Tuesday, March 29, 2011


(photo from a strip mall in Dallas)

It never ceases to amaze me.
Week after week, after month, after year - seven of them now, from when I started part part time to full time and then some.

I write these prompts, and the students respond. And inevitably, most of the students will say:
"I can't believe you knew I needed to write about this."
"I wasn't even thinking about this, where did it come from?"
"Why are you making me write about this?"

The thing is, the prompts are vague/open enough that they can be interpreted lots of different ways. One student last week was sure I was demanding that she/they write about writing their own memoirs - it's the part of the prompt she could not ignore, that would not go away from her. Ditto for others that they had to talk about parts of their lives that haven't happened yet, or their favorite childhood book, or what they are reading - or not reading - right now.

Our inner impetuses, impulses, are so powerful, they take on the face of the current circumstance and recommend or reinforce what we need to hear or don't want to hear or both.
Or neither - what we don't need and don't want but won't go away.

Here is the prompt from this last week, with a follow-up list with questions that came out of students' answers. These ideas are a whole other 5 or 6 prompts in themselves.

Enjoy. See what arises for you. See if you can "blame" it on me. I'll take the blame, no problem.
So long as I get to read the results.


The original prompt

Writing and Reading

Imagine a book in front of you.

Flip through the pages, hear the sound of paper, and notice if it has a scent.

Look at the front cover, Index, Table of Contents, spine.

What is the title?

Is this book fictional or non-fictional?

A kid’s book or an adult book?

Maybe it doesn’t exist yet – it’s the book you are writing or have always wanted to read.

Perhaps you read it when you were young and no longer recall the title –

but you can remember how your heart felt when you finished it.

Take yourself to the place(s) that reading takes you, and write from there.

If you don’t enjoy reading, go into that resistance.

Feel yourself come full circle as you write, using words, to describe reading words.

I’ll let you know when your twenty minutes are up.

-Miriam Hall

If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

There is creative reading as well as creative writing.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it. ~Oscar Wilde

Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures. ~Jessamyn West

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
~Benjamin Franklin


The questions that arose out of student answers - either they gave me these questions or I derived them from their answers...

Were you read to as a child?

Were there books in your home?

Could you buy any book you wanted?

Were you dis/encouraged to read?

Were you ashamed to read?

Were books your only friends?

Did you leave books behind for boys?

Did High School, College, family life kill your love of the written and read word?

Are you still close to books?

Do you know/can you imagine what the "book of you" would look like? Written in code, plain English or Spanish, Russian?

Are you an open or closed book?

What is covered or uncovered in you?

Where does your mind go when its pages are let loose?

Does reading amazing books please you or make you angry or jealous that someone else wrote it first?

If you are writing a book, do you know what the cover would/will be?

Is a Kindle, Nook, or digital reader the same as a book?

Do you read to read?

Do you want to be read?

Do you write to have something to read or to share?

Or are reading/writing separate for you - one an affair that discounts the other?

Or in an entirely different family altogether?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just So

(photo of Michael Amos Hall, 1960's, N. Ireland)

My father was distant, and then, he died.

Of course that is not the whole story. However, that is a big part of the story I have managed to overlook on one level or another for many years. When people ask me, especially if they have recently lost someone close to them, "Will this sadness ever end?" I gently try to say no, but it does lessen somewhat. On weeks like these, I remember what really happens: grief, like everything else, changes. That's all. Just when you think you've figured it out, it changes.

In working on my memoir, Bermuda Triangles, I have slowed down considerably, finely editing the draft to send out to a possible agent. A local friend, wonderful writer and fabulous editor, Lissa, pointed out while helping me to revise that the protagonist (me as a little girl) seems to adore her father and yet, there are no instances, nada, showing WHY. Nothing to make the reader understand why she loved her father so. She said this a few times, but I only got it myself when I began to edit parts about his sickness and death (when I was 12) - finally, it hit home, and even when it hit home, it took me a few weeks of lots of space and getting out of town to finally start to have some memories come back.

This week's class prompt is about "Reading and Writing" - favorite books, how reading relates to writing, etc. I knew it would come eventually - that I would write about reading the Just So Stories to my father when he was sick, and him correcting me repeatedly, without cease, whenever I got the slightest thing wrong.

Remember my post about him as Judge Hawthorne? Yep. So of course I knew this was a part of his personality, but as I explored those memories, I realized the only ones in which I actually think of him fondly, he is silent or speaking to someone else - a bookstore owner or musician. The negative memories? He's either not around or speaking to me - criticizing me, warning me or - yeah, not good.

There's a lot more remembering to do, and likely, some of it will be painful. But today, after writing about the Just So Stories, and then sharing it with my AM class (the first time I have ever cried throughout my whole reading of a piece during a class), I feel cleaner. Clearer. More honest. It never fails, though always feels awful getting there - knowing what is actually causing me pain is less painful than making up something else to hide it. For instance, for years I really hated my mom. Now, suddenly, on a newer level (again, I've known this before - sort of) I realize she gave me, expressed, far more love than my dad did. But I didn't want her love. I wanted his. And it was hard to get.

Without blame or shame, though with tremendous sadness, I softly explore the underbelly of the stories I have told myself for decades in order to survive. As the actual stories appear, they write themselves easily, unlike the parts in my memoir that Lissa noticed as absent, not as strong, lacking and seemingly contradictory. There was plenty that was contradictory in my childhood - my mom and I fighting for my dad's affection, at the top. But I don't need to fight myself anymore. That's a conflict I can relax. I hope. I can try, anyway.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Taxes and the Dentist

I considered whether I should put both Dentists and taxes in the title of this blog entry.
After all...you all might avoid it, with a title like that.
However, I'm here to tell you that neither has to be as bad as you think.

"As you think" being the operative part.

Ben Franklin so famously said:
" In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

I say: "In the world of the self-employed, nothing can be said to be certain except
taxes and medical expenses."
Self-employed taxes are high (we get charged a lot), complicated (oh the boxes of receipts to enter into the computer every March, or, eeks! April), and expensive (either pay someone to do it all for you or pay someone to check your work for you and do the paperwork yourself - pricey, regardless).
And medical expenses? A lot of the same - unless you have insurance (which, even if you have it, costs a pretty penny without a company plan to cover you at least partly): pricey, a lot of paperwork and complicated. Worse, there are places to help you with payment plans, and some docs are kind about docking off a percentage if you have no insurance, but mostly you are on your own - there no CPA's of the medical bill world.

So you can understand why, in the six years I've been self-employed, I have put off my terribly complicated taxes until (usually) the last minute, and I haven't been to a dentist for the same amount of time, though I had a (relatively) nice experience the last time I went and got work done. In fact, I wrote about it here. And here's another nice wise writing from that same era, this time about getting a lot of expensive and difficult chiropractic care with no insurance. Besides the normal discomfort of dentist (even with meditation practice), there's the payment factor; besides the normal dread of taxes (quite an old human habit) there's all that extra work.

This year, I did my taxes in medium time - not last minute but not first thing. I waited for just the right day, and today was it. Why?
Because I finally went to the dentist today for the first time since that blog entry I linked to above. Why?
Because Groupon made it cheap and easy to go to a fun west-sider dentist, with massaging chairs and nice quiet dental assistants, and get the cleaning done. The Groupon was for half-off, so a $120 cleaning cost $60. It was such a steal I got one for Dylan, too, who hadn't been in forever (let's just say, much longer than me).

"You have the nicest teeth I will see all day," the dental hygenisist said. I didn't tell her it had been five years - the clerk had written in "a couple of years" when I had answered vaguely that it had been "a few years." Regardless of this compliment, the cleaning was awkward - I have a very small mouth (she gave me a toothbrush for a teenager) and tight neck, and no matter how nice my teeth looked, I did need quite a bit of cleaning. I breathed as much as I could, though, reminding myself of what I learned the last time. I would notice my hands or neck or shoulders tensing and I would consciously, deeply, breathe out. It helped - I still feel sore now, but it made of pain a lot less suffering. I was so inspired after the cleaning - fresh haircut yesterday, clean teeth - that I came right home and started doing the taxes, which I had dreaded.

Let me tell you - and me - let me tell us something about dread. I am sure you already know this, as do I, but apparently it bears repeating, because none of us have stopped doing it.
Dread sucks.
Dread is lame.
Dread only makes things worse. Dread is, in fact, concentrated suffering, and we do it to ourselves.

Lately I have experimented with doing the thing I dread the most, first (obviously, with taxes and dentist examples above, this is a practice and not perfection) - because I have finally caught on that when I do not do something very important or overwhelming, it gets far worse with procrastination. AND I feel as if I have gotten nothing done in the interrim, not matter how many other work details/errands/tasks/appointments/classes/writings/emails/nose pickings I do.

So I encourage *you* to pick one thing - big or small. I recommend dentist or taxes, if you are overdue on either of those, but smaller is ok, too. No matter how much you have been dreading it (and now I get to go to another dread thing - wrangling with Delta to get the right price for our trip to London this August), see how it feels to just do it, or start doing it. Pull through it.
Notice - the relief when it is done, and if it was, in fact, worse than you had blown it up to be.

Rinse and repeat - the way we learn - do it and do it again, and if we notice the results, once and awhile a habit breaks, and we can be just that much more free. This is, I am quite certain, the true definition of Liberty, though I am not sure that Ben Franklin would agree.