Monday, December 31, 2007

These I resolve...

To write.
To be.
To greet each day with joy.
To choose love over fear. Always choose love.

Happy New Year. Be the best person you can be...
Peace, Linda

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Into Our Wilds

I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.

The Bus Along the Stampede Trail. Photo by Carol Falcetta

In the wee hours the last Saturday of this year, I turned the final page, and cried. I just finished INTO THE WILD (Jon Krakauer), a mesmerizing true tale about a young man who left behind his affluent East Coast family, possessions, and money and vanished into the West. Two years after his disappearance, a moose hunter found his remains in a derelict bus abandoned in the wilds of Alaska. In his retelling of Chris “Alexander Supertramp” McCandless’ short life, Krakauer follows the boy’s two-year travels as a vagabond and tries to untangle his reasons for leaving “civilized’ life behind.

Of course, there are no final answers. But the story of McCandless and his tragic end moved me. Last night, I slept uneasily, wondering: Why? What compels a few rare people, usually young men, to risk all for some idealistic purpose? To abandon security and satiety, a life understood by all. To lose one’s self in the wilds of nature – and the mind?

This story haunts me. For one, young men fascinate me, their motivations, their thinking when they’re on the cusp between adolescence and manhood. I don’t know why, perhaps because I’m the opposite sex and a writer and my job is to be curious. As a culture, we stereotype this elusive aspect of the human species as an unfeeling and unemotional, motivated by ‘success’ narrowly defined as money, title, and other commercial indicators. But, I believe young men, like all of us, yearn for something greater than daily existence: a truth, a wisdom, a sheer moment of feeling. Of being.

I am too used to my creature comforts: my morning coffee, the warmth of my home, the security of my job, the hugs of my children and husband. Never could I, without a word of warning, disappear into the wilds of America. Yet people tramp into the woods or the desert or winding canyons all the time: John Muir, Gene Rosellini, David Thoreau, Everett Ruess, Chris McCandless. Most return, but others do not. Ostensibly, they leave to find verity in the purity of nature, but I suspect, in the end, they find the truth within themselves, somewhere in their hearts and minds. I admire their courage, the clarity and honesty of their quest.

So in reading, this little tome reveals to me a kernel of epiphany: this is why I write – to find a modicum of courage to peer over the edge of a glaciated peak in hopes, perhaps, of stealing a glimpse of pure blinding white whispering some truth to me.

See you in the New Year. Until then… Peace. Shalom. Pace. Salaam. Peace... Linda

But we little know until tried how much of the uncontrollable there is in us, urging us across glaciers and torrents, and up dangerous heights, let the judgment forbid as it may.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Ten Commandments of Services Research

Taking a cue from my friend Sarah Moffett, a lawyer who follows a similar credo...

I. I am the Lord thy God. My name is Validity — Internal and External. Worship both. Thou shall not have any gods before Me. Much of science tends to be preoccupied with internal validity, the strength of the claim that the experimental manipulation causes the outcome. This leads to the desire to control all potentially confounding variables but may reduce external validity. External validity, or the extent to which the study findings generalize to the world beyond the research project, is very important in services research.

II. Do not worship idols. Although you must have comparison conditions, they need not be exact images. Remember that you worship Internal Validity not Perfection. In medication trials we are used to seeing "placebo," which resembles the experimental condition to the fullest extent possible. In services research, although it is important to have control conditions, it is often not possible or desirable for the comparison condition to be a twin of the experimental condition.

III. Do not take the name of "effectiveness" in vain. Remember that you worship External Validity. Many researchers think that they are doing an effectiveness study if they measure outcomes beyond symptoms. That is not what effectiveness means. Effectiveness refers to the impact of a program in the real world, beyond the tightly controlled world of clinical trials.

IV. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Research assessments should not be scheduled on important religious holidays and on anyone's Sabbath. Services researchers should pay close attention to issues of culture.

V. Honor thy fathers and mothers — and grandparents, foster parents, and families of choice. Services researchers should pay close attention to issues of culture.

VI. Do not murder your data analysis section - or your biostatistician. The quasi-experimental and group cluster designs of services research require complex statistics. The statistician should be a part of the study from the very beginning.

VII. Be faithful to intervention design, and use measures of program fidelity at all times. Given the complexity of many services research studies, which often test psychosocial and organizational interventions, it is essential that strategies are used to ensure that the interventions being tested are true to their descriptions.

VIII. Although thou shalt not steal, thou shalt borrow frequently. To the extent that services research often involves working in unique cultural and system contexts and adapting standard approaches, it is tempting for investigators to assume that they have to reinvent the wheel. It is important for services researchers to borrow heavily from the work of others.

IX. Sins of omission can get you into as much trouble as lying. Don't stick with the psychiatry literature. Remember sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, marketing, education, political science... Services research draws heavily from a broad range of disciplines for conceptual models and approaches.

X. Do not covet the grants of your psychopharmacology clinical trials friends.

Lisa B. Dixon, M.D., M.P.H.
Dr. Dixon is affiliated with the Veterans Affairs Capitol Health Care Network and with the Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore.

Originally appeared in Psychiatric Services (December 2007)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Feed Me...

I'm hungry... for time.

Because it's the End Of The Year. Time when everyone wants something yesterday, when everything is due all at once.

When someone knocks gently at my office door (or barges in, the usual approach), I cringe. Please, please, please don’t ask me for anything. Please. I scrunch up my eyes and click my heels thrice, hoping they’ll disappear, leave me alone to continue emptying my two-foot high inbox before The New Year commences.

The ivory tower always is a crazy place at the end of any semester. Tests to correct, papers to read, grades to post, research proposals to submit in hopes of garnering potential sponsors’ ‘left-over’ scraps, and project deliverables must be, well, delivered.

Superimpose the End Of The Elementary School Year projects and parties, music nights, shopping for presents, finding a parking space at the mall, making twelve-dozen biscotti for the cookie exchanges, present wrapping, standing in endless post office lines, tree-trimming and carol singing and you’ve got a set-up for extreme corporeal and spiritual anemia.

Writing? Never taking a back seat (sleep does that), my writing projects swell with bossy importance. Gotta meet those End-Of-Annum goals before posting new ones January 1. So I’m busy critting fellow writers’ manuscripts, penning those last few poems for the last class assignment, revising and editing and polishing and burning BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT and other works in progress, sending out those dratted queries... and, of course, there’s the blog monster…

Feed me. Feed me. Feed me. FEED ME. Everyone and everything yammers for attention, for sustenance. But despite the zaniness, the nutso schedules, the impossibilities of getting everything on my multiple to-do lists crossed off, I am deliriously happy. The busy-ness feeds me in a way no plate of fresh-baked cookies ever could.

And some things I don’t want to end. Putting a poem to rest is like saying goodbye to a good friend. Finishing Jimmy’s DARK SIDE OF THE SOUL, Steve's PRODIGAL SON, Kim’s TAKING ON WATER, and nearing completion of Chrys' MOONCHILD evokes in me a nostalgic yearning to begin their stories… again...


