Next Door to the Dead, A Poetry Collection by Kathleen Driskell

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Perhaps not many of us would choose to live next door to a graveyard. Fewer of us would spend our time walking among the graves, imagining what the lives of the departed had been like. Poet Kathleen Driskell did just that when her family moved into an old country church outside of Louisville, Kentucky, twenty years ago and from that event gradually emerged a poignant collection of poems.

Her aptly titled book, Next Door to the Dead, published by the University Press of Kentucky, shares haunting, fitting, and relatable observations from mortality to feminism (see the hilarious but pointed At Harlan Sanders’s Grave). From the oldest marked stone (1848) to present-day burials Driskell herself witnesses, in her capable hands death is merely another field of life on which to display what it means to attempt (and often fail on all fronts) to live.  Not many poets can achieve this without being maudlin, but Driskell does so adroitly.

With a soaringly omniscient POV, Driskell explores deeply and widely what it means to be human and she does so armed, one assumes, with only a literal, gray palette of stones next door, etched with words meant to convey more than they ever can. And yet, in her hands, we see the cemetery, we see those who are buried there perhaps more clearly than even their kin did. Perhaps more importantly, we see both the worst and the best in ourselves.

Full disclosure: I have admired Kathleen Driskell from the moment I became a student in Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. She’s a dynamo, and I more than a little heroine worship her. Her poems (this collection included) have a way of burrowing into your mind and soul. I have been privileged to travel with her on the program’s overseas trips and have often wondered how she and I could have seen the same mountain and yet, somehow she has this gorgeous poem to show for it and I have only another photo of, yes, a mountain.


Kathleen Driskell

I, too, used to live next door to a cemetery. It was on the hill just above the house where I was brought up, and I could look out my bedroom window and say hello every morning to the distant family members (and others) who resided there. So I have a real affinity for cemeteries. But that’s a post for another time.

About Driskell:

Award-winning poet and teacher Kathleen Driskell is Professor of Creative Writing and serves as the Associate Program Director of Spalding University’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2013, she was awarded the honor of Outstanding Faculty Member by the trustees of Spalding University.

Her newest collection of poetry, Next Door to the Dead, was published as a Kentucky Voices Selection, by the University Press of Kentucky (2015). In addition to the nationally best-selling Seed Across Snow (Red Hen 2009), she is the author of one previous book of poetry, Laughing Sickness (Fleur-de-Lis Press 1999, 2005 second printing), and Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem (Fleur-de-Lis Explorations 2012), as well as the editor of two anthologies of creative writing. Her book of poems Blue Etiquette will be published in 2016 by Red Hen Press.

Kathleen’s poems have appeared in many nationally known literary magazines including North American Review, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Cortland Review, and Rattle, and in The Kentucky Anthology, What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets, as well as online on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry.

Grab a copy of her newest at Amazon.

Another Helping of Chicken Soup!

I’m pleased to announce that Chicken Soup for the Soul has chosen one of my essays, “Wake-Up Call” for their newest collection, Dreams and Premonitions. The book will be released on September 22, 2015 and is available for preorder now over at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Since my name is Drema, (pronounced “Dream uh”) you might not be surprised to learn that I often have vivid dreams. My essay in the book centers around a bad dream I had at a time when I was taking my husband for granted and my response. I don’t want to spoil it, so that’s enough for now.  But whether you choose to buy the book or not I hope you’ll never take a loved one for granted, and I hope I will remember that every day as well.

I enjoy writing for Chicken Soup. As a matter of fact, just this weekend I bought a copy of a Chicken Soup book I have a story in at a garage sale. The woman behind the sale table, a mother of one, said that her son bought her the book to console her when he left for college.  I whipped out my license, showed her my name and opened the book to page 97. We were both delighted to share a moment and reminisce about the newly emptied nest.

Living in a small town means sometimes people come up to me and say they saw my name in print somewhere, and I love it. Once I was at the bank and a teller said “I know who you are. What’s it like to write?” I had never met her before, but suddenly we had a common reference point. As a matter of fact, she had me at an advantage, because she knew more about me than I did her.

