She Said No To The Wind

She Said No to the Wind

I was introduced to César Moran-Cahusac through our Christina Hamlett, who designed the cover for his new poetry collection, She Said No to the Wind. As a fellow poet and nature lover, I was enthusiastic to connect with him.

For every book he sells, he donates a dollar “towards the implementation and development of a tree nursery that will be the seed for an urban reforestation project in the city of Cusco, Peru.” As a poet, his works are seeds for other things as well. He inspired me to write again from that playful, dark, inquisitive, wondrous place, to walk barefoot in the sand and just breathe, and to celebrate the little things that piece together all that counts in the end. His book is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. (You can see samples of his poetry and the gorgeous photography with the “Look Inside” feature.)

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: In your work as an activist, poet, peace advocate and environmentalist, you share a lot of yourself with others. What are some things that people don’t know about you?

A: I think what I don’t share are my weaknesses and fears; it has been a long process to even start recognizing them. Mostly because one was taught not to be weak and vulnerable.

But, that is not true. On the contrary it is vulnerability that makes you resilient. So, as I have been writing I have been learning to accept my vulnerabilities and fears, understand and then overcome them.

It has been my poetry that has allowed me to expose them to myself; this allowed me to be courageous enough to compile them metaphorically in my first poetry anthology called She Said No to the Wind.

So, it has been a long walk where I was accompanied by my fears, and as we took this stroll we talked a lot and now I feel comfortable with some of them. There is still a lot of talking to do.

Q: That’s awesome—your poetry has a lot of heart and sharing that allows us to open up, too. What first drove you to write?

A: I have always been a sensitive and very passionate individual. By this I want to say that I feel things very intensively and these feelings are just there, lingering around me.

In fact, before waking up in the morning I would find myself with phrases and even complete poems in my head, but at that time I did not pay attention to them. I did not consider them important or even good enough to be saved by writing them on a piece of paper. Then little by little I took the risk to jot them down and play with the words I had written.

That is when the magic and the infatuation with words started, their meaning and sound became intensively beautiful to me. So, poetry in the form of free prose allowed me to get these feelings out, as I wanted to shout, cry, laugh, hug, run, dance, jump, and feel. Poetry became the medium to let it all out.

Q: Thank you for taking that risk of publishing it, letting it all out with us. Your cover captures the spirit of the book, with its message “to inspire”. In what other ways do you hope to connect with your readers?

A: I want them to genuinely feel alive, this is to fuel in them the urge to look around and embrace the beauty that surrounds them and that every one of them has stories that can be portrayed in a wonderful way. Hopefully, as they read this book and its lines they can understand who I am, how I see the world and kindle in the reader the urge to live life as uniquely as possible.

Q: What a beautiful way to see things. The poems in your book celebrate daily events. What do you consider the value and power of the seemingly mundane?

A: The mundane is what builds history; it has all the events that construct our lives and the lives of the people who surround us. We all, within our natural setting, weave a fantastic living textile that drapes over the landscape.

It is then when the mundane expresses colors, textures, aromas, that precipitates the wild array of events that construct our lives and makes us move us forward. By being sensitive to this magic one becomes uniquely compassionate.

Q: Your poetry also celebrates the magic of nature. From your work in the field and your Masters in Environmental Management, you’ve considered our world from multiple perspectives. What are you most passionate about when it comes to nature and conservation?

A: Yes, nature is the mother—it is what feeds us, embraces, and cradles our interwoven diverse civilization. Without her we are absolutely nothing. So by understanding her processes and fully acknowledging the fact that the consumption of natural resources is a blessing; we can see the necessity to tread gently over her, and by this I mean tiptoe.

So interacting with her should not be this greedy destruction. Moreover, we have to boldly declare the paradigm of endless growth as obsolete, not even think of sustainable development.

Q: What do you mean, abandon sustainable development?

A:  I do not believe in sustainable development, in the sense that nothing can grow forever; the concept that makes more sense is resilience.  Sustainable development is trying to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But, nothing that grows forever is sustainable… it was a great concept presented in the Brundtland report in 1987. That had the idea to inspire people to care for nature.  But this has become a catchphrase, and abused by the interests of advocates of exponential economic growth, undermining environmental reforms. We are defunct as a species if we do not consider the fact that we need to start de-growing to reach an adequate balance and actively reduce our demands on nature.

Q: How it is possible to “de-grow”?

A: De-growth is a new term that expresses “that the only way for humanity to live within its biophysical limits and mitigate the effects of climate change is to reduce economic activity, to downscale consumerist lifestyles, to move beyond conventional energy sources, to give up on the fantasy of ‘decoupling’ economic and population growth from environmental impacts, and to rethink the technologies that have gotten us into our current predicament. There has been no known society that has simultaneously expanded economic activity and reduced absolute energy consumption” taken from   A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique [http://www.resilience.org/articles/General/2015/05_May/A-Degrowth-Response-to-An-Ecomodernist-Manifesto.pdf].

This should liberate us from thinking naïvely that technology will save us from overriding planet Earth and look into how can we become resilient and design actions towards adaptation.

Q: You are an advocate of environmentalism and peace. How do you consider these to be connected?

A: I think they are connected through compassion—when we have sincere, compassionate feelings for ourselves, these feelings ripple into the environment. In this way, we build care and slowly but surely the way we look at nature changes, perceiving its small marvels as a delicate equilibrium that can’t be disrupted violently. This is when peace sets in as the way to be in harmony with nature and the rest of living and human beings.

Q: What inspires you in your daily life?

