abandoned things

One of the things I’ve discovered through writing this blog, more so than with writing fiction, is that there are certain images I’m drawn to: windows, doorways, row houses, clotheslines.

Dory Adams on her blog, In This Light, has been writing about abandoned things, which made me realize that although I haven’t yet written about it, I take pictures of abandoned things–boarded-up buildings,  the graffiti that signals neglect, the remains of things that are no longer as they were, the razed space where something used to be.

I’ve been wanting to do another post on clotheslines but haven’t done it yet. That’s actually what I sat down to write about this morning. Yet clotheslines seem a subject for the spring and summer. Whereas abandoned things, a subject for the fall and winter.

What used to happen behind this window, behind Number 16? What are your recurring images? Your abandoned things?

boarded up

and abandoned

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winter spring summer fall

Click here to start the music:

I've been on a musical kick lately...and here on the eve of another change,

I think of Carole King's words, which I first heard in 1970,

and which I think of often, as they reflect the changing and wondrous views outside my window,

for which I'm thankful as I sit inside with the light on.

a brief history of time

In most books of poetry, I put a little check in the Table of Contents by the poems I really like. In Shaindel Beers‘ first collection of poetry, A Brief History of Time, I liked so many poems that I switched to marking the poems I didn’t love with a tiny x (only 9 out of 47).

Here are a few of my favorite lines from the collection:

From Elegy for a Past Life for its honesty: “Back then at sixteen/I thought we’d make it out together,/and become writers, the only job we could imagine/where we wouldn’t smell like shit or hay or cows”

From Why Gold-digging Fails for its detail: “and I decided to leave my marriage/with enough money to fix a timing belt/just in case my engine decided to go.”

From For Stephen Funk, in Prison for Protesting the Iraq War for its reaching: “Lately things have made me question the stuff/I’m made of. What is it that makes me me?”

From Taking Back the Bra Drawer for its imagery: “I don’t want him to be another man–…another man whose jewelry rests in a hidden/drawer, worn only as an accessory to/regret.”

My two favorite poems in the collection are “Flashback” and “Rewind.” Two very different poems, but inherent in the titles alone, a preoccupation with the past.


Fridays Mrs. Wampler would give in
and leave the projector light on
as the film wound from one reel to the other.

At six, the world moving backward amazed us
more than the world moving forward,
though that amazed us, too.

Full blooms squeezed back into buds;
seedlings hid themselves underground,
but our favorite was our claymation version

of Beauty and the Beast. We would cheer as each
petal affixed itself to the thorny stem
and the beast grew stronger, clap as Beauty

no longer wept at his deathbed. And soon,
he was a prince again, too polite to ever
insult a crone. This taught us that beginnings

are always best, despite all they say about
Happily Ever After. If we could invent
the automatic rewind, bodies would expel

bullets that would rest eternally in chambers,
130,000 people would materialize
as the Enola Gay swallowed the bomb,

landmines would give legs and fingers
back to broken children.
Right now, teeming cancer cells

would be rebuilding blood and bone.

“Rewind” is reprinted here with Shaindel’s permission. It won the 2007 Bob Dylan Award for Poetry for the poem most in the spirit of Bob Dylan at the Dylan Days Festival in Hibbing, MN. You can read more of Shaindel’s poems through links on her website. You can also listen to a wonderful interview with Shaindel on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud.

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writing retreat

My writing group is meeting in the Napa Valley this weekend to write.

Usually we meet to read and critique each other’s work.

On our breaks we take the waters or a mud bath or a culinary excursion to Mustard’s, Greystone, or Ad Hoc.

I am encouraged by the little frog outside who stops croaking if I open my door and from the shapes and colors inside and out.

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what’s jackson browne got to do with it?


November 15, 2009 Columbus, GA

I thought if I wrote about it here either I might figure it out or maybe one of you would. You see, I’m working on my third piece of fiction where he tries to make an appearance.

Which he in fact did last night in Columbus!

In a 2001 (early, early) draft of my first novel, I opened every chapter with a few words from a Jackson Browne song. In July of that year, Howard Norman in a writing workshop said ever so gently, “Man, I just love Jackson Browne. Those quotes really took me back. But they’ve got to go. Your writing has to stand on its own.”

Perhaps you’d like to see what he was referring to:

Chapter Thirteen: “Whatever it is you might think you have/You have nothing to lose/Through every dead and living thing/Time runs like a fuse/And the fuse is burning/And the earth is turning.”

Chapter Fourteen: “And the heavens were rolling/Like a wheel on a track/And our sky was unfolding/And it’ll never fold back/Sky blue and black.”

Chapter Fifteen: “Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder/Where the years have gone/They have all passed under/Sleep’s dark and silent gate.”

Then there was a draft of a story I sent through my writing group in September where two characters were listening to JB in the car. Not working was the consensus.

Last night I was beside myself, as the saying goes, in my front row seat. At 7:30 Jackson Browne appeared out of the darkness onto a stage set up with 16 guitars and a keyboard. He was wearing dark blue pants, a dark blue shirt, and black shoes. His long straight hair is tinged with gray.

