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Over at Guys Lit Wire

Today my review for Guys Lit Wire is up. This month, it's a review of the new graphic novel, SPILL ZONE, by Scott Westerfeld (yes, the same guy who wrote Uglies and Pretties).

Short version: It's great.
For the longer version, click here.

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This month, my poetry sisters and I were writing poems to a prompt offered by Laura Purdie Salas. We were asked to pick a month or season that we especially like and write a "things to do if" poem.

Here's mine:
Things to Do if You Are October

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.
from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Whisper in a cool voice
that sweeps between
the warmth of
September’s sunsets,
I am coming—
don’t forget.

Paint the leaves
outrageous hues
then fling them, flotsam,
you wayward Picasso,
so much crackling wreckage
to rake into piles.

Offer ripe apples and
plump orange pumpkins
for human consumption
in butters and pies,
your Baby Bears,
your Northern Spies.

Swing between
seasons—you don’t
need a reason—
one day offer winter
with snowflakes and frost,
the next day the glow
and heat of summer,
the glimmer of autumn,
when bright things are lost

The lengthening shadows
creep out from the living,
some say that the shades
of the dead come to call.
October is fall.

Here is where you can find the other poems:


The rest of today's Poetry Friday posts can be found at Jama's Alphabet Soup by clicking the box:

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Recent reads

Of late, I've been on a romance binge. I finally finished the Pink Carnation series, The Lure of the Moonflower. I put off reading the last novel for two reasons - one, I thought things had sort of gotten a bit silly in Miss Gwen's novel, almost as if the author's heart were no longer in it, and two, I nevertheless didn't want the series to end. I continue to believe that perhaps the author's heart was no longer in the series, and was only somewhat satisfied with the final novel, though I'm glad that folks got their happily-ever-afters. It wasn't as crisp and flushed-out as the earlier books were, character-wise. Alas. Nevertheless, the first few books remain among my favorite re-reads, along with Turnip's book.

I've also read quite a number of novels by Eloisa James, Julia Quinn, Sarah Maclean, and Lisa Kleypas. This is what happens when you don't buy romance novels for a couple of years, and lots of yummy books come out and are just waiting for you to catch them up. Also, I never read the Bridgerton books by Julia Quinn in the first place, and there are quite a lot of them waiting for me.

Excellent writing, lovely period details, feisty heroines, reluctant and/or enthusiastic heroes . . . what's not to love?

I am also in the process of reading a biography of Charlotte Brontë, A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman, which is really well-done. And I'm reading Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis, which is a passion project by my friend Jeannine Atkins.

What are you reading?

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Today has started out rainy - it may end up warm and sunny. Such are the vagaries of April.

I thought I'd share an original poem today. In fact, it's the first poem in my chapbook, The Universe Comes Knocking, published by Maverick Duck Press in 2015. If you'd like, you can order it here. But I digress.

The poem is about Kismet, my sweet/not-so-sweet kitty. That's her on the right, in a box, as is her wont.

The Cat's Pajamas

are the footie kind –
white footies, to be exact,
with scratchy bits for traction.

Their crazy stripes –
entirely improbable –
are rendered in an impractical
thick, fuzzy fabric:
frighteningly hard to wash,
entirely inappropriate
on a hot summer's night.

The cat is not contrite.

Like a bedraggled buyer
at a discount superstore,
she goes everywhere
in her nightwear,
never caring what
neighbors think,
or if that pouchy bit
makes her look fat.

Sometimes it's good
to be the cat.

You can find the rest of the Poetry Friday roundup over at "The Opposite of Indifference" by clicking the box below.

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This month, my poetry sisters and I are responding to a poem selected by Sara Lewis Holmes - a lovely poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:

You, darkness, of whom I am born---

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations---just as they are.

It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me

I believe in the night.

---Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Sara's "rules" were that we needed to respond to this poem in some way - echoes or talk back or whatever. Here is what I came up with, after pondering Rilke's poem. As you will see, it borrows from several sources, from Adlai Stevenson to Robert Frost to Harry Dixon Loes.

Better to light a candle?
Or to wrap the darkness
like a blanket--
covering, dampening,

No, the dark is too oppressive
without pinprick stars, blinks
of fireflies, glowing coals,
however dim.

I have been one acquainted with the night,
and I reject it as a place of darkness.

I choose to let it shine.

Here's where you can find the poems by my poetry sisters, responding to Rilke:


And here's where you can find the Poetry Friday roundup:

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Self-care 101: Comfort reading

When the going gets tough, the tough . . . read. At least that's my experience, and it appears true for many of my friends and relatives, not all of whom are writers. Though now that I think of it, most of them are creatives. (Then again, aren't we all?)

Specifically, when the going gets tough, I reach for comfort reads. These fall into two camps for me: romance novels by writers I adore, whether I've read the specific novel before or not, and re-reads of novels that I love.

If you're curious about the romance novels, my favorite writers include Eloisa James, Sarah Maclean, Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn, and Julie James. Comfort re-reads include books I loved as a teen, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, plus books I found as an adult, including all six of the finished novels by Jane Austen, but especially Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility and Persuasion (the other two have challenging characters for me that make them entertaining, but not necessarily comforting). I read children's books that I discovered as an adult, which would have been among my favorites as a tween/teen, including the Harry Potter series and the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett.

I also read books related to creativity that help to inspire me, including On Writing by Stephen King, Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and others.

Feeding the spirit with books that comfort and inspire is wonderful for self-care. It distracts from whatever is unpleasant at present, taking you into another space and mood. And if one is reading, one cannot be refreshing social media incessantly or staring at a news channel. And isn't filling the well and feeling a bit better a more beneficial use of time than generating stress and despair?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a novel to finish reading . . .

