April’s Umbrella

Metaphor, literal….poem or narrative. UMBRELLA: GO!

Judy Cohen’s Umbrella

Lawrence collected umbrellas. He was nine years old. His teachers didn’t know what to do with him. He did not act out in class. He did not hit or yell out or wander around the classroom. No, he sat quietly at his desk watching the sparrows in the trees.

When the children left for the day, Ms. Asp opened Lawrence’s desk. Inside the desk she found her own yellow umbrella and another white polka-dotted red umbrella. She thought she remembered Judy Cohen opening the umbrella during the rainy field trip to the Natural History Museum last month.

Almost all the children in her class had permission for that field trip. Even Lawrence.  He did not bring in his signed permission slip until the morning of the trip. He handed it to her silently. It was crumpled up but when she spread it out the signature looked authentically adult.

She’d drawn up a seating chart for the bus trip, separating the troublemakers and placing them in the front of the bus where she could keep an eye on them.  She’d paired Lawrence up with Ta’nae, a shy child from Somewhere in Africa, who wore a miniature hijab. She thought she could rely upon Lawrence not to taunt the girl.

The trip was a huge success. The dinosaurs never disappointed. The sun came out. Umbrellas were collapsed, dripping, stashed under the well-worn seats of the yellow bus for the ride back to school.

A few days later Ta’nae came up to Ms. Asp at the end of the day. Her English was perfect, if formal. She said, “ Teacher, that Lawrence is a thief!”

Ms. Asp bent to the child’s level as best she could.  “ Did he take something of yours Ta’nae?” she said.

The little girl shook her head no, “ Umbrellas,” she said.

“I know,” said Ms. Asp. “ Thank you for telling me, Ta’nae. You did the right thing.”

Ms. Asp did not know what to do about Lawrence. Collecting umbrellas did not interfere with his schoolwork. It did not interfere with his classmates who never used umbrellas.

The teachers forgot about their lost umbrellas.

She was not surprised to open the desk today to find her own yellow umbrella. She took it out of the desk and put it into her tote bag. She removed Judy Cohen’s red polka-dotted umbrella, grasped the handle and slid the latch until the elegant parapluie opened tulip-shaped in the empty classroom.



The rain it raineth….

“The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.”

~Charles Synge Christopher Bowen, Baron Bowen

This little verse was written by a British judge in the 19th century, who was actually regarded as a very fine public servant and all-around witty guy who once stuck his foot in his mouth in front of Queen Victoria (which is something I definitely would have done had I ever had the audience of a monarch). The reason I know it is that about 10 years ago I did a water color of umbrellas and then scrawled these words across the painting.

The reason I did that was because I wanted the theme of our guest room to be umbrellas. Looking at plenty of model homes before our final decision, I happened across a room set up as a child’s room with a vibrant comforter and pillows: bright white splashed with colorful umbrellas of different sizes and patterns. So I went over to the bed, checked out the tag (the stuff was from Garnet Hill), and then went on line and ordered a comforter cover and pillowcase set for our future guest room.

When we finally got our home, I painted the walls of the third bedroom a color called “Stormy”, made up the new bed, and scrawled some quotes on the walls. “Come over the hills and far with me, and be my love in the rain,” suggests Robert Frost. “The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night,” observes Langston Hughes. But this quote was my favorite, so I made a little painting for its backdrop where it hangs to this day.

I like it. Because it’s funny, because it’s quirky, and because it has a tragic truth to it. While we all adhere to such happy horseshit like, “Life isn’t about avoiding the storm, it’s about learning to dance in the rain,” I rather enjoy the ornery observation that you’re more likely to get wet if you’re a nice person because people are crappy and steal your umbrella. But hanging adjacent to that framed gem is another.

My husband and I only had been married a year and a half before this, and every year we buy a piece of art to celebrate our anniversary. This particular year we were strapped for cash, with a new house, new job, and graduate school for me. So we just bought a small watercolor at Pike Place Market by a local artist that depicts a man and a woman walking against the rain with a rainbow umbrella protecting them. And that painting is better than the Bowen quote. Because THAT frame will always remind me I have someone to share an umbrella with in the storm.


