Experiments with a predictive keyboard

When I told my friend Brenda (a brilliant horse-whisperer for skittish writer horses) about my sort-of-weekly erasure poems, she told me about predictive text apps. Like the kind that can write an entirely new chapter of Harry Potter from the nonexistent volume "Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash".  

The tool used to produce it, Botnik, lets you play too! This was another exciting writing exercise to try, because like the erasure, it gives you a way into your creative mind without having to use the front door (aka, a blank page). The predictive functionality is based on a source text. They have a zillion, from deep to ridiculous, or you can upload your own. (Imagine uploading a long manuscript and seeing if the app could predict your own writing style for you.) 

I picked a high/low combination of their source texts last week and came up with this: 

morning came raging
with jewels she cried
on my lips your mercy under earth
my early son asunder sings
crawl up and spill over
on inquiry electric lighting ash
for this
for them
i would take my true king 

Just now I tried using Blink 182 as the source text, just to see what would happen with about the least lyrical lexicon I could imagine. Clearly their style is deeply embedded in my mind because I basically just wrote a new verse to What's My Age Again:

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 2.48.30 PM.png

I'm guessing it took a much more concerted effort to product those hilarious Harry Potter passages ... and I'll be back again to try my hand at being Shakespeare, Radiohead, and Whitney Houston — maybe all at the same time. 

Erasure: What We Lost in the Fire

From "What We Lost in the Fire" by Ian Devereux White, San Francisco magazine, November 2017

San Francisco, November 2017

San Francisco, November 2017

What We Lost in the Fire

We woke to heavy air, electricity crackers,

a confused clutching bunny. I sped south

(rushed to her, more than 35 years ago)

no stranger to disaster. 

Many times we've seen smoke and wondered. 

I walked eerie, empty

broken streets. Earthquake stories of lives 

lost and wine ruin. I inched through intersections

with dark stoplights. Flames raced up the hillside,

left black chaos where geometric

vineyards had been -

the smoldering mounds, 

our friends. We listened to the radio 

and heard acres burning, history burning. 

How long, happy travelers? 

I drove back after dawn through smoke and falling ash,

arrived ready to fight. But: 

Black smoke all around us, blue skies above, 

unnatural and untouched and

safe. Tourists showed up to drive into 

the Atlas fire, so we made sandwiches

in a candlelit kitchen, walked the dark, 

and poured wine. 

After the fires die down,

we'll crush grapes. 

 

Erasure: From the Dictionary of Riddles

Dictionary of Riddles, Mark Bryant, 1990, p. 80

12/1/2017

[Photo to come!]

Riddle me, riddle me, riddle me

I never was, am always to be,

Who live and breathe

never released, and yet used

 

What runs all day and all night?

What is it that never moves?

What never comes back?

What never comes?

What never? 

 

the water never touches 

the water

 

the sun making a shadow

all day facing home

smoother than any rhyme,

loves to fall but cannot climb

 

a lot of noise

you can’t hear

 

sing a melody, a song

go on  

 

If you feed it

If you give it water

 

I’m in everyone’s way,

I stop;

 

What has a head but cannot think? 


This was a really fun, but odd, text to use for an erasure. Riddles are so poetic already, many of them having meter and rhyme built in since they originate as oral "texts." The book's title beckoned to me from its spine with a crooked finger, already such a fantastic title for a poem. Dictionary of Riddles? Ah yes, that was the chapbook that won the Yale prize. 

The elliptic and questioning structure of riddles also made this feel like "cheating." One of my writing habits (ruts? strategies?) is to pepper my text with questions. (See how how I did that?) Readers often tell me that I have a few questions too many. I don't know—WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Most answers to riddles are mundane: A clock. The wind. A belt. A horse taking a nap. I like that through this erasure, there emerges the sense of something sinister and likely monstrous. Some kind of trapped demon. The sun and the water and the noise all acting strangely. Or rather, their behaviors rendered strange. 

I couldn't help photocopying at least 4 pages from this book, so there may be more mysteries from the dictionary of riddles still to come. Not least of which, a couple pages of answers, which just read like fantastical lists of randomly generated text. Yeah, this is definitely cheating. 

People are cute sometimes

Finally, a new subway ad campaign worth writing about! 

Seamless' older campaigns (or were they GrubHub's? Uh oh.) were full of sweet-faced characters that looked like they'd been hand-torn from construction paper. It was a nice rest for the eyes during a tedious commute.

The new campaign features quotes from the "special instructions" text box on their ordering page - it's where you can ask for an extra packet of soy sauce, or remind a restaurant that nobody needs eighty napkins to eat one burrito (thirty will do just fine). 

I saw it this morning for the first time on the C train and smiled. It's the kind of ad that always makes me a little jealous and defensively sure I would have had the same idea had I been in that glass-walled ad agency brainstorming meeting. (See also: "Other lives I secretly imagine I'm leading"). It's work that makes me hear a hokey voice in my head going "oooh, somebody's getting a raiiise...."

It shows us our adorable neighbors being their mischievous, clever, possibly inebriated selves. It doesn't elevate Seamless's good qualities, it draws ours out from the dark database / underbelly that normally only Seamless's data team can see. (Now, are these excerpts real? God I hope so. If not, screw this campaign.  )

In that way, it's a bit like the picture an amusement park takes of you during the big drop on a scary ride - you're deep in a private experience, and then there it is, your silly face, caught when you weren't expecting it. 

What it does is position Seamless as a shared experience and a communal bit of comedy we all unwittingly produced together. It's almost like they made the Yearbook of takeout ordering. Look at us — we're so cute sometimes. 

HUGE CAVEAT: Seamless may be destroying the local economy by virtue of being a monopoly that all but forces businesses to join it, pushing already low profit margins down further. Also, this. Ugh. I may use but do not endorse their company. Just the creative execution of this ad campaign. 

Visiting the Roosevelts

This is about my recent visit (second overall) visit to the FDR Library & Museum in Hyde Park, New York — that's on the right-hand side of the Hudson River if you're heading north from Manhattan.

'Twas October 30th, the eve of Halloween Day. A moody, grim morning weather cleared to a magnificent azure sky. Constant wind blew colorful leaves all over the place. 

I never gave the Roosevelts much thought — those people are in black & white, aren't they? — except for appreciating the New Deal and the WPA. But the PBS miniseries got me so hooked. Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor are fascinating AF. In their lives of enormous privilege they also experienced enormous hardship, both physical and emotional. The drama was good enough for TV: Asthma, polio, alcoholism, neglect, affairs, running away to the West, great loves, sudden death, ambition. 

Ah, but Eleanor was the most wonderful of them all. Like Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, she overcame the frustrating, humiliating forces of sexism and patriarchy that were against her. Her leadership was bold and visionary. And she had a special building just for herself and her pants-wearing lesbian crew to hang out, no dudes allowed. In black & white. 

Anyhow, watch the miniseries! It's seriously as good as anything on Netflix! (And at the moment it's available on DVD through Netflix.) 

