Clean Plates and Clean Copy

     One of my writing goals for 2017 was to find a writer’s critique group. I appreciate and enjoy my writer’s inspiration group that I joined more than a decade ago, but it’s more to stimulate creativity with short prompts, no critiquing of one another’s work. I hoped a critique group might motivate me. I work well with deadlines and never had problems turning in stories on time when I worked as a journalist,  both on a weekly paper and on a freelance basis.  But on my own I’m like a toddler, easily distracted by a shiny pin wheel or a puppy which is not an optimal method to get novels completed. me-and-jo-anna-and-tracy      My writer friend Tracy, seen above, and myself went to the critique group a few weeks ago. She also is in dire need of deadlines because on her own she’s also distracted by the myriad of entertainment options we have at our fingertips today. So many movies and so little time. We both hoped that we could bring in a few pages of our manuscripts each week to the group and get feedback that would inspire us to keep writing.  We had hope.

     Our hopes were dashed on the rocks of…well on an inept group leader. What troubled me the most was the advice the woman leading the group told the novice writers in attendance. Go ahead, she said,  just write and send out your work. Don’t bother with those pesky skills of revising or editing. The editors at the publications will do that boring clean up work for you. 

   My mouth fell open which is not an attractive look. I did not drool, but I did want to pipe up and tell the silly woman  she was leading her novice writers astray. I stayed silent because, after all, she was the boss of her group. Tracy and I won’t be back, but that woman’s wrong advice haunted me. I started thinking about how writing is like a resturant. 

kitchen2The kitchen where I work starts out clean. It is like a  blank piece of paper. Sure it looks tidy, but nothing is being created. It’s like a writer who just sits and stares at the computer screen but does not type. When the grill is fired up, and cooks start chopping vegetables and stirring soups, that’s when the action begins.  People are waiting to be fed. The kitchen gets loud and messy. It must in order to create anything.  It’s like a story. First comes just the white emptiness.  

plateThen the writer’s mind starts to work adding and discarding ideas. Our imagination, or our memories, or both, get to work and we write. A cook stands before a hot stove and we sit alone in our room.  Our first drafts are suppose to be a mess. Just as the cooks have to keep checking temperatures or flipping a steak, we keep working on a piece of writing until we decide it is completed. 



      But not so fast. Food is not just prepared, thrown on a plate and sent out to the dining room. Here is Andria my co-worker making sure a plate is looking perfect. She has that winning waitress smile, too. Often there is an expediter, usually the chef, standing at the line with a towel and a keen eye, making sure the plates look the way they are suppose to look, with all the right ingredients. The expediter makes sure there are no blobs or spills on the plate. It must look perfect. The chef does not want the dining patron to have to clean up his or her own plate because the kitchen was too lazy to do the job. That spoils the entire meal. 

      Same with writing. No writer can expect a book publisher or a magazine editor to clean up spelling or punctuation.  That would be like sending out a salad without dressing and half the ingredients missing  and expecting the person paying for the salad to finish the job. Silly. Even when I attend a critique group, I don’t expect anyone there to teach me how to use commas. I’m looking more for suggestions to improve a story, or to encourage me to finish a story, not how to spell. 

     Thankfully I have my writer friend, Stella, who is always willing to look at my writing before I submit. She lives in Santa Fe, and is always busy doing something artsy, but she takes the time to offer me helpful suggestions for which I’m grateful. My avid reader friend, Laura, has offered to look at my writing, too, which I hope she knows what she has gotten herself into.  So it takes a village to truly produce a clean manuscript just as it takes an entire kitchen, including the front of the house staff, to make for a memorable meal. Even famous writers make sure they are doing the best job they can to submit a clean manuscript. It’s just a matter of pride. 

revisionLet me add this, though, my writing always feels to me as if it could be improved. I had a short story published years ago. When I got the book in which the story was included, I saw so many things I wanted to change. I even went back and with a pencil and made all the changes as if the book hadn’t already been published. I know. I’ve been called crazy before. 

Just as the food at the resturant has to eventually be served,  so does a manuscript finally have to be declared done. A chef could keep fussing and fussing  and there would be a lot of hungry people waiting. I’ve seen cooks do that. I want to scream at them…just serve the food. With writing, sometimes when we have done our best, we just have to let our work go and hope someone will eat it up. 