Good news! There’s a reason for conservatives’ excess happiness – they smoke more pot than their liberal peers. Read about it HEREEat dirt? Join the Donkey Party? Uh, I prefer the new alternative…

Peace, Linda

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Who Are You? Who, who? (And why being conservative might keep you sane(r))

The theme song for CSI is blaring in my darkened living room as I pull this post together. Yes, of course I multi-task. Left brain/right brain – right? The refrain keeps pounding in my head, over and over, such a catchy little mantra. In fact, the tune’s been kicking around my grey matter for the past few days, ever since meeting with my newly-reconvened ‘real’ writing group (as opposed to my ‘virtual’ ones). So last Thursday, I found myself in the middle of a small room, quaking in me wee boots as I read aloud one of my newly-crafted poems. As I finished the third stanza of my first-ever metered, rhyming poem (a rondeau redouble, no less!), the song flashes through my head: Who the heck am I?

It occurs to me I am a forty-something years young woman, mother to two young ‘uns, happily-married wife, and professor with crows feet marching proudly across my upper cheeks. But I didn’t write these verses I'm tripping over. Rather, Ben, the brilliant but bipolar 20 year-old protagonist of my completed (!!!!!) novel BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, penned these words. And of course these poems preface sections of the book and, because Ben is a genius (and I am not), they best be damn good poems if they’re ever going to be published. So as I bare my and Ben's souls to my fellow writers, some of who actually deserve the title ‘poet’, half-way through my rather serious poem about child abuse and false paternity, I burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

It’s enough to make me crazy. Or at least qualify me for a diagnosis of disordered personalities…

To write about people who only exist in your head means you need to get down into their souls. You live them, breathe them, become them. There were times last year when I would jolt awake in the dark, convinced I was in a psychiatric hospital. Because that's where Ben was at that particular juncture of the story. And when he was shot in the left shoulder, well…. I couldn’t sleep on that side for weeks. It hurt too much.

So now, I am taking a poetry class in character as Ben. My instructor’s great, very tolerant of my eccentricities, and my classmates ask appropriate and probing questions about my life as a young, mentally-ill Harvard undergrad who runs marathons (ha!) and comes from a family of considerable means (double ha!). I’ve learned a lot about writing poems - and being a writer in drag.

Here’s the first stanza of my rondeau redouble…

Newton’s Principia
(Or a Young Boy’s Lesson on Gravity)

He runs free beneath God’s sky-blue brilliance.
On cider-tinged air, quills quiver and twist.
Crimson stains white, the world roars its silence;
bodies of mass fall, clenched into tight fists.


Want better mental health? Go conservative! According to a recent Gallup Poll, Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or Independents to rate their mental health as excellent. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report excellent mental health, compared to 43% of Independents and 38% of Democrats. These distinctions held up after controlling for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, church attendance, marital status, having children, and presidential job approval. What we don’t know is what comes first – the healthy head or the conservative bent.

Thus, in addition to talk therapy and chemistry, there are at least two other ways to attain a healthier and happier mental life: eating dirt and voting Republican. Hmmmm…. Which of the two is most palatable? Peace, Linda

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pre-Given Thanks...

We often say "thank you" in return for a good deed or a kind word. But why wait? Henry Simoni-Wastila, my minister husband, raised this idea last Sunday before our Unitarian Universalist congregation. He says it much better than I, so here's an excerpt from his sermon:

If you are thankful, you cannot help but feel that you have been blessed, that you have been given something good. We can be expectantly thankful - pre-grateful - having a priori gratitude. Now, logicially, that may not make sense. Logically, we should wait for good things to walk our way and then be thankful afterwards. After all, it's a little rude to be thankful for something you haven't been given yet!

I am suggesting that we be grateful first. But isn't that jumping the gun? Yes. But pre-existing gratitude can be a general philosophical attitude towards existence. Gratitude before the fact can be a religios response to reality as a whole. You don't need to have a specific thing or event to be thankful about.

In psychology, it is said that in trying to be happy, we can start acting happy and then real happiness will start to develop on its own. Sometimes, when I am tired or sad, I just smile. It makes me feel a little better. The Buddha's smile is on a face that has seen it all, and yet can still, while being aware of the impermanent nature of all, still smile. So tune yourself into that Buddha's smile.

This same psychological principle of "acting happy in order to be happy" might apply to a religious pre-positioning of gratitude, If you think of your life as something you should give thanks for, then there may develop in your life things that you will be thankful for.

Pre-Gratitude. Nice. Sort of like "pay it forward". Pre-positioning my gratitude, here are the things I give thanks to:

--My husband, for being himself and always stretching in new ways, and my children for evolving into the fascinating individuals they will become

--My parents, for sharing their truths so I can understand mine

--My sister, for sharing her joys and fears

--My fellow writers - Chrys, Jimmy, Deborah, Kim, Marg, Steve - for sharing their lives and their stories and their successes. Their generosity knows no bounds...

--The friends I have now, and the ones I have not yet met.

--My mentors, they are so numerous, I am so blessed...

--My mind, for not failing me and leading me on wondrous journeys

--Each morning, for it signals a new day, a new adventure - and isn't that what life is all about?

EVENT!!!!!!! If you're in the vicinity of the Big Apple this weekend, check out THE BEST MEMOIRISTS PAGEANT EVER. Both published and deserve-to-be-published writers will be reading their memoirs at the The Bowery Poetry Club. My personal fave is my writing buddy and friend Chrys Buckley. We finally met this week, but that's the subject for a future blog. She's a brave, lovely, sweet young woman who wields a fiery pen and a powerful voice. Catch her reading from MOONCHILD this Saturday, 24 November 1 2007 at 3:00 pm. The Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, NYC.

For what are you grateful now and in your future? Peace, Linda

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Better Living Through Chemistry?

Your Brain on Happiness

As a society, we're into quick fixes. And when it comes to health, those quick fixes usually come in compact form. Very compact - Americans consume more prescribed (and over-the-counter) drugs per capita than do citizens of any other nation.

There are many reasons for this medication of the masses: wide availability, considerable choice, and a medical-based model of health firmly built on capitalistic legs. This nation also is one of the few developed nations which doesn’t operate a national formulary, or list of approved medications. Indeed, US docs choosing pills for their patients’ ailments run the same baffling and overwhelming confusion Russian émigrés encounter when shopping for cereal at the grocery store: too much stuff. But we are a capitalistic people and we like our meds - and we like them new and shiny and expensive. Medical bling.

But I can't help thinking... maybe we're so into synthetic panaceas because of an ennui unique to American culture. The fact that Americans also drive global demand for illicit drugs - marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens - further supports my niggling suspicion that something’s not quite right in the land of the free and brave.

Maybe it’s the pace (we work more hours per week than the Japanese now) or the push to always be on top ‘o the heap. To succeed in that awfully narrow way that only our culture defines success: money, power, title, a sweet car, flat stomach, and sexual prowess in bed. The expectation of endless happiness and worry-free living coupled with the imperative to banish sadness, anger, and all those other ‘negative’ emotions because they drain our productivity, self-esteem, and even our youth (yes, anxiety does cause wrinkles) drives us, well, crazy.

Better living is just a pill away.

