Sunday, May 30, 2010


This is my fortieth post. In keeping with my obsessive tendencies, I'm glad that it's a multiple of ten because that makes my mind easier about writing the post I am about to compose... my last post for a while.

As you may have gleaned from my last few posts I have been caught up in an incredibly busy season, between teaching, graduate school and other wonderful opportunities to volunteer and learn I have negligible time to write. So, I have to admit some bad habits I've gotten into, and I apologize for them in advance:

#1 I have thrown together my posts. They have recently been almost streams of consciousness off the top of my head, which have their place but are not what I originally intended for the blog.
#2 I have neglected reading and commenting on other's blog which I usually cherish reading and pondering. I believe blogging should never be one sided and I have not had the time to reach out like I've wanted to.
#3 I have been dreading writing rather than eagerly anticipating it. Maybe it is the lack of time, maybe it is my knowledge that I am posting rough sketches and ideas instead of something I am proud of. Either way, I do not have the same joy about blogging as I did at first.

Considering all of this, I have decided to take a hiatus from the blog for a while. I am not sure how long but I don't think it will be forever. I think this will have some wonderful benefits, since I will have time to slow down and think, listen and create under no deadlines. Still, I know I will miss the community that has formed here. I treasure all of the comments I have received and as I think over the last few months of blogging the following benefits have sprung to mind:

#1 The wonderful friends I have met and the loved ones I have reconnected with. This sense of community and support has been priceless to me, so thank you all.
#2 An appreciation for the various styles and blogs that are out there. I have read so much wonderful content simply because someone commented on what I had to say, or introduced me to a blog I might like. It really opened my eyes and broadened my horizon.
#3 A chance to practice my voice in writing without criticism or ridicule. I was a pleasure to weekly spill my thoughts and feeling in a genuine way, that allowed me to find my own voice.

So, thank you all for listening, commenting and caring. I will be back at some time, in some form, and I will still be reading and following your blogs I hope. Thank you again.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


One of my dad's mantras as I was growing up was, "You've got to have a plan," or "Let's make a plan." He insisted upon thinking ahead. I remember when he first sat me down and taught me how to create a plan for a school project so that I would get a little done every day and not be overwhelmed. That helped me immeasurably in school. Time management is absolutely critical in accomplishing all of the requirements and assignments at school and work.

Because of this great training, I thought I was a great planner but recently I realized that my planning needs some adjustments. My first problem is that I worry about everything. I know that if I am in a panic about the paper that is due, I need to sit down and find a way to get it done. However, I have recently seen my planning deficiencies. I am not good at long term planning. My indecision reeks havoc on my best intentions. I have dreams and hopes aplenty but an actual plan or direction? I am not sure. I often get too caught up in the details to notice the big picture. I micromanage my own life.

Now, before I hear a chorus of dissent reminding me that plans are made to be broken and life is unpredictable, I admit that I do recognize this fact. Certainly spontaneity is a characteristic that I cherish and try to cultivate. Being flexible in the face of unexpected events is a virtue to be certain. But it is not a reason to have no plans at all. There is a danger in letting things just happen to you instead of living life according to your convictions, beliefs, hopes and dreams.

All of this started milling about in my head when I read a chapter in, “Father Fiction,” a book by Donald Miller about growing up without a father. (The book is fascinating because it confronts the statistic that in the United States 80% of the inmates in prison nation wide grew up without a father. ) This particular chapter was about how Miller became an author. He writes that one day he realized he had to "start making good decisions." Which I found a very interesting way to phrase his "coming of age." He realized he had to start making decisions that led him where he wanted to go and so he got serious about writing. There have been many twists and turns in his journey but he kept his course and has indeed become a published writer. I was very inspired by that. Do I really plan to be a published author? I asked myself and my answer was (not surprisingly) indecisive.

I love what I have observed many bloggers doing: taking a day, a week, a month, even a year to unplug, recharge and evaluate where they have been and where they are going. As this school year draws to an end, I sense a need to do this too, to look at my life from a wider lens.

