Welcoming the Editor

“I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.”

–Blaise Pascal

Take a first draft of something you have written, that you like, and cut it by a quarter. Then cut it by another quarter. Do four revisions, each time cutting it further. (It’s okay to add a word or sentence or phrase as you go, as long as you keep honing your overall word count downward.) An alternative to this exercise is to choose a set number of words—say 300 or 700 or 950, and make your piece fit that space, with no extra words. Post your finished product here and tell us how you approached the process of editing.

Comments

  1. says

    Kilimanjaro

    After she dumped me on New Year‘s Day, I didn’t join the circus but stuffed a dog-eared copy of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, a change of underwear, a toothbrush and other particulars into an army issue duffel bag and headed for a land I had only read about, Africa. Since my dad had been a freelance photo journalist for National Geographic Magazine, I had racked up some serious travel miles before my odometer reached puberty. This gypsy life readied me for quick getaways.

    My legs buckled in the economy class seat ( a whopping $2000) on my twenty-four hour flight on South African Airway from Kennedy to Kilimanjaro International Airport. The body of the plane, a post-modern canvas of geometric shapes, should hang in the Whitney Museum of Art rather than an airport hanger. The interior design was less visually challenging. Expect nothing more than spicy chicken or lamb dishes. If you fly this airline, do pack your Prilosec.

    Kilimanjaro International is a small, one-level airport with a laid back attitude. Cabbies swat stink bugs. Brimmed UK tourists, like Calla lilies, swoon under the African sun. Dickey and Hazel Hansberry from London squeezed into the van and introduced themselves to me and the other passengers. Hazel, a bulbous English teapot, pressed against Dickey’s seersucker suit as the driver clipped corners.

    Hazel scowled, “ I wanted to travel the continent, but Dickey wanted this place.”

    Glancing up from my book, I snapped, “Africa is a continent.”

    Like a schoolmarm, she glared at the miscreant. “I meant Europe.”

    I smiled. “Of course.”

    Dickey pointed to my book. “A Yank then?”

    His pleasant demeanor disarmed me. “Yes, that’s right.”

    “Going big game hunting, old sport?”

    “No, climbing.” I grabbed my luggage, tipped the driver and disembarked in front of the hotel.

    Dickey rolled down the window. “Enjoy your holiday, old sport.”

    I hated all that old sport crap since Gatsby.

    ****

    The concierge, dressed in a traditional African Buba attire, greeted me in lobby and handed me material on the hotel which I read as the staff prepared my room. It was your typical glossy brochure.

    The Marangu Hotel is nestled on the slopes of Kilimanjaro in the Tanzanian town of Moshi, In the local Chagga language, Marangu means “full of water”. The twelve acres of lush gardens teem with exotic flowers and shrubs.

    The central hotel building was once a farm house, built in the early 1900s, and has a charming, old world style. This is a family-run business, with the consequent attention to detail one expects. Room are modestly priced at sixty dollars per night. All rooms have private bathrooms with bath or shower. Guest cottages are also available.

    For recreation, the hotel has a swimming pool and croquet lawn, or guests may simply relax in the comfortable bar and lounges. There are pretty walks through the surrounding banana and coffee farms, and along the river that borders the hotel on one side. The hotel is renowned for its well-prepared menu, using vegetables from its own gardens and home baked bread. A range of wines is always available.

    I tossed the brochure on the bed, showered and made my way to the bar. Sitting at a table, I splashed back a gin and tonic observing the bucolic scene unfold. Giraffes craned their necks to reach the vegetation on the tree tops. A family of elephants hosed themselves. But this wasn’t the Circe that lured me to Africa. Kilimanjaro stood majestic against an azure sky. My heart raced. My pulse quickened. Like Hemingway, I would have to mount her.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hi Rosemary,
      I enjoyed reading your piece. I believe you are here on the roadmap for the first time. Welcome!
      I especially liked the descriptions of the other passengers in the van and the dialog was excellent.

        • says

          The writing/editing processes for fiction are demanding. Because I was an academic, my experience is in expository writing. My skills transpose better in nonfiction. Fiction, as all writing, starts with an idea. For my nonfiction, I always outline, often using a computer program called Inspiration. For fiction, I take notes on characters, theme, plot, and other elements. If writing historical fiction, I research.

          When a piece is finished, I read it several times for grammar and mechanics, and then run a computer program for the same items. It helps to read aloud using several readers. My critique and writing groups give helpful feedback. Finally, I revise and publish.

          Here is a piece of flash fiction which went through the process :

          Borrowed Time

          “You’re a trip,” Ethel spits words at her husband. “You never listen to me.”

          Henry draws a deep breath. “I don’t have to. You repeat yourself fifty times.”

          “There you go again exaggerating,” Ethel shrieks.

          Henry glares into the rear view mirror at his wife, who insists on the safety of the backseat, because Henry is a bad driver. Henry shrugs his shoulders. Ethel throws her head back. Her bosom strains forward like a ship’s prow.

          Memories float like lint in Henry’s mind until they grab on to something concrete. He married Ethel because he liked red heads and her body. Ethel didn’t care that 1969 was the summer of love. For Henry, there was no free love outside of marriage.

          Ethel snores in the back seat. She dreams of men, successful men that got away. Henry seemed like a go-getter and promised hereverything. “Everything” is a Levitt house full of kitties. Henry shot blanks, so Ethel has couldn’t pass on her good looks.

          Henry wonders where the passion went as he stares at his wife, grey and built like a beanbag.

          Ethel barks, “What are you doing, Henry.”

          “Looking for a parking space, dear.”

          “We should have left earlier. Now, I’ll be late for my beauty parlor appointment.”

          Henry glides the Oldsmobile into a metered space in front of the salon and dashes to open the car door for his wife.

          He smiles, “Right on time, dear.”

          Ethel scowls. She hates that he’s right.

          His wife vanishes into the salon. Henry looks at the meter. He is on borrowed time.

    • says

      Rosemary, I assume this is part of a larger piece in process? It certainly read like it and I was ready to turn the page for more!

      I loved your introduction of the boorish couple in the van, especially the bulbous English teapot. That made me laugh:

      “Dickey and Hazel Hansberry from London squeezed into the van and introduced themselves to me and the other passengers. Hazel, a bulbous English teapot, pressed against Dickey’s seersucker suit as the driver clipped corners.

      Hazel scowled, “ I wanted to travel the continent, but Dickey wanted this place.”

      Glancing up from my book, I snapped, “Africa is a continent.”

      Like a schoolmarm, she glared at the miscreant. “I meant Europe.”

      I smiled. “Of course.”

      Dickey pointed to my book. “A Yank then?””

  2. jo says

    I decided to write a piece that would be exactly 400 words. It took awhile to edit it but I loved the editing process because it really focused me in regards to what I wanted to say. When I re-read the piece, editing it to fit into 400 words, it made me very aware of the importance of every single word.

    The Heart Attacks
    A client of mine sent me an e-mail this morning to tell me that her husband had a heart attack last night. She told me that he would be fine which was great news but her note got me thinking about the words ‘heart attack’. The word ‘attack’ is never more a verb than when we’re talking about heart attacks. An attack is an onslaught, an invasion, a violation and a shock.

    I can’t imagine what it feels like to have your own heart attack you. It is disconcerting to me too think that a person’s heart could attack the home that it’s lived in all its beating life. My guess is that this man’s heart is furious at the way he treats it and got fed up, marshalled its rage and yelled “Charge!” and then launched the attack.
    The symbol for love is the heart – did this man’s heart attack him because he wasn’t sharing his love with either his wife or his children? My client often shares that her husband has great difficulty expressing his emotions and he often hides behind a wall of stoic silence. Is that why his heart attacked him? Did his heart fill to the brim with unexpressed emotions and attack him with searing pain to wake him up? Is his heart screaming at him to empty the reservoir of emotional bruises and scrapes that are built up inside the tender walls of his aching heart?

    My client’s e-mail reminds me to examine what’s in my own heart. Is there anything I need to say to my husband, my child, my family and friends? Of course there is! My goal for today is to release at least one thing that has been resting uneasily in my heart. I don’t ever want my own heart to attack me so I need to empty it of unspoken pains, both large and small, that unbeknownst to me, may be weighing on my heart like an unwanted anchor. Sigmund Freud said it well when he wrote, “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” I want my heart to become light and airy and float in my chest, joyfully pumping blood and not concerning itself with heavy, unspoken words. I want my heart to dance and it can’t dance if it’s held down by weighty anchors!

    • beverly Boyd says

      I really liked the ending of this insightful look into what heart attack means.
      “I want my heart to become light and airy and float in my chest, joyfully pumping blood and not concerning itself with heavy, unspoken words. I want my heart to dance and it can’t dance if it’s held down by weighty anchors!”

