Category Archives: Writing


Can’t say it. Don’t know how. Ghosts float about the room, not dead yet. I imagine them, my readers, what they might look like, how they might sit beside me and reach out to touch me. They might stand back, and purse their lips. They might turn away. I want to bat them off, chase them out. I want to open the windows and send them off to mingle with the clouds. Here it is again, that embroilment, that fear of being seen.

Push-pull. To expose. Not to expose. I could tell you that making l*v* hurts, that it always has, that there is a physiological reason for it, that if I can hold tight and let it happen, then let go, relax into the pain, let it fill me, there’s a place beyond it where bliss waits. Pain and ecstasy are inextricably entwined.

I can tell you that my life is mostly mundane, and it’s OK. I wake and eat breakfast and let out the dogs while I water my flowers and my lone yellow plum tomato plant, and then I go to work and teach for three and a half hours, and spent some time prepping for the next day’s class and reading papers (I say “reading,” not “grading,” for a reason). And I come home and eat lunch with Nada, and sometimes we play chess. And I drive Zeke here and there (or rather she drives me, because she’s in driver’s ed and has a permit, so I sit in luxury while she finds ways to go the long way to her friends’ houses, gas prices be damned). And when it cools down I go to Nada’s and we kick a soccer ball around for a while because he quite smoking eight weeks ago and he needs something to distract him when the cravings hit. I thought, at first, I was doing it for him, that I would hate kicking a soccer ball around because I’m ball-challenged, with no coordination, but actually it’s fun. I bought soccer shoes, and he’s showing me some tricks and drills, and I can’t do any of it well, but we laugh a lot, and sweat drips into my eyes and I run under the sprinklers to rescue the ball when I send it sideways into his brother’s yard, and the cool water challenges the heat, sends it away into the rich blue dome above, and I feel like a kid again, as if I’ve found something I knew once but forgot — or maybe I never really knew it.

When we’re tired we go inside and read. He reads cognitive psychology books, his current intellectual interest, and I read papers for work or scribble all over a manuscript for a future developmental writing book that I’m reviewing. Sometimes, if there’s time, we’ll read together for a few minutes, these days from Chuang Tzu’s Inner Chapters, and he’ll be happy. So will I. I don’t mean to exclude myself. I was going to write “we,” but I realized that he in particular loves being read to, and I love to read aloud — but it gets tiring, and there’s never enough time. So we read a little from the Inner Chapters, and then I have to rush out to pick up Zeke, and cook her and her friends something. There are always kids sleeping here: right now her friend J is in her room with her, and B is on the couch downstairs, so I’m writing in my bedroom, with Sadie and Bridji snuggled up against me.

And then, finally, it’s night. I open the windows and the wind blows through, carrying cool from the mountains. I water the plants on the patio again, beneath stars, and listen to the world hum. The ghosts gather again, and they don’t purse lips or turn away. They are friends. I can write to them.

Writing in a Hurry

Summer invited me over for paella and sangria tonight and I went gladly. A few days ago she sent me a link for a couple of requests for submissions that she thought would interest me. She does so periodically. Once, a year or so ago, I actually sent off a piece and it was accepted and published. Remembering that, I decided to try it again. In the space between reading student papers and waiting for my daughter to wake up, I wrote a query and emailed it off. In the bio, I wrote that I was an “occasional writer,” and explained myself away by saying that I am the single mother of a teenage daughter. Single mothers will understand — single fathers too.

But is that really my excuse? I always have an excuse for not writing. I’m a single mother. I’m working full-time. I have other things going on. Right now it’s summer. I should have time to write. I teach two classes instead of three, four days a week instead of five. Why is it hard to drum up 500 words for my blog during a time that should be more expansive? Today I plunged back into my retrospective, was interrupted three times, and realized that if I wanted to publish it, I needed to hit publish. So I did.

Tonight, slightly buzzed on sangria after a brisk walk home from Summer’s house in perfect night-time weather (finally the evenings have cooled down after last night’s dramatic thunderstorm), I rearead today’s blog entry. Typos, awkward sentences, moments when I could have said what I wanted to say more subtly, or more clearly. I berated myself, and then gave up. I recognize the cycle. I get good about writing regularly, get on a roll, and then get pulled aside. Then I beat myself up, and try again, and fail again.

Summer has nine months off — a time of bliss, I think. She has the summer, right now, and then a quarter’s sabbatical, and then a quarter of unpaid leave subsidized by a large artist’s award she won last year. She has been going to writer’s retreat after writer’s retreat, and last week, she received two acceptance notices for pieces she has written.

“Do I dare tell you?” she speculated, when she was over for an afternoon with her writing. She had a “piece-within-a-piece” she was contemplating for publication. I’d offered to help her read it and make suggestions about cutting. She’d taken me up on the offer.

“Tell me,” I said.

“OK.” She thrust her glass at me. “Promise you won’t be mad?”

“Why would I be?” I pour her wine. I know what she’s going to tell me, that she’s been accepted again.

“Will you be happy for me? Or jealous?” she asks.

“You know I don’t get jealous.”

She tsks and shakes her heads and sips her wine. “OK,” she says and she tells me.

I’m happy for her. I tell her congratulations. I don’t tell her that I appreciate the way she sends me links of places she thinks might like my writing. I know she knows I appreciate her thinking of me, and that she doesn’t like flattery/praise. It does make me happy to know that even though I write only rarely, in bursts here on this blog, and almost never in any other capacity, that she believes in me somehow, enought to send me a link here and a link there, to say, on occasion, “You really just need to send your writing out over and over again. Just get into the routine. Just do it.”

So today I wrote a query letter, and cut-and-pasted an old entry to it, and sent it out. If Summer says, “Do it,” I might as well try.

And I think of how lucky I am. I have several friends who encourage me. My blog friends, and two real-life friends, R.C. and Summer. If I don’t send writing out, it’s my fault. Mostly I don’t have time to write, let alone revise and edit and polish. Today’s ham-fisted attempt at an unfinished retrospective, published in the split-second before Zeke came downstairs in a grumpy mood — “Mooooooommmmm,” she wailed from upstairs, and I finished my sentence and hit publish before she rounded the corner because I knew I was in for a long conversation — is an example of why I rarely fully finish anything I write.

“In a couple of years,” I tell Summer, “she’ll be in college, and I’ll have a lot more time. In the meantime, I don’t mind being available. Those years go fast.”

Summer, childless, nods. She never protests or condemns. She has her own challenges when it comes to writing. And I have mine. Zeke, 15, sensitive and kind and sweet. Happy in general, but tormented at times by the frustrations of being a teenager in a world of doubt and difficulty. We argue sometimes, but mostly we just live in a kind of gentle, easy orbit. Her friends come in and out, in and out, and hang out and leave and come back, and I’d rather have them here than elsewhere, so my computer is commandered for MySpace sessions, and I cook baked potatoes and pasta, and I don’t write.

Still, Summer’s links, today’s writing sessions, the cool night air blowing throw the house after last night’s dramatic thunderstorm — all these feel like nods from the fates. I’ll try to write, when I can, and if I can’t find the time, I’ll try to just accept it.


The house is full of teenagers — Zeke’s friend, and their two boyfriends, and two gay friends — and they’re boiling eggs for Easter, and the TV is going, and the iPod is plugged into the speakers, and even though I’m up here in my bedroom with the door closed, I can hear the music and the movie voices, and the clink of spoons, and I can smell spaghetti cooking, and I’m trying to write, but I can’t. It occurs to me that I probably seem a bit flaky, switching from one thing to another, abandoning projects and picking them up again here and there. I haven’t abandoned my book on Esperanca, but I’ve run into a snag with it. She wants her name on it, her real name, and her real name is so unusual (and beautiful too) that it is distinctive. If I make the typo-free book available, I will expose her. So I’m trying to decide what to do with it.

Time for a confession: Nada fell asleep last week, while I read him a bit from my book about my mother and the heron.  And I stopped writing for several days. My mother always criticized my writing, and now any hint that what I’m working on is not good enough freezes me. How I finished my thesis (a creative one) is beyond me.

