Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Feels like the world's gone mad today.

I saw news of a beautiful young woman who's missing in Colorado, I think. The last her (first) husband heard of her, she was on her way to meet one of her clients. Seems she supported herself through an old, old profession.

Lindsey Lohan, that darling girl from The Parent Trap, has grown into a confused young woman caught in the web of drugs and alcohol.

I'm rereading Four Seasons in Rome and find myself even more in awe of the rhythm and the language this time around.

Evan, who's living with me right now, is terribly unhappy but unable to take steps to make things better for himself.

We got word last night that my favorite aunt has breast cancer. She's being asked to make enormous treatment decisions based on teeny, tiny bits of information.

So many of us spend our lives chasing wealth, beauty, love, knowledge. And even those who seem to have everything never have enough.

Whatever the holes in our souls, nothing we can earn, learn, grab, or buy will fill them. I am reminded that the only thing that works is to sit still and remember who we are. So simple, but so difficult.

Life's just one mystery after another.

Friday, July 20, 2007

See for Yourself

To see why I'm so crazy about Anthony Doerr's work, check out this short non-fiction piece.

Narrative Distance

Last night my dreams were full of another concept we discussed at length in the workshop: narrative distance. Anthony Doerr's explanation of this made SO much sense to me: the writer is the lens through which the reader sees the story.

In film, a director makes a series of decisions about what the audience will see and from what angle they will see it. When we're writing, we do the same, except we build and dress both the situation and the story with words alone. If we tell a story from a constant position, as though we're always inside one character's head or as though we're always in the same corner of the room, say, we miss the opportunity to frame our stories, to bring life and rhythm to them. Now closer, now further, now detailed vision, now a broad view: we can lead readers through the intricate steps of the dance we're doing together.

Last night, my dreams were filled with a strange kind of tunnel vision that I've only just now realized were the view through the lens. I don't remember a thing about what happened in those dreams, only an odd kind of telescoping that kept happening as I saw them playing out.

Anthony brought these lessons to life so vividly they've taken root in my subconscious. Yikes! More later. Got to go try out this narrative distance thing right now. I seem to have learned this stuff, now I've got to get my butt in the chair and USE it.

A long shot from the top of Chimney Rock, Abiquiu, NM

A close up of a spider hole, taken from the same spot.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Doing laundry from the trip yesterday, I had plenty of time to review and consider some of the concepts we discussed in the workshop last week.

One of my favorites was "de-familiarization," the practice of taking a well-known image or feeling and describing it with a combination of words no one's heard before. For me, getting to the 'de-familiar" is always a matter of loosening my grip on realism long enough to let new ideas in. The most fun I ever have writing is when I relax and let that happen.

Here's the interesting thing: Anthony reminded us that even these new and unfamiliar descriptions need to evoke what he calls a "stab of actuality." In other words, as writers, we're searching for fresh, vivid descriptions put together in unfamiliar phrases, but to be successful these have to be spot on, they have to elicit the intake of breath that accompanies being stabbed with the sharp stick of utter reality.

Quite a trick, don't you think?

Check out Anthony Doerr's novel About Grace or his collection of short stories, The Shell Collector. I haven't read his new book (non-fiction) yet, but expect to love Four Seasons in Rome, too.

Let me tell you, the man is almost as amazing a teacher as he is a writer. And a damn nice guy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Home Again, Home Again, Clippety Clop

My house smells funny, like dirty laundry and dirty dishes and boy.

Evan picked me up at the airport last night and we got home about midnight. After 12 days, away, walking into the house was like walking onto the set of a favorite movie, a place I know well but am not exactly involved with.

Lord God, I've got a lot to do. Payroll this morning, of course, but more than the literal things like that, I've got to get my figurative house in order.

Updates soon.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Albuquerque Airport

I met Monica at the Albuquerque airport Saturday at noon and we've been hiking and wandering the desert since. Now we're back at the airport, at separate gates, waiting for the planes that will carry us back to our respective worlds.

Monica halfway up the trail to Chimney Rock.

Monica at the top of Chimney Rock, tempting fate.

