Wednesday, October 31, 2007

WriMo Readiness

In preparation for the start of NaNoWriMo tomorrow, I've totally immersed myself in the mystery genre. I'm reading Murder Off Mike, listening to Tears of the Giraffe. and last night we watched a Death in the Clouds, a film adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poroit mysteries. My intent is to internalize the pacing and style of these cosy mysteries, i.e. mysteries in which there is either no murder or the murder takes place out of sight of the reader. I've long been a fan of mysteries, but I'm definitely paying attention differently now that I'm planning to write a mystery.

I'm also reading No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty, the guy who started NaNoWriMo in 1999 with 29 friends. That first year, only 6 people finished or won as WriMos are declared to have done when they complete the 50,000 words in 30 days. The book is hysterically tongue-in-cheek as it guides a potential WriMo in making light of this event while also taking it seriously. In other words, Baty knows you have to be crazy to start and you have to stay crazy to finish. He offers numerous ideas to make it through in good spirit. Here is a random sampling of his suggestions:

  • Drink lots of coffee and eat a lot of non-greasy, non-crumbly snacks that won't mess up your computer keyboard;
  • Brag about signing up for NaNoWriMo to everyone you know so that they will ask how it's going. Nothing makes it more difficult to back down than having boasted to friends and loved ones;
  • Too much planning has a way of stopping novel writing altogether. Allow yourself to begin thinking about your novel no more than one week before the start of NaNoWriMo but don't write anything until the start date, except perhaps the title and main character's name and a one sentence summary of your idea.
  • Aim for exuberant imperfection.
  • Create a noveling headquarters away from home, e.g. coffeeshops, libraries, bars, cheap motels, where you will discover a wealth of interesting looking strangers and overhear snippets of conversation that make excellent fodder for one's imagination.
  • Find inspiration in other weird places, like reading the daily horoscopes, clicking the "random" button on Live Journal, reading spam email, or looking for names in textbook indexes.

I'm simply humming with anticipation. However, because I've read Baty's book, I know the excitement dies after the first week and a storm rolls in. The novelty of the event fades and . . .

No, I'm not going there yet. I'm want to enjoy the frenetic energy building inside of me that will send me exploding into NaNo-land tomorrow morning .


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Ashley and I began talking religion shortly after she found the Lord at age 11 or 12. She was curious about how I had gone from Catholic to Buddhist, and early on asked questions like, "Did I believe in God?" and "Did I worship Buddha?" We talked about the history of the world religions, and we went to church together when she visited Sonora, attending both the Chapel in the Pines and Unity Church. When she first moved in with Cindy and me, she was surprised to find that we had rearranged our house so she could have a room of her own. She said, "I thought I was going to be living with Buddha." She was referring to the pictures of Buddha that had once hung on the walls in the room we gave to her. When she sat at our table, we held hands and she joined us in saying the Buddhist meal time blessing. Religion was central in Ashley's life, and while deeply committed to and grounded in her faith as a Christian, she wanted to know about all religions. I loved this about her, and I was excited to have her close at hand. Talking to her helped me to clarify my personal views about my spiritual practice and to understand the intricacies and development of her love for God.

Before we left for Hawaii in August, Ashley and I traded books. I gave her Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks and she gave me The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner. I started reading The Faith Club on the airplane. Ranya Idliby, a Muslim living in New York City, initiated the project that evolved into this book shortly after 9/11 when she was trying to answer her children's questions about Islam, God, and death. Ranya had an idea to write a children's book about the commonalities of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She enlisted the help of her co-authors Suzanne (an Episcopalian) and Priscilla (a Jew). As the women embarked upon the project, they found that they had to sort through their own issues, including deep seated stereotypes and misunderstandings about one another's faiths. The book records their journey through many difficult conversations toward a truly satisfying interfaith friendship. The women were deeply changed by the spiritual reflection and evolution that was required to build and sustain their friendship.

I finished this book the day before Ashley's funeral. I miss her so much. I miss the way we headed right into discussing intensely personal spiritual matters. I miss our Faith Club.

