Haiku Adjacent

Did I ever actually know the rules?

I have two favorite poems. The first is The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost. I like to think that this poem is how I live my life. I like to zig while others are zagging. Travel is my reason for being. I’d much rather go somewhere that I’ve never been than go back again and again to the same old stomping grounds. And that has, indeed, made all the difference. I have crafted a very unusual life for myself. It hasn’t always been pretty or successful, but by God, it was unique. I’m very proud of that.

My second favorite poem is Ozymandias, by Percy Shelley. It reminds me to tone down that pride a bit, and at least try to be humble. For me, the great takeaway of this poem is that you may think that things in your life are a big deal, but in fact, they only loom large for you. Eventually, over time, all the silly things we urgently build and accumulate, all the power we think we posess, all the b******* we spout, will crumble to dust and disappear. So live in the moment, Dear Reader! In the end, that’s all we really have. Everything else is a comedy of arrogance and impermanence.

The two poems mentioned above are not haiku, but, contrarian that I am, I’ve always said that haiku is my favorite style of poetry. I like how its restrictions force you to hone your concept to its sharpest edge. In their most common form, they consist of three lines, the first and last of which are 5 syllables, the middle is 7 syllables. There’s no room for flowery babbling. No space for tangents. Digression is not tolerated. Just the facts, ma’am. And despite all the stripping away that you are forced to do to get to this inner core, you often see that the core is a thing of perfection, and it needs nothing else. Haiku are pure. They are thought distilled. Those who chafe at wearing a mask during this pandemic would do well to realize that restrictions can sometimes bring out the best in you.

As a teenager, I used to write haiku all the time, even while bouncing down the road in the school bus as adolescent chaos roiled around me. I had a stack of notebooks full of haiku. I’m too far removed from the 16-year-old me to know if these poems were any good, and I couldn’t tell you the subject matter, either, because somewhere along the way, I fear those notebooks were lost. I have moved so many times that, as with haiku, I have had to pare down my possessions to the essentials.

I wish I had those notebooks. It would be nice to reconnect with the person that I was back then. It would be wonderful to look at these things with fresh eyes and new perspectives. But Ozymandias reminds me that all things are transient.

W.B. Yeats tells us that as well. He says “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” in his poem entitled The Second Coming. That’s another doozy of a poem, but it’s not one of my favorites, because it tends to make me feel anxious. It was written by him right after World War I, and the postwar despair permeates the piece. I do not need Yeats to help me with that. I can be anxious and despairing all on my own.

Haiku, on the other hand, make me feel calm. They are often about nature and quiet and they make you think deeply about the smallest of things.

Here are a few of the 21 best Haiku of 2021 according to the Society of Classical Poets:

Wisteria bloom
Along a sidewalk café
Coffee in the air

—Ravi Kivan
watermelon patch
I let the weathered scarecrow
try on my straw hat

—Darrell Lindsey
Curious concert—
crickets croon to a cornfield
of indifferent ears

—Martin Elster
taste of morning tea
the delicate ray of sun
through an icicle

—Daniela Misso

While refreshing my memory for this post, I learned from Wikipedia that there were even more restrictions than the 5,7,5 rule. I had forgotten these things. Or did I ever actually know them? Mine was a Florida public school education, after all. (If you think they are leaving out a lot in the curriculum nowadays, try going to school in a Florida backwater, back in the early 1980’s)

For instance, traditional haiku focus on nature or the seasons. I’m sure I intuited that much. That probably explains their peaceful nature. But I’m fairly certain that many of my haiku went off the reservation in that respect. I also didn’t avoid metaphor and similes, and I don’t see myself ever being comfortable leaving out punctuation.

Oh, to have those notebooks!

Well, even if my haiku were really not haiku, they were at least haiku adjacent. They were an outlet for my creativity. They allowed me to express myself. They appealed to my quiet, observational nature. They allowed me to feel, briefly, as if I were enough, at a time when that feeling often eluded me. So what if I made my own rules? I am still grateful to this poetic form on many, many levels.

