Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Finding My Absolutes

What are the things that matter most in your life? Do you even know? My life often feels like I'm meandering along a river and wander into dead-end tributaries, all the while bringing up muck from the river's bottom. I focus on unnecessary things and am pulled in too many directions. The worst thing is that I ALLOW this to happen to me. So I spent some time looking at my life and how I spend my time and what paths I'm led down and came up with those things that are absolutely essential to me. The list was long and included the things in my life that really matter: family, nature, travel, yoga, writing, and art. It also included things that quiet the soul, those things that are more about an attitude towards living, the hazy but focused living-well reminders for everyday living like being present and living in the moment and living each day as a prayer. Those things mean different things to me than they do to you, and some of them may not be on your radar. I wrapped it all up in a neat little poster, and in the center were the words "Presence brings meaning, listening allows connection." As 2013 draws to an end and 2014 stretches out long and promising before us, I'm not making lists, because lists make life a drudgery. But I am thinking about my absolutes and living each day as if it really matters. Because it does.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why Write a Book

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison

Friday, December 6, 2013

Crafted at Word Lovers at River's Edge

BY A THREAD Clutching what we have hollows our words into platitudes, Empty promises cloud the connection between your eyes and mine. We are not sorry for anyone’s loss, nor will we miss each other, Our heavy black bags drag life from our souls until they are As cancelled as a life insurance policy, a corpse-like non-person. What I lost in that office that was my home for ten years Was the innocence of a child’s trust in her parent. I am forsaken, fearful, without an oar but in a kayak, Floating on striated rivers watched by white-headed eagles And shoreline totem poles that exude the voices of the Ancients. Lolled to comfort as the valley’s shadows move with the sun; The transient physical world is light and dark and gray, unfocused. While seeking that which cannot be seen, the flow of the river, the wind against my cheek, the rowing of our arms help me forget that office above Browns stadium with Lake Erie beyond, The place where belief was suspended, and I was dying. Beneath a wide open sky in a wall-less arena, First Peoples whisper what is required: to be present and connected and One. Mother Earth and the Holy Spirit gladden my expanded heart. I remember home: red maples over my head, buckeyes under foot, And paths winding along the Rocky River and the Crooked River Trampled by the Hopewell peoples and Western Reserve settlers. “Kum Ba Yah,” roof-shingling ghetto mission trips, hands in prayer, time spreads out before me, a person of worth and loved. Future possibilities tango with remembrances of the past. On our 35th wedding anniversary at a log cabin restaurant, my husband snuggles next to me instead of across from me. He leans over to kiss my cheek and erase my stunned pain that he sometimes views the world differently from me and happily-ever-after is a keen deception that brings tears to my eyes. We hold on by a tight and strong thread; gratitude confounds me. He travels with me to faraway places to help me know what’s real And walks with me along the rivers at home to keep me grounded. The scary stuff is torn away, dismantled, scourged.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Oates:  The peasure is in the rewriting. The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written . . . the completion of any work automatically necessitates its revisioning.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Story of Second Chances

What caught my eye when I picked up Andy Andrews’ The Heart Mender was the subtitle, “A Story of Second Chances.” The book’s background is a surprise—German submarines came right up to the Atlantic and Gulf Coast shores, and it was kept out of the media. It’s a tale woven around the main character finding personal items on a beach that were puzzling—buttons with anchors, a ring with German lettering, an anchor badge, a medal, and a few photographs. Andrews didn’t have to dig very far to weave together a story of a man who had to go to war and leave his family behind in Germany. The man, Josef, was shot at by an old enemy-turned Nazi on the deck of the submarine he was in and plunged into the Gulf. He surfaced on a beach in Alabama and was taken in by a young widow whose husband was killed by Germans. They’re unlikely friendship blossomed into love. But first they had to deal with Helen’s meanness, and Josef’s German background. And they have to discover the God of letting things go.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Open to the Words

You have to have some heroes who spark your confidence, who show you the way. One of mine is Anne Lamott, who wrote in Bird by Bird that “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.  That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to the best part.” When we sit with a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen and are open to what will come, we get into the mode, the groove, and the writing comes about so naturally, so effortlessly, that I almost forget I’m writing. The words come into my head and onto the paper, and I find that what Lamott said about good writing is about telling the truth is a great way to describe it. As writers, we try to describe what’s going on inside us and outside us by using detailed writing to describe the emotions, and if we’re open to the words, they just come.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


It's been a whirlwind year, starting with writing about having thirty perfect days and continuing with forty days of Lent, journaling, reading, and teaching what I know all along the way.  In the midst of the writing, I was in Disciple class, attending Artist's Way sessions, leading a retreat in Michigan, and preparing for Word Lovers.

