A Mirror

This prompt is from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves: Write about a mirror. I wrote this on a writing date with two other women, one of whom wrote this prompt too. We wrote in two different directions. I listened to her after and thought, mirrors are rich for memory and metaphor. This here is from the other day, but I’ll likely revisit the prompt again and post more:

In the bedroom I shared with my sister, we had a narrow mirror framed in blue, nailed to our closet door. One night I was at my desk when Dad came in to talk. I turned around in the chair, straddling the seat. I kept looking at myself in the mirror: the slope of my bare thigh, the curve and cords of my calf. “Will you listen? Stop looking at yourself,” Dad said. I said I wasn’t. And he said, yes I was.

I looked at myself a lot. I leaned in to examine my pores. I stepped back and turned around, looked over my shoulder to see how jeans fit. I put my swimsuit on to see how my body looked, broken into limbs by a practical navy blue racer. I practiced my smile for yearbook photos. I tilted my head, parted my hair on the other side, put lipstick on that I didn’t wear out. I fogged the mirror with my breath and drew designs.

I still look at myself a lot. There are too many mirrors in my day: over the sink, at the door, on my visor; the plate-glass doors and shop windows I pass. I see myself full length and in parts. I mostly see myself in parts.

Already Wanting to Quit

Yesterday I wrote a post about my March April May Revision plan: about fifty thousand shoddy pieces of essay and fiction I’d like to slap into shape. I listed the pieces by theme or character title, with a cheery note about updating my progress on each, published the post, looked at it, trashed it.

March April May Revision will happen and I will post the process. But seeing the list in print – the same list I write out in my notebook when I need to see it still fits on a page, it isn’t such a wild reach – seeing the list in print made me want to quit.


Every third day I want to quit this work. It is work! My WP is valuable. But I often show up at the page and just write junk. I write my same messes over and over. The joy of generating a piece is tempered by the effort of revising that piece so that what I really want to say comes through.

I have learned to make myself finish a draft. Yesterday afternoon I looked through a few notebooks from 2009 and was shocked by how many of the pages were fiction starts, many of those characters left right where I wrote them. So I have learned to write my way to an end. And now I am learning to make myself revise. Take the feedback I’ve received, work with my own ideas, play, reshape, and revise my way to a finished work.

I need this revision practice. Over and over and over. I need enough practice to know what’s possible in my own work. I need to see that I can finish a work, many works. I need to practice the discipline of opening a file, rereading notes, thinking thinking thinking, and revising before I close the file and fear-eat an entire chocolate bar.

I won’t quit, but I’ll want to, again and again.

I Lost My Bike Lock First

This is a prompt from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves: These are the things I lost. Yesterday and today I played around with this prompt, listing lost things. Today I tried flash fiction:

I lost my bike lock first. Then I lost my bike. I lost my temper, out front of the County Market. I lost days and nights that summer, to nothing, to staring at the television or the sky. I lost my job waiting tables because I got tired of walking there.

I lost my roommate when he came back in August. He emptied his room into his hatchback and drove a few blocks to his girlfriend’s. I lost the microwave, even though his girlfriend probably already had one. He said I could keep his for forty bucks. I said who needs a microwave.

I lost all the occasional cigarettes I bummed and a playlist better than mine.

I lost track of the days, showed up for an exam that was yesterday. At semester I lost my parents’ approval and then their money. I lost my probationary status spring midterm. I lost a lot of weight, walking around campus wearing a backpack weighted with a courseload I quit.

I lost my story. I couldn’t remember what I told my parents or sister. I couldn’t remember what I told my old friends when I saw them and had to say hi. I couldn’t remember what I told my advisor about taking a year off. I couldn’t remember what I told myself that morning.

Black and White Tile

I used to want a kitchen with black and white tile and red appliances. This was in middle school, when I started taking stacks of magazines home from the free box at the library. Better Homes & Gardens, House Beautiful, Metropolitan Home. I looked at all the ads for Pella windows and Kohler faucets. One summer, my family camped near a Kohler showroom and took a tour, walking up and down aisles of toilets, tubs and shower stalls. My dad told us we were going to the Great Wall of China and said we were here, standing in front of a two-story high display of mounted toilets. I hadn’t known how lovely your plumbing could look, if you had the money.

I built my house on car rides, usually to the grocery store or church. I returned again and again to my kitchen, its smooth black and white tile floor. The magazines showed stainless steel appliances, not red. I swapped out my fridge and range. I kept the wall phone red. And the soda fountain stools at my high counter were cherry vinyl. The sink was deep, with a tall upside down J faucet.

We could eat on the patio, at the glass-topped table, next to the kidney-shaped swimming pool.

I didn’t venture much past my kitchen. I cut out a floor plan of a house I liked and kept it for years, unfolding the page and deciding how I might modify the upstairs, if I wanted a studio or darkroom. Sometimes I flipped through JC Penney catalogues and folded the corners of pages: heavy bedroom sets with fat pillows or matching cribs and change tables, for when the baby came. I imagined having a toothbrush holder on the wall under the vanity mirror, instead of the plastic cup we used. I thought I might put candles on my dining table.

But I think I returned to my kitchen so often because the kitchen was central to our family. It’s the best room in the house; ours had ugly orange and gold linoleum and cabinets that stuck in the summer and Mom who had breakfast ready in the morning and dinner in the oven at night. At our kitchen table we sang Happy Birthday and decorated leaf sugar cookies with icing the colors of autumn; we made Valentine’s Day mailboxes for elementary school parties; we made messes on the counter, learning to cook and bake. And so I wanted my kitchen to be the best room in my house, big enough and full enough, with sunlight coming in.

I Used to Be…But Now…

This is a great, loosening writing exercise from Room to Write by Bonni Goldberg. Fill a page with I used to be ___ but now ___ sentences. Here are some of mine, from a January entry:

I used to be angry but now I am cold.
I used to ache for quiet but now I am deaf.
I used to run fast but now I run long.
I used to want a kitchen with black and white tile but now I have a kitchen that feeds me.
I used to wander at night but now I sleep.
I used to blame you but now I forgive me.
I used to want more but now I live with less.

Fill a page. Loosen up more than I did. Circle a couple sentences you want to explore. Spend a page exploring.

At the Turn Of a Page

I remember being sixteen, curled by my bedroom window with my spiral bound notebook. I don’t remember why, but I was angry at my mom. I wrote “Mom is a bitch” in neat pencil print. I looked at that sentence, my stomach rolled a little, and I erased the words.

Mom is great.

But the truth of that tiny moment was that I thought she was awful and I wrote what I would never say aloud to a lunch table of girlfriends. That adolescent admission, erased, still etched permission to write what I do not say aloud. My sin surfaces. I don’t pretend it isn’t there. My salvation works out on the page, heart change charted through years of journal entries.

Sometimes I think what would happen if you read my notebooks. If you read what I do not say aloud. You would see

I am so ugly,

and beautiful

at the turn of a page.

Start Before You’re Ready

A week before leaving for college I was at the kitchen sink washing dinner dishes. I looked at my reflection in the dark window. Wait a year. A whispered impulse I still think about.

Waiting a year might have been better. I can’t say. But sometimes delay gains little. My husband and I waited to marry, going to premarital counseling for a year, and still said I do to the same cache of unsorted issues.

A couple years into our marriage we decided to wait another three or four before having children. I was pregnant the following month. And just as well: I don’t think anyone, really, begins their parenthood ready.

Now I want to share my writing. Ready and not ready at once: this is the first piece lifted from my notebook.