Sunday, February 15, 2015


When you start referring to your new protagonist like a colleague you're hoping to connect with for lunch, this is how you know you’ve found your next story.

That’s how I know, anyway.

For months, I’d been sending lunch invitations to a character I’d met in a short story. He was a young boy then, and I wanted to know what his story might become. How did he recover? What was that thing churning in his chest? Would he be chasing life or evading death? I couldn’t know. From our brief exchange, the only thing I was certain of was that he was quiet, observant, and deeply affected by the scenario I’d written him into.  I was eager to finish his story, but he would not come. He wouldn't even give me his name!

I thought, maybe, I needed to speak of him out loud in order to make him Pinocchio-real. I thought, maybe, I should start another story to coax him from my mind’s shadowed alcoves. I thought, maybe, he wanted me to sit patiently at my laptop and wait. Once, I tried luring him forward with frenetic research on separation anxiety, commitment anxiety, Oedipus, abandonment, criminal profiling, red heads, only children raised by single dads, only children raised by single dads who date a lot, only children who were the “secret” other child, boys without mothers who became men without hope, boys who became men pirating shiny place holders for hope. The boy was neither swayed nor impressed; he would not come.

This went on for over a year. I blamed myself, of course. The rest of my life is so busy –the life with teenagers and utility bills and workshop dates and an empty cat food bin. My writing life was routinely neglected. Sitting down in this chair to write has always been challenging.  Correction: sitting down has been easy. Writing, not so much.  Corrected correction: writing has been easy. Shaking the guilt of selfish and irresponsible indulgence, not at all.  

I mean, there are, literally, a few hundred emails I need to address, like, yesterday. Receipts for taxes to uncrumple and sort. Non-profit applications to file. Summer camp dates to plot for my girls. Statuses to update. Websites to update. Letters of recommendation. of intent. of understanding. of humble requests to draft and send. How dare I use my limited time in this chair to write. Finally, finally, finally, someone ripped the duct tape from my inside voice and it bellowed at me. My inside voice has a lot of bass in it and rumbles like a Harley-Davidson anniversary when it’s not pleased.    

“How dare you not write?" it said.  "How. Dare. You.”

So, I’ve been determined to find ways to wrangle both lives into a healthy coexistence. I don’t have a writing schedule, per se, but am writing regularly again. It’s a relief, to be honest. Investing my creative energies in … my own creative energies has been replenishing. I grant myself permission, each and every time, to sit down and write without needing a deadline or a publication date or a W-9 or a point or the awkward dance of trying to make someone else feel at ease with my disappearance into these lines. Relieved. Replenished. Reclaimed.

I decided to let that no named boy be, but left the invitation and my door open. In fairly short order, it was another character who crossed my mental welcome mat. Shay had been here before, briefly, but we hadn’t planned on seeing one another again. She’d been discussed by other characters in another project, but there hadn't been room in that story’s construction for her voice. I wanted to tell Shay’s story now, but hadn’t quite figured out how.

And there she was. Letting herself in to roam my mental spaces like a house guest who’d been elevated from the status of “guest.” Shay floated through my thoughts, glancing at some, peering at others. She wandered about freely, taking in my knick knacks, bookshelves, sea salted snacks and framed pictures. She was clearly studying me as much as she was acquainting herself with my ideas.  

Shay began giving me her story a few weeks ago. She’s insisting that I write it out long-hand, to begin. I don’t mind. In fact, I welcome the accessibility and ease of scribbling into notebooks and the essential nature of muse-in-mind, pen-in-hand. Last week, she had me practicing her signature. I’ll take that as a promise that she’ll join me for lunch again tomorrow.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

One thought about stars

A mournful black sky stretches in dutiful silence
Contracted for a millennium to canvas the night
To drape an infinite stage
To withstand the urgent infernos fastened to its darkness
The stars hiss and crackle in their banter
Impetuous in their spinning
Precocious in their tumble and games of chase

A mournful black sky stretches in dutiful silence
The stars dance shamelessly, anyway

Sunday, February 01, 2015


I'm reordering letters in my head, deciding the optimal combination for describing the sound below me.

Thoomp. Thwump. Thmp.

