Spark of Joy

Something has shifted inside me, and I’m not sure where or when it did, but it happened, and I don’t think it’s shifting back. I’ve never felt this before, not even as a child (I've always been a clutcher—I wanted my THINGS. I understood impermanence and I hated it. I enjoyed feeling nostalgic for moments I was actively participating in. I still do that). 

I’m seeing clutter for what it is, to me. And I want to make clear that this is all what it is to me. This is not what YOU should do. This isn’t what Lala should do. I don’t want to move Lala’s stuff (it was a requirement when we bought our house that we would both have an office), and I don’t even want to purge much of our shared stuff (there are a few things in the kitchen like old Tuppers-ware… but no, honestly, I’m focused on my stuff). 

A lot of my stuff just isn’t important. 

And it’s not that things have changed. That’s the really interesting part to me in this. Nothing I own has changed. I haven’t woken up and suddenly “seen the light" although it may look like that from the outside.

My stuff didn’t get less important overnight. 

It’s just this: A great deal of my possessions have been unimportant for years. For decades, literally. 

So many books, released. I thought because I loved them, because I’d learned from them, that I had to keep them. Nope. They’re already in me, and I don’t tend to reread. Gone. 

So much yarn, released. It was collected thoughtlessly, with no plan, and over many years, it had never come in handy for even one single project I’d gone stash-diving for. Gone. 

So many clothes, released. This was easier, because I learned through a couple of years of Project 333 that living with fewer, nicer clothes is magic. I’m better dressed, more fashionable, and more ME because of it. 

So much junk, junked. It’s unreal how much stuff I’d held onto over the years. 

2014-12-30 19.11.38

That said, I’ve kept things. So many wonderful things, things that strike joy in my heart. The eye from my beloved teddy bear. The 11-year sobriety chip my friend Bob Cranford gave me when I quit smoking. My mother’s journals. My own. The quilt my grandmother knit me. The Love Blanket that you knit me. Lots of lots of wonderful stuff, kept. 

This is how I’ve done it, for those wondering. These are the questions I ask of each item (seriously, I touch every one): 

1. Do I use this regularly? (Not could I use this, or would I use this given the right circumstances. Just do I or don’t I.) If yes, keep. If no, move on to next question. 

2. Does this spark joy? This is cribbed from Marie Kondo’s book, mentioned in the last post. Prior to reading her book, I was asking questions I could fudge my way around. Do I love this? Sure! I love everything! Does this make me happy? Of course! It’s a fountain pen! Fountain pens make me giddy! But this specific question, “Does this fountain pen you’re holding right now spark actual JOY in your heart?” It’s like flipping a coin. You know the answer when it’s in the air. “No, this fountain pen makes me think of the person who gave it to me, a person I don’t enjoy thinking of anymore.” And just like that. Dithering over selling the pen for years, decided easily in a heartbeat of finally asking the right question. If the answer is yes, keep. If no, donate, sell, or recycle. 

And now that I think about it, now that I’m typing, I’ve figured out that this simple question about sparking joy has been the thing that made this quiet click happen within me. I do care for so many things. I’m prone to loving things and people and television shows and vegetables and just about anything that falls within my range of vision. That was my proble when it came to holding on to things. 

But so many of my things, though they were nice and worthy of love, didn’t spark joy. I’m culling down to just the things that do, and one day, I’ll look around and have nothing near me that isn’t useful or brilliantly joyful (Lala! the animals! my spinning wheel! the pressed tin Madonna I bought in Venice!), and hoo boy, I can’t wait for that. 

The whole process of simplifying, which just a week or two ago was overwhelming and tedious and really, really frightening, is now exciting and honestly FUN. I don’t need the other stuff. 

I never have. 

That is WILD, yo. 


So, minus the cold-from-hell that had me down a few days, I’m progressing well through the Move Toward Minimalism. So well, in fact, that Lala has asked me a few times if I’m  leaving her. She pointed out that would be incredibly embarrassing to trick her that way. “Well, yeah," she would have to say to incredulous friends. "Sure, she packed everything she owned in boxes and got rid of mountains of stuff, but she said she was becoming a minimalist.” Shrug. “Why wouldn’t I believe her?” 

But I’m not leaving. Emphatically, no. I'm still focusing on how I want my reading/writing space to look (and I have to point out that sick time is very good Pinterest time. I’ve never really been into it before, but when you’re daydreaming about a space while on cold medicine, there is little more satisfying. My dream office board is here, if you want to check it out). 

First, let me tell you what I did. 

I got rid of a full (huge) station wagon of stuff.


I took most to the Depot for Creative Reuse (there should be some hella fine yarn there, Bay Area knitters) and the rest to Out of the Closet. (Oh! I gave up the idea of the garage sale. I wouldn't have ever recouped my loss, and I'd already enough time, energy, money, and storage space to these things. It felt good to let go.) I gave away a ton of books in a frantic culling of author copies on Facebook and Twitter. I boxed everything I have to keep, but I bet not all of it will find its back way in from the boxes on the porch. 

See, I got rid of the storage. I got rid of four large Billy bookcases and two small ones, bookcases that had been storing my crap for twelve YEARS. I shoved yarn, sweaters, photo albums, knitting patterns, books, memorabilia into those shelves like the boss of storage I was. I got rid of 20 Sterilite drawers and boxes that were holding things. 


My whole office looked like this. Then I got rid of all the storage. 

I don’t have anything to store things in. The closet is lovely and empty. I challenged myself with the "I have one of those already" statement. (Is your heart beating faster, reading that? Mine did. "I have one bag." ARE YOU SERIOUS I NEED EVERY ONE OF THESE THIRTY BAGS FOR DIFFERENT REASONS. I took a box and labeled it ONE. I put the extra things in there, just to think about themselves. I promised myself I wouldn't get rid of the box. Then I did. And it felt good. (I still have about five bags because that's impossible, yo. This one is my travel bag, this one is my knitting bag, THIS IS MY MOOP, this is my cute-night-out bag.)

The room I’m sitting in right now will have four pieces of furniture.

  • My beloved desk that my friends bought me when I got my agent will stay, holding my printer and a lamp.
  • My new (used) rolltop desk will hold everything writing related: pens, ink, Post-its, the all-important Thinking Gum). (Augh, the delirious joy of this desk. I’ve wanted one my whole life. Hasn’t every writer?)
  • A chair. Will use the one I have till I find the right one. I hate this old ripped Ikea chair that I've always had to use a back bolster with, but it's my lowest priority. 
  • A reading couch. I’d prefer something antique and Victorian and old. Basically, I want my office to feel like Juliet Blackwell’s house, you know? But comfortable is the highest priority for the couch. I want to be able to read till the book falls out of my hand. I want room for all the animals to pile of top of me. I want to be able to stretch out. I’m taking my time. I’ll find my couch when it’s time. 

I have a guy coming in tomorrow to quote how much it would be to pull up the carpeting and build a good, sturdy bookshelf (not a Billy! No!) because even though I got rid of shelving, a girl still needs a few shelves for books and the really beloved things that should be seen and treasured, not hidden. I'm going to paint, also — a darker color. Most of the things I love on Pinterest are dark, cozy, and inimate. Curated, not cluttered. 

Right now, the office is almost empty. It echoes. Music sounds amazing.


It makes me a little nervous, too. I’m reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and she says: If you can’t feel relaxed in a clean and tidy room, try confronting your feeling of anxiety. It may shed light on what is really bothering you. When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state. 

Well, yeah. I know exactly why I’m doing this. I’m almost done with a first draft of a book, and this is the hardest part of writing for me. At this point, I’m always convinced that what I’m writing is the worst thing ever written in the history of the world. It’s so hard, in fact, that I took the last week of the year off from writing entirely, to let myself… Well, okay. I just let myself off the hook, which was good since I worked a couple of killer weeks at the day job followed by this sick thing. But mostly, I’m avoiding going back into the book. 

The book is cluttered. The book is noisy and messy. The book needs to be edited, and it can’t be until it’s done. 

So I’m attracted to thinking about quiet, about simplicity, about minimalism. Every time I look that right in the eyes, stare into the truth of it, I feel calmer. I’m getting back to the book one week from today. I’m ahead of schedule, not behind it. Lying creatively  fallow for a couple of weeks feels right. 

And in the meantime, I’m enjoying paring down my life to only the things that bring me joy, which is Marie Kondo’s whole premise. Does the item thrill you? Give you joy? Keep. If not, release.  Why spend your life around things that don't thrill you? And oh my gosh, I LOVED reading her account of being a child obsessed with organizing. I thought I was the only kid who carefully read and saved ways to use toilet paper rolls to organize your makeup drawer, who memorized stain-lifting recipes, so impatient to try them I’d sometimes make a stain on purpose, just to see. I loved the penny-pinching tips in Ladies’ Home Journal and Mother Earth News. I was obsessed with making things neat and tidy and lovely. 

She also points out that “storage experts are hoarders.” Takes one to know one, I guess. That sure resonates with me. 

I’m enjoying this trip.


So I start the minimizing today. Appropriately, it’s Boxing Day and I’m about to go to U-Haul and buy boxes to pack up my stuff. 

I’ve been thinking about nothing else for about a week. GETTING RID OF THINGS. I’m watching every TED talk I can find on the topic. I’m reading Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn (I'm really enjoying it, by the way). I’m watching Tiny House Nation (which is, counter-intuitively, strangely focused on getting new stuff, new wingy-dingies that spin, hide, expand, contract, but that’s another conversation). 

Today I’m feeling like a startled cat; that fear is making me hiss and spit as I get closer to actually going to get the boxes and then, to start filling them. 

It’s hard for crafters, isn’t it?

Crafters Have Stuff. Lots of it. 

I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do it. I’ve gone through this room so many times before, getting rid of the things I could get rid of. I’ve already been ruthless. The things left in here are what I need to live. 

Except that’s not true. I need very few Things. I just WANT all this other stuff, and the thought of it—the look of it—makes me feel heavy, sluggish, and stressed. I’m tired of it.

So I’m going to tell you my plan, and maybe putting it here will remind me how much I really want to do this. Because it would be a lot easier to just stay in bed today, on this day off, and read all day. (The deliciousness of lying in bed reading about minimalism while not moving toward it can't be overstated.)


The place I’m really getting stuck, of course, is on keeping the things I really love, the things that add value to your life. How do you pick between them? I love everything in my office! I do! 

I found a great piece of advice on Courtney Carver’s site, on identifying treasures and finally letting go, and I’m using it. In my words: 

1. List the things you’d run into a fire to save. (The 911 fire dispatcher in me says, NEVER GO BACK INSIDE, the gasses are what take you down and kill you, not the fire itself, are you CRAZY?!) But let’s think about a metaphorical fire, shall we? 

In this metaphorical fire in my metaphorical house, I would save: 


The animals.

These are the only answers that make sense. But say I had twenty extra seconds. What would I risk my own life to save? There aren’t many of them. I only came up with: 

Mom’s journals (I love to hear her voice)

My journals (not that I ever, ever reread them, but they’re important to me)

The afghan my capital-K New Zealand grandmother knitted for me 

Photos (which are going to be digitized and soon will all be on the cloud—let’s talk about this again soon because I have no idea how to approach this and will do a whole post on it soon – would love your ideas if you have some)

2. Keep the things you use everyday. This, also, presents a problem for me. I know, obviously, what I use a lot. My computer, Post-its, pencils, etc. But what about all those things I think I will use someday? Like the stapler? Good god, I haven’t stapled papers together in twenty years. Why do I stubbornly keep that thing, when I’m actually going entirely paperless? That’s it! The stapler goes! But you see what I mean. 

I got a great tip from Millburn's book (above). He uses the 20-20 rule. If you're torn about getting rid of something, and the item can be bought for less than 20 bucks in less than 20 minutes, then toss it. HELLO ALL THOSE LITTLE CORDS. They’re all going. I’ve never EVER had to find one of those, but I couldn't throw them out. Until today. 

3. Keep the things you love that bring you great joy. This could be art, or a book, or that plastic elephant you bought in the market in Marrakech right before you danced all night. Note: this means the things that DO bring you great joy. Not that you think COULD or SHOULD bring you great joy if you just got around to using them/looking at them. (Tea towels, anyone? Last night we went to a party and I used one of my favorite tea towels (a 1967 calendar spinning wheel towel!) that had been languishing in my office waiting for inspiration to strike — I wrapped it around the bottle, tied it with yarn, and there you go. It did bring me joy, in fact, to give it away, to a spinner.) 

This doesn’t mean keeping the things that you think you should keep, that you think SHOULD make you joyful, but that actually make you uncomfortable when you think of them. Read Getting Rid of Things that Make you Feel Bad. I’d kept old love letters for a long time, thinking I would like reading them when I was old. Know what? Even when I’m 97, I’m still going to feel a little foolish for staying in those relationships for so long. I got rid of the letters years ago and haven’t regretted it once. 

This step, though, I think will give me trouble, so I’m going to box everything I can’t immediately say I would ache not to see everyday, things that aren't as important as the Things I Will Keep, like my signed Elizabeth Zimmerman that Janine gave me. That’s something I love seeing every single day. That won't be boxed. 

4. Let everything else go. Box it all. Sell it at the garage sale. This will include: 

All pattern books (when was the last time I used one? Years and years. Ravelry has solved this. I love that my patterns are kept on their server!)

All yarn that doesn’t have immediate plans for use, excluding favorite handspun and cashmere, of course. 

All sewing fabric without immediate plans for use (which is to say all of it)

All jewelry making supplies. Hahhahahahahaha. Remember the time I thought I’d make jewelry?

All half-finished projects. They’re half-finished for a reason. I’m going to keep on the needles one big project (sweater), one pair of socks, and one piece of lace. Everything else goes. 

All memorabilia. <—— Really. Mom’s journals and a few photos bring me happiness. Using her yellow bowl daily in the kitchen brings me joy. All the other stuff? I’ll see if the sisters want any of it and then let it go. There are a few tchotkes I’ve bought on trips that bring me happiness to look at, but the rest, the things hiding behind others things? They’ll go. 

5. When it doubt, box it. Leave for 60 days. If I haven’t been compelled to fish it out, then I’ll donate the boxes, unopened. 

Luckily, I just redid Project 333, so I don’t have to worry about clothes. Thank god. (If you haven’t tried that, TRY IT. It’s life-changing.) 

So this is the plan. Now I’m going to put on jeans and a favorite T-shirt (because all I have left are my favorite clothes) and go buy boxes. Then I’m going to box. Happy Boxing Day. 


You should be on my mailing list, because soon I'll be able to give away TWO ADVANCE COPIES of Splinters of Light. 


Minimizing Again

So, I'm getting this itch. 

The minimalist urge. 

I always get this. There must be a word in German for a person like me, someone who clutters things up easily, naturally, yet yearns for simplicity. 

I remember when a friend's daughter entered our house once. She was about four, and her mom loved clean lines and simplicity. That's what she was used to. She walked into our house and immediately yelled, "Mama, it's CRAZY in here!" 

Lala and I have a deal. She leaves her office the way she likes, and I don't bother her about it. My office is mine. We try to keep our crafts/hobbies inside our own offices, and keep the living areas as spare as possible (not spare by any stretch, but not crazy-making, usually). We keep our clothes in our office closets–the tiny bedroom is for us to sleep in (this helps a lot when I sleep weird hours, too). 

But I keep dreaming about tiny homes. I'd have one if I were single. I know I would. I've lived in 200 sq foot spaces, and nothing pleases my mind more than thinking about how to save space. I love downsizing, getting rid of stuff. A tiny home would be so FUN. The thing is, I love being married to Lala way more than I would ever enjoy the idea of a tiny home. I love our life together, and our big dumb cats and our sweet, sweet dogs. I love our house, too. It's perfect for us, just the right size (1100 sq feet, three tiny bedrooms, one bath, big living/dining room, big kitchen). 

Tonight, while avoiding writing and watching TED talks (as you do), I realized: I have a whole office. To myself. And it's full of Stuff I Don't Need. It's AMAZING what I've packed into that room. 

So my plan is this: 

  • Box everything in my office as if we were moving. 
  • Keep out only what I'll use that week. 
  • Decide what the space should look like and how to make it be that, prioritizing what's important: writing and reading (it's hard to read in there now. I have a tiny wee sofa, but the space doesn't lend itself to reading–you must be able to fully recline to read, don't you think?). 
  • Decide what few mementos are necessary for me to keep to feel grounded. (I don't need to keep all the things I grabbed after my mother died to remember her. Owning all her old fabric isn't necessary to me. It doesn't make me remember her more–it only serves to make me feel guilty that it's all sitting hidden in the closet.)
  • Hold on to your hats: Yarn isn't very important. I've culled, over the last few years, so that I'm down to just a few projects' worth of yarn. The problem is I also have bags and bags of unfinished projects. I've let go of a few, and I think it's time to let the rest go, too. One sweater, one shawl, and one pair of socks on the needles. Do I ever need more than that? 
  • Hold a garage sale, sell everything that's left (Bay Area peeps, I'll let you know when it is — there will be yarn UFOs and lots of craft books), and toss the money raised at the student loan (now down to 33k from 50k). 
  • Digitize things like old pictures and old writing. I'm using this method, I think, even though it means making friends with Evernote, which, along with espresso machines, I've dedicated my life to avoiding learning how to use.

And now, in the quiet middle of the night, I'm going to look at Pinterest images of perfect people's perfect reading nooks. I don't want perfect. But I want clear, and spare, and me. And I'm so over white Billy bookcases I could just DIE, you know? 

Watch this space. 

(Oh! And don't forget to join the Goodreads giveaway of Spinters of Light – my publisher is giving away 20 copies!! (Only for US residents, I'm so sorry to say).)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron

Splinters of Light

by Rachael Herron

Giveaway ends January 10, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.


Enter to win


Oh, my god, I made lemon marmalade! And it came out SO WELL. And it was SO EASY. I am MARM-ELATED. 

And I have spent almost eight years in this house with a marmalade lemon tree that never stops producing, and the fruit just falls to the ground. We use a lot for cooking and every once in a while we make lemonade, but up till now that was all we did. 

Those days are over, my friends. 


Avoid the strange looking ones. 

I thought I’d give you a simple breakdown of what I did for two reasons: 1) so I can find it later and 2) because I read about four million recipes out there and they were all soooo different and all of them were missing crucial elements necessary for the newbie (and nervous) first-time canner. I’d never sealed jars before. Now I have and it’s not hard. It’s a bit scary at first, but it’s also fun and overall, easy.

Things you’ll need to buy for canning if you ain't got 'em already: 

Nonreactive pot to make the marmalade in (it should hold twice as much jam as you want to make) (I bet you have one. Your soup pot will work, probably). 

Pot for boiling the jars – I got this el cheapo one with a jar rack at my Ace Hardware which had EVERYTHING I needed for canning. Like, you could go to your Ace right now and get this stuff. Right NOW.* 

Canning tongs and funnel – get these. You will regret not getting these. 

Piece of cheesecloth or piece of old, clean T-shirt, piece of string

Jars! Use the half pint size! A whole pint is nutty! Get a box of 12 (comes with jars, lids, and bands)


Ingredients  in a 1:1:1 ratio: 

Lemons – get some, any kind.  
Sugar – have some 
Water – you’re good


Who knew? You don't even need pectin, because lemons have enough of their own! (You knew this? Okay. Your recipe is probably better, too. But mine is EASY.) 

For my marmalade, I used about ten lemons from the tree in the backyard. This made a lot, about 12 half pints. Use two lemons for practice! Make a lil bit just for fun! 

I spent a long time researching how to pith, deseed, dress, slice, whap, and dice those babies. I did it carefully and beautifully for ONE lemon and then my hands notified me that I had four cuts, a burn, and two hangnails I hadn’t noticed. Lemon juice is painful. Screw that (unless you don’t have a food processor or Vitamix, in which case, I’m sorry, and wear gloves).


Put on some good tunes or a podcast you’ve been dying to listen to. Wear your cutest apron (I’m reminding you, because you always forget to wear it, I know you do). 

Put some small plates in the freezer. You’ll need those later to test doneness


Wash and dry your jars, lids, and bands with warm soapy water. Put them on a cookie sheet or two in the oven at 225F for 10 minutes. When they’re cooked just let ‘em sit in the stove till you’re ready to fill them. It’s okay if they go cold again. 

Fill that big old pot up with water and set it to boiling. It will take forever, so start now. When it hits a boil, you can turn it off until you need to use it. 

Lemon prep:

Wash the lemons. This is nice to do for everyone, including the lemon.


Slice off the ends. Then cut the lemons in half. Try your best to wrangle out that white pith that runs up and down the middle of the lemon — use your hands, feel free to mash it around. Try to get the seeds out. Mine didn’t have many. Put the lemon halves into your food processor or Vitamix or whatnot. Put the piths and seeds into that little bit of cheesecloth and tie it up (this gives it more natural pectin). 

I used my Vitamix, filled it with lemon halves, and then covered the lemons with water. Then I chopped ‘em up. You want them in small pieces, big enough to suit your bite need in your marmalade. Don’t puree them. Dump this into a colander. Then, when drained, dump into your nonreactive pot using a measuring cup. NOTE HOW MANY CUPS OF LEMON YOU HAVE. Add the bag of pith/seeds and exactly the same number cups of water (see how you could make a lot or a little and not worry about amounts?). 

Bring to boil then keep at high simmer for 2ish hours until peels are soft. Water will boil away, maybe half of it? That’s okay. Add the same number of cups sugar, bring to a boil and stir occasionally, boil for 10-20 minutes, checking setting point. 


Setting point:

Get out a cold plate from the freezer, drizzle some marmalade on it. Give it a minute or two to set. Run your finger through it. If it wrinkles, you’re done. If it’s still runny, boil some more. 

NOTE: This is where I panicked. Mine never set right. I boiled for almost an hour, and that stuff stayed runny (I think I hadn’t boiled it long enough in the first cooking without sugar). I read enough on the internet to panic, learning that I could over-boil it and then when it cooled it would turn to rock, so I put it in jars, hoping for the best and expecting the worst, but the next morning, IT WAS MARMALADE! It had marmelled! It was marmellous! So I’m saying to trust your gut here. 

Turn the burner on under the big pot of water again. You’ll need it boiling soon. 

Putting it in jars! The fun part!

Using your favorite soup ladle and the canning funnel, ladle into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of room at the top. Put on a lid and secure the lid with a band (the outer ringy thingy). Only tighten until you feel resistance, do NOT torque the band on tight. Just lightly, till it stops twisting. Then using your tongs, which you were clever enough to buy, lower the jars into the pot of hot water and onto the jar rack. Once all the jars are in the water and the water has hit a boil, boil for another 10-15 minutes. Turn off the gas or move the pot carefully off the hot part of the stove. Using tongs, remove jars to cool, placing them on a cloth (important because the cold counter touching the glass jars can cause breakage).

You’ll hear pings and pops, and that’s good and magical, because they’re SEALING. You’re totally DOING THIS. 


Leave ‘em there.

Take pictures. Instagram them. You totally should. They’re so PRETTY. In the morning, remove the bands, test them for seal by lifting them an inch or two (briefly!) by the lids. They should stick together. If one hasn't sealed right, put that one in the fridge and eat it first! Decorate! Give away! Or keep them all for yourself. But you won’t be able to. I’d gave my first away while it was still warm to these pretty ladies who stopped by and got covered with every animal we own:


*affiliate links

** the links are affiliates, not the women.  KiraK and RachelD are just awesome. My extra sisters. 

Me, in Three Songs

My friend Duff wrote herself in three songs, based on this post, and I love the idea of this challenge. 

Apparently I'm in the mood for culling down to the essential today. I've pared my closet to 33 items (not including handknits — I TRIED! I really did. But I couldn't do it) and now I'm paring down to three songs. 

I've realized lately that both my jobs are completely language focussed. The writing job is obviously so, but so is the dispatch job — at 911 you can't miss a single word of an address or a symptom or what the captain says on the radio or the word knife. But when it comes to music, I'm kind of wordless. I can listen to songs for decades and be able to sing along phonetically (and even tell you the words that way, if you ask me) but I'll have no idea what the song literally means. 

It's about the feeling. It's about what the sound makes rise in me like sap. (Like sappy sap, mostly.) 


Murder in the City – Avett Brothers. Oh, Avetts, you tools. I do wish you weren't such tools. But I still love your music. And I take it back about the words and not listening to them, for this song. These words mean something. They mean a lot to me. Oh, my god, just listening to this again broke me down to tears. Love. Family. Friends. Gah. 


Stella Maris –  Moby. This song to me, is every feeling of grief and longing there ever was. This is what I put on repeat when Robin died in Pack Up the Moon (not a spoiler, his death happens before the book opens). This is what I listen to when I want to cry. Or when I want to need. 

Give it Up – Marvin Gaye. Now stop those tears, my friend, and dance. This is my theme song. If this comes on while I'm in the middle of the frozen food section of the grocery store, I will grab the stock boy and spin him around a few times. If this comes on in the DMV (oh, that it would), I will lead those waiting in a feel-good dance party. I can even karaoke it. No lie.


How about you? How do you describe yourself in three songs? 

I Kick Like a Girl

Warning: I hate the phrase “trigger warning” but this is one. This post deals with violence and rape and fighting. And me, kicking ASS. 

So, I want to tell you this. I’m a badass. 

Once, many years ago, I attended an Impact self-defense graduation ceremony (back then it went by the strange name of Model Mugging). I was young (in my early twenties) and I was terrified of everything. I was scared to talk to people, scared to walk down the street, scared to go to sleep at night. The reason for this was multi-layered and I don’t feel like getting into exactly how my young psyche had been damaged, but one of the reasons I was scared was that I’d been raped. It was date rape (and oh, how I hate how that phrase can take the barb out of the word RAPE. Date rape, to me and many others, implied for many years that it was my fault. That it was a minor deal. It was neither). 

To be honest, I didn’t even know I was going to write this part of this post until I started typing. I’ve told very few people this over the years. My mother knew. A few friends.

Until the Jian Ghomeshi shitstorm, I’d never admitted this online or in print, anywhere. The shame that’s internalized around rape is astonishing. You know me and admitting things. I LOVE to admit my deepest, darkest secrets and bring them into the light, but I’ve never admitted this. My stomach is in knots and I’m scared right now as I peck at the keys. I twittered a very little bit about my experience a few weeks ago while people were talking about Ghomeshi, and then I threw up and shook for the rest of the morning. But you know what? We have to talk about this. Among my women friends, more of them have been sexually assaulted than haven’t. This is true. 

And this is so fucked up.

(No, before you ask (not like YOU would, YOU know better), this is not why I’m gay-married. I’m bisexual. I love (good) men, and I love (good) women. I just happen to be in love with my wife.) 

So years and years ago, I went to that Impact graduation. I watched women fight their way away from men who were literally holding them down, picking them up, throwing them around. I wasn’t alone in crying my way through the graduation, and I vowed I would take the class someday. I vowed I would learn to be as strong as they were.

The problem was that the class wasn’t cheap. I was a broke college student for a long time, and then I was just a broke, indebted American for a long time. 

Then I could afford it. 

I signed up for the Basics course earlier this year, and I swear to you, I’ve never been more terrified to do something in my whole life. It’s a four day course, and by the time we were ten minutes into the class, I wanted to run. I fantasized about doing it so clearly I was surprised to find myself still standing in place.  

I stayed. 


First, with the help of our inspiring whistle instructor (the female teacher who’s literally right next to you during every fight, coaching you, blowing the whistle when you’ve won), we learned how to say No

See, as women, we often don’t know how to say this effectively. And we certainly don’t know how to yell it. Our first group “No” was timid. Almost polite. A questioning, “No?” Am I doing this right? 

Then, with the help of the amazing suited instructors (the men who wear the full-body suits which allow them to absorb our punches and kicks), we learned how to fight. I have to admit, I had some doubt about the men. What kind of guy would sign up to come at women menacingly? Now I know. The best kind of men. The men who want women to be safe in this world. They’re kind and generous and—honestly—pretty awe inspiring in their dedication to the cause of halting violence against women. I can’t say enough about them.

Now, in my whole life I had never hit a person who wasn’t a sister (and even when I was a kid, I was always better with words than fists). The first twenty or so times I hit a suited instructor, I apologized. I APOLOGIZED. We all did. 

You know what? By the end of the class, I could take a man out. In order to graduate, we had to land several knock-out blows. Guess who managed to do this? Everyone in the class, including the ones who were much skinnier or much heavier than I was, including the ones who were twenty years younger or older than I am.


After that class, I was so much less scared. I didn’t know how much fear I carried walking in the BART parking lot at night, going out our front door in the dark, walking through the city, until that fear was lifted off. Not coincidentally, the next week, I got a bike. I wasn’t scared anymore to be knocked off it. No, I sure as heck don’t want to be knocked off my bike. I don’t want to be robbed. But now I know how to take care of myself, of my body, and I wasn’t scared for the first time in my life. 

I loved Basics so much I signed up for Multiple Assailants, which I took last weekend. In this class, you’re not going so much for the knock-out blows (but those are nice to land, sure). Instead, you’re trying to land incapacitating blows, one after another; you line them up, and knock them down so you can get away and call help. 


And I have to tell you, this class was even more terrifying to me than the Basics had been (with as much as I'd loved Basics, I didn't expect this). A two-day class, I didn’t want to go either day. I literally prayed for a migraine. The first time three guys came at me, I almost lost control of my bladder. 

Then, because I knew how, I fought. 

I’m posting a video here of one of my fights in class. 

It’s scary. If you’re tense right now, if you feel like crying while reading this, please don’t watch. Or at least don't want alone. Watch with someone who can talk to you afterward, who can give you a hug if you need it. (This is me hugging you.) The instructors use language that’s street-real. You can tell I’m scared in this video.

But I’m also exhilarated. Those punches and kicks I’m landing might look like much, but they’re using all my strength, all my muscle, and I'm a strong woman. A normal guy who wasn’t wearing that suit would not get back up. Period. They would either be unconscious or vomiting from pain. 


I also didn’t know I was going to do this next thing, but I’m following my heart.

Impact isn’t cheap, but they have scholarships. I’d love to raise enough to put a woman through this class who needs it, a woman who can’t afford it. Click here to donate.

Even a very small amount would help change a woman's life forever. 

If you want to donate directly to Impact rather than going through that link, their holiday fundraiser for taking Impact to college campuses (!) is here.  If you want to see if they’re in your area, click here


I don’t expect to ever have to use these skills. If mugged, I’ll give up my backpack. You can have my bike. But try to touch me? I’ll lay you OUT, motherfucker. 

And that makes me feel like I can fly. 



Living the Dream

Once I was at a HarperCollins party at the Central Park Boathouse in New York. I felt like a naive, squawking goose because I was surrounded by successful authors who didn't seem to think this was a big deal. 

To me it was a VERY big deal. I told one of the editors that–that I couldn't believe where I was–and she was glad to hear it. She didn't think my funny overeager faces were silly. She got excited, too, when I told her how I felt. 

I think it's important to remember these kinds of things. In anything, when you achieve a goal, let yourself bask. Bask in the glow of pride and the knowledge that you freaking DID it. Remember when your mom would point out something that you just did that was pretty cool, and she'd say, "Aren't you proud of yourself?" (I hope your mother did that. If not, I'll say it to you. You should be so proud of yourself, friend, for doing that awesome thing, even if was just a small step. Good on you.) 

Yesterday I had one of those days. I worked a 72 hour shift (that wasn't part of it though it wasn't bad), got home and napped till 1pm (that was part of it. Nothing like sleeping till 1pm, even if you didn't go to bed till 9am. It always feels decadent). Then I got up and went to Mills and wrote a couple of thousand words for NaNoWriMo (I'm still ahead! Loving that!). 

Then, get this: I spoke to a writing class at Mills on being a working writer. 

That has been a dream of mine. That's been a dream for a long, long time. I've taught a lot of places, literally all over the country, and most recently, down under. But when I was at Mills as a grad student, years and years ago, I would walk across the quad, lost in imagining myself in the future, wearing stylish boots, my published books in one hand, a coffee in another, going to talk to students about writing. 

Yesterday afternoon my boots were Dansko and not that stylish, but I was wearing a sweater I'd bound off that very morning, the books in my bag were mine, and I was clutching that coffee like it was the only way I'd keep breathing. 

The students were amazing, and asked awesome questions. They want to be writers like I used to want to be (and now am! Pinch me again!). I want each and every one of them to end up playing the starring role in their own dream. I want that for YOU, too. Keep taking those steps, okay? Those little actions, that tiny risk you take today gets you that much closer. 


Me, after class, a little verklempt. 

Afterward, as night fell, I put the top down on the bridge on the drive to San Francisco and tried to soak up and enjoy every minute of it. The air smelled of the rain that had fallen earlier that day, and I realized that both of the towns I love best (Oakland and Venice) smell best when cool and damp. The smell of dirt and diesel and salt water. Magic of the very best kind. 


I love the new Bay Bridge.

Then Lala and I had date night. We had dinner on the sidewalk at the Grove, and then went to see Jill Lepore talk about her Wonder Woman book. It was a freaking perfect day. 

And it didn't hurt that for all that I was wearing a new sweater. This sweater was supposed to have sleeves, yes, but as I was knitting it, I realized how thick it was. I would for sure never wear it, EVER. I wondered how it would look as a vest. 


 Pattern: DROPS Chocolate Passion, in Quince and Co Osprey. Ravelry details here. 

It's an interesting construction, and will look/fit better after a bit of a block, but you know me. I'm impatient. 


And I just realized this: Finishing this means I can start a new sweater with the handspun I've been spinning from the New Zealand wool! Eeep! Today, my reward for doing my NaNoWriMo words will be picking a pattern and swatching. 

I feel so deeply happy and grateful to be exactly where I am. Right now. I wish for you the same. 

* I keep forgetting to draw winners! The winner of Chris Baty's book is Jeanne B. and the winner of Larissa Brown's Shieldmaiden Knits is Linda McD — you've both been emailed. 



I've written about Larissa Brown before. If you like great novels that completely sweep you to another place and manage to keep you there until you turn the last page even if it makes you late for work, you need to read the jaw-dropping Viking romance Beautiful Wreck (see my review). 

Not only is she a stunning writer, she's a seriously talented knitwear designer, and she has a new collection, also Viking based. 

Shieldmaiden Knits 

(Ravelry link)



From the book: 

Shieldmaiden Knits features designs in Malabrigo Yarn, inpsired by the epic Viking style.

Vikings were poets and artists. Their woodwork, carvings, bracelets and intricate needle cases and combs all suggest a great passion for design. Their words and sagas suggest a love of dramatic gestures.

The pieces in this collection take the gorgeous colors and textures of Malabrigo yarns, and use simple shapes and easy lace to bring about dramatic results. These are not historically accurate designs, but instead are modern pieces inspired by my research into Viking Age life.

I adore this piece, Gull Warmers:


and these delicate gauntlets just GET me: 


I'm giving away a copy of the book to one lucky commenter — let's play my favorite game and leave a comment about the best book you've recently read. I'll draw a winner on November 11. 

Nanowrimo writers: don't forget to leave a comment in the previous post about Chris Baty's book, No Plot No Problem – will be drawing that winner tomorrow! 

A Ghost Story

In typical hardcore California fashion, I call myself spiritual, not religious. I'm pretty agnostic, but I know there's something good and interesting after this life, because I've felt close enough to dead people that there just isn't any other explanation (to me). If that's just my brain tricking me, that's fine, too. I'll take it. 

But I do want to tell you about the haunted guitar gig bag. Look! Already, this is slightly exaggerated! Here's how I got it: 

I popped into a very old but newly-renovated music shop in Oakland one morning after having breakfast with friends. I wasn't shopping–just looking–but I'd seen that they had a good selection of ukuleles as I'd walked past, and what's a girl supposed to do? 

The owner of the shop was cordial, giving me a friendly hello and then going back to his laptop. I noticed he was completely intent on the screen, his eyes huge. Finally, I asked the price of a baritone uke, and he kind of jolted himself back. 

"Oh! A hundred." 

"Ah," I said. It was a beautiful instrument, and I waited for him to try to sell me on it, although I already was. 

Instead, he paused. Then hesitantly, he said, "You wanna see something?" 

No! No. When a man you don't know asks if you want to see something on his computer screen, a safe answer is usually Back off, ass-hat. But he honestly didn't strike me as creepy–he seemed more like a guy I'd hang out with, a guy who would fit in with my friends. So I said, "Maybe?"

On his computer were four screens, three normal, one infared night vision. There were all of the interior of the store, two in front, two in back: security cameras. This wasn't odd: it's a music store full of instruments in a high-crime area.

He pointed. "That's me." On the screen, a small image of him walked around, multiplied and synced by four, seen from four different vantages. He was obviously looking for something. The store was lit, but not well, and he used a flashlight to help him peer into boxes.

"Look," he said. "This is a couple of nights ago. I felt really weird that night. So I played this back the next day. I can't stop looking at it." 

We watched the mini-him scoot around the store, tidying something, then digging his keys out of his pocket. He went to the front door to unlock it. 

Something small and bright zipped in front of the two front cameras. It was gone as fast as it had come.

On the screens, the owner pulled the door open, went outside, and turned around.  Through the glass, we watched him lock up the store. "I was leaving to get the PA equipment I'd rented to a place down the street," he said to me. "It was just after midnight." 

As he walked out of view, all four screens shook a little. All four went dark. Then they FLARED to life. They showed the shop, the front and the back of it, but now it was as if a bright light had been switched on and the light was catching dust motes fly around. 

Only these (I swear this to you) weren't dust motes. First of all, motes don't glow like that. Second, motes don't work independently of each other. Most of them were fast, zipping by in clumps, zigzagging in groups, darting like flocks of tiny, bright birds. Some, though, swooped lazily in spirals. Some (this freaked me out) flew toward the cameras and did pirouettes, almost as if showing off, before looping slowly off screen. The cameras kept their slow time, the seconds in the time stamp on each changing normally at the top. 

I was gobsmacked. Slack jawed, literally. "I…I…" 

"Right?" he said. "Now watch this." 

On the film from the front cameras, someone is seen on the sidewalk. It's the guy. "I forgot the paperwork I needed them to sign for the amps. I came back to try to find it." 

As soon as he's seen outside, the bright lights pause. As he inserts his key and opens the door, all of them zoom out of sight. Holding a flashlight, he enters and searches for a piece of paper on the counter. A single bright mote flies across the camera and then is gone again. Another dances in the corner, almost invisible. A few fly behind his back.

Then he leaves again. As soon as he's not visible on the sidewalk, the orbs (because I swear, that's what they were) filled all the screens, dancing and zipping again. 

"I've never seen anything like that," I said, kind of truly freaked out. 

"I have," he said. "I've seen it before out of the corner of my eye, but that night was crazy, and I didn't even notice them. I just felt them. I never get scared here, but I didn't have the car that night. I always walk home, never had a problem, but that night, even though I hadn't seen these tapes, I called my wife at one in the morning, woke her up, and had her wake up our baby so they could come get me." His eyes went big again to make his point. "I made my sleeping wife wake up our sleeping baby to drive the few blocks here because I was scared." 

Then I noticed the date stamp on the tapes we were still ogling. Just after midnight on on All Soul's. I literally didn't even bother to point it out to him. I figured he was probably well aware of the date. 

"Why don't you get some ghostbusters in here?" I asked. 

"I did." 


"They saw the lights, and they said they were concentrated in the back room, where an old man used to live, where he died."

"And?" I said, almost hopping up and down.

"He wasn't a good man," he said. "According to them, he was a really, really bad man."

"You have to be on TV or something! You have to show people this!" 

He looked crestfallen. "But then I'd own the haunted music shop." 

"Yeah? And?" [Aside – I just checked on Yelp, THE MUSIC STORE MOVED. Still stellar Yelp ratings, but no longer in the same place. I'm SO going back to ask him if that's why he moved.]

"I don't want to be that guy. I just want to sell guitars." 

I leaned forward and propped my chin on my hands. "What does your wife think?" 

"She doesn't believe it." 

"But–she's seen the tapes?" 

"She says it's dust or something." 

"But they move. Together. And apart. They act like they have brains, or will, or something. And there are so many." 

He shrugged. "It makes her feel better. I've seen them at home, though." 

"Are you serious?" 

He nodded. "I'll see them zip by, just out of sight, just like they do here. I think they follow me home, but my wife doesn't want to hear about it." 

I started to doubt the wisdom of my planned purchase, and I suddenly understood his reticence to be known for being haunted. "If I buy that uke, will I take some home?" 

He straightened. "Nah. No way." 

"What about the bag?" The uke was so big it was resting in an old Martin gig bag. The bag was ripped and soft and looked more like a sleeping bag than the protection it was supposed to be.

"Oh, you can have that. That's been around here forever." 

I didn't mention I didn't want it, I just paid and took both home. 

Then, when I got home, I couldn't bring the bag inside. The ukulele, sure. I kind of blew on it and said, "Don't come in here, 'kay? This is a nice place. Stay outside." Then I felt dumb and hoped the neighbors didn't see me talking to the uke. But the bag . . . just felt wrong. It didn't feel right. I did finally bring it in out of my car, telling myself I was being stupid, but a few days later, I put it in the trash. I hated having it in my office. 

Silly, I know. A haunted gig bag. But it felt real. 

And isn't that the part that matters? 

OH MY GOD I FOUND SOME OF THE FOOTAGE – he put it on YouTube!!! Augh. Cue delicious chills.

In this one you can't see him entering or exiting the door, but you can see at .20 whatever it is is active, and when he's in the shot with his flashlight, whatever it is is much less active.


This is from a different, color camera, same thing, different vantage. Skip to about 1.20 to see it start.  

 I KNOW. Thank goodness I couldn't find the flaring footage — that was actually scary. I can't believe I just found this though.  

Now, I won't bore you with the tale of the ghost I've felt on the edge of my bed (and the cheeky way it tugs on the sheets!) (not at home, don't worry), but I'll ask you today, on Halloween: what's YOUR favorite ghost story? 

(Oh, and don't forget to read yesterday's post and leave a comment to have a chance to win No Plot No Problem!)