Building a Chapbook

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After participating in the Writer’s Digest November Poem A Day Chapbook Challenge, I found myself with thirty poems and a deadline. The second phase of the challenge involves narrowing thirty poems down to twenty and arranging them into a chapbook. For a newbie such as myself, this is utterly terrifying as I don’t know the first thing about formatting a poetry manuscript.

Aside from the technical logistics of formatting the actual print manuscript, I have a bigger fear that stems from one central question: In what order should the poems be arranged? During the challenge, I chose not to lock myself into a particular theme or type of poetry. I simply followed my muse when responding to each prompt. Thanks to my willy nilly approach, I ended up with everything from multiple stanza poems to haikus.

While not ideal, I decided the wide range of poetry I wrote was more of positive than a negative. Seeing as they are all rooted in my voice, they already had one common thread binding them together. Somewhere in the madness of irregular pieces, my story was waiting to be found.

I printed all of my poems and cut them out. Squares of all sizes lay scattered across my dining room table, each one a small piece of a bigger tale.

I started by making three rows of randomly placed poems so I could see how they “reacted” with one another. From there, I just started moving poems until a timeline of sorts began to appear. Without even knowing it, I had written 20 poems describing a journey I had taken two years prior.

My last trip to London changed my life in so many ways. Everything inside of me shifted and nothing has been the same since. It was a trip that taught me I had more strength than I ever could have imagined. As it turns out, that strength has been an incredible ally as life has tossed a number of challenges my way since my return. Sometimes I wonder where I would be today had I not discovered that piece of myself.

Fragments of emotions and thoughts still wander through my mind, all of which reach back to my days of wandering London streets and soaking in a new environment. All that time alone in a country so far away changed my default settings and forced me to see my world in different way. While I recommend this experience to anyone, it is not for the faint of heart. It’s easy to lose yourself and your footing when attempting to change your perspective.

In honor of an experience that uproots any sense of foundation, my chapbook carries the title, “Finding Gravity.”

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FYI, the deadline for the chapbook challenge is January 7, 2014. Good luck to everyone who submits!

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c.b.w. 2013

Unknown Path

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Photo and words by: c.b.w. 2013

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One never knows what’s around the bend, but if it were up to me, I’d travel down that barely there dirt path. It wonders beyond the easy curve and dares the traveler to see beyond the stones that block free will. Roots lay traps, while trees mark the way. Follow where courage leads and you will know freedom.

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c.b.w. 2013

Finding True North

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On more than one occasion, I’ve uttered the words, “Oh, great.  I have no idea where I am.”  For a directionally challenged person such as myself, this is a common phrase! Back in 2005, I added Beijing to my list of international cities where I’ve been completely lost.* In a place where English makes a rare appearance and tourists from the West stick out like a sore thumb, it becomes vitally important to find the way back to home base as soon as possible, (nothing attracts a pickpocket or worse than a confused looking tourist!). What set this event apart from all the rest was the fact that I had a compass keychain dangling from my belt loop.  Between a city bus map display, my street map, and the needle of a compass, I was able to find my way back to the hotel by matching up Chinese characters and traveling North and then East. My compass saved me that day by showing me where I needed to go and I’ve never forgotten that gift.  Seven years later, it’s still my lifeline.

I’ve often referred to my recent journey to London as a life-altering experience, despite my struggle to understand the full impact it has had on my life.  Some changes are obvious, but the deeper meaning dangles in front of me like a clue in a mystery waiting to be solved.  I am different in a place so hidden and so deep I can’t see it or even begin to comprehend it’s significance. All I have is the unrelenting sense of a huge shift towards something.  It’s a lot like standing at a fork in the road without knowing what the choices are or why they exist.

Essentially, I am lost all over again without knowing the language. Being lost in this way is both wondrous and frustrating.  Sometimes I revel in the confusion and the inspiration it brings, but there are times I wish I had a road map that at least reveals the basic layout of my new landscape.

Upon returning from London, the feeling of disorientation was overwhelming.  I couldn’t shake the duality of being excited to go home, while at the same time feeling as though I was leaving home. Torn in two, I oscillated between a life I loved and a life I didn’t know was possible, (and loved just as much). Nothing seemed real. In the months that followed, that surreality never left and I grew increasingly restless.  My perspective had changed so drastically, it effected every element of my life and made even the most the familiar things seem foreign.

