Writing Prompt: There and Back Again: Memoir Writing on Home and Travel

Sundog I've been thinking a lot about place lately as I am scheduled to begin a memoir class on home and travel. As I've been pulling together my syllabus and lesson plans, my mind has been keenly focused on the subject and as a result I've come across so many interesting pieces of writing focusing. A fellow blogger, Deb German Young, wrote a beautiful piece capturing the heat of Memphis and her childhood there while she searches for Avalon in her now everyday life in Vermont. A friend shared with me a piece about his grandmother's home in Vermont and a childhood fight that had him feeling like an outsider on many levels. This morning I stumbled across an announcement that West Virginia University Press is starting a book series called In Place focusing on books firmly rooted in place. For numerous years my primary form of income has been writing for magazines such as Upper Valley Life, Kearsarge Magazine, Rutland Magazine—all regional publications, but I don't think I gave much thought about how much the place where I live and was raised affected me until I started traveling. So many of the differences in political, religious views, customs, even affection for pets, I could soon trace back to my northern New England upbringing. My setting influenced if not my actual beliefs at the very least the way I approached things. I began to see that even my fears were based on where I came from. I have friends from afar who don't think twice of getting in a car and driving through six lanes of traffic, while many of the people here close to home find a sojourn to Burlington a big challenge. Our world here is small in scale and while I am not implying that we do not seek broader horizons, for many of us it is a leap to do so. I realized that my best friends have not strayed too far from home and my own family all lives within a 50-mile radius of each other. I come from people who stick and my own journeys in to the bigger world have thus, been perhaps been viewed as greater adventures than they might be to someone else. Each summer I get on a plane and travel 7,000 miles away to Hawaii. When I was 12, 16, even 25, I could not have imagined myself going that far.

I took a writing class two years ago with memoirist Abigail Thomas who kept encouraging me to write more about my family and their rural way of life. I couldn't quite grasp the uniqueness of it then, how much of it is a part of my story. I am beginning to now. Perhaps that is why I decided to teach this class. I have a good group of seven or eight students and I am excited to see where they are from and where this class will take us. I am also intrigued to find more memoirs and books where place plays a role. I recently found a few on Amazon that I am eager to read: Small Beneath the Sky by Lorna Corzier and No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments by Brooke Berman. One of my favorite descriptions of a place is not in a memoir but in Steinbeck's Cannery Row.  I'd love to hear any suggestions anyone else might have.

When I attended the workshop with Abigail Thomas she gave us a memoir prompt on place that I intend to use with my students the first day of class: Write 2 Pages on Where you Are From. I'd love to hear responses.

New Beginnings

FullSizeRender As some of you know, today my first email newsletter went out, keeping you apprised of latest news, classes, art shows etc. If you haven't already subscribed, you will notice there is now a place to do so on the home page of the blog. I hope this is one of many new changes over the course of the next year to make the web site more user friendly.

This newsletter was made possible by an artist development grant through the Vermont Arts Council. This past February a friend told me about the Breaking into Business Program, also sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council. My sister-in-law and I attended and the results, including the grant, have been fantastic. The program offered crucial information and advice on how to establish and further your art business as well as awesome networking opportunities. I am really excited about the newsletter, which I will publish monthly to start, that will give you further glimpses into what is going on with my writing, art, and teaching. And, of course, you'll get a fair share of pug news as well.

Which brings me to the latest update—a new litter of pug puppies at my friend Joan's home. Five blacks, all different in shape, size and personality. I'll be introducing them to you in the days ahead. They are three weeks old, have opened their eyes and are learning to stand. The biggest barely fits in two hands, while the little one can curl up in the palm of one.  They are magical and I have been visiting them daily.

Unfortunately, I have to take a break as I am  headed to Philadelphia to volunteer for an open air religious crusade in Nicetown. For those of you who come to the pages of this blog as writing students or art lovers, please don't be dismayed as I share these other details of my life. We are people of story, which is what art and writing and living and memory and memoir is all about. So just as I encourage you to share yours on the page, I am learning to share mine. I will be writing more soon and sharing lots of news, pics and some latest art projects, too. It has been a busy summer, which means there are many stories to tell.

