Category Archives: writing

A beautiful

A beautiful place to write. Coming inside now though to get out of the glare.

Neighbor’s yard. Even my peonies bloomed this year! After a many year hiatus.

A South Shore walk with my sister in law on Sunday brought vistas like these.

And this one, which makes me laugh. Our garage is pretty comparable.

Lament to a prompt

If you’re up for a lament without much by way of sentence structure, here’s my response to a prompt in class this morning (using a bunch of song/nursery rhyme fragments/Catholic echos). I may come back tomorrow and add the text but for now here’s the video. It runs 6:45 minutes. Sorry about the hair that kept bothering my lower lip.

Follow through

Finishing books that I abandoned after reading 100 or so pages is having a curiously strong impact on my sense of self. Who’d have thunk? It’s empowering! Since the New Year, I’ve completed a handful of books that, absent the #theunreadshelfproject (Instagram), I might never have finished.

With that in mind, I’d like to experiment with follow through here.

This is me: tomorrow I’ll post about unreliable narrators. Then: silence.

I may then write about the topic privately; I may not. But the point is — here there’s a hanging intention, a risk left unmet.

They are often tricky topics about race or my writing or both. I get nervous talking about my novel as if to do so is to jinx it or, almost as bad, to publicly shame myself for not being done yet.

Because some planned posts involve historic references and/or nuanced ideas about ownership of stories, I can’t bang them out the normal way. “The weather’s this. Patchwork is that.” I need time. And courage.

But, the posts don’t have to be perfect, either. The ideas don’t need to be fully fleshed out. And, though this is not best practice, I don’t even have to include all the necessary attributions at the time of publication. This isn’t scholarship, after all.

I’ve already had the experience of readers giving me important clarifications or details. And encouragement. Why wouldn’t I keep availing myself of that?

So deep breath.

Austin Kleon, from “Steal Like An Artist” speaks to this.

Jude Hill models this day in and day out. One way of looking at my intention here is that I want to apply a spiritcloth approach to historic fiction. In so doing, I hope to exemplify another of Kleon’s big ideas (one that is often misunderstood) which is to say that “Stealing like an Artist” means trying to think like people we admire. It doesn’t mean trying to copy what they make (although he attempts to normalize that as well, noting that all artists learn by copying and if you want to be good copy, not one, but many).

Well, this turned into a little Kleon book review which was not my intention!


PS We got more than a foot of snow and a fourth nor’easter is on the way. Honestly, as long as K is not in Asia (which he was for the first two), I don’t care.

Montreal Grey — prompt exercise

Yesterday’s prompt: write about a character who’s just received really good or really bad news looking out a window. Describe what the characters sees, feels, and thinks WITHOUT giving away the substance of the news.

Prompt-responses are raw and a recently written prompt even more so. I say that, not to ask for kid glove responses, but to help myself take a deep breath and GO. Even though this is prose and not cloth, Jude has laid out a path for me – in the way she openly shares her creative ventures long before she knows what they’re about. Thank you Jude. And to Grace too, who just lays it down. And to K.O. and the Amherst Writing Method, where everything is treated as fiction. And P.S. — typing his up I see lots of places to edit, so I’m a little torn about this.

I include a written version and a recorded one. The video is almost six minutes.


If Benjamin Moore doesn’t yet have a chip labeled ‘Montreal Grey’ they ought to. The sky is dull. The tops of buildings visible out our 20th floor window are grey. Even though it’s May, it looks as though it might snow any minute. Visits in November and visits in May – hardly distinguishable.

Pebbles on the rooves below, charcoal, ladders hooking up and over the edge, shiny aluminum. One tall building – a construction site across the way – is wrapped in blue. The tarps billow in the wind coming up the St. Lawrence – or does the wind go down the river, shooting off the Laurentians, hurrying toward the Atlantic? I don’t know.

Traffic below is small, offering chips of light – red, white – inconsequential dots of luminescence in the grey city canyons.