The place was gorgeous this day, and the first thing I wanted to do was to pay my respects. Late afternoon light cutting a streak across the lawn and striking the marble monument of their gravesite, bold red roses popping against a background of dying bushes. 

Small birds sang, there was a strong rustle of wind in the old pines, chestnuts, and oaks, and a bunny investigated the grass between some hedges. 

Not far from the gravesite was the Springwood house, the home the library & museum are built on, its zippy green shutters flattered by the reddening ivy. I had missed the last tour, but I could look in at the enclosed porch and sit on the benches stationed at FDR's favorite vista of the river valley. 

In FDR's study, the original, preserved room, I gazed at his comfy blue reading chair beside the painted tile fireplace. I wondered what it must have been like to sit there and contemplate your next move against Hitler. To feel the pain of polio and feel that you must keep it hidden from the nation you serve. 

In a special exhibit in the museum, though, one confronts the mystery of how a man so deeply intelligent could have been so wrongheaded when he signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 80,000 American citizens and 120,000 total of Japanese descent. (Eleanor strongly opposed this move and told him so.) 

Incredibly, the exhibit is full of stunning photographs taken by the likes of Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, who were actually hired by the War Relocation Authority. 

I could feel the cognitive dissonance and pain emanating from these pictures. A photo of two small boys, hugging, not caring that their ancestors came from different continents, yet about to be torn apart. Businesses closing and holding clearance sales, putting up signs like "I Am An American." People in camps participating in Girl Scouts or dressing up as Uncle Sam in stars and stripes, participating in the culture of the only country many of them ever knew, in spite of that country rejecting and persecuting them.

I am glad now that even in today's climate of fear, there are businesses and homes putting up signs of welcome, unity, and community in their windows. But there is a very uncomfortable echo between the photographs from the 1940s and today. 

Money Stories & Capitalism's Bodies

I was at a conference this past weekend called Making Money Make Change; it's about leveraging class privilege or access to wealth for social change. It wasn't my first rodeo—it was my third. I was returning as a facilitator, helping make "pods" happen. Pods are of one the retreat's most unique features happen: Throughout the four days, participants would have recurring small-group sessions to process what they were experiencing and engage in more intimate dialogue around the ideas and feelings it was bringing up for them. 

The fall had already felt so hectic, I wasn't especially looking forward to putting my life on pause for so many days; but after the election (in which wealthy white people overwhelmingly voted for Trump) I had decided that organizing with my Resource Generation community was one of my priorities for 2017. So I went, to help others have the kind of opening, deepening, empowering experience I had several years ago, during my first MMMC.

I arrived with the mentality that I'd get in, do my thing, and get out, completely forgetting that I was a human with a heart and a body and stories and work of my own to do. My first day was a Reflective Leadership training—not the kind of training where you're simply told a bunch of facts and how-to's and handed a curriculum. No! We had to talk to other people, share our fears, swap insights and suggestions, and just generally be open as human beings. We stood in a circle and sang, our energy bouncing and moving all over the room, washing over each other and intermingling. 

It pried me open. "I didn't emotionally prepare to be here," mentioned another trainee. I shrugged her comment off at first, but by the end of the afternoon, not only did I know what she meant, I knew it had been true for me too. 

When the conference participants arrived the next day, I had another moment of clarity. I was eager to squeeze in a half hour or so of work during the long lunch break between the end of training and the start of the first session. Flitting around the cafeteria, I made sure to keep a welcoming and warm smile on my face. While juggling my plate and trying to fill my glass with water, a young woman responded by introducing herself to me. Her body was at total rest. She was flat-footed, body squared to mine, not pausing, not "just" getting water, not leaning, pivoting, or glancing. Her face was restful. 

Her energy stopped me in my own buzzing tracks. An invisible sigh flushed down my limbs. We said hello. Privately, I sent an intention for the weekend: Be slow. Slow down. And I did this over and over again, catching myself rushing, whether wanting to jump onto someone's comment, speed-walk to the next activity, or feeling an internal need to hurry through a process. 

And when I didn't keep a slower pace, it caught up with me, especially as emotions ran high. Not that I was immediately present to my emotions. One of the most powerful exercises of the weekend is called "Money Stories," where people share a two-minute story about their personal and familial relationship to money—who had it, who didn't, why, and how much. Participants' stories trace the global history of migration and slavery, invention and hardship, generosity and hoarding, love and dysfunction. 

After leading my small group through the preparation work to present their stories, I thought I was ready. I had told my story before and heard many others'. I was hopeful and nervous for my group, but felt fine, as if I was on my way to the theater to catch an interesting show. This idea, though, was some kind of lie my brain was telling itself while ignoring my body. I went—rushed—to use the bathroom before the storytelling started, and that was enough to shake me up: When I got to the room where the Money Stories took place, I went over to one of my group's participants, Amy [not her actual name], to ask if I could sit there and if we needed to save a seat for Jill, another participant. Only instead of saying "Jill," I actually asked Amy if we should save a seat for Amy. "I'm Amy," she said. Then I remembered that Jill had just told me that she already had a seat elsewhere! Then, I started worrying aloud that I couldn't find my folder. My folder was in my hand. 

"Maybe you should take a few deep breaths," Amy said gently. I did, and the atoms seemed to settle back down in my body like flour in a sack. 

What is that?

I don't exactly have the words for it, but over the past ten years I've been on a journey of learning about my existence as a body. Or, as a mind-body-soul'ed being. As Christopher Hitchens said, "I don't have a body; I am a body." This process of recognition and reckoning started for me with yoga, moved into attentiveness to the cycle's of nature, and is now seeping into my engagement with political and social justice work. 

At the conference, some of the messages shared with us were: 

  • The body doesn't lie.
  • Feelings are data.
  • Where your treasure is, your heart is.  

One of Resource Generation's tenets is that capitalism is protected by the habits of the upper classes which prize intellectualism, reason, expertise, and formal education over experience and other forms of knowing and of knowledge. I struggle with this idea, as a lifelong super-student and endlessly curious, I-won't-be-hurt-if-you-call-me-geeky graduate of an intensely academic college. But I think there's a question that the mind can't answer alone: What's wrong?  

"Where are you in your body right now?" a wise facilitation trainer kept asking us, much to my consternation. 

I suppose the first line of my resistance is: Who wants to be in the body when you can be in the mind, which can keep us safe by thinking ALL the thoughts, and inventing new realities, or justifying and protecting our ego! The mind will strategize, make sure I perform perfectly, safely!  

But then someone goes all vulnerable on me. They start talking about their anger, and the next thing I know, my body is empathizing and tapping into its own anger, and while my mind is busy listening, tears are streaming down my face. 

Oh there it is. There's the feeling, there's the information in my body. 

It's a lot to ask, in many ways, to be in our bodies during difficult times. But at the same time, it may be the only way we can truly take care of ourselves. The way we need nerve endings in our hands to tell us when we're touching something that will burn us, we need messages from our bodies to guide us, to give us cues about danger, about our need for calories and water, for rest, to tell us when we're at risk of collapse. When do we need rest? When do we need to scream or run, lest we be eaten alive or drowned by what we're carrying? 

