Trouble with Titles?

I live in an area that is still fortunate to have a few independent bookstores – and, as I’ve written before, my favorite has to be Boswells on Downer Avenue (unfortunate name) in Milwaukee.  It’s a bit of a haul for me and parking can be challenging, so I don’t get to all the author events they host that I wish I could. On Tuesday , this week, due to a little car shuffle in my house – one car out of commission and three drivers needing to go in three different directions, I had to miss an event I really wanted to attend. Occasionally, when an author is touring and there is a local author working on something in a similar vein, the local author is invited to be an opening act. So, Tuesday night, I had to miss my hilarious friend, Mel Miskimen, reading from her forthcoming memoir, The Seamus Sessions: Dog Training for the Bereaved. I have had the good fortune of hearing some of the chapters of that book in progress, and cannot wait to buy the book once it’s out! Mel was opening for June Melby, author of My Family and Other Hazards: A MemoirOnce you know this memoir is about growing up helping to run a family mini-golf business in northern Wisconsin, you appreciate the title even more!

Obviously, titles have been on my mind. They can be tricky and troublesome. In case you need a sound-break, might I suggest Cat Stevens singing Trouble?

Last night, I was able to attend another reading at Boswells. This time by the lovely Rebecca Rasmussen, who was graciously a guest author on this blog during her first book tour for The Bird Sisters. In that post, Rebecca shared some thoughts on her first book tour, as well as participating in a flash prompt write. Check it out here. Rebecca’s latest work, Evergreen, has received strong reviews, but my favorite has to be this one:

“Reminiscent of Bonnie Jo Campbell and Marilynne Robinson, “Evergreen” is grounded firmly in place. Rasmussen’s characters, rather than mourn or pursue acceptance, crash through the narrative, noisily trying to make sense of their severed bonds and broken hearts. Evergreen is a sensitive exploration of love, a novel that proves that Rasmussen’s literary star continues to rise in a way that is anything but quiet.” 

–Wisconsin State Journal

Rebecca shared that the title for Evergreen came late in the process for the book. The working title before that was not “right,” but the proper title took its time bubbling up. Her comments reminded me of something I heard Amber Dermont say once, which I recall in this way, but can’t say for sure I’ve got her words right. The gist was, “Don’t get married to your title. Whatever you love, your editor will likely change anyway.” That statement was helpful for me, because at the time I was “married” to my working title, which was then, “Katya’s Song.” In 2005, a book came out called A Song For Katya. Too close? Too soon? The title I have now was suggested to me by an editor at Henry Holt Publishing and I like it better, though I won’t share it yet. 

I have found in searching for titles for short stories and essays that I don’t usually zero in on the best one until I’ve reworked the piece a few times. I come up with something to call it as I’m working on it, but the best, most evocative title isn’t usually the first one. Sometimes I’ll even ask my writer group for suggestions. 

Like writing, coming up with titles is its own elusive process. It requires time, patience, sometimes bouncing ideas around with others, but when the right one appears, you know it and you’ll think, “Nailed it.”

#happywriting (and title creating :-) )


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Getting Shit Done

I’ve been reading some fabulous posts lately about writing and want to share a few with you. First, I’ve sent regular readers to Lisa Rivero’s excellent blog before, but whether you’ve been there before or not, please, please, consider checking in on her 50 day series: Let’s get serious (finally!) about writing. That link takes you to Day one. I suggest you read and “do” Day one. Move on to Day two tomorrow. :-)

Jackie Johanson‘s post “Doubt is the Writer’s Troll (How to Defeat it!)” at Positive Writer is exactly what you need to read if you struggle sometimes with doubts about your ideas and abilities — especially if you let those doubts rule!

Alexandra Rosas has a great post up about submitting and rejection at The Writer Revived. Alexandra offers some great no-nonsense tips on attacking the submitting process and dealing with rejection. If you’re just plain having trouble getting past the fear of rejection, I suggest a trip to one of my more popular posts, Rejection Can’t Kill You: Fear Something that Can.

