Channeling Carson McCullers: A Joshua Tree. The San Jacinto Mountains. A Cactus.

Almost forty years ago, I moved from my hometown in Waterford, Michigan, to Charlottesville, Virginia, to pursue a Master of Education degree in Secondary English Education. The underlying reasons for the move at that time were twofold. After two years of working a job to pay student loans while writing fiction in my “spare time,” I realized I needed a better fit for my day job. I had already received a Master in Writing from a reputable university, but I found that my job in a stock brokerage office took me further away from my goal of writing. If I pursued the education degree, which contained within in it a teacher certification piece, something I’d neglected to pursue with my undergraduate degree in English, I might find that magical day job; I’d always enjoyed teaching.

My other reason for the move involved the location and my relationship to the man who eventually became my husband. I wanted for the two of us to live in the same city in separate lodgings to see if we had the kind of compatibility that a marriage would require. We would both be in graduate school at the same time, though he had a head start, having moved to study at the University of Virginia a year earlier.

During my first semester in my program, I fell in love with my course in Adolescent Literature. One of the course requirements was to read a certain number of books and journal about them. I can’t recall the number – fifteen or twenty. We could read anything we wanted, if the book could be deemed appropriately as appealing to young adults. For one of my selections, I chose Carson McCullers’ A Member of the Wedding – I’d had exposure to some of her short stories in high school. I remember reading the novel in my bedroom apartment on Stribling Avenue in Charlottesville, trying to get a feel for the adolescent main character, fascinated by how the novel evolved. The novel was set in the South, and I was living in the South for the first time, looking out my apartment window at the lush foliage.

The experience of reading that McCullers’ novel reminded me of how I’d loved a short story of hers at some point earlier in my life. In “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.,” an adolescent paper boy meets a man in a streetcar café one day, a man who is trying to recover from his past, having lost a woman whom he’d cared about deeply. The patrons of the café and the owner himself view the man as a potential “drunk” or someone suffering from an instability. Shortly after the paper boy enters, the man tells him that he loves him and explains that he is learning to love the world one item or person at a time. Perhaps if he practices that act, he can learn to live and love again.

The tone in the story is not unlike that in Hemingway’s often anthologized story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Both McCullers and Hemingway write about people searching for explanations, people who want answers. They want to know how to exist in the world with purpose; sometimes they want to understand how their lives turned out the way they did.

I’ve gleaned from what I’ve read in the intervening years that Carson McCullers’ life was challenging at times. While readers, critics, and other authors praised her writing and considered her a truly gifted writer when her work emerged, her friendships, while rewarding, were complicated. She married a man, struggled with the marriage, which ended in divorce, and later remarried the man, who committed suicide some years later. She had lesbian lovers as well, though she reportedly never embraced her identity as a lesbian, even though she wrote honestly about the complications of sexual orientation. She suffered from rheumatic fever early in life and later died young because of the lingering effects of the resulting rheumatic heart disease.

Thus, it seems clear that McCullers knew, experienced, and sometimes even embraced the complications and complexities of life.

I still hold on tightly to what I learned from “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.” I’ve applied the knowledge I gained from that reading experience to my life with stage IV lung cancer for over nine years. There are complications and complexities in my life. Deteriorations. When cancer is not in remission but dwelling in an odd sort of abeyance, a hidden suspended animation, there are breakthrough events requiring treatments, in addition to the daily dose of the oral targeted therapy drug I take each day. You live your life in as normal a way as possible, with infirmities. You deal with COVID-19, adjusting as well as possible to the reality of the mounting deaths.

Yet it’s hard to make plans for the future. For me, it’s hard, during any given year or on any given day, to determine whether I’m actively living or dying. That’s why I latch onto the serious mission of the struggling man in “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.” and the process he outlines. There is a simplicity to the approach, a mindfulness. Focusing on the trill of a nearby bird or the shadow of the sunset on a patch of carpet and embracing such things can be soothing to a person living with a chronic, terminal disease.

If we take the wisdom from that story and marry it to what we know about the mindfulness process – valuing the moment, valuing the in-and-out breath of the moment, settling the anxiety by embracing small things and breathing in and out as we embrace them, holding on and loving that thing we embrace – we can find a bit of joy and simultaneously dispel some of the gloom.

A little over a month ago, I went to the desert in California with my husband. He had a business trip for work. I had the option of staying home or going with him. Staying home meant caring for the dog and dealing with potential snowfall and ice, activities I wasn’t sure my body could tackle. Going with him meant braving airplane travel with a mask and being exposed to more people in a week than I see in two or three months.

The visit wasn’t perfect. It was colder than I realized it would be in the desert, and I just couldn’t get warm. My body felt out of sorts, out of its rhythm. Just before I returned home, I lost my phone, which caused headaches just as the trip concluded. But I saw an old writing friend. We talked about books and movies and walked along a beach to the changing colors of a sunset. The visit was a luxurious gift for someone like me who wants to say good-bye to people I’ve loved, not too soon, but somewhere close to the end, whenever that might be.

Despite my weariness, I found a bit of rebirth. I found things to embrace — metaphorically. A Joshua Tree. The San Jacinto Mountains. A cactus. The trip provided a respite.

Yet shortly after I returned home, Russia invaded Ukraine. I weep now for the people who must deal with this ongoing tragedy and for the people who’ve already been lost. And I’m faced again with a common dilemma, one so many of us face. How do we reconcile the dissonance we find when we try to focus on moments of beauty and stillness, questing for inner peace, while acknowledging widespread pain and suffering, whether in a war-torn country or any other place of sadness in the external world? We dealt with the harsh realities of COVID-19; we’ve known atrocities in the past. Those atrocities don’t go away, even if you try to ignore or bury them.

I don’t want to live in a bubble; I want to extend my empathy and fight complacency, but I don’t know how to salve my soul as well.

I don’t have any easy answers. I will continue to search for a balanced and safe state of mind. Like the man in McCullers’ story, like McCullers herself, I will try to love small delights and moments and celebrate their beauty. And if only in my heart, I will try to take the radiant light those things produce and bend it toward Ukraine.

