Thirty Days of Poetry. Day #2.

Celebrating National Poetry Month by highlighting 30 days of literary journals that publish poetry you can read in 5 minutes or less.

Day #2: Words Without Borders

If you’re like my friend Emily, a voracious literary fiction reader working her way through the top 100 international classic books of the past century, curious about poetry but unsure where to begin reading, you might like Words Without Borders. 

Mission: “Words Without Borders expands cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature.”

Below is an excerpt from the newest poetry publication titled “February 23, 2022” by Danyil Zadorozhnyi. Translated from Ukrainian by Isaac Stackhouse Wheelerand by Yuliya Charnyshova

“and if the war, not just any war, came to our home
and we had to flee to another city in another part of the country
I’d like to be helped there
not for the people there to make xenophobic comments on the internet
trying to catch my kids speaking the wrong language
twisting my wife’s tongue—she’s from Belarus, for heaven’s sake, seeking shelter here”

Reach out if you want me to find a poetry-publishing literary journal hand-selected just for you.

There are hundreds. Find one you love and read more poetry.

Write poems.

Listen with your heart.

Thirty Days of Poetry. Day #1

Celebrating National Poetry Month by highlighting 30 days of literary journals that publish poetry that you can read in 5 minutes or less.

Day #1: Electric Literature

Electric Literature is BIG, in content, scope and vision: “to make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive.” Editors and interns work hard to create a digital world that imagines the real world I want to live in where every voice gets equal space and a damn cool picture. Sign up for The Commuter, their free digital lit magazine featuring a single taste of poetry, flash, graphic, or experimental narrative arriving by e-mail every Monday morning.

Two recent favorites offerings are: “Devour My Blackness While I Sit Here Hungry,” two poems by Anya Pearson and “How Do You Exist In a World that Sees You As Monster or Ghost?,” a written conversation between writer Sam Risak and poet Christian J. Collier about his new chapbook, “The Gleaming of the Blade.”

Stay lit. Read poetry.

What I wish I didn’t know

Every morning this October I’ve been getting up at 4:40 a.m. to meet my Fall Writing Circle via Zoom by 5:00. Eight writers, plus one amazing coach, gather around our screens from Paris, to Boston, from Virginia to Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago. Here on the West Coast the sky is still dark, an owl calls out on most mornings, and in that near dream, early waking day crease we set intentions of what we’ll write about and then get to the work of putting down words.

My intention on Tuesday was to be some sort of witness to the creatures impacted by the oil spill along my beloved Southern California coast. The pollution was spreading even as I wrote.

Susan Greene Photography

This piece then appeared in Voice of OC.

“The Oil Spill Couldn’t Be My Fault”

Isn’t it amazing we all have so many N95 masks and pairs of blue nitrile gloves that we even know what those items are when they top the catalog of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s list of “Things To Donate” after the oil spill?

We all have so many N95 masks because we’ve been thinking so hard about ourselves and, of course others, but less about sea creatures like blue whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins unless we’re on that diesel-powered sightseeing boat, or except for that one sea lion that swam parallel to me in July, following me for more than a mile on my birthday walk at Crystal Cove State Beach. “Aren’t we both trying to figure out where I’m going?” I asked and it surfaced at the surf line again and again, fixing those brown liquid eyes on mine.

We’ve been thinking so hard about ourselves and, of course others, that even though we might intend to stop needing, wanting, using crude oil we definitely need, want, and use all the things that Amazon delivers Free! Within 24 hours for Free! A 20-pair pack of blue gloves to keep our hands clean delivered. Free! And who are we kidding? We’re no Greta Thunberg, we just drive a seven-year-old regular gas-eating car because those new electric ones are so expensive, like electric bikes, and wind power isn’t good for birds, we all know that, and we live on a giant hill two miles from the nearest market and we’ve all just got to eat and who can walk for food?

