Category: free-form writing

This is not about Back to School

It’s Wednesday and I’m headed to work and my Feedly is full of mommy bloggers and not-usually-about-motherhood bloggers talking about sending their kids back to school, or sending their kids to school for the very first time. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate these situations. I love my friends who have kids and I often even love their kids. I like the BTS photos on Facebook, sometimes leave comments, and even said a little prayer for a few young ladies I am especially fond of.

But seriously, internet, I need a little variety in my morning commute. For any of you out there looking for something different, this is for you:

1. It is hot today in Chicago.
2. I just walked past Garrett’s Popcorn without purchasing anything. Huge personal accomplishment.
3. Today I am wearing a dress from Ann Taylor. It is navy, tan, and white with a zipper down the front. To be honest, I could do without the zipper.
4. I mean really, what is it with fashion zippers? They are not as good-looking as everyone thinks.
5. My office in Chicago has a really fantastic view of the city and Lake Michigan but it is so hot all the time that I have to keep the blinds tightly shut to keep the sun out. Which kind of defeats the purpose of the view.
6. I am really terrible at wearing shoes. Matching shoes that I own to outfits that I own is very difficult for me. It’s a daily struggle.
7. At work, I keep one pair of nude pumps at my desk and I wear them every day. And I get compliments on them almost every day. For the first two years, I wore a nude pump from Nine West with a fake snakeskin pattern. For the last 18 months, I’ve been rocking Anne Klein pumps with a shiny patent pointy toe and a matte everything else. And a stranger said “Hey I like your shoes” to me last Thursday at lunch. In six months these will probably be worn out and I’ll need a new pair.
8. I’m starting to feel silly now but I want to get to a solid ten items before posting this ridiculous list.
9. We are almost finished re-doing the guest room in our condo and now we are starting to hate every other room for not looking as good as the guest room.
10. I don’t have to fly back to DC for 11 straight days from today and I am so excited! That puts me home for a solid 16.5 days, which honestly feels like 100 days after the last few months.

Have a great day!


When it’s good to be home

Light a candle
Take a bubble bath
Make a cuppa tea
Bake bread
Shop for groceries
Use real dishes
Pet Leo
Clean the litter box
Run the dishwasher
Check the mail
(Pay the bills…)
Make the bed
Wear different shoes
Take a sick day
Sink into the sofa
Visit a friend
Go to church
Eat real pizza
Walk to work
See the skyline
Be a family


Writer’s Block — Back to the Bones (of Natalie Goldberg)

In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg recommends keeping a list of topics for you to focus on during your writing time.  (Page 26.)  If you have a list of subjects for your writing time, then when you have time to write you can pick up and begin instead of sitting around trying to find something to write about.  She adds random things to the list each day.

I’ve been struggling to find something to write about.  I dug up my list from last year to jump-start my fingers, and I found these words from my friend Natalie.

Natalie Goldberg also recommends gathering up your “first thoughts,” which are your unedited, original ideas at the first draft stage.  She suggests timed writing activities — you know, like the ones you did in that creative writing class, where you walked into the room and there was a quote or prompt or something written on the whiteboard that you had ten minutes to respond to, and if you were late to class you wouldn’t have time to finish — to practice getting the words out.  Just sit down for ten or fifteen minutes and write about something on that list, making sentences one after another.  Stay loose.  (Page somewhere around 24 to 29.)

Apparently, if you keep a list of writing topics and spend some time writing about those topics, your first-draft thoughts will become something worth sharing with others.  At least, that’s what Natalie Goldberg says.  Lately I’m struggling to find this.

I have never traveled so much as I have these last few weeks.  I’ve been chosen by the TSA Pre-Check Randomizer five times out of six in the last two weeks, which would be lovely if it didn’t mean that I’d taken six flights in the last fourteen days.  I have enjoyed hearing so many other people order McMuffins from the Burger King at the airport.  (There are no Mc-anythings at Burger King.)

I keep forgetting to search for the hotel receipt from my business trip.  I know where it is:  the outer zip pocket of my wheeled carry on bag.  But I haven’t yet found the time to unzip that pouch and pull it out.  The thing is, I could do it now, but my husband is asleep because we woke up at 3:30 a.m. today to fly home from Nashville.  I should be sleeping too, but I don’t feel tired, so much as numbish or empty.  I hope I remember to get the receipt tomorrow morning, but I won’t be surprised if I forget again.  Wednesday is the very last day or else my travel privileges could be suspended.

