Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ready Set Write!

Playwright and New Yorker writer Paul Rudnick says: "As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly."


I sit here in my spot--the morning still almost young at 8:58 AM--with the timer at the ready. But what am I doing? I am shuffling photos on facebook, reheating my coffee, confessing my undying devotion to my cats, checking email, texting with my daughter about the comfort of her new boots, enjoying watching the light pass across Linda's painting on the far wall, wondering if I should eat before writing. OK. Enough.

Timer, let's go. VAMOS!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Love that Paper

Here's a good prompt poem. Take any line as a starting point and write. Remember to set the timer: 15 minutes?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Into Our Own Experience

Edna O'Brien was working in a chemist's shop in Dublin when she discovered a slender volume called Introducing James Joyce: a selection of Joyce's prose,with an introduction by T.S. Eliot.

She later said: "I opened it to a section from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the Christmas dinner scene, with the blue flame over the Christmas pudding. Up to then, I had been writing rather fancifully, with a lot of adjectives. When I read that, I realized one thing: that I need go no further than my own interior, my own experience, for whatever I wanted to write. It was truly, without sounding like St. Paul, an utter revelation to me." (Writer's Almanac)

Into our own interiors, our own experience--this is where we must go to tell the stories we can tell and to write well.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Timing Can Be Everything

On my Facebook status, I mentioned that I loved timed writings and my stainless steel timer. Several people responded to the update and by email. Here are some timing ideas, starting with more about writing:

"How long do you set the time for?" someone asked me. "One hour," I said. And I set it again if I have the inclination and the space in my day.

If I'm writing in my journal, or responding to a prompt, I set the timer for 10 minutes.

I use a timer for meditation--20 minutes. That way I'm not peeking at my watch while I'm supposed to be emptying my mind.

I time my stretches after running--1o minutes. I get distracted and stop unless I hear the timer ticking. And I get really sore if I don't stretch.

To make sure I don't eat too fast, I set a timer for 20 minutes as I'm getting ready for dinner. The timer reminds me to set the table, light a candle, sit down, and appreciate my food. Otherwise I just might eat standing at the kitchen sink.

When I'm cleaning my messy, cluttered house, I set the timer for 45 minutes. When it sounds, I stop. I can only take so much.

How do you use a timer? How might you use a timer?

Monday, November 30, 2009

What Do You Expect?

So here's my question: When you go to a book reading, what do you expect? And when you're the one giving the reading, what do you expect of yourself?

I hosted an event on Sunday for Michele Murdock and had fun helping her prepare for her first-ever reading.

Here's what she expected of herself. She wanted to:

--make everybody feel at ease, right away, by using humor--as in, don't worry folks I'm not nervous. And this event will be lively and fun for everybody and I won't go on too long.

--read excerpts that showed her style in engaging scenes.

--give an understanding of why she wrote the book.

--discuss some of what she experienced (and endured) while writing the book.

--express her enthusiasm for the subject matter (This biography is about Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked for social justice in indigent Brazil).

--tell what she planned to do to promote the book.

--reveal how writing the book changed her.

And she did it, well.

My husband likes readings where authors don't read from their books--they just talk about writing the book. When my memoir came out, all I wanted to do was read. “You mean I have to talk about it too?” I asked him, "between excerpts?"

“Yes,” he said, “you do. You can always memorize things to say.”

I gulped, my stomach clutching at the thought of being spontaneous or caught off guard. I was a writer not a public speaker and convinced I’d freeze, like a deer in headlights, or be like his grandmother, who "opened her mouth and her brains flew out." I had to get over myself.

Sometimes readings are primarily readings. I remember one given by Joan Didion at UNC-Chapel Hill a few years back. She had recently published, The Year of Magical Thinking, about her husband’s sudden death the year before. And her daughter had just died. Didion was doing a short teaching gig--probably set up before both deaths--that included a public reading.

She came onstage--there were hundreds in attendance--looking her usual frail, gaunt self but more so. I couldn't imagine how she got her teeth brushed not to mention how she found legs to walk across that stage and address hundreds of fans.

After the introduction, she offered a very few words of thanks and began to read. She finished the first excerpt, thumbed through the book, took a sip of water, and began to read again. No comments. She finished that section, then read another. And another. At one point her voice got wavy and she had to pause.

The place was tomb-still. Her reading voice was mesmerizing.

When she finished her final excerpt she said something like, "I suppose there are a few questions." People lined up in the aisles behind mics.