A: Well, to be able to take the any opportunity to smile and enjoy life thoroughly by just recognizing its daily events. Just the fact of waking up in the morning makes me smile, inspiration comes by being open-minded, allowing everything to inspire me. Sounds, words people say, the weather, whatever comes my way has a meaning and brings sensations that need to be expressed.

Q: You also express yourself with martial arts. What draws you to practice?

A: I have practiced two martial arts, Kung Fu and Aikido. The latter is called the art of peace or the way of harmony. I try to live in harmony and I recognize that this is very difficult, but as I train all I want is to polish the art, the expression, the connection, the form, the movement, the ability to create kuzushi or to take your opponents’ balance in a subtle way. So, what draws me to practice is the endless opportunity one has   to polish and perfect a technique  Like with words, I go about with my training—I try to use them in the most precise way possible. The arts in general offer you a stream of incredible surprises than can only be found if you practice them committedly. One always has to train with a beginner’s mind, willing to learn something new every day.

Q: In all your activities, as an activist, advocate, poet, and as one who practices peace, is there something that you consider joins them together?

A: I think it’s my heart that joins them, yes, my heart is a wonderful thing because it embraces them all, I learn from every single one of them. They all interact, taking energy and knowledge from each other, and my heart fuels them, making them move forward with passion.

Q: There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a community to raise an author, an idea. Your book is dedicated to several key people (and our ultimate shared mother, nature). In what way have the people in your life been your village?

A: When we interact with people, they leave in us experiences from which we learn. This is in some ways streams of good and the bad, the happy and the sad.  On which we can navigate, I tend to navigate on the positive side of things, when I meet or interact with the negative side I learn from them that I definitely do not want to be there or become that. “Positiveness” is the force that I share and take from people. This I have I learned from my mother and father that taught me to always look forward for a new day, for a new way and to be able to appreciate the opportunity to learn something new.

And in that sense I give thanks to all the above, to be kind and compassionate to everybody and to draw a smile as fast as one can. In fact become the fastest smile out there and with this practice always laugh every single day of my life. So, it’s my responsibility to stir happiness and postiveness in my village. The people I have mentioned in my dedication have sparked in me this way of being, I have become resilient in so many ways thanks to them and furthermore I would have to add more people on to that list. So I can take the opportunity now to thank them all for inspiring and allowing me to be who I am.

Q: When you look at our future, as a humanitarian and nature advocate, what do you see?

A: I see that there is an urge to change people’s attitudes and level of consciousness. It is unbearable to see how opportunism, manipulation, greediness, oblique disdain for equal human rights is still rampant.

If words can trickle down as gentle rain and sensitize people; well let’s write, share the words in all its forms, so that being  said I will continue writing and expressing what I see and feel intensively.

Editorial Note: Over the course of the interview, César revealed he had been inspired to pen a new poem. We are happy and honored to share it here with our readers.

Can You Draw Your Smile?

Can you draw it fast, as fast as you can?

Yes, can you make that sparkling ivory shine like a blaze?

Shattering the ice that has taken the hearts

Breaking the rusty padlocks that incarcerated joy

Invisibly loitering around lips and cheeks,

So heavy that frowns became conspicuous

Making daily strolls gloomy and the inability to open up a constant

So slap everybody with it, back and forth, be mighty

Become merciless with that smile

Release it quick as lightning that hits the ground with a rumble

Cracking elation to extent of anointing the spirit with warmth that leaks pleasure into the cells

Defusing anger, embracing shyness with a welcoming grin

Evicting shallow greetings that kill love

Invigorate with that nimble feat that flashes your dental sculpture

Allowing eyes balls and brows to expand in surprise

Permeating the spreading of fun vibes in a brink like butter on hot bread

Call upon teeth and gums; astonish at dawn, at sunset,

Halt the stiffness that has cramped faces

Bring abundance with no fear of scrutiny

Because your smile is perfect as it opens any cloud or clouted ideas

A perpetual smile cleanses the body, stretches it to enable tolerance

Killing incisive stares that bleed hatred,

It can relieve agnostic perceptions that life is only crappy

So, become a believer ignite a brouhaha that will ransack everybody,

Yes, a squawking commotion like macaws’ flying into the sunset.

Smile as fast as you can, deliver the blow that knocks out animosity

Fill that face with content; yes be quick, as fast as you can.

César Morán – Cahusac

Cusco, June 2015

Godless

Jeff_Rasley

Stretch your limits and shake up your boundaries! No one does this more or better than writer, philanthropist, mountaineer, husband, and father than Jeff Rasley. Having written and published his eighth non-fiction book, Godless, Jeff goes deep into the discussion of humanity, and what it means to be a believer and non-believer of any religious or political doctrine. As a man who has travelled the world, trekked mountains, and swam with whales, Jeff encourages us to examine our lives and where we’re going. It’s a pleasure to interview this intrepid spirit and share some of his thoughts to the questions posed. Welcome Jeff!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q     How did your early life as a child, then as a lawyer, prepare you to undertake life-altering global and spiritual explorations?

A   My family encouraged curiosity and intellectual exploration and that has been as aspect of my identity since childhood. Practicing law demands rigorous questioning about facts and evidence. So, both of these influences influenced me to have open eyes and open mind to different and new ideas and spiritual growth.

Q   Who has been your greatest life coach or mentor, and why?

A   Many teachers, professors, coaches, pastors, and friends have had influence on me, and friendships developed with my Nepalese sirdars have been inspiring. But, I can’t name one as being the greatest. The constant love, forgiveness, and understanding of my parents and wife have been more important to me than anything I’ve gained from other people.

Q   What inspires and drives you?

A   I want to take good care of myself, live life as an adventure, and offer what I can to others who ask for and need my assistance. I want to enjoy life and affect the world with pragmatic philanthropy.

Q   Some would say climbing a mountain is the ultimate physical manifestation of spiritual seeking. What did you discover about yourself during your first and subsequent climbs in Nepal?

A   That I could endure a lot of pain even to the point of being barely conscious. There are moments in mountaineering when your body, mind, and will are in sync or flow, which is beautiful. When you are able to stop, look around and savour the view, it’s movingly beautiful. But, most of the time actually climbing is hard slogging, putting one foot in front of the other while trying to maintain steady breathing, and maintaining a focus on staying balanced.

Q   You’ve written eight books now, each dealing with issues of self-discovery, philanthropy, and seeking. What drives you to delve so deeply into yourself and our current societal beliefs, then write about them?

A   The admonition of Socrates, to “know thy self”, is, I think the first step on the path of seeking wisdom. We are our own interpreters of reality, so we need to be self aware of how we filter information through our subjective experience. Then, we can participate in family, community, and the world more intentionally and productively. I discovered during adolescence that it turned me on to figure out how, and then to implement, ways to improve communal relations, to help people get along better. So, I’ve tried to do that in various ways from my own local communities to international philanthropic development projects.

Q   Clearly travel plays a large role in your life, but why?

A   I grew up in a small city which didn’t have much cultural diversity. Whenever my family did a driving trip, it thrilled me. So, when I was 18 I walked to the edge of town, stuck out my thumb and hitch-hiked across the country. It was a wonderful experience of meeting people utterly unlike those I knew. And, I loved seeing different parts of the country both urban and rural areas. It lit a fire in me that still burns. (I’m leaving in a few days for another cross-country driving trip with my wife out to CA.) Every trip, whether it’s just a weekend of outback camping, cultural tour of a city, or solo-kayaking Pacific islands, is an opportunity to learn and grow, so long as it’s understood as an adventure.

Q   Can you share with us a particularly amusing or scary story about your mountain climbing?

A   How about an ocean story, instead? This is excerpted from Islands in My Dreams:

Fifteen times we approached the mother and calf when they surfaced, and then we jumped in the water and swam as fast as we could toward them. Each time they sounded before we reached the whales. The boat captain gave us one last chance as he was low on fuel and it was time for us to get back on the slower boat to be taken back to Neiafu.

The three of us dove in with fins kicking as hard and fast as we could. Anjo told us splashing bothers whales, so we kicked with our fins below the surface and didn’t stroke with our arms to minimize splashing.

The mother and calf didn’t dive this time. They swam just below the surface staying about twenty yards ahead of us. Tashio, the Japanese guy, tired from the fifteen times we had already swam after the whales, gave up the chase after about fifty yards. Kevin, the Floridian, broke off after one hundred yards. I kept kicking. After another fifty yards of pursuit, the whales stopped.

The mother let me swim up beside her, but kept her baby on her other side away from me. I swam up beside her huge eye, turned on my side and looked through my snorkel mask into her eye, which was as big as my head. She looked back at me. Our eyes locked. Time stopped. It was if we were looking into each other’s souls.

She rolled and nudged her calf with her flipper to encourage the calf to swim over to me. The baby whale swam up to me, swam under me, then circled around me, and let me caress its tail. It was surprisingly smooth to my touch. The calf returned to its mother’s side.

They began to swim off slowly. I swam with them for about one hundred yards, but then another whale-watching boat approached. The mother gave one great flick of her tail and they vanished deep into the dark water below me.

I stroked back to the speedboat and clambered up the ladder and dropped over the gunwale. I could barely stand. My legs were vibrating and shaking. Electric current (or adrenaline) was coursing through me from the thrill and power of the encounter.

For a few moments, the otherness separating the mother whale and me had vanished. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw trust and acceptance, instead of fear and danger. She trusted me to caress her baby. I trusted that she would not crush me like a minnow with her gigantic tail.

I can still see her awesome eye in my mind’s eye. And I remember how she trusted me with her calf. It would be a good thing for our finite planet if humans could see the soul of all other species, especially the endangered ones.

Q   What does your family think of your travels, books, philanthropy, and growing ideologies?

A   That it’s all pretty cool.

Q   You say that your wife encouraged you to go “climb a mountain”, so clearly she supported that first climb, but does she ever travel or climb with you?

A   We travel regularly together, and used to do hiking and camping trips. But she has MS and is medically restricted from strenuous physical activity.

Q   On returning home to the United States after your various travels, you must be met with many conflicting emotions regarding (global) economic waste and excess. What else do you struggle with in your integration back into your everyday home life, and how do you deal with your emotional conflicts?

A   I’m really not bothered by the vast discrepancies in material wealth anymore. I was the first few times I experienced “third world” poverty. It felt very weird coming home, caring for our kids, going to the office, and just living my life which was so different from that of the people I had been around in Nepal, India, and other “exotic” places. But the other cultures I’ve spent time with are more wealthy than ours in other ways. I’d like to bring back to the US the emotional and spiritual maturity I have found in Nepal (which it the poorest country outside of Africa). What I still wonder and sort of worry about is whether my own efforts at infrastructure development in Nepal are actually helping or hurting the villages I’ve worked with. But, we do the best we can, and then, “so it goes” (per my fellow Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut).

Q   People often feel helpless to “do something significant” to improve our world or find meaning to their lives. What suggestions would you give to others perhaps not so adventurous as yourself?

A   Consider deeply what you care about. When you understand what you truly value, then guide your life in a way which promotes the values you care most about.

Q   Your recent book, Godless, is a very provocative title and offers what others may consider controversial insight into religious doctrines and dogma. Have you received any negative feedback or misunderstanding regarding it, and if so, what would you want to clarify for potential readers?