Perhaps. This week, the New York Times reported on two independent studies with the potential to thoroughly redefine the way we consider and treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other behavioral conditions. One study imaged the brains of over 200 children with and without ADHD for ten years and found ADHD kids had an average 3-1/2 year delay in the development of the brain areas responsible for focus and control. In other words, ADHD children do NOT have a flaw or defect in their grey matter; merely, a delay. The second study, epidemiological in nature, found children with ‘behavioral problems’ in their early elementary years performed as well as ‘normal’ children by the fifth grade.

Maybe these studies are the beginning of evidence that might slow down the Medication Express. Maybe. But somehow, I doubt it because it’s just so much easier to take Ritalin twice a day then to deal with rambunctious children for 3 years while waiting for their brains to catch up…

Writing Notes: Today I started marketing BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. Yep. Sent to a few agents I met at conferences who requested the first three chapters. They’re perfect. As perfect as they’re going to get this year. Putting them into their fedex envelopes felt good. And scary as hell. Halloween may be over, but the mailbox will be my boogeyman for the next few weeks - and likely not my friend. But it’s time to clear the plate, get ready for PURE, which I’ve been dreaming about, an excellent sign I’m ready to move on to another two-year novel writing binge. Here’s a snippet:

Later, much later, after the shock began to wear off, people asked, “Where were you when it happened?” I remember exactly where I was at that precise moment - doesn't everyone? Tuesday was the one day of the week I didn’t have to rush out early to lecture the spoiled undergrad minions or schlep glassware and slides for Tien's lab, so that particular morning found me in the kitchen with a mug of coffee uncharacteristically lazy and happy due to my earlier twelve mile run. “One of the ten best days of the year,” the weatherman promised as my feet swept my willing body along the Charles River, the dawn cracking into a perfect cerulean canvas. But later, alone in my apartment, for some reason I felt an urge to turn on the television, which I rarely do because it's mindless, loud, and I’m too damn busy. So it was a total fluke I flipped on the tube and watched the north tower flame into smoking clouds. And as it telescoped into itself, collapsing into dusty, horrifying rubble, I vaguely wondered if my father was in Japan…

Peace, and happy writing... Linda

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Brainstorming, Barnstorming, and Breaking through the Block

Writer's Block. Like carpal tunnel, another malady of those who make their living with the pen, but worse; a severe constipation of the brain. There are times when the page stares blankly at me, mocking me. But usually my block is more along the lines of I know what I want to say - I can see and hear the entire scene in my head - but I can't find the words to describe it. That sort of resistance is easy to fix: exercise the right brain with rock-and-roll or a sweeping symphony, go for a run through crunchy, ochre-colored leaves, peruse the local Mona Lisas hanging in galleries, or pull out the watercolors and just do it. Myself, I withdraw to making tiny glass beads, little universes of Murano glass twisted and twirled in the heat of my torch, interspersed with slivers and gobs of silver wire and leaf.

But what happens when the ideas simply do not generate? When you, the writer, face a well sucked dried from a drought of inspiration? Brainstorming is one approach. The idea behind the concept is to generate ideas in an environment of suspended judgement. in other words, the right brain pontificates without that left interrupting. In a group situation, the ground rules for brainstorming are simple:

1/ avoid criticizing ideas.
2/ the more the merrier - the emphasis is on quantity, not necessarily quality (sort of like NANOWRIMO, now in full swing).
3/ be free-wheeling. No censoring here, simply spout.
4/ listen to other ideas and jump on their band-wagon.
5/ avoid any discussion of ideas or questions.

Now brainstorming is a Jim-dandy approach for folks who work in groups, but we writers are often a solitary, curmudgeonly bunch. We work... alone. So how to generate ideas whilst sitting holed up in our unheated cabins in the furthest reaches of rural-dom?

My friend Jimmy reminded me of the OBLIQUE STRATEGIES card deck created by Brian Eno, musician and producer extraordinaire, and his friend and collaborator, painter Peter Schmidt. Back in my college days, Dave, a fabu guitar player, turned me on to all things Eno, including introducing me to his OS deck, which he himself used to generate song lyrics. Eno and Schmidt intended the cards to help them get into the creative ways of thinking that they found increasingly difficult to attain. In other words, Oblique Strategies helps to jog the mind to new thoughts and ideas. Voila - creativity!

So what's in a deck? Depends upon what edition - there are five of them. And the format; the 'hard' decks contain words, phrases, and questions, and some editions were illustrated. There are on-line versions as well, using the same texts created by Eno and Schmidt but featuring art by others. The first OS said "Honor thy error as a hidden intention" (What a great philosophy). Other sayings:

State the problem in words as clearly as possible

Try faking it

What to increase? what to reduce?

Only one element of each kind

To get your creative juices flowing, head over to Brain Eno's random OS generator (and check out the very cool site, too).

And Elizabeth Friedman has figured out how to generate random haiku based on OS cards (but this is cheating the creative process, no?)

In other words, a provocative writing prompt. And fun.

How do you generate ideas for your writing and other artistic endeavors?

Hope this keeps your mind in the flow... Peace, Linda

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Leftbrainwrite added to Project 20/20 Build My Blogroll

And what is PROJECT 20/20? It's the way Maria Schneider, editor of WRITER'S DIGEST, spreads her cyberlove in her blog The Writer's Perspective. Since September, her goal is to add 20 blogs (on writing, of course) to her blogroll. And this baby made it on week 12. I am honored and privileged to share blogroll space with writing and blogging luminaries such as Georganna Hancock's A Writer's Edge, Writer Mama, and JA Konrath's A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, among others. Check 'em out, some great stuff in these blogs.

So thank you, dear readers, for reading LEFTBRAINWRITE. Knowing you drop in every now and then to see what latest musings have kept me up into the wee hours of the morn are my biggest inspiration for writing another post. Knowing you care gives me more jolt than a triple espresso. And it's nice to know I'm not simply venting into some void.

So blog on and pay it forward - cyberlove... Peace, Linda

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Creativity – It’s all in your head

“Mind isn’t a tug-of-war with the left brain on one side and the right brain on the other, but a collaboration, an open exchange.” (Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind)

Editing and revising sometimes feel like glorified secretarial work: typo annihilation, grammar correction, formatting perfection. It’s easy to let the mechanics of writing override the rest of the process, to get so stuck on the getting the words exactly right that you miss the message. At least, this is the way I feel of late, revising Brighter Than Bright for the 8th time (yes, the 8th full revision; my friend Jimmy’s discovered enough ‘ouches’ to cause anemia). Editing gets old. Real quick.

I missed writing new stuff. Waking in the morning, cup o’joe steaming by my side, the full moon blaring through the window, the rest of the world asleep, greeted only by a fresh white piece of paper daring me to write… anything my mind desired. It gives me shivers just thinking about it…brrrrrr… The revision process removes me from my characters and their sticky, complicated, crazy lives. It has to, because this stage requires the entrance of distanced critic, not the emotional writer. In other words, the polishing stage requires the left hemisphere of the brain, the home of language and linear thinking and logic and laterality, to assert control of the creative process.

