Impossible things.

Some things are impossible but you do them anyway:  calling the car dealership to set up an appointment for servicing; making school lunches; tidying the shoes on the front porch AGAIN.  There is no explanation for why these things are impossible and walking five miles uphill and writing a novel and digging out the vegetable patch are not.  

(You think this is maybe a good analogy for life, that sometimes the simplest things are harder to do than the hard things, which turn out to be simple.)  You would embroider that on something if finding the time for needlecrafts wasn't also impossible.

Analogy or analogue?

You can never keep those two words straight in your mind.  There are lots of examples of words you confuse, which is shameful, as words are your business.  You can't think of any right now, but you know there is more than one example.  There must be.  

Getting your taxes ready is also impossible.

As is packing.

There is a pain in your neck when you look to the left.

There is also some sort of lump in your jaw that crackles when you open your mouth very wide.  You are sure that someone will walk by the window and see you opening and shutting your mouth, to re-create the crackle, and think you've gone mad.  

Maybe you have.

Probably not though.

You don't actually have time for madness.

Also, something is going on in your stomach that is either the flu or food poisoning.

Calling the doctor is one of those things that is too much trouble so instead you spend valuable time imagining a future when your stomach does not repeatedly reject the toast that you gently feed it and your jaw doesn't crackle and you can look to the left with impunity.  You consider calling this "meditation" but it can't possibly count, because at the same time you are writing a blog post.

And opening and closing your mouth.   The fish on the counter is staring at you approvingly.  He is probably assuming that you are simply communicating with him.


Actually, you aren't.

You are writing.

You are thinking obsessively about your novel and about how you can call the fire department to ask how to clean up gasoline splashed on a building foundation without sounding like an arsonist who should be put on some sort of Arson Alert list.

The dog is at the groomers.  

Writing when the dog is not lying by your feet is also impossible.  You keep getting up and looking around, like something is missing, which is fitting, because something IS missing:  the dog.  You hadn't realized how important she was to your process.

And because you hate writers who use the word "process", you are now required to hate yourself, which is also impossible.

Almost as impossible as not hating yourself.

Do six impossible things before breakfast, The White Queen said.

But you already had breakfast, so it's too late for that.  


Where The Bullies Are.

He's asked you not to write about him on Facebook and you know that he means "on the internet" and you want to honour that, you really do, but then a thing happens and you want to tell everyone so that the collective EVERYONE can say, "Oh, that is soooooo wrong" and that same faceless, unknown everyone can reassure you that you are not the bad guy, but of course, you are telling the story, so you will tell it your way, so that you will be right and the man in the line ahead of you at the bank will be the wrongest person in history, Captain Wrong on the S.S. Wrong, a ship that will sink under our mutual distaste for that which he said in front of you, in line, at the bank.


 Let me paint the picture:


Say there is a little boy who has to have testing for something that he doesn't want to be tested for.  And say this testing is pretty exhausting and extends over multiple hours.

Say that after this testing, you pass a bakery.  

Say that you stop and say, "You know what?  You were so great today for that testing that we will stop here and you can pick a special dessert for you and your sister for after dinner tonight."

Say you are on a diet and can't have a treat yourself, though you are NEVER on a diet and ALWAYS have a treat, but not today.   

Say that he carefully chooses two very tiny cakes cut into the shape of Easter eggs, about one inch by two inches, decorated with the tiniest of sugar flowers.  

Say the lady at the bakery carefully puts these treasures into two separate brown paper bags, which your little boy carries like he's carrying the Hope diamond, vigilant for thieves or accident potential.

Say after that you have to go to the bank and the lineup is long.

Say he says, "Can I go sit at that golden table?"  

Say there is, in the corner, randomly, is a table covered with a golden cloth with a purple chair beside it.  The King's Table.

Say that you say, "Sure, of course."

Say that he goes and he can't resist taking one easter egg out of the bag and breaking off a tiny flower and eating it.

Say that's the scene.

"Disgusting," the man in front of you says to his wife.

"What?" she says.  

