Category Archives: Musings

An Exercise in Free-Writing

I often struggle with feeling frustrated or discouraged over things.  It has been a major force in my life, driving my decisions to either do or not do many things.  Most of the time it comes in the form making a comparison between me and others, and always directing the positive light away from myself. In a fashion this could be a good issue to have, as it does often result in compassion or humility.  More frequently, however, it is a form of anti-pride, and pride has always been a problem for me.

Take my writing, for example.  I really do enjoy writing.  I enjoy the feeling of writing something that I know is my best work yet.  I am entertained by the act of putting words to paper, permanently affixing my thoughts to a point in history and space.  I thrive on the use of language, and find it pleasurable to search for exactly the perfect word. One would think it should be enough for me, writing for writing’s sake. Too many times, though, I wish to receive approval from others, and I want to impress people with what I have produced.  This is where I begin to have problems.

I am blessed with friends and acquaintances who have significant gifts in the arts, be it the visual arts, music, or writing.  At times, most commonly when I get into a discussion with these friends about the concepts of writing and creativity, I find that my ideas are divergent from many of theirs.  Typically this should become a situation where people could agree to disagree. It isn’t that simple for me.  I will, in many cases, come to believe that their ideas are somehow quantifiable as greater or of more merit than my own. I go to them hoping for praise, but I sometimes leave feeling scorned or mocked.  I know this is merely my perception, that I have built an entire alternate reality out of assumptions and neuroses.

I discover that I have numerous insecurities.  I feel as if I am missing something when it comes to what I do, lacking a formal education in creative writing and poetry. I often feel as if I am of a lesser caliber than my peers. The junkyard dog of self-doubt and discouragement will bite into the pit of my stomach. It will hang as dead weight, jaws locked securely, for days. I begin to see and focus upon (what I perceive to be) my shortcomings. These thoughts will consume me, spirit and mind.  This cycle typically results in my relenting from an endeavor about which I had once been passionate, leaving it for one of my more capable and worthy companions to succeed.

I also know that I react to things first on an emotional level.  In a lot of ways this serves me as a strength.  It allows me to connect to my students.  It is a quality that helps me navigate the territories of marriage. In many instances it fuels my thoughts when I write.

This particular personality trait can turn on me, though.  It betrays me into feeling foolish when I discuss my ideas with friends. When I discover that others have separate ideas, or that they don’t always agree with me, I think that what I have is of lesser value, a thing that only someone with the taste of “the proletariat” would endure or entertain.  Again, I credit this to the self-doubt I have concerning the fact that I was not primarily educated as a writer or artist, but instead my expertise lies in the field of education, curriculum design, and pedagogy. Of course, we all know what is said about teachers: “Those who can’t do…” I don’t believe this adage to have any merit whatsoever, but it is one of those mocking, twisted little thoughts that screams at me from the alleys of my frenetic brain-city…

So, why am I writing about this? It is because I am currently experiencing a period of self-doubt.  It is what is foremost on my mind. Presently, it is the only subject about which I can think to write.

I suppose by writing about it I can somehow turn it against itself, a Judo maneuver of the psyche.  Perhaps by offering it up as matter for discourse, I can encourage others whom may be feeling the same thing, to discourage the types of thoughts with which I so often struggle: everyone “gets it,” but by some cosmic oversight I, in fact, do not.  I never will, and in this I am alone.  Try as I might, I will not ascend the steps of enlightenment.

Sounds ridiculous, right? In all sincerity, these are thoughts that frequently slither into my mentality and almost entirely paralyze me.

I present it here.  I consider “writer” to be a part of who I am. I sincerely and wholly enjoy the act of writing.  I struggle, however, with fear, with insecurity, and with warped thoughts.  I know, in my head, that this is my imperfection, not my ability or lack thereof to translate thoughts into crafted words and punctuation (though there are, and always will be, some issues with my writing from a craftsman’s perspective.  Otherwise, why continue?). I still struggle with it, though. Perhaps I always will.

Perhaps, if anything, this might become a word of encouragement for someone experiencing the same problems.  I hope that by confessing, I might be freed. I pray that in the future I have a victory about which to write.

I apologize if today’s thoughts were a downer.  Maybe I can lighten the mood with some items of procedure.

