Thursday, December 29, 2011

The season of freedom

For the entire baseball season
we met under the bleachers
to drink our freedom,
disposing the empty
Coors bottles by stuffing them in our clothes
surveying the field all the while, to see if anyone
noticed we went missing.

We returned  to
our desks pretending nothing had happened
writing notes in the margins
of books, pining for another
of freedom.

We didn't know
we were already free
of our old selves.



Monday, December 26, 2011


You cut a picture in the mirror:
a stranger,
a self against self
to remain donna erecta.

What stories will you share
with your grands,
stringing popcorn
on the tree,
reminders of the
once plump seeds,
now puffed-up
in memory's hot chambers?

Better these than
the grey ashes in the fireplace,
easily disposed,
cold with neglect.

Once, you tell,
you played with your food, with everything,
the taste
and juice
of each
pomegranate seed.
let it sit
on each tooth
there was no more life in it, and you
spit it out without regrets.

Now, you don't dare put that seed in your mouth!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The promises we make.

You hunker down in the dark, in your favorite
cradle, for the long night,
forgoing your desk,  the cushioned chair and
the outside world at your fingertips.

The wind and rain threaten to bury you,
reduce everything to dust:
Your house, your car, all possessions.

You try to remember the last storm,
what you did
or didn't do
to prepare for it,
to prepare of all the storms
in your days.

Each bump, each object that batters your roof becomes a promise you make: this will not happen to you again.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Wishes.

(Yosemite National Park, my son Brian with Butters.)

May you always walk with your favorite companion, surrounded by peace and beauty.
Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wild things.

This is what I see when I sit on my deck facing this garden by the lake. It was already fenced when we bought it, and it has remained fenced as I fight my way into colonizing it.
I see wild things  creeping in on all sides. Whatever stands in place, does so because I interfered, not just once. My interference changed the lawn into a couple of vegetable gardens. The paths through and around are liberally ignored by me, but mowed by my Hubby who likes riding his top-gun riding mower once or twice a season.

I have asked him not to. He has his reasons.

Here are mine:

Bees like wild places.
Dead branches allow birds and other critters to hide and nest.
Finding wild arugula  and fennel growing here and there lets me prepare many surprising meals.

I once knew about foraging when Dad brought home mushrooms and asparagus and wild lettuces in the middle of winter when the cupboards were bare and there was no cash or credit to take us to the store.
Here, I'm reminded of all I've been when  I pull a weed, put a seed in the soil, collect something I did not expect.

Friday, December 2, 2011

So many miles before...

I've been negligent for a while now.
Unable to pick up pen and paper and write back.
I'm still panicking when I think about what happened.
Many people took time to visit, leave notes, contribute to Brian's memorial, and I can't find them or know enough to find them in an easy sweep, in a I'm so glad you stopped and cared sweep, that I bury my head and just sob away.

I have miles of words I want to utter, words I want to send you, words I want to acquire to form thoughts and to have thoughts bloom into smiling sentences.

Today, before dawn, I put all of his things away. All but a few pictures.
On Hubby's desk, papers and correspondence with  probate lawyers.
On my desk, papers, and addresses, and notes to myself.
I need to attend to these and to holiday notes as well.

This voyage has many miles ahead.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It just is.

The scene is jumbled.
A fallen tree and hundreds of critters all around.
Everything dwarfs the few human actors. 
No need for explanation. Everyone knows the play is about life in the forest primeval.
The early buzz talked about a weak villain. who's not even on stage after scene one, and how hard the crew worked at building that set.

The set circles around the stage, encompasses the audience.

A hidden chorus cries out in pain, gods were injured, punishment will be hurled down on the unsuspecting, the neglectful, the uncaring.
Already, the audience is making plans for dinner dates, next week's trip to the slopes. The stage curtain comes down and everyone sighs in relief.
This play was not worth the price. It was not about them.
Later, they'll read the bad reviews, and smile broadly at their good taste.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Note for the Day:

1.Accept the day in front of you.
2. Breathe the wild sage, the heather, the sea spray.
3. Care for yourself.
4. Do what needs done.
5. Expect the path will be  challenging and keep yourself in perfect condition.

Should you peek over your left shoulder,  you'll be rewarded with an amazing view!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Questions for the experts:

For S.Rushie: If we all eat the same food, listen to the same sounds, view the same television,movies, advertising, did we train our minds the same way?

For Pirandello: If we can't stand our naked faces and can't reveal  our true thoughts, are we hiding ourselves from ourselves?

For Kundera: If lightness of being is unbearable, is heaviness of being then, quite easy to bear?

And for all of you in blogland: Can we write while we experience the surgeon cutting into our flesh, or do we only write way after, when the idea of that surgeon cutting into our flesh resurrects the entire experience?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tell me...

You called.
I miss seeing you, you say.
I hear something else in your voice: Be brave!
And I want to be that brave.

I talk and talk and talk
ending up at the same place
the same hurt keeps my pace.
I thought I could talk about other things, I say.

You will, in time, you say
 and  a hand on my shoulder stretches
across the back
all the way around
and into my heart strings.
Yet, the sixty miles of vascular highway
sinewy nerve endings, and muscles in my legs
cease to support me.

My wound covered her carpet.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


It is a long road
back to Summer Dreams
to that splendor in the grass
we anticipated so.

These colors
lull us to hope,
reds and oranges
and sinewy browns
confuse the next curves.

Autumn is
a courtship game,
a night at the movie house
with candy and popcorn,
wind howling outdoors,
night creeping from behind the curtains.

Only  the boyfriend sits tall and strong
driving with confidence
on slippery roads.

It's a guessing game how it will all end.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


we are all moving on slippery roads, in steel tombs, zipping through
forests and bogs alive with occasional rain
along a highway long on misfits and foragers
paved with lighted promises.

we are just on one quest away
to a better place
a safe place
before the next storm traps us
in its violence.

pulsating through our next drive-through
we read the board from A-Z,  looking for our dream-
a Happy Meal box with the toy replica of our last meal-
looking to be close enough
and warm enough
and full enough
till the next exit light.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Good things growing.

