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.

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:

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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“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.


 …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.

Navel gazing

I want what everyone wants. A good story. A good story.

There’s the rant.  Then there’s the whine.

I gave up part-time whining a decade or two ago when I realized nobody was interested.  I reassessed.  Now when I need to whine, I say this:  “I need to whine for three minutes. Is this OK with you?”  Hearing “three minutes”, which seems reasonable – I mean, a person can put up with anything short of physical torture for three minutes – and whoever’s on the receiving end says, “Fine.”  So I let loose.  I’m respectful of the time.

I need to whine for three minutes.

I’m emboldened by an article in the Wall Street Journal.  So, some background:  I’m at the breakfast table this morning, I open the Review section, which I read first, just before the book review, the theatre review, and anything by Peggy Noonan, who is brilliant and reasoned, and I see a column by Sam Sacks. He’s reviewing Nell Freudenberger’s latest.  Ho hum, I say to myself.  I’ve already read a review of that book, and I’m no closer to buying (or reading) it now than I was then.  There was something too smooth, too urbane, too circling, too meaninglessly psychological …. too too about her first book.  I stopped reading halfway through.  I was happy not to have paid good money for it.  I couldn’t understand the hype around it.

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Writing again, finding “the zone”

Returning to writing after a couple months away is like going back to the gym.  It’s hard.  “The zone” has disappeared, and I have to search for it, work for it, find it again. It’s not fun.  I don’t like it.

I pick a day.  Then warm-ups help.

Read somebody I like, preferably something I’ve read many times — this morning, Somerset Maugham; old, fusty to some, but restful, rhythmic; a short novel about place and characters who are not in the beginning introspective, and then are forced to be.

Read something I’ve written; read it aloud, and don’t change a word; just listen.

Write a twenty-minute free-write on something banal.  Say, ripping off pantyhose.  Or fishing a mouse out of the pool. How’s that? Lift the spirit, get down, work the muscles, let the words run from the right brain through the fingers and flow onto the page. Feel that? Wow! I have an occasional smile now.

Ah! Read John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story for inspiration, for wisdom, for craft, or just because he makes sense. How does anyone write without a good, recent dose of Truby?

Then the day’s real work-out:  read the scary story, the one I’m working on, the dark monster, the one where the middle’s a muddle. Read it from beginning to end, read it aloud, punch up Verdi in the background, keep some distance, put one little checkmark next to each jarring bump-in-the-road. Read on. Read on. And don’t frown.

Have veggies for lunch. Check the Weather Channel for Hurricane Irene.  (Are the Outer Banks safe?  Should I stack the lawn chairs, bring in the wind chime?) Look out a window. Follow the chipmunks and the hawks. Take a walk around the yard — left, right, left, right. Move.

Then, start with the next chapter and write. One word at a time. “The zone” returns slowly.  As does the joy.

Staying in “the zone” means no more month-long breaks. And it’s good to be back. But getting here’s a bitch.