Welcome the New Year


And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. -- Rainer Maria Rilke

2017 was a year of highs and lows for me in many ways. On the up side there was the Always a Blue House reading tour. Riding high from publishing my poetry collection with Saddle Road Press, run by the incomparable Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell, I had a wonderful time with my writer-sisters Tania Pryputniewicz, Michelle Wing, Marcia Meier and Barbara Rockman who arranged readings, planned poetry workshops and opened their homes for poetry salons. Without them, I would never have been able to pull off such a tour. I can never thank these friends enough. 

Then there was the saddest event of the year: my father's death on October 11, 2017. Having spent the last three years mourning the gradual decline of his mental capabilities, my feeling of loss has been a muted grief. I am thankful that Dad didn't linger in dementia limbo. Even at the end, he was able to enjoy visits from family and friends. He still knew we were his people even if he couldn't always remember our names. 

With all the tumult of 2017, when 2018 rolled around a few days ago I felt particularly reflective. However, before I got around to making a list of new goals, I read an interesting article in The New York Times: The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions by David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. In it DeSteno claims that "By Jan. 8, some 25 percent of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept." Why do we fail so miserably when trying to keep our resolutions? According to DeSteno it's because of "our tendency to be shortsighted - to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future." And this is all because of the way we look at willpower as the key to success. The very idea of willpower goes against our own evolutionary path as human beings. Focusing on what DeSteno calls self-focused goals was not what mattered most to humans for most of our history. Instead, what led to our success was "strong social bonds."

So just what advice does DeSteno give to help us achieve our goals? Here's where I found the article most interesting. The author claims that we are ignoring the very tool that will help our success. What is that tool?  "It's our emotions - specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) - that push us to behave in ways that show self-control ." How intriguing.


This idea made me look at one of the biggest resolutions I've ever made: starting a daily writing practice. When I think about what has helped me get up early every morning to write (since August 19, 2013, 1601 days and counting), certainly genuine pride in creating this achievement helps keep me going. That is simple.

But what about gratitude? What part could this emotion play in helping bolster my resolve?  Even though I am not naturally an early riser, the impact of my morning practice has been immense.  I have never felt more like a writer in my life. And without this, Always a Blue House might not have been born. And for that I am grateful.

I know I'm grateful to my writer friends for their support. I know that giving similar support to them them can only enrich my life and help me become a better "literary citizen." (See Ten Kind Suggestions for Being a Literary Citizen post on Women Who Submit blog). I try very hard to be that kind of friend and colleague.  I've just never named it as compassion before.

DeSteno's article gave me a new way of looking at setting resolutions. When contemplating a new goal, I'll try to remember to find not just the reason for that goal but the feeling that drives me. I'm hoping that will help me stick to what I set out to do. 

As for the new year, now I'm struggling to find a reason to be grateful for going on a post-holiday diet. I'd welcome any suggestions for how to feel that!


Poetry Challenge A Year Late

Tania Pryputniewicz sent me a poetry challenge last March:  Use at least three of the musical expressions on the front of this card, plus cat, plus piano or other musical instrument of your choice in a poem. Game on!

It's almost April, which is National Poetry Month. This was a good way to get myself back into writing shape before attempting the NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) 30-poems-in-30-days challenge.

It's taken me a year to write this poem. I guess publishing a book got in the way. But, Tania, here it is! 

Piano forte

Hauled all over Texas,
Colorado until Illinois,
Mom’s big upright in the corner
never made it past the blue house.

Legs scuffed from rough and tumble,
keys stained, discolored ivory
cracked by shoes and toys.
One senza music -
sounding thunk, thunk.

Childhood cat a black
eighth note, paws soft-stepping
across the keyboard,
drew ghost music,
dolce espressivo.

I could pick out high C,
my  piano lesson a solo
cut short when we had to move,
finding a new place again.

Mom dragged that piano
all over those living rooms:
it held stockings at Christmas,
once played divider, enough space
for a hillbilly bedroom.

From her red Methodist hymnal,
she filled each house
with  chords poco marcato:
“Onward Christian Soldiers,”
 “Thine is the Glory.”

In the end strong men
hauled its black body away,
Mom stood at the window,
sheets of music in her hands.


