my orion

At 1 o’clock AM tonight, I walked outside to grab the mail- all careful foot on the ice stairs.

A full moon still hung above our roof, and when I stopped to look up at it through freeze-stripped branches I also saw, for the first time since I had it inscribed upon my skin, my constellation; my Orion.

I recognized it immediately, and almost without thinking my hand lifted to cup the back of my neck where my insignificant reflection sits, inked under my epidermis.

I looked to the sky where Orion flies, and I felt the warmth of my skin where Orion hides, and for just a moment- out in the cold and the blue and the clean- my heart overflowed a little.



“Naming is Edenic. 

I name gifts and go back to the Garden and God in the beginning who first speaks a name and lets what is come into existence. This naming is how the first emptiness of space fills; the naming of light and land and sky. The first man’s first task is to name. Adam completes creation with his Maker through the act of naming creatures, releasing the land from chaos, from the teeming, undefinable mass. I am seeing it too, in the journal, in the face of the Farmer: naming offers the gift of recognition. When I name moments- string out laundry and name-pray, thank You, Lord, for bedsheets in billowing winds, for fluff of sparrow landing on line, sun winter warm, and one last leaf still hanging in the orchard- I am Adam and I discover my meaning and God’s, and to name is to learn the language of Paradise. This naming work never ends for all the children of Adam. 

Naming to find an identity, our identity, God’s.”

-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts 

The next time you begin to feel angry or bitter or offended by so-called labeling… I want you to please try and remember this. 

I’m not discounting labeling as a judgmental problem, because oftentimes it can be. What I am saying though, is that there is a reason we, as humans, have a penchant for naming (labeling) things and people. 

The above excerpt is why, I believe. 

Reflect before you react. We are human, we name, it is an aspect that defines us to our very soul. 


I’ll pose the question: How do I turn away from character development, and focus instead on plot advancement?

Here’s the thing. When I write- at least, when I write this particular story- I am attempting to tell the story of characters that my imagination birthed ten years ago. For me, once a character is created, it’s as though my mind forgets that they are my creation, and perceives them as a whole, complete being who’s story is just waiting to be told- by me. So I have known these characters- these people, really- for ten years.

I know them now so much better than I used to, for children always have a bit of a skewed perception of reality- and non-reality. Things are different when we are young; we think we know people, until we grow up and take a look at their souls and realize that we never really knew them to begin with, and are only just now seeing who they really are.

So on that note, I keenly feel the emotions of these people (characters). I have grown up with them. I have spent ten years with their thoughts and feelings and motives teeming in my brain. It’s a wonder my own thoughts fit. Sometimes my mind feels full to bursting with their longing- their story wants to be told but I am the only one with the voice to do it. But my voice falters me all too often, which is why that story is yet to be told.

(As I write this I am struck with the need to apologize to them.)

(I’m sorry, my beautiful souls. I know the pain in waiting, silently, knowing there is nothing you can do to move circumstances forward. I’m sorry that your voices are all obscured and mixed up, so I have trouble understanding what you’re asking of me- the story you’re trying to tell me. You are all so beautiful to me- my beautiful messes- and I love you. I’m sorry.)

That said, my problem is that I can’t get out of their heads, much like they shall never leave my mind. Turns out I can be incredibly focused, and all I can focus on is my people (characters), and what they’re thinking and feeling, and how they interact with each other, and how they carry themselves, and dress themselves, and what they like to listen to, and how they deal with trauma, and what makes them hurt, and- do you see my problem?

They matter so much to me. So much, in fact, that that’s all I can focus on when I write their story. I write them, and not the story. I have plot partially mapped out in my head- that is to say I know what happens in their story for the most part- I just don’t know how to focus on it enough to get it written down accurately and succinctly. It’s true, I want to write a character driven novel rather than plot driven, but I still need plot progression to tell a cohesive story. I like the plot of this story, make no mistake, I’m just more interested in how the plot affects my people (characters) than how the plot plays out.

