Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A new poem from Esalen

 Looking down from the road

I spent five days last week writing poems at Esalen, a beautiful site high on a cliff in Big Sur CA.

I go to this particular workshop almost every summer. Led by poets Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, and Joseph Millar, I always learn some lessons about writing poems, I hear excellent poems read by my fellow poets taking the workshop with me, and I never lack for something to write my poems about.

This year I wrote six poems using prompts given at the end of each day’s craft talks on: 1) a coming into consciousness poem, 2) a poem with sentiment and no sentimentality, and 3) a poem using various line break and syntax techniques. We also beg our leaders to give us a list of ten words and an assigned phrase with which to create a poem. Once in a while we’re asked to include our pick of a body part, season of the year, or time of day.

Writing to a list of words is like solving a puzzle. But sometimes the poems turn out just plain silly. This year I wrote a couple of silly poems and a diatribe focusing on the word “junk.” I couldn’t resist writing a rant about how junk food connects to our current childhood obesity epidemic.

Here’s one without any of that silliness. The assigned words were: effluent, cauterize, jowls, flange, egg, phobic, chew, skunk, floor, gels

And the phrase was: “What falls away”
(By the way, it’s always okay to use any form of the given words.)

                                         The bathhouse built into the cliff

Now for the poem:


I have my mother’s jowls.
Deep furrows from
my lips to the sides of my chin
create flanged sacks
wanting to reach
toward the floor.
I also have her deep lines
just above my eyebrows.

Every time I look up,
she haunts me
years after her death,
leaving me phobic
that the ravage
to my once egg-smooth visage
will go on.

Your face has character
they chide.
But I know it as the first signs
of what falls away,
of what becomes skunk-like effluent.
There is no way
to cauterize the progression.
Only what’s left is
to chew and swallow it down,
to gel with it and accept
what’s yet to come.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Esalen Big Sur CA photos

Esalen is one of my favorite places. Its beauty,  serenity, and healing powers cannot be surpassed. 

Here's a few shots from my cell phone camera.

 My favorite view from the hot sulfur baths

 The rocks below

 The back garden

 Resident blue jays

Last look 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another book launch - oh my!

I now have a paperback edition of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, in my hands. It just arrived. Getting it to this point has taken just short of three months, but well worth the time and effort. The edition looks great.

I decided to keep the same cover design because it has been my brand for the last year. I felt changing it could be confusing to my followers and even to me. Plus I love the front cover photo, taken by my young girl friend, Madison Poulter, whom I’ve known since she was eighteen months old. Can’t believe she’s off to Lewis and Clark College in the fall.

So both my publisher, Mike O’Mary at Dream of Things and I have been doing a lot of planning to get ready for the launch. Mike made an excel spreadsheet with activities to accomplish between now and January. Here are some of the things we’re doing right now:
  • I’ve communicated with friends and family about the launch and asked them to write a review and post it on Amazon if they’ve already read the book. My reasoning is that my wonderful reviews helped me find a new publisher, so couldn’t they also help spread the word about the merits of this new edition my book? (Please write one if you've read my book and haven't yet.)
  • Mike has launched the paperback edition on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online outlets such as Powell’s and Red Room
  • Mike set up a Leaving the Hall Light On page on the Dream of Things website – please go visit it. It looks awesome.
  • Mike is going to set up a “Search Inside” feature on Amazon, so people can browse a little before they buy
  • Mike is going to send the book out to other possible reviewers such as TheCompulsiveReader.com, ArmchairInterviews.com, etc.
  • We will both come up with a list of possible reading/signing events in California at book stores, libraries, colleges, community centers, coffee shops, book groups, writer groups. (If any of you are in California and can recommend a place to contact, please let me know.)
  • And I joined SheWrites.com for another networking resource

That list just gets us up to today.

We still have stuff to do relative to Goodreads, compiling a media kit, making a list of book clubs to contact (by the way, we’ve added two pages of reading group discussion points to the new edition), and late in August, the launch of the eBook.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My new publisher - Dream of Things

I feel so fortunate to have Dream of Things as my new publisher. It will officially launch my new paperback edition of Leaving the Hall Light On on August 6 and will launch an eBook version later in the month.

Here, I proudly tell you a little bit of information about the owner and his company:

Mike O'Mary is founding dreamer of Dream of Things publishing company. (dreamofthings.com, facebook.com/dreamofthings), a book publisher and online community for writers and other artists.

He says, “I started Dream of Things because I wanted to find ways for us to work together more often. I also hope to make a lot of new friends and to work with many of them. Dream of Things is a place where other ‘dreamers’ can share their ideas and stories, and have fun in the process.”

