I have told just about anyone and everyone who would listen that I don’t believe there are any shoulds or should nots in writing (except, of course, the use of verbatim dialogue in nonfiction.  That’s a non-negotiable given for me.).  Grammar and spelling are important, of course, but a good proofreader or editor can help with that if it’s not your forté.  Style and content have their place in developing a piece, but to lock yourself in to what is considered the “right” way to write is to deny yourself and your audience     I’ve always been a go-against-the-grain kind of person and with my writing it is no different.

A few years back, after I graduated with my MA in Creative Writing, I sent a copy of the first draft of my memoir to a couple of friends who are also writers and writing instructors to read.

Both were very gracious with their feedback. They described my writing as “beautiful” and “courageous,” saying I had written a book that they believed belonged out in the world.  I wasn’t so sure about the beautiful and courageous parts, but I did believe the writing I was doing was important and I wanted the chance to share it with the people I thought would benefit from it most.

This memoir was somewhat unconventional in the way it is written.  I relied heavily on old journal entries for some of the chapters and it was written from a variety of different perspectives.  One of the writers who read my manuscript commented that the only thing he saw that could be an issue for me was that it didn’t really have a narrative arc, and that most works of this type do.  Still, it would likely capture the attention and interest of any reader without one.

I’m not different from most writers. We are insecure, carrying the surety that our writing is…well, crap.  We write and write, then rewrite, then write again.  Years ago we would have thrown out reams of paper trying to find the right words; these days, we fill hard drives and flash drives, we write and delete and then kick ourselves for not keeping what we know was better than the rewrite. We write long essays or poems or even books, then put them away for years because they are no good.  Yeah, I’m not different from most writers.  And the feedback I received reinforced that (false) belief that my writing sucks.

So I put it away.  For a long time.  I struggled with it during that year or so because I had no idea how to create a work about my own life with an arc.  My life has (or had, at the time) no neatly defined arc.  I was still in an immensely difficult place and would likely stay there for the foreseeable future.  I decided it wasn’t worth it, so it yellowed in the back of a seldom-used drawer.

During this time I read a lot of articles on writing in general.  They all espoused the correct way to write, the language and formatting to use, the amount of time a writer should spend at the computer, whether to write in longhand or electronically oh, and one of the most critical pieces of advice: never submit to publications that don’t pay (and pay well).  The list goes on.  It seems there are a LOT of things we should be doing as writers and, if we aren’t, we won’t be successful.

Every writer (and, arguably, non-writer) needs to define for him/herself what it means to be successful.  For some, it is simply seeing their writing in print.  For others, it’s a means for putting food on the table.  And for still others, it is only about being able to express one’s self; the public display is unimportant.

I’ve pulled out the memoir from time to time to read and to decide if it needs rewriting.  I started a rewrite, deciding maybe it did need an arc.  I put it away again, running into the same issue I had the first time.  My life doesn’t fit into a neat little arc and it likely never will.  So what if I write it without one?  Will the world come to an end?  Will I be ousted from the writing community because I violated one of their rules?

I have come to understand that the “shoulds” don’t matter at all.  In fact, if we don’t entertain some of the “should nots” occasionally, our writing will be like everyone else’s, dull and formulaic.  For those of you who made it through this rant, how many errors did you find?

As my mother would say, “you understood what I meant, didn’t you?!?”



Unless you’ve been living under a rock you have, by now, heard of the incident in Washington DC that occurred on the day of the March for Life and the Indigenous Peoples March.  Videos like the one below are circulating all over social media and news outlets; do a Google search and you will find a countless number of discussions and videos about the incident.  By far, the following video is the one you’ll find:


Less often, you will find this one:

There is a debate – and a strong liberal-conservative divide – about what actually happened here.  Those videos most prominent on a quick internet search and being played in popular media (first above) show a large group of white students wearing MAGA gear surrounding a Native American drummer, shouting and laughing in a taunting manner.  They focus on a single student, standing inches away from the man, smirking and stifling a laugh while the man drums.  Other videos show the Elder approaching the students and holding his ground, beating on his drum and chanting.  One of the longer videos also shows intense and often vulgar dialogue between the white students and a Native American, as well as  religious and homophobic rantings of a black man.

