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Pain and Writing

This past weekend I attended the annual conference put on by the American Night Writers Association. It was my fifth year and I finally fulfilled my goal of having a published book of my own to sell in the bookstore. I may have only sold one copy, but it’s a start! One of the presenters I listened to, Leslie Householder, the author of The Jackrabbit Factor (which I’m about to read), spoke of how one reader purchased the book after she was interviewed on television. But that one reader contacted her and shared how it had blessed her life immensely. You never know. Even if the book is for yourself alone, why not write your story? Why not pen your poems?

The atmosphere at the conference is one of grand inspiration with writers at all levels and stages and of all genres coming together to learn with and from each other. It’s one of the most positive places. At my first conference I realized I would learn more here than ever in my creative writing courses in college. There were terms I didn’t recognize and I knew nothing about marketing or publishing. I’m still sparkling emerald green in those areas I’ll say.

There’s nothing like having some time away from routine to reflect on things and even plan a reset. As I was unexpectedly able to spend some time in Michigan on a lake the week before last, I thought about all the unexpected things that had come recently. I spent a precious few minutes writing down some thoughts on recent weeks and thinking how my life had changed. Then and in the days that have followed, I’ve thought about pain. What a master teacher it can be. We wish for things to be good. We wish for things to be easy. But we often wish to be what we are not, without any trouble, without any work, without any pain. While I don’t ask for or enjoy pain, I wouldn’t take away any I’ve experienced. It can humble and strengthen and fill you with empathy. I’m amazed by people I know who have gone through some challenges I can’t imagine, and come out from them better and stronger than before.

When we make mistakes and struggle in the writing world, as every writer does, that’s not a bad thing. If we wish each other the best in life, that’s not solely all good things. That includes pain because it will lead to growth like nothing else can. And who wants to remain stagnant anyway? Take it from Andy Grammar here.

Jouvay Dreams

Jouvay Dreams
by Aubri Wilson

Cocoa pod, cocoa pod

Low hanging in rain forest

Rooted in volcanic soil

On a gorgeous island home

Among spices and fruits

The flavors meld inside

The pretty, pretty

Cocoa bean, cocoa bean

Purplish in white pulp

Sweet as mango

Soon to ferment and tan

Under moving feet

Later roasted, winnowed

Conched and tempered

To become the rich

Bar of delightful

Taste like the dawning

Of a new and joyful day

Jouvay, jouvay

I'm dreaming

Of a new and beautiful day

This week I had the privilege of touring a chocolate factory in Grenada, where Jouvay chocolate is made. We visited the island not just for my chocolate obsession, but the trip had plenty of chocolate at the beginning, middle and end. I’m not sure we bought enough…

Here are some photos from our tour outside the factory, where the cocoa pods grow. We got to taste the pulp around the beans, feel some fermented pods, and taste test chocolate of various percentages. I love it as dark as it can get and they had it! If you’re interested in the process of chocolate making, you can read about how they do it at Jouvay here, and much of this applies to other chocolate factories.

Several things about Jouvay impressed me. First, how the trees are grown with other spice and fruit bearing trees which I believe is the key to the unique flavor the bars have. My husband and I had never tasted any chocolate like it. And we couldn’t get enough of it on our trip. If you ever go, watch out because if you’re a chocolate lover this might be a bit dangerous! But I digress. The second thing I love about Jouvay is how the company is set up with the cocoa farmers being majority owners and manufacturers. They value fair trade, sustainability for the environment and stability for the cocoa farmers. Our tour guide was friendly and passionate about the process he showed us. They had a cafe for chocolate drinks and a shop of bars including some with nutmeg (the island is the second largest producer of it in the world), ginger and nibs. It was a dream.

This one experience and many others on the island make me smile when I think back to myself ten years ago as a college kid listening to my creative writing professor tell us to explore the world and travel to open our mind to new things to write about. Never did I ever think I’d visit a rain forest area and be looking at cocoa pods growing on a tree, or have my hair french braided on the beach by a Grenadian and come home with that new style and a pair of copper cocoa pod earrings!

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Lately I’ve been enjoying the album Nation of Two by Vance Joy and particularly “Alone With Me” as with my husband I’ve been doing things I never thought we’d do, and I try to remember there’s no reason to put limits on myself as I’ve done far too often in life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All At Once

Most times in my life fall into two types. In one, I’m standing in what can’t even be called a stream, just a few inches of rare water covering my toes and not reaching the tops of my ankles. I’m squishing my feet in silt, trying to create some movement where it feels stagnant, and wondering if it will rain.