I might be maybe somewhere inside okay with that.

I think that Leo has forgotten that he loves me more than H.  I’m giving him a lot of treats so hopefully he will remember.

Somewhere between page 31 and page 44, Natalie Goldberg writes that the details of our lives are important, and that we should write them just as they are.  Not the beautiful pieces, but the real things of our life: whether we are a few (several?) pounds overweight, or the weather is grey, or whatever, we should just say yes to real life because there are too many noes already.  We should say “yes” to the lives we are living, so we can keep living them.

And so, in the spirit of Natalie Goldberg’s beautiful hilarious truth-telling, I am starting again, telling myself “Natalie MB, you planned to write.  Now write.  I don’t care if you feel nuts and lonely.”  (Page 105.)


I woke up at 3:30 a.m. this morning in Nashville, flew to Chicago, worked eight hours at my office, went to an office lunch-event to celebrate a coworker’s promotion, cooked dinner, ate dinner, watched the season finale of SNL (very disappointing Mr. Sandberg, and what in the world was that musical act thing?!), edited a friend’s 1000 word draft down to 825 words so she could get a fresh start, and then wrote this mess of words to you.  I brushed the cat and gave him four treats and am about to do the dishes and head to bed.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I’m going to eat breakfast and go to work like I do on every Tuesday.  Hopefully I’ll remember to find that hotel receipt so I can finish my expense report.

Or, whatever.

Blogging Tour: My Writing Process

Today I’m scheduled to join an online blog tour, to share a bit about my personal writing processes.  You can read prior submissions by:

I’m trying to put my finger on what feels so odd about these questions and answers, but I’m struggling to identify and edit out the awkwardness and so I’m going to share where I am at this moment.  These answers may feel odd because I’m still identifying exactly what kind of writer I am and what kind of writer I want to become, so while I’m posting the middle of the story today, six months or a year from now I’ll be able to look back and see how far I’ve come.  Anyway, let’s get to it:


What am I working on?

In advance of the Festival of Faith and Writing, I chose a topic to focus on for 50 days and spent some time each week (mostly on Sunday afternoons at a local coffee shop) writing.  By April 10 I had about 15 pages of a draft non-fiction book proposal: a 80% research/20% memoir on leadership and career development and being female.  I’m not sure I’m ready to write about that topic yet, so I’ve put it on ice while I regroup.  I thought that FFW would leave me inspired but instead I’m a little frozen up by the multitude of options I have.  (Also, because I have been completely swamped with other things).  I’m excited to wrap up a few big projects at work so I can free up a little mental space and jump back in.

This month I’ve been working on the technical side of my blogging, including converting this space to a self-hosted blog at and going through some blogging bootcamp workshops created by Julie at


Why do I write what I do?

My best skills are wrapped up in my writing life, but I don’t always know how to use them, and I really struggle with how to use them creatively.  This may sound weird, but I love writing project reports, shaping policy proposals, and building persuasive documents that let me dig into the pros and cons of an idea.  I like to read, research, and consider a topic until I understand how complex ideas or systems fit together and can begin to see places where ethical questions or institutional incentives come into play.  That sounds incredibly nerdy, but what I mean is that I like to pull ideas apart and see where they are weak or inconsistent, and then think and write about ways to strengthen the foundations or resolve any conflicts.  It takes courage to examine your own core beliefs and see if they can hold up under pressure, and this is one of my favorite things about my brain.  (It can also be a bit of a bummer.  Just saying.)


How does my writing process work?

I’m always thinking about something — usually about a few different things all at the same time.  I have a notebook where I jot down what I’m thinking.  Writing it out helps me begin to sort my thoughts and bring some organization to what’s going on in my head.  I’m a huge believer in diligent editing, and I will edit and re-structure and then edit again.  I’ve never understood when people say that they wrote something and that the first writing of it was cathartic or therapeutic and then they post it online in that form.  I’m fine with that for more casual life updates, restaurant recommendations, and that sort of thing, but the more personal or controversial a topic, the more time I like to let pass between my first, second, and third drafts.


How is my work different from others of its genre?

I really enjoy writing this blog, but I have a full-time job that uses up a ton of brain space and I’m not trying to change that.  I love working and I don’t think of this blog as a way to get a book contract so I can quit my job and write forever — that whole idea sounds pretty terrible to me.  Instead, I write to keep family and friends up-to-date and to learn to use my words creatively.  My words need a less-serious outlet and writing here keeps me sharp and free and makes me happy.  I think that’s what makes my writing here different from other bloggers in my “genre.”  Also, I don’t know if I actually have a genre.


