Wednesday, January 28, 2015


In November, my neighbor sold me her bike. I thought that maybe it was too big, but it seemed OK when I took it out for a test drive and Zoe has been begging me for my bike. I had been riding my bike once or twice a week to school and at least once in the forest last semester and this neighbor's bike had better components. The seat felt great. The tires were bigger. The bike was faster.

But the bike is too big. I've pretty much stopped riding because whenever I take that bike out, my shoulders pinch and hunch as I put too much body weight forward to reach the handles. This is bad news since Zoe loves my bike (which needs a tune-up. The cable snapped. Erik fixed it but it still needs some adjustment to make it perfect). So either I have to boot Zoe back to her tiny bike (it's nice, but too small for her) or buy a new bike or try to share by old bike with Z which is what I did today. Having ridden only in pain for the last two months, riding down the hill and around the lake felt like flying. As I rounded the corner, I saw a herd of elk. Close up, those weird almost-camels chewed right in my general direction. There must have been thirty of them. I rode on, past the little library--one of those libraries-in-mailbox form--and thought of all the books I should put in there that I've read lately. Rounding another corner, I looked up in the tall Ponderosa where the eagle sometimes sits. I didn't think he'd be there since I thought maybe I'd seen him out over the golf course but there he was. Such a big fat white head. I love my eagle. I said, "Hello eagle" and rode away so I didn't bug him too much.

I rode home, up the big hill even though the gears wouldn't shift to smallest, and thought that maybe I will find a way to buy Zoe a new bike and keep this one forever.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Perhaps what a sabbatical is is a chance to see where you went wrong. I am mostly working 8 hours a day on stuff that I've volunteered to do. I'm not sure what I'd do if I was working my regular job right now. I have poetry manuscripts and essay collections and essays and novellas to read. I have contests to judge. I have money to raise. I'm calling potential sponsors. I'm emailing editors to buy tables for a bookfair. I'm making charts and spreadsheets. I'm reviewing proposals and panels and books. I'm responding to emails. I'm reminding Max to send thank you letters and Thin Air to send thank you letters. I'm writing letters of rec. I'm editing blogs and blogs and another blog (which reminded me I'm behind on another blog post). I am driving kids to more activities than I ever thought I would allow. I'm trying to make extra money to fix the things that broke. I'm also three layers of sick, which is maybe one drawback to the sabbatical. The body thinks it can lower its defenses.

The problem with administrative work is that it seeps into the rest of your brain. I'm afraid whatever I write will sound like "Dear potential sponsor....the opportunity to support your fellow writers.....appreciate your consideration."

I'm thinking the real sabbatical will start in February. Which is good because my manuscript is due at the end of it. But, if I look at my list of stuff to do, I really think March might be the real beginning which is kind of sad because then it will be spring break and mostly over.

These are the things I want to do:
Tour recycling facility.
Tour toilet paper making factory.
Apprentice under Proper's butcher.
Make sourdough starter.
Buy a gigantic chalk board.
Tour water-treatment plant.
Volunteer at literacy center.
Write script for Micro film.
Rewrite Salmon. Change title.
Finish Micro. I thought it was done but it's not.

To have a really writerly sabbatical, I think you have to leave town for the whole time. But the kids are in school and Erik has a job and I don't want to leave them for a whole 4 months and although I worry about administrative brain creep or brain seep, if I spent all my time writing. Well, that's a lot of time alone in my head without spreadsheets.

So I'm going to fund raise like crazy this week and get the registration form for the NonfictioNOW website underway. I'm going to read these manuscripts and essays and then I'm going out of town for a couple of days to give a reading. When I get back, I'm going into a sensory deprivation tank. Or on a tour of the recycling facility. Or maybe try to start my taxes because sabbaticals might just be the time when you get all the things done without having a nervous breakdown trying to do them while working your regular job.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Breakfast--A Safe Subject

Actually, it's probably not a safe subject considering that nothing has not an opinion attendant and yet I'm venturing back to the blog with an update on breakfast foods.

Some days, I eat cereal but Zoe is on this Honey Bunches of Oats kick and Max likes Cinnamon Life (or maybe they switched favorites this week) but no matter because I like none of them. Usually, I eat breakfast with them before Erik takes them to school but lately, with these too-sweet-cereals, I've just sent them off and then poked around the fridge for something less abominable. Usually, I go with toast, which, at least this brand, has just as many refined sugars but you can put butter on it to make it taste less sweet. But the other day, I had leftover quinoa. I added some pine nuts and some almonds, some currants and some coconut (and, admittedly, a little butter) and it was good--less processed-food-tasting and not too sweet.

