My Top Ten of 2014

This was a fun way for me to recap my year. Not all accomplishments need to be quantified, but I do think it is equally as important to reflect on what has happened in one’s life as it is to set goals and plan for the future. Far too often people (myself included) dwell on everything that hasn’t happened. Here are my top ten of 2014 in no particular order. I challenge you to do the same!

  1. Applying for the doctorate program in Creative Writing at UW-Milwaukee
  2. Starting my blog
  3. Heading to Wisconsin Dells to both kick off and wind down my summer
  4. Getting positions at two large Milwaukee schools of higher education
  5. Publishing my first work
  6. (Nearly) completing the master’s program at MMU
  7. Embracing every possible meaning of the word “structure” by starting Invisalign
  8. Going from a 100% to a 10% smoker
  9. Paying off my car and being more financially responsible
  10. Celebrating (rather than dreading) my 10 year high school reunion

That… Was… Awesome…

Last Saturday, 12/13/14, I went to see the “Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Performing the Music of Led Zeppelin.” It was a really great show, and reminded me of how much I love live music. Watching the bows of the violins dart up and down together and singing “what a whole lotta love…. what a whole lotta love!” with a few thousand people made for a pretty awesome night. Some of my favorite songs from the night were “Kashmir,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” and “The Rain Song,” all deepened by the live accompaniment of the MSO.

“Stairway” was the encore, of course, and even though I predicted it was coming after the 2-minute standing ovation, (yes, it was that good), I don’t think I’ve ever focused so much on the words to a song. It’s really tough not to read these lyrics and have the tune in your head, but try reading this as a poem. I’m curious as to what others see and hear!


There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen

Jane Austen (1775 – 1878) is a writer who needs no introduction. It may be surprising to some to learn that the woman only wrote six full length novels in her lifetime (in addition to shorter fiction). Austen’s novels transport the reader to another time completely. In her world, parents would labor to find an eligible bachelor with money and social status to marry their daughters off to. Quite a contrast from today’s parents, who may toil finding the perfect college or condo so their daughters can start their lives. Regardless, Austen’s writing is clever, honest, original, and truly withstands the test of time in spite of the fact that she wasn’t famous during her lifetime. The current Jane Austen fan base is a die hard bunch, and I’m sure the author would have been pleased to know that her words continue to delight new generations of female readers.

Austen certainly has a way with words…

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”

“I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”

“Where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?”

“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.”

“An artist cannot do anything slovenly.”

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

A Sample Chapter of My Novel


The first time Pop brought Amy to open the bakery was the first time she remembered waking before sunrise.

“Come on, Miss Amelia,” Pop said, as he squeezed her little shoulder over the thick, pink quilt she slept under.
She sat up in bed, her pink striped pajamas pulled up and twisted around her little torso. Pop turned on the lamp next to her bed.

“Get dressed, Peanut. I’ll wait downstairs.”

Amy crawled out of her covers and looked down on Lawrence Avenue from her second story window above the Lincoln Square Post Office. The street was so different without any people on the sidewalk or motors humming, no sunlight glaring in from the windows across the street. (more…)

Happy Birthday, Grace Kelly

I wish I knew more about this woman. I’ve decided that a Grace Kelly biography is on my list of holiday-break-reading. Such a classic beauty, in a Euro-American way, and a role model for women young and old. I searched Google for some time and couldn’t find any candid images that revealed a woman other than the stylish, smiling icon I’m familiar with. She is so well known, in fact, it’s hard to believe she made fewer than a dozen films. I like to imagine her real personality a likeness of her character Lisa in Rear Window: Glamorous, sophisticated, independent, and maybe a teeny bit haughty.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been very in tune with my inner feminist lately, so I was pleased to find such an appropriate quote from the actress turned royal:

“I am basically a feminist. I think that women can do anything they decide to do.”

Grace Kelly, 12 November 1929 – 14 September 1982

A Woman Is Never Just One

Somewhere in between a hero and a
villain, between life and death, is woman.
She is praying in China and she is
studying law in Montreal. Never
once has she been singular. Never just
a woman, but a collection of one.

