Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year

The stapler forced to hold everything together
with its metal teeth finds out later the lion’s maw
of staple remover rends it. My bare foot
discovers the bracket shaped discard.
Always, the hungry hum of the paper shredder,
the scissor’s ample and clean cuts,
pens bleed maps onto my fingers
that I can’t wash off, and the receipt spike –
oh, how it lives to gore! Paperclips
hold permanent yoga poses.

I press a stamp of approval down hard,
also a delinquent stamp, neither declaration
ever changes. Both grin their red grins.
Only the date stamp laughs –
Wrong year.

I notch a fingernail into the gear
for its last number, edge it forward.
How behind I was. How behind.
How could I forget?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Meditation

Good morning. It's December 24th, and it is 5:32 a.m. I am sitting here in this chair. It's a tough and sturdy chair, a chair of penitence and patience. It is dark outside, still. When I walked the dog, the sharp edge of the air jabbed itself inside my coat and grazed my collarbone. No stars. The wind composes music with the chimes, the dog snores from his pillow. I am wearing one of the many pairs of glasses I own - the brown oval frames with the loose right arm. I keep them in the blue flower pot with my arsenal of pens and one u-shaped bobbypin.

There is a clamshell on my desk that has "Quiet, Please," written in script on it in black Sharpie marker. To my right is a painting of the beach that I bought for my daughter as a Christmas gift. I haven't wrapped it yet. I have other gifts to wrap as well, yes. To my left is the door where a draught slinks in from the bottom. The coffeepot just beeped off. I'm trying to drink all of the coffee I made before anyone else wakes, because I put cinnamon in it and I'm the only one in the house who likes that.

I should be writing, but I am just sitting here in the mostly dark, thinking. My hair has a tangle in the back that feels like felt. When I run a comb of fingers through it they catch, and I use my thumb and forefinger to wiggle the matted strands loose. That tangle is always there. I like it. It is like time, or the sea, or the sky. Maybe a mouse nest or the mouse itself. It is a mess that is mine alone and I wear it everyday, even on holidays.

Good morning. It's December 24th, and it is 5:52 a.m.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Still Do

for Kenneth Patchen

It takes a great deal of love to give a damn.
Be rebellious. Do more than kiss a cheek – punch
the button of the heart’s elevator. Become a battering ram.
It takes a great deal of love to give a damn.
Point to where the pain is, call yourself alive, a dram
of care in your blossomed fist, a cup of blood clenched.
Be rebellious. Do more than kiss a cheek.

- Jennifer Hill

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Base Price of Going Blonde

On a semi-lark, I walked into a hair salon to have my hair colored. I wanted to try blonde. It's on my list of "100 Dreams." I've never been blonde and thought I would like to try it.

I found myself flipping through a large book of hairstyles, and found one or two examples that looked right. A stylist with white, fastidious hair and his collar buttoned asked, "Now, what do you want?" He was flat-lipped in his delivery. I told him I wanted to try blonde and his jaw dropped. His co-worker, who was crossing off appointments in a book on the counter, cocked her head and smiled in a way that said "crazy."

"It's on my list of 100 Dreams," I smiled. A short, plump man with a walk like a pigeon said, "Your Bucket List." I corrected him. "No, a list of 100 Dreams. The word bucket implies something I'm not ready for yet."

My stylist introduced himself to me as he sat me in the chair. His name was unique and reminiscent of high school English classes. He walked in the back and produced a large gateway folded book filled with little loops of hair in different colors. Each loop was marked above with a number. He held the book up to my head and said, "You look like a 6. Well, maybe a 5." I got a lecture against going blonde. "You know you can't put color on color and go lighter, right?" He ran a hand through my hair. "And with all of this, it's going to be a base price of $150. Then there's color and cut."

He talked me down off the ledge of blonde, and onto the concrete sidewalk of brunette. Together, browsing the Book of Loops, we chose a brown that matched the summer lightened ends of my hair. Fine.

In the time that passed we discussed teaching, poetry, the War of the Roses, Prince. We shared our mutual distaste for certain Christmas carols. He shared a story about an 11-year old girl who came in wanting a "scene" hairstyle for a big event. "I wouldn't do it. She was pre-pubescent. It would damage her hair. I said 'Honey, life isn't about things. It's about people, knowledge, and experiences.' So I just straightened her hair and she was happy."

My hair was piled on top of my head and covered and goo while he cut the hair of three other clients. Iridescent snowflakes twirled above our heads, advertising "Cut, color and style from $59.95 and up." A couple of older women got some extra hairspray applied to their holiday teases.

As my stylist washed my hair, he chatted with someone across the room. "God brings certain people into your life for a reason," he said. His fingernails scritched my scalp. From my angle I could see right up his nose. Fastidious there too. All of his buttons were completely and neatly threaded through their holes. Years of experience lined his face. He taught high school English for thirty years, he told me, "and then they offered me an early retirement. Of course I took it!" Now he cuts the hair of women who try to make rash decisions.

As he cut my hair, I asked for bangs. "No. You don't want bangs. You told me you pull your hair back a lot. Do you want to be like a 16-year old, pushing your hair out of your eyes, and looking out at people from a curtain of bangs? No."

We talked about Lord Byron's real name as he dried my hair. "You know, only one person I've asked knew the answer. It really tripped up my students. I asked a lady working in customer service at Price Chopper. She got it right away. You never know. There's this lady, in her 50's, working at the grocery store who knows Lord Byron's real name."

I failed his quiz, but now I know.

The short pigeon walker complimented my stylist's work. "She was a 6, and we just took her to a 5!" he laughed.

My hair looked neater, and a little lighter, if not all that different. Possibly redder? It wasn't what I asked for, but then, life isn't all about what you want. I put my coat on and walked to the counter to pay for the experience, the new person in my life, and the knowledge that I was given. I tipped generously.

Friday, December 17, 2010


This morning I was described as a light switch that is wired the wrong way. On when I should be off, off when I should be on. It's accurate. The older I get, the more contrary I become. I'm either the only light on in the house, or the only room that's dark. I'm up by 5 a.m. when everyone else is snoozily snoozing, cranky and unreasonable by 7:30 p.m. and in bed by ten while the rest of the family laughs at a movie or reads.

Sometimes my contrariness is automatic and without restraint. If you want quiet, I'll crunch my popcorn. If you want to sit, I need attention. Please talk to me. You like bread? It will kill you, you know. Make you fat. You will rise like a loaf. A wad will catch in your throat and you'll choke. You shouldn't eat bread. Bread is bad.

I say things and I hear them come out of my mouth, and then they are in the room and I can't catch them. They are filthy marionettes freed of their strings. Watch them thrust and gyrate with their creepy hinged hips!

I can be reasonable, but I can also justify my crankitude as being far more fun. I think that sometimes my unreasonable nature leads to good things a reasonable nature would not.

Well, it is either right to think that or not. Talk to me at 7:30 tonight. I may have a decision on it, or a puppet for you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In 30 Minutes and 10 Minutes and a Lifetime

The local newspaper urged me the other day to "Take a Minute and Reconsider Your Time." The article advertised a new book titled, "168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” (Portfolio, $25.95), by Laura Vanderkam. I skimmed it, I'll admit. It was an article of advertisement, but I gathered two interesting nuggets of information that make me want to find the book. (I doubt I'll pay $25.95 for it, since I tend to take more than a minute to consider my pocketbook. I'll wait for the paperback.)

Ms. Vanderkam suggests list making. I come from a family of list makers. We like to plan. I plan, and lose the list, go about my day, find the list later, and am secretly pleased that I remembered to do two things on the list. My sister plans, scratches off, and plans again. My mother makes lists in the morning for her daily schedule. My daughter has kept lists since she was a child, a few of them reading something like this:

1. Wake up
2. Brush teeth
3. Put pants on cat
4. Eat breakfast

You get the idea. We like to keep track, or at least feel like we have some control over our lives. Lists help us feel more comfortable in a confuddling world.

One of Ms. Vanderkam's list suggestions was this -- write a list of things you can accomplish in thirty minutes, and another list of things you can accomplish in ten minutes. I scratched out a two-column list in my morning journal pages of all the things I thought I could do in thirty minutes and ten minutes on that day. The tasks totaled six and a half hours. Compartmentalized like that, it seemed do-able. Sure.

