Shelley Widhalm

The Work (and Poetry) of an Assisted Living Facility

In Community Poets, Poetry Readings, Writing Poetry on October 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm reads some of her poetry at the “Good Work” poetry reading Sept. 23 at the Loveland Museum in Loveland, Colo.

Every time I visit my mother at her assisted living facility, I walk down the halls, feeling wonder at the corkboards filled with cutout magazine pages.

One of the residents, Deloros, considers it her job to fill the white walls with images of wildlife, birds, historic ruins and travel—and sometimes people at work. She cuts out the images, tapes them to construction paper and highlights the text, turning routine magazine articles into art, education and entertainment.

Deloros says she needs to finish her work before lunch as I stop to talk and let her pet my dog, Zoey, a long-haired miniature dachshund. I commiserate, because I know I would want the same thing in my retirement years—some sense of work and purpose. She tells me it helps her get up and going with her day.

“Some feel lost until they have work,” is a line from a poem that perfectly fits our weekly encounters.

Good Work! Poetry Reading

The poem is about life at an assisted living facility and one of 15 that poets read Sept. 23 at the seasonal poetry reading hosted by the Community Poets in Loveland, Colo.

The poetry reading, “Good Work!—A Post-Labor Day Celebration,” featured an open mike and the reading of poems focused on the autumnal equinox, work and going back to school. The poems were on subjects as varied as working in a mailroom, doing a long list of random jobs, going to a job interview, questioning choosing college over steady work, disliking repetitive factory tasks and seeing the act of pushing a pencil across the page as heavy work. My poems were about doing dishes and taking the trash to the trash room.

“It’s easy to get lost in your career,” was a line from one of the poems, and I related.

I find that working too much pushes out real life and fun if the hours become too many—and then I realize I need to work less to be a little more balanced. I wonder what I will do when I retire and how I’ll fill my days. Will I think I have to work, just like Deloros does? Will I be writing my novels and journaling because I believe it’s incredibly important? Will I be published and have “my work” continue bringing in money? Or will the work be something that gets me up to be doing something, anything, just as long as I keep busy?

One of the poems was about Bud, whose job is listening to stories—and it turns out Bud is a dog. Zoey’s jobs involve going on walks, doing tricks and offering comfort to her human companions and those she passes by, like Deloros. She stops to visit Deloros and listens to her stories about her work, wiggling her body at the excitement of being included. I always smile, fascinated by the Deloros’s artwork and the love she gives Zoey.

Taking Poetry Notes

During the poetry reading, I didn’t take very careful notes. I scribbled on tiny yellow and orange piece of papers with poems on them, writing on the back sides of “The Real Work,” by Wendell Berry and two copies of a poem by Gary Snyder, “Hay for Horses.” I forgot my work of being a journalist, absorbed in being a poet and a listener of poetry, marveling at the beauty of the lines and images the poets presented. In other words, I forgot to work.

“It was so much creativity and beauty and heart and soul put into versions of work,” said Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Community Poets, adding that the poets sharing their work was “a community gift.”

The Community Poets, a group of local poets and organizations that organizes poetry readings and workshops in Loveland, will hold the next seasonal reading Dec. 16 on Frosty Nights and the Pleasures of Winter, inspired by the poetry of Robert Frost, at the Loveland Museum. The poetry readings are held every season, and the workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

 

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Transitions in Seasons (and How it Relates to Writing)

In Transitions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on October 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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The table centerpiece is a perfect way to transition into fall with fresh-picked apples mixed with the colors of autumn.

The change from summer to fall or fall to winter is more gradual than the calendar indicates.

In Colorado, there’s often an afterthought of heat in late fall or an early snow before summer ends. The change occurs like sliding down a hill with some going back up until the season feels like, yep, it’s fall, or yes, time for the winter jackets.

An abrupt change in season can be compared to writing without transition—it’s hot and then it’s cold without anything in between.

Transitions in Story

Transitions are essential to keep the direction of the storyline clear, instead of skipping without explanation from one time or place to another, confusing readers as they try to figure out where exactly they are in the story. For instance, they might think they are in a coffee shop and suddenly they are in some memory about traveling to another country.

Transitions serve as a bridge that signals a shift in the story, such as a change in time, place, mood, tone or point of view. They mark a scene break, ideally at the moment of heightened suspense, causing the reader to want to know what happens next.

