Roomy Writing by Victoria Smisek

A request from Dulcie for blog posts popped into my email at the same time that I was writing up my 10th Roomy Writing piece. Allow me to elaborate, allow me actually – to celebrate!

In January this year, I treated myself to a WOW retreat on Holbox Island in Mexico and yes, wow, what a treat it was! I was so impressed by the way that Dulcie and Nancy easefully and skillfully ran their retreat; with compassion, sensitivity, vulnerability and insight. They held our group of 8 women in perfect balance during those 5 days. They navigated us as 8 individuals and a group of 1 through the process of accessing our hearts and encouraging us to write from them. The impact for me was profound.

But wait, if you’re reading this then I’m probably preaching to the converted. If you’ve been on a WOW retreat, then you probably know all of that (or at least have your own experience) already. But what you won’t know is this:

On that retreat I was to share a room with a total stranger. I knew this of course at the time of booking and I was ‘up for it’. I’ve shared rooms with total strangers before on retreats but only silent ones (retreats that is.) One’s where you and your roomy don’t utter a word to each other for the entire duration. No ‘making friends’, no small talk, no need for social niceties…so much simpler I had found. A felt connection might take place, a verbal exchange of some kind perhaps in the brief time in between silence ending and participants all going their separate ways, never to meet again most likely.

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But this would be different. This would involve the more socially familiar construct of daily communication and, although I told myself it was all part of the process and I was open to the idea, I secretly hoped, as we travelled in the mini bus from the airport, that the ‘odd number’ of us could work in my favour and I might be singled out and deemed special enough to be granted the luxury of my own room….

I was not special enough as it turned out and all I can say is how glad I am of that fact! I was paired up to share with Deanna, who I felt immediately comfortable with on first introductions. Perhaps because we were the only 2 non-Americans, perhaps because we were of a similar age, perhaps because we had both just come from doing yoga and meditation retreats elsewhere but suffice to say there was enough common ground for us to get on nicely.

But as the week progressed it became clear that it was more than just common ground. By the second night we were giggling in our beds so uncontrollably it was difficult to turn the light out and get any sleep! This continued for the rest of the 5 days; we laughed, we shared stories, we opened up, we spoke in detail of our experiences of the retreat each day and processed our feelings - often raw and emotionally charged – together, we cried. We moved around each other in our shared bedroom, dressing room and bathroom like ballroom partners who had danced together for years. You could say, we just clicked.

But here’s the really cool part: on the last morning of the retreat we hatched the idea of keeping up the practice of writing a piece on a given prompt for 45 minutes, sending it to each other and giving each other feedback on what had moved us – just in the same way that we had done for the past 5 days. Deanna and I vowed to take turns each week to suggest a prompt, for us both to write on it and then type it up to email to each other. This would happen generally on Sundays. The following Sunday we would send each other our feedback and the next prompt. This ritual would be repeated every week.

Well, we know how these things go right? We know the untethered enthusiasm at the end of a successful retreat, the attachment to holding onto what’s been created, not wanting things to change, a resistance to letting go. Many a sincere heartfelt promise has been made under such conditions. And invariably of course, as we return to our normal lives, the attachment fades, the enthusiasm wains and those intentions fizzle out.

But no! As I mentioned at the beginning, Deanna and I have just exchanged our 10th piece of ‘Roomy Writing’. This means it has been 20 weeks since the plan was hatched, and we shook hands over the huevos and guacamole at the breakfast table. So far, we have written on the following prompts:

– Having the Courage to be Disliked
– Connections
– Keeping Score
– The Inner Critic
– Living Outside your Comfort Zone
– I Remember
– Release the Brakes
– A Second Chance
– The Places that Shaped Us

 We continue to write from the heart. You can imagine how much we are learning about each other, how much the friendship is deepening. We’ve even become a bit ‘braver’ with our feedback; daring to be a little more constructive if we feel something would have had greater impact if written differently somehow. We speak about how much we both value the process and the opportunity to – as Dulcie would say – write on. How much we value the opportunity to share our writing and ‘put it out there’ and…who knows where that might lead us.

No Words by Jolly Jeffers Goins


As I sat down to write this blog, I found myself staring at a blank page. No words. No thoughts. No imagination. Just a white page.

Perhaps my words are still in Maine, sitting on the porch at the Albonegan Inn, mesmerized by the ebb and flow of the tide. Or a brilliant rainbow that materialized before my awestruck eyes. And each sunrise that captured my dreams and pulled me outside to see the glory of rich morning colors and feel the cool air on my sleepy face. Maybe I left them at the long dining table surrounded by old and new friends listening to conversations sprinkled with musical laughter.

My words might be camping out on the beach at Reid State Park, amazed by the simplicity of the rocky bits of coastline and the veins of ice-cold ocean water pulsing through the sand. As Dulcie and I waded through a couple of these, my soul was instantly invigorated. The vast blue sky with billowy splotches of white clouds and my feet entrenched in the sun-warmed sand was so peaceful and comforting. Thank you, Dulcie, for sharing this tucked away respite with me.


I must have dropped words along the twisting backyard path to the river. The Androscoggin River was stunning as it stretched out before a shady, sandy beach to the swimming hole. A large round rock made a good spot to sit and ponder while getting lost in the zig-zag reflection of lush green vegetation from an adjacent island. Shades of cobalt blue reached toward the strata of lichen covered rocks giving the invitation to sit down at this favorite spot and ponder a little while longer. Wispy soft clouds adorned the sky and made for one fantastic landscape canvas.

Some of my words could have been swallowed by the local frog and toad population while serenading me to sleep at night from two nearby ponds with their loud vocals. These sounds took me back to my little girl days, when i lived in the country and heard them every night. I was comforted by the thought. And it did make me think of “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.”

My wish is that I left my words in the hearts and souls of those I met along the way. I know that I returned home with their words in my heart. Words can do a lot of good in this world when not spoken in haste or anger.  I hope I left kind words lying around the beach or on the street or floating in a pond and they find their way to a hurting soul.

When I sat down, I had no thoughts of what to say but it seems as though no words might say a lot sometimes, if we listen close enough.

Fat is not a feeling by Eline van Wieren

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I carefully constructed this body. 

It started in my grandmother’s pantry and it wasn’t long until I discovered that all I had to do was say ‘no’ when she asked me if I knew where her bag of chips went.

At home with my mother I bury an empty pack of cookies between the cushions of the couch. A graveyard of candy wrappers.

At night there’s a returning nightmare. It starts like an old movie. Black screen. A little white dot in the middle that keeps growing bigger. In the dot an image appears and when the whole screen is filled, the image starts to move. Sounds are coming from everywhere and they make no sense. I long for the darkness. I long for my feet in the black earth, nothing to be seen. But I’ve already eaten too much chocolate. I am no longer allowed to be at ease in this body.

All fourteen-year-old girls wear t-shirts that say WHO CARES. Mine is black with glittering silver letters and I just cycled 6 km home from school.

My grandmother, who cooks for us on Tuesday evenings, is sitting in our backyard. She’s ripping apart the seams of an old pillowcase. She looks up at me. She says, “You look so good, Eline.”

I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans and look up to her.

“This black top looks so much better on you than that unflattering floral thing you were wearing last week. A big girl like you really shouldn’t be wearing something like that.”

With a sour face she gives a last tug and the two parts of the pillowcase come apart.

At night, when my grandmother has gone back home, I hang around the couch before going to bed.

My mother peels her eyes away from the TV. “Is something going on?” she asks.

I repeat my grandmothers remark.

She says, ‘oh.’

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I often think: I just have to tell the story. Come on, Eline. Just tell the story.

Everywhere I go, I look for mothers.

I am not open yet, because there’s still things I have to survive. I believe my fat will protect me. I wear my overweight like a winter coat. You can touch me, but not really. What you feel is a synthetic stuffing material. It has nothing to do with skin.

I want to be seen. Can you all come look at me? I undress for this. Comfort me. I want to be vulnerable, but my belly is rock hard. Can somebody please hold this body? Can somebody hold my inner child? The strawberry blonde girl that fits in the palms of two extended hands. Thumb in mouth.

Cover me with a blanket. Don’t drop me, be kind. Build me a house with a rabbit in the backyard. Bake me an egg. Stroke my hair until my belly is soft again.

In the meantime, give me a quote or a mantra. Something to hold on to other than your fingers. I don’t know if I’ll grow much taller. Love me anyways.

I am an eight-year-old girl, wearing a dark blue top with thin straps that reaches to just above my belly button. The bottom of my belly bulges over my jean shorts.

“You’re not allowed to go to the playground like this.”

I don’t get upset. I know that the girls whose mothers allow them to go outside the fences guarding the backyards in cropped tops don’t look like me. Girls who have bodies you can easily lift off the ground and tickle.

I play on the swings in our backyard. I go as high as possible. Hoping for someone on the other side of the fence to get a glimpse of me.

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I just need to learn how to root. I need to learn that I don’t need to be heavy to be grounded. I lay down on the laminate flooring between the couch and dinner table. I set a timer and imagine the roots. They sprout from my heels, finding their way through the foundation of the house until there’s nothing but black earth. Cold and wet.

They grow from my tailbone, elbows, shoulders and crown. The roots are finding their way between the worms.

I float away from the laminate flooring. Away from the house with its windows and electricity. The neighbours and the people who touched me. From my belly button a plant starts to grow. I no longer only grow upwards, but in all directions.

“I think that not only physically, but also mentally everything will be so much lighter if you just lose all that weight,” he says, pouring the last bit of beer from the bottle into his glass. “Then you can leave all that behind and really start living.”

Over the last year, Eline van Wieren worked on a story that started from the question ‘Do I feel at home in my body?’ With a photographer she took photos of the parts of her body that are usually not allowed to be seen. The original piece was written in Dutch. This blogpost is an excerpt of the book translated to English. Based on the text of this piece, Eline is now working with a dancer on making a performance. Follow Eline on Instagram: @elinevw_ . Or visit her (that she will definitely give it an update this summer).

Is It True That Creative Energy Will Save The Planet?


That’s my answer.

And I’ll tell you why I think that.

I think that because of how I feel when that part of me is lit up.

I think that because of what I see in other people’s eyes when that part of them is lit up.

I think that because I can feel that creativity is fueled by something more than me.

I think that because of the irresistible urge we have to share when creative energy is up and running.

I think that because, by definition, creative energy makes us more than what we are without it,

I think that because creative energy connects us to each other.

And connection is good for us.


Quoting Johann Hari, in his book Lost Connection, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”  We become addicted to things that make us feel as though we are not alone on this planet or, if we are, we don’t care.

We read books and feel as though we are connected to what is happening in the story, we feel that part of ourselves. We look at paintings, listen to music, go to the theater, make clothes or food or beauty of one kind or another and we feel that beauty. We taste that song, that color, that emotion in us.

So while it may be a big step to suggest that when we feel connected, we do not want to do harm to that which we are connected to, that is what I am saying here. From there it is a much smaller step to suggest that if we do not want to do harm to that which we are connected to then our options for saving the planet are infinite. The more we love it, the more we want to protect it.

So go ahead – write, paint, fiddle and tend your garden. Let’s get everyone addicted to saving the planet.


Navigating rewrite limbo by Robin Gaines


In the last few months, working on my second novel, I’ve done nothing but ask myself why: Why doesn't this scene work? Why does this character feel like type? Why did I become a fiction writer? What pivot in life led me to examine the fictional world of characters conjured from imagination and what ifs? Characters I probably would hesitate to befriend if they lived in my neighborhood. And what massive amounts of self-delusion does it take to pull this off convincingly?

I’ve been in REWRITE hell that only writers familiar with the hollowed out terrain can appreciate. The dry creek beds. The poisoned trees.

It wasn’t always this bleak. In September, I spent two glorious weeks at Ragdale immersed in finishing up REWRITE #2 of my second novel. (Already on its third title, I’m afraid to write it or say it out loud for fear all 350 pages will combust. Maybe the core of my rewrite angst is that the baby has no name that fits?)

At Ragdale, I fleshed out anemic characters and wrote stronger middle chapters and left feeling elated that I had a book. By January, I finished REWRITE #3, showed it to a couple of editor friends, agents, and my critique group and waited. Of the two editors, two agents, two critique partners, and my mom, all had different opinions on what worked, what didn’t, and how to go about “improving” the manuscript. When I sat down this spring for REWRITE #4, it felt like the train of creativity had left the station without me. So long it waved. Good luck figuring it out. I closed the laptop and cried for weeks.

Oh, there were other things—life—to occupy my time, but the characters and the story never strayed too far from my thoughts. Then, one night last month, in a fitful sleep, I had a literary epiphany and figured out the why to a part of the story that kept asking why. I got out of bed and wrote six pages of notes on how to answer my own question. Baptized once again in the waters of imagination and self-delusion, I’d do what all writers do: invent what they can control.

I’m driving the train again on a slow and methodical course. If I can pull it off, the manuscript will be better for it. And if not, I’ll have to ask how long to let the story ferment before tackling the next REWRITE. Because sometimes with time words and ideas mushroom in dark drawers or boxes on closet shelves. When pulled out into the daylight, it’s not unusual to find one character has grown a beard, another has learned to play the piano, and sometimes sweet Aunt Barb has murdered someone. The inmates of imagination have taken over, and REWRITE #5 has begun.

One writer describes rewriting akin to “scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush.” To that, I beg: Please, oh please, dear imagination, dear self-delusion, give me the stamina to scrub this mother*&%$#@ clean.

Robin Gaines is an award-winning fiction writer & journalist. Her work has appeared in literary journals, newspapers, magazines & anthologies. She lives in Michigan. Her first novel,   Invincible Summers  , was released to widespread acclaim. She is hard at work on her second novel. Learn more about her on   her website  .

Robin Gaines is an award-winning fiction writer & journalist. Her work has appeared in literary journals, newspapers, magazines & anthologies. She lives in Michigan. Her first novel, Invincible Summers, was released to widespread acclaim. She is hard at work on her second novel. Learn more about her on her website.

Q&A with poet Dara-Lyn Shrager

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Poet Dara-Lyn Shrager has joined WOW for retreats in Borestone Mountain, Maine and Marrakech, Morocco. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and is the co-founder and editor of Radar Poetry. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and a BA from Smith College. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals, including Southern Humanities Review, Barn Owl Review, Salamander, Yemassee, Whiskey Island, Tinderbox, and Nashville Review. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Magazine. Learn more at: 

Q. What were your influences/inspiration for your poetry book, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee?

Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee is mostly a narrative in lyric form. I wanted to tell the story of a woman's experience as a daughter, mother and citizen in the natural world.

Q. Tell us about your time as poet-in-residence at the Princeton Public Library (i.e. projects or events, or how it helped you).

Being the inaugural poet-in-residence at Princeton Public Library was pure joy. I felt challenged by the task of developing programming for children and adults. Making poetry feel accessible to people with different levels of writing experience was extremely rewarding for me. I have been invited back to teach at the library again this fall and I cannot wait!

Q. What are you working on now?

I am writing a new book of poetry. So far, it contains a contained series of poems about one summer of my childhood and other poems that aren't as fixed to a particular time.

Q. What are some issues or thoughts that are top of mind right now that have an influence on poetry? And, perhaps, what role can artists hope to play in difficult times?

Get your copy  here .

Get your copy here.

Such a great question -- I have been working my way through a podcast series called "Commonplace: Conversations with Poets and Other People". The brilliant creator and host, Rachel Zucker, asks a lot of very difficult questions. For me, the most affecting thread of these conversations has been around the issue of responsibility. By that I mean: what is the poet's responsibility as an artist? We chronicle the times in which we live by writing poetry. What do we include and what do we omit? Or: how thoughtfully am I looking at my assumptions and biases and how many of the hard questions do I ask myself about my own work? If this sounds like a jumbled mess, listen to the Commonplace conversation with CA Conrad. They distill this concept down quiet nicely. 

Q. What did you expect from attending a WOW retreat, and how was the outcome different from/similar to what you anticipated?

I joined WOW for Maine and Marrakech. Both retreats were nourishing. Truth be told, I didn't write a lot of keepers on retreat. But I listened well, learned new things, played and laughed and ate good food. I met powerful women who became my friends. And after that, I went home and wrote the good stuff!


The value of information


Too little information.

I can’t smell anything.

I can’t taste much.

I can’t speak foreign languages.

I don’t know when I’m going to die

Or how.

I don’t know what happened before I was born.

I can’t know how others feel about me.

Or what’s been said when I’m not around.

What it means when they say I love you

Or fuck off.

Too much information

I’ve been a therapist for 30 years.

I have a laptop and an iPhone and an iPad.

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Sunday NYT

Xrays, MRIs, CT scans

I was born again one time

I also kind of died once.

I was with my father when he died.

It’s confusing

All this information.

So the questions I ask myself today are ones I thought I’d share with you – what do we do with knowing that there’s seemingly important information that we don’t have, maybe even can’t have, at least not now?

And what do we do with too much?

And my answer today is not all that different than my answer to most dilemmas that I face. I root around – mind, body, spirit - until something opens and new words, strings of sound, pictures both moving and still life, come popping streaming sliding in as though all I had to do was ask. And then I slow down enough to write them.

I don’t know what I would be like now if I wasn’t like I am. I’m sitting next to a clear glass vase filled with fresh lilacs. They are … pretty. At some other time in my life I might have gone on to describe the Spring party of scents that erupts from their clustered blooms. I would have buried my nose in them just to reassure myself that they still smell as sharp and sweet and thick as I remember.

I don’t do that now because my nose and my mind aren’t speaking to each other.

I am mad at my nose and mad at my mind and mad at the lilacs and mad at the fucker that didn’t see me on my motorcycle. I could conclude that I do not have enough information here to smell the lilacs but, if you’re with me here, that doesn’t seem to be true. What seems more true is that there is some information, the kind that does not come in through the nose or the tongue, that can steal the show. Like mad. Or sad. Or scared. Or confused. I think this might be true elsewhere as well.

There might also be too much – too much information.

I don’t want to be cluttered with visions of rotted garbage and bloody corpses and plastic seas. I don’t want to hear about the awful things we do to each other or even the awful things we think of doing to ourselves. I don’t want to reach up only to fall back down and I don’t want to let go only to be hauled back. I don't want to watch someone I love go away. I want to understand what’s going on and how to fix it, I want that Serenity Prayer and I’m tired and I want to smell lilacs but I don’t want to smell or see or hear darkness and suffering.

So I guess that’s where some of the struggle is coming from. The more I go on here, the more I can see the problem I have created with my wanting and not wanting – they are not always in cahoots with each other. There’s things I want but I don’t want what comes with them.

I’m glad I didn’t die and that I get to be here today but today is cloudy and I want it to be sunny.

Okay, I’m changing that up right now. Because it’s also true that I love cloudy days – they help me stay indoors and write. Now, doesn’t that feel better?

