Write On Wednesday: Nourishing Words

I’ve been obsessed with food for the past 18 months. 

Perhaps I should say I’ve been obsessed with other people’s food: for months and months one of my dogs was so fussy about eating that he made himself sick. My mom’s diminishing appetite led to anemia and dehydration, causing a fainting spell that sent her to the ER. Now my husband has been prescribed a strict low-sodium diet, which involves learning to cook and eat in an entirely new way.

I spend a lot of time researching various diets, planning meals, coaxing those who aren’t hungry and don’t want to eat while attempting to appease the one who is very hungry and can’t eat the things he wants. With all this concern about food comes anxiety. With anxiety comes loss of appetite (at least it does for me). 

In all the confusion about making sure everyone else eats correctly, I’ve been failing to eat correctly myself. And isn’t that always the way. Those of us whose primary focus is caregiving often forget to take care of ourselves primarily.

The Sunday Salon: Regrouping

Ah, summer. You have finally deigned to grace us with your presence, and those of us here in the midwest are appropriately grateful. I am showing my gratitude this Independence Day weekend by exercising my freedom to sit on the deck, read, ride my bike, read, go for a ride in our classic sports car, read, eat lunch at a favorite outdoor cafe, read...well, you get the picture.

Write On Wednesday: Happy Zone

Late yesterday afternoon my husband had an unexpected problem arise at work, one that required him to drop everything he was doing and switch gears. He was working from home already, in his office in our basement. I got home myself about 4:00, and went down to check on him. He was just getting started to work on this project, so I came back upstairs and closed the door so it would be quiet.

At 6:00, which is our usual dinner time, I went back to check on him again. Both dogs were down there with him, quietly sleeping in their little beds under his desk. His computer was humming along, his drawings were spread out around him, he was barely aware of my presence. 


Begin It

BeginJust begin. Let your fingers hover over the keys, let the tips of them settle into the gentle concavity of each black square, let them select one letter after another and, with a gentle pressure, place that letter on the screen. Do that again and again while those letters become words, sending sparks to the engine that is your brain until it begins to fire and then to rumble insistently. Let the words multiply, let them trail across the screen like so many miles across the desert, wheels turning ever faster across thoughts and emotions and opinions and ideas, automatically making those thousands of decisions necessary to propel this thing, this writing, further and further along its journey.

Just begin.


Beginning has become difficult for me. It’s hard to find a way in to the things I want to write about. I’m reminded of those jump-rope days from long ago, two friends on each end swinging it tautly so it arced above my head, hearing the rhythmic swish as it swiped the pavement on its way around. “Jump in, Beck!” they’d call. “Jump in! Do it now!”

Oh it was so hard, so scary. If I missed, the rope would puddle over my head, all that momentum come to a dead stop, all that energy wasted, leaving me stranded in all my uncoordinated gracelessness.

But when I made it in how effortlessly simple it seemed to follow that pattern, to get into the groove and stay there. It was like riding a bicycle - you mustn’t think about the mechanics of it, about how to keep your balance on those teetering two wheels, you must focus first until you get the rhythm, but then let go.

Let go of that tight-fisted control.

Let go of the nagging “you’ll never make it” fear.


I pick up Still Writing, a book that stays on the desk in front of me, a book I use as talisman and devotional. It opens first to these words: "Writing is hard. We resist, we procrastinate, we veer off course. But we have this ability to begin again. Word after word, sentence after sentence, we build our writing lives. Today, we need to relearn what it is that we do. We have to remind ourselves to be patient, gentle with our foibles, ruthless with our time, withstanding of our frustrations. We remember what it is that we need. The solitude of an empty home, a walk through the woods, a bath, or half an hour with a good book - the echo of well-formed sentences in our ears. Whatever it takes to begin again."

So today I begin again, with my fingers now falling more surely and confidently on the keys - at least as surely and confidently as they ever do. The road unwinds strong and clear before me, the rope sails above my head and I lift my feet at exactly the right moment.

I jump in.

I just begin.







Write On Wednesday: Editor at Large

This process of moving house has become an exercise in revision. For weeks, I’ve been going over all my possessions with a fine tooth comb - must I have four sets of casserole dishes? five travel mugs? half a dozen different styles of placemats? How many black purses do I really need? So I red-pencil items like a good editor would do extraneous words, consigning them to trash bags, donation bins, Craig’s List.

It’s been surprisingly easy to jettison all this baggage, and I feel lighter and freer by the moment. I’m almost loathe to take anything at all to the new house, am delighted at the thought of being pared down to the most bare of essentials.

That’s what a well-written piece of writing is like, isn’t it? Pared down to bare essentials.

The key is knowing what words are essential.

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components,” writes William Zinsser in On Writing Well, a copy of which I found buried in a chest of drawers in my bedroom during yesterday’s cleaning. “Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what - these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence."


Like my cupboards overflowing with coffee mugs and dresser drawers spilling scarves, socks, and costume jewelry, Zinsser shakes a red-ink stained finger at clutter - “the disease of American writing.”  Clear your head of it, he exhorts the writer. “Clear thinking becomes clear writing."

But I can’t help but wonder (a phrase Zinsser would strike right through with red pen) - can things be too clear? Does writing stripped so clean and uncluttered lack some undefinable personality, a spark of cachet to endear it to the reader? This comes to mind as I peruse the top of my piano, the family photographs, the crystal candlesticks, the tiny sculpture of a woman with arms spread wide in joy. Each of these items could be classified as clutter, yet each one means something to me. Like beautiful, descriptive language, each one adds a touch of beauty to the room.

It’s a fine line, this process of revision.

What to leave in. What to leave out.

While my impulse at this moment is to clear out all the clutter, when all is said and done will I survey my surroundings and feel that something is missing?

The challenge is to strike a balance between the two.

I hope I’m up for it.