It’s been a minute. I do find that sometimes, when journaling, there is simply nothing to report. The neighborhood is peaceful, the house is quiet, and the slope seems too gentle for that mad acceleration into a new piece of fiction or a poem or a post. At other times the opposite is true. So much is happening with the family and in the wider world that I find it hard to get a toehold, to pause long enough to reflect and form an opinion, let alone sit for a few moments and write it all out.

This is where I am. The new puppy has sucked up most of my attention of late, due in part to the amount of care and training a little one requires, but also because with a creature so ridiculously adorable, it’s hard to look away. She’s a joy machine, truly. A worry-killer with velvety ears and a palm-sized post-lunch potbelly. I probably don’t need to explain further. We’ve all seen a puppy, yes?

I did tear myself away last weekend and drove down to Portland to trade in my old car for an electric Hyundai Kona. This was not a necessary purchase; the Mazda was ticking along just fine. The sensible thing would have been to wait until it conked out before trading it in. But my god, seeing the rate of global warming, the trajectory of climate change and its effect on some of the world’s poorest countries, on the wild lands, on the seas and polar regions, on the motherfucking state of California, which now seems to burn to the ground every summer… Well, it’s not good, is it? I’ve been vegan for a dozen years or so at this point, and I believe that this is the best thing I could be doing for the planet, but it’s not enough. Clearly, not enough. And as I started investigating electric vehicles, I discovered that the government and car manufacturers are doing their level best to encourage us e-ward. There are rebates and tax incentives, low-end commuters and electric Porsches and giant trucks to tow a load, with charging stations going up left, right, and center. There are YouTubers demonstrating how to take your EV on a road trip. Techie discussions about how to maximize your rate of charge and your driving efficiency, how to plan a route, how to use the apps and find a charging station, how to choose “the right car for you.” A culture has grown around the ownership and evolution of EVs, and I want to be part of their increasing demand for infrastructure and renewable energy. I don’t want to wait years to make this change. I’m ready to get started on another path, right now.

I know this change is a small thing, an imperfect solution as most solutions are. But it’s something I can do, beyond hand-wringing and doom-scrolling the skinny polar bears. And to be clear, it’s no hardship. The car is lovely, comfortable, full of bells and whistles, cheap to operate and fun to drive. I parked it at a Walmart charging station and read my Agatha Christie for an hour while it did its thing, and now I’m good for a couple of weeks. I didn’t even pay for the juice, as Hyundai is footing that bill for the next two years.

Look, there are other things going on in the world, big things, and they often seem insurmountable and far beyond our scope of influence. But every big issue comes about through a series of small, individual decisions, and these are within our control. We really can just decide to make a change. Our opinions can evolve. We don’t have to wait for permission or perfect timing, and maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should do what we can, while we can.

Maybe we should jump.


Things are happening. Lots of things, and most of them are good. Last weekend we had a party for all the March and April birthdays in our family. It was a special celebration for both of my boys, as one is turning thirty and the other twenty-one. My oldest is finishing up his first year as a high school teacher, and he’s a newlywed as well, so this is a period of change and growth for him as much as for his little brother. We’ve had many conversations about his experiences with the teenagers in his classroom, how they behave and don’t behave, how they challenge his patience, nerve, and creativity. It’s a lot to deal with. Much more than I could manage. I have thoughts about some of these feral behaviors, the insolence and entitlement (god, do I feel old when spouting the “kids these days” mentality), but I’ll save those for another time.

My youngest, twenty-one tomorrow, is leaving for Air Force boot camp in a couple of weeks. This is huge for him, a leap into the unknown, but hopefully a positive one. The COVID lockdown caught him at an unfortunate time, the tail end of his senior year of high school, and since then he’s been struggling to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He’s been stuck, and the past few years have been, let’s say, unfruitful. So this forward movement is a good thing, and I think the military option is a solid choice for him. He needs that structure and some intensive training to point him in the right direction. Of course the mother in me worries for him—what if he’s unhappy, what if he gets hurt, what if he loves it and he’s gone for years and years and never comes home to visit (the most likely scenario, to be honest). What will my life be like without him?

It’s hard not to imagine how big this house will soon become. All these empty rooms. Not having my son here at night while his dad’s at work, not to have his company and his help around the house. This is a big change for both of us.

But it’s okay. It’s time.

I think my husband is feeling some of this, too, especially since we just lost Henry. Last Friday he brought home a ten-week-old puppy, a little ruby Cavalier who roams the house like a bumblebee and whose expression has all the comical sternness of an Ewok. We named her Rosie. She’s a lovebug, but she’s also a puppy who needs a lot of training and attention, so she’ll be a good distraction for those times when the nest feels especially empty. She’ll give me a good reason to get out of the house, too, because I want to take her to work once she’s housetrained and get her socialized in different situations. Today we’re having lunch at my mom’s, and maybe a walk or two on the leash for the first time.

So with baby steps and big steps, this family’s on the move. And it looks like everyone is ready to go.


I love a good list. This one is especially satisfying, as it’s made up of books I already own and intend to read or reread before buying anything new.

