Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I just finished

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. I was immediately hooked. Impressed. Because that is what I want to do too. I really liked the ideas in it. Frankie becomes interested in the "unequal gaze" of the establishment, as described by Focault. She calls this the Panopticon(as, I think, Focault did before her). Not only is that a fantastic idea, it also has a fantastic steampunk feel to it(I just learned what steampunk meant yesterday, thanks to The Rad Librarian) (vacations are good for learning things). Frankie repeats this word through the story at the same time that she begins creating fake words out of taking apart real ones and creating their opposites. She becomes more and more interested in being subversive, and even her language becomes subversive. E. Lockhart managed to write about big ideas clearly, concisely and quickly. Feminism and art weaves the way through there. I was not completely satisfied with the end. Perhaps the transformation of Frankie was not enough--that is what the Narrator told us the story was about. I wanted a little more of her by the end. I saw what she did and how she did it and even why she did it, but I don't believe the other characters changed enough for me. Perhaps they saw her as a different character but they didn't have any epiphanies of their own and I wanted that. But is there something wrong in that. Perhaps that was too big for this one book. Perhaps E. Lockhart saved that for the next one? I will read it if she did.

As Always (enjoying time off),

Monday, December 22, 2008

Blogging Links

Slate has an article on how to blog. Thanks to Elizabet Bird at The Library Journal for the link. It seems to be generally good advice to writers. I always get good links from Elizabeth Bird. A big thank you to her and her regular blogging.

As Always(about to get packing),

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another Digression

I know, I know it is not on my list either. I had been waiting for What I saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell. I got it yesterday and now I am finished. It won the National Book Award for young fiction and her clean prose is to be admired. If you read about her online, you quickly realize she must have put in her 10,000 hours to become an expert writer(as per Gladwell's theory in Outliers)(not that I have read his theory--I just like the idea of it)(I may not even have the theory right). She has written over 100 books under other names. I loved how What I saw and How I Lied was narrated. Evie told her story from a period just after the events in the story(1947 post-war Florida) and that perspective and foreknowledge of what is to come provide the tension for the tale. Nicely done!

As Always(in admiration),

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I think I am in Love

Do you know Polly Horvath? I just started reading The Canning Season. See here.

It has a kind of Roald Dahl feel. Same dark sort of magical content but for a little older people, more swearing, more adult content. I first heard of her from Sarah Miller, of course. She was not terribly keen on her, but still made me want to read it. I love that. You know I have a whole list of things to read(see below), but I got it home from the library today and I opened it out of curiosity. I haven't put it down(except for Tea Time with my kids. and doing the dishes. and just now putting them to bed. and to blog. You get the picture.) So that is the way of my library books. Some lie languishing and some get devoured.

As Always(thrilled),

Monday, December 8, 2008


I am a spelling degenerate. I am coming clean. But sometimes I notice and change things. If you noticed before I did, I say, good for you. And I sorta wish I were you. If I haven't noticed at all... I should apologize for my mistakes. Sorry.

As always(not careful enough),

Feel This(a Library Queue)

Here Sarah Miller put images of her "to be read file." I don't want to copy her entirely, but I love that she does that. So I shall post my reading wish list(or how about my library queue). Because there is something so tactile (it's not at all tactile) to putting actual book covers up there for you to see.

This is my Library queue:
Tender MorselsLittle Brother

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Cycler by Laurel Mclaughlin

Now just because I posted those titles and pictures, it does not mean that I will actually read them, nor does it mean that I have listed my wishes in their entirity. It's just to wet your whistle, and it may give you feel for what is to come. (In that way perhaps it is tactile.)

As Always(making this up as I go),

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dear Stephenie Meyer,

It all started with your book. I resisted it at first. Perhaps in the way a vampire with morals resists feeding on humans. Not to say that there is anything amoral about your books. I had just suspected that your book was no good for me. And once I did begin to read it, it was a bit like free-basing. Like wanting something just beyond the prose, turning each page, knowing it is totally unhealthy. How do you make me want more so much? Thank you for Bella and Edward, for what is forbidden between them, for your skill at gripping the reader. I hope someday that someone wants to read my book as much as so many people want to read yours.
As always (riveted),

Here's a related but side thank you:
Dear Courtney Summers,
Thank you for this blog entry. It made me laugh. And I read the whole long thing--maybe you've got something that Stephanie Meyer's got. Thank you also for putting your chapters out there to read, for free. I read them all too. I liked your narrator. She's a lot more mysterious than Bella.
As Always(maybe just this once),

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dear Sarah Miller,

I do so love your blog. I love that you give us a taste of what books are to come. I love that you post what you are currently reading. I have got the fever for so many books from your blog. I'm hoping to emulate you in some way.

Thanks for your time and effort and sending the words out there,

As always(grateful),

Look at my book shelf--Redux

bookshelf 12/3/08

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is prominently displayed because I love it and it was most recently finished. Nice bright reflection off Impossible by Nancy Werlin. You can't read almost any of the titles. I have to work on my photography skills. Can you see Paper Towns is in there by John Green. Madapple by Christina Meldrum. Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson. I haven't read that yet. And on the end a brilliant little book by Lisa Bullard--You Can Write a Story (my son sat down with paper and pen immediately upon returning with it from the library). The others are adult books that I haven't read yet. See that pink one that is a biography of Jane Austen. The tall blue Michael Chabon.

I am deeply indebted to the Minneapolis Public Library (now Hennepin County Library--I have not yet noticed much of a difference). They let me order the books on line and walk down to my local branch and borrow them for free. It is heaven.

The beginning of the beginning.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I just finished this.
I thought it was fabulous.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Words, oh, words.

Okay, I haven't been here for a while but I'm not going to write about that now.

Junot Diaz--he is what I'm going to write about and how he has captured my imagination. I listened to this Barnes and Noble podcast where he was interviewed. If I may paraphrase, he described his mind as odd. He said he has a "head for structures, how to loop back and forth in time, how to cross distance, bring this character in and that character out, not so much as a series of words but as a series of bizarre geometric blocks in [his] head." In fact he said he can look at the blocks for two different chapters and know whether they will work together. He also said this way of thinking would never get him a date. I don't know about that, I have to say the way he thinks turns me on. It makes me want to get out the chalk and draw on the asphalt of the parking lot next to my house. Draw big pictures of the chapters of my book and look at them next to each other. Or maybe I need to get out the tinker toys and build three dimensional models.

When I taught creative writing to college students I gave them the assignment to somehow create a visual representation of their written piece. I remember that some of the kids thought it an odd assignment for a writing class. Actually I remember that one guy with the baseball cap and a scowl on his face. He shoved his notebook in his bag and muttered something to his neighbor before he left the classroom.

As part of my graduate program I had to take an art class. I think the point was to be creative in another discipline, be creative without the concreteness of words. And that makes sense to me. You work with words whatever kind of thinking you do. And to be creative you have to liberate yourself from a lot of those ridiculous thoughts. The part of that drawing class that I liked best was when we did five minute gesture drawings of models. Maybe it was even less than five minutes, but you had a limited amount of time and strokes to get the impression of a pose down on paper. There was no time to be perfect, there was no time for perspective, just long strokes of your arm across the page.

I want to capture my book like that. I want to capture thoughts like that. Ideas. Instead of trying to capture them in words first, I would like to stroke them out with my arm. Make the gesture of the idea, the essence of it and the complication of it in stokes and peaks and valleys and texture and then string the words together. Because once words come into the picture then all the rules follow.

Some days I feel it in me the great vacuum of space, an idea like a constellation revolves there. My breath seems to rotate it and that's when I pick up my pen and try to render it--in words. There's something so smooth about my insides until then. Like a well oiled machine. Like air the way the molecules move and split and surround everything it meets, but when the words get involved, then I jerk and convulse and sometimes lose the thought entirely. I'm filled with adrenaline. I sit on the edge of my seat. The pit of my stomach fills my chest. But if I could draw it. If only I could somehow mold it in clay. Somehow if it first had some other form, then I could translate it to words. Then perhaps, I wouldn't have this fear of losing it.

As always (breathing hard after writing this post),

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Here I am

Okay I am taking some time to blog. It's hard. I have been trying to work hard and the operative word is trying. I have a lot of time this week and I think there is such a thing as too much. I spend my time struggling and thinking I need to be doing it all the time. It's darn hard to do--submitting to the world. The writing and the ideas are fun for me. The hard part is letting go and becoming Heather, Jude or Michael or any of the other many characters. And then on the other side of that I feel like I better not complain. Thanks Josh, children, all other powers that be for the time to write. Thanks to the great, grungy, sexy elusive muse for the words that come. Thanks to meditation for the flow. Thanks to whoever came up with yoga. Thanks to Laurie who was my instructor today. Thanks to whatever readers are still out there.

