Visit with me here to commiserate and to celebrate the writing life. Or you can find me over at Heckled by Parrots where life is for the birds… and the dog.

Permission to Make Art –Badly

sycamorecanopyHeaderWhen I was in graduate school, writing my thesis, (which ultimately became a memoir, LIFT) I found myself stuck. I don’t just mean that I was having a few bad weeks, stuck. I mean I seriously didn’t know what to write anymore or if I even should write any more.

I had a meticulous outline of the book. It was based on my first season flying a peregrine falcon, which I had thoroughly journaled online and in private. So I had plenty of material. I knew I wanted to write a story about falconry that drew the sort of parallels that A River Runs Through It drew from fly fishing. So I knew what the message was. I was halfway through the book and I suddenly just didn’t have the words anymore.

I had written three books before this, a romance novel and two reference books. So I knew I could finish a book. I knew how to start, follow an outline, work my way through the middle, and write the ending. I understood how books were written.  Until I didn’t.

In desperation, I finally met with my thesis advisor and tried to explain my predicament. I started the conversation by trying to logic my way around my problem. I swore I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I suggested I was just being lazy.

My thesis advisor, Chris Abani sat in front of me, a half smile on face, nodding, but saying nothing. He simply gestured for me to continue.

I wondered if I should drink less tequila …or maybe more.  I thought maybe I should sit in front of my computer and quit flying my falcon until I finally started writing. Any writing would be better than no writing. How hard was it just to write something?  Anything?

Now Chris looked sympathetic and clasped his hands like a priest taking confession, but he still said nothing. He just waited.

I finally cracked. “I can’t do this”, I sobbed. “I just don’t have the words. I don’t know what the words are… Where did the words go?!”

Chris smiled, shook his head and finally began speaking. Grabbing a notebook, he ripped out a sheet of paper and scribbled on it like it was prescription. “I want you to go see, Juan Felipe,” he said. “Juan Felipe will fix you right up.”

I took the piece of paper, but just stared at him. Juan Felipe Herrera was the poetry professor. My thesis advisor was prescribing… poetry??

I’m a horrible poet. The last poem I remember writing went something like this:
Once I had a kitten
He was small as a mitten
I couldn’t think of a name
So I called him cat.

Cat in the hat, my mother called him
Pain in the neck my father called him
He begged for milk
He begged for food
So my brother called him no good…

Okay, I wrote that in third grade, but you get the idea. This was not going to help me, but Chris shooed me out of the office before I could argue and I stood perplexed with Juan Felipe’s name in my hand. (Which I have no idea why I needed, because I knew Juan Felipe and he was just done the hall…)

Dutifully, though, I spoke with Juan Felipe who listened to me very closely, as if some single word in my story might reveal the solution to this quandary. Then he suddenly raised his hands as if the answer was obvious. “Bring me 12 photos of hunting with your falcon,” he said. “They can be on the way to hunt, in the field, on the way back, whatever. Just bring me twelve.”

I was still dubious, but I spent a week looking through photos and trying to choose the right ones. I didn’t know what Juan Felipe was going to make me do with them, but I’d be saddled with my choices. So I considered carefully. And as I did I thought about the day each of them was taken. There were good days, bad days, surprising days, and few funny ones. It was harder to choose than I thought.

When I brought selection of photos to Juan Felipe, he sifted through them quickly, as if they were from a tarot deck and he was picking the appropriate cards, sorting out six.

“Write a poem about each of these,” he said.

I started to protest, but one of the photos caught my eye. It was familiar the candy-colored sunrise over the clouded desert on a drive out to hawk at dawn. I found myself wondering what the right word for that color was. It reminded me of cherry 7-Up. Except that wasn’t quite right either.

So I took back my photos and wrote my poems. They weren’t great, but at least there was no rhyming of mittens and kittens. And after I wrote them, my mind unlocked. I never did come up with quite the right word for the sunrise, but there isn’t one. What I did was come back to my memoir with a fervor and passion for tiny details. And the details led me back into the story.

And Juan Felipe, by the way, well, he became the United States Poet Laureate in 2015, ten years later.

Poetry did so well for me that I took a couple classes. I didn’t get much better. Then I took undergraduate photography so I could learn to use the darkroom. I was okay. I also took screenwriting. I was phenomenally bad.

All of these things, however, brought me back to my own art fresh and at a different angle. Poetry, as horrible at it as I am, saved my thesis.

Adam Grant, in his new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, says that a study by 15 researchers at Michigan State University compared every Nobel Prize scientist with the typical scientists of their era to search for delineating differences. What they found was that both groups obtained deep expertise in their fields, but the Nobel Prize winners were dramatically more likely to be involved in the arts than their counterparts. There were painters, sculptors, glass-blowers, fiction writers, amateur actors, and musicians. Another study showed similar results for entrepreneurs and CEOs. And you know what? I bet a lot of them were doing art badly, just like me.

And it makes me wonder why any of us set aside hobbies that make us curious. Why is everyone waiting to set up their woodshop and start tinkering until after they retire? Why can’t we take a stab at sculpting until we have more time and money? Why, don’t we make bad art when it could make us better at the thing we are best at doing?