One of the first comments came from an older man: I came out tonight to hear you and all you did was read from your book? I can read the book at home. What was the point of my coming here?

In an even, yet chilly voice, Didion said, "I was hired to give a reading and that's what I've done. That's what a reading is. Reading."

Couldn't he see how fragile she was? How tough this subject-matter? That she was first and foremost a human being? I wanted to clatter out of my seat and kick the guy in the head. So did everybody else. When he headed back to his seat, the crowd erupted: "Boo."

Didion answered several questions. She showed mettle, just getting through it. What she gave was enough, plenty, more than enough.

Fast forward to Natalie Goldberg reading at The Regulator Bookshop a while back. She should have stuck to her text--and kept her mouth shut on other subjects.

She greeted the crowd by professing her broad-grinned amazement that there were “actually independent bookstores in the South and that people actually came out to readings down here. Wow.”

Hurry up, woman. Read!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Morning Snapshot

My husband usually gets out of bed before I do on Sunday mornings. I hear the slam of the screen door as he walks out to the driveway to fetch The New York Times. He shuffles around in the kitchen, and says, "Okay, okay," to our two cats, who are getting underfoot and meowing at him. I snuggle deeper into the mattress. He loads up the measuring cup with dry food and dumps it into their bowls.

I call from the bedroom: "Coffee! Coffee!"

"Okay, okay," he says. He makes two pots of expresso--mine with steamed milk, his black. I move onto the living room couch (under the blue duvet you see in the photo). He reads to me from the Times--essays, book reviews, sometimes news stories. We talk about what's happening in the world and about what he has just read: does the writing work?

He reheats my now-tepid coffee. I read some more of the paper to myself.

I stumble off the couch and into the kitchen to make him a cheese omelet and me some toast.

Some days we take a walk after breakfast before getting to work. Today I'm walking alone because he's tearing his office up looking for a lost gadget.

What do you do on Sunday mornings?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Breaking Up The Old Patterns

After a workshop the other day, a woman approached me. We had made a list of 5 things we're grateful for as part of the session's closing--I like this as a send-off.

The woman told me she keeps a gratitude journal by her bed. Every night before she goes to sleep, she records 5 things she's grateful for and writes five more on waking up in the morning. She says this activity has changed her life--made her so much happier and more aware.

Another woman came up and told me she has a 27-year-old son with aspergers disorder. He lives on his own finally but can't work and has time management issues. She said she gets so tired of hearing his same stories over and over again--it's a huge stressor for her. She had written about this in the workshop. But she wanted to tell me that she and her son have started exchanging emails, writing to each other about what brings them each joy. This has helped him break out of his ritualized stories that she has heard over and over again.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Note from the Week

Here's a prompt from workshops this week that brought out all sorts of truths and odd anecdotes and revelations:

"Rules I Live By"

Try it and see where you go.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are You Writing?

Today's Writer's Almanac tells us that Augusten Burroughs, Running With Scissors, was born today. He stated the obvious, the truth some writers--count me in--have to hear over and over again:

"The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It's not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work."

The kitchen timer ticks. I am in my office--alone, locked away. And this is writing time. Is posting to my blog writing? I'll think about that later. Meanwhile, I'll reset the timer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's On: the Countdown

I am going to finish a draft of a book this November. Here's how.

Note: NaNoWriMo can work for NONFICTION writers too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back to School List

Prompt: Make a list of supplies you needed for school. Lists can evoke a lot, in so few words.


A new pen, yellow number 2 pencils, and a clean pink eraser.

A new sealed bag of 100 sheets of ruled white paper.

A new small metal pencil sharpener if I'd lost last year's.

New colorful subject dividers for my gray-blue linen-covered three ring notebook.

A new box of sticking three ring hole reinforcers--they looked like Lifesavers but tasted bad.

A new zipper-opening soft plastic pencil case with three holes--it fit neatly in the front of the three ring notebook. (I loved the pinging noise the metal rings made when I opened them.)

New white Keds for gym days. (They smelled like rubber.)

Two pairs of white anklets. (They smelled like starch and bleach.)

A new royal blue gym suit with bloomers. (Did we buy those or rent them from the school each year?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It was a first

Writing Prompt: The first time I . . .

For the first time in my life, I have looked at a puppy and said, "No, I won't take it home with me."

Here is a picture of the puppy, a papillon I visited in a pet store in Narragansett, Rhode Island. She is a 14-week-old female.

