Ever-Changing – a poem

This past week, to highlight the autumn equinox, I had planned to upload a couple of poems celebrating autumn or fall in general. But after reviewing some of the poetry I’ve written, I came across another poem and felt compelled to share it instead.

In the spirit of the changing season, where the beauty and abundance of the summer gives way to the leaner, more mercurial nature of autumn, with its changing leaves, frantic, scurrying animals, and more reflective feel – here is my poem “Ever Changing”.

As I read through it, it felt oddly appropriate – not only for the season, but also for the world at large right now. I do hope you like it.

EVER CHANGING

The times are changing and so are we,
changing like the seasons
in the sea of Space and Time,
changing like the tides
ebbing and flowing,
pulled by the moon on high.

The times are changing and so are we,
changing like the seasons
in Time’s boundless sea,
trapped in a cycle,
never having leave to rest,
except in the embrace of Death.

The times are changing and so are we,
changing like the colors
of pearly dawn and smoky dusk,
our hues forever changing,
blending and melding,
with those changing with us.

Copyright © J.S. White

Probably Not the Blog You’re Looking For…

When I first started the blog, I had an idea of what I wanted it to be – something quaint, simple, and thoughtful. Something that didn’t rely on lists of Do and Do-Not’s, 10 Best Techniques of whatever. I wanted something personal and friendly, almost like a conversation with someone in your local coffee shop. Or a meet-up with a friend. Something that, at the very least, was consistent.

Well, here we are – halfway through my first real year of blogging – and I would consider this blog neither quaint nor consistent.

Rambling? Yes.
Simple? Probably.
Thoughtful? I like to think so.

The truth is, I had something of a chance of heart at the beginning of August, after celebrating First Harvest. I don’t want my blog to be just another author’s blog out there, giving out tips for writing scenes, or developing characters. There are far better and more qualified writers with blogs out there for that. I’m not that person. I don’t have a four-year degree in English or Creative Writing. I don’t have a dozen published novels or e-books out there for you to check out. And I may never have them and that’s okay.

I write because it makes me happy when I do. I write because I try to connect with people, places, and things that interest me, and writing helps me process and internalize those things.

There was a large gap in my usual posting because my concept of what I wanted this blog to be had changed and I was unsure how to move forward. Now, I have a better idea. It’s my hope that updates will be more consistent (there’s that word again) moving forward. There will be some difference in content, but the style of writing similar to previous posts.

There will be thoughts on seasonal things and nature, something I’m getting increasingly close to and aware of these days. There will be posts of poems and short fiction still, just as before, but there will be more personal non-fiction as well. Less emphasis on writing nuts and bolts, technique, but hopefully more actual writing.

If you’ve followed me this far, I hope you will remain. If you plan to leave after this, that’s fine…I understand.

Here’s to a new start and a better blogging journey…

Looking Forward to the Fall…

In the North Carolina piedmont, the fingers of autumn are starting to creep into the everyday.

Spider webs, both large and small, are draped over every bush, hedge, between tree branches, in little hidden corners of the porch. In the humidity, there’s a suggestion of coolness – a welcome reminder that the heat and stickiness of summer will soon end. Harvest decorations are popping up in the yards and porches of neighborhood houses, along with the macabre decorations of avid Halloween enthusiasts (a cousin of mine is one of them, she decorates as soon as the school starts every year).

Dove season – a tiny little window of recreational hunting that only lasts for two weeks – started on Labor Day. Incidentally, dove season usually coincides with the harvest of corn in our area, which makes for better hunting as the fat, little birds are eager to snatch up any fallen grains in the newly cut fields.

This year, however, the fields are still ripe with corn, the tall stalks beginning to brown. Less corn means less complacent doves, which means a rather disappointed husband for me. Still, there’s still turkey season and deer season to be had, so hope isn’t lost for John – who fancies himself a hunter, but who really uses hunting season as an excuse to cut his phone off and sit around in the woods for hours at a time.

And for me?

I’m enjoying the promises of cool weather in the whispers of wind through the trees. The scurrying of small mammals as they hurry to fatten up and line their nests in preparation for winter makes me smile. I think of setting out pinecone birdfeeders drenched in peanut butter and bird seed; of gathering little piles of acorns and bundles of sticks like I did when I was a child…just because.

I think of the warmth of family gatherings and sharing hearty foodstuffs like roasted vegetables, ham, and attempting to bake fresh bread (a new goal of mine this year).

Like so many people, autumn is my favorite time of the year. And this year I have a feeling I’ll enjoy it even more, because I plan to really be present and celebrate the season.

The craziness of last fall and winter made it difficult to really be present mentally. My focus was definitely more on those things out in the world instead of those in the local, natural environment. This year I plan to change that. I want to celebrate the season more fully, both in my everyday life and in my inner life.