I'm in the tub: candles, lavender salt, merlot, ear buds, the whole nine. When the soundtrack plays itself out, I nestle deeper into the warmth, calm and, now, the quiet.


Almost immediately, I hear the sound of water dripping. Dripping steady and boldly where it shouldn't. Beneath me, beneath the tub, beneath the sub floor, I'm listening to the metered threat of a pipe leaking from my second floor bathroom onto the first floor ceiling. In breaking news fashion, my daughter comes upstairs to report that water is, in fact, leaking onto the floor outside her bedroom.

"It's coming through that panel," she said sleepily. "Y'know, where they fixed the pipes before...?"

"Yes, Baby," I said. "Thank you."

Whhoum. Thomp. Ahmp.

The heavy pulse of the water coursed my thoughts into ominous terrain.  I imagi-calculate the obscene amount of money this drip will cost. The number has been escalating in my head for quite some time, truth be told. Not this drip, but the first drip that originated outside my bathroom as dimple in the ceiling paint. That drip has since matured into a gnarled hole, under which I position a plastic bowl from time to time. Okay. All the time.


I've avoided calling a plumber because I'm afraid he'll make spinning tally board in my head a real thing. I envision him on a step ladder, reaching up rugged hands into the ceiling maw. With each twist of valves and pipe, I imagine his invoice swelling by digits and commas and zeros and Pay Day loans and pawned appliances and stripper shoes and a diet of canned tuna.


I take a sip of wine and consider, for the zillionth time, seeking out a "real" job. Different from the patchwork of contracts, performances and projects that currently comprise my 80-hour work week, I reminisce about the j-o-b type jobs with my name and healthy numerals typed on biweekly checks. The kind of jobs with health insurance, a retirement plan, holiday parties and discount tickets to Summerfest. I flirt with this j-o-b diversion all the time because --all the time-- I need more money, more security and more people to keep me up-to-speed on the latest goings on in pop culture. I rarely follow through, though. Instead, I combat these attacks of panic by counting off daily confirmations on how the --air quotes-- work I do is truly my purpose. Writing. Building. Inspiring. Celebrating. The poetics of this truth soothe my nerves right. up. until. the phone screen cracks. the drivers' side window won't roll down. the garage door won't roll up. the tooth filling chips. the bathroom pipes begin to leak. again.

Thump. Whuuhhm. Hoowump.

I shift in the bath. The warm water slaps the sides of the tub and my thighs and and my breasts before settling into a quiet embrace around my silhouette. My eye follows the water line, evaluating. Yep. More of my belly is protruding above the water than usual. The rounded pouch doesn't elevate my stress, though. I know how this bonus stomach got here and I know how to shrink it back down. I know that I need fewer coffee breakfasts and turtle sundae dinners. More sit ups, water, fruit and rest. This, I know how to fix. This, I can control.

Thwomp. Tthwaah.

I hear my daughter clanging about downstairs. She's probably moving a pot --the one I use for popcorn or collard greens-- from the kitchen rack to a spot under the water that's crashing in syncopation outside her door. Not a soothing sleep sound. I would know. Positioning the pot there, however, will be worse: plink. plink. plink. I started tossing a sock into my plastic bowl to mute the incriminating sound: plunk. plock. plonck. Still not soothing. More like a serenade to imminent disaster. to running out of luck. running of steam. running in the wrong direction. Running, running, running.


The water is tepid. I look at the clock. The start of this bath was so warm and perfect before the dripping started beneath me. Or maybe the dripping was there at the first submerging and I chose not to hear it. Chose to wait for this problem I don't know how to fix to miraculously self-correct. Like the ache inside my knee. The broken curls of hair in the palm of my hand. The letters from the tax people. The letters from that one inmate. The soaring hormones of two teenage girls. The plummeting spirit of my only sibling. The first drip from my ceiling. The second drip from a different ceiling. The worries that elude my focused attention, my task lists, my clever ideas and fervent wishing.


I watch the small flame wriggle and stretch inside one of the candle jars I've perched along the edge of the tub. I resist the urging in my head to get out now. That my irregularly-scheduled program of relaxation is now over. That my time is up. That I don't have nearly enough time for anything. For everything.


Then I see it.


The letters arranging themselves in my head.


The best spelling to capture the dripping sound beneath me.


I solved something today, after all.