Author Archive

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

It’s not you, it’s me.

That’s what I keep telling my blog. I don’t want it to feel bad.

But the truth is, we need to break up. It’s time for me to move out.

Writing here has felt complicated to me the last couple of years. I don’t have good words to explain that, and maybe you don’t need me to.

I started blogging here in 2008 after 20 years of not writing. I had walked away from pen and paper in order to pursue a big ministry thing I thought was my destiny, and I wanted to be my destiny, which turned out not to be my destiny at all. It’s taken me a good while to sort it, but it seems that when I started again, I put this spiritual cape over my writing shoulders, believing the only way I could be allowed to do so was under the auspices of a “call” of sorts. That the only way to legitimize a writing habit was to dress it in obedient clothes.

The truth is that writing my spiritual process has been good for me, has pushed me to areas I’d not otherwise explored, brought me to new depths in my faith that I’d been unable yet to fathom. It gave me a place to have conversations I wasn’t finding elsewhere, and I needed that. I’m exceedingly grateful for the way many of you have walked that way with me.

But it has also been bad for me, and some of you will understand that without me explaining it. It has kept me in a shallow place, has fooled me into believing something existed within me that may not have, simply because I could write about a difficult biblical text with depth and intensity or see something powerful in a passage others may have missed. It is too easy to measure a writer by the depth of a blog post, thrive on the most raw, trade in the currency of vulnerability without the protections of intimacy.

I set up an internal conflict every time I wrote in any way off the path of explicit spiritual edification. Sometimes, particular external feedback reinforced that. And I’ve found myself in the midst of a dynamic in which the end of spiritual practice was not greater joy in the presence of God, but what might make a compelling piece of writing.

And so it is my writing here has waned. I’ve taken it off-site, which has revitalized me in many, many ways, but has made it difficult to come home at night to A Different Story and its expectations, real or imagined.

I’d love it if you crossed the street with me to my new place, I can’t tell you what my writing is going to look like there, or even if I’ll write any more often. I only know that I need a new space to try. One where I can write about God if I feel like it, or about anything else if I feel like it, and in any way that seems to work at the time. Maybe I’ll even use a bad word if it’s called for.

If you’re wondering, I still love Jesus. But in my non-writing life, I talk about other things. I’d like to write about them, too.

Some of you will prefer me the way I am right here. I’m good with that. I have some work in the archives that I’m pretty proud of (and some that, honestly, really sucks). Maybe one day I’ll delete it altogether, but for now I’ll leave it sit and we can grow old here together like Miss Havisham and her wedding cake.

Thanks for your love and encouragement while, like a petulant teenager, I’ve tried to find myself. Join me?

(Note: I am not moving my RSS and email subscriptions, so you will need to resubscribe at the new place if you wish to receive updates. While that might sound like an inconvenience, it’s really for your own good.)

Letters to Me: Book Launch

Twenty-twenty hindsight is a wondrous thing.

I’m happy today to announce the launch of Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Selfa collaborative project in which nearly twenty authors (yes, including me)  from a wide range of backgrounds explore a significant event from young adulthood, then talk to a younger version of ourselves with compassion and wisdom about what happened next, and how it mattered. I think most of the contributors would agree: being able to have a candid conversation with our older selves at what felt like such a critical moment would have been priceless.

This book is perfect for new graduates, college students, young adults making their way into the tenuous world of independence. But even at around two-times-ish the age of the intended audience, I have to tell you I was encouraged by these stories and reminded again that even with all its crazy ups and downs and twists and turns, life has a way of working itself out, albeit unexpectedly. God still knows how to make the most difficult of our stories redemptive.

Letters to Me is available on Amazon in paperback and for your Kindle.

What some folks are saying about this book:

There is something maddeningly compelling about this book. You want to leap into its pages and shake some sense into the characters just like you’re reading a page-turning novel, except that it’s real life and if you could somehow grab them by their shoulders, you would realize you were staring yourself in the face. The talent of these storytellers is revealed in how universal their personal stories are. In their stories you will experience agony and joy, pain and healing, fall and redemption. –Adam S. McHugh, author Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture

This is so needed. I’ve often wished I could go back and have a strong talking to with my younger, more idiotic self. These stories are funny, heartfelt, and important. Reading them will make you think and imagine a better life — maybe even give you the courage to live one. —Jeff Goins, author, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life

One of the most unnerving, unsettling things one can do in life is stare at themselves in the mirror – eye to eye. Letters To Me is the sacred chance to witness person after person pause their present as they stand naked in the mirror, facing everything they’ve been and everything they’ve done. To listen to what they hear in their souls, to see their past as they truly do. Oh, how I wish I’d been given this collection of stories earlier in my life. The entrance into adulthood would have been painted with so much more grace. –Lauren Lankford Dubinsky, founder of Good Women Project

Wide-Open Poetry

“I love your wide-open poetry” is what the great poet Pablo Neruda once told Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti, who believed Neruda to be speaking of a broader group of poets, those of the Beat Generation, responded with “You opened the door.”