Envisioning 2017

vision-board      Some years ago I started making a vision board each January. I’ve made them at home alone, with friends at my house, in a church, in a healing center and this year at a yoga studio. It’s simple. All that is needed is a stack of magazines, glue, a cardboard poster board, and a vision, an imagination, for the coming year. In the past, I took a couple hours to do my vision board, browsing through magazines and stopping to read the articles. This year required quick thinking. First was an hour of yoga and then an hour of cut, paste, add a few flourishes, and completion.  No ruminating, pondering or second guessing. I added some fake rhinestones and a few rose stickers, for fun. We all need fun in our lives. Might sound silly, but a vision board always gives me hope for the coming year. 

     That day the women with me at the yoga studio were talking about goals and dreams. No one said that dreaded word. Impossible.  One woman wanted to move to New Orleans, another planned to lead a yoga retreat to Peru. Another woman hoped to retire. As I listened to the background music of their voices, I found inspiration to think beyond my own limited awareness and dream big for 2017. I wanted to ask the women about their dreams, but I had a deadline and needed to focus. 

letter-goals     Two weeks ago at the Writer’s Inspiration Group we did yearly writing goals. Each writer put his or her goals on paper and then sealed them in these envelopes. This year I’m responsible for keeping safe the envelopes which we will open at the end of 2017. I look at the stack of envelopes and feel as if I am the keeper of purpose and possibilities. I keep a copy of my goals near me so I don’t forget what is sealed in my envelope though if I don’t meet my writing goals I could say I forgot which at my age is allowed. Saying I forgot. We are never allowed to give up believing in dreams. That’s just too sad.

christmas-readingA few days before Christmas I had people over for a tea leaf reading. Whether or not the tea leaves can predict the future, I’m uncertain. I’m not a gypsy though there were times in my life I moved so often I just kept boxes packed.  I like to think though that there is power in sharing  with friends our yearnings and desires.

      As we sat with cups of hot tea we listened as one woman wanted to buy a home, another have a baby, another a new job. We read the tea leaves and laughed and talked and I think when my friends left they at least had the opportunity to voice what so often gets shoved in the background of our busy lives. Before we know it, 2017 is over and hello 2018. It’s good to stop and map out what we’d like happen in the coming year, make space to voice what we hold dear to our hearts.


So you might be asking…do vision boards work? One of the first vision board classes I took the teacher said what you hoped for in the coming year might take another year to happen. Patience. And the images may not come out exactly as expected…but there is something metaphorical that happens. If that makes sense. I keep the last year’s vision board in a closet and sometimes it does take awhile to make sense. This was last year’s board and the saying STAND UP really was significant for me. How did my subconscious know that would be? That’s the mystery. There was also a photo of white water rafting. I have no desire to white water raft, but the year really was filled with many personal, and sometimes, scary rapids that I had to navigate.  And yes there have been images I selected, of landscapes and objects, that have materialized in my world. 

     Finally, I am contributing to the American Writer’s Museum blog. The museum will open in my home town of Chicago in 2017.  I wrote a blog recently about Erma Bombeck. Remember her? I came across a column she wrote just a few years before she died of kidney failure. I will end this blog for 2017 with words she wrote in 1991 but are still as relevant today. 

      Erma wrote, “I have a friend who lives by a three word philosophy. Seize the Moment. Too many people put off something that brings them joy just because they haven’t thought about it, don’t have it on their schedule, didn’t know it was coming or are too rigid to depart from their routine.” 

       What moment do you want to seize for yourself in 2017? Keep the vision. 

Happy Hour

me-at-partyOne night many moons ago, when I was just a little girl,  I awakened to the sound of laughter and music. It was near Christmas. Then, as now, I’m a girl who never wants to miss a party. I went in to the living room and there were my parents and friends celebrating the holidays together. My dad traded his work uniform for a fancy shirt and my  mother had on an emerald-colored dress. The women were drinking something from fluted glasses.  Everyone was even dancing in my living room to The Tijuana Bass.  I wanted to stay up and join the fun, but I was sent back to bed. First, I photo bombed the picture.

Soon enough I figured out what contributed to all that holiday cheer was more than the Christmas tree. Cocktails. High balls they were called back then which sounds intense and evil, but was just simple mixed drinks. Bourbon and water. Vodka and tonic. The basics.

In those days there were no such thing as hand-crafted cocktails. Today at the hotel where I work, we  put everything from sage, to rosemary, to squeezed this or that, into our drinks. A orchard or farm is needed for each drink. There are all sorts of ingredients now to use to “enhance the drinking experience.” To get tipsy basically.   It can take several minutes to make one drink.

