Thank you, Amtrak.

Train from Bratislava to Budapest

Train from Bratislava to Budapest

I often write while watching things go by: people, scenery, that dappled horse in the back corner of a farmer’s field rearing up just as the train passes. So the writers’ residencies to be put in place by Amtrak definitely deserve a spot on my blog and my Facebook page and anywhere else I can write about them, for that matter. Thanks, Amtrak, for realizing the value of artists, the financial struggles they go through, and the ways in which you can help contribute to their success.

Click on the link above or here for The Wire’s full article.

Don’t Lose it, Use it…as Inspiration

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Here, I’ll make up my own: Don’t find it, grind it. Um, maybe, bind it? All I’m saying is, go with what you’ve got.

As established by my last post, I love coffee. And this morning, I’m staying in. Above is what my coffee bag says. It was a gift, and I’ll take it.

Google Inspiration SearchGoogle Inspiration Search 2

Reason not to Write #6: Uncertainty

Sign inside Dracula's Castle- Bran, Romania

Sign inside Dracula’s Castle- Bran, Romania

Reasons not to Write Numbers Four and Five: Romania & Turkey

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(Above: Dracula’s Castle, Bran, Romania and Dracula’s writing desk)

In lands pregnant with folklore, filled by mysterious forests, enchanting music and, above all, equally interesting people, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Yes, you packed notebooks of varying sizes, plenty of pencils, a pen or two, and a camera. You kept them (always) in your interior jacket-front pocket. Hiking, driving, on a boat down the Bosporus. (You’d be more upset if your trusty green spiral notebook was pick-pocketed over your passport and so feel for its outline frequently.) While you slept, the items waited not-so-patiently on the hotel nightstand.

And so, now that you’re home, what have you got to show? How many pages did your writing occupy? How many of those notebooks did you pack back away in your suitcase as they quickly filled? How many pencils lost their led at your leaning?

Answer:

1. Not much.

2. Six small–reporter-pad-sized–pages.

3. Zero notebooks packed back away.

4. Zero mechanical pencils that need re-filling.

But there are moments. Just moments. Somewhere. Everywhere. Written and un-.

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(Above: Bookstore, Istanbul, Turkey)

Reasons not to Write #3: Boys in Trees

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Yesterday, on my run through a nearby park, four ten-year-old boys stopped me to ask the time: Hoe laat is it? I changed my watch from GPS to clock. Half (two syllables) vijf, I said. When they giggled on in Dutch, Ik sprek Engels, I said. Engels? Well, um, how old are you? one asked. Twenty-nine, I said, You? When do you go back to England? another asked. I live here in Den Bosch, I said. I don’t know when I’ll go back. And your man? Is he from England too? Amerika, I corrected. According to my GPS the boys then ran with me for half a kilometer, longer than I had expected, the tallest of the group, though, out-striding me for sure. I made the rest of the lap around the park alone without event until I saw a fifty-foot-tall tree shaking and calling my name. If I’d been writing, I would have missed it.

I’d like to think that when I forgo writing, it’s for adventure. That life simply sucks me up in a whirlwind of exploration, and that’s why I didn’t get my quota in today. But, a lot of times, it’s neither: no writing, no adventure, just me and a lonely computer screen trying desperately to make something up. Which never works, by the way. I don’t suggest it.

So, as much as I hate New Year’s resolutions (besides, it’s Feb. 11), that’s my pledge from here on out. If you don’t hear from me in a while, I’m out on an adventure.

Reasons not to Write: #2, Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

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Alright, so no ghosts have appeared to me in the night (or day, for that matter). No corrupt politics in the Stocke household, though we are dogsitting and so the balance of power has shifted a bit. In fact, things with me seem strangely, markedly, un-rotten, and for someone prone to brooding, this is a sure sign of rot.

I bike, almost daily, to the grocery store in this heart of January weather, and though the air is cold, the sun seems to smile warmly each day at just the time I pop out. I walk into the store and glance at my lately always-complete list, and as I walk down each aisle, each corresponding item is on sale. When I arrive home, my every attempt at a new baking recipe goes off without a hitch, not one (proof below).

Then I wash my dough-caked hands. (Out, damned spot!) I look down and see perfectly manicured fingernails, the same nails I’ve been biting since I could really chomp, let’s say twenty-five years. I was never a timid nail-biter. Not ashamed to bite in public nor when my mother constantly scolded me in private. I even remember a meeting with the elementary school guidance counselor to discuss my habit, I’m sure at the behest of my worried mother. And now, here were these fingernails, white, pristine, squared off at an even length, and I couldn’t even remember when I’d last bitten them to the bone. Here were hands I didn’t recognize as mine.