The thing is, no one wants to read a book about people (characters) they don’t know intimately, and they can only know them intimately when they comprehend and understand the circumstances those people (characters) go through; when they witness the events first hand.

So ultimately, what I’m asking for is advice. What suggestions do you have for how to focus more on plot, and just get the meat of the story written, without dedicating obscene amounts of time to character development (which can obviously be filled in later)?

(Links to advice is appreciated also, but I am longing to hear original, spur-of-the-moment thoughts and opinions and suggestions.)


trust me, not 

as one would trust themselves 

to respond badly, or to lose control 

just trust me 

as something that is always 

trust me as a constant 

or for the sake of trusting 

inherent need driving you to 

grasp onto something, anything 

because trust is safe 

trust lets you let go 

stop worrying 

lose focus

trust is basic, childish 

trust no one 

at least not wholly 

because anyone can be disingenuous 

whether they’re trying to

or not 

Feet Seeking Mind


She’s electrified by
peculiar weather

Feet rooted like grass
not reaching deep so much
as spreading out

Seeking to feel this
heaving surface she is
one with

Mind thrown wide open
blank and clean and searching;
a sky in her own right

I think sometimes it’s important for us to write stories that are painful for us to write. 

Stories that feel like they’re wrenching themselves from our very souls. 

Stories that hurt a little too much because they’re real; they’re what we’re actually feeling deep inside. 

I think it’s important because there is going to be someone who reads that, and thinks I hurt like that. They’re writing about me, how did they know. 

And there is something so important about that connection that we, as the reader, make with the writer. 

I recently read a book by Donald Miller- possibly my favorite writer of all time- and in this book he wrote about how it felt to be so heartbroken that it feels like your chest is ripping open and you’re bleeding out. He wrote about the visceral, physical pain of heartache. 

I cried when I read that; I sat in the living room in the dark and sobbed. 

I cried for Don, because it broke my heart to read about his pain, and I cried because I know what that pain is like. 

I cried because I know what it’s like to hurt like this. You’re writing about me, Don, how did you know. 

And in a way I felt stronger after that. 

Twine wrapped antlers lined the ceiling. Some were old, at least as old as Granddad could remember. It was cool in the basement, dim and smelling of earth and potatoes. I found myself there often, eyes tracing the curves of each tine, letting the hum of the woodstove fan and the creaking of the settling house overtake the storm of thoughts. It was somehow easier that way, to stand under the earth, away from the cold air that tried to push snow under the door, and the grey skies. I was twenty-one and had lost everything.

The little house was on a hill, looking down at the wind-ravaged sea, and I knew I had heard a song about it at one time. Music was an anchor to me in those days, and I would let the melancholy strains of folk and bluegrass sink into the weathered boards of my attic room while the muslin curtains were gradually soaked through and crusted with the salt breezes. It was February in New England and the sun couldn’t find its way through the pale clouds. I was twenty-one and had a hole in my heart and silver rings on my fingers.DSC_0272

Rings that were tight in the mornings and loose in the evenings and became tangled in my waves of pale auburn hair when I twisted it into a knot at the crown of my head. The red came from Granddad. There were still traces of it in his carefully groomed beard, trailing out from sea-weathered skin to mingle with the silver-white.

He had mom’s eyes, that crystal clear between blue and green, and on days when I couldn’t meet his gaze he would open all the windows, and let the fire blaze, and bring in kittens from the woodshed. They were wild, windswept little greylings, but they would sink tiny claws into his woolen trousers to scale him like a tree, and they would settle, curled against his chest, cupped gently in salty, hook-scarred hands.

He would smile, fine lines reaching from the corners of his eyes to the ginger-grey temples, and more often than not I found I could look at him again. I was twenty-one, and had a house full of the elements and a gentle old man and his kittens.

