Sandcastles of Crap


Image courtesy of Simon Howden /

By guest blogger Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

I’m not very good at waiting, and I always talk too much. So, on one hand, it’s pretty easy for me to fill up space when I write.

On the other hand, though, it’s hard to build sandcastles out of mud, even if mud and sand basically weigh the same amount, as far as I can tell. I think it’s something to do with air, or granularity, or, maybe seawater?

But what I’m saying is, I write a lot of crap.

My computer is full of arbitrarily named file folders and all of these folders are stuffed with poems, poem ideas, and unrelated disembodied poem fingers. I have done Writer’s March since it started, and every year I have the same goal: to write a poem per day for the month, and every year I meet my goal, because I’m also incredibly uptight about getting things done. But – and this is not specific to Writer’s March – often I don’t end up with a lot that I like. This is because I want everything to just be easy. And it’s really pretty easy to toss something up into Word and say I’m done for the day.

But I end up with much better work if I let my work sit.

I realize that when dust collects for a few days on a poem that I’ve written, it gains some added nuance and grit and texture. I get to know it better and it tells me what it needs, and whether it’s viable.

For me, writing poetry is not like doing a triple axel in the Olympics. I can’t just leap with no warning with the pulse of the music in my throat and throw down ice chips in my wake like broken stars. Even Olympic figure skaters can’t do that, I don’t think. They leap effortlessly because they’ve practiced and trained and fallen for years. They’ve sat there with their bodies and their work and haven’t expected things to just work out.

I need to do that too. This is my long-winded version of the Serenity Prayer, I guess.

So this year, I’m going to stretch a bit.

I’m going to write every day and see what happens, but then I’m going to come back to it the next day like a crime-scene voyeur and see if it has fallen through. And if it has, I’m going to fix it. I know I have to make myself do this if I ever want to get better, and I do, in fact, want to get better. I think we all do, right? Otherwise it would be easier to binge-watch Revenge all day.

But the third season isn’t on Netflix yet. And anyway, what I really want is to be a better writer.

So how about you? Are you changing things up this year? What is working for you?

Day 23: Sometimes You Just Need To Be Alone

By Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

Photo by Tina Roberts

This past summer, my uncle rode down from Canada on a motorcycle tour. He had packed fresh clothes and weather-beaten books into the packs on the sides of his bike, and he rode for days and days, eventually making a looping swish along the West Coast that swung all the way down through the South Bay, near San Jose, California, where he had grown up.

I saw him in Portland, at my parents’ house. My family had gone there for a weekend, and it was really just luck that had us all in the same place at the same time. We are not a family that fears geographical distance.

Still, sitting on the deck one night, someone asked my uncle why he had decided to travel down from Canada in the first place. After all, he was riding completely alone, over wildly varying terrain, with only the wind in his ears for conversation.

“Well,” he said, “sometimes you just need to be alone.”

For me, being alone is like a cookie I can steal – something I grab when I can, and stuff into my mouth in huge forbidden mouthfuls. I had never really thought of it as a need – in fact usually, if I’m being totally honest, solitude can make me feel selfish.

But I do my best work when I’m alone.

It’s a luxury to be able to turn off the swinging, shrieking, merry-go-round of my daily life and sit quietly.

I do it in the evenings, sometimes, when I can hear the sighing of the cars on the road through the window, or the low voices of neighborhood kids, calling softly to each other down the block.

And it’s not even just being alone that I crave – it’s the quiet. I have a little boy and three dogs and two cats and a husband and a full-time job that I love, and my life is many things, but it’s rarely ever quiet.

But I’ve realized that, in order to write anything coherently, I need to give myself the quiet, as a gift. I need to shut off the noise and pull the thick silence over me like a clear dark blanket of stars. I need to let my mind stretch out and wander around, poking at things.

For example, what flavor is the sound of the wind that’s pulling the weather system towards us? When I think about its shape against my experience in this particular moment, what does that look like? Can I write a poem that matches the cadences of the chorus of neighborhood dogs out the window? And what color is their barking? How does it feel to sit here, the spring air leaning in, and listen to them?

So here’s my suggested writing prompt – take it in any direction you’d like.

Pack your worries and cares and everyday issues into the pack of your mental motorcycle – you still carry them, but for now you’ll think about them later. Find a quiet space. Breathe in, breathe out and situate yourself in the room. Look around you and notice the air, or the light, or the way the open spaces in the room interact with your state of mind. Think about how that particular vase on the table feels. Maybe connect it with something else you’ve lived through, or a story you want to tell. Listen to the wind as if it’s a conversation that someone is having – that you get to hear.

Make something happen.

Post by Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco