How is a Raven like a Writing Desk?

In Which I Answer a Riddle Written in 1865, & Kick My Workaholic Monkey-Mind in the Lady Balls

ravens 1.18 editedLewis Carroll featured this famous riddle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: How is a raven like a writing desk? He admitted later that he didn’t have an answer to the riddle, but I do: me.

Yes, arrogance be damned, I am the answer to a riddle posed 101 years before my birth, as I shall demonstrate forthwith. (One of the great joys of having your blog is the opportunity to use Monty Python-esque words like forthwith.) How? Well, to start with, both ravens and writing desks are crucial to my  happiness.

(Let’s not quibble about the fact that I use a laptop, and thus my desk is technically attached to my body. By “writing desk” I mean the attention given to the act of writing. By ravens, I mean ravens, to which I also devote much attention and homage in the form of hotdogs and other meat products.)

Attention is a significant concept, because as others have observed (most recently in Lady Bird), attention is s a form of love. Or as David Lynch put it, in Catching the Big Fish, “where your attention is, that will be lively.” Point is, we’d all do well to attend to the antics of our minds, because if our thoughts are negative, hateful, or self-defeating we get … lively ugliness.

Which brings me to why I’m thinking about ravens and writing desks today.

I’ve just finished the novel I’ve been working on for seven years or so, and have begun the process of getting it out there. Reasonable folks would agree this is a cause for celebration and rest, but my Workaholic Monkey-Mind is nagging at me to get on to the next big project right this very now. And that makes me sad, but only for a minute, because this ain’t my first rodeo with the WMM.

And, having tangled with it before, I’ve learned a few tricks to muzzle the monkey.

1. Become aware that the nagging or shaming voice in your head is there.

2. Realize that voice was probably planted there by someone or something else: your parents, your culture, etc.. It is not the voice of transcendent truth (of which I’m reasonably sure, because the voices of transcendent truth aren’t nagging jerks).

3. Decide whether that opinion is of any use in this situation. If it is, then listen. If not, tell it to shut up so you can get on with your bliss.

Now, for some people, the negative programming is so strong that merely calling it out isn’t enough. In that case, therapy and/or medication may be in order. No shame in that. But the first step is simply to pay attention. Sometimes we’ve been listening to the monkey for so long, we forget that its there. We confuse it with our selves, or even with truth, and slink off to be miserable.

Fuck that.

Yes, there are times when you need to keep the writing desk (or your equivalent) glued to your lap, attention laser focused, just to get the job done. But those times should be balanced by watching ravens and making a fool of yourself trying to speak their language (or your equivalent). An action that may not make money, advance your career, or even make sense to anybody but you, but which makes you feel ridiculously happy … just because.

As the mad genius Laurie Anderson said in Language is a Virus, “Paradise is exactly like you are right now … only much, much better.”

Review of Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

who_fears_deathWho Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is a complex coming of age, hero’s journey: a blend of science fiction and magic that offers a realistic depiction of a culture at war.

In this future African country, the (white) Nurus believe that they have been given the divine right to enslave or even exterminate the (dark skinned) Okeke for sins they committed in the past. These sins ostensibly revolved around the technological advances made by the Okeke that angered their God, and caused him to sentence the Okeke to live as slaves to the Neru, as dictated by their bible, the Great Book.

Onyesonwu is a young woman conceived during a mass rape performed by Neru men against Okeke women – an act of war in the escalating genocide. As one of the mixed race children, called Ewu, with their sandy skin and freckles, Onyesonwu is considered an abomination, inherently violent and unteachable. Read more »

The Four Dignities of a Warrior-Writer

four dignities of a warrior-writer by Melanie LamagaI’ve been working overtime launching The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories and keeping various other businesses afloat, while writing a new novel, all of which necessitated organizing my files, because my head hurts from all the different hats piled on it, like so many mattresses atop the pea, and I needed a better system.

In the process of imparting order to my computer/brain, I came across this brilliant excerpt from Rob Brezsny’s book PRONOIA IS THE ANTIDOTE FOR PARANOIA.

“In Tibetan Buddhism’s “Four Dignities of the Warrior’s Path,” courage and ferocity are absent. In fact, the qualities regarded as essential for being a warrior have nothing in common with the training regimens of Marines or football players or lobbyists.

The first dignity is often translated in English as meekness, but that word doesn’t convey its full meaning. “Relaxed confidence” is a more precise formulation — a humble feeling of being at home in one’s body. Read more »

Excerpt from the Short Story, “Black Crater, White Snow”

by Melanie Lamaga

from the collection The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories,  now available from Amazon.

Black Crater, White Snow, illustration from The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other StoriesJade

I slide to the barn on a skin of blue ice, sky layered rose and gray. Almost dawn.

The wind, a white knife, cuts through my red down coat. Pinfeathers escape—a flock of tiny geese vanishing into snow. The horses wear coats of icy beads; their breath makes veils of steam. As I pour the grain they blow and nip, bury their noses, grind yellow teeth.

We used to have lots of animals to feed. Sheep, cows, goats, geese. Now only horses. I lean my head on the black mare’s back, breathe musky fur and dream. Leafy things . . . drumming hooves . . . hyacinth-scented wind.

I love the sound of my boots crunching snow. I love our house, oasis of green. I love the trees, hands that point to the sky. The trees and I watch for planes, even though Anna, my mother, says they fly too high to see. When a building or person explodes, they’re already gone. But if nobody sees, how do they know for sure?