But I couldn’t stop writing it. I think it’s a way for me to make sense of what happened, of my role in it, and a way to find my way back to peace with my sisters. So I keep working on it, but when he calls and asks me what I’m doing, I lie. I tell him I’m reading, or just got back from walking the dogs, or doing laundry, because after he fell asleep all I could think about was that my ex-husband wouldn’t read the book my mother and I wrote about our breast cancer experience, and that my life has always been full of people who haven’t really liked anything I’ve ever written. It feels whiny to write what I’m writing, but I’ve sworn I’m going to stop censoring myself. I’ve been censoring myself for too long.

I’m in that strange transitional mood that happens when the quarter ends. It’s been a great quarter, with fun classes, but I’m a bit bummed out because I submitted grades that I know some students aren’t going to be happy with. But they have to learn somewhere, somehow, to read the assignment, to listen to me when I tell them that if they don’t include copies of their sources with their papers they’ll fail the paper — period. They have to learn to read and respond to their emails BEFORE the grades are in. One student didn’t send in her online quiz, and I emailed her twice about it, and then she emailed me after the grades were in and wrote, “If you didn’t get my quiz yet, please call me ASAP at 555-5555 and I’ll send it to you.” TOO LATE!!! Four minutes past the deadline for me to submit my grades. What was she thinking? And I like her. But I can’t — and won’t — change the grade for her even if she does have the quiz and does submit it. There’s some kind of insane epidemic of students who are fun and interesting and just nice to be around, but they don’t pay attention and don’t do the work and then they act hurt when their final grade isn’t what they expect. I’ve been warning them all quarter, but I think they’ve been trained in a high school system that warns them they’ll fail, and then passes them anyway. So that’s what they expect.

I read last night, for Holy Thursday. I wasn’t as nervous as I expected. I went for a walk beforehand, in the Canyon, one of my favorite places, and I felt the fierce, wild spirit of the rocks rising into the air around me. And it was something like the night before Anne Frank opened, when I saw Kuan Yin laughing in front of me, and knew it would be OK. I’m more used to it all now, and the Spanish reader was a former student of mine, so we had fun in the sacristy beforehand, catching up on news, and when it was time to process in, I was calm. It was moving, to be reminded of a year ago, when I was in the front row, getting my feet washed by the Bishop, and I remembered Nada in India, getting his feet washed by his friend, and there’s something about that story, about my memory of him telling me about it, that touches me every time. Afterwards, we processed out with the host to the chapel, and I walked right behind the Bishop as the choir sang hauntingly before us. In that moment the music and the clear sound of the bells brought back memories of China, of that dawn chanting and drumming that so captivated me, and I knew why I could have at home a shelf on which Kuan Yin sits beside St. Teresa, and the temple guardians watch over both of them.

I’m rambling. There’s nothing organized or meaningful about what I’ve written here, except perhaps as a way to capture a moment. I’ve jumped from idea to idea, and not edited or changed anything, though I guess I’ll proofread at least.

One of the lads downstairs has an astonishingly loud laugh, and it bursts out regularly, rising above the general cacaphony of music and food being prepared and kids talking. I’m tired but I probably couldn’t sleep, with all the excitement downstairs. Tomorrow I’m going to visit my dad for Easter, will get to see my little nephew again. Then it’s the break, for a week, and I’ll clean up my office and prepare for next quarter, and find a moment to do some yard work in the little garden. And then it’s spring quarter, and the days are long enough for evening walks, and the cold is gone so I can go outside without my chest constricting, and another year is drawing to a close. (I measure the year based on the academic calendar more than I do the Christian one!)

Three things: Long days; Zeke’s friends; the growing ability to recognize a mood as simply a passing moment, like ripples on the water, and therefore, for the moment, a resulting peace.

