Tag Archives: writing

Wigilia, the Christmas Eve Supper, Our Way

My most memorable Christmas gift isn’t really a gift–at least not in the traditional sense.  It wasn’t something wrapped in paper and placed under a tree.  Rather, it was an experience.

My mother’s side of the family is Polish-Catholic–I can trace that ancestry all the way back to the Motherland. And what tradition we experienced growing up stemmed from that heritage.  In Polish-Catholic culture, Christmas Eve (Wigilia) reigns supreme amongst holidays, featuring a cherished celebration steeped in traditions both religious and familial. A part of that celebration usually involves the sharing of oplatek, which is a Christmas wafer much like styrofoam in texture and appearance–if that styrofoam were beaten and rolled out as thin as possible. Except, of course, it’s edible (though probably about as tasteless as styrofoam). It’s embossed with Christmas images, like the nativity scene. But what it is isn’t really important–it’s about what you do with it.

I can remember our dining room, decked out in Christmas decor. The table featured an admirable spread: Grandmother’s silver, which we’d diligently polished the day before, displayed a mouth-watering feast over which we’d slaved all day. Christmas tunes drifted in from the living room, Aretha Franklin belting out, “Go Tell It On The Mountain!” One seat at the table was set for the “unexpected visitor,” another Polish-Catholic tradition–although my mother’s translation of this custom reserved the seat for the spirit of my dead grandmother. Some hay peeped out from beneath that placemat–which I am pretty sure should symbolize the manger in which Christ was born–but which, again, somehow got translated into representing my dead grandmother. That’s sort of how tradition went for us when it showed up–always a little blurred by memories made murky with Vodka–symbolism twisted by intoxication…

Read the rest plus my poem “Aftermath” in Wrapped Up in Ribbon: Stories and Poems of the Christmas Season.

Come to the online release party on Facebook tomorrow for the code to get it FREE.

Check out The Write Stuff tag on this blog for more of my writing and adventures in writing.

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I Remember the Halloween…

I’m part of an online writer’s group that meets on Thursday nights. Our moderator posts a series of prompts, and then we have to write on on for 20 minutes. then, we read each others’ and provide feedback. this is what I worked on last wee for the prompt “Memoir: I still remember the Halloween…”. I still haven’t incorporated the changes I want based on the feedback I got. And also, I went long on my time, writing for closer to 45 minutes. Sometimes that happens.


I still remember the Halloween I quit Halloween. Or at least the trick-or-treating part. By which I mean, the part where I open my door for strangers to offer them treats. Yes, I know that makes me sound like the Ebenezer Scrooge of the holiday, crushing the candy-covered dreams of costumed kids everywhere. But I still don’t do it.

I haven’t always eschewed treat-giving. Once upon a time, I looked forward to ooh-ing and ah-ing over all the little princesses, pirates, lions, and tigers, and Dorothys, and bears…oh my! It made me happy to buy the good candy, not the cheap Dollar Store stuff, and wait at the front door to watch their delight as I bestowed upon them not one, not two, but a small handful of goodies. I smiled. I laughed with them. I loved them and the whole thing.

And then I moved into [redacted] Apartment Complex. That place killed my Halloween spirit.It didn’t happen right away of course. No, it took its sweet time. It started with the the Halloween all the cars in the parking lot were egged–not a cool trick. I washed my car. We all did. I may or may not have hurled some threats at some potentially guilty-looking preteens. Feeling somewhat vindicated, I went on to offer treats another year.

But this time around, some “kids” knocked on my door and demanded treats. They weren’t even in costume, which I pointed out. They laughed and told me to give them some damn candy. They were a menacing little posse, so I was just thankful I’d been relieved only of my candy stash. As a single woman, I didn’t really feel that comfortable. But I wasn’t giving up on Halloween yet.

I got a guard dog. Ok–I got a new friend, Penny–and not because of Halloween. It just so happens she became a guard dog. My neighbors thought she was a Rottweiler puppy when I brought her home. I let them think that because it bought me some street cred, which went a long way at [redacted] Apartment Complex.

