Tracking the Thread

Scent can seal a moment and rewind time with one sniff.

An ineffable elixir, invisible, and hard to hold, yet smell can be a solid, guiding principle.

Just ask our puppy, Mae. She’s a tracker, and she follows her nose. Dogs live by their senses, and olfactories reign supreme.

Mae interacts with the world through her sniffer. Purely instinctual, no apologies. Her brown, damp schnozz, presses into everything, indiscriminate. No intellect, just genuine curiosity.

Her nostrils quiver in utter wonder. There is no self-consciousness in breathing in the most alien of objects, deeply. She wants to know this thing, and know its very essence.

Mae’s first time sniffing salt and sea


Some ancient peoples (Hawaiians, included) greet one another by coming face to face, breathing in each other’s breath. In this full and intimate introduction, one cannot hide. An exhale, empty of words, can’t lie.

Scent speaks. It is felt to the bones. Scent ignites the mind, yet is not of it.

I’ve been on my own interior trail, following my nose, listening to instinct. As an artist, as a writer, I thought I’d lost the scent there for a while. I was circling, just sniffing around, unsure.

But then the winds shifted, and there was a trace of something in the air. I dared to follow.

Attending a writing workshop this past weekend seemed to set me back upon my path. When asked to bring a piece of writing to the class with us, I chose William Stafford’s “The Way it Is.” One, because the poem is an anchor for me in my storytelling quest. And, two, because I was beginning to wonder if I had simply lost my personal thread. I hoped that through reciting the words, I may find my way again.

Gratefully, in the small room of writers with huge talent, I caught up with the thread that’s never left me. Their generously kind hearts and the keen insight of our instructor, Cheryl Strayed, reminded me to the familiar fragrance of my truest self.

We’ve all got the thread. The trail we’re tracking with all of our senses, mind, body and heart. We may get stalled, circle, or lose the scent, but maybe we are never truly lost. We just have to keep poking around, with utter curiosity, no apologies…following our noses.

“The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford ~”


This morning I had to shuffle through carcasses of unfinished drafts scattered across my desktop. Last week left a holding pen of limbo, posts for the blog that never made it, leaving the Archives blank and my mind in question.

I’ve written all of my life, journaling, submitting work, studying literature in college, and sharing in this blog forum for the last five years. My writing has had different phases, different focus and meaning over the years, but I don’t recall that I’ve ever questioned its place in my life. It has always been here, it has always been a part of me.

These past few weeks, however, I found myself wondering about words, especially my own. Questioning their necessity, and feeling like there were too many streaming from my fingertips, that simply were unnecessary. I’d been finding solace in silence, though I questioned even that, as a possible avoidance tactic from something I was too afraid to face.

I was enjoying the ease found in implementing daily tasks. Even washing dishes had more appeal than putting my heart to paper, as a practical kitchen task had a beginning, an end, and was completely mindless. In ten minutes, I could see the accomplishments of my work in a clean sink. My creative endeavors, on the other hand, are rarely ever tidy.

It was nerves, as well. Last week was edging me ever-closer to the writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed, an accomplished writer, well-known for her bestselling book-turned-movie, “Wild.” I would be among a fortunate sixteen participants to spend two full days in her tutelage, learning about “The Story You Have to Tell.” Like so many, I had immersed myself in “Wild,” almost not wanting her to reach the Bridge of the Gods, the finish line of her 1100 mile solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. That bridge would mean the final chapter, and “Wild” was a book I didn’t want to end.

courtesy of
courtesy of


The book is about a young woman finding her way, while I am a middle-aged mother/wife/writer, feeling more disoriented than I did when I was in my thirties, raising a five-year old, alone. Disoriented in my creative writing life, that is. My external world is the most settled its ever been in my 42 years. Health, love, family, home. There can be the usual modern-day stresses, but my basic human needs are gratefully covered.

But the words. They would come, and then fall flat. Five days before the workshop, I stood in my kitchen chopping onions, and dared to consider it. Blasphemous in even thinking the thought…be damned, I entertained it anyway. What if I just pulled out? I could call the workshop coordinator and explain that I couldn’t come. My decline would softened by the boon that the next person in line on the long waiting list would get to attend. Right?

The onions were minced, as I observed the inner wrestling of mind and heart. To fantasize of walking away from such an opportunity, clearly showed my current state of unrest in my work. I took note of the fear, but did not act. I knew I had to go, even if it would be with a proverbial prostration at the door, and potentially nothing for the prompts. I settled with the decision that the least (or maybe the most) that I could do, was simply show up.

So this weekend, I had the humbling privilege to share two full days with a room full of brilliant (and generously kind) writers. Cheryl was warm, open, succinct, and ever-giving in her support of each writer in the room. Points she clearly documented in large letters on poster paper, outlined many of the specific issues I’ve been grappling with in my words. Her writing prompts pushed me, and clumsy first passes emerged with faint hopes of future promise.

On the first day, I found myself on the edge of tears on numerous occasions, though there was no specific source of the emotions. As one writing session brought about the telling of the day my parents told me of their separation, I was amazed to find, that thirty-four years after the fact, I still could crumble in the telling of that moment. There was juice there. A story of many layers. There was a room, there were people, there was a feeling, and there were sounds. And there were still questions after all of these years. And there were questions beneath the questions. This was fertile ground, with words that were worth waiting for.

At 5:40am, I know it’s just about time to wake Jeb for school. This morning is just a grazing on the inspiration rekindled in me by a weekend with extraordinary writers. I cannot go down the path of comparison, holding my words to theirs, or I could certainly feel defeated. Instead, I dive into the beauty of story. How we all have a story to tell, something that transcends our personal experience, and resonates whole and true to all humans. A tale that brings connection, that makes us feel alive, that reminds us of the fragile grace that threads us all together in this living.

I may still be searching for just the right words, but I haven’t given up on them.

Story to Tell

In less than three months, I will be one of 15 participants to attend a writing workshop with author Cheryl Strayed, perhaps, best known for her New York Times Bestselling memoir “Wild.”

courtesy of
courtesy of


The theme of the workshop is “The Story You Have to Tell.” Last night, I received an email from the coordinator with a gentle reminder about our pending gathering. Butterflies in my stomach quickly sank to leaden dread.

I am not excited, because I feel like a mess.

The story you have to tell…the story you have to tell…what’s the story I have to tell?

I seek, but do not find.

This morning I look within, searching for the smallest smattering of words to click upon the screen of my sporadic blog. My well is empty with echo.

Instead of prose at 5am, I’m sending RSVP’s to sixth-grade, birthday party E-vites. Emailing teachers about forms required for school events. Tracking shipment details on a Halloween mask we hope will make it to the post office before the 31st.

I do not feel wild.

I feel domestic.

This is not the worst thing in the world, by far. But it feels like death to an artist.

I question all.

Yet, I will keep seeking.

Three months to find a story that matters.