"My own remembering was too isolated and memory alone wasn't enough. I wanted proof, and I wanted it in ink."

In which our writer tries her hand at poetry

On the occasion of unintentionally leaving Imagine Dragons on repeat

Don’t get too closeErzengel_Michael-Statue_über_dem_Portal_der_St._Michaeliskirche_Hamburg
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide


My demons don’t hide anywhere,
They’ve been wrestled and slain.
I deboned them and sautéed the meat in a fine shallot reduction.
I fed it all to my better angels;
They have grown healthy and strong
On the added protein.


airplane forced perspectiveYou think you’re looking at one thing — but then, something happens, and the perspective shifts.  When you adjust the focus, you come to see that something else has been going on all along. You thought you were just trying to lose a few pounds, but then you realize that you’ve developed beautiful muscles. You thought your work was preparing you for one type of career, but then you discover that you’ve become equipped for something else entirely, something far better than you’d planned.  Was that a lightning bug or a comet?  Is Benito Cereno the ship’s captain or its hostage?  Is she really carrying the moon on her back?

holding the moon

All this time, as I’ve been thinking about metaphors of the body, noticing how my thinking self interacts with my corporeal self, I thought I was only learning about me, my own strength, flexibility, growth.   And all this time, I had no idea that I was preparing myself for something so much better than I could have imagined, something far better than my own sorry self. I was in training, all right, but not the sort of training I thought. No, I was preparing to learn a whole new language.

Sam Paraventi/Minty Photography

Sam Paraventi/Minty Photography

On Friday, I sat barefoot on the marley floor of a dance studio and watched as Ali Woerner and Thayer Jonutz danced for me their first draft of “Ink,” a story I’ve knitted for years. It’s been a hard story to understand, let alone tell, and it’s been lonely, frightening work. I keep asking “Ink” what it wants to be, what it’s trying to tell me, but it’s a shape shifter, and I’m left feeling like I’ve been chasing a ghost.

It’s been a tough story to pitch, too. Ask me, what’s it about, and none of my answers will quite explain it. It’s about death, sex and Moby Dick. It’s about loss. It’s about becoming a writer. It’s about two dead brothers. It’s about the healing power of art. It’s about the artifacts of a life cut short. It’s about being the one left behind, being the one who didn’t die. None of these hashtags can explain what it’s about because “Ink” wants to capture something ineffable.

And Ali and Thayer get that – they can take it in and feel the essence of what can only be imperfectly captured in words, and they can dance my story back to me.  They can dance my brother back to life. I sat on the marley yesterday and it all came back to me.

Sam Paraventi/Minty Photography

Sam Paraventi/Minty Photography

We were children together, we played, we squabbled, we laughed. And then you left. I never got to say goodbye and I’ve been searching for you everywhere.  I was chasing ghosts, though, and I got lost.  I fell down a dark hole, so I gave up the search.  But then I saw you again, off in the distance ….


All this time, I thought writing “Ink” would help me find closure; oh, I was so so wrong. I am lucky to be so wrong – it’s a whole new beginning.

Sam Paraventi/Minty Photography

Sam Paraventi/Minty Photography

Strong Wings

Writing is hard. I want to run away. It’s an absolute confrontation with the self, though, so you can’t run away. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to metaphors: they screen; I can hide for a minute, catch my breath.

Strength training is the same kind of hard: there’s nowhere to hide. I always show up on time, I’m always warmed up, ready to go. My trainer’s always there, always ready; he shows up too, every time.

I have trouble with shoulder movements. I tend to hike my shoulder blades up towards my ears, dancer backcaving in on myself, compressing my neck. When this happens, I can’t breathe properly, my posture breaks down, I hunch. When this happens, he stands behind me and touches his fingers across the top of my trapezius muscle, gently pressing down, to keep me in place. To remind me of the proper form. “Remember to stabilize the scapula,” he says.

BrownScapularBut I hear it as scapular, and I remember necklace I wore as a Catholic schoolgirl, the two squares of brown felt, stitched to a narrow satin band. I think of how it promised me salvation. “Whoever dies clothed in this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire,” it read.

“You want to keep your shoulder blades in position so you activate your lats,” he tells me.  “You want to use the strength of your back for this movement.” I try to focus on my lats, on keeping my shoulders down, try to breathe into the movement.

