Elyse

Our dog Elyse passed away this week. I remember her now, based on revisiting the post Dog Blog: Don’t. Move.

I tried hard not to move, but she moved me more than I had thought possible after I survived movements that helped make my body attack itself. That is, after trying my best to teach high school English and journalism full time for two years and falling short while becoming ill, even after a break, caring for a dog proved much more difficult than I had anticipated.

And so much the better. She showed me I wasn’t all washed up. The challenges she continuously threw our way we met to the best of our abilities, and she became my new full-time occupation. I’d like to think I was good at the job.

In consequence, the bond we developed became close and deep, as we spent every day, most of the day, together while Daddy earned our daily bread. The greatest challenge, perhaps, was to keep trying, to renew my patience, forgive the challenges she could not help but pummel us with in her layered conditions of disease and neurosis. The serenity of the pack leader is the only surety for keeping the pack together, functioning, balanced.

Keep calm and lick. She would do that as long as I kept coming home, feeding her, maintaining her medications dosing schedule, going through our routines, showing affection, asserting my leadership, providing limitations and not just pity for the sweet, sickly little dog. She respected me to a degree, listened to me more than to Daddy, but she could be stubborn, too.

And there were certainly moments where she didn’t trust me. After all, it was primarily I who wielded the wipes, the ear cleaner, the comb, the towels, the dental hygiene products, and other instruments of regular torture. I would lose my temper, lose my patience, show my flawed humanity when she failed to stay put or stop prancing around in panic while I worked upstairs, or when she soiled the floor yet again.

With all the medication, and her neglected and abandoned past, I knew it wasn’t her fault, so I restrained myself. But she could still feel my negative vibes and would cower, hesitate, fail to come to me. I was hardly her North Star.

Still, she surrendered to my love, returning calm, and gentle hand. I became an expert of sorts in many aspects of canine care, not least of which was dog massage. Neither side had any choice, really. She was at our mercy. We coddled, spoiled, and humanized her with the best of them. We showered our only child with more affection than she thought strictly necessary, I’m sure. But love won out in both directions.

All things end, and now is her life ended. Dearest Elyse–our first family dog, adopted as a rescued American Brittany on June 29, 2012, laid to rest February 8, 2016–we will move on, eventually. As the snow finally seals winter in, and layers over your fresh grave, the temperature drops with my motivation.

Binding us so tightly to her with all that need for constant care–as much a source of stress as companionship, an amazingly tiny package experiencing and bringing such frequent struggle–Elyse has been my whole world for more than 3 and a half years. We certainly gave it our all. It’s time to re-invent myself yet again.

Irony comes calling again. Just when I’d get up the urge to write or read or improve my home or health, her own health would waver and pull me back from myself. Now that I’m “free” of her needs, I can scarcely think, choose, or move.

Is balance, after all, sheer impossibility? I threw myself into full-time teaching, hardly sleeping, barely keeping up with grading and lesson planning, making myself ill from the chronic strain and stress, not having been used to work in such a way at such a pace in such a place. Basically, not having been challenged enough before that point. Then, after nursing the wounds from dismissal, and intending to get a healthy, active dog that would help me become healthier, I found myself thrown into another nearly impossible project–taking care of an ailing dog.

I was partly manipulated into it by the rescue organization (they unmistakably lied about her age and misrepresented the severity of her health problems), largely smitten by the sweet little creature herself, partly pressured by my spouse’s falling as much in love as I had in a few short days, and partly led by my determination to get right whatever I undertook.

Am I finally to learn how not to go overboard? Or, at least how to do so gainfully? Am I discounting the gotten gains? Can I find balance at last?

Or, is it disingenuous to ask for this? Do I really just want fame and money, and only persist in denying my vanity and greed in the vain hope that I’m a better person than I seem to be? Either way, it will come down to balance, if no other kind but that between seeking ultimate “success” and seeking a balance between career and personal life. I take everything so personally, so seriously, do I even know the difference between work and life? Did I ever? Is there such a stark distinction at all?