What about you? Do you air on the side of spontaneity, over planning, neither or both? Do you set aside time to take stock and evaluate your life? What are your dreams? What is your plan to reach them?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Yes and No

I have made precious little time for writing lately. This led me back to the admission that I have an incredibly hard time knowing when to say yes and when to say no. I have heard both sides concerning which answer should be more readily used. If we say “yes” more often we do not miss out on things, we do not shirk adventure because of fear or worry. However, if we say, “no” more often we do not overextend ourselves as much, we avoid burnout and resentment.
I am am someone who offers an eager yes to everything under the sun. I know it is so important to focus on what matters, but everything matters to me. And I truly love the multitude of activities that I delve into. So, how do I say no? When do I say no?
These are some questions that I have been working on to help me keep perspective and not allow my overzealous “yes” to get the best of me:

Do I still have plenty of time to build and nurture my relationship with my family?
Am I doing this with joy or out of guilt?
In 10 years will this seem as urgent or significant as it does right now?
Am I trying to prove something by doing this?
Am I willing and able to give appropriate time and attention to this opportunity?

Granted these are subjective questions. But, at least they slow me down enough to consider my words before I commit to any new things.

What about you? Are you more ready to say yes or no? Why is that? I can’t wait to hear all of your responses.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A letter to my mom

It really is wonderful that there is a day set aside for us to think about the women who brought us into the world and who made us who we are today. It's incredible to think of how intricately our lives are woven together with theirs. On days like today, I try to step back and pay attention to the love, sacrifice, support, encouragement and prayers that my mom gave so willingly. I am always amazed. Here is a small tribute to my mom.

Dear Mom,
Happy Mother’s Day! I wish I was spending it with you in person, but I thought I’d write you a letter to let you know how grateful I am for you. On Mother’s Day, I always think of your courage and patience. My image of you will forever be as a hero standing in my corner, cheering for me even when the odds were not in my favor.
As a teacher I see so clearly what a difference a caring mother can make and I have begun to realize the big and the small things that you did to change my life for the better. Here are a few that come readily to mind:
You cared about my education. You spent hours reading to me. You volunteered at school. You baked cupcakes and cakes for my birthdays. You listened to all my stories. You taught me how to celebrate even small accomplishments. You treasured my art projects. You taught me to sing. You modeled generosity and charity. You prayed with me about everything.
So, here are my sincerest thanks, my deepest appreciation and my greatest gratitude for you as my mother.
All my love,

To my readers:
Who influenced you life in a major way? Was it your mom? Was it a grandmother? A teacher? I’d love to hear about all the great women who have shaped our lives in unique ways.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


There is a club at my middle school that is called Helping Hands. Due to lack of funding they were recently fused with the Green club to form what some refer to as the Green/Helping Hands. And no, I am not joking. It is always an amazement to me how schools are a microcosm of society.

This is not the point however. Yes, I will admit, that at first I found the name somewhat cliche and it brought up for me images of Napoleon Dynamite's sign-language interpretive dance, every time it was announced over the loud speaker.

However, I was quick to find out that this club was one of the most popular at the school and beyond that- they really made a difference.

I saw them at work today. We were in our community raising awareness and support for poverty and specifically malnutrition and hunger. This issue is close to my heart. It was a moving sight to see “under-privileged” youth attack this vice of society with such animosity. And not only the students but the burnt out and stretched thin teaching staff that showed up en-force.
I have been thinking deeply lately about how to teach children to help. How can I cultivate a passion for serving others in the hearts of my students?

As a child myself, I thought helping was easy. I suppose it is because young people (and I know I am still on the young end of the spectrum- but I mean adolescent people) have an untarnished self-confidence. They see a need and address it. They have not yet learned to think? Do I really know what is best for this person? Would this person feel uncomfortable if I “exposed” their need by helping? Do I have the resources to help this person long term?

No, the child helps almost instinctively- they see a need they reach out and share, or comfort or simply do what needs to be done. And there is a beauty to that. However, how can we teach others, and how can we ourselves- help effectively?
What does it look like to be kind in our day in age- where people often want what will only hurt them and don’t want what they most need? Do we only help those who ask? Do we always help those who ask? I am baffled by the complexity of such a fundamental mandate- to help others. I was especially moved this week by a quote of Albert Scheitzer’s that I stumbled upon, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” What a striking sentiment! And so, my thanks goes out this week to my dear friend(s) who organized and started this service project and to my students who are learning how to serve. Both are infinitely beautiful acts.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A list of my loves

I love to read.

I love to read books that transport me to another time and place, that captivate me with daring plots and dashing characters.

I know I have found such a book when I am sorry to see end. I tend to drag out the last few chapters of my favorite books- willing them to last longer. There is a fierce tension between my need to see what happens and my desire for the story to never end. Last night, I stayed up past midnight reading, “City of Thieves” by David Benioff. Yes, it was vulgar and crude at parts but it was historically fascinating and it made me laugh out loud. The marriage of funny and fascinating is a unique phenomenon that makes for addictive reading.

