Baby, It’s Cold Outside

fall winter 2012 013

I was awake at 5:30 this morning, eager to crack open my notebook and begin writing. But it’s 30 degrees here, and I am not good at being cold. I turned on the heater in my cabin, and then I carried my journal and my favorite pen inside. I turned on a lamp and I sat down in my comfy green chair.

Then, I stalled. Every word I wrote felt like an ice cube stuck with all the other ice cubes. I had to chisel each one free and it wasn’t rewarding. My fingers were blunt and stiff. Surfaces. Temperature. What I ate yesterday. What I might do later today, if I ever get out of this chair. I grabbed some poetry off the bookshelf next to my green chair and I read. Nothing grabbed me, but I copied out a short poem, and then I tried to write a poem using the same sort of gestures.

cabin2But what was the point?

Why write?

And then, I remembered to ask, What is this? What exactly is it that I’m feeling? Can I name it? Where did it come from? What is it trying to tell me? 

I remembered something I read yesterday in Tracey Cleantis’s book, The Next HappyFear can masquerade as lethargy. I wrote down that question, too: What am I afraid of? 

The pages began to warm up, and the words weren’t solid little cubes of ice anymore. They began to flow.

In the Company of Writers

b85fd-stack2bof2bbooksI have had the privilege over the past few weeks of hanging out with some very cool writers. Joannie Stangeland for one, Katie Tynan (of It’s About Time) for another. Last week I was one of the featured readers for Rose Alley Press‘s 20th Anniversary reading series, and I want to take a moment to recommend this local press, owned and operated by David D. Horowitz, and its books (particularly as it is getting to be that gift-giving time of year).

The novelist Jane Hamilton tells a story about getting caught reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch in a school hallway while waiting for a child. The other mother who spied her said something that Jane translated to “How Quaint.” With an edge of outrage in her voice, she added, “as if I were tatting lace!”

I thought of that story because I read Middlemarch, the first time, while taking a class with Professor William Dunlop, whose poetry book, Caruso for the Children and Other Poems, is a Rose Alley Press book.

One reason to go to readings is to connect with like-minded people who read the same sort of books that I do. That you do. Don’t you?



Get some sleep

cropped-crow.jpgLike everyone else I know, I’ve been obsessing about the headlines, about France, about Syria. Closer to home, about homelessness. I came across this poem as I was sorting through papers in my writing cabin, and I thought it was good advice for such times. “Straighten up your room before you save the world. Then save the world.”

I think this is only an excerpt of a poem by Ron Padgett. I first saw it on Joan Chittister’s Benetvision website.

Get some sleep.
Eat an orange every morning.
Be friendly, it will make you happy.
Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don’t
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass
ball collection.

Wear comfortable shoes.
Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.
Plan your day so you never have to rush.

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if
you have paid them, even if they do favors you don’t want.

After dinner, wash the dishes.
Calm down.
Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.
Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.
Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not
possible, go to another one.

If you feel tired, rest.
Don’t be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel
even older. Which is depressing.

Do one thing at a time.

If you burn your finger, put ice on it immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for 20
minutes, you will be surprised by the curative powers of ice and

Do not inhale smoke.
Take a deep breath.
Do not smart off to a policeman.
Be good.
Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.
Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to
drink, say, “Water, please.”

Take out the trash.
Love life.


Thinking Outside the Box

garden gate                    Tomorrow
we shall have to think up signs,
sketch a landscape, fabricate a plan
on the double page
of day and paper.
Tomorrow we shall have to invent,
once more,
the reality of this world.
–Octavio Paz, “January 1st” (translated by Eliz. Bishop)

For my husband’s birthday dinner this week, we invited a friend to join us. He is 92 years old, and regaled us with stories of his first dog, his experiences in the Navy, his career, his marriages, and his children. (I was especially impressed with a daughter who insisted on taking her horse with her when she left home for college.)

After dinner, our friend had several riddles for us, all of which required “thinking outside the box.” These required, he warned, that we focus on certain key words, and not assume that they meant something conventional. So in one riddle (the most straightforward of them) “home” got translated from one’s house to homebase in baseball, but even words like “man” and “distance” and “into” had to be further or more deeply perceived.

Writing requires a constant thinking-outside-the-box. I remember a poetry professor who warned us (back in my MFA days) against including the moon, or love (!), or hearts in our poems. But of course we do want to write about the moon, and love, and hearts. I’m often dismayed by how many other poets are writing about struggles with teenagers, or care of aging parents. But that doesn’t mean we don’t write about these things — of course we MUST write about them.

The trick is to think more deeply, to think in layers, to not write conventionally or through our first assumptions. As I have said before, my goal is to write — and to live — as though the gate’s been left open.

Upcoming Events


I’ve been busy meeting a big deadline, and of course doing some serious procrastination (whenever possible) away from my desk, but here’s a quick reminder —

I will be one of a handful of readers on Thursday, Nov. 12, at It’s About Time, 6 p.m., Ballard Branch of the Seattle Public Library.

And next Friday, Nov. 20, at Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford, I will be reading along with some Rose Alley Press favorites, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Click on the UPCOMING EVENTS tab to see more details.