Pam Writes

Being Positive in a Negative Time

Lisa Rivero, friend and writer extraordinaire, had a great post recently called, “Dear Neglected Blog.” It resonated with me in so many ways – in particular:

During the past seven years, I’ve used blogging to motivate and entertain myself, to share other blogs and resources, to think out loud, to meet readers and writers. I know it goes against rules of personal branding, but I treat my blog as I did my childhood bedroom—changing the furniture arrangement when I’m bored, sewing new curtains, repainting the walls, decluttering now and then.

2017 feels like a time to return to some serious blogging, with a renewed focus and plan, starting with a new tagline: Writing my way to meaning.

Meaning is, after all, the role that writing plays in my life, in at least a couple of ways. First, the act of writing itself brings meaning to my days. Whether it is writing a blog post or poem, short story or essay, for publication or not, I end my day better and fall asleep more satisfied if I have written. It took me most of my life to figure that out—that meeting specific writing goals are not, in the long-term, as important to me as the act and process of writing itself. Writing is an aspect of finding authenticity: when I write, I am more myself.

When I first began blogging, in 2009, I called this blog, “Finding Meaning with Words.” Indeed, my first post looked like this:

Finding Meaning With Words

My son once asked me if I always had to find meaning in everything. I answered, well, yes, that’s what a writer tries to do. It also turns into a vague enough title to allow a writer to explore pretty much anything she wants in this blog.  ? So, we shall see where these musings take us, but I hope we’ll all enjoy the journey.


 

In thinking about meaning and my life recently, I’ve realized that I have allowed negativity to crowd my brain. There is nothing worse for creativity and a healthy mind, body and spirit than dwelling in negatives. Before and after the presidential election, I was swept away with fear, with disdain and with borderline hopelessness. I became one of those people who shared every post I saw on Facebook, especially those denigrating Mr. Trump. I haven’t cured this obsession, but am working on it and am trying to be careful to focus on verified truths, as I should always do, but don’t always do.

The answer seems easy, doesn’t it? Avoid Facebook. Spend my time with good literature, with my own writing, with friends and family face-to-face, in person. But I’ve never been a great all-or-nothing person. I know this about myself. If I think hard about dieting, I’m more likely to overeat when I take an all-or-nothing approach. So, I’m not going to try to completely abstain from Facebook, but I am going to monitor my time and actions better. Instead of letting Facebook be the connecting tool that I enjoy, checking what friends and family are up to, literally all over the world, I’ve allowed it to go from being a connection to being a distraction. I must rebalance that purpose back to connection and positivity, not distraction and negativity.

Most mornings I do spend a few moments with my bible and some prayer time. Often this is a rote quick-and-easy, well that’s done, kind of action. Sad to say, but true. This morning, a familiar verse resonated with me that I will continue to ponder as I consider how I spend my time, how I seek meaning in my life, how I strive to be a force for good. Perhaps it will resonate for you as well, whether or not you have any connection – good, bad or indifferent – to the bible. The verse is from what we Christians call the New Testament, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 8:

…..whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

My last post, at the end of 2016, was Saved by a Love Letter from Luis Urrea. I need to review his Tin House podcast I referred to which is a shout out to all that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent and praise-worthy. I need to turn off the noise about golden showers (have we truly come to this??) and Americans losing their healthcare and impending nuclear holocaust, and stick to what I can do. I believe that the God I love has gifted me in two key ways — 1. to be a connecting person – I seem able to get along with many folks and to be able (sometimes) to bring opposing forces together to communicate and connect and 2. to write (and/or at least exercise my creativity in some positive ways – like perhaps turning inspirational quotes into nice picture quotes. 🙂 ).

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I have been visiting family and friends in Massachusetts since the end of 2016. While here, I’ve attended services at the church of my youth, seen again above, First Congregational Church of Southampton, MA. In that space, I first learned of the ideas of seeking truth, honor and justice. I heard excellent words and songs. I learned about praise-worthy thoughts and deeds.

