My Tiny Tribe


“Belonging,” Nancy Woods, acrylic, 9×12 inches

With this blog post, I honor my students’ anthology, “BeLonging,” because who doesn’t want to fit in?

In my imagination, I belong to a small group of people exactly like me—writers and artists who, according to at least one study, make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. workforce.* To make my group even more select, I belong to the chapter of right-handed, left-wing writers and artists—solitude-seeking people who long for country roads, blackberry bushes and crumbling fences.

The members of my tiny like-minded tribe—which exists only in my dreams— are known for being complacent. How complacent, you ask? We’re so complacent we don’t even decide which books we’ll read. Instead, when we need some literary input, we walk into the nearest library, grab the first “staff pick” off the shelf and walk out, well, after checking the book out.

This make-believe army of mine and I are psychologically unable to experience the moment. Instead, we must write a poem about it, paint it or take a photo of it. Unwilling or incapable of simply living life, we document every exquisite event. To us, my herd of duplicators, life is so tender and vulnerable, so flimsy and fleeting, so painfully precious that we’re forced to continually capture it with words, on film and on canvas.

Hear that bird? Quick. Write a song about it.

See that forest log smothered with ivy? Snap with your camera.

Fall in love? Turn it into flash fiction.

To us, the members of my clutch, life is so sweet, so fragile and irreplaceable, so diaphanous and dying, that just living it is never enough. We’re compelled to gather it, hold it, harbor it, seize it, save it, so we can savor it over and over again. More than one of us has taken a photo of a painting of a photo of a painting. No distance from reality is too far to be traveled.

Highly excitable as children and proud of it, my people and I were the class clowns, the sit-down comics sent to the principal’s office to calm down and shut up. At family dinners, we laughed at our own jokes while snorting milk out our nose. Equal-opportunity insulters, we find humor in everything, including ourselves.

Diversity-relishing nap takers, my cohorts and I also are death-, dog- and phone-fearing note takers. We’re tree-needy, coffee-slurping, near-sighted, frizzy-haired joke meisters. We’re PC-using, Apple-wary goofballs. We’re road-tripping, list-making, understated-English-drama-binging, out-the-window-staring caretakers of cats.

My miniscule group imposes no dues, performs no rituals. The only requirement for membership is that you must think, feel, act, look, taste and smell exactly like us. You must enjoy food but decline to cook. You must drive a car but wish you didn’t. You must love everyone, if just in the abstract.

If the local chapter of my assemblage ever got together (which is doubtful because we hate meetings), the event could be held in my living room, which seats six. If you want, you can apply to become a member of my group. But I must warn you, we have a reputation for not getting back.


Born funny

(What follows is an excerpt from Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales From a Pacific Northwest Writer.)

Some of us are born funny. Some of us aren’t. I have a relative (Let’s call her Ms. Grim) who once told me she’d lost her sense of humor Where? Along the side of the road? She was wrong. How can you lose something you never had?

My mother didn’t have a sense of humor, either, bless her serious heart. Why? Because she was a genuinely nice person who always had a smile on her face. In contrast, humorists can be just a little bit mean, whether they’re making fun of the government, a friend or themselves. Me, I’m an equal-opportunity insulter. I make fun of myself and everyone else.

When I was a kid, I was always cracking myself up. I’d make silly jokes at the dinner table until I snorted milk out my nose or I’d jump up and perform a silly sketch, then end up rolling on the floor. My mother, a gentile woman who deserved better, would look down at me with a How-did-I-give-birth-to-this person? look on her face.

I don’t know where I got my sense of humor. Like I said, I don’t come from particularly funny folks. My mom’s side of the family is rife with responsible adults — highly paid professionals (accountants, attorneys and airline pilots). Not people you want to be cutting up.

My father’s side of the family is a bit of a mystery, which gives me hope. Other people may dream about being rich and famous. I dream about being Jewish. Some of the best humorists are or were Jewish (Think Dorothy Parker and Jerry Seinfeld), although there are plenty of non-Jewish humorists, too (including Mark Twain and E. B. White).

All I know is that I enjoy being funny, whether I’m telling a ridiculous story or writing a silly rant. It just feels so good to let it all out, like a sneeze, only less wet. To me, being funny is part of being human, and telling jokes is a high art — one that deserves federal support.

Author’s bio: Nancy Woods is an author and writing coach.

Hooked on Antifreeze front cover only from amazonUnder the Influence front cover only from amazon




52 Books in 52 Weeks, Week 26: The Halfway Mark

From the Huffington Post:
By Catherine McKenzie
Posted: 07/07/2013 12:57 pm

Twenty-six weeks ago I set myself a task: I would read a New York Times Bestseller a week and blog about it in the hopes of re-connecting myself to popular book culture and (hopefully) read some great books.

It hasn’t quite worked out as I planned.

First off I didn’t account for the fact that books often stay in the number 1 spot for more than a week (the original plan was to read the #1 book each week). That was easy enough to adjust for: I could just take a book off another list (the New York Times now has a lot of bestseller lists, from e-books to YA, etc.), and sometimes I threw in a wildcard book just to mix it up.

As the weeks went on, though, I began to encounter a few deeper problems: books I couldn’t finish, books I wish I didn’t have to read, books whose popularity I couldn’t understand. What was this crazy task I had assigned myself, I wondered, and how was I going to keep it up all year?

On the other hand, I encountered several books that I absolutely loved and might not otherwise have read. And it’s those books that keep me going. It’s those books that make this project worth it, and if you haven’t read these books, you really, really should:

Week 1: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn I’ve read this book three times in the last year, and if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is. The premise is simple – a wife disappears on her 5th wedding anniversary and the husband is the prime suspect – but the execution is anything but. A must read.

Week 4: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan . The story of the Van Goethem sisters, one of whom was Degas’ inspiration for his sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, it is set in Belle Époque Paris and is a mix of true details of about the sisters — all ballet dancers of varying success — and a true-life murder mystery that existed in Paris at the same time. Well written, evocative. It has stayed with me.

Week 7: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book made me ugly cry and I’ve read it three times as well. I can still quote many, many lines from it. Brilliant.

Week 16: The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison. A book I called “perfect” in my review, this is a poignant (and funny) exploration of the importance of family set against a very possible reality: a popular high school teacher finds himself the subject of a (false?) YouTube video that shows him assaulting a student. Written with amazing (and enviable) assurance, The Banks of Certain Rivers explores themes of memory, loss and redemption with grace. My favorite book so far this year.

Week 20: Divergent by Veronica Roth. A book I never would have read if not for this project, I actually it better now than when I initially reviewed it, perhaps because I read the second book and am now eagerly awaiting for the third in the series. Dystopian YA might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want to give it a chance, this is a good place to start.

On so, onwards. I got mired in Week 26’s pick (Dan Brown’s Inferno, another DNF, and lost a week climbing the Grand Teton in Wyoming (yes, for reals), so week 27 and 28’s pick are Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book, Sisterland.

Back to work. I mean, reading.

What I’m reading: Sober Play

I’ve just started reading Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery by Jill Kelly with Bridget Benton. Here’s an excerpt:

Select a difficult moment from your past. Write about that moment as a scene in a novel or play just as it happened. To take it deeper: Rewrite the scene with a different ending.