Weekend Write-In: What Would Freud Say? Who Cares, So Long as He Read the Thing

Mushrooms pretending to be just mushrooms.

Does it matter that I did not intend to create a character who looked like a penis? That, readers, is today’s question.

My short story collection was published in October. Since then, I have turned promoter, a role I am not comfortable with. I have learned, for example, how difficult it is to have your book reviewed, so I was incredibly grateful when, nine months after the book’s launch, a review appeared on a popular blogsite. Even more thrilling was that the review was positive. The reviewer wrote, “Though the stories vary in tone, theme, and subject, they’re unified by the author’s gift for the incisive one-liner, the wry observation that illuminates the whole.”

That’s the good news. Later on, she says “the overall strength of this fine collection made weaker moments stand out.” Uh-oh. But it’s the final paragraph, and I’m thinking: who reads these things all the way through, anyway? The dread is personal, primal, even, but I’m a writer now. I can take the criticism.

Except, I didn’t quite understand it.

The reviewer notes that, in one story, a school secretary has a “‘large head of gray hair shaped like a mushroom’ and her name, we’re told, is Hedda Horn — a joke that only distracts.” For two days, I wandered around my house wondering what she thought the joke was. Wrong haircut? Too cliche? Overdone alliteration? I had based the character physically on a woman I’d seen in my own school building, her bowl cut and stocky figure leaving her Minion-shaped (though the story was written several years before I might have applied that particular allusion). Then, one day when I was out on my walk, it hit me: the reviewer thinks I deliberately made my character look like a penis.

I’m not sure which is worse: the fact that she mistook my intentions, or the fact that something I wrote so completely misfired. Believe me, my writing friends think my unintentional phallic symbol is hysterical. Even funnier? That it got pointed out to so many hundreds of readers. But I am plunged back into that part of myself that wants everyone to be happy. That wants everything I write to be perfect. Why didn’t I just give the woman a Dorothy Hamill wedge? A Shirley Partridge shag?

This reminds me of when my first book of poems was published and one of my distant cousins (there are zillions) approached me at a signing. She told me her husband didn’t come with her because he was mad at me. I had never met the man, but I had written a poem about two friends who argued about whose wine tasted better. The argument ended with one friend shooting the other. True story from my mother’s old neighborhood. “He forgives you now,” my cousin several times removed said. “But the guy that died was my husband’s uncle.”

When I told my mother this, worried I’d offended someone, she said, “You’re missing the point.”

“Which is?”

“People are reading your book.”

Oh. That.

What was obvious to my mother, was not so clear to me: that, after years of toiling away in obscurity at my dining room table or propped up with pillows on my bed, people were actually reading what I had to say.

For all I know, readers might imagine my stories populated with a race of penile people. They might see their own stories in whatever I’ve put down on paper. But the key word here is READERS. Those people (like you!) we writers can not live without.

Weekend Write-In: Having to Have Patience Whether You Like it or Not

“You were always so impatient,” my mother tells me regularly. “Even when you were little, if I bought you a coloring book, you sat down and colored every picture immediately. Didn’t stop until it was finished.”

As I writer, I appreciate my mother’s ability to nail down the characterization. This without any lessons in showing vs. telling! But as a very human being who also happens to be a writer, I also think: my god. What happened to me?

My first collection of poetry took me twenty years to finish. My first collection of short stories took me twenty-two. I didn’t set out to write a collection in either of these genres, but when you keep writing, you tend to pile up some stuff and one day, if you’re me, you lay it all out on your bed and wonder if there are enough pages for a book.

A novel is a different beast, however. A novel is something I always wanted to write. Something that I approached deliberately (once I realized the short story I thought I was writing was something else), thinking: I want this to be a book.

My novel started one day when I thought I’d like to write a short story about the summer I visited a carnival with a friend and met a man who ran one of the concessions. He was exceedingly friendly to me, gave me several nights’ worth of free chances and so many plastic poodles to hang on my bedpost that my mother grew suspicious. When she asked me where I got the prizes and I told her, she warned me to be careful, but she did not stop me from going to the carnival again. I was ten.

Perhaps she thought, as I did, that nothing could happen in our small town where everyone was a cousin or married to a cousin or someone my mother went to school with. But that fall, a thirteen year old girl was kidnapped and killed walking home at night just a couple miles away from where the carnival had been set up.

