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Monthly Archives: August 2017

3 Things I Learned at a Writing Retreat

“Rustic cabins with all the conveniences of home,” the email gushed. “Miles of pristine forest trails to explore, and spectacular sunsets over the lake.” There were photos of blissed-out writers doing tai chi in the grass, getting massages, or writing intently on sunlit porches. “You take care of everyone else,” the email nodded sagely. “Isn’t it time to do something for YOU?” I handed over my credit card number in five minutes flat. A few days later I was out the door, bound for Lake Something-or-Other for a weekend of writing, communing with nature, and supporting other women writers. Here’s what I learned: Number One: I can live without wifi, but I really need a heads up if there’s not going to be electricity. And when you say “all the conveniences of home” I assume that includes flushing toilets. And a roof. Not to…

Em Dash-ians Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Commas …

  I wrote my first, furtive em dash as a freshman in high school. A boy I liked in English class was sneaking them into his paragraphs willy-nilly, despite our teacher’s objections. I was preparing a speech to the assembly, and it sounded stiff and boring — which was crazy, because I’m hilarious, and I knew the speech was, too. The periods made me stop. The commas let me slow down, but didn’t give me the dramatic effect I was after. And using exclamation points drove me crazy! No, I wanted long, sweeping paragraphs — interrupted by bursts of humor or pique — that packed an emotional punch. I wanted the punctuation to guide my voice as I spoke, to give my words rhythm and power and depth. The em dash made it happen. I spent the next several years writing research papers and playing by The Man’s…

Behind the Green Door

Kiefer was still holding my hand, squeezing a little too hard, but it was dark and he seemed to know where he was going, so I didn’t complain. “Almost there,” he whispered. “Portuguese wine and cheese biscuits, coming right up.” He turned left abruptly, and I stumbled into one of the crumbling stone walls lining the alley. Something wet and furry brushed against my ankle and I squealed. “It’s just a rat,” he shrugged. “No worries, here’s the door.” I pulled up short in front of a dark, wooden archway. The door itself was hidden in shadow, and dark shutters covered the windows. I’d only been on the Camino for a few days, so I was hardly an expert, but this didn’t look like any hostel I’d seen so far. “Are they open?” I didn’t see any light inside, and I was starting…

There’s No Such Thing as Perfect Timing

Stop waiting for perfection. Step out there. In Vila do Conde, Portugal, on my second morning of walking the Camino de Santiago, I am struck again by the pragmatic faith in this little village. There are no guard rails on the footbridges, no warning signs, no walk/don’t walk signals. I stand stupidly on the sidewalk, longing to cross the busy street to the café I see on the other side. I watch, horrified, as other pedestrians simply step out into the traffic — just throw themselves into mortal danger with no apparent fear. I’m equally amazed when the zooming cars brake for them. Just stop, in the middle of the road, to let them pass. And wave merrily as they speed off again. Not me. I stand on the curb, hyperventilating. I want bedrock assurances that the cars will stop before I put myself in peril. The drivers…

Runaway Mom

My Teenager’s Not a Flight Risk. But I am. At age 55, I set out alone to hike the Camino de Santiago from Portugal to Spain. Like so many pilgrims, I came home both reflective and giddy, eager to share my experience about walking the sacred Way, and what it meant to me. Here’s what I never talk about: I left my 16-year-old son home alone while I did it. That’s right. I left the country, strapped on my backpack, and allowed my teenager to fend for himself for several weeks. In my defense, it was all his idea. Cameron adamantly refused stay with relatives; he had school, he said, and his part-time job at the burger joint, his speech competitions on Saturdays, and his theater rehearsals. He wasn’t budging. So I ran away to Europe, and left him. Alone. The youngest…

Stop Eating Meat! (Just Kidding)

Well, I’m kidding a little. We Americans love meat – roasted, grilled, fried, baked or simmered all day in our greens. We don’t consider a meal complete without a big hunk of beef, pork or chicken taking up half the plate, and when we hit the fast food joints, we head straight for the double-thick, extra-large, bacon-covered animal flesh. We feed our kids the same way, teaching them to savor all that fatty goodness, and to turn up their noses at broccoli. And let’s face it: meat is yummy. Is there any aroma more intoxicating than thick steaks on your outdoor BBQ? Who can live without fried chicken? Or a succulent, perfectly roasted turkey? The problem is the amount of meat we consume far exceeds what is healthy for our bodies, our community or our planet. Americans eat an average of .75 pounds of meat…