MORE OR LESS PAMELA SMYK CLEARY
Today it is our pleasure to spotlight P.S.C. in CT from R.L.B.’s P.A.D.
Or Pamela Smyk Cleary, if you prefer.
Per Pamela: “When I was a kid, “Pamela Marie” is the name my mother used when I was in trouble. (Yup – Marie really is my middle name!). When she wanted to call me inside after a day of playing in the neighborhood, it was just “Pamela,” although … when she was yelling it out the back door, it always sounded more like “PAAAAAA-MA-LAAAAAAA!” I used to hate that name. But as I’ve gotten older, it’s kind of grown on me (…yeah… like a mold). PSC is easier to type with minimal errors.”
“PSC” is fun and endearing to me, but I must admit that it isn’t a name. So then – “Pamela” it is. Pamela is such a pretty name, after all.
The fun side of her poetic heart made its way into this description of herself (from her “About” on Facebook).
Pamela Smyk Cleary
Dreamer, daughter, woman, wife, (paused, at present, in midlife)
middle child, sister, friend (hopefully, nowhere near the end!)
Walker, ambler, stroller, hiker (keeps pace with a snail),
listener, reader, writer, biker (mostly on the rail trail);
greeting card and letter writer (yep, you guessed it: snail mail).
Dabbler in photography, nature, plants and flowers;
(has been known to sit, sometimes, and watch the birds for hours).
Low energy, low volume, low maintenance, easy care;
(sweatshirt, jeans & sneakers, hair that’s strictly wash & wear).
intermittent poet, sporadic – if you choose –
(frequently requiring a swift kick in the muse).
The first poem Pamela chose to share with us is Pink Lady Slipper Orchid. I’m glad she chose it, as it is representative of the style I’ve come to know as hers.
Pink Lady Slipper Orchid
She doesn’t like to be disturbed
So much relies on patience, persistence,
the perfect conditions
Seemingly rare, she’s
more common than you think
native and wild, hiding
in plain sight in the weak light
on the forest floor
Particular, but enduring
she knows what she lacks,
pursuing it with patience and diligence
Soaking up the timid rays
penetrating the canopy to where
she resides, she may wait years
for what she needs to flower
Offering no reward to pollinating bees,
she takes what they proffer, then
packs her bags lightly, setting her progeny
free in the breeze, hoping some
friendly fungus will fulfill their needs
Beautiful and lush, but also touchy and rash,
you should handle her with gloves
if you handle her at all.
* * *
PAMELA: I chose this poem, because I feel it does a good job of combining a couple of my favorite themes: nature and personal relationships. This “lady” is a combination of several people I know – both real and imaginary – yet she is also an actual flower, whose characteristics are accurately described in the poem.
MARIE ELENA: I enjoy your explanation nearly as much as the poem itself. Would you say this combination of nature and personal relationships is a source of inspiration for much of your poetry?
PAMELA: I am inspired by nature, news events, dreams, music, movies, people (friends, family, fictional), literature, conversations, song lyrics, pictures, other poems…. (I could go on and on, but you get the drift!) The results tend to be an odd mix of “fact” and “fiction, bringing to mind one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs. Many of my poems, I think, could be summed up by these lyrics “clipped” from “Semi-True Story” by Jimmy Buffett:
“It’s a semi-true story, believe it or not.
I made up a few things, and there’s some I forgot.
But the life and the tellin’ are both real to me,
and they all run together and turn out to be
a semi-true story.”
MARIE ELENA: I’m sure folks are curious as to the photo above. This amusing gal also graces your Facebook page as your profile picture. She makes me smile every time I see her.
PAMELA: Tee hee! She’s a beauty, isn’t she? (Did I say I hate having my picture taken?) Anyway, the puppet was my attempt to have an online presence, without being … present. Or without being photographed, at any rate. And, in fact, I guess you could say SHE is actually a HE… in drag.
MARIE ELENA: Do tell!
PAMELA: My husband, Timothy, retired in 2009 after 35 years as a high school math teacher. Two of his best friends retired at the same time. All three of them had worked together at the same high school – in the same department – for many years, so a single retirement party was planned for the three of them. As part of the party “entertainment,” a skit was created & performed for them, using puppets that had been designed and dressed to look like each of them. Timothy’s puppet was dressed in suspenders – which he wore all the time — and sporting a beard & mustache.
MORE OR LESS TIMOTHY CLEARY
The first Christmas after Tim retired, I used his puppet to create our Christmas card — posing & photographing him with Tim’s favorite things (pretzels & Pepsi, a golf club, a novel, the TV remote) to show our family & friends how he was spending his retirement. It was quite a giggle, and we got lots of comments on our Christmas card that year!
So, later, when I needed to come up with an image that I could use to represent “PSC, the poet” online, I zeroed in on the “Timothy puppet” as a starting point, and began playing “dress up” to make him more feminine. I covered the suspenders with a scarf and lace collar, overlaid the gray hair with a flowery hat and camouflaged the beard & mustache behind a pair of lips I created out of red felt. (The first version of my profile pic had very large lips. Later, as I acquired some [minor] photo editing skills, I was able to perform a bit of “digital surgery” to correct that). And lastly, I added a feather – a poetic writing quill, if you will – to complete the transformation … and “she” has been my profile pic, ever since.
MARIE ELENA: I knew there had to be a fun story behind her, but who would have thought your little “PSC” stand in was a drag queen! Too funny!
Your home is in Connecticut. It is so beautiful there! Is that where you grew up?
PAMELA: After that last answer, I feel like I should be more succinct, so: Yup! Next question?
Just kidding! Yes, I was born & raised in CT – and yes, it IS beautiful, in my opinion. I met & married Timothy here, and have lived here all my life (so far). I am truly a homebody at heart. But, I also have a strong connection with Cape Cod, MA – thinking of it as my “second home.” We’ve spent a lot of time there over the years, vacationing with close friends & family, and it always welcomes me back with open arms — no matter how much time has passed since my last visit.
Also, while CT is home right now (and has been for a long time) I do think there are a lot of other places that I could call home and live just as happily. I would need to be able to connect with nature on a frequent basis, though, wherever I live. It keeps me grounded (no pun intended) … or as grounded as it’s possible for me to be, anyway. And, I also have a preference for a four season climate (though, that might be negotiable – especially if Timothy has anything to say about it). My dream is to live beside a quiet lake – where I can just drop my kayak in the water — and where there are also hiking & biking trails nearby.
Pamela Clear(l)y Kayaking
As a child, the neighborhood I grew up in was a small dead end street with a lot of kids. It was a bit like a large, extended family. You knew everybody, and they knew you. We spent a lot of time romping outdoors, and there was always someone around to play with. Everyone’s yard was your playground, and the street was also an available site for kickball, hit the bat, hopscotch, snake, jacks, tag – you name it. (There’s not a lot of traffic on a dead end street). Every summer evening we played Hide & Seek in “the circle” until the street light came on – or until my mother yelled “PAAAAAA-MA-LAAAAAAA” – whichever came first.
MARIE ELENA: Your childhood neighborhood sounds very much like my own, Pamela. Thanks for the warm memories!
Let’s talk about your passion for writing. When did you begin writing, and what prompted you to do so?
PAMELA: Hmmm … not sure exactly when I started or why, but it was a long (long) time ago. I do remember as far back as grade school I was writing poems & stories and making my own “greeting cards.” (I still enjoy doing that, too). I had some poetry “published” in high school newspapers & such. Wrote a lot of poetry, and took a creative writing class or two, in college. (Had a professor who intimidated the rhyme out of me. Over twenty years later, and I still feel awkward writing serious rhyming poetry – I’m only comfortable writing humorous rhymes). After graduating, I got a “real” job and fell into years of mostly “poetic disuse,” revisiting my muse only intermittently – on an “as needed” basis. I’ve just gotten back into writing the last four years or so, and my muse tends to be somewhat stubborn and recalcitrant (payback for my former neglect, I suspect), so writing remains a bit of a sporadic effort on my part.
MARIE ELENA: Was Robert’s site the first on which you had ever posted publicly?
PAMELA: Not the first, but … maybe the second? I know I was posting in the Writers’ Digest poetry forum before Poetic Asides. That’s where I first saw references made to Robert’s prompts on PA, but it took me a while to figure out what they were talking about, and longer still to find my way over there to participate. November 2008 was my first PAD, and while I’ve started every one since then, I fell out of two of them due to computer problems. I do most of my writing & editing on my pc, and it was just too hard to do that at the library when my computer died. Technology is a beautiful thing, when it works… and a real pain in the butt, when it doesn’t! And then, too, there was a stretch of time after one of the PADs, when I was so exhausted and drained, I don’t think I returned to PA until the next PAD – six months later! (Did I say my muse can be moody?)
MARIE ELENA: You just began blogging relatively recently ( “Wander Ponder Poems & Pix”). I love the title, and how you creatively incorporate your passions. What made you decide to begin a blog?
PAMELA: Wow! Thank you, Marie! So glad you like it! Took me a long time to get my act together and start blogging, but I’m always thrilled when someone actually enjoys something I put out there! I only just got it “kicked off” on March 6th of this year. (Was aiming to march forth on March fourth, but, was late… as usual).
I started blogging for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I was hoping that by having a place to share my stuff (other than my facebook wall), and a “definitive deadline” (more like a line in the sand, really), I might be able to prompt my lazy muse to be a bit more productive. (Yeah, sure… a girl can dream, right?)
Another reason I started the blog is a bit of a story in itself: Last year, I was talked into performing a couple of my poems before a live audience. Some friends of ours (David & Douglas Bibbey) were starting up a TV production company. As a part of that effort, they organized “First Thursdays” – a variety show of live performances (all original material – music, stories and poetry). It was a new & exciting concept! The music talent was easy to come by: musicians are mostly performers, after all. But finding story tellers and poets who were crazy enough – I mean willing – to recite their work in public was a slightly tougher task. (My husband, of course, was crazy enough, so he jumped at the chance, and I… got dragged along, kicking and screaming.) When I expressed my discomfort over reading my poems aloud — saying I’d rather just WRITE poetry — David’s response was that poems shouldn’t just “sleep in a book.” They were meant to be read aloud (he said), shared and performed (he insisted), so … I got suckered in – I mean, convinced – to read a couple of my poems.
Well, needless to say, I survived the trauma (although, I’m still not fond of getting up in front of an audience!) And David did convince me that poetry really is meant to be shared (mostly), and shortly after my “performance experience,” I penned a poem for him, called “Poems Should Not Sleep,” which I posted on my blog. (Rolande Duprey — another multi-talented friend of mine — liked it so much that she turned it into a video. I’m including the poem here in the hope that you will enjoy it too — and also because it told me it wants to be shared!)
POEMS SHOULD NOT SLEEP (for David Bibbey)
Poems should not sleep in a book, nor slumber under a rock. They are meant to be
set free, read aloud, sung, shouted, performed on a stage, danced about – as a waltz
or tango or even the Can Can – except, of course, for those that you can’t… can’t….
Not every poem is an exhibitionist; not all are meant to be circus performers,
dogs and ponies, amusements for the masses. Some are more private and personal;
intended to be taken in small drams – like medicine, poison, or some fine wine:
inhaled, sipped, held on the tongue, swished about, perhaps, then … spit out.
Some poems should be kept in a jar on your nightstand, taken out each evening
to be touched and fondled, smoothed like velvet under your rough hands, then,
stripped naked and taken to bed, alone … or not alone.
Some are intended to be closely examined, under a microscope, maybe – or tacked
and pinned to a butterfly board, dissected, eviscerated, boiled down and distilled, or
taken apart, then re-assembled, like a jigsaw puzzle, while others are only ever meant
to be observed from a distance – via satellite or telescopic lens.
There are those you will want to avoid entirely. Go ahead. It’s okay to pass these on to a friend –
or perhaps an enemy. Not every poem is meant for you. But, some … there are bound to be some,
you must pluck, press and preserve forever between the pages of your scrapbook memory.
MARIE ELENA: … and THAT, PSC, is a “preserve forever” poem, and seems it was great fun to write. Thank you for sharing it! And speaking of sharing it, for those who agree with David Bibbey, here is Rolande Duprey’s youtube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6MXk3vqLxg.
Do you simply enjoy writing and freely sharing, or is it your goal to be a published writer?
PAMELA: Mostly, (right now at least), I think I’m just trying to enjoy the experiences of writing and sharing with friends, family & fellow writers. I have submitted a few pieces over the past four years — had several published, and another handful slated to be published over the next few months, too. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled over that, but I’m just not sure it’s really a “goal” of mine at this point. Honestly, a more logical goal for me would be to focus on just writing more poetry. After all, that’s really why I created my blog in the first place – to provide motivation – to prompt myself to write. Quite frankly, just keeping up with posting something on my blog several times a week – and increasing the quantity and quality of my work — is enough of a challenge for me, for right now. But, it’s possible that being published will become a goal of mine… sometime down the road … maybe …
MARIE ELENA: “Increasing the quantity and quality of my work” is a worthy goal for every poet, and an inspiration to me. Thank you! And congratulations on your acceptances! So, do you consider yourself a “poet?”
PAMELA: I do.
MARIE ELENA: Wow. I must say that I love that quick and definite response!
PAMELA: Although, how good of a poet is an issue my muse & I have debated on numerous occasions! Back when I was posting in the Writers’ Digest forum, there was some “discussion” over a piece that someone else had written – a disagreement as to whether or not it qualified as “a poem.” My stance was (and still is) this: If the writer claims it’s a poem, then it’s a poem. If the writer says he/she is a poet, then he/she is a poet. (Again, how good a poet or poem may be – that’s a debatable issue!)
Poetry, like all creative endeavors, I suppose, (music, art, dance…), is very subjective. Whether a particular poem and/or poet “speaks” to you is largely a matter of opinion, and opinions can change from day to day, or hour to hour. What affects one person deeply may not touch another individual at all, or vice versa. You may “feel” a certain poem immediately, another poem might require multiple reads before you connect with it, still others may never touch you at all. But I like to think that for every written piece, there exists someone somewhere who was meant to read it – wants to, needs to, read it – as much as the writer needed to write it.
Yes, I consider myself a poet. And, here’s a poem (because I say it is!):
JOHNNY APPLESEED (Originally published on Everyday Poets – June 11, 2009)
Slice open a vein.
Let the words flow out
Bleed until you run dry, then
gather the gems
like precious seeds, and
toss them into the wind
where they may
MARIE ELENA: Wow. If I had to take a guess, I would say De Jackson had written that poem, Pamela. As you know, I consider that the utmost compliment.
As mentioned previously, your blog incorporates your beautiful photographs. You consider yourself a poet — do you consider yourself a photographer?
PAMELA: Oh my, no! Nope. Don’t consider myself a photographer.
MARIE ELENA: Another quick, definitive response. You tickle me, Pamela! Why do you not consider yourself a photographer?
PAMELA: I just dabble (and every once in a while a photo will come out just as I intended – or even better!), but it’s usually more a matter of luck than anything else. I am not in the same league as the likes of Jane Penland Hoover, or your husband Keith! They are artists, and they have the equipment and skills – and the photographs — to prove it, while I am more like a … kindergartener finger-painting!
Sometimes my camera and I play nicely together; at other times we argue. (Well, I argue.) “Why can’t you see what I see?” I often say. (It hasn’t answered back yet, but you never know.) Really, I’ve only been taking photos with my cheap digital camera (don’t tell him I called him that!) for about two years, so maybe in time, I’ll come to think of myself as a photographer. Perhaps when I’ve been fighting with my camera for as long as I’ve been battling my muse.
MARIE ELENA: Keith was pleasantly surprised, yet embarrassed by your compliment, Pamela. He does not see himself as a “photographer” any more than you do, but thanks you for the encouragement. In all the online interactions I see, encouraging others seems to come naturally to you.
PAMELA: Encouraging others? Me? Wow! That’s really quite a compliment coming from you, Marie! I think you are THE most encouraging, supportive person I know! Honestly! You have a gift for seeing the best in everyone! I hope I encourage others! But, truthfully, I don’t think I do it nearly often enough. I feel as if I am always running behind and arriving “late to the party.” It just seems like there are never enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do, and everything takes longer than I think it will. I’m often claiming I’ll return to read and comment – and rarely getting back to do so. (Everyone who is still reading at this point: Please accept my apologies for every time I’ve done that – and every time I’m bound to do it again in the future!)
Pamela Clear(l)y reads.
As for whether or not offering encouragement comes naturally to me, I couldn’t say. While I’d like to think it does, I’m not sure that’s true – or not always true, at any rate. There are times when I have to work at it. But I DO believe in the power of encouragement and positive reinforcement, so it is definitely a skill worth honing, in my opinion.
I read a book, some years ago: “If You Want To Write” by Brenda Ueland, in which she claims that “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” I believe that’s true, but I also think that, sometimes, it takes a lot of encouragement and patience (and what she calls “noodling”) to bring that talent out into the light. Over the last few years I’ve seen some amazing talent develop at Poetic Asides and Poetic Bloomings, and I think that it’s largely due to the encouraging people and supportive environments at both sites. Kudos to you and Walt – and to Robert – for promoting and maintaining that kind of atmosphere on an ongoing basis!
MARIE ELENA: Thank you, Pamela. And see? Encouragement.
It seems most of your poetry is up-beat. Does this indicate that you are basically an optimist at heart?
PAMELA: Really? Most of my poetry is upbeat? I don’t know if that’s true or not. I DO know that I prefer writing – and reading – from a “happy place” – so I’ll consider that a compliment. I also know that both the poet and the reader bring something of themselves into the reading of a poem. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” I think the same may be said for other qualities as well, such as happiness, and… upbeat. And Marie, you are such an upbeat person! Maybe that’s why you see much of my poetry that way too!
As for my being an optimist at heart… I think I can hear my sisters laughing hysterically over that one! I’d LIKE to be an optimist. I TRY to be an optimist. But, I am also very much of a “worry wart.” All three of us sisters are. We come by it naturally, having acquired the gene from our mother. I worry fluently, and am frequently expecting the worst to occur, and yet … I DO have a tendency to look at the bright side of things, and try to find the positive in everything too, so maybe I’m an optimistic pessimist… or a pessimistic optimist… or perhaps, a pessimoptimist… or an optipest!
MARIE ELENA: “I worry fluently.” You and I are cut from the same cloth, my friend. But I’ve never thought to word it that way. That, and “optipest” are two I’ll be borrowing! And, by the way, see? Encourgement again.
I know you’ve been married a good long time to Timothy. What would you say is the secret to your longevity?
PAMELA: Wow! There’s a question for the sages! I’ve pondered this one a dozen times and I still don’t have a good answer. I mean, I could go on about how we are each other’s best friend (we are), and how important certain qualities are (like love, honesty, mutual respect…), but many marriages that end in failure could probably boast all of those things, as well. And, besides, in spite of all that, we still disagree about a lot of things. We probably disagree more often than we agree. About the best answer I can come up with is that… maybe… our “secret” is that we are pretty much “in sync” on what the really important things are, and we mostly agree on those things, and the rest… well, we don’t place too much importance on the rest. So, I guess then, that maybe you could say that the “secret” to our longevity might just be… hmmm… luck?
Timothy Cleary, book, beard, and stash
Oh! And a good sense of humor doesn’t hurt either! A natural born comic – that’s my husband!
LIttle Timothy Clear(l)y The Comic!
MARIE ELENA: What is the best period of time in your life, and what made (makes) it best?
PAMELA: Well, I have some pretty fond memories of my early childhood – up to about nine years old, but I think I’d have to say that the BEST time in my life (so far) is right now.
A while back I was working in a stressful job as an IT manager. I carried a beeper, ate lunch at my desk, had no time to exercise. In the winter months, I only saw the sun on the weekends, and I remember actually thinking (more than once), “this job is killing me – literally.” Then, our division was sold off. The buyers purchased the business, but decided they didn’t need the people, and our entire department was told that once the transition phase was completed, we would all be out of jobs. At the time, I was stunned, but, as it turns out, it was the best thing that could have happened to me!
Now, I have less money, but more free time. I’m eating better and exercising more. I’ve taken up yoga, I bike, hike and take photographs while I’m wandering the local trails. I’m writing more poetry than I have in years! Timothy & I have time to read or sit on the back deck and watch the birds & wildlife, and I’m enjoying myself in ways I never would have dreamed of ten years ago! I kayak – I even bought a pair of snow shoes this past December! (Folks in New England can thank me, because my new snow shoes are probably the reason we didn’t get much snow at all last winter)!
When things aren’t going quite the way I want them to, I only have to remind myself, it wasn’t so long ago that I was spending my days attending meetings or stuck in a tiny little cubicle, tied to a desk. Now, I am enjoying all those daylight hours that I used to miss!
MARIE ELENA: How wonderful to be able to think of this present moment as being the most wonderful time in your life! Now, what is the hardest issue you have ever dealt with, and what measures did you take to get through it?
PAMELA: Wow! From the highs to the lows in one fell swoop! I’d have to say that there are actually two situations that qualify as the “hardest issues” in my life: the illnesses & deaths of my parents. Both suffered a long, painful period of decline that was hard on them and on the rest of the family, as well. My father died of cancer when I was in college. He was always the strong, silent type, and never a very big guy, but by the time he passed away, he weighed about 85 pounds. I don’t know how she did it, but Mom managed to work full time and hold it all together for my father and the rest of the family.
Over twenty years later, Mom suffered a series of strokes that left her wheelchair bound and unable to communicate in any way. This was particularly difficult, as she was always the strong, independent, “woman in charge” in our household (Dad used to call her “the War Department”), and to see her so completely helpless, and be able to do nothing to help was frustrating and painful for all of us.
In both instances, I wrote a lot of poetry, listened to a lot of music, and relied heavily on family and friends for emotional support.
MARIE ELENA: Your parents sound wonderful. “The War Department” is just so cute. Poetry, music, family, and friends … such healthy crutches on which to lean in times of need. Thank you for being such an inspiration, Pamela.
And now, if there was only one thing we could know about you, what would you choose to tell us?
PAMELA: Ouch! Another tough question. How about … I hate housework and cooking!? (Sorry! that just slipped out.) Honestly, I’m trying to focus less on the negatives (operative word: “trying”!) and more on the positives in my life – to criticize less, and encourage more (myself AND others) — because I believe that positive produces positive, love begets love — and the whole world benefits.
One of my favorite quotes is: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” –Mother Teresa
Although I generally consider myself an agnostic, still I believe that there is more to life (the world, the universe…) than meets the eye; more than we are able to perceive through our own limited senses and/or technologies. Serendipity, synchronicity, quantum entanglements are all just a tip of the iceberg – indicating that we (people, plants, animals…) are all connected in amazing and wonderful ways – all part & parcel of a bigger whole. A (not so) old (very) dear friend of mine likes to tell me, “That’s God,” but I believe E.E. Cummings had it right when he said: “love is the every only god.”
MARIE ELENA: Thank you so much for letting me pry, “PSC.” Getting to know and showcase our Poetic Bloomings poets is a definite perk to this position, and one that puts a smile on my face every single time. This has been great fun!