I plan to crochet more. I plan to bake homemade bread for the first time (and then a second, and a third). I plan on sitting out in the autumn sun more, soaking up its energy and breathing in the cool, crisp air.

I plan on acknowledging how, regardless of how technologically-advanced our society has become or how crazy the world still is, I am still a part of nature and that it still has important, timeless things to teach me.

I’m looking forward to the Fall…this descent into reflection and the gathering up of things.

I’m looking forward to sorting through my thoughts, my feelings, reflecting on my place in the world, and what kind of seeds I want to sow, not only in the coming months, but in the days after the darkness of fall and winter have passed.

Return – a poem

This is the first year I decided to celebrate First Harvest, or what is known in some circles (mostly pagan), as Lughnasadh, Lughsana, Lammas, or sometimes simply “First Harvest”. It gave me a sense of peace and connection that I haven’t felt in a little while.

I wrote this a few days later. It’s rough, not remotely polished, but that’s okay. I hope you, my lovely readers, will find it resonates with you as well.

I long for the green,
for the wild and unseen.
I long to stretch my hand forth
to touch the unending sky.

The mountains speak
in low, mumbling tones but my ears,
like so many others,
have grown deaf to its song.

We are perished and dying,
our souls starving,
our spirits bleeding.
“Return,” the land cries.

“Return and you will be fed,
Return and your souls will heal,
Your hearts will once again hear our song,
and you will be free again.”

Copyright © J.S. White

Enough – a poem

I don’t remember your laughter
or the sparkle of your eyes
I don’t remember the strength of your arms
as you picked me up, brushed me off
when I fell and scraped my knee.

I don’t remember your tussled black hair,
tangling in the wind.
Even your voice is a mystery,
I don’t remember the sound.

But I have pictures
nestled in a cardboard box
in the attic, gathering dust
of you, of me, of us.

I remember your presence.
I remember warmth
and I remember love,
the kind of love I like to think
was just for me.

And that was
and is
and must
be enough

Copyright © J.S. White

Drinking from a Literary Wellspring in 2020

“I can tell you, without diversity, creativity is stagnant.” -Edward Enninful

Just before the start of 2020, when I reached a point in my writing journey where I had little inspiration and even less motivation to write, I took a hard look at the influences around me. I looked to my bookshelf, in particular, and realized there was a distinct lack of diversity. The shelves were overwhelmed by authors who looked like me, talked like me, had similar backgrounds. The lack of diversity made me a poorer, less inspired writer.

So I decided to make a change. I gave myself a reading challenge.

As it was 2020, I added those two twenties together, making a nice, even forty – I would read at least forty books by diverse writers. Knowing my weaknesses (and foolishly/arrogantly thinking I may not be able to find enough diverse books to read), I gave myself these minimal criteria to use while picking the books I would read”

  • 20 books written by male authors.
  • 20 books written by female authors.
  • At least 20 books had to be written by BIPOC men and women (diverse nationalities, ethnicities, backgrounds, etc.
  • Up to 20 books could be written by non-BIPOC

I made certain that my challenge was S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. I would read 40 books, where at least half were diverse authors. I would record each book I finished on a word document, where I would include the book’s title, author, author country and ethnic group, and book genre. I would give myself an achievable and realistic monthly goal of 3-4 books, and I had all year to do it.

The year started out slow, but steady. January and February went by, with three and four books read, respectively. March was very slow, with only two books. But beginning in April and May, I began to hit my stride – my interest was really peaked by the books I was reading, and I couldn’t get enough.

June came and I completely outdid my earlier attempts and read twelve books, finishing my original goal of forty books early. I upped my goal to sixty and read the twenty additional books in July and August. I upped by goal to eighty and reached that goal in late September, with twenty books read in one month. Honestly, I believe a madness took over my mind – and I couldn’t stop.

My well of creativity was so terribly dry. I saw through this reading challenge that one of the reasons for this feeling of aridness was because I was starved for stories which made me think, made me feel, made me laugh and cry. The fountains from which I drank inspiration and meaning had become stale, uninteresting, and meaningless.

The books I read from Muslim authors were eye-opening and heart-wrenching. The books I read from African and South American authors were breathtakingly beautiful and epic. The books I read from African American and Indigenous Americans filled me with a sense of conviction and humility.

It was as wonderful as it was painful. I could talk to others of nothing else. I had to share the stories I was reading with friends, family, anyone who would listen. They got quite sick of it, but I was enjoying myself so much that I couldn’t help it.

My final count for the year 2020 was one hundred twelve (112) books. Of those one hundred twelve books, ninety-one different authors are represented, of which forty-seven of those authors are BIPOC – which I’ll admit was less than I had hoped.

