Coursera: The Coffee Clutch

Source: Coursera: The Coffee Clutch

What do you do with assignments from writing courses? You ask for feedback. Please send some feedback on this short piece exploring Rising Action in every second sentence.


Words for Int’l Women’s Day

Source: Words for Int’l Women’s Day

I didn’t know what the term meant – I don’t say things like that.

As most of my friends and colleagues and a few attorneys know, I have been stalked, my car and home vandalized, and my professional reputation threatened for a year by a mentally unhinged person. During that time, I walked a tightrope between creating more distress for the person’s family on one side and ignoring my safety on the other side. With this current act of name-calling, I am done being quiet.

There is something horrific about a woman commenting on another woman’s appearance in a way to shame her or cause her pain.

I’ll be sixty in a couple of years and with it has come some hard knocks leading to episodic wisdom.

I’ve lived through ballet auditions where I didn’t make it through the first rounds because they were ‘looking for a particular body type.’ Balanchine wanted his dancers to be ‘like racehorses, rail thin, beautiful, and not bright.’ No one cared how I danced.

Nevertheless, I modeled my way through college being a consistent size 8. Patterns were cut to this size in the 70s and 80s. I can’t take kudos for the size 8 body; it’s the family bone structure and genetics.

My first husband made comments about my looks, my weight, and my height. You can’t change some of these characteristics. They are genetic, predetermined, or out of your control. I will never forget the day I said to that husband, “I’m a size 8. Get over it. Not a size 4. Not going to happen.” And I returned to my graduate school studies. He remarried and described his wife as “young, beautiful, and stylish.” Good grief. She can’t stay that way forever. He can’t either.

I’ve had dates where I knew the men were not into my appearance. “But that body,” they would say. Yeah, I’m a little more than that. We are entitled to preferences but beyond 30, people, this life, my body comes with an expiration date. Go away and grow up.

I’ve lost jobs or not received a second interview because I look too old – employers can’t ask your age, but they figure it out. Ageism. Or maybe I did not fulfill their appearance requirement. Still illegal and still hard to prove but you know it when you are on the receiving end.

My wrinkles and the knowledge in my eyes are hard won – living, loving, making mistakes, grieving, being a friend – it is all there on my face and body. I don’t look, act, sound, think, or believe in the same ways of earlier decades. To do so would be a nullification of who I am, my genetics, my values, and every experience that I have lived through. I will not do that to myself. Or to another female. Or male.

So, to the woman who calls me BUTTERFACE, I am sorry for the time, and it will happen, when someone makes a derogatory remark about your appearance. By then, I hope you will have learned the self-acceptance to shrug it off.

How To Dance Without Touching

The serpentine rhythm of the tango begins

And you extend the invitation.

I give you my hand and

You quickly withdraw yours.

Your fingers curve across my back,

Dig in for a firmer grip

And my response is fear.

I smell your sweat

Like damp fishes

Living in dark curling rivers

Along the sides of your face,

On the nape,

Streambeds traveling your forehead,

Collecting in the notch of your chest.

Taunting me.

Of its own accord, my face

Lays down in the crook of your neck.

But our bodies do not touch.

I lift my head;

You don’t smile but meet my eyes

With the barest widening of the whites.

For once, I don’t look away.

My hand encircles your neck.

You shift my weight, our legs intermingle.

No good can come of this.

Source: How To Dance Without Touching

(image used with permission from

The Color and Smell of Aging


The flesh had a poreless sheen and rosy color,

A flash of innocence, unselfconsciously available.

“There’s nothing like young skin,” he said.

Devoid of broken vessels, scars, uniformly plump,

And sun-scented like apricots at the moment of ripeness.

“Buy me another drink,” she said.

“There’s nothing like youth,” he said laying down a twenty.

(image courtesy of

Source: The Color and Smell of Aging

Words for Valentine’s Day or Love among the Berries


Sometimes words are unnecessary. Such a weird thing for a writer to say. Coming up on Valentine’s Day, I want to remember what it is to be in love, astoundingly, courageously, heart in my mouth, love.