Monday, October 29, 2007

30 Years Ago

Today is my youngest child’s 30th birthday. In our family, we have a birthday tradition of telling a story about the person, a warm or fun memory. I’m going to tell the longish tale of Raleigh’s birth. Each birth story is special in its own way and Raleigh’s is particularly fun because it connects in pertuity with another family event—the wedding of my brother Andy to Connie.

My due date was October 16 which happened to be when Raymond would be finishing his season on the carnival circuit in Raleigh, North Carolina, which the was biggest and most lucrative show of the year. That meant he would not likely be present for the birth which meant that I needed to find someone who could serve as my birth coach. Since Connie was a living in the Twain Harte house at the time, she was the logical choice, and she warmly accepted my request to serve.

In September, we went to Lamaze classes and every evening practiced relaxation and breathing exercises in preparation for the birth which would take place in my doctor’s office. I wanted a home birth, but at the time there were no local midwives and the next best thing was this doctor who had built a birth chair in his office and was delivering babies there.

Earlier in the summer when Connie and Andy began planning their wedding, they asked if I thought the baby would be here by October 29. “Absolutely,” I said. “There’s no doubt.” But I was wrong. Though I started having consistent but irregular contractions on the due date, the baby was still not here by October 28. Raymond, however, was home by then, having arrived on the 27th. A lot other people were filling the house as well, guests who were coming for the wedding.

I was big and uncomfortable. The baby was pinching a nerve that rendered my left leg numb and was also causing numbness in three fingers of my left hand. I could not make it down the long hall from the front to the back of the house without help, and I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes. I was also sad because I didn’t see how I could make it to the wedding which was to take place in a meadow in Bear Valley, nor would Connie be there to help me. Raymond, of course, was experienced and had excelled at helping me with the early stages of labor for our first two children, but he had never been present for a delivery. Connie and I had practiced techniques for transition and delivery and I couldn’t wrap my mind around her not being with me.

About 11pm on the 28th, I was fairly certain I was in early labor. The house was a hive of activity with extra people and wedding preparations. By 1pm, it seemed like everyone had gone to sleep except me and Raymond. He was staying up with me to see if the labor was going anywhere. While he worked on a shelf over a little desk in the dining room, I watched TV. At about 2am, I took a shower, thinking it might relax me so I could sleep. It was not a successful endeavor because I couldn’t stand up very well. By 3am the contractions had picked up and I’d lost my mucous plug. We called the doctor who told us to come in. Now the question was should we wake Connie? We decided, YES! We should give her the option. She didn’t hesitate. She was dressed in a flash, and so was Andy who came along to take pictures.

I remember driving down the Twain Harte grade on that clear, beautiful night and seeing the lights of Modesto and Stockton. We arrived at the doctor’s office about 4:30am and he said with a teasing chuckling that we needed to have this baby by 6:30am because he had a date to go rock climbing with friends in Yosemite and had to leave about that time.

Raleigh Drew Harrelson complied by being born at 6:25am on October 29, 1977. He was welcomed by his dad, his uncle, and his soon-to-be-aunt. The pictures Andy took tell how awed we each were by his arrival, forever captured in our expressions--a mix of joy and astonishment. He was a big boy, 9 pounds 3 ounces, and cried for the first half hour he was in the world. He’s been big and loquacious ever since.

Six hours later, Connie and Andy were getting married in a meadow, the doctor was climbing in Yosemite, and I was lying on our king-sized bed, nursing my newborn and crying because he was so gorgeous and I was missing the wedding.

Happy Birthday Ra.
Happy Anniversary Connie & Andy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


No blog entry yesterday. I was out of the house early to pick up Huck & Nell. The annual turkey slaughter was taking place at their house, and I'd asked to take part in the event. Having read The Omnivore's Dilemma, I thought I should have at least one experience with killing food that I eat, but I was told the greatest need was child care. The kids have witnessed a slaughter before, so it wasn't an issue of them not "seeing" the kill, but more the fact that they are young enough to be in need of regular attention when Culley, Andrea, and the team needed to focus on slaughtering 11 turkeys and prepping them for freezing and sausage-making. So the kids and I headed out at 8:30 for the library park, followed by meeting Ra's family at Standard for several soccer games. (All 4 of his kids play soccer.) I returned Huck & Nell to their house with perfect timing just as the last swipe of cleaning was taking place in the kitchen and the banjo, guitar, and madolin were tuning up for a little blue grass celebratory music.

