writing life creative

2014-02-20 18.58.46

‘The world is a possibility if only you’ll discover it.’

My 20-month old is surprisingly gentle with my books. On any given ...
Thank you

Handwriting Thank You

After nearly 12 years, she still sends me lovely notes on paper. ...

Don’t fall in love with the first line, it will break your heart

The other day I discussed writing with a group of high school ...
photo credit: Shawn Bueche

What’s In Your Journal?

A former student of mine, shared with me that her mother would ...

365 Days of Writing

Whether you write for publication, piecing together a living, word by word ...

Beautiful Distractions in 21st Century Learning (video)

“Beautiful Distractions in 21st Century Learning” When we think of potential distractions ...

everyday creative


Before I could start, he turned 12.5 millimeters of dye-free liquid toward his lips. “This will ease the pain,” I said. I applied pressure, peroxide, ice, and waited. No bubbles or relief. He was brave, squeezed his eyes shut, and leaned into me; his fallen tears a circle on my shoulder. I suggested he turn away as I steadied the metal tweezers, tugged at the dark spot under his fingernail. I pulled, watched the sharp tip slip away again and again, the thick splinter, ragged wood chip, embedded and persistent under his swollen skin. He no longer bit his nails so there was just enough growth, flesh, and space for that wood chip jutted and splayed. He cried out at my pull and dig, begged me to stop. “Look away,” I said. He tried to breathe, bear the pain. I tried gentle and swift; shifted the wood toward one side of his thumb. Between his sob and wail, and my dig, the wood finally broke free. I heard the click, then saw the white and pink, listened as he sighed and marveled at the freedom. “Thank you,” he said again and again. His grateful echoed that night and in the morning. Before bed he hugged me tight, held on as the tears dampened a new round patch on my shoulder. We stood there for a moment relieved, emboldened, humbled by the dig.


“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.” -Khaled Hosseini

Just as swift and nimble the feathering of snow, the discontent with the cold, so too is the felicity of the sun and the return of spring.

Mix + Match Palette

In a time of instant well wishes…

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gold leaf
sun spray

Word Sketch

This morning at daybreak, the pale gray leaned against the window shades, the moon, a faraway pinprick poked light through a dark scattering, the tree branches crooked and recovering in the turn of day. The ground, soil and green leaves, peeling open with scars from the long winter, the persistent cold stumbling into spring.

This morning I noticed the pleading, the petals in fragile lean, the damp and frozen drops between the needles and conifer. With gilded bloom, that blinding pin wheel tucked inside of horizon and bare branch, there was healing, a bright and faithful birdsong restless in the sun.

‘The snow was too light to stay’


…the ground too warm to keep it. And the strange spring snow fell only in that golden moment of dawn, the turning of the page between night and day. -Shannon Hale


This morning it snowed, the flowers bent their stems in the wind and at the weight of the cold and crystal flake. We watched from the window, a disappearing spring.

Night Walker

2014-03-15 20.29.35Last night, the moon, full and present, tucked in the dusty stream of blue-gray sky, glowing above rooftops, hanging inside the cool. He stood in the backyard, lost that moon on one side of the sky, like love, it walked away, hid its mystery in the night haze. Foolish, he chased it from memory, followed those dripping bright spots through the alley, to the corner, where glowing light bled between evening crevices, branches and streetlights, naked and changing. There he dug his heels into crackling dry leaves and loose gravel, between amber and grace, the moon that night the color of heartache. And a lot like love, he walked and stood in place.


I can’t help myself, there are so many ways to see the sky. I just keep looking, everyday there is new light and dark, new ways to see ourselves, to see the sky. What are subjects, objects you often look to for inspiration?









They live in graceful rounds
of pleasant gray. A practiced union,
sewn on generations of twos
who managed in fragile tears
that ripped and healed,
swelled and dried
for the length of their lives.

How do they live with such wounds;
speak sweetly in full silence,
wear the plum of sores and scabs?
They forgive, each other, themselves,
again and again.



Spring, with all its fresh and blooms, reminds me of forgiveness. How the earth bleeds, tears, crumbles, and how the rain softens the wounds, fills in soil and crevice, blends and heals. 

The Color of the Sky


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With excuses as background noise, she looked into his eyes, imagined an attempt at the truth. What would it cost them; a well-groomed lie tired of cherry wood and tempers, that soft white nightlight by the bed? There were cobwebs along the corners and baseboard as thick as her wishes. They stood there together, faces full of night sky, bodies as wilted stems.