I also love to read blogs and letters.

I was just over at Deborah’s blog the Temptation of Words and I read her post, "On Happiness”- fabulous. I loved it. It reminded me of a letter I received at college from my sister. Inside the envelope was simply a list (and a long list at that) of things that she loved. She asked that I write her back with my own list.

What an exercise in gratitude. It is all too easy to focus on the things we dislike about our lives but when we sit down to make a list of the good, it grows quite long. The key is to be specific, to notice the details. Here is a sampling ( in no particular order) of my own list:

-The creases next to my husband’s eyes when he smiles.
-The light coming through the newly emerging leaves on a sapling.
-Hot tea with cream and sugar in a fine china teacup.
-Cupcakes (of course).
-The hilarious comments my students unwittingly utter on any given day.

What do you love? What do you love to read?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cupcake Extravaganza

Has anyone ever heard of Camp Cupcake? I discovered an article about this sweet craze in a local paper this week and found that the phenomenon was coming to a nearby city! Being a former baker, I had to check it out.

The premise is this: Several bakeries in the area put on the event. The purpose is to give away free cupcakes. Amateur bakers may bring entries as well. There is no charge, no catch, just lots of cupcake eating (and of course, publicity for the bakeries).

So, I went!

And I stood in the cold for an hour and a half awaiting entry into the house of free cupcakes.

A kind of camaraderie formed within the epic line as we waited. One stranger joked that she hadn’t even had a cupcake in a year, that she didn’t really like cupcakes, but they were free and who could pass on that?
But when we finally entered the room full of treats, the culinary creations blew away my expectations. Most of the cupcakes were too big to even fit into your mouth for a bite. They towered high, piled with buttery cream frosting and various edible ornamentations. Many were sprinkled with shimmering sugar or glazed with smooth creamy chocolate. A personal favorite was the carrot cupcakes and their decadent cream cheese frosting. The sweet and savory combination was perfect. It was the only cupcake that didn’t make my teeth hurt from the overabundance of sugar.

And here is what I took away from the night of sweets:
(We were not allowed to take any cupcakes home that night, all baked goods had to be eaten then and there which only added to the frenzy. So the following are theoretical treats...)

1. Americans are greedy. I am so eager to do everything all at once. Despite my best intentions I do not pace myself or take only what I need. As awful as it is to admit, I am a greedy American, grabbing for another cupcake before I finished my first (to the utter amusement of my friends.) If I could learn to gain pleasure from being rather than having or consuming, I would be MUCH better off.

2. Laughter is sweeter than sugar. The two friends that I went with are the wonderful sort of women who make everything a bit brighter. Waiting in the cold for over an hour is a dreary pastime but somehow they turned it into a memorable night of people watching, story telling and game playing. Half of the wait, I was doubled over in laughter at the ridiculous nature of our outing and my friends’ clever remarks.

3. Sometimes the classics are best. With all the pomp and circumstance of unusual and innovative cupcake creations, the biggest hits were the usual suspects, vanilla and chocolate. Simple and sweet. Sometimes adding too much can take away from the experience.

All in all (as my students would sum up any paper), it was a fantastic night.

What random and enjoyable adventures have you embarked upon this week? Have you done anything out of the ordinary that made you smile?

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I have recently embarked upon a degree in Special Education. One of my assignments was to write about a time that I felt disabled. Here is what I remembered as I began to write (it turned out to be longer than I intended):

When I was six years old, I underwent major eye surgery. Born with a lazy eye, I had experienced double or blurred vision since the day I came into the world. In August of 1990, that finally changed.

As a precocious six year old, I was convinced there was nothing wrong with me. I liked picking out glasses but I hated going to the eye doctor. He gave me tests I could not pass and it was infuriating. He’d ask me to point out the object closest to me but they all looked exactly the same. I’d shake my head to indicate that I could not do it. He would get a look of disapproval that cut to my heart. I learned to guess the answers, and then to memorize them, since I had to take the tests so many times. Sometimes my guesses would be right, more often than not, they’d be wrong.

All of this occurred before I had even entered kindergarden. That year my eyes became so bad that the doctor prescribed a patch over my weaker eye. I got to pick it out and I picked out a packet of beautiful rainbow patches, disposable so that I would get a new one each day. It stuck to my eye and was uncomfortable- not to mention that it obstructed a whole half of my field of vision. Still, I was confident on my first day of kindergarden.