While I know that pursuing new avenues of art is also a wonderful form of procrastination, (YAY! PROCRASTINATION!)  I also know that every time I try to edit this novel I’m wrapping up, my gut knots up. The words aren’t right and the right ones are there. So perhaps my new found fondness for coloring anything I can find with watercolor pencils might save it. Maybe I’ll even figure out that word for the particular color of my desert sunrise.

I believe in drawing lopsided birds, writing bad songs, destroying perfectly good recipes, and crafting falconry hoods that are useless because they don’t fit.

I believe in making bad art. Maybe we all should.



I am so very grateful for those of you who have been reading along faithfully and helping me with this journey to put into words the things that lift us, crash us, and galvanize us. Many of you have written to share your own journey and have thanked me, which means so much to me. But you probably don’t realize how incredibly impactful you have been ME.

So I made you a little something.

Perhaps doing some out-of-the-box art would be good for you too! Maybe coloring some birds?

I’ve put together three sets of five gray-scale coloring pages of my avian photographs:  Lyrical, Playful, and Fierce. I carefully curated them based on what I thought would create the best shading for coloring and meticulously worked with the black & white channels in Photoshop to get the best output.

This is what my first attempt at coloring one of photographs looked like:

2016-02-19 08.11.06

You can find the pages here on Etsy, where each set is $.99 OR just send me a quick email and I’ll send you the PDFs for free.

Print. Color. Relax. Imagine…  I only ask that you share any of your favorite creations so I can enjoy them and get some inspiration from you as well!!

—If you want printed packets, then you’ll have to wait just a bit. I’m still experimenting to find the best and most economical paper, which will work across a variety of art mediums. (I’ve been using watercolor pencils, but the sky is the limit…)  But these are coming too.

In the meantime, go make bad art!!  Who knows? Maybe it might turn out to be amazing art or even better, give you a fresh take on your own professional or artist discipline. What could it hurt?

The Hawk You Need

DreadDragonHeaderLast year, not too much earlier in the year than now, I was miserable. It’s a long story, but it’s one that’s often told—it involves love-gone-to-lies followed by a long extrication. It’s pretty standard, really.

The important thing is that I wanted to be happy. So I asked myself when exactly when was the last time that was brilliantly happy— a time that it shone through every memory. The answer was this: My first year as an apprentice falconer.

So I decided that to save myself, I would go back to my beginnings, that 20 years later I would trap a young red-tailed hawk and remember what it was like to be completely in the moment. The problem was that I picked the worst possible year to do this.

California was deep in a drought and even the red-tailed hawks, our most numerous raptors, were barely making it. When I was a kid all you had to do was throw down a trap pretty much anywhere in the open and you would have a willing participant. Last year, it took ten days before I even spotted a young red-tailed hawk.

I trapped the first passage red-tail I saw and immediately fretted about how subdued and willing it was. Hawks tame fast… like within a couple of days fast, but they are generally concerned about their change of venue for at least a minute. This hawk seemed far too happy to be in my hands.

I named him Needle, because he was a tiny little sword of a hawk.  I fed him what he would eat, treated him for every disease we had treatments for and watched him fail because that wasn’t enough. I consulted with veterinarians. I did everything I could. But I didn’t trap him soon enough to save him and he died a week later.

I sat on my porch steps staring at a quarter moon, the hawk that was supposed my new beginning wrapped in a favorite t-shirt and dead in my arms. And I cried. Not for Needle, exactly. He had a good ending compared to the possibilities of the wild, but mainly I cried because despite my humanity and my resources, I couldn’t save him. If I couldn’t save a hawk, then how could I save myself?

It was then in the middle of tears that I heard a voice as clear as bell, so loud that it made me jump. The voice said calmly and not without compassion, “Grieve tomorrow. Then after that, go trapping. You’ll have a hawk within an hour. It won’t be the hawk you want, but it will be the hawk you need.”

I’m a writer. I hear voices in my head all time. It’s annoying, but not unusual. However, there have only been a couple of times in my life when I heard such an unexpected and clarion voice. I suppose it could have been the falconry gods. Who the hell knows? It also could have just been my subconscious burbling up with a shout in an effort to save me. I just knew that I had no choice but to listen.

So two days later, as instructed, I drove back out with my trap and in forty minutes I spotted Dread. He was on my trap and in my hands ten minutes later. He too was a little hawk. His tail feathers were broken and his primary feathers ragged. And he had the worst attitude of any young red-tailed hawk I’ve ever met. I was slightly terrified of him the minute he came off the trap. But I knew he wasn’t hawk I wanted, just the hawk I needed.

Our first season was brilliant in its way. I’ve never had a bird before that was so untrusting, but so willing to see my value. He was a drought hawk and had no faith in anything but a meal. I created easy meals and therefore he tolerated me. He trained fast, but not any with real trust.  I was a means to survival, but in no way a friend.

So that season I learned how to face my fears. I mean… he scared me. And I learned how to accept that loss was inevitable, because he was never bound to me. And I learned that unwrapping a six-foot pissed-off gopher snake from a determined drought hawk was no small task. –Because I had to do it twice at the end of the season. Thanks, Dread. I’m over the snake thing now…

And this year, he taught me more. He came out of the moult, which is a summer vacation with all the food he could eat, a different bird. He had less food issues, more fondness for me, but the same badass attitude. And I learned that there is greater success in a hard-earned relationship than in one where you get everything up front.

