C is for Chōka

After I wrote yesterday’s poem, I clicked over to Facebook and was greeted with the “your memories” post, FB’s lovely, daily reminder that on this day in the past you were often doing way more interesting and fun things.

Well, I discovered that, three years ago yesterday, I was in very much the same place as far as poetic emotion. Yesterday I wrote “Broken Silence.” On April 3rd, 2014, I wrote “Silence Broken“! How wild is that?

Dangerous for me to go read that arun, however. I really like it. Really like it. Makes me want to send the chōka packing and pick up with the aruns again, but no. I’m going to stay here a while. I’m curious about the chōka, so I’ll stick with it.

This morning I stepped onto the subway an into some drama. A woman was angrily exclaiming. She was graphic and vulgar and made everyone uncomfortable, but she wasn’t active, wasn’t doing anything other than randomly shouting her outrage. Not an ideal trip to work, but thinking about her later called up today’s poem:

Your anger frightens
everyone on this train car —
except … one woman
tall, Black, sitting unconcerned
at your hostile side.
Her serenity contrasts
your agitation,
living tragi-comic masks
this slow ride to Manhattan.


A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7.



31 Gratitudes

What I wanted to write was “Gratitude³¹” but apparently I can only do that in the body of my blog post, not the title. (I am learning to live with the disappointment.)

It’s the end of March, the end of the 10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. And I have made it here once again. Made it here for the 10th time in a row.

Today I’m going to bed in the middle of the afternoon so that I can get as much sleep as I can before I have to head out at 11pm to catch a bus and then a train and head into Manhattan to start the midnight-to-6am leg of the 24HourProject.

But before all of that, there is this: my final slice for this March challenge. I thought I’d end this month of slices with a list.

So here, on this 31st day of March in 2017, are 31 things I  am grateful for:

  1. The chance to rediscover favorite slicers from years past
  2. The chance to discover and get to know new slicers
  3. The chance to see how everyone’s kids have grown since the last slicing challenge
  4. The excellent reminder of how much I am inspired by reading other people’s work
  5. The reminder of how powerful it is to write every day
  6. The surprise of realizing that I actually can write every day – even when I’m tired, even when I’m cranky, even when I feel as if my mind is entirely blank when I sit down in front of the empty page
  7. The lead-in the slicing challenge gives me to the dramatic terror that is about to be National Poetry Month
  8. The fun of writing with my mentee every week
  9. My determination to get through the #52essays2017 challenge even though I’ve already fallen behind
  10. My mom, who is very cute, evidenced by the envelope that arrived in my mailbox the other night … an envelope that contained coupons for the kind of food my cats like
  11. My mom, who is full of love for me all the time, even when I’m whiny or tired, even when I’m a slug and don’t call as often as I should, even when I tease her for sending me cat food coupons
  12. My new knees, which have finally turned the corner toward more healed than healing
  13. My new knees that don’t make that weird percussive noise they used to make
  14. My new knees that made it through the winter without any slips and falls
  15. My heart, which didn’t stop working when things went wonky with it this summer
  16. My heart, which is now bionic/Borg, with its shiny new microchip
  17. (My microchip that looks kind of like a tiny harmonica)
  18. My heart, which is transmitting to the cloud even as I type this
  19. The end of the season of surgeries
  20. The conversations I get to have with my super-woke coworker who helps keep me focused on the day-to-day fight, not just the big-picture battles
  21. My other coworkers who are in these conversations with us, who make me happy that I work with people I can have these conversations with
  22. The outrageousness of chocolate geodes
  23. My old computer, which — after the great my-time-here-is-done debacle of Thanksgiving 2016 — kept working until I finally got my act together to get a new one
  24. My new computer, which is sleek and fine and fully functional
  25. Being introduced to the Bullet Journal, which has helped me focus on my 400,000 to-dos and plans in a more helpful way
  26. My sister, whose birthday is today and who I’ll get to see over Easter!
  27. My sister, who is the best friend I’ve ever had
  28. My sister, who shares my warped humor and always gets me
  29. My sister, who can laugh and laugh over just a snippet of memory from past nonsense (“Hey, Mommy, how d’you like your steak?”)
  30. My sister, who introduced me to Habitica, a fun way to keep me working on the things I need to get done
  31. You, dear reader, who do me the honor of stopping by to visit, to read, to comment … Thank you! I appreciate all of you!