How have the words of another opened the door for you?


WordCandy has a bit of a new look, and the peskiest little bugs worked out. Best place on the web for great quotes and stunning photos. Stop by and pick out something sweet to share with a friend–on Facebook, Twitter or by email.

Follow this link for sweet fun:

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Music History and an Angry Sonnet

My family moved out of state and I started eighth grade in a school without an orchestra. I joined the city’s adult symphony instead, sitting second of two chairs. I took private lessons from a man who looked to be a cross between Professor Snape and Harry Potter. None of the girls in my class wanted to take lessons from him. With his large round glasses and long, greasy black hair, the spindly music instructor frightened me only slightly less than his brutish, muscular wife who always answered the door red-faced and angry. “I am here to play viola,” I said.

I’m finishing up our book club discussion of Ordinary Genius over at Tweetspeak Poetry this week, telling my musical history and writing a sonnet. I’m told that my sonnets (I’ve two to my name) tend to sound a little angry. Maybe it had to do with my viola teacher’s angry wife, I don’t know. You could check it out if you’d like.

And while you’re there, I’ve got a brand new slate of our weekly Top Ten Poetic Picks–great finds in art, poetry, music and writing. My favorite this week? The Halloween costumes based on famous works of art. You’ll want to see them. Trust me on this.

Giving Yourself Away: A Story of Friendship

This is not the type of writing  I normally do here. But this was a story I thought needed to be told, and asked my friends Kathy and Mary to sit down with me a month or so ago and tell it. A modified version of this article appears in this week’s Grant County Review.


Kathy Madsen knows how to celebrate a birthday.

On her birthday next week, Kathy will tie a bright red ribbon around her name and throw it into a five-state pool to match up with someone who needs a kidney.

That’s some party favor, let me tell you.

Last spring, Kathy was on her back porch in her pajamas drinking coffee when her friend Vangie called. Vern and Vangie Heupel’s daughter Mary, living in Sioux Falls, had just been released from the hospital after and ICU stay due to kidney failure.

Kathy reassured her friend that she would do everything she could, thinking that she might drop off a box of chocolates or offer to mow the lawn. But before she knew what she was saying, she heard herself tell Vangie, “I’ll test for you. If I can give Mary a kidney, I want to give.”

:: (more…)

A Poem from My Dad on the Occasion of Poe’s Death

Last week, my parents visited us over the weekend. Their stay was extended by a vehicular malfunction. My dad returned home, car fixed and a shiny new repair bill under his arm, and wrote this. I don’t know if he meant for me to publish it. We’ll see. 


by Paul Willingham

We took a little trip in our Mercury auto
Out through the farm byways of Minnesota
Crossed the border into South Dakota
To visit the chief poet at Claims Poetica (more…)

Literary Tour: At The Mount with Edith Wharton

When I traveled last month, I attended a writer’s event at The Mount in Lenox, Mass., which is the beautiful, sprawling estate of 20th century author and poet Edith Wharton.

I have a photo essay up at Tweetspeak if you’d like to enjoy a glimpse into the spirit of Edith Wharton, which is evident throughout the “autobiographical house.”

Stop on over.

Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

By this time, I’m ready to ask the chicken question.

I’ve been scratching around for an angle, and even as I type this, I don’t have one. But Kim Addonizio tells me I don’t have to know where I’m going when I start writing, and even goes so far as to say it might be best not to. If that’s true, then I could walk her way and ask the age-old question to see if it gets me all the way across the boulevard.

(Addonizio got a poem out of it when she tried.)

So what do you think? Why did the chicken cross the road?


It’s Wednesday, and I’m at Tweetspeak where we’re reading Kim Addonizio’s  Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within together. Come on over to read the rest of the post — maybe you’ll find out why the chicken crossed. Or how it wound up in my dryer.

