3 Question View – Gordon McCleary

This post is the fifth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

Gordon McCleary

3 Question View – Gordon McCleary
Writer, Humorist & Blogger,  

A Yankee’s Southern Exposure

The writings on your blog, “
A Yankee’s Southern Exposure“, focuses on the humorous side of the culture clash between North and South (Dunkin Donuts vs. Krispy Kreme, NY Jets vs. NASCAR, Philly Cheesesteak vs. Fried Green Tomatoes). What brought you to the South? What do you love best about your adopted homeland? What do you miss most about the North?

First off, thank you for this unique opportunity to participate in your interview series. I ended up down south while working for a state contractor. Once the contract ended, I had the opportunity to move with the company or stay in Florida and find another job; I stayed. I stayed because I love the pace and the people. The pace is more deliberate and not as tense as it is up North. The people down here (most of them) have good souls and go the extra mile in extending a courteous gesture.

On the other hand, I do miss the fast-paced environment up North and the daily grind the big city offers. I am conflicted and it does come out at times in my writings.

Your style of blog post writing is breezy and charming, interspersed with exaggeratedly funny photos, such as this:


Your style of witty one-liners is also quite popular on Twitter (57K followers at publication). How do you divide up your time and inspiration between your social media? What are your favorite ways to engage with your followers and readers?


I write it as I think it and see it; I am a very visual person. At times, I will look at many photos of the subject matter and write around the visual experience. Things that strike me as funny and quick, I will post on Twitter. If the tweet has some relevance, sometimes I’ll add a link to my latest blog post.

As far as how long I spend on social media, it depends on my mood. I have days where I am gone, M.I.A…and then I have consecutive days where I will post on the blog/ Facebook/ Twitter. I never go too long without updating something. I like to tweet a funny, off-the-wall comment about my latest blog post and then tweet that with a link; this seems to bring in a lot of traffic. I don’t like a lot of ads when I am reading online, so I made it a point to not put any advertising on my blog. I am in it for the pleasure of sharing and writing.

Your experiences down South have led to some bizarrely comic escapades (the disappearing roosters, adventures with food – pigs feet and collard greens). What is the oddest thing that’s happened to you thus far? What would be the title of your dream blog post?


I would say attending the annual “worm grunting festival” in Sopchoppy, Florida is right up there with one of the strangest experiences I have had. I also attended the worm grunting ball at the end of the festivities. They are serious about their worms!

Title of dream blog post? Bless his heart, A hot mess in a cool place” 

Best Tweets from @ASouthernYankee:
* My wife: you wanna watch Glee? Me: you know, I’d love to but I was gonna drink battery acid and play with my poison ivy plant tonight.

* Anybody know exactly what time tomorrow the end is coming? I need to tell my wife that this “honey do” list may not be happening.

* Tweeting from my bunker……my wife is pleading with me to come out….I know a zombie when I hear one !!!

Visit Gordon’s blog, A Yankee’s Southern Exposure

Follow Gordon on Twitter: @asouthernyankee

3 Question View – Frances Figart

This post is the fourth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (“Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three.”) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Frances Figart
Writer, Editor and Marketing Consultant

Frances Figart

One of the focuses of your freelance writing and promotional work is eco-tourism, responsible tourism and sustainable travel. What drew you to that specialty and how do you define these terms? Why does travel writing in general attract you?

One of my professional incarnations placed me in the role of magazine editor for a mainstream travel industry association. I was attracted to that position because of its three-fold offering of people, places and publishing: the extrovert in me loved meeting the people who made the travel industry go ‘round; the adventurer in me loved exploring new places and learning new things; and the editor in me loved being able to publish a monthly full-color magazine. In that role, I met an industry mentor who was like the Edward Abbey of ecotourism, and he started educating me about responsible forms of travel: ways of traveling that ensure there are environmental, social and economic benefits, what we call the “triple bottom line.”

There are many definitions of ecotourism, but it boils down to environmentally responsible travel to relatively undisturbed natural areas in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features, both past and present). It promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local people in the areas visited. Most ecotourism is by its nature also sustainable, meaning it can be maintained over the long term because it results in a net benefit for the social, economic, natural and cultural environments of the area in which it takes place.

Once I started learning about these forms of travel, I was no longer interested in supporting most mainstream types of travel because they were not taking into account the environmental and social aspects of the triple bottom line, only the economic aspects. So from then on, I dedicated myself to responsible travel. The type of writing I do to support these forms of tourism, much of it being marketing oriented, interests me because I feel it allows me to make a difference not only to the consumer choosing to travel responsibly, but also to the ecosystems and local peoples benefiting from their visits.

Since you write for a living, what are some of the techniques you use to keep your writing fresh and inspired? When on a deadline, how do you stay focused? Do you have any advice for aspiring freelancers?

I think both reading and writing keep things interesting for me. The types of works I like to read most are biographies (especially of musicians and poets) and inspiring psychological, spiritual, philosophical or sociological studies laid out for the intelligent lay person. I have never been the voracious reader that some folks are because I am slow at it. This is because I hear each sentence and paragraph as if read aloud by an eloquent and graceful narrator—and that is what has provided me with the “voice” one needs in order to truly write with a style of one’s own.

I cannot remember ever having a day when I didn’t want to write something. Even when I do not take the time to read, I am always writing. Even when I am in between assignments, I still want to write, and I sometimes go all creative and write something totally different to amuse myself. Never a poet or creative writer in the modern sense, when I do wax poetic (which is quite rare), I tend to want to emulate the conceits, meter and rhyme schemes of my favorite English Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. Here is an example:

Spring Separation

How fast the moon binds lovers held so far adrift
That, would she shine on both at once, they would be free!
One soul made two, split by fate and geography,
They seek an end to this eternal-seeming rift.

The long center of night bids wood spirits awake:
A sharp white silence mingles with the joyous knell
Of one lone bird whose bold and throaty warblings tell
Of thirst for female company he longs to slake.

This avian knows every other’s every note
And he recites the chortles, chatter, pipes and trills,
The songs of night jars, jays, hawks, thrushes, whip-poor-wills,
Spring’s every winged voice he one by one doth quote.

Yet his own song he saves for her alone,
That mate he waits for with expectant breast.
Until she comes, his script is set in stone;
Until then, this performer knows no rest.

Behold eternal nature that propels this beast
To lark and nightingale its moonlit night away!
My own lament now rallies at the very least
To recollect my spirit for nigh-breaking day.

But hark, a new and stranger melody arises
From out the repertoire (one swiftly recognizes)
For she has come! The two souls join as one again;
The soloist has found his own unique refrain.

And so, we lovers each to each will sing
The song that no one else but we shall know.
Together underneath the moon we’ll go;
Like mockingbirds we’ll be, my fairy king.

May 25, 2008, Frances Figart

Deadlines are an integral part of a writer’s existence, and one without which we cannot function. Quite simply, if someone expects something of me, no matter who they are, I cannot abide the notion that I would let them down, and so “focus” merely appears of its own accord as the sole priority of the moment and I simply get the job done – usually ahead of schedule.

To those who aspire to freelance write for a living, I say: Combine your literary talents with a specialization that is very… specialized. The more scientific it is, the more money you will be assured to make. And do not get into this business unless you truly love your specialization and unless it can truly be said of you that to write is to breathe.

For many writers, your job would be considered a dream job, to be paid to write. What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What would be a dream assignment for you?

Before I begin to write, there is an incubation period, when ideas swirl around in a primal chaos until out of the murky waters something that really excites me rises and takes form; then I can begin and everything starts to flow. What I love most about writing during the process is that flow, what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”) defined as our experience of optimal fulfillment and engagement, whether it be in creative arts, athletic competition, engaging work or spiritual practice—a deep and uniquely human motivation to excel, exceed, and triumph over limitation. There is nothing more fulfilling. After the finished product is complete, what I love most is receiving positive feedback from those who find the writing in some way helpful, educational, inspiring – or from those whom it benefits directly because it promotes their business and their own contribution to the world.

The challenges are the same as anyone’s, really, in this economy: trying to keep one’s head above water and have enough financial stability to continue enjoying the elbow room and exhilaration of entrepreneurship. Travel writers have to be careful to make sure that others are paying for their travel… or else it’s easy to find yourself just breaking even. Flexibility has been my forte since I started freelancing many years ago; and now, it’s more important than ever. For instance, one of my alternate income streams over the past few years has been to take on others’ social media management. Facebook is even more fun when you are getting paid to post pictures of Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, kayakers amid icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland, and yoga retreats at eco-resorts in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

My dream assignments in the travel industry are those that allow me to visit places I already love, or where I can have new and exciting experiences in a natural setting, and write about them to promote sustainable and responsible forms of tourism. For example, I’ll be going out to Portland, Oregon, in a couple of weeks to participate in a “fam” tour, a trip designed to familiarize a writer or tour operator with a tourism product. I have been to Portland a handful of times and love the city and region, so I will be learning lots of new information about this area and can help to promote it through one and maybe two articles for a publication about group travel. However, I am always all about expanding my horizons, and so I also welcome new types of writing assignments outside of my field that will challenge my skills and allow me to grow in new wacky and wondrous ways.

Thanks again, Anna, for this opportunity to share. It has allowed me some great reflection time that will no doubt lead to yet another unexpected escapade.

Visit Frances’ blog, the home of marketing support for sustainable travel professionals worldwide: http://francesfigart.wordpress.com/

If you would like to contact Frances, you can reach her at ffigart@gmail.com

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali

This post is the third of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali
Writer and Poet,
Lupus in Flight www.lupusinflight.com

Shaista Tayabali

I’m quite envious of your delicate touch with words. You conjure evocative imagery with just a stanza. What brought you to poetry as a way of expressing yourself? In your writing, how do you feel about the economy of poetry versus the expansiveness of prose?

The art of economy is a discipline I learned at university. Up until then, I had been a fairly indulgent prose and poetry writer. My composition of language was often deeply emotive, highly subjective and heavy with the influence of romance and Keatsian turns of phrase. Often, but not always. There has also been a trend in my writing, since childhood, towards describing a snapshot visual, and towards epiphany. I began university with the shadow of a complex illness already threatening to obscure me, so I was determined to excel. 

This proved difficult for two reasons – I liked to answer questions in my own merry, meandering way, and I did not know how to edit myself. My Professor, Simon Featherstone, taught me this: “The line that you are most attached to, is the line that has to go!”  In learning precision, I learned economy. And I think, perhaps, my poetry has begun to adapt to my rather fragile body. These quick brushstrokes of poems serve me well in and out of hospital.

Delicacy aside, though, sometimes I yearn to write a tome in the style of Tolstoy; an epic blockbuster of a novel packed with 108 Dickensian characters. Yearning is what we artists and writers do best! 

The Names of Things

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

gazes out at me
behind the window frame;
Half content to be
in Billy Collins’ world,
half wishing to be me –
Cross legged in the evening sun
drinking rose petal tea.

I can name the Yellow Rose,
the frilly Poppy, the Bee
longing for that same tea;
the half-eaten bruised cherries,
the guzzling, drunken, blackbird feast.

Deep in the shadows,
lazy snakes of ivy curl
and the wind is a Tempest again –

I walk among the unnamed things
the secret, hidden lives,
I pronounce the names of Latinate things
and trip on the words
and smile –

Cerastium tomentosum,
snow in summer,
Galium odoratum,
stars in spring,
Lavandula angustifolia
where the herb garden sings.

When you begin writing a poem, do you focus on an image? A phrase? A song? What inspires the act of picking up the pen?
A line comes to me. I focus on a few words, a phrase, that forms the first line of the poem-to-be. Blog posts require titles, which  I often enjoy for their brevity, but my poems never used to have titles. Do poets think of titles first? When do the titles come? I prefer the idea of that first line being the clue to the poem. My inspiration as a poet is simultaneously influenced by the subtle and the obvious. Hospitals are waiting rooms filled with both. 
Two artists who have influenced my work are my parents; they paint their lives in very different ways. Father’s watercolours are mysterious, floating worlds, echoes of Turner and Monet; impressionistic – my Mother’s work is magnified detail, bright, strong, clear – O’Keefe comes to mind. Father talks in riddles, Mother is incredibly literal – I flit between worlds in my life, and make sense of it all when I write. 
My father knows
when the crocuses 
are out
And when the snowdrops
And when the bluebells
And how to listen, carefully,
to the nesting birds,
between our rooms.
Daisies will come
And roses will grow
And perhaps we shall walk
And reminisce about the snow
And kick up some leaves
And weave up some dreams
While the world passes by
My father and I.

I love ‘The Year of Yes’; it’s deeply inspirational. It speaks of great positivity, despite the challenges you face with lupus. How has keeping your positive energy and happiness been instrumental to your life and your writing? 


Have you read Victor E. Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’? He says, “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” I marry this idea with the engaged Buddhism teachings of mindfulness, and try to achieve ‘Happen-ness’. Living in the now, the here and now, is not easy with a sneaky systemic illness like Lupus. Lupus is an embodiment of many human fears: the What-Ifs and the If-Onlys. So the secret to happiness is being present for the happen-ness, the saying Yes! in gratitude for our ability as humans to be present. 
My friend Dr. Ho tells me to embrace pain, particularly the physical manifestations of it, because feeling pain means you are alive! And he is right – physical pain does not exclude twinkling eyes, sparkly smiles and the playful impulse to tease and be teased. The act of writing is instant happen-ness for me. Just holding the pen, the feel of my book of poems, the moment of connection between the physical materials and my soul, my thoughts, my sight… yes! yes! yes! It is the best of me. 
The Year of Yes
I wish I had said Yes!
When you asked me out to walk
among the leaves
the turning leaves
You were offering me
the sound of dreams, 
And I turned you down 
Not today, I smiled
Maybe, tomorrow?
But I wish I had said Yes!
I wish we had shared this light.
Next time don’t ask
Just take me!
Order me to dress!
I am going to need your help
To begin the Year of Yes.
Visit Lupus in Flight, the serene home of Shaista’s writings and poetry: http://www.lupusinflight.com