My voice


I really should be in bed, but I assigned my students to comment on my blog.

It would be great if I had WRITTEN the blog.

I’m supposed to write about voice. All serious writers strive to develop their own unique voice that speaks from the page. It’s hard to do. Julia Cameron says you have to write from the gut. Tennessee poet laureate Maggie Vaughn says, “You have to have fire in the belly”—like those old pot-bellied stoves.

It’s true. To write with passion, your inner being has to burn with passion. You can’t NOT write whatever it is you have to wite. Passion produces voice. Voice stems from emotion.

My motto is, “Laughter good. Tears bad.”  And there are those days when the motto isn’t worth diddly squat.

I steer clear from the tears. I’d much rather make people laugh, but today has been an off day. And I don’t have anything silly to say.

My day is a by-product of my procrastination. I have been putting off going through stacks and stacks and stacks of paper and mementos I have saved. But today was deep house cleaning day. I couldn’t put it off.

So with much ado, I finally got around to sifting and sorting. I found a HUGE stack of sympathy cards my dad had bundled together after my mother died. She always took care of the storing of cards. When I was moving things out of their house, I found a portable filing system. She must have saved every birthday card, every Christmas card, every Valentine’s Day card, the boys and I ever gave them.

But what do I do with the sympathy cards? I don’t know these people who sent them. I have no use for them, but to throw them away seems thoughtless. Neither of the boys will know what to do with them. I have made scrapbooks for them so that they and their children can look back to their elementary school years and reminisce about what it was like back then.

But maybe they don’t want to. I guess they’ll be like me, wondering what to do with all the “stuff.”

I also found a stack of Christmas cards, addressed to me, unopened. My heart dropped because I was going through such a sad time that I didn’t even realize I had Christmas cards. So what do I do with them now? It’s kind of late to show them off on the stair railing as I’ve done in the past, and I can’t send a Christmas card in return. I never even got the chance to say thank you. Too late.

I hate those words. If ever I wrote with a fire in the belly it’s now. I can click on Facebook and find at least a dozen or more nifty pictures to repost that say, “It’s never too late to ___.” You can fill in the blank. But the truth is, yeah, there is a time when it’s too late.

Sifting through all those papers made me remember the worst day in my life, the day I was supposed to call my dad.

I didn’t remember until it was late. When I didn’t get an answer, my worst fear came true. It was too late. We confirmed my fears by driving up to the house. It was a terrible night. And then there was the police, the ambulance, the trip to the hospital, the night, and the next morning.

I threw away the Van Halen shirt I had been wearing. I didn’t want any reminders.

But I’m reminded all the time. I have sifted and sorted my dad’s papers, and I put them back in the boxes I found them. Birth certificates, a marriage license, deeds, warranties, military papers, etc. What do I do with all that? Where will it end up?

I think I should want to travel lightly. Two guitars. A baseball. Scrapbooks for the boys. Everything else can go. No need to ask. No need to wonder. No need to hang on to anything material.

The important things can’t be saved for later. They should be taken care of now, said now, done now, for tomorrow may be too late.

So, dear ones, if you should wonder what my voice is. This is it, a desperate plea for you to pay attention to what matters most in life, the people you love.

Yes, I do love to laugh. I love to make others laugh, but nothing is more important to letting others know how much you love.

Mood and drama


When I was earning my Master’s degree from the University of Missouri, one of my many writing classes required me to read and write from Julia Cameron’s Right to Write. I liked the book so much that I now require my creative writing students to read particular chapters and to respond to Cameron’s Initiation Tools, in other words, her writing prompts. Our last lesson covered mood and drama.

My students expect me to put forth as much effort as they do, so here I am. Writing about what else? Mood and drama. What can I say?

Well, for one, I can admit I’m guilty as charged.

Mood? Yes. My moods definitely affect my writing.

Drama. Ugg. I can’t stand it. But drama, nevertheless, affects my writing because it always affects my mood. I don’t want to write when there is drama in my life.

For the last two years my life has been an uphill journey similar to what one might find on slippery slope of a Scottish crag. I have always been pretty good at keeping my emotions tucked away. But eventually, a person has to face emotions head on. It’s normal, just not pleasant. And on the worst days, I don’t want to write.

Nay, let me rephrase that. I WANT to write, but I don’t feel like it. I’m not in the mood to write. How many times have you said that, comrades? Julia Cameron challenges her writers to write for ten minutes and then to check their moods.

Writing is kind of like exercising. Maybe writing releases endorphins as does exercise. But then again, so do crises and stress. Back in the day, I used to work with students who got a rush from meeting deadlines. We would stay late and work nonstop until we met deadline.

Not so much anymore. But I do remember what an adrenaline rush feels like.

Writing for me now, however, is more therapeutic and cathartic. It brings about a cleansing, purification. I can release whatever negative emotions I have onto the page, and I feel better. But first I have to get over my “mood.” And the drama.

Cameron says we need our own space to write so that we can shut the door to the world—and the drama—so we can focus on our writing.

Amen. Preach it, sister.

I used to have a closed door at my house, but I moved my writing station to the “music” room. I like the vibe that comes with being surrounded by guitars, a piano and drums. But the room is a thoroughfare to the upstairs and kitchen. And you know what that means. Boy/boys in. Boy/boys out. Lots of noise. Questions. Sometimes hugs. But I’m NEVER too busy for hugs.

Even my warthog Scottish Terrier creates a disturbance with her scratching and scavenging the cat’s food.

But Cameron says, “Keep the drama on the page.” Focus. Focus. Focus.

And then there are the characters in my life. I love me some protagonists. But antagonists? They don’t have to be in the room. They just have to be in my head. They may be relatives, friends, co-workers or acquaintances. It doesn’t matter. Whenever these antagonists antagonize me to the point that I can’t write, it’s time to take a tip from Cameron.

“Keep the drama on the page.” Cameron says personal drama is “creative poison.”

The antidote?

Focus. Focus. And more focus. And three simple words for whoever is driving me nuts—leave me alone.

We have the choice to let other people’s negativity into our life. We must close the door, if not literally, metaphorically, and keep the drama on the page (not in our heads).

Cameron also suggests we write a list of 100 things we love, and every time we feel stressed we pull this list from our pocket and read it. When we do, we’ll settle down in our spirits and think about our blessings instead of the negatives. I won’t indulge myself with 100 on this blog, but I will give you 10 if you will give me 10.


  1. My guitars
  2. Horses
  3. Ireland
  4. St. Patrick’s Day
  5. Sunrises
  6. Coffee shops
  7. Blues
  8. Mosaics
  9. Candles
  10. Campfires

Feeling stressed? Want to keep the drama on the page and out of your life? Take a moment and write down ten things you love.