She is adorable and probably good-natured, but I've fallen in love on this vacation with another dog, Roo, who belongs to my friend Jessie. He too is a papillon--and the cutest, smartest, most mythological-looking and fascinating little dog I have ever seen.

Roo fetches tennis balls from the pond, snuggles in my lap, has the cutest trot and little ears that stand up straight--hence the name, papillon. I want him or a dog very much like him. In French papillon means butterfly; the erect ears look like butterfly wings.

Butterflies are highly symbolic for me.

Until this trip, I had sworn off more dogs--I've had enough. But now. hmmm. Roo is pure joy. Who wouldn't want that?

Meet Roo:

My husband Bill said, "I've never seen my wife-- who claims she's just 'going to take a look at a dog'-- not come home with it. And we'd have to fly this one home with us."

He sighed, resigned, knowing he would eventually love any pet that came into the house. He looked at the puppy then waited outside the pet store, wondering what I would do.

But this female I saw yesterday simply did not grab me. Her ears don't stand up, for one thing. We didn't connect. I walked outside.

"Surprise," I said. "I don't have a puppy with me."

Don't think, however, that I haven't contacted a papillon breeder in North Carolina. I have.

But it was a first for me, the first time I ever said no to a dog.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The last of summer

The last book?
The last meal?
The last ocean swim?

Write about the last _________ of summer.

We aren't there yet, but autumn is advancing
--in the breeze and the smells and the light.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Write about Something That has Closed

I walked by this store today, The Original Ornament, and saw the sign. I thought of the many times over the last fifteen or so years I have stopped in for a tiny repair job--a new necklace clasp, a back for an earring, a new strand for beads.

Most of what I bought cost about $1.35 and one of the clerks--usually a tattooed alternative type--did the job for me. I'm not dexterous and can't fix little pieces of wire. Everybody in there was always patient and helpful.

I thought about the time I hired folks from the store for one of my daughter's birthday parties. Each girl got a handful of little silvery and black beads and a coil of wire. They made snaky bracelets.

The store provided work stations and wire cutters and lots and lots of beads.

Here goes another small independent shop with excellent service, I thought.

So many stores have come and gone from this quaint "mall," the first floor of a converted cotton mill--with wooden floors, vast ceilings, and brick walls. The Original Ornament has been a mainstay.

I walked up and down the interior hall, reading shop signs: "20 - 70% off" "40% off." Many of the shops had no customers.

For some reason, I decided to head back by The Original Ornament and take a few photos. I guess I was feeling a bit sentimental.

"Why? The man!" A woman walked by and stopped to read aloud the magic-markered words on the leasing sign, explaining why the place was closing.

"Casey didn't close because of the man" the woman said to me. "She made bad business decisions--doubling the space. She was doing just fine in the smaller space. She owes all her creditors, big time."

I shrugged. Why was this woman railing at me about it? I have no idea who Stacy is. The owner, I guessed.

"Listen hon," she said, "it's all about business decisions--and when you make bad ones, well. I love Stacy. Really, I do. She just owes everybody."

The woman shook her head. "It's all about bad business decisions."

I wanted to say to her: bad business decisions? What about the American auto industry? What about the Walmartization of America? Every one of these stores in this mall is hurting--and probably on the way out. Bad business decisions up and down the aisle? Is that what's happening to all these small shops that offer boutique brands and good service?

I don't think so.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Perseverance: A List

1. The writer Alice Adams had a bad relationship with her mother, a failed writer. (The act of writing becomes fraught with family baggage.)

2. Alice decided that if she wrote maybe her mother would like her. (Risky idea. The mother would, more likely, be jealous.)

3. In college a creative writing teacher told her to quit writing and get married. (Authority figure speaks. Hard to counter that voice and not internalize it.)

4. She got married, had a child, and the marriage failed. A single mom, she worked as a secretary. (Time to write? When?)

5. Her psychiatrist told her to quit writing and remarry. (Yikes.)

6. She did not take his advice.

Make a list of forces working against you as a writer. Now set the list aside and get back to the writing.

Friday, August 07, 2009

"Tall Woman"

My god daughter Olivia Qin Buffett adores this statue in the lobby of Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan. Olivia, soon to be 21 months, stops to greet "tall woman," as she calls her, on her way in and out to visit her mother, Baolian, who has been on hospital bed rest for some time--since her membranes ruptured at 26 weeks pregnant.

Olivia is fixated by "tall woman."