Recently, I spent a weekend at a yoga retreat at a boy's camp. Six women spent time together in a park with a lodge, outhouse, cabins in the woods, and hiking trails.  We talked, meditated, lived in the moment, ate mostly vegetarian meals, envisioned ourselves in five years, sat around the campfire, got rid of the stuff we no longer need, made music together, and crafted together vision boards. There's nothing like being out in the wilderness with others on the journey to enlightenment and asking the questions that cannot be answered. 

In the end, all I can give you is this:  it's important to have a vision and some direction, but it's more important to let the path unfold while mindfully attending to the moments of ones' life. 


Monday, August 5, 2013

Reading LIke a Writer

In college, I took an advanced composition class in which I had to write like Virginia Woolf and like Matthew Arnold. The way I was able to do that was by immersing me in it. So if you read what you want to write and submerse yourself in it, wallow in the best of that kind of writing, until you hear the voices and know the rules, you will start to write like the masters themselves. I highly recommend Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer because it’s an example of excellent writing and because it shows writers how to read in a way that they’ll learn from what they’re reading. How do we keep all this information in our brain? Now that’s a hard question, and one I struggle with, but I think it begins by taking notes and keeping them in a journal or at least in the notes app on your IPhone.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Detail by Detail

Writing specifically, detail by detail, we encounter not only ourselves, not only our truth, but the greater truth that stands behind all art and all communication. We touch the spiritual fact that as divided as we may feel ourselves to be, we are nonetheless One. – Julia Cameron

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fill the Well, Stock the Pond

I find I can't just sit and write. I have to fill up the well, stock the pond. So I invest in myself by keeping my skills sharp and my knowledge deep, becoming a learning machine, reading everything I can, and approaching writing as a craft that will never be mastered. One day, you might figure out how to write pitch and the next how to write a sentence that moves people to tears and the following day be able to write just the right words to say what needs to be said, but putting it altogether, now that is the hard thing. You build and build, but sometimes forget. A writing journal could help.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What Woolf Said About Style

Woolf: sytle is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm.  Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Creating the Life We Want

For many years, I was unhappy, stressed out, closed off to possibility. By the time I was thirty, I wasn’t sleeping at night and I was angry with my husband. Not until a friend gave me Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and I started the journey toward giving myself permission to create the life I wanted, was I able to play a piano again (I bought myself a piano for my 30th birthday), explore painting and drawing once more, and get back to writing. The first thing I had to do was give myself permission to take time for myself, because I was worth it. My life isn’t perfect today, but I have no problem with taking my artist on a date with a walk in the Metroparks or browsing the galleries of Tremont. I have a lot more passion for my life than I had when I was younger. We can create the lives we want:

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wordworthian Openness

 “There is ecstasy in paying attention,” says Anne Lamott. She recommends it because you can achieve a Wordsworthian openness to the world with God at the helm. If you go with it, in writing, the writing’s fun. Anne suggests that “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” Later, you can edit it, pull it together in a way that makes sense, mold it into something someone else can read and appreciate, but first, have fun, let the words that come from the God within take over, the words tumble out, unbidden and unedited. Like I’m doing now—is this first draft shitty, or is it saying what I need to say? Oh, I meandered a bit like Virginia Woolf, but that’s what I do, and I’m paying attention, in an ecstasy that’s very akin to what I feel when I’m on a good walk.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Space to Remember Who I Am

I think now and again about how Virginia Woolf said a woman who wants to write needs an income of her own and her own space in which to practice her craft. Her long essay A Room of One’s Own is a phenomenal read for where it takes us in women’s suffering, even in the 21st century. All writers need to take care of the writer’s soul with journaling, walking, yoga, meditation, anything that helps your mind wander, free itself of junk, and settle into telling a story. You need space, a place where when you sit down and open your laptop, your mind quiets and focuses on writing. You also need a time when you can be alone, not so much for social media and correspondence, but for the real writing to take place, and this might mean blocking out a Saturday afternoon when you’d rather be at a matinee. Once I started making money from my writing, I got myself a studio with a desk, a nice comfortable chair, sunny walls, and lots of mementos from my life to remind me who I am. I need it for quiet, but I also need to remember who I am.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Writing Group is Skyline Writers