Another Halloween: some of the younger kids in the complex–all decked out in Halloween gear, came door to door for treats. Great. I knew a lot of these younger kids, and I felt bad for them living in what I’d come to think of as a run-of-the-mill hellhole. Their parents didn’t even accompany them. One of these little guys was familiar to me because he’d often stop by on weekend mornings to ask for cereal–because his mom was “sleeping,” and he couldn’t find any food. “Sleeping” in that place meant “passed out cold drunk or from a close-to-overdose.” We shared a lot of cereal. When they came to the door, it was still light out–early evening, but the sun was setting. I had already determined to leave the porch light off once the sun went down and just watch movies with Penny the rest of the night.

The sun went down. The light went off. The movie came on. Penny and I snuggled up on the couch when suddenly there came a frantic knocking on the door. Penny started barking to beat the band, lunging at the window as she was (and still is) wont to do. I peered through the peephole and saw one of the younger kids from earlier. She was a 6th grader who I sometimes let use my computer to do research on the Internet for school projects. She was still in costume, and one of those felt Halloween bags dangled precariously from her arm, threatening to spill its candy contents on my doorstep. I let her in; she barreled past me: “Shut the door! Shut the door!”

Um. Ok. So I ask her why: “What’s going on?”

“They’re coming,” she tells me and throws herself down on the floor to hug Penny.

Before she can answer, another round of frantic knocking starts at the door. Penny jumps up and pyhsically assualts the window near the door, barking at her highest volume. The girl looks at me with horror and says, “Don’t open it.”

So I check to see who it is through the peephole. The cereal kid is there. With another little girl. So I open the door, and they, too rush in past me, panting: “Shut the door!”

At this point, I have no idea what’s going on, so I quiz them all some more. They tell me some of the bigger kids are chasing them, stole some of their candy, knocked them down, and were all around being the sort of big, bad bullies kids have been fearing for decades.

Fine. They could stay here until the coast was clear. Apparently, my apartment was a safe place.

After twenty or so minutes, I decided that we should check out the situation outside, and then Penny and I could all walk with them to their respective units. Good plan. Until I opened the door. And three “big kids” nearly rushed me. Penny went ballistic, I went ballistic, the kids went ballistic, and we slammed the door to our safe place. And then…BAM! BAM! BAM!

Those bastards were whaling on my door. “Open the door! Trick-or-Treat! Open the door!” Penny did her best Rottweiler the whole time. The kids did their best renditions of frightened kids, and I started screaming back at the door: “Go away! Go Away! No!”

The banging would stop, and then start again. It was ridiculous. I called the police, but it was Halloween night, and we lived in the sort of place where it takes a while for the police to get there. So we waited. And then the banging again. And laughing. Those little bastards were laughing, howling with laughter, really. All while terrorizing a handful of little kids (and me…and Penny). And they weren’t leaving. They thought it was funny.

Finally, I opened the door (the kids warned me the whole time not to), and, holding Penny by the collar (still doing her best Rottweiler, God love her), and a butcher knife in the other, I screamed: “Get the [redacted] away from my door! So help me if you put your hand on it one more time, it will be the last thing you ever touch because I will not only release this dog on you (insert well rehearsed growl here from Penny), I will cut your hands off. Do you understand me?”

Sometimes a little false bravado and a tough-girl vernacular goes a long way. It did that night. But I wasn’t about to try it again in another year when those “big kids” would be packing 9-millimeters. I was ready to move.

And though I have since lived in other, far more respectable neighborhoods, I still don’t do treats for Halloween. I turn the porch light off when the sun goes down, and I barricade us all inside with movies and eat and wait the night out.

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The (Bestselling) Write Stuff

Today is the launch date for the short story anthology Summer Shorts: Airing Out Our Secrets, a project to which I contributed two pieces:

  1. “The Devil in The Confessional,” and
  2. “Homeless Screws.”

You can check it out now on Smashwords, and it will be available in print and on other platforms later. Find me starting on pg. 51), and get it today for free with this coupon code: KR34E.summershortssimple

Speaking of Smashwords, the last project I worked on, Whispers, Shouts, and Songs is the #1 BESTSELLER for Poetry collections by multiple authors AND the #2 BESTSELLER for general poetry collections on Smashwords. Technically, that makes me a bestselling author.  Try not to mow me down running over here to get an autograph, k?

In any case, from 7:00 PM-9:00 PM EDT, the authors from Summer Shorts will be online for an e-Launch Party.  Stop by to say hey and to get free e-copies of the new book and win other prizes.