  1. In the Unlikely Event – Judy Blume
  2. Deep Water – Patricia Highsmith
  3. Amsterdam – Ian McEwan
  4. Levels of Life – Julian Barnes
  5. Transgressions: Ten Brand-New Novellas – edited by Ed McBain
  6. The Best American Short Stories 2016 – edited by Junot Diaz and Heidi Pitlor
  7. The Candy House – Jennifer Egan
  8. My Sunshine Away – M.O. Walsh
  9. A Psalm for the Wild-Built – Becky Chambers
  10. A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay
  11. The Pull of the Moon – Elizabeth Berg
  12. Winter Solstice – Rosamunde Pilcher
  13. The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz
  14. Elric of Melnibone – Michael Moorcock
  15. Affinity – Sarah Waters
  16. The Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy
  17. Crow Fair – Thomas McGuane
  18. A New Race of Men From Heaven – Chaitali Sen
  19. A Song of Ice and Fire – George R. R. Martin
  20. This Time Tomorrow – Emma Straub

It’s nice to see the titles together like this, because what usually happens when I finish a book is that I start casting about for the next one, going, No, no, no, as if I’m channel-surfing through my library. I need to be more organized. I thought if I set myself the goal of reading what I own, I can at least begin with a narrowed-down set of choices and avoid the dazed and dazzled experience of browsing on Amazon or at the local bookstore. Also, of course, it’s wasteful to buy a book and neglect the part where you actually read it.

So, here we go and I’m starting with the Highsmith. Domestic bliss from page one, in which the narrator describes his drunken wife dancing with another man: Vic didn’t dance, but not for the reasons that most men who don’t dance give to themselves. He didn’t dance simply because his wife liked to dance. His rationalization of his attitude was a flimsy one and didn’t fool him for a minute, though it crossed his mind every time he saw Melinda dancing: she was insufferably silly when she danced. She made dancing embarrassing.

Ooo, delicious. Pass the popcorn.

Be Little

I just finished a wonderful novel called Panenka by Ronan Hessian. It’s about a man whose life is defined by a single day, a moment of public humiliation after which his sense of himself and his inherent value are irreversibly altered. The self-loathing has made him chronically numb and laconic, so that even when he wants to reach out and connect with others, he can’t. He does learn, though, over the course of the story, and finds a way to understand that he is both loving and loved. The book is beautifully written, populated by rich characters and an earthy setting, and the dialogue has that scattered, off-the-nose quality of real conversation. If you haven’t read it and you’re looking for something good… You’re welcome.

The book got me thinking about the events that define us, those pivot points at which your perception of yourself becomes blurry then resolves to a new degree of clarity. I have had moments—small ones, on ordinary days—when I’ve realized, Oh, this is what so-and-so really thinks, this is how I’m talked about, or, Now I get it, the joke’s on me. My ego is not what you’d call robust, so finding myself disliked or apparently ridiculous is going to leave a mark. I’m a lot more reserved now in work situations. I keep to myself. I’ll give a little back to balance a shared confidence, but I don’t divulge the real stuff, and I maintain a battened-down status on my opinions.

It makes me wonder who I’d be if some key moments in my life had not happened. If that coworker had not screamed at me all those years ago. If I’d never caught the exchanged look between a therapist and aide, which plainly said, This chick is super weird. If my sister had never called me out for being selfish, if I’d never called my own sweet mother a bitch. Awful moments, all of them, and there are direct lines to be drawn from some of these incidents to my present state of being; every rehashed memory is another log on the dam, so that my authentic but flawed personality can be diverted and forced through safer terrain.

In many ways, my relationships have been improved by these conflicts. I’m more mindful now of my effect on other people, and I no longer assume I’m going to be able to make another person understand who I am or where I’m coming from. But there are taxes to be levied on every form of insight. Years ago I received a friend’s scathing and unsolicited review of one of my books, after which I felt bruised and misrepresented by my own words. Would I still be publishing if I’d never seen it? Would I have continued blithely onward, believing myself better than I am? And is the resulting reticence a net positive in my development as a human, or has it only held me back.

It’s hard to say, and probably a pointless exercise in any case. You can’t unhear a scream or unread an email. These little things matter, and they stay with us.

You probably have a few of your own.


Over the weekend I reorganized my bookshelves. I tend to leave books scattered all over the house—stacked beside the bed, assembled fort-like next to my favorite armchair, lying open on the kitchen counter or the ottoman, on my desk, in my desk, crammed into boxes and pushed to the back of the hall closet. There are probably books in the attic as well, now that I think of it. I’ll have to investigate. I’ve culled the herd over time, and as I do a lot of my reading these days on Kindle or via audiobook, it wasn’t a tedious job. I’ve got the novels all together on the top shelves, then short story collections and poetry, and below that the books on writing, on photography, on space, gardening, design, yada yada. I’ve got a shit-ton of cookbooks, which get a lot of play, and a few grim health-related books that have been touched only briefly, out of duty.

I’m not widely read and I’m okay with that. We can’t all be brainy. But I was disappointed in myself when I reassembled my shelves of fiction and poetry. So many of these have not been read, or were started and left unfinished. I have an awful habit of reading the books I like over and over again, even if the book is a mystery or thriller in which the ending is fixed in my head from the jump. I’ve been puzzling over this, trying to understand why I prefer a book I’ve read a dozen times over one that might offer fresh delights, a new voice, a cast of characters whose lines don’t spring immediately to mind like the lyrics of an old song. It takes a certain amount of willpower to start a new book, a lot of inner dialogue: Step away from the Binchy, for god’s sake, Averil. Take a risk, try the Ford, try that new Egan! And I know these other books are going to be good, so why the hesitation?