You are looking at a community garden in the making. The boxes were constructed by Port Orford Rotary, The soil, donated by community farmers. Seeds and plants, provided by the Garden Club. The land and water access, provided by the city council.  The boxes are available free of any charge, to anyone who wants them, one or two per household.

Each box will grow enough vegetables to feed a family of four, and possibly provide enough to can or freeze for winter months.  Granted, with some cooperation, those zucchini and tomatoes can also be exchanged for herbs and berries. The work is light. Access is universal, on paved roads, right by the city park, in the middle of town, a walking distance for most folks.

What I like about this program is the expert advice that arrives in the form of Master Gardeners once or twice a week. They share cuttings, demonstrate how sprinkling egg shells on the soil will prevent slugs from eating  tiny shoots, and assist with watering when someone is indisposed, out of town, or too sick to continue taking care of his/her box.

Some folks grow vegetables for the local food pantry.

If we only had such alliances in all towns, in all neighborhoods.

Fresh, home-grown vegetables feed the body and soul. Knowing that the community is there to support  everyone, makes all of us feel loved.

Community gardens, a good thing.
Does your neighborhood have a community garden?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The story I want to tell.

Come in. Come sit with me. I'm dying to tell you things. I may be breaking into tears now and then, but  it does me good to see  people, to hear my own voice.

I dream complicated sequences
silent cinemas,  rooms always too cramped
too dark, too uncharted.
No exit in these dreams
no entry either.
When I finally wake, I'm in a sweat.

I'm working at being still.
I'm working at being busy.

In the middle of the day, frantic
I run to the post office hoping for something. NO
not another condolence. I'm saturated with these.
People know thousands of words and what
do they say? So Sorry!

No. No. Say, instead, what a lucky woman you have been
all those years. Your mother lost a child who was just a few
months old and she carried on and on for ever. What did she
know of that life that slipped away? The child had a name, but
no history.

Ask instead:
What did your boy/man do? How did he live? How did he love?
What kind of childhood did he have?

He was RH negative like me, I start.
You know that's  a universal donor!
He was a generous child.

You know, he was not an easy student?
He had trouble with his teachers, to my consternation.
He had trouble with their rules, their routines.

I want to capture these memories before they fade.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On this shore.

Hubby and I thank each other everyday:
For choosing to move to the tiny, artistic town of Port Orford.
For living on the coast.
For the wind, the fog, the waves.
For the abundance of healthy foods.
For daily walks.
For three marvelous children.

We navigated many seas in our 45 years together, asserting ourselves and fighting for everything.
Now that we are at the end of the voyage, we review our life together, each adding a detail here, a new perspective there.

What a rich life we shared!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Navigating these waters...

There are rock formations up and down the Pacific Coast. Some of these outcrops have actual names. Face Rock, in Bandon, looks like a face looking up at the sky. The rest are indistinguishable, too small to be named except  in marine maps. Mariners need to know where these things are, and  how deep they go. Some rocks can catapult you to sudden death.

Without a good map, we are sure to perish.

In our everyday navigation, we anticipate most danger: we buy insurance, build strong shelters and support an armed force to defend us. We eat well, get plenty of sleep, weigh our risks in all possible ways, and minimize them through good design, environmental guidelines, policies, regulations.

We map birth, marriage, divorce, graduation, death.  We plant trees, send out invitations, mark kitchen walls. Calendar days appear in different colors, easily distinguishable from ordinary days. What we don't do well, is remember the weight of them, the weight of joy, the weight of loss unless it has happened to one of us, and it has been circled on our daily map.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Through pounding and constant spray
Smoothed, rounded, emptied, creviced
These shore-outcrops stand still- unmarked tombs.

Are they like the Isle of Capri-
sparkling underground grottos
crystalline stalagmites and stalactites
water-light dancers
incantations of wishful dreams?

Do we end up glowing in the dark
when our bodies are pounded and
emptied of the previous universe?

Do we stand 'isole sole'
for millenia before
sunlight floods our veins?

Vacant of core,
Will life flow through our crevices?
Or, will we become  dreams others
dream, or agitations on  stormy nights?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Behind four walls and a dozen windows.

Soon, rains will arrive.
Then, we'll run from house to car
from one walled place to another
each new stop promising a brighter day,
like hot pokers-sun rays on a dark afternoon.

God, we'll say, we had it good, and didn't know it.
God, we had a great life.
We forgot how men died in Afghanistan, on the streets of L.A.
How walls are not impenetrable, or punch proof.

Storms will flood rivers and driveways
and keep us trapped indoors for months
breathing anger, grief,blame.
Only when the roof caves in
we'll open up doors and windows and
concentrate on staying alive.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Moving around rocks.

You must
Slowly: tides and eddies
Your punctuation marks.

You think you know how to move around these rocks because you have done it before?
You were young then, and had no history of falls.
Remember how just last winter the sand shifts changed the landscape?
Those movements did not register on the Richter scale.

If you make yourself small, you too can crawl under the tide and
Bury yourself alive until the storm has passed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

NAKED steps.

I walk alone, most days.
One and twenty-thirty-forty-fifty-sixty-
seventy years living at the brink of the known universe.

If I drop my weight
I can bob on these waters for a while, and find a safer shore.

Monday, September 19, 2011


A morning walk on the beach. Water, rocks, pine trees. The waves and their sound lull me into peaceful strides, close enough to the water to feel the chill and the swoosh without changing my pace.

The rocks allow me to stop for a moment and breathe deeply.
A small summer creek winds around them before spilling into the ocean.
I can step here, and there, and my shoes will stay dry, I think.
Or, I can take my shoes off right here, and go barefoot.

I do. The sand is warmer than I anticipate. My toes are buried now and then. In some places, the wet slime brings another smile on my face,as I  remember a mud bath somewhere in a hot tub. Where was it, I ask my companion, when we decided to have mud baths?
He says, we never did!

I smile again. It must have been before the two of us, other times, other lives.
Before the walk is over, I'm all tired, all wet, my heels and soles have been treated to a great scuffing procedure, and I'm back in the wheel of life, hungry, wandering how far the restaurant is.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How can we live past today?