Pluviophile (Look it up)

I am a native of the Pacific Northwest (PNW; in the U.S., this means Oregon,Washington, and Idaho), born in Portland, Oregon. People born here grow up breathing rain; it’s how we get our oxygen. Rain is as necessary and essential to life as air and sunshine, and we (Pacific Northwesterners) interact with it the same way – by going outside and walking in and through and with rain as we do with sunshine and air. I’m convinced non-native PNWers can never understand how native PNWers truly embrace rain. When other people express a distaste for rain, I always want to laugh and ask if they think they’re related to the Wicked Witch of the West.Native Oregonians may wear hats in the rain but we never carry umbrellas because umbrellas are for sissies.



In Paris an American feller
Was glad he had brought his umbreller
He could dance in the rain
And sing love’s refrain
Only getting a little bit wetter


Umbrella. An on-the-spot writing assignment.

Umbrella. Protection. Class. The tall, thin woman in black on the Paris boulevard carries an umbrella as part of her ensemble. Parapluie, we learned from Mlle Dreyer as sophomores in high school. And God knows that woman may need it before she gets home. Out of the blue, one day in the Marais, the heavens opened and I mean really, the rain dropped as though hurled from heavy buckets somewhere in the ozone. Umbrella-less, we ran to a café, wrapped our cold hands around cappuccinos, watched rain fall in sheets off the outside awnings. The staccato of drench danced off the paving stones, puddling and pooling and finally flooding the streets, a river running downhill, sending people scurrying for cover into small doorways. Impressionist paintings of Paris before our very eyes.

In Seattle, proud of our Gortex culture, we eschew umbrellas. Just wrap up and go or you’d never leave home some parts of the year. California émigrés have the toughest time with Pacific Northwest winters—all that staring out of windows waiting for clear skies so they can go enjoy the evergreen.

Then there’s sub-Saharan Africa where they would kill to need an umbrella. Month after month, and now, horrible to relate, year after year, not enough rain to do more than sprinkle the dust around. Planting seasons go begging because the last one yielded neither grain nor seed for the next crop. Wizened faces, swollen bellies, a crisis of hunger with no end in sight—and not nearly enough charity in the world’s weary hearts to make a dent in it.

Mary Ann





Politics, Politics, Politics….



This month we’re taking on a touchy subject: POLITICS! Some of us dodge this topic at any cost, while others go at it all-in. Either way, it’s really hard to completely ignore politics during an election year in America. We considered: How much does modern, culturally relevant politics affect your writing? Do you try to be apolitical in your writing? Do you think your conservatism, liberalism, or disinterest is reflected in all or some of your writing? Reflect on whatever aspect you feel is relevant to your process.



I DON’T Want to Talk About It…

I have always considered politics to be something I’d rather not talk about, because, in general, I like making observations and not judgments, and it’s impossible to talk about politics without being wrong in someone’s eyes and inciting ire. And when I’m confronted by an idea that I feel is particularly reprehensible I tend to completely overreact and behave as if someone killed a kitten rather than expressed an opinion. So, right now, I am going to attempt to write something that is about our current political state in America, and do so with absolutely no political agenda. OK, here we go:

     Our country is currently engaged in the fervent throes of the expressiveness inherent in an election year. Some people think it is important to review the job that the current POTUS, Barack Obama, has done, and want to summarize the positive and negative effects his terms have had on the country as a whole and its citizens. It is very rare for an individual to review both kinds of effects; most stick to positive or negative. Many US citizen, and indeed, people around the world, are engaging in opinion-sharing about the primary candidates and who will actually be running for POTUS come November. As Democrats, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both trying to win their party’s nomination, and the Republicans also have a number of candidates running with results that vary. Let’s hope that come November we have some kind of choice to make!

OK, that was the best I can do and I couldn’t help snarking at the end. And what a boring synopsis to read! I could make it interesting, but I won’t. I would like to think that politics has nothing to do with my voice as a writer, but that, of course, is impossible, because how I express myself will be rooted in my values. I’ve found what seem to be the most innocuous of expression has managed to piss someone off. 20 years ago in an online dating profile I wrote that I enjoy the company of open-minded people (edgy, right?) and I got a comment that read, “Keep loving those (n-word)s, Sweetheart. F&*# You!” Wow.

So, in all sincerity, may this country continue to be strong and brave, and…no wait, I can’t say anything about equality or freedom. May God (in any monotheistic, polytheistic, atheistic, agnostic, non-sexist, all-encompassing or uninclusive presence you may mean) bless this country. And may He/She/It/They/No-one/Everyone in the world/My dog) have mercy on us all!