It’s the final day of the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

Get ready for poetry!!

DIY (If You Want Something Done …)

On Thursday I wrote about getting the news that I hadn’t been awarded a writing residency I’d applied for. In their comments, Heidi from Wordsmithing and Akilah from The Englishist expressed interest in the DIY writing retreat I made for myself in 2012, and Akilah’s comment made me realize that I’d never written about it. So today I will.

In 2012, I decided to send myself away to write. In both 2010 and 2011 I’d gone to VONA and had my heart and mind and craft blown wide open. For 2012, I decided not to apply, but rather to take the money I’d spend on a VONA week and create a two-week writing vacation.

I was nervous about doing it because I’d never been particularly successful with writing on vacation in the past. I’d turned out a few pages, but mostly spent my time vacationing and maybe (maybe) writing in my journal. But those had all been vacations and not specifically writing retreats, and I wanted to believe that calling my trip something different would actually help flip whatever switch in my brain needed flipping to get me to be more productive.

So I planned.

  1. Find a place to go. I searched on Flipkey (like AirBnB) for a place to go. I searched in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in France, in Canada … Everything looked great, nothing looked right. And then I clicked to an apartment in Tulum and the first photo won me. It was a slightly fuzzy picture of a sunny kitchen table. When I saw it, the first thought I had was, “I could write there.”
  2. Figure out when to go. The retreat was going to be my birthday present to myself, so I wanted to go in the fall, as close to my birthday as possible.
  3. Make a plan for writing. I made my schedule very simple: I would write all morning and go to the beach in the afternoon (it was going to be Tulum, after all, home of one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet). I also signed up for an online writing class and planned the timing of the trip so that I’d be in the middle of the course while I was in Mexico.
  4. Make a plan for what you want to get done during the retreat. There was a story I’d been fighting with. I knew that, if I was ever going to find my way through that story, I needed to understand this one character I’d been avoiding. So I decided that I’d use my retreat to write about him, to figure out who he was so that I could make sense of what he was supposed to be doing in my story. I don’t know if this part of the equation is necessary for everyone, but having a specific project in mind before I started helped me. I wound up writing other things during the retreat, but having this clear idea already laid out in my head helped me know exactly where to begin on day one.

So I was good to go. I was still worried about whether I’d get much work done, but I figured I’d done as much planning as I could or should, and that I’d have to trust myself.

I got to Tulum, the apartment was as lovely as the photos had led me to believe, I set up my writing corner of the dining table, and went to sleep early so I’d be ready to dive in with my schedule the next morning.

My schedule didn’t work out at all. Not even a little. Here is how almost all of my days went:

I got up early and had a little something for breakfast. I sat down with a cup of coffee or tea and started working. After working for a while, I started to feel ravenously hungry and had to stop writing … which would be when I’d discover that it was somehow 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon, that I had been working all day.

Two weeks in Tulum, and I made it to the beach twice. Twice. That is actually a crime, I think.

But —

I wrote like a crazy person. I wrote more in those two weeks than I normally write in a whole year.

I have never felt more content, more perfectly at ease in my body, more perfect. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day and fast asleep before 11pm … and then up with the sun to start all over again.

A big part of the success of my retreat was signing up for that online class. It was a class with Minal Hajratwala. I’d taken an online class with her once before, so I knew what to expect. Minal is an amazing and amazingly generous instructor. The materials she prepares, the exercises she gives … always fabulous. I was taking her Blueprint Your Book class during my retreat, and I had a huge breakthrough thanks to two of the exercises she gave us. She is an entirely lovely person, and if you have the chance to take one of her classes, I enthusiastically recommend it.