A   “Godless” is explained in the book on several levels. One of the points it makes is that making gods out of religious doctrines or political ideologies has caused much harm throughout human history. Believers tend to divide humanity into us and them, believers and nonbelievers. But what you personally believe or don’t believe probably won’t harm other people so long as you value tolerance. Unfortunately, religious and political zealots tend not to value tolerance and many are led by unscrupulous leaders to treat nonbelievers as less than human. The book makes the case that we would be better off to ditch the whole God-thing and admit we really don’t know whether God exists, or, to think that everything and every moment is sacred.

Q   What’s next for you, Jeff?

A   After finishing writing a book, I take several months to try to promote the book, as I’m doing now. And, the last thing I want to think about is writing another one. Eventually another seed will germinate. In the meantime, I run the Basa Village Foundation, serve on 5 nonprofit boards, teach a class on philanthropy at Butler University, and organize trekking and mountaineering expeditions.

Q   Where can our readers discover more about you, your philanthropic work, and your books?

A   My website has all that info: www.jeffreyrasley.com

Amazon Author page is http://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Rasley/e/B004Q3D6B2

Other social media sites are :

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jeff-rasley/12/984/619

http://www.pinterest.com/pinner362436

https://twitter.com/jeffrasley

https://plus.google.com/u/0/104731913652844816663

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4114763.Jeffrey_Rasley

https://www.facebook.com/JeffRasleyAndMidsummerBooks

 

 

 

At Gloaming

At_Gloaming_Front_Cover2

“Poetry,” wrote Dylan Thomas, “is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” In this month’s feature interview, award-winning published poet Larry Schug invites us inside his world and introduces us to the elements that inspire him to be creative.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with a brief overview of your journey as a writer. For instance, did you come from a literary background when you were growing up or did the desire to write not take root until adulthood?

A: My mother and father were both readers. My dad read westerns, Louis L’Amour, etc. and my mother read romance novels; not exactly classic literature, but a story is a story. Though my father only finished eighth grade and my mother just high school, they somehow set me on the reading path. My mom’s sister, who was a school teacher, taught me to read before I started school and I’ve been an avid reader my whole life. I’ve always been fascinated with words, their power to paint pictures in my brain, to make my heart beat fast, to stir emotions inside me, the sounds they make coming out of my mouth. I think I was a decent writer in school, at least academically, if not creatively. It did not cause me pain to write book reports, term papers or essays for class, in fact, I enjoyed doing so. I do remember getting positive feedback from a teacher for a poem I wrote in third grade and, for some reason, that stuck with me as something I could do well. But really, my ambition as a child was to be a baseball player or a cowboy, not a writer. I continued writing poems while growing up, but never showing them to anyone or even keeping any of them. I actually wrote quite a bit while in the army, a way to achieve catharsis, more than anything, but again, not keeping them or sharing them with anyone. After my parents died while I was in my thirties, I wrote poems to express my grief and I finally shared them with other people, some of who told me I had a gift and should try to publish them. I finally listened. To this day, I think my best poems come from dealing with grief, having survived my parents, a brother and good friends who have passed on. I guess you might say I have broadened my horizons to include writing about everything I’ve encountered in life.

Q: What part did/does poetry play in your life and in shaping your particular outlook about the world and about your relationships with others?

A: At this point, I think I see life as a poem constantly being written, the way I imagine a musician sees the world as song or the way a painter perhaps views the world as images to be painted. My wife and I are fortunate to be able to live on a beautiful piece of property we share with deer, coyotes, otters, sand hill cranes and a wide variety of bird life. I am enamored and influenced by the natural world, its beauty, its grace and the way it has shaped us. I’m a dedicated “tree hugger” and very concerned by what seems like our planet’s slow but certain degradation. I sincerely hope I’m wrong about that and I hope that my poetry in some way can influence others to do better by our little planet. Earth is the only place we can live and what makes it such a magnificent place is its beauty and all the other creatures that share our planet with us. A goal for my poetry is to inspire others with the beauty, variety, and magnificence of our world and I do see signs of hope in the upcoming generations.

I feel a need to write my life and my observations down and poetry is the form it most frequently takes. Poetry helps me figure out this state of being we call life in all its twists and turns. Being a fairly shy person, I’ve found poetry is a way for me to communicate. I also like to read poetry. I read poetry every day as a learning tool, but also I love the music inside words. Poetry enlightens me, shows me life in new and unexpected ways and from different viewpoints. Poetry teaches me how to be a human being.

Q: Your biography reflects that you’ve spent a lot of time at physical labor. How does this come out in your poems?

A: Writing is a physical task. I think performing most kinds of physical work is doing “one thing at a time”. I’ve worked as a paperboy, groundskeeper, farm worker, forest firefighter, forestry technician, grave digger, dish washer, factory worker and recycler, all of which are physical and repetitive. I find my make-up is well suited to these kinds of tasks and I see them as Zen-like in their performance in that a person must be aware of what their body is doing in order to work safely and efficiently, focused in the here and now. I’ve also been heating my house with firewood for at least half my life and cutting, splitting, carrying and stacking firewood must be done with this same Zen-like outlook. I would probably make a good ant or honey bee (perhaps I was in a past lifetime!) as that is how it seems they go about their work, picking up pollen at a flower and returning to the hive or gathering leaves and returning to the anthill repeatedly. Writing poetry is no different, especially when it comes to re-writing or finding the right word to accomplish the work of a poem. Poetry requires intense attention to the job at hand, not a multi-tasking approach. I write all my poems with a pen on paper, including all re-writes. I like the physicality of doing it this way; for me, writing is as much physical as mental. Only after a poem is “finished” does it go to the computer.