In the other, I fall over a cliff, pushed by a deluge that creates a mighty waterfall that didn’t exist before, and into a deep pool, where I am then pounded with a storm as I try to swim to shore. Sound familiar? There rarely seems to be a middle ground.

Right now I’m more in the deluge stage. Please excuse my hiatus for the last three weeks! In ten years I might laugh and say this was all nothing compared to the current state. But I’m not there yet, so this is something. My husband the other day mentioned that so many things were happening all at once. I agreed. It feels like this song.

 

One of the telltale signs for me of things happening all at once was this. Before our first trip of the month, our honeymoon, I reminded my husband that we needed to plan our first trip together abroad (two months away) soon after coming home. When we returned, went back to work, unpacked things in our new space bit by bit, I tried to plan more for our trip to China. We took a weekend trip last week and I felt more behind. Then, I realized we were going out of the country to a tiny island elsewhere first (next week!) and thus couldn’t apply for our Chinese visas until we returned from that trip with our passports. We hadn’t even planned any kind of itinerary for our island visit yet.

And I hoped to do more unpacking and organizing and setting things up in our new home before this next trip. How much will get done remains to be seen. It’s lucky I’m with someone who makes me feel like no one has ever before, and I feel more encouraged about being a go-getter for a while even while everything is all at once.

 

Better and Brighter

A Very Small Flicker by Aubri Wilson

You gave me a day, when I only asked for an hour.

I gave you a spark, but couldn’t sustain it.

As weak as I felt, you made me think I could be strong.

But I held back in fear, and watched you slip away.

You remained in the foreground of my thoughts.

But if I was to reach out to touch you,

You became a diaphanous specter.

I hid behind smoke screens and dust,

All the time wishing you to see me clearly.

In tears I turned and walked away,

Softly treading the well-worn path of defeat.

But, you grabbed my hand, and asked me to stay.

And then I had hope again to create a flame

From a very small flicker you wouldn’t let die.

 

No matter what I do, I can’t seem to think of writing about much right now besides something relating to what’s going to happen in six days. I’m getting married! For years I’ve looked forward to the day. I thought it would come, but I didn’t know when. A few years ago I wrote the poem above, imagining a future event I might experience, and how wonderful the part when someone would grab my hand and ask me to stay. In some ways I feel like I’ve experienced fairly closely the road this poem outlines. In the midst of many to dos, it’s nice to reflect on the way I’ve come.

Certainly there are ups and downs, but I do believe if you try to be better during both kinds of times, you will, and it’s a joyful thing to find someone doing the same who you can get better with. Better and brighter!

 

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

My Next Book!

My vision for my upcoming book of poetry began just over a year ago, funnily enough in my office at work. And it came in a surprising way. Several people invited me to be a speaker for an event that is no longer. At first I just shook my head but after five or so suggested it, I wondered what I’d speak about if I accepted in future. I was talking with a colleague at the time about this and then I said to her that if I was going to speak, it’d probably relate to art and writing. And then I said something to the effect of, “And it’d be better if I’d already published a book at that point.”

Well, plans began and shifted several times. I published Beside Them in Nature’s Mirror first and then planned on my second book as a compilation of some of the general poetry I’ve written over the last four years. It’s coming closer! I had the title and images for the cover in my mind develop many months ago and now I can say that I have cover images ready to create the final cover design! It was so exciting to see the vision in my mind come alive in this way. I can’t even describe that feeling. And this is a tease, because I’m not ready for a cover reveal yet so you can see.

With wedding planning lately timelines may be pushed back a bit, but I will put updates on my second book here as we go along. However, to give you an idea, here are sections the poems in this book will fall under:

 

Love and the Lack Thereof

Musical Pictures

Faith

Deep in Thought

Imagination in Flight

 

In the meantime, while planning and preparing this book in the midst of life, I’ll try to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly. Thanks for putting it that way Micah. That’s about the best we can ever do.

It’s Going to Take a Lot

You know those days you just feel a bit deadened after work? One day last year like this I found a lively piano cover of “Africa” by Toto. I thought Peter Bence’s usage of the piano was brilliant, how he tapped it, drummed it, punched it, plucked it. I liked his use of loops, and I loved how obvious it was that he was so into what he was doing, and feeling the music deeply. His movements to some may seem exaggerated in the way he throws back his hands after playing a key sometimes, and how he moves his head and even bounces a bit on the bench. I wouldn’t say it’s so exaggerated though. It’s just how he feels it. And the fact that he’s barefoot seems to be a way to be more connected with the music as well.