Writing groups are good for telling you where you wandered off the path, when you are unclear, and which characters are weak.  But grammar and punctuation should be second-nature.  If they’re not, you’re in trouble. Nothing bothers an editor more than someone who seems to have no command of the language.  It’s a red flag that the writer is not a real writer but a wannabe writer. And I see that all the time—writing that could be really, really good, because it comes from the soul, and then the writer falls down with the grammar and punctuation and sentence structure. The kernel of truth is lost in the mess of it. We writer-educated people pay homage to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style by keeping it close by, even though, if we read a lot, we instinctually know how to do it.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Zinsser on Writing

William Zinsser:  the fundamental rule is: be yourself . . . No rule, however, is harder to follow.  It requires the writer to do two things which by his metabolism are impossible. He must relax and he must have confidence.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Another Historical Novel by Brooks

I read Caleb’s Crossing in a weekend.  There’s something to be said for a cold Winter weekend when no deadlines loom and there’s nothing on the calendar, to sit and read, even all night. That’s how I read Geraldine Brooks’ book. That long span of reading only made the good book even better. I’ve always admired the way Brooks imagines a life, a tale, a time in history, and weaves a story around it. This story takes place on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1660s, when the island was a place where people went to live life the way they wanted to leave it. I liked the story of the Native American who made it into Harvard, the descriptions of the way of life in Cambridge and the island, the interaction between the indigenous people and the European settlers and all the philosophical thought on that subject, as well as the Biblical quotes about how to live life best. I loved the quotes about God and his plan: “Yet all knowledge comes from God, who creates and governs all things. You will find many excellent divine moral truths in the works we will study together in this place—in Plato, in Plutarch and in Seneca . . . we study no art for its own sake but to help us restore our connection with the divine mind.” I’ve always believed that. The main character was Bethia, raised to be a mother and wife, but thriving on stolen knowledge, whose life takes unexpected turns. In the end, she writes “I am not a hero. Life has not required it of me. But neither will I go to my grave a coward, silent about what I did, and what it cost. So, let these last pages be my death song—even if at the end it is no paean, but as it must be: a dissonant and tragical lament.”

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More on Writing

On writing, I tell people that if you have something inside you that is real, it is probably a universal truth and worth telling to other people. We have to trust our inner voice, and be true to that voice. You get that from writing, writing, writing, in journals, in blogs, in private family writings. That type of writing allows you to just be yourself, say what you need to say, and not worry about that nagging internal editor. Writing is spiritual in that it comes from somewhere inside and outside ones’ self, and it’s an amazing thing, but you don’t do it alone--you may think you do, but when you’re writing and the words come out perfectly, there’s no way it’s just you talking. What does Julia Cameron, the passionate believer in the God-connection in writing?  She says, “At its base, for me, love is what writing is about.  As an act of love, it deserves our protection and our deepest respect.  Writing is an act of connection, but it connects the writer first to the Self and second to the world.”


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Don't Start Too Late

To live as if we will die soon, gives us a chance to choose how we spend our time wisely. I read it’s only too late if You Don’t Start Now by Barbara Sher in preparation for my February retreat. Many of us reach middle life and realize all of a sudden that we’re not immortal. When we figure it out, we start to live like we don’t have enough time to get it all done, and we’re motivated to live our lives to suit who we really are. We grow up, as Bob Dylan sang, “But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” In middle age, Sher says. “you stop being driven by instinct and wake up to a different level of consciousness—complex, subtle, and intense, loaded with revelation and insight.” I want to know why people don’t tell us about how we outgrow wanting to be a star and take up gardening and all kinds of other wonderful endeavors because we fall in love with life and start to live authentically. What we all crave, as much as we crave being close to God, is to be free to live our lives. “The freedom that counts is the freedom to live your life with your heart and mind and emotions wide open.” That will make you young again.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Trying Not to be Perfect

 “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.” That’s a quote from Anne Lamott, who was drinking heavily by the time she was sixteen and found she couldn’t write when she was thirty. Fortunately, she stopped drinking. But she’s right; we spend too much energy trying to be perfect. We want a perfect life, a string of perfect days, and I think we can have that, if we change our attitude. My perfect day is always without hardship and filled with people and things I love. I write, walk, practice yoga, lunch with a friend, write some more, have dinner with my family and friends, and fall asleep with a good book. It occurred to me in an Artist’s Way study group that we can create these perfect days around the lives we have, and if we string them together, one day at a time, we birth a creative life. I decided to have 30 perfect days and write about them. What if we find our perfect day as we savor, reflect, and throw our souls into having a day that’s memorable and satisfying and worthwhile? Know what I found out? There’s no such thing as a perfect day, but we can have an excellent day, a day in which our problems are just passing nuisances and we’re moving on to something better. Still wondering if my book 30 Perfect Days is worth publishing.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wisdom from Vonnegut