Q: Which of your poems do you believe best captures who Larry Schug really is? (feel free to insert it in the interview along with your explanation of why you chose it)

A:

Mending Mittens

Mending my leather mittens

for the third time this winter,

I sew them with waxed string

made to repair fishing nets,

hoping they’ll last

until the splitting maul rests

against the shrunken woodpile

and the hoe and spade come out of the shed.

I find myself praying.

Blessed be those who have laced together

the splits at the seams of this world,

repair its threads of twisted waters.

Blessed be those who stitch together

the animals and the land,

repair the rends in the fabric

of wolf and forest,

of whale and ocean,

of condor and sky.

Blessed be those who are forever fixing

the tear between people and the rest of life.

May we all have enough thread,

may our needles be sharp,

may our fingers not throb or go numb.

May each of us find an apprentice,

someone who will take the needle from our hands,

continue all the mending that needs to be done.

 

Mending Mittens is the real Larry Schug. It reflects my relationship with physical work and also brings out my spiritual side. It captures me as a “dreamer”, yet, I think portrays me as being realistic. This poem captures my love of the natural world and all of its inhabitants and my fears and sorrow at the injuries we are inflicting on what gives us our very life.

Q: Has retirement – and the change of lifestyle this has introduced – impacted your writing and creative processes?

A: It has, in that while I was working I had to “schedule” my writing to early morning or evening times. Now I’m free to stop what I’m doing and write if I feel the need. What I may have lost in concentrated discipline, I have gained back in time. Yet, I feel I have maintained the proper discipline needed to be productive. I now spend more time away from people, but when I am with others it is not solely in a work environment, which was rather limiting. I am not a hermit. I volunteer as a writing tutor with college students and also volunteer as a naturalist, both of which provide an avenue of contact with people in a more open way.   I think my creativity has expanded with an increase in time devoted to different pursuits. Another change is that I have more time to read, which is important to writing, opening up new avenues of thinking.

Q: Share with us how a new poem is conceived in your imagination and how long it takes to actually be “born” for a publishable debut.

A: Poems come from paying attention to being alive and all that entails. Again, this a Zen-like outlook and just as meditation requires that a person be mindful of their breathing, poetry requires that I must be aware of what is going inside as well of outside of me. With practice, I’ve been able to develop a sense of poetry in everything. I can’t think of anything not fit for a poem. Along with that, my internal dialogue seems to have a visual component; in that I see things that happen as poetry and I see my thoughts as poems if I pay attention to them with a poetic outlook. A poem often begins with an image in my head. Having said that, I write down my thoughts and observations and then transform them into poems with the use of language, metaphor, sound and all the other tools in a poet’s toolbox. If lucky, the poem may just happen, but most likely, I’ll have to go to work and make these thoughts or images into a poem, shaping them in a poetic form. All this can happen quickly, but more often it’s like trying to put a puzzle together, which takes time. Rewriting is crucial. Each poem has a life of its own and its own time frame. I think I’ve learned to listen to the poem and let it tell me how it needs to be written. Like a lot of endeavors, the journey is as important as the destination. I’ve also learned to let a poem tell me when to stop, when it is done, when enough is enough.

Q: What governs your decision on how to physically format a poem? The New Yorker, for example, has a gimmicky fondness for displaying a lot of poems as inverted pyramids, antlers, skinny columns and PacMan circular motifs – none of which really adds to a greater appreciation of the content. I’d be curious as to how you approach the presentation question.

A: How a poem appears on paper is important. Line breaks are crucial in finding the correct form and so, in that way, the poem forms itself. I write in complete sentences, not fragments, but that does not mean a line of a poem can’t be just one word if that words needs to be emphasized. This can lead to a poem assuming an unconventional shape. I’ve only written one “picture poem” in which the poem formed an image, in this case a stalk of wheat, in the poem “The Roots Know”, published in my first book, Scales Out of Balance.

Q: When and where are you at your most creative?

A: I have always been a “morning person”, probably because I got up with my dad who was an early riser. My first real job was as a paperboy, delivering the morning Minneapolis Tribune. This does not necessarily apply to my writing schedule, though I do feel a certain receptivity early in the day. I try to keep myself open and receptive at all times. I always make sure I have paper and pen with me as I go through the day, so location is not much of a factor either, though I do most of my writing in a notebook on a small wooden typewriter table in “my corner” of the upper floor of our small house.

Q: You devote a section of At Gloaming to New Mexico and Ghost Ranch.  Explain the connection.

A: Ghost Ranch is a retreat/educational/conference center near Abiquiu, New Mexico. It is a place of peace and creativity, perfect for contemplation. I have been going there for the past nineteen years with a group of college students as part of a service program called Alternative Break Experience sponsored by Campus Ministry at the College of St. Benedict. We work for Ghost Ranch, helping them to fulfill their mission and also work in the community doing various kinds of work from cleaning acequias (irrigation ditches), working at a local animal shelter, planting trees with an environmental organization and helping the elderly or working in local schools. Ghost Ranch has a long history, going back to the Spanish incursion into New Mexico and the native cultures that inhabited the area before that and finally to the Anglo-American culture, but the history of the land goes back to the dinosaurs. Georgia O’Keefe had a house at Ghost Ranch and did much of her painting there and, somewhat ironically, the people who developed the atomic bomb at Los Alamos went to Ghost Ranch for R and R. The focus of our experience is environmental justice, but we also learn much about local history, geology and about the mix of Anglo, Hispanic and Native cultures. It is a place of great beauty in the high desert, a land of mesas, buttes, arroyos and mountains. All this, plus the people I’ve met and worked with, is very inspiring to me to me as a poet. The culture and landscape is vastly different than the culture I grew up in here in Minnesota and I have fallen completely in love with it. I think the difference is something I needed to experience and explore and, for me, what better way than poetry? This difference has opened new doors to my way of thinking and seeing things that I need to translate to poetry.