You are only half listening because it's impossible not to and because the line isn't moving and you are annoyed and two of the tellers close at the same time and start an unecessarily loud conversation about how long each other should take for their break.  There is a collective sigh as everyone in the line immediately ages five years.  You look at the clock to see if you have time for this, after all, kicking yourself for forgetting your bank card, in the pocket of the coat you wore yesterday when you took the kids for a five mile hike, at the end of which you treated them to lemonade.  And paid with your bank card.  Which went into your pocket instead of your purse, which was under the seat of your car a few miles away.

You continue half-listening because you are curious.  What is so disgusting?

"Portly," the man is saying.  "Round.  Shocking.  Where are his parents?  I hate to even see it."

Then you realize that he is talking about your son, who, at his royal table, is eyeing his easter egg as though he has won the lottery.   He is proud of his egg.  He sees people in the line seeing him and he assumes that they are envying his egg.  Wishing they were him, so that they too could have an egg. 

"Two bags of candy," the man says.  "What a shame.  What a shame.  That boy.  He's disgusting."

Immediately, your hands and legs start shaking, which is what happens to you when you know you are about to enter a confontation.  You just hope you don't cry.

"Is my son bothering you?" you say.

"Oh," he says, half-laughing, half-snorting.  "Is THAT your son?"

"Yes," you say.  "He's not even eating it, by the way.  It's his dessert for tonight.  Which he earned.  And it isn't candy.  And one of the bags is for his sister.  And he deserves it, after the four hour appointment he just had."  Then you correct yourself, as though this man is the judge and you are the defendant and it's important to be correct.  "Three hours," you say.  Like that matters.

"Oh," he says, and turns his back.

You feel like you failed at that.   You are so angry.

Your son, who worries so much about bullies that often he is unable to enjoy normal activities with normal friends -- your son, who finds bullies everywhere, cannot be right.  There cannot be a bully behind every smiling face.  

There just can't.   

What your son doesn't know yet is that the bullies aren't just at the playground.

They are at the bank.

In the lineup.  

If I was going to do it again, I'd do it all differently.  

I don't know what that would have looked like though.  I like to think that I would have used intelligent words to correct the man's misconception of my son and his sweet tooth.  My son, who is not fat, not by any measurement.  My son, who shrivels with self-consciousness if anyone sees his slightly rounded belly, in case they judge him as fat.  My son, who already has the body-related self-loathing of an adolescent girl, hating hating hating hating what he looks like.  "I don't deserve to be alive," he'll say.  "I'm fat.  I'm disgusting.  I hate myself."

"No," you'll say.  "You're beautiful.  You're strong.  And you're actually a perfectly normal weight."

That man and his indiscriminate cruelty, that man is the bully.

The Bully is a 70-something man in a line up at a bank.

That man is everyone.

Screw him.

Screw everyone.

My son is beautiful.  My son earned that cake.  My son owes no one an explanation.  

And neither do I.

So why are my hands still shaking?

I still do not know what I should have said.  

I let my son eat the cake in the car.  I hoped only that we would pass the man, our windows down, my son laughing from the pleasure of the cake, the wind carrying our happiness to the ears of that man, so he would know what love sounds like.  

So he would understand what it feels like to be so wrong.


fish story.

The fish wants something from me.

When I come into view, he throws his whole fishy self against the glass of his tank, which is actually a clearance vase from Winners.  I move my face close to his.   I must look like a monster in the distortion of the glass, all hideous teeth and huge eyes.  His fins flail in frantic circles.  His bulging eyes meet mine.  

What?  I say.  Tell me.  

He darts against the glass, banging his head.

I feed him and he ignores the food raining down on him and keeps staring, following my movements.  If he could light a fire in there, he'd throw up a smoke signal that I still wouldn't be able to read.

Hey, he is saying.  HEY LADY.  

Tell me, I say.  What is it?

He taps his fishy face against the glass then, frustrated, swims down to the wrecked army jeep that he calls home. 

I don't know what he wants.  

I'm trying, I tell him.  I'm trying over here.

The fish makes me feel guilty.

Look, I explain to the fish.  You were born to this life.  It's not like if I hadn't bought you, you would be swimming free somewhere in a Vietnamese rice paddy.  You were born in a pet sweatshop.  You're just lucky you weren't taken home by someone who makes you guys fight for entertainment.  