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Not working, but writing

My friend, who was the accountant for a publishing company in Ireland for many years, asked me if I was still writing today, when I called her. “Sometimes,” I said. And then she suggested I turn the heron stories into a book. And I started writing, and I wrote 3000 words, about my mother, and the heron, and her dying, and I am thinking of a kind of writing that is both fiction and memoir, where there are no boundaries between the two, where what is fact and what is my imagined reconstruction blur together. It will be fiction; it begins with fiction, but it is truth too. Oh, if only I had faith that I might finish it.

“You’re not working this summer,” my longest-time friend tells me. “You’re writing. I’ll be harassing you about it. You can expect it.”

I am working, but teaching only one class. I will write. I will set a word minimum number a day, and I will write.

Writing freely, giving hope

I didn’t blog much for a while, but more recently I’ve been back into it. I like the sense of writing to an audience, and now that I’ve shaken off some people that I just wasn’t comfortable sharing with, I feel more relaxed about it again. Still, I admire Diana and Loren who write under their real names. I actually started a work-blog about being a writing teacher under my real name, and wrote about five entries, but found myself drawn to the more personal writing I could do here without feeling exposed.

The worry about being exposed started about a year ago, when a friend told a friend about my blog. Then the second friend told a whole bunch of friends and colleagues of mine, and suddenly everything I wrote was under scrutiny. And then I couldn’t write any more. I just froze every time I sat down at the keyboard. I was afraid I’d misspell something, or use a period wrong, and be judged, or that my more personal entries would become the stuff of local gossip. I knew my hard-core atheist reader would be scoffing at my more mystical entries, that my writing friend would be disgusted that I was wasting my time blogging, that my nosy colleague from work would probably tell my ex-husband, who’s a friend of hers, about the blog. And I just didn’t want any of it. Every time I sat down to write, I heard their voices in my mind criticizing, scoffing, laughing. Even though I knew what they thought really didn’t matter, I just couldn’t write freely.

I spent much time deliberating whether or not I wanted to continue blogging. Many times I was a mere second away from writing my farewell post. In the end, I decided to start over, here on WordPress, although initially my decision to move was driven because Blog-City was being so slow and glitchy. I had opened a Members-Only site on BC which wouldn’t work, thus stymieing my efforts to write without being scrutinized. I also didn’t like all the orange in the administration area. So I tried out WordPress, liked it, and then realized that I might be able to move without my colleagues following me.

For a while, I checked the stats religiously, making sure that my nemesis readers hadn’t made the jump. Then I stopped checking at all, because I wanted to write without worrying about readers. And then more recently I started checking again, just out of interest, and I was surprised to discover a few days ago that a few people from other parts of the world, Australia, England, different parts of the U.S., had been checking back on BC periodically. There they were, a string of people who dropped in over and over again to see if I was posting. I don’t think any of them ever commented while I was writing on BC, but clearly they must have been reading–and still are. So I took a chance. I put a little notice on my BC site telling those persistent visitors that I’m here on WordPress. In three weeks, my BC membership expires (BC charges a fee, unlike WordPress), and before that date comes I will delete the blog altogether.

It’s been interesting, though, looking at stats. Apparently a lot of dogs get Rymadil poisoning. The most-read pages on my WordPress site are those describing Sadie’s illness and recovery. I hope those readers searching for information will realize their beloved pets can survive even huge doses of Rymadil with the right care.

On Blog-City, many readers came to my site by way of searches like “How to kill yourself,” which made me quite uncomfortable! On WordPress, they seek information on Johnny Got his Gun and the Grapes of Wrath, on the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, and on Kuan Yin, on breast cancer and breast pain, on akathisia and tardive dyskinesia and twitches in dogs. I find it fun to see what brings people to the site, and to wonder if they’ll return after their initial encounter.

Whether they do or not, I hope they find what they see to be helpful.

Gifts and Resolutions

The last few days have bought me gifts that lift me a little, that strengthen me. I am filled always with deep-seated ambiguities: A desire to write battles with the conviction that I am — if not a terrible writer — at least little better than average. My journey into blogworld intensifies the latter conviction. So much beautiful writing, so many electronic pages of print in which the words disappear to be replaced by place and person, by delight and despair, by images that curl up in the corners of my mind like sleeping cats and awaken hours later, calling me back to admire them. And then I think, Dale wrote this, Paula did, Stella, Old Girl of the North Country, Loren, Patry, my very first blog-friend, Diana and many others, too numerous to name. They share their writing and photography and art with the world, and they say what I would say, but so much better. And I hesitate to write, sure I can never match up.