Nathan Phillips, a Vietnam-era Vet and the Native American at the core of this story, talks about the incident and explains his actions:


There are basically two camps in this discussion.  The first, typically seen as the “liberal/Left” bias, is that the group of students surrounding the Native American drummer was taunting; they smirked, laughed at, attempted to intimidate, and mocked Mr. Phillips and, by extension, the Native American community.  The second or “conservation/Right” side claims that there either is no “hate hoax” or, because Phillips approached the students, he was wholly responsible for the confrontation.

Phillips says he approached the group after witnessing a generalized tension and unease among individuals and the group; his intent was to bring peace and resolution to a situation he saw as dangerous and one that might escalate into violence.  Folks supporting the students say, since they were not violent (assuming here they mean physically violent), they did nothing wrong and the Left is making a big deal out of nothing.

Here is another write-up of the incident that focuses on media bias, and the verbal attacks on the (mostly white) students (by Native Americans, a black man, and a Muslim), and suggests the reader reverse the roles of whites and others and imagine the reactions.


Whatever you believe happened, a close look at this confrontation and all of the opinions surrounding it shows that this was so much more than mostly white conservative students facing a Native American.  It is symbolic of the hate that divides our country, of the gross misunderstanding most of share about cultural differences, of the way our children are educated, and of the racial tensions in the US.  Whatever you believe happened, this conflict and its ensuing (sometimes vicious) analyses should bother you.  Whatever you believe, I hope you share the notion that one act of hate does not deserve another.  Hate truly does beget hate.

Dialogue in Nonfiction

Posted: January 13, 2019 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I’m a sort of in-the-middle person.  The Grey Zone was so named because I think there is very little all-black or all-white about, well…pretty much anything.  There is always another side, if we take the time to ask.

I think I have known this for a very long time, but it really hit home one day when I saw the following on Facebook:


There was considerable discussion (and argument) about the solution to this equation. I was fascinated (and a wee bit disturbed) because I’ve always accepted that math was a constant – maybe the only true constant – in our world, not subject to the whims of humanity.  But after doing some research, I discovered that the “Order of Operations” this video describes is really just an opinion and not even included in all text books.   If a student is not taught to solve equations in this way, s/he will come up with a completely different answer.  So…who’s right?


Completely shook the very foundation of how I interpreted the world.  But that is worth its own post.

Now…to the subject of this post: writing dialogue in nonfiction.  There are a couple of ideas about this and writers who stand on either side hold onto their opinions like their lives depended on it.  It – and by association, truth – is, I discovered, one of the few things I believe is an absolute.  Even after coming to understand that almost everything falls in a grey zone (based on opinion), this seems quite black/white to me.

Some writers believe that if quoted dialogue is included in a nonfiction work, it must be actual verbatim dialogue, taken from the writer’s own interaction with or observance of the speaker or as documented on tape.  Others believe that it is perfectly acceptable to “create” dialogue based on what they think the speaker may have said or how s/he likely would have responded in the interaction.

I fall into the former category. If I write that my brother said, “I am going to kill you,” then you can be assured that is exactly what he said.  As I see it, a work cannot be called nonfiction if dialogue has been created.  Not even in creative nonfiction, which is not “creating truths,” but rather using various literary styles and techniques to create a rich, relatable but truthful story.

If I’m not exactly certain of what was said, then I can say, My brother was upset and said something like he would kill me or My brother was upset and that he would kill me.  It may not *pop* like dialogue but with it, I am assured I am being truthful and I won’t get an angry call or subpoena from my brother saying I misquoted him.

When writing memoir or other nonfiction that incorporates real  people – dead or alive – I believe we have a responsibility to honor their place in the story.  As a writer, I think we must treat our characters with respect, even if they play(ed) a difficult role in our lives. One way to do that is to be true to their words.