Feelin’ Groovy: “The 59th Street Bridge Song”

This past autumn, around September, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel started singing in my ear:

Slow down, you move too fast

You got to make the morning last

I’m hoping that as you read these words, the melody plays in your head. If you like, try to keep it going as you read. I’ve written before in this blog about the speed of life and my increasingly slower pace as a cancer patient. All around me, events swirl at a breakneck speed, like an accelerated clip from an old movie. In the past, I’ve often viewed this slowing down as a necessary step, imposed on me by my life with cancer. But I’m beginning to recognize that slowing down may be a choice, a preferred way of being in this world that is accelerating, becoming more frantic and louder with its sounds of dissonance.

We’ve just lived through two years of a pandemic. In the final month of 2021, “Omicron” made it into our vocabularies in bold and noxious fashion. In the political realm, pundits and politicians alike daily question what we as individuals and as a united nation believe about the democracy that governs us. I have three children in their twenties and early thirties who tell me that they have serious concerns about what their futures will hold.

In December, I “celebrated” nine years of being on a daily oral cancer drug for my stage IV lung cancer. Yes, I’m happy to be alive (“Stay Positive; Stay Grateful” being the mantra most cancer patients are urged to repeat to themselves), but I’m falling behind. After nine years of dealing with the disease itself and the side effects of the drug I take to keep the cancer in check – a drug which fights the cancer but does not offer remission and simultaneously attacks my skin, my eyeballs, my brain, and my psyche – I want to be that stubborn child who digs in her heels and cries, “No! Stop!” In truth, I’m losing the ability to keep pace with the world. But observing the day-to-day turmoil in our society, our country, and our world, I question daily whether I want to continue to do so.

One can argue that the advent of COVID-19 offered the world a chance to slow down, and like many others, I’m honored to have observed so much goodness in people who performed from balconies, cheered health care workers, and extended humanity to others around them. But we also know that anxiety levels have increased over the past few years; those increased levels have contributed to hyper-charged social media posts, assuming social media posts weren’t already on steroids before the pandemic.

This combined speed and frenzy is not what I want for my life. I didn’t drag myself through the last nine years with cancer to experience what feels like the world yelling in my face to speed up. I need to retreat.

For most of my life, I’ve done what people asked me to do, without complaining too much. As a cancer patient, I’ve followed all the rules, and I continue to go through the paces, but it’s getting harder. To make and keep doctor appointments, to wait at the end of a cell phone line to get through to the human voice to order the prescription or the CT scan. No one told me I’d have to do this long, slow, living-with-cancer, dying-from-cancer dance during COVID, without a solid job, while still trying to help my children launch themselves into adulthood.

And there’s the rub. I’ve realized that as a cancer patient who needs to slow down, who wants desperately to take the meandering stroll (with walking stick), sing the slow songs, enjoy the increasingly rare deep breaths, I worry about leaving my children in this world of craziness. I want to sugar-coat their beings with the words of encouragement I won’t be able to speak to them when I’m gone.

I worry that if I don’t slow down, I’ll work myself into a frenzy about scheduling medical appointments, staring at my cell phone screen while I’m on hold and the minutes tick by, becoming a wound-up, tangled ball of self-absorption who can’t see beyond herself, her needs. I worry that I’ll lose my capacity for an external focus and instead dwell within my disability.

Yet how will I help my children if I don’t stay in the game? If I don’t keep learning the technology and maintaining the persistence to make the appointments and take the medicines? How can I slow down and still help them learn to live without me once I’m gone?

Paul Simon has said that he was just learning how to deal with the fame of the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” success when he wrote “The 59th Street Bridge Song,” while travelling across that New York landmark, a bridge where traffic moves quickly, and drivers need to hear a message to slow down and stay safe.

As I examine the song’s lyrics, especially, “I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep,” the words capture what I want for my slower life. “Dappled” suggests a slow, meandering pattern of light playing over color. “Drowsy” refers to that lovely pre-sleeping state where the body slows down and starts its even breathing – ready to sleep. Ready to succumb to the peaceful moment, half-conscious. And yes, I want to make the morning last, too. Carpe diem and all that, not in an urgent way but in a remembering, appreciative way.

I honestly don’t know how I’ll resolve the tension between slowing down and trying to stay aware of the world just enough to support my children as they deal with their futures. Perhaps for now, the best I can do is seize my good days and search for those small moments that offer luminescence. Seek out the dapples and share them.

Impromptu #5: List, Rant, Provide Detail, and Repeat

(My dog, Clover, is waiting. To pounce? To roll in the snow? To perceive a rabbit or herd of deer?)

I am not a poet by nature, which is to say that while I am quite fond of images and metaphors, I have always gravitated toward story and narration.

Yet throughout the pandemic, lines from poems I once studied have entered my head on a regular basis. I like the brevity. I like the potency that comes from a short form. In the past few months, I’ve been thinking about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, specifically, his poem “I am waiting.”

I view Ferlinghetti’s poem as a list poem, a rant poem, and a protest poem. For me, a list poem is just that – a list. Like a to-do list, or a list of groceries, or a list of grievances. That last list type is where the “rant” or “protest” comes in. Ferlinghetti does it well with his repeated line, “I am waiting…” because we sense his frustration, his impatience, his implied desire for change, although many of the lines are humorous.

For this impromptu writing exercise, I encourage you to take a listen to Ferlinghetti’s poem, for which I’m attaching a link here:


  1. Pick one of the following phrases to be the anchor phrase for your list or rant:
  • I am hoping…
  • I am wondering…
  • I am trying…
  • I am struggling…
  • I am longing…
  • You may also fashion your own phrase for repetition, but please allow me to give you a tip on what to look for in such a phrase. Ferlinghetti’s poem works because when we repeat the phrase “I am waiting,” we get two short unaccented syllables – “I” and “am” – followed by a long stress – “wait” and then the shorter “ing.” That is why choosing a phrase like “I am hoping,” or “I am trying” mimics the syllabic stress of Ferlinghetti’s repeated phrase but gives you some of your own artistic choices.
  • Set a timer for somewhere between ten and twenty minutes.
  • Begin writing the repeated phrase, completing the sentence however you like. Note that for each item, once you begin to move past whatever “ing” verb you’ve chosen to explore, try to be as detailed as possible in each item you are discussing. What are you hoping for, specifically – describe it in a concrete way. What are you struggling with, specifically? Try to depict it with an example so the reader can really comprehend it. I find it interesting to mix the levels of specificity, like working in small scale with something minute from your own life, and then working on something more global.
  • As you begin to write the list items with the repeated line you’ve chosen, see if you like it better in a chunky, paragraph format (prose) or in free verse (non-rhyming, non-metric lines of poetry). Since I am a writer who favors prose, I’ve gotten excited in the last decade about the prose poem versus the lyric micro-essay.
  • I will be honest and admit that I complete this kind of exercise most often to de-stress rather than a way to make art.

