Finding Ruby Nancy: an adoption story (and an Ancestry Giveaway)

May 2nd, 2014


See that cute little tomboy on the left? That’s my Nana Ferne. Her handsome papa was Johannes Henry Neilson, and that grim looking lady next to him is my great-grandmother Ruby Nancy Neilson. My mother remembers her as quite a lively lady, so maybe she was suspicious of the camera. Or just plain worn out. Look at all those kids.

Henry’s parents were Danish immigrants to Canada in the late 1800s, who founded a farming community near the border between New Brunswick and Maine, clearing the forest by axe, and eventually transforming the land into the pastoral countryside they were persuaded it was before they left Copenhagen.

Until recently, I didn’t know anything about Ruby’s origins, except that she came from Maine, and that she had been adopted by the people from whom she got her maiden name.

I mentioned that when my Ancestry DNA results came in, I had two close matches right away. The first was a long-lost, recently-found 2nd cousin on my father’s side. The next was an estimated 4th cousin. I clicked on her family tree, and started scanning for common surnames. There were none, until I came to the one that belonged to my great-grandmother’s adopted parents: Boynton. I scrambled along the branch, and quickly came to their first names. But how could that be, since Ruby wasn’t their biological child?

I fired off an excited message to my DNA match, who lives in Maine, and sure enough, she and my mother were third cousins “on paper.” Her great-grandfather and Ruby’s adopted father were brothers. Our kinship should have been in name only, but here was the genetic data saying it was also through blood.

I looked up and down both our trees for any other way we could be related, and found nothing. The most obvious and likely explanation was that Ruby had been adopted within her biological family, as was common in days of bigger clans and earlier mortality.

After searching the rest of my DNA matches for her maiden name (as well as new ones that the database finds continuously), the evidence mounted. If great-grandmama Ruby wasn’t the biological child of these people, one of my great-grandparents was. And they weren’t.

So, who were Ruby’s biological parents? We’ve narrowed it down to two suspects, both siblings of her adopted father, both whose lives ended early. We may never know which, or more information may surface—which it seems to nearly every time I login to my Ancestry account. As more people share their family trees and DNA online, more pieces of the picture come together, like we’re all gathering up shards of something that broke apart into tens of thousands of pieces and are patiently gluing it back together.

It kind of blows my mind.

What really blows my mind is learning that my American roots, through Ruby, run deep and long. Back to the Revolution, back to the Pilgrims, back even farther than my husband’s tree shows so far. Eleanor Pell, my eleventh great-grandmother, was born in Boston in 1614. Her husband, John Boynton came to the Massachusetts from England in 1643.

Even though I vaguely knew that my great-grandmother on my Mom’s side came from Maine, I’d always considered myself a stranger to these United States of America. I’m the first generation American, I’m the modern pilgrim to the New World. That’s been my personal mythology.

But it turns out a lot of my relatives beat me to it. I’m at least a thirteenth generation American. I could qualify for the American Daughters of the Revolution. As the founding fathers surely intended the Constitution to say, there goes the neighborhood.

There’s more I want to write about adoption in family trees, because there’s a flipside to this story in which I realize that my adopted ancestors are as much part of my heritage (and sometimes more) than bloodlines, but it will have to wait for a separate post. 

Meantime, how about a FREE 1-Year World Explorer membership to (valued at $299), in time for an incredible Mother’s Day gift for yourself, your mom, your grandmom, or a mom you know?  Just leave a comment, and a winner will be randomly drawn after noon CT, Friday, May 9th. is kindly sponsoring a series of posts on my incredible Ancestry journey. Congratulations to Melissa, who won the DNA test from in April!

The Happy Sad Day

April 29th, 2014


On Sunday, our Littlest Who turned ten. The night before, he had a Minecraft-themed sleepover party (and by “Minecraft-themed,” I mean they played Minecraft and ate some brownie squares with green icing– don’t bother looking for the DIY tutorial on Pinterest). In the morning, they had more Minecraft, and donuts. The birthday boy opened his presents from us, and began planning how to spend the gift cards that were burning a hole in his pocket. I told him we could go shopping wherever he wanted, as long as I was back in time to bake cake for our dinnertime family celebration. In spite of a worrisome weather forecast that his Dad and I were keeping anxious eyes on, it was shaping up to be a very happy day.