But it wasn’t always rainbows and I made mistakes with him, mistakes he forgave. So I learned that even though I am unfortunately not perfect, there is always the potential for forgiveness and forward motion.

And learned to return this lesson when Dread killed Elsa, my Cooper’s hawk.

I had raised Elsa from a fuzzy awkward baby and she was much a harder project than Dread. I watched her learn to fly and hunt in my yard. I watched all 400 grams of her terrorize my 30 pound dogs. I shaped her into a huntress and she was entirely my responsibility.

Elsa woke me up in every morning at dawn, demanding the servitude I had promised. She was a constant puzzle that dominated my spare thoughts and my weekends. She was beautiful and fierce and a reflection of everything I poured into her.

Then one day in January, a year after I trapped Dread, I stared at the weathering yard where my two hawks were perched and wondered if Dread could somehow pull his perch out of the ground, drag the weight of it around the barrier between them and kill her.

I’m a supreme over-thinker. So, I dismissed this, because after 20 years of being a falconer (half of that as professional bird trainer hovering over yards full of hawks that might do damage to one another) I’d never seen anything like that happen.

Then later that day, I heard a songbird make an alarm call that put me on edge. So I jumped up to look out my kitchen window and I saw it happen. I saw exactly what I had imagined. And it happened too fast for me to stop it.

I pulled Dread off of Elsa and brought her inside. I wrapped her in a favorite t-shirt and then stood shaking in my laundry room, uncertain what to do. I stood there for a long while, but heard no voices.

Then I took a deep breath, gently set her down and grabbed some food to feed Dread.

I knew I was standing right at the ledge of despair and I knew that there wasn’t much time before I plummeted over. But I also knew that the fall was mine and mine alone.

Dread was a hawk.  He didn’t know. He wasn’t the hawk I wanted. He was the hawk I needed.

After I buried Elsa and cried for a few days, I thought about releasing Dread and ending my season. I thought about quitting falconry all together. I thought about what it is that we need.

And this is what I realized…we don’t really know what we need.

And I don’t think you ever get the hawk you want.

I wanted a gigantic female red-tailed hawk, sweet and malleable, a bird that would make me look like a kickass falconer who no one could disrespect. I wanted a white-picket fence and pristine house on a sprawling piece of property. I wanted a book that was a runaway best seller. I wanted… everything.

Thing is though, I don’t think we ever get the hawk we want.

What difference does the hawk make, really? What difference does it make when all that’s really worth a damn is what you find and what keep from what you’re given?  I don’t know whose voice that was in my head and I don’t know what it really meant. I just know that any hawk would have been the hawk I needed. All I had to do was embrace every moment, even the hardest most cruel moments and make them count.

That my friends, will always be the hawk I need.





The State We Are In

Path HeaderThere is a conversation I have with myself often. Mostly I have it to encourage myself to focus and try harder. There is nothing wrong with dangling a carrot in front of the cart and moving along the horse, right?

So I tell myself that someday, when I have a big book contract I will truly be happy. Okay, maybe a medium book contract. When I can make enough money to just support myself on the things I want to write I’ll be happy. Or if I had a really amazing hawk that made every hunt a joy, that would make me supremely happy. Well, maybe a hawk wouldn’t really make everything better, but if I could find the perfect guy, a partner who could help me navigate this mess of a life, then I would totally happy. I should try harder, because if I just had this one thing I would be happy.

Except that no one thing can make you happier than you are now.

Yes, all of these things could add to my life and I would be lucky to have any one of them. I would be a fool not to accept these gifts graciously and be grateful. The one thing they won’t do, however, is make me happy.

Here is where I argue with myself. Okay, Rebecca, I hear you, but what if you won $3.6 million in the lottery. You’d be deliriously happy then, right? Yachts! Private islands! Crowned eagles! Sexy ranch hands!

Fine. I would be blissed out for a while. I’d buy. I’d have. I’d give. I’d fix. I would believe that amazing things actually do happen.

And then eventually, I’d get used to all the money. Alone in front of my desk, once again staring at a blank page, I’d be exactly who I was before I won the lottery. If I wasn’t happy and fulfilled before I won, I wouldn’t be then either.

I’ll concede to this one thing, though. According to a study that was done by Princeton, money can, in fact, buy you happiness — but only up to $75,000 a year. After that you’re on your own. While that level of income would definitely take a lot of stress off of my finances and help me sleep better at night, that amount of money wouldn’t mean a whole lot in the event of the sort of disaster that money cannot fix.

Unless of course, $75,000 could bring your dog back from the dead. But I’ve read Stephen King and I feel fairly confident that this sort of financial expenditure never goes well for anyone.

Maybe I’ve read too much philosophy, but much of it points to this same conclusion. In addition to the great philosopher Stephen King, there are others that warn that there is no quick fix to happiness. The Bhagavad Gita is rather explicit about the dangers of working for the reward. And the Tao Te Ching promises fulfillment only if you can embrace the fluid state of no-self.

