When words save

This essay was originally published on October 2, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

As a literature person, I often feel like the church lady at the door: “Hello, I’m here to tell you about a book that can save your life.” Slam.

But sometimes, someone lets you in, and sometimes, you’re not alone. I was having tea with a fellow book evangelist and LPR’s on-line editor, Debby Kevin, when she mentioned Buck: A Memoir, and thought the author, M. K. Asante, would make a good interview for the Little Patuxent Review

People offer suggestions all the time (they’re church ladies too), and I dutifully do the research, read the books and make the call. This time, I was redeemed at the pulpit. Buck was not my typical reading fodder: It’s the salty story, studded with rap lyrics, of a 14-year-old gone wild who liberates himself at an alternative school in Philadelphia. He becomes a rap poet, a filmmaker, a writer, and the youngest tenured professor in Morgan State University’s history. M. K. Asante was an amazing interview. (The article appeared in the latest issue of LPR, summer 2015.)

So when I was sitting at a party for a friend, David Barrett, next to an acquaintance who worked with him at Howard County’s alternative school, I mentioned Buck.

Anne Reis is the media specialist at the school, Homewood Center; she’s obviously a book person. She read Buck, then started her network going. She wanted Asante to talk to the kids at Homewood School. First, she called on Barrett, who knew Asante’s father, a Temple University professor known as the father of Afrocentricity. No luck. Then she called the agent. Too expensive. Then she passed the book along to the staff, one of whom was Rayna DuBose, a long-term substitute teacher at Homewood. DuBose read the book and started Twitter messaging Asante. He began to answer and then agreed to the tiny sum that Reis had in her budget.

Barrett, who teaches math at Homewood, explained: “When word got out that author and professor M.K. Asante would be coming to Homewood Center to discuss his book and his life; buzz and excitement were considerable among the faculty and staff.  But there was also some skepticism among the students. They had been audience to speakers in the past with whom they did not necessarily connect.  Why would this one be any different?” Just before Asante was scheduled to begin speaking, Barrett was watching for the guest author on the day of his talk, and saw a young man coming up Homewood’s walk. At first, Barrett thought he was a student coming in late, “but there was something about his walk – head held high, a smooth confident stride – that told me I was wrong.”

And that’s what the youthful 33-year-old Asante wanted everyone to know: He was just like their students.

“When he was young, he was just like them,” Reis said he told the gathered students and staff. “But something clicked for him. He explained that he realized that education was going to free him. ‘It’s what they want you not to have — it’s your freedom,’ ” Reis said he told them.

Asante captured them from the moment he began his rap: “Young buck, buck wild, buck shots, buck town, black buck, make buck, slave buck, buck now …”

M.K. Assante captivates students at Homewood Center.

M.K. Assante captivates students at Homewood Center.

“After that, they were putty in his hands,” Barrett recalled. “The 33-year old Morgan State professor proceeded to tell them that he was born in Zimbabwe; had grown up in Philadelphia and gotten caught up in the street culture of that city. He did not see much of his father after his parents divorced and he was not happy about that. Ultimately he was sent to an alternative school (‘just like you’) where he began to turn around his life after an English teacher gave him a blank piece of paper and told him to write. ‘Write about anything you want. But write sincerely and truthfully.’ He had never before been asked or directed in that manner to write. And he felt challenged and responded accordingly.”

Asante Jaelyn

Homewood student Jailyn Davis was eager to talk with M.K. Asante after his presentation.

After his talk, one staff member asked him how teachers could reach a student, sitting slumped in a classroom chair, on his phone, ignoring everything going on in class.

“I was that kid,” Reis remembers Asante saying. “People were talking to me and I was hearing all of it. I just wasn’t ready yet.”

Asante used the analogy of a garden, Reis said. Gardeners can prepare the soil, pull the weeds and water, but then nothing happens. Suddenly the sun hits and it all blooms.

“That was a great thing for staff to hear,” Reis said.

The most amazing thing was the silence during his question and answer period, Reis said. After someone asked a question, Asante paused to think for a moment, and “you could have heard a pin drop — at our school there’s a lot of bad behavior — that doesn’t happen.”

Homewood Center student Dre Fleeks, who had a copy of Buck autographed for him, with the author, M.K. Asante.

Homewood Center student Dre Fleeks, who had a copy of Buck autographed for him, with the author, M.K. Asante.