Chapter by chapter, the short story turned into a novel that is and isn’t the story of that summer, that carnival, the fall from innocence we experienced when such a tragedy struck our town. Twelve years later — the speed of light for me — I finally finished it.

What happens next, even after a dozen years revising, re-structuring, wrestling with the beast that is plot, is almost (almost) not important. What is important is that I did it. I waited it out. Powerless to know how to manage the story and all its threads, I had no choice but to slog ahead.

If I had sat down at any time in my writing life and thought: Okay, I’ll write this poem/story/novel etc today and twelve, twenty, twenty-two years from now, I’ll have a book, I would have put down the pen and picked up a paintbrush instead. And by paintbrush, I mean the kind you use to re-do your downstairs bathroom. In a way, I just kept coloring one picture after the next until I could close up shop on one particular work.

This makes me wonder if my mother had it exactly right: maybe patience had nothing to do with finishing that book. Maybe finishing it had everything to do with it, instead.

Weekend Write-In: What to do When You Can’t Write

Some people (like my husband) say I should run every day. Just a mile. Ten minutes! Anyone can do that much! But I can’t. My legs hurt; my lungs explode; the thoughts of the quitter I am derail me.

Sometimes writing is like this. Same advice. Same expectations. Same torment. Same defeat.

So when I can’t write. When I absolutely can’t think of anything, here’s what I do, instead:

  1. I rewrite. Even if it means rewriting stuff I’m not particularly excited about. A day can’t be wasted if you improve something, right?
  2. I add a page to the journal I keep for my daughters (and you can start one anytime for anyone!). What’s great about this is that a) the audience is guaranteed and b) I end up writing something down that I’m thankful I recorded. I suppose letters would work here, too, and everyone loves receiving real mail.
  3. I research possible places to submit my work. When else do people do this tedious stuff? Compiling submission guidelines, website links, etc. when I’m not writing means that, when that urge returns (and it always does no matter how much I despair), I don’t have to stop to do the business of writing.
  4. I look at what I have already and try to decide: what should I do with this? A few years ago, after my agent rejected (in this order) my novel and me, the blues came to stay for a long, dark, lonesome winter. One day, I took out the stories I’d already written and laid them across my bed. Do I have enough pages for a collection? I wondered. I did. Then I researched where to send it. Hmm. AWP Grace Paley Prize. What the hell?
  5. I read other people’s stuff and leave comments of encouragement, blogsites, Goodreads, FB posts. It’s writing, right? And, again, there’s an audience.
  6. I read.
  7. I people watch.
  8. I try not to beat myself up.

I wish I could write every day. But I’m like most writers I know: I have a job that isn’t writing; I have a family; I get my teeth cleaned; I feed my cats. And so, I console myself with some other writing-related pursuit.

What about you? How do you fill the muse-less hours??

And Finally, Our Last Night at AWP: Doesn’t Play Well With Others

Love is all around, no need to waste it; if you can have the town, why don't you take it? You're gonna make it after all!!

Love is all around, no need to waste it; if you can have the town, why don’t you take it? You’re gonna make it after all!!

I’ve been home from AWP more than a week already. What is taking me so long to wrap up the blog thing on it? Good question. Here goes nothing:

Saturday morning, Rebecca and I facetime Sarah Yaw who would be with us (and whose novel, You Are Free to Go, is with us in the convention hall at the Engine Books table). Sarah is home making microwaved scrambled eggs for her five year old twins who wiggle loose teeth for us and wave bloody swords they received as birthday gifts. It feels a bit Mission Impossible — Sarah checking in to hear what we’ve accomplished so far (Rebecca sampled the local whiskey and survived 48 hours without her suitcase; I had lunch with Pam Houston and didn’t order a glass of wine because the waiter came to me first and I was afraid of committing a faux pas so grossly classless, that I couldn’t even summon the courage to ask for lemonade and, instead, settled for tap water).

“Okay,” Sarah says, infinitely forgiving. “Then your homework tonight is to go to the main hotel bar and shmooze.”

Cue iconic music.

Cut to my blanched face and trembling limbs.

Rebecca says this is a great idea and though the thought of meeting real live writing people terrifies me, we head off to the day’s panel discussions as if this is any other day on the planet. We separate and I listen to writers discuss how uncomfortable it is to promote their books. We’re socially awkward people as it is, they say. (I’m paraphrasing. Or projecting. I forget which.) We’re most comfortable at home with our families and our cats (I’m almost totally freestyling now, but this is what I heard no matter what they actually said.)