Stop fishing for compliments, my mother would say, but such is not my intention. I just want to say what ails me on those days I don’t write (apart from being too busy, too tired, too caught up in life, apart from having to make a choice between reading and blogging, or taking my daughter to a movie and writing). I am critical, deeply so, of everything I write.

But in the last few days, three moments of grace have dropped into my life. First, Esperanca loved her book. It’s not finished, really, because the story got too big to be captured in one volume, so I planned a sequel — or two or three. “Write the rest,” Esperanca said two nights ago. “Please!” So I will.

Second, I got an email from Patry of Simply Wait, asking for entry into the private area of my long-abandoned Blog-City blog. Patry’s been dealing with health issues the past few months, and I’ve followed her journey as she has blogged about it, amazed at the precise beauty of each entry, and the grace with which she withstands challenges. I have prayed for her every night, too, sent om manis as I do to all those who struggle, a silent well-wisher. Her email request to gain access to Blog-City lit up my day. I have admired her writing since I first started blogging, and that she asked to enter the site, to read my work, warmed me thoroughly.

And third, Dale of Mole commented a couple of blog entries ago, asking me where he could get a copy of Esperanca’s book. He’d looked on, he said, and couldn’t find it. I have a long list of blogs I read regularly, that I subscribe to on Bloglines. Dale doesn’t do Bloglines, so I get Blogarithm’s “Blogmail” instead, just for Dale, so that as soon as he updates, I can read him. I always want to comment, as with Patry, but find myself frozen too often because others have said what I might say better, and you can only leave so many (0)s on one person’s site!

His request for Esperanca’s book carried me through several days of delight — OK, is still carrying me! Someone who isn’t related to me — hmmmm, that doesn’t work, given that those who ARE related to me have no interest in my writing — let’s see, someone who isn’t obligated to me in some way actually went looking for my little children’s book, willing to spend money on it, and then asked me where to get it when he couldn’t find it. That’s amazing. Inspiring. Delightful. The best Christmas gift ever.

And so I decided on some New Year’s Resolutions. First, I’m going to keep working on the series. I have fun with it, and Esperanca likes it, and maybe others will too. Second, and perhaps more significantly, I’m going to release Esperanca’s book so people can find it and maybe even buy it. And third, I’m going to (try to) stop harassing myself about how terrible my writing is.

Before I release Esperanca’s book, though, I need to do just a little work with it. I was rushing to get it ready for her for Christmas, and I “published” it (just three copies) with some typos and a couple of confusing spots. I’m going to go back and fix those up. Last night I reread and fixed the first four chapters, and my goal is to work on it every day till it’s done, then open up the link on Lulu so that people can actually check it out and perhaps buy it if they want. (Thank you, Dale!)

Working on the book taught me something about myself as a writer. The first few chapters, written in Ireland three years ago, had to be significantly revamped to incorporate Esperanca as the hero of the story. The major revisions made the writing feel clunky to me. Too many glitches. The next few were written sporadically, often weeks or months apart. The last half of the book (or thereabouts) was written between September and December, on a fairly regular schedule most days, even if it was only 15 or 20 minutes a day. And the last half is way smoother. Once I got into the groove, the words flowed more fluently. Clearly I need a routine, discipline, and a goal. And that’s my final resolution: To work every day on writing, one way or another. To accept the gift given to me by recent quiet readers of my blog who have asked for entry to my password-protected posts, and by all those who read and comment, or read and don’t comment, and by two of my favorite bloggers, Patry and Dale. Thank you.