I still don't know exactly how Brian died,  and where, and why the whole thing happened.  I  think of what we have been told, and I don't know how to make sense of facts I don't have. I wish I were Matlock,  or Mike Hammer, because it makes no sense to me that this act took place at all.

(The investigation is still open. No trial dates have been set. The official death certificate says: "homicide", "battered by another".)

Brian was a peaceful man. His friends, all peaceful, thoughtful, engaged in living good, productive lives.
He was strong, tall and wiry, fit and energetic, taking up one sport after another,year in and year out.  Being a victim of a battery was not in his profile.

He had no need for possessions that cluttered his life. He biked to work, played basketball, tennis. He enjoyed the outdoors, and went camping every chance he had. He had just what he needed to live a great life: a wonderful job, a loving family, and recently, the love of his life, Janet, had accepted his marriage proposal. Two weeks earlier, when the two of them had visited us in Port Orford, Oregon, we had spoken about having a wedding at our lake house.

He had lived a frugal, thoughtful life, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity on weekends, or mentoring students, like the neighbor's son, or working on his house or car, or taking his dog Butters (short for Buttercup-as in The Princess Bride) to the ocean to swim.  Yes, that dog had been the reason he saved and  saved to buy a house in this economy, a house to nest in and build his future in - a cat Newkie now in our care, and Butters now in the neighbor's son's care.

He was most generous with his elderly parents. He called often, sometimes just to ask about a recipe he was whipping up. When he visited, a couple of times a year, he'd ask what needed to be done around the house. He couldn't just sit around. He and I would be pulling weeds,  planting, and he'd find something to be done, clean the gutters, trim trees, repair a hinge, replace light fixtures.

I see him everywhere. I look at young men now to see any resemblance of what mine was.
This week, during Cycle Oregon, I could see him riding from town to town, visiting the coast, stopping in Port Orford.

I plan my days, my outings, trying to avoid meeting people. Each look of grief on their faces melts my composure. I break into sobs and I'm back to square one.
When people ask ,how are you doing, they get a standard answer, Better.
We are not better.
We are not worse.
We are barely breathing.

Yet, yet, words and gestures of condolence are helping. We feel better, somehow.
Just a tiny tiny bit warmer.
And alive.

(Thank you for reading this. Thank you for your support.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Easy Greek Yogurt

This is the easiest thing to make in just a few steps, one pan and one thermometer. Cost? About one dollar for two-three cups of Greek-style yogurt. If you purchased the same in the store, expect to pay over $3.00.

Here is what you need:
One quart of milk
2T of yogurt mixed with 2T of milk

Step One:
Bring the milk to a boil and remove it from the heat source to cool to 100 degree.

Step Two:
When the milk has achieved the right temperature, mix in the yogurt you have mixed with milk. Cover the pot with towels and let it sit in a cooler overnight or 12 hours.

Step Three:
Refrigerate and use in your favorite recipe.

Mine? Fresh berries and a teaspoon of honey.
I make a batch every week. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Weight We Carry


You carried a weight
For many years. 
I thought,
put that weight down, put the bucket down,
you do not need to make a big fuss about such a little thing.

I remained silent, angry at
your blindness.

I carried a weight too-one you didn't see-
salty sadness of loss,
a world we stopped sharing.

I don’t know about your weight,
but I lost my roots, my branches
and my life force while you carried on
about your little bucket.

Your weight just slows you down.

Mine is about to kill me.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Daily Meditation.

I sit  here  and watch the lake below, the ocean over the dunes far off.
Water helps to set a calming mood, lulls me into nothingness.
I sit and stare out.
My goal  today is to survive one more hour without succumbing to waves of grief.

I'm fragile, a paper boat on a bobbing wave.

I can drown any second.  Sleeplessness, irritability, anger are my companions.
Today, we will leave and go pick berries until I lose track of who I am, whom I've lost.
Tomorrow is far away.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where would we be without friends?

(Rachel Williams, wife of Michael Kohan, one of Brian's childhood friends, preparing flower displays for Brian's Memorial, July 30th.)

My favorite pictures are of the new people we met in Long Beach, friends or spouses of friends, all chipping in, adding their own beauty touches during the week prior to Brian's Memorial. Each one, like Rachel here, worked magic, doing all that needed doing, big and little things that added beauty and comfort to the occasion. Someone wrote the obituary draft, someone prepared the memorial program, someone worked on cleaning the interior, someone catered the many gatherings, someone cooked, someone scrubbed floors, washed walls and windows.........

They came in and out; and they all brought joy!
We tasted the love in each thoughtful gesture.

We are  still in a daze, my husband and my other children,their spouses and relatives, and Janet, Brian's fiancee. She had coordinated all this out pour, hundreds of people, friends and co-workers of both of them. Throughout, she was quietly doing, arranging, holding hands, coordinating, managing the many crews that showed up.

 Our hearts are comforted daily by all this love and beauty.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A need that doesn't go away.

(This is not easy to write; nor, will it be easy to read.)

I'm in a cage.A lonely one. Sad, teary-eyed.  Nothing out there calls me out. I'm trapped, licking a wound that won't heal, can't heal.
I should be doing so many other things.
But I sleep and dream a lot. Dreaming and dreaming and dreaming for hours and hours.

I cry quiet tears without  immediate stimuli. Everything and everything speaks of Brian's presence. His phone has been on for a month, and he appears to be on chat on Facebook. His friends and fiance are posting his pictures, are talking about him. I feel happy and proud of the love around his name.

I'm frozen. I can't write thank you notes. I can't call anyone.

When I see anyone, I break down in tears.
I have a need to cry.
I have a need to shout.
And a need to ask Divine Justice to set this right!
A mother does not bury her son, I want to shout out. This is wrong! Wrong.
Fix It, God. Fix it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I'll concentrate on this scene every day.

Friends and neighbors who might not have known each other until this day worked side by side, day after day, building this garden. I will concentrate on this act, when I'm sad and in pain, and I can't stop the tears. This garden is our metaphor for Brian's life.
I see Jordan on my left, whom I had not seen for twenty years. Facebook friends told him about the death, they all attended the funeral, they all returned to finish the garden after the plank ceremony, after the service at Forest Lawn. Jordan and Johnny, a neighbor friend, in the back, under the pergola, with other friends and family members spent hours working the soil, making a dream come true.

