Saturday, December 24, 2016

Faux Joy (Writing Down the Year)

Christmas Eve feels more like Christmas than the actual day. As a child, we opened our presents on Christmas Eve, a slow process where every one opened a gift one at a time. Stockings were opened in the morning, after a pan of pannu-kakku, a Finnish pancake slathered with butter and cinnamon and sugar. But now I'm an adult--opening gifts is relegated to the kids--and Christmas Eve is often when I begin to bake my cookies and write my letters and cards.

Writing becomes a reflective exercise--what happiness occurred since the last letter? What travels? What milestones achieved? I receive many family letters in the mail, and while I enjoy reading them, it always seems those families celebrate so much joy, so much unity and good times. The children excel, the family trips filled with smiling faces. I wonder--did anything shake the lives of these people I care about? Did anything scare them? Did their children become ill, or refuse school, or try to harm themselves? I hope not. I truly hope not. But I know my own letter masks the sadnesses we have encountered, the crises and fears and shattered hopes.

My letters and cards always go out late--it's the nature of the beast of someone on an academic schedule. I call them my New Year's cards. But if no cards or letters go out it's because the sadnesses were too much and too big to hide.

This year, I will write my letter. I will try to make it honest by touching on both happy events and those that filled me with grief. I am grateful that this year I can write a letter at all.

So in between batches of butter stars and nut biscottis, I will draft my words, find my pictures, commemorate another year passed.

May you find peace with those you love, and yourself...


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Women, Walls, and War

I haven't posted for some time, The reasons are mostly mundane (work, the end of daylight savings and the resultant fatigue) and personal (kids come first, at least in my home). And it has taken me some time to thaw from the results of this election.

Like many, I am afraid. I am afraid that women will never budge past the glass ceiling when it comes to running this nation. I am afraid of walls, literal and metaphorical, that will arise to keep out those who don't look white and Native-born and have male genitalia. I am afraid that the global wars will be further fueled, and more, I am afraid of war building in our country.

(Correction: I contend we already have a war of sorts in our nation--just look at the violence we heap upon each other.)

I am afraid my international graduate students will find it difficult to find jobs, despite their kindness, their brilliance, their potential to make a real difference in health care. I am afraid people with mental health and substance use disorders and other chronic conditions will find their health care no longer affordable, and that their conditions will forever be used against them when they seek insurance in the future.

I am afraid the children of this nation, including my own, will believe that bullies do win.

The election of He Whose Name Shall Not Be Uttered, as well as the election of his minions (or soon-to-be minions) into Congress, has awakened me out of complacency. Like the slap of cold air when I roll out of bed. Like the way I felt as a middle-school student reading Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I have been quiet too long.

My pledge and promise:

I will practice the art of non-violent discussion.
I will support individuals and groups who share my vision.
I will speak up and act out when I witness injustice.
I will resist the new norm.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

A Single Leaf, Fallen

Am I the only person who doesn't mind the end of summer?

I don't miss the looseness of summer. While (theoretically) I have more 'time' in summer to write, I find writing comes harder when the days blaze hot and long. With the advent of autumn, my time shrinks into manageable packets, and it's in these packets that I can write because I need to--time is scarce. With summer, time looms to infinity, and the urgency to write dissipates.

It's been a week since my kids have returned to school, high school for them both, and I welcome the schedule like a favorite pair of worn-in jeans. As my children edge into young adulthood, I find myself worrying more about their well-being than when they were helpless, reckless toddlers. Having them in school gives me that emotional break for a few hours during the work week.

While glad summer is ending. I'm less happy that darkness comes sooner and leaves later. The past few mornings I've barely been able to edge out of bed because of the dark, cool air. I amble down to the kitchen and my coffee tastes better, has the edge it lacks in summer.

My writing feels mired in possibility. It seems I am forever editing and marketing, and the desire to write new words waxes and wanes. And what to write? I have several new stories in my heart, but they all call out equally. And there is something new, an idea that is not fiction, and that calls me, too. I need to decide which to pursue, and when, and stop pondering. I need to write.

I finished Lidia Yuknavitch's The Small Backs of Children. What to say other than this exquisite story makes me giddy and sad all at once? She's graphic, pushes the reader to the edge of alive. And the writing? Here is an example of not a wasted word, and where each word pulls double duty. I want read all of her now. 

FINE, a small fiction, launched at Blue Fifth Review. A huge thanks to editors Sam Rasnake, Michelle Elvy, and Bill Yarrow for publishing my work. It's a fine issue, and I'm humbled to have my words alongside those of poets and writers I admire.

Let me know what you're reading and writing and thinking.