His fins spin.  He watches me.

To the death, I say.  I think they let you fight to the death.

I feel worse and also, I wonder if I made that part up.  Do people actually do that or did I just read it in a book once?

Sorry, I tell the fish.  Anyway, I don't even know.

He rises up, then suddenly lurches, like he's going to breach right out of the water, landing in my outstretched hand.  Then, exhausted from the effort, he stops.    

I wonder if he dreams about stems of rice or other fish.  I wonder what he knows about shadows and light.


Or something.

Some scientists tagged a great white shark in the Atlantic to track migration patterns. The tagged shark swam in a shark-shaped pattern across the ocean.  

Maybe my kid's betta has a message, too.  I watch him swim.  I look for a pattern.

Sorry, I tell him again.  I have to go fold the laundry.

He sinks back into the broken door of his darkened jeep, his unread message breaking up into bubbles on the surface of his bowl.

As I type, I can hear the scuttle scuttle scuttle of the rat that is trapped between my exterior wall and the interior plaster.  "Scuttle" implies that it's something quiet, like I'm straining to hear him, when really -- due to the lack of insulation in the house -- I can't NOT hear him.  I put in my headphones and turn Audible up as loud as I can.  Harold Fry continues to walk north towards Queenie.  I pretend that I can't hear the rat now, over the dulcet tones of Bridget Jones' father, assuring me that Queenie will, indeed, stay alive for as long as Harold keeps walking.

I have a feeling that she won't.

The rat, however, seems to be immortal.

I am writing a novel about sharks that isn't about sharks, but actually about people, like all novels really are.  My novel originally also had an amusement park, but I'm taking that part out, word by word, starting with the title.  I am carrying my protaganist and his sharks in a big, unruly bag on my back, and slowly slogging through the dense fog of the revision.  The boy and his sharks are heavy and awkward, but I don't mind.  It's a good book. 

I only hope the sharks don't get hungry and chew off one of my arms before I get to the last page. 

On the news, I hear that there are wolves moving further and further south towards the city where I live.  I don't blame them.  The climate is best here on the south tip of the island, particularly if you don't mind the rain.  I'm not really worried.  I'm pretty sure that my dog would protect me from a wolf, and/or that a wolf would stay away from the dog.

But we spend a lot of time walking in the woods, so I teach my kids how to make a tourniquet from the dog's leash, just in case.  

"I hope it doesn't bite your head," The Birdy says to The Bun. "I'd have to wrap the leash around your neck." 

"It could bite your heart," he says, gravely.  "Then I'd have to tie it around your ..." he stops.  Then he shrugs.  "I don't know," he says.  "You'd probably die."

"Muuuuuuuum," she whines.

"Listen," I say.  "You only use the tourniquet if it's an arm or a leg."

"What if it swallows your leg?" says The Bun.

"Your leg is too big to be swallowed," I say.  "Anyway, wolves don't bite people very often.  You're more likely to be killed by a vending machine tipping over on your head." 

"You can't put a tourniquet on that," The Birdy says, darkly.

"Quite right," I say, wondering what sort of bad dreams exactly they will each have tonight.

I spend more time than I should wondering if my dog feels ripped off, if she comminucates with passing dogs about their daily walk schedules, their regular play times.  If she thinks, "Why didn't I get adopted by that other family?"

(All my pets feel ripped off.  Don't even ask about the birds.)

The dog wants to go for a walk. She follows me around with hope in her eyes.  Now?  NOW?   NOOOOOWWWW???  She licks my feet, as if to remind me what they are for:  walking.   Walk, her eyes say.  Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk.

I have to mow the lawn, I tell her.  I'm sorry.  It's just that if the lawn is mowed, this looks less like a house that may or may not be inhabited by rats.  You're probably right about the other family.  Will you still protect me from the wolves?   

She looks at me pathetically and sighs, then takes up her station on The Birdy's lower bunk, her head resting on an old Winnie The Pooh.  The resident rat begins the arduous work of making several emergency exits through the roof, sawing through the ancient siding with his beaver-like teeth and occasionally running a few laps around the inside of The Birdy's bedroom ceiling to remind us of his presence, as though we could forget.  The dog stoically ignores the scuttling and stares at me, stone-faced, giving up her dream of paths and forests. 

