For my mother, upon your death, a spark of dust


We are sitting here together in the peacefulness of your bedroom. A place you redesigned to include a beautiful bathroom, with a wide tub against a window, a warming towel rack – your dream respite. You did such a stunning job. I’ve always loved sitting in your bedroom, reading or talking to you. I am glad we are here now, together as you start your path to a different phase of life – that of death.

Mom, I hope that in your passing, I will be less afraid of death, as it, many times, colors my actions and anxieties. But this death, yours in this room, I want it to be a whispered song. I want you to listen  to the wind chimes outside of your window, the wind blowing through the trees in our backyard, and breathe in the solemnity of home you have created here.

For me, seeing you in our home brings me great comfort, knowing that you are safe and in the care of people who love you. Even though you have suffered through this terrible disease, we have helped determine how you will die. You will die in your own home, in your own bedroom, with your family and loved ones nearby. You will die without pain because of the medicines we give you. You will die having been able to say I love you to the ones you hold so dear, and hear them say it to you. We have been given a gift of that time – to say goodbye, to fill out hearts with each other.

I will miss you so desperately. I know my heart will break thinking about you not here. Even now, it grieves knowing the future.

I was talking to Dad a few days ago; he has been saying that cancer is the malady of all disease. I said that cancer reminded me of the Nothing. Do you remember that, from The NeverEnding Story? That is one of my favorite books. The Nothing eats away at everything around it. You put in a hand, and you lose it. A toe and it’s gone. The Nothing in the story is death. Everyone runs from it. Many are driven insane if they come too close. But the Nothing will be come for all of us, no matter what we do; disappearing our friends, our loved ones, our world. You have put in your uterus, your brain, your lungs, and your bones. The Nothing has touched each part to take it away from you, so that you may disappear entirely.

I have always loved stories, Mom. You helped me develop that. You let me read by the light of the bathroom when I was little. You gave me free reign of any book in the house or library. One of my most cherished memories of you is waking up and walking into your bedroom in the morning. I would find you propped up on several pillows, reading a book and drinking coffee. You particularly loved mysteries, and later, rather smutty vampire novels. You loved fantasy and science fiction, to be lost in another world.

About a month ago, you told me a story about how you had only gotten glasses when you were 8 years old. Until then, you were barely able to see. When you put on your glasses, you said you looked at grass with amazement. You were really able to see its lush green-ness for the first time, and marveled at how the blades were separated like little soldiers.

It flabbergasted me – to think that for the beginning part of your life, you had lived in a blinded state. This surprised me more because I knew how much you read as a child. I imagined you straining your eyes against weak lamplight to read your favorite books. It must have been such a comfort – to see another world so clearly when you could not see your own.

I don’t gravitate to the same genres you do. You know I love personal narrative and memoir – I love to read the stories of real people, and I love to write about my life and the people I experience. When I first started to write, and call myself a writer, I talked to you about it. I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure you’d understand. But you did, of course, because you are a lover of words like me. I told you I wanted to write a book, and you were so excited. I was surprised, but more by my own lack of foresight than anything. Of course you would love it if I wrote a book. My first real piece was published in a literary magazine – about you – and you kept it in your bedside table drawer. I knew you were moved and proud of my work.

I love these kinds of stories, Mom, because they help people come alive. I love that they help us with legacy, giving us the backbone of family gatherings; they help us remember each other and the bonds we share. They hold a way for us to look at our past reflectively. They help us carry on.

The NeverEnding Story is just that, Mom — it is a symbol of cyclical life. The Nothing is death, yes, but it is also a carrier of stories. Stories do not disappear into the Nothing – they are contained within it, and are recreated as something new yet familiar. Once the Nothing has swallowed all of Fantastica, Bastian is left with a single spark of dust. That is what you will become, Mom: a single spark of dust that is filled with possibilities. You’ll be fueled by our storytellings, our continued lives on this earth, our marriages to other loved ones, our births of new children, our dedication to the lives of those in pain or need. You will live on through those actions and words, helping shape our lives until we, too, are called into the Nothing, to be reborn into something more.

I love and miss you, with all my heart, with all my sparks of dust.


Creative Nonfiction Magazine Writer’s Conference 2015: Take aways on pitching, publishing and platforms

I just returned from the Creative Nonfiction Magazine 2015 writer’s conference in Pittsburgh which, while fabulous, made me painfully aware that I haven’t contributed anything to my blog in months. Ironically, today is it’s 4 year anniversary (sad blog. so sad).

I have a couple feels about this blog and blogs as platforms: it’s cool, I like blogging but, man, do I not have time for it. I have a full-time job (when I started writing, I did not), and on the side of that full-time job, I hustle to do liv lit performances and writing to submit to lit journals etc. It’s a busy life. Plus whenever I wrote a blog post that was a story, I found myself in the quandary of wanting to expand it further to submit. So, I wouldn’t post it because there are rules about originality when you submit. Hence a lack of posts.

