“Why Do You Write?” 

I’ve gotten this one in interviews in the past. Everything I said there was a lie. Let me answer it truthfully: 

I no longer write for you, to get finger claps in Cafes or “Likes” on Facebook. I no longer write to be understood. I don’t do it for fame for fortune, because who are we kidding? It’s public, but only like flashing your genitals in a subway car is public.

I write to momentarily get rid of myself, to get a little more distance, to intellectualize the gnawing in my stomach or ringing in my ears. I like us all a little better when we’ve been turned to symbols. It’s an Other-ing that makes it all more bearable. Sometimes it can even get us a little high, though those are also the worst times, the benders where the words hurt you the next morning and you’re a stranger to yourself. Then the words are like pans crashing and clattering to the ground, lolling around like Murakami’s kittens, and even more words spill out to enclose that noise with comfortable silence. Signal and noise can flip end over end, but that’s subject for another day. That buzzing in my head is already drowning it all out–

“Memory is like fiction; or else it’s fiction that’s like memory. This really came home to me once I started writing fiction, that memory seemed a kind of fiction, or vice versa. Either way, no matter how hard you try to put everything neatly into shape, the context wanders this way and that, until finally the context isn’t even there anymore. You’re left with this pile of kittens lolling all over one another. Warm with life, hopelessly unstable. And then to put these things out as saleable items, you call them finished products – at times it’s downright embarrassing just to think of it. Honestly, it can make me blush.”
— Haruki Murakami

You’re only a writer when you don’t know why you do it anymore, eventually there’s nothing else but the lie that tells the truth. You’re a writer the way a junky is a junky. It’s got little if nothing to do with anything else. If you’re still talking about “writer’s block” and wordcounts, there might still be hope for you. Turn back. Kick the habit.

I don’t write for you to come with me. We don’t need writing for that.

But since I have your attention, I’ve started working on my new book …

If it weren’t for clumsy opening sentences, I’d never write anything.

I generally avoid writing about writer’s block. It can feel lazy and self-involved, like a screenplay about a screenwriter trying to write the perfect screenplay, or a commercial about an ad agency pitching commercial ideas. (Oh, are you a rapper that raps about the awesome raps you rap? Because that would make you a very mediocre rapper!)

But what I find interesting about writer’s block is the desperation. And by “interesting” I mean “hilarious,” because desperation can make you do some really idiotic shit.

Like, you know those key chains that have a built-in sensor so that if you lose your keys you can clap your hands and the sensor will hear the clap and the key chain will beep and you can follow the beeps with your ears to find your keys? Have you had one of these? I have not. But sometimes, after looking repeatedly for my keys, I will clap my hands and hope that my keys will just know what to do.

And, once in a while, it works.

I know I’ve reached that same level of desperation in my writing when I start Googling whole sentences in hopes that the Internet will magically provide a literal answer, which it never, ever does. Say, for example, I am having trouble writing a joke about poodles (which is impossible because poodles are ridiculous and stupid and so easy to make fun of). When desperate, I’ll search, “How do I make a joke about a poodle?!!!”

And, once in a while, it works.

It delivers a needed distraction–my brain’s way of telling me that I am not interested in what I’m writing about, and helping me to connect it to something I do find interesting. So, searching for poodle jokes–searching for anything–leads me on a click-based voyage to Tangent Town, where hours later I’ll find myself reading Wikipedia entries about true crime stories that have been made into Lifetime movies. Then inspiration strikes.

“Poodle owners are like that lady that was engaged to the Craigslist Killer. Even after you show them piles of ripped up panties under the bed, they refuse to believe they live with a monster.”

And if inspiration refuses to strike, it doesn’t mean those hours spent wandering around online are a total waste. By running out the clock on my deadline, I can stop caring altogether. Out of time means out of options means I just have to just poop something out and move on.

“Poodles? Gross.”

Is it a perfect solution? No. Have I failed terribly? A little. Is it the end of the world? Of course not. (I mean, I hope not, for my sake. It would be very stressful to live in a world that depends on my constant supply of innovative and imaginative poodle jokes.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is,

Patchouli Morning

The metaphysical impishness, erudition and breadth of vision in this sexually charged roman à clef is Smith at his most vulnerable. We recoil in horror as he recounts a series of heartbreaking trysts that recall — then exceed — Flaubert in both emotional power and literary merit. Curiously, the novel stagnates for the first twenty pages with inane references to pedestrian, adolescent love themes directed toward a sophomore called only “Emily,” but it then soars for the remaining 344 pages with a narrative and vision as taut and authentic as anything in the Western canon since forever. And while the inclusion of the lyrics to Metallica’s “Fade to Black” in the prologue offers little in the way of relevance, one is reminded that — like black holes — not everything should be easily understood.

