Today’s guest is Michelle Hed, a long-term friend from Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides. I was drawn to her poetry there, but later discovered she is an artist of diverse means. It was my good fortune to win her book, Natural Musings, in a Suess poetry contest held by Linda Hofke of Lind-guistics. Natural Musings pairs Michelle’s beautiful nature photography with her poetry.
This gorgeous photo and verse are taken from her book. I offer them here as a tease. 😉 We’ll talk more about Natural Musings shortly.
confectionary dream –
Jack Frost blew his breath
across the land
MARIE ELENA: Welcome, Michelle! Let’s start with your favorite self-written poem.
MICHELLE: My favorite poem is a very recent one from the March 9 Creative Bloomings prompt. I don’t think of myself as having a style, for I’m always open to the challenge of trying something new, and I love all forms of poetry. This poem reflects my love of nature, and it flows and has an ending which really fits. Too often I find I’m writing what I feel is a good poem, but then I can’t end it, or the ending just doesn’t fit. So when a poem works from beginning to end like this one, I know I have something good.
Come, Walk with Me by Michelle Hed
As a surveyor of all things natural
I have spent hours watching the minutest insects
scurry and plod along, grooming, collecting, singing,
or just moving fascinated by the differences
and the subtle similarities of daily life.
I’ve gone on the hunt of the elusive predators of the sky
shooting thousands of images for my perusal and yours,
consumed by the beauty and grace inherit
in the cycle of survival, life and death –
awestruck with wonder.
I’ve sat for hours in the elements
trying to capture nature’s most frightening ventures
from a sheltered safe distance, with
one wary eye on my immediate surroundings
and the other cast away, waiting.
I take advantage of all nature has to offer me
from watery flukes to dry dances, but I do not
take the offerings for granted. I hold each one
dearly in my heart and mind,
thankful for the gift.
Collecting and storing each instance
for enjoyment in this life,
and while I do not know for certain
what happens after death…
I’m thinking (hoping) the next plane of existence
must be at least as beautiful as this one.
MARIE ELENA: So you began writing poetry in your teens. Is that right? I remember Robert Lee Brewer saying the first poem he ever composed was when he was a teenager, and it was to impress a girl. What prompted your love of poetry?
MICHELLE: So many layers to this question. I think the thing I love most about poetry is you can take as few or as many words as you need to get your feelings out. I am a romantic. So many of my early poems were sonnets or free verse to or about the mysterious someone (usually tall, dark and handsome – cliché I know) that I would someday meet and love. The ironic thing here as I think about it, is all my boyfriends were blond, a few tall and a few short, and I never wrote any poems to them. I did write poems to my future husband and he is also blond, short and handsome. 😉
The other reason I wrote a lot as a teenager is my father died when I was 16. In April, 1983 my Grandfather (my father’s father) died of a heart attack. My father could not attend the funeral, as he had just been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and was in the hospital. My father was given three to five years but only lived till the following February. The following June (in a pre-planned high school trip) I was in Germany and my Great-Grandmother passed away. When I returned, everything was over. I missed her death and funeral. So in the span of less than 18 months I had loss three family members. Death is also a powerful motivator for writing and often a healing process. I think I’ve taken every bad or sad experience and put them into a mental well, if you will, for me to dip into whenever I need to inject those darker feelings of life into a poem.
MARIE ELENA: Such a sad catalyst, and especially for someone as young as you were at the time. Your father is so young and handsome here, Michelle.
MICHELLE: Thank you, Marie. He was a handsome man. He had a twin, and they didn’t look anything alike.
MARIE ELENA: Do you still have any of your earliest poems? Are you willing to share one?
MICHELLE: Do I have any of my earliest poems? What a question for a pack rat! Yes, of course I do. One of my favorites from before my father died is titled “Announcement” and it’s in the shape of a puppy sitting on its hind legs. I’ve used that poem for many years as a guest speaker in 2nd grade classrooms by having the students close their eyes, listen to my words and visualize the shape. It worked every time. However, because it’s long and I doubt I could duplicate the puppy shape, I’ve decided to include an early Haiku.music off the waves they play my favorite songs like the wind through the trees
It’s not stellar but my teacher thought it was “great” at the time. 😉
MARIE ELENA: Very nice haiku! And let’s give the puppy poem a whirl.