I wonder if I gravitate toward familiar titles because, like most of us, I read to satisfy a particular need, and for me that need is comfort. I want a book to feel friendly, safe, known. I want to spend time with the characters whose company I miss. Judith Dunbar, the sweet-tempered lead in Coming Home, Cathy and Tom from Scarlet Feather. Hermione Granger. Penelope Keeling. Anne Elliot. Hercule Poirot, and Chief Inspector Gamache, and little Julia What’s-Her-Name on the cusp of adulthood in The Age of Miracles. Even the horrible Humbert Humbert, if I’m being honest. I kind of miss the guy after a while and want to check in.

Still, it’s clear from my bookshelves that I’m missing out, and that part of me also craves the new stories. After all, I have bought them, brought them home, populated my Kindle with the ones that grabbed me or which were recommended at some point as being worth my time. I should read them. I’m going to read them.

I started buddy-reading a couple of books from my shelf: a new one, Panenka, which is great so far, and an older beloved Pilcher called The Day of the Storm. And for my 10-minute commute, I’ve got the audio version of Flowers for Algernon, which is new to me and wonderfully narrated in Charlie’s everchanging voice. After that, I might try something dark or pulpy—Sadie When She Died, maybe, or that Highsmith book called Deep Water. Oh, or I could go back to The Pull of The Moon, which I’ve DNF’d twice through no fault of the book. It was me, it was bad timing. I should give it another chance, because I adore Elizabeth Berg.

Anyway, there are options. I’ll report back.


The lovely video today is one my daughter sent me. It’s exactly like her.


The house is quiet. I miss the sound of quick little paws on the floor when I open the fridge or take down the leash from its hook. I keep looking for Henry, listening for his nose snuffling on the other side of a door. Henry was a dog who wanted to be part of things, who loved car rides and fireside naps and strolls around the neighborhood, who’d chase a ball for as long as anyone wanted to throw it. He was naughty, too, and had to be watched, and so I find myself still watching though there is no longer a need.

Our big dog is looking for him, too. He’s made of different stuff than the little guy. He’s handsome, leggy, with a rock-and-roll brindle coat and amber eyes, yet for all his good looks he’s a shy one. Mostly he likes being under the bed, though he loves a long walk and will float along beside me for miles with an easy graceful stride that couldn’t be in greater contrast to Henry’s jaunty step. His affections are quiet and his personality is reserved. His style is to lean his whole body in for a hug and remain there, unmoving, sturdy, his face pressed right up against you as though he’s looking for a way to be closer. Little kids are drawn to him, and when they approach he will brace himself, tail swaying, ears soft, and let them do whatever they like. He’s the gentlest dog I’ve ever known.

It was raining when Henry died, but after the vet left I went upstairs to get Oliver and take him for a walk. The sound of our footfalls seemed diminished, muted, and our pairing felt strangely lopsided without Henry at his usual post on my left. Yet the cold air braced me, the raindrops woke me up, and the exercise was a reminder of how necessary it is for me to play this nurturing role, to push through the tempting inertia of grief and look for sources of comfort and companionship. I’m so grateful we still have Ollie, who has always been the silent partner, thinking deep thoughts, as we like to say. He has let me cry on his shoulder more than once, but last night he called on us to rally, and loped around the room with legs splayed, rear end up, as if like me he’s experiencing these cycles of grief and absurdist comedy; I caught him sniffing Henry’s vacant bed this morning and sat down beside him to take it all in.

It’s hard to know what dogs understand. Hard to say what their experience of mortality and loss might be. I believe they live in the present better than most, so I’m trying to follow Oliver’s lead and allow the events of the moment to guide me. I have some projects at home to focus on, and cool damp walks to look forward to as spring approaches and the flowers start to bloom. There are tears left inside me and I know I’ll have to cry them out, but there is laughter already and joy ahead, too, and plenty of ways to share it.

So. We’re getting through this. And love is still alive.


Yesterday we put Henry down. That’s an odd phrase, as I see it written, as though he were a held object to be set aside, left behind.

He was suffering from spinal disease. For a while we held out hope, which spiked last Saturday until, in a moment of pure Henryish abandon, he slipped past me and raced down the stairs to see his dad. But that act of joy cost him dearly, because in the days afterward he was almost completely debilitated with unmanageable pain and an end to anything resembling happiness. He lost his appetite, his thirst. He wanted to be alone, instead of directly underfoot as usual. Every movement caused him to whimper with pain, and in his last days, even heavily medicated, he wandered around quivering and panting in an endless quest to find a comfortable position where he could rest. It was brutal. A heartbreaking thing to witness.

On Wednesday we lost hope. Every day seemed worse, every minute was hours long. The quality of eye contact between us had changed, and he refused to leave my side.

I called the hospice vet and made an appointment for Saturday, hoping to gather the family. Then, remembering how long those extra days would be for Henry, I rescheduled for Thursday afternoon.

The vet and her staff were lovely. Very gentle, very kind. Very patient with the floods of tears and all. Henry yelped at the first injection of sedative, but immediately afterward he hobbled over to the vet to apologize for having snapped at her, made his way over to me, then tried to circle back but buckled midway, half on and half off his blanket, and went to sleep.