Q: Who are some of the poets whose work you admire and who may have had an influence on your own writing style?

A: Duluth, Minnesota poet Barton Sutter, a former Creative Writing teacher of mine, is a big influence. Lucille Clifton, Ted Kooser, Jimmy Santiago Baca and John Caddy are just a few of many poets who have influenced me and taught me through their poems. John Caddy in particular, showed me that it was ok to write about growing up in an alcoholic family situation and that good poetry can come from that experience. I almost hate to list anyone, because it seems an insult to leave so many great poets off this list. When I speak to students I tell them that it’s imperative to read good poetry in order to write good poetry. All of the poets I’ve mentioned write in a clear and understandable yet lyrical voice. I do like to stretch my brain, but I really don’t like poetry that I can’t understand and leaves me scratching my head in befuddlement.

Q: If you could go to lunch with any of these poets, who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask?

A: Tough question. Today I would choose Jimmy Santiago Baca because I’d like to know more about him and also because he lives in New Mexico and we could go to my favorite restaurant, El Farolito, in El Rito, New Mexico and eat the world’s best sopapillas. His background is intriguing and I think he’d be a great person to know. I would love to hear his thoughts on writing poetry, how he goes about it, its purpose, etc. I’d ask him all the questions you’re asking me in this interview.

Q: Your poetry has been recognized with a number of awards. Congratulations! Tell us about them.

A: I have won a number of local grants from the Central Minnesota Arts Board and had a couple poems nominated for the Pushcart Prize, but the award I am most proud of is winning a Loft McKnight Fellowship in 2008. My second book, Caution: Thin Ice was a Minnesota Book Awards finalist and Arrogant Bones was a Midwest Book Award finalist. I certainly don’t think any award means that a person is a “good” writer. Awards are pretty subjective and, really, luck plays a part. I think an award means that something I wrote touched a certain human being or group of them at a certain time. It is a validation of what I do, of course, but my ego is not so big as to put a lot of self-congratulatory stock in any award. They serve as a source of motivation to push myself farther.

Q: Poetry is often labeled as a writing venue that doesn’t pay very well. Sadly – and at least in California – the study of poets and poetry composition in classrooms has been steadily diminishing. What’s your response to this?

A: I suppose I get rather cynical, sometimes, about this, but it is what it is. As Guy Clark once sang, “Ain’t no money in poetry, that’s what sets the poet free”. I certainly don’t write poetry for any monetary reward or compensation, but, I’m afraid the fact that our society doesn’t place much monetary value on poetry somehow reflects its cultural value in America in 2014. I recently had a poem chosen to be the subject of a painting, a poet/artist collaboration, which was a great honor. The painting will sell for $1200.00; the poem will sell for $0.00.

As far as poetry in the classroom, I find that it is valued by many teachers and students, but apparently not by administrators or those who set up curriculums. Again, this reflects an educational system training students to be cogs in our economic machine rather than being fully developed human beings who are thoughtful and in fact, even able to think critically. Our children are being taught to be sheep. I am saddened by this and I think it could have dire consequences for our society in so many ways such as understanding cultural diversity, the environment and how people relate to each other and to themselves. Poetry leads to an open mind, which seems to be the enemy, especially in the world of politics. I apologize for the rant! (Not really.)

Q: Your best advice to an aspiring poet?

A: I would tell them to read good poetry, study it and figure out what makes it appeal to you. This is imperative. I learn more from reading the poems of others critically, than I’ve ever learned in a classroom. I’d also tell them to read more of everything else they can get their hands on—fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, cereal boxes, street signs; anyplace they can find a written word . I would advise them to pay attention to life. Put down the electronic devices and use all your senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch and use your brain. Think your own thoughts. Explore your emotions honestly. Don’t be afraid to go places inside or outside of yourself that may not be pleasant places to visit. Be honest with yourself. And, of course, there is the best advice on how to get better at anything– practice, practice, practice.

Q: If you were asked to write a job description for the occupation of “poet,” what would it say?

A: Pay attention to being alive and pass that on in your writing. A poet must keep in mind that he or she is not writing only for himself or herself, though that may be a part of what we do. Hopefully, other human beings will read our work; therefore it is part of our job to put into words what others may not be able to express. We should be able to enable others to achieve catharsis and healing, help them think and spark their curiosity. We must write as documenters of the past and the present. Particularly we must honor the “now”, for it is the only time we have. We are the story tellers and the “rememberers” of the tribe. We are artists in the same sense as any other artist-painter, sculptor, musician or dancer. We must also be entertainers, not so much as in the Hollywood sense of the word, but in a more thoughtful way.  J. F. Powers, a famous American fiction writer of the last century, once told me a writer is nothing but an entertainer. We all need to be entertained and when we are, it can lead to a more meaningful existence. It is a blessing to entertain and to be entertained. If we are not entertaining, who is going to read or listen to our words?

