Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Jacki Kellum Memoir (page 1 of 2)

My Memories of the Cotton Fields of My Childhood Home

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Although I lived most of my life in Mississippi, I actually grew up in Gideon, a very small farm community in Southeast Missouri. This is the area that is called the Bootheel, which is is the part of Missouri that juts down below the rest of the state line– downward into what would otherwise be Arkansas or Tennessee.

When I was a child, I was surrounded for miles by cotton fields, cotton gins, and the dark, rich soil that the Mississippi River had deposited there in earlier years. Because this is the flood zone of the Mississippi River, the soil is so very rich that hardly any of it is wasted on trees. Occasionally, you might see a narrow line of vegetation crossing the terrain; but that would probably be on the banks of one of the small creek-like waterways that was long ago dug there to catch the river, should it flood again.

Collectively, the waterways around my home were called The Floodways. Individually, each of the bodies of water had one of the following less than illustrious  names: 1 Ditch, 2 Ditch, 3 Ditch, etc. That is the truth.  During the 1950’s and 1960’s, there wasn’t a lot of effusiveness or ornamentation about Southeast Missouri, but it was enough. In fact, it was more than enough, and in many ways, I’d give anything to get back to the Gideon of my childhood again, but that playground is gone in every way but that of my mind.

Fortunately, my memory of childhood is still very sharp and fairly reliable.  One thing I recall is that when I was a child, life was rather immobile. We had cars, but there was very little jumping behind the wheel and darting here and there. My diminutive hometown was actually fairly self-sufficient, and at that time, there was not much need to commute far beyond there. That, in itself, added to the quietness and simplicity of my childhood.

Because the Bootheel’s farm children  were bused into town for school each day, tiny communities formed around places where the school buildings were established. A few of those communities even had a store or two. When I was very young, there was a little, general department store a dimestore, a hardware store, a drugstore, and an IGA grocery store in Gideon, but those places are gone now. Times have changed, but when I was a child, Cotton was a prosperous King in my hometown, and his people lived fairly well.

The above is my unfinished pencil sketch of a cotton plant. The drawing is fairly accurate but it is messy and it needs to be cleaned up. I always tell my students to draw what they know, and I know cotton.

I especially know cotton when the leaves have begun to dry up, but the cotton is still fluffy and is beginning to fall out of the hulls.

In many ways, my childhood was determined by Cotton, and my calendar was punctuated by the various stages of its growth cycle. The winter was slow and quiet. Spring was an awakening, and summer was a time of growth. During fall, the roads were lined with trailers being pulled by tractors. In ant-like procession, they were going to and coming from the gins. At that time, living became the everyday humming of the harvesting of cotton.

When I was young, a sharecropper picked up us kids and we rode to the farms in the back of an old pickup truck. About the time that the sun was creeping above the cotton fields and the dew on the cotton was beginning to sparkle like diamonds, all of us pickers would begin scurrying through the plants to begin picking back toward the wagon from the farthest end of the row. Every cotton picker had a long and narrow canvas bag strapped over his or shoulder, and picking cotton was a process of plucking the fluffy white part of the plant from the hard and wooden-like hull where it had grown.

As they dry out, the tips of the cotton hulls become sharp shards that are eager for the opportunity to lodge themselves in a picker’s hands. Stinging caterpillars attach themselves to the leaves of the plants, and getting stung is another hazard of picking cotton by hand. On lucky days, I  picked from plants that were about my height, but on most days, picking cotton meant bending over and creeping along until I thought that my back would break.

It probably seems that I am complaining, but I am not. Because I picked cotton as a child, I was allowed to experience the last days of a way of life. When I was a child, children were allowed to stay home from school to pick cotton for six weeks during the fall. The days of cotton vacation are over now, and today, machines harvest the cotton. When I was a little girl, I was paid 3 cents a pound to pick cotton, and since cotton is so very light, I didn’t earn much money in the fields; yet, I consider the days that I picked cotton to be priceless.

When we had picked enough cotton to fill our canvas sacks, we would heave it across our shoulders and carry our pickings to be weighed at the wagon. Before we returned to our spots in the field, we would drink a swig of rusty-tasting well water from the aluminum ladle that was strapped to a bucket. At lunch, we would gather back at the wagon and sit in its shade while we nibbled on whatever had been packed in our sacks for us to eat. It seems that my lunches were primarily fried Spam and mayonnaise on Wonder bread. In the place where I picked, the sharecropper’s large family were all singers–Pentecostal singers. Throughout the day, they would warble glorious hymns. They sounded like a band of angels. My memories of picking cotton are almost surrealistic now, but I believe that they are close to the way that things actually were.

