Pen Pal Letter #3

on beauty and happiness

To Whom It May Concern:

I don’t know if I have something to say so much as I just wanted an excuse to show that featured image.

The website Pexels has become my favorite free-to-use image site, possibly because of its front page. (Side note: I also like Pixabay and Unsplash if I can’t find what I’m looking for on Pexels.).

On that front page of Pexels, some number of curators have selected several images that users have uploaded to the site and ordered those pictures so that the page appears to be like a color gradient. As I scroll through, I admire that pretty gradient, and I save any of the pictures that really speak to me by clicking on the little heart icons. Which is to say that I save most of the pictures I see there because I am truly in awe of the job that they do curating as well as the level of talent of people who upload images to the site.

When I write, I usually start with an idea, then write the poem or piece of prose, and then choose a featured image based on that writing, but sometimes I am in a writing mood but find myself fresh out of ideas. In cases like those, I scroll through my collection of likes on Pexels to see if anything triggers my creativity. It was on one of those occasions that I saw the picture you can see at the top of this post for the second time, and by saw, I mean really saw.

On my first glance when I liked and saved the picture, I admired the aesthetic of it: the hues of brown, the way the sunlight falls across the objects in slats. It fit into that gradient of curated images beautifully.

On my second glance, I realized what the objects were. What is an egg doing on top of a brush? And what’s with the other egg beside the brush? Why is there also a flower and a thistle? In what world would this pile of objects just naturally occur?

I love the image more and not less after this realization. It’s such an odd collection of things, but it is still incredibly aesthetically appealing.

I care about aesthetics. I care about the arrangement of things. I care about the colors. I even care about the visual textures that things have.

There is a certain stigma to aesthetic for aesthetic’s sake. Some parts of society will say that a pursuit of beauty is vapid and silly (even while other parts of society demand it).

I don’t buy that argument. There is something so natural in craving to surround oneself in visual beauty. There is no wonder that humans started plucking flowers and bringing them into our own homes to gradually wilt in vases of water however long ago that started happening. And while it’s true that time spent seeking out pretty things can be allocated to other tasks, it is difficult to rank these tasks on value, especially when considering the delight that visually appealing things bring. Going out of our way to do something that makes us happy is itself beautiful and human.

More than all of that, I just like aesthetic visuals, okay. I like pretty dresses, I like shiny jewelry, and I like that random collection of beige items that are shown in the image.

There is almost no way that I will just happen to write something where that image is the perfect fit, so yes, as I said at the beginning, I wrote this letter to no one in particular just to have a place to feature it. I hope no one in particular likes it as much as I do.

Wishing you all the best.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by Valera Evane from Pexels

Pen Pal Letter #2

losing arguments

To Whom It May Concern:

I keep losing arguments with one of the cats.

We have a fundamental disagreement about where she should be allowed to go. I believe that the presence of 4 separate cat trees in the apartment (mind you, only 2 cats live here) should more than make up for the fact that she is not allowed to go certain places where she could be destructive or get hurt. She believes that she should be allowed to go everywhere. She’s very persuasive, but don’t you dare take her side.

She does like to give herself away. For example, she likes to jump on top of the counters (where she is not allowed to go) to yell at me in protest of not being allowed to go on top of the fridge (where she is doubly not allowed to go). “Baby girl,” I’ll reply, “there is absolutely no way that I am going to move stuff off the top of the fridge to give you a space to jump up there, considering that we don’t want you up there whatsoever. Because to get to the fridge, you have to jump on the counter and we don’t want your paws going where we have to do food prep. So get down now.”

She screams again, talking back. I spray her with some water, and she jumps down and runs away.

I don’t like spraying the water at the cats, but I’m 80% sure she understands what I just said to her and she is just being unreasonable and defiant. I’m also 80% sure that her brother does not understand any English beyond one of his nicknames, and I don’t think that should even really count because he doesn’t know his actual name. We’ve stopped using his actual name, in fact, because he has never responded to it. Not once. But he occasionally responds to the nickname. I’m getting distracted. What I meant is that he doesn’t understand any other method of communication than the spray bottle for bad behavior and pets for good behavior.

I’ve taken to making a batch of cold brew about once a week. I keep the coffee canister up on the fridge, since it’s the only thing that can block the space where the cabinets overhang the shelf, and the cats will notice the space and jump onto the counters to get to it if it is not blocked. I must have pushed the canister too far back this time when I put it away, because that argumentative cat did in fact jump up into that space. She screamed in victory, giving herself away. Then she screamed more because she wanted access to the top of the cabinets (where she is triply not allowed to go).

She got sprayed in response and the contents on the fridge got readjusted.