    • says

      Jo, I also like setting a strict word count and having to edit down to meet it. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle and I feel absolute delight when I can find one right word to substitute for three fleshy or nondescript ones. I love the editing process, more than writing, really–and it definitely is a different part of the brain and a different set of skills.

      I got a lot of practice this year when my youngest daughter was writing her college essays. She’d bring them to me and say, “Mom, I need to take 30 words out of this one.” Or this one needs to be cut in half. We’d do them together and it was a treat.

    • MaryL says

      Jo, I love your delightful description of the “alive” heart, joyful, full of promise, light, airy, powerful. This is a pleasure to read. MaryL:

    • Jane says

      Very fun to read, and nice to see pictures of the mind/body mirror. Although for all we know, he ate nothing but liquiefied pure cholesterol for breakfast each day.

  3. says

    Can We Really e-fford It?

    Are we just “e-volving” versus “involving” ourselves with each other?

    Have we deserted healthy debate where we once freely bounced back and forth, here and there, this way and that way, through an unfolding journey; intensely engaging, building on each other’s good and bad ideas, thoughts and emotions?

    Can we ever elbow ourselves up, and pull our minds out of the endless e-pit we’ve fallen into; like amateur hikers who carelessly lost their footing and tumbled ass-backwards into that sudden hole in the ground, never to be heard from again?

    Are we e-ternally frozen like comatose e-zombies, our vocal pitter-patter now dead and fallen away like lifeless, flaking skin?

    Get a rope! Hoist me from this dungeon of impersonal impoverishment. Read me a sermon for my soul and transform me back to my human body now deserted, devoid of intimate, real-time dialogue. All is now lost and replaced in my new e-life, my new e-skin; speckled with ugly, patronizing emoticons, capitalizations, exclamations and smiley faces at the end of every email, every text, every Twitter eruption and Facebook confession.

    Splash me with the sweet cologne of audible questions and responses. Immerse me in the sensuality of actual “talk,” the natural“to and fro” of the tongue. Return me to the melodic rhythms of the voice packed with the accompanying smiles, frowns, sadness, anger – all shades of the “alive” human interaction.

    I want to reverse things. To escape, trade in my laptop, my tablet and my iPhone for the world I left behind. Tip toe back into the ecstasy experienced in person to person relationships – jabbering away about the news of the day, or critiquing the dinners we ate last night; or maybe even musing together about the things I cannot seem to understand about my spouse. The verbal exploration between us; the feedback, full of the“oohs and ahhhs”we verbally toss across the table top.

    It’s not so difficult for us to return to the sanity we once had. But, I agree, it’s certainly not e-asy! But it may be e-ssential!

    _____________________________________
    Writer’s Comment:
    It took many iterations of this commentary to achieve fairly good streamlining. It could still use another round of editing; of course! I’ve been writing novels, now on my third romantic adventure. I found it helpful to take time out and write something short – an editorial of sorts. First, it helped my creative juices to better flow and second, it cleared my head of the characters I’m now obsessed with in the crafting of my current novel (Lost In The Wake).

    • Laura Davis says

      Linda, welcome to the Roadmap blog. So glad to have you as a new member of our community. Thanks for sharing your process with us. I look forward to reading a lot more of your work on the Roadmap in the future.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hi Linda
      What fun ! A ;well written humorous look at where we have been taken in the e-world of the e-web. The trouble is when I try to leave it my friends are so invested in it that they have forgotten what a phone or (horrors!) snail mail.is.
      It’s nice to know I am not alone in my nostalgic longing.

      • Linda Gunther says

        Thanks Beverly. Good to hear someone else is sympathetic to my view. But when all is said and done, I do love technology. What a love-hate relationship I have with it!

    • says

      Linda, I enjoyed this piece tremendously, though I doubt we can turn the clock back to a less technological time. I know I can’t. But nonetheless, I loved these lines: “Tip toe back into the ecstasy experienced in person to person relationships – jabbering away about the news of the day, or critiquing the dinners we ate last night; or maybe even musing together about the things I cannot seem to understand about my spouse. The verbal exploration between us; the feedback, full of the“oohs and ahhhs”we verbally toss across the table top.”

      And I think there is hope. I’ve noticed a trend among young people, the most plugged in generation ever. They go out for a meal and all stack their smart phones on the table. The agreement is that they won’t answer their phone or check their messages or text during dinner–and the first person to reach for their phone pays the bill for everyone.

      • Linda Gunther says

        I like your idea about teens throwing their phones in the middle during a meal. to help them resist their urges to text or email. But I must admit that I haven’t seen anyone do that yet, and I eat out a lot. But I, too, believe there is hope. In the next few years there will be an “e” backlash, especially on phones and tablets at events or meetings. People will have time out zones and want to remove themselves for chunks of their day – no texting or email or Internet games. It will be trendy to fend off these often pesky
        e-interruptions.

        But true confession:
        Where oh where would I be as a writer without the ability to do quick and amazing research on the Internet? It’s a treasure trove of good stuff.
        Linda S Gunther:)

        • Laura Davis says

          That’s the challenge, isn’t it? We all depend on our electronic devices. Few of us who have truly embraced them as extensions of our lives are willing to relinquish them.

      • says

        Okay. Here’s a piece I wrote this morning; inspired by the idea of cutting words. First I wrote it and it was over 950 words. Then I shaved it to exactly 600 words (including the title). It was difficult but I think it’s more crisp and still full of feeling and real life reactions. But let me know!

        Forgetting
        …by Linda S. Gunther

        It plagues my life more and more as I age. The embarrassment of failing to remember my best friend’s birthday or my own wedding anniversary. The zig-zag of my wandering mind, no longer nimble enough to recall all the images, facts or figures I’ve heard over the history of both my work and personal life. And sometimes, not able to even recall the headlines from my boss’s staff meeting this past Monday.

        I am cooked, lambasted, deep-fried from too much information steam-rolling into my conscientiousness day after day. I just can’t keep up with it all. Reading emails from three different devices full of things to remember every morning, every afternoon and often in the evenings; focused on work, family and social connections. Am I supposed to remember everything? It’s a crime scene, a mess by the end of the day. My head is jammed.

        Of course, I don’t like to admit my propensity to forget important things because it might mean that my greatest all-time fear has craftily tiptoed into my life. I ask myself a frightening question, as I stand at the precipice of my recently re-decorated downstairs home office. Okay, why was it that I came down here? What was it I wanted to get?
        I have no idea. So, I traipse back up the 12 steps to the living room, my dog Lucy trailing behind, wagging her cropped spaniel tail, happy to be along for the hike.

        Once I hit the very top step, I head to the fridge for a glass of filtered water; then decide to sit down at my computer to read the on-line local news. And then I whisper unto myself, ‘now, where the hell did I leave my eyeglasses?’ Lucy stares at me, her brown and white furry head bent to its side. She picks up her squeaky fuzzy octopus toy, hoping I will play fetch with her. But, instead, I stomp back down the 12 wooden steps, searching frantically in both the second bedroom and the office. No specs! Crap. “Such a dimwit I am,” I say out loud. I race back upstairs and into the master bedroom. ‘I must have left those glasses on my bed. Yes. I was reading that birthday card from my brother. There’s nothing! I bolt from the bedroom and check the two upstairs bathrooms. Nada!

        I take advantage of the opportunity to do my business. As I sit on the toilet, I glance down at my watch and can barely read the hands but I think I see the little hand on the 4 and the big hand on the 12. Great! It’s 4 o’clock. Time for a glass of vino. Forget the freaking eyeglasses. Reading is over-rated anyway. If I get desperate, I can retrieve my trusty magnifying glass. I know where that is: top drawer, middle cabinet, kitchen. Hot damn! I’m a long way from Alzheimer’s. Thank you God.

        As I take a well-deserved sip of fruity merlot, I stop and stare at the framed photograph of my son and his wife. I realize that forgetting things is undoubtedly a bitch, but not half as bad as being forgotten. I want them to remember me long after I’m gone; well, at least until their own memories start taking a trip off the beaten path. Their time will come. For me, I’ll sit back and enjoy forgetting all the bad things in my life; the bills, all the scheduling, all the demanding requests coming in day after day. I’ll make up stuff. Good stuff.

    • says

      Hi Linda!
      I e-njoyed your piece! The rhythm of your words flowed smoothly. I love Laura’s idea of having everyone toss their cellphones into the middle of the table when out to eat. It’s not my teens that are the culprits but my own girlfriends!

    • Jane says

      Dear Linda, I really e-njoyed reading this, and thank you for writing this e-asy guide to life with screens.

    • MaryL says

      Linda, I loved the way you played with the letter e, the weaving of a fascinating essay on our need to have freedom of expression while keeping current with new ways of communicating. Thanks for sharing. MaryL:

    • Jane says

      Dear Linda, This was so much fun to read, and very interesting questions and ideas. Since communication is a function of intention, and we are communicating online without the benefit of facial expression or body language, with the exception of we might need to be even more sensitive, careful and precise in how we say things online. I still prefer a handwritten thank you note for someone who went to the store and bought a gift wrapped and all.