Throughout my years of school, I would often get sick right after finals. My body would hold out through stress and sleeplessness until it knew it was safe to let go, and then it would let some virus overtake my system. Maybe that is capitalism's body. In countering some of the harmful effects of capitalism, it's going to be part of my work to learn how to put the body first. 

Further reading for me & you: Great list of readings & resources from Regenerative Finance and Tada Hozumi's blog which I am looking forward to checking out myself. 

Friday Erasure: The Fisherman’s Sourcebook

Erasure: p 260, The FIsherman’s Sourcebook; Bill Wisner, 1983

Oct. 13, 2017

 

Fiddler Crab

 

Fiddlers are found on the Pacific

one odd claw

grotesque.

The hook is thrust into the opening.

Fiddlers like the fiddler.

Hermits on the Pacific.

Tidepools and shallow waters

the deserted shells of periwinkles, moon and whelk

impaled

marine battlers

bonefish,

eating.

 

Ghosts can be offered to all.

 

Green crab? This little crab

confined by the dark green

color of his shell, shallow water

 

He’s favored, claws

luring them, a length of twine,

whereupon captured in a minnow trap

or a similar contrivance of wire mesh

pieces of fish,

whole dead fish,

crushed mussels or clams.

 

Green crabs will live out of water in a cool

place for several days: Blue,

separate, smaller

and for the same reasons.

 

Different species are often partially buried

in sand. Deeper waters.
Effective bait.

_____________________

Erasure: p 113, The FIsherman’s Sourcebook; Bill Wisner, 1983

Oct. 13, 2017

 

Final Capture

 

Final capture consists of these steps: 

 

One: Someone seizes 

the leader. If the shark 

gets wild, let go 

until he quiets down.

 

Two: 

 

A line is sunk into the back. You may find the shark

in the boat with you

rope—a noose—

slipped over it. 

Slow down. 

 

Three: 

 

Moving the beast out of water. 

A few turns of a belly 

threshing about,

maybe knocking out someone.

 

Submerged and bleeding, 

free lunch

 

Head for port and call it a day.

 

Should a boat’s cockpit mean havoc?

 

The only safe shark is a

dead one. 

 

Towing them backward drowns them. Want to lose

maybe an hour towing a shark around? 

 

Be particularly careful about children,

a trace of life,

 

the jaws, hands, mouth

can be retrieved in due time. 

 

 

Sentence Diagraming for Comedy Specials: Mike Birbiglia's "Thank God for Jokes"

Below is an experiment in trying to deconstruct the narrative structure of a comedy special. This was not easy! But it was really fun, and I'd like to do it again. The diagram below probably represents ten or so minutes of Birbiglia's entire show, "Thank God for Jokes" (on Netflix now—or, in the past, depending on when you read this).

Looking back at my diagram now, enough time having passed that I don't remember the show's content as clearly, I wish I'd written down more so that I could really follow the narrative thrusts. Maybe I'll brush up on actual sentence diagramming, too, which I haven't studied since tenth grade. (Thanks, Ms. Hirsch!) Mostly I became fascinated by the twists and turns comedians make, how they digress mid-story, digress again, and wind up back on the main thread. Or they leave the story, but its theme returns as a punchline, book-ending the show.

I think it's marvelous. And I'm positive that the nesting-doll structure must light up something in our brains and contribute to the pleasure we feel watching a good stand-up routine. Otherwise it would just be a crutch for the comedian—and maybe it is, maybe it's all about the bread crumbs. But mapping them out helps me see into how the special works, how an hour and half of laughter is produced. Is it made up of five interconnected stories? Twenty-five unrelated jokes? I'd like to perform more of these autopsies in the future — I'll keep the lab coat nearby.

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Coney Island Amusement Game

"The Dueler" 

Men, fight for a woman's love or defend her honor, without having to risk arrest!

This fake knight in shining armor is tough competition — he's handy around the fuse box, he quotes poetry, looks good in a tight shirt, and makes your girlfriend blush when he bats those long lashes at her.

But are his mechanically waving arms and slow-moving fists any match for your speed and wit? 

Give him a few punches and swift kicks to the shin, and activate those primal feelings of lust and admiration that no lady, no matter how sophisticated, can resist. Sure, she doesn't want to see you get hurt, but that doesn't mean she won't enjoy seeing you fight!  

(Tequila shots optional and sold separately.)

A Tale of New Orleans

We were giving our poor feet a break, having traversed New Orleans in pursuit of a sci-fi themed Carnival parade called Chewbacchus, when an Army Ranger named Josh adopted us. My partner and I were taking advantage of a business trip to take a subsidized vacation in New Orleans.

Sitting on some tall stools near the billiards table at the back of a cheerful, divey, boxy bar festooned with chandeliers and buntings of purple, gold, and green tinsel and party lights, we nursed our beers as the tall, muscled blond with tattooed arms and a backwards baseball cap racked the balls, tore into them, and efficiently dispatched them into their pockets. As he sauntered around the table, he drew us out: Did we shoot pool? Were we in town for Mardi Gras? 

But it wasn’t Mardi Gras just yet. As with any good holiday, Mardi Gras is not just a day; it is a season. Carnival season. Parade routes take over the streetscape. Even the famous trolley cars are put on hold—their long, straight tracks down St. Charles Street through the Garden District become a spectator zone and pedestrian thoroughfare. (And if you did not grow up in New Orleans, this is thrilling: We’re walking on the train tracks! We’re walking down the middle of the street!) 

We had arrived with a hypothesis to test, born of brief prior visits we’d each made separately. The hypothesis was that New Orleans was a magical city unlike anywhere else in America, where all of mankind could feel as one. 

The Army Ranger, Josh, told us of experience that covered a lot of the human drama: his mother was a champion billiards player known to ESPN viewers as “the black widow.” His girlfriend of seven years had been killed by a drunk driver. His kid brother was a genius, an eleven-year-old, short-haired Willie Nelson whom he flew to Texas regularly to visit. He’d been to Iraq and Afghanistan, re-enlisting. He’d been shot twice. He could trace his lineage in New Orleans back two hundred years. He managed two Hustler Clubs, and lived right around the corner from them in his condo off Bourbon Street. He tells us he needs the chaos to handle life after the army. He needs pain meds to handle his knee. He earns $6,000 a month from his pension and another $2,000 from bartending. The biggest tip he ever made bartending was fifteen thousand dollars, after he taught an oil executive to make a carnation out of a bar straw and napkin to impress his wife. 

New York had been snowy and cold, but New Orleans was mild, and the humid breeze reminded me of tropical places I’d been. I ate like I was in a medieval painting at a farm-to-table, local-focused restaurant, and drank sazeracs, the classy classic of New Orleans (as opposed to the Hurricanes served in giant neon plastic vessels), then bar-hopped along Frenchman Street in the Marigny, where there is music club after music club, getting wasted on beer. Did you know that in New Orleans you can ask for a “go cup,” and your drink will be poured into a plastic cup for you to carry with you down the street like the remains of an oversized pasta dinner? 