We might intend to stop needing, wanting, using all the things crude oil can deliver but without jet fuel how can we fly to some other beach place, like say, Kauai and snorkel above the reef ringing Anini Beach to be brushed by a sea turtle before the reef dies? I mean, we love the ocean and the ocean animals and we want to swim with them, right, and show our grandkids how a white paper plate and ribbon strings can be crafted into a jelly fish so they can learn about and love the ocean too?

To be brushed by a sea turtle is to feel touched by an angel. You know you’re not supposed to touch them, but if they touch you first it’s not a crime. Is it?

Where is the crime? Everyone wants answers to whose fault it is that the thing buried deep underground, the pipe from an offshore platform named Elly, decided to leak 144,000 gallons of crude oil into our Pacific. Some say it was a ship’s anchor, poorly place, that caused the gash. Blame it on the pandemic. The line of cargo ships waiting to be let into port stretches for miles and miles. There’s a crush of stuff waiting on the waves with not enough dock workers to work the dock so yeah, blame it on the sea captain who didn’t know where to park. Someone’s gotta pay for this disaster.

Meanwhile, over at Oiled Wildlife Care Network a rescue group working out of the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine School, a report has been initiated and the count begins for Pipeline P00547 Incident Wildlife Recovery, a detailed list of creatures found doused in oil. As of Tuesday, October 5, 2021 it read like this: Three Western Grebes. One Sanderling. One Eared Grebe. One Ruddy Duck. One American Coot. One Brown Pelican that had to be euthanized because it was too injured to save.

Is it the pelican I watched this summer, skimming the sea in Laguna? Probably not, there are hundreds of pelicans. And anyway, what’s the loss of one small thing?

Susan Greene Photography

Thank you for reading. Thank you for thinking along with me that, whether we pause to recognize the fact or not, every life, every action, on this beautiful planet is interconnected. Volunteer applications to help with the clean-up effort are now being accepted through Cal Spill Watch.

Catherine

P.S.
For more exquisite pelican photography, check out Susan Greene’s post, “A New Perspective,” over on Backyard Sisters.

And if you’re ever looking for an amazing writing coach to help with fiction, memoir, finding an early morning writing circle, or perhaps writing a book in a year, I’m having the very best experience with Diane Zinna. And if writing isn’t your thing, then let this be the sign you’re waiting for that, whatever your thing is, life is so much sweeter when you surround yourself with a group that supports and uplifts you. Did you know that pelicans are gregarious birds? Social animals which generally hunt cooperatively? Go find your fellow pelicans.

Humbled and just wow

acknowledgement

This is a first.

I was really surprised when I got the final manuscript from one of my writing clients to send to my book designer and saw that she had added an “Acknowledgements” page to her book. There, in print, was my name on the very first line of acknowledgments.

This spontaneous burst of gratitude reminds me how hard it can be to invest in the time to write about yourself, but how infinitely rewarding it can feel after you make the effort and hold the final book in your hand.

Every person I work with inspires me with their dedication to the art of writing their life.

Thank you, dear writer, for trusting me with your story. And you’re most welcome. My pleasure. It was nothing. It was everything.

Is this your year to start to Write, Right My Life?

Write, right your life

Polaroid

I just got off the phone with a woman who’s thinking about starting to write her life story. But she’s not sure she should spend time on herself, because as she put it, “I haven’t done anything unusual. How can I write a whole book about nothing?”

Something I once told my “Composing Self” college students jumped to mind. I assigned the students a photo essay project, to create a collection of nine photos and nine pages of prose, about anything that represented themselves. This wide expanse of possibility had some students frozen. To help them determine how, or if, their lives reflected meaning, I gave them this homework; I gave the woman on the phone today the same suggestion.

Write down what you believe is important to you.
Then go about your day.
Focus on a few things that catch your attention. Study them. Jot them down. Photograph them if you like.
Return to your belief list.
Maybe you really aren’t doing anything unusual. Or, a
re you putting your body where your heart insists your values lie?
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until you discover how your experiences do align with your beliefs. Or, if they don’t make a plan to make it so.
This is all you need to do and everything important to write, right your life.