Late in the fall, after the pickers had saved a few dollars, the carnival rolled into town. That was about the only time that there was much excitement in Gideon. During the night time, the air would become crispy and moist and colorful lights would begin to reflect across the sky. The smell of corn dogs deep-frying would hover in the air and from anywhere in town, the children could hear the carousel’s calliope playing, up and down. Late in the fall, the hard choice was whether I would spend a few of my hard-earned quarters at the carnival or whether I  would save all of my money to buy new school clothes from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

For the most part, my childhood was a sweet and simple time–or at least, that is how I remember it, and my memories are invaluable. But like my home town, my childhood is gone, too, and memories can be deceptive.

“You can never go home again.” – Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe is correct in saying that people can never  go home again. The folks of home change and die and in some cases, like that of my hometown, businesses close, people move away, and the town itself disappears. There are other problems with returning to our childhood homes, however. Often, as we look backward in time, we look through ruby-colored glasses, and we don’t actually see the truth of what was really there. In other words, we cannot believe all of our memories of home.

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When I was a child, I lived in a little white house that was situated on a gravel road, and my grandparents lived in a brick house on  the next road. My grandmother was a gardener, and she filled her yard with flowers. At least once every day,  I would walk through my neighbors’ yards, through my grandmother’s flowers, and I would end up at my grandmother’s back door. My grandmother was a gentle and kind person, and I was her only granddaughter. Life was idyllic at my grandmother’s house, and in my child’s memory, my grandmother lived in a grand home. After a more critical analysis, however, I realize that my grandmother’s house was actually rather small. It only had 2 bedrooms and one tiny bathroom. Because many of our memories of home are romanticized and deluded, we cannot return to the home that we remember because the home that we remember was never actually there. Our understandings of homeare more than that of a brick and mortar or wood and nail place.

Because most of the people have moved away from my Bootheel town to places where they can find work, the businesses and offices in my home town are closed now. Children don’t pick cotton any more, and the life of cotton-picking children is gone. Cotton farming isn’t even the massive industry that it once was in the place where I grew up.  At one time, the autumn air around my home was filled with gossamer-like lint that floated from the cotton compresses. Like spider’s work, the cotton lint attached itself to trees, poles, and other things nearby. Gauzy and ghostly, the lint-webs seemed to be warning me–even many years ago. They were hinting that the simple, quiet times of my childhood would eventually end. While Cotton flourished in my little town, his people flowered, too. I don’t believe that people realized then that Cotton was the King in the Bootheel. They didn’t realize that not until later, when time took cotton’s throne. Now, the little farm communities of the Bootheel are shadows and their specter-like people are silhouettes. In my hometown, life itself was boarded shut many years ago, and now it is stone-stagnant, cold-condemned. and left gasping for remnants of itself.

I can never go home again, but many years later and thousands of miles away from my cotton-field home, the rhythm of my country childhood still pounds through my veins. As soon as the weather begins to chill in September, I begin to long for my homeland–for its dewy-covered cotton patches and for its little general store. I still have my cotton clock, it ticks my cotton song–a song about a place that no longer exists, and I am out on the pavement, holding a tin cup, crying: “I am still a cotton-child, a child that lost my home.”

©Jacki Kellum September 3, 2017 [Reprinted from several previous versions of this material]

Priceless

Critical

Happy National Dog Day – German Shepherd Dog Drawn by Jacki Kellum – Tribute to Former Pro Baseball Player Mark Littell

Today is National Dog Day, and I thought that this would be a good time to share my most recent dog drawing.

Fritz – A German Shepherd Dog Drawn in Pencil by Jacki Kellum

This is an iPhone photo of a drawing that I have begun of what I believe Mark Littell’s dog Fritz looked like. Mark Littell is about to release his second memoir book Country Boy Conveniently Wild. This new book is about Mark’s childhood before he became a professional baseball player and pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. Mark and I grew up together, and he has asked me to do some drawings for his book. That is my main project now.

Sunflower – Watercolor Painted by Jacki Kellum

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Most people only know that I can paint wild, colorful flowers, but when something doesn’t call for a wild, colorful flower, I can also draw, and I would say that to lllustrate Mark’s childhood, I won’t need many florals.

Mark and Eric Littell and Fritz

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This drawing is a close-up study of the head of one of the geese that I am drawing for Mark’s book. One of Mark’s stories is about a flock of geese this his dad bought to weed the cotton fields. The geese terrorized Mark and his younger brother Eric.

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Mark and I grew up in Gideon, Missouri. In the class photo above, I am on the top row–the second person from the left.

Mark Littell’s Senior Picture

Mark Littell was a good-looking boy who was about three years younger than I, but because our families were friends and took trips together. I knew Mark  fairly well. Mark recently reminded me that our families would frequently go to a  little local restaurant [it was not much more than a diner] for Sunday dinner. The restaurant was named The Clarktonian [the Clarktonian is situated in the town Clarkton].  The Clarktonian was one of those places that had great coffee and a wall of homemade pies. Rich and creamy, homemade coconut pie in buttery and crispy crust comes to my mind.

