The Gift of a Question

No hurry …

ganeshaAfter months of neglect of the page and the pen, an unusually long hiatus, a writer-friend said to me, “You must find the time to write. You must write!”

I ponder her words: Writing is so much a part of the writer’s soul that when we don’t write we shallow out, we disconnect from what’s real, we lose the thread. We neglect the balance point between our two natures, a betrayal. The worst of our many selves takes over, and we begin to believe that’s who we are.

Danté placed the betrayer at the lowest circle of hell. Ganesha sacrificed a tusk — the pen! — so that the writer could write.

Some essays pop out of the frontal lobe–opinion easily expressed. That’s product. Others come slowly–a new search prompted by fresh insight, initiated by a question that nags. The early draft takes on levels and sub-text; it gathers both detritus and essential matter; it changes direction; theme appears and disappears; maps are drawn, destroyed, redrawn, followed, abandoned. This is new territory. (And why would one want to revisit the same familiar places anyway?)

Essential to breaking new ground on paper is the pondering. Doubt may hijack a week, a month, but what drives us forward is the question and the creative impulse that cares for it. All this takes time. No hurry.

Good news


“Clear! Seven Theories of Space,” an essay printed in the December 2014 issue of Passages North, has been nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net Anthology.

This essay, in the writing for three years, justifies my faith in slow writing. Not that I could write any other way …

Here’s the link:

Thank you to the editors and staff of Passages North!

Watch Your Bow Wake

boat wakeSign at the marina in Wickford, Rhode Island

An average-sized lobster boat pulling ten knots in an average-sized cove will kick out a bow wake of thirty-one waves. Here on the dock at Quahog Cove, writing but distracted, I count them. Laws of physics are at work here.

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The flute reed remembers …

Carolina wrenWhere’s home for you?

Me, here: a dynamic attention brought to the moment, composing the writing-to-be as close to the impression as possible, allowing no thought—that officious intermeddler—to fill the space into which innocent material will be given, new, as if this moment has never happened before:

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Writing the collage one shard at a time: messages along the road

“Collage is pieces of other things. Their edges don’t meet.”
“… the many becoming one, with the one never fully resolved because of the many that continue to impinge upon it.”
“Story seems to say that everything happens for a reason, and I want to say,
No, it doesn’t.” 
“A mosaic, made out of broken dishes, makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s made out of broken dishes, in fact flaunts it.”
 “The question is not What do you look at? but What do you see?”

David Shields, Reality Hunger

See what happens when shards — found objects — aPottery shardsre slowly added:


Here:   I read this somewhere recently–“Times Square must be an extraordinary place to visit if you can’t read.”



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“Clear!” has found a home at PASSAGES NORTH

“Hefty literary magazine will keep you entertained through the winter.”
The Review Review

pelican“Clear! Seven Theories of Space” now appears in Bonus Content of PASSAGES NORTH, Northern Michigan University’s literary magazine.  Here’s the link:

“Clear!” is essay — an experimental piece that looks for the connection between lyric, meditative, and personal essay. The seven sections, each a prose poem, touch at their edges, but only just.

It’s about Cessnas and spaceships, pelicans and thrushes and hawks, whelks and waves, pots and pens, and chatty storytellers. It’s a journey inward.

And check out this link for an excellent review of PASSAGES NORTH:

The Goldilocks Zone

Search for a place that’s ‘just right’ … says the fairy tale.

Looking for a plgoldilocksace to write is like the astrophysicist’s search for a planet in the Goldilocks Zone. A trial-and-error pursuit that requires some legwork. The perfect place: not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry, light aplenty but not blinding, habitable but not overrun, a quiet background buzz but not a cacophony, an environment to like, not much to dislike, few distractions but services available, a cellphone to switch off, letting in only the few, a plug and a wi-fi connection. A place that was there yesterday and will be there tomorrow, undisturbed, never mind bankruptcies, corporate takeovers, or global oil prices. A place I can count on. Forever.

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Jam them together, theme arises

I want powerful, I want lyrical, I want the unexpected,
I want under-the-surface, dive-beneath subtext.

The new essay baffles and delights.whelk

It’s not like fiction:  cause and effect, narrative arc, character development. Or like journalism: who, what, how, where, when. Both want answers.