As I lift my head slowly from the fog of negativity I fell into at the end of 2016 and prepare to return home to Wisconsin, I will try to remember Paul’s words on what to think about, what to fill my head with. I want my mind to dwell on positive things.

Shalom friends. I hope your 2017 is off to an excellent start!

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Saved by a Love Letter from Luis Urrea

I’ve never been a chronic insomniac, but apparently, I’m joining the club. The hours dragged last night, again, until the last watch-check at 3:40 a.m. Sleeplessness puts me in a fuzzy state. I’m not awake enough to write. I can read, sometimes, but that doesn’t often put me to sleep. I lie awake, aware of aches and pains, listening to a soundtrack of summer raindrops or a guided meditation for sleep —  but sometimes those don’t work. Last night, my head wasn’t buzzing with worries that I could name or grab hold of, though it has been a time of uncertainty. A time of needing to acknowledge, again, that I have lived more days than I have before me, as have many of my dear ones.

I am 56. Given my wacky immune system, I am not likely to “put down old bones” as I once heard my penpal’s sister say. I had a health scare over the weekend – a wonky mammogram required another and I’d made the foolish mistake of scheduling a mammogram on a Friday. Since I’m a breast cancer survivor and this wonky one was on the other side, suffice it to say, the worry train rumbled all weekend long. I am fine. The all clear was given.

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My health is a-okay but my inlaws and my friends’ parents are falling, dying, suffering with aches, pains and moves they don’t want to make.

I worked my writer’s butt off on an essay that was hard for me — emotionally-wrenching. It’s about my biological grandmother and her awful life. She was sent to a mental hospital, Pilgrim State on Long Island, in the late 1940’s — the heyday of lobotomies in the U.S. You get the idea. I have been open, and will always be open, about my depression struggles and this essay opened up wounds.

I was feeling disconnected from myself and my work this morning. I couldn’t focus. I was wondering about my need to put myself through creating that essay. I was berating myself for not working harder to promote Done Darkness, which I believe serves a real purpose. I was fuming for leaving my novel editing to sit for an entire week as I agonized through the essay. Suffice it to say, I was falling into writer hell. Why do I do this? (I already know the answer. Because I can’t not do it.) Who cares? Does it really matter?

I stumbled across a post from Tin House, sharing a podcast from Luis Alberto Urrea. I was blessed to study with Luis in Aspen one summer and wrote about it here.

Whether you believe in a Force, a God, a Higher Power or not, you have likely had moments of synchronicity which you may think of as lucky coincidence. I think of them as God-winks and for me, listening to the podcast this morning was a God wink. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I listened to it as I did some things in my home that needed doing – dishes, laundry.

His address, Hymns to the Broken, is powerful. It speaks to all people, but especially those of us with creative drives.  He talks about shame and how it can kill our drive. “Shame is the enemy.” “Shame, they teach it to you.”

What follows is a list of comments from his essay that resonated for me, but please, please find the time to listen to the whole thing. It runs a little under 40 minutes. Be lifted and loved, listen and learn from the thoughts of Luis Alberto Urrea:

“Manhood? Give me a break. I am the definition of manhood, my version. Y’all are your version of manhood and womanhood. That’s it. There is no blueprint. We make it ourselves. Why do we write? We’re helping other people figure out their blueprints.”

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And for me, today, that’s the reminder I needed. My essay was a love letter to my biological grandmother. I wrote it, I’ve submitted it, perhaps it will be accepted, published and may touch other readers.

Tomorrow, more on Luis’s podcast related to writing and healing.

 

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Scattering Hope

It’s not a sexy topic. There’s no guarantee that our efforts will succeed. There’s no easy way of quantifying success. There’s no for certain “cure.” But holy hell, it matters so much.

Suicide prevention.