In this way, I know she's saying, Well, if you took me for more frequent walks MAYBE I'd help with your rat situation, but as it stands, I'm on a break.  Good luck with the wolves.

Fine, I sigh, let's go for a walk.

I reach for the leash and Harold Fry.  

It's important to keep the pets happy.  You never know when you might need them to save you.

When was the last time you were in your crawlspace?  the exterminator asks.

Thursday, I say.  Why?  Are there wolves down there?  

I laugh, as though I've said something funny. 

Well, he says.  No.  But seems like it's taken on a bit of water.

Oh, I say, stopping laughing.  Oh no.  

Yes, he says.  You may want to take a look.

Once he is gone, I go down and look.

The crawlspace is puddled with shadowy lakes.  A golf ball floats by.  On my hands and knees, I think about money and how much this is all going to cost.  I consider crying but I don't want to add to the volume of water already accumulated on the cement floor.   I nudge a few things out of the way and find a mouse, severed by a mouse trap, under an inch of water.

I think of the fish on the kitchen island, swimming around his discounted vase, in and out of his tipped over jeep.  Maybe, I think, I should release him down here.  In the lake district that is the crawlspace, he can swim amongst my Christmas ornaments, mouse corpses, ruined book copies and sodden boxes of old toys.  

He can patrol the house for rodents, stealthily biting the legs from unwanted intruders as they swim along above him in the flotsam and jetsam of my stored life, a silent ninja in the dark depths.

I mean, you just never know with fish. You can't ever know what one might do to save you from the wolves, the lady who keeps him in a vase on the kitchen counter, his view only occasionally obscured by the tilting pile of laundry that stacks up against the glass walls of his tiny, terrible home.  





a how-to guide for writers (and mothers)

How to be a writer:

Write something.

Allow for edits.


How to be a mother:

Love someone.

Allow for messes.




as they say,

eyes rolling,

jeans hanging

down too low,

flashing underwear




How to do anything:

Try again.


To be a writer,

you must mother 


with the type of




required to make

peace cranes.

By which I mean

the sort of patience

that you don't have

for your actual



To be a mother,  

you must be daughtered

by someone who laughs

like a rusty gate.

You must have a boy

prone to honesty,

who will one day say,

"Do you ever wish that

your eyes weren't so wrinkly?"

When they both agree that

at certain angles

you look like the platypus

from Phinneas and Ferb,

you will understand



Write a novel.

If you don't do this,

you will ferment

like that piece of fruit

that you left in the bowl

on the counter

since (possibly) last summer 

because cleaning that bowl

seems to be impossible.

You have so much to do.

To write,

I mean.

Flies will start

hovering soon,

annoying you.

You should probably 

clean that up.

Carve some time

out of a bar of soap.

Shape it like

a polar bear.

Soap lends itself

to northern species.


To be a mother,

you must have a child

who looks at you and says,

"I am going to throw up" 

and then does, 


on your new shoes,

triggering a chain reaction

that makes his sister

do the same.

You must not 

freak out

about this.



Save other people

before allowing yourself

to breathe

into the dangling yellow

plastic mask

above your seat.

That is the rule.

Follow that one.


To be a writer,

you must identify as a dork.

You must remember that a dork

is actually a whale's penis

so you must amend this

to nerd,

which -- as far as you know --

doesn't refer to any

animal's genitals.


Amend everything.


To be a mother,

you must forgive yourself


for all the things

you did wrong

by Pinterest standards.


Keep going forward.

Pick the children up from school.

Take them to a sporting activity.

Cook something.

Feed them.

Start again as necessary.

Look at the way the sunbeam

is beautiful on the dust,

not the dust itself.


As a writer, you understand

that it's all Boggle:

Unscramble it.

Take your time.

But also,


before you



Pull the car over,

type it on your phone,



As a mother,

you will be stunned

by the way 

your children

draw hearts

and monsters

with such


Please pretend 

not to notice

that the monsters

sort of look

like you


a platypus.