Musical terms:
dolce espressivo – sweetly expressive
forte - strongly
non tropo vivo – not too lively
poco marcato – a little emphatic

For Tania Once Again

Last weekend I took Always a Blue House on the road for the first time, going to San Diego for the Not Yet Dead Poets Society First Friday reading with my dear friend and sister poet, Tania Pryputniewicz. Tania and I then co-led a Saturday morning poetry workshop at San Diego Writer's Ink

One of the writing prompts Tania brought to the workshop was based on a poem she wrote about another time we spent as poets together at a writing retreat in Calistoga, CA.

That poem was the first in what has become an ongoing poetry challenge that we've tossed back and forth to each other. Sometimes it takes months for us to complete our poems. In fact, I'm working on one right now.

Until I finish that poem for Tania, I thought I'd re-post the first challenge poem that appeared on this blog back in June 2015. It seems like a good way to thank my friend for her love and poetry support. 




For Tania From Italy

Here z's
are everywhere:
Piazza della Stazione
Via Panzini
San Lorenzo
They fly from my mouth,
zip through air
like chimney swifts
circling the great dome
outside my window.
Violin music swirls up
from the piazza below.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Flamingos Converge in Gualala: A Conversation with Nine Women Writers

Every year I have been so blessed to sneak away on writing retreat with eight other actively publishing women writers on the northern California coast. Finally, this year, we are breaking our monastic routine to join the community, to give back in a sense, by appearing for a Meet and Greet as a form of thank you for the beauty of our surroundings, to show our support for the local bookstore, Four-Eyed Frog Books, and to meet other writers in the area.

(read more here)

SOL 2016 Day 1 - Poem for Tania: Piazza della Rotunda

Today I begin the Slice of Life March Challenge, writing and posting every day this month. Wish me luck.

During the summer of 2015, my poet friend Tania Pryputniewicz of Feral Mom, Feral Writer began a poetry challenge with me. She began with giving me the task of writing a poem using the letter Z, one of my favorite letters for obvious reasons. Then I sent her a prompt of my own: write about a resting place. At the time, I was at rest on an Italian vacation, so relaxation was on my mind. It took a few months but, as requested, she finally wrote a poem. Tania's lovely poem, Meditation Garden, Encinitas inspired me, but in a way I didn't expect. Somehow it made my thoughts turn to Italy again.

One of my favorite places in the whole world (or at least the parts I've been to) is the Piazza della Rotunda in Rome.  On every visit to that city, no matter how short, I always make my way there to sit at a table at the same cafe and dream I'm Roman. Here's poem about a slice of the life in that beautiful place.

Tania, now it's your turn to send me another challenge. You said you had a good idea for me. Send it my way.

Piazza della Rotunda

Pantheon cool, serene,
oldest of the buildings 
cradling the body
of this small piazza.
Tourists stream past
my café table under 
its orange umbrella,
orange drink in my hand.
We have all emerged
from our heat-addled naps.
Stroller wheels rattle
over cobblestones,
nuns in white habits
eat gelato scooped
from the corner stand.
Sunburned shoulders
peeking from skimpy tank tops,
girls huddle on fountain steps,
giggle and bubble
like the water behind them.
Their friend snaps photos,
Egyptian obelisk
their solemn backdrop.
Small brown men,
from the Phillipines
or Indonesia perhaps,
shoot shiny
toys into the air,
hoping one will land
near a child’s foot.
She might pick it up
and beg to keep it.
We all long 
for bright tidings
to soar over our heads
like birds, like stars
into Rome’s
blue-falling night.

Related Links:
Respective poems from the first challenge: 
Write a poem using the letter Z:
Firenze Poem, For Tania from Italy by Lisa Rizzo
21 Zs for Lisa: Omen Hunting in Yo El Rey Roasting by Tania Pryputniewicz

Family Respite: Salmon and a Poetry Challenge

These past two weeks I've been in Portland, mostly helping my 88-year old parents.  In the midst of a heatwave that has kept temperatures above 90º for over a week, it has not been easy to keep my spirits up. I know I'm in a situation shared by many others my age, but sometimes that knowledge doesn't help. When I felt like I couldn't take anymore, the heat broke and Oregon's beauty gave me respite when I needed it most.
The other day while walking in my quiet Sellwood neighborhood in southeast Portland, I came across a small section of Chrystal Springs Creek

A part of the Johnson Creek Watershed, a sign called it a salmon resting place. The creek was once channeled through a culvert under an apartment building. The water flowed too quickly for the young salmon who needed to use this waterway. 