Lachrymose in Transylvania

Intoxicating, tantalizing, always potentially violent, this captivating tome helps define not just the current state of Inuit America, but the world at large. It is a book so erudite and well wrought that its aura somehow illuminates the rest of Smith’s oeuvre, sustaining his post-apocalyptic vision. And although Smith asks a lot of his readers (would Dracula really show up for the soap-box derby, uninvited?), we are rewarded for our efforts later in this tour de force when it becomes clear everything has been a dream — but not in that hokey, St. Elsewhere way — in that way that only Smith, at the height of his creative powers, can manufacture so convincingly.

Da Nang Disco

Can anyone write about the horrors of the Vietnam War like Smith? Maybe Tim O’Brien, but does O’Brien dare to set his narrative against the backdrop of a colonial discotheque struggling to keep the party going during the Tet Offensive? No. Smith weaves his flawless prose seamlessly through the trenches and pop hits of 1968 Vietnam while exposing the artifice and shady underbelly that was the 2001 Little League World Series. The daring cadenza that begins the novel is, as often seems to be the case with Smith’s first chapters, categorically unreadable — but not in the sense that they are ill-conceived or poorly written — they are simply too much to bear, like much of Joyce. The Emily character makes a dramatic entrance, screams, then leaves the novel for good. Again. It’s so haunting! Maybe I should just come clean here and admit that I am not smart enough to comprehend what Smith is getting at, usually.

Toggle & Yaw

Just when you get the feeling that Smith may nave reached the limits of his vast fecundity, he treats us to a space novel like no other. To call Toggle & Yaw a “space novel,” though, is tantamount to calling The Bible a “sand novel.” The book begins quite predictably with a string of complaints (as is becoming Smith’s modus operandi) related to a character named “Emily,” who appears quite substantially in earlier chapters then disappears without a whimper. What are we to think of this “Emily?” Who really cares, when, later in the novel, Toggle (a Type A cosmonaut from the future) explains to Yaw (a robot/fire hydrant with a history of drug abuse), “Thy sample science programs, like deep surveys and slitless grism spectroscopy of exo-planet transit, will compromise ye olde mission’s capabilities in near-infrared, m’lady. Anon.” Can you think of another writer who can meld flawless Victorian patois with deep-space discourse like Smith? This reviewer cannot.

The Rending

If it can be said of any writer living today that he/she has fused lyric virtuosity with a kind childlike aplomb, that writer must be Mr. Smith. The Rending begins with the tale of a particularly devastating train accident, I think. Of course, Smith knows that, in fiction, it’s often what’s “not there” that lends to the visceral beauty inherent in certain exchanges and turns of phrase. Indeed, The Rending, Smith’s fifth and finest book thus far, is an artistic blitzkrieg on literary expectation and norms, as the novel, coming in at just under 600 pages, features not a single word. If Kafka, Proust, McCullers and Nabokov pooled their best work and created a kind of “Dream Team” book, one wonders whether the ensuing scribbles could even be put up for consideration next to Smith’s magnum opus. The culminate car-chase through the byzantine streets of Caligula’s Rome recalls I, Claudius, with lasers. Not-to-be-perused.


On first read, one wonders whether Mr. Smith actually typed the word “Emily” 2,011,740 times, or if he in fact used the “cut-and-paste” option on his PC. Either way, this paean to lost love compels the reader to ask: “Is this The Great American Novel?” or perhaps, “What’s your return policy?”

I’m a writer, and I’m scared to write. I’m gun shy. I’m weak in the ankles. I’m on the diving board, and I can certainly dive, but the water down there — well, there might be something down there. Something I’m afraid to discover.

See, I write for a living, but it’s never really my words. It’s re-words. Every day, I try to find another way to re-work my employer’s mission statement, fine tuning the language in order to grab the person who wasn’t listening the last time. Before this, a journalist, my own words popping up just long enough to momentarily glance around at the big wide world before burrowing underneath my subject’s quote.