Triplets were born to a
Mr. and Mrs. They had one
little Mister and two little
Misses. One was called Benny,
one was called Jenny, and the
other was called Penny. They
each got a little bed with a little
pillow for each Of their heads. Benny
got a blue one, Jenny got a pink one,
and Penny got a yellow one. They
were born ten minutes apart, one at
3:10, one at 3:20, and one at 3:30.
The triplets were cute and cuddly
as could be, but not one
of them could see.
But that did not matter for
you see, that was a temporary
thing that would not always be.
They didn’t do anything for days and
days, except eat and sleep.
But now they are not
blind anymore and
now can see. They have
walked on fours across
the floors and through the
doors. They are getting bigger
and bigger day by day and now
they seem to always romp and
play. They play and play all the
day, while their parents work the day
away. Soon they will come together for their
stomachs are empty and need to be filled
with plenty. They wag their tails to and
fro for home is where they now will go.
Circa the 1980’s.
MARIE ELENA: Drat. You were right. The darling formatting was lost. Came pretty close, but didn’t quite turn out right. I’m glad to include the poem though, which stands on its own right.
Michelle, how do you think you have grown as a poet since you first began writing?
MICHELLE: My early years of writing, both poetry and papers, seems childish and full of “fillers.” I’ve learned so much, especially in the last six years about form and style, and how to communicate a point or an emotion without those “fillers.” I love saying a lot with as few words as possible. I also love to take words and use them in an unexpected way – providing a twist or a surprise element.
MARIE ELENA: You just put a name on what I’ve tried to get a handle on for quite some time now: filler. Yes, I’m guilty of the same. I can’t fully describe it, but I know when I see it (or use it myself). I’ve been using the term “fluff-n-stuff” in my head. “Filler” works perfectly without being so silly.
You decided to “put yourself out there” poetically in Robert Lee Brewer’s very first April Poem-a-Day challenge. How would you describe that experience?
MICHELLE: Extremely frightening. On one hand I had the logical human reaction of “the more information I put out there about myself the more I open myself up to fraud and Identity theft.” My privacy had been closely guarded, like a virgin in a locked tower. You didn’t know me unless I wanted you to know me and obviously we had to have met in person! Then there were the insecurities of “what if I put my writing out there and someone steals it!” (As if it was such exceptional writing in the first place). How do I protect myself? Then of course there was the flip side, “what if they hate my writing and never comment.” It’s tough work being an insecure introvert.
Outweighing all the negatives was my need to re-find myself. My youngest daughter was almost eight and after being a stay-at-home Mom for so many years I was trying to figure out, “who am I.” It was that need to figure out who I was which finally pushed me over the edge … and the little known fact that my Mom did that first PAD with me! 🙂 She only did that one year. I think she found she preferred writing stories to poetry. She also says I get all my creativity from her, and she’s right in the sense she was/is the best role model and one of the biggest cheerleaders for everything I do.
I’ve been going back to participate in Robert’s PAD every year since, the Wednesday prompts and the November chapbook challenge. I made wonderful friends, and in fact thirteen of us spun off to form our own little writing group, called the “Baker’s Dozen” for several years. While we don’t write together as a group anymore, we still pick each others’ brains and support each other both in our writing and in our personal lives. I can honestly say I have some truly wonderful friends that I’ve never met.
MARIE ELENA: Hear, hear! A heart-warming truth, for sure.
When I write a poem, I normally begin with a title, a line, or phrase that won’t let go of my brain, and build from there. What is your process for writing a poem?
MICHELLE: I’m laughing because I don’t think I have a process. It’s different every time and it depends on the prompt or inspiration. I would have to say, I use to start with a title and build from there, but lately I find myself just writing and finding the title afterwards. I have found this to be really liberating. I’m not sure if it is the thrill of doing something different or what it is, but I feel like I’m writing better by not picking the title first. When I write to my photography, I would have to say it’s a different process altogether.
