Wednesday, April 18, 2018

compiling my thesis (sort of)

No one told me how hard it is to compile a thesis.

It's like you get into grad school (hurray! πŸŽ‰) and then you do some work, and then it gets progressively harder and harder and then you quit your job to focus on school and spend so many of your waking minutes obsessing over getting it not just good, but really fucking good and then you're in so deep that you can't quit, you're so close to graduating and then you and your friends commiserate and send angry emoji texts about your thesis preface and then you get drunk, thinking maybe coping like you did in your undergrad is the answer but it's not, you're so hungover the next day and that makes it harder, all the work you have to do still on your thesis so you pound latte after latte and when those aren't enough, you buy chocolate covered espresso beans and you tell yourself you'll stay up late, all night working like you also did in your undergrad but you can't do that shit anymore, you're 35 with two kids and by 11 p.m. your eyelids have drooped so low you can't tell if you're awake or asleep and then you say you'll get up early like you used to do when you worked at a coffee shop but fuck that, you need your sleep so you cram it all into the daylight hours while your oldest son is at school and you try like hell not to let yourself get distracted but there are dishes and laundry and the internet and literally anything else sounds better right now but stop it, just do it, you're almost there. You almost have a graduate degree, don't fuck it up, you've got this, you're a badass, almost an MFA holder and then one day, if it all works out, you can become a professor and have books out in bookstores, actually for sale with bar codes so just finish this god damn thesis you whiny little bitch. Just do it already.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

plea for life

Last summer, at residency, I met this woman. She came as an alum and shared her words and I laughed and laughed and cried and cried. She was a student in my program's first class. She read from her application to the MFA program, which she had written 13 years prior. She called it a plea for life.

While she spoke, I scribbled down notes, my eyes blurring with tears. Here is my favorite part:  

Eventually, to the surprise of many including the Groom and myself, I married—beginning that phase of life many women refer to as The Lost Years. As often happened to intelligent women of my generation I busied myself by robotically performing the duties expected of me whether they made sense or not. I said “yes”a lot; smiled, nodded in agreement, changed diapers, learned to cook,
learned to clean, WANTED to clean, learned to drive and transport kids and things and stuff, gained weight, hated suburbia, lost perspective.
I had no options. Write—or shrivel up and die.

After her speech, I went up to her. I am introvert who fears talking to strangers but this woman was so incredible, I had to know her. She told me she wished she had a magic wand to tap each student with while she said, "be honest." I kept thinking of that last semester, while I wrote my letters to my daughter. This isn't honest enough, I thought to myself, and I revised until snot poured from my nose and the honest things I didn't say before found homes in words.

Last semester I got to know Tonie as we shared emails and FaceTimed about the website she made. She said, "Holly, I'm 76 years old. I never thought I'd make a website," and yet she did it. She is the most amazing woman. When I started writing my thesis preface, I emailed her asking if I could quote her. Because when I went to write about what I've done these past two years, I realized I haven't done that much on my own. It's people who brought me this far. People like Tonie who helped me recognize my need to find my own voice.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

another year older

 So we went to Washington, the boys and me.
 They were absolute champions with luggage. OK, most of the time. When they weren't, the kindness of strangers came through again, as it always seems to.
 Holden, no longer the baby, took care of the baby in his own way.
 The cherry blossoms were out, the grass was green, it felt like spring.
 Jumping on the trampoline and playing with their cousins wiped the boys clean out.
 We went to the Puget Sound, which my landlocked boys called the ocean.
 We ate boujee ice cream. Amber and I didn't get any, so we licked their cones.
 We played croquet with Grandpa. Holden with a mallet is a scary idea (sorry, Brandon's head).
 Grandpa is a natural with kids.
 When the noise gets to be too much, there are iPads.
 Holden turned four in Puyallup.
 He let everyone know it was his birthday and that we should sing to him.
 The next day was Avie's birthday, the next week Brandon's. So we had a combined birthday party.
 Brandon got a bit sugar high. He won a lot of Sequence for Kids.
 My sister is an excellent party planner.
 I bought a leather jacket, after years of talking about it.
 We said goodbye.
 Back home, the boys had a Nebraska party at BounceU.
 Brandon's best friend came.
 I took pictures off their website. 
 The boys had the best time.
Brandon turned six. 