It was a Friday that changed things. I didn’t know it was the fourteenth, and if I did I wouldn’t have cared that it was Valentine’s Day. To me it was just another of those days. The ones that were harder than most. My hands shook when I tried to do careful things, and despite the drafts of wind that drove sheets of rain across the sky I couldn’t stop opening the windows. Granddad kept the stove well stoked, his Wellies a familiar creak on the stairs while I washed dishes and let salt cake on my hair and dry lips from the rain and wind coming in through the open windows.

On days like this we would pry open a jar of home-canned clams and make chowder and corn pone. Lay out the linen napkins, stoneware bowls and pewter spoons as nice as though they were fine china and silver. We wouldn’t know what to do with china and silver anyways, Granddad always reminded me, and I always agreed, relishing the rough edges of the stone under my fingertips.

A storm rolled in, darkening the late afternoon prematurely, but the windows stayed open. At some point I had managed to explain, my words strangling me, that they suffocated me sometimes when they were closed. So open they stayed, and we never needed to talk about it again. I was twenty-one, and felt anxiety from closed windows, yet drew solace from the lashing storms.

Granddad was on his little wooden stool in the corner of the kitchen, peeling potatoes with a paring knife. I set the cast-iron pan of pone on the back of the stove to keep warm, and then faced the storm darkened window over the sink to begin dicing the peeled potatoes. Granddad brushed the back of my neck softly with his knuckles when he leaned past me to set some potatoes in the sink, and that’s when my hands started to tremble almost violently.
DSC_0267    He didn’t notice, went back to his quiet stool and the kittens that twined round his wool-wrapped ankles, and I squeezed the blur from my eyes and tried to make the knife in my hands stop shaking. The next thing I knew there was a red-streaked potato in the sink and I was staring down at a slick, crimson smear of opened flesh on my palm. It was a testament to my numbness that I didn’t respond to the instinctual urge to stem the flow of blood and apply pressure to the wound.

I turned then, my breath starting to hitch in my chest as I held my shaking hands out in front of me. Blood slid in sluggish rivulets down my wrist and my other hand fumbled to press on the weeping line, sending a red-stained ring tumbling to the floor with a muffled clink. I watched it roll across the boards, before it finally settled tremulously, leaving droplets of blood in its wake.

A kitten slipped from Granddad’s lap to pounce on the tainted silver, only to shake its paw in annoyance at the viscous liquid that clung to its silken fur, and it was that sudden movement that caught his attention. His gaze rose to me immediately and he tensed on his stool, though he made no move toward me, instead letting a potato roll from his fingers back into the basket. His brow wrinkled with worry, but he just looked at me, and I knew he was waiting for me to ask.

To ask for help, something that had stuck in my throat for months, strangling me with the prospect of frightening vulnerability. I looked at the person who had been just waiting, with open hands, to catch me when I fell, and felt my eyes fill. I cut myself, I whispered, and those hands were suddenly close, cupping my face briefly, catching my elbow gently to turn me back to the sink.

A clean towel found its way into my hand, careful pressure causing a shock of not unpleasant pain to shoot up into my arm, and I let my fingers instinctively curl to grip the worn fabric tight. The tremble had bled from my hands all up through my arms and into my chest, and I could feel myself shaking. I was twenty-one and a cut on my hand was breaking me more thoroughly than the touch of loss.

Granddad was talking, and only when I looked up at him did his words register with me. –not bad. He was saying. It’s not so bad. You’ll be alright. It’s not bad.

Only it was, and I couldn’t escape the fact. My heart had in it a sharper ache than the sting on my hand, and it was only now spilling out, after months of my not knowing what to do with it. Letting it out had never seemed an option until now, and that realization struck a bitter chord within me, forcing a tiny broken sound from my lips.

My grandfather wrapped his arms around me then, trapping my bloody hand firmly against his chest, and I finally let myself give in. The wind lashed no less fiercely at the open window, the elements still inexplicably determined to remove us with no trace that we were ever here. I was vaguely aware of kitten paws on my feet and a tiny, warm body pressed to my ankle, odd details standing out vividly as I gave in and released the pain of loss.

I was twenty-one and was learning to let go.


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