As always (grateful, grateful, grateful, struggling, struggling, struggling),

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Freewrite Wednesday

tg goes to Clancy's meat market to get his vegetables. The vegetables are for his girl, but the meat is for him. He even just loves the raw smell of the place. He doesn't have to be a hunter here in this neighborhood. The food comes easy, someone else gathers it and at times even prepares it. It is not like the ice fields of home where being ferocious was the only way to meet your energy needs. This door is loose and old so it doesn't close all the way and he can easily slide his claws into the opening and pull the door back. The opening in the door makes the smell all the more enticing. That sliver of odor makes it's way into the air. tg can almost see it snaking through the air as if it is a cartoon scent. Those bears in cartoons seem to have no sense of self control. No, tg is not that kind of bear. He appreciates a good scent and it does make him salivate, but he is not about to loose himself to it. He will pick up the box of farm fresh vegetables and he will look it over. What can he make for the girl to eat today? And he will buy a treat for himself as well. He towers over the glass case. "Hello," says the skinny man with the goatee behind the counter. The man always wears a bow-tie and tg appreciates this attention to detail. Tg waves his paw. "One second I will get your box," the man heads into the back. Tg eyes the prepared bacon burgers and the spice rubbed flank stake, but he feels that today he would like to do it himself. The man returns, peering into the box. "They sent some kohlrabi today, and I think asparagus, radishes and some tender greens. Green garlic." The man gestures towards the fish section. "A treat today? I know you like the scallops." The man's eyebrows were raised and he had the smile on his face. A bear does not talk like a human. But to see tg's brown eyes was to know exactly what he was thinking. "The spice rub is very good, yes, and I do know you would like it but, you're right it would be fun for you to spice something yourself. Try the scallops. They would make a delicate meal with the asparagus and green garlic. I wish I was coming for dinner." He grabbed a huge handful of the white scallops and placed them on a sheet of paper. He added another handful. Looked at tg and asked, "Does that seem right?It would never do out on the ice fields, I know. But here," the man shook his head, "one doesn't need to work as hard."

A little freewriting antidote to the blues.
As always (or less),

Monday, June 9, 2008

Am I there yet?

Use the blog to see if I can get my head where I need it to be.

I come to work today. I start reading my words(it has been a weekend that has been word free). Right off the bat, I like them. I think they sound like natural speech, but my question is, did Micheal really say them? I sometimes feel so stuck between the writing and moving forward and the flow, which seems like knowing the inside of every one's head. Would Micheal say "there's nothing so glamorous about that"? He might. He's comfortable with Sandy and it is the end of a long speech and he is talking about his own tantrum. Yet the fact that I worry about it, does that mean no, he would not say it. And how easy would it be just to ditch those words all together? Easy perhaps. So I cut that line and see how it hangs together. But I still have to hear it. It feels like so much work to just hear the words in my head. I'm stuck again in that transition, throwing myself over the line, from this side, the side that writes emails and reads people's weblogs, to the other side, where I suffer with Heather and Michael.

Me: Michael, what would you say?
Michael: I am talking to sandy and I want him to think I am cool. Of course I would say glamorous. Kids books should have the word glamorous in them. And boys should say glamorous. So there.

Well, there you have it. My characters always talk to me like that when I ask them simple questions. Don't they want to be consulted? Perhaps it's me. Perhaps I am too sensitive

As always (closer than before),

Friday, June 6, 2008


I started to post yesterday and decided to stop. Can you believe that? I decided I needed to go to work. Which is the case today too, but I will take a few moments to say I think this blog is in flux. It's time to transition to something more focused. It's like a writing project. It has to have its center, something that keeps me from flipping wildly about in space and also keeps me interested. The blog has been extremely useful in helping me find my way into a writing routine with the novel, but, as I found a sense of direction there, I lost it here. I also just read and article about blogging by Emily Gould who is a former editor for Gawker. The article is on the New York Times website. It is a heart wrenching account of "oversharing." It could be read as fair warning. As an editor of Gawker she was way deep in airing peoples dirty laundry and letting commenters go to town on it. But the tables turned. It is an interesting line that you watch over. She writes about getting hooked on the comments, the interaction. It seems to me that you have to be okay with writing into the void. But then what do you do when there is not one? What is the purpose? Is it a community you are organizing? Are you looking for internet fame? Are doing it because you enjoy it? Are you not suited for anything else? Does it just feel good? We'll see. It is food for thought.

As Always (late to work),

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sorry, not sorry

I have been reading other peoples blogs. And most other people that I read imbed Youtube videos in their blogs along with links and all that jazz. Through which I have found a lot of music and other blogs and people and things that are interesting. A lot of these people share useful information. Critiques of books. Stuff like that. It keeps it fun.

I am too overwhelmed with the novel to come up with anything useful. I am loathe to spend the initial half hour it will take to figure out how to imbed a video or anything else here. I don't even know if I could do that on my myspace--but I could for sure do it on my blogger account and probably there is just some way that blogger makes it easy, I just have to look through the widgets. But, alas, I don't have the time. So I will apologize to those of you that read me anyway. Sorry that I do not take the extra time to learn all the fun stuff. Perhaps after this draft, I will feel less desperate to get these pages done. Then I will share John Green and his Nerd Fighting Vlog. And Justine Larbalestier defined a lazy extrovert in her blog (someone who is happy to stay home and read because it is so much energy to get out the door, yet they are an animated and boisterous socializer). I've decided that I am the opposite--an energetic introvert. I'd much rather stay home and read and write and cook and garden and parent but my obligations keep me socializing. So for now I must put my introverted energies to work.

As always(someday I will be more),

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Right Action

Right action. I have been setting my intention for right action. It is hard to do the right thing. Sometimes it is even harder to know what the right thing is. Sometimes when you get really wrapped up in emotions, something that is really not right feels so right. Breathe. Neighborhood politics. See how far this blog has strayed from writing.

Right action in writing. Work. Put one finger before the next on the keys. Don't get swept off your feet by ideas, stick to the truth of the characters, the truth of the action. As Patricia Polacco says, "of course it is true, but it may not have happened." That is what good fiction is all about.

The thing is I know right action in writing. I have found my way through this draft I just have put in the hours and get there.

As always (on my way to work),

Friday, May 30, 2008


Writing Exercise:
1.Your character walks into a room full of people. See it as if watching through a camera lens.
2.Your character notices a person that she doesn't want to talk to. Notice that person and have a memory about that person.
3.The character thoughts returns to the room, focuses on some detail of it, and takes an action.

My character goes outside instead of coming in. She notices the people around her and notices the heat. And she sees her mom's sad face through a bus window and turns away from it. But she decides to take action. Which is introducing the end--things can look up from this. I breath a sigh of relief.

Where does Jane Austen come in.

I just started reading Falling Boy by Alison McGhee. So far I like a lot.

As always,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

to move freely

I have been setting my yoga intentions on Freedom of late. What do I mean by that? Well, an ease with which I tackle all the things that need doing. The doing is mindful not avoident. Letting go of the struggle. When I had started this blog I had achieved some sort of freedom in my thinking. That is when the lord of the book appeared and TG and I wrote a short story out of the blue. The writing was real easy for a while and then something happened to tie me back up again. The end of the school year perhaps. The onset of spring and the outside work--the gardening and the motley creative projects that we have piling up feel like a burden instead of a pleasure. It can be a little shift and all of a sudden my perspective is off and I have to keep reminding myself to get on track. I think I wrote about this before in taking pleasure. If I were a better blogger I would put a link here back to it. I have to face that I do not want to waste the time to learn. Heather waits at the other end of this blog.

At least the writing does not yet feel like a burden. But I need to begin paying attention. Okay, that's enough.

As always,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where we are at.

Got back on Monday from Rachel's cabin. Have been feeling a little insistent on working so it has been harder to take the time to blog. There is a part of me that knows this is not right thinking. That I am putting false deadlines on myself and I am not sure the intensity is helpful where process is concerned. But even though I recognize that, I keep doing it anyway. I can't seem to stop. Don't struggle, just notice.

Here's what I need to do: Put my self in Heather's shoes.

Your secret is out. And it may be the cincher that splits up your family. It is hard not to hate yourself when you are the reason for everyone's pain. And once you get the feeling that you are the one to blame, how can you not start gliding through all the memories of the day, all the things you said and did, and not find more things to hate about yourself. This is the low point. This is the very worse it can get and the only way you have known how to stop these thoughts has been taken away from you. Not that it was so healthy to begin with, but now what do you do?

And that is exactly where she is at.

And that is where I need to be to.

As always,

Friday, May 23, 2008


Shannon Hale is a writer after my own heart. Not only does she have a Jane Austen novel (The heroine is looking for a Colin-Firth as Darcy type guy--chic lit for sure), but she also uses fairy tales as her jumping off point. I love that stuff. But then she always has the girls doing real work (in the one I started last night the girl is drying goat dung to use as fuel for a fire). I always cite as one of my most influential books as Margret Atwood's Alias Grace and it's because of the way she has to do real work in the book, the detail in which she goes to described. I love it. It's also kind of Little House on the Prairie stuff--I am a sucker for it. In any case I have been thrilled by my discovery of Shannon Hale.

