The Poem That Defined Santa and Christmas Present

I’ve known Santa for some time and he hasn’t changed a bit…

At four I knew just what I wanted, and I still do!2pamsanta

2grppamsanta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone knows that Santa is a plump, jolly fellow with a long white beard. It’s common knowledge that he circles the globe every Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer. You get bonus points at Christmas trivia contests if you can name them all. Stomping on your roof and the jiggling of bells indicates that Santa has arrived. Hopefully you have a chimney for him to climb down—there are various explanations of how he enters homes that are lacking in that department. Of course, his suit is red. Hasn’t that always been the case? Well, actually, no. Father Christmas, one of his predecessors, usually wore green. The historical Saint Nicholas, most likely the inspiration for Santa Claus, probably wore a Grecian toga.  That good saint went through periods of favor and disfavor, taking a major hit during the English Reformation, and later in Puritan America. However, Colonial Germans in Pennsylvania kept the feast of St. Nicholas, and several later accounts have St. Nicholas visiting New York Dutch on New Year’s Eve. New Year gift giving had become the English custom in 1558 and this English custom lasted in New York until 1847). “

Washington Irving published the satirical Knickerbocker’s History of New York in 1809 in which he made numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character who smoked a clay pipe. Then, in 1821, The Children’s Friend, was published. The first lithographed book printed in America, it contained an anonymous poem in which “Sante Claus” arrived from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by one flying reindeer. This Sante Claus rewarded good behavior with books and safe toys (no toy guns or sabers), and left a birchen rod with which parents were instructed to punish the naughty. It was S. Claus’ first appearance on Christmas Eve, rather that December 6th. The seeds of Christmas present were planted, and sprouted into full bloom with the publication of A Visit From St. Nicholas in 1823. The poem is now better known as The Night Before Christmas.

Who Actually Wrote the Night Before Christmas? moore-livingston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                Clement Clark Moore                                                        Henry Livingston, Jr.

The poem was first published anonymously and later claimed by Clement Clark Moore, a professor of biblical languages at New York’s Episcopal General Theological Seminary. However, in 1859, 36 years after the poem first appeared in print, the children of Henry Livingston, Jr. came forward and asserted that the poem was actually written by their father around 1807. They claimed to remember him reading the poem to them as children. There has been extensive literary research on both claims and opinions are divided. However, opinion seems to be tipping toward Livingston.

Regardless of who wrote the poem, the effect is the same. The Night Before Christmas has solidified the secular image of St. Nicholas, (AKA Santa Claus) as a jolly old elf who flies through the air every Christmas Eve dispensing gifts to good little children all over the world. The image was reinforced by political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in 1881 and continues to be celebrated today through song, television, children’s books, movies, and advertising (think Coca Cola). Santa still makes my heart swell when he makes his first magical appearance of the Christmas season at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he’s looking good!

Still the Inner Critic: Read Away Debilitating Self-Doubt

I am an artist. I am also a writer. Self-doubt arises in both arenas. Today’s blog focuses on my journey as a visual artist. The fear that I was only pretending to be an artist haunted me for years. It slowed the creative flow, and prevented me from showing my art in public. What if they felt sorry for me? (“Honestly…does she really think she can paint?”)

Despite my doubts, I never completely stopped creating art. Through failed romances, a divorce, physically and emotionally draining jobs, and the demands of raising two exceptional sons, I continued to create in dribs and drabs. I painted, wrote, took classes, learned new skills and hid my work away in case someone discovered that I was not a “real” artist.

I am past that now (mostly). Every artist has moments of self-doubt. I may never have an exhibit at a prestigious museum, earn accolades from the art establishment, or become a household name. Nevertheless, I am an artist. Whether or not you (whomever you may be) like my work or not, I am still an artist.

Kenny Minear recognized that fact in kindergarten. Every drawing and sculpture of mine that he could get his hands on, he mutilated. I still remember how proud I was of my clay elephant before Kenny turned it into a pancake. Jealousy is destructive, but I knew Kenny thought I was a great artist.