Thus fortified, thus reassured I am not the only freak out there, I head back to the bookfair to find Rebecca. I’m feeling good, strong, confident, full of adventure, and then I see Rebecca strolling along an aisle and the familiarity of her inspires me to run towards her and throw my arms around her. “I missed you!” I say. I don’t care who hears me.

7:30: we head to the bar. I deliberately do not fuss with what I’m wearing. Rebecca loaned me some lipstick that never comes off. It’s like a lip tattoo. This is my one attempt at looking good. (that I insist on my own meaningless-slash-invisible protest might seem ridiculous but it gets me the four or five blocks I need to travel).

“One drink,” I say. “And then we’re out of there.”

But we meet a cowboy from North Carolina who works at a university in Kansas. He looks so much like my cousin’s son, I feel almost at ease. We take a selfie with him and send it to my cousin and to Sarah. Doing our homework, we write. The cowboy says he’s relieved to meet us. Relieved. Great word. He even makes Rebecca talk about her book (Charms for Finding, (http://www.hebenon.com/charms.html). This is beginning to seem like that rare phenomenon: a really, really, fun homework assignment.

Two hours later, he leaves for dinner with his colleagues: “If y’all are here when I get back, that’d be great,” he says. We won’t be, of course, but we promise to be Facebook friends.

An editor from Alabama takes the cowboy’s seat. He tells us that a bartender friend of his in New Orleans said that during the AWP conference there, the bars sold more liquor than they did for Mardi Gras.

“You know how it is with writers,” he says. We do! We do! We’re so busy talking to him about pit bulls and publishing and our favorite cocktail nuts, we don’t even notice when the cowboy returns.

“Wow!” I say. “That was a fast dinner.”

“Fast?” he says. “I’ve been gone two hours! I never thought y’all’d still be here.”

So, we nearly close the place and then we leave, happy with our final night in Minneapolis. It’s a beautiful city, pristine and friendly. The weather is spring-like and people gather to play ping pong outside, to sit along the wide streets and watch the bars empty out.

Soon, we and 14,000 others, will return to the kinds of lives we awkward writers live. Tonight, however, I think: The world is full of strangers, and that’s not a bad thing. Some of those strangers have left Minneapolis with my book in their hands. That idea, the few friends we have made this time, and Rebecca’s company for a few more hours, seem like miracles enough for one trip.

The Story of the Stories: Conclusion — See You in Minneapolis?????

A chai martini tastes like chai. Perks and Corks, a cozy spot, is part of downtown Westerly’s Renaissance. Thom McCann used to be on this block. But now, it’s breweries, bars, restaurants. This is my first time out in my own hometown. I’m fifty years old.

But this is not my first time out with my cousin Sue. The year after I graduated from college, I moved home and, though we pledged to stay home a night or two, we never did. There were discos to stroll through and beachside cabanas to drink Bartles and James at. And when the night ended, there was always IHOP. With our history, you’d think I’d be careful, but she says we should try the place on the river. Sit outside. Watch the swans. And I say, “Sure.”

It’s a beautiful night. My daughters are sleeping over their cousins’ houses after dinner with Nana. The girls and I are here visiting family (and there’s a lot of it) for a few days before heading home to pre-season workouts, captains’ practices, before my own school year gears up again. I dread September, so why not indulge August?

At the next spot, that patio we sit on juts out into the Pawcatuck. Sue and I have nothing to do but talk, and we never run out of that. The swans glow in the dark on the black river. A Lemincello martini tastes like lemons.

I don’t remember what kind of martini I order next. I do remember trying to stand up and thinking the river is a lot closer than it had seemed.

Sue, like the underage disco queen she used to be, bounces up from her seat, and says, “We need to get together more often.”

I say, “I can’t go home yet. I need to walk.”

When we were kids, our mothers warned us never, NEVER, go into the park at night. There’s still a little of their warnings with us, but we go anyway. Except for its ancient beech trees, its well-spaced lamp posts, the fish pond, the place is empty. I strut and fret my hour upon the stage that has been constructed for the annual Shakespeare in the Park. Sue climbs barefoot into the fountain behind the library. I think one of us takes pictures.

The next morning, my head pounding, I slink out into the light of my mother’s already busy kitchen. She has a visitor. She almost always does, and we are in the middle of an important conversation with this one when my mother’s phone rings.

