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Letting Go

February 24, 2018

Photo by Sarah Ball on Unsplash

I swore to myself I’d get my manuscript done in 2017. It didn’t happen. I could talk for hours about all the legitimate reasons it didn’t happen. I could talk for even longer about all the ways in which I procrastinated and avoided it. Does it make logical sense why I chose to avoid something I care so much? Yes and no. It about would take thousands of words and hundreds of dollars in therapist fees to explain it.


Focusing on 2018, I was determined. It helped that I landed a full time job that starts at the end of February. It also helped that based on some personal circumstances, I realized it the manuscript needed to be finished. It was now or never.


My manuscript is a memoir. It’s based on my journey through the fertility process. It details a year and a half of my mid-30’s, where the life I’d imagined for myself faded to black. I had been pregnant with twins. But five days after I became pregnant, I lost my mother to cancer after a lifetime of addiction. The following week I lost the twins. And nine months later, as I twisted the sterile bed sheets in my hands, I listened to my doctor tell me I would never be able to have children.


It’s a survival story about losing a past and a future at that same time–and learning to carve out a present much different than the one I expected for myself. Those were dark days. The harder I held on to the life I thought I should be leading, the more painful everything else was. But as soon as I pushed off from the ledge, trusting that whatever I fell into was going to be okay, I was free.


It’s about learning to let go.


After such loss, it’s hard not to build up callouses of control again. They start innocently enough with the little things. A set of activities, a diet to follow, a daily routine. But as time passes, it becomes less of a routine and more of a schedule. The control creeps in a bit more and it morphs your discipline into fear.


Writing is not so different.


Let’s say you’re starting a new project and you’re not quite sure what it is yet. If you’re not a “pantser” then you want to start with a rough outline. Just a general overview of what you want to write.


It’s easier to write around things. You can write extraordinarily detailed outlines with plot points and character arcs and detailed scenery. You can research and read for hours about how other writers have worked through their pieces, look at maps on structure and complete case studies of manuscripts that you love. You can build the most beautiful scaffolding to support the building of your dream word house. All of this to try and control your fear about sitting down in front of a project with zero words written. But at one point, you need rip down the scaffolding. You need to hang by your fingertips, in all the discomfort, in all of the pain, in all of the not knowing and write just what you see right in front of your face. You need to let go.


Writing does not like to be controlled. So despite your disciplined character sketches and your sweeping vistas of scene setting, your outline that you’ve so carefully crafted, it does what it wants.


When your writing is shoved into a narrow hallway, it will read that way. Your characters will seem like they’re tight and brittle and they’ll move through your carefully constructed scenes as if they were made out of matchsticks.


If you’re working on memoir or non-fiction, your readers will see right through your efforts of control. To quote Natalie Goldberg’s Rules of Writing,” Go for the real stuff. If you don’t, your writing will be tiptoeing nervously around whatever your real stuff is. You won’t believe it and neither will your readers.”


Whether you’re writing a first draft, editing, or putting on the final touches, it’s important to let go. Get words on a page, kill your darlings, do whatever you need to do to move your writing forward.


I realized that to finish the manuscript, the lesson for me is no different than it was in my mid-30’s—I need to let go. As Buddha once said, “You only lose what you cling to.”






Blog, Writing

My New Narrative

October 12, 2017

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

My New Narrative


“Hi, I’m Danielle. I work in new business and strategy,” I would say, balancing my tiny spear of swedish meatballs in one hand while I extended the other at a networking event. The person I was introducing myself to would nod, acknowledging my role, recognizing the large company I worked for. We’d sip cheap red wine and talk about our industry. I felt confident in my place in the world and in my “story” as a corporate executive.

I never introduced myself as a writer. It was a subplot to the “story of Danielle,” written into casual conversations about hobbies, somewhere between “brussels sprouts connoisseur” and “die-hard dog person.”

Two weeks ago, I attended a small business expo. This would be my first time introducing myself as a writer in a professional setting. I felt shaky, worried that as I uttered the words, someone might laugh. They might tilt their head, the way my dog Nala does when she hears a sound she doesn’t recognize. Would people recognize me as a writer when it was hard enough for me to recognize myself?

Fear pushed aside, I pulled my shoulders back and for several hours of networking, introduced myself as a writer. Generally speaking, I heard these three responses over the course of the event:


  • “Ohhhhh, that’s interesting,” they’d say, eyes sweeping the horizon for an escape route, looking as though they’ve just swallowed a live chicken. As we continued our conversation in halting phrases, one of their body parts would begin to bounce or twitch. They’d see “someone they know” at the farthest corner of the room, and were gone so fast I was surprised they didn’t leave smoke trails.


  • “That’s so cool, I write too! I’ve got a great idea for a book, it’s about this guy who’s a sloth keeper on a frozen planet…(fast forward several minutes) do you do any ghostwriting?” Their eyes bright and I’d smile, mentally taking inventory of my own partially edited manuscript, all my unwritten blogs posts, the deadline for an article, which I was now counting down in hours instead of days. Our conversation would pitter-patter back and forth until they realized I’m not really going to write their book for them and then they’re off to refill their drink.


  • “Interesting. What kind of writing do you do and what are you currently working on?” A book person, I’d think to myself, thank you, Jesus. I’d list the different types of freelance projects I have in the works and mention I’m in the process of editing my manuscript.

“What type of manuscript? Fiction?” they’d ask.

“No, memoir actually,” I’d say.


Here is where the conversation would hit a pivotal moment and I’d watch them curiously, knowing our casual chatter would abruptly end or shift to a deeper level of dialogue.

If it started with an awkward silence, then I knew the rest of the conversation was going to flop around like a dying fish on a dock. They would avoid asking me any questions about my project or joke about how I’m neither old enough nor have the life experience to write a memoir. I’d laugh and ask them a question about their line of work, watching the worry lines between their eyebrows soften, and knew the conversation was not veering anywhere near writing again – not memoir, not freelance writing, not writing of any kind.

Those that were brave maintained eye contact and asked me what my memoir is about. So when I’d tell them it is a story about motherhood, about my journey through the fertility process while losing my mom to cancer, I’d carefully watch their face, high fiving them in my mind for hanging on for the ride. To a man (or woman), they’d smile and I’d let out the breath I was holding in. Then we’d talk about the challenge they’d had having kids or about how hard it is when your parents are aging, or about writing, or something else entirely. These were the folks that asked me for my business card and the ones I collected in return.

This was a chance for me to learn how to tell my new narrative. Without fear. Without judgment. And while it may take me some time to get used to it too, I like this new story and I’m excited to tell it.


I No Longer Wish to Understand

October 3, 2017

I no longer wish to understand what “active shooter” means. I don’t want to know the difference between semi-automatic and automatic weapons. I have no desire to know how many rounds are in a magazine.

I no longer wish to understand your desire to protect your second amendment rights above the lives of your fellow Americans. I am not interested in your diversionary tactics, your smug analogies of blaming the car and not the driver for DUIs. I am tired of your constant question dodging when I ask things like, “Why would a regular civilian need to carry an assault rifle or a machine gun,” or “What’s the problem with adding additional steps to the gun purchasing process?”

You will tell me that overall crime rates are down in the past several years. It doesn’t matter that our homicide by firearms rates are almost four times higher than the next closest country on the list. You’ll say that restricting certain gun purchases won’t keep them off the black market, even though logic would argue restriction is a natural deterrent. You will blame mental illness (at the same time supporting a congressman that wants to remove funding from federal mental health programs). You’ll be unable to answer why you support border walls and travel bans to protect our country from international terrorism but stand silently by while our country is torn apart by domestic terrorism. You’ll say you don’t want to politicize the tragedy, sending your thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, buying yourself more time and emotional distance before you refuse to engage in discussions about gun control. Because 1500 mass shootings in five years isn’t a pattern in your mind. It’s not something fixed by gun control. You’ll point to Chicago, erroneously claiming that they have the strictest gun control laws in the country and the highest homicide rates. Those “strict rules” have been laid bare by NRA lobbying, no longer requiring citizens to have permits or register their weapons, and in 2013, allowing them concealed carry. But New York City, with stricter gun control laws and homicide numbers trending to historic lows, doesn’t fit your narrative. You will use a hashtag like #Imwiththenra.You may bring up the car analogy again. I will remind you that cars are not designed for the purpose of killing people. That I am tired of your empty condolences and of your loyalty to a piece of metal over flesh and blood.

I no longer wish to understand what you think about the initial constructs of the second amendment. I no longer wish to understand your opinions, theories, and arguments about your right to bear arms. I am tired of listening to you spout off NRA sound bytes as if they were your own, tired of defining faith in our country in absolute terms by an outdated ideology focused on owning weapons. I am tired of listening to you defend a killing machine instead of the people it kills.

I refuse to defend an object responsible for so much death and destruction, and quite frankly, I can’t understand why you would either.

Blog, Writing

Living the Dream?

September 11, 2017

When I was six, I spent every Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. She would hover over the New York Times crossword puzzle, pencil poised as the smoke from her Kent Kings pulled lazily into the air. Some days I’d help, pushing my cereal bowl to the side to man the thesaurus and dictionary to help her look up words. Other mornings, I would pound away on her portable blue Smith Corona typewriter, crafting a story about flying giraffes or kung fu fighting squirrels.  I knew from those early years, swimming around in the words, splashing them onto the page, that I wanted to be a writer.

It was a dream I pursued through high school and college, one fiction or poetry workshop after the next. But when graduation came, so did a flood of fear; that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved. So instead of pursuing a career in writing, I got a “real job.”

I never left writing completely. I would steal loving glances at it on weekends, working on my manuscript, a short story, or even flash fiction. We’d meet in coffee shops, lock ourselves away in my home office. I’d attend writing retreats and conferences so we could spend more time together. I dreamed of being a writer full time.

So, at the end of last year, when my boss told me that my position was being eliminated, I was more ecstatic than sad. I could spend every waking moment working on my manuscript. This was my chance to become the writer that I’d always wanted to be!

The first few days after the holidays as a “full-time writer” went well. I was focused, energetic and eager to get to the page every morning. But as the days passed, my resolve wavered. Some days I would sit down at my desk, and it was just like days of old—I felt inspired, creative, the words flowed. Other days, I felt like taking a jackhammer to my keyboard.

While I made progress on the manuscript, I was surprised at how hard it was to stay focused.  I found every excuse I could not to sit down and write—laundry or dishes, an errand to be run, a phone call to make. One day, my procrastination efforts were so extreme that I chose to steam clean my furniture instead of sitting down at my computer.  Before losing my job, I could always fall back on a long list of excuses as to why the writing “couldn’t” get done, most of which involved a lack of time or brain capacity to do it. But now? There were no more excuses, and yet, there were some days that I had nothing on the page.

I learned some valuable lessons. Creative work, or really any type of work that happens outside of a traditional corporate environment feels different. The pace of my days changed from having every minute accounted for in meetings or deadlines to relatively open and unscheduled. To feel like I was still accomplishing something, it was important for me to build in some structure: writing dates with friends, accountability partners to keep me on track, and joining a professionally led read and critique group where I have pages due every other week.

I learned to have more patience with myself. There are times to work through your writing, to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on your keyboard, and there are times to step away. I had to listen to my inner writing guide and learn which was which—to balance my need for a break, knowing I would come back with fresh eyes, with the guilt of walking away from my project.

And this new life still has stress, but it’s a different type of stress that comes from starting a new type of career, building a business around writing, and failing at things so that I can learn and grow. It has taken more time to adjust than I had thought and I still have my days of fear and doubt, just as I did when I was twenty-two, but overall as I sit at the kitchen table every morning with my laptop and my coffee, I’m incredibly grateful.

