“a gathering of faces in the café”

Do you like weekly challenges? My colleague and fellow blogger Amy Maranto at Photography Journal blog posted earlier this month that she has taken on a new challenge in 2018 – a  52-week photography challenge.  Over the year she will be posting a new image each week inspired by the assignment for that week.  I’ve noticed that many of my blogging colleagues participate in weekly or daily challenges, as a way to keep motivated, to develop new work, and to connect with a larger community through their work.

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Amy’s story reminded me that I, too, have taken on a weekly challenge for 2018.  It’s called “Eleven Stories,” a writing program designed to build writing skills and to develop at least one submittable story per month in the next eleven months.  So far this month we have been asked to work toward writing a 55-word story that we will complete by the end of the month.  We’ve been doing supporting readings, practicing changing points of view (e.g., 1st person vs. 3rd person, varying narrators, etc.), and trying out lots and lots of 55-word stories.

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Fifty-five words isn’t very long.  – But it’s longer than 14-word stories, which we tried in Week 1!  As an example, here is a 14-word story?  poem? I wrote for an assignment about people in a cafe.  In our Week 1 14-word story we were asked to compare a group of people to some natural event.  Hah!

A gathering of faces in the café
sparrows pecking at seeds on the ground.

Then in Week 2 we were asked to write a 55-word story expanding our original 14-word story.  Here is my attempt:

Some enclosed in booths by the window. Others exposed at small tables in the center. Chatter flows around feet, floats up among ceiling tiles. Three empty counter stools, the screen door slams guests in and out. Sparrows pecking at seeds on the ground, fluttering in a brown crowd, small beaks picking up a winter meal.

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Next month (February), we’ll be working toward a 101-word story, in March, 300 words, and so on, gradually reaching 1000 words in June, and then back to 750 words, 500 words, 300 words, etc., eventually back down to 55-words again in the second half of the year.  Writing this short is hard.  But it’s also a great way to build one’s metaphor, imagery, and language choice skills, something I greatly admire among poets’ work.

How about you?  Are you taking on a challenge, or a theme, for 2018?  What projects do you have energy for?  Are you creating milestones for yourself?  Or do you like to let your work take its own time?  Thanks for visiting!


written at the YAWP retreat

Yesterday I wrote about a writing retreat last weekend, and while I was there I wrote something that I was looking forward to sharing with you on my blog. The way our writing leader organized the free-writes is, everyone had to write a word or phrase on a small piece of paper, and on the other side of the paper you had to write a number from 5 to 12. Then for each timed writing, a slip of paper was drawn from the bowl and read aloud, and that was the topic. The number on the back of the paper was the number of minutes we would write for.  Some of the topics drawn were:  On either side of the river lies -, Promise me this, Her name was . . .  I wrote this little piece in response to the topic Hunger.


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Hunger is that feeling in your stomach that tells you it’s time to eat.

Hunger is the look in the eyes that tries to grab you.

Hunger is a name for need.

Hunger is a shrunken-bellied child, family cast out by hostile neighbors, somber-eyed and solemn.

Hunger is desire.

Hunger is the firmness of saying No.

Hunger is the last day of the week, the first day of winter, a storm’s biting cold, the prayer of a monk on the last day of life.

Hunger asks us to kill.
Hunger asks us to leap.
Hunger asks us to be human.

Thanks for visiting!

hello from a writing retreat!

Have you ever attended a writing retreat?  Do you have a favorite one?

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Picture this:  a quiet cabin in the woods, no everyday distractions to keep you from writing.  Hot cheery fire in the fireplace, whistling tea kettle on the stove, a cozy desk to write at with a comfortable chair to sit at.  How much writing you will get done!  Your words will flow, your ideas will brilliantly play out in scene after scene of that novel, or verse after verse of that poetry.  All your words will fall into place, and that soon-to-be best-selling novel, memoir, poetry book, or screenplay will be completed sooner than you thought and seemingly effortlessly.  Ah.  This is the life, right?

Hmmm.  Does this dream sound familiar?

It’s just that sometimes when one is alone in a secluded place in nature, as lovely as the surroundings are and as uninterrupted as the time is, the words don’t seem to flow any better than one is at home.  Why is that?  We always think it will be heavenly not to have to make breakfast for the family or answer those pesky emails from business associates or friends.  To have an excuse not to check Facebook.  And from a distance, it seems that way.  Didn’t Hemingway seclude himself in his home in Cuba or in Idaho, to write?  Didn’t Virginia Wolff champion the ideal of “A Room of One’s Own”?  But.  Sometimes that dream of writing at a cabin in the woods is just that – an ideal – and sometimes a writing retreat can be more stultifying than liberating.  After all, with no one else around, only we can do the imagining that it takes to create new work. And, depending on the writer you are, you can put more pressure on yourself to perform than when you take a few moments at your desk at home to tap out a new story, poem, novel chapter – a new blog post!

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Nevertheless, I am happy to report that last weekend I was away at a writing retreat and it was great. It wasn’t precisely a “lonely cabin in the woods,” but it was super-productive and inspiring. It’s called “YAWP,” and it’s part of the writers’ offerings from Centrum, a nonprofit arts organization in Port Townsend, Washington. The retreat ran for three days, Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday, and here’s what we did: each morning we would meet for 90 minutes for a free-writing session with writing prompts. And then each evening we would meet for 60 minutes just to write (no talking, reading, etc., just writing). Each session was optional, so if you wanted to hole up in your cabin and write, write, write, without interacting with the 15 or so other writers at the retreat, that was fine. There were kitchens in the cabins to make meals, and there were also a couple of nearby cafés to purchase meals. Huge 400+ acre wooded state park with a beach, for walking and communing with nature.