Cesar Millan, best known as The Dog Whisperer, has said we don’t get the dog we want; we get the dog we need. I’m still trying to figure out how that was the case with Elyse and me. What am I supposed to have learned? What am I to take a way from all this? What about her did I need? And was the need fulfilled?

I don’t know. I think it may take a while to figure out. Everything with me does, but right now, grief clouds the issue. I’ll let you know if light dawns.

Of course, I’m assuming the verity of a pat aphorism that may be bull, even though the man may indeed know dogs better than anyone. As I established in my Five-Phrase Friday post last week, what’s true for some may not be true for all.

What I know to be true is this: I loved that dog. It was not all in vain. We do learn from experience. We have great, rich memories of our time with her.

What a sweet, gentle, affectionate, adorable, quirky, beautiful little girl. She only ever barked in her sleep and, in her immune-compromised isolation, energetically loved meeting any new canine friends.

I’ll miss . . .

  • the sound of her long toe nails tapping as she trotted along the floor
  • the jingling shake of her collar tags
  • the oh-so-cozy softness of her fur coat and leg feathers
  • her clumsy goofiness
  • her insistent invasion of personal space
  • those Dumbo-like ears of submission
  • an eagerness to walk, sniff and mark
  • her unabashed excitement and joy to see us come home
  • her playful groan of a signal to go outside
  • the thrashing of animal toys
  • an obsessed tooth-and-claw attack of her Kong toy full of treat bits
  • a thrasher hairstyle with head hanging, fast asleep, off her bed’s edge
  • running in her sleep
  • the frustrating way she’d wipe her face on your legs to get rid of the oozing eye goop
  • her strength and resilience amidst 3 heart conditions, chronic coughing, painful arthritis episodes, blocked tear ducts, bad teeth, chronic shivering and shuddering, occasional choking on food, low blood sugar, isolated mystery ailments including seizures, limping, lost appetite, and reverse sneezing that would clear up inexplicably, bleeding toenails from quicks so close to the tip, being stepped on repeatedly, swallowing a frothy toad, freezing her paws in harsh winter, and stepping on a bee
  • her huntress alertness, bird stalking, squirrel obsession
  • the way she’d open her front paws and legs while lying down so we’d rub her fluffy chest
  • her yawns of sleepiness and confusion
  • the drollness of her growing directional deafness–2 feet behind her, called her, and she perked and ran towards the sound in the opposite direction
  • her long, slender, elegant pointer legs
  • those eyes, that nose, that tongue, and that nubbin!
  • her love of peas and apple sauce and traces of flavored yogurt and peanut butter and
  • . . . oh, so much more

I’ll miss being so constantly needed. I’ll miss my irreplaceable fur-baby and friend.

Rest in peace, pain free and joyful, baby girl.

A world of possibilities opens up before me now, and it’s ready for my forward movement. At some point, you get sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time—and do something productive. All hope is not lost.

Although I feel a little like Zaphod Beeblebrox when he failed to find the ultimate question–“Good stuff. I’ll just go find something else for my whole life to be about.”–I’m still hopeful that the best is yet to come, yet to be made and discovered. I’ve been blessed repeatedly, given many chances to start over, and now, aided by my circumstances, I have yet another gift of choice.

I will do my best to embrace this new freedom, in keeping with my values, in honor of my loved ones–the living and the dead. I’ll take responsibility for my life and health, not only to do but to be.

Life goes on, and the search continues.

On Process: Verse Writing, Part IV: Reflection

ICYMI:

My previous post, On Process: Verse Writing, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft, dealt with the last phases of my verse writing process toward a complete elegy for Leonard Nimoy. It also contains excerpts from the finished product. This time, for my final post of the series, I reflect upon both process and product, sharing my self-evaluation and how I’ve grown as a writer.

