The less you know

Diane Arbus, 1967. Photo by Roz Kelly.

I'm standing among secrets at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

"A photograph is a secret about a secret," said photographer Diane Arbus, whose work is on display. "The more it tells you the less you know." 

It's a gallery of stark truth. The famed photographer is noted for black-and-white photographs of "deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus performers) or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal."

Arbus believed that a camera could be "a little bit cold, a little bit harsh" but its scrutiny revealed the truth; the difference between what people wanted others to see and what they really did see — the flaws."

Writing, I'm thinking, is much the same. We are veiled and we are exposed. We control the "story" and yet we have no control. Art is in the balance. Or, even better, art is in the imbalance.

"If one is writing well, one is totally exposed," said Kay Ryan, former U.S. Poet Laureate, in the Paris Review. "But at the same time, one has to feel thoroughly masked or protected."

I like secrets, knowing, keeping, storing the mystery deep. One of my favorite poems is A Secret Life by Stephen Dunn:

A Secret Life

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don't say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby . . .

When I am writing, I am a cocoon of secrets. I am both masked and revealed. Aren't we all? And isn't that the delicious draw of creating anything at all?



On this & that, and how are you?

Jessica Hagy - Indexed

On Dinner
The pantry is empty, again, and as I'm shopping, again, I realize much of my life is spent buying family packs of pork chops. And there's just two of us. And I don't really like pork chops.

On Swimming
It's been years since I was surrounded by jumping, squealing, swimsuited children with bird-like bones and rounded bellies, and at the pool I remember how much I like water. But it’s never easy, the strokes, the breathing. So much thinking. I like to float, the water sloshes in my ears and hushes my thinking away.

On Getting Through
A man we know hung himself.

“It’s so sad,” says my husband.

“Yes,” I say. “You just never know what people are going through. But what could we do even if we had known?”

“Save him,” he says, plainly.

We're sitting outside and a full moon burns low.

“I don’t think it works that way,” I answer. “Sometimes you can’t change the pull of sadness.”

We've said so much we are afraid to say anything more so we sit together with the heaviness of truth.

On Dreams
No one wants to hear your dreams. Don’t share them and never, ever, in detail. That said, I’m having vivid dreams. It leaves me exhausted, as if I’ve spent the night working through a whole day. And my god, don't I do enough of this in my waking hours?

On God
I’m writing long letters to God. My calls went unanswered, desperation settled in, and I grabbed a pen. Maybe he thinks me cheeky, wordy, whiny. Letters are best, because even if he did call I couldn't tell which voice is his or mine, and which is the one I want to hear.

On Writing
None of it is stellar. But that’s not the point. The point is to express, and in that act to feel less sad and alone, to find and hold the small points of light.

On Letters
Maybe we’re all writing letters to God. When we garden or hike or bike or sail. When we sing or paint or write. We want to be held, heard, healed. Everything then, every wax and ramble, every accounting and regret, is a sort of holding on.

Dear God. Dear Life. Dear Friend. I am here. How are you?




Poem Central: Win this book!

"The first important thing to understand about this book,” writes Shirley McPhillips, “is that it is based on my belief that poetry is not an academic subject but an art. And therefore it belongs where life is.”

And right away, I'm hooked. I'm in. I'm taking this train all the way to the station.

Billed as a place where people and poems meet, Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers is true to its title. Packed with tips, techniques and practical tools, this book is a focused and valuable resource for poets, teachers, and poets-in-the-making.

Author-editor Shirley McPhillips is a seasoned teacher, speaker, writer, and poet laureate for Choice Literacy. Her path to poetry is road-tested and real, and she deftly combines solid structure, thorough research, and genuine encouragement.

Divided into three parts — weaving poetry into lives and classrooms, reading poems, and writing poems — Poem Central gathers a range of voices: professional poets, inspired teachers, known and unknown writers, artists, illustrators, musicians, editors, and students, who offer examples and samples of how poetry plays a part in their lives. This down-to-earth approach gives the book an encouraging and inclusive vibe. [Disclosure: I’m one of those "unknown writers." McPhillips found my poem, Instructions, exactly and asked for permission to include it in the book.] 