I’m sharing this prompt with you because in September, 2020 it seems essential to be intentional with our actions. Of course the idea of writing a personal belief statement isn’t original. There are religious creeds, artist’s statements, and political movement manifestos. All are essentially statements about what directs a person’s behavior, their lives.

One of the most beloved and enduring public declarations of this practice is collected at “This I Believe: A public dialogue about belief – one essay at a time.” On the site you’ll find thousands of entries from a wide range of well-known figures, yes, but the majority of these essays are from ordinary people trying to discover their beliefs through the action of writing. One of my favorites, “Thirty Things I Believe,” was written in 2009 by Tarak McLain in honor of his 100th day of kindergarten. Some of his beliefs are:

I believe everyone is weird in their own way.

I believe people should not give up.

I believe love is everywhere.

While writing a personal belief statement isn’t new, the idea of using a personal belief statement to organize and focus a life story, is unique to my story coaching approach. I’ve come up with a name for this type of project. “Write, Right My Life.” When I work with clients we aren’t strictly writing memoir, not straight forward autobiography. I’m helping humans focus on writing the life elements that show how each unique individual led, and is leading, their “right” life.

When people come to me, ordinary people who “haven’t done anything unusual,” it’s important  for us to discover together how “nothing” lives have really amounted to everything.

From a photo of an ice cream truck, I urge forth the story of a childhood summer ritual of chasing ice cream trucks with siblings and parents, cousins and grandchildren during family reunion weeks. I believe in spending time with my family.

The way Saturday afternoon drum jam sessions reflect a lifelong obsession with music passed from grandmother to daughter to grandson. I believe I must make something beautiful every day.

The Polaroid photography scavenger hunts that are part of every road trip become one chapter on travel. I believe in paying attention to what is new.

Try writing out your personal manifesto. Focus on what you really believe. Then check in with your actions and see how aligned they are with your beliefs.

As for what I believe, here are a few things:
I believe in anticipation and reflection.
I believe in trying again.
I believe in trying again and again and again after that.
I believe in myself.
I believe in you.
I believe in the deepest center of all humans there is at least a flicker of goodness capable of flaring and spreading at any moment.

May you find a little time to write, right your life this week.
Catherine

If you’re more interested in what it looks like to Write, Right My Life – how long it takes, how much it costs, if you’re too old to begin, or too young – check out the Frequently Asked Questions page.

How forward?

Today, George Floyd’s body is laid to rest.
RIP.

Lights barely there

Last week, I wrote “How forward” for Voice of OC about how to keep working for justice for all, always, especially after the Black Lives Matter hashtag trend wanes. Again.

Find the quietest corner of your room, of your heart, and grieve. Howl if you must. Then listen. Listen to Black voices and believe them when they say they struggle to stay alive. Every. Single. Day. Then stand up with them and for them, but not instead of them and for goodness sake don’t hand-wring. Stand tall and strong, with and for all our fellow humans who have been threatened, incarcerated unfairly, murdered for their “real or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race/ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.”

Please read “How forward”  to learn practical steps you can take to work for equality for all.

Do you notice the photo that accompanies my story?

Racial Justice Book Spine Poem

Racial Justice Book-Spine Poem                                                              Catherine Keefe

It looks like a simple stack of books. It is. And it’s more than that too.

Yes. This is a fine reading list to begin an education about all the ways racism is systemic. Take your pick. Begin anywhere to start your education, then reach out and we can discuss. I’d love to hear from you.

This stack of books is also more than a reading list. In its compilation, after it’s photographed, it’s called a Book-Spine Poem.

Americanah

Citizen
deaf republic
between the world and Me
the Fire this time

Racing to justice
One with Others
Just mercy

all about Love

See, I didn’t just pull these books from my shelf haphazardly. Rather, I looked for the titles on my shelf to create an even deeper meaning in conversation with one another, as we should be.