Maybe I ultimately won, but resorting to violence (at least that’s what she feels I did) shouldn’t really count as winning. So I’ll take the defeat. That one was a cat victory, one of many. And now I have to clean the counters.

Wishing you all the best.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by Charlotte May from Pexels

Pen Pal Letter #1

That’s not entirely true.

To Whom It May Concern:

So I impulse bought another plant. Two in fact.

That’s not entirely true. I bought grow kits for a thyme plant and a rosemary plant, so I essentially bought pre-plants. And dirt. Dirt that leaked out somehow and got on the jeans that I also impulse bought. What I’m trying to say is that I took a trip to Target.

I do kind of need the jeans, though. I promise that my impulse purchases are measured.

Well, most of them. I don’t need the pre-plants. I will use the pre-plants once they become plants, but I don’t need them. They are more to fulfill my dreams of homesteading, even while I live in this apartment, and also to fill in the gaps of my herb collection, which previously consisted only of basil and mint (if you don’t count the lavender that I killed through negligence before it even flowered). (I promise that I am not as terrible of a plant parent as that previous parenthetical might make it sound. Or maybe I am.)

The other day, I took a walk around my neighborhood. The times I had done it before, I stuck to my secluded little space, but this time I wanted to venture further. There is a crosswalk with traffic signals and everything out on the main road, so I had assumed this meant that there was plenty of sidewalk to be found beyond that point. This is not the case, not even close. It went on for maybe 30 feet and then ended. I walked those 30 feet because I knew that the other side was even worse. I found where the sidewalk ends. Maybe one day, I’ll write a poetry book about it, unless, of course, that has already been done.

After those 30 feet, I turned around. I had taken the dog with me on this little adventure, and he was very confused, as was I. Why put in those crosswalk signs before there is anywhere for them to take you? It would be one thing if they were clearly preparing for sidewalk construction, but that is clearly not true. Not knowing where else to go, I walked the dog through a bit more of the area on my side of the main road and then took him home.

Later, I took a drive down that part of the main road, the direction away from the highway, the direction that I almost never go in. I was looking for sidewalk, to see if it started again anywhere near that crosswalk. What I was really looking for was the hope that my sidewalk issue is a problem that the city would undertake in the near future. That there is just a gap that will be filled shortly.

The sidewalk didn’t start again for a long while. So long, in fact, that I had stopped looking and was surprised when I spotted it. I continued to drive not looking for anything at all, found nothing more, and returned home.

I’m not sure what I’m looking for in life in general; I’m not sure if I’ll ever know, but sometimes I do find it in caring for plants. Confusing dogs can also be fulfilling.

Anyway, wish you all the best!

Sincerly,

Joy


Photo by Blue Bird from Pexels

Barbie Girl

The car was really only meant for two dolls at a time, but that was unimportant.

I had a collection of dolls as a child: a baby doll, a couple of knock-off American Girl dolls that were sold at Target, some Polly Pockets (do those count as dolls?), and a number of Barbies. To go with these Barbies, I had some clothes, some shoes, a house, a Ken doll, and, most importantly, a hot pink Barbie-sized convertible.

One time when my cousin came over to play, we decided that Barbie needed to go on a trip with all of her fellow Barbie friends. We placed a Barbie in the driver’s seat of the convertible and proceeded to pack the other dolls in with her. We pressed and we shoved and we crammed and we scooted. The car was really only meant for two dolls at a time, but that was unimportant. We were going to Jenga our way into fitting more Barbies in than it looked like it could hold. It would be my Barbie-branded clown car convertible.

Continue reading “Barbie Girl”

Observations

Something about them seems profound.

This morning, I heated a mug full of water in the microwave, steeped a green tea bag in it for a few minutes, then added some lemon juice and a little bit of maple syrup. When I looked out the sliding glass doors at my balcony, I could see an orange mum and a tiny pumpkin that will be gifts for someone else. I also could see a yellow mum with burlap wrapped around its pot that will remain on the balcony for the foreseeable future. There’s a pink box that was once filled with cupcakes that were gifted to me but is now empty because all of its contents had been eaten. It balanced on top of a peanut butter jar on the dining room table.

These are imperfect sights, ones that I’m not sure I want to remember, but I am writing them anyway because something about them seems profound.

In many ways, I am my surroundings. I mean this both in the sense that the clutter level around me is usually an indicator of my mental state, and in the sense that I am an amalgamation of everything that I have ever seen or heard or touched or smelled or tasted.

I worry that I’m only truly present when I’m writing. That I just let life pass me by unless I go into the moments with the intention of recording them. I don’t know if that’s a problem or not.


Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

How I Write a Poem Step 3: Editing as I Go

A buzz that will awaken the kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid
in desperate need of some coffee
deep and gritty caffeine
in order to jazz, to liven.
Perhaps that jolt is all that will be needed
to fill the brain with wondrous things
never before contained.


