Finding Inspiration

When I told a friend last spring that I was writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month, she asked me how I found the inspiration for 30 poems.

“It’s like rummaging around in a junk drawer,” I told her. “You’re bound to put your hands on something!”

And sure enough, in April, I found inspiration from a seagull, bugs, a haiku class, a trip to the Dollar Store, and pizza. Among other things. (See the full tally here.)

Now granted, they are not all masterpieces. But that’s not the point. Like any writing challenge — NaNoWriMo, HistNoWriMo, SciFiWriMo — the goal is simply to get into the habit of writing.

“Simply” of course being somewhat of an issue if you are lacking inspiration. Which brings us back to that junk drawer. There are so many things in your junk drawer – think about it!

the first time you rode a bike
your best friend from kindergarten
your mother
what you had for breakfast
your first kiss
last night’s dream
what you saw on a hike last weekend
your favorite painting
the song you can’t get out of your head (and why)
an object sitting on your coffee table

So, GO! Rummage around — see what you can find. Reach way far back if you have to…and then CREATE! Describe, elaborate, enumerate, paint a picture with words (or even paint if you are so inclined). It doesn’t have to be perfect…as Nike says, JUST DO IT!

Here is some evidence of rummaging. This quirky little poem showed up from a post-it note I found on my desk one morning:


(Chinese Food)

The note says (Chinese Food)
but it is random
out of context on a piece of paper
in a stack of papers
at least 2 months passed

my past included (Chinese Food)

but what?
and with whom?
and what is the purpose
of this little clue
set out for me to follow
too early even for General Tso,
though I never met him personally

rumor has it, he was a press man…

as a proponent of the written word
do you think he rose early
to consider form and function,
rhyme, reason and rice —
like this poet now hungry
for the pork fried variety at 6?


But a fair warning about rummaging…you have to be brave. You have to be brave because you never know what you’re going to find in that drawer. Sometimes, it will be as benign as a post-it note about Chinese take-out. Other times, you may pull out a ghost, some long lost memory that needs to see the light of day.

Hans Christian Anderson is credited with saying: “Everything you look at can become a fairy tale, you can get a story from everything you touch.”

Ultimately, isn’t that our job as creatives? Telling the story. No matter our medium — poetry, painting, prose — we are charged with the task of putting our hands on the story and sharing it with others.

So, get in there! Rummage around for the inspiration. Reach way far back if you have to…and then TELL THE STORY!


You can read more of Jen Payne’s poetry in her new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind available from Three Chairs Publishing.

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I Am a Book Kisser

“I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That’s right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent.” – Sherman Alexie in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


I Love Books

“I love books. I adore everything about them. I love the feel of the pages on my fingertips. They are light enough to carry, yet so heavy with worlds and ideas. I love the sound of the pages flicking against my fingers. Print against fingerprints. Books make people quiet, yet they are so loud.” – Nnedi Okorafor in The Book of Phoenix


Exploring Mindfulness

I. A Meditation on Bugs
I hadn’t walked five minutes up the trail before they ambushed me. A swarm of gnats dropped down in front of my face like a thin, black veil. Two flies laid claim to my ears—bzzzzzzzzzzzzzing in stereo. Their siege left me breathless—afraid to inhale.

My swatting—swat, buzz, swat, buzz, swat, buzz, buzz!—was moot.

By coincidence, I had recently watched that scene in the movie Eat Pray Love in which the Julie Roberts character successfully sits in meditation for a full hour despite an enthusiastic swarm of bugs and thoughts. She lets the small annoyances pass and finds her way to stillness.

I’ve had a hard time with that kind of mindfulness — still sitting, mind clearing. A few years ago, I tried a guided group meditation. A kind and creative soul gently guided us for an hour. We floated through the sky, over the ocean, into the stars—okay, THEY floated. I spent the entire hour imagining myself running after them, trying to catch up!

My mind and I are usually running after something—the next project, the next errand, the next idea. Lots and lots of thoughts…like the lots and lots of bugs around my head!

In her book Stop the Pain: Adult Meditations, my dear friend Dale Carlson explains that there are many ways to meditate: “If your nervous system is the result of an active gene pool or you are personally too frayed to sit down right off, begin with a walk.”

In my own explorations mindfulness, my walks have become my meditation, but this day in the woods with the bugs was particularly challenging. I wanted to find my way to quiet. I tried to just be with the bugs. I walked (swat), I listened to the birds (buzz), I looked up at the trees (swat), I heard the leaves rustle (buzz).