Our room has a balcony, a boxy utilitarian space closed in on two sides, making it seem more a place for a furnace or stacks of orange cones than an aerie for out of town guests. Sliders, presumably locked. The husband asleep. A breakfast buffet waiting – tired scrambled eggs, decent bacon (but only because, truly, it’s difficult to ruin bacon), and the serviceable pyramids of four ounce yogurt containers.

I’m not hungry. I wish I was still asleep, not ruminating on last night’s bombshell revelations. How stupid have I been, exactly? How distracted? At what point does reliance on another’s well-being morph into neglect?

I’m gonna be 100% certain about one thing for the rest of our visit – these sliders will stay shut. No hand of mine will tug the glass to the side, no foot step out onto the fake grass flooring, no ribs will lean against the cement railing (can anything solid and cement really be called ‘a railing’), no head of mine – after all, it’s the only one I’ve got, will lean out and look down, making some calculus of despair.

Pajamas and blood splatted below would hardly be visible for 20 floors up.

And the problem, of course, is not the calculus, but the impulse.

From where I lean against the cool glass of the snuggly closed door, I can see three tall yellow cranes, looming in stillness, poised for work like predatory beings so efficient at killing and consumption, they need no musculature. Every year, it’s this way. Every year, crossing over the Ile de Soeur, we start up the count of cranes. It’s always been a good way to counter the near constant annoyance of driving down University Ave. At every intersection:  polite drivers! Polite pedestrians! Rule following motorists, conditioned to deferral, and not, as one from Boston is, to aggression, politely wait for all the rule-following pedestrians to cross. It means waiting for one pass of the light after another – an eternity for four cars to make a right turn.

“Oh look!” I might say in lieu of a frothy stream of curses, “another hotel restoration. Didn’t that used to be called ‘The Delta’?”

Soon the cranes will start their swiveling industry. The cars and pedestrians will thicken – getting to work, getting to school. Soon husband will wake and we’ll choose between eggs and grapefruit wedges, yogurt and oatmeal. Bacon is pretty much a given.

Dinner had started off well enough. A Scotch egg ordered, the pub atmosphere offering a humming embrace, the bar warmly lit, French being spoken, men with top knots mixing cocktails, the anticipation of a really good meal, having been there before.

Champagne might have been mentioned and then kiboshed. Where is Tavern on the Green relative to the grid of grey below? I’m pretty sure due west, but I’m not reliable when it comes to directions.

One direction is clear: a body tipped up and over a cement railing 20 stories up means DOWN.

What do the desperate do when they rue their choice ten stories into their flailing descent? It must happen all the time.

The glass is cool against my forehead. Husband stirs. His disappointment will meet mine but not amplify it. He’s wonderful that way. Grounded. Reliable.

I won’t amplify either, I swear silently, even though I often speak for the two of us, sometimes for the entire small group that is our family. How did a refugee from a tribe of high-volume argument makers end up with so much silence at the dinner table? Such a biological disinclination to verbalize!

(Good thing I can play Scrabble against the computer now on a back lit screen! To suggest a round in our house is to see three guys run for cover).

I will not amplify. I will experiment, instead, with a quietude that is as a-characteristic as it is, well, quiet.

Besides, there’s a lot to do in the next 48 hours, bombshell or no bombshell.

Turning away, I click on the news, deeming it nearly time for breakfast anyhow. For fun, I land on a Quebec station, thinking perhaps I’d understand a phrase or two. I’ve done this before and nothing has happened in the interim that might dictate a different result. I’ll catch a number here or there – that’s about it.

Outside, a big gust of wind makes the blue building wrapper puff and fwop like a giant bird struggling to take off. It, and not the drone of French, wakes Mark up.

“What was that?” he asks.

“Tarps,” I say. One word. A single syllable, no less. Does my response telegraph despair? I’m guessing so, in which case experimenting with non-verbal responses may be trickier than I think. So I say, “Come on buster. Get in the shower. I’m hungry.”

I’m not hungry, but the familiar patter soothes and food never hurts. Canadian bacon is a thing, you know.

And it’s a “No”

How fortuitous to be watching the Ladies Short Program figure skating last night before and after I opened a polite rejection email from a literary agent! (“Ladies” short program — really? What do they think it is — 1962?)