This was their way of saying goodbye, plants and planks in place, building  a better world.
Friendship lives in the acts we perform, the joy we bring to each other, the memories we build.

Today, we are all miles away, but the act of building was real and gave us tangible results.
This is the scene that is etched in my brain when I think about Brian.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Parting thoughts for my son.

No matter where I go, You'll be with me, Brian.
Your smile will give me support, and your sense of wonder
will buoy me till my ending days.
This is where we'll rest together, on the Port Orford Heads, overlooking the Pacific.

At your funeral last Saturday, people spoke about your work with other scientists at L3. I learned about the work you did with satellite communications, work I did not understand when you tried to explain it to me. Strange. Strange that you knew more than I, that you had so many friends I had never met, that your life was full and wondrous.

You loved and were loved. Everyone will miss your smile, your warmth, your loyalty, your playfulness.
You found the love of your life in Janet. She'll miss you deeply.
The  garden Janet designed and organized  to memorialize your life, brought hundreds of people together to clean, amend, paint, dig, built, plant, and leave a lasting legacy to the life you lived so fully, so richly. Your Dad and I, your siblings, your friends and your lovely Janet will miss you till the end of our days.
You lived a rich and purposeful life, the way your father and I hoped you did.

You made us all very, very happy to have known you.
May you rest in peace.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tsunami Alert.

If you feel the earth shake:

1. Walk as fast as you can to higher ground.
2. Don't delay.
3. Don't panic.

We will not get too far.  The difference is our age. This young man standing at a checkpoint  could run a mile in 7-8 minutes.  For us, and this old couple in the picture, it will take us 25 minutes to get to the bottom of the hill, our first  checkpoint.

Some of us remember how we had to get under a desk in school back in the 50's. Now, we know that getting under that desk would not have saved us.  What will save us? Acting and moving in the right direction.

Even if we don't make it, the action of moving will provide adrenalin to push our resolve.

Resolve and movement are better than panic and catatonia when lives are at stake. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

People watching.

We had animals when we all lived under one roof, cats, dogs, fish, occasional frogs and turtles.
Then, children grew up and left. Pets died.

My daughter and her husband have a big black lab/greyhound mix, and my son and his fiancee have a golden lab. All met during the Fourth of July weekend celebrations at my house.
After a few tense moments, they accepted each other's presence and began to  play parallel games. In the same yard they chased their respective stick or her ball, always watching what their master/person was doing.

They kept an eye on their own people at all times.
They followed me if I moved to the kitchen and each anticipated  the turn-about of my actions.

The black dog, who has known me the longest, feels quite at home in my place, even calls me a special name:  Lasagna!
Yes, she says something like that.
She knows that in my kitchen, during her visits, she'll be licking pots with tomato sauce and eating scrambled eggs for breakfast.

They each know when their people are about to leave the house, to leave them behind. At that point, they grow anxious,  and nothing can distract them except, maybe, real lasagna!

They know their people well.

Dogs can divine our moods, our intentions, by watching us carefully and sensing the next action. They have mastered the silent cues.  They are instinctively better listeners than we are.

We OUGHT TO LEARN from what dogs do.
We can write  better character descriptions by mastering these silent cues.
Each movement, tiny and subtle, will speak about  intentions, needs, hidden problems.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Notes from the front office,

Schools have strict routines, procedures, protocols.  The one  for handling conversations with angry parents is a list of do's:  Keep calm, stay focused, slow down the conversation, ask what they  need, repeat  what the person is saying, and assure them someone will handle the situation.

My days were predictable only because somethings were under your control, bells, breaks, lists of people, lists of days. Most things, though, were never shelved clearly on a bookshelf. They showed up piled on top of each other, like kids going for a ball, and you had to stop the game and unravel the players.

The phone calls, for instance, would begin an hour or two before the office opened up.  When I walked in, most  mornings, I hardly ever had the opportunity to use the restroom and hang my coat  before rushing to answer the phone. I was the school secretary and  usually alone in the office most of the time.  I missed two, three calls on the average that went to the answering machine before I could get to them. The unfortunate people, then, had to call again if they wanted to talk to a live person or wait until things had slowed down enough for me to pick up and listen to the recorded calls and decide how to respond to them. 

Sometimes, if people got nasty, I put them on hold with the excuse to transfer the caller to someone in charge.  I could tell from the tone of the caller, whether she or he was fit to talk to. Most days, these nasty calls ruined my attitude from the get go.

One such morning,  the phone was ringing off the hook as I opened the front door and rushed to turn off the alarm, in the dark, hoping the alarm would be shut off by the day custodian. I  walked in without realizing that a woman and her child had followed me in.

I was annoyed at myself for not noticing them earlier.

 I gestured for them to take a seat and rushed to the phone. I remember that the child had been suspended the day before.  The alarm had already been disarmed, and I made a mental note to thank the custodian for this small act she had finally got around doing for me.

“Marilyn, I’m running late….” Mr. Tully, my boss and school principal, on his cell phone, was letting me know that he was dropping documents at the District Office, and needed someone to meet the buses.  Mr. Tully, I wanted to shout back, the boy you suspended yesterday and his mother are here to see you. 

I didn’t have a chance to tell him anything at all.    
“That was the Principal…” I began addressing the woman.
“I’m not leaving until I talk to him…” She interrupted me and asserted herself before she heard the next thing.
“He’s been called to the District Office.” I continued, remaining calm and smiling consciously, letting her know that I was just reporting, adding, “I can make an appointment for later this afternoon.”  
She rustled herself a bit without answering me, and then turned to whisper something to her boy.  Great, I thought, she wants to make this tough for herself. I moved on to my next task.

 Showing up like this, without an appointment, without realizing how difficult she was making it for me to help her, at this time of the day when the office is most busy, she was not going to make things easy for her.

