Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Path Around a Pond

The sun orchestrates
and shadows stretch
Shapeshifters mimicking dried
reeds and  cat tails
cross a path

                   First Day of Advent


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Something to Ponder

“Craft is what releases art,” I told the kids that first night. “And art announces itself in form.” --Richard Gilbert

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Short, Succinct, and Found

Flash fiction has gained popularity over the past ten years. Writing succinct stories that remain evocative, emotional true, and well written isn’t just about eliminating words.

Roy Peter Clark’s How to Write Short expands the definition of the short form to include the “found” short piece. That find may be on the wall of the subway as well as in a published book.

The book’s a fascinating study of the genre—complete with exercises.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Was Meant to Be

by Ira Smith
One Sunday at church, Nancy Henry gave me a copy of The Faces of Poverty, The Faces of Christ, a series of essays by John Kavanaugh, a Jesuit Priest. On the inside cover Nancy wrote, “To Barbara and Ira: your story should be in here!” She didn’t know that one essay about the November 16, 1989 assassination of Jesuit Priests in San Salvador actually is the beginning of our story.

Reina Hernandez got a call from her 26-year old sister, Cecilia Palma, who lived with her husband and two small sons in a building next to the Pastoral Center of the University of Central America. Their home was pock marked by the assassins’ bullets. Cecilia asked her sister if she could help her flee the terror. Between them they scraped together enough money for plane tickets to the United States, and for rent and security on an apartment in Acton. Cecilia and her two small children were allowed to leave, her husband was not. Reina herself had fled San Salvador with her young son, Ricardo, after her husband was assassinated in 1985.

In late January 1990, Reina asked her church, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, for help with household items needed to furnish the apartment for Cecilia. My wife, Barbara, a member of the Christian Service Committee, was asked to take care of this. She decided to announce the specific needs in the church bulletin. Items were dropped off at our carport by church members. By early February, three months after the horrific incident in San Salvador, Cecilia moved into a completely furnished apartment on Great Road in Acton.>|

This was not to be the end of the story for Barb and me. Our carport was filled with surplus items. Barb called the Acton Housing Authority to offer them to low income families. They responded by having tenants make requests by phone. Unknown to Barb, her endeavor was advertised in the Authority’s monthly newsletter. Calls continued. To fill outstanding requests, Barb asked for more furniture in the church bulletin. The cycle of collecting and distributing escalated. Word-of-mouth reached the fast-growing Brazilian community and Barb and I were inundated by families who fled joblessness and runaway inflation back home.

Twenty-four years later, Household Goods Recycling of Massachusetts - HGRM, a non-profit, charitable enterprise, exists. With dignity and compassion, hundreds of volunteers have helped thousands of families furnish their homes – families fleeing hopelessness in homeless shelters, families fleeing domestic abuse, families fleeing sudden loss by fire or flood, families fleeing bed bug infestation, refugee families fleeing fear and persecution, families fleeing addictive neighborhoods, and veterans fleeing the casualties of combat.

The Salvadoran massacre and the fleeing of this one family, Cecelia, and her two children, triggered off a chain of events that has unfurled a long-lasting ministry.

HGRM would not have otherwise come into existence!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"What should I write?"

“When I don’t have any ideas I might write a letter, for example, to a man I’ve just encountered at a kiosk. It’s a letter I know I’ll never send, but it serves as an exercise. Without that, you get stuck. What’s behind writing? It’s not that the artist writes when he gets inspiration -- it’s the work of each day.” —Andrea Camilleri

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Several people emailed me with more questions about memoir. Beth Kephart writes memoirs, as well as a plethora of other books, and teaches creative-non-fiction at the University of Pennsylvania. She suggests the following memoirs as ones to read.

The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham (2008)
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams (2010)
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr (1995)
Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010)
The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff (1979)
Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell (2010)
I like practically anything that Terry Tempest Willimans writes. I'd also add Refuge

In one of her essays on memoir she writes, "I believe our very finest memoirists are philosophers, risk takers, sentence forgers, structural innovators, language shapers."

She also has a number of things to say about how too many books masquerade as memoirs.

Check out her blog. Beth Kephart Books

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Back in Business

After months of working on my "release" posts on Marginalia, Word Collage is back.

 I recently reread I Could Tell You Stories by Patricia Hampl. My impetus for the reread came from a writer who cited Hampl's book as one of the best on the art of memoir writing.

 Not having read a plethora of books on that subject I can't rank it, but I can say it is excellent. If you're thinking of dipping into memoir writing it's a good place to start.

My copy contains my color coded underlinings and hard to decipher marginalia—a sure indication that I found the book quite useful.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Knowing the questions to ask that elicit a well rounded response requires skill. The Paris Review Interviews always enable me to see writers in a three dimensional light.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lists are in the air. Richard Gilbert lists his favorite Ten Essays His reasons for the selection of each essay display astute critical reading and analysis. I've read several pieces on his list and intend to read the rest.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Handy List

Encouragement for the writer. Writing Advice from thirteen writers. Their advice is featured on their hands.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Memoir in a Box

Writing a memoir that doesn't sound like a " and then" story can be a daunting task.
What to write and what to omit. Who will be offended? What will be of interest?
Imagine writing about a wild panache of events without worrying about tying them together in a sensible narrative.
Check out A Magpie-Memoir appearing in Geist
"In Sweet Assorted: 121 Takes From a Tin Box, Jim Christy approaches memoir in the form of an accumulation of tiny artifacts tossed willy-nilly into a Peek Frean's tin."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Short Short Story

Why not challenge yourself and write a six word story? Narrative Magazine is looking for submissions.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Must Read

Some of you subscribe to this site-- it's always fascinating and creative. brainpickings list of writing books

Monday, July 29, 2013

The God Thing

When I asked for writing for the blog Marcia sent me this evocative piece.