After a quick nap at home, Cindy and I headed to a Fall-0-Weenie party and a lovely evening with friends. I love the way the women at these parties move from friend to friend getting a hug and a kiss and catching up on each other's lives. It's a fluid dance accompanied by the music of women's voices and laughter and it makes for a delicious feeling deep in my chest.

Throughout the day, however, thoughts of NaNoWriMo and my novel hovered and darted in my consciousness. I have a title, a list of characters, and a rough sketch of the plot. The title is: Memo Goes Missing. It's going to be a mystery about a maverick high school English teacher (Sigrid Sandstrom) who solves the mystery of a missing teen with the help of her 7th period class of remedial students. I also have a new appreciation of fiction writers and how their imaginations can get totally carried away with the people they are writing about. That's happening to me. I'm actually seeing these people on the streets of Sonora, at the park and the soccer field.

At the same time, I've already had one serious crisis of faith: WHO SIGNED ME UP FOR THIS THING?? I don't have a clue how to write a novel, especially a mystery novel which takes a certain kind of mind--one that can toss a whole slew of puzzle pieces across the pages in a suspenseful fashion that leads to a meaningful conclusion. I don't know how do that SO this is a huge waste of time.

Such was my thinking Friday night when we took a break to watch the movie Akeelah and the Bee. What a sweet movie. There is an inspirational quote in the movie (attirbuted to "A Course in Miracles") that worked for Akeelah and also worked to revive my confidence in this adventure:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Thanks to this quote and the film's portrayal of a girl who accomplishes her dream with the help of family, neighbors, teachers and friends, I'm back on track--ready to launch myself into NaNo-land come November 1, and I've actually managed to attract two dear friends to come along for the ride. For the next month, Annie and Arlyn and I will be writing our hearts out.

Help us keep the faith with your best wishes and encouragement.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I've decided to do the NaNoWriMo. If you've never heard of this event before, here is how the website describes it:

"National Writing Month is a seat-of-your-pants approach to writing a novel. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175 page (50,000 word) novel by November 30."

Why do I want to the do this? Here are the reasons in no particular order:

  • Every fall when writers start gearing up for this event, I think about signing up. I've always had excuses to not do so, the biggest being "work," but now I'm retired and that excuse has fizzled. As my dear Cindy pointed out when I began thinking about signing up this fall, "If this is something you want to do, why would you wait? You never know what life will bring next year." I countered with, "You're supposed to be talking me out of this madness." To which she responded, "If I try to talk you out of it, you will be even more determined to do it. If I encourage you, you have to argue with yourself." How did she get so smart??
  • My writing life needs a boost. Blogging everyday has been a great motivator. Just think how much momentum I'll get out of having to complete the requiste 1667 words a day. That will really push my edges and those who have done NaNoWriMo say that the focus on output rather than quality eliminates the internal editor and lowers one's standards of excellence. The result is taking more risks and leaps of faith.
  • I have a competitive streak and this thing is set up like a competition. You can simply watch your own word count mounting each day or you can set yourself up to watch how you compare to other writer's progress. In 2006, 79,000 people started and 13,000 finished. I can already feel the urge to be among the finishers.
  • I work well under pressure. Thirty days to write 50,000 words is humongous pressure.
  • What do I have to lose? Maybe a little sleep. I'll probably start drinking coffee again (but I don't have to). I may miss a few social engagements. I'll probably drive Cindy nuts by being totally distracted. My bottom, lower back, and wrists will surely ache from sitting in front of the computer. But in a month it will all be over, and I will have WON the competition. Anyone who finishes is considered a winner.


What you can do to help:

Hold me accountable. Whenever you see me, ask me how it's going with NaNoWriMo. Ask me how many words I've written all together or how many of written that day. Ask me if I'm eating well and exercising. Invite me for a walk. Accept my excuses when I decline social invitations. Tell me to drink plenty of water. Send me encouraging email messages or write comments here. (I intend to blog about my progress.) Don't tell me I'm crazy. (I know that.) Tell me I'm courageous, brave, and creative.