Back at home, she climbed the far-side of-the-banister stairs, the staircase is blocked off by a gate, and when she got as high as she could go, announced, her free hand making a sweeping gesture high above us, "tall woman!"


I'm thrilled that my god daughter loves art. I do too. When I was a little girl--two years older than Olivia-- I ran ahead of my family, up all the steps of the Lincoln Monument, and ran down again, ashen, shouting, "It's a statue. It's a statue."

I had hoped to meet Mr. Lincoln in the flesh at the top of all those steps, to jump into his lap. Alas his lap was stone, but I was awed by his grandeur and have adored sculpture ever since--abstract, figurative, massive, tiny.

Olivia is also obsessed with Frida Kahlo. Baolian has a book of photos of Frida, not including her art, which is probably a good thing, since some of those images might be a bit scary for a toddler. They disturb adults, after all.

Prompt: Write about an early memory of encountering art and/or write about a very young person you admire.

(And stay tuned for more about Olivia. I can be shameless in my pride--she's not a blood relative or even somebody I get to see often and therefore wield any influence over. I can take no credit for her genius but I can and will share the wonder of her.)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Shadowy Self

Here's a prose poem that I think makes a great prompt. Write about your vices.


And these are my vices:
impatience, bad temper, wine,
the more than occasional cigarette,
an almost unquenchable thirst to be kissed,
a hunger that isn't hunger
but something like fear, a staunching of dread
and a taste for bitter gossip
of those who've wronged me—for bitterness—
and flirting with strangers and saying sweetheart
to children whose names I don't even know
and driving too fast and not being Buddhist
enough to let insects live in my house
or those cute little toylike mice
whose soft grey bodies in sticky traps
I carry, lifeless, out to the trash
and that I sometimes prefer the company of a book
to a human being, and humming
and living inside my head
and how as a girl I trailed a slow-hipped aunt
at twilight across the lawn
and learned to catch fireflies in my hands,
to smear their sticky, still-pulsing flickering
onto my fingers and earlobes like jewels.

by Cecilia Woloch
BOA Editions, Ltd., 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

Veggies Galore

I just spent the weekend in East Lansing, Michigan. So many parks, everything green and lush. It is home to Michigan State University the first land grant university in the country. My friend Susie and I drove to down scenic country roads to pick up the organic veggies for our host family. We passed corn fields, stands of evergreens and hardwoods, and vineyards--all are parts of the agricultural schools. We saw avian research centers and veterinary. In a barn we found our bags of fresh veggies and watched two young women in a lab. I asked a big friendly guy, who gave us some cukes from a mound, what they were doing. "They're analyzing garden weeds," he told us.

The next morning we hung out at a farmer's market. Such a super place to visit--in the summer!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 31: Shakespeare

Write about a Midsummer Night's Dream. One of yours or Shakespeare's.

Writing Prompt, July 30: Sickness

I just talked to a friend today who stayed home from work because her daughter is sick--and home from day camp. They are on their way to the pediatrician. I remember getting a call when our daughter got sick at overnight camp. When we went to pick her up, not only did she have a raging throat and a fever, she was also covered in poison ivy.

Write about getting sick in the summer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 28: Summer Storms

Write about summer storms.

I couldn't resist this poem, from today's Writer's Almanac. I love "by a string of buttered days," "wallowed in this picnic sun," a clump of daisies nodding by the road," "the dog cowers," the shutters banging out their warning," etc.

Counting Thunder

For several weeks the weather has been mild
And we have wallowed in this picnic sun,
(Our baskets stuffed with bread and wine) beguiled
By a string of buttered days, which one by one

Have lulled us into such complacency
That any thought of rain or want or cold
Would seem killjoy to a mind disposed to see
A clump of daisies nodding by the road.

But lightning flash upon the ridge portends
A sudden change of weather is at hand.
Caught unaware, we face the rising wind
And count the interval before the sound

Of thunderclap announces the return
Of darker times we had soon forgotten.
The dog cowers. The weather vane turns
Wildly, and we scramble forth to batten

Down the shutters banging out their warning.
No use pretending storm clouds won't draw near.
They're certain now. The anvil head is mounting
High above the things we've held so dear.

We light the lantern as clouds obscure the sun,
And gather frightened children in our arms.
The lightning flash and thunder merge at one,
And we hunker down beneath the raging storm.

by Robert Hass
Counting Thunder
David Robert Books, 2008

Monday, July 27, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 27: Hats

I just read that Joseph Mitchell wore a fedora to work every day. My dad wore one too. In the summer Mitchell wore a straw fedora.