Interesting Tidbit: I use Ferlinghetti as a model here because his “I am Waiting” poem came into my head quite frequently in 2020. But lots of writers use this repeated phrase device. Most notably, Martin Luther King uses it in his “I Have a Dream” speech, but Maya Angelou uses it in some of her poetry as well. I will admit, too, that as an English major in college, I learned a great deal about literary devices, and I still have my dog-eared copy of Sound and Sense by Lawrence Perrine, but my brain didn’t log the concept of “anaphora” until the last few years. It’s a beautiful word, anaphora, that simply refers to the use of repeated phrases to provide structure.

Good News in Hard Times

My apologies. I haven’t written a blog post in a while. The fall of 2019 brought many good things into my life – the publication of a full-length book, Winded: A Memoir in Four Stages, and a launch party to celebrate my 60th birthday and my seventh cancer birthday with a stage four lung cancer diagnosis.

Yet in close proximity to those positive events, I had to deal with new findings from CT scans on the small, inconclusive, but clearly growing spots on my lungs. Repeated scans revealed increases in those small spots. The fall of 2019 with its powerful and positive events brought me some revitalization, yet as 2020 dawned, I lost ground – more fatigue and increased mysterious twinges in my lungs and bones.

All terminal cancer patients who enjoy “more time” know the duality of these kinds of twinges. They could mean nothing. Or they could point to the beginning of the end.

And then there was COVID-19. With seven years of survival under my belt, I know well how guilt, an insidious infusion in a survivor’s veins, can make the heart and body quake with the recognition of unfairness. COVID-19 plays a diametric role in a cancer patient’s life. At the basic level of survival, it can transform a relatively normal person into the hermit of hermits. How likely is it that a stage IV lung patient would survive COVID-19? But the psychological and emotional effects become even more twisted as a cancer patient watches others die of COVID-19, with little notice and considerable suffering. “That should have been me,” she says. “At least I’ve been able to prepare a bit. I’ve had ‘more time,’ as the commercials say.”

After a final, mid-year scan in 2020, during the summer’s brief pause in the pandemic, my oncologist and I were able to negotiate a new treatment plan. I would go off my daily oral pill of Tarceva, the miracle drug for my particular mutation, and begin taking a new oral medicine approved in recent years, Tagrisso. Tagrisso, also known as osimertinib, and created by AstraZeneca,

Would it do the same for me? After nearly eight years on another drug, I was a statistical outlier Could that happen twice? What were the chances? It would not be fair. I knew three women with my kind of cancer who had found hope in the narrative of my extended life on a miracle drug yet failed to receive the same benefit.

On November 7, 2020, three months after I started taking Tagrisso, I travelled to two Henry Ford facilities for tests. After getting labs and scans at the hospital, I drove to the office building where my oncologist saw suburban patients one day a week.

I had suspicions about how my body was reacting to the new drug. I felt cautiously optimistic that I might be experiencing an upsurge in energy. The side effects of the medication were far less drastic than those I’d experienced in the almost eight years I’d taken Tarceva.

My oncologist asked, when he entered the room, if I was nervous about the results, and I told him that I thought I knew what they might be. He confirmed that the spots were shrinking. Significantly. And the pleural effusion that had begun to grow again in my lungs was once more receding.

Good news. Something to celebrate. Yet throughout the day, I’d been thinking about the card I needed to write to the husband of the woman who had died that previous year, shortly before my book launch and 60th birthday party.

How do I celebrate my good news? My minor triumph?

Here are the facts:

  • I was diagnosed with cancer in November 2012, just before my 53rd birthday.
  • After being a writer and creating manuscripts for my entire adult life, I was awarded with book publication at the age of 60.
  • I also began my second reprieve from cancer, a second regeneration, at the age of 60.
  • In May of 2021, at the age of 61, I will publish a second book, the novel that I began writing thirty years ago.

It is all good news.

It is also not fair. Nor is it a miracle. I assert to you most pointedly but humbly: Life is not fair.

Yet I am trying to grow from that little girl who found it hard, for so many years, to take a compliment. I must take this good news and allow it to be a humble little light, not unlike the flame of a candle one has just ignited, trying to gain purchase on the wick.

I am cupping for a moment that small flame and its wick.

It’s a quiet whisper: Good News.

Impromptu #4 — A Scavenging Field Trip


On a recent walk with my dog, Clover, I found the object depicted above, located at the gate that separates our back yard from the rest of the neighborhood, a house lawn’s width away from a sidewalk leading to the elementary school. I knew Clover and I would travel back through the gate, and I didn’t want her to slurp up the thing while I wasn’t looking. So, I plucked the nearly round growth (can you make out the odd contours of facial features?) from the ground and pocketed it.

Later, when I’d returned home and Clover was occupied with something else, I took it out to examine it. I was convinced it was a mushroom, but I knew that one could never be sure about random backyard growths without some training. My father taught me that some things resembling edible mushrooms were poisonous.

I let it sit for a day, leaving it on a chest of drawers, hiding behind something so that a wandering Clover wouldn’t find it and eat it. When I remembered to show it to my husband, I told him about my urge to slice into it. He recommended that I do that on the front porch rather than in the house. What would emerge? A noxious thick fluid? A baby mushroom?

I decided to save the mushroom-like orb for a few more days so I could show it to my friend and assistant, Joan.

I knew that it was a find. A major find. Perhaps I should write about it, as I’d written about so many other finds over the years.

The whole experience helped me to remember that one of my favorite types of writing prompts involves a scavenging field trip.

This prompt, like many of my favorite prompts, is a) an amalgam of several ideas rolled into one, and 2) a prompt focusing on objects. The prompt can be separated into two parts – scavenging items and writing about the items.