It all starts on November 1. Stay tuned,


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Pruning Lady

When I work with my son-in-law’s landscape maintenance company, he and his staff call me the pruning lady. I like this title, because it has a kind of Mary Poppin’s flare, but the truth is I’m really a novice pruner, though it is my favorite garden task along with weeding.

I asked Michael if could be on his crew because I wanted more experience pruning, and also because I enjoy working in other people’s gardens. I bring along several garden books for reference in the event that I run up against something I've never pruned before. And Michael and I enjoy garden talk, troubleshooting problems and sharing things we’ve learned from our respective research. Yesterday’s discovery had to do with the difference between bypass clippers and dead wood loppers.

Bypass clippers work with a scissor action in which a thin, sharp blade slides closely past a thicker but also sharp blade. They make clean, close cuts. A dead wood lopper makes an anvil cut, i.e. a sharpened blade cuts against a broad, flat blade. You can use the anvil cut loppers for larger or multiple branches, and they work beautifully when cutting dead wood. The bypass clippers just tear a dead branch or won’t cut through it at all. I can't believe I didn't know the difference between these tools before yesterday.

While I worked with clippers and loppers, I finished a terrific audiobook: one of the books in Alexander McCall Smith’s series The Number One Lady’s Detective Agency which chronicle the adventures of Precious Ramotswe a lady detective in Botswana. Sound corny? Well if you enjoy mysteries and you like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books, you are not going to want to miss this collection. It’s a special ear treat to listen to the audiobook version because it adds the flavor of lilting British accents.

The pruning lady had a lovely morning, cleaning up lilac bushes, pear trees, and messy baby oaks while listening to M. Ramotswe solve her client’s problems with mannerly grace.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Cindy would like readers to know that I asked her to TELL me when I have bad breath or B.O. and she adds that I had very sweet breath yesterday :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In Need of a Woman's Touch

We watched another film, Stone Reader, from the list of movies every writer should watch. Actually, I watched it while Cindy dozed. It was definitely slow and while not entirely pointless, the action meandered through several seasons with a lot of shots of flowers and trees and sky, beautiful scenes that are tangental to the point of the film.

I suppose the argument can be made that these lovely shots along with a number of driving-down-the-road-scenes serve to note the passing of time in the Mark Moskowitz's quest. Muskowitz, the filmaker, is trying to locate the author of a book written in 1972 which he read 25 years after it had been published and fell in love with. He wants to read more books by the guy. However, Dow Mossman, author of this book Stones for Summer, has only written one book, and Muskowitz is determined to find out why. As you can see, this is a fairly weak notion upon which to build a 2hr and 8min film.

However, I think that the most serious flaws in this film have to do with the fact that filmaker is coming from a totally masculine perspective:
  • Muskowitz has an abruptness that boarders on rudeness as he interviews people he is hoping will help him with his search. I suppose it is difficult for documentarians to capture a crisp interview, especially when many of the interviewees are older men who ramble and don't speak clearly. But I'm certain a woman could have done it with considerably more finesse the Muskowitz managed.

  • There are many shots of shelves in Muskowitz's library as well as shelves in public and school libraries and piles of books on tables and in boxes. Almost all of the books are by men. The only women writers who appear are Harper Lee, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolf. Doesn't this guy read anything of note by women? What about Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, Willa Cather, Louise Erdrich, Nadine Gordimer, or Margaret Atwood to name a few. How can Muskowitz call himself a consummate reader when these notable writers don't live on his shelves or appear in his film? (I might add that I have read many of the male writers I saw in his library: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joseph Heller, John Updike, Melville, Kundera, and Chiam Potok.)

  • Muskowitz visits the Iowa Writer's workshop and talks with Frank Conroy among other male teachers, all of whom discuss the hard-nosed, heavily critical approach to developing writers that was in vogue back when this writer Dow Mossman was in the program. We also hear from one of Mossman's teachers who says it was he who "guided" the young writer through the writing of his first (and only) novel. The man admits that the writing of the book "broke" Mossman.

  • Shortly after the book was finished Mossman was hospitalized with a mental breakdown and spent the next 19 years working as a welder. When Muskowitz finds Mossman, he says that it took him 9 years to recover from the stress of writing the book. According to the men interviewed in this film, many writers have only one book in them. HMMMM . . . I wonder if the "guidance" they receive as budding writers has anything to do with this?