Between honey and vinegar, someone
in 1591 experienced a
side of one woman. Just one side of just
one woman. One facet of one lady.
She’s always on because she is never
off. Her identity throughout time is

evolving yet constant. From birth she is
innocent, each moment she grows by one.
One moment in one mosaic you’ll never
see because it burned to ashes in a
forest fire. Each child has had a mother
who surrendered part of her body just

to keep life going, whether it was just-
ified or not; and every mother is
an intricate machine called a female.
Every cell must sing with another one
to nurture a heartbeat to become a
fresh person. And she can cry when ever

she must without judgment, but she never
cries for the wrong reason. And tears are just
a tiny salty waterway down a
cheek in a grayscale photograph that is
aging in a damp basement of someone
you know. Somewhere in between a school girl

and a matron is one side of one her,
one face of one diamond that will never
be extracted from one chip of one stone
buried five hundred feet deep. Each side just
a glimpse of the whole, just as each whole is
a glimpse of what is woman. She is a

book that misses its title, because just
one title never captures all she is,
someone in between zeta and alpha.

As published in Arches – Fall 2014, the Mount Mary University student periodical

Don’t Call Me Sugar

Over the weekend, I worked on a creative non-fiction essay. I wanted to write a series of personal experiences, each headlined with a Scarlett O’Hara quote from the film Gone with the Wind. The intention was to show how Scarlett O’Hara’s audacious character is really a role model for me and, I think, for many women. I created an extensive list of Scarlett quotes, delivered perfectly in Vivien Leigh’s incomparable on-screen performance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get into the flow of telling my anecdotes while working in the quotes, so I had to botch the idea.
The list remains, and reminds me why Scarlett O’Hara is my absolute favorite character of all time. Even if you’re not a fan of the lengthy film, there are so many memorable moments that the movie itself can’t be denied as one of the greatest of all time. Here is a selection from the list of quotes I pulled:

“Fiddle-dee-dee! War, war, war; this war talk’s spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream!”

“Why does a girl have to be so silly to catch a husband?”

“I never heard of such bad taste.”

“If I said I was madly in love with you, you’d know I was lying.”

“I can shoot straight, if I don’t have to shoot too far.”

“Great balls of fire! Don’t bother me anymore and don’t call me Sugar.”

“I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

*It should be noted that Margaret Mitchell’s novel was adopted for the screen by Sidney Howard, among other uncredited contributors. See more quotes at IMDb or browse this extensive list at the GWTW Fan Page.

Creativity, Courtesy of Marilyn Monroe

“Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you’re a human being, you feel, you suffer. You’re gay, you’re sick, you’re nervous or whatever.”

On September 15th, 1954, Marilyn Monroe shot the famous skirt scene shown above for The Seven Year Itch. I am a huge MM fan for a number of reasons. When you watch her on screen, it’s difficult to pay attention to anything else. To me, she’s timelessly beautiful, mysteriously complex, and endlessly fascinating. I’ve read several biographies and have yet to tire of her story. When I find quotes like “Creativity…” or when I read anything that people who knew her have to say, I am reminded of why she never fails to interest me.

When I write, I am almost always trying to tap into an emotion, and usually one that I’ve just experienced or have been able to relate to well enough to write about it. Even with this quote, though I didn’t create it, I’m trying to evoke the curiosity and simple thoughtfulness I experienced when I read it. I think all writers try to stimulate their readers with universal truths or emotions in some way, but when those feelings have been fought, survived, or embraced first hand, they are that much more powerful.

In thinking about this base of creativity compared to the old writer’s mantra “write what you know,” I’m tempted to say “write how you know” instead. Anyone can research 18th century farming or designer sewing techniques or 1950’s celebrities, but no one can feel the exact way you do and express it the specific way you can.  Thanks, MM, for inspiring me again.

Happy Birthday, Elia Kazan

Happy birthday to the very talented Elia Kazan, 9/7/1909 – 9/23/2003.

