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.



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

Gills Rock, WI

Gills Rock, WI

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

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“She could actually be crazy.”

I have avoided touching on politics very often here, lest I offend any of my faithful followers — or turn away potential new ones. But, in perilous times, exceptions must be made. More than once, we have heard Donald Trump call Hillary Rodham Clinton and/or her followers “crazy.” Most recently, he said this gem, “She has bad temperament. She could actually be crazy.”

If you are not aware of, or have not been following, Julianna Baggott and David Scott’s marvelous site Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote – A hopeful act in a perilous time, please, please check it out. I’ve been moved by too many posts there to link you to all of them, but some of my faves so far are from some amazing, and brilliant authors. And, let’s face it folks,


I highly recommend these posts from Pam Houston, Erin Belieu, Richard Russo, Jodi Picoult, Philip Nel  and Julianna Baggott (who visited this blog last year) . But the one that has resonated most for me personally, Kerry Neville‘s, inspired me to write my own #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote. Ms. Neville is a professor, author and mental health advocate who is open about her life with bi-polar disorder. I hope you will read her post (link above) and better understand how that lead me to write my #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote:

Years ago I learned some details about my biological grandmother’s life that were beyond disturbing. Her name was Velma and to say she had a hard life isn’t enough. Her mother died in childbirth when Velma was fourteen. Her father moved the family away and Velma had a son, my father, at nineteen. She gave him up for adoption. She had another son, my uncle, and gave him up at twenty-one. Those facts show unresolved grief and probably depression or some other mental illnesses in action.

True. But in the spirit of the times – the 1940s – Velma was institutionalized after becoming difficult and having a “fit”. It wasn’t uncommon for women to be locked up for minor reasons in those days, but unfortunately for Velma, she was sent to Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island, the epicenter of the lobotomy craze in the U.S. She was lobotomized.

I have in my possession copies of letters she sent to her aunt from the hospital. Clear and lucid often, her letters give a glimpse of her life and a hint of her voice. A voice that was silenced by her father agreeing to let doctors silence her brain. Like Kerry Neville in her No-Trump Dedication, I too think of Trump’s supporters in reference to Hillary Clinton:


My grandmother is one of those women who was sentenced to an insane asylum and then silenced through lobotomization. It’s easy to imagine what Trump would have called my grandmother. “A loser.” “A wacko.” “A nutjob.” “Crazy.” In short, he would have dismissed her existence easily with “You’re fired.” I dedicate my No-Trump vote to my grandmother, Velma Gasteyer, and to all the women past and present who may struggle with unresolved grief, mental illness, depression and finding their voice.

My story about my grandmother, THE BLUE CARDBOARD BOX, has been accepted to a forthcoming anthology FAMILY STORIES FROM THE ATTIC by Hidden Timber Books. I am so grateful to editors Lisa Rivero and Christi Craig for accepting this essay. I’ve seen the list of other contributors folks and I am SO honored to be among them. We can expect the book next year and I will keep you posted.

Don’t be shy about dedicating your own No-Trump Vote. Let’s blanket Facebook and Twitter with them! The site has been overwhelmed with submissions and won’t be able to use all that they have between now and the election. Get your own out there! #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote

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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.


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.


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3 Not-so-easy Questions

A recent article in Huffington Post has been staying with me. In We Ask Our Kids the Same 3 Questions Every Night, Meg Conley writes about the three questions her family shares at the dinner table every night. They are meant to keep the communication open, to build family bonds and they also serve to instill family values. While the questions are marvelous for school age children and their parents, I’ve been asking myself them recently. Here they are:

Adobe Spark (4)

At first, they felt a little awkward. And, I was alarmed to realize that I might be slipping a lot in that bravery category. I also realized I don’t like to consider where I failed (which, yes, is a failure in itself and speaks to my nature). Here are examples of my recent answers:

How were you brave today?

*I finished and submitted a piece that was emotionally-wrenching.

*I finally signed up for continuing swimming lessons so I can get hopefully get comfortable with lap-swimming.


How were you kind today?