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Self-care 101: Kelly's proven sleep trick

Ever lie awake with your mind stuck in a loop? (Seriously - it's called looping. And nearly every woman I know has experienced it.) Sometimes it's that thing from work. Sometimes it's a thing you said/did or didn't say/do that continues to gnaw at you. Sometimes it's not even that big of a deal, really, but your mind keeps spinning it around. And around. And around. Eventually, the sky starts to get lighter. Or maybe you get up and read or do something else.

There is another way. And I'm gonna tell you what it is. (I've told this to one of my aunts, whom it helped, and to at least two friends, for whom it also worked.)

The way I figure it, your brain is in a version of panic mode. It really wants to solve problems for you. Your brain is also a bit of a jerk, so it continues to spin the same problem with "but what if, but what if, but what if."

What I do when this arises (and it still does from time to time, though not nearly as much as it did when I was working full-time) is to assign my brain a different task. Instead of letting it flounder in quicksand of its own making, I ask it to solve a real-life, but low-stress, problem. For instance: If I were to redecorate my bathroom, what options would I want to have in there? Or if I want to reorganize my bookshelves, how would I like to do that?

If/when my brain tries to skip back to the other issue, I just move it back to the lower-stress issue.

One of two things happens: I end up planning a new bathroom or bookcase or whatever, or, more likely, I fall asleep. Because all the stress hormones have dropped off and in their absence, I get bored and get some rest.

I hope you'll try it, and get back to me on it.

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A quick check with healthcare workers or media that does health reporting will establish that stress causes health issues. In my case, exposure to constant high levels of stress (back then I was a single mother working ungodly hours as a litigation attorney) led to my rheumatoid arthritis. A couple years later, I also developed fibromyalgia.

Even if things don't get to that point for you, I'm willing to bet that stress messes with your sleep. Or your digestion. Or your back - pretty sure your shoulders and necks are familiar with tension caused by stress. If you're anything like me, you could probably break boards on your upper back, it's so tight and tense.

As I was lying awake in the middle of the night last night, feeling nauseated (something I ate disagreed with me), I started thinking about this post. And I got to thinking that while all self-care may not be stress relief (more on that in another post), all stress relief is self-care.

Then, in the middle of the night, I got to thinking that none of this is flat. So with apologies to my vegan friends, think of stress relief as the tasty, tasty yolk in the middle of an egg. It's dimensional. It's golden. It contains the key to life and will fortify you if you nurture it. This metaphor was so much more awesome at 3:30 a.m., I can't even tell you.

Since all stress relief is self-care, I thought I'd spend the week talking about stress relief methods. They include my tried-and-true means of breaking off circular thinking/stress that keeps you up in the middle of the night. I hope you'll come back for those posts!

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Self-Care 101: Be Kind to Yourself

On the one hand, this should go without saying. On the other, if you are anything like I, you are usually pretty hard on yourself. You'd rather focus on what you didn't get done than what you did.

Obviously, you would tell me that focusing on the stuff I didn't get to serves no real purpose, unless it's to increase my stress levels and the number of stress hormones coursing through my system (thereby making me feel physically worse than usual).

"Kelly," you might say, "unless you witnessed a crime and didn't report it (or similar), it isn't all that important." You would, of course, be right. I know this, because I'd tell you the same thing.


On a personal level, it's hard to keep that perspective. On Sunday evening, after a weekend away from home with Morris that required us to be up earlier every day than I am used to, I wrote a list of what I wanted to get to on Monday. It read as follows:

    Taxes - finish Morris business & my business, start rental property
    Liberty Bell

Yeah, some of that is more obscure than other bits. I managed to enter a couple things in my checkbook on Monday. And then I sat down and read Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman. I had precious little energy, tons of aches & pains, and allowed myself to get side-tracked in a big way. And it was the best possible use of my time. I thought about berating myself for not getting the other stuff done, but after starting down that road, I stopped short and opted to allow that things would be fine. And that I didn't need to complete the entire list at one go.

Why? Because it allowed my mind to be elsewhere. I forgot how tired and achy I was while I was reading. And Backman's prose is glorious. Also? It meant that I didn't overdo things (again) on Monday. Yesterday, I did the banking and finished the taxes (completely), and still had enough energy to roast a chicken for dinner and take a short walk with my husband.

Today, I'm hoping to get to at least one of those last two items, both of which are creative in nature. Art means "making art." Liberty Bell means "writing a draft of a new story." I legit didn't have the energy for it on Monday. And yesterday, those practical, every-day things seemed more important. Today, I'm ready to art. Or Liberty Bell.

Anyhow, when it comes to self-care, by all means, write your lists of things that you want and need to do. Pick a priority. But remember, too, to forgive yourself if your list proves to be more than you can do in a day (or three). Be kind to you. You can't take care of anyone else if you don't take care of yourself first. (Turns out that doesn't just apply to oxygen masks on airplanes.)

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An ekphrastic poem for Poetry Friday

My poetry sisters and I have been at it again. This month, our challenge was to write an ekphrastic poem based on the following photo that Tanita found in the Creative Commons:

Pretty much as soon as I saw the image, I thought of Lewis Carroll's Alice. And after two weeks or so of thinking, and still in a spin over the current political situation in the U.S., this is what I wrote.

by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Down the rabbit hole
Through the looking glass

Where time misbehaves
And cats gaslight you on the regular

The time has come, the Walrus said,
to talk of many things:
Of dictators and sycophants,
of outrages and swings.

The Red Queen now is orange,
but still as temperamental.

Heads will roll, that’s for sure.
It’s a question of when, not if.

Who would choose to go there?
Who would take the risk?

For more on ekphrastic poems, I direct you to this very old post of mine. For more ekphrastic poems based on this image, I direct you to my poetry sisters:


For more Poetry Friday posts, click the box below:

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