Never underestimate the power of sun

It's been a sunless summer on the Oregon Coast. It's the coldest summer on record, with fixed, gray skies and 6o degree days. 

On this rugged edge, we rarely need sunscreen. Sweatshirts and fleece are the year-round uniform. 

The Summer Writing & Adventure Camp endured a good share of gloom last week. Now in its fourth year, the one-week camp for middle school students combines writing with outdoor adventures to help youngsters see, experience and express their world in new ways.

This year, students hiked the temperate rainforest at Cape Perpetua, kayaked the Alsea Bay, and battled a blustery wind across the Alsea Bay Bridge. Clamming was cancelled because it was too cold (52 degrees) to bear the combination of cold air and cold water. Our beach walk was abandoned, too.

The kayak trip on Thursday, however, would not, could not, be cancelled. It was the carrot of the week. One boy showed up Monday in his gear, ready to go (four days too soon). And many of the kids admitted they didn't really like to write but really wanted to kayak

On Thursday morning, the sky spit rain. The thermometer dropped. But the kids were still ready and eager. I added layers of clothing, and supplied extra coats. One young camper told me, "I never expect it to be sunny so I'm never disappointed." 

But I am not so wise. Even after six years of coastal living, I still expect a summer season. I spent much of last week seeking divine intervention. And in the critical hours — as our hapless group launched from the shore and paddled against wind and current across the Alsea Bay — the sun shined when we needed it most. 

Summer Writing & Adventure Camp was redeemed! Hope returned.  And I was cheered enough to know that even in the gray, bright spots will still shine. 

How to be a Summer Camp Adventure Writer

Look for skies to part,
clouds to thin,
sun to shine.

Hike a trail.
Touch sitka, alder, fir.
Carry flowers. Lick slugs. 

Share pudding
and small words like
Yes, Please, I will try

Against wind, walk a bridge.
Collect words. Let poetry
blanket, comfort, ignite.  

Paddle a slough. 
Cross a bay. 
Float dreams.  

Listen for heron,
egret, gulls, for the
giggle of troubles lifted.

Reach for words,
my hand,
your heart.  

- Drew Myron


Toss that boring book

At last, I now have permission to stop slogging my way through boring books.

This, from a trusted authority — Seattle writer and librarian Nancy Pearl — makes me feel much better: 


Rule of Fifty

People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,”  which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books.  

If you’re 50 years of age or younger, give a book 50 pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up.  If you’re over 50, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.  Since that number gets smaller and smaller as we get older and older, our big reward is that when we turn 100, we can judge a book by its cover!


Get more 'Pearlisms' from Book Lust, the blog by Nancy Pearl, a librarian hailed as a "rock star among readers" who has an action figure modeled in her likeness (Now that's a power reader!). 



Cracker Jacks and other wins

I love winning stuff. 

A few bucks from a lottery scratch ticket.

The toy surprise in the Cracker Jack box. 

A raffle for something I don't even want — a quilt, a side of beef, free tire rotation. 

Even if the 'win' is more luck than skill, my heart trills at the idea of a perk. (I'm the one at Chipolte who stuffs the glass bowl with my business cards.) The luck! The chance! The fate! 

I'm even more pleased when winning is a result of real skill. In an effort to spread the good vibration of winning-hood, I encourage you to enter the following contests (and please note, the prizes are bigger than a burrito):

The Life Poetic iPoem Contest
Submit up to three, unpublished poems that you feel represent the spirit of "the life poetic." Winning poems will be featured on the "Life Poetic" iPhone app that features a poem a day for a year. Additional prizes include free tuition to a poetry class, signed books, and manuscript consultation. Deadline: August 8, 2010
Details here. 

Seven Hills & Penumbra Contests
In their annual contests, Tallahassee Writers Association offers cash prizes and publication. Open to writers of short story, creative nonfiction, children's stories, poetry and haiku. Deadline: August 31, 2010.
Details here. 

Feeling lucky? Find more contests at Practicing Writing, a blog by writer Erika Dreifus. Each week she posts a plethora of leads on Monday Morning Markets/Jobs/Opportunities




Thankful Thursday: Lists & Reasons

Reasons for Loving Bellybuttons

Because it is fun to say. 

Because everyone has one. 

Because when I was a baby I liked to play with it. 

Because it is fun to poke. 

Because I like to draw a happy face on it and make it talk. 

 — Kenzie, age 10


I have been buzzing about town with a group of lively 10, 11 and 12 year-olds. It's Summer Camp at Seashore Family Literacy and this week we are collecting words, observing life, and writing, writing, writing.

We are never without our journals, and just occasionally without smiles (when, after several hours, exhausted with words, we retreat to solitude and food). 

Today we were lucky to have poet Ann Staley visit us from Corvallis, Oregon, an hour-plus drive from valley to sea. Ann has taught writing and poetry for over 40 years, and she spent the morning leading our group through a variety of poems and prompts.

The driving force of the day was lists (Things I Love), reasons (Reasons for Loving . . .) and instructions (How To . . .). From these lists, we generated pages and pages of poems.  

Just as with gratitude, the more you appreciate, the more you see to appreciate. The Things I Love lists grew from 10 to 20 to more. "It's kinda fun once you get the hang of it," said Kenzie, as she reached 50 items.

For the How-To poems, we were inspired by How to See Deer by Phillip Booth. I was moved by Chrisanda's sweetly direct instructions: 

How to Make a Friend

First, you start by saying

Hi, my name is . . . . 

What's your name? 

Then be nice to them. 

— Chrisanda, age 11


Writing with children is almost always invigorating. Today I felt especially grateful for their willingness to try new things and to write about the silly and the sacred — from birth moms, to bellybuttons, to barbecue ribs. 


How to Love

Pick a weed

Admire its long stalk and strong pull

Its roots bound to bad soil

to gloom, rain and hard scrabble


Find a flower with a delicate bloom

Examine how it 

bends to sun

shakes in wind

How it needs tending and care

water and light

How it needs so much more 

than you can give and

still, and still, it lives

— Drew Myron 



Practice makes poems 

Between writing groups and summer camps, I'm in the thick of word games and writing practice. 

I love writing exercises. Prompts stretch my creative muscle and rev up my writing. Fortunately, the world is full of writing books. My shelves are lined with inspiration but there's a handful of favorites I turn to again and again. Here are my top picks: 

by Susan Wooldridge

This book rings with joyful ideas, whimsy and pluck. Best of all, Wooldridge mixes practicality with possibility. I have used her suggestions for years. Kids love creating Word Tickets for the Word Pool. And when my writing feels dulled and lazy, poemcrazy restores my love of words. 




Writing Down the Bones
by Natalie Goldberg

The classic how-to on freewriting. My friend Valerie gave me this book years ago, long before I thought I could or would ever be a 'real' writer, and I am forever grateful to enter the world of wild mind writing. I've bought this book 10 times over because I keep giving it away. 




The Practice of Poetry 
by Robin Behn & Chase Twichell

Packed with writing exercises from poets who teach. I've had the book for years and still haven't worked through all of the prompts. It's been carted through the desert, dropped in the bathtub, and has yellowed in the sun — and still holds its value. And it's not just for poets; Many of the prompts can be easily applied to fiction writing.  


What have I missed?
When you need a prompt or a boost, what books lead the way?