Pumpkin: On Writing Fiction

For the last few years, I’ve been slowly moving my writing from short-form personal essay to fiction. I’ve had a little success here and there, with short stories that show up in journals such as Apeiron Review, Saint Katherine Review and Ruminate Magazine, among others. It’s a great feeling to see a piece arrive in my mailbox.

It’s equally great to see it show up on my computer screen in online journals such as The Flash Fiction Press! They published one of my flash pieces last year, called “Dropping Tumblers” and  I’m pleased to say I’ve got another one there now.

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I’ve been playing around with “dialogue only” pieces the last couple of months and Pumpkin is one of these experimental flash stories. I hope you’ll take a look and let me know how you like it.

Keep in mind, I have a little yippy dog myself and I love him like the furry son he is, so, remember this piece is FICTION! 😉

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On Living and Dying and Making a Difference

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“I think I’m dying,” I said, and I coughed weakly. My children gathered around me, stroking my head and handing me small squares of toilet paper instead of Kleenex. My oldest got me a glass of water as I propped myself on some pillows. I tried to watch another season of Hell’s Kitchen but it made me hungry and being hungry made me feel nauseated. This sickness is not consumption, though that would be a far more literary way to write about my sick bed. This sickness is just a nasty head cold, a head cold I developed because my children are in grade school, and I just cannot help but hug and kiss them even when they are sick, which is always, because they are in grade school.

All that day I camped out in bed, and I read the stack of magazines I keep on my nightstand. I collect literary journals like some kids collect bottle caps. I line them up on the shelf under my nightstand. I stack them under the bed. I pile them on the coffee table. When the magazines arrive I read them while sitting on the couch, feet up, absent to everything else. On this day, I am reading Ruminate Magazine, one of my favorite journals. It is one of my favorites because of the beautiful work inside, the feel of the thick paper between my fingers, the splash of color of the artwork every few pages.

I might never have subscribed to Ruminate had I not met the editor, Brianna Vandyke at a writer’s conference in Michigan many years ago. I met her while walking through the “vendor” room. She was positioned behind the Ruminate table, smiling. I browsed the sample magazines on the table. They were a young outfit back then, just getting started. I had heard of them through a few other writers, and I had submitted to one of their writing contests. When Brianna saw my nametag, she said, “I know your name! I’ve been wanting to meet you!” and then she came out from behind the table and hugged me. At that point in my writing career, no one knew my name. I had no publishing credits to speak of and in fact, I was still unsure of whether I could truly say out loud that I was a writer.

I subscribed that day. And it was in that generous greeting, that moment of recognition and that small, well-loved journal that I began to form some solid understanding of what it means to create something beautiful. It’s something I still value to this day. Truly, I’m grateful for the work of Ruminate.

Because you might never have come across Ruminate before this post, I’d like to tell you that you also might never realize that they are in a funding crisis. Years of working on this magazine for no monetary compensation have taken its toll on the creators, and they are faced with closing their doors. This post is just to say that it will most likely not cut into your Hell’s Kitchen viewing. It will not keep you from your important engagements. If you have not heard about the magazine, the closing of Ruminate will not affect your daily living so far as you know.

What you don’t know is that the effect of this magazine on creative and talented folks is immense. Letting this magazine fall into the waters and not surface again is a loss that is felt at the deepest levels by people who read and imbibe the words there like vitamins, like minerals, like meat. These words sustain us, they bolster us, they fuel us well and whether you realize it or not, the loss makes us all weaker. The loss of good creative work, deep and beautiful work, wears on our communal immune system. We need Ruminate Magazine because we’re weary and worn down and words matter, art matters.

Will you help? You have a couple of days yet to lend a hand to help pull this powerful force from the water. Subscribe today, give a subscription or just toss some coin in this direction instead of a couple of pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Be a part of something foundational and good where art is concerned. Your small contribution makes a difference, I promise.

And listen, if you’ve never subscribed to a literary journal before, consider this your opportunity. Even Gordon Ramsey would agree that work like this needs your support.

Let’s do this thing.