It’s definitely not necessary to go to Tulum or to go away for two weeks to make a DIY retreat work. You can stay right in your town. You can:

  • Find an AirBnB place that’s not crazy expensive (my apartment in Tulum was $50 a night), rent it for as many days as you can, and go write.
  • Apartment swap with a friend who lives a short train ride or drive away, sit at her desk or at his kitchen table, and write.
  • Stay in a hotel for the weekend, order room service, tell housekeeping to leave you alone, and write.
  • Find a co-working space that will let you rent for 2, or 5, or 7 days, and let the fact that you’ve paid for the space inspire you to actually spend those 2, or 5, or 7 days writing.

The important things are to 1) set aside time to work, 2) be in a place where you can work without interruption, and 3) hold yourself accountable to giving yourself that time.

I’m looking forward to planning a retreat for myself for the end of the summer. I don’t know if I could ever be as insanely productive as I was in 2012, but I like having that bar to aim for.

It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices


So, I had my I’m all that moment yesterday … but I also had my comeuppance. I came home to the news that I wasn’t accepted into a writing residency I’d hoped to attend this summer. And, while it’s true that I pretty much never expect to be accepted … this time was different. I thought I’d put together a super strong application, that the reviewers would be completely turned on by my submission and scoop me up with the quickness.

Yeah. Not so much.

I know it’s not as terrible as it feels. They get plenty of submissions. What I write isn’t going to appeal to everyone. I know. I get it.


The answer, of course, is to keep working, to keep pushing forward, keep submitting my work. I know that. I know it.

And I’m fine. I don’t even need to lick my wounds. I’m actually fine.


I’d been so looking forward to that gift of time. Hanging so much on having that time.

The thing is … I still have that time. Of course. What this rejection takes from me is that particular space. The time is still mine. So I keep my plan to take off from work this summer, and I create an at-home retreat … or I set up a replay of my 2012 DIY retreat, that beautiful gift I gave myself of two weeks in Tulum with nothing to do but write.

I already know these answers. There is always time to write. I just have to take it.

And move on to the next application, the next submission, the next.

It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

The Words to Say It: Writing in conversation with my mentee

My mentee, Sophia, and I are working on our submissions for this year’s Girls Write Now anthology. Every year, GWN mentees and mentors get published together. It’s a lovely thing. The mentees, of course, are the stars of the show, so their pieces are more substantial. That’s the tricky part for someone as long-winded as I am! How to say what I want to say in only a handful of words?

Sophia and I have been brainstorming and free writing, trying to decide what we want to write about. She’s had a couple of writing deadlines in the last month, so some of our free writing has led to work that she’s developed for her other submissions. In January, she wrote a snippet of something that seemed like the tiniest frozen sliver hiding a colossal iceberg beneath its surface. I suggested she think about working on that for the anthology since we had so much time before the anthology piece would be due.

But now the piece is due (in a week), and our work is still pretty amorphous. She has added several additional snippets to the first, and each is powerful and compelling, but the work hasn’t yet come together. We’ve been in this place before, with Sophia writing all the way around a thing and then — just in time for the deadline — writing exactly the bit she needed but couldn’t find. We’re going to work for a while on Saturday, and my fingers are crossed that we’ll have one of those breakthroughs. I shouldn’t expect it, of course, but it’s clear that this is one of the ways Sophia and I mirror each other as writers. How many times have I woken up on the day of a reading with nothing to read? And on how many of those days have I “magically” managed to write something in time for the reading? Hmm … I’m seeing another mentor goal for myself: help move Sophia away from this nerve-wracking habit!

