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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writing Break

Dear Readers,

Please bear with me as I take a break from blogging for a few weeks. I'm going to focus my time and energies on reading and thinking for awhile.

I want to reevaluate this Nitty Gritty of Writing blog and where I want to take it in the future, so your feedback is definitely welcome! How can I better serve you? What kinds of posts would you like to read? What kinds of information would you like to receive regularly?

You may leave comments in the comment section below or send me an email.

Please check back in early April when I will resume regular writing.

Until then, Happy Writing to all of you!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Simply Writing

The nitty gritty of writing is first and foremost about simply writing. that’s it in its most basic, essential core: WRITE.

The term “simply writing” may seem like an oxymoron because writing is comprised of so many steps, so much effort, so much mental energy, and so much time. And too often we get bogged down in all that we think writing is – the word choice, perspective, tenses, grammar, cohesion… We get overwhelmed by the potential of being read or the fear of not being read, the approval or disapproval of our work… We stop ourselves before we even get started!

Sure, all these things and more make up the nitty gritty details of producing a piece of writing, but first, you simply have to WRITE. Bring your mind to a screeching halt and silence all the crap that is clanging around in your head; strip yourself of all that burdensome baggage and just WRITE.

Go back to the phrase “simply writing” and notice that it is active.

Writing: n. “the act of a person or thing that writes” (
Simply: adverb. “in a simple manner; clearly and easily… wholly, absolutely … sincerely” (

Simply writing is the act of free-flowing pen on paper. Release yourself to the free-flowing pen because that is uncensored thought, ideas, images. It is the absolutely and sincerely of simply that gives life to the act of writing.

Simply writing is the essence of the nitty gritty of writing because the act of writing wholly, absolutely, and sincerely, is where you discover yourself and all your powers and limitations. And wish such self-discovery also comes the discovery of powers beyond yourself – powers without limitations. I’m talking about the inspiration and the unfolding of creating that surprises even you – the one who holds the pen. That free-flowing pen takes off and comes alive and you become both observer and participant in one.

You can’t plan or orchestrate this experience, you can only show up. And this is precisely what I mean when I say that the most basic aspect of the nitty gritty of writing is simply writing: you show up ready to engage; you take the pen and begin to dance. That’s it. You do this regularly and the stuff you want to write about multiplies over and over. Your skills get better, the dance picks up speed and before you know it, you are performing complex movements beyond your dreams.

You will eventually deal with all that other nitty gritty stuff later, but first and foremost, WRITE: get in the act of simply writing.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Finer Things Challenge: Carolyn

Last month I posted a piece about the “finer things in life”, suggesting that such things are not necessarily expensive items, but rather “unassuming moments when you are caught by surprise and taken on a spirit-soar”.

I asked readers to free-fall back into memory to find their own “finer things” and to share them with me.

Friend Carolyn Shobe sent me the following piece 
in response to this prompt:


           As I read your entry on the finer things of life, I was taken back to the Pow-wows I sponsored at Hoke High School in the 1980s.  Many of the Lumbee students were disinterested in school academic subjects, but they came alive when I was granted permission to have a Pow-wow for the whole school.  Connie, a gorgeous, petite, young lady of 14 dressed in plain brown garb and performed the Lord’s Prayer in sign language.  Never had those 1400 students been so quiet.  We all sensed the presence of the Lord.  Male students donned their fancy dancing garb and re-created out of their lost past dances and drumming which touched the soles of our feet.  There is truly something special about the rumble of drums and the flash of dancing feet. The feathers floated gracefully as they bowed their heads imitating buffalo hunts long forgotten.
        I think this affinity for drumbeats started when I was young and went to high school football games.  I have never understood football nor have I wanted to.  I went to feel the stadium bleachers shudder when the band started.  Drums speak to something primal in each of us; those who are too shy to dance or drum reach out for the beat and live vicariously through the drummers. 

          Only once have I drummed in public.  At Storer, the elementary home where I spent 9 years, we were visited by dancing, drumming African members of a troop.  I was so mesmerized that I forgot about my size or my age and went forward with the young and old volunteers to pour my soul into the stretched rawhide and the hollow wood.  The song and rhythm transcended my lack of talent and pulled me into the mystery of the moment.

          These drums are truly part of the finer things you’ve touched on in Japan.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Beating Rice

Note: the following post is an excerpt from my WIP, the Bath Tub Stories.
– It is taken from the chapter on New Year’s festivities.


The entrance to the shrine grounds greeted us with steamy wafts of think sweet air coming from the over-sized iron pot dangling from its tripod over a large wooden fire contained in a metal barrel. Red bean soup with soft white balls of pounded rice simmered with long steady puffs of invitation calling the crowd to gather at the shrine.

“Later,” Aki told me at the hint I might venture on over to grab a bowl of soup. “We’ll have some azuki soup on our way out. It’ll settle well in our tummies while we’re soaking.”


“No time now,” she barked, marching on ahead of me. Stuffed shopping bags were swinging at her side, powered by the pumping of her arms. I scampered to dodge people trying to catch up with her.

We found the mocha-making corner at the far end of the grounds. Three long tables with white cloths stretched out before us. The center table held wooden framed trays filled with flat, palm-sized powdery balls of doughy rice patties. The table to the left was covered with empty tray yet to be filled, and Jitsu and her friends were serving hot green tea at the table to the right. The pounding bowls, situated between and behind the tables, looked like deep birdbaths perched on cement pedestals. The men ruled the pounding bowls while the women orchestrated the activities at the tables.

“Mama! Angel-san! You are just in time!” Kenichi ran up to greet us, quickly taking the bags from Aki and handing me a large wooden mallet. He pulled me over to one of the pounding bowls. Three other men were anxiously ready to take over in explaining the process of mochi-making to me. Speaking all at once, I found it easier to watch the activities at other pounding bowls to get the idea.

“Yoosh! Yaroo!” I cried out, “I’m ready, Kenichi! Let’s do it!” Feet firmly planted, knees slightly bent, heavy mallet raised high over my head, I was primed, prepped, and biting at the bit.

“Aim for the center,” Kenichi yelled just as I swung. The mallet plunged into the thick, sticky wad and it stuck. It stuck there like it had been grabbed and clinched by the blob of dough. All the other swinging mallets at other pounding bowls slapped and sprang back out in a high energy kind of rhythmic dance. Mine was firmly stuck.

The men fell back away from the bowl laughing and marching in circles - knee-slapping, hand-clapping hilarity broke their concentration.

“Oh Angel-san, you are so funny!”

“You can’t stick it like that!”

“Woo-hooo- hooo!”

“Get Angel-san some sake! She needs to loosen her elbows.”

The women giggled, but no one moved to pour me a drink.

Kenichi grabbed the mallet from me and proceeded to demonstrate: mallet up, breath in, knees bending; exploding exhalation used to fuel the downward swing, body lifting, Whap! That’s the full thrust of the mallet into the big pile of sticky rice dough; then body lowers to power the reflex snap-up pull at the end of the exhale.

“Yank out of the swing at the exact moment of impact?” I asked.

“Un. Whap! Pull!”


I gathered my energy and lifted the mallet, this time more dramatically, more deliberately. Controlled breath guided my power. It landed hard into the lump of rice and indeed, snapped back out!

Picture source: 

“Woa! Get in there,” Kenichi ordered.

The men swooped back into position. They reached into the pounding bowl and scooped up one side of the over-stuffed, pillow-like wad of the rice as if lugging the side of an inflatable swimming pool. They punched it hard in the middle and pulled back their fists just as I brought the mallet back into the center.

Whap! And pull; whap! And pull. Fists were flung into the white material each time I brought the mallet out and over my head – lift and punch. Down with the mallet – whap! And pull.
picture source: 

I began to dance my role. Dip and such as I lifted; jump and slam and I beat. My partners were an integral part of the dance – lean inward, lift and punch in time with my jumps, then sway back from the bowl with grace and ease, a gentle receding with each powerful blow from the surprising strength of my arms.

The rhythm worked like cogs in antique machinery – clickity-clack; clickity-clack; on and on until the rice was smooth like taffy.


We plucked mochi from the trays with disposable chopsticks and took them to the tea table where we wrapped them with dried, crispy strips of seaweed. Then we laid them on a grill over the nearby fire. Turning them with our chopsticks until they were drippy and gooey, I swallowed hard the saliva that pooled on my tongue in anticipation.

Jitsu appeared quietly at my side offering me a saucer with a soy and sugar mixture.

“Your mochi is done, Angel-san,” Aki told me. “Now dip and eat.”

I slathered the mochi into the sauce and slurped it into my mouth.

I moaned the savory satisfaction then passed the saucer to the woman next to me.

“Hurry up,” Aki said, “mine is ready next!”

Jitsu brought us each cups of hot green tea to help wash the thick sweet lumps down our throats. She retreated from the circle unnoticed, just as she had arrived.

“No more,” Aki told me as I gulped my third mochi. “You still want azuki soup, don’t you? It’s bad for your health to stuff your tummy before taking a bath.”