And in the in-between times, I write for myself. Snippets, poems, a sentence that could spark a book, if not a revolution. So I think. So I think, be a writer, really own it. I’ve come this far.

But when I received Brad Listi’s email about becoming a TNB contributor, I freaked out. I couldn’t even open the email for a day, and when I did, his instructions were in bold and everything was official and important. Like I was just drafted, or sent a visa acceptance from a foreign embassy. We ask that you post, bare minimum, once per month, he said. I gulped. Which is hard to do since I don’t have any salivary glands. Wow, that’s not even true. I’m just making stuff up because I need to write one post this month and I don’t know what to write about and I’m…

scared to write.

On the website, everyone just seems so witty and creative and more plugged into the indie literary scene than the indie literary scene itself. I can’t even remember what it was I wanted to write about when I first approached TNB with my spiffy bio. Now, faced with the opportunity to let my words run wild, I’d like another mission statement, please. I can make it look all sparkly and new and sell your story to the next person who wasn’t even planning to buy anything today. Just browsin’, thanks.

If only I hadn’t already published that piece about my colonic experience back in 2008. I could re-purpose it, but there I am, re-wording again. Re-wording my own words. But that could be seen as meta, and meta’s very “in,” I think. Potentially genius.

Maybe I need to go to a cabin faraway from home and write for 24 hours straight. Yeah, a cabin, with no running water, and I’ll sit in a wooden chair with a back so straight it’ll change the natural curvature of my spine overnight. And I’ll look at nature and “reflect back.” And the humping animals in the woods will remind me of lost love and I’ll write something forlorn and tinged with despair, but with a hopefulness at the end, like a new dawn. The dawn I’ll see every morning when I wake up with it. Oh, and I’ll have to drink something strong that makes my muscles ache, and my forhead slip from my palm to nearly hit the keyboard of my computer. Scratch that. Typewriter. Ice cubes that clink in a glass. Where will I get the ice cubes? Don’t think about that.

Also, how can I drink if I don’t have any salivary glands?

Oh, I’ve got something. I’ve got something; I’ve got something. And I didn’t write this at the fake cabin. I thought of it just now. Inappropriate Facebook statuses! Like, here’s one: “Megan Tady learned that role playing ‘getting a pap smear’ with a partner isn’t actually hot. Turns out the word ‘swab’ is a real mood killer.” But then I Googled “inappropriate Facebook statuses” and it turns out everybody’s doing them. There are even entire websites devoted to this. Probably frat brothers. So I’ll write about something else…

Like how about words that have probably never been uttered together in the same sentence? The other night while my boyfriend and I were cuddling, I said, “I see Chelsea Clinton dragging a port-a-potty into the woods.” And he said, “Oh my God, those words have probably never been said on this planet before.” We had been talking about Chelsea Clinton’s outlandish wedding and the port-a-potties that cost $15 grand. And then we do the cutest thing ever that any couple has probably ever done, oh you would love it, this little bedtime ritual, where we stare off into the distance and say that we see something random dragging something else random into the woods. Like a tumbleweed dragging a pencil. It’s sort of an inside joke and you sorta have to be there. Also, my boyfriend probably wouldn’t want me to share this because it’s sacred.

How did the Obama administration go from bravely shunning Fox News to presenting them with the front-row seat in the White House press room? Oooh, throwing in some politics.

But I’m beating around the bush. I’m turning on a dime. I’m using every cliche in the book to get me out of writing. Because, sigh, writing your own stuff really is scary. I have high expectations for myself. I want to write a post so grand that the comments in the comment section overflow and the webmaster has to call me and beg me to stop writing because the server simply can’t take the traffic. I want to write a post so heavy in analysis of modern day affairs that pundits instantly quit their jobs. I want to write a post that heaves up buried traumas so eloquently that even people who never owned dogs – in fact, hate pets in general – cry along with me. Oh, I want to write a post.

But I’ll start with this one. I’ll start by saying this is scary, yet I’m still going to try. It’s time I used my own voice, coaxed it out from hiding, let it dance a little.

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m new here, so go easy.

The thing about a breakup, for a writer, is that it can be crippling, like a baseball bat to the shins. Up until recently, I was on a roll. Ideas galore, inspiration flowing from everywhere. Two stories finished in a month, ready to be polished, edited, submitted. Published author, here I come!