Restored in 2012 to its natural state, it is now a lovely piece of wilderness tucked in among houses and lawns.  This bit of natural hope lifted my spirits on a particularly difficult day.

This made my think of my poet comrade Tania Pryputniewicz, also dealing with family issues.  In her blog Feral Mom, Feral Writer, she sent me a poetry challenge while I was in Italy. Now we are trying to continue these challenges, hoping they will help us find our own resting place, to keep poetry flowing despite the day-to-day concerns that seem to bog down our lives.

So, Tania, here is your challenge: write a poem about a resting place.  When you give me yours, I'll respond in turn. 

Firenze Poem

 At Feral Mom, Feral Writer, my friend, Tania Pryputniewicz just wrote about a wonderful morning we spent together in Calistoga, and has challenged me to write a Z poem. Here in Florence it seems a lovely thing to do. Thank you, Tania. 

For Tania From Italy

Here z's 
are everywhere:
Piazza della Stazione
Via Panzini
San Lorenzo
They fly from my mouth,
zip through the air
like chimney swifts
circling the great dome
outside my window.
Violin music swirls up
from the piazza below.

Happy Anniversary! 365 Days of Writing Practice

One year ago, I sat in the Albuquerque Airport with my good friend and writing buddy, Barbara Ann Yoder waiting for our flights back to the Bay Area.  We had just finished our second A Room of Her Own Foundation's Writing Retreat, still riding high on the glory of the past week.  We had spent our time among 100 writer women:  writing and talking about writing, reading and listening to others read, reveling in the gorgeous high desert scenery of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.  How could we keep this all alive when we re-entered our daily lives?

I'd been here before; after the 2011 AROHO retreat I had sat with  Tania Pryputniewicz, another AROHO friend, trying to make a writing plan.  Back then I still thought I could get myself to write after teaching all day. So that year my plan included locking myself in my room when I returned from work each day. I thought I now had enough fortitude to do this.  After all, I've struggled to write after work for years, sometimes successful but mostly not. Could I do it this time? What I worried about came true: the mental and emotional drain of teaching still won out. No amount of "you should", "you can do it" and "you want to this" self-pep talks could make a real difference. Yes, I wrote more consistently after that first retreat, but not every day. 

And now a year later I sat facing the same problem. I couldn't - and didn't want - to quit my job. I still felt too overwhelmed to write every day after work. What was left for me to try?  Oh, yes - the dreaded early morning wake up call.  

I have always hated the idea of getting up early to write, having resisted the idea that I would ever, ever, ever willingly get up before the sun rose each day. But on August 18, 2013, I made a desperate decision to do just that:  I would get up a half hour earlier each morning to write before going to work.  I was terrified that I couldn't keep it up, but I promised both Barbara and myself that I would at least give it a try.

The next day, August 19, 2013, the alarm rang at 5:45 a.m., and I jerked myself out of bed to sit in
my chair with my notebook.  Since school didn't start until the next day, this was my practice run.  I survived.  I wrote and it felt good.  Now I just had to keep it up. 

That was one year ago today. I have gotten up early every single day since then and written.  365 days in a row. The first time in my writing career that not even a cold or late night celebration have kept me from writing. I have even set my alarm for 4 a.m. to write before catching an early morning flight.  
To commemorate this momentous anniversary, I did a little accounting. During the last year I have filled eight notebooks and am half way through a ninth one.   I have used countless pens. To assuage my guilt at adding all those used carcasses to landfill, I found a new type made from recycled soda bottles. Out of all those notebook pages, most, of course, are just filled with gobbledygook that will never see the light of day.  I remind myself that's not the point.

Today summer vacation ended, and I returned to my full-time job for the school year. This morning the alarm rang at 5:40 a.m., and I wrote for a half hour before getting in the shower. And tomorrow I'll do it again.

What works for you? I'd love to hear.

Discovering Ourselves: Memories of Making a Blog Mask

How delighted I was when a notice from my friend and AROHO alum Martha Andrews Donovan popped into my email inbox announcing a post for her blog, MarthaAndrews Donovan: One Writer's Excavation.  Reading this post, I felt a real burst of pride.  After all, I had been there when the seeds for that blog were planted.

