Saturday, June 24, 2023

Drama--prompt for June 2023



I longed to be an actress,

convert my gift of pretense

to a paying job.

I learned my lines, auditioned

for the student plays,

dismayed to see I never

got a call-back.

My drama teacher, tall and burly,

with a voice suited to Iago or

Macbeth, was in hot water.

His lechery, the orgies in this Berkeley hilltop home,

had trickled down into the classroom, like muddy water

runs in rivulets in the rainy season.

He’d asked us to his orgies, of course

he had. Most of us said “no.” One guy

went and came back chastened and appalled.

The Dean had called a meeting with the professor

and us students. Would my teacher keep his job?

Enter me, aspiring actress, attracted to role as his defender.

I dressed the part of earnest student--

exchanged my clingy dress for jeans and work shirt,

pulled my long blonde curls into braids.

Then I lied: “I’ve never seen the professor

be inappropriate. He’s the best teacher

I’ve ever had.”

Perhaps I thought he’d thank me

by making me the lead in his next show.

I didn’t get a call back.

Connection to Recovery:  This incident combines my attraction to drama with people pleasing. The professor was also an authority figure.  It never occurred to me not to stand up for him, even though I knew he was a narcissist and sexually inappropriate with his students. 


1. Write about anyone you regret not standing up to and what you would have said after recovery.

2. Write about any incident where you were attracted to drama in an unhealthy way.

3. Write about where you manipulated a person or situation in order to get what you wanted and had it backfire.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

for November 27

 A family with a secret often has more than one.  Gladys was a secret I was not forced to keep, but my grandfather had a girlfriend named Francis later in his life that I kept secret from my grandmother. I met Francis in his hospital room after he had a tragic car accident in which he struck and killed a child.  That brought on an attack of emphysema.

 I was summoned home from college because the doctors thought he was dying.  When I got to his room with my mother, there was Francis (my mother’s age) sitting on the side of his bed.  When he died a few years later, my mother gave me the job of calling Francis. 

The Manicure

A young Korean man bends over me.

A shock of black hair hides his face.

He takes my hand in his.

I am embarrassed by the age 

spots sprouting on my skin.

He clips my nails, oblivious. 

To him, I’m just a client.

Then I recall my grandfather, 

a lean, laconic farmer, gasping

through ravaged lungs in the hospital,

attended by the woman he had decided,

fearing death, he wanted me to meet.

Her name was Francis.

Francis from the feed mill.

She was my mother’s age.

Here, seemingly in secret 

from my grandmother,

Francis held his hands in hers

and gently clipped his nails 

as if seated at the feet of Christ.

This gesture, more shocking

than a kiss or exposed flesh,

silenced small talk.

The silence grew, divisive,

deadly, deft.

Connection to Recovery:

AA has a slogan: “You are as sick as your secrets.” This is true of both the secrets about myself and the secrets I have kept for other people. I’m not sure how I justified keeping this secret for my grandfather, but I’m sure he knew neither I nor my mother would tell my grandmother. There was a cost in keeping this secret.  I did not allow either of us to be our true selves.



 1.Write about any secret that you have kept for someone else,

particularly if you were conflicted and wanted to tell the truth.

 2.Write about any situation in which you learned a secret that changed the way you felt about someone you looked up to.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Prompt for October 23

 Adult Children are often “black and white” thinkers. I cheat myself if I treat my childhood as all misery.  There were happy times, times when my parents could be totally present and delight in each other and in me. Writing about them helps balance our grief. I resist the slogan, “they did the best they could,” but I can view my childhood more gently if I accept that this may be true. I went through old photo albums and copied photographs that show happy times at the beach, or family picnics. I can see my parents delighting in me. I can revisit a time of happiness and wholeness. 

I’ve kept my mother’s wallet for forty years.  It’s stuffed with her credit cards, grocery coupons, old photos.  Every once in a while, I take it out and touch my feelings. 


What’s Inside 


my mother’s wallet, worn red leather. I’ve moved it 

from drawer  to drawer these forty years

 since she’s been dead, as if one day she’d show up at my door 


headed for the grocery, needing the coupons tucked inside, 

as if she’d need my brother’s photo 

in his goofy glasses, back when he had hair, 


as if she craved a whiff of leather smell, before plastic 

took its place. She’d gauge its bright red heft, back when 

twenty bucks could see one through a week.


 I’ve bought and tossed ten wallets in these forty years,

 photos of my kids replaced by licenses, credit cards,

 twenty bucks now grown to hundreds. 


Still, someday I may need what’s in this wallet,

 someday I may open it, shake it inside out,

 hoping for a coupon for a double bonus life. 


 Connection to Recovery:  Objects like my mother’s wallet can link me to the past and remind me of my connection with those I loved. By writing about day-to-day events, such as shopping, I can capture some of the peaceful moments of childhood and remind myself to avoid black-and-white thinking today.


1.Find an object that a loved one owned and write about it.

   Metaphorically “open up” the object and see what it reveals

 about that relationship. Write about what it meant then and 

what it means to you today (even if you don’t have it).   

2. Write about something concrete that you can use as a

 metaphor for someone you have lost, as I do with the coupons above. 


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Prompt for October 9

 In the land of Victimhood

If I’d only had

a better dad

one more like Mr. Rogers with his neat brown cardigan, his tennis shoes, his calm measured voice, and the puppets living in an unreal neighborhood.

 a better car

 a Mercedes or a Cadillac--not our beat up woody station wagon that smelled like the calves we hauled back when they trotted off to the neighbors yard.

a pony

a better pony than the one I had--that snapped at you, knocked you off the saddle, and dragged you down the lane.

the ability to add

instead of having to rely on my fingers. Scrabble would have been a snap if I could have predicted the score before I laid down my tiles.

a bit of Proust 

so I could hold my own at dinner parties talking with erudition about Madelines, their triggers of the memories I long suppressed.

a dancing partner

 a man who would take me in his arms, gaze at me the way Barack looked at Michelle at his inauguration ball.

a steady eye

to hit the ball--the tennis ball, the softball, ping-pong, even the croquet ball, all those balls that slipped away when I clenched my eyes instead of honing in on their direction. 