Left-brain thinking, though necessary, is not sufficient. My right brain, where images and patterns and spatial relations reside, is where the ideas flow from, where the brilliant bon mots and the realization that your protag sports a ying-yang tattoo under the right shoulder blade originate. It’s the imagistic, intuitive, FUN side of creativity.

After two solid months of sinister-side revisions, my right brain rebelled: WRITE!!!!! SOMETHING!!!!! OTHER THAN LINE EDITS!!!!!! At first, I was reluctant, feeling compulsive (and obsessive) about finishing this revision of my novel. So I started small: micro flash fiction and poetry. I’d steal a few minutes a day to tool away on a paragraph or stanza, feeling guilty I wasn’t spending the little ‘free’ time I had for ‘writing’ not finishing my much larger project. But something funny happened on the way to the forum… the more time I spent pontificating poems on paper, the faster and clearer and easier went the revising process.

The battle is over, my cerebral hemispheres have struck a compatible balance. At least for the time being. Here, a small poetry offering…

Gloria (Montepulciano, 1996)

In my sadness you lead me -
caretaker, confidant, friend –
through olive groves casting dark shadows
on burnt earth. We lay amidst silvered
sheaves, hidden from all
but the eyes of God and bees
buzzing, sodden and soporific.

Time slows, time stops,
clouds drape across an azure canvas,
The wind sounds low, softly stroking
the grass, your mussed hair, our tumbled limbs,
hearts halcyon in this infinite instant.
Eyes reflecting sky, you turn,
absolve my melancholy.

Sanctified, we sleep.


FREEBIE: If you want to read some fascinating interviews on creativity with an incredibly talented and diverse group of artists, check out this blog: Cecil Vortex

May your mind transport you to places you never imagined, and provide you the tools to tell the world about your journeys… Peace, Linda

Monday, October 22, 2007


Got your attention? The title sounds a bit… salacious. But I don’t mean internet dating or porn or enhanced ‘telephone’ nookie. Noooooo, nothing like that from this staid blogger. Heh-heh-heh...

Lea (holding her friend Scruffy), me (in black and red), Heather (the gorgeous one), and Michael (cute, huh?)

What the title refers to is the incredible ability of hardware and software and whizzing wires to bring together like-minded individuals. To read each other’s work. To become intimate with stories and characters who only exist in our minds – and on white pages. To develop strong attachments because of shared passions for writing. And sometimes, you get curious: who are these people? Really? What do they look like? Is their voice squeaky or low? How do they dress? What quirks or mannerisms do they have? Are they frenetic or so low-key and relaxed you could slide them under a closed door?

I had the recent pleasure of meeting one writing colleague – I can call her friend now – in the flesh. Wildstrawberries, a writing buddy from the Writer’s Digest forums who has published a memoir, has a couple of hobbies: traveling on a whim, and visiting famous authors’ homes. When she mentioned she wanted to visit Edgar Allen Poe’s home in Baltimore, I posted that I was (rightfully) embarrassed I had never visited – and I work less than a half-mile away. So WS - Heather to me now - flew with her lovely hubby from Wisconsin and we met in Molly McGuire’s, a great Irish pub, and chatted for more than two hours about… writing. And more writing. And a little bit about reading, then more about writing. And all the wonderful people we’ve met and experiences we’ve had. My daughter Lea and her hubby Michael made goo-goo eyes at each other while we indulged ourselves. Sheer heaven.

We did get to the museum – eventually – and visited Westminster burying grounds where dear EAP lies with much of his family. Thanks for visiting, dear friend!

Kelley (aka Twizzle), another cyber buddy sent me a ‘meme’ last week. Freaked me out – a meme? Some sort of disease? Actually, it’s kind of a chain letter ‘tag’ you send to fellow bloggers. I guess this means Twiz likes me. Yoo-hoo, because I like her, too. A lot. And when you check out her blog, you will, too.

Anyway, the meme theme is: Describe your five strengths as a writer. So here goes:

1) I am persistent. Yep, like a fly on poop. I may not have talent, but at least I will write and edit and market until some poor slob recognizes my… persistence. Or my OCD.

2) I am a perfectionist. Dot the ‘i’ and cross the ‘t’ used to be my nickname. This is why I can sometimes spend an entire day on a single paragraph. And come back to the same sentences the next morning. Maybe I really am obsessive-compulsive...

3) I am a damn good editor. ‘nuf said. (There are meds for excess attention to detail. Right?)

4) I am generous with myself to other writers. Sounds virtuous, doesn’t it? Don’t let me fool you – I’m the most selfish writer in the world. I learn from everyone else’s work, which is why I love to read their stories – then tear them apart. Gently, kindly. And they return the favor.

5) I have a very high pain tolerance. Why else would I put myself through the maddening torture of writing?

So I’ve said my piece and I tag… Deborah and Chrys! Pay the cyberlove forward, girls… Peace, Linda

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Guest Blog: Of Poetry and Prose, Princes and Pasts

An easy blog today - did my work last week while Ms. Moffett was quaffing Rioja in sunny Espanol. Si!

Sarah Moffett is a self-described writer who moonlights as a lawyer, a relative local who lives within mere miles of me. She's a published author, an accomplished blogger, and an intrepid marketer - check out her Book Tour. At age 27 (or so), she's trapped in time - she should've been on Ken Kesey's bus, as Sarah loves all things beatnik.

Check out her site and her amazing book - Growing Up Moffett. It's a funny, wry, and at times heartbreaking tale of coming of age under family distress and ills. It's also a love story - of family bonds created and kept.

I'm honored to contribute to her site. Hope y'all enjoy! Peace, Linda

Monday, October 08, 2007

My Six Small Sentences - Published At Last!!!!!

How sweet it is to get some form of external validation from Six Sentences.

I enjoyed submitting to this wonderfully eclectic site. The very short stories selected and posted here daily range from coffee-sputtering hilarious to heart-breakingly poignant. The postings here are the delectable pastries that accompany my morning coffee.

It's a challenge to write a story in six sentences. As I write (and rewrite and rewrite yet again) BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, I realize how every sentence must precisely and concisely carry it's own weight. And I thought that philosophy just applied to poetry... Thanks to the exercise of perfecting my small offering to Six Sentences, I now find I approach each paragraph as it's own little microcosm. Now if only there was a site called Six Words...

And the process was equally sweet: after acceptance Rob McEvily, the fellow who runs the site, not only sent a personalized, enthusiastic response by email, but also a small card with a REAL STAMP and Curious George stickers. Beats Happy Meals by a long shot... (thanks Rob...).

So yoo-hoo!!!!! A small victory. And yes, Kelley, there will be an all-you-can-eat chocoblitz. Come on over and make yourself giddy off all the good dark stuff... cacao nibs and all... Peace, Linda

Friday, October 05, 2007

Tonight I Rest...

Today BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT printed off hot and beautiful onto 20 pound white paper. All 642 pages, 123,992 words. Finito. Exactly three weeks past my self-imposed deadline of September 15, but better late than never.

