Part Love Letter, Part Shameless Self-Promotion

Each week, I spend two to three hours with my writing buddy, Steff. This week the morning was filled with chitchat, iced coffee, gluten-free, caramel and sea salt macaroons, and a great writing exercise. No! You cannot have my writing buddy!

We met two years ago at a writing conference and let me tell you God’s hand was on this from the beginning. In short, I love this woman. She is part supportive writing buddy, part tough big sister, part loving mother, and she does it all in an impossibly classy way. I mean she has matching luggage and matching notebooks and pens and always, even at nine in the morning, looks amazing!

We have shared the loss of loved ones, phenomenal food (AWP Chicago), stories of our daughters morphing from little girls into young women, and, unfortunately for Steff, nursing me back to health with bottles of Ginger Ale in Boston (AWP). I promise I will be healthy for Seattle next year!

Yesterday, I received news that Wordsmith Journal accepted my essay on teaching in a prison for their September 2013 issue. Then a couple of hours later received word that River Lit was publishing my flash fiction piece “My Mother’s Room” on their site today.

To say that I was excited would be an understatement. Writing is my life. I have bins and binders filled with writing that will never see the light of day. Although, Steff has seen most of it- the good, the bad, and downright awful. I write during Bellina’s violin lessons; I write in between the classes I teach; I write while waiting for appointments; I write on napkins, paper towels, receipts. But the lovely, beautiful, awesome thing about this all-consuming writing endeavor is I get to share my frustration over the 20th rejection and the joy of the one acceptance with my writing buddy, Steff!


“Stuck Like This Forever” finds a home…

A year ago, on Memorial Day actually, I got a “vision” for a new memoir piece. My butt didn’t move  from the chair for the next five hours while I tried furiously to keep up with the deluge of memories. The first draft was 16 pages. Through many, many, many revisions, today the final version appears on The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature site. I almost gave up on this piece, but after having my confidence boosted at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival this year, (thank you, Ken Hada) I doubled down and started with a fresh round of submissions. Everything turned out as it should. Happy Reading! 🙂

A Little Yellow House and Forgiveness…

Sunday night I was thinking about the three purple X’s the doctors drew on my grandma’s chest before her radiation treatments for lung cancer. I wrote about them in an earlier blog post and have not been able to get them out of my mind. Thinking about them again, got me to thinking about all the plans I made with my grandma. The little yellow house she said we’d live in some day; the white rocking chairs on the front porch, and hand-squeezed lemonade we’d leisurely sip. I started scratching away on the back of another story until 30 minutes later, I had something.

What I had written was full of love, and sadness, and so much anger. A self-destructive seed of anger planted in the heart of very tender 13-year old girl. I loved my grandma dearly; and truly, I say a part of me died the day she left me. And that’s how it felt when she died that she had abandoned me. When I woke up Monday morning, I was so troubled by the notion I could hate my grandma- hate her for dying of a horrific disease 25 years ago. But there it was. My morning devotionals have felt perfunctory at best for the last couple of weeks. I know it’s not always inspired words and Holy Ghost hugs when I’m sitting in my big brown chair, but my devotion to the practice, the ritual of it all, brings me peace, so I keep at it. But I needed a word of comfort, something to ease my distress. I never ask for a particular scripture from God as I just don’t think that is the sort of thing God would do for me. I asked and he answered almost immediately. Colossians 3:13. This was significant for at least one reason. I’m on my first reading of the Bible (and only starting Luke) so I wasn’t even sure that Colossians had a Chapter 3 or Verse 13. So I grabbed my black leather Bible with the silver owl on it and flipped to the verse.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (NIV)

It’s cliché, and I own this cliché, but I felt like I had been stabbed in the heart. Tears, buckets full, tumbled from my eyes. I could not stop sobbing. I needed to forgive my grandma for leaving me. The adult in me realized that people get sick and they die, but the 13- year old in me hated her for abandoning me and not keeping her promise to run away with me.

Of course, I immediately forgave her and told her I was so sorry for holding her illness and death against her. Then I saw flashes of all the times people promised to be with me, made plans with me for the future, and how they walked away sometimes without even an explanation. Some of the explanations were flat out lies (possibly to ease the hurt, but lies, nonetheless). Then, the really hard images started. All the times I have bailed on people because I wanted to beat them to the punch of leaving me. Good people. People who loved me and wanted a future with me. And promises I’ve made to people, typically with good intentions, but sometimes not followed through.