But I don’t just do it for how good it feels to be recognized for your writing. (I’m not going to lie, it feels great, of course.) I do it because Chicken Soup only publishes feel-good, it-will-be-alright pieces, and though there is much at odds in this world, I choose to believe there is much that is going just fine.

One night I was at a concert with my husband and one of his fans came up to say hello to him. When he introduced me he said that I am a writer, and that I’ve written for Chicken Soup. “I’ve read your work,” she said, tears in her eyes. “You’ve saved my life!”

While I think she probably meant the books as a series and not my own humble contribution, this reflects perfectly why I sometimes choose to share those most vulnerable, scary things. I want to share my story to help others, not to shame or put anyone down (except myself when I deserve it) but to shine a light on the human condition and how we can, mistakes and all, make it through it together. Through communicating privately, honestly, and open mindedly, there’s not much we can’t sort out. Chicken Soup reminds us of that in every edition. Bless them.

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Greece Is the Word…

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Barry and I have just returned from two weeks in Greece. What an historical time to be there, during the referendum! We saw some protesting in Athens, but we never felt concerned for our safety.

In Crete we were put up at the gorgeous (yet many staired) Fodele Beach Resort. From evening beach singalongs to iced coffees on the beach (a new obsession of mine…and I don’t even like coffee), the trip was regenerative mentally, physically, and spiritually.

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While Barry was in class, I spent time revising my manuscript on the beach, an iced drink at my side, slathered with sunscreen, wearing my fun new swimsuit. (It was much more fun wearing it and its interchangeable tops than it was finding it for sure.) Somehow I managed to make it through my whole manuscript, I am happy to report.

One of the things we treasure most is traveling with our Spalding MFA family. We were able to visit with current writer friends and make new ones. Sometimes I think we need to start a colony! Complete with daily journal readings, yes?  SPLove, that’s what we call our family feeling. :-)

You knew I’d have to mention the food. I, an olive enthusiast any day, went mad for them in Greece. I’m pretty sure I had them every day. In Crete I did a taste test one day of several kinds. Ah! Souvlaki (shish kebabs to us) was familiar and inexpensive. Fresh pita bread, Greek salad every day (just tomatoes, cucumber and feta with a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar, if desired). I bought some tomatoes and cucumbers today to make some tomorrow.

We had delicately baked lamb chops and perfectly roasted potatoes. I ate more than my share of baklava which, may I say, is so much better in Greece.

I discovered Greek honey and it was so good I thought I’d lose my mind. I wanted to bring some home and yet typically I do not eat honey and so I knew it would be too tempting. Sigh. But let me say I had croissants and honey aplenty while I was there!

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While in Greece I received the best massage I have ever had. The young woman who administered it (complete with warm olive oil, of course) didn’t speak much English and so I was spared having to talk when all I wanted to do was relax. She did something amazing with her lower arms across my aching back. I always try to get a massage when traveling, because traveling is hard on the body. And because massages are awesome. This one even more so!

Barry and I are both El Greco fans, and so we particularly enjoyed our hike to the Museum of El Greco. Well, we mostly enjoyed it — I’ll break that down into its own post later, I suppose. I’m writing a short story about El Greco based on our being situated in what is believed to be the town he was born in.

The Greeks were so welcoming, so jovial and lively. (Those of you who know my husband know this is his way, too, and I enjoy it.) Listening to their language is hearing music. I was glad I didn’t know what they were saying so I could enjoy listening.

It’s difficult to write one post about such a layered experience. I could write multiple posts on the beautiful, ever-changing Aegean Sea or swimming in the rocky Sea of Crete, of being seduced by the sound of the waves late at night, of stumbling across a tiny, blue and gold decorated chapel on an early morning walk.

I could also mention our stunning visit to Delphi or Cape Sounion (and the temple of Poseidon) at sunset where the poets read a poem by Byron right in front of where Byron carved his name into the temple’s block.

Then there were those fervid talks about Woolf, Vonnegut, and more over Greek cigarettes. Cocktails and more lit talk. Readings and more cocktails.

Intellectual stimulation, food for the stomach, heart, eyes and brain, nothing was lacking.