So, if you can’t bring back the dead, and there is no self, and there are no real rewards, then there is only process and growth. There is only this moment and the happiness you are forging NOW. There is only the state we are in.

In other words, you have to find your own state of fulfillment and happiness before the reward, because rewards are meaningless. They are nothing more than street signs on a path. How meaningful is a street sign if you do nothing more than stand beneath it? Keep walking until the only thing that matters is the rhythm of your feet connecting to the earth, the quality of light illuminating your face, and the small beautiful things directly on your path. Keep walking until your realize you are happy. At least this is what I keep telling myself.

Who knows, maybe the next time I make a left turn on my own path, there will be a literary agent with great connections standing with a hawk on his glove and a winning lottery ticket in the other. I just hope he’s already content, because I’m not going to make him happy either. All the same, he would be a fool not walk alongside me, at least for a little while.

A Good Traveler

No Guarantee How This is Going to End


I’m imagining that I’m going to spin you an enthralling story. It’s going to start with a hook that will convince you keep reading and then transition to a tale that reminds you of something that has happened to you as well.

I’m imagining I’ll say something that will make you laugh. Then I’ll craft this one perfect sentence that will make you pause, think, and rethink something important to you. And after all this brilliant craftwork, I’ll wrap this piece up with a satisfying and profound ending that you will find yourself reading three times. Then sighing with pleasure, you will forward the letter to a friend.

I tell myself little fairy tales like this every time I start a journey. It might be a book, a new hawk, or a romance, but I’m always imagining the ending — the gorgeous glorious ending where all the pitfalls and perils have been obliterated. And as they fade away, credits role across a scene depicting permanent perfection.

Then I shove the daydreams out of my mind. The perfect ending is the enemy. There is no guarantee how this is going to end. It might be disappointing. It might even end in disaster. The only thing you can count on is the journey.

Over the last 22 years, if anything has taught me this, it’s falconry. You have to love the ride. When I pulled Elsa from the nest last June, raised her, and then much as her parents would have done, set her free to explore the world that was born to her, I knew not to count on the ending. Every day she adventured through my neighborhood in the much wilder world at tree level, I knew she was at risk. Everything wild is at risk. Science says that at least 80% of young raptors don’t survive their first foray into the tree line.

Instead, I focused on the process. Every day was gift. Every survived terror was a triumph. I focused on our extensive daily routine, on building a relationship, on shaping behaviors, and on all the utterly foreign language I was learning. I became fluent in Cooper’s hawk and grateful for the joy of foreign love.

But, falconry is cruel mistress and eventually, I did slip. When we were solid partners, ensconced in our comfortable Klingon marriage, I started imagining the future and forgetting the moment. I started thinking the only thing important was the future. Next year was going to be so much better. When our credits rolled it was going to be epic.

And that was when Elsa was killed.

In my experience, there is nothing in my life that cannot be compared to falconry. There is nothing in my life that couldn’t be exponentially better if I treated it with the focus, resolve, and mindfulness that I normally give to falconry. Losing Elsa was every book I’ve written that ever failed me at the end. Losing Elsa was every relationship where I didn’t focus on the joy of the moment and crashed at the end. I had started to dismiss the journey for the ending and now I’m left with small regrets.

However, I also had, in all honesty, one of the most amazing falconry seasons I’ve ever had. I can’t wait for June, to fly Elsa’s sister from another clutch, to do this again, even if the ending tears my heart out. Because the journey is all that you ever get to hold on to. The ending is just a new beginning.


A Birthday Bonus

GambelsQuailHeaderI’m forty-five today and I haven’t the faintest idea how that happened. I still get excited when I’m carded and it turns out that I AM actually old enough to buy a bottle of tequila. I still look about furtively, assuring myself that no parents, grandparents, or REAL adults are going to notice that I’m eating chocolate cake and pizza for breakfast. And I still believe that anything is possible, even the things that have alluded me for the last 27 years I’ve been an adult.
There are aspects of turning forty-five that aren’t easy. It’s not the smile lines or the crow’s feet that bother me. I earned those. It’s not that I can no longer climb a chain link fence or stay up all night then work in the morning. I never really wanted to do either of those things. What’s hard is having no choice but to admit, that I must, absolutely MUST, make the most of this second half of my life. Who knew? It turns out that we are blessed enough to continue on the journey, we all become middle-aged at some point.

And there is so much still to come. I now know that whatever it is I THINK I know, isn’t quite right. There is no shortage of things to learn and re-think. There is no shortage of reasons to try again, try harder, and try to do differently. There is no too late, until it’s over. And it ain’t over yet, baby!
So thank you for reading these letters and giving me a reason to write them. Writing these letters inspires me to write more, fly more, and live more. And interacting with all of you makes me feel like I have a massive extended family– a whole lot of people who are worth sharing my heart and heartbreaks with weekly. That is not something I would have imagined back in the days when I couldn’t imagine being 45.

So in honor of one more trip around the sun and a falconry season full of unfiltered adventure, I want to share this list of the things that falconry has taught me from my eBook RISE. May we all have a year filled with these simple pleasures.