But there the athletes are — in their bejeweled leotards, the opening bars of music swelling, years (and years!) of practice and competition behind them as they take a breath and GO!

The routine starts well enough. They seem to have the requisite speed for the triple axel, but then something happens — a failure of nerve, insufficient rotation — and boom! – down they go! It’s shocking and disappointing every time.

But what’s really remarkable — and it impresses me EVERY TIME — is how these professionals get right back up. They get right back up and finish their routine — a program with more jumps, no less.

So I got dinged. Not only that, but it was boiler plate without a whiff of feedback. I knew engagement was a long shot, but I’ll admit to expecting a little more substance in the response.

Not a fair expectation, mind. She’s entitled to the convenience of being blandly polite. Literary agents have to write a lot of these emails, after all.

Disappointment reigned for the evening. Slowed my snacking for a bit. But I tell you — watching those skaters get up and finish their routines after a catastrophic tumble filled me with new appreciation.

And guess what? Nothing’s really changed. I’m still researching points of interest — (Charlotte Bull’s date of birth and when she married John Drayton; the plot lines of the play mounted at the Queen Street theatre in 1737), still writing new passages and revising old ones. In other words — making slow but discernible progress.

So! Onward and upward! It’s back to winter here. Hail earlier. Snow predicted for later.

Dog walk and pin boards

There are a lot of words I could say. Like it’s 70 degrees.

Like: I resisted taking a book from this Free Library kiosk. Ta-da! (Don’t be impressed — it was mostly full of crap).

Like: the light is decidedly spring-like today. Or, I’m worried about one of my kids again. Or, my sister has inexplicably stopped ripping my head off and handing it to me (my theory? She’s a walk-in now).

Or: it’s crazy to hand quilt a blanket I won’t be able to charge much for and anything I DO charge will probably keep it from selling. Or: how good deadlines are but how loathsome selling is.

But! I’ve got to save most of the words for those other pages. Which are coming. Which continue to draw me in. Which I cannot wait to be able to share with you all.

Hold the sugar

This pink t-shirt emblazoned with a pithy statement supports The Slave Dwelling Project. Don’t you love getting bling for your contributions? I do. Or maybe this was a straight out purchase. I don’t remember. In any case, this is a particularly good cause, one offering experiences like the one I had with the group in Medford, Mass. in 2014 (posted about here).

Revealingly, when I looked for the shirt this morning I mis-remembered the statement as, “I like my history Black with a little bit of sugar.” Hmmmm. Probably accurate, though my reading list would suggest otherwise (PS, I finally finished all 500+ pages of “The Warmth of Other Suns”).

I love it when friends challenge me. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, a FB friend from high school pointed out two important facts: 1) the number of school shootings being reported by Everytown for Gun Safety is highly inflated, counting, for instance, a suicide in the parking lot of a school that’d been closed for seven months and the accidental discharge of a weapon in a man’s glove box in a school parking lot (no one was hurt), and 2) there are more gun laws in areas with high numbers of POC (which is to say, whites are scared shitless of black people carrying weapons).

Article about Everytown’s inflated numbers here.

Atlantic article about race and gun laws here.

Neither of these points, while well-taken, change my view that Americans are in urgent need of sensible gun regulations.

The non-inflated number of school shootings in the first seven weeks of 2018, by the way, is FIVE. Isn’t that shocking enough?

Meanwhile on a more personal front, the list of items I cannot find is getting annoying. I located the notebook from writing class, but still can’t find my earbuds (I wore them yesterday) or the external hard drive that I back my manuscript up on (I’ll save to a thumb drive ’til I locate it, but really?). That’s been missing for at least a week.

Speaking of manuscripts: there’s a solid chance that my first foray into the publishing world will be a bust. If so, I’m prepared to accept the rejection as a badge of honor. If it comes, the ding will stand as a sign that I’m putting myself out there, while also initiating me into a literary club absolutely littered with rejection notices.

Not a prediction and not feeling of defeat. Just saying.