Mark’s first book On the Eighty Day God Made Baseball is filled with stories about the days that Mark played ball first for the Kansas City Royals and second for the St. Louis Cardinals. You can buy the book at Amazon Here

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Mark’s second book will be titled: Country Boy Conveniently Wild. Both Mark and I are country people and both of us are pleased to be able to look back at how growing up in the country has enriched our lives. In the above image, you see the initial marks that I made, as I began to draw a country mail box.

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Here is that same mail box, a few hours later. The drawing is still incomplete and messy. One of the stories that Mark Littell tells in his new book is about the “loco” weed that grew wild along the ditch banks and country roads of our rural home. In the above drawing, I am practicing weed drawing. This isn’t Mark’s loco weed. I’ll leave that to your imagination. I work on several pieces a little bit each day. That helps keep me fresh. This is just day 1 on the mail box. It will get better. I am using #2 Ticonderoga pencil and Ebony pencil for my drawings. I’ll probably paint this, too .

For a while, drawing and painting farm scenes was done so very much that it became hokey, and as I embrace the challenge to illustrate my country heritage, I want to avoid hokey sentimentality. I live on the New Jersey Shore now. My current home is close to Philadelphia and to New York City–far away from the cotton fields that cradled me as a child, but I cherish my childhood in rural Southeast Missouri, and I  want my drawings to express some of the dignity, as well as some of the softness and some of the rustic vintageness that is part of country living.

Be looking for Mark’s new book, which should be released before the new year. I’ll be drawing and painting several things about the country between now and then. I’ll keep you posted.

©Jacki Kellum August 26, 2017

   

Dignify

Synchronize

Old Tent Revivals, the Moon, & Me – Jacki Kellum Memoir

When I was very young, my rural hometown had a small movie theater, but it wasn’t there long. While I was growing up, my little cotton patch of a town was growing smaller. Poverty was in the process of boarding the Bootheel region of Southeast Missouri shut, but when I was a child, my little town was more than adequate. It was the spot that helped me weave a nest of memories, and that is more than enough.

A few years after our movie theater closed, someone temporarily set up a big tent and sold tickets to watch old movies. It seems to me that the tickets cost a quarter, but the cost of admission may have been less than that. The tent was golden yellow, and it looked just like the one that my grandmother’s church used for tent revivals. Not long ago, I walked outside and looked at the moon that was cradled above my back garden, and I remembered my childhood, its tent revivals, and the moon that has always enchanted me.

 

Full, But Hazy Autumn Moon
by Jacki Kellum 

Tonight, the moon is perched high in the sky, directly above the garden–just outside my back door.

Tonight, when I first got downstairs and looked out the sunroom window, my first thought was that it must be the moments just before dawn.

Everything around was fairly brightly lit, and I could faintly see the plants that were brave enough to have continued blooming after the cool, October air had tucked their neighbors into bed. Everything in my garden had a soft, muted, and faintly-colored, shimmering glow.

As I looked around, I thought: Tonight, the moonlight is bright, but this is not one of those hot-light nights like the ones when I used to walk home from church, well after sunset, and the hum of the locusts was so loud that the air seemed to rattle a song.

And tonight is not one of those nights when ladies in the church would beat around their faces with cardboard fans that had Jesus painted on them.

Yes, Lord, tonight’s moonlight is not like that when I used to go to the tent revivals with my grandmother, and I stood up and sat down beneath bare light bulbs that were strung across the top of the tent and dangled. And everyone sang. Shall We Gather at the River? 

Tonight’s light is not like that of the summer nights when my neighborhood friends and I would dart about the yard, playing tag and hide and seek. We would  run until the sweat dripped from our clothes. Then, we’d sit down and giggle on the back porch, drinking lemonade from rainbow-colored, aluminum glasses.

Tonight is not like the summer nights of my childhood. Tonight, there is no hot, blaring, bugle-like, jazz-singing, summer moon.

Tonight, there is only a soft, hazy, autumn moon–a cornstarch moon–kissed by honey, hanging in the dark.

Full but Hazy Autumn Moon ©Jacki Kellum October 28, 2015

©Jacki Kellum August 6, 2017

Shimmer

The New Year’s Eve That I Finally Turned Into A Pumpkin

Growing old comes by seasons or degrees. Like the flowers and leaves of nature outside, our bodies and our minds change; and we become different creatures, according to our seasons. Those differences are nowhere more obvious than on New Year’s Eve.

