To see the announcement for my poetry book, Sparrow, selected by poet Dorianne Laux for the Kenneth and Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize at Writers & Books, go to

You can find a review by Kathleen Kirk at EIL:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Saves Us

Today--right now--I am going to shut down my computer, push back my chair, walk out of this office, and mail my poetry manuscript. I can't fathom why sending out a manuscript should be so dang hard. I want to address it--as someone suggests in one of the books on my capacious shelves--"To the Editor Who Will Appreciate Me." Instead it has to go to an actual, physical location. It's a rich process. I don't think I'm finished with this manuscript yet. But sending it out (and ushering it to this threshold) seems a step in the right direction. Go little book.

“Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.” ― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Monday, November 28, 2011

Progress on the Must-Do List

I've now reached the point where two items on my list MUST be resolved. The church newsletter deadline is tomorrow morning -- and two minutes ago I emailed the bio as an attachment. Check that off my list.

If I want to submit a poetry manuscript in time for the November 30 deadline, it has to go out in the next 48 hours. So, tomorrow or Wednesday? Why not?

The great thing is that once the poetry mss. is in the mail, the article will be my ONLY must-do item left on the list. Oh, wait, I have the letters (but now those are feeling more doable). And, yes, end of the quarter student papers will be arriving soon. Yes, I have a couple other must-do items that can be added. But I'm going to count it all as progress. There are always the must-do's. One still has to proceed with the real, important work. The strange thing is that, with daily attention, the article for historylink has begun to feel like real and important work. Hmm, that's worth noticing.

I am compelled to add that poetry always feels real and important to me (and I don't need rewards to get myself to work on it). But I've been hanging fire on getting a mss. submitted for some months now. That's the piece that feels like busywork, the piece that requires some prodding to achieve.

"I don't need more time. I need a deadline." -Duke Ellington

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving (update day 9ish)

"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts." -Salman Rushdie

Despite being at the farm visiting Mom over the last few days, I've managed to get in my 15 minutes of writing (about a half hour, in fact, each day) on the article. I'm reading and taking notes...blundering around still. But it occurred to me this morning that two weeks ago I was still fantasizing about "giving back" this assignment, and now I can see my way to the finish.

I'm thankful for a wonderful family. I'm thankful to find a little time to write.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Caught in the Crosswalk" (update, day 8)

Yes, I do get my gold star today. (It was a blue star, in truth.)

Here is the illustrious subject of my article, professor, poet, storyteller Colleen J. McElroy, reading for Cave Canem:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writing Today (update day 7)

I write every day. I write in longhand, in a journal, first thing every morning. But right now I'm also trying to write on my article every day, for at least fifteen minutes.

We have a reading series at the college and when our famous writers (and not-so-famous writers) visit, a question I always ask is, "When do you write?"

Sometimes they don't write every day. "Not at all?" I ask (aghast).

"I need big blocks of time," they tell me. "I'm really busy," they tell me. "I'm too busy to write." Sometimes these writers are successful writers, visiting my college because they have new books and lovely writing awards. "The writing will wait," a short story writer told me last year. She was young and had a two-year old. But there was a time in my life when I had two two-year olds, and I still wrote every day. I can easily imagine myself saying, "I know just what you mean. I can't possibly write every day. I have two eighteen-year olds and a twelve-year old. I have a teaching career and a one-hour commute, and..." I understood exactly what this young writer was saying. To use the overused cliche, my heart went out to her. But I wanted to add, "Honey, you should write every day."

We have no time except today. 

Here's a quote about daily writing from Priscilla Long's The Writer's Portable Mentor:

"Writing every day is the key to becoming a writer. Writing every day is the key to remaining a writer. It is the only secret, the only trick. Don't despise the fifteen-minute write. Don't despise writing in your journal. Don't despise writing down your complaints for fifteen minutes before going to work. Any writing counts." (13)

Long also advises that although some days will allow for longer writing sessions, what you do one day can't be applied to the next. If you write for two hours on Monday, you still have to get up on Tuesday and write ... for at least fifteen minutes.