Essay circles, questions, sometimes doesn’t know and–how refreshing!–admits it. And then the braided essay can run along two tracks at once, each unrelated. Or so it seems.

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After the season

They whisper and laugh among themselves: they’ve had a good season.

burning-bushThe ladies of the woods have dropped their green maple, ash, and elm gowns. They stand together in silence behind the pool fence, naked to the forest floor, arms limbed out as if still in their sassy scarves. Swaying like Mandarins, they recall summer’s social season when they ringed us on three sides and we stood in awe of their dancing.

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Reviving August

One can actually get self-forgivingly bored—then allow oneself to be pushed by some creative impulse into something new and deeply satisfying.


Did you read the column in The Wall Street Journal this week? Ruined, the columnist said, August has been ruined–traditional summer activities curtailed by school openings in mid-August rather than in September as in days of old. August isn’t the month it used to be, he wrote.

It is for me. Finally.

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How to pick a peony

The expansion-of-time part is important.
Never mind that this is about new impressions
—it is, you know—
but don’t analyze for once; just enjoy.

On Tuesday, ants crawpeonyl the tight globes. Dozens of ants, dozens of buds.  It is said that ants are essential for the opening of these tightly bound promises, that they sip the nectar, somehow loosening the grip of the green glove-like coverings. I don’t know, but I assume Nature knows, and I don’t interfere.

On Wednesday, I check on the peony bed from my upstairs writing room.  I think of paint blobs dropped from a higher place, pooling in small cups in a lower place.

On Thursday, the sun licks at them, smothers them all day.  They like that. They heat up from the outside in. It’s almost as if they are ready to yawn. They’ll open quickly now. I stay at home, check them often.

Peonies bloom in silence and in dignity, and to catch their annual four-day show, you have to pay attention.  You have to be there. If your attention is taken elsewhere, the blooms have come and gone.  You wait a year.  The rare gift of hot pink, snow white, and deep magenta blooms calls for deference, and you feel the need perhaps for an early summer garden ritual that expands time and deepens presence.

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The risk of the rue

I sneak up on risk now, take a long look, consider, expect clarity, bring some wisdom to bear. Not like the old days …

GumboWith the thermometer at 40 degrees–an improvement over last week–and the sun moving around and coming up where I can see it, I’m feeling like a Paul Prudhomme gumbo.

The rue’s the risk.  It was Wynton Marsalas who said, Without a good rue “you might have yourself a killin’ soup, but you ain’t got no gumbo.”

The rue scares me to death. I fret the whole time it’s cooking.  I stir and sweat and count the minutes.  I feel the tension in my shoulders, my face, my stomach.  You know: the places in the body where emotions live.  One second too long and the fire alarm trips, the firemen arrive in the big red truck and say the usual: Oh, you burned dinner. They don’t get the risk of the rue.

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“LuLu” has found a home at Prick of the Spindle

Gathering Storm“Your story is so well written, I really felt it deserves this honor.” Cynthia Reeser, editor, Prick of the Spindle

A favorite online literary journal — Prick of the Spindle — has accepted a story I completed this winter.  It’s about my paternal grandmother, who was a piece of work.

“LuLu’s Southern Beach House School for Wily Deceivers” has been chosen to appear, exclusively, in the journal’s Kindle quarterly issue.

It’s been said that grandmother stories don’t make it into print.  It’s been said that creative writing instructors’ and literary journal editors’ eyes roll back in their heads when presented with one of these sentimental relics to read. But this story is fun … and perhaps a little disturbing.  LuLu’s a memorable character. We should all be tutored by a grand dame with an agenda. You can’t make this stuff up.

Check out the story if you have the time. An excerpt is included on About My Stories — Published. And if you have comments, I’d enjoy hearing them.

Such a big deal …

… her father’s middle name is MightyOne.

My electric mixer flew apart yesterday, mid-preparation for a big event, so Husband and I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to buy a new one.  Shopping together for an appliance, large or small, reminds me so much of his mother and mine.  His mother read Consumer Reports, wrote down all the salient detail in a memo pad, visited several stores, read every word on each box, and bought the best, with a 20% coupon, while my mother ran to the local Sears and parted with her money, reluctantly, for the cheapest model she could find.  She was back home in less than an hour.