      • Jane says

        (sorry, people, I’m worn out from long weekend and longer week)

        “. . .with the exception of apps like Skype. We might need. . .”

    • says

      Linda, I know what you mean. When I can sit down and have a conversation with someone, it feels like such a treat. Thank you for your piece.

  4. Jane says

    One of my Mom’s greatest talents is entertaining family and friends with delicious home-cooked meals and buffets. Where I am more of a last-minute person, impulsive and impetuous, she is thoughtful and organized, planning every detail down to the hors d’oeuvres toothpicks. A normal family get-together includes her wedding china, silver and crystal, with Dad putting all the extra extender leaves in the dining room table, and many delicious dishes ready to serve at the same time.

    I know. This is what all housewives do and have done for many years. To be perfectly honest, I doubt I could ever have homemade eggplant lasagna, along with four side dishes and salads and dessert, unless we waited an hour between courses. But my Mom can.

    One holiday, she was putting the finishing touches on everything, ice water in the crystal glasses, lighting the candles, popping the bread rolls into the oven, when we arrived.

    “We’re just waiting for the timer to ring so we can eat,” she told us.

    We all sat around, chatting and watching a sports channel with my Dad. This is before Mom became willing to allow any of us to help in the kitchen. When the time rang, we turned off the TV and offered to help carry the serving dishes into the dining room.

    Suddenly, we heard laughter. It was my Mom, laughing so loudly and for so long that she had tears coming out of her eyes. She had pulled the 9×13 dish of chicken divan out of the oven, but when she removed the aluminum foil, what she saw was not chicken and broccoli at all. It was a chocolate and whipped cream layered pastry dessert. The main dish and the dessert were both in foil-covered 9×13 dishes; she had put the dessert into the oven and left the main dish in the fridge.

    Once she had explained this to us, we all laughed and set the dessert on the counter to cool. The chicken divan took another half hour or so to bake, and then we enjoyed every bite.

    This is the only time I can remember my Mom’s dinner plans not turning out the way she had hoped, and she laughed at herself with a good sense of humor. We still had a lovely day together, and now it is one of those stories we love to tell over and over again

    ************************************

    (note: How I did this was typed it here, copied it, pasted it to Word, edited it there, copy/pasted it back to this website. phew!!)

  5. says

    This is an edited piece of something that I wrote in Laura’s writing practice class last week. The prompt was to write about something that we wanted to hold on to. When I edited it, I cut out some detours and jazzed up the words some, and I also included one of my poems from the poetry challenge. This was fun to do!

    I want to hold on to poetry. I want to remember that April is National Poetry Month. I learned about this holiday this year. A friend invited me to join a group of poets for a writing challenge.The goal was to write a poem a day. When I received the invitation, I had serious misgivings. I know very little about poetry. I had written some songs in my thirties, but that was the extent of my knowledge. And yet I wanted to do it. I told myself I could write a haiku every day. I would have the syllabic structure to lean on, if necessary. And when I accepted, I told the group of my poetic limitations. I said I might be working in a haiku-only zone. They welcomed me among their midst, and we set off.

    For the first two days, I did stick to haiku. But after I submitted my second poem, an ode to green juice, I realized that the syllable count was wrong in the last line. I thought perhaps I could do better. I tried to take in what other people wrote each day. I was particularly interested in free verse, when the language was simple and I could understand the emotions. Other poems were often completely over my head. I wish I was a person who responded to tributes to nature. The exalted syntax of “real poems” didn’t mean much to me. Perhaps if I studied this form further, I would understand.

    During these thirty days, I sent my poem out the first thing in the morning. Sometimes I had to write it then. Sometimes the poem would come to me at other moments. I learned to listen for ideas. They often came when I was in the shower, taking a walk, or driving down our windy road. That’s when I thought my muse was testing me. I seemed to hear many suggestions when I was far away from my computer.

    I rediscovered memories in this challenge. When I originally thought about this challenge, I felt that it would be a good way to write about my teenage years, something I’ve wanted to do. I thought that I definitely had thirty days of writing material in this particular arsenal. One morning, I woke up and this moment came back to me:

    Dare

    When she saw us,
    my mother cried out,
    “Don’t jump!”
    I was up on the roof
    with two friends.
    I hadn’t even considered jumping before.
    But once my mother said I couldn’t do it,
    there just was no choice.
    My friends didn’t follow me.
    It was a solo venture,
    my Pavlovian response to her command.
    With that inelegant leap,
    I sprained my ankle.
    I hobbled around on crutches for weeks.
    My mother drove me around,
    a silent chauffeur.
    And what I wanted to say to her was
    I never wanted to do it.
    I just wanted to survey the world.

    When I finished the challenge that month, I felt as if I had run a race. I felt sweaty and satisfied, and although there were many runners in front of me, it didn’t matter. I had completed the course. I thought I would read some poetry after this experience was over, but so far, I haven’t yet done it. If I stay quiet, I can imagine a poem calling to me from a distant shore. Will I someday receive a message in a bottle? How long will it take?

    I want to stay connected to poetry. I want to crack its code. I want to swim in metered verse. I want to surrender to a life of beautiful images. I want to capture the syllables correctly.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Wendy
      I really enjoyed your journey into the land of poetry and your poem at the end. Quite good for a “self described” non-poet I hope you will be able to express yourself in poetry.

      This was my favorite line, “That’s when I thought my muse was testing me. I seemed to hear many suggestions when I was far away from my computer.”

    • says

      Wendy, I heard you read this piece in class and I love the way you trimmed it. I could hear your voice reading it to me in my head. I loved the whole thing (including the poem). Especially these universal lines:

      “I sent my poem out the first thing in the morning. Sometimes I had to write it then. Sometimes the poem would come to me at other moments. I learned to listen for ideas. They often came when I was in the shower, taking a walk, or driving down our windy road. That’s when I thought my muse was testing me. I seemed to hear many suggestions when I was far away from my computer.”

  6. Diana says

    This is revised from a free writing session while waiting in the doctor’s office. My goal was 500 words.

    I am a nurse. In recent months, I have found myself on the other side of the
    stethoscope in the patient role. It is not a position in which I am comfortable.

    As the daughter of a professionally ill mother I became an adept nurse. Put into
    service at an early age, I became the sibling caretaker and domestic helper.

    One of my earliest memories was vowing to be different from my mother. I
    became a nurse to avoid becoming my mother. It’s true of many nurses. We are
    comfortable as caregivers having found ourselves nurturing our mothers rather
    than the other way around. There is also an element of superstition. By inhabiting
    medical facilities wearing the medical uniform with a stethoscope around my
    neck like a talisman, the Angel of Infirmity will pass me over. I also have worked
    hard to keep ahead of the specter of illness and injury, exercising daily, eating
    right, never, ever smoking, getting my annual check ups and drinking only in
    moderation.

    Last January, Fate paid a visit. While exercising, I sustained an injury that has
    been difficult to diagnose, presents me with daily pain and has me rotating
    through doctor’s offices, imaging clinics and the pharmacy. I am the Patient.

    I have gained a new perspective of myself, my life and my profession.

    I realize my mother is hopelessly narcissistic and incapable of real compassion and empathy. Just as she didn’t want the asthmatic child I once was to get well, she harbors a secret desire that I will not fully recover. I make a choice to no longer be angry with her. It is like being angry at the snake for eating the mouse; it is just her nature. I also no longer seek to get something from her she is incapable of giving.

    I’ll be a better nurse. I’ve learned a few things sitting from this side:

    1. The Power of Valium: that tiny little pill can go along way toward easing anxiety of the unknown when faced with a test or procedure. I’ll tell my patients it can be a big help.

    2. I have a greater empathy for the sense of betrayal associated with your body letting you down. Next time I will tell my patient, “I understand. Tell me what you are afraid of…..”

    3. “Sure I can help you with that” is a phrase that has great healing power. Being at the mercy of others to help you manage your illness in a system designed to reject and deny is daunting.Those words have great power to ease your mind and soul. It is a phrase I will tell my patients and their families.

    4. I’ve cried in my doctors office when I would cry nowhere else. The sanctity of the caregiver-patient relationship affords the space the cry. It is the one place where I feel like I don’t have to be brave. I’ll tell my patients it’s okay to cry.

    • Laura Davis says

      Diana, I really enjoyed this piece. The subject matter and your clear style pulled me right through from the beginning to the end. Some of my favorite lines:

      “There is also an element of superstition. By inhabiting medical facilities wearing the medical uniform with a stethoscope around my neck like a talisman, the Angel of Infirmity will pass me over…Last January, Fate paid a visit. While exercising, I sustained an injury that has been difficult to diagnose, presents me with daily pain and has me rotating through doctor’s offices, imaging clinics and the pharmacy. I am the Patient.”