To me politics fits in the same category as abortion, religion and the behavior of other people’s children. I simply never discuss it with other people either in person or in my writing. I’m sure I’ve annoyed many people over the years because I refuse to be drawn into discussions on those topics, but I have seen friendships crumble over them. My friendships are the most precious thing I have and I don’t want to endanger them.  Besides, everyone is entitled to their opinions.

My training as an historian leads me to take a very long view of things and to look at the long-term results of political action. I constantly find myself comparing and contrasting the current political circus with the circuses of the past. When I worked in the Westchester County, NY, county executive’s office we used to call election year “the silly season” and silly it is. I take an independent view of the whole thing,  listening to all sides while searching for the small, elusive grains of truth in all of the rhetoric.



Politics as My Impetus

My ideal reader believes that sexism and racism are forces in the world—actively doing damage—right now in 2016. I don’t take it upon myself to explain or prove that. It could be that someone would choose not to read my work knowing that.

When I wrote about the Upper Peninsula guys who spied on the commune in Holding True, I portrayed them as menacing and racist. I was letting their actions speak for them. There could be a reader who would read about their actions and think they were doing the right thing, who could believe that Mags was right to be stockpiling weapons. There could be those who viewed the ATF as menacing, and the stand Mags planned to take heroic. I wonder if my writing was neutral enough to hold a reader with those opinions throughout the story. I certainly had my slant.

Yet I wasn’t relentlessly promoting an agenda. I felt I was doing service to the ideals I am compelled to serve. Otherwise I do not believe I would ever have completed my first novel. And, because of my political beliefs, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to indulge in the kind of novel I am writing now. In a way, I earned the right to write about a woman like myself, as I am doing for Book of Forty, by using my talents, first, to attend to the needs of social justice.

Yet I think my writing is better when I’m not trying to prove or promote anything. I think that was a hobbling factor of the driving purpose behind Holding True. Even though I wasn’t pounding my fist for diversity with every word, I know that behind every sentence I wrote was my duty to use my words to do some good. That may have skewed the whole thing. I know I feel much freer with this novel. I’m not tied to anything except myself and what comes out of me when I let my mind go.

I think about Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Helen Hunt Jackson. Maybe Their social agenda skewed their writing too much. They became unpopular largely because of that, their naked, blatant appeals to the reader to give compassion to the poor, to slaves and to oppressed North American natives. Still, what higher purpose is there for writing?

Yet there are many more purposes, maybe not as lofty, but equally necessary. Fun is one. Pleasure. Sharing. Comforting. Playing around. Joking. Exposing.

At the moment my political urges are being expressed in other ways than through writing. I wonder if that is how it will be—a balance, with some part of my energy going toward politics, some toward creativity. Sometimes they’ll flow together, sometimes apart.



Politics and Writing

To the extent that the act of writing, including fiction, aims to explore, probe, and uncover truths, it is political.  I speak as a writer of fiction. I write because I have something to say which is informed by my view of the world and by my beliefs about human nature. I hope that what I write influences others, persuades them towards my view through emotion and thought.

However, the fiction writer is freed from political orthodoxy, or worse, political correctness, if not from the cultural context of her time and place in this world.  I can invent characters who have evil in their hearts, who may simply be misguided, or deluded. I can draw characters who have the capacity to change. I can invent a world unlike ours that draws attention to the fault lines of our own.

Perhaps the most disheartening book I ever read was E.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun (1984), his fictional account of child survival during WWII. I would never choose to read it again. The book has remained with me because the writer was unsparing in his depiction of the very worst of humanity. It contained a horrible truth. This book and the film, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970), so influenced me that my political views about war spring from my emotional experience as a reader/viewer of these works.

Novels of attachment do not announce themselves as such. Irony holds sway in popular and elite culture. But I crave scenes of departure and reunion at the train station. I am amazed and in awe of animals, silent and steadfast, and the bonds we share with our animal friends. Guterson’s East of the Mountains is a spare elegy for resolve at the end of life. The protagonist’s dogs accompany him on his journey. Novels of grief find their well in love. But love holds its distance in politics, becomes general not individual. It is often the journalist who brings us the individual to love in the opening paragraphs of the story. We fix our hopes upon the child who might be helped with shelter, food, our love. The New York Times, in a lengthy piece, followed the daily life of a little girl named Dasani living with her family in the shelter system in that great city; writing this vivid exposes chasms of political ineptitude. (New York Times, 12/9/13, feature article titled Invisible Child)

Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, offers the reader both the experience of horror and the experience of love in his grim depiction of a dystopian future. I would argue that beliefs about the individual as a member of society, a citizen, “polites”, lie close to the heart of good writing.