Book-spine poems are on my radar lately because many of the poets I follow on social media have been creating them as a way of being productive while under pandemic quarantine. TAB: The Journal of Poetry and Poetics even has a call for submissions for Book-Spine Poems. I learned that:

In 2013, New York-based artist Nina Kathchadourian published a collection of photographs book spines called Sorted Books. In the book’s introduction, Brian Dillon writes, “it is as though the books have convened of their own accord like plants or insects—following secret or, in the case of more explicitly comic or narrative groupings, not-so-secret attractions.”

A little bit about each book:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Fiction. From the author’s website:
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine has been called both poetry and cultural criticism. From the publisher’s website:
Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seemingly slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky. Poetry. I’m very much aware that Deaf Republic is the one of two titles in my Book-Spine Poem not written by a black author. Yet I’m also very much aware that Ilya Kaminsky, its white author, wrote something prophetic. From the back cover: Deaf Republic stands as a warning and powerful questioning of our own collective silence in the face of our time’s atrocities. I wanted this plea against remaining silent to be part of the reckoning we’re going through nationally and internationally.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Nonfiction. From the author’s website:
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion.

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race. Edited by Jesmyn Ward. Essay collection. From Jesmyn Ward’s website:
In light of recent tragedies and widespread protests across the nation, The Progressive magazine republished one of its most famous pieces: James Baldwin’s 1962 “Letter to My Nephew,” which was later published in his landmark book, The Fire Next Time. Addressing his fifteen-year-old namesake on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin wrote: “You know and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.” Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward knows that Baldwin’s words ring as true as ever today. In response, she has gathered short essays, memoir, and a few essential poems to engage the question of race in the United States. And she has turned to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers to give voice to their concerns.

Racing to Justice by john a. powell. Essays. From the publisher’s website:
Renowned social justice advocate john a. powell persuasively argues that we have not achieved a post-racial society and that there is much work to do to redeem the American promise of inclusive democracy. Culled from a decade of writing about social justice and spirituality, these meditations on race, identity, and social policy provide an outline for laying claim to our shared humanity and a way toward healing ourselves and securing our future. Racing to Justice challenges us to replace attitudes and institutions that promote and perpetuate social suffering with those that foster relationships and a way of being that transcends disconnection and separation.

One With Others by CD Wright. Poetry blended with investigative journalism. This is the other title in my Book-Spine Poem not written by a Black author, but rather by a White woman. I made this exception because both the book title and its subject show what true White support for Black lives looks like. From the publisher’s website:
Investigative journalism becomes the poet’s realm as C.D. Wright returns to her native Arkansas and examines an explosive incident grounded in the Civil Rights Movement. In her signature style, Wright interweaves oral histories, hymns, lists, interviews, newspaper accounts, and personal memories—especially those of her incandescent mentor, Mrs. Vittitow (V)—with the voices of witnesses, neighbors, police, activists, and a group of black students who were rounded up and detained in an empty public swimming pool.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Nonfiction book. Film. From the Equal Justice Initiative website:
An unforgettable true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in America — from one of the most inspiring lawyers of our time…Just Mercy tells the story of Equal Justice Initiative, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.

All About Love by bell hooks. Essays. From the publisher’s website:
All About Love is a revelation about what causes a polarized society and how to heal the divisions that cause suffering. Here is the truth about love, and inspiration to help us instill caring, compassion, and strength in our homes, schools, and workplaces.

There are many, many more books, films, podcasts, and humans to read, to watch, to listen to.

May we humans not be a deaf republic.
May we educate ourselves and reimagine a culture of inclusivity and equity.
May we be, as bell hooks imagines us into being, all about love. For it is only with love for all that we may move forward in any lasting longtime peace.

So then what happened?

Flourless in the time of Quarantine:  Part 2.

If you’re new to the story, you can read “Flourless in the time of Quarantine” Part 1, here.

