Posted in Writing

Poem: Thin Volume

Thin Volume

Thin volume on the bookstore shelf
Camouflaged amidst the glossy covers and brightly colored spines
A humble,  unassuming piece
But nonetheless holds the whispered secrets
Of bygone times and all their hard-earned lessons for a life well-lived

In modest black and white
Simple picas and fonts laid neatly against ordinary white
You unfold people, and places and the grandeur of the big ideas
That leave you drunk with the power of human thought

Thin volume on the bookstore shelf
Eclipsed by glamour girls on salacious covers
And talk show hosts with more to say
You hold more secrets than
All their shocking confessions and clandestine affairs


Because only you know how to wrestle the angel of Time
And come out the other side
Oh, thin volume on the bookstore shelf

Posted in Life

The Coldless Winter

There is something cathartic about winter. It’s like the year, and all its complexity has been frozen, santitized, and swept clean. Winter wraps the year up in neat little packages and bows, as if to say, this is what you’ve done this year, and this is the sum of all your investments, far and wide. A sort of annual report card, in a sense. 

I guess it’s Christmas that does that more than anything. You see those people you only see once or twice a year, and you feel you somehow have to give account for your life thus far. God forbid you only have the same things to say as last year. And so it goes, your year, packaged up succintly in dinner table talking points. 

Christmas was a strange one this year. It didn’t help that it was about eighty degrees all week, and people wore their shorts to Christmas dinner. I guess the weather was fitting for how I felt about the holiday overrall this time. I didn’t even realize it was Christmas until about two weeks before. I had been busy out of state plugging away in a sort of art house for the previous several months. When the date for my holiday plane ticket rolled into view, I barely noticed. It didn’t even hit me until I saw the wreaths in the airport. Oh yes, I thought, it really is Christmas.

Being the quintessential starving artist, I announced that I would not be giving gifts this year. This was met with a chorus of resigned acceptance. Sorry, guys, next year will be better. So, I missed the rite of Christmas shopping. And busy as a work at home writer, I don’t think I heard a Christmas song all season. 

I went to stay with my sister, whose Christmas fared no better. In her first year as a full-time working mom, she hadn’t quite got the balance of motherhood and career together yet.  She didn’t get to Christmas shopping until…oh, say, the 23rd or so. Then she did several shopping trips, coming home somewhere around midnight,  with still not the right gifts, and falling into bed mumbling, “Christmas is for kids.” Then she would get up a few hours later, do her morning workout, and off to work she’d go. The lights are still in a bin out on the front stoop, waiting to be hung, and from what I hear, the six year old orchestrated the tree decorating a few days before I got there.

The night of Christmas Eve, she passed out at 1 am, barely dropping the shopping bags on a heap on the bedroom floor. And the kids were sound asleep, happily dreaming of Santa and his sleigh. So, her husband and I spent the wee hours wrapping bikes, and dollhouses and Nintendos, and those weird rubber animals called amebos, I think. We went to bed around five, and the kids were up at six, and the in-laws arrived at eight, with brightly wrapped gifts and groceries for a lavish Christmas breakfast. I stayed in bed. They weren’t my in-laws. Oh, the joys of being single. 

I arrived to the party just in time to do the dishes, and see the in-laws off. Then our own parents arrived and we did it again. I didn’t give any gifts, and it looked like no one else had a lot of time to shop either. I’ve got a stack of gift cards to redeem. When her in-laws returned for an evening dinner, we were spent. We couldn’t even fake it. So, we were all relieved when the 26th rolled around and we could actually get some sleep. 

Now that it’s Monday after Christmas weekend and life is back to normal, I have never been happier for  a holiday to be over. But, I think I missed something this year. I missed the sort of release of a year reflected. I went through the motions, of course, but something was missing. I think it was the cold. 

The cold adds something to Christmas. Without cold, Christmas is just an expensive tradition involving way too much food. I don’t know if it’s a mark of getting older, but I am starting to rather dislike Christmas. 

We fight so hard to keep Christmas recognized, but really, is it worth it? This year, it was just a weird day in the middle of a coldless winter. 

Posted in Life

Nothing Left

There’s nothing left here, in this cold and empty room. It’s been hard swept clean and smells of bitter antiseptic. Every germ you’ve left, every wayward hair, erased. 

The boxes were the first to go, taped and sent to journey in a big white van. And with them went the stories, one by one. Now, it’s just you and me in this big, lonely house. 

So, pack it up and close it on down. There’s nothing left to see here. Only old memories, and silent rooms. Move it on, to those unfamiliar places, and the unknown on the other side. I know you feel like you’re freefaling right now. Your soul in desperate grasp, yearning for what’s ahead, and yet not quite free of what’s behind. 

But there’s nothing left for you here. So, say your goodbyes now, and snap one last shot. Then take my hand and walk away. Because it’s just you and me now. You and me and the big, wide world. 

And there’s nothing left for you here. 

Posted in Life

Thoughts on Reading

It’s been an interesting couple of days. So, I’m staying at my sister’s for the holidays. It’s been a fun time, she’s got three kids, all in lower elementary. This means I get gifted lots of construction paper art masterpieces, and am treated to labored, but proud, displays of reading prowess. This, I encourage with embarrassing displays of approval.

That the next generation can read assures me proper retirement care. That the next generation will read, assures me job security. For that, I will do much, including jumping out of chairs and yelling with jubilation that Cat in the Hat has been conquered. If nothing else, these kids will have no doubt what Aunt Layla values.

Then again, I’ve been watching Netflix every night until about sunrise. And kids have great BS meters…So, I guess it’s more like…Aunt Layla likes Dr. Suess, Sherlock, and typing on her laptop. Yeah, that’s about right.

When I was teaching reading to homeschool students, I would take them to the library once in a while, and we would all get books and have silent reading time together. I always made a point to choose big, thick books for myself to set a good example. I don’t have the energy for all that anymore.

And besides that, I wonder if our reading landscape has not died, but simply changed. It’s no secret that we don’t read stacks of heady books anymore. But, how often are we are online? For most of us, who carry the internet in our pocket, being online is a natural flow of modern life. We are texting, we are posting, we are commenting.

We are downloading apps that helps us live our lives bigger, better, faster, more efficiently. We are Googling…everything from what to cook for dinner, to the self-diagnosis of every physical and psychological malady we don’t want to spend the money to cure. We read. Just not the way we used to do it.

Now, I am by no means arguing that online reading is sufficient. One must read books. Lots of books with big, dangerous ideas laid out in heavy poetic prose, and laced with metaphors and intricate literary techniques. Yes, to grow one must read the kind of books that make one stop and ponder who we are, how we got here, and where we are going. This is what will ensure the preservation of our civilization. Not WebMD.

But, maybe the state of reading isn’t as dismal as we think. Maybe we do read. We just don’t read the right things. And for that, I’m as guilty as anyone. That’s a much simpler problem than an illiterate society.




Posted in Life

A Life Lived on LCD

It’s been a bad morning.  It started last night. Yesterday I got food poisoning. Fortunately, no nausea, it has just felt like the flu, with fever and chills.

Then, my computer acted like it had gone to that great technology heaven in the sky… to forever cavort with all the discarded PDA’s and flip phones. Under great duress I tried to revive my dear friend until my teeth chattered with fever and I fell back  into the covers and dreamt of shiny new Mac Books. (Actually, I dreamt I was riding a broken bicycle down a dark and deserted country road…what does that mean?!)

So, early in the morning, I loaded up the invalid laptop, and headed to  Starbucks for some serious remedy. I got it to work…eventually. But I had to make some compromises. I had to run restore.

I lost a lot of stuff. The most important things,  like my novel, are still there.  But the software I originally wrote it in, is not…which means I lost a ton of previous versions and drafts, and a lot of poetry as well. But good news, that blurry uploaded snapshot where you can’t make out anything but my niece’s left foot,  is still there. Wouldn’t want to have lost that.

I have spent the morning backtracking trying to download different things I have that makes my computer…mine. It’s got me thinking about how much of me is on this machine.  The prose and verse of a life lived in LCD…read a poem I lost. I’ve had this computer for three years now, and it feels like…me.

My browser was comfortable and familiar, with all my bookmarks and buttons set to navigate through my digital life with ease .  My shortcuts were in perfect place, and I had the program tiles arranged exactly how I liked them. And now, it is all gone. Default. It’s the same computer, but not really.

I miss it. A life lived on LCD, displaced. I’m sure there’s some sort of poetic metaphor having to do with my nomadic lifestyle, but right now, I’m really much more interested in learning to back up. Or the secret backdoor to get back all my lost data.


Posted in Writing

A Hearty Dose of Jane Austen Ex-Lax

So, here’s what happened. I think I may have found an editor for my novel.  I am thrilled. Based on initial plans, she thinks she can take it January. This also wraps up very nicely, because in February I go to conference, where there will be agents available to hear pitches and potentially take manuscripts.

So, naturally, I want to get the manuscript all spruced up and ready for editing.  The problem is, that I can’t. I really can’t. I’ve been avoiding this for about a month. The file is all formatted and ready for my edits. But I can’t bring myself to do it.

I put it neatly on my desktop,  then I come in for my office hours, and look at the icon. I drag the cursor across the screen, and I click on…something else. An hour later, I open the file, and stare at the title page. Then I get up and make coffee. And then I come back and stare at the title page some more. Then, I check my e-mail and notice that one of my favorite magazines is running a sale on tablet subscriptions. Realizing that I actually do have a tablet now, I decide I should subscribe. I go find my debit card, subscribe, and download my first issue.

I read the first two articles, and then realize they are written by a guy I went to college with who is a wildly more successful writer than I am. I think mean thoughts about him. Then I immediately repent, lest God hear me and dry up all my words in wrath. Also, if the building exploded in the next ten seconds due to random accident, I would definitely go to hell for unrepentant jealous thoughts about Adam White at Futurist Magazine. I pray nice prayers for Adam and close out the magazine app.

I shake my head of Adam White, and turn to stare at the novel title page again. Then I come up with a great poem and spend the next half hour working on it. Then I realize my office hours are over, and I close up and call it a day.

It’s not that I don’t want to edit this manuscript. I do. I do so badly. But I’m blocked. And that’s the problem. Because there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Every bit of professional knowledge I have swears that it’s a cop out. There’s not some sort of magical Jane Austen Ex-Lax that can cut through your mental constipation and clear it all right up nice and dandy and make your writing as shiny and pretty as Mr. Darcy’s silver cuff-links. We writers should be so lucky.

What we call writer’s block is actually a symptom of a number of other factors…things like unclear or unrealistic project goals, loss of vision, lack of material or creative stimuli, or just working too hard.

To cure writer’s block, you have to get to the bottom of what’s causing the blockage and fix the problem there. I know this. I do. I even wrote an article on overcoming writer’s block. But, I just can’t practice it. And the worst part of writer’s block, is not that I’m not creative.

It’s actually quite the contrary. I have spent so much energy trying to force up the creative juices, that I created something of a creative reservoir, dammed up only by this defunct project. When I turn to work on another project…WHOOSH…the pent up creativity comes rushing out like a mighty river. In twenty four hours, I wrote five poems, three blog posts, a short paid article, and did an art project. But I still can’t edit that damn book!

For that, I’m definitely going to need that Jane Austen Ex-Lax.