MARIE ELENA: You have other interests/talents besides writing poetry, as evidenced by your blog, The Pen, Lens, and Brush. When I see someone express creativity in various ways, it makes me think they surely must have had support and encouragement that developed self-confidence. Would you say that is the case in your life?
MICHELLE: Oh yes definitely. I mentioned her earlier, but my Mother is very creative as well. She is an excellent artist – drawing and painting and now she makes beautiful quilts and wall hangings. She inspired as well as encouraged drawing and painting since I was a child. I also had a very supportive art teacher in high school. I have a portrait I painted of my Dad (after he died).
MARIE ELENA: It’s lovely, Michelle.
MICHELLE: It would not be as good as it is, without my art teacher’s guidance and tutelage. He helped me understand capturing the human face. My biggest cheerleader (besides my Mom) is my husband, he supports me in all my creative endeavors.
Regarding photography — for me, it was just an extension of the pencil and the brush. A way to capture quickly what would take me hours to draw or paint, if I was even able to replicate it with ink or paint. I even was the school photographer for the school newspaper – briefly. If I could have stayed behind the lens I would have been fine, but it turned out you actually had to talk to people, so I ditched that job. I have my Mother’s brownie camera (old, square camera) – another inspiration. Also, my father was a detective for the county, and he always had a camera in the trunk of his unmarked car for taking crime scene photos. Over the years I became the family photographer because it was a known fact that I would have a camera with me, where as everyone else seems to forget. So like poetry, I flirted with photography on and off over the years and again it wasn’t until I was trying to find myself that I began to dabble a bit more seriously.
MARIE ELENA: Of all your creative outlets, which one do you feel you do best?
MICHELLE: I actually often feel that I have too many creative outlets, and therefore I must do none of them well. Besides my top three outlets – drawing/painting, photography and writing – I also sew when inspired (made the girls quilts last year for Christmas), I scrapbook (although I’ve weaned that down to just the girls’ school years and special occasions and create Shutterfly albums for everything else), I like to cook without recipes, I garden just a bit (herb, vegetable and flowers) and I’m a birder (by necessity). But back to my top three, I honestly don’t know. I think because I’ve done it the longest and most consistently, I am most pleased with my drawing and paintings. I’ve had people say, “Your writing is good but your photography is stellar.” I get more compliments on my photography then my writing, but then it’s easier to put my photography out there than it is to put my writing out there – probably because my writing is more personal and I’m more sensitive to what people have to say about it. I also feel my writing and photography are ongoing learning processes. Whereas, I’m pretty comfortable with my drawing and painting. So I guess I just answered your question.
MARIE ELENA: Yes … and you say you are happiest when you are outside with a camera in your hand. Your photos have set your poetry muse in motion as well … I so enjoy my copy of Natural Musings . It really is the perfect combination, and has inspired me to do the same (pair poetry with photos). Please tell me about the process of creating Natural Musings, from conception to completion and promotion.
MICHELLE: Thank you Marie, I’m so glad you enjoy Natural Musings and you say I inspired you! Those are heady words and you have made me achieve my goal!
Creating Natural Musings was all about just doing it. I wasn’t expecting huge profits (which is a good thing) nor accolades (although those are very much appreciated). I had and do have a plethora of photographs of the beautiful world that surrounds us and I wanted to share it. Whether it was the beauty within the photograph itself or the words I chose to go with it, I hoped one or the other would inspire, please, or move the reader. If I moved one person, I have succeeded. Creating the book itself was a labor of love, many rough drafts and revisions. It was also a great learning experience of the land of self-publishing. From conception to completion was a wonderful journey. I completely fail at promotion and that is the hardest part. I am not a self-promoter. Too shy, too introverted or lacking self-confidence, I just cannot promote myself.
MARIE ELENA: I get that. If it falls on me to promote my own work, I might as well hang it up now. But that comes with the “self publishing” territory, I suppose.
May I ask you to walk me through your process, and how folks can purchase your book?