I haven’t written haiku in years. I’m rusty. But I know you’re going to complain in the comments if I don’t at least hit you with a few. (And feel free to share yours in the comments section.) So here goes:

the waterway flows
never stopping to befriend
cork-like bobbing boats
bridges span rivers
man’s attempt to dominate
nature, patient, wins
above the gray clouds
I hold faith in the sunshine
if not, I’d go mad

A special thank you to Mor and Caly for inspiring this post.

The view outside my window as I thought about impermanence and wrote my haiku. Photo credit: Kevin Ross

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So, Enough with Your Grammatical Pedantry

Grammar can be deliciously organic.

Many of us have pet peeves regarding word usage and/or sentence structure. Heaven knows I do. I don’t really understand why people say “irregardless” when regardless will do. Also, I feel that orient is better than orientated, and flammable is better than inflammable. Keep it simple, I say.

For the most part, I keep these peeves to myself. I mainly do so because the three irritating words I mention above can actually be found in dictionaries. Who am I to dictate your word choices, even if I think they are making you look stupid?

But the one thing I cannot abide is someone who is so anal and pedantic about grammar that they clearly have no concept of the realities of grammar at all. They overlook the fact that languages are influenced by living, breathing entities, and will therefore naturally evolve over time. If you doubt me, go read a novel by Charles Dickens or a play by Shakespeare. Even this article in the Journal of Pragmatics indicates that the “grammar of a language is not a rigid set of conventions but malleable depending on the communicative context.”

“But you can’t end a sentence with a preposition,” they’ll shout. “You just can’t!”

Uh… yes you can. In fact, I defy you to make it through the day without doing so at least once. I’ve blogged about this before, here.

I’ve also recently blogged about the increasing acceptance of the singular they (as used three paragraphs above), which has, in fact, been in regular usage since 1375. I look forward to the day when it drops off the pedant radar, because it’s starting to feel like a form of grammatical child abuse. Get over it, folks. It’s here to stay. Stop treating it as if it were an unwanted stepchild.

The latest focus of these grammar police seems to be starting sentences with the word so. They just hate that. But, as this hilarious story by NPR indicates, the word so is a reliable introductory workhorse that was used just as much 100 years ago as it is today. So… my advice would be to not get your knickers in a twist about this innocuous little word. Life is too short.

I have a theory that those who insist upon rigid grammatical rules are either wildly misinformed or, deep down, they are extremely insecure about their own intelligence or lack thereof. They attempt to feel better about themselves by acting grammatically superior. I tend to feel sorry for them, because they are depriving themselves of the richness and flexibility of true communication.

I think of grammar as something deliciously organic, not some dusty concrete block that refuses to be moved. Words should be played with to create a colorful exchange of ideas, and your palette should be diverse enough to reflect the cultural context in which you’re operating. The grammatical world is not just black and white.

I’m not saying that the Land of Grammar is the wild, wild, west, however. It’s important to properly spell your words. Good writers convey their thoughts clearly and effectively. There’s flexibility, but try not to be so flexible that you come across as if English were not your first language, or as if you barely made it through the 4th grade. Sentence structure does matter, but there are usually multiple ways in which to craft your sentence. Laziness does not equate to creativity, but flexibility certainly does.

I urge you to let your creative writer come out to play. At the very least, use a thesaurus to shake things up. And for the love of God, stop assuming that Spell Check is the arbiter of all things grammatical. It’s a program that was made by fallible human beings, after all, and it gets things wrong as often as not.

End of rant.

May your writing journey be a flexible one. Namaste.

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Crime Used to Be So Much Easier to Commit

Shame on me.

Without going into enough detail to incriminate myself, I must admit that I’m a criminal. (Don’t act so shocked. You’ve probably bent a rule or two yourself.)