Vonnegut: Your own winning literary style must begin with interesting ideas in your head. Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Finding the Path to Happiness

It sounds easy to “Choose Happy” like the magnet on my refrigerator says. In Verse II.33 of the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali wrote “Upon being harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate counteracting thoughts.” The journal Neuron reports that a study by the Medical Research Council in England shows that when people associate pairs of words and then substitute one with another word locks the brain from calling up the first word. One can substitute negative thoughts with positive ones in this way. Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, asks her readers to use affirmations, positive reminders of the best qualities of self, the preferred way to live, a choice to think in a particular way, to help them achieve happiness. When we choose happy, we choose the way of love, forgiveness, and acceptance of the other people in our life.  Choosing happy is the same as choosing the life of the spirit, intellectual seeking, and being in God’s hands.  If we choose happy, we choose a positive thought instead of a negative one, we choose to believe there’s a deity who would like us to make that choice. Maybe I’m a Godian, part of a new co-existent religion that embraces happiness. Or maybe I’m just a yogi finding my path to happiness:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Writing Made Easy

I don’t like to make a big deal out of writing . . . I don’t like it to dominate my life. I like it to fill my life . .. .when writing is about being shut off from the world in a room sequestered with our own important thoughts, we lose the flow of life, the flow of new ideas and input that can shape, improve, and inform that thought. –Julia Cameron

Sunday, April 14, 2013

In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods, Tana French’s first novel, is intelligent, skillfully plotted, vocabulary rich, and engaging.  As Cassie and Rob question people, check out alibis, spend time in the woods and follow up on leads, their friendship moves over the line into romance. Fellow investigator and sidekick Sam is the first to notice. It turns out badly, mixing business with love, especially after Rob thought this: “Think of the first time you slept with someone, or the first time you fell in love; that blinding explosion that left you cracking to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, beside the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other’s hands.” As the murder case draws to its conclusion, we begin to understand more of what happened to Rob as a kid when his friends were killed—he was fat, couldn’t run fast enough, and “Whoever or whatever took Peter and Jamie away, it decided I wasn’t good enough.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Catholic in Cleveland

Andrea McGovern explores Faith, Easter, and Catholicism at Living our faith calls us to be present to the people we encounter and listen to where they are right here and now. We are asked to live each day as a prayer, mindfully paying attention to what feels true and good and right, and in that way we are experiencing life as a prayer, a constant connection with the Divine, the Great Creator, God. I'm working my way through George Kaitholil's book The Prayer Called Life, written by a priest of the Society of St. Paul who was born in India and is well versed in the spiritual traditions of both East and West, as well as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu, The Parallel Sayings, by Richard Hoople. I think we can learn much from reading and re-reading The Bible, but other teachers open us up to a fresh way of looking at what we're called to do. How many of us encounter ideas that strike us as true or find we move in a new direction without knowing why and fail to acknowledge our truth in the experience? Read Andrea's blog, let it resonate, and think about your own journey. We are a community.   

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wisdom of the First Peoples

While working on my current manuscript, I've been thinking about what I believe in. Eastern religions, secular philosophy, yogic traditions, and Mother Nature influence me almost as much as Christian theology. Years ago, on a mission trip, we helped a Dakota tribe build a Methodist church building, and their drum circle performance moved me with its heartbeat sounds. What was most interesting to me was how they embraced Christianity while also practicing tribal rituals. I've struggled with whether it's okay to skip Sunday morning church service to participate in a transforming yoga class or a meditative walk in a park. Why do I have to exclude one to do the other, and why does this daughter of a Methodist minister feel guilty about missing church?

Two films at the Cleveland International Film Festival showed us how the modern world threatens ancient peoples, but also demonstrated how important it is to be true to self. One film, Beauty, an Argentinean film, spoke about how they believed God was in everything until the Church came in and told them there is only one God who is up in heaven. The Mayan peoples of Guatemala and Mexico who were highlighted in Heart of Earth, Heart of Sky have six senses, the sixth one being heart, but their belief system is threatened by the evangelical churches that are setting up camp throughout their villages. The films focused on Western Culture is destroying their way of life by building factories and churches. What if we all just followed our heart, God within, more?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cleveland International Film Festival

Years ago I wrote an article for Cool Cleveland about the CIFF and I asked "How did it change you?" That was the theme of that year's festival, so it made sense to jump off from there. Every time I see a film at CIFF, I ask that question. As I'm doing this morning after seeing Caesar Must Die and Camp 14 last night.