Like an explorer with a detailed map, I set off on my first 30 minute task of the day: pack and ship books. Yes, it takes thirty minutes. Packing and shipping books means a trip to the studio, a fumbling for packing material, grumbling, printing out of receipts, and then a trip to the post office, and more grumbling. I managed that and two other items on my list, and then the phone rang.

A friend was dying. That wasn't on my list at all. My compartmentalized day blurred:

1. Listencryhugholdhandkissonforeheadlistenmore

The next day, I tried Ms. Vanderkam's other list-making strategy; to make a list of 100 Dreams. Do I have time to even dream the dreams? I couldn't stop wondering if I wasting time making the list when I could be out doing one of the items on the list. It was more difficult than I thought. Ms. V's list of 100 Dreams included "Do a wine tour in Argentina” and “Maintain a stash of Trader Joe’s dark-chocolate-covered caramels.”

It's hard to really care about a stash of caramels. I want to get better at listening. That's on my list of dreams. I'd like to sing more, direct a play, learn to make croissant dough, knit something other than a tangle.

I started my list of 100 Dreams in the back of a notebook I keep for the notes on other people's lives. I drank a coffee, ate some melon, twirled my hair, and came up with 38 dreams. Then the day called out to me. I took a minute to reconsider my time, and I'm not sure if I have more time than I think, or less. What I do know is this -- we all have very little control, and the family cat does not like to wear pants.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Voices in My Head

Three of us took aim and fired. One of us killed him. It's a beautiful life, believe me. He said, "Look, you don't have anybody and I don't have anybody. Do you want to go out sometime?" It wasn't an easy life. We had nothing. You try to make your own fun and all, but I was the only one without a father. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about her. I guess my children turned out alright. We had milk delivery every day. I used to watch the carriage with the horse come up the street. I would go out and walk for miles, just to be away from the house, to get away from her. I didn't know my father. He never talked to me. I learned about him from reading history books. One of us killed him, we don't know who. I gave him a cigarette. My life? It was filled with ordinary things.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A quiver of words

This is the field where we fly our kites. Birds question us. This is the field, right here. See? It has a dip in it, and a sawed off piece of rusted pipe. Wild mustard. This is the cul de sac that you hate walking in, but we walk there anyway after dinner every night. We watch the seasons change by the decorations on our neighbors doors. This is the alleyway where you kissed me. The brick of the bank wall is rough. This is the sidewalk where you carried me piggyback, and this is the street you crossed. The bus driver smiled to see you carrying me, to see our smiles. This is the sky where you sometimes fly, thousands of miles above me. This is the paper airplane I made for you. See how the wind lifts it like a kite, a bird. This is the arrow that the sun sets on fire to blaze away from us.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Twenty-Five Most Used Words in Novels

I'm only just beginning my fall down the rabbit hole of The Readies, by Bob Brown, but I'm in awe of his playfulness, fervor and intelligence. The Readies was written in 1930. Brown was way ahead of his time. I'll leave it at that. You can do your own research.

Yesterday my brain twitched on this tidbit of fascinating information shared in The Readies: According to statisticians, in a novel of 80,000 words the following twenty-five are used the number of times indicated:

The: 5,848
Of: 3,198
And: 2,624
To: 2,339
A: 1,696
In: 1,693
That: 1,076
It: 973
Is: 970
I: 924
For: 828
Be: 677
Was: 671
As: 626
You: 620
With: 582
He: 544
On: 514
At: 498
Have: 494
By: 480
Not: 471
This: 458
Are: 434
We: 423

Only 50,339 to go and you've finished your novel! What I wonder is how this list has changed over the course of eighty years. There's a distinct lack of feminine pronouns. Then I wondered - could a novel be written without these words? They do comprise more than a third of the novel. Hm. I wonder if I could write anything without those words? I managed this bit of strangled prose:

Valentine glitter winks, sparkles from her closet shelf. Hearts collide against Halloween – no - they collude. Winter’s coats hunch over hangers, bamboozled. Her daughter’s paper ghosts fold into halves, then quarters, pressed flat under years. Ornaments wrapped, tissue coddled, become babies. She sighs, unwraps joy. What does everyone else save? Another season. Another holiday. Laughter scotch-tapes itself, wallpapers their rooms. Closets emptied, they smile.

Oh how I love a good challenge! The words I found myself wanting to use the most were: as, of, with. Some of the poet's tools for detail work. I recalled my list of prepositions, once recited while standing at the side of my 8th grade school desk: "about, above, across, after, against ..."

It's surprising to me that "are" is used 434 times, but "be" gets and ranking of 677, and "is" racks up 970 uses. I guess the past is the past, present tense is where it's at, and the future, well, according to the New York Times,Bob Brown saw it clearly.*

* I don't totally agree with the New York Times correlation between what Brown imagined and the Kindle. I believe he was thinking more in terms of cinema. Words as characters onscreen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Lowercase a is shy, demure. Uppercase K wears steel-toed boots. Exclamation mark wants to bugger every sentence ending, so lowercase s and e are really nervous all the time. T carries an umbrella wherever she goes no matter the weather, h is tired of everyone sitting on his lap, and Q went on Weight-Watchers and joined a gym, but no one noticed. V mocks everyone and falls over on his side to show how great he is. X likes to hang out with uppercase K in dark alleys. Lowercase w was once dragged into a scuffle with lowercase x who was only trying to be more like his brother. The fermata is totally out of place, but lingers anyway. R lives on the street, b turned 40 last month and checks herself in every reflective surface, and uppercase F never pays his bills on time. M loves everyone, especially w, who she's had a crush on since Kindergarten. She wishes there were less than nine letters between them, and shivers when cats meow, when people feel warm, and when comics burst with wham! Lowercase m isn't very happy with exclamation mark right now, but exclamation mark loooooves the comics. Where is O? Always in love, and O and o blow bubbles all day. They are really out of their heads with joy and glory, or maybe have lost it altogether. The vowels gather in a secret meeting, attempt to oust o and O, but they look so cute together, confused and surprised at the same time. Y is pissed that she's only sometimes a vowel, and hasn't been informed of this meeting, so she wedges herself in wherever she can, including nature's broken branches. "Sometimes Y, my ass ..." she mutters.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grateful for a Rot House of a Stew of Thought

We were both smiling, but neither of us was feeling happy. We had to smile. It was required of us to beam, to glow, to prattle nonsense through the lemon wedges of our mouths. Then my friend revealed her acidity. "I'm fueled by rage," she hissed through her grin. I felt the same way. We were playing the part of goddesses. We had to be beautiful, happy, serene. We were pissed.

I'm a strong believer in feeling the rage, the funk, the whatever it is you are feeling just to get through it. Sometimes I poke a finger into my wound just to see if it's healing or not and to feel the pain.

The past couple of days I've been in a funk. A nasty mood. A foul place for thinking. A rot house of a stew slopped into a muck and mire. I can make all the positive affirmations I want, write about all the things I'm grateful for, and still the crank continues. Why? Because I'm not acknowledging what is bothering me when I do those things. I am thinking all around it, above it, and below it to get away from the negativity.

I don't believe that if you are positive all the time, you can will away the bad. Smiling helps me, sure, reminding myself of what I am grateful for is excellent, but if I feel angry, I ride it out. I do my best to figure it out. If a friend is sad, I ask her what is the matter, I don't hand her a platitude. Sometimes I forget to do this for myself. Why wouldn't I ask myself what the matter is in order to explore it? You can't force away sadness or anger with a stubborn grin.

Without the negative, there can be no genuine positive. Without feeling what you honestly feel, you'll never figure out who you really are. You'll be a mocking mask slapped onto a cardboard cutout. You'll be greeting card verse.

What's bothered me these past few days? Well, I wrote it out, I rode it out, I talked it out, and now I know two things: I feel better today, and I don't believe in a "fake it til you make it," philosophy. I don't think I knew that about myself before.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Playlet on Doubt

Sheep are pretty brave, actually. They are fallen clouds. They leap even though their legs are stubby, they are generous with their coats, and they don't worry about wolves. The connotation of being like a sheep is negative. Being a sheep is playing the part of the follower - the insipid, luckless doofus who grazes the fields, happy to be herded wherever nudged or prodded. The brain of a writer plays the part of both the sheep and the wolf.

Doubt, that insidious wolf, creeps in everywhere in the writing process, plotting against the sheep.

He first appears lurking around the Seedling of the Idea:

The Sheep:
Incoming great idea! You have to try this! Sit down and write.

The Wolf:
No one has ever done this before. Too risky. No one will get it.

Later, he skulks in the grasses and high weeds of the Process of Writing:

The Sheep:
Well, this isn't too bad. A little harder to navigate than I thought, but kind of fun, even.

The Wolf:
Absurdist. No one will get it.

Finally, he growls and wiggles his ass for a lunge at the First Draft:

The Sheep:
Sharing is good. Get it off your desk. Let someone else read it. You finished! Yay!

The Wolf:
Whoop-de-doo. Your readers are never going to get it. It's not even what you imagined it would be.

How do I want this playlet to end? I'm not sure it ever does, but if I had my druthers ...

The Sheep:
I'm going to end this play once and for all.

The Sheep binds up the Wolf, shaves off all his fur, felts it in the washing machine, and knits herself a sweater.

The Wolf:
I'm cold!

The Sheep:
Ha ha ha! What nice fur you have!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Where a Shell Belongs

Shells are teachers, and we put them in the bathroom. Right now there are two Ziploc baggies of shells on our kitchen counter. They hold their beachy breath and wait for us to open them. It seems unfair that they go from the sea to the back of the toilet in a bowl that was made in a pottery class.

Last week two friends and I found ourselves on the beach in the late afternoon, up to our waists in the ocean water. We planned to go for a swim, but the ocean had other ideas. It was serving up all sorts of shells - shards and whole. Standing meant getting the soles of our feet stabbed, our ankles and calves pummeled with the ocean's teeth. Oh, what lovely teeth the ocean has! Instead of swimming, we started collecting, or trying to collect, what was being served to us.

At first, I tried the "spot and grab" method. A beautiful shell would glimmer under the water, the wave would pass over it, I'd reach down, and voila! It was gone, pulled in by the undertow. After a few disappointing tries with this method I switched to the "blind scoop." The wave passed over, I scooped up whatever I could in two hands, and then sifted through for goodies. I found beautiful, tiny bits of seaglass and perfectly smoothed stones this way that I wouldn't have found otherwise.

Wendy noticed our different collecting methods. She had the "spot and grab," Anne pressed herself down into the water against the thrash of waves to seek out whatever she could find, and I continued with my blind scooping. We all stole something from the ocean.

I thought about how when writing something large, you try all of these methods. There's the initial idea - the spot and grab, and then the blind scoop, and finally you press yourself into the project, against all the waves and salt and potential jellyfish. I'm still in the blind scoop mode with a project I'm working on, and will be happy to submerge myself in its last pages. The ocean reminded me to be patient - to let go of that beautiful idea because it is already washed away and replaced by other ideas. It reminded in a fatherly way. It roared, "Look, look, you numbskull! Look at what you've already picked up in your hands!"

These shells belong in the ocean, not in a baggie, not on the back of the toilet. But here they are, all landlocked - on my desk.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


A poem is composed of words, not of ideas. A poem should come to you, you should not come to it. Be a tiger, not a rabbit. Don't fold laundry. Don't list your prestigious awards. And for heaven's sake, don't be witless.

Two books on writing and reading are on my morning reading schedule -- Ezra Pound's "ABC of Reading," and William Packard's "The Art of Poetry Writing." Reading both at the same time is enough to give a writer a complex. Reading about writing and reading makes me not want to write. But I do anyway. I respond.

Yesterday, just for the joy of it, I memorized a poem by Vasko Popa. There is no book you can read, no workshop you can take, that can replace the wonder of writing or reading a poem. Memorizing a poem reminds me of why I write. A poem is composed of words that form ideas, that wash empty spaces with emotion, that open entire landscapes. It's exciting to me to memorize the molecules of someone's thoughts. Depending on the poem, it can feel naughtier than opening a letter or a diary. The joy comes in sharing the music of those lines with anyone at any time. I have memorized the poem "by heart," as we say, but really it's "by mind and heart." The words become part of my pulse, part of my synapses.

I have mixed feelings about Poetry Out Loud, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation's high school level contest for poetry recitation. The program has gained popularity over the past few years. Stakes are high. There's a hefty scholarship on the line. Students who move through the ranks memorize several poems, each one of a different time period. Recitations are judged on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding, and overall performance. An accuracy judge follows the text to make sure the reciter doesn't miss a word. They also act as the prompter if a kid "goes up on a line."

I've judged this contest at various levels and have been stunned by the level of understanding some of the contestants have of the poems they chose to memorize. I've also been one of our regional competition's organizers and felt overwhelmed by the level of administration needed to run a contest like this. One one hand, the students are learning poems that probably would not have learned in school otherwise (there's a paucity of poetry in school). On the other hand, there is little to no follow-through from memorization and appreciation of those poems to writing poems of their own.

The prize of memorizing a poem, of understanding the poem, is just that. You have a poem inside of you forever. A twenty thousand dollar scholarship is great, sure, but money has a way of disappearing. Poems have a way of rumbling around inside of you foreverly.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Wedding Dance Floor

I'm not sure how many weddings I've attended in my lifetime. Twenty? Thirty? Maybe not that many. One thing I am sure of is that I have seen a little girl in a puffy dress at every wedding. She circles the empty dance floor alone with her arms out until she is dizzy and then she falls, exhausted and giddy. I think I can count my lifetime in dizzy, circling wedding floor toddlers. It is surely better than counting out one's lifetime in root canals, or in tax payments.

This weekend we attended the wedding of some dear friends. It was a memorable reception. Fondant robots topped the wedding cake. Articulated metal toy robots, chattering teeth, tiny bowling pins, dinosaurs, and noisemakers waited in clusters at each table for the guests to play and make introductions. An Elvis impersonator shimmied and gyrated the reception into action. A photobooth was available for guests to ham it up and leave a strip of smiles for the bride and groom, and take one away for themselves. I think a few regular restaurant patrons might have taken the opportunity to have their photos taken as well. That will be fun years from now for the bride and groom ... "Who's this?"

This was a relaxed and fun wedding reception, held in the open room of a local restaurant. The heads of moose, elk, deer, and a few whole animals (foxes), looked down at us in judgment. "Let me get this straight. You kill me, stuff me, and make me spend eternity watching you dine and dance?" Disco lights animated their frozen stares.

During faster music, kids four and under imitated what they see on MTV videos without care of who was watching. Loose arms gangsta flapped, bodies turned on the floor, legs kicked up, and those still on the floor elasticized their way back up into a vertical position. A three year old girl really listened to the music and let her body move to the melody, not the beat. Her parents didn't try to alter what she was doing at all, they let her be herself.

Adults who don't know what to do with themselves but who want to dance will try a few different techniques. I have seen these at every wedding reception I've ever attended. I've also used some of these strategies myself.

Survival Strategies on the Wedding Reception Dance Floor

1. Grab a kid and dance.
Smaller kids you can pick up and hold, spin around, and do a pretend, over-exaggerated Tango. With larger kids, you can hold their hands and sway. They will break away from you to dance with other kids.

2. Mock a dance move.
You're dancing in a safety cluster of friends, and you start an offbeat version of John Travolta's point to the sky, point to the floor. Make it obvious you're just "joking around."

3. Dance a waltz with a friend during a rap song.
This is a take on the second survival strategy.

4. Do the Charlie Brown. Or the Lawnmower.
Always a crowd pleaser. For more ideas, Ze Frank has a tutorial.

5. Be yourself.
This is the hardest. Watch the little kids and remember what it was like to not care what you looked like. Now move as who you really are. If you dance who you are, the little kids will dance with you. Maybe.

The bride danced with her sister the other night. A glorious, uninhibited, raucous whelping on the dance floor. Their happy dance was infused with years of history that no one could touch. As the bride's dress burned white in spinning and her sister twirled around her, I missed my own sister who is thousands of miles away. I remembered how we danced at my wedding. Years of impenetrable history. Together our bodies made a geometry. With her, I am myself. I am three years old, spinning with my arms out.

My husband danced with me and it wasn't just a slow turn to the right. He led me, our noses touched, and we closed our eyes. My feet finally felt right in high heels. If I can't spin myself dizzy in a puffy dress, I'll count my lifetime in nose touching dances with the love of my life.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sixteen Horrible, Terrible, Very Bad Reasons for Writing a Book

1. You think it will make you famous.
2. You seek revenge on that 8th grade teacher who told you that you lacked creativity.
3. You're sure it will make you look thinner.
4. Everyone will say glowing things about you on Facebook, Twitter, and in fancy martini bars.
5. You need something to talk about at parties (i.e. "Yeah, I'm working on a novel.")
6. Someone told you that you should.
7. You figure you can, because now you have an MFA. You learned how, from other people who wrote books.
8. You figure you should, because now you have an MFA. That was an expensive two years!
9. You figure if you don't, people will say you've "lost your touch."
8. You figure you can, because you don't have an MFA. Your degree is from the University of Life.
9. You figure you should, because you don't have an MFA. That'll show 'em!
10. You want to write a book just like that author you love so much.
11. You have a penchant for the barfy smell inside of books that haven't been opened in a really long time, you own a library card catalogue, you spell catalogue with a "u" even though you're American, and the right kind of writing implement is is almost orgasmic to you.
12. You are two pages into your idea and you're already obsessing over who will publish it, thinking of clever marketing schemes, and looking for agents.
13. You like talking about the book more than the actual writing of the book.
14. You have a really great idea - teenage vampires!
15. You don't believe in rewrites, editing, or anything beyond spell check.
16. You had a dream in which the cupcake told you it was time to write your masterpiece.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Elastic Memory

We remember and in our retelling of the memory we alter it. Memory is elastic. The sounds, smells, sights, textures, flavors you experience as you tell the story may alter the memory itself.

The memory I have of lying on my back in the driveway and looking up into the trees? That’s likely a composite memory. Several instances of taking photographs of leaves and bark, the photographs themselves, of the driveway my father took pride in, of all my time outside, and my own telling and writing about it have created a collective memory of something that brought me joy as a child. I share it often and in many different ways (written, oral, recall in my private universe) and in sharing the memory it is possible that it changes.

For those who cherish memories, the idea of them being not entirely “true” and elastic can be upsetting. But for those who have traumatic memories, this can come as a comfort. It’s an interesting concept.

I read an article last night in the Smithsonian magazine titled, “Making Memories,” published in the May 2010 issue, which focuses on this idea. Karim Nader, a neuroscientist who works at New York University, talks about how he recalled seeing television footage on September 11th of the first plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center. He was surprised to learn that this footage aired for the first time the following day.

In order for a long-term memory to be built, neurons need to manufacture new proteins and expand to make the neurotransmitter traffic run more efficiently. Long-term memories have to be built into the brain’s synapses.

We say things like “memory fades,” and think of ink on paper. Over the years, the memory might fade a bit. For an Alzheimer’s patient, the ink becomes invisible. Is it really possible that under any ordinary circumstance, memory stays the same? Nader challenged this idea by experimenting with rats.

From the article:

In 1999 he taught four rats that a high-pitched beep preceded a mild electric shock. The rats froze in place after hearing the beep. Nader waited 24 hours, played the tone to reactivate the memory and injected into the rat’s brain a drug that prevents neurons from making new proteins.

If memories are consolidated just once, when they are first created, he reasoned, the drug would have no effect on the rat’s memory of the tone or the way it would respond to the tone in the future. But if memories have to be at least partially rebuilt every time they are recalled – down to the synthesizing of fresh neuronal proteins – rats given the drug might later respond as if they had never learned to fear the tone and would ignore it. If so, the study would contradict the standard conception of memory. It was, he admits, a long shot. […] It worked.

When Nader tested the rats, they didn’t freeze after hearing the tone. It was as if they had forgotten all about it.

For anyone who has given birth to a child, you recognize the fact that you forget the pain. Your memory focuses more on the joy and less on the pain as time progresses. I’ve always wondered if this was the brain’s trick at getting the body prepared to have more children. If we remember the pain, the likelihood of wanting more children would be slim.

When I think of memory as being plastic, it’s a huge relief. My sister’s memory of a childhood event that we both participated in might be different from my recollection of it because we have led different lives, and told the story in a myriad of unique places which changed it for each. I think seeing photographs of events change the memory of those events too. Photographs remind and can change a memory.

Writers know that the act of writing down a memory can be cathartic. Therapists recommend keeping a journal to patients who need to work through complicated feelings. Is part of this process refashioning the memory so the person can live with it safely?

When I think of writing this essay three years from now, will I only remember the part about the rats and forget the rest?

If memory is plastic, then all memoirs are “lies.” I’m okay with this. I’ve always felt this way. The brain is fascinating, willing to embellish and make connections between all sorts of details that we experience, including those we dream. We are not always aware of our brain’s sleight-of-hand, and it sure is interesting. What colorful scarves are being tossed in the air of my brain as I write this? As you read it?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Wrote (a very short story using only subjects and verbs)

He swilled. He smoked. They lived. He planned. He collected. They worked. He tested. He hated. They loved. They lived. He drew. He plotted. He slept. They dreamed. He packed. He lifted. He walked. He carried. They lived. He rested. He arranged. He positioned. He aimed. They lived. He fired. They scattered. They screamed. He laughed. They ran. They fell. They lived. He fired. He laughed. They fell. He fired. He laughed. She hid. She aimed. He laughed. He fired. She fired. He fell.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The hive of my heart keeps track of time

On quiet days without you here the house is cleaner, but I fill my own coffee cup, and wonder where the spontaneous laughter from the living room has gone. I make sure all the artwork is hanging straight, flatten out the curled ends of throw rugs, peek into the card catalogue just to see the maps we keep inside. We've been to Arizona together and I kept a pamphlet on the birds we saw there. You were fascinated by the hands at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. I saved the brochure and made a sketch of you when we sat outside in the garden.

The refrigerator sighs and trickles, Bananafish pecks at his seed, the window fan drones. I stare at the wall, the shadow of butterfly bush on the floor, my own filthy toes. No one adores you like I do and when you aren't here I probably eat too much cake. Its sweetness makes me sleepy and slow. I count the time by the bees drowzing on thistles in the garden. Zzzzwhirp. Will you be home soon? Zzzzzyes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Tempest

The shipwreck left a flotsam of empty Mountain Dew bottles, McDonald's containers, candy wrappers, and Diet Coke cans in our fourth-grade classroom dressing room. Every actor has scribbled on the chalkboard during the long pause between call and places, because no kid can resist chalk and an empty blackboard. "A plague upon this bowling" is my favorite rewritten phrase, and then there's the call for "pants off/dance off," a few caricatures of cast members, and a Shakespeare-as-Devil which somehow got labeled as Therese. Fans stationed in the room fart the hot air around more. It is impossible to keep cool in a mask and several layers of polyester weave during August, so we're left with humor. Paul revisits a favorite Caldecott Award winning book from the teacher's desk while he waits for his scene. An excerpt from "Are you there God? It's Me, Margaret" is written on the board behind the desk. Mandy reworks the ace bandage around her sprained calf, and Emily takes a swig of water and sits behind a personal desk fan.

During intermission, we take off our masks, strip down to the least amount of layers allowable, and stand outside in hope of a breeze. We've set out a few chairs too tiny for our butts near the corner of the school building. One by one players spill out of the building like characters from a romance novel - sweaty and desperate. We light up cigarettes, drink water, laugh about gaffes. Last night a heron flew overhead. A few nights ago a bat circled the urban forest just beyond the school. Some of us talked about watching the meteor showers. Nature doesn't pause for theatre. It is the theatre.

As "five minutes to places!" is called for the second act, we put our masks back on to return to our lives as a devious plotter, a spirit, a goddess, a drunken butler, a monster, a misplaced king. We wipe the sweatstaches from our upper lips. The lights go down and we go on to tell a story, while above our heads the scattered and roiling details of two weeks of our lives wait for our return.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Why I Love Hoop Dance

Some of you might have noticed a photo or two (or fifty!) of me with a hoop around my waist, my arms, or hoisted up in the air. It’s official. I’m obsessed with hoop dancing. Here’s why:

1. It’s some of the best exercise I’ve gotten. Ever.

I used to run. I’d do three or four miles a morning, combined with some weight lifting at a local gym.

With a couple of months of solid practice in hoop dance, I’ve built muscle in my arms (hooper’s shoulders!), toned up my legs a little, and lost weight – a bonus! (I don’t own a scale, but I can tell “the rind” at my waist that appeared around my 40th birthday is significantly diminished.)

2. I’m learning that I’m not such a klutz afterall.

With practice I store different tricks and moves into muscle memory. I’m still not the most graceful hoop dancer ever, but hey, I can move and not look like an idiot. This is a huge deal for me, having been laughed at by a professional dancer in a college-level jazz dance class. That left a bruise on my psyche. So ha ha to you, Mr. NYC FancyPants Dance Man! I CAN dance! Oh, and your class wasn’t as creative as hoop dance either, so there.

3. It’s good for the spirit.

With running, you get “runner’s high,” and with hoop dance you get “hooper’s bliss.”

You know that feeling you get (or got) riding your bike down a really sweet hill? That’s hooping. It makes you a kid again. It’s pure play. Hooping attracts good people. Put a hoop around your waist, and suddenly women, men, and kids alike are coming over and asking to give it a try. Why? Because it looks like fun, and it is.

4. I get to wear skirts!

I’m a girly girl from a theatrical, creative family. I’ve never liked pants much, so getting to wear skirts to “exercise” in is a major thrill. Hooping clothes run anywhere along the line of regular workout wear to tutus with torn fishnets. Some hoop dancers wear masks when they perform, or tiny little hats or crowns, or feathers … there’s a whole incredibly creative array of dress and makeup that makes me giddy just thinking about it. What do I wear when Irun? Oh, right. Sneakers, socks, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I’ll take a fun shirt paired with a skirt and pink leggings over that any day.

5. People who hoop make up a community of really positive and kind people.

I joined Hoop City, a sort of “Hooper’s Facebook,” about a month ago, and at the request of my sister (who gets total credit for my addiction to hoop dance), started taking SaFire’s classes. I began reading and posting in the forums on Hoop City, and joining in some of the groups. Everyone from newbies to professional performers posts there – and they are all supportive, encouraging, and inspiring.

The hoopers I know in real life are also this way. Everyone shares ideas and tricks they’ve learned with each other. A lot of hoopers attend festivals and concerts and take their hoops with them. I want to start doing more of that so I can meet more hoopers! I’m still trying to crack the secret code for getting people to join in a free hoop jam I’ve started at the park. My latest attempt at that is a hoop making workshop. I figure by empowering people with the craft of making a hoop, they will want to test it out.

6. It makes me happier.

All of the above combined conspire toward a happier me. When I’m happy, I make things happen for myself and others. I create. I make meals at home instead of eating out, I write more, I garden, I attempt to sew, I learn to use a rivet gun, I paint. I’m more likely to tackle a large, looming project that I've put off if I’ve spent part of my day in the hoop.

If it makes me happier and keeps me creating, inspired, and encouraging others, I think that's some of the best exercise I've gotten. Ever.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Living Where You Love, Loving Where You Live

In a 5 a.m. frenzy to get my baker daughter to work on time I thought about the buildings I passed (going ever-so-slightly over the speed limit and just bowing to the stop signs). The Liberty Throwing Company chucked and clucked behind its grey-painted windows. Early shift workers were at the helm of machines that make spandex threads. I once bought a car from a woman who worked there, and this is why I know the secret behind the name.

St. Hedwig's school sits squarely on Zerby Avenue and promontory in my mind. My daughter's first lessons in socialization, organized religion, and education were in that building. I walked her a mile from home every day to Kindergarten, through the baseball field behind the Russian Club, past a few barking dogs and their fences. It was there at the school that I directed a play called Princess Grey and the White/Black Knight. The entire school community (and my mother) rallied to make it happen - props, costumes, cardboard painted set pieces. The janitor shared his lighting talents with me after revealing he'd spent years in backstage work at a theatre in New York City. I see him now at the mini-mart every morning on Main Street. He is frail and thin. His teeth are missing, but he still smiles and always remembers me.

The school sits empty now, the by-product of diocesan budget cuts. The teachers have found other jobs and moved away. Weeds grow in every crack on the sidewalk where I once stood to wait with other parents for the dismissal bell at 2:05. The kids used to rush out in a whoosh of whoops, and their backpacks made them look like multicolored turtles.

The ungroomed and well-pruned shrubberies of side street homes collect snow in January that turns them into iced cakes. In spring, birds make them sing. Fans rest unevenly in windows of houses in the summer. This morning I noticed a home with two fans whirling away in the bedroom windows of the upper floor. It created a wonky eyed monster.

Most houses here lean like drunken uncles (to borrow from Carl Sandburg). Mine subsidences have been known to open up and swallow entire houses, or children on the sidewalk, or pets. I listen at night for the tell-tale "crack" that I'm supposed to hear before the ground opens up and gorges on clapboard. We only own the surface of our land here, and keep insurance for any greedy gulpings of earth. Owning land at all is such a strange concept.

A sprawl of progress neons "The Ave" as we call it. Planet Fitness runs in place under its bright yellow apex, Price Chopper shares a stripmall with what I've dubbed "World Domination Buffet," Radio Shack, and Blockbuster. Cole Muffler makes a good landmark and a joke - the neon sign blinks out certain letters suddenly turning it French - "le muffler." When a Lowe's Home Improvement Center moved in, they paid off a small church on the property they wanted and moved it up half a block. The day the church was on wheels, the entire town came out to watch it move.

Main Street is congested from sprawl traffic, but no one stops to eat at the Mexican restaurant whose owners painted a sunset mural on the front, or the barber who still has a working awning that he cranks open every morning. His storefront is filled with dollhouses. The old coin shop closed a few months ago when the borough bought it (rumor has it they are demolishing old buildings and putting in a stripmall), and had to pay to clean out three floors of accrued errata from a determined collector. I once took a coin in the shop for appraisal. It was worth nothing, but the shop was piles of fascination. War medals, buttons from ancient elections, metal detectors, and coins in their plastic protective cases. The helmet of a knight sat in his storefront window.

I love to walk and see what neighbors have put on their porches, plant in their gardens, and note the oddball personalities of mailboxes.

We leave a free book box on the stoop of our gallery and studio so the neighborhood has access to free reading material as they walk to and from work, or the sprawl of The Ave. It gets brisk traffic. Sometimes it gets a candy bar wrapper or two, and sometimes people donate bags of paperbacks.

I live here. It's imperfect, weedy, unkempt, off-plumb, full of strangers and friends. The energy of the past toil of our fathers was washed away in a flood that dissolved their progress. Sadness followed and lingered, closed shops, broke wills.

I live here to give my energy to this place. To stand on a school stage and hang a backdrop of roses that a 6th grader painted, to make a space for the arts where people are welcome to share their ideas and poetry, to share books, to plant flowers. I can live anywhere I want, but I choose to live here, and I owe it the best of my life.

Monday, July 05, 2010

500 Words

Can you come up with a list of 500 favorite words? It took me about a half hour to write up a list (which I launched into willy-nilly), and then realized about three-quarters of the way through that I was going to have an overabundance of words for the project. A myriad. A plethora. An ivy-whorl of tenacious words.

1000 words? 10,000 words? I shared some toast with my husband. "Pillowcase."

We walked upstairs. I shouted down the hall, "Freckle! Piano. Gravity. Grace. Bespectacled."

I have some decisions to make (architecture?) with the first list I made. The process of making the list is really interesting to me. Some of the words I like for the sound, others for meaning, some for both. There are words that have emotional attachments. Some are a part of family vocabularies. A few are inventions. In the meantime, (fern) words keep springing up in my mind (foderol) like midnight mushrumps.

What are some of your favorites?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Staying Aloft

I've never stepped on the Priority Sky Miles mat. If you have, you've paid too much by credit card. Sure you get on the plane quicker, but you're on with the screaming kids. They rolled all over the mat first with their strollers and Graco trappings.

Whether you walk down that flap of mat or wait until "Zone 4" is called and are herded through the gate, you likely have some special way of handling flight. (Or maybe not. This could be one of those places where I once again find myself alone on the playground.) Maybe you say a Hail Mary, or a few Please Gods, or you have another special mantra. Maybe you always say thank you to the person who scans the bar code on your boarding pass. Whatever it is, you're sure it works.

I keep a pinecone in my pocketbook. No one has frisked me for keeping a bit of the ground in my purse yet. It's a non-aerosol pinecone and is less than three fluid ounces.

The sudden camaraderie I feel toward my fellow passengers is always surprising to me. These are people I don't know, and will likely never get to know, but I start to think about what we might say to each other if the plane were to spiral toward the earth from 30,000 feet. The woman in the striped shirt looks like a soft grandmotherly sort. The tan guy is returning home from a vacation and seems happy. That crying baby is a good luck charm. The likelihood of a crash with a baby is small, I trick myself. Good.

A friend of mine told me once how she enjoys being in airports because "you can be anyone there." I think you can be anyone anywhere, and would rather be anyone anywhere other than in an airport. I enjoy watching people's reunions, but the frantic chirping of trapped birds in the Detroit airport makes me uneasy.

On the plane, I have my rituals. I figure if I am just good, if I pay attention, if I obey, the plane won't nosedive into the ocean. I always look at the safety card. I buckle my seatbelt when asked. When I exit the plane, I thank the pilot. I never complain about anything until I have gotten back on the ground.

If I am good, if I obey, if I don't complain, we stay aloft. If I bitch, it's a sudden plummet for all.

So I feel love for the trapped humanity on the plane until we land when I start to wonder why that woman is wearing a striped seersucker shirt. What a horrible word -- seersucker. I wouldn't want it wrapped around me. I wouldn't want to die in it.

The salt from my mini pretzels has confettied the insides of my pocketbook. My ears feel like they have blades in them. The view from 30,000 feet was a miniature wonderland. Thank God we're landed. Hail Mary. Hail Pinecone.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Abstractions as Units of Measurement

An exercise in thought and wordplay on a hot afternoon where my brain is a fresnel of flaccidity.

1. An angstrom of angst
2. A furlong of fragility
3. Two hundred leagues of levity
4. An em of entropy
5. An en of empathy
6. A dram of damnation
7. Three gills of gumption
8. A gamma of goodness
9. One pennyweight of perniciousness
10. Ten scruples of sorrow
11. A rod of reality
12. Two cords of compassion
13. Eight pecks of peculiarity
14. An assay ton of anger
15. A hogshead of hilarity
16. A footlambert of foolishness
17. Two hobbets of hate
18. A jansky of joy
19. Three kips of knowledge
20. A maxwell of menace
21. An osmol of obsfucation
22. A firkin of friendship
23. A vara of victory
24. A weber of wisdom
25. A therblig of thrill

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Monosyllabic Essay on the Old GE Fan in the Kitchen

The rite on a hot day in each home is the twist of a knob to form a drift of air. I prod the old fan blade and send it to a slow grind and turn. It finds cat fur in the air and the grate sports flags of hair that ebb in its wind. This fan groans in the face of work and needs a new nudge to pick up drive. One push with the edge of my thumb on the blade, two, three, four, and the force wins. I move the jar that sits near it and clunks with the time and time and time of turns. With my coax, my wish, the fan is still just a head that shakes a slow no, no, no all day in a room where bread sweats.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Forecast: Plenty of Piaf

Life is too short to be wasting it on music I don't like. If a piece of music doesn't open up a room I'm in, I don't want to listen to it. Music creates new rooms for me, sometimes entire mansions. There are almost always walls, but sometimes no roof or a floor.

Last night while waiting for friends to arrive for a meeting at the house I put on an album by Edith Piaf, (recorded in Mono!), and everything became a set for a French movie. The room was black and white and looked like it needed the despeckling filter in Photoshop. That's what I love about music. I can't even remember the title of the album I was listening to (it was a gift from my brother), but the music transformed a moment in my life and transported me to another place for a little while.

If the music inspires and creates a safe space for me to dream, or a space that's filled with color and movement, I'll listen. I won't remember the label or who produced it, but I will remember the room it put me in, the color of the walls, and if the room had a floor.

Trivia: Edith Piaf's matron of honour at her wedding in 1952 was Marlene Dietrich.

Oddity: Piaf singing La Vie en Rose turns my living room into pointillism.

Excitement: Rain all weekend. More Piaf in store for me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fragments of Spring

Stapled to the telephone pole
where her classmate died
two wilted bouquets of roses
form a Y.


A woman waves with a cigarette in her hand,
her long hair gathered at the bottom
with a rubber band, loose pink pajama pants
flop in the breeze. Her son's hand grips
the green seat of the school bus.


Today I clean the baseboards,
tomorrow I paint the hall floor,
Friday I take over the world.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


The nurse asks: “What do the extra beats feel like?” and I say I don’t know. What I want to say is it feels like I am hugging a bag of feathers. That I am reading another one of those really long poems by a poet who uses tildes in between stanza breaks and is so very in love with the way his words look on paper. It feels like the sound the piano makes when you step on the damper pedal hard and then release. That’s probably too much information for his form, so I say “It feels like I shouldn’t take my heart for granted. I’m nervous. I hate it here.” It feels like I’m falling through the stars. Hole, hold, black hole murmur.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Tuesday March 2nd clomps across the busy street in heavy boots. It is double-freaking-parked, it is pocked with potholes, it is a clothesline full of old towels.

There's nothing particularly wrong with today, other than I can't seem to find my focus. I've had a series of pretty good days in a row where I've been writing and creating, and thinking good thoughts. Today, nothing but old towels and everything has a grey noise.

On the upswing, my stitches came out while I was in the car today! Healing complete.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010


a typographical romance

Lowercase a was deviled by x, who leveled him with dagger punches to the gut. X was always bold. K joined in the fray for good measure, and kicked a in the foot while he writhed on the ground. The playground was silent after they grunted their way around the school building, leaving a in the dirt. A birch leaf shivered off a tree from the first frost. Lowercase a threw up from the pain of his bruises.

Lowercase o and u found a in the dirt, lifted him up and brushed him off. They agreed something needed to be done about the burly, aggravated consonants, and rallied the rest of the vowels into a meeting on the rock pile near the woods.

While they hunched and whispered, uppercase S appeared and nudged her way into their huddle. "What's all the hubhub, fellas?" she asked.

Lowercase a weakened. S was different from the rest of the consonants. She was majuscule. She was vivacious, confident, and deliciously curvy. Sometimes her curves dipped below the baseline, and it made lowercase q (who was the quietest girl in class) a little jealous of her display. S showed an enthusiasm for rolling down the grassy hill during recess, and everyone stopped to watch when she did.

The boys urged lowercase a to keep her out of the plans, but lowercase a couldn't help but trust S. "Together we can make similes" he thought.

S let herself in, and when she heard about their plans against x and k, she sighed.

a, e , i, o, u, and s (y only sometimes showed for the meetings), continued their plot to nab their tormentors. The boy's lavatory was a favorite place for meetings because S wasn't allowed, but she would occasionally tease her way inside when the teachers weren't looking.

It was during one of these meetings that x and k were were hiding in a stall, straddling toilets. "We'll use S's skills at rolling ..." o proclaimed with a wide grin. He was trying to win S's favors. It was beginning to irk a that o began all of his sentences with the word "So."

The stall doors clattered and x and k emerged like ninjas, delivering stealthy slugs to all the vowels.

The oooooo's, uuuuuuu's, and iiiiiiii's were heard down the hall and into the principal's office. S escaped without injury by rolling out the door. Lowercase a was slackjawed. The window was a possible escape.

Principal ! marched through the door as lowercase a considered the window. "Stop this at once! Get back to your classes! You all have detention!" Vice-principal ... paused with her mouth agog. "This sort of behavior ..." she trailed off.

Lowercase a was cornered in the coatroom after school by x. "I'll cut you to the core yet," he said. A didn't notice the shuffling of coats behind him as he trembled. O, i and e leapt out. Lowercase i tossed his tittle at x, who caught it with an extended arm. K ambled in just in time to kick i's tittle into the trashcan. A tried to slip into the alley between the coats when x stopped him by sticking out a foot to trip him.

S slithered in the coatroom, slipped a curve around lowercase a, and handed i back his tittle. U rocked back and forth on the arc of his stem, cooing to himself. E curled off to find q. None of this fighting was justified, said S.