Over twenty years ago, I went to dinner at what was for us, a fancy restaurant. After ten years together and finally finished with my graduate degrees, Rod had scraped together enough money to go for our first Valentine’s Day dinner out. I was excited, toe-tingling, searching my closet for something pretty to wear, putting on uncomfortable lingerie, excited. After an hour of primping, usually I’m done in 30 minutes, 45 if I have to deal with animals; my hair looked okay, eye makeup subtle, mouth a bright red for the holiday, my husband walked into the bedroom. I thought how happy I was to be married to a man I adored … and who was so handsome. Thick black hair shot through with silver, soft kissable mouth, green eyes lively with intelligence and humor.

Before we left, we stood looking at each other. If there were words, they weren’t memorable. We drove to the restaurant in Rod’s beat-up Corvette. For five courses, smiles and eye contact were our forms of communication. Words would have muddled the time. Before dessert, Rod reached into his pocket to pull out a box. Without breaking our gaze, he presented the box across the table. Opening the box, I found a pair of garnet earrings bound in silver wire – these from a man who professed a disbelief in gifts. Silently, I put them on. They were small rectangles of a soft red, the color of blood. Plates of berries and cream interrupted our contented sighs. After a final glass of champagne, we tootled the mile back to our house.


Immediately, I felt sick. Running to the bathroom, I vomited raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and cream all over the bathroom. Rod got a pillow for my knees and held my long curly hair out of my face. The projectile berries created quite a firework display covering the bathroom floor, the walls, and me with blotches of red, purple, blue and pink.

Between explosions, I said to Rod, “I’m so sorry. I was excited about the night, and now I have a whoopsie tummy.”

He ran towels under water and started to wipe off my face. Another explosion of berries.“Not a problem. What an ending to the night,” he said.

“I ruined it,” I said tears mixing with the stains on my face.

Caring for me like I was a sick baby, Rod peeled off my clothes, chucked them in the trash, wiped clean my body with cool towels, and scooped me up.“You are a mess,” Rod said laying me in the bed.

“Yes, but a mess who loves you with all her heart,” I said.

Rod put a wastebasket by the side of my bed and a washcloth on the nightstand. “Just in case. Be sure and wake me up.”

“I love you.”“I love you too. And you are my mess.”

I took out the earrings to wake up with them still held in my hand.

Less than three weeks later, Rod contracted a virus. His heart bled out.

Maybe this Valentine’s Day, you can show someone how much you love them; celebrate their foibles, little quirks, and whoopsie tummies. This year, I am going to wear my garnet earrings in remembrance of love.

(personal image and retrieved from

Source: Words for Valentine’s Day or Love among the Berries

Stage Fright, Steroids, & Yodeling

Reading my work aloud scares me. Yes, I know I do things most people would rightly balk at – climb mountain ridges, hurl shoes, and go to an NYC sex club alone. But the world doesn’t make a deodorant strong enough to stop my sweat when reading for my peers.In the past, I resorted to beta-blockers. They take the edge off my stage-fright, but I have to time it for the pills’ peak dose to hit before I start so I don’t run out the door screaming. Another thing, I need to be hydrated on them so I can stay upright or my blood pressure bottoms out and I down I go.(Don’t worry. I have a prescription. But it is a funny image – a writer scurrying about in the dark of night, laptop under their arm, going, “Beta-blocker, anyone got some beta-blockers? Got a reading tomorrow.”)Three years ago, something, a couple of things, happened. In the quest for a warm winter, I had my entire heating system replaced. Everything in my attic had to be moved out. Though a rickety ladder in the ceiling, I hauled boxes bigger than me down to the second floor.The next step involved wrenching bits of carpet out of the attic, down the rickety steps down the stairs of my townhouse to the dumpster outside. A major hurdle – holding the two-ton scraps overhead as they disintegrated in my hands.In the process, my forearm rebelled. Within 24 hours the muscles were ‘frantically searching for a painkiller’ sore. After loudly complaining about this for two months, three of my ten fingers started to go numb. When writing, I chose words without the letters Y, U, I, J, and M – could not hit those keys. This was problematic. Time to go to Urgent Care. The somewhat unconcerned medical provider shot my elbow full of steroids one day after receiving a shot of steroids in my foot (unrelated injury).The shots promised pain relief, but I felt decidedly funky. Not wanting to impose my funkiness on the world, I decided to stay home. Watching DVDs and eating seven chocolate bars one day. I sang the next. Cried. Even outright boohooed. More chocolate. Giggled like a maniac. Had insomnia and night sweats. In a lucid moment, I decided to let phone calls go to voice mail. Most days, I couldn’t feel my foot or arm. After a couple of days, I thought maybe I should get out. It could be cabin fever, right?At my coffee group, I sat, unable to follow conversations. Drinking caffeine, probably not what I needed.“Are you okay?” Asked a sweet guy.“You don’t look so good,” said an ex-lover.I started to cry. “I can’t feel my hand. Or my foot.”“Look she’s crying. She never does that.”“Oh, that’s not good.”“Do you want to go for a walk?”“Okay,” I said immediately beaming at them like one of those stupid head bobbing dashboard doodads.“She shouldn’t drive. We’ll take you,” and with that, they picked me up, buckled me into a car, and took me to the Museum of Art. We walked around. I was in awe of the textures of steel, grass, concrete, my shoe, my friend’s hair. I was hypo-manic from the two steroid shots.We passed a pond.“Are those duckies?” (free image from“Yes. They’re some form of animal floating on the water,” said my friend smiling. My ex-lover laughed and went off to call a … friend, maybe to get some medical advice. He turned around just in time to grab me by the back of my jeans, aborting my move to take a closer look at the “ducky.”“Thank you. I feel like singing,” I said and attempted yodeling ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ from ‘The Sound of Music.’ I was insulted by their laughter.“We should feed her,” my friend said. “Promise you won’t sing at the restaurant?”“Maybe I need practice,” I said starting to yodel again.“Yes you do, but yodeling is inappropriate at a restaurant, especially in North Carolina,” said my ex.“Okay dokey,” I said. We had an uneventful lunch, at least in my mind. I slept the rest of the day.A week later, my hand still hurt. Typing hurt. My fingers were numb. Back to the orthopedist who injected more steroids into my body. Oh no! I was going to a reading group in two nights. My friend said to prepare a piece to read.On the night of the reading, I struggled into a dress and boots, both pull-on, to turn up at the social before the event. I babbled.A friend told me to go free form. “You’re entertaining. You don’t need a script.”Sweet, but I could foresee disaster. I slept with my head against a friend’s shoulder through most of the event. When the MC called my name, I lurched out of the chair, stumbling to th

Source: Stage Fright, Steroids, & Yodeling

Choosing American Citizenship: The Price is Steep

01aihg5pWhen I was 17, I chose to become an American citizen. Immigrating with my family at 13 to Alabama from a private boarding school in Scotland was difficult for my family. My parents’ marriage could not withstand the pressures. I grew up feeling confused and out of step. So many missteps, as simple as the use of English, like everyone got the US instruction manual but me.Asking someone in the seventh grade, “Can I borrow I rubber?” did not mean what I thought it meant. When mother explained why the boy behind me laughed, I was mortified. I asked him for an ‘eraser,’ and he thought I was asking him for a condom. Eeoogh.When the time came to go to university, my mother was utterly lost. I needed American citizenship to accept scholarships and at some institutions, back then, to even submit an admissions application.I chose citizenship because, in high school’s Civics class and American Government classes, the American system presented a model of checks and balances, made up of groups helping each other create and maintain a democracy. The government was rational and prudent to my 17-year-old mind.The actual occasion was memorable. Going before the judge in Mobile, I answered questions about American history and government from information I had been taught in school and augmented by ancillary reading done at night. I wore my best clothes – a black and green print shirt and a green corduroy wraparound skirt. I curled my hair. I couldn’t stop smiling. A teacher from my high school was there. He was from Mexico and getting his citizenship that day too. We were part of a larger group of immigrants. There is a picture of us standing before the US flag in the Mobile newspaper. It was a proud day for my family. A moment where I carved out a piece of my identity. My family went out to eat afterward at our favorite place, a little salad shop in the mall. Now I had the instruction manual.I was the first of my siblings to receive citizenship. It was an honor. It breaks my heart to see the country torn apart by this election –people torn apart. Friends and family, colleagues and companies split by the divisiveness of this time. The price of the instruction manual is steep. I am not saying that we shouldn’t be activists and stand for what we believe in. That is my definition of a government of, for, and by the people.I am saying that a democracy should help elevate the people of the country to higher levels of thinking about complex social dilemmas. A government should help the people reach and create more.More appreciation for diversity, not just tolerance but union.More health, physical, mental, and spiritual, not my way or the highway.More equality between and among groups, not justice for some.More complexity in thinking, not moral relativism.More compassion for emotional responses, not discounting nor overrating but integration.Pay for your instruction manual whether given at birth or with your citizenship papers: what are you doing to mend our collective broken hearts?


Twigs & Bark: Scavenging Food (Part 2)

At my last class of the day, I heard a rumor. Bread would be available at breakfast. I cut morning class to beat the hoards. Unfortunately, the hordes had the same idea. I moved with determination to a table crawling with people like hyenas scavenging the kill. I elbowed a large woman out of the way, energized with equal parts gluttony and desperation. Grabbed the last piece of bread, stuffed my bread scrap into my tube top while running to my table. I had a moment of intense pleasure. No one was taking the bread from me without a fight. I made another foray searching for butter, fat of the Gods. No butter. No margarine. Only that putrid orange liquid sludge. I sat back down and pulled the scavenged bread out of my top. It smelled of me, greasy oily me after 48 hours of un-wash and yoga. I ate it and immediately threw up on the empty seat next to me.My sobbing was interrupted by the woman I had elbowed earlier. Leaning over me, she smiled.“You shouldn’t want so much.”“Mind your own fucking business,” I hissed.“That’s the poisons talking. Let yourself become full of air and detoxify your body with fasting.”“Listen, you crazy bitch,” I said. “You were there with me, fighting over scraps of bread. Be thankful I didn’t barf on you.” I got up and left. Crazy goddam cult. It was time for my massage.Smelling of sweat, vomit and most of the deadly sins, I went upstairs. The massage therapist was clean, shiny and condescendingly compassionate.“I can see and smell your detoxification.”“Okay.” I had no energy to contradict her. It wasn’t detoxification. It was desperation, hate, violence, hunger, loneliness, and exhaustion.“We should work on your heart center. It’s closed.”“No. Leave my heart alone. You should work on my colon center. It’s closed.”She opened her eyes wide. “This may be uncomfortable.”“Listen, lady, be nice. I haven’t pooped in three days. I’m hungry. My heart is broken, and I just threw up. I feel like I am having heat stroke. I’m not interested in anything but escaping this hell hole.” Tears belched out of me. It seemed every orifice was open but one. She wasn’t getting a tip.An hour later, I had been pushed, pulled and rocked into a numb state. Thinking this might have done the trick; I spent an unproductive half hour in the communal bathroom making truly scary sounds. The bowels of hell. I skipped the other massage that day to lie sweating in my bed expecting a red-costumed visitor – the Pizza Delivery Man or Satan.

Source: Twigs & Bark: Scavenging Food (Part 2)

Twigs & Bark: Scavenging Food at the Yoga Institute

A WOMAN GOES TO A YOGA INSTITUTE TO ESCAPE HER TROUBLES. IN THIS SECTION, SHE ENTERS THE CAFETERIA FOR THE FIRST TIME.Smelly and sullen, I followed the class to the cafeteria. Bosch, himself, could not have imagined a scarier version of Hell. The hall was full of writhing, wiggling people in full yoga regalia, sunbursts and yin/yang symbols emblazoned clothes and distorted skin, shiny piercings of eyebrows, lips, noses, and nipples. Grasping toes spread on the ground as they hurried from trough to trough, metal tongs piling heaps of green leafy things, nuts, and bark-like pieces on their plates. They covered the roughage with a dense orange liquid. You eat this?I looked around. No bread. No chocolate. No dessert. No wine, beer, tequila. What kind of camp is this? Where are the smores? Where are the chemicals? I need chemicals, preservatives, sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup.As my panic grew, I grabbed the bulging arm of a kitchen worker.“Where’s the dairy products?”“That’s bad for you. It’ll give you a yeast infection.”“Can I get a cup of coffee?”“Why do you need that stimulant?”“Not even in the morning?”He shook his head disdainfully.“Okay then bread and butter.”“Look we don’t have that stuff. We have healthy raw food that will detox your system. See that round belly you have. It’s probably worms, gas from dairy products, and pouches of undigested meat. Do you know meat can live in your colon for five years?” And with that lecture, he sauntered back into the kitchen, skin and hair gleaming with health. His belly flat and covered in baby fine down.I made my way to a table. Looking at the green leaves and orange liquid on my plate, I sobbed, seasoning my food with snot and tears. A man next to me, mid-fifties, as wrinkled a sharpei, possibly from unhealthily fast weight loss, was smiling vigorously. He said, “You’ll feel better in a few days. Initially, you defecate big black blobs but they’ll pass.” He went on, “The cramps stop after four days. Make sure to do twists in yoga class or things will get stuck. A guy was air lifted out of here two days ago. Abdominal obstruction, I think.”