TECHNOLOGY: How has it changed your writing?


I think it would be foolish of me to say that technology has not affected the way I write, or my creative process, or the way I think. I exist in a limbo between the writing practices of my youth and the modern world of social media and Microsoft Word. Let me tell a story: When I entered MHC in ’87 I took with me a brand new, state-of-the-art typewriter, which (GASP!) saved what you were typing. There was a small strip where one could read about 20 characters of text displayed as you typed, or as you edited. So I would write a draft by hand, type it up and then roll the paper in one page at a time so it could “print” my paper. This is when my anxiety of “Where did my words go?” began. No matter what the future brings for writers, I think part of me will always be concerned about where, out there, my words have gone, in that moment between “save” and “print”.  I will always miss the days when I could see all the progression of my work right in front of me, pen, paper and typed copy, cluttering my desk and yet a visual representation of all that I thought.


CUT and PASTE! Great technology for a writer. Remember erasers? Remember white out? Remember piles of crumpled up rejects on your floor?
TRACK CHANGES! Great technology for editing someone’s work. Especially great for editing by committee (or writers’ group).
I am so glad to have these tools of technology at my fingertips.

Mary Ann

Writing on a computer has, of course, made life very easy. It allows my writing to keep up with my flow of consciousness to say nothing of the magical delete button and the ability to easily edit.

Technological improvements for the future? Sure! Since I am basically a story teller, the best advance for me would be one that I think already exists: having the spoken word immediately transferred to my computer page. That way I could put my feet up on the couch or the bed, close my eyes and let my imagination fly. It’s not easy writing on the computer with one’s eyes closed!


Migraineur: My Writing and Technology

The first migraine with aura that I experienced looked like superimposed images of text on a screen. This is what I saw. What I perceived was a struggle to make sense of the vision and the eerie sense that the text contained messages from the past and from the future. I was 65 years old. I landed in the emergency room.

I have wondered about the influence of our technological culture upon that first migraine experience. Did my hours of immersion looking at a computer screen account for the hallucinatory vision of text? Had the actual ideas of my brain, my stories, become text? Was my brain just individual jumbled letters (neurons?) of the alphabet?

When I write I see scenes unfolding cinematically. I translate that visual experience into typed words. How that happens I don’t really understand. When I read (actual paper books!) I see what the writer writes and suggests. I visually imagine the rest.

A loved one has lost clear vision in one eye. I learn that brain regions interpreting visual stimuli inhabit much of the real estate of our brains. Where we are in space, how to get somewhere. Without GPS, my brain knows where the lakes of Puget Sound are in relation to each other; my brain knows the interior layout of most every house I have ever been inside of. I move my characters through these homes.

Science and history live inside my computer. I need science for research. I need my computer for pop culture references that hold no meaning for me but whose relevance is part of the world in which my characters move.

The world of Netflix stories lives inside my computer. I always use captions even for English language. More text! The movie unfolds visually, words spoken in French, Korean, Hindi, while text in English scrolls across the bottom of my screen. I turn up the volume, still listening for intonation and mood, for the clues beyond text.


Since I am an inveterate Luddite in many ways, the connection between technology and me is frequently tenuous. Much of the time, writing means a pad of paper and a pen.

Only once in a rare while do I actually start out sitting in front of my iMac, blank page of Nisus Writer on the screen, and my fingers on the keyboard like a concert pianist before I commence creation of my next opus.

Once I have strung my words together, though, I am very appreciative of technology. I don’t count copying from paper to computer as an extra step; instead it becomes part of the revise/proofread phase.

I like digital storage – although I almost always have a paper copy as well. I am old enough that I traveled from paper to manual typewriters to electric typewriters and finally to computers. I like the ease and freedom imparted by a computer as I re-write, using cut, copy, and paste; adding bold and italics; emailing it to a friend; even (gasp!) sometimes using the spellchecker (spelling well is one of my many vanities).

In other words, while I like and appreciate digital technology in writing, technology is not a key component to creation for me but I find it vital in sharing my work with others.