The Life Lessons of Falconry
1.Life is simple, as simple as a glorious sunrise and a good hunt.
2.Honesty is the foundation of every great relationship.
3.Trust is delicate and requires constant care.
4.The living creatures we love the most do not “belong” to us.
5.The best meals are fought for and toasted.
6.Grace, style and precision are a combination often dismissed as luck. If you work hard, you will always be “lucky.”
7.Magic comes in moments of desperation. So don’t give up.
8.Anything is possible. So keep your eyes open.
9.Sometimes life requires having a little faith in something that is too high above you to see.
10.The things you discover while looking into the skies are worth the occasional stumbling. So keep looking up.

(And if you really want a treat, listen to Xe Sands, who is an amazing narrator, read these and a very short story about the amazing heart of a falconry dog.)

And if you haven’t read the essays and stories in RISE, it’s available on Amazon for free here.
Happy Ground Hog’s Day!


Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe in the bar on the left!


On Endings and Things Unfinished

cattleegretHeaderEverything ends. I know this and yet, sometimes it’s so hard to walk away from things I know are over but haven’t given me a satisfactory ending.

This is life. I cling to things lost. I hope to fix the unfixable.  I try to explain the unexplainable to myself.  I want an ending that makes sense.

I hear my friends do the same and I feel their pain. Everyone deserves a finite and understandable end so that we can grieve and move on.

This sounds like a discussion about relationships. And it kind of is, but mostly what I want to talk about is bad relationships with art.

I feel the pain of unresolved endings most especially for my artist friends and their unfinished projects. I hear so often… “I have this other novel, painting, quilt, carving, this project I can’t wait to work on, but I have this THING I’M DOING THAT I HAVE TO FINISH first.”

Why is it that we feel beholden to everything we start as an artist just because we were in love at the beginning? Look, it’s no different than any relationship. No one benefits from a partner staying after it’s over.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she talks about ideas as if they were living beings of energy floating about the universe, bumping against us, and looking for the right partner. I love the thought of this. It’s as if art is actually the prototype for online dating.

Imagine this: You are looking for THE ONE. And you find an online profile that intrigues you. The two of you have this spark, this one thing in common. You banter in the ether and then you try to make something work in real life. It looks extraordinary for a while. It looks like this is your future and everything you’ve ever wanted.

Then it doesn’t.

Because, sometimes that initial spark isn’t enough.

Maybe it’s not working. Maybe the idea fell out of love with you and checked out. Maybe the idea is a fantastic one, but not really in your wheelhouse. It’s possible that someone else could rock that idea’s world and that’s what this idea deserves. Maybe once you had the idea solidly in your grasp you stopped being interested in it. You want to love it. You want it to work. But for whatever reason, it isn’t working anymore.

It’s over, man. Let it go. Pack your bags. Leave.

I think there is no place for this kind of love affair in art. You only have to look in my drawer of abandoned manuscripts to affirm my belief that art has finite endings. I have 14 published books, but also have 6 manuscripts from the last 20 years which have been abandoned half- and even three-quarters of the way through.

Every project is a love affair, you just have to find the strength to love it as best you can while it’s working and have the honesty to admit when it’s over.

Over is okay. It isn’t a waste. You were lucky to love while you loved. You learned. You lived. And whatever is next will benefit from what you accomplished, even if it was never finished. Because seriously…  I’m certain my family takes great comfort in the fact that I haven’t married most of the guys I’ve dated.

Life is too short to write novels you don’t love, to keep adjusting paintings that won’t match your imaginings, or to keep trying to love anything that doesn’t love you back.

What are working on now? What should you be working on? Is the love mutual? That’s all I’m asking you, and for that matter, myself.



Our Symphony of Grief


I grew up in Southern California with a swimming pool in my backyard and an hour from the beach. When I was a kid, I was certain that everything you needed to learn about the world could be taken from the water.

So as a teenager and a woman in my early twenties, I took every opportunity I could to make it to the beach. I had body-surfed the Pacific for years and the ultimate surfing was at The Wedge. Twenty years ago, this place was word-of-mouth among surfers. Today, according to the Internet, it’s well known. There is a rock jetty at The Wedge that makes for singular waves–but they are also notoriously unpredictable.

Most days when I arrived at The Wedge, I watched an ambulance drive away a surfer. As I tugged on my winter wetsuit, I would shake my head. That was never going to be me, but I could see what had happened to “them”. Not me. Them. The best and most thrilling waves were in this place and I was a strong and fearless swimmer.

I have a crystalline memory of the day The Wedge schooled me about life. The waves were maybe six feet and predictably formed. I slipped into the curls, convinced that I was one with the heart’s blood of the world.

Then the waves shifted.

With no warning, I was swimming into a twelve-foot wave, torn between diving or trying to ride it. I went with it and found myself tossed on the crest, staring below. There was nothing but a shallow sweep of water across sand and I was about to meet it.

I hit the floor and didn’t know how to swim up. For the first time in my life, I didn’t know sky from salt water. And when the wave caught up with me, I rolled, sand abrading my cheeks and I begged to get to a place where I could breathe. Spun and disoriented, I imagined my goodbyes and then somehow fought my way accidentally to the surface.