This movie did little to support the wildly wonderful experience I know as a writer and reader. I know the publishing industry is brutal and competitive (I have my pile of rejections letters), but I've been been touched gently and sublimely by women writers, teachers, and editors who have shown me there is a larger, more generous and more inspiring side to being a writer and reader than Muskowitz offered in this film.

Sadly, most of the professional reviewers (primarily men) gave this film two thumbs up.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Yesterday's Lessons

Some days I learn things. . . like yesterday.

Yoga Lessons:
  • with each transition there are feelings (indirect quote but you get the idea)
  • ugai breathing needs to be louder than the chatter in one's brain

Financial Lessons:

  • over-extended credit is a conundrum that takes imagination and baby steps to rectify;

  • once in a life-time is enough times to fall into the credit hole (It's too embarrassing to be almost 60 and learning a lesson taught in the Game of Life that I played when I was 10)

Aging Lessons

  • as the body ages, its chemistry changes, affecting perspiration and breath (These days, I frequently have B.O. and bad breath and a housemate who kindly tells me so)

I think I'll sit on the couch all day. I don't feel like learning anything new today.

Odd Couple

We spent the weekend with Cindy's family, celebrating three birthdays: two nephews and her mom. Saturday evening we took a trip to the Indian Casino to mark the 21st birthday of one nephew. Imagine the scene, especially on a weekend: a gazillion slot machines flashing colorful lights and singing electronic cadences that signal near wins and encourage more play. The card tables are full, the buffet is overflowing with American and ethnic food, and a light cloud of cigarette smoke floats overhead. It's a high, high energy place.

I usually last about an hour on the slots, playing poker games beside Cindy who often coaches me while also playing her own game, e.g. she sees a possible flush or straight that I've failed to notice. It blows me away that she can click rapidly away on her own machine and still keep an eye on my game. She does the same thing when we play Bingo; she watches her 10 or so cards and mine at the same time, pointing to a B11 or G53 that I've missed.

When I tire of playing or lose the $40 that I've alloted myself, then I find a table in the coffee shop. I order a cup of tea and pull out a pile of books, magazines, and notebooks and settle in for a few hours of study while she continues to play, moving from machine to machine looking for the one that feels like a winner and will offer up that royal flush she hungers after. It's an odd date, I know, but one we've engaged in for 8 years. I've done some superior studying/writing in casinos, and she periodically finds that golden winner of a machine and takes home some extra cash.

We're the odd couple for sure.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Soccer Challenge

With thirteen grankids, it's difficult to make it to all of the various extra-curricular activites, but I try really hard to get to as many as I possibly can. My commitment to "showing up" stems in part from feeling like I missed too many of my own children's special events. Yes, I admit to this guilty motive --but showing up also has to do with the utter delight inherent in watching them dance, sing, act, speak, recite, run, throw, catch, swim, or whatever.

However, something else came into play yesterday when I casually mentioned to my grandson that I was going to try to make it to his soccer game today. "No," he said. "You won't make it. Nobody makes it to these 8am games, except my mom and dad."

Well, that did it! I have risen to the challenge and will be there when the grass is still wet from last night's rain and the air is not yet warm. I just have to don my hooded sweatshirt and pour a hot drink into my traveling mug and I'm outta here.

You can thank him too for today's nice short blog after the overly long ones I've been writing.

Risky Business

We watched another one of the films from the list of movies writers should see. This one is called Almost Famous. The writerly message in this one was not about trusting and cultivating one's imagination like the message in Finding Neverland. The point of this film is one I chew on a lot as a creative non-fiction writer.

Almost Famous, described as a coming-of-age story, follows a young (15 year old) music journalist who has conned Rolling Stone Magazine into assigning him to travel with an up-and-coming rock band so he can write a feature story about them. The story takes place in the early 70s. The kid is precocious and is able to hang out with the band and all the groupies who are doing drugs and sex. The boy amazingly is able to maintain a sweet, rational distance from all that is happening. Somehow the screenwriters have managed to make him believable. He's really totally focused on the job of getting a good story and intent on getting an interview with the band's leader who keeps putting him off. Of course, traveling and living with the band on tour, he witnesses a lot that he could write about. I won't report the outcome of his journey on the chance that you want to pick up the movie and see it for yourself. (It's worth it if you have any connection to that time period or the music of the period.)

