I Love You I Never Stopped, Take 2

Yesterday I scrolled through my blog archive to find a few unfinished prompts or exercises. Remember this? I’m not reposting the PostSecret postcard because when I sat down to write around

I love you
I never stopped
Call me
Lets make
a crazy
life together

I kept the note in mind, but dismissed the picture. Also, when I imagine my narrator writing this note, she has different penmanship and puts the apostrophe in “let’s.” Perhaps if I were true to the postcard, I’d write a narrator who prints and doesn’t think about punctuation. I’m not promising I’ll write this postcard prompt again, but maybe…

We were supposed to save everything for marriage. I remember Mom walking down the basement steps and seeing you and me snuggled on the couch. After you left, she asked if we’d kissed. I looked at my feet. “Hana,” she said, “You only get one honeymoon.” The next time you pulled me close, I wondered if that was too far. I was inches from everything, sitting next to you and watching a PBS documentary about Rwanda. Your hand burned a print on my thigh. You said we should go do something to help.

After dates, Mom asked how my honeymoon was. “Still there,” I’d say.

Once, you asked to listen to my heart and pressed your head against my left breast. I couldn’t breathe. I felt our restraint.

“Do you think we’ll get married one day?” I asked.

“Yes,” you said. I inched my sweater up so you could look at my belly and bra. You saw this when we swam in the summer, but this was winter. A little noise came out your mouth. I heard a creak upstairs and pulled my sweater down. Our youth group leader said a long kiss was hard to stop.

When we kissed, I was always thinking is this too far?

We had to let our universities know. We both cried. I hadn’t been accepted at Marquette. Every weekend, we promised. I missed you too much. At winter break you took me out for dinner and we both knew we couldn’t do another semester of texting, driving home every weekend.

I loved you more, after, when you still emailed me and called. I typed and deleted messages back. I replayed your voice, but never called. I didn’t go home that spring and when I saw you over the summer, you gave me a hug. I loved you more then, for your kindness.

I loved you more when the first boy I dated my sophomore year unhooked my bra with one hand and grinned. “Practice,” he said.

Remember we were going to Africa, to be what the church is supposed to be. We were going to take care of widows and orphans, feed the hungry. Remember we were going to learn Spanish and go to Ecuador and teach sustainable farming. Remember we were going to go to college together and spend junior year in France. Remember you were going to propose to me there and we’d get married after graduation and take my nursing degree and your teaching degree to jungles and deserts and mountains.

We knew all of this, sitting too close on the couch. We said it. We felt something as close to the Spirit as I’ve ever felt.

I’m a nurse. I emailed Doctors Without Borders. I’m going.

Come with me.

Sit too close. I have a little honeymoon left. I think of us, seventeen or eighteen, and how careful we were. It was too far to kiss long, but we were ready to fly to a country cut open by genocide.

I love you. I never stopped.

Trust The Process: Multigenre Narrative Continued

I enjoy the writing process. I’ve learned to relax when I have a piece in mind: I write it again and again until it’s ready to be written more fully and even then, it isn’t finished. I revise and rewrite and work my way to a finished piece that still might be added to or subtracted from later. These past five years I have learned to appreciate the practice and the process of writing, realizing that each piece shows up at its own pace.

This semester I am writing around a theme, just as I’m asking my students to do.

My theme: Just Up And Go

My first assignment, the Multigenre Narrative, will fit this theme, as will the majority of my other new pieces. This theme came from a week of sifting ideas in my notebook, and the idea is more a throwback to when I moved abroad than a comment on my current place.

I am wondering how the process might change as I seek pieces under a theme, rather than letting  a theme find me. Usually I live a theme, think it and consequently write it into piles of notebooks that yield a story or essay or two. Choosing a theme and exploring what might fit under Just Up And Go will be fun. (Why write if it isn’t fun, really?)

My writing practice remains anything goes and my revision work  must continue, but I’m kinda excited to create work centered on a single theme.

Phrase Response x 50

One of my favorite writing prompts books is Room to Write by Bonni Goldberg. Here is a prompt I like. Paraphrased:

Choose a phrase you hear a lot. Write it. On the next line, respond with your first thoughts. Now write the phrase again and your response. Do this fifty times. Rewriting the phrase is a natural reboot, prompting a fresh response.

I like this rapid-fire exercise because it’s designed to keep you  moving from one first thought to the next, pushing the editor away. 

Some phrases you might hear a lot:
I love you
What do you mean?
Can I help you?
Wait a minute
I’m fine

I’ll post what I come up with.

Just Up And Go

I’ve spent a week thinking about a theme for my multigenre narrative. What kept coming up in my writing was

Being an expat
Faraway friends
Keeping in touch

This is my eighth year abroad. I don’t miss living in the States. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but mostly I appreciate missing the inflammatory election year ad campaigns. I have written about moving abroad before, many times, in my notebooks. And I usually end the entries with anger or tears. Though I planned to leave the States soon after college, the exit was bumpy.

