The right way, the wrong way…and the fun way

(And if you’ve served in the Army, you know there’s an ‘Army way,’ as well – but we’ll leave that alone for this post.)

I was taking a walk along a dirt road the other day with my Little Dude – my almost-3-year-old son, who is at the age where he simply HAS to do everything himself.  I had been pushing him in his stroller, but after awhile he wanted to get out and walk.  I took him out, and he immediately wanted to push the stroller.

“My do,” he shouted.  “my do, my do!!!”

“All right, all right, you can do,” I chuckled, and I let him get behind the stroller and start pushing.  He may only be two, but he’s a tall little dude , so pushing the full-size stroller was actually not that difficult a task for him.

Within a few minutes, however, he was in a rut.

He wasn’t mad or anything, I mean he was literally in the rut on the edge of the road, shoving and maneuvering and doing his best to move the stroller forward.  I tried to help him out of the rut and onto the level part of the road, but he kept steering the stroller back into the muddy, stony rut.  I finally took over and pushed the stroller back onto the level part of the road, but he resisted my assistance.

And by ‘resist,’ I mean he screamed.

He then got behind the stroller, and with a loud, “My do!” he was happily back in the rut.

It’s not wrong – it’s fun!

I was just about to try to straighten him out again when it dawned on me:  He knows exactly what he’s doing.  He knew being in the rut wasn’t the easiest way to push the stroller…but it also wasn’t necessarily the wrong way.  He wasn’t just pushing the stroller for the purpose of moving it forward; he was pushing it because it was fun trying to navigate the terrain of rocks, mud, and unlucky tire treads.

For him, he wanted the challenge – he was enjoying the challenge – and this was absolutely the correct way of doing it.

This was the fun way.

It made me wonder how often we adults take the time to do things the fun way.  We all have jobs to do, and yes, we need to do them the right way.  Doing them the wrong way can be deleterious to our careers, our marriages, or our way of life.  But sometimes there is a third way of doing things that we often can’t see because we are so focused on all the other demands of our adult lives.

Try a different way

Last week, I was raking the lawn – and we have a bunch of oak, maple, and cherry trees that drop copious amounts of leaves all over the place.  In one part of the lawn, the layers of leaves were so think you literally could not even see any grass!  But as I raked, I knew my son would love the opportunity to play in them.  So as I made my piles, I made one extra-big pile he could jump in and kick and roll around in…and he was thrilled.

As I hauled the leaves in the other piles away in my wheel-barrow, he played and laughed and had a ball.  Every now and then, I’d rake up the stray leaves to keep his pile looking good, but generally there was not much extra effort on my part.  I could have just done my thing and then gotten mad at him for jumping in the piles of leaves (which he inevitably would have done) – but I instead chose the fun way.  And it not only made his day, it kept me from getting frustrated at him jumping in all my leaf piles!

Similarly, after a visit to the doctor’s office during the summer, we were walking in the parking lot on our way to the car when I noticed a lawn sprinkler in a grassy patch to our right.  I took the little dude’s hand and we went out of our way to walk through it.  And since walking through a sprinkler only once on a hot summer day just wouldn’t do, we had to walk back through it again.  And again.

And again.

By the time we made it to the car, we were approaching ‘drench’ status.  My wife, already at the car, just looked at me and rolled her eyes, knowing that I had had as much fun as my son.

“Professional Fun”

The next time you have a creative project to undertake, think about how you want to approach it; certainly, you want to do it the right way, but examine a more ‘fun’ way, as well.  Whether or not you decide to go forward with the ‘fun’ way, it helps close some brain synapses that may have gone neglected for too long and may provide some unexpected inspiration.

If you are an audio producer with some time on your hands, think about your favourite movie or song or even commercial, and see if you can create something fun out of it – perhaps writing a parody of the song, producing a humourous fake commercial, or re-voicing and re-producing a favourite scene in a movie.

I did, a few years ago, when I had some spare time on my hands.  I re-produced a scene from a certain famous ‘pirate’ movie – with my own music and sound effects – just for kicks:

If you write novels but have always wanted to write a children’s book, sit down and start!  Or if you write children’s books but secretly yearn to write satirical historical erotica, go for it!  It doesn’t matter if it’s any good, the point is that it’s fun – and by doing, you end up learning.

Maybe you’ll learn how to better structure a project you’re already working on.

Maybe you’ll discover a talent you didn’t know you have.

Perhaps you’ll start to learn the intricacies of another craft.

Or, you just might learn that there are some projects and genres you simply aren’t cut out for.

But at least you had fun.  😉

Poetry Friday: “Sunrise,” “Sunset”

Ok, ok, you can stop humming.  I figured pretty much everyone who came across this post would immediately start thinking Fiddler on the Roof, but what can I say…these are the two sister poems I’m presenting today, and I couldn’t really change their titles!

One morning last fall, I watched the sun rising outside my front window and colouring the clouds in the sky, and the phrase “pink and purple morning” popped into my head.   (Only a poet would understand just how exquisite such an occurrence is!)  Knowing I couldn’t let something like that get away from me, I sat down and wrote the first poem.  A day or two later, I came up with the second poem because – well, it just seemed the proper thing to do.

“Sunrise” is structured a little differently, because I wanted to combine proper meter and rhyme scheme with the style and sensibility of free verse – if that makes sense – because a beautiful sunrise is both an artistic and scientific phenomenon, and I thought trying to combine these two poetic styles might be nice.  I like the idea that we all may view the same sunrise at the same moment, but each one of us gets to see it from his/her own particular perspective; this is a theme I’ve touched on before, here.  “Sunset” is a little more traditional in form, only because I wanted it to be structured differently from “Sunrise”…and this is how it turned out!

I hope you like them.  The first photo was taken by yours truly from my house, after the brilliance of the sunrise was waning, unfortunately, but if you click it to enlarge you can see some of the detail I write about.  The sunset photo was taken by my 17-year-old daughter, and if you enlarge that, you’ll see how much better a photographer she is than her old man!  For more poetry, Linda at Teacher Dance has the complete Poetry Friday roundup!


Pink and purple morning, painted
sky above the earth;
sunlight bounces off the clouds in every hue.
Now a new day wakens; I am
witnessing its birth
from my own unique and special point of view.


A red sun sinks below the sky;
The time has come to end our day.
As starlight twinkles from on high,
Once more, the moon comes out to play.

– both poems © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2012

Putting the ‘civil’ in civil discourse

By definition, “civil discourse” refers to a conversation intended to promote understanding between those involved.

Unfortunately, these kinds of conversations seem to be getting rarer and rarer.

I’ve noticed that many people of late are falling out of relationships with those with whom they disagree about the upcoming presidential election.  I’ve read articles about company employees of one political persuasion trying to keep their opinions quiet, so as not to upset other employees of an opposite persuasion; I know folks who have been saddened to discover friends of theirs ending their friendships, refusing to talk to them over differing political ideologies.

I’ve come to the realization that too many people in this country have forgotten – or possibly never considered – that we’re all in this together.

In the wake of last night’s debate, and in light of the fact that Election Day is coming just two weeks from today, I felt it might be worth a reminder.  And while I make references to politics, civil discourse is something that should be practiced in everyday life.

We’re all on the same side…

I never get into politics here; and really, today’s post is more about human decency than anything else.  It doesn’t matter which ‘side’ you’re on…we’re ultimately all on the ‘same side.’

Most of us want the same thing; the problem is, we don’t always recognize this, and even if we do, we disagree on how to get there.  Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, independents, and most of the other parties out there all want the same thing:  a bright, promising future not only for ourselves, but especially for our children.  Rare is the person who wants the country’s economy to collapse and bring about an end to the nation’s system of government as we know it.

We are so passionate about our own personal beliefs, though, we forget this.  Indeed, that passion proves how much we love our country, our families and friends, our cities and towns; after all, if we really didn’t care, why would any of us be so vociferous?

I recall a conservative friend of mine once saying, “Liberals just want to tear this country apart!” while in a separate conversation, a liberal friend posed the question, “Why do conservatives hate this country so much?”  Now, knowing these two individuals as I do, I can tell you that neither one hates this country, neither wants it to fall apart, and both are good, upstanding citizens with homes and families and hope for the future.

Both are genuinely good people.

But it really took me aback to think that, even though they didn’t know each other, each had such a negative view of the other.

Beyond The First Amendment

We shouldn’t need to fall back onto the First Amendment as ‘protection’ for what we say.  We should be willing to listen to an opposing viewpoint simply because it’s the decent thing to do, and not fear retribution for our own beliefs.

My wife and I, for example, are nearly polar opposites when it comes to politics.  We always say that if we had used when we were single, we’d have never met – the computer algorithms they use would have either never matched us up, or would’ve crashed trying.  You know how some couples say they never talk about religion and politics?  My wife and I talked about religion and politics on our first date.

And believe me, we have some great arguments at our house, too – heated, loud, impassioned – but never mean-spirited.  We love each other, and we know each of us wants what’s best for the country, as well as our kids’ future.  Just because we disagree on how to get there, doesn’t mean we don’t have the same goal.

We’ve opened up each other’s minds, too – I think each of us is a better person because of the insight we’ve gained from the other.

I also have plenty of friends I’ve known for years who are at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum – but we’ve remained friends for so long because we respect each other.  (The preponderence of a growing lack of respect towards others in general could make a whole OTHER blog post)

Civil ≠ Dispassionate

You’ve probably heard plenty of politicians asking for more ‘civil discourse’ over the last few years.  How has that turned out?  I think people assume that one cannot be passionate about something and still be civil.  The pervasive rationale is that one has to be mild-mannered and timid in order to not be offensive.  I don’t buy it.  Personally, when I get riled up about something I’m passionate about, my voice rises, my speech starts picking up, and my pulse quickens.  That doesn’t mean I’m offensive or disrespectful.  I’m just animated!  I’m excited!

But I’m still civil.

So the next time you start discussing the merits of one candidate or the other, or one policy over the other, remember that everyone in the conversation has the same goal: the improvement of our lives today and the security of the future of the generations to follow.

Remember that we’re all trying to get to the same place:  a place of happiness, prosperity, peace.

Remember my wife and I, who debate economic policy as we’re getting ready to go to sleep!

Differering opinions can coexist within a household.

And if they can exist in the bedroom, they should certainly be able to exist on the campaign trail.

Poetry Friday: Fall Treats at YARN!

Click to go to the Young Adult Review Network and my poem!

Last week, the folks at the online literary journal, Young Adult Review Network (YARN), published three poems to promote their “Fall Treats Poem Drive and Contest.”  All three poems had been submitted by individuals from different parts of the country who did not know each other, did not know what the others were writing about, nor even when the poems might be published, if at all.

Coincidental, then, that they all had apples as their subjects!

YARN, apparently, knows a good idea when it hits them on the head (Get it?  Like Sir Isaac Newton?  The apple fell, and hit them on the – ok, you get it), so they decided to use apples as their October theme.  I’m pleased that they were inspired by one of my poems not only for publication, but for helping them formulate their contest, which just began this past Monday.  You can view all three poems here…then write one of your own and send it in!

And be sure to see what else is happening today for Poetry Friday with Irene at Live Your Poem!

Poetry Friday: The sequel to Tuesday’s post

I have several favourite poems, but one stands out more than all the others.

Interestingly, however, it’s not exactly a poem.

If you had a chance to read my post on Tuesday , you know how much I value memorization of poetry.  It had a profound effect on me, as I developed my love of poetry – and began my journey as a writer of poetry – only after reading the classic works of people like Shakespeare, Shelley, and Chaucer.  It is the latter I am featuring today.

It was in 9th or 10th grade – I don’t recall exactly – that my British Lit teacher, Mrs. Jencks, gave us a memorization project.  We were in the process of reading early- and middle-English verse literature (like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) when she told us we would need to memorize the first 18 lines of the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  We could choose either the original middle-English version or a contemporary translation, and each one of us would recite it before the entire class and have it recorded onto cassette tape so we could listen back to it.

Ah yes, the good ol’ days – when embarrassing students by making them perform in front of the class was a standard part of the curriculum.

Being an actor even then, I had no qualms about doing anything in front of the class, and since I always liked to take the road less travelled, I opted for the middle-English version; it was, after all, the way the writer had intended it to be read, and it had been written so beautifully I couldn’t bear to do the injustice of committing to memory a pale reproduction of the original.  (Yes, I realize there are some beautiful translations out there – along with some less-than-impressive ones – but none can compare to Chaucer’s words)

So…getting back to Tuesday’s post…all this talk about memorization got me to thinking about the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  I recited it to myself, wondering if I could still remember it.  Sure enough, I did.

So I present to you this Poetry Friday, two firsts for my fledgling blog:  the first poem I’ve featured that is not my own, and the first time I’ve posted audio.  (A number of people have suggested I should record a poem; being a voiceover artist, I’m not sure what took me so long, but I thought it was a good idea!)  The pronunciations are close but probably not perfect – but I’m basing this reading on a recitation I performed from somewhere in the mid-’80’s – so try, if you can, to cut me some slack.  😉

Hope you like it!  And for the rest of the Poetry Friday posts from across the interweb, Amy at The Poem Farm has rounded them all up for you!  Feel free to click the link below to play the audio and follow along with the text.  The player shouldopen up in a new window, but if it doesn’t, just right click the link and select ‘Open in New Window.’  (And if you’re not sure of a particular word or phrase, click here for a modern-day translation!)

Chaucers CT Prologue – Matt Forrest Esenwine vx (10-8-12)

The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue
By Geoffrey Chaucer, 1340–1400

Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Poetry Friday: “Sonnet 10”

Y’know…now that I think about it…

I should’ve come up with a title for this poem.

For some reason, I just never got around to it.  I wish I could find the original, which had the date of completion on it (I’m sure it’s packed away somewhere around here) but I’d guess that I wrote this around 2000.  We were living in Highgate, Vermont, at the time and I was home on the front porch, looking at the field across the road and the line of multi-colored trees that stretched behind it.  I think it was late September, but it must have been a cool, early fall because I recall the trees had already lost at least half of their leaves, which spurred me to write this.

It’s an adult poem, never published, but one of my favourites; I hope you like it.  For more poetry, please visit Laura Salas for the complete Poetry Friday roundup!

Sonnet 10

The dark green trees, so tender yestermonth,
Have now begun a turn of gruesome hue
And sanguine shades make manifest a life
With which the leaves the sun cannot imbue.
Where once youth’s shine had bourgeoned through these hills
And sweetness of the air perfumed the land,
Now sullen limbs hang low, with fingers crack’d
As if by Hodur’s cold and mighty hand.
The souls come creeping, seeping through worn skin –
An erubescent glow becomes a cry
To Heaven; stately corpses standing tall
Are beckoning us all to watch them die.
And while tears drop so silently to ground,
To tread upon them ‘tis a deaf’ning sound.

– Matt Forrest Esenwine

First Impressions: The merits of a good opening line

If I asked you to recite the first line of your favourite poem, could you?

How about your favourite novel?   Favourite movie?

Now, if I asked you to recite any memorable line from a poem, novel, commercial, TV show, movie, or whatever – you’d probably pull something out of your head fairly quickly.

So that begs the question:  if an opening line isn’t memorable…how important is it?

I had been wanting to write about opening lines for awhile now, so I need to thank fellow blogger and children’s poet Ed DeCaria for getting me to finally write it.  Ed’s blog post about the first lines of children’s poems got me pondering whether or not it’s a sin that I barely remember the opening lines of any of my favourite poems or books or movies.  I started thinking about the purpose behind a good opening line.  And soon I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I had not invalidated my poetic license by forgetting the great opening lines of poets and authors from Shakespeare to Silverstein.

An opening line doesn’t need to be memorable.

It needs to be engaging.

The commercial, for the commercial:

As radio advertising guru Dan O’Day says:  the first line of a commercial is the commercial for the commercial.  It’s also the commercial for the poem or novel.  In other words, the opening line needs to be interesting enough – or intriguing enough or funny enough or shocking enough – to get the reader or listener to want to keep reading or listening.  That first line is advertising the content that follows.

Whether or not an opening line is memorable is irrelevant – as long as it helps make the entire piece that follows memorable.   (And in the case of commercials, effective)

Speaking of commercials, I cringe when I hear one begin, “Hi, this Joe What’s-his-face from Wacky Widgets!”  Or even worse, an announcer – presumably in his too-perfect and overly-smooth delivery – saying, “And now, Joe What’s-his-face from Wacky Widgets…”  Opening lines like these give a listener NO REASON to care about the message, much less a compelling reason to continue listening.  They might as well start the commercial, “Hey, I’m a business owner, and this is a commercial!  I’m going to try to sell you something…feel free to turn the channel!”

Over the years, I’ve produced a lot of client-voiced spots – still do, too – but they all start with a compelling opening line.  Memorable?  Maybe not – but they’re compelling, and they get the job done.  Here’s one recent example for a local motorcycle shop’s one-day sales event:

NationalPowersports_OpenHouse2012-#2 9-21-12

Notice I didn’t start off telling the listener who Nate is; I started off with Nate connecting with the listener himself, via a premise most of us can relate to:  the typical sale where overpriced vehicles are artificially ‘marked down.’  It’s that first line that has to make you want to keep listening – and if you’re a motorcyclist, chances are you did.

I tell my radio advertising clients all the time that one has to assume the listener doesn’t care.  Not to be insulting, but when your commercial comes on the air, it’s viewed as an interruption – and a good copywriter needs to overcome that.  Why do you suppose such a big deal is made about Super Bowl commercials?  Because advertising agencies don’t want people leaving the living room to get more nachoes while they’re trying to pitch a car manufacturer’s newest model.  The first line should attract attention and draw you in…and make you a participant in the story.

Memorable Lines v. Opening Lines

“What light through yonder window breaks!”

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

“An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”

“I am your father!!”

(Be honest…you read that last one in James Earl Jones’ voice, didn’t you?)

The point of all these quotes, obviously, is to show that some of the most memorable lines from some of the greatest works of fiction aren’t necessarily the opening lines.  However the piece started, it was enough to hook the reader/viewer and keep him or her interested.  The only opening line from these four examples most folks might recall is, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” but even that’s wrong, because it comes from the first Star Wars movie and the line about Luke Skywalker’s father (above) comes from the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. 

That’s why the opening line – the commercial for the commercial – can be both extremely important yet regettably forgettable.  Look at it this way:  the movie “Titanic” was one of the highest-grossing, most widely-viewed, hugely successful films of all time…

…but do you remember the trailer?

That favourite opening line, again?

Have you been able to come up with anything?  Your favourite opening line to a poem, novel, movie, anything?

If you’ve thought of one or two, you’re probably doing better than most.  Even opening lines that are well-known (like “Call me Ishmael” from Melville’s Moby Dick or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) are often misattributed to other works, by folks who have heard them but may or may not have read the actual novels.

Although opening lines may be extremely important, memorable lines – whether recalled exactly or slightly misquoted – are something else entirely.  A good opening line will get the reader/viewer/ listener’s attention – but if the rest of the piece doesn’t live up to the expectations that have been created, nothing about your piece will be memorable.

Except, perhaps, for the wrong reasons.