Category Archives: Tidbits

The MFA: I’m running like our cat

We have a sweet and wonderful cat, a stray who lived near my old writing studio. I gathered her up one chilly November day several years ago  — she was sweet and affectionate even when she was skinny and shivering — and brought her home to join the chaos. She has a loud purr and will nip your calves when her dish has been too empty for too long. And she loves to sit in and on suitcases. Packing for a trip? Plan an extra ten minutes to vacuum the fur off the bag. Returning from a trip? If you don’t close the suitcase after emptying it, she will sleep in it all day long.

And this cat loves to snuggle up next to my husband when we do our daily meditation sit. Ok, it’s not every day, but we try. The 17 y.o. sits in the big yellow chair, the 14 y.o. & I settle on the couch and hubby sits on a zabuton cushion and the cat, no matter where she is in the house, curls up next to him. She purrs and purrs and purrs and purrs.

Meditating kitty.

Meditating kitty. And hubby.

But last night there was an open suitcase in the foyer. She had leapt into it, settled and purred and fallen asleep. Well, we said, no cat on the zabuton tonight. We all sat down and we set the timer and … there was a gentle kerthump as the cat jumped from the suitcase and then ran — sprinted — to sit with my husband. Seriously.

Please indulge me as I now sally forth into extended-metaphor-land.  In this metaphor, I am the cat, my life is the suitcase and the snuggling-while-meditating is my writing. I like my life. It has comfy places to sit and I like to sit and write. And when the Warren Wilson low-residency MFA program offered me a place in their program I of course happily accepted.

And here’s what surprised me: I had no idea I would want to sprint to an MFA program. I love writing and my application obviously was an indicator that I’d want to enter the program. But when I began listening to some of Warren Wilson’s downloadable craft lectures, I shifted from “this will be good,” to “this is what I have wanted to do and didn’t even know it holy cow I can’t wait!” An entire hour of lecture about the semicolon! An hour and a half on internal versus external turning points in fiction and poetry! When I described the bliss I experienced while listening to these lectures, the 14 y.o. said, “You’re kidding, right?” and I squealed, “No! No! I am not kidding. I get to study this stuff for TWO WHOLE YEARS!” He was aghast. I was giddy.

It’s a bit weird that our cat runs to sit with us during meditation. Loving to think about and talk about semicolons is a bit weird. (OK, maybe a lot weird.) But I am looking forward, with an almost animalistic delight, to immersion in this new-to-me writing community. Long live the weird!

May you find and run to your (little bit weird) delight today, too.

Tooting my own horn …

I’m delighted to share the news that my short story, “Her Mother’s Ghost” will be included in the Lascaux Review Prize Anthology; here’s the Official Announcement.

Summer's beauty begins.

Summer’s beauty begins.

I’ll also read my poem, “My Mother’s Garden Journal” at the Moss Center’s Unleashed exhibit on Friday, June fifth, 5:30-7 PM — and there’s an open mike after the reading so come on and share your own works! This exhibit solicited short prose and poetry around the theme of “garden” and the texts have been graphically re-imagined by the curators. I’m curious to see what they’ve “done” to my words.

The summer is off to a writerly start.

Sustenance for writerly souls … aka, references galore


I have been re-reading Hortense Calisher‘s first novel, False Entry. Some Big Critic whose name eludes me noted that while some authors  are “writer’s writers” Calisher is a writer’s writer’s writer. I think the critic was trying to say, “she’s not easy to read.” Humph. I’m finding beautiful sentences everywhere — after two hundred pages the book is a-flutter with stickies. My current favorite: “It was the shabby-sweet odor of the South that already I was smelling, the air of a people who had to put too much sugar on their lives.”

I am juiced up with good writing, good ideas, and good ideas about writing — I have the happy tickle in my belly of having found a *perfect* gift for a dear friend.

Open the cedar chest, or the under-bed storage box from Target, shake the mustiness from your favorite afghan, warm some apple cider, snuggle up and nibble on these ideas. These come via my writer friend Gigi Vernon (whose short story “Show Stopper” has been chosen for inclusion in the Mystery Writers of America anthology!):


hot apple cider  (Photo credit: digiyesica)

1. On the daily rituals of creative minds, from The Guardian
2. By Sarah Gerard, on keeping a notebook  from The Paris Review

I’m jumping …


… into a new part of the writing ocean: I’m offering a workshop with my writerly friend and colleague, Jenny Zia of the Center for Creative Change. We’re focusing on process, sustaining a writing practice, and getting to know one’s writing self. I’m tickled about facilitating the program in the community meeting space in the Lyric Theater’s Community Arts Information Office — we’ll go to local cafes and stores for some of our writing exercises.

Contact us at for more info; some details below.

Writing for the joy of it

Have you always wanted to write but don’t know how to start or sustain your practice?

This workshop provides a series of structured exercises that honor the writing process, support discovery of your writer’s voice, and exploration and development of your stories.

Instructors Jenny Zia and Lesley Howard ground their facilitation in their own combined six-plus decades of daily writing practice, inspired by the philosophies of Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Priscilla Long, among others.

Jenny Zia, MA, MSW, has shared writing prompts and journal practices with a variety of individuals and groups. Lesley Howard is a local freelance writer, blogger, and one of the founding members of the New River Valley Voices juried reading program. Both are members of a long-standing writing group.

When and Where?

Jump Start: Saturday, Sept. 7, 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM

Momentum-Sustaining Sessions: Tuesdays, Sept. 17, Oct. 1, and Oct. 15, 6:30 – 8 :30 PM

The End is the Beginning Closing Session: Saturday, Oct. 26, 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM

$100 for all sessions; includes muse-nourishing snacks and beverages.

All sessions will be held at the Community Arts Information Office in downtown Blacksburg, VA; we will take field trips to local cafes for some of our exercises.

Contact us at if you need additional information or to register.

Sharing others’ good words and mojo

Brendan Constantine, thank you: this blog post  says it better than I could have, and echoes my heroine Priscilla Long’s advice: a large part of creativity is production, finished pieces. Can’t make a pie if we spend all our time perfecting the crust. Fling some berries-n-sugar together, spoon ’em in that misshapen piece of dough, cook that baby in the oven and then see if it’s any good.

The Porches

The Porches (Photo credit: orange cracker)

I’m writing at the Porches in Norwood, VA this week: a tornado alit here last week, folding a metal roof back like so much origami paper and felling a 26,000 pound tree on the local (historic structure) church. The retreat house itself: untouched. The California-based writer in residence during the tornado: went back to her third floor room when she saw the 50-foot-high maple trees in the front yard  bending to kiss the earth. Those of us who can imagine three stories off the ground is a good place to be in wind like that: creative to the max.

Whatever the tornado of your life is right now: get back to your room and do your creative thing. That mojo will keep you safe-n-sane.

Shameless self-promotion …




pencils found.  ransom sought.

pencils found. ransom sought. (Photo credit: postbear)


Jennifer Simpson‘s creative writing project blog, I Write Because includes my piece today. Thank you Jennifer!




Neat, short writing opportunity: I Write Because …


Albuquerque (Photo credit: jared)

Fellow writers: check out this submission opportunity, offered by Jennifer Simpson of Albuquerque, NM (she’s also in charge of DimeStories):

The I Write Because Project


Regardless of whether or not you opt to take a stab at submitting, try the exercise of a ten-minute write wherein every sentence begins with the phrase, “I write because … ”

It will show you some hitherto unknown parts of yourself…