Write about summer hats.

I'm going to write about my dad and his hats and about how now at age 91 he still takes his hat off when a lady gets on an elevator. So when we ride the elevator together at his retirement home, he pulls his hat off right away, as the elevator doors open for us. Some traditions die hard. He has lost control of so much in his life but he remembers to remove his hat.

His many floppy tennis hats worn on the court, on his sailboat, and in his garden.

The straw hats he and all his Princeton classmates wore at reunions.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 26: Hours

Write about "summer hours."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 25: By the Road

"For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summer-time roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy."

(opening sentence of the novel Olive Kitteridge)

Write about a familiar road in summer.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 24: Color

As I look out at the verdant lawn and trees, the color green screams out at me. There has been so much rain here in Boston this summer that everything is incredibly lush. Though I've never visited, I imagine Ireland looks like this: emerald grasses and deep green leaves.

(I'll add a photo or two when the driving rain stops.)

Write about the color green.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 23: Listen Up

Write about summer sounds. You might want to start with a line from this poem, from today's
Writer's Almanac:


In the afternoon of summer, sounds
come through the window: a tractor
muttering to itself as it

pivots at the corner of the
hay field, stalled for a moment
as the green row feeds into the baler.

The wind slips a whisper behind
an ear; the noise of the highway
is like the dark green stem of a rose.

From the kitchen the blunt banging
of cupboard doors and wooden chairs
makes a lonely echo in the floor.

Somewhere, between the breeze
and the faraway sound of a train,
comes a line of birdsong, lightly
threading the heavy cloth of dream.

by Joyce Sutphen
Naming the Stars
Holy Cow! Press, 2004

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 22: Deliciously Fresh

(A summer dinner of stuffed squash, sauteed squash, and tomato prepared (and veggies grown) by Maria Hitt.

Write about a favorite summer meal. Include recipes. Write the entry as a poem (in honor of Frank Mc Court) who engaged his high school students by having them recite as poetry their family recipes.
Invent and post here a summer salad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 21: Portraits of Place

Sontag writes, in Susan Sontag Reborn: Journals & Notebooks 1947-1963

"Athens would make a good setting for a story--about foreigners, traveling. It has lots of clear-cut and attractive props.

The plump American queens of Athens, the dusty streets filled with construction work, bouzouki bands in the taverna gardens at night, eating plates of thick yoghourt and sliced tomatoes and small green peas and drinking resinated wine, the huge Cadillac taxis, middle-aged men walking or sitting in the park fingering their amber beads, the roasted corn sellers sitting on street corners by their braziers, the Greek sailors in their tight white pants and wide black sashes, strawberry sunsets behind the hills of Athens seen from the Acropolis, old men in the streets sitting by their scales who offer to weigh you for one drachma--"

Go into town or the city and make a list of the "clear-cut and attractive prompts" around you.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Writing Prompt, july 19: Bathing

Write about the bathing suits of your life.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 18: Reunion

Write about a summer family reunion. You might want to use a line from the poem below to get started.

Family Reunion

The divorced mother and her divorcing
daughter. The about-to-be ex-son-in-law
and the ex-husband's adopted son.
The divorcing daughter's child, who is

the step-nephew of the ex-husband's
adopted son. Everyone cordial:
the ex-husband's second wife
friendly to the first wife, warm

to the divorcing daughter's child's
great-grandmother, who was herself
long ago divorced. Everyone
grown used to the idea of divorce

Almost everyone has separated
from the landscape of childhood.
Collections of people in cities
are divorced from clean air and stars.

Toddlers in day care are parted
from working parents, schoolchildren
from the assumption of unbloodied
daylong safety. Old people die apart

from all they've gathered over time,
and in strange beds. Adults
grow estranged from a God
evidently divorced from history;

most are cut off from their own
histories, each of which waits
like a child left at day care.
What if you turned back for a moment

and put your arms around yours?
Yes, you might be late for work;
no, your history doesn't smell sweet
like a toddler's head. But look

at those small round wrists,
that short-legged, comical walk.
Caress your history—who else will?
Promise to come back later.

Pay attention when it asks you
simple questions: Where are we going?
Is it scary? What happened? Can
I have more now? Who is that?

by Jeredith Merrin
Bat Ode
The University of Chicago Press

Friday, July 17, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 17: On a Walk

Take a walk and look for animals. Sit outside and write about what you see.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 15: In a Garden

Sit in a garden and write. What do you hear, smell, see? What's crawling on the earth? Observe the sunlight on the plants. Feel their leaves.