I suppose this problem might call for a change in tone with this blog, a change of focus…I’m not quite sure. And granted, I didn’t leave the conference thinking that having a blog was a must for being a successful writer, but it obviously has its merits, especially since mine is already out there.

While I figure that out, I’ll share some take aways from the conference, which was seriously informative, fun and you should go to it if you’re all up into creative nonfiction. This is a mix of advice for both book and editorial publishing.

On pitches

  • Have your argument upfront, a fresh outlook
  • Have room for curation; editors like to be involved in deciding the angle
  • Writing that illuminates the margins; looking for people who have been told “no” (more diverse voices please!)
  • Have your cred and platforms included as assets for marketing the piece
  • If you have questions in your pitch, give the answers. Don’t leave editors hanging. They want the full arc of your article

On bad pitches

  • Don’t pitch me a “surveillance is bad” piece
  • Starting with “As a millennial…”
  • Pitches that are still happening: “I was beaten this week”
  • Essays that are therapy, and that don’t let you as an editor be honest with the writer because the issue is still too close
  • A pitch with judgment that isn’t contemporary or with an agenda
  • Cancer or divorce memoirs that don’t have a fresh perspective

On getting published

  • A good book proposal can take 6-8 months to write, and can be up to 50-60 pages long (depending on research)
  • BE SHAMELESS AND AGGRESSIVE (but not a dick)
  • Use your invisibility as a weapon for self-promotion and experimentation
  • Push for book contracts to be at least 18 months; finishing a book in a year is hard
  • You need an agent for a book; you don’t need an agent for your magazine article
  • Video is breaking, especially for online publication
  • Editors love finding writers who haven’t written for big outlets before (yay!)
  • Big outlets ask for exclusive pitches while other outlets frequently re-publish from, say, literary journals
  • Be careful about non-paying exposure becoming overexposure, as in, you give up all your best material just for the cred

On platforms

  • A platform is what an author brings to the table in terms of credibility and expertise; also what they will bring to the marketing table
  • Social media presence is important, and there are a plethora of tools that can support that (no, you don’t have to be on Twitter)
  • Don’t forget that your writing is the bedrock of the platform; if your writing isn’t strong, your street cred don’t matter
  • What’s your accessibility? How many readers, curators, editors, professors have the opportunity to read and hear you (hence a blog being important)
  • If you are scared of Twitter (and who isn’t), and yet feel pressured to have it, become a resource. Use it to promote other people you read and admire, have conversations about the craft. Just remember that Twitter rewards consistent engagement (this doesn’t mean being a trolling self-promoter either)
  • Think about your audience when your joining/on social media: is your writing style more attractive to those on FB or Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr, Youtube or Vimeo (and on and on and shoot me)
  • Remember that the more sophisticated social media platforms become, the less we are able to use them for free

What I will do (promise) is follow up with a post on who some fabulous people I met, including one who interviewed me for a writing podcast. Overall, it was a very inspiring experience, evidenced by me actually writing a post. CNF magic.

The “divisiveness” of people of color in white privilege thought

I don’t write about race. It isn’t what I’m compelled to share thoughts about, on the internet anyway. I’ve criticized myself for this, as I feel it shows I’m not taking risks, putting myself out there, adding to the public discourse when we need more people engaged in it. I’m afraid of this conversation, as a white woman. There are many aspects of my white privilege that I feel guilty for and have not taken steps to reconcile; and by reconcile, I mean taking action as to move past the guilt, and not make it the primary motivator of my thoughts concerning racial inequalities and my role within them.

I don’t believe we are in a post-racial society. I don’t believe that the best way to go about addressing race is to be “color-blind”. I don’t believe that white people experience the same struggles as people of color. I believe many, if not all, systems within the US have been formed with and are currently operating from an oppressive agenda that specifically targets people of color. I do think these systems thrive on poverty, both economic and educational – and yes, that does include white people, but I don’t believe this is ever an excuse to shift the conversation into one of class without race.

I write these statements as a reaction to some conversation on Twitter between Black Girl Dangerous and a white woman who identified as a human rights activist. The white woman called BGD’s recent talk at PSU “divisive” because she 1- doesn’t take Q and A from white people in the audience and 2- talks about race (I’m assuming in a way that calls white people to task, but I wasn’t there).  She asked BGD to “humanize all” to promote a collaborative conversation. BGD and her brigade then proceeded to rip this white woman a new one because she had accused BGD of “shutting people out”.

The anger and the attack resonated with me in that it made me uncomfortable. If I had been that white woman at BGD’s talk, there’s a very good chance I would have recoiled the same way. I would have felt “punished” or “shut out” or “attacked”. As a survivor of sexual abuse, or just being a woman, a little voice in my head may have said, “But I’ve experience struggle in similar ways.” I may have wanted to join in the conversation just as much as this white woman did.

