Category Archives: Writing


thepillowthatwouldgoeverywhereWhen I was in the service, my first set of orders sent me to a unit in Frankfurt, Germany. My Army job, a photojournalist, meant that I wasn’t necessarily going to spend a lot of time in Frankfurt. No, I didn’t. I got enough time there to make it count, and make some memories, but a good chunk of my time there, I wasn’t. More often than not, I was on temporary duty (TDY), deployments with my home unit, or I was given orders that attached me to an entirely different unit for a short amount of time – hell, I even did a stint with the United Nations.

When I first left CONUS (Continental United States, for you civvies), my Oma (maternal grandmother for those keeping track) mailed me a care package (she was a young woman during WWII, and supporting the troops was a thing you did – before it became suave post 9-11). Inside the care package was things from Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan that I couldn’t find in Europe – Better Made Potato Chips, one-liter of Vernors pop, to recall some of the more squee-making moments of unwrapping it. She shipped a little homemade stuff, too, including The Pillow That Would Go Everywhere. Oma had the foresight to cover the homemade pillow with an early desert-camo pattern. One of my first assignments was to go to Operation Provide Comfort (aka Eagle Flight). That was an operation that had troops, and my mission, crossing from Turkey into Northern Iraq every day. Although I was in jungle BDUs (battle-dress uniform – the acronym for my uniform, remember this is pre ACU (Army Combat Uniform), although in my career, I would own many of those, Oma somehow knew that pattern would become the Army’s dominant fashion.

The pillow went, too. Just small enough (13.5 ” x 13.5″), to fit in my ruck, and/or A bag. It was not a b-bag item. I would give up any number of protections required in my A Bag – the first bag you’ll get off the supply aircraft, which you still might not see initially (or in some cases for weeks) upon landing in-country – to make sure I had that pillow. By the end of my career, it was always in my OS gear (on-Soldier).

I never had any leader – enlisted or commissioned – give me flak about having that comfort item. My naïve servicemember self said it was because of the camo pattern. However, I think they knew that The Pillow That Would Go Everywhere was something from faraway home and kept any deployment craziness in check (What’s deployment craziness, you ask – another post). Regardless, I took it everywhere…

At one count, I had about 17 different deploymentsTDYs before I left Europe – although that count would be higher if I counted each time, not just each destination, then that number climbs higher. Please realize that the longest one was six months. It wasn’t like the current service climate where a deployment is going to take up to a near 18 months, on-average 13 months. No, some would be like 45 days; others would be six days. It just depended on the mission. The point is that I was packing a bag often. The pillow was always there. In between it sat on my bunk – or in my family quarters later in my career – always. It would constantly take me back to Michigan, just for a moment, and, obviously, make me think of my grandmother taking the time to send it to me. Oma left us a few years ago, but she inadvertently left me something that would come to mean a lot.

When I got back to CONUS, the pillow was still there. It was there through range training (which would eventually steal my hearing), through death-by-PowerPoint meetings within The Military District of Washington, through laughable field exercises and not-so-laughable field exercises, through September 11, 2001 and its follow-on two weeks of hell, through a broken neck and surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and through the hardest decision of my life to leave the service a few years later, but not before going back to Iraq.

When I left the service, the pillow came as well. It followed me into civilian life, a transition I think I only now have truly made (almost a decade later). It followed me through a nasty divorce, single parenthood, becoming the parent of a #LifewithAutism child, a new partner, a move across country, the realization of many epiphanies, through illness, through grief, loss, laughter, and love. You know, truly, through it all.

Since 2010, when I began to address my latent PTSD (also another post, but you can read this excellent one about it here), I pretty much sleep with that pillow every night. It’s held up remarkably well given all its washings, sun-dryings, and daily use.

Why am I telling you all this? Because, you need to know that The Pillow That Would Go Everywhere is a symbol. It’s a symbol of my survival. The survival of so much – multiple stories all tacked up in each little spot and swirl and color in that dessert camo pattern. I look at that pillow, and I see my adult life in a .gif, as it were. What it shows me is pretty amazing. Some folks have a coin, or a necklace, or a photo, or something seemingly more solid as their survival symbol. I have a pillow, made by one of my ancestors.

Each night I curl up with that pillow with the thought that no matter how bad my day, how I feel I succeeded or failed, how many smiles or tears the day contained, The Pillow That Would Go Everywhere reminds me that I am strong, that I am a survivor. It reminds me that a good night’s sleep – heck, even a nap – is all I need to don my emotional armor, and fight another day to live the life I want. It shows me where I’ve been, and where I can go. It whispers to me a gentle reminder that this life itself is full of small comforts which rejuvenate our souls, and to take notice – to take notice, and survive.

So here’s to the symbols, the reminders, the little things that help us conquer each day in this thing called human life.


What is your symbol of survival? What is its story? Tell us here!

My Outlook for 2014: Fiction Farming and Beyond

tumblr_ldwd7hm2iH1qertphI live with this voice inside my head that thinks that all these things I do – self-improvement, goal-setting, trying to have a positive outlook is a bunch of feces of the male bovine. It screams, “Poser!” “Fake!” “Failure!” It’s my internal editor, if you will. It is that voice, cultivated by social ridicule, parental fear (formed from love – yeah, I get that), and weeping wounds of loss and grief that seemingly do not ever heal. It is that voice that is trying to keep me “safe” from looking like an idiot. But I’m human. The moments of idiocy are a given. At nearly a half century old, I accept that now. It doesn’t silence the voice, but it puts a white-noise machine on it. Therefore, despite the inner critic, which happens to sound like Archie Bunker, by the way, “Oh, Christ, Casz, don’t show your ignorance,” my inner Archie wants to squash the happy child inside of me. Most times I respond like Meathead or Edith; however, sometimes not. But, mostly.


Here we are at the eve of 2014. Thirty years ago, I was a Young Turk. No money, and a head full of dreams. Shhh!!! I still have no money and a head full of dreams. The difference, however, is like I’ve written in my recent bios, I’m “living on purpose.” I’m not letting the whispers of Archie and other naysayers push me around. Is it foolish? Mayhaps. But, I’ve seen too many in my life not follow their dreams. It’s the thing that makes me weep more than anything. My heroes have always been those that followed their dreams, whatever the outcome. We gamble every day in our life. When I was working in corporate America I used to tell coworkers where my institutional knowledge was kept, “you know, in case I get hit by a bus.” (There’s that impermanence of everything theme, again.) We have this gift called life, but we don’t’ know how long it’s going to last. All I know is that I have less time. Faced with that, I have to follow my heart, which I’ve done mostly in my life. It’s served me well. Whenever I haven’t it’s when I’ve gotten myself in trouble. Seriously, I stayed in a very, very bad marriage for too long because I was convinced by a well-meaning adult that “marriage was work.” I discovered way late the work was a two-way street. My heart had said to leave long before. My head had convinced me that if I just hung on, life would be good. That didn’t work out. I finally listened to my heart and my life is much improved. My heart and gut work well together. However, the head battles both. Gut-checks are a necessity now.


In 2013, I’ve faced some of the lowest moments of my life – and my life has been filled with such throughout. But 2013 has seen personal, health, parental, financial, legal, and career crisis. My cup runneth over with the wine of ruin. But I was able to suck it up and amble on, sometimes cross-eyed and not so sure-footed, sure, but still keeping my head above my feet, even if I had to limbo under some heavy poles of negativity. But, I kept looking for life lessons, kept seeking happiness and following my dreams. I survived. I’m battle-weary, I recognize that. But, I’m soldiering on. “Why?” some may ask. “Life is a killer; it’s crap….” There’s Archie again. I guess my answer would simply be that I’m a warrior at heart. I’ll always don the armor of my desires and dreams and battle on until I have no breath left. That with all the crap that monkey of life threw at me this year, I had a lot of good, too. Tonight, my family and I will write down all the bad things we can think of – and burn it in the fire. Releasing it’s hold in our lives and setting 2014 with a fresh, clean slate. We’ll read from “The Good Things Jar.” We’ll reminisce about the good. We’ll toast in the year and recognize that we are here to create all the beauty and fulfill all the dreams we can. It is my belief. I will recite such a creed, always.


