Free Write Friday: Retreat

You plan months ahead to make it work. Line up sitters, meal plan for the following week, organize an overnight weekend at Grandma’s house. It feels luxurious, the silence and the resting in words. “Thinking is work.” You read it on a bumper sticker weeks ago and it remained with you, rolling over in your mind. You wrote it on a post-it and stuck it to your computer. Thinking is work but it’s not valued, not reimbursed in our quantifiable, time card, excel spreadsheet world. 

So you plan. You prepare excessively just so you can have the time, the space to think. You kiss your babies goodbye, leave them with Costco lasagnas and Daddy’s breakfast-for-dinner. You drive to the ferry terminal, eat clam chowder, thick with cream, chewy and loaded with immersed oyster crackers punctuating each bite. You cross to the peninsula, familiar from childhood jaunts with your family: damp woods to explore, saline air stinging nostrils, small town diners with stiff grilled cheese hugging cups of tomato soup. 

In the dark it’s a struggle. You find the communal house on the old military fort, now converted into housing for writing retreats, community events. Odd to think these dusty buildings used to be barracks. You came here for your medical school orientation weekend, sleeping bags tucked under arms, eyeing strangers with anticipatory reluctance, a peculiar Junior High start to the four years of forming physicians into being. You also came here for medical residency retreats. Each spring you’d all gather, let loose in the way a group working 36 hour days, 100 hour weeks, caring for the critically ill must. 

The drafty house smells familiar, like ghosts of orientations past reside. Here are strangers, unbonded to you, a writerly community. All introverts, you’re bound by the thinking, the thinking is work. You write and you read. You walk and you sit. The seaside air suffuses your mottled skin, still tensile but hinting at fine lines and transition into middle age. You can think here. You can create. It’s work, but it’s inspired. And those other selves, those other lifetimes, those other beings of retreats past dance on the floorboards, float through the drafty air, haunt the tap-tapping as letters form into words creating sentences giving meaning to the empty page. 

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Those Winter Sundays


I was at the Write on the Sound Writers’ Conference all weekend, so wasn’t able to prepare a Narrative Medicine Monday post for today. I’ve been reflecting, among other worthy writerly thoughts, about how I attended WOTS last October, just one year ago, as my first ever writing conference. At that time I gingerly entered each room, compressing myself into an imposter, sure that I would be discovered as a fraud. I imagined my fellow attendees, accomplished published authors thinking, “What are you doing here?” The entire writing world, culture, was foreign to me. I struggled to fit pumping in between conference sessions, even nursed a four month old baby in the car briefly while my family was passing through town. I’m now done with the harried, urgent stage of pumping; have retired my trusty Medela Freestyle and all its various plastic components for good. It’s remarkable to me that it’s only been one year. In those twelve months I have developed detailed writing goals, including a complete nonfiction book proposal, a regular blog and platform plan and have my eye on contests, training programs and retreats and residencies to further my work and aspirations as a writer. 

I’m currently taking an online poetry class, which is stretching my every writing muscle. I’m back to basics, learning about sound and syntax, metaphors and consonance, iambic pentameter and anaphora. Both my poetry class and one of the weekend conference sessions highlighted this poem by Robert Hayden: “Those Winter Sundays.” As a mother myself, entering middle age, reflecting on much of my perceptions and misconstrued moments of my youth, this poem spoke to me this week. Try reading it out loud and note the tools Hayden uses to portray his father and his perception of his father, both in his youth and looking back as an adult. What speaks to you in a poem? Have you tried reading poetry out loud? I’m grateful to be learning more about poetry this fall and hope to share more with you in the coming months. 

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Fluidity

I was camping last week in the glorious San Juan Islands and realized I wouldn’t be able to finish my regular Free Write Friday post since I was, blessedly, without any WiFi connection or phone reception for several days. Our family returned late Sunday night and, after four days of swimming, kayaking, exploring and sitting around the campfire, I also realized that mountains of laundry and back-to-school prep would take precedence over my usual Narrative Medicine Monday post. So I’m letting these goals lapse, like my hope to read any of my book club book (The Glass Castle, in case you were wondering) this past weekend. 

I’m approaching a year of blogging and initially chose a biweekly schedule of narrative medicine and free write posts somewhat arbitrarily, knowing that it would keep me accountable to have a set schedule. It’s been good for my writing and my overall well-being to write regularly and press publish even when my work isn’t completely polished. At this juncture, I’m giving myself a pass to forego a post here and there when on vacation or at a conference or finishing another piece of work. 

This fall I’ve signed up to take a poetry course and I’m actively pursuing a home for my nonfiction book. Blogging has been a salve, a selfish pursuit of craft and vulnerability. I’m not looking to give it up, but I am ready to give it more fluidity. 

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It’s a Book!

Looking for some great summer reading? The 9 Lives: A Life in 10 Minutes Anthology makes for an entertaining beach or bedtime read. This collection of creative nonfiction stand-alone pieces is authored by writers (including yours truly!) from all over the world. You can pick up your own copy from Chop Suey Books online here and “advance through the ages and stages of life, from birth to death, from our first breath to our last.” Don’t miss my essay “Fired,” written about one of my last moments with my beloved grandpa Gar.

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Mothers in Medicine

I’ve long been a fan of Mothers in Medicine, a collaborative blog of supportive mama docs. Many of the contributors are still in medical training and the community is made up of various different specialities. I’m delighted to come onboard as a regular contributor to MiM. You can find my posts under “MP.” I’m so grateful for this community of mama docs who get it. If you’re a mom or momma-to-be and at any point in your medical training or career, I recommend checking out Mothers in Medicine as the candid posts are honest and instructive about the challenges of holding these two important roles. 

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Till


I’m at a long weekend writing retreat so, ironically, won’t be posting a free write today. The space is lovely, set on a converted farm. I’m looking forward to writing workshops, long stretches of sitting in silence and conversation with the best kind of people. May your weekend be filled with the same. 

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Upside Down


I first heard about the EPIC Group Writers at an annual writing conference held in Edmonds, Washington called Write on the Sound.  EPIC hosts classes and gatherings for writers and I’ve attended a few of their excellent weekly writer groups. I’m so pleased to announce my piece “Upside Down” won Honorable Mention in the prose category of their 2017 Writing Contest.

This essay, about my first pregnancy, subsequent c-section and early complications following my daughter’s birth, is especially meaningful to me. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my foray into regular writing coincided with me becoming a mother. There’s a clarity the chaos of motherhood brings. My time, attention, emotions are pressured; the refining aspects of motherhood bring into focus what is important. Writing as a vocation and creative outlet has emerged as a clear necessity. I’m grateful for the revealing nature of the disruption. Ultimately, that’s what “Upside Down” is about. 

Many thanks to EPIC Writers for honoring this piece and also for the support and service they provide to the local writing community.  

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Published: Skinnamarink

After receiving a particularly disappointing rejection for a writing residency I had high hopes for, I sent out a flurry of submissions and applications a few weeks ago. In the literary world of slow responses and recurrent rejection, I’m always grateful and pleasantly surprised to get an encouraging nod: an acceptance!

I’m excited my essay “Skinnamarink” goes live on Tribe Magazine today. Tribe speaks to all things motherhood and is a vibrant community created by the unstoppable Kristin Helms. I wrote this particular essay last year while taking Kate Hopper‘s wonderful “Motherhood & Words” online writing course. More recently, I took a Creative Nonfiction online course on writing a nonfiction book proposal headed by the superb Waverly Fitzgerald. Before taking the class I had no idea how much was involved in getting a book published. I mean, no idea. It’s a process, people. I have a whole new respect for every published author and look at each book on my shelf in an entirely new light!

As I’ve delved more into the literary and publishing world, I’m understanding the need to both trust in and defend an artistic vision, as well as develop a porous enough thick skin to harness the critique and wisdom of others to hone that art to its full potential.  I intend to keep working on my current manuscript until it can find a home for publication and be worthy to be read by others. It’s important to me that it be a final product I can be proud of, whether it takes many more months, years or even decades to finish. I want it to inspire more work as I’m already developing two more book ideas. And although I’m piling up rejections as any persistent writer will (apparently I crave professions that feed into the imposter syndrome), I’ll savor the acceptances as the jewels they are. 

Many thanks to Tribe for featuring my post today!

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KevinMD

Excited to share my post on the importance of narrative was published on KevinMD.com this week. KevinMD is a widely read blog that shares “the stories and insight of the many who intersect with our health care system, but are rarely heard from.” Grateful for the work done by KevinMD to give voice to those who work within and are cared for by the health care system, as well as serve as a platform for discussing important current issues. 

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Free Write Friday: Rain


I remember the winter it rained for ninety days straight. It was some sort of record. Some days it was just a drizzle, grey clouds menacing, threatening but only producing a trickle of condensation. The dampening effect was lasting though. I was forlorn, a college coed struggling with my own gloomy tendencies. The constant rain seemed to confirm my dramatic melancholy.

I had a yellow rain coat, slick and bright, rubber and durable. I don’t know why I chose the bright yellow, sunshiny and pure. It wasn’t a trendy choice; my fashion sense was not yet refined enough to choose statement pieces. An umbrella was seen as taboo for any true northwesterner, a weather crutch not to be used for its actual purpose. This fact was clear: use of an umbrella would border on blasphemy. So daily I trudged across campus, damp with a constant drizzled sheen, ground ebony and bare; the glory of the autumn colors long decayed to brown and dissipated into the soil, reclaimed to become fodder for the following spring’s renewal.

But that winter the grey reigned, the gloom maintained through the dreary days, weeks, extending into months until even the air seemed to weep. Light and brightness forgotten, buried somewhere deep below, hidden high above.

I remember walking across the center of campus, careful steps on the slick bricks, rumored to have been designed specifically to be slippery, easier to hose down and dispose of protesters should a group of young idealists take to the arena with picket signs and voices raised high. That day, though, it was just ordinary students making their way to lecture halls and labs, the library and the dorms. I stopped midway, and gazed at the sky, willing it to show me a break, a glimmer of respite. Instead, the drops fell large and solitary, coalescing on my upturned face.

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