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Us at Cape Sounion

For that matter, I could probably just do a pictorial record. Live long and prosper, please prosper, dear Greece!

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Hadrian’s Gate

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The Parthenon

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The Byron reading                                                   An olive tree at the Acropolis

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The Aegean

When All You Want To Do Is Edit…Wait, That’s Not A Thing?

I’m sure that somewhere away from the page, away from my keyboard, the weather is really just as hot as they claim.

I’m sure that ice cream still tastes fantastic, especially chocolate chip mint and caramel swirl (but maybe not together).

Undoubtedly vacation will come and I will be pulled from the editing zone by my husband holding plane tickets in one hand and my suitcase in the other. (So maybe at some point before the end of summer I should pack unless I want him doing it for me. I don’t. I really don’t.)

Until then, my head is deep into editing. In fact, I resent anything right now that is not me, pen in hand, paper, or putting those notes into my latest draft.

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And, egomaniac that I apparently am, I’m kinda crushing on my own writing at the moment.

Don’t worry — I’ll get over it. Self doubt and agony “But am I any good?” will return to paralyze me. I had one of those mornings earlier this week. Um, it might have been yesterday. Until then, I’m enjoying myself.

Are you wondering where I found the time to pound out this lil’ missive?

The next pages up to edit are printing right now is how. (Pardon me while I shake my print cartridge to get the maximum number of pages before changing it. What, you don’t do that? You should give it a try.)

Oh great. Now my printer’s not working. Time to bang on it and curse. Wait, I’ll try shutting it down and restarting it.

Where’s my personal assistant? What, I don’t have one?

Note to self: start vetting discreet, efficient personal assistants with great techie skills who also like to clean house.

You’ll notice I started off by saying all I want to do is edit? Well, I sense a shift in mood coming on. Where’s that blasted ice cream? I could have it eaten in the amount of time it is taking this printer to shut down and come back on. For the love!

I suspect I now have black ink from the cartridge on my face and possibly on my new blouse. Merde.

Rescued blouse, did a visual check of face: all clear.

Unplugged printer, started alignment because printer demanded it.

Now it is spitting out pieces of blank paper.

I have no idea what this printer is doing now.  It claims to be aligning after getting jammed and wasting four pieces of paper.

And WHERE IS MY ASSISTANT? Oh, that’s right.

I do have someone who has offered to work for me when I’m ready; all I need do is say the word. Word. No, wait, not yet.

The printer says the alignment has failed.

My mom calls and says she has found a (redacted) that (redacted) wrote before (redacted). Now trying not to cry.

But the printer is printing again, even though it is telling me that the ink cartridge is low. I know; I shook it so I could squeeze thirty more pages out, remember, printer? Because I’m thrifty that way. Looks like I’m only going to maybe get 20 this time. Better than nothing.

Bemoaning that I want ice cream that I did not buy. No! Stop thinking about…

I am about 60 pages shy of printing the rest of my novel. This is on purpose. My process is this: edit a hard copy, maybe 50 pages or, ideally, a chapter or two. Then I put the edits into my computer file. Because otherwise I get really cranky trying to make all of those corrections at once. I like editing, but not looking between paper and screen. I prefer all paper or all computer, with my true preference leaning towards the hard copy.

Today, though, it was nice, editing. Though even after I transferred the changes I was left with a hastily scribbled note to myself that there was a character who had walked offstage, never to be heard from again. Historically speaking that’s true, but I wanted my MC to be guilted into thinking about her. So I was able to add that with a few strokes. Yay for notes.

After having struggled with my printer (I will not change the cartridge, not yet, even though the pages are getting lighter) because if I do I will print the remainder of my book and I will try to rush through the edits not because I want to be finished but because I get single minded.

But the interruptions have been sufficient to return me to this world for the evening, I think, anyway. I may just put my newly printed pages into my backpack for tomorrow and take my evening walk.

Wait, didn’t I hear something about it being warm out?

My Podcast Crush of the Week: Nom Nom Paleo

I’ve admitted before how I love my podcasts. They’re great company when I’m running, walking, or cooking. They’re free and new ones arrive regularly. They’re like little gifts every week, or, as many as I subscribe to, every day. My favorite of the moment is Nom Nom Paleo.