      And this:

      “I realize my mother is hopelessly narcissistic and incapable of real compassion and empathy…I make a choice to no longer be angry with her. It is like being angry at the snake for eating the mouse; it is just her nature.”

  7. Karen says

    I tend to add words that aren’t necessary, less can mean the same. This was almost 800 words long, I did scale it down to less than 500. I wrote this last week and when I saw the prompt for this week went about editing this piece and revising. It is therapeutic to write and then go back and make a finished story. Of course most of my writing is regarding my estrangement with my adult daughter. It’s how I cope.

    My Daughters Eyes

    If I could see into the future through my daughter’s eyes, what would I see?

    As a little girl she dreamed about a fairy tale wedding. Things were different though than what she had envisioned as a little girl, she wouldn’t have her family to share the day. This was her choice but at times she had doubts and wished things were different.

    It has been three years since she left the home she grew up in. The white house with the blue shutters, the yard where her family pets were buried. Her tree planted when she was born now dead and a memory. She hasn’t been home for two years. Sometimes it’s hard to remember life when she lived there. She lives with her boyfriend, his parents and no longer speaks to any member of her family. It was her choice because of conflict between her parents regarding her boyfriend and his family. It was easier to just shut them out. As time went by it became harder yet easier to let things be this way. People tried to reach out and “fix things” on facebook but they didn’t know her side of the story.

    Her wedding dress shopping wouldn’t include her mother. She couldn’t help but think about times she had shopped with her mom for prom dresses in high school. She wanted prom her senior year to be special. I think her mom knew how she felt and tried to help her find the perfect dress. They went shopping but found nothing that would do. Her mom suggested making her a dress they picked out beautiful red fabric. Unfortunately, it turned out disastrous. Out of desperation they made one last attempt shopping and found a beautiful off white dress, she felt like a bride. As she continued to shop for the perfect wedding dress, trying one after the other, she couldn’t help but miss her mother and remember her parents always teasing about the pig roast wedding they would have for her.

    Her wedding would be small and not follow the usual traditions and she wouldn’t be inviting her family. She needed to think about who would walk her down the aisle and do the father daughter dance knowing this too wasn’t as she envisioned. At times she doubted she never responded to her mother’s attempts to reconcile. The what if’s were hard not to think about. Was her life going to be better with her family not being part of it? She reminded herself she never did anything right or good enough for her parents and felt justified that it was easier this way. She also reminded herself she no longer had to listen to the fear her boyfriend expressed about her family turning her against him.

    These are the things I wonder. If she could see into the future what would she see through my eyes?

    • Laura Davis says

      Karen, thanks for sharing this painful piece with us. I’m glad you’re finding writing to be an ally in your grief. I have processed all the painful things in my life using words and language and understand the power of narrative therapy.

      As I read, I couldn’t help but notice your choice to write this piece in the third person, using “her mother” instead of “me.” If you were in one of my classes, I’d suggest that you go back and rewrite this piece in the first person and see how it changed the piece. My guess is that the emotion might be much more immediate for you and the reader. Perhaps that is precisely why you made the choice you did–that writing it in the first person was just too painful.

      One other small thing….since this was an editing exercise, I’m going to make one small editorial suggestion. In the paragraph below, you go from a flashback to current time (buying the prom dress to buying the wedding dress). It would be clearer for the reader if you just added the word “now,” as I did below to telegraph to the reader that you’re changing time. I’m highlighting the word in capital letters below. Of course you wouldn’t do that in your final piece.

      “Her wedding dress shopping wouldn’t include her mother. She couldn’t help but think about times she had shopped with her mom for prom dresses in high school. She wanted prom her senior year to be special. I think her mom knew how she felt and tried to help her find the perfect dress. They went shopping but found nothing that would do. Her mom suggested making her a dress they picked out beautiful red fabric. Unfortunately, it turned out disastrous. Out of desperation they made one last attempt shopping and found a beautiful off white dress, she felt like a bride. NOW, as she continued to shop for the perfect wedding dress, trying one after the other, she couldn’t help but miss her mother and remember her parents always teasing about the pig roast wedding they would have for her.”

        • Laura Davis says

          Rosemary, why don’t you write to me privately and share your concern about your fiction. I’ll email you off the forum.

      • Karen says

        Thanks Laura for the feedback. I have a question with your feedback regarding writing in first person, just to clarify and so I understand. To do so I would write a sentence such as (She couldn’t help but think about times she had shopped with her mom for prom dresses in high school.) this sentence would read (I couldn’t help but think about times we had shopped for prom dresses in high school.) Karen

    • Lee Xan says

      Thank you for this piece–I felt pain and longing…

      I was struck by the following part which seemed to foreshadow or speak of the separation…

      “It has been three years since she left the home she grew up in. The white house with the blue shutters, the yard where her family pets were buried. Her tree planted when she was born now dead and a memory.”

      It was an interesting choice to use “Her mom” and I liked the dress parts, the red not working and the other dress…thanks for opening this story up to us.

  8. says

    I wrote this some time ago in response to the two wolves within us. It was a bit less than 400 words so I went through and super edited it took out the “thats” and added the last bit to better finish the piece.
    ———————

    Two wolves are actually in play in my house everyday, all the time. My husband is bipolar and we have been together for forty years now. I knew when I married him that he had some problems that we would have to deal with but I never thought it would turn into listening to a string of obscenities all day long every day. I know how to deal with the “highs,” I know all the signs and take charge with the appropriate medications and all that needs to be done to get our lives back on track. But the downside, the daily stream of negativity, is so wearing.

    I love him. He saved my life. We have gone through so many things together that our lives are wound together inextricably. They can never be separated out from one another. Every day I wake up and think, “It is a good day to smile and be happy.” “I will be the good guy today, because if I am nice and pleasant it will influence the mood of the whole house.” By noon the “bad wolf” is beginning to nag at me saying, “respond in kind, swear back at him” “snarl, you can do it.” I think, “yes, I know I can do it but I will not.” I know he will never be able to see what his negative remarks all day long, about every single thing, do to those around him and that he does not mean most of it. But, it is so hard to listen to.

    Once in a while when I am extremely tired or gritting my teeth from pain, the “bad wolf” wins and I lash out. It does not make me feel better nor does it help. We have adopted two little terriers from the pound and he is so kind to them. He loves them so much, and they love him, that he is so pleasant with them is amazes me. His interaction with them provides the bright spots in my day. I will not let the “bad wolf” win. There is a “good wolf” in both of us and I look for them to show themselves every minute of every day.

    The saving grace is that every night before we go to sleep he says to me, “Thank you for taking care of me; thank you, thank you for taking care of us; thank you, thank you.”

    • Diana says

      Hazel, This was a poignant piece on taking care of and loving someone with mental illness. I liked the bad wolf/ good wolf imagery. With the two dogs, it’s amazing how animals can heal the spirit and bring out the best in some people and in those moments when your husband is incapable of feeling good about anything he can feel good about those two little dogs.

    • Lee Xan says

      Powerful piece that drew me in empathetically…the words of the good and the “bad” wolf, and the husband’s kind words at the end.

      This part drew me in as well…

      “By noon the “bad wolf” is beginning to nag at me saying, “respond in kind, swear back at him” “snarl, you can do it.” I think, “yes, I know I can do it but I will not.” I know he will never be able to see what his negative remarks all day long, about every single thing, do to those around him and that he does not mean most of it. But, it is so hard to listen to ”

      I thought the complicatedness of this piece about this relationship was well-written.

    • Laura Davis says

      I loved the balance in this piece. You describe your husband’s criticism and negativity. It was drawn all the more sharply because you set it in contrast to his kindness and tenderness with the dog…and also his closing comments to you at night. Painting more of his complexity made this a much more nuanced and more compelling piece.

    • says

      Dear Hazel,

      I loved the honesty of your piece, and hearing about the joy that these dogs bring to your home. Thanks for sharing this! Very well-written.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hi Hazel,
      This is very well written..and edited… I too liked the metaphor of the two wolves, the way the rescued terriers brings out the gentler side of your bipolar husband.
      The final line of your husband thanking you every night was a lovely way to end the piece.

  9. Lee Xan says

    Sorry to catch you off guard and in darkness! …I can be sharp…

    I have such distaste for people blocking women from entering clinics. I can’t get their smug religious faces out of my mind. I’d go to great lengths to not have to look at those faces—

    I’ve been so informed by…the pastor cornering me in the alley near the clinic with his, “It’s a good thing I’m a Christian now, because let me tell you what I’d do to you if I wasn’t Christian…”

    White Baptists, Black Baptists—both shouting, mauling women. Then Catholics…praying rosaries near the entrance–visible but not mauling women or their cars, not assaulting per se but with bloody signs…photos looking like sweet-and-sour-pork or messes of coagulated blood.

    I think, “Hey, my period would look pretty scary on a sign too…”

    At the capitol, their swastika sign calls us Nazis.