Not so in the old days. All my parents and their friends did was toss a few ice cubes into a glass, dump in liquor, and then add one mixer. The women sometimes had drinks inspired by bugs or animals or people. The Pink Squirrel, the Grasshopper, the Stinger or the Tom Collins. Even those drinks required little work, no chopping or dicing or squeezing. No fuss. Back then bartenders had it easier as did the host or hostess of a party. Now you need a bar tending class to “craft” drinks.  

Now and then we did experiment. When my friend Gloria visited me last week I mentioned a blender that she brought over once to a friend’s house. Gloria is on the right cradling her blender and my friend Penny is on the left with her poodle hair cut. Anyway, we lived it up with that blender making whiskey sours, and Pina Coladas, and anything that required a lot of ice and sweet and sour mix. Still, these weren’t craft cocktails. Nothing fresh or organic.  They were more like alcoholic Slurpees. By the way, Gloria told me she STILL has that blender after more than thirty years.  We might have craft cocktails, but they sure don’t make appliances like they did in the old days. richard

 One Thanksgiving a long long time ago my family gathered at my older sister’s house. We are holding up glasses of a pink liquid. I’m assuming it’s wine. My first thought was yuck. Pink wine. Rose.  Who drinks pink wine anymore? It’s so 1974. There isn’t a expensive bottle of Pinot Noir  on the table. I betcha this just came out of a jug. In the old days when I started as a waitress we had three kinds of wine, Burgundy, Chablis and Rose. So tacky I thought.

Recently, I went to lunch with my hip and young friend, Sara, who manages a yoga studio here in Arizona and is a fabulous yoga teacher. She ordered…Rose! Then we did a wine tasting at work and lo and behold we will now have Rose on the menu. It’s light and great for a glass at lunch. I brought a bottle to  a party recently, women all my age, and one woman said she was a “wine snob” and didn’t want to give it a try. Pity.  It’s not too sweet, and perfect with a salad.  What was old becomes new again. I’m waiting for that to happen to my body. debbie

I was a bartender for many years with my high school friend Debbie.  We worked together at various Denver night clubs from honky tonks to rock and roll clubs.  We traded our pom poms for bottle openers.  Here she is during that time showing off her technique, pouring liquor into a glass. Well practiced. Easy. The good old days.  I’m glad there were no craft cocktails when I was a bartender. I don’t think I would have had the patience for all the preparation. However, I don’t mind drinking something with a twig of lavender or a squeeze of papaya. I  might cringe at the price tag, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy. 

I appreciate all the wines we have today, the creative cocktails, as well as all the other changes in the resturant industry. I compare it to the publishing industry. It’s not as simple to get published as a writer as it was in the old days. There are so many more options. Just like the resturant menu with dozens of crafted cocktails, there is a lot of competition and choice. But the basics stay the same. Vodka, Gin, Bourbon. Wine is red, white or pink. Sit and Write. Keep it Simple.

Have a Merry Christmas. I hope I will be somewhere dancing to the Tijuana Brass drinking pink wine and dancing. Wherever I am I will be grateful to those I have loved, and are gone, and those loved ones still with me today. 






Finding Silence

gloria-phot      A few weeks ago, I went with my friend Gloria to a monastery deep in the  desert south of Phoenix. The monks who live there have transformed the harsh desert into a lush place of flowers, fountains and faith. There are charming wood cottages and gracious stone churches. It’s like traveling to Greece, except no passport needed. We strolled around the grounds and I felt as if we had landed on another planet, one of silence and grace.

     St. Anthony’s is a Greek Orthodox Monastery and the monks, about 40 men,  live a life that most of us would find challenging and not just because of the heavy black clothing they are required to wear even while tending to the olive and orange trees, baking bread or digging flower beds in the desert. No cell phones are allowed at the monastery and no  watching Netflixs during free time.  Actually there isn’t much free time. Up before midnight the monks pray for hours and then they eat a light meal and then work. Work and pray. No time for Facebook. Oh and before I forget…they don’t have  girlfriends. Women can visit the monastery, but they must dress like this.

us-at-mono      Here is Gloria and me in clothes given to us as we walked into the monastery gates. Sexy, eh? Good thing they gave us the clothes because we were plum out of black scarves and long dresses that the women who come there for retreats have to wear.  And the retreats aren’t about yoga, or emotional growth or how to write a novel in 30 days. Praying.  Also, the monks aren’t allowed to speak to visitors, men or women.I felt as if I aged twenty years in those clothes. I looked it too. But how one looks isn’t suppose to matter at a monastery. 