But the story, including the ending, brings up a lot for a creative non-fiction writer, and I include journalists especially feature writers in this category. For a writer, this movie is about the risky business of telling the truth. What is the truth? Do you tell the truth as you see it about your friends and family when you write? What about people you are interviewing? You spend time getting to know them during an interview or series of interviews and then you write their story. Is that the truth about them?

Let me tell you that William, the young man in this movie, confronted these questions and more, and I too have faced them, especially when I was writing my book. Recently one of my favorite writers, Alison Luterman, addressed this issue on her blog. Apparently, she wrote something on the blog that hurt someone's feelings. She stopped blogging for a week or so while she regrouped. Here's a snippet of what Luterman had to say after she returned:

There are things I haven't published, haven't put out there because they would be too painful to my family. I try to be careful, I try very hard. And I don't always succeed. Sometimes someone reads somthing I never thought they would, sometimes someone takes offense at something I said in a way I hadn't expected. I hate it that that happens, but what am I going to do? I'm not Mary Oliver, who writes about snakes and bears and fish. I usually write about opinionated volatile people, not unlike myself.

My goal is to be as brave as Luterman. I intend to be considerate but also honest, and I am clear that my truth is not always someone else's. Once when my dad was in the hospital at the end of his life, a social worker was asking me and my youngest brother about our family life as children. After about four or five questions, we burst out laughing, and I said to the interviewer, "Obviously we didn't grow up in the same household." How could we? I was the eldest and he five years younger. We were different genders. And there were a multitude of other differences that affected our experiences. Our truths were different. I remember this story when I'm trying to ferret out the truth of situation that I am writing about.

My grand-daughter made an astute observation along this line after reading the article about her family in the paper (see Easy Face). She recognized immediately that the writer's perception was not her experience of the family. Sure, it was a part of what she knew, but it wasn't the whole story. No writer can write the whole story, but that doesn't keep us from writing what we think we know.

It occurs to me that some responsibility falls to the reader here as well. Readers need to remain critically aware, as my grandaughter did; we all need to know that there are a mulitplicy of truths out there.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Last week while at the library, I was thumbing through a Writer magazine and came across a list of 10 movies writers should see. All of the films were thought by the list-maker to cultivate imagination and creativity. I scribbled the list on a card. As luck would have it, Cindy had just earned a two-week free trial for Netflix which allowed 6 films on the queue and mailed 4 at a time. It was mine for the taking, she offered.

Two days later, our mailbox was stuffed with four red envelopes, and last night we watched Finding Neverland. HMMMM, HMMMM Good. It's the story of how J.M. Barrie came to write the play Peter Pan, and it stars Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet.

OK, I admit that I've seen the first Pirates of the Carribean three times and loved Depp in Charlie and the Chocoalte Factory and Chocolat. Even though I saw and enjoyed Edward Scissorhands, I first truly noticed Depp in Bennie & Joon (I saw it at the old Bridge theater in San Fransisco and the fact that I remember where I saw the film says something about how he impressed me.) Another favorite Depp film is What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Depp plays these characters who defy normalcy and are captives of their imagination. Certainly Barrie was such a man to have imagined a place where children never grow old and a crocodile who can swallow an alarm clock that keeps on ticking. And Depp's characterization of him was tender and dreamy and generous and goofy.

The film worked in the way the list-maker in the magazine thought it might, for I dreamed all night of neverland places with yellow misty light and dancing acorns and squabbling racoons who couldn't share a cabbage and a prissy black cat who blinked one eye before walking off into tall dried grass.

Off for a day with the grandkids. ph

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


During lunch with my friend Carol yesterday, we got to talking about ALL the acorns that are falling, how big they are, and also how dangerous they can be to someone who is sometimes not steady on her feet. We had both heard that a big acorn drop meant it was going to be a tough winter, but Carol had heard that the weather forecasters were predicting a fairly mild winter. We agreed that maybe the Farmer's Almanac might be able to tell us more, so this morning I decided to do the research.