    Now I see more reproductive nuances, complicated history…also how
    anti-disability thought affects choices–especially if someone’s test indicates possible impairment, yet nuances and knowledge doesn’t change my earlier core feelings.

    On other fronts, you say a “regular job” keeps people in gear, helps people get things done,

    but really–
    what keeps me from doing,
    and
    what GETS me doing things I want/need to do??

    1. getting excited
    2. taking the time I need
    3….confidence, belief, faith in writing and the importance/value for me/others…
    4. awareness of how I spend/waste time
    5. making fun game-like deadlines
    6. start GSD group–getting shit done.
    …be accountable to right person/people and in fun good gently pressured ways.
    7. keep goals in mind…and steps but don’t get caught in steps.
    8. give real thought to: how do I work best??
    a) early mornings
    b) after relaxing after work
    c) weekends, maybe morning
    d) when I’m not too full.
    e) positive fun pressure, competition, not negative,
    sometimes fear–fear I’ll die without getting shit done, fear that half the year’s almost over

    What I’ve done this year–

    i. medical,
    ii. Memorial Cat book,
    iii. postings on writing site,
    iv. comic diary Intro and have cover, but haven’t bagged.
    v. revision/poetry group poems
    vi. MOL performance (+signed lyrics to H.)
    vii. compiled list of every song (good or bad) I’ve written
    viii. guitar shopping, still looking
    ix. research for memoir
    x. writing colloquium/workshops

    I have insights/epiphanies, but I lose them
    I have good thoughts and forget or get mowed over…how half a year passes, slips…

    Name it, write it down, keep visual reminders if I want any chance of Getting Shit Done.

    GYBIG—Get Your Butt In Gear group? No, I like the GSD group better.

    Do you want to be in the GSD group?

    Or should the group name be something like NaNoWriMo? I could call it GeShiDo–sounds sort of Japanese…The GeShiDo Group.

    There’s so much I want to do…

    • Lee Xan says

      *This was hard being the wordy wonder I am. At first I thought you thought of this exercise because of my long postings! (That still may be!)

      I’ve had to edit pieces before. It is hard—this started off as a long email, I cut most of the addresses to the other person and questions to that person, then I cut all of the “maybe”s and “I think”s, so that made the writing perhaps more bold and more claim-y, but I am more a maybe and I think sort of person. What else?

      I went for tricks, employing slashes to avoid making certain choices, to have my cake and write it too, as it were. And I used the dashes to make certain phrases cost less in the wordcount!

      It is a sort of game…ultimately fine but also sort of annoying. What I like about it, is the actual revising part, that to read something so many times gives me a sense of when my wording is a little sloppy, meaning inaccurate and something stronger might work or something righter might work.

      So I guess revision put me in touch with what was not working, while making me hear the parts I like..GeShiDo! (Pronouciation: gay-shee-doh)

      • Angeline says

        Hello Lee Xan,

        I agree with you 100% . I am by nature a wordy writer. It is always a challenge for me to go back and take a second look at what I write. Today, I found great pleasure in the process. I now look forward to doing it, AGAIN, with several unfinished and hastily created journal entries.

      • Laura Davis says

        Often we write our first drafts in a particular way (like sparse or wordy or flowery or rambling), but that doesn’t mean it’s the more effective way to craft the piece once the rough material is out. Less words are always better than more. You might want to take this exercise even further and cut what you’ve posted above by a quarter or even in half. See what happens if you pare down the core.

        • Lee Xan says

          Thanks for your thoughts…I pared the original from 1119 and cut three times to 472 and that seems like the right length for me. I suppose there are two different concerns about editing–editing for oneself and editing for a reader. I suppose, I edited this as an exercise and edited with a reader in mind, but I also edited for myself–for something I liked and could live with.

          I suppose the part that doesn’t work for me about a certain kind of editing…is when I feel like I am taking a big tree and trimming it to be a bush. I think I would rather take a small tree and trim it to be a bush or even better, take a big bush and trim it to make a small bush, but something about taking something big to try and small it doesn’t feel right.

          Now excerpting I can do. Trim the flowers and make a bouquet.

          I guess to trim my particular piece further would not be satisfying to me and I feel the piece would lose something.

          In the past, I have had to trim pieces further than I was comfortable with. In one case, a great friend suggested I might want to take my prose piece and put it into a poetic form. That enabled me to make deep cuts in the piece without losing much and the piece gained a lot also.

          I also discovered in that process that readers I knew and trusted suggested better cuts than an editor who didn’t know me. Some of that editors suggested cuts–because she didn’t know me well enough–compromised “me” in the piece and part of the piece itself. (But also I was lucky enough to have readers who I knew and trusted who are writers who have good editing skills).

          • Laura Davis says

            I like the analogy of the bouquet vs. the tree. I also believe for me, at a point when I’m ready to publish something, it’s all about the reader and the reader’s experience. It’s not about me. Since I wrote it, the essence of me is there, but my editing prior to publication is all about what works for a reader, the kind of reader I want.

        • Lee Xan says

          I do like the sprawlingness of my pieces–and when I looked at the piece, I could see that sometimes I can create a certain clarity by giving a piece sections, but I like the way minds go different directions and how one thought leads to another…

      • says

        I understand perfectly. I tend to be wordy myself. I’ve spent too many years doing ‘academic writing’ where you’re supposed to be crystal clear and not leave anything unexplained or unclear (a big no no in academia). I’m having to unlearn this, and for me it’s been very painful!

        • Lee Xan says

          Empathizing–the pros and cons of academic writing. And what is worth it to apply to creative writing. Clarity and creativity. I know academic writers who are skilled enough to write creatively and academically.
          (I myself had a heck of a time doing both, but I do think I have a slightly better eye for clarity, as well as a love of research–while now not being held to have to research and lay something out a particular way, but even there–I now great researchers/academics who also give academia a run for their money. I’m thinking here of Petra Kuppers–she’s got great books and articles, and also Margaret Price–I just started her book, “Mad at School”–academic and highly readable, I’d say.)

  10. Angeline says

    Rereading, To Kill a Mockingbird each year, is one of my favorite things to do. Each time that I reread the novel I wonder if, Harper Lee, chose to write the story in that specific year, would the central characters’ actions or points of view change?

    I wrote the following poem in 2010. Originally it was a part of much longer (750 words) journal entry. Last night I narrowed it down to an odd 401 words. Today, I decided to change it to an even 400 words. I never anticipated that deleting ONE word would result in such a significant rewrite. This exercise challenged me to actively think and speak the words I write.

    This prompt provided me with an intimate, and timely look at my growth and development as a writer. I also felt nudged to go back and reclaim a piece of writing that I archived as finished, even though I never felt its completeness. I felt mindful and beautifully present with my writing today.

    I am astonished at how one word can expand, and at the same time shrink my creative process. Thank you Laura.

    Across the nation tiny towns still sleep.
    Willow trees weep.
    The days grow old.
    The times change.
    Stories of courage are told.
    Still I wonder…
    What would Harper Lee, have young Scout see?

    Does the mocking bird still sing a beautiful song?
    Is judging character based on color still wrong?
    Tell me please,
    Ms. Harper Lee,
    If she retold her story today,
    What would the voice of your little Scout say?

    In neighborhoods everywhere people change,
    Living life seems cruelly strange.
    The light ones rise.
    The dark ones fall.
    Our similarities remain veiled in fierce disguise.
    Still I wonder…
    What would, Harper Lee, have young Scout see?

    Does freedom for every man, woman and child exist?
    Will the scales of truth ever balance in the name of Lady Justice?
    Tell me please,
    Ms. Harper Lee,
    If she retold her story today,
    What would the voice of your little Scout say?

    From shore to shore evil fuels excess.
    Goodness upholds innocence.
    The rich strike deals.
    The poor fall prey.
    Our divisiveness shamefully kills.
    Still I wonder…
    What would, Harper Lee, have young Scout see?

    Are guilty men given a free pass to stay out jail?
    Is it still okay for poor, abused, girls to purposefully spin untruthful tales?
    Tell me please,
    Ms. Harper Lee,
    If she retold her story today,
    What would the voice of your little Scout say?

    The predilection for individuality reigns extreme.
    Calls for collective love streams.
    The old predict the end of days.
    The young chase new and exciting dreams.
    Unyielding truth remains.
    Still I wonder…
    What would, Harper Lee, have young Scout see?

    Will we someday know what equality looks like for all?
    Or will we depart, never hearing the beauty of the mockingbird’s call?
    Tell me please,
    Ms. Harper Lee,
    If she retold her story today,
    What would the voice of your little Scout say?

    From a porch in any small town the world goes round.
    Backward stories abound.
    Believers hold on to spiritual tools.
    Scorned doubters drone on with suspicious sound.
    Compassion eludes only the fools.
    Still I wonder…
    What would Harper Lee, have young Scout see?