I will never forget how those kids stared and laughed at me. The crashing of my self-image remains crystal clear in my memory. I was humiliated. They laughed and laughed and there was nothing the teacher could do about it, the damage was done.

I learned to throw my patch away before entering the school. I had to keep it on in the car with my mom, but before I went in the door, the patch was off. I can still picture the crumpled rainbow against the inside of the black trash bag. I'd try to drop it in casually so that no one would notice.

Obviously my vision got worse. It became hard to see anything and I could not read at all. The doctor warned my mom that my eyesight was deteriorating and that he was afraid I would eventually lose sight in my left eye. So, he suggested a fairly new surgery where the muscles in my eyes were cut and reattached, forcing them to work together and not allowing the shifting of my weak eye.

My mom agreed and I was excited. All the attention and preparation made me feel like a star. I couldn’t wait to go to the hospital, I even got to ride in a red wagon into the operating room. I had no idea the nightmare that lay ahead. It turned out that I was allergic to the anesthesia that they gave me. I woke up in a panic, screaming and kicking; trying to pull the IV out of my arm. I was terrified. What made things worse was that they had bandaged my eyes and I could not see. It would be like that for a week. I finally settled down but the darkness was still frightening. I wanted so badly to rip off the bandages.

The week that followed was excruciating. I could listen to movies but not watch them, I ate mostly ice chips and crackers. I was in pain a lot of the time.

But, when they finally took the bandages off, I could see. I looked out the window and saw light filtering through gorgeous green leaves. It was like nothing I had seen before and it was so beautiful.

However, all of the blood vessels in my eyes had been broken and I had to wear sunglasses because my appearance scared the other children. Again, I was an outsider to those my own age but I knew that I was going to get better. And I did. The surgery worked and I could see far better than before. I still only had limited three dimensional vision but over the years that has improved.

Looking back, I am so grateful for the support of my parents and the wisdom of my doctor. I wish that I could erase my fear of hospitals or the dreadful memories of being laughed at in school. I wish that I could prevent that experience for all of my students. No one should ever feel like they are less than human because of a disability.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


"Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning."
Psalm 30:5

In the depth of darkness, I often forget what light is like. I lose hope of ever feeling the warm sun again or seeing the soft colors brighten the horizon. When I am sick, as I was the week, it feels like I will never be better. I wake up at night and can not sleep. My body tells me that morning will never come. Anxiety builds in my muscles and my mind races for freedom. All energy and strength are sucked into this whirlpool of fearful night.

On a broader scale, there are periods of my life that are so dreary they feel like night. The search for emotional and spiritual light seems bleak. Somehow, even in the darkest of internalized night, I hope and I pray that, "this too shall pass," and that joy will come in the morning.

And eventually, the sun rises. The light breaks into the beauty of a new beginning.
I try to etch those sunrises on my memory, so the next time I will not lose heart so quickly.

This morning is one to remember; brilliant and clear. The smells of new life burst from the dense, dark soil. The calls of doves and chickadees streak the air with harmony. The light of the sun penetrates my cold skin, warming my fearful heart. This Easter morning weaves joy and hope back into my weak and fragile heart.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


When I am stuck with a decision, in a bad habit, or staring at a blank page, the most frightening thought is that there is no getting beyond this point. Terror shoots through my veins at the thought that we are stuck eternally, lacking any ability to change. And it is true that we are often not powerful enough to will our way through a situation. However, the anxiety over our apparent lack of movement or direction is deceptive. We are not stuck for good. Change and all its uncomfortable transitions will soon sweep down upon us and this roadblock will seem nothing but a distant memory. It is hard to say what is more frightening change or the lack of it.

This week, I would have thrown in my lot with the latter because this week I felt stuck when I was writing. It was not a lack of motivation. My brain seemed to be blocked by some undefined impediment. The edges of my mind could not hang on to a clarity of direction and as a result, I could not think of a single thing to type. So I sat.

Sitting still is a challenge for me and often I find myself paralyzed in a web of repetitive thought when I try to embrace stillness for more than a few minutes. So, I talked to myself (which is a common occurrence when I write). I reminded myself that, “This too shall pass.” My assurances, that I could and would get past this blockade, were enough to push my brain through the fog and I continued on, to my own utter amazement.