Okay, that’s where I am.  If these answers seem a little awkward to you, then we are on the same page!  I’m excited for the next writer on this blog tour because I know she is for real and will have insightful and uplifting answers.  Be sure to stop by Marvia’s blog next week for her version of the writing process tour.

And, I don’t say it enough:  thanks for sticking with me through these transitions.  We’re almost at the finish line.  Do you like the new header and layout?  Missing anything?  Let me know. 

This is about religion. Sorry, not sorry.

Here’s the thing. I don’t really believe the Bible is inerrant the way a lot of people do. And I know that writing that down and publishing it on the internet means some people who share my faith tradition will lose respect for me, but I need to start there. I think that reading the Bible brings me closer to God, and helps me to know him better — but reading the Bible also reminds me of the ways people have [mis-]used Scripture to silence me and to silence my brothers and sisters on this planet.

It’s a complicated relationship, for sure. I want it to be less complicated. I want Scripture to bring only joy and not pain, but that just isn’t where I am right now. I haven’t been there for a few years, actually. Life is a journey, and I do not believe we are called to check all the boxes while shutting down our brains. Faith shouldn’t have to be a mental power struggle, where we refuse to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings and confusions and doubts and scream out an unthinking “YES” to all the things they say we have to believe. For me, right now, it’s an ongoing effort to seek God’s love and pursue relationship. To follow Jesus. To find the arc of redemption moving in our world and to follow it, and to hope for the redemption that we believe will come. So, while I’m often frustrated or unsure about where I stand with the Bible, I trust that if I am seeking God and trying to follow Jesus, that one day I’ll be in a better place with the Bible too.

I still think I’m a Christian.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I spend every minute of every day seeking God and trying to reconcile with the Scriptures. Because I don’t. Reconciliation with Scripture and communities of faith is something I think about often and hope for. Scripture and faith communities are intrinsically linked to my childhood and my understanding of the world. But I’m not necessarily doing that full-time right now. I think about a lot of other things too.

I still think I’m a Christian.

The internet makes it harder. I read blog posts and articles and comments saying that if you interpret differently the meaning or application of one or two sentences of a certain translation of the Bible, you are throwing out the entire gospel narrative and you can’t be a Christian anymore. And I’m stunned because, holy cow, I wish it was only one or two sentences that I didn’t interpret literally. I wish it were that simple.

This week, with all of the World Vision USA hullabaloo, I read your words, and I felt even more that I didn’t belong. Here I am: I grew up in your world, I followed all your rules, I learned all of your Bible verses, I went to your camps and I graduated from your college, and I don’t belong. I still think I’m a Christian, but if I told you the truth, would you agree? Would you say that it’s okay to be different, to not understand the world in the same way as everyone else, that God is bigger than our doubts and our questions? I’ve heard that before.

But I wonder sometimes — is God only bigger than my doubts and questions because I am a straight, white, married female?

I want to hear you say that the world is full of nuance. I want to hear you say that we can all work with people, live in community with people, shop at grocery stores with people and bake cakes for people who believe different things than we do. I want to hear you say that you don’t believe everyone who thinks differently than you about the world, or religion, or the Bible deserves to live in constant fear of poverty because they cannot find or keep employment. I want to hear you say that each of us finds God and faith on a different timeline, and that it isn’t up to us to save people. That we pray and wait for the Holy Spirit to move within us and our neighbors, and that we love each other while we wait.

Instead, I’ve been hearing you say that a Christian organization that decides to stop excluding certain groups of people from its hiring pool has thrown away the Gospel. The entire Gospel. Now that they’ve changed their minds, I’m hearing you rejoice, slapping hands and taking credit for standing your ground. For the Gospel. And I wonder, what would you say about me, if you knew my doubts and struggles?

Well, now you know.

Monday: My Little Elk

I’ve been using up all of my good thoughts in other places these last few weeks, and I haven’t been giving you my best work.  I think you know that, in my actual life, I do a lot more than just write this blog.  I’ve told you how my job can be really hard, and that it’s been a challenging few weeks, and that I really love my work.  I also mentioned last week that I’m working on a writing project outside of this blog.  I love this space, and I want to treat it right, so today I have something special for you.