I stumbled through the surf, back to my towel, and then stared unbelieving at the ocean. I stripped off my winter wetsuit next to my Pontiac Sunbird, drove away, and never body-surfed again.

The Wedge had betrayed me.

But looking back now I know that’s not quite right. The Wedge was inevitable. She is the ocean. The Wedge taught me everything I needed to know about grief.

I lost Elsa, my Cooper’s hawk on Wednesday. She was killed after eight months of a hard won relationship. I know that falconry is cruel, because nature is cruel. If you choose to be a falconer, you choose to eschew the laws of civilized life. I chose to be at the whim of destruction. I chose to have to face my grief.

But none of us want to face our grief. It is the ocean of life.

At first I did what we all do. I attended to the busy work of death. I found a favorite t-shirt and wrapped her small body carefully inside. I removed empty perches and bath pans and crates, not wanting to face a blank expanse in unexpected moments. I made phone calls and texted and kept talking so I could convince everyone else that I was just fine.

I pretended like there wasn’t a 12-foot wave coming, because one wants to grieve. But when the phone calls were over and there was nothing left to do, I folded into myself and couldn’t come uncurled.

Elsa was a blow, but that wasn’t why I didn’t want to face my grief. I’ve come to learn that grief is cumulative. Our life’s losses are a symphony that we conduct, every performance more rich and beautiful when we have to pick up the baton.

I own this requiem. It is the grandparents who raised me. It is my first dog. It’s my dear friend Andy. It is Morris, Needle, Bentley, Elsa, friends who have moved and broken relationships. Every little loss is in the swell of 100 instruments.

Grief is the thing that we fear the most. We want so badly to bury our grief with our dead, but our losses are as loud as the life in our blood. Our dead never stop talking. You can choose to ignore their voices, but then you have to shut out the living as well.

And if you ask me, this is far too much to lose. My symphony is not an easy listen, but god damn it’s beautiful.

I promised myself when I started these letters that I would be vulnerable and honest about failure. I told myself that I would be honest about when I got knocked down. I’m knocked down. Not because of a hawk, but because she was mine, a metaphor and a story that is over now.  But I’m going to get back up because all stories end.

My loss is small compared to some, if not most. But we all grieve the same and in this, our losses make us equal.

And how can we stand strong for those we love if we cannot believe that what we feel is what others feel? We are all of us travelling on the waves of our cumulative grief.

So I guess what I want to say is that even if I haven’t heard it, even if you don’t want to share, your symphony is a masterpiece. Loss is for the living and it is born on unpredictable waves. We are all of us surfing The Wedge. The ocean is cruel, but it’s beautiful music. Embrace the waves.


The Art of Sitting in Cactus

ThrasherHeaderI fell in love with thrashers and cactus wrens while I was hunting with my hawks in Kingman, Arizona last week. They are beautiful birds, but that wasn’t why I fell in love. I was smitten by the enviable way they nestled into the cholla, navigating the pervasive thorns and making what I thought of as inevitable pain look like a cozy home. Desert birds are bad ass.

Living as an artist is like being a desert bird in a cholla, I think. It looks dangerous from the outside, but it’s all about experience and what you know. Everyone is afraid to embrace being an artist or of being an entrepreneur because the cholla looks so daunting. Really though, life is nothing but cactus. You just have to figure out how to manage it.

I’m not saying that being an artist for a living is easy.

The year has barely started and it’s already being irascible. This happens in an artist’s life. It’s what practical people with steady jobs and inflexible responsibilities most fear. The bonus I was promised from a part time writing job didn’t happen, leaving me scrabbling for how to pay the mortgage (which quite frankly is already in a very precarious position). The slew of press releases I killed myself to write over the holidays for a client at the last minute were received with silence and then an admonition that they had done major rewrites in house. The work calendar looks bleak and I would love to buy a cord of wood, get my brakes done, and take the dogs to the vet for their checkups and overdue shots. I’m just going to have to push this all aside and wait for a better week.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I’m telling you this, because it is the sort of thing artists never speak about. We don’t talk about money, because we are so very lucky to manage to live on our art. Still, my life is nothing short of navigating cholla.

So here’s the thing. I do live on my art. I AM in an admirable place.  I make it work. Every month I find a way and every month things work out somehow. I have freelanced full time for four years now. I have food, a house that is mine, time to fly my hawks, space to write what I want, flexibility, and a vast expanse of possibilities for what is next.

Here’s what I don’t have. I don’t have security. I could be financially or emotionally devastated at the world’s whim. I don’t have all the things I want. I can’t buy everything that would be helpful to have when I want it. I have to find workarounds for life’s challenges. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
And you know what? Even if you happen to have a secure corporate job, are a trust fund baby, have a steady retirement fund, or have just been fastidious about your finances and your family’s future – I’m pretty sure that you are in the same boat.

So what’s stopping you from living the life you want?

I’ll tell you what’s stopping you. It’s called resistance and it’s a very real and very tenacious enemy. Resistance is the spines on the cholla.