Ordinary Genius: Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

Photo by Toby M, Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Tweetspeak Week


It’s been a great week of fun over at Tweetspeak Poetry — here’s my quick digest, of great articles worth your time.


There is not a single more recognizable southern drink than sweet tea, except maybe Kentucky bourbon. And if one were to combine the former with the latter, one might find a sort of southern drink Nirvana.

— Seth Haines has a weekly community poetry prompt on Mondays, this month writing found poems together around the theme of tea.


I steady myself for the cardboard colors to come:
Dun, amber, sepia sweeping over ungrazed prairie.

— Glynn Young reviews Judith Valente’s Discovering Moons


The recent discovery of a third daguerreotype of Victorian-era poet Emily Dickinson has historians scratching their heads. Long believed to be reclusive and camera-shy, Dickinson seems to paint an entirely new picture of herself, positively mugging for the paparazzi.

— A Tweetspeak exclusive report on the possible discovery of a new Emily Dickinson portrait. (This might explain why I was unable to complete my journalism studies.)


L.L. tagged me on Facebook to come but I was busy that night. Lucky me. [smiley face] Poetry is nonsense. And cryptic.

— Hear me confess to making disparaging remarks about poetry…shortly before beginning to write poetry. Join me and the Tweetspeak gang for a new book club of Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius.


Tweetspeak’s managing editor and I enjoyed poetry readings on the same terrace where Edith Wharton and Henry James sat “on summer nights, reading Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ aloud.” Not once did security try to escort us to the gate. 

— It’s my week to bring you the best poetic news you can use (or leave sitting on the table). This week, it’s engineered poetry, who to blame for overdue books, and how to talk about classics you’ve never read in our Top Ten Poetic Picks.


I thought of my own life and its lack of transition. My own spiritual tradition ritualizes very few rites of passage: birth, marriage, childbirth, and death. Our larger culture celebrates only a few other markers: driving at 16 and drinking at 21.

— Charity Singleton talks about life transition through the lens of the art museum.


Still here? It’s way more fun over at Tweetspeak

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Make your life better by subscribing to Every Day Poems.

And one last thing? My favorite WordCandy image of the week. Make your own? It’s simple, and beautiful.


Top photo: Dinner table at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s mansion in Lenox, Mass.

(Not) The Smartest Person in the Room

It wasn’t so very long ago I made the awkward discovery I wasn’t the smartest person in the room. It’s something I can be, you know, if I frequent the right rooms. But there are only a few rooms where that works for me.

The rest of the time, I’m not it.

Turns out (luckily enough) that I don’t have to be.

I find myself in a lot of those other rooms lately, just one of the regular occupants, neither being nor needing to be particularly smart. I tend to keep my voice a little lower, have far less to say and what I do say might be muttered under my breath.

I’m liking that, more than one might expect. It relieves a lot of the pressure, and curiously enough minimizes the potential downside of really messing things up.

This week I started reading The Spirituality of Imperfection (Kurtz and Ketcham). Not far in, the authors remind of the nature of error as a simple fact of our days.

Errors, of course, are part of the game. They are part of our truth as human beings. To deny errors is to deny ourself, for to be human is to be imperfect, somehow error-prone. To be human is to ask unanswerable questions, but to persist in asking them, to be broken and ache for wholeness, to hurt and try to find a way to healing through the hurt. To be human is to embody a paradox…

We are not “everything” but neither are we “nothing.” Spirituality is discovered in the space between paradox’s extremes, for there we confront our helplessness and powerlessness, our woundedness. In seeking to understand our limitations, we seek not only an easing of our pain but an understanding of what it means to hurt and what it means to be healed. Spirituality begins with the acceptance that our fractured being, our imperfection, simply is: There is no one to “blame” for our errors–neither ourselves nor anyone nor anything else. Spirituality helps us first to see, and then to understand, and eventually to accept the imperfection that lies at the very core of our human be-ing. Spirituality accepts that “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

Here’s to letting someone else be the smartest person in the room. I’ll be in the back row, getting to know my limitations a little better. Maybe you’d like to sit in the next seat over?


Photo: Letter on Edith Wharton’s desk, taken at The Mount, Lenox, Mass.

The Ocean

I stopped by the ocean the other day.

The Atlantic, I think. Some of us don’t really track these things very well. It was on the way to somewhere.