Update: I decided that reading the poem aloud was an important final step, which led to a few more revisions, and I feel more satisfied with the results than when I last thought the poem was finished. Next comes peer feedback at writing group.

You’re welcome to comment or tweet @Carrielt37.


The Verse Writing Process, Part IV: Reflection

Milestones reached

The goals I had when I started this process of discussing the verse writing process were:check-mark_red_pencil_red

  1. Remember, and say something in memory and support of, Leonard Nimoy.
  2. Create a fitting tribute by carefully attending to emotion, detail, and quality.
  3. Finish The Daily Post‘s Writing 201: Poetry, Day 5 task: elegy, fog, metaphor.
  4. Learn about the features and models of elegies, and apply lessons to the work.
  5. Chronicle the process I go through and assess how it affects the poetry and me.
  6. Share my poem and journey with poets, writers, poetry lovers, loved ones, all.

As of this post, I believe I have reached goals 1-5 and some of 6. The skill with which I did so is another matter. I know the poem is not perfect, the posts about it are not perfect, and I expect no acclaim for either. I only hope for reader enjoyment and some degree of acknowledgement, some day.

How did I do all this?: Lessons learned

Beats me! Well, no, that’s disingenuous. But seriously, I was pleasantly surprised by the results, but I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising. With all the structure, rules, procedures, and restrictions I applied, I doubted my ability to tap into my creative side effectively at the same time. However, I am an experienced verse writer, though not yet published; I do possess some skills that deliver. Being accountable to my blog followers doesn’t hurt either!

The thing that helped most was probably my determination to celebrate Leonard Nimoy. Passion for the subject and, thus, the project is a great motivator. In a way, I didn’t want to let him down. Losing the man was sad enough without also losing a cohesive, coherent, tangible expression of that loss. Choosing to write an elegy really commits you to it in a unique fashion.

I think it worked fairly well, too, because I intentionally toggled between roles throughout: from writer to my own beta reader, from creative to reductive, artist to analyst, right brain to left and back. It helped that I opened myself to a new process.

Image credit: Bernard Goldbach, Creative Commons.

Image credit: Bernard Goldbach, Creative Commons.

This time, to let the art live and breathe, I let the ideas and feelings flow on and on for a substantial period before I even started thinking about poetic form. I added the missing ingredient of idea development to my verse writing process. When it was time to craft poetry, the parameters no longer seemed so restrictive.

Remaining questions

Still, I wonder, now that I’ve judged the work to be done, whether or not the form and structures I imposed squeezed the life out of the art, making the poem feel choppy, seem forced, or come off as boring. Using the shorter tetrameter line (four units of one stressed and one unstressed syllable each within the same line) compared to the traditional hexameter-pentameter alternating lines of the elegy might have helped the squeezing along.

The formal, archaic language I tend to gravitate toward may also be a contemporary reader turn-off, but that’s kind of its own conundrum, a larger issue across much of my verse. I guess I’m just old fashioned.

The point is, I know I still have a lot to learn. This was my first elegy, and I am extremely proud of the results for never having attempted this kind of poem before. I felt comfortable using meter, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, enjambment, punctuation, syntactical inversion, and the other specific devices I applied. But I realize there are other considerations besides the minute details. See Poetry Foundation’s Glossary Terms for more information about poetic devices.

creativity-is-a-habit

Image credit: Creative Commons via launchyourgenius.com

A vital turning point

This time, in a real, significant way, it was the bigger picture, the thematic and tonal journey within the poem, that I learned more about how to execute. That might have something to do with my experience participating in National Novel Writing Month for the past 4 years. I have become more comfortable with longer forms of creative writing.

Prior to that period, my poetry felt stuck or trapped, without clear purpose, clear meaning, or a sense of satisfying completeness. This effect may be why, though I have always loved reading and writing in verse, I only wrote a poem or two every six months for several years.