    Can the lens of love transform the misaligned eye of the sullied beholder?
    Will challenging inequality, one life at time, heal us as we grow older?
    Tell me please,
    Ms. Harper Lee,
    If she retold her story today,
    What would the voice of your little Scout say?

    • Lee Xan says

      Love the form of this piece, and the “see” and the “say”…and the wondering about Harper Lee and scout ending each verse…there was something almost hypnotic and musical or rhythmic to this piece…thanks for the info in the beginning–it made me curious what one word was deleted and where…I enjoyed the questions throughout this piece as well, “Does the mockingbird still sing a beautiful song?”

      • Angeline says

        I chose to delete the word truth because it was written in two lines. The first time I deleted truth, “Believers hold on to spiritual (truth) tools.” When I changed the word to tools that meant I had to find a new word to rhyme with tools.

        Then when I reread it, I noticed that I had used the word truth previously in stating, “Unyielding truth remains.” Deleting, repeating,and then again deleting, the word truth changed the meaning of what I wanted to convey to the reader. Ultimately, I went back to the beginning of the poem and with each line, I paused and asked myself, “Is this what I really want to say? And then the war of words and symmetry began. I felt like a character in the movie, Life, …Can’t git right! :)

    • Laura Davis says

      I loved the experience you had: “I wrote the following poem in 2010. Originally it was a part of much longer (750 words) journal entry. Last night I narrowed it down to an odd 401 words. Today, I decided to change it to an even 400 words. I never anticipated that deleting ONE word would result in such a significant rewrite.”

  11. says

    This chapter is from the memoir I’m writing on letting go of our house via short sale. I used a variation of an exercise called “radical subtract” from Andy Couturier’s book, “Writing Open the Mind.”

    Chapter: Strength in Letting Go

    Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.
    Hermann Hesse

    What’s unique about our mortgage story was we decided not to fight our lenders to keep the house. Conventional wisdom is that it’s un-American to not even try. As much as we loved our Turquoise Dream, it made no sense to go through the motions applying for loan modification knowing we had a slim chance for successfully gaining approval.

    Once you’re in it you realize the news reports are dismayingly superficial on this complex situation underwater homeowners find themselves in. Honestly, it’s to the advantage of the banks and the government that homeowners continue to pay on a bad mortgage out of fear, shame, or guilt. And yet there is a moral double standard at play because even before the meltdown The Wall Street Journal reported it was a common practice for corporations like Morgan Stanley to shed ‘toxic debt’ whenever the need arose, as it did in 2009 with some San Francisco properties they purchased in 2007.

    Then there was the Presidential election. By mid-summer 2012 the Romney and Obama campaigns were still finding their feet and although I noticed carefully crafted concerned, lofty statements about the ‘struggling middle-class,’ I heard nothing from either candidate about how the abysmal housing recovery was going to be recalibrated. This would have been an easy shot at Obama for the Republicans and they ignored it. I felt invisible.

    Just days after the election the Huffington Post ran an article that explained why. It was politics pure and simple. Since the meltdown there had been grid-lock between Democrats and the Obama administration and then ‘acting’ FHFA (Federal Housing Finance Agency) Director DeMarco. Since the beginning of the mortgage meltdown DeMarco, accused of being a sweetheart of the banking industry while quietly supported by Republicans, vehemently opposed the theoretical ‘moral hazard’ principle reduction might encourage in homeowners who could afford their mortgages, even though the FHFA’s own research suggested differently. ‘What if’ they purposely defaulted to take advantage? In contrast, housing advocates and many economists were touting principal reduction as the best way to keep middle-class homeowners in their houses, save taxpayers money, and provide a solid foundation for the housing and overall economic recovery.

    This was categorically depressing. In essence the failed details of the recovery that were causing prolonged struggle for the middle-class” had simply been ignored throughout the election. As a democrat-leaning independent this was very hard for me to face. It was a mistake to give away billions to the banks, hoping they would use it to actually save housing and our economy; instead they used the money to save themselves. The Obama administration and Congress dropped the ball, and it fell heavily on the middle class.

    I am an optimistic, unabashed, ‘glass-half full’ kind of person, yet even I couldn’t ignore the writing on the wall once I really looked at the state of the union that summer. After hearing numerous stories of homeowners fighting to the bitter end with their banks, too often unsuccessfully, I found myself thinking, ‘did they run their numbers to see if it made sense?’ I hope they did the math and that it did make long-term financial sense for their situation to fight. And sometimes it’s true for you that no matter what the numbers say you’re going to make the decision to hang on. Who says that money is everything?

    Coupled with what I was learning about distressed homeowners sending their paperwork 5, 10, 15, and sometimes 20 times I thought enough. I’m not playing that game. No more dead trees, no wait and see. We decided to stop paying and see how long before they started foreclosure proceedings instead. It was too late for us to benefit from the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement and who knew if the 2013 California Homeowners Bill of Rights would help. And frankly, Mike and I were too old for hoping that our house would appreciate enough by retirement to make keeping the house a reasonable risk.

    We learned what we could from the financial counselor, a couple of local realtors, a real estate attorney, and a CPA experienced with the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. We became educated on our legal rights and the timeline for the foreclosure process in California. It was an uncomfortable, no-win decision.

    On June 30 I sat down to pay bills. By habit my hands started to go through the motions of writing out a mortgage check and then my brain stopped them. Gulp. I turned to Mike, voice shaking, “We’re really going to go through with it?” “Yes,” we both said. I finished paying bills, closed my checkbook, and waited. By mid-July Mike was receiving phone calls at work and he’d respond, “Yes, we know we’re behind, thank you,” and hang up. At home I began receiving a daily recording from ‘JoAnne’ at Wells Fargo Mortgage informing me that I was behind on my payments and to please call at my earliest convenience. I ignored the messages and began erasing them each day when I got home.

    A strategy was born. We looked at the cold, hard facts of the mortgage recovery misfire and the uncertainty fostered by election year rhetoric and stopped hoping things would change. We accepted the advice and information about the near impossibility of loan modification and short sale for us. We settled on a strategic default or foreclosure plan yet were uncertain how long we would be able to remain in our house. We knew that in California it was at least 90 days before they could file a legal Notice of Default (NOD) and another 120+ days after the NOD before they could schedule a foreclosure sale. We also knew that in Santa Cruz County in 2012 it was an average of 9 months from NOD to when foreclosure sales were being scheduled. Mike still wanted to keep the short sale option on the table and I was skeptical. Our hybrid strategy was to stop paying our mortgage, see how long before we received the NOD, and make a decision on whether or not to attempt a short sale at that time.

    This gave us some time to say goodbye. We refocused our sights on the life we were heading towards rather than the life we had been so desperately trying to hang on to.

    • Laura Davis says

      Gayle, I really enjoyed this, but since it was an exercise about editing, could you add a comment that describes the method you used as you edited it? How does “radical subtract” work?

      • says

        Oh, sorry!

        The way I did it I started with about a 1300 word draft, radically edited it down to about 400 words and then rebuilt and rearranged back up to about 1000 words. This was my own quirky version of radical subtract though. With more time I think I’d cut this down again to about 750-800.

    • says

      Gayle, I feel that you were able to describe your process and give us a lot of information about the situation. It was very interesting. Thank you.

  12. Lee Xan says

    Thank you for this piece…I got sucked into this situation, the considerations of letting a house go, the moment of deciding that a check would not be written and the scene of the bank people calling and the responses…finding a way to the next step…in a way the piece seemed to rely on facts a lot rather than emotion to tell the story which was interesting, because the facts and context tells a lot Thanks!.

    • says

      Thanks Lee Xan,

      Yes, this will be a memoir interspersed with social commentary. It’s challenging to find the right balance, yet this part of the story and our decision-making to let go of the house was mostly fact and context-based, and in contrast our decision to buy the house was more emotional.

  13. beverly Boyd says

    When I read this prompt I welcomed it as a prod to get me started on editing some of the racism material that I want to have ready for a blog I hope to have up soon. The same issues that I always face were blocking me. I had written so many versions for different reasons that I couldn’t decide which to use for this prompt.

    In the process of looking for something I found other writing that could make good material for the general blog in other categories than racism. I not only found one to edit, I spent some time with two others.

    Here is one of them.
    —————————————-

    I didn’t expect…

    When I was thirteen I was on a trip with my family to California from New York State. We would be gone a whole month and I was none to happy about it. I was thirteen: irritable about having to be on the trip while my friends were enjoying summer activities at home. Leaving my boyfriend had been especially hard. We were so in love and I wasn’t going to able to receive mail with all the moving from place to place.

    From many family trips I had learned that to be cooperative, even compliant, in the car, not only made things better for my parents and younger siblings, was in my own best interests as well. So I kept my irritation to myself.

    Everywhere we stopped I used my allowance on postcards and stamps. It was hard to write in the car, especially in the back seat, so I used that time for daydreaming and making up recipes for the diet I was on.

    So, what was it I didn’t expect?