Esperanca’s book

“Here,” Nada told my sister, Ruth May, on Christmas Day. “Did you see what Adah gave Esperanca for Christmas?” He held out the book I wrote for his daughter and had published at It looked like a real book, a trade paperback with a glossy bright cover and numbered pages. Ruth May turned away, pretending busy-ness, and didn’t even look. Her boyfriend didn’t look either. Nada put the book on the coffee table and we went on with our Christmas, but all I could think about was Nada’s family, how when Esperanca opened the present at his house on Christmas Eve, they erupted with joy. They passed the book around reverently, opening it with careful, loving fingers. They traced the picture of Esperanca on the cover. “Wow,” they said. “You wrote this? For Esperanca? That’s beautiful.” His brother told me, afterwards, “I don’t generally read books, but I’m going to read this one.” His aunt and mother asked where they could buy their own copies. They called his sister and his other brother to tell them.

I was surprised, totally surprised, at their reaction. I didn’t expect too much response, except perhaps from Esperanca, who set to reading immediately. And now I’m embarrassed, afraid it won’t be good enough. I knew my family wouldn’t be interested. They never have been. Ruth May has never read the book I wrote with my mother about having breast cancer together. The others show little interest in my writing, my life, except for Leah who has a kind and generous spirit, although she is troubled. Over the years, she is the one I find myself most empathetic towards.

I didn’t expect Nada’s family to be so welcoming of Esperanca’s book, to thank me so eagerly for such a great present. I love them. I cannot get over people who accept me so readily and warmly. I expect them, every day, to lose interest. Their continued love and support amazes me.

How odd the past month or so has been. I look through my window at the patio upon which birds fight, at the winter-bare tree branches and the massed clouds behind the hills on the horizon, at the narrow slant of yellow sun that lies across the dead grasses on the walkway. It is all cold and still; even the birds stop in mid-peck and look up, as though awaiting something.

I have been working a little on the book I wrote with my mother, imagining I can publish it on Lulu for those who might be interested it, family friends, though not family members. I begin it with Obadiah, because Obadiah is the thread that links the story through the years.

And now I remember Mum didn’t want us to withdraw from one another, didn’t want us to turn our backs because we see things differently. Ruth May’s disinterest in anything I do is simply who she is, absorbed in little Liam’s first months, lacking curiosity. She has always been thus. She is still my sister. Obadiah holds us together, not a book for someone she’s never met.

Jack Kerouac’s Advice

“He just stopped coming one day,” R.C. said. “He said, ‘I gotta go on the road.’ And he did.”

The college reading group was in the middle of discussing Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This morning, before the meeting, I Googled the Beat writer, brushing up on his life in preparation for the discussion. Wikipedia noted his 30 steps to better writing. I paste them below.

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside your own house
  4. Be in love with your life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yrself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

I don’t want to be good any more. I want to write without editing, without censoring. I’m afraid of words in ways I never used to be. Locked myself away from the freedom of them, wrapped in rules, in advice, in teaching “how to.” I used to just write. Goddamit I want to write like that again. But there’s ice there in the place where the words reside. I want to be warm. I’m tired of winter. It all pulls, this way, that way this way that way this way this way this way no way. No way.

Too much comfort. One paper left to grade, and grades to post, and then the break, and a workshop to get ready for, and two new class preps, and ice in my throat, melting from too much comfort.

“Here,” he said in my ear, softly. “Right now.” Years ago, a dark stairwell, his hand, light filtering from behind a grill that blocked our way. The warehouse mall behind us, around a corner shoppers and security guards. The dark our blanket, but for that one glimmer ahead of us. I remember. I am in the center of remembering when the Old Guard speaks.

“I’ll take your recommendation any day,” he says, this crusty man who grumbles about everyone’s choices . He’s taught where I teach for more than four decades. He sat in on a class on Irish writers I taught when I first started there. “Those books in your class, they were excellent. I’ll go with your recommendation.”

I’m surprised. They’re all longing for Kerouac’s wildness to bring them back to freedom, to the illusion they can live in that melancholy wild desperation till they die, and that it will be romantic and beautiful even as their livers explode from cirrhosis. I think, There will be angels. I love that title: Desolation Angel. The only kind. But now they turn and look at me, the good girl, and I have the power to decide for the group. I don’t know what to say. Someone prompts me. “You’re the expert,” he says. “That’s why I thought we could do a Barry book.” The expert.

