Monday, March 31, 2008


I had the best experience with my fiction workshop today.

Last night, I read the two stories that would be up for discussion. One story was about a young woman whose father is in the hospital dying of cancer. The other was about a young woman who is living with a group of friends who are deadening themselves with cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sex, and even school. Both stories were very richly detailed.

So last night, I had a dream that embodied both.

I dreamed about my own father's death at home, from cancer. I dreamed I was much younger than I am now. I returned home from school to find my father out of his bed and lying on the floor. I helped him back into his bed. He immediately turned into a piece of firewood and the bed turned into a smoldering "bed of coals." I thought how the fire was going to purge my father's pain, and, selfishly, my own grief, for I was tired of sickness and waiting for the end. Then I felt guilty and used a poker to separate the wood (my father) from the coals. This dream portrayed the conflict in the student's story, the conflict between loving her father and hating death.

The other story involved a bear. Now, there are erotic overtones in women's stories about bears. In a wonderful book by Marian Engel called Bear, a female character actually has sex with a bear. I thought my student's story also sexually charged. The story was about characters who were all essentially "dead." Spirituall dead. The story involved the narrator's moment of awarness. This moment came through a special interaction (not sex) that she had with the bear.

So the other part of my dream had erotic overtones. But that part of the dream, I will keep to myself!

Anyway, the discussion in class today was a lot of fun. Two strong stories. A great day in workshop.


Last night on 60 Minutes, Al Gore talked about his disappointment about losing the 2000 presidential race with George Bush. But he also talked about how that disappointment had led him into his new direction as an environmentalist. He said that we grow wise as a result of our disappointments and suffering.

I am reminded of Siddhartha, who was shielded from human suffering but who willingly left the fortress of his home and his imagination in order to experience it. He wanted to understand. He wanted wisdom.

I think that literature can also give us the experience of human suffering. Literature can make us more empathetic, more wise.

Like everyone, I've had many disappointments, and I can truly say that I don't regret them because I've grown as a result of them, not grown into bitterness but into a fuller realization of the human experience.

Today I will talk with two of my classes about the documentary The Bridge. I hope I can do a good job of it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Rainy and cold today.

A male and female mallard have been swimming in our little back yard pond. They know it is spring, whether it feels like spring or not.

Animals are smart.


Friday afternoon, I saw a buzzard in the field beside our house. He was on the ground, holding his wings out, drying them in the sun. He was so cool.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I had a good day at the university today. The students seemed to be in a good mood. They exchanged stories in the workshop and talked genially with each other. Then we spoke truthfully to each other about revising.

The Native American Literature students had a test and got response papers back. Even these tense happenings did not squelch their apparent good mood. Indeed, many of them wrote essays that had inspired me, and they mowed through the test quickly and efficiently. They are a good class.

In my last two classes (response to literature), I had some serious things to go over. We discussed Ovid's Icarus and Auden's "Musee Des Beaux Arts," and then we watched the first half of The Bridge, a documentary I've discussed here before. I thought it might be a downer for students, but the class seemed to open a lot of them up and I had an outpouring of writings waiting for me in my university Internet inbox by the time I got home. I can see that they are really making connections between all the literature we have read this semester and also connections between the literature and themselves. That always makes for a great day.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Yet another dream

Last night I had a dream about men. There were no women in the dream. Even I was a man. The setting was in a distant past. I, along with many other men, was being buried into an underground tomb, a sacrifice to some god. I was both participant and observer. I could see my own terrified eyes as the tomb was covered. I was a handsome man, muscular, tanned, bearded. Several of us decided we would dig ourselves out. We walked from the burial chamber to a vast underground room, beautifully decorated with gold. We dug and dug. We dug until we got out. But we were discovered and hunted down. Our strategy was to don the clothes or our captors and hide among them. And this worked. We lay down with our enemies to sleep at night, and they never even knew we were there.

I can't be sure, but I think the dream has something to do with a quote I added last night to my Facebook profile before I went to bed:

Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Chapter V: Energy


More Dreams

Last night I dreamed I got out of the hospital after an extended stay. I had almost died, and I walked out of the hospital, hobbling on a cane. I looked at the bright sun, the sidewalks, the people, and I was so thankful to be alive.

The dream came from some things that have been happening in real life:

1. I was talking about "freaks" in my workshop class because a student had written about sideshow freaks in a story. I was talking about how many literary authors had written about freaks, including Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor. The outward strangeness stands for the inner strangeness we all feel at times. (In the dream I walked with a cane and it felt unusual to me; I felt different, a bit like an outsider).

2. My father-in-law, a terminal cancer patient, recently went into the hospital because of breathing problems.

3. I saw a show on PBS about how people in wheelchairs live. A doctor gave wheelchair bound people a camera. They filmed their challenges. One woman had to stay in a convalescent home for several days because her wheelchair needed repairs. Since she had no way of getting along without her chair, she had to turn herself in to this home. In the home, they would not help her to the bathroom but told her to defecate into her diaper. Once her chair was fixed, the convalescent home drove her home in their van. When the driver set her outside her home, the driver left. The chair stalled and the woman was stuck in the immobile chair for several hours. It started getting dark, and she was crying from the humiliation and boredom. I was very moved by this program.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Dreams: Houses

I've done a lot of research into literary symbolism through the years. I've also researched dream symbolism. And while I don't believe symbols are a one size fits all proposition, I do believe in certain universal truths.