The song along this shadow seemed a high price to pay for sketched bliss. She could color outside the lines; tell him he could have the sun. She could walk away and leave a trail of light behind. He could want or follow, stay in his own clouds and gray, or let go, let the truth fall beyond his shoulders, rub the sores from his sleeve.

They stood just a breath away from each other, about the width of the wooden plank beneath their feet. Anxious, they both rolled their heels along the cracks and creak. Her tongue stopped just short of this and that, some bright sky gathered in the space between them. Their shadows shaped like forgiveness, their words sounded without bend. He told her about the color of the sky, about sunrise and secrets. She knew the plum of daybreak, a brightening, an end.

Ground and Grief

I realized I had not fully grieved, flushed my face with tears; buried my nails in the soil.

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Georgia, 2014

He was a farmer, a carpenter, a man who measured the days with his hands.

We watched him, learned to stretch our limbs as children, reach for bundles of green. We were brown with the trees, eager to pick plums to pop in our mouths. We were city, woven with woods, our blood the color of struggle. We were cheerful spots in the yard, sitting in circles in patio chairs with feet swinging, in our laps fresh bowls full of Georgia sun. We were young, glittery traces of our wide lives ahead.

I suppose you don’t know you’re grieving until your cheeks are warm and wet, when the sun on a mild spring day sparkles in the pooled blur in your eyes. And then you cry, open up to that barrel of gust for just a moment to remember, to grieve, be thankful when you find yourself slow in the busy city, belly down, tilling the soil.

Precious Space

Years ago I collected every dream in every crevice I could peek into. And when there were no precious spaces, there was everything else: the tone of your wrinkled brow at the end of the day standing over the gas stove, your dreams dry and speckled white in the corners of your eyes, resilience, sitting at the side of the bed wielding your body forward, feet to the floor, moving gently past his unhappy. There was a distance between you and him that I knew nothing about. I was an outsider who slipped in between those unfamiliar spaces, peeked in on you and him, a raggedy kind of love. And then there was time, between innocence and knowing, between the sliver of doorway, when somehow that space no longer felt distant or unfamiliar, but more like you, and me.



“…Everyone had something indescribably precious at the heart of their being.” -Mary Balogh

Good day writers, its National Poetry Month and I’m late to the party.

I know, I know, I’m late to the party, but better late than never right? I’ve been in mourning, traveling, thinking, writing these past few weeks. Hopefully I will get a chance to share some of that with you. But for now, let’s concern ourselves with poetry.

This month (like every month I suppose), let’s consider it all. Poetry that sometimes seems like prose, poetry in meter, one or two lines of glittering thought. Ok, let’s get on with it…


Red Fire Engine (or On Soothing the Pain)

There was a red fire engine under
my foot, its siren sounded like wild screech.
There, alone, in the corner of the kitchen,
scream drowned by echo, wood, the distance
between them and me. Twisted as a flag on staff,
I stood on one foot, eyeing my swollen skin
red, pursed with white plastic ladder.
What could any of them do anyway,
their worry-free lives scattered on the floor
like pebbles poking out from under soil,
droplets of time, disorder, play. For a moment
I considered a curse, then resolved to whisper.
Anger rarely soothes the pain.



Happy National Poetry Month!

Happy, Surprise

Inside the pages of Happy and Surprise, two children’s books by writer and illustrator, Mies Vin Hout, celebrate words, color, shapes, and sound. Happy draws on emotion, and Surprise is a wondrous journey of parenthood. Throughout each book, one page offers a single word while the other page mirrors with colorful chalk and brush-like images.

An artist friend of mine gifted these two books to my children, and when I found them on my desk at work, I was struck by the curling outlines of the creatures on the cover and inside, each page bursting with color and wonder. Both books are playful, allow room for interpretation, encourage developing narratives through imagination, for curiosity inside and beyond the pages, for happy, surprise.

More Time, Moon, and Stars

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We stood outdoors under that bright moon clearing between the branches, a sheer white circle reflected in the pane of glass behind us. The window framed the light while we stood there close to each other, the air almost warm enough to keep us standing in our bare feet on the wood porch. It was the twinkling dots that amazed us, drove him to lift his tiny arms, reach his fingers up towards the dark sky. After the long cold months, it was the first time this season we could clearly see the twilight markings, the blue and plum. I suspect there are many more luring nights ahead, more star-dust falling above us, more time outside together.

