Thin Places (Or, the Goat Leg)

Empty your heart of its mortal dream. -William Butler Yeats

Have you heard of “thin places“? It’s originally a Celtic term — the idea that some places on earth are “thin” and therefore closer to “the other side,” whatever that might be.

Ireland is one of those places. Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s a difficult feeling to describe — it’s like you want to enter it, but there’s no “it” to enter. A line I wrote in my travel journal sums it up: “I want to walk away into the mist and leave everything worldly behind.” You feel it walking along the Cliffs of Moher, you feel it watching the ocean break on the coastline, you feel it driving through the bog.


Admittedly — I totally set myself up to “feel it.” I’ve always been interested in Irish mythology, so I read a lot of Yeats before our trip. In the late 19th century, Yeats collected traditional folk tales about “the gentle folk.” And let me tell you — all in all, the gentle folk aren’t all that gentle.

They steal children, they carry away maidens, they trick and deceive. Basically, if you feel drawn to “walk away into the mist” — NOPE, turn around, it’s probably a fairy trying to trick you. And fairies weren’t the only things to look out for — there were also mermaids (and mermen), banshees, puca (changelings which often took the form of goats). If you saw the color red (the color of magic, according to Yeats), watch out.


While it’s true that the “old ways” are mostly gone, you still get traces of them here and there. At Blarney Castle, there’s an ancient cave where they claim a witch used to live. And every August, the town of Killorglin in Kerry still celebrates Puck Fair — a festival where they capture a wild goat and name it king of the town for three days.



We passed Killorglin at the start of our Ring of Kerry tour. Kerry is a county in Ireland, and it’s a wild place. Bogs and heath give way to uplands of shale, with sheep grazing wherever they can find vegetation. The predominant color in March: rusty brown shot through with yellow flowering gorse.


A low mist hung over everything, giving an other-worldly glow — a feeling only heightened when we passed the Eightercua stones.


Our tour paused at Killarney National Park so we could get out and hike up to Torc waterfall. Now, we’re from the Northwest, which is famed for its greenery. But the hike up to this waterfall — crazy green. Moss covered the trees, the rocks, every possible nook and cranny. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such intense, all-encompassing green. It almost hurt your eyes to look at it.


Up at the falls, after I’d taken a few photos, Byron said, “I think I see evidence of magic.” He pointed — I saw a red coffee cup sitting next to the trail.

Now, Byron knew I’d been reading all these Yeats books, and he’d been giving me a bit of good-natured teasing. (He’ll probably protest. But I’m calling a spade a spade.) I had told him earlier in the trip about the color red and its association with magic.

“Ha ha,” I said.

“No,” he said. “There.”

I looked. A few feet away from the cup, placed neatly next to the walking path, lay a soggy goat foreleg. If the size hadn’t given it away, the hoof would have. It was unbloodied and, apart from being disembodied, perfectly intact.

“Where did that come from?” I said.

“It must be magic!” Byron said. “I don’t know how else it could have gotten there.”

“Or something ate it,” I said. We’d seen goats wandering the park minutes before.

“But where’s the rest of the body?” Byron said.

It was true — there was no sign of the rest of the goat. And the foreleg was so very neatly cut off — no sign of gnawing or bits of fur lying around. It seemed too clean to be an animal kill. And the way it was lined up next to the path, it did look like someone had placed it there.

“Why would someone put it there?” I said.

“I don’t know. Maybe an offering? It does feel like a magical place.”

I stared at the goat leg for a few moments more, both repulsed and fascinated.

“Are you going to take a picture?” Byron said.

I didn’t take a picture. There is no photographic evidence of the goat leg. I didn’t want the gentle folk to take offense.





Laura’s New Writing Plan

It’s like Kanye’s plan, but with a lot less crop tops and a lot more word count.

Like I mentioned in last week’s post — I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve gotten out a few short stories that I feel good about, but what I REALLY need to be doing is editing the 2nd draft of my book. I’ve puttered away at it, but haven’t succeeded at getting down to business.

I know I work better with structure. I need deadlines. But sometimes creating those for yourself… the motivation, it’s lacking.