Source: Twigs & Bark: Scavenging Food at the Yoga Institute

Fire: Maybe It’s Time To Go Strawberry Blonde

I come from an impressive line of Firestarters. We don’t mean to be, but we are. It must be part and parcel with the red hair and feisty tempers. Let me give you an example:The night in question, Mom was lighting the Sabbath candles on the Bimah (synagogue stage) when the event happened. My mother was beautiful and hard to forget with her bright red hair and twinkling blue eyes. That particular night, she wore a powder blue dress, probably highly flammable. It was the seventies. I wore a hair band. The family had been to IHOP for dinner (a Friday night tradition), and we were ready to pray.The night started out good – minimal fighting among the siblings. No one was expecting what happened next. I sat in the last row of seats with my sister and brother. No major faux pas had occurred like the time my sister lets one rip in the middle of a sermon. Or the time my brother fell asleep, tumbling out of the pew into the center aisle with a soul-shaking clunk. Or the time I tripped in Mom’s borrowed heels, inadvertently performing the Heimlich anti-choking maneuver over a seat back, to hurl scrambled eggs and pancakes over the entire row. You get the idea. Mine is a long line of the etiquette-challenged. But that is not the same thing as starting a fire. Back to my memory, Mom was standing on the Bimah about to light the last candle on the Shabbat menorah (think ornate candelabra) when her sleeve caught fire on an already burning candle. Trying to pat it out with a certain je ne sais quoi, she knocked the candle out of her hand. The lit candle sailed end over end to pole vault over the waist-high gate separating the people on the Bimah from the rabble. The flaming missile arced towards the new burgundy carpet. Not quite shag. Flammable. Near the audience (congregation).A little curl of smoke started up towards the ceiling. Mom’s eyes opened very wide. The periwinkle blue polyester of her dress smoldered. My sister nudged me in the ribs. I sat up straight. Paid attention. My little brother snorted.The curl ate the nylon carpet in a zigzag pattern turning into a flame zipping around the Bimah. I thought, Ah, a burnt sacrifice. Mom was yelling, “Oops, please somebody do something,” in her perfect British boarding school voice used only in situations of I am in so much shit, or You are in so much shit.The President of the Temple rushed down from the Bimah into the fire. He stamped and stamped. The head of the religious school came over to spit on the fire. The fire continued despite the stamping and spitting. My mother threw the ceremonial wine on the holy fire. Poof. The President’s tie caught on fire. By my count, two people and one carpet were on fire. One woman was out of spit. I sucked in my gut trying not to laugh too conspicuously. With a unified Oy Vey, people in the front pews hastily moved towards the back of the sanctuary.At the point when it looked like either the fire department or a miracle was called for, the Rabbi pulled a fire extinguisher from under the podium. With a few oaths unseemly for a spiritual leader, he jumped over the gate and sprayed the fire into submission. The Rabbi turned to the congregation.“Please be seated. Let us continue with our service on page … “ he said motioning my mother off the Bimah. She was never asked to perform another thing, read another line, or get anywhere near an open flame on synagogue grounds.Then the sprinklers turned on.The three of us kids sat in awe, sweat-producing awe, of yet another Young family fuck-up. After a furtive glance at each other, we doubled over with laughter. And a little embarrassment as the Jewish community’s wrath rained down upon us.This year, my resolution is to smother my Firestarter tendencies. Maybe dye my hair strawberry blonde. I hope your year is full of laughter and light but no fires.(excerpt was rewritten from

Source: Fire: Maybe It’s Time To Go Strawberry Blonde