Saturday, December 31, 2005

Report from Vermont

Quotes from lectures

Nance Van Winkle: “A novel needs a big engine.”
“Don’t waste creative energy on something that is not giving back.” (referring to the process by which one decides to abandon a novel attempt
“You gotta have the joy!”

Xu Xi says every novel must have a polemic, but a must also tell a story. Must be a balance so the polemic does not overwhelm the story.

Phyllis Barber, quoting Adam Sexton (I think) in a lecture on pov/narration: “Once you’ve found the voice, you’re half-way there.”

On other fronts:

I spent the night 12/28 with Annie, Michael and Sam, perhaps the most congenial family I know outside of the McJiltons. Annie Lighthart is a poet, also back from leave after having a baby, also in her fourth semester. Slept like a rock all three nights so far.

Am currently skipping a lecture (which is actually recommended – if I went to all of them I would burn right on out). Have met a few people, very talented people here. Student readings last night – 12 people writing in such distinct voices, all quite accomplished. I’m glad they let me in.

Enjoyed workshop. Abby Frucht, one of the leaders, freaked me out – in the sense of showing me where the next hurdle is. She talked about being conscious about the choices you make in writing, at some point in the revision process. I am so unconscious, and I have this idea that stories should come as an oeuvre, full-formed, adult and alive and all I have to do is be the channel. Abby is talking about one heck of a lot of hard work.

I made conscious decisions about the shape of my story Amber Vitae, for the first time, and it may be my best story to date.

Am terrible lonesome for my family. I want to get everything I can out of the residency, to make their sacrifice count for something. I mean, if I am asking them to go through all this trouble I ought at least to get something out of it. Larry uploaded some pictures of his and the kids’ activities yesterday. Awwww…. What a great guy I married.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Leaving on a jet plane

--- but I do know when I'll be back again.

I'm off to Vermont College for my penultimate intensive residency on the road to my long put-off MFA in Creative Writing.

For ten days, I will sleep by myself, every night. If there is too much noise and commotion, I can choose either to join in or go to bed. It will be entirely at my option. I will converse with adults for hours on end about things that matter to me. People will comment on my writing. Some of them will have something useful to say.

There's a lot of debate in the literary community about the value of MFA programs. My favorite comment on the subject comes from Flannery O'Connor, who reportedly replied when asked if MFA programs discourage young writers: "Not enough."

But getting to be with other people obsessed with this quixotic practice, and sleeping without little kids kicking me or wanting milk or etc. etc. tips the scales for me.

Yes, I will miss my husband and my kids. Paul especially may have a hard time with our separation, and I always worry that any emotional difficulty will land them on a professional's couch where they will stay well into their 40's. On the other hand, there is some danger that the kids will want me to go away again after they see how much fun Daddy can be. Daddy plans to set up the tent in the living room, take them to McDonald's, and maybe the Carousel -- and that's on day one.

We all get a chance to do a public reading, and I plan to read something from my collection of coyote stories. In Native American mythology, the coyote is the trickster and there is usually a moral associated with the coyote stories.

My coyote stories refer to an expression used when you drink too much and wake up with your arm underneath the sleeping form of someone so ugly, you would rather chew your arm off, like a coyote in a trap, than wake that person up. There's an element of the trickster in them, too. I'm having a great time writing these stories when I have the time.

Have a happy, safe and sane enough New Year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Winter Solstice

The days are now officially getting longer -- even if the difference is imperceptible, it's quite important up here in the northern climes! And Merry Christmas, too!

Monday, December 19, 2005


Spent some time with women friends this Saturday hanging out and dishing re: in-laws, past indiscretions, pet peeves, etc. It meant enough to all of us that we carved time to go, among/despite/because of the holidays, kid commitments, and visiting relatives. I appreciate those women taking the time, and of course, we had an absolute blast. The interesting thing for me is how much we have in common, in ways that are not apparent from casual connections. I feel fortunate to have friends, and got to pondering what I think makes a good friend.

Axl Rose melted my heart on MTV in 1990 when he lifted up his shirt and showed his nipple rings, saying "Any woman wants to be with me should look at these and know I can take a lot of pain, baby." Or something like that. So his criterion for a girlfriend was the ability to psychically infer from his piercings that he could take (and presumably inflict) a lot of pain. Hang on, I'm getting to the point, really I am.