Speaking of submitting, I’ve been doing more of that myself lately, and am glad to be back at it. That’s been a goal of mine – to return to the riding the submission train. So, I wrote it down. Set deadlines. And, I’m getting that shit done, as “they” say:




I found that image on a friend’s Facebook page and couldn’t find a citation for it, so triple apologies: 1) for language, 2) for no citation and 3) for the every single day. That is not always the most effective method for creatives, but, obviously, you’ll get where you want to faster, if you give it time — every. single. day.

Stay tuned for news, expected soon, about a call for submissions for an anthology I’m doing with a friend.

Hoping your summer is giving you time for reading, reflecting, writing and getting the work out there — out of your head first and out to the world, second.


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Facing Facts on the Fifth (reprised)

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” Pablo Picasso


The fifth of July, 2014. Yesterday, I avoided the annual Wauwatosa Fourth of July Parade — just wasn’t into high school bands, Irish dancers, Shriners driving in bathtubs, etc. (though I did miss the kazoo band if that was still there). Instead, I took a long, much needed bike ride on a truly glorious day in southeastern Wisconsin. It felt fall-like, low humidity, blue skies, mild temps. Quite nice. And, as sometimes happens when walking or biking, some thoughts clicked into place in my head that have probably been spinning around up there for a while. It is time to reinstate Facing Facts on the Fifth. 2014 is half over (yikes, and yes, it is true!) and I have to finish out the year strong!  In 2012, I spent the year updating my goals on (or near) the fifth of each month and checking in on what I accomplished that month.

In the first post, here, from January 12, 2012, I was using these categories:

1. My Novel

2. Submissions

3. Encouraging/supporting other writers

4. Ongoing projects

5. Review at least one craft book this month

In April of 2013, I needed to put Facing Facts to bed for a while. You can read about that decision at Facing Facts – Final Funeral?



Now, it is time for me to revisit Facing Facts. As I wrote these entries in 2012 and 2013, it was re-assuring for me to hear from so many of you about how they were helping you look at your own goals and updates. It’s the updating and following through that some of us creative types can struggle mightily with, eh? I am re-visiting this system, because I am feeling the weight of upcoming life stuff and don’t want my writing to get de-railed. So, here we go, between now and August 5th, I will:

1. Done Darkness -

this is an anthology project that Kathy Lanzarotti and I are working on. We have found willing writers to be on our editorial board and are trying to fill two more slots there. Then, we should be ready to put out our call for submissions. Website is itching to go live!  So, expecting to get call out by August 5th (hopefully by July 15th — it’s those two slots holding us back!)

2.  Deadlines -

July 15 – Writing Menopause – an anthology looking for submissions has extended their deadline from June 30 to July 15, which means there’s no excuse for me not to finish an essay I’ve had kicking around and submit it!

September 1 – Black Warrior Review  contest. Consider submitting to fiction and/or non-fiction.

3. Novel -

I worked really hard on my revision during May while I was in Eastham, Massachusetts. But, I need to finish out the last 30-50 pages and get ready to query. Even with the deadlines above, I should be able to finish those 30-50 pages between now and August 5th. Send good vibes for me, please! This is a book that deserves an audience — I don’t say that with a braggart’s intent, but rather, with the awareness that this is a story that was given to me to share. It is my responsibility and my privilege to do so.

4. Making Money??? -

Ah, a new and strange category for PamWrites. For over twelve years now, I have been out of the working world. I left due to a health crisis that was aggravated by stress, and my health did improve, until a little bout of cancer light came along. While my husband’s salary is still plenty to sustain us in a very comfortable way, I would like to contribute something to the family funds. So, in an ideal world, I would bring in some money with my writing and I’m going to be looking for ways to do that. Between now and August 5th, I will:

*work on completing online travel writing assignments with eye to sending out queries where possible

*complete and submit application for substitute teaching in fall

There’s more I could add – many more life things I’d like to track (like self-care things — weight, exercise, meditation, etc), but I’m not comfy putting all of those online at the moment. Just know that I’m working on those as well as the writing and moola items above.


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Dad’s Field

Last year on Father’s Day, I posted My Dad, the Mensch, a tribute to Jim Parker, a man who died too young and the lessons he taught me.

