Short Pieces

Practicing your Writing Exercises


I realize I’ve been harboring a sly secret.

        (a girl-child in a ruffled dress grins, gives a little skip, glances over her shoulder.

        She says:

        I can make meaning without even trying;

        I’m just full of it, naturally.

        It comes streaming out of my fingertips.

        All I have to do is catch it before it dribbles down the drain.)


That spilled secret has landed me here in the corner,

all my choices evaporated, burned up by the light of day.

I end up with frozen fingers and no good avenue out of here.


Caught, my back against two walls, I wonder if being stuck might be meaningful.

I recognize this feeling: the sticky residue of embarrassment,

        so thick it makes me sick,

        gummed up with fury over my lack of swift skill.

It comes when I have to learn what I don’t want to learn,

Face those awkward baby steps.  


        What a waste.

But I have to go that way to get out of here.

        (Yes, you can hear me over there in the corner!)

You have to go that way.


You have to practice so you can get from nowhere to somewhere;

you can’t just dance on the table and flash a dimple, Shirley Temple-like, to save the day.

Unless, of course, you enjoy your own dancing and dimples.

In that case, who cares?  Have some fun; it’s easy.

But don’t come to me with your problems.

I’m busy trying to learn how to write.    


Theme and Variation:   We cannot do much for our kids.

All parenting leverage has slipped away.

Our help must now pass through a sieve small enough to strain out every because-I-said-so.

The suggestions we give our kids are left behind like umbrellas;

our advice about as welcome as an orange in a Christmas stocking.

Their ricocheting perceptions of our good intentions rip through our hearts

while all we mean to do is save them from a hard fall.


Variation:   We do so much for our kids.

They wander around, lost in the forest, not realizing

we’re the ones who planted the trees, opened the gate, and ran off the predators.

Instead they act as if we’re trespassing.

We’re forced to retreat, willed invisible,

expected to keep the horn of plenty well-stocked without commenting

on how often they waste their food.


Variation:   We would do anything for our kids.

We beg them to spare themselves the hurts we see coming so clearly.

We feed, pat, hug, talk, yell, and weep, with no idea what they take away

when they go speeding down night highways toward futures they cannot see.

Our desperate urge to give cannot sandbag the empty hole of hurt over their lost way.


Variation:   We cannot help our kids, and it’s all our fault.

We tried to cushion every bump along their zigzag path.

Have they grown up too soft from all that care?

Should we have leaned harder or given more?  Held back or pressed?

We still feel the weight of our own parents’ lectures dinning in our heads.

The guilt of our failures so heavy, we consider withdrawing from the fight;

the guilt of quitting so shameful, we always show up for one more round.


Theme (Reprise):   We cannot do much for our kids.

The crackle of a fire warms a far-off future room where the sins of kids and parents have faded,

when stories have grown tattered, and memories have shrunk to pleasant sentences.

Might it be agreed, at last, that we all did our best, that our worst is only a misshapen suit abandoned in a closet.

Sitting on that far-off sofa, you and I are still somewhat stunned that our kids did not turn out like us,

But, come to think of it, we carefully raised them far differently than we were raised.

Secret winks play on our faces in the firelight.  You and I have done all the parenting we can.

Our children took whatever baggage they were willing to carry and left us on our own. 






Two women walk the quiet morning street.

I garden and watch them pass.

One lost her husband;

the other, her daughter.

They smile and say hello,

as if they still have more to give.

I dig in the dirt

Making gardens for them.





The Book of Stains      

The residue of lost dreams

–Wet this residue with tears, scrub with brittle hopes, let dry. Repeat.


The splatter of grief

–This stain will fade over time.  Many cleaning books maintain that this is a treatable stain, but there is no way to erase this stain except to wait.


A spot of yearning

–This is a stain that can best be treated by augmenting with a handsome circle pin, preferably in rhinestones.


Spilled hopes

–Wipe up with a soft cloth.  Wring the liquid into a Mason jar and seal.  These will keep indefinitely until you are ready to serve them up again along with a fine Chardonnay.