Shortly after the last guest left,  Patrick quietly alerted me that our dog, Fanny had taken a sudden turn for the worse.  Fanny was an old lady–at least 15 years old, since she was an adult dog when I adopted her from a shelter in 2001. It’s been clear to us over the last month that she was winding down–she had all but stopped eating, and was sleeping almost around the clock–but she wasn’t in any apparent suffering or distress.We agreed there was no point putting her through the trauma of a visit to the vet until it was clearly time.

Clearly, on Sunday, it was time. As I sat next to her on her bed, it was plain that she was not resting comfortably anymore.  After a brief period of hoping against hope that we might be able to postpone the inevitable just one more day, we gathered the boys together and explained that it was time to say goodbye.

I accompanied each separately. “I’ll have my birthday supper tomorrow,” my youngest said, as he wept. Our thirteen-year-old, who has always been the most nurturing to Fanny, stroked her fur in silence, his face ashen. Then he went to his room and lay face down on his bed.

My eldest son came with me to the emergency vet clinic. I’ve never  been so proud of my firstborn as when that tall young man wrapped one strong arm around my shoulders, and kept his other hand gently stroking our dog as she went to sleep for good. It happened very swiftly and serenely. She was there one minute, and then she was gone.

It’s a holy thing to be present for someone when they die, I told him, remembering that we were both beside his grandmother when she took her last breath, him tumbling in the womb, yet to take his first. Birth and death, joy and grief, the coming and going of things, all mixed up together.

“Let’s have a birthday,” I told our not-so-little Who when we got home. “We can be happy and sad today. That’s how life is sometimes.”

And so we had a very happy birthday on a very sad day. Gift cards spent to the last nickel, extra big slices of chocolate cake, the declaration of a family rest day on Monday, and a special wish granted to a 13-year-old brother who is a friend to animals (even the orneriest ones like Fanny), and deserves his own phone. None of it to deny what was lost, but to celebrate all we’ve been given.




Goodbye, Fanny. You were a crabby, crazy old dog. And we miss you.

Dear Wife.

April 22nd, 2014

Letters from the Civil War

I promised a mystery story for the next Ancestry giveaway post, and I’ll make good on that before the month is through, but something huge has happened since I last wrote about researching our family tree, and I think it warrants a special edition. 

A few Saturdays ago, I dropped in on the Arkansas History Commission, to kill some time between dropping off and picking up one of the kids from a school event nearby. I had been meaning to look up the Civil War widow’s pension application of Patrick’s great-grandmother, which was filed with the State of Arkansas in 1901. There was a summary of it on Ancestry, stating the date of the application and which unit her husband fought with, but I thought it would be interesting to see the original document. I’ve been having trouble tracing her background, and I hoped there might be a morsel of information in the file that hadn’t carried over to the digital record–a next-of-kin, a maiden name, some clue about who she was before she married the man whose namesake I married.


I sat down at the microfilm reader, and started scrolling until I found her name. There was the application, filled out in bold, inky cursive. I pressed the forward button. There was the auditor’s stamp and the authorization for a $50 pension. That should have been it, but I pressed the button again, just in case.  The screen was filled with faint, spidery script. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, or if it was even part of the same file. I pressed the forward button again, and again, and again. Two words kept catching my frantic eyes:

Dear wife.

Breath held, I scanned for a signature line. At the bottom of every few pages I found my husband’s name. 


The staff must have thought I was deranged as I leaped up from the microfilm reader, and leaned over the help desk.

“Originals. Have. To. See. Now? YES?”

I was politely asked for my phone and purse,  shown into a glass walled room, and seated at a desk, where I waited for the archivist to come back with either a security guard or the pension file. Maybe they see people’s heads exploding all the time, because she returned with the latter. A folder was placed in front of me. Inside, sandwiched between layers of clear plastic film, were a half dozen letters  from the Civil War, written between 1861 and 1864, fragile as pressed flowers.

 ”Dear Wife, it is with pleasure I seat Myself to drop you a few lines…”

I must have made quite the spectacle in my glass aquarium for the next hour, as I smiled and frowned and puzzled and wondered and wept over those letters.  The first is dated ten days after leaving home to go to war, the last is dated June 18, 1864. They begin in a spirit of confidence and adventure, and end in resignation to defeat, and the glad anticipation of coming home. In between are all the reassurances, remonstrances, tedium, and tenderness of marriage, so ordinary and familiar as to render that great and terrible war mere backdrop to the story of daily life. As all history ever is.

Photo Apr 06, 9 04 34 PM

Patrick the fourth, reading aloud the letters of Patrick the first.

I had copies of all the letters made, and have carefully transcribed them. Look for excerpts to come soon.

Missing Something?

April 21st, 2014


In case you’ve been missing my Facebook page updates since the latest algorithm scramble, all are now welcome to follow public updates on my personal Facebook page, by choosing the button that looks something like this:


Or just click the widget in the blog sidebar.

I really enjoyed chatting with readers on my author page before the changes, and I hope this solution will allow us to continue those conversations. Maybe see you there!



I’m a Page Turner, are you?

April 16th, 2014

Two years ago this month, my mom messaged me on Facebook with the news that my late father, poet and playwright Al Pittman had been selected as an honoree of Project Bookmark Canada—the eleventh Canadian writer to be so honored. A ceramic plaque, printed with an excerpt of his poem, The Sea Breeze Lounge, would be permanently installed near its geographical setting, in Woody Point, Newfoundland.

The news was thrilling on two counts. First, that the plaque would be a visible affirmation of Dad’s literary legacy, his work memorialized as a physical landmark (one of thirteen Canadian writers to have been so honored so far, including his dear friend Michael Ondaatje). Second, HOW COOL is it that such a project exists anywhere in the world, with a mission to put “stories and poems in the exact, physical locations where literary scenes are set.”

Pretty damn cool.

The Al Pittman Bookmark was unveiled in August 2012, eleven years after my father died. I wasn’t able to be there, but I think you can tell from the photo what a happy day it was for our family:


(From l-r, my nephew and niece, my little sister, my moma, and Dad’s big sister. Oh, and Kanani, my American girl doll niece. )

But how much more important is what each Bookmark means to the person who happens upon it in its place. Like finding a window that opens upon a whole other dimension—the one written in words.

Project Bookmark Canada intends to create a cross-country network of hundreds of plaques, with your help and mine. I’m donating $20 to the project, and hoping many of you will do the same.  Being part of something so wonderful is its own reward, but each person donating $20 today will be eligible to win a signed, hardcover copy of my book, Planting Dandelions.

Please consider a donation and do share the word about this great project. I’m hoping it spreads worldwide.

Score! ACT results and TestRocker giveaway

April 15th, 2014

Sponsored by TestRocker, an online SAT/ACT preparation program

waiting for act

TestRocker is giving away six months of online SAT or ACT test preparation to a Planting Dandelions reader (a $699 value)! Details at the bottom of this post.

My ninth-grader wrote his first official, on-the-record college entrance exam last month. As we drove to the testing site that morning, I contemplated saying something like, “Remember you’re a few years younger than most people taking the test today—don’t be discouraged if you find it difficult this time.”

At the last minute, I decided not to adjust the bar for him, but to let him locate it for himself. “Do your best!” I said, and wished him luck.

When he reported that the test was “easy,” I chalked it up to teenage insouciance, and didn’t put too much weight on it. Either way, I was proud of him for sticking with the study program for nearly six months.

I didn’t expect to be able to view his score for a month or more, but when I logged onto his ACT account a few weeks after the test date, it was ready.

Now, I went to high school in Canada, a thousand years ago, and we didn’t write standardized entrance exams for college. So I had no clue what the number I was looking at meant. But after consulting Patrick, and poring over the percentile tables for both the composite score and individual test sections, I can tell you I was one very proud and happy mama.

This kid doesn’t need the bar lowered. In fact, it’s tempting to raise  it by speculating what his ACT scores might look like by the time he’s a senior and has written the test two or three times. But those are chickens yet unhatched and best uncounted.

As for the scholar, he’s happy with the results. Though he may already regret his spectacular score in one particular subject for which he’s been bringing home unspectacular grades from school. So much for excuses.

It’s hard to say whether the test gave him a confidence boost, or made the prospect of college seem that much nearer and more real, or he finally felt the nip of my tiger mother teeth, but I see him working harder on all his grades this last quarter. Even after he’d cashed his subcontractor check from me, and bought the well-earned longboard of his dreams.

So, big thanks to TestRocker, for sponsoring this experiment, and big thanks to you for following along.  The future looks bright.
2014-03-24 10.52.29

To enter to win a $699, 6-month TestRocker program for a student in your life,  please follow this step :

  1. Tag TestRocker’s  facebook page in a Facebook post, telling them why you and your child want to study with TestRocker. Your post must be set to public, and it must include both @TestRocker AND  #testrocker  in order to qualify. (Yes, it’s a little more involved than usual, but this is a much bigger prize than usual.)

This contest ends April 25th and the winner will be announced on TestRocker’s facebook page onApril 26th.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Skateboards for everyone! Kidding. It’s cooler than that: everybody gets access to an exclusive offer for TestRocker’s study program (and a generous one). Simply email and mention Planting Dandelions for a special discount on the program.

Thanks again, and good luck!

 I’m very happy to disclose that TestRocker provided my son with six months of access to a customized ACT study plan, and sponsored a series of posts about the experience. All opinions are mine and his. Sign up here for your free TestRocker trial, and learn how it can help your child.

Wednesdays on Writing: Carried Away

April 9th, 2014

Why getting caught up in your story is both necessary and dangerous.

2014-03-30 20.29.18

I remember the day I first fell in love with my story. I had been flailing around for the narrative theme that would tie my proposed memoir together, trying to answer the same riddle put to every author before crossing the publishing gulch: What’s This About Anyway? 

I had the raw material for a memoir about motherhood, and a few ideas were coming into focus, like belonging, and extraordinary ordinary, but I couldn’t see the whole outline. I didn’t quite believe in it yet.

Then one day, a line came to me. “I jumped the white picket fence.” I sat down, and typed what became the introduction to Planting Dandelions in one sitting, carried along by the swell of story. As if I’d been paddling along a trickle of  ideas that suddenly spilled into the ocean. From then on, I knew what my book was about, and I believed in it. I still do.

I think I’m almost there with my second book. I’ve begun the shitty first draft I’ve been avoiding with dread. After months of filling journals and index cards with back story, character sketches, and plot points that no one will ever see, I can feel the current picking up. I’m done with outlining, populating and furnishing my story.  It’s time to get in the boat, pull the oars up, and hope I get carried away.

A writer needs to be carried away when she’s writing–infatuated, even. She needs to be carried away when she’s trying to get agents, publishers, and readers to believe in her story. It takes that momentum to bring a book into the world. Like any act of creation, really. Look at motherhood. There’s a kind of delirium that gets you through the the first year. There has to be, or our species would have died out eons ago.

But there’s a downside to the delirium. You can be carried too far away. Passion can tip over into grandiosity. Enthusiasm can veer into hyperbole. Self-affirmation can start to look like self-congratulation. When writers get carried away, they can become this person, as hilariously described by author Rebecca Makkai:

He deserves good things. He’s worked as hard as anyone else. It’s just that sometimes, you kind of wish he’d get a little bit smooshed by a bus.

I know that guy. At times, I’ve been that guy. And speaking from experience as an author and a follower of many authors, I can almost guarantee that everyone who publishes a book will be that guy to some degree, at some point in the process. I hope they have friends as patient as mine.

It’s good and necessary to get carried away by your story. For a little while. But you need ballast. I had it in my agent and editor, who bore the frothiest waves of my exuberance, and kept the worst of it out of the public eye. Four years later, I still blush to remember some of my more over-the-top gems, and give thanks that it’s unlikely anyone will ever collect my manuscript drafts and letters.

That kind of professional ballast is built into traditional publishing, where the work has to get past multiple eyes before it’s released to an audience. It’s not idiot proof, but it saves some of us from ourselves. As legitimate and wonderful as I think self-publishing is, it’s missing that critical test. We’ve all had occasion to shake our heads at someone’s very public misfire and wonder, what were they thinking? 

I think a lot of the time, they simply got carried away by their story, and there was no one to pull them back.

Whatever story you have to tell, however you tell it, I hope you fall in love with it and let it carry you away. Writing a book is far too much work and risk for the half-hearted. Just be sure there’s somebody standing by with sharp eyes watching out for you, and a gentle hand to bring you in.


Kiss me, I’m 42 per cent Irish.

March 31st, 2014

Enter to win a DNA test from


Ancestral DNA, the bonds of blood, and what any of it means today.

Hey, it’s the end of March! Let’s giveaway another AncestryDNA test! But first, let me tell you about my own experience with taking this kind of DNA test and the illuminating results.

The test kit arrives in a little box which contains a specially designed plastic vial, a plastic bag, and a prepaid envelope for shipping your sample to the lab. Each kit has a serial number, which you register online. Then you spit into the vial (gross), seal it, shake it (grosser still), and send it off. Then you spend the next 6-8 weeks obsessively checking your account every day, just in case you missed the email alert that your results are ready.

Then one day, you get a message that says they really are ready. You click on your name, and you see a pie chart, telling you what was found across 700,000 locations in your genome.

Or rather, who was found. In my case, my DNA pie is divided among people who most likely called these places home up to 1,000 years ago:

  • Ireland 42%
  • Great Britain 34%
  • Iberian Peninsula 11%
  • Europe West 6%
  • Scandinavia 6%
  • Finland/Northwest Russia< 1%
No earth-shattering surprises for a person whose father came from Newfoundland (there’s the English and Irish), and whose mother’s great-grandparents were Danish immigrants to New Brunswick (there’s the Scandinavian and probably the Finnish). But that wedge of Iberian heritage is intriguing (explaining my father’s black hair and dark brown eyes?), and the big slice of Irish is more than I’d have guessed from looking at my family tree, by half (it also makes a sketchy legend of native blood look very sketchy indeed).
So what does it mean? Well, according to Ancestry, a statistically average native of Ireland has about 95% “Irish” DNA. So, genetically speaking, I’m about half as Irish as the Irish. I think that should get me discounts on Waterford crystal and Aer Lingus fares, don’t you?
Okay, but what does it really mean? Why is the ethnic component of DNA analysis so fascinating and thrilling for me, and for so many people? Why on earth does it matter “what” we are?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. For me, it’s a link to the unknown ancestors, the ones whose names will never turn up on a parish register or land deed.  Those pins on the map are clues to their stories. As incomplete as a faded photograph, or a fragile remnant of wedding lace, but a kind of relic nonetheless, handed down in molecules. I am bone of their bones, flesh of their flesh. And while my genealogical pursuit has taught me that family trees are made of much more than flesh and bone, genetic analysis can bring light to the dim or forgotten reaches of our roots.
But the ethnic pie is only the starter course.  Whether you have a family tree on Ancestry or not, you’ll receive ongoing reports of genetic matches found in the database, anywhere from one to eight generations removed. Those can be enlightening all by themselves, but when you’ve linked your DNA results to your own Ancestry family tree, things start to get really interesting.
I’ve mentioned that my husband’s family has been in the USA for a long time. When his DNA results came back, he immediately had pages and pages (and pages) of matches. In dozens of instances, it was easy to compare family trees and pinpoint the common branch (Ancestry makes it easier by highlighting locations and surnames shared by both trees). Not only did this confirm his genealogy along numerous lines, it helped us locate missing ones. Sometimes I’d find a genetic match who had information that we didn’t, or I was able to share my research with others. It’s like a giant recovery operation between distant kin, sharing gravestone photos, scans of family bibles, ancestral lore, and transcripts of wills. 
My expectations weren’t quite as high for my own matches, because Ancestry is based in the U.S., and I’m an immigrant from Canada. Even though Ancestry keeps global records, I thought the odds were less in my family’s favor than Patrick’s would be. But the first time I clicked on “see matches,” I found myself looking at cousins only a couple of generations removed. 
One of these, I’d already discovered when his wife read my bio in a magazine article I’d authored, noticed I was a Pittman from Newfoundland, and rightly guessed there might be a connection between her husband’s family and mine. His grandfather, my great-uncle, had been lost at sea as a young man. I knew that story, but not that he’d left behind a wife and child. No one living in my family had any knowledge of them. Not every long lost cousin is someone with whom I necessarily want to open a relationship, but this one was, so it was wonderful to find our kinship confirmed by DNA. If we hadn’t already found each other, our tests would have done it for us.
My second closest match was a complete surprise–one to be saved for next month’s Ancestry report. I’ll tell you this much: it involves an adoption story, and the discovery that my roots in this “new” country of mine may go back even further than my husband’s!
Until then, please leave a comment (or a question) to win a free AncestryDNA test and learn your genetic history! See details below. is kindly sponsoring a series of posts on my incredible Ancestry journey. Leave a comment below to win an Ancestry DNA test (available to U.S. residents only at this time). Winner will be randomly selected on Friday, April 4 at noon CST (and congratulations to Anita, who won the one-year world explorer subscription to in February’s giveaway)!