The Editing Process…What Worked, and What Did Not Work

Henri-Lebasque-xx-Woman-Writing-xx-Private-collection Inquiring minds want to know: How much did the editing process affect what your final submission is/will be? What would you like to see done differently next time? What worked for you? What advice would you give to other writing groups about the editing process?  

It took us a long time (relatively speaking) to have serious, intense editing sessions. I think that delay was due to 1) us being novices at editing, and 2) our writing group still being kind of “new”, meaning we weren’t quite ready to say non-positive things, no matter how necessary and constructive. For me and my poems, any excellence we have is due to the comments from those editing meetings. So many helpful, useful things were brought up, none of which were said or even hinted at in earlier editing discussions. Do not be afraid of doing intense, detailed editing of each other’s work! Next time, we need to do serious, detailed – and always constructive – editing sooner. I am looking forward to our next anthology! P.S. Note the “looking forward to” is not the same thing as “must start immediately”; I have no problem taking a year or two break and just have ordinary writing group meetings before starting the next anthology.

Jules Dickinson, ‘77

We had each done a first reading and response of someone else’s submissions—and the results were nearly universally complimentary. The editing process wouldn’t have gone anywhere without Emily and Liz insisting that we challenge ourselves to do really critical re-readings and their reminder that editing someone else’s work is a way to hone one’s own writing skills. With that push, we dove in. “Critical” didn’t mean “Yuck, I can’t stand that.” Rather it came across as questions about order, clarification, and voice, like “We want the first part to be as strong as the last,” and “Let’s work on the title.” I got good honest critique on one of my poems and am working on the revision this week. I have no doubt that it will be stronger, and if it isn’t, I trust that my writing friends will tell me.

Mary Ann Woodruff, ‘60

The editing process was absolutely critical for me. I particularly liked the fact that first we did a one-on-one edit and then a re-write which was followed by a group edit. The process gave me important feedback from “the readers” which allowed me to see my piece through the eyes of others and to refine and, hopefully, improve it!

Sue Swanson, ‘60

I have been in writing groups and worked with writers who prefer not to revise their work. They want it to be sufficient as it is when it reaches others’ eyes for the first time. And it is sufficient. That’s an important part of writing, of getting yourself to write, of expressing thoughts, memories, emotions that need to come out. The writing itself, just moving ideas from unexpressed to expressed, influences the world. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Yes. It is enough. But there’s this other piece, that comes afterwards, a piece that strengthens your relationship with your creativity and your voice, and that is the editing and revision process. I was willing to forgo it while doing the Angled Road project because our group’s relationship and support for the writing itself is rare and precious. Our decision to go deeper has been inspiring and rewarding. Through the group’s analysis of my poetry, I took a step toward accepting the differences between the art I envisioned and the art I created, gaining respect for the lesser result. Closely reading my colleagues’ work, I learned more about my own voice while respecting theirs.

Emily Dietrich, ‘85

What We Write, and Why We Write It…


Here’s our latest investigative question:  In what genre do you prefer writing? Why? OR, How do you decide what genre a particular piece will be? Is there a difference between what you like reading and what you like writing? If you were to create an anthology of just your own work, what would its content be like?


I prefer writing poetry to anything else. I love the art and craft of writing poetry. Someone once said that the art of prose is finding the right words to say something, the art of poetry is finding the BEST word to say something. I love the spareness of poetry, the often surprise that comes in the last stanza—even as one writes the poem. I haven’t written essays intentionally, but think that might be fun too. When I wrote my memoir, I included poetry that had been written at the time about which I was speaking in places where the poetry expressed the immediate emotional content of the situation I was describing. Readers seem to appreciate it. I read poetry, fiction and non-fiction. I am in awe of someone who can write a good novel—holding all the characters and their backstories in one’s head while crafting a thematic story line for a novel is amazing to me. I write mostly poetry because it seems less demanding and at the same time more intense than fiction—and it doesn’t take as long to complete. If I were to create an anthology of just my own work, if would be 3/4 poetry, 1/8 non fiction (memoir) and probably another 1/8 of small pieces that aim to promote some point of view. Wait—is that an essay?

-Mary Ann Woodruff, ’60


All of my pieces start in some way or another as poems. My handmade anthologies from twenty years of writing are exclusively poetry. I bring less judgment to bear on poetry, and I seem to have one string, strung from neck to groin, that the right words pluck, set to vibrating. It’s a self-contained approval mechanism providing gratification of my own making.