My god, I think, has it always been that shrill? It announces the caller: Dennis Donoghue.

“Ignore it,” I tell my mother. Her visitor’s story that requires our attention and I am already struggling mightily not to puke. I’ll call Dennis as soon as I can move my jaw without the pain ricocheting through my skull.

Again, it rings. Dennis. My mother picks it up this time and, after several confused seconds, hands it to me.

Dennis says, “Why would someone from George Mason University be calling you?”

George Mason University?

I take the phone outside. Sit on my mother’s sidewalk. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, I think.

“My god,” I finally say. “I think it’s AWP.”

 ***

This flight is crowded with writers. Minneapolis-bound Bostonians on their way to the biggest gathering of writers in the world. 10,000 plus people just like me, people nursing this stubborn dream, or – maybe — people celebrating this dream come true.

The Story of the Stories, Part IV: Letting It Be Bad

In my Hetzel Hall single, I sat agonizing over how to write a short story. Stayed away from nickel night at Nick’s. Closed my dorm room door and ignored knocks. Let the phone ring and ring down the hall, people with reasons to chat be damned.

How Jumpin’ Joe got in, I don’t recall. He’s an unavoidably buoyant person, hard to discourage.

“Look,” he said, not standing still. Bobbing, probably, using hand motions, wiggling his Marx brother’s eyebrows. “Why don’t you take a poetry class, instead. Have a little fun for a change?”

“I know nothing about writing poetry,” I said to this animal science major, to someone whose first real job would be as an egg inspector for the USDA during the day and a bass player in a band at night.

***

Poetry derailed me (fodder for another 100 blogs).

But it was loss that brought me back to writing stories.

First, my father’s death and a summer workshop for teachers in Amherst. We had to tell name stories and one woman said: “I was named Margaret after my grandmother, but her name had originally been Mexico. When she married, her in-laws forced her to change it to something more appropriate.” There was no poem in that, only something vital being erased, something unimaginable. The dorm room I slept in was stifling. The group of teachers assembled not writers but earnest educators hoping to learn something that they could bring back to the classroom with them. Peter Elbow led some weird kind of writing therapy session that made me itch. I could still summon my father’s smell, cotton and starch, Ivory soap. I had memorized the cracks in his fingers, the missing nails. I wouldn’t let my mother throw his comb away.

In my conference with Peter Elbow, I said I wanted to write an essay based on the Mexico story. “I thought about writing something fictional,” I said, “but I can’t.”

“Do you know what word I hear?” he said, leaning forward. “Can’t. You can’t write it, you said.”

“That’s right. I can’t.”

He asked me what I was afraid of and I thought of standing up, walking to my car, driving back to my mother’s house. My mother’s house that used to be my parents’ house.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. This quack. This witch doctor. “Just let it be bad.”

***

I had learned long before that writing didn’t bring anyone back. Had spent my sophomore year in high school chronicling my friendship with two girls whose companionship I had lost. For Christmas that year, I had received an electric typewriter. I set it up in my room beside my stereo and banged away on it, filling page after page with the scenes from our lives together. When I’m finished, I thought, I’ll show it to them and they’ll remember: Oh, right. That’s how it used to be.

***

I didn’t write Having Your Italy because I believed it would bring Dan back. Older, wiser, more accustomed to the way loss inserts itself into life and how we surge forward, grateful even for the loves that cannot last, I wrote the story for me. But I loved many things about him and one of those was his longing, his restlessness despite my own realization that these things meant he couldn’t stay.

One day when he listed all the things he wanted to do, that he couldn’t imagine doing, I thought about how I might console him. Finally, I said: “I went to Italy without a map, without anything, really, except a good friend and the absolute wrong wardrobe.”

He said, “Well, I haven’t had my Italy.”

In the weeks after he left, I sat at my desk and clicked away at the keyboard of my Apple IIGS and wrote a story based around the line that forced a painful and necessary goodbye. The Mexico story was an invitation to write. The Italy story, I thought, might be something more important. Outside, night fell. Inside, I batted away all the never-again’s. I wrote the first draft and I let it be bad.

***

Teaching, too, derailed me, but motherhood? That sat me down in one place and threatened to hold me there, my beautiful daughter, Beatrice, busy with plastic things, her diapers dry, the electrical outlets sealed off.

I hung signs in local libraries: Writing Group Forming, Please Call (Please) — the parenthetical is just a reference to the little prayer I said each time I punched a staple in.