 

For the love of guns and flooding

The typical thing would be to say, “I’m not looking for a debate” when posting about a touchy subject. The reason we’d state that is because we just want to speak our minds without being challenged. We want to believe what we already believe and nothing more, nothing less. It’s our right, I suppose, to our opinion where things like this are concerned.

The river is flooding the town here.

I look at this flooding, around the issue of mass shootings, gun violence in general and the specter of “gun control” in this country and I think, This is the river and the river is flooding the town.

We are drowning, one by one. The fields are marshy. The cars cannot move. The water has risen to the point where we forget where it ends and where we begin. The water is cold, but we’ve been in it so long that we have forgotten the cold. It’s tempting, perhaps, to speculate that it is the water that’s warmed to our skin, rather than to recognize the truth of it. We’re losing touch. Our skin is numb. We cannot feel our feet or hands. Extremities have no more information to give us.

We cannot leave it all to the civil engineers. This is our town, after all. It’s important for us to keep moving, to support the work of the people who are meant to help us understand what’s happening. When they look at the river, we want to know that they see the river bed, the water, the boundaries, the tributaries, the ocean that feeds it. We want to be sure they see the weather patterns, the global implications, the wheat fields and strip mining. We want to support the clean-up efforts, the burial rites, the grief process, the replanting along the riverbank.

We are drowning here.

Come up to the high ground. It’s a sacrifice to leave the trenches dug out to protect long-held beliefs, property, fears that have been inlaid since we were young, injured, fortified. It’s not enough to dig the trenches. The water is too much. The river is too swollen. The factors are too many and too powerful.

And we are drowning here.

It’s time to come up to high ground. We all want to live.

All gift.

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2015 sort of snuck up on me when I was busy doing other things.

I had intended to write a moving and inspirational blog post about the hopefulness of a new year, about the passing of time and the growing feet of my three boys, about my daughter’s applications to college, about the gray hairs I find poking through at my temples and sometimes in my eyebrows so I guess I’ll get right on that.

Those wiry gray hairs are a weird comfort to me and I think it’s because I so often forget my age. I have to do the math, “let’s see…born in 1967 and now it’s what, 2015…”

It’s not a bad thing to forget my age, especially when I realize I’m a whole lot older than I had remembered, which sounds backward, I know. I forget that I’m on the backside of my 40’s sliding headfirst toward 50. I forget that and I get very impatient with my body, with my brain, with my energy level. It’s those gray hairs poking through that remind me of my age and I use those gray hairs as a sort of “keep calm” instruction when I get impatient.

I’m never going to have the body or the brain or the energy level I had when I was 17 or 25 or even 33. I am here now, living here now, having this body, this brain, this energy level and that’s okay. Really, it is.

So as I sit and reflect on the quiet, night-time passing of 2014, when I was busy doing other things I watch the slowly falling snow from the comfort of my favorite writing chair.  I hear the clicking of fingers on the keyboard issuing from my husband’s home office as he works on placing text in his graphic novel. I listen to my boys and their ever-growing feet as they run around downstairs, milking this last vestige of winter break. I think about my sweet girl sitting quietly in her room pondering great and powerful things that lie ahead for her in 2015. And I take comfort in the passing of time, the unfolding of the now and the not yet, the gray hairs poking through to mark the time, reminding me that this is all gift, all gift.

Monk in the world…

I’m pleased to have a piece up on Abbey of the Arts this week for their “Monk in the World” guest series. I hope you’ll take a moment to check it out and to browse the rest of the site. It’s a sweet group of folks and there’s a whole catalogue of wisdom there!

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The more you know…

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On the way to school today, my youngest son Miles read every single billboard and street sign, offering a commentary on each one. He talked and read non stop. He’s wrapping up his last week of the third grade, his first year attending “real” school. He was a late reader due in part of our massively unstructured version of homeschool and in part to his unwillingness to WANT to read. Reading lessons with him were like pulling teeth- for us both. For this reason when he began school this year it was with great trepidation for us both.

