In a recent op-ed piece in “The New York Tines,” famed cartoonist Liza Donnelly wrote about having broken her right arm.

Hospitals are filled with people with broken bones, but in Donnelly’s case it threatened her entire career. She realized it might be a long while before she could use her right hand to draw her humorous pieces.

Most people would have caved in to self-pity – or fallen into a cookie or alcohol binge. But Donnelly chose a better alternative: her other hand. Born right-handed, she had never used her left hand creatively, but it was her only option. Trying to draw with her left hand she found the cartoons were “looser,” she said – more like the first ones she’d done as a child. Was that amateur hand tapping into her “orginal creativity”?  Obviousdly it tapped into something – because one of those left-handed cartoons was published by “The New Yorker.”

The point isn’t that we should all break an arm to become creative,. It’s that Donnelly refused to be disarmed (pun intended) by an accident but,instead,  to find some way to continue with her art.

Her comparatively brief experience with disability pales beside Christy Brown, the writer-artist whose life was dramatized in the 1989 film “My Left Foot.” Born with cerebral palsy that made it impossible for him to control his body – except for his left foot – Christy won out over what would have been understandable despair. He used the big toe on that foot to write and draw, incredibly becoming a notable author and artist.

This blog is not a rallying cry for using our left side, although that’s reputedly the creative part of us. It’s a way of pointing out that with enough determination impossible can become possible . Nor is this limited to writers and painters. Could a composer who has become totally deaf possibly create music?  Fortunately Beethoven didn’t listen to naysayers. Couldn’t listen – not because of his hearing loss – but because within him was a fierce and unbeatable  need to create. Of course, this deaf musician went on to compose some of the world’s greatest music.

There’s another “handicap,” if I may use that word. It doesn’t involve broken or paralyzed bones, and it can’t be wrapped in a splint. It’s the voice within us that whispers, Give up …no agent will reply…this will never be published…you can’t even write well anymore . .. on and on endlessly. That’s the disabling self we have to overcome. I’ve asked numerous writer friends what they do in those dark moments. The response is usually a shrug and the terse,“I keep writing.”

The choice for each of us is whether to give up or to go on. Fate may throw us a curve, but we’re the only ones who can defeat ourselves!

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play –; also Amazon Kindle.


Your submission does not meet our current needs. Why do so many editors use that same message? Can’t they come up with something more original? I’m often tempted to reply, “Your rejection doesn’t meet my needs!”

Actually that form rejection says iit more clearly than the unfathomable turndowns, like one I got recently from a well-known magazine. The message informed me that the staff “enjoyed” the story and the “wonderful” writing, but “we aren’t going to publish it.”  No explanation. It sounds like the familiar dating line, “you’re great but…”

At least these forms acknowledge our existence, unlike the snail mail submissions where the self-addressed envelope comes back without even the courtesy of a rejection slip. I once tried the ploy of phoning the editor of a top magazine to ask – all innocence! – if the absence of a form meant the story was accepted. “Someone forgot to include the rejection slip,” he said, “but I’ll be glad to read you what it says.”

It isn’t only editors who use format replies, agents are just as unimaginative. Usually we’re informed that he or she has to “fall in love” with a manuscript and,obviously didn’t. The standard postscript is to assure us another agent might “love” our work. So where is that mythical agent, in outer space?

Do the interns routinely assigned to read submissions really go beyond the first paragraph? I tested this several times by inserting a slip of blank paper between the pages. Each time the manuscript returned with that telltale piece of paper intact.

Since rejections seem built into our profession, what are we to do? Give up? Throw our manuscript into the wastebasket? (Tennessee Williams tried that, but his far-sighted agent rescued ”The Glass Menagerie” from the trash!)  We can remind ourselves that Harry Potter was repeatedly turned down  by numerous  publishers. We can even paper our room with rejection slips, as a woman I know did. (The ultimate in masochism?)

The best strategy for me came wrapped in the advice a fellow writer offered years ago. He suggested that each time I send out a story I should simultaneously address the next envelope. Then as soon as the poor waif of a story comes back, an envelope is waiting to carry it into the world again.

Now that we more often submit via the internet, I use a parallel method. I keep an index card file of submissions  and also down three alternate possibilities. So when I get that inevitable rejection, I can submit again without any delaying tactics.

The reality is that rejection lurks in every aspect of  life. How often have you been hit by an audible – or inaudible  –  “no way,” by a supposed friend, a CEO, your teenager (!), even the one who swore to love you forever but inexplicably has a heartless change of heart?

The only way to save our sanity is to refuse to see rejection as a Dead End. As the song goes, “keep hope alive.” And  believe that eventually a perceptive editor will say, “Yes!”


BOOKS: “Wdow’s Walk” – available through; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-; “Ten Women of Valor” snd “Role  lPay”- and Amazon Kindle.


ThIs year’s Tony Awards ceremony was a collection of emotional acceptance speeches. (For the information of anyone who lives in a cocoon, the awards are for excellence in the theatre.)The one that struck me most was by the winner as featured actor, Ari’el Stachel. Stating that his parents were in the audience, Stachel interrupted the dutiful applause to confess that in the past he had kept them away from events like this out of fear that their presence would reveal a Middle Eastern identity he was trying to hide. (His father’s an Israeli Yemenite,his mother’s a Jewish New Yorker.) 

A young child when 9/11 happened, Stachel was so afraid of being seen as an Arab he didn’t even allow his father to come to his graduation.  Ironically, the identity he had tried to hide helped him land a role in “The Band’s Visit,” a musical about Palestinians and Israelis finding a way to get along. (If only this weren’t fiction!). Playing a Middle Easterner, he says, “strengthened” his sense of his own heritage and allowed him to accept it. His message at the Tony’s to “kids out there” was direct:  ”What you think is your biggest obstacle may turn into your greatest purpose.” 

Those were the words I rushed to inscribe in my ever-ready notebook . For how many of us are faced with an obstacle that we believe keeps us from the work and life we want?

It reminds me if a conversation I had several years ago with Jeanette Walls, the feisty author of “The Glass Castle.” Walls told me that for years she hid her past from everyone, because she feared rejection if people knew about a childhood so poverty-stricken she ate from garbage pails, and had parents who qualified for Most Dysfunctional. It was only when she – like Stachel – owned up to who she was that she was able to use her pain productively. Stachel’s courage led him to Broadway fame; hers to a memoir that has sold millions of copies.

Walls is hardly alone in the long list of famous artists who converted what they believed to be an insurmountable obstacle into what they were meant to do. Laura Hillenbrand had such severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome she was unable to leave her house for years. Needing a way to “escape from my body,” she turned to writing. The result was her hugely popular best-sellers Seabiscuit and Unbroken. “Writing,” she said, “enables me to create things that have importance.”

The obstacle doesn’t have to be a serious affliction, of course. For many it may be having to work at a job that leaves you so exhausted awriting seems impossible. Yet that may actually fuel your determination. To support his family, Faulkner worked night shifts in a power plant. Despite a grueling schedule, he used the hours from midnight to 4:00AM to write his famous novel As I Lay Dying.

The hurdle may also be the day-to-day care of an ailing loved one, leaving scant room for creativity. As readers of these blogs know, that’s been my personal challenge. Actually it’s my second time around, for decades ago I had the care of my terminally ill husband. After his death, driven by a desire to let other people know what to expect from the “craziness” of the medical world and the challenges of forging a new life, I was impelled to write my memoir Widow’s Walk.  In a bizarre exchange, tragedy led to a new career. It wasn’t a bargain I’d have wanted, but none of us have the choice.

This week I discovered a Zen saying that says it best:: The obstacle is the path. Whether we see it as a dead-end or a way forward is up to us.


BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play – both through and Amazon Kindle.


This week I was invited to my nephew’s graduation from medical school. I went armed with my new smartphone so I could take photos of this meaningful event.

So there I was, along with half a dozen relatives holding similar phones and cameras, all of us poised to memorialize the big moment, The ceremony had gone on for a numbing three hours of speeches, but now it was time for the moment we were waiting for. As each name was called the graduate ascended the few steps to the stage, was “hooded” – officially becoming a doctor – and walked off to ecstatic applause from family and friends.

It seemed forever before our particular actor in this drama was called. Finally his name ! I began clicking away, desperately trying to get him in focus. But I was far from the stage and the newly baptized doctor kept walking, so all I got was a series of blurs. Frustrated by my failure, I kept looking at the useless photos, trying to recapture a ceremony I could barely remember.

Then I realized that while busy trying to get pictures, I hadn’t really seen my nephew’s victory walk. Did he smile, despite his disdain of ceremonies? Did he amble as usual or walk swiftly to get out of an unwelcome spotlight? I will never know, because I was so busy trying to photograph a moment I wasn’t really in.

It’s haunted me the past few days. I realize I have a lot of company in this, for don’t most of us try to get images of an experience we aren’t truly there for?

Several years ago BBC did a documentary about this very topic. Linda Henkel, a psychology professor at Fairfield University in Fairfield Connecticut, took a group of students to a museum. They were instructed to take photos of some of the art, but only look at others. Tested the following day, they were les able to recall details of the objects they had photographed than those they had “just” looked at. According to Dr. Henkel, this is because we unconsciously expect the camera to do the remembering for us.

My son discovered this years ago, when he went on a hiking trip and found that he’d forgotten to pack his camera. Since there was no way to conjure up one, he concentrated on looking at the stunning mountain scenery. He doesn’t have an album to flaunt, but –as he says – “I still see it in my mind.” Probably more indelibly than if he’d been distracted shooting pictures.

Of course, I’m not recommending never photographing. It feels a little too Spartan to think of coming home from a vacation with no pictures to show for it. But maybe it’s a good idea to limit the amount of hours behind the camera and take time to absorb the moments.

This is dramatized in the 2013 remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” A professional photographer (played by Sean Penn) is tracking snow leopards. He sets up the camera, waits patiently, and a majestic animal stalks into view. But Penn doesn’t take the photo! When a perplexed Mitty (Ben Stiller) asks why, Penn replies, “If I like a moment I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
“It?” asks Stiller.
“Yeah,” Penn says, “Right there. Right here. I just want to be in the moment.”

Since this is a blog for writers, I’ll add a dose of authorial advice: If you were to emulate the Penn character, you’d find you forever own your view of the leopard (or graduate or ocean or whatever) – and be able to write about that momentary connection from a uniquely personal view.

Memorial Day weekend is around the corner, launching vacation season. Go, enjoy, bring your camera or phone and take a few pictures. Then put that instrument away and be in your experience.

Books: “Widow’s Walk”- available through; “Turning Toward Tomorrow” –; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play” – both through and Amazon Kindle.


KILL YOUR DARLINGS – advice given by authors from Chekhov to Stephen King –isn’t an order to murder, but to delete self-indulgent words clogging your prose. It’s advice’ve given to my writing students – and to myself.

In fact,  I’ve often said that revision is the most enjoyable part of writing. You can take those words you’ve written and add, delete, turn around and presto – your manuscript is less cluttered and reads better. Sort of literary feng shui.

But in the past few months I’ve turned to something that makes ordinary revising look like kindergarten play. It first happened with an autobiographical poem I wrote about caregiving. Although I believe my prose is generally better than my poetry,  I did take pride in the emotion that the poem allowed. Editors, however, did not share my view. Rejection after rejection.

I put the poem in the discard file (in my head, not in my desk). But I hated to give up. One day had an arresting thought: Since I’ve published so many short stories, why not see if I could convert the poem into a story? As I did, it took the form of a mood piece. With a “why not?”attitude, I sent it to a magazine, where it was instantly accepted..

This was a startling discovery, that revision could involve total transformation. So now I’m working on a second attempt. Months ago I wrote an essay-style piece about the tragic young hero of a popular British poem titled “Casabianca” by Felicia Hemans. It begins with “The boy stood on the burning deck”. (When I quoted that line to my younger students they looked at me blankly. .But school- children tin the mid-20th century were routinely told to memorize the poem.) My prose revision aligned the boy’s lonely stand on a sinking ship with my personal feelings about being alone with my “ailing mate.” Predictably, since the piece didn’t fit any category,  it was widely rejected.

So – as you can guess – I thought: why not go the opposite way- convert my prose into a lengthy poem? I began, but it seemed impossible, especially since I needed to avoid copying the original poem. However, determination being 98% of success, I kept going. I now have a two-page. poem. To my surprise, the poetic version reads better than the prose, getting rid of extraneous words.

Will it be published? Stay tuned! But it does convince me that it’s possible to convert a “failed” piece of writing into to more successful  – and more marketable – form. of course not every story lends itself to poetry, and vice versa. And there may be twists and turns that make your piece feel unrecognizable. But it can be a rewarding escape route out of a dead-end.


BOOKS:: “Widow’s Walk” – available through; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-; “Ten Women of Valorr” and “Role Play”- both  through and Amazon Kindle.


You heard it for years, maybe even said it yourself as an aggravated parent or grandparent: “These kids, what do they know? All they care about is themselves.”

That common complaint is suddenly outdated, for we’re amazed and awed by the courage of the thousands of young students who marched against gun violence this week. One by one they took the microphone and spoke -– as The New York Times headline proclaimed – with “Passion and Fury.”

Their tearful but determined faces vividly recall memories of the equally determined faces during the Civil Rights struggle. What was demanded in that earlier time has resonance today. For these students are also demanding basic human rights. The right to go to school without being afraid you’ll never get home again. The right to learn and grow without this being stolen from you in a shattering barrage of bullets. The right to have your childhood.

I’m haunted by so many of these young students, like Martin Luther King’s nine-year-old granddaughter Yolanda echoing his famous speech when she declared, “I have a dream that enough is enough. This should be a gun-free world.Period.” And Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,that triggered the global rally. She recited the names of the 17 people murdered in the school massacre, and then – with incredible stoicism stood absolutely silent until she’d been at the podium for a total of six minutes and twenty seconds – the exact amount of time it took for the gunman to murder her friends .

Typical teenagers? Emma wasn’t there to show off her hairdo or talk about the latest music idol – things we too easily associate with adolescent girls. She was there to memorialize the 17 people killed and to help save the future for others.

Just dreamers? With impressive political savvy student leaders began signing up all those who will be old enough to vote this November. As 18-year-old David Hogg said in his speech, these students will be a major voting bloc. Those legislators, he warned, who aren’t willing to pass gun control laws, should “get their resumes ready!”

I’m ashamed for all of us who have paid lip service to our hatred of gun violence, but done nothing. Maybe sent a check or two, and went about our lives. The silence after Sandy Hook will resound forever in American history.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke’s famous quote. Our children are showing us that the time for “nothing” is over.

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through and; also Amazon Kindle.


Irish author Edna O’Brien spoke candidly in an interview about the difficulty of writers having a social life, even – and especially – when the writing is going well. Admitting that this leads to a necessarily “lonely” life she said, “Every writer dreads losing the momentum, and to keep it you can’t be truly sociable.”

It’s a creed I’ve lived by and written about. Friends kindly describe me as “dedicated” and others say “obsessive,” for I try not to let anything or anyone interfere with the hours I need for writing, I am too attuned to time running out to have tolerance for “wasted moments,” meaning non-creative days.

But today I’m writing words I never expected to, for my head is turned in a different direction. It’s because of a shocking phone call from one of my newest friends. Actually it’s a friendship that’s never had a chance to fully blossom. I met Emily in my synagogue, the only woman there I felt kinship with. Apparently Emily felt the same rapport, for in-between our frequent chats she suggested we have lunch together. With my usual reluctance to let anything interfere with my writing schedule, I kept postponing the date. It’s true I had an overly loaded plate, for I was also teaching a memoir writing class and lining up talks about my books. She also has a busy life, with a large family. So for several years it was “one of these days…”

Finally we did get together for what I thought would be an hour or two. Even then I left my desk with a grudging feeling of “should,” promising myself to keep the luncheon short. But I quickly jettisoned that, for being with Emily was a rare experience. She wasn’t interested in idle gossip or chatter, but brought up subjects that opened wider doors – provocative books, the ethics of art and religion, as well as our mutual concern for the downward slope of our country. As we parted – after four hours! – we agreed it had been a wonderful stimulating afternoon and we should do it again soon. But “soon” can be a relative word.

Life, as the saying goes, gets in the way. My partner had a near fatal fall, resulting in permanent disability and a changed life for both of us. Helping him has consumed so much time and energy I’ve become more frantic than ever about salvaging my writing. So I kept assuring Emily we would get together again “when there’s time.” What a futile phrase that is. There’s always “time,” but not always us.

In December I called to say let’s start the New Year with a belated lunch. She said it would have to wait, she’d just been diagnosed with cancer. She would call me when she saw how the chemo treatments were going. The disease was merciless and rapid; she’s now in hospice.

Yes, writing is a number one priority in my life, alongside of my children and grandchildren. But to what extent should it crowd out other things, other people? This is not a mea culpa, for it isn’t guilt I feel about my friend. My “mea” is an abyss of regret, of loss, for what I let slip away.

For years my mantra has been an anonymous quote I once found: Writing is who I am. I have said it repeatedly and proudly. But today I revise it: Writing is my passion, it’s what I must do. But it’s not all of me, nor should it be. The challenge we would each do well to ponder is: How do we best divide ourselves between our work and the rest of living?

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through; also Amazon Kindle.


One February years ago a friend’s child had to have open heart surgery. His mother told me, “I walked into a coffee shop, saw all those Valentine candy boxes on the counter, and ran out. I can’t  stand the sight of those blood-red hearts!”

It shocked me into realizing how images we take for granted can be painful for someone else. Valentine’s Day is around the corner as I write this, with cheery voices on TV and radio telling us to remember our loved one with candy, flowers, champagne, what not.

Reality check: There are a multitude of people for whom the holiday is a reminder of a “loved one” who is gone –perhaps through death or divorce. Or who may be far away geographically. It can also be emotional distance from a child, sibling, parent, friend.

For years I’ve just said, how sad for so and so.  But I realize this doesn’t help them. What does help is my hand reaching to that friend or relative or neighbor, even if it’s a phone call to say “thinking of you.”  Better still, an invitation for the two of you to get together that difficult day.

Of course, the wounded ones may be ourselves! My “Valentine” is still alive – more or less. Body here, mind gone somewhere I can’t follow. Aloneness comes in many forms.

So what can we do to help ourselves?  I’m back to a favorite passion: journaling. After many years I still find mystical help in writing my feelings. It enables me to share my sorrow and hopes, and to find ways through them. (On the other hand, if the  distance from that special someone is because of betrayal, venting anger in the safety of those pages can be a great antidote to depression!)

I’ve advised so many students and readers to journal. Also, to write a letter to the person who’s gone.  Say how much you miss being together, and how you’re managing to go on. The letter will never  be mailed, but it can be surprisingly  therapeutic. It can also be  a letter that does get mailed – -an attempt to reach out through the barriers  of estrangement or to tell a good friend that you appreciate the loyalty and caring.

P.S. As a perennial dieter, I’ve decided  that  Valentine’s  Day is a time to give myself  permission to indulge in guilt-free chocolate. There’s no rule that says we can’t buy those treats for ourselves!

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play–; also Amazon Kindle.


This winter has been my “season of discontent,” a continuing obstacle course between helping the seriously ill person I love and trying to find space in my head for creating new stories.

So it was interesting to come across an excerpt from Hortense Calisher’s autobiography, HERSELF. Calisher, who was married and had two children, was middle-aged before she was able to begin writing. She was bluntly asked by a famous writer if she had “wanted” children and didn’t they “interfere” with attempts to write?

Calisher’s reply was emphatic :”Yes, I did want them and, yes, they did interfere – but everything does. And everything contributes.”

Refusing to use the “escape route excuse” of motherhood, she describes having to walk her youngest child to and from school every day. But while walking back home alone and then back again to pick him up, she wrote a story in her head.. She also used moments “in- between housework” to write poems.

Poetry has become my alternate route. Unable to find a clearing space for longer works, I’ve discovered I can express the conflicted feelings of being a caregiver in the brevity and immediacy of poems.

Yet there’s another side to this “life gets in the way” aspect.. Calisher is candid in revealing that the main obstacle wasn’t the burden of family, but a lack of belief in her ability to write – or that she even deserved to be a writer. Comparing herself to great authors of the past, she decided she could never write as well as they did, so why try?

This absence of self-belief is the greater hurdle for so many of us. Easy to say, “I have too many problems/chores/demands so how can I possibly find time and space to write?” Maybe we’re tuning out the real message in our inner circuit: ”I’m not good enough.”

When Calisher found strength to plow through her myriad obstacles, she
became one of the 20th century’s most prolific writers – dozens of novels, short story collections, memoirs. Ironically for someone who didn’t believe she was “good enough” to be a writer , she won numerous prestigious awards and became only the second woman to be president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Undoubtedly writing became easier for her once the children were grown. But Calisher had grown, too, by all she recognized and fought through.

“Everything contributes. …”
After a year- long drought I’ve finally written a new story. What surprises
me is how different the writing is from my pre-crises efforts, and how strong the voice is. Did having to fight to give birth to this story contribute to its strength?

Yes, it’s all a balancing act. But it needn’t throw us off-balance.

BOOKS: “WIDOW’S WALK” – available through; ‘”TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW”; ; “TEN WOMEN OF VALOR” and ‘ROLE PLAY”- and Amazon Kindle.


Sticks and stones may hurt my bones
But words will never harm me…”

That defiant 19th Century children’s chant is wishful thinking. Words can be weapons of personal as well as mass destruction, resulting  in long- lasting wounds. If you have any doubt about this, consider the effect of President Trump’s vulgar dismissive words about people of different color, which have inflicted pain on Haitians , Africans and everyone who respects human dignity. ( Ironically, the children’s chant originated in a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church!)

We each have a responsibility to be careful of the words we inflict in a moment of anger. We should choose our written words even more cautiously, for what’s in print is more permanent.

Our twitter-addicted president doesn’t even seem to have the benefit of an extensive vocabulary. Rhetoric is not his forte.  Unfortunately for his ego, no matter how far he demolishes his predecessor’s  legacy, Obama’s masterful command of language is on indelible display in his published books and speeches.

As writers, it can be useful to read aloud what we’re working on, for we become aware of repetitive or boring words. Speaking for myself, I’ve become aware of words I use too often; for instance, ”stare.” In my stories, it seems someone is always staring at someone or something. What about glance, glare, peer, or even giving someone a piercing look ? Just think of the variety that could spice up the page. Even that famed childhood chant has different variations. Historical references to “never harm me,” also include hurt me, break me, and down me.

If you’re looking for ways to avoid the banal, it’s worthwhile to wander through “Thesaurus of Alternatives to Worn-Out Words and Phrases ,” edited by Robert Hartwell Fiske. It’s a collection of what Fiske calls ”dimwitticisms,” trite expressions where less worn words would be more arresting. For instance, ”You get under my skin”(a common Trump ailment apparently), Fiske suggests that our irritation could be alternatively expressed as nettle, rankle ,chafe, etc.

What life we might give our words when we spice our conversation or our writing – even personal E-mails – with the unexpected. It’s like adding unique seasonings to a recipe, or showing up in a color you’ve never worn before. This makes observers take notice. Isn’t that what we all want? And how much more enhancing to use the power of imagination rather than resorting to bluster.

BOOKS:”WIDOW’S WALK” – available through; “TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW” –; “TEN WOMEN OF VALOR” and “ROLE PLAY”- and Also Amazon Kindle.