I know the author, went to dinner with him, interviewed him, wrote an article that was published in the Irish Literary Supplement. He called it a humdinger of an article. I love that he’s a mystic about his writing. I love the way he is “submissive to everything, open, listening,” the way he is a “crazy dumbsaint of the mind.”

Expert. I laugh. It’s not true. I haven’t read his most recent novels, not for lack of desire, but for lack of time and energy and the compass that points me. But still. “Yes,” I say, and suggest, and they accept my suggestion.

I am obtuse. I know it. If you want more, you can explore. The clues are there. But none of that matters. I just want to write, to not be good, to confess.

To confess.


Finally, yesterday, I laid down the final words for the story I wrote for my friend Esperanza (I should spell her name Esperanca, with a funny little squiqqle under the C, because she is Portugues and that is the Portuguese spelling for the word for Hope. Having called the character Esperanza for years, I changed the spelling after an internet search gave me the Portuguese word. I was glad. I didn’t want to give up the word Hope, but I wanted it in Portuguese. The internet is a wondrous thing.)

I wrote the book as though I had joined that “Write a Novel in a Month” site with a name I can never remember. You’re supposed to write every day, and I did, pretty much. It’s not long, not even the length the site recommend (50,000 words), but it’s long enough for what it is. It’s a series, after all. If Esperanca likes it, I’ll start the next book.

Then I spent some time figuring out how to format it for There’s some issue with the transfer of fonts, with “layering.” You’re supposed to “flatten” it. I have no idea what it all means. The site has a conversion tool that will take your document and convert it to a PDF file, but if you get too excited with the fonts weird things happen. In the end, I stuck to Time New Roman for everything. The final version, 6×9 pages, space and a half (27 lines a page), with page numbers and a header that’s different only on the first page because I couldn’t figure out how to make it different with every chapter heading, is 142 pages long. I think it’s exciting enough to keep a kid’s attention, what with a talking dog and mystical otter and strange glittering doorway in the middle of a river that leads you to God knows what crazy adventures. But it’s filled with references to mythology and religions from around the world, so it’s deeper than just fantasy. For example the dog is Bran, from Irish mythology, a dog belonging to the famous Finn MacCool (anglicized spelling to help you a little with pronunciation!), and I’ve already told you who the otter is.

I’ve added Blake’s words, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite,” to the dedication page, which is, of course, dedicated to Esperanca, “without whom this book would never have been written.”

I made a cover, added a picture of Esperanca, and gave it a title. It looks fancy on my page at It could fool me into believing I’ve written a real book, that real people might search for it and plunk down money. That their kids might read and enjoy it, and that the parents might read it and say to each other, “Oh, and don’t you think Nd*ll*h represents….?”

But I know it won’t look professional. The PDF file shows some warping of a line or a word here and there. I couldn’t get it all crisp and clean and so I finally accepted what I’d been given. Too many hours searching the internet looking for solutions and being hit with phrases like

  1. Command = put exe filename here (e.g. C:\\gs\\bin\\gswin32c.exe)
  2. Arguments = put arguments here (e.g. -sOutputFile=”%1″ -c save pop -f -)

And references to ghostscript and and “CutePDFwriter.” (What is that?? Can I meet him?)

And as for flattening: Isn’t a piece of paper already pretty flat? How can I flatten it further? Oh, wait, it’s the transparencies that have to be flattened. Oh, it’s all clear now. Transparently clear.

I did find Don‘s site somewhat helpful, but not enough to decide I wanted to embed and flatten and otherwise shape my book-for-three-people into something mass marketable. So I stuck with Times New Roman, and accepted a little minor distortion here and there (still readable, if not always beautiful), and shut my computer with relief.

Still, I can’t wait to hold the finished product in my hand, to wrap it and put it under the tree, and to watch Esperanca’s face as she finally gets to see the book she’s been begging me to write for three years.