Hope for A buzz that will awaken the kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

Shady palm trees in hues of puce
with their giant spiky elephantine trunks.

The mind is changed
from cream-colored
to utterly without hue.



Key:
wine-colored and with a strikethrough = removed from a previous “draft”
blue, unitalicized, and underlined = added since a previous “draft”
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When I write anything, but especially poetry, I do not end up with a series of distinct drafts. Rather, I make constant changes as I continue the writing process. I never have a “completed draft” that will be heavily edited. I’m not great at murdering my darlings once I feel like I have a draft of a poem that has been fully written. On the rare occasion that I have fully written out where I want the poem to go as a draft, but I feel like some major changes are necessary, I simply scrap the poem. If it is not good enough at that point, the chances that I will be happy with it at the end of some heavy edits are very slim. It’s not worth it to put in the work of slicing apart a full poem if I’m going to hate it by the time I am done with it. I have done it on a few occasions, only to post the poem and later remove it from my blog.

At this point, I am coming to doubt whether there are true “steps” of my poetry writing process. The transition from my Step 1 post to my Step 2 post and from my Step 2 post to this one really just involve the same thing: adding more. Granted, here I did take away a word and replace a phrase with a better one, but those changes are relatively minor. Dividing the work that I will do on this poem from this point forward seems silly because it will just be more of the same; I’ll keep taking a few things away and adding more. Thus, I think my post for Step 4 will be my final one and will showcase the poem in its “finished” state.

I will note is that only 2 days passed between my post about the idea for this poem and my post about expanding on that idea. Nearly a month has now passed since that expansion post in this series. Taking long breaks from poems is very common for me. I did not intend to capture that element of my writing experience within this series, but it happened naturally. Generally, though, once I start to approach the late-middle stage of a poem, the writing process picks up pace, so hopefully you won’t have to wait another month to see the final post in this series.

Peace out!
-Joy

Photo by Fiona Art from Pexels

Can Peonies Open Without Ants?

What is wonder?

As a child I believed that the continents floated above the ocean, like gigantic earthy boats on the surface of the water. I thought that if you swam far enough out into the ocean, you would eventually arrive at a dramatic drop off where the continental plate ended and you could find the water beneath. More than that, I thought that with a lot of effort, I could be the first human to swim all the way underneath the USA from the east coast to the west coast.

I am older and wiser now. I know that the US is not just floating on water, ready to be swum under. I also know that the tectonic plates are on top of a liquid, just not one that humans can breaststroke through. There is still a magic and an insight to my original understanding, even if it was ultimately wrong.

My world didn’t change dramatically when I learned about the layers of Earth. I didn’t lose my child-like wonder in that moment. If anything, I just had new things to wonder about.

What does the area where it shifts from mantle to crust look like? Will we ever be able to dig down to the core? How do we know about all of these layers if we can’t dissect the earth the way it’s depicted in the graphics that show these layers?

The world is a never-ending stream of questions, of misunderstandings, and of corrections.

I grew up hearing the old wive’s tale that peonies require ants to open their flowers. Until yesterday, I didn’t realize that this was a wive’s tale; I had assumed that it was a scientific fact that peonies require ants to nibble away at their buds in order to bloom. I am constantly being proven wrong. I am constantly learning and growing.

Photo by Irina Iriser from Pexels

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How I Write a Poem Step 2: The Expansion

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid

As I was writing my last post and putting into writing the connection between the first phrase I came up with and my aphantasia, I realized that my initial idea of “a cream-colored mind” is not that different from the phrase “milk voice” that Blake Ross described in one of the first pieces I ever read about aphantasia.

I actually did not mean for the “cream-colored mind” thing to be a metaphor or descriptor for aphantasia. I thought “creamed-colored mind” was a wild and wacky piece of imagery that would be accompanied by other wild and wacky pieces of imagery. As I have gone through this next step of expanded on that initial phrase, however, it has become clear that describing a mind as cream-colored is quite tame compared to some of the other stuff that I have come up with. It does make for a pretty good metaphor, so I am currently keeping it, but toying with the idea of dropping the colored part and replacing it with some other word. The only real issue how to use the term “cream” without it and not make it sound like a euphemism rather than a metaphor. Right now, the phrase will remain as “cream-colored.”

Thinking more about the phrase “cream-colored” and cream itself, I added more to the poem. Thinking about strange and incorrect imagery, I added even more to the poem. This is where it stands right now:

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid
in desperate need of some coffee
in order to jazz, to liven

Hope for the kaleidoscopic
Psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.
Shady palm trees in hues of puce
with their giant spiky elephantine trunks

The first and second parts (the lines underlined and in italics respectively) do not yet go together. I especially would like to add something to the last line of the first part because I do not feel like I truly finished my thought there.