Max and Zo like oatmeal but they prefer waffles and French Toast and sweet cereal. I like granola but I keep forgetting to buy it and I keep promising to make it. Granola is safe for everyone.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Failing Better

Writing better. I think about it every day although I only work at it when I have "time." Meaning, so much time on either side of a perfectly crisp, picturesque day where I can unload the dishwasher and keep up on Facebook and "write." I'm afraid this "time" and this "writing" makes writing seem like something precious. And while time might be precious, writing probably shouldn't be. As Karen Craigo said on Facebook said (see, Facebook is helpful!) and on her blog, there is no writer's block, there's just brilliance block. I don't have a brilliance block, I'll write anything. But, as I told my students on the last day of class last semester and to someone on Facebook today, that I really do wonder where writing and writing better intersect. I know I can write some drivel but can it be expected that I write less drivel now that I've studied writing (called "reading), and taught writing, and wrote so many words that they must go together in a better order somewhat more easily than they did when it felt like wrestled every word like I had to do in the olden times? Maybe a little. At least I have a sense of what I do, even if I don't quite know what I do well. I think I know what I do badly and I'm getting better at re-reading my words without cringing. Or rather, when I cringe, I don't just keep reading and pretend it's just me that's cringing. I stay and fix it. Is that getting better? 

But what is this getting better? I had an agent once who really wanted the Salmon book to work and she had many hopes about my ability to make clearer what the book was about and how to make the book funnier and how to make the book more emotional but these were just abstract words laid across the very object-ridden words. I smushed the words to the left. I smushed the words to the right but it didn't make the book better, and, although we both wanted it to, it didn't make the book more marketable. Worse, I lost my voice for awhile, meaning, I wrote like someone else on Tuesday and yet someone else on Thursday.  

When I teach workshop, I try very much to guide the students toward making their kind of essay or poem more of their kind of essay--a more nuanced, vivid, mind-blowing version of what they are doing and saying and imaging. But the reader (who they would like to be an agent or editor) does have an opinion. A "yes, it's working" or a "no, it's not." Their fellow-students think "better." They think whatever they want to think. There are fewer rules for thinking than for writing. They guide and over-correct and take it back and rethink. Everyone is rethinking together, which is my goal and my dream. True collaboration? I'd like it to seem at least somewhat that way. But when the students get home, they have to decide, which better is better? Is Joe's desire for more scene better or Jane's desire for more thoughtfulness? Is Jake right that the free-associating just isn't working here or does Jill's (I have no J-named students this year!) understanding that the free-associating mirrors the fracturing between two people who hoped to talk but couldn't the true reading of the piece?

What does better mean for someone who teaches workshop but doesn't partake in them? What does it mean when you're home, writing for days on end and wondering, is this better than yesterday, the last thing I wrote, the first thing I published, better than that book I just read, or at least approximating as-good-as? If it's as good as, is it just approximating someone else's voice? If the Paris Review says almost but not quite, if the essays and poems get liked, even if they don't go viral, if the essays get rejection after rejection, is that better? I try to live by the Samuel Beckett quotation, "Ever tried, ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." I try to fail better. But "I try" always sounds so weak. I get sweet rejections that say things like a little more focus or good but maybe trying to do too many things or I love your writing but it's not right for us. That seems like failing better but maybe it's failing worse. 

My main goal for writing is to be as wild as I can possibly be while still writing a scene or cohesive image, evoking emotion (character, in fiction), and being clear (no lost antecedents!). It is also important to me to have something to say. My main goals for revising are not to cringe when I re-read the sentence. To move the sentences around in better order. To make sure the thread travels all the way through the essay or poem (which is harder to do in whole books but there I try too). 

Should I have loftier goals? Besides the two I have which are ridiculous and true: save the planet and revolutionize what we mean by narrative? 

Medium-sized goals are trying to write whole books from start to finish (I'm a piece-mealer with essays and poems. Fiction, I can write straight through but no one knows the fiction I've seen).

Even if my writing isn't better, thinking about better writing is fun and good for my students, who, I hope I can convince that writing better is better than getting an agent or publishing because the idea of better is a strange idea and is worth thinking about even if it's not necessarily worth writing about. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Wonder Twins Activate Sabbatical Now!

My house is as clean as it has ever been or probably will ever be. My computer has been updated and my anti-virus software is staving off viruses like a champ. I have been to the dermatologist. The optometrist. The grocery store. Max's birthday is complete--his kid party organized. I'm almost ready for actual Wonder Twin (sisters Paige and Val) Birthday. Even most of the laundry is done. So, now I just have to take this manuscript and make it read like a philosophical, globally aware, multicultural, domestic, international thriller. I'll be right back.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... Oh hi. Here I am. No thriller. Where did I put that manuscript anyway? Trouble at work. Have to call in. Also, the glasses I wanted to order were so inexpensive ($29.95) but with my wonky, heavy prescription, they are now $70.40. Where is the prescription the dermatologist called in? What the heck is wrong with my hip? Should I see the chiropractor? I'm really not ready for birthdays. I'm not packed for travel. There are only tacos to eat for dinner.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Max is Five

I ask Max how long he has been waiting to turn five. He says, "Since I was born."

He was the up this morning. I could hear him downstairs, jumping up and down, saying "now I can jump high!" Immediate transformation.

Then he ran back and forth and up and down the stairs. "I am so fast." Five is fast.