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When I was a child, New Year’s Eve meant shooting fireworks. To this day, I love the smell of firecrackers and sparklers. Holding my wand of hot, twinkling magic, I would write my name and draw stars into the blue-black sky; and shooting Roman candles was the ultimate thrill:

My Roman Candle Minute
by Jacki Kellum

Silent Night, No Moon Light,
I point my wand at space.

I light a match and watch it glow,
I plant my feet in place.

First, an ember gnaws the string.
Boom! Then One! Two! Three!

A Canopy of shooting stars
Arches over me.

Silent Night, No Moon Light,
A twist of smoke puffs now.

I’ve had my fun–
My star-struck gun–
My Sixty-Second Wow!

Copyright My Roman Candle Minute Jacki Kellum December 10, 2015

Soon, I traded my childhood fireworks for New Year’s Eve parties. By the time that I was 17, I was convinced that if I didn’t have a date and someone to kiss at midnight, I should crawl into a cave and hide there until January 2.

By the time that I was 30-years-old, I began having ambiguous feelings about New Year’s Eve and the proper way to celebrate it. My children were babies then. If I wanted to go out and party, I would need to find a babysitter who was willing to work past late, and I was married to someone who didn’t enjoy socializing and parties. I began staying home on New Year’s Eve, but there was an omnipresent, nagging voice telling me that I should be somewhere else–and doing something much more festive.

Those years merged into the days when my children became firework-shooting age. The smells of firecrackers and sparklers returned, and Roman candles arched across my lawn once more. Because my children were widely spaced in years, that period lasted for a while. Meanwhile, my ex-husband and I divorced, and New Year’s traditions and many other ideals went up in smoke. It became simpler to stay home on New Year’s Eve, but I still felt twinges of doubt about missing the party. I already realized that my home is where I preferred to be on New Year’s Eve, but didn’t They–the others around–expect more of me.

Time marched onward, and now, the carousel has spun almost around. By the time that I was 60-years-old, my children have had left home, and my grandchildren were far away. I had not gotten so timeworn that I tucked myself in by 8:00 pm, and I was usually wide awake at midnight. That was the case last New Year’s Eve.

Promptly at midnight, my pre-teen neighbors began shooting their Roman candles. With a boom, a whistle, and a fizz, 2015 became 2016. I was propped up on my pillow, and my soft, cotton sheets were gathered around me. My quilt was pulled across my toes, and my dog was curled by my side. I sipped a glass of wine and smiled. Ahhhh! I had finally realized that the perfect way to celebrate the coming of a new year was when I was safe and snug, at home.

I turned off my light and slept.

The next day would be the beginning of a whole new season.

Copyright Jacki Kellum January 1, 2016

Smoke

When What You See Is Not What You Get – Symbolism In Art and Writing

You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul. – George Bernard Shaw

Many times, artists bury nougats of truth about themselves or about what they are thinking in their art and their writing. Symbolism–it’s a clever game. You say one thing, but you mean another, and the odd thing is that you really want people to figure what that other thing is all about. Often, what the viewer actually sees or reads in an artist’s work is only a tiny part of what the artist is saying.

It is rather like the silly game that is played by petty wives.  When their husbands hurt their feelings or if their husbands forget birthdays or anniversaries, the wives sulk. The husband asks, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“But I know something is wrong.”

“I’m fine.”

Even though the woman protests that something has upset her, she behaves as though something has, and she wants the husband to guess what that something is. It is as though the true test of love is clairvoyance. The wife is implying that if the husband can see deep into her soul, he truly loves her, and he wins the game.

When I was married, I wanted nothing more than for my husband to stop on a deserted lot and to pick me bunches of wildflowers or daisies or red clover or whatever else that he could find. But he never did. A smarter wife would have simply said, “I need flowers from you at least once per month.” But in my mind, that would have ruined the whole thing. I needed for my ex-husband to intuitively know that I needed flowers–even free flowers–at least once per month. I seemed to believe that if another person could see deeply  into my soul, and if he could decipher all of my wants and my needs, he would be my one, true love. No doubt, that is one reason that I am divorced.

I play that same kind of game with my art and writing. About 15 years ago, I wrote a group of short verses about flowers. My idea was to illustrate each flower and to publish the book of paintings and verses together, and I would call the volume Garden Songs. [Shhhh! I didn’t just tell you that. I still plan to do it. But like so many other things, I simply haven’t gotten it done].

Keep in mind that I want all of the poems to be very short so that they don’t detract from the paintings that will be the true focus of the page. Even though the verses are short, however, I want them to have greater meaning. I want the verses and the images to be symbols for greater truths. Here is the poem that I wrote about Snapdragons:

The Painted Parade
by Jacki Kellum

Watch the painted parade,
With bold and biting dragons,
Teasing all the toddlers—even me!

