Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa*

So yeah, I have not written much here since December. For the most part, that is because of my distress about the outcome of the US presidential election. I had really believed that the US was moving forward to a time when we were able to protect all our citizens, put in place protections for our land and water, start to get more equitable in behavior between men and women in terms of pay, society and sexual consent, and protect workers rather than corporations… Do I need to go on?

Yeah, I was deluded. I admit it.

As a white, formerly straight, Christian, cis woman, under-descriminated (against) and over-educated, I was blind to the pain that a lot of people are in. I did not realize that white supremacy still put lives of people of color at risk systematically. I did not realize that poor whites would eat up the propaganda of fascists if it made them feel better about our capitalist economy moving their jobs to third world countries where corporations could pay the people there pennies to do work for which Americans would demand dollars. I did not realize that Americans would swallow outright lies if it meant that they didn’t have to face realities they did not want to face.

Climate change.

Wall Street executives gaming the system.

Systematic racism in our society, government, and institutions.

Systematic sexism in our… oh, wait, I’m repeating myself.

44-and-a-quarter, I thought, was clearly a celebrity has-been, born with a silver spoon in his mouth and unprepared for dignified executive power. Hillary Clinton was unarguably the most qualified presidential candidate America has ever seen.

What could possibly go wrong?


Um, how about “everything”?

And if I had not always been a student of World War Two, and a student of the Holocaust, I might possibly not blame myself for my short-sightedness.

But I have been.

So I do.

And how can I possibly own my credibility as a writer if I am so blind as a citizen, a historian and a theologian?

(All of this kinda makes my writer’s block a little easier to understand, if I look at it that way. And we all carry this kind of baggage to our writing projects…)

I’ve spent a lot of the last ten months writing fiction, particularly fiction that prioritizes the relationships of queer people despite the prevailing social narrative that marginalizes them, people of color, and others, which the (straight, white) general public doesn’t understand. When I started writing many years ago, I wrote fantasy: reimagining the world the way I wanted it to be.

Seems like three+ decades hasn’t changed much.


But anyway, now that I’ve figured out what my problem has been, I can start to fix it. Or in Christian terms, do penance, from the Latin, paenitentia, regret. So I pray:


God of all mercy,

I confess that I have sinned against you,

opposing your will in my life.


I have denied your goodness in my neighbors,

in myself, and in the world you have created.


I repent of the evil that enslaves me,

the evil I have done,

and the evil done on my behalf.


Forgive, restore, and strengthen me

through our Savior Jesus Christ,

that I may abide in your love

and serve only your will.



Prayer from: Enriching Our Worship. New York: The Church Pension Fund, 1998. 19. (Language changed from first person plural to first person singular. Italics mine.)

Translation of Today’s Blog Title: My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.

Translation of Amen: Let it be so.

Yelling “Theater!” in a Crowded Fire


Writer’s block is a thing like when you sit down on the train and realize that you have just stepped (in your brand new shoes) into the sticky residue of someone’s spilled soda. And you think, well, heat melts sugar, right? So if only the curtains of my imagination were on fire, I could pull myself out of this urban transit tarpit and actually create something.

Closet Shopping for the Blocked Writer


It is easy to get into a rut, whether it comes to writing, cooking, or even wearing clothes. I do this all the time. Since I teach writing, I tend to say the same things over and over again, every semester. Since I functionally live alone, I eat the same things over and over, especially if they are easy, like baked chicken or spaghetti. And, in part because I went to Catholic school for eleven years, where I wore a uniform every day, I tend to fall into patterns of clothing.

Lately it was pointed out to me that, although nobody really cares what I say about writing or what I eat, what I wear will change people’s opinions of me, so I need to be much more intentional about it. One of the ways I have tried this is throwing out worn-out clothing even if it does have a few more months wear left in it and another way is what a friend calls “closet shopping”: digging around in the deep, dark recesses of my closet for things I haven’t worn in years. I’ve also dug around in my jewelry drawer so that I am not simply wearing the same necklace and earrings every single day.

I will say I feel better by doing this. And it made me wonder how it might work to help the rut I am in with my writing. Are there themes I used to write about more that I can revisit? Should I dig out one of my books of Hiroshige or Hokusai woodblock prints and find a new one to poetize about? Should I pick six words off my refrigerator and whack out a sestina?

And since I can’t figure out how to end this post, I will do what songs in the 1980s always did, when they kept repeating the refrain but turning the sound further and further down… I was going to do this by making the font progressively smaller, but wordpress won’t let me. Sigh.

When Even Page 51 Doesn’t Work


So there I was on Wednesday morning, at work at MIT. I had no clients (because, duh, beginning of semester), no access to the Internet because of the new computer not being finished “setting up,” and two blessed hours when I could, theoretically, work my blog. Because Writing Is Easy, a thing you can do without a whole heck of a lot of technology, if only you have ideas.

Which I did not, in fact, have.

So I thought, no problem, there is the old Page 51 trick. I will look at a book or four on my shelf and see what the first sentence on page 51 is, and then I will have something to write about!

Living with Honor: “It better accepts another character of that taproot: the power of fertility.”

Bossy Pants: “When we got home I was sent to play outside so my father could shampoo the rug.”

Poetry and the Visual Arts: Page 51 is completely blank. It doesn’t even say 51.

Modernism and the Architecture of Private Life: “Like Wilde, Dorian has a home that is a product of his creative vision, filled with things that are both decorative objects and works of art.”

