Awards, Anniversaries, Dedications and Some Great Summer Reading


Celebrating a blogaversary. Next month marks the tenth year of publishing this blog. Like me, it has shape-shifted over the past decade. The titles – or lack thereof –  tell the tale. When I first launched the blog in June 2008, it was a nameless, online repository for a column I wrote for a parenting newspaper. A year later — with my daughters in high school and college and mother-mode still fairly front and center — it became PERSONAL SPACE, which reflected what I needed at the time. When the girls were fully on their own seven years later, the blog became fused with my writerly identity and writing process and became what you are reading now — EBB & FLOW.


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Your summer reading. The Summer Issue of Thread, the tenth issue, will bloom in June. Six essays on six threads in the patchwork of life. A Facebook friendship. The swing of a baseball bat. A Mexican blessing. Strip teasing in the car. No shoes and twenty-five dollars. A hawk’s stare. Like EBB & FLOW, Thread has grown into a harmoniously diverse chorus of voices which now includes the publication’s first editorial/production intern, Alexandra Yetter. Her keen eye and inquiring mind are already bringing a fresh energy to the issue under construction. A smart someone to run things by is a divine gift for the solo editorpreneur. For more about Alexandra, see the Contributor’s page.


A hometown horn toot. When I learned that I would be receiving Skokie’s 2018 Individual Award for Artistic Excellence, I had to read the email three times to fully digest it. Apparently, I am the first literary-type to receive this award —  voted on by members of the village board, including Mayor George W. Van Dusen — which I now share with some incredibly gifted visual, performing and musical artists. I’ll be receiving a certificate on June 4 and my name will be added to a permanent plaque on display at one of my favorite theaters in the Chicago area:  North Shore Center for Performing Arts. I am honored and awestruck that my community recognizes artists in this way. Stay tuned to hear about my future plans to give some of that love back.


31520655_10155395367055718_4745688439716839424_n 2And a dedication. To Tom Wolferman — writer, reluctant storyteller and friend — who died, far too young, earlier this month. Tom was among a handful of writers to whom I reached out when I was launching Thread, asking for essays. When I first emailed him, he responded with this: “The potential not to squint in front of a mic with a death grip on five pages printed in 60-point font? Sounds intriguing.” The piece he sent, which ultimately became “The Paper Trail,” was about his copywriting exploits at a local newspaper in the 80s. In it, he refers to an “unsettling photo” that was taken of him in a corduroy bomber jacket, bell bottoms and a Walkman. When he sent the photo over, he wrote: “This pic is wrong on every level, but at least it validates that I am truthful in my nonfiction descriptives. Funk it up. Size it down. Add some red eye. Put it through 300 sepia filters that don’t make me look like a flunkie from ‘Welcome Back Kotter.’ I’m agreeing to this for the sake of art, right? Tell me it’s for art, Ellen. Regards, The artist formerly known as Tom.” His writerly voice was so sparkling, it ignited an email inbox. It’s dark right now where Tom used to be, but remembering him and reading his work keeps that light ignited. For those of us who deal in words, it’s a reminder that in addition to our lives, losses and loves, our work is our legacy.

The Eighth Spring



We’re three-quarters of the way through April in the Midwest, but it’s the calendar’s spring. Winter clings on. I woke yesterday morning to the sound of ice being scraped off a car.

For me, it’s a serious spring. A sad spring. A green-brown-white, dry-moist, aromatic season of birth and death.

The first spring without my mother in it.

The spring proceeding the completion of my memoir in which spring plays a title role.

It’s my epilogue spring.

Mothers leave the world first. That’s the design. It’s expected. I knew grief before but this is something different. The earth feels a little less steady under my feet.

Our mothers are our origin stories: We enter the world together. We walk this world together. If we’re lucky, like I was, we even enjoy one another’s company along the way. Mothers and their children are bound together forever, no matter what their relationship.

However, life keeps moving so I am learning how to trudge on through the grief. Some things help. Conversations with close friends, especially ones who have lost their mothers. Texts from my daughters. Sharing memories and reflections about my mom with my brother. Dinner and a movie at home with my husband. Sixties and seventies rock oldies. A good Netflix series. A walk. Taking photos.

What’s anchoring me most, however, is taking this amusement park ride of feelings to the page.