The nails clatter on my plastic keyboard; I think now that I even hold my pencil differently so as not to disturb them, and some days it’s all you need. It’s all you need to throw you from writing, an inkling that something somewhere is off.

Lavosh Cracker Bread

Lavosh Cracker Bread

Morning Buns

Morning Buns

Reasons not to Write: (Really) Bad Haircut

This week, after a blog hiatus, I decided to write my reasons for not writing. All of them irrational, though the haircut is especially heinous.

After two solid days of crisp-looking, spunky, even well-thought-out short curly hair, I woke to a cross between Lyle Lovett circa 1991 and Bozo the clown minus the orange highlights. Every morning, without fail. The first week, I laughed and pinned it down with a variety of hair apparatus. The second week I cried. The third week I decided this omen surely meant that my blogging career was over. It was that easy.

Hence, this is me, and the hat I’ve been wearing since November.

Hat Photo

Defining a Scene

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I’ve been to a lot of literary festivals, but prior to Friday, I hadn’t been to one in The Netherlands. And then here was this thing: Writers Unlimited. Not stodgy, not stuck-up, not held in a musty room filled only by equally-musty people all speaking with six-inch NPR voices. It was sound booths and DJs pumping international tunes, twenty-foot live trees and tabletops covered in chalkboard, so that while you gulped your beer, you could instantly self-publish. Fiction. Non-fiction. Short speeches dubbed Tirades delivered from a soap box in the middle of the crowded floor. For me, it was love. I will be back again next year.

Three Rules of an Artsy Polish Hotel Room

Castle Inn, Warsaw

Castle Inn, Warsaw

1. No trumpeting.

2. No bananas.

3. And for goodness sake everyone, no books in the toilet. Something to live by. Thank you, Castle Inn.

For those keeping track, that’s 33 poems sold, only 44 left!

The Bright Side of your Common Cold

Graffiti in Warsaw

Graffiti in Warsaw

I used to think that getting a cold was a drag, and, don’t get me wrong, my throat’s sore and my head is bumping to my heartbeat. But, it’s raining this wonderful pitter patter, and I’m sitting in bed writing. Bundled up to my chin with my arms out the sides of my comforter poncho. (No, I will not be including a photo.) And I’m not feeling guilty that the dishes aren’t done or that dinner won’t be made. It’s not bothering me in the slightest that the dryer just beeped, and I’m not going to fold anything for days. The common cold: a great excuse to do nothing but write.

Productive Spaces: an Amsterdam Houseboat

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Two photos of the boat’s living room, which has been partially plastered in book wallpaper, assuring no pages fall off their shelves when the barges go by in the morning. The only binding to carry a title is The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden, published posthumously in 1977. Even reading Edith’s Wiki page (found here) is enough to make one want to write. And so I did.

Important Announcement: Tomorrow is a Writing Day (at the park)

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No long hot shower unless it’s spent reciting poetry. No breakfast but a scant piece of something and lots of black coffee so that my stomach rumbles, suffering just slightly. No hello to my neighbors or their children or their cats as I slam the front door and march my mission to the train station. No smiles on the sidewalk. No conversations in the second class car. Tomorrow is a writing day, which is to say my calendar is full. Meetings from dawn until dusk and then some. Tomorrow is a writing day, and even if I had a cell phone I wouldn’t answer it.

On Fridays I Steal Things

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On Fridays, my brain is nearly finished with me. And so, on Fridays, I steal things. I write only what shows up in front of me. Words the three Turkish children yell as they run up the sidewalk. Songs the construction workers sing between beats  of hammers as they make patio doors for our New Zealand neighbors. Sometimes I write the ambulance sirens. Sometimes the church bells. The meows of the impatient cat who likes to sit on the hood of a matte black BMW outside my office window. This Friday, I stole words already eaten. The dictionary page I had opened to yesterday, still wide-eyed on the dining room table, gobbled by a small still-green Asparagus Fern.

Page 571: Something that Looks like Asparagus Fern but Isn’t

Verb: To beget.

Born upon the surface,

especially the upper,

as fungi on leaves that no one can reach.

Noun: A poet from the earth,

growing closer to the ground.

Relating to the epiglottis,

Something always upon the tongue,

the upper mandible,

as a parrot, a gull,

a piece of something that

hangs from the page.

Custom Writing now Available

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I just finished a wonderful custom poem for a well-deserving client. Do you need a congratulatory prose poem for graduation? A short story surprise for someone’s birthday? Something special for your valentine? Just visit my Etsy store and ask!

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