Picking a bar at random, we were treated to a group of incredible musicians <playing a> kind of jazz-funk cover of Drake’s new “Hotline Bling.” I insisted we stop where there had been a cluster of poets for hire, with typewriters on rickety little tables and handmade signs. The twenty-something ones had packed it in for the night, but a more grizzled bohemian had yet to leave. I commissioned him, and he typed out a long poem, which was delightful to hear aloud in the moment but will have no literary staying power, and as an afterthought, an actually charming haiku. Feeling like the world was a place of connection, beauty, and abundance, I handed the poet a twenty-dollar bill. 

I want to write about New Orleans with reverence. I want to talk about how nice it is that everybody calls each other baby, that people say Happy Mardi Gras. I want to talk about how the first time I visited, my mother and sister and I lost ourselves un-self-consciously in an exuberant second-line parade in which local and tourist, white and black, rich and poor, shimmied and swung in a teeming, joyous musical mass, pouring through the plainest streets and down the trolley tracks, drinking and barbecuing and joking all while in motion, past the historic mansions, all the way to the cemetery where young men danced thirty feet over our heads on the wall that circled the tombs. 

But New Orleans, too, is a city with a past. It’s a slave trade city. A pirate city. A garbage city. A city where “fancy girls” were sold as mistresses—sex slaves—at elaborate quadroon balls. Lee Sandlin describes, in Wicked River, how the multicolored parades and streets were very disturbing to earlier generations who visited the city, as was the presence of African culture—voodoo. Once anathema to the white people who bought slaves, they are now enticements to the white people who come to drink up the wildness, the borderless-ness of the floodplain region, the pirate land. 

Josh suggested we go to another bar. Wasted and excited, we said yes. Once outside, walking down the street with him felt strange. He must have felt the magic fading, too: he decided to go somewhere else, hailed a cab, handed the driver a twenty and told him to take us to the Clover Grill.

We were like yesterday’s parade beads, cast off and repurposed. I had expected, of course, to see people wearing the bead necklaces. But I was surprised to see them scattered on sidewalks, caught in tree branches, and piled atop fenceposts, sad and beautiful at once, catching the streetlight and shining. 

We nursed our rejection for a few minutes, until we saw the glowing pink interior of the diner. While we waited for our burgers we made new friends, two young, wasted men who told us we looked like Steven Spielberg and Amy Irving. 

The magic was back. 

Budapest: A Twinkly, Twinned City

The inside of the airplane had purple walls, and the flight crew asked us passengers to switch seats so that our weight would be distributed evenly across the middle section; we could already tell that our visit to Budapest would be out of the ordinary. 

My best friend's Hungarian college friend was going home for the holidays that January, so we decided to take a trip east. In order to travel from Spain, where we were, for the least amount of money possible, we cobbled together a ludicrous travel plan using overnight buses and discount airlines to go from Madrid to Barcelona to London, where we caught our purple WizzAir flight to Hungary.

When we stumbled out of the little cabin just about two days after we caught an overnight bus from Madrid, we tried to call our host. When we saw the payphone instructions written in Magyar and prices written in “HUF”s, we cracked into hysterical laughter. We didn’t have any huffs! It was a hilarious and irresolvable tragicomedy: Hungary and the Huffs. We were saved when Zsuzsi appeared to take us back to her family’s home in a large old building, the kind with many apartments arranged around an interior courtyard, cracking paint and echoing sounds. 

Thanks to her parents’ marvelous—and by all accounts typical—Hungarian hospitality, we had an unbeatable experience in Budapest. They fed us home-cooked meals that somehow felt foreign yet familiar: plates of goulash and fried meat (something dark purple and delicious which I’m convinced was horse meat). 

They drove us around the city, which is actually two cities, Buda and Pest. The two halves are separated by the Danube River but connected by a series of bridges, all beautifully lit up at night. At one look-out spot high above the river, we came upon a young Hungarian couple’s candle-lit winter picnic. Zsuzsi eavesdropped and said that the man had just proposed, but it was unclear if his bid had been successful. 

Budapest in January was cold, dark, and absolutely magical. Its huge, soot-stained buildings loomed over us, but its people seemed so sturdy that I felt immediately safe among them. Never mind that we spoke three words of Magyar. We had only a few days, and our tour guide wasn’t going to let us miss a thing. Zsuzsi showed us the old synagogue and the two-story indoor market whose stalls overflowed with traditional crafts and heavy Hungarian food. I passed on the fancy lacework, but I bought a bright yellow tin of authentic Hungarian paprika, red as blood. 

We went to the Szechenyi, the first thermal bath house in Pest (information on this and others at http://www.spasbudapest.com/tartalom.php). I was a little skeptical about the hygiene of the whole operation, but I waded into the huge pools of mineral water, determined to try out the Hungarian lifestyle. We lolled around in the deliciously warm water, people-watching and taking in the glamour of the historic building. Little jets shot hot bubbling water up from the floors, and clusters of fat old men bobbed around marble columns—chess tables built right into the pools. I sprung for a cheap massage, but the treatment was more like an elaborate lotion-application than muscular therapy. More exhilarating was the hot steam room, where, if you could stand to move through the asphyxiating humidity, you could scoop up a handful of ice chips to suck on while you sweat.

We got tickets to the opera and saw Wagner’s Valkyrie from the tippy-top level of the gorgeous opera house. I would be lying if I said I didn’t doze off a bit – the singing was in German and the subtitles were in Magyar, but I felt like Hungarian nobility all the same. 

Another evening, we went to see the Castle District, which we’d meant to visit during the day. Our timing proved lucky: when we reached the golden Matthias Church, lit up in the quiet, dark evening, we could hear an ethereal, operatic voice coming from some unseen place above the balcony. We had a haunting moment all to ourselves in the pews, taking it all in.

If historical Budapest was all grandeur, its nightlife was more raw. Zsuzsi lead us down several quiet streets and then suddenly stopped to go through the door of a nondescript, unmarked building. The basement-level bar’s only décor was Japanese animation projected onto a projector screen. Zsuzsi said we had to try the traditional Hungarian herbal liqueur, Unicum. Look for the stout green bottle with what seems to be the Red Cross symbol on its label, if you dare to try it yourself. We chased its overpoweringly leafy, medicinal punch with tall, sloping glasses of dark beer.

Nondescript location number two looked like an abandoned warehouse that had been restored about halfway and then abandoned again, making for a vibrant, crumbling, sprawling bar. We sipped wine out of drinking glasses while sitting cross-legged on a worn Persian rug spread across a small platform or stage. 

Zsuzsi had one last item on the must-do list: try absinthe. She took us to a labyrinthine club, where the dark and twisting corners added suspense to the forbidden adventure. My friend and I were both so wary that we decided to split a single drink. It was everything I’d hoped for in terms of spectacle—flames dancing over the green liquid, stirring in our sugar cube like it was a witch’s brew. I was mildly disappointed when I didn’t have any visions or transcendent revelations. Maybe I should have had a glass to myself.  

