The Bucket

I love a list.  However, being a pragmatist, I tend to shy away from wishful-thinking type lists … like the bucket list.

Picture 53For a writer, I’m not much on the dreamy mind.  I don’t spend a lot of time hoping something goes well or not, or wishing things were different, or wondering “what if” or “if only.”  Even when I was little, I wanted a story that seemed “real.”  I wanted to be Laura Ingalls and live with Ma and Pa and some sisters in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, but I did not, under any circumstances, want to follow Alice down the rabbit hole or escape with THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE.  Brace yourselves:  I’ve never seen “Star Wars.”  But today one of my favorite writers and friends, the super-smart and lovely Averil Dean, posted the bucket list question on her blog and I answered.  And I was surprised by a few of my own answers.  Here’s what was on my Bucket List as of 3 pm on an Easter Sunday:

1. Live in a house in the country, with a front porch swing, close to my children.

2. Write a book that changes the way we think about, and talk about, stepfamilies.

3. Go on safari.

4. Meet my German relatives, and find out who my family was in the early 20th century.

5. Spend a year traveling the U.S. in an RV, with our dogs.

6. Learn how to live without regret or denial.

I have no idea where the German-relatives-answer came from.  Had never thought about the regret/denial thing.  But there they are.  In ink.


What’s the most surprising thing on your (bucket) list?


Maybe it’s the fresh air of spring, but I’ve been reading so many memoirs — which I’ve loved! — that I’m craving a big, fat epic.

Today I pulled these off my shelves:








But I’m open to anything.

Help!  Tell me about your favorite epic and why I should read it.

I’m Working

1904147_1481389815416550_916882486_nThe other day a dear friend was on the road alone for hours, driving from Kansas to Arkansas, when she called.  It was 10:30 am.  I’ve gotten into the habit of not answering my phone when I’m writing, but I made an exception.  Why was she calling in the middle of the day?  Maybe something was wrong.

When she asked what I was doing, I said, “I’m working.”

This took her aback.  “Whoa.  What?”

“Working.  You know, writing.”

“Oh,” she said, laughing.  “You scared me there for a minute.  I thought you got a job!”

Which reminded me that the only person I say the words “I’m working” to is my husband.  Every morning, we ask each other what do you have going on today?  and I’m always very clear.  “I’m walking the old dogs, running with JoJo, and then I’m working,” I might say.

He never laughs.

I rarely, if ever, say those words to anyone else.

My neighbors know when I’m writing because they see the lights on at the strangest hours, and they might spot me in the yard picking up dog-poo at 2 pm … in my robe … and say over the fence, “Are you writing?  How’s it going?”  (love them)  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a realist.  I’m well aware that I’m not catching the train at six or chairing meetings or bringing home a check that pays my mortgage (thank you, husband, with a job) but if I don’t take this seriously and call it work and get it done, who will?

For the last few weeks, I’ve said the words I’m working on a regular basis.  Every day.  And guess what?  I’m working more.  I’m even working on Saturdays and Sundays, and often at 5 am.  Maybe it’s like boys who pee in a circle to mark their territory.  By saying the words out loud I’m carving out my space — uninterruptible time — when I go to my “office” and shut the door.

I forget who said, There is no writers block, there is just not writing.  It’s not the internet or social media or email or other distractions that are keeping me from carving out my space.  It’s just me, not taking it seriously enough to call it work.  It’s just me, not writing.


christinas-world-c1948Growing up in my family, the biggest insult by far was:  What are you?  A crybaby?

I spent last week organizing my head around a possible story, jotting notes and possible scenes on long yellow paper and tiny torn white scraps, thinking about a structure, the questions that need answering, trying to find the story in the situation.  If there was a story.  I spent this weekend, from 5 am both days, splicing it all together, digging a story out of the scraps.  And since I had writing group today, I spent this morning reading it out loud to myself, to see if it made a lick of sense.

And then I cried.  Whoa.  Where in the hell did that come from?

I kept reading.  Got control of myself.  What are you?  A crybaby?

And then I went to my writing group and, in a room of all men except for me, I read my story — for their critique — and could hardly finish.  Three pages from the end my hands stared shaking and I had to lay the papers on my lap for control; two pages and my voice started shaking, the words gone blurry, choked; the last, long paragraph was — and I am not even remotely exaggerating here — barely audible.



