May Palm-Sized Prompt

This month’s Palm-Sized Prompt was on the topic of things you’ll never do/never do again, and people who are no longer in your life.  I thought about writing about wanderlust or adventure, but when I sat down to write, I found what is generally true to still be so: we write about our obsessions.  We put on the page the things that have been occupying our minds.  This time, as I have before, I wrote about my grandfather and my struggle to understand what Lewy Body dementia is doing to him.


Read my response, “Things I Will and Won’t Do”, on the Palm-Sized Prompts website.

Lewy Body dementia, or dementia with Lewy Bodies, has gained more awareness in the past year and a half since Robin Williams’ death, but it is still an illness with which many are less familiar.  Sharing symptoms with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, DLB may actually make up about 10 per cent of all cases of dementia, but it tends to be mistaken for other conditions.

Lewy bodies are tiny deposits of protein in nerve cells.  Although researchers don’t know why they appear in the brain or how they contribute to dementia, the presence of Lewy bodies is linked to low levels of important chemical messengers and a loss of connections between nerve cells.  Death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue occurs over time.  Along with DLB, Lewy bodies are the underlying cause of other progressive diseases affecting the brain and nervous system, such as Parkinson’s.

Symptoms partly depend on where the Lewy bodies are located, with those at the base of the brain linked to problems with movement, and those in the outer layers of the brain linked to cognitive symptoms.  However these issues can occur together; about one third of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s eventually develop dementia, and two thirds of people with DLB develop movement problems at some point.

Initial symptoms are usually subtle, but usually a person will have some symptoms of Alzheimer’s and some of Parkinson’s.  Problems with attention and alertness are common, but it varies widely over the course of a day, hour, or even a few minutes.  Difficulties with judging distances, perceiving objects in three dimensions, and planning and organizing are among other symptoms.  Some people experience depression.  Day-to-day memory is also affected, but not as much in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Visual hallucinations occur in most people with DLB, and less commonly auditory ones.  Motor symptoms can lead to falls.  Sleep disorders are also a common symptom; the person may fall asleep easily during the day, but have restless nights; they may exhibit violent movements as they try to act out nightmares.

As a progressive disease, symptoms become worse and more numerous with time, generally over several years.  Day-to-day memory and other mental abilities begin to more closely resemble those of middle- or later-stage Alzheimer’s disease.  People can also develop challenging behaviors, like agitation, restlessness, or shouting out.  Worsening movement problems affect walking and make falls more common.  In the later stages, many people have problems with speech and swallowing.  Rate of progression varies, but on average a person might live for about eight years after the first symptoms, similar to Alzheimer’s.

You can find more information on the Alzheimer’s Society website:


The Waking: A Poem by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

As promised, this post contains a poem from two-time Northern Writers’ Award winner, and my first creative writing professor, Carolyn Jess-CookeYou can also read the draft opening of my novel-in-progress on her blog!  (Just follow this link)

Carolyn Jess-Cooke was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and received a BA, MA (Creative Writing), and a PhD in Shakespeare on film from The Queen’s University of Belfast by the age of 25.  Since leaving her post at Northumbria University, she has worked full time as a writer.  Her first collection of poems, Inroads, was published in 2010, followed by her first novel, The Guardian Angel’s Journal (2011), and then her second, The Boy Who Could See Demons (2012).  (I’ve blogged about her novels here and here)  She’s also known for various public art commissions, including a poem set into a 700m steel floorscape at the Roseberry Park health facility in Middlesbrough.  Her second poetry collection, BOOM!, is due to be published by Seren next June.

In response to CJC’s Inroads, Helena Nelson of Ambit magazine said:  “Here is a first collection that does all the things a good debut (though I loathe that word) should do.  It explores a fabulous range of tone and form.  It flexes its muscles.  It creates an uneasy shiver on one page, has you chortling with delight on another.”  Part of the last stanza of “Accent”, the opening poem in Inroads, resonates for me especially, living so far from home, in a place where the way I speak starts so many conversations:

“There’s an address, a postcard in the tone,
the foreign rhythm
and that emphasis, that accent on the off-beat
which echoes longing clearly; the picked-up place-music speaks
where you ache to be, with whom.”

(Read the full poem and others by CJC here)

I expect a similar depth and breadth from BOOM!.  The title poem of the collection combines an amusing comparison of a baby to a hand grenade with a subtle appreciation for how a new infant can suddenly dismantle, reassemble, smooth, and add so much to its parents’ lives.  It’s funny, lovely, and probably the most accurate thing I’ve ever read about a new child in 19 lines.

(Read “Boom!” here)

The poem I have to share today, also to be included in BOOM!, feels more delicate in comparison.  For me, reading it felt like an immersion in a quiet morning, when the sunlight is still soft as it comes through the window.  In it the child is silent, stirring, and unfurling, just learning curiosity as she becomes more and more herself.  This piece exhibits CJC’s talent for distinctive and beautiful imagery, communicated through the use of precise wording.