MICHELLE: I created the format for my book in Word and then had to save it as a pdf file in order to upload it to Create Space. I debated between Lulu and Create Space but at the time I liked some of the options available with Create Space. They provided pretty good step by step directions on the creating of your book. The only drawback is you can’t do any editing onsite. You have to upload your entire book (other than the covers) as complete and ready as possible. Then you order (and pay for) a proof. I changed the cover concept once and then kept finding spelling errors or other things that needed modifying and I think I went through 4 or 5 proofs. Every time you make changes you need to re-upload the entire book. All the photographs are my own, including the cover. It is print on demand and you can order directly from Create Space, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel or myself. I have several copies still on hand if anyone would want a signed copy. Keep in mind I created this book three years ago, so the process could have changed.
The only drawback to me (as a photographer) is that the pictures are not as clear and crisp as if you created a photo book (say as in Shutterfly). I could have created a “photograph book” but no one would have been able to buy one! I would have had to charge a ridiculous large amount of money for each copy.
I would recommend Create Space to anyone who wished to self-publish. I think it would probably be an easier process if you don’t have pictures.
In 2010 my Mother used Lulu to self-publish her book, “Watson’s Journey To The Waiting Place.” She wrote the book mainly for my family on our loss of losing our Dachshund Watson but every dog she’s ever known is in the book and it’s about the pets we love waiting for us in the “waiting place” (Heaven).
MARIE ELENA: Your mother sounds like a lovely person. And thank you so much for sharing the process with us. We happened to use Create Space for our first print edition of Poetic Bloomings (POETIC BLOOMINGS – the first year), and are using it for our second book as well.
Do you have more volumes in the works, Michelle?
MICHELLE: While I do have enough pictures for several more volumes and that was my original plan, I feel it would just be a duplicate. I do have two other books that have been brewing since Natural Musings came out. One is an A-Z book of primarily animal photographs and poetry – it’s almost complete, I just keep looking for that better picture or better poem. The other is more of a rough draft, originally intended to be a book of sonnets with sketches of babies – both animals and human. It all takes time.
MARIE ELENA: You describe yourself as private and introverted. I understand being introverted, as I am most definitely the same. My sister once described the difference between introvert and extrovert in this way: An extrovert gleans energy from others in social situations. An introvert’s energy is sapped in social situations. So it isn’t that we introverts do not love people, it’s just that they sap our energy and we need our solitude to re-load. Do you agree?
MICHELLE: I absolutely agree with your sister. Being with people, even those you love the most, can be exhausting. I have found confessing to being an introvert helps people to understand you are not rude or cold. Also, planning ahead as much as possible, whether it’s planning down days between active days while traveling or mentally putting a positive spin on being in a less than desirable situation (a party, giving a speech, whatever it is) also helps make the situation more enjoyable.
MARIE ELENA: Excellent advice! Especially planning down days between active days, which is something I never thought to plan into my schedule. Thanks!
You describe your husband as your best friend. How long have you been married?
MICHELLE: Paul and I have been married for just over 23 years.
MARIE ELENA: Wonderful! How did the two of you meet?
MICHELLE: We met in college, in a computer lab in the library – a true match made in geek-dom. We were both Math Majors and, after silently laughing at my terrible computer program, he helped me out and I quite admired his butt as he walked away. He fed my romantic side by singing to me, we wrote long letters when separated, he proposed in a hot air balloon, etc. We complement each other, he’s more extroverted, and a people pleaser and he keeps me balanced. He has such a wonderful sense of humor and he’s brilliant!
MARIE ELENA: You make me smile. What would you say is the key to a happy marriage?
MICHELLE: Our secret to happy marriage is communication. We never go to bed angry.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you for introducing your husband, and sharing insight into your marriage. Now what about the rest of your family?
MICHELLE: Okay so I’ve bragged about my husband and now you have invited me to brag about my girls and dogs. Awesome.
We have two daughters, Mikyayla is 16 and Samantha is 13. They are both lovely young women inside and out. They are extremely smart and voracious readers, writers, and artists – yes I’m carrying on the tradition of encouraging all art forms. My oldest had a poem published under her pen name (Skyler Ide) when she was in eighth grade, and here is an example of their recent artwork.