As a white person, it’s the defensiveness that indicates I (we) have not interrogated our role of white privilege as thoroughly as we must. When we react and say “Person of Color- you are being divisive!”, we’re really saying, “Stop making us feel so bad about who we are!” I believe this is a false reaction, one that is fueled by our learned need to stay powerful, and stems from our comfort in always being heard. While I have experienced struggle, degradation, oppressive circumstances as a woman, it has not been outside of my white privilege. When I have chosen to speak, I have been listened to. My experiences and my white femaleness have not affected the relevant degree of success or ease with which I can live my life.

Additionally, the need on the part of this white woman for “collaborative conversation” is problematic. What BGD and others like her call for is that white people take responsibility for their own interrogation of white privilege because they can, and because people of color aren’t there for our own edification or examination. It is turning the conversation around, placing the onus on us to figure out our own agenda before thinking we’re ready to enter into authentic dialogue and action about race, inequality and oppression. Much of the time, “collaborative conversation” means the conversation is about us, white people and our feelings about race, white privilege and the like. It again takes away from the dialogue people of color are having and need to continue having in order to build solidarity and strength; in order to fight for space and recognition within a world of white privilege.

I am not brave for writing this, as perhaps people will say and have said to other white people; championing themselves for talking about white privilege, how afraid we are to examine it, and how amazing it is when we finally open our mouths to challenge it. It is not brave; it is our responsibility. This is the conversation we need to be involved in: as listeners, as learners, as supporters. Additionally, my opinions are not new or original about the conversation. This is a baby step in thought and action, that I have to continue to nurture, and call upon others within my circle of white friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

*I don’t tag BGD because I’m not interested in linking for any type of reader-profit. If you want to read more about Mia Mackenzie and the writings of other people of color, please visit

Memory of Quebec 7-31-13

Back at the café, this time having tea after having slept in until 11, had sex, had brunch. Waiter was super cute. Dan and I people-watched from the patio and I said, let’s count the number of people who have ice cream in their hands—that’s 2. Dan laughed, it’s like you’re on Sesame Street. Instead he wanted to give people characters from the Hobbit because we were at a restaurant called Le Hobbit. He was slightly put off that they weren’t playing music that was from Lord of the Rings. Instead they played music from the United States in the 50s. We named elves, wizards, hobbits and dwarves while they walked down the street.

Bullshit Spiced Latte: An Apple Responds



It’s time I spoke up.

The American People have been the victims of an unprecedented marketing attack wrought by the likes of liberal entities such as Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and Caribou Coffee, mounting earlier and with greater velocity each passing year. An attack so insidious and invasive, it has convinced the American public to curl a blind tongue away from a more sophisticated sense of taste.

I speak of the onslaught of pumpkin propaganda that now occurs each fall as the leaves turn red — not from anthocyanins, but from embarrassment.

But I assume we all know the true culprit here? The revered product that started everything, rocketing to a celebrity status on par with the likes of that 12-year old girl who dry-humped a wrecking ball?

Yes, it is the Pumpkin Spice Latte I speak of, now widely hashtagged by the ominous abridgment: #PSL. This saccharine beverage has been dry-humping a wrecking ball of artificial sweeteners and imitation spice mix since 2003, inducing such a ferocious sugar-fueled frenzy that Americans now mark the arrival of the PSL as a holiday of its own.

Have we lost our minds?

Ever since Reverend Williams Blaxton planted my ancestors in Boston in 1625, I have served my country with slices of dignity and all-American goodness. I am the apple in your American pie, the cider that has warmed your hands during harvest time, the native crabapple no one knows what to do with. Once, long ago, I was celebrated too, but in a quieter, more temperate manner, befitting of a television fireworks display placed on mute. I did not ask for nor demand that my anatomy be infused into coffee, breads, teas, marshmallows, vodka, dog treats, air fresheners, potato chips, beer or Pop-Tarts. Yes, I realize that my scent has graced all those products at one ill-begotten time or another, but not for greed of fame — No! It was in service to you, the American people, who hungrily search for meaningful symbols of freedom and consumer independence from the most inane sources.

And what thanks do I receive? Allow me to reference an example from the Starbucks website where each beverage has a soft, glossy, semi-pornographic picture alongside its Starbucks nutritional information. Starbucks describes the PSL as, and I quote, “Signature espresso blended with the unmistakable spices of fall – cinnamon, nutmeg and clove — smooth with steamed milk, topped with delectably sweetened whipped cream and pumpkin pie spices.”

Doesn’t that sound delicious? Don’t you just want to ease your body down into a bathtub full of steamed milk and espresso, scented with pumpkin spice bath salts? Utterly disgusting! You should be ashamed of yourself.