When my then-fiancee called with the phone call rejection notice – yes, it was a phone call, but we were 750 miles apart – all progress stopped. I jumped in the car and drove home to salvage what I could, to talk it out. Surely, a mistake was made. All I had to do was get her to see that everything could be fixed, we could be put back together.

I couldn’t write a word. I tried. I sat in a hotel room in Madison, staring at the computer, playing Scrabble online instead of thinking, writing, plotting.

I searched news sites for story-worthy bits and wrote a pile of writing prompts, anything to jumpstart my stagnant creativity and to distract me from the crisis at hand. Nothing worked.

I was in the barren, infertile wasteland of the post-Apocalypse.

Okay, so that’s a bit melodramatic.

The blinking cursor taunted me until I closed the laptop and watched Monday Night Raw. It was that or syndicated episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, and I despise that show.

I gave in to my block, let it take over. This, for a writer, is like drinking arsenic to cure a cold.




During the next few days, I was preoccupied with relationship stuff. I met my ex and we talked about where things had faltered, who hadn’t done their part, where we would go from there. It wasn’t going to work, we decided. We were two different people, neither ready for marriage or anything it entails. I was okay at first. We went to a party at a friend’s beach house along Lake Superior. We had a good time, deflected concern about us with a joint air of contentment. This is for the best, we said.

The next night, returning to the beach house, something changed. A friend’s band played an informal show in the living room. I jammed on the drum set. I watched the sun set from a sea kayak on the lake. I was having fun, but then a revelation about the relationship, about my failures as a boyfriend, broke me.

I didn’t think about writing. I couldn’t. I shut down. I had to leave.




I drove straight through from Marquette to Omaha, thirteen hours on the road, eager to find some distraction from my current anger, bitterness, defeat. I got lost in Marinette, Wisconsin, and somehow wound up circling the capital building in Madison instead of continuing on the highway. Six hours of Iowa’s flat landscape – sorry, Iowa – didn’t help matters any. I barely noticed the wind turbine fields, like science fiction forests, along I-80. The whole time, I tried to force myself to come up with an idea. A germ.

I find this isn’t the best way to deal with writer’s block. It can’t be forced. If Robert Olen Butler’s right, then it has to come from some dream-like place, not through the manufactured idea farm of the mind.

I returned to Omaha, went to a bookstore and broke out the laptop. Then, a notebook, in which I only scribbled, doodled pictures of covered wagons and guitars.

In the past, I believed that writer’s block was the author’s own creation, a reason not to write. But, this was real. I took the new Ecotone from the shelves, the current Prairie Schooner, read story after story hoping for something. It was hopeless. After six hours, I went to the bar.




The same thing happened the next day, this time for eight hours. And the next. Then a few more days after that. Every day, I texted writer friends, asking for advice. How do I come out of this? Read, one tells me. Drink more, then write, the other says. I did both. By then, the post-breakup loneliness had set in and I was getting worse. More Scrabble and crossword puzzles and World Cup soccer. Production: zero.




I met Brian, my best friend, at a bar. We talked about the breakup, how I was feeling, how my ex-fiancée was doing, about the particularly bad idea of rebound sex.

“I haven’t written a thing in days,” I said.

“Nothing?” he said.

“I’m void of ideas.”

“Maybe you should channel your emotions into your writing,” Brian said. No way, I thought, I don’t write that sort of stuff. Breakup fiction is for Matthew McConaughey movies. But, I thought, maybe he was on to something.




This isn’t what he meant, I’m know. I’m sitting at the same bookstore I have all summer, writing out those emotions, giving life to past events. I’m feeling a break now, a small wave of my former self returning as I write this, the muse awakening from a too-long slumber.

There are no new ideas, yet, but I’m writing.

Now, maybe, that block is finally crumbling.

Bernadette Mayer.

I know virtually nothing about her and neither does Wikipedia.  I’ve read only a small bit of her work.  I know she’s a poet and that people tend to locate her within the New York School and, more recently, among the Language Poets.  I get the sense that she’s a fringe figure.  She is not H.D. or Elizabeth Bishop or Gertrude Stein.

Details of her life are difficult to come by, most likely because it isn’t over yet.  She lives somewhere in New York, I think.

I love this picture of her as a young woman; I don’t know why.  She looks slightly unhinged.

More importantly (at least for my purposes), Mayer also composed a widely available and seriously creative list of journal ideas and writing experiments, which you can see here.  The list is an open secret, and despite an embarrassment of books, websites, and writers in general itching to advise others on the best way to get a cursor moving, this list is the best collection of writing prompts I have ever seen.