*I sent a message to a friend who is grieving the loss of her mother (and who lives across the country from me) that she should try to plan easy meals for herself in the days ahead. I didn’t think of this as a kindness until I got her response and realized it was exactly what she needed to hear.

*I wrote and mailed a sympathy card.

*I held open a door. (Yeah, reaching a bit for that one. Mustn’t have been full of kindness that day.)


How did you fail today?

*I missed a deadline on a bill.

*I forgot to log my calorie intake.

*I didn’t make my bed.


So, what’s the point? The failing thing I think is especially important and useful for school age children who are so often expected/encouraged to excel. But why shouldn’t we all be acknowledging our mistakes? How else can we grow and learn? I love the other two questions more – about bravery and kindness.  I suspect if I continue to ask myself these questions that those two will rise to the top more frequently. For me, I’ve always wanted kindness to be part of who I am and how I am in the world. NOT that I always am, I don’t mean that, but it is a goal. Courage and bravery are not things I give as much thought to and I like that this question is bringing it to mind more often.

Basically, these three delicious questions provide a simple exercise in attention, mindfulness and when shared with others, growth and unconditional love. What’s better than that?


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Igniting Healing Sparks

Yesterday I wrote about being saved by a love letter from Luis Alberto Urrea. I shared a link to Urrea’s podcast, Hymns to the Broken, which he shared at the Tin House Summer Workshop in June, 2016. Toward the end of the podcast, Luis spoke about a moment he had with and old woman, a healer in Mexico. He had been struggling – as many writers do – about his goals, his purpose. He said something to her about wishing he could be a healer too, how envious he was of her gifts. And she set him straight with this:

Writing is part of the medicine process. Writing and art are part of healing. You can remove disease and pain from people with your writing, with your art, with your work, with your literature. If you’re an artist, she said, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel or cooking breakfast for your family. It doesn’t matter if you’re sewing, dancing, painting, singing. If you make your art what’s indoor heart, you ignite a little signal fire. That little signal fire burns in the spirit realm, in the gloom on the other side. She said there are so many people in this world who are broken. There are so many people in this world who are hurt. There are so many people who are wandering lost in that shadow and when you artists make your work, you light that chain of signal fires. They can see them. And the broken might gather to you to warm themselves but sooner or later, they will see the next fire and go to it and the next fire and go to it and they will follow your art until they get home.

So if you are an artist, a writer, an actor, a creative cook, a dancer, a knitter, wherever you pour your heart, in those moments when you question your value, the worth of your work, your purpose, try to remember that art can heal. We can’t always know if we’ve touched someone, but on those rare occasions when we do, our hearts smile.

I’ve been lucky to have had more than a few occasions when I’ve learned that my writing touched someone. When I delivered a eulogy at my step-father’s funeral, Bob Schmidt, RIP, I wrote and spoke about how I’d tried to keep him at a distance, how I hadn’t wanted to love him, feeling it somehow dishonored my father’s memory. I wrote about how his patience and kindness drew me in in time. I heard from a friend of my sister’s who was in the congregation to learn that my words were what she’d needed to hear to bridge a family divide. My audio essay about gymnastics without Olympic gold and without regrets, despite arthritis, brought me many comments and thanks. My other audio essays also each lead to feedback that my words had touched someone. Those essays all aired on our local WI Public Radio affiliate, and are each less than five minutes. If you’re interested they are here:

Fighting the Backbeat – about depression and considering suicide

My Legacy Won’t Be Whitewashed – white privilege and ignorance (my own)

The End of Pinktober – a breast cancer survivor’s take on the pinking of breast cancer

The comments I got about Fighting the Backbeat lead to my desire to create the anthology Done Darkness, about surviving depression. By far that book has had the greatest impact in terms of feedback. I am blessed to know that the people who find the book, find a tribe, feel less alone — that’s exactly what I wished for.

And if you’re a writer, like me, remember how lucky you are to have found this often-fraught path. Remember, we’ve got the chocolate!

Adobe Spark


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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.

Adobe Spark (3)

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.”

Adobe Spark (1)


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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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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Climb Every F***ing Mountain!