There, grief is welcome. As it is on the canvas, potter’s wheel, sewing machine, ivory keys, strings or microphone. Where it’s safe. Turning our feelings into something that can help us heal. To make art from chaos. So that our pain might offer us some meaning. Maybe a gift to someone else.

One Hundred Words on Grief

Your world may feel upside down, but you are getting a crash course in New Normal.

You aren’t alone in your grief, but no two people feel it the same way.

Grief wants to be in charge – and sometimes is – but it comes and goes.

You can successfully push grief aside, but it will show up later in some unexpected form.

Grief offers experience with end-of-life issues but demands that you think about yours.

You become aware of how fast time goes, but also of its preciousness.

Grief can bring intense sorrow, but intense joy can be experienced within it.

Memoir update: I thought it was a journey just getting the words onto the page. Turns out, finding representation for a book is like crossing the border to another country. The process is slow. Far slower than journalistic deadlines or literary publishing. It demands patience, which I’m not very good at. I promise to keep you posted.


Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2018.


Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My …

Lions. March comes in like a lion …The Spring Issue of Thread – the ninth issue – is now, officially, released, offering essays that are funny, poignant, reflective, sensorial, playful and surrendering. Six essays by six wildly different writers explore what it feels like to be in the wrong job, feel the suffering along with a loved one, reflect over things not said, listen to the sound from a jail cell, mull over the multiple meanings of words and let go in the midst of life changes. The Summer Issue of Thread will be released in June. Watch for Stitch on the first of every month.

Tigers. After months of revision, fingers shaking, I mustered up my inner tiger and pressed SEND last week. My memoir manuscript is now in the hands of an agent. Now, the wait. I’ll keep you posted.

Bears. To be bearish is to be frank, open, direct, candid, honest, outspoken, straightforward and sincere. All of these things happen in writing workshops when we talk about published personal narratives (appropriate when the facilitator’s name is Barish!) The discussion makes us better readers and writers and we have a ton of fun doing it! My six-week, summer writing workshop starts June 20 through August 1. Email me if you’d like to save a spot.

Oh my! I will be offering coaching programs, writing workshops and work-in-progress reviews designed to boost your personal, creative or business goals beginning June 2018. Could one work for you?

New One-to-One Coaching Programs

Do you want to complete a draft of a memoir or personal narrative collection in one year? Develop an outline for a book-length project? Improve your grades, boost your business writing skills or complete an academic writing assignment? You have three ways to get your work started, moving or off of your desk to meet any budget. See more here.

Workplace Writing Workshops

Could you  – or members of your staff  – use a boost for their business writing skills? Consider scheduling a lunchtime learning writing workshop for your staff. For more information, email me.

Work-in-Progress Reviews

Have you been thinking of submitting to Thread or Stitch or some other publication but you feel like you could use some feedback on your work? For $95, I can provide you with a detailed review of your essay. You’ll get a thoughtful response to your work with concrete suggestions for revision. To learn more about how to set up a review, email me at

For updates on these and other goings-on, find me on Facebook.



Clarity, Doubt and Insanity: The Edit

Alexa Mazzarello

So, as you may know, I’m in revision mode on a memoir.

Last month, I decided to dedicate some space on this blog to document my journey to finish this project.

You can read about that here. I wrote that I wanted to make a record. To reveal moments of clarity, doubt and insanity; the process. That even as a writing coach, I, too, need a schedule and some witnesses to keep me accountable and encouraged.

To that end, here are some selected scenes from January for what I’m calling my periodic blogumentary.

Tuesday, January 2

I respond to every e-message and Facebook post as they arrive; run up and down the stairs  to stay on top of multiple loads of laundry; take my car in for a wash and balance my checkbook.

Thursday, January 4

First writing day of 2018. I dig back into a scene from the early nineteen-seventies where my mother checks in on my brother who, at 10, was quite shy. After I write this scene, my brother, now 55, calls to tell me about how he has taken a tough stance with the bank and car dealership so that we will not under any circumstances be going underwater with our mother’s car. 

Friday, January 5

I return to another scene from the early seventies, revisiting the moment my mother first sees me, post-auto accident. I remember her expression when she sets eyes on my mouth  – where my main physical injury occurred – and I am reminded of how she refused to look at her own reflection in the mirror when she was sick for so many months prior to her death last year.

Thursday, January 18

A coffee conversation with a friend who writes young adult fiction gives me the confidence to let go of sentences which didn’t read as authentically twelve for the section in my book written from a young girl’s perspective. She reminds me that what comes after trauma doesn’t come all at once, but in small bits, slowly. Later, I notice that I have more emotional distance from a pivotal scene with my father, which allows me to soften it and let the storyline create the scene’s poignancy.

 Monday, January 22

I take a treadmill break and am flooded with surety about adding a new “character.” She’s been in, then out, and in-and-out again. But with my heart rate up and sweat dripping down my brow, I suddenly recognize the mark she made on me as it relates to the narrative and when I get back to my laptop, my fingers can barely keep pace with the flow of my thoughts.

Tuesday, January 23

I write 3,500 words and take a long lunch break and watch “The Chew.” When I get back to my office to reread what I wrote, most of it is windup, but there are 250 really good words that are worth keeping.

Friday, January 25

I spend most of the day reading the entire manuscript – start to finish – making little tweaks here and there, and when I’m done, I think, this feels close to whole as I can get it today. I set it aside for a much-needed break.

Monday, January 29

I rise early and read certain sections of the manuscript again, the parts more recently written. I find typos, as well as phrases that need tightening or clarifying. A writer can endlessly edit. But I let out a long exhale, craft an email to my trusted editor, attach the document and press send. Several hours later, two ideas for new complete sections come to me. I sigh, grab my iPhone, and jot them down. A writer writes even when she isn’t writing.

Sunday, February 10

My editor tells me she’ll have notes for me in a few weeks. While I wait for feedback –  which we writers desperately need but desperately fret over, too – I am noticing more psychic space, more room for random thoughts even though many still have to do with the book. But I am also noticing an unhinged feeling, some rootlessness. A worrisome thought comes: Once this work is completed, who I will be?

Photo from Unsplash by Alexa Mazzarello.








Recede and Retreat, Surge and Spurt


When I titled this blog EBB & Flow, it wasn’t only for the letters that spell out my initials, but because I really do believe that the creative process moves like the ebb and flow of bodies of water. Our writing practices – like any creative process – recedes and retreats, surges and spurts, and then recedes-retreats once again. Like breathing. As if the process itself was alive.

And so, I shouldn’t have been so surprised when my year-long writing effort came to an abrupt halt last fall.

After years of flimsy starts and frustrating stops, I had managed to get a first draft of a memoir onto the page between August 2016 and August 2017. It was no small task to get a draft down in one year. A literary agent read the first 75 pages and generously provided me with notes and an invitation to send her the completed version. It felt confirming. Amazing. I took my experience and integrated it into lessons for my students and clients and the approaches appeared to resonate for them, too.

My plan was to revise and finish a second draft of the memoir between coaching and teaching during the fall of 2017.

Ah, plans. Designed to be made. So often destined to break.

In early August, my mother became ill and needed hospitalization. Because she lived out of town, I had to travel frequently to be with her. Then, I was offered a job teaching job that I couldn’t pass up and my private coaching schedule was becoming unusually full.

And so, the book revision drew back. My mother, and my students, moved to front and center. It was the right decision. My mother died the day before Christmas and though I am missing her deeply and profoundly, I believe I gave her everything I could in the short time we had left together. I hope I did the same for my students, too.

As the new year approached, I secured time to finish that revision. Actually scheduled it. I’m ready to finish this project. Ready to stream back into the flow.

Intellectually ready, at least.

Truth is, a lot has happened since I finished that first draft. For one thing, because it’s a memoir, my mother has a rather large role in my story and as her health was declining, I couldn’t help but think about how it was impacting the story I planned to tell. How much will what actually happened change the storyline and the themes? How long will it take for me to move back in the same rhythm of writing? Will I ever? Is it possible that the words and sentences will sound different because time has passed and my perspective has changed? Will I be able to write through the grief?

These questions led me to an idea. One that I believe will help me reunite with the flow and, also, offer some insight into creative process which is, after all, what I hope to deliver in this blog.

Over the next months, I’m going to use this space as a blogumentary to document my journey to finish this project.

To make a record. To keep me answerable. To reveal the process and discover some insights along the way. To connect and inspire you and me. Each month I’ll share my struggles, slip-ups and, hopefully, a few triumphs.

Even as a writing coach, I, too, need accountability, encouragement, a schedule and witnesses to remind me that when the flow recedes, the tide will indeed come in again.

Photo by Arif Iswanto, courtesy of Unsplash.