Her next statement came out of nowhere. “He suspends my boy and doesn’t bother to talk to me? What lies did he listen to? I know Ray has his bad moments, but he always tells me the truth, and he didn’t do what you guys say he did.”
 I was working at getting keys for a substitute, and I didn’t answer her.
“I’ve asked this school for Ray’s grades and I have not seen anything yet.” She had moved up from her seat into my face, taking a resting breath.

 I looked up from my computer work and told her she’ll have to talk to the principal or the homeroom teacher about report cards.

She was  venting in front of a big audience, and I was alone, greeting teachers and volunteers as they walked in, getting people supplies, answering the phone and meeting the buses.  I had hopped in and out of the office and in and out of her sight. 

 The custodian was in the office at one point and I told her about the alarm.
“Oh No! We don’t not need another incident.”  Peggy started, “No. I didn’t disarm this building, nor was the alarm on in the other buildings either.  I’m not covering for him anymore! He has as many hours as me, and what does he do? I always have to finish something or other in the morning that he was too careless or lazy to get done. He’s a real goof-off, and I bet he was drinking for part of that shift. And not the first time, either!” I gestured that visitors were sitting up, just out of her sight.  Peggy nodded and walked off.

When the first bell rang, the office cleared quickly.  Then, Betty came in and I was finally able to use the restroom before the rush of attendance sheets got me busy again at the computer.

 In my usual post from behind a wall of plants and file cabinets I still had a good perspective on everything. After the first ten minutes,  I got up  to check if the woman and child had moved to the nurse’s station in a corner area, or were standing outside the office waiting for a ride maybe. They were nowhere in sight.I walked to the cafeteria and peeked in to see if   Mr. Tully might have returned on campus and be sitting there with an aide or a bus driver, having coffee.

A half hour later, I heard her coming in through the back door and then  something or other was said to Betty who was in her line of vision, and soon after, the sound of the front door slammed shut.
 “Was that the woman who was waiting for M.Tully?” I asked. 
Betty pointed at the door.  “She came in from the back  and went out the front.”
“Was her child with her?”
“She was alone.”
“Did she have permission to visit the classroom?”
“NO! I would have told her, but she sneaked out without my noticing. ”
“Nobody is allowed on campus without a pass, a proper pass, and permissions from the principal and the teacher.  Her boy was suspended yesterday. Ray Rambo, remember? They were here at seven!”

 I dialed the extension for Mrs. Proctor, Ray’s teacher, to ask if Ray was with her. 
“What did the mother say?” 
Mrs. Proctor just said she was sending Ray to the office. She sounded upset.
“Mr. Tully isn’t in the office now.” 
“Well, he’s not my problem anymore!”  That’s the last thing she said.
I hated when I had to be the disciplinarian.  
I told Betty: “She’s sending him to us. We do nothing. He sits here and does his work, back there in the nurse’s office.  He’ll be out of the way but we can still keep an eye on him. When the nurse comes in she may find a different place for him. Lunch, breaks, the whole day, he stays here until Mr. Tully decides what to do next. And since we don’t know when he’ll be back, we keep an eye on the sweet angel.  Go get him some breakfast from the cafeteria. These kids are sent to school without any food.”

Ray showed up a few minutes later, his head down,  contrite looking, went off to sit by himself without a word of complain, and thanked Betty profusely when she brought him his breakfast.
“What happens if Mr. Tully doesn’t return?” Betty was new to this job, just a week in, and had to be told all the procedures, all the rules. She was hired to translate for us, for me, as the result of a complaint we received from some parent about ignoring them too long, something about them needing a translator.

Betty was bilingual.

Before  noon, Mr. Tully called to tell us that he was joining the superintendent for lunch. Betty answered the phone and forgot to tell him about Ray sitting in the office.

The next morning as I counted heads and entered absences in the computer. Ray Rambo was present in Mrs. Proctor’s class and  I poked into Mr. Tully's office.
“Is Ray Rambo back in class?”
“Well, he served  yesterday!”
“How did it go with his mother?” I assumed he had called her and talked about what to do with the boy.
“O.k ”
“Do I need to amend the paperwork for the District Office?”
“Well, you suspended him for three days. He was here yesterday, so he was present and accounted for. He’s here today. If we don’t amend the paperwork, our attendance audit will catch the incongruity.”
“Can’t you just?”
“The original paperwork went already.”
“O.k. do what needs to be done.”
“O.K.” I said. What I really wanted to tell him was that the kid is playing everyone. But, this was not my job. If the woman stayed away, I’d be pleased.

Later, Betty told me of a conversation she overheard between Mr. Tully and Mrs. Proctor when I was at lunch. It was typical, I thought. Teachers trying to hold their fort, and getting little support. I told Betty that whatever happened in the office, whatever she heard; she needs to keep it confidential, and not to repeat it anywhere else.
“Even my hairdresser knows about this kid. Last night, I went over for a cut, and he asked me what had happened, why he was suspended. He’s his nephew, he said. “
“What did you say?” I must have scared Betty with my tone, because she wriggled there for a minute, eh and ah and no real sentence coming out as an answer.
“I told him I didn’t know much.”
“Good. We say nothing at all. We don’t enter any conversation about teachers, or students, or anything. Not even with your family, especially with your family. Say nothing!”
“Oh yes.”
“We can get in major trouble.” I said, leaving Betty to ponder these warnings.

This incident should not have bothered me in the least. The Principal was in charge and knew a whole lot more than I did. But I was livid none the less. The boy got away only because his mother was a bully and intimidated everyone.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thanks, I'll take one!

(Many thanks to the creator of this stand. Thanks too to the blogger who shared it. Apologies for not knowing your names.)

Isn't this just the cure for everything?
Right out there on the fence line, inviting the passerby's to pick up a copy and enjoy the gift of poetry.
Better than a lemonade stand.
Better than a bench even.
Better than a basket of free apples.

Stop by any blog on the way to...and pick up a poem here, a story there, a recipe around the corner, a tool and a product to make your life better.
The only problem with this easy accessibility:
We forget how much work and blood and tears go into each poem, each story, each intellectual product we can access so easily, borrow, and transport away. Just like this picture! 
We pay for the lemonade.
We subsidize the bench maker.
We send thanks to the apple procurer.

