The Unsinkable Priscilla Long

If you have been my student or talked about writing with me, then you probably already know that Priscilla Long, author of The Writer’s Portable Mentor and other books, has been my friend for 30 years.

We met while I was studying for my MFA in poetry at the University of Washington and Priscilla, for her fiction MFA. Or, she was supposed to be studying fiction. After taking a workshop with Colleen McElroy, we decided to exchange poetry manuscripts, and we began meeting for dinner almost every week to rework and deepen our poems.

At our table at the old College Inn in the university district, I confessed to Priscilla my very un-feminist craving for a baby and she told me, “For heaven’s sake! If you want a baby, have a baby! Don’t blame feminism!”

When my twins were a year old and I stalled on my Ph.D. dissertation, Priscilla saved me. “Send me seven pages! They can be terrible! Even with two babies you can write seven terrible pages!” She coaxed that dissertation out of me, never rewriting a single sentence, always telling me, “Of course you can do it!”

So, for those reasons and many others, I am very pleased to direct you to this bio, newly posted at History Link, the free on-line encyclopedia of Washington state history.

Procrastination Kills

OK, so no one was killed.

For years I’ve been opening my wallet and thinking,

“Why do I carry all these credit cards? Wouldn’t it be a hassle if anything ever happened to this wallet?”

Ever since I began my habit of walking trails — usually combined with going to the library or a coffee shop and writing for an hour or two — I’ve been leaving my bookbag in my car, but thinking,

“I really need to stop leaving my bookbag in my car.”

This small inner prompting was usually greeted with a small inner shrug. “Soon,” I told myself. (Usually I hid it, sort of.)

Soon, I told myself, I would winnow through my cards and perhaps even follow advice and make photo copies of the 2 or 3 I decided to continue to carry. Soon I would come up with a backpack or start dropping my bag at home before I walked. Soon, I would take seriously this persistent inner voice.

In fact I had stopped using my purse, most of the time. I kept my driver’s licence and debit card in my phone wallet, and carried that with me on my walks.

Then, last week, I had my purse and my bookbag with me as I ran errands. I wasn’t going to walk, then I found out that my hubby was supposed to report to Urgent Care for a problem he was having. He wasn’t home, but called me and said he could meet me at home in 30 minutes. I would drive him. That gave me time to stop at a local park and take a 20-minute walk.

My bookbag and purse would be fine for 20 minutes. There were people around. It was broad daylight. No problem!



I came back to find my passenger door window smashed and my bookbag — and the small purse tucked inside it — gone. The police were called. One of my credit cards sent me a fraud alert (within minutes). Three other cards were successfully used — all within about 1/2 hour. I’m not liable for charges on stolen cards, or so I’m told, but it still felt awful. I felt like an idiot. And I had hours and hours of work ahead of me getting cards canceled, my checking account closed and reopened, and my Euros for my upcoming trip replaced. (I didn’t just feel like an idiot; I was an idiot.)

I lost all the writing time I thought I would have in the week before my trip.

I have had to remind myself that 1) I wasn’t personally harmed and my family is okay (even my husband, whose problem was resolved); 2) I am lucky to have resources and abilities to handle a setback like this; plus, 3) I am pretty good at learning from the bad stuff and this event proved an especially great teacher.

This also made me remember something that happened in (or to) my writing life many years ago. My daughters were young, I had my first full-time teaching job, and I told a writing friend that I would write…later. I may have said that maybe I wouldn’t ever get back to writing. In any case, I gave the clear impression that despite an MFA in poetry and all my huge writing goals, which my friend knew all about, I was going to put off writing.

She wrote me a letter — old school, sat down and wrote it in long-hand and mailed it to me (of course, that happened more often back then, but we did have email). She said something like this:

No one cares if you write. The world is not going to come and pound on your door and insist that you write. No one will miss it if you don’t write. They won’t even know. Meanwhile, life will unfold. You’ll get older. You’ll get farther and farther from your writing dreams. Eventually you’ll say to your grandchildren, “I used to write.” But your grandchildren won’t especially care either. It makes no difference whether you write or not. EXCEPT TO YOU. A place inside YOU will dry up and never be expressed if you don’t write. YOU will miss it. YOU will care. The only way to keep your writing alive, to keep this important part of yourself alive, is to write.

I probably have this letter somewhere. I should have framed it. I took it seriously (even though it was like that small, inner voice that I so often don’t heed). And I kept writing. Often, I didn’t have much time; I had little kids for a lot of years; I had a teaching career; I had teenagers and a mother who was ill. Nonetheless, I made a little time every day and I wrote. Some days the little bit of time turned into enough time.