They’re really just pretending.
Everyday’s a New Year,
A fun and festive firework jamboree.

© Painted Parade Jacki Kellum October 19, 2015

My grandmother always had snapdragons in her garden, and I used to love to pinch the snapdragons and allow them to bite me or at least close around the tip of my finger and nibble me. When I heard the dragon part of the word “snapdragon,” I thought about the Dragon Dance in the Chinese New Year’s Parade, and that provided me a springboard into what would become part of my greater meaning.

On one level, the poem is simply about a colorful bed of flowers that have the capacity to nibble at my fingertips–like a biting dragon, the “dragon” part of the word “snapdragon.” On another level, the parade is talking about the non-scary, scary dragon in a Chinese parade. But on the deepest level, my poem is about something entirely different.

When I said, “Watch the Painted Parade,” I was actually chastising all of the people around me that I thought were being pretentious, wearing masks, and playing games.

My simple, little ditty about Snapdragons was actually a symbol for the way that I felt deep within myself about people who are fake. I do this type of thing all of the time. In other words, what you think that you see in my art and in my writing, is not all that there actually is. My art and my writing are only the tips of an iceberg that lies deeply within me.

Now, here is the silly part: I actually want my viewer and my reader to know what I am thinking, but just like a silly wife, I want you to guess what that is.  My art and my writing are keys to some of the gems that I keep locked inside myself.

You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul. – George Bernard Shaw

©Jacki Kellum October 24, 2016

Tiny

The Importance of Learning to Wait

Two years ago, I had a blue kitchen. It was not a navy blue kitchen. I could have lived with that. My kitchen was a neutral color of blue that had no personality at all. In all of my years, I have never seen another kitchen that was the color of my dated and lackluster kitchen. Even the floor was blue. It was covered with a cheap blue vinyl, and the entire room screamed, “I was never fashionable.”

 

A few years ago, I tried to sell my house, and as soon as the potential buyers saw my kitchen floor, they turned around and walked back out of the house. Some of the cabinets had begun falling apart, and I decided that something had to be done about my kitchen. I knew that until I changed things, I would never sell my house, and since I had no money, I decided to fix the problem myself.

To disassemble the cabinets, I advertised on Craigslist that anyone who could take them down and cart them away could have them. I knew that I wanted stainless steel appliances, and I practically gave away my white appliances, too. Then, with a hammer clenched in my hand, I attacked the wall that stood between my tiny kitchen and my tiny dining room, and I myself removed that sucker. Now, I had one big room that would one day become a wonderful kitchen, but I didn’t have the resources to finish the job, so I waited. For over a year, my kitchen consisted of a crock pot, and electric skillet, and an old and dying refrigerator. Then, that refrigerator expired, and I bought my first new kitchen appliance–a beautiful stainless steel refrigerator.

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During my entire life, I have never lived in a newly built house; therefore, every time that I have moved into a house, a used refrigerator came with the used home. Although I have found it necessary to replace my fridges before, this was the first time that I have actually gone to the store and bought a new one. I was  66-years-old, and for the first time in my life, I had a brand new refrigerator–a stainless steel refrigerator–and one that had no scratches or dents.

As I stood and admired my new fridge and the beginning of my new kitchen, I considered how differently that I might have viewed the buying of a new refrigerator if I had been privy to tons of new appliances before now–and if during my lifetime, I had never actually wanted anything. Had that been the case, I would probably have been irritated by the minor hassle that replacing an old, dead appliance had caused and when I watched my new refrigerator rolling through my door, I would have experienced very little pleasure at all. I would have thought, “Easy come, easy go, It’s just a new appliance. It’s no big deal.” But that was not the way that the scenario plalyed out.

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For the first time in my life, I had a brand new and shiny refrigerator, and I was thrilled.

This will sound odd, but I am happy that I don’t have everything that I want. I am even happy that I don’t have everything that I need, and I am happy that I have learned how to wait. The wanting and the waiting make me more appreciative when I actually receive.

For what I have received may the Lord make me truly thankful. And more truly for what I have not received. – Storm Jameson

Things could be quite different for me now that I am older and retired. I could have NOTHING left to want and there could be Nothing that would make my day. Thank goodness, that is not the case for me. It doesn’t take much at all to turn my life into a party.

©Jacki Kellum October 18, 2016

Waiting

It’s Time for the Test – Submitting Work for Publication

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 Tomorrow Is October 1 – The Day that I Launch the Free Jacki Kellum Writing Class

It is also the day that I am submitting my first writing for publication.

About the Free Jacki Kellum Writing Class Blog to Memoir:

For several weeks, I have been saying that because I began seriously writing  on October 1, 2015, I decided to celebrate that anniversary by offering a free writing class for anyone who wants to participate.