Reis had introduced Asante and left her copy of his book on the stage. After Asante had finished answering questions, she said, “he was like a magnet.” Students gathered around him for selfies and autographs. Reis saw one boy with Asante’s book, and said, ‘Hey, I didn’t know you had the book.’ She looked closer and saw that it was her book. She pulled him aside and asked: “Do you want to have it signed?”

“He gave me a huge hug,” Reis said. “In a school where kids don’t read, I found a kid — essentially — stealing my book so he could get it signed. It was really touching.”

The ripple effect of literature can’t be measured quantitatively. But from Debby to me to Anne to David, to the staff and students of Homewood, the waves reached out exponentially, to touch lots of readers along the way. Doors were opened for these students, and the church ladies (and gentlemen) actually spread their message. Maybe, just maybe, a few souls were saved.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 11: Social Justice. https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/11-winter-2012/

Teachers Gillian Crevelle and Rayna Dubose, teachers at Homewood, are big Asante fans.

Teachers Gillian Crevelle and Rayna Dubose, teachers at Homewood, are big Asante fans.

A Cool, Dark Make Believe World Under Our Grandmothers’ Tables

This post was originally published on June 11, 2013.

Susan Thorrnton Hobby

Susan Thornton Hobby

Under my great-grandma Coley’s ornate dining room table, I made the first make believe world that I can remember.

The table’s four thick legs splayed out from a center pole and ended in wooden lions’ paws clutching wooden balls. Whenever it rained or it was too hot in the Shenandoah Mountains to play outside her tiny house, I would retreat from the murmur of adult conversation into the dim, dusty world under the lace tablecloth. The swirling Persian rug–cut into the thick, rosy quarters of a pie by the table legs–became a house, with one separate room for my Breyer horses, one for the wooden chess pieces she let me play with, one for the ragged Barbies my brother tortured and another for the Kens. The dolls never cohabitated in my chaste make believe world.

I was practicing, I suppose, play acting out a life that I might make come true one day, with rooms and animals and children and gardens. Make believe allows the players to try things out, to escape from the mundane or the horrible, to build a vision. And not just children engage in make believe. Adults indulge. And writers do it every day.

The new issue of the Little Patuxent Review carries through it the theme of make believe in ways both strange and wonderful. The Wright Brothers drink Manhattans in a bar and marvel at modern life (that’s Bruce Sager’s poem, also his tongue-in-cheek critic’s take on that poem). A man adopts a Houdini of an octopus when he’s not quite ready for human companionship (that’s Ann Philips’ microfiction). A dead mouse’s odor slips between a couple and elicits a tiny, poisonous deception (that’s Jenny Keith’s sly story). And a child, unsure of the meaning of “adultery,” decides it means playing an adult and confesses her many sins to a nonplussed priest (that’s Ann Bracken’s sweet, funny poem).

All those writers and more will read their work at the launch event for the Little Patuxent Review’s summer issue, our tenth issue, on Saturday, June 18, 2 to 4 PM, held in partnership with the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

Readers will also include Derrick Weston Brown, Erin Christian, Caryn Coyle, Barbara Westwood Diehl, David Evans, Susan Thornton Hobby (that’s me), Danuta Kosk-Kosicka, Laurie Kovens, Karen Sagstetter and Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg, plus Tara Hart, reading a poem about pretending, forgetting and remembering. Tara will also reprise her poem “Patronized,” which first appeared in last summer’s Spirituality issue and recently was recently awarded a Pushcart Prize.

It’s hot outside, but it’s cool and dark here under our great-grandmother’s tables, playing make believe. Come join us.

NOTE: If you like’d this republished work, check out LPR’s Issue 10: Make Believe https://littlepatuxentreview.org/sales/individual-issues-2/.

What’s next for audacious editor?

Photo credit: Karen Leigh Studios.

Laura Shovan. Photo credit: Karen Leigh Studios.

When Laura Shovan wrote her editor’s note for the Little Patuxent Review issue on audacity, she ended it with the lines: “This is the real draw of audacity — a fascination with what happens next.”

And we’re all waiting to see what’s next for our audacious editor. Shovan spent years — from 2011 to 2015 — as the editor of the review, years that were crucial to LPR’s development. Shovan helped boost its reputation, its submissions, and its quality into the national sphere. We are slavishly grateful, and excited about her new projects, including promoting her first novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, which was published April 12, 2016, and writing a second novel.

Shovan, who moved to Maryland in the mid-2000s, published a few poems in LPR but was surprised when publisher Mike Clark called her in 2011 to ask if she’d like to edit the journal, she says. She accepted, then jumped in with both feet.

