We’re very pleased to interview Mary Mansfield, who is yet another poet Walt and I first met at a Poetic Asides poetry challenge hosted by Robert Lee Brewer. Mary has certainly earned her share of Beautiful Blooms here – a testament to her talent.
MARIE ELENA: Welcome, Mary! Let’s start with your blog title” Write Wing Conspiracy (Plotting world domination one poem at a time…). Hahaha! Watch out world!
I love this little excerpt from your “Write, Not Right.”Words hold power, And one poem at a time Every poet possesses The power To change the world.
Your blog title is humorous, yet this excerpt makes me believe you might mean this sincerely. Please elaborate.
MARY: I absolutely do mean this! Words truly do hold power. Think about the religious texts we turn to when seeking strength in times of crisis, the historical documents that have shaped the course of history, the political speeches that can rally us to action. When I look at the world and the challenges we face, so many of the issues plaguing humanity cannot be solved with rationality and intellect; we need to change people’s hearts, and poets are uniquely qualified to do so.
MARIE ELENA: What a grand thought, Mary. What have you specifically written with that goal in mind?
MARY: I can think of two specific poems I wrote that I think fit this. I wrote “A Light Against the Darkness” the day of the tragic movie theater shooting last summer in Aurora, Colorado, and I couldn’t help but be struck by the sense of helplessness that seemed to sweep across the nation that day. I was looking for a way to move forward, to show that there was hope for our future as long as we stood against evil.
A LIGHT AGAINST THE DARKNESS (by Mary Mansfield)Evil is not the monster under the bed Or the boogey man lurking in the shadows. Evil is real. Evil walks the earth in human guise, Bathing in acid rivers of hate, Stripping away any shred of humanity To commit unspeakable acts of violence. Evil is a coward, Preying on the innocent and unsuspecting… An explosion of rage that destroys a city bus, A destructive shower of bullets In a movie theater or at a summer camp, Silver wings transformed into lethal missiles Raining terror down upon an unwary nation. Evil leaves toxic footprints upon the ground, A poison strong enough to evoke Images of the most horrible atrocities Just at the mention of a name… The gas chambers of Auschwitz, The killing fields of Cambodia, The bloodied plains of Darfur. Evil is a powerful adversary, Bloodthirsty and ruthless, But just as surely as evil exists, Goodness exists, with more power and greater numbers. Let the good-hearted people of the world Stand together against the growing evil, Casting aside that which may divide us In pursuit of a nobler cause, With faithful hearts and fervent prayers Sent heavenward because only The light of love and tolerance Can stop the encroaching darkness.
And then there’s “resistance,” which I wrote at the height of the election season. I found myself increasingly frustrated as it seemed that the public was growing far too complacent, accepting what was being presented to them at face value instead of actually paying attention to the facts and trying to decipher the truth for themselves. While in that poem I pushed perhaps a little further into the political fringe than I normally would, I think it’s good to encourage a little critical thinking when it comes to the news.
resistance (by Mary Mansfield)resist the poisons pumped into our weakened bodies, man-made plagues set loose upon an unsuspecting world resist the lies injected into our minds by manipulators seeking more sheep to cower at the feet of their masters resist the misdirection of the magicians of power with so much to hide, subterfuge their only armor against the truth resist the invasion of the eyes and ears of the betrayers; gird your houses in silence, for the time of battle approaches there is no other option we must resist
MARIE ELENA: Both poems are quite powerful, Mary, and lend themselves fittingly with your goal. Very impressive.
MARY: I don’t know that I’ve had any success in changing the world on a larger scale, but changing the world doesn’t have to be a monumental task. We all wander through our lives to a large extent very insulated from each other, something made even more apparent with the increased presence of electronic communications. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are all alone, that no one understands our struggles. Some of the themes I seem to return to in my writing again and again – grief and loss, dysfunctional relationships, the search for meaning in my life – those are such universal themes that touch all of us at some point. I believe that if I can make one person feel a little less alone, make them realize that others have walked that path and shared in that pain, then I’ve done something that has made a difference.
MARIE ELENA: Hear, hear! You are quite an inspiration, Mary!
I understand you are interested in writing novels as well as poetry. Tell me what you do to hone your craft of novel writing vs writing poetry.
MARY: I’d love to write a novel at some point, and I’ve got a couple of ideas floating about in my head that I’ve been trying to get sorted out. At this point they’re still a bit of a jumbled mess that usually takes me a good twenty minutes to try to explain to anyone, so I’m not quite sure they’re ready to spring to life just yet.
