A quiet place to write

What’s the resource you most often wish you had more of? For a lot of writers, time is at or near the top of the list. Publication, income, a nicer this or that—all good, sure, but the first step is getting the story on the page, and writing is a thoughtful, time-intensive art.

To make it all even better there are days when it feels like you’ve got the fabled room full of chimps in your head instead of one calm, coherent adult. Whatever our sessions are like, most writers I talk to share my sense that there’s never, ever enough time.

Retreats are one way to give yourself a little more of this irreplaceable resource, and there are a lot of organizations dedicated to providing writers with space and time for their work. Some charge fees and some don’t. Some have an application process, especially if the time and space they offer is very low or no cost. A big plus is there are retreat locations across the globe.

Here are two places to do some research. Throughout this post, I’ve used the URLs instead of links in case the sites change their pages around. If that happens you can still head to their home page and check things out from there.

Alliance of Artist Communities http://www.artistcommunities.org/residencies/directory

Poets & Writers database https://www.pw.org/conferences_and_residencies (please subscribe to P&W if you can, it’s a great resource!)

If you like to hike and live in or plan to travel to the U.S., there are a few Federal forest cabins available, depending on the time of year https://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/reservations/

The U.S. states of California https://www.reservecalifornia.com/CaliforniaWebHome/Facilities/SearchViewUnitAvailabity.aspx  and Idaho https://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/activities/cabins also have cabins, and the time of year is a factor here as well. Other U.S. states and other countries may have similar options.

There are also do-it-yourself options that range from are you serious? to affordable. For example, checking into a hotel, B&B, Airbnb, or motel in some quiet place for a few days. Some monasteries have facilities for guests.

I regularly set aside a day to write at a nearby library where they have individual desks as well as long tables with space for several people. Another thing that’s worked for me is driving to a quiet park that has parking spots with a view of the water, and then I just set up in the back seat with my computer, a great view, and maybe coffee or water or something to eat. Of course, there is always the classic coffee house writing session, with or without caffeine.

Whatever kind of environment works best for you, I hope some of the ideas and links here will be useful in finding more time to write!

A walk through the Redwoods

Any time you need to get out, get calm, and breathe, I recommend a visit with the Redwoods. They’re some of the earth’s oldest breathing citizens, who count time in decades and centuries instead of seconds.

This is a small tribute to the trees and caretakers of the Armstrong Redwoods near Guerneville, California.


Invest in the millennium.  Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit.   Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
–    Wendell Berry,
from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

published in The Country of Marriage



Trees are the earth’s endless efforts to speak to the listening heaven.
Rabindranath Tagore, Fireflies

The greatest gift of a garden is the restoration of the five senses.
– Hanna Rion, Let’s Make a Flower Garden


Visitors were enchanted by crooked, gnarled trees I would previously have dismissed because of their low commercial value. Walking with my visitors, I learned to pay attention to more than just the quality of the trees’ trunks.
– Peter Wohlleben, from the introduction
The Hidden Life of Trees




Restoration ecology is experimental science…. In its attempts to reverse the processes of ecosystem degradation it runs exactly counter…to the whole cultural attitude of regarding the Earth as commodity rather than community.
–   Stephanie Mills 


…most individual trees of the same species growing in the same stand are connected to each other through their root systems. It appears that nutrient exchange and helping neighbors in times of need is the rule, and this leads to the conclusion that forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies.
–  Peter Wohlleben,
The Hidden Life of Trees



I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
–  Henry David Thoreau


Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
– Mary Oliver, from When I Am Among the Trees from Thirst


In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. –  John Muir


What did the tree learn from the earth
to be able to talk with the sky?
–  Pablo Neruda


The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.
–  William Blake



Stepping away from busy brain syndrome

…where every detail, thought, and idea is pinned like a specimen to an organizing structure, every minute has its task, and every day has to account for itself in a hierarchy of accomplishments.


Sometimes, you just have to drop all that, get away, and drift without a mental itinerary directing every move.






For me, zoning out in front of TV shows doesn’t help. It makes me feel pinned and immobilized like a specimen on a display board.





My definition of getting away means settling down into the depths, away from the noise, long enough to remember how to breathe.





Some days that’s made possible by disappearing into a good book or into music that carries me off into its own specific world.





Some days it requires a car, a camera, and a country road.






Writing report:

Nothing was submitted in March. The story I worked on for submission felt a little too incendiary and is getting reviewed, to make sure that it makes its point instead of just setting off fireworks. For April, two stories are nearly completed, in the sense of feeling fully edited and cleaned up, and at least one of them should be ready to send out by the end of this week.

Wisteria & Winter’s Tale

The only connection here is that I’ve been fascinated by them both lately, and thought it was possible that others might appreciate pictures of the flowers and quotes from the book.

Mark Helprin’s writing is as precise as the wisteria blooms and as inspiring as their scent. Reading his work is a solid lesson in great writing.


“He had never been in a building. For all he knew, when he opened the door he would see a new city within, as vast and entertaining as the one he had just discovered.”