She pulled in guest editors, new staff, and contributors, a new approach to the website. She brainstormed interesting themes, expanded the readings, pioneered a middle school writing camp and answered probably a million emails. And finally, she recruited Steven Leyva to act as editor after she became poetry editor in 2014. Laura Shovan, who spent her last days as an ink-stained wretch with us on the issue published in January 2015.

I met her at Barnes & Noble’s coffee bar, where we had talked many times about books, projects, poetry and our lives.

Susan Thornton Hobby: What changes did you see in your tenure as editor?
Laura Shovan: One of the things was that the previous editor was publishing people from a limited number of states. I thought to grow nationally, we needed to open it up. It was a big step. We still take about 60 to 70% of submissions from the mid-Atlantic region. But we saw two things. First, we went to Submittable [LPR’s on-line submission processor], and we opened it up nationally. When you’re getting submissions nationally, you can be choosier, and the quality is better. The journal pretty quickly started to grow, we were contributing to national anthologies and Poetry Daily. We were just putting ourselves out there. We were, necessarily, before that, in an insular growth period. We just wanted to go from being introverted to being extroverted. The journal was ready for it at that point.

STH: Can you talk about some of your initiatives at the review, the middle school writing festival, the Concerning Craft posts?
LS: I loved the middle school writing festival. And we visited several high schools; Emily Rich did an annual reading at Prince Georges Community College. We really started to have additional readings besides the launch readings. One of the things that sets us apart is that once you’re a contributor, we’re going to support your work. We really liked inviting contributors to do small essays for the on-line site, I really supported the Concerning Craft series.

STH:What did serving as the editor do for you?
LS:It taught me how to put together a book — it’s not a straight narrative, but there still has to be a through-line. We’re not one of those reviews that publishes alphabetically. I love that idea that it should really be like a little book, it should read of a piece. And I really enjoyed the editorial [dimension]. We’re one of the few journals that works by making revisions. I had to learn to be a problem-solver. Because everyone is a volunteer, they’re protective of their time. And so it’s important in solving problems to be logical. I had to downplay any heated emotions. The editor is the one who has to be that way. You need to have the staff feel they are being recognized for their work, that somebody’s looking at the big picture. I sometimes felt like a Mama Bear.

STH:Your blog is full of poetic challenges, to kids and to teachers. Why?
LS: I started blogging in 2008, as part of the children’s lit project. I started with National Poetry Month. And then my birthday is 2/22, and on the year I was turning 44, it was my magic birthday, I wanted to do something. I had vintage postcards as prompts and wrote 44 poems, well more than 44 because I really liked it. Then I opened it up. It grew so big, I can’t have it on my blog anymore. I need a bigger platform. It’s all about having a daily writing practice. When you are sharing virtually as you’re writing, you can’t be connected to the idea of perfectionism. You have good days and bad days. It’s about creating a community around practice. One of my favorite things is that looking at a prompt for a day, some of the work is wildly different or there’s a thread running through people’s work. I feel like people enjoy it. I’m a community-minded person and I like doing things like that.

Book Cover 2[The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary] grows out of my interest in community. When I taught high school — I taught for five years at the beginning of my adult working life — one year I taught Literature of Society and used the Spoon River Anthology. When you’re a reader of that book, you’re putting things together. It’s not a mystery, but you’re connecting clues. It puts a lot of the work of the story on the reader. In my work for the state arts council, I worked in the lower grades. Spoon River is a snapshot of a community at the turn of the century. And in the schools, each classroom is its own little community. The first draft stuck close to the model book. I thought I would tell the story of a classroom, with 30 students each having their own poem. But in the children’s lit world, in critiques, nobody knew what it was. It didn’t work for the readership. I was interested in how children and a teacher in a class form their own community.

STH: What has reading so many other people’s work, as an editor, influenced in your own work?
LS: It made me think about the places people trip up. In beginnings, people write on-ramps — I do that. And with endings, you’re either wrapping it up with a bow, which I look for in my own work. Or there’s often a door in the poem. The author is showing the reader the door, but they’re not walking through it, they didn’t go far enough. They seem like opposite things, but a poem is about striking that balance.

And as editor, I had to be aware of my own preferences. I had to make choices against myself sometimes. When I came in, we added a staff of readers. If they were all liking a poem, it makes me go back and think, what kind of prejudices was I bringing to that work? So I looked at the Best American anthologies. I pushed myself to read more widely so I could be a better editor.

STH: Talk about the “open door” note you write on some poems.
LS: In your own work, you’re not recognizing it. sometimes I can put something away for a while — a few months. Like this children’s book, I’m asking readers to make some leaps. You have to strike a balance in the poem, between the urge to tell everything and the urge to hide everything. The poem is somewhere in the middle.

STH: What are you working on now?
LS: A middle-grade novel about middle-schoolers who are wrestlers, a boy and a girl. Wrestling is at such an interesting period right now. My editor is asking me to stretch and do prose. I’m always up for a stretch.

Online Editor’s Note: Join Laura Shovan on Saturday, April 23, 2016, at The Ivy Bookshop (6-7:30 pm) for a special launch reading of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Stay abreast of other events or follow her award-winning poetry blog at www.laurashovan.com.

  • Kirkus Review says of Shovan’s first novel, “This novel in verse is a remarkable feat of mimicry. The poems sound exactly like they were written by real fifth-graders.”
  • Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “This entertaining debut novel in verse follows the fifth graders at Emerson Elementary as they attempt to save their “run-down” school, which is in danger of closing. In an ethnically diverse class… characters …will inspire readers.”

How To Listen So Writers Will Talk

Susan at the Music issue launch, for which she interview Marie Howe. (Photo: E. Q. Tennant)

Susan at the Music issue launch, for which she interview Marie Howe. (Photo: E. Q. Tennant)

As a child, I rode everywhere on trains – Chicago, New York, even San Francisco, and that’s a darn long time on a train. My father worked for Amtrak; we rode for free. Train tracks run through back yards full of creaky swing sets, shaggy dogs and flapping rainbows of laundry – the back doors of houses, which seem much more intimate than the face the houses prepare for the faces they meet through the front door.

Watching out those windows for hours on end, I noticed there were so many lives, just as full as mine, which seemed like a revelation to me as a child. I was so curious about all of them. I also read obsessively – my mother used to beg: “Please, at least take the book outside” – for trips through other people’s heads.

So it seemed inescapable that I would make my living asking questions and learning about people’s lives.

For fifteen years, I was a newspaper reporter for a chain of local papers, which meant I interviewed everyone from murderers to liquor board applicants, farm queens to real estate developers.

After newspapers began to go downhill, I got my master’s in English and turned to freelance writing and editing. I’ve written articles on and interviews with National Poet Laureate Donald Hall, novelist Alice McDermott, poet Martín Espada, National Book Award winner Lucille Clifton, among others.

They’re my idols – and every time, I’m nervous when I talk to a famous writer. I’ve developed a few things that have helped when I’m trying to ask the questions that all writers want to know.

Breaking the ice, and watching like a hawk

Interviews are conversations, not interrogations.

Sometimes, interviewers get caught up in their questions and showing how smart they are or how prepared they’ve become, and don’t really hear their subjects. From the first few words, an interviewee is telling the interviewer the kind of person they are, and what’s going on in their life. We need to listen.

Sometimes a throwaway line is something you need to seize on, and follow down a path you didn’t know was there. In a question about a completely different poem about cows, Donald Hall mentioned a dream he had about zoo animals, and that turned into a beautiful anecdote about his grandparents and their farm, and another poem, which he recited for me in his amazing, scratchy voice.

I spoke to Hall by phone. He doesn’t travel a whole lot now from the New Hampshire farm that he inherited from his grandparents, but I prefer to do interviews in person. Everything from what’s on their office walls to a gesture that clinches a sentence tells you more than a few more words. Sometimes it’s not possible to be with the person in the room, so having a few technological tools – Skype, a voice recording software and headphones – are essential. But always have pen and paper, to take notes, because technology fails. You can see the ink flowing from your pen, and count on it.

Doing things with your interview subject is a great way to break the ice. I have baled hay with farmers, patted oysters with church supper ladies, helped blow dry the hair of an Alzheimer’s patient. I biked to the site of a child’s grave with his father, on the year anniversary of his six-year-old son’s death from leukemia. The father’s feet looked so large on that tiny grave. That was the hardest interview I had, not because the subject was reluctant, but because of the emotion involved.

If I’m writing a story, I’m structuring the story in my head while I’m interviewing. Sometimes a sentence will leap out, and I know I can use that as an ending, or a beginning, or to lead into another question, and tailor my questions around it. If I’m doing a Q&A that will run just as I’ve asked it, I try to have the questions laid out in a flow, with one topic leading to another. With some writers, I start at the beginning: “When did you begin writing?”

