Friday Lunch! Weekly Blog

A Third Path in the MFA v. NYC Debate

When my brother was little, his bedroom was a minefield of broken things. He took stuff apart, wanted to see how it worked. Toy cars, radios. He was just as happy with hand-me-down junk from our grandparents’ basement as he was with something new from the store. It all had the same dismantling fate. Beware, […]

Nous Sommes Charlie (and Muhammad)?

There was much debate around the PEN American Center’s decision to honor the satirical cartoon newsmagazine Charlie Hebdo with the Freedom of Expression Courage Award at its literary gala earlier this month in New York City. Critically-acclaimed writers who were scheduled as hosts declined to attend. A little over two hundred well-esteemed writers and poets […]

Secret Gardens, House Finches, and Apricots: Finding Voice and Purpose In Mundane Moments

To the right of my house, hidden past four raised beds of squash, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and cucumbers, further past two wild patches of mint, there is an old secret garden. There, morning glory grows wild, climbing our two-story house, twining into our rain gutters, pulling them down, and covering our wooden fence. There, also, […]

Making the Time Count

Lately, I have had a gnawing feeling. It is in my throat and sometimes it moves to my stomach. It seems to start as soon as I think about what I have to do. It really begins to pulse when I think about what I haven’t done. I am suffering from…procrastination: the scourge of writers, […]

Writing: The Toolbox IV

Let’s talk. About dialogue. About speech. About sentences. As a screenwriter, dialogue is one of the mainstays of my craft. In fact, it’s one of the only two tools I am allowed to use to bring a story to life: dialogue and action. It’s like writing with one arm tied behind my back. Sentences are […]

Heart Connections: Into and Beyond the Particular

I recently gathered with a small group of friends to watch a documentary that was made two years ago about our friend Renee in her final months of life. Nine chairs were arranged in a half-circle to transform the Santa Monica office lobby where we met into a theater. On the lobby’s granite welcome desk […]

On Journals: The Journal of Jules Renard

In the digital age, there is an incessant drive to “share” what you’re thinking, doing, eating, writing, not writing, obsessing about. This starts to feel like a bright and shiny red alarm button, urging me to cast my words out into the world: comment on social media posts or online articles, rant about a television […]

Clearing The Writer’s Garden of Weeds

Over the past few weeks, my husband and I have set about clearing, prepping, and planting our garden for the main summer season. Though we live in a climate that boasts year-round growing, summer feeds us color—it is the season we eat rainbows, stuffing our mouths with sun-warmed fruits, painting our bellies, while outside the […]

Writing Centers

I just submitted the workshop packet for my third MFA residency this June. In a delayed, it’s-too-late-to-change-it discovery, I realized that I have basically written the exact same thing for the third submission in a row. Not only that, I submitted it with errors: a typo, an incorrect verb tense shift, a missing coma. The […]

Writing: The Toolbox III

There’s more to writing than the writing itself, like there’s more to baseball than the game. The pre-game of being a writer requires training, warm up, preparation, stamina, and perseverance. Writing is not just an intellectual and artistic practice, it is a physically demanding and mentally strenuous activity. It requires strength: strength of mind, strength […]

Mind Maps: The Bridge to Clarity

I walked into the house one night last week, my clothes soaked, my legs jelly. I was desperate for a shower and something to eat. “How was your swim?” my fifth grader asked, looking up from her drawing. And then, “Wanna read my essay?” The swimming reference is our little joke, since the studio where […]

SXSW: Why Digital Media Matters for Writers

The SXSW Interactive conference and festival was held in Austin, Texas last weekend, and I was lucky enough to attend for the first time. Among the chaos of thousands of people descending upon Austin—multiple trade shows, exhibits, meet-ups, bands, parties (free drinks!), food trucks (BBQ and tacos!)—were the educational panels. During a couple of panels […]

Winter to Spring: Practicing Patience in the Midst of Life, Writing (& Gardening) Transitions

The first flowers of spring have come, calling all bees, all aphids, lady beetles, and grasshoppers, and waking all young, yellow and red striped potato bugs from the soil. Everything with legs is hungry, thirsty, busy flying or crawling about looking for water or food in the white heads of dandelions, along green leaves, or […]

Hearing Voices

Being an artist of any kind means hard work. It means pushing yourself to overcome your fears and doubts, and learning to trust your inner voice, the one that keeps telling you, “I have to write,” or, “I have to sing.” It means showing your work to others, submitting pieces for publication and knowing that […]