Only a couple days after we’d arrived, it felt like a lifetime, and it was time to go. Zsuzsi had been telling us about the incredible music and party scene that takes place during the summer, and we were on the verge of booking our next visit then and there. There was so much more I wanted to explore. At the airport, Zsuzsi’s father gave us each a small parting gift, a tiny blond angel in a red robe, to be with us on our travels, but I knew that our visit had already been guided by an entire host of benevolent Hungarian spirits. 

My Year in Review

The wild business empire is not a place of rigid paths and boundaries. In the wild business empire, I collaborate, invent, iterate, experiment, and explore. I teach others what I know about branding and strategy; I help dream up projects and write them into being; I write and write and write, and then I take breaks to read and cut my flowers and stake my tomatoes.

A wise woman I know got me in the habit of reflecting, every few months, on what things in life—from the very small to the very large—are worth celebrating. It's so easy to lose track as the weeks fly by, and as projects or new steps that may have seemed thrilling or uncertain become incorporated into our routine, we forget what a big deal they are. So here's just a brief look at what I'm celebrating about 2015. 

Highlights from my work-life

I helped my favorite repeat and on-going client, SoundVision Productions, launch the podcast The Adaptors. I loved getting to work with the uniquely talented Flora Lichtman, scientist and artist. 

I wrote my butt off—stories about the amazing and the transformative for Upworthy, and lots of work on my own projects, both those I had coming out of grad school and new ones I started this year. I’m grateful to still be writing, and for my monthly writing group's support and camaraderie. 

This was also the second season that I ran Backyard Bouquets. Flower-growing continues to be trickier than imagined and always lovely—peppermint zinnias, Mexican sunflowers, and red cotton plants were such beautiful surprises. I’m grateful for the new connection I made with Rachel Gordon, the fellow flower-lover and entrepreneur behind Taproot Flowers. It was a pleasure to work with her and to watch her business ... bloom. (Ever notice how many business metaphors are garden-born?)

Then in the fall, one of my oldest friends and I co-taught a craft class and workshop called The Shape of Story. I’m really grateful for her collaboration, because I’ve wanted to try this for a long time, but couldn’t have done it without her! 

Highlights from my year in books

A little bit of history, great new literary stuff, a sprinkling of self-help, badass lady celebrities, and inspiration.

  • The Mayflower
  • Sex From Scratch
  • Do Your Om Thing
  • Not That Kind Of Girl
  • Bossypants
  • Daily Rituals (How Artists Work)
  • The Happiness Project
  • Americanah
  • 10:04 (Or was this a 2014 read? Either way, highly recommended. And I spotted the author this summer at a table near me in a sushi restaurant, making it extra relevant.)

Returned to the library unread:

  • The Now Habit (about procrastination!) 

Highlights from my life-life

I watched friends usher some brand new, very special, extremely adorable people into the world, and I saw some gorgeous parts of the world: The Olympic Peninsula, national parks in Southern Utah, rural New Hampshire, and the Hudson Valley. New Year's Day 2016, I'll see Joshua Tree for the first time, and I can't think of a better way to start the new year. 

 

What Happens When You Go To Maine Late

As soon as we crossed the border into Kittery, Maine, the sunlight was different. It felt whiter and flatter, blanching the squat buildings and casting cartoonish shadows of pine trees across the asphalt road. It reminded me of the light you see in the desert, only here we were surrounded by woods and coast, and everything looked like a memory of a summer camp I'd never been to. 

I had never been to Maine and was yearning for some time near the ocean, so we planned a road trip up the coast to Acadia National Park. Out in California, I had driven up the Pacific Coast Highway many times. Maine also has a scenic route along the coast, but its route has a much more intimate charm, gently shuttling you through little towns built on the lowest of little hills.  Like a passenger on a Disneyland ride, I gazed at the rows of shops that decorate sidewalks crowded with families and older couples in golf polos. 

Feeling that first rush of vacation energy, we pulled off the road to see Old Orchard Beach. It was early October, late in the afternoon, and the long, long stretch of sand was virtually empty. Older people walked large, healthy dogs, who pulled at their leashes, eager to snap at seagulls. The wind was cold and constant, and the sand chilly underfoot. Clouds muted the colors of the houses built along the shore, behind a partition of grasses, and made things seem drab and sad, just a little. I picked up seashells and pondered whether I could tell they were Maine seashells.

Looking for a bathroom in town, every business we passed was closed. The public restrooms I finally found were across the street from a closed amusement park, its lights dark and its tilt-a-whirls stiff and still. I wondered briefly if the whole trip would be haunted by a sense of having come just after everyone else had left.  

Portland was different. We'd hardly set our bags down when it was time to meet up with an acquaintance who lived there and was going to take us out for a drink. I'd been dreaming of visiting Eventide for oysters and cocktails, but it turns out I hadn't been dreaming nearly large enough. We commenced, before the now early dusk had even hit, a six-hour eating and drinking tour of this city whose reputation as a "foodie destination" had always struck me as probably a consolation prize. Was I ever wrong.

It began to drizzle, but we made it in dry to Eventide Oyster Co., where our friend knew the hostess, and I (a little uncomfortable around strangers) ordered the knockout Celery Gimlet—"practically health food," and practically all gin. We sat at the bar, near the huge chunk of granite (local, of course) on top of which was a mountain of crushed ice and a flotilla of beautiful bivalves, many of which we devoured. They were as incredible an oyster as I've ever had. The bartender gave us oyster shooters, and I wondered if she couldn't see how tipsy I was already, when I noticed one item on the cocktail menu, a rum drink called The Walking Dead, which was limited to 2 per human per visit.  

We were all getting hungry though — it was time to move to Terlingua. Our friend drove us to this small, just-opened restaurant "at the edge of gentrification" where he knew the couple who owned the place (in my buzzed note-making, I later record them as "Pilly?" and "Gorgeous wife Meg"). Raindrops on his car's windows made the city lights twinkle. Asking about the gentrification, our friend told us that people who don't need to go into offices were buying up luxury condos in Portland, far from wherever the source of their income was. We heard later that many of the staff keeping Portland's foodies stuffed could not afford, on their server / bartender incomes, to live in the city themselves.

What's wonderful about Terlingua is that it feels confident enough to play by its own preferences. The food—high-end BBQ and Latin—is fine dining, but there's football on TV. A WASPY family headed by a Richard Gere lookalike takes up one of the limited numbers of tables, but we sit at the bar near casually dressed locals. The jolly, well-tattooed bartender is famous for his drinks, and here, too, there is a beverage on the menu limited to 2 per customer. Were they crazier here in Maine, or more sane? Eating messily and drinking more (I think I had a beer?) fully cleared the social air between us all, and the exceptional tongue-and-cheek tacos, pickled eggs, and brisket served with watermelon kept us moaning and gushing volubly. 

Friend wanted to go to a third location. I began to worry about him driving and let him, however unwisely, reassure me that he was basically a high-functioning alcoholic who had plenty of blood left to spare before he was too drunk to be behind the wheel. That's how we found ourselves at Novare Res Bier Cafe, where I am pretty sure we all had beers. It was only mildly cold and the backyard had enough dry seats that we sat outside; again, I imagined what it would be like in the intended weather--a sunny summer day--but the fresh, wet, coastal air was wonderful all the same.