It’s quite a popular song, with covers abounding. And the lyrics are something else. I never knew quite what the song was about until reading about the history here. It made me think of how before I lived in China, I read so much about the country that I started falling in love with it even before I experienced any of it. And then I lived there, and some dream I didn’t fully realize I had started coming true. It’s difficult to describe how I felt there. The idea came on over time, and when I looked back, it seemed to begin in the 7th grade, when I made friends with a girl from China. It felt a bit crazy to travel so far, and sometimes I couldn’t believe I’d dared to go there, but it felt so right. It felt sometimes like I imagine Peter Bence must have felt making his cover. I watched some English teachers like me leave early, but I told myself it’d take a lot to dissuade me, even when things became tough. I love how this cover of “Africa” below starts with the line, “It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you”, putting the focus on the beginning of the chorus even more.

There were notions I held onto firmly when I came home from China, though at times they seemed implausible. It’d take a lot for those notions to leave, and for them to be realized. Some of that is clear through this poem I wrote last September.

Hopes and Dreams
by Aubri Wilson


These hopes and dreams

Of errant things

Doodles floating in my brain

Bounded still, and cut in pain

How many loved you?

One-and-a-half

Truly?

No

Half and half




These hopes and dreams

Of filling things

Show me please

Where is the cream?

 

One such notion was what I told everyone in China who asked me to stay longer or when I would come back. My answer was that I’d come back when I had a husband to bring. Now seven years later, I’ll make that a true statement. I’d given up on waiting and planned to go myself but then I met my now fiance, and when much still hadn’t happened, I asked him to go with me. He said yes. And guys, I’m telling you, I found the cream.

Without Consulting Me

I took some time looking back last week, as I encouraged in my post two weeks ago. Did you miss me? Well, I missed you, and this. I hadn’t missed a week before, but let’s just say life got raw and real without consulting me first. Neglect was not my intention, however, a nasty virus took over for a little over a week and in the midst of fighting that while still keeping appointments, and showing up, and supporting my fiance, I didn’t get around to my usual post. Okay, I’ll move on from excuses.

Some weeks ago I hinted that food poems might pop up here. Yet I haven’t been inspired to write any really. With figuring out the changes in my diet after discovery of food allergies, I’ve been a little overwhelmed. It’s not as bad now that I’ve come through the first month. So far in thinking more about food than before, planning, and wondering and feeling stumped sometimes, and very nostalgic and occasionally a little bit sad, I haven’t wanted to think more about it in order to write about it. That’s a little disappointing because I can tell you that there has been a lot of emotion around this journey. And I love turning emotion into poetry. But perhaps the time is not yet.

I will try and be patient because in time I’ll discover new ideas and perhaps be inspired to write more about this in future. Two weeks ago I had to be patient and recall that like attracts like. And so I saw it happen that the busier I got, the busier I got. On the 24th last month, I wrote about the frustration of being sick when everything I had going on was happening. I was particularly disappointed when a colorful quinoa bowl I made (pictured above) was not enjoyable because it was painful to eat (due to the aforementioned virus). At the time it felt like I’d be sick forever, but I feel very much recovered now. I simply had to wait. When life doesn’t consult you, and it’s unpleasant for a bit, just remember, you’ll get through it in time. You will.

 

Without Consulting Me
by Aubri Wilson


When what I said I didn’t have time for

Happens without consulting me

When I want comforting

But can’t eat my comfort food

When I thought I’d let your kisses be my dessert

Yet I’m sick, so I’d better not get too close

When there’s so much to talk about

And my throat aches and I’m too tired for it

When what I want and work for

May not happen how I desire

When what I know I need

Will take longer than expected

Because I need something else first

That’s when patience calls me

And I decide whether to let her in

Looking Back

Image by Olivia Gunnel Photography. See her website here!

 

Life is, for many, often fast-paced, with myriads of things to accomplish and tick off the list that is ever-growing and expanding. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and forget to relax a little, to look back, for a moment at least, at what led you to where you are now. Sometimes we want to forget the past. Sometimes we feel too busy or forward-focused to reflect. While we don’t want to get stuck in looking back in nostalgia or perhaps regret, reviewing your path helps you determine what you want and need to do in the now and for the future.