Lucille Clifton told me about her first poem – “it was terrible,” she said, laughing – she wrote to impress the boy that sat next to her in third grade. He was not, she said, impressed. But that question led to a whole conversation about her mother writing poems when Lucille was young, and how Lucille’s mother hid her work, and burned it in the coal stove when Lucille’s father found out her mother was writing.

Preparing for an interview with a writer you adore is difficult. When I was lucky enough to interview Alice McDermott, I was so nervous – she’s such an amazing observer of human nature, I felt like she would be dissecting both me and my questions. But the way I handle that is to over-prepare. I read as much as I can of an author’s work, often writing questions as I’m reading. I read past interviews with the authors, watch readings they’ve done, listen to radio interviews.

Some people who interview authors sound like scholars or critics giving a lecture and asking for feedback from the author. That’s not what I’m aiming for. I want to give readers a portrait of a person, a look into their back windows, not a critique of the author’s work – that’s what critics are for.

And my audience is writers; I always think writers want to know other writers’ magic bullets. How do you write how you write? How do you come up with your ideas? And I tailor the questions, obviously, to the writer’s work — about a particular character, about a story, about their methods of construction.

With writers, I usually ask what they’re reading now, and if there’s anything they wish I’d asked. And because I like to keep the conversations going, I usually end with, “Is there anyone you know that you think would be a good interview?”

That way, I can keep looking into those backyards and asking questions, even if I’m not resting my head on a rattling train window.

You can find Susan’s interview with Michael Chabon from our Doubt issue here, and read more of her interviews by ordering other issues.

Book Review: Tara Hart’s The Colors of Absence

Tara Hart

Tara Hart shows her first chapbook.

If the poetry in Tara Hart’s chapbook The Colors of Absence does nothing else, it should impel parents to reach out for their children, remembering to be grateful for the “maddeningly silken sack,” as Hart calls our babies, who may be grown, who may be young, who may be gone. The book is a journey from the erotic encounter, through the loss of an infant, into the bounding joy of a new family with grief at its core.

Close to the beginning of the collection, the poem “Hearing Sirens” plays with the idea of magnetism, of women’s iron-poor blood drawn to the “good girls’ kryptonite” of some men and their lodestones. But soon after the sex ends, the heartbreak begins.

The poem “Miss Stein Shows a Way” echoes the recurring ebbs and clanging rhythms of Gertrude Stein’s repetitious verse in a waterfall of sorrow that flows to the edges of the page, sketching out the blurred grief of losing a baby.

In the Pushcart Prize winning poem “Patronized,” the protagonist’s voice–both weary and sassy with grief–speaks a sincere reaction to the sentimentalized saint on the prayer card given to a mother. That paper rectangle with its pious picture and all it represents is clearly inadequate to ease her pain. The clever word play and religious imagery contrast and blend to create a poem that both cries out in grief and raises a sarcastic protest to sacred comfort.

That tone of down-to-the-bone sadness living in a world of platitudes continues in the poem “No Such Thing,” which mixes the theory of relativity and paintings of nudes to come up with the idea of moving through misery, just getting ourselves out the door in the morning, preferably with clothes on and upright.

We move with the poet through the brightening of her path, as she gives birth to another baby, a boy, and snarls with a “venom fantastic” at the dangerous drivers paying no heed to the new and precious cargo in the car riding home from the hospital in her poem “Bringing Him Home.”

And the giggles strike when the poet writes “This Girl at Four,” speaking about a daughter, aged four and clad in frog boots, packing a pumpkin flashlight and three strawberry candies for adventure.

The protagonist’s cracks mend, her life teems full with new life, another baby, friends. Ultimately, though, the collection’s last poem is one of gratitude toward the lost baby, for that small life that filled the poet’s own and for the power to say what she means about her loss and gain.

Tara Hart chairs the Howard Community College Division of English and World Languages, where she teaches creative writing and literature. Her poems, including “Patronized,” have been published in Little Patuxent Review. For the full text of “Patronized,” see “Saints Alive, It’s a Pushcart Nomination.”

Shapeshifting Through a Short Story Collection

Edith Pearlman

Edith Pearlman at the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Awards, March 2012 (Photo: David Shankbone)

Depending on the shine of light or the turn of a page, author Edith Pearlman shifts from the point of view of a lost six-year-old girl to an addict of a drug made from a Brazilian beetle. From a fed-up cancer patient to a pair of shop-lifting geezers to a Jewish student of Japanese. She’s a chameleon, but without the need to bask on rocks.