While it’s not necessary, each year that I’ve been volunteering with GWN, my mentee and I have chosen to write on the same subject. I like the companion-piece aspect of that, like that our pieces seem to expand in relation to one another. Sophia is writing about her relationship with her father … and heaven knows I have more than what to say about my relationship with my own father, so I thought writing my anthology piece would be easy.

Ha! Guess again.

Of course.

I’ve written so much about my father. And in some ways, that’s the problem. Not that I think I’ve said everything there is to say, but maybe I’ve said all of the easy things to say, the things I can say with the fewest words. And, too, I have to write something that connects, at least tenuously, to this year’s program theme: Rise, Speak, Change. I really like that theme, but I’m not sure any of the things I’ve been thinking to say about my relationship with my father can be bullied into fitting the theme.

Oy. Time to get to work.

It’s March 1st: The start of the 2017 Slice of Life Story Challenge! This is the 10-year anniversary of Slice of Life, which is hard to believe. I started this blog a month before discovering Two Writing Teachers. When that first SOL challenge started, I had no idea what I was doing as a blogger. I always credit that 2008 SOL crew — I think there were 12 of us then? — with making me into a blogger, and I credit them still. Today, there are hundreds of folks participating in the challenge. Every day, writers will post their links over on TWT. I definitely recommend clicking through to the site and checking out some of the work there!


My Story on Stage, Part the Third — SOLSC 10

“Part the Third” because writing out  my March deadline list on Tuesday and adding to it yesterday reminded me that my list is still not complete! On Tuesday I mentioned that I’ve read several times over the last two years as part of a great series. How could I then forget to add this month’s reading to my deadline list?

The series is called Big Words, Etc. and each reading has theme chosen by the audience at the previous reading. I don’t remember what the other theme choices were at January’s reading. One of them was the one I voted for. I didn’t vote for the winning theme — Schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the misfortune of others) — because I knew I couldn’t write anything for that topic. I’m much more of a Weltschmerz girl.

I thought I knew the definition of Weltschmerz — feeling sadness for the world. That’s correct, but I think the more specific definition actually suite me much more exactly: depression caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.

Yeah. Little did I know just how much of a Weltschmerz girl I really am.

No Schadenfreude for me, thank you very much. When Schadenfreude won the vote in January, I knew that meant I wouldn’t be reading. I just don’t do Schadenfreude.

… Or maybe, on second thought …

Something happened, a news item greeted me one morning and I found myself feeling … well, I didn’t know what, exactly. I listened to follow up reports on this story, and the feeling returned. It wasn’t the anger I’ve become so familiar with these last couple of years, wasn’t despair …

Hold up! Could this be the fabled Schadenfreude?

Yes, in fact. There I was, feeling some pleasure in another’s misfortune. What do you know.

I’ll leave you to guess what news story it was that introduced me to this new feeling (and I’ll cross-post my story here after I’ve written it and read it at Big Words). Have you ever felt Schadenfreude? What brought it on? How did you feel about feeling it? Did it surprise you? Once you felt it for the first time, did it start creeping in more and more?

It’s week two of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

SOL image 2014

Iona (7 of 29)

Holding the rail tightly, Claudette peered over the cliff. The lookout was famous, even though the story of the suicide couple was variable.

“You would think they’d have leapt to the ocean,” the woman beside Claudette said. “But they had no chance of reaching the water. Anyone could see they’d land there, on those rocks.”

“That would do the job, though,” Claudette said, looking at the jagged surfaces.

“Yes, but messy,” the woman said. “Inelegant.” She looked at Claudette. “You came alone?”

“I prefer it to the tours.”

“You’re so right.” She extended her hand. “I’m Iona. The restaurant here is supposed to be quite good. Join me?”

Claudette hesitated just long enough for it to be awkward, then shook Iona’s hand. “Sure.”

She followed Iona inside. She couldn’t have said what made her wary, what seemed off about the other woman. It wasn’t the invitation. People often invited her to join them for a drink or a meal, especially when she was traveling. But there was something.