I often have a hard time slowing down. In the last few years I’ve become increasing focused on goals and trying to use time intentionally, although I have a long way to go with this. The poem below was a fun use of imaginative imagery for what the man who is now my betrothed (ha, that sounds so deliciously old-fashioned in my old soul’s brain) has often encouraged me to do. I wrote the poem about three months ago, but now I look back and see that it rings even more true.

Without crossing too far into my personal life, here’s a bit of background on the poem. Back on June 2nd, 2018 I had the privilege of singing with a choir in Carnegie Hall and spent time in New York City for the first time in my life. Wow, was that exciting!

The same week my family was dealing with a new crisis which has changed and continued to impact our lives to now. On May 30th this year, my younger brother I went to Manhattan with (and I knew it was likely the first and only trip we’d ever take together) got married. While still in Manhattan, we were invited to Italy to sing with the same group in 2020 but both realized we had no idea what we’d be doing in a year from then and both wondered if maybe, possibly, one or both of us would be married by then.

Well, a year after our concert, the most adoring, uninfluenced (by others’ opinions), considerate, brave, crazy, challenge-accepting man proposed to me. Yes, that’s us up above. So while there are new priorities and things to prepare for, he keeps reminding me to “take off my shoes”.

 

Take Off My Shoes by Aubri Wilson


I just want to take off my shoes

And rest more than I’ve allowed myself

To in a year

I can’t believe the anniversary’s almost here

Of the summer that made me smile in awe

And also made me cry over loss

When I did not know I stood at the brink

Of a mighty change, and cycles of whirling

Upside down and around




But I did not have you last year

And if you’re here, don’t leave

If you’re here, please hold me a while

And I will be better

Give me some honey, and I’ll revive

Almost, I apologize for the crazy I brought

But you say I’m the best luck you’ve had

And tell me to take off my shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching and Waiting

In college I read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. What impressed me most was this quote:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

I read it and reread it and thought to myself, this is the worst kind of danger, one I’m deep in right now. I considered studying biology to become a geneticist, and psychology like my father had done, and also music. But of all the options, I decided on English with a creative writing focus. And occasionally I wondered if I’d made the wrong choice, but then I’d bat that thought away. I chose it, and due to that alone, it was right (at least in this case). As I’d hear and read about opportunities for clubs and study abroad and seminars and meetings and concerts and volunteering I’d fancifully think of and then choose none of them. Part of this was picturing barriers that may not have been as large as I thought, but a lot of it was simple indecision.

The further I got in school, the more I realized I needed to just pick and try things. And I did. I auditioned for and joined a women’s choir (the first choir outside of church I’d ever sung in), took two dance classes, and did a service-learning internship at the Boys and Girls Club, where I figured out how to teach piano to kids who struggled to pay attention and didn’t have an instrument to practice on at home.

When I was in my senior year and afraid of not knowing what I wanted to do when I graduated, I met with a career counselor several times, who looked at options with me and one day offhandedly remarked that if I ever wanted to be crazy I could try Teach for America or the Peace Corps. I laughed, thinking in no way was I cut out for something like that, then a few months later decided to move to China to teach English. Ha.

Choosing can be difficult and searching and researching options for your next venture in life can leave you unsure, confused, overwhelmed, anxious, or even paralyzed. But taking a step forward helps determine the way much better than hiding your head between your knees. Every choice I’ve made and loved started out with discovery. Once I’d made the choice, I was in, and at some point it was like I was moving along to my own soundtrack. You know, like the way you might feel if one day you were told your life was one big crazy musical.

“Wait, have those violins been playing in the background all along?” you’d ask.

Yep, you just didn’t see them hiding in those bushes,” would come the reply.

And the trumpets??” 

They’ve been following you around since you were born you know.”

“Oh, wow!”

So if you haven’t found your song yet, this poem is for you:

Searching for my song
by Aubri Wilson

I'm searching for my song

Still straining to hear

Waiting for the one I feel

Undeniably in my veins and bones

The song of right now

Which touches my senses

Nearly like déjà vu

And yet melodies seemingly familiar

May almost, but not quite do the trick

I’m searching for my song

Wondering if I missed it

While not being open to listen

Hearing words but assigning

To them the wrong notes

Maybe I can try again

If I close my eyes and reflect

Maybe it’s true that a few sweet notes

In duples or triples at a time

Or even one by one

Dilatorily crawling along

Can tell me if it’s my song

That I’ll love

With a beautiful line

Note by note by note

All the way through

If there’s silence

Maybe there are just

A few more measures of rest

To wait through

So if I’m searching for my song still

I believe I’ll find my song soon

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