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I think many people are surprised that I, as a poet, am not an academic, which, I think, is the stereotypical view of a poet. As I’ve stated above, I have made a life of doing menial, physical labor. I worked in the maintenance department at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota for 34 years and when my first book came out, it was greeted somewhat with surprise by the faculty that a person who mows the grass or sorts other people’s garbage (the fancy name for this is Recycling Coordinator) had an interest in or talent for poetry. Having said that, I must say I was very well accepted by the faculty and administration for my literary efforts. I received a lot of support, often being asked to speak in classes and having my books used as texts in various classes as well as official publications of the college.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Right now, I’m just writing poems with no real goal for them as far as a new book. That will happen when it happens. I do like to explore a subject in detail. I have been writing lately about what goes on in Kay’s Kitchen, a small town café in St. Joseph, Minnesota that I have frequented for 40 years or more. I’m currently working on another poem that takes place there, though it is purely fictional as far as the characters and what they do, but at the same time, realistic.

Q: Where can readers discover more about you and your work?

A: My web site is www.larryschugpoet.com. Readers can also google me and find some poems and newspaper and magazine articles. Send me an e-mail; I love to converse with readers.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I would just like to thank you for this opportunity. I have learned much about myself as I answer the questions and see my writing in a clearer light. I would ask the casual reader to explore poetry. Contrary to popular opinion, poetry is not dead. It’s a vibrant art form that in some way relates to everyone.

 

 

The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration From the Author of Pay It Forward

Catherine_Ryan_Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde was one of my heroes growing up; I learned about her book, Pay It Forward, when I was 17 and a new writer trying to work out if I wanted to pursue my writing or if I might do something else. Seeing what Catherine accomplished with her book, and then having the joy of meeting her in person and discovering it was possible to achieve the level of influence she did without it changing who she was—I realized I could become the writer I wanted to be, without having to give up the aspects of myself that I was sure would get compromised if I ever became a public figure (at the time I thought you either were a nobody or a celebrity in the artistic fields).

Catherine was exceptionally down to earth, and she encouraged me to pursue my writing. That someone “like her” could believe in me that much meant a lot to me, and when she wrote on her Pay It Forward dedication “Please say you will [Pay It Forward]” I made a silent promise that I would, for the rest of my life—and ironically it’s that mindset that’s led me full circle, to where I have the opportunity to interview Catherine about her exquisite book, The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration from the Author of Pay It Forward where she shares herself in spirit the same way she has touched my life – and this way she can be a mentor and a friend to millions more people than she has graced personally. (My book review is on Blogcritics at  http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-long-steep-path).

If you’d like to know more about Catherine, she’s truly accessible – check out her website at  http://www.catherineryanhyde.com, her Amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Ryan-Hyde/e/B001ITTR60#/ref=la_B001ITTR60_pg_3?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_82%3AB001ITTR60&page=3&ie=UTF8&qid=1363147923 and Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/#!/crhyde?fref=ts.  

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: What prompted you to write your memoir?

A: I don’t think of it as a memoir… exactly. It’s memoir-ish. It has some elements of memoir, in that everything in it is true, and happened to me. But I tend to think of a memoir as a more complete story of a person’s life. So then, for readers to want to read that memoir, they would have to be interested in knowing about that person’s life. I’m not assuming that people wanted to know my life story. Instead I’ve chosen life experiences that changed my thinking about the world in a small way, and laid them out in a way that just might, possibly, change your thinking about the world in a small way as well.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that’s it’s not really so much about me. It’s more about things I’ve observed that might be useful to you (the reader).

Now, to answer your question: It was one-third reaching out to the people who so far only seem interested in Pay It Forward and not so much the rest of my body of work. It was one-third carried forward from some opinion pieces I’d done for AOL News—on such subjects as happiness and gratitude—that I enjoyed doing and that people seemed to like. The final one-third was a realization I had as I was walking down Indian Cove Road in Joshua Tree, headed for a trailhead. I thought, too bad I don’t write about my hiking and travels. If I did, this trip would be tax deductible. But I didn’t write The Long, Steep Path so I could deduct my trips. I wrote it because that started me wondering why I’d never written about my hiking and travel. When I thought about it, it seemed like an oversight. That really is the honest answer. I wanted to write a creative nonfiction book about hiking and the outdoors, but was eventually able to see that it should have a broader scope.

Q: I loved all your metaphors about hiking. You touched lightly on your past—that you changed your name, just had to get out, that you had deep emotional issues—I’m curious what happened but I also respect that you want to keep some things private. How did you approach writing your memoir, culling the points you wanted to share and what you didn’t feel necessary?

A: I’m not a secretive person at all. I jokingly tell people I’d be the worst blackmail target ever. I’d be like, “Fine, I’ll write about it myself. Save you the trouble.” But that’s my history. When you start writing about your family of origin, that’s shared history. Other people’s privacy and feelings are at stake. I think you probably noticed in my Author’s Note at the end of the book that I only wrote about one living person, and only with her express permission. I was careful with the anonymity of AA members, using no last names, not repeating anything said in a meeting unless they said it outside one as well. The one person whose story was pretty personal, I didn’t use a name at all. I tried to be really careful of other people’s “stuff.” 

Q: That was done very well. I also loved the way you organized your chapters. What was your process of writing like; did you write the essays over time and compile them or did you have an outline of what you wanted to share?

A: There was a bit of trial and error to that. I really chose the subjects more by the seat of my pants. I wrote all the stories I felt were worth writing. Then I laid them out and got a sense of what they all added up to, and how their messages could be most cohesive.

Q: Nice! As a self-proclaimed hybrid author, why did you choose to self-publish this work?

A: Because I wanted to pair the essays with my own photos. And I knew that if I used a traditional publisher, they wouldn’t want to print color photos, because it’s expensive. It raises the production costs, and forces the publisher to charge more for the book, maybe more than most readers want to pay. So we never shopped it around to publishers. Instead we (my agent and I) decided to go independent ebook only. That way I could not only include a big handful of color photos, I could link to the full photo albums for those who were especially interested in one or more of the locations. You can’t do that in a print book.  