We are all another year older now. And we are doing great.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


I have long thought myself displaced.

I have lived in the Midwest for a dozen years, pointing out to anyone who would listen that I'm not from around here. I complained about the too hot and too cold weather, the lack of things to do. The lack of mountains and ocean.  I'm a Pacific Northwesterner, I would tell people. I like good coffee and own a half dozen flannel shirts. I can change lanes four times in twenty seconds. I don't need an umbrella in the rain.

But do you know how you can tell a place is home?
When your airplane touches down and you're both excited and calm.
Because you're where you belong.

That's what happened Sunday. "Open the window shade," I instructed Brandon. I wanted to watch our descent into the heartland. I had just returned from my childhood hometown but it was here in Omaha that I belonged.

I was giddy to see my friends, to sink into my clean apartment, open a book, catch up my journal. I was excited to exhale, to live in my own space, the space I've created because I needed it.

My Pandora station is pumping out feel-good oldies and Holden is playing his iPad and the washing machine is churning and the sun is filtering in the window and my coffee is warm and I am at my computer, residing as myself, comfortable.

I'm learning to redefine what I thought I knew. Home, for example, is where you are at ease. In some cases, where you reside is not that place. But I have finally made mine one and the same.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

short story

I have these short stories, you see, and I can't get them out of my head. I'll be in the car or the kitchen or the shower and a little tweak pops into my head. It could be a better character name or a new title or scraping a scene or adding a new one. But always, I am tinkering with the stories I've already written. Always, I am fiddling on them, trying to craft them into exactly what I'm trying to say in the most compelling way possible.

The writing life is all-consuming.

No matter where I am, mostly, I am in my head.
Shuffling things around, reordering, changing commas to semi-colons; semi-colons to commas.

I have been thinking about the real world and how to best exist in it while I've got my head rattling, full of ideas to write about.
I am coming up blank.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Seeing Lorrie Moore in a Crowded Room

It was March 9th, 2018 when I was first in the presence of Lorrie Moore.

Setting: Tampa, Florida. AWP Conference.

Mood: Giddy.

Me and my best friend, Jen, a fellow Lorrie Moore Obsessive, went into the conference room early, before the last panel had even left. Once people started filing out, we pounced on the best seats.

For background: Jen and I have made up scenarios where we drive to Wisconsin where Lorrie Moore lived and have lunch with her under the guise of an interview. We have had a writing group where we made up Tom Swifties in admiration of Lorrie Moore's. We have texted each other underlined sentences many times, traded books with each other. We're fucking obsessed.

So Tampa. Conference room.

When Lorrie Moore took the stage, I nudged Jen and she nodded excitedly.
And then, L.M. herself read for a few minutes, an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir.

It was about when she got married in the courthouse and a news crew was there, hoping to film a newlywed couple who married for welfare benefits.
"But we're not on welfare," Lorrie Moore protested.
"C'mon," her new husband said, "it'll be funny."
"No," she answered.
"The bride said no," the judge said, and that is how my marriage began, Lorrie Moore finished.

When the interviewer asked her if her ex-husband would be mad that she wrote about this, without asking his permission, Lorrie Moore replied, "it'll be fine. I'm quite sure."

Lorrie Moore was, as expected, funny and calm.

About writing, there is always an excuse not to do it. You have kids that you're raising, your job keeps you too busy, you're tired, insert a million and seven other reasons here.
But as Lorrie Moore said, "Life keeps changing and you have to work around it. You're a prisoner to the stuff in your life. You're just making it up as you go along."

