Saturday, December 31, 2011

365 Days

Where did the days of last year go?

Days (and nights) flew by, consumed by family, work, writing. But everything seemed harder to come by, and as I round the stretch of 2011 I realize: I am tired.

This year, for the first time, my body began to feel its age. Ten weeks in physical therapy for a bum shoulder (exacerbated by the sedentary lifestyle of a writer and professor); now, an achy lower back alleviated by a new yoga regimen and Miracle Balls (no, not what you think). My mind also found difficulty focusing; between the stimulation of work, my writing program, and the gazillions of stories and poems begging to be born, sitting at my desk at dawn often felt an exercise in frustration.

Still, I managed to write:
*32 poems, 33,000 words on a novel-in-progress, 28 pages of critical essays for class, more than 2 dozen microfictions, major revisions on two novels, and a half-way decent query letter for CLOSER TO NORMAL that has (so far) netted a full and several partial requests

*A few honors: SHUT-EYE garnered an honorable mention in the String-of-10 contest run by Flash Fiction Chronicles, 2 poems made Robert Brewer's Top 50 Poem-A-Day picks, and Camroc Press Review nominated LAST TRIP for Best-of-the-Net

*Fifteen stories and poems found homes in literary journals run by editors I admire, including Monkeybicycle, Blue Fifth Review, Thunderclap!, Pure Slush, Right Hand Pointing, Eclectic Flash, Every Day Fiction, Connotation Press, The Linnets Wings, and Istanbul Literary Review. THANK YOU editors who found enough worth in my words to publish them.

*Reading informs my writing, so I read, always. I consumed a lot of novels and short story collections, but the reading went slower than in prior years: I read as a writer rather than a reader. I read this past year for structure, for understanding how the thread of theme is established in the first words. I will have another post soon on my favorite reads, but there are books I will not soon forget: OLIVE KITTERIDGE, THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, THE BEE_LOUD GLADE, and collections of stories by Tobias Wolff, Aleksander Hemon, Meg Pokrass, and Laura van der Berg.

My day job demanded much, but rewarded more. I am grateful for the opportunity to teach my marvelous students and watch them move on to academic and clinical positions. Several new grants focusing on substance abuse in Maryland, the quality of psychopharmacological medication use in nursing homes, and depression in patients with emphysema kept my salary on par and revitalized my research.

But the past year is more than a list, more than numbers. The past year embodied a constant struggle to maintain balance and, for the first time in five years, writing did not always win. Until this year, much of my writing was driven by the fear the words would dry up. So I would write madly, compromising at times my relationships, my health, the chores. I no longer fear I will stop writing as suddenly as I started six year ago tomorrow. There is no need to rush, the words, the ideas, they all will incubate and percolate and marinate and be there when I am ready. For this realization I am grateful.

My only regret is the necessary busy-ness of this year required me to prioritize my time, which ended up limiting my involvement with so many writers and readers in my online communities. To visit your blogs, to read your words at fictionaut, to follow your successes via facebook and twitter... a treat to spend a few minutes with you. A tremendous reward. I hope time loosens a bit in 2012, so I can savor your stories and poems and lives.

I am not one to make resolutions, but I do know what I need to work on this upcoming year: my health, my family, my friends, and the slow approach to writing.

My Health: I need to fix my back, which means I need to walk 10,000 or more steps a day (pedometer - check), shed 10 pounds (Weight Watchers - check), and increase my flexibility (weekly yoga - check; daily stretches and Miracle Balls - check)

My Family: Spend more concentrated time with each of my children and, of course, the husband

My Friends: Spend more time with both virtual and cyber friends. Make phone call dates with those friends who live far away, share a meal with those who live nearby

My Writing: Remember to take time with stories and poems, keep them close until satisfied they are finished. Do not worry so much about finding homes but finding the right words.

Most of all, I hope 2012 brings balance, to me, to you, to the world writ large.

Thank you dear readers for sharing the journey. Peace...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


LOOSE SCREW, my story of age and and screw-drivers and toilet bowls, up at PURE SLUSH. Please, take a gander and while there, read the other stories coursing the age continuum by Gay Degani, Susan Tepper, Nate Tower, Bobbi Luri, and others.

A huge thank you to Matt Potter for featuring my work.


