The Motif of Scrap

Last week, in A Baker’s Dozen, I listed my books’ series, or repeating patterns. I plan to take a brief look at one pattern each week. Today is one of my non-emotion patterns: SCRAP, which happens to be the title of my book. The motif of scrap(s), trash, theft, salvaging, and re-use runs through many scenes. Scrap represents destruction and chaos until scraps can be salvaged and re-used.

On the more positive side of trash and scrap, when I was a kid, my father sold teepee burners to dumps and then started his own garbage business. I wrote about the teepee burners here. When he had his own business, he used to find all kinds of usable trash. He brought me boxes of books and costume trunk clothes that had been thrown into dumpsters.

When my grandmother entered the nursing home, she left behind with my parents a Victorian crazy quilt, made of irregular scraps. I think of it as a guiding image for my book. I wrote about it on Anneli’s blog here.

Like most crazy quilts, the scraps are velvet and satin and embroidered with designs. Many of the designs are floral.

My father uses scrap metal to make art:

The metal flowers are my favorites.

I use scraps to make scrapbooks, and I used to make stained glass out of glass shards, but I had to quit when I moved years ago. You have to have a designated work area because the tiny glass fragments get all over and can be dangerous. Now that I have the room to work on my stained glass I no longer have the skill to break the glass.

The project I was in the middle of when I quit stained glass: a Mizrah which is hung on an eastern wall to point in the direction of Jerusalem

The project I was in the middle of when I quit stained glass: a Mizrah which is hung on an eastern wall to point in the direction of Jerusalem

Does the image of scrap as I’ve described it above show up in your writing or your daily life?


Filed under Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals

Lit Journals Again

Last week I posted a poll on Does Short Form Memoir Count?

Although the results are limited by the few numbers taking the poll, I was heartened to see that the highest percentage was for people who subscribe to at least one journal. But when you add rarely and never together, you get the same score.

So why don’t more of us read lit mags? And I put myself in that category because I haven’t been consistent. More often than not, I would skim a new magazine and end up not reading it because I turned to a book instead.

Now that I’ve been reading literary journals again, I feel so energized, enthused, and educated. I think my writing will be better for reading them. So I plan to continue.

How about you?


Photo by Marisha

Photo by Marisha

Next Thursday: I (sort of) review an iconic memoir.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

A Baker’s Dozen?

In my post called Target My Structure, I talked about how Stuart Horwitz’s book Blueprint Your Bestseller is helping me organize my memoir.

One of the most important steps of structuring a book, according to Horwitz, is to identify the series in your book. As I mentioned in that post, “a series is anything that has ‘iterations.’ Repetitions, a pattern. But not just any pattern–a pattern where the series “undergoes a clear evolution.” It happens or shows up more than once and changes a bit? It’s probably a series.”

There is no set number of series a book should have, but 12 is a reasonable number.  By happenstance, I have 12 series. Most of mine have to do with emotions, which is something that surprised me a great deal. I like imagery and metaphorical language, so I kind of thought I would find series with certain central metaphors or images. But when I did find iterations (repetitions) of an image, I would see that the image fit squarely within certain emotions that repeat throughout the book.

For instance, the image of a gun shows up in several scenes. In one scene, it’s a rifle. In another, it’s a pistol. In yet another, it’s a shotgun. But what is more important than the guns is that they represent the emotions fear and anger. Fear and anger are represented in different ways in many scenes. Guns are just one way they manifest themselves. But these emotions also show up in verbal arguments, physical abuse, and hiding/secrecy.

Once I had a list of my scenes in hand, I noticed that they correspond fairly well to the major emotions as identified by Pia Mellody.









I also have a few other series in addition to these emotions, but I might add a 13th.  And it would be called THERAPISTS ;).


Do emotions show up often in your writing?


Filed under Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals

Does Short Form Memoir Count?

Lately I’ve been reading shorter memoir pieces in back issues of literary journals, rather than book-length memoirs. I’ve noticed a few things by reading stories in journals:

  1. I don’t know what I’m going to get ahead of time. These pieces are usually listed until the category of “nonfiction.” A story might be a memoir, but it also might be a political essay or a lyrical essay. I’m more likely to find an experimental piece than if I read a book. Whether that matters or not is another issue. But I have long suspected that the reason we have “genres” is that we know how to “take” something when we read it.
  2. The piece is more likely to have some contemporary slant to it than if it were part of a book. These essays tend to be more “timely,” but sometimes that feels like a magazine trying to be trendy.
  3. I don’t become as obsessed with any of these short stories as I do when I read a book. I am less invested. Are the writers less invested, too? Nevertheless, some of the short pieces are thrilling in their brilliance.
  4. I am exposed to a wider range of thoughts and emotions by reading a variety of essays by a variety of writers.
  5. By reading many writing styles, I learn more about writing at the sentence and paragraph level. By reading books, I learn more about structure.
  6. I can read one short piece at each sitting, so I feel as if I’ve accomplished something.
  7. BUT I am not drawn back to the story as I am when I have to take a reading break during a book.
  8. I can learn a lot about where to submit stories by reading the journals.


Click on this link to order back issues of Plougshares

How often do you read literary journals?


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

All Our Masks

One of the fun things about writing a blog is being able to write about whatever I want to write about ;). Today it’s poetry. Specifically the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980).

Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s one of my favorite poets.  Her most famous poem ended up creating a rallying cry for feminist scholars and women writers.