Wanted: Love and Marriage

They met the old-fashioned way: double clicks,
a head shot, common hobbies and interests.
They filled in four years before family,

a house and two kids, offered a pleasant
distraction, reason to talk to each other,
and stand still in comfortable lie, stainless
steel, mint-green lawn, little substitute for
lust, like, or long stare. Where love never lived
up to romantic want ad, in gestures,
a want for each other dressed in laundry,
tumbling schedules, a dripping faucet.

Like time, love can forget details, sit on
either side of the bed, arms folded like
the screens in their laps, passing truths hidden
like the mask of their lives, with eyes aglow.


Poetry is above all…

a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.   -Adrienne Rich

Poetry is above all a stirring up of notions, inviting a writer to look for long periods of time at everything or most things, to watch life slowly, bubble and pill, like the surface stories of wool. Poetry is a figuring, a blurring, a sharpening of the senses, like gray sketches filled in with dark lines, details, and the mysteries of life rubbing at the center of truths and beautiful lies.


Sometimes quotes give us pathways to walk or write, traces to poems, essays, passages, conversations that are meaningful. I invite you to think about, finish Adrienne Rich’s line with your own writing: Poetry is above all…



‘The world is a possibility if only you’ll discover it.’

My 20-month old is surprisingly gentle with my books. On any given day he flips through the pages with his chubby fingers, wonders in the words, rubs the tip of his index finger across the lines of dark markings. He sits for chunks at a time looking at the images, the crooked little letters on the page. He of course can not read yet, but he is curious, and at this age (or any age), curiosity and engagement matters.

I recently taught a workshop for foster and adoptive parents on the importance of reading with children. We talked about simple things we can do to help foster early literacy skills and development: keep books accessible in the home and read to younger (and older) children. Make time for reading, make it transparent, and in conspicuous places, so that young people have inspiring models and images of good reading habits. Read often, separate and together. Take trips to the library regularly to pick out new books, it is a community resource and is there for us to use (for free).

I like this quote by Orville Prescott, “Few children learn to love books by themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word: someone has to show them the way.”

Title quote by Ralph Ellison

Mix + Match Palette

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This storefront, dressed in rows of antique sewing machines

‘Some words live in my throat breeding like adders.’

Others know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me.

-Audre Lorde

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John Updike said, “writers take words seriously.”

I like this excerpt by Audre Lorde, where the poem is not fooled by how elusive words may seem in writing. I appreciate how this passage in the poem acknowledges such image and complexity in seven tightly crafted lines, marveling at words as active and present, interacting with our bodies, showing up as idea and images from the world around us. Here, Lorde writes about the relationship between words, the human body, and the natural world, where in that comparison she seems to suggest words too, as living things.

You Have To Know What’s Available (To Use It)

I find it helpful to have lots of words passing before my eyes as much as possible when I am trying to write, because the one word I feel I need the most might just be somewhere in the stream, though I might have to chop part of it away or twist it a little or elongate it…

-Gary Lutz


This quote seems to not only speak to reading, but also to noticing (words). The metaphor, to keep a “stream of words before our eyes”, is a wise one, a practice that can yield constant discovery. In our common daily (casual and conversational) language we speak with such a small percentage of words, it is rare to encounter new gems we might want to use in our writing. And I should note, it’s o.k. to not speak like we write.

However, what I appreciate about this quote is that it reinforces that reading opens our minds up to many new words by shape and sound, meaning and context. To see how a word is used in another’s writing offers possibilities on how we might use that same or a similar word in our own writing. We need these words in our pockets, in a list in our journals, at the tips of our tongues, and of course in the margins of our pages. We especially need this “stream of words” in revision to challenge and replace the words we get comfortable with using all the time. When I find myself using some of my same favorite words (and we will always have our favorites), I push myself to read more, read from different sources and genres, find new words to look at, listen to, enjoy and keep.


Words, Revision, And Writing Beyond

Revision is a part of writing…do not be afraid to experiment with what you have written…This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers.  -The Elements of Style

As we’ve read and re-read the submitted works for our impending anthology, I’ve thought a lot about what young writers know (or often don’t know) about revision. Even the mention of the word revision, or a suggestion that writing needs to change often brings about resistance, followed by a sigh and a sense of frustration. It is in that moment, that conversation with another writer, that I can emphasis the importance of revision. This is not always easy to hear, that revision is advisable, necessary. I thought about what I’ve learned from other writers and what I try to tell myself…

Since revision is such a big topic, let’s start with words. How do you know when it is time to let go, when a word is not doing all that it can do, should do? How do you know when you should craft tightly or let your lines stretch out a bit?

