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December, 2017


From time to time, I revisit this poem of mine. I wrote it once as I was looking towards growth, to announce, you might say, my departure from the place where I’d been stranded. Today it is here to announce a return. To this space. A place that is wholly mine,  a place from which to reach you, to reach out to you. Perhaps I’ve been stranded away from here for awhile, unable to get back and come in. Yet I’m here now, and this small offering is for you, and me and all of us. It’s been a hard week in our shared place on the planet, and much has been taken; but let’s set out, maybe alone, maybe together, and do our best to find each other and others like us  who value, above all else, what is true, and real, and unfabricated. Not seeking comfort, but reality; and collectivity.

For us:

You cannot stay
at the sweet oasis
cannot carry away
more than the memory
of its shade
and a handful of fragrant almonds.
There is more to be traveled.

Driving Hillsboro

On weekday mornings, I drive my son to school. Driving south on Hillsboro Road from the central, residential neighborhood that has been our home, the landscape changes. After awhile, we are surrounded by fields and treelined driveways. We pass mansions and farms in equal measure. Not long before arriving at our destination, there is a field on the left side of the road, and in that field live two stunning longhorns, brown and white and speckled.

A local Nashville artist who shares my interest in meditative reflection,known for her whimsical paintings of cows, is joining me in 2016 in the project Driving Hillsboro: Sheryl Crow’s Longhorns, documenting a year in the lives of these majestic animals; rather, it is a school year in the lives of the passing humans. Stay tuned for updates and a blend of text and images.

 October 21st:

Sheryl Crow’s longhorns are leaning up into the new autumn light.

                                                 October 28th:

Sheryl Crow’s longhorns rest back-to-back in the wet grass at the far end of the pasture, oblivious to our human dreams.

                                                   October 30th:

Sheryl Crow’s longhorns are not in unison. While one stares elegantly across the road, the other participates in the harvest.

                                                      November 10th:

Sheryl Crow’s longhorns face away from the center, a different purpose for each. The larger plants his hoofs, challenging anyone or no one to cross the pasture; the smaller nuzzles the one, sweet remaining pumpkin of autumn.

                                                       November 11th:
Sheryl Crow’s longhorns realize there is a sunline between them. They don’t perceive this as separateness, as detachment. It is only light and shadow.

                                                   November 18th:
Sheryl Crow’s longhorns huddle under the tree at the center of the universe. Today’s downpour will steal the last of the leaves and leave them open to a winter sky.

                                                    November 22nd:
The cars stream past Sheryl Crow’s longhorns in the morning, the people inside on their way to strict Christian churches, to freewheeling chapels for the semibelievers. Yet the longhorns see it their way: their church is a choir of green and blue and brown, a transparency enveloping the senses.


April Thoughts on Writing with Chaos and Intentionality


It’s pretty hard for me to turn off my thoughts. I am always processing, always noticing; thinking half the time in metaphor; connecting elusive dots, filing things away for later. Like a cartoon, I see in my mind a book and a pen, writing everything down by itself, no hand attached; just as in earlier times, when I was more active in music than Creative Writing, what I saw was a piano, the keys moving and song singing itself in the air, unattached to a body, or voice, or human anchor. It has always been like that. A lifetime of artistic extra-sensitivity and perception can be a little traumatic. There are people who think it’s some kind of whimsical,  frivolous thing, but in reality, there is a definite traumatic element.

I find that mindfulness practice and meditation help corral those rather helpless aspects of relentless creative impulse. Journaling, when I set aside the time for it, is a restful place of intentionality, of connecting to the routines that ground a life. When I think of the influence of some of my recent reading in hybrid poetics, hybrid texts, it is the ones with a kind of order, presented in small and deliberate bites, that give me the sense of grounding and intentionality toward which this moment of my life is oriented. Sometimes it is or has been the chaos of texts that calls me (chaos like in The Book of Jon, like Bluets, but not now; especially after reading Kazim Ali’s book Fasting for Ramadan, (and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, replete with intentionality, while also an exercise in outrage). Sometimes I focus on the freedom, the whimsy, the unexpected, but presently it is the small, controlled steps and the intentionality that form the place where I want to spend my writing time.

When I step back from the writing I am doing these days – I’ve been working a lot in hybrid based in creative nonfiction  – I would like it to have a sense of process and deliberate small steps, advancing in the smallness of moments to connect them to each other.

There is a mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park called Mt. LeConte. At the top of the mountain is the highest lodge in the eastern United States. I have never been able to go there because I am afraid of several passages on the trail to the top which involve walking plastered against the mountainside while gripping a rope to stay steady. The trail is terribly narrow. If you fall, you will surely plummet to your death far below. As dramatic as this sounds, thousands of families with small children hike up to the lodge every year to stay overnight and enjoy the experience. I guess in the physical realm of life I am not a daredevil. Yet sometimes when I write to take up the tasks of carrying on, I climb a little bit of Mt. LeConte. It requires the smallest and most deliberate steps when I reach those narrow passages.

I haven’t approached that kind of work in my current undertakings, but I strive to move intentionally like that. What I have loved about several of the insiring booksof these last months is that while they are somehow methodical, while strategy or intentionality or routine can be felt in their pages, they are still surprising and new.

What I wish for myself and for all those who visit me here is precisely that: that our intentionality brings us what we seek, but also springs a few surprises upon us.


Dear readers,
Here’s a holiday offering. A story of magic, of identity, of family, of tradition. It’s a bit long, as it involves a journey of sorts. To a town of fools. After awhile, you’ll be laughing with me. Grab a cup of tea or coffee. Come, read…

On The Way From Chelm

Before she left us, Grandma gave me an old, red book of tales, told me all the old stories, and, without my conscious consent, made me – Bella, the youngest granddaughter – their guardian.

When she was alive, she was more of a keeper than a teller of tales. A quiet grandmother, full of humor. I was only ten when she died, aware neither that she had held the name of keeper nor that she had passed it on to me. I was already known as a storyteller by then, and the stories I was most often asked to tell were the stories of Chelm, the Jewish old-country town known as the town of fools.

I had learned my ten year’s worth of stories. I had eaten my ten year’s worth of poppyseed and sponge cake, of farmer’s cheese blintzes, of kasha, of dill pickles, of cholent and kugel. I had absorbed my ten year’s worth of Yiddish sprinkled into English, the only full language I spoke. I had sung my ten year’s worth of songs, and their rhythm broke free of the music, embedding itself in the stories that were now mine, stories which flew from me with laughter whenever we gathered as a family to celebrate, whenever I had an audience. I had no idea that an entire, vanishing culture and language had been planted in me, a grain of being which, if protected somehow deep inside me – an Ashkenazic child – could inch forward, unseen, to an unnamed future.

I didn’t understand that every day in my house, interacting with parents, one of whom had been raised by that grandmother, would nourish the grain with small drops of Continue reading Holiday