Journal Jam

IMG_1094_2 My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are putting together a series of joint art and writing prompt classes that we are calling Journal Jam. We will be announcing the location of the first workshop shortly. In the meantime, we have both been working on our own journal pages. One of the prompts I love to offer comes from a book by Tristine Rainer called Your Life as Story. In it Rainer gives a prompt on How to be ________. The writer than offers a list of criteria describing how to be ______. Gretchin and I plan to use this prompt in our class and as an example I tried my hand at my own.

The night before I had been visiting Gretchin's house where my three-year-old niece Ellie was dancing around in the buff. I decided to write How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing. Here's the result:

How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing

Be Stark Naked

Lift Your Arms in the Air


Mold Your Hands into Tight Little Fists

Roll Them One Over the Other

Do Your Magic

Stare Up Into the Sky with a Smug Look of Satisfaction

Burst Into Song

Sing the Theme to Frozen

Twirl Again

Lose Interest

Walk Across the Room, Strutting like a Drunken Supermodel

Turn and Walk Back Toward Me

Shout "Hey Bee, Look at This!"

Twirl One Final Time.

I then went to work on my own journal pages, but as so often happens the preliminary sketches seemed better than the final result, so I experimented a couple of times.

One of the things I love about digital collage and one of the reasons I turned to working in that medium is that nothing every has to go waste. You can always use a "bad" photo or sketch and transform it into something else. I started to do so with one of the iphone pics I took of my sketch.

I had an older picture of Ellie and when I put them together it seemed as if the two were dancing. I am still working on the collage. This is just the preliminary piece. I'm calling it Shadow Dancers or Fairytale 699.

blog shadow dancing

I'm hoping to add a version of this to my journal pages as well.


Let Me Get You Up to Speed...

Let me get you up to speed… Let’s say for the sake of argument that all of this blog from Day 1 through the middle of last year was Season 1 of our ongoing saga—the pugs, my art, my writing, my friend Joan, her life, and mine. Then let’s say we went on hiatus—a long one. We’ve done a lot in that time, but how do you capture it all on the blog? You can’t go backwards and who wants to inundate everyone with a year’s worth of material, right? But, how do we jump right back in? I’m going to do my best to bring the story forward.

We’ve had our share of romance…



No, not me unfortunately, but my pug Alfie. She turned five in January and it was a do or die moment—time to breed her or forgo the idea once and for all. Alfie is my show pug and the plan from the beginning was to breed her and pass on all her wonderful traits. Unfortunately, her heats were uncertain and it took awhile to figure her cycle out. I decided to take a big leap of faith and go for it this year, so toward the end of January, Alfie and I began daily pilgrimages to visit her “boyfriend” at Pugdom, my friend Joan’s house. Challenge no. 1, while Alfie and the Old Man hit it off, he just couldn’t seem to get the job done, so we had to bring in reinforcements—his son, Gryffindor. Gryff was nowhere near as refined in the courting department, but what he lacked in charm, he made up for in finesse and I was fairly certain after thee successful matings that Alfie was pregnant.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Alfie began vomiting and panting and not acting at all right. I ended up taking her to the Emergency Vet only to learn she had pyometrea, a dangerous uterine infection and had to be spayed. No puppies for us. It seemed unfair on a lot of levels, my idea was if I can’t have children of my own right now, at least I’m gonna have puppies, but that didn’t seem to materialize. Our new grand adventure was cut short, but Alfie is okay, in fact, she seems downright happy and the plan for the future is to find another show dog, since after her spaying, Alfie can no longer be shown.

We’ve had our share of religion…



I spent two weeks in Hawaii last July on the Missions Trip I go on ever year. It was the start of a life-giving time, a creative time, when I returned home I began taking courses to become a certified minister, became a full-fledged member of my church and recently even taught one of our weekly bible studies. I didn’t discover God—I’ve known him all along—I simply got excited about connecting with Him in a while new way and so much has changed.

We’ve had our share of work…




This fall the college where I worked for the past 12 years closed, so I’ve been finding new opportunities to teach at assisted living facilities, arts centers, writing centers etc. and expanding my repertoire. This summer I am supposed to teach at a teen art camp in Lebanon, N.H. I am presently teaching a course on the relationship between animals and memoir writing called “Pet Projects” at an assisted-living facility also in Lebanon. My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are also putting together a joint workshop called Journal Jam.