Bread Gift

Or, you can skip ahead to this recap:
After the virus-induced grocery stampede, I couldn’t find flour to keep up my sourdough bread baking until generous friends and neighbors shared:

  • The single sandwich baggie-size cupful left with a note in my mailbox…
  • The one 5-pound bag of all-purpose flour found shoved to the back of a grocery shelf…
  • The stacks of gallon-size baggies, scooped from a friend’s sister’s 25-pound stash, which she had gotten from a friend…
  • And so much more…

All this beautiful gifted flour turned into enough ingredients to allow me to revive my starter into a fresh bubbly yeast, which I kneaded into laughing dough balls, which became gratitude loaves, which I’ve now started to embellish with a sunburst scoring pattern to represent hope.

Sunburst

And then things got a little crazy.

Hard to find mustard, picked up by a friend, turned out to be just the thing to go with the hand rolled Indonesian lumpia made by my neighbor, and left on the front bench.

Another neighbor hid Easter eggs in the front yard for my grandkids.

A long-time friend texted and offered me some yeast.

Bakers, who read my story, e-mailed Voice of OC asking for my sourdough recipe. At this very moment new-to-sourdough bread makers are crossing fingers and hoping for a good loaf.

A woman who called herself “The Flour Fairy” left two, 25-pound bags of flour at my front door yesterday after reading the story. Two! That’s 50 pounds.

At this, my husband laughed out loud.

“I knew you really did want that 50-pound bag of flour from Restaurant Depot and after reading your story I see I was right. So I jumped online and found a specialty shop and you’ve got 25 more pounds of flour coming next week!”

I’ve never been good with numbers, but even I can figure out that I have more than 75 pounds of flour. Seventy. Five. Pounds!

So I’m putting out the word. Flour! Flour! Does anyone need some flour?
Sourdough starter! Sourdough recipe! Does anyone want to bake?
Homemade sourdough! Homemade sourdough! Does anyone want some fresh bread?

I found one connection to a most gracious “senior” woman without family who I’ll now be fetching groceries for. She said she’d love some fresh bread. First delivery, Wednesday. “And some brownies too, if it isn’t too much trouble.” No trouble at all.

Next I’m figuring out how to scale up my tiny one-loaf-at-a-time production and I’ll be reaching out to food banks, maybe offering small batches of rolls. I really am just a hack baker. I don’t have a sewing machine to make face masks, or the knowledge to find a CoVid cure, but goodness, have I got flour and enough sense to say when the universe showers me with flour, I’d better get baking for others.

Batch of rolls

Please reach out if you, or someone you know, needs baking guidance, or if you’re in Orange County, California, if someone needs flour or bread.

And thank you to all the farmers and the pickers, the truckers and shelf stockers, to the grocery store cleaners and clerks and checkers, to all the good people who feed us, who never considered their work might be life-threatening, but who are now showing up every day so we can eat.

I see you. I’m grateful for you. May you stay strong and well.
Catherine

Next up: Sourdough Bread Recipe from my neighborhood village ancestors.

 

Flourless in the time of Quarantine

This story first appeared in Voice of OC.

Bread Gift

Flour is not metaphor. Flour is flour. Flour has gone missing.

It’s not in my pantry. Grocery stores have none. Even the specialty baking resource King Arthur Flour had this reply to my desire for one, 10-pound bag, Unbleached All Purpose Flour: Order contains item(s) on backorder. We will ship and charge your order when items become available.That was 20 days ago.

This rebuke, from the “Baking with joy since 1790” company that started “The Isolation Baking Show” to teach us quarantined how to bake bread, make bagels and doughnuts, to master the difference between baking sourdough and whole wheat bread made me feel especially empty. I’m missing the essential element to join the #greatcovidbakeoff.

My heart raced when an Amazon Fresh order promised two, five-pound bags of unbleached all-purpose flour delivered in 10 days! They delivered, yes. But substituted, without permission, two small boxes of gluten-free bread mix requiring yeast. I don’t need bread mix. I need flour.

Besides, I have no yeast. Yeast has gone missing. It’s not on my shelf. None of the groceries have any yeast. How will we rise?

Baking isn’t a new desire for me. Sometimes I’m called the Bread Lady. I learned in the kitchen of a friend and in her spirit, I’ve freely offered more sourdough bread baking lessons to others than I can count. I’ve passed along dozens of jars of ripe, bubbly starter, shared from my own starter which came to me by way of that friend, who got it from another friend, who got it from her grandmother, now long laid to rest.