So, we’re at B, B, and B yesterday. I’ve chosen the 18-dollar model in as many seconds.  He’d read Consumer Reports before leaving the house; now he’s not only reading every word on the model he’s chosen, a doozy at 70 bucks—I mean this is a mixer, and I use it maybe twice a year—he’s also punching up on his iPhone comparisons on mixers within a thirty-mile radius.

“This one’s quieter and will last,” he says, “and it has a dough hook.”

A dough hook.  Swell.

“This one’s 18 bucks,” I say, “and why do we care if it’s quiet. I won’t use it often.”

What do dough hooks do exactly?

He gives me a mildly amused look and puts the 70-buck model in the cart.  Later, Daughter, who knows what a dough hook does, uses the mixer. It practically purrs. Its three technologically advanced attachments are packed in their own little glove, which has assigned pockets. It has a digital display. She’s further convinced that her father’s middle name is MightyOne.


I sit down with a cup of tea and a cookie, and read the directions on the box.

Dough hook …


 …there is a silence, not filled too quickly, lest the response be shallow, ordinary, known. Go there with a new question … go there.

The spotlight’s on in the backyard; the light in the bedroom’s off.  I watch the wind, made visible by snowflakes. Expect 8 to 10 inches tonight, we’re told.

The word driven comes to mind–snowflakes driven down like rain, perpendicular.  Or pulled down like gravity on meteorites–white, dragging  their neon ribbons.  Then a change in the mind of the wind: snowflakes waft like May flies in a swarm, short-lived.  Then that testy wind laughs.  A cyclone in white explodes in silence.

I think of other silent spaces.

There’s the silence in some books.  In Marilynn Robinson–I’m thinking of Home or Giliad–and I imagine her writing new lines early in the morning, before she uses language for anything else. No talking, no listening to others talk, no listening to herself talk.  You know, that associative chatter in the head.  Just stillness.  Essential to craft. She places pockets of potential silence at the end of sentences, of paragraphs.  Can you see them?

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“Claws” now at Milk Sugar Journal

bearAfter five years of writing, I decided I’d might as well submit something, so I submitted “Claws,” a true story of tall trees, of bears, both real and imagined, and of memory that bursts forth upon the scent of wet and matted leaves.   Accepted by Milk Sugar, an online literary journal, it’s currently there for you to read.

The website is not easy to find.  Try

Frankly, as soon as I read it online — my first read in three months — I began to revise it. Isn’t that how we are?  Isn’t that what we do?  Isn’t that at the center of how we live with the editor-voice in our heads who never shuts up?

Still, the first one is sweet. And real bears are scary.

Two Days of Thanksgiving

It’s an escape-from-the-kitchen, four-person, no-pressure, six-hour marketplace stroll through 21st century Northeastern culture—and without expectations.

Thanksgiving — my favorite holiday.

No ToDo list to labor over.  No gifts to buy, wrap, and mail.  No red, green, and silver decorations to haul out and pack away.  No debate about whether to use tinsel this year.  Or not. Just set the table with Mama’s porcelain, silver and crystal. Then cook tried-and-true recipes while listening to the year’s first playing of The Messiah (loud; everyone cooking gets to sing in parts; you don’t cook, you don’t sing), light the candles everywhere, and gather family around the big table (“…and feed our souls on thy heavenly grace…”).

Eat favorite foods: My favorite dressing with 45 ingredients. Southern spoon bread (Christiana Campbell’s, Williamsburg).  Cranberry sauce with Port (more than a generous pouring).  Pecan pie (more than a ladylike sufficiency).  More.  More.  More.

Get someone else to do dishes, take a brisk walk, nap and/or read Jo Ann Beard’s In Zanesville throughout the Patriots game (ignore the roar) and, later, with a glass of chilled pinot grigio, settle under a throw, watch a Masterpiece rerun, skip dinner, go to bed early, promising not to eat again … ever.

The day after Thanksgiving—my second favorite holiday:  go to the mall (do not laugh!) with nary a ToDo list in sight. It’s an escape-from-the-kitchen, four-person, no-pressure, six-hour marketplace stroll through 21st century Northeastern culture—and without expectations.

Look at people. There are fewer white people, more overweight people, more black tights and long sweaters, less make-up, more hair, more tatoos, more short skirts. Thus, more ass, which brings on interesting escalator-ride comments in our foursome.