And it has mattered. It has mattered to me. Writing has sustained me and saved me and even made things like parenting and teaching richer and more enjoyable. I am glad that I kept writing.

So this is what I want to say to you today. Is your small inner voice nagging you to do something? (To write?) Take 5 or 10 or 15 minutes right now (no one will miss you for 5 minutes), and do it. (Writing, or whatever it is.)

If you don’t, if you procrastinate (i.e., if you never do it), no one will be killed (probably). But I guarantee you’ll be glad that you took the time.

Who’s in Your Circle?

Sometime late last fall, one of my daughters had a work crisis. It wasn’t the run-of-the-mill, ordinary crap that happens at work–it was huge and it threatened to crush her spirit.

If you have met my kids, then you know that they do not like taking advice from their mom. Usually, if I think it’s a good idea, they run skipping and laughing in the other direction. This time, however, my kiddo came to me and said, “What would you do?”

This is what I said.

Pay very very close attention to this. You are being taught something that you have to learn if you’re going to stick in this career. Learn all you can from this. Go in every day determined to learn all that you can.

Don’t defend yourself. Stay open.

Stop calling it a crisis, stop calling it horrible. Call it a challenge. Call it an opportunity.

Know that I absolutely believe in you. Know that I absolutely believe in your ability to grow from this.

The really cool thing? She did.

At the beginning of this episode, she was removed from her classroom assignment and told by the principal that maybe she shouldn’t be a teacher. One week in, the principal admitted, “We threw you into the deep end of the pool.” By the end of her half-year contract, the principal wrote a glowing recommendation letter.

This past week I have been a dark place. My husband is better, he’s reading books and doing crossword puzzles again, and he’s even made it back to the gym. He’s doing chores around the house. He’s cheerful! Meanwhile, I’m angry and defensive. I’ve felt all alone and embattled. I’ve given over precious writing time to watching television. I’ve raged and wept.

And I’ve reached out to friends, and I’ve shown up at Writing Lab. I’ve reread The Circle and reread Parker Palmer’s chapters on his circles of friends. I’ve read poetry. I’ve taken long walks in nature. I’ve called on God. I’ve thrown myself on God’s mercy. I’ve remembered my advice to my daughter last fall:

Stop calling it a crisis — learn all you can — keep your heart open — this is the way forward.

Someday, honey, you’re going to look back on this and see that it was where something wonderful began.



I have been walking through my Writing The Circle series with a small group of followers, and sharing a bit about a personal crisis that I’m dealing with at present–my husband is ill, diagnosed thus far with depression and anxiety–which has taken me and my family completely by surprise. It’s taken over a lot of the space I thought was going to be devoted in 2019 to my writing, and I have my moments of bitter resentment. I also have moments of great patience, kindness, and fortitude–and I hope that it is these moments that will prevail.

One of my readers from the small group challenged me to share on the blog at least some of what I’ve been dealing with. Her thinking (I think) was that the newsletters get lost in email-land pretty quickly, but the blogposts create a more permanent and retrievable record.

And…I sit with my fingers on the keyboard for a long while, considering whether or not I should…

Somehow–I’m just not ready. Not today.

I imagine the health crisis at my house has affected me at least a little like the great snowstorm of 2019 has affected all of us–this snowstorm that Cliff Mass says we’ll be telling our grandchildren about. We believe that we have control of our lives, and then life itself catches us by surprise, knocks us down, and dares us to get up again.

But I remember how I began this series, in Prompt #1–life does happen, terrible things happen. The only actual control we ever have is of our own response.

One response I’ve made, thus far, is to dig out my copy of Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. As much as anything else, this is a book about Palmer’s debilitating depression and how he came back from it. I found it on a shelf with books about teaching; I had forgotten it was about depression–well, entirely apt!

Here’s just one of the passages that, in previous readings, I’ve underlined and highlighted and annotated:

I pay a steep price when I live a divided life–feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood. The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness. How can I affirm another’s identity when I deny my own? How can I trust another’s integrity when I defy my own? A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open–divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within–things around me get shaky and start to fall apart. (5)

And here’s a passage I copied into my journal this morning:

“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know,” says Mary Oliver, “that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” But we live in a culture that discourages us from paying attention to the soul or the true self–and when we fail to pay attention, we end up living soulless lives.” (34-35)

I once heard the poet Chana Bloch say, in regards to her brush with cancer, “I am going to survive this, and I am going to write about it.”

That’s what I’m going to do, too.