Bread is my love language. I bake it for mothers who have just given birth; to nourish sick neighbors. When my dear friend’s father died, and I learned that it’s a Bulgarian funeral tradition for family to share bread with funeral goers, who say a prayer as they eat it, I baked her a loaf scored with a “W” for her father’s first name. It was leavened from the same jar of starter I had shared with her years ago, the starter that lifted the bread that she baked for her father, for what turned out to be his last meal a few days earlier.

I. Want. Flour!

Feeding the multitudes was one of my favorite Bible stories. A large group is gathered and hungry. The cautious counters look at the thousands and say, we can’t possibly feed all these people. We have only five loaves and two fishes. Yet the food multiplies enough to fill the hungry.

It’s been many years since I’ve been in a church, but this season of quarantine brings that story to mind. When shoppers began hoarding food, I was slow to shop because I didn’t really believe I needed to rush out and collect food. My cupboards were far from bare. I figured if someone was stockpiling they must need the rice, the toilet paper, the chicken, the can of cannellinis more than I.

And then I ran out of flour. Where are the miracles?

I became a needy little recluse at the same time all my Instagram friends, and real life friends, and my sisters, nieces, and neighbors were all comfort-baking bread and posting photos. Even though I’d been baking homemade sourdough for years, I was shuttered. I hid my starter in the back of the refrigerator to wait until I could revive it.

I answered a barrage of calls, texts and DMs, problem-solving for all the new bakers. Is my dough too lumpy? What kind of pan should I use if I don’t have a Dutch oven? How long should I bake my bread if I don’t want it too crispy? I had a HouseParty app conversation to troubleshoot a too-gooey Sourdough Fig Walnut loaf.  Does this look right? No. Now? Yes.

Are you baking? What kind of bread are you baking now that you’re stuck at home? You must be making so much bread!

“No. No, I’m not baking. I have no flour, can’t find any. Not online. Not in stores.”

Well, there was that one 50-pound bag my husband found at Restaurant Depot a few days into the grocery stampede. When he texted to see if I wanted something that big, I declined, figuring a food bank or small bakery or restaurant trying to survive on take-out needed it more.

I tried to act as if I didn’t care. I had my health, and a roof over my head, two loaves of store-made wheat bread. My desire was insignificant in the face of so much global uncertainty.

Fresh Bread

I was appalled to discover I did care. I looked at old photos of my homemade bread and consoled myself that eventually stores would restock flour. It’s only a loaf. I’m happy others are learning to nourish themselves, Wait, she’s baking now too? She never even liked to walk into her kitchen…Bahhhh!

It was a tennis match: my petty envy pitted against the kind of person I thought I was. With each ungrateful thought, I tried harder to find new ways to be helpful.

I scraped together my last bit of flour and made a small starter for the neighbor who asked because her kids, now home all day, wanted to start baking. What could I do with a scant 3/4 cup when it takes more than four to make each loaf? Could I ask her to share some flour in exchange? What if she only had enough for one loaf would feel bad saying no since I was giving her starter? I printed out my favorite recipes and left them with her new starter on my front porch. Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions.

And then —

How to explain this?

Flour began to slowly sift in as if by gentle wind. It first came in a sandwich baggie-size cupful left with a note in my mailbox by my elderly neighbor. I know you like to bake, maybe this will help.

It arrived on my front-porch bench from another neighbor who found one 5-pound bag shoved to the back of a shelf on her last grocery run.

It multiplied again when stacks of gallon-size baggies, scooped from a friend’s sister’s 25-pound stash, which she had gotten from a friend, were left it in a cardboard box on my porch.

In a matter of days, I went from having no flour to an absolute whiteout. I shook my head with each delivery, overwhelmed by what I hadn’t even asked for. Could flour make me cry?

