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Summoning a soul from the stars

Come October, the children will outnumber the adults in our home. We found out Baby No. 3’s gender on Thursday. “Don’t hate me if I’m wrong,” the ultrasound tech said. “But see that line? That indicates the vaginal lips. It looks like you’re having a girl.” “Does she look ok?” my wife asked. “She looks fine. Completely normal.” Are there more powerful words in the English language? Completely normal. God, I hadn’t realized how badly I needed to hear that. At the moment, she weighs 15 ounces, as much as a can of kidney beans. Later, the OB would tell us she’s...

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How I prioritize my to-do lists

Every morning, I sit down and make a list of things to do. I don't prioritize them by how long they'll take. I don't prioritize them by importance. I rank them by how much I hate the idea of doing them. The more I dread something, the higher I put it on my list. I reserve the penthouse, that enviable spot at the very top of my list, for the shittiest, most dreaded thing of all. Then, I work on it first. Here's why: the things we dread are always the hardest and most important. We might...

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There is no wasted effort: An afternoon with Writer’s Digest editor Jessica Strawser

Beer in hand, I listened to Ron Rollins interview Jessica Strawser about the writing life in an Oregon District garden last weekend. The editor of Writer's Digest, Strawser grew up writing. She even remembers asking her babysitters to critique her stories. "It's beautifully written," they'd tell her, "but you might want to consider having something happen." Good advice for all of us, I'd say. For an hour, Strawser answered questions from Ron Rollins (an editor and former colleague at the Dayton Daily News) and the audience. Here were three of my favorite takeaways: 1) What do all the writers...

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Planting a forest

There used to be a white birch forest at the corner of Waynesville and Centerville roads. To my little boy eyes, I thought there couldn't have been a more beautiful spot in the world. Every time my parents drove past it, I wondered who owned the land, who'd taken the time to plant those trees. Last October, my wife and I bought a house with just over an acre of land. Overgrown with weeds and honeysuckle and a hundred scraggly little trees, it dawned on me this spring that I might be able to plant my own...

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The most important story you’ll ever tell

Here's the secret goal of just about every therapist I've ever met: getting clients to change the voice inside their heads. They call it an inner monologue. The monologues say things like: my stomach looks like a bag of under-cooked pizza dough. My teeth are yellow. I have more wrinkles than a circus elephant. Why can't I think of anything interesting to talk about? My writing sucks. I need more friends. Dayton counselor Meredith Montgomery calls the monologue your mental tape. It starts playing the moment you wake up and doesn't stop until you fall asleep. Montgomery has an exercise that helps clients...

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Join me at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop Spring Seminar

The amazing people at the Antioch Writers' Workshop invited me to be on a panel at their one-day spring seminar on March 25. I'm honored, nervous, excited to join Becky Morean, Grace Curtis and Ryan Ireland as we talk about "Finding Your Writing Tribe." This is AWW's second-biggest event of the year (second only to their week-long summer workshop), and it's phenomenal. Cathy Day (author of Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love and The Circus in Winter) will keynote the event. Last spring, AWW brought in Margaret Wrinkle. I blogged about Margaret's talk...

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The death of my identity

Back when I was a smoker (Marlboro Lights in a soft pack), an old family friend told me how hard it was for him to quit. Smoking's not just a habit, he said, it's an identity. I sneered when he said it. Smoking didn't define me, it was just something I did. But, I couldn't get his words out of my head. And over the next few years, I started to wonder if he was right. I spent about 2 hours a day with a cigarette in hand. The habit determined who I took breaks with...

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While We Fill Our Boxes with Shiny Golden Treasures

This list reminds me to stop my prissy bitching, to remember the world owes me nothing, to appreciate America, to thank the pharmacist for the pills that keep me breathing, to shake my head at the idea that we're spending $300 to clean our dog's teeth (I love you, Maddy, I truly do): 5: Number of earths we'd need if everyone in the world had the same standard of living as Americans [1] 13.8: Percent of girls who complete primary school in Malawi [2] 49: The life expectancy in Chad [3] 50: Number of American dollars required to buy a...

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How I Wrote My First Book

I spent about a decade so obsessed with writing the next Great American Novel that I didn't finish anything. I wrote and re-wrote the same first chapter of the same failed book. I must have done it 50 times. I did it so often, I got sick of it. I eventually gave up fiction writing altogether and spent most of my free time overdrinking at $1 PBR nights, cigarette in hand while I had rambling, late-night, angst-ridden psuedo-philosophical discussions about the meaning of life and art with whoever (whomever?) was nearby. My come-to-Jesus moment happened a decade (and many...

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My first-ever speaking engagement

Earlier this month, I got to speak to the Plot Sisters, a remarkable group of local writers who have been meeting every other week for nearly five years. Every writer should be so lucky to be part of such a supportive group! I was a little nervous, but mostly, I felt honored that anyone would want to hear me speak on writing. I don't think I said anything too stupid (something of a rarity for me), and I walked away envious of their great relationships with one another. Writing is a lonely art. When you...

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