My mother believed I was an artist. Every Saturday morning, through sun and rain and snow, she drove me to the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Art. I was ten when I started; twelve when we moved to the Midwest. But I still kept studying—at several universities and with various artists on the East Coast and here in the Bay Area. Why I chose not to get a degree in art is a personal matter. Degree or not, I am still an artist. Yet my self-doubt kept me from enjoying art for many years. A blank canvas gave me panic attacks. I couldn’t even take pleasure in visiting an art gallery. Comparing my art (unfavorably) to everything I saw, I told myself, “You suck,” and only produced two or three paintings a year. If I actually submitted a piece in a show and it was rejected, it was further proof that I had no talent.

self-doubtSo how did I heal my debilitating self-doubt? Enter Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way. I started an artists’ support group. We immersed ourselves in Julia’s books. I faithfully did my morning pages, went on my weekly artist’s date, and completed the chapter assignments. It may sound simplistic, but it worked. The support of my fellow artists in the group helped as well. I get juried into shows now, and sometimes I don’t. But these days, I don’t take rejection so personally. I’m more likely to say, “That was one person’s opinion,” or “That just wasn’t what they were looking for.” I no longer buy into the elitist theory that only a gifted few are “real” artists—“them” versus the rest of us. I am an artist.

Today, I’m a resident artist at the Cloverdale Arts Alliance Gallery, have been juried into  American Art Collector for the past six years, sell some pieces here and there, and am producing art in greater quantities than ever before. More importantly, I’m enjoying myself. When I have moments of self-doubt—and who doesn’t—I pick up one of the following books. All are designed to minimize self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, procrastination and other inhibiting forces. The next time you fell compelled to do the laundry instead of picking up a paintbrush, brush up on your reading…

Pamela’s Picks for Unblocking Creativity:

 The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

“The Artist’s Way is the seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life. This book links creativity to spirituality by showing how to connect with the creative energies of the universe.” – Goodreads

If her New Age approach doesn’t resonate with you, I urge you to still consider using her tools. There’s a reason this book has been a best seller for 25 years. The tools work. She expands her ideas in the following three books. Each is a 12-week program designed to enhance your creativity. I recommend a support group to keep you on track.

Walking In This World, The Practical Art of Creativity, Julia Cameron

Finding Water, the Art of Perseverance, Julia Cameron

The Vein of Gold, a Journey to Your Creative Heart, Julia Cameron

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

 Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland

“Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. This is a book about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing free will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.” ©1993 David Bayles and Ted Orland

 Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon

“Engaging, inspiring and practical advice on becoming a successful artist, advice that applies well beyond artistic pursuits… This is a quick, easily digestible read that is particularly relevant in today’s digital world.”—School Library Journal

 

The Story of the Humble Blackberry Poem

blackberry-bush

 

 

 

In my last blog I complained that poets who rhyme are a lot like the late Rodney Dangerfield. They don’t get much respect. There are a few notable exceptions like Kay Ryan and Richard Wilber, but for the most part, poets who rhyme are expected to feel a little apologetic.

I tend to send my non-rhyming poems out into the world in hopes of landing in poetry reviews and anthologies. I have had some success. But poems that rhyme are often kept hidden in a folder on my computer. I entered one of them in the County Fair this year. It won a blue ribbon. It wasn’t an accolade from the Midwestern Poetry Review. Still, someone liked it.

Recently I read a few of my poems to my writer’s critique group. I planned on entering a few in an upcoming contest and wanted the opinion of my fellow writers as to which poems were submission worthy. When I finished reading my “serious” poems, I had an afterthought.

“You know,” I said, “I have another little poem I wrote last fall. I was walking along a trail with my little dog, Peanut. Blackberry bushes lined the path, most covered with shriveled fruit—seasons end. Then, a spot of white caught my eye. It was a blackberry blossom struggling to produce against tremendous odds. I went home and wrote the following little poem. I’m not going to send this one out, but I’d Iike to read it to you.”

The Lesson

blackberryblossomLast blackberry blossom of fall,

most optimistic flower of all.

It’s a brave show, but tinged with regret—

there isn’t time for your fruit to set.

Nature’s lesson shows those who wait

that good intentions can start too late.

When destiny calls, don’t tarry;

be a bloom that becomes a berry.

Our group meets at a local coffee shop. People tend to come and go around us. So, I didn’t pay particular attention to the man at the next table when he rose to leave. I was surprised, however, when he headed in my direction, leaned over, and whispered into my ear, “I liked the one about the blackberry.” He’d been listening.

