Monday, August 27, 2012

The Bug Outside.

There is a bug outside mimicking the sound of freezing rain tapping against the window on a winter night. I am smiling.  

I didn't link nature to my emotions while I was walking in the woods, sleeping under the stars, or dipping my toes in the salty waves. It was while I was driving down the highway with my ac cranked and nature whizzing by on the other side of my rolled up windows that I realized how much my happiest emotions, the ones that I squeeze hold of too tightly and that slip away too quickly, are fed by the natural world.

Humans have a way of driving out the most passionate feelings inside of one another-we are passionate about love, hate, our beliefs, causes, losing, winning, injustice, revenge, belonging. But those feelings can have negative and positive energy attached to them. I won't discount the devastation that nature can inflict on the spirit of someone who has lost everything in a hurricane, earthquake, flood...but nature is a force that does not take human emotion into account.

When I am walking down the old railroad tracks by my house and I see red berries that I can put in a berry bowl and it reminds me of Christmas and I think about frosty windows and twinkling lights and lit candles and family gatherings, I get a feeling deep in the most protected part of my heart that cannot be described as happiness or excitement or love-it cannot be described at all.

When I see the skeletal remains of a leaf after the snow has melted and revealed the hibernating world that I have forgotten, I think of science with the kids in elementary school and the looks on their faces when they see something ordinary in a new and fantastic way. It provokes curiosity and awe and feels primal.

And when I run into the water with my nephews and nieces to avoid the torment of a surprise splash party for aunty, and my hair is stuck to my face with sweat and I betray my own nervous system by shocking it to death with freezing cold water-I lose my breath for a moment, and it isn't because of the drastic drop in body temperature. It is because I want to pause and remember the moment for as long as my brain can sustain it without succumbing to hypothermia.

The berries, the leaves, the water--each a fractional part of the astonishing world around me that frees me from love, hate, our beliefs, causes, losing, winning, injustice, revenge, belonging...or prepares me for them.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dinner Bell

Dinner on Star Island was meant to be "family style". I was seven the last time my family all sat down to eat together. My only memory from that time is puking after my mom made me drink all of my milk. I showed her. My family missed many opportunities to give thanks for being together with a roof over our head and a meal on the table, or to share anecdotes from our day at work or school, or to just sit and enjoy each other's company. The divorce made it so we would never have the chance to make up for it, even if we had been blessed with the insight into just how important family time was. While attending my last residency for my MFA this past week on Star Island, I was forced to dine in this manner. There was no television or radio and we were made to eat at a certain time. If you wanted food, you were there at 6:00 for the dinner bell at 6:30. In a flurry that mimicked the running of the bulls, you would have to squeeze your way through the crowds of people, find a seat, and plant yourself in it in a matter of seconds to ensure that 1, you actually had a plate and fork of your own and 2, that you would be lucky enough to be at one of the tables that got served first. Enter D.R. Leo and John Stern, two gentlemen attending the SNHU MFA residency along with myself. To give them credit, they had devised a genius plan to not only get served first, but also put in a request for seconds first as well. It was simple: these two men would host eight other women at their table. "They eat less than we do," was John's reasoning, but I think he secretly liked being surrounded by us. Even though they came through for us, it wasn't their ability to get us fed, and quickly at that, that left an impression on me, it was their ability to truly make it a "family style" meal. On the last night of the residency, Darren and John posed questions to our little group, such as "What was the first album you ever owned?" or "What book, food and condiment would you want if you were stranded on an island?"-very appropriate given our location and circumstances. But it wasn't just that they kept us entertained with their hypothetical situations and questions, it was the fact that they made sure every single person had a chance to be heard when responding. We toasted the person to our right, and acknowledged the diversity of the group that had assembled. A mix of young, old, skinny, fat, quiet, loud, pop-loving and good-music loving students were in my company that evening and I truly felt the ghost of family was present. Thank you John and Darren for dinner on Star. It wasn't what you said, but how you made us feel that will stick with me when I enjoy my next meal with family- related or not. You rock.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

No Peeking!!

I am compiling a list of moments when people would tell others to close their eyes. For now, I have about a dozen or so instances that I have considered to begin a collection of short stories with, but I'm looking for some more to work with. Some of the ones shared below are innocent, some are loving, some are unbearable. Some are crap and will be thrown out. Through my writing, I am hoping to examine why we are willing to allow someone to handicap our perception of the world around us. Is it a misguided trust that convinces us to transfer our power to others to define what is deemed as viewable? Why are we willing to close our eyes? Especially when we're just going to try to peek anyway.

  • Close your eyes- and hold out your hands…dad says to children as he prepares to give them a present

  • Close your eyes-phlebotomist says to cancer patient as they put in another needle to take blood…insert IV, etc. (blood spurts out all over her scrubs, patient doesn’t see it but nurse is horrified)

  • Close your eyes-rapist says to victim holding knife to her throat so she won’t see him (even though he has a face mask on)

  • Close your eyes-lover says to woman as he explores her body (allowing her to secretly fantasize about someone else)

  • Close your eyes-virgin says to her boyfriend the first time they have sex-too embarrassed for him to see her body

  • Close your eyes-mother says to child as she tucks him in for bed, says to imagine a happy place (child can only imagine monsters and such in the dark with eyes closed, but is too worried to tell his worn-out, single mother)

  • Close your eyes-boyfriend says sweetly to girlfriend as they drive by a horrific accident to be masculine and protective(only to find out that it is his sister in the accident)

  • Close your eyes-Dad says to child as he sees pet dead on side of road in front of their house

  • Close your eyes-priest says to congregation, asking them to pray (as he touches himself through his robe)

  • Close your eyes-mother says to child during bathtime as she rinses the shampoo out of the child’s hair

  • Close your eyes-mother says to child as he or she walks in on mom having sex (while the child’s father is at work)

  • Close your eyes-man says to woman as he slips ring on her finger to propose (and before ring is on she knows what he is going to do and is trying to figure out how to say no)

  • Close your eyes-woman leads her husband into living room as she surprises him with a big screen tv (has a spending problem, family in debt)

  • Close your eyes-woman says to children as she hears the father stagger through the door, drunk

  • Close your eyes-older brother pleads to younger sibling as they hide under the bed after intruder breaks into the house and they hear mother screaming

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Owning Your Own Writing

One of the first workshop environments that I experienced was in a poetry writing course I took in college. What a refreshing change it was to have people invest time and thought into my writing. I recall in high school having to trade papers and edit for each other, but the focus was mainly on grammar and spelling. We would simply mark the corrections in red ink and add generic comments of “Good work!” and “Nice job!” To avoid any social mishaps as a result of hurting someone’s feelings, we avoided commenting on the quality of the content. Then, that one college poetry class introduced me to a whole new element of workshopping, a more grown-up, sincere way of working with other writers who (hopefully) had visions similar to my own, which would be to make our writing better. No longer writing for a grade, we were encouraged to write for ourselves in such a way that we could express our feeling and thoughts and engage our readers to make a connection. I suddenly wanted to hear what aspects of my writing the reader was confused about, or what really resonated with them. While you try to take everyone’s responses into consideration, it’s not always possible or practical to do so. This is where taking ownership of your own writing comes into play. It’s your creation. Someone can give you parenting advice, but ultimately, you know what’s best for you and your baby. If a peer reviews your work and offers not only criticism but suggestions, it is worthwhile to take that into account considering they are making an effort to explain what will clarify the piece for them. That is much easier than dealing with someone who is asking you to change the content of your piece for their own personal taste-or worse, because they feel it is a course requirement to hack your baby into tiny pieces, leaving you to put it all back together again. In some cases, instead of changing the work itself, you may need to change the audience.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


One of the hardest experiences I had with writing turned out to be the most rewarding. As a final for the Poetry Writing Workshop course I took, I had to write a poem that fit a number of elements into it, including:

• Four beats (8 syllables) to the line (can vary slightly)
• Six lines to the stanza
• Three stanzas
• Use run-on lines between stanzas one & two, and two & three
• Use at least one foreign word somewhere in your poem (besides “faux”)
• Use clear English grammatical sentences (no tricks), although fragments are okay. All sentences must make sense within themselves
• Insert yourself somewhere in the poem (“I...”)
• Use at least one simile (comparison using “like” or “as”) and at least one metaphor in the poem
• Use at least one phrase of dialogue (in quotes)
• Use 5 nouns, 5 verbs, 5 adjectives or adverbs from a given list

I struggled for a bit with the restrictions but then it came to me-I would write a poem about a lazy day of fishing-something I don't get to do often, but would like to. Once I got the image in my mind, the words flowed out. Though it wasn’t completed without numerous revisions, it felt like a puzzle that I was putting together and once the outside edge was done, the rest of the pieces just kind of fell into place. I felt excited that I could follow the given form that the whole class was assigned but still create this piece that was unique to me. Based upon the reception I got from the class and instructor, it was the kind of piece that was a lot of hard work to write but the final product made it seem like it was effortless.

La Muerte De Los Pescados

Yawning, I watch as lazy drains
into the mosquito chewing
above my elbow. The slack line
on my pole sways like old lady
Simpson’s Buick, tires swapping
tar for soft shoulder. Dents reveal

that more than mosquitoes have kissed
her bumper. Land dwellers at risk,
the fish are safe for now. The faux
lure confirms my belief that there
is a conspiracy between
fish and bait, exposing the hook

to give me away. The dense heat
exhausts. “Time for a siesta.”
Nodding off, the pole tugs, the reel
spins like a turnstile, line careens
through the residue of pollen.
As it zips, music to my ears.