I’ll run the free writing class through my blog site jackikellum.com Here
& through the site that I specifically created for the class: blogtomemoir.com. Here

Each day,  I’ll post the daily assignment by 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time USA. I believe that early morning is the best time to write and for that reason, your writing assignment will be ready for you first thing each day.

Why Blog to Memoir?

  1. When we write about the actual experiences of our lives, our writing is fresher, more alive, and more authentic. For that reason, excavating your memories is an invaluable exercise–a way to create vivid writing samples for any of your other writing.
  2. It is not necessary for you to actually blog your writing. You may simply check out the daily writing exercises and explore them on your own. Throughout the course, however, I’ll share several ways that blogging daily has improved both my writing and my outlook on life. I heartily recommend writing daily, and for several reasons, I am convinced that blogging is the best way to store your writing. Blogging regularly is also a good way to build your brand and to share your writing with others. Note: You do not have to make your blog public.
  3. Several people have successfully completed books by blogging the parts of their books one by one and then, by assembling the parts of the book at the end. This practice has been labeled Blog to Book. For the past year, I have been blogging my memoir [and several other books] one step at a time. Soon, I plan to assemble my memoir pieces together and to submit my own memoir book for publication. Hence: I Am Blogging to Memoir  Book

For the past year, I have blogged something almost daily. I have written several first drafts, and now, it is time to take my first test. Tomorrow, on October 1, I am submitting a section of my own memoir for publication. As I said before, October 1, 2016, is a very big day. It is the day that I am launching my free writing class through which I’ll share what I have learned about writing. It is also the day that I’ll test myself by daring to submit something for publication.

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Writing is simple for me. I love to talk, and when I write, I simply talk. Submitting my writing for publication is something different. When I submit what I have written to a panel of official judges, I am giving those judges the permission to say that what I have written is not good enough. I am allowing this band of impartial readers to say, “You are not a writer. You are simply playing at writing.” I am giving other people the opportunity to either approve me or to reject me. For me, this is scary business, but I have passed all of the steps leading up to the next one. It is time.

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It is time for me to step out of the pool of pretenders and to begin swimming toward the shore.

Tomorrow, I am submitting my first piece for publication. I am daring to take the test. This time next year, I’ll whistle for everyone else to joing me, “Come on out. The water is fine.”

©Jacki Kellum September 30, 2016

Test

Stephen King On Writing – Character Study of Eulah-Beulah – and Anne Lamott on Writing

“There was a stream of babysitters during our Wisconsin period…..The only one I remember with any clarity is Eula, or maybe it was Beulah. She was a teenager, and she was as big as a house, and she laughed a lot. Eula-Beulah had a wonderful sense of humor, even at four I could recognize that, but it was a dangerous sense of humor–there seemed to be a potential thunderclap hidden inside each hand-patting, butt-rocking, head-tossing outburst of glee….

“Eula-Beulah would be on the phone, laughing with someone, and beckon me over. She would hug me, tickle me, get me laughing, and then, still laughing, go upside my head hard enough to knock me down. Then she would tickle me with her bare feet until we were both laughing again.

“Eulah-Beulah was prone to farts–the kind that are both loud and smelly. Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. ‘Pow!’ she’d cry in high glee. It was like being buried in marshgas fireworks. I remember the dark, the sense that I was suffocating, and I remember laughing.  Because, while what was happening was sort of horrible, it was also sort of funny. In many ways, Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow! The Village Voice holds few terrors.” King, Stephen, On Writing, pgs. 19-21

Yesterday, I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and I have been reeling from the re-realization of why I don’t read books that successful writers have written. Today, I have been moping around–feeling that I could never be as witty and as perfectly on-target as Anne Lamott’s writing is. This morning, I saw the topic for today’s WordPress Daily Prompt, but I was simply numb–“Radical”–I had nothing to say that was radical.

But Anne Lamott had blinded me with some radically real  reasons not to write, and that has been my focus until now:.

“And then I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, ugly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe, but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. xxix-xxx.

Today, I stumbled through my morning Story Hour, and I came home and tried to write again. I still had nothing to say. So I simply took a nap. When I awoke, I was  thinking about the first time that I tasted a cream cheese croissant, and I had to acknowledge that this was a radical thought. The occasion had occurred over thirty years ago, and I have really not thought about the event since that time.

My first cream cheese croissant was hot, and the cream cheese was oozy, and the crust was flaky, and the first bite sizzled on my tongue. It was like a drop of dew on a hot, parched pavement. Although it sounds cliché, the crust and the cheese melted in my mouth, and afterward, the nectar dripped down my throat. That simple cheese croissant had changed my perspective on desserts, and I love desserts. That was a radical experience.

