Posted by: rationalpsychic | Monday, May 2, 2011

2011 “More than Writing” Writer’s Conference

Posted by: rationalpsychic | Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thanks to the US House of Representatives

I just wanted to note the occasion. Thanks for taking a positive vote on health care. I am one of the over 30 million Americans who don’t have health care.

I look forward to legislation being introduced to improve it.

To those who believe this marks the beginning of the end of the world: I would really like to hear your predictions as to how quickly we will decline and dissolve as a nation. Seriously, what is your best guesstimate?

Posted by: rationalpsychic | Sunday, May 31, 2009

George Richard Tiller (August 8, 1941 – May 31, 2009)

The betrayal of Jesus

The betrayal of Jesus

That a large number of Americans should disagree with the abortion laws in this country and wish to see them changed–that I can understand. That there are Americans who would feel that killing Dr. George Tiller, MD, is justifiable is a real stretch for me.

But that someone should assassinate the man as he served in his church should be called by its rightful name: Terrorism.

I hope that most of us will agree that the suspect in Dr. Tiller’s shooting will be brought to trial and prosecuted.

I hope that those who believe in the Passion of Christ will realize this is just another betrayal of Jesus and his ministry of peace.

Posted by: rationalpsychic | Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Modern Folk Tale for 2009

What is the modern folk tale? I don’t know. But I would love for you to teach me.

You’ve heard the old saw, “Everybody has a story to tell.” I think there’s more to it than that. Folk tales have something to offer people can listen to a tale and get the point: “That’s about the dangers of greed and how being generous brings home its own wealth.” Or, “That’s about how faith in yourself and honesty get you through hard times.” Along the way there are witches, talking animals, and something called magic.

Jack and the Beanstalk by Arthur Rackham

Jack and the Beanstalk by Arthur Rackham

That these stories have survived into the Electronic Age gives testimony to the depth of these stories and the messages they provide. People want the underdog to come out on top, the youth to find his love in a loveless world and most of all, for wicked witches and evil fairies to get their just desserts and stop picking on good folk.

I believe that the world is more complicated today and moves faster but I think it would be a disservice to our ancestors to think that they subject to fewer hardships than today. Plagues, poverty, wars and the emptying of the rural areas as a result of increased urbanization were real challenges that are with us to this day.

Maybe there are Hansels and Gretels out there today, feeling that they have been abandoned by father and persecuted by the cruel stepmother. Or Rapunzels who feel they are locked away andunable to find a pure love that lives even in adversity.

I firmly believe that these stories—or their modern equivalents are out there right now. And that being new and raw, have the ability to move us whenever we hear them.

If you have a story to tell that somehow seems like a modern folk tale, fairy tale, or even creation myth. Whatever it is, I’d like you to tell it.

* * * * *
I’m looking at the above text as the seed for an idea regarding a website. I think that there are lots of people out there with a story to tell. And I think that of those there are stories  that other people want to hear and would find them to be healing.

Of course, the storytellers won’t contribute their stories if the act isn’t healing for them as well.

Has anyone ever sought to do this out there? Do you know people who have created YouTube channels or hosted their own sites? Can this be done so that it at least pays for itself?

I would love to hear people’s ideas. Thank you for any help you can give.

Posted by: rationalpsychic | Monday, March 9, 2009

A Better Poetry Exercise for March

I was not particularly happy with my last poetry exercise. Partly because I adapted someone else’s writing exercise (even with attribution) and because I’ve had no responses regarding that blog. Disappointment filled my heart. : (   Where are the emoticons when you need them?



I like a more free-form approach to challenging folks, anyway. So, I’m going to encourage you to write another poem. Let’s try thirteen lines again.


Night Shining White, a handscroll attributed to Han Gan (active 742–756)

Night Shining White, a handscroll attributed to Han Gan (active 742–756)


The challenge in this one is to start with one of the lines I’ve given you and to allow it to draw you on to a second line that is all your own. It’s conceivable that you would want to extend the line beyond what I’ve given. That’s OK so long as you start with what’s given you.



When I call the second set of lines “middle lines” I again am playing somewhat loosely with the term ‘middle.’ It can be anywhere in between line 2 and line 12. If that’s too easy then you should challenge yourself and use on of the lines I give you as line 7 exactly.



Rather than fulfill the pattern exactly and give you last “lines,” I thought giving a last word might be more evocative (consider how often that word is misused or only used correctly in a film review).

If you have never done an exercise of this kind, I’m sure you’ll think the “last word” notion is very permissive (liberal poets will be the death of American capitalism and values, mark my words!). See if it doesn’t actually make things a bit harder as you try to find the right words or phrase work to result in the last word making a dovetailed fit.