Last week my friend Jay introduced me to a site called Pacemaker. In a nutshell: you put in your writing goals and deadlines, and Pacemaker spits out a plan. The exact number of words per day you need to write (or edit) in order to hit your goal.

So I thought… what would it look like if I made a goal to finish the 2nd draft by the end of this year?

And you know, it’s not too shabby.

Pacemaker Writing Calendar

About 550 words on the weekdays. A little over 1,000 on the weekends. December looks the same. Totally doable. And I’m doing it.

As you can see, I’ve already missed one day–but that’s ok. Not beating myself up over it. I made it up on the weekend, so we’re still on track.

Breaking it down day by day, word by word, makes the goal look much more reasonable. More attainable. 550 words a day doesn’t seem scary. (On a good day, I can get that done in the morning before leaving for work.) The vision of having that 2nd draft printed up and piled up on my desk — it’s taking shape.

You just have to start. One word at a time.

Aaaand We’re Back

What have I been up to the past eight months?

  • Reading. A LOT. By summer I’d already surpassed my 2014 and 2013 book totals. And I really have no idea HOW. I don’t feel like I’m reading more, but apparently I am? Or faster? It’s still a mystery. One that will likely remain unsolved.
  • Flying down to Berkley to see Alabama Shakes perform at the Greek Theater. Seeing them AGAIN when they came to Seattle. Yes, they’re that good.
  • Watching Game of Thrones. And Veep. And Silicon Valley. How is HBO so consistently good? (Although don’t get me started on this problematic last season of Thrones. STILL not over that shit.)
  • Apparently working on a blog redesign? I don’t remember starting that one, guys. But now it’s half-done and ugly and really bothering me but I don’t have the time to fix it at the moment. Never fear, it will HAUNT MY DREAMS.
  • Working. A lot. Sometimes it feels like my whole life has become work. I think about it when I go to sleep and I think about it when I wake up. But then I remind myself — through words and actions — that I am more than my 9-to-5. Adventures are a great reminder. Speaking of…
  • Traveling to Ireland. More on that later…
  • Traveling to Greece. ALSO more on that later…
  • Becoming that crazy neighbor lady who releases mason bees into the yard. Eagerly staring at the mason bee colony for signs of activity.
  • Getting NEW WINDOWS PUT IN THE HOUSE OMG THE EXCITES. They have SCREENS and they OPEN and they’re not crappy aluminum and don’t have random gaps where they should be sealed. I’m not sure what it says that I’ve become the person who gets this excited about windows, but I am HERE for it.
  • Finally getting my shit together and taking a holistic approach to my health. I’d been feeling super run-down (see working a lot) and finally made ALL THE DOCTORS APPOINTMENTS. Now I’m seeing a naturopath and a massage therapist and an acupuncturist and a chiropractor and taking about a zillion supplements a day BUT… it seems to be helping. I’m not totally there yet (I still need to work in a fitness routine, por ejemplo), but I feel good about the fact that it’s a work-in-progress. The problem is that — surprise! — taking care of yourself takes time. Which may be related to…
  • I haven’t been writing as much as I should. Not going to lie about that one. But — maybe it’s the decreased daylight, or the increasing rain, or the approaching chill — I’m finally feeling ready to jump back in. Determination is creeping back. That itch is creeping back.

So here we are. Back to the blog. Back to a routine that requires consistent creative output — that honors the process. Back to remembering what’s important to me.

Blog Hiatus

I mean, the title kind of says it all, right? But I’ll spell it out a bit more: I’ve decided to take a hiatus from this blog. Starting now. For an undetermined amount of time.

It’s been mulling around my head for a while, this idea of taking a break, but I’ve been loathe to do it because… well, I like writing this blog. I like having a space to air my nerdy writer ways, my book habits, my little adventures. I like talking with fellow writers and readers and adventurers. Thanks to the encouragement of my best friend, I started Buffalo Writes two years ago and haven’t regretted a minute of it.

The fact is I have too much on my plate right now, between work and editing my book and beginning a new writing project. (OH YES, a new project. Because I’m apparently a masochist. But it involves a 98-year-old, and that’s not the kind of thing you press pause on.)

At first I thought, “Well, I’ll just update the blog less frequently.” Which worked for a while. But still the thoughts lurk in the back of my brain… what’s your next post going to be? When is it going to be? Should you give an update on writing? On what you’ve been reading? What have you been looking at lately? Even with less frequent postings, the blog still takes up brain space. And that’s what I need to free up.