Mike is also the main force behind the Note Project, a campaign to make the world a million times better by encouraging more people (1 million is the goal!) to share appreciation.

He has published stories and essays in the Sunday magazines of the Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, rocky Mountain News, Baltimore Sun, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Detroit Free Press, and in Catholic Digest. He is also a regular commentator on Northern Illinois Public Radio, as part of the local segment of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. And, he has written and produced sketch comedy in Chicago. You can see his posts over at the Freelance-Zone blog where he’s a regular contributor.

Besides his publishing and writing work, Mike has more than twenty years experience in corporate communications, producing speeches, annual reports, and executive communications for leading corporations.
Mike and his bride of one year - Kathy Hayevsky
(I love this photo)

Dream of Things is currently accepting creative nonfiction stories – up 2,500 words – for anthologies on these subjects

  • Coffee Shop Stores
  • Holiday Stories
  • Stories of Forgiveness
  • Stories About Great Teachers
  • Advice You’d Like to Pass On to Others
  • Making Waves --  Stories about Role Models and People Who Inspire and Motivate Us
Please go to the Dream of Things Workshop page for more information.

Dream of Things, both a book publisher and online bookstore, offers books, videos, prints, greeting cards, and other creative works at its dreamshop. Current offerings include:

  • “Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide” by Madeline Sharples* 
  • "Saying Goodbye" - an anthology of true stories about how we say goodbye to the people, places and things in our lives
  • "MFA in a Box: A Why to Write Book" by John Rember
  • "Everything I Never Wanted to Be" - a memoir of alcoholism and addiction, faith and family, hope and humor, by Dina Kucera
  • "The Note" - a book about the power of appreciation and how a simple note can change a person's life, by Mike O'Mary
  • "Wise Men and Other Stories" - a collection of humorous and heart-warming holiday stories, by Mike O'Mary
  • "Pink Bat" by Michael McMillan - Make the impossible possible by seeing problems as opportunities.
  • "Paper Airplane: A lesson for flying outside the box" by Michael McMillan
*notice I put my memoir at the top of the list :)

As Mike says, the name Dream of Things comes from the following quote, which has been attributed to George Bernard Shaw and Robert Kennedy:

Some men see things as they are and ask, "Why?"
I dream of things that never were and ask, "Why not?"

So to the extent we have a mission, it can be summed up in two words:

 "Why not?"

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The coral tree has leaves again!

Remember my rant about the butchered tree? Well, I'm pleased to let you know the tree is coming back. In fact, the leaves are coming in fast and furiously. So maybe I shouldn't have been so hard on the butcher - oops, tree trimmer.

Here's how it looked yesterday.

My succulent garden is looking pretty good too.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Whenever puffs of clouds are high in the sky I think of Georgia O'Keefe. While this morning's clouds against a true blue sky aren't really like Georgia's painted ones, they are just as beautiful.

July 19, 2012 - Manhattan Beach, CA

Georgia O'Keefe's Clouds

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Introducing Daisy Hickman of SunnyRoomStudio

It's gray outside and just beginning to drizzle - wouldn't you know I just had my car washed? So it is a perfect day to have Daisy Hickman and her sunny spirit as guest here on Choices. She has brought along a beautiful bouquet of peonies to illustrate her words. How does she know peonies were my favorite flowers as I was growing up in the midwest? Unfortunately they are unable to grow where I live now in Southern California.

This summer Daisy has concentrated her blog posts at SunnyRoomStudio on ways to slow down during our year's warmest months. Here are just a few that she listed last week:

Nurture your creative side.
Read some poetry.
Write a letter.
Take a walk.
Create a new recipe.
Read a short story.
Allow yourself time to connect with nature.
Call an old friend.
Sleep in.
Create spiritual space with time for silence.

Couldn't we all participate in those not only during the summer but as a lifetime habit?

I'm pleased to introduce Daisy and her thoughts about books - another way to enjoy the slow summer months.

The Beauty of Books

Words are vehicles for understanding.  Like all artistic forms, they offer avenues of expression that are varied and dynamic.  From poetry to prose, from blogs to novels, words are links between individuals, family systems, organizations, and countries.  I’ve been drawn to them for a lifetime it seems.

Yet, recently, I heard someone lamenting how you could find a book to say anything you wanted it to say, that there was no “truth” in books, per se.  Pick out five that boldly assert one theme, and on the next shelf, you’ll find five more from an opposing point of view. 