This toothy and well-designed resource stands proudly with other gems in its genre — The Crafty Poet by Diane Lockward and Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard, for example — and the book’s elaborate resources and reference sections lead to even more treasures. 

Best of all, McPhillips speaks my language:

“One of poetry’s gift, for me, is the nourishment of an inner life — the outside brought in, rearranged, and sent back out again,” she writes. “It is a meeting place for the objects and activity of the outside world and the inner world of consciousness and imagination. Recognizing, attuning, reaching out, connecting, responding. This is the place for poetry; this is the attitude of poetry. This is how it shows us a way we might face life.”

Win this book!
To enter a drawing to win a Poem Central by Shirley McPhillips, simply add your name and contact info in the blog comments section by August 12, 2014. I'll randomly (eyes closed!) choose a name from the entries. The winner will be announced on August 13, 2014.



Thankful Thursday: Signs

Newport, Oregon

Gratitude. Appreciation. Praise.

It's Thankful Thursday. Please join me in a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things & more.

It's no secret that I'm in search of signs; Each day I read two horoscopes (strength in second opinions), and turn a simple phrase into pertinent message. I'm soft for mystery, meaning, serendipity.

During Summer Writing Adventure Camp last month, the youngsters and I stumbled into our "theme song," a tune sang at every street sign: Stop, look, what's that sound? Everybody look what's going down.

Thank you, Buffalo Springfield. Of course, none of the children had heard of the band, the song, or the war prompting the song.

To be true, I was first to belt it out, as an urgent plea to get the youngsters to, well, stop for traffic. But then the tune hung around as a call to pay attention to the world. Full disclosure: I was doing most of the singing, off-key, and frequently confusing "sound" for "sign."

You can imagine my delight, then, when we discovered an actual sign tucked into a wooded lot in the heart of Newport, Oregon's historic Nye Beach: 

I love you, too.  

So sweet and warm. So yes.

Like all good signs, there's a backstory. Artist Shannon Weber is "on a mission to change the world one love note at a time." Learn all about her project at

We stood staring at the sign in wonder. We took photos (it's generational, you know, to view life as a photo waiting for capture). We gawked and wondered: who? what? what more?

And then we discovered, beyond the sign, sculpture among weeds, art within bramble. This wasn't a neglected lot at all! How many times had we walked right past, never giving a second, deeper, look?

A simple sign, of just four words, changed our pace, perception, and day.


What are you thankful for today?


on a mission to change the world one love note at a time - See more at:
a San Francisco-based ephemeral artist on a mission to change the world one love note at a time. - See more at:
a San Francisco-based ephemeral artist on a mission to change the world one love note at a time. - See more at:

Are you Pliable or Payable? 

Things are often not what they seem.

Lately, many things are not what I see.

I’m in a loop of misreadings.*


While reading a church service program

What I read: 
Following the service you may stay for prayer, or exist silently.

What it actually said: 
Following the service you may stay for prayer, or exit silently.

While reading a fashion & style blog

What I read:
An Object of Desire: The Perfectly Colored Blog

What it actually said:
An Object of Desire: The Perfectly Colored Bag

While paying bills

What I read: 
Accounts Pliable

What it really said:
Accounts Payable

I much prefer a pliable balance.

Do we see what we want to see? And is the tired mind a conduit for surprising, better lines of our own?

I have a friend who writes every night, in bed, before going to sleep. Even when she is tired. Especially when she is tired. That's when the good stuff happens, she says. The mind is slogged and lets loose what is normally corrected and contained.

May we all have tired but willing, pliable minds (and bank accounts).

What are you reading, or misreading? 

* With a nod to Sarah J. Sloat, a writer who often shares misreadings on her blog, The Rain in My Purse.