 At the 2013 A Room ofHer Own Foundation’s summer writing retreat, Martha and I participated in Tania Pryputniewicz’s small group titled “Transformative Blogging”.  The focus of the group was the creation of a mask that could be a physical representation of what our blogging persona would be or become.  Along with making a mask, we wrote about what we wanted from blogging, what our writing focus would be, what the mask might reveal – or not reveal - about ourselves.  

Thanks to Tania I had been blogging since the 2011 AROHO retreat and had already taken another blogging class she taught, so I didn’t really expect any new insights about my writing.  I just wanted to make a mask and have fun.  As the participants paired up, I found myself with Martha.  Although we had met in 2011, we hadn’t really gotten to know each other.  Deciding to make masks together felt a bit risky. 

We started with me.  I lay down on my yoga mat, and Martha began putting the plaster strips on my face.  It was very cool and wet.  We had read in the instructions that the person putting on the plaster should talk to the “plasteree“ during the drying process, so before we started I asked Martha to tell me stories about her mother’s life.  Since my mouth was covered in plaster, I couldn’t interrupt her or jump in with my own stories.  All I could do was make murmuring noises to show I was listening and feeling fine.  It was wonderful listening to Martha’s calm, soothing voice tell stories of her India-born mother and missionary family.  I could picture that world of India and missionaries, of a New England family so unlike my own.  She made me want to meet those women and ask them about their experiences. 

Then when my mask was done, Martha decided I should plaster her foot instead of her face.  It was such an intimate experience making that foot mask.  I’m not sure I had ever touched a relative stranger’s foot before. I loved the feel of the plaster as I smoothed it with my fingers, how delicate my movements had to be to keep from bunching up the strips.  It was almost meditative to dip the strip in water, lay it and then smooth it until no seams showed.  It was almost like caressing her foot.  I felt I was giving her something, helping to uncover a part of her in some way.  Dipping and smoothing, dipping and smoothing. I didn’t want to stop.

As I had lain on the floor with the plaster drying, in my mind’s eye my mask looked exactly like me only better with smoother skin and no wrinkles. I pictured Martha’s hands smoothing the plaster over my face to create this mask.  I imagined how strong it would be once it was dry, strong and able to face the world. I pictured what I would do with my mask, how to make it represent my true self, the one I am so often afraid to unveil to the world.  I would use it not to hide behind, but to affirm.

Afterwards, when I first saw my mask I was disappointed.  It didn’t look like a face at all; rather it was rough and mummy-like.  Martha apologized and asked if I wanted to change it, but I decided keep its original form.  Perhaps its roughness could tell me something.  And as I began to paint it, that coarse texture became something other than a face, it became part of the landscape around me.  The blue New Mexico sky, the clouds that rose over the desert each day, Pedernal Mountain.  I surprised myself with that painting – because I had painted a place,  not a person.  I realized it all made sense because it is places that that so often are important to my writing and to me.  Finding my place, describing places I go, building the world one word at a time as I describe where I have been or where I am right now.

My mask is not a face, but a landscape.  And Martha’s mask isn’t a face either, but a foot.  A foot to embody the journey she is on, trying to find the way along her path.  When it came for her to decorate this mask, she covered her foot with the most amazing assortment of beads, feathers and scraps of paper with inspirational quotes. It is ornate and intricate.  And as I read her blog post about photographs of people unknown to her, or small objects found buried, I realized that her foot mask, rather odd and not quite the usual thing, was like one of those enigmatic objects that so fascinate her.  This mask could represent her impetus to uncover mysteries left by others.  Because by writing about those mysteries, Martha tries to stand in the world of those unknown people for just a while.

And so those masks we made last summer really do reveal our deepest motivations for writing, what our blogs would be, have turned out to be.  In her blog, Martha uses a Telugu proverb she learned from her mother: By digging and digging the truth is discovered.”
 Isn’t that what all writers are trying to do?  Digging down to find the truth about themselves and the world around them?  Even though I didn’t believe it at the time, making those masks was an important step in that digging process for Martha and me.   

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I was quite excited when my good friend Ruth Thompson asked me to participate in the "My Writing Process" Blog Tour.  I met Ruth three years ago at my first AROHO (A Room of Her Own) summer writing retreat at Ghost Ranch.  Since that time we have become fast friends, close enough to risk bunking together at the 2013 retreat.  

