{so shines a good deed in a weary world}

Even before she started beauty school, my sister could dye her hair a color that matched her hoodies and accessories perfectly. (You didn’t know you needed that skill, right? But, you do.)

She has frequently had the ability to make me snort-laugh, because she is ridiculous has a penchant for telling dramatic stories about herself. She started doing that as soon as she could talk – imagine two-year-old babbling, complete with gasps. Once, she dressed up as Jesus (?) and wrapped herself in bath towels and blankets, dragging them around the house. Despite her, um, extended bratty phase, she’s generally been the cause of a lot of smiles and laughter in our family.

This has not been a very smiley last few days for anyone. The world has… proven yet again that when someone fans the flames of hate, the inferno grows and would incinerate the whole world. But, as always, a single act of love can push back against the dark. My sister’s friends at beauty school have decided that she needs a standing wheelchair to be a successful stylist — and so they’ve started the incremental — grueling — long process of raising the money on GoFundMe. Ten. Thousand. Dollars.

Is it going to be easy? No. Is it going to take a long while? Yes. But, knowing she’s got friends like that? Makes the struggle worth it. When she told me about it, she said, “My friends – I just started crying when they told me – they’re amazing. We’re going to do it. It’ll take as long as it takes, but we’re going to do it.”

My beautifully stubborn sister has had that attitude for a while. She has had to change her schedule, since starting beauty school. She can’t work as long as she thought she’d be able to – the work is exhausting (PEOPLE ARE TIRING) and sometimes, clients are unpleasant about her chair – people fear contagion from disease and disability, because they’re… small-minded and craven, basically. Everything in my sister’s life has come with compromises and work-arounds, but you know what? She never quits. We’re going to get this danged chair – even though insurance won’t pay for it. Things are falling apart, the center is not holding, and I cannot fix anything else in the world, but this small thing? Here, I can help.

Have you found your small thing to hang your heart on yet this week?

{the work that holds up the world}

In Judaism, when someone dies, we often say, “May their memory be for a blessing.” This time, it is all of our obligation to make it so. We must mourn and lament and grieve for the lives stolen from the world. We must rage at the baseless hatred and reckless lack of protections that made these senseless killings possible in the first place. And we must honor the memories of those who were murdered by fighting for a world that values every life — refugee and citizen, of every race and religion — and that creates cultures and policies that reflect those values. – Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

{a modest shrine to meaning}


by Leonard Nathan

So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
or even a well-known singer
of popular songs and will never read Greek
or speak French fluently,
will never see something no one else
has seen before through a lens
or with the naked eye.

You’ve been given just the one life
in this world that matters
and upon which every other life
somehow depends as long as you live,
and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
choice, and pain with which to raise
a modest shrine to meaning.

Iona 84

{clean plate club}

Wee’uns are often too distracted to eat, and so canny adults through time have incentivized finishing one’s serving – for a prize of applause (Our full family chorus of “Yaaay! Good for YOU!” for my sister Jessica) (which, let’s be real, we STILL say to her sometimes, just to annoy her), dessert, or an imaginary club first started in 1917 by a United States Congress deeply concerned with food waste during wartime.

The problem for many of us is that, while we are in a state of War Without End as Americans, the issues of food waste aren’t the same anymore. A 2014 study by Cornell Food & Brand Lab revealed that the average adult eats around 92 percent of the food that is served to them on a plate, meaning most people are members of the Clean Plate Club. If it’s on the plate, most adults will eat it. Kids, meanwhile, will only finish about 59% of what’s on their plates… until and unless they’re chivvied by adults.

(And no, smaller plates don’t actually help. And, incidentally, the “children in Africa” aren’t all starving, and 99.9999% of them [there’s always one, right?] do not want your manky leftovers. [Preventing food waste CAN save lives, though – but that’s another story in a country that would be happy SENDING food to developing nations. That’s not this country during this administration, however.])

Been thinking about this whole clean plate thing, because Predator has begun occasionally making it difficult to eat. I’ve struggled on, er, woman-fully, through stomach cramping, nausea and disinterest without taking much time to ask myself… why? In the face of all of that, why even worry about finishing my food?