Kazan was born in Greece and immigrated to America with his parents. He studied drama at Yale before going on to work as an actor, director and writer. In addition to founding the Actor’s Studio, the same Actor’s Studio that James Lipton is “inside,” he directed a number of famous films, including my favorites A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, Splendor in the Grass and East of Eden. These films alone launched or established the careers of Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, James Dean, Eva Marie Saint, Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood.

In his Actor’s Studio, Kazan promoted the Method, a style of acting that encourages complete immersion of the actor into character. To me, watching Marlon Brando in Streetcar for the first time must have been like seeing Elvis or hearing Nirvana for the first time–it’s just not like anything before it, but it changed everything after it.

I know and appreciate Kazan’s work in film, but he also had a huge impact on the theater and acting as a whole. He was interested in exploring social justice and controversial issues in his work, but his focus on acting and portraying realness are what set him apart.

Cry, My Love

Please sit here with me now and try, my love,
to see what I see. Use my eyes, my love.

I see a girl looking down at her shoes.
What do you think that implies, my love?

I see a man light a smoke, drinking booze.
Is he a bad boy or bad guy, my love?

He asks if she wants to go for a cruise –
They drove around then got high, my love.

Before long they both had matching tattoos:
his name was scribed on her thigh, my love!

First permanent ink, but then a fresh bruise.
While all she could do was stand by, my love,

he took off all night and she took abuse.
Why would he hit and run? Why, my love?

To her parents, she made an excuse.
She crossed her fingers to lie, my love.

Depression really, she called it “the blues.”
Far beyond a frown and a sigh, my love.

She drew the line the day he accused:
“You’re cheating on me on the sly, my love!”

She fired back – “This can’t be what I choose!”
She packed a bag and said “Good bye, my love!”

I’m the girl, here’s my bag, I’m cutting loose.
Now you can be the one to cry, my love.

Autobiography, by P.

I was born on July 17th 2014 at 132 pm
  and I will be dead a year from now
  or so my pessimism tells me.
I have a small chance to really live
  but I’ll probably be less like the bible
  and more like a have you found jesus flyer.
I will meet fewer than twenty people
  but I will speak to less than half
  and will affect less than a quarter.
Nobody told me what I was supposed to be.
I have to figure that out myself
  but I think my existence is pointless
  so I don’t spend a lot of time on it.
If I had to guess I would say that I make people think
  about what happens to their words
  after they’ve been released
  but I have no way of knowing that.

Tennos Evol

Tennos Evol

Much harder to climb out than to fall in.
Fight through the doubt: when I lose you, I win.

You fell into my world and we painted
the quiet blue a vivid red. I had
hardly noticed I was red, too. You stained
like ink in a washing machine, red
tint soaks in, and saturates what’s inside.
But I loved being red. So much better
than blue. Then I convinced myself to hide
my secrets from view. I thought, “forget her
and her silly ambitions, this is love.”
But then I caught it in the mirror, because
your red love didn’t hide the truth in front of
me. The truth that I missed the blue I was.

Who Can Ya’ Trust?

On August 8th, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from his presidency in anticipation of impeachment hearings after the Watergate scandal. I did not grow up in the sixties, or the seventies, or most of the eighties, so to me, Richard Nixon has never been “hip” or “a nice guy.” When I look at this picture, which is usually the image I get when I think of Richard Nixon, I think “shady” or “a bad guy.”

I’m not going to get political here, but I immediately thought of Bill Clinton as I was reading up on Watergate. That was during my time, and even if I didn’t totally understand what was going on, I knew it was important because we all had to to sit around the TV and watch the “I did not have sexual relations…” clip replay. Does anyone even remember that anymore? The ultimate question I’m left asking myself is, if the president is capable of lying without consequence, then who can you trust?

I’ve been playing with this idea in a few different ways, but I mostly draw from the theme that the illusion of safety, security and trust is almost more believable than the real thing. When I think of the place where I feel most safe, its in my home. In reality, I rent, I live upstairs and I don’t have a basement (in Wisconsin, basement = tornado safety). I feel my home belongs to me, because I ignore the ten people who felt the same way about it before I did, unlocking the door everyday, taking a deep breath and plopping on the couch or bean bag or La-Z-Boy. And yet, I somehow feel untouchable at home. Nothing will ever happen. I trust it.

