The Excavation of Words

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I don’t know how I’ve been struck with the ambition, but I am in the middle of deep cleaning and purging my house, in advance of a monster garage sale I plan on hosting late in August.

I’m not a consummate slob. I tend to veer toward the lived-in but not dangerously germy look. Deep cleaning is something I haven’t done in the ten years we’ve been here. Just consider: a four-bedroom house with plenty of nooks and crannies, a basement full of boxes (most of which haven’t been opened since we moved), and a walk up attic bulging with the hastily packed mementos of my children’s school years. (Yeah. I didn’t oversee that operation, and I should have.)

Back at another place I wrote for online, an orange, hazy, huge toxic bubble, I remarked in a post that I had misplaced my folder of poetry, and asked the pressing question, “Where the hell is it?” The resulting comment thread blasted me for being a dumb ass, and how the hell would the Internets know where my poems were?

Even back then, my feelings were rarely hurt. Just temporarily slapped silly. I imagined I’d thrown my folder out by accident (I grew up in the Ice Age, and had only the typewritten copies, having not had the time or inclination to put the work on an actual computer, where my words could be backed up on a flash drive or by Carbonite), or maybe the guy we had staying at our home as it was being sold decided to run off with my silly scribblings.

Eventually, I chalked up my loss as a learning experience. My teenage and new adult angst-ridden lyrics and poetry forever absent, never to be enjoyed by posterity.

(Now I back up in several places and pay Carbonite for the stuff I’m apt to forget.)

Imagine my pleasant surprise last weekend. After fighting years of cobwebs and nearly retching over an army of dead bugs, I opened a box labeled “Kids Books” to find my folder of poems prominently sitting atop well-loved copies of Pat the Bunny and every book ever penned by Mercer Mayer.

Win! (clean basement) – Win! (possible garage sale windfall) – Win! (my book of poems). I momentarily died and went to heaven.

I spent an hour reading them. Most of my “poetry” was set to music. I played the guitar back then, and wrote simple songs with (what I thought were) tender lyrics about unrequited love and loss. Reading the words brought back the music, and I found myself humming. Most of my songs were god-awful, music and lyrics, but some of it wasn’t half bad.

What was most interesting that my writing voice back then isn’t that far removed from my writing voice now. The excavation of words cements the fact – in my mind – that I was destined to write.

Now, to celebrate my wonderful find, I will regale you with one of my favorites, written after a trip to Sioux Falls, SD, where we lit sparklers during a midnight tornado warning after ingesting Black Star.


Black Star


his grandpa was a cowboy, he said

you nod in silence–

your dreams are riding the range.


a little wine, a little smoke

helps to ease the loneliness,

shake off the chains —

lose those midnight blues.

you laugh and joke,

ha! your smiles are plastic

flowers molded from pain.

and still you choose

too much wine and smoke

the strawberry madness.

so you’re backed against the floor.

from another galaxy, he leans toward you

and shouts in a foreign frequency


o-zoned again.


lonesome cowboy,  roll me in your arms

just once.

i know i ruin everything good

but sometimes one kiss is all i need.


what space tripper? you’re returning home?

but you’ll soon return to ride the range

blue skies your rolling prairie

unlimited, weightless, darkened void.

you’re always searching for the light

in a heaven that gives no easy answers,

in a heaven where the sun

is just a black star.

October 28, 1978


Using Real Life Angst in Writing

Real Life might get in a writer’s way. In fact, that’s the common complaint for those of us who write on the sly. Commitments are a bitch. Time is a precious commodity; making time to write is a monumental task, up there with moving mountains with a hand shovel and ants carrying a thousand times their weight. But Real Life does provide a wealth of opportunity for the writer, especially if your Real Life situations involve a lot of grief and angst.

Certainly, Real Life can be ugly. No one wants to experience, pain, heartbreak, financial distress, loss, failing health, death and/or any other number of things that can cause the mind to go crazy and the heart to palpitate.

I’m only mentioning this because there have been a lot of trying personal setbacks I’ve had to deal with in the last month or so. It’s not just the holidays, although for some reason, Christmas seems to bring out either the best or the worst in people – usually the worst. It’s not the upcoming birthday, the date on the calendar wagging an accusatory finger at me. (F*** off, birthday.) It’s not the SAD I’m experiencing, although the revelation that the Detroit metro area only sees about 70 days of sunshine per year is enough to make me jump out of my window (where I would land on the sidewalk, broken but not dead). It’s not the recent full moon, or the feeling I have that the stars are not aligned in my favor this year. (I saw 2012. We’re doomed. Although John Cusack can save me any day. In fact, I’d prefer John Cusack over any superhero out there. Please send John Cusack.)

When I started out writing poetry, I found using my personal anguish as a creative outlet was extremely therapeutic. Plus, the best writing is sprung from disaster. I don’t know about the “real” poets out there, but my best poetry was born out of hardship and anxiety. It was the case then and is probably so now that I can’t write poetry at all when I’m happy.

Writing prose is a little different, but not much. I have to be manic to write sassy stuff. It helps if I’m majorly pissed off when I write opinion pieces. And I must always be in the throes of a near meltdown to write anything else.

There’s a fine way of incorporating your heavy heart into your writing.

First tip: get a notebook. I’m partial to small ones that can fit in my bag. These days I like pretty ones, although it doesn’t really matter what the cover looks like. Carry it and a pen with you at all times.

Second tip: at the apex of your distress, whip out the notebook and begin to jot a few things down. These don’t have to be complete sentences. They don’t even have to be pretty thoughts, just record. How does your heart feel? Can you breathe at all? Does your head hurt?

Third tip: expand on your observations. If you felt like crying, what prevented you? If you did break down and sob, what did that feel like? Try not to use the old cliches, like “it felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.” Find a new way to describe your discomfort. Play with words; your thesaurus can be a goldmine, but not until you get out the pick axe and start digging.

I’m employing this technique right now to enhance the emotional description I’d already laid down. It is more likely that you’ll take your notebook and tuck it away, like I did – until I’d unearthed it.

Make use of your angst. It’s a valuable tool.