Don't forget to notice how yellow

and perfect the daffodils are

that you bought for yourself at the shop --

forgetting the dishwashing liquid --

as a reward for taking the Halloween

pumpkin off the front steps at the

same time as you took down the 

Christmas lights and removed the

dead strawberry plant from last June.


To be a writer, do this:

Every day, take five minutes

to think about the jobs

you could have excelled at,

if not for writing.

Plastic surgery, maybe,  

or family law.

Interior design.

Real estate.

Cancer research.

You must be very swift

at doing the calcuations

that will ultimately prove 

that writing may not have been 

the best route

to frequent vacationing

and a house big enough

to have a separate wing

for you and your writing desk,

away from your children

and the way they sometimes

spontaneously burst into

firework-like fistfights

flailing starbursts

and tears

while brushing their teeth,

wiping their spit

on the shower curtain.


It must never occur to you

that quitting is an option.

Quitting would be impossible,

like the Hodge conjecture

or actually keeping your 

garden alive

all summer.


Do this:

Read all the books.

Even the ones

written by your friends,

which -- after all -- 

are the hardest to digest,

gorgeous and perfect and

acid-forming and successful

as they are.



is an octopus.

It is bigger than you.

Reconsider getting

in the water.


Do you really really really

really really




Come on.




Don't say

I didn't warn you.

There are things

lurking down there,

that's all I mean.


To be a writer,

you must know

that ravel 

is a contronym.

See also:





And that

"I am writing"

means both

that you are writing


that you are not writing











The tentacle grasp

of mothering

holds you in a 

safe embrace

of routine

and expectations

and this miraculous


thing you

couldn't have 

imagined and possibly

don't deserve:




To be a writer,

you must take frequent

walks in the woods.

Take your camera.

You never know

when you might see

something beautiful.

or when an owl

will fly into your face

and no one will believe you

unless it's on



How to be:


You will need

the following:


The ability to admit

that you are



A good vacuum.

Twenty-six letters.

Some kind of pen.

A story to tell.

The belief that you

are actually good

at this.


An understanding

that sadness

and joy

are the same



An ability to not care

what other people think

of you

and your skills.




of course,

some sort of 

terrifyingly beautiful


holding you close

or down

depending on how

you want 

to interpret

that metaphor.



Let's say you go for a walk.  

Let's say it's a beautiful day, cold but sunny.  

Let's say it's almost sunset.  

Let's say that what you do is you grab your camera and walk up a mountain.   You hurry, so you don't miss it, forgetting as you always do that sunset actually goes on for quite a long time at this time of year.  

Let's say that when you get to the top, there are dozens and dozens of people, all looking at the sinking sun and pointing.  

"Just look at it!" they say.   You are all looking at it.   The sun splays oranges and yellows across the horizon.  

"Look at that," you agree.   "Just look at it."  

Your dog barks at you, bored.  But the lakes below the hill are covered with a rising mist and the silhouettes of the branches are perfectly outlined against the sky and if you look down, you can see people taking pictures of each other in the yellowing light.

So let's just say that just for half an hour or so, you feel like you are part of a big family of people who have walked up this hill to see this thing that actually happens every day, but just today feels more beautiful than usual.  These people are smiling and laughing and talking and happy.  These people are happy.  A tribe of sunset watchers, smiling.  They take pictures of each other.  You take pictures of them taking pictures of each other.

These are your people, you think.  

Your dog barks at you again and you think, "I suppose that I should walk down before it gets dark."  

Let's just say all those things happened.

On your way down the familiar trails, you feel buoyed by the beautiful sunset and the pictures and the way everyone seemed so friendly and happy and appreciative of the sky and the mountain and the view.  You think, specifically, that this makes you feel magnanamous.  You aren't strictly sure that magnanamous means what you've always thought it means, but that is exactly what you are thinking, watching your feet carefully on the darkening path.  Jovially, like that.  "Why, gosh darn it, I feel damn near MAGNANAMOUS!"  

You feel like you understand something that you didn't understand before.

On the backside of the mountain, the side not facing the flaming orange of the sinking sun, there is ocean and islands.  Over the ocean, the sky is hanging softly, pale pink and mauve and blue, prettier than its flashier counterpart.  Smoother.  Gentler.