What does that mean for 2014? It means that I’m still going to move ahead with plans and desires and goals. Big dreams, small dreams. All moving forward. Baby steps for some. Space-walking leaps for others. The forward movement doesn’t have to be the epitome of success. Just forward movement and I’m satisfied. Like Mae West said, I’m thinking: “~“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”


“Ah, you’re just lowering you’re standards,” says the inner curmudgeon. “No, I’m redefining success.” Oh, and “Kiss my ass!”


With that bit of Detroit burped out into Archie’s face to segue, for the past few days I’ve been reading posts and blogs by scientists, authors, friends, and everyone seems to have a running theme:  Keep on Truckin’.  It echoes in my own life, too.


My resolutions for 2014:


WRITING:  I’m following this little philosophy from Anthony Marra, in so doing, I hope to read at least two books a month and write six days a week. I can’t move to five even with kids in the house, because I’m still an “emerging” author. In that, I hope to submit at least two things a month (I have such an inventory this year because I only did two submissions this year – really sad showing, I know). I also plan to blog more. I’ve written out a schedule and the goal is three posts a week, not including my SnoValley Writes! weekly writing prompt. Part of my writing goals this year also includes working on the “Things I Learned” chap book to give to my children.


FINANCES:  Outside of that I need to continue to grow my freelance work, so that the first-of-summer and holiday slowdowns do not wreck my finances.


ART:  I need to continue improving the production of Thrasher Studios.  I have some new ideas and supplies; I’ve already started getting busy putting all that together.


LEARNING:  I also want to renew my skills at sewing (I have a machine now), and renew my crocheting skills.  Maybe even finally do that quilt I’ve been saving fabric for years now. As well as, continuing the micro-farming with all its seemingly unending benefits.


SELF-CARE:  Lastly, My 2013 Happiness Project taught me that I need to do more self-care; that it needs to be part of my daily routine. This will be one small thing every day to something special once a week.


EXAMPLE:  Know that in doing all of the above I am setting a great example for my children, my spouse, and my friends & family to live life to the fullest and pursue their dreams, opening a door for more goodness in all our lives.


The above is quite a smaller list than last year (2013) or the year before (2012). I think that bodes well for how far I’ve come in living my life on purpose.


What about you? How was your 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014?  Thanks for reading and I wish you a joyful and prosperous new year.

Where our creative heroine battles an army of self-doubt

313373_10150295335254437_1422741_n After Thanksgiving prep, Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving clean-up and prep for Yule, my art bench is back up. I painted for the first time this morning since all that nonsense started. It felt really good.


Two of my four beta readers have not finished Second Thought. That makes me think that perhaps the book is really foul for readers (because these are folks that devour books even faster than I do, which lately is not fast, but whatever….), or I don’t know. Their lives may be mirroring mine. I can analyze and overanalyze all day. It’s just a symptom of a cause I’m allowing myself to recognize recently. My self-doubt about my writing is severe – almost paralyzing right now. I aim to get writing time in today. I haven’t written since Tuesday of last week – at least not anything that wasn’t a journal entry or a blog post. So I need to get back on the band wagon. I wonder sometimes if this is how a junkie feels. Oftentimes I wonder if I’m “addicted” to writing, which doesn’t mean I’m good at it, just that I need to do it. There were a few folks in my Writing Group in the early stages of the group’s development that wrote and wrote and wrote. But they didn’t take anyone’s critique. They didn’t trust anyone. Therefore, they never grew. They aren’t in the group any more. Funny how natural attrition just evolves like that, eh?