It was the ending that delayed me. Two months spent on the last 50 or 60 pages. Not sure why it was so difficult, I suspect psychology was involved. I simply couldn't get into Phoebe's head, make her FEEL. Really respond to Ben, the situation. How does she FEEL? My Nudge-Nudge Collective pushed me to the limit, three versions in a week. How grateful I am for their tough love (Thank you, dear friends...). But early this morning, as the gentle fog reflected the soft glow of the streetlamps, I found my flow, cranked it out, tweaked it over lunch, and... Voila!

This, of course, is the end of the beginning...again. I packed the 642 pages into a fedex and shipped it to Chrys, who is valiantly taking on a third reading. I'll do the same with her MOONCHILD memoir. My friend Jimmy is reading from the beginning as I read his DARK SIDE OF THE SOUL. He's found omissions and redundancies that a dozen passes by six pairs of eyes missed. I'll continue revising - his suggestions are almost always spot on - and wait for Chrys to give me her verdict.

But for now, I rest. Let the book marinate in its juices. Peace, Linda

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The War on Drugs… Wage It on Your Medicine Cabinet, Not Afghani Poppy Growers

Today is Bloggers Unite Against Abuse Day. And to celebrate, I get to soap-box about one of my favorite topics – Prescription Drug Abuse.

Perfect. Because abuse of little white pills and purple capsules is what I spend a good chunk of my time researching in my day job. And at night, when I should be cleaning the toilets or the fridge, instead I’m trying to get the characters in my novel BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT from not indulging in tiny orange orbs. Yeppers, I’ll admit prescription drug abuse is a passion of mine, right up there with psychosis, depression, and mania.

So here’s the facts, ma’am, followed by some fiction…

When most people think of drug abuse, they think -- Smack. Crank. Blow. Red Mercedes. Ice. Of belts wrapped tight around upper arms, of sucking lines off a foil-lined tray. Considerably more dangerous than what’s hanging out in those amber-colored plastic vials in your bathroom cabinet. Right?

Not so. Although the use of most drugs, including marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, have stabilized or even fallen in recent years, the abuse of drugs available by prescription has increased. Especially in young people, even though growth is substantial among boomers and seniors. Indeed, more kids aged 12 to 17 abuse prescription drugs than all the ‘hard’ street drugs (cocaine/crack, heroin, inhalants, hallucinogens) combined. It’s mostly white kids, although Hispanic youth are increasingly turning to medications to get high, and those who indulge in other substances, especially alcohol and tobacco. What do kids use? Mostly opioid analgesics (e.g., OxyContin, Vicodin), tranquilizers (e.g., Ativan, Halcion, valium), and stimulants (e.g., Ritalin, Strattera).

But prescription drug abuse is not just a problem of youth. More and more older adults – especially women – are falling victim to the ravages of little white pills prescribed by their doctors. Misuse is often unintentional, occurring after excessive medical exposure. And pills are easy to get: docs are willing prescribers, we tend to hoard unused meds (‘fess up – bet you have some leftover Demerol in your medicine chest), friends and family are willing to share, and on college campuses and high schools (and even middle and elementary schools), there is a tremendous grey market for prescription medications.

And why not? Unlike cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth, you KNOW what’s in your OxyContin tablet. You get the same, dependable high with no fear of contaminants screwing up your lungs, your bloodstream, or your brain. After all, the Food and Drug Administration has approved these medications as ‘safe and effective’.

What can you do to stop prescription drug abuse?

1/ Get informed. Go to the experts: National Institute on Drug Abuse, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Join Together. Or contact Me - I research this stuff for a living.

2/ Ask your docs to give you the smallest amount of pain medications or other potentially addicting medications. This keeps excess medication off the street.

3/ Talk to your kids. If you’re a kid, talk to your friends. Tell them just because the FDA approves them, they’re dangerous.

4/ Most important - Talk to your pharmacist when you receive prescriptions for analgesics, tranquilizers, stimulants for ADHD or narcolepsy, sedatives for sleep. Ask her how to SAFELY use your medication.

5/ Lock up your medications. You’d be amazed what your housekeeper, realtor, friends, and children will steal.


Here’s the fiction… Ben at a pharming party...

I push myself back up the wall, wait my turn. The door opens, the hip-hoppers high-five their way down the hall and I stumble in. The small room reeks, yellow urine puddles by the john. Streamers of toilet paper and clods of crap circle slowly in the bowl. I do my thing, then cling to the sink as white and grey dots skitter across my closed eyelids. A hot, heavy fullness bubbles up my throat; I swallow it down, blast the faucet and splash myself with water. There’s no towel, water streams down my neck. Bloodshot eyes stare back from the glittering glass, the green of iris obscured by vacant, opaque cisterns. An urge to vomit up all the chemicals I’ve ingested strikes me, then passes. What the fuck am I doing? I shake my head, but nothing changes; the stranger gazes back at me. Someone bangs on the door, so I turn from the sink, stagger to the ballroom.

Be safe. Use your meds as prescribed. Peace, Linda

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Virtual Pain

And literal pain, too. The last twenty pages of BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT frizzled my neuronal circuitry to smoky cinders.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve revised and written 10,000 words every three weeks. No exceptions. I churned through this seventh revision in record pace. But for some reason, the last 5,000 words took me nearly two months to complete. I guess I needed to give the ending it’s due attention, because in some ways, the ending is more important than the beginning. After all, there are so many loose ends to resolve. And, as a critical reader, I am so often unsatisfied with most story endings. So I struggled - and endured much pain as I slashed and modified and rewrote to get it just right.

The struggle of slouching towards THE END vaporized early Sunday morning when I typed those two magic words out for the seventh time, saved the file, and zipped it over to my writing group for their reading and critiquing pleasure. I am two weeks behind my self-declared deadline of 9/15; Chrys and I are now targeting the first week of October to exchange manuscripts.

Speaking of pain, you, dear reader and writing procrastinator, haven’t yet met PHOEBE, the female protagonist of my story and BEN’S love interest. Phoebe is a medical student who escapes from her loneliness in her books and pottery. When Phoebe lost her mother to cancer a decade earlier, she fixated on a medical career like her internist father, but as a pain management specialist. Phoebe’s tenacious – a quality responsible for her academic and sculpture successes - but her stubbornness extends to her difficulty in clinging too tight to the past. She begins to break her own psychic pain by honoring her mother's memory through song at her Unitarian Universalist church:

Ben’s eyes open wide as I go front and center before the other dozen choir members on the two steps leading to the pulpit. The director catches our attention with her eye, then signals with her right hand to begin.

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
A long way from home,
A long, long way from home.

My voice quavers, then steadies and strengthens, resonating with my mourning. Ben watches me, his intent eyes glisten in the stippled light. I look away; I can’t break down, not now. The choir joins in on the second verse and the momentary urge to weep passes.

My life has accelerated towards this moment for months, maybe even years, but a surprising calm fills me. A hidden strength returns. I raise my voice in tribute to my mother. And for the first time in what seems an eternity, I don’t feel alone.