“Ladies” used to be taught to leave a little on a plate, as a sign of gentility, whereas people with more robust appetites were judged to be lower class and coarse. Then, as eating out became more common, finishing every last scrap and taking home a few packets of jam became the norm — after all, you paid for it, and isn’t finishing only getting your money’s worth? The Cornell study examined the words people used about finishing the “last” of anything on a serving platter – “Who’s going to take the last meatball? Can’t leave the one alone…” weirdly, guilting each other into eating… by anthropomorphizing food! We have such baggage with our consumption, such difficulties with our perceived selves. Unexamined traditions have convinced us to ignore our body’s signals and overlay external constructs on what should be an wholly organic internal process.

Ignoring our bodies not only causes us to overeat, it causes most of us some fairly dark moods. We struggle to eat that last bite – and feel guilty when we feel so crappy afterwards. The opposite of mindful eating is mindless eating – and doing anything mindlessly isn’t fulfilling or helpful or living one’s best life, really.

Learning to listen to one’s body is work – but it’s work worth doing. Your brain and your body have a lot to tell you, more than you could know.

{autumnal eau de vie}


when the light leaves early, sun slipping down
behind the beech trees as easily as a spoon
of cherry cough syrup, four deer step delicately
up our path, just at the moment when the colors
shift, to eat fallen apples in the tall grass.
Great grey ghosts. If we steal outside in the dark,
we can hear them chew. A sudden movement,
they’re gone, the whiteness of their tails
a burning afterimage. A hollow pumpkin moon rises,
turns the dried corn to chiaroscuro, shape and shadow;
the breath of the wind draws the leaves and stalks
like melancholy cellos. These days are songs, noon air
that flows like warm honey, the maple trees’ glissando
of fat buttery leaves. The sun goes straight to the gut
like a slug of brandy, an eau-de-vie. Ochre October:
the sky, a blue dazzle, the grand finale of trees,
this spontaneous applause; when darkness falls
like a curtain, the last act, the passage of time,
that blue current; October, and the light leaves early,
our radiant hungers, all these golden losses.

~ copyright © 2005 Barbara Crooker (from Radiance, published by Word Press). All rights reserved.

{radio stella —> stella speaks}

My agent, bless him, didn’t want to get my hopes up.

A novel which he’d loved, and which we both thought would get good traction in the market was floundering – as had the two YA novels before it. This latest novel, written quickly over the summer, was rejected by first one, then another editor, and the numbers were piling up.

Normally, within the first five rejections, I would have figured out a pattern of what was wrong with the piece – that many disconnected editors are usually not a monolith, but normally there’s a kind of consensus which arises from the editorial letters… the main character is X, the setting is Y, something specifically isn’t working and five out of six editors agree. Not this time. The replies were mostly, “it’s written beautifully, just not what we’re looking for.” “Stella is a hoot, but we already have x, y, or z, this season.” So, my agent persisted, and I moved on to something else, as one does. It’s part of the job of the writer – to write, and not worry about what is going on with the selling – that’s the sole reason for an agent, so the writer can set aside THAT particular anxiety in favor of the other hundred thousand.

Honestly, I’d already started revising Stella, in my head. I had done SOMETHING wrong, I couldn’t know for sure what, but I was positive it was me. That’s what we all believe – it’s US. It’s always US. It’s not the market nor the editors, nor is it the time of year, it’s US, and we are foolish and ignorant and WRONG.

Which is why last month’s phone call was such a shocker. My agent emailed me the day before my uncle’s memorial service with CALL ME in all caps in his subject line. (Amusingly, somehow in my last move he’d lost my cell number – or else I never gave it to him. This tells you how much we speak to each other across an open line. Introverts use EMAIL and we LIKE IT.) When I phoned him, he said, “Well, I didn’t mention this before, because sometimes, these things fall apart…” He’d had a conversation with an editor in passing, heard she was heading back to middle grade, after losing two of her big YA names to adult fiction. He asked what she was seeking, sent her my work midweek, and received a response… by the week following. She’d read my book over the weekend, taken it to an acquisitions meeting the following week, and messaged him with her interest a day later.

So, I’ve sold a pair of novels, one of which is definitely middle grade! I’m still blinking. Normally, NOTHING moves that fast in publishing. That Katherine Tegen (henceforth KT) offered the opportunity to work with her for TWO books was even more surprising – I’d never gotten that sort of offer, even after four books with EditorE. Suddenly, it feels like anything can happen – and I’m not completely sure what will. It’s a good – if unusual – feeling.