Peace, Linda

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Another gray morning. Rain smacks the roof, a sound I once loved but have become immune to. Just as January signifies a new start, so does this month as school winds down, summer looms, and the season of leisure begins in a few short weeks. This year I worry about the tomatoes and the berries—will they ripen? One year when I lived in Massachusetts, summer never showed up. Many plants never bloomed, fruit never set, it was that cold.

One of my graduate students flew the coop this week. She is a brilliant young woman, an ambitious one, but most of all, kind and compassionate. Her parents flew from Taiwan and I met them, gracious people and proud parents. They are the lucky ones—they get to claim her forever. My student will start her new life in Boston, where she wanted to go, working with a colleague that once was my student. She will do well there—her new work group does important work and they are great folks. I feel pride and joy for her, but also sadness because we’ve worked together for almost five years, and there’s a little hole in my heart.

At work, soon I will shed old roles and take on new ones. Exhilarating and petrifying…

My dear daughter got into the high school program she applied to—bio-medical sciences. She wishes to be a forensic anthropologist. Truth be told, she'll be an amazing scientist: curious, seeking, persistent. In a few weeks my dear son returns home after nearly two years away at private school. He enters his senior year, though we’re still not sure where. I feel grateful and excited that my nest will be full again. And then… the nest will begin to empty again. I see families with babies and toddlers and I yearn for those times, long for the first words, first steps, first every things…

In three weeks I’ll fly to Denver for a week of writing. I’ll meet up with my good friend Barbara, an amazing writer and my soul sister. We met three years ago in Taos, and bonded immediately in the line for drinks at the opening reception. Another writer friend, whom I’ve not yet met, will also be there. We’re taking a juried workshop with Jenny Offill, author of the phenomenal Department of Speculation which managed to touch every nerve I possessed and rubbed it raw. I’m excited, and nervous; my own book, still in process, touches on many of the same themes.

My friend and writing colleague Jacqueline Bach has a cool blog called THE PROCESS PROJECT, where she interviews writers about their approaches to the craft. I'm up this week, so please take a look and read the wise words from over two dozen other writers.

What’s new with you? What’s old?


Tuesday, April 26, 2016


For us academics, late April signals the end of a semester. There's busyness around exams and papers and grading. This Spring I have 160 pharmacy students on 2 campuses in a required class. It's all good, and they're an energetic bunch, and I'll miss them. This Spring I also have a doctoral student who will graduate, her dissertation a rigorous meditation on how where you live determines what medications you get to treat mental illness--and how geography and treatment combine to determine one's probability of hospitalization.

For these students, this Spring signals an end. And a new beginning. Just not with me.

Which saddens me because lately, as I grow older, it seems I stand still while the rest of the world streams by. The world is their oyster; for me, it's already eaten and digested.

I know I should welcome this time of relative stillness. I can write (and I am). I can meditate (and I'm not). I can spend time doing nothing, which we all know confers tremendous health benefits (and I'll try). But still... I have a growing hankering for more. But more what?

When younger, I'd satisfy my itch with travel. Now, travel is a lot of work, although once at my destination, I usually appreciate the views, the people, the food, my single room with control of the remote. Or new experiences, like zip lining or karate or learning how to piece together a handbag (and use the sewing machine). I have been cooking lots of new recipes, inspired by my daughter's vegetarianism.

But I sense a need for change. The last time I felt this yearning, about ten years ago, I woke up one morning and started writing. The words flowed from me like lava, hot and uncontrollable and vivid. And unexpected. So whatever comes next, I will be listening, waiting.

Of course, maybe this perceived need for change will be solved with a new pet or a new pair of sandals. And I know, from experience, that wishing for change sometimes brings about change you don't want. So for now, I will quietly gather my energy, enjoy the peace, and wait for the Next Big Thing to announce itself.


Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Longest Month

I am very glad (thrilled? ecstatic?) today marks the beginning of March. The extra day added to February made that longest month seem even longer.

Not sure why I dislike February so much. It's likely the weather--bitter winds, lots of gray, and here, in Maryland, indecisive about whether to pitch snow or freezing rain from the heavens. Or maybe it's the lack of holiday breaks. President's Day? Washington's birthday? Mean little to me, I still go to work. A few friends get excited over Valentine's Day, but I prefer the day after, when chocolate gets marked down.

There's nothing to look forward about February except getting it over with.

And so now this dreaded jail time is over, and I am free. Spring lurks around the corner; grackles populate the lawn like mushrooms after a sogging rain. On Sunday, posted pictures of croci flooded my Facebook feed. For myself, spring gets real when I find the first purple-green asparagus tips pushing through cracked earth.

What I'm Reading... Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout, the master of getting into character using close third. And I love the dynamic between frustrated mother and maturing daughter--a dual coming-of-age story. And Jenny Offill's Last Things, a story about love and loss. For non-fiction fun (and edification), I'm reading Steve Silberman's Neurotribes, about the discovery--and future--of autism.