I had grown up in rural America, where chocolate cake and pumpkin pie were about as rich as the sweets ever got.  But when I was about ten-years-old, however, my family went to a town that was forty miles away, and we bought a big bag of fresh doughnuts–one of every flavor and  many of several flavors. That experience raised my bar, where treats were concerned. But when I ate my first cheese croissant, the bar was lifted even higher.

The croissants that I buy now are no match for the ones that my friend and I bought in Jackson, Mississippi. The ones that I buy now are a little too much like Little Debbie cakes. There is something fake and unflaky and stiff and cold and slimy about them; and now that I have tasted the real thing, I know how to judge what is good and what is just a wannabe.

After my nap and my visions of cream cheese croissants, I felt slightly renewed. Maybe I would read ONE more book that was written by a famous writer. I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing, and a couple of pages into the text, I read about Eulah-Beulah. Now, that was a radical read for me. You have to understand that I am 66-years-old, and I grew up in the Deep South. I don’t say the word “f-a-r-t,” and if children in my school room said “b-u-t-t,” I made them miss recess. But I had to admit that there was something real about the way that King had described Eulah-Beulah. I decided that I needed to make a notation of Stephen King’s excellent character study of his babysitter, and I began to type the text into a blog post. When my Grammarly Spell Check questioned whether the word “farts” was really supposed to be “parts,” I laughed until my sides hurt.

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Clearly, Grammarly and I need to get a life–or perhaps we simply needed to have something radical happen–something fresh that would change the ways that we have been taught to see. I remembered that Anne Lamott DID say a few good things about writing, too. I timidly opened Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, and like the Phoenix, rising from her ashes, I sprang upward and scrawled this post–bird  by bird.

©Jacki Kellum September 13, 2016

I’m ready for another day.

Radical

I Grew Up Beyond Where the Sidewalk Ends – Along the Road Less Traveled – Jacki Kellum Memoir

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I remember when Shel Silverstein’s book of poems Where the Sidewalk Ends was published. I had been married for a couple of years and I was not technically a child, but Silverstein’s book of poetry was perfect for me, regardless of my chronological age. In fact, when I read his poem The Invitation, I felt as though he had written it just for me. I still feel that way. To this very day, 42 years later, The Invitation is my favorite poem, and its words have become my mantra, and such is the power of great words. In 50 words or less, Shel Silverstein had convinced me that there was at least one other adult who was the same kind of dreamer and hope-er and magic bean buyer as I have always been, and he had assured me that it was okay.

I never thought about it before, but I actually grew up  just past where the sidewalk ended. I am saying this in both a literal and a metaphorical way. When I was very young, my street was one street behind my town’s main street, which was actually a state highway that ran through my town. Until I was about 10-years-old, my street was not paved. I grew up on a gravel road, and vast cotton fields began to stretch four houses beyond my house. As a child, I had the best of both worlds. I lived in a little town, but the country was only a stone’s throw away from me. I grew up with my feet in both worlds.

Probably when they paved my street, they also added a short stretch of sidewalk, but my house was always just beyond where the sidewalk ended. Because I grew up with a unique set of parents, this was true in more ways than one. My dad was known as the town’s cartoonist. He actually took a cartooning course that was offered by an outfit known as The Famous Artists. While other kids’ dads farmed, my dad drew cartoons, and believe me–in a small, rural town, that reality set my family apart.

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Image result for advertisement famous artists cartoon course  Image result for advertisement famous artists cartoon course

When I was a child, the Famous Artists Courses were advertised in magazines, and my dad was the kind of magic bean buyer who would purchase a course like the one offered by Famous Artists. Back in the 1950s, $275.00 was a lot of money–especially for country folks to spend on an art course, but I grew up in a home where the fluff was deemed important, and not surprisingly, that was instrumental in my becoming who I am.

Image result for advertisement famous artists cartoon course

Even though my dad had already purchased the cartoon course that was advertised in the magazines, I grew up taking the drawing tests, too. I drew every one of the test subjects–the pirate, the cowboy, the pin-up girl, and many other things. I was a child who grew up in a tiny cotton town that was hundreds of miles away from the nearest city, and it was during the 1950s. When I was very young, color television had not been invented, and everything about the Famous Artists Course was exotic to me. You cannot tell it in the photographs, but the books were massive. Yet, when I was still a still a little girl, I would drag out the books and do my very best to copy what I saw. Needless to say, one of my college degrees and master’s degrees is in art.

On the other side of the coin, my mother was always interested in writing. She actually wrote articles and stories and sold them to magazines. My mother has always been a private person, and I do not remember reading what she was writing, but from the time of my earliest childhood, I recall my mother’s writinIng, in her spare time. That also influenced me, and I also have a master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in writing. I cannot stress how unique my parents were, especially compared to the other adults in my tiny town, and because of my parents’ uniqueness, I felt that I had permission to become who I am today.

