Category Archives: Connections

On wishes and real life

I’ve been thinking about wishes (which isn’t quite the same as actually wishing). Specifically, I’ve been thinking about what we call wish fulfillment stories. These are stories in which the author writes a successful conclusion to her own inner fantasies. The most obvious wish fulfillment stories are romance novels, a denigrated genre if ever there was one. Pronouncements are made with supercilious distain: that’s not literature or it’s just a love story or that’s impossible.

I think Kelly Jensen nails it when she observes that the biggest wish fulfilled in romance novels is female pleasure. Consider that for a moment (and maybe read this essay by Lili Loofbourow about how the metrics for good/bad sex are so different for women than for men). It is merely a wish—a wish with all the unrealistic hopefulness that implies—for a woman to seek and satisfy her own needs for intimate pleasure. That’s impossible.

In the last year I wrote the draft of a new novel that I crammed full of things I love. Things like David Bowie and cosplay, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and taco carts, Jeff Goldblum and aerial silks. I wrote a book that made me happy, a book about friends that take care of each other and people who get along even though they are really different.

The entire book is pure wish fulfillment.

It wishes inclusion and respect.
It wishes tolerance and love.
It wishes the elevation of our best selves.
It wishes hope.
It wishes a extended hand.
It wishes glitter and bonfires on the beach.

Writing it was an escape from real life, a personal pleasure, exactly like a romance novel (but mine isn’t a romance novel FYI). Now I have to revise it, and here’s the problem: I write contemporary, realistic fiction, and this book wishes the opposite of what I see every day in the news. Most of the big issues I need to resolve in this draft are a direct result of this conflict between the world I want and the world I see. This is a harder issue to resolve than a hitch in the plot or an inconsistent character arc. This is big philosophical stuff.

I don’t have the answers right now about how to fix this novel, but I do know one thing for sure—there’s nothing wrong with wishing the world were different. I believe it’s called hope.

Tell me, what are you wishing for these days?

2017 in Five Words

We have very nearly survived 2017. If that’s not a reason to raise a glass of champagne and celebrate, I don’t know what is. As you know, this year has been one of struggle for me, but I’m feeling surprisingly good right now.


Good question!

I can give you the answer in five words—outrage, action, connection, joy, and vision.

But since I’m a writer, I think I’ll give you the answer in a lot more words! Here is my five-word recap of 2017:

OUTRAGE—Perhaps no explanation is necessary. If you pay attention to the news, every day there is an outrageous affront on human decency or American democracy. But what I am talking about is turning outrage into fuel for action. I’m grateful for my outrage because it propels the work I must do to make the world a better place.

ACTION—I am grateful that I have learned to participate in our democracy. I can make phone calls. I can be informed. I can understand how the system works and which of its flaws require attention. This year, some friends and I started a political action committee dedicated to getting progressive representation for our district. It’s concrete work that I am proud of. 

CONNECTION—Through my activism, I have connected with an amazing group of smart, dedicated progressive thinkers who want an American system that works for all of us. They make being an activist fun (most of the time) and keep me going when my spirits flag. Also, I’ve found a new, more genuine way to connect with each of you, and you have sustained me with your empathy, your kindness, and your heart.

JOY—This year I had to actively seek joy. I wasn’t just looking around and hoping it would show up. I worked to make joy happen. I’m not going to go so far as to say that there’s been an abundance of joy, but there has been some, including my cupcakes posse, long hikes with my dog, the satisfaction of helping a young mom and her daughter from becoming homeless, getting to read Kiersi Burkhart’s newest book before anyone else in the world, writing a new novel full of elements that delight me, and my epic 6,152 mile road trip with my teenagers. All good things!

VISION—2017 has been a year of fighting bad guys, but when the bad guys are vanquished, what next? Well, that’s where vision comes in. Here’s the future I want: basic income for all, excellent schools for all, universal healthcare for all, safe housing for all, reproductive freedom for all, sensible gun reform for all, clean air and water for all, honest government for all people (not corporations), and just for the hell of it, let’s throw in the end of rape culture and the dismantling of racism in America.

So… here we are… heading into 2018. These five words, for which I fought tooth and nail this year, are going to be my guideposts moving forward.

Tell me, what are your words?

Making Space for Real Connections

As many of you know, the last year has been a challenge for me. I’ve been driven (kicking and screaming) into activism. This intense immersion in news and politics is new for me. New and overwhelming. As a writer my most important skill is empathy, but as a newbie activist, my empathy can be crippling.

Several of you have reached out to ask if I’m okay.
Yes and no.
I’m not deeply depressed, but I am deeply wounded by this broken world.

The hardest days are the ones when I feel powerless against my congressman, against corporate money in politics, against the racist history of America, against violence of all kinds, and against the men calling the shots at the highest levels of government—men who don’t care at all about me or mine.

This powerless has bled into my writing life. There are days when I question everything I’m doing. I ask myself hard questions: Does this book matter? Do I have anything relevant to say? How can I spend my days creating worlds when the real world is burning around us?

I have struggled more than ever with my relationship to social media. There are huge benefits online. Thanks to Twitter I can listen to activists around the world. I can learn from people of color. I can broaden my experience of the world far beyond my small, predominantly white, rural town. I don’t want to disengage from that learning, but there are also some huge downsides. I am often inundated by heartbreak and suffering and cruelty to such an extent that I begin to believe our American culture is damaged beyond repair.

At those moments, I would be wise to close Facebook and to shut down Twitter.
And yet…
I don’t.
Why is that?

Not because of masochism, I assure you. It’s because of hope. It is because you are out there. You and good people like you. I keep scrolling because I am hoping to see you—a bright pinprick of light in a dark tide. I keep looking for the connections we make, the lifelines that keep us above the water, the way we reach out our hands to one another.

So this is the purpose of my missives from here on out—connection.
I want to entwine our fingers.
I want to reach together to the brightness.
I want to work and learn and listen and stretch.

And I want to carve out a space for human connection that is outside of the social media networks, which increasingly control our lives. So I will write you letters and hold this  space, outside of the flood of bad news and calls to action, where we can talk if you want to. Maybe you could tell me how social media is impacting your life for good or ill these days.

I’ll leave you with another thought from Cedric Wright (1889-195). He was a violinist and wilderness photographer dedicated the preservation of the High Sierra. He mentored Ansel Adams, if that tells you anything. He was also a poet.

Our lives like dreams endure
and reach out over the universe.
Nothing real is to itself alone.
There are side streams to rivers; there are overtones to thought.
Great love reaches out
and is involved in the world’s purposes.

– Cedric Wright