I don’t ask. Anna worries too much already about the things she doesn’t know. Read more »

Leah Lamb Tells Medicine Stories

Wouldn’t It Be Great If You Could Rewrite, Reclaim and Recreate the Story of Your Life?

Medicine stories by Leah Lamb

image courtesy of

This is the question posed by storyteller and activist Leah Lamb. She is launching a new old kind of storytelling project this week at

According to the website, “A medicine story is a one-of-a-kind story designed to bring a deeper comprehension and reflection, and offers a shift in consciousness. It’s ingredients are simple: spirit, mythology, archetypes, humor and irreverence.”

Lamb says “We are all running conscious and unconscious stories in our lives. Through intuition I’m tapping into that person’s narrative. From that process I create a story, which the person can use as a tool for seeing where they are.”

She likens the process to reading tarot cards, in the way that archetypes (the cards) selected at random can combine serendipitously to create a glimpse into an individual’s psyche, tapping the collective unconscious to show us ourselves through the mirror of story. Read more »

Excerpt from the Short Story “What Kind Are You?”

by Melanie Lamaga

This excerpt is from the collection The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories, available from in paperback and e-book format.


illustration from The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” -William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

When I remember Dundalk, Maryland, I think of the Fish Pub: splintered wood floor, blacked-out windows, swinging red doors, the only light from beer signs glowing red, white and blue.
I grew up in a row house with a concrete stoop. I wore a white shirt and plaid skirt like every other girl in school. My folks worked at Industrial Steel. Point is, our lives were normal, far as I knew.
My last night in Dundalk started out normal, too. Just me and Ray and the rest of what we called the Fish Club, playing pool. Except Frank was dead by then, so it couldn’t have been normal at all. Funny how your memory tries to smooth the rough edges.
Rewind. Tell the truth.

My last night in Dundalk, everybody was drinking way too much. Frank was dead, Ma had disappeared, and my fiancé was flirting with the bartender. But all of this still seemed random, separate from my real life.

Then all hell broke loose. Read more »

What Writers Can Learn from The Walking Dead

Beyond the Zombies … True Horror

Michonne from The Walking Dead TV series

If the Zombie Apocalypse happens, I want Michonne on my side.

I have a love/hate relationship with zombies as they are portrayed in American culture. They’re crude and redundant: all they do is stagger around looking for something to eat. They never get full or tired, even when their rotting limbs are falling off.

I can’t resist the gory little critters, though. They’re simultaneously hideous, funny and dorky. They are a spot-on metaphor for the brute, inescapable forces of nature, and the mindless, cannibalistic parts of us. You can run but you can’t hide. Read more »

Oh No, My Balls Hit the Floor! (5 Ways to Get Your Writing Project Re-Started)

How to Get Your Writing Project RestartedJuggling the Balls of Desire

This is the writer’s life: we carefully construct plans and schedules; we arrange and sacrifice. Everything from, “If I give up TV, I can write for two hours more each night,” to life-altering decisions like deciding to major in creative writing in college or putting off having children.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been bitten hard by the bedbugs of creative ambition. But no matter how carefully we orchestrate things, keeping those carefully chosen balls in the air, sooner or later life will throw an extra ball or two at us: health problems, unexpected expenses, moving …

Even happy changes like a promotion, marriage, or the publication of one of our books can temporarily knock us off balance. Next thing you know, your balls are on the floor, and there you stand, embarrassed and wondering if you have the guts to pick them up again. Read more »

Review of the Spiritwalker Trilogy, by Kate Elliot

My Fun Summer Read

Cold Fire, Cold Magic, Kate Elliot, a review of Spiritwalker trilogyI’ve read the first two books in the Spiritwalker Trilogy, Cold Magic and Cold Fire, and plan to soon gobble down the final installment that came out this summer, Cold Steel. I’m writing this brief review now because the Metaphysical Circus is packing it up for a few weeks and I wanted to leave you with something to feast your readerly eyes on while I’m gone.

The Spiritwalker novels are not the kind usually covered by the Metaphysical Circus; they don’t walk the line between realism and the fantastic; they are pure epic fantasy. But it’s summer and I’ve been working way too hard, so it’s been the perfect time for me to escape into another world. But even my escapist reading has to be high quality to keep me engaged and these novels are inventive and well crafted and feature strong female characters.

Read more »

Review of Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow

If You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong…

Little Brother, a review of the novel by Cory DoctorowMarcus Yallow is a 17-year old geek genius living in a near-future San Francisco where kids are monitored constantly by cyber-security on their school-issued laptops, radio frequency ID chips in their library books, and gait recognition software in the halls.

Marcus delights in getting around the system with harmless hacks aimed eluding scrutiny so that he can use his laptop to chat with friends, monitor the site of his favorite game, and skip out during the boring parts of school.

All of that changes after a terrorist attack destroys the Bay Bridge. In the ensuing panic, Marcus and his best friends Darryl, Vanessa and Jolu seek shelter in an underground BART station, and Darryl gets stabbed in the crush.

Seeking help, Marcus flags down an unmarked military vehicle. Instead of getting help, the four friends are hooded, cuffed and stuck in a trailer. Marcus suspects that the terrorists have kidnapped them but when the interview starts he learns it’s the Department of Homeland Security. Read more »