So much to think about. I'm anxious to go home and yet can't imagine fitting back into my everyday life. So much has changed inside me. After living under such vast skies and taking part in such important conversations and mind-opening classes, will I fold in upon myself to accommodate my usual place in the world? I just don't know.

Muddy water runs through NM like blood through its veins, bringing life and nourishment and energy. The landscape doesn’t just sing to my soul, it sets up a tent revival and shouts Amazing Grace to the heavens. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.

Having coffee on the porch in Ojo Caliente on Sunday morning, beneath a cloudless sky, I found pictures in everything: rocks in the garden, the whirl of bark on logs supporting the ceiling. Messages everywhere, from the divine to my soul: See beyond the surface, dig out the stories lurking everywhere. Excavate. The workshop handed me a shovel. The class shouted to me, "Get to the damn digging."

One of the pictures from the ceiling. Can you see the snake's face?

I think of all the times, all the many, many times I longed to find that world. I read Anne LaMott's essays about writer's workshops and dreamed of being the kind of person who attends them. And now I am. I stepped into that place, tilled up a tiny patch of garden and planted a handful of seeds that now have to survive hungry birds and high temperatures and poor soil.

Life may be short, but it's wide. Thank God and all the angels, it's so damn wide.


I did my reading yesterday. The audience was remarkable: leaning forward in their chairs, listening carefully and laughing in all the right places. Energy of the very highest order, which facing my fears always turns out to be. SO glad I did it.

It's going to take some time to process all that has happened here and the incredible beauty of it. I'll write more when I can. For now, I have to get packed up and off to Albuquerque, where I'm meeting Monica at the airport. We're heading to the mountains for a few days of R&R. We're going to soak our bones and hike and hang out in this powerful place. Every moment, grace.

I'm leaving here filled with energy and enthusiasm and joy. Thursday and Friday nights, most of the class danced at a cowboy bar til all hours. We laughed. We got up on stage and sang with the band. We annexed a hallway for our own private dance floor. We connected.

I've hit overload, but this is where the juice is, this world of people who love books, who use language as a tool and as a toy, who generously share their time and their experience to help those with less. Thank God and all the angels that I bought Blackbbird and it led me to Jennifer's website and all of you, who have helped give me courage to make myself part of this world we share.

Here's to more books, more words, more connections.

Much love to you all and more soon.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Slight Delay

Okay, so I didn't read today. But I'm committed for tomorrow.

Truth is, I was there, ms. in hand, ready to throw myself off this cliff. Then the director of the workshop asked for a volunteer to trade times with another woman whose slot was Friday. Apparently, there had been some confusion and she wouldn't get to read at all unless someone traded. After it became obvious no one was going to speak up, I raised my hand.

I know, I know. But she has cancer, for God's sake, and has to get home for treatment.

There she stood, her little cancer hat in hand, hoping to tell her story while she could. What else was I supposed to do? She's smart and brave and deserved a moment in the sun. I'll get mine tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Stepping Out of the Shadows

Just signed up to read at the open mic on Thursday at lunch. Truthfully, I'm not sure I'll follow through but had to sign up if I wanted the option. I can mark myself off just as easily as I wrote myself on.

A surprising thing happened during my turn in the barrel the other day: people laughed out loud. At the right places. And they remarked several times on the irony of my stories. I'd like to hear people laugh out loud at the things I find funny. I hope my courage remains intact.

The readings are held on the patio after lunch each day. People sit around under ancient trees and brilliant blue skies, drinking coffee, eating fabulous desserts, and listening to writers read. I imagine heaven to be much like this.

To be more accurate, being part of the audience is heavenly. Reading? That's another matter, and one located somewhat south of heaven. Still, I'm challenging myself to do this thing and so far, I seem to be rising to the challenge.


So, here I am in the hotel lobby, having a cup of coffee and writing a post before my class starts. The mountains sit blue in the distance, silent and patient, tolerating the foolishness of people scurrying around the plaza, trying to buy bits of the wonder of this place.

I feel blessed to be in the particular class I chose. The teacher is enthusiastic and has lots to give. The 11 other students include a professor of fiction from the University of Idaho, a writing professor from Colorado, a man who has completed three novels and is apparently a workshop junkie, another workshop junkie from Palm Springs, a lovely woman whose stories I can't wait to hear and who is looking for a writing community. One woman has not spoken yet beyond giving her name and home town. One older woman doesn't seem to understand the nature of time or that others might not be as fascinated with her opinion as she herself apparently is.