There are lots of arguments for creating dialogue.  A common one is that as long as we capture the essence of the conversation, that’s really all that matters.  But that is an interpretation of what someone said and as writers we need to allow the reader to interpret what is said and done in the work. I think that if we are unable to write nonfiction – creative or otherwise – without lying (or embellishing, if that makes you feel better), then we shouldn’t be writing it at all. We already have a designation for writing that is allowed to play fast and loose with both facts and truth – it’s called fiction. When I write memoir or any other kind of nonfiction, the “creative” part comes into play, not in what fiction I can create to make a scene pop, but rather in how I weave my words through the tapestry of my story. If we decide to redefine nonfiction, we lose all respect and any trust we may have had for the writer of same. How can we possibly know what in a story is truth and what is borrowed or “reconstructed” for the sake of art?

Everything is Political

Posted: November 22, 2018 in Uncategorized

When I was studying for my Bachelor’s degree, I had a controversial and brilliant professor who had lived in over 65 countries and served as Jamaican deputy ambassador to Canada. Dr. Clinton Hewan is the person who opened my eyes to the world of politics and, in particular, US foreign policy in the Developing (Third) World.

Dr. Hewan was not shy about expressing his opinions.  Even if you didn’t like what he said (and many didn’t), he always had logical and well-reasoned thoughts – almost always based on fact – for what he believed.  People called him racist (with respect to whites) and thought that his attitude and approach was aggressive.

One of the most important things I learned from Dr. Hewan was that everything is political.  He used to say just that in nearly every class and it would rile everybody up (his intent, I’m sure).  They’d snicker and argue and he would fire back with examples from his years of work as a diplomat, from our day-to-day lives, and from an endless list of resources he gave us.  I came to understand that everything in the human realm does have a political connection.  I was not happy with that realization.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “political” as:

Relating to the government or public affairs of a country.

Several years ago when I was preparing a workshop on international affairs for The Red Cross, I searched for my own example of how politics has infiltrated our world in seemingly mundane ways.  And I came up with one people immediately scoffed at:  toothpaste.

Crest is a household name.  Many dentists provide it in their take-home kits after a cleaning, it holds a prominent place on grocery store shelves, and it is on the ADA list of approved toothpastes. Crest actually shares at least two qualities with political connections/influence.

Proctor & Gamble makes Crest.  “…P&G GGRPP focuses on legislative and public policy issues that impact the Company’s bottom line and long-term business interests. Where permitted by law, P&G GGRPP engages and educates policy-makers and key stakeholders on issues that impact our business; facilitates the exchange of information between key decision makers and public policy organizations in the United States and abroad; and leads Company actions on policy matters both unilaterally and in industry coalitions and associations.”


The company allocates a part of its budget for lobbying and the support of specific organizations: for example, it allocates no funds for the National Environmental Develop Assoc-Clean Air Project (NEDACAP) or the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT). It does, though, support the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).


Crest also contains fluoride.  The ADA only recommends toothpastes that contain fluoride, a substance proven to cause a myriad of health issues, including neurological damage.

“All toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance must contain fluoride.”


The politics of fluoridation is a book in and of itself, but if P & G sold a toothpaste without fluoride – which is detrimental to health – it would not obtain the ADA seal of approval, not be able to push it on the market, and likely not achieve the popularity it has today.

This is a very brief synopsis of those politics as they relate to fluoride:


Not voting, not engaging in matters that affect this country and the globe, and telling yourself “it doesn’t/won’t affect me,” are to leave every decision that influences daily life in our society up to others.

Because everything is political.









Every year at Thanksgiving – and sometimes beyond – people share the things they are grateful for.  I’ve done it myself with gratitude lists.  Although it feels almost obligatory over the holiday, thinking about and giving voice to our blessings today can help us develop that habit all year long.

It’s different for people who are moderately to severely depressed or with anxiety or PTSD, though.  There is a kind of shame that comes from living through a day when everyone is giving thanks for everything from family to the sun and moon, when everyone suggests finding gratitude will make you feel better and you are struggling just to breathe.  It’s a little like hearing people say that positive thinking will bring light to the darkness, that “merely” changing our thinking will make all this worth it.  I actually do believe that feelings follow thoughts, but I also know that divorcing the two is the norm with depression and anxiety and PTSD. And I know how very hard it is to connect them.  Impossible, sometimes.