When was the last time you wrote something — or read something — that made you cry?






The New

A one-inch sculpture of 3-legged Lucy.  Thanks, Lyra.

A one-inch sculpture of 3-legged Lucy. Thanks, Lyra.

I started a new essay today.  It has nothing to do with my manuscript; nothing to do with mothers or grandmothers or daughters or families; nothing to do with being in college when you’re too old to be in college; nothing to do with …………. well, I was going to say “nothing to do with death,” but you all know me better than that, right?


I started a new essay today.  The first lines showed up about a month ago, and they keep building, looking for a structure and an arc.  As much as I hate the word “arc” because nothing, not a single fucking thing in real life, happens in an perfectly shaped arc.  Why do arcs always remind me of bell-curve grading scales?

I started a new essay today because I need a break from writing about what I’m writing about in my book.  I need a fresh look at looking.

I started a new essay today, an essay I do not, under any circumstances, want to write.  It’s about what happened before and during and after I received a letter in the mail, a long letter from a stranger with a photograph of bruises and no return address.

I even have a non-negotiable title.


What are you working on these days, and how goes it?


Pistons and Palominos

tumblr_ldp0t4j1mP1qf7ojvo1_500Sometimes when you’re slogging through writing a book you refer to simply as The Fucker, the best thing you can do to get your creative pistons firing again is to talk about anything else.  Case in point:  I give you a brief list of what we’ve discussed, in addition to “writing,” at my last 2 writers group meetings.

The Tesla is the most aesthetically pleasing car on the market, but it’s too long and would be tough to parallel park.  If you’re going to Greece, you should forget Athens and spend time in Santorini.  The benefits of tantric sex and our states of consciousness, or lack thereof.  Dogs were first domesticated during the onset of our agricultural period by following humans home.  Yoga can hurt your neck.  Being charming is the #1 requisite for being a U.S. President.  All of the presidential personalities back to Eisenhower.  Can foxes be domesticated, or merely tamed?  The most fascinating thing to see is an elephant using his trunk; the end of the trunk can do far more than the human hand.

And … horses can love, which led someone to quote this poem:

BY James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.


What do you talk about in groups that you’re not supposed to talk about?

Last Call



I was so amped about getting home last Thursday night that I floored my Kia rental car for the 2 hour drive south from St. Louis, having to pee for at least 70 miles but unwilling to pull off the road.  I didn’t even stop for my customary, just-arrived-back-home, Lion’s Choice roast beef-extra-rare-double-cheese.  I had to get home.

Before dinner, I met 3 friends at the St. Augustine cemetery — with a bottle of champagne and real glasses — to toast our friend, Chris.  It is beyond surreal to sink into the still-soft mud over the coffin of a friend your own age.  Of someone you adore.  Adored.  His name, birth date, and death date stamped on an index card and stuck in the earth like a placeholder.

Six weeks ago, 7 old friends started planning a fundraiser to help pay for the college expenses of Chris’s children.  We spent all of Friday setting up the hall while we gave each other shit going all the way back to the 6th grade and monkey bars.  We talked about Chris and avoided talking about Chris.  We laughed.  A lot.  Hugs were had.  Cold beers went down.  And because once we’re together we can’t not-be-together, we migrated from the hall straight to Shawn’s basement bar for pizza and and cocktails.  Vodka and soda with fresh limes and, unfortunately, hard-to-stab olives.  Chris’s abandoned license plate (low left) on the wall behind the mess we left.


On the night of the fundraiser, 250 of us came together.  Chris’s adorable, 80 yr old mother was the first to arrive and the last to leave, and she danced with her son’s beer-swilling, sometimes-in-tears, often-too-loud, crazy friends until after midnight while we sang AC/DC and Pat Benetar songs and watched the photo montage of Chris’s life splay light across one dark wall.

A few of us said our last goodbyes on Sunday morning.  Coffee at Starbucks.  Time to leave you all.  Time get on the road.  I drove in what felt like slow motion for the 2 hours back to the airport, and realized it was the first time I’d been alone for 4 days.  I stopped at Lion’s Choice for my roast-beef-extra-rare-double-cheese, thinking that might help, but I’d stopped out of my usual order of things and it didn’t feel right.  I wasn’t ready to be on my way away again.  Like, as my friend Penny says, I didn’t get my visit out.  Like the lights came on way too soon for Last Call.

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