For Sale: Part Of My Soul

Why my writing matters.

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Sometimes I wonder what people think when I say I write poetry.

Cute little greeting card verses? No.
Lofty, unintelligible, old-fashioned rhymes about flowers and oil paintings? No.
Trite rhymes that talk about love and sunshine? No.

I have to admit, I’m very tired of the “That’s nice, dear!” kind of responses.

I’m also more than weary of the sensation that I have to just about stand under a red light on a dimly lit street to get people to take my poetry seriously.

I’m not talking about my readers here. I’m talking about people I interact with in my daily life, be they co-workers, acquaintances, family members or friends. Other than a very small number of individuals within those circles – for whose support I am ever grateful – it feels like most people in my life prefer to pretend I’ve never written a word.

I know they’re not my main audience. I don’t expect them all to love everything I write. In all honesty, most of them have never even picked any of my work up to read it.

The question remains, though: Why aren’t they more willing to support me? Do I mean so little them that what matters to me is of no value, either?

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I have commented on numerous occasions that there is a part of my soul in every poem. My poems speak my pain, my love, my joy, my life lessons, my resolutions, my fears, my anger, my insomnia, my restlessness and my contentment. Some of them are the very essence of my desperation to survive and my will to live. Some of them could only be more “life and death” if they were actually written in my blood.

Do people not understand the bravery that it takes for an author to put their words on paper and unveil them in front of the whole world? That kind of vulnerability is, quite honestly, terrifying.

I experience this far more profoundly with my poetry than I do with my fiction. It’s far more personal, and it’s definitely more revealing of what’s in my own heart and mind than any of the stories I write. That’s why I am so committed to crafting each poem to say exactly what I want it to, in a way that is beautiful to read, and with careful attention to the music and structure of each poem. If I’m putting my soul out there for other people to read, it’s going to be the best that I can make it.

My readers tell me that my poems encourage and move them. The ultimate satisfaction as a poet is knowing that my words matter to the people who read them. They get it. And thank God they do, or else I’d be feeling more dejected than ever.

The other weirdly encouraging thing is that this isn’t something that only I experience. These are thoughts and feelings that are remarkably common among the writing community, and I have come to learn that they are common to all creative people, whatever medium they work in.

It’s why I am so thankful for my community of fellow authors and poets and other creative people who encourage and celebrate one another’s creativity and the courage that goes with it.

It’s why I am doubly grateful for my “additional family” that are known as the Indie Fabs – they’re my posse, my constant encouragers, and my soft place to fall when things are hard.

It’s why I am doubly grateful for those few family members and friends who support everything I do, read everything I create, and cheer me on relentlessly.

It’s not overstating things to say that I am still here because of my writing, and I am still writing because of them.

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A One-Off Inscription.

There is more truth than most people realise in the jokes about authors killing people off in their books.

Yesterday I signed a paperback copy of my latest book for my best friend. I have written something personal and unique to her and our friendship in her copy of every one of my books.

Yesterday’s effort was by far my favourite.

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You should understand that this is not a promise I’m willing to make to just anyone. Anyone who has read ‘A Poet’s Curse’, for example, will have worked that out very quickly.

Jokes are frequently made about authors putting people in a book and killing them, but most don’t realise just how satisfying and therapeutic that can be.

Oh, we change the name and some minor details, but the important thing is that we know who we’re finishing off, even if the rest of the world doesn’t. And you know, it is important to conceal the true identities of our victims because, in the end, nobody wants it to backfire or get ugly.

I have, in fact, had a number of people ask me if a particular poem or story was about them. Rather than confirming or denying anything, I’ve gone the “self-examination” route. Each of them received the same answer: “If you think that’s a possibility, I suggest you to take a long, hard look at yourself and how you treat people. It might be time to do some repairs.

As an author, I can have my macabre little cake and eat it, too. And as an extra reward for good behaviour, I get to keep my best friend. Bonus!

Square Peg, Round Hole.

A response to intolerance.

I’ve never understood why people feel the need to pressure someone to conform. Why are they so intimidated by someone daring to think for themselves, pursue their own dreams and make choices according to their own preferences?

And what I really don’t get is how they can say they love someone and yet reject particular qualities that makes that person who they are.

These are the thoughts that have contributed to a poem I finished recently.

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The imagery is macabre and horrifying. The message is dark. None of that will surprise anyone who knows my writing.

I won’t discuss the details of the situations that led to it being written. Suffice to say that there are people in various “circles” in which I live and move who have, at one time or another, exerted significant pressure on me to be less individual and more compliant with the way they like or want things to be.

I have some bad news for them.

