Treat Jar


The professor wears plaid clogs.  She strides into the conference room, bold black and gray swimming around feet sheathed in silver-threaded socks.  I tell her I like her style.  She tells me that every time she hits a professional milestone, she buys herself shoes.  She can stand in her closet and scan the trajectory of her career: her first publication shoes, her first edited volume shoes.  The plaid clogs?  Tenure-track shoes.

“What’s next?” I ask.

“Full professor, going up next year.”

“Have you scoped out the shoes?”

She shakes her head.  “Oh no, that would jinx it.”  Then she grins.  “Which is a total lie.  There are these boots,” she sort of moans.  “Boots and a whole new outfit to go with them.”

This concept mystifies me.  One friend picks out a fancy purse for every promotion or raise.  Coach, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton.  Another takes herself on a cruise.  I clap along but something rankles.  We’re dogs now?  We get cookies for every well-timed wiggle?

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Listen Now


Itzhak Perlman was riding shotgun when the October moon slid out onto the horizon. The soloist’s strokes teased from the slimmest strings the opening notes of Beethoven’s violin concerto.  Other players followed and a rumble rose from deep in the bouts of cello and bass, swelling to a roar and thundering through my ribs, pressing out the tears.  The stoplight was seconds from green so I pressed back.  It took some effort.  It took my breath.

The moon lay herself down in a hammock of treetops and followed us with her sleepy gaze.

Across town, a young writer of mysteries saw her too.  What echoed across the dusk to his ears was Don McLean’s “Vincent,” at least the opening verse.  His song reached in through the passenger side window and wound around the Berlin Philharmonic.  I pulled into a jammed parking lot.  They grabbed their instruments by the neck and careened off together, streaking light across the purple sky.

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We Begin Again in Love


… forgiveness is not rational. One can seldom find a reason to forgive or be forgiven. Forgiveness is often undeserved. It may require a dimension of justice (penance, in traditional terms), but not always, for what it holds sacred is not fairness, but self-respect and community. Forgiveness does not wipe away guilt, but invites reconciliation. And it is as important to be able to forgive as it is to be forgiven.

-Sara Moores Campbell, Into the Wilderness

He invites us to call up a regret we hold, a mistake.  Through our restless quiet echoes the faint string of notes we each play: I wish I had  and I wish I hadn’t and if only.  The salt, he tells us, is that regret, that unforgiven act or omission.  In water, it never vanishes entirely — there is no forgetting —  though the hold it has on us dissipates.   It joins with the larger body of life, of surrender, of renewal.”Anyone who is so moved,” he says, “may come up and add a pinch of salt to the water.”

One by one, the congregants rise.  Does music play?  It’s hard to hear above the gathering notes of memory.  Our collective, unspoken remorse finds its chord and travels along the thread of bodies.  We shuffle and nod to one another. We make our way to the place where we are allowed to let go.

At the front rest two clear vessels, soap-bubble delicate and huge as bellies.  Water catches golden light filtering in from an October sun. Two deep platters of salt welcome a pinch or a fistful, depending. Some of us, I confide later, could do with a shovel.  Each of us drops our quantity of crystals in through the glass mouth.  The salt bursts into tendrils and swirls to a cloud. In one motion, our mistake both falls and rises, dissolving into light.  As we watch it go, each of us says these words:

“I forgive myself and begin again in love.”

We make our way back along that strand holding us to the place we started.  Something is changed, though.  The path feels emptied somehow.  The rows of seats, more capacious.

I watch the last of the congregants weave through the space.  Each of them, like me, carries these sorrows, these hurts.  We recognize the damage we have certainly caused.  We can see how it lives on not only in us but around us in the small world we inhabit.

Each of them, like me, goes on anyway.

For this one moment, alongside the unlikely echo of a shared chord, we are free to give way to forgiveness.

We begin again, together, in love.

Image: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970

Power Forward


I take a deep breath and add another 2-1/2 lb weight to either end of the chest press bar.  These “graduation” days are bittersweet.  Each crossing of a threshold puts the lie to the comforting narrative that I’m only so capable, only so strong.  If I keep surpassing my own limits, I might start to believe that most of them are self-imposed.  How in the world can I avoid living my full life under those conditions?

Image: Mary Ellen Mark’s Photograph of Shavanaas Begum, the Indian Circus Strongwoman, 1989

Blueprint Phase 1, Step 2


On Tuesday night, I brought 3 days and 10 pages of notes to heel in this whacked out mind  map.  Even with my scattered brain forever chasing down The Meaning Of It All, I was able to rip the material and pin details to their categories.  One night later, I had expanded this into a clean, 3-page document charting each week-long task between now and May 1, 2017.  It’s typed.  With headings.  That makes it real, right?

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The Roots of Weeds

by David Budbill

we are
bones and ash,
the roots of weeds
poking through
our skulls.

simple clothes,
empty mind,
full stomach,
alive, aware,
right here,
right now.

Drunk on music,
who needs wine?

Come on,
let’s go dancing
while we’ve
still got feet.

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Assignment #1: Prepare an action plan for reaching a medium-term writing goal. You have seven days to complete and submit plan.

Assignment details:

Write up an overarching SMART goal and then generate a series of intermediate objectives, each with its own subset of deliverables.  The objectives and deliverables will use measurable action words, such as those in Bloom’s Taxonomy, and will themselves include all the elements of SMART goals (most importantly, specificity and timeline).

As the details of the interim requirements resolve into view, they may reveal that the Big Papi goal is itself problematic.  The goal might be too ambitious or your schedule unrealistic. Revise as necessary. The plan will be more effective if it emerges from an adaptive exchange between desired outcome and deliberative process.

Here is an example of my possible Big Papi writing goal:  By May 1, 2017, prepare for submission a working draft of book proposal (with complete outline), introduction, and chapter 1.

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