Do you know that if you stop by the ocean, even if Piglet would say it was a very blustery day, and even if you’re not the sort who usually takes her shoes off except for the shower and most times for bed, you should still unlace your shoes and take off your socks and roll up your khakis and go stand in it for a while?

And do you know, if you do all that, and the circumstances are just right, when the tide washes over your feet and its exhilarating cold water laps up over your ankles, you’ll feel it all the way to your ears and the sand that was rock hard a minute ago will give clean away beneath you and the water’s hypnotizing movement will make your equilibrium drop out the bottom and if you had no good reason to stand upright you might just let it pull you straight into the sea?

It’s true. It could happen.

Ordinary Genius

There is a Latin saying: Ars longa, vita brevisArt is long, life is short. But the true and beautiful thing is that nothing lasts. Everything changes and passes. The creative process is just that. Not a means to an end, but a continuing engagement with being alive.

— Kim Addonizio, Ordinary Genius

Since life is short, and so is time, I’ll make this brief: I’m starting a new book club over at Tweetspeak Poetry. We’re going to make lots and lots of poetry. We will laugh and we will have fun and maybe someone will even cry just a little when they write lines they didn’t know they had in them.

Longtime poet? Don’t think you’re a poet? Doesn’t matter. You will like it.

You just will.

Read the full book club announcement at Tweetspeak and please join us for Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Withinbeginning September 26.

Word Candy Wednesday

Nudge someone over the hump of midweek with a little sweetness down at the candy shop.

There’s a space at the WordCandy counter for you right now.
WordCandy Wednesday

Book Review: The Novelist

I mean that—everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events. Your conversations are fiction. Your friends and loved ones—they are characters you have created. And your arguments with them are like meetings with an editor—please, they beseech you, you beseech them, rewrite me. You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos.

— Keith Ridgway, “Everything is Fiction,” featured in The New Yorker, 8/8/2012

There are a lot of things I just really don’t do.

I don’t drink tea. I don’t run 5k races. I don’t read much fiction.

(Not fiction that actually calls itself that, anyway.)

And I don’t usually write book reviews. I leave that to the Glynn Youngs of the world who do it so well. (more…)

Great Matters

Sometimes, in the shadows of the early dawn, I turn my world upside down and read the Midday office instead of Morning Lauds.

I know, I know. Makes you wonder how I cope with the ensuing hysteria, right?

Most days, I find a way. Yes, like today. (more…)

Infographic: Read More Poetry

New research seems to correlate regular poetry reading with whiter teeth and lower cholesterol.

Who knew?

Infographic: Every Day Poems, used with permission.

WordCandy Wednesday

Even if you’re cutting back on sweets, here’s a little midweek treat for you. (Or any other day of the week.)

This is sweetness that’s meant to share.

If you’re a blogger, check out these great reasons to blog WordCandy. If you’re not, just sidle on up to the candy counter and pick something out.

Delicious images, exquisite quotes.

Too good not to share on Facebook, Twitter, your blog or via email.

(You can even link up at Seedlings in Stone and pop this sweet button on your post.)

WordCandy Wednesday

On Being Found

When my friends strayed off the nature center trail to explore the thicket, I made up an excuse to stay back. All that brush, it would surely set off my allergies. I took a few steps, edged up to a branch and rubbed my eyes to prove it.

I take pills for that, you know. I’d better stay here.

A health condition bought more social clout than childish fear. But the truth? I was afraid of the wood ticks.

I’d already been to the nurse’s office once that Spring, gripping the arms of a cold steel chair while she coaxed out the tick with a little squirt of oil and a sharp pair of tweezers.

Everyone knew the woods were crawling with them. Besides, there were rules about leaving the path.

I’ve forgotten how long I stood there, drawing shapes in the dirt with my feet and listening for my friends to come back. Maybe it was just minutes. Perhaps a full hour.

Little girl legs exposed between my shorts and sneakers were ripe for the sting of mosquitoes as I slapped back the gnawing realization that my friends were not coming back. When they discovered the clearing on the other side of the brush, they forgot I’d stayed behind.

I was no longer part of a third grade field trip.

I don’t remember the panic of being lost. And I don’t remember if I set off in search of my friends or froze on the trail waiting for someone to come for me.

I do remember the humiliation of being found.


Like Turkish Delight

If you’ve ever wondered why I love my work with Tweetspeak so much, this is one big reason why. I work with amazing, creative, fearless folks who conceive brilliant ideas, then coax them all the way through the birth canal to the world.