Scavenging Items: Choose a Method and then Choose a Venue

Choosing a Method

Method A: If you have a reliable, charged cell phone and like to keep your hands clean, use this photo option. Go on a walk and take ten pictures of things you see along the way. Make sure the photos you take are close ups, capturing lots of good detail. I am continually amazed and impressed by the minute details I see on others’ Facebook pictures – the water droplets on a flower’s leaf, the translucence of an insect’s wing, the angle of a buck’s antler as it juts upward, intersecting the rays of the moon.

However, keep in mind that your photos do not have to capture only beautiful things. They can be photos of half-torn pop labels, rusty car parts, or a pile of cigarette butts. You have the liberty of selecting the ten subjects of your photos.

Method B: Go on a walk and find ten items that you can BRING HOME to use for your prompt. As Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus show would say, “Get Messy!  Make Mistakes!” The key here, however, is safety. We need to be careful about sharp edges of objects and/or potentially poisonous objects. For this reason, I encourage you to WEAR GLOVES! Take a doubled bag (paper within plastic or vice versa) along with you.

Choosing a Venue

This step is a little tricky because it depends on where you live. Ideally, you would be able to do your scavenging in your neighborhood. Neighborhoods have such strong associations for all of us, so making discoveries right near your home can be powerful. But some neighborhoods are admittedly much cleaner than others. If you live in a neighborhood or town where everyone is always on top of their litter, rejoice!  This is a positive in so many ways!  Your neighborhood my not yield the best kind of items about which to write, however.

An alternative is to plan a field trip in advance. This kind of adventure can add to the fun of the writing prompt. I live near a lot of suburban things; in addition to living near an elementary school, I also live near a major state university (Michigan State) which is built around the banks of a river. River banks can provide some good scavenged material. But so can strip malls. And beaches. There are just so many possibilities, as long as you make sure to be safe.

Writing teachers like me often use objects for writing, just as artists use objects for still life portraits. But part of the inspiration for this version of the exercise is an assignment my daughter’s AP History teacher gave her class related to found objects and collages created of such objects. We know that anthropologists and archeologists learn a great deal about earlier cultures simply by examining their tools, their refuse, the scraps from their daily lives. So, think of your items as historical finds.

The Writing

Once you’ve found ten objects that you like, give yourself freedom to work with them. You don’t have to create a story that uses all ten objects (unless, of course, you want to do so). For me, association always arrives in my brain first, so I naturally think of riffing on one or more of the objects. But you can establish your own pattern. For example, pick three items, and use them to trigger thoughts for a brief imaginary tale. Or find a way to put the items in categories that you make up (red things, sharp things, circular items left on the side of the road) and create a piece by working with those titles.

Give yourself twenty minutes to write about the items you’ve found, unless you want to keep going. But save a few ideas for another writing session; there should be lots to work with.


When Joan came over a couple of weeks ago, I brought out the ball-shaped mushroom thing. Joan is a nursing student who also works as a medical scribe, so she has that intense scientific curiosity about living things. We decided to dissect the thing together. I got out a paper towel and a knife.

Then I cut in.

Yes, the experience was, as we anticipated, a bit anti-climactic. No spiders crawled out, which is what Joan had secretly been hoping for. No blood came out either. No noxious, thick fluid. The mushroom ball wasn’t hollow at all. It was solid, made of the same spongy material that appeared on the outside. Maybe it was a real mushroom, after all!

But to be cautious, we wrapped it up in the paper towel and gave it a trash can burial. I washed my hands and the knife.

It was a good, Bill Nye sort of day, even if we didn’t figure out anything revolutionary.


Impromptu — Writing Prompt #3 — Someone Else’s Perspective


I was quite excited about the last writing prompt I posted, yet as I wrote out the steps, I realized that the exercise would have gone much more smoothly had I been in front of the classroom delivering the steps myself.  Pausing between complications.  Brainstorming examples to illustrate the most complicated steps. I decided that this week, in contrast, I must find an easier exercise to explain, at least, if not to complete.

I travelled back in time to a prompt I used in the “Writing the Novel” course I taught at Lansing Community College in the early 2000s. An exercise rooted in fiction primarily, it was meant to direct the writer toward character development, point of view, and voice.

This version of the exercise, however, does not have to be fiction.  Nonfiction or memoir will work just as well, because the exercise begins with you as a person.

Brainstorming, 5-10 minutes

Writing, 20 minutes


  1. Think about how you view yourself as a person as well as how other people might view you. Think about your traits, good and bad, and the kinds of things people say about you. Are you conscientious? Witty? The life of the party? A nervous Nelly (whatever that is!)? These words and ideas are mostly adjectives, but think about nouns that people use also, identity words like “artist,” “lawyer,” “pipe fitter,” and “pastry chef.”
  2. Now, slide a bit away from that person, that character who is YOU but not you. Step out of your body to observe. Let the writer part of you creep across the room to a spot from which to survey things. Note: the photo above sort of captures this step.  I was “creeping” as I looked out the window, viewing my daughter from an elevated room in the place we stayed during vacation. Imagine that the person in the picture is YOU being observed by someone else from a different perspective.
  3. The original exercise I explored nearly two decades ago said something like, “Using the first-person point of view, write about yourself from the perspective of an opposite sex relative who is older than you.” That instruction provides two little twists beyond the original instruction of thinking about your traits as a person – the opposite sex perspective and the age perspective. This works great if you are binary cis-gendered.  If you are not, think about an older relative with a sexual orientation that you view as “other.”  What we are looking for here is difference, so binary distinctions aren’t crucial.

Hopefully these steps seem straightforward. To play out an example, I have written from the perspective of an uncle who is describing me. Many of my uncles are deceased, so I must dig back to my childhood. I’m thinking about my Uncle Max, my mother’s brother. Here are a couple of sentences in Uncle Max’s voice (first-person), describing me as a young girl:

I wish I could tell you what makes that girl tick, but I just don’t know.  She and her sisters were supposed to come to our house for a week to spend time with their cousins.  Esther, her mom, was going to have a week alone at home to just relax and have some quiet time.  But the first thing you know, Vern comes in the door after his drive to Mt. Clemens with the oldest and the youngest, Linda and Lori.  Dawn stayed home.  She couldn’t leave her mother.  She wanted to, but at the last minute she just couldn’t leave her mom, Vern said.

I know kids get attached, but why is she so shy?  My sister is not shy, and it amazes me that she could have such a shy daughter. Dawn gets sick, too. Asthma.  I guess it’s just as well.  We wouldn’t know what to do with her if she stopped breathing.