Similarly, I was talking with a dear friend this week and she reminded me of a misunderstanding that had occurred between us years ago. I had almost forgotten it. She said that it stuck in her mind because as we sat there, locked in silence she realized that she could not, for all her willpower, change what she was feeling. And she knew what she was feeling was disproportionate to the situation. I asked her what she did, because I did not remember and I often find myself in a similar situation with emotions swelling to the breaking point. She said that she prayed and was utterly amazed that moments later we were able to move beyond our argument with clarity and grace.

These small victories bring me the greatest joy. I look for every occasion to celebrate them.

What amazes you?
What do you love to celebrate?
What do you do when you are stuck?

Sunday, March 21, 2010


A friend left a message for me the other day and prefaced it with, “I know we are both so busy right now.” Then she paused and added, “and when are we not?!” Which got me to thinking, how did we get stuck in the perpetual state of scrambling for time, feeling like there is never enough?

We have a neighbor from Algeria, he always jokes that Americans are rich with money but poor with time and Algerians are just the opposite. What an insightful and challenging statement.

I think half the struggle with time is our frantic fear that there is never enough. We try to squeeze activities out of every second and yet are unconscious of the distractions which suck away our time from our true passions and creative pursuits.

Barbara DeMarco- Barrett in her book, Pen on Fire, explains how we trick ourselves into thinking we need more time than we do to be creative. We can only use the time we have, but we have to be intentional about how we spend it or we fritter it away.

So, I am trying to be intentional this week with my time, to sit down and write, even if it’s only for 15 minutes, to spend time with people rather than with projects. I am determined to fight the lie that there is never enough time and believe instead that there is just enough.

How do you decide what is worthy of your time? So how are you spending your time this week?

Sunday, March 14, 2010


So often, at the end of winter, life seems to lose it’s flavor and become almost bland. I have found that the root of the problem is often that I have begun to live my life mindlessly. How sad to cruise through our brief existence on autopilot when the world is so full of wonders.

This winter, as this began to happen, I sought ways to spice up my life. And as they say, “variety is the spice of life.” The only problem is that variety can be scary. There are times when even the thought of change and variety makes me feel anxious and exhausted when really it is cause for anticipation and excitement. But variety can help us appreciate our rituals and routines. Variety challenges what we accept without question and draws attention to blessings hitherto unnoticed.

At an airport a few weeks ago, I picked up the book “French Women Don’t get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano. At first the title struck me as arrogant and ridiculous but then I spotted the sub title: “The Secret of Eating for Pleasure.” I was intrigued. As I began to read, I found that the book was about much more than weight or even cuisine. It was full of philosophy. The heart of this philosophy was that we should enjoy what we eat and what we do. We should never crash through our day or our meals unconsciously. Instead, the author urges us to slow down and pay attention to the details of our lives. After we have taken stock, she challenges each of us to try something new, to embark on daily creative and culinary adventures. Adding even the slightest variety into the status quo can be transformative.

I have found this to be good advice. As I have slowed down to really taste what I am eating, as I have thought about ways to add variety to my writing, as I have noticed the sunrise driving to work each morning, I have found an eagerness and gratitude for each day.

So, here is the challenge: slow down, try something new, notice the details in your day. Then, please let me know...What adds spice to your life?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ocean Thoughts

As I sat on a stone wall overlooking the ocean, I contemplated the majesty of the waves. The sound of their crashing brought me a strange thought- the waves have their effect because they break up, they fall apart.

The end of the wave is what has the power to change the face of the shore, to erase footprints and rearrange rocks. After the crest of the wave closes out, the whitewater comes bounding in like small shaggy dogs, tearing up the sand beneath them. Then the frenzy suddenly smoothes out into a taunt brow.

I knew there was a lesson in this (as my dad would say) but I could not figure the meaning out. And then, I talked to a dear friend who had just faced a bitter disappointment. Through my conversation with her I realized that we are not powerful people because we hold it all together. It’s in our most broken and thrashed moments that we show our true strength. I found such freedom in this thought.

One minute we think we have it all figured it out. Then, in the next moment, we come down from the crest of expectation into the crushing whitewater of disappointment. It’s in that swirling confusion that we change. Usually when we least expect it, peace comes and begins to smooth out all that remains. It is a process, a terrifying, awesome and transformative process.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Creating in Community

“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, 

his friend can help him up. 

But pity the man who falls 

and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. 

But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, 

two can defend themselves. 