I understand I have to go through the painfulness of putting my stuff out there, being vulnerable, if I’m to make my writing worthy of people wanting to read it. I have to get critique and then ingest it, digest it, apply it…learn. I can’t share my stories if it’s not worthy of the reader’s time. I’m very conscious of that. I try hard to make the stories ones I want to read, because I consider myself a discerning reader. But, here’s the rub:  There are moments in the creation of a story – short or novel-length – doesn’t matter, where I think I’m dead on. I feel that I’ve got the reader by their heart and soul and they’re not going anywhere except the next page. Then, somewhere, at some point in my work, I can’t seem to keep holding them. I let them go like Vader with a sudden conscience.hand


I may have to reassess whether or not I have what it takes to be a writer. This may be a temporary low point. It may be the point of no return. It may be nothing, or it may be an epiphany that either pushes me forward, or halts my writing career forever. I honestly don’t know. I can feel change brewing, regardless.


Part of my doubt, I realized in meditation the other day is that I’ve mentored folks that have gone beyond where I’m at now. Students are supposed to go further than their teachers, yes? Just as a parent, I hope my children are more successful and exceedingly more content in their life than I ever was. Yet, for some unknown reason, it still hurts or feels somehow distressing. Don’t get me wrong. I celebrate the successes of those I’ve taught, encouraged, and cheered-on. I would want it no other way. So, when I’m not reaching my own goals, I must put a magnifying glass on what the problem is. Could I blame my full plate? Such as the issues with my special-needs child that are ever present and take up my time inordinately? Children in general, regardless if they are in crisis or with special needs, are time consuming. I was at the doctor’s office three times last week – all with a different child. This week I have appointments every day that are child-centric.  Such time demands would be a big kink in anyone’s day. However, it’s a huge one in a writer’s day, I believe.


My spouse asked me yesterday if I’d sold any art recently. I haven’t. Not since before Thanksgiving. It’s distressing to have to answer in the negative to him, since he’s been so supportive. Yet, I set the art bench up again. At minimum, I can’t have unfinished projects.


Today, I’ll try to get my armor on and go out amongst the people and do my normal writing routine. Be productive, that’s got to ferret out something in one direction or another, yes? Keep going. Or quit.2315747097_86e8986fe51


For now, I guess, I am still plodding along. But, I’m thinking about every step and examining it carefully. A creative life is not for sissies. I’ve always considered myself a bit of a warrior and will fight until the end; however, sometimes you have to stop.


We’ll see. The bell may be tolling for my writing goals. I don’t know.



Kill Your Fear, Kiddos & Spiders are Nerds

Look at this photo (aka internet meme):


You looked away too fast. So, please, now look at it again. I’ll wait.

For at least half of the people reading this, more than half of the people I know in real life, that is a truly horrific scene. Spiders, they are all eight-legs of terror for some folks.


Now check out this photo:



Click to make larger…if you are brave and daring.


That’s the European Garden Spider (aka Cross Spider) that’s been hanging out near my back patio. I’ve nicknamed her appropriately. Charlotte, as she’s in the Orb Weaver family and spins a new web each and every day. As I go out my patio door to let the dog out, get some fresh air, or tend to my crops, there she is. Working away. My husband has taken to calling the critter my pet spider. In a way, I suppose she is. She’s gone through the whole growing season with me, a daily reminder of the season and again, the impermanence of everything.


One day, she decided to go to the south side of our patio and spin a huge web higher up and see what else she might get. I didn’t realize that initially and was all shocked and a little bummed when she wasn’t in her normal spot, keeping the flies and other nastiness out of my home. I thought perhaps some bird had come by and gobbled her up or something like that, or she just met her end of time. Then I looked up, much like Wilbur the pig, and caught the glint of spider’s silk near the lattice work. The next day, it was if she understood my distress that she was gone – or the hunting wasn’t so hot – and she came back to her traditional territory.