    On the way home from California our trip was planned through national parks and other sights. The thirteen-year-old in me was determined not to be impressed. After going through miles of hot, bleak, sage-covered desert past dry washes and mesas we arrived at Bryce Canyon in Arizona. The parking lot was as boring as what we had been driving through all morning.

    “I’ll just wait in the car,” I said. I’d write some post cards: a much better use of my time, I thought.

    My father, usually a well-modulated and reasonable man was absolutely determined that I get out and come along with them… “young lady, or else.” He seldom said “or else” or “young lady”, so I knew he meant it, whatever “or else” meant.

    A few minutes later I was walking amid a most incredible array of formations created by nature’s winds and waters. Many seemed like sixty-foot tall people: royal kings and queens carved out of red sandstone. From the parking lot it had looked like one more barren area.

    For the immediate time and the rest of the trip I decided that maybe to make the best use of my time, I should be more willing to go along with the plans my parents had made during late evening sessions at home.
    ——————————————-

    I wrote this in response to the prompt: “I didn’t expect” a few years ago so it was like reading something for the first time. It was initially 610 words long. Though I felt like it was cheating at first, I was able to easily cut out 128 words at the beginning that in all fairness were unnecessary to understanding the piece, so it really was an edit and not cheating after all. I did some rearranging, word changes and a few eliminations and was able to get it down to 383. Going back over it again before posting I found a few other small changes that I think strengthens it.

    • says

      Beverly, you always make me feel at home when you write. You have such an inviting voice, and I feel that I always feel that I want to know more about the situation. Thank you.

  14. beverly Boyd says

    Hi Laura,
    I appreciated the observation you made in response in the string with Lee’s earlier post.

    “…at a point when I’m ready to publish something, it’s all about the reader and the reader’s experience. It’s not about me. Since I wrote it, the essence of me is there, but my editing prior to publication is all about what works for a reader, the kind of reader I want.”

    I had an opportunity to have my story about the black sergeant, who propositioned me when I was working at Camp Drum post exchange the summer after my graduation from high school included in a book of stories about whites experience of racism. The version I ended up with after several rewritings using suggestions from one of your classes and my senior writing group was the one the editor wanted to use. It was a good story but did not feel authentically like me so I withdrew it.

    Now I have come to the recognition that it is more about reaching the reader. Your comment to Lee helped to validate my decision to use it on my blog.

    I considered using it for this prompt, but I realized that, after all the massaging it already had there wasn’t more that an few words to cut out.

    • Laura Davis says

      You’re welcome, Beverly. It’s a challenge to make that transition from personal writing–writing for you as writer–to getting enough distance to transform that personal writing into something that will effectively reach and move a reader. Not all writers make that leap or want to. Glad you’re moving into those waters. You’ve got a lot that’s of value to express.

  15. MaryL says

    MaryL, June 3, 2014

    I wrote the long essay a few years ago. In this exercise, I divided the space with approximate word count. I started with the 4th version, because this was the point of the whole essay. Then I worked with the middle two, so that the shift was from exterior to interior, from cerebral to emotional.

    Version One – CONVENT

    All was not well with me. Andy had died in April, and I hadn’t even begun to feel the loss. I was emotionally numb, but starting to wonder why he, and not I, had died. I was after all unworthy. He was just a kid.

    Let’s go back to the visit to Baltic with Sister Valeria and the girls. I was a sophomore in college. It was a beautiful late spring day. So we had a lovely afternoon with the sisters. Sr. Charles Marie – whom I later came to know as a sweet and cheerful, yet strong woman of God – was our tour guide. She was enchanting … like a big sister. She lived here, she loved it. Then the superior there told us to go to the chapel and ask Jesus if he wanted us to come back. Was he calling me?

    As I sat in the dimly lit chapel, feelings subdued but hopeful, I asked, in my heart, are you calling me? And I sensed the answer that I desperately needed, yes. This response was not magical or mysterious, and knowing now what was going on in my life, not surprising at all. I simply wanted to be loved. I wanted a pure love. I wanted to be cherished. I wanted to belong to a happy family.

    At home, I was after all “the identified patient,” the scapegoat, the one held responsible for anything that went wrong. More than that, my parents were doing a dance with my psyche, using me, working together as one, knowing, not-knowing, enabling, who knows why. I felt like a rag, a piece of dirt. I couldn’t sleep because I knew what would happen … often enough. I didn’t know what was going on except that it was very wrong, and my father, who was supposed to protect me, decided to “love me” and my mother said nothing to stop him. She knew; she asked me; I told her. She did nothing.

    I don’t know what would have happened if I’d not sensed that “yes,” because I had been in a deep depression, now compounded by mourning. What if I had gone home and tried to forget that magical afternoon which seemed to hold the promise of a holy community of kind women working and praying and laughing together, a new family.

    The next day, my friend Peggy said to me, “You really liked it, didn’t you?”
    I nodded.
    She went on, “You want to go back!”
    I nodded.

    And so began this part of the journey which took me into a most-surprising disappointment and to further certainty about my unworthiness. I remember the first few months, like being a kid again, working together, sleeping well, getting up early, and being silent most of the time, which was easy for me.

    Then came All Saints Day, and I couldn’t stop crying. Andy’s death became a reality. He was with the other saints, but more importantly, he was gone. The part of my childhood which let in a little light – was over. Crying wasn’t permitted in the convent – how silly! I suppose they were afraid a bout of hysteria would make the walls fall down. So I couldn’t talk about this new unleashing of emotions, sadness, loss, grieving … coming of age.

    The convent was not the place for a girl who needed love, needed affirmation, needed protection. It did not provide those things, at least not in the usual ways. In this bunch of women it was better not to care, not to feel, not to look to help others.
    What happened – and what has happened whenever people try to codify the behavior of communities of faith – is that the Holy Rule became the god of the convent house. Emphasis was not on compassion and courage and justice, but on folding sheets, and never acting upset, and not ever getting too close to another person. The shame and disgrace of what happened at home at night was resurrected in this new fear – of not touching, of not feeling, or being apart, of loving only with the mind in a sterile way.

    It’s easy to love Jesus if you remember that he is god and not your brother or your spouse. There is no hug from Jesus, no pep-talk, no bantering, no chatting, no silliness, and even no crying. “The relationship” was all encased in the holy box of morning prayer and meditation. This made it pure, I suppose, but also remote, unrealistic, unreal.

    I’m not the only girl to enter the convent to find a mother, and I was not the only girl to become painfully aware that mothering and those other nurturing gifts were not part of the package of being a dedicated “woman of God.” It is possible for communities to become little islands … connected only with a gate to let you in and separate spots for each separated soul.

    There were no hopes, dreams, or anticipations. There was no future. We gave that up to “God’s will,” whatever that was. How could we know the will of God? It’s not good, Scripture says, to “presume to know the mind of god.” We were taught, not as adult women, but like little girls, that our superiors – the Novice mistress who had been a fifth grade teacher and the Mother General who had been a first grade teacher – were for us the will of God. What they told us to do is what God wanted/wants/will want. Unquestioning obedience was the key. We were discouraged from questioning – I knew that well because the Catholic church pre-Vatican II taught us that. Doubt is wrong. Questioning your faith is wrong. Why oh why?

    So when I told my mother that I wanted to go to the convent, she was opposed. My father was in favor, perhaps knowing that one less temptress would share his home. Mom hated the convent for taking me away … perhaps I bore part of the pressure that she felt in that marriage, in that distorted family. She was right, but perhaps not for all the right reasons. She was there when I went home, and she knew I was too sick, not the kid who always argued to prove a point.

    You know, Mom was right. The convent was bad for me. I was bad for the convent. I grew to despise Christmas because of the awful, prickly, humiliating memories of those holidays, which were supposed to be the summit of the church year. I hated Lent because it was even more somber than usual, and for people who are sad in the winter, it’s doubly difficult. Having less of less can mean having nothing.
    Where were we supposed to gain the nourishment and the strength to do God’s work – to teach or nurse, or take care of the house? Perhaps the elevator didn’t stop on our floor, because I never felt so lonely as a young person as I did in the convent. I became detached –touching, not feeling, for example. I tried to numb myself to the frequent put-downs, which were – I learned afterward – more about my ethnicity than about my individual self.

    Was I called? Not in the simple way we learned in catechism… God calls you to religious life (priesthood for boys, convent for girls) and the rest are called to get married and have families. It is much, much more complicated than that. The adolescent way in which our concerns were treated is support for not letting uneducated, uncaring women lead other women on a “spiritual path.” If we don’t know where we are, how can we know which way to turn? How can we know about the larger world? If we are limited to a cell, to a small-minded set of expectations, rewards and punishments – like a prison – how can we appreciate the great cosmos, the world which our Creator established and expects us to keep going?