All of which is kind of depressing, because not only have I not found anything interesting to write about, I have also realized what a weird bookshelf I have. Sigh.

That Blank Stare

That blank stare, neck cocked up at that blank

Screen. You want not to beg. You want only

The elusive idea, the original question, the timely

Answer. It’s not motivation that is lacking,

Only the electricity flying between neurons

That passes for insight that you can pass on:

All the right words in all the right places,

So that somewhere on the other side of this

Big blue planet, another human being reads

What you wrote and says, “Oh!” and “Yes!”

And “I had always thought it was only me…”writers-block

The Ups & Downs of Giving My Brain a Home


We each have a unique brain, but my lately my own brain has been acting particularly unique. On Tuesday, as I was heading for work, I started thinking about what I would write in the next blog. When I got to the train, I dug around in my coat for a file card and wrote 24 lines in very tiny handwriting to capture my ideas before class. I do realize that a lot of you young whippersnappers, especially those born after the bicentennial, probably would have tippy-tappy typed yourself a text or email, but you would, I argue, be losing out. The e-world does not have the serendipity of the material world (Oooh, now there is an epigraph. Everyone: go write me a poem with this as its heart’s kernel! Report back.) It is hard to accidentally come across something you have put into the ether as I did yesterday when I found the file card my cat had knocked off the dresser, a file card scribbled last year when I was at a bookstore, remembered the book and the line in it and copied it down, knowing I would eventually use it to write something (which I had done a few years earlier when I first read the book, but I lost that particular note). Serendipity on top of serendipity.

Anyway, my brain. So as I was entering the building where I teach, looking at my notes, I suddenly started singing in my head:

Chicken scratch blogpost, I don’t care!

Chicken scratch blogpost, I don’t care!

Chicken scratch blogpost, I don’t CAAAAAAAARE!

My master’s gone away!

Sigh. But there is also an upside to hosting my particular brain. On Monday afternoon, just as I was waking up from a nap, I could see, as if typed on the inside of my skull, the line, “As children we come to experiences bone to bone, with no kind skin to muffle the uproar.”

I know, right? Amazing!

I immediately knew that it was the beginning of a poem, at first I thought the poem about Troy but as I sat up and scrambled to get to the computer to write it down, I realized that instead it would enable me to write about the origin of the character I would argue is the Best Damn Villain Ever in popular culture, Xena’s nemesis Callisto, portrayed by the very talented Hudson Leick, who apparently now teaches yoga. That seems a trifle ironic, given that Callisto is a very likeable psychotic mass-murdering fiend. I even saw a short, 4 minute, YouTube video that explains with clips from the shows, just why Leick’s Callisto is the Best Villain Ever (so it is not just my opinion, huh!).

This is why, despite all my protests that There Is No Muse, GRRR!, I can absolutely understand why the ancients would make up the idea of the muse. Even I, after briefly minoring in psychology in college, have a hard time giving my own mind credit for such an unlikely phenomenon as the perfect gift of a perfect line after a damn fine nap. It is easier to give somebody else credit, whether that’s nine generous Greek chicks or God. The Greeks are the ones who handed us down the idea of hubris, the dangerous self-pride or arrogance that offends the gods. For writers, inspiration is a precarious thing, as illustrated by all the blogs on WordPress alone that focus on writers block. Even for me, the instinct is to be cautiously humble…

Yoga Lessons for the Working Poet #1


Today, I am taking this as the opportunity to talk more about yoga, my latest obsession/Important Excitement. As I think I have said before, I have always believed that the other arts–visual, musical, physical and spiritual–have much to teach the working writer, and in particular the working poet. I sing a lot (often at the top of my lungs) although I am a poor musician, and I have been a martial artist for more than half my life now, so I am always noticing how these practices apply to my practice of writing. Doing yoga now for almost eight months has brought similar insights.

It’s funny. I have several women friends who each have two brothers, the one they get along well with, who is always named, and the one they don’t, who is always called “my brother” or “my other brother,” even if the first is not named. Similarly, my gym has several yoga instructors, most of them very good, one who is a drill sargeant, and Erica Magro, who I consider My Yoga Teacher. Because what I learn from her isn’t just about turning my body into a pretzel or seeing how long I can hold a particular pose; it’s about learning a new way to live.

I think writing is like that. There are lessons to be learned from the constant, daily practice of writing. Some of those lessons are similar to the lessons I learn in yoga. Erica often says, “Get there how you get there. If it doesn’t feel right, back off.” This is not the sort of thing we get taught in our hypercompetitive culture, and it is a lesson I frequently need to pass on to the writers I work with, especially the scientists and engineers at MIT, who didn’t get to the top of their profession by going easy on themselves, and sometimes find themselves tied up in figurative knots because of it when it comes to their writing.

This may sound like a contradiction to the things I say about discipline and not waiting for a muse before you get down to the work that is writing. It isn’t really. The word discipline doesn’t inherently mean being hard on yourself. It is more akin to the word disciple, and means teaching and learning. So for me, self-discipline involves learning how I do things, what is the best environment for me, the best medium for getting my ideas on paper, and then taking advantage of my strengths. And it means, when I hit a wall in whatever I am working on, I back off for a while. I do something else. Let the back of my brain mull over the problem while I use the front for other things. Then, when I go back to my wall, I am more apt to see possible doors and windows or tunnels or even ramrods.

And when I see how useful this practice of backing off and returning is in my writing, when I have proof that it works, I am much more likely to bring it to the rest of my life. And I live with a little less stress as a result.