But I run away again, remembering the moment in The Awakening where Edna Pontellier recounts an odd conversation with Madamoiselle Reisz, the artist.Edna Library_Walk_30Edna remarks, “when I left her to-day, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. ‘The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.’”

“Lift your chest up,” he reminds me. “That will help you breathe. OK, ready? Let’s try it again.”


Strength Training

weight rackI want you to turn all your weight training over to me, he said that first day.  When you’re working on your own, you can do whatever you want in terms of cardio or stretching or yoga, whatever.  But leave your strength to me.  This was exactly what I wanted to hear.

I wanted to be strong, so I signed up with a personal trainer and started lifting heavy weights.  Every week, I listened hard, I worked hard, and I got it all wrong.  We do as many reps as we need in order to get your muscles to failure, he told me.  That’s the goal here: we’re training to failure.  I took this in as a life lesson, and when I left the training floor, I kept lifting weights that were far, far too heavy.

What a dope I was: I was hearing everything as a metaphor, and I kept missing the real lesson.  Perhaps I think in terms of metaphor too much.  Perhaps I should just focus on things themselves.

We started with single plane movements, worked up to compound joint movements.  I worked on the mondo floor, alongside serious bodybuilders.  In every session, I did something that involved a push, a pull, a squat, and a lift.  I did balance challenges, first using just my own body weight as resistance, and gym floorthen adding additional weight, because that improves stability and balance.  As my upper body strength grew, I moved to the pull-up machine – where the ultimate goal is to lift your entire body weight up, unassisted, with your arms. I hate that machine.  I also want to beat that machine, but I always need the assistance.  I can’t lift myself, and that feels like failure.

Can you see the allure of metaphor here?  These were all things I wanted for myself – to push, to pull, to lift, to balance.  Of course, my great mistake was in thinking that my body was myself.  It’s not.  It’s just my body.  Sure, I thought I was something of a badass the morning I leg pressed 410 pounds (and you’ll note how casually I’ve mentioned that fact in two straight blog posts) – but quad strength gave me no help  when I was blindsided in a meeting later that afternoon.  My excellent range of motion didn’t help me manage stress; cardiovascular conditioning offered no advantage when I was running up against a deadline; stability on the bosu ball couldn’t help me comfort my son after he’d been cruelly insulted by a friend.  My hamstrings are really strong, and sure, that’s great.  But that’s just physical strength.

All that time, I was utterly aware of my own basic assumption.  I thought that everything connected to my strength training worked on the transitive property, that physical strength would automatically correlate, would saturate and transform every layer of my self.  It didn’t.  I’ve learned a lot about the body: you build up resistance, you add load, you pay attention to your form, you watch your breath.  But how do I train for the strength I really crave?

Goodbye Hello

I had expected 2014 to be a spectacular year — 14 is my lucky number, it’s the year I turned 50, and goshdarnit, I was due.  But, damn, looking back, I realize Fire-ScapeWebthat it was pretty miserable all around: identity theft, tax fraud, shingles, arthritis, credit card theft, clogged pipes, sudden deaths, unsudden deaths, a torn ligament in my right thumb (I still haven’t recovered from the surgery), major relationship trauma — far, far too many bad days.  Too many times this year, I have found myself in the crosshairs, walking what I thought was a clear and straight path only to find myself stepping on a landmine.  Even a casual visitor of this blog will recognize that there wasn’t much to see here — long gaps and silence.  The stagnant blankness tells  you everything you need to know about my creative practice in 2014.  Goodbye goodbye.

Sure, I could look back and focus on the positive, dwell in the professional accomplishments — a well-received MLA presentation, the OU President’s Colloquium, directorship of a successful Liberty Fund conference, completing a chapter length  biographical essay of a writer I value and admire.  But to be honest, while those projects gave me tremendous satisfaction, I can’t really say that they brought me joy.

What brought me joy was the day I was able to leg press 410 pounds.  I found joy at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop, listening to Matthew Goodman speak with passion and brilliance about creative nonfiction.

I found joy last month in boston-public-library-85885_1280Boston, spending an afternoon in the Public Library and then an evening sharing dinner with my brothers.  Joy riding the Paint Creek Trail in September, joy picking berries for my breakfast each morning in June,  joy receiving a handcrafted ceramic vase from the girl I adore.

Joy writing this.









Hello joy.