The point is, we are all sending signals to others. I don't have any piercings to send messages, but I do gravitate to people with certain qualities. It's not conscious, and it's not external. (I once got assigned to work with a woman I pegged (unfairly) as a fluffhead because of her spike heels, big hair, and 6 inch fingernails. I'm sure she pegged me as a policy wonk/fruitcake, too. Within a short time, we were laughing our guts out together.)

So here are the things I think make a good friend, after pondering this a relatively short time: intelligent; tolerant (because I can be intense, strange, hyperapologetic, crabby, etc.); civic-minded; focused on outcomes rather than process but not blind to the necessity of process; honest; a champion of the underdog; loving and kind to old people, children, and people in need; fun; non-judgmental; and creative. I particularly like people with ribald personal stories. The aforementioned qualities are not in any kind of order, btw.

To all of my friends, thank you for being in my life.

So, what qualities do you think make a good friend? I figured out how to allow anonymous posts, so go for it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Void

There's a book, the name of which escapes me, that likens ineffectual efforts to "standing at the edge of the pit of hell and throwing in snowballs." I like that.

I've dropped several snowballs into the void in the last several months.

  • Submission snowballs -- I've gotten one (1!) response out of 20 subs since September. (It was an acceptance, happily.) As for the others, I've gotten nothing -- no "go away, you suck," no "we're not publishing anymore," nada.
  • Editing snowballs, little patches and fixes I'm making on my novel which serve the purpose of highlighting more inanity, drivel, and nonsense within the group of words I'm calling a novel. I've said and honestly believed, every time I've said it, that the thing is 75% done. Ha, ha, ha.

Can you tell I'm in one of my "I suck" periods? I do this from time to time, where I sit down and write only because I'm contrary and I'm not going to listen to anyone tell me I can't write, even if it's me.

Went to visit some relatives last Friday. Mother-in-law: "How's the writing going?" Me: "I think I suck, ha ha." 19-yo nephew: "Well, good luck with it." Me: (trying to be ironic): "Thank you." 19-yo nephew, in all sincerity: "You're welcome."

He's a good kid -- full of brio, intelligent, sincere. And he may have just been paying me back for my comments about his numerous piercings -- including his nipple piercing --- eeewwww. Some things an auntie just does not want to think about.

BTGOG, I have not had writer's block. I'm pumping out the prose, and I've got the purple fingers to prove it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Here's Lorelai! Proud parents are Jaime and Eric E. She molded her little body right into my arms and I fell in love. And I'm not just gushing because I obviously like babies. This little girl has the air of someone special about her.

In the warmer: Nanci and Ian's little girl, due April 2006. Congrats to all!!!!!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Thanksgiving photo

Spent it at my sister's new home, which she and her husband finished building this summer. She hosted both sides of her family. We all fit, even after the meal. Lots to be grateful for, eh? Here's Jennifer and cousin Tammy behind her. Jenn's had that million-dollar smile since she was two months old. Tam's shirt says "Groupie looking for a farm boy."

Daisy the coprophage

Time to introduce Daisy, our 5 mo bichon puppy. She needs a good grooming, but until her parvo shots take hold we have to do it ourselves. Can't have her around adult dogs until then. I wanted to post a pic of her in her new coat, a faux fur white and shiny purple affair with a pink rhinestone B for Bauer, but I missed my chance. And for those of you chortling derisively at me for putting a coat on a dog, screw you. The temp sunk to the single digits, and the snow is up to her muzzle. O picked the coat, and how could I say no?

The first great irony is this sweet, delicate, cossetted little thing snarfs down every piece of shit she can sniff out.

The second is that we chose her breed because they have very little dander and I'm allergic to dogs. That's all worked out okay, but my "hypo-allergenic" dog has severe reactions to most foods. So we buy her prescription dog food and make strong efforts to keep her from eating anything else.

I had this idea that, though it would take some work to train her, one trade-off would be that she would keep the floor around Paul's high chair a little cleaner. I guess she is indirectly keeping it cleaner, because I have to get to the mess right when it happens.

I have always had rescue dogs before this, and they've all been trained - to varying degrees.

What's that on my kid's face?
Santa and his sleigh, courtesy of the face painting booth at the Intermountain Children's Home Festival of Trees. Intermountain helps children heal from attachment disorder, and other problems typically caused by abuse or neglect. The Festival of Trees gala raises money for ICH. We go every year and it's a blast. Paul couldn't peel him little self away from the bouncy house long enough to get his face painted, and was napping when I snapped the photo.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Keep me away from the DSM - IV

That's the manual the shrinks use to diagnose mental illness. I am currently manifesting the symptoms of several major illnesses due to this novel I have been working on for the last almost three years and I am way prone to self-diagnosis. (Keep me away from those magazine quizzes, too. You know the ones -- "Could you be ready to drop dead and not even know it?") I always end up thinking I have something bad.