So this sinner is sitting here, trying to figure out THE mystery. Like I have some sort of inner wisdom, some new take on the age-old question. But I figure, why not me? Whoever figures it out, will have some of my same qualities, doubtless another imperfect human being, perhaps a bit impatient. So maybe I have at least a chance of coming within grasp of the truth, or rather the truth as I see it. I really don’t think there is a single truth. Picture all of us on a Ferris wheel up in the clouds, turning round and round, grubby fingers all, straining and reaching for the Ring.

What puzzles me is just how God prioritizes. Now I find this extremely difficult in my everyday old lady life. Is the walk before breakfast more important than the breakfast before the walk? Should I walk the dog before I pay the bills? Should I donate to that charity whose envelope lingers in the bill bowl, first, or deal with it later? Do I write that letter now, or perhaps catch up on the local news? Decisions. Every day, moment by moment decisions. Should I take a quick afternoon nap, or will it ruin my chances of a good night’s sleep? And I’m only in charge of me.

God’s got the whole world on Her shoulders. Most likely She knows how to do all this prioritizing. The requests received are as endless as the needs of the world. The misery witnessed enough to paralyze a mere human into inaction. Another miracle, God never sleeps. She is here, there and everywhere, especially evident in all the unexpected nooks and crannies.

I wish I’d never seen a picture of Jesus, the Son of God. It is hard to get the notion of God, as a human being, out of my head. Human beings have so many limitations and yet God is limitless. No matter how impossible the circumstances, God is there, along with a million other places, all at the same moment in time. This is what trips people up, the impossibility of it all. It puts the end to their search. They liken it to trying to explain to their children how Santa visits every little child in the world on one evening of the year.

But maybe, here’s the connection we need. Christmas of course is the birth of baby Jesus. Now we all know, Santa needs lots of helpers. He just can’t do it all by himself, the making, the shopping, the wrapping, the delivery. He counts on all of us worker-bees to make it (showing our love for one another) happen. (It is most unfortunate that for far too many the “it” has been translated into material things). Now I know most folks think Santa is highly over-rated, and in fact threatens to hijack the meaning of Christmas, but sometimes I wonder.

Every year Santa reminds us of his need for helpers. And the females among us groan at the expectations thrust upon us. The factories pump up their production, and the stores call for more workers. The charities promote the folks most in need. The food banks solicit more food for the hungry. We all become primed for giving. And at least for a little while, as Joseph Campbell says, “we lean toward the light”.

For God only exists because of all of us. She’s really counting on us, every day to come through. She’s given us all we need to be human or rather, humane. She may not be holding your hand through childbirth, but your nurse or partner is, and love is love, no matter where it comes from. God’s gifts to each of us include love and kindness. It is up to us to give it freely to others, wherever we find ourselves. This is the way it works. And with each gift received, the recipient is more likely to do the same. And the world goes round and round, and there is no need to grasp for the Ring, or stop the ride.

Marcia Cook
May 25, 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Engine Block

From Joy

An attempt to write myself out of a ditch, words spinning like wheels buried deep in the mud.

I will write, gas peddle to the floor, my thoughts fish-tailing to the left, then right, like the rear of a car stuck in a snowdrift.

Revving my mind, my brain lurching, nothing but the lingering stank of incomplete thoughts.

My skull creaks as the stream of consciousness strains to gain traction.

The road was there once, under my tires, with my words humming along like the rubber against pavement.

Turning the dial on the radio in search of something familiar, a playlist that plucks at my heart strings, something to inspire.

Not willing to risk the random I preload songs that have touched the sweet spot of feeling before.

After an initial twang and a thump in my chest, I feel the momentum leaking out of the right side of my brain like exhaust from an old tailpipe.

With only the tendrils of a few sentences lying in front of me, I am forced to pull over to the side of the road, frustrated and unsure of where to go next.

My thoughts begin to wander off into the woods on foot, leaving only faint impressions on the air between my ears.

It seems as though I may have run out of gas.

Joy Dwyer

Monday, June 24, 2013


Is it any good? I can't find a plot. Do you think I'm mired in writer's block?

Haven't all people who write been shadowed by questions regarding success and failure. I don't think that those questions are only asked by established writers or the writers who will spend their lives writing. Anyone who writes asks similar questions.

The Guardian articleSeven Writers Reflect on Failure is an interesting meditation on failure.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Poetry Festival

Check out this poetry festival. Poetry International

"Festival poet Ester Naomi Perquin comments on who haunts whom in the life of a writer.

Someone once asked me if poets are haunted by white pages. Well yes, they are. But the haunting is mutual. We should take pity on the white pages, frantically trying to get away – not on the poets (never on the poets). The most important thing to remember is that poets are meant to be bullied by their own poetry. It’s their job. Poets wake up in the middle of the night because of a word that popped into their mind, and they are not able to get it out..."
Read more at the site...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Someone once mentioned that I've never mentioned any blogs that cater to the young aspiring writer-- the high school and college student.

Narrative magazine recently listed a writing blog , written by a college student who is majoring in creative writing.

Julia The WriterGirl

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Potpourri of Writing

Cheryl, hailing from Idaho, suggested checking the Open Writing blog. It's worth a vist.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Book to Read, Underline, and add Marginalia

Years ago I read Pat Scheider's first book about how she taught writing. She shared her methodology, suggestions for teaching as well as writing prompts. I utilized a number of her techniques when teaching.

Now she's written a new book—part memoir, part instructional. I borrowed the book from the library and after reading the first few pages I knew I wanted to buy the book.

How the Light Gets In : writing as a spiritual practice by Pat Schneider