Writing assignment: Read a bunch of beginnings to books and pay attention to how things are revealed. What you know don't know and suspect from the beginning of a few books. What is the conflict? What do you care about? Who do you like and why? Is their anyone you don't like? How much are you willing to wade through to get to the end? Take notes to have a record of your impressions before reading to the end. Go back afterwards and see how much you knew--how much you didn't know, how much you wanted to know.

Let's leave it at that.
As always,

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Plan: be flexible

Morning. Again with the time. The ends of my weeks are more full of writing time than the beginnings. Let's not waste it.

In this third draft I am writing, I'm nearing the place in Heather's story where I had stopped in the process of doing a second draft. At that point I decided to change point of view and went back to the beginnig and began again. So, yesterday, I pulled out the rough first draft and I shall have to find some time to reacquaint myself with it. It's interesting that something that came directly from my head through my fingertips can feel so foreign to me. (Muse am I giving you enough credit? Where do the words really come from?) Interestingly enough, I know my characters so much better now that I return to the material, but there are a lot of new characters and even a new plot line introduced in this second half. How will that effect the writing of this draft? I'm curious. Plan of attack? First read it through. (with the same eyes with that I use when writing it) Then be flexible.

Writing exercise: A carrier pigeon comes to you with a message? Who is it from and what does it say? Write fast and furious, at least 10 minutes.

As Always,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another Book

good morning. i'm writing early. i have lots of time (no guarantees mind you) and it's always attractive to put off the transition into the other world of the novel. but I think i made it to the other side of a very tough section yesterday. probably the toughest in the novel. nice to be on the other side.

I just finished The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. I really liked it, although it is not my standard type. A futuristic, alien-visits-the-earth novel. There were some eerie similarities to my novel. It has a similar organizational device. Starting with a letter/assignment. Adam Rex does all the illustrations as well--I think his carer for the most part has been as illustrator and Gratuity Tucci does her hair in the same way as Heather. He doesn't write about it but I saw it in the pictures. Also the character is eleven when the action takes place, but she actually writes the story at thirteen. (I have been struggling with age so this provides ideas for solutions.) Setting it in the future after an alien invasion really allows you to take a lot of liberties with age. For example, she is an eleven year old that drives. What a fantasy too, driving. Nice. Driving a car that floats, even better. Anyway, a lot of the themes of the book were really interesting. Race and exploitation and intricacies of power and dominance etcetera. It has blatant parallels to Native American treatment by European settlers and then some. All that and fun to read.

I guess that is it for today.
As always,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

End of the school year

Just returned from the 3rd grade music performance. Imagine by John Lennon as sung by third grade boys is a tear jerker. They did an excellent job. But they ate into my writing time, so the blog is going to pay.

Writing Exercise:
Imagine there's no countries, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too

Now Write about a nine year old boy.

As always,

Monday, May 19, 2008


I have been worrying that as I wade in to the book it gets darker and darker. I do think that on the other side the world Heather lives in becomes lighter. There is less shame and it sort of evens out. The hopeful stuff starts to happen. I'm worried that I should give a disclaimer to everyone. That I should put people off reading it, because of this darkness at its core. Is this what the story has to be? Am I being true to Heather? Is this what needs to be told? Perhaps I should just ask her.

Heather, the story is in first person, you are telling it, you don't want to tell this part, so, does the current section have to be in the book?

Why aren't you saying it? You feel like I do about it, don't you? Ashamed and it should not be admitted. That's how I feel. That's how I lived for a year. Cutting and keeping it secret. Wearing long sleeves and never looking at my arms. Doing it and promising I would never do it again. Each time I would promise and then the next time when the urge would come, I'd feel it and do it and along with the general shame and embarrassment I feel about these marks up my arm I would also feel ashamed and embarrassed about my weak will. So it is time to own up. Practice some acceptance and commit myself to the harder work of feeling the shame and accepting it and moving on. In the long run it will be good for me. For now it's hard and giving me an out does no good. I may just give up and decide to take that part out and then the story will have no balance. The center has to be heavy to keep the rest of the book from flying away.

Oh, really? How come I suspect that that is all just a load of crap?

Maybe because you typed both the questions and the answers.

Dear muse, where are you?

As always,

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Notes from a run. A run/walk or a walk/run, I don't know which. My shoes are wearing out and I have a pain in my ankle.

TG the usual bear. Longs for a place to belong. Misses the landscape of the ice fields. Has a voice like the Buddha. Does he talk or is it in third person? Scene in Clancy's. Whales. The neighborhood festival? He arrived when the crab apples were in bloom. There was more--I can't remember.

Heather: "This is what I learned from Jane Austen novels...." This probably relates to the ad. Trapped and home, getting what you need and the ways of society. Something. (What can be learned from Jane Austen novels?)

Cryptic, I know. Must go volunteer at the festival.

As always,

Friday, May 16, 2008

Alternate Subject

I composed my blog yesterday while I went for a walk. But today I cannot remember what it was about. I was sure it was very clever while I did it.

I'll give you this instead.

I watched Nathalie and her friend fight yesterday. They are beautiful girls. Nat is fair, and her friend dark and they both glow. They are loud together and fast. Well matched. Fighting, they get into teach other's face. Nathalie stands up close and says, "You can be whatever you want. I changed my mind." Mimi pushes a little closer, shaking her head and jutting out her chin, "I'm leaving." Nathalie wants her to stay. She pleads, her hands held out, open and empty, "Will you stay?" Mimi is firm in her indignation, she straps on her bike helmet and throws her leg over her two-wheeler. And rides off into the sunset. They have a volatile friendship. Hugging each other when they greet and flying off in a huff when not getting their way. That is how it went yesterday afternoon.

It wasn't what I wanted to write about.

As always,

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Talkative girl

On going assignment: pick one thing from the day and write about it. With as much detail as you can. Warm up:

I met this little girl yesterday at my son's soccer game. She was a younger sister hanging at the sideline just like my daughter was. Same age and all that, but unlike my daughter she talks. Well, my daughter can talk too but she is generally pretty selective about what she says and who she talks too.

Upon introduction I was told: "My dad can't come on Wednesdays and when he comes it is fun because we play soccer and he is the best soccer player in the world. But the games are so boring and I can't go over there because there may be bad people on the playground but it is so boring and I can't wait until Christmastime because I will go to my grandma's and my Aunt Smithy is the funniest but Aunt Sue is hysterical and this next Christmastime will be so fun." She pointed to a spider on the leg of my pants, when told that I didn't mind them much outside she said: "one time I saw an ant I did this." She leans down and screams and then repeats it again. When asked if she was afraid of ants she replied. "I am sort of afraid because I know they can be dangerous and some bite but that is why I am cautious of Bumble Bees because they sting. When I see a bumblebee I run away fast. I was stung on the finger," holding it out for me to see, "once. Scary. This is a soccer move." She bends her knees and leans forward resting both her hands on her knees. She looks as if she should be waiting at a goal. "My dad showed me. like this." She gets into position again.

And this is only the half of it. Of course the whole time she was talking my daughter was on my lap silently playing with her fingernails or something. My daughter did have permission to go on her own to the playground. But seeing as she was extremely unlikely to say anything to strangers she is probably safer over there by herself than this new little girl we met.

I thought this little girl was fabulous. But most likely exhausting for her parents.

As Always,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ho Hum

I wrote a post yesterday and never got it out. I didn't write for the 3 days prior to that. On Monday I just plain forgot and before that I took the weekend off. I have been very involved in the novel and it makes it hard to think about anything else. And as far as priorities go i guess the kids beat the blog.

Every spring there are these tiny worms that attack my mugo pine. They hang out in little clans at the tips of the needles. They line up their bodies up and down the shaft, cramming themselves altogether. They are army green with black stripes and black little eyes and heads. My neighbor sprays them with poison, which seems reasonable, but I have gotten into the habit of pulling them off and squishing them in my fingers. They are sticky and pine scented. The bush is growing nicely.

What else is new? I am back to dull brained. My creative cycle seems to be incredibly fast and furious, running its course through the euphoric stage, and leaving me at dull more often than necessary.

I'm not sure what, if anything, makes this blog interesting. But that was a nice warm up for me. Off to write.

As always,

Friday, May 9, 2008

Writing Exercise Results

Let's see. That writing exercise I made up yesterday didn't really get me anywhere unexpected. I tried it on Heather's mom and all the stuff that she said was the same old, same old. I guess that is just as well. She is consistent. I guess towards the end she said, "Heather was my brilliant child. A rising star that I was raising. Everything that I had done right. Now look. I am confused. What does this mean? There must be implications. I have no one to ask, except Jude. I know no one else. To bring it up to my mother or to Doug, their stepfather, would be opening us all up to their disdain. They would be shocked of course, because they never saw it coming with Heather either. But then they'd nod their head knowingly. And judge us all." I guess I can feel that. She is alone and unsure and now needs advice about her daughter. So I take it back. The interview did provide some insight into Heather's mom. Later I will do the second half of the exercise. Interestingly enough Sean had already to the second half on his own. Good for him.

