As we try to put 2017 behind us and look forward to 2018, many of us are reflecting on our past accomplishments/challenges and planning how to fare better. Those of us who are past a certain age find that bright-eyed optimism has slowly given way to a clear-eyed skepticism, given what these last two years have wrought around the world. Still, we are hopeful creatures, aren't we? So here are four poems to help us get into the right frame of mind for the new year. These are about the moment when we reflect back on our past accomplishments (The Moment by Margaret Atwood), how we plan for the future (Plans by Stuart Dischell), the hopes with which we aim to begin again (The Land of Beginning Again by Louise Fletcher), and the thought of doing something over and doing it better (Next Time by Joyce Sutphen.) I wish you all a terrific new year ahead. May you have many reflective moments, may all your plans come to fruition, may you have many wonderful beginnings, and may you get plenty of "next time" second chances to do more, do better.
Recently, a writer friend asked on Facebook: "What is a word you love?" I did not have to think too long as there is one I have loved for nearly two decades now. It was probably in 2000 when I first came across it while reading about Rumi's relationship with his spiritual guide, Shams-i-Tabrīzī. "Sohbet" is a word of Persian origin, though some also trace the etymology back to Arabic and Ottoman Turkish. It means discourse or conversation between a learned, enlightened one (murshid) and the one committed (murid) to such a person. I hesitate to use the words teacher and student because "murshid" and "murid" mean so much more than that. Just as "sohbet" means so much more than mere dialogue. In the Sufi tradition, there are three ways of being spiritual, with each being a level higher than the previous: prayer; meditation; and sohbet. That highest way of spiritual being, sohbet, is a mystical practice involving an exchange of knowledge and devotion between the murshid and murid through storytelling traditions. It involves a healing, a cleansing, and a coming together of their minds, hearts, and souls. The murshid cultivates and educates the murid with care and compassion and their deep connection is one of true respect and trust. Through such a practice of sohbet, the murid is able to find a sense of unity with everything.
[Note: This post is a roundup of the monthly series on writing how-to books thus far, for those who might just be coming to this or who might have missed previous installments.] In the last six months since I began this series of books/sources that have taught me to be a better writer, I have also begun rereading some of these books from my shelves. It has been a rather interesting experience to find more nuance, discover details I had missed the first time around, and see how much of the advice within I have actually applied versus not and why. Before I do a quick recap of the various themes covered so far, let's talk briefly about the general kinds of writing how-to books out there. For the most part, they tend to fit into one of these three categories: