Category Archives: April 2012


Recently I had the rare opportunity to visit family in Mexico. This was not your garden variety tropical vacation, and turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, like so many things that are interesting in life.
Between domestic duties and hunting and killing mosquitos and scorpions, I visited Taxco, the silver centre of the country, and marvelled at the Volkswagon taxis roaring up steep, narrow cobblestone streets that clung precariously to the mountains. In Mexico City I saw Frida Kalho’s “Blue House” and pored over letters between her and Diego Rivera, the love of her life whose face graces one side of the 500 peso bill (hers graces the other side)

A Taxco Street

I saw the ruins and pyramids of Xochicalca, about 40 minutes south of Cuernavaca, where I was staying, and which date back approximately 1200 years.

Xochicalca Pyramid

But a real highlight of my visit was a boat tour through the canals south of Mexico City to “La Isla de la Munecas”, The Island of the Dolls, perhaps one of the creepiest tourist attractions in Mexico.

Residents of Isla de la Munecas

The story goes that the island’s only inhabitant, Don Julian Santana, found the body of a drowned child in the canal some 50 years ago. He was haunted by her death, so when he saw a doll floating by in the canal soon after, he hung it in a tree. He hoped to both appease her tortured soul and protect the island from further evil.

Over the years Don Julian collected dolls from every possible source: he continued to fish dolls and doll parts out of the canal and scavenged more from trash heaps on his rare trips away from home. Even, later in life, trading home grown fruit and vegetables for old dolls that he used to create a shrine to the dead child who seemed to haunt his conscience.

Apparently, in 2001 Don Julian Santana was found dead by his nephew, in the same canal that he said the little girl drowned in.

Getting to the island takes about two hours. Visitors are taken in long punt-like crafts, with a gondolier pushing the boat with a long pole. Our gondolier stopped on a number of occasions – once to “harvest” an insect pupae from the ubiquitous cactus plants cultivated along the riverbanks. The pupae, when crushed, releases a vermillion dye used to colour fabrics. Another stop joined us with a similar boat, bearing not tourists but locals who cruise the canals in food boats – freshly made tortillas, tacos, and various tasty snacks and drinks to keep the travellers comfortably fed throughout their journey.

Our gondolier harvests the vermillion-producing pupae.

I have since shown some of these photographs to people and the reactions range from horror and a refusal to even look at them to fascination and skepticism. No matter. My experience of the island fell into the fascinated category – and, I admit, more delighted than horrified. The story that accompanied the thousands of dolls displayed in various states of decay felt a bit contrived. But who am I to say? I visited this place on a sunny day with family, not alone or at night. It struck me as an artist’s or an eccentric’s creation, but again, it was sunny and I had my camera with me, so ……..

Thank you for your kind comments after my initial blog entry. It was heartwarming to know that folks read and enjoyed my first attempt. I hope this has been a fun little foray into the deeper heart of Mexico. See you next month!



Cooking and Reading

I’ve been doing a lot of both of these the last few weeks. Both relax me and give me time to regroup and think.

After finishing a book that had been contracted on proposal, I needed a little time to unwind before I started the next one, also under proposal contract, so what do I do? I spend a couple of days neck deep dealing with the Canadian government’s website and elbow-deep in paperwork. Hahaha, right? Well, when you’re not a citizen of the country you live in, these things come up and you have to take care of them. This time it’s the once-every-five-year immigration card renewal process. They want to know every time I’ve been out of the country in the last five years. I will not even get into that…

Anyway, that relaxation technique did not work one little bit, so I took another week off of writing, because though I’m not a plotter by any means, I’m not a total pantser either. I have to at least have an idea who my characters are and where they’re going (besides to a happily ever after) before I can start writing. I need to have solid in my brain the beginning, middle and end before I can start. My best way to think is lying in bed, staring at nothing, and letting my mind float. Well, when you have a husband who works stupid hours and snores rather loudly while in bed, that doesn’t really happen, except the mind floating to wondering just how long it takes to smother someone with a pillow…and I don’t writer murder mysteries.

So, the next best thing, what I used to do, is cook. In the last two weeks I’ve made big batches of soup, stews, chilis, mostly because they’re very easy, I love soup, and they take zero thinking. The other thing I’ve been doing lately, which is a very big treat for me, is actually reading! Because of my day job as an editor, I don’t have much time for reading for pleasure, but since things have been slow at work, I started reading again.

I have to boast about these books. It’s been so long since I found a series to totally and completely fall in love with, but I have. The Virgin River series by Robyn Carr. I highly recommend to anyone who loves good down-home type romance with just a little adventure. Robyn Carr is now on my favorites list of authors. I’m on book 16 (of 20) and I’m sure I’m going to cry when I finish! Her characters are real, the setting gorgeous, the romance heart-wrenching.

So finally, my brain is kicking in and I’m staring the next book I need to write, which is a very good thing because the due date is looming. The family is pretty happy with all the home-cooked meals too, I must say. Haven’t had a hotdog in weeks! *grin*

Here’s a little recipe I did the other night that had them begging for more. Enjoy!

Anna Leigh Keaton

Herbed potato wedges

4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and rinsed
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced and mashed against the cutting board with the flat of a knife
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed fine
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Cut each half, lengthwise, into 4 equally sized wedges. Add the potato wedges to a large mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Toss meticulously to coat the potatoes evenly.

Line a sheet pan with foil. Place the potato wedges, skin side down, on the foil. Be sure to space evenly, so they cook uniformly. Bake for 35 minutes, or until well browned, crusty edged, and tender. Serve immediately.

Dead But Never Forgotten

I was filled with a sense of sorrow when Dick Clark passed away on Wednesday. A great American icon was gone, an icon from my time. On the following day, the news came out that Levon Helm also passed. A feeling of emptiness washed over me. I felt as though part of me was destroyed, lost, blown away! A part of the fabric of my history was lost.

I am a child of the 40s and 50s. I grew up with WWII, the advent of the ‘A Bomb,’ Jet
Airplanes, men traveling faster than the speed of sound, T.V. and Rock N Roll! American Bandstand, Dick Clark and the Bop! It was a time of change, radical music, radical dancing styles and I was living it! I was part of the change, part of the new America.

The amazing part is I didn’t live in Philadelphia, PA (The home of American Bandstand) or LA or New York. I grew up and went to High school in 1950’s Spokane, Washington, not exactly what you would call a grand metropolis. Not what you would call a “hot-bed” of cultural change. But I’m here to tell you, when it came to being exposed to the music of our time, we hit the mother lode in old “back water” Spokane!

I saw and danced to all the greats there, Bill Haley & the Comets—I danced on the stage with his band to the hits, Rock Around the Clock, Shake Rattle & Roll, and See You Latter Alligator, I met and shook hands with greats like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, Lavern Baker, The Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran (Sittin’ in the Balconey), Gene Vincent (Be-Bop-A-Lula), Jimmy Rodgers (“Kisses Sweeter than Wine”), Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry. In those days, they had dances at the Armory, Natatorium Park, and the Spokane Coliseum, I’ve been to dances there, when the joint was packed, (I heard figures over 3,000 kids at a dance in the coliseum), I can tell you with certainty, far more than a thousand. Everyone was dancing to Rock N Roll, R&B, Rock a Billy, Doo wop—Talk about the joint jumpin’!

Thinking back on it now, I’ve concluded that besides being a metropolitan center, as well as the largest city in Eastern Washington, and the home of two air force bases, Fairchild and Geiger Field, which had a population of several thousand young military personnel, was why Spokane became a major stop for touring bands and shows. Whatever the reason, there was always something going on, a concert or a dance, with live music or a DJ spinning records or both, someplace.

I danced in Rock N Roll contests every weekend sometimes both Friday and Saturday nights. I loved to dance, my mother taught me how to do the Lindy or Jitterbug and I picked up other ballroom dance steps in school or from other kids, dances called “The Camel Walk, The Chicken, and the Twist. In those days, Mead Junior High School had a program where they taught a co-ed dance class, we learned Swing, waltz, fox trot, rumba and samba. It’s a shame they don’t do that in schools now days. We may not have had American Bandstand but we had the music and places to dance and someone to show us how.

It was a magical time. One I’ll never forget. A time when a kid named Levon Helm from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas could team up with some kids from Canada, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson, to form The Band and make magical, mystical music, an amalgam of country, blues, bluegrass, gospel, R&B, pop and rock ‘n’ roll that helped define an era of American history—rightly called Americana.

As I thought about all this, I went to “You Tube” and immersed myself in the music of Levon Helm and Dick Clark—sort of a mini wake. It helped fill the temporary hole in my soul. And it made me realize that when we make a contribution that somehow adds to this world in which we live, that contribution lives on, making us, in a sense, immortal.

From now on, every time I hear someone sing, Take A Load Off Annie or The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, I’ll Think about that kid from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas named Levon Helm and I’ll remember back to a magical time, when the world was changing and I was part of that change. And maybe I’ll remember Dick Clark and American Bandstand and Shake, Rattle & Roll.

Goodbye Dick and Levon, it was a great run. Thanks for all you gave us.

Dick Clark, November 30, 1929 – April 18, 2012
Levon Helm, May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012


The Opening Lines

I’ve been reading a wonderful serialized story by writer friend, Lance Burson called The Ballad of Helene Troy. He posts segments every few days at “My Blog can Beat Up Your Blog” and eventually this serial will become a full-length novel.

Recently, he posted the first 333 words of the story. It was quite brilliant that he write a new beginning considering I’ve been hooked on his story for sometime already. I then thought about what his starting lines revealed, and why they were so perfect.

What author doesn’t dream of an opening that will gain them the recognition of “Call me Ishmael”? The first lines set the tone and reveal key elements to a story. Without these elements, the story could fall flat within pages.

I’m no expert on this topic, but given the genre I write (erotic short stories), it’s important to build momentum toward climax within a limited time. The opening lines and paragraphs are therefore critical and should reveal the following:

1. Distinctive voice
2. Point of View
3. Basic Plot (with some characterization)
4. Setting
5. Conflict

These elements basically make up a complete story, but not all of them are exposed in their entirety upfront. A successful opener does not need to be complicated, but it will entice the reader to want more and continue reading. Revealing something about the protagonist’s nature or introducing a setting can be done without going overboard. It’s better to build momentum than to disappoint with an opener that over promises, but can’t deliver with its subsequent narrative.

Because stories evolve and can often go in a different direction than originally anticipated, it’s a good idea to revisit the beginning lines once you’ve reached the end. In some cases, I’ve had to rewrite the opening paragraphs because they no longer set the tone I wanted.

Though the first lines cannot salvage a story that lacks in other areas, a riveting opening can help define a piece. This is vital especially if you want to pursue the traditional publishing route. Think of it as an opportunity to make a good first impression on the editor. We all know initial reactions matter because you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression.

So, what are the things you look for when reading the opening lines of a story?


The Night Sky

Those of you who know me might remember my love affair with the night sky. I love planets and things that used to be planets and stars and the moon and … well, you get the picture.

Many years ago (15 or 16, I’d guess) I spent a couple of weeks in the wilds of Saskatchewan. Now, you can’t really call the Qu’appelle River Valley the wilds because it’s all lovely rolling hills and a river and wheat fields as far as you can see. But it is amazingly beautiful. I stayed at a monastery for a week on a writing retreat. The monastery has a wing of tiny rooms, each with their own bathroom, a tiny desk, a single bed and a window looking out over the valley and in order to keep the monastery going, they run all sorts of retreats there. They had wonderful (and way too much) food – cooked each day by women up from the town. But the best part of the week for me – besides the workshop leaders and the ability to spend a whole week talking about writing – was the fact that one of the monks was a renowned amateur astronomer.

Now remember, we’re out basically in the middle of the nowhere so there is no light pollution. I mean, I’m a city girl so I don’t really know what dark is, but looking out my window at night, it was DARK. So dark that if we went down to the town for dinner and came back, we had to carry flashlights to see our way from the parking lot down to the monastery. Dark. Very dark.

The monk had a world-class small observatory built into the hill outside the monastery and one night he invited us out to check out the rings of Saturn and the Persiads. It was incredible. The telescope was huge and the sky and the stars and the planets were as well.

I saw the rings of Saturn almost as they look in the photographs. I saw the tiniest of pockmarks on the moon. On our way back to the monastery we laid down in the grass and watched as the Persiads flew through the sky like birds racing home to nest.

That night, that place, those stars, are stuck in my mind forever. And one day, some day in the future – because I’m not ready yet – I’m going to write about that experience.

Oddly enough, it reminds me of the time I screwed up my courage – because I’m just a little bit claustrophobic – and went into a cave, deep deep cave, in France. When we got to the bottom of the cave, the guide turned the lights out and it was DARK. It was scary. It was amazing. And some day, one day when the time is right, I’m going to write about that moment – standing there in dark as black as it is possible to be – but not yet.

Experiences change people, experiences wait for their moment to be written. I’ve got hundreds of them, but these are the two I know are waiting for me to be a good enough writer to capture them. I think it might be soon. I hope it’ll be soon.


Fear, hope, pride

“To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”

I have a confession to make. I’ve never read The Bridge to Terabithia, but I love this quote from Katherine Paterson. (the quote itself is actually from Jacob Have I Loved) It’s one of my favorite quotes, because it reminds us that while there’s nothing wrong with being afraid … letting it control you is an entirely different matter.

We live in a culture of fear. Fear of death. Fear of disease. Fear of attack. This is perpetuated and encouraged on all levels of society and it’s really sad to see.

People have often commented how brave I am. The truth of the matter isn’t that I’m brave, but that I sit with my fear. I make friends with it. I accept there are things I am afraid of, and then I do them anyway.

To let fear have control is to lock yourself in a prison. It chokes you out, stifles your spark, and prevents you from truly living.


We went to see Wrath of the Titans over the weekend. *laughs* Alternate Title: Perseus Headbutts Everything. Magnificent cheese. And in it Andromeda (played this time by the lovely Rosamund Pike) says to Aries “We may not be gods. But we do what people say can’t be done, we hope when there isn’t any… whatever odds we face, we prevail.”


It can be our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. I once heard a saying that went something along the lines of hope is the chains that keep us from achieving our dreams. And it’s true. If you hope too much and never work for it then your dreams will never come true.

But hope can keep us going through the most traumatic of times, through the darkest nights. It is hope which lights up the sky and prevents us from giving up and giving in.


I commented on Facebook the other day – Know what I love? When I see my friends letting the pride of their accomplishments outshine their worries/fears/concerns for their body image or how it might be perceived by others. Despite what this world continually tries to tell you, you are more than the sum of your looks, keep rocking it.

There’s a real problem in our culture with pride. It’s a throwback to the church and the idea that pride was a sin. That you shouldn’t let your head get too big or take too much credit. To that idea I blow a big, fat, raspberry.


Girls especially, are encouraged, browbeaten, convinced that taking pride in accomplishments is a bad thing. We don’t take compliments well, and if we do it’s arrogant. Our worth is based on our looks, but if we emphasize them too much then we’re asking for trouble. It’s a nice little double-edged sword designed to slice a girl’s self-esteem down to the tiniest of shreds.

(Obviously this happens to boys too, but I think to a lesser degree.)

I. Don’t. Like. This. And moreover, I’m not afraid to say it. I’m also not afraid to say I’m a rockstar when I’ve done something amazing. I’m quick to accept a compliment, and quicker to smack someone who tries to downplay their own rockstar status.

I was listening to a talk by Aimee Mullins on TED about The Opportunity of Adversity and in the talk she mentions how one day she met the doctor who had delivered her and had to tell her parents about her condition. Dr. Keene went on to say that Aimee had been instrumental in shifting his perception and that he teaches his own medical students “…Unless repeatedly told otherwise and even if given a modicum of support, if left to their own devices a child will achieve.”

This means if we don’t bash and oppress and stifle that pride it will flourish. That if we encourage it, it will flourish even more. There is nothing wrong with pride and everything wrong with “playing small” as Marianne Williamson says. It does not serve anything, not your life and certainly not the world.

Don’t play small. Play big. Play EPICALLY big.


Sleepless in Seattle

Try clueless in Santa Fe. It’s the eleventh hour. I have a post to submit—actually, I had one, but it was way too controversial—and I have no idea what other brilliant thought I might inspire you all with this time around. But isn’t this part of the game? Deadlines, inspiration—or lack thereof—and a blank ream of paper?

Really, this is what my life is about every morning. It is what every writer’s life is about every morning, every minute, every day. Peter de Vries, author of Slouching Towards Kalamazoo, The Blood of the Lamb, Consenting Adults Or the Duchess Will Be Furious and others said,

“I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock.”

It’s the writer’s version of Nike’s “Just Do It” and should be written in one’s own blood on whatever wall one chooses to face while sitting at the word processor. Writing is not just about the euphoria one experiences when the muse is whispering in one’s ear. Writing is about discipline and learning to sweat words onto a page, because if your dreams come true and you find yourself with a multi-book deal, it is what you will have to do when you’re faced with fulfilling it, when you are heading towards “Z Is For…” and you’re only half way through the alphabet plumb out of ideas.

Perhaps that is why so many would-be writers give up. They don’t yearn to write. They yearn to have written. They yearn to have a finished product sitting on bookstore shelves and yearn to be sitting at signing parties. They don’t yearn to stare at a page they have written while their mind screams at them, “This is crap!” knowing it is crap.

Those of us who persevere and complete, not just one, but several novels, don’t necessarily yearn for that kind of internal monologue. Nonetheless, we would rather endure it than stare at ourselves in the mirror knowing we didn’t even try. Consequently, we force ourselves to sit and wrestle with words and sentences, trying to coax the vision lurking in the back of our minds onto the page and into the minds of our one-day readers.

Dr. Fox, an English professor of mine at Loyola University (in the dinosaur days before it became Loyola-Marymount), required my class to write one page every day. I didn’t understand the exercise at the outset, but at the end of the semester I was amazed how easy this exercise had become. I was also impressed how much better my later pages were than my earlier ones. I decided the mind is a muscle and benefits from regular exercise.

I hope those of you thinking about being a part of the delightful madness of the writing vocation realize what you need to be doing this morning. And tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that…


Making Room for the World

First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely writers at Black Ink, White Paper for inviting me on board to be their newest blogger. It’s lovely to be here in such wonderful company.

Second, a brief introduction. My name is Lisa Janice Cohen, but I go by “LJ” for the most part, since the year I was born, “Lisa” was the most common girl’s name. I’ve never been in a group of people that didn’t have at least one Lisa. (Waves to Lisa Didio!) I live just outside of Boston, MA with my family–hubby and 2 teen boys, 2 dogs, and an international student from Beijing, China.

And that is a good segue into what I want to talk about in my first official post here. The ability to expand beyond your boundaries is a crucial skill for any artist. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of tunnel vision in extrapolating only from what you know. Reading and
research helps, but there is no substitute for experiencing life outside of your comfort zone.

I live in a fairly mono-cultural upper middle class to wealthy suburb of Boston. There are more people in my town unenrolled in any political party (what people think of as ‘Independents’) than there are Republicans. The vast majority of people here are liberal Democrats, highly educated, with professional jobs. There is little cultural or ethnic diversity, nor is there much diversity in thinking. While that can make for a tightly knit community, it can also lead to intolerance and a sense of self-righteousness, even narrow-mindedness.

I write speculative fiction–a mix of fantasy, science fiction, and YA work. I create worlds and people them with individuals out of my imagination. If all I am exposed to is my narrow view of the world, then what I create will be narrow as well. So aside from reading as much within and outside of my genre as I can, what else can I do to expand my world view?

I can travel and I can bring the greater world to me.

Our family has done both. When my boys were old enough to appreciate and engage with people from other countries, we began to invite international students to stay in our home. Our first student was a young lady from Kyrgyzstan.

I had to admit, to my extreme geographic shame, that I had no idea where Kyrgyzstan was before Nurjan came to live with us. (It’s a small country in Central Asia, bordered to the north by Kazakhstan and to the east by China.) Through Nurjan, we were introduced to a rich nomadic culture, to new food, new ideas, new understanding. She shook us out of our preconceived notions of life in what we always referred to in our ignorance, as the ‘third world.’

We learned about the traditions of an oral storytelling culture that revered horses and hospitality. We learned about the great conflict between traditional Kyrgyz culture and the Russian lifestyle that was layered over it during Russia’s long rule through the time of the USSR. We learned about the custom of bride kidnapping–a custom that still exists today and devastates the lives of young women and their families.

We even learned to cook Nurjan’s favorite foods, though I could never master the pulled noodles of Laghman.

In the nearly two years she lived with us, our sense of the world became larger, more inclusive, richer. And when we traveled with her and her husband to Kyrgyzstan two summers ago to attend her Kyrgyz wedding, our viewpoints became expanded even more fully. It truly was the trip of a lifetime, not just for the writer in me, but for all of us. I daresay, our children will never see their lives in quite the same way again.

Since that experience, we have opened our home to several other students, one an elementary teacher from Harbin, China, and the other, a high school senior, from Beijing.

I may still live in my small, limited corner of the universe, but my dreams and my imagination travel to a much larger place, indeed.


Moment of Truth

Maybe it’s a product of realizing that what poet Mary Oliver calls your “one wild, precious life” is passing by in a swift blur, or maybe it’s just the wisdom of age, but somewhere along the line you step back, take a look at the big picture and think, Wow. This is my life, my time, my one guaranteed ride on this beautiful planet. Who the heck is driving the bus?