If I want to make a point or relate an anecdote, I turn to prose. A novel is behemoth I strain to keep in order, to keep in view and there I explore the inner lives of others.

And that is what I love to read about: the inner lives of others. So I read novels more than anything else. I so admire great novelists, and I believe novels have been my greatest teachers–less about how to write than about how to live.

-Emily Dietrich, ’85


When I write, I prefer to write creative nonfiction, because I like making my life mean something. Usually I write something that’s a combination of mythology, an observance of modern culture, and memoir. When asked, I usually say that I can’t write fiction, which probably isn’t being fair to myself. I also love making people laugh! At any rate, I think my niche is definitely somewhere in nonfiction. I like reading everything, especially historical fiction and mysteries. I also like reading poetry, National Geographic, and headlines at the checkout at the grocery store (Did everyone else know that Kendall Jenner slept with her half-sister’s boyfriend? I did not know that.). If I were to compile an anthology of my work, I think I would want it to be rooted in mythology. For each piece I would take a particular myth, talk about its psychological implications, and then relate a personal story that really illustrates how the myth is tied to the modern psyche. Story, wisdom and reflection.

– Liz Burr-Brandstadt, ‘91


What determines the genre in which I write?

I write almost exclusively in poetry. It’s easier for me to express my thoughts and feelings in poetry as opposed to prose.

My primary question is: Will a particular piece be a song/poem parody or straight poetry?

The song parodies start with no (conscious) idea at all. I’m just cruising along in my life and suddenly my brain pops up a line or phrase, and I get no peace until I sit down and type or write the whole thing. The majority of these poems are written in less than an hour. Most of the parodies are funny.

What I call my “straight” poetry starts with me consciously having a vague idea of something I’d like to write about, and I sit at the keyboard or pad of paper for days (sometimes years) getting things said little bit by little bit. These poems might be either serious or funny.

– Jules Dickinson, ’77


I keep a list of short story ideas in this format: subject/predicate.

Then it came to me that this is the same format at CNN and Huff Post for tabloid stuff!

Why do we care?

We want to know what happened. And sometimes we want to know why.

Here is my past non-fiction week in this form:

93 year old mother wins Mercedes!

Mercedes salesman spots fraud!

Nigerian con-artist poses as son!

Grand-daughter kicks ass!

So, does this make you want to know what happened and why??

I write in fiction to explore the why.

– Mary Dicker, ’66


I write to help myself feel. Journaling and poetry are important instruments. I spent much of my life not writing, but if I had been it would have been sterile and factual as I wasn’t aware of my feelings, only the facts. Or what I thought were the facts.

I read a wide array of writers and subjects. Oddly, or perhaps predictably, I’m not reading journals written by others and not especially a lot of poetry. It would seem I get enough of those by my own hand.

I expect and hope that after I get more experience as a feeler, and writer, it will be a natural step for me to branch out into other genres. But if I grow through the writing and occasionally move someone else with my words I’m entirely satisfied.

An anthology of my work would need to be published posthumously if I die anytime soon. If I  live a bit longer I will grow into a space where I can publish it while I am still living. Because I am alive. Because I am growing. Because I am a writer.

– Greta Climer, ‘91


I prefer expository writing.  My training is as an historian, so I like to take a lot of material on a subject, digest it and write it in my own voice to make it interesting to a general readership. My job as a public historian was to “sell” history to the general public. Therefore I always had to make my writing interesting and readable. I always figured I had about 30 seconds to grab the interest of a reader, so what I write had better be interesting or I would lose my audience. I write in my own voice and like to have my writing flow like my own conversation. An anthology of my writing includes histories and pictorial histories.

– Sue Swanson, ’60


I work as an editor in the game publishing industry and am the mom of two kids. I’ve had writing published by No Quarter Magazine and, more recently, Skull Island eXpeditions (skullislandx.com). Although I’ve been a writer since childhood, I’ve always struggled with balancing that part of my life with my role as an editor, and before that, an advisor. I worked in the MHC Writing Center (as it was known then) for three years and loved it, but I never worked with MHC women on my own writing. Older and hopefully wiser, I’m grateful to have that opportunity now. Whether light-hearted or soul-searching, discussions with MHC women are exhilarating, inspiring, and thought-provoking!

– Darla Willis Kennerud, ‘89

New Year, New Resolve!