This author, who has been writing and publishing short stories in small literary magazines since college, found fame in her 70s when a new publisher, Lookout Books, was savvy enough to compile 21 of her older stories and 13 new pieces. The resulting book, Binocular Vision: New & Selected Storieshas gone on to win the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, the 2011 PEN/Malamud Award and a spot as a finalist for the National Book Award.

It didn’t hurt that Ann Patchett, bestselling author of the award-winning Bel Canto and last year’s ambitious State of Wonder, raved in the introduction:

Still, I think that Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories should be the book with which Edith Pearlman casts off her secret-handshake status and takes up her rightful position as a national treasure. Put her stories beside those of John Updike and Alice Munro. That’s where they belong.

Here’s a section from the Pearlman short story “Self-Reliance” that will appear in the Audacity issue of Little Patuxent Review launching this Saturday. The main character Cornelia is contemplating ending her life after getting a second cancer diagnosis.

The tomatoes nestled in her striped bowl. For a moment she regretted leaving them, their rough scars, their bulges. Then, eyes wide open, the knowledgeable Cornelia endured a vision: emaciation, murky awakenings, children obediently keeping still. She squinted at a bedside visitor, she sat dejectedly on the commode, she pushed a walker to the corner mailbox and demanded a medal for the accomplishment, she looked at a book upside down. The mantle of responsible dependency…it would not fit. With one eye still open, she winked the other at the tomatoes.

Pearlman’s stories are packed with exacting prose, sly humor and telling gestures.

She researches, revises and imagines from her home in Boston but has traveled the world. When I asked her if being many ages already has aided her fiction, she said:

Yes. It would have helped also to have been many genders, many nationalities; to have belonged to many social classes and even many biological orders. But it was interesting to imagine being impoverished, male, Hungarian; in one story, a butterfly; in another, a devotee of a Brazilian drug made from beetles. Imagination joins experience.

As far as I know, she has never written a story from the point of view of an actual chameleon. But there’s plenty of time left.

Note: Susan’s Edith Pearlman interview runs in the Summer 2012 Audacity issue of Little Patuxent Review. Pearlman will appear on June 27 (sorry, it’s sold out) as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts, which also includes the June 23 LPR launch reading.

Bloggers Gather for Self-Reflection

Drawing Hands

"Drawing Hands," a lithograph by M.C. Escher, first printed January, 1948

This story feels like an Escher drawing of hands drawing themselves: a blog post about a blog party in which writers talked about writing stories.

On August 11, HoCoBlogs hosted a meet-up for writers at the Stanford Grill in Columbia, MD. Of the folks clustered on the patio, some were ex-newspaper types, some were soon-to-be-ex-newspaper types (The Baltimore Sun just announced another round of layoffs and staff cuts) and others were runners, eaters or mathematicians who write about their passions.

Having that many writers in a room meant that the free food–love that key lime pie–went fast and the drinks came faster.

The party gave people who didn’t know they were neighbors a chance to talk about the escaped 3-foot-long monitor lizard in the village and a local businessman who shall remain nameless the opportunity to confess that triathletes are really not his tribe.

Jessie Newburn, co-founder and publisher of HoCoBlogs, stood with her long orange skirt dangerously close to a candle to pump up the crowd and announce the winners of a $100 Macy’s gift certificate: Thomas and Charles Regnante (ages 12 and 14, respectively) for their new teen food blog for Howard County, How2Chow.

Posted on the wall of the patio was a sheaf of papers with a typed question–“Why I Blog”–and answers scrawled in multi-colored Sharpies: “To learn, for fun, to help our community” (Trevor Greene of HoCo Politico) and “Catharsis” (Wendy Loraine of Life’s Little Comedies) and “So I don’t have to wear long pants to work” (David Hobby, my husband and founder of Strobist).

I wrote, “It forces me to write.” And it’s true. There are so many things that take me away from writing: laundry, paying jobs, kids, car pools, yard work, Mad Men, yoga. But in a recently taped edition of The Writing Life, HoCoPoLitSo’s writer-to-writer talk show, guest poet Martín Espada had some advice for writers. “It’s so simple it sounds idiotic. Write. Writers do everything else. We are in a state of perpetual distraction.”

So, it’s simple. Just write. And sometimes party.