“Everyday Machinery” comes from one of Mayer’s prompts.  I keep saying it to myself in my head.  And looking around.  And saying it in my head again.  I can’t get over it.  It’s a mantra.

In my return to writing after a long hiatus, I discovered that, of all the things that had atrophied, my willingness to let myself experiment was the only thing that didn’t come bounding back.  If my ear, my voice, my vocabulary, and my technical skills startled awake and lept to their feet ready for a fight (drunken master, maybe, but ready to fight nonetheless), my sense of creative possibility was hung over–pulling the shades against the birds, hurling invectives and nightstand junk at me as I shouted from the doorway to GET. THE. FUCK. UP.

So I did the only thing I could think to do.  I dug out Bernadette’s list.

I have trouble sorting out what’s so appealing about it.  I have had more than a few writing how-to books–though many had the obnoxious habit of considering themselves writing companions.  (I‘m not your buddy, Guy!)

All of these books had sections devoted to writing prompts.

When it came to those books, I was the writerly equivalent of a kid in summer, turning to my mother for ideas about what to do.

We all know, or should know, to never, EVER ask Mom what to do.  Because Mom will not say, “Why don’t you go bounce a baseball off the aluminum siding?  Why don’t you go jump out of the tree so you can break your leg, go to the hospital, and get presents?  Why don’t you steal some matches when I’m not looking and go light things on fire in the woods?”

Mom will never say anything cool.  Mom will always say you could go clean your room or brush the dog.

Which, theoretically, you could or even should do, and it would be something, but Mom never seems to understand that those things are boring, too.

It’s not just about doing something, it’s about doing something fun.

So it is with a solid majority of writers’ handbooks and companions.  They’re boring, matronly cohorts who just want to sit around and do repulsively dull things all day:

“I know you need to get out of the house, how about we go out to eat?!?! Bakers Square!!”

“I could use some help sorting my pantry!”

“Write a description of the room you’re in!”

I can’t tell you, specifically, what some of the most revolting prompts in the books were because, in a fit, I got rid of most the books.  I found them practically useless, uninspiring, not very challenging, and generally depressing.  I donated one to my English department’s undergraduate literary journal for use in helping them conduct poetry workshops…which, in hindsight, was probably an act of hostility, if not sabotage.

Sometimes the problem was the overbearing detail with which prompts were presented:

“In this chapter, we will work on _______.  Here are some prompts focusing on _______.  Write with ______ in mind.”

In other cases, the prompt was simply nothing a person wouldn’t think to do on his/her own and obvious enough to be of no help to anyone.  The ubiquitous “dream journal” prompt is a good example.

Perhaps it’s best not to focus on the faults of the writing companion industry.  Maybe it’s better to try to suss out what is compelling about Mayer’s list.

Though Mayer’s list does include the suggestion of a dream journal in more than one place, what it does not have is an entire chapter–complete with instructions on where in your bedroom to set your notebook–on dream-journaling.  Additionally, it contains a prompt that involves day-dreaming and dreaming in every sense of the word, including aspriations, short and long-term goals, pipe dreams, etc.

Under the suggestion to “Write the unwriteable,” she offers the example, “Write an index.”  I have no idea what this means.  I’ve seen all kinds of written indices.  What is going on?  What kind of index would be unwriteable?  Like a cross-reference?  Write a cross-reference?  Of what?

On and on in this manner, Mayer’s prompts range from simple to elaborate and from straightforward to high-theory. They are numerous; they are open to interpretation; they come in both long and short-term.  There are suggestions for both prose and poetry (fiction and non) and for both the very odd and the very formal.  They can be combined or reduced.  One size fits most.

The list in and of itself gives the sense of having been composed with relative spontaneity and potentially even in one sitting, in a free-associative way, with little self-editing and no attempt to explain itself or what each prompt is intended to do or generate.  Compared to the formally structured and professionally edited and packaged tendencies of most writing manuals and companions, Mayer’s list seems far more conducive to the state of mind most writers would prefer to be in when they are suffering a dearth of their own ideas.  As one might expect from a Language poet’s product,  the list is elicitive rather than instructive or declarative, making it potentially the single (most) productive application of LangPo theory I have seen.

(I kid!  I kid!)

