"PONDERING THE SHORELINE OF EXISTENCE"
Please welcome Poet and Author Christine Tabaka to the Writer's Journey Blog this week.
As I am approaching 70 years old, I have been assessing where I have been, and where I am likely to go. I am not ready to use the phrase “where I am to end up” yet, because I still hope for many more years of discovery and opportunity ahead of me.
Throughout my life, I was a lot of different things, but I never considered poet or writer to be one of them. I was an artist/illustrator, an organic chemist, a certified personal trainer, an avid wildflower gardener, wife, mother, and a creative cook; oh, and I wrote. I always wanted to be able to use my artistic abilities, but wasn’t sure that I had what it took. I was never happy with my attempts at art in any form. Luckily, others believed in me when I did not!
Thinking back, I started writing poems in Junior High School. I wrote about all the things that teenage girls write about, or did I? I did write all the mushy love poems about my boyfriends, and the boys that I could not have. I wrote the sad poems of losing boyfriends, etc. But I also wrote about the conflict in Vietnam, since I knew so many boys that were sent there, including my brother. I also wrote about things that ate away at my soul, like homeless street people, the aging process, and stray animals. Back then most, but not all, of my poems rhymed.
In my twenties, I wrote a few short stories to submit to magazines like Lady’s Home Journal and McCall’s. They were either true stories or human-interest stories. None of them were ever accepted. In fact, even with the prerequisite self-addressed stamped envelope, I never even received a reply nor my stories back from many of the magazines. That was the short-lived history of my trying to be a writer.
Jump ahead forty years. I continued to write the occasional poem when I felt the urge, but I never took it seriously until I shared several on Social Media, and my friends started to encourage me to put them in a book. So, I gathered up all my notebooks and scraps of paper and put them into my first poetry book “Overcast Mind” which read like a diary of my life up until that point. I self-published ‘Overcast Mind” since it was easy to do so. I knew that no real publisher would want to publish the tripe that I wrote. My friends enjoyed it, and that was enough for me. It did not take long before I caught the bug, and started getting serious. I started to submit my newer work to journals and e-zines. I was hooked.
I started to read as many other poets as I could to see what different kinds of styles and subject matter were out there. I wanted to learn and to grow. I found my life and my family a rich source of subject matter, but I never gave up my love of nature and social concerns. During that period, I sometimes wrote two, or even three poems in a day. I would wake up in the middle of the night with a thought, and immediately the light went on and I grabbed my notebook and pen. I could not seem to stop writing. Then came the dreaded lull. I would go a week or more and not be able to write. It was frightening and upsetting. At times I was afraid that I might never be able to write again. Having writer and poet friends to talk with helped. I was not alone in this ebb and flow of writing inspiration.
I never thought I would try to write a story again, when I was told by a friend that I “had to try” writing drabbles for an anthology. They were fun to write, but a lot harder than I thought they would be. I could always come up with a really solid beginning, and usually a decent middle, but I was not good at thinking a story through to the end before I started to write it, so my ends were often times weak. I found it even harder to get a complete story to fit into exactly 100 words. I finally was able to get a decent number of drabbles accepted and published. I thought that would be the end of my fiction writing career, when yet another friend started to work on me, to get me to write a short story for an anthology.
Once I started writing it, I could not stop. The entire story came out in one sitting. Of course, I learned the hard way to sit on a story, and go back and re-read, and re-read, and re-read out-loud before submitting. Again, most of my stories seemed to come to me at night when I am trying to fall asleep. It is almost as if they appear to me in a semi-dream state. Even now that I have written dozens of short stories and drabbles, I still write the entire story down in one sitting, sometimes within an hour or two. For some reason, if I go back to an unfinished story, I seem to lose the magic charm. It just doesn’t work for me. The strange thing is that when I write poems, I can jot down a word here or there, a few lines, or a stanza and go back weeks or even months later and pick them up to work on them again.
My subject matter of my stories can change depending on the theme that a journal or anthology is looking for. I do write some stories just because they seem to pop into my head, but the majority of my stories have been written for a specific project. Whereas I do not enjoy writing poems to themes. I prefer to write from whatever I am feeling, seeing, or experiencing at that moment. I am not one of those who puts aside a certain time to write like most serious writers seem to do. I have to write when the feeling hits me. I also do not have an office or specific place that I write. I carry a notebook and pen with me at all times, and have even been known to pull off on the side of the road while driving, to write down something that I was thinking about.