X hissed at lowercase a. "I'll get you someday. Together we could have axed our way through school, crossing out all the useless facts, marking spots. You could have been more than an article. With her, you'll just make cute similes."

In love and cooing, lowercase a developed an elaborate swash near his rounded apex. S's love had saved him and transformed him into an alternate character.

S and a skipped a grade, and started a new family, similar in width, weight and posture, giggling glyphs and miniscules.

X and k were held in Principal !'s office, on the mean line. When questioned about their anger, they said they "didn't give a jot and tittle" about any of it and they'd "roll those i's again."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Squaring Up the Rugs

Never underestimate your power as a writer to procrastinate. If you think it's time to sit down to work on your novel, rugs will need squaring, curtains will need washing, and bits of lint will need to be plucked off all your sweaters.

I know this. I'm writing a novel. There. I said it in a public venue (as public as you can get with four readers). I said it and now I am committed to finishing it, because it's "out there." Now pardon me while I go put the kettle on. I like to hear it tick and whistle while I write. Or write about writing.

And in the meantime, here are two valuable and interesting links for writers, which I have read and enjoyed (squandered time):

The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot (Lester Dent wrote the Doc Savage series)

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Friday, February 12, 2010

My roots are a "22"

Yesterday I put on my heavy winter boots and shoveled a narrow path out to the car, brushed off a foot of snow, brisked the ice off the mailbox, and clomped back in the house to get dressed for a root canal appointment. It's not every day that you find yourself grateful to push aside heavy snow to get to the endodontist, but I've been waiting to get to see this guy for a few weeks, and two of them on a cheery round of bacteria-killing penicillin. The snow storm almost pushed my appointment back another two weeks, but a cancellation got me in earlier. I felt like I was hanging around the phone for a date to call.

With the blinds open at the office, the sun opened up a warm seat in the waiting room for me to fill out my forms and tuck into a book. The ear-budded office staff talked about efficiency with delegating the tasks of the day, and I tried to worry less by reading. Then the dreaded and anticipated sound of the endodontist's assistant calling my name, the intermittent shaking of my legs as I worried about not being able to swallow as my face went numb with novocain.

When the endodontist arrived, he tried to chit-chat about the weather to calm me. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" he asked, as my mouth was pried open. I tried to say "gorgeous," but it came out "gggshush."

Then I was faced with a light above my head and what felt like a torn balloon over my wide-open mouth for an hour and a half while the assistant and endodontist worked their medical magic. Words like "mesial" and "pulp" peppered their conversation. I wore plastic goggles and wondered what would happen next most of the time since they weren't the type of dentists who gave a play-by-play to their patient. There was the smell of clove, and the feel of my tooth being oddly higher than the rest for a bit, like a skyscraper jutting out among cottages. I saw the the tiny plastics that would be used to replace my roots, which I was told were "really long." I thought of how careful the dentists were, and how detailed the work was, and wondered about what I do for a living and how it compares. There's no avoiding someone's need for a root canal if it is your job to perform one. There is plenty of avoidance in a writer.

At some point my legs ceased their shaking, and the dentist talked about how he was tricked into watching a movie with his wife on the snow day before. It was "Slumdog Millionnaire." Had I seen it? Did I like it? With my mouth still latexed like the lining of a pool all I could say was "Yesh," but I didn't really like it.

When the procedure was over, I thanked both of them for their careful work, and walked out with my palsied mouth into the sun to try to whistle in the mirror. I laughed at the sight, started the car, and drove off into the blinding blue light of a gggshsh day.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Frequency of Thought

A table after Nicholson Baker's character in The Mezzanine
Subject of Thought Number of Times Thought Occurred per Year (descending order)
Family (living) 1825
Family (deceased) 730
Body fat 520
Coffee 420
Dreams 360
Writing a poem 300
People who write more poems, jealousy of 280
The movements of birds, curiosity of 220
"Make Your Life" 200
Moving to the city 180
Moving to the country 180
Backyard chickens, or the possibility of a pet duck 180
Pens 150
Losing my mind, fear of 125
Friends, smarter than me 120
Footnotes and marginalia = happiness 90
Insensitive people 81
Flowers and weeds that grow out of cracks in the sidewalk 70
Sandburg's drunken uncles = houses around here 50
Trees against a dusk sky, beauty of 45
Piggyback rides 32
Peeling a chestnut, joy of 21
Candle flickers, fire flames 20
Mitral Valve Prolapse, anxiety of 18
Cognition, or the brain as machine 15
Kindness, my being referred to as kind and a mild resentment for it* 12
Hotel lobbies 8
The Doppler Effect 6
Friends - does it matter if I have few? 5
Minty taste on envelope seal 3
HTML tags 1
Whether or not that note I left in the floor is still there 1
Driveway sealer, scent of .5

There is no way for this list to be accurate, because thought is so fleeting and changing, but it was an interesting exercise to see how even as I wrote the list, my mind was wandering. "Pens? Yes, pens. I forgot them, and they fit more in the middle of the list not at the bottom."

* This has been bothering me for some time, which makes little sense because I consider kindness to be one of the most important things in life, so why would I not want to be considered kind? I think the root of it may have to do with how we view success in our culture. Successful people tend to be unkind and ruthless. Kindness has a flaccidity. This is ridiculous and I should get over it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


On Sunday I found myself in the comfortable red chair of church, listening to one of our parishioners talk to the children about earthworms and mealy bugs. He stood with his back to the congregation, with the children all lined up on the low step in front of him. One twiddled with a shirt hem, another pulled up a slouching sock while listening to the man's questions about light. He reminded me of my own father in stature and dress -- tweed jacket, tan pants, a white beard, glasses. He asked the children what the song This Little Light of Mine meant, and what was good about light, and then when responses slimmed he moved on to mealy bugs and earthworms, and why they love the dark. He got the kids to think about the meaning of the lyrics to a song they hear every Sunday as they are ushered out of church and into their religious education classes.

His talk to the adults in the congregation was about meaning, and he framed it in the idea of metaphor and how metaphor enhances our understanding of the world through the use of the sensory. A few weeks before I had a short conversation with him in the hallway between the sanctuary and the church office, and he said that he was not going to include any poetry in his sermon, and was a little apologetic about it, which reminded me further of my father, who was not a man for poetry. When I was in my twenties, I had a short talk with my dad about the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. My mother found a copy of A Few Figs From Thistles, and my dad, being the avid reader that he was, picked it up off the kitchen counter and read it. He liked some of the poems he said. What bothered him about poetry was having to read it over and over to get the meaning. Edna's* were accessible to him.

When the speaker made a visual representation of a timeline from the beginning of time ("this window and wall on the left") to the present ("the paint on the wall on the right"), and marked the beginning of humans on earth (right by the piano which is about six feet from the wall on the right), and then the start of language (still closer to the wall on the right from the piano), I was transported to the Smithsonian Museums and their visual timelines for science and history exhibits, and dwarfed again by the thought of just how new we are to the world. Without language, there is no meaning, because without language there is no word meaning, no word idea, not word thought, no word tweed, no word father. We make meaning out of everything we see, feel, hear, taste, and smell**.

My mind kept wandering in spite of his wonderful talk, or perhaps because of his talk and the ideas in it. His family sat in the first two rows of chairs -- sons and wife, daughter-in-law, all rapt in his words. I kept looking over at them, and thinking of my dad and how when I had my first real poetry reading he and my mother sat in the audience, and he stared at his hands and rarely looked up. I didn't know whether I wanted him to look up, or keep looking at the map of his hands, but I knew I wanted him to understand my poems and to understand me.

When Sunday's sermon was over, the speaker's family led the congregation in a bouquet of applause, which was followed by a few minutes of silent meditation where I listened to the heat ping and creak from the radiators and wished my own father were there so I could hold his hand and squeeze it.

Then I remembered the moment just before children's time started that morning. When the children were called up by the speaker to have a seat in front of him, a boy about 12 years old leapt up and ran from his half-seated position at the invisible prompting from some adult in the back and questioned, "Wait a minute ... I'm not a child anymore?!?"

* I have a cat named Edna, named for the poet. She's 16, very dotty in her old age, and walks a little sideways to go forward. She is very much like a poem.