  1. If you don’t like the idea of writing a first-person monologue from this older, opposite- or other-sex person, you could try a dialogue in script form in which the older, other character engages in a discussion with the younger person (the YOU character) and the script reveals something significant about the you character’s personality.

I tried to capture something of my uncle’s voice here, in this first-person narration that I did from his perspective.  I also tried to capture some of what would be completely incomprehensible to him – my shyness – because like my mother, he was a pretty extreme extrovert.

  1. Try to write for twenty minutes from this first-person voice of the older other.


Remember, if these instructions seem confusing, there is really no way to screw up a writing prompt because…


… the whole point of a prompt is to just get you writing; there is no wrong or right.

Just write!


Impromptu – Writing Prompt #2 – Containers/Vessels


I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I wanted to put up a writing prompt weekly. Alas, I fell short of my goal, and this post has been delayed. But finally, I’m now delivering another writing prompt to help those who are searching for something to write about or those who want to explore journaling as a way to move through life and chart the joy they experience or the sadness and trauma they must confront in life.

I had the idea for this prompt firmly in place in my brain BEFORE my family members and I went on our much-anticipated trip to Ireland, but then, on our very first day in the lovely city of Kenmare, I snapped this photo on a family walk. It captures exactly what I wanted to evoke in this writing exercise.

I can’t remember where I found the original word that prompted my version of this writing exercise. That word was vessel. I wish I could credit the source, but I offer thanks and appreciation to the unknown party that planted this word in my brain.

I want to look at containers and vessels as objects that we employ at various points in our lives to hold or carry things that are important to us in one way or another. But I also want to get at the idea that we have words in our lives that are mundane and common, like container, and words that are more exotic or highbrow like vessel. Likewise, we have words or terms that are highly specific like samovar or crepe pan, and words that get at more generalized, broad concepts, like kettle or pan.

Brainstorming, 5-10 minutes

Writing/Riffing, 25-45 minutes (can be divided into sections)


  • Think about the word container, which I would call a common or garden-variety word. It can be used as a very general term to describe a lot of objects that carry or hold things. Brainstorm ten common or garden-variety words that refer to a container of any sort OR words or items that you think could be used as a container although that might not be their first designated purpose. The words can be common in terms of their meaning but also in terms of the way they sound.
  • Think about the word vessel, which I would call a highbrow word – highbrow or lofty as opposed to common. Brainstorm ten highbrow or lofty words that refer to vessels of some sort. The words can be highbrow or lofty in terms of the way they sound when you say them or in terms of what they make you think of.

My container words: laundry basket, paper bag, ashtray, newspaper, sandbox, pill bottle, spoon, wagon, bucket, hand

My vessel words: samovar, cedar chest, hearse, Lazy Susan, camelback, kayak, syringe, decanter, toilet bowl, bassinet

You will note that I have categorized these words as containers or vessels loosely; there is no right or wrong.

  • Select five or six of these words from either category that resonate with you; the words can be from both categories as well. Words that resonate tend to be words for which you have a fully formed memory or a flash of association. That flash of association can be a personal association or some image you saw once. Advertisements that we’ve seen over the years tend to stick with us – the girl on the front of the Morton Salt container or the three guys who make snap, crackle, and pop noises on the front of the Rice Krispies box. For obvious reasons, words that trigger strong emotional responses or memories are often the best ones to work with when you’re writing, but words with fewer connections can also yield good results.

Note: Feel free to use any of the words I have listed from my brainstorming.

  • Riff on each of these words, one at a time, for 5-7 minutes each. As I mentioned in my last writing prompt post, I’m a big believer in writing guru Peter Elbow’s use of the term “focused freewrite.” When you allow that one word to be the focus of your writing, you are letting yourself be free within the confines of that word and its associations for you. Let each word you’ve chosen be your focus, as I’ve said, but feel free to throw many ideas down for that one word OR develop one idea at length. Those who write extended metaphors or comparisons like to hang with one idea for a bit. A reminder: original freewrite guidelines encourage the writer to keep the pen (or computer keys) moving, even when the ideas stop. One can do that by repeating a word over or a phrase, something mundane, like, “where’s my idea, where’s my idea,” repeatedly. If you are a slow writer, as I am at times, you may find five riffs to be overwhelming. Break it up, if need be. Do two riffs at one sitting and three riffs at another.
  • When you’re done riffing, put your writing away for a few days, unless you have fallen madly in love with what you’ve written and want to keep going. When you come back to it, consider viewing it as a “lyric essay.” The lyric essay is a relatively new structure or genre of writing that combines poetry with the traditional first-person type of essay. It focuses on words and their arrangement in much the same way that a poem does, yet it encourages writing with the kind of tangents, digressions, and lack of transitions that makes it a more experimental or fragmented.
  • Allow each word to serve as a heading for a section. What is the connection between the words?  What do you think this collection of riffs is about?  Should you discard one of the words and do an additional riff on another container or vessel word that would suit your purpose (which you’re still discovering) or your subject matter better?

Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes.” My daughter keeps an extended version of this quote on the wall of her Philly apartment. For me, it’s the perfect three-word statement of this writing exercise. “I” indicates that the exercise is to be written in first-person and focused on the self. “Contain” gets at the idea of the container or vessel. “Multitudes” captures the sense of the huge variety you can allow yourself in the palette of riffed words.

What do you contain?  Happy Writing!

Too Much With Us


(Photo of Glenoory Bay, Donegal, courtesy of Alison Hirschel and Gene Burns)

In one of my last posts, I talked about being a tortoise rather than a cheetah.  I recently saw a friend and roommate from college, Marilyn Beals, and she reminded me that I am a cheetah when I eat – at least I was in college – but that may be because she is a tortoise when she eats!  She wanted to affirm for me that I can still do some things quickly.

For months now, I’ve been thinking of a William Wordsworth sonnet, “The World is Too Much with Us,” which is a poetic companion of sorts to my cheetah vs. tortoise post. Although I was trained as a fiction writer, I have read and taught enough poetry over the years that lines from poems often come to my brain unbidden, which happens, I think, when you love words, and also when you share/teach the same poem to four sections of literature-based composition on any given day, as I did in the 1980s at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

At some point I must have committed the sonnet to memory, because different lines come to me at different times. Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet, and the poem is often described as asserting his frustration with the Industrial Revolution and the way in which it moved humanity away from nature, robbing the human spirit of mystery, beauty, and the capacity for wonder. His message certainly resonates in our current era as well, even though we long ago moved past the Industrial Revolution and into the Information Revolution.