He had no setlist but chose songs that appealed to him from those that the audience members shouted out, commenting late in the show that we were “a fractured group.” Several times he commented that he was concerned with trying to string the songs together in the right way, that he wanted everything to be “just so.” Then he said, “Really, when I think about it, it is ‘just so.'”

With the exception of a fifteen minute break, he played until 10:00. 1-Barricades of Heaven 2-I Thought I Was a Child 3-Looking Into You 4-Jamaica Say You Will 5-Running on Empty 6-Don’t Let Us Get Sick written by Warren Zevon 7-Naked Ride Home 8-For Everyman 9-Late for the Sky (better than I ever heard him play this before) 10-In the Shape of a Heart 11-Giving That Heaven Away 12-Rock Me On the Water [break] 13-Something Fine 14-Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate 15-Going Down to Cuba 16-Lives in the Balance 17-Redneck Friend 18-Time the Conqueror (which he endearingly forgot the words to) 19-new song for a movie Here Without Her (title?) 20-Doctor My Eyes 21-These Days 22-Just Say Yeah 23-For a Dancer 24-The Pretender, and for the Encore: 25-Take it Easy (which he also forgot the words to), and 26-Our Lady of the Well.

He was amazing. See for yourself on my first (and shaky) YouTube video:

*the sneeze at 38 seconds belongs to my husband : )

This new piece of fiction that I started six weeks ago? Yup. “Running on Empty” is the name of a little coffee shop where Angelina likes to stop after work. Maybe this one will work, and I’ll be cured.

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DSC00053I discovered Snoop by Sam Gosling in a note by @piscivorous on Facebook. Its subtitle is What Your Stuff Says About You. I was interested in this book not only for what it could tell me about how to portray fictional characters but also for what it could tell me about me.

Chapter One begins with the story of John Steinbeck taking a shower in a hotel room before it had been cleaned. He named the former inhabitant Lonesome Harry:

“I could feel that recently departed guest in the bits and pieces of himself he had left behind.” from Travels With Charley

What was left: some laundry receipts, an unfinished letter in the trash, an empty bourbon bottle…

In a chapter entitled, “When Good Judgments Go Bad,” Gosling writes about extreme hoarding, which is defined as “the repetitive collection of excessive quantities of poorly useable items of little or no value with failure to discard these items over time.” I’ve written a story about this entitled, “Little Things,” which is almost finished.

Apparently the difference between pathological hoarding and ordinary collecting is that collectors enjoy their collections. Hoarders are disturbed by their booty. There’s an easy lesson there.

My favorite lines of all are about identity:

Identity is “the thread that ties the experiences of our past, present, and future into one narrative.”

“It is a story you tell about yourself to make sense out of what has happened in the past and kind of person you are now.”

I love this question that Gosling asks in the first chapter: “…what are the mechanisms by which personality reaches out and connects to the physical world?” His answer:

identity claims“: (posters, awards, photos, bumper stickers). To assess their meaning, notice whether they are directed toward others or toward the self, whether they are in public or private spaces, and notice discrepancies between between public and private spaces, between front and back yards for example.

feeling regulators“: stuff to help us manage our emotions and thoughts. My little notes on my desk: “Begin anywhere.” “I am a work in progress.” “Believe.” My pictures of the ocean…

DSC00216behavioral residue“: A scavenger after peering into Cher’s garbage wrote: “It was like I had her whole world in my hands.” Apparently the incredibly telling aspect to trash is that it reflects “behavior that really happened.” In my trash in my study at this minute: wrapper from an IcyHot Sleeve for my elbow, zip lock bag with crumbs from my RyeKrisp snack yesterday, an empty tin from my Big Dipper Clarity candle, crumpled lists that have been accomplished.

To paraphrase a popular commercial: What’s in your trash? OR What’s in your character’s trash?

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waiting for me

DSC00191This leaf, propped up like it is here on its stem and all by itself, was waiting for me when I opened the front door yesterday morning. Do you think it thought I wasn’t noticing?

I moved it for a moment over by the pumpkinDSC00189

Then I brought it inside where I showed it to everyone.

“The Lesson of the Falling Leaves” by Lucille Clifton

the sweet in-between

DSC00172Some of you may remember that on my first try with the Kindle, when I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, it did not go well, and I switched to the physical book itself. My second try, using the Kindle to read Infinite Jest while I was traveling, went great. I wondered if it was because I’d already held the real book in my hands.

I think it was more a matter of my getting used to the Kindle. A couple of weeks ago, right before Sheri Reynolds‘ most recent novel, The Sweet In-Between, came out in paperback, I wanted to read it. Right that second. Aha. Kindle. I was reading it in about three minutes.

And I totally loved it–even reading it on the Kindle–and was not ready for it to end when it did.

Now to write a post on it without having the actual book. You can see the first problem in the upper right-hand corner.