So, of course, you take more pictures.  Because there it is, so beautiful, no different maybe than every day, but that doesn't matter, for the sake of our story.  

Let's just say it is now darkening, the trees stretching their shadows langourously across the path, forcing you to look down so that you don't, say, lose your footing and fall.   You could take the road, but you like the path better, the ups and downs of it, the way the light is giving up its grip on the salal and water-soaked trail, the way the darkness is slowly sinking down around you like a long exhalation.

Let's just say, then, that you pass someone on the path.

And like you always do, you smile and say, "Hi!"  

There you are, buoyed by the beauty and the magnanimity of everything in the world, saying "Hi" to a stranger on the path, like you've said "Hi" to thousands of strangers on paths.  

This is where the story changes and becomes unpleasant.  

Let's say, for example, that this particular stranger does not want to be greeted.  Maybe he is very sad or very angry or otherwise not on the same page as you, with the sunset and the people and la la la through the shadows.  Either way, he opts for, "GO FUCK YOURSELF!", right there, suddenly lurching violently up in your face, his spittle on your cheek, his middle fingers waving in your eyes, but walking fast, away from you now, and past, and gone.

And you are left there on the trail, frozen in place, suddenly aware of horror film scenarios and of being a woman alone in the darkening woods on a trail where no one will likely hear you scream.

Let's say that you walk the rest of the way on legs that are finding it impossible to believe that they can both shake like this and still support the whole stupid weight of you and your stupid smile and stupid camera and stupid magnanamous "HI!" and let's not get started on your whole STUPID HAPPY SMILE.

On the plus side, nothing actually happened.

Here is what actually happened:

You hike up to see a sunset.  On the way down, you see a stranger on the trail.   Without stopping, he hands you a beautifully wrapped gift.   Black, say, with red and orange ribbon curling down the side like flames.   "But I..." you start to say, but you can see he's angry, so you accept the gift and turn to walk away.

He stops you, wrenching from your pocket a gift you didn't know you had. Think of it as pale blue, a pink that fades into purple so subtly that you can't see where one gives way to the other.   He doesn't thank you, but that's OK.  It's the giving that counts, you suppose, and he gave you something, so it's only fair.

And maybe it will make him less hostile.

You don't like him though.  There is something.  You are uncomfortable.  His gift is sharp in your hands and somehow too heavy.   You can't think why you don't just put it down, abandon it, but you carry it.   A gift given is one obligated to be received, you suppose. 

It's only when you get back to your house, securing the locks carefully behind you, as though he might have followed you home with his sour expression and aggressive words, that you open the gift and inside the box, there it is.  It's lying there on its side under a black stone that weighs more than anything.  It is a small scorpion.   Not moving, let's say.  But still upsetting.  You know immediately what it is.  It is Fear.

You drop the box, which tips, and the scorpion gets out and immediately multiplies, becoming hundreds of scorpions, all over the mountain trail that you once loved, as recently as an hour ago.  

"Well, I didn't ask for that," you say out loud to your dog, who cocks her head at you and then wanders away to go lie on your bed while you are obviously distracted.

By now, of course, the man has openened your gift, too.   Sitting, as he probably is, atop the mountain in the dark, the sunset-watching crowd all at home now, in front of warm fires, remembering how pretty it was.  Above him, the black sky is flecked with a scattershot of stars.   It's only then that you realize that what he got from you wasn't something you meant to give away at all, much less to someone so undeserving.  

It was your favourite thing.  

Inside that box was a small stone, cool and white.  Nothing much to look at.  The kind of thing you don't realize that you treasured until it's gone.  In fact, you hadn't even known you'd been carrying it with you all this time.   It is, after all, just a feeling.  Or, rather, two feelings.  

Let's call them Safety.  And Security.  

Gone with the man in the black jacket who was too late to see the setting sun.   

You can picture him up there now, sitting on the outcropping (where you just recently stood, absorbed in the beauty of it all), rubbing the stone between his thumb and forefinger, feeling the smooth coolness of it there, before dropping it in his coat pocket, another one for his collection, his smile widening in the darkness, his teeth glowing white as bone.