Ground in messages of misogyny

–This stain needs treatment with harsh chemicals.  Wear rubber gloves because such stains are toxic to tender skin.  The sooner this stain is treated, the better.  If the stain is on paper, burn it.


The accumulations of an aching heart

–This stain has a certain paradoxical quality.  It appears to be an unmendable hole, but it actually consists of nearly invisible layers of disappointment.  Darning is actually the best remedy.  Cover it over with a bright fabric, using attractive and fanciful stitches around the edge to distract yourself.  Sing your favorite soft song while you work.


Caked on confusion.

–Happily, there are many books on cake making that contain helpful hints here.  Betty Crocker herself recommends treating the confusion by mixing with the following ingredients:  a dictionary, Google, a yellow tablet and pen, honesty, and the will to learn.  Bake for a good six years.


Layers of dried on caution.

–Get out your scraper!  Like bird doo on a car hood, dried on caution is annoying but not toxic.  It yields to pressure, a strong arm, and dance music turned on loud.  A good choice here is “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. 


The dust of dumb decisions

–Here a light touch is best.  Dust is everywhere and it tends to come back.  Don’t shoot for the perfect dustless home, but rest easy.  A little dust never hurt anyone.  We all have this kind of dust.  Feel free to sigh as needed.  Breathing helps move this dust.



Squeezing More Out of Life


My head has ached for days, seven now I think.  I try to do too much; I admit it.  With my 50-hour work week, the constant running to pick up and drop off kids, the impromptu dinner parties that I pretend are so easy, I end up with a headache I just can’t shake off.


It’s as if an angry old troll perches on my shoulder, his eyes popping, and his mouth in a wild leer while he squeezes the big muscle up there.  He always goes for the right side, my working side, the side that scribbles the notes, grabs the phone, hefts the bag, and stirs the sauce.


I picture a wizened little man, dwarf gray.    His long bony fingers are brown with age, but strong and tipped with sharp talons.  When he finds a good chunk of shoulder tissue, he squats, burrowing deep into my muscle with wiry fingers.  He uses his feet for maximum leverage, digging in with his toes.  He works his way up the muscle, hand over hand, until he reaches the base of my skull.  Then he bites into me to make sure he gets my attention.


He doesn’t relax even when I sleep.  He loves it when he can make me open my eyes by giving me a vicious pinch so I’m trapped in a purgatory of wakefulness.  He tiptoes, grinning, up my face to deliver a head butt.  On the way down, he elbows my temple.


“I’m all yours,” he whispers in my ear.  “You made me.”  I always grit my teeth when he says that because he’s right, I did.  For some reason I made him crabby, frustrated, myopic, and stubborn.  I don’t know why I did that since he treats me as if I’m a doll he’s tired of playing with and now just likes to torture.


He’s not evil, but he is obsessively preoccupied with his mission.  He’s no executioner.  He’s a specialist, an acupuncturist gone wrong.  He rocks back on his heels, his clutches sunk deep into my aching shoulder, and grins.  “How is that?”


I resent the way he relishes his task, how he fine-tunes his talent at tormenting me.  I’m often tempted to beat on him with a stick, or better yet, a club, as if hitting the sore spot will make him loosen his furious grip.


“Stop!” I scream at him.   Then I slow down and regain control.  “That’s enough,” I purr.  It’s better to approach the problem in a calm, measured way.  After all, it’s just a tension headache.  There is no little man.


To cope, I indulge in my favorite fantasy.  I’m lying in bed, resting my sore head and tired body.  I can stay there as long as I want, reading books, watching movies, taking naps.  But hey, I‘ve got a desk full of work, a Saturday meeting, two conference calls coming in at noon, and I said I’d bring cookies to the 12-year-old’s soccer game.  If I skip lunch….


I squint my eyes, grit my teeth, and command my body to rise.  Grim determination is my best ally.  The problem is that my temper often rises too.  It’s that imp up there, tying my shoulder in knots.


I’ve got to relax and face this problem rationally.  There must be meaning here; I prefer to believe things work that way.  One has headaches for a reason.  I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and meditate on my pain.  I see myself leafing through the pages of my life, sifting thoughts and impressions, probing my feelings.  I find….


I find that I don’t really have time for this right now.  So I’ve got a headache.  Big deal.  I’ll do what I always do: square my shoulders, put my head down, and go.  It’s just that there’s this little demon on my shoulder, riding me like a bronco.  I try to concentrate on the next task and forget the little devil digging his spurs into my vulnerable flesh, waving his hat with a great big grin, and hollering, “Yeehaa!”  Maybe one day he’ll finally make me sick enough that I have to slow down. 


On the other hand, maybe I’ll start working out with weights.  I could fit in a half hour of power lifting before I collapse into bed at night.  In no time at all I’ll be so lean and mean that I can beat that little man at his own game.  When he squints his eyes and grits his teeth at me, I’ll be a match for him.  Then we’ll see who squeezes whom.    



Talking to Yourself


Talking to yourself is highly underrated

I think about all the people who

Like me

Are home alone these days

Kids grown; spouses still working

Or dead.

I’m pretty good company for myself.

I’m supportive in my comments,

I laugh at my jokes,

I tell myself what I need to do next,

I keep myself organized and motivated.

I know all my own lingo.

And I know when to pay attention,

And when to ignore what I’m saying.




25 responses to “Short Pieces

  1. This really, really resonates with me. I talk to myself all the time, even though my husband is now retired and home with me. He hears me and ignores it. My dog, on the other hand, sees no interaction between us and assumes the voices are coming from someone else. He launches up from his resting place on the kitchen floor to pursue some unknown intruder. He moves stealthily from room to room, growling and occasionally letting out a sharp bark. And all I said was, ” I have to remember to put the clothes in the dryer.”


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    Nothing annoyed Milicent Winthrop more than a Street Mime who invades someone’s personal space. Her usual routine was to eat her brown bag lunch in the city park across the street from the FBI Forensic Lab Building, her place of employment. For the past three weeks, a Mime had been working the same park at the same time that Milicent ate. At first, he kept a respectful distance, but within the past two or three days, Mr. Mime had been moving closer and closer to Millie, until today when he finally, fully encroached into her comfort zone.
    Milicent was a single, middle aged, timid lady with a passion for order. Routine was her refuge. She had been an assistant to Morris Tussel, a forensic pathologist for fifteen years. This working environment lent itself well to her borderline OCD because it was critical in any pathological investigation that details remain the focus. Milicent was proficient at note taking and making sure that all aspects of an examination were recorded properly. She was not one to miss even a small detail nor would she allow anyone else to overlook anything pertinent. Milicent prided herself on having a well formed base of knowledge regarding autopsies and cause of death issues.
    Just as Millie opened the Tupperware containing her tuna salad, the Mime placed himself directly in front of her and began to mimic being in a box. Milicent tried with determination to ignore the silent thespian, but to no avail, he remained directly in her line of sight. After attempting to free himself from the invisible box, he went into the classic descending a stairway followed by walking a tight rope.
    All Milicent wanted to do was eat her lunch in solitude and without any theatrics, silent or otherwise. She moved about half a block down the sidewalk to another bench, hoping that the mime would not follow. This proved to be futile. He did shadow her and resumed his act once she had taken her seat.

    Finally Millie had suffered enough and she said,
    “Could you please take your show some place else?”
    The mime just shrugged his shoulders and began to walk a make-believe dog, pacing back and forth in front of her at least four times.
    Again, Milicent requested that the mimic cease and desist, but again, he refused.
    “Enough is enough,” said Millie as she reached into her brown bag and pretended to pull out an invisible gun. She pointed her index finger at the mime and flicked her thumb down as if releasing the firing hammer on a pistol. The mime immediately dropped to the ground as if he’d been shot.
    Milicent resumed eating her tuna but became alarmed when the mime had not moved a muscle in the last five minutes. He didn’t even appear to be breathing.
    “This guy is really a good actor,” Millie thought to herself. “I’m getting really uncomfortable with him just lying there. People will start to wonder what is going on here.”
    “Ok mister, fun is fun, but you need to get up and go on your way now.”
    The body didn’t move.
    “I mean it, it is over, get up.”
    Still no movement.
    Milicent stood up and went over to the body on the sidewalk. She knelt down and felt for a pulse on the side of his neck, but she found none. She opened his eyes and they were unresponsive and fixed. Again, she felt his neck for any sign of life. Nothing.

    “Oh, my God, I killed him!”

    A crowd began to form and a bystander called 911. Upon arrival the Police asked Milicent what had happened and she related her story of pretending to shoot him with a finger gun. Of course the officer was skeptical as was Milicent, but that was the truth. An ambulance was called and the body was taken to the hospital. The mime was pronounced Dead on Arrival.
    An autopsy was ordered to determine the cause of death. Dr. Morris Tussel was assigned to the case. Of course Milicent was not allowed to assist him in his investigation, so a part time secretary was called out of the pool and into service to record the findings.
    Milicent was devastated at the events surrounding the death of the mime, but there was nothing she could do but wait on the determination of cause of death to be announced.
    Dr. Tussel held a press conference three days after the “finger shooting” and declared that the mime had a Burst Cerebral Aneurism causing death immediately. He died of natural causes.
    Milicent was totally exonerated and soon returned to her position right beside Dr. Morris Tussel . Every now and then Milicent thinks back to that fateful day a smiles ever so slightly as she reflects….

    “A Mime is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”

  10. I do hope you stick around, PB. I like to get a laugh after I finish my work at night!

  11. Ann, are you familiar with the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? It is the famous competition that seeks to find the most atrocious opening sentence to a hypothetical lousy novel. Scott Rice compiles the winning entries and publishes them starting with “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” I haven’t written anything lately to make you laugh after your labors at the end of the day, but here are some entries from “Dark & Stormy”.

    2008 Runner Up Winner by Robert B. Robeson Lincoln, Nebraska
    Mike Hammer had been a private detective so long he could remember Preparation A, his hair reminded everyone of a rat who’d bitten into an electrical cord, but he could still run faster than greased owl snot when he was on a bad guy’s trail, and they said that his friskings were a lot like getting a vasectomy at Sears.

    from John Grundmann,, Bethpage, New York
    Carl had never dreamed of killing his parents, not until the day he tried to show them how to operate the timer on the new VCR.

    from Lindy Tilp, Long Island, New York
    Sir Roderick squatted awkardly in the bleak Sahara landscape and reflected that it was easier for a rich man to ride a camel through the eye of a needle and trot merrily off to the kingdom of heaven than is was for an Englishman to pass a fortnight’s worth of Moroccan couscous through his digestive tract.


  12. I am here but I do not know what I’m doing. Maybe the next course I take should be on basic web building since there’s no sense writing anything (or responding) unless I know how to do it. Anyway, hello to Ann, and hello to Peanut.

  13. Thanks for the Bulwer-Lytton quotes. They’re so funny. I can always use a good laugh.

  14. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, you may be a great author.I will remember to bookmark your blog and will come back very soon. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great job, have a nice holiday weekend!

  15. Reading this reminds me of my old room mate. That guy was one of the smartest individuals I know, but he was a little too original for my tastes though. Anyways I loved reading this, thanks. Will give me something to discuss when I see him.

  16. I just want to tell you that I am very new to weblog and certainly loved this page. Probably I’m going to bookmark your blog post . You really come with great writings. Thanks a bunch for revealing your blog site.

  17. At least I can pretend I’m talking to Pablo Parrot.

  18. that weird old lady in the house over there

    *I’m doing my first attempt at writing down all those fantasies and dreams and mind-wanderings I’ve been blessed(?) with all my life. Since I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m doing it here. I’ve written a coupla paragraphs as a start of my Great Project-slash-time-waster, and I’d like to know what you think the story’s about, and who (what) the main character is. Thanks.*

    I hunt.

    In fact, I love it. It’s my all-time favorite thing to do. And i’m very, very good at it.

    See, the way t get really good at something isn’t just to practice, it’s to do it in my mind. Over and over again.

    Examine everything: Does it help? Hurt? Or does it do nothing at all?. Only the helpful counts. The other two just get in the way. Prey can be smart and that little edge could mean the difference between a kill and an escape.

    And when you’re prey is what I hunt, every detail counts.

  19. Ann, these short pieces, are they yours?

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