Oh, what one can accomplish when the kids actually behave

I want to take a moment and thank my two young children for whatever success I may have down the road with my writing career.

Granted, whatever success I may enjoy would probably have come sooner had I not had to keep stopping to tell the 6-year-old to stop running through the house half-naked while playing with the TV remote…and it might have come sooner still had I not had to tell the 3-year-old 67 times to stop pulling her clean clothes out of the dresser and throwing them all over her room and just take a nap, for the love of Pete.

But still, I would have no success at all without those two little devils angels because they – and their older siblings – are the reasons I write for children in the first place. Being a stay-at-home dad, I may barely have a career as it is…but I’d have no career whatsoever without them.

And no one to go sledding with, either.

“You got yourself down there, you can get yourself back up!”

So today, I just wanted to give thanks for the inspiration, love, and exhaustion that my kids provide me. For the past several months, I’ve had a difficult time getting any significant writing done; the 3-year-old is rarely taking naps now, so my work time is severely diminished, and now that she has been waking up at 2 or 3am every other night, I’m only getting 4-5 hours of sleep at night if I’m lucky.

But today, for some reason, went differently.

I don’t know if it was the fact we had our first real snowfall of the season (the 3-year-old spent a good hour outside with me in the morning before I’d even had breakfast), but for some reason she was exceedingly helpful today. And as it turned out, today was THE day I needed her to help me out.

Somehow, I managed to get some commercial television voicework recorded and sent off to an agency in Baltimore with whom I work on a regular basis…I wrote two boyds logoversions of a poem for an upcoming anthology due out in the next few years…made final revisions to the text of my upcoming debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyd’s Mills Press, Fall 2017)…began work on another new poem for another project…AND managed to shovel the property, twice!

Oh, and I wrote a blog post.😉

And once the 6-year-old came home from school, I was even able to clip enough evergreens from around the property to fill our house’s four large window boxes, and start getting more greens together for our wreaths.

Granted, I got almost no housework done – hey, something’s gotta give, right? – but days like this are few and far-between lately, so I needed to try to make the most of it.

And if I know my 3-year-old daughter, I’ll be spending most of tomorrow doing laundry, dishes, and vacuuming. And picking up clean clothes off the floor. After all, I can’t expect her to give me two of these kinds of days in a row.

But the snow is still on the ground, so anything’s possible.

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Thanksgiving Day: The one blessing we overlook

This post was originally published on Nov. 20, 2013, but between food prep, writing, voiceover work, and chasing after a 3-year-old, my time is extremely limited this week! So I thought it might be appropriate to dust this off and re-post it for any of my followers who hadn’t caught it the first time around. I hope you enjoy your week, whether or not you’re celebrating Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and be grateful…that you have the capacity to be thankful!

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Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. will be here in two days, and everywhere you turn, people are talking, writing, and blogging about all the things they’re thankful for.  I, for one, am growing weary of it.

Now, please don’t get me wrong; it’s good to be grateful.  Indeed, we should be thankful – and display that thankfulness – every day of our lives.  We should reflect upon our blessings on a regular basis and never hesitate to show our appreciation for what we have.

My problem is not so much with the thankfulness; it’s that we’re missing an important reason to be thankful.

The Usual Suspects

Again, please don’t misunderstand me; I’m glad people are thankful for their blessings.  But there are certain blessings that show up on nearly everyone’s lists – our faith(s), our families and friends, our lives, our pets, our homes, our talents.

Some people may be thankful their loved ones made it home safely from being abroad; others may be grateful that they received a year-end bonus, or even have a job at all.

Even the poor and destitute among us may be thankful for things like the warmth of the sun or the kindness of a stranger.

I can say honestly that I am truly, truly, TRULY thankful for all these things…but you probably could have guessed that, even if you had never met me or had never even heard of me or this blog.

These are the blessings that most of humanity celebrates – and the acknowledgement that we should be grateful for these things is rooted in the love, compassion, and empathy that separates our species from the rest of the animal kingdom.

We recognize the importance of both gratitude and thankfulness.

A quick vocabulary lesson

Gratitude and thankfulness are not necessarily interchangeable.

I’m no lexicographer or linguist, but it has always been my understanding that these words had different meanings.  To be thankful means you’re appreciative that something that you wanted came about; to be grateful indicates you are appreciative towards someone or something.

(Any English professors in the house?  Please correct me if I’m wrong!)

The reason it’s important to know the difference is because gratitude is directional; thankfulness is not.  Feed a hungry animal and it may be thankful it received food, but it might not be grateful toward you for feeding it.  I know pet owners will disagree with that – having two dogs and two cats of my own, I’ll admit that some animals probably are grateful to the person taking care of them – but how many of these animals understand what it means to be grateful or thankful?

And therein lies the rationale for my previous statement that our recognition of the importance of both gratitude and thankfulness is one of the important qualities that elevates us above the rest of the animal kingdom.

Little blessings, and the BIG one

As I ponder this, I come to the conclusion that the human condition of feeling gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation is itself a blessing.

Yes, I’m thankful for all those things we talked about earlier.  I’m thankful for my family, our friends, and our pets.  I’m thankful I live in a country that promotes freedom of speech, religion, and personal excellence.  I’m grateful to God and Jesus for their love and sacrifices; I’m grateful to my wife and family for supporting me as a self-employed stay-at-home dad; I’m grateful to Al Gore for creating the internet.

(I’m also thankful – or grateful – to whomever or whatever was responsible for getting my 2-year-old to finally stop waking up at 5am…daylight savings time really screwed up the poor little dude’s internal clock for a couple of weeks!)

But I don’t want to overlook this very important aspect of our humanity; that is, the recognition of the importance of gratitude and thankfulness.

Thankful…for being thankful?

Yes, that is basically what I’m saying.  Chuckle if you’d like.  However, when you actually think about what it means to be thankful for having the comprehension of what gratitude, appreciation, or even indebtedness mean…I hope you will understand why I believe it is so important.

We humans are not simply grateful, or thankful.  We comprehend – and celebrate – the importance of being grateful or thankful.

So this Thanksgiving Day, while we’re giving thanks for all we have, think about why you are thankful.

Think about why you are grateful.

And give thanks that you are.

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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Poetry Friday: “The Best of Today’s Little Ditty!”

If you have spent any amount of time enjoying Poetry Friday, you have probably poetryfridaybutton-fulllcome across the blog of my friend and fellow writer, Michelle H. Barnes, Today’s Little Ditty. What started out as a forum to share her work soon turned into a showcase of interviews, repository of writing advice, and a community of folks sharing their own work.

And today, it becomes a book!

I’m very happy to announce the publication of Michelle’s The Best of Today’s Little Ditty, 2014-2015 – a collection of 75 poems by 55 different folks who have visited her site and contributed poetry over the past 2 years.

I encourage you to visit her website today and find out more about the book and how to get a copy! And in the meantime, I’ll share one of my poems you’ll find inside…this one from a challenge from the inimitable Lee Bennett Hopkins to write a poem about a formative moment in my younger life:

…I write her name in my notebook.

I’m not sure why.
What is it about her eyes,
her lips,
that makes me think
she’s smiling at me
even when she’s turned away?
I write her name in my notebook.
I’m not sure why.
What is it about violets and – is that vanilla? –
that make a girl smell so nice?
I don’t even like vanilla, but still…
I write her name in my notebook.
I’m not sure why.
Why do I crane my neck to watch
as she walks away, yet hide
my face
when she sees me
watching?
What would she say,
what would she do,
if only she knew…

– © 2015 Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

(And by the way, HUGE congratulations to Lee for being the newest inductee into the Florida Artists’ Hall of Fame! This was just announced yesterday, and all of us in the children’s poetry community are thrilled!)

Congratulations again, Michelle…on the book, of course, as well as on your blog’s huge success! And speaking of poetry blogs, please stop by Brenda Davis Harsham’s little home on the web, Friendly Fairy Tales, for today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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The most important thing you can do to understand your characters, your scripts, and your neighbors better – and why it’s becoming harder and harder

What would you say if I told you the things you enjoy the most are keeping you from understanding your world?

It may sound odd or far-fetched, but it’s true. Thanks to social media, we are becoming more and more close-minded, but this is not simply my opinion. This is actually the way social media works, and it’s preventing more and more of us from experiencing empathy, something we all need to be able to function as voice artists, writers…and human beings.

The fact that we are doing this to ourselves may surprise you.

Empathy: what it is and why it’s important

id-10044279-sep-coupleMost dictionaries define “empathy” as not just understanding, but identifying with the feelings or thoughts of others. Being able to relate to others’ concerns, experiences, and attitudes broadens our own understandings and helps us to respect those who do not share or own opinions.

Unfortunately, a quick look at the comments section on any random Facebook post often reveals how little respect there is for others. There may be many reasons for this lack of respect, but one reason is an inability among many to care to understand another point of view; a lack of empathy.

And unwittingly, you, yourself are exacerbating this.

Algorithms and the shrinking of your world

Before we get to how empathy can help in your writing or voiceover career, we need to address how it affects personal relationships – and that starts with social media.

In the pre-internet days, we relied on the real world for our information: not just newspapers or tv and radio, but actual interactions with fellow humans who may or may not have shared our beliefs. We would discuss, read, learn from a variety of sources.

These days, the internet has opened a world of differing viewpoints, but is, ironically, closing us off to all viewpoints except our own.

ad-spaceHow?

Algorithms.

You see, every time you search Google, read a Facebook headline, or click an ad, you are telling someone what you like and what you don’t like. In return, the social media sites do their best to tailor your experience to the things they think interest you.

For example, if you see “chocolate chips” trending on Facebook and click to see the stories, Facebook deduces you are interested in chocolate chips. If you only scan the posts without clicking a story, your interest in chocolate chips may be dismissed, but if you click a story, Facebook now assumes you are even more interested in chocolate chips than it had thought.

So don’t be surprised if you see an ad for chocolate chips pop up in your newsfeed the next day!

Same with Google; if you check out a couple of recipes on Betty Crocker’s website, you might soon find cooking ads sprinkled throughout the sites you visit.

Now, while a chocolate chip addiction may not be cause for alarm, things get really problematic, really quickly…

Democrat, Republican, or Independent? Let’s ask Facebook!

Here’s a test: with which political affiliation do you most identify? If you’d like to find out what Facebook thinks, do this:

  • Open up Facebook, and on the far-right drop-down menu (to the right of the padlock icon), click “Settings.”
  • On the far left of the screen, click “Ads,”
  • Where it reads “Ads based on my preferences,” click “Edit” and then “Visit Ad Preferences.”
  • Under “Interests,” click on”Lifestyle and culture.” From there, you should see a box titled “US politics” – and if you have not already declared a political affiliation, Facebook has made a guess as to what it thinks you are!

How does it do this?? By using algorithms based on the sites you visit and other Facebook pages you like. For instance, if a person “Likes” the MoveOn.org Facebook page, Facebook will infer that you are a liberal; if you follow Glenn Beck, Facebook assumes you are conservative.

Obviously, there’s much more to it than that, but you get the idea. The more you tell social media what you like, the more of what you like social media will give you.

And therein lies the big, big  problem.

Where does all this lead?

What it boils down to is all of us living in our own little worlds of singular thought. The more we profess our disdain for Trump, the more pro-Hillary content we are fed; the more we dislike Obamacare, the more conservative content is provided.

The more we read about the Kardashians, the more news about the Kardashians we’re going to get. Oy.

id-100107463-man-screaming-2It is this narrowing and narrowing of our opinions and worldview that is not only harming our capacity for empathy, but our ability to be decent to each other and debate issues politely and respectfully. Being spoon-fed our daily news, we lose sight of all the other opinions out there and the fact that there are, indeed, living, breathing humans on the other end of those opinions.

How empathy comes into play

Empathy, as stated earlier, is not just understanding another’s feelings or opinions, but actually identifying with them, whether or not we agree with them.

Whether it’s the guy who cut you off in traffic, the woman who was too loud on her cellphone, or the person who holds opposing political views to yours, practicing empathy not only helps us interact with others civilly; it reminds us that we are all human and all imperfect.

For all the talk lately of ‘tolerance,’ a little empathy could go a long way…after all, tolerance without understanding has no foundation on which to stand.

A Trump supporter may not be able to understand how a person can vote for Hillary without making a concerted effort to put him/herself in a Hillary supporter’s shoes, looking past the political posturing to see the human being who is running and to understand why she is running.

Likewise, a Hillary supporter may not understand how a person can vote for a candidate like Trump until he or she takes the time to listen closely to a Trump supporter and puts him/herself where the Trump supporter is, recognizing and identifying with the Trump supporter’s experiences and values.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that Trump supporters or Hillary supporters are right or wrong, I’m not saying one is better than the other. That’s a decision individuals have to make, and this blog is not a political forum.

What I am saying, however, is that when we have a steady stream of news content delivered to us based on the ideas, opinions, and beliefs we already hold, the less we are exposed to other viewpoints.

Then, when we do happen to come across an article, comment, or post that goes against our tightly-held opinions, we are so taken aback that we cannot (or will not) take the time to try to consider why that person with the different opinion ever dared form it in the first place.

What does all this mean for writers and voice artists?

If you are a voice artist narrating a script or performing a character, it is imperative that you understand who you are and why you are saying what you are saying.

You don’t have to be a ‘character’ in the sense of a 19th-century British soldier or school lunch lady, either – even a narrator is, at heart, a character. To the listener, the narrator is the voice of reason, of reassurance, of solution. So take the time to think about this, wrap your head around the script, and try to identify with the speaker – as well as the person being spoken to.

Who are you? Why are you speaking these words? Who is hearing them? What might they think when they hear your words? And what is most important to the person to whom you are speaking?

If you are a writer, ask these same questions of your characters. And really, really, try to answer them honestly, from your character’s point of view.

I know of some authors who will stop themselves in the middle of a manuscript and throw one of their characters into a completely unrelated plot, then write a short story around that, for the sole purpose of getting to know their character better.

A lot of work, yes, but if it helps to create a better understanding, then it’s time well spent.

And come to think of it…asking yourself these questions each time an opposing opinion comes along might not be a bad idea, either. What do you think?

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Sunday afternoon, 1975”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllWell, I hope you enjoyed that little excursion into the past with my Throwback Summer series…many of you commented that you couldn’t believe I was willing to share poetry I’d written in high school and college, and my response is, “Hey, we all had to start somewhere!”

Granted, “Ode to a Dishrag,” “Ode to Lint,” and “Ode to a Poem I’m Writing Only Because I Couldn’t Think of Anything Else to Write About” were never Pushcart contenders…but I wanted to show readers how far one can develop through hard work, practice, and sheer determination.

As I always say, #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading!

Today we get back to my present-day writing, and the following is one of those poems I wrote specifically to submit to a journal. I’ve previously shared my thoughts about the value of submission requests as inspiration to write, and this was one of those cases; the journal was looking for poems about ice cream, so I put this together.

It was just a few weeks later that I went to the journal’s website and all references to this particular issue were removed, and even the contact person’s name was nowhere to be found. Sigh. Oh, well…no reason to let the poem go unread, right?

Sunday afternoon, 1975

Ice cream, again. One of them said
something wrong, I think, something the other
didn’t like;
I don’t know what. I don’t know why
they’re even here in front of the grocery store
instead of at home – one of our homes –
but we’re here, and people
I don’t know are looking
and all I can do is fight
a shiver in my chest. I try not
to make them mad, but it always happens
around this time
every second weekend.

Without warning,
mom snatches my hand and turns, walking
so quickly I can barely keep up; I turn my head
to look behind
and see dad, standing on the pavement
watching, arms
by his sides, right hand
angled in a half-wave
as if to say
he’s sorry
it’s ice cream again.

– © 2016, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Poetry Friday is being hosted by the one and only Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm, so head on over for all of today’s poetry links, and learn more about a brand new book being published by the folks responsible for the Poetry Friday Anthology series, Pomelo Books!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: Throwback Summer concludes in “Stride”

Let me just tell you.. I am SO glad I didn’t need to come up with anything too long or witty for today’s post – I simply could not have done it.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllJust before 3pm on Thursday afternoon, I was ripping out part of our garden when I apparently disturbed a yellowjacket nest. I was promptly stung about 8 times, primarily on my scalp. Not fun.