As far as honing my skills, I try to learn as much as I can, studying plot structure, character development and such. I’ve been trying to work on some shorter pieces but sometimes those ideas are stubborn little things that don’t want to cooperate. And I read as much as I can, although undeniably not as much as I’d like.
MARIE ELENA: You describe yourself as “A mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a side of bacon.” HA! Tell me more!
MARY: Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but occasionally my writing can be just a little bit dark and dreary. I think that little blurb helps to keep me from taking myself too seriously and reminds me to lighten up every now and again (also the reason I have cartoon pillowcases for my bed!)
MARIE ELENA: I wonder if your classmates knew about the cartoon pillowcases. 😉 I understand they voted you “most likely to become president.” Nice! Do you know why they felt this way? If you really were the president, what about you would make you a good one?
MARY: First of all, thanks so much for assuming I’d make a good president, because I’m pretty sure it would be disastrous. I’m overly opinionated, I don’t compromise, and I have this tendency to just blurt out whatever I happen to be thinking. Not particularly great qualities to have when trying to navigate the political waters of Washington. I’m pretty sure my high school classmates gave me that particular “honor” simply because I was one of the smartest students; unfortunately we all know far too well that intelligence and politics have very little to do with each other.
MARIE ELENA: So, what does a day in the life of a poet/novelist/world changer/mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a side of bacon/overly opinionated/possible future president look like?
MARY: Wow, I don’t know that there’s any such thing as a typical day in my life. My days are just so dependent on the level of pain I’m dealing with. I’ve suffered with chronic back pain since my daughter was born, and the pain has only worsened over the years. On a good day I’ll be able to make it through the normal household routine, pretty easily – school, errands, dishes, laundry, dinner – and have some time to try to get some writing done. But on those bad days, which come along much more frequently lately, I spend the majority of time with either an ice pack or heating pad on my back with brief periods of trying to get things done for the family. Admittedly a lot seems to fall through the cracks, and trying to find the focus to write is almost impossible. That’s the biggest reason I had to throw the brakes on a few months ago in regards to my writing journey…dealing with the constant pain, lack of sleep, and family pressures left me on the brink of a breakdown. I just had to find a better way. Not quite sure I’ve done that just yet, but I’m closer than I’ve been in a very long time.
MARIE ELENA: I’m so sorry that you live with pain, Mary. That sounds just awful. I’m glad you are making progress in dealing with it. It’s hard to even imagine.
As you well know, sometimes through pain comes a miracle, as evidenced by one of my favorite poems of yours.
Three Minute Wait (by Mary Mansfield)Three minutes can become an agonizing eternity
Alone in the bathroom at 4 A.M.I hold that white plastic stick like a talisman, Praying that the tiny spark of hope That always resurfaces at times like this Would not be extinguished once again With tears of disappointment. After years of dealing with a malfunctioning body Flooded with deceitful hormones, I understood that crushing emotion all too well. I’m afraid to breathe, Fighting back another wave of nausea, Wondering if this could just be anxiety, Maybe a touch of the flu, Or perhaps something more… My hands shake as the timer rings And I glance down at the indicator, Terrified of what I’ll find. In that moment, Two pink lines showed me That miracles can happen, Even to someone like me.
MARIE ELENA: This piece expresses a candid encounter with such strong long-term yearning, come to fruition. I’m so glad you were finally able to conceive, and have a healthy little miracle. If you don’t mind, please tell me about your battle with PCOS.
MARY: For those who don’t now, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone disorder that affects an estimated 6-10% of all women. Some the symptoms of this disease are infertility, early menopause, high blood pressure, insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes, abnormal hair growth patterns, and obesity. PCOS is treatable with medications, diet, and exercise, but there is no cure.
Looking back, with all I’ve learned about PCOS, it’s pretty clear I’ve had this disease since I was a teenager but it took until my mid-thirties to get an official diagnosis. Over the years I’ve come to something of a reluctant acceptance of my fertility issues, and I realize how truly blessed I am to have my daughter, but still there’s this longing for another child that never seems to fade and a certain amount of heartache as I watch those around me get pregnant and have their babies.
And as if the fertility issues weren’t enough to shake my identity as a woman, the hair growth changes I’ve been through are just insult to injury. The hair on top of my head is significantly thinning, but I can grow a full beard and moustache, and my eyebrows have turned into some kind of little mutant caterpillars resting on my forehead. To an extent I can stand back and laugh about it a bit, but it’s hard to feel sexy waking up with stubble on my chin.