There is an inherent nobility in animals when they have been mortally wounded. They go until they can’t go.

Henry died with his head in the palm of my hand. Put down, set aside, left behind.

I was his person and he was my steadfast friend.

Only one of us is hurting now.

Goodbye, Henry.

Good Night

I’ve been in need of comfort lately. The nights seem very long and are broken by hours of insomnia, during which I flop around the bed, sweating and fretting and reminding myself how shitty I’m going to feel at work the next day if I can’t get back to sleep. Last night is a case in point, because I woke at 12:30 and made an unsuccessful bid at reclaiming some of those lost hours, but had to throw in the towel at 4:00 and just get on with my day.

I’m like the rest of us, I assume, staring down the end of the world, trying to imagine how on earth these egomaniacs in charge of things are ever going to calm the fuck down and return to their corners and disentangle themselves and the rest of us from the almighty mess they have created. I worry about climate change and earthquakes, fires and tsunamis, the little dog’s spine and the husband’s job, about that asshole at work on Friday and how the gap on Tuesday’s schedule never got filled. I worry about my kids and whether they’re happy, whether they’re healthy, whether what I said to my daughter when she was nine has stuck in her mind and caused her any harm. I worry about the food in the fridge and why I always end up with extra zucchini—zucchini bread, zucchini noodles, zucchini roasted with red onion and pepper and tossed with a lemony orzo, but do I have a red pepper, do I have any orzo—about the fact that I’m out of moisturizer and will have to use body lotion on my face until I can get some more. This is the nature of worry; it’s a devolution from the profound to the ridiculous, leaving no concern unturned.

Sometimes it helps to switch on the TV at night and listen to a documentary I’ve played a hundred times before. One of my favorites is a Netflix special called A Trip to Infinity, which discusses, as you might imagine, the nature of infinity, the idea that you can always count one more. I find the scale of the universe an inexpressible comfort on nights like these. The idea of our smallness, of life’s infinite chances to flourish elsewhere, the finite lifespan even of our lonely blue planet, which will turn and turn and be warmed and cooled like the living body it is—all of this is liberating. Mind-opening. It takes the pressure off, just knowing that we can’t know, vivid though our imaginings might be. The truth is so vast and the universe so mysterious, so haunting and lovely, that even our most frightening realities here on Earth can’t dim its spectral light.

Of course our worries are still real. We aren’t operating at the scale of planks or planets, we’re people, who have zucchini in the fridge and war in the backyard. But for me it helps to place our lives in the cosmos and let some of that shit go for a while. Others would say, Give it to God. I would rephrase, though the sentiment is pretty close.

Dawn is coming. The day will bring whatever it does. And it will be okay.

Microfiction VI

Little Dog, Big Dog

The little dog barges through the door like a boss. Teasing, we leave just the crack of an opening, into which he shoves his nose and then the rest of him, a triumph of an entrance! The big dog, aching to follow, becomes trapped on the threshold, one paw inside and three paws out, suspicious of his welcome, though we are pressed to the wall and murmuring reassurance, but no, he’s back in the yard, circling the runway, as it were, to make another try, and it’s two paws in this time, it’s progress, but no, he’s back in the yard with an expression of dejected reproach, and now he won’t budge though we call and call, and the wind is sharp and we’ve become exasperated, You have lived here for three years, you silly creature, so we close the door and leave him out there, shivering, while the little dog eats the big dog’s lunch.


I spent the day with my little dog, Henry. He’d been unwell and was clearly in a lot of pain. Wouldn’t come back inside the house from the yard, refused to go for a walk. We thought he might have hurt a paw, or maybe had some kind of GI thing going on. We made an appointment for Friday, the first-available slot with his vet, but by Tuesday he wasn’t eating or drinking, so on Wednesday morning I took him to the doggy ER.

It turns out he’s got a herniated disc in his back. There’s not a lot we can do for it at this point—steroids and painkillers, with a backup supply of sedatives if he starts getting frisky. He’s supposed to lay low for a while. No jumping, no stairs. Hopefully after some rest he’ll be able to join me for some Henry-sized walks around the neighborhood, but it’s hard to say what the long-term prognosis will be. He’s about ten years old and has always been a bouncy little guy, the kind of dog you think will live for years and years. But now I’m less than sanguine about his future.

This is the hardest part of owning a pet. You have to make these awful decisions on their behalf, and the family finances have got to be factored in. I absolutely hate that. Of course the impulse is to say, yes, please, do whatever you can, whatever will keep him going, whatever it costs. But it’s not realistic. The ER visit was $1300, so I can’t imagine what a major spinal surgery would cost and entail, with no guarantee of a positive outcome.

I know it makes me a shitty person, maybe an irresponsible pet owner, to think about money in a relationship which is so purely about love. I have a friend who spends more per month on her dogs’ medications than she actually earns at her job. She’s been doing so for years. This is an admirable level of devotion, but I’m torn when I consider a situation like that for my family. Would it really be for the best? That constant drain? You’d be able to say you did everything you could, and that’s important. Yet I can’t see myself sacrificing every hour of every workday to provide meds for my dog, and retirement be damned.