The art projects are going well. I’ve been in several shows, sold more work than ever, and introduced new techniques such as encaustic to my collages. I joined an artists’ collective in Burlington that not only carries my work in their gift shop, but networks with area businesses to showcase the work of their members. The xposure has been great. In November, I had a solo show of my digital collages called Once and Future Things: An Exploration of Girlhood at Radio Bean in Burlington.



I’m currently in another juried show at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center called “Healing with Arts.” The idea behind the show is to hang works of art in the cancer treatment center with the belief that art contributes to and reinforces the healing process for patients with caner. It is an important show for me to be apart of as more and more close friends face the disease.



Also, this fall, a friend made financially possible for me to attend a wonderful and productive writers workshop, Dartbrook Writers Retreat, in the Adirondacks. I worked on pulling some of my blog posts together and creating new writing for a memoir of some of my experiences with my friend Joan. I’m starting to see the themes that underlie the work and why getting to be a part of her life and that of her pugs has been so important to me. The plan is to work more on that over the next year and get that book actually written.

Writer Abigail Thomas and Me at Dartbrook Writers Retreat

So here we are…now that you’re caught up let’s call this Season 2. Stay tune for our next adventure.





SONY DSC In a few hours I head off to one of the most beautiful places in the world, Hana, Maui, Hawaii, for my sixth missions trip with Jonathan Shuttlesworth. A few hours ago, my 18-year-old nephew Christian headed off for Army National Guard bootcamp. The world keeps turning as they say. Last night, I received a text from Christian's mom saying they would be celebrating at the 99 Restaurant with a send off meal for Christian. Mom and I were on a way into a movie, so when it ended we stopped by the 99 on the slim chance they might still be there. They were—standing outside in a huddle around Christian and his father, my brother Paul, who had stopped by while on the job as a Lebanon Police Officer to give Christian last minute pointers on bootcamp. Paul, in his mid-thirties, had only enlisted last year.


The scene nearly broke my heart. You see, it shows how much we love that boy! Born to teen parents, he's our success story. Work and tears and anguish and love poured into him from all of us. When he flew off today he took all of us with him. I didn't have the chance to go and see him off, another thing that nearly broke my heart. When he registered for kindergarten, a crowd of us showed up complete with video camera. But, when I picked up my cell just now his Momma had sent me a photo of a teary-eyed Christian hugging her. She included me in the circle. He just called my Dad to say he had made it to the waiting point, found the clock tower his Dad had told him about, and my Dad reiterated how well loved he was. "You're the most loved boy I know," he said, wishing that he had known that he was that loved growing up. We come from a family of love, but Dad is right—Christian may just be the most well loved of us all. The Jarvis and Gifford clans are big, our hearts bigger and he has grown into a man who carries us all.

They say "Aloha" is used in both greeting and parties. I can't wait to see my Hawaiian ohana, the family I leave behind each time I return to the mainland, all the friends we have made. It is a wonderful greeting, but right now before I leave I say "Aloha" to our boy-turned-man. It will be a long four months, kiddo, but don't think for a minute you left us behind. Aloha is better than goodbye because we'll say it when we see you again real soon!


Lost and Found

Belle Last week I had one of those days filled with metaphor and meaning, stolen joys and confirmed fears. It is not a day you can sum up in a quick blog post. It is a day that needs to be digested, pondered, explored. It started with a lost dog, TarBaby, my friend Joan’s grand diva of a Pug. Tar Baby began her life at Pugdom, Joan’s home, by getting lost wandering in the woods for 11 days and returning to our amazement as a scrawny, scratched up pup. That was many years ago and TarBaby has transformed from that wee little scamp to an old lady with secrets to share. Weeks ago she suffered a severe injury in a dogfight and Joan has been nursing her back to health. She decided TarBaby needed some time in the sun and while we snacked on Jane’s brown rice breakfast pudding and watched our brood of pugs explore, TarBaby snuck off perhaps desiring one last adventure in her old age. We searched and we searched and could not find her. Hours passed and still no TarBaby. I finally had to leave with the hope that TarBaby’s homing nature would resurface and she would return to the driveway as she had in her youth. No sooner had I hit the road than I received the call that she indeed had found her way home!

