Thursday, June 13, 2013

New Blog Address!

Though this blog and blogger has served me well, I have moved over to the Wordpress neighborhood.  Though you are still welcome to check out the posts here, it's not necessary because I've moved them all over to the new place!  Yes, all the old posts you love are there at the new blog too.  So please come on over and say hi!

Thanks, I'll see you there--n

Friday, June 7, 2013

Upcoming Move

Dear Friends and Friendly Readers,

I'm planning a move!  Or actually I'm planning to move my blog.  Angel Cat and I will stay here in River Park, but my blog will soon be moving to Wordpress where I hear the summer weather is mild, the view spectacular, and it's easier for readers to post comments.  Guess I'll find out soon enough.  In the meantime, I'm taking a short break from posting until the new one is up and running.  Getting set up is a little more complicated in the Wordpress neighborhood, but it should be worth the effort.  I will keep you all posted.  Until then, stay cool, and lay low till the heat wave passes!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Teaching Years

I’ve been posting pieces about my writing these past few weeks, and let me be honest here:  that’s been easy.  Writing is most often a solitary pursuit.  If I’m not enjoying myself as I’m writing, I’ve got nobody to blame but myself.

When I look back at my teaching career, my feelings are varied and complex.  Schools are ever-dynamic places.  Special education teachers are at the center of a wheel with spokes that reach out to include parents, principals, special education administrators, and support staff like speech therapists, occupational therapists, adapted physical education specialists, physical therapists, adapted technology specialists, school psychologists—gee, am I leaving anybody out? 

Well, of course, there are the instructional assistants.  Most special education classes are assigned at least one or two full time aides.  In other words, as a teacher I generally had one or two other adults with me and the kids nearly all the time.  These people are tremendously important.  If you get along well with them, your workday is pleasant, your lesson plans run smoothly, the kids are happy, and life is good.  If you don’t get along with them, life is hell.  That’s all.  It’s hell; trust me on this.

Also I can’t forget custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers and noon duty playground supervisors.  There may even be after school program teachers and aides.

You see, when your students need extra help and extra supervision everywhere they go, a teacher’s got to grease the wheels by fostering friendliness wherever she goes.  On this front, some days I did better than others.  But for a very shy introvert like myself, some days it was damn hard.

But I can honestly say that being with the kids was a joy.  Not every day, and not all day—but most of the time, we had fun.  I couldn’t have done it for so long if we didn’t.  More next week.

How do you feel about your job?  Is it a joy or a burden or something in between?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Writing the Amherst Way

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of writing in a workshop with Pat Schneider, the author of Writing Alone and with Others, and the recently released How the Light Gets In:  Writing as a Spiritual Practice.
Pat developed a workshop method of writing together in community, which came to be the Amherst Writers and Artists Method.  Pat says the method is “nothing but common sense and kindness.  But we’re so short of that today that we require a ‘method.’”

It’s really pretty simple.  We get together to write.  The leader gives a “prompt.”  It may be a word, a phrase, a quote, a photo or other form of visual art, an object or a guided visualization.  The prompt is not an assignment, but a jumping off point to get each writer started.  We can write about the prompt or write about something else.  Often the prompt will get us started, and then lead us down a path where the real story lies.

After we finish writing, we share.  No one is required to read, but most of us do—especially if we’ve been writing together for a while.  Since we’re sharing brand new baby writing, only positive feedback is given.  No one is allowed to be harsh to vulnerable new writing.  But the feedback is helpful.  It focuses on what is strong and what we remember, i.e. what stands out. 

One more rule:  we pretend that all writing is fictional.  If written in the first person, listeners will refer to the speaker as “the narrator,” rather than assuming that the author is writing a tell-all memoir. 

I love this rule!!  Decades ago, in the first writing group I joined after college, the narcissistic drama was thick.  Someone would read a poem or story and people would blurt, “Oh, my husband (or boyfriend or partner) does that too!—blah, blah, blah. . ..”  The writing would be forgotten as everyone began gabbing about her own problems.  Such a relief now to write with people who want to focus on writing!

But despite this seeming restriction, the Amherst method is often therapeutic.  The creation of a safe space and the promise of anonymity allow the writer to dig deep and share hard truths.

At our workshop last month, Pat described writing as a version of the hero’s journey.  She said when we dig deep to confront our fears, we will come to a cave and confront a metaphorical dragon.  Know that the dragon is guarding a treasure, but realize this:  the dragon is guarding the treasure not FROM us, but FOR us.

You may have guessed that Pat lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, but there is a very active chapter of Amherst Writers and Artists here in Sacramento and northern California.  For more info, check out this link:

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Next Big Thing!