God, it’s hard to know. Henry’s curled up beside me, drugged and sleepy, glancing over now and then from the corner of his eye. He trusts me to take care of him, and I’m trying.

Be okay, Hen. I hope you’ll be okay.

Flash Fiction II

Only Flowers

It’s quiet today. Damp and hushed, with only a soft weeping of rain on the pavement and the distant hum of traffic, still thready at this hour of the day. I pass under a stone arch, shadowed with water and laced with budding vines that drip into my hair as I cross underneath. In the summer, the trellis and low wall will be smothered with clematis and jasmine, constantly at war with the invasive ivy that the groundskeepers seem unable to quell. For now we have the bubbled stalks of grape hyacinth, swaths of daffodil, cherry trees as pink as cotton candy. The creek at the bottom of the hill is thick with caramel-colored water as it weaves between the pines.

I wonder whether someone planned the Seussian landscape particularly for this part of the graveyard, where the children are strewn under miniature headstones and the grass-stroking leaves of a willow. I have never walked around the rest of the cemetery, so I don’t know whether the larger graves are decorated or left alone. Here we adorn them with small bouquets, and there are stuffed animals, pinwheels, and fallen balloons dotted across the grounds, as if a party has ended abruptly and the detritus left out in the rain. I used to bring that sort of thing myself, but now I make a point of bringing only flowers. The sodden toys depress me, lying corpselike on the grass, and I often wish they’d been given to living children instead. The flowers are something different, and rot more gracefully than the poor abandoned bears lying slumped against the graves.

I open my bag and use a pair of rounded scissors to strip the daisies of their grocery-store cellophane and the thick rubber bands that hold them together. I like the way they tumble loose across the grass, stems crossing, their faces turned to the sky.


I’m blocked. I know we’re not supposed to say that, lest we manifest, but I’m staring at the wall and have no idea how to get over or through. It’s difficult to explain the misery of this to someone who doesn’t write, but for me it’s akin to a protracted channel surf in which, out of hundreds of options, you can’t find anything to watch.

I’m in my own way. I can’t get a full sentence on the page before returning it to the void and wishing I could follow. Nothing’s good enough, even for a draft. Nothing feels right. I hate my voice, my ideas, my characters. I hate trying to choose a story. Because everything’s a story, or could be, right? Everything is something. The volume of ideas is paralyzing, and makes me small in comparison. I hate how sensitive I am to my own shortcomings, how prone to despair. I hate myself for rereading Lydia Davis, who wrote a mesmerizing story (is it a story?) about three cows in a field. Another story about some weirdo at a party, and one called The Piano Lesson, in which the lesson never occurs. I don’t know what her stories are about, exactly, but I never doubt that she does. She’s a wonderful writer, and I hate myself for not being her.

Look, I know. We are what we are, and gnashing one’s teeth at the work of a better writer is counterproductive. We should learn and be inspired, and I am. But part of inspiration is this influx of ideas, which can swamp the engine and undermine the whole creative process. You begin to take on the mindset of that esteemed writer, so the ideas, though legion, are not workable. They aren’t genuine. They are apparitions of the writer we would like to be, following a line of thought and a collection of interests that are not natural but are better, lovelier, so that our own ideas become exasperating and silly and no longer worth writing.

I am literally overwhelmed by admiration. I don’t know what to do with it, so I walk around in a haze of insomnia and wistfulness, writing and deleting what I’ve written, comparing my lurid interests to the delicately rendered observations of Lydia Fucking Davis.

Sis, you’re killing me.

100-Word Microfiction V


He doesn’t know, can’t know, what riddles he’s leaving in his wake. The warm Bud Lights on the counter, muddy clothes on the bedroom floor. His wallet is here, glasses are here. The car, gone. They’ll wonder when they find it, and examine all its contents, but the car is old and has little to report. These objects can’t explain as he would: This was a regular day and I never make the bed, and I meant those beers for later, but then I forgot, and hey did you happen to find my Aquaman keychain, because that’s been gone forev—


I read the news today. Thousands of people buried under crumbling piles of concrete and metal, people screaming for help as the earth continues to judder and heave. Snow is falling. Freezing rain. It becomes difficult, thinking of it, to stretch the mind toward misery as acute as this. I saw a little girl carried aloft by a sea of men whose hands are raised in thanks and prayer and I thought, oh, she’s smiling, thank god, until I rotated the photograph and realized it was a grimace of pain.

Cruel as they are, these acts of nature can’t be avoided. Our planet is alive and moving, hurtling through space, rearranging its furniture. It’s too big and too old to care about the cracking rails of a child’s crib, about walls descending over dinner tables and marriage beds, about the snow it sends to bury people who were busy and laughing yesterday. The Earth is not like Putin, doing it all on purpose.

Here in America, on another plane of existence, we’re discussing whether or not it’s okay to notice that Madonna now looks like a frog. She’s a victim of our beauty-obsessed culture, apparently, instead of one of its authors. We’re not allowed to talk about the role of vanity in this transformation, or how it might be better to evolve out of this thirsty quest for youth and try to become a human, and grow the fuck up, and accept the limitations time places on all of us. I don’t feel sorry for Madonna.