We met in the Rowley Library when it had a basement room with red shag carpet. Of the five people who assembled, four returned for the next four years. Mostly, we met in Newburyport at Jane’s condo, every Thursday night. Her children were grown; her husband tucked himself away in the spare room while we listened to one another’s attempts. When my middle daughter was born, Miriam filled me a water bottle and lectured me about the importance of hydration as I nursed Apphia through the critique. When I was finished, they took turns passing her around: Jane, Brian, Miriam. When my third daughter arrived home from Guatemala, I brought them all gifts.

But the writing stalled, story after story rejected. “I might just start writing poetry again,” I said, threatening the indifferent air and houseplants.

Then the phone rang. Landline.

Ten years after I had finished Having Your Italy, someone said, “We’d like to publish your story.”

The Story of the Stories: Part III — Fording Rivers with Jon and Not Disappointing John Denver’s Doppleganger

Jon knew the best time to leaf peep along the Kancamagus Highway. So that I could fully appreciate the beauty of his homestate, he drove his Le Car and I gaped out the windows at the scenery. We stopped often so he could take pictures and teach me the kind of lessons he picked up in the required New Hampshire history course he had taken in high school. Once he learned them, Jon never forgot facts. Campus was a couple hours south. The demands of our full courseloads in a place that had yet to change color, that would offer up for dinner the Sunday special Yankee pot roast, were far away. Instead, we had this. Was there traffic? I don’t remember. Crowds? In my memory, we are alone against the calendar page settings. The day was perfect and then it was time for lunch.

We’d packed something and, as I scouted the road for a White Mountains picnic spot, Jon pulled the car over, instead, onto a gravel shoulder and got out. Below us, the shallow rapids of a river sparkled.

“What are we doing?” I asked.

Jon clambered over the guardrail with our cooler. “Come on,” he said. “There’s the perfect spot.”

I looked around. Trees. More trees. The faded little Le Car with its implausible  racing strip. The river still racing towards the Atlantic.

When I hesitated, Jon motioned to where a house sat on the opposite shore, a vacation cottage, its windows blinking in the sun.

“That’s someone’s property,” I said.

Jon insisted no one was home. Even if they were, he doubted they’d mind someone using their picnic table for a few minutes. Live free or die, I thought. Live free or be arrested for trespassing, but Jon was on his way to the river. Live free or get washed away by the rapids before you get a chance to trespass.

“I don’t know about this,” I said, and that’s when Jon altered the course of my life.

“You don’t really have a sense of adventure, do you?” he said.

I love Jon. Best friend love. The kind that lasts no matter how infrequently we get to see each other. He’s brilliant and funny and earnest and, in those glorious days when we did see each other more than once every other year, he made me look at myself in ways I had not before. A mirror kind of friend, someone who saw who I was, and said: What the hell. I’ll hang out with her anyway.

I didn’t have a sense of adventure, but when he held out his hand that day, I took it and, in that moment, I began to remedy something.

I’ll never jump out of airplanes (like Jon did a few years later), but his words stay with me, urge me forward, still. Even onto Minneapolis.

As do these:

Eighth grade, Westerly Babcock Junior High School:

Mrs. Serra would stand before us with the book in her hands, read passages aloud, coax discussion from us. She liked books and that might sound odd, but it was the first time I thought it about a teacher: she reads. I’ve forgotten the novel we were studying, but once we’d finished the unit, the assignment was to write a different final chapter.

And I loved the job. Did what I always did: slipped into the world and wrote from it. The difference? No one had yet asked to see any of what I produced.

Mrs. Serra handed the papers back a few days later, calling us up to her desk to retrieve them. When it was my turn, she held the paper out to me just out of reach.

“You need to enter the school’s essay contest,” she said. I had no idea the school had an essay contest, but before I could ask for details, she added: “You can write.”

Sophomore year, University of New Hampshire:

Will Evans looked like John Denver who I had a soft spot for since a) that was the first concert I had ever attended (all decked out in my Dutchmaid lime green pantsuit), and b) Back Home Again was the only song my brother would let me sing to when he played guitar. Will rolled the sleeves of his plaid shirts halfway up his arms. He loved John Gardner and Joan Didion. I didn’t have a crush on him but I did feel very tender towards him. He was so earnest. You didn’t want to let him down even when you tried several times to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and finally had to fake it in discussions. I’d cruised through freshman English. Writing papers had become rote for me. Five pages a week. Easy A.  For Will’s latest assignment, I scribbled some stuff about missing my niece’s birthday, homesick stuff, blah blah blah, yanked the finished product from my typewriter and headed into Lauren’s room to battle with the television’s rabbit ears so we could watch M*A*S*H*.