So I started down the line forgiving each person and situation. Then worked on forgiving myself for my broken promises. After all of that I didn’t think there were any more tears to shed. I told myself it was time to get out of my big brown chair, give myself a hug, and made a promise to myself to do better in the future and pray that God’s grace would continue to heal my heart so the next time someone breaks a promise or leaves my life  (or I leave someone’s life) there’s some peace about it all.

You’re a Maid in a Hotel…

This writing prompt is courtesy of my fabulous writing buddy, Steff. It was so much fun to write some fiction and just be silly for a bit. 🙂

Prompt: You’re a maid in a hotel. You find something in the room that isn’t normally there, do you return it or not? Write for 20 minutes or 2 pages, writer’s choice.

My shift ended in 15 minutes and I had all my rooms cleaned and cart ready to check-in. My co-worker Sheila begged me to take her last room; she was running behind and couldn’t afford to miss her quota again. I pushed my cart back to the service elevator and pressed 3. Room 3115 would be the last room I would ever clean.

When I pushed open the door to the room, it appeared that no one had stayed in the room. The bed linens weren’t creased. The soaps and shampoos that most guests squirrel away in the luggage sat untouched along the spotless bathroom counter. Nothing appeared to be altered in any way.

I stood in the middle of the room searching for any sign of a visitor. Then I spotted the edge of a book at the end of the bed. It was covered in a worn leather. I sat in one of the chairs next to the window not wanting to mess up the bedding. I untied the leather strip and placed it on the table. The book cracked as I opened to find the pages filled with handwritten notes covering the front and back of every page. The precise script began, “The book you hold in your hands is no ordinary book. It has sought you out to impart secrets only a few will ever possess.”

I closed the book and peered around thinking this had to be a joke or my bosses were testing me to see if I would sit down on the job or take the book for myself. Well, I decided I didn’t need any secrets. Secrets get people in trouble. I tied the leather strip back around the book and placed it on my cart. In the basement, I checked my cart in, signed the “Lost and Found” log describing the book and left it with Jerry the night manager.

“What’s this? Someone’s diary?” He flipped it over in his hands.
“I don’t know. I didn’t look at it.”
“Well, let’s take a looksy, shall we?”
“I don’t think we should look at someone’s diary.”
“Oh don’t be such a Pollyanna.”
Jerry opened the book, same cracking sound as before.

“It’s blank.” We said in unison.

His more a statement, mine more of a confused question.

“Well, that’s no fun. I was hoping for some juicy stories.”
“My shifts over, so I’m going to head out. You think someone’s really going to come back for that diary?”
“Nah. Probably won’t make the effort.”
“Mind if I have it?”
He tossed the book at me. “It’ll be our little secret.” He gave me a wink.

With the book tucked securely under my arm, I clocked out and hurried to the park across from the hotel and sat down on the bench where I often sat after work gathering my thoughts. I untied the leather strip, curled it around my fingers, and opened the book to the first page.

“As I wrote before, the book you hold in your hands is no ordinary book…”

10 Years, 2 Pages, 3-Word Sentences

Here’s another fun writing exercise that forced me to look at my experiences/memories in a more focused way. In addition, it helped me be as concise as possible.

The exercise is to select a 10-year period in your life. I happened to choose ages 10-20, but you could select 12-22, 47-57. Just make sure you limit yourself to 10 years. Then instead of a timed writing this exercise forced me to stay with it for about two hours since I had to fill up two pages. A side note: I write pretty much write all rough drafts and writing exercises by hand, so your “pages” may be different than mine. Lastly, and this is the fun part. You can only use THREE, yes THREE words in each sentence! 🙂 Here’s an excerpt from my attempt. I don’t necessarily have “sentences” but I have attempted to string three words together. In any case, there are enough details for me to remember moments that I can expand later.

**Bonus: Once you have completed the two pages, read back through it and when you come to an area that jumps off the page at you, spend another two pages writing solely on that topic.