". . . I have salvaged dead wood from the grove of trees behind the flower bed, have made a crude bench from this. I sit there and I look at the cascade of Sweet Briar Rose, at the brush of lavender, and I try to imagine the Saffron crocus growing between them.

"I have cleared the tangle of trees above the flower bed so that now the sun moves over the garden. I can see where it falls, what it touches. There are blackbirds calling from the woods."

from The Lost Garden, by Helen Humphreys

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 14: Traveling

Write about a summer trip you took when you were a child. I am the bonneted baby on my grandmother's lap and don't remember waiting for this flight. I think I'll write about it anyway.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Writing prompt, July 13. A July birthday

Write about a July birthday--consider writing about somebody you don't know. Or maybe it's the birthday of one of your characters.

Every July, there is a four-day gathering at Walden Pond to celebrate Thoreau's birthday. The Thoreau Society was founded in 1941, making it the oldest society devoted to an American author. It's also the largest.

Thoreau wrote, "I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

(From the Writer's Almanac, July 12)

Writing Prompt, July 12:

Write about poison ivy, red ants, ticks, bed bugs, mosquitos, chiggers, or . . .

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 11: Is it safe . . .

Prompt: "Is it safe to go back in the water?"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 10: A Favorite Book

Prompt: Write about a favorite summer read from childhood. What did you love about the book? Where did you read? In a hammock, on a porch, under the sheet at night with a flashlight?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 9: Watermelon

Prompt: List everything you can think of about watermelon--words, phrases. Don't think. Just write.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 8: Warm Weather Rock

Prompt: Think about a song that celebrates summer and write.

For me, first up is "Hot Town, Summer in the City," by the Lovin' Spoonful and that steamy July back in 1966.

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city . . .

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 7: Step Onto the Ferry

Prompt: Write about taking a summer ferry ride.

I love this opening from Step Onto the Ferry, and Summer Begins

The piece by Lili Wright appeared in the Sunday "Travel Section," when the New York Times still offered a back-page travel essay.

Without a doubt, ferries are my favorite way to travel. I would take a ferry to California if I could. I would take a ferry to France.

Sure, ferries are slow and heavy. They can be rusty and cranky and can grunt when you least expect it. They have dirty windows and plastic seats without cushions. Ferries are the frumpy, weak-coffee serving, wiener-roasting rec rooms of transport, but I prefer them to any other means.

A ferry trip feels like a clean beginning, an ending to whatever happened before. As you leave land behind, you also leave behind that worn-out, crusty you who had lost her sense of humor and possibly her grace. . .

Monday, July 06, 2009

Summer Prompt, July 6: Overheard

Prompt: Write an overheard dialogue between two people sitting out on a screened porch on a hot July night. Set this up by introducing the reader to who is eavesdropping and why? Where is the listening during this overheard conversation?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 5 Summer heat

Prompt: Pick a line or a word or an idea from this poem and use it as your starting point.

A Warm Summer in San Francisco

Although I watched and waited for it every day,
somehow I missed it, the moment when everything reached
the peak of ripeness. It wasn't at the solstice; that was only
the time of the longest light. It was sometime after that, when
the plants had absorbed all that sun, had taken it into themselves
for food and swelled to the height of fullness. It was in July,
in a dizzy blaze of heat and fog, when on some nights
it was too hot to sleep, and the restaurants set half their tables
on the sidewalks; outside the city, down the coast,
the Milky Way floated overhead, and shooting stars
fell from the sky over the ocean. One day the garden
was almost overwhelmed with fruition:
My sweet peas struggled out of the raised bed onto the mulch
of laurel leaves and bark and pods, their brilliantly colored
sunbonnets of rose and stippled pink, magenta and deep purple
pouring out a perfume that was almost oriental. Black-eyed Susans
stared from the flower borders, the orange cherry tomatoes
were sweet as candy, the fruit fattened in its swaths of silk,
hummingbirds spiraled by in pairs, the bees gave up
and decided to live in the lavender. At the market,
surrounded by black plums and rosy plums and sugar prunes
and white-fleshed peaches and nectarines, perfumey melons
and mangos, purple figs in green plastic baskets,
clusters of tiny Champagne grapes and piles of red-black cherries
and apricots freckled and streaked with rose, I felt tears
come into my eyes, absurdly, because I knew
that summer had peaked and was already passing
away. I felt very close then to understanding
the mystery; it seemed to me that I almost knew
what it meant to be alive, as if my life had swelled
to some high moment of response, as if I could
reach out and touch the season, as if I were inside
its body, surrounded by sweet pulp and juice,
shimmering veins and ripened skin.

by Carolyn Miller, from Light, Moving. © Sixteen Rivers Press, 2009

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 4:

Write about a struggle you've had--or are having--with dependency.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 3: Summer Camp

Write about summer camp.