In that way, what is best about Mayer’s list is that it is organic and cooperative.  It encourages organic writing and it seems to stem from organic writing–from Mayer’s own genuine tendencies rather than a spirit of punditry.  It is a study in meta-functionality; I think there is a good chance that this list was originally a writing exercise in and of itself.  It generated a written product, and here I am reviewing it, generating a written product about generating written products.

But a review was not my intent.  I have shared this list with a couple of other writer friends and was surprised to find that very few people have heard of it.  I can’t say that it’s one-of-a-kind; there may be other lists out there like it.  Some may be just as good or even better.  But this is the one I know about, and it raises interesting questions about how we, as writers, exercise (as in practice or “do”) our talents.  At some point, it seems to me, if you’re doing all the same exercises all the time, you should expect to become a caricature of natural human form.

Stiff, like the greased-up body-builder guys.  All the strength of Hercules but comically incapable of wiping your own ass.

I want to be able to wipe my own ass.

Everyone is different.  There is nothing worth denying in that statement.  But if, like me, you ever get sick of your own voice or your own ideas or, worse, you don’t have any ideas at all, I offer Mayer’s list as a resource.

For my part, I’m making an investment.  I don’t consider myself a particularly experimental writer, so this could be painful.  But I do bore easily, and boredom quickly gives way to creative lethargy.  So, for a few months (or until I get sick of it), I will let Mayer’s list serve as a tortuous Safety Dance-at-high-volume–an intentional rattling of pans, whirring of the coffee grinder, flushing of the toilet, running of the microwave and leaving it to beep, bounding up (and thundering down) stairs.  When it comes to rousting my reticent sense of creative adventure, I will make getting up easier than staying in bed.

JC: After the Workshop centers around Jack Hercules Shannon – yeah, Hercules, no shit – he had a story published in the New Yorker when he was at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He was working on a novel, a rising star. Anthologized. He had the pedigree and the stuff to make it big. Somewhere, however, something went wrong. Twelve years later, he’s given up on that novel, and on writing altogether, scraping an income together by squiring authors around town for book signings and dinners, forgetting, when possible, what might have been.

Then he picks up an author who disappears just before a shitstorm of bad pr, and later the same day plays chauffeur/metaphorical punching bag to the literary flavor of the month, all while feeling a personal upheaval he’s been avoiding for years.

This is funny stuff. Jack wonders the snowbound streets of Iowa City hounded by a maniacal publicity manager from NYC, a hot-and -cold ex-fiance, and a former literary star now down on his own luck. They drink and scheme and lie their way from bars to book signings.

There’s a lot to like in After The Workshop, especially the hilarious cast of characters, who you know from your own workshops, bookstores, publishers, and quite possibly the comments section of this site. Lots of fun, reminescent in lots of ways to Wonder Boys.

Check back tomorrow for John McNally’s contribution to the the When We Fell In Love Series.


It was June. Anna was subletting from a traveling friend, hoping a strange city would inspire her to write and to reach a decision about a man. I was crashing on a friend’s sofa, avoiding a waning relationship back home and struggling with the early pages of my own book. Together, we slunk through a steamy New York City, lovelorn and confused and roasting in the heat.

For the last couple of years I’ve struggled with my identity as A Writer. My once daily passion has become, at times, a chore, an onus. My dear old friend now wears an ugly hat and is rarely invited in to visit.

In an effort to change the Pavlovian responses I feel towards something that used to bring me a greater high then any drug or alcohol, and brought me more joy than the company of most people, I’ve begun to give myself exercises in writing and, much to my timid excitement, they appear to be working. Words are appearing on the screen and my face, as I type those words, seems to be smiling.

EXERCISE 1: Have a friend give you a sentence or paragraph. The weirder and more lateral the better. Read that sentence and start writing. Don’t think too much about it.

I was surprised to find a mural of the Apollo theater in his bathroom. I’d snuck away from the party when I figured no one would notice, hoping to find a quiet place to snort some coke. The knowledge of the foil wrapped gram inside my pocket was burning a hole in my brain and the intensity of the company I was keeping was decimating my confidence. I needed a pick me up, some powdered personality, a snort of self-assurance. There’s nothing worse than a room full of Nobel Laureates to intimidate the crap out of me.

Our host was a small man, forty-something, bald. His nose bulbed and flowered at the end like a strange red fruit. He’d caught me staring earlier and I’d been mortified by the look in his eyes as he accessed my brain and read my thoughts. I felt obvious. What was I doing here anyway? Why me? And where the fuck was Sylvia?