Another mile down the road and there was another old dog wandering in the street. Cars stopped on both sides as we tried to corral a wobbling German pointer. She looked dazed and limp and when we finally got ahold of her she climbed happily in one of the cars while I set off to guide them to the local vets. Problem? I had no idea where the local vet lived. I tried to call Joan and finally got through. Googled the vet’s number and entered her address in my GPS, called the veterinarian on the dog’s tags. It was Saturday, no one was in. Joan met me at the vets, who also was not home and we loaded the sweet old lady of a dog in her car with the promise to tell the lady who had been escorting her that we would later text the dog’s fate. We rode up to the ski area where the annual beer festival was taking place to see if anyone had reported a missing dog. Just then, a call from my Mom. She wasn’t feeling well. She was at the pharmacist’s office and thought she might be having a reaction to her new blood pressure medicine. She was ready to drive home, but I couldn’t let her. I called my nephew’s mom, Chesne and asked her to pick her up, then called my Mom back to learn that she was having trouble breathing. I told her to have Chesne bring her to the ER, mere minutes away, and called my brother to have him meet her. Then the phone rang. It was the emergency vet on the other line. Had I found the owner yet? Another ring. The local vet. She was at a memorial service. Could I leave my friend’s number with her answering service in case the owner called? My friend Jane came to the car to share that no one has reported a missing dog. I call my father to tell him about my Mother, call my brother to make sure he is en  route to the hospital. Hit the road and call my Mom again to see if she is okay. She is at the ER, her breathing still a challenge.

My Mom is my rock and my best friend and suddenly I was in charge of making sure she was okay. Those who know me know that I pretty much juggle my family’s responsibilities on a daily basis. Twelve years older than my youngest sibling, I’ve pretty much helped raise them and taken care of their kids, arranging family plans, making sure everyone knows what is going on. I’ve crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s for the family, assuming the role of oldest child. Single and childless, to me my mom remains the earth around which my moon evolves. She alone seems to know that while my shoulders are broad they are capable of bending under the weight, that sometimes it is all too much. I dread the day when she is no longer here. No one wants to lose a parent, but my Mom is more than that. I looked at the medicine cabinet in our bathroom today. Three separate compartments, combined into one large mirror. My parents’ recent choice when renovating the bathroom. There is a place for Dad, and Mom, and me. My compartment sandwiched in between the two of theirs. It has been that way since the beginning, me born one year into their marriage. The three of us. They tried to choose a set up that would give us each a space. It is not the setup I would have chosen. The three cabinets break up the mirror and I cannot see myself. And, yet there I am, my space between theirs. I love my parents. I am thankful that they share their home with me. It’s just hard sometimes seeing myself as separate. If Mom were to go, would I just disappear?

I don’t think it’s unusual for a child of any age to question her identity in light of a parent’s mortality and fortunately my Mom is fine. She indeed had a reaction to her meds and is now home trying out a new one. She will be okay. It is the future I do not like to ponder.

At midnight on Saturday, a car pulled up Joan’s driveway and took the German Pointer’s leash in hand. The dog’s name is Belle, 12 years old. She wandered off lost when they opened her crate. She was not far from home when we found her.  There is probably a metaphor here: flying the coop, feeling lost, dependence, independence, mortality, the mother-and-child bond. Just because things are obvious doesn’t mean they are easy to see. Sometimes we lose ourselves in love.

My Writing Process Blog Tour (and a writing prompt...)

My new solar Pope, blessing my writing process  

My friend and fellow animal lover and writer, Barbara Techel of Joyful Paws recently asked me  to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. I first learned of Barbara when I read her memoir Through Frankie's Eyes. Actually, that’s not entirely true, I had heard of Barbara earlier when I went seeking a doggie cart or doggie wheelchair for my crippled pug Vader. In googling doggie carts I came upon Eddie’s Wheels in Sherburne, Massachusetts and also the story of Barbara and her dog Frankie, a dachshund that suffered from invertebrate disc disease and used a cart from Eddie’s Wheels to get around. Later when I read her book, Barbara and I had a chance to talk and become “Internet friends” since we live in different parts of the country. I admire so much Barbara’s warmth and authenticity in her writing.