Let's reward the artists properly. Let's tell them loudly and with numeration, that their work is most valuable, priceless, more important than anything else on the street!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Indie Books

"George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died." Such is the beginning,  the story of George and his father. Tinkers, by Paul Harding, won  the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. It is his debut novel.

Paragraphs are pages long.
Narratives are  jumbled; present and  past interwoven.
Third person  switches to first person.
Time passes, the clock stops,  hours are relived.

We learn about his life, George's, his father's, his children and grandchildren, his attempt to understand them, to record his thoughts and discover his words and the sound of his voice were nothing like he anticipated. We feel the weight of a life, the weight of regret, the times and places that defined that life.

We learn how to see clearly. How to take things apart and put them together, how clocks work, how pain and chill feel, how family and ties bind and strangle too.
We learn that language is a marvelous tool.

This is a first novel!
"Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss and the fierce beauty of nature." {Book jacket}

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Can't Talk about That.

I used to keep notebooks, journals, lists.
Now, I blog.
I blog to talk about what I don't talk about anywhere else.

Yet, when I sit to write here, on this page, to begin to  explore, talk about or allow my thoughts  to freely surface to a conscious level, I stop and stumble and get carried to other topics in no time. Curious, isn't it?
I feel that I have knowledge of myself and the  faraway place where I reside in my dreams, the  state of longing that doesn't appear often in the daytime.

Estranged from a homeland, from a mother tongue, from the patrimony of centuries, for me, the immigrant, the orphan, the out-of-place-you-sound-sofunny-whereareyoufrom, for me. these are the very things that want to surface and be witnessed. Yet, I can't talk about them.
There is a great big weight on  my shoulders that i can't put down.  I tried. I really did. And by writing a few stories, I thought I had expurgated and dug up the roots of my disquietude.

We all have these things we can't talk about.
We all shut down the very things that distinguish us.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Closed for winter and other signs.

In my lifetime, I have seen things change,  tool inventions, evolution in medicine, nutrition and transportation. I've seen the need for regular dental upgrades, kitchen upgrades, lawn upgrades and now computer upgrades.  We have become bionic men and women with glasses, implants, valves and supplements to enhance our performance and boost our morale.

Have we changed?  Could we still survive in the woods, away from civilization?

So, what happens to us when faced with habits and rituals we are not accustomed to?
What happens if we are here in this park in the middle of winter and we see this sign?
(Somebody thought the same thing. Hence, the next sign, guiding the visitor to the closest facility.An afterthought, I'm sure!)

It wouldn't bother me to find a hidden spot and take care of my needs in an emergency.  I have vague memories of such occasions as a child.  But my grandchild would not know that in an emergency, you take care of your needs expediently and not fuss and upset anyone.  My grandchild would panic. Not even out with camping buddies she ever had to heed mother nature, naturally.  She always had a contraption with fresh toilet paper.

I do wonder how and when we will forget to pick up real paper and write with a real pen.
Or, soon, pick up a real book, and hold it close, go back and forth from front to back page before
deciding to purchase it, unaided, without any warranty or recommendation, just because that tome had spoken to us, whispered a promise only we heard loud and clear.

I'm not rushing to buy a nook or a kindle. Or read the papers on line, for that same reason.
I'm going to sit down this weekend and write in long hand.
Cause I can!
Cause the word cause will be my choice and no program will under-red it and demand my attention.
Cause I still control what thoughts I share.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why can't it be easy?

Morning on the water. The camera captures the contrast in light, ripples in the water, lines and curves of familiar objects. The scene is recognizable, a ramp, a water scene, mountains in the distance, rocks and outcrops, a boat, a morning mood.

 I should be able to do the same with words. I should be able to frame my thoughts as in a photograph, with a main subject, a hint of light on the main focus area, and a whole side line of details to create the scene of the action. A cinematographer would know how to go from here to the next scene, perhaps on that boat, off that outcrop, in more sinister waters. A cinematographer will have read the script and know what the writer wanted to achieve, the mood, the pacing, the final conflict of man vs man or man vs nature story.  The writer, though, had to get it all down on paper with words.

It is not so easy for that writer. Writing works in some unpredictable ways in some people.
Take this exercise in bringing you this post.

First, I had the thought/feeling expressed by that title.
I wanted to talk about that.
I searched in my picture bank and I chose this picture.
The picture dictated the narrative in that first paragraph.

I had no idea of how the post would evolve, what it would contain.  It has become more like a child's painting, a stroke here, a recognition there, a aha moment of retracing and voila', if I just add a sun there, the picture is finished.

We actually don't know much in thought. We know more as we squeeze the thought out, as in a toothpaste tube, and shape it into words on paper, one thought at a time, stringing it and wrapping it to feel and smell and look like the topic stated in the title, the theme on the picture that started the whole process.

These impulses feel creative, but they come up short.

How do others get around to choosing a topic, providing the content, illustrating it, illuminating it with powerful imagery and metaphors.  How do you all do it, post after post, poem after poem, story after story?

Why can't writing be as easy as breathing, as easy as taking that photograph? 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Observations on the concept of duty.

For decades, ever since I was a young child, I felt good if I had a plan for getting chores done, homework completed, personal hygiene taken care of.  Going to bed with dirty dishes in the sink was never a good thing. Not brushing teeth through and through was never an option. That sense of duty ran deep in my veins, and I felt personal satisfaction with getting things done.

Now that I have plenty of leisure time, for sitting around and having many cups of coffee before anything has to happen, before my skills are needed somewhere, I should feel happy and contented under these conditions.
I don't.

The majority of times, I artificially look for things to do, for projects to oversee. Even with gardening, with so much to do, I  save things  for another day, so all my days feel full.

How ironic!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"A lyrical invitation."

This picture is the title page of my memoir, When I was your Age.

I chose pictures and titles  to entice you, invite you to come along with me on this beach, to share my life story with you.

It is a "lyrical invitation'.  The phrase belongs to David Orr, as he explains the art of memoir in his interview by Narrative Magazine on June 7th.