I hope that this exercise is more enjoyable for you! Please post your attempts here when you’re done. Think of it as a form of self-publishing without the large check made out to some swindler with a copy machine. Your name, a time stamp, and even a few witnesses to the publication of your work are provided through the instantaneous action of the tubes! Is there anything better this side of the letterpress printing?




Some first lines

The baseball landed at my feet …

My favorite animal is the …

The old woman’s house was built …

I love that boy, even after …

She doesn’t know how to tell me …

In the dawn, the sense of gray over …

If I were the magician and you were …

Sitting at the table to eat, Gerald …

Sitting at the table to eat, Amina …

Across the table, I could hear my mother …

In Iraq tonight, the air felt …


Middle lines

The distance held his eye. A quick …

Monkeys and the rain. Monkeys and the rain.

Every rice dish had cinnamon added…

Giving respect was the price she was …

In flying over Missouri, I learned …

She touched the turquoise, the silver.

What he held to be evidence, a bit of wood, a $5 bill …

Under the water, eyes open, then …

He only thought of asphalt as …

The woman’s body, glowing in this …


Absolutely last words

salt    garlic

earth     skin

Morocco Duluth

red muscle

gift emptiness

thread wood

cloud phoenix

bench beat

sing (all forms of the verb are fair game)

fly drive

Note: You may laugh at the juxtaposition of “Morocco” and “Duluth,” but if you were raised in Minnesota I’m betting that you equate Duluth with the exotic, foreign, and romantic in much the same way as I do.


Posted by: rationalpsychic | Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March Poetry-Writing Exercise

I wrote a blog that I thought was merely an exercise in simian self-flagellation. Yet, it got one of the best responses of anything else I’ve written. The nice thing about doing a blog and avoiding payment in exchange for doing it is that I have no committee or higher-ups to determine what I’ll write next. God bless the internet, people.

When you write poetry and are out of ideas or want to try something new you find that there are others who have been there before you. In less than two minutes of searching for ideas, I found a great site that is obviously the result of a lot of time and effort by Ariadne Unst and J. Zimmerman: Poetry at Ariadne’s Web . They have a veritable dictionary of resources which include reviews of poets, their work, poetic forms and a number of exercises for generating your own poems.

The exercise, copyrighted by J. Zimmerman, is an effort to have you write a poem in the emulation of the poems of Billy Collins. Since I’m gaining the inspiration from them already, I’ll adjust their notion for my own uses. I’ll quote material whenever practical. Consider any shortcomings in this exercise to be mine and refer to their website for the original, please.

  1. Billy Collins’ line breaks … simply reflect the normal punctuation and pauses for breath. Many of the poems are written in couplets, triplets, or quatrains. They do not have end rhymes….
  2. You will need a small animal. It could be a mouse or a snail. It could be a small, caged bird or a goldfish. Pick one. The animal will usually stand for you. Or you might stand for it.
  3. Collins’ poems are primarily about his own daily, non-confessional experiences. He appears in his own poems as a friendly and unpretentious “I”.
  4. Collins likes to address “you”. Remarkably, even to readers who usually detest such poems, Collins does not offend. That is because he is flatters and teases the addressed “you”. Be prepared to walk the dangerous “you” path!
  5. Think of a slightly squeamish element that you can include, such as a dead mouse or a still-living bird brought in by a cat.
  6. Include an extended metaphor that flourishes for stanzas, rejoicing into the surreal.
  7. Include a conscious (in fact, self-conscious) descent into bathos (in the sense of anticlimax).
  8. Refer to one or more famous people (such as Ken Kesey or David Hume) or a town (such as Omaha or Kathamandu) or a state or country (such as Florida or China).”
  9. Use commonplace language as much as is practical or challenge yourself to be more workaday in your language choices than you usually are.
Here we go. Time to start using the features in your work.
  1. Line 1: Begin with a line that mentions a time. Most commonly, Collins picks a time earlier in the morning
Line 2: Continue with a line containing a verb—an action of what you (or something) did.” Zimmerman gives examples from Collins on ways this has been done.
Line 3: Good advice is given here not to introduce the surreal or disturbing too early. However, Zimmerman advises starting with an extended metaphor at this point which will then be carried through. I have nothing against this advice, I simply won’t give it.
Lines 4-6. This is when you begin your career as Billy Collins. Bring in your small animal (bird, fish, whatever). Introduce your slightly squeamish element.
  • Lines 7-9. Reference “you” in a charming yet clear-eyed way.
  • Conclude with a flourish that shifts the mood to one that complements the prevalent mood so far.
  • Zimmerman’s exercise doesn’t give a line limit, which is more than fine. For my exercise, I want to go to thirteen lines which somehow seems slightly off-kilter compared to an even dozen, for example. I also am going to include a color in the last line. If I can swing it in one-and-a-half revisions I’ll do it as the last word of the poem.