Since the beginning of this blog tour, I have had a wonderful time reading the wide range of writers' answers to these four questions, especially those of Ruth and other AROHO sisters, Esther Cohen, Tania Pryputniewicz and Marlene Samuels.  What a joy to read each person’s responses and learn more about her.  It is an honor to join their ranks. 

What are you working on right now?

As always, I'm just trying to lay words down on paper.  At the moment I'm working on poems for a memoir. I've been interested in writing a memoir for years.  It's always been one of my favorite genres but I had never thought of tackling one until I took a class that focused on writing what I think of as a hybrid memoir - one composed of poems as well as short vignettes and prose poems.  I've done some research on this and found the term "lyrical memoir" so maybe that's what I can call it.  It had never occurred to me that so many of my poems could be thought of as memoir until starting this project, but when I look at them it makes a lot of sense.  I've just started on this idea, so it feels very young and fragile, but I'm excited by the prospect of nursing this baby along.  It gives me an "assignment" - which is something I enjoy.  I guess it's the teacher in me.  Also, putting it down in black and white – coming out  as it were - makes this work seem more real.  Having announced to the world that I'm doing this means I have to keep going!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
What a question!  I like to just write what comes to me and see what happens.  I’ve never spent a lot of time reflecting on my work in that way, I think because it would open up all my insecurities and let out that big, bad self-critic.  But if I must answer this, then I would say most obviously my work differs from others because it is mine, because it is written in my voice, from my perspective of the world.  No one else can view the world with my eyes.

My writing has been called simple, clear and gritty.  What I think this means is that I use simple language to create poems people can understand.  I think the gritty means I'm not afraid to put down on paper even my most unflattering thoughts and feelings.  And I do think this makes my work different.  I don't want to hide behind elaborate metaphor or imagery.  I want people to understand what I write, to be able to connect with it.  I want to say plainly what I have to say using simple words in the most poetic way I can. For years I agonized over how simple my language is, but then someone sent me this poem by William Stafford:   

I wanted the plums, but I waited.
The sun went down. The fire
went out. With no lights on
I waited. From the night again—
those words: how stupid I was.
And I closed my eyes to listen.
The words all sank down, deep
and rich. I felt their truth
and began to live them. They were mine
to enjoy. Who but a friend
could give so sternly what the sky
feels for everyone but few learn to
cherish? In the dark with the truth
I began the sentence of my life
and found it so simple there was no way
back into qualifying my thoughts
with irony or anything like that.
I went to the fridge and opened it—
sure enough the light was on.
I reached in and got the plums.  

It's become my mantra so whenever I feel insecure about my simplicity, I bring this to mind. 

Another aspect that defines my work is a sense of place.  I believe my nomadic early childhood created a need for me to experience deeply whatever place I am, to observe everything around me to keep the memory safe when it came time to leave.  So much of my work is about place, whether it about places of my childhood or my travels.  That's another thing, travel - I am a passionate traveler and always find something to inspire my writing when I am shaken loose from my everyday life to go experience somewhere new. 

Why do I write what I do?
Why do any of us write what we do? Because we have to!  I write the words that come to me, sometimes in the night, sometimes as I am walking under wide trees or sailing for the first time.  Sometimes the words come on a bus in Turkey or Thailand.  They come when I am cooking with my mother or watching my niece cut flowers.  I write what I write because the world is so beautiful and so terrible that I have to put into words what I see and hear, taste and touch.  I write because of the ache of love or sadness, the joy of a bird's nest outside my door or grief over a friend's death.  I write because the words come demanding I put them to paper.

How does my writing process work?
For years I feared I had no writing process!  I felt like I was just stumbling along and every once and a while a poem would spring out of me rather like Athena from  Zeus' forehead!  Of course that wasn't really true, but I had so much trouble finding a way to meld writing and my other working life together that I spent a great deal of time struggling.  Being a teacher means talking and giving and draining myself each and every day.  While this can be rewarding, it isn't very conducive to coming home and gathering thoughts to put on paper.  

