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.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gathering pussy willows.

A strand here, a flower there
can change our intention,
create new circles of blabber
and blunder and blood, 
even if we tuck them neatly
around doilies and tea cozies
and smile through each change,
each cookie's and crumpet's
sweet bit and hungry byte.

When we water  plants
we keep around for oxygen, we end up
scrubbing the baseboards to disguise our rage
at those who failed to keep them alive.

In the great outdoors
tears and rain welcome each other and
one foot moves
after the other,  not  forward,
necessarily, for things that move sideways don't object to
tears salting lips or dripping down
sideways- longways and ever- which- way
moonlight writing
long strokes of acetate on a shimmering  lake
extending the day and hushing
pussy willows, their heads lulled gently,
shaking off wind rage
and its  passing terror of decapitation.

Nobody knows much  what tea cups remember,
but everybody knows pussy willows gather
silently  on windless, shimmering nights
tears tightly pressed  in their lips,
keeping the right tone
regardless of the light.