The holiday season past and the new year upon us, our group is joyfully adamant about progress for our project. We are starting to refine our ideas about what exactly it is that we want to submit to represent ourselves in the anthology, and also redefine what it means to have a poem be the thematic beacon for the project. How strongly should the submitted work be tied to The Angled Road? Should our finished piece be inextricably linked to the poem, or just touch on the idea that we all face unknown turns in our lives? We’ve decided that we will lean more towards the latter, although, we think it should be clear how our writings relate to Emily’s poem without having to “draw a map.” We have also set some clear deadlines, and come up with a way to support each other before final submissions. We’ve decided to have an initial pre-edit with one other group member, so that feedback can be received and considered before the piece is presented to the rest of the group. So, before the final submission deadline of February 20th, each member of the group will be reading and providing feedback for another member. The hope is that this process will reduce anxiety as well as provide a sense of support going into the final editing phase, where feedback will be given by the other members of the group. We’ll let you know how it goes!

So, the question today is, how does the DEADLINE affect your creative process?

Liz Burr-Brandstadt: I do really well with deadlines. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t have one, who knows when I’d be “ready” to write. I don’t feel that a deadline compromises the creativity or quality of my writing—it stimulates it.

Jules Dickinson: My mind is a blank. How long can I procrastinate and still get this done?

Mary Ann Woodruff: Deadlines-I like ‘em. I’m a “J” on the Myers-Briggs –scale, so I like finishing things. Deadlines are a call to completion. Deadlines are friends.

Sue Swanson: The deadline is burned in my brain. I picture the calendar the date and the deadline in caps in the numbered square. Inspiring, motivating, insisting, unforgiving. The deadline is reached, the goal achieved. The next day’s calendar square is empty—relief, joy, peace. Ahhhh!

Greta Climer: The deadline itself is a placeholder. It’s merely there. It awakens my subconscious but simmers while I attend to more pressing matters. The more pressing matters themselves deadlines who are arriving. No longer placeholders. No longer merely there. Now boiling into their own doneness. Because I now care to assemble the parts, craft the dish, cook, stir, taste, season and serve.

Mary Dicker:

I do not believe in deadlines

Someone else makes them up

Someone else wants to impose them on me… How dare they!

So I’ll turn my back and go my own way I want the freedom to focus

I want the freedom to roam I know how to evade rules.

If you are very quiet, no one can find you In the garden of your mind.

Emily Dickinson: Our Latest Inspiration


Experience is the Angled Road
Preferred against the Mind
By — Paradox — the Mind itself —
Presuming it to lead

Quite Opposite — How Complicate
The Discipline of Man —
Compelling Him to Choose Himself
His Preappointed Pain —

The writing group of the Mount Holyoke Club of Puget Sound has started a new project: we’re compiling an anthology of some of our writings, and it will be called The Angled Road. We spent a whole meeting talking about what this poem means, and it meant something different to just about everybody!  So we got the idea to start a webpage, in order to document our process, our obstacles, and our joys as we go down this angled road together….

Of course, parts of the poem will speak to some, and other parts will speak to others. Some may find this verse very inspirational, while others may find it inaccessible. No matter what, hopefully the poem makes you reflect on what an “angled road” might be, or how the term “the discipline of man” resonates in your own life. Here are some of our reflections on this poem:

Teri Bicknell, class of 1989:

In “Angled Road,” I feel an immense, anguished weight on the powerless observer, watching those who are busy at life unwilling to explore or understand the relationship between the mind (the inner guide?) and what is considered to be life experience.

At times I can relate. Many seem to barrel through life, seeming at best unaware and at worst to be blatantly ignoring or even defying the mind, only later finding themselves in a situation that could be viewed (by Dickinson or her readers) as “pre-appointed pain.”

Other times, I feel that experience and mind may as well the same, the one deriving from the other. And so when pain is encountered, perhaps it is in that way “pre-appointed.”

But what of the many who are building a more beautiful world each day through teaching, art, and other good works? Have they been compelled into a state of “pre-appointed pain” like the rest of Dickinson’s flock? I’m sure they have good days and bad. But if they were moving toward a painful end they had been compelled to seek, it’s hard to imagine they’d be sharing good on an ongoing basis, as can be objectively observed.