Don’t forget that I want to have guest writers.  I would like to do this frequently.  I know that I have been writing this blog for just over two weeks, but I have yet to receive many submissions.  I am in the initial stages of beginning some sort of submission contest, with prizes and everything.  More to come…

If I could ask a favor from those who read my blog regularly, and you enjoy what you find here, I would like to ask that you please spread the word.  So far, Facebook has been the primary source of my traffic.  That being said, it would mean a lot to me if you would re-post or share updates about Poor Scribbler.  Refer your friends. Follow me on Twitter.  I can use all the assistance I am offered. I would also be appreciative of any feedback or suggestions from readers.  Any at all, be it about my writing, the website itself, or ideas for features and content.  Thanks in advance, and thanks presently to all who read my stuff.  It is exciting to know that there are people who stop by my page.  It’s similar to the feeling I used to get before Christmas or Easter.  Pretty cool.

Thank you for stopping by this week.  Come back on Tuesday!


Where Perfection Waits

Today I would like to share another one of my poems.  This one is older than “The Afternoon Nap.” I began this poem in the summer of 2009 as an assignment while I participated in the Missouri Writing Project, the University of Missouri – Columbia’s branch of the National Writing Project.

In this poem I was attempting to create imagery. I wanted to vividly describe the brewer, the painter, the monk, and the father as they each engaged in a respective task.  I also mean for each of the four characters to be conceptual rather than representative of any actual person. While the idea of each character is meant to be vague, the image associated with each is meant to be distinct.  By doing this I hoped to create four different perspectives on the same idea: what it means to participate in something larger than one’s self.

I have, in the past, chased after things in which my chiefest concern was my own success. When I started college, my primary objective was to stand out from my class mates, no matter what it took to do so. When I took on a task at work, my goal was to gain recognition from my boss. When I entered my master’s degree program, I intended to give myself an advantage over my colleagues. None of these motivations may seem inappropriate, but in the end my values were in only one place: me.

Gradually, I became exhausted chasing goal after goal. I felt no purpose in anything I did. I felt hollow. I began to notice only those things about my life with which I was discontent. I felt I had no friends, no purpose, and no relief from the daily routine of get up, go to work, come home, sleep, get up, go to work, come home…

I realized how self-serving my life had become. I was warping the things I had been given.  I discovered why my work had come to feel so meaningless, why I no longer felt joy in doing the things I was doing.  Ultimately, I was spending all of my time and effort, all of my strength and ability, to build up something that would not last.  I remembered  that I will not live forever, which made it meaningless for me to invest primarily in myself.

I understood that I was not born to be successful, to be followed, or to be “happy.” I was born to be a servant.  I had bought in to the concepts of “rights” and “independence” that are so popular in our culture. In chasing after those things I actually became enslaved to the pursuit of them.

In the end, I wrote this poem about what I think it means to surrender to something bigger than ourselves, to live for something beyond our own successes or failures, beyond the scope of our allotted time in this version of the world. When we create, we recognize that we are in need of something more. Our desire to make art shows that we understand there is something missing, and that what already exists in this life is not good enough to complete us. I am not saying that what we create with the work of our hands is enough to make us whole; I am saying that the desire to create is a symptom of our being incomplete.

As I have written previously, we become lost, so God whispers to us to guide us home. Because His words are beautiful, we become inspired. When we become inspired, we create.  Art is the reflection of God in us.

-Mike

Where Perfection Waits

A brewer selects wheat, hops, barley
to craft and barrel
with tender consideration
touching everything
that it might have known him.

A painter brushes each stroke
caressing pigment onto canvass
the way lovers kiss coloring cheeks
whispering at each others’ ears
an artist’s passion ignites.

A monk chants in smoky dusk
voice rolling with the Vespers bell
blessing hills, valleys, fields
praying at end of day
an echo of contented life.

A father beholds his newborn child
recognizing the eyes
he warms her against his chest
his heartbeat against hers
for the first time understanding
where perfection waits.

Michael Hylton, Columbia, Missouri, 2009


My Favorite Daydream

Today I have another poem to share with you.  I have only recently written this one, and it is the first poem I am posting that I do not consider to be finished.  My goal today is to see if anyone would offer me some feedback on this draft.

As with most of my poetry, I am primarily concerned with imagery. I enjoy rural scenery and the outdoors in general (contradictory, seeing as I am writing a twice-weekly blog…), especially early in the morning. I teach in what is considered to be a rural community, though recently it has rapidly expanded and is very much suburban.  However, on the edges of the town there still exists some farmland and undeveloped property.  I have the pleasure of driving through this part of the community every morning on my way to work.