 The Poem as Mask


When I wrote of the women in their dances and
wildness, it was a mask,
on their mountain, gold-hunting, singing, in orgy,
it was a mask; when I wrote of the god,
fragmented, exiled from himself, his life, the love gone
down with song,
it was myself, split open, unable to speak, in exile from

There is no mountain, there is no god, there is memory
of my torn life, myself split open in sleep, the rescued
beside me among the doctors, and a word
of rescue from the great eyes.

No more masks! No more mythologies!

Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music.

Once, Rukeyser wrote about herself under the mask of myth. But now Rukeyser was throwing off the mask. She (and by extension, all women) could now show herself in print and in real life without masks.

Women no longer had to pretend to be what they were not.

Unfortunately, I think people are still wearing masks.

Today, it might be easier to have masks. We lurk behind social media, cell phones, and, yes, blogs, never fully showing ourselves without masks.

I will say that I think some masks are necessary, and that we have to protect ourselves.

But the masks Rukeyser is referring to are masks that deny who we truly are. For instance, she was a lesbian, and in a time when it was considered abnormal to be gay, homosexuality was one identity that many people felt forced to deny. A good mask to abandon.

In trying to figure out what masks I’ve worn, I think too often I have been in social settings where I didn’t feel comfortable being the nerd that I really am and have pretended to be more conventional and modulated, hiding my passions for nerdy pursuits like scholarship, writing, and poetry.

What masks have you worn that you have abandoned or want to abandon?

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Filed under Blogging, Poetry, Writing

A Slut’s Story: Review of “Loose Girl”

Ever call someone a slut? Or a ho?

You might think twice about the object (not subject since we objectify when we call someone names) of your label after reading Kerry Cohen’s memoir Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity.

Sex addiction is a real disorder–and treated by therapists and in rehab facilities around the country. This is the first book I’ve read about a girl who has this addiction. Her self-worth is completely connected to getting attention from guys. I use the word “guys,” rather than men, because at the end of the book, in an interview of Cohen, she explains that men have feelings and needs of their own, but that a “loose girl” doesn’t view males that way. She uses them for her own overpowering needs.

In this book, the reader is brought into the mindset of a teen girl and, later, young woman who is a sex addict. For me, this book was horrifying to read. Cohen knew intellectually the dangers of having unprotected sex, and yet she did, with guys she barely knew–one after another after another.

I suspect there are women and young women I know who have engaged in this kind of behavior.  There might be many women like this.

The book is an engaging read, although the subject was disturbing. I stayed up too late finishing it as I wanted to have things set right for me at the end. I don’t want to include any spoilers here as I want you to have the same suspenseful read I had, so I will just say that the ending surprised me.

From this book I learned that in memoir the most critical scenes and shifts or turns in the plot don’t have to be earth-shattering. They can be more subtle, as often happens in life. In fact, in this book sometimes the most dramatic events don’t trigger any change in the narrative, whereas something almost invisible can trigger more change.

I did notice a couple of places where, if the book was in my group’s critique session, readers would demand something more. For instance, after Cohen develops a medical problem, readers don’t get to see how this affects her relationship with her boyfriend at the time. Instead, we jump ahead to “summer.”

Another opportunity missed might actually be intentional and part of the design of the book. Most of the characters, other than the male sex objects, are barely described. I don’t really have a good idea of how Cohen looks (other than her photo at the back of the book). Or her parents or therapist or best friends. The only exception is her sister Tyler, another victim of their neglectful upbringing. I suspect Cohen wants the reader to see the world as she saw it–cute boys with straight or curly hair and pretty eyes that single her out with their gaze. She may have described Tyler as a nod to Tyler’s shared family experience.

This book can benefit society by showing us what’s at stake when we just call someone a slut in a derisive way and don’t examine the root causes of her behavior.





Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

One Naughty Rabbit

It’s that bunny time of year! Every time I step outside I disturb a young rabbit feasting on my plants.

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I’m going to take you back to 1959 today. (Yikes, how did today get so far away from then?) I have a certain quantity of very clear memories from the age of just before two to age four. This event happened in the spring, about three or four months before I turned four.

What I am searching for today is why this is one of those important early memories.  According to  Sven Birkerts, we have memories which are involuntary.  Memoirists, he argues, “need to investigate why a particular memory of a seemingly meaningless moment has such power that it still calls to us through decades.” I wrote about this theory when I first started this blog in a post called “Breaking the Codes of Childhood.”

My parents took me on a trip far from our Michigan home–to New Orleans. On the last day, we went on a boat ride along the Mississippi River. In the restaurant, the ship’s captain introduced himself to me, then hoisted me up and tousled my hair. He placed his captain’s cap on my head. The hat fit me perfectly.

Maybe it was not really his hat, but one he meant to give me all along, like a souvenir. He and his men fussed over me, and I thought I knew what it felt like to be a princess.

Mom and I went for a walk on the deck. Somehow my thin summer coat sailed over the side of the ship into the giant net that encircled the craft. Sailors tried to fish out the jacket, but they couldn’t reach it.

“Lulu, you need to learn to be more careful,” Mom said.

I hung my head. “Peter Rabbit.”


“Peter Rabbit lost his jacket.”

Mom said, “Yes, you lost your jacket just like Peter Rabbit. He’s a naughty rabbit.”

I stood at the guard rail and stared at my little blue jacket, so recently wrapped around me, lying forlorn in the netting, so close and yet unreachable.

Peter’s jacket ended up as a scarecrow, whereas mine became fish bait

Why do I remember this memory so often? Any ideas?

* At home I had a 45 (record) with a narration of Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” so I was very familiar with the story.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing