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I'm in Spain

Me.

Little Dulcie from the New Hampshire.

I’m sitting by a pool with a ciggy in my hand, typing funny as a result but no less here and no less thoughtless and thoughtful in this sitting. I’m in Spain.

Nancy is on a couch out here by the pool and she’s reading something and I’m tap tap tapping away like this is what I do. I sit by pools on the Costa Brava typing like I belong here, like a rich girl.

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But I’m still Dulcie farm girl only now I travel and run writing retreats and live to tell of them and me and what comes of growing up like a bumpkin with a mother who got around and a father who worked like a dog. I am both of them. I carry them with me, her blue eyes and snappy tongue and lust for more, his weighty call to earn what you receive. They could not make a go of it together but they did instill their values in the progeny of their lengthy union. My brothers and my sister and I can no more condone slovenliness than we can envision when enough is enough. There is always more to be done whether it is words to be written or money to be made, drawers to be cleaned out or borders to cross.

Limits were not built into our double helix strands.

As for me, I am hoping to smooth out a bit now. The retreat is over, the coast is right over there with us able to walk much of it. We have a plan going forward that takes into account the weather being a bit sparky. So now where does this put me?

I envision writing and what is it that I envision? I have this idea of pulling together a bunch of short pieces and making them into something. I also think about what it would take to publish my own book and would that be the best way for me to go

I wonder. I don’t want to suffer from Underachievement Personality Disorder. I also would like to feel like my writing is good enough to put out there and my own approval does not seem to be enough for me. I don’t know how big a YES it would take in order for me to believe myself.

I guess there is a fraud police in all of us. That’s why some people like Trump – because he acts so grossly right out in public. We all want to hang our freak out there and have it be okay. We don’t want to have to make believe but we do it rather than risk ridicule.

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If I were to write just like me what would it be?

I have this character who struts across the catwalk in front of me. Tina may be her name. And the thing about Tina? She wears a leather garter up high, tight and out of sight, it reminds her of who she really is. She is a street girl that found some glam for a while, strutted her stuff, got taken up in her own delusions of success, only to end up back in the street.

I am a farm girl that hangs out on the Costa Brava sometimes. But am I still a farm girl? Perhaps I am. I do believe in hard work. In earning what we receive. I think we’re better for it when we do. Not to decry gifts, they’ve been life saving to me and to others but they are not what makes us whole on the inside. Except for the accepting and acknowledging of them. Seeing that to be true is what helps us be in there with everyone else. No better. No worse.

But there’s something essential in the doing part of things. That’s what I’m here with this morning. A farm girl on the Costa Brava. Seeing if I am also a writer.

It's time for autumn by Eline van Wieren

It is a Saturday morning and the kitchen is a mess. I am making French toast for my roommates, working around the stacks of plates with caked up left over pasta, coffee grits and shriveled banana peels. Someone else can do the cleaning up.  I make tea. I evenly distribute the toasts over the last three clean plates and put them on the table. We eat together without saying much. There isn’t any music on.

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‘This is supposed to be the last weekend of summer,’ one of my roommates says. ‘After today temperatures will drop and they’re predicting rain.’

Something softens in all three of us. Summer has been good to us, but we’re getting to a point where there’s nothing more to add to this season. We’ve had our dinners outside, swam in canals and lakes, saw our city flooded with tourists and food stands, waited for thunder storms that passed over our heads without a single strike of lighting, leaving the air heavy.

Or maybe it’s just that there something softening in me. Maybe it’s just me that’s had enough of the heat and weekend days that are no different from weekdays. Maybe I’m the only one that longs for slow Saturday mornings and grey skies. 

I like the predictability of autumn. Not because of its weather, but because of how it beautifully shrinks people back into their skins. I like the extra layers of clothes between us in public transport. Only the brave still outside on restaurant terraces, the waitresses leaving chests filled with blankets near the door. I can’t wait for dark evenings that feel like secrets. Curtains closed, tea lights on, book in lap.

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Autumn is a season for growing roots. Letting my leaves with slightly sunburned edges fall to the ground. Watching them shrivel and change colors and disintegrate. I want to feel the ground I’m planted in regain its nutrition and stretch out in the comforting heaviness of it all.

No more abundance! I want to be surprised and warmed by sporadic rays of sunlight. I want to close my eyes and feel an icy wind stroke my cheeks. And then, in a couple of months, when I’ve had enough of the cold, I want to long for summer. Do it all over again.

My Identity by Maria Gabriela Guevara

The past few years, I’ve been thinking more about my identity. I was born in Venezuela and my parents came to the United States when I was six months old. Spanish was my first language, and I was mandated to speak it at home (something I was later grateful to my mother for). Though I learned how to read and write in Spanish in Venezuela, the year I spent there in kindergarten, my proficiency in English eventually overtook my Spanish.  

I want to say here that what I write below are my thoughts, opinions, and attempts to untangle the subject of identity and race and how I have been personally shaped, and I may not get it right from a PC angle; I hope to only open up dialogue.

I started writing stories when I was eleven years old. I was a prolific reader from the time I was seven years old. All of my early stories assumed white characters. I think it was the influence of mainstream 80s and 90s TV and movies, as well as the books I read. I loved a good Babysitters’ Club and Sweet Valley Twins/High series. I still remember the description of the twins as having blue eyes, blond hair, being 5’7” and being a “perfect size 6.” Obviously we hadn’t yet hit the 90s rage for a size 00 yet.  

It did not occur to me that I looked nothing like these girls, and that the culture I was growing up in was nothing like what was represented in the books, TV and movies I was avidly consuming. I have always loved stories.

I also never seemed to fit in with the Latinx kids at school. In elementary school in the Inland Empire of California, I was generally seen as a nerdy kid and had very few friends. The Mexican girls intimidated me, with their slick hair and huge hoop earrings. They all had accents they pressed on, and my English was much too perfect. I had one good friend who was white and overweight and somewhat of an outcast herself, but not as much as I was. In seventh grade, when we went to middle school, I was placed in the gifted classes and met new kids. I finally made some friends, all white girls.

At the end of 7th grade, my parents moved us to Florida. In Florida, into middle school and high school, the core group of my friends were white, though I went to a high school that was so diverse white was considered a minority. I liked the variety of people, and I didn’t think much about it. In undergrad, at the  University of Florida, it didn’t even cross my mind to consider joining the Hispanic sorority. I joined in to one of the big sororities (another story for another day). That time in my life is when I realized I was not white, I was not blond, and that made me less than the cultural ideal.

In both California and Florida, despite my integrating in with the white kids, there was not an assumption that I was white.  Friends all knew I spoke Spanish, and they were used to having diversity around, even if we weren’t all as integrated as we could have been. I had some African American friends in high school, none that were close, but people I spoke with on a consistent basis. I honestly had very little intelligence about the subtleties of micro-aggressions against women and people of color until the last five years or so. You could say I was asleep to this most of my life.

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It was when I moved to Denver, Colorado that I began to see more subtle racism. A friend who’d moved from Tallahassee told me when I moved here that people here considered themselves uber-accepting and uber-liberal, but there were no people of color around (he was especially bitter about Boulder). There is actually a good amount of diversity in Colorado, especially Denver; the problem is, it is highly socio-economically segregated, with the privileged, mostly mid-Western whites living in the nice/gentrified parts of town, and the others pushed out to the edges of the metro area.  One of my first friends in Denver said I was the first Latinx person she’d ever really talked to, and asked me if I spoke Spanish and how my parents came here.

I never felt the need to tell people in Florida that I was Latina. There is a different mentality there; a lot more variety in the people I saw every day. There wasn’t an assumption that because I’m a well-educated professional, and that I speak eloquently, that I was white. Whereas in Colorado, people do assume that. And even well-meaning people who consider themselves accepting and liberal have said things to me borderlining on stereotyping, and possibly dare I say, racist.