My daughter’s poem was published on a school website that serves our local community: https://sites.google.com/site/perelandrapublishing/. The poem is below.
“The Man in the Desert” by Skyler Ide
He found a water bottle
He found a bag:
It was torn apart and broken.
He finally came upon
He ran and swam in the clear blue waters
Sleeping in the hot sun
And he lived there the rest of his life.
Two days later
A caravan found
A dead man lying between
Two sand dunes
Lungs full of sand.
Don’t live in illusions.
MARIE ELENA: Wow. Your girls obviously inherited your talent. This pencil sketch is another fine example of your own artwork:
And I must say, Mikyala’s poem is well written and very deep — especially for such a young writer.
MICHELLE: Yes, Mikyala is what we call an “old soul.” She’s very mature for her age in a lot of ways.
As I write this, the girls are on Spring Break and we took an “art day” today – I set up my three easels and we created together! It was so awesome. They both seem to aspire to be archeologists, but only time will tell if that is where their path will lead them.
MARIE ELENA: That sounds like a perfect day. Now on to your dogs — who are these two charmers?
MICHELLE: Several months after losing our 16 year old Miniature Dachshund, Watson, we had a very weak moment. We went to get a new puppy and ended up getting sisters … for sisters. Two very sweet, tall, lemon Beagles. Mystery (whom we call Mysty for short) has an iron stomach and has eaten more than her fair share of solid chocolate Easter bunnies over the years … trouble on four legs. Saphira (named for the dragon in the Eragon series) is a sweet one, who greets everyone who comes to visit with a sniff and a smile.
MARIE ELENA: They are just the cutest, and make me want one!
Now, after such a fun and pleasurable introduction to your family, I’d like to ask a more solemn question: What would you say is the hardest thing you have ever lived through, and what tools did you have at your disposal to get you through it?
MICHELLE: I lived in southern California in the early 90’s and lived through curfew (martial law) during the Rodney King riots, the Northridge Earthquake, the threat of fires and so on, but none of those compares to living with someone dying from cancer. My father went from a vibrant, athletic man in his late thirties to looking like a wizened old man, with gray thinning hair, walking with a cane in a span of eleven months. What the cancer didn’t take away, the chemo and radiation treatments decimated. I was fifteen for most of it. Dad died shortly after my 16th birthday. What tools? Humor, music and a core group of friends and tons of family. My Dad had a wicked sense of humor, so the jokes never stopped. He also played piano, guitar and accordion by ear. We would often jam – he’d play and we’d both sing. I have an entire CD of his music that my husband helped me put together a decade or so ago. I’m sure my parents shielded me from a lot of what was actually going on, but it was what you could see with your own eyes that brought you low. I had to leave school in the middle of the day to see Dad on his deathbed – that image is indelible but necessary.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, Michelle …
MICHELLE: My top least favorite image imprinted on my brain but I would have regretted not saying goodbye in person, so you live with it.
I would like to add that my Mother remarried about six years after my Dad died and he is absolutely wonderful. I call him Dad and I feel very lucky to have had the honor of having two Dads in my life.
MARIE ELENA: Are you happy with who you are today?
MICHELLE: Yes, absolutely. I’ve made mistakes, there are a few things in my past I would change, but for the most part I like who I am, who I’ve become and who I’m turning into.
MARIE ELENA: What a fabulous and refreshing response! What if you could change one thing about yourself?
MICHELLE: If I could change one thing right now and forever it is my weight. Cliché perhaps but extremely important to me to become the healthiest person I can be for myself and my family. It’s a long road but I’m walking it one step at a time.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, can I ever relate. Taking off some weight and keeping it off is far more difficult than the once skinny me could have ever imagined.
You revealed one thing you would change about yourself. Now, if you could share only one thing about yourself, what would it be?
MICHELLE: I’m awesome. Ha ha ha, just kidding! Well, since for an introvert I already bared my soul pretty well up above, I’ll pretend I just met you. Since I’m a “private” person I might tell you something you wouldn’t expect from a short, overweight, prematurely silver haired lady – I love to kayak! In case you were wondering, I DO take my camera with me.