Blog, Book Review

The Best of Us Review

August 25, 2017

In her newest memoir, “The Best of Us”, Maynard chronicles her relationship with her second husband Jim, from their whirlwind romance to his pancreatic cancer diagnoses. What begins with a fairytale courtship for two people in their late fifties quickly morphs into their joint fight for Jim’s survival.

I’m always drawn to Maynard’s memoirs because of her fierce honesty. Similar to “At Home in the World,” we continue to see a woman unafraid to examine herself under the plainest of lights. She is willing to show the reader both the tender moment when she curls up in bed with her husband after his diagnoses to read their wedding vows to one another, and the moment that she posts on social media that she resents her husband for keeping her from the things she loves most, like writing. She does not shy away from discussing delicate topics, such as the rehoming of her adopted Nigerian children, just a year after she’s brought them home. She’s even-toned and candid about her decisions, speaks in frank terms of the backlash and threats she received as a result.

I admire the grace with which Maynard handles her struggle to come to terms with her husband’s terminal diagnoses and their collective fear. There are points in this story that are so honest and heartbreaking — a letter from her friend Deborah, asking “have you figured out ‘hope’ yet? And if so, would you mind sharing,” a quote from her friend Graf, “You are swimming now across this vast lake and you know now that only one of you will make it. What can you do but keep moving toward the shore?” And the most poignant, “If only,” I often said, “you could learn the lessons of cancer without having cancer.”

This is a wonderful story not only of illness and fear, but of love and loyalty.

Huge thanks to Net Galley, and to Bloomsbury publishing for my digital copy for a fair and honest review.







100 Days

April 25, 2017

It’s been 100 days since I left the corporate world. Just over three months since I was gently pushed from the plane of life as I knew it and began my free fall into something new. 100 days of growing roots at home and easing gently back into a routine, a regular writing practice, only to fall out of it again. 100 days of trying to bleed out all of the stress only to realize that it will always be there, it will just be a different kind. A stress that comes from complete self-reliance, from trusting blindly what’s next, from trying to put flesh on the bones of this new life. I have days where the light stretches me, when I can hear my own heartbeat strong and steady. I have days where the fear and anxiety still crawl into my belly, leaving me frozen with pain. I have learned to sit with the pain again, to lean in so that its intensity shrinks when I look at it plainly.

I’m still terrible at things that I thought would get better. I’m terrible at sitting and crave the speed of “busy.” Because “busy” is an excellent procrastination tool. I still crave structure and routine and sometimes feel adrift as I step into the new week without a calendar full of meetings and conference call. I still look to others to tell me that I’m good enough. A good enough leader. A good enough friend. A good enough writer – a lesson learned painfully when I had the virtual wind knocked out of me by someone I admired. A younger version of myself would’ve been shaken for weeks. But I surprised myself with how quickly I stood up, carefully brushed their words off and left them behind. I’ve learned to listen to my body and trust my gut.

100 days of delicately peeling off the labels I’ve felt society had mistakenly applied to me only to realize that I was the one that was applying them in the first place. 100 days of trying to shake the “shoulds”, succeeding some days and sliding back into old habits on others. 100 days of simplifying and shedding the layers of complexity that I lacquered on to shield myself from disappointment or fear.

100 days of creating. Of building community. Of letting go instead of holding on. Of slipping in to new skin. 100 days of slowing down enough to recognize myself in the mirror – and for the very first time- being strangely satisfied with what I see. Looking forward to what the next 100 days will bring.



August 22, 2016

Sometimes words are my gift, and I sit patiently twisting the sentences, plucking words that don’t add to the bouquet, trimming and rearranging until it’s my version of perfect. Until the words are bent at the perfect angle so that I can hear the rhythm rolling through them down their stems out in to the air and into my lungs. Sometimes I hand these vases of words to people I love. Sometimes I hide them. I’ve got hundreds of half empty vases, sentences stuck at odd angles, or single phrases starkly jutting into the air, or vases that have tipped over with too many words, thoughts spilling out across the floor.

Sometimes words are my weapon, a razor I use to slit the throats of others, quiet and neat, leaving little blood and tremendous damage. Or I hold those words up in the air over my head while I’m shaking in rage, an axe I wildly swing with my nostrils flared, blind in my fury. I am careful because I know their power. I have hundreds of word scars, dotting my body like moon craters.

Presented or brandished, words are my air. Whether I am shouting with joy or army crawling from one day to the next, it’s often words that I reach out to. But sometimes I forget to inhale. I hold my breath, sure that I can get on without them, until I wait so long that I end of gasping to get them back to my body.

This year has been a difficult one. I am molting. I’ve done it before, shed old skins that no longer fit. Habits, patterns, or trains of thought that could no longer stretch to cover the curves of my body, the angles of my mind, or the arcs of my soul. Molting is painful. Mostly because I insist on hanging on to parts of that old self that don’t fit. I thrust the threadbare self, hoping it will cover me as I grimace red-faced behind it. But if I could just let it go, instead of holding on white knuckled, it would get easier. The words help me loosen my grip.

The hardest part about molting is loosening my grip on the people. No matter how long they’ve been gone from my life, it’s hard to look at a photograph of those that I once loved with all of my heart and wonder when it was that they were lost to me and me to them. For others I can remember the exact moment they slid from my grasp, the irrevocable minute they left forever.

The most important lesson I’ve learned so far this molting season is that people are never truly lost. They are still winding through life’s reddened canyons. And while I may not be there to see it, I take solace in knowing that they have people to help them float along, paddle over rapids, swirl through eddies, or pull them over to the banks when they are too tired to go any longer.

Those that have truly passed are not beyond the reach of memory. The words I breathe, the stems and blooms I carefully arrange can bring me back to them – to the gap in their teeth, their vanilla smoky smell, the soft, tanned leather of their skin. These simple things, knowing the people that you love are happy or at peace, make the metamorphoses just a little bit easier. Loosening a grip doesn’t have to mean letting go.

Back to the words. I’m wondering where they will take me. I’m hoping to fill up a lot more vases. I’m hoping I can line them and follow their shadows back to where I should be. My new skin awaits.


Walk Tall

December 11, 2015

My friend Abby has two of the best words of advice I’ve ever been given. Walk tall. They’re not so different from the advice my sister gives me when she is helping me dust myself off after having busted my ass once again on life’s crooked sidewalk, “Chin up, tits out.” They are both brilliant and wise and haven given me the gift of words – my sister by teaching me to read and Abby for bringing me back to writing after years of allowing it to gather dust in the shadow of my fears. I love them both fiercely and they are both gaining one more year of wisdom this week.

There are some days and weeks when I feel strong and tall, long-limbed and loose, and grounded with gratitude. But there are also weeks, like these past few, where I feel small and lost, huddled up and bobbing along, while I struggle to find a horizon to set my sights on as everything churns and shifts around me.

As luck would have it, this week I came across something I had written in a writing workshop years ago with Abby. The exercise was to write a letter – from anyone and to anyone – to tell a story or give some advice. I chose to write a letter to my younger self. Good advice, that apparently, I still need to be reminded of to this day:

Stand up straight, for god’s sakes. Don’t waste your long-legged youth hunched into corners of self-doubt. Get rid of those bangs, they don’t hide that bastard step-child of a nose you have and it only serves to hide the truth in your eyes. Ease up on the make-up, the war paint (as your grandfather called it) was never something you were taught to wear. You wear it as awkwardly as you stumble in those silver spangled heels.

Focus more on your hopes than your fears. The what ifs should be the wind that pushes your dream clouds across the skies of your mind. They are not the harbingers of storms.

Yes, you are smart. Please stop waiting for someone to tell you. It will not be in the books you read, on a billboard, or etched in the ink of your boyfriend’s tattoo.

Your failures are your successes. They are not things to carry around in your purse like rusted razor blades. They are yours – THAT is the shadow you should wear on your eyes and paint your face with.

Use your gifts. They are not meant to be kept in a box, placed on a table, or looked at wistfully. Break the box so you can’t put them away. Shatter the table so that you have no choice but to hold them in your shaking hands and use them every day.

