Saturday, June 30, 2012

Searching for the whole package.

Ever on the road
an eye on the past
an ear to the future
a melody  stuck in the teeth
after that happy meal on the Pearblossom Highway 
one desert giving way to another
with valleys in between
Antelope, Moreno, Simi 
looking for Pacific winds
and promises of rain
America stretching in the rear-view mirror
getting tired and fatter by the miles.

We must have thought those drive-ins around the corner
the one with cute girls on rollerskates
delivering American food by the quarter pound
at our windows,
an all-American meal with fries and a coke
and a milk-shake for the road ahead,
we must have thought the future had arrived,
with that meal, those girls, and straight teeth smiles everywhere.

Home is just above the ridge line
you told your children
squeezed in the back seats, fumbling with their 
promised happiness toys from the last food stop.

Truth was nowhere in sight, you kept discovering, decade after decade, in the mist
of forgetfulness and desire for a change
truth was never a known fact like cooking for five remained
after the five were no longer around
and then the two of you
kept bringing home Oreos and chocolate chips. 
You hid the cookies by placing them on the top shelf
ignoring the fact that you were the only one who couldn't reach the top shelf.

Houses got bigger when you no longer needed them so big.
And quiet.

Your idea of a perfect house
where no one would
forget to call home when they were late
with children's drawings on the refrigerator and a calendar with dental appointments
and times for cupcakes to be delivered to school,
must have been a story you read in a fiction book.

Counting up the rings of life.

When you die
they'll talk about you as though you were a tree
a solid mass
forever growing and dying
and shedding
and blooming
with tomorrows.

They'll say you didn't look old 
signs that were there all along
collar chokes
tempests of famine and drought
etched in your DNA
visible only when cut down.

They'll remember the time you showed them how to plug that contraption that gave them trouble, how you rent a truck and moved them across town, how you fixed them BBQ when they were hungry, how they took themselves in and out of your backdoor when they needed shelter. You remained as young as they were, forever school mates looking for the next adventure.

All our hopeful acts are etched in our growing wood
and these they will count up when you go.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thinking, dried up, mixed, jarred and served with everything.

We all collect stuff, a pot here, a scarf there. The object appears and becomes part of our decor. Mostly, we collect what is right at hand, including stuff we ingest, or stuff that becomes part of our thinking.

These herbs, marjoram, thyme, mint, parsley,  happen to grow well here, and are perennial for the most part. I gathered a bunch a few weeks ago, dried them by hanging them upside down over my kitchen counter, and then, crumbled and stuffed them in an empty jar.

I will use this mixture to season everything when fresh herbs are not available.
This is my lazy method of adding spice and flavor to my meals.
Last year, I had lavender, oregano, dill, and sage growing in abundance.

This is mostly how we come to decide what to think about things, in our daily lives. As a matter of fact, the science suggests that we decide impulsively, and then come up with a rationale to justify our decisions.

We gather what's available around us; people, books, magazines, television, music, movies, neighbors and friends from childhood, and all these ideas percolate and mix with other ideas, getting sorted out based on our daily needs and experiences.

When we are thirty or so, we hear ourselves say the same stuff our grandparents said to our mothers. We tend to vote like them, and like them, we watch the same television shows, go out to eat at the same types of establishments, and so, after a while, all these habits and thoughts become part of what we have become. We have become liberal or conservative, religious or not, for this or that cause, mainly based on what thoughts were shared around us as we grew up.

Now, that sounds grim and depressing. We want to be in charge of our own thinking, right?
Think of how much time and energy  you invest in researching goods and services before you decide to purchase or hire people. Do you go out of your way to gather opinions that are not like yours?

And that's the rub!

We use what we know and have already, like the mix of herbs I have.
We trust our instincts, right or wrong.
We are more impulsive than we admit.

Ugh! I guess we have to trust someone else to do the research and give us the results.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Tenth Birthday, Newkie!

