Why am I giving a short story as a gift?

Every day I milk a large, verbose cow.

There was a little song my kids learned when they were preschoolers: “What can I give to the king, what can I give to the one who has everything.”  It’s got a contagious earworm of a tune and a sentiment that gets under my skin anytime I’m like a preschooler: feeling small and overwhelmed that anything I could offer up would possibly be of any worth or value. Kings and God-metaphors aside, that little song hits to the center of every creative person’s wrestling mat. Is what we make any good? Is it gift worthy? Would anyone ever want it?

The song’s verse goes on to say we can offer, “a heart that is open wide, a life that has nothing to hide.”

Funny, that. One short poetic children’s lyric lays out the angst of anyone involved in the pursuit of an authentic, open, honest, humble, true life.

It’s not easy keeping a heart open wide. It’s not easy telling the truth about one’s life. And yet, that’s our greatest gift as creative human beings.

For me, that means living the mantra, the line that works equally well for meditation and whining toddlers alike: USE YOUR WORDS.

I can give words. I can use words. I can craft words. It’s how I was made and the older I get, the more I suspect its why I’m here.

Which brings me to last year, the ramp up to Christmas 2015. I wanted to offer something handmade as a gift and that brought me to words. A poem? An essay? Anne Lamott suggests in Bird by Bird that writers have many ways to share their writing beyond traditional publication. She says writers who feel compelled to write should simply do so.

I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway.

But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.

And, after you milk the cow, what do you have?  A bucket full of milk. If you do it every day, you have enough milk to drink, to make cheese, soap, butter, chocolate…you start having things to give away.

So, I did last year, I gave away some words. It felt good. Some friends enjoyed my story. One said I didn’t go deeply enough into the psyche’s of my characters. That was helpful feedback for a character writer. I worked hard this year on craft. I finished the 2nd draft of my novel Work In Progress and then took a 2 month break to read. Another story spilled out.

What is this year’s holiday gift?

My 2016 annual holiday free short story gift.

My 2016 annual holiday free short story gift.

This year’s short story gift is about Marjorie James, a woman in her late 70’s reorienting herself after sudden and unwanted change. When her new husband starts stealing her joy, Marjorie discovers her spine.

“A glimpse into an older generation– I think I know these characters!”  -D. Hesterman

My story is a free download, available via email. I hope readers will share it with their friends, will give it away, will pass it on. You can do so by signing up here, by sharing the link, or by sharing the email once you’ve received it.

The Back Roads of Georgia

Day 64 of 100 Happy Days

We all got in the car

-the kids and I;

he was in Baltimore to see the baby.

We left Florida after 8,

past painted signs calling out summertime peaches, and

the boys pointed out a beaver dam built up in a swamp outside of Folkston, right there,

right next to the road.

Tufts of cotton caught in roadside grasses blown loose from harvested fields looked like snow.

After Tifton-

purple acres of cabbages and then-

the kids favorite-

rows of what looked like tiny trees, a miniature forest, that

turned out to be broccoli.

“Albany is halfway” Erin said.

Pecan plantations, groves of women-

nut trees always look feminine to me, strong

torsos with arms reaching, ballet positions,

fingers extending the line of the wrist,

thighs strong enough to stand steady while bearing down a birth roar.

It’s hilly here.

Pie spice colors: cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon.

The towns have glitter garland holiday swirls over the streets.

Turned around, wrong turn, right turn into

farmland, green fields framed by wooded windbreaks.

Starling murmurations, pulsing clouds of birds

sweeping against the blueness of this autumn sky.

The border town, southern gothic, hanging moss and

enormous porches. Tree lined avenues with manners, even just passing by.


is not meant for making great time, this trip

was for taking the time that it takes.


Day 64 of 100 Happy Days

Day 64 of 100 Happy Days

The Tuesday Before Thanksgiving


draft- Tia Levings, 2015


That room was a mess.

So full of broken furniture that I couldn’t see the floor, with

no pathway to walk.

Tchotchkies, curios, knick knacks, dust beams vaguely illumined by sun,

no hope of ever crossing the room,  of cleaning the window

pane on the far side, no

muslin curtains filtering lemony summer light, no

jar of daisies to draw the eye away from dandered  cobweb corners.

I may have forgotten to tell you-

there was no way to do that.