And that is why, even though I worked on my article for an hour today during Writing Lab, I still don't get a gold star for yesterday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Update (day 6)

Yes, I did manage to work yesterday, though I didn't make it on-line to post about it. Early in the morning I worked for an hour (again) on the poetry manuscript (which I think I had better let go of soon).

I meant to get to the article early in the day, but instead I did laundry, balanced my checkbook, and graded papers. About 7:00, after dinner (and kids out of the house), I sat down in my green chair, determined to work for at least fifteen minutes. Then the phone rang. At 8:00, even though the kids had come home by that time, I worked for 20 minutes. Believe it or not, I had a breakthrough and I think I have my first actual paragraph now.

I made a calendar and got out my foil stars and gave myself a star for every day I've worked at least 15 minutes.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Update (day 4)

It's 8:30, and my girls and I are settling down to watch Grimm, streaming this week's episode, which we couldn't watch last night, for various reasons.

I had a so-so day on my goals, which isn't bad considering that it's Saturday. I got up at 5:50 and, after doing the scribbling that I do every morning in my journal, I worked on the poetry manuscript for over an hour. The day commenced at 8:00 (a ringing phone)...and continued nonstop until 6 p.m., when Annie asked if I'd go to Barnes & Noble with her and do homework. Yes!

Once we had our lattes and hot chocolates, I took out my notes and started working.

Annie was stumbling around, not starting her research paper about serial killers, and she asked me why I had written the time down at the top of my notebook page. "It's what I do, especially when I'm procrastinating on a project. I make a deal with myself to work for 15 minutes. And even though I'm the queen of procrastination, I usually end up working for a little more than 15 minutes."

Annie's eyes widened. "I'm the queen of procrastination," she said.

"So work for 15 minutes."

"And then I can take a break?"

Twenty minutes later she was reading a People magazine (hottest male stars issue), and I was reading short stories by Daniel Woodrell. (So much for working at a bookstore coffee shop.) But I had a time-line for my article, and Annie had two paragraphs written for her paper.

Did I mention that Emma was with us? She found the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and by 8:00 had read 113 pages. I had to buy her the book so we could go home.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Update (day 3)

I was so blessed to get to sneak out on my family last night and have dinner with a friend. We sat in her cozy living room and we ate Indian food, and we talked -- for about 3 hours. (Apparently I had a lot to say. And so did she.) Her cat Zimmie sat on my lap and purred loudly.

My friend said she'd visited my blog and it looked like things are really flowing for me right now. "You're getting so much done!"

No, I'm not. I'm grinding away here, gears screaming, hoping that the muse will show up at some point (because we know that just like eating encourages appetite, writing encourages inspiration, right?) and HELP ME!!!

Yesterday I had a presentation at school that -- even though I knew that it was no big deal -- was in front of the Dean's Council and (idiot for authority figures that I am) I completely overprepared for. (Not that it helped, though I think we will be approved for our learning community -- Writing Monsters -- next winter quarter.) But when I went back to my desk, I hauled out the poetry manuscript, opened the file on the computer, and started typing in changes and cutting out poems that don't fit as well as they could. It's down to 71 pages now (including the title pages). Doable. Today I'll drop by Kinko's and print it out. Maybe I'll actually put it in the mail?

Today I will work on my article for (at least for fifteen minutes). Which reminds me, if you haven't visited Priscilla Long's blog at, you really should.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Update (day 2)

"One of the most profound traits that distinguishes us from other animals is our ability to imagine things that do not yet exist; our ability to envision future possibilities and to choose among them; in short, our ability to create." Laura Day

Yesterday I decided to follow my own 15-minute rule, but apply it strictly to the article. I didn't make visible progress, but I did sit in a stare-down with the muse for more than 15 minutes. In fact, for more like an hour I stuck with the article, downloaded more information, reread, thought, did some gear-grinding. It's all good.

Awake early this morning, I hauled out my poetry manuscript and went all the way through it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Update (1)

Yesterday I checked "student papers" off my list. (Hurrah!) Yes, I do have another set waiting, but they are not long, creative projects, just book reviews, and I can do them quickly (and without writing letters back).

Yesterday I went to Writing Lab (this is a write-time lab for faculty and staff at my college; I direct it) and found only one person waiting for me. We talked for 20 minutes, then decided to go back to our student papers. A gift, of a sort, but it didn't help me make progress on my article, which I have been pecking away at each week for the hour of Writing Lab.

I had a meeting at 3:30, then, at 5:00, my daughter Annie called to see if I would meet her at the Mukilteo Library to do homework. During that hour, I typed a very bad draft of the article. This was big -- as, until now, it's been confined to scribblings in a notebook.

I just now pulled it off my flash drive and printed it. Now to work on it some more.

I'll let you know tomorrow how I did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

If you bumped into me in the last few days and wondered why I looked so overwhelmed and harassed, here are a few of the writing jobs on  my MUST DO list:
  • Write letters and send a poem to the women from my fall Writing & Spirituality class.
  • Write the article for (I've been procrastinating on this for 2 years now!)
  • Write the bio on JH for my church Progress (a monthly newsletter; I was asked to do this in April!)
  • Finish my student papers (this means writing a letter to each student after reading and rereading and digesting what they've written in their longer Creative Nonfiction paper. I still have four to go that should have been handed back yesterday...when they turned in a new set of papers.)
  • Meet the November deadlines with my poetry manuscript WHAT SAVES US (because my poetry mss. can't win a contest and get published if it's not "out" somewhere).
When I get these things done I will be able to go back to work on a novel. (Either HEARTWOOD, or THE SORREL MARE, or maybe the waitress of these is going to be in the mail to my agent by the end of the year.)

I want to work on the novel right now. But I'm trying to trick myself into doing this other work first, and posting about them here is part of that process. (I'll report in every day with a progress report.)

Watch this space!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quoting Jane Yolen

I've been reading Jane Yolen's Touch Magic: "The magical story is not a microscope but a mirror, not a drop of water but a well. It is not simply one thing or two, but a multitude. It is at once lucid and opaque, it accepts both dark and light, speaks to youth and old age." (32)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where I Write

I just had a lovely talk with a young writer named Olivia who wanted to know where I write. I told her about my green chair in the corner of the living room. I told her about carrying my notebook and pen with me everywhere I go with my kids. And then I felt a little guilty about that, so I told her about writing a poem about reading Graham Greene while at Wild Waves, about writing in my car between the time I drop my kids off and when I pick them up.

At one point in the conversation, as Olivia was trying to tell me about a book she is reading, she scooped up her purse, unzipped it, and produced the book. "This is why I have a big purse," she said. "Exactly!" I said.

It isn't so much a place, as it is an attitude.

If you have a passion, you can't have it part time or when it's convenient or when you're not busy with other things. If you have a passion, it's always your passion, even when you're doing other things. "What do you write about?" Olivia asked me, and I told her about the farm where I grew up, about my kids, about my students -- but now that I think about it, it's more complicated than that. This quote came to mind:

"Meaning is not in things but in between; in the iridescence, the interplay; in the interconnections; at the intersections, at the crossroads. Meaning is transitional as it is transitory; in the puns or bridges, the correspondence." -Norman O. Brown

I'm afraid I made it sound as though I get a lot of writing done, when it's really more like I do a lot of scribbling. Maybe I get slightly more writing done than other mothers-of-three, other college teachers. But I rather like the idea that I'm always writing about the "in between," and that maybe I'm writing even when I'm not writing -- about the paradoxes and intersections between being a mom and a wife and a teacher and a recovering farm-girl and a former waitress and voracious reader and a writer. Maybe the in between is all that any of us are ever writing about.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Write?

One reason to write is because it gives your life meaning. Another reason is to create meaning.


Here's a short video of philosopher A. C. Grayling, which I found on the NYTimes website.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


You know those forwarded emails that you just hate to even open? Well, my friend Liz sent this, and -- what a delight!

Done like you've never seen before. This video from the small Yupiq Eskimo Village of Quinhagak, Alaska, was a school computer project intended for the other Yupiq villages in the area. Much to the villagers' shock, over a half million people have viewed it.

I hope you can find the time to view it.