Thanks to my friend June Gillam for “tagging” me to promote The Next Big Thing!  In June’s latest blog post she wrote about her upcoming thriller, House of Dads.

Now it’s my turn to tell you all about my novel.

What is the title of your book?

Welcome Stranger

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Years ago (or maybe I should say Once Upon a Time) while on a field trip with my special education class, one of my students--a Hmong boy born in a refugee camp in Thailand—struck up a conversation with a homeless man sitting at the Regional Transit bus stop on L Street near Downtown Plaza.  I was so touched by the man’s patience and humor as he spoke with this child and me that I began writing about him as soon as I got home that night.  The episode became a poem, then a short story, and now a novel.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Amy Adams has the range to play a woman who is intelligent yet na├»ve, so she’d be my first choice for protagonist Cassandra Apple.  Cassandra’s love, Harvey Random, is a combination of Eli Stone’s sweetness and Sherlock Holmes’ quirky intensity, so Jonny Lee Miller (who’s played both characters in recent TV dramas) would do well as my novel’s male lead.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Shy special education teacher Cassandra Apple falls in love with the gregarious, ivy-league educated yet homeless Harvey Random.  (Not your typical Rom-Com!)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m currently shopping Welcome Stranger, seeking representation.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Since this was my first novel, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing, the first draft took approximately 24 years and 5 months.  Subsequently, I’ve learned to whip out 50,000- word first drafts in 30 days or less every November during National Novel Writing Month, i.e. Nanowrimo.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I would humbly liken my work to the novels of Sue Monk Kidd and Anne Lamott, who both write stories featuring strong female protagonists and spiritual (though not necessarily religious) themes.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It has been a dream of mine since high school to write novels, and I am very grateful to see my first book manifest.  I must give credit to my late mother who was always my biggest supporter.  I have a wonderful circle of friends and fellow writers who have also encouraged me.  The insights of my friend and spiritual guide, Craig, have also offered me amazing inspirations for my writing.  Finally I would be remiss if I did not mention HC, who has been the perfect muse—annoyingly elusive yet enchanting—lo, these many seasons.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Welcome Stranger explores issues such as homelessness, mental illness, emotional abuse, and the state of our public education system.  But at its core, it is the story of Cassandra’s spiritual journey.  Harvey becomes Cassandra's lover, but he is also the holy fool who leads her to a greater understanding of her own soul. 

And now it’s time for me to tag a wonderful writer, friend and mentor, John Crandall.  You can find John at

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Flint Girls Go To A Fire

One more poem as we near the end of National Poetry Month.  I wrote this rather prosey poem about my Mother and her family twenty-something years ago.  I just came across it again, and decided to publish it here.  I think it's a fun story--at least that was always my intend.  I remember my Mom being a little embarrassed that I said my Dad wasn't a good Catholic.  It's a long story.  Let's just say he was a good-enough Catholic, and so am I. 

Here's the poem.  Enjoy!

The Flint Girls Go To a Fire

My aunt Eleanore had a muskrat fur coat.

My aunt Ruth had a skirt that revealed her knees.
She wore it with platform shoes.
They went to speakeasies
on the Sacramento River during prohibition.
They sat on wooden stools at squat wooden tables
and drank gin.  “We weren’t scared,”
Ruth said.  “We were having fun.”

My grandfather made beer in the basement.
He was of English descent
but my Irish grandmother
would not admit this.
She called him “a Yankee.”
He converted to Catholicism
and was an usher at 9 am Sunday Mass
at St. Francis.
Bishop Armstrong like him.
My grandmother gave the nuns
pink divinity and whiskey for Christmas.
She and my grandfather had four daughters.
They lived in a brick house
across the street from McKinley Park.
There was a road through the middle of the park.
The road was lined with palm trees.

When my mother was ten
she sat on the front porch one Saturday night
with her older sisters Grace and Ruth.
Ma and Pa had gone to the double feature
at the Alhambra.
The theater gave everyone a blue china plate
with the price of adult admission.
Next week they would give out tea cups.

From the front porch of the brick house
my mother saw blue black smoke
billowing into the southwest twilight sky.