One of my earlier rejections for RADIO STELLA which is now being renamed STELLA SPEAKS is that the novel was “too commercial” for their house. This …was a surprise to me, as the idea is normally that if you win an ALA nod, you’re considered by most people to be a literary success, if not not necessarily a commercial success, as one normally has to do with reader popularity and the other with literary merit as judged by teachers and librarians… I’m reading Katherine Tegen publications like mad just now, catching up with what they’re about – their tagline is “high-quality commercial fiction,” so apparently now I’m commercial? Okay, I’ll take it.

Writers write. So, I’ll just get back to that and leave the perplexing question of what kind of book Stella will be to others more qualified to decide.

{into the peace of wild things}

The Peace of Wild Things || Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

Source: Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)

{p7 on pf: six line animal poem}

October already… and I’m still holding out on turning on the heat. It’s the West Coast Winter Contest, and there are rules – you can use an electric blanket, but not every day. You can close all the windows, but messing with the thermostat before October 31st means you’ve somehow …lost. You can wear cardigans and wool socks on a breezy day, but a coat… no, that’s just a bridge too far. Somehow, you can gain or lose some sort of psychic points in a West Coast Winter, if you acknowledge that it’s nippy before it gets here. (I hereby acknowledge that this is ridiculous, but we played this game in Glasgow, too. Many Scots are faintly scornful of the whole coat thing, and it can be SNOWING and they’ll wear… a t-shirt. They win, for all time.)

We were introduced to a few rules for our competition this month with the Poetry Seven – Laura set us a challenge that we had a subject – animals; a length limit – six lines, no more; and word specifications – we had to use the words spike, roof, and shadow.

I like rules in poetry. I like structure and limits and boundaries – they can make the writer feel safe, and the creativity feel manageable. Until it doesn’t. I was fine with the rules – I was delighted with everything but the word specifications. I was stymied, thinking of an animal and these words in the same context. What animal with a spike could also be on the roof? Everything has a shadow, but with only six lines to explain and describe, who could come up with anything decent? Also, I was determined not to do anything… normal. I mean, why not, right? But that also meant that the line limit came back to bite me in the bum again.

Stirling Castle D 63

I was truly challenged – but also happy to run to the internet for some clues. I started with the line limit. There are quite a few amazing six-line poems, and poem forms. To give myself a place to begin, I decided on a plain hexastich – six lines, unrhymed – and then to play with an Italian sestet, which is iambic tetrameter or pentameter, and rhymed abcabc. My first poem is a Scotland poem.

Stirling Tapestry

pearlescent spike crowns
a force of dream and shadow
Unicorn, captive
quiescent seeming, sitting
quivers poised to raise the roof
fairy tale turned fact

The symbol of Scotland is the unicorn, and with all the chaos of Brexit, more than ever, the unicorn, having sat prettily for a long while, is now poised to do… something about jumping over that fence, perhaps?

This one is because I can never just leave Miss Emily alone, and so, hat tip to her A Narrow Fellow in the Grass (1096).


The heartbeat spikes to see shed skin
On kennel roof, or ‘neath the porch
This friendly fellow cleaves the grass
In shadow, Snake is silent silk.
Herpetophobia your case?
Cold-blooded calm you must embrace!

I admit that I’m most proud of this last one, because Laura likes it. ☺ I thought that six lines was just enough to make a shape poem, and because a narwhal is just all …pointy up top, I was going to begin this with the word “I.” And then I saw this video…:

…and then I wondered how the narwhal… negotiated through the world with so much ahead of it, as it were. How does it never poke any of its friends inadvertently? Those were my thoughts – silly, yes, which lent themselves to a somewhat silly poem:

A Narwhal Never Flosses

splendid spike
this tooth, the roof
of narwhal whale in inky seas
its apex point a shadow spear
which keeps the way ahead all clear

Oh, there’s more poetry. Laura’s first through the gate with her adorable guinea pig. (Oops, she chose to post the owl. I still like the guinea pig.) Sara joins with an autumnally atmospheric piece. Liz hits her stride and Kelly returns sans pangolin. (But her kitty’s still pretty cute.) And Tricia’s here, too, huzzah. Andi and Jax will gambol along shortly – I’m excited that the gang’s all here today.

Tab’s hosting Poetry Friday today @ The Opposite of Indifference (and congrats to her Germany-bound son!). Enjoy your day – may it be filled with mysteriously awesome animals!