Do visit and reflect with him on this concept.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Write like you speak: Your voice

"Grandma, you talk like a teacher!"
Yes, I do! When I started writing my memoir, Jasmine, far right in this picture, my grandchild, was just a pre-teen. I shared a couple of entries with her and her reaction saved me lots of re-write.  I was not trying to sound like a teacher, but that's how I tended to talk in and out of the classroom.

I was writing these pieces for my family, and that comment of Jasmine helped me refocus.

Use your own voice, the person you are with your family. You are writing for them.
Unless, of course, you are a famous....and your publisher has assured you that your memoir will be sold by the millions of copies to all your adoring fans. What do they expect?  Your famous persona.

For most of us, that expectation is not there. We are who we are and we only have to please those people for whom these memoir pieces are written.

Write like you speak.
Write so your family can recognize you.
Write so you see your soul in the words you choose.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Writing Memoir Pieces: Look for an overall theme.

You may recognize this picture from the masthead of sixtyfivewhatnow, my main blog.  It speaks volumes to me about who I am, what I'm doing in that blog.
Pictures you choose will appeal to you for some intrinsic and extrinsic motive. Yes, they will be about where you lived, how you lived, whom you loved, who loved you.

Most importantly, they say something about your perspective, your point of view, your angle of vision in your own life.
Let me illustrate this concept through  the picture above.

The camera is looking at both the water flowing, and the big boulders in the way.
The eye is moving upward, following the movement of the water.
The boulders are part of the passage the person is making through this territory to get to the next stage.
They are not impeding movement, they are to be navigated around or over.
For me, these boulders represent what we  encountered, will  encounter, as we flow like a river to the sea!
The images and the overall metaphor are ancient, classic.

Was your life a garden of delights? A torrent of desire?

Keep an image in mind as you choose pictures and artifacts that tell the story of your life through your experiences, your vision of what you hoped it would be, and how it turned out, and how you survived.

p.s. you don't have to chronicle everything. Choose what is most meaningful to you.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Writing memoir pieces-Step Three.

Establish the Here and Now.

Someone will read your memoir pieces and will ask when and where and how these pieces came together.  You will write one piece today, the next one a month or two from now, or even decades later. What and how you write will be influenced by your mood, your health, your other conditions.  Your reader may not know that your piece about your husband was written after he became ill, after you and he separated.

Establish the here and now in a couple of words and a couple of details.

"As we watched the ocean on a warm June Sunday a few weeks ago,  your father with a blank canvas trying to capture the waves,  I thought about how far away you all were, how busy and exciting your lives were.  I remembered  how we all celebrated Father's Day when you were little, the times at Disneyland. At that time I thought how extravagant ..."

I set up the time and the place and the emotional state of my present before I relive a Father's day of your childhood. This is important for my children to know for two reasons, how they remember the day versus how I remember it, and my status when I wrote this.

I was conscious of this when I wrote my memoir, and established right away that I was an old lady and had one grandchild at the time of the writing.

Monday, May 30, 2011


What I like most about gardening is how it makes me feel when  touching dirt, digging holes, pulling weeds.
While my hands are working to clear a patch of land, my eyes see the finished task ahead of me, the vines that will develop from those seedlings, the fruit of those vines that will transported up to the house to become our lunch.

Gardening is all about work with hope.  It depends on our hands, our careful tending, our divining the weather and preparing the right mixture of sand and loam to nourish those tiny roots.

Gently nudging  in concert with mother nature, we try to control as many elements as possible so that we may live by the fruit of our labor, the sweat of our brows: tender shoots are hand watered, predators kept at bay. We are gentle mothers and fathers.  If we can nurture our bodies through this activity, we are truly blessed and satisfied.

Every year I have great plans, great satisfaction and abject disappointment too. Every year, some things die, some things sprout out naturally and miraculously, and some things just take off and invade all my wildest dreams.

The picture above was from last summer's winter squash patch. I harvested so many zucchini, delicata squashes and winter melons that my daughter and  neighbors were kept well stocked/
We accept the results of gardening with grace and patience. We are surprised by abundance, humbled by failure and work cooperatively with the seasons and the elements.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Step Two: Add the background story.

You were talking about the picture on the previous post. In this step, you'll be talking about what you were doing before or after that picture. Were you at home watching television, doing homework, celebrating...?

This is the time to freeze time, and tell your version of that moment. Was everyone else in that part of the world doing the same thing, the same way?  Add your family's version of a dish, your version of that celebration.

Are you writing these meanderings in long hand or typing them on a computer?
Wouldn't it be lovely for your grandchildren to see your handwriting, how your special letters were formed?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Writing memoir pieces-a manual for beginners.

If you ever wanted to write essays and sketches about your childhood, you are in luck.
I will begin today, with this post, to outline and walk you through the steps you need to take to get this project going.
Most of what we write comes from our memories anyhow. Here though, we are actually mining the seeds of those memories.

Lesson One:

1. Collect a handful of pictures with you in them.
2. Don't worry about chronology.
5. Be guided by your emotional reaction to the pictures.

Great! Now, the first step is to introduce yourself.  Which one is you? Do you remember this time?
What about the clothes in this picture, the hair?

For me, the bow is the memory  point. So, here is what I came out with my first topic:

 All through elementary school, I was known as the girl with the big bow.

(Your coverage may be as short as one paragraph, as long as a short story. Just write without stopping. When done, clip the picture to the essay and put it aside for a while.)

Look for further lessons in future posts.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Some reading should be sipped slowly.

Mornings on the lake. Cool, cloudy.
Geese and ducks glide slowly.
 I stand at my deck and sip my third cup.
 It's a fine morning.
Soon, I will wrap myself with a warm blanket and sit down to read:

Home, by Marilynne Robinson.

The book traps you in its tiny spaces. I'm straining  to hear and see the three people in this house.  The conversations are slow, measured. Nobody wants to make a mistake. Nobody wants to hurt anyone.  The three of them are together under one roof perhaps for the last time.  Dark rooms and hesitant movements  prevail.

I fear what will happen.
I read four, six pages and I stop.
I decide tamilies are hard to know. And it all feels confusing and oppressive. It digs into our conscience, our sense of right and wrong.