And if you’re bored and haven’t already done so, check out my fiction sneak peeks (“Onset” and “Maura Reardon“) here on the blog or my poems “Death by Laundry” and “Cotton Nothing” or even my post about why I write.  🙂

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Teaching Students to Think

“De-emphasizing, de-funding, and demonizing the humanities means that students don’t get trained well in the things that are the hardest to teach once at a job: thinking and writing clearly.”

So says Max Nisen in his article “America Is Raising a Generation of Kids Who Can’t Think or Write Clearly.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Every year, it gets more noticeable in more students.  They’re coming to college under-prepared, and we struggle to get them where they need to be.  Ask any faculty member what these students lack, and nine times out of ten, they’ll point to two areas:

  • personal responsibility
  • critical thinking.


What a shame it is: we have an educational system failing to teach students to think. How depressing it is!  My students will beg me for “the right answer” before giving just one minute of their attention trying to figure out the answer themselves. They don’t want to think. They just want to be told what to do or how to do. And prior to college, that’s exactly what happens. Imagine their surprise, their discomfort, their fear when we expect them to think but they’ve never been taught how to.

Colleges have attempted to deal with this problem in a variety of ways because students who can’t think can’t succeed in college.  Of course, general education requirements force them into classes they hate but that ask them to think and read and write critically. But more often than not, they simply bomb out.  And so we try to “go back to the drawing board” and teach them how to succeed in college by learning how to think.  Winthrop University, for example, created a Critical Reading, Thinking, and Writing (CRTW) class required for all freshmen.

At our school, we created Freshman Seminar (COL 105). One of the first things I explain to students in that class is that college learning is very different from high school learning.  And one way in which that is true is the way in which we expect them to think: critically and creatively.  We then spend time talking about what that means. I like to kick off that discussion with this great old SNL clip in which Jerry Seinfeld plays a teacher attempting to get his student to think about history.

Then, we spend a lot of time practicing both–all semester long.  Because these skills, which are vital to success not just in college and not just in the workplace but also in life, are only learned by doing. And doing. And doing some more. Taking away any coursework that teaches these skills to students is a disservice to students, a disservice that will affect them now and in the future, throughout their lives.

–> Disclaimer


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Cotton Nothing

This poem (included in the anthology Whispers, Shouts, and Songs)  went through many iterations.  Basically, it’s a poem about a desire to don a cloak of invisibility–but not in the super hero way. The poem wonders what that would feel like, concluding that it would feel comfortable, breathable–like wearing cotton as opposed to something like wool. It reflects a yearning to shed the bonds of conformity, forgo the safety of the familiar, and embrace the freedom of  living without society’s constraints.

Cotton Nothing

Hidden deep in the dark recesses of my closet,

Past the Well-worn, the Familiar,

Past the Curtain of Conformity,

Tucked into a barely visible corner,

Hangs Nothing.

I ponder it:

Should I slip into Nothing, and

Drape myself in the fabric of Invisibility?

Would it feel cool and smooth like Satin?

Soft like Cashmere?

Rough like Wool?


But I think it wears more like Cotton, naturally, letting me breathe,

And will try it on for size.

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Writing–It’s a Process

I’m always trying to get my students to embrace the idea that writing is a process–not a product. I encourage (and sometimes force) them to produce draft after draft after draft.

And I’m not just talking the talk.  I never just sit down at the computer and come up with something brilliant and ready to go! Anything worthy of being read goes through many drafts.  I often have other people read over my work, make suggestions, and then I revise and edit some more (the exception to this is poetry because I find that too intensely personal for peer review. I mostly write poetry for myself and having recently submitted it to scrutiny via publication in Whispers, Shouts, and Songs was very scary for me).

Everything I write starts out on paper.  I have tons of writing notebooks that are often scattered throughout the house and one in the car or a bag I’m carrying, so I always have one available if an idea pops into my head or I feel the urge to write something down.

I can never start on the first page of a notebook–it feel too formal and makes me feel pressured to write something brilliant right away. So I usually flip to a random page to begin something new.  Thus, my notebooks are filled in no particular order with blank pages in between entries.  Many pages also have doodles or pictures from magazines pasted in–images that sparked ideas, even if not yet fully formed.  And sometimes one little poem will appear again page after page with changes–small and large.  Things are crossed out, arrows point to where things should be but aren’t yet. Alternate vocabulary choices are jotted in the margins.  It’s basically a big mess until it isn’t. And then it might make it to a computer. Maybe.