I’d warned his teacher that he’d be coming in below level. I set the bar low but she didn’t believe me. Entering third grade he could barely decipher the world around him. When she tested him the first time she called me to say that I’d called it right. She was surprised but she was kind about it, not shaming him, not shaming me. We’re fortunate to have gotten this amazing talented teacher on our first roll of the real school dice. Within one school year he was able to find that sweet spot of learning and then something clicked in him and suddenly he was reading.

His teacher gave me his Spring results this week, he clocked in at the 85th percentile. We high-fived each other. I thanked her for her hard work but she thanked Miles. “It was his work” she said and she was right about that. He worked hard for this, not even knowing what the world would look like once he could read. I hadn’t realized that for him, the goal felt strange and intangible, it was a goal he was not even sure he wanted, like being offered food that looks weird when you’re not hungry at all.

This morning after he read out all the street signs and billboards and before he jumped out of the car to run to line up for class I asked him, “Do you remember what it was like before you could read? It wasn’t that long ago.” He marveled at the question, saying that it was hard to remember. It felt to him as though he could always read. But he did remember how he felt; he remembered the jumble of foreign looking symbols all around him, he remembered the headaches that came from puzzling through them, he remembered the frustration and the anger and confusion. “The more I read, the more natural it is and there are WORDS everywhere. It’s amazing.”

I was struck by how often I take that for granted, that there are words everywhere and I can decipher them, be a part of the ongoing communication they offer and because of that I can enter into the larger world…and it is amazing.

 

walk alongside…

I have a new post up on Ruminate Magazine’s site today. In a way it’s not new, it’s a further reflection on things I experienced and then wrote about a number of years ago. The decision to revisit those words and emotions comes as I look over the Facebook pages of friends who, only 5 or 6 years ago were still waiting, still struggling, still walking alongside. Time is so interesting. Maybe that’s what makes Facebook so compelling for me, to be able to see the progression, the steady march of time as it crawls up my newsfeed. But we have a better measure than social media, a long term measure, that comes in the friendships we make and nurture and keep.

Time has shown me how hard it is to keep up, how rough the waters can be, how much loss and how much love are possible in any given life. Time shows me the mistakes I’ve made and whether or not I’ve learned anything at all in the wake of them.  We depend on time, always marking the passage of it like lines on the wall to show how high the children have grown or marking the days on the calendar before vacation or a wedding or the hope of a baby being made. The Rolling Stones were wrong by saying that time is on my side. It’s not. It’s outside of us. Time is indifferent to our weird little struggles, it just keeps moving along and yet it’s necessary for that measure of our lives.Time is out of our reach even as we try to gather it in, even as we try to store it in our bellies and our brains. Inevitably, I suppose we hope that time simply shows us we are better for our struggles after all.

So, digression over…take a moment to saunter over to Ruminate today. If you have experienced miscarriage or walked alongside someone who has, this post is meant for you. I hope you’ll share it if it hits you in the right place today.

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Can’t complain…

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This morning I woke to the sound of rushing water, which sounds far more poetic than the reality. I sat in bed for only a moment, listening to the water rush, wondering if it was rain or someone in the shower already at this early hour. I walked softly to the stairs and listened again realizing the water was rushing in the kitchen. I swore loudly as I stepped bare feet into the half-inch of water that had accumulated in the kitchen, held in check only by the porous nature of the wood and the next realization of the dripping sound in our finished basement. Tiptoeing through the water I slogged to the basement stairs and swore again as I watched the water dripping quickly from the light fixtures and air vents.

First, stop the water.

The sound was coming from the refrigerator so I kneeled in the water reached under the sink and shut off the source. The rushing continued, but slowed. I gathered every towel in the house and began to sop up the water, knowing it was already too late for most of the basement ceiling. I focused on the pond in the kitchen. I considered calling Dave in Los Angeles. I thought about Miles’ “family day” at 9:30am, that I was supposed to read a story about my grandfather and my mother, flying for the Civil Air Patrol in the 1950’s. I wrung out water, I swore more loudly, I woke the children with my panic and methodical work of bailing and drying and swearing.