I will not submit to their peer pressure. As adults, they should know better.
I will not moderate my politics, my social conscience, or my rampant individuality for them.
I will not be submissive or silent in response to their bad behaviour, intolerance and hypocrisy.

If they don’t like it, they can go and boil their heads.

Of course, that’s all excellent news for me. In the immortal words of the Monty Python team, “I’m not dead yet!”

 

 

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The Story of My Life.

If a book were to be written of your life, what would the title be?

This question was asked recently in one of the authors’ groups I belong to on Facebook:

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

The answer came to me in a blinding flash of little-appreciated genius.

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

Alternate title: Crap That Wasn’t Meant To Happen.

Precis: A woman goes through life generally trying to do the right thing, but situations and people keep backfiring on her. This is further complicated by her own big mouth and her failure to learn the basics of human nature.

Tone: Initially comical, tending toward darkness and cynicism as the story progresses.

Chapter titles:

  1. How Not To Fit In… Ever
  2. How To Lose A Friend, Simply By Being Yourself
  3. Dairy Farming: The Idyllic Life
  4. How To Injure Both Hands At The Same Time
  5. How To Lose A Friend By Standing Up For What You Believe In
  6. Be A Teacher: They Only Work From 8.30 to 4, And Get All Those Holidays!
  7. The Sneaky Ways Awful People Conceal What They Really Are
  8. Apparently, I’m A Slow Learner
  9. How To Get A Tropical Disease 2500km South Of The Tropics
  10. Fibromyalgia: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  11. No, They Will Never Understand That ‘Introvert’ and ‘Shy’ Are Different Things
  12. A Published Author: How Nice! You Must Be Rich.
  13. Oh, You’re An Author? I Don’t Read.
  14. Needles In The Haystack: There Are Actually Nice People Out There
  15. ‘One In A Million’: A Ridiculously Optimistic Ratio
  16. How To Get A Knife Out Of Your Back
  17. Why You Should Never Give That Knife To Someone Else
  18. When Adding Extended Family On Social Media Backfires
  19. Old Friends Can Turn On You, Too!
  20. Why They Can Post Whatever They Want To On Facebook, But You Can’t
  21. Why Doing Something Nice For Someone Is Often A Really Bad Idea
  22. The Block Function: How To Slam That Door Well And Truly Shut
  23. How To Offend Your Family And Friends By Succeeding
  24. Why You Should Never Assume That People Are As Sincere As You Are
  25. Vulnerability Explained: Discovering You Are An Empath
  26. The Achilles Tendon: ‘Heel’ and ‘Heal’ Are Not The Same Thing
  27. Still Hobbling? There Goes Your Other Ankle.

I know. It will never sell.

Marketing that kind of stuff is exhausting – I should know.  It is, after all, the story of my life.

One Door I Won’t Slam Shut.

A reflection on the experience of being completely, utterly rejected.

In the course of my life, I’ve had – as we all have – friendships and relationships that have faltered, grown distant and faded away.

A couple of times, I have had someone say to me that they never want to talk to me again. Once, and only once, it has been my decision to completely shut off contact. On those three occasions, I have had no difficulty slamming that door and leaving it that way. Nobody does a door slam like an INFJ, after all.

Last night, I read the equivalent of those words again. “Nice knowing you. I won’t ever talk to you again.”

It’s different this time. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could slam that door.

What I really want to do is reach through that door, grab her and pull her back through it. I want to hug her, and see for myself that she’s okay, and tell her I love her. And I can’t do any of those things.

I’m locked in by her decision. She’s 16 and has asserted her independence and her right to do whatever she wants. Check mate.

As with many of the decisions she has made lately, I have no choice but to wait and see what happens. I do hope that she will come to understand exactly what it is she has asked for – sooner rather than later – and decide that it’s not what she wants at all. In all honesty, I don’t know if that’s realistic or not.

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I am not her mother, but as her “other mother”, I have lived with her and loved her as my own since she was nine years old. Any influence I may have had over her or her decisions in the past is well and truly a thing of the past. She is quite obviously able and free to decide who she wants to have in her life. What she doesn’t realise is that my care and concern for her do not shut off simply because she wills it, as though it were some kind of emotional tap. She doesn’t get to decide that the time we spent together means nothing. And she cannot stop me, or the rest of her family, from loving her, missing her, or worrying about her.

Rejection is never an easy thing to experience. It really, really hurts. Even so, I know that my hurt is nothing like what her mother is experiencing— it’s a mere fraction of that.

Today has been an emotionally messy day in a succession of similarly messy and fraught weeks. I know we will get through this somehow. I have to keep telling myself that.

