The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, June 26, 2018:


Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!





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For Tuesday, April 24, 2018:


For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings … to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea … to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars … 

And still it is not enough to have memories. One … must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves — not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.



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For Friday, October 27, 2017:


Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart … Try to love the questions themselves … Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them – and the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.

Rainer Maria Rilke

The Prompter Room

For Friday, March 3, 2017:

Maria Popova, who compiles the literary Brain Pickings (, shared this from Rainer Maria Rilke’s classic Letters to a Young Poet, which she calls ‘nothing short of secular scripture for the creative life.’

… Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody.  There is only one single way.  Go into yourself.  Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.



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For Monday, March 21, 2016:


“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

A pastoral training workshop for potential caregivers and chaplains among persons living with AIDS made a big impact on me, and one facet in particular has stayed with me for almost 25 years.

During one of the first exercises of the day, the trainer asked us to write down, in no particular order, ten things we believed we couldn’t do without.  He told us we were going to return to that list throughout the day.  Interspersed among other exercises and meditations, the trainer took us back to our lists, and each time we had to make a decision: we had to choose which item, in order of importance to us, we would cross off next.

The purpose of the exercise was to simulate the critically shortened lifespan of most people living with AIDS at that time, the height of the crisis, and the personal losses they and their loved ones experienced during the course of that terrible disease.

As human beings we are exposed to loss on a regular basis.  Whether it be failed relationships, misdirected business ventures, disappointing expectations, decreasing health and/or physical abilities as we age, unfulfilled or displaced dreams … By the time we reach a certain age, it’s likely we’ve known one or more of these and other losses many times over.

This was certainly true for almost all the workshop participants.  None of us was a neophyte in that department.  What made things different, though, was the personal vulnerability each of us had to face in the constrained time frame.  Six hours isn’t nearly enough time to deal with all that loss, however metaphorical or hypothetical it was, and, needless to say, we were all in tears – visible and hidden – by the end of the day.

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For Sunday, March 20, 2016:


“It is spring again.  The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

It is the first day of spring here in this little corner of the Northern Hemisphere.  It doesn’t feel like the lushness we associate with spring, but it is quite Vermont-like: cold and changeable. At least there’s no snow this year.

It seems, though, my muse has the spring fever we imagine.  I have tried and tried, and tried again, to write a post for today, but my brain just won’t settle down enough to string together more than a few words that make sense.  So I’ve decided to give the ol’ brain and my muse a sabbath rest and suggest that others go out and play, if it’s warm enough where you are, while I take a day’s break.  I will contemplate (maybe via a nap …) the days that are coming when the earth is warm enough to give and receive again.  In the meantime, I reserve the right to use this Rilke quote again when it is – and hopefully the muse will return well before then.

Blessings on your day, wherever you are!

The Prompter Room

For Monday, December 28, 2015:


“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude.  One must overcome the fear of being alone.”

Rollo May

“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of each other.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

“The writer’s curse is that even in solitude, no matter its duration, he never grows lonely or bored.”

Criss Jami, ‘Killosophy’

Can you tell I am in need of some solitude?  Or at least some quiet.  Virginia Woolf’s ‘room of one’s own’ would be so nice right now, one far away from the rest of the house, where I can close the door and shut out the noise of the TV and the phone, even if I still hear the dogs barking.

I treasure my alone time, so much so that some of my happiest moments are when I can be in hermit mode for as long as I need to be.  Especially in nature.  Even better is when I can be with my best friend, who’s also a writer and who also tends to the eremitic, out in the quiet of the woods, just walking and listening to the music of the natural world.

I don’t always write when those treasured moments are given to me, but I can fill myself back up again with what I need to write later.  Sometimes I’ll read, sometimes I’ll just stare into space with nothing going on in my brain.  There’s a Cherokee saying that tells us the most creative thing we can do is to sit all day and watch the river flow.  Yep, that’s me.

None of that will happen today, but I need to find a moment or two where I can escape all the stimuli that are coming at me, where my body can breathe and my brain can rest.   I wish for you, though, the time you need or want for solitude, and that you’ll enjoy your time down at the river.

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For Wednesday, December 23, 2015:


“A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”

Jean-Luc Godard

The most memorable beginning I can think of is in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield: ‘I was born.’  It doesn’t get more straightforward than that, but of course Dickens was a class unto himself.  Not everyone can open like that, take a few hundred pages to get to the end, and make it right.

Then there’s the author John Le Carre.  “It’s a principle of mine,” he writes, “to come into the story as late as possible, and to tell it as fast as you can.”  A lot of thrillers open this way, and many mysteries.  That’s often the nature of these particular genres, and it’s a technique that helps move the stories along at a fast clip.

Poetry doesn’t always have to start at the beginning either.  One of the things I like most about Rainer Maria Rilke, for instance, are the times he introduces his first stanzas with the simple word ‘And,’ or something similar.   Thus he places us into the midst of the action right away.  It may seem more casual than a thriller, perhaps – almost an ‘oh, by the way’ thought – but it’s just as effective.  It’s as if Rilke invites each individual reader to join him in the ‘story’ as he observes, ponders, and lives his life in real time.

I sometimes find, in my own writing and in the writings of others that I edit, if something doesn’t work, all that’s needed is to switch the end to the beginning or vice-versa.  It may mean a bit of tweaking to make smooth transitions, but it’s always worth the effort.

And it’s always worth trying.  If nothing else, make an exercise out of reordering some of your pieces.  See what happens.  Sometimes a story or poem cries out for ‘I am born’ — though it might be interesting to see what it looks like if it ends with that — but there are others that simply need that ‘And.’