I am the type of writer who does best when there are things to bounce off of, like writing prompts, or the voices of other writers different from me, or an overheard conversation at the coffee bar or pub.  This is my third YAWP (definition: to make a raucous noise; squawk), and I love it.  I can focus on a particular work I want to accomplish over that weekend, or I can go with whatever strikes me at the moment.  I can sit in with other writers and hear their work as we write it from prompts, or I can keep to myself and not be interrupted by others.  This time I brought a couple of stories I’m working on – and then wrote a brand-new story in one of the writing sessions.  Yay!

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How about you? Where do you do your best writing or creating? Do you “get away” to do your art, or do you like to work in your studio or at your desk best? What suggestions do you have for other writers and artists to make the most of their creative time? Thanks for visiting!

New Year’s Eve, and how my husband and I fell in love

Hello everyone!  I’ve been inspired to write the story of how my husband and I met, by my friend and fellow blogger Dippy-Dotty Girl.  Her wonderful travel blog is always a source of fun reading!

My husband and I have our wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve (December 31st).  We picked that date for two reasons:  first, we are not really “party people,” so we figured that would impel us to go out at least once a year!, and second, it seemed an easy date to remember, so that neither of us would accidentally forget the date!  We did go out every Dec. 31st for several years after we got married – to New Year’s events, too!  And then we had kids, and it turns out that it’s hard to find a sitter on New Year’s Eve (hah!).  We’d usually go out the next day (New Year’s Day) and enjoy the time together anyway!

My husband and I fell in love because of Fortran.  That’s right, computer programming.  Back in the ’80s.  When you still had to use punch cards and run them through a reader to make the computer do something.  You’d make one small syntax error or typing mistake, and the computer would kick out the whole bunch and you’d have to start over.

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I was taking a computer programming class at the University and my husband, who was a computer programmer and had graduated a year or two before me, was a friend who offered to help me with my questions about Fortran. I had a lot of questions. I loved programming, but any new language, whether human or computer, is difficult to learn at first. I would work on my assignments, run into a problem, and I’d call him to ask for help.

My husband is an introvert.  And a computer programmer.  So, you can guess that he did not seem thrilled (from the outside) to be helping.  But I needed the help, and I really wanted to learn the language, so I persisted.  Only later, after my class was finished and I told him, “I won’t be bugging you with programming questions any more,” did I learn that he looked forward to hearing from me, that he was falling in love with me, and he didn’t want me to leave him alone!  Hah!

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Computers brought us together.  Later on, when we were dating “for real,” we even worked together to build our own computer from a kit, a Zenith.  I eventually got my degree from the University of Washington in mathematics and computer science, like my husband.  And I am fortunate that we have been together ever since.


Happy New Year’s, everyone!  I’m looking forward to reading more wonderful posts from everyone in the blogging community.  If you have seen my earlier posts about Looking Up and Looking Down, I have a couple of new photos to share.



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Photo by Theresa Barker.

Isn’t this a fun wall mural?  I saw this on the side of the 9th and Jefferson Building in downtown Seattle (part of Harborview Hospital), and I thought, I bet my blog readers would love to see this.  It’s a landscape made of stone – trees and hills on the left, boulders and ocean on the right.  A Pacific Northwest landscape in green and black stone.

What are those dozens of small circles below the wall?  Here’s a close-up.


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Photo by Theresa Barker.

Did you guess it?  It is the phases of the moon.  Intriguing!

Hope your year is starting out well.  Thanks for visiting!

When I look up, part 7

Here we are on Christmas Eve (it may already be Christmas Day where you are in the word!).  I took a photo last week in the lobby of the same building that I featured in “When I Look Up, part 3.”  It’s the holiday season and they were decked out for Christmas.

Photo by Theresa Barker.

Shhh!  Don’t tell anyone.  I took this photo in the lobby when Security Guy was looking the other way.

Here we are in Seattle tonight, getting ready for Christmas tomorrow.  We had the most amazing thing happen this afternoon. My husband came downstairs to the kitchen where I was finishing up a batch of my well-known “black-and-white chocolate chip cookies,” and he said, “Snow?!  Who said it could snow?”  I foolishly thought he meant what they were saying on the radio, the forecast which had just said, “Chance of snow this evening.,” so I didn’t pay attention.  But then, a few minutes later, I stepped to the window, and –

Photo by Erica Thomas.

It was SNOWING!!!  There was snow on the ground!  THAT’s what he meant.

For Seattleites, this is really something strange.  We NEVER get snow on Christmas.  All my life I’ve lived in Seattle, and as a child you always hope for snow on Christmas, right?  And all my life we never had it, this being a marine climate where we get plenty of rain, plenty of gray cloudy days, but rarely snow.

I went outside and just stood in it, watching the snow falling past the streetlight at the end of our street, and thought of Narnia, about the lamppost stands in the snow where Lucy and Mr. Tumnus meet.  It was so quiet.  And so lovely.

Have a wonderful holiday!