When I was back in western Massachusetts in May, I had the chance to watch my niece — Dad’s granddaughter — play softball at Parker Field. The field is located behind the school I went to, which my niece now attends. It was the first time I’d been there with my sister and brother and we took a moment to pop this shot of the three of us –



It would have been a short trip from Parker Field to the Southampton Cemetery, where my dad and his dad and many other dear ones of mine are buried. But, I didn’t need to go there to honor and remember Dad. Somehow, I knew, watching my niece play on Parker Field, was about as much honoring as dad would have tolerated. And, he would have been grinning the whole time.


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Dear Elin Hilderbrand


Me, last fall, 5 years past diagnosis. I made the chair, table and lamp, “So Many Books, So Little Time,” for a fundraiser for the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Coalition.

In an honest, unblinking way, Elin Hilderbrand, novelist, revealed on Huffington Post (The True Story This Fiction Writer Has to Tell Today) today that she has joined me, and many, many others, in the pink club — a breast cancer survivor. I recently learned that the term “survivor” is used from diagnosis for the remainder of life. Not sure I love that concept, but, Elin, you are a survivor already. I have a few thoughts for Elin, and others who have joined, or know someone who is in the pink brigade.


Dear Elin,

I applaud your ferocious honesty. I too felt the need to be public with my cancer. And, I am particularly drawn to these comments of yours:

“I make a living telling stories, and yet my desire to tell the truth here is so overwhelming that it cannot be denied. Just like so many of my beautiful readers, I am facing a serious health crisis. I am anxious, I am scared, I have started crying every time my eldest son throws a strike from the pitcher’s mound because life has changed in an instant and I fear, oh how I fear, I won’t be around to see him pitch next year. My friends say, You will fight, we are here, you will beat this. And yet as anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer knows, we are all alone when it comes to our bodies. No one can alleviate the burden. It is solitary confinement.”    

Well meaning friends and family must say: you will fight, we are here, you will beat this. And, you will listen, believe and in all likelihood, they will be right. But, know this. Know this one important truth: it is not solitary confinement. We are everywhere and we are here for you. Milwaukee has a magical organization called ABCD, After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, that links survivors with the newly-diagnosed. As long as you have a phone, they can link you with a survivor who has gone through a similar diagnosis as yours. If for some reason they can’t, find other survivors on twitter, #BreastCancer

And, this:  “My children, raised in the age of Twitter and Instagram, have created the hashtag #mamastrong when talking to their friends about my condition — so at least I have managed to fool them. But having cancer has left me stranded in a landscape of confusing emotion. My mind goes everywhere, despite my best efforts to keep it positive.”

My mind not only wandered after my diagnosis, I insisted to my husband that my IQ dropped. Something in my brain fried out….for a while. It got better. And, it took time. Of course it’s good to keep it positive, especially for your kids and friends. But, being sad now is part of the journey. You are grieving life before the diagnosis. Don’t walk it alone. Find us – we are good listeners if you need to talk, if you need to cry, if you need to shout, “Fuck it all,” to the universe. You are still #mamastrong when you are sad. You have to dive in for a while. But, like learning to swim back in camp days, find a buddy.

You are not alone.

We are everywhere. Let us help you.

In sisterhood,


P.S. – We writer-types have one thing going for us that may not be as easy for other survivors. Journaling. Keep writing.



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5 Reasons for Thanksgiving in June

Six years ago — June 6, 2008 — the day dawned with news of heavy rains and storms approaching. My youngest son was attending his last day of high school. My oldest son was home, even though it was finals time at Carleton College where he was finishing his sophomore year. He had driven home to be with me and his dad. I was off to the hospital for surgery – lumpectomy, left breast. I remember waiting for the anesthesiologist in a room watching a television beeping with the storm warnings approaching across the state — wondering what would happen if the power went out during my procedure. Wondering how the return drive would be for our son. Trying not to think of storm as metaphor.

I remember the anesthesiologist telling me I would feel funny and heavy for a moment or two. And, I did. And I remember turning to my husband and son, saying something like, “Oh, it’s like college…..oh, sorry, I probably shouldn’t have said that,” and everyone laughed, but that’s all I remember.

