Josey Rose Duncan

The Write Site

Tag Archives: writing



New year, new you.

The cynical, raised-by-New Yorkers part of me wants to throw all the shade on all this New Year’s rebirth; on resolutions, on proclamations to workout/eat healthier/create more/love more/be more open to new ideas; on optimistic decrees of total transformation tied to turning, once more, around the sun; turning our calendars (metaphoric and literal) to a new page—an arbitrary page of an arbitrary, Gregorian calendar.

The hippie, Northern California-bred me thinks that’s because we should be always evolving and growing, always loving and creating and moving our bodies and stretching our minds. That maybe we should all follow the moon more.

But maybe no matter how arbitrary the calendar, there’s something to this collective reflection, dream-wielding, goal-setting. Maybe there’s power in people and numbers. Maybe more accountability.

New year, new you, new me.

New outlook. New goals. New recurring sleep-time dreams to analyze because they mirror the new, recurring conscious-brain waking dreams that reflect new goals and a shiny, bright outlook on everything new that’s coming my way.

New rad clients. New chances to creatively collaborate. New exciting bylines and projects on the horizon. (More news about that later).

New beautiful and mobile-optimized website (thanks to Stephanie Gardner designs). Because we are always on our phones and some of the time when we’re on our phones I want us to be looking at—and reading blog posts published on—my new, beautiful website. Because we’re all always evolving and I am also evolving—as a sentient being, as a writer, as the founder and president and proprietor and sole employee of my freelancing enterprise that maybe next year I’ll term empire—and our online presence is just another piece of our evolving-sentient-being-ness and this website is the first thing that comes up when you search for me.

New morning routine (lemon water, meditation, memoir writing. And the gym—because I like to move and stretch while I listen to Savage Lovecast and This American Life—even though maybe that one doesn’t sound as enlightened as the others). Because whenever someone successful tells their secrets it’s always about meditation and lemon water and rising at dawn to do handstands on mountaintops. And not checking your email right away, or maybe just scanning for important messages but not replying right away. And writing three pages long-hand without reading any of it back for three weeks. And swimming in the coldest and deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean without a wetsuit, or wearing a wetsuit that resembles a seal’s skin, on the back of Great White sharks who’s gnashing teeth grin for you, alone, because of the lemon water you drink every morning on the tops of mountains posed in a one-handed handstand. Or something.

Renewed motivation to finish my memoir—and get it published for you to read. Which should happen now that I’m drinking lemon water every morning. Which should happen now that I have another year’s distance from the subject matter (so to speak), a year of mourning, of morning routines (however fledgling they’ve been before). A year of deepening so many friendships and letting a few fade; of my brother moving back to the U.S. from Russia after seven years; of brighter colors and bared souls as I strive to live, even more, in each settled moment. Of sadness: Watching a family friend I call uncle suffer a stroke and fall into a coma, of the wait-and-see of it all, as he lies, slowly recovering but still unconscious, in his hospital bed. Of trips to Austin, Texas, and to Symbiosis Gathering; to Portland, Oregon to officiate a college friend’s wedding in the city where we went to college. A year of many Megabus rides to Los Angeles and Sacramento spent staring out the second-deck window of the double-decked bus listening to whatever three songs on repeat sound the most like the sounds the synapses in the most wrinkled crevices of my brain make when they talk to each other. I really think you’ll like what I’m writing. I really think you’ll read it soon, too. New you, new me. New year.

Happy 2016. What do you resolve to do new?

—Josey Rose Duncan

Write the uncomfortable story

bathroom selfie

I’m a big fan of memoir and personal essay, which are shooting-the-shit-over-a-couple-drinks’ (an activity I’m also a fan of) slightly-more polished cousins.

When writing (what I’ll term) “personal stuff,” we tend to mine for topics our tough times; the unhappy milestones most of us—all of us?— experience. Death and illness and abuse and heartbreak. Loss of all kinds. Maybe it’s a childhood. Maybe one indelible moment. On and on and on.

No matter your topic, the point is: to make an impact on your audience, write the uncomfortable story. Don’t assume you know what others will find profound. Don’t assume you know yourself where the heart of your story lies until you start digging and dig past—way past—where you expected you’d stop.

Throughout the painful process of separating from my husband I told myself, I should write something about this. I wrote (literally) 10s of 1,000s of words and all of it was trash. I wrote poems. I wrote personal essays. I wrote something I thought might become a memoir. I wrote non-fiction disguised very poorly as fiction. All of it was garbage. But I came to realize it’s because my approach was all wrong: I didn’t humble myself enough to write honestly about my role in the split, the ways I hurt him, the ways I embarrassed myself. I had to dive into the mess and the myriad grey areas, write about the parts I never wanted to reveal.

There are a million divorce stories out there and what makes the moving ones moving are the details, the writer’s personal and unique perspective. My divorce story (and poems and essays) sucked so hard because I wasn’t digging deep enough. In some vain and semi-subconscious attempt to protect my ego I was writing a story both boring and cliche. I had to write the uncomfortable story.

(A group I’ll term) grown-ups tend to be critical of today’s youths’ over-sharing, TMI culture—the personal details in their status updates, the endless selfies. As an early 30-something on the eldest edge of the millennial generation, I’m torn between critiquing this behavior and kinda-sorta-sometimes joining in the fun.