Friday, December 23, 2011

The Loneliest Tree

Once, high on a golden hill, lived the smallest fir tree. His older brothers and sisters often sent him special gifts: a spider trailing on a silken thread, milkweed spores drifting on a summer breeze, soft pollen that painted him yellow. These presents made the littlest fir tree tremble with joy. But when the spider lifted away, the downy milkweed fluttered to the field, and the wind dusted off the pollen, the littlest fir tree was lonelier than ever.

One Spring day, a wren chose to nest in the smallest fir tree. Mornings, the baby birds chortled as their mother searched for grubs and worms. One afternoon, as the littlest fir tree and the baby wrens drowsed in the wan sun, the wren squawked loudly, rousting her family from the tree. A man and a boy, both clad in overalls, walked through the orchard, throwing fertilizer around the firs.

"There, there.” The boy tossed pellets under the littlest fir tree’s boughs. “Grow strong and healthy and green.”

He squinted up at the nest perched in the littlest tree, his Red Sox cap on backwards. His fingers stroked the needles and the tree shivered.

"So soft, papa,” the boy said. “Like a kitten’s tail.”

"Yup,” said the man. “He’s the youngun here – just like you.”

That summer, the wind smelled of sweet hay. Buzzing bees filled the air with song. The farmer and his son came to the hill almost every day, watering the trees when the sun withered their needles. The boy panted and groaned as he hauled the full pails up the hill, but he always watered the littlest fir tree. Afterwards, he collapsed in the cool shade cast by the littlest fir tree and told stories about the puffy cloud creatures scudding across the sky.

One morning, the farmer came with a machine that whirred and twirled. The smallest fir tree watched the farmer trim his brothers and sisters into triangle shapes. The other trees danced in the breeze, happy with their new look, but the buzzing tool scared the smallest fir tree.

“This won’t hurt,” the boy said.

And it didn’t, the tool tickled. The fir tree shivered with delight.

The leaves of the forest Maples flamed red. Shadows stretched long across the meadow. The man came to the orchard, but always alone; the littlest fir tree missed the boy’s visits. On the first hard frost, the hill sparkled with diamonds. The man walked the orchard, still alone, pulling long red and white and yellow ribbons from a leather bag slung over his shoulder. He tied a ribbon on each tree and soon, the ribbons fluttered like flags in the brisk autumnal air. The littlest fir tree wondered what color ribbon the farmer would tie on him. But when the man reached the hilltop, he paused before the littlest tree and sighed a deep sigh, then walked back down the hill.

The sun dropped behind the forest ridge. The fir tree shivered, sending needles to the ground.

The ground rumbled. Cars and trucks filled the bottom field. Shouts of children filled the air.

“There! This tree!”

“No, this one!”

The children swarmed around the small fir tree, sometimes even saying “This one!”

But the fathers said, “This tree is too puny. Besides, it has no ribbon,” and strode past, saws and axes thrown over their shoulders. The littlest fir tree trembled as his brothers and sisters groaned and fell to the ground.

Snow dusted the stump-stubbled hill. Without the protection of his brothers and sisters, the northeast gusted hard and cold, coating the trembling fir tree in ice. The mockingbird trilled as the wagon, pulled by the man, bumped and creaked up the hill. When the man reached the top, he pulled off his wool hat and wiped his sweat-shined forehead. In the wagon, the bundle of blankets moved; the small boy, pale and drawn, poked out his head. He smiled at the littlest tree, but the smile seemed as big an effort as lugging pails of water.

"This one?” the man asked the boy. “You’re sure?”

The little boy nodded and closed his eyes. The man gazed at the boy for a long moment, then turned away, a tear frozen on his cheek.

The fir tree looked down the hill at the stumps of his family one last time. Then he pulled his limbs tight and waited for the axe’s blow. But the man plunged a shovel into the frozen earth. He chipped a circle, deeper and deeper, around the tree, loosening the dirt around the fir tree’s roots.

The man pulled the tree tight to his chest; more than anything, the littlest tree wanted to stay in his embrace. But the man tugged hard, yanking the tree from the cold ground. The boy clapped his hands, his laugh sounded like birdsong.

“Your little tree will grow strong in the front yard,” the man said. “There, we can see him from the kitchen.”

"And I can visit him in the spring?” the boy whispered.

"Yes.” The man wiped at his shiny cheek. “Yes, you can.”