I have five days to put together the third MFA packet of this semester, my second to last one ever. If I think about that for more than a second, I get overwhelmed. But I'll just make it up as I go along.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

our pursuit

I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books , music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps - what more can the heart of a man desire?
 ~Leo Tolstoy, "Family Happiness" 

"Happy," for instance, once meant "luck." Not good luck or bad, just luck. Look what we have done to ourselves. We think we can actually pursue happiness. 
~Abigail Thomas,  "What Comes Next and How to Like It"

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 
~Thomas Jefferson, "The Declaration of Independence"

I never knew the origin of happiness. 
I never knew that it meant luck. 
Although Thomas' quote can be interpreted as bleak, 
I instead read it with hope. 
Like we are lucky, if we are happy. 
Perhaps it is fulfillment that we are pursuing. 
Tolstoy realizes how he can be fulfilled: by being useful. 
I love that. 
Every day now, I will think of how I can be useful. 
In being useful, I will find fulfillment. 
And if I'm lucky, in fulfillment, happiness.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

not snowed in, not at all

I am watching it snow, thinking of Florida.

Where tomorrow, I become a part of the greater writing community. Greater than this intimate writing group I host. Greater than this local MFA program I am a part of.

I am going to AWP, which is an annual conference where writers and editors and publishers convene and discuss books and how to create them.

On my thirty-fifth birthday, I will be surrounded by the kind of people who get me best, the kind of people who I understand most. Me and my tribe. My giant tribe of us who live in the bigger world and try to make sense of it with words.

I'm putting away my snow boots, packing shorts instead. It took a long time to get here, but at the end of all that, I found I am not alone. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

constant panic

It was 1:06 this afternoon, I was napping off a headache, when my phone buzzed. I used to ignore all calls, but now that I've got a child in school, I answer every call in a panic. It wasn't the school, but rather the spa I have a massage scheduled at, calling to inform me my regular masseuse is no longer with them and would I mind having a different masseuse?

"No longer with them." Yeah, I knew that wasn't an obituary. As soon as I hung up, I googled my masseuse. I found what I suspected: a news story saying he was arrested earlier this week for two counts of sexual assault. How did I know I'd find that? Call it a woman's intuition.

Two weeks ago, a writer friend emailed me an essay contest centered on the #MeToo movement. "Have you or someone you know survived sexual harrassment, assault, rape or abuse? If so how did it change you?" it asked. My friend wrote a line above the forwarded content: "Thought you might have something that fits these parameters. I do." 

Of course I do, I thought. Don't we all? 

Every woman I know has survived sexual harassment. Those of us lucky enough to have dodged assault, rape, and abuse know how easily we could have been victims of it. 

Danger lurks in every one-on-one male interaction. 

Every time I've closed a restaurant with just one male around, every time I've been alone in a car with a man, every time I've had a massage, every time I've let a plumber into the house, every time I've been on a date, every time I've been at a house party with that drunk guy who wouldn't leave, in the back of my mind, I knew what could happen to me.

Sometimes (more often) it's in the front of my mind. I have played out scenarios that don't end well. I have run in the dark, having visions of being grabbed by someone (this happened to the other Holly who went to my school) and I have run until I was so exhausted I had to stop and catch my breath under a streetlight. 

I have been stranded in a man's house with no way to get home. 

I've said "yes" to sex because I was afraid to say no.

I was trying to put words to this the other day, the intimidation of a man. I don't know that I can do it correctly. What I can say is there is an anger that people harness and I am always aware of how quickly people can drop the reins, lose control. It is especially scary as a woman, alone with a man who physically towers over me, who will be believed over me by virtue of his gender alone. It makes me feel helpless. Like a sitting duck. 

The first man I slept with carried a gun on him at all times, even to the pool. I wonder if that's what made me scared first, what kept me scared. 

More likely, all of us women live in this constant state of panic, wondering how much longer we can survive before our massage appointment falls on the wrong day at the wrong time.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018


This morning was rough.

Sometimes, I get overwhelmed.

I'm taking a class on campus which might seem stupid, but it's not, because yesterday, when I was stuck on a story, the required reading for my campus class got me unstuck, so it is worth it, but it adds to my stress, to my endless list of things to do. I am leaving for class in thirty minutes. Instead of finishing my homework, I'm writing this.