T. S. Poetry launched a new app today that lets you play with words and gorgeous images that you can share with a friend, or the whole universe (well, at least the universe on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest).

Go to WordCandy and sample a little something sweet.

You might even find it sweetly addictive, with zero calories. A little like Turkish Delight, only you won’t have to betray all of Narnia to snitch another piece.

(Note: The app is currently in Beta, so if you find a bug here and there, please report it so we can get it fixed right away. Like, for instance, the intermittent disappearance of the image, which is being feverishly worked on as we speak.)

The End of a Journey. Maybe.

If you’ve been around here with me for any length of time, you know that over the past several months I’ve been on a pilgrimage of sorts, a weekly trip to a Benedictine monastery near my home for a half hour, or an hour, depending on whether I stayed with the brothers for lunch. (I’ve written about that at a quiet little space called Making Headroom.)

My hope was to make this journey for 52 weeks, in search of a spacious, quiet place. I found it in the cool stone walls of a chapel, in the rhythm of a steady liturgy, in the quiet of a place where needless noise remained unheard, in the space that opens when one simply isn’t in a hurry to be anywhere but right here.

Right here.

I wanted to learn to find God in the quiet, so I could learn to find him in the noise.

To find him right here.

Mastered that, I have not. But I’ve learned it.

My journey has been cut short by the sad new of the closing of the Abbey for unfortunate but sound reasons of their own. But it continues on in other ways. (more…)

The Anthologist: Pluck the Day

I scheduled a date with Paul Chowder on Friday. We were supposed to hang out and talk about Sara Teasdale. He’d been going on about how some poets spend too much time thinking about death, like going to a movie and just waiting for the credits, which my dad taught me are very interesting if you know what to look for.

No, we needed love poems too, he said, and I wanted to ask him if he didn’t think it was ironic that he brought up Teasdale to illustrate his point, since she would no sooner talk about love than she’d be talking about death. I don’t think she could wrestle the two apart, and I suppose one could even argue that her love for Vachel Lindsay may have been the death of them both. I thought she might have known that when she wrote We two will pass through death and ages lengthen / Before you hear that sound again with me.

I threw a folding lawn chair in the back of my Dodge Journey and figured I’d meet him down by the water behind his barn where his white plastic chair was sinking into the mud. But at the last minute I got a call from a client. A homeowner had reported some sort of mysterious contamination that was making her deathly ill and could I please rush over and check it out? I hoped she hadn’t been reading any Teasdale poems. (Read the rest at Tweetspeak Poetry…)


Our book club discussion on Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist continues over at Tweetspeak today. Plucking, seizing, and my gag reflex. It’s all there.

Join us for some laughs?

Photo by MShades, Creative Commons license via Flickr.

The Anthologist: Conversation in a Laundromat

I moved upstairs to the kitchen to work. I don’t like the kitchen much. It reminds me of all the times I have to cook, and cooking is not something I enjoy. Sometimes when I cook, there’s a fire, and I’m not sure the fire extinguisher was recharged after the last one. It wasn’t my fault, that time. Someone left a pizza box in the oven and I preheated. I didn’t expect it since the cat is dead and we only put pizza in the oven to hide it from the cat. (Read the rest…)

We started our new book club over at Tweetspeak Poetry this morning with this fun, light read from Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist. Follow along Paul Chowder’s rambling stream of consciousness as he struggles with writer’s block, love (and loss) and opens up poetry in an amusing way.

And maybe, just maybe, my post this morning includes a little stab at fiction.


The Anthologist: Conversation in a Laundromat

There’s a Reason They’re Called Chickens

I have chickens* penned in my front yard. Right next to the apple tree. Between strays and intentional pets, now vandalistic landscaping, we’re running a regular petting zoo and small arboretum.

This morning, one flew the coop. It’s a 4×4 makeshift pen, but it doesn’t work with the idiom. After an hour of trying to outsmart an eight-week-old chicken, I’ve learned a few things I feel ready to share. (more…)

An Apple Tree

Practical jokes dot the countryside of my life’s landscape.

In my college house, it was not uncommon to find rubber bats hanging in the shower or fake mice in the cereal box in the morning. A batch of cookies was always suspect, the probability of finding one filled with hair quite high. We woke a friend one morning to the national anthem belching (literally) from a tape player under her bed, then ran laughing all the way to campus while she chased us down the street in her pajamas.  (more…)