I feel sorry for that little girl and the men who saved her. For the life they were living before the quake and whatever fate befalls them now. For the people of Ukraine, trying to sleep under an explosive sky. I feel sorry for the broken backs and the buried children, for the mothers whose arms are empty tonight.

Sisters, I hope you find your babies. I hope you find some peace.

100-Word Microfiction IV

Mirror Neurons

She’s sitting across from me, flooded in light. Three heavy cameras are trained on her face as she recounts her husband’s murder. We were in bed, asleep, and then suddenly this guy’s in the room. And his face…

Lost for words, her features undergo a flashbulb transformation: teeth bared, eyes dilated with madness, as if the imprint of that night has been caught on one of those wildlife cameras where a predator walks past and trips the shutter. Later, cradling a bourbon, I’ll stare for some time at the isolated frame, wondering if she knows he’s still in the room.

The Narrows

They say that every writer has one story to tell. Just one, repeated from different angles and with an array of characters, the variety of which might be so vast as to disguise this fact even from the writer. And while I don’t subscribe to the “every writer” part of that statement or any other, I think there’s something to it. I do tend to circle around the same issues. There are a lot of violent men in my stories, a lot of crime and romantic dysfunction. That’s the top layer.

However, underneath all the hoodlum behavior and the warped sexuality is this idea of people being unseen, unknowable to one another. I’m fascinated by the odd things people dwell on, the dark impulses, the shyness and inward recoiling. I think we all share a certain craving to be known juxtaposed against the fear of being judged, rejected, reviled. This is what continually pulls me toward stories about sex and violence, sometimes in combination. It’s the depth at which these thoughts reside. These are the taboo subjects, the impulses lying deep within the realms of human imagination.

I’d choose another course for my writing if I could, or steer my current predilection into calmer waters. God knows it’s done me no favors. I become crippled at times by my own squeamishness on seeing what I’ve written, knowing that I’ve repeatedly opened myself to misreading, to the same moral judgments my characters often face. I have tried over and over to write another story, something cooler, friendlier, something I would choose to read, but I can’t seem to get those stories to the finish line. They don’t expand properly in my imagination. They aren’t real for me, and because they don’t exist in my mind, I can’t bring them to life on the page. They belong to another writer, and in my hands they are hopelessly inert.

My heart is not a light one. It’s heavy, hot, and it resents the narrow rib cage into which it was born. To write is to feed the beast that’s eating me alive. To resist is to pretend the cage was empty all along.

Tell me, if you can. What’s your story?


It’s 6:15 am and I’m in Redmond, my temporary nest, drinking coffee from a paper cup. I drove here straight from work and ate a bowl of pasta at the hotel bar, washed it down with a bee’s knees cocktail, and went to bed with a collection of stories by Mark Haddon and a back-up book on my Kindle. Already I miss my husband and my house, my feather pillow with its washed silk cover, my son, my dogs, my soy milk and Winco instant coffee. I miss the view from my window.

I don’t mean this to sound the way it does. I’m enduring no hardship here, and I have a day of solitary delights before me. I’ve sussed out two nearby bookstores and a shop that sells houseplants, as well as a comfy-looking cafe where I can sit for a while and write. This is a day of indulgence that my husband couldn’t enjoy, any more than I could have enjoyed a night in the cold, shouting with the crowd at a football game. We have different interests, different minds. It’s always been like this and it’s always been okay. I miss him, I love him, and I’m glad he isn’t here.

Because he isn’t here, I could get up at 3:14 and take a spiky-hot shower, turn on the lights one by one, play some newfound music he probably wouldn’t like. I won’t have to kill time waiting for him to wake up—he works the night shift, so our schedules do not align; actually, my schedule aligns with no one—or confer about whether to walk along the river or the other way through town. I can eat what I want, when I want, or not at all. I can read a book at breakfast, listen to a podcast, take a long nap. My husband wouldn’t complain about any of that, because he’s innately kind and only wants to please, but he wouldn’t enjoy it. He’s uninterested, but only in the way I am uninterested in the ongoing golf tournament he plays on his phone or the mystifying ranking system of college football. We have been married twenty-one years. We share a lot but not everything.

This has always been okay. Is it still? I’ve come to accept that he doesn’t read my stuff, yet I’ve set heart to paper throughout my writing life, so there will always be a part of me, the better part, that’s unknown to him by choice. That bores him. Yet I wouldn’t want his false attendance, with the boredom shoved down out of some misguided sense of duty. That would be a hundred times worse.

Still, because we don’t share an interest, a schedule, a bedroom, or a goal, we are beginning to drift. It’s a natural process, and not one I’m eager to change. Me shivering at a football game, him with aching jaw at my pages—I can’t see it, don’t crave it. When I hear about another couple’s close connection, my knee-jerk reaction is bafflement. How is this done? How do people join at the hip, share every meal, every inner thought? How do people talk so much? How do they fight? It’s a way of life that could only be performative for us and, if I’m honest, would expose my heart to the person who could most easily break it.

I’m not looking for more. Am I? And what about him? Is he getting what he needs or have I made him lonely with my solitary ways? Maybe it’s time to ask, and seek a true answer:

What about you?