-Steph Milligan 04-23-08

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Week 6 Blog Assignment ENG 330

The Zinsser reading this week focused on the interview and pointed out that finding the human element in a story was most important. If you let people who have a passion for or genuine comments on the issue you are writing about tell the story, it will be sincere and all the more interesting. The article was useful because it reminds you that everyone has something to say and for the most part is willing to share when asked. I think that even though it may be intimidating to do an interview, once you do it, you’ll find that it isn’t as hard as you thought because people like to be heard and if they are approached for their expertise or opinion on something, they will likely share.

The Graham reading focused on the use of anecdotes to illustrate a point in your writing. It gives the reader a short story to recall that exemplifies the thesis. The use of the anecdote ties in with what Zinsser was discussing because it adds a human element to “articles even when writing primarily about things or concepts” (Graham 121).

My anecdote:

As she pulls the large glass Pyrex measuring cup out of the microwave, the liquid inside sloshes around, almost spilling over the edge. Setting it on the countertop, she takes a sip of Sambuca from her glass. Things are starting to get a little sloppy at this point and the large knife that she uses to cut the chunks of solid glycerin is hovering near the edge of the counter. “What color and scent do I want to go with this time?” she muses as she scans the several glass bottles lined up in front of her. “Almond fragrance with yellow color!” she exclaims as though this is a new combination. On occasion you will find Pat making soap on Friday evenings. It is her calming ritual after a particularly long work week. “My grandchildren won’t use any other soap you know,” she relays with a beaming smile. She pours in a hint of yellow coloring and some of the almond scent. As she stirs, the liquid takes on an iridescent appearance and the delicious scent wafts up and spreads throughout the kitchen. She slowly pours the liquid into the mold and as she sprays the surface with a squirt bottle, the scent of almond disappears and is replaced with the biting odor of rubbing alcohol. “It takes out the bubbles,” she comments and moves the mold to the side. Bringing one over that has already solidified, she bangs it on the counter to get it to release. When this happens, the knife falls on the floor just inches away from her foot. Exhaling from the struggle of bending over to pick it up, she rinses it off and gets out the silicone ruler she uses to measure the bars of soap, though none of them ever really end up the same size. The first cut reveals the swirls and scent of the blue and white “ocean breeze” scented bars she prepared in a mold earlier in the evening. “I love that smell,” she says as she sticks out her arm for me to take a whiff. I amuse her with the “oohs” and “aahs” I know she expects and she seems satisfied. Cutting the rest of the bars from the mold, she piles them in front of the shrink-wrap machine. “I think I’ll do that tomorrow,” she says as she picks up her glass and takes another sip. Placing the measuring cup, knife and cutting board in the sink, she offers me a bar to take with me as proof of her accomplishment. She hands me a bar that is already wrapped and labeled, red with a “Summer Rose” sticker on it. Now that she is relaxed, she leaves the last mold to harden and sees me to the door before she goes to rest her worn-out feet.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Week 5 Blog Assignment

Objective: While most of your writing this week will deal with larger spaces, I'd like to suggest that you use this opportunity to warm up by working with a small space. Place yourself wherever you usually do your writing. Now show that place to your reader without using the words "cozy," "small," "open," "professional," "noisy," or "quiet."

The intermittent buzz of the DVR recorder (at least I think it’s the DVR recorder) lures my attention away from the computer monitor and over to the muted television set. The silent picture promises an amusing episode of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New Jersey but that is if, and only if, I get my homework done and can still keep my eyelids propped open. Otherwise, that tantalizing episode will join the rest of the archived shows I never really get around to seeing, but feel comforted in having nonetheless.

Trying to train my attention back onto schoolwork, I catch a glimpse of what is behind me in the large standing mirror leaning against the wall that happens to be in my direct path of vision leading back to the monitor. The walls enclose a space no bigger than what I imagine Martha Stewart’s cell to have been in jail, but they are sufficient for what needs to happen within them. A computer desk, black, but adorned with gouges resulting from careless moving, an armoire, also black, but with scratches from the clumsy handler of the computer desk, and a large queen-sized bed layered with numerous blankets and pillows all surround me as I work. The pile of books on my nightstand never really diminishes, and with each course I take, the promise of a growing library presents itself to me daily. The wheels on my desk chair never have the opportunity to squeak as the floor space is confined to a “turn-around” area only. I can spin my chair around, but not without catching my knee on the corner of my bed. In the other direction, a pyramid of shoes that doesn’t fit in my closet is spilling out into the only area that could come close to being designated a walkway.

It’s tough having to move back in with your parents to finish college, especially when you work full time to try to support yourself but the paycheck awarded to you by the local school district doesn’t cut it. I am thankful for the intimate setting in which I get to focus on my academics, but the setting is the only thing I would describe as “intimate” in the bedroom that I inhabit at my father’s house.