Koan: The Subjugation of a Ghost

This is both a Koan and a Ghost Story.
A Koan is a Buddhist saying or parable, designed to teach an aspect of Buddhist belief.
The most well-known koan is ‘the sound of one hand clapping.’
These days a koan is not an exclusively Buddhist phenomenon, and there are koans written by adherents to all religions, but the one that follows is an old traditional Buddhist story.

A young wife fell sick and was about to die. “I love you so much,” she told her husband, “I do not want to leave you. Do not go from me to any other woman. If you do, I will return as a ghost and cause you endless trouble.”

Soon the wife passed away. The husband respected her last wish for the first three months, but then he met another woman and fell in love with her. They became engaged to be married.

Immediately after the engagement a ghost appeared every night to the man, blaming him for not keeping his promise. The ghost was clever too. She told him exactly what had transpired between himself and his new sweetheart. Whenever he gave his fiancee a present, the ghost would describe it in detail. She would even repeat conversations, and it so annoyed the amn that he could not sleep. Someone advised him to take his problem to a Zen master who lived close to the village. At length, in despair, the poor man went to him for help.

“Your former wife became a ghost and knows everything you do, ” commented the master. “Whatever you do or say, whatever you give your beloved, she knows. She must be a very wise ghost. Really you should admire such a ghost. The next time she appears, bargain with her. Tell her that she knows so much you can hide nothing from her, and that if she will answer you one question, you promise to break your engagement and remain single.”

“What is the question I must ask her?” inquired the man.

The master replied: “Take a large handful of soy beans and ask her exactly how many beans you hold in your hand. If she cannot tell you, you will know that she is only a figment of your imagination and will trouble you no longer.”

The next night, when the ghost appeared the man flattered her and told her that she knew everything.

“Indeed,” replied the ghost, “and I know you went to see that Zen master today.”

“And since you know so much,” demanded the man, “tell me how many beans I hold in this hand!”

There was no longer any ghost to answer the question.

Louise Gluck wins the Nobel Prize

Today, October 8th 2020, American poet Louise Gluck was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
The Nobel Prizes were instituted by Swedish inventor, Alfred Nobel, in 1901.
Nobel amassed a fortune from the invention of high explosives. In 1888 he was disconcerted to read his own obituary, which was headlined, “The Merchant of Death is Dead.”
The obituary was of course a mistake. It was actually Nobel’s brother who had died, but it caused Nobel himself immense remorse, and he set up the prizes in an attempt to atone for his terrible invention.
The prizes are nearly always controversial, especially in the United States. The most recent outcry was when Barack Obama won the Peace Prize in 2009. Obviously your feelings about President Obama winning the prize would be dependent on your political affiliation.
Louise Gluck’s award seems unlikely to cause much controversy.
Below is one of her poems.

The Evening Star

Tonight, for the first time in many years,
there appeared to me again
a vision of the earth’s splendor:

in the evening sky
the first star seemed
to increase in brilliance
as the earth darkened

until at last it could grow no darker.
And the light, which was the light of death,
seemed to restore to earth

its power to console. There were
no other stars. Only the one
whose name I knew

as in my other life I did her
injury: Venus,
star of the early evening,

to you I dedicate
my vision, since on this blank surface

you have cast enough light
to make my thought
visible again

Notable Writing Excerpts from Student YA Stories.

Relaxing for a moment in an abandoned park during the weird part of night. Simon and Colin lounge in the most comfortable park bench they could find. Offering some minor shelter in scattered trees, something to block crisp winter winds. The frigid air tickles exposed skin and chilling spilt beer that seeps into their clothes. Colin fills the night with sound, soft snores echoing in the park. Head pressed against Simon’s shoulder.

Avoiding boredom and hunger, Simon sets his sights on their 3 AM snacks. Settling on store brand chips, Simon grasps at the thin plastic covering. Pulling at the slippery surface that embodies the grease of the crisps within. The flimsy vault comes open and a concentrated waft of chili pepper comes forward. A deep breath stings Simon’s nose and sets his mouth to water. Removing a single chip from the hoard, a golden delight comes forward, lightly dusted in scarlet savory succulence, uncracked and whole: an exemplar for all other chips to aspire to.

Last week, Jack and I were sitting on a bench eating ice cream when he told me he needed to talk to me.
“Hey, so I have something to tell you,” Jack said. He was playing with his mint chocolate chip ice cream with his spoon. 

“It was last winter. I was closing up at work that night. I was the last one in the building, my boss trusted me with the keys, so I did what I had to do and I left. I locked up the building and realized my phone died. I had to get home but it was pitch black. Thank God I had my flashlight though. So I started walking down the block and took a shortcut through Amherst Street. All of a sudden, I heard this weird, like, screech. I figured it was a hyena or something. But then I heard another. Guys, this wasn’t an animal. It was the scariest thing I ever heard. It was coming from the woods, so I walked over. As I started getting closer to the woods, I heard rustling. It was like, leaves, but it was the dead of winter. I don’t know. I pointed the flashlight toward the woods and  I saw something.” 

Laura ran as fast as she could over to my house; outfits hanging over her arms as if she were dressing models for the runway. She gave me all sorts of options; dresses, shirts, jeans and nice shirts. It was all so overwhelming, and I still wasn’t sure what I should wear. Up until this point I never questioned the way I looked or dressed but I knew for this date I had to look perfect. If I didn’t look my best, Ryder would never fall for me.
“How about this?” asked Laura hold up a light blue dress that just reached the floor from where she was holding it.
“I don’t know, I never wear dresses.”
“Okay, how about this one?” Laura was holding up a pair of dark washed jeans with a baby pink dress top. I never liked the way I looked in jeans, but I tried it on for Laura.
“Definitely not this one.”
“Ok, last one. What do you think about this?” Asked Laura.
“This is beautiful,” I said, wearing a light blue skirt with fringe on the bottom, paired with a black tight shirt that fell off my shoulders. I never felt prettier until I tried this outfit on. I knew that if I wanted Ryder to fall in love with me, that this was the outfit to wear. My excitement for the date grew bigger and bigger and I couldn’t wait any longer to go.  

Walking into the new middle school, all alone, I kept my head down and my hands in my pockets.  I hated always being the new kid.  Not being the most outgoing, I always had a hard time meeting people.  My dad told me everytime his job dragged us to a new town or city that I’m too quiet.  Xavier didn’t care.  He came right up to me, the awkward looking new kid, and immediately started blabbering.  It was overwhelming at first, if I’m being honest.  Nobody ever approached me so quickly before.  It felt nice, like I was finally accepted, and I barely even had to say anything.  

As they walk inside, everyone is going crazy. All of the seniors are screaming; they are all excited that it’s senior year. As for the freshman, the young, innocent kids, they all looked scared. Their poor little faces looked as scared as a kid on his first rollercoaster.  

I took a deep sigh and chose a parking spot on the side of the building, as usual. I tried to prepare myself for another typical Friday morning shift, but I was already anticipating going home in seven hours. There many different things I would like to spend my time doing rather than spend my morning and afternoon working in a trampoline park café. All I could think about was my endless list of homework to do when I get home. Although I’ve been in college for nearly two years, I can’t help but get stressed out about homework. I always have so much to do, so I feel like any time I’m doing something else it’s taking away time from getting my work done.

I get out of the car on a hot sunny morning and walk the long dreadful walk up to Marcello’s.  I walk in hanging my head low hoping no one will see me.  I have one goal here and that is to get in, make my money, and leave.  As I walk in I see my boss Toni right away making pizzas behind the counter.  

“Ciao buongiorno, Gianna.”  Toni said.  

After working at the pizzeria for a month and a half I learned that means hello, good morning in Italian.  

“Good morning Toni.”  I say back and lower my head real quick cutting the conversation short.  

I go straight the waitress station and start to fill the lemons and roll the silverware in the napkins.  Next thing I know Terri comes walking in, she looks tired and has a cigarette in her hand as usual.  She and Toni are whispering in the other room, but I can’t hear what they are saying.  I try to listen so I can hear bits and pieces, but I can never hear anything.  I see Terri coming my way so again I keep my head down trying to avoid her.  

“Katie, um I see you did not wipe off the tables like you are supposed to do for me.” 

“Hi Terri, I know, I didn’t get to it yet because I was refilling the lemons and rolling the silverware for you like you ask me to do.” 

“Well you know I like those things done in the morning by the time I get here so I don’t have to do it when I come in.”

I sigh and roll my eyes as I walk away from her.  I go outside and water the plants, come back in and wipe down the tables and lay the placemats on them, and turn on the open light.  Then go back to the waitress station so I can hide from Toni and Terri until a customer comes in.

Everything on the outside looks perfect but inside it is fill with lies and secretes kind of like everyone here. We all wear white and navy blue uniforms those are our school colors. Girls wear a navy blue and white plaid skirts with a navy blue polo and knee high socks and Sperry’s during the fall and spring and boys wear long grey dress pants and a white button down with a blue tie and sometimes a blazer. We look picture perfect ready 100% of the time but that is just to make up for our imperfect lives we all have. Everyone here has a secret and they are all just waiting to be expose. Last night I joined the list of secrets and now I have to await my turn to be exposed. 

The photo she saw of Steve sitting in a booth at a restaurant brought her back to their first date at Giovanni’s, an Italian restaurant. He ordered lasagna and Stacy had ordered ravioli. He smelled so good that night, he wore Polo cologne. They held hands across the top of the table until their meals were served. Looking into his eyes that night, she knew he would be the man she would marry.