I have read that a woman often associates a "house" with her own "body." One literary example that comes to mind right away is Cisneros's The House on Mango Street.

I have also read that "houses" or "rooms" represent "possibility" in dreams. Indeed, I have recurring dreams of hidden rooms, often with richly decorated bathrooms.

So I thought it was interesting that in last night's dream, I was walking back to "my apartment" (I now live in a house) with my husband, two of my sons (younger than now), and my brother (now deceased). The apartment complex resembled the complex we moved into when we first came to Ohio so I could get my MFA in fiction writing.

We were going back to the apartment to get some food to take with us to a ball game we were going to watch.

When I stepped into my apartment, I was surprised to see it had been nearly gutted. Many things were missing or broken. The mirror above the bathroom sink had been smashed and had fallen to pieces on the floor. The carpet had been ripped up and the floor was scarred. Not one of us mentioned any of this to each other.

I gathered the food and we all set out on foot to the ball field. At first the ground was flat, but then it started to get hilly. I found myself having to struggle over big mounds of earth.

Many of the elements in this dream are recurring. The only new thing was the ball field.

If the "apartment" is my own "body," then I wonder what the dream means? Perhaps that elements of an "old" self must be sacrificed and wounds (the scarred floor) must be acknowledged, examined.

Friday, March 14, 2008


An e-mail I sent out after fiction workshop today:

Hello everyone,

Thanks for a wonderful session today. First I just want to remind everybody that we will be doing Jonathan's story on Monday and also we will talk briefly about "Great Falls," the story in our text by Richard Ford.

On Wednesday and Friday, I would like all of you to present your revisions to the class. What I mean is that you would discuss what revisions you made in story 1 or 2, read parts of the story, and talk about why you made the changes that you did. You should give ME a copy of your revised story.

I sort of like discussing a story in terms of its moral implications and its moral framework. Whether you think you are expressing a moral view about the world or not, it turns out that you really are. Readers, therefore, really need grounding in the moral universe you are creating.

Personally, I think "epiphany" is in many ways another word for "transcendence." Because writing has become to an extent "secularized," this does not mean that we have ceased to use religious elements in our writing (remember that at one time, all art was in response to the sacred). When a character has an ephiphany, that character transcends boundaries, overcomes an obstacle.

As writers, we have a strange (and very contradictory) role. One the one hand, we are creatures who revel in endless possibilities and as writers we should not "judge" our characters; on the other hand, we must operate under a level of coolness and objectivity when we create characters. We do judge them, in a sense. We don't judge them as a court would or as a God might, but we do exercise control over the story by deciding what a character represents.

You don't have to make every character vulnerable or capable of salvation. With a few very short lines and carefully chosen details, you can paint a character type.

I hope at least some of this makes sense.


Saturday, March 08, 2008


Buddha on Griffin Island, the Ohio River, 2005

I am riding high on the fact that in the last two days I have further cemented my ideas for the Ohio River novel. I have been thinking, writing, researching, and struggling with this project since my return from the Ohio Journey in the late summer of 2005. I believe it is finally starting to come together in a way that truly pleases me.

I just looked out the window, and the snow is getting really deep outside.

I'm so glad we did our grocery shopping, got perscriptions filled, and got plenty of wood into the house!

Friday, March 07, 2008


Another big snowstorm is on its way, Mojo.

On Tuesday night, Allen and I went to Toledo to see The Lion King. The play didn't start until eight p.m., and by mid-afternoon, it was sleeting. The sleet completely covered our windows on one side of the house. We also had to vote in the primary, so we left the house a little after five.

I don't know when I have seen the road conditions so bad. It continued to sleet well into the evening.

We did make it to the play safely. What an amazing experience. I will always remember the man sitting in front of us. He was probably about sixty. He was enthralled as a child becomes enthralled, his hands up to his face, silently clapping.

The tickets were expensive for us, but they were worth every penny.

After the play, we went to the only place we could find open, a bar named Frickers. We ate big fat hamburgers and drank cold beer. I wept because the play was just so beautiful, just so beautiful.

We didn't leave the bar until after two a.m. By then it was snowing. The roads were completely covered. Hardly anyone was out and about. It was like the whole world was asleep or that almost everyone else in the world had vanished. There were no snow crews scraping the roads.

We arrived home and then got stuck in our own driveway.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Our front yard: Sunflower circle in the snow.
Tonight it was the strangest thing. Tonight I wrote a brand new story, an entire story from start to finish. I wrote it by hand. I wrote it in my bathtub by hand, inside a book of short stories because I had no other paper, because the book had several blank pages at the back. Then I typed the story. I just finished typing the story and reading it, and I know it's a good story. It needs a bit of work, but it is a good story, a story that really works. Tonight it was the strangest thing.



About Me

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych



Little Deer

Little Deer



Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back