100-Word Microfiction III

The Ring in the Lake

She’s wearing her favorite outfit: A blue linen skirt, cinched at the waist with a rope belt, and her sister’s Coca-Cola tee-shirt to go with it, because that’s what he was drinking when they met. A denim jacket in case it’s cold out there on the lake. White socks, bra, underwear. A pair of clover earrings, For luck, From Dad, and three slim bangles that make a shivery noise when they touch. A mood ring with an oval stone that will fade to gray as her body sinks, but for now is milky pink and glowing bright as a smile.


I have a long weekend coming up and I’m not sure what to do with it. What I’d like most is to spend a few days alone, writing, bumming around near this hotel in Redmond where my husband and I like to stay. It’s near the river, and in summers past we’ve rented bikes to ride along its banks and down to Lake Sammamish. Though I suspect the weather will put the kibosh on any thought of biking, there are still bookstores to enjoy, bougie restaurants, an outdoor shopping mall. There’s also a theater where, instead of popcorn, you can get a glass of wine and a panini, or a cup of cocoa and a plate of warm cookies if that’s your speed. Best of all is the lobby of the hotel itself, which has a lovely fireplace and lots of seating. I have spent hours there writing, staring out the window, finding words where I thought there were none.

I haven’t been to Redmond on my own. It feels very self-indulgent, particularly with the aim of going there to write. I’m not working to a deadline, or even toward a goal—and say that were the case, there’d be no need to travel any farther than my armchair. Writing is a sedentary sport. So it’s hard not to feel guilty about booking a room just for me, to work on writing that’s just for me, to see a movie by myself and have a beautiful unshared meal or three while I’m at it. You’ll admit there’s a lot of moi in this scenario.

And it’s possible that the idea of traveling solo is a little weird. I know that for many people, it would be disconcerting to sit alone at a table for two, or buy a single ticket at the theater. I can understand that. But I have never been deterred. Being alone is a joy. I love the release from responsibility, the calm experience of having to please only myself. I love being silent, not having to carry a conversation, finding myself free instead to simply listen, and look, and think about the feels. I like a long silent walk, a car ride with the music turned up. Book by the fire, an early night, a cup of coffee at dawn with the rain like scattered jewels on the window. I love the gradual onset of boredom and missing those more permanent parts of my life, and bundling myself into the car, knowing that the big square house on the hill and my people and my life are waiting to welcome me back.

We write sometimes to see what we think. What I think this morning is that a couple of days alone will do me good, so I’ve got my booking and the hotel’s confirmation ready in my virtual pocket, headed by a promising first line:

The world is waiting for you.

100-Word Microfiction II

Let Me Show You

They meet at the door, which she holds open with her foot. He’s lost, reeking of cigarettes, and sidles closer with his phone to show her where he wants to go. The font is so large that the words appear broken. They don’t contain an address. He reaches into his coat pocket, Let me show you, wait, and as his hand disappears she thinks, whatever’s in that pocket will decide me, and the pocket’s rather bulky, but not that bulky, so she waits in a parody of obstruction, dumb with manners, holding his phone which doesn’t contain an address.

100-Word Microfiction


I didn’t know what I’d feel, seeing myself this way. The woman facing me is pitiable, maimed. Two long asymmetrical scars cross my chest: one over my heart, the other low and slanted red like the claw mark of a predator. My nipples are gone, giving my chest a blind quality, or perhaps a muteness, as in one of those horror movies where the character’s mouth is covered over with skin.

Yet my mind is filled with grim delight. The world has taken something from you, and that’s a first. Your chagrin is my balm, my victory, my silent redress.

Flash I

The Clockmakers

I’m not where I’m supposed to be. You have a knack for sensing this, and I can mark the beat of silence here and there throughout our conversation, where I imagine you with the phone pressed between your ear and shoulder, pausing at your workbench with a pair of tweezers in each hand and that wrinkle of consternation on your forehead, and thinking perhaps that the background noise on my end is not what you’d expect.

My imagination carries on sometimes—a juxtaposition in which the two halves of my life are reversed, and this is our home. Despite the generous expanse of window, no view exists beyond the mossy brick facade of the building across the street, now painted by a watery dash of sunlight and squatting into a dark skirt of ivy. A thinly drawn line of bleach-gray sky separates the sturdy blocks of apartments, one from the other, and behind the speckled windows there are occasional shadows and squares of screen-light as the residents reach the end of their afternoon. I think you’d like the tableau. The lack of pretension, the sense of containment. This is a neighborhood into which you’d fit as sweetly as any oiled cog.

I get up and pass through the sliding glass door to the patio, damp beneath my bare feet. Two stories down, a young woman is jogging up the sidewalk, pushing a three-wheeled stroller and accompanied by an enviable Vizsla. I wonder if you can hear its paws clicking on the pavement.

“So you don’t want to try anymore?”

Your voice is gentle, level. A flat aspect, my mother once remarked, but after such time its freighted modulations are not lost on me.

“Of course I do,” I say as the stroller sweeps past, a tiny fist pumping the air. “Of course.”

You are silent, and the sounds of the workshop fill the empty space. The intermittent buzz of the Foredom, a disembodied voice reading the news. A clatter now and then from that decrepit old fan by the window, which neither of us can decide to repair or discard.

I start over. “I’m just not sure about…”

You wait. You’re good at waiting. A hundred unsynchronized clocks carry on in the background.

“The timing,” you say, finally.

“We can still try.” I glance down the street, empty now but shimmering with rain. “Just on our own, you know. And see what happens.”