Now, seeing a photo of him looking into the eyes of another woman hurt her tremendously. Stacy wondered what she did to deserve this.

Although I questioned a lot of things, I was sure I wanted to keep my baby because

        I thought who was I to decide which children get to live or die. 

So I kept it to myself for so long, didn’t even tell my boyfriend because telling  people would’ve made it real, although it was already as real as it can get. So I waited and waited and eventually a month later I told my boyfriend but I still didn’t tell my mom I didn’t want to let her down but now I’m almost half way through around 20 weeks and I swore I was doing a good job keeping my little secret a secret but one night my mom’s boyfriend came in my room and wanted to talk to me and I already knew what it was about. Our convo went a little like this ..

          He said “ your mom has been saying she thinks your pregnant but I told her your not…” 

Crystal walked, then ran, then walked, then ran down the street, tears blocking

her view, but still managed to make it home. She got to the door to realize that she could not face her family like this. She then turned left towards the park. When she got there, she took out her journal and began to write. If you were a bystander peering in, you would feel sorry for the journal as her anger exploded between each line. She closed the book gently, placed it in her bookbag, and went on the swing and before and before she knew it was dark.

Yes, it was true. That ball was smoked and I could only watch it fall to the ground on the other side of that homerun fence. We lost, I lost. Our team didn’t even stick around to see the other guys going wild. We left right away as losing was not something we were used to. We just went back to my house to talk about our team.

As soon as  Grandma Mabel and I  started preparing and baking for the day, the first customer already had arrived. 

“Hello, welcome to Sunnyside Sweets! How may I help you today?” I said.

The customer smiled. “Hi, my name is Joanne. Can I please get a carrot cake dessert for my granddaughter’s birthday?” She stretched her neck and pointed down to the bakery case. 

“Of course!” I said enthusiastically. “Would you like a carrot cake cupcake, birthday cake, or brownie for your granddaughter?”

“Wow, so many options,” Joanne said, “but I think I’ll choose the actual carrot birthday cake.”

“Sure!” I said. “Would you like me to write anything on the cake?”

“Yes, that would be great!” Joanne said excitedly. “Can you please write ‘Happy 8th Birthday Julianne’?”

“Certainly,” I said. 

I took out the cake from the chilly bakery case and wrote what Joanne had exactly told me in bright pink icing. 

“Oh my goodness, that is Julianne’s absolute favorite color!” Joanne said. “She is going to be so excited!”

“Taylor…,” my sister said calmly but nervous.
“What?” I said. Only a half hour until we arrive at my cousins house.!

“I put in the wrong address,” she said.

“No you didn’t…” I said. She usually always messes with me and thinks its funny because she knows I have a short temper and will freak out.

“I swear I put in our address and this is not taking us back home,” she said. I felt myself gripping the steering wheel even harder lowing the music. I looked over at my sister and she could tell I was ready to flip my switch.

“What are you an idiot? Give me the phone,” I said. While putting in the right address, I was typing so fast my nails were making a clicking sound on the iPhone. We were another hour and a half away from home.

“I can’t believe this. How could you be so smart but so stupid,” I said. I looked at the gas tank which read 15 miles till empty. I knew I would have to get off at the next exit and find the nearest gas station.

“Good thing we are in Pennsylvania and I know how to pump my own gas,” I said sarcastically with two hands on the wheel trying to pay attention.

Megan eventually came sliding out from her bedroom, that reeked of puke and lavender air freshener. She dragged her feet down our long hallway of the small ranch house, and plopped down on the cold leather sofa with the two of us. 

“How are you feeling?” I asked her as I slid down the couch making room for her to lay. 

“I’m. Never. Drinking. Again.” These were Megan’s famous words after every night of going out; until around 8pm when someone would hand her a drink and without hesitation, she would chug. 

It was a frosty and chilly morning in the city of New York. Thanksgiving had just passed so the city was getting ready for the Christmas season. There was Christmas decorations in almost every store. I knew that it was that time of year again where the tourists take over times square. I’ve gotten used it and have acquired ways to get around all that heavy walking traffic. 

My nerves had been through the roof the night before so I didn’t get much sleep so hopefully some coffee will help. Its just so nerve wracking every time I have an audition. I never know how its going to go or even if I get called back. It’s been such a hectic year since moving out here. I’ve had nothing but small parts in little plays and I’m really hoping that today will be my lucky day. 

Anagram Exercise


Jason Reynolds uses anagrams as a literary device in LONG WAY DOWN.

What are ANAGRAMS?









To make an anagram you take a word or phrase, and rearrange the letters to make another word or phrase.

In the example above the letters from ‘ALIVE’ can be rearranged to make the phrase, ‘A VEIL.’