Next stop? Midlife crisis.

Let’s rephrase that, shall we? Let’s call it life catharsis, instead, since it can happen to any of us at any time regardless of our age. Maybe it’s a brush with ill health or the loss of a loved one or a cherished relationship. Maybe it’s losing a job and a home and the image we’ve built around them.

Catharsis is the releasing or purging of emotion, historically associated with Greek tragedies. But the tragedy doesn’t have to be part of it, or at least doesn’t have to be epic in proportion. Maybe the catharsis is triggered by a simple wake up call, or by simply waking up one morning thinking, What am I doing here?

More importantly – and hopefully this is the next question, not what shiny car shall I buy or with whom shall I cheat on my spouse – What would I rather be doing instead?

I’ll be 45 this summer. I was orphaned at 39. Funny, that phrase, but there is something inherently freeing – though admittedly painful – about being “nobody’s daughter”. Once the edges of grief were worn down, I realized that I didn’t have to please anyone anymore. It’s a child’s natural instinct to try to win a parent’s approval (when they aren’t trying their darnedest to piss the parent off, that is) and I think we slowly but surely let that bleed out into a pool around us. Please the teacher, the neighbor who bakes you cookies, the girl scout leader, the friends, the popular kids, the lovers, the boss… You get the picture. Pretty soon you’re up to your neck, drowning in the expectations and projections of others.

Then one day you wake up, wise up and say, Screw that.

I’m pleasing myself, from here on out.

It’s a rush. It’s amazing. It’s terrifying. It’s like a snake shedding its skin, feeling so uncomfortable and vulnerable, or a caterpillar climbing into a cocoon not knowing if it will make it through the metamorphosis. But what’s on the other side? Wings. Shiny new scales. Endless, unimaginable possibilities.

I can’t tell you what the journey might look like for you, but I will tell you this. There will be resistance. People you would expect to support you will rush at you with pins, eager to pop your happy bubble, and not because they’re mean (though some of them may be). Some of them may be afraid of losing you, or not liking the person you’re about to become and some of them are afraid of change, period. Others might be choking on the dust of their own neglected dreams and the idea – the possibility – of seeing you achieve yours makes them feel like a failure. It doesn’t matter. None of that is yours. Neither is the negativity, or the pessimism or the endless deflections, distractions and destructive rhetoric that will likely get chucked at you. (It’s all as relevant as monkey poop, but just as smelly and tricky to dodge.)

Like I said, it doesn’t matter.

This life is yours. You should spend it as you wish (with the usual caveat that you shouldn’t be breaking laws or causing harm to others). You only have one chance to live this particular lifetime. If you have a dream that’s grounded in real possibility and the guts to work at it until it comes true? Go for it! Damn the torpedoes – and the naysayers – roll up your sleeves and dig in. Grab life by the lapels and drag it in for a long, deep, mind-blowing kiss.

And, most importantly? Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

What to Write About

Yesterday a writer friend asked in passing, “what to write about?” which got me thinking: how as writers, do we decide? What happens in those moments when – say – we’ve just finished the latest project, and can finally start something new. That dazzling white page, fresh black ink….


It’s a precious moment – a time of new beginning, a time when our ears can open to the opportunity of a new voice, a direction we may not even know we wanted – needed – to take. How to hear it?

What’s worked best for me has been to pay attention. Not just when I sit down at the desk, but all the time. The inspiration – or at least, the first poem – for the series I wrote on Glenn Gould came when I was watching a video on Cuban jazz. On Georgia O’Keeffe, when I was staring at a rock in New Mexico. On construction, from my journals and a simmering need to explore the challenges and joys of that time.

Yesterday a friend who was about to spend her first week at a newly rented, long longed-for retreat space, wrote in a moment of panic, “What if I just lie there, alone, moaning?” I think the secret is, (and my fingers are crossed as I say this because, after all, the moment of fact can be very different from the moment of theory), the secret is to be patient with ourselves. If the mind and body, on retreat, need first to lie still, alone, moaning, then that is what we must let the body and mind do. And perhaps, if it doesn’t abate, or evolve after some time, a walk, a conversation with a friendly crow, a pause under a blooming tree, might nudge us gently along. Or not. Then we must wait longer. And listen. And above all, be gentle with ourselves.

Kate B.