Actually, the exit was a nightmare.

There was nothing great about it. I was grinding my teeth. I very nearly hated my in-laws. By the end of it, I just wanted to get on a plane. I would have gone anywhere. When I write about this time, I want to find something that shows grace or purpose. Instead, I find a year that I’d like to undo. I wouldn’t know how to re-do it, unless I backpedaled a few more years and didn’t marry.

The other pain of writing about moving abroad is this: I feel obligated to include a line or two stating the obvious.

My in-laws are nice.

Great. See. They’re nice. It just happened that the year Justin and I moved abroad is a shitty stretch in our relationship with them. I think I am tired of writing the disclaimer. Yes, my in-laws are nice. I’ve said it three times now, and I mean it. But they also hated that we moved abroad. My father-in-law was angry and my mother-in-law told me I was taking her only son. I think they thought we wouldn’t really do it and when we did, signing contracts with a South American school, they were the only ones who watched our school’s recruitment video with frowns. My father-in-law wanted to know if there was an escape clause in the contract.

I almost said this was the escape clause.

I was so angry. For years I’d wanted to leave the Midwest. Early in our dating, Justin agreed to go with me. A few years out of college, we were finally packing crates to ship to Colombia. I wanted everyone to be excited. When my in-laws were not, I tried and failed at compassion. I could see their side but couldn’t generate any empathy. They had one kid who grew into an adult who wanted something different than his parents. That’s the story of a million. More.

So I was angry over my head. This was when I began thinking how much happier my in-laws would be if their son had married a local Polish girl and took a mortgage one town over. I thought my husband might be happier with that outcome too, given the tension of family dinners.

I simmered for years. A couple years after we moved abroad, I said something to my mother-in-law (no doubt recorded in angry cramped cursive in a journal) and she told me, not unkindly, that I needed to get over it. She was right. I needed to get over it. For years, anytime I thought of my in-laws, I got tense. We learned to keep our tone cordial, missing out on a fuller, truer range. Maybe that’s just how I know them now, carefully.

That doesn’t feel okay and it doesn’t seem right that a painful break away should continue to sway our current relationship. I can say my in-laws are nice (four times) but I can also say how it happened. And I can say I want better yet.

Multigenre Narrative

I wrote hardly anything my first year of teaching. I took a crate of student journals home and read those, but neglected my own.* During my second year of teaching, I figured out a way to keep a writing habit. I completed my own assignments. At first, because I needed examples to show students and I wanted to model the writing process. But after a couple of years of this, I thought it’d be fun to compile all my comparison/contrast essays, pantoums and opinion pieces in a collection I’d call My Assignments. This idea never went beyond the image of a book cover and Oprah appearance, stalling out when I realized very few people would enjoy reading a comparison/contrast of  my parents’ and in-laws’ garages. My parents and in-laws might enjoy such a piece least.

I still write alongside my students. And I have a new assignment to start the semester: the multigenre narrative. This serves me well, too, because I need a kick in my creative pants. I’ve assigned multigenre narratives in the past, drowning students in genre options. This time, I’m requiring only five genres, three already set: fiction, poetry, nonfiction.

Parameters, if you want to play along at home:

Tell a story or explore a theme using five distinct genres. Each piece should be able to stand alone. The pieces, ordered purposefully, build a complete narrative.

Fiction: 500-1000 words
Poetry: Whatever you can defend as poetry
Nonfiction: 500-1000 words
2 Super Special Bonus Genres of Your Choice: Go nuts

The pieces are short, the turnaround is quick, and the yield will be a group of young writers ready for more fun.

I’ll post what I come up with. Give me a couple of weeks. If you try this, or have completed multigenre narratives or seen great examples, please let me know. Post a link in the comments.


*I don’t read read my students’ writing practice anymore. I take a close look only if they ask, respecting their privacy, glancing through to check completion. When a word or phrase catches my attention, I ask. I like talking about the process. But beyond that, I prefer my students’ notebooks to be their own space.

Revision: We Want Tone

I cut just over a third of the words from the previous draft of “We Want Tone.” I like to practice revision on pieces I’m not radically invested in. Sometimes, the drafting and revising of a so-so work gives me a piece I’m more likely to continue exploring or revising. Even if I eventually abandon a practice piece, the practice remains worthwhile. I spent about an hour cutting words from the following and re-ordering some of the dialogue. I also made small changes to format.

Kelly leaves the gym dressed in the spandex tights and moisture-wicking shirt she put on that morning. She’s late to meet two prospective clients, who wave her over at the coffee shop. Jill nudges an iced latte across the table and points to Kelly’s shirt. Strong Is The New Sexy. “I love that,” says Jill, “I wanna be the new sexy.”