The most blatant of these happened to me in writing classes, which very much surprised me. My good friend (who is half-Thai) and I co-wrote a screenplay in which we identified our heroine as Asian-American (Thai to be exact) and her husband as Latino, and the heroine’s best friend as African-American. We shared our first five pages with the writer’s groups, and one of the first questions was “Well why are they Asian-American/fill-in-the-blank, what purpose does it serve exactly? And how does it change their experiences?” The second question might be fair; however, our characters were several generations removed from immigration. They were what I call Americanized. No more or less American than a white person from Iowa. And just as disconnected from their roots. The reason we were specific is because we know that if it isn’t specified (in a screenplay, especially) the character is assumed to be white.

The same thing happens in prose, but it seems to be less talked about.  I came across this in a different class where I was receiving feedback on the first page of a short story where in dialogue, I identified a character as “Hispanic” by another character. The two characters were lying in bed together. The instructor said, “I think this is just exposition, and you could consider cutting it.” She was right. Others said, “I think maybe it leads to tension later in the story.” Which was fine too. Then I explained that our instructor was correct, that I have been trying to find ways to put identity on the page. One person suggested I talk about their skin colors as “latte on freckles.” Our instructor shut that down immediately. What I didn’t point out is that I told them nothing about the second character, but the assumption had been made that the second character was white, which further proved my point about the default read. People tend to assume, unless you tell them otherwise, that a character is white. It’s our default on the page, default on the screen, and so it’s not surprising that we assume it be some kind of default in life.

Then, another well-meaning person in my class said, “what if she [Hispanic character] is the first in her family to go to college?” to which I muttered, “that’s another stereotype.”

I’m still grappling with my own Americanization and white-washing. The way I speak, look, and carry myself, as well as the lightness of my skin, might suggest that I am white, if you are stereotyping. I do have extra privilege because of this, too. I have not felt discriminated against because of my race, though I know it exists, especially from talking with my (darker) cousin (my gender is another story).  On the flip side, I don’t feel like I belong among Latinx people, either. I’ve surprised many people by speaking Spanish to them. I have trouble feeling like I belong anywhere. 

All this to say that I have shifted to writing characters that are more diverse, and I challenge each of us to think about how we read American characters whose race hasn’t been identified. Is there a default mode because of the images we’ve been bombarded with?

 

Publishing by the Numbers by Nita Sweeney

It took me decades to become an “overnight sensation.”

Sometimes people get “discovered.” The young daughter of a friend, for example, wound up modeling in New York after a talent scout saw her in a Newark, Ohio shopping mall.

That was not my experience.

In 2015, I told a writer friend over the phone, "I just want my name on the cover of a book."

She guffawed so loudly, I heard it all the way across the country.

“If that's what you wanted, you would have self-published years ago!” My clenched stomach agreed with her.

I began to write my first book-length work in 1994, shortly after I stopped practicing law. I was thirty-three. From then until that phone call, I participated in numerous National Novel Writing Months, took countless writing workshops, and completed an MFA program in creative writing.

As I talked to my friend on the phone, I made a mental list of the books I’d previously written. Nine books. Zero published. But now, after many revisions, I had a book I felt was worth pitching, a memoir about how running with my dog improved my mental health.

Nita Sweeney’s new favorite sport is signing books. She’s shown here with “Kelley from the book” at the launch of  Depression Hates a Moving Target.

Nita Sweeney’s new favorite sport is signing books. She’s shown here with “Kelley from the book” at the launch of Depression Hates a Moving Target.

My friend and I hatched a three-part plan.

A) Pitch to agents.
B) Pitch to publishers who don’t require an agent.
C) Self-publish.

Before I launched in, I took a book marketing class to prepare the requisite materials for pitching. These included a query letter, author bio, synopsis, and sample chapters. The class discussed book proposals, but I secretly hoped I wouldn’t need one since publishers tend to judge memoir more by the writing and the story, but I knew that might be a delusion.

Armed with my pitch materials, I began!

Part A:

I used Querytracker.net to search for agents interested in books like mine. Querytracker links to each agent profile, includes a list of their known clients, and their agency website. If an agent looked promising, I went to the website to find that agent’s specific submission guidelines.

On May 14, 2016, I sent my first query to an agent. Over the next year, I pitched 108 agents and received fifty rejections including two requests for pages. The rest of the queries remain unanswered.

Part B:

Four months into that year, I grew antsy from the rejections. While continuing to query agents, I began to look for publishers who accept unagented submissions. Querytracker helped me make a short list, but I also used New Pages and Submittable, and suggestions from writer friends. Once I had a list, I separated it into two groups: publishers who requested proposals and those who did not.

On September 26, 2016, I queried the first publisher while continuing to pitch agents. Despite my hope, I soon exhausted the list of publishers who didn’t want proposals. At that point, I let go of the idea of getting an agent and fully jumped into “Part B.” I took a course in how to write a book proposal, wrote one, then began pitching those publishers.

By August of 2018, I had sent 134 pitches to publishers. Before I was through, I would receive 77 rejections and 12 positive replies including several requests for revisions. Forty-five publishers didn’t respond at all.

Since many presses hold contests with publication as the prize, I also entered thirty contests. The book made the “short list” of one contest, a “finalist” honor I cherish.

Still, the rejections stung. Some were laughable form letters. Others, the harshest ones, I unintentionally memorized. I saved them all. My husband and friends listened as I cried, yelled, and moped. I took the dog for runs or long, slow walks. I ate more than I should.

And, I continued to pitch the book.

Inches from Part C:

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As the days passed and rejections continued to roll in, I contacted friends and companies about self-publishing. Prices ranged from $100 to $10,000. My head spun with the options. It would be its own marathon.

And, I continued to pitch the book.

Finally, after a false start (a lost email) and two frantic weeks of scampering to improve my social media numbers, on August 23, 2018, more than two years after I implemented the plan, I was “discovered.” 

Brenda Knight, Associate Editor of Mango Publishing, sent the magic email:

"We want to move forward and publish your book."

 Book number ten.

I was 56.

Why do I tell you these numbers? To prepare you for what publishing might require

Of course, it might not. You might find an agent the first week you send queries. You might get an offer from the second publisher you pitch. You might win the third contest you enter. Or, you might decide to self-publish and bypass parts A & B altogether. But I want you to know what it might look like. 

I also share my statistics to encourage you to please, never give up. I was 33 when I wrote my first book-length work and 56 when I received Mango’s offer.

Twenty-three years.
108 Agents
134 Editors
30 Contests
One book.

It's never too late to chase your dreams!

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Nita Sweeney is a writing coach, marathoner, mental health advocate, and the author of the memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink. She lives in central Ohio with her husband and best friend, Ed, and their yellow Labrador retriever, Scarlet, the #ninetyninepercentgooddog. For more information, visit her website.

 

Finding a Way Through the Forest by Tina Jackson

I live surrounded by old trees and undergrowth. A dense ring of green around a big, old red brick house with mismatched windowpanes and gothic turrets. It’s like living in the forest, but on the outskirts of the city. We cultivate our wilderness areas, or least ignore them and leave their secrets intact, and maybe this is why we share our space with so many creatures that are nocturnal - bats, owls, hedgehogs and foxes.

Sometimes I look out of my long window onto the garden at night to watch the foxes. They’re magical creatures. Sometimes you get a glimpse of a tail, vanishing into the darkness. Sometimes a whole body slinks in the shadows, snouts about, saunters across the lawn. Occasionally one will emerge onto lamp-lit grass and perform a back-arched jump, all four paws in the air. Once, drawn by a rustling in the foliage underneath my window, I saw a fox-cub’s head sprout from the leaves, and then the rest of it, skinny body followed by skinny tail, as it sprung and pounced and played in the moonlight before skittering back into the darkness.