And that was only our first night. 

___

Maine in early October is littered with apples. Literally. 

Gorgeous red fruits dot the skyline, decorating the trees along the small winding roads, even as they hew close to the shore. They look like confetti, or drip-paint splatters in the grass or on swaths of asphalt. They’re along the rural roads and inside the city parks. The whole state begins to feel lousy with metaphor: temptation, wisdom, innocence, corruption, the ripeness of harvest and the coming season of decay. It’s a Snow-White, Adam-and-Eve kind of world. 

And the apple also comes to feel symbolic, for me, of how local Maine is. Of how everything there is from there. How they keep to their own. (As in Stephen King’s Storm of The Century, set on a tiny Maine island: “Island people know how to keep secrets.”) 

Since in many ways we came to Maine to eat, even though I did not have many apples, every bite I took, from the humblest pub to the fanciest, Michelin-rated restaurant, was vouched for as being local and sustainable.  

After Portland, we continued our drive along the coast, and when the road wound straight through the heart of Wiscasset, we pulled over in front of some darling storefronts and dashed across the Route 1 traffic to eat a lobster roll at Red's Eats. Actually, we didn’t have to dash: drivers slowed for pedestrians to cross. As the little shack siting picturesquely in a grassy knoll at the end of a small two-lane bridge too, traffic in both directions was slowed to a near standstill by we tourists’ inefficient, unregulated comings and goings.  

Anyway, Red’s Eats was my first real Maine lobster roll. I’d had one pretty great one on Martha’s Vineyard, but this was like meeting a whole new category of food. The silky butter, the delicate chew of the tender, fresh-briny meat, the flake of the toasted bun. Everyone has been eating them since forever, besides me. In Brooklyn you can get apparently “real” Maine lobster rolls, and I was always flabbergasted that any business model that charged you $14 and up for a three-ingredient sandwich could stay in business. 

I am the late-in-life convert. 

___

The rain caught up with us that night. Since it was October, it was bound to. A few weeks prior, the forecast had been a little parade of yellow suns, but at some moment when I wasn’t paying attention, they were scared away by a fleet of angry gray clouds. 

The schedules, the activities, everything you find, is set up for summer visitors. I’d hoped we would hike, but was now flipping through the local tourist mags looking for museums to visit. Worst come to worst, we were staying at the beautiful Whitehall Hotel in Camden, where the young Edna St. Vincent Millay performed her first great poem. (It’s fancy enough that a Bush was married there, but we were the beneficiaries of off-season rates.) We watched the rain pour down, missing the sheltered rocking chairs but dousing the outdoor fire pits, and searched for dinner plans. 

The restaurant hours on Yelp were only valid through September, and in October you could barely get a meal after 8:30. In fact, as we discovered another night, walking up to peer through a dark window at a stack of wooden chairs, Vinland, the restaurant famous for being so orthodox about local sourcing that they didn’t use pepper, was closed entirely for the season.

While we search, the lights go out. The hotel is in quiet turmoil for a while, as staff rush to set up candles everywhere. We drive into town and find our first choice restaurant shuttered, but eat very well nonetheless at our second choice, a basement-level restaurant without any pretenses to trendy design. It reminds me of how restaurants looked when I was growing up. The food is local, the wine excellent. 

___

Though the lights came back on at Whitehall, we didn’t get to hang out and enjoy its charms because we had a reservation at a very fancy and enticing restaurant in the area. Primo is in a beautiful old house attached to a farm by the coast and helmed by Melissa Kelly, a James Beard award-winning chef. While we eat an hors d’oeuvre—a duo of foie gras—I nervously bring up the possibility of moving in together with my partner. I know I need to move, to cut down my living expenses, and while I’m not sure I feel ready “to move in,” I can see it on the near horizon, and I don’t want to move twice. 

On the porch of Primo, tomato plants are hanging upside down, little red jewels still ripening on the dead brown branches which wave like flags in the wind. I wanted so badly to explore the farm, but it is already dark, so dark that we need to use the light of our phones to get from the parking lot to the porch. 

We are among the youngest eating in the parlor rooms of this house. I think the waiter likes us, a couple not yet old or wealthy enough to take this all for granted. I feel a little like a kid playing a grown-up. 

My boyfriend is punctual and practical—he is never late. He was annoyed on the way to the restaurant when we took a wrong turn, worried about getting lost, worried about missing our reservation. I suspect he has been ready to move in and has been waiting for me. 

___

Our next stop is Vinalhaven Island, the only island that has year-round residents, we’re told. After the rains, the water is rough, but we’re assured by the ferry operator that they’re still running boats across. Our car is directed to the very front of the flat-open ferry, nominally kept from plunging forward into the sea by a chain pulled across the front. We rock like a pendulum, water spraying in arcs from left to right over the windshield. No, that’s not quite right. The water smashes into the windshield on the left side. I shriek, and open the right window a little for fresh air. I’m quickly turning green and take a dramamine, a little too late. He films and photographs the gorgeous moodiness for us both, as I lay with the seat reclined all the way back, until we approach the islands and the water calms. I look up to see a fairytale world, little blobs of forest sprinkled about, with water lapping at their sides, toy houses on their hills. 

The island seems desolately beautiful. Water somehow rushes beneath the motel. I have been looking forward to meeting the proprietor, a published writer whose website and emails have the rambling, unabashed quality of A Real Character. When we meet him, he does not seem interested in charming us, however. His nose is bulbous and red. I shy of trying to talk to him about writing. 

From the window we can see the water rushing out from underneath us and the seagulls and the houses around the coastline. We cross the street to The Harbor Gawker and eat phenomenal fish soup for lunch, oily and rich and flavorful. We are nearly alone in the place at our little red-checkered table, but there is an older man in a knit cap and work jacket hunched in large silence over his meal. The light coming through window glows where it hits him, and I struggle between the beatific feeling and wanting not to romanticize him. 

We hike, a little late in the afternoon to do very much, but enough to get a feel for the island, its fairy-white mushrooms and mosses, and work our bodies and lungs. 

The much-hyped restaurant SALT is closed for the season, but we can go to Haven, which is also heralded as having sophisticated and local food. We’re the later seating, but we turn out to be the last seated at all, along with one other couple. I’m at first embarrassed but then—what, relieved?—when the young waitress doesn’t seem to know anything about the food on the menu. They even microwave our dessert brownie, but everything is good. Full of goodness.

We decide to check out the bar down the street and can immediately tell we're the only tourists there. I might have heard a record scratch to a halt when we stepped in. But, being the only visitors instead of a part of a stampede of outsiders, we actually got to meet the locals: two twenty-somethings approached us and joined their beers to ours at a little round high-top table by the wall. They told us about island life, about “summer people,” about the guys who graduate high school and go straight into lobstering, making six figures in a summer’s work, then spending the winter high on prescription pills. 