I Googled the safety of sharing baked bread with others in the time of quarantine. I washed my hands, wiped down my counters with disinfectant. I washed my hands, then washed them again. I pulled out my mixing bowl, my bread hook, my kneading board, my coarse salt and parchment and baking stone.

The first loaves into the oven were gratitude loaves. I baked for all the flour sharers, and left them on porches with notes as messy with the over-use of “thank-you!” as my flour-dusted floor.

Next I baked for my friend whose young adult son is dying on a hospital bed in her family room, not from the virus, but from a horrible disease that has outrun his ability to fight it. She’d withdrawn last week from the meal train of friends. We would like to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for the wonderful meals over the past 3 months. It took a tremendous load off around dinner time. We are requesting our friends to please stop and take care of your own food needs during these difficult Corona Virus times.

I blessed her loaf with a prayer for peace and left it on her front porch.

I baked for my 85-year-old parents, and my daughter, my grandchildren, my son; each loaf passed from a long distance across a porch, left on a driveway without a hug. My family missed my bread, they say, easier to miss bread than to reveal how much we crave each other standing there, unable to touch.

To retreat to the heart of my home, to bury my hands in dough and know this one small thing. I can touch something as ancient as man and fire, as miraculous as the way the right kind of bacteria ferments with grain to leaven a loaf that nourishes body and feeds spirit. I’m trying not to start rationing flour now that I can once again feel the rightness of the world as my kitchen warms with the scent of bread. I’ve looked up the practicality of growing wheat in my canyon.

Just now I went to leave another gratitude loaf on the bench to be picked up for a nurse and her firefighter husband.

There, on what I’m becoming to think of as my miracle bench, was another gift. A few weeks back, I shared corned beef and cabbage, mushrooms and fresh oranges with a neighbor. Today, she and her sons baked Blueberry Lemon Bread. “Thank you for your kindness,” she wrote. “This is our favorite. We hope you like it!”

And so on, and so on. And so on this day I know that no matter what happens next, flour is only flour, but love remains as powerfully contagious as virus in the time of quarantine.

Magic Bench on the Front Porch

With awe and gratitude,
Catherine

P.S.
You can’t believe what happened after this story appeared in Voice of OC.
That story is “So then what happened?”

To read more adventures, or misadventures, with bread baking, you might enjoy A fig. A failure. A long wait.

Will you listen?

Laughing Mama&Leah

Do you remember the sound of your great-grandmother’s laughter? Do you remember her stories?

When I’m not writing my own poetry or essays, I’ve created the best job in the world. I listen to, and write down, stories of people’s lives so they can leave a printed legacy for future generations. Or, for those who have the desire to write themselves, I create short assignments and an outline with the end goal of the story of a life.

Frequently these sessions are a gift to parents from their children. I smile when I get approached about this, because of course it’s a grown child’s own gift to be able to hold the previously unrecorded story of a parent.

The absolute most rewarding aspect of my job as family story coach is when someone looks at me across a kitchen table and says, “Thank you for listening. I haven’t thought about that ______ in years.” I tear up more often than I’d like to admit.

Turns out that small details like plummeting downhill on a first red two-wheel bicycle, or sweeping up into a hot Midwestern summer night on a Ferris wheel, are elements of a life that might have been forgotten if I hadn’t thought to ask, “Do you remember your first broken bone?” Or, “When was the first time you held a boy’s hand?” These small memory jogs frequently lead to a deeper story. Of a first career inkling, or a lasting love.

So many people say, “Why would I want to write my story? My life isn’t extraordinary.”

I respond, “Of course it is, especially to those who love you.”

Some say, “Why should I tell my story now? My life isn’t over.”

I say, “Thankfully, that’s true. But at some point, the distant past fades. It might be forgotten altogether. Can we start with when you were small?”

Here’s a secret. To me, each life is extraordinary. All the human ways we find to grow and learn, to make mistakes, to recover, to be brave or timid, to love hard or hardly love. We are all amazing in our complexity and in our simplicity of wanting to be heard.

Listening is a great act of respect. It sows dignity and reaps understanding. And if you listen very carefully, there’s usually a moment of mirth just about to be called forth. To be in the midst of spontaneous laughter is such a gift.