How do I know? I face resistance every single morning. Every day I get up and don’t want to face a blank page, don’t want to face another empty-handed falconry hunt, and don’t want to have my writing rejected by agents and editors yet one more time. I want to stay in bed where it’s warm and binge watch bad sci-fi on Netflix and when five o’clock rolls around and the day seems wasted, I want to ease my anxiety with tequila and a long phone call with a friend.

Some days, this is exactly what I do. Most days though, I do what makes this life possible. I do my work.

Steven Pressfield in The War of Art says, “There’s a secret that real writers know that wanna be writers don’t and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is resistance.”

If you haven’t read The War of Art … well, you must. It will help you face whatever it is that really want to do and haven’t. It’s simple, really. You tell resistance to go fuck itself as often as you can and do the work. Pressfield will kick your ass and remind you to find the discipline to do the best you can or shut the hell up and stay in your corporate cubicle.

I am not opposed to cubicles. I yearn for one sometimes.  I’m just assuming that you are reading this because a cubicle isn’t what you want. And if it’s not what you want, I’m telling you right now, you don’t have to trust in leaps of faith and luck of the draw. You only have to believe you can do the work and then make yourself do it.

I’ve published 14 books. I’m not sure how. Most days the hardest thing I do is just to start typing. And some days I don’t even manage to start. But I always try again.  Despite anxiety and heartbreak and unexpected personal tragedies, I try again. And I bet that YOU are already doing that too. So what’s stopping you from the rest of it?

So whatever your resistance: lack of faith, an admirable sense of responsibility, sex, drugs, rock and roll, or falconry, it’s no excuse not to try. We’re all doing the best we can and just showing up is what turns the world. Showing up and doing just a little adds up to a lot in the end.

For the record, after three hard days of days of hawking, my red-tailed hawk Dread caught a rabbit in a stand of cholla the last day I was in Kingman. In my haste and inexperience, I ended up with a rear full of the beastly bits of that evil plant. Fortunately, I had girlfriends willing to pull them out of the embarrassing places I couldn’t see. And you have friends like that too.

So do your work, Dear Readers. Do your work.

Will I go back to Kingman to hunt again? Hell yes. Screw you resistance. I now know what the cactus wrens and thrashers know. You just have to understand how to navigate the cholla — and if you misjudge your path, the spines don’t hurt that bad – but it’s best not to sit in it.



An Unresolved Year

BWI#6HeaderIt’s the week of the New Year New You!  We get to start over like we’re brand new!


Except that I’m starting to strongly suspect that becoming brand new is a lie. In fact, I think it is quite possibly a pervasive delusion brought to us courtesy of infomercials and pharmaceutical ads. Unless it’s true that you can just pop a few fat burning pills, turn over some real estate with the $200 in your savings and then you end up holding hands with your soulmate while lounging luxuriously in adjacent bathtubs.

Yeah, well, probably not.

Mainly, I believe there are no fresh starts because I’ve yet find myself in a place in life that truly equates to a clean slate. I don’t think it’s impossible, though. I suppose if you wake up with amnesia and no one will claim you, then you do in fact, get a fresh start. Poof! All your mistakes are gone. Maybe you’ll forget you can’t resist cupcakes, that you procrastinate, and that you get your feelings hurt over silly things. And on some days I really do think that sounds like absolute bliss.

Then just before I decide who I might talk into smacking me on the head with a shovel to achieve this bliss, I remember the whole picture of what I would lose. In between all those imperfections were the moments that actually made me believe in the magic and the point of this life.

I would lose the bobcat that strolled by me in the chaparral, dismissing me with a quick flick of his ears as if I belonged.

I would forget turning to see my hawk gliding to my glove suspended across a low-hung full moon.

I’d be short a night’s worth of laughter around a campfire and early hour whispering about possibilities and hopes in a tiny tent.

I would forever lose an eerie midnight drive across the Mojave, the darkness on a two-lane desert highway barely penetrated by headlights and the sky punctuated by the ghostly defection of stray stars.

If I want to keep all that, then I have to admit that I don’t get to start clean. I’m going to have to take 2015 with me. I can’t pretend like we never had a torrid affair and scrub it from my life.

I’m starting to think that I’ve been doing it wrong, this whole New Year’s resolution thing. I’m wondering why I’m expected to treat every year as if it betrayed me and try to start over. And even if 2015 did betray me, why should I end my relationship with it so callously?

It tried to be a good year. Hell, 2015 did the best it could with what it had to work with. Sometimes it crafted miraculous moments out of what seemed like insurmountable odds. Occasionally it let me down so spectacularly that I wondered if it actually hated me. Most of the time though, it was just there, innocuous and ticking along with me. Damn. Now that I think about it, 2015 actually sounds downright human.

So why do I need to miraculously become a better person at midnight so that 2016 will love me more?

I DO want to be a better person and I want 2016 to be better than its predecessor. But I believe that kind of “better” is a million mile march down a path that constantly forks. I could be skinny, more focused, and just generally a nicer person, but that isn’t going to happen on a brick road leading straight to Oz and paved with golden New Year’s resolutions. It’s going to happen on that tricksy road full of choices and I don’t think I should be asking anything more of myself than to pause and try to choose the fork that doesn’t tempt me with cupcakes. And then when I chose it anyway, I just need to get back on the right path and try again.