The Waking by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Those first few days every part of her wakened,
the seedling eyes stirred by sunlight, tight fists
clamped to her chest like a medieval knight
and slowly loosening, as if the metal hands
were reminded of their likeness to petals
by the flowing hours. Her colors, too,
rose up like disturbed oils in a lake, pooling
through the birth-tinge into human shades,
her ink eyes lightening to an ancestral blue.
The scurf and residue of me on her scalp floated
easily as a pollen from the sweet grass of her hair.
She reminded me of a fern, each morning more
unfurled, the frond-limbs edging away from her
heart, the wide leaves of her face spread to catch
my gaze. Once, I saw the white down of her skin
cloud in my hands, the cream ridges of her nails
drift like crescent moons, the thick blue rope
she had used to descend me tossed like a stone,
as though she was finally free.

(First published in The Stinging Fly, Issue 23, Vol. 2, Winter 2012-13)


In one of my recent classes for my creative writing program, we were told to choose a photo from some old postcards and describe it, using as many of our senses as possible.  Then we were told to choose a scrap of paper from an envelope and develop the description of the scene from the image in a way that communicated the feeling written on the paper.  (Remember that this is from a prompt, not a fully developed piece)

I’ve always loved old photographs, so while there were some abstract postcards available, I chose one of a woman standing alone on a street.  It was a useful exercise, and I definitely want to try it again at some point.  If anyone else enjoys using old photos for prompts, I’d recommend Googling “Vivian Maier photography” or click through ones on the official website for her work.

I couldn’t find the original image I used, but I’ve included one of Maier’s below.


She has been hurrying down the sidewalk for many blocks when the photographer stops her. Her hair is immaculately ironed, curled away from her face, and pinned back tightly under a small, sophisticated hat. Her suit too is pressed neatly, with a broach pinned to it. But at the edges of her curls her hair has become fluffy, and just under her arms her suit has become moist. The fabric chaffs the delicate skin there as she shifts her feet and changes her stance. The photographer tells her to look away, and he captures one side of her face before the sharp edges of sunlight force her eye shut. She squeezes her hand into a fist, feeling her finely manicured nails beginning to pierce her palm.

When the photographer releases her, she hurries on again, catching the wet scent of dirty streets recently washed of their garbage by a passing, heavy shower. She passes out of the sunlight and into the cold shade of one of numerous, nameless alleys, slowing her pace only as the needles of sunlight begin to cut her eyes again.

She pauses finally. There before her is the cove, empty as ever of ships. Not even one dingy is tied to the dock, no tug boat or row boat. She stands and watches the empty horizon. The waters rush towards the shore, bringing nothing but sand and debris up to the strand. She starts off again, but slower now. Her feet fall more heavily on the ground than before, dragging longer as she brings them up for the next step. At the entrance to an office building she holds the door for an elderly woman to hobble slowly through. Then she steps inside and hurries to the receptionist’s desk.

“Any notes? Any calls?” she exhales at the receptionist.

“Sorry, no, Sally,” she replies. “Still nothing.”

“Alright. I had to check.” She turns and climbs the stairs, up two floors, where she moves behind a desk. She nods as people come bustling in after her, handing some of them notes and left messages. At the first stop in the flow of people, she pulls a calendar towards herself. She turns back to January, counting in a whisper as she flips through the months. “…thirteen… fourteen… fifteen…”

Vivian Maier photo, NYC, undated

I Want My Words

Since I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by my new summer job, I haven’t had time to write anything new.  However, here I share for the first time a bit of my own work.  I wrote this piece a little over a year ago, and though I tend to focus more on short fiction, I still feel this piece expresses pretty well how I feel about writing and the industry.  This poem first appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Georgia State University’s undergraduate art and literary journal, Underground.


I Want My Words

The words won’t come—
cusp of consciousness
verbosity infused with intent,
eluding my reaching, searching,
desperate, clawing
scattering thought with each futile turn of
a page, or was it a leaf?—
I am turning, clutching,
desperate, vain, silly girl
led to believe
creativity could breed
active thought, which would
beget wisdom and sentience,
and words like wind would
burst from me, carrying a
chaos of colors and
spreading through low-speed camera interpretations
of sunlight transfiguring trees,
of a developing, growing, aging, and yellowing world.

I was directed to believe
that when writers are driven to write,
that these words will have worth
and it was there I was misguided—
there, at the end of that page,
where body meets footer.
I don’t want my words to be
reduced to krill
for the great whales of public readers, opinion, and critics,
to swallow without concern,
filtering the crunchy, squishy, interesting bits
from the salty medium
(what does paper taste like?)
taking in everything like it is
an indiscernible, pulpy, krill stew.
I don’t want to compare
myself to Jodi Picoult.

There’s just such a magnitude—
an ever-expanding quantity
overpowering quality,
commercial investment in economical earnings—
I will run out of ink and my words will dig burrows in the page
and bury themselves like frightened rabbits.

But I want the words to come.
I want my words to have worth,
to communicate the experience I have
when I contemplate a sky about to rain,
when I reluctantly wait for the light to change,
when I observe long-awaited reunions at airports and train stations,
when I’m watching a spider climb one of these coarse cement walls,
when it’s me talking to you about existence and clarity,
et cetera.
I don’t want to be a mass producer of words,
but to carefully trace each letter’s curve like a painter caressing the model…
in a painting.

I want my words to fly with the birds.