Novel writing stirs my insecurities so that the dreck comes up from the bottom and gunks up my brain. Head: "I can't do this. I can't believe I even thought I could do this. Look at all the problems I have to fix before I can even show this to anyone."

Then if it goes well, as it has once or twice in the last two weeks, it's "What should I wear on Leno?" or "How quickly does Graywolf respond to queries?"

Is that called emotional lability?

John Gardner says in On Becoming a Novelist you have to be somewhat nuts to be a writer and he lists out the qualities of not insanity, but dare I paraphrase, of lesser sanity necessary for success. I sure hope this is true. It would be nice to get something good out of being as weird as I feel sometimes.

I'm at 164 pages and counting. I need to straighten out some serious fact problems (like it's set in the '80s but at the end of the book the protag sends e-mail -- duh!), write in some important stuff I left out, re-work a bunch of scenes, write some entirely new scenes, and then, maybe, I'll put it up in a Zoe office.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A moment of silence, please

for my neighbor, Polly Holmes. Polly was one of those women I want to be like when I grow up and our whole family mourns her. This seems so sudden -- I just saw her Wednesday. Looks like she's going to be with her husband for the holidays. He was also a person of conscience, compassion and loving action, and he died a few months ago. Thank you for your life, Polly.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Gratitude List

Sometimes when all I can see is what I don't have, I write a gratitude list -- a list of things for which I am grateful. It seems apropos to do it now, given the season. Here's mine -- what's yours?

I'm grateful for:

moments like the above -- fishing, watching wildlife, picking huckleberries, spending time with family;
the things I no longer have to do;
not living in a war zone, either figuratively or literally;
my husband, who treats me better than I treat him, makes me laugh, loves me and our kids, works hard, is handsome, (I could go on but don't want to make anyone nauseous);
my kids, creative, loving, healthy smart, good-looking little blue-eyed ankle biters;
The Montana State Fair, where we go every year for three days of cornball fun (carnival, rides, fair, 4-H contests, vegetable races, etc.);
the gift (curse? obsession?) of writing;
living where I live, within three hours driving distance to all our extended family members save one, as well as being close to the Rocky Mountain Front, and other relatively undisturbed wildlands;
that my father no longer suffers;

I'll add to this over the next few days. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2005

They never outgrow that

Yesterday the oven conked out. The part costs $170. I said, "Let's go buy a new stove." My husband said "I'm going to call my brother." Brother Donny designs power stations, he ought to know about electrical circuits on stoves, right?

Donny says, "We're in the car on our way somewhere, but we'll stop by and check it out." (He and his wife are really generous people like that. Thank, you D and K.) I come out of the office to previously folded laundry scattered all over and a host of other homey decorating touches, a la Paul.

Larry and I tear around hiding, stuffing, wiping and vaccuuming for the ten minutes it takes for Don and Kath to get here. They also have with them Kath's sister, brother-in-law and a friend, all up visiting from California on a hunting trip.

We split by gender, the men gathered in the kitchen doing voo-doo on the stove, the women chit-chatting. Paul comes out of the kitchen crying. Did I mention Larry and I are known as the family "granolas?" We do things differently, like vote liberal, shop at REI, etc. So D and K think of us as slightly nutty, in a loving way, and I don't know these other people at all. Paul wants Mommy comfort. I try to head him off. I pick him up and put him over my shoulder. Nothing doing. He wants to nurse. I offer him a bite of chicken. He starts pressing his open palms on my breasts and sliding them around, trying to pull up my shirt, and shouting "booby, booby, booby, booby." I'm thinking there is no doubt now that everyone knows I nurse an almost 2-year-old child.

Now the men have finished in the kitchen and everyone is watching. One of them says "We never outgrow that."


Kath looks great. She's halfway through chemo and already getting some of her zip back.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Lit Mag Review

Check out lit mag review, specifically, Wicked Alice. Something about tattoos.....

BTW, who's got a tat? What? Where? How long have you had it? Would you do it again? I have the yin/yang symbol on my shoulder; since I was 13; I would NOT do it again. Lesson for living: If you must get a tattoo, make sure your "artist" has not consumed a gallon of Thunderbird prior to marking you for life.