When supporters of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) tried to hold up signs this month outside of Good Morning America (GMA), they were asked to move out of the camera’s view. They were told, “It’s the top of our morning show. We don’t want suicide on the brain.” Um, hello? Does anyone WANT suicide on the brain?? Deborah Greene wrote a marvelous open letter to GMA on their missed opportunities.

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This is a cause that regular readers of Pamwrites know matters so very much to me. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to create the anthology Done Darkness, about surviving depression.

I’ve never before used this forum to fundraise, but I feel I have to this time. Sunday, I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Milwaukee walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The reasons I walk are many and are perhaps best shown in this essay I read on Lake Effect for WUWM radio last year. It requires about 4 and a half minutes so if you have the time, listen to it here.

And, if you are so moved and able, I would be thrilled, honored and humbled if you might donate to my page at the walk. You can find my page here.

When we plant seeds, we don’t always get to see the results. When we scatter hope, we don’t always get to see the results. But, I believe that our efforts always matter. Somewhere, someone who needs to feel a spark of hope may well be saved by the right word, the kind action, the sympathetic ear. I believe that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with their efforts to educate and inform is planting seeds and scattering hope. Won’t you help me help them to do so?

Thanks so much for your consideration.

#stopsuicide

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Blue? Sadness and Hope can Co-exist

 

I haven’t had much mental energy lately. The election and subsequent ensuing results have whalloped me with a head cloud. A dark blue cloud. Many of my friends and family have been pulled low too. My sons and their loves have been whacked down. So, being bitten by the maternal worry-gene, I fret on their behalf. Before and since the election, the disaster of the Dakota Access Pipe Line continues and I am sadly certain that the water protectors will be removed and will lose their sought after rights. There are too many financial entanglements in both parties of the U.S., our President-elect and the Democratic Party both have close ties. As a nation, we have never respected the rights of our Native Americans and I don’t expect that to start now, an expectation which fills me with shame and anger. But, like others, I am trying to keep my head up, to respond positively to some of the feared challenges that may ensue for my country, and ultimately, the world as far as global warming in particular goes.

In the midst of adjusting to fears about a Trump presidency, life has gone on, as it must. A dear friend and her husband have moved back to Israel. Blue. Another dear friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer — her prognosis is likely to be excellent, but these announcements shake me back to my diagnosis for a little while. Blue. I want to twitch my nose, a la Samantha, and make it all better for her. A family member has had some challenges with a mental illness. Blue. My elderly inlaws are unable to make wise decisions regarding their care, or, in the case of one, to be realistic about the fact that he/she is not immortal. Blue. Their stubborn independence causes stress for my dearest one, my husband, whose job is extremely high stress this semester. And, he has been quite ill and having inherited certain stubbornness, he is unable to take the time off that he should to truly heal. Blue. My prayer list is long, but my focus in prayer time is shot. Sometimes, I resort to what feels like cheating. “Lord, listen to my friends. I’ve got nothing today. I am shot. Help me focus.” More often than not, when mental fatigue drowns my ability to pray or meditate, I simply ask, “Help me be a blessing for someone today.” And, I try. But suddenly, I looked up, and Thanksgiving was over which means one thing to a Christian. It’s almost Christmas.

Advent began yesterday. I’ve written before of Advent being the time of year when it’s most embarrassing to be a Christian. On the heels of that American nightmare known as Black Friday and today, Cyber Monday, we must turn to the reality of Advent and what it offers all of us, of any faith or of no faith. In my previous post, Intentional Waiting & Writing, I wrote:

Advent is a time of active waiting with a spirit of expectation, longing, yearning and hope. It is a time for reflection, for silence and looking inward. There are implications to this season for writers – writers of all, or no faith. Waiting can be the key to revising a piece you’ve fallen in love with. Letting it sit, putting it away, hiding it, whatever works for you – sometimes, a waiting period is absolutely necessary for revising. And for me, the waiting period is necessary for revising my writing and my life.