This poem is about a frequently-recurring fantasy I have. I most commonly have this fantasy in the Spring.  When I pass by a fenced-in pasture, I often want to get out of the car, hop into the field, and start walking.  I often wonder if the farmers who own the property ever do this, with the exception of hopping out of the car as they happen pass by.  I’m sure they do; my students are full of stories about running around on their parents’ or their grandparents’ property.  I have to admit: it makes me slightly envious.

My goal with this piece is to illustrate the pasture and the morning, and, hopefully, my obsession with this type of scene. I also intend to capture a bit of the contradiction between “having places to be” and wanting to be nowhere in particular. I also wish to comment on the frustration that comes from the fact that I most often see these pastures and fields, and therefore most often have this daydream, as I am on my way to work in the morning.

Enjoy the poem.  Please keep in mind that this is not yet completely finished, though I do consider it to be in “the final stages.”  I would appreciate your feedback.

I have actually done this once...

A Pastoral Scene

As I drove into town the other day,
At dawn on the first clear morning of spring,
I passed by one of those wide metal gates
Closing off a crooked barbed-wire fence,
Half-heartedly guarding the perimeter of a pasture.

Beyond the gate, and the fence to which it was attached,
Hills rolled endlessly into the distance
Here and there dotted by greening bushes
And thin clumps of trees,
The kind that cast long shadows in the early morning light.

I watched the scene fade in my rear-view mirror
Then tuned my attention back to the stream of cars
In which I was steadily flowing
Down a winding back road,
The short cut on my way to work.

***
If I ever see one of those gates
And one of those fences
I am tempted to park on the shoulder of the road
Beyond the reach of morning’s commute.

I imagine abandoning the car,
Leaving the door hanging open as I walk away.
I would approach the fence slowly,
Then stand a moment, leaning against one of the  chilled metal posts.

After some time I would climb the gate,
And step softly into the gravel on the other side.
It would be like crossing into another realm,
As if all along Eden had been hidden in Missouri.

I might keep walking
As the memory of the gate, my car, and the highway
Began to unravel in my mind,
Leaving behind a trail of yarn I would not follow back.

***
I often think about the purpose of such a gate,
That it is meant to grant passage to broken-in farm trucks,
To stand watch over ancient grey barns,
And keep cows and horses near a cozy Midwestern farmhouse
Set somewhere beyond view of the highway.

Or, maybe, the gate is there for a more important purpose,
To prevent morning drivers
Passing the field on their morning commute
From testing the rustic barrier,
To keep them from guessing the pasture-owner’s secret:

That if you leave behind everything,
And walk through the dew-soaked grass beyond the fence
The last that might ever be seen of you
Is a silhouette on the crest of the furthest hill
Just before it vanishes into the sunrise.

Michael Hylton, St. Louis, Missouri, 2011


Farewell, Shadows.

So, this video was created by a friend of mine.  He is a cinematographer and film editor.  He and his wife came to spend the weekend with us when Clara was only a couple of weeks old.  He spent most of the time with a camera in his hand.  About a month after the visit, this is what was produced:

I wanted to share this, even though it is from some time ago.  I thought that since this blog is still in it’s initial stages, I could reveal just a little more about myself.  If there is anything to know about me, it’s this: my daughter is the inspiration for most of my work.  It isn’t that she is the only thing I write about; it’s that she causes something deep in my core to begin to resonate. I became irrevocably convinced of the existence of God on the day she was born.  My best friend said something that I will probably not forget on the evening she entered the world:

“When I held her in my arms, I felt the universe shift around me.  I never want to do evil again.  I want to undo all of the evil I’ve ever done.”

I believe that God speaks to us all.  I believe that God fiercely desires us and fiercely loves us.  I think we often forget this, or never learn it in the first place, because there is much suffering in the world.  The suffering distracts us, and we become lost in shadow.  We try to find our own way out of the darkness, but because we as humans are so limited we inevitably trek deeper into the gloom.  Because of this, our Father places things and people into our lives that are singularly purposed to remind us of Him. They are glimpses of light in a dark world; they are beacons meant to lead us away from darkness, to guide us back home.  Typically these are those things that move us beyond our capacity to name or fully comprehend the feelings they stir. Once we begin to respond to and follow these signals, we begin to see that God is in everything, and the world becomes much less dark.  For me, this is where art comes from: seeing what the light of Heaven is illuminating.

The day my daughter was born was the day I realized God wanted my attention.  This was the first time in my life, I think, that I “truly” began to write. I tried to write before, to create music, to draw, but I always did it selfishly.  I wanted people to be amazed at my profound abilities. I wrote about what I thought people would think was “deep.” I wanted to be recognized for being talented. I was trying to find my own way out of the shadows.