    Shangguan Wan'er poet of the Tang Dynasty, China.

    Shangguan Wan'er poet of the Tang Dynasty.

After I woke at 10 a.m.
I drove along the Minnesota, it slides
north, curve by curve up to St. Peter.
I stopped before I got there, parking

at a public water access. Across the river,
was a blue heron as still as sticks. If you
were along you could have seen it, too.
The neck tensed back on its loop

like someone pulling a bowstring and
sploosh, the bird speared a frog
and bobbed its head to move the meal
down its neck. The heron saw me and

squawked, opened its blue wings and was gone.

That’s mine. I hope yours fared better. Mine lacks any real surrealism other than the whole incident being an imagined one. Funny. Real stuff happens to me and I like to make it into fantasy. Yet my fantasies look like natural occurrences. I guess I’m eager for spring.

Non sequitur: I just watched U2 give their first performance of the week on the Dave Letterman. After almost thirty years of performing together they still seem to believe in what they’re doing.

P.S. You can probably tell I’m having real trouble with formatting. I’m not trying  to go in over my head, just trying to get it consistent. I’d appreciate direction toward any resources or ways that you’ve handled similar shortcomings in this editing software. Thank you.

Posted by: rationalpsychic | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Tao of Pooh vs. a Chicken-Hearted Congress

Here’s a book I haven’t read in about twenty years: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Some books are interesting and worthwhile to reread in order to find out how much you’ve forgotten. I found that Hoff’s book was worth my time to read because of how many things that seemed like hermeneutics now seem as though they are a part of my body. Rereading also points to other things that would be valuable to add to the “body” of my knowledge.

Calligraphy by Zhao Yizhou

把酒臨風 - Drinking with the Wind by Zhao Yizhou

In Hoff’s book, he uses the characters created by A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore, and so on, to illustrate the Tao and the different workaday approaches to understanding the big concepts of Knowledge, Existence, and even the Smart Way of Doing Things, as they relate to, or are different from, the Tao.

In the time of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and other early Taoist writers, the popular alternative to Taoist thought was Confucianism. Confucianism started out as a way of setting humanity’s doings on Earth in harmony with the way things were done in Heaven by the Jade Emperor and his court.

A noble goal which became a bit bogged down and clogged up by the addition of rites and routines, traditions and ceremonies that did more to describe the actions humans needed to take to do everything “correctly” but without so much thought as to why these things needed to be done.

Here, in modern America, we seem to be confronted by the same types of “correct” ways of doing things with little thought of whether the underlying principles of this nation and, indeed, humanity, are being met or advanced. The cost of doing things “correctly” is that we are often unable to see through to actions which have not been tried before.

We are concerned that the cost of the stimulus package is too large. Yet, if the money isn’t spent, where will the cash come from to move this large economy from a point of stagnation to one in which the flow of money is a rushing stream reaching everyone in the country (can’t comment on the Tao without using a water image, you know)?

In Minnesota, talk of balancing our state’s budget revolves around cutting health and human services. Yet, if we cut aid to people in need, how will our activities end up helping people who are presently in need? It seems as if our Governor and legislature are willing to sacrifice the present health people (which will have larger cost effects in the future) in order to help them recover financially at some undefined point in the future. The thought must be that if we help the poor recover financially, they will be able to pay the accumulating costs rung up by the neglect of their health during the recession.

I think that even when we talk about costs that most Americans are willing to pay for—such as infrastructure—we tend to think of getting back to where we were: roads that are in repair, maintaining bridges, etc.

It’s possible that I’ve had too much education myself and haven’t passed the test of Common Sense, but I wonder why we aren’t just as concerned with our public money being spent to move ahead in the area of green technology or buying a better power grid which could then make additional wind, solar and tidal power investments more practical.

It seems like now is the time to do this because, I ask you, what will be the conventional wisdom in a year or two if we get out of this mess? It will be to recoup losses we’re incurring now, won’t it? No one will be wanting to stick their necks out and buy into new, less proven technologies. We may find ourselves stuck with additional coal plants but no carbon sequestration technology to help us stay up on the necessary steps to reduce global warming.

Can you already hear the voices of the short-term thinkers? Although I am putting words in their mouths, I think that it’s a legitimate interpretation of their criticisms and actions: “We don’t have the money to spend today which could ensure saving the world for tomorrow.” Conclusion: When the costs mount as a result of increased drought in the Midwest and attempts to rebuild ports on the coasts where ocean levels are rising, we will continue falling behind in efforts to stop global warming. We will, however, conveniently be able to blame the decisions made today.

While the above may seem to be very non-Taoist in that I am suggesting taking more vigorous action there is also a part of the Tao which shows its value by cutting through formality and convention and going to the heart of the matter.