What I'm Writing... Small pieces, for sheer pleasure. I'm marketing my work more aggressively, including both novels. Working on a memoir--why not? And revising, always revising.

I'm honored to have Mainstreaming at the Middle-School Social up at Flash Frontier an international journal of small fictions founded my Michelle Elvy. Thanks to Guest Editors Elizabeth Smither and James Norcliffe for selecting my work. Take a peek around--some excellent writers and stories.

Spring. Around the corner. It invigorates me and productivity surges. I'll be writing and reading and doing karate with my daughter--what about you?


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It's All About the Writing (or, My Insecurities For All to Read)

For the first time in ten years, since I've been writing, I'm finding myself unable to focus on the project at hand. Which is odd because my head and heart aren't as encumbered as they've been the past three years, so I should have all this room to write.

In part, it's my day job. I'm a professor, so I don't really have a job I can clock out of at 5 and then go home, kick back my feet, and suck down a glass of Cabernet. It's a job which I mostly love but which sucks me dry at times.

But even so, I should be able to get into my writing when that blasted alarm clock blares at 5:30 am. I DO get up, but even as I walk down the stairs telling myself to open word and not gmail, email, facebook, or that blasted twitter, I still do exactly that. Minutes pass, my hour goes, and I might have half-heartedly put in edits for a couple of pages.

I think the major reason I'm not into writing, though, is that I have two many projects. I have two books, finished, that need homes. I am pitching them, and this also seems to suck me dry--the tedium of researching agents, the tedium of writing query letters, the fear galloping ahead of me that these books will never reach the world, that I'm a hack, I'm wasting my time with this 'hobby'. The rejections slowly roll in, usually on a Friday afternoon (ever notice the timing of declines, fellow writers?), usually with some form of personalization but always with the latest market lingo, "I didn't connect with the writing the way I'd hoped to." 

And then there's The Minister's Wife, which I have just picked up again after a year. This work is a Mess. A Very Big Mess, and as I poke through pieces I realize I need a thousand pages to tell this story, it is too big, so what do I do? Change the story line? Reduce the POV characters? Make it into multiple projects with overlapping characters?

What really frustrates me is that all of the above isn't 'writing'. It's editing and revising, pitching and marketing, and I really feel I can't afford to stop these things because I need to get something published. And this need paralyzes me from writing new words, even though I have other ideas and projects lining up like jets on the runway waiting to take off.

I will plod along. This too shall pass. But I ache for more time to just write, I ache for some conclusion for the words I've already written. I ache for a modicum of validation that my writing is worthwhile, that it makes a difference.

How do you push past self-doubt? Any and all advice welcome. Peace...

Friday, January 01, 2016

Looking Forward...

I went to bed last night (well before the witching hour), plotting in my head the wise words I’d share today, the launch of a new year. I love the first day of a new year—it’s akin to shedding old clothes and wearing new, shiny togs. I was going to say something about a new year providing a new chance for hope, which led me to ponder what it was I hoped for. And of course, I hoped for calm and peace for my family, health and resilience for my children. But these are ‘things’ I can’t change, through persuasion or brute force; these are things I’m graced with, through luck or God or both.

I’ve said before I’m not one for resolutions, and I’m not, especially as I realize what I want most I can’t guarantee. But I can help shape peace and calm and health, and I can do this by living my best possible life. Two years ago, through necessity, I started to live my best possible life. Those of you who don’t know me but who might have met me at a conference or a grocery store would likely think to yourselves, “Jeesh, that woman, such a mess!” And I was a mess, but I was the best I could be at that time. Back then, there were days when getting myself on the metro to work was a triumph. Fear has a funny way of paralyzing me (maybe you, too?) but at some point something snapped in me and I got pissed off and decided to rub fear’s nose in my happiness. Which was feigned, but another funny thing is when you fake your joy and peace, it becomes a state of being.

As 2016 marches down its preordained road (and we get an extra day of joy this year), my game plan is to continue being the best possible me every second of this year. That means checking myself when I find impatience and frustration growing in my gut, approaching life as a listener rather than a talker, and establishing boundaries that provide the ability to be the best I can be. It also means forgiving myself when I screw up (and forgiving others when they do), because I (and others) will screw up—it’s part of our messy humanity. It means seeking daily balance in my physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs, and keeping each well fed. Being the best possible me means having goals (not resolutions) and striving toward them. I want to tumble into my sheets each night feeling I accomplished much, have nothing to feel badly about, and knowing I did the best I could—and that I can do better.

So no expectations for dramatic change this year; merely paddling down the same creek in hopes the water and my work carve the earth ever deeper. What are your goals for this year? What paths are you hoping to meander down? 

Happy New Year, and peace...