Newkie was Brian's birthday present for his 22nd birthday, ten years ago last April.  Her name refers to Newcastle Beer's rich caramel color. (Thanks, Catalina, for these details.)

She follows me around as a dog would, waking me in the morning by jumping on the bed and remaining there until I move and stretch and greet the day by scratching her under the chin. Then, both of us up barely at dawn's early light, we walk to the bathroom, where she waits patiently before scurrying over and waiting for her cat dish to be freshened, and her litter box attended to.

As I fix breakfast,  she sits patiently by the door until I'm ready to return to bed with my tray.  She sits patiently through my first cup of coffee, and then, as I get up for a refill, she stands and whines by the sliding door. She scurries out, unless it rains, at which time she sits by the open door and is contented to watch the world at a distance.

In the evening, she sits by the bedroom door and waits for me to get to bed. She then climbs next to me, and waits until I fall asleep before taking her place on her own platform.

She comes when I call her, most of the time. Otherwise, she's always looking for a new place to hide! Yes, her biggest game indoors is to find a new hiding place. She loves to be chased and to disappear for a while.

She ignores human food unless it is fish.

She notices if anyone approaches the driveway, and scurries off to hide, especially if the intruder comes with a noisy machine. Otherwise, she spends many hours on the deck or around the yard. A few times she has followed me down to the lake, or out on the street.

Whenever she sees another cat around, she moves back in the house. She doesn't seem to need the companionship of other felines.

I notice how much she eats; how much she defecates; how much time she spends sleeping or crouched at the window sill. As I notice her, she notices me, aware of my presence or absence. Whenever we arrive home after an absence of an hour or a day, she greets us at the door
I brush her fur, and she extends herself on all sides, luxuriating in the experience. Sometimes she wakes suddenly and stands in front of the basket where I keep the brush, stretching herself in anticipation. One single meow, and  we know what comes next. 

Friday, June 15, 2012


Nobody can do the work of birthing for you. The labor is painful and necessary, scary and exhausting. But, it has to be done. Your first one will take forever and cause you to wander how was it that you didn't die. The second, and third, easier.

By the fourth, you are an expert. You  tell people, it's a piece of cake.

You see people with few skills do it with ease, and you wonder what is about the task that frightens you so.  How difficult could it be?

A neighbor of mine has published four books already. And he did it with a few dollars, and a good friend who arranged the hand-printing and hand binding for him.
Another has collected editors and illustrators on her own, and managed to get the books on e-book and on Amazon.

I chose blogging. No up-front fees or monthly expenses. I could try out my stories, and get feedback. For me, publishing/sharing this way is a no-brainer. It feels natural, sympathetic. I can do it without leaving the comforts of home. With no hurry. My readers, however, do not offer much criticism. They act like visitors at a museum. They nod; they praise; they congratulate. I am encouraged; but it could all be false praise, the way we encourage children's work and put it up on the refrigerator.  If teachers and critics didn't ask for changes and elaborations, our work would be very much like the early drawings our mothers put up on the refrigerator.

In real publishing-unlike the self-publishing, there are many steps, many critical eyes that will read your work before any work is performed to put it in the hands of readers.  These critical eyes will scour every aspect of the work, from the arc of the story, to the market value after it is out there.  Editors who might be assigned to help you get the work even more polished than it is already, are highly trained and will only take up work that fits their aesthetic judgement, and has potential to make the company some good money.  They will reject Ernest Hemingway as well as you if they do not see real dollar signs at the end of the preparation work they all do.

Now, I'm not ready for real publishing. I'm not ready for self/publishing. I'm taking baby steps, knowing they are beginning steps. I'm not in a hurry. Working here, at this keyboard, every day, in the early hours when only my cat is awake, and a few birds keep her occupied, I hear sounds from deep inside, gurgles of long-forgotten hurts and joys. My soul wants to meditate on these sounds right now.  