Caesar Must Die, an Italian film, was marvelously acted and directed. Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was staged by inmates at a maximum security prison, and it was often hard to tell when the actors were acting and when we were experiencing reality. We experienced the play in modern language during rehearsals and the stage performance while getting a feel for the inmates' lives behind bars. Prisoners became enlivened by art and life. It took them away from their cells and gave them a reason to live, and then they had none. I felt what it must be like to be a prisoner and have little hope of ever being in the real world again to know love and meaning. The applause at the end was well-deserved because I was emotionally wrapped up in the film from beginning to end.

Camp 14 is a Korean documentary about a young man who escaped a work camp in North Korea. North Korea has 200,000 people in work camps. Apparently, it's easy to end up in these camps where people are tortured and beaten and the women are abused. The film also attempted to give us an idea of what former prison guards felt. They were all flat, not living life or respecting it. The young man who escaped missed the security, the simplicity, of his life at camp where he didn't have to think about how to make money. The story was told in interviews with animation and some live footage. It was an important story to get out into the world, but the film should have been edited by 20%. Still, it was a brave effort to let the rest of us know how hard it can be to live in North Korea.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Writing from the Inside Out

Julia Cameron touches on wisdom in her books on living creatively. She wrote, “Writing is a valuable tool for integration. In order to ‘integrate’ our experiences, we must take them into account against the broader canvas of our life. We must slow down and recognize when currents of change, like movements in a symphony, are moving through us.” Writing for ourselves is as or more than important than writing for an audience. “When we write from the inside out rather than the outside in, when we write about what concerns us rather than about what we might sell, we often write so well and so persuasively that the market responds to our efforts.” This is what is meant when people say good writing will find a market.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Open Up My Heart -- My Book in Progress

I journal my life so I can make sense of it.  I journal as a way to be at one with God, my thoughts a prayer, a meditation, the part of me that belongs to God. In yoga we end our practice sessions with the word “Namaste,” which means “I bow to the God within you, which is also the God within me.” I believe God resides in me and when I pay attention to what God wants me to do, when I allow myself to respond to what He requires of me, by paying attention, I live in harmony with my truth, given by God. Christ is a powerful image of God walking amongst us, the most perfect human being, but I recognize God, the Lord of all peoples no matter how they pray, as my Lord.  I wonder if I really am a Christian. My Christianity is inclusive, not just of other people, but their beliefs. My Christianity expands outside The New Testament. My Christianity wonders whether some of the stories were contrived to make us believe. My Christianity does not like to be made to believe in anything because my heart is open and it has a direct line to God. I sort this out in my journal.  And I repeat, over and over again, “God be with me as I open up my heart.” 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

And now we have Chabon

Chabon of the piercing eyes and sharpest words, once wrote in Maps and Legends

“Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction, and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed. Telling the truth when the truth matters most is almost always a frightening prospect. If a writer doesn’t give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves; if she doesn’t court disapproval, reproach, and general wrath, whether of friends, family, or party apparatchiks; if the writer submits his work to an internal censor long before anyone else can get their hands on it, the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth.” 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cooking with Michael Ruhlman

 The Elements of Cooking is a narrative about translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen (the subtitle). In Anthony Bourdain’s introduction, he says “It’s useful these days when everyone, it seems, has an opinion about food, to know what the hell you’re talking about.” Bourdain pays Ruhlman a great compliment when he goes on to write “It’s all here. In much the same way as Strunk and White’s classic, The Elements of Style, became an essential reference text on every writer and journalist’s desk, The Elements of Cooking should sit atop every refrigerator.” Sort of. Most people don’t create their own recipes, and that’s what you have to do if you use this book. Ruhlman dives right in with “Notes on Cooking: From Stock to Finesse” and gives us an entire chapter on stock. You need the foundation of a good stock and nothing is better than your own stock that you always have on hand so you can create beautiful food. For stock you need good fresh ingredients (meaty bones that have been roasted) and very low heat (below a simmer). Use some herbs, carrots, and onions for flavor. The best and most versatile stock is veal, which I will never make, but Ruhlman reflects on it and even includes a recipe for a good veal stock. If I owned my own restaurant or cooked nightly for lots of people, I might have my own stock because I like the idea of starting with the basics. I take note that Ruhlman also suggests reading The French Laundry Cookbook and The Zuni CafĂ© Cookbook. Thank you, Michael.  But he says “On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee is “the most important book about food and cooking ever written, probably in any language, probably that ever will be, at least in my lifetime.”  In reviewing this book, I see how helpful Ruhlman’s book is. He really did try to cover it all--and I've ordered a copy for my kitchen.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Bit of Tillich

Paul Tillich wrote "Man is asked to make of himself what he is supposed to be to fill his destiny." Are you on track?