This is not the end. It’s just a breath.

One Thing at a Time

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a coworker at a party. About work, because I dunno, that’s the kind of small talk coworkers engage in. As it was the start of the New Year, we talked about goals, resolutions. He asked if I had any. I said,

“I really want to try and focus on one thing at a time. Just one — not switching back and forth between tasks.”

And saying it out loud, I knew it was true — this was an important thing to keep myself from feeling depleted by the end of each work day. So I made the resolution to focus on only one thing at a time — to finish one task before moving on to the next. Which sounds simple, but in the modern-day work environment, when your whole job revolves around a computer, and that computer is assaulting you with ten things at once — just finishing one task can suddenly require the most Herculean effort you’ve ever put forth.

And then, as fate or luck or whatever would have it, I was went this article:

Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion …. we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. — “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain

And this:

Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. — “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain

If you have five minutes, go read the article. It highlights so many issues — but sadly, not many solutions. And after reading it, I WANTED solutions. I am so very aware that I engage in most of these behaviors — keeping Communicator open so people can reach me, reading emails the second they arrive in my inbox, propping my phone up on my desk so I can respond to a text the second it appears — and I can feel the toll it takes on my brain. I feel the mounting anxiety at not being able to get any actual work done. I feel the exhaustion that comes at the end of the day. I feel the hamster in my brain spinning and spinning but not actual going anywhere.

So I’m doing what I can. I’ve turned off the notifications on email. I’m predetermining a set amount of time to focus on certain tasks. I’m setting my Communicator status to “Do Not Disturb”. I am purposely reducing the distractions that come flying at my brain.

I’m trying to do the same at home, too. Set aside 30 minutes — 30 specific minutes — for writing. Read that book instead of fart around on the internet. Purposely decide that I’m going to watch TV for 60 minutes. (Because sometimes that’s what your brain needs after a long day.) Oh, and I’m trying to leave my cell phone in the living room when I go to bed. Checking Facebook right before sleep can NOT be good for cognitive function.

One thing at a time. How did such a simple idea become so complex?

The Writings of Martin Luther King

Last week I was searching for a new book to read and stumbled upon The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr. — on sale for less than a latte. And I realized, I’ve never actually read King’s writing before. The fact that I never encountered even one of his speeches during all my years of education seems somewhat shocking. So I decided, what the hey, it’s on sale.

It comes as no surprise, but King was a great writer. This book collects a series of his speeches, ranging from the years 1956 to 1968. It includes the well-known ones — “I Have a Dream”, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, “Eulogy for the Martyred Children” — and a lot of others, ranging on topics from segregation, education, India, nonviolent resistance, and the Vietnam War. All, of course, have one universal theme in common: civil rights.

When I read “I Have a Dream”, I closed my eyes and imagined standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the sun warming my face, as I looked out at the Washington Monument from the exact spot where King delivered his now famous speech. King’s words inspire you to think, to pause, to reflect on what you are doing for the greater good. They’re also relevant — civil rights are still an issue in this country (and, oh hey, the world at large). Today being Martin Luther King Day, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite passages from the book so far.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. –“A Time to Break Silence

There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men. —The Social Organization of Nonviolence

Whatever career you may choose for yourself — doctor, lawyer, teacher — let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in. –“Speech Before the Youth March for Integrated Schools

I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. –“I Have a Dream

At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.


I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions and intentions. I feel like I let myself down in 2014. I wanted to run 300 miles – I didn’t make half that. I wanted to finish my revisions – yeah, we know how that went. Most of all, I let myself get derailed by day-to-day life. The blinders of the everyday shuffle never came off. I lost sight of my goals.

I want to get back to myself. I want to reconnect with my body and my goals. But importantly – I don’t want to be too hard on myself. I want to push myself, yes. I want to set goals and achieve them. But I want to listen and do what feels right. Give myself permission to forget all the rest.

I’ve been writing again. I’ve been sinking into books. I’ve started running in the mornings, adding in some yoga videos. I’m working on finding balance.

I haven’t figured it out yet. But I will figure it out.