The elegy‘s big picture, for instance, is that it has three main “movements,” if you will: lament, praise of the departed, and acceptance. A condensed version of the psychological stages of grief you may be familiar with. Fortunately for me, by this time in history, the rules beyond that structure have very much loosened or fallen away.

They already had cut me some slack, so I cut myself that same slack when it was time to assess my results. As a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, I’m also proud of doing that. Ultimately, good enough was good enough.

We all have to do that for ourselves, just as much as we need to work with diligent care in our writing. It’s what makes public expression possible, that final letting-go.

Note that I have no immediate plans to publish my whole elegy, so, clearly, I have yet to embrace fully, to trust an audience with, such a release. Of course, that’s not just a personal issue; writing in general, and poetry writing in particular, can be a poor way to earn an income. The trick is to find some value in publishing it despite the deterrents.

Now that I can see, for the first time in years, that I am developing in my craft, I can also see that next stop approaching, the point of full sharing, of unfettered expression. And I am more ready for it now than ever.

Oh so meta: a new awareness

Thinking about the verse writing process in a holistic sense–thinking and writing about my writing process for a specific project with clear goals–gave me a new kind and level of structure within which to create. It helped me maintain a balanced approach and perspective on how things were going. I saw my work through my reader’s eyes in a more real way, and I recognized more clearly my limits and potential. Accountability met confidence and led to productivity. It’s very encouraging.

Best of all and towardA Leap of Faith 1_Goldfish_small_to_large_bowl that point, I am teaching myself how to live without fear, repeating the refrain of carpe diem even as I experience it.

As I say in the last stanza of the poem, in essence, for ourselves and on behalf of those who’ve gone, we the living, so privileged, must press on. We must act in gratitude for every remaining moment to choose freely our own way. Some day, that freedom will end, and so will we.

Carpe punctum. Seize the moment.

I have cherished these moments remembering Leonard Nimoy and his celebrated character Spock. In a way, I’d almost rather not finish working on the poem because it’s like a final good-bye, but at least now I have it to come back to, along with access to most records of his life and achievements. Thank you for spending some of your moments with me as well.


? What are your thoughts on this series or on verse writing?  I welcome your comments or tweets @Carrielt37.

If you’re just joining me and would like to read about how this project began, go to On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation and follow the bread crumbs from there.

Thanks again for following me on this journey of writing–and thinking about the process of writing–in a new poetic form, the elegy. I wish you all the best in your own creative endeavors.

On Process: Verse Writing, Part II: Developing an Idea, Trying a New Form

Last Time

In my last post, this series began about my poetry writing process and how it is evolving. Part I focused on my background and motivation; this post represents a key piece of the evolutionary puzzle. The discussion arose out of my attempt to complete an elegy assignment from a recent, free online course hosted by The Daily Post called Writing 201: Poetry.

Feel free to comment or tweet @Carrielt37.


The Verse Writing Process, Part II: Developing an Idea

Inspiration: Getting It Down and Getting Down to It

It turns out that I am also glad that I waited to tackle, for instance, Day Five’s assignment, an elegy related to fog using metaphor, until after hearing of Leonard Nimoy‘s death. Having such a meaningful, interesting, and personally impassioning subject present itself and align with the purpose of a task with a clear and fitting goal has brought new depth to my process.

A new approach to the writing of a substantial, formal poem has proven fruitful as a result, in the sense of ensuring (I hope) quality, cogency, and justice to the subject, in this case, the departed.

The approach constitutes my first real foray into any significant development of ideas and intentions before applying poetic form to the content. Aided by my determination not to stop writing and thinking until I was satisfied that I had said all that needed saying about Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock, I developed not just a poem but also the patience to do it with rich intention and to do it Aha_white_on_black_inside_lightbulbwell.

I have yet to learn whether the quality will fulfill its promise or whether this could serve as a formula to perpetuate, but I know with certainty that the experiment signals a new phase in my development as a poet. That realization alone is invigorating and encouraging.