I don’t know where this idea will lead, but for the time being there is a husband and wife, Terry and Lisa. They live in the Midwest in the 90’s, newlyweds, and she is pregnant. She trusts everyone and everything, and he is extremely defensive. I wrote a scene that begins with Terry and Lisa going to a neighbor’s house for a dinner with two other couples, and ending with Terry and Lisa going to bed that night. I like the idea of challenging whatever the illusion of trust is, and how it can make a person go crazy thinking about what they “know” or even feel comfortable with. I’ll clean up the scene and post it in the next week or so.

It won’t, but if it turns into a novel I will dedicate it “To Hip Richard Nixon, I trust you.”

Rise of the Standards of the Writer

Over the weekend, my fiance and I went to see “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” We both enjoyed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” from 2011 and were looking forward to seeing this installment. I think what I enjoyed most about the 2011 film was that, although the visuals were high jacked with CG animations and explosions and shit, there was still a compelling story behind it. I had an expectation that the narrative would continue, but the story within “Dawn” felt like a build up for the final battle scene. There was one moment in the film that gave me a strong sense of human connection: when the humans are able to re-activate a dam-powered generator, a gas station comes to electric life and the characters hear music for the first time in a long time.

I realized, seeing this movie, that my expectations for story have grown as my writing has. My standard for a narrative has developed, and I anticipate and hope for something that moves me. In exchange, I would hope that my writing has blossomed and grown in style and sophistication. Easier said than done… I’m back on track submitting poetry, and I’ve started a short story that I hope to post in installments on this blog. You be the judge!

Fiction vs. Poetry

Exploring the possibilities of poetry is a never-ending pursuit, because almost anything can become a poem. Crafting the perfect narrative is a never-ending pursuit, because each chapter, paragraph, and sentence contains an infinite number of choices the writer has to make. Neither is better, but I’m coming to learn that by practicing with poetry, I’m building my confidence as a writer of fiction.

The challenge of poetry is condensing a thought, idea, or story to it’s essence. At least that’s the way I see it. I like to enter poetry through forms, but I’ve found myself growing increasingly more flexible and intrigued by the possibilities. It becomes more fun than work, which is causing me to view poetry as fun experimentation that preps me for fiction. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a prose writer, dabbling in poetry with a prose construction has been a very liberating experience.

Fiction has a lot of preparation and build up. After I’ve written a page, I read it immediately and pick apart each sentence. With poetry, I feel like there are no wrong choices, each choice just changes the meaning and intention from one poem to another. I’ve been able to read my peer’s work, and it’s satisfying to see a consistency of voice, or rather the ability to pick out one person’s poem from another, based solely on the choices they make. I also wonder if the pattern of my choices makes my work identifiable as my own.

Back to Work

Yesterday was the first day of my summer poetry class. I have taken several creative writing classes, and I don’t know why but I never consider poetry as an option when I sit down to write. To me, it’s always fiction, first and foremost. Yet whenever I read, write, or think about poetry, I get that feeling people get when they are immersed in something they feel really comfortable with.

I feel very differently about myself as a writer now than I did before I started Mount Mary’s English MA program. I’ve realized a lot of things about myself as a writer that didn’t occur to me before, or I was so busy trying to be “a Writer” that I wasn’t paying much attention to my writing.

One of those realizations (and there was definitely an a-ha moment) was when I realized that I really like working within limitations. Does anyone want to admit this if it’s true? I know I do it at work, because I like to establish processes an absolutes and never make exceptions. In life, if it’s a diet or exercise thing, getting a certain amount of sleep, or whatever weird thing I’m into at the moment, I have to give myself very specific boundaries and guidelines, otherwise I just break them. All or nothing.

Writing formal poetry is definitely a work of limitations. You are still being you, and you are still being creative, but it’s about putting together a creative puzzle that fits just so. I read some formal poems I’ve written, and I really am a stickler once I’ve decided I’m following the rules. I still enjoy free verse, but I’m definitely drawn to forms.

It’s time to get back to work after that five week stretch of weeknight TV.