I’m glad for this poem. It is a mind-bending work of powerful observation and insight. But the certain pain that Dickinson has chosen for us is not my choice; it is not my truth.

copyright 2014 by Jules Dickinson ‘77

The Road is Life; the Angles on that Road are the choices and changes in one’s Life. Traveling the Angled Road is what gives a person Experience.  Experience is preferred over Mind; one concludes that Experience is more valuable than Mind. However, it is one’s Mind which chooses which Angles to travel during one’s Life. Therefore, paradoxically it is one’s Mind, the less valuable, which leads, chooses, and determines one’s Experiences, the more valuable.

Experience – change and growth – does not come without Pain. Even when a change is desired, it takes work, and therefore Pain, to bring about that change. Because one controls one’s own Mind, and because one’s Mind chooses one’s Experiences, one is choosing what Pain one will Experience.

The journey on the Angled Road – Life – is circular: the Mind chooses the Experience which changes Mind which chooses the next Experience which changes Mind which…

Reading Emily’s poem makes me think of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, another story of traveling a road which creates part of one’s life and experience.


By Mary Dowd Dicker ‘66

Emily Dickinson / 2014 common era/ uncommon woman:

it’s you who’s sent me down the

                                   angled road

                                           of Mind and Matter,

Frustrating my old Brain just ripe for questions of Mortality.


So, yes, I get it.

Paradox: what’s real, what’s not—


How base a life upon belief or pain when

materialists deny that anything I feel or I believe

exists at all?


Eliminating wayfaring as any source of wisdom

along the road of Experience?


Yes, in the darkness I see flashes of light on the perimeter

                               of my field of vision,

I see the



of migrainous jolts.

You can measure these.


You cannot measure the Motherwit of ordinary acts of love,

what happens when the traveler meets another.

A nod, a bow, a clasp of hands.

Good day. Good morning. Shalom.


 Sue Swanson ‘60

From the time we are small children we are taught the rules of the family, then school rules and finally the rules of society, “the discipline of Man”. “Fit yourself within society’s guidelines”, we are cautioned. “Stay on the straight road to find success and happiness.” But as humans we are also governed by our minds, our subconscious, our souls which often find the straight road too narrow. We seek to break free, to create. The struggle between the mind, soul and society, between intuition and reality is unending, an expression of our humanity

Experience is the referee of this struggle. Emily Dickinson observes in this poem that our intuition, our mind, may call us to a route that diverges from the life’s journey we had planned. She understands, however, that although our minds may presume that we will let experience be the leading influence in our lives too often the “discipline of man” overrides our experiences along the angled road. Instead we find ourselves compelled to re-trace our steps back to the narrow road, a road that Miss Dickinson sees as our “preappointed pain” and in that choice of words, a common human tragedy.



By Emily Dietrich ‘85

Angled origami,

The poem


A delicate unfolding–

More sharp flaps

And more, tiny,

To the center

Where it is not beautiful

But stark.


I hold the poem,


A philosophy in two verses,

Robbing me of a

Beloved self-deception.


Mary Ann Woodruff, ‘60

“The Angled Road of Experience is where we often find ourselves when we were planning other things. In our Minds, we may have thought we were on a straight path from point A to point B. Then, gradually or suddenly, we realize we have been on an Angled Road which, as Frost said, “has made all the difference.” We might think that the Angled Road is totally random, for it has nothing at all to do with the logic we expect of the Mind. But the reality is that we walk through some open doors and walk past other open doors; we choose some paths and not others. Hence the Paradox: no matter the destination, it is always something we have chosen, whether in our Mind or in that complicated, less understood part, our Soul. Perhaps the Angled Road of Experience is paved by the Soul.

Elizabeth Burr-Brandstadt, ’91

This poem makes me think about the relationship between experience and logic. The two should be parallel but are more often divergent. And living a life of trying to lead the “straight and narrow” rarely has led to inspiration for me: I do need the angled road. Most of all in this poem, however, I am taken with the idea of a “preappointed pain.” It makes me think of the painful experiences in my life, and the combination of my own creation/responsibility in the pain, as well as the kismet. Based on the paths I have chosen, what is due to me? How can I judge my own accomplishments and pain in the shadow of others’ lives works? Ultimately, this poem makes me realize this: that I love thinking about it. I want to be angled. I want to be a paradox. I want to be mindful. And I want it to be OK for me to want. And I want to be soulful and intelligent in my expression…just like our beloved Emily Dickinson!