Janet

She stood at my front door,
her mousy hair now red,
her sad eyes wild in green spectacles
(not hunter, chartreuse) and exclaimed
“I have written a story about peas,
and one about carrots, too!”
It was her mad manic editorial
of the book I’d just written.
My hurt and insult welled up,
formed a river no compassionate
Buddha could cross.
Funny, all I knew of Buddha then
was what she’d taught me.
First teacher. First mentor.
First guide to connect the dots of the Universe,
explain its constellations.
Then all I could see was that red hair,
those euphoric eyes turned sharp left
to back down the driveway,
my devotion dragged beneath tires.
She would crash and burn, of course.
(They always do.)
But I hear she went out on a high…
blazing love and light across
the crazy brilliant sky
in which I still find stars
and stories and faith.

©2018, Jen Payne. Photo by Neale LaSalle. More of Jen Payne’s writing can be found in her new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, available online from Three Chairs Publishing.

Salvation (A 50-Word Dream)

Footsteps in the distance, ominous, then dull and fading. The tunnels, he explained suddenly, were not for grief, but joy! Like God! I wanted to ask what he meant, but he slipped through a dark wet wall of mud. When I heard the music I thought — this must be salvation!
50-Word poem of sorts, ©2018, Jen Payne. Photo by Enrico Perini. More of Jen Payne’s writing can be found in her new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, available online from Three Chairs Publishing.

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth

It is so simple
there at the beginning.
There is no imposition —
or / and what imposition
is barely an itch against
that soft, soft skin
sweet, sweet skin
to kiss and kiss again.
It is so simple
there at the beginning,
before nature and nurture
nurtures nature away,
and nothing,
no nothing,
is so simple
so soft
so sweet
barely.

Poem ©2018, Jen Payne, author of Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind. IMAGE: Snake Dancer, 1910s postcard for Salon de Paris. Poem title from Genesis 2:4 (KJV).

Help. Thanks. Wow…2018!

I spent some time at the local Library last week — right before New Year’s. It’s part of my two-fold effort to a) read more and b) de-Amazon myself. The read-more part of that equation includes my membership in Goodreads, which lets me keep a running list of To-Read books, conveniently accessible from an app on my phone. So, that’s me there, in the stacks, with my iphone held out like a tricorder, looking for my next book.

Last week, though, I went sort of old school and resorted to the card catalog. I say “sort of” because it’s now a computer, and the only reminder of the spiffy wooden drawers and actual cards were the sheets of paper and midget pencils that truly, truly gave me much joy.

Anyhow…on the card catalog computer, I searched for the next book on my list, Ten Restaurants That Changed America, but what came up instead was Ten Prayers That Changed the World. For several reasons, that sounded interesting (or important, maybe), so I used one of those pencils to write down the book’s GPS and headed to the Religion section of the Library.

(I think, by the way, that Library should be capitalized. It is due that respect. Wouldn’t you agree?)

As I was saying, I made my way to the Religion section, and found book 242.8, Ten Prayers, but it was dry and historical and…yawn. Then, as I slid it back on the shelf, my eyes spied Anne Lamott on a spine and I smiled. So THAT’S why I’m here.

If you have not read Lamott before, she is one of the most witty writers you’ll find, funny and thoughtful, She writes a lot about faith, most notably the classic Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (2000).

The book I found last week, Help Thanks Wow, narrates “The Three Essential Prayers,” according to Lamott: HELP, THANKS, and WOW.

It is (of course, because this is how the Universe works) exactly what I needed. At this moment. Here at the completion of a year that has been fraught with wide world crises, full of more personal Help moments than I would like, yet balanced with enough Thanks and Wows to keep me almost hopeful enough for the year ahead, just enough faith (we are in the Religion stacks) that 2018 will be a breathable year at least, a shining year even? Perhaps, maybe, I pray.

So…

HELP me to remember to breathe and stretch and move, to set good boundaries, to seek out joy and laughter, to practice good self-care, to keep an open heart.

THANKS for the roof over my head, the food in my cupboard, the cat, the car, the…daily blessings so often overlooked; thanks also for the ability to make a living on my own terms, to confer daily with my creative muse, and to live in this most beautiful spot on the planet.

and WOW! because I am blessed with and surrounded by the most amazing friends with whom I get to share this journey.

Amen.

©2018, Jen Payne. More of Jen Payne’s writing can be found in her new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, available online from Three Chairs Publishing.

The 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge (Yay!)

For the second time in five years, I successfully completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge, reading 50 books in 2017! In a year fraught with way too much reality, fiction was the name of the game: magical children, brave creatures, curious characters, time travelers, mystics. Yes, yes. yes!

This year’s tally of 11,193 pages otherwise included 8 books of poetry, 10 non-fiction, and 4 children’s books. Also on the list were a few Young Adult novels including the final book in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, as well as the Last Survivors series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (The first of which, Life As We Knew It, remains the most haunting book I read this year.)

According to star-ratings, my least favorite books in 2017 were The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō and Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi.

There were a few other low-star rated books—mostly me wandering out-of-genre (Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Jaren Russell) or buying into hype (The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman).

I was generous with my five-stars this year, but I always am. If it captures my attention, makes me wonder, keeps me interested to the final page? Yes! Bestsellers like Dan Brown, Amy Bloom, and Mary Oliver, of course, but even more so for friends and local authors like Luanne Castle, Robert Finch, Gordy Whiteman and Nan Meneely. What delights!

(Was it shameless of me to include my own book, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, in the mix?)

A few classics showed up this year—The Long Christmas Dinner by Thornton Wilder, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas—and a few personal favorites returned (Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert and Alice Hoffman!)

The most memorable books of the year? Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick, and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

But my most favorite (also probably most recommended) was definitely the Roland Merullo Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner with Buddha series. I thoroughly enjoyed each book with equal measure and still pine for Rinpoche’s humor and wisdom—some seven months since turning the last page.

That this year’s collection of favorites included the counsel of a Buddhist monk, pages and pages poetry, and a dystopian end-of-the-world series is not ironic. It is, I think, reflective of this new and startling world in which we find ourselves.

Thankfully, so is the book I’m reading today. In Braving the Wilderness, social scientist Brené Brown outlines a clear path out of our “spiritual crisis of disconnection” by advising that “People are hard to hate close up, move in; Speak truth to BS, be civil; Hold hands, with strangers; Strong Back, strong front, wild heart.”

And so we bravely go…2018. Are you ready? And are you reading?