Over and over again, I tried to bring my mind back to the present—to “pay attention” as Dale often reminds me—walking on a trail, drops of rain on my head, the smell of damp earth. And over and over again, my mind would run after the bugs.

Slowly, I am learning to let these annoyances pass over me. There are days when the bugs stay with me, buzzing their demands and nipping at my spirit for the entire walk.

And then there are days I walk with great ease—my breath is free, my mind is clear, and everything around me glows.

II. With Eyes Cast Down
My mind was busy as I walked to the trail. It was one of those days. Should I go left? Should I go right? I am always indecisive when my mind is occupied otherwise.

On this day, I went right—instead of left—and found my way along a narrow, woodland path. Up a hill. Across a small, spring stream. Into the quiet of the woods—I was breathing again.

There, in front of me, a patch of new ferns congregated along the edge of the trail, and I paused for a moment. Down on one knee to look closer, I realized I was no longer worrying about the worries that were worrying me. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

“It turns out meditation is not separate from daily life,” writes Dale. “It is taking time for walking or sitting in silence so your life can be reflected in the pool of that silence.”

Right there, I gave myself an assignment: Look down, be quiet, pay attention.

And there they were. Small clusters of wildflowers, patches of delicate ferns, bright colors, and playful shapes. New spring life, all along my path.

I never would have seen them. Look down, be quiet, pay attention.

III. Being One With
I knew right away it was a magical day in the woods. The gorgeous 50-degree afternoon was accented by a bright blue sky and a soft breeze that sang through the trees.

I saw a trail I’d never seen before, followed it to the edge of the pond and sat for a while. Sat. Quietly. I’d been invited to do so by the turtle who was on the log but disappeared as soon as I sat down. I waited for him to return, but he never did.

So I made my way back down a familiar path until I heard the distinct rustle of a hawk landing in a tree just up a hill. I stood silently for five, maybe ten minutes, watching it perched up high. But, when I decided to get a closer look, he took off into the tops of pine trees nearby. As I continued on my way, he flew above me, casting shadows on the path—he was watching me now, and we both knew it.

A squirrel stopped when I called to her, but dropped her acorn from the startle. “Go ahead, go back and get it,” I told her, then stepped gingerly back a few steps to allow safe space. She scurried down the tree, snatched up her meal, then glanced my way as if to say thanks.

A carpenter bee was busily moving about when I came upon her. I watched for a while as she crawled in an out of her burrow—spring cleaning, I wondered?

Walking further and further down the path this way, I could feel peace settle in. If I closed my eyes and breathed, I barely existed—except to feel the breeze on my skin and hear the whisper of trees. My footsteps, my heartbeat, my thoughts were so far away, they sounded hollow and unreal.

From the flirting of birds in the trees to the surprise of late-spring wildflowers come early, the forest was brimming with life and spirit…and suddenly, so was I.

“In silence, oneness with everything is possible….” — Dale Carlson


Excerpted from LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, by author and naturalist Jen Payne. Both LOOK UP! and her new bookEvidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, are available for purchase from Three Chairs Publishing.

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Ingram Publisher Selects…Evidence of Flossing


Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind was featured in the January 2018 issue of INGRAM ADVANCE as part of their Publisher Selects section. Check it out!


INTERVIEW on Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews

Welcome, Readers. My special guest today is poet/author/photographer Jennifer Payne. She’s sharing a bit about her new collection of poems, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind . (Click Here to read the full interview!)


What do you enjoy most about writing poems?
Many of my poems show up as whispers of ideas. Maybe one line or two that reveal themselves…suddenly, from out of nowhere. That’s the most exciting part—that magic! Then…what comes next? where will that whisper lead me? To your question, what I enjoy most is allowing the poem to show up and become what it needs to become, allowing myself to be open to the creative spirit so I can tell the story.

Can you give us a little insight into a few of your poems – perhaps a couple of your favorites?
One of my favorite poems in the new book is called “Microcosm.” It’s about two separate encounters, one with a spider on my desk, and one with a fish by a pond—and me, wondering what they might be thinking about as we crossed paths. You know, in that same way you wonder about the lives of people in the lit-up rooms of houses you drive by at night?

Microcosm
The spider had a curious look —
not curious as in odd,
but curious, inquisitive, intrigued.
I saw him from the corner of my eye
watching me, then rummaging
through a pile of paper,
back again for a second look,
peering as if to say Who Are YOU?
(or WHAT I suppose)
Perhaps the same look of WHAT?
the fish had as it soared over the pond
yesterday afternoon…
Who are YOU? to the osprey,
and WHEN did I learn to fly?