I'm writing this because it's important that I remember, on mornings like today which are chaotic and loud and irritating, beautiful, good moments still occur.

For context: I was crying, breaking down all the way. Holden came and sat in my lap, put his arms around my neck. Brandon came and hugged me from the other side. Then they looked through old pictures and Holden kept saying, "this was before you were born" to Brandon about pictures Brandon wasn't in. I smiled, wiped my tears, cleaned this place up, and put on my makeup.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Q417 Songs

I haven't kept up well on my blog. It is my final semester of grad school. I'm also taking a screenwriting class on campus.


I'm occupying my time in other ways, but sometimes, when I'm sitting at my computer any way, I think, I'll blog again. Blogging is my first draft, my unedited writing. It is my journal that I share.


Music was such a part of 2017 for me: so therapeutic, such an escape. I have never worn headphones like I did in 2017, which is to say all the time.


This girl at the high school I teach poetry at has been revising a poem for years: a poem about why she wears headphones. The four second pause between songs is when her mind screams at her, "Listen, listen!" and the negative self-speak revs back up, deafens her. It is only while her music is on that her mind quiets itself.


"That's really cool," I said, then I found myself saying it again, "that's really cool." I just repeated it again and again. She had found words for something I hadn't and that is what is so beautiful about art: there is room for all of us to contribute, to inspire one another, to discover ourselves through each other.

So for the final quarter of 2017, here are some of the songs I geeked out to. Some of the songs that drowned out my negative self-speak. My new tunes, if you will.

The Long Day is Over - Norah Jones
Cannonball - ZZ Ward
Her Life - Two Feet
Broken - Lund
Gooey - Glass Animals
I Can't Go On Without You - Kaleo
Monsters - Ruelle
Beggin For Thread - Banks
Like That - Bea Miller
Down - Marian Hill
The Blues Man - Hank Williams Jr.
Here We Go Again - Ray Charles ft. Norah Jones
Havana - Camila Cabello
A Pirate Looks at Forty - Dave Matthews, Tim Reynolds, and Jack Johnson


Friday, February 9, 2018

Diners on Christmas

Something there is about diners open on Christmas. 

There have been two instances that I have eaten dinner at restaurants on December 25th.

The first was 2004.
I had just returned from spending Christmas with my family,
my conservative Christian family. 
I was pregnant, unbeknownst to them.
My secret was scratching me, clawing me from the inside.
I wanted to go back to my apartment, get shitfaced, be alone.
But I didn't get shitfaced. 
Instead, my best friend Karen and I drove back north to Kirkland where
we ate at Pegasus Pizza, the only place open in the town.
When I saw that red Open sign illuminated, I smiled, relieved
there was a place for people without families,
or people running from their families,
or people who didn't celebrate the holiday
or people who just wanted a hot meal without cooking.
It was a warm, safe haven.
A place to be.

The second was last year: 2017.
I spent the morning with my children and my ex-husband,
watching them open presents, cleaning up.
When they left for dinner at grandma's,
I picked up my friend and we drove in the snow to Denny's,
the only place I knew was open. She called first, to make sure,
not believing me. When a woman answered and said, "yes,"
my friend said, "bless you," because some of us needed
a warm safe haven, a place to be
where we weren't shitfaced or high
because we had no other place to be on Christmas. 

Something there is about friends, who hang out with you on Christmas. 

In 2004, my friend Karen,
my ex-roommate, the only person who knew me
in any sort of honest way, the only person
I'd told my secret
to, ate greasy pizza with me, fed me,
fed my baby, filled me, nourished me
when I was starving, ravenous
for someone to care about me, love
me without conditions.