For now I must run and see my son in his class skit.

As Always,

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I'm in limbo.

I left my characters in a department store yesterday. Not because I wanted to, mostly because I ran out of time. I had some insights while I was writing yesterday. Perhaps I should say my character had them. Which is good. She tends to get stuck in the details that represent her emotions more than she tries to articulate the emotions themselves. Which usually makes for good story telling, but I have been a bit stumped this chapter as what she is thinking, although what she feels seems clear enough. The insights perhaps shed some light on it all and explain that Heather was perhaps muddy headed herself the past few days.

There must be a movie about writers leaving their characters in limbo. I feel like I have seen it. My characters were on their way somewhere else and meant to walk through and exit to the parking lot but I quit before they got there and it is hard to imagine them frozen in time. Because the way they are in my head they kind of have to be always doing something. Nothing happens or doesn't happen without someone acting on it.

Writing Exercise:
Take a lesser character. Someone who's in the story but doesn't get as much action as your main character. Someone who may have something that your character wants. You are the therapist. Now interview this character. Do what you can to get this person to talk. 10 minutes.

Look back at all of this. What is there, in what this person says, that points to conflict. Something your main character might not know, will not like, cannpot understand, whatever. Now make them talk about it. How would they do it? What would they say? What are they not saying.? Without narration, how do you show what they are not saying ?--do it with gestures, etc. 10 more minutes.

I'm going to do this later.

As always,

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

ruminating anyway

I feel the blues a-lifting. I don't know why or how and normally my instinct would be to try to figure it out. As my husband would say I have a tendency to ruminate. Flattering. I like cows anyway when they lead healthy lives on a pasture. The kind that live in too close of quarters, make me feel guilty and like I should be doing more to liberate them. But that is off the subject. What is the subject?

In any case, I am writing now and it is time to warm up for the day. I know how to get my head into the groove of the day. No, I don't know that. What I know is how to get my head into the work, and what it feels like when my head is there. To know what happens next I have to adjust my mind to my characters' perspective. I have learned so much about this thin slice of space and time that is my novel. That doesn't really exist anywhere but there is absolutely only one truth of it. Only one way to go. I have a choice in telling it. But once I choose that there really is only one way to go. I must stick to the truth of the story. Does that makes any sense? That there is an integrity to the telling and I know what it feels like. So now that I know that I know, perhaps it won't be so scary to just go there. (perhaps that what this is is flow)

As always (in a hurry to get to the next thing),

Monday, May 5, 2008


I took the weekend off and now I am retuning. The kids are home today and I am giving myself 15 minutes to do this and then get to the other writer's work. I feel like there is a lot hanging out there-- things I still have to do in around the house--like fold laundry and wash the next batch. Recycling needs to get out today. My writing life always starts with a laundry list.

How about a writing exercise instead?

I just finished Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale: It's a young adult novel. A good one. Based on a fairy tale where a princess gets shut up in a tower for seven years. Told by her maid. Great character. Nearest book is not actually that, I will pick up the one Henry is reading, and look at page 124 and write down a passage starting with the 5th sentance. That is unless it doesnt go to 124 and I will half it and go to 62.
From Ivy and Bean

"I like th screen," said Bean, "but a kitchen is a little bit boring. Maybe you could turn it into a science lab for making potions. The screen could protect secrets."

Write for the time left (5 minutes):

I wrote some very boring and stilted stuff here about what kind of characters these probably were and I tried to guess the end of the book.

Let us see if something I read is more fruitful then something I haven't read.
(I'm taking more than 15 minutes) From Book of a Thousand Days:
Stars light my page. We'll be starting my journey in earnest come dawn and I suppose I won't have time to write again for some time. Song for Evela is west of Titor's Garden, so we'll follow the road that stretches for the setting sun.

Hale did such and excellent job with this syntax of this girl. She's a maid and supposedly simple, but was taught to write to be princess' maid. But she knows how to sing the healing songs (interestingly there are healing songs in Katherine Duey's Skinhunger, the last YA book that I liked so much before this one. I got involved with those characters equally and was driven to read by each, equally but Hale's was very lyrical I think.) Her sayings, the way this girl called things, seemed exotic, old fashioned. Appropriate to the character. Was it just this girl that kept me reading? She was compelling. And the story was a little outrageous. Locked up in a tower and all. And there was a lot that you didn't know. I suppose all those things kept me reading.

This was hard stilted work.

My head is muddy today--slow as sludge. Thick and dark. Can't see through it. My eyes are having trouble. And I would be doing myself a favor to just accept this and keep going. Do what I got to do.

As always (slurring my words on paper),

Friday, May 2, 2008

Varied Things on My Mind

I need a fresh approach to my day. I don't know what it could be. Perhaps it could be a purchase from the thrift store. I have a thing for bags. I bought a lovely weaved one. Made in France, it says. And this large duffel-like bag. A size that we don't have enough of. And this funky little antique one that was only two dollars. How could I pass it up? It will be a-good-for-the-kiddo bag. Although it just occurred for me that he doesn't have a good bag for camp. Does that mean I will have to go back and look around for more? And it occurred to me, after I left the thrift store, that I forgot to look at duvets. The one I have from when I got married 10 years ago is in a shambles and it is time to get/make a new one. It's raining today and I wonder if instead of going for a walk when I'm done with this writing business, I should stir up the dirt. Like a big cauldron of magic. It might be fun to get muddy. That is if I have remembered yet how to have fun.

Tonight we make smoked salmon in the rain. Can it be done? I cannot forget to brine it.

As always (much love),

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Keep writing

Out of sorts since Tuesday. The writing has been fine--everything else, not so fine. I'm going to copy a meme that I have seen in other people's blogs and use it as a writing prompt--Here goes.

Writing Exercise:
Page 124 of the nearest book and 3 sentences starting with the fifth full sentence on the page.

Joyce Carol Oates After the Wreck, I Picked Myself up, Spread My Wings and Flew Away

First interesting tidbit--the first sentence is amazingly long.

And I thought, Wait! Your helmet! You almost killed yourself once.

Small, perhaps disappointing, sentences after that first one. But you get what you get etc.

Heather responds almost instantly:
I never have. Almost killed myself that is. But probably that's what mother thought I had done when she looked at my wrists. I don't blame her, really, they are darn ugly. That is why I wear the long sleeves all the time. That, and because I am embarrassed. I don't want people to know that is how I cope. It doesn't seem so healthy to me, or seem to be that sustainable really. But I always feel that I have no self-control. The urges. Oh, when I start thinking about it I can't stop. And then the shame starts soon after and it leads right back to itself. I am on a merry-go-round that spins. I climb on to the back of that horse and I always know exactly where I am going and effectively it's nowhere, fast. I guess I have nothing more to say about it. I guess just I wish my mother still didn't know. It only makes me feel worse and she's bound to think it is more serious than it is. All I want is relief and here I am back on that same pony, riding up and down around in my circle.

Passage exercises always seem to work.

As Always,

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Here is where I start. I don't let myself spend much time on this blogging thing because I would never get to the real work. Once in the real work I never want to stop, but before I am there I rarely want to start. It's fear. Not the kind where your stomach is tied up in knots. A dull fear, like you are trying to stick two magnates together at the wrong end and they repel each other. It's as if there is a force field around my work that I have to push into to actually touch it. And once I'm in there its kind of like I become a Stepford wife. I can actually walk away and function, but I'm a little on automatic pilot. I have been playing with these transitions. Trying to make them more fun. If not fun at least less dreadful. Or I guess "less dread filled." Hence the lord of the book, he is interesting and weird and I don't quite know what will come of it. He's at the front end of my little bit of work time--along with the blog. A nice way to evoke the proper head space, and then at the end I email myself a copy of the draft, I always send a verse of gratitude out into cyberspace along with it, just for good measure. And I've been trying to give myself enough time to take a walk before the kiddos get off the bus. I just have to remind myself to enjoy the transitions. Because I actually know how to do that, I just forget.

As always,

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

to do list

Keep it short. Perhaps just a list. One: Sign the children up for summer camps (for me, because I want to write this summer) Two: Organize or reorganize the winter to summer clothing and back again (which way are we going?) (Is there anyway to find a muse who will do this? Certainly Little Lord Fauntleroy won't...) Three: Paint everywhere. Four: Mix up the soil in the back garden, clean up the leaf litter, rake, turn the compost, hook up the rain barrels (do I really want spring to come?). Five: Make sure that everything runs ship-shapeish (homework, laundry, is there food in the house? blah, blah, blah) Six: Keep writing. Guess which one of these things I want to be doing?

As always (trudging along),

P.S. There is a housework muse. I just know it. I still have to do the work but perhaps then I could do the work in flow. And flow is just darn enjoyable. Explore this more.