MARIE ELENA: Goodness. We just don’t always know what folks are dealing with right under our noses. Thank you for being so forthright, Mary.
You dealt with pain in a different sense growing up, as published in Bullyville.com.
Dear Bully,Actions have consequences… I’m a shadow from your past, Faceless and forgotten, But I remember you. You turned that playground Into your own private torture chamber, Acid words thrown in the faces of the weaker, Indelible scars time can never erase. I was no threat to you. I had no control over how I looked, The neighborhood where I lived, The money my family didn’t have. Actions have consequences… Do you even realize the havoc you caused? Your voice echoed through my mind for years, Leaving me damaged and vulnerable, Easy prey for a much more vicious type of bully, Whose brand of psychological terror Made you seem like an amateur. Actions have consequences… I know the price I’ve paid for yours. It would be easy to hate you, To wish you the kind of anguish I’ve lived with all these years, To continue the circle of cruelty, But I won’t. This ends now. Actions have consequences… I know I can sleep peacefully tonight. What about you?
By Mary Mansfield. Read more at http://www.bullyville.com/?page=articles&id=403#lQD5bJBCxbfj5BPW.99
MARIE ELENA: Mary, do you feel you were bullied more than most? How did you handle it, and what did you learn from it?
MARY: At the time, while in the middle of that classic teenage angst, I was convinced that no one was suffering as much as me. The much older (and hopefully wiser) me understands that I really didn’t have it all that bad. I was smart enough to take advantage of the school’s guidance counselor on a pretty regular basis, and I was fortunate to have supportive friends that I could turn to.
MARIE ELENA: What advice (if any) do you give your daughter about bullying?
MARY: I do worry about her dealing with bullying, but thankfully there is such great awareness in the schools today about the risks. I try to do what I can to build her self-confidence and make sure she’s armed with the knowledge she needs to deal with any issues that should arise.
I think it’s also important to make her realize that not everyone she encounters is going to like her, and she won’t like everyone she meets, and that’s perfectly acceptable. She just needs to remember to treat others with respect and to accept no less in return.
MARIE ELENA: Excellent advice. You sound like a caring and wise mother.
So, how do I segue to Jeopardy? 😉 Just forge ahead, I guess! I understand you and Alex Trebek are “like this.” How fun! Tell me about it!
MARY: My mother is the biggest Jeopardy fan, never misses the show, so I grew up watching it with her. I signed up online for an audition that was being held in Chicago and was lucky enough to be chosen to try out. Out of two hundred people in our session, only eight of us passed the test. Six months later I got the call to fly to Los Angeles for the taping. I won twice, ending up with cash and prizes totaling just over $20,000. And no, I did not get a Daily Double…just had to throw that in, it’s one of the first questions everyone seems to ask me about the experience. Alex Trebek was quite friendly and very funny, entertaining us between taping segments with a pretty good Sean Connery impression.
MARIE ELENA: That sounds like so much fun, and certainly not something we can all add to our list of life experiences!
As I ask everyone, Mary, if we could know only one thing about you, what would you tell us?
MARY: Now that is a very good question. Probably that I’m a work in progress. I don’t have a clue where all this is heading, but watching it unfold just might prove to be entertaining.
MARIE ELENA: Though I usually end on that note, I decided this time to save your poem choice for last. I get the impression this poem and your reason for sharing it tells us more about you than any interview could do justice to. The honesty and depth of this piece brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, Mary. It is has been an honor and a pleasure getting to know you better.
REUNION (by Mary Mansfield)I saw an old friend, One long absent and feared lost To time’s meandering path, Location unknown, An artifact from my past Brought into the light once more, A damaged woman Whose healing and redemption Was never a guarantee. The fate of rash hearts Is often desolation, Eternal exile and grief, But she has survived, A renewal of the life She was always meant to live. Welcome back, old friend. It’s nice to see you again In my mirror’s reflection.
You know, it is so hard to pick just one poem to serve as a reflection of where I am in my writing and in my life in general, but this comes awfully close. I’ve found that I tend to be most comfortable writing about emotions, about the heartache and pain that can be so often found in our lives. And this particular poem has that little twist at the end that I’m awfully fond of, that last little detail that changes the entire meaning of the previous lines.
From a more personal standpoint, those words really resonate with me. I’ve felt for quite some time that I’ve lost a large part of myself along the way. That struggle to get back to the life I know I was meant to live is pretty daunting, sometimes I don’t know that I will succeed. Maybe I’m just seeking redemption one line at a time, and every word is just another step forward on the path. The real trick is finding the strength to keep going.