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.