The man wrapped the trembling tree in burlap and nestled him in the wagon beside the boy. The boy snuggled into the littlest fir tree all the way down the hill and across the bumpy field. When the wagon stopped, the farmer unfurled the littlest fir tree from the cloth and propped him in a large hole. Shovels of dirt and snow covered his roots. The boy clambered from the wagon, falling twice in the deep snow. When he hugged the littlest fir tree, icicles tinkled to the ground.


May your winter nights be full of talk, of laughter, warmth and love. May you never be lonely.

Merry Christmas.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holy Guacomole

Today someone told me Christmas is in six days.

Six days!

I should've figured it out from all the smarmy music piping from the ceiling while I shopped my local GIANT, all the pointsettias set up on risers, the ring-ring-ringing by the faux Santa outside the entrance. All the lights strung along trees and windows and the outlines of houses, all the Macy-parade-sized Santa and Frosty balloons poofing up at dusk.

Checking my list, and all I see are the 'to-dos': seven 20-page policy papers to read and grade; one student's dissertation to shepherd through defense; one visit to the Food and Drug Administration; six work meetings; two conference calls; and a partridge and a pear tree. And that's just work, and all to be finished by close-of-business Tuesday.

On the home front, well... let's just say cookies galore. And packing galore. And wrapping galore. I think/hope/pray the shopping is finito. But truth be told, I kind of like the end of the year hecticity, it feels so awful while it happens but ooohhhhhhhh soooooooo good when it ends. And there are the little gifts of respite--the nibbling of cookies, cards from far-flung friends, the arrival of mystery boxes delivered by Mr. UPS, a surprise from my husband ==>

I'm not writing a lick, hopes of sending stuff out for end-of-the-year deadlines kind of disappeared like the errant snowflakes spitting on my windshield this morning. But that's okay.

Still, anyone else out there kind of wishing the days would slow down long enough to catch up?

Peace... and don't forget to breathe...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Food, Glorious Food...

The marvelous poet Linda Evans Hofke hosts quite a feast--The 12th Language-Place Blog Carnival features FOOD! Chiles, pretzels, blood sausages, arepa and plaintains, ruby-wine haikus... travel along, see what wonders poets and writers and artists create about food from around the world. You can find my small piece about food and family under entrees. Peace...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Baltimore and all those other cities...

RIGHT HAND POINTING has a nifty e-chapbook out with the theme of cities. Feels like whirlwind around the world, and all from the comfort of your laptop. I have a ditty called BALTIMORE, and you may recognize a slew of other contributors, including Doug Mathewson, Tina Barry, and Andrew Stancek.

While poking around, do good and pick up a copy of Howie Good's DREAMING IN RED. You get some damn fine poetry and The Birmingham, Alabama crisis gets ALL net proceeds.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Two Years

Today marks two years since my father died. Grief softens over time, although it never quite goes away. Last year, I thought of my father every day, and remembering filled me with great sadness. Now, memories of my father filter through other memories, through chinks in my days. Sometimes he visits me in dreams. Sometimes we watch old videos of him and my mother visiting: his voice mingles with those of my children, of others living, and it feels as if he is here, with us.

I feel him more than I did; letting go of the constant sadness opens me somehow to his presence.

Of course I write about my father; his living and dying inspired me in many ways, and still does. I think of these small pieces as offerings, as cairns to mark his existence and my memories...

--An interview about how grief and anger led me to write NUMBER 72 and I SHOULD NOT HAVE RUSHED YOU THROUGH THE RAIN up at Connotation Press

--Letting go where my father loved best, the Outer Banks...THE BLUES ARE RUNNING

--Shared grief: a man and a squirrel: STONE

--A small poem, THE LAST TRIP, nominated as a Best of the Net by Camroc Press Review

I write to remember. I write to process my emotions. I write to share you with the world.

Dad, the day is breaking the dark now, a gentle fog shrouds our yard, but already I can tell the day will be clear and blue and full of sun. Today I will keep you in my heart, and mom, too. Peace...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Giving a Hoot

Nice things do come in small packages. HOOT, a new print and on-line literary venture, loves all writing--as long as it flies under 150 words. transplant, my small single-sentence story, up in the December Issue.

Thanks to editors Amanda Vacharat and Dorian Geisler for featuring my words. Peace...