Writing: The Toolbox II

All writing requires a reading audience. Words are a heap of lines and curves without witness. Until they are perceived, recognized, and understood by someone, words are like sigils without the magic. While musical and visual arts provide an immediate sensorial experience, writing requires a layered mental processing, the dismantling of symbol structures, ciphers, abstractions, and […]

Translation, Truth, and Writing About the Kids

Things look different from here, on the step/parent side of life. Every day the light shifts and something else is illuminated. Sometimes I write about my kids to understand what shifted, where the shadows now fall on the world, and what the light has revealed of my heart. However, this is not an essay about […]

Allowing Room for Ideas to Grow

Gardening has always been on my aspirational to-do list (along with sewing, cooking, and playing the piano), but it’s also one of those self-enrichment activities that requires actual time investment to get the most out of it. For instance, you can’t just put a seed in a pot and watch it grow into a tomato, […]

When Broccoli Bolts Yellow Poems Sky: A Meditation on Patience, Grace, and Humility for Writers

Broccoli flowers are a riot of yellow. A yellow influenced by green that is bright like metal in the sun. When gardeners set out broccoli plants most never plan to see the flowers. When we eat broccoli florets we’re eating immature flower buds. So, when broccoli flowers come, waving their delicate yellow petal flags, they […]

Scratching Beneath the Surface

My figure-drawing teacher once told our class an anecdote about being in a master class when she had been student. Her art teacher, at the beginning of the weeklong class, handed each student one piece of very large, heavy, handmade 22” x 24” drawing paper. For the entire first day, students labored with their charcoal, […]

One Night, Strunk and White

When my fifth-grader returned home Saturday after a week at Outdoor Science School, she brought a twine necklace strung with acorns and colorful beads, an endless stream of facts about the natural world on the mountain, and several riddles she learned from her counselors. Her week at OSS was the first time she’d been away from home, and so […]

Writing: The Toolbox

Writing for twenty-five years for a living, I have always written for the reader, for the audience, the assignment, the producer, the director, the co-author, the publisher, the agent, and—as is the case with most writing for hire—almost never for myself. For twenty-five years I have faced those who have paid for my writing services […]

Shaking Up Your Writing Routine

This past holiday season, instead of the customary trek to the Midwest from California by plane to visit my parents, my husband Dylan and I opted to stay closer to home. Since Dylan recently switched to a new job, in recent months his schedule had been unpredictable. Also, my December residency for the Antioch MFA […]

Wild Greens Ring in the New Year

Long years after my great-aunt Nora and great-grandaddy Herman passed, a patch of greens grew wild behind their duplex houses, inherited by my mother. The collards showed up earnestly, in broad clusters of green, some summers a little tattered for the sun’s wear. In the back of my mind, for a few years now, I’ve […]

Getting It Write

Since I was young I have always imagined myself a writer. I have journals that date back to third grade. I have copies of my stories published in the elementary school paper. I wrote my first novel when I was 10. I have pages upon pages of loose-leaf papers covered with poems or stories in […]

“The Journey” Into the New Year

As I write this blog post, I’m sitting, tired, in front of my laptop, thinking about residency and how soon it will be coming to an end—just in time for Christmas and the New Year. Reflecting back on this year with its ups and downs, I cannot help but feel a sense of blessing to […]

From Where We Stand

Last night over dinner, after a discussion with our ninth-grader about some challenges she’s grappling with in her personal life, our fifth-grader suddenly asked, “What’s your super power?” I glanced over to her smiling, mischievous face. One of our fifth-grader’s own super powers is the ability to bring levity to difficult moments.  She flipped open […]

Express Yourself

I gave a girl goose bumps today. She was blow-drying my hair, and she asked me what I did for a living. When I told her I teach memoir, personal essay, and blogging courses, she shivered. “I am very sensitive, and I have felt like I need to write down my feelings and tell my […]

My Goal on the Page

This week’s post is by poet and guest blogger Adrian Ernesto Cepeda. Although some might disagree, in my mind, sports and poetry are synonymous. There was nothing like Magic Johnson making a behind-the-back bounce pass during the heyday of Lakers ‘Showtime’ or seeing David Beckham perfectly bend a free kick into a goal. As a writer, I […]

The Reasons We Write

There are different reasons why people write. For some of us it is therapeutic, for others it is just for the pure love of shaping words and making them flow onto a page like a poem. For others it is about getting a message across or creating a magical place that only the imagination can […]

The Two I’s

Back in September, in the midst of a submission deluge for our upcoming Winter/Spring issue (out next month), our fair blog posted a piece On The Importance of Following Submission Guidelines. I know you read it, because afterwards there were far fewer single-spaced, comic sans, 10-pt. font essays in our CNF pile. Still, quite a […]