Whatever this season means to you, if you’re in a part of the world, like mine, with shorter daylight, grayer days, the knowledge that the world around you will soon seem monochromatic, try to think of winter as a time of active waiting. Active waiting doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means paying attention, looking inward and expecting a renewal.

Diana Butler Bass had a marvelous piece in the Washington Post the other day called Forget red and green: Make it a blue holiday instead. She writes:

Yes, I am blue. Judging from conversations with friends, reading social media and following the news, I know I am not alone. No matter how one voted in the recent election, it is obvious that happiness was a big loser in recent months — with therapists, psychologists and clergy reporting high levels of “Trump-related stress,” especially among women and minorities, including symptoms of depression, sleeplessness, anxiety and isolation.

She also writes:

Blue holds the promise that the sun will rise, and that even after the bleakest, coldest, longest night, the light will break forth, as the new day arrives.

Blue may be the color of sadness, but blue is also the color of hope. 

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Let us not forget that. Blue can symbolize sadness, but also hope. And, guess what? They can coexist.

I will leave you with Willie Nelson singing Blue Skies as that’s the best song I found with the idea of blue and hope mixed. Enjoy!!

 

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Ten Commandments of RSVPs in the Digital Age

Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and the young geniuses of Facebook, we were introduced to the idea that “Maybe” is an appropriate answer to an invitation. And, sometimes, that actually is sufficient – but not usually. Yes I am human and I have broken some of the commandments I’ll be sharing, so no need to shout at me about logs in your eyes, etc. I am trying to be better about RSVPing. As an author, I get invited to a lot of events for book launches, etc., all over the world. And I know that often the host knows I can’t be there, but they’re just trying to spread the word about their new book. I try to open those invites and reply with a no and good wishes. A reply is the operative word. Reply, response, answer. You don’t really want the ghost of Charlton Heston to come after you, right? Manners matter.

 

Here are some basic things to think about when you are invited to an event. First of all, for those who don’t know, RSVP, means “répondez s’il vous plaît,” which is French for “please respond.” Note: it is not French for, “open the invitation, look at it, and promptly forget about it or to answer.” If you know when you open it that you can or can not go, do your host a favor and reply yes or no. If you are uncertain, do whatever you do to remind yourself to get back to the invite in a day or two with your answer. If you don’t do anything to remind yourself, it’s time to find that thing that works for you. So…..mark your calendar to reply. Send yourself a delayed email. Text yourself. Whatever you need to do to get back to the invite, well in advance of the event, please do it, and then reply with a yes or a no. If you have replied with a yes, mark all your calendars with details about the event so you don’t forget to show up. Please, avoid “maybe.” Maybe is a pretty inconsiderate RSVP which should be avoided whenever possible. It basically says to the host — I’ll be there if I feel like it. Or, I’ll be there if I don’t get a better offer. Or, I’ll be there if the weather doesn’t suck (sometimes necessary, but wouldn’t replying yes and writing a note to host with that information be more polite?).

And now, drumroll please, I offer you

The Ten Commandments of RSVPs in the Digital Age

  1. Thou shalt open and reply to every invitation thou receivest. Manners mattereth much. (Modern English M.E.: Got an RSVP invite? Reply. Do it. Manners matter.)
  2. If thou knowest not thy response upon opening invitation, thou wilst mark thy calendar to reply promptly after checking with friends/spouse/babysitter/hamster watcher/place of employment for conflicts. (M.E.: If you don’t know your answer, create a reminder for yourself to a) check any conflicts, b) mark your calendar to reply after conflicts/lack thereof are determined.)
  3. If thou respondeth in the affirmative, thou wilst mark thy calendars to remember to attend the event. (M.E.: Said yes? Mark your calendar so you remember to attend.)
  4. If thou respondeth in the negative, thou wilst simply say, “No,” and thy responsibilities are fulfilled. (M.E.: Can’t go? Said no? You are done.)
  5. If thou respondeth “maybe,” thou ist an inconsiderate lout, in most cases. The Divine Creator of said commandments doth offer certain reasonable exceptions, but hath discovered that many humans abuseth the privilege. Thou shouldst avoid being an abuser of privileges. (M.E.: Maybes suck as an answer. It’s a non-answer. Avoid it whenever possible.)
  6. If thou hath read these commandments and still hath not opened all thine invitations, thou shouldst return to commandment one and proceedeth again. (If you’ve read to this point and know you haven’t opened all your invites, maybe it’s time to go back to commandment one and then do that.)
  7. Thou shalt be a responsible and considerate community member. (M.E.: Really, you need that translated?)
  8. Thou shalt treat the phrase “RSVP” as an action phrase. Though wilst reply. (M.E.: See RSVP? Respond. Yea or nay)
  9. Thou wilst not mutter cantankerous phrases against thy host, even when thou canst abide said host or wouldst prefer stepping into a pit of fire than attending the event. Thou wilst keep mean thoughts in thine head. Mean thoughts doeth not deserve utterance from thy tongue or fingers on thy multiple devices. Thou shouldst replyeth in the negative immediately and forgetteth the invitation. (M.E.: Can’t stand the host and/or would rather die than go their event? Keep it to yourself and reply no.)
  10. Thou wilst shareth these commandments with others thou knowest to spread the good news. A good and proper way existeth to handle the mysterious abundance of RSVP invites in the digital age thou livest in. (M.E. – Spread the word that there are ways to handle the abundance of RSVP invites in our digital age.)

 

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The Magic & Charm of Nature

This is the time of year when I mourn my homeland, New England, more than any other time of the year. And, in 2016, due to other things coming up on the schedule, I couldn’t get back this fall. So, my husband and I made a trip to Door County this past weekend, the Cape Cod of the Midwest. We were able to spend time at one of my favorite places in the world, The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay. I’ll avoid my usual slipping into Gerard Manley Hopkins and “Margaret Are You Grieving,” to leave you with these photos from Door County. May the words of Emma Pitcher below stay with you, wherever you are.

 

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This marker is on an adirondack chair near the Cliff House at the Clearing.

Gills Rock, WI

Gills Rock, WI

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Hoping you’re able “to discover and study the magical and charming new forms and patterns that nature created!”

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A Special Place: Memories & More

I adore a line from Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov: “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home.”

Writers live with a keen awareness of memories. (For writers, see an old post on Mining Memories.) We sift through memories in creating our work — poetry, essays, short stories, novels, whatever — something from our past experience plays a role in every creation. For me, memories of place often bubble up in my writing. Particularly memories of childhood places. My stories tend to land in rural New England, the place where my good and strong childhood memories were created. In fact, though I’ve lived most of my adult life in the Midwest, I’ve also wasted a lot of mental energy mourning New England. I hated the whole “bloom where you’re planted” platitudes. The comparison Wisconsinites make of Door County to Cape Cod made me guffaw. The bump Midwesterners called a mountain five hours from Milwaukee in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was the same size as a hill twenty minutes from my childhood home in Massachusetts. A two hour drive to Vermont meant arriving at a real mountain with good skiing.

Yes, I got stuck in comparing instead of experiencing. Never a wise move. I’ll defend myself by saying I was twenty-three when we moved to Wisconsin — and — hardly anyone in my extended family had left New England. Many hadn’t even moved from the town I grew up in. Instead of diving in and exploring my new home, I spent most of my vacations back at my old stomping grounds. Summers always meant a trip to Cape Cod when my kids were little so they would have time with their cousins. I didn’t explore much of Wisconsin until having lived in the state for twenty-five years. Cancer and radiation treatment meant I couldn’t wander far in the summer of 2008, so my husband and I explored Wisconsin during weekends that summer. I recognized, finally, that my longing for New England had been a hindrance to appreciating where I was.