** My daughter mocked me post-service while I was talking with a friend about the scent of the local casino. "It smells like a combination of bus exhaust and cheap perfume. Probably something they clean with, but certainly it's the scent of desperation," I said, and she chimed in with, "She's always coming up with stuff like that. 'It's tastes like attic!' or 'You know the smell of toast and the inside of an old book? Like that.'"

Friday, January 22, 2010


Connections of thoughts and ideas paired with phone calls and emails have been buzzing like a well-tuned guitar this week. I'm not sure how this happens, but I love it when it does.

Earlier in the week I was going over the books on the shelf above my "must-be-right-next-to-my-desk" shelf. These are books that I love, but that aren't as important for me to have right at hand. One of them is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. It was a gift given to me by my parents in 1998, and I went through the 12-weeks of exercises in creativity in 1999. I remember feeling energized by the Artist Dates, and well-disciplined with the Morning Pages, so I gave some thought to starting it up again. But that was it. I thought about it.

A day or so later my sister wrote me an email about some nail polish I sent to her for Christmas, and she shared that she had joined with a group of women who were doing The Artist's Way exercises. She was already enjoying it, and having the other people working at it too seemed helpful.

This email was a call to action for me. I wrote a long email of my own inviting a group of people to participate in a free 12-week "Creative Cluster" workshop at the studio using The Artist's Way. So far there are six signed up to start, two tentative, and one is inviting a friend. I received some really lovely emails back too -- some people were familiar with the book, others were not, some had just started the book's exercises up again after having tried it years ago they said and my email arrived at the right time. Shared synchronicity. Spreading the positive. Lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

I am looking forward to reading the book again, and sharing it with others. This morning I began my Morning Pages and I already feel more creative energy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Mezzanine

I am completely in love with Nicholson Baker's style of writing in his first novel, "The Mezzanine." Detailed, sensory, heavily footnoted stream-of-consciousness. Minutiae on a pedestal. Delicious descriptions of straws, magazines, paper bags, and the way working a stapler feels. This reader is not sad there is no plot. She revels in it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Checking Yourself out on The FacePlace

A friend and I had a marathon phone conversation today. Three hours. We used speakerphone. With your hands free you can type, search for a book on Bessie Pease Guttman on the shelf, or wash a couple of dishes. Brilliant. Some technologies are delightful. Others are not.

Our conversation ranged from writing and the procrastination of writing (how we can build up projects so much in our heads they become perfect and so impossible to put on paper), how writing for an audience isn't really what it's all about, how lighting a candle is better than cursing the darkness, the peril of being too needy, our children, our husbands, and then finally, Facebook. I've come to the conclusion it's a technology no one really needs.

We agreed that everyone else's lives look so much more interesting than ours on Facebook. Losing 45 minutes of time browsing the FacePlace pages of others means opening ourselves up to looking at other lives as if they were more interesting than our own. They aren't. Clicking our way into and out of the doors of Facebook's pages leave us feeling empty, sad, and worthless. There is nothing fulfilling or rewarding about it at all. Late at night you may find yourself knee deep in a friend-of-a-friend's photo album thinking "If only I had a bunch of friends like that. They all look so happy!" or "Maybe I should lose some weight?" or "Why wasn't I invited to that party?" It's a downward spiral of bad feelings and general malaise. You log off feeling like you just ate a pizza, some Cheetos, and drank several Cokes all on your own.

One of the rules to Marketing with Social Media is this: If your website doesn't push a vice (think 7 deadly sins here and see which one or ones apply to FacePlace), no one will visit it.

So here I am editing this rant of a post in a space where I feel safer because no one but my mother and the occasional true friend reads it, and I'm pretty sure they love me, warts and all. I'd rather be read less than trapped in a whirlpool of fun mirrors.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mood Swing

The patio chandelier holds up empty votive cups as the last afternoon sun fills the hollows and glints off their rounded edges. Last weeks snow leisures on the grass and stones of the garden path. Spring is a long way off, and we're in this for the long haul. A teacher friend of ours said the other day after we asked about the return to school, "Well, now there's a long wait until another break." This made me wonder what part or parts of my life am I just waiting for until my next holiday.

I enjoy the sparceness of January -- a month where eyesight becomes suddenly attuned to fingerprints on the mirror, flecks of dirt in the carpet, stacks of useless bills, and extraneous words hanging in the air. The world balances its checkbook now and stretches a rubberband around everything that felt out of control.

For all the enjoyment of the blue light, the extra lamps I purchased the other day to banish the darkness, the scent of cookies baking, the snuggly cats ... I am crinkly. I had to get myself out of the house today to swing on a park swing, feel the frozen ground under my inappropriately slippered feet, and let the wind push itself through my bad mood. On the swing all I thought about was how much I think about how I will write about this or that. The snow on the grass, that blue van in among all the tan cars, the wind. I think and think and sometimes feel like I'm missing out on the living experience because I am too busy holding the thought in my head. I think about the feel of the river pebble in terms of words, and forget about the feel of the river pebble in terms of its pleasant texture in my hand. How much does this matter or not?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Entrances and Exits

I can't think of a better way to start of a new year than the multi-sensory learning experience of working in the theatre. The past two months have been spent in a state of semi-realism; a shadowy backdrop of dances, memorized dialogues that suddenly snapped together into meaningful conversations, and objects that waited for the energy of hands. Last night was the final performance of Gaslight Theatre's "Dancing at Lughnasa" by Brian Friel. I played the eldest of the Mundy sisters, Kate. What thrills me about theatre is the transience of it all -- the little realities that we create and then strike. I developed a routine for six evenings that fit around the set and the timing of each performance that included time in front of a lit mirror to put on makeup and pin my hair into a style of the late-1930's, the drinking of copious amounts of water, laughter with the rest of my sisters in the cast and the practicing of dialect with them, a trip around the set to check props, and sweaty-handed prayer and notes in the hallway. Between acts, I had a path to get from the set to the dressing room (for more water and face powder) and back again -- a very real, but very temporary routine. Backstage, I rolled my shoulders back, tilted my head like an accipiter, and firmed up my jaw to get into character. I lifted two noisy shopping bags at the exact same time every night when the stage creaked under another actor's footsteps. Kate's character will remain the same on the page, but will be played differently by every actor who has the opportunity. Now the parts of me that were taken over by Kate drift off like the last few notes of a waltz. It's time now to say goodnight.

I quietly dedicated every one of my performances to my father and grandmothers. When it was time for Kate to cry at the end of the second act during Michael's monologue, it wasn't difficult.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


A stuffed snowman still peeks out from underneath our flame-retardant Christmas tree. Epiphany passed yesterday and I am behind on January's sweep up of December's indulgences, but I feel no blast of shame. The melted LP candy dish overflows with chocolates (please come over and have one!). On the piano two silver reindeer stand in a frozen prance next to a pipe cleaner candy cane house my daughter made in the 4th grade.

It's not laziness that keeps the wreath on the door, it's activity. I have an older friend who once said, "We never wanted to be home too much. Home was home base to our kids, a safe place to return to after being out exploring the world of their interests." I think I paraphrased there, but the spirit of his comment is true. I liked his idea about home a lot. Austere, cold, overly-tidy homes have never appealed to me, and neither have ones that are heaped with dirty dishes and magazines. There's a level of comfort you get from, well, not getting too crazy about where the toaster is placed.
The toaster will be fine on the counter for the afternoon while you go out to explore. It performed its duties for you this morning, and you were grateful for the mechanical kindness. Now you are nourished, it said. Go make something worthwhile out of the day.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I have writing to do, which means I have less social media in my future. The amount of time spent checking updates, responding to messages, commenting, and posting photos of my cats has just gotten out of control. If you know me, you can come and visit and pet the cats, have a cup of coffee, talk to me face to face, and enjoy the cheer of our house. If you don't, maybe we will meet sometime at an event and become friends. Until then, I will be only checking into Facebook to update the Paper Kite Press Fan Page and to leave a the occasional comment.

You can find me here (I will be writing more blog posts), or through email, or a phone call. I'm not disappearing, just backing off from something that is way too distracting.

"Actually all our electronic communication devices—e-mail, Facebook feeds, texts, Twitter—are feeding the same drive as our searches. Since we're restless, easily bored creatures, our gadgets give us in abundance qualities the seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. Novelty is one. Panksepp says the dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away. No wonder we call it a CrackBerry."

from the Slate article Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that's dangerous