The first book that I ever put out in print was a memoire that I self-published. I had done my family genealogy when a niece asked me about her deceased father’s (my oldest brother) family history. It was a painstakingly long ordeal with a lot of sending letters and forms all over the world. Not a lot of that information was online at that time, especially not in Poland and eastern Europe. It also ran up a few dollars to get those forms and then get them translated. I originally wrote it as a diary of how I found my family and the people that I met along the way, who stepped into my life and helped me. I only wrote it to share with my newly found family. It was the least expensive way to get enough print copies to pass around to so many people in USA and Poland. It was exciting since I never knew any family while growing up, except my immediate family. I will not go into the sad and desperate details of that part of my life.
Anyway, in the process of putting out that memoire, I learned a great deal about self-publishing and “trying” to design and put together book covers (I never did get all that successful with the covers since I did not have any computer programs to help with that). Each time I self-published, I learned a little more and started to understand how to format a professional looking manuscript. I now have twelve poetry books published. My first six books were all self-published. Then I discovered small presses, or should I say, a few small presses discovered me. That was the highlight of my poetry book publishing. I never sold a lot, but unknown poets rarely do. I have a small but loyal following, and I am most grateful for those new friends of the arts.
While we are on the subject of books, I am in the process of having my “Lucky [hopefully] number thirteen book published. I was approached by the editor of Inspired Magazine and asked if I would be interested in having my next book published by them. I figured, sure why not? What have I to lose? I had my next manuscript already in the works, so when I finished it, I submitted it to Steve Cawte for consideration.
The book, “Pondering the Shoreline of Existence” is due to be released in early 2021.
This is a deeply personal book to me because there are so many poems about my family, my history, my childhood, and my emotions in it. I did not want to write about the pandemic this year since so many publications were putting out calls or stories and poems about it, but there are even a few poems that touch on that subject in this book. They were written for theme calls from several publications, but I felt they needed to be included in the book because it is part of what life is like this year. My favorite of these is “It was Wednesday,” which encompasses how I felt about how swiftly things went from good to bad to better in a blink of the eye. This poem was published by Page & Spine in May 2020. I am also honored that my dear poet and musician friend Dale Adams composed a song from this poem and put it up on YouTube for me. If you would like to listen to this beautiful and touching rendition of my poem put to song, please visit this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9OuwCYBbp0
It Was Wednesday
It was Wednesday.
Winds were calm.
Sun peeked through branches
as it climbed the sky.
Windows open to sweet air
and bird songs.
Promises were made.
New life emerged from soft earth.
It was Thursday.
Darkness covered all.
Sad sighs emerged from within.
Everything was upside down.
Doors locked to fear.
Hearts sought solace.
How quickly everything changed.
It was Friday,
Saturday, then Sunday …
A little bird landed on my feeder.
Flowers opened to face the sun.
A glimmer of hope shone.
And people walked outside once more.
I think that all writers play with the idea of someday becoming rich and famous, but in the end, it is not money or fame that most of us really desire. Ultimately, I want my words to live on in the universe long after I am gone. Sure, some of my books may need to sell so that my words can get out there, but that is enough for me.
Like most writers and poets, writing has become a part of who I am now. I feel as if I live and breathe poems. I never thought the day would come when I would say this, but now when someone asks me what I do, I say “I am a poet, and a writer.”
*I need to mention that the cover is a photograph by my poet and photographer friend Carl Scharwath.
You can find her on Facebook:
And on her website: Words Spill Out-Poetry
BIO: Ann Christine Tabaka was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. She is the winner of Spillwords Press 2020 Publication of the Year, her bio is featured in the “Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2020,” published by Sweetycat Press. Chris has been internationally published, and won poetry awards from numerous publications. Her work has been translated into Sequoyah-Cherokee Syllabics, and into Spanish. She is the author of 12 poetry books. She has recently been published in several micro-fiction anthologies and short story publications. Christine lives in Delaware, USA. She loves gardening and cooking. Chris lives with her husband and four cats. Her most recent credits are: The American Writers Review; The Phoenix; Burningword Literary Journal; Muddy River Poetry Review; The Write Connection; The Scribe, North of Oxford, Pomona Valley Review, Page & Spine, West Texas Literary Review, The Hungry Chimera, Sheila-Na-Gig, Foliate Oak Review, The Stray Branch, The McKinley Review, Fourth & Sycamore. *(a complete list of publications is available upon request)