All in all, a fascinating group, one I'm anxious to learn more about and from.

At dinner the first night, each class group sat together. Our teacher introduced himself and handed out a piece for us to read. Later, he walked around with a cup filled with scraps of paper, each with a day of the week. We drew scraps for the order in which our stories would be considered. As I reached into the cup, my heart was pounding out a mantra--Not Monday, Not Monday, Not Monday.

Could I have drawn anything but Monday? Of course not. The Law of Attraction at work. It's probably a good thing, because going first allowed me the luxury of not going through the others, feeling worse by the moment. They're all MFA-type stories--obscure and meandering. So unlike my work. So unlike my background.

As it is, we considered my simple story first and I feel good about the suggestions people made and the feedback I got. Now I'm free to be a sponge in the midst of learned folk. It promises to be quite an experience.

And you can't beat the backdrop.

Monday, July 09, 2007

My Turn in the Barrel

We workshopped my story this morning and I survived. It was actually easier than I anticipated because people obviously were commenting in an effort to be truly helpful. And they were, even (or maybe especially) when they were telling me what didn't work.

My greatest fear was that I'd cry in front of them when they criticized me, that they'd see me for the silly wimp I can sometimes be. That whole criticism thing? That was my first big mistake. No one was criticizing me, they were reviewing my work. I am not my ability to write any more than I am my ability to comb my hair or to cook a meal. It's freeing to understand that. And I do, at this very moment. I'll forget again, no doubt, and need reminders. I think that's part of the insecurity that comes with creating something.

I'm proud to report that I took careful notes while each person talked and never once needed to even clear my throat or sniffle. Acted like a real grown up. Now I can settle down and concentrate on soaking up every bit of information and learning being offered.

Speaking of which, I picked up a book Barb recommends in her class, and it's phenomenal. Maybe the most enlightening stuff I've ever read on writing. Pick up The Situation and the Story if you get a chance. I promise you won't be sorry.

Tomorrow will be another big day. Pam Houston is reading in the evening, a real treat. If you haven't read Cowboys Are My Weakness or Waltzing the Cat, get thee to a bookstore or on-line bookseller and get copies. Pam's a larger than life personality. Drove in last night just as everyone was gathering, a grand entrance if I ever saw one, complete with the largest Irish wolfhound in existence hanging its head out of her SUV. No one in the place missed her arrival. But she's filled with a love of life that shines out her pores, I swear. I can't wait to hear her read.

Taos is lovely, but so far it doesn't call to my heart the way Sante Fe and Abiquiu do. There's lots more to see, though, and maybe I'll fall in love as I get to it.

Meantime, my love to all of you. And my enduring gratitude for your support.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Eagle Has Landed

I'm all registered and set up for the conference here in Taos, but as the minutes tick by, it seems like less and less of a good idea. My intestines have tied themselves into a hangman's noose and all the moisture in my body has collected into a lump in my throat. Right now the only thing I really want to do is run for my life, run back to the pond where I can be invisible if I choose.

Something or another led me to do a little research on birth order last week. Several of the discussions of middle children mentioned our tendency to feel invisible. I sure did, and I hated it. Now as an adult, I've cultivated the ability to go invisible when I need to, to withdraw so far into myself that I imagine others can't even see me, let alone criticize or hurt me.

I know my cloak of invisibility exists only in my head. But I'll tell you this: when I go invisible, people don't talk to me much and I can go about my business without putting on make up or doing my hair. Strange but true.

Now I'm about to be as visible as it gets. And not in Carrie's living room among people I regard as family. Nope. This time it's among strangers in a setting filled with opportunities to make a fool out of myself.


I've been watch the other writers arrive for 45 minutes now. They're all cuter and thinner and smarter than me. Much better writers, too. I can tell none of them feels out of place or out of their league. Not a single one of them looks as though they're contemplating hitching a ride to the airport or locking themselves in their rooms until this thing's over.

Guess I'll go put on some lipstick. It should go well with the dirty splotch down the leg of my white jeans. And, of course, my new cowboy boots.