Don’t hate me because I’m in Florida.

March 27th, 2014

Navarre Beach Spring Break

All my life I’ve watched other people go on spring break beach vacations without me, so I wasn’t going to feel one bit sorry about posting updates of me basking in the Florida sun and surf this week while 90% of my friends and family are living above the new North American permafrost line.

Though spring temperatures had finally arrived in Arkansas last week, I drove to the gulf coast as if a blizzard were at my back, eager to discard as many garments as local law permits and let the full UV spectrum soak into my bones.

Except that spring must have gotten pulled over for driving drunk somewhere around the Louisiana state line, or else we lost it when my mom’s GPS navigator detoured us to the not-so-scenic scenic route of backwoods Alabama for two hours. Either way, spring has been nowhere to be seen since we got to Navarre. If I knew where to direct my irate and indignant tweets, #WTFsunshinestate would be trending right now.

Good thing I packed all these breezy skirts and summery tops.

Photo Mar 22, 8 40 39 PM


On the bright side:

The beaches aren’t crowded.


The drinks stay cold.

beach bag

We need less sunscreen.

buried in sand

The bikini diet has been abandoned for the who-the-hell-cares diet.


 (Related: I would endure any kind of weather for another lunch at Joe Patti’s in Pensacola.)

I don’t feel quite as bad that Patrick couldn’t join us. Though I still feel guilty for having to leave this guy:

 rosco in the car


I’m with my mom.

mom on the beach

I’m with my boys.

jonah at navarre

alden at navarre


 It’s not snowing.


In fact, the sun just began shining, so we’re off to carpe the crap out of this diem.

to the beach

Before the rain that’s forecast for the next two days rolls in. 

Wednesdays on Writing: Tame Your Beasts

March 12th, 2014

2014-01-22 18.03.17-2

On the bad days, when nothing–not even crappy writing– makes it onto the page, I take consolation in the thought of someday telling the hilarious story of taking ten years to write my first novel, and making countless hung-up writers feel better by comparison.  There are no ifs, I tell myself, only when. Every day is an act of suspending my own disbelief.

To those writers who think finishing/publishing a book will vanquish their beasts for once and for all, I’m sorry to tell you that my doubts and self-sabotage still circle and growl. But I’m better at taming them. I can’t always make them go away, but I can usually make them sit and lie down.

Here are some things to help you tame your beasts:

HumorThe Twelve Types of Procrastinators  by Angela Liao of 20px 

I’m a chronic List Maker, a hopeless Side Tracker, a compulsive Social Sharer, and a dedicated Internet Researcher — what about you?

Habit: Content, Creativity, and the Role of Habit by Jason Konopinski

Familiar advice about cultivating good creative habits, but I need reminding over and over again. As the world’s slowest writer, I was especially comforted by this anecdote:

James Joyce famously labored over every single word, sentence, and punctuation mark. It was a process that took days. In an oft-repeated story, Joyce encountered a friend on the street who asked him if he’d had a productive writing day, to which he happily replied, “Yes, I wrote three sentences today.”

I wrote three sentences yesterday afternoon. It took me only two hours, but then, I’m not writing Ulysses. 

Journaling: A New Way to Think About Journaling  by Karen Walrond

My friend Karen showed me her “global capture” approach to keeping a journal during break between sessions at a writer’s conference where we were presenters a few years back. It was a game changer–like installing an overflow valve for my brain. I’ve adapted the practice to suit myself (including a switch from an unruled Moleskine to a similar notebook with heavier paper, so marker ink doesn’t bleed through), but the basic concept of putting it all between the covers remains the same. It’s sort of like dumping your handbag out so you can sort the trash from the useful things you carry around all day. 

Endurance: Surviving the Myths of a Writer’s Life

This is a wrap-up of a talk I gave last month to creative writing students at the University of Central Arkansas. I was surprised and happy to be asked to give a craft workshop, but a little perplexed about what to teach, since I’ve never actually been in a writing workshop myself. I thought about what would have been most useful to me as a young writer starting out, and decided to leave the teaching of writing to the writing teachers, and pass along some endurance skills instead — approaches that have helped me navigate the personal hazards of creative work. 

This far, anyway. 

What are some of the beasts that stalk your work lately?