Here’s an example of the growth of “Death by Laundry,” (<–link) which I still consider unfinished despite its inclusion in the anthology Whispers, Shouts, and Songs. I hate the way it ends.

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Death by Laundry

This is one of the poems I published in Whispers, Shouts, and Songs.

Basically, this poem came to be after I had dealt with one too many loads of incomplete laundry.  I’ve never really liked doing laundry. I actually do pretty well until I have to put things away (I actually had no dressers in my last house). And socks? I hardly wear socks–I wear shoes that don’t require them, or I wear tights. My husband, on the other hand, wear socks EVERY day. This was one of those post-marriage revelations…and something to which I did not easily become accustomed. I hate washing, drying, and matching socks (Me to my husband: “Clip your socks!”) And one day…it was enough, and this poem came out…and I worked on it bit by bit, refining it over several weeks before it got to this point.  I, for the record, feel completely ridiculous having written a poem about laundry. But then I remember Walt Whitman…who reveled in the every day, finding it, more than anything, worthy of poetry, and so here I am.

I actually never finished this one, but it was as finished as it was going to get (again, my notebook holds many drafts of this), so I went with it.  I feel, though, like this is one I will still come back to…

Death by Laundry

I cower before an accumulation of apparel,

a perilous pyramid perched precariously upon the edge of my bed—

barring me from rest.

The scent of Downey fills the air.

I should go in for the tackle…but, no…

The long tentacles of cool weather T-shirts, tangling together, threaten to topple the pile when I tug just one.

Jenga, it is.

I regroup: “Start small!”

But the trickster tube socks taunt me:

Mixing, never matching, posing like twins but morphing into distant cousins when I finally draw them out from their game of hide and seek.

I am a failed matchmaker—

I dive in again but am smothered by sweaters, weighed down by denim, strangled by slacks…

Cause of death: Asphyxiation…


Filed under Home Life, The Write Stuff

Why I Write

My participation in the upcoming Summer Shorts project requires me to answer the question “Why do you write?”  That’s a hard question, but here’s my attempt at an answer:

Nothing is simple. The world is a complex place—filled with complex people, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. People make sense of that complexity in a variety of ways—through song, painting, discussions, debate, theater, science, math. Whether they’re watching, reading, or participating, they are using such tools to better understand the world in which they live. For me, writing is the tool I use to attach meaning to the experiences in my life, it’s how I mine them for life lessons, how I see beyond the black and white to really understand them.

I write to be understood…and to understand. I write to express my own feelings, to try to understand those of others. I write to share stories. Story-sharing connects us to other people, helps us better understand them, develops in us a sense of empathy that is at the very core of our survival as human beings. I write, too, to explore the unknown—to keep from cowering in the face of this greatest of all fears—to meet it head-on, even if I’m only imagining what it might be and how I might conquer it. I write to express my emotions—the sorrow, the fear, the anger, the pain—to keep them from bottling up, to relieve the pressure, to prevent an explosion. I write to feel heard—even though my voice is small. I write so others know they’re not alone, and so I know that I’m not either. I write to sleep—to give the thoughts relentlessly running through my head a place to go, so I can have some peace. I write because I think. And I don’t know any other way.


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Sneak Peek 2: Short Fiction

Below is a link (PDF file) to a very rough excerpt from a piece I’m working on. You may notice that the names of the characters are inspired by my drive through the country the other day. You may also notice, as I have, that there are still errors that need editing. But I’m putting perfectionism aside for the sake of this sneak peek. This one is tentatively titled “Onset.”

Onset, Working Draft (PDF File)

If you didn’t already check out my earlier sneak peek, here it is!


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Sneak Peek: Short Fiction

Below is a (very) short excerpt (PDF file) from a piece of fiction I’ve been working on. It was inspired by this news story I read. It made me wonder what would compel a seemingly normal, usually reasonable person (even though the people in the news story seemed neither normal nor reasonable) to violence at something as innocent as a kindergarten graduation.

Maura Reardon 1 (PDF File)


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