“Each tower had a minute of free view, after which it would spend the rest of eternity contemplating the shins of its competitors.”


“The new year was rolling at them as wide and full as a tide racing up the bay, sweeping over old water in an endless coil of ermine cuff.”

“It would take a day at the blackboard to figure out the theory of this alarm system. He had no hope of controverting it in the dark at six degrees above zero. Impressed and even delighted, Peter Lake went around the side of the house and climbed onto the broad ledge of a window.”



“Peter Lake had heard Beverly say that the greater the stillness, the farther you could travel, until, in absolute immobility, you achieved absolute speed. If you could hold your breath, batten yourself down, and stop every atom from its agitation within you, she had said, you could vault past infinity.”

“…of all the means to the tranquility he now sought, a quiet snowfall was the most elegant and the most generous.”


“…she was familiar with the vast billowing nebulae in which one filament of a wild and shaken mane carried in its trail a hundred million worlds.”

Visit Mark Helprin’s website here, and look for a copy of Winter’s Tale here.


election madness

Getting a little weary of the decibel level and alternate reality(ies) of campaign season. It’s like a tide of static that floods through the country, turning all of us into ciphers, categories, and statistics.

It’s helped to be buried in the revision stages of some stories - 5 bright water, ocean crop 088 bisand the imagining stages of others. And I’ve found refuge in reading Langston Hughes (short stories, Saratoga Rain, Who’s Passing for Who?, On the Road) and Vendela Vida (Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name). Another good antidote: walks by the water, where the tides, grasses, and trees aren’t running for office.




The way different languages express ideas has a kind of prismatic fascination for me. I love being anywhere within hearing range of several languages. Of course the only language I have any mastery of is English. I basically fumble around elaborately in Spanish and French, and have a vocabulary of about twelve words in German (thanks primarily to Wenders’ film Wings of Desire) and perhaps six words in Swedish (from watching the Swedish Wallander series with Krister Henriksson). So my curiosity and thirst here are orders of magnitude greater than my knowledge.

Interesting bits about language, with sources:

World Population: 7,106,865,254   Living Languages: 7,102
Institutional: 578, Developing: 1,598, Vigorous: 2,479, In Trouble: 1,531, Dying: 916 
Local and indigenous communities have elaborated complex classification systems for the natural world…and can be lost when a community shifts to another language.” http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/endangered-languages/biodiversity-and-linguistic-diversity/#

A map of endangered languages

The disappearance of a language makes me think of Rutger Hauer’s last lines in Blade Runner, when he describes the exceptional moments he’s known, which will  all disappear with him when he dies. There is so much information in each of us, in each place, and in each language or dialect that evolves in a specific place. http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/#/4/31.047/78.815/0/100000/0/low/mid/high/unknown


Variations on the name for one language: Tachelhit (Shilha, Soussiya, Southern Shilha, Susiya, Tachilhit, Tashelheyt, Tashelhit, Tashilheet, Tashlhiyt, Tasoussit) belongs to the Northern Berber group of the Afro-Asiatic language family.” http://aboutworldlanguages.com/tachelhit


If you randomly select two people in Cameroon…there is a 97 percent likelihood that they will have different mother tongues. In the United States, there is only a 33 percent likelihood that this is going to happen.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-worlds-languages-in-7-maps-and-charts/ Apparently this number is derived from Greenberg’s Diveristy Index https://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/country




On the road with the rest of the world

- 10 007 8-29-14

I live near a city of about 100 thousand people that’s home to a big university. On any drive through the business district you encounter students out jogging, on skateboards or bicycles, staring at smartphones, their feet, or off into space. A friend of mine, born and raised in New York City, is often enraged by their alteration of the city-street landscape and by the need to make sure she doesn’t run into them.

It has to be said that university students can make driving more of a challenge, but I’m glad California has a pedestrian right-of-way law, because I know it forces me to pay closer attention and to be a better driver.The skateboarder who shot out in front of me the other day could just as easily have been the driver of another vehicle who wasn’t paying attention.

We all have moments where something on our minds becomes more riveting than what’s happening around us. I once drove through a red light after hearing the announcement of a foreign leader’s assassination (call me a world affairs nerd).

We also seem to have something in our DNA that dictates that whoever is the fastest and strongest has the right of way, no matter what, no matter where. To a lot of drivers—who are also on occasion pedestrians—anyone and anything moving more slowly than we are, including other cars, is a nuisance. Who are they to get in our way?

There are cyclists who wobble out of the bike lane, older people who don’t make it across the street as quickly as they once did, and parents juggling shopping bags, toddlers, perhaps a baby carriage and a leashed dog or two. Maybe we all needed to be someplace fifteen minutes ago. Maybe none of us will get through everything we’re supposed to accomplish today. But we all have a day to get through, we’re all in the same day together, and it’s a good idea to keep our eyes on our surroundings and fellow humans—however they’re getting around—making sure we don’t slam into each other.