When he was getting ready for school, I said, "Max. Wear your shoes but bring your boots. It's muddy out. Your boots are in your room. Put them in your backpack. Your backpack's in there too." To which he responded, "Oh man. I'm five. Now I can tie. Where are my tie shoes?" he asked as he he moon-walked backwards out of the room. When he returned to the kitchen, he did not bring his boots or his backpack. But his shoes were on his feet. They weren't tie shoes but they were velcroed well. He's so close to being able to tie his shoes. Maybe by tonight--his birth-time is 10:52 p.m. We should let him stay up late.

Yesterday, he brought me his Curious George book. "So. I can read now, right?"  He opened the book. The words read "Kite." He said, "Kangaroo." I said, "Close. Even when you're five, you'll still need a little practice." I wouldn't put it past him if in the 24 hours he learns to read. He's a goal-setter. Five has been destiny and destination for awhile. Five is it.

Last fall, Zoe and I went to Salt Lake without him. He really wanted to go even though it was for a girl's only wedding shower. I am planning a trip this January to Salt Lake. I said in front of him aloud, dumbly, "Maybe just Zoe and I will go." He came up to me, put both elbows on my knees, put his chin in his hands and and said, "C'mon mom, give me a chance." I booked him a plane ticket. Five is persuasive.

Tonight we will have pizza because when asked what his favorite food is, he says, "Hmm. Let me think. Turkey. No. Chicken nuggets, no. Lasagna. No. Soup. No." A hundred foods later, we remind him about pizza. "Yes. Pizza. Pizza is my favorite food."

He will get three boxes of Legos. That's all he wanted because "Daehan (his good friend) does all the Legos by himself and he's five so I will do all the Legos by myself too." (Zoe likes the Legos too. When he was 4, she did the 8 and up ones for him. Now that he's five,  we'll have to get both of them twice as many sets."

Max is cuddly bear. He jumps into my arms, puts his head on my shoulder. When he does that, I call him Mr. Squishy. He still likes me to pick him up but I can tell that in the last couple of weeks, he's been hugging less, holding me at arm's length. When I ask him if he'll still be squishy when he's five, he shrugs his shoulders all the way up to his ears and says, "I not know."

My hope for Max's fifth year is that his quotes remain as quotable and his person remains a little squishy too.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Year in Numbers

15. Bike rides to campus.
9. Bike rides up Butler, all the way home.
6. Times my nice husband tossed my bike in the back of his car so I didn't have to ride all the way home on Butler.
3. Weddings attended.
3. Trips to fun places for 3 weddings.
2. Sisters who are turning 40 in a couple of weeks.
38. Blog posts in 2014.
30. Blog posts posted in August.
4. People who stayed at my house to help plan NonfictioNow Conference.
128,272. Meetings, emails, phone calls about NonfictioNow Conference.
0. Times sledding (no snow 2014. Went sledding today!)
8. Times ice-skating.
2. Bathrooms remodeled (one by Erik, one by the most expensive contractor in the land. (Not really, it just feels that way.))
5. Sentences written with more than one paranthetical per.
1. Camping trip to The White Pocket.
3. Trips to Salt Lake (not enough).
1. Pork terrine made without the blade on the meat grinder.
3. Turkeys smoked in the smoker.
1. Turkey roasted in the roaster.
47. Nights of turkey/green chile tacos.
123. Tacos eaten.
3. Smoked duck breasts procured from The Tourist Home.
2. Kittens procured and standing right now on my computer.
10. Essay collections read. See Essay Daily for long list (but really read other posts there for December. That last one is particularly excellent as is Dinah Lenney's tribute to Judith Kitchen).
1. Chapbook forthcoming from Black Warrior Review.
1. Agent procured.
10. Essays published.
15. Times I told my kids I wish they would stay home with me. I would home school them.
14. Times I told my kids to freaking go entertain themselves.
5. Books spread-eagled on my nightstand.
16. Novels I read in secret.
9. Poetry collections I read in public.
2. Visits to Coppa for dinner.
1. Visit to Coppa for their $165 per person truffle dinner that I'll have to miss because
1. Thermostat that broke on New Year's Day, precipitating an emergency visit from the most expensive furnace repair man in the world (not really, it just feels that way).
1. Dinner I probably really wasn't going to go to any way.
1. Denver Film Festival attended as a guest of a filmmaker husband.
1. Dog that's getting old but is hanging in there.
1. Visit by great friends from Los Angeles.
1. Mom who visited for Thanksgiving.
2. In-laws who have had us over for dinner every night this week because of the
1. more room to scrape, drywall, texture and paint.
1. Very, very seafoam green room. Come visit. Bring your snorkel.
1. Sister who teaches her brother how to count to 100 and by 10s.
2. Great visiting writer gigs--one thanks to Susan Goslee at Idaho State and one thanks to Peter Covino at the Ocean State Summer Writer's Conference.
1. Upcoming writing gig a Pima Writer's Conference.
7. Other things I should be doing besides blogging.
1. Resolution not to oversay "should."
1. Upcoming sabbatical for which I will write another list tomorrow!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year!

It is not my fault.
A resolution? Maybe. A mantra? Probably a bit of a lie.
Someone else was pouring the scotch. A little too much. I have a little bit of a headache so this will be a little bit of a blog post. But happy new year.

Here's to accountability in the new year (and maybe a little bit less whiskey).