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She is mooring of a far-flung kind.

starAt 2:46 in the morning she breaks clear from behind black cutouts of maple and elm. The room is black; the sky, a slate gray wash of preparation. Suddenly she is there, wearing that crown, spikey and star-white, and the eastern sky is hers. A stunning appearance. I realize I have been waiting. I shift my head on the pillow, bringing her to the right angle of the lowermost windowpane. I want to see where she goes, again, and at what angle, again, and how quickly she moves, again. I do not tire of this.

She trails Jupiter by only two hours along the planetary elliptical that, here, climbs at forty-five degrees. I use the black rectangle of window as reference, like high school geometry. She takes off, sliding up to the right, shot out of the sun’s memory and reflecting that light. Here and there, she disappears behind a grille, trailing that gauzy hem of light. She blinks out. A powerful tease.

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Wine with Everything

“Much happens when we’re not there.” — Window-Blind — Denise Levertov

My what-to-pack list is not long. This will be a weekend of retreat.  Simple needs: dental floss, pajamas, jeans, a skirt, t-shirts, a towel. No hairdryer. One pair of shoes.  At weak moments, I’m already missing my hairdryer.

I worry about my toenail polish.  It’s my favorite.  Revlon #711, “Wine with Everything.“ It’s not bubble-gummy or that awful purple stuff. Rather, it reminds me of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon.  My feet take on that glow of sophistication and dark mystery.  Too much information?  Well, anyway …

I worry.  People with agendas will be at the retreat; there will be those leave-your-shoes-at-the-door sitting meditations and group gatherings. “Wine with Everything” will draw everyone’s attention down to my feet.  There’ll be social activists; they’ll assume I’m a Republican.  Environmentalists; they’ll assume I endanger the planet with chemicals required for toe upkeep. Then the PETA people; they’ll look at my feet and think about rabbits and mice and monkeys dying in dark cages.  And international spiritual folks — the French, the Brits, the Israelies, the Spanish — and they’ll see me as a fraud, too married to the world of appearances.  All that harping about American ego.

I’m packing my pajamas, and I decide they’re wrong—I’m an Independent, I recycle, I have a spiritual practice.  I’m tossing in my alarm clock, and I decide they’re right—I don’t trust Obama, I don’t always check the triangles on the bottom of hand lotion bottles, and I can be a serious backslider.  I’m squeezing shampoo into something smaller, and thinking these folks need to get a grip.  I’m thinking I need to get a grip.

“Environmentalists and social activists and PETA people and international spiritual folk will be there … all harping about American ego.”

I can’t stop thinking.

Twenty minutes before I must leave for the eight-hour flight, I remove “Wine with Everything.”  My toes look striped of interest, of energy, of summer.  I think of slugs.  But I’m safe from risk, from judgment, from worry.

At seven o’clock the next evening, a hundred people sit on cushions.  The leader of the meditation sitting enters.  At the door she whispers “Bon jour” to someone she knows. She settles herself on her cushions, faces us, and smiles.  She is wearing “Wine with Everything” or something very close.

I seem to have dealt with the wrong question.

Photo credit: Scott Cunningham

In full aerial dogfight mode

In memory, there’s nothing so thrilling as the sudden pulling up into an arc — those Gs! — and flying upside down, hanging from straps with the earth 3,000 feet below and the blue Pacific stretching forever.

Something tiny darts through my peripheral vision.  I put my book down and go to the back door.  A ruby-throated hummingbird is in full aerial dogfight mode.

The enemy: a nuthatch minding his own business on the trunk of the sycamore and a skittish chickadee hunting seed on the patio slates.

The hummer is having none of either.  I assume she’s protecting her young in a nearby nest.  Out!  Out of my territory!  I watch with fascination her zips, hovers, banks, and dives. The sound is that of a tiny motor — no, more like a tiny fan on HI.  Her attacks, beak first, are aimed at the heads of the interlopers.  She doesn’t miss.  She’s a missile.

In my younger years when there was nothing I wouldn’t try at least once, I did some aerobatic flying with a friend who was equally as experimental.  An R&D engineer who knew his physics, he’d draw the maneuvers on paper.  Inside loops, outside loops, lazy 8s.  I’d see on his face the thrill of it, and he probably read expectation on mine.  “Let’s do it!” I’d say.

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