Well, of course.  I didn’t say anything, but I sensed the person was missing the point … of books, of life, of anything really.  Because isn’t that precisely the point of communication and human expression, the sharing of ideas and experiences that are nearly always diverse, even contradictory?  And wasn’t there an element of arrogance in the comment (spoken by someone who has never tried to write a book)? 

The glory of books is their ability to share what is important to the author.  To offer information that may be helpful to others.  To capture something fleeting, yet, powerful.  To record human history. 

The fact that every book is slightly, or entirely, different merely reflects the human condition.  How could it be otherwise?  Yet, this individual was apparently looking for something that doesn’t exist; ready to toss all books aside because a global definition of “truth” can’t be found in any of them. 

Yet, truth, like beauty, is found in the eyes of the beholder.  And, for me, books will always be something to celebrate and to appreciate.  They represent the human story, our evolution, and clearly, our spiritual adventures.  Books also speak to our profound connection as mortals on planet earth.   
The perception of truth will always be subjective.  And in finding peace within that reality, we come to accept the many layers of truth in the world.  The many levels of understanding.   
I hope all of you enjoy many good books this summer, including Madeline’s. 

And I hope you don’t get caught up in worrying about why one book is true, yet, the next one isn’t. 

Learn something from each.  Savor the journey.  Celebrate the perceptions of a fellow human being.  Let yourself feel challenged and intrigued by ideas that don’t necessarily mesh with yours.  It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.  And if you’re truly seeking “truth,” look within. 
  • What books are you enjoying this summer?   
Thanks, Madeline, for your kind invitation to share a few thoughts on your blog.  Have a lovely summer!

Thank you, Daisy, for being my guest today. I hope lots of folks will slowly, in a summery way, come over here to meet you.

Daisy A. Hickman is the founder of SunnyRoomStudio – a sunny, creative space for kindred spirits launched in early 2010.  Her blog appears there each week.  She also hosts wonderful Studio Guests with inspiring stories (and interests) to share.  Daisy has lived in St. Louis and Indianapolis, but, at this time, is enjoying life in her home state of South Dakota.  Currently, a full-time writer, Daisy also worked with nonprofit organizations for many years after completing a master's degree in sociology at Iowa State University. 
@dhSunWriter or @dazydaywriter (via twitter) @SunnyRoomStudio (facebook) 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jane Shore's poem about a tree

This is definitely another opinion about how to care and feed and trim a tree. I love this poem. Wish I had written it. Counter-point to my tree-trimming rant.

by Jane Shore

It didn't weep the way a willow should.
Planted all alone in the middle of the field
by the bachelor who sold our house to us,
shoulder height when our daughter was born,
it grew eight feet a year until it blocked
the view through the first-, then the second-
story windows, its straggly canopy obstructing
our sunrise and moonrise over Max Gray Road.
I gave it the evil eye, hoping lightning
would strike it, the way a bolt had split
the butternut by the barn. And if leaf blight
or crown gall or cankers didn’t kill it, then
I'd gladly pay someone to chop it down.
My daughter said no, she loved that tree,
and my husband agreed. One wet Sunday—
husband napping, daughter at a matinee
in town—a wind shear barreled up the hill

so loud I glanced up from my mystery
the moment the willow leaned, bowed,
and fell over flat on its back, roots and all,
splayed on the ground like Gulliver.
The house shook, just once.
Later, when the sun came out, neighbors
came to gawk; they chain-sawed thicker
branches, wrapped chains around the trunk,
their backhoe ripped out pieces of stump
and root as if extracting a rotten tooth.
I'm not sorry that tree is gone. No one
ever sat under it for shade or contemplation.
Yet spring after spring it reliably leafed out.
It was always the last to lose its leaves
in fall. It should have died a decade ago
for all the grief I gave it, my dirty looks
apparently the fuel on which it thrived.
It must have done its weeping in private.
But now I can see the slope of the hill.
Did my wishful thinking cast a spell?
I was the only one on earth who saw it fall.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What's happening this week

Whew! It’s been a long and hard three months – actually two weeks short of three months – but well worth the effort. After Lucky Press went out of business on April 30, I was fortunate to find a new and most wonderful new publisher Dream of Things in record time.

Since then – about the early part of June – we have been working at getting the book and all the ancillary products ready to go. I think when this Friday comes along, when I’ll have a new paperback edition and updated bookmarks in hand, I’ll breathe a big sign of relief. They will be ready just in time for my book selling opportunities over the weekend and next week at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference where I’m participating on two panels and during my annual poetry workshop and retreat at Esalen, Big Sur California. What great timing for a stay at Esalen! It’s a perfect place to unwind.

