What I’m writing

What I’m writing – January 15th

I had the lovely fortune to have dinner with two dear former students at a taqueria in my old neighborhood this weekend. They made googly eyes at each other and I cracked jokes- it was a grand time. The conversation came around (as always) to what I do besides teaching, and I mentioned that I’ve been writing a lot. She asked me to send her some poetry, he said 12 words was his limit for reading, and I brought up THE NOVEL that I am writing. He insisted that he be put into the book, but we had to think for a moment to decide what role he could play in a 19th century Western.

“How could you exist in a time without cars? What would you be?”

“A farmer!” he said eagerly. His girlfriend laughed.

“I think —  a blacksmith.”

We decided that he’ll play a minor role, that my main character will go to town and casually remark, “Why is the blacksmith so fucking skinny?” and that will be that.


So when I came home that night, naturally I had to write. And since so far the novel lives in fragments that have come to me at random times, I had to actually decide on a place to start and on where I would go next. After re-reading my first page, I decided to have my narrator go back to what she sees as the beginning of her story:

We met in the Spring, Alfie and I, when the magnolias were throwing blossoms up like excited praise at the sky. I was a slip of a thing at 15 and he was already his broad farm boy self. I remember the first time that he came to call for me. It were somehow different than all the hundreds of times he’d come from his Daddy’s farm to mine to help with haying or raise our new barn or borrow a horseshoe.

I didn’t think I’d start this quite so linearly, but one of the hesitations I’m facing is that I need to make a lot of fabric for this story. It can’t be sparse like poetry, made of twisted strands and beads. It needs to be woven, thickly, so it can stand up to all the important embroidery with which I intend to embellish it. I think that I’ve been writing poetry with such focus for a while now that I need to reconsider the demands of volume that prose presents. In a way, this takes the pressure off a little. I don’t need to make each word perfect (yet!) and instead can just focus on putting them together on the loom and building something.


Other writing notes:

  • I’ve been looking at the number of submissions for each poem in my basket, and I’m surprised by how few times each one has gone out. That makes the fact of my non-publication a little easier, because it means that each poem has not really had its full chance to shine yet. Many of my best poems are recent, so they’ve only been traveling the world for a few months or a few weeks. There’s hope! I’ll be working on getting those numbers up in the next couple of months.
  • Have been following some great writing blogs and sites these days:
  • My freshmen will be writing “This I Believe” Essays this week, and I’m thinking of writing one, too, but I’m so unsure of what I’d write about! Maybe something about how it’s essential to show people you care, but since that’s born of a very recent personal story of someone NOT caring, I’m not sure I’ll choose to expose that part of my tender soul right now. I’ll keep you posted if I do.


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What I’m writing: 2019 goals

What I’m writing: 2019 goals

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing these past few days; where I’ve been and where I’m going next. It’s tempting to make huge, impossible goals for the new year, or to resolve to somehow *be better.* There is an incredibly articulate toddler version of myself that runs around my brain screaming “I’m GONNA write a novel and I’m GONNA get poetry published and I’m SO MAD about it but I’m HAPPY.” I’m going to continue to let her run around at will — she’s in charge of morale. But in terms of actual planning for my future as a writer, my thought process needs to be moderated a little. Let’s start with where I am.

What I’m writing these days:

  • Over the holiday season, I wrote Christmas cards.
  • I wrote a couple of longer Christmas letters to people I’m especially lovingly close to. In the future, I’d like to make Christmas Letters a real tradition within the family I create, because what better gift exists than that of writing how we feel?
  • I wrote a review of a book I really liked
  • I wrote three really smashing recommendation letters
  • I wrote a list of kids for whom I want to keep track of college acceptances
  • I wrote in my journal so much that I changed my mindset and left a lot of bad things behind. Pages upon pages.
  • I rewrote the first ~700 words of this novel I’d like to write
  • I wrote four poems (are they good? idk)
  • I started writing two pieces of an essay about why literature matters (another piece is already written).


So, where to go next:

I’ve been primarily writing poetry since 2017, and while the poems keep coming on like waves, there now seems to be more room for other things. I really would like to write this novel. It’s a Western, it’s psychologically complex, it has a woman protagonist, and it’s going to deal with some historical things I think about a lot. Can I write a novel in a year? Is 2019 “the year of the novel?” Maybe, but I’ve never done that before so I’m not really sure how that works for me. My novels in the past have been long stretched-out projects that take years or don’t make it.

Have you heard of the “85K90 Challenge”? I first read about it on Ari Meghlin’s site, here: “Are you doing the 85K90 Writing Challenge?” but the official website can be found here: 85k90.com. I’m hesitant to start a challenge because it doesn’t quite fit with my writing process, because it would be wrong to prioritize something over my teaching, and because I highly doubt I’ll be ready to actually get published by the end of the year, but I like the concept! Thinking about joining to just see what happens. If anyone has done this I would LOVE to hear about your experience.

Poetry submissions were scary at first, but I think I’ve mastered it (or at least, I’m respectable now). But I need to submit WAY more poetry to WAY more places. So in 2019, one of my goals is to double my submissions. Rejection isn’t fun, but I’ve learned that it feels better if I have multiple irons in the fire at all times.