Image of Barbara Techel from Joyful Paws

Although my post was supposed to be up earlier today, I spent the weekend in the emergency room with my mother who had a reaction to her blood pressure medicine and thus, am a little late in getting my post up. Yet, this is all part of life and definitely one of the many complications that can make the life of a writer and blogger challenging—how do we cope with deadlines amidst life’s crises? No easy answer, but something to address when it comes to talking about process. In any case, while I am late to post, I am happy to participate in this tour that allows writers to share what they are doing and how they are doing it. Why is this important?

Writing can be an isolating venture—hours alone toiling over a story, article, blog post or even journal entry with often little feedback on how the result will be received. We wonder am I the only one who feels this way? How does Stephen King get up every morning and churn out 600 page novels while I have been working two hours on a simple paragraph of introduction? I have written a number of times on my blog about the challenges in writing daily and in wondering if my content is up to par. This became especially challenging because I had a writing mentor who saw no problem in posting several times a day. One thing a tour like this one shows is everyone is different. And, that’s okay. I was feeling down about my own limitiations the other day when I turned on a podcast of an interview with Kelly Braffet, daughter-in-law of Stephen King, b.t.w. Anyway, the interviewer who has a regular podcast and blog launched the interview with an apology for his own lack of posts and noted that while he had hoped to produce a daily blog he was cutting it back to when he was inspired because he just couldn’t produce the quality of content he wanted writing daily. I felt redeemed. I am not alone. And, you aren’t either! It may not be daily posts, it could be a different issue altogether, but writers face similar challenges and share similar joys. Don’t believe me? Follow the Writing Process Blog Tour and learn what we as writers have in common…

My Writing Process:

What Am I Working On?

This should be an easy one, right? Truth is a number of things. My day job is as a freelance writer for several publications in the Vermont and New Hampshire area. Right now I am working on an article on radon—transcribing tapes and preapring to do a phone interview in an half-an-hour—for a real estate magazine; writing short pieces on a local gallery, a skincare company, and a business that produces a range of specialty food items made from quince for a second publication and a business spotlight on a Rutland dentist for a third. That is my day job.

I also have several overdue blog posts lined up: my pug Alfie has been sick and as part of the her new diet I embarked on an adventure in transforming her kibble into doggie biscuits; I spent a day visiting the multitude of pugs at my friend Joan’s in which one dog was lost then found, another stray discovered on the roadside and my Mom rushed to the ER. These are all posts that have been churning around in my mind like laundry in a washing machine, but I’m wondering how many will make it to see the light of day and how many, like a stray sock, will be left hidden spinning away indefinitely. There are only so many hours in a day. And, under the surface, beneath the scenes, in my spare time I am working on a memoir about the influence of my friend Joan and her pugs on my life and a book of short stories with dog-related themes. I have actually started the dog stories and have a wealth of blog posts to craft into the memoir and continue to revisit these as often as I can. I can truly say I am working on both. In the back of my mind are several other ideas—a book of my photo collages, a children’s book on one of the more interesting pugs I’ve known, and a half-finished children’s book featuring Vader. Those are there stored in the back closet if we are to press on with the clothing metaphor.

Why Do I Write What I Do:

Hmm, this is an important one and an amorphous one. A question that actually needs to be addressed in the writing of the memoir at the very least. The articles? I write them because I need a paycheck and because I love to write. Therefore I take what they give me whether it is an article on toilets (yes, I’ve written that. Used to be when you googled me that was the first article that came up. It's entitled "Take the Plunge" if you want to look it up) or on radon. The constant advice to any writer? Write what you know and love and I love dogs and a lot of other people love theirs, too, so they show up in my stories and my blog posts as other interests—my photography, my art, my nieces and nephews, my struggles and dreams. To be honest, I think for most writers, writing, seeing the world in story, is how we understand it. So, whether it is fiction or memoir, we write what we are trying to understand, what interests us, what scares us. We write to discover what we know or want to know…When it comes to my friend Joan and her pugs her life intrigues me and my reaction to it does as well. I’m trying to discover what lies at the heart of that attraction so I’m writing my way to understanding.