I want to be able to use all of my body in the ways I used to enjoy and I want to be spiritedly engaged in my work and my not work. I want to feel sassy and smart. I want to make something new that lights up the room and the day and the faces of those I love and even those I don’t love. I want to be part of a wave of creation.

But for now what I will celebrate is that I am glad to be writing this, that I have the time and the space to do it. I’m at a women’s co-working space that has grown since I first joined. I drove my car here. I stopped at the Y on the way and rolled around on an exercise ball with a bunch of Baby Boomers to the tune of Shut Up and Dance With Me.

I’m smiling right now because I’ve read that it makes us feel better. It does. This much I know is true. I can start there.

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Slowing down for magic

On a recent evening we were walking on our rural road, my mother and I, when far up ahead we saw a whitetail deer crossing the pavement. A shadow nearby, her newborn fawn, no larger than a cat, born that day or perhaps the night before. We stood still, watching from afar as it followed its mother into the safety of the brush, spindly and unsure and looking wholly exhausted with the world.

We marveled at the deer’s tiny-ness and continued with our walk. We had been too far away to see exactly where they had entered the woods, but we gazed beyond the branches and greenery as we went to see if we could detect a sign of the mother deer and her unbelievably small charge. At one point we stopped completely and stared into the woods, trying to see past the leaves.

We were looking in the wrong place. I touched my mother’s arm to get her attention, because at the exact point we had stopped, a minuscule spotted bundle curled motionless in the tall grass next to the road.

To exhausted to follow, the fawn had lay in that spot, waiting for its mother to return. What reason or energy or strange ultra-accurate unconscious calculation had caused us to stop in that very place, we don’t know. I say it was magic or some earth spirit or higher force saying, look at this. Be connected to this beautiful moment. Stop and look.

There are some writing retreats that focus on craft, on critique, on the expertise of authors.

We stop and look.  

Can you remember the last time? Is it hard for you to remember that time when you were a child and you were bored?

Magic happens at a slow speed. We step outside of our lives so we can slow down.

What can you find? What will you see? It’s waiting to be discovered.


Modern dance performances and amber stones, by Eline Van Wieren

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Last weekend I went to a modern dance festival where young dance makers get to share their work with the world. One of the pieces I saw was choreographed and performed by a girl who I think was somewhere in her twenties, just like me. She was wearing oversized soft pink track pants and a black t-shirt with what looked like a heavy metal band logo printed on it.

In the festival folder, it said that her piece is research on the pre-consisting ideas and images of the female body. An exploration of how her body deals with loneliness, rage and sensuality.

Her dance isn’t what you’d expect dance to be. It’s not elegant and flowing. The movements mimic daily life motions so closely, it’s hard to know what it is that you’re actually looking at. You could even argue if this is dance. But I don’t want to be like the average close-minded fifty-something theatergoers that I’m surrounded with. I’m an art school student. I’m cool and I have a well-curated Instagram account. So I tell myself: Dance can be whatever it decides to be.

 The girl on the stage has long blonde hair in a ponytail high on her head. The music intensifies and she starts head-banging. The music softens down and she starts to undress. The black shirt and the washed-out white sports bra. The track pants she doesn’t take off completely; she lets them hang around her ankles.

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She starts rubbing body lotion on her legs, her arms, her belly and her chest. I know what she’s doing. This is a performance of self-care. A performance I’ve do every Sunday night, without an audience, trying to make it look natural. She rubs the lotion on her perfectly formed breasts. Breasts that would do well in a black and white photoshoot with a girl between freshly washed sheets looking into the camera caught off guard, showing everything but the nipple.

There’s also bouquet of flowers on the stage and the puts them in her neon pink panties. I look at her, sitting on stage under the bright lamps and think: I know what you’re trying to do. Being naked on this stage, trying to show the world that you’re allowed to do whatever you want with your body. But this is not a statement. You’re pretty. You have the body and the breasts and the pretty face. You’re exactly what people want a girl to be.