Paradoxically, embracing the idea of development and the need for it has lifted, if just temporarily, the burden of perfectionism, which only ever becomes a block to progress. Patience replaces anxiety, and daily (or every other day’s) attention replaces the impulse do it all in one sitting.

These elements, along with years of experience, in turn have opened the valve to a freer flow of creativity. Faith in my skills and talent bring me to the next station, where I believe that this journey will end in more artful and satisfying results. I am the Little Engine That Could and Can. Although I know it will be difficult, I will do my best to leave judgment of quality and what the results indicate to the reader alone.

Development

With the goals of getting the content right, writing an elegy of some length, and making it a traditional type with rhyming couplets, four-line stanzas and other formal features, here’s what I did to apply The Daily Post‘s fog/elegy/metaphor assignment to create a tribute to Leonard Nimoy. Disclaimer: Remember, I’m not advocating a particular approach or duration of time spent, just sharing my own experimental steps. For the purpose of development, brainstorming through lists played a central role as I focused mainly on ideas first, then form.

  1. I started with a list of words associated with fog that I could write about, which I wrote before Nimoy died.

  2. After I learned of his passing, I made a new list of terms, phrases, ideas, and quotes that I associate with both him and Spock.

  3. Then, I copied the new combination of these two lists to bring together the most relevant concepts and appropriate pairings.

  4. Next, I wrote out lines of concepts and points I knew I wanted to make, seeking the essence of what I feel needs to be said from me personally and as a member of the American populace.

  5. I then researched and read about the Spock “canon” (a little), not having read any Star Trek books myself and harvested quotes on the Imdb.com database from select Star Trek movies.

  6. I drafted a rough, inconsistently metered and lined set of elegiac stanzas toward expressing poetically what would probably be easier said in prose. Patience is key in this phase.

  7. Afterwards, I highlighted the best of the lines, terms, quotes, and concepts to bring myself closer to the crux of what I wanted to focus on.

  8. In between some of these steps, I let things percolate, giving the subject more thought away from my notes. Here comes form. . . .

  9. I started over with a new poem that covered some of the conceptual territory I hadn’t quite hit upon in the first draft, focusing a bit more this time on form and wording.

  10. When I returned to the draft in the next sitting, I transferred it from paper to computer along with all the preceding lists and quotes. In the process, I added more poetic lines.

  11. I printed out the draft alone, without all the notes, and scanned it for lines that were really duds and ideas I decided against or facts that I mistook.

  12. I highlighted parts of the poem that I liked best, that felt most right, and also scanned the lines for meter and rhythm, isolating the parts that flowed more naturally than others.

  13. Upon reviewing the highlighted parts, I added lines for concepts I felt needed more, better, or different coverage or any coverage at all.

  14. With a few semi-intentional gaps between writing/assessing days for my poem, I began to lose some momentum, feeling inadequate to the task of writing an elegy about such a storied public figure and the American icon he created.

  15. Then, I pressed on to soul-search, seeking a way through.

The poem remained a work in progress when I first shared this post.


Phew! Lots of steps, right? So what do you think? Consider the above process and these questions in light of your own work:

? Do the above steps seem excessive or seem to constitute perfectionism? 

? Which steps seem most worthwhile? Which ones seem unnecessary? (Keep in mind that the elegy has a particular form with a set of guidelines to follow.) Perhaps some steps work well for some types of poems but not others?

? What steps do you go through and find most fruitful in writing poetry?

? What insights have you learned from other poets’ processes?


Want to know how it turned out? Me too! Tune in for the next post in the series, On Process: Verse Writing, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft, which will address the results of the development and drafting process, providing insight into the schedule I followed. Plus, I’ll discuss the journey of revision and reflect upon each phase undertaken so far.

If you’re just joining me and would like to read about how this project began, go to On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation.

I welcome comments and tweets @Carrielt37.