    The woman who worked in the monastery gift shop, clad in long skirt and scarf, not a bit of skin showing and make up free, said the  services are held at dark, with only candlelight, so one can’t compare themselves with others. If  someone is wearing a new coat or shoes that might inspire envy, it’s too dark to see. I started thinking, as I usually do, about writing. Don’t compare what I write to anyone else. When I do, I often come up lacking as if I was in church and wishing I had that new red coat I see walking in the door. Maybe see my writing in candlelight, the shadows of other people’s writing inspiring me, not intimidating me or making me jealous of their talent. 


     The same woman working at the gift shop (which sold olive oil, bread, jams, all made by the monks) said the monks remove themselves from the world to be closer to God. I figured that, but then she said something that surprised me. She said the monks are “fighting the devil” all the time with its worldly temptations. Even so far removed from the world? Then I remembered the sculpture I took a photo of us last month at an art studio in Portland. It was titled The Beast. Shivers.

      I see the beast for writers, or any artist, as being all the things that steal time and silence from us. It’s not easy for any of us to be creative with so many temptations.  Phone calls, E-bay shopping, the new shows on Amazon, friends calling to gossip. The beast is always there luring me away from my time writing. I’m not willing to give up pedicures and cell phones, but I need to create my own monastery in my own house. Writers spend a lot of money on expensive retreats to find time to write, but I think we can do it right at home. We just have deal with that time eating beast and find the silence. Monks do it by leaving the world. To create we need to leave the world now and then, but still return and go to dinner and eat Thai food and tap dance.  


    Outside the lushness of the monastery, the desert is open and minus any bubbling fountains, fruit trees or pretty buildings full of gold icons as at the monastery. The monks have chosen a life devotion and discipline, striving to get closer to God. I need to do the same to strive to finish a novel. Some may want to finish knitting a scarf or building a gingerbread house or paint a portrait, but it’s good soul work to find some way to commune with the creative spirit. 

old-man Gloria asked a man to take our photo, a day visitor like us. He took this photo of a monk  which was forbidden, but he did it anyway. I’m glad  he broke the rules. There is comfort to see this old monk with his walker on the tree-lined path. He reminds me to get on my path and do my work.

   Gloria and I shed our long skirts, socks, scarfs, and returned to the world of temptations and also red wine and swimming at the lovely hotel pool.  After we left the monastery and drove through the desert toward Tucson,  I felt peace knowing there is a place in the world so removed. With all the angry political rhetoric and discord happening lately, I know the monks are still praying and working the land and will keep doing so no matter what. And, I will keep fighting to keep my own time-eating, silence consuming, envious beast at bay, and in doing so find my slice of heaven right here at home writing. 




Time for a Cool Change


     That’s me smiling in the white apron. Okay. I’m exaggerating. Though, as a milestone birthday approaches, there are time when  I feel as if I’ve been a waitress since the days of white aprons and black dresses. And some of the young people I work with think so, too.  I betcha this waitress is wearing heavy hosiery, too. And that’s before panty hose. She is still smiling. Bless her heart.  

    This photo taken in a Chicago restaurant harkens back to the days of when only men were hired as bartenders, waitresses looked as if they cooked the meal as well as served it, and customers dressed in suits and ties. Way before my time, sure, but there are days when I feel like the grandma of the crew where I work. I could be.

    On the plus side, working with young people keeps me, as cliché as it sounds, young! Or at least pretending I’m young.  I stay in the know.   For example, I didn’t know if someone invited a person “to chill and watch Netflixs” that meant more than just eating popcorn and watching a movie. Who knew! There could be kissing involved. Not that anyone is inviting me to chill, but now I know. I learn a lot from the younger generation.

   Most importantly, I have remembered to keep an open mind. Young people take risks and make changes and move forward in life minus so many of the fears which plague us as we age.  I resisted making a change as simple as switching to a new blog. I was scared. 

     Then my  coworker, Michael, at work convinced me, actually nagged, me to set up a new blog page in a more accessible format.  You would think he was wanting me to swim the Nile river along with the crocodiles. Or something dramatic. 


   Michael set up my new blog this summer. It took me a few months before I felt brave enough to do anything. He kept saying he was disappointed in me that I hadn’t yet tried it out. That tactic worked. Thank you Michael.

     Michael just graduated from Arizona State University, and he will soon have a fabulous and prosperous career with computer programming, or whatever else he decides to do in technology.  I would have liked to make the blog pictures smaller, but I  don’t know how. I hope Michael will do some consulting for me,  even if I don’t see him every night at work anymore.



There is great beauty in change. Nature proves it each year and reminds us we must do the same.  No matter our numerical age, we can be like the trees and shed our old leaves and  trust in time new ones will grow. Sometimes we just need reminding.