My weird attachment to this spider this growing season, noted by my husband and kids, and even remarked about on my social media sites when I shared her photo, made me start thinking about fear. That word has been so misused and given too much power in the last few decades of my life. (I won’t get into the whole American political arena that has been using fear as an oppressive device for my whole life; I’m not focusing on that – right now – this is supposed to be more personal anyways.) When I took the leap from corporate slave to freelance writer/artist, I kept telling myself to kill my fear. I recited the litany against fear from Dune, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer…” I started examining what I was truly fearful of and wrestling those fears in my writing, in my happiness project, and in all areas of my existence. It’s been an enlightening journey, to say the least.


The most important thing that I learned was that fear is a matter of perception. Spiders may scare the bejeesus out of you, but I find them interesting (especially when their keeping nasties out of my house and I’m not naked in the shower). My fear might be something that you find intriguing or natural. It’s all perspective. When I turn my perspective on its ear, I find some common ground – as I did when I was working on killing some physical fears last month. Like I told myself that at my age, Elvis was dead. So, if I’m jogging, or heck, even walking, I’m doing good; I’m healthier. When you shift the angle of what you’re looking at, especially when it’s something you are afraid of, it has the power to allow you to become unafraid. In short, to kill your fear. It’s freeing. It’s empowering.


Just as I was musing about that silently in my head doing chores in my kitchen, my 15-year-old daughter came to me about something that she wrote. She said, “I am not going to be afraid of spiders any more.” This is what she showed me:


“Spiders cannot run for extended periods of time because they have asthma. All spiders are nerds. Even tarantulas. Have you ever seen a spider dating a hottie with a supermodel body? I doubt it. Spider flashing his cash in the club? Nope. Spider pulling up beside you at the light in a Lamborghini? Never happened. They’ve got so many eyes because they love reading. Nerds. All o f them.”


I giggled. And she said, “Yeah, spiders are nerds. They’re alright with me.”


From the mouth of babes, as they say.


I have another angle for you, just in case you’re still scratching your head and feeling all icky:




Please look at it again. Really look at it.


It’s fabulous isn’t it? Such detail. Such utter brilliance. She’s quite the nerd, eh?


Spiders as golden touchstones of bravery.

Spiders as golden touchstones of bravery.


Poor Man’s MFA: Making Time for Writing

Editor’s Note:  Due to a hardware failure on our host server, this article is being republished. It may not look exactly as it originally appeared. Thank you for your understanding. 

clocksI have a few of friends who have recently completed or are currently in graduate programs (not necessarily a creative writing MFA). All of them have told me (in the brief conversations we have because, well, life is busy for those in a graduate program – especially given that all of them also hold down jobs while in their studies – that one of the first classes they had to take or first lessons in an individual class’ syllabus is Time Management.


Most graduate programs (especially my friend going for her doctorate) expect students to treat their studies as if it’s a full-time job. And honestly, it can be. With class time and homework eating up on average of 25 to 30 hours a week – that’s if you don’t have to struggle with any of the material, or in the case of a creative writing MFA, you’re a fast writer and never hesitate about what to write, because you know, we all can type 750 words in 10 minutes and….you get the picture. In addition to the school work, many raise families and hold down at least part-time jobs. (I’m aware there are graduate programs out there that do not allow students to work…those are rare cases and no one I know has attended any of those programs).


Therefore, time management becomes critical. You still have to sleep, eat, wash dishes, do laundry on top of all the classes, let alone any job you may have to do (we won’t even throw in child care in there, but that’s a reality for most of us). So, if you’re doing the Poor Man’s MFA, you’re going to need to also practice time-management and employ some creative strategies to get your writing time in.