And finally, a great quote overheard from some TV show: "I am one tattoo away from being the woman of your dreams."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Poet kids

So Theresa Boyar and I did a little poetry workshop at our kids' school today, with two groups of kids, one grades 1-2 and the other 4-5. What I didn't know going in was that attendance was voluntary, so of course when I found that out, I immediately thought nobody was going to come.

We filled the tables in both sessions. Theresa sparked the kids with a great exercise. She was really open and warm with the kids and they responded with some fun/amazing/unselfconscious poetry.

I had so much fun I would do it every day of the week if they would let me. Thank you thank you thank you to the school librarian for inviting us! Librarians are now and have always been (except the one at Central School in the 70's -- sound the sturm und drung) some of my favorite people.

One kid said we should publish our books with Harper Collins because her dad works there and she could get them for free. In my dreams!

Monday, November 14, 2005


I found seven cents -- one shiny nickel and two shiny pennies -- in the back of Paul's diaper. And he was wearing a onesie. (?!) His sister denies involvement.

Speaking of O, she gets a Care Bear Book of the Month in the mail. This month it was all about sharing. She wouldn't let her brother even touch the book. And in the back of the book, it has questions to ask to get your kid thinking about sharing.
Q 1: Have you ever shared with someone?
O: Yes.
Q2: How did that make you feel?
O: Bad, because I wanted my toy back.

I couldn't even fake a stern look, in fact, I burst out laughing. Five-year-olds are such fun.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Do you HAVE to be crazy?

Being a marginally crazy (depending on the day) person, a writer, and a person who tends to really, really enjoy the company of the other crazy persons, I am interested in the question "Do you HAVE to be crazy to be a writer, or does it just help?"

Here's a list from my master's thesis (yes, I got credit for something this inane). Of the people on the list, who are your favorites? Who would you add to this list, and why?

Excerpt follows:
" The world at large, it seems, regards self-destruction of one variety or another as endemic, and possibly necessary, to the profession of writing. Drunken escapades, madness and suicide are almost cliche, expected. An incomplete list of writers who self-destructed in one way or the other reads like a Who's Who list[1]: Conrad Aiken, Sherwood Anderson, John Berryman, Maxwell Bodenheim, Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Hart Crane, Stephen Crane, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, O. Henry, Caroline Gordon, Shirley Jackson, Denis Johnson, Anna Kavan, Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, Robert Lowell, Malcolm Lowry, Grace Metalious, Herman Melville, Joaquin Miller, John O'Hara, Eugene O'Neill, Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Theodore Roethke, Adela Rogers St. John, Delmore Schwartz, Anne Sexton, Jean Stafford, George Sterling, Allen Tate, Dylan Thomas, Edmund Wilson and Virginia Woolf.[2] Many more could be added.
Some scientific studies bear out the anecdotal evidence. The first long-term clinical study of this question, released in 1987 by Dr. Nancy Andreasen at the University of Iowa[3], found 80% of the small sample of writers (30 writers over the course of 15 years) suffered from an affective disorder at some point in their lives and 30% had alcoholism. The study reports “Most writers reported that they tended to write during these normal periods rather than during highs or lows.” "

(The thesis concludes that one can behave sanely and write well, but I won't inflict the whole thing on you. And I just gotta believe that you gotta keep some bad habits or you'll be too boring enough to put yourself to sleep.)

[1] Many of the names on this list came from Ann Waldron's article in the Washington Post "Writers and Alcohol", March 14, 1989, pp. 13-15.
[2] This list is not separated by the writer's individual diagnosis, as making that distinction is sometimes difficult for even a trained psychiatrist and regardless, is outside the scope of this paper. Some authors treated depression with substance abuse, others committed suicide, others acted like common drunkards. All these writers engaged in seriously self-destructive behavior.
[3] Dr. Nancy Andreason; Creativity and Mental Illness: Prevalence Rates in Writers and Their First-Degree Relatives; American Journal of Psychiatry, October 1987, pages 1288 - 1292

Now, on to that nested short story novel I'm supposedly working on.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Jennifer's wig came in and she got it fitted today. She looks better than she has in a long time, and the glow's not all coming from the outside. The wig and the lipstick and getting to get out of the house for something other than to be poked, scanned or asked to pee, it all did something important for her. Joe put on the lipstick. (She said he did it because "He's a fancy kind of a guy." She wasn't being intentionally ironic.) I teared up when I saw her. I tell you, I love that guy.