    I needed love. I needed to be shown respect. I needed to be treated as precious. I needed to not be “used.” The convent was the last place on earth for a girl like me.
    (1367 words)

    btw, Laura, I want to include my concern that what we write here is to be kept confidential and not shared verbatim outside the group.

    Version Two
    As I sat in the dimly lit chapel, feelings subdued but hopeful, I asked, in my heart, are you calling me? And I sensed the answer that I desperately needed, yes. This response was not magical or mysterious, and knowing now what was going on in my life, not surprising at all. I simply wanted to be loved. I wanted a pure love. I wanted to be cherished. I wanted to belong to a happy family.

    I don’t know what would have happened if I’d not sensed that “yes,” because I had been in a deep depression, now compounded by mourning. What if I had gone home and tried to forget that magical afternoon which seemed to hold the promise of a holy community of kind women working and praying and laughing together, a new family.

    It’s easy to love Jesus if you remember that he is god and not your brother or your spouse. There is no hug from Jesus, no pep-talk, no bantering, no chatting, no silliness, and even no crying. “The relationship” was all encased in the holy box of morning prayer and meditation. This made it pure, I suppose, but also remote, unrealistic, unreal.

    I’m not the only girl to enter the convent to find a mother, and I was not the only girl to become painfully aware that mothering and those other nurturing gifts were not part of the package of being a dedicated “woman of God.” It is possible for communities to become little islands … connected only with a gate to let you in and separate spots for each separated soul.

    There were no hopes, dreams, or anticipations. There was no future. We gave that up to “God’s will,” whatever that was. How could we know the will of God? It’s not good, Scripture says, to “presume to know the mind of god.” We were taught, not as adult women, but like little girls, that our superiors – the Novice mistress who had been a fifth grade teacher and the Mother General who had been a first grade teacher – were for us the will of God. What they told us to do is what God wanted/wants/will want. Unquestioning obedience was the key. We were discouraged from questioning – I knew that well because the Catholic church pre-Vatican II taught us that. Doubt is wrong. Questioning your faith is wrong. Why oh why?

    So when I told my mother that I wanted to go to the convent, she was opposed. My father was in favor, perhaps knowing that one less temptress would share his home. Mom hated the convent for taking me away … perhaps I bore part of the pressure that she felt in that marriage, in that distorted family. She was right, but perhaps not for all the right reasons. She was there when I went home, and she knew I was too sick, not the kid who always argued to prove a point.

    The convent was bad for me. I was bad for the convent. I grew to despise Christmas because of the awful, prickly, humiliating old memories of those holidays. I hated Lent because it was even more somber than usual. Having less of less can mean having nothing.

    Where were we supposed to gain the nourishment and the strength to do God’s work – to teach or nurse, or take care of the house? Perhaps the elevator didn’t stop on our floor, because I never felt so lonely as a young person as I did in the convent. I became detached –touching, not feeling, for example. I tried to numb myself to the frequent put-downs, which were – I learned afterward – more about my ethnicity than about my individual self.

    Was I called? Not in the simple way we learned in catechism… God calls you to religious life (priesthood for boys, convent for girls) and the rest are called to get married and have families. It is much, much more complicated than that. The adolescent way in which our concerns were treated is support for not letting uneducated, uncaring women lead other women on a “spiritual path.” If we don’t know where we are, how can we know which way to turn? How can we know about the larger world? If we are limited to a cell, to a small-minded set of expectations, rewards and punishments – like a prison – how can we appreciate the great cosmos, the world which our Creator established and expects us to keep going?

    I needed love. I needed to be shown respect. I needed to be treated as precious. I needed to not be “used.” The convent was the last place on earth for a girl like me.(781)

    Version Three
    As I sat in the dimly lit chapel of the Motherhouse, I asked, in my heart, O God, are you calling me? And I sensed the answer that I desperately needed, yes. This response was not magical or mysterious, and knowing now what was going on in my life, not surprising at all.

    Was I called? Not in the simple way we learned in catechism… God calls you to religious life (priesthood for boys, convent for girls) and the rest are called to get married and have families.

    The convent was bad for me. I was bad for the convent. I grew to despise Christmas because of the awful, prickly, humiliating old memories of those holidays. I hated Lent because it was even more somber than usual. Having less of less can mean having nothing.

    Where were we supposed to gain the nourishment and the strength to do God’s work – to teach or nurse, or take care of the house? Perhaps the elevator didn’t stop on our floor, because I never felt so lonely as a young person as I did in the convent. I became detached –touching, not feeling, for example. I tried to numb myself to the frequent put-downs, which were – I learned afterward – more about my ethnicity than about my individual self.

    It is much, much more complicated than that. The adolescent way in which our concerns were treated is support for not letting uneducated, uncaring women lead other women on a “spiritual path.” ? If we don’t know where we are, how can we know which way to turn? How can we know about the larger world? If we are limited to a cell, to a small-minded set of expectations, rewards and punishments – like a prison – how can we appreciate the great cosmos, the world which our Creator established and expects us to keep going?

    I needed love. I needed to be shown respect. I needed to be treated as precious. I needed to not be “used.” The convent was the last place on earth for a girl like me. (345)

    Version 4
    As I sat in the dimly lit chapel, feelings subdued but hopeful, I asked, in my heart, O God, are you calling me? And I sensed the answer that I desperately needed, yes. This response was not magical or mysterious, and knowing now what was going on in my life, not surprising at all.

    I’m not the only girl to enter the convent to find a mother, and I was not the only girl to become painfully aware that mothering and those other nurturing gifts were not part of the package of being a dedicated “woman of God.” If we are limited to a cell, to a small-minded set of expectations, rewards and punishments – like a prison – how can we appreciate the great cosmos, the world which our Creator established and expects us to keep going?

    I needed love. I needed to be shown respect. I needed to be treated as precious. I needed to not be “used.” The convent was the last place on earth for a girl like me. (171)

    • Laura Davis says

      I enjoyed the paring down that happened with one version and then the next. It just shows how we generally overwrite to get the story out–and then trim down to the nugget.

      In terms of your concern about confidentiality–there is no way for me to guarantee that on this site. It’s not a closed password protected forum–it’s open to anyone who can surf the web. So although the folks who write here will hopefully respect the groundrules of the group (and I think they do), there is no way to monitor or enforce that. I think it’s much safer to assume that whatever you post online is public, not private.

      • MaryL says

        Laura, I’m not really worried about that issue, and I agree that what we put on the computer is public. It’s interesting, btw, how I loved the original of my essay, but when I asked myself what is the nugget I want to get across, it was the final version. Thanks again. MaryL

  16. says

    I knew I wanted to write about my voice. I started with a blank computer screen and just wrote down thoughts, feelings, phrases… pretty much vomited words out. Then walked away for a couple hours. I then started with another blank screen and wrote the following. By purging all the words out I believe I was able to go back and pick up what I needed or wanted for this piece. I went from 760 words of vomit to an essay of 402 words.
    *******************************************************************

    As one would imagine, the transition that Diana and I went through from husband to wife, to wife and wife has brought about many changes. Changes in our lives together., Changes on the outside and changes on the inside. Changes within her and changes within me.

    One of those changes within me is the ability to use my voice, to express my opinion and to stand up for myself. That is not something I did before. I grew up an extremely shy person and while the shyness eventually wore off, the confidence to say how I feel or to speak up was never strong enough.

    The transition put me in a whole new world. A world where I had questions. A world where others had questions. And the only way to both ask the question and to give an answer required me to use my voice.

    In the beginning, when we shared with our close friends and family what was going on, I took on the role as being the spokesperson for us. Others naturally turned to me for clarification, for questions and that allowed others to express freely what their thoughts and feelings were. Diana was too close to the situation. I understood better what our close friends and family were experiencing. I used my voice during this time to reassure everyone that Diana was still the same person Scott was. That being a brother, or a mother, or a colleague wasn’t going to change. Diana still needs the people she loves in her life, as I do.

    My voice was used to educate and share what I know about being a Trans Gentle Wife. To teach about transgenderism, what it is and what it isn’t. To share my experiences.

    Over the past couple of years I’ve had to use my voice to make things right. To change others voices. To remind others that Diana is now a woman and please use “she” not “he”. That in my fathers obituary we need to change the word “husband” to “partner”. And the most common phrase I’ve had to use is “yes, we are still together and still married and will be until we die”.

    I’ve used my voice to remind others that love is unconditional.

    I am no longer that shy girl who feels she has nothing to say, nothing to contribute, feeling too ordinary.

    Today I have a lot to say.

    • Laura Davis says

      Mary, and you say it so well. I’m so excited and happy for you that you are going to write and write about all of this. The world needs your book and your voice.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hi Mary,
      I always enjoy reading your posts both here and on your Transgental Wife website. YOu have such a beautiful, expressive way with words. I’m glad that the process of your journey with Diana gave you the opportunity to use those words with you physical voice.

      I also appreciated the description of your process: just letting the writing come, than purging a lot of words and adding back what your felt were needed. Well Done.

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