Then, God revealed to me what it actually means to create.  When I held my daughter for the first time, and as I got to know her for the first few weeks of her life, God began to open up entire cosmos in my soul. Every time I looked at her, I felt spiritual atoms splitting. The inspiration to write, for me, comes from God revealing his presence in small, but confounding, ways. Through my daughter I get glimpses of Heaven, and I get to experience a fraction of the love that my creator has for me. When I experience these moments, I write.

“Literature adds to reality; it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides, and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”  -C.S. Lewis

Enjoy the video.  The music was written and recorded by some very good friends of mine, Blackbird Cathedral.

-Mike


The Afternoon Nap

Here is the latest poem I have finished. I wrote it about my daughter and an experience I had one afternoon last summer after putting her down for her nap.

I also wanted to pay homage to Billy Collins’s “Picnic, Lightning,” which is one of my favorite poems by the former U.S. Poet Laureate. This poem isn’t an attempt to copy Collins’s style, or an attempt to reply to his writing with my own. It is a poem about the moment I had that afternoon as I cared for my daughter, and the connection that Collin’s poem and that moment share in my mind.

When I read “Picnic, Lightning,” I am reminded of instances when I wished time would go by faster. It is easy, I think, to wish this when one is struggling, when things aren’t going the way in which they were planned. I have often thought, “I can’t wait for this week to be over,” or “I just have to make it to the next pay check.”

When my daughter, Clara, was born, I very quickly learned to resist the impulse to wish time away. The first three or four weeks of Clara’s life were truly difficult. I had to shift my priorities with uncomfortable rapidity. I lost sleep. I ate irregularly. I did laundry perpetually. I was tested to the furthest reaches of my patience.

Despite all of this, though, there was no other experience in my life that could compare to holding that tiny, sleepy, dependent, innocent, beautiful little girl in my hands. There was a peace that settled when my newborn fell asleep on my chest. It surpassed all of the piles of laundry, the stacks of unwashed dishes, and the hours of sleep I would never see again. I needed it more urgently than I needed to catch up on the work in which I was running behind; it was more pressing for attention than the rapidly depleting balance of our savings account.

I think it became so important because in the back of my mind I knew that it would not last. I know it’s cliche, but children grow quickly. Over the weeks and months that followed, Clara became less and less dependent on her mother and me. She began sleeping through the night. She began feeding herself. She began to talk, and could therefore begin to make basic choices in things she wanted. And she’s much, much bigger than she was when we first brought her home. A lot of the time I think about how small and mysterious and awe-inspiring she was in the first weeks of her life. I think about how she will never, never be that way again.

I realized that hoping for time to move more quickly was not only pointless, but ultimately counterproductive. The more I wanted difficult periods in my life to hurry by, the more quickly the good times came and went as well. About a year ago I began making an effort to stop myself when I would begin thinking something along the lines of, “Everything will be better when I make it to the weekend/ the holidays/ the summer.” I have had to work particularly hard at being thankful, intentionally, as a counter to that impulse. What I have begun to notice is that when I force myself to be thankful during hard times, it is easier to remember to be thankful during times of blessing. It is also easier to realize that, soon enough, more blessings will come.

Anyway, before I spiral into a great depth of hyperbole, here is the poem. Please comment, repost this, or recommend it to a friend. I would appreciate any one or combination of these three things.

“Then the Wheelbarrow is a wilder blue,
the clouds a brighter white,
and all I hear is the rasp of the steel edge
against a round stone,
the small plants singing with lifted faces,
and the click of the sundial
as one hour sweeps into the next.”
From Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins

The Afternoon Nap

I pause to take a look at the child
before I step out of the room.
The hum of the fan
and the blue-curtained light
soak the air heavily with mid-afternoon sleep.

Waiting, letting the moment rest,
I realize she is still awake,
indifferent to my presence in the doorway.
I watch her lying beneath the blanket,
simple, safe,
waiting for dreams.

I feel the passing of every second
in heart beats
and slow, easy breaths,
the kind that come just before
an irresistible nap.

I stand, fully aware of this image
and the slowly-knitting future
for her,
for me.

Then, the only thing I hear
is the swelling din of the air,
hearts whispering behind ribs,
and the deep-blue afternoon light
as it pours an unstoppable stream of life
onto my daughter’s bedroom floor.

Michael Hylton
St. Louis, Missouri 2011