My gratitude list today is much different from those in previous years.  It’s shorter and with greater substance.  Although I am thankful for having a place to live, it is only through very hard work that I do.  Work that, because of the depression, is some days like climbing K2 barefoot, without rope or companionship.  Although I am grateful for the freedom to read whatever book I want or to write whatever I choose, most of the time I can’t concentrate enough to do so.  Or I don’t believe it will matter.  The “little” things are truly not small at all, but in a dark world they matter less than the larger, deeper stuff.  And having understanding and tolerance and giving space to allow that in another person is a gift few are willing to give.

So, for my obligatory but deeply held offering of thanks this season:

  • I am grateful for family and friends. I am especially grateful for those who “get” me. Who treat me with understanding and not judgement.  These days, those folks are few and far between.
  • I am beyond grateful for ‘rissa and Silk. I never expected that I would be sharing my life and home with such heart-beautiful, attentive, and loving cats. They get me through each and every day. And they teach me patience and the importance of enveloping myself in an accepting and inviting energy.
  • I am thankful that, after all these years, I now have the opportunity to do my soul’s work. Grateful for Healing Touch for Animals® and for the incredible, loving community I am now a part of and the new friends I am making.
  • I am grateful for all the creatures on this planet, from microscopic plankton to great, majestic elephants. They teach me, in profound ways, that every living, intricate being has value.
  • Finally, I am grateful for spiritual tradition. Although I have a bit of an adversarial relationship with many belief systems, I know how important they are to people and what a critical role they play in peoples’ lives and in their deaths.

Depression is…II

Posted: September 28, 2018 in Uncategorized
  • Never smiling
  • Not caring if the sun shines or the rivers flood
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Not being able to cry or not being able to stop
  • Feeling like an alien in this world
  • Knowing you are a failure at life
  • Looking at all those around you and feeling less than
  • Not wanting to do anything anymore
  • Having a sink full of dirty dishes
  • Coming home to an unmade bed
  • Hearing the negative in everything
  • Knowing that things will ever change
  • Having chronic, unexplained aches and pains

Depression is not “just” being sad.

Ever since I enrolled in my Master’s program back in 2007-8, I’ve been inundated with advice from all levels and on all sides about writing.  How to write, where to write, how often to write.  After I graduated and as I’ve entered the writer’s world, that advice has only become stronger. The words I’ve chosen to share deeply held personal beliefs and observations have been called “disgusting”  and “too controversial.”  My lack of a daily writing schedule has been called “unproductive” and “not conducive to good writing.”  “Too distracting” is how some have described the places where I choose to write and the fact that I often submit to non-paying journals, and I’ve been accused multiple times of not writing what people want to read or in ways that give readers comfort.

Most of these comments have come from writing “professionals:” professors, authors, workshop leaders, and experts in the field of writing.  So, I should heed their advice, right?

I’m really not very good anymore at heeding any sort of advice, especially if it doesn’t feel right for me.  As a matter of fact, sometimes I will go out of my way to do the exact opposite of what someone tells me I “should” do.  Rebel in me, I guess.  I used to take any advice by writers more experienced or, at least, better situated in the writing world as gospel.  I know better now.

People write for all different reasons.  I’d love to write as a career, but truth is, that is just not in the cards for me. It took a long time for me to realize that but now that I have, I’m not nearly as hard on myself and I’m much happier. Discovering that my primary interests in putting words to the page are to inform, express my views, help others, or give voice to something often not discussed was a huge relief to me. It also ramped up my responsibility to my readers. And that’s just fine with me. It makes me a more authentic and ethical writer.

So, I write what I want (even if it’s controversial or taboo), when I want (usually every day but never a prescribed length of time), and where I want (my couch, the parking lot, at work while I’m on break).  And I’m absolutely delighted when something is published.  And if one essay or poem is rejected over and over, there will always be another.