Another favorite is “I Am Just the World.” It was one of those poems that just showed up, as I was saying before. I was walking on my favorite trail in the woods, and heard the something crawling. I followed the sound and found a spotted turtle making its way through the fall leaves. Spotted turtles are listed as a species of concern/endangered, so this was a very special sighting. And poignant.

I Am Just the World
Pay no attention.
I’m just here
beneath these trees,
their forgotten leaves
warm from the sun.
Never mind
my slow traverse,
I’ll step aside for you.
Make myself small
so you forget
I am light and love,
the god to which you pray,
the universe upon my back,
everything.

I think some people take offense that I anthropomorphize the creatures I meet in the woods – give them personalities and narratives. But, it’s not like I think they are skipping around in the forest singing and such. I use personification to get the reader to think outside of themselves, to consider the other creatures with whom we share this planet. We’re all connected…that is, ultimately, the theme of Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, and of a lot of my other writing.

What form are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
I write mostly free form poetry. It’s simply how my muse speaks to me right now. However, I have been working with a group of local poets, the Guilford Poets Guild, for the past few years. Very often they write in specific forms— a sonnet, a villanelle, haiku. I’ve been thinking I’d like to challenge myself to look to form a little more in my work. That could be fun!

What type of project are you working on next?
For the near future, I’ve been thinking about publishing a short story I wrote called “Water Under the Bridge.” It’s an epistolary novella told through a series of emails. And then another book of poetry, but that won’t be for several years.

When did you first consider yourself a writer / poet?
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember — grade school creative writing, high school newspaper, college journalism, freelance writing, zine publishing. For the past 25 years, I’ve been the wearer of all hats – editor, copy writer, marketing wordsmith – as the owner of Words by Jen, a graphic design business in Branford, Connecticut.

I maintain a regular blog, Random Acts of Writing (www.randomactsofwriting.net) on which I write essays, travelogues, book reviews, flash fiction, and poetry.

I have written poetry for much of my life, but have gravitated to that form almost exclusively for the past three or four years.

How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for not-yet-published poets?
Just write. That’s my advice. It’s very easy to get caught up in the “business” of writing – editing, researching, preparing, submitting (and waiting), then doing that all over again for the next poem. I call it “hoop jumping.”

Better to just make time to do the writing, perfect your craft, connect with other writers. Just write.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I do my best writing at 3:00 a.m. I love the quiet of the early hours of the morning, before anyone else is awake. There are no distractions – none of the bells and dings and buzzing of our social technologies. Just sweet dark quiet…and coffee.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Honestly? I wanted to be Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie. I loved her little bottle house! Wouldn’t that be a great place to write? Plus, she had magical powers. What could be better than that?

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Yes. Don’t fight with your craft. Let it be. Let it do what it wants to do. I see a lot of angst-ridden memes about writers. Quotes that talk about the suffering we must endure, the anguish of writer’s block, the agony of rejection letters. Forget all of that and Just Write. Here’s a great quote to think about from writer Alan Moore…

“To me, all creativity is magic. Ideas start out in the empty void of your head – and they end up as a material thing, like a book you can hold in your hand. That is the magical process. It’s an alchemical thing. Yes, we do get the gold out of it but that’s not the most important thing. It’s the work itself.” ― Alan Moore

(Hey! So, maybe I have magical powers after all.)

Thanks for being here today, Jen.
Thank you, Lisa, for this chance to talk with you and your readers about writing and my new book!


This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!

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GUEST BLOG POST: Finding Inspiration

Today, I’m a guest blogger on CMash Reads, sharing my thoughts on…

FINDING INSPIRATION

When I told a friend last spring that I was writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month, she asked me how I found the inspiration for 30 poems.

“It’s like rummaging around in a junk drawer,” I told her. “You’re bound to put your hands on something!”

And sure enough, in April, I found inspiration from a seagull, bugs, a haiku class, a trip to the Dollar Store, and pizza. Among other things. (See the full tally here: https://wp.me/PKhyg-3lf)

Now granted, they are not all masterpieces. But that’s not the point. Like any writing challenge — NaNoWriMo, HistNoWriMo, SciFiWriMo — the goal is simply to get into the habit of writing.

“Simply” of course being somewhat of an issue if you are lacking inspiration. Which brings us back to that junk drawer…

>>CLICK HERE to read the whole post.


This post is part of a month-long, nationwide blog tour for my new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, hosted by Wow! Women on Writing. Buy the book today!

buynow