Like everything else life has thrown at me, I will face this head on. Maybe I can’t change anything, but I will not let this drag me down and defeat me.

Expect more poetry, though. It’s the only therapy I can afford.

Reciprocity: Magic or Myth?

A short lesson in how to be a positive and encouraging person.

I want to start by saying that the intention of this post is not to present myself as some icon of virtue or being any better than anyone else: I am definitely neither. But there are some things I am good at, and one of those things is supporting and encouraging other Indie authors.

I have always been very clear about the fact that nothing I do in the Indie Author community is done with the hope of receiving anything in return. I am more than happy to buy and review the books I do, share posts, help answer questions, and encourage others as much as I can.

You might be tempted to assume that, as a result, I have a veritable army of people ready to fall over themselves to do similar things for me. Well, that would be nice!

In fact, that’s very rarely how it works. More often than not, those who are generous with their time and energy receive very little in return. That’s life: I accept that, as do others I know in the same situation, and keep going.

There seems to be a groundswell of folk, however, who have taken it upon themselves to resent others that they perceive as being “more successful” or “more popular” than them, and to insist that they’re not going to do anything for anyone who hasn’t done anything for them.

Just last week there was a situation where a friend tagged some people in a Facebook post to ensure that her post was seen, and didn’t some of those tag-ees complain! One of them took the opportunity to launch a personal attack and completely degraded the conversation into a most hurtful state of affairs. Another had plenty of very demeaning things to say, not just about the friend in question but also those who sprang to her defence.

Well, isn’t it a good thing we don’t all work that way? What sort of a world would that be. where we all carried on like six-year-olds in the playground?

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Folks, that is not how we Indie.

Assuming that someone will share your post because you shared theirs will sometimes work out that way, but often not. Hoping that someone will buy your book because you bought theirs is not at all realistic.

There’s one thing you can be sure of, though: If an author – or anyone else, for that matter – is horrible to people, those on the receiving end are not going to forget that. There is absolutely zero chance that they will share the post, buy the book, or attend a Facebook event for someone who has abused or belittled them. In addition, the chances of their friends doing any of those things are remote. Tearing someone else down on social media— or anywhere— is entirely counterproductive.

As Indie authors, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying to find readers, sell books, write the next number one bestseller, and get noticed by the universe. We’re all tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, blogging and whatever-else-ing we can in the hope of putting our books, or whatever it is we’re doing to make our way in the world, in front of appreciative eyes who want what we’ve got to offer. We’d all like to be able to quit our jobs and pay the bills with our royalties.

2015-11-27 10.51.43 Choose The PositiveBut here’s the thing: this isn’t a competition. Readers will always be interested in another book, another genre, another great read. There is absolutely no need to snuff out someone else’s candle so that yours can burn. We make more light and warmth together than we can on our own. This is something that my friends, especially the Indie Fabs, and I have experienced and proven time and time again.

Encouragement costs nothing. It doesn’t even take much time or energy. If someone asks you for one or two clicks of a mouse button that doesn’t end in costing you money, where’s the harm? If someone does something praiseworthy, commend them. If someone has a great cover, or hits the bestseller list, or writes a great book, congratulate them… and then go one step further by telling others. Who knows? You may even find that they do return a favour one day, or you might discover that someone has done something for you out of the blue, just because they can.

Reciprocity as most people perceive it is a myth. But initiating goodwill by being positive and encouraging? That’s magic. And that is how we Indie.

Opposites Attract.

This is what happens when you marry a book nerd.

We live in a small town where my husband knows absolutely everyone.

This morning as we drove down our road, he commented on a block of land that sold recently.

Him: Somebody named Finch bought that block.

Me: Was it Atticus?

Him, suddenly doubtful of his local knowledge: I don’t know.

Me: Never mind. Probably wasn’t.

This is what happens when you don’t read anything but live with a book nerd. Poor bloke.

Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.

IMG_0035I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.

I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.

From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.

By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.

It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.

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I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.

I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.

My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.

My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.

Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.

It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her.  So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.

 

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Seriously, Universe… What Am I Doing Wrong?

Apparently, I never learn.

Promo X Cold Shoulder Plain

Only on rare occasions am I ever tempted to feel as though I might just get on top of things.

Other days, like today, I realise yet again just how little most people value me, or anything I do.

Seriously, universe, what am I doing wrong?

I work hard, I’m a loyal friend, and I care more about people than most of them will ever realise. It’s true that I don’t come in the smallest package with the sleekest, glossiest wrapping, but if I’m given the choice of someone who “fits an image” or someone who will both help me and defend me or die trying, I know which person I’d pick to have on my team. I’m not perfect, but who is?

