On New Year’s Resolutions

A version of this post was published in the January 5th edition of the WriterHouse newsletter. On New Year’s Day, 1985, I wrote down a list of goals for the new year and promised to do this until the year I die. Thirty-two years have passed. Every year, I faithfully sit on my bed and read past resolutions before creating new ones. I keep them in a pink fiberboard jewelry box my great-grandmother gave me. The earliest resolutions were oragamied into squares teens of a certain decade will recognize. Over the years, resolutions have included travel plans, getting a boyfriend, skydiving from 10,000 feet, and being kinder to others. Some were completely unrealistic, like be 100% happy all the time, while others were easily achieved. Goals I met received stars or checks. Unmet goals were left for another year. From … Read More

Ruthless Editing (Or Loving Your Work to the Next Level)

On October 1st, I started the fourth draft of my memoir by channeling George Saunders. I’d recently watched his interview on Late Night with Seth Myers. During that interview, Saunders explained how his editorial process shows respect for his readers and love for his characters. He sees each revision as an act of love. I need to cut 25,000 words from my fourth draft. That’s a lot of love. Over the past few months, I’ve read The Story Cure by Dinty Moore, attended Hippocamp, and read a number of blog posts on making good writing great. Here are some of the strategies I’ve learned. Examine your character arc: Good memoirs are about transformation. Many writers outline the narrative arc for their books and have a good sense of how the plot moves forward. But it’s also important to outline the … Read More

Five Ways to Write with an Open Heart

–Originally Published in the August 18, 2017 Newsletter for WriterHouse “Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.” ― George Saunders, The Braindead Megaphone At noon on Saturday, August 12th, I sat in a meditation session with twenty-five other people. Cloistered in a yoga studio, we silently practiced loving kindness meditation while sirens blared and helicopters flew overhead. By the time the event ended, chaos had enveloped our downtown. Roving bands of angry men carrying shields and batons walked the city streets. Heather Heyer was dead. The scene and the sounds were shocking. I couldn’t believe what was happening to my beloved city. By the time I made it home and turned … Read More

On Gardenias and Other Cathectic Objects

Last spring, I bought a new house with a landscaped front yard. By the end of summer, fifty percent of the boxwoods had died. Last weekend, we finally replaced those dead bushes with some blue hydrangea and daisy gardenias. (Yeah, I’m that neighbor.) The gardenia bushes were already flowering when we bought them even though it’s only mid-spring and they’re typically summer bloomers. On the way home from the nursery, the flowers’ perfume enveloped my car, bringing up images of my grandmother. I could practically hear her stories about the good old days in the Bronx of her youth, her Os twisting into that tight “oi” sound as she set the stage for life in 1935. Gardenias were her favorite flowers. She wore them to high school dances, the blooms so sweet she didn’t need any eau’ de toilet. By … Read More

The Ribbon Test

Some physicians feel that real illness is sanctioned by ribbons, colors, and celebrity spokespersons. Read about the challenges of life with an unsanctioned illness in The Ribbon Test published by Streetlight.

Half-Time

Twenty years ago, I lost my brother to suicide during a bitterly cold winter when the sun refused to shine. He was twenty years, eight months, and two days old—as old as he will ever be in this lifetime. I was twenty-two and believed I was on the cusp of something profound. Grief wasn’t the destination I expected, but it’s the one I’ve learned to cultivate into something profound and beautiful. For the most part, I have a deep sense of peace regarding my brother’s death. I know that like 90% of people who die by suicide, Joe had a diagnosable, treatable mental illness—in his case severe depression. I know everyone involved did the best they could and that we all loved each other. I know that life is not a guarantee. Each day is a precious gift. Today is … Read More

Reflections on Justice

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King Jr. As a kid, I used to watch the black and white movie about Martin Luther King’s life that played on PBS. My brothers and I leaned in to the thirteen-inch screen and winced with each crack of the baton or spray of a fire hose. We were mesmerized by the courage shown by the civil rights activists in the face of hatred and oppression. Every year I asked myself the same question: Could I be that brave? We live in dark times. Hate spills out of the airwaves and into living rooms. Oppressions I will never fully understand happen every day. Rights may be taken away while corruption spreads its wings. If I focus on … Read More

Psychic Distance

In my high school biology class we sliced off transparent films of onion skin with our fingernails then slipped them under wet-mount slides in order study plant cells. My onion was red. I dyed it with a single drop of methylene blue so the nuclei would be visible. As kids around me chomped gum and slipped notes to each other, I pressed my forehead to the eyepiece, certain I was about to witness a miracle. With a few adjustments to the focus, the plant’s cells appeared. Rows of nuclei stared back at me. It was like looking into the onion’s soul. Sometime editing feels like working under a microscope. We lean into the page, hoping our intense study will reveal the story’s genetic code. Strings of words are analyzed, sentences built then tossed out. It’s easy to believe that composing … Read More