May your days be free of physical and psychic pain, virtual and real. Peace, Linda

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Asian Pears, 9/11, and Rilke: Ponderings in September

There’s a poignancy about September, something that makes me begin to slowly turn inward. Perhaps it’s the abrupt desiccation of the air that turns the sky into a slate of cerulean. Or the slipping into routines of packed lunches, morning busyness, and crushing commutes. The evening you notice, for the first time, the absence of fireflies dancing in garden shadows. The lonely chirrup of crickets as dusk falls earlier than the day before. Perhaps it’s the way the Asian pears take on a golden glow, the way raspberries turn redder, smaller, sweeter. Maybe it’s the four jet liners that inalterably redefined summer’s slow, inexorable slide into Fall when they slammed into towers and fields six years ago.
(Asian Pear, Henry Simoni-Wastila)

All I know is that this week, many things gave me pause. My daughter’s short, stubby legs carrying her down a soccer field. The toothless, stooped man selling papers outside the metro station. Spent syringes lying in the gutter. The flock of grackles, a school of hundreds, weaving patterns above the horizon of trees.

Words moved me, too. Phrases, a collection of sentences, would leap from pages, force me to retrace their origins and read again. Sometimes it was the sheer lyricism of the writing that struck me, other times it was the meaning contained within the words...

In That Certain September, Joseph Grant elicits in two sentences the frustrating experience of emergency room workers on September 11, 2001…

People from all walks of life and from seemingly every ethnic background, all working together, were hammering planks together for makeshift stretchers for the injured that would surely flood our doors any given moment now. In one of the cruelest ironies of that dreadful day the stretchers were abandoned, never to be used.

Fading Away, a haunting short by Joseph Bathanti in the latest The Sun, also brought me to tears…

As Fritz holds Claire in the flickering candlelight, she tells him that Compton once threatened to kill her. She laughs when she tells him, insisting that Compton is nothing but swagger, but Fritz has come to recognize her laugh as an acknowledgement of powerlessness, something people of epic endurance share. They know only how to suffer, not how to hit back. Then he hears himself laugh too. It finally occurs to him that he has been training not to fight, but to flee.

I revisited Allen Ginsburg's The Howl, a testament to an era and its losses (thank you, Sarah)...

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix…

And from Robert Graves, noted historian and author of I, Claudius and Claudius the God, in a four-word preface to the fabulous and fabulistThe Cleft by Doris Lessing…

“Man does, woman is.”

(So perfect. So succinct.)

Finally, I spent time meditating on a ceramic vessel I built many years ago. My funerary urn. Carved in the slipped and burnished earthenware, an epitaph extracted from the words of Ranier Maria Rilke…

Explore transformation throughout.
What is your most suffering experience?
Is drinking bitter to you, turn to wine.

And if the earthly forgot you,
To the still earth say: I run.
To the swift water speak: I am.

What made you think and wonder this week? Peace, Linda

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bipolar Brains: Different From All the Rest

NIMH: Bipolar Youth Show Distinct Pattern of Brain Development

A fascinating new study shows how cycles of depression and mania change the actual structure of the brain in youth. Go to the link, click on the flicks - and see the dramatic gains in the growth of working tissue in the left hemisphere, the cingulate, and other areas regulating mood function. Meanwhile, grey matter loses ground in the right hemisphere. Spoken and written word functions reside in the left side of the brain, as does as the memory of words.

Neuroscience is proving what social scientists and psychologists have theorized for years - creativity, at least that related to the literary arts, does have some basis in mood. As a study of one (also known as an anecdote), I can attest: I write best when a bit of hypomania fuels my brain.

IN MEMORIUM... Please remember those whose lives were lost in planes, too-high towers, and the Pentagon six years ago today. Peace and prayers to the survivors. And a special tribute and thanks to those who perished trying to save their fellow humans. Peace, Linda

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Diagnosis du jour

Like changing hemlines, there are fashions in mental health. In the 1980s, taking Prozac was hip and, on the cocktail circuit, you were embarrassed if you weren’t taking the little blue and white capsule. A decade later, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was the ‘in’ condition, not just among children and adolescents, but also among driven adults. And now, in the new millennium, the diagnosis of the moment is bipolar disorder.

A new study conducted by researchers at Columbia University finds that 1 in every 100 youth aged 19 or younger has bipolar disorder (and 2 in every 100 adults). That may not sound so bad – just 1 percent – but taken in the context of trends, it is disturbing: the rate of bipolar diagnosis has increased forty-fold in ten years among adolescents.


What the hell’s in the water?

Probably nothing. Historically, bipolar disorder has been under-recognized, under-diagnosed, and under-treated, especially in pediatric populations. The mood swings, excess energy, and restlessness associated with bipolar parallel the signs and symptoms seen in other conditions, including ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, psychotic disorders, and garden-variety depression. Not to mention the normal angst and sturm of adolescence.

But now it appears we may be swinging to the other side of the pendulum: over-diagnosis. And a consequence of any diagnosis is usually a treatment. The medications used to treat bipolar disorder – lithium and other mood stabilizers, anxiolytics, antidepressants, and antipsychotics – are not innocuous. They are powerful, mind-altering drugs which, when used appropriately, confer tremendous medical benefit. But they also have potent and dangerous side effects, ranging from the inconvenient and uncomfortable (loss of libido, dry mouth, shaking) to the downright dangerous (blood dyscrasias, weight gain, diabetes).

In BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, Ben is bipolar. Diagnosed at age 16, he’s a model patient, compliant with his lithium and psychotherapy for the past four years. But a series of events cascade and lead him to ‘forget’ his happy pills and he starts the upward spiral into mania…

My very atoms vibrate: from caffeine, from sleep deprivation, from the constant moving forward. From erratic consumption of my mood regulators. But my mind is sharp, focused; my dreams, Technicolor wonders. Everything I touch explodes from this magical, sub-cellular energy surging within me. When I press the closed hollow-wood door to Bruce’s office, it flies open with a bang. The knob gouges the plaster wall. He sits at his desk, the room dim but for the green glow of a single lamp, head down, not noticing my tumult.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Mind - Au Naturale

For decades, psychiatrists, surgeons, family physicians, and quacks have resorted to a myriad of methods to still the sadness and quell the voices echoing in our heads. Lobotomies, insulin treatment, electroconvulsive (shock) therapy were once standards of care for mental illness, along with all sorts of medicaments and solutions. Now, we're more humane – we manage most of our mental ailments by ingesting pills. And what a variety: olanzapine, lamotrigine, sertraline, paroxetine, quetiapine, aripiprazole, ziprasidone, duloxetine, venlafaxine. The syllables drip off my tongue, almost a lilting poem.

But folks who have the blues or other mental and emotional maladies are starting to tell their prescribing psychiatrists and family docs: no thanks. Why? The growing evidence that some medications are as effective as placebo, their prohibitive expense and increasing hassles imposed by insurers, and side effects that sometimes seem worse than the disease: weight gain, diabetes, lack of libido, and changes in cognitive and emotional capacities. And, of course, some people just don’t want anything screwing with their head.

Which I find fascinating. Why wouldn’t someone in the throes of severe emotional distress not gobble a small, white sphere to feel better? to become functional? To return to ‘normal’?