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When I read Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, I tend to puff out my chest. I am aware of the fact that I have followed a different path than most other adults–especially compared to people who grew up during the 1950s and in little country towns. And Frost’s poem validates me. Like Shel Silverstein, he says words that ring true to me. I know that I have taken the road less traveled by, but when I honestly examine my life. I was actually BORN on the road not taken. At least, I grew up on the road not taken by most. I was a child of hope-ers, dreamers, and magic bean buyers. Both literally and figuratively, I grew up beyond where the sidewalk ends, “And that has made all the difference.” Some people might think that this was a curse, but I view it as a blessing. I love the way that I live my life. Thank you, mom and dad.

©Jacki Kellum September 3, 2016

Sidewalk

How To Use Images to Improve Your SEO – Search Engine Optimization

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I discovered an outstanding pdf that explains SEO or Search Engine Optimization, and how to increase one’s searchability in Google. The pdf is an official Google publication. Therefore, I feel that it should be the last word on how to be better seen via Google search: http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf

The guide is a bit dense; therefore, I’ll summarize a few points that stuck out to me:

A blog post’s title is key to SEO.

Although Google has become bigger than life, it is important to remember that it is not a person and that you will get the best search results if you title your writing or your art in ways that machines understand. I am guilty of enjoying using arty titles, and when my titles are too obscure, I add a colon and an explanatory phrase.  About a year ago, I titled a short poem Butterfly Breeze, and later, I entered it in a blog post with nothing more than that same and opaque title. Later, I realized that the title ” Butterfly Breeze” is a bit vague for Google to get its “head” around. Here is the poem:

Butterfly Breeze
by Jacki Kellum

Soft and silver, the delicate, gossamer-like lace swept into my room
Whispering a butterfly breeze.

Whiff of a lily followed along,
Crickets and whippoorwills sang me song,

And moon dust cradled my head.
©Jacki Kellum October 7, 2015

When I limited my reference to this poem as nothing more than “Butterfly Breeze,” I might have attracted searchers who were looking at the migration of the Monarch butterfly [if I was lucky], or I might have attracted some environmentalists who were searching for information about how pollution affects butterflies and other insects.  But with that slippery title, I probably caught no butterflies at all. Over the course of a couple of years’ efforts to create a brand of my name, however, my blog post might have worked better with search engines if I had added something more after the poem’s title. I might have added the following words: “Jacki Kellum Poetry” or “Jacki Kellum Memoir” or “Jacki Kellum Memoir Poem.” Butterfly Breeze is all of the previous, and my attempt to be found by search engines would be best served if I had found a way to add all of the data as part of the title of my blog’s post. 

The way that you tag your images is also of importance.

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When we talk about tagging things in our posts, we are not talking about hanging a pretty and decorative label on it. Tags for online data are work-horses.

tags This shows the tags that I have most used today on this site. Since I have only begun blogging here today, the number of tags that I have used is still very small. Within a few months, I will have used thousands of tags to describe my blog posts to Google and to other Search Engines.

Important Note: You can also Tag the Images that You Insert Into Your Posts.

tag_image_tags Before I Tagged the above Image

tag_image_tags3After I tagged the above image.

Immediately before you click to insert an image into your post, you have an opportunity to add some metadata. In the previous image, you see how someone else had tagged the image of the tag as nothing more than music and some numbers. Notice here that I titled the tag the way that it relates to why I am using this image in my posts [Hint: I am not writing about music in this post]

I don’t add a caption. The caption shows up on the post.

I added an alternate tag. This allows me another chance to catch the search engines.

Notice that I separate the words in the title and the alt text with underlines.

 

 

 

 

 

I  admit it: I am an impulsive will-o-the-wisp. and I do not like to take the extra 15 seconds that it would require for me to fill in metadata for my images. Allow me to show you how simple that task actually is on a WordPress blog site:

Just before you click to insert your image, you see the following boxes:

How to Increase Google Statistics
How to Increase Google SEO with Image Tags

Arrow 1. Title your tag with small letters and an underscore between each word i.e. increase_seo_google

Arrow 2. Write a description with important keywords: How to increase your Google SEO Search Engine Optimization Statistics. In order to find the very best keywords, do a Google keyword search.

Arrow 3. Provide an alternate title tag with small letters and an underscore between each word: how-to-increase-your-search-engine-optimization

Arrow 4. Write a description of the image. Again, use keywords.

This is just 2 simple ways that will definitely increase your SEO.

Remember: If it is worth saying – it is worth being read. Increasing your SEO is the way that people find you and read you

©Jacki Kellum August 9, 2016

 

 

 

 

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