Writing Prompt: Let’s talk about the weather

This week’s writing prompt with my class is about the weather. You know, that thing we so often use for small talk. But the weather seems to be at the forefront of every conversation this week. The northeast is getting pounded with snow once again, and locally, we’re under the threat of freezing rain, which is one of the worst things that can happen in the South, next to tornadoes. All in all, it stinks to be outside wherever you are. Unless, of course, you are in South Florida. Or some other warm climate.

So this week, write about the weather. Tell us what kind of weather you enjoy.

I love the rain. Even now, that the temperature is below freezing and I can hear the gritty sound of frozen rain hitting the windows, I like it.

There’s something about the overcast days, with the dark gray clouds and the chill in the air that speaks to me in a comforting way. Now, I do like sunny days. I enjoy the sunshine and cool breeze of spring, the heavy heat and burning sun of summer. I even like snow. Especially if I’m a tourist.

But rain. Rain. It soothes me. Inspires me. Calms me. Makes me want to take a nap.

When we lived in Miami, my husband and I used to sit on our back porch and watch the storms coming in off the Everglades. Those were the epic storms. They rose up gently with heavy black clouds. Everything about them was larger than life, monstrous. These storms moved slowly, so it seemed like they were constantly building energy, and they usually brought lots of thunder and lightning along with it. Those were the storms that lasted all day. It was perfect for porch-sitting, coffee-drinking, spending time with your lover deep in conversation storm-watching.

If the rain came from the east, from the ocean, they were different. These were usually sudden showers although every once in a while they’d bring some thunder and lightning, too. Mostly, though, these storms blew by quickly, the clouds spreading out and thinning until the sun came back out and dried up everything. Those were the rainstorms that came and went, leaving no evidence. They were fun, too. Great for running and playing in the rain, or just keeping an eye out for the end, after everything was refreshed.

These days the rain bring a more somber mood, and I’m ok with that. It chills me, and that just gives me the perfect excuse to make something hot to drink, maybe coffee, maybe tea. Maybe some rich hot chocolate. I’ll inevitably find my way to a cozy spot next to my husband and cuddle under a shared blanket to read a book or talk.

Plus, puddles. What’s not to love?

Writing Prompt: Write about something that scared you

This week’s writing prompt with my class makes me a little more vulnerable than I’d like, but I suppose that’s what I’ve challenged my students to do, so it follows I should shake in my boots a little, too. We’ve been discussing our goals and dreams, events that have challenged us or frightened us before delving into action. Adrenaline was at the forefront, warning us that something was going to happen quickly, honing our senses into a hyper-alert and hypersensitive state.

Write about something that scared you.

It took me forever to press the send button on an email to my editor at Ave Maria Press containing the manuscript for my first book. Sometime in the fourth grade I decided I wanted to be a writer, and it took all those decades for it to happen in a traditional medium.  Oh, I’ve flirted around with writing on this blog, and other places, even self-published a bunch of things, but this time, the stakes seemed a little higher for me. What if the publisher hates it? What if nobody wants to buy it?

What if the whole universe conspires against my book and deems it the worst thing ever! 

I was consoled with the knowledge that no matter how bad it could be, it’s not likely to generate an online contest for terrible opening lines, like the Bulwer-Lytton Prize, so I hit send. It was an action 42 years in the making, since that very first essay I wrote in the fourth grade.

Nothing exploded. Nobody fired me.

I got a little bit of indigestion later, when I found out what the title was. Oh, it’s sure to be a classic, at least in my family. Are you ready?

My Badass Book of Saints

There’s an awesome subtitle, but I want you to pay attention to it and you’re still obsessing over Badass in the title of a Catholic Saints book. That’s OK. Me, too. Let’s recover together.

My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live.

I like it. It suits me. I mean, I’m writing about some really extraordinary women, some saints, some not quite saints, and a few that, well, might be saints in heaven, but weren’t exactly Saints on earth. I’m in there, too, telling my story, my mom’s story, my grandma’s story.

It’s a pretty good book. A badass book.

And I’m still scared.

My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live
by Maria Morera Johnson
Ave Maria Press

Writing Prompt: Crystal Moment

This week’s writing prompt with my class is simple yet complex. We often think of milestones in our lives, but can we isolate one moment that impacted us so profoundly that we can say it has defined who we’ve become? This crystal-clear moment shines in our timeline so brightly we can point to it and say That’s it. That’s when I became brave or successful or happy or bold.

What’s your crystal moment?

My crystal moment happened when I was in college. I studied abroad between my junior and senior year. It was an easy decision to make. I was majoring in English, with a great love of medieval French literature — a lot of the Arthurian romances came out of that time period. I couldn’t get enough of Chretien de Troyes’s poems and epic stories of Lancelot and the Grail, and the heroic virtues of chivalry. I guess I was a romantic.

I went into this adventure with an open mind, but I really lacked a lot of maturity when it came to being on my own. I’d always lived at home. I went to a commuter college, and while I was paying for my studies, everything else was comfortably taken care of by my parents. I had a roof over my head, meals, and even a car (plus gas money). My only responsibility was to do well in school and graduate.

I was well on the way to graduating when I got the wild hair to study in France. After all, I’d been reading  plenty of French literature, I might as well go visit.

It was actually the best thing I could have done. I learned a great deal on this adventure, not all of it about French literature. In fact, while I did read some Victor Hugo in French thanks to a wonderful library in my host home, I learned much more than just stories. I’ve always known that literature is the study of the human condition. I got to experience the human condition in a new way. Better than reading about it, I got to live it.

This adventure taught me about self-reliance since I had to figure everything out on my own: from budgeting, to travel, to essentially being on my own. I learned a great deal about different cultures, not just the French. My location in Aix-en-Provence placed me close to Marseilles, close to the French Riviera, and beyond. I saw quite a bit of Europe. But perhaps the most important lesson I learned was empathy. This daughter of immigrants got to experience first hand, at the same age, what my parents experienced when they came to the United States.

Wait. Let me qualify that. I wasn’t running away from oppression. I had money in my pocket, and a return ticket to my home.

But I did learn what it was like to immerse myself suddenly into a culture I didn’t quite understand. I found myself yearning for the familiar, isolated in unexpected moments. Voiceless as long I didn’t know the language. It may have only been a little piece of their experience, but it was enough for me to return home with a different attitude. A broader understanding of what their generation experienced.

If that had been all, it would have been quite a bit. But thirty years later, in my work, I teach many new immigrants to the United States. My experiences then continue to inform me today. It’s an extraordinary full circle.

my journal from the trip
my journal from the trip

a twist on the photo challenge

How to capture the manifestation of “express yourself” when it’s a poem? By piling up all my journals into a nice little bed.

And writing a poem, of course.

click on the picture to read the poem

bubbles. bubbly bubbles.


I recently completed the manuscript for a book that will be available in the fall of this year. I can’t wait to share more on this later, but in the meantime, I’m basking in a kind of twilight between absolute and immeasurable joy (part accomplishment, part astonishment) and sheer terror.

It’s a good thing I’m not in this alone — I have a kind and generous editor, a supportive and understanding husband and family that’s put up with too many leftovers, and a bunch of friends who have prayed me through tens of thousands of words.

I am one blessed woman. And bubbly, too.

One of those amazing friends showed up with a special bottle of champagne to toast this milestone, and I gotta say this: never has anything tickled my nose and brought tears to my eyes like this surprise. Well, maybe the tears weren’t entirely from the champagne, but let’s be real — it was a right tasty toast. And then some.

I tried to be gentle with the bottle so I could open it without incident, but just as soon as I released the wire cage and positioned the bottle to loosen the cork, it flew off madly, hitting one of the paddles on the ceiling fan and bouncing off the wall. A minor scramble to save the champagne followed: we only spilled a little bit (that we wore behind our ears). And the rest was a delightful evening of sharing, and laughter, and maybe a few more tears. There’s something about champagne, a rare treat, that really tickles my nose.

We drank to the completed manuscript — but there was so much more in the process than just the few months I took to write it. This book has been a long time coming, and not just because I’ve been working at being a writer since I could hold a pencil. Everything has had to reach a certain level of readiness — of maturity. The obvious, of course, is my ability to string words together in a way that makes sense and speaks to others. But there’s been more growth. In my confidence. In my discipline (still a mess there), and in the maturing of my faith, too. It’s all there, wrapped up in a digital file.

It was good to celebrate.

The vintage 2004 champagne matured beautifully. When the grapes from that year were being gathered and prepared, I was in the midst of my own “fields” in my vocations of wife, mother, and teacher. I was scrambling from carpool to after school event, from class to class, and trying to keep my sanity taking care of a household. In the midst of all that chaos, I was scribbling notes and penning poems that were stuffed away in boxes and in the pages of unfinished journals.

Like the champagne, I’d like to think I have matured well, too. Enough to be bubbly about my book. Enough to be bubbly about the projects that may come next — because the real toast that night was for more than the book. I feel like I’ve finally taken this gift that came from God and I can put it to good use, for Him.

That bottle of champagne waited patiently to be uncorked, and then it let loose. I feel the same way.

how to write a book in 5 easy steps

journal1. Come up with a great idea. Congratulate yourself on your brilliance.

2. Write a fantastic first page. Show everybody who loves you. Especially show your mother. Congratulate yourself on your brilliance.

3. Show your work to that friend. You know, the one who has no qualms about telling you when you’re full of shit.

4.Go back to the page and do better. Congratulate yourself on picking your friends well.

5. Write. Write some more. Write again. Forget to do laundry. Eat take out. Generally abandon everything. Remember* to take a shower.

* Remember to thank all the kind people who encouraged you, especially the people who wondered what happened to all the clean underwear and towels, and the people who read mediocre drafts and said do better, and people who never read a word and said you can do it, and people who bought you mojitos and laughed, and the dog, who thinks you’re brilliant, no matter what.

Warmth: another weekly photo challenge

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 10.22.16 PM

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

I’m warm and cozy on this new year’s eve, drinking tea, doing a little writing, sharing the sofa with my honey, whose warmth and coziness can’t be captured in a picture.