The second problem was no underlining. BUT the Kindle has a feature called clippings, and I was able to easily pull up all the passages I had marked. So here we go…


borrowed a friend's book for this picture

The Sweet In-Between is written in the first person and narrated by 17-year-old Kendra, who goes by Kenny and who is in the middle of an identity crisis. Her sort-of step-brother’s girlfriend, Sneaky, describes her as follows:

“I mean you’re like a boy in all the good ways, and you’re kind of like a girl in all the good ways too.”

She describes herself here: “I feel funny, like I might not be who I always thought…”

Kenny is an endearing character, one, as Linda mentioned in the comments to the previous post, you want to fight for.

“Here’s the thing: There are holes that never go away, holes that never fill back up no matter what.”

If you’d like to read a book where the voice of the narrator comes shining through, this is the book for you. Here are a few examples:

“I love cutting grass. You can see exactly where you’ve been and where you need to go next. You can’t really hurry. You just move steady, one step at a time, and with that lawn mower handle vibrating in your hands, you know you’re alive.”

“It’s dark out, the moon still hanging around, a good time of day, before everybody wakes up and ruins it.”

“Even though I don’t have a camera to practice with, I like the idea of framing a thing for the world, picking a moment out of all the other moments, and click–there it is. (Or there it will be.)”

Nothing will ever replace real live books for me, but I’m happy to have the Kindle as a part of my library.

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How We Spend Our Days: Sheri Reynolds

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Sheri Reynolds:

sheri05-2_1My cat wakes me up early, predictably, tapping at my nose with her paw.  She’s always gentle at first, but if I don’t get up and feed her, she’ll use her claws, so I get up. Downstairs I make the coffee, wrap up in blankets and go out to the porch swing with my laptop.  I’m between writing projects at the moment, and nervous because my editor has had my just-finished novel for three weeks, and I haven’t heard back.  So I do research for a new idea – I’m studying the cloth-diaper industry and learning about diaper services – and I write for an hour, just brainstorming.  Then I join my partner Barbara out on the back deck, where we watch the day lighten, drink more coffee, visit with the birds.IMG_0161

After breakfast, we walk to the bay.  We live on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and every morning, we take our dog down to the beach to run.  Today we wear ear-muffs and gloves, even though it’s only October, because the north wind’s blowing.   Home again, I get ready for work.

I have an hour-long drive across the bay to Old Dominion University where I teach.   Though my classes only meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have to go in today (a Wednesday) because I haven’t finished some committee paperwork and because we have a visiting writer on campus.   My drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, connecting the Eastern Shore to Virginia Beach, is always daydream time for me.   I work on a character in my head, try to see the world the way she does.  This character pictures people as they were in the womb.  Everyone she meets, she sees as a fetus.  I see fetuses all across the bay: the toll-collector, the highway worker.  Even the seagulls I imagine curled up and slimy in their eggs.IMG_0380

At school, I fill out forms for curricular changes and send emails to my advisees, reminding them it’s time to choose classes for next spring.   The poet Jorn Ake is on campus to give a craft talk about his poetry, and I’m secretly hoping the room will be packed so I can say hi and slip out.  I have a headache, and I still haven’t prepped my classes for tomorrow.  But only eight students show up, so I stay.   In the end, I’m really glad I did.  He’s fabulous.  He discusses the way different components of his poems come together, the historical, the political, the personal.

By the time I leave campus, it’s after two, and I haven’t had lunch, so I stop at a strip-mall for a slice of pizza. (Okay, two slices.)  I sit in a booth with my journal, intending to make some notes about my creative writing class for tomorrow, but instead I start a little poem.  I don’t really write poems – but sometimes when I’m excavating memories, they come out shaped like poems.   For some reason, I’m writing about my great uncle Gurley, realizing for the first time that his name sounded like “Girly” and wondering what that was like for him.   The TV is blasting – apparently there’s a funny movie on because the guy working behind the counter keeps cracking up.

100_1084Back home, I collapse in the hammock and reread some scenes from Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire.”   I’m teaching it tomorrow in my Southern Lit class.   The sun’s out now, warm on my head.  The dog and cat have both crashed beneath me in the shade I’m making.   I close my eyes and try to send telepathy to my editor, telling her:  “Love my book.  Love it!”   I check to see if she emailed, but she didn’t.

I send her more telepathy while I’m working in the garden.  Something has eaten tiny holes in all the kale.  There’s lettuce to pick and then wash.  I practice a few songs on the guitar while I’m waiting for Barbara to get home from work.  Ordinarily I cook on Wednesdays, but tonight we’re meeting friends at the Pub around the corner. It’s a fun night, but by nine we’re home again, in pajamas, wrapped up in comforters and sitting out back in the dark, being dreamy.



1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • Michele Young-Stone’s “A Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.”   (Coming out in April 2010)  Her editor sent it to me asking for a blurb.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • If your writing isn’t happening, just dance or paint or play Wii or watch America’s Funniest Home Videos.  It’s okay.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I read magazines backwards, preferring to start at the end and work my way to the front.

Books by Sheri Reynolds:


Bitterroot Landing


The Rapture of Canaan


A Gracious Plenty


Firefly Cloak


The Sweet In-Between

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