Back before airport security was tight, I did something that would probably have me doing time these days. A college friend of mine took a flight and before it took off, the airline staff asked for volunteers to be bumped off the flight. They’d be put on the next flight and get a free, non-transferrable round-trip ticket anywhere in the continental US, to be redeemed within a year. My friend shot her hand up, even though she knew she wouldn’t be back to the US during that period. She’s from Europe.

They gave her a paper ticket. She gave it to me. And I used it. This was back before airlines had gotten into the pesky habit of asking to see your ID before you got on the plane. Pretty much anybody could go anywhere, and bring their foot-long Bowie knife with them in case they got the urge to trim their nails in flight. Those were the days. You actually had leg room and a decent in-flight meal, and the plane was half empty so you could usually stretch out and take a nap afterward. (You young people have no idea.)

All I had to do was forge my friend’s signature (I practiced for weeks) and pretend to be someone I didn’t even look like, and I was able to fly out to visit my niece and nephew at a time when I could have never afforded to do so on my own.

And lightning has yet to strike me dead.

I’ve also been known in my more poverty-stricken youth to reuse uncancelled postage stamps. One time I may have let a cashier ring my zucchini up as much cheaper cucumber, too. And I borrowed a friend’s asthma inhaler at a time when I was uninsured and couldn’t afford to refill my prescription. Shame on me.

Now that I’m more financially comfortable, I can afford to be much more law-abiding, and allow my morals and better nature to come to the forefront. What can I say? Poverty makes you do stuff.

Having said that, I must admit that I still pee in the shower occasionally, albeit right over the drain. My bladder is a corrupting influence. So sue me.

I guess I just blew my chance of ever running for public office…

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Be A Lady They Said

Originally posted on Writings of a Furious Woman:
Be a lady they said. Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Your pants are too tight. Don’t show so much skin. Don’t show your thighs. Don’t show your breasts. Don’t show your midriff. Don’t show your cleavage. Don’t show your underwear. Don’t show…

What follows was not written by me. I wish it had been. It certainly could have been, since this was my experience, as well as the experience of every woman I have ever known.

Ladies, reading this will trigger you. But it will open some eyes a bit wider. The abuse is so subtle sometimes, doled out in bitter little dollops over a lifetime, that many of us don’t realize what a steaming pile of bs we have been handed. I first posted this on my personal Facebook page, and it inspired a whole range of feelings, from frustration to hurt to sadness to fury. But we need to feel these feels. It’s important to see these uncomfortable truths.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a certain percentage of my male readers don’t even bother to read this. It’s a lot to take in. It would be easy to rest in the luxury of not having to know. But I hope you’ll take the time, guys, because it’s what the women in your life deal with every single day, and it would be nice if you’d have some awareness of that, and perhaps join us in trying to change it for future generations.

So, what follows is by Camille Rainville, the author of a wonderful blog entitled Writings of a Furious Woman. It’s superbly written, and makes it quite clear why we all have so much to be furious about.

Writings of a Furious Woman

Be a lady they said. Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Your pants are too tight. Don’t show so much skin. Don’t show your thighs. Don’t show your breasts. Don’t show your midriff. Don’t show your cleavage. Don’t show your underwear. Don’t show your shoulders. Cover up. Leave something to the imagination. Dress modestly. Don’t be a temptress. Men can’t control themselves. Men have needs. You look frumpy. Loosen up. Show some skin. Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative. You’re asking for it. Wear black. Wear heels. You’re too dressed up. You’re too dressed down. Don’t wear those sweatpants; you look like you’ve let yourself go.

Be a lady they said. Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down. Stop eating so much. Don’t eat too fast. Order a salad. Don’t eat…

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It’s Your Body

No one should ever touch you without your permission.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post called Tickling, about how tickling can be a form of aggression, and how it can often be very unwelcome and inappropriate. That blog post resonated with a lot of people. It’s short and to the point, so I hope you’ll read it.

I thought of that post recently. I was really impressed to discover that one of my nieces is teaching her two-year-old daughter that no one should get to touch her in any way, shape, form, or fashion, without her permission. Forget about good touch, bad touch. It’s her body. She gets to say who touches it, good or otherwise. We all have that right, but we often forget that.

