Winter Discipline

Red beans and rice, with a little diced ham and Cajun seasoning, makes a cool winter day bearable. It's that time of year when I have to force one foot in front of the other. So much easier to curl up in bed with my laptop and scribble the day away. But it's also the holiday season, and there are early presents to buy and friends-from-afar to mail to.

I dream of blazing dessert suns or a cruise on tropical waters. And I live in Florida. Snap out of it! i say to myself. You have to enjoy the slow-down time and take comfort in what you will. A cup of hot tea, the chance to make a friend smile. A story idea that engages your mind for blissful moments.
Discipline–as hard at 60 as at 16.

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Summer Highlights

It's no wonder I feel shell-shocked. Look at where I've been this summer:

In May, the Jane's Stories retreat in Asheville, was followed swiftly by….

the Writing Below Sea Level St. Augustine Conference, where I worked with twelve astoundingly talented writers under the supervision of Dorothy Allison, who did some of the most surgical, brilliant, kind workshop leading I have ever seen. Then…

my brother visited with his two wired (and wiry) Jack Russells. This is Brady enjoying his perch on the top of my couch. Did I mention….

that I had a 60-page manuscript due for the novel-writing seminar led by the incomparably compassionate, wise, and stringently demanding Connie May Fowler? Well,…

after that I needed a diversion, so I went to the Long Island wedding of my dear niece, Alexandra, met her charming groom and his fascinating family from Montreal and visited with her passionately loving ya-ya, Mary, and then my husband, son and I…

toured New York City–double decker bus and MOMA and watching the matrons, I-pod-popping teens, and business people on the Long Island Rail Road (of Monopoly fame). Had a tour guide who really cared about and expounded on the architecture….

and the art was fabulous. Jackson Pollock and I finally bonded. Interesting that you can recognize the brilliance of another brain, but not really get into its rhythms enough to empathize, until a new experience jolts you into the breach. That was my experience with seeing enough Pollocks together, including his early work, to understand the trajectory he was traveling. Just three weeks later….

I was in D.C. to wave at the pink-and-green clad Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters as they marched from the White House to the Capitol to celebrate their 100th anniversary. (That's me in the tan jacket, waving.) Imagine a sorority founded to combat lynching and infant mortality and still going strong all these years later, making change in the world…

and also making change was the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Every woman and every man who loves women in this country should immediately send them $10 of your hardest-earned money, because what they show us is that Lee Krasner and Elaine De Kooning were just as talented as the men who eclipsed them (to the men who were writing the reviews) and that it is imperative if we ever want equality to save these roots from our past for the young people to graft onto and pull all of us up. Sadly, I have not one photograph from there, but I can give you the link:  National Museum of Women in the Arts

And did I mention that this past month I celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary with
the man who took me to Paris a few years ago (This photo is from the top floor of the Louvre looking across the Tuileries Garden to the Eiffel Tower) and also…

loves my dog? Is it possible to be too drunk on love and travel and sheer joy to concentrate? To be thrown wide by luck and adventure, so that the mind does not narrow to the specifics of creating? Excuse me, while I lock myself in my room to write.

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High blue summer

High blue summer. A tiger-striped butterfly samples the grass where the mower has just been. Even my beagle is drunk on the resin scent of pine. On such a day, how can we concentrate on the world's racing pulse? Time to slow and ponder, meander and listen to the stars.

Oh, those deadlines!

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Learning to write––again!

I'm convinced that knowing and doing are two separate things, all the more so since attending Connie May Fowler's wonderful Below Sea Level conference in St. Augustine last week. The company was excellent––what a top notch group of writers. I think Iearned something from every single person there. We chose buddies who started off the critique of our work and saw that we didn't freak out too much from the experience, then kept in touch with us. That system worked very well and is missing from many conferences, I think. Have you ever been to a writing conference where you didn't know anyone at first and felt very isolated outside of sessions, when you were mulling over what was said? Then you'll know what I mean.

And the critique sessions were the best I've ever been to, including some of our Jane's Stories critiques, which, I think, are generally very fine. What was better about the BSL sessions is that one and a half hours were spent on each piece, which is a luxury one rarely gets at this level. This will affect how we do things at JSPF in the future, I hope.

My workshop leader was Dorothy Allison, and she walks on water as far as I'm concerned. (I'm in a novel-writing seminar with Connie May Fowler, so I opted to seek out Dorothy's session for variety, but I would happily follow Connie May anywhere, as well.) Dorothy is so superb at structural analysis that she synopsized the trajectory of my story and how I had structured it to achieve its mission in two sentences better than I could have done myself. She did something similar with each work, after encouraging the group to give their opinions. Better than that, she is a fine human being who knows how to pull out the guts of a writer for analysis without agony, and put them back in a little better organized. I was impressed by her deep compassion that is totally without bullshit.

And then there were the talks with literary agent Joy Harris, Wordsmith organizer and literary analyst Kate Sullivan, and Ploughshares editor Laura van den Berg. Excellent, informative lunchtime sessions with each of these kept us focused on our goals.

Lastly, we had nightly readings that let us meet writers in the other workshop leader's group, and also allowed us to let down our hair a little by reading our coolest, most moving, and experimental work. The readings really ranged widely and so were very stimulating, sometimes tearful, and often funny beyond side-splitting.

I heartily recommend this conference to everyone. Check the next offering out at

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