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
-The Bible (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

What a success your ideas on motivation were. I got more done this week on my screenplay than I have in months! Those thoughts, in conjunction with a beautiful letter from a dear friend, got me thinking about creativity and how it flourishes in community.

I find it interesting that although I often seek solitude in which to write, I would have little to write about without those who surround me, both strangers and friends. Not only are others the source of my material but they are what make my dreams so brilliant. Shared excitement over a goal or vision is dynamic. A simple plan when encouraged by another’s enthusiasm can become a vital direction in a creative journey. It just takes the courage to share those dreams and plans.

I think everyone, especially every writer, artist, singer, gardener, creator(and who is not one of those things?), feels this tension between the unique experience that is their life and their desire to share who they are with others. I am not saying that it is not terrifying to allow another to gain a glimpse of your true self. I am simply saying that it is often where the most powerful and creative material springs from.

I encourage you to take just a moment to soak in gratitude for all those who have brought creativity into your life. For me, they have come in every shape and size. We have shared our stories: face to face, via phone, over email and, most recently, on our blogs. Where would I be without them? Do you share your dreams and aspirations? I hope you will share some this week.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


It is sometimes easier for me to deal with the big emotions like fear, love and even insecurity. However, it is somewhat more difficult to approach the more mundane feelings that keep us from taking risks and doing things. The enemy of action is most often inertia. It is boredom and laziness, not "feeling like" writing, moving, or taking a risk. This ennui is the father of procrastination.
So often I know that I could make time to write or do something I love an yet I don't simply because it takes too much energy. This is not the same thing as being exhausted or burned out. It is just the lack of desire and drive.
How do you pull yourself out of these sort of ruts? Do you just do it anyway, moving forward despite the lack of excitement? Or do you wait it out, knowing that this too shall pass? What keeps you motivated? I am eager to know. I am trying to store up a cache of motivation for the days (like today) when I feel totally sapped of all creative impulse.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I think one of the first things that amazed me about my husband (though there were many) was his validation of my writing. He liked to read my poetry, my childhood stories, my random thoughts while journaling, he loved to read everything I wrote and I was amazed. Now, I'm sure that this seems like I fell victim to the first flatterer to compliment my work. But this is certainly not the case. The part of this story that reveals the depth of our love is that I showed him my writing at all.
I began writing everyday in elementary school. I wrote in a locked diary, I wrote letters, notes- I even roped my sisters into writing a family newspaper with me. I wrote like my pen was on fire. I wrote like I had to get out onto paper everything that was in my head. And that was enough. I just wanted it on paper. I didn't care if anyone ever saw it or liked it. And for the most part I did not show anyone what I wrote. At least not until it was polished or perfect, usually I had someone read it only because it had to be submitted for a grade. My writing was mine and mine alone. It was my private world to escape to when this life seemed unbearable, unbelievable or amazing. I escaped there to sort things out, to think them through with myself.
But something about my husband made me trust him. I remember when he read the first poem I wrote for him. He paused for a long moment, looked up and told me, “You are a great writer.”
He reminded me that you cannot get any better unless you show others your work. You cannot write in a vacuum. He gave me confidence and I doubt that I ever would have begun writing seriously if not for him. He taught me to trust my writing instincts and not worry about being perfect but just about being me. How can I express my gratitude for his encouragement and love?
How about you? Do you have others you can count on to appreciate your work? I would love to hear about your critics, fans and inspirations.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Midnight Calls

There is nothing more jarring than the phone ringing past midnight and before dawn. It always means something bad, always. No one every calls at 2 am to say they are getting married or having a baby. In my experience, 8 times out of 10 someone has died. The 9th time might be news of a hospitalization and perhaps once you get lucky and it’s a wrong number.
I hate the sound breaking the silence of my sleep. The ring is so clear against the cold air. My half peaceful heart, always braced for disaster, wakes up pounding, dreading the worst, constructing obituaries for various names in my head.
Two years ago, just before Christmas, it was my husband’s grandmother.
I had been sick so I stayed in bed while he took the call. His family lives across the country so I reasoned they simply forgot about the time difference. But, the odds were against me.
When he came back to bed I asked him if everything was okay. He replied, “No.”
Its such a rare response to that question that I sat up, startled. He said, “Nana just died.”
I felt sick to my stomach. I felt the suck of words draining from my vocabulary- nothing to say. Fear of losing everyone filled me. Bad news never seems to come alone. I was afraid that this loss would divide us, hopeful that it would not. I was lost in his loss. I was uncomfortable, scared and still sick. My head ached with exhaustion but I could not sleep.
The rest of the week I prayed for peace, I looked for flights and finished up the exams and papers for my graduate classes.
After the funeral, after we were back, I got my end of term work back. One of my professors had scrawled, “Writing seems a bit rushed,” atop a paper. I tossed the work aside in great anger. It’s funny how quickly sadness can turn bitter and angry. “He doesn’t have a clue about my life,” I thought. Which was true. Yet, I had no desire to open up and give him a clue. So, I kept the B. It was the first B of my graduate school career.
Grieving authentically is a skill which our culture seems to ignore. How do we do that? What is a genuine response when things are not okay? My impulse is to write...and write...and write some more- pulling all I perceive out of my pain.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prayers of the Downtrodden