Suddenly, my simple, little poem felt more important. A stranger’s comment emboldened me to say, “Damn it, I honestly like this poem!” And you know what? I do. No apologies for the rhyme.

stolen-light

Gift the gift of Poetry For Christmas…                                              Stolen Light: Redwood Writers 2016 Poetry Anthology

Beautifully crafted poems by some of the finest poets from Sonoma County, California. A lovely gift for anyone who enjoys poetry in all its forms.

 

 

In Defense of Rhyme In Poetry

poetry-typeTo rhyme or not to rhyme? That is the question. At least, that is the question for me. Many literary critics feel that question has already been answered…rhyme is out, blank verse and free verse is in. When it comes to rhyme, they admonish poets, “Just don’t do it!”

So once again, we have the guardians at the gate defining for the rabble below what is “good” and “worthy.” We have turned our backs on the old guard. Farewell Shelly, Keats and Byron. Oh, we allow students to study them in school, but be sure to tell them that, if they have poetic aspirations, they better not submit rhyming poems to any of today’s prestigious journals.

I happen to love GOOD rhyme. I capitalized “good” for a reason. It’s important. There is a lot of bad rhyme our there. Good rhyme is hard to do. Maybe that’s why so few poets try it. They just aren’t very good at it.

There are rumblings out there that rhyme is gathering a few friends in the literary world. There are still some journals that accept it. Don’t send any to the New Yorker, though. In fact, if your poem is understandable to the average guy in the street, you might think twice about sending it to the New Yorker. (OK, it’s a great magazine. My bias against literary snobbishness is showing.) Continue reading

A Thanksgiving Remembrance of My Parents

myparentsrimmedAs I write, Thanksgiving is a mere three days away. There will be family and food, and we will eat until we can’t take one more bite, making resolutions to lose weight after the holidays. We will think of all the things for which we are, or ought to be, grateful.

I sometimes remember to give thanks for the things we tend to take for granted—like light at the touch of a switch, and the clean water that flows out of the kitchen tap on demand. I buy bottled water—just in case—but millions of people long for the stuff that runs freely down my drain.

Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about my parents. I miss them, especially at this time of year.

Growing up I had no idea how really lucky I was—lucky to be loved, treasured, nurtured and appreciated. My parents taught me that education was important, and instilled in me the lifetime gift of a love of reading. I have a photo of myself nestled in my father’s arms. I am three months old (the writing on the photo says so), and he is reading me the Sunday comics.

Every night, before I fell asleep, one of my parents read me a story. It didn’t matter if they were busy, or if they had company. We read.

Recently, I attended a local production of Beauty and the Beast with two close friends. Turning to them when it was over, I said, “That was always my favorite fairy tale.”

“Really,” said one. I wasn’t familiar with it.”

“Didn’t your parents read to you?” I asked.

“My parents never read to me,” she replied, to which my other friend nodded solemnly.

I was aghast—one more thing I had taken for granted. How could I have known back then that I was blessed?

In addition to instilling in me a love of reading, my parents provided unflagging support to all my creative endeavors. There were dance lessons, tap and ballet, as well as art and drama lessons. If I had wanted music lessons, I would have gotten those too. Music was not one of my gifts. Writing was, and it was encouraged. Mother was especially thrilled with a love poem I wrote in the seventh grade. She thought I had written it for her. I was heartless enough to tell her the truth. It was written for my unrequited love, Tommy Grubb. He was a year older and didn’t know I was alive. Sorry, mom.

Those art lessons were a sacrifice of both time and money for my parents. When I was nine, and for several years thereafter, my mother drove me, every Saturday morning, to the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Art. Boy, how I looked forward to those Saturdays! No one ever said, “Art is a waste of time; you’ll never make any money doing that.”

When I wanted to be an actress, my parents enrolled me in the Will-O-Way Apprentice Theater. The times I spent there are some of my happiest memories. Incredibly shy, I became someone brave and beautiful on stage. No one ever said, “Acting is stupid; you’ll never make any money doing that.” And, when I played Maria in West Side Story, my mother laboriously reproduced for me every costume that Natalie Wood wore in the movie. Thanks, mom.

So, today, I am grateful for George Wally Heck, a metallurgical engineer, and Louise Tremaine Heck, a housewife—my parents. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for affirming that I was gifted when I was full of doubt. You gave me the courage to dance, and paint, act and write—to send my work out into the world to face the critics (of which there are plenty). Thank you for nurturing my talents. After life itself, and unfailing love, it was your greatest gift.