Monday, April 28, 2008

lord of the book

I would like to take this time to muse on my muse. Not too much. Just enough to better illustrate him to all you faithful readers. my lord Think of my lord of the book as his public name. This is the name he gets teased with. The one that just came to me along with him. Like a joke.

I made him up and yet he teaches me. He shows me the way. Enough so I can quit worrying about it (I wonder if I could have a lord of the laundry). In private though what do I call him?--lets face it I still call him lord. Is that part of the sex appeal? I can't help but imagine running into him at the 400 Bar. The old 400 Bar. I only ever went, except when it was full of people because it was some show or other. But he would be there. I wouldn't know yet that he was my lord. He would be sitting head down, not speaking to anyone. I wouldn't even think that was weird. It's a room packed with people and he's taking up a whole booth to himself, sitting side ways at it, not even facing the table and people are pressed against him. Turning their backs to him. He's got flyaway dark hair, not too long but very bushy. He's pale. Unhealthy looking. Big dark rimmed glasses. And a scowl. He's staring at the floor, at his shoes, ratty vans that are pushed out in front of him, taking up way more space than he deserves in this crowded joint and he looks up. Straight at me. Straight into me and he sees that deep well that only god can see. That windy place that is full of space and lightning like something straight out of What the Bleep? when it illustrates neural impulses crossing great chasms of synapse. Even I only have a small inkling that this opening within me exists and somehow, this sullen emaciated boy can see into the depths of it and he nods as if he knows what is there. And that is it. He will give me no more. He just nods at whatever is there. Is it approval? Is it exactly as he had expected? What? We are waiting for Bob Mould to play. The place is too loud to speak and this muse next to me wears a worn undershirt and I could push him over and beat up in one minute. And I kind of want to. My skin tingles and I am excited by this emptiness inside me. I want to plumb it. Right now I wish I had a pen. I look around the bar. This is not the place.

I think his name is George, but he says to me, one eye narrowed, "You know what to call me." And before I can lean toward him, to speak into his ear, he has disappeared, I am left feeling close to the surface. I can feel the waist band of my jeans and the inseam, every breath moves the fabric of my shirt across my skin. My breath comes deep and touches my core and I will pray to him so that I may feel this way again.

As always (now I think I wrote too much),

P.S. So does that clear things up? Not for me. I seem to not be able to help myself.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Flexibility 2

So this weekend I don't want to write. I'm trying to let it be. You know, accept it for what it is and try not examine it too much. It's all the worse after coming off a jag of productive writing.

As you might already know, I have been reading Robert Olen Butler and perhaps that is the problem. His ideas about writing are interesting and I think they will be helpful, but so much of the process of examination puts me out of the necessary mode for creativity. Robert Olen Butler refuses to put a non-fiction word to paper. I am not interested in having so many of rules for myself. I think flexibility had been what I was reaching for when the words had come gushing. To not struggle through the transitions. I had been trying to embrace them as they came. That I could switch on a dime from one event and project to the next. I picture myself rolling. Pulling in my knees and rolling around like a roly-poly bug. Something happens and there I go, tuck and roll. Sometimes an image is what I need.

Writing Exercise: Flip through a magazine and write about the first image you see. Try to be there in the picture. Don't write about the details as much as just write fiction from the image. See if you can find the trance, the zone, whatever it is that aligns your head with the world you are creating. 10 minutes. (I tried this with out much luck earlier. Maybe I should try it again now.)

As always (pleased as a roly-poly bug),

ps sometimes putting non-fiction pen to paper guides me to the other side of a mood. Find balance in everything.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I'll call it narrowing.

Robert Olen Butler calls it writing "moment by moment through the senses." What it means is entering the scene and writing it as if you are the camera lens right there capturing it all of film. It seems to me that it is not so different than what Malcolm Gladwell calls thin-slicing in Blink. Narrowing your senses of perception. Slowing down what comes in to the essential moment by moment input. No thought of craft in these moments, no thought of market value, no thought of the kids coming home from school. I can relate to it in cooking. When too many factors enter into my decision-making then I don't cook well. Considering what people want, all the myriad of veggies I should use up, etcetera. But narrowing my focus involves choosing one or two things from the fridge and going from there. Starting with that and in an unhurried way linking flavors and textures until I have a whole meal. I suppose I can expand this to almost anything. I run best by myself, when there is someone else there I forget my own breath, my own footfalls, in deference to theirs (I am highly influenced). But if I focus on breath and extend from there, I almost invariably enjoy myself. So "moment by moment through the senses" as Butler puts it--I can feel it when I'm doing it. When Heather's head is my own and her experience and thoughts unfold in front of me.

As of late it has been easy enough to just go there. Sit down, reread what I wrote yesterday and start from there. I don't know why. Wasn't it about a week ago I said the words weren't coming? Perhaps I have my lord to thank. He's a thankless fellow and I do give him a hard time but he takes the burden off my shoulders. And even if his behavior is less than perfection (that is what any artist should go for!!) he does provide. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches with anger, I must hold him, cradle my lord as I would a little baby, be with him while he misbehaves, non judgmentally.

How is that for externalizing?

As Always (happy),

p.s. Perhaps I have finished that process of labeling what I could see and feel easily enough in cooking, but couldn't in writing. I recognized a connection in my process all those posts back when I first mentioned cooking. Maybe I have now distilled it to a purity that can educate me as I write. In grad school they had us take another discipline in order to learn this thing, but it wasn't enough time for me to really take it on fully, to develop a naturalness where the shift in my system was evident, so I recognized it. And back then I still struggled with cooking. T.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I want to experiment these days with what gets me there. What gets me writing . I think it is a matter of orientation. I orient myself to my narrator and the words seem to come easily. But what gets me there? Trust and surrender? That is where the lord of the book comes in. He takes over. I really have no control in the matter. Except getting my self to the page in the proper state of mind. The words are my lord's responsibility if he so wishes. Should I also show him more respect? He doesn't mind, I don't think, as long as I'm amorous.

But what are orientation exercises? I made one up today and this is how it goes: Close your eyes and think about your character. Now think that you are your character. Put yourself in her setting. Fill in the details of the setting, the quality of the light, the smells, temperature, etc. Now right in front of you is an object that you are very familiar with. Just look at it for a moment. Examine it in minute detail with your eyes. Pick it up and examine it with your fingers(if that is possible). You are your character so do it in a way fitting of your character.

Now, I want you to stay in that place, where your feelings and reactions are not your own but they are this characters and write down any three thoughts. From first person, just as your character would say it.

Now I want you to feel your characters longing, yearning what does she want. 10 minutes, pen to the page, in your characters very own voice I want you to write down what you (she)wants. Start with "I want" or however else your character would say it and go. No looking back until the end.

As Always(I'm going to try it off-line),

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Second Assessment

Start somewhere. In the dream perhaps. I generally start nowhere, just with words. A nothing space that looks for a feeling. I was going to say looks for nothing, but that is just not it. It's a feeling. Robert Olen Butler calls it a trance like space. It's calm. I am only the vessel. I am the automaton that lets it flow fingertips to keys, for a while I could only find this state at my pen in the notebook. For now I can do both. It's a little hurky-jerkier here at the keys but when I get stuck I have my pen and my notebook nearby and within a scrawled sentence I am there. Where is it? Another nearby place. The same world yet at the same time there is a flowing of another. So here I am at the keyboard and after reading Robert Olen Butler's first couple of lectures from From Where You Dream, I don't really know how I get there, but I do know when the writing feels right and when it feels wrong. And lately I have my friend, the lord, who visits and I have been using as a muse. He's a Little Lord Fauntleroy-ish and forbidden. A male muse, who would have thought? But he works. He is so petulant and worthless and I always give in and it is enough to get going. Yesterday I left Heather sitting on the bus contemplating her own thoughts and it is her rhythm I need to find when I sit down. Why does blogging help then? I think because there is so much fear involved, so much resistance in the switching over to that darker more raw side (you can't lie in fiction). Because I have a pact with my reading public, I keep it. I make myself go there and I'm willing to keep it playful. I can always come back from that other side, and at least so far I have. So there it is. Be conscious of where you start and then let your unconscious do all the work.

As Always (I wish I were reading),

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


It feels like time that I assess. I've published 33 posts. Missed a few days in there. Not too many. Only a couple days has it felt like a chore, and on those days it was because I wanted to get down to the business of novelling--which is very different. Blogging: what am I getting out of it. First, the titling has been good practice. I have no idea how successful the titles are, I would have to be getting some feedback in order to gauge that (definitely feedback is not what blogging is about--it's more like sending your thoughts out to a void). I t has been good practice titling. Throwing something on to the top of the page. I usually do it after I am all done. And it is generally something I think of myself having no skill with. Another thing is that the way I do it has provided good practice in spontaneity, loosen up, lose some perfectionism, and desensitize myself to that fear of having people read something too close to the bone, or something stupid (that's a big one for me I do not want to be stupid), complete with mistakes. I have gone back and read and there are plenty of mistakes. I have not taken the time to fix them. It's also has been a lesson in brevity. Perhaps unsatisfyingly so. I do feel like I must wrap things up quickly. One, so I can get on with the novel writing business, and, two, so that my readers will have the patience for it. This Internet thing is a time sucker and I know I like to do both my writing and my reading in a rush. Do on to others, you know blah, blah, blah--The Golden Rule. And since I have adjusted my format to doing the exercises myself, I have found blogging very freeing on a creative flow sort of level. So I guess the verdict is I will continue in this way for a while at least. Until my life changes enough that it is a pain in the butt to put this kind of time in.

So writing exercise for today: Take stock. Look at what your doing--is it working?

As always,

Monday, April 21, 2008

Spring comes to Minnesota

Writing Exercise: Write about yourself in third person. Write fast. Don't edit.

Tina really needs to clean those windows. Except that it is sort of a relief to not be able to see beyond them to the world outside where the winter garden debris eddies on whirlwinds of air on the edges of the front lawn. She can just make out the shapes of her neighbors out there, gathering in the bright sunlight. The sunlight so odd, we have all been waiting for so long. She can see them out there through the smudges, their familiar shapes not having changed much over the five long winter months since she's seen them last. She feels compelled to go out there and bare her pale face to the sun just as all the new shoots poke themselves from beneath the dirt. But the recesses of her mind have just been plumbed and the lord of the book commands her to hunker down with what has been unearthed. She finds herself attracted to him in a sort of disgusted way. He's so pale he kind of makes her skin crawl and yet she feels more like tearing off her clothes then she has for a long time. And it is him, that pale skinny lord (who wears dark rimmed glasses when he for gets to put in his contacts). He's scary, but also such a nerd. He recoils from the sun and from yoga for that matter. That side of her life appalls him. But maybe that is what turns Tina on so much. His disdain. She puts down her pen for now. Feeling healthy, she shakes her hair back. Taunting him, she twirls the ends around and stretches a rubber band to form a bun on the back of her head. She leans forward to pull the leash over her dogs nose clipping it behind his ears and pulls the front door open. She notices the smeared glass one more time as she bounces out into the sun on springy new shoes. Her body rising and falling. The lord of the book puts his head in his hands. He's there too, bouncing as she bounces, taking off to the lake as she takes off, but he hunkers down, buries himself deeper as the debris of Tina's thoughts pack around him, as did the leaf litter pack over the garden during the winter. This way he can emerge anew after being buried in the decomposed humus. Come out as pale as ever. But fed the rich remains of last years growth.

As Always (How does it seem?),

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Out Stealing Horses

Writing Exercise: write about a book you liked.

I just finished Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. I really liked it. All the descriptions of it say that it is a poignant and somber, deeply atmospheric. Nice words. And did I like it because of that? Did I even notice that? It was in first person. Narrated from late in life, a present tense that takes place in a cabin that he has decided to buy and spend his final years. Final years that seem to resemble the years of his father who is such a mystery, the years that he begins to recount in flashback throughout the book. Why did I like it so much? Well I certainly liked the main character, Trond. I wanted to know the things that he didn't know, didn't understand. I was curious. And I liked all the reflections in it. Reflections between various fathers and sons, reflections between various ways of running away. I wonder now what it means to be the hero of your own life. Was Trond that was his father? I liked it because it made me wonder about real things. I kept thinking about it even beyond putting the book down. There were reflected images of dreams of drowning, of waking up not knowing who you are, or even your own name. At fifteen, Trond was a friend of water. Is he a friend of water at 67? I want to search back through the book and find the answers.

So how will it affect my writing? I'm not sure it will. Probably it will in ways that I don't know. It is always nice to think about what you will accept from another writer. I will accept wading patiently through Trond's walks in the woods as a 67 year old and his reflections on work because there something small and slightly fallible in him, there is also a willing winning-ness and together they carry the book.

As Always (distracted by the rest of my life and jobs),

Friday, April 18, 2008

pigs and masters

Writing exercise: Use the koan from the March 26th post, called "insecurities" and write for ten minutes. Keep your pen on the page don't edit for spelling or anything.

Heres the koan:

Life as a Pig
One day, a old master had a vision of his next life. He immediately called in his favorite disciple and begged a favor of him.
"Anything for you master." the disciple replied.
"In my next life, I will come back as a pig. Soon after I die, our sow will give birth and I will be the fourth pig of the litter. You will recognize me by a mark on my brow. When that happens, please take a sharp knife and end my life quickly."
Within the year, the master passed away and the sow gave birth. The disciple sharpened his knife and found the small piglet. Suddenly the little pig screamed "Stop! Don't kill me!"
The disciple dropped his knife in surprise and stared at the little pig. "When I was like you I didn't know what a pig's life would be like. It's great. Just let me go."

What kind of master gives those kinds of orders? There's judgment written all over that one and it doesn't take so much to know that a pigs life could be a lot better than this one (unless the pig was born into a feed lot), certainly more mindful and uninhibited. But I guess I could be making judgments here myself. The fact that a master sent one of his disciples on such a clearly wrong-headed errand seems like faulty logic. It occurs to me that perhaps there is some unreliable narration involved. And then of course I think of myself, because when am I at my most unreliable is when there is wishful thinking involved. And I wonder how many pigs partake in that kind of thinking. Not many. But then masters do all the time. Ahh ha, everything is so clear now. So perhaps that is what this koan is all about. Wishful thinking. Which is what will bring me to my novel. Because that is a theme anyway. Or at least I think it is.

And there you have it, just a snippet of the unintelligible things I wrote to myself today.
As Always (perhaps not),

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Due Diligence

Writing exercise: Just write.

I'm not sure if I am in the mood for this writing thing today. Some days there is just nothing that I want to do. Something else anyway. Nothing. I got a lot of things done, but there's still more and then I took my daughter to school and made her cry because I made her put her stuff into the garbage bag that the nurse is enforcing for lice containment. She is asking everyone to do it, all the children, so as not to single anyone out. Much appreciated. But mothers (other mothers--the non contaminated) are just tossing bags into piles in the hall outside of Spanish, not wanting to bother. I was with them a week a go. It is so much easier to not even bat an eye at the danger, when you have nothing lurking beneath your friendly surface--or at least believe that you have nothing. It is my job to protect them all from our worst, the bombs we carry around so innocently in our hair. My daughter already so affected by all the rules she doesn't know. Let's just hope she learns them quickly and decides that they are worth breaking. She can harden her heart and thumb her nose at them all just as I do. Ha! The irony. As I frantically don't want to be that woman that they are all talking about... 6 months later and she can't seem to get rid of the lice.

Due diligence. That's what I am saying.

I think that is why I cannot write is I was the other mom, the one who stops at nothing in the war against the parasites. I left her at school like that, sad and embarrassed because her mom does not want to wear that emblem of failure and laziness, does not want to be lice-ridden. What are the other fine lines I walk with my hairy armpits and my tendency toward ecological militarism and yoga and tofu and cabbage eating (I just love cabbage)?

Prayer: Dear Lord of the book, thank you for the words and the freedom to run between so many projects. Will you also look after my daughter? She did give me T.G. after all. She is also a beautiful Iffy dancing freak. (I wonder if she would mind that I said that about her). In any case you should probably protect her from me because there are a lot of respects that I do not have enough decorum in. Or too much? I'm not even sure. Whatever the case, she deserves someone as hard core as you on her side. Amen.

As Always,

Monday, April 14, 2008


I did this exercise with a friend the Saturday night: list some emotions on pieces of paper(happiness, sadness, anger, embarrassment, shyness, excitement). Choose a character from any project you are working on. Or choose anyone you know. Choose a piece of paper at random. Take ten minutes to show the person feeling that way. Do not use the word. Describe actions, setting, anything in concrete detail to show how your person feels. Now do it again with a different emotion.

Embarrassment: Heather averted her eyes, kept them low. She watched the shoes that passed in front of her as shoppers walked by, not seeing any of them. She felt heat rise into her cheeks and leaned back into the wall behind her. She wrapped her nails into her palm and pressed knuckles to the wall, pushing hard. Doing her best to pretend she was invisible.

Anger: Again Heather felt heat but it was located deeper, rising from her heart to her neck, itchy. Her muscles constricted around it. Her lips twisted tighter, holding it in and yet she wanted to let it out. She wanted it to fly from her eyes, to burn her mother with anger laser beams. The more her eyes narrowed the stronger the beams became. After singing her mother from head to toe, she aimed them at Jude. With them she would make him small, small enough to step on.

As Always,

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Writing Exercise: Open a book you have recently read and liked. Open it randomly and choose a short paragraph. Anything, it doesn't even matter. Write or type it out and then just start writing on your own. Repeat as necessary.

From Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey.
"How is Mother?" I would ask him, but I would already know. She would be happy , because he would have been kind to her, because he was afraid of me. And he would know that perhaps I would let him live, if she stayed happy.

Michael: If mother stayed happy? Well, that's not the issue , is it? She doesn't have trouble with happiness, she flows easily through emotions. Just like I do, but with better behavior. The thing is trusting herself. The moment of intuition where you know their criticism is valid or coming from their own baggage. She doesn't have that filter that lets her see through the comment. She goes straight to a self judgment. And she finds herself wanting. What did she do wrong? And when she looks she will find something. She tries to do it their way.

How does Michael know there things? It was her mother's pure regard for himself that allowed him to see through her discipline. He has been favored by her. She lavished her love on him and as best she could has sheltered him from struggle. But she changed on a dime when the stepfather or grandmother chimed in. Her parenting is not to be trusted. Their judgment must be right. She believes them and imposes something that has been forced upon her. That is when it all falls apart. That is how the stepfather and grandmother controls her. Now is Jude doing the same? How do they so quicly learn to take advantage of her? And now he can see what they see. How could she do it? Why doesn't she just step up? He rejects this weakness of hers. Why can't she be a different kind of mother? Why does she give in to any wind that blows our way? Everything is in danger. He is short, curt, quick to snap and soon he is gone, lost to his own better judgment. He throws his basketball around. He throws his body around. He stomps his feet.

As Always,

Post script: this worked for me a lot like a koan. Usually the content sparked something in my story. Different people spoke in response to different passages. It probably works differently for different people. Sometimes the passages were answered in first person, other times in third. In this particular one it switched from first person to third because I asked myself a question midway through.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Here's yesterday's blog a day late. And today's... well, I'm going to skip it and go straight to work.

We discovered lice.

Mindfulness exercise: drop plans and pick nits.

There are many families of lice that live in my son's thick super-luxurious hair. They are there no more, but I originally found them nestled comfortably, their torpedo shaped bodies lined up beside hair shafts. Crouched behind it, already prepared for the ammunition it had no way of knowing was coming. They lurked as if they knew they were in enemy territory and now I can only imagine where they lurk around the house waiting for one of us, long tresses flowing innocently, to wander into range. Time for another round of vacuuming. I had actually thought that I wouldn't blog today(yesterday) but I really can't help myself when there are mundane household chores to describe. And today(yesterday) there are a plethora. And I get to list them all: Striping the beds, loads and loads of laundry, vacuuming up the invisible creatures (using only your battle instincts to locate them). And the minutia, combing through your child's hair section by section, examining the base of every hair shaft for that tiny pinpoint of nit. One hundred strokes with a fine-toothed metal comb. And then on to making rice pudding(for comfort--mine or there's?) and buying the family shower caps for the olive oil spa at the end of the first days regimen (as per the suggestion of Nurse Fry).

As Always (exhausted),

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

T.G. the Usual bear

Writing assignment: Write about an animal.

He was called T.G the usual bear. It was hard to say what was usual about him. Unless it was that he was generally punctual, or at least showed up where and when you expected him. And perhaps because when he said he would do something, he surely would. But really it was unusual to have a bear in the neighborhood. And practically every stranger's eyes popped out of their head at the pure surprise of him. It was unusual to watch a bear enter a drugstore so nonchalantly.

This was the sort of drugstore where the doors opened as soon as you stood on the rubber floor mat. T.G. was very grateful for that, because it always drew a lot of attention when he scratched at metal door handles until he found a grip. Claws are not of benefit in this environment. Lord knows he attracted enough attention walking through the aisles, even though he was on the small side for a polar bear. Although realistically he knew people stared, but not because he was big.

He came to the store looking for Vic's Vapor Rub. One of his favorite things to do was to lie back on his bead and enjoy the cool feel after he dabbed a bit on his nose. He was out and he could use a little reminder of home today. He also needed some sharp scissors to trim his matted fur, the dull ones were torture. His girl Nathalie had loaned him a pair, but how could she have known. How could he have known, for that matter. That kind of grooming would only be dangerous in the icefields.

Finally he was to purchase an umbrella because, frankly, the day looked like rain. In fact, T.G. hoped it would rain and thought that perhaps by buying the umbrella, Murphy's Law would push those clouds over the edge. T.G. thought this due to the fact that he is an unusually lucky bear.

To be continued somewhere else...

As Always,

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Heather Speaks

Writing Exercise: Some days you don't need one. I started with: "I wish someone had told me..." and quickly diverged into a list of books I loved when I was young and then this...

We were all waiting. It is what you do when you are homeless person. None of us are homeless in the sense that we stand on the corner with everything we own in a shopping cart. We have Jude to thank for that. We are homeless in the sense that we live at Jude's and Jude's is the best shelter there is. We have a clean room with three small beds, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. We take showers everyday and Mother and Michael and I have moved all of our belongings from their suitcases into the dressers provided.

We saw Jude's billboard as we drove into town. It was a picture of Grandma Ruth wearing her bent smile while Jude knelt before her. She almost looked embarrassed on that larger than life photo, but her expression could easily be mistaken for gratitude. That was our introduction to the place.

We had to get out of town. Mother could no longer hold the stepfather at bay and it was time to leave. So, Patty gave us a ride to the big city and dropped us off right at Jude's doorstep, where the waiting all started. We were newly estranged from the step father and Grandmother and now from Patty and everyone else we know just by pure distance. In the end that is no great loss because they all looked at us strangely, as if we had antlers growing from our heads. In any case, that is how we got to Jude's. And he looks at us a bit differently. Not as if we had a huge rack of antlers, more as if he may devour us. I told Michael that. He rolled his eyes at me.

When we arrived, Jude shook each of our hands. He looked at Michael and I extra long, before moving on and smiling at Mother. "You will have a place with me for as long as you need," he said. Michael pays no attention, but I notice the details and I keep a list in my notebook. I keep referring back to them. In the hopes that some day I will decipher the pattern and from that I will be able to make it all right.

As Always,

Monday, April 7, 2008

the painting in the shelter

Writing Assignment: Write about a piece of artwork.

Rod Massey's Man Struggling with Ladder in Snow

The house lives and breathes. None of its lines are straight. Every inhale expands the whole structure, the corners rounding, adjusting to each breath. It stares at me. It looks me straight in the face with its crooked eyes. One of the awnings, the one above the left eye, sags down. Making it seem exhausted. Above, the eyebrows meet in a dormer peak.

The house listens as the man in red struggles up beside it. The man drags the ladder through the snow. He has dreaded this job, but by now he has put it off for long enough. The bleak days are hard on both of them. It's hard enough to get the sidewalks shoveled and the man doesn't often have the energy for the driveway. Well, now he is paying for his lack of effort. His ribs ache and his breathing rasps.

The porch windows line the main floor, a whole row of teeth in a pained grimace. The house is grim. He hates to be such a burden. He is prone to guilt and self reproach. But there's not much he can do about it, trapped as he is to the foundation.

As Always,

Postscript: In the typing of this I cut the fluff. There was a lot of fluff. It was a fun exercise.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Writing Exercise: Consider crickets.

I used to spend my summers away from the Midwest. Every summer I went to my dad's in Seattle and I returned home to Southern Minnesota at the end of August. Coming back would envelope me in heat and humidity, verdant, the great arch of canopy over the road as my mom drove me home. That first night, in bed, the curtains waved around on the breeze. To finally sleep in my room, in the heat ,with the sounds of people moving through the house. A thin sheet over me. The night pulsing with cricket noises. Is a cricket compelled to chirp in unison with its cousins? Is my heart compelled to beat along with the sound?

Years later returning from a shorter vacation. From the Northwest again, perhaps my Stepsister's wedding. My son was little. The first summer we had moved into our house and he was only one and a half. I carried him on my hip and pulled the screen door open. He stopped me with his head cocked to one side, "What's that noise?" (His question may have been less articulate but I got the gist.) It took a minute. I paused at the threshold of our house in the darkness. A moment were my attention moves over the great galaxy of my brain, coming back to the night, to the moving darkness, to his weight on my hip, the humidity, my breath carrying it in and out. And there it was, the curtain of crickets pulsating in the air, descending into my consciousness. A blanket of sound and time. Of gratefulness, of pure being, in this moment, in this place. Time freezes right there, no boundaries because it is rich with the texture of every summer, every moment, full of heightened attention. Full of crickets.

As Always,

Friday, April 4, 2008

I am a former Gastric Upset

Writing Exercise:
Freewrite about the girl or boy you once were. Comparing her/him to the you of today.

I used to be a Punk Princess. At least that is how my friend Connie and I referred to ourselves. We said it tongue in cheek. But there was enough practicing involved that it became a sort of reality. We were the self-proclaimed punk royalty of Austin, Minnesota. It didn't come with any special privileges, except perhaps the knowledge of our own brilliance. And freedom in that. (Today in yoga the hip opening Mantra was "I have a right to move freely and effortlessly" which reminded me of that time). We sang to each other on cassette tapes. And sent notes to each other filled with biting and pithy observations. It was my sophomore and junior years in high school.