My husband and I drove downtown today. We went to the hospital to visit a friend. A devastating car accident placed him there about a year ago. He hit a tree head on and never went into shock. He felt his legs shatter and his hip break. He was conscious when the helicopter came to pull him out. Then he lost consciousness for weeks. Against all odds he is still living. His body now full of metal, infection and surgical scars.
As I walked through the lobby and rode the elevator with my husband I became aware of the sterile air, and the force of fear I always face when entering a hospital. The dread is so palpable I don’t even try to notice the details or describe what I find so repulsive. I simply want to be out as quickly as possible.
Our friend feels the same way. He aches for freedom. He has no flowers, no view of the wider world, only a scratchy TV. Gratitude and anger fight within him when he speaks about his situation.
This afternoon, he expressed his longing to get out of bed without help. To drive to a donut shop and get out of the car himself, walk up to the cashier and order an iced coffee and a coffee roll. To him, that will be the ultimate victory. And to me, it is an expected part of my day or week. I walk through life with no wonder, no appreciation for the gift I have been given.
As we continued to talk, he woefully mused that every turn has been a conglomeration of misery and miracles. He noted that his story truly would be one worth reading. He noted that the polarity of the Psalms have been his comfort whether agonizing over his plight or appreciative that he survived. He loves the authenticity of emotion.
And I was struck by the fact that all of our stories are worth reading-that our authentic emotions are valid and valuable. And yet we don’t share them. There are stories that need to be told. Do we have the courage to tell them?

*I plan on exploring the theme of authenticity and emotion for a few weeks. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I thought for a very, very long time that I could control when things happened. I understood the concept of causation and simply imagined myself to be the only catalyst needed to start my plans in motion. I didn’t fail because it never crossed my mind as a possibility.
I cruised along under this determined and diligent narcissism until I was about 14 when I entered the Reader’s Digest writing contest. It was a humor contest, asking for amusing stories from reader’s daily lives.
Even at that age, I knew that humor was one of the most challenging endeavors for a writer. But, I was determined and that meant I must succeed. Fortunately, I did have plenty of fodder for the funny piece. I chose to write about a recent baking fiasco, when I attempted to bake “No Fail Fudge.” (I’m sure that you can already foresee the irony of the piece.)
I had the kitchen to myself and I was eager to begin my culinary career. I got the recipe for No Fail Fudge from the back of a fluff jar. Looking back, this should have been the first clue that I was not on the path to sweet success. Fluff is certainly not the foremost ingredient of sublime pastries.
The real problems began when I tried to substitute ingredients. The recipe called for evaporated milk. I had never even heard of evaporated milk. Using the power of deduction I figured that the liquid has been evaporated out of the milk making it pretty much the same thing as powered milk.
It is not at all the same thing. A truth which I came to realize minutes later when faced with a burnt pan, a kitchen full of smoke and a full blown failure.
Sadly, not only my fudge was a failure but also my attempt in narrating it humorously. I was hit with my first rejection letter.
Since then I have written several more dismal pieces of writing. My frustration came in the fact that the harder I tried to make something good and worthwhile the worse it turned out.
Success does not submit to our time table.
I often wonder when I will believe that I am a writer? Perhaps when I surrender my futile attempts to bridle success. Perhaps when I stop trying so hard and start enjoying the journey.