In thinking about prose, crafting sentences takes discipline, it takes time, patience. But in that first draft the tidying of every single word can lead to over writing. Sure, diction matters in prose but it is important to keep a wide eye on progressing through the larger work (a paper, book, essay, short story, article, etc.). In prose, beware of getting stuck in a sentence, on a word that isn’t working (for now). Use words, sentences, as placeholders while you draw the skeleton of your piece. Some of those beautifully written passages will work, where others will need to go. That is the grace of revision. As I’ve said, and have to remind myself,  “don’t fall in love,” with your early drafted lines; some of them are just passing by.

However, I have a different sensibility in poetry. I would argue it’s not always about numbers unless you’re counting syllables. Each word matters but in a poem, it is not how many words you can make stick to the page, it is about what those words are doing for your poem, what they sound like, what they convey. Trim the words you don’t need and if you’re not sure what words you don’t need, read work by other writers, read your own work again and again. Consider what words are doing the heavy lifting—keep those first—and even they might not make it beyond revision.

To remind a another writer is to remind myself that writing is a process and that it takes tools, time, and discipline. To write more and get beyond settling on a string of lovely sentences is to look out beyond those sentences, that page or passage you love, and know (and trust) there is more to come. And for that, we must keep writing.

“Yes, it’s a wonderful freedom we have on the page.”

We can start by presuming that anything’s possible, and then we step across those borders that in the real world might be impassable. But wherever we go, we take the baggage of our memories with us.

-Joanna Scott

“Out here, I can say anything.”

Dreams are like poems.

In a dream, anything is possible. You can fly, you can travel to foreign countries or unknown universes. You can experience your wildest fantasies and face your most terrifying fears. In this way, dreams are like poems. They have their own stories to tell and their own music to sing, and they play by their own rules.

I think the secret to how dreams work is the word yes. Dreams never say no to anything, no matter how weird. Like great improvisational theater, our dreams keep saying yes.

- Michael Dickman

Title quote by Larry Levis

4 blogs to get you through writer’s block


This re-post is from Kelly who writes the blog “WordsThatScream”. She compiled and recommends four “fail-safe blogs”, writerly resources she reads for regular doses of creativity, writing encouragement, information, and inspiration (how nice of her to include “life and write” on that list). Check out the post and Kelly’s blog at http://wordsthatscream.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/4-blogs-to-get-you-through-writers-block/.

Originally posted on wordsthatscream:

We’ve all been there. It’s 1am, you’ve been trying to nail your latest chapter or poem for hours and you’re seriously lagging. And stuck. So stuck you’re on the verge of throwing in the towel. But wouldn’t it be nice if there were some awesome tools at your fingertips to help bust that dreaded writer’s block? Luckily, I’ve come across some brilliant blogs over the last few years to inspire even the blankest of minds. Here are my 4 fail-safe blogs to help you on your way to productivity and creativity central.

Write One Leaf


This is without a doubt one of my favourite blogs for getting the creative juices flowing. Each post is a prompt, be it a picture, a subject, an emotion, whatever. The aim is to leap straight in and write one leaf (or page) on the prompt. If you’re feeling brave you can also submit your finished…

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“The Most Beautiful Dream Is Rechargeable”

…I know that there are dozens of ways of being in love. But there is only one way of understanding words. You have to repeat them thousands of times, and in the end the words will open up like a flower.

—Job Koelewijn, from Now What? Artists Write!

Yes, being in love entertains slippery feelings and unknown paths, surprises around the corner. However might that also apply to how we encounter words? And while repetition is one way of pocketing new and interesting words, are there many other paths to understanding language?

To know words, we must see them, hear them, feel them, speak each syllable and sound with our mouths, our hands, our minds. We might imagine them in tense, placed in genre, pattern, or rule, how the meanings change, how the sounds are deceiving. This too seems a lot like love. Imagine words working together, tucked into narrow spaces or pulled along the page margin-to-margin, bunches of letters strung together, building images, conversations, sentences.

I Am Just Like Her

I am not a classroom teacher anymore, but I am still teaching and learning. So when students send me writing, I imagine it is because they want someone else to spend time with their words. When students send you their work, they may be asking for feedback, or simply want someone in addition to teachers and parents, to care to read and listen. There is no grade attached, no threats or consequences, but the stakes seem just as high.


Who am I but another writer wondering where to lay my words? However, to a young writer, I am (not as young of) a writer, and we both have something we are crafting. We build community with each other, exchanging ourselves in digital letter, handwriting on her written work. And I suppose I am support, someone to confide in, someone who might offer encouragement and a critical lens. But in essence, I am just like her, writing.


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