Postcard from NCI: Writing in the New Year, Week Six

Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Reading & Writing | 17 comments


Writing at North Cascades Institute


Happy New Year, friends!

Finally, a post­card for you that actu­ally is a post­card, thanks to Cap’n J’s Sol­stice photo shoot. (And how awe­some is my many-legged friend? Sock­to­pus is my crafty sis­ter Ashley’s work.)

It was a pretty wild New Year’s Eve up here in the moun­tains… Nachos and a soda with an evening of word-making. In the final hour of 2013, I took a break to read a let­ter, a wel­come sur­prise from an old friend. (My neigh­bor deliv­ered sev­eral weeks’ worth of mail the other day; I’ve been parcel­ing them out to myself, one a night, as a treat.) On the blank back of a rejected page from chap­ter four, I started writ­ing a response.

Have you noticed how dif­fer­ently you write to a friend? How the words come more nat­u­rally when you’re just talk­ing with some­one you trust wants to hear what you’re say­ing and cares? Your friend knows your voice; they’ll hear your words exactly as you mean to con­vey them, respond­ing with empa­thy and cel­e­bra­tion at all the right places. Such a dif­fer­ence expe­ri­ence than writ­ing to the silently judg­men­tal page, the face­less screen — or worse, the clearly scowl­ing crowd that’s so going to hate this. With those detrac­tors in mind, why bother?

There’s good rea­son writ­ing teach­ers advise imag­in­ing one spe­cific reader as we approach our work.

In con­ver­sa­tion with my friend, I found myself shar­ing thoughts that, in my book, had been stiff. Over-wordy, yet dis­tant. As a let­ter, they stum­bled into what I hadn’t been able to say within the book. So I inter­rupted the let­ter to reach for my note­book instead. That’s how I rang in 2014 — find­ing a dif­fer­ent way into the story, scrib­bling a re-written scene, and send­ing thoughts of grat­i­tude to that friend. Pretty good terms on which to wel­come the new year, I think.

So. Two thoughts to share with you:

The first is a poem one of you sent (thanks, Angela!) It’s a verse observed inside a Seat­tle Metro bus as part of their 2006 poetry-in-motion project. I’m sorry I don’t have the author’s name.

Every fam­ily has one — usu­ally the one

who writes, the one who spills fam­ily secrets

onto the page like so much grape juice

on beige car­pet — cre­at­ing continent-shaped

stains that are slow to fade and never disappear



The sec­ond is a quote from Theo Nestor’s newly released book on craft, Writ­ing is My Drink. This is what Lisa Jones, author of Bro­ken: A Love Story, has to say about the role of the memoirist:

“You’re sim­ply a nice car­pen­ter who has helped make a shel­ter for other people’s uneasi­ness by expos­ing your own.”


This house is big, sweet­ies. Come on in — there’s plenty of room for us all.

Happy New Year, all. Be well.


c/o ELC

P.O. Box 429

Mar­ble­mount, WA 98267


  1. Oh, cool. Is this a work­shop? I didn’t know you could just go up there.

    • Nope, Janet, it’s a 12-week res­i­dency. I’m NCI’s writer-in-residence this win­ter. They DO offer group rentals, though; I think it’d be won­der­ful fun to get a group of Red Wheel­bar­row writ­ers up here for a week­end Write Out! All best New Year wishes for you.

  2. Thank you, Tele, for this won­der­ful post. Happy New Year!

    • chap­ter four tele; its going to be a long job ; I can come up if you might need a proof­reader tom

      • You’re a good friend, Tom! New Year’s cheer to you and Mary.

    • To you, too, Joanne! I’m look­ing for­ward to meet­ing you — less than two months now ’til Fisher Poets!

  3. Thank You Tele. Happy New Year sweetie

    • You, too, Katie! Hope all’s good for you.

  4. Happy New Year! I’ve been enjoy­ing fol­low­ing your adven­ture in the mountains.

    • Lisa, thanks so much for say­ing hello — I’m glad to start the new year with a new friend, and your com­ment gave me a trail back to your blog. Your post for Mo was beautiful.

  5. Keep up the good work Tele, anx­iously await­ing the forth­com­ing writ­ing event! Happy New Year! Until we meet again.….…

    • Norm! Thanks, friend — it’ll be good to see you again, when­ever it works out. If you and your wife are look­ing for a road trip on Feb 21 — 23, Joel and I will be in Asto­ria… Hope all’s good for you guys.

  6. Thanks for the post card, Tele! And your shared thoughts — always inspi­ra­tion. Happy New Year.

    • You’re most wel­come, Pierr, and thank you, too! Your lat­est is one of the envelopes I’ve been sav­ing… Maybe tonight’s the night!

  7. Happy New Year Tele! Glad every­thing is going so well with your res­i­dency. (And Sock­to­pus is awe­some — that is totally a children’s book in the making!)

    I nom­i­nated you for the Word­Press Fam­ily Award. I know you may not have time to pass it on, but regard­less, I couldn’t leave you off that list.

    • Good­ness — part of a NON-dysfunctional fam­ily? So unprece­dented! Many thanks for your kind words, my friend, and to Nillu for hon­or­ing the impact of your work. I’m glad you’re out here.

  8. Happy New Year, Tele! Just love lis­ten­ing to the magic flow­ing through your dig­its, dear writer, and wish you 365 days of lit­er­ary loveliness.

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