My Mother, Once (a poem I actually wrote for my mother):

My mother, once, was just Louise,

who dreamed of love and wished that frogs

might morph into princes,

enabling love’s first true kiss

to make a Mrs. of a Miss.

 

She came of age in time of war,

and thought her sailor was a prince.

He asked, and she said, ”Yes.”

To be a mother and a wife

was all she ever begged of life.

 

I see her gaze with youthful eyes,

expecting good with confidence.

She smiles, for why despair?

It’s safe to think, as Life unfurls,

that good things come to pretty girls.

 

If she had seen the sorrow thrown

like dice across the coming years,

would she have run or stayed the course?

She loved, but at tremendous cost…

a husband and two children lost.

 

Those babes, long gone, both rest in peace,

my brothers, seldom seen, but missed.

Her first was here a brief three days,

the second never took a breath.

at birth his life was claimed by death.

 

I am the only hope that lived.

I am the daughter that survived.

All her dreams live in me.

It is a fearsome destiny

to be my mother’s legacy.

 

 

 

Farewell Leonard Cohen, Poet Extraordinaire

leonardcohen

I am not a musician. I did not know Leonard Cohen personally, and I discovered his genius rather late in my own life. So I was surprised at the depth of my reaction upon hearing the news of his death. This week, I find myself listening to his songs, some of them over and over. I also listened to his last interview. It made me want to be in his presence. I don’t find it trite to say that he will live on in his work. I am satisfied with that.

The first Leonard Cohen song I ever heard was Suzanne. I loved it. It made me long for an authentic counter-culture life instead of my decidedly straight one. It was amazing poetry set to music…

There are heroes in the seaweed

There are children in the morning

They are leaning out for love

And they will lean that way forever…

(From Songs of Leonard Cohen – 196

I don’t remember the first time I heard Hallelujah, but it was the song that made me fall in love with Leonard Cohen. If you asked me, “Who is your favorite singer…your favorite musical group”…I would be hard pressed to answer. How to choose when there are so many greats? But if you asked me, “What do you think is the greatest song ever written,” Hallelujah would fall off my tongue without even thinking. And it is his spare, gravelly rendition that captures, for me, the essence of the song.

Maybe I do like it dark. I think of myself as neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I tell myself I’m a realist. I see the beauty in impermanence. Life is full of longing, of love and loss, defeat and new beginnings. The “dark troubadour” put all that and more into his work and I responded.

Leonard Cohen captured, for me, the mystery and humor and pathos of life. Perhaps he was a seer as well. Given all that is happening right now, these lines from Tower of Song seem prophetic…

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter, but of this you may be sure


The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor


And there’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong


You see, you hear these funny voices in the tower of song.

 (Tower of Song from I’m Your Man1988)

 

 

 

 

How Growing Older Influences My Writing…

woman-wmirroe

Having recently written a blog on aging and creativity, I’ve been giving a lot of thought  to how growing older influences my writing. It has gotten better, and certainly deeper. At this point in my life, I think about growing old, and dying, and the aging process—topics I didn’t think much bout when I was twenty, or even thirty. And, of course, the things I’m contemplating show up in what I write. How could they not? Sometimes what I have to say is serious, sometimes funny, and sometimes both. To be honest,  I don’t like growing old, and I hate the fact that all the really cute guys are too young for me. However, despite the drawbacks to getting older, there are some gifts as well. Anyway, I’m not ready for the alternative—I’m having too much fun.

My poem, The Seeker Within,  takes a somewhat humorous approach to the inevitable, but the underlying thoughts are anything but…

The seeker within

longs to soldier on

and see the face of God.

Reverse is not an option,

but if it were,

I might tarry a bit…

postpone my appointment

with the infinite

to deck myself in finery once again,

drink champagne from crystal flutes,

share slick and salty tastes

with handsome men who call me, “Sugar.”

I would reclaim taut skin, firm arms and thighs.

Truck drivers could leer and whistle.

This time I would simply laugh,

glad to be back again, young and juicy.

I would not sell my soul to make it so,

but I would think on it.

—Pamela Heck

Reprinted from Redwood Writers 2016 Poetry Anthology, Stolen Light. All rights reserved.

http://amzn.to/2eOieAJ