Just because Uncle Fred is a touchy-feely guy does not mean that he gets a free pass just so you can avoid ruffling family feathers. If he’s making you uncomfortable, that’s never okay. Not ever. Even if you love Uncle Fred to pieces. And that applies to recipients of those touches of any age, not just children.

Also, just because someone is in a position of authority, such as a doctor or a dentist or a teacher or a boss or a politician, or even an older relative or a spouse, that does not mean they get to decide how you are touched. Absolutely not.

I’m not saying that every person who is touching you inappropriately is automatically a sex offender who is grooming you. Some people are just clueless. But it doesn’t really matter. If you aren’t comfortable in a tactile situation, regardless of your age, orientation, or relationship, it’s your body, not theirs, and you get to dictate what happens to it.

Your body is truly the only thing in life that you will always have all to yourself. That’s why it’s such an extreme violation when someone abuses it. I love knowing that there are children out there who are being taught their own agency practically from birth. That’s how it should be. I wish it had been taught to me.

Always establish your own boundaries and make them crystal clear. That’s not being rude. It’s appropriate. And I think that you’ll find that most people are a lot more comfortable, knowing the rules in any given scenario.

Never forget that your body belongs to you and you alone. Always.

Inappropriate Touch

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Several Days of Bureaucratic BS

I did try.

Pedestrian safety on drawbridges is a huge issue. Without naming names, I was asked by a certain organization to write some drawbridge do’s and don’ts that would help people increase their chances of actually surviving around a million pounds of moving concrete and steel, and I did so. They took these suggestions, sanitized them a bit, and made them into an oversized postcard with a gorgeous, souvenir-worthy picture of one of our drawbridges on the front side. They made several thousand copies. I was very proud of this work and knew it would make a difference…

Until someone further up the chain of command of that organization decided that they shouldn’t be distributed to the public. And now they’re gathering dust in some closet somewhere. No comment.

In other news, after I got married, I had my middle name legally changed to my husband’s last name. This caused a whole host of interesting bureaucratic encounters.

I had to pay a fortune to show up in court and swear that I wasn’t making this change against my will. (You can change your last name when you get married without the court hassle, but not your middle name.)

I went to the Social security office to have my information updated with them. I brought my court ordered name change with me. I had to wait an hour to see someone. While working on the change, he gave me a print out and asked if everything on it was correct. I said no, my mother’s maiden name was spelled incorrectly.

I was told that they wouldn’t be able to fix it in that office, and I was only given a vague indication of how it could be done, elsewhere, with more paperwork. Screw it. I’ve gotten this far in life with them having that incorrect information. And I did try.

I had to apply for a brand new passport, even though my old one was only a few years old, because now my middle name on my passport did not match my middle name on my ID. We went in with what we thought was all the necessary information, and met with a brick wall in the form of a bureaucrat who was in a foul mood. Rather than tell us how to jump through all the necessary hoops, he decided to tell us why we couldn’t accomplish our goal. We left there frustrated.

We came back the next day with everything we needed, and got the same guy. But this time he was in a good mood and everything went smoothly. See, now? Was that so hard?

But before that, we had to get a new passport photo at Costco. We went in, waited about 15 minutes for the lady in the photo department to get to us and take the picture. She said it would be about 20 minutes to process. So we went shopping, and bought a bunch of Costco stuff that we really didn’t need, as one does. Then we returned to the photo department. No photo.

There was a different woman working the counter, and she told me that the photo would have to be taken again, because with passport photos, you cannot be showing any teeth, you must have a neutral expression, and most of your ears must be showing. So we took the photo again, and had to wait another 20 minutes for it to be processed.

While processing the photo, we decided to bring our groceries outside to the car. The person who was checking the items against the receipt at the exit discovered that the cashier had forgotten to ring up one of our items. So we had to go back to customer service and have that straightened out. Good save on her part. We believe in paying for what we buy. But after days of dealing with stupidity, it kind of rankled.

Again, a certain organization is desperate for bridgetenders, and I know the perfect person, who would happily start tomorrow if given the opportunity. So we submitted the resume, and middle management would love to hire him. But upper management is being… well… You can imagine. Several of our positions have been vacant for more than a year.

I went to the county courthouse the other day with my husband, and we had to place our items on the conveyor belt and pass through the metal detector. I got yelled at for picking up my husband’s items in an effort to hand them to him and speed things up. Like I was some kind of criminal. Like I was stealing my husband’s wallet right before it detonated, or something.

So I made a point of walking on the grass on my way out.

Power to the people.

Zootopia Bureaucracy

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I Don’t Have to Respond

Boy, oh boy, am I about to save myself a heck of a lot of time!

It’s really weird when it suddenly occurs to you that you’ve been operating under a self-imposed rule. Because, just like that, you realize that if you were the one making the rule in the first place, then, hey, you don’t have to follow it anymore, do you? Ah, the freedom!

For example, if you live alone, you don’t have to make the bed if you don’t want to! Woo hoo! If you’re the only one who ever sees the back yard, you only have to mow it when you feel like it. Sweet!

I had one of those epiphanies just the other day. Here it is: I don’t have to respond to everything. That’s huge.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in common courtesy. I make it a point to say thank you and excuse me. That’s the type of lubrication that’s required to keep a civilized society running smoothly.

But I don’t have to respond to unsolicited advice. I don’t have to correct rude behavior (unless I’m looking for closure). I don’t have to explain myself or justify anything. (But I still believe in doing the right thing.)

Just because someone asks an idiotic question, that doesn’t mean I’m obliged to answer. Not every comment requires my input. Not every insult needs to be avenged.

There’s also really no point in carrying your side of an argument if, when all is said and done, it’s not going to change a thing. Your energy is limited. Save it for the positive stuff.

Sometimes it’s okay to let the other person have the last, stupid, selfish word. Whoa. What a concept.

Boy, oh boy, am I about to save myself a heck of a lot of time!


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Examining Irritation

I have no idea why so many people have overlooked the memo that I am Queen of the World, but there you have it.

True confession: I get irritated by stupid stuff.

It’s not that I enjoy irritation. In fact, it irritates me. But sometimes it feels beyond my control.

The good news is that the older I get, the more level headed I seem to become. I think part of that is due to the fact that I can’t work up the energy to be annoyed as often as I could in my younger days. I just can’t be bothered.

Oh, but there still are things. Someone cutting ahead of me in line. People blocking grocery aisles to chit chat. Rude individuals. All things Trump. The common denominator here is that people aren’t playing by my rules. I have no idea why so many people have overlooked the memo that I am Queen of the World, but there you have it.

Another thing that has improved with time is my self-awareness. I am getting better at seeing the physical warning signs of my irritation so as to nip it in the bud. Is my heart rate increasing? Am I feeling adrenalized? Am I starting to fidget? Uh, oh. Time to evaluate the situation.

First off, am I already Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? Then I need to H.A.L.T. Because any one of those four states are bound to cause me to overreact. At times like those, I’ve been known to look for a reason to be irritated. How stupid is that?

Next, I need to really look at what I’m feeling. Sometimes irritation is a mask for other, less comfortable emotions. Fear. Fury. Depression. Grief. Disappointment. Dissatisfaction with your relationship with the person who is triggering your irritation. A feeling of being disrespected. My own stupid impatience when someone doesn’t comply with my self-imposed time line.

In many cultures, we are taught to suppress “negative” emotions. But emotions don’t hold a positive or negative charge. They are what they are. You feel what you feel. If you suppress that, it’s just going to find a way out in other ways, such as irritation when your boyfriend leaves his dirty socks in the coffee mug. It helps to check in with yourself about what you are really feeling. (For example, you’re annoyed, and frankly a little scared, that he doesn’t care enough about your feelings to put the mug in the dishwasher and the socks in the hamper.) If you aren’t adept at that, and many of us are not, I suggest that you consider therapy. I highly recommend it.