After — our older son returned to school and made it back before many highways in Wisconsin had to shut down. Our younger son and his father had to work hard to keep water out of our basement that weekend. In my pain-killer haze, I had moments of wanting to help, but getting out of the recliner wasn’t happening easily. I slept despite the pounding rain and the bailing of the backyard that was happening.

That was six years ago. And now? Life still has its storms – the ups and downs are part of the ride – no avoiding them. But, the most important thing that stays with me every day? I am grateful. I am so thankful to be here, to wake up and see the sky, whether its dreary or bright.

I am grateful for the 2191 days since that surgery. I mark today as my cancer birthday. Different survivors would mark it after radiation, or after chemo, but I mark mine on the date they cut those wacky cells out of me. Today, I am celebrating six years cancer free.

I am grateful for many, many things, but I’ll try and narrow it down to a few for my Thanksgiving in June.

Things I am Thankful for:

1. Family

June, 2008 – three weeks after surgery, at my mom’s wedding at my sister’s house. :-)

All of them. The extra close, the kind of far, the always unusual, the sometimes annoying. I love them all. But, I do reserve some special Little River Band lyrics for my husband: “And I love you best, you’re not like the rest, you’re there when I need you, you’re there when I need, I’m gonna need you…”

2. Friends

- from my church, from the Red Oak Writing community, from college, from high school, from kindergarten and grade school, from former jobs (and yes, I am thankful for Facebook, which I joined in these last six years, which has reconnected me with many of those friends)

3. Writing

This blog began in the last six years and has been a blessing for my writing life — the people I’ve met and connected with here have helped me grow as a writer, and hopefully, has helped others too. Also, I started publishing in the last six years. I’ve embarked on a non-MFA training program to improve my skills. In that process, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to study with amazing writers: Amber Dermont, Robert Boswell, Antonya Nelson, Marilynne Robinson, Siri Hustvedt, Luis Alberto Urrea and Lynn Freed.

4. Travels – seeing our world

I’ve traveled a lot in these last six years, visiting marvelous places and people. Sometimes, I’ve blogged about those travels and you can find photos here. I’ve been to Poland, Sicily, France, Mexico and within the United States — Aspen, New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Minneapolis/St Paul, Chicago, Charlotte, Naples, FL, Portland, OR, the Delaware shore, foliage trips to Door County, the U.P. in Michigan and New Hampshire, and many, many trips to both western Massachusetts and Cape Cod.

5. Faith

I am thankful for my faith, even though it’s a changing thing for me. I often wish I could be as rock solid in my faith as some people seem, but that’s not the way my faith works. For me, it’s like the wind– sometimes strong, sometimes gentle and sometimes, unfortunately, absent. But, I understand that for some, it’s not only absent, but not desired and that’s not how faith works for me. So, I am grateful for the fact that I believe in a much greater power than me (usually), and that I have the desire to grow in faith and do my part to keep my faith alive.

And, those are the five things I am most grateful for today on my sixth cancer-free birthday. Tonight, I’ll share a glass of wine with the man mentioned above in number one and we’ll count our many blessings with many smiles.


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Color My World

“There’s no place like home.” We hear those words and see a young Judy Garland, clicking her ruby heels together, leaving the mysterious, wondrous, colorful land of Oz, to return to Kansas — family, friends and the familiar. Black and white. But why, why must we think of the familiar as dreary?

I’ve been away from my familiar stomping grounds for about a month. In that time, I cranked the keyboard, revised, wrote and repeated. Very, very happy with my progress!

In addition, I saw some old friends, good for the soul, as Bob Seger would say. My travels took me to the beautiful – and quiet – shores of Cape Cod. I spent most of my time in Eastham and Wellfleet. When I arrived early in the month, the forsythia in front of our Cape house was blooming – that snippet of low humidity blue sky — that’s what I saw most of the month – that clear, beautiful blue.

883346_10201014781971673_622673770106525992_oI spent several weekends in one of my favorite places in the world, western Massachusetts. From my sister’s home in Westhampton, I saw this:



Not the best rainbow shot ever, I know, but what better image do we have of color – and, yes, hope – returning after stormy times?