“Me too,” Abi says.

Kelly smiles, takes out her tablet, swiping the screen to open

Jill and Abi

“I really need this,” says Jill, “I feel like a box after two kids. No waist.” She runs her palms ribs to hips. “Forty-eight kilos, but I want a waist again.”

“We want tone,” Abi says.

Jill and Abi

“And I want a butt,” Jill says, “I used to dance. But I want a butt like yours.”

Kelly laughs. “Well, squats work.”

“I have a butt,” Abi says, “And a belly.” She takes handfuls of her stomach rolls and laughs. “I’m mostly in this for health. She suggested it.”

“If we do it together, we’ll actually workout,” Jill says.


Kelly types, looks up. “I can meet twice a week. We’ll use bodyweight and progress to small weights.”

“How long is a session?” Abi asks.

“One hour.”

“I’m gonna die after ten minutes,” says Jill, “I’ll be like, begging to stop.”

“What about food? Do you do any nutritional consultation?” Abi asks.

“We saw your grilled chicken on Instagram,” Jill says.

“Yeah, we looked you up. You eat really healthy,” says Abi.

Kelly isn’t surprised they looked her up. “I can give you a few recipes. Meats and veg.”

“I love love love veg,” Jill says, “Just so expensive. I buy frozen.”

“I prefer raw,” Kelly says, “But, yeah, expensive. Especially organic.”

“Oh my God,” Jill says, “I bought a little tray of organic blueberries at Sultan and paid like twenty-three dollars. Kids ate them like candy.”

“I can’t afford organic,” says Abi.

“Co-ops are good for produce,” Kelly says.

“Yes, totally,” Jill says.

“I started making green smoothies for breakfast,” says Abi.

“Yummy,” says Kelly.

“I eat a couple eggs too.”

“I thought egg was bad,” Jill says.

“No. Good,” says Kelly.

“They’ll be bad again. I read leeks cause cancer. Everything is bad.”

“Except booze,” Abi says and the two friends laugh. “You should see her drink,” Abi says.

Jill holds up her hands. “Guilty. Which is why I so need this.”

“Right,” says Kelly, “Let’s figure out days.”

“Anything,” says Jill, “I mean, forty-eight kilos means nothing if I’m not healthy. I want a waist.”

“Having a waist doesn’t mean healthy,” Kelly says.

“So I get healthy and get a waist.”

“Sure, that can happen.”

“And a butt.”

“And a butt.” Kelly adds to her note.


Abi pulls her phone from her bag and opens the calendar. “I can do Saturdays.”

“And Mondays,” Jill says, “Sevenish okay?”

“Sure. You’ll go to bed tired.”

“Good,” Abi says, “I can’t fall asleep.”

“Okay,” says Kelly, “I’ll probably need you to move furniture to have enough space.”

“No problem,” says Jill, “Hubby can pick up stuff on base too. What do we need?”

“Just mats for now.”

“Okay. I’m so excited. My body just – I’m gonna die.” Jill finishes her iced latte.

Gonna Die

Kelly closes her tablet, smiles, holds up her empty coffee. “Thanks for this. I’ll see you ladies Saturday at seven.”

“Awesome. I’ll text directions,” Jill says.

“Awesome,” says Kelly.

I Tried Blue Ink For Two Days

I am particular about my notebooks and my pens. For over a decade I’ve written in Moleskine cashier journals. I write in the large, lined.

I think I would go bananas if I didn’t have narrow rule to guide me.

And for over a decade I’ve written with black fine point Pentel R.S.V.P. pens. They are cheap and sometimes a little bleedy, but also sturdy with a pleasing finger grip. I usually order two or three boxes from Amazon because I’ve yet to see my pen of choice in Kuwait.

A year ago I ordered a box of blue too.

And a couple of days ago, I wrote in blue ink for the first time since I cannot remember when. I was immediately reminded of some college journals I kept, so maybe then.

Writing in blue ink was weird. My entry looked washed out. The words traveling my arm to hand to pen came out looking misplaced. Still my handwriting, still my pages and my thoughts, but the blue ink was mismatched.

And reminded me of those college journals.


I tried again the next day. I didn’t like it any better. Blue ink is not the way I write when I sit with my notebook and thoughts. So after two days, I uncapped my black pen.

I bought the box of blue pens because I knew I’d written myself into a tight corner: only Moleskine and only black ink feels like my writing practice. I bought the box of blue pens thinking: take a risk, write in blue.

Take a risk! Write in blue!

The real risk would be to buy an unlined cheap spiral and a fat multi-color ink pen. Even then, I’d use the black up first. And cry my way through red, green and blue.