I confessed to another blogger that I couldn't get through this book. It was not the book's fault. I forgot that some things are too cold to handle with bare hands. This is one of them.

Redemption takes time, I tell myself. It is measured in small sips, small apologies, simple acknowledgements.

Yes, some reading should be sipped slowly.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mentors and other angels.

Meet my daughter Pia Robbins, here conducting a Music Class, Musigarten
 a program she runs introducing music and movement to young children (and their parents).

As a youngster, about five, she took her first tap class.  She enjoyed music and movement throughout her life, so much so,  that she made music her life-long passion, teaching, performing, writing her own music. Throughout, she had teachers and mentors who guided  and supported her. 

Her philosophy of education rests on the concept that we need to be exposed, need to have fun trying, need to receive encouragement and support as we try new things.  In music literacy, it is not about "performing", but about experiencing and becoming aware of the nuances.

Those of you who are writers, musicians, actors, painters, were your early experiences full of  encouragement and appropriate modeling?

Saturday, May 14, 2011



We counted months and miles , adding wishes on the calendar,
Crossing out weeks at a time, anticipating the present.

Our parents warned us about
Rips, crevices, rain and snow
Twists, scars, earthquakes and fires.
But we laughed at their fears, eager for dreams to show up
At the end of each path, each river we crossed.

Suspended between childhood and old age, we piled wishes and mementos
And counted these for each season we left behind.

Are we there yet, we shouted, adding, subtracting signposts, landmarks
Crossing out seasons far too eagerly.

At the end, we can’t even remember
The color, or the feel, or the smell
Of those days we spent in anticipation.


Friday, May 13, 2011

between weeds and roses

I wash the dirt that accumulates in my creases
after a few hours of weeding rose beds
surprised by hunger and thirst
and pains shooting up my legs
and down my arms.

Among these brambles
one knows not what to grab
what to cut
what to pull and destroy.

How did these roots end up strangled and

Neglect causes the worst damage.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tales from Middle School: Part Four

             Mother let me sleep in past nine,  and woke me with the news that she and Dad had talked to the sheriff and they all agreed I should go to the clinic and then make  a sheriff report.  I would have preferred to go straight to school.
           At the clinic, I just told everyone that I climbed on the fence and fell in the rose bushes.  My story didn't change at all, Liz commented. She too came to the doctor with us. By the time we left the clinic, I was ravenous. 
            “You had quite a day yesterday.” Dad started, as he sat next to me at Red Lobster.
            “Can we have dessert?” I asked, nicely. We never had dessert when we ate out with Mom.
            “How far did you walk?” Mother asked.
            "Now, let Alli eat. She'll get a chance to tell us at the sheriff's office." Dad had ordered dessert to go for himself, and watched me eat a big slice of chocolate cake.
“I just followed the horse trail up to Clear lake." I said. I began to worry right then and there about what I told them.  The  swimming hole two miles up the trail was not a place I was allowed to go alone or with friends, not even when I rode horses.
            “Wilson was great the whole time. I took off his leash and I lost him for a while. That’s why I was late, Mom. I had to find him and get back home. I didn't mean to go so far.
            Dad helped himself to my chocolate cake, and talked about the home-cooking he was missing. He  meant this comment for mom.
 I asked him, "Dad, when will you be home for good?"
Mom answered instead, "Leave Dad alone, Alli. We need to get to the bottom of what happened yesterday and we need to know all that happened." 
            “Alli, what are you going to tell the sheriff?” I heard Dad's question, but I didn’t understand what he meant. 
             Mom chimed in.
            “He sent a posse up there looking for you, after I told him you had never been gone for so long.  He’s going to ask where you were.”
            “Once you make a report, and detectives get involved, it gets complicated for everybody.” Dad said
            “What do you mean?”I asked.
            “What did you tell the sheriff to get him up there so fast?” Dad asked Mom.
“ I gave this Raymond  a ride the very afternoon, and he knew the kid by the description.” She said.
            “Fine.  Now don’t you see how it will all play out?”Dad was confusing me.
            “What about Alli ?” Mother gave me the opening I needed.
            “That’s what I was trying to tell you too, Dad.  This boy followed us at school.  Then he had Wilson.”
            “Yeah.  He found him up in the arroyo and brought him back to me." 
            “Alli,  tell the whole truth!” Mother said.
“Bulldog said I couldn’t say that I saw him with all those boys by the arroyo.”
 “There were other boys up there? Alli, what did he say, what did he do?”  Mom sounded panicky. Good, I thought, maybe now she won't accuse me of being rude.

“He said I couldn’t tell a soul.  I had to promise.”
“What were they doing?” Dad pressed me for details.
“Alli could have been abducted, raped! I can't believe how dangerous this place has become! " She kept on and on about the people that she was meeting in the supermarket, the boys hanging around at the local Bottle Shop, the way the parks were always full of young men loitering all hours of the day. 

As Mother spoke about our life in the desert,  I thought about the  boys playing at that lake.They were all older and bigger than us kids.

(to be continued...)


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Paths are not obvious.

If a  good cook is asked to share her recipe for a great meal, and she knows you know nothing about her, her history, her lifestyle, her shopping habits, she'll tell you what products she used and how she combined them. She may even give you the step-by-step instructions.

If you asked her why she prepared this meal on this occasion, she'll be speechless.  Too much to analyze and distill for your ears.  Her whole being and history worked the magic to bring this meal to you.  That part called motivation is hidden inside her dreams and aspirations, and the dreams and aspirations of her ancestors.  I'm most serious about this.  Ask me why I prepare my pasta and beans on Mondays and I can give you the history of four generations.

Ask a poet, a novelist how to recreate that poem, that novel, and he/she will not be able to guide you much.  He'll tell you it is a progression of insights you have to discover yourself.  It is a butt-on-seat tenacity, it is all the books you read and absorbed. It is the love you have hidden in you; all your ideas lined up to exit through a few thousand words.

Most of all, he'll say, it is a passionate act, a sharing of great magnitude, an act of confession. A work of art will speak like no other work.  It will tell a story. Evoke hidden feelings. Create a universe where you the reader are also sharing and confessing your innermost thoughts.