Last night, in my own bed, I dreamt in vivid color. Someone – the first homeowner’s oldest son – had hidden images in my white ceiling’s paint, and I finally could see them. A whale – blue and gray. A giraffe’s head and neck, with huge brown eyes staring down at me. Flowering trees. Swirls of green, yellow, red, blue — a Crayola box from my childhood — were hidden in my ceiling.  Later, I turned a television on, though I don’t keep one in my bedroom, it was there in my dream.  No familiar program came on. Instead, I was seeing home movies from the original owners of our home. Young children of the 1950s and 60s paraded on the screen – laughing and screeching on a roller coaster. The footage was black and white.

I’m no dream interpreter, but I believe my brain is trying to tell me something. Color, lack of color, hope, lack of hope — my creative brain needed and loved my time away. But as Dorothy learned, home is the best place of all.

There’s no place like it.


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Picturing Promptitude

Not quite a week ago, I posted Seeking Solitude about my time in Eastham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts this month. I’m happy to report that I’m out of Part One in revisions, into Part Two and am working out a problem that’s been bugging me for quite some time. It’s not fixed yet, but it’s coming…..and that feels mah-velous!!

This weekend I’m going out to western Massachusetts where I’ll visit with  friends I don’t get to see often enough, and spend some nice alone time with my sister. Again, something I don’t get to do often enough.

I will be back to my words soon and just wanted to leave you with a few more pictures from my time here, hoping they might work for prompt writing for some of you. I highly recommend the Cape after Mother’s Day and before Memorial Day — the flowering crab trees, forsythia, tulips, daffodils, magnolias, have been truly glorious. The sky, thanks to the low humidity at this time of year on sunny days, has been the crisp blue it was last September when I visited. Walking on the beach, along the flats at low tide, I’ve enjoyed the quiet, the clusters of razor clam shells, the unmarked by man ridges in the sand from retreating waves, the occasional dog foot prints (which you never see after Memorial Day when dogs aren’t allowed on the beaches). Don’t get me wrong — I joyfully experienced the Cape in July and August when my boys were little and that was the only time to come with them. Then, I didn’t mind the noise, the flying objects along the beach, dodging sandcastles or other sandy construction projects (our boys and their cousins made cities with dams). But now, I love the quiet. I love the wide open space sans beach umbrellas, chairs, cellphones (ugh). It is a little sad though to see all the houses along the shore, most unopened, many with worker crews doing something, getting the place ready for Memorial Day opening up.

Some shots from my time here, maybe one of them will inspire you to write a little something:

The tidal flats in Eastham Bay c Pam Parker

The tidal flats in Eastham Bay c Pam Parker

There isn’t much smell at the bay right now – it hasn’t been hot enough. And, the sounds are few – the occasional squawk of a seagull, a far away hammer on a roof. But, if you choose to write from this scene, you can add anything you want, inside or outside of the frame.

First Congregational Church, Wellfleet, MA Mother's Day, May 11, 2014 c Pam Parker

First Congregational Church, Wellfleet, MA Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014 c Pam Parker


A summer day long ago, Kingsbury Beach, Eastham, MA c Pam Parker

A summer day long ago, Kingsbury Beach, Eastham, MA c Pam Parker


My younger son, the waving little guy, and his cousin, who will graduate from law school next week! The time, the time does march on – and if you’re a writer, you try to grab a few moments, pin them down and savor them, over and over again.


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Dear Terrible Son

May 10, 2014


Dear Terrible Son,

I received your email this morning with “Terrible Son Alert” in the subject line. I was laughing before I opened it, because neither you or your brother would ever, ever be described by me as a “terrible son.”

So, you’re going camping tonight and don’t expect cell reception where you’ll be tomorrow, and you forgot to ask me for the Cape house address so there won’t be a card or a present. Egads. My life is ruined! I shall spend the day weeping and alone, NOT.

I can’t claim to 100% own the sentiments that Anne Lamott expresses in her wonderful essay, “Why I hate Mother’s Day,” but I do aspire to own them. I’m just not quite as noble as she is when she says, “Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am still opposed to Mother’s Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents. (Meanwhile, we know the worst, skeeviest, most evil people in the world are CEOs and politicians who are proud parents.)”  I agree that not all parents are superior to non-parents, but I’ve known a few non-parents who’ve made me scream internally too – especially those who love to give parenting advice.

