Dark Fens of Cedar (1)

This story is based on an idea I had nearly a year and a half ago, based on a writing prompt calling for a local landmark and a special (maybe magical) stone. Here’s what I came up with (it turned out to be a long short story, and so I will post it in parts here this week).

*Please note that my fictional poet of Jonathan Mason Eldridge III is based on a real poet named Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, whose sonnets appear here in the story. All other details concerning my character of Eldridge are wholly my own creation.


poet stone

(2,500 words)

The tower was at the top of a forested hill that overlooked the town. Hannah hiked up the cracked pavement of the road, enjoying the spring morning. May in New England could be a glorious time, and she understood why Eldridge would have come here to write his poetry.

Boston seemed further away than the three hour train trip it was, and she was just beginning to feel giddy with freedom when the text dinged on her phone: Hey Beautiful, Mother wants to know when ur coming back, she’ll be in Italy in 2 wks, wants to tlk about the wedding. Fall will b here sooner than u think!

Leave it to Craig to ask her when she’ll be back on her first day here. Hannah slipped the phone back into her pocket without answering. She didn’t want to think about fall right now; she was absorbed in the flowering of spring all around her. The citrine light seeping through the canopy, the silence that wasn’t silent, as the maples exchanged breezy secrets with the oaks. The warm air hung heavy with earth and pine. She wanted to take out her notebook and pen a poem right now, but she was here to research Eldridge, not emulate him.

The tower loomed above, with windows cut into its brown stone, open to the wind that flapped the American flag at its top. She stopped at its base and caught her breath, looking out over the low wall in front of it at the small town of River Valley below. It had been even less developed one hundred and fifty years ago, when Eldridge left Boston for “the country”. He left his law degree behind to come here and write his poems, study botany and astronomy, and marry Annie, who gave him two children. An ideal life, though not one untouched by tragedy.

She circled the base of the tower and traced her finger along the brass plaque inscribed with the words:

Poet’s Seat Tower

Erected 1912 in honor of

Jonathan Mason Eldridge III

A Romantic poet who often came here

To write his sonnets, inspired by

The natural beauty of the area.


She entered the base and climbed the stairwell that led to succeeding levels that grew smaller the higher one went; it looked like a rook on a chess board. At the wind-whipped pinnacle, where the flag snapped on its shuddering pole, she splayed her palms on top of the scratchy stone wall, fighting vertigo. She’d never liked heights.

She remembered the time Craig convinced her to go to the top of the Prudential Building back in the city. She was of the opinion that buildings shouldn’t actually sway in the wind. Or at least, that she shouldn’t be inside said building. Craig had gotten angry when she threw up, right there in front of the tourists and other visitors.

Appearances were important to Craig. She’d written a secret poem about the experience called Not so prudent at the Prudential.

She quickly made her way back down the stair case to solid ground. The tower had been built long after Eldridge died. He likely wrote his poems somewhere nearby, leaning back against a warm rock in the sun. She wandered off on a worn path to the right that led to a rocky ledge along the ridge of the hill. She imagined Eldridge sitting here, notebook open across his dusty trousers, the collar of his shirt loosened against the summer heat.

Thin little leaves of wood fern, ribbed and toothed

Long curved sail needles of the green pitch pine,

With common sandgrass, skirt the horizon line,

And over these the incorruptible blue!

Her let me gently lie and softly view

All world asperities, lightly touched and smoothed

As by his gracious hand, the great Bestower.

What though the year be late? Some colors run

Yet through the day, some links of melody

Still let me be, by such, assuaged and soothed

And happier made, as when, our school day done,

We hunted on from flower to frosty flower,

Tattered and dim, the last red butterfly,

Or the old grasshopper, molasses-mouthed.


Hannah understood and commiserated with Eldridge’s nostalgia for the freedom and joy of his youth in nature. Lately she felt as if she were trapped in a box, miles and years away from her childhood in rural Vermont.

She sat and plucked the grass beside her, lost in thoughts of chasing butterflies and grasshoppers. She looked out to the east, where Craig waited impatiently for her to answer his text. The trees whispered behind her, and she looked over her shoulder. Just the wind, but her imaginative mind thought it had recognized words in the air. She suddenly felt the urge to leave the ridge and go into the woods, to search for the source.

She left the view and followed the trail that led deeper into the wooded hill. The brown leaves and pine needles of the past autumn crunched under her boots. Crows flapped and yelled somewhere ahead, drowning out the sweet whistle of the sparrows. The trail curved, the forest thickened with fern and laurel, and the canopy above closed against the bright spring sun. She stopped and listened. Wind like words in the gathering gloom. She stepped off the trail, waded through weeds and underbrush, found herself in a cloistered glen of cedar leaf and bark. Dim, still, silent.

