Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Daily Grace of Haiku

When my new media expert badgered me into joining Twitter last summer, I was grumpy. What in the world could I do on Twitter, in 140 characters or less, that wouldn't just seem stupid? I thought about something my husband, Richard, taught me when he was a university professor honing his teaching skills: the concept of added value. In his case, that meant finding what he brought to teaching that students couldn't get from textbooks, videos or the internet. In applying that idea to my presence on Twitter, I thought about what I could do on Twitter that would be useful and reflect my voice and perspective.

After a bit of fumbling around, I realized, haiku. Richard and I have always played with haiku when we're on long road trips as a way to capture moments and experiences that might otherwise be forgotten in the rush of getting from A to B. (When I say we "play with" haiku, what I mean is we come up with the haiku in our heads and speak it aloud to each other as we drive along.) It occurred to me that Twitter is like a radio station of sorts, and I could post a daily haiku as a way to "broadcast" a snippet from wherever I find myself out to the social media universe, like a virtual locator beacon. "I'm here, and this what's happening in my landscape."

So I started posting a daily haiku as my contribution to Twitter. (It cross-posts on Facebook, thus saving some digital energy.) It doesn't have to be anything as grandiose as this view of the mountains that rise above our valley shot from the highway coming down the last passon our drive home. A detail can be as telling as a whole view. Sometimes something I notice in the garden prompts a haiku, like this one:

Clear dawn turns to rain
frost forecast—harvest like mad!
fall comes tomorrow.

Or this one:

Fog hid the dawn sky
then crescent moon at sunset
day passed in between.

Or something I notice as I look out the window:

Rising fast and high
fifty vultures slip-slide south
silver under wings.

The practice has made me more attentive to where I am and what's happening in the world around me, so that I've even come up with haiku from Richard's stays in the hospital, like this one from a difficult night in the ICU:

Outside snowflakes reign
inside lights blink, sensors beep
life sighs, in and out.

The gift of finding a haiku worth posting on Twitter nearly every day (I'm not perfect!) is that it asks me to find a bit of grace in the day, no matter what comes. And the practice of turning that bit of grace into haiku gives me experience in finding the essence in the moment and communicating it in words. As life-writers, it seems to me that an important part of what we're doing is finding the essence in our experiences and figuring out how to communicate it. That makes Haiku excellent practice: it's short, it exercises our vocabulary and hones our awareness, and it can be done anywhere at anytime and memorized until it can be written down.

If you want to try a daily practice of seeing and communicating via haiku, here are the basic rules:

  • Three lines in a 5-7-5 pattern (five syllables in the first line, seven the second, five the third–haiku experts say that this rule isn't firm, but I find it a useful discipline)
  • Based in nature or natural phenomena
  • References–directly or indirectly–the season

The gift? I've found beauty and grace in the toughest moments, from Richard's time in the ICU, to the morning I woke way too early and lay in bed wide awake and tired, until I opened the blind:

Crescent edge silver
ghost moon rises escorting
Venus and Saturn.

“Don’t You Want to Know If the Story is True?” Led to Author’s Opening

Opening Salvos #11 by Matilda Butler

Question-mark Are you having a hard time with the beginning of your memoir? You’re not alone. Even if you have written many vignettes or dozens of chapters, you still may not know the answer to how you’ll open your memoir. On Friday, Kendra Bonnett and I interviewed Nancy Bachrach, author of The Center of the Universe and asked her to share her experiences in crafting the opening to her memoir.

The interview went something like this: “Nancy, I wonder if you’d talk a little about the opening to your memoir and your decision to make this your opening.” 

“The opening is the hardest to write,” said Nancy. “I rewrote my opening at least 1000 times. I didn’t know where to begin. I only knew what the last line would be.” 

Nancy-Bachrach-compressed-for-web It turns out that Nancy begins her memoir with an Author’s Note. Why? She told us that while her book was being edited by her publisher Alfred A. Knopf, she kept asking, “Don’t you want to know if my story is true?” She explains that the editor kept replying the way a shrink would — “Is there something you want to tell us?” Finally, her editor suggested that if she wanted to make a statement to her readers, she could write an Author’s Note. And she did. A very funny Author's Note. It turns out that it was a great way to begin her memoir as it established her tone as well as her role as the narrator of the story. I was already smiling by the time I got to page 1.

Nancy’s mother-daughter story, told with ample dark humor, is true although she took a few liberties. In the wake of the James Frey controversy, she wanted her readers to know how she arrived at her perspective on her mother’s life. And, yes, she says that the memoir really isn’t her story. It is her mother’s story and she’s the narrator. But from the moment you begin reading the Author’s Note until you reach the last page, you feel you’re sitting with your best friend, the one who always makes you laugh, no matter how difficult the situation. 

If you’d like to hear the complete interview with Nancy with her many insights into memoir writing, CLICK HERE. She also talked about finding your voice even if you’re not naturally funny like she is; telling your mother you’re writing about her or keeping it well locked since Nancy’s mother found her memoir in a drawer; handling the different views of siblings; and many more topics. 

A few days before our interview, Nancy posted a guest blog and memoir writing prompt. If you're interested, CLICK HERE.