So thank you, 2015. I loved you in my way. There is no reason to despise you so I can pretend like this is a clean slate and you never existed. You be exactly what you were and I’ll try to remember you as fondly as can. And I will be exactly who I was in 2015, that girl who keeps trying, only… just maybe with a few less cupcakes.



Filling the Big Empty

BWI#5HeaderLast year, on December 21st, I stood in my backyard staring at my empty weathering yard.
A weathering yard, for those not familiar with falconry is a safe and enclosed area where you put your hawk or falcon during the day. They sun, bathe, relax, and think whatever strange thoughts flit through a raptor’s mind. And at my house, you can stand at the kitchen window, stare into the yard at the contented hawks and try to imagine how to daydream like a creature with wings. It is my favorite reverie.

Except that my yard had been empty for a good long while, long enough that my young Brittany had decide to dig a detonated mine field’s worth of holes in it. The yard was a disaster.

In the spring, my favorite hunting partner of ten years, a peregrine named Anakin had been accidentally released while he was on loan to a breeding project. He was so fat that he had no desire to seek out humans for food. He had no telemetry on and therefore there was no way to track him. He had no reason to do anything but convert to being a wild raptor. I’m sure he is still out there now, living the second half of his life feral and fierce. It’s a happy thought. But I wished I could see it. I missed him. I still do.

The haunted disaster of a weathering yard was only half of my emptiness though. I was still trying to get back on my feet from a serious six month relationship that had ended late summer. It was over when another woman was kind enough to inform me that I was actually the second girlfriend (well, maybe even a third of fourth girlfriend). My boyfriend and I had been planning on moving in together. I had been in love with his two boys. I had been friends with his ex-wife. And none of it had been real.

(I know. I know. Me and relationships. You’re just going to have to give me points for persistently continuing to play the lottery. I might win someday, but not if I don’t play. It’s only a dollar a ticket, after all…)

This relationship had been over for months, but the ex wouldn’t stop texting me and trying to get me back. And the other girlfriend wouldn’t stop texting to make sure I knew he wanted her back too. So I kept remembering what I had lost. I kept looking at my empty yard.

I had been trying to fill myself back up for four months with zero luck. I got work done when I could and then spent the rest of my time curled up on the couch trying not to hurt. It all seemed pointless. Birds fly away. People lie. Where do you even start again?

Looking at the yard that morning, I still didn’t know, but the sun felt good on my back and so I rifled through the garage and my found my shovel. I thought I would try to fill just one of the dog-dug holes. Just one hole and then I could go back inside and curl up on the couch again.

The first hole wasn’t hard to fill. So I filled another. Then another. And two hours later, there were no holes left. I had smoothed out the yard and it was ready to be seeded for grass.

So I went to Home Depot and got Bermuda grass seed. Since I was there already, I picked up some hardware cloth and rebar. And since I had done that, I ran into Walmart and bought a spool of monofilament fishing line. Then when the seed was spread across the yard, I sat upright on the couch and started to make a trap for a hawk.

I read how to make a bal chatri trap when I was just a kid, but I had never made one before. It’s an old falconry standard for catching first-year hawks, which are young enough to be amenable about forging a relationship with people. However, a BC is not something you can just buy at the store. Mostly, you have to borrow one from a friend or make your own.

A BC is constructed from hardware cloth with an inner chamber to safely tuck the bait, usually some wary rodent, and then an outer layer that is covered with slip knots made of monofilament. It is weighted so that a hawk cannot carry it away and balanced so that you can toss it from a car window. If you make it right it, it works like this: hawk see mouse, hawk tries to grab mouse, which turns out to be inaccessible, hawk catches feet in the slip knots, falconer has new hawk.

There is no standard design. There is no right way to build one. You just have to commit and make your own trap.

Hardware cloth is an unforgiving medium. It takes determination to bend it into shape. It requires forethought to imagine its final shape and a willingness to adjust your expectations and then rethink your plan when it refuses to shape into your imaginings. And no matter how close you nip the edges of your creation with wire cutters, what remains will find a way to tear at your skin. You will bleed.

When you get past the challenge of metal, then next you meet nylon. The monofilament is hard on your fingers. Your skin dries and cracks while you carefully tie dozens of slip knots. Your fingers ache and burn. It is all rather tedious and punishing work.

In the end though, making a trap to catch a hawk is a long meditation on hope. It is an exercise in desire.

So in the last hour of the shortest day of the year, I found myself exhausted and a bit bloodied, but staring at an unexpected day’s long effort that left me with only one last step, to find a hawk, win its trust and fill the yard again.

Now a year later there are two hawks in the yard, dozens of grand adventures, hundreds of stories, and twelve very very full months. I’m never curled on the couch unless I’m exhausted from running beneath the shadow of a hawk and across the chaparral. I’m full up.

My mom loves the story and reminds me of it often when I forget that it’s the first little step that get us to the most amazing things. That’s all we really have to do. You don’t need a direction or a plan to fix your world. You just need to pick up the shovel and start.

When I’m frustrated or feeling broken, she says to me with annoyingly appropriate frequency, “Okay, but all you really gotta do is go fill ONE hole.”