After the show I go to the bar and order a drink. I look next to me and there’s the girl with the blonde ponytail high on her head. She smiles at me and says, I love your necklace.

Thank you, I say. She reaches for the gold chain with the amber hanging from it.

She holds the stone between her thumb and index finger. Her forehead is about as tall as my collarbone and I look down at her bright blue eyes. Standing here in front of me, she looks so much more fragile than on that stage. She’s the kind of girl a man could wrap his arms around, pick up off the ground and there’d be nothing left for her to do than wait until he puts her down again.

She says, amber is supposed to turn negative energy into positive energy, but I don’t know if I believe in that kind of thing.

She is so nice and smart. I feel like maybe I should say something, about how I call myself a feminist, but still manage to judge brave girls who happen to also be pretty. But that doesn’t seem like a fun thing for her to hear, so I keep quiet. We talk about other things and her eyes whenever she speaks, her eyes glance down to my chest, where the golden-brown stone is laying between the folds of my t-shirt.  

At night before I go to bed I look at myself in the mirror as I take of the necklace and think of all the work that little stone has left to do.


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I wrote this piece during a session at our Marrakech retreat in November, and it seems appropriate to share it this week, when women are losing ground again in America, ranked 51st in the world in terms of gender equality. Check out the Daily Show’s “Desi Lydic: Abroad” for more on this topic.

In my dream, a bearded man compares his shark bite scars to the ones from my double mastectomy. He draws a line on the ground, wants to measure the length. Are they this long? he says, but he doesn’t know that my scars are three-dimensional. He seems threatened by my pain, wants to dominate that, too. He sees a power he doesn’t like and doesn’t understand. When I wake, I hear men’s voices downstairs in the house, ghosts or real, I don’t know. I hear footsteps on the stairs.

I am a monolingual drifter, learning languages I didn’t expect. I translate my stories through alternate universes. The alien who can leave her broken body whenever she wishes, the vampire who heals at the blink of an eye—still, both with psychic wounds they have trouble reaching.


A dove perches on a TV antenna like a weather vane. Sparrows gather in a flowering vine. I contemplate loss and gain, a misplaced or sacrificed iPod, found sunglasses and gremlins or fairies, weakness and sickness and falling off a stone step, landing hard but without bruises, missing towels and caterwauling, sweet tea and magic places that hide in a maze of stone walls. I will see more clearly when I’ve gone from here, or maybe tomorrow or tonight or something will happen later and I’ll see how to end my novel the right way.

There was a man in a café in Madrid who angrily demanded my change, shaking an empty plastic cup at me until I demanded he leave me alone, and I think of all the times I should have gotten angry and didn’t, and accepted things because that’s how it was, these things happen you know.

A few random memories surface, bubbling up one by one in a tempestuous boil. The time when I was eleven and an older boy pinned me on a neighbor’s bed, demanding I kiss him before he’d let me up, the weight of his body crushing the air from my lungs. Much later, the time I was promoted to a job I was proud of, the first female to hold this position at the company, and a male colleague said ‘Wow…so, what’s up with that?’ Or how I talked one night at dinner not long ago about walking down the street near my apartment and two different men in two different cars stopped to comment on my appearance or ask me my name. Just be nice and keep walking, my father suggested, and I said why, why should I have to be nice when I feel threatened? That’s been part of the problem all along, that men have seen women as “for” them, to comment on or to offer the gift of their attention, because that means we’re valuable, even though they miss the dimensions, and they don’t see the ways we have to think six steps ahead of any situation, how it distracts us from the things we’d rather be thinking about.

Which brings me back to my novel. Back to making it right. Back to wondering whether I can carry it through, or the other one, and reading last night about Haruki Murakami, how he decided one day in the middle of watching a baseball game that he could probably write a novel and did, a few months later, sending off his only copy to a contest without another thought, only caring about completing it and not what it meant or whether it would ever get published, like a sand mandala, colorful and singular and temporary.