Lately, I’ve had to think about my appreciation of and longing for another place. The Marian Center in Bayview, WI has been a special place in my life. For me, its magic has been all about writing, but for others, it holds memories of school days, of contemplating entering the convent. About twenty years ago I brought my son, then in second grade, to a summer writer’s camp there offered by Judy Bridges at Redbird Studio. Judy saved his summer. The magical sense of possibility and creativity pulled at me. I recalled a Gertrude Stein line, “This is the place of places and it is here.” Someday, I thought. Someday I want to come here and learn more about writing.

My son’s sixth grade reader/writer workshop class returned to Judy’s studio at the Marian Center and again I thought, someday. Two years later, my someday came. I hiked up the stairs to Judy’s Shut Up! & Write! Class. I didn’t know how the shape of my life would change. I didn’t know how important Judy and my fellow classmates, especially Kim Suhr and Kathy Lanzarotti would become in the coming years.

Writing, and finally owning the label “writer,” has been for me an awakening. A grand journey in paying attention. In the Marian Center’s walls, my eyes opened to the writer’s sensibilities. I had always been someone who paid attention to details, who recalled specific snippets of interesting conversations, who cared about reading body language. Suddenly these things (oddities to some) had a place. I had a place. I had found my tribe.

In time, Judy handed the reins for regular roundtables to Kim Suhr and Red Oak Writing. For years, with Kim and

Walking through the grape arbor at the Marian Center during kids' summer writing camp.

Walking through the grape arbor at the Marian Center during kids’ summer writing camp.

For years, with Kim and Robert Vaughan, I taught at the Red Oak Young Writers camps — many of which were held at the Marian Center. Some of my fondest memories – for all time – are tied to those camps. It is a beautiful joy to watch a young person take the steps from the hot rush of creating, to the sometimes cold hard truth of editing and arrive at a place where the writing sings. But, while we loved the campus, the lack of air conditioning and accessibility proved to be problematic. The camp has been using new — and equally wonderful — accommodations in recent  years.

My tribe is leaving the Marian Center because its Center for Nonprofits is closing in July, 2016. Official word has not come out about the plans for the Center, but I hope the old building will be preserved as much as possible, while being renovated to become handicapped accessible and then, maybe it could become condominiums? Who knows. Not me.

I hope my fellow writers won’t waste time mourning the Marian Center. Let’s rejoice in the gifts we’ve received there — but remember that those gifts truly are from the other members of the tribe — not from the floors, the walls, the bricks & mortar. Not even from the gazebo outside, or the grape arbor or the walk to the old cemetery.

The photo below is from our last writer’s showcase recently at the Marion Center. It was a beautiful night, food, fun, friends and fantastic readings.

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Left to right above are writers whose work you may know of, or, may want to keep your eyes on: Lisa Rivero, Aleta Chossek, Judy Bridges, Carolyn Toms-Neary, Jennifer Rupp, Kim Suhr, Robert Vaughan, Marjorie Pagel, Carol Wobig and me, Pam Parker.

Judy Bridges always loved circular stories, so I return to paraphrase the Dostoyevsky quote I began with. “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of finding your place, your tribe.”

Update from Kim Suhr:

The Search Is Over!

Last fall when I learned the Marian Center will close on July 1, I set three priorities for our new space. It needed to…
…be fully accessible,
…have ample parking,
…be “all ours.”
I also secretly (or not so secretly) hoped to find something a little closer to my home to shave a few miles off my 60-mi. roundtrip commute.

I’m thrilled to report we have a place that meets our needs. The new studio will be in the education wing of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 11709 W Cleveland in West Allis, just west of Hwy. 100.

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Wherever Your Feet May Take You

I’m thrilled to have an essay with my photos up at Queen Mobs Teahouse. Special thanks go to co-founder of Queen Mobs and founding editor of Berfrois, Russell Bennetts. I hope you’ll click over at  Chamonix: A Daily Pilgrimage and enjoy (and leave comments there, please 🙂 )

Love and thanks again to all my Mont Blanc Writing Workshop friends and teachers — with special hugs to the man, Alan Heathcock, teacher extraordinaire.

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