___

The next day for lunch we had the island’s best lobster rolls, as advised, from a truck on the water called Greet’s Eats. The cold wind was strong off the water and we hunched in tight at the lone picnic table, our Coke cans pinning down our napkins, as if they could shelter us. Young, big men in big boots whose young, big pickup trucks filled the lot got the last couple rolls after we did, and the truck was done for the day. The Harbor Gawker would close for the season a few days later. We took the ferry back to the mainland and got on the road going north, even though our route was to take us on what we already knew was a futile quest to eat at Aragosta, a restaurant that our friends had gushed about. We'd booked a night at the Inn on the Harbor in Stonington, population a-thousand-ish, just to eat there, before checking to see how late into the fall it would be operating. 

It’s no small detour, because Maine, I learned, having never zoomed in on Google Maps prior to planning this trip, has a coastline reminiscent of the fat floating on the surface of your soup or coffee: large uneven floats that break up into tiny archipelagos, petering off into the void. The coast literally looks like something crumbling off into the sea, bit by bit. To reach Stonington, we drove north along the coast, only to make a hairpin turn in order to drive south down a peninsula of land, at the end of which we drove over a narrow, low-to-the-sea-level bridge to reach Little Deer Isle, which we crossed in a matter of minutes and took a road—functionally a bridge, but instead of being built over water, it looked like a giant had just taken their hands and smushed some earth together enough to make a ridge high enough to pour asphalt over—to Deer Isle, At the far southern end of Deer Isle, facing bravely out to the whole Atlantic, is Stonington.  

Our room at the Inn on the Harbor was remarkable in two ways: it had a large working fireplace, and it had a large picture window facing the harbor, essentially at sea level. We enjoyed it for a few minutes before it got dark—incredibly, richly dark, a plush black night that filled in all the space.

The morning promised a bright day without rain, and I was sad to leave the precious specificity of our little perch, sitting gently upon the lip of one small beautiful mouth that gaped gently out the world. I could have spent days there, sitting out on the deck, its creaky wooden planks grayed by the weather, watching the sea and the squinting at the islands and following seagulls and windjammers as they did what they did.  

But we were almost at our final destination: Acadia National Park. To get there we drove back across Deer Isle and across the strip of land connecting it to Little Deer Isle and over the bridge to the mainland, to make yet another hairpin drive and complete the giant “M” we were tracing. 

Trees flashed past and the sun burst through them in rapid fire, like the world was a spinning zoetrope. Spills of apples, apples, apples, which weeks or months ago had ripened red, went unpicked, and had dropped to the ground. 

Acadia was everything that a road-trip destination should be: grander than the whole journey there. We saw eagles and sunsets; we stargazed on top of a mountain; we took selfies filled with golden light, deep green pines, and vast blue oceans in the frame. We ate chowder at little pubs to take the chill from our bones after walking around the waterfront. When our casual dinner choice was no longer seating people at 8:30, we would up eating spectacular high-end Latin food at Havana, as pleasing and soul-warming a surprise as the inside of an empanada. 

Here’s the thing about the rain, the closed restaurants, the hyper-local menus at the seasonal restaurants: it makes a place a place. Just as Walter Benjamin posited that mass production killed the “aura” of an original work, capitalism and globalization and consumerism have conspired to override the innate nature, the cultural instincts, of a place, in the name of financial success. Being open year-round, offering pepper at the table, these are typical concessions to the visitor and her money. We looked everything up on Yelp before we went.

In the end, I’m glad we were thwarted and disappointed. What’s okay about being late is kind of a buddhist-style redemption, that wherever you go, there you are. I think I saw it once on a magnet: You can’t be late for your own life.  

Writing as ritual: If the cow doesn't fit your mood, find another cow.

Katie and I have often wondered: How do they do it, those productive writers? (Actually, we’re a little loathe to use the word “productive”—it can really haunt a person.)

Sometimes it’s a real mystery. What works for one person—maybe putting on a white coat, like Joyce—won’t be the same as for another. Maybe going commando is your thing.

Learning how to sit down and write is usually half the battle. Especially if you subscribe to the 10,000 hours theory of mastery.

That's why Creative Rituals is a book (and fun website—try that link!) that has really inspired us, because it’s clear proof that the way a writer works has nothing to do with any proven system—it’s every creative for herself.

In its pages, Toni Morrison confessed, “I am not able to write regularly … I have always had a nine-to-five job.” We learn that Jane Austen “wrote in the family sitting room, ‘subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.’” But Gertrude Stein was fortunate (maybe) to have Alice B Toklas help create the ideal conditions for writing, getting up at six a.m. to brush their poodle’s teeth. Stein would get up about four hours later, and eventually they would go for a drive until they found a good spot for writing: 

“...She [preferred] to write outdoors. Miss Stein liked to look at rocks and cows in the intervals of her writing. If the cow didn’t seem to fit in with Miss Stein’s mood, the ladies got into the car and drove on to another cow.”  

Gertrude Stein admitted that she could rarely write for more than half an hour a day.

And if you once had a great writing routine but don’t anymore, heed Anne Rice, who said, “The most important thing, when I look back over my career, has been the ability to change routines.” 

Need a place to get started? There are writing workshops like ours, of course, to give you some structure and impetus, and then there are also lots of rituals to steal.

Cow-watching doesn’t just belong to Gertrude Stein.

Staring out the window,

Katie & Carolyn
 

Consider the Ritual

A big part of making writing ritual successful is in how you think about it. There aren't any rules, and it isn't an obligation. Five minutes is enough! In fact, we have a friend who’s written a novel in five minutes a day. 

Instead of a prompt this week, take some time to consider how you like to write or what riches your writing time can offer you. What do you get from a writing session? What time of day do you prefer to do it? Where? What helps set the mood for your creativity?

If you really want to get to a prompt, experiment with some of the prompts from our previous newsletters and try writing under very different conditions than you usually do. What happens to your writing? Does it make a big difference? 

Tell us about your experiences in the comments!

P.S. Still thinking about signing up for the fall workshop, The Shape of StoryGet in here! Or let me know if you want to share the sweet stuff with a friend in the 2-for-$200-each deal. 

Literary Friendship and a Postcard Prompt

Who helps stoke your literary love? Who are the people you turn to during those dark nights of the soul, when you’re a few hours from a deadline, or doubting your talent, or just stuck deep in a story revision? Maybe it’s just one person. Who is it?

Katie, my friend and upcoming workshop co-teacher, and I have often been that person for each other. We believe a critical part of writing is relationships. That's why we're so excited a healthy handful of you have signed up for the class with a buddy (at 2-for-$200-each!). This week, we stumbled on upon this gem from Alexandra Kleeman and Kathleen Alcott. Here's one of our fave bits:

Writing can be a lonely profession, but when you meet someone whose mind you trust, whose opinions you adore, and whose brain you’d like to smash into yours until they form a single powerful thinking entity, it’s not so bad. –Alexandra Kleeman

It would be so helpful if we could brain-smash, wouldn't it? But then we wouldn't get to hang out wearing shades, smoking pipes, and toiling away on our next piece. 