Another thing I try to do is a reality check. When I get irritated, I try to figure out which one of my rules is being violated. (As in: footwear and kitchen utensils don’t mix.) And then I try to remind myself that a) people are not mind readers, and b) not everyone goes by the same rules. (If both the footwear and the kitchen utensil are dirty, perhaps your boyfriend doesn’t see their intermingling as a big deal.) Then, maybe the two of you can discuss your versions of these unspoken rules and form a consensus. That would be ideal.

Probably the most important thing to think about, though, is that you are never going to be able to control other people’s behavior. Never. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t partially to blame for not hearing you when you tell them, however ham-handedly, that their behavior triggers your irritation. What it does mean is you have total control over your side of the equation. You can change the way you react. You can examine it, deconstruct it, and make alterations within you. You might be surprised. That could lead to changes in the other person, too.

But take your irritation seriously. It’s horrible for you and everyone around you. Here’s when irritation gets out of hand:

  • When you find yourself annoyed at what you know, logically, is a trivial thing.

  • When you get aggressive by yelling or being hostile or becoming violent.

  • When you have a chronic problem, such as getting annoyed, over and over again, at the same thing. (How is that working for you?)

  • When your temper gets worse when you drink or take drugs.

If any of the above applies to you, you have an anger management problem that you should take seriously, and I encourage you to seek help. Your life doesn’t have to feel like a miserable nightmare, and those around you shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells, either. Life is too short for everyone concerned.


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The Stink Eye

In order to get to my designated parking space here at work on the drawbridge, I have to drive along the bike lane for the whole length of the movable span. Most people are used to this, or don’t care. But every once in a while someone gives me a dirty look. And in Seattle, dirty looks seem to come with disapproving head shakes.

Do they apologize when they finally realize I’m parking? No. Never. That would be tantamount to admitting that they behaved as pompous know-it-alls when in fact they know nothing about the situation. We can’t have that, now, can we?

Come to think of it, glares, as a general rule, are pretty arrogant. They mean, “I think I have the right to sit in judgment.” They mean, “I think I make the rules.” Or worse, “I am the social norms police.”

And giving someone the stink eye rarely achieves your goal. It just makes people think, “A$$hole. Who do you think you are?” And then they continue doing whatever it was they were doing. So, congratulations for setting off a negative energy domino effect. Do you feel better now?

It must be awfully stressful to believe that you have to be society’s moral enforcer. Me, I have a hard enough time keeping myself in line. The last thing I need is to have to control total strangers, too.

Here’s an idea: Mind your own business. I don’t care who you are. The stink eye is never a good look.

Stink Eye

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The Dark Shadow Cast by the Golden Rule

Most societies seem to have some version of the Golden Rule. That only makes sense. It would be hard to live amongst one’s fellow humans without one. I really do try to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I can’t imagine functioning any other way.

The thing I struggle with is my huge disappointment/bitterness/frustration when others do not do likewise. “Oy! I’m playin’ by the rules here! Why aren’t you?”

Just the other day I got royally screwed over by 5 people. Without going into detail, we’ve all had long conversations and they agreed with my interpretation of events. But when this brought on an investigation, rather than tell the truth and have my back, these people chose to pull their pinheads into their tiny, soft, little shells and leave me out there all alone to be crushed by the bus.  I feel so betrayed. I could never do that to someone. Not in a million years.

Be that as it may, the situation isn’t going to right itself, so now the only thing I can do is cope with my feelings of disappointment/bitterness/frustration. On close examination, I realize that I wouldn’t even have those feelings if I didn’t think that these people were not holding themselves to a standard that I swear by.

So maybe I should blame the Golden Rule for all of this. Maybe I should stop expecting others to follow it. Heck, maybe I should stop following it myself, since it does not seem to have done me any favors.

But the day I can’t even count on my own integrity is the day I give up entirely.

crushed turtle

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