Resetting My Writing Brain via London

We took a fun excursion to London recently, and I didn’t think about writing once. I wanted a reset. No poems, no notebook, no scribbled ideas on my latest novel. Just the day-to-day joy of being in the moment. I didn’t even take as many pictures as I normally do, wanting to experience everything without a filter between my eye and the subjects.

We mostly toured museums, our passion for the past driving us. The British Museum in particular, where I could see all the mummies, statues, pottery, tools, chessmen, and hieroglyphs my heart desired. Things I’d studied in history and art history classes. Of course, to complete the art history trifecta, we hit the National Gallery and Tate Modern museums. Admiring paintings in person made my brain happy. There’s nothing like seeing the swirls of paint in a Van Gogh for yourself.

Pharoah Statue British Museum,
Horse head from Parthenon, British Museum
Horse head from Parthenon, British Museum
Lewis Chessmen, King, Bishop, Berserker
Lewis Chessmen – King, Bishop, Berserker
British Museum
Four Philosophers
The bane of studying for my Philosophy degree.
Ancient Philosophers.

Now that the trip is a couple of weeks in the past, my mind turns to exploring the sights and sounds of having been in London, looking for patterns and turning phrases around and around. Poems lurk on the periphery, waiting to be coaxed into life. I use the feelings of being a stranger in another country in my novel, guiding the character through missteps. We didn’t make that many—I think—because we read and videoed up on the place before we went.

Van Gogh, Sunflowers, National Gallery
Van Gogh, Sunflowers, National Gallery
Prime meridian
Prime Meridian, Greenwich Observatory
View from Greenwich Observatory
View from Greenwich Observatory
Clock Tower
Big Ben from one of our walk abouts

It was the small things. Standing to the right on escalators to let the impatient people go by. Waiting for others to get off the train before we got on. Saying good morning to our barista. (Who got to know us well.) Remembering politeness, something that seems to be dropping by the wayside as the century goes on. We found Londoners to be generally polite people. I was always offered a seat on the subway by random males. Perhaps due to the silver streaks in my hair? But it was appreciated. Especially after six hours walking in museums and the time spent walking from the Underground (and its numerous stairs) to the latest location.

This is not the Army’s hiking

That was another thing I enjoyed (mostly) The walking to get places. My current hometown is very car-centric, so being able to use public transportation and pop out close to my destination was a relief. I’m sure you folks in big cities know the feeling. Of course, being on vacation, there was no real rush to get places. We arrived when we arrived. We could enjoy the streets and scenery. Twice we took random walks, once in the Paddington neighborhood we stayed in, where we found a fabulous Italian restaurant, and the second time when we blew off another museum and just walked around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It was beautiful, we enjoyed watching the dogs frolic on the expanses of green grass, got rained on, saw Guards on horses practicing for a parade, and generally just reveled in the pretty (long) walk.

Kensington Garden flowers
Kensington Garden flowers

Our home base for excursions was Paddington Station, and it’s funny how having a ‘center’ at the beginning and end of the day really helped. Not to mention the coffee shops in the station. Got to get our fix coming and going. The hustle and bustle in the station was a nice contrast to the slow pace of my rural hometown. My brain embraced the contrast, and now that I’ve had time to digest it all, I feel words stirring. The urge to jump back into writing and explore relationships between people and places. I’m ready.

What do you do to reset your writing brain?

Connie in front of our London flat
Some of the Places We Went

British Museum

The National Gallery

Tate Modern

Royal Observatory Greenwich

Hyde Park

The Cleveland Arms Pub


Harry Potter Studio Tour

More Essays

Five Poems That Pulled Me Into Poetry

Backwards This Language Is

Sketching Out a New Year

How Cats Help You Write

More Lessons From Printmaking

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

For more essays, search the Non-Fiction Links

Five Poems That Pulled Me Into Poetry

Do you remember which poems pulled you into poetry? The ones that dazzled and beguiled you? I was given a book of poems very early by my grandmother and grew fascinated by the rhythm and the words. I was lucky enough to have elementary school teachers that emphasized poetry in their literature lessons. Memorizing a poem gave me a friend to recite in my head whenever I needed. Of course, a steady diet of Shakespeare in high school helped me fall in love with poetry also. Here are the five poems, in no particular order.

First Poem

My grandfather gave me a book that had the following poem in it. Among all the others it stood out. I didn’t live near the ocean, just visited it on vacations, but the poem has such longing and romanticism in it I couldn’t help but be enraptured. I was always reading history and historical novels in school, so this one captured my imagination.

    Sea Fever
    by John Masefield

    I must go down to the seas again, to the
          lonely sea and the sky,
    And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer
          her by;
    And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and
          the white sail’s shaking,
    And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey
          dawn breaking.
    I must go down to the seas again, for the call
          of the running tide
    Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be
    And all I ask is a windy day with the white
         clouds flying,
    And the flung spray and the blown spume, and
          the sea-gulls crying.
    I must go down to the seas again, to the
          vagrant gypsy life,
    To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where
          the wind’s like a whetted knife;
    And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing
    And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the
          long trick’s over.

Second Poem

I have a very old copy of the Complete Poems of Robert Frost. I don’t know where it came from or how long I’ve had it, but this poem is bookmarked. It is very evocative and reminds me of Christopher Marlowe’s poems. Of course I love all the classic Frost poems, “The Road Not Taken”, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “Birches”, “Mending Wall”, and “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.

    A Line-storm Song
    by Robert Frost

    The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift, 
      The road is forlorn all day, 
    Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift, 
      And the hoof-prints vanish away. 
    The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
      Expend their bloom in vain. 
    Come over the hills and far with me, 
      And be my love in the rain. 

    The birds have less to say for themselves 
      In the wood-world’s torn despair
    Than now these numberless years the elves, 
      Although they are no less there: 
    All song of the woods is crushed like some 
     Wild, easily shattered rose. 
    Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
      Where the boughs rain when it blows. 

    There is the gale to urge behind 
      And bruit our singing down, 
    And the shallow waters aflutter with wind 
      From which to gather your gown.    
    What matter if we go clear to the west, 
      And come not through dry-shod? 
    For wilding brooch shall wet your breast 
      The rain-fresh goldenrod. 

    Oh, never this whelming east wind swells   
      But it seems like the sea’s return 
    To the ancient lands where it left the shells 
      Before the age of the fern; 
    And it seems like the time when after doubt 
      Our love came back amain.      
    Oh, come forth into the storm and rout 
      And be my love in the rain.

Third Poem

Then there’s Emily Dickinson. She wove in and out of my early poem reading, and I fell in love with her succinct style that said so much. She’s still one of my favorite poets. Setting Sail, as it got titled somewhere along the way, is one poem I memorized because it speaks to me as a landlubber who finally went out to sea.

    Emily Dickinson



    Exultation is the going
    Of an inland soul to sea, —
    Past the houses, past the headlands,
    Into deep eternity!

    Bred as we, among the mountains,
    Can the sailor understand
    The divine intoxication
    Of the first league out from land?

Fourth Poem

I stumbled across High Flight while reading some WWII history. Our family has close ties to aviation, my father worked in the industry. Some vacations we’d drive out to that city’s airport and watch the planes take off and land. There were pilgrimages to the Air and Space Museum. In the Army I even put in to fly helicopters. Alas, my eyesight wasn’t good enough. 

John Gillespie Magee Jr., the RAF poet, wrote very few poems during WWII but sent them to his parents in letters. He was killed in a training accident on December 11, 1941. I think of this poem whenever I hear one of my favorite songs – Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly. Both speak to pilots, astronauts, and wanna be flyers everywhere.

    High Flight
    by John Gillespie Magee Jr.

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
    I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air ....

    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
    And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Learning to Fly video


    Learning to Fly

    Into the distance, a ribbon of black
    Stretched to the point of no turning back
    A flight of fancy on a wind swept field
    Standing alone my senses reeled
    A fatal attraction is holding me fast
    How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

    Can't keep my eyes from the circling sky
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Ice is forming on the tips of my wings
    Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything
    No navigator to find my way home
    Unladened, empty, and turned to stone

    A soul in tension that's learning to fly
    Condition grounded but determined to try
    Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Friction lock, set
    Mixtures, rich
    Propellers, fully forward
    Flaps, set - 10 degrees
    Engine gauges and suction, check

    Above the planet on a wing and a prayer
    My grubby halo, a vapor trail in the empty air
    Across the clouds I see my shadow fly
    Out of the corner of my watering eye
    A dream unthreatened by the morning light
    Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night

    There's no sensation to compare with this
    Suspended animation, a state of bliss
    Can't keep my mind from the circling sky
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Songwriters: Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne
    For non-commercial use only.

Last but not least

Of course, no influence of mine would ever be complete without the main man himself, William Shakespeare. I ran into Shakespeare in high school English class, first in plays we acted out, then through the sonnets. There are many sonnets I like, sometimes it depends on the day and how I’m feeling. But if I had to choose just one, this would be it.

    William Shakespeare
    Sonnet 14: Not From The Stars Do I My Judgement Pluck

    Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
    And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
    But not to tell of good or evil luck,
    Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
    Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
    Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
    Or say with princes if it shall go well
    By oft predict that I in heaven find:
    But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
    And, constant stars, in them I read such art
    As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
    If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
    Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
    Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.

You may sense a theme in all these poems. I never realized until I started keeping track of all the poems that moved me. I have a folder, My Great Big Pile O’Inspiration, for when I just need to immerse myself in words I love. How about you? Any poems that have wended their way into your heart?

Other Essays on Poetry

Poetry Submissions for the Rest of Us

Why I Don’t Write Political Poetry

What I Learned From Editing

Outside Links

The 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language

Poetry Foundation


Backwards This Language Is

I think I’m too literal to learn a new language. I’ve been studying German for the past few years now and can’t come to grips with some of the Yoda-like sentence structure. My mind wants it neat and orderly like English. I hate having to chase verbs all over the sentence. But every once in a while, my mind will parse a sentence without effort, Yoda-like or not. That fans the flame of hope.

I’ve been using a mix of Duolingo, Babel, videos, and various books to try and learn, hoping what grammar tidbits not said in one thing will be addressed in another. The linear mindset at work again. I want logic, damnit, and explanations that make sense. A video on YouTube promised a foolproof way to figure out Der, Die, Das as they relate to masculine, feminine and neuter nouns. A concept I struggle with. Moon is masculine, Sun is feminine, and Sea is neuter. Linear brain balked. The promised way was not foolproof, and all my other sources finally said, “Eh, just memorize them.” Short of swallowing a dictionary, I don’t see how.

Flash me

Flashcards to the rescue. Through sheer repetition, I’ve got a lot of the articles nailed down. Maybe that’s how to deal with a somewhat linear brain. Hammer things home. Okay, bludgeon. I slowly started picking up the forms for different cases. It’s like elementary school Daily Oral Language lessons all over again. Without the chalkboard dust. Just papercuts.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch

In a fit of optimism, I started learning yet another language. Norwegian. I found that the German study was helping me pick up Norwegian a little quicker. A lot of words are similar to German, just spelled differently. I admit to substituting a German word when I couldn’t remember the Norwegian one. I’m sure Norwegians would understand. I like the Norwegian language. Sometimes there is a Yoda sentence, but articles don’t change willy-nilly, and I got used to the umlauts, just like in German. Linear brain seems content with Norwegian.

You know what else you need?

Then I thought hey, I took Spanish for four years in High School, how hard could it be to relearn? (Rational brain, linear’s smarter brother, said, “Don’t add another language. Don’t. Please.”.) Happily, I did remember a lot of the language. And it’s not close enough to German or Norwegian to trip me up. Linear brain is still struggling with question formatting, however.

Speed Limit in German

I’ve grown to like the hardness of spoken German, and its barked commands. The lilt of Norwegian is nice, and so is the flow of Spanish. I peeked into Danish just to see how close to Norwegian it was. Close enough, but am I going to Denmark any time soon? No. Norway? Probably not. Closest I’ve come is watching Ice Road Rescue (set in Norway) on Disney Plus. Bonus, I even picked up a swear word or two. We’re thinking about a trip to Germany. At least I can converse on the level of a five-year-old. Spanish just seems handy to know.

Derectius Cerebri

Where does this leave linear brain? Learning to relax. Not every word has to be in rigid order, which actually makes it easier to write my poems and novels. Not sure why but chilling out over language makes it easier to approach my work with an open mind. If linear brain needs some structure that day, I can always recite the alphabet in 4 different languages. So of course Amazon offered up a copy of a Wheelock’s Latin textbook really cheap. Who could pass that by? I’ve always wanted to learn Latin…

Other Essays

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Philosophy Class Refresher Course

Language Resources



Language 101


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Sketching Out a New Year’s Goal

In the frenzy of beginning a new year, and reading other people’s tons of resolutions, I only have one goal. 

Do all the things. 

Probably not the best goal, considering my penchant for perfectionism. And procrastination. But a goal is a goal, and there are things I want to do and new things I want to try. What better time than the new year to shake out the cobwebs and try something different? 

Well, Not a Whole Lot Different

It doesn’t have to be complicated. I baked a new type of cookie. Experimented with whole grain breads. Started colorwork knitting projects. Working my way up to more complex things. Art and writing are foremost in my mind. I hauled out my copious quantity of sketchbooks and set them by my computer where I’d have to look at them every day. Also, I reminded myself perfect drawings weren’t the goal, just quick sketches.

I drew with pen liners so there is no going back to erase lines. And then I opened the terrifyingly blank 9 x 12 sketchbook and outlined a few Victorian houses in ink to add watercolor washes to later. My finger slipped and I bought more watercolor supplies because this is the year I’m going to relearn watercolors. I bought small copper plates because I’m going to try etching on something besides plastic plates. Ditto smaller pieces of lino block. Less intimidating. 

Sketching Out a New Year's Goal

Besides the sheer joy of buying new art supplies, I bought a calendar and mapped out which days I would do art, and which days I would do writing. I know myself. Without a hint of a plan, I flail. 

Same with writing. The new fantasy novel needs about 7 chapters outlined so I can write them and put finished to the first draft. Poems need revising. My collaboration project with Kathleen Cassen Mickelson needs revisiting. Into the calendar. If I want to do all the things, I need a plan to do most of the things. Who knows what other projects will need to be tackled? Like renovating the house. Ugh. (Tables to later.) 

Whether this method is going to be my salvation has yet to be seen. I dabbled in it last year. But last year was working full time. This year is not. I have the time. It’s up to me to make the most of it. How do you plan out the Want To Dos in your life? Is there a better method than what I hit on? Is organization for an ADHD person the way to go?

Other Essays

Reading, Writing, and Resolutions

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What I Learned from Editing

For more essays, search the Non-Fiction Links

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Japanese Woodblock Printmaking Workshop

Drawing Exercise

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