The remarkable thing was-

when I finally showed her, was that she only said,

“There’s a lot here. Tell me about this bench.”

The piece nearest her, nearest the door, and

it startled me.

I couldn’t tell if she teased…. or,

maybe this one preferred to wait like an oily cat, slice

with the precision of shame. Only-

“tell me the significance of this bench.”

She didn’t call it a pew.

To focus on just one thing settled a sigh, trust

breathing a cool morning mist over a fevered pond, and

I could see plain the first time

he crammed it into the room, or-

maybe the room crammed around it-

until cat feces piled in hidden places, and

spider tents draped the spindles, and

magazines curled with dark mildew, and

crates of bottles came marked, “Poison. Do not eat.”

But sometimes I did, and

sometimes I served them for dinner, and

saved the vomit in boxes for later.

This bench, now that I look at it-

smeared grime waxed into the grain,

lacerations sharp with slivers, ready

to pierce the soft flesh of my thigh, its

scarred veneer-

this bench is not useful to me anymore.

I don’t need it, and

that’s how we started. She

didn’t tease and didn’t shame and

never left my side.

She held my hand, we’ve

cleared the room. Dropped-

all of it over a cliff I think. Just-

let it fall off the truck,

behind me now.

It’s been 12 weeks, but

I can see the floor.

St John's River  from Mandarin Pointe

St John’s River from Mandarin Pointe

The Second Day of Thanksgiving Week


Leftover Apple Dumplings, it turns out,

make a good breakfast. Heated warm

cinnamon caramel sauce melting in hot tea, melting

in my mouth,

pomegranate tang.


My scratch crust, it turns out,

came out perfection. Salted

crisp flakes holding crunchy exoskeleton, hug

pillowed soft apple flesh,

Pink Lady tart.


Four of my children, it turns out,

enormous newborn adults, all

long bodied loud laughter petitions, sighs

“life’s exhausting,

Mama Pie.”


Hot Apple Dumpling Night


The First Morning of Thanksgiving Week

Reflections on water migrate, I think


even if the light is constant.

Silver patches broken only by the breeze, by


the snake bird; slender neck’s reaching strokes.

My skin, bare shoulders, feels


loose wild hair ideas brought me here.

On the far shore I see, a


something was breakfast.

A long distance, a chainsaw


the tree for communion.


November on the pond.

10 Things, Without the Metaphor #2

Stinson Park Jacksonville Florida

Number one, an old man, heavyset, in a sleeveless sweatshirt, standing on his stoop at 6:15 am, looking at the blue light of his phone, not out to get the newspaper, standing there maybe out of habit.

Number two, the busy birds, too many to count, rebounding high pitched tweet-chirp-tweet-chirps.

Number three, the dew on the chair has made the back of my legs wet and the sweat on my hand sticks me to the paper as I write. It’s humid today.

Number four, it’s humid, I said that already, but seriously, it’s November 2 at 6:45 and there are streaks of salty sweat running from my temple and more between my breasts and I just felt a trickle in the little dip of my lower back.

Because Number five, I did go running this morning, just short intervals for .75 of a mile. I walked for the rest of the way.

Number six: a crow calls in 3’s, “caw, caw, caw”.

Number seven: I hear dripping water, soft, intermittent pats, but I see the pond is still. I don’t think it’s going to rain.

Number eight, caw, caw, caw.

Number nine and it’s not too early to hear the whoosh of traffic half a mile away. Commuters I’ll only join for carpool, not to the office. A vehicle without a muffler accelerates hard.

Ten is the memory that it took a chain of changes to make this morning being outside to listen and write at 6:50 on the new Mondayest day of the week. I’m glad I walked bravely into this light.

Stinson Park in Ortega, Jacksonville, Florida

Stinson Park in Ortega, Jacksonville, Florida

Cake Movie Review

My favorite thing about Cake is that it doesn’t tell the story of an event; it tells the story of the aftermath, the less visible time where real living happens. This is a fascination of mine lately, especially when it comes to story telling, because its more challenging to tell a story without relying on the Thing That Happened. We never see her Accident or How She Got Her Scars. We do find out how…but it’s slowly, over time, after the effects of draining pain and loss have wasted a once beautiful person and turned her into a lacerating, bitter, utterly struggling soul. She’s an unattractive, difficult character who repulses and rejects everyone around her but a housemaid and yet, there’s an irresistible urge to root for her, to will her to discover some self-compassion and a foothold in Feeling Better. Cake is Jennifer Aniston like you’ve never seen her and it’s a great performance. Cake is for movie-goers who don’t want a story teller to do all the work for them, for those who’ve felt lost in the overwhelming tide of pain and grief and wondered how they can find their way back. ‪#‎moviereview‬

This was posted on Facebook as part of my movie review hobby. To follow more like this, click to the home page and scroll down to the bottom social area.