So last year I finally gave in and realized if I was ever going to get any serious, sustained writing done, I would have to overcome my resistance to getting up early.  And since last August I've done that (257 days and counting).  Every morning I get up and perform a little ritual to get me started.  Then I sit down in my chair with a thermos of tea and begin.  I use this time to purge the happenings of the previous day, writing longhand in my journal for as long as it takes for something "writerly" to come up.  I make lists of ideas to work on over the weekend when I have more free time to concentrate.  I dog-ear journal pages that seem promising.  Sometimes I start working on those ideas right away; sometimes I let them stew for a while.  At the end of each journal, I go back through and record any of the ideas still unrealized into a small notebook full of idea “seeds” (a term I got from Tania Pryputniewicz).  Sometimes those seeds sit unplanted for months or years.

I am a big fan of writing to prompts and exercises.  Somehow being given a subject to write on shakes my mind free.  I know many people find exercises scary or boring or confining but I love them.  Maybe that's also why I love to travel so much.  Every day on the road is like one big writing exercise offering up ideas for my pen.

And now it's time to pass the baton to three more talented writers.  

The first person on my list is Lisa Lutwyche.  I met Lisa at the AROHO retreat in 201l and then again in 2013.  She is not only a talented writer but also a wonderful artist and teacher.  I have one of her watercolors hanging over my writing desk.  It is of Chimney Rock in Ghost Ranch, and offers me inspiration everyday.  

Lisa received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College (in Vermont) in 2013.  She is an Adjunct Professor of English at Cecil College in North East, MD, and is also an instructor in the Fine and Performing Arts department at Cecil.  Poet, playwright, essayist and novelist (at work on two books), her work has been widely published in the US and in the UK.   Her publications include Mad Poets Review, Image and Word, Poppy Fields, Piano Press, Pitkin Review, Falklands War Poetry, Minerva Rising, the cancer poetry project 2, and Fiction Vortex.  She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2000.  Lisa has taught writing workshops at AROHO (A Room of Her Own Foundation, a bi-annual, selective, women's writing retreat at Ghost Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico) in 2011 and in 2013.  She was the recipient of the 2013 AROHO “Shakespeare’s Sister” Fellowship for a one-act play, and has had two short plays produced in Philadelphia.  Lisa’s one-act play, A State of Being, will be produced in Philadelphia in July. 

Lisa has been teaching creative writing (and art) at community arts centers for over twenty years.  She has a BFA in Studio Art, a BA in Art History (from Youngstown State University in Ohio); she attended University of the Arts and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and she spent 28 years in architecture and design.  

A professional artist, Lisa's work has appeared in magazines and galleries for decades; her artwork will appear on the cover of Undoing Winter, a chapbook (Finishing Line Press) by good friend Shannon Connor Winward. Lisa blogs at logophiliaclisa.

Another AROHO sister is Pamela Helberg.  Pam and I met for the first time last summer at Ghost Ranch.  Her incredible humor and positive presence was so invigorating.  I wish I could write with as much verve as she does. 
She received her MA in Creative Writing from Western Washington University where she studied under award-winning novelist Laura Kalpakian. She founded and operated Fremont Place Books in Seattle and taught English composition for many years at Whatcom Community College. Mostly recently she worked in IT before quitting to go back to school for her master's degree in Mental Health Counseling. Her essay “Body Language” appears in Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions, Seal Press, 2013.  The mother of two grown daughters, Pam is currently working on her memoir about lesbian parenting in the 1990s and lives with her wife, Nancy, in Bellingham, Washington. She blogs regularly at pamelahelberg.com, most recently as part of the A to Z Challenge. 
And last but not least on my list is someone who I have never met in person!   Juliana Lightle is an "cyber-friend" who I met while taking a online blogging course taught by Tania Pryputniewicz through Story Circle Network.  Even though we haven’t met face to face, I have enjoyed reading Juliana’s wonderful blog.  I hope someday to have the opportunity to actually sit down to one of the wonderful meals she is always describing!
Raised on a family farm in Northwestern Missouri, Juliana became a singer, college administrator, corporate manager, racehorse breeder and trainer, management consultant, educator and author.  Her first poem was published in a statewide anthology when she was in high school.  She holds a Ph.D. in counseling from The Ohio State University and an M.A. in high education administration and B.A in English from the University of Rhode Island.  She currently writes, teaches, sings, and raises horses in the Panhandle of Texas.
She is a member of the board of the Story Circle Network, a group dedicated to women telling their stories.  Juliana blogs at writingontherim.