If you didn't go to camp, pretend you did and write about that. Or make up a story about somebody who did go.

I found a letter in my childhood keepsake box, "my treasures," addressed to my older sister Nancy and me, from our friend Dodie Pettit, about being at overnight camp:

Please excuse my writing because I am on my bed. This is rest hour. Carol -- I hope you can read script. . .Tonight the Iroquois are going to put on a tribe show. I don't know what it is because I'm a Mohegan and it's a secret.

Thursday our cabin (cabin 7) canoed to Trigger Island for a cookout. We went skinny dipping and tipped the canoes. . .

Dodie has drawn a tiny map in the letter. You might want to create a map of a camp or a camp trail and write about that.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 16: Sorrows

"All sorrows can be borne if you tell a story about them."
Karen Blixen

Write about a summer sorrow.

Writing Prompt, July 2: A Summer Word

Pick a word that captures a feeling of summer. Write about it. Here's something I wrote in a prompt workshop. Some of you have heard it. My word: Dawdle


I watch the two little bodies walking down the beach at the water’s edge where the sand is cooler. I can see their shoulders held back, proud of their solo mission, big girls off alone without an adult. As they blur and become dots in the mirage of summer heat, I gaze farther down the beach at their destination, the little gray shingle box of a store, its blue postage size flag rippling.

I imagine their joy at entering that odd little room with its saggy wooden floors, the screen door that slaps shut, and its short shelves holding only the necessities—a few tubes of toothpaste, the package of Oreos, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, paper towel. And at the far end, the magical Mary Poppinsish penny candy counter with glass jars of Mary Jane’s, Hershey Kisses, Reese’s cups, candy cigarettes, Tootsie Rolls and Airheads.

Before they left I reapplied sun screen to their freckled pink faces, insisted they wear long tee-shirts over their swim suits, tucked their salty hair behind their ears, and plopped their pastel baseball caps on their fair heads. Each girl clutched a quarter in her fist.

They will return, waving their little brown bags of melting chocolates and sticky wax papered treats.

My last words to them, these little girls aged eight and five, after promising a swim when they get back, the last words I say to them are, “Don’t dawdle.”

Saturday, June 13, 2009

T-shirt Truth

I saw this T-shirt at a street fair in Cambridge, MA, last weekend--part of the first annual Dance For World Community Festival. The festival was organized by the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre and is a project dedicated to expanding the role of dance in local communities. Along with all the tasty food, the festival featured lots of dance groups--from African dance to modern to ballet--and free classes in many dance forms.

I felt like I was stepping into the past, into an era when street theater ruled and community involvement in the arts mattered. I was also stepping into my own past, when I was a modern dancer rehearsing and performing in Cambridge and then New York.

Write about something that really mattered once and doesn't anymore.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Writing Alone, Well Almost

Sitting at my hotel room desk, writing, I look up--gloating just a bit--over the view, the quiet, and the privacy.

I could sit here in the buff, I'm thinking.

Blue bliss.

Oops. What are these guys doing? End of revery.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wide Open Desktops

At home, I have an office. It's my very own space. My files spill from the black metal drawers; cardboard boxes and stacks of paper litter the desk and floor; books cram the shelves. I feel fortunate to have a nook I can call my own--cinderblock walls, pockmarked drop ceiling, buckling linoleum floor and all.

Truly, I'm grateful. It's just that I never write in there. In fact, I never go in there if I can help it. I write on my laptop, in a chair in the middle of everything--in my living room.

My office has become a time-out place, a "get me out of here, NOW" zone. The tiny room seems more like a hall, a breezeway--if only there were a breeze--between the children's former playroom, now morphed into a saggy-couched entertainment center, and my husband's office.

His office? My husband's mother gave him an apt nickname: kudzu. Last night, when I was trying to squeeze past the flight attendant who was pushing the dinner cart down the economy aisle, I said to myself, this experience reminds me of something. What? Ah, yes. Trying to get around in my husband's office.