Nota bene: I am not paleo. I am a longtime low carb disciple (when I’m eating in the way that I know makes me feel my best) , trending towards keto. But the three are kissing cousins, so I listen to paleo podcasts too for useful tips and recipes.

The Nom Nom Paleo podcast is the newest project of the friendly, sweet Michelle Tam and her family including husband Henry Fong and their two children affectionately known as Big-O and Lil-O.

In case it wasn’t clear, the podcast is about, uh, living and cooking paleo. It makes me feel less lonely to know I am not the only one who uses an ungodly amount of eggs.

The weekly podcast is like having a window into the family’s doings. Helpful, fun and always charming, the podcast stars the whole family, and I love that.  I just discovered it last week and burned through the eight episodes they have. I was sad to hear this week that not only are they considering whether or not they can maintain their weekly pace with all of the projects they do, but they are taking a week off so I will be without a fresh episode for two weeks! (Should we start a petition?)

I suppose I will have to content myself in the meantime with buying her cookbook. (Ooh…if I do I’ll have to review it here!) Or maybe the cool vinyl figure of Michelle…I want an action figure of me (but of me running, not cooking !) But mine would have to come in two versions: the running, trimmer version and the not-so-much one. ;-) *Climbs onto soapbox*(Hey, while I don’t like it, I’ve accepted that my body weight will fluctuate. It’s my body and I will love it because it’s the only one I have and it’s done some amazing things for me. And because the things I value most about myself have nothing to do with my dress size! Well, not much, anyway. I do wish I could wear some of my thinner clothes right now because I miss them!) *Climbs off box*

Back to Nom Nom: The title of my blog post is appropriate because on their podcast they have the “Crush of the Week” that may or may not have anything to do with being paleo. My favorite so far was silicone wedding rings. I did not know these existed, but apparently fire fighters often wear them because they don’t get in the way and they are safer. Oh, and evidently you can buy them in bulk if you’re someone who frequently loses her jewelry…(Who? Me?)

One of the reasons I love the chirpy Michelle is it sounds as if our cooking and eating philosophies are similar: she loves food (so do I!) to the point of near obsession she admits, and I get the impression that she does a lot of trial and error stuff. Yup, that’s me. Just tonight I threw together a chicken-cauliflower casserole that was really not half bad.

The information on the podcasts is informative, certainly entertaining, and inspirational. I’m quite sure the reason I tried my quietly triumphant new recipe tonight was because I have been listening to Nom Nom.

Anyway, go to iTunes and check out the podcast, or check out their blog: (Unless you are my friend who does everything I do — you know who you are — you are banned from doing one more thing I do without my express permission and a Mother May I? (What, me petty?)

While I wait for the podcast to return I will continue to edit my novel and work on an essay I will be reading at a local senior citizens center on Wednesday (my Dear Husband will entertain with song; I may join him for one as well). My essay topic is “Lessons Learned at a Thrift Shop.” It’s an idea I’ve had rolling around in my head for some time. I’ll let you know if it blooms. I wrote an outline of it in church Sunday, so I should be in decent shape. (Shh!)

If you listen to podcasts, what do you subscribe to and why?

In Training: Again!


Yes, I am publicly admitting that I am training for another half marathon. I have until September to work myself back up to being able to run 13.1 miles. Right now I could probably only do half of that. I hope to shame motivate myself by sharing my goal here.

My still-winter-weighted body kinda hates me right now, but I’m going to convince it that it will feel so much better when it lets go of the excess weight, stops the eye rolling and just runs already! Of course every pound I lose will make it easier to run. Win-win.

I need to have a goal to work towards, and so the Fort4Fitness half is perfect for me. (Don’t tell anyone but I miss my long runs. This is a great excuse to work back up to them.)

Finally my leg feels better (I injured it last fall) and my pace is slowly getting back to where it was. I look forward to the day again soon when a ten miler feels just right, even if it does leave me scrambling for new terrain to visit in our small town.

Actually, I am on week four of my training schedule, but my pride hurts because I am doing the beginner’s level still which has me walking one day, running the next. At least I can run again!