100 Days

On August 24th, I wrote about my experiences at the AROHO Writer's Retreat in my post "Open the Door."  In part I wrote:  I want to stay on my writing path, just as I stayed true to the trail up to Chimney Rock.  I opened that door at the AROHO retreat, and so far have been walking my writing path during this first week back at teaching.  And I'm determined to keep going.

Well, here I am on Day 100 of my new writing practice.  In the last 100 days I have gotten up a half hour early to write. When I realized this, I was reminded of how elementary teachers celebrate the 100th day of school with their students by computing all sorts of statistics about school, so here is my list:

  • I have gotten up for every morning for 100 days.
  • I have written for 50 hours in those mornings (and sometimes more on the weekends).
  • I have drunk 100 cups of tea from my thermos.
  • I have filled 3 1/2 notebooks (and just started a new one).
  • I have written 10 poems.
  • I have written 1 essay.
  • I have written 2 short memoir pieces.
  • I have read 4 books of poetry by fellow AROHO writers Diane Gilliam, Ruth Thompson, Barbara Rockman and Leslie Ullman.
  • I have written an estimated 200 words per page (since I am one of those neat freaks who fill the entire surface of every page with writing, I was able to extrapolate this amount by counting the words on a random number of pages).
When I first went to the AROHO retreat in 2011, I bought a stone with an eclipse symbol carved into it:  a moon and sun joined together.  I read that this is a symbol of merging opposites, representing unity and compromise instead of conflict.  I envisioned that stone as a symbol of how I want to join my two sides:  writer and teacher. 

I talked to my new AROHO friend, Tania Pryputniewicz about my dilemma in the Albuquerque Airport.  I made a pact with her that I would write every afternoon after returning from school.  Did I keep it up? Nope.  I found my mind too filled with all the noise of the day to keep myself writing.

Then this year, at the Albuquerque Airport once again, I made another pact with Barbara Yoder. This time I vowed that I would get up early every day.  I had been resisting this idea for years, but had finally faced the fact that early morning was the only time I could reliably call all my own.  Did I think I would be able to do it?  I admit I was skeptical. I still doubted myself.  But here I am 100 days later...

Now that I've finally given myself the gift of time, I feel I've  joined those two sides of myself.  Although there are many times of conflict when the stresses of teaching keep my from writing as much as I wish, I now know I can always find that morning time to sit quietly with the my notebook. 

So on this day before Thanksgiving, I can only say thank you to all the wonderful women writers of AROHO who have helped me find my way.

My Guest Post on Mother Writer Mentor

My friend Tania Pryputniewicz asked me to write a guest post for Mother Writer Mentor, a website offering practical advice for writing mothers.  I've had the great honor to collaborate with Tania on other writing projects.  As a writer-mother herself, she has pushed me to explore my own role in the lives of children. In 2011 during her stint as poetry editor, three of my poems, Childhood, Daughters, and Uneasy Grace were published for the online journal The Fertile Source as well as an interview, Celebrating the Foregoing of Motherhood: Poetry in the Service of Spiritual Quandary, Lineage, and Teaching Adolescents.  Here is a taste of the latest:

lisa rizzo headshot
“He used to be such a nice little boy!”  That lament voiced by a student’s mother at a Back to School Night presentation has stuck in my mind for years.  I can even remember the student’s name although he must be almost 30 years old by now.  As a middle school teacher with 22 years of teaching experience, I have heard a variation of that parental cry many times.

With no children of my own, I have always hesitated to offer advice to the my students’ parents, but when my own beloved niece turned twelve, my brother and sister-in-law turned to me for help. That is when I realized that as a veteran teacher who has spent over two decades in a classroom with thousands of twelve and thirteen-year-olds, maybe I can offer some advice to mothers facing an adolescent child for the first time.  And as a writer who struggles to balance writing with my very stressful job, I can sympathize with mother-writers who have an even harder balancing act. 

To read the rest of my post, go to Mother Writer Mentor: Practical advice for writing moms

AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Tania Pryputniewicz

A Room of Her Own Foundation's Summer 2011 Retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico brought together a dynamic group of women. Now I am honored to be working with a team whose mission is to keep the spirit of that retreat going by conducting interviews, writer to writer. I met Tania on the bus to Ghost Ranch and got to talk with her a lot longer than expected when the bus broke down! We then wound up staying in the same building up on the mesa. I am
happy to have the opportunity to
introduce her to you here.

Thinking back to the 2011 AROHO retreat, is there one specific moment or event you can identify that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?