I am more with Anne here, “But my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat.” She goes on to talk about being who she is in spite of her mother and lists numerous folks who have supported and mothered her. Well, I agree, there are people, including my mother, who have supported and mothered me, but as Mother’s Day nears, I want to think about the others who have mothered you.  So for you and your brother, I want you to remember all the important people who contributed to who you are as adults — your kindergarten teachers, that amazing band director in middle school, Kumon instructors, saxophone teacher, piano teacher, choir director, theater directors, cross country coach, professors. I won’t remember them all, but you know who they are. Think of them and whisper a thank you to the universe. They helped me as much as you. I will always be grateful that you had the right people at the right times in your world. They each gave you things I could not. Ms. Lamott would say to acknowledge them all: “You want to give me chocolate and flowers? That would be great. I love them both. I just don’t want them out of guilt, and I don’t want them if you’re not going to give them to all the people who helped mother our children.”  I always tried to impress on you and your brother the importance of thank yous. Write a thank you note to one of those teachers or coaches or directors who helped make you who you are. And know that your mother will happily enjoy chocolate or flowers any day of the year. :-) But, know what I miss the most about Mother’s Day when you guys were little? Hand made cards. Hint, hint, hint.

Much love forever and ever,

Your Mother

PS – Below is one of my favorite photos of you two when you were little. I remember taking the shot. This says Mother’s Day to me, beautiful memories of beautiful moments.

Scott and Jim 1993ish

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Seeking Solitude

I realize the irony in the title of a blog post, Seeking Solitude. Yet, I am seeking solitude, on my own terms. I want some connection to the outer world – at limited times – while I seek my inner-self. I have flown from my life in Milwaukee, WI to the quiet shores of Cape Cod bay in Eastham, MA. I have come for many reasons, a main one being to write without the distractions of my daily life. But the distractions in my head travel with me. I am owning them and writing them away to the best of my ability.


“Don’t wish me happiness
I don’t expect to be happy all the time…
It’s gotten beyond that somehow.
Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor.
I will need them all.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea


From my morning walk my first day. Kingsbury Beach, Eastham, MA

From my morning walk my first day. Kingsbury Beach, Eastham, MA



I am well aware of my privileged place in life to even be able to do this.  My hard-working, loving husband understands I need this, even if my absence might make his life more challenging back there. Our family situation means I can take over a lovely home for several weeks in Eastham before the summer demands set in. (Do not think beach cottage – this is so beyond a cottage it’s not funny. The summer home I’m in is nicer than the home I live in year-round. I’m trying not to feel incredibly guilty about that. I am forever burdened by having too much when others have nothing.)

I had thought of posting daily gifts from the sea, but my first few days here have been busy with other writing (my first intention for my time here) and settling in, and contending with significant wifi troubles, which is actually for the best for my other writing. Perhaps you remember  Unplugging vs Procrastinating ?

Today, I will leave you with another gift from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea:

Moon Shell

We are all, in the last analysis, alone. And this basic state of solitude is not something we have any choice about. It is, as the poet Rilke says, “not something that one can take or leave. We are solitary. We may delude ourselves and act as though this were not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realize that we are so, yes, even to begin by assuming it. Naturally,” he goes on to say, “we will turn giddy.”

Naturally. How one hates to think of oneself as alone. How one avoids it. It seems to imply rejection or unpopularity. An early wallflower panic still clings to the world. One will be left, one fears, sitting in a straight-backed chair alone, while the popular girls are already chosen and spinning around the dance floor with their hot-palmed partners. We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends and movies should fail, there is still the radio or the television to fill up the void. Women, who used to complain of loneliness, need never be alone any more. We can do our housework with soap-opera heroes at our side. Even day-dreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something of oneself and it fed the inner life. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone.

I am re-learning to be alone, re-learning to plant my solitude with dream blossoms. Re-learning to let my inner music sing and be heard. I wish the same for you.

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