Wordsworth’s message also resonates for me on a slightly different plane. As I have intoned “The World is Too Much with Us” to myself in the last few years, what I’m positing is that I have become too slow for the world. Because of the speed of everyday life and my slow pace, I can’t keep up. We are out of step, the world and I.

Yet I am not alone, and recent events have underscored this point for me.

The dissonance and the space between my speed and the speed of the world is no more evident than when I am traveling and must manage the GPS system on my phone while driving. I expect the navigational guide to reign on the screen; when a random text or email message interrupts the navigation depicted on my phone, my blood pressure rises, and I panic. If I lose my navigational screen, I will be lost. None of the paper maps on the seat next to me will do any good after dusk has arrived and I ‘m in the middle lane of some six-lane expressway. My hands grip the steering wheel; my neck moves as if on a hinge, snapping right, then left to check the lanes around me. “The world is too much with us,” I mumble to myself, and what I means is that I am frightened at how old I have suddenly become, how inept I feel in this world that moves at a pace even my adolescent self could never have managed.

I wrote the paragraph above several weeks before I learned of the sudden death of one of my daughter’s high schoolclassmates.  He was driving with two friends on a rock-climbing adventure in a western state, just a few weeks before he was to be married.  In the afternoon on a precipitation-free day, a car drifted from its lane on a two-lane road and hit his vehicle head on.  He was killed instantly. One of his passengers died just over a week later.

In the media report, the law enforcement officials suggest that some driver inattention on the part of the other driver might have been involved.  That driver was also hospitalized.

Driver inattention.  That two-word phrase could mean so many things.  It could mean that the driver, like me, has difficulty trying to follow the GPS on her phone to determine her travel path.  It could mean that she was texting while driving.  It could mean that she has undiagnosed narcolepsy. It could mean that she was under the influence of alcohol or some controlled substance. There are a host of possibilities for that two-word phrase “driver inattention,” but in the end, none of it really matters because so many people’s lives have been irrevocably changed by the consequences of the driver inattention, regardless of the specific kind of inattention.

A much more mundane example of how the world is too much with us is apparent in the recent presidential debates for the Democratic candidates. While these debates are arguably no different than those in the last half century, the number of candidates make the compressed intensity of the debate style more apparent. In order to narrow the field, the candidates must “take on” each other with respect to key issues.  Each candidate’s team members perform research and develop talking points based on opponents’ past policy decisions.  The television viewers watch to see which candidate gets to have a “moment” in the limelight, based on his or her delivery of a one-liner or zinger.


Let me make a pointed statement. I will vote for any candidate who is not Donald Trump.  But the media runs the risk of turning all of these candidates into miniature Trumps with its focus on minute- and seconds-long answers.  Whether a candidate is talking about his, her, or their policies, plans, platforms, or values, a tweet-sized thought is not substantial enough.  Candidates deserve the opportunity to articulate their ideas.  There are so many of us who just can’t live any longer in this sound-bite world that Trump has harnessed for his reign.

And finally, the obvious example of the “too much with us” world. Wordsworth is mourning the loss of the natural world: “Little we see in Nature that is ours,” he says.

The ice in Greenland is melting.  The temperatures in Europe and elsewhere have soared.  Trash floats in and chokes the earth’s bodies of water.  Every night, a different expert on a different news show explains to us that we have only ten years to alter the path that leads to the earth’s destruction.

At times, over the years, I have stopped in my tracks, often in a quiet room, and intoned Wordsworth’s words: “Great God! I’d rather be/A pagan suckled in a creed outworn….”

A pagan.  For Wordsworth, the idea is radical, his “Great God!” serving not only as an exhortation but also as an exclamation.

Regardless of what creeds we follow, we must slow down. A slower pace is imperative.

When we are driving.  When we are speaking and even arguing with others.  We must embrace the quiet in the world and linger much longer in some silent, natural moments. We must turn to others, speaking gently and with humility.  We must extend our empathy.  Above all else, empathy, respecting the dignity of others.  The dignity of humanity.


The World is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

William Wordsworth










As first a student of writing and later a teacher of writing at a variety of grade levels, I have long recognized the value of writing prompts. In the beginning, I don’t believe any of my teachers used the word prompts. I initially received assignments and then maybe ideas for assignments. But sometimes those assignments or ideas were broken down into parts, steps, or processes, and somewhere along the way, in one of the many venues through which I was educated, I learned about and began to practice using invention strategies, which I now define with the more shorthand term prompts. Merriam Webster defines the noun prompt as “something that prompts: reminder.”  I like this definition because it hints at the idea of memory or remembering, which I believe is a component of most good writing.

For a brief time in the Fall of 2012, I offered weekly “Impromptu” sessions at Oakland University’s student union building as an adjunct creative writing faculty member. Merriam Webster defines the noun impromptu as “made, done or formed on or as if on the spur of the moment,” and “composed or uttered without previous preparation.”  I used the word impromptu to describe the sessions because, in part, I wanted to emphasize that writing is often done well or most honestly when we approach it obliquely – at least for those of us who like to procrastinate or suffer from the kind of avoidance that makes us cringe to hear ourselves say: “Well, now I’m going to sit down and write for three hours.” If we approach the act of writing sometimes as a little game we can play or a mere short-term commitment, often the act itself feels less foreboding.

I also like the word impromptu also because of the 1991 movie of the same name about musician Frederick Chopin and writer Georges Sand.

While writing prompts are helpful for individuals who write and like to have external ideas and forms available to shake up their thinking, writing prompts are also helpful for individuals who are trying to solve problems – not only complex analytical problems but also emotional and traumatic problems stemming from life events. Diary and journal writing has long been viewed as potentially helpful for individuals who aim to “get their frustrations out on the page,” but writing prompts also help individuals search inside themselves and find moments that are worth recalling, capturing, narrating, and reflecting upon as they are recorded on that page.

When I wrote my memoir about living and dying with cancer, I used several writing prompts along the way, especially on the days I felt most despairing about my circumstances and my state of mind. Some of the prompts were old standbys that I’d used for years, some of them were formal and published in books, and some of them came to me in an impromptu manner.