Excerpt: 1985-1995

Fall of 1985. 10 years old. My parents divorce. We must move. Mirror slices hand. We destroy house. Color on walls. Rip up carpet. Pull up tacks. Wagon packed up. Drive at night. Spooky new house. Wood covered walls. Chinese paper lantern. Dolls behind glass. Scary new school. Pretty blonde girl. Free lunch sevens. Many nose bleeds. Never see dad. Grandma moves in. She smokes Kools. Scoots house shoes. She eats SnoBalls. We watch Cheers. She curls my hair. She loves me. Grandma gets sick. She breathes loudly. Three purple X’s. Along her chest. Not long now.

I won’t post the rest, but even at this point, I have been able to grab the most vivid memories and distill them to a point I get at the essence of what was going on. The three purple X’s were drawn on her chest to mark where the radiation would be beamed into her (I don’t even know the right words for it all). I remember vividly seeing these purple X’s on her and the doctors so proud that they had burned away all her cancer only to find out they had burned her esophagus to the point she would never be able to eat again. I was 13 when she died and I have never forgotten those X’s. This exercise proved to be so helpful to me in mining my life experiences that I ended up doing it again for ages 21-31!

Happy writing! 🙂

Six Random Words and Twenty Minutes

Another great writing exercise my writing buddy and I did this year.

Writing Exercise- Select Six Random Words. Then write for 20 minutes. 

Birth control, boots, carnations, thunder, green strawberries

I lay awake staring at the ceiling, the green glow of the clock taunting me. 3:26 a.m. I focused on those numbers like a meditation to distract me form the booms of thunder and flashes of lightning that lit up our bedroom.

3:26 a.m. The exact minute she was born. My first child. I rolled over and looked at Jake’s lips slightly parted as he softly snored. Another flash of lightning illuminated his dusty work boots neatly arranged on a Braum’s paper sack near the closet.

Jake pulled 18-hour shifts at the glass plant, and I picked up all the shifts I could at the diner and we still couldn’t make ends meet. We were using birth control when we found out we were pregnant.

Now, we had a little one on the way. Jake took it as a sign that God wanted us to have a baby; I wasn’t so sure. He was like an overgrown kid singing to my belly and rhythmically tapping on it. One holdover from being a drummer, he tapped on anything.

We decided to decorate one side of our bedroom with pictures of angels. His folks gave us a tiny bassinet and it sat right next to our bed.

Jake drove damn near 90 miles an hour to get me to the hospital. The baby was on its way- three months too soon. I prayed and prayed for our baby to wait. Keeping saying it wasn’t time yet. But headstrong like her parents, Amber Marie, came when she wanted to come.

She was tiny, too tiny, and blue. She didn’t cry. Her little arm dangled from the doctor’s hand. I watched the doctors pump on her chest with just two fingers. Jake stood at the end of the bed, pale face. A nurse wrapped Amber in a pink blanket and rushed from the room.


“We’ll keep working on her.”

“Take care of Mom.”

Pieces of phrases and words floating around. Nurses came and went, pushed on my stomach, took my blood pressure. They kept saying it was too high.

“Where’s my Amber?”

“There are no updates yet.”

I drifted off to sleep, when I woke up there was a glass vase filled with pink carnations and a bowl full of chocolate-covered strawberries. This was Jake’s “I’m sorry” gift when he’d messed up and couldn’t say so. The baby warmer had been removed from the room. All of the equipment the doctors and nurses used to bring Amber to life was gone too.



On being a dancer…

Each week my writing buddy and I get together and choose a writing exercise from one of the many writing books that we have amassed between the two of us. Some weeks we will search for just the perfect exercise only to end up describing her dining room or backyard and maybe incorporate some dialogue. But about a month ago, we had a really great exercise. We were to think about a pleasure that is our very own then write for 20 minutes. I actually wrote about two things but have decided to just include my very own pleasure of dancing.

My very own pleasure is the heart-racing, sweat-inducing dancing that I used to do. I remember the feeling of being in my body, commanding it to pirouette and leap, plie and releve, shuff-le step, shuff-le step. Then, strike the last pose, my lines perfect. I was in control. Able to turn off my mind and escape from the world. This is my very own pleasure to feel my heart thud against my sternum and reverberate through my rib cage. My mind singularly focused on a spot in front of me to mark each revolution of my body, round and round.

My face reddened and sweaty a marked difference from my lily white chest and arms. I smile in the mirror, feel sweat roll down my temples and along my ears, softly panting, waiting for the music to begin again.

Once a dancer, always a dancer. 🙂