Sylvia was my girlfriend. Kind of. We’d been dating for about six months. We went to parties, screwed a lot, ate expensive food and took expensive drugs. She gave great head and liked to give it. Anywhere.

And so we went everywhere.

I took her to ball games, the park, movies, to visit my parents, Saks Fifth Avenue…. my old school. She blew me in different locations as if she was checking off a to-do list of urgent things she had to do, and places she had to do them, before she died… if she wanted to get in to heaven.

I wanted a blow-job now. A blow job, and a line of blow. I looked around, a cursory kind of look, expecting to find her nearby, but the room was too full, the people too colorful. Huge palms and brocade draperies obscured parts of the room.

I frowned. No sign of her. I took the nearest exit, a dark paneled hallway, and made for the bathroom. It was unlocked. I entered. It was a sight to behold. The walls had been painted to look like an over-sized replica of the Apollo. I was dwarfed by the scale of the neon sign, overwhelmed by the immensity of the scope, and baffled by the notion that anyone would want this kind of kitsch weirdness on the wall of their john. But that wasn’t all. It was the sight of our host going down on Cynthia while she leaned back against the towel rail that really threw me.

Our eyes met.

“Ah fuck” I said, taking the aluminum wrapped powder out of my pants pocket, opened it and tipped a hearty pile onto the marble topped counter. You just can’t win ’em all, I thought, as I bent over and inhaled.

EXERCISE 2: Pick a word you love and imagine that you have to convince other people to love it. Put that word in a story or essay.

It’s my favorite time of day.

Well. That’s a lie. I don’t really have favorite anythings, but, right this second, as I type, it’s a time of day that has a special name, and definitely a special magic about it.

It’s the time of the day just after dusk and right before twilight.

It’s called…. The Gloaming.

The Gloaming is when magic happens. Fireflies awaken and fairies stir in the gnarled boughs of ancient oaks. Younger children are tucked into warm beds while their brothers and sisters are allowed to read on for ten more minutes, and couples throw matches into bunches of dry kindling, then snuggle on rugs while the flames flicker and groove.

The Gloaming is a time when life changes. The stars appear to be closer, the earth further away. The Gloaming is the world you see when you look into a mirror and everything seems better, different, more alive.

The Gloaming calls for bottles of fine wine to be uncorked and friends to gather around kitchens, clamoring for more food, more drink, more conversation. It is the few allotted minutes of the last hour before darkness.

As I type the darkness grows, the shadows become deeper and the last threads of the torn fabric that made up this afternoon are ushered into the realms of memory.

The Gloaming is now over.

Good night.

EXERCISE 3: Pick a moment in your life that made you FEEL a great deal of STUFF. Write a brief story of predetermined length that includes as many visual references to Place and Feeling.

“You’re the most romantic sumbitch I’ve ever met in my life.” She said.

He smiled at her fondly. “This is the seventeenth goodbye we’ve said in the last two months. Aren’t you ever going to bloody leave?”

Laughing, she conceded.

“Melted, I drip away.”

The last embrace, the last pang, the last desperate effort to burn the imprint of his skin to hers, and then nothing. They parted ways the final time.

The taxi pulled away, a yellow beast in a black night, and the rain came down like a gift from above. Wet streets and tear-stained cheeks mirrored the lights from tall buildings.

Flickering images in her brain played back the story of her last adventure… the touches, the music, the song sweetly sung in a sacred moment in a stolen bedroom in a loft in Nolita. Fingers on her back, playing in her hair. Tenderness and love and loss and the giving away of need.

Tears rolled. Involuntarily.

Bathroom passions, silent laughter. Shhhh! Giggle.

The taxi drove on.

In the darkness something shifted, deep inside a sadness lifted, a hurt stopped aching.

A smile spread over wet cheeks and a frantic, beating heart filled with peace.

He was right, and she knew it. They had done New York.

Before the dawn she would be gone, knowing that the sun would rise on a different world for her, and that everything was possible.

Lastly, remember that, in the words of the very prolific Stephen King, writers write. So don’t stop. As hard and repellent and demoralizing and disgusting as it might be today, tomorrow it might suddenly seem sweeter than a mainlined bag of saccharine in the vein of a diabetic.

Just keep on truckin’.