How Does My Writing Process Work:

In my freelance work I’m the consummate professional. I’m great with deadlines. I get an assignment, I create a folder for it. I research online, I set up an interview and follow up interviews, I transcribe my tapes. I go to my office or the local café and I write the story. It sometimes goes to the interviewee for fact checking or directly to my editor and I'm done. My rewriting occurs as I go along. Typically, there is not much time for anything else.

My blog posts? On a good day they come pouring out of me or I take some quiet time and draft a quality post of which I’m proud. On most days, I try to type something in the wee hours of the morning after interiews and articles have been completed and classes taught. When I am lucky I get a picture up and a post written before I drag my weary body off to bed. Lately, bed has been winning. I am one of those writers who needs more time to think and feel before crafting a piece and time is in short supply. I’m working on it.

My stories? This is where time seriously becomes an issue. If I am going to craft a good short story, I need time. A few hours in which to cocoon myself somewhere usually with an ample supply of tea and food nearby and immerse myself in my craft. This is the same for article writing, by the way, forget pen and paper, tea and snacks are the must haves in my writing process! You can get lost in that creative cocoon and it is a wonderful place to be. I look forward to those moments even as I war against them. War against them? You heard me corrrectly. I recently read a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which speaks about breaking through blocks and winning your inner creative battles. Art doesn’t have to be a struggle, but it often is and it seems when it comes time to write I’m not the only creative person who finds every means imaginable to procrastinate. It’s why I recommend to my students joinging a class or writing group. Deadlines help. It is good to be accountable. That said I think some self-imposed deadlines are in order to get my short story writing off the ground again. I just wish those stray dogs and emergencies would hold off for awhile This  brings me to another lesson—it is important as a writer to not only be disciplined, but to be forgiving of oneself. We are only human.

Finally, don't forget to laugh! There are volumes written on the frustrations of writing, the writing process, writer's block. My best advice to writers, don't take yourself too seriously. Part of being forgiving, is to have a sense of humor. It's okay to miss a blog post or get a poor critique, you can get it "write" tomorrow. (Bad puns are allowed as well.) Part of my writing process involves stopping to smile. Sometimes that means leaving the computer behind and getting out to play and sometimes it means filling my office with wee amusements such as my new solar Pope featured above. Struggling with a sentence? I just look up from my work and see the Pope offering his "sunny" blessing. I smile and all seems right with the world.

So now that you’ve heard what I have to share, tune in next week to the blogs of the three writers I have rcommended to see what you can learn from them.

Meet Gretchin Gifford, Your Mom Is Strange:


Gretchin at the Bottom of the Heap (photo by me, btw)

Okay, I have to admit a partiality here because Gretchin Gifford is my sister-in-law, mother to the most wonderful girl on the planet, my niece Ellie, and yes, she is indeed strange, but in a good way, she can tell you all about it on her blog Your Mom is Strange in which she writes about the newfound joys and challenges of motherhood and the strange, wonderful comedy that is life! Her writing keeps getting better and shoot, I admit it, I’m a wee bit jealous. How can she be raising this beautiful, precocious two-year-old and still find time to write and write well? Damn you Gretchin! Seriously though, do check her out. I think you may just love her as much as I do!

Meet Rachel Barlow, Picking My Battles:

One of Rachel's drawings

Rachel makes blogging and drawing and writing look easy, although I bet she wouldn’t think so. Rachel and I met as fellow writers in Jon Katz’s Hubbard Hall Writers’ Group and Rachel has just soared since then launching her wonderfully creative blog, Picking My Battles and a host of other endeavors from writing short stories and selling the online as ebooks to her forthcoming ebook of drawings entitled It’s a Sketchy Life. I love Rachel’s drawings and animations and her keen observations on mothering and daily life. Her blog is a small gem whether she’d admit it or not.

Meet Cathy Armato of Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them:

An image of Cathy from Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

Cathy Armato is a new friend. I met her at in Las Vegas at the airport. We had both just arrived to attend Blogpaws, a conference for pet bloggers. I was drawn to Cathy’s warm personality and kind smile and found that we had much in common when I frequently found us gravitating toward the same places at the conference. I am just getting acquainted with her blog Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them, which seems to be filled with a wealth of information!