But maybe the kids are alright. Maybe if we look deeper at the public personal reveals, curated as they are, we can see this over-sharing—well, some of it at least—as inspirational. While admittedly the voyeuristic part of me (don’t judge) wants to read your day’s daily details, maybe there is something valuable here for even the non-creeps among us, amidst the party snaps and emojied vaguebooking. We all have friends and family who see nothing wrong with broadcasting their every emotion, including their darkest days, on Facebook (and Twitter and Instagram)—and you know what? Go, them. From them maybe we can learn something.

Write the uncomfortable story. Delve into the greyest areas, the places where right and wrong blur, bleeding into one another, the stories where there’s no obvious winner and loser. Dig deep. Write the thing you don’t want to write, the story you thought you’d never, ever write. Over-share. Give ’em TMI. Because that stuff’s powerful. That’s the kind of personal writing that moves people to feel things. And you know what? It’s good for you, too.


—Josey Rose Duncan

New freelance offerings


1. Personal text message. Specialty areas: Backing out of commitments made while overly-tired and/or intoxicated, believable excuses for 2+ hour tardiness to time-sensitive social events (ie: surprise parties), shifting tone of conversation back to “friend zone” after it’s veered dangerously close to “flirting” due to innocent misunderstanding, using only emoji to explain nuanced views on complex geopolitical topics.

2. Passive-aggressive notes. Specialty areas: Dishes (co-workers, roommates, offspring); Parking (in driveway, too far from curb, taking up 2+ spots, love-tapped your bumper, wash me); Honey-do (dirty socks go in hamper, take out trash, fix loose bathroom doorknob before someone who has repeatedly told you they are extremely claustrophobic gets locked in again for 4 hours because apparently no one could hear increasingly-hoarse cries for help). Can be typed or handwritten.

3. Vaguebooking. Specialty areas: Humblebrags, sympathy, requests for prayers/well-wishes/good vibes/hugs, foreshadowing (positive and negative events), inspiring FOMO.


—Josey Rose Duncan


This beach is where you can fill a bag full of white, brittle sand dollars, the star emblazoned on the center. There is always smoky green sea glass half-buried under sand and driftwood, and dried husks of kelp and sea cucumbers, which once danced to the waves at the bottom of the Pacific. Sometimes the driftwood is big enough to sit on, hollow and gray and thick; the mast of a ship that sank a hundred years ago. There are perfect curved white shells with thick, uniform ridges. At first you pick up every one you see, even the ones with little bites taken out of them, the ones that have jagged earthquake cracks running down the middle. But by the end of the day your bag is heavy, and you sort through the shells, and you leave the ones that are not quite as perfect in a pile at the end of the beach, the place where the ocean meets the lagoon and tall, sharp, dry grass pushes through the sand, and where there are pebbles that nip at the soles of your soft feet.

Sometimes you find smooth, gray rocks with perfect, round holes in them; Swiss-cheese rocks. Then there are shells with that thin layer of green and silver iridescence on the inside that flakes off like old paint if you are not careful when you try to rub the dried sand off. They used to have mussels inside, and they smell like heavy salt, and like dead flesh. They are very beautiful, but they are fragile. If you are not careful with them they will turn to dust in your bag; they will crumble under the weight of so many white shells and Swiss-cheese rocks.

When you are very young you crouch in your red and blue swimsuit on the dense, wet sand where the thinnest tongues of waves lap against the beach. You wait and watch for the wave to reach, then as it leaves you wait for the bubbles to form. You dig as fast as you can to catch the sand crabs before they burrow too deep. One time you decide that you want to keep them as pets, and you put them into a blue plastic bucket full of soft, dark mud and take them home. But then the mud turns to cement and when you dig them out, the crabs are already dead, their bodies broken by the weight of dry sand. After that, you see their quiet bodies, their tiny orange hearts, still and cold, as you fall asleep to the rhythm of crashing waves.

When you are older you sit on the dark, night sand in tight jeans, a green 1940’s Air Force pilot’s jacket wrapped around your thin, huddled body because the zipper is broken. You watch as the white foam on the crests of falling waves turns into a row of shiny metal shopping carts, pushed down the beach by ghosts, and you laugh, because it is beautiful. That same night your friend drives his mom’s minivan too far out onto the beach and spins the wheels, burying the tires in cold sand. But the gray-haired locals appear when the bar closes with rusted pick-ups and ropes and chains and tow it out.

Another night you walk fast down the beach, so fast that you cannot breathe, your heart beating so hard that you can hear it; dark, red muscle pulsing against white rows of calcium. You need to walk to the end of the beach, where the sharp grasses push up out of the bleached dunes and the sand is pebbles. You are following the moon, you want to touch its round glowing eye, which stares down at the Pacific, setting the choppy, dark waves on fire with white light. You realize that you are walking on millions of tiny, ancient creatures; dried kelp and sea cucumbers, tossed and broken brown-and-green bottles, bleached blue whale skeletons and shark’s teeth, shipwrecks and dead pirates and shards of Pangea, and they are cool against your feet. The air is salt and wet; it is heavy and bright in your lungs.

—Josey Rose Duncan

From my Reed College senior thesis, In This House Where We Were Both Outsiders, 2006.