The visit to the doctor pissed her off. (It wasn't his demeanor or his ignorance -- this one seems to have a clue -- it's just the news wasn't what she would have liked.) I think it's about time she got pissed off. A healthy dose of anger will give her permission to not be so passive, so when the doctors say to do this or that, she might say "why?" and "what are the alternatives?"

Jennifer is kind and thoughtful in the extreme. I could use a bit more of her, and in this one case, I think she could use a bit more of me. (There's a great book, "Getting in Touch with Your Inner Bitch." Not that I needed help with that. It did make me feel better about myself. Now I need a book called "Getting In Touch with Your Inner Adult" or "....Your Inner Nice Person.")

The dog's on a special diet. It's forcing me to clean my house to get rid of the stashes of crackers and such. It's everywhere, with the kids hauling stuff around all the time. Underneath the couch cushions, in the toy box, etc. One way or another I guess the house will get clean. Maybe.

Tonight's the Art Walk. Richard Layne has some photos at Montana Book Company, and Susan Clark has some fine art on display somewhere. (Don't have the program yet, but will be sure to check it out.) Both are quite talented.

Shawn is DJing tonight at the Cube and Justin's band Sharktopus follows. He's playing synthesizer. Five bands for five bucks. Such a deal.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Morning Start

So this morning we discovered an intractable piece of glass embedded in Olivia's foot. (It's been there a while, apparently.) After ten minutes of Larry digging while I hugged her, we didn't get it out. We're geared up for a second attempt this afternoon after kindergarten. Poor thing. She milked the sympathy thing, though, and got not one but two pieces of chocolate out of the deal -- before breakfast. There's got to be some kind of bad mother police coming to my house soon with a citation for deleterious parenting and notice to answer charges in front of a jury of my peers. Then Paul wants some, of course. "Choc? More?"

(Notice his facility with simple sentences? His first was "Tickle don't." Yes, I'm obnoxiously proud.) At left is a more updated photo than in the last post.

Jennifer (20-y-o niece) heads up to Great Falls today to see a neurosurgeon, the one who diagnosed her. I can't get her off my mind this morning. I'd really like to go with her and my sister, but I don't have anyone to watch the kids, and their noise and activity level can be a bit much. Jenn has Neurofibromatosis Type 2. She's had two brain surgeries, one spinal surgery, and one round of whole-brain radiation. She's having a hell of a time with exhaustion, dizziness, vertigo, and a host of other fun stuff. This doctor hasn't actually treated her, but she's going to see him so she can have someone more local than the admittedly wonderful people in Salt Lake City. If he and the local neuro could handle half of her needs, it would save her a lot of travel. If you need serious medical care in Montana, you mostly go out of state. (Here's a wierd trivia fact: a high number of the Montana patients seeking treatment in SLC are self-immolators.)

On the good news front, she had me take her to the chi-chi hair salon here in town to order a wig. I have to say I fell in instant like with the co-owner, Joe Hrella. We sat, he got her tea, made sure she liked it and it was the right temperature, answered her questions and visited with her like an old friend. He talked to her, not to me -- for which I am so grateful -- some people aren't comfortable talking to someone obviously ill so they talk to her mother or me or whoever is with her. The wig will be here Monday, and if she's up to it we'll go get it fitted.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


I hereby give up my designation as one of the few writers I know without a blog. I maintain my status as one of the few mothers I know without a cell phone. All I'm going to do here is practice writing, rant, and link to my friends' good work. Oh, and brag about my kids.

I just finished up two writing classes I taught through the local Adult Education. What a blast! Some of the students want to continue in January. I'm hooked. We all learned a lot, and in one case, it saved a story I was writing. I had two ideas juggling around in the back of my head, one was that the story lacked something important and the other that I had to prepare a reasonably comprehensible discussion on plot. And the heavens opened up and God shined a light on my ignorance: "Your story has NO PLOT."

In my classification of stories, a "Holy Shit!" story (so named because it renders superlatives meaningless) ranks behind 1. "God" and 2. "I wish I hadn't read this story because you've shown me I'll never ever write this well and I'm going to bed for a week starting now." One of my students wrote an HS. So do I have much to teach that person? Not really, but I can encourage, challenge, point someone in a direction. And there's value in that.

Next Tuesday Theresa Boyar and I are going to lead our little kids and their schoolmates in a poetry exercise. It's National Library Week! Theresa has done this before and as such, represents 100% of the qualified members of our team. I'll be the enthusiastic incompetent.