2016: A Year in Preview, On Becoming.


For the past couple of years I have been posting a year in preview as opposed to a year in review. It was meant to be both tongue-in-cheek and hopeful. Clearly, I had no idea how much hubris was involved in these posts.

In my defense, I never posted absolutes. It was mostly about the emotional life of a human. But even that, as we know, is not so easily plotted.

In fact, the beauty of malleable human emotion is why I am a writer. We are both predictable and unpredictable. Done and undone in a moment.

In the last half of this year, people have approached me with dismay, with pity, with compassion, with anger, with empathy, with sadness, with disdain, with happiness, with warmth, with love, with fellowship.

Then there are those who have simply drifted away as though that had always been the best choice. Maybe it was.

I am both ghost and bleeding human. My heart beats and is extinguished. As does your heart.

All I can tell you right now about the year ahead is that the people I love best are alive and living. That our lives are full of lightness and dark. Happiness and anguish. Our lives are like all human life: Both extraordinary and blissfully ordinary.

All I can tell you for sure is that we are in a constant state of becoming.

So my wish for 2016 is this: Become with me. Become.





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Blessing. Bless you. Blessed. God Bless. I am blessed. You are blessed. Bless.

The word, in its many forms, is overused. Hashtagged. Blown into the wind like an air kiss. Tossed away.

Get up off your knees and walk.

Use your hands to climb, to build.

My arms are open and ready to receive you. Not as a god would, but as one with faults and bruises.

You are blessed. God bless you. Bless.

A word, useless.


Instead, take these words of blessing and use them: For every one who discards you, another will hold you more tightly.

Today, and every day, I hold my hand over your heart.

I bless you.





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You would cry that night and it would take a long time for anyone to hear you but when she did, you mother would listen about the overdue library book and what would happen if you weren’t well enough to get to school tomorrow? What would happen? What?

You never got over that library book. That you had made someone else suffer by being sick and by not getting that book back onto the shelf when it was meant to be. That you had been the source of another’s pain.

But this. This time of waiting was about being sick on the couch when you were a kid. Actifed. Your mother spooned it into you, laced with codeine so that you slept a brilliant, bejeweled sleep. Your nose tight. Your stagnant breath, still sweet to your mother only.

Sick on the sweaty couch, you never believed you would feel better, that this would end. You’d hear the kids outside at the end of the day and feel worse. Earlier, you’d been entertained by Match Game and The Doctors. By Coronation Street. You hadn’t thought about the other fucking children enjoying their lives and yet there they were out there doing things that you could not do.

Even though you felt so much better now. Your forehead wasn’t even hot.

Touch it.

Fever spiking. Weary mother, making dinner for the others, offering you a popsicle with the wrapper tight around the stick to keep the sticky ooze from your fingers.

Your mother with her cool cloths and her vaporizer and her cigarettes.

You felt weak when you stood up to go pee. Saw fireflies, spinning around. Fireflies in the tall grass at the edge of the lake. The sun pushing its flat palm down onto the water, asserting itself. We are done. Go to bed. The day has passed. But the fireflies became their own suns. The fireflies, reaching, seeking, the grass, an escape from the sweaty hands, clutching, wanting to hold onto something beautiful and finding

Your weak legs and the voices in the street outside playing kickball and the kids in the apple trees and your fucking mother and the pork chops.

And the fireflies. We are here. We. We. We. Are here.




valletta78, by Erin Fitzgerald

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Last week, I read Erin Fitzgerald‘s excellent new book, valletta78. It is a book filled with humor and sadness. It is also a book that made me think and consider my own life.

When I started working as a content producer for an onilne portal in 1997, I didn’t understand the people who hung out in our chatrooms and on our discussion boards. What were they looking for?

It wasn’t until 2002 when I joined an online writing workshop that I understood. They were looking for people like themselves who felt out of place in the non-virtual world. They were looking for a connection. They were hoping to finally join the conversation.

When I joined that writing workshop, I joined the conversation. I made friends all over the world. Most of the people were great, but there were a few interlopers that we all became wary of. Those who were adversarial for the sake of being adversarial. Those who faked their identities. And, worst of all, the plagiarists (who usually also faked their identities and were adversarial).

There was a level of trust we had in sharing our work online. We trusted that the person on the other end of the screen would treat us fairly, would not steal from us, would not lie. Usually this worked out but sometimes we got burned.

Still, most of us kept coming back. Now, I interact with most of those same writers on social media instead of in that writing workshop. We mostly all migrated to social media and picked up our conversations there. And our conversations broadened and included other people, many other writers.