I remain directionally challenged and my reliance on a compass has manifested itself in an entirely new way. About a month after my return, I was out shopping with family when I spotted a necklace with a compass pendant.  It was beautiful, not only in terms of design, but for the fact that it represented something very special to me.  With every spin of the needle, I am reminded that as lost as I sometimes feel, I will find my way to true north.

My compass necklace wrapped around the place that changed everything.

I wear my compass necklace almost every day so I don’t forget to follow my instincts and listen for hints that will eventually lead to the answer I seek.  All I know for certain is London taught me I am a lot stronger than I ever believed and that serves as my anchor.  At the moment, I walk this path with a smile on my face and growing curiosity of what lies ahead.  Just as it always has, my compass will point me in the right direction.

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*Oh, the stories I have from London, Paris, Rome, Prague, and Dublin!  I suppose that’s another post for another day.

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c.b. 2012

Dream Board 2.0

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After setting multiple writing goals, I figured it was time to create a new dream board to help me stay focused and motivated.  The last time I made a dream board was on the eve of 2010 and though I still love everything that board represents, (see Can You See Your Dreams?), a lot has changed in the last two years.  My dreams are still the same, but I’m a little further down the path than I was in late 2009.

Once again, I relied on my paper crafting skills to help me construct the perfect visual reminder of my dreams and the mindset I need to reach those dreams.  I’m a huge fan of collages so I pulled out my stack of magazines, printed paper scraps, stickers, and hardware.  It’s amazing what can fit on an 8½ x 11 piece of card stock!

I started by layering various printed papers with script and print to cover up the ugly color of the card stock and to represent my love of the printed word.  That’s why I write in the first place – I love words, stories, and the idea that anything is possible when I have a pen in my hand.

I wrote all seven of my 2012 writing goals on a series of tickets.  The way I see it, each goal is a ticket towards my dream.  I attached them by creating a paper “hinge,” so I could flip them for quick reminders on the goals I’ve set.  To keep them from flapping, I added metal photo tabs that rotate.  Each one is held in place by brads that spell out the initials of my pen name.  I cut out the phrase “The Must List” and put it above my goals so I have a constant kick in the butt to stay focused.

Next to my last goal of making final adjustments to my first novel, I pasted a bookshelf full of published books.  Like any aspiring novelist, I want my work on the shelf of a reader.  In addition, I attached the phrase, “The Final Cut.”  Part of the aforementioned goal is learning when to stop and leave well enough alone.

It seems the theme of tickets was meant to be, because as I was paging through a magazine, I came across a ticket image for Journey.  While last year was all about finding the courage to believe in myself as a writer, this year is all about my journey of breaking free of the fear.  Fate seems to agree, because three pages after the Journey ticket, I found the phrase “break free.”  Naturally, the two found a spot on my dream board and they hang out together.

Next, I added two phrases that reflect my deeply held belief that the scenic route is always best as is slowing down long enough to appreciate the small wonders of life.  That space between me and the sun is where my muse resides and the long way is what allows me to listen to her whispers.

The concept of my journey is again represented with a paper disc and a little butterfly.  I wish I had a better reason for adding the butterfly other than I think they are beautiful, but I don’t.  Sometimes dream boards need a little whimsy!  Underneath it, I added the word “believe,” as a reminder not to lose faith in myself.

When shuffling through my stickers I came across one that has a fantastic quote from Williams College: Climb high, climb far, your aim the sky, your goal the star.  If that’s not motivating I don’t know what is.  I’m hoping to find a little star sticker or embellishment that can add a little sparkle to this great quotation.

I clipped the phrase “reimagine yourself” and completed the sentence by spelling out “as a writer” with Scrabble letter stickers.  By definition, I am a writer because I write, but I want that word to be part of my identity just like wife or teacher.  It’s one of those things that sounds really easy on the surface, but the more I contemplate what it entails the more I realize the depth of what it means to be a writer.  As a way to reinforce this, I pieced together the phrase, “Don’t ignore the truth.”

While most of my dream board relates to writing, I dedicated one section to my love of travel.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always dreamed of seeing the world.  So far, I’ve been able to cross off a number things on my travel bucket list, but there is so much more I want to see and do.  It’s a big beautiful world out there and I attached a little mini map to keep my curiosity alive.  My dream of living in London is also reflected with a tiny tube map and bus guide.

My new dream board hangs above my writing desk where it can’t be missed. In addition, I took a picture of it and made it into a desktop wallpaper for my laptop.  Dreams have a way of slipping into oblivion if we don’t keep them close at hand.  I intend to keep my mine within reach at all times so they can’t escape.

c.b. 2012