We all have to nurture our souls. Some of us paint; some create music; some read the work of others. We try to find that voice that is deep within each of  us,  the stuff that keeps us wondering, dreaming, engaged. Detached and quiet, we let truths surface and visit now and then. We hope and long to understand, to see the arc of our lives and the colors of our dreams.

On days like today, I wonder how we created all the concepts that have become our truths: love, honor, duty, obligations, god, heaven, hell, paradise, country, liberty, family, motherhood, fatherhood, ecology...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Praying to Bob Cohen

I met Bob the first day I attended the Bandon Writers' meeting at the Unity Church. I almost didn't go, a church was the last place I wanted to go to share my writing. The room was small, cozy, well lit from many windows. Some people even pulled the shades because the light was too bright for them.

Bob, and John, and another John, and Bill and Mary and Anne, and...Names blurred those first weeks. What didn't blur were the stories each told. I began to look forward to the stories.

Bob read his poems in a soft voice. Funny, I thought, he looks like he'd have a big voice.  His  poem on that first day, was about a kid in a playground, throwing sand at another kid and then running away in a hurry. In this poem, he revealed the need to get back at a bully, to attack him and make him pay for the acts he had committed. (That's what I remember about that poem.)

I was beginning to share some memoir pieces at that time. First person narratives. While everyone was concentrating on "fixing" my syntax here and there, Bob told me that I didn't have to fix anything if what I wanted to capture was the very essence of my soul. "That's who you are now, as you retell your story, and your reader will feel and know you intimately if you use the language you normally use."

On days when I need to get something out on paper, I think of Bob Cohen, now dead and gone. I think of how he would start to capture that feeling, that scene, and I accept who I am, the limitations of my skills, the ordinary topics I concentrate on.

Friday, June 8, 2012


(in the photo: Brian in 2008 in Port Orford)

We see so little
of the universe as we hold tightly to the
tail ends of our balloons 
fighting the winds
that spin us around and around
and drop us in the same place.

At the creek's end
I sliced through the topography, I asked you what was the matter that morning.
You told me your hair was.

We just notice what we are interested in, I said.
This bothers me more than it should, you said.
And the talk stalled
as we walked back home silently.
You looked disappointed.
I thought I did that to you with the genes I bestowed
without the additional comfort and joy
and ribbons
that come with life-long presents.
If I said anything, you didn't catch it.
If you said anything, I lost it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Graduating words.

Dear graduate,

in a few hours,
you'll step lively from childhood  
and all familiar stomping grounds,
leaving our expectations casually in the old backpack
and you will declare yourself grown-up
with a final toss of the cap to the wind.

You've grown 
with a mountain of do's and don'ts
a river of this and that
handed down from mother to daughter
father to son
generation after generation
protecting names and fortunes
so you could get to this moment with ease.

Your father and I are sending you out 
with a prayer:

that you continue to grow
responsible and hard-working
and temperate.

You know a few things, most of which will not help you during stormy nights because you never have been alone before to fight fear and loneliness, even disappointment, a simple thing, like when friends forget to pick you up.  You had never doubted the loyalty of friends before. Now, all of you away from home, you will anticipate eating what and when you want; going to bed past bedtime, and having freedoms you never had at home.

We're proud of you!
We're behind you

All this translates into three words: Don't F- Up!
(Guess what? You are bound to F-UP! sometimes. Know that humans do it without trying.)
But try to open that expectation backpack at least once a week. There, you will be reminded of what you should become, if you choose to become.
In all honesty? Don't waste your time and your family's fortune if you are going to F-Up. Just say so and save everyone future grief.

After all, this is your life. And now, you're fully in charge.

(You do know that we are all rooting for you, and watching out for you!)


Love you always,
Mom and Dad
and siblings
and Grandpa and Grandma
and Auntie Anne
and Uncle Bill
and Cousins Jim and Joe,
and all our neighbors for whom you babysat and housesat, and delivered papers to.

(Don't forget to call us often. Even if it is for money needs.)