“The theater is over there!” declared Ruth.
She was seventeen and knew how to drive a car.
She hastened my aunt Grace and my mother,
whom everyone called “Baby,”
into the red and white chevy
and they sped between the palm trees
through the park.
They turned in front of the theater;
but there was no fire there.
So they followed the smoke
ten blocks down and ten blocks over.
There were police officers
in sweaty blue uniforms
at 20th and W
waving the cars away from the fire.
One of the police officers was the brother
of a boy Ruth went to school with.
“We want to see the fire,” Ruth told him.
He agreed to let them through.
“Not yet!” she said.
she drove to the snack bar
next to the Senator Hotel
on L Street
and bought buttered popcorn
in red and white striped sacks.
She drove back through the police lines
and parked the chevy at the corner
of 19th and W Streets.
The three girls sat in the front seat
eating popcorn and watching
orange flames lick the wooden frame
of the Bethel Temple Christian Church.

My grandmother played the organ at Sunday mass.
At home she played ragtime on a baby grand piano.
She gave bridge parties and served
ham and pickle sandwiches
and high balls.
On summer evenings
my grandfather walked
to the drug store with a tin bucket
and they filled the bucket
with chocolate ice cream.
Some nights the family
piled into the red and white chevy
and drove over the bridge
across the American River
past the trellised hops
to the asparagus fields.
They drove between the irrigated rows
and felt the breeze
blowing cool across the wet ferns.

After my mother graduated from Business College
She worked in a building on N Street
across the street from the State Capitol.
A state policeman picked flowers for her
from the Capitol rose garden.
He presented them to her
as she walked through the park
with her friend Mary.
Mary and my mother ate lunch
at Weinstock’s counter on 12th Street.
On Fridays they ate fish at Robert’s.

My mother learned to knit casting string onto #2 yellow
Ticondaroga pencils.
Her friend Doris taught her and Mary
on a coffee break.
Mary later became my godmother
but they learned to knit
before my mother met my father.
My father was in Germany
at the Battle of the Bulge.
My mother stood in line on K Street
an hour and 15 minutes
to buy a 2 pound box
Sugar was rationed during World War II.
But there was always ice cream
at the USO dances.
My mother and Grace volunteered
at the soda fountain.
The USO had a spring form dance floor.
My mother wore cat’s eye glasses
and open toed shoes.

Grace met the man she would marry
when he was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base.
He was from Montana.
He was a good Catholic.
My mother did not meet my father
until after the was  over.
He was not a good Catholic
but Ma and Pa liked him anyway.
My mother stopped accepting
flowers from the state policeman.

My father liked to watch
the Sacramento Solons play
at Edmunds’ Field.
Julius, who owned
a Men’s Clothing Store on K Street,
had box seats.
He gave my father the tickets
when he wasn’t using them.
My father took my mother
and her nieces and nephews
to the game.

Before my mother got married
she went to Europe
with her friends Mary and Olwen.
They sailed from New York to London
on the Queen Elizabeth.
They were gone three months.
They went to Lourdes and the Vatican.
My mother bought rosaries
that were blessed by the pope
and gave them to her sisters
and brothers-in-law and her nieces
and her nephews.
She also brought back water
from St. Bernadette’s grotto.
My grandmother would put a teaspoon of it
in her coffee every morning
at breakfast.

When my mother married my father
they built a house in the south elbow
of the American River on land
that was once apricot and peach orchards.
And so I chose to be born into this family.
They lived on the flood plain,
in a state of grace.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Encounters with Psychopaths

The other night in my writing group I got starting writing about a woman I worked with many years ago.  I am convinced that this woman was a psychopath.  I’ve tried to write about this woman before, but I always stopped midstream because it was upsetting to think back to this time in my life.  The other night was different, maybe because I was in the safety of the writing circle, with my friends there to support me.

Later I thought, well, I’ve gotten a good start on a personal essay here, maybe I can do it, maybe I can finish this piece.  But then I asked myself:  what’s my point?  What do I want to say?  I don’t want this to be a mere anecdote, so what’s my story?

I can write the story of my year with this woman in such a way so that it sounds outrageously funny.  So what?  The reality is that I was miserable working with her.  I knew she was making up lies about me, but there was nothing I could do about it.  I couldn’t prove anything.  I went to administrators and they were sympathetic.  They actually agreed with me.  I thought they were going to do something.  But they didn’t do anything.  It’s years later and she’s still there, still working with children and their parents.  I was just grateful that the contract I was working under allowed me to ask for a transfer and (at the beginning of the new school year) the district was required to give me that transfer.  If I’d had to stay and work with this woman for another year, I would have resigned.

What is the story here?  I wish I could say something healing, but I have no such wisdom.  I wish I’d handled it better, but—as a therapist friend taught me to chant—I did the best I could with the knowledge I had.  What should we do when we encounter a person like this?  Splash water in her face and hope she melts?

My heart goes out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath.  I offer prayers for everyone, including the alleged perpetrators and their families. Good wishes and prayers as well to the people of West, Texas, who also endured devastating losses this week.