This dilemma underlies both my research and my fiction. During the day, I ponder how to improve patient ‘adherence’ to antidepressants and antipsychotics. My hypothesis: take your meds, and you'll experience improved clinical outcomes and save money. Crass, perhaps, but these are endpoints I can measure by crunching very large datasets comprised of millions of medical and pharmacy claims using fancy statistics and large hard-drives.

But the numbers only go so far: Why don’t people take their meds? Why do they resist medically-accepted treatments? Why aren’t people adherent to experts' proscriptions?

A pivotal section of BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT finds Ben, my protagonist, wallowing in a mixed manic-depressive state and grappling with the decision of whether to take an antipsychotic. After days of fear and indecision, he succumbs and experiences a miracle - the reinstatement of his mind…

I waken and hear the whir of highway traffic and, more distant, the lonesome wail of a train. The night workers rustle, talk softly, prepare for the next group of caretakers. Someone moans from another room. These are the only sounds; my mind is quiet; there is no noise, no morbid, florid thoughts, no whooshing or thrumming or humming, no lingering nightmares or images or memories. Normal? Is this what normal feels like? I don’t remember.

There are many ways to attain and maintain mental health. Whatever it takes - pills, gamma rays, sun, running, talk therapy, magnets applied to your temples, Emotional Freedom Techniques, or hey, dirt - stay healthy and happy. Peace, Linda

For an excellent article on the pitfalls and pros of medications – and their 'natural' alternatives - turn to The Unmedicated Mind

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Trusting the Process

The final chunk. Almost seventy pages. I stare at the freshly printed hard-copy before me, feeling like a miniature meat-processing plant: feed, grow, produce, harvest, slice, dice, package, market. From cow to Oscar Mayer weenies. Is a book really any different?

Coffee in my left hand, blue gel fine point in my right, I start at the top. In an hour, I read through the entire shebang. Cobalt ink underlines every other word, notes scrawl in the margins: awk*, XX**, awf***, chu****. My mood matches the color of my manuscript.

Panic blooms, granules of yeast in warm, sugary water. My pulse pounds – boom, boom, boom – my internal grandfather clock reminding me of my self-imposed deadline. A month. Just a month. I can’t do it, can’t finish, there’s too much to explicate and extricate and excise and revise and devise… the voices are wrong, the rhetoric weak, the writing... well, the writing’s the least of my worries.

I rise from the kitchen table, nuke my now tepid coffee, and shove four caramel Hershey kisses into my mouth without tasting them. The micro bleats once, then twice, and I tear myself from the bowl of chocolates. Deep breath. My laptop mocks me, but I pull up the document, begin to edit. My brain seizes. A voice whispers in my ear. “This story sucks. You suck.” The little demon who sits on my right shoulder leers at me, then laughs an eerie cackle

And I believe him (of course it’s a him).

So I walk away and walk around in a murky funk. I snap at my children, my husband, the stupid drivers, the stupider pedestrians. I am despicable. I am the Ugly Writer. But after almost 48 hours of doing nothing but wandering in a sleepless, irritable haze, my mood begins to lift.

I return to the merciless document, and begin. The writing flows. To my surprise, my insomniacal angst has miraculously spawned new scenes, better-behaved characters, pithy and compelling dialogue, even decent prose. Optimism stirs. I plow through the first chapter. The fiend stretches, yawns. “Yeah, yeah, you can do it.” I can do it. And I have done it before. Three weeks ago. Duh. Deja vu. Maybe I should trust my mind? Myself?

*awk = Awkward
**XX = Add something, anything – this hole’s as wide as the damn Mississippi
***awf = Awful. AWFUL!!!!!
****Chu = Chuck. As in chuck it in the can, the toilet, the ocean, the gas grill

This just in from Neuroscience: Dirt is better than Prozac. Yep. Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae, which exists naturally in soil, produces serotonin - and bliss - in mice.

Guess I’ll go snort some dirt... Peace, Linda

Mouse Brain on Dirt

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's Just Words, or The End of the Beginning - Round 6

Late last night I pushed the 'upload files' button and the penultimate section of BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT whizzed through cyberspace to my on-line writing group, the NUDGE-NUDGE COLLECTIVE. Three chapters away from 'The End'. In my mind, those two words taste like 70% cacao extra fine dark chocolate, the sweetness melts on my tongue, replaced by a faint, smoky bitterness.

The End. But is it ever really over? Does a story ever really end? I have typed 'The End' five times and sometime in the next month or so I will key those words in for the sixth time. Mark Spencer, my writing instructor in Advanced Novel Writing (WOW Online) tries to console me: "Do you know how many times Ernest Hemingway rewrote the ending to A FAREWELL TO ARMS? I think the number was 19." Arghhh.

This particular round was different from the first five. In this revision, I dumped the Swiss Army knife and picked up a chainsaw. This time, I didn't simply excise adverbs, elevate prose, futz with dialogue tags. Uh-uh... round six was major cosmetic surgery: liposuction to the tune of 40,000 words, scenes implanted to flesh out the voice of my second protagonist, tummy-tuck a dreary and overlong section where the first protag wallows in a psychiatric hospital. It was bloody.

I'm not sure where this courage came from, but I remember one morning late Spring, after tossing all night worrying about people and events who only exist in my imagination, I woke up and my first thought was: "It's just words."

How liberating.

Years ago, when my preferred creative medium was clay, my frustration with working with the soft and temperamental porcelain began to exceed my joy. A clay friend and mentor uttered a similar sentiment when I sobbed as we unloaded a kiln and discovered every single vessel fractured with large cracks: "It's only clay."

Now I view my editing as I do my clay work: tucking and nipping and smoothing and dabbing. Building and shaping the armature. Sometimes huge chunks require excision. Other times, handles and feet and other parts need adding. But in the end, I sculpt my story in the shape and form I choose.

Three chapters left. Then back to Chapter One...

My mind tugs me back to the cool, morning haze. Legs pump hard, push through a sea of lanky, shin-guarded limbs. Someone kicks, the ball rolls out from our tangle of boy bodies. My feet follow, bound down the still dewy field smelling of sweet hay and mud. Whistles pierce the murmuring tide of excited yelling...

Yes, back to the starting line... I can barely wait. Peace, Linda

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dabbling in Haiku... Sole


frigid, in its frost
impervious, the earth’s scab
resists assured change

gleams, feeble muted,
stroke the forgiving surface
to summon rebirth

puny, shoots of hope
gallant, thrust and strive through ash,
frozen clink, clay, leaves

unfurled, leaves emerge
tenuous, exultant in
brilliant joyous dance

Linda Simoni-Wastila

My first love is prose, not poetry, but I enjoy the play of words on paper, the shadows and rifts that interrupt the vast white. Haiku is one form, so simple in appearance, yet so difficult in practice. Sole, Italian for sun, is inspired by the cold, white bleakness of winter that fades into promise of life. It follows the 'traditional' 5/7/5 meter, a bone of contention argued by many haiku purists (visit Poeticasides for more on haiku and other poetry styles).

Myself, I like the constraint imposed by haiku, the challenge of writing within parameters rather than having my thoughts catapault in free verse across the white page. But in the end, do rules matter? The faint trace of an image imprinted on the mind is what a poem hopefully leaves...

To capture the spirit of the ku... most elusive.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

It Takes A Village...

