House Literary Review.

It probably seems strange to be talking so much about a book that isn’t published but, maybe if I do, the stars will align, I’ll get it into the hands of the right publisher, and it will be!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/02/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-2nd-2023/

Welcome to Just Jot It January!

So, it’s January first and time for Linda’s Just Jot It January!

I’ll be trying to participate by posting each day in January, linking to Linda’s daily posts. The rules are very flexible and bloggers can join in at any time. Whether you post every day or just once, it’s an opportunity to get your posts out to more people.

While Linda will post prompts, I tend to do my own thing most of the time. Maybe, I will manage to work through my backlog of post ideas that never quite made it out of my head. Maybe, I will resort to posting some of my older poems that I have only shared by link to the original publication.

I’m hoping that #JusJoJan will give me some incentive to get more posts out to you, as I’ve been feeling too distracted and/or lethargic to write as much as I ought.

So, Happy New Year and welcome to Just Jot It January!
*****
Visit Linda’s blog for links to other January 1 posts: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/01/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-1st-2023/

Binghamton Poetry Project anthology – Fall 2022

I’m pleased to share the Fall 2022 online anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project, which includes four of my poems, some of which need more explanation than others!

“Ode to Pentel P207” was written from a prompt during a summer workshop on response poetry with Samia Ahmed. Not surprisingly, we were studying odes that week. As it happened, odes were also a topic of a workshop on Romanticism with Samantha Flatt this fall, so this poem represents both of those sessions.

I do have a special relationship with my Pentel mechanical pencils! I started using them extensively when I was in college. They fit my hand well and are great for fine work, such as writing music manuscripts by hand, which we had to do before music editing software became readily available. I’ve continued to use them and they are my go-to writing implement when I draft poems and when I workshop them.

I hadn’t thought it was weird to have a favorite pencil until I was workshopping this poem, first published by Wilderness House Literary Review:

In my purse

cheap pens I won’t miss if they’re lost
my wallet, heavy with too many coins
ibuprofen for headaches
a pack of tissues
hair ties for windy days
a dog-eared calendar
my license to drive
a crumpled shopping list
emergency cough drops
a pyx
my favorite mechanical pencil, extra lead
credit cards – insurance cards – loyalty cards
a laminated prayer card from my mother’s funeral

Several people commented that the line that let them know something was up was the line about the mechanical pencil, which to me was just a normal thing to carry in a purse. Perhaps, though, it is a bit strange to make a pencil the subject of an ode, although we did study some odes that had been written about everyday objects.

“Beauty can be…” was written in response to Samantha Flatt’s workshop on Romanticism and Beauty with a prompt to describe my relationship with beauty. I was trying to capture the sentiment that I find beauty in many, seemingly contradictory circumstances.

“Hoosic” was written in response to the second week of Suzanne Richardson’s workshop on prose poems. Those three weeks were my first time to attend an in-person Binghamton Poetry Project workshop series since we went virtual in spring 2020 due to the pandemic. The prompt was to include in our prose poem an illogical or associative leap or a surreal moment or a mix of fact and fantasy. As often happens when presented with a prompt and the need to write quickly, I turned to a familiar topic, here, the Hoosic River, about which I have written several poems as part of my full-length manuscript centered on the North Adams, Massachusetts area. I will leave it to the reader to decide if my personification of the river fulfills the prompt.

The reason that there is a fourth poem listed is because “He Pines” was written at a special summer event, Much Ado in the Garden, a Shakespearean-themed festival. I participated in a Binghamton Poetry Project reading and mini-workshop, resulting in this very atypical poem. In keeping with the prompts, it includes some no longer used (and somewhat insulting) words. It also has the line count and rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, although not the iambic pentameter. I am notoriously bad at writing in Western received forms, so that I managed anything even sonnet-like is an achievement. This is a disclaimer, though, that I agreed to include it in the anthology only as an example of playing with language for this special event, not because it is actually a good poem!

This fall also marked the return to an in-person Binghamton Poetry Project public reading, although I had a conflict and couldn’t attend. Perhaps in the spring, I will be able to participate, if the tripledemic has alleviated by then.

Please feel free to read the whole Fall 2022 anthology. You can also view past anthologies and browse the site for other features. Enjoy!

new poem and feature at Portrait of New England!

I’m thrilled to share the new issue of Portrait of New England, which includes my poem “State Line” and my very first published interview!

Those of you who are regular readers here at Top of JC’s Mind know that I usually post here about the story behind the writing of my published poems but the featured Q&A handles that, with shout-outs to the Boiler House Poets Collective and MASS MoCA.

Many thanks to editor Matthew Johnson for the honor of being chosen as featured writer for this amazing issue! In addition to sixteen poems, there are pieces of fiction and creative non-fiction to enjoy, all by writers who have a connection to New England. I also love the wintry cover art by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

Comments are always welcome here. Please also feel free to share the issue with your friends and family. (The link in the first paragraph is permanent, so if you are visiting this post in 2023 or later, you should still have access.)

Cleaning Miller Pond by Merrill Oliver Douglas (ONE GOOD MEMORY Series)

A poem from my poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas is up on Silver Birch Press as part of their ONE GOOD MEMORY series. Enjoy!

Silver Birch Press

gorlovCleaning Miller Pond
by Merrill Oliver Douglas

Puzzle: how to nudge this boat
among trailing vines and branches,
squeeze through the one bare space,
poke the reeds with the paddle
and pluck out the Coke can?

Then figure the best wrist action
for flipping a taco wrapper
from beneath the snarl of algae
that streams off the paddle
like hair from a corpse.

The bag between my knees
grows lumpy with Styrofoam
bait buckets, beer cans, a slack-faced
soccer ball, glass and plastic
bottles sloshing grainy water.

Puzzle: why is the world so filled
with slobs? And why,
on a mild spring morning
in downtown Elmira,
does all this garbage
beckon like carnival prizes?

Originally published in Eunoia Review (January 27, 2016).

Photo by Gorlov.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem after helping to pick trash out of three ponds in Elmira, New York, during a volunteer cleanup…

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