One would think Starbucks invented phrasing that was equally enticing for the only apple drink on the menu, the Carmel Apple Spice — but, no, it does not! While the PSL is practically offered as a gateway drug into the change of seasons, Starbucks simply “suggest[s] a freshly steamed Carmel Apple Spice…that never fails to hit the spot.”

With a description that places the Carmel Apple Spice in the “friend zone” of your beverage choices, Starbucks merely offers a paltry suggestion to buy it! And to add insult to injury, this drink, which I will boldly call the CAS, isn’t even crafted from fine, Michigan apple cider, but rather Musselman juice! Not to downplay my pomaceous cousin and the importance of apple juice in the diet of all blessed United States babies; but may I suggest part of the problem in terms of our popularity is misrepresentation in the marketplace? If the people want cider, give them CIDER, I say!

Continuing on the PSL page, consumers will find a quaint DID YOU KNOW section for each beverage. The PSL’s states that “there have been over 29,000 tweets that have featured the hash tag: #pumpkinspice since August of 2012.”

29,000! That certainly gave the 4.3 million mentions for #moscow in 2012 a run for its communist money! I wonder what nuggets of wisdom will the CAS’S DID YOU KNOW section share with us? Hopefully something that makes apples have an iota of the PSL appeal. Oh, wait! What’s that you say, DID YOU KNOW section? “Legendary pioneer Johnny Appleseed dedicated his life to planting apple trees throughout the Midwest”?

How original! An yokel represented with an upside-down fry pan on his head. That’s it! Roll me under the couch and forget about me because I am done with all the lies about cider and image mismanagement. But most of all, I am done with you, American people. You can have your propaganda and PSLs. You stupidly believe it’s actually made with pumpkin! Incredible! The PSL wouldn’t even exist without scientifically engineered flavoring and neither would anything else pumpkin-themed!

I can see that this madness will only end when Americans wake up from an obsessive consumer culture that has long ago diminished our most humble traditions; and I, the lowly apple, can not be your savior. So, please. Let me serve you one last time with a hot slice of all-American “fuck you” pie to go with your steaming cup of Bullshit, Spiced Latte.





“Talk Like a Neighbor” in Ohio Edit

I forgot to share that the lovely folks at Ohio Edit published my short piece, “Talk Like a Neighbor“. Check it out along with all the other beautiful writings on their site, including my good friend and humorist poet, Josh Lefkowitz.


I’ve been doing some free writing each morning for the past few weeks ever since I came back from a weekend at Ragdale. It burned me out in a way, even though being there was very stress-free…it was still intense to have that much time to focus on and simply talk about writing. Everything else just fell away. It was lovely. So I’ve been writing from moments since then instead of whole pictures and will probably share some more as I go along. 


Dan and I are talking about quarters – not the game, but for the laundry. He wants a separate container for pennies, nickels and dimes. “I’ll use this one,” he says grabbing a golden beige pottery piece. He starts separating the money out.

“Where are your quarters?” he asks me.

“What do you mean? They’re in my purse,” I reply.

“Why are they in there?”

“Because sometimes I like to use actual change?”

He raises his eyebrow skeptically. Dan doesn’t like to carry any change in his pockets. He tells store clerks to keep the change with every cash transaction. He tells our store clerk on the corner to keep the change so much, the guy gave him a free Vitamin Water. 

“Well you know, your quarters in here are worth more here than out there.”

“Ok,” I say and shrug “But I like to give people exact change.”

“It’s your choice. It would just help us more in the long run.”

I am riding the elevator to my office the next day, rooting around in my purse for my phone. I pick up my wallet to see what lays beneath, and some change drops out of its poorly made zippered compartment, like little pearls tumbling from a string. One quarter falls to the elevator floor, blinking bright silver. I reach down to retrieve it, thinking about how the coin would be worth even less if I just leave it there. As I take the quarter between my fingers and examine its face, I see it is a nickel after all, and I debate letting it go so it can fall back onto the muddled brown elevator carpet. Because if it isn’t a quarter, then what worth does it have in my life outside of my desire to give exact change? It won’t be washing our clothes any time soon unless I go through a somewhat awkward and annoying task of putting it together with two dimes and asking someone (the bank clerk? who does that anymore?) to give me its singular equivalent. I should leave it for someone else, maybe someone whose building manager has had a change of heart about the whole “quarters only” slots on the laundry machines because the manager is an avid numismatist* and doesn’t discriminate so callously; or maybe a new student who’s feeling despondent about having to work four jobs for college and actively scans the ground for any sign of help; or maybe someone who knows where that one parking meter is that takes all the change in your wallet to help you stay at that one place you would love to be. I should leave it for them but I don’t. Instead the doors open to the 14th floor and I take the nickel with me. I tuck it back inside the zippered compartment of my wallet though it will surely slip out again, perhaps unnoticed by me, but seen by someone else for the very first time.