Think Our Lady will protect me?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live from Santa Fe

Seen on the sidewalk in downtown Santa Fe. Great advice, yes?

Barb and me at the sculpture garden in front of the Georgia O'Keefe Retreat Center.

A prairie chicken in the same sculpture garden.

Love to all. More soon.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Taos Writer's Workshop

Today will be crazy busy for me. I've got to run payroll this morning and get my laundry done and get packed this afternoon. Tomorrow morning I'll be off to Santa Fe for a few days of fun and then on to Taos for a week-long writer's workshop, where Barb will be teaching and I will be studying.

Feeling blessed, I am.

From Sunday afternoon through the following Friday evening, my entire focus will be on writing. My idea of bliss. I don't know what to expect in the classes themselves or who or what I'll encounter there. Aaaahhhh. Adventure.

Plus, I'll be in New Mexico. I've pulled out my hiking boots, cleaned out my camelback, and found a compass. This is going to be fun.

Last night I dreamed of writing. Words were running through my head and I was transcribing them on my new laptop. As I typed, I kept being amazed and how much sense I was making. (It's always a surprise when that happens.)

I'll have wireless access and, of course, my laptop, so I'll let you know how it's going. I am so very excited about this.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Pond

Sometimes it feels a bit nuts to love this little pond, this tiny body of water, so much. It was great to have Jess here, an objective observer who appreciated it the same way I do.

It rained the entire time Jess was here, unusual for KC in the summer. So. . .for those of you who aren't here and for Jess, who didn't get it see the sun shine on the pond, here's a picture. Enjoy. And do come visit us. You have an open invitation.

And yes, this is the surface of the pond, not the sky. I do love me some reflections.


Okay. I passed the test call for that freelance editing job. Now I'm set to do five training calls and see how it goes. They'll pay me to do the training calls, so it's all good. Wish me luck. I'd really like to land this gig. For one thing, it's completely self contained. The call comes in, I edit it in one sitting, and upload it. When I'm done, I'm done and free to get back to my real work. Plus, I'd get to lay out my own schedule for when I'm available, week by week. That leaves me plenty of time to write. And maybe travel.

I'll let you all know how it goes.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Freddy Rouse

My son mentioned he wanted "real food" for breakfast, and I replied, "There's eggs and bacon. Bagels. Toast. We've got it all, Freddy Rouse."

Freddy Rouse has been a constant presence in my life. Everyone--from my dad to my little brother--talks to him from time to time. I've heard the phrase, "We've got it all, Freddy Rouse," a million times.

A few days ago, I found out that Freddy Rouse never lived anywhere but in the imaginations of my dad's family. He was, in fact, the imaginary friend of my dad's youngest brother, the baby of the family. Evidently, Freddy did everything with Uncle Don, and the rest of the family went along with it. They talked to Freddy and offered him food and fun; asked questions and inquired about his general comfort.

Dad hung on to the habit, and now I realize I have, too. 65 years after Don dreamed him up, Freddy Rouse still lives with us.

Want to talk about the power of imagination?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Everything As It Should Be

I am not in Iowa meeting Amma with Jess, as I planned. Instead, I am here on the pond, fulfilling my motherly duties and editing a test call for a company that provides transcripts of quarterly conference calls for publicly traded companies.

Creating a transcript of these calls is not easy, but I feel pretty good about it. Although the company specified that they're looking for MBAs or people studying for an MBA, I applied and was selected. Yep, me, the college dropout.

Why would they consider me? Because I spent seven long years writing investor relations and public relations for The Wasband's company. Didn't get paid. Rarely got acknowledged. Never got thanked. It's quite a kick that, so many years later, that experience might be the key to giving me time to write.

Not long ago I put it out into the universe that I needed new ways to make a living, some combination that would leave time and mental energy for my real writing. And though this editing job is not yet mine, it's an opening, a possibility that would let me work 20 hours a week and write the rest of the time. (Well, whenever I'm not running the salon or taking care of my parents or Evan, now that he lives here again.)

If that possibility exists, there are others. And I'll keep looking until I find something that's right for me and my life. And I'll remember that even painful and difficult things can become valuable down the road.