Now that I have an utterly creepy and wrong image of a palm tree inserted into the poem, I need to make a decision of whether to make the rest of the poem like that or to circle back to the poem being more like the first part. I don’t know which one I am leaning toward more.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

How I Write a Poem Step 1: An Idea

A cream-colored mind

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to write about writing. This is partially because I so often think about my own writing process that I want to express those thoughts outside of my brain and partially because I want to engage other writers in a conversation about the writing process.

The way that I write now is quite organic. When I start a poem, it flows on its own, without any sort of plan. I frequently surprise myself with the finished product because my initial idea, which I thought would be great, was actually quite dull and limited compared to the finalized piece.

There are essentially two ways that I create a poem. The first is that it comes to me, more or less fully formed, and all I do is clean it up a little, maybe add some extra flair, and publish it onto my blog. This process takes maybe an hour on average from conception to publication, but can definitely be much less depending on the length of the poem and the amount of editing that it requires.

The second and much more common way that I write a poem is to start with an idea that I jot down somewhere and come back to sometimes moments or sometimes months later. The idea, which is usually just a line but can be anywhere from a single word to a full stanza, gets slowly added to over time. The actual writing process for this excluding the time between coming up with the idea and starting to work on it is usually a day or two during which I am constantly tweaking the poem, but has taken me up to several months.

In this series, I am going to break down that second process into steps and walk through what is happening in my head as I complete each of those steps. Here is my idea which will be the basis for the poem I will write throughout this series:

A cream-colored mind

It’s not much, and there’s a fair chance that that phrase will not even end up in the final product, but it’s my starting point.

This particular starting point has arisen from a question that I have had for myself: What do I bring to the table? My biggest difference (I think) from all of the other people like myself out there writing poetry is my aphantasia. I cannot “see” or “hear” my writing in my head. Imagery does not come naturally to me because I don’t think about the world in terms of my senses.

And since describing something accurately and describing something wildly incorrectly feel exactly the same to me, I want to create a collection of poems whose imagery go thoroughly off the rails.

How do you normally start working on a poem? How long does it normally take from the idea to the final execution?

Photo by Adrianna Calvo from Pexels

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Roles on Rolls on Roles

On rolls on roles on rolls

Image by adamkontor from Pixabay

This weekend, I made some changes to my blog. I have been noticing that my website is incredibly difficult to navigate and having all of my poems listed on a page was just 1. hard to remember to update and 2. not cutting it anymore from the reader’s end due to the sheer number of posts I now have. I wanted to have a spot where I could place the categories that my blog posts could belong to, and there was not a very good spot for that in my old theme. That theme served me well, but it was time for it to go.

I changed it to my favorite theme I could find that includes a sidebar where I can put widgets. The one downside of this new theme is that it does funky things to the top of the post if an excerpt was including in the post settings, so I fixed that by just going through and removing all of the excerpts from all of my posts. I’m sure that there are other fixes, but I couldn’t find one quickly, and there were a few other things that I wanted to change in some of my posts, so I didn’t mind going through them one by one.

Sushi rolls
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

While I was looking at all of these old posts, I found a few that just didn’t match my website anymore or that I was no longer happy with. I kept a few of them listed, but reverted a few others to drafts, so if you were über-dedicated, you would notice that my post celebrating my 100th post is no longer my 100th post.

All of this took time, but not an insanely long amount of time. Nevertheless, it made me think about all the roles that I have on this website. Much like most of the people probably reading this, I am the author, editor, occasional photographer and graphic designer, and administrator of my website. I also am the one who reads and answers my comments and emails (at a very slow rate, sorry!) and the one who reads, likes, and comments on posts from other bloggers.

Dice rolls
Photo by Armando Are from Pexels

I like having all of these roles because of the amount of control it allows me to possess, but I definitely prefer some over others. I primarily think of myself as the writer of this blog and a reader of other blogs. Everything else that I do is just extra.

That said, I think I would have a really hard time passing those other roles off to other people. This blog has been mine and mine alone since its first day. It has had my fingerprints all over every aspect of it, and that makes me very happy.

Egg rolls
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

I am nowhere near considering changing this from a one-woman-show, so those fingerprints will continue to be seen all over the site, but if I ever do decide to take on other team members, I think the first thing I will give up is the editing. I know for a fact that I miss things when I edit them myself because I have gone back to old posts that I read through many, many times before publishing them and found spelling and grammar errors that I did not catch. After that, I would probably look for someone with far more coding knowledge than me to customize the site layout more.

What are your preferred roles for your blog? Are there any that you would gladly pass off if you had the opportunity?

Roller skates
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