Re-vision and Confession

“Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Note: I began a draft of this post on January 18th. Today is June 10th.

I have a little more to say now.


Earlier in the year, I asked my students to write about revision. I gave them no parameters, but asked them to explore the concept in a free-write activity.

As I read through their semester portfolios, I was amazed at how many students chose to continue this prompt, and to explore the many things, for lack of a better term, that can be revised. Especially as it applies to life, decisions and ourselves.

My students said powerful things about the concept of re-visioning anything. Today, though, I am in the middle of a down and dirty revision. I’m feeling like maybe I’ve been asking my students to do this really really incomparably difficult thing without knowing a true thing about it.

for a disorganized person, this is perfection
for a disorganized person, this is perfection

The thing, of course, is the act of revision itself. I’ve been working on an essay as part of an independent study since January. I had a comprehensive (read: overkill) list of ideas I wanted to explore over the course of the semester, but I settled on one that I couldn’t shake. I was still recovering from the most serious depressive episode I had experienced in many years. I thought it would be cathartic for me, and helpful to others, if I could communicate that experience as it really and truly happens. I may have been wrong.

My first draft came out like it was a self-propelled grenade. I wrote it down on legal paper, page after page after page, while watching tv on a Sunday night. I couldn’t believe it! I read it over and made notes and more notes and then finally typed it up and proudly sent it off to my advisor.

He replied with some basic feedback: clean up the story, keep writing, look for inconsistencies, keep writing. So I did. I dug up a folder of handouts from a memoir class and decided to plot out my story. I color-coded, I plot-graphed; I revised and typed again. I sent it out, he replied suggesting I review the very same handouts. WHAT? I thought. I used those to drive the entire story! I went back into the essay, read it through (orange marker in hand), and felt myself circling the drain. Passive voice at one turn. Unspecific vocabulary at another. Split-infinitives. Narrative break. Inconsistent title. Tense shifts. Lack of focus. Swisshhh.

I put the draft away. When the semester was about to end I, ashamed, asked for an ‘Incomplete’. My advisor accepted. This was all good, but I still had to complete the essay. I asked then, and continue to ask now: Why didn’t I just write about the motherfucking pie crust?

As much as I, I can’t quit this. But I have figured a few things out along the way:

  • If you are a teacher, you should experience the act of dirty and personal revision once a year.
  • I let my essay turn into a story which I now need to let just be an essay.
  • Life is harder than it looks. So is writing.

So back to the writing porch I go, but this time without the bajillion drafts.

So what if I opened my new issue of Brain, Child to find my essay (yes, same topic, setting, context. same same.) already written, and written well? It may tell the same story, but not my story. I keep thinking of the Annie Dillard quote that I use to tell my students to write anyway. I must listen to this. 

The confession is this: revision is incomparably difficult. Whether it is in writing or in life, going back to a thing, daring to imagine what it could be in light of what it is; this act requires a courage as flexible as it is strong.


Summer Book List

What are you reading this summer? I’m waiting for the end of two trilogies: Margaret Atwood’s oryx and crake series and the finale to A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The Atwood book will be out in September, so I can’t add it to my summer list. I’m not sure when the Harkness book will be out . . .

I’m stumped! I need a cookbook, some romance, and a couple of good books I’ve never been able to get to.

Here’s my list so far:

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

and… That’s it. Help me fill it in.

What should I read this summer?


The Death of the Woodpecker

Death of a Woodpecker

Pileated, red

I watched you for weeks. Trying

to take pictures – I perched on windowsills

and under trees. I couldn’t capture, only


Your scarlet head forced my

attention back – outside of myself and the housework –

to the trees lining the driveway, apple blossoms,

green grass, a street lined with loving


Last night

I sat outside, talking and laughing

ice cubes and chardonnay and grilled chicken

I placed my dirt-stained feet underneath me

turned toward conversation, I saw the

car, I heard the thump: soft as a pillow, solid

as life.

I Don’t Make This Shit Up

You know you’ve wondered – in the English suite, over drinks, at Thanksgiving -whether or not all of my stories are true.  Well, see this one for yourself.

Matt caught a groundhog. We relocated him to City Forest in an effort to preserve our vegetable garden.

in transit
in transit

Matt sang a song about rodent poop the whole way over.



a new home
a new home

Dirk Daniels Catch ‘n Release from Heather J Webb on Vimeo.

Matt/Dirk Sets the Groundhog Free from Heather J Webb on Vimeo.


Oh, dear.

I think I am a flower

hello, friends.

I feel myself sprouting and growing and greening up just like the tomato plants in my garden. I’ve been productive and focused and happy. I want to be my summer person all year round. Maybe I have chlorophyll instead of blood?

Just look at this:

Screen shot 2013-06-01 at 9.47.21 PM

I woke up at 5 a.m. today, so I was outside with Matt by 8. We sweated gardened for  most of the day. Did I tell you we have the most wonderful neighbors? They are retired now, but ran a nursery and now share resources and knowledge with us. Anyway.

I capped my day off with drinks and dinner with a colleague just as evening rolled in.

I’ll be back with pictures tomorrow.

Sleep tight.


A Quick Update

A quick note for you all.

I’m participating in this fantastic blogging class led by Emilie Manhart of One Mom in Maine through the University of Maine.

Our challenge for the week is to post every day, so you’ll be hearing from me frequently.

My goal is to provide a wide variety of content (very much like Jenny Rosenstrach does in Dinner: A Love Story.

With that, what would you like to see? Picture essays? Multimedia? Book reviews? Bad mama confessionals?

Ask and you shall receive.