Every day some of kudzu's stuff migrates into my space.

Here, in a hotel in Doha, Qatar, I have a curvy wooden desk holding only the books and the one manilla file I brought with me. Nobody passes through. Nothing piles up. All I hear is the hum of the airconditioning. I could get a lot of writing done here.

But I could at home too. In a tiny corner of his house, Paul Silvia wrote How to Write A Lot. The book features a workplace photo--desk, lamp, laptop, trash can. Period. Kind of like my photo above. His modest setup proves, he tells us in no uncertain terms, that we don't need retreats or fancy office digs in order to write, that complaining about our space, or lack of it, is just another excuse for not writing.

In my dreams I'm writing at a clear-surfaced home office desk--the room clean and quiet. Right now, awake, nothing trumps a hotel.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seriously. We're cats.

This is our last post for a while. Yes, we've missed a few days but what do you expect? We're cats. Just try to train us.
Write about your attempts to tame or train something. And good luck.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Write about your shadow, or somebody else's.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sharing a bed

Write about sleeping with somebody.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What do you expect?

Some of you are wondering why we don't post at the same time every day, why we miss some days. We are cats, that's why. Need I say more?
Write about what you expect.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Count on him

I can always count on him to make messes for me to get into.
Write about somebody you can count on.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who is smarter?

This is our new cousin Mimi, who also likes books. We're afraid she's smarter than we are.
Write about a fear.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where to sit

What? How to choose a chair? What are these people doing?
Write about picking a place to sit.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Time out

Write about time out or spending time in the corner.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Who are you, really?

Write about a time when you pretended to be someone/something you aren't.

(I've given this prompt before--not in this context--and some creatures can't come up with anything. I'm embarrassed to admit that it's easy for me. I even pretend to be a dog sometimes.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Chair of One's Own

Virginia Woolf writes about having a room of one's own for writing--I don't need a room of my own, as long as they have rooms and piles of papers I can lie on. What I do like is a chair of my own. And this is one of mine.

Write about a favorite chair, a favorite place to sit or stretch out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Feeling stuck.

Write about a time when you felt stuck.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where is it?

Write about looking for something ordinary that you can't find.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Feeling Framed

Write about a time you felt framed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

We're so glad

We're so glad we're cats and not pigs. Write an ode to what or who you are.

And here's a paean to the onion, which, by the way, we wouldn't dream of eating.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An Easter Centerpiece

She shoos me off tables and counters when people are over but, hey, I look good on the sideboard, better than the side dishes.

Write about an Easter dinner.


Sorry we're late posting today. Too much cat TV. Back on it tomorrow--in the morning.

Write about a Saturday.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Taking the Sun

This is one of my favorite sunning spots. I don't go outdoors and would be too scared to relax in the real sun if I did. Here, I'm under a skylight and on my favorite rug.

Write about sunbathing.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


Here's one of my favorite toys. The feathers tickle me and the furry part smells catnipy. I rub against it, toss and chase it, hide it under stuff, and nuzzle the feathers.

Write about what you like to play with and why. You may be a grown-up. I am too; I'm almost three and for a cat that's post-teen, but I still play. And I know you do too. If you get stuck, start with how you played as a child.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A far-away friend

This is our friend Leopard. Well, we don't have friends, except each other. But Leopard's owner visited last weekend--you know the woman Katryna whose bed we wouldn't share.

Write about somebody else's cat. Somebody else's bed.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

On Top of the World

Today is a good day. I got the top tower perch. He remembered to feed us early so I didn't have to get loud and, I admit, nervous about breakfast. I chased the pet mouse and the laser beam for a few minutes. Exercise? Done. She changed the water in our bowl. I mean, I'm sitting on top of the world.
Write about what a good morning looks like, in your world.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Big Game Tonight

It's not tennis tonight. Basketball. NCAA championship game but that ball is too big for me.

My people are totally psyched. I could care less but I do like to sit on her tummy when she's stretched out on the couch--until she starts screaming at the screen.

Write about which sports you enjoy? Memories of sports. Me? I love bird TV out the low kitchen window and wrestling with Lucy.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday Musing

I see the path ahead but I can't get there. Maybe that's a good thing.
What's on your path?

Saturday, April 04, 2009


We annoyed the houseguest, Katryna, by not sleeping on her bed last night. What can we say? We aren't reliable. Are you? Is she?
Write about a houseguest.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Hydration Nation

I may be fat but at least I hydrate.

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