Love that line!

Past the point of desperation lies inspiration.

— Priscilla Long
The Writer's Portable Mentor:
A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life 


This book has been setting on my desk for years (yes, years!). With the dedication of a student learning anew, I recently dug in — and have felt surprisingly energized with fresh writing prompts and ideas.

I like a good prompt and often turn to books; I have no patience in waiting for the "muse" to "inspire" me. Does a plumber wait for the right pipe to magically appear, or a surgeon wait for the stars to align before he begins to cut? No, you go out and get what you need, and then stick to your schedule.  

And so, both mood and magic have been tossed aside for the more reliable forces of effort and will. I've got my very own mentor in this get-to-it book. 

What guides your writing? A person, a book, a class . . . ? 



Twist of fact and wish


Once I wrote a letter that lasted weeks. 

Once I wrote a letter that did not end.

This is the field, or a river, a wide sky expecting rain.

This is fresh paper, without blemish, without fear.

This is the letter turned to you, to god, to myself. Signed, sealed, sent to an undeliverable address. This is me hiding.  


He wrote a book of poems to his dead wife. I wondered if this was mastery or manipulation. But what poem isn't a twist of fact and wish? A rewrite of life as if facts were nails or hammers, something solid like a tool, or a fastener to truth that hangs useless until put to purpose.


Because something loosens and stirs, I keep writing, though the words make no sense, though I do not direct the message, do not even have a message. I keep the pen moving, the way my lips move in prayer, the way my mother pleads with me to keep moving, keep doing the work. 

The way even now I do not know if she said those words or I wanted her to offer the kind of encouragement we could never seem to say aloud. 


When nothing moves in me, my hand moves quickly across the page, with some sort of faith that life is more —and less — than now now now.

The here is the after, the after is here, on this page, in my hand, writing to you. 


This is why I pray with just one word, whispered, begged, again and again: please. 




Wonder, defiance, a bath

   Joy is an act of defiance. 

— Bono
The New York Times


Because the world is too much, the outlook so grim. Because my heart hurts and my body is burden. Because there is much breaking and the mending is so slow. Because of this, joy is a struggle but also a balm. 

When I meet with a friend, our time is filled with wine and laughter. It's not that I'm happy, she says, but that if I don't laugh I'll cry

We're relieved to have found an envelope of safety where laughter buffers despair.  
At the nursing home the man sings What a Wonderful World, and Betty cries.

Real tears, full tears that she wipes away with the full of her hand, then looks around with a half-smile, embarrassed. She's not alone; a lump has gathered in my throat too.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

The singer is a one-man-band but I’m moved nonetheless. We're sitting in a dining room turned temporary concert hall, and suddenly I’m so damn sad. When I look about the room — the vacant stares and blank faces —I wonder the point: Why the charade of fun and light, of music and good times? So many of these folks are in pain, some of them out-of-mind, seemingly numb and distant.

And yet, there’s Betty with a sad smile, the music moving her to someplace deep and meaningful. And when I look closer, Helen, sitting next to her, is gazing at Betty with a sort of empathy I’d never seen. And a few wheelchairs away Rose is swaying gently in her chair.

Though we are alone and lost in ourselves, music is the powerful nudge, stirring mind and memory to tell us we are here, now, that we are loved, and that we have loved too. 

. . . and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Because of this, I run water for a bath, slip into lavender and eucalyptus, and gratefully wash the weary away. 



 * as always, names are changed. 



In a weary world, why write?


 Reality has so 

good and bad 

you have to

shape it to

live in it. 


Penelope Scambly Schott

Answer to the question, "Why write?" in a conversation at The Wild Pleasures of Writing, a writing workshop in Parkdale, Oregon in September 2017.  





Who will save this town?

The examined life is

everyday reimagined.

What we cannot see is

the new normal, designed

for a more spirited drive.

When remaking change

keep it loose, be moved. 

Artifice is so unpretty.

Our most important mark

is this wild kingdom.  

— Drew Myron


Lost, found, reconfigured. When words don't flow, I dip into those already composed. This poem is created entirely from headlines and adlines in the latest The New York Times Style Magazine. I've added is and a when for transitional purposes. 

I like to play with words, and found poems reduce the pressure to write "good." Sometimes the path to good is a road near borrow (with attribution).

Want more? Check out these excellent visual found poems: 

Sarah J. Sloat - poems in the pages of Misery, a novel

Judy Kleinberg - cut-n-paste poems 

Mary Ruefle - a master of visual poetry

Austin Kleon - king of the blackout poem 


See some of my found poems: 

Instructions, exactly

Getting Lost

See Me