Monday, January 18, 2010


What in the world am I doing?
I was reminded this weekend that there are no ordinary days*. Today is priceless. We know on some level that money can't buy time and yet we act like we can-as if today was an asset to be spent as we please. How foolish.
There is no sensical way to run cost analysis on creation. I remind myself of this when I start to fall for the toxic lie that writing is not a worthwhile use of my time. This sort of doubt only breeds paralysis.
It is especially hard to move and write in the face of tragedies like the one which has just devastated Haiti. I sit scared and wordless when I consider it.
But the healing, growth and creativity that writing fosters should not be ignored in times like these. It is an honor to have the rough hewn tools of words to carve out the wonder of the world we live in. There is so much worth writing about. We need only remember that our words are invaluable. They can bring life or death. We can silence them or allow them to acknowledge and validate the realities of this crazy life we live.
So, I ask myself: What am I doing today? Am I writing in the face of my fears and doubts? Am I creating something? Am I reaching beyond myself to write about what matters in this life?
*The video at this site played a big part in my reflections:

Sunday, January 10, 2010


As promised I am getting back to the basics by asking the 5 Ws Who, What, When, Where and Why? Today, I tackle...
I started out asking the question Who? in a very pragmatic way. I realized that I needed to figure out: Who will be interested in reading (or even better-buying) my writing? I know absolutely nothing about the business end of anything, especially not writing. I never knew (and perhaps still don’t) the difference between an agent, an editor and a publisher. I have always been fuzzy on copyright laws and intellectual property. That whole mess seemed quite overwhelming and I closed my eyes to it, hoping that someday I’d be magically discovered as a writing prodigy and simply fall into a book contract.
I realize now that this was lazy, timid and foolish. Marketing does not necessarily sully the art of writing. Business can sharpen and hone writing. It can be a way to polish a diamond in the rough. Writing for myself is certainly where it starts but it does not have to be where it ends. There may be others who care about what I do and what a challenge to find them and to show them my work! (for a wonderful blog on this, see Rachelle Gardner’s Rants and Ramblings
There are other, perhaps deeper, Who questions to be answered as well. For example: Who are my characters? and Who am I as a writer?
It took me two or three months to really develop my characters and I find every time I write they are still developing. It was very helpful to me to try and visualize my characters and get to know them. I spent hours jotting down notes about their appearance, their motivation, their preferences, their fears, their mannerisms, their social status, their personal problems, even their vocal quality. At times it felt like a waste to wade so deeply into aspects of their lives which may only make a camio appearance in my work. Still, I kept at it and learned some valuable lessons. Now, I often return to these notes when I feel I am getting off track.
Unavoidably, I began to ask myself these same questions and I came to a fascinating conclusion. An author knows a character better than the character knows itself. And in life, the Creator knows me much better than I know myself. It seems odd that I could possibly still be learning about myself, but I change and develop like any good character. My likes and dislikes shift with time and my appearance morphs as well. I could never have seen who I am today and I cannot predict how that will change tomorrow. But through it all, I want to be integrated, to have all the pieces of my life woven together until I am a women of true integrity.

What are your Who questions and how do you answer them?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back to the Basics

My husband made a keen observation during our last discussion about writing. “Haven’t you got a bit off track?” he asked me. I knew immediately what he meant. I had noticed it myself but was hoping I could “get away with it."
I set up Penned but not Published in order to be more serious about writing, in order to devote more time to writing. I wanted to post my progress weekly and thus be held accountable as a writer.
Wonderful things have come about since I started blogging:
1.I have found deep and lasting encouragement from other writers.
2. I have discovered words of great wisdom in many blogs I now follow.
And perhaps most important of all..
3. I have developed as a writer. I have gained confidence and insight. My writing voice has become clearer and stronger. I write far more since starting this blog than I ever did before.
However, amidst all of these positives there lies hidden a negative.
The problem is that I have also used blogging to procrastinate. I have spent untold hours reading other blogs and surfing around the worldwide web. Many weeks, I have posted about writing on my blog but have not really written all week. This feels hypocritical. Too much time passes without any progress on my screenplay, stories or poems.
There is no easy way to remedy this. I cannot pull time or motivation out of thin air. But as I contemplated the problem, I came up with a fairly straightforward solution. I would use the methods I teach my students. I would ask myself questions. The basics: Who, What, When, Where and Why:
Who would be interested in publishing my work?
What am I most eager to complete and have published?
When could I reasonable complete my WIP?
Where do I see myself a year from now?
Why do I want to be published? (because being published doesn’t make you a “real” writer.)
So, I have devoted some time to seriously considering these questions. I have set aside my next 3 or 4 posts to answering these questions.
I would love to hear your answers as well. They might be simple questions but the answers can be quite profound. Please share what you have gained from blogging, distractions you have had to overcome or any questions that have guided your work.