So for this week, we bring you a special challenge. Try out this week's summer-vacation-themed prompt, and do a writing exchange with a friend! Either make a sweet date and sit down (or do like Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton do and phone it in) to write with one of those special writer friends. Then share your work with each other. For an even more fun twist, actually send what you write on a postcard. 

Here's a great prompt, made just for friends, from Poets & Writers:

Postcards sent to friends and family from far-off places often have a "Wish you were here!" sentiment. This week, think of someone who's located far away from you, and write a postcard to him or her with the opposite outlook of "Wish I was there!" Explore what exactly it is about "there" that seems so appealing. What are the most striking differences between where you are and where you wish to be? Depict a vivid scenario in just a few, succinct sentences by focusing on sensory descriptions of that distant locale.

Stories are in our blood

"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman

Stories are deep in our blood, aren’t they?  

  • Stories we forced our parents to read to us over and over again…
  • The first books we checked out of the library, with their crackly plastic protectors…
  • An essay that made you think, “So I’m not the only one…”  
  • Your grandmother’s origin story. How your parents met. Your first crush.   
  • The novel you don’t stop reading even when you really should have gone to sleep hours ago.
  • The movie you saw that taught you about a world you didn’t even know existed.

Even though we sometimes think that brilliant writers are people who descended from the sky on a fluffy little cloud of genius, fully-formed and wholly original, they too have stories, books, and writers who are their roots, their creative lineage, and their north stars.

It’s really fun to see who they are, too, which is how some of us end up spending way too much time looking at their “Ideal Bookshelves” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jennifer Egan, Jo Ann Beard, Dave Eggers, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, oh my!)

Loving all the stories,

Carolyn & Katie

P.S. What’s making you want to write these days? A recent experience you want to explore? A fable that started writing itself in your mind? A stranger who would be fun to turn into a character?

We're hitting the keyboard this week working on a family history essay (Katie) and a ghost story that's going to be a birthday gift for a man living in a very old, possibly haunted house (Carolyn). We’re all ears if you want to hit reply.

P.P.S. Registration for our fall workshop is O-P-E-N! Early birds still have 1 week to get in for almost $100 off, and friends doing the buddy system can register at a nearly 2-for-1 rate, at $200 per buddy.

Dig In: 

Read It

  • Well, read or watch, it's up to you. But here are fantastic TED Talks that are really stories about stories: StoryCorps's founder David Isay on real ones, and novelist Chimamanda Adichie on the danger of the single story.

Write It

  • What is an origin story for your life? Your family? Try the "once upon a time" formula to get you started.

  • Scribble or type up a list of the stories that are deep in your blood. Maybe start to collect them on a special bookshelf?

Our wonderful, urgent, mystifying compulsion to write

Katie and I just announced our workshop, and we're already having great conversations with some of you about why you’re ready to work and play as writers. And we so hear you.

We'll be sending weekly dispatches to our email list, kind of like this blog post only more to-your-doorstep, and with more nuggets of inspiration and elucidation about the writing life and craft.

This week, we're reflecting on the wonderful, urgent, mystifying reasons we feel compelled to write.

Joan Didion put it this way: "I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear."  

Some people know their agenda ahead of time, like George Orwell: "I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose."

While others write for pleasure: "I write because I think I have something to say that other people would find interesting. I write because I enjoy the challenge of expressing difficult ideas clearly. I write because I take pleasure in trying to craft stylish and graceful prose." —Steven Pinker

And still others for connection: "The idea is to write it so that it slides in through the brain and goes straight to the heart." —Maya Angelou

So ... why do you write? Or if you've never / almost-never written, why do you want to? Connecting with that reason can clear a lot of the cobwebs of doubt or pressure to imitate masters.

Wishing you a week of inspired feeling,

Katie & Carolyn

 

P.S. Wondering what it sounds like when a writer is absolutely driven by their need to get the words out? Here's something we're reading that is new and urgent: It’s an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, which is written as a letter to his son. It rolls like water, and the form he employs and the power with which he does it really got our attention. And a lot of other people’s.  

P.P.S. The big news? We've opened registration for the fall workshop. And early bird pricing is in effect (peep peep!). 
 

Announcing my first online workshop! Co-taught with superstar!

Calling all writers looking to ignite and grow:  

My dear friend and writing buddy Katie Ellison and I invite you to join us for 6 weeks of community, inspiration, and productivity

With 15 years of friendship and over 30 combined years of writing experience, we’re offering a fall workshop to share all those years of personal and professional experience with you.

Together, we’ll get you writing stories you didn’t realize you had in you.

Together, we’ll get your prose shining and singing. You’ll think, Who wrote that?

If you write, but feel like you don’t know how to kick your talents up a notch--welcome!

If you’ve always wanted to write, but don’t know where to start--take a seat!

We’re here for you. We know how to do it, and we want to show you. And we want to have a blast as we go. 

How it's going down

This six-week craft workshop runs from September 13 through October 23 and will connect you with other talented and curious writers of fiction and nonfiction, from novice to upper intermediate levels. The syllabus will cover the basics like language, scene, and character, but we’ll also get into more complex and nuanced elements of craft like time, place, and voice. It’s going to be rich, y’all.

Each week’s topic will include fun writing prompts, great reading material, active discussion, and supportive feedback, all geared toward upping your craft game. 

 

All About Community: Bring-A-Buddy Discount

If you and a friend sign up together, you can each take the course for $200. Hit us up at ck2015workshop@gmail.com to take advantage of this offer! And we know as well as the next woman how important a community is for writing, so we’re including a couple live gatherings and surprise guests. 

We're also available to you at any time through Katie's TwitterCarolyn's TwitterKatie's Facebook, or Carolyn's Facebook. Or if you know you want in or at least to be kept in the loop about class details, sign up for email updates here or here

About your guides

We're Katie and Carolyn, writers who've graduated from (different) creative writing MFAprograms, builders of careers as writers, strategists, and teachers ... and we’re also the best of friends. We're each other's first readers, editors, and fan club—Katie primarily works in creative nonfiction, Carolyn in fiction—and we make great use of the fact that we're otherwise different as night and day. Also, we party hardy together. (Often by video—we live on opposite coasts!)

This class is going to rock. Come rock with us.

Yours in writing,

CAROLYN (+ KATIE)

Wondering just how good it can be? Here's praise from Katie's most recent workshops:

Testimonials

“When I have a new idea, and a hunch it could be great, I put all my jumbled thoughts on paper and turn it over to Katie. She pares down the noise and confusion with incredible efficiency, until what’s left is a distilled truth even more powerful and exciting than I imagined at the start.” — Lucy Holtsnider, Fine Artist

I am extremely happy I took this course. I know I now want to actively pursue writing. Thank you so much! — Mass Market Fiction Writer

I loved the exercises we did ... they help me think in a different way. It feels like an escape but it actually taps into parts of me and my writing that are more intimate and harder to find. I need more workshops, I need more workshops! — Journalist, Poet, and Essayist

Great class. You are a great teacher. — Literary Short Fiction Writer