Hannah stood in the center of this arboreal eye of stillness, listening to her breath. Something seemed to throb here beneath the earth, a heartbeat pulsing under her feet. She knelt and pressed her hand against the cold dirt. Nothing. Just a stone nearby, the size of golf ball, angular white quartz with veins of pink and gold. Pretty. She closed her hand around it, feeling its sharp edges. In the space of a blink, an image came unbidden to her mind–someone giving her the rock. A male hand placing it into her soft palm. Then it was gone.

Her phone rang into the silence, its vintage ring like a scream. She dropped the rock and answered it without thinking.

“Hey, you get my text?” Craig’s voice, travelling across the miles, pursuing her.

“Um, yeah, a few minutes ago. Aren’t you on rounds?” He was in the last month of his residency. They were to be married as soon as he finished, in the fall. And once she finished her thesis on Jonathan Mason Eldridge III.

“Had a minute, thought I’d check in. How’s the research going? The library there any help?”

“Haven’t been there yet. I’m at the tower, or near it, where he composed some of his sonnets.”

“Didn’t know you went there to go hiking,” he muttered. In her shocked pause, he continued, “Best get on it, love. Mother wants to go over dinner menus and the guest list.”

When she found her voice, she said, “Well, Mother is just going to have to wait.” She hung up and shut her phone off. Her hands trembled with her anger, and she rubbed them briskly against her thighs. She spied the stone she’d dropped, and picked it up. It glittered in her palm, strange and familiar at once. She slipped it into the front pocket of her jeans, where it seemed to emit a heat she couldn’t explain.

She looked around the glen, at its shadows and damp earthy corners. What am I doing here? She hurried away, scrambling through branches that whipped her as she passed, and followed the trail back to the ridge and light. She had work to do; it was time she got to it.


The River Valley Public Library was ridiculously small compared the vast caverns of the University library, but it had a section devoted to local notables, including Eldridge. Most of the books that surrounded Hannah at the table in the back didn’t tell her anything she already didn’t know: a true Romantic, his slim volume of sonnets featured nature and the individual’s subjective response to it, filtered through the lens of emotion and nostalgia. He studied law in Boston, but abandoned that vocation and his prominent family to come here to River Valley and write his poetry, build his greenhouse and raise a family with Annie, a native of the area and a merchant’s daughter. He had always been a bit of a recluse, but after Annie died giving birth to their third child, his grief drove him to further isolation. Over the years he’d had some contact with Tennyson and other notable poets of the time, who admired his work, but apart from the single volume published in 1860, his poetry never gained traction or a national audience.

Hannah hoped her thesis on the almost-famous poet would give him the attention he deserved. And open doors to a teaching career that seemed increasingly unpalatable to her.

The rock in her pocket had an almost magnetic affect on her. Her hand kept straying to it, distracting her from her reading. Every time her fingers closed on it, that familiar feeling intensified, and that flash of receiving it from that male hand blinked through her mind.

She tried to ignore it as she leafed through the old books, determined to find something new, an angle to Eldridge never considered before, another lens through which to view him.

She found a wedding photo of the poet and Annie, and peered at their serious faces. They looked as if they were embarking on a funeral procession rather than the beginning of their lives as man and wife. And yet, it was a serious business back then, matrimony and childbirth. Marriage was for life; once committed, there was no going back. And childbirth was a bloody undertaking–it could take life as well as give it, as Annie and Jonathan would find out, to their sorrow.

From what Hannah understood from the biographies, it was a love match. She focused on Annie’s face, looking for clues: did she have doubts? Was she afraid? Did she ever wish for other options? Or did her grave expression mask a sublime joy that a camera could never capture?

A bride-to-be was a skittery thing. Hannah wished she could see into Annie’s heart. Maybe it would help her discover what lived in her own.


The bed and breakfast stood at the foot of the hill where the tower was located. A refurbished Victorian building, it had small, narrow doorways, uneven floors, and charming gables. Hannah finished up a few notes on her laptop, then flopped on the bed and wondered if she should call Craig.

Checking her phone, she read the last few texts from him:

10:35-What the hell Hannah?

12:02-Are u getting cold feet? Is that it?

3:15-Look, I was tired. U know what this rotation does to me. And how Mother hounds me.

5:20-I’m sorry. I miss u. Call me.

In spite of herself, she felt a little sorry for him. She dialed his number.

Craig’s sleepy voice answered on the fourth ring. “Hey.”

“You were sleeping. Sorry, I should have known.”

“It’s okay.” He sighed. “Look, Hanny, I was a jerk. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.”

“It’s not all right. You have every right to be there. Your work is just important as mine.”

“Your mother doesn’t think so.”

He gave a little laugh. “Kitty thinks a wife is a diamond-studded platform for her husband to stand on.”

She smiled. For Craig, that was fairly poetic. “And what do you think a wife is?”

“A friend. A lover. A partner. Do you still want to be mine?”

“Of course I do. I love you.”

“I love you too, babe. Take as long as you need. Hike as many hills as you want. Channel Eldridge through those country air molecules, if you must. Mother can wait.”