Social media is, in my mind, an excellent resource for writers. It is there that we can hold conversations in the way the rest of the world does. It’s where we use our skills with the written word to debate, to communicate, to make people laugh, cry, whatever. It makes sense.

And yet, it is an imperfect world. There are the people who take on the identities of others. There are people who portray themselves as happy when they are dying inside, or as dying inside, when they are happy.

It can become difficult to know what is real.

In part, valletta78 is about living one’s life in such a fractured way. The real life is one in which the protagonists marriage is hollow, her desires unspoken. She is bored, distracted, numb:

“Distraction is the blanket that goes on top. When I brush my teeth, I look out the bathroom window. When I drive, I listen to the radio. When I scratch at mosquito bite, I chew the inside of my lip. When I talk on the phone, I press the letters of the alphabet into my palm.”

And then there is the virtual life in which she takes on false ailments out of a sense of boredom and to garner sympathy. She even goes so far as to create a sick brother, because she,

“…just wanted to make sure a voice was heard.”

So, in part, her motivation is to be heard, even if that means lying to do so. She wants, I believe, to feel something. To peel away the layer of numbness and experience true emotions and yet she is incapable of showing her true self.

However, there is one person to whom she shows her inner self and tells the truth (at least partially). She even goes so far as to show an actual photo of herself instead of a photo of how she would like to be seen. What she does, finally, is trust this person. So much so that she sets out to meet him.

What we learn in the end is not something that is exclusive to the virtual world. What we learn is that opening ourselves up to others can be scary and we might end up broken by it. But even if we do there is an opportunity to come back to ourselves and the world we create can be as wonderful or horrible as we choose it to be because,

“One of the currencies of the world below the clouds is the truth.”

While this book does, unflinchingly, hold a mirror up to our online lives and force us to look at them; it neither judges us nor does it provide us with an answer for how to live better. It is not, then, moralistic. This is no cautionary tale. Instead it is a beautifully, tautly, written tale of modern life and how the cycle of despair leads us both closer to and farther away from our happiest selves.

Reader, I hope you seek out this book, read it, and spend some time thinking about what it means to you. I believe you will be better for having done so.

The Undercover Soundtrack – Myfanwy Collins

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I wrote an Undercover Soundtrack for THE BOOK OF LANEY.

My Memories of a Future Life

for logo‘Tenderness, fragility, an understanding beyond her years’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s guest is Myfanwy Collins @MyfanwyCollins

Soundtrack by Jessica Lea Mayfield

Before she was fully formed on the page, I knew who I wanted Laney to be. She would be 15, tall and gangly, with a face that would not seem immediately beautiful to the young world but an astute adult would know how she would bloom fiercely and beautifully one day. Laney would not be an obvious intellectual, but she would think long and hard in an emotional way. People would often say to her, ‘You think too much’, a sentence she would find curious and staggeringly ridiculous. Yes, she does think a lot but…

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‘Tenderness, fragility, an understanding beyond her years’ – Myfanwy Collins

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Here the overture for my upcoming Undercover Soundtrack.

My Memories of a Future Life

for logoMy guest this week has just one musician in her book-s arsenal – a singer who  perfectly, wholly, uncannily embodied the character she was searching for. The story is a young adult novel – a new departure for the writer, who has had other works published in the adult market and in literary magazines. Anyway, the emotions run high – and also the fragility. Stop by on Wednesday when Myfanwy Collins will be sharing her Undercover Soundtrack.

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the angel hair. the tea cups. your walls. you.


I can feel the skeleton that is me beneath my face skin. It becomes closer and clearer each day. Breaking me down into less than human. Skin and bone. Skull.

There was a china cabinet and angel hair in our playroom. There was no other place to put it. It did not move with us when we moved. It must have been his mother’s.

The cabinet glass was a wall between us and its treasures. The angel hair. The tea cups. Keeping us out. This wall.

What I know now:

If you build a wall, morning glories will find it. Their heart-shaped leaves reaching out to you and your wall. They will break that wall down with their beauty. You are not trapped by it. Push your vine up and over. Let go your wretchedness. Let go.

As a child you are kept out of these mysteries. The angel hair. The tea cups. Your walls. You.

You are your own mystery.

You believe your parents feel all that you feel and you all that they feel.

You do not know. You only see these walls and wonder how to break them down.

Break them down, you. Break them down.

Reach your vine up and over. Your beauty. Your beauty.

Remain your own best mystery.