I had new favorite authors, however, and a much greater awareness and appreciation for how diversity is a glorious, beautiful state of being. I also learned how far we still have to go in the struggle for equality and the protection of human rights – not only here in the United States, but also all over the world.

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Photo of the fountain outside the Cincinnati Public Library, taken by J.F. Schmitz.

With Mortified Fondness

In many ways, I was a typical teenager. I spent a great deal of time in my room. I listened to music and wished I was anywhere but where I was at any particular moment. And starting sometime during my sixth-grade year (I was eleven at the time), I started writing poetry.

I fell in love with Edgar Allen Poe. I had dedicated journals where I would painstakingly copy the flowery, overwrought poetry I’d ‘perfected’ on simple notebook paper several hours before, and I suspected that one day they would become collectors’ items when I was older and much, much more famous.

I still have those journals. Sometimes I open them up, sift through the pages, and feel mortified fondness for the poems written there.

My poetic style is more sparse than before; I became enamored with haiku and tanka and never really looked back. It is very difficult for me to write a poem that expands beyond a half a page. But that poetry was the beginning of so much more…

Like most poets (and writers in general), the same themes come up all the time in my work.

Despite what some think when they meet me in real life, my inner world can be quite dark and filled with shadows.

Themes of loneliness and heartbreak abound. A turbulent and fractured spirituality colors perception and experiences. The desire for connection is overwhelming and the emotional distance between myself and others seems quite real.

It’s one of the reasons I love Poe so much.

His work is romantic and melancholy, much of his work is somewhat autobiographical, and there is a spirituality in his words and his imagery that feels just as real as it is symbolic. It resonates for me now just as strongly as it did when I was an adolescent.

In addition to other projects, such as “The Bells of Reine” – a short fiction inspired in a loose sort of way by Poe’s poem “The Bells” – and my haiku anthology, I’m compiling a collection of poetry and short fiction entitled “Ophelia’s Tears”.

“Ophelia’s Tears” will explore themes of romance, heartbreak, my struggle with gender stereotypes, bisexuality, as well as darker elements like anger, trauma, and feelings of despair.

Some of those poems and short works will ultimately preview here on The Writings of J.S. White and I hope you enjoy them if, and when, they make their appearances. It is also my hope that they will resonate with you as much as Poe so often resonated with me.

Necessary – a short story

The landscape was awash in tones of red and burnished gold, rays of light stretching from the horizon across a vast rocky plain until they touched the research station’s meter-thick, leaded glass barrier. Outside the barrier, perhaps two thousand meters across the plain, the great maw of a vast canyon remained in shadow, a black stain on the ravaged surface of the planet.

Ru’man Kreylur blinked twin eyelids against the glare of the ruddy sun and, feeling a touch of whimsy, imagined its radiation seeping through the glass barrier into his body. There was warmth and there was pain as his body changed, molded, mutated, into the smaller and softer body of a human.

There was a huff of annoyance behind him. “You can go blind that way, you know. Parents used to warn their children all the time about staring into the sun.”

Ru’man smiled but did not turn. The image of himself as human faded and he was once again looking out over the rocky plain beyond. His reply was light-hearted, playful. “Is that what happened to you, Dr. Brennan? Did you stare too long at the sun? I can hardly imagine you as a disobedient child.”

A chair scraped. He heard the soft footsteps of his companion cross the room and stop next to him. Ru’man turned to face Dr. Elizabeth Brennan, took in the filmy blue color of her pupils; the pupils that used to be brown. He saw the burn scars covering one side of her head, glossing over the small audio implant where her ear ought to be, then down the column of her neck until it disappeared into the neckline of her shapeless tunic.

She did not look at him, her eyes gazing sightless out the same barrier he had been peering from moments earlier. The ruddy light of the earth’s sun gave her a youthful, flushed glow.

“You know better than to ask such ridiculous questions, Ru’man.” She chided. “Now are you going to tell me what’s got you preoccupied? Or must I resign myself to getting no work done today?”

Ru’man’s smile broadened and he touched his colleague’s shorn head, his sensitive finger pads delighting in the light fuzz of new growth. Dr. Brennan pursed her lips and removed his hand. “You know I dislike it when you do that.”

Chastised, Ru’man turned back towards the barrier and folded his hands behind his back. “I was thinking about when my people first arrived here. How different it all looked before the Wars. I was imagining I had been created as one of you…that I looked like you, thought like you. It’s one of my favorite distractions.”

Dr. Brennan did not answer but reached out to touch the barrier with one hand, her five digits splayed across the reflective surface. Ru’man noted that she had kept her small nails clear today. It was foolish perhaps, but fact that Dr. Brennan had left them clear and uncolored pleased him.

Over their years of working together, Ru’man had come to take pleasure in a great many things Dr. Brennan did or did not do. Unlike his own people, humans were infinite in their idiosyncrasies. They never ceased to amuse him.