She laughed, but there was some weird unease in it as she fingered the rock in her pocket, an unease she couldn’t explain. She promised Craig she’d call him tomorrow evening, then placed the rock on the bedside table. It gazed at her like some igneous eyeball, and it took her some time to fall asleep.


“Annie, come see what I brought you!”

“I’m working, darling.” She wished he wouldn’t shout. The children were napping, and once they awoke, she’d be called back to duty and away from the image that was just beginning to coalesce on the page. Her ink-stained fingers paused above the parchment, and she bristled a bit as her husband came bustling down the hallway. He had returned earlier than expected. She’d have to abandon the work for another day.

He peeked his head into her room and smiled that boyish grin that had so captured her heart. “It’ll take just a moment.”

She suppressed her sigh and smiled back at him, then put her finger to her lips to shush him.

He nodded and held out his hand. “Come see,” he said quietly.

She set down her pen and smoothed her skirts as she rose. He pulled her down the darkened hallway like an excited child to the sunny kitchen, where his overstuffed satchel sat on the tiled floor. He knelt and searched through it, carefully circumnavigating the stalks and sprigs of green that stuck out of it like wild hair. Specimens for the greenhouse, no doubt.

“Ah, here it is.” He stood and took her hand, and placed something hard and small into it. A white rock sparkled with veins of pink and gold in the sunlight. Not completely round, it was angular, with several sharp points.

“When I saw it, I thought of you,” he said. “Beautiful, but sharp. If you close your fist around it too tightly, it might cut you.” He met her eyes with his dark ones. “One can never fully possess such perfection.”

“Jonathan,” she murmured. He always did this to her. Any annoyance or resentment was instantly dissolved by his words, his touch, his shy smile.

He came closer, cupping her hands into his, careful not to press her skin too tightly against the stone. “Tell me our love will be as eternal as this rock.”

“I promise, love.” His lips were near, asking. She answered by pressing her own against them. Her body responded; she was nearly helpless against it. The children were still sleeping, Agnes, their housekeeper, was still at the market in town. Perhaps there was time…

His arms came up and around her as the kiss deepened. As he clutched her to him, her hands pressed against her chest. The rock, still in her palm, punctured her skin with one of its points, drawing blood.


Hannah woke with pain knifing into her hand.


Go here for Part 2 of Dark Fens of Cedar.







cotton candy

(3,000 words)

When I think of Grace, I try to remember that she loved me. She did love me. It’s been so long, I sometimes wonder if she’d been real, if I’d only dreamed her. But no, it was she who had the dream.

Curled up under the covers of her bed, her little vibrating body pressed against me, her breath warm in my ear.

“I love you, Mommy.” She said she dreamed they would take her away.


“The sky people. They want me.”

I kissed her freckled nose. “I don’t blame them. But I won’t let them take you, I promise. You’re mine. Anyway, it was just a dream. Okay?”

“I told them I wouldn’t go without you. I told them.”

“Okay,” I hushed. “Go to sleep now. We’ll go to the carnival tomorrow, and we’ll have so much fun. You’ll see.”

“They said I was special. That they needed me,” she murmured, her voice thick with sleep.

“Of course you are. I need you, too, so you’re not going anywhere. Okay?” Her silky hair through my fingers, my lips against her smooth forehead.

But she was asleep, and I stayed in the bed with her, breathing in her scent, imbibing her warmth, memorizing the feel of her in my arms. Mine.


Grace wanted cotton candy, but I dragged her to the ice cream stand instead. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I’d just let her have that damn cotton candy. I don’t know. But when I turned back from handing over the cash to the girl behind the counter, Grace was being led away by another woman. The stranger’s back was to me, so I couldn’t see her face, but Grace looked up at her with a smile, reaching out for the fluffy pink candy being offered to her.

“Grace?” Alarm made my voice harsh. The two were several feet away from me. My daughter didn’t seem to hear me as the woman lured her away.

“Grace!” I started to move forward.

“Ma’am, your change,” the counter girl said, holding out coins and dollar bills.

“Keep it.” I threw the ice cream cones onto the dusty ground and lurched toward them, but the crowds moved in, their laughter somehow sinister and leering as I lost sight of them. I shoved past people, not caring if they fell, ignoring their angry complaints.

I couldn’t see them. I stopped and pivoted, scanning desperately for my child. The world spun and careened around me; the whoosh of the rides, the screaming of those who rode them, the scents of the grease and sugar and cooking meat, the warbling carnival music, all assaulted my senses.

Please. Please. PLEASE!

Then a glimpse of blonde curls, the flash of pink candy. I surged forward and they were right in front of me, the woman’s hand on my daughter’s back. A space cleared around them, and the noise of the carnival faded as my head buzzed. I wanted to run to Grace, take her in my arms, rip her away from that stranger, that kidnapper, but my limbs refused to move. The buzz in my head grew louder as the woman turned to look at me.