And in 2019, I’d like to write more essays. One of my favorite things that I’ve ever written was the last essay I wrote alongside my AP Lang class last year. I’ll probably pull that out in the next month or two and edit it, then decide if there’s anywhere that would be a reasonable fit. I’m not sure how to become an essayist except “be Annie Dillard,” but I enjoy piecing things together and thinking about a particular problem in nonfiction form.

Other Goals:

  • Connect with more writers who actually do the kind of writing I do.
    (which is what? okay, point taken)
  • Go to a writing conference or retreat or take a class.
  • Fill up a big notebook
  • Finish more short pieces of prose and practice good revision.
  • Continue to write alongside my students, which is one of my favorite things to do.
  • Write more on the blog — and hey, if I started a “tiny letter,” would anyone read it?


What are your writing goals? Want to be my writing friend? Give me a comment; I’d love to follow you. 


Snow Day News

This just in from Providence: Snow Days are excellent for reading and grading essays and armchairs and coffee and braiding and re-braiding my hair. I’m a teacher, and we’re nearing the end of the quarter, so I’m working from home today— should I take a selfie with my stack of papers to grade? I’m also taking time to myself to rest and renew and light candles.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “snowflakes dancing,” but have you thought about what this actually looks like? I was sitting cross-legged on my bed this morning and staring out the window, and I realized that the way snowflakes dance is not individualistic — sure, they bounce around and they’re cute, but the dancing part is more than that. As the wind changes direction, the snowflakes all swerve in unison, moving with a rhythm that is collective and graceful and known only to them and the gusts of winter wind. It reminded me of contra-dancing, which I learned way back in Virginia. A caller shouts out directions, and the group all changes direction or switches hands or swaps partners in parallel motion. It’s a dance you have to do with a bunch of laughing, jolly people, and it happens either in a big circle or in lines like the Virginia Reel. Snowflakes move like that, in packs. But there’s no caller telling them which way to waltz. Or maybe there is.

Maybe that’s what snowstorms are for: a reminder that there are forces bigger and more destructive or generative than us. Maybe we should take more time to marvel at that.


New Year’s Poem

New poetry– in honor of the dawn of 2018. Changes ringing already. 

New Year’s Poem

did you champagne me
because I sparkle or
because our love is not rosé?
should fireworks remind me
to be surprised by you?

is delight really a substitute
for constancy, devotion,
for roses, not petals
for choosing our bedsheets together?

I will think at clock-strike
what good I am without you
and what color I could be
if I bloomed anew this Spring.

and do I, as snowflakes christen midnight,
want to begin again with you?

or do I conceive
a newborn, pink-cheeked,
lonesome me.



I haven’t written much this October, and so this November I need to come back to writing. Getting back to writing is an acknowledgement that writing will take me back. And that I have written before, I have been a writer, I AM a writer. Just one who’s drifted away.

Two nights ago the Northeast, where I live in a little city neighborhood nestled next to the water, was pummeled by a massive raging storm. All night I woke in cycles, hearing and fearing the hits of the wind against my windows. Damage, trauma, trees down, and then we slowly pick up and get back to work. Do we leave the leaves on the ground? Which branches are big enough to stop us, and which are just reminders of history?

I think often of the damage-inflicting events of our lives. Grief, war, addiction, violence, poverty, racism, abuse. Recently we’ve been talking about sexual assault (some readers may want to stop here) and the ways that it changes us and our ways of trusting and giving and living and being in our bodies. I am trying to listen to my sisters and brothers and hoping that they can pick up strings and tie themselves into their own strength. But I know it’s too much to expect for everyone to be okay.

Right now, I’m reading The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. She names her novel after the site of Geraldine’s rape, and she knows that she has to unfold the truth quickly. There’s been some criticism out there lately about authors using rape as a plot device, but that’s not the case here. The novel is about how to step back up into life after trauma. So far in my reading, Geraldine is not doing it– not resuming, that is. And that has to be okay; we have to suspend judgement. But we also have to want her and will her to get better. Erdrich’s narration forces us to do so from behind the closed door. Instead, we watch Joe, her 13-year old son, trying to go on and grow up. This is a far kinder and more beautiful way to write the book.

The Round House begins with an image of weeds creeping into the cracks of a house. An image, I think, of damage and trouble invading where they don’t belong, multiplying organically. Joe and his father, together, are a unified front against the little trees. Later in the book they carefully tend Joe’s mother’s garden when she won’t leave her room. They bring her cut flowers to show the nurturing they can do. They are gentle and yet fierce in their protection.


Outside my window right now is a prodigious tree made prostrate by the storm. It drapes like the willow it isn’t over the fence of the park next door. It is cracked into impossible angles, yet it still forms one entangled mass. It’s broken and someone will come to break it more and take it away and clean up. The neighborhood won’t be treeless; we’ll resume our ways. But I think it’s right that there’s a time to see it and let it be ruined and count its branches.

In my poetry class, my kids are making family trees. What are their branches? Which kid will hesitate before putting someone’s name down? Which kid will really kind of wish he could chop off an entire branch? Which kid will choose a symbol that’s NOT a tree? Which kid will be thinking about the ways her family could grow?

As for me, I’m letting things lie draped over and slightly broken, and I’m coming back to writing.