Let the seeds of disappointment grow green-leafed hopes. Tend to them carefully, fighting off the plagues of selfish relationships. Use water to feed the plant, keep it away from the blight of family doubts.

Trust. You’ve done well to place the bird nest of your heart in the hands of others, to carefully rebuild it when it has been dropped or stepped on. But you need to learn to place it in your own branches, trust the strength of your roots, your ability to bend in the storms and stretch in the sunshine.

Trust your next steps and stride confidently into the future. Walk tall.


An introduction for those that don’t know me (all two of you reading this blog)

November 5, 2015

I’ve loved words all my life. At least since I first knew them. My sister taught me to read at the age of four in the damp chill of our basement, our brown fur beanbags pushed side to side on the slate floor. She leaned over me with a book, her finger tracing words as they tumbled in fits and starts from my mouth, some of them catching on my tongue. As I read more on my own, I would drag out my mother’s electric blue typewriter and copy the words from the page, watching the letters punch the paper and only getting only a page or two in before I left the typewriter humming to go outside and play with the dog. I spent every Sunday morning across the kitchen table from my mom with a stack of dictionaries and thesauruses as she wrestled with the New York Times crossword puzzle. She would take a sip of coffee and call out a word, and I would rush to find them, thinking that the faster I found them, the more likely we’d be able to pin the puzzle into submission.

The more words I learned, the more they filled me. I wrote my first poem in sixth grade for in Mrs. Adam’s class. It was the color and consistency of cotton candy, a melodramatic mess about moving away from my best friend in New Jersey. But I got to read it for parent’s night in a packed middle school library and for the first time, felt good about being the tallest girl in school. Fast forward through high school, I stepped on to campus with the desire to be a business phenom and promptly enrolled as an econ major. But with the advent of my first “D” and my favorite poet coming for a semester, I switched to creative writing. I loved it but was fickle. Writing sometimes felt so personal and painful, it was like I was peeling my skin off. Add the ego of a 19 year old to the need for self protection and you get lots of first drafts without revisions. So I fought with my professors over “edited” pieces that were turned in two and three times with no changes coupled with some very creative grammar rules. If ee Cummings could do it, why couldn’t the rest of us?

Once I got out of school, I got away from writing. Moved across the country, lived my life according to the plan I had built in my mind. And then that plan began to fall apart. At first it was just a frayed edge, but as time passed, it began to unravel, the cloth falling apart until I was standing in the middle of my thirties, naked and afraid with one single blue thread in my hand. Writing is part of what helped me weave my life back together. None of these things give me the “right” to be a writer. Anyone can be a writer. And anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit. I am not published. I have not won contests, awards, or accolades. Writing either holds you in or tips you out of the chair depending on the moment, and why I love it so much. For the days I actually make it to the chair. I’m still the little girl that writes a page and leaves the computer staring in to an empty room to go play with the dogs. To quote Steven Pressfield, Resistance still kicks my ass on a regular basis. But I’m working on it.

Aside from writing, I love food, brussels sprouts in particular, and consider myself a connoisseur (pancetta and carmelized onions, baby). I am a recent convert to the Mini Cooper and am completely obsessed. The tiny rubber mini cooper thumb drive they give to all new owners justified the entire purchase in my mind. I’m a complete and total fitted sheet folding flunkie. I will admit to getting so frustrated that I resorted to watching tutorials on YouTube. I still can’t manage it and half fold and half stuff them into my linen closet. Can anyone fold those fucking things? I’m a frequent dropper of f-bombs. I’m also a repeated auto-correct victim (I’m fairly certain I DON’T mean ducking, Autocorrect, thank you very much). I am a fart joke enthusiast and am not ashamed about it. I am a Springsteen devotee (his music runs in my blood), but have a wide range of musical tastes, reggae and country excluded. Four years in Nashville couldn’t bring out the country in me. Don’t judge. I’m a die hard dog person and immediately skeptical of people who don’t like books or dogs. I am a fertility survivor, member of the tribe of the motherless, and a hopeful memoirist. And most of all, I hope you enjoy this blog.