But it seemed I had no choice--

I was destined to wear hand-me-downs

suck at sports

get a dad who broke the furniture, eyes wild as Hannibal Lecter’s.

I would never read enough to get ahead at dinner party conversations,

destined for a man who wouldn’t dance, play Scrabble, or watch the TV shows I love.

I wish I’d had a choice.

Connection to Recovery:

In the ACA program, one of our traits says: “We live life from the viewpoint of victims.” I always thought a victim was a complainer, someone who blamed everyone else for their problems.  Then I found the ACA definition: “a victim is someone who believes they have no choices.” Then I started thinking about all the decisions I had made believing I had no choice. Recognizing that I may not have had a choice over people, places and things in childhood, but I do have a choice today gives me freedom. I don’t have to live in the land of victimhood.


1.Write about all the people or situations who you had no choice over as a child. See if you have choices over some of those same things today.

2.Write about anything you feel you have no choice about today. Then list all of the choices that are available, even if they are far-fetched, fantastic, or seem unavailable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

August Prompt

 Prompt August 2022

If we had known better, we would have done better.  This is a profoundly relieving thought.  Thinking about my childhood, I realize I created survival tools that turned into my laundry list traits.  Using a format below helps me explore these experiences.

What I Knew. What I Didn’t Know.

I knew I shouldn’t do it –

carve my initials in the wooden

headboard of my bed.  SCB. 

That must be what I wrote.

I didn’t know I was marking

it as mine, a place that should feel safe.  

Why this claiming, naming?

I knew that after dinner

at my grandma’s house

we would play Scrabble,

a game of luck and wit, 

my brother taking so much time 

we’d end up shrieking:

“just make a word!”

I didn’t know words

would be my livelihood,

didn’t know the game

was practicing for life,

taking turns, rules,

waiting, the strive to win.

I knew my chocolate pudding

always burned. I knew to wait

for bubbles, lower heat, stir,

keep it moving slowly, stir,

but I could never wait, the

heat too high, my appetite

too great. The bottom always

stuck, crusted to the pan.

I didn’t know I’d outgrow

chocolate pudding, mature to

mousse, profiteroles or chocolate-

covered macaroons. 

I didn’t know

I’d not outgrow impatience, would

never let things take their time, 

or learn the value of small bursts

of steam, before I’d start to boil.

Connection to Recovery:

This poem reveals a number of my laundry list traits. The image of scratching my name in my bed connects to wanting safety. The Scrabble game connects to a fierce desire to win. And finally, the chocolate pudding connects to impatience and a sense of urgency that has propelled much of my life. I can see the seeds even in my childhood.


1. Play with the format of “what I knew/what I didn’t know.”  Make a list and see what themes unite the items on your list.

2. Or begin with a few laundry list traits and connect them to childhood experiences, even ones that may seem trivial, such as making chocolate pudding.

July Prompt


The following poem is written in my father’s voice about one of my mother’s projects to shame him into stopping drinking.

Future Entrepreneurs of America

She’s at it again – saving me from myself.

The army she’s enlisted are my kids.

She’s offered them a prize to prove a point.

A nickel for each bottle they can ferret out

and bring her, the best ones half full—

so she can have the fun of pouring

spirits down the kitchen drain.

They choose to think this doesn’t hurt,

that I’m beyond humiliation – or else

I’d surely stop.

I hope they never get to be

a nickle’s toss from hell.

1. Choose any painful memory from childhood and do a free-write from the point of view of another person in the story.  

2. Experiment with dialogue.  Turn your story into a poem where the two spouses each give their point of view.

3. Imagine that person had an emotional “bottom.” Write about the bottom with the compassion you would extend if that were your bottom. 

Connection to Recovery: By writing in my father’s voice, I allow him to voice his fears, which creates empathy. In the poem, he is aware that he can’t stop drinking.  This reminds me that his alcoholism was not a moral failing, as we believed at the time.  It reminds me that alcoholism is a disease.

Friday, June 10, 2022

June Prompt--Note We meet Sunday June 12 and Friday June 17. No session Sunday June 26

 I first started drinking in bars in Manhattan when I was 18, imagining the bars would lead to those dreamed-of cocktail parties. That didn’t happen. 

Against the Odds

Sunday mornings were devoted to The New York Times.

On Saturdays at midnight, I’d buy mine at the corner 

of 64th and Lex, with change scrounged from my purse,

tuck it on the front hall table to read through Sunday noon.

The drinking age was eighteen, a bar on every corner.

Stingers were my drink of choice, a minty hit

of crème de menthe and brandy, as good as Crest, 

without the need to spit.

First, The Lexington Café. 

Then on to Carlow’s, J. G. Melon’s.

The East End Grill.

Then Barnaby’s.

I was a horseman’s daughter, knew not to bet against

the odds. But at O’Flanagan’s, a maybe cute guy

one stool over said, I’ll bet I can get you into bed by midnight.

The stingers took him on.

Midnight. I left him passed out on his Murphy bed

in Brooklyn, crept down four flights, 

scrounging for the change to take a cab. 


1. Write about any incident you are ashamed of, particularly if it involved one of your addictions (alcohol, people, food, shopping, praise, TV, etc.).

2. Write about any time you put on a mask of being worldly or sophisticated and how that worked out.

3. Bring some compassion into the piece for the person you were then, a person before the tools of recovery.