I moved on to the basement and cleaned up what I could, but water finds a way, through the drywall, through the ceiling fixtures, through the venting. The drywall was bubbling and I moved what I could. Some books were already ruined. I didn’t linger there, choosing instead to rescue the couch by moving it away from the ceiling fan, choosing to save the laptops on the table under the bubble of water ready to burst above it, choosing to rescue anything movable, anything still dry, anything at risk. I would have to get the kids ready for school still. I would have to change my clothes at least for the presentation at Miles’ school. Life goes on.

I don’t have breast cancer.

On Wednesday I had my first mammogram. I know, I waited too long. When I turned 40 I was in flux, between doctors. When I was 45 I was in flux, coming back to Chicago, getting life back together. I waited til now, when there was a lull of sorts, near the end of the “deductible” deadline and I made an appointment. The results were back right away. Everything looks good, better than good, the best possible. I don’t have breast cancer.

When I talk with people sometimes I’ll ask how they are and sometimes they’ll say, “I can’t complain” and I’ll nod and agree. I can’t complain. My life is good, overall, things are good. I don’t have breast cancer. But the truth is I can complain and I do complain- often, daily, sometimes hourly as I sop up the water that drips from the ceiling above my head from the broken water line to my refrigerator. No filtered water for my coffee this morning. No saving the books I read to my children when they were toddlers. No dry towels for a shower this morning.

I don’t have breast cancer. I’m thankful for it, tremendously, because maybe part of the reason I waited so long to get that baseline mammogram is that I thought I might have it, because so many of my friends have walked that in the last 10 years or so. I’m thankful for being healthy and for my children being healthy so I can’t complain. But that’s not really true. I can complain and I do complain and i will continue to complain because that’s normal and that’s human. I’ll complain and I’ll swear and I’ll be ungrateful. That will happen because my memory is short and my life is complicated. I”ll forget to be grateful while my basement is flooded and that’s natural. We’ll be okay. We’ll work it out. Everything will dry out and we’ll only have lost some things. I can’t complain. I won’t complain. I don’t have breast cancer.

random acts…

IMG_9575The sky was black except for the white shocks of lightning, punctuating the pouring rain and blasting bouts of thunder. It was quite a show, that thunderstorm. I wish I had been able to see it from the comfort of my own house but we were driving through downtown Chicago, on our way to a fondue restaurant to celebrate my oldest boy entering his teen years. His love language is cheese. He was drooling in the back of the car just thinking about the meal to come. We’d been running around all day, to school, to sports after school, to pick up siblings, to his school open house and then we ran through the driving rain to our car as the lightning struck, close, we all screamed a little and jumped into our car in time to see the power go out in his school building and half the block around it. The storm was probably the worst I’ve seen in Chicago all year. The streets were flooded, the traffic insane, but we went downtown anyway, braving it all, because Chet’s become a teen and this is kind of a big deal.

We were all a little crabby by the time we reached State and Ohio, pedestrians and cars and rain and thunder, it was chaos. It was crazy. The crease between my eyebrows dug in deep as I listened to kids arguing and complaining, as I picked at my husband’s driving, as I began to resent being out in the wilds of Chicago on a night like this and then we were sitting at a light. A man stood on the street, dressed casually, middle-aged, shivering. He was waiting for something it seemed, looking around, maybe a tourist, maybe lost. Lost in the rain. A car pulled up near him and the window was rolled down. I thought perhaps this was his ride but a hand just gestured to him and the man seemed to notice the car for the first time. As he drew closer an umbrella was handed to him. The man looked stunned. He pointed to his chest and shook his head but the person in the car simply waved him over and stuck the umbrella out further. The middle-aged man came forward, took the umbrella and smiled, waving and thanking the stranger. He walked back to where he’d been standing and I noticed a woman who I had not seen, he opened the umbrella, pointed to the car and placed the umbrella over her head. She kept a look of confusion on her face for a moment, then shook her head, smiling and I realized that I was crying at this small act of kindness. Random. Caught in just the right moment for me. It was one small thing in a mass of big, messy things and it restored some missing piece in me. That’s really something. I thought you should know. 😉