Women’s History Month seems like a good time to commit to listening to a female ancestor’s story. Or, decide to finally tell your own. Write it down. For now. Or for later. You really are more extraordinary than you’ll ever know.

Reach out in the comment section below if you’d like a few prompts to get you started on beginning to write your life, or if you’re interested in learning how we could work together.

Now go be you, in all your ordinary glory.

 

 

Every day, something

inside books

I’m on a quest to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My hope that kindness can change the world feels a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

You can call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.
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That feeling you get when you walk into a home and smell fresh bread baking. The sense of welcome, of being in the company of people who generously share what they love, what you love, in an artisanal, intentional way.

That’s what it feels like to me every time I see my work published. Of course it’s nice because then I know my words will find an audience larger than my writing group. But it’s more than that. It’s the overflow of gratitude I feel toward the editors for all the work that goes into getting any creative endeavor out into the world.

Today feels especially good because I have the honor of finding my poem, “Mother” , as Poem of the Day on one of my favorite literary websites, SWWIM Every Day.

Mother /

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You might enjoy the entire poem if you’ve ever looked longingly at a giant book of words hoping to pluck the perfect ones to speak well with someone you love. While poems are supposed to be like a family’s children, no clear favorites allowed, “Mother” holds a soft spot in my heart, as does SWWIM with its mission statement:

SWWIM publishes, celebrates & promotes women, women-identifying & femme-presenting writers through a Miama-based reading series & the online poetry journal SWWIM Every Day.

That’s right. Every. Single. Day. Two super human editors – Jen Karetnick & Catherine Esposito Prescott – put out for all the world to see, one gorgeous poem. You can subscribe and have one poem delivered to your inbox every day and become an Instagram follower to find one fine poem in your feed every day.

I reached out to Jen and Catherine, first to thank them for keeping literature piping hot and always fresh. Then, as if it wasn’t enough to give my poetry an audience, I asked more of them. Questions. They kindly pulled back the curtain so we might glimpse an insight into what fuels their creativity.

How long have you been publishing a daily poem?
We began publishing on October 1, 2017.
Have you ever missed a day?
Yes! But only intentionally. We take periodic breaks around summer and the winter holidays.  This year, we plan to take a publishing sabbatical from July-August. Generally, our publishing breaks coincide with our children’s school vacations. 
Do you have a staff of thousands, or are you two exceedingly gifted at nonstop working?
Hahaha. It’s the two of us…juggling jobs, families, our writing, etc. You know what they say about busy people? We are her kind. Or just workaholics. Whatever fits the narrative.
Do you want to share who you’re reading now, which art you’re immersed in, or what music is on repeat that inspires you? 
Catherine Esposito Prescott says: I’m re-reading the Bhagavad Gītā at the moment and re-engaging with the work of mystical poets and the Transcendentalists as well as Whitman, a bit of Dickinson, and TS Eliot. I recently completed a 200-hour Jivamukti yoga teacher training course, so the music on repeat (in my mind and in my home) is kirtan…lots of mantra chanting.
 
Jen Karetnick says: I’m reading a ton of journals and lit mags—both print and online. My house is on the market, so I have to donate everything afterward to Goodwill or libraries. As we’re going through our mail in prep for an eventual move, we’ve discovered I have upwards of 20 subscriptions. Some of them I’ve been subscribed to twice, under two different spellings of names (I’m looking at you, Poets & Writers). 
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So there’s the secret sauce. Just keep doing what you love and take time to refill your spirit with inspiration.

What is it you do every single day? Some people publish poetry. Others try to find one simple way to spread kindness. Some write. Some paint. Some sing or drum or work at feeding themselves and their families by picking the grapes that dry into raisins that sweeten my bread. Some get out of bed and that’s enough.

If you have a tiny bit of extra energy, take time to reach out and say hey to someone you admire. Tell them they’re a rock star in your eyes. Then carry on being you.

With kindness.
~Catherine