I have the urge to delineate every conversation I had at AROHO’s summer 2011 retreat whether it occurred on that first shuttle to Ghost Ranch, on the morning hike down to breakfast, or sitting on the mesa watching for shooting stars. I didn’t realize just how isolated I’d come to feel (after ten years of immersion in motherhood). I am moved by the web of life-long friends working beside me in spirit now--a posse of cohorts possessing a rich range of personalities and passions. I am no longer a “Lone Ranger.”

During Kate Gale’s afternoon panel, “Become a Literary Citizen,” and the panel of “Non-profit Contrarians” composed of Darlene Chandler Bassett, Kate Gale, and Esther Cohen, the forthright conversations about how to share the responsibility for promoting one’s work and the work of others shifted how I perceived my role as both a writer and editor. I will now ask, as Kate suggested, “What tangible help can I offer the publisher/press that accepts my book for publication? What do I bring to the table besides my role as writer of the manuscript?” In addition, I felt excited as an editor of a small on-line magazine to consider ways of sharing resources and platforms with established non-profits as opposed to reinventing the wheel each time, an idea put forth by Darlene.

Walking back from the panel, Esther’s gentle but direct questions about the motivation behind my choice to be a poetry editor at The Fertile Source (Why are you drawn to the subject? Why do you care about how women are viewed? Was family important to you growing up?) helped me take stock and recalibrate my personal and professional intentions.

Is there a specific woman writer who inspires/d you? If so, can you tell us something about why?

Again, I am flooded with memories regarding each writer I met and feel hard pressed to choose just one. But here goes--I’m thinking of the night Bhanu Kapil read from her poetry collection, humanimal. I could sense the specter of wolf-raised girls, the energy of those children as palpable as the sun warmed stone seats of the amphitheater and the tuning forks of the cacti at our backs. Later, I couldn’t sleep, the moon emanating through the three tiny windows of my room, a luminous, kaleidoscopic energy coursing through my mind.

During Bhanu’s Mind Stretch, she exuded that same multi-dimensional attention in her approach to her writing process when she shared the questions she posed as part of her process creating the poems for The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. I’m intensely inspired by the scope of her investigation into human relations and how it translates into her finished work. Surely a woman who has the courage to ask other women, “Who was responsible for the suffering of your mother?”, and to write about the answers, will continue to leave a trail of profoundly transformative writing in her wake.

Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?

My current writing joy remains with the making of the poetry photo poem montages (the micro-movies). Photographer Robyn and I have one last photo to add to the micro-movie for Amelia Earhart. Two image folders I’m eager to access next focus on the tangled psychic relationships ensnaring King Arthur’s extended kin. In the poem, “Corridor,” Guinevere recounts a stolen moment of time alone with her mother as they advance the length of the corridor between their bedrooms. And in the poem “Mordred’s Dream: A First Refusal,” Mordred attempts to challenge his mother’s vision for who he should be, both to himself and to Guinevere. I can’t wait to begin.

As I sit beside Robyn and we sift through her latest photo files, the story images itself before our eyes, the ordering of photos an intuitive process. I see the micro-movies as tiny mood bookmarks capable of setting the tone for longer works; I hope later they inspire longer vignettes complete with actors. The micro-movie short form satisfies my passion to enflesh the poems and fits my time constraints as a mother and editor.

At the retreat, I also made a commitment to build a base for a Collaboration Hub in order to support anyone interested in following up on my Mind Stretch presentation, “Female Power in the Face of Adversity: Collaboration as Excavation” (during which we brainstormed lists of iconic, inspiring women and exchanged lists, creating an opportunity to partner and collaborate with one another in the future). I will announce The Hub on AROHO’s facebook page once we’ve finalized construction on its inner workings and are ready to invite dialogue and share resources.

Recent poetry by Tania Pryputniewicz is forthcoming or appeared on-line at Autumn Sky, Blast Furnace, The Blood Orange Review, Connotation Press, and Linebreak. Her photo poem montages have been published by The Mom Egg (She Dressed in a Hurry for Lady Di, 2009) and Prairie Wolf Press (Nefertiti on the Astral, 2011). Poetry editor at The Fertile Source, she blogs at Feral Mom, Feral Writer. She lives in the Sonoma County redwoods with her husband, three children, kitten, Siberian Husky, and four feral cats.