“The barrier feels warm today, but not as warm as yesterday.” She frowned, withdrawing her hand. “Is it evening already?”

“It is. I thought we could work during the earth’s nocturnal cycle instead of the day for the remainder of our stay here. In this manner, we can conserve energy otherwise lost while the dampeners are in place.”

“That would be advantageous,” Dr. Brennan agreed. “We could stay at the station longer before the others retrieved us. Maybe even another week.”

“Precisely…though it wasn’t the only factor I considered.”

He refrained from touching her head despite his overwhelming desire to do so. Instead, he returned to his workstation and sat down, clearing his breathing passages as he went. He did not wish for her to become angry with him again.

From his place across the room, he watched as the sun’s red tones bled from his colleague’s face, returning it to its usual, mournful pallor. She spent too much time within the Conservatory, too little time outside the walls and too little with her own people.

“We were unable to use the dampeners because of a minor systems failure yesterday. Your species is more vulnerable to gamma radiation than mine, and it was only when I noticed how unwell you became that I remembered. It disturbed me and I wanted to ensure it did not happen again. ”

“That was thoughtful of you.” Dr. Brennan said after a moment’s pause. “Thank you.”

“I will always try to be thoughtful of you, even when my superiors do not,” Ru’man said, fighting the urge to clear his passages again. The environmental controls weren’t to his preferences, the air within the workspace too moist. To take his mind off the discomfort, he moved data pads about, shuffling them into a more efficient order. “Courtesy and manners, you know.”

Following him, Dr. Brennan sat down at her own workstation, picked up the case of tiny, pin-like audio chips, selected one, and slipped it expertly into her audio implant. Instead of getting back to work, she paused and looked over towards him. Her glazed eyes seemed to consider him.

“You know, Ru’man, it’s quite interesting. Manners are a product of culture. What’s seen as rude in one culture might be nothing more than polite discourse in another. In the same way, if you remember the Histories, an act of peace to my people was seen as an act of war to yours two hundred years ago.”

“Yes, quite an unfortunate misunderstanding,” Ru’man said, looking away from her. The Histories were something he didn’t like to discuss. He enjoyed working with Dr. Brennan; she was intelligent, practical, and endlessly fascinating. Yet, whenever the Histories were brought up between them, there was always a sense of tension in the air, one he found far more uncomfortable than the too-moist air.

“It would have been quite beneficial to both of our species had things gone differently, Dr. Brennon. Don’t you agree?”

He chanced a glance upward. Dr. Brennan was running her hand over her shorn head and looking away from him, back towards the leaded barrier and the glowing red sun beyond it.

“My people are in the minority now, Ru’man. It is only necessary, I suppose, that the manners and morals we once held as ideal are supplanted by those in the majority. That is certainly the opinion of many a historian, but that doesn’t mean I must agree with them. Or with you for that matter. I hope that won’t be misunderstood.”

It was Ru’man’s turn to be silent. He blinked his twin eyelids and tried once more to slid into his fantasy of molding, mutating into a human, but it seemed hollow somehow. False and vulgar.

He looked towards the landscape outside, with its blazing sun and shadowed canyon, at the planet which, having birthed the human species from the soup of creations eons ago, now held them in a decaying repose.

“It may be necessary, Dr. Brennan, but I find it regrettable. I am Su’ulian, not human as you are, and I often fail in understanding much of what there is to know about your people. However, I would give you every courtesy I could manage as I find you infinitely worthy of courtesy.”

For the briefest moment, Dr. Brennan’s face was flushed with red, as though the dying sun outside the barrier had not fled beneath the horizon. The slender column of her throat moved as though she needed to clear her breathing passages as well, but the moment passed, her usual expression returned, and Ru’man was left wondering if their conversation was over.

Uncertain, he picked up a data pad of atmospheric readings and tried to return to his work, but Dr. Brennan broke the silence once more, surprising him.

“Thank you.”

“No thanks are necessary,” Ru’man replied quickly and scrolled through the data pad. A different sort of discomfort was pulsing inside his chest cavity.

“No, it is quite necessary.” Dr. Brennan argued. “You are my dearest friend and I want you to know that.”

Ru’man Kreylur felt a rush of warmth flow through him so strong that he almost glanced up and gave himself away. His twin eyelids blinked and blinked again as he bent over his workstation. It was inconceivable that Dr. Brennan’s words have such an effect on him, but they did.

To be Su’ulian was to be polite, impartial, indifferent…but in that moment, Ru’man had never struggled so hard to remain that way. Against his strongest instinct, he met Dr. Brennan’s cloudy gaze and gave her his best imitation of a human smile.

“I believe I feel the same.”

Copyright © J.S. White

Image property of Lewis Moorcroft
(https://lewismoorcroft.art/galleries/landscape/the-time-we-first-met/)