This post is long enough. I think that if I were to give an illustration of how activity and the Tao are not incompatible, I’ll need to do it in a separate post.

After using the calligraphic example here to illustrate the principle of the Tao, I wrote to Mr. Zhao Yizhou’s website to ask forgiveness. Within 24 hours, I received a very gracious reply from his agent, Mr. Mischa Altmann. He gave me permission to post an example of Mr. Zhao’s calligraphy and some reasonable guidelines to follow.

More examples of Mr. Zhao’s contemporary calligraphy can be found at his website. I know very little about this art form but I was immediately touched by the marriage of delicacy and an unflinching understanding of the individual floating through a modern landscape. I think he works from a perspective of bringing his motivation or the force to move the brush out of the Tao, much as his ancestors in the tradition would have. He then creates a reflection of humanity in a contemporary setting while demonstrating a respect for the calligraphic tradition. Even if you think you have no interest in Chinese calligraphy, you owe it to yourself to take a look.

Posted by: rationalpsychic | Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wade in. The waves are high and it’s just getting worse.

I have been listening to the news on my favorite NPR station in the area, KGAC-FM. Lots of Republican are attacking the stimulus package, claiming they are being kept out of the legislation (what part of Obama’s landslide election victory and their decline in Congressional numbers don’t they get?). So they continue their ideological support for their corporate allies and to demean, dismiss and ignore the plight of everyone making less than $100,000.

Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa by Hokusai

"Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa" by Hokusai

By attempting to trash and weaken the stimulus bill the Republican Party is claiming there’s no justifiable need–whether due to their moralizing against the poor or from an economic standpoint that trickle-down methods (tax cuts, lower government spending)– to bring public money into the attempted solution for what ails the nation.

My emotional response is: do they think we’re stupid? Of course, they don’t believe that. Instead, they believe we were all unconscious during the last eight nightmarish years of this nation’s history. They believe that we didn’t watch the Republican majority increase the national debt to unheard of depths. They believe we are unable to see that an injection of public money into public works projects is substantively different from spending on defense contractors and the Halliburtons of the world.

The Republican strategy of the week seems to be to view President Obama as weak. They know that we, as the American people, are fragmented. That we snipe and backbite and declare the other person’s government benefits to be the downfall of the rest of us. This is part of the Reagan corpus of esoteric study that was left us in ancient times (the 1980s). We forget that we may be the next to be thrown out of our homes due to credit policy set by representatives bought and paid for by a banking and financial services lobby that ran through the 90s and 2000s almost without check.

We may be the next person bankrupted by our medical insurance woes. We may be the next person whose unemployment insurance runs out and scrambles to find the phone book and the telephone number for the local food bank. We may be the next…

I’m sick to death of the extremes of American individualism. What is needed is not what many Republicans might label a “return to old-fashioned values.” Because there was a collectivism and a sense of brother- and sisterhood that prevailed in the past that is seldom talked about. Can you imagine a song like “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” becoming a Number 1 hit in the current climate?

Maybe it’s because the current crisis hasn’t been with us long enough to sink in. The 24-hour news cycle is still trying to generate a file of what I would call “helpful hints” designed to get you to believe that if YOU (not your neighbor who is a loathsome bum) just do the right job search, you’ll get out of this fine. If YOU (singular, not part of the collective) just learn how to bargain with your lender you can bring your credit debt to a manageabale level, you’ll be able to continue to afford that asthma inhaler your kid needs.

And, to intentionally bring up class “warfare” for a moment, if YOU can just continue to define yourself as middle class, this great nation will sail along just fine if YOU and I all the rest of the little fish will just let the nation’s leaders, lenders and business folks continue spinning the ship’s wheel just as they will without your input. Listen to your iPod until any feeling you might have that you can spot the rocks and the reefs and the approaching shoreline passes.

The thought came to my mind on Tuesday that we need to march in the streets just to say enough’s enough. Work to get people back to work rather than covering your ideological backsides. And that message should go out to both the Republicans and the Democrats. I wish that both parties would have the courage to take positive, albeit painful, steps to help folks out. They’d have to have faith that their actions will be reviewed and judged over a longer time than just the 24-hour news cycle. It might take marching in the street to change the way they look at polls and “winning or losing.”

[This is a gut response to the zeitgeist rather than a “reasonable” response to what’s going on. Don’t write and tell me I have my facts and figures fouled up, I didn’t base this on any. It’s just a sickening feeling that I have regarding the fact that less than a month into Obama’s administration and the Right is trying to torpedo him and any response he may have to the economic crisis before any competent individual or team of individuals could even organize a coherent response. I feel the Republicans are currently playing with the nation’s well-being much as they did under Bush’s direction. This approach boiled down to: We have an agenda and we’re sticking to it. It plays well as “consistency” in the minds of the public. We will not respond to realities. Damn the consequences.]

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