My own face stared at me across that fathomless space.

The buzzing stopped abruptly and the voice–not my own–sounded inside my head, though my doppelganger’s lips didn’t move.

“We’ll teach her what she needs to learn.”

The buzz returned, louder, so deafening I clamped my ears with my hands, squeezed my eyes shut, but it was inside my head and I couldn’t escape it.

But she’s mine! I wanted to hurl the words like daggers, but the scream remained inside me, my voice strangled.

When the buzzing stopped and I opened my eyes, they were gone. Pink cotton candy melted in the sun in a sugary puddle.


I described Grace to the police: six years old, blonde curly hair, blue eyes (the color of the sky), her weight and height. Freckles. Wearing jeans and light up sneakers, a Dora the Explorer shirt. I dug out a recent school picture from my wallet. Her gap-toothed smile sent waves of pain through me.

They asked me again to describe the woman who took her.

“Well, she looked like me.”

“In what way?”

“In every way. She was…well, she was me. But the voice wasn’t mine.”


“It said they would teach her what she needs to learn.”

The officer and the sketch artist glanced at each other.

“Grace told me last night they wanted her,” I went on, rocking in the hard-backed chair in the police station, wringing tissue in my hands to shreds, tears clotting my throat. “She said they told her she was special. What does that even mean?”

The officer leaned in. “Who told her?”

“The sky people. In the dream. Oh god, she dreamed they’d take her, and I promised her I wouldn’t let them. I promised her.”

Her absence was a stone in my heart. Every hour, every minute she was gone caused it to grow heavier, denser, so that nothing could escape it. Watching those shows about space on the science channel, I could never grasp the concept of a black hole–so much matter compressed into such a small space, its gravitational pull so strong not even light could escape. My brain couldn’t comprehend, but my heart understood it now. My grief would always absorb everything around it. There would never be anything else.

“Sky people?” The officer’s pen remained poised above his notebook, and I sensed my mistake.

“Please find her,” I begged.

An Amber Alert went out, flyers were posted, a flurry of Facebook appeals were sent. Search parties formed and fanned out in a five-mile radius from where she went missing. Grace’s father flew in from Florida, raging and weeping and shouting at the authorities: Find her, find my little girl! You need more officers out there, you need to keep looking, damn you, damn you!

It was only a matter of time before he unleashed his fear and anger on me. He stood at the end of my bed, where I lay silent and unmoving. Valium made his words echo in my head.

“How could you let this happen? This is your fault. You lost her. You lost our child!”

I let his words fall over me like burning embers. I lost her. They took her. I lost her. They took her.

“I knew I should have pressed harder for custody,” he continued. “If she’d been with me, if she’d been mine, this never would have happened.”

Maybe he was right. But maybe they would have taken her anyway. None of it mattered. No matter how many forests were combed, no matter how many bodies of water were drained or dredged, they’d never find her.

Grace was nowhere on this earth anymore.


In the first mental facility, two years after Grace disappeared, I spent hours writing down everything I could remember about her. I filled notebooks describing her habits and quirks: how she picked her nose while she watched television, the way her tongue stuck out while she was concentrating on something, how she hated the number five for no apparent reason.

Her favorite subjects at school were art and math. I detailed every art project she’d ever done. Her artwork was imaginative and colorful, but nothing out of the ordinary for a six-year old. How she knew her times tables at four years old and was just wading into long division. She wasn’t exactly a math prodigy, but she had a facility. I was searching for reasons they might have taken her. Why my child? Outside of being precious to me, what was so remarkable about her? I wrote more detailed physical descriptions, suddenly remembering a star-like birthmark on the back of her left hand that now suggested to me she might have been marked in some way.

I didn’t stop writing even when the doctor came in to talk to me for our appointed hour everyday. She watched me behind her large-frame glasses, her own notebook resting on her lap, her pen ready to jot down the occasional note.

“Are the meds working?” she asked.

“I’m sleeping better. Not as many nightmares.”

“Good. What are you writing about today?”

“Grace’s hands.” I didn’t look up from the notebook.

“Anything particular about her hands?”

“No.” I wasn’t going to mention the star birthmark. She’d nod in that knowing way of hers, scribble her notes. I was a fascinating case on how the human mind copes: the mother who lost her daughter, who insisted her child had been taken by “sky people”. The mother who couldn’t face reality–that Grace had more than likely been raped and murdered and left in some ditch somewhere, or that she’d been sold into some sex-trafficking ring. Far better to go with the “abducted by aliens” theory.

“May I read it?”


Several minutes of silence as she watched me. I waited for the question I knew she’d ask.

“Would you like to talk about the sky people today?”

“No.” Same questions, same answers. I wondered if they’d release me soon simply out of boredom.

Then: “Is this your way of keeping Grace alive?”

I stopped writing mid-sentence and looked over at her for the first time.

“Grace is alive. She’s just…not here.”


After my second stint in rehab, I quit the pills for good and reached out. I read every book I could get my hands on about alien abduction. I joined an online support group for those who believed their loved ones had been taken. I gathered all the notebooks I had filled in the mental facility and shaped them into a memoir called Falling from Grace. The book became known in alien conspiracy circles, and Grace’s story was even mentioned on an episode of a prominent TV show on the subject.

When the book was published, Grace’s father called from Florida.

“Are you serious? You’ve turned the memory of our daughter into a freak show. A joke.” Voices in the background, childish babble, a baby crying. He and his young wife had just welcomed their third child.

“I know you don’t understand, but I have to do this.”

“She’s been gone for ten years. You need to let her go. Indulging in your crazy fantasies won’t help.”

Let her go? They took her from me. All I have left is her memory, and the truth. I’ll never let those things go. They’re mine.

I hung up on him and gazed out the window at the night sky. I hated the stars for their cold silence. I loved them because they were my only link to what I had lost.


In the second mental facility, my sometime lover came to see me when I could have visitors. He stared at the bandages on my wrists with barely constrained anger.

“After all you’ve been through, after all you’ve done and accomplished, this? Really?”

I stared at the white wall and said nothing.

“The group needs you. We’ve just gotten permission to interview the Evans girl. This is big. It’s important. We need you there.”

The Evans girl. Taken when she was four years old. Then last year, ten years after her disappearance, suddenly found in her parents’ backyard, as if dropped there straight from the sky. A joyous reunion with her parents, apparently all in one piece, but no information on her mental state, what she remembered, where she’d been. A ripple of excitement in the Fourth Kind community, and after what we considered an appropriate amount of time, pressed for first interview rights. I ran the newsletter for our group, and had every intention of conducting that interview. Beth Evans was a beacon of hope for those of us who still waited for our loved ones to come home. But as time passed and the phone call giving permission didn’t come, my hope turned to bitter resentment. I hated Beth Evans for coming back, I hated her parents for getting to see her again, after only ten years. Grace had been gone for two decades. Why Beth and not Grace?

“Did you hear me? The Evans family is ready to speak. Now get out of this bed and let’s get to Arizona for that interview.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, my voice a raw whisper.

“How can you say that? It’s what we’ve been waiting for.”

I turned to him, my own anger rising. “It’s not what I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been waiting all these years for Grace to come back, and now I understand that she’s never coming back and I’ll never know why she was taken and it doesn’t matter what the Evans girl says because she’s not Grace, she’s not mine. I don’t care what what happened to her and it doesn’t matter what I’ve done and what I’ve so-called accomplished, she’s never ever coming back and there’s no point in living with this constant, unbearable pain anymore.” I turned away from him, the stone in my heart as heavy, as crushing as ever.

His contempt bore into my back. “You think you’re the only one who’s suffered, don’t you? You think I haven’t thought about ending it all? I think about Henry every single day. I don’t know where he is, and I don’t know if he’ll ever come back. But if I can honor him by simply being alive and reminding people that he was here, that he lived and was loved and will never be forgotten, then by God, that’s what I’m going to do.”

His chair scraped as he got up and went to the door. Before he left, he added, “What if Grace does come back and you’re not here? She’ll suffer the same pain you’re going through now. Is that what you want?”

The door closing behind him wasn’t loud, but it was final. I’d never see him again. A terrible relief flooded through me. I couldn’t shoulder his grief anymore, and I couldn’t shoulder mine, either. It had nearly broken me.

He was right. I couldn’t take the chance. If Grace ever did come back, I had to be here, and I had to be whole.


I didn’t see it on the news when it happened. I was out in the garden, planting. I’d never been much of a gardener before, but I wanted to spend my last few years on this earth making things grow. The arthritis made it difficult sometimes, but plunging those achy hands into the cool earth soothed me.

Sometimes I thought of Grace as I worked. Sometimes I didn’t. There were times now where I could go whole days without thinking about her. It had taken me a long time to accomplish that without guilt. I’d filled those days with work at the library (books having been my first love, before Grace) until I retired. Now I spent my time reading, meditating, volunteering at the animal shelter, tending my own brood of house cats. And now gardening. I never thought I’d be very good at it, but it turns out I’d found my calling as I coaxed life out of the earth.

I had a patch of herbs, and a little plot for tomatoes and cucumbers and beans, but my pride and joy was the flower garden. Brief explosions of beauty in their season, and then gone. But not forever. Things lived, things died, and then things lived again. Soon I would die. Maybe I would see Grace again, and maybe I wouldn’t. She wasn’t mine, not for a long time now. She belonged to the universe, or God, or whatever one believes is larger than ourselves. I had to let her go to do the great things I believed she was doing, what whatever it is they had taught her.

She wasn’t mine, but my love and pride and great joy in her would always belong to me.

My knees hurt as I bent over the spaded earth. Time to go in for tea. I used the cane to push myself up, and hobbled into the house that I’ve lived alone in for decades. The wall monitor droned on about some big news. My hearing wasn’t what it used to be, and I ignored it anyway. Who could bear to face the latest horrible thing in the world? But it was my only company these days, besides the cats. I put the kettle on (I still liked to make tea the old fashioned way) and settled at the kitchen table as Ollie, my big Maine Coon, rubbed against my tired legs. I bent over to scratch him between the ears, and my eyes flicked over to the monitor. That’s when I saw it.

The ship was massive, hovering over the city like some giant insect. Thousands of people lined the streets, looking up and pointing. Flashing lights and sirens everywhere, shouting, breathless reporters yelling into the cameras. Words scrolled across the screen at top and bottom:

Historic moment as UFO appears…President will make her statement soon, appeals for calm…No word from otherworldly visitors yet; long-missing children suddenly come home: connection?..Friend or foe?

The kettle whistled and then shrieked, but I didn’t hear it. The stone in my heart, the black hole that had nearly sucked me into oblivion, collapsed into a supernova, and I clutched at my chest and fell from my chair.


Ollie licked my face, and I opened my eyes. Early morning light filtered through the blinds of my bedroom window, and a warm spring breeze fluttered the curtains. I’d been dreaming of Grace. We had been at that long-ago carnival, eating cotton candy and riding the merry-go-round. Our sticky fingers gripped the poles, and she laughed as her purple-maned horse went up and down, up and down.

Someone sat next to me on the bed. A woman with curly blonde hair and sky-blue eyes. As I focused on her face, she smiled.

“Mom,” she said.





Dear Internet

Dear Internet,

I love you. You must know this, considering all the hours I while away in your company. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Facebook, I could scroll through your memes, family photos and videos forever. Pinterest, my fandoms knows no rest with you. YouTube, music old and new sends me into ecstasies. WordPress, I blog to my heart’s content, and convince myself I’m “writing”. As an introvert, I can make connections and feel a part of something in a way I never could before. You coddle and console me. I’m grateful, I really am.

But afterward, I feel kind of empty. Cheap. Guilty. I long for a more satisfying relationship, one that makes me feel more grounded and authentic, one that doesn’t leave me feeling as if I’m wasting my time. In truth, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about another media: pen and paper. I can’t help it. We used to have something real, and then I drifted away, lured by your flashy entertainment and empty calories. I can actually feel my brain shrinking, the cells atrophying from lack of use. I grew up with pen and paper; we’re old friends. What I’m saying is, I’d like to see more of pen and paper in my life and less of you.


Am I dumping you completely? I’m not saying that. I just think we need to separate for a while. It won’t be easy. God, you’re alluring. It will be hard to resist you. But I must, at least for my own sake.  Love has turned to obsession. I knew a line was being crossed when I began to feel anxious when I was away from you for too long. When I couldn’t check my useless emails, when I couldn’t see how many likes and comments my Facebook or WordPress posts accumulated. As if any of that matters. You made me think all that stuff was important, while what’s really important is the relationship between pen and paper and my own mind.

And really, there’s an ugly side of you I don’t like at all. I’m not just talking about trolls and fake news, although that’s a part of it. There’s a certain lack of both accountability and civility that repulses me. But I won’t get into that; what’s important is that I’m saying goodbye. But not forever. For better or for worse, you’re a part of everyone’s life now, and you have your uses. I just need to get some space to breathe, and figure out what that use is.

I’ll miss you. But I miss more the words and stories in my head that want to come out, but are unable to; they’re stopped up by your dominance over my time and mind. So I’m letting you go for the time being. I’ll come back to you when I feel stronger, more able to assert control over your addicting tendencies.

Au revoir for now,



Words and Coffee

I prefer to write outside of my home. There are numerous reasons for this:

  • My apartment is small, and I don’t have a “room of one’s own” to write in; I often leave the house to get some privacy (even though I usually go to a place full of people!).
  • When the weather is nice, it’s hard to stay inside and write; when the beauty of the day calls to me, I’ll grab my notebooks and/or computer and walk to wherever it is I’ll write that day (and get a bit of exercise, too).
  • Often, I have cravings: Dunkin Donuts coffee. A chocolate and nut mix at the local co-op. Or there’s absolutely no food in the house, and I’m hungry. Why not go out and eat and drink and write?
  • There are too many distractions at home: my family, of course; a messy, dirty apartment that screams at me to clean it; the television, the phone, the refrigerator, the cat, noisy neighbors. Any number of things to take me away from my desk. Sometimes I write on my computer, but the internet is an alluring distraction–when that happens, I’ll grab just my notebook and get out of the house.
  • Natalie Goldberg, my early writing influence, told me to write in different places, and so that’s what I did, and that’s what I still do. It’s what I’m used to. Although I don’t write in laundromats, as she suggested.

coffee and writing

So where do I go to write? Here are my favorite spots in my town:

  • Greenfield’s Market. My local co-op is a place I’ve been writing in for close to twenty years now. It’s easily my favorite spot; there’s good food and drink, free wi-fi I tend to trust, and two different places to sit and write: downstairs near the sunny windows looking out onto Main Street, or upstairs in the mezzanine which overlooks the entire store (I try not to sit next to the railing–I’ll gaze out and people-watch the whole time if I’m not careful). I’ll drink peach Honest Tea and nibble chocolate trail mix; my friend Vince is often there, working on his haiku or reading his obscure books. He’ll stop by my table and chat for a few minutes, but respects my need for space to work. Familiar strangers surround me, and I feel right at home.
  • Dunkin Donuts. I love Dunkin coffee. In the winter, it’s hot decaf with one cream; in summer, it’s iced with one cream. The donuts don’t tempt me, really; it’s all about the coffee. There are three Dunkins in my town, which really doesn’t seem excessive to me. One is within walking distance, and that’s where I usually go. In the morning, there is a large group of seniors who gather there every day to talk and tell stories and laugh. They’ve come to know me, and call out a few pleasantries. They can become quite raucous, but I don’t mind. I’ve learned to block out distraction from the multitudes, the shriek of the coffee grinders, the employees giving each other shit. It’s all background babble, white noise. It’s wonderful. It smells wonderful, and I smell wonderful when I go home, the coffee clinging to me like an aromatic shawl.
  • Greenfield Public Library. Sometimes I need to go to the library to search for a book or do some research, and I’ll sit and write for awhile in one of the many comfortable nooks provided. There are the big tables in the main room, near the computers and the check-out desk and the magazine racks; but there are more private places nestled near the stacks, with upholstered chairs and low tables with vases of flowers on them, or a table near a window with a view of familiar buildings, seen from unfamiliar vantage points. It’s quiet, mostly, and being surrounded by books has to be the closest thing to heaven I can think of.
  • Greenfield Coffee. I only occasionally frequent this cafe in the center of town, mostly because it’s kind of expensive, and the coffee is darker than I prefer. But I like the wrap-around glass windows looking out at the intersection of town that often steam in winter, and the hardwood floors and the shiny steel espresso makers. It’s fairly small, so I’m lucky to find a seat among the many other solo patrons working on their own projects, on laptops mostly, but some with actual books and notebooks. I feel I’m a part of a special tribe, my tribe, even if I don’t speak a word to them.

My peripatetic writing habit suits me; it’s like leaving home to go to my office to work, except my office is everywhere. I’ve written in doctor’s offices, in my car (not while I’m driving, just in case you’re wondering), at work at my register. I’ve even written at a picnic table on the town common on nice spring days. Come to think of it, I might have written in a laundromat once, a long time ago. With a pen and paper, you can do your work literally anywhere.

If you’re a writer, where do you like to do your work?

Costume Drama

Once I smartened up and changed my Netflix plan from streaming to DVD, I finally got to watch a couple of movies I’ve had my eye on for awhile: Love and Friendship, and A Quit Passion.

love and friendship

Love and Friendship is based on early, little-known novella of Jane Austen’s, called Lady Susan. The story’s namesake is not the typical Austen heroine we’ve come to know and love–in other words, she’s not a young, unmarried woman looking for love with a suitably rich husband, a delightful, spirited woman who nonetheless conforms to her society’s norms and conventions.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is not that woman. She’s a still-attractive older widow who schemes relentlessly to score a rich husband, for herself and also for her 17-year old daughter, Federica. She doesn’t care a fig about love, at least not when it comes to husbands. Husbands are a means to an end: financial security. She does, however, carry on an adulterous affair with the married Lord Manwing.

Unlike Lizzie, Emma, Catherine, and the Dashwood sisters, Lady Susan is not likable. Her outward charm masks a cunning ruthlessness that one nonetheless has no choice but to admire. Why? Because, despite being a woman in a staunchly patriarchal society, like any true Austen heroine she gets what she wants–not by some fairy-tale luck (having the good fortune to fall in love with and to secure a conveniently rich man). She knows intimately well the system she’s working within, and pulls all of the strings to her advantage. In the end, she scores a rich husband, who is stupid enough to believe the baby she carries is his own; her daughter fits the more typical Austen heroine in that she falls in love with a suitably rich man and blissfully marries him, but she is not the star of the show.

That Austen wrote such a scandalous main character–and have it all end well for her–is just another reason I find Jane Austen endlessly fascinating. She was a proto-feminist that knew Lady Susan could never be published in her time. It only took 200 years for this character to see the light of day, and though we may cringe at her methods, we must concede her brilliance and determination. Lady Susan forged a life on her own terms in a world that afforded her very little choice.

quiet passion 2

A Quiet Passion is a biopic of Emily Dickinson that I’ve been very eager to see. Cynthia Nixon (of Sex and the City fame) plays the enigmatic Dickinson, and she does so brilliantly here. Nixon recites her poems in a voice-over throughout the scenes of the film, and one gets a sense of Dickinson’s brilliance, her sensitivity, her spiritual struggle, her fierce intelligence.

She was extremely close to her family (her parents, brother Austin and sister Vinnie), and was content to live with them forever. She feared being parted from friends and family, either through death or marriage. She quite probably fell in love with both men and women–including a married pastor–but her loves were always fervently spiritual and intellectual in nature, and never consummated physically.

Inevitably, her parents died. Her good friend, the outspoken Vryling Buffam, married (and therefore relented to convention) and was no longer hers. Her married brother Austin commenced an affair with a married woman, and his infidelity enraged her.

“Why does life have to be so ugly?” she beseeches her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) at one point.

Near the end of her life she became embittered, and her fear of loss and death caused her to withdraw from life and society, never leaving her home, or even her room, for that matter. She pushed people away with cutting words. She continued to write, however, always struggling with the state of her soul, with the question of whether God existed, what awaited us after death. She was a brilliant, complicated woman who suffered and died from Bright’s disease at the age of 55.

I enjoyed the film, but had a problem with much of the dialogue. I expect witty banter from intelligent people, but these people talked in a way that raised it to ridiculous heights. Did people really converse in this manner? Their conversations didn’t feel at all natural; rather, they seemed artificially constructed, as if they were reading from well-thought out orations or speeches. It wasn’t believable, and actually got a little annoying. The only time it felt real was when characters lost their tempers and screamed at each other (in a very articulate manner, of course). Finally, real human beings!

Have you seen these movies? What did you think? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!



Two Memoirs

I’ve been in a memoir kind of mood lately, and recently finished two by women my own age dealing with different issues in their lives:

Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning, by Claire Dederer.  Dederer is a writer with a husband and two children, and by all accounts, a wonderful life. This is what she had always wanted. So why all the crying and restlessness and apathy that has suddenly invaded her life? She seeks out her old journals and letters from her youth, and digs up the past, trying to find the “disastrous pirate slut of a girl” she used to be. Turns out, she misses that wreck of a girl, her misadventures and her freedoms, her bad choices and impulsive wanderings. I was drawn to this book because of my own midlife growing pains; Claire Dederer is a brave soul who isn’t afraid to tell her own particular truths.

love and trouble

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay. I’ve been meaning to read Gay’s book of essays, Bad Feminist, for a while now. I haven’t gotten there yet, but her recent memoir caught my eye, and on the heels of Love and Trouble, I hungered for another memoir. Gay’s story, on the surface, is very different from Dederer’s; Gay was raped when she was 12 years old. That violent experience shaped her life from that day on, and she steadily gained weight into adulthood until she became morbidly obese. She used her weight as a shield to protect herself from male attention. She wanted to become invisible, but in doing so, she became, paradoxically, more visible for a very different reason. Gay explores society’s judgmental preoccupation with women’s bodies, and comes to terms with the violence that was done to her.


Both writers explore how women’s lives are defined by their bodies (one trying to hide from the male gaze to protect herself, the other seeking it out to find love and validation). Both are riveting memoirs I won’t soon forget.





Cinematic Scribes

I love movies. I love writing and writers. So of course I love movies about writing and writers. There are countless movies out there about writers, but here are a few of my favorites:

The Wonder Boys. Michael Douglas in a shabby pink bathrobe and Toby Maguire tucked under the covers with Robert Downey, Jr. is enough to get me on board here. Douglas is a writing teacher who hasn’t had anything published since his award-winning novel seven years prior, and can’t seem to get his life together; Maguire is one of his students, a gifted writer in need of guidance.

wonder boys

Stranger Than Fiction. Will Ferrel is an IRS auditor who suddenly begins to hear a voice in his head, narrating his life. Emma Thompson is the writer who is writing his story. To break her writer’s block, she decides she has to kill off her main character. Her character takes exception to this, and trippy madcappery ensues.

stranger than fiction

Sideways. Paul Giammati is Miles, a struggling writer and wine enthusiast who takes his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a trip into wine country before Jack’s upcoming wedding. Miles looks forward to enjoying the wine, but Jack wants one last fling before his nuptials. His shenanigans throws the trip into disarray and jeopardizes Miles’ budding relationship with a woman he meets and connects with (Virginia Madsen).


And of course, there are the crazy writer/crazy fan movies from Stephen King: The Shining, Misery, and Secret Window, which are enough to make you rethink writing as a life choice.

shiningcmiserysecret window


I also love biopics and tributes: The Hours (Virginia Woolf), Iris (Iris Murdoch), Shakespeare in Love, Shadowlands (C.S. Lewis). Many, many others I’ve seen and haven’t seen.

Writers are an odd bunch, and it’s fun to watch a slice of their lives on film, from quirky to creepy.

Do you have a favorite writer movie?