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, "Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods"

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, “Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods”

Wild Movie Review

As soon as the end credits started for Wild, I wanted to turn around and see it again. Yes, I dream of the woods and my own hike…but even one is not a hiker, this is a fantastic screen adaption of the best selling book. Breaking the pattern of, “the book is always better”, this time, it was only slightly more detailed. Cheryl Strayed tells her story of a lost girl who hikes her way found, a burdened Pilgrim trying to make progress on the path back to herself. I agree with the reviews that Reece should get an Oscar nod but let’s please, please, please not forget the director. It’s the flashbacks that are breathlessly, expertly successful: true glimpses of insight that inform yet almost frustrate, not lingering long enough to grab a fist-full of time travel and hold it. These sudden darts of memory act as sewing needle conjoining the layers of story, of mother and daughter, of past and present, to the rhythm of her footfalls on the trail. Those steps are painful: she bleeds, she screams…. and inspiring: she climbs an emotional mountain and fights to overcome her demons. Fair warning: she got lost enough to require a 1000 mile hike back to herself honestly and those scenes are graphic and ugly. There are also a ton of F-bombs. Both elements are true to the grit of the story but will not be appreciated if that isn’t your cuppa. On the other hand, if you can dig bearing witness to the ugly so that you better understand the triumph, this is a stand-out film, worth the price of admission, even more than once. ‪#‎moviereview‬

This was posted on Facebook a part of my movie review hobby. To follow more like this, click to the home page and scroll to the bottom social area.

One of our great century old oaks

One of our great century old oaks

Novel Notes: The End of Act 1

I’ve got a scene by scene plan for all of Act 1 and now I have a decision to make. Should I continue plotting acts 2 and 3 now? Or, is it better to write the draft for all of Act 1 and then plot the remaining acts?

It feels like I’m hiking and just came upon a fork. One way ahead is an immediate uphill climb when I’m already a little winded. The other, a loop back to the beginning with enough mileage to satisfy that I’ve put forward a good effort.

There it is: my answer. Finishing a novel means I’m in this for the long haul- not just the glory of being forever in the process. I can take the easy way out and never finish, or I can keep putting one word in front of the other and working my way forward.

Act 2, here I come.

Photo taken at The Dreamette, a Jacksonville favorite for dipped cones.

Photo taken at The Dreamette, a Jacksonville favorite for dipped cones.

Project Almanac Movie Review

Project Almanac felt like all the moments when I’m standing in my kitchen, trying to make enough food to feed insatiable teenagers, while they whoop and laugh and posture and tell the stories of their time, while they don’t mind that Mom is there too- in fact, they kind of like it- and they’re just happy and smart and beautiful, young and still so free. It’s a fun glimpse into millennial culture; it’s an intelligent sci-fi-in-the-present story that doesn’t take itself too seriously and never sinks down into stupid level humor. There are no special cgi effects, no Hollywood celebrities, not even any recognizable faces. It looks like big kids in almost adult bodies conducting cool science experiments in the basement and remembering that when they win, to make sure they first address the bullies and the pressures on their plates. It’s the smart kids as the heroes. If you have creative teens like mine, part of a lego-culture growing up to make Engineering the Career To Have, Project Almanac will seem like a celebration of their generation, along with enough of the Voyagers, Buck Rodgers, and Ghostwriter flavor to make parents who remember, glad. And it was a perfect option for an afternoon when a certain 14 year old asked, “Hey Mom, wanna go to the movies today?” ‪#‎moviereview‬

This was posted on Facebook as part of my movie review hobby. To follow more like this, click onto the home page and scroll down to the social area in the footer.

Ponte Vedra Beach is a guaranteed peace place, every season of the year.

Ponte Vedra Beach is a guaranteed peace place, every season of the year.