Then, after my wife came home from work, we were eating dinner when the crown on my right front tooth fell out – and rather than relax for awhile, I was on my way into the city half an hour away to get to a pharmacy for crown repair cement. Doubly not fun.

And this is all happening the day before I begin a long, 4-day weekend as the PA announcer for the local state fair! Triply not fun.

I’ve been trying to maintain a positive attitude about all this (hey, at least I didn’t have a serious allergic reaction to the stings, right?), but in all honesty, I’ve had enough. I’m exhausted, and my bed is looking really good right now.

So with that said, I can now present the final installment of my Throwback Summer series, which started when I discovered my old high school journals and other papers in my parent’s attic.

Today’s poem was written in my college Creative Writing class, and I was still trying to get a handle on free verse at this point. I really liked rhyme and structure and that sort of thing, so free verse took some getting used to. And unlike most of the Throwback Summer poems I’ve shared here, this one isn’t too bad. Yes, it has its faults, but compared to everything that has come before…I think it holds its own…

Stride (poem)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane – it’s certainly been eye-opening for me, to recall what I was writing and doing back then. And it’s quite a relief, to know that my writing has gotten (marginally) better! Speaking of writing, Penny Parker Klostermann is hosting Poetry Friday today, so please stop by and check out all the links and fun!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

“Constancy”

This post was originally published August 3, 2012. It was my first poetry post on this blog, and only my second post ever, following my introduction. But I repost it every year around this time, as my wedding anniversary is August 10 and the poem was part of my wedding vows. I wouldn’t be where I am without my wife, after all – she’s the one who allows me to be a stay-at-home dad who writes for a (modest) living! 

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poetryfridaybutton-fulllThis is only my second posting on this blog, and although I knew I wanted to do something for Poetry Friday, it took quite a bit of deliberation to decide which poem of mine I should spotlight.  Children’s poetry or adult poetry?  Published or unpublished?  Happy or sad?  Funny or serious???

Well, after careful consideration, I decided I would post an unpublished poem I wrote a few years ago for the one person in the world who has done the most for me in my quest to become a published children’s author:   my wife, Jenny. Through her unwavering support (emotional, physical, AND financial), I’m able to pursue this dream along with all the other people who have been so helpful to me, like my kids, friends, and fellow writers.

This is a traditional Elizabethan sonnet (three quatrains with an a/b/a/b, c/d/c/d, e/f/e/f rhyme scheme followed by a rhyming g/g couplet) which I wrote as part of my wedding vows.  No, it doesn’t read as a contemporary poem; it was deliberately written in a sort of old-fashioned, classic sort of style. I wanted to express the thought that even though poets throughout history have written words of undying love and immutable steadfastness, my love for her surpassed all their metaphors, all their similes, all that they could ever have imagined.

Yes, I’m a romantic; I make no apologies.

I conclude my poem with a suggestion for them as to what they should compare their love to…but it’s not a rose or a star.

Looking back on it (indeed, even shortly after I’d written it), there are things I would have changed, edited, or revised – it is a bit over-wrought, I admit – but I was under a deadline, of course, and this was what I came up with.  Unlike my other poems, “Constancy” will never be put through revisions, however.  These were the words I spoke to my wife on August 10, 2008 (in a voice loud enough that the entire state of Massachusetts could hear) and so they shall remain.  These words were part of my vows and are as unalterable as my love and gratitude for her.


Thanks again for saying “Yes,” Honey.

Constancy
For Jennifer

How many have, before me, tried in vain
To capture beauty, constancy, and love
Through fluent phrase, in happiness and pain,
And simile of summer, star, or dove?
Their words so eloquent, imagery lush –
In perfect imperfection testify,
For seasons change, the steadfast heavens rush
To swirl about themselves, and doves will die.
How best to show the one whom I adore
The fullness of my amorosity?
I fail to find a finer metaphor
Than that true love which you have shown to me.
The poets fail! Their thoughts do not dismiss;
‘Tis better they compare their love to this.

© 2008, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!