Writing Prompt: Take a moment and share your writing process? What gets your writing started? What are you working on and why do you write what you do? Feel free to comment and share on my blog!

Childhood Moments

Dancers at The Artist's Childhood Exhibit, Rose Street Gallery The three dancers skipped over the hardwood floor of the gallery, pretending to catch fireflies. They reenacted childhood, creating through their choreography moments of joy and wonder. I was there showing two of my collages as part of the show The Artist’s Childhood. Each of the exhibiting artist showed work that represented a window into their past. I showed my pieces Blueberry Queen complete with princesses, witches and toads and Recipe for a Fairytale with wolf and moon and dreaming child.

Me and my photos

My two-year-old niece Ellie was there representing childhood first hand. She was mesmerized by the dancers and sat quietly throughout their dance. After, however, she was happy to grab my hands and flit around the dance floor. “See my tutu,” she said grabbing on to her tulle skirt.

Ellie and her tulle skirt

The dance brought me back to the days my grandfather would walk us down the dirt roads by his schoolhouse, jars with punched lids in hand, and allow us to catch the lightening bugs with glowing rumps. It was like catching enchantment in a jar. But these were only memories of childhood, hidden but close to the surface, easy to recall. The next evening I spent a moment in childhood, touring the realms of imagination with Ellie.

After dinner she insisted on visiting Best Buy, entering the store with the declaration “Let’s check out what I want for my birthday.” She then ran down the car stereo aisle, pressing every button and turning every dial. She stopped at every camera instructing me to “say cheese” as she lifted one eye toward the lens. She made me say “cheese” at each and every one.

"Say cheese!"

Then we hit the painted circle in the middle of the store. “This is my swimming pool,” she declared, getting down on the floor in her pretty green dress, hiking it up and exposing her pull-up.

Wiggle, wiggle


“I think it’s a store, Ellie,” I said, “you should get up,” feeling like I at least owed her parents an attempt at keeping her off the germ-ridden floor.

“Nope, it’s a swimming pool,” she declared. “Wiggle, wiggle,” as she kicked her legs and moved her arms, swimming on the dirty floor.

“Let’s do yoga,” she said next, reaching her hands to the sky. Soon she was leading customers and staff in downward dog. “It’s a swimming pool,” she said again, dropping to the floor. And, it didn’t end, not quickly anyway. And, in those moments she stole me from the adult world, away from the realm of responsibility and memory in which we remember childhood from afar. Better than any magician or any choreographed moment, better than any picture or recipe I could concoct, she whisked me into her world of spontaneity and freedom where there were no stores, no dirty floors, just endless depths of possibility waiting to explore.

Catching the Moon



Bike Path

IMG_6506 The thing about paths is you never know where they might lead. Who knew that when I finally mustered up my courage last year and got back up on a bicycle after 30 years off that less than 10 months later I'd be cycling in my first ever fundraising event—The 6th Annual Lund Bike Ride for Children. Sure, it was only a four-mile family ride, but it was a ride. Me, who used to twist her ankles  and cut her legs until they'd bleed just to get out of gym class, doing something that didn't just resemble something athletic, but that was public at that! I don't know if I could have been more proud of myself if it was a 100-mile marathon! Sure, we had some trouble making it up the hills—my sister-in-law was toting her 40 lb. toddler—but we took our time and congratulated ourselves at the effort. We also got to be outside enjoying a beautiful day and some wonderful scenery.




Unless you've been one of those uncoordinated, overweight or ungainly kids who just couldn't seem to do anything from hit a baseball to score a basket, you can't understand just how monumental it is to not only take part in something like that, but to begin to think of yourself as something other than one of those kids, to begin to see yourself not only as someone who can ride a bike, but ride a bike for a cause. You can't know what it feels like to find yourself taking enjoyment in such an experience and not worrying if others see you or if you fail. This might have been called a Ride for Children, but I found myself on Sunday morning doing it for one child in particular–the little girl inside me who used to duck her head at duck, duck goose and pray she'd never have to get up and run and the little girl who used to love to ride her bouncy ball horse across the lawn before anyone told her what she couldn't do or that she didn't measure up. I pedaled my bike up and down those 4 hilly miles for that little girl and for my niece beside me, so both would know that we could do it and that it was fun!