Because I know how tired you must be at hearing all of this stuff since April 30, I’m bringing a real breath of fresh air to Choices on Wednesday. Daisy Hickman, who writes the most spiritual, mellow, and calming blog I know – SunnyRoomStudio – will be my guest. She’ll be expressing her views on the beauty of books as wonderful ways to share our diverse experiences and ideas. Please come back here on Wednesday, July 18 to read what Daisy has to say while experiencing her beautiful and calming voice for yourself.

Daisy Hickman

Also, if you live in Los Angeles, think about attending the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. I’ll be moderating the panel titled:  “Can You Write Poetry for both Fun and Profit?” at 2:15 pm on Friday, July 20 and participating in another panel titled: “Building a Platform – How to Promote Yourself and Your Work” at 2:00 pm on Saturday July 21.

PS: A new paperback edition of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, is already available for preorder at Barnes & Noble

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Gutsy Story won!

I am thrilled that My Gutsy Story won first place for the month of June. I heartfully thank Sonia Marsh for accepting my story application and posting it for her monthly contest. Also, so many people made very insightful and wonderful comments about my story. 

One in particular was just posted this morning. And I have to share it with you. It is from my friend and fellow poet and cell-phone photographer, Keith Alan Hamilton. Ever since I joined Keith's Poets, Writers, Photographers, Musicians, Artists - Networking Group on Facebook, he and I have had a special bond. And I was fortunate to meet him and his girlfriend personally when my husband and I were in Boston in May. Keith has also created 

The Hamilton Gallery   ~   Online: an Artist Collaborative of Words, Images and more.....

Online publisher
providing the creative spirit
greater distribution & readership
over the internet
free of charge.

Keith has honored me by showcasing my poetry and material about my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, at The Hamilton Gallery. His wonderful words this morning just took the breath out of me:

What follows is my review of Madeline’s book…. Madeline Tasky Sharples is a world class human being and I am blessed to call her one of my dearest friends. As far as I am concerned the word gutsy only touches on how magnificent Madeline truly is….. 
~Keith Alan Hamilton~ 

Review is from: Leaving the Hall Light On (Hardcover)

This memoir with poems by Madeline Sharples, I hope will have a positive effect on the reader’s intellect and values beyond the awareness of a mother’s tremendous courage as a human being to cope with and talk about the loss of her son. Way beyond her gifted abilities to write so openly and poetically about her son’s life experience, his all-out struggle with a condition not fully understood and still felt as not normal by others. Way, way beyond the heart wrenching trauma underwent by a family who had a beloved member commit the ill thought of and unspeakable act, the taking of his own life. Madeline’s forthright and insightful words, whether intentional or not, will present an introspective opportunity to the reader. Where the reader is unexpectedly provided the chance to self-reflect and wrestle with their own preconceived biases and inhibitions on this matter. Those socially embedded judgments, which sadly cause a state of disease, a lack of discernment concerning two separate but often associated components within the trials and tribulations of day-to-day living. Publically chosen and accepted labels, shadowed by the stigma of disease, mental illness and defect, called bipolar disorder and suicide.

In Leaving the Hall Light On, Madeline Sharples has graciously given forth the experience of her son’s journey through life as a precious gift. Her son’s life and how he lived it, holds out tremendous value to those who care to listen. Beneath the pain and stigma, is a cherished life, no matter if perceived as being tragically cut short, in the end was well worth every moment it was humanly lived. A life of a son, portrayed honestly without embarrassment or regret by the loving words of his mother. The writing of this memoir with poems by Madeline Sharples may have been at times hard for her to say or bear; and yet, her heartfelt words keep alive the spirit of purpose and positive effect her son’s life experience will have on others, even after he chose to walk into the release of death. Her son’s life and death offers us all the opportunity to learn and then personally grow as a human being ourselves.

Thank you Madeline Sharples for helping to let the memory, the spirit and the value of Paul’s life, get the chance to breathe fully within the beat of time. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A spring poem

I love Robert Lee Brewer's poetry prompts. He gives one out once a week except during poem a day challenges in April and November. I don't always do them on time or in order, but I eventually get through them. I guess he prompted us to write a spring poem at first bud. I'm a little late, but here it is.

I lay on the Pilates reformer
and push on the foot bar,
in and out, in and out.
My feet, first in the second position
at the corners of the footbar
then in first position at the center
with my heels locked tightly together,
I keep pushing and pulling.
Two red and one green springs
determine the weight
for these exercises.
And as my legs move back and forth
the springs squeak,
they yearn to stop,
they want to do no more work.
But I keep going.
I don’t listen to their moans
never giving those springs
a rest.