I’m drawn to these night-creatures who live in the borderlands between night, and day, between cultivated garden and wilderness – playful, mysterious bin-scavengers, wild and beautiful and feral. They remind me of other margin dwellers – creatures, human or not, who live, in some way, in the borderlands. Sometimes glimpsed, never fully seen. Sitting on the sidelines of society, minding their own business. Falling through the cracks. Misunderstood, overlooked, regarded with suspicion Making a living on what’s been left behind. Waiting in the wings. Travellers, voyagers, watchers, seekers, show people, night people. My people, all of them.

Of course they make their way into my writing. My fiction is mostly fairytales: grimy magic realist transformation stories. A vixen who dots in and out of the of the undergrowth is a recurring motif in the novel I’ve been working on for some time now.

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And this is where Wide Open Writing Comes in. The manuscript of what’s now called The Beloved Children had been put to one side. For good reason, I argued (mostly to myself). I’d a commission to complete a book of feminist working class history within a tight deadline. And a contract for a book of short stories. But all stories have other stories concealed inside them, particularly the ones we tell ourselves, and really, I’d put the manuscript to one side because I’d got, metaphorically, lost in the forest. I’d wandered in, entranced by the night creatures and the enchanted world I’d found there, and, just as it happens in all the fairy stories, I’d wandered off the path. And instead of finding a man whose eyebrows met in the middle, I’d got stuck in a swamp. One of my characters, Rose, in particular, had been locked (by me, not an evil fairy godmother but merely an incompetent one) into a storyline that, I was increasingly aware, was wrong for her. She needed… deserved… more… . Her storyline was pivotal. But I didn’t know what she needed to be. And until I’d worked it out, I was going nowhere with this book. So when I packed my bags for Tuscany, my hope for the retreat was that somehow I’d find my way, and discover Rose’s true story.

The WOW magic began to work its spell from the very beginning, with the company of inspiring strangers and the beauty of the countryside opening up imaginative possibilities. And yes, we were surrounded by forest.

There was no messing about. Dulcie’s first workshop – powerful stuff – provided the illumination I’d been seeking. She asked us to envisage a ball of energy inside us and write from that place. And it came. This sardonic, knowing voice, mocking me. It was the old wardrobe mistress Dolores, one of the other characters. I’d written her as a formidable character and here she was, proving me right. ‘You think Rose is just a fluffy little chicken,’ the voice sneered. I wrote it down, everything that she had to say as she put me right. And when I read it aloud to the amazingly supportive WOW circle, they got it straight away.

Each Wide Open Writing day gave me some more words. Not reams, but they were good words. Snippets came: other voices from the book, reminding me who they were and what I needed to do with them. And when I got back home, the words and the insights I’d gleaned in the WOW workshop provided me with the spark to revisit the manuscript, redraft it and rework it into shape. It took me from October to June this year and now The Beloved Children is at the stage where it’s ready to spread its wings.

Other words and ideas came, too – some of them in the times when I left the wonderful group of new friends and set out into the night to explore the countryside around the Fattoria. I didn’t go too far, and there weren’t any foxes, but it felt warm and welcoming and full of unseen, mysterious goings on. And on the last day of our retreat, when we all stood together in a circle, hand to hand, in the tree pose, we realised that we had created our own forest – a forest of ideas and inspiration, a fertile imaginative space full of words and ideas, rooted to the ground, holding each other up, putting out branches, pointing towards the sky.

I’d often use the silent time between Nancy’s gorgeous morning yoga sessions and the first creative writing workshop to note the thoughts and impressions that came from my nocturnal wanderings. One of the scribblings about leaving the path and exploring the darkness has made its way into a three-part poem called hagstones that has been accepted for an anthology of poetry on magic and witchcraft called Maiden Mother Crone. It’s the first of my poems to find their way into print. I have WOW’s very special magic to thank for that. 


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

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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.

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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 website:www.elinevanwieren.nl (that she will definitely give it an update this summer).

Is It True That Creative Energy Will Save The Planet?

Yes.

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.

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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

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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.