Strategy No. 1:  You will make time. The biggest excuse I hear from people about why they are not writing is time. It’s like Salvador Dali is painting their personal clocks. It just melts away. “I don’t have time,” or, “I’m so busy with the kids,” or my favorite:  “My muse doesn’t come along at the right time.” (This is me rolling my eyes.) I remember sitting on the heels of an Abrams tank trying to stay warm scribbling scenes down in a small moleskin I carried in my cargo pocket. It was about 40 degrees out, spitting rain, and there was a gunnery range going on. Was it the best place to write? It certainly wasn’t the warmest or easiest. The point is, I wrote. If you want to write, you will. You’ll find a way, a path, or like Stephen King, a make-shift desk in the laundry room. As they say, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” This is true for writing. You want to write? You’ll find the time. You’ll push those clock hands backwards if you have to. Regardless, you’ll make it happen. You’ll find the way.


Strategy No. 2:  Make space to make time. Virginia Woolf said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Money is always helpful to meet goals, but we’re talking about space right now. I do agree that having a dedicated space in which to write is helpful. Shut the world away and just write. If you have that luxury, do it. It’s one less hurdle to keep you from writing. It helps keep you organized and its trains your mind and body that its time to write when you’re in that space. However, I refer back to Stephen King’s first writing space, and my ‘heels of the Abrams tank” memory. A Room of One’s Own ala Woolf is not a necessity, but it helps.


Strategy No. 3:  Schedule your writing time. Writing, just like any other activity outside of day jobs, sleeping, eating, etc. needs to be schedule. You make time to go to church, go to school, work out…heck, some of us have to schedule time to make love. Refer again to Strategy No. 1. Where there’s a will. For many years I got up early and wrote before work. For other times, I wrote at lunch every day during my *soul-sucking day job*. Today, I write a little bit in the morning, a little bit at lunch, and a little bit in the evening. In between, I work for clients, work my micro-farm, and create art. But it took me until I was nearly 50 years old to get to that point. Your mileage may vary.


Strategy No. 4:  Make Writing a Habit. On the heels of Strategy No. 3, writing every day (or like what Carolyn See in “Making a Literary Life” suggests, five days a week) should become a habit. When I miss a day, I know it. It’s like not drinking water for me. I have to write, even just journal every day or it doesn’t feel right. My habit includes a bit of ceremony to it, too. I stretch (lately I can’t get in the writing zone unless I’ve done my warrior pose several times), a mug of caffeine (either java or tea), my favorite writing music, and away I go. Every writer has a different custom to their writing time. Whatever you need to do to, as Haruki Murakami says, “mesmerize” yourself into your writing zone, do it. Vonnegut did push ups and sit ups every day. Hemingway wrote in the morning, and drank in the afternoon (although, you can write inebriated, I heartily encourage you to edit sober). Nathan Englander turns off his cell phone (I, too, have been unplugging as of late, as well). Heck, unplugging and keeping distractions out of your space is a great part of any writing schedule.


Strategy No. 5: Get a support network. Being alone all the time, mesmerized or in a loner zone of writing gets old and it can break even the strongest of wills. That’s why I encourage everyone to join a writing group. I had to make my own to make that happen (it was a good thing). Not sure where to start with all that? A great opportunity is coming up which pulls all the closeted writers out of the shadows:  National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s affectionately called, is 30 days of a great way to meet fellow writers in your area, be productive, and do this crazy thing called word-wars at write ins. Check it out. Just like a work-out buddy or an AA sponsor, having someone to lean on can be key to your success.


Strategy No. 6:  Set a goal. For the Poor Man’s MFA, we want to feel as if we’ve finished a formal MFA. But, we might need some metrics. Write a short story and send it out. Write an article or an essay and pitch it to an appropriate magazine. Enter a contest. Get your writing out there so you begin to have some measurements on how you’re progressing. (There will be more on this later as we’ve no actual professors in the Poor Man’s MFA University.)


Strategy No. 7:  It ain’t rocket science. Refer back to Strategy No. 1. Always. Just do it.


So which strategy do you need to work on? Where does your writing time management need help? What do you do to make it work? Tell us in the comments below. Let’s learn from one another.


P.S. If any of my visual artist friends out there would like to create some sort of logo for the Poor Man’s MFA Program (? University), I’d gladly love to include it and your credit here. Let me know.