My Story

IMG_6330 It's been a desert for a while. Truth be known I haven't figured out this writing thing--writing for a living, writing blog posts, writing a book, writing festivals, two-page prompts, blogging conferences, teaching writing, correcting papers. I've only got so many words in me before I feel like the well is dry. The story that is my life continues, but admittedly I've left you out of it, drawing back the curtain here and there, revealing only a peek.

From the very beginning of the blog I've struggled with what it is, how to make it one thing when I'm so many. Is it a dog blog, a memoir, a site to sell my art, promote my photography, share my writing? "A site for lovers of pugs, small dogs, writing, art and photography is a mouthful" and is it accurate? My web designers listened to me describe myself and came up with it, but sometimes I drown in its complexity, suffocate to put on the straight jacket and be only one thing. Alternatively, exhausting myself in trying to be all at once. Nobody knows who they are starting out, of course, we all change and grow, but the very fact I rely on web designers, on others makes me hesitant to experiment--it comes with a cost.

Have you figured out this isn't just about the blog yet? You won't violate your family in becoming more of you a counselor once told me. It's hard to figure out who you are when you are trying to be all things to all people. It's hard to be who you are when you confine yourself to someone's singular vision of you.

As recently as last week I lied to my best friend about my then upcoming trip to Las Vegas. True, I was sick and wasn't sure I was going, wasn't sure I could spare the time away, wasn't even sure if it was something I even wanted to do or if it was something I craved. How does a person not know that? How do you explain all that to a friend when she innocently asks "I heard you might be away this week?" She wouldn't be mad, but there are those in my life who might or might offer their unsolicited judgment. Where does she get the time or the money to do that, I imagine them saying, sometimes even hear it to my face, by people with more time and money than I'll ever have. But instead of telling them to f*** off, I tell her no, I don't think so.  I try to become a smaller target, ask permission, lie, cover up even as one resilient, brilliant part of myself struggles like  a flickering lightbulb to shine.

I go to Vegas and fess up to her at least. I go to Blogpaws where people have these neat niche blogs about dogs and cats and even rodents of unusual size (it's an actual organization) and listen as they talk about securing sponsors who will indeed seek out their blogs because they are easy to comprehend and digest. They have their elevator pitch in place-we work to promote pet heath, we rescue canaries, we write from the point of view of our cats.

I go to writers festivals and people share their stories of domestic abuse, incest, a year spent with pirates. I'm writing about my pugs and their breeder, I say and worry I am no longer taken seriously. Should I send my writing students and my editors to my blog? Is this revealing too much of myself?

You shouldn't care what other people think, but what if you're not sure what you think? Do you know you've been talking about Blogpaws since you came back last year, my mother says, using this as proof that I want to go. Maybe that's because I've been trying to decide I argue. It's another lie, I do know what I think, but I say it in such a tiny, quiet voice it's hard to hear.

The problem's not the blog or even figuring out who I am. It’s learning how to be me—the all-over-the-place, many things at once, always moving, always changing, totality of me without apologizing. It’s learning that I don’t have to have all the i’s dotted, the t’s crossed and the curtains hung in place just so before moving forward, before sharing who I am with the world.

That same friend‑the one I lied to, she reminded me of the poem I wrote and shared in the neighboring town’s month-long celebration of poetry. In it I write about my struggle as a photographer to take in the whole scene – “Decide what it is you are trying to say,” a photographer suggests, “with a nod and a period as if that settles the matter.”

“It doesn’t,” I write. “The story pretty much tells itself.” I guess that’s it. I can pre-package and assemble, rearrange and try to put it all in place and just like I return to the struggle, the answer is always the same. Me and my blog? Me and my story? Just like all of you, we’re more than one thing and who we really are always comes to the surface.

So what does this mean? For now, I hope to expand and rearrange the blog a bit, continue tweaking it to help me tell the story in a way that I feel satisfied. But, it also means I’m going to try to be more content with what’s here—not concentrating on the window dressing as much as the content. I’m gonna try to get back to updating you and sharing with you more. I’m going to try to make peace with the fact that it does no good to suck in my gut. I gotta keep letting it all hang out and be all of who I am. This is my story after all.