The next week in my one-on-one conference, Will slid the paper back to me.

“You know what your problem is?” he said.

He had a cowlick, I swear to God. Blond bangs and a cowlick. Not the kind of haircut you’d expect on someone who is about to excoriate you.

“You’re lazy.”

Lazy? No. Writing was just easy. Maybe I told him something like this, but I doubt it. I’m pretty sure I was stunned into silence and trying not to bawl.

“This isn’t an essay,” he said. “This is just some flowery description. You’ve got talent, but that won’t get you anywhere if you aren’t willing to do the work.”

Back in my dorm, I grabbed the box of tissues and the Webster’s New Collegiate: Essay, I read. A short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author.

This didn’t help me one bit. But I didn’t want to let Will down. Or Mrs. Serra. I started working then. Not just writing. Never again just writing.

Writing is easy. You put the right pen to the right paper and dream away. But Will was right. Good writing? That takes work. Work and possibly, a sense of adventure. An understanding of the power of words.

Sometimes People Ask Me What It’s Like To Be Married To Another Writer

Sometimes, being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life. There is never a time when you think: Woohoo! I do not have to write today. That Sunday night should-have-gotten-this-all-going-days-ago feeling does not vanish on some improbable June day when, on the way out the classroom door, you dump your backpack, Peanuts lunch box and all, into the overflowing trash can.

Milking ended fours hours after it began whether you hurried through, risking your father’s ire for your impatience, or lolled about singing songs and dedicating them to the behemoths before you. The wrap-up was simple: last cow out, parlor hosed down, cycles run to sanitize the machines. Vacuum pump off, the night buzzed with crickets you forgot would be out there, or you noticed the wind howling around the silos for the first time. The newest calf bawled for its mother, and she responded, a long, low bellow you’d hear all night long in your dreams. The next day, of course, the pattern resumed. But there it was — beginning and end. The moment when you were allowed to say: done. At least for today.

Shift’s end at Paddy’s Wigwam, Misquamicut Beach, meant it was time to refill the prep area. A bucketful of creamers in the fridge, a cupful of stirrers on the counter beside an opened case of napkins. You sorted your checks and cashed in your coins. If you were lucky, the bartender was bored and mixed you a Pearl Harbor you sipped while you waited for traffic to creep along Atlantic Avenue towards wherever the tourists called home. You smelled like fritters and ketchup. Sometimes, the place was empty enough for you to sweep the sand out from under the tables, to swipe the fly carcasses off the windowsills.

The school day ends with a bell, hallways clogged with noise and a hormone-y stench. Cars carroom out of the parking lot at the speed of light. Until the roads look fairly safe again, you sit at your desk clipping together a pile of essays you will take home and ignore. If you remember, you put up the rest of the chairs.

But the writing day never begins or ends for me in any of the predictable ways my other lives do/did. I should always be writing, notebook in my (non-existent) shirt pocket, pen behind my ear. I should pose in cafes looking ultra-pensive in a peacoat and black jeans. I should forgo watching Project Runway on demand and rubbing lemon oil onto my kitchen cabinets. I should rise in the dark, the moon still out and listening, as I do, for the first note of birdsong.

Should. I hate that word.

Dennis read somewhere (a Greek philosopher, I think): If you want to write, write. He likes to quote that to me the same way he likes to quote lines from Raymond Carver short stories and pretend they’re his own. At least I think the Carver lines are funny. At least they surprise me when I see them again in their original form. Dennis is the reason why I started writing regularly in the first place. He’s very disciplined, a marathon runner who isn’t afraid to string the miles out along a route rife with obstacles and very personal reminders of your own mortality. I wish I could say it was purely his example that motivated me, but I must confess: I worried that, with all that writing, he’d be better at it than I was. Yes, I’m that small-minded.

Dennis also says, Don’t say: I only have 15 minutes to write. Say: Wow. I can’t believe I get 15 minutes to write! (He also read this somewhere). Sometimes, he tries to hug me when he says this. I pin my arms against my side and mumble into his chest: How do you find so much time to read anyway?