Some advice about asking people to read your writing

I was just commiserating with two friends/coworkers/colleagues who are also college-trained writers about when people we know send us stuff to read and give feedback on. We’ve all had similar experiences with this – and, in fairness, we’ve also been the person asking. As such, we’ve learned a lot about what to and not to do when seeking feedback on your writing. Here then are our basic suggestions: Continue reading

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Basket Case

“You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.” Brian, in a letter to Mr. Vernon, The Breakfast Club

Did you know the term “Basket Case” didn’t originally start out meaning someone who seemed incapable of dealing with life’s issues? (And, if we’re being honest, there’s also a meaning under that meaning involving the assumption the person is either completely manufacturing complaints without any basis in reality, or is, at a minimum, being histrionic about simple stuff that we’re sure they could handle better if they didn’t prefer attention over self-care. And the assumption under that assumption – the most nefarious, segregating part of it – is that we ourselves certainly wouldn’t have such a hard time if we were in the Basket Case’s shoes. Everyone’s a hero in his dreams.)

According to this really cool article I found, it seems that “one of the earliest known documented instances of the phrase was actually in denial that ‘basket cases’ actually existed, as found in a bulletin issued in March of 1919 on behalf of the United States Surgeon General.” In summary, a Basket Case was supposedly a soldier who had lost all  his limbs and required being transported in a basket. Though, according to the Surgeon General, that wasn’t actually a thing.

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Recovered Memory: OJ Simpson’s Defense Lawyer

1995. Summer. I’m 19, living in Dallas. It’s the summer of the OJ Simpson trial. I take a Greyhound bus twelve hours west to Roswell to retrieve the last of my shit from Mom and Pops’s house. My foster parents. The second set; the ones who saved my life.

At the terminal in Dallas, I meet a man. Black, late fifties, dressed in a gray suit and tie – but his sneakers are shoddy. Like, holes and worn soles kind of shoddy. He tells me he’s on OJ’s defense team. I find this dubious. Why is he taking a Greyhound? Why isn’t he in LA? And what the hell is up with those shoes? Would OJ have someone on his defense team who wears shoes that look like they were taken out of the garbage? But it feels rude to disbelieve this guy. I don’t want to be rude.

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Impulse Control to Major Tom

I took the boys to Goodwill the other day and Indigo found a beat up, inoperable Power Wheels 12V Battery Powered Jeep for 10 bucks. You know the kind: designed by Fisher-Price for toddlers and weighted for up to 120 pounds. He had babysitting money to burn and since the internet has been down at our house all month, he was also brimming with latent inspiration. He approached me completely jazzed announcing he was going to convert the old thing into a go-cart and could I please pay for it on my debit card and he would pay me back when we got home. I was immediately on board with this plan – anything to get my brilliant kid off the couch.

We got the thing home and Indigo immediately set to work.


Tolkien, to this point, had no interest in the go-kart, but he soon saw its potential. He approached me, enthusiastically offering me two five dollar bills and saying, “Mom! I want to pay for Indigo’s go-kart.”

“Why?” I asked.

“To be nice!” he said. “Because I love him.”

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Excerpt from Hell is for Children: Aunt Sunny

When Aunt Sunny came to Barstow to help mom when I was five, light and lightness filled our house. From the moment she walked through the front door, it was clear Sunny was the alpha. She wasn’t arrogant, but mysteriously self-composed and confident. Enchanting. Two years younger than my mom – 22 – Sunny was tall, thin, blonde, tanned, tattooed – wearing a tight black Harley shirt and tight fitting, high-waisted jeans. She was the most physically beautiful person I’d ever seen. She exuded something I couldn’t identify then, but which I understand now – a kind of pressure bomb sexuality. Something that could go off any second. But it was contained. There was no hair trigger. She was fully in control and I fell in love with her.

And my god, the way she made my mom laugh and come alive in a brand new way. Mom’s anxiety of being alone with two little girls and a dog after Reggie left was replaced by a new confidence, catching some of Sunny’s infectious self, but also waking up to a part of herself that involved a deeply felt history.

Sunny arrived in Barstow with her boyfriend, Dennis. He didn’t stay long, only a few days because he had to get back to personal business in New Mexico, but I was delighted he was around. He was the most non-threatening man I’d ever met until then. He, too, glowed with a similar shine. Also, he was hilarious and would entertain my sister Kim and me by sitting in a chair, wrapping his arms underneath his knees, and lighting his farts. Continue reading

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The Monsters that Come for Me in My Sleep

Inspired by NaNoWriMo, I’ve committed to finishing my memoir. Finally. After almost a decade of cogitation, percolation, and procrastination. Voice building. Muscle building. Gut building. I’ve decided to call it Hell is for Children. Because, this. I’ll have a first draft done by the end of the month and a draft ready for an agent by the end of the year.

But, my god.

The monsters are visiting me in my sleep. I’m 3 months alcohol-free, but after a long day of writing, I’ve been dreaming that I ingest opiods and red wine. I hate it, in my dreams, but I can’t get enough. I wake up in the morning with the residue of guilt and defeat on me. I get it though. I get why I drank. I get why my brain seeks it, even in my sobriety. Lidia Yuknavitch said at the Ojai retreat that “your wound is your superpower.” And if my wound is PTSD (and it is), then my superpower is this outpouring of guts and honesty in the form of structured words on a page. My voice. My muscles. Continue reading

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Fear, Over Time

It began in my body.
My brain, free of a fear filter, couldn’t contain it. 


Maybe because it came at me like an endless stream of gamma radiation, 
I built myself a protective lead suit 
that looked like anger. 
When fear came at me, I blasted it back outwards.


And I,

the I that observes, the scientist I,

moved up and to the right,

perched in a non-body place,

staring safely down at a meat shield taking hits to the chest.

I was in a car crash that killed three people.

More, depending on how you measure death. 
A passenger: a passive participant in an apocalypse. 
My head cracked open and the old me –

the one that only lived to 17 –

poured out along with the blood.
The new me, a corpse existing in a body made of terror. 
My anger and rage an all-consuming flash fire lighting my way.

In my 30th year came therapy

and a pill

that forced me –

the I, my shadow –

from the safety of above and to the right

back into my body. 

But I never made it passed my head.

Now my body holds my world’s fear

and all the rage

of my human existence. 

I stay in my protective shell –

emerging only long enough 

to shield my heart.

Lightning warfare.



Except, of course, when I’m writing.


Then I’m naked and free and look upon the page with my Medusa stare,

daring it to turn to cinders.

But it never does.


The page always contains me.

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