She ordered lobster. Iona ordered a dish she described as sausage made of shrimp, coconut, and hot peppers. “You’ll taste it and be amazed,” she said, smiling.

“What made you come to visit this place?” she asked after the server retreated with their order.

Claudette shrugged. “I’ve been working my way through all the attractions,” she said. “And the view from here was noted.”

Iona cocked her head to one side. “Just the sea,” she said.

Claudette laughed. “Spoken like a person who gets to see the ocean all the time.”

“Every day.”

Claudette thought she sounded both angered and saddened by that fact, but Iona didn’t elaborate on her answer.

“Why did you come?” Claudette asked. She fidgeted with her napkin, nervous and uncomfortable and unable to shake either feeling.

Iona waved the question away. “It’s an attraction, right?” She looked around the room. “All of these people, here for the view, for the supposed romance of a couple plunging to their deaths.”

Claudette nodded. It had drawn her, after all, she couldn’t deny that. The story, it’s permutations.

Their food arrived, and Claudette wanted to sweep it off the table. Something heavy sat on her stomach, on her heart. It was crazy, but she had the feeling Iona was causing it.

Iona picked at her food, then pushed the plate toward Claudette. “Don’t you want to try some?”

“No. Thank you.” Claudette leaned away from the table. “I’m actually not feeling well. I’m going to ask them to wrap this for me to take away. I’m sorry, but I should go.”

“Yes,” Iona said. “Sick. But not sick at heart.” She gave another dismissive wave. “You’ll be fine once you leave here.”

Claudette signaled for the server, who came with the check and an apologetic smile. “Do you want me to put this up? You’ll be able to enjoy it later.”

She hurried away with the lobster, and Claudette picked up the check, only to find that it wasn’t the check, was a note instead: Your lunch is on us, it said. We do apologize for the inconvenience.

Claudette stared at the note, not a hand-written thing but a printed one, as if they were given out often. She looked up at Iona.

“I vex them. I do,” she said. “They don’t want me here, I can’t leave. No one of us is pleased.” She looked around the room again. “Thank you for joining me,” she said, standing and straightening her skirt.

The server returned with Claudette’s packed up lobster. “You’re ready to go,” she said.

“Yes, ready to go,” Iona said. Without looking at the server, she walked out to the lookout.

Claudette watched her go then looked at the server. “What’s going on?”

The young woman looked embarrassed. “You’re okay,” she said. “Some stomach upset, but it’s passing.”

“What happened?”

“She’s gone now. She’s just very sad. Very lonely.”

Claudette looked toward the door then back at the server. “It was Iona? Iona made me feel sick? How? And why me?”

The young woman shrugged. “She comes to the women who come here alone.” She shrugged again. “Maybe she thinks you come with the same idea she had all those years ago. Maybe that’s why she invites you to eat with her, so she can bring you back inside, away from the railing.”

“Are you saying she thought I came here to jump?” Claudette looked outside again, but Iona was nowhere to be seen. Then the rest of the server’s words registered. “The same reason she did? Are you saying,” she looked the young woman in the eyes, “that woman is the woman who jumped, half of the couple that make this place famous?”

“She charms you,” she said. “The best I understand it is that, the moment she shakes your hand, she holds you until you start to feel sick, until you begin to understand that something isn’t right. Look at your table.”

Claudette frowned and turned to look at the table, only to find that none of Iona’s dishes were there.

“When you start to feel sick, and she has to go away, and whatever she’s made you see goes away, too. She wants to help, thinks she’s saving you from the cliff.”

Claudette shook her head. “What kind of publicity gimmick is this? Pretending the place is haunted.”

“She came to you,” the server said. “You see her. I don’t. I only know because I see the look on your face when I bring the food. The owner decided a long time ago that you women get your meal as a gift. He says it’s the least he can do.” She patted Claudette’s shoulder again. “You’re okay. Go back to your hotel, drink some water. You’re okay.”

Leap Flash 2016