It’s that time of year when day-to-day schedules aren’t always predictable, so we’re going to have choices for June, July, and August. Reflection, however, is always timely. With that in mind, here are the three topics:

  1. HEAT….just the word: respond!
  2. Final reflections on The Angled Road.
  3. Take a gander at this Guiseppe Arcimboldo painting, entitled “Summer”. Respond!



She grew up outside of Philadelphia and as May morphed into June and the school year drew to a close Ella welcomed the humid heat of the classroom. Today’s heat and humidity stuck her tee shirt to her back. Wonderful! It meant that summer was right around the corner and she would finally see the end of Miss Jones and the boredom of third grade.

Summer’s heat meant that her mother would drop her off at the pool where she would spend wonderful lazy days with Kathy and Janis playing games in and out of the water to stay cool and watching her blond hair slowly change color until by the time September rolled around it would be a dull chlorine-green. Ella gazed out the schoolroom window imagining herself with Kathy and Janis in the shade under the trees by the shallow baby pool eating their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made delightfully soggy by the heat. She couldn’t wait.

After lunch as Miss Jones droned on about the times table Ella’s attention was riveted by the sudden change in the sky. Dark, ominous clouds flew across the window and the leaves on the maple tree outside the classroom window shivered as gusts of wind warned of a coming storm.

The nines table was forgotten by the children as a summer tropical storm dashed rain hard against the windows. The maple tree disappeared behind thundering sheets of water cascading down the window panes. And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the storm was over, the maple tree reappeared and a tentative sunbeam peeked from behind a lingering cloud.

But something had changed. The heat was gone with the storm and the crisp cool of a late spring day had returned. “Ella!” said Miss Jones firmly breaking her reverie. What is five times eight?

Delicious summer heat and days at the pool would have to wait. “But at least next year I’ll be in fourth grade,” thought Ella. And there was comfort in that.



Chapter I    Watching

It was the hottest she’d ever been. She went into the aquamarine up to her neck, backing

into the water, her heels sinking first into the fine sand as she watched the figures on the

beach grow more and more distant and less and less distinct. Charlie was there on the

beach somewhere. He was watching Lily. Putting sunscreen on her baby skin, great

globs of it—more than she would—making a game of the banana smelling goop.

Except she didn’t see them as exactly as she wished. More like silhouettes on the beach–

dark ones, whitish ones dissolving as the film recedes and the wavy mirage hovers in the

middle distance.

Yesterday was like today. They’d taken the baby to the Falls, a tourist trap. Sunburned

white people hooted and screamed. She’d slipped on the rocks and cut herself. “No

problem,” she said and meant it. Then again at dinner, when there was a mix-up and the

waiter brought shrimp, not what she had ordered, and what would, if she had eaten it,

close off her airway—“No problem,” she’d said.

“I don’t understand you,” Charlie said. Lily was playing with the roly poly pasta and

popping it into her mouth. Because the child was beautiful the other diners looked their

way and smiled with indulgence and forgiveness. Or so it seemed to Renee, Lily’s mother.

In French there is a phrase that conveys that a matter is of no consequence. The matter

is trivial. It is to be forgotten. Expressed as an algebraic formula both sides would be


“And I don’t understand you,” Renee said.  Her fork skidded alongside the plate and

made a screeching sound.

Lily opened her mouth, scrunched her forehead and raised her spoon in the air. Renee

grabbed the spoon, pretended to be a friendly monster and Lily went back to playing

with the fusilli.

Charlie smiled. “You’re a natural,” he said. And Renee would have to agree because

she does know how to anticipate Lily’s every gradation of baby emotion.

She’s watching the shore again. She’s wet through and through and weighted down with

the heaviness of heat and water. She moves from the dog paddle to walking, raising each

thigh above the level of water. She’s not making enough progress. Her breathing peaks

with anxiety.

She makes the child out on the sand. Lily’s toddler bottom is in the air. She’s an inverted

triangle over her shovel and pail, fascinated, riveted by her own efforts. She’s safe.

But Charlie is gone.

“Lily,” Renee says. “Where is PaPa?”


How to Walk in Hot Sand


My personal preference: wear socks to and from beach

Downside: looks dorky; sand collects in socks

Tried and rejected by me, but still widely used:

-dip feet thoroughly in water and run all the way up

-thrust feet deep to cool sand with each step

-run or walk until feet are unbearably hot, then stand on towel until they cool down. Repeat.

-get carried

-endure pain until boards and skitter up boards as lightly as possible

-wait until sun goes lower

-shoes (worst! So much sand! So not cool!)

-sandals (2nd worst—they flip hot sand all around!)

-walk in footsteps of the person ahead of you

Downside: first person screwed. Worth trying alternating, like bikes or geese.

Possible, but untried:

-Use Super Soaker to spray the sand ahead of you as you go

-personal tunnel?

-tow rope/boogie board combo


 How to Be a Bad-Ass Blogger

I will answer all three questions in three sentences (not counting this one). Guiseppe Arcimboldo was a late-Renaissance artist from the school of Mannerism, which sought to express the connection between humans and nature, and this  self-portrait does; the fresh and ripe fruits and vegetables form the face of the artist and the colors most certainly reflect the hot and sunny summers in Milan, Italy (which averages in the 80°F range). Arcimboldo, however, got quite a bit of heat from other artists at the time, as they feared he was mocking the portraiture style of the Renaissance painters. On another note, last night I finished the final editing notes for our next version of The Angled Road, and I am ready to send them off to our design guy after one more check, so the heat is almost off of me!




                  Maurice Brazil Prendergast,  1858-1924

“May I?”

Genevieve was enjoying her ninth birthday party immensely! To wake up as nine instead of eight this morning was a tremendous step forward in Genevieve’s mind. She was already deciding what she was newly empowered to do now that she was a whole year older. She had put one of those things into effect five minutes ago when she had announced that before ice cream and cake they would play games, games that she had chosen.
“Alright, everyone,” she said in her new nine-year old voice, sounding uncharacteristically bossy, “Line up behind  this line. We’re going to play “May I?” The children lined up obediently all except Jason which was no surprise. Jason, the class bully who particularly enjoyed tormenting Genevieve every chance he got, was not about to do anything she suggested. Against Genevieve’s protests her mother had insisted that Jason be invited to the party.  Their mothers were best friends. Genevieve had no choice and had reluctantly given in. Now Genevieve gave her mother an imploring look.
“You too, Jason,” her mother said. “Cake and ice cream at the end of the game.” Jason frowned but slowly stepped behind the line.
“Red light, green light rules,” Genevieve announced and the game began. “Green light!” she shouted and the children dashed forward with cries of “May I?”
“Red light!” Genevieve said and the kids slid to a halt. “Jason, go back to the start, you didn’t say, “May I?” Jason looked annoyed but the kids all pointed him back to the starting line and he reluctantly retreated.
“Green light!” commanded Genevieve and the children ran for the finish line. Jason ran his hardest, knocking several kids down in his mad dash for the finish but he was too far behind to catch up to the winner. “Back to the start, Jason!” said Genevieve with relish. “You forgot to say, “May I?” Jason slunk back to the start.
“Nine is going to be a great year,” Genevieve thought with delight. “Ice cream and cake everyone!”




Flower Moon Day


We went to Volunteer Park on Saturday.

It was Moon Day, the day each month

we give to each other; the May Flower full moon

waited in the wings to rise that evening.


Crossing the lake, curving around 10th by St. Mark’s,

we turned left at Prospect

then left again by the tower,

and headed for the conservatory,

where flowers can be counted on all year.


A hundred-year-old glasshouse,

the conservatory bristled with life last Saturday—

orchids, maidenhair ferns,

hydrangea displays, artists sketching them;

an ancient Euphoria fanned its succulent frills,

carnivorous pitcher plants dangled sacs

secreting nectar that can attract, kill, and digest

a mouse.


The flowers were dazzling.

Bright red splashes of orchid cactus flowers

coughed thin tendrils and one perfect star

from their throats, Chilean Firebush

outside abuzz with scarlet blaze

and hummingbirds.


But it was the small cacti

that drew me this day,

the ones

you could easily pass amidst

the showier glories of the greenhouse:


Mamillaria Bocasana, fuzzy balls of gauze

and prickles; Mamillaria Parkinsonal,

owl’s eyes with spirals of spikes;

Rebutia Neocrumingii, a croquet ball

dotted with barbs, a miniature mace.


When I stopped and studied them, I gasped.

Many of them were blooming too!

Petite red dots expanded to dainty white blossoms

half the size of my pinkie finger nail,

yellow flowers so tiny I nearly missed them.


Stunned, I moved slowly,

noticing, simply noticing,

paying attention to the miracle

of beauty among the thorns.


I’m not sure if the message here was to stop and look,

to notice beauty wherever it can be seen,

or that just because I haven’t discovered it

doesn’t mean there is no beauty, no life, no creation,

to be seen and celebrated.


I do know my heart was lifted

on Flower Moon Day

in the glasshouse, there among the cacti;

that I left feeling blessed.


© Mary Ann Woodruff


Mary Ann


It’s May, it’s May! The Lusty Month of May!” (you’re welcome, Camelot fans)

Once again, the linguist in me has emerged! Let me tell you a bit about the origins of“may” (as a noun) which I find fascinating and you may find readable. Many thanks primarily to the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as my 4 years of Latin and one course in Old English in college. Oh, and I taught The Canterbury Tales and did some stuff with Chaucer’s original language, so I’m practically an expert. Actually, I’m rusty, and to be honest, I only looked up, like, 5 words. But I did the research!  Please feel free to argue with me in the comments.

At its first appearance (says me) “may” appeared as mæg as a Germanic derivation, and it meant “a male relative”; this is how it’s used in Beowulf. Ic eom Higelaces mæg ond maago ðegn (something like, “I am from Higglesbottom, as I am his kinsman and his soldier”).  Similarly, the word could also be used to mean “parent,” as in Þa bearn arisað ágen hyra magas (Bible quote: “The baby arises from his parents”). I just love Old English, so I was throwing some at you.

Here’s some more…On the Julian/Gregorian calendars, the fifth month is May (Old English calendar jargon for the 15th of May: on Þære fiftan nihte on Maies monð). By the way, the Julian and Gregorian calendars are both solar calendars, but Julius Caesar said that there are 365.25 days in a year, but in 1582 Pope Gregory said there are 365.2425, which evidently makes a big difference when you’re trying to decide when Easter is.  But I digress. “May” is named for the Greek deity Maia who was a goddess of fertility, which makes sense, because the beginning of summer is when it’s time to reap what has been sown, and you always want that to be a lot. Or, at least, enough. Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, where the equivalent would be November, which means “9”. You’ll have to ask someone Down Under about that symbolism.

May became a month that implied fertility for both agriculture and human beings. A poem from 1568 reads, “In May gois dammosalis and dammis In gardyng is grene,” which clearly means, “In May those damn kids get busy in the green gardens.”  Hooray for Middle English! Those crazy French; they made English more recognizable to those who speak English. So from here on out, “May” tends to be synonymous with optimism, vitality, being in one’s prime, and all that is blossoming and fruitful. Starting in the 13th century, “may” also meant a maiden, virgin or young woman. It stuck for a while, though, since in 1870 William Morris wrote in “The Earthly Paradise”, “Amid these latter words of his, the may/ From her fair face had drawn her hands away.” Also, in England, some educational establishments refer to the post-Easter exams as “Mays.”

One last thing: ever wonder why June is the month for weddings? Because Ovid wrote, mense malum Maio, nubere volgus, which loosely translates as “Only the vulgar crowd gets married in May.” Considering the colossal effort I put into the research, I end on a sad note of mystification. Seems the perfect month to get married to me. I got married in February. Now, February refers to the Latin word for “purification”…





Jehovah sent two women to our door.

One had a mouth outlined in plum,

her eyelids heavy with lash.

The other woman had brown skin and a kind smile; she lagged behind.

They carried literature, tracts of comic paper.

Six hundred and sixty-one languages contained their message, a number of great pride

meant to impress on me the effort of translating to the World

what only one hundred forty-four thousand could obtain.

(So few of us would meet our neighbors and loved ones in their heaven.)

I hoped I said the right things

about Freedom and Belief– recalling my mother’s attempt to rebuff–

so long ago, calling herself just a poor sinner, only to whet the appetite of eager Witnesses.

I meant to wish them well and see them on their way, my Island neighbors.

I may have done so, if I recall, eager, if not equally, on my part,

not to offend or bruise what I might.

The plum-mouthed lady drooped, I thought,

in the heat, or through some other internal current of emotion or thought.





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 ( 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