You can use names to make anagrams, sometimes with comical results:

Donald Trump = Portland Mud

Boris Johnson … Mayor Boris Johnson = Oh Joy Mr. Brass Onion.

Little Red Riding Hood = Delight Orion Tiddler

The purpose of this exercise is to use an anagram in order to create an evocative phrase, and then use this phrase to begin a poem.

Sounds crazy perhaps, but just try it and see what you get. 

Maybe it won’t work. If not, then no worries, you can try a different approach.

In order to get you anagram began with your name.

You can try different permutations, such as you could use just your first name, or last name, or both, your last name and your initials.

Begin with your name in the form of your preferred author credit:

Ed Asher Briant = Absent red hair…

Edward Asher Briant = Inwards threadbare…

EA Briant = Ate brain?

Mister Edward Asher Briant = Bear remarried, withstands…

Out of these I like ‘Absent red hair…’

Absent red hair

Absent green eyes

Absent freckles 

Absent your smile

Absent your voice

Absent the softness of your presence…

You can also tweak your anagram––after all it’s the poem that counts, not the anagram, the anagram is just a means to an end

I loved at Absent red hair, and thought it was a close anagram of ‘Absent reader I…

Absent reader, I 

Engrave my thoughts

To you alone,

Hoping they will brush your face

Like a summer morning spider’s web.


Lorca and Duende

Duende (“having duende”) loosely means having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity that originates in the Southern Spanish folk-music and dance of flamenco. The artistic and especially musical term was derived from the duende, an elf or goblin-like magic creature in Spanish mythology.
El duende is the spirit of evocation. It comes from inside as a physical and emotional response to art. It is what gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive. Folk music in general, especially flamenco, tends to embody an authenticity that comes from a people whose culture is enriched by diaspora and hardship: vox populi, the human condition of joys and sorrows. Drawing on popular usage and Spanish folklore, Federico García Lorca first developed the aesthetics of Duende in a lecture he gave in Buenos Aires in 1933, “Juego y teoria del duende” (“Play and Theory of the Duende”). 

So, why do I like the idea of duende?

For me it’s a little neutral in terms of belief. As a group we have a variety of belief systems that range from the deeply religious (and across a variety of religions and philosophies) to atheism, and duende hopefully shouldn’t interfere with any of those systems of belief.

Are there really elves? Or are they merely something psychological? Even neurological?

Whatever you believe about the universe, embrace this moment of the blank page.

Wait a minute before you pick up your pen––or scissors––or glue stick. 

There might be a billion civilizations in our galaxy alone. In terms of science and technology every single one of those worlds might be progressing along similar paths to our own, but no being in any of of those worlds will ever create what you are are about to create.

You are about to add something to the history of the universe that would never exist from the beginning to the end of time if you were not about to put it there––and that is true regardless of your beliefs.

According to Christopher Maurer, editor of “In Search of Duende”, at least four elements can be isolated in Lorca’s vision of duende: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical.
The duende is an earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding them that “ants could eat him or that a great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head.” 

“The duende is a force, not a labour, a struggle, not a thought,” said Lorca. “I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins.” Lorca identified its presence, particularly, in cante jondo, a kind of Andalusian folk music. “Behind these poems,” he wrote, “lurks a terrible question that has no answer.”

The lobster who brings the artist face-to-face with death, and who helps them create and communicate memorable, spine-chilling art.

Nick Cave has described duende as “the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives at the heart of certain works of art. It was nice, I felt, to put a name to a face.”
Many other songwriters, who are poets at heart, also elicit duende. They include Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen. 

The Guitar: Federico García Lorca, 1898 – 1936

 The weeping of the guitar begins.
The goblets of dawn
are smashed.
The weeping of the guitar
to silence it.
to silence it.
It weeps monotonously
as water weeps
as the wind weeps
over snowfields.
to silence it.
It weeps for distant
Hot southern sands
yearning for white camellias.
Weeps arrow without target
evening without morning
and the first dead bird
on the branch.
Oh, guitar!
Heart mortally wounded
by five swords.

About Me

I was born, and grew up in the City of Brighton in England. My undergraduate degree was actually in art, and I worked as an illustrator for many years, first in London, and then in New York.

I started writing seriously about 20 years ago.

I published my first picture book for children, PAPER PARADE, in 2004.

Since then I have published about a dozen books, mostly for children, including two Young Adult novels.

I won a couple of awards: A FLYING START from Publisher’s Weekly, for PAPER PARADE, and a NEWCOMER TO WATCH from Horn Book, for SEVEN STORIES.

In November 2004 I started compiling a weekly comic for Publisher’s Weekly, entitled TALES FROM THE SLUSH PILE. Since then I have produced over 700 of the comics.