The photographs were a wonderful touch. You’ve got me wanting to hike now, so I can visit those places in person.

Q: It was fun learning that you were once a tour guide for Hearst Castle and a pastry chef. For the 8 years you worked a multitude of part-time jobs, how did those experiences influence your writing?

A: Well, they give me a lot of good experience to fall back on. I always prefer to have characters live in a city I’ve lived in, or work at a job I’ve done myself. Because the quality of material you pick up is altogether different than what you learn through research only.

Q: What did you love the most about your experience as a pastry chef?

A: For a time I worked at an actual big bakery, in the pastry department. The hours were terrible, 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. I had to drive about 70 miles round trip. And I gained weight because I couldn’t stop sampling the product. Not much to love there.

Later I worked at a little restaurant in Cambria, doing homemade breads and desserts. The chef was my best friend Janet, and we worked very well together. Even when things got busy, we stayed stress-free. At the end of the night we ate like royalty. That I liked.

That makes all the difference, working with people you get along with.

Q: I loved your metaphors about animals, like how you developed “gentling” your horse rather than breaking it, and the dog’s attitude towards his daily walk. What would you say is an essential thing we can learn from animals?

A: Presence. The ability to be completely in the moment. Animals are very good at that, and humans are unusually bad at it. And it’s a real goal of mine, to be present. I think it’s the essence of my spirituality, the idea that “the powers that be” in the universe are found in the present moment. So when people act like animals are very simple and inferior compared to us, it seems backwards to me. I’m not saying we’re inferior, but I am saying I feel they are ahead of us in some respects. I guess it all depends on what you value. 

Q: Thank you. One of my favorite parts of The Long, Steep Path was your story about how one sentence changed your life. Your book was full of these one sentences for me. Since publishing your book, have you had any other “one sentence” experiences?

A: It may sound strange, but I have that experience on Twitter all the time. It encourages people to boil down their thoughts. And if you follow the right people, you pick up all these statements that are just so beautifully phrased that they cause you to look at some aspect of life in a new way. I think we do that for each other all the time, just in less dramatic ways than the one I described in the book. 

Yes! Twitter is awesome for that. The philosophy at the heart of The Long, Steep Path– finding the life you want in the life you have – is beautiful. When was the moment you discovered this?

A: I don’t think there was any one special moment when I discovered it. I think the realization came slowly over a period of time. But I think there was a moment, as I was putting together all my thoughts for the book, when I suddenly got a grasp of how to say it. I found the words in that few lines from the prologue of Pay It Forward: “Knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it shows you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.” That paragraph seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I guess because, when you think about it, where else could you possibly start? It hit me quite suddenly that this is true of our individual lives as well. And why shouldn’t it be? Put all our individual lives together and you get the world in question.

Q: This spirit seems to be conveyed in the style of your writing—capturing lives that are mosaics; perhaps not perfect, but whole in their own way. What drives you to write your fiction?

A: Human nature. I find it endlessly fascinating. I’m curious about why we take good care of each other, when we do. And why we don’t when we don’t. I’m particularly interested in unlikely bonds, the kind that fall outside blood relations and romance. Both of those are easy to understand, but I love the odd bond that’s quirkier, that says more about the good, loving side of human nature.

Q: That’s my favorite aspect to your stories. As a mentor or a sponsor, how do you approach those whom you take under your wing? What is the basic advice you give them?

A: I think the most useful thing I can do for another writer is to help them develop a new relationship with criticism and rejection. There’s nothing I can say to stop it from stinging. Not even to myself. But it’s possible to look it in the face and not let it stop you. You can learn to see that people are really telling you more about themselves when they judge you.

That’s as a mentor.

As a sponsor, I think my goal is to help people accept life for exactly what it is. When you let a person into your life, you have to take them as a whole. You can’t change them. You can’t take the parts you like and leave the rest. I think if we could have that kind of unconditional love for the world, and our lives, we’d be much happier.

Q: You have a lot of experience you can share from (I still can’t believe that Pay It Forward was shot down by your agent). As someone who went from being relatively unknown to being the center of an international movement, what are some of the pros and cons of celebrity? 

A: I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity, though I think I was thrust into that world for a time during the initial “Pay It Forward Phenomenon.”

Actual celebrity, I’d say mostly cons. There’s something false about it. I always make an effort not to tell people what I do until we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. Because it changes the balance of interactions. And it shouldn’t. No one is above or below anyone else, unless they place themselves there by their own actions.

What I do like is the genuine interaction with readers—when a reader finds me (I make myself easy to find) and shares the thoughts and feelings they had when reading one of my books. That’s very genuine. And of course it happens more as more people read you. So that’s one positive note. That and being able to pay my bills.

Q: Yeah, life is awesome when you can do what you love, interact with the people you write for, and pay your bills. Your book ends, quite aptly, with “The Path Continues”. What’s next on your path?

A: Well, that’s a good question. In many ways I’m waiting to be surprised. But it would be a safe bet to say there will be books involved.

Q: Yay! You’ve got your new book out now, Always Chloe and Other Stories, which I’m excited to read. Anything you’d like to share about that?

A: One of the nicest parts of independent ebooks is my ability to give them away on a limited basis as a way of helping the book find its audience. Always Chloe and Other Stories contains the novella-length sequel to my novel Becoming Chloe. It’s a stand-alone work, though, for those who haven’t read the original. On the 22nd through 24th of March, the Kindle ebook will be free on Amazon. And all anyone has to do is subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, to hear about future deals. I tend to give a lot of books away, even physical books. In the long run, it always brings me more readers.

Wonderful, thank you so much!