No More Narrative

By Matt Groening

At a writing workshop years ago, the instructor provided a list of words to avoid. The list was lengthy and I remember just one: lavender

I loved lavender. The plant, the smell, the emotional elegance of its earthiness. I wanted to ladle lavender into every poem. 

But she was right. Lavender is too expected. Lavender is overused. As much as I adore lavender — the plant and the word — I left it for better, less expected, words. 


Remember when green was used in every-other-sentence as a signifier for good and environmental, and then was replaced with sustainable. And then we suffered a cliche hangover and spoke in plain language that said what we meant?

Okay that last part didn't happen. We may have momentarily come to our senses, only to replace story with narrative and talk with dialogue (it's not a verb!). 

Here's a tip: Using bigger words doesn't work; it just makes you bloated and big-headed. It doesn't make you deep or thoughtful or smart. (I'm looking at you Krista Tippet). 

Just talk to me. In plain language. If you really want to conversate (yuck), just talk — directly in plain, easy language. 


In the spirit of saving us from ourselves, I offer an updated list of words to avoid, in writing and in life: 





agreeance  (the word is agreement; don't try to fancy it up)

muse/musings  (unless you're 12 years old and writing with a pink pen)


moonlight (due to overuse the moon is no longer poetic)



What's on your list?



I miss Matt Groening's Forbidden Words. We need an update! 




Age, Illness, and Muddling Through

  A fundamental problem with our current
health care system is that its measure of success
is the delay of death, rather than the quality of life. 

— Ai-hen Poo 
from The Age of Dignity:
Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America 


Age and illness consume me.

And that's not a bad thing. My attention, and my reading, is centered around calls for change.*

With health care in general it seems we're muddling through, hoping our leaders will choose the least cruel of options. To that quagmire, add the  "silver tsunami" and we're in a real mire. Medicine, health insurance, hospital visits, long-term care, assisted living, home care — these costs add up, and quick!  Even if you've saved, you can't save enough.

Am I scaring you? I'm overwhelmed too. 

I've seen the physical and emotional impact that sickness and aging has on individuals and families. In my work at the nursing home, and in my own family, we wrestle with questions that have no good answers: what's covered? what's not? who pays? how much? What, really, is quality of life? Who decides? 

There are no rules. Each situation, just like each family, is nuanced with its own needs and expectations. Feeling adrift, I turn to books (again and always), for direction, solace, suggestions: 

Here are a few — each very different in tone and style — that I've found helpful:  

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Bettyville: A Memoir 

How the Medicaid Debate Affects Long-Term Care Decisions from Your Money - The New York Times


Your turn: Are you confronting these issues? What's helped? What hasn't? 


* Sidenote: I'm healthy! Everyone else is falling apart. (kidding) (not kidding). 


Thankful Thursday: Passively Active

It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things & more. Joy expands and contracts in relation to our gratitude. From small to super-size, from puny to profound, tell me, what are you thankful for today? 


It's summer. We now have permission to live passively active. Y'know, loll in hammocks, dawdle through books, sip cold drinks. As always, I'm thankful for these deliciously long sun-drenched "lazy does it" days. 

On this Thankful Thursday, I'm grateful for these nuggets of discovery:  

Reading is a form of meditation

I've never been able to meditate. Sustaining good posture while enduring admonishments to clear the mind turn me fidgety and resentful. But now, I discover, I've been meditating all along:   

"Reading is one of the fastest and easiest ways to reduce stress. Research shows listening to music reduces stress by 61 percent, going for a walk by 42 percent, drinking a cup of tea by 54 percent, but reading reduces stress levels by 68 percent" (according to this book, for which I'm also thankful).

Stamps as art

Have you seen the new stamps honoring designer Oscar de la Renta? (Of course you have because of course you write letters). Aren't they beauties? Makes me want to create long, confessional correspondence. Or even better, makes me want to open a letter addressed to me and adorned with this pretty postage. 

The world loves you 

 Here's proof:

“The secret is that the world loves you in direct proportion to how much you love it.”

 Laura Kasischke


Your turn: What are you thankful for today?  



Thankful Thursday: I Am But A Dustpan

I haven't written in a while because I don't want to talk about my aching feet and how too many people have told me it's my fault because I wear high heels but they don't know that shoes are the only thing that always fit (until your bunion takes over) and I don't want to be the kind of person who chooses sensible over stylish.

So I'm sorry, I don't want to bring you down or talk about the things I can't stop thinking about: the hard work and low pay of the (mostly) women who feed, wipe, bathe, dress and care for people so late in their lives and so ill that there are few people left that can care for them. 

I can't stop thinking about the craggy chasm between these (mostly) young women scraping by and the (mostly) old men at the wheel of our lives, making laws and revoking essentials, leaving dignity like a broken down car at the edge of the cliff. I don't want to talk about justice and compassion, those Boy Scout words that now seem as antiquated as landlines and paper maps.

There are calls for our greater selves to surface, to act. Am I obligated to resist, resist, resist

Empathy is a verb. But so is resignation. 

I don't want to bother you with the way my body is leaden with these thoughts and how I've turned inward and slow, how I've read three self-help books in one week and feel none the better.

Everything is a project, and I've run out of gas, will, wine. 

My neighbor, a kind older man who keeps a meticulous lawn, comes looking for me. He hasn't seen me lately, he says. "Are you okay?" 

And just like that I want to tell you that big sweeps are for grand rooms, and I am but a dustpan able to clean a small space. I am cared for and cared about. I love and am loved, and doesn't that erase, or ease, or relax for just a minute this fist I am shaking at the world? 

At the nursing home one of my favorite Bettys (a popular name among the geriatric generation) asks me again and again, "Where am I supposed to be?" 

"Right here," I say, reaching for her hand. "You're right where you're supposed to be."

Her face softens, fear subsides. "Oh good," she sighs. 

We sit together in the quiet.

"You're a pretty girl," she says. 

I'm not a girl. I have bunions and jowls and I know it's not beauty she sees but a small pause of kindness, and I want to do everything I can to live up to her words. 

This evening as the sun slips and the heat softens, I read a poem of just two lines. I can do that. Read, read, write. One line, a start. Let's not save the world, or even ourselves. Right now, in this warm glow, let's just be here, right where we belong. 



It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things & more. Our joy contracts and expands in relation to our gratitude. Big or small, puny or profound, what are you thankful for today? 


* With gratitude to Rebecca Lindenberg, who wrote the poem pictured at top. It appears in The Logan Notebooks. 



Sunday Morning

And when I wake up in the morning feeling love

And when I wake up in the morning with love

And when I wake up in the morning and feel love

And when I wake up in the morning already loving

How the body works to help us feel it


Emmy Perez
from Rio Grande~Bravo