Elk March 22

It’s a photograph of an Elk, taken on Saturday.  

I was going to find a good poem about an elk for you to make this super literary or what-not and, what do you know, the only poem I could find was about a bunch of wolves stalking and then murdering an elk.  Not exactly what I was going for.

Instead, I have something better than a poem about elk for you.  I have an article about a little boy who loves My Little Pony, and a school district that learned [unfortunately a bit too late in this case] not to punish the victim.  You’re a bit of a slow learner sometimes, America, but I’m forever proud of you when you try to do better.

Happy Monday, my friends.  Have a wonderful week! 

#50daysawriter Update: The Half Way Point

As I’m typing this post, it’s the middle of the twenty-fifth day of my 5o-Day commitment to thinking of myself as a writer.  This won’t go live and you won’t be able to read it until sometime Monday morning, which is technically past the half-way point of this journey and eight hours into Day 26.  Let’s agree to ignore the actual math involved in defining the “middle” of a journey the way we agree to accept that television chefs always have perfectly baked final products ready to pull out of the oven and taste at the end of their thirty-minute episodes.  The middle of a journey is really whenever you end up stopping for lunch, isn’t it?

I’ve learned a few things about myself, written words and paragraphs in my journal and on my computer, and wasted a lot of time during these first 25 days.  I’ve been focused on my writing but also completely absorbed in my actual job, which is keeping me so incredibly busy during these early spring-ish months.  My brain is buzzing with stress and deadlines and ideas, and that seems like the perfect mix to me.

  • I tried a few coffee shops/writing locations near my apartment in Chicago and have adopted a location three blocks away.  There are outlets everywhere, the espresso drinks are delicious, and the coffee shop is operated by some church so I feel better spending $5.00 on something I could make for myself at home.  I’m here now, and a poster from an event at the Ryman Auditorium is hanging on the wall that faces my table.  I’m sitting in the sun, looking at the words “Nashville Tennessee” and drinking a latte with chocolate, hazelnut, and cayenne pepper.  I can’t think of a better way to nurture my creative insides.
  • During a ten-day bootcamp with my writing group, I chose a topic for my writing project (even if I’m not quite ready to call it a book), told my writing group what my topic was, and felt the soothing coolness of positive feedback and acceptance calm my nerves.  I also mustered the courage to reach out to a few friends about my silly dream, so I’ve taken the first few steps toward using the “w”-word [writer] with my real-life friends and family.
  • I have 4,000 words, notes, and research in a highly rough and scattered word document that has the headings and pagination of a non-fiction book proposal. It’s not actually a book proposal today, but I’m using that structure to sketch out my project.  Working in this format is oddly comforting, because it is exactly what real writers do for every book they write.  I’ve found the language of the world I’m walking in, and I’m ready now to meet people without feeling like a fraud:  I can spend the next five years saying that I’m “working on a book proposal” before anyone that doesn’t know me well might become suspicious.  It’s completely normal for that process to take forever and for “real” writers to get distracted for months, discouraged for years, or otherwise lose focus for a long while before getting a final proposal together.  I know how to introduce myself and vaguely describe my project, so I’m ready to rent a car and drive to Grand Rapids and meet other writerly people.  That goal is officially accomplished.
  • My friend Abby has scheduled a public event at the end of the conference in Grand Rapids where my writing group will take turns reading our work out loud.  To strangers (and worse, to our friends).  While the pre-#50days me would say oh, no, I’m not really a writer and so I will just cheer the rest of you on, the me that is 25 days into being a real writer has [unfortunately] accepted the challenge and promised to find something, anything really, to read.  I’m much more driven by external expectations of those I love than my own secret dreams, so I think this is actually the perfect thing to push me during the second-half of this journey:  I have an idea and some draft-quality words, but now I need a chapter-ish length piece that is good enough to share, along with a gallon of confidence and a cute new outfit.  In the next three weeks I need to finish a draft piece so I can edit it, and then prepare to present it with/to my people.

This effort hasn’t been on my mind every minute, and for the last few days at work my brain has been swimming in deadlines and spreadsheets and official communication materials, but I’m here on Sunday afternoon, as scheduled, thinking about this project.  I’m thrilled with how far I’ve come in these first three and one-half weeks and am proud to share with you that I am working on a book/something proposal and preparing a mystery piece to read at my first ever reading as a [writer].  Nothing really has changed just yet, but I am starting to believe my own truth.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure.



Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Lucky Family!  AOT