Writing is a lonely business, especially at 5 in the morning when the rest of the world (sanely) sleeps. But writing is a process, and to do it well, you often have to dig deep, fall into dark spaces that are too small for another voice to enter. Sometimes that chasm holds my psyche close, too close, and the residue of funked-up isolation and darkness follows me into my 'daily' life. Other times I get frustrated, hit a wall and the story shrivels up like a slug on salt. More often, I read my story and wonder why the hell I'm wasting my time writing such drivel.

It's at these moments when I'm grateful for my friends who write. They UNDERSTAND. They GET IT. We talk each other out of despair and feelings of inadequacy. But we share much more than red pens held to each others' manuscripts. We share a camraderie, an understanding that writing is HARD, that getting the words down is a damn difficult business, full of sweat and tears and exhaustion. There are many in the business - writers, agents, publishers - who state that writing with peer groups is dangerous to novice writers (i.e., those yet unpublished) than writing alone because it's difficult for novices to weed out sound, constructive advice from that provided out of ignorance, sloppiness, and insecurity. In my not-so-humble opinion, I believe receiving criticism and feedback from peers - and providing the same - is immensely valuable, a necessary part of the writing learning curve. It is the practice of discernment that makes for better writing.

My stories and poems are better for the careful reviews of fellow writers. I have friends and family (my dear hubby, Jeanne, Mark P, Lynne) to thank, as well as my on-line forumistas at Writers Digest. Instructors and classmates in my writing classes also have helped me become a stronger writer.

But I am most grateful for the talented writers in the Nudge-Nudge Collective, my on-line writing group. The NNC is comprised of Steve from Beantown (PRODIGAL SON), Margeurite from Joisey (FALSE ALIBI), Kim from the Alaskan Kenai Peninsula (TAKING ON WATER), and Deborah from the soft foothills of North Carolina (PAINTED BLACK). These thriller/mystery writers are more than just writers - they are friends. Together, we've shared our stories, those for publication and those private, sad, and joyous ones that will never see black ink.

My other source of writing inspiration is Chrys, my friend from Orcas Island. She's penning her memoir (MOONCHILD), a fabulous read about her first year away from a chaotic yet over-protected home as a young albino rocker-chick stuck in the Eastern Maryland shore. Chrys and I have a challenge: mail the penultimate drafts of our manuscripts to each other on September 15. We've been with each for the first draft and parts of the second. Wish us luck.

I am blessed to live in such a supportive, visionary village. Thank you, fellow travellers. Without you, the journey would not be as productive - or fun. Peace. Linda

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Midnight Disease

Enough on mental illness, drug abuse, and all that jazz… I got a new disease to ponder - hypergraphia. The Midnight Disease. The primary symptom of this condition is an overwhelming urge to write. A compulsion to write. Although hypergraphia is not actually a disorder, it is associated with temporal lobe changes seen in epilepsy and manic episodes.

Hypergraphia often strikes without warning. On January 1, 2006, I contemplated my modest goals for the upcoming year (which did not include writing a novel). The next day, a mysterious impulse entered my then-tranquil mind and screamed, “WRITE!’ I obeyed. For three months, I catharsed. Nights, after work, dinner, and kiddy time, I’d sit at the kitchen table, oblivious to the blare of the television, to the crick in my back, the gurgling of my stomach, the late hour, and write. Words streamed from my fingertips, effortless, and onto the computer screen. 183,000 of them. It was exhilarating. Thrilling. A rollercoaster of immense emotion. I wrote with fury, afraid the ideas and images and words and conversations would disappear, without warning, as suddenly as they arrived. I rode my story with a manic rush to the end.

A year and one-half later, I'm still riding. And writing.

(I wonder: Is it any coincidence that Ben, my protagonist, is bipolar?)

This was the genesis of my novel BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. The need to write continues. And so I do. I’m on my sixth and, I hope, penultimate revision. Two more novels sit in the recesses of my brain, waiting impatiently for their turn. But instead of being exhausted, my hypergraphic nature fuels me: I walk with a perpetual zing in my step, a new lightness and clarity to my life. And every day I pray this funny ailment remains my constant affliction, niggling always at my mind, stretching me, transporting me to places I never dreamed possible…

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The mind I love most...

"The mind I love most must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody's fathomed the deph of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind." --Katherine Mansfield

ahhhhhhh.... wish I had written this.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Landscape of the Mind

“O the mind, the mind has mountains; cliffs of fall frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.” (Gerald Manley Hopkins)

Our brain. Our mind. The same, but not. Grey matter comprises the phsyiologic mind, and lobes and valleys and fissures and synaptic gaps and minerals like potassium and sodium that regulate the passage of chemicals through the highways of our brain. And the mind? It is the interface between the physiologic and the world, where reason and feeling, sensation, fear, love, and emotion are articulated. And creativity. The mind is the seat of our humanity.

Many things can change the brain: blunt head trauma reduces us to quivering involuntary masses of flesh, while genetic blips delays our growth. Seizures, mania, and methamphetamine use changes the prefrontal cortex structure and the way neurotransmitters flow. Meditation, fasting, deep breathing also change brain structure. So does prayer. Advances in neuroscience, especially in brain imaging, have proven these things.

Neuroscience also has documented that when the brain changes, our mind changes. How can it not? We all know from imbibing a glass or two of wine that our perception of the world differs than from before: more warped, mellower, relaxed, friendlier. Five drinks later, different yet: sloppier, sharper edges, meaner.

The terrain of the mind swells with hills and valleys, plains and seas, perilous with cliffs and mountains. Altered states are one way to measure this landscape. Whether we deliberately seek psychic distortions or have them foisted upon us by faulty genes or some other accident of nature or nurture, abnormal brain chemistry alters the way we perceive – and live – in the tangible world.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Left Brain, Right Brain?

Which are you? Sinister or dexter? Lucky me, I'm both. The ambidexterity of my brain is both blessing and bane. Those two hemispheres constantly whir, night and day, buzzing through words and numbers, scales and poems, equations and paintings.

Anyone else face this dilemma? Where both sides compete for attention, the logical side waving, furious - get that analytic modeling finished, or else! - at the artistic side bending itself silly over a gluttony of words? A poem perchance, or a decent short or essay. Or, by gum, The GAN - Great American Novel. Which is what I'm working on now.

I'm a scientist, and a writer. In between, I do the mom thing and the wife thing and the partner-of-a-minister thing. It's a fun imbalance, a demanding one, but I wouldn't squander a minute of it, not even for a long weekend in a hammock with a good book and a pitcher of Mai Tais. Well, maybe if the vacation was all expenses paid, I might find time to swing down to Aruba.

Here I'll post about my writing life, with smidgeons of musings on science and other marvels thrown in. On how I get it all done. Or not. Usually not. Perhaps I'll be brave and share a snippet or two of poetry, or an excerpt from my novel BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, which is closing in to the finish line. Meanwhile, I invite you to share your adventures in juggling science and writing and parenting and partnering and business and everything else that spins your world. Share your secrets on how YOU get it all done with a modicum of sanity and, perhaps, a tad of humor.

Peace, Linda