Our pretend band was called the Gastric Upsets and our logo was fabulous, a blatant rip off of the Dead Kennedys', a clever tribute to our hero, Jell-O. We were pretty in pink looking but had the edge that Cyndi Lauper never had. Or so I believed.

Today I don't much have an edge. I don't shave my arm pits--that is the extent of my social statement. Oh and I buy grass-fed beef and organic produce. We don't go to McDonald's. I am mistaken for a hippy and I feel offended. But I guess I can see the resemblance. And more often than not that leap of categorization of me is from someone who is stuck in the confines of conformity. I walked to the co-op yesterday, carrying my cloth bag to buy tofu and kale for dinner. I wore my hair into two knots wound behind each ear and chatted up the pierced and tattooed man who checked out my groceries. In some ways its very clear that I've fallen from the punk throne. But perhaps me and Jell-O Biafra ate the same things for dinner last night.

As Always,

P.s. So this is the blog in it's transition. I wrote the exercise out in my notebook in the last ten minutes that the babysitter could stay and it changed a bit as I typed it in to the blog. Generally I will try to keep it as close to free association as I can--but probably I won't be able to keep myself from editing it a bit.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


If you are digging a hole in the wrong place, it doesn't help any to dig any deeper.

I have to change how I do this blog thing. Nineteen posts in and I notice something. It is not so helpful to me to spend so much time on process. This is writing practice so it has to be helpful to me. Its harmful to anylize this so much. I love it so I will not stop altogether. But for this to be helpful. To be my writing practice, I should be doing my own writing exercises and publishing them--the good, the bad and the ugly ones. Let's try that for awhile.

Here's what I fear:
--I fear that I will give up on my project if I don't push myself at it exceedingly hard.
--I fear that to get a novel right you have to have already written several bad ones. (I have no doubt that my novel is good, but I fear that I will ruin it with my inexpert approach.)
--I fear myself--my tendencies.
--I fear that by writing this down in black and white, I have somehow cemented it and possibly have made my fears into truths.

The antidote:

Dear Muse,
You know much more than I. I trust you. I submit my frustrating self as your vessel. You bare your teeth and growl now, but sometimes, inexplicably, you will wag your tail and sit in front of me with your eyes on my face, accepting it all. This letter is a bloody piece of steak, and I get near and throw it at you very afraid that you will come for me next. I can never truly tame you. It doesn't matter. I may not really want that. I pledge to offer something more precious
next time . A severed limb. An ear. A piece of my heart. One of my beloved characters. And from there we shall see where it goes. We shall see what you offer me. When you tear me apart with your teeth, I am grateful for your urging. I will take a deep breath and do what is required.
Your servant,

As Always,

Writing exercise:
Get in touch with your muse. Does it want blood (or not so much)? How much are they responsible?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

spring break

I didn't actually get the blog posted yesterday. I started it but didn't get farther than that. And I wrote in my notebook. But having the kids around really puts a damper on those kinds of things. Other things get done in spades. Like laundry. And calling friends on the phone to see if they can play. Sweeping and shaking the rugs in the entryway. Making toast. I also went to see Horton Hears a Who (which I recommend).

As Always (sometimes less than that),

Writing exercise: Be flexible. Use a notebook. Use the time you have and pay attention to what you are doing. Write in your head. Be really successful at it.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Shoulding Myself

I've been trying different things. Approaching the writing from other directions. That is the point with writing exercises. The beauty of the freewrite to let your intuition rule in what you write next. And you get to discover things that you never expected. And it has been said that there is surprising wisdom in my intuition but I rarely let myself be enough to catch it. Natalie Goldberg calls it a first thought that gets buried under a second or third thought.

The point of doing writing practice is that I do it whether it gets me somewhere or not. Difficult to do. Especially for me as I am always trying to get somewhere and I am always convinced that one thing or the other is going to provide the route. But I guess the other hand of that is that I'm good at making vows to myself. And if I make them I keep them.

I am undecided today. Not new news. I am not sure which way I am going. I know I should just let myself be. I can't accept it. I think I must take the best route, the most efficient, the most likely to pay dividends. I'm guessing that's the problem. It's a core value. There shall be no goofing off. But so much of creativity requires the goofing off. That is the crux of my struggle.

Here's a question: What is your approach when you scrub the shower? Do you lock yourself in the bathroom, clean it while you are naked, and allow yourself the very first clean shower? Or do you take the last dirty shower and then clean it for the next person? Either way are you finagling efficiency out of the deal. Thinking and planning how to approach the clean shower. Combining two tasks into one and not getting any of your clothing wet in the process. Naked or not, there is no spontaneity in it. This is what I'm talking about.

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Interview your eight year old self. Ask her what she would like you to do today. Make a list of things she would like to get done. Do your best to have a conversation. She's interesting and you don't get to talk to her very often.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

plunging in

I have been doing yoga for years. I can count them. Four and a half years. By now I'm pretty strong. Through the years different areas of my body have required attention. One are has been tense and sore and then I will pass that, move on to the next area. It started with ankles and tops of my feet. Next wrists and then shoulders. On to arms, triceps. Upper hip--by my hip bones. Now it is outer glutes. My body has changed a ton. I always had aspirations to be like Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. I'm not like her even now, but I'm strong. Anyway. Today I was doing crow posture. Poised on only my hands, bending my arms at the elbow, balancing with my knees at my arm pits. It's a weird posture that, you would think, requires a lot of arm and wrist strength. Which it does. But once you have that (it comes very quickly if you do yoga regularly) then it requires much more core muscle strength. And you can feel it as you begin to balance there. My solar plexus gather all together into a knot of energy. I have the strength I need. I can feel it as I curl around myself, poised. I balance, the very tip of one toe barely touching the ground. I can't quite make that mental leap to pull it all the way up. That is all that is left. The one thing. That transition from knowing that I am strong enough to trusting that I am strong enough.

I've never been very comfortable with transitions. I have never been very skilled at that final leap of faith. Like plunging into a freezing cold lake. Or immersing myself in a hot shower. Or dropping into flow. I've been trying to mind those gaps. Place my attention and my effort there.

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Write about something you hate. Write about it with feeling. Put the timer on for ten minutes and don't stop for anything. Now switch it around and pretend you love it. Writing with feeling. Spend ten minutes at it. Now how did it feel? What are you grateful for?

Friday, March 28, 2008

writng and the herb garden

Today the kids are home from school. Although it is quiet in the house because they are out and about. At any moment I have to be prepared for muddy hungry kids to come rolling in the door. That gets me straight to writing in flow. Which is not what I am doing right now. Because I want to make a sidetrack into this delicious and weird salad that I made last night. I loved it so much that I wanted to eat all of it, but luckily I did not because today after my run there was still some left over and I got to eat it again. Do you want to hear what was in it? Okay I will tell you, and I will also tell you that it was inspired by my friend Jenny Breen, Cook and Teacher extraordinaire, she and my stepfather are the people who have had the most influence on my cooking life and are true artists when it comes to food. She made a salad involving potatoes, tofu, avocado, and sesame oils and I couldn't get the flavors and textures out of my head. That was in January. Over time, I have added beats, roasted, and the sweetness with the other things is fabulous. And I added raw red cabbage. The crunchiness is delicious and I just love cabbage. And I put it on spinach--kind of wilting it all in the process. But the reason this is all so thrilling is just the process of it all. Feeding it to Josh and having him say it was quite a salad not in a Minnesota kind of way but in a "this is a whole meal onto itself and I find this crazy dishes satisfying even though I was bummed when you said you were making a salad for dinner." So this whole idea of writing in flow and cooking in flow is interesting for me. The idea that getting into flow is more of an attitude and an openness as it is with all other things we do. The idea is not new to me but the feeling it is. It's an orientation to the work that I hadn't considered. Does that make any sense?

Can I easily transfer that feeling with the novel? I think I can. Between that and accepting the fear--as in vacuum cleaning--see yesterday's post. I have it made. Well and finally accepting some of the loss that letting go of half of my ideas. And that is another comparison to the way I cook. I have a million delicious herbs in my garden. But when I cook with them I have to choose the one direction. Even though I love them all. I have not found the dish where I use mint and sage together. But mint goes with basil and cilantro and parsley and strawberries. But maybe not all at the same time. Now the sage it can go with the parsley and tomatoes and mushrooms (I have not yet got mushrooms to grow in my garden but I am trying.) I have to find my thread with cooking and give up those other plants. Not for ever but just for this one meal. And I can feel sad. In fact perhaps I should feel sad, it only makes sense. Because they are all brilliant herb (read ideas) that I'm excited about. Perhaps disappointed more than sad. Now I must go. I did not intend to prattle on like this. Too much to do and so little time. Are we warmed up?

As Always,

Writing Exercise:
Make up a crazy Salad. Or have your character do it. What are her favorite foods? Now have her mix them together.