It was time for a new look for PamWrites. For five years, I’d opened up the blog to that line drawing caricature of me and didn’t appreciate the frumpy me. At first, I loved that one. I loved the artwork, the fact that one of my favorite artists drew it, but I wanted the caricature me to be thinner and happier. 🙂 I chose the new header picture above because, well, because I love it. For a time, it was my profile picture on Facebook. A writer friend from Red Oak Writing, Joel Habush commented on it with, “This should be the profile picture you always go back to. It says so much about you.”

And I gave that some thought and decided that he was right. In that shot, I am at the top of an alp in Chamonix, France,  which I would climb down not long after that pic was taken. Last year in Chamonix, I had a torn meniscus and there was not much hiking of any kind going on. This year, lots of writing, lots of hiking, lots of metaphorical spinning and singing, “The hills are alive…” So, what does the picture say about me? I hope it says I aim high, I try to be optimistic and smiling, I reach out and I love this life!

On another day in Chamonix, with a friend from my group at the Mont Blanc Writing workshop, I took a lift up to Aiguille du Midi. Here’s the midpoint stop up to the top:



And the market in town on another day…..   June in France, in Chamonix, is a slice of heaven on planet Earth for me.




Mid-August re-awakens my inner teacher and will find me back at PamWrites more often, I’m sure. I’ve missed being here and hope you may have missed these thoughts occasionally too. Hope your summer has had its share of smiles and relaxation, among all the must-do s of this life. Did you happen to have a photo taken of yourself that is undeniably “you”?? 🙂 Hope so.

Cheers and here’s hoping for a good day for you and yours.


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Hope Matters

Hope matters. It should not be confused with optimism, though they are siblings.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright, dissident and later beloved statesman, was born in a time and place where it would have been easy to choose hopelessness, but he never did. In his essay, “Never Hope Against Hope,” (note the essay in Esquire originally appeared in 1993, this link is taking you to its reprinting in 2011) Havel wrote, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Vaclav Havel being remembered. From our visit to Prague in 2015.

Spring, by its very being, can fill us with hope. As I type this, tear-shaped petals of many shades of pink float on the breezes. They almost seem to giggle on their way down, so those tear-shapes belong with happy tears, not sad ones. Havel believed, as I do, that “Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can’t delegate that to anyone else.”

Havel, a beloved Czech playwright who became the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic, wrote in that same essay about absurdities we can face in our lives. Indeed, he describes an accident, a night two months before he became President, when he was walking a drunk friend home. “In this total darkness, though completely sober, I suddenly fell into a black hole surrounded by a cement wall. The fact is, I had fallen into a sewer, into what can only be called, you’ll excuse me, shit.” It’s a vivid scene and I recommend reading the whole essay.

I have written before about hope. My personal favorite is from spring, two years ago, Scaffolding & Hope. But there are more:  Choosing Hope, a guest post from Jeanette Michalets, I Feather My Nest with Hope, Contentment & Perspectacles.

Is it any wonder then that my first book published, Done Darkness, is really about finding hope? Yes, it’s an anthology about living with depression, but more than anything, it is about hope, about seeking hope and light, even in the pits. (Or the sewer as Havel had to.) It has done my heart good to read the reviews on Amazon as readers find this book and leave their thoughts. (Shameless plea — if you’ve read the book and found meaning, hope or something that connects for you or a dear one, could you please, please leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads? Those reviews help other readers find the book – help us spread hope.) As I wrote earlier this year, Kathy Lanzarotti (my co-editor) and I often said we wished we could have made “Carry On,” by Fun, our book’s theme song. One verse in particular always speaks to me:

‘Cause here we are
We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
Sun will come
We will find our way home

We have a wedding in our family next week. In the life of families in our era of living so separately, weddings seem to be the last remaining time to get-together to share in the celebration of love and hope. My older son, the groom, asked me years and years ago, “Do you have to find meaning in everything?” That was when this blog was called Finding Meaning With Words. Yes, I said. Yes, I do.

And apparently, so did Vaclav Havel, “…life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.”



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