So, tonight I’ve spent a few hours trying to think through and process how I feel and why, In that process, the words of one of my own poems came back to me. I wrote ‘Cold Shoulder’ on a previous occasion when other people’s behaviour left me feeling a similar way.

COLD SHOULDER

Many years I’ve lived on the Cold Shoulder
An inhospitable, stony place –
Where there’s little but frosty silence,
No allowance for comfort or grace.

The chill wind of indifference
Cuts the air without making a sound,
Skittering icy flakes of apathy
And leaves’ skeletons over the ground.

A fine specimen of resilience,
I’m a fine diamond in the rough,
A survivor of hostile conditions
Where life is invariably tough.

I suffer no delusions of love –
For that loss I have frequently wept;
But knowing I don’t matter at all
Is the hardest of truths to accept.

Weary of relentless erosion,
I implore the stone lords for reprieve,
But there is no reward for devotion
To those in whom you don’t believe.

Let them preach not to me of salvation
When they hold all the power in their hands
To inflict such complete desolation –
One could never meet all their demands.

So I remain here on the Shoulder
In this treacherous, heartless place:
Although frigid, this landscape is honest,
And each rock only has the one face.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

 

This is not new territory for me. I have survived every other “kick in the head”, and I’ll survive this one, because I refuse to lay down, shut up and die. And I’ll make all seven people who do actually care about me proud in the process… again.

It does make me wonder, though, why I fall into that same trap of assuming that anyone else ever actually tries to see my worth, or cares about it.
Apparently, I never learn.

 

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‘Cold Shoulder’ is published in ‘The Passing Of The Night’
by Joanne Van Leerdam.

Songs and Poetry

Songs and Poetry: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

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In an earlier post, I referred to song lyrics as being a form of poetry.

There are many songwriters who write deeply poetic songs. Elton John and Bernie Taupin, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Billy Joel— they are among the greats. Today, singer/songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry are among the artists whose songs contain some incredibly powerful poetry.

While it might be fun to come up with more examples, I have no desire to try to list them all – I don’t even think that’s really possible. Chances are, some who make my list might not be included in yours. I just named a few to get you thinking.

While many songs rely on a catchy hook or a beat that makes people want to dance, it’s the poetry of others that gives them the power to move a person emotionally, or to profoundly affect someone’s thoughts and actions.

Consider the influence John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ had on an entire generation. Similarly, Simon & Garfunkel touched hearts and lives worldwide with the soaring power of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, while the poignant emotion of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” or “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is still hard to resist.

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but poetic songs seem to attach themselves to part of my soul and remain there, indelible and timeless.

This line of thinking led me to trying to work out which song contains my favourite “song poetry”. That’s actually a really tough question, so I decided I’d listen to a few of my favourites and try to narrow it down.
A week later, I think I have an answer. (Disclaimer: this answer is likely to change at any moment.)

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This song is a brilliant extended metaphor about identity and finding one’s place in the world. The contrast between a rock or an island with the vulnerability of being human, and the paradox of isolation being a form of sanctuary, are ideas which should be jarring, yet they are delivered with such finesse that we’re left thinking, “I totally get that!” They’re ideas and images we all understand, and the poet communicates uses a depth of emotion and human experience to say things that many other people could never bring themselves to verbalise.

The clincher for me is the final verse. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” That’s exactly what I do! I retreat into fictional worlds. I write stories and poems that help me to deal with life. I use poetry to crystallise my thoughts and feelings, and use my writing to communicate what it’s hard to say any other way.

As I was reflecting on that final verse, a poem I wrote last year came to mind. I’m not suggesting that I think I’m as good as Paul Simon, but it does explore similar ideas of hiding behind – or within – the books and words I have written.

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It was written during a time of great personal conflict and turbulence, and expresses the refuge I found in my writing. In different poems written during this period, I portrayed myself at different times as a fighter, as a hostage, and as a traveler. At no time did I portray myself as willing to surrender to the storm that raged around me, nor to anything else that tried to do me in. In my writing, I was strong. I was safe.

When I went back to read that poem as part of the process of writing this post, I was stunned to discover the similarity of the ideas to those explored by Paul Simon, even though my poem was neither based on nor drawn from his lyrics.

I was also confronted by the warning of the last two lines. I have to take care when I feel or experience something, or when I write something powerful, that I can’t afford to unpack and live there. I still have to live my life and be who I am, and I still have to deal with whatever life throws at me.

After all, I am neither a rock nor an island, no matter how much I might sometimes wish I were.


‘Safe’ is published in my book, ‘The Passing Of The Night’.

 

 

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