The work sounds on your end are fading, and I wonder whether you’ve laid down your tools and loupe to step outside. Automatically I glance in your direction, as though nothing stands between us—not the city with its brutal mat of asphalt, its spires of brick and steel, not the tangled swathes of forest, fields of verdant green, nor the corrugated walls of the workshop, where my tools lie on a bench next to yours. You left them there to act as paperweights. You left, as well, a pen.

“I thought we agreed,” you say.

We agree on everything, I want to reply, and not all of those agreements have been binding. I’d like to remind you of things—the bottles on the bookshelf, the receipt I found last fall—but you and I are gentle with each other. I don’t want to hurt you.

A door opens in the room behind me.

“We did agree,” you say, though your voice sounds far away and floats toward a question.

I close my eyes and imagine yours: gray and steady, laugh lines taking wing across your temples, but flattened now against your cheekbones with only a tracery of white to mark their place.


An idea has settled over me and I can’t shake it off. If you’re a writer, you’ll be familiar with the signs: the queasy excitement, drifting focus, the sense of impending doom. The curse is come upon me, cried the Lady of Shalott. A story looms.

I keep asking whether I have to write it. Will it fuck off and leave me alone, or will it be there every morning at 4 a.m., watching me sleep, waiting to pounce as soon as I open my eyes. Can I pare it down to nothing, write it and be done? Or will it morph and get out of control and take over my life. I’m thinking of the last story I tried to write, for which I sacrificed morning after morning, week after week after month, only to come away with a sheaf of nonsensical garbage and the story in full flight. I’m still bitter about that, and disappointed with myself. I like to finish things.

For this reason and many others, I’d much rather write something short. But the problem for me, which dates back to my days as a photographer, is that I have not been able to master the snapshot. I don’t really understand the structure of short fiction. I don’t know how to frame it, where to crop the edges, how to pluck a moment from the continuum and situate it on the page. Yet I realize, on writing this, that I haven’t actually studied the matter. All my focus has been on novels, and shorter work like flash fiction and poetry has only been for play. So I think what I’ll do, before succumbing to the lure of this particular story, is try to round up some resources and do a little homework. I found this book and this one, and of course I have plenty of story collections already on my bookshelf for inspiration. Maybe I can learn.

And if nothing else, I will have given the story a chance to bugger off and find someone else to annoy.


My god, these men. These foolish, grasping, needy men. Can we not have a moment of peace? Why must we always divide ourselves into teams: on the chamber floor, on the street, in business and religion and cultural constructs of every kind. Red team, blue team, world without end. Competition is their constant excuse for violence, for conflict, dragging everybody in, as if we all must stand behind our leaders at the urinal while they compare their dicks with the dicks on either side. Yours is bigger, honey, let’s drop a bomb on some children.

I do not fucking understand. I don’t understand why old men want to watch the young ones bash each other’s brains out for sport. I don’t understand these flapping ties in Congress, where the ickiest, Trumpiest, smarmiest specimen is still not awful enough to elect. I don’t understand why rich Russian men keep falling out of windows while young Russian men are sent off to maim their brothers, rape their sisters, reduce a child’s crib to ash. What darkness there is in men. And where did it come from? What evil twisted helix has convinced the male ego that our Earth is more than a speck in the cosmos and that their shitty conduct will be remembered by anyone at all. How terribly sad it must be not to grasp the scale, to believe that power resides in the individual and not in the pulse and flow of life itself.

I just do not understand. Maybe I’m not meant to understand. I’m a middle-aged, middle-class American white woman, bred to be docile. And I am. As surely as men will strut the floor in their star-spangled neckties and perpetrate acts of violence both real and legislative, I will continue to hunker in my bedroom, placid, complicit, chain-popping edibles, trying to sleep through the end of the world.

A world I will never understand.


I’ve been thinking about one of our patients. A young guy, rope thin, with pink tips and dark roots, who went to the wrong clinic on his first visit and arrived so late we had to work through lunch to see him. He was sweet about it, though, and doggedly pushed through our paperwork, describing his health history, his symptoms, laying out the mundane demographic details we’re expected to collect. He’s had a lot of injuries. A car accident in the recent past has left his arm with a field of scars like a celestial map around a jagged supernova at the elbow. Then he got hurt at work, more than once, which led to the surgery and the post-op side effects we’re trying to address.

He was crying today as I got him off e-stim. He said it was everything. Getting a divorce, and with two little kids. Trying to work through excruciating pain because the alternative is homelessness and hunger. He’s wondering if it will get better. It’s been so long, and it hurts so bad.

He tells me this, slumped over, screened by his long pink hair. You have to be in a mood to go for a dye job like that, you have to be feeling pretty good. But that pink is four inches in the past, and all the new growth is dark.

His truck remained in its spot outside my window for several minutes after I’d walked him out. Finally I went to check on him. I found him still weeping, hands trembling with pain. I went inside and got him some Tylenol and a glass of water, sent the therapist out to see what could be done. For a while he sat with an ice pack; later I invented a piece of paperwork for him to sign, as an excuse to go back outside and make sure he was alright. His truck didn’t move for a long time, but eventually I looked up and he was gone.

I wish I could have given him a hug, which is what the poor guy needed. But people don’t touch each other anymore.