Tomorrow I am set to do a paltry two miles. I don’t know if I can keep to that. Maybe I can sneak in an extra mile or two? I’ll keep you posted.

Stuffed Meatloaf for my Brother’s Birthday

Today is my only brother’s birthday, and he adores meatloaf. He makes a fab meatloaf himself, but since it is his birthday I suggested that the family surprise him with a “Meatloaf Off.” That is, we siblings would all cook meatloaves and let him choose his favorite loaf.

Meatloaf may not be elegant, but sometimes you just want a hearty meal. And birthdays are for favorites, so who cares if a dish isn’t fancy? (Take that, culinary snobs!)

Strolling along on my evening walk yesterday to the startlingly clear sounds of Jack Johnson’s All At Once as heard through the lovely earbuds my dearest bought me for Christmas, I allowed myself to not think of the recipe I wanted to create. So naturally it came right to me.

Here’s my recipe…it was not the winner of the day (except to my husband, who says he had three pieces but then again he has to live with me, so I’m not sure I totally trust his assessment as being wholly unbiased even though it was quite welcome to hear).

Everyone at the party was interested in my typically odd creation and seemed to enjoy it. So naturally I immediately spilled the recipe. (My niece won with her mini-muffin meatloaves, a justified win. The “muffins” were topped with mashed potatoes and were both cute and yummy!)

If you want to give my recipe a try sometime, have at it. And let me know how you like it. Note: it is keto and low-carb eating friendly, so it is likely to reappear in our house again soon.

Stuffed Birthday Meatloaf for Rod:


Four pounds 73% fat ground beef (for extra flavor)

One pound HOT ground sausage (choose your favorite brand)

Salt and pepper to taste

A dash of garlic salt

A dash of Italian seasoning

Two eggs

One eight-ounce package of cream cheese

Twenty pepperoni slices

Combine all of the above ingredients except for the last two in a large bowl and fill two loaf pans about 3/4 of the way with the meat mixture.  I used my husband’s Depression-era Fireking glass pans. Lovely and uniform!

Then take a spoon and make a trench of sort in the meat, maybe two inches deep. Fill the first loaf with about half of the package of cream cheese, dropping the cheese by the tablespoonful into the crater.

Next cover the cream cheese with half of the pepperoni slices for each loaf.

Use the reserved ground beef mixture to cover both loaves evenly, pinching the sides together, patting the top and smoothing it away from the sides of the pan.

Put it in a 350 degree oven and bake for one hour or until an inserted thermometer reads 155 degrees.  Always check your meatloaf to be sure it doesn’t overcook. Your oven may well be different than mine.

I will add photos as soon as I am able…for some reason I cannot get them to load on this computer. Look for an updated version soon.

(And P.S. — I did not sleep well last night so I can’t swear I wrote this recipe up properly. But I tried.)

My brother was delighted with the surprise meatloaves and hesitated in choosing a winner at all. I think we siblings and family can all agree, however, that we are the winners to have such a cool guy in our lives.

My Story, “Hunger Pangs,” is Now Online at Under the Fable!

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I promised a link to my short story, “Hunger Pangs.  Read it here.

(My story begins on page 29.)

Hunger Pangs is the quirky story of a lonely young woman who meets a group of food enthusiasts. Claire is quickly fascinated by her education and initiation.

Let me answer a frequently asked question: To my knowledge, no such club exists. But maybe it will after people read my story. :-) Not that I would join…writing about such things means I don’t have to live them!

Part (debatably) titillating, part grotesque, the story comes from who knows where. I’m just the midwife and, just for the record, while I do have an apron, I am properly attired beneath it at all times when I cook. Okay, most times.

I can tell you where I was when inspiration struck.

My writing location of choice is a local café, a cute place with fresh, local food and friendly baristas who treat me almost like family. One day I was writing there with no assignments for once and no interest in working on my novel. I overheard some slightly naughty conversation as the baker (this was probably three years ago) brought out bread from the kitchen. The purloined tidbit was NOTHING like what’s in the story, but it made me start wondering: what if. That’s the writer’s best, most imaginative tool: what if.

My story, then, is my answer to that “what if.”

During the residency in which I had the piece workshopped I often heard people who were in the workshop discussing it with those who were not. Though technically that wasn’t allowed, I took it as a compliment.

Note: I have unintentionally amassed a collection of what I call my “weird food stories.” This is the latest to be published. I also had one published last year about a young man who dumpster dives for food. Again, I have no clue where these come from, though I am obsessed with food and I feel guilty about that obsession. I’m guessing that has something to do with it.

While you’re over at Under the Fable, please don’t read just my story, though. Take a moment or two to look at the other fine poems and stories in this premier issue! I applaud any and all literary efforts and this new UK-based literary magazine is another fine one.

Maybe reading the other material over there will make you shake the image of a certain cheese in my story…after you read it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Warning: not for the faint of heart…or stomach! (If you look very closely at the above photo after reading the story, the cheese will look much different to you.)

Publication News: Under the Fable, Grief Eating, and Other Tidbits

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I’m delighted to announce that my story, “Hunger Pangs,” will be published in the premier issue of Under the Fable, a UK-based literary journal. It will come out in four days! (I’ll link to it then.)

Since I’ve been concentrating so much on my novel(s) this year, I haven’t been publishing as much fiction. I kinda forgot how good it feels. (Note: it feels great!)

I’ll talk more about the story when it comes out. Until then, some housekeeping:

— I decided to keep my blog, and to rename it. While I feel in some ways  as if I am a self-centered beastie to use my name as the blog’s name, for now it just makes sense. I don’t want to have to choose between all of my interests. And since those interests are housed in me, well, maybe my name is most fitting for the blog’s name.

— That said, I will be mixing up what I talk about. I LOVE writing, adore it, but I think I’d like to include some of my other interests as well. (Such as cooking!)

— I will be updating and overhauling my blog, too.  More on that later.

Though we are five months into this year, in some ways it feels to me as if it has just begun. The end of last year was a blur — I lost my dad and submerged myself in a months’ long grief eating fest from which I am just now beginning to emerge. Two days after we buried my dad was our first Christmas without him, followed in February by his birthday. I’m holding my breath for next month  — Father’s Day. I know he would want — does want — me to get back to all of those things I love most and to take care of myself. Part of that is getting back to my blog, back to plotting out my writing course.

Getting this story published seems a good place to start. Happy New Year to me!

Creative or Rule Follower?

My first conscious act of creating was in response to my elementary school principal’s command. She gave us a sheet of paper covered in circles and told us to come up with ONLY things that did not exist.

I was in the fifth grade. This principal was the strongest woman I knew — she was probably close to six feet tall, a large, craggy woman with a deep voice and half a dozen children if I remember correctly. She had only to look sideways at a student for that student obey. I both feared and adored her.

Now, here’s the thing: when she gave me that paper, I knew I HAD to do what she asked, because she was the principal. Because I was afraid her eyes could melt me. And because I had already incurred her ire two years before by wearing shorts and a strappy top to school, not having ever been told it was against the rules until she announced over the intercom that such attire was inappropriate. (I was not the only offender). I was mortified and spent the rest of the (very) hot day wearing my jacket, though my teacher begged me to take my jacket off. I refused, preferring to at least cover up my arms.

This principal, all eyes, glasses on a chain, and moles, now wanted me to lie, as it were. So I learned to create on command.

It turned out that I was the only one who obeyed — everyone else came up with basketballs and such, things that already existed. I had no idea that my worksheet would land me in the principal’s office for further questioning. She was taking, she told me later, a class on child development and because of that she asked me more questions based on what I had drawn. Why had I made an electric soccer ball? Why had I come up with a cheesy rat tunnel?

I have no idea if my answers satisfied her, but they did make me realize I was different, and that was invaluable. And better yet, she let me leave her office alive.

Recently I asked my husband this, though: was I creative because I did what she asked or was I more rigid than the others  because I felt compelled to follow her directions? Perhaps she scared me into creativity. Barry’s opinion is that she inadvertently helped me free my creativity. I suppose either way it doesn’t matter, but I am grateful, and I kinda miss her.  Go figure.