The point-of-view character’s physical environment, or what’s happening around her, can transition into her internal thoughts, memories or reflections. The character may see an object or hear something that triggers recollections of some event from her past. The recalling of past events in the present through flashback interrupts the flow of narrative. The tense can be changed—such as present to past or past to past perfect—to indicate her entry into or exiting out of the memory or flashback. Sensory impressions can be used to take the character out of the memory and return the character to the present moment. Or dialogue can cause the character to come back to the present, though she might ask, “What? What are you talking about?”

Transitions as Roadmap

Transitions serve as that roadmap, or weather guide, keeping the reader within the story world, so that moving between time and place seems natural without suddenly needing to change clothes or pull out the umbrella, wondering what to do next.

I prefer my summer to spill into fall, winter to be short and spring to arrive quickly. But I appreciate all four seasons because sameness would not give that excitement of change, or transition!

Anthony Doerr enlightens readers about “All the Light We Cannot See”

In All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, Loveland Loves to Read, Reading on September 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr, right, signs copies of his books at the Loveland Loves to Read author talk Sept. 24 in Loveland, Colo. With him is Carol Morganti, member of the Loveland Loves to Read Committee, who hands over copies of books for signing.

Boise, Idaho, author Anthony Doerr starts with the eyes of a housefly to describe his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.”

Flies have two compound eyes, each made up of 3,000 to 6,000 simple eyes, enabling them to see elements of light invisible to the human eye.

Doerr presented an image of a fly’s eye during a slideshow he gave as part of his author talk Sept. 24 for the 15th annual Loveland Loves to Read event, presented by the Friends of the Loveland Public Library Foundation at the Roberta Price Auditorium in Loveland, Colo. His 2014 novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a year after publication, as well as the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

“I’m sure you’ve heard Loveland loves artists … we’re here to tell you Loveland loves readers and writers as well,” said Peg Isaakson, chairwoman of the Loveland Loves to Read committee to introduce “An Evening with Anthony Doerr.” “The art of painting a story or documentary involves using words well, and that’s what we’re here to celebrate.”

The Story’s Inspiration

Doerr talked about his inspiration for the novel, the unseen light waves that make up technology. This includes the radio power serving as the center of the story of a blind French girl and a German orphan in occupied France during World War II.

“I want my reader to re-see things we take for granted or no longer see,” Doerr said.

Doerr began his presentation with his childhood, saying he was a dilettante or dabbler with many interests but no real commitment to any one thing. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up but it was often based on his current reading. By the time he was in college, he treated it like an “all-you-can-eat buffet college course catalog,” not wanting to declare a major before having to pick something—for him, it was history.

“Sometimes we get stuck in our own lives, and we forget our own perceptions,” Doerr said as he presented close-up images of his fascinations that included blood cells, Velcro, flecks of salt and pepper, a banana and the eye of housefly at 1,000 times magnification. As he dabbled in multiple subjects, he recorded things he found to be interesting, allowing him to see ordinary things in extraordinary ways, he said.

Doerr threw out some extraordinary facts, such as the most common form of communication is light and that 80 percent of deep sea animals create their own light. He wondered about other things, too, such as “why snow crystals bother to be so beautiful” and why only some memories remain intact and others are lost.

The Structure of the Story

Doerr built his novels and short stories and developed the identities of his characters around the facts he collected, relating what he learned through story to help the reader enjoy his sense of awe. “About Grace,” his first novel published in 2004, relayed his fascination with snow, while “All the Light We Cannot See” focuses on his love of the many aspects of light and how light is perceived.

“I had a sense she could see things he could not,” Doerr said, referring to Marie-Laure and Werner.

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For “All the Light We Cannot See,” Doerr started with his title and on a book tour in France in 2005 tumbled on his setting—and then he had to do more research for a year on the place and time of war, getting yet another college education, he said. Once he began to write, sometimes he’d make it only three sentences before he’d have to stop and do more research.

An Old Story Becomes ‘New’

Doerr took an old story and oft-written subject and made it new, shaping the story’s structure to mimic a labyrinth.

“I want it to feel like a labyrinth, where the reader feels their way through it,” Doerr said.

He spent a decade solving the puzzle of the structure, which employs the use of short chapters and alternating storylines, and how best to relay the history, His approach to writing was reflective of how he hopped around in his many interests, with the book taking its initial shape out of chronology before he strung it back together into a sense of order for the reader, he said.

“Sometimes it’s good for the mind to make things no matter how well they’re received. For me it’s almost a prayer,” Doerr said. “It’s good for the mind, the soul and the people around you.”