I share the prompt below with the idea that it can serve as an exercise for writers of all kinds – those seeking to create for the sake of creating and those seeking to make sense of experiences or exorcise demons.

The Tree Prompt

After my parents died somewhat unexpectedly, a few months apart, while I was pregnant with my second child, I struggled to make sense of things. A psychologist I was working with did a few sessions with me in which we worked on prompts, a practice that was fitting for me because of my life as a writer. The first prompt we did was about trees. I still have the entry in a journal. I found the exercise particularly comforting because like most people, I’d had significant trees that I remembered from my childhood, many of which had associations to my parents.

I’ve adapted and augmented that writing prompt I did myself so long ago, giving it a few layers. The result isn’t terribly complex, but the steps will help you find a topic by seeding your brain with a few preliminary questions to get you started.

  1. Take a large index card (or any other piece of paper that gives you some space). Write numbers 1-5 in descending order on the left side, leaving three lines open for each number.
  2. Examine the course of your life and think of any trees with which you have some sort of connection – the tree from a familiar yard, the tree on a path you travelled frequently by foot or by car, the unkempt apple tree down the street that everyone in your neighborhood stole apples from on Halloween to smash against some unfortunate stranger’s parked car.
  3. In as few words as possible, write down a brief way of noting each tree, just as little as you need to identify it in your brain. You don’t have to know what kind of tree it is – you just need to know how you relate to it and why it’s important to you. My few-word phrases are short – tree at the end of Sunderland house driveway, tree by the Sunderland house mailbox, trees in Rod Anderson’s yard, tree hanging over the steps at the Dalton cottage. Take about five minutes to complete this step.
  4. Next to each tree phrase you’ve listed, write one descriptive word. For example, I used the word “spreading” to describe one of my trees and “network” to describe another. Take about five minutes to complete this step.
  5. For the next step, write one emotionally charged word that is somehow related to the tree. Words I came up with for my trees were “guardian,” “empathetic,” “concealment,” and “refuge.” Take about five minutes to complete this step.
  6. Now you must make a decision. Which tree is speaking to you the most? Which do you want to write about?  What you say about the tree is going to be wide open, so you should pick the tree that you think has the most to say to you.
  7. After a few minutes, start writing. As you prepare to settle in and write for about fifteen minutes, think about the following questions:
  • Why did you pick this tree out of the five?
  • You don’t have to describe the tree, but many people do enjoy describing living things in nature, so you are certainly welcome to spend some of your time describing the tree as you remember it. If you don’t remember anything about its appearance, don’t worry.
  • Is there a person you associate with this tree in any way?
  • Is this tree a friend or foe? Since this tree has come up in this writing exercise, it may be of great comfort to you or it may be associated with a negative experience in your life. You may choose to write about either the positive or the negative. Or both.
  • Assume this tree knows everything there is to know about you. If it had one thing to say to you, one thing it could share, what would that one thing be?

Take fifteen minutes to write. Set a timer. Try to write without stopping; back in the 1980s, when Peter Elbow was the guru we educators turned to for help, this type of writing was called the “focused freewrite.” But if you need to stop because your fingers are tired or because you can’t bear to write one more second or because you have to go to the bathroom, I grant you leave to take a brief, brief break. But make sure to get your fifteen minutes in, and consider expanding that fifteen minutes to twenty, but no more.

What you have will not be a finished piece of writing, but you have produced something – an idea or a turn of phrase that you may want to keep writing about.

To add to this piece, consider these possibilities:

  • If you think you can figure out what kind of tree you selected, consider looking up the basic facts about this type of tree on Wikipedia. It can be really rewarding to name trees and learn about them, but not all people are wired to label or identify things.
  • Taking a field trip to the tree or one similar can be fun, and seeing the tree up close obviously allows for more descriptive opportunities.
  • If you are writing about yourself in a memoir or essay type of piece, fill in detail about how this tree came to you for this exercise.
  • If you write fiction, consider having one of your characters be focused on the tree, for whatever reason.

Happy Writing!


Living as a Tortoise in a Cheetah World


For the most part, I am doing well these days, arguably feeling the best I’ve felt in nearly seven years with stage IV lung cancer.

Nearly seven years. And yes, my survivor’s guilt has grown considerably with each year. I wish every terminal cancer patient could have nearly seven more years.

My book Winded: A Memoir in Four Stages comes out in the fall, fulfilling the writing and publishing dream of my lifetime. I will spend twelve days with my family in Ireland in August, something I never thought possible back in 2012, when I was diagnosed.

Perhaps most exciting of all, for the first time in all of these years, I have earned permission to skip the quarterly scans and appointment I usually have with my oncologist, which means I have permission to enjoy my book launch without having the specter of bad scans — six months instead of the usual three months, and I will take that anxiety that usually builds for those three months and spread it in a thin layer over the six months as if it were a lite anxiety sandwich, so much easier to chew and swallow than the regular version.

The scans that preceded my oncologist’s permission were fabulous in their “unremarkable-ness,” unremarkable being the word that pops up frequently in radiology reports when things are going well in one’s body. Unbelievably unremarkable, and to be honest, completely unexpected. Since I required stereotactic body radiation in February of 2018 for what appeared to be a growing spot on my left lung, I was pretty sure I was on my way out of the universe; I had appreciated my five years beyond diagnosis, and it didn’t seem fair that I should have more than that. People on my drug who make it past the two-year mark often start to succumb somewhere between the five- and seven-year mark. I didn’t want to be greedy.

Yet the latest scans revealed that every spot in my lungs appears to be stable. Nearly every lab result for my blood tests falls within the normal range.

In the previous six weeks, I’d even had success with a new antibiotic to treat the daily cancer drug’s rash on my face, and for the first time in six years, my face, especially my eyebrows, revealed no external signs of the dreaded Tarceva rash. For years I’ve lived with the unpredictable pimples and the ubiquitous Frankenbrow that has transformed the follicles of hair above my eyeglass frames into two inflamed and ragged patches of hair-peppered angry skin.

In the meantime, wearing a relatively rash-free face with which to greet the world, I attended a lovely writing retreat at Interlochen, enjoying writing sessions, craft talks, and readings. I hadn’t been to the workshop in a few years, but the previous time I’d attended, I came home rejuvenated and full of energy.

This time, when I returned home, I hit a wall.

I hit a wall just like one of those cartoon characters who thwacks into a solid surface and bounces away, a goose-egg knot emerging on her forehead. I experienced the exhaustion that I’ve felt on and off over the years, the kind of exhaustion you can’t sleep through, can only roam the rooms of your house and try to shake off, like you try to shake the cobwebs in your brain each day.

I knew that the rash would come back when I cycled off the antibiotic. My new dermatologist had told me so. I used to take a different drug continuously with no breaks. I’d stopped this new drug just as I’d headed to Interlochen.

I didn’t know the rash would return with such a vengeance after I returned home. For the first time in years, I’d felt that the face I presented to the world was almost normal.

But it wasn’t just the rash that frustrated me.

Call me the naïve puppy who refuses to learn the lesson her owner is trying to teach her, keeps antagonizing the tenured family cat, keeps dragging that one kid’s favorite t-shirt out from under the bed to chew on, keeps finding ways to creep into that patch of wildflowers entwined with poison ivy.

I know better than most that the rash always returns if the drug is working. I’ve known also throughout this journey that the fatigue can be relentless at times, stemming from a combination of the Tarceva drug’s side effects, fibromyalgia, depression, and poor sleep.

I solved the sleep issue for several years by taking a sleeping pill, which seemed to provide at least nine good hours of sleep each night. But I hated the fog that sometimes resulted from the drug, and I worried that I suffered from short-term memory loss. Thus, I gave it up, making myself return to plain, unadulterated sleep. Which means that on some nights I am wide awake and move to another bedroom to do Sudoku, my strategy for emptying my brain of unwanted distractions and perseverative thoughts.

Perhaps my good fortune in the last year – my book’s publication, my recent stable scan and blood results – caused me to temporarily forget about the fatigue that has troubled me throughout my cancer journey. It’s a strange fatigue, because it isn’t relieved by naps; I used to be a religious napper before I was diagnosed with cancer. But somewhere along the way I lost the capacity for long two- or three-hour naps on weekend afternoons. My mind doesn’t often let me shut down in that way anymore.

And I suspect that one of the ways in which I’ve tried to outwit the fatigue is by simply ignoring it, charging through days, making myself do, do, and do. Yet I know that when I do anything in a public setting, I lose energy. I love people, but as an introvert, I lose energy when I am around people. It should have been no surprise to me then that while being at Interlochen for four days added fuel to my emotional and intellectual reservoir, it depleted my energy.

Still, I felt such sadness when I hit that wall and knew I would have to pull out of the universe once again and sit. Just sit.

And remind myself that I am a tortoise. That’s the other thing I keep forgetting. Not only do I deal with fatigue and exhaustion; I am also slow.

It’s not clear whether I’ve always been slow. As a kid who suffered from chronic and often acute asthma, I knew that I was slow at all things physical. Before I was given an exemption for gym class, I was the slowest runner and could never haul myself up that rope to touch the beam at the top of the gym ceiling.

But I also had early indications that while my body was slow, my mind was fast. I was a fast reader. I did math problems quickly. I remembered things faster and more accurately than many of my peers.

In my mid-forties, I began to have some indication of how my tortoise tendencies might affect my mental capacities as well as my physical ones. One summer I did test scoring for Pearson, the educational company with a finger in nearly every education pie in the country. Math tests. That summer I sat in my grading pod in front of a computer screen, grading for hours on end, quick numerical assessments of how a student solved a math problem, often related to a graph or a geometrical figure. From time to time, the pods would be assessed as to their members’ skills at grading. I scored high on accuracy. When I was normed against others, it was clear that I viewed the test answers in the same way as countless other graders did.

However, when I learned my efficiency score, I was mortified. I graded exams much more slowly than other graders. I made up for my deficits in efficiency with my accuracy, but it was clear that I was not a rock star in my grading of exams when it came to speed.

What I learned that summer about accuracy versus efficiency as it applied to my brain helped me to understand, in some fledgling way, why I could not grade student papers quickly or efficiently. Friends and colleagues gave me a bit of a pass – “But you’re so thoughtful,” they would say. “So conscientious.”

I could tell myself that, and I’d like to believe that some of that “excuse” was true. But I also believe that my brain simply took longer to go through a series of steps that involved complex skills: reading what was on the page before me, summarizing what I thought the students were getting at, analyzing how they might improve their manner of articulating their thoughts or their manner of supporting their ideas, and finally, communicating my observations to them in a concise but articulate way. Putting a grade on their efforts. (That last step for me was its own quagmire, triggering a myriad of concerns about how I might damage some student’s self-esteem or tip a depressed student’s mood into dangerous emotional territory).

When I finally let go of my teaching responsibilities, I didn’t have to think so much any more about why I was such a tortoise. At least when it came to reading, commenting on, and grading papers.

But the cancer diagnosis requires me to keep that tortoise aspect of my brain’s functioning in mind. This weekend, while writing long overdue thank you notes to friends, I wrote that I was “living like a tortoise in a cheetah world.”

A comparison between the tortoise and the hare might have been more apt, as Aesop already established it in our literary canon. Plus, there are lots of rabbits – hares – that wander through my back yard. But today’s world really is a cheetah world. The cheetah runs fast and sleek, its claws digging into the earth to give it balance. In my yoga class, our instructor Marie gives us metaphors to help us think about what to do with our bodies. I hear her say “Plant yourself! Spread those toes! Grip that mat!” With my newfound Google/Wikipedia knowledge of cheetah’s claws and balance, I want to add, “Grip that mat like a cheetah?”

Will that help me speed up?

It is time for me to accept that for whatever reason, I am a tortoise. By disposition, by virtue of the cancer, by virtue of my depression, by virtue of the many things that have weighed me down over the course of my life, slowing my pace.

I’ve finally relinquished the desire to be the cheetah. Sleek is not for me. Fast is not for me.

But I will claim those claws.

For as a tortoise, I, too, know about claws. If planting those claws, gripping the mat, clenching the earth or the rubble underneath me will deliver balance, I will gladly accept it. I will welcome the slow way in which I sometimes teeter, clawed foot in the air until I can place it down firmly, at whatever slow speed I can muster.

And then take the next step.