Last year, my friend Colleen and I ate club
sandwiches and french fries, in a diner
off I-80, the florescent lights buzzing,
other patrons eating quietly, hushed,
like it was sacred, this day we wanted to end.
"We should tip exorbitantly, which is to say, tip
what servers should make: a living," she said.
It was all the human kindness in that diner--
how servers hurried to refill coffee mugs,
friends keeping company to those without families,
the smiling manager ringing out customers--
humans being humans to each other,
in the good way, the caring, considerate,
compassionate way that made it Christmas.
If I had a church, it would be Denny's on Christmas. 

Something there is about stomachs, about food, nourishing each other. 

It was Colleen who told me about our stomachs
being second brains, about the entire ecosystem
of bacteria and the vast neural network
that communicates to our head brains
"That's why I get butterflies in my stomach,"
I said, amazed, "why I have 'gut feelings.'"
That's why I feel the most loved when someone
is feeding me, filling me. That's why I say I'm
"satisfied" when I'm nourished.
I was satisfied, nourished, once
at a pizza joint, again at
an interstate diner on Christmas Day
when I was starving, ravenous.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Recognizing myself

It was midwest cold, January,
the day I was legally divorced.
I took a hot bath where
sunlight danced on the tiles
from the light of the window.
When I moved, the dancing
changed: faster, higher, calmer, smaller.

It was still January, cold,
when I got my name back.
The name I was always called by,
the name I knew myself as
forever, all my life, until the day
I was married and it was gone
as if my identity didn't matter
I was just someone's wife now.
But the day I got my name back,
I sat in the parking lot of the DMV,
staring at my picture, the one
with the shit-eating grin;
staring at my name,
recognizing myself.

Friday, January 26, 2018

what will you do for work?

People want to know what my plans are.
"These are my plans," I reply.
Because I am a writer and I plan to remain one.

"But what will you do for work?"

And then I realize that although this life I have carved out works now--now while I'm finishing school, now while Holden is only three, now in this season of life--maybe it won't work forever.

I have a philosophy that things will all work out, that ends will be met. But I don't think about how they will be met, I just trust they will be. Other people don't think this way. They want me to be practical, to think about paychecks and health insurance and structure to my days.

So when I think about my future, practically, I know that I want to work somewhere that doesn't suck all my time, energy, and creativity. I want to work somewhere that inspires me to write. Like yesterday, at the high school, these kids shared their words and I was so inspired, I wrote right there with them, these hard words I've been trying to get out for months.

Reading good writing, suggesting ways to make it better, is what I want to do. I want to encourage others to write their best work, I want their work to inspire my own. I want us to use words to tell stories, I want us to read stories to understand the world in new and exciting ways. I want the art we create to be a part of the world we live in.

So I guess that's what I want to do for work. Those are my plans.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

the parallel of love and attention

Don't you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention? 
 -line from "Ladybird"
I have been thinking a lot about the right way to love someone. How we love someone the way we know how, the way we've been loved. Sometimes, that's not the way the other person needs. Sometimes the other person won't feel loved that way, because it's not the way they need to be loved.

I haven't read the book, but in college, people would talk about the five love languages, which I believe are physical touch, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, and acts of service.  It got people talking, that book, about different ways to give love and to receive it. And I think there is something to that: to knowing how we want to be loved, knowing how we are conditioned to give it. Knowing how we can change and how we can't.

If I ever have a long-term relationship again, the romantic kind, I will do a better job. I think after divorce we are slippery and cautious. We have seen that love can fail us; we have learned just how breakable it is. If I have a next time, I will communicate better, I will listen better. I will treat love like it's fragile because it is and manhandling it will shatter it.

If I love someone, it will be presently. I will be there. Not somewhere else. I think we owe it to each other to be where we are wholeheartedly. I think we can extend each other that kindness, if we love each other. I think we can pay attention.

Monday, January 15, 2018


You are extremely sensitive to your environment.

Recently, I felt the grief of a friend, and I felt it deeply. I excused myself from the people around me, went back to my room and cried for a loss I never had. I thought, is this crazy, am I crazy, for feeling this intensely? And the next day, I met my mentor for lunch and listened to how he is still trying to please his father, in his fifties, and I realized he too feels deeply and he told me, "that's what makes us writers" and I thought, OK.

Others tend to see whatever they want to see in you, and you thus can come across very differently to different people! You might encourage this, even without knowing. Your appearance and mannerisms tend to be chameleon-like.

Years ago, I read, "Never judge anyone by another's opinions. We all have different sides that we show to different people" from Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls. I wrote it down, and since I've kept it on my desk.

As years go on and I discover who I am by discovering who I'm not, I want to hear less and less about people. What I mean is that I want to talk to the person I'm with about him/her, not about people we know. I don't want to gossip. I want to be present where I am, with who I'm with.

I have never regretted being present in the moment. I certainly don't regret dancing weirdly at a concert or buying homemade ornaments at a craft fair or saying "I love you" when I first recognized it.

But I do wonder what my funeral will be like one day, all these people who knew me meeting other people who knew me, now all of them thinking they didn't know me at all, when really, they all just knew me differently. 

*Italicized quotes are from my natal chart.
  If you know what time you were born at, read yours for funsies here

Thursday, January 11, 2018

cracked screen protector

I am trying to learn 
how to give and foster forgiveness in a body
that wants none of it.
-Sierra DeMulder

Yesterday I bought a new phone screen protector,
because the one I have has a few cracks.
The new one, although its sticker was still on
was covered in cracks, more cracks
than the one I had before:
cracks running down it like rain down a window,
a hundred streams maybe more.
But even still, I peeled off
the old cracked screen protector,
stuck on the new, more cracked one.
I bought it, after all.

I wonder if I'm becoming more forgiving,
if I'm seeing the world not as a set
of problems now, but as a series of
beauties, one stacked upon another
like the way the cracks splay out
like a pleated dancing skirt
that twirls and lifts in wind,
spins around the dancer, splays,
transforms, becomes something
more like a parachute.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2017 in review

 We ate donuts. Holden knows my order, and I love to hear him say "maple."
 Holden wore me out, wore himself out.
I started running again.
 We went on adventures: to parks, museums, landmarks.
 Holden and I became pretty much co-dependent upon each other.
 The boys fell in love with Lincoln. We went there a lot last year for furniture at my favorite store.
 Some days brought sun, headphones.
 Some days brought cake pops.
The boys dressed up like Alvin, loved running around the main floor at night with flashlights singing the spooky song.
 Holden turned three.
 I placed third in that half marathon I equally love and hate.
 The boys became obsessed with stuffed animals.
 My sister had a baby. I traveled to Portland for a few days to hold her at her smallest.
 Brandon turned five.
 Stephen graduated with his MBA.
 Brandon graduated from preschool.
 We traveled to Denver, saw Chris Stapleton at Red Rocks.
 We had a garage sale.
 Holden went to the dentist for the first time.
 We had sno cones.
 We traveled to Shickley a time or two.
 Holden and I remained co-dependent on each other.
 Did I mention there were donuts?
 Brandon made up stories, found a real knack for storytelling.
 I went to school, dreamed.
 The rains came. Hard.
 For the fourth of July, we entertained two sets of twins. Or, they entertained us.
 We spent a lot of time in the car.
 We went to Kansas City.
 I cut off my hair, divorcee style.
 Holden started preschool.
 We saw the eclipse in totality. Of course, there was sugar.
 Brandon started Kindergarten.
 I traveled to Milwaukee with my two best friends.
 The pumpkin patch opened. There was kettle corn.
 Brother time became more special, with Brandon gone so much now.
 I spent a weekend on a riverboat, writing.
 It kept raining. We smiled through it.
 The boys were superheroes. They are superheroes. They save me every day.
 Leaves fell.
 We learned to sleep in another place, in new beds. Sometimes it was hard.
 Sometimes, we were just fine.
 Baby Avie came to visit us in mom's new apartment. We love her.
 Holden was in a Christmas concert. Brandon ran to the front to take a picture of him.
 We sustained each other.
 Again and again.
 And again.
There were cookies, too.