The Farmer's Almanac online only gives a two month prediction (you have to buy the book to get the full year). They are certainly predicting a cold and wet October and November for the Southwest, but that didn't answer all of my question, so I continued to look further.

Basically, I learned that acorns and their gatherers are not particularly good weather prognosticators. The reason seems to be two-fold. One site explained that "only factors like certain ocean current temperature changes in parts of the mighty Pacific seem to be reliable predictors of what some regions' general weather will be like months in the future."

Another site explained that "acorn production varies from year to year as an evolutionary strategy. Rather than cranking out the most acorns possible in each year, trees tend to save up some energy to send out a big burst every three to five years in what ecologists call a 'mast year.' The idea is simple: Drop more acorns than all of the squirrels, chipmunks, deer, turkeys and blue jays can gobble up." This site also reported that the acorns falling right now were produced as a result of pollination a year ago, which means that the trees would have to forecast weather two years in advance and also communicate with the bees or whoever their pollinators are.

So the acorns aren't foretelling a winter tale with their abundance. But they led to a potential tale around here. To protect Cindy and I from falling, I started picking up the acorns on the walkway to and from the car and throwing them in bucket, and then I got this bright idea to collect bucketfuls and broadcast them along the edge of the meadow across the street. If you drive by this spot 20 years from now, there may be a some new oaks growing beside the meadow. Since I may or may not be around to witness the success of this effort, I hope you'll sit under one of those trees for a time and remember me.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Copy Cat

The idea of copying/stealing that I mentioned in the Shakespeare TaDum post, keeps pushing it's way into my experience which is a good thing if I'm going to address that bullet in my "to do" list. My friend Annie pointed out that I was doing a kind of copying when I quoted her poker report into my blog, followed by copying my friend Lynn's baseball report. Now as an English teacher, I know this was more like reporting from other sources with clear citations. But as an English teacher, I'm also acutely aware of how blurry the line can get between plagiarism and appropriate/adequate citation.

The issue also cropped up when I was making my way through the blog (I was totally captured by that blog and kept returning to it for most of a day--see Blog Heaven post). One particular post referenced two articles in Harpers (Feb. 07) on originality and plagiarism.

The first article is a paired response in which two artists debate artistic ownership. One of the two is a photojournalist who shot pictures of Sandinista rebels and the other is a painter who used one of these photos as the basis for a painting. (You can see the painting here. Scroll down.) The photo journalist objects to the painting because it places the subject outside of its original historical context.

I checked out the painting and it's original source (at the links provided above), and the painter has clearly cited her source in a label that accompanies the work. To my way of thinking, this is sufficient. She lets viewers know where her idea originated, and if they choose to follow it's trajectory, historical or otherwise, they can with this citation. That is exactly what I've always hoped to teach students as a critical notion regarding documentation.

The second article by Jonathan Lethem is a defense of the "artist's right (and duty) to borrow, steal, allude, echo, repeat, rework, and rob." The blogger goes on to report Lethem's closing:

Don't pirate my editions; do plunder my visions. The name of the game is Give All. You, reader, are welcome to my stories. They were never mine in the first place, but I give them to you. If you have the inclination to pick them up, take them with my blessing.

Now this argument slips into the realm of Shakespeare's version of "copying." I don't know if Shakespeare cited his sources, but I rather doubt it. I think instead that it was clearly apparent that he was often adapting popular stories of the day. While in Ashland, I listened to an actor explain the trajectory of the core idea in Tom Stoppard's play On the Razzle. The story originated (maybe) way back in the mid-19th century and traveled through time to evolve into the musical stage production and then movie of Hello Dolly. Stoppard actually returned to the earlier story placing it in the 1840s, but the director of the Ashland production chose to place the play in the first decade of the 20th century.

What all of this says to me is that creativity and art are in large part interpretation . . . a molding, carving, shaping of concepts to keep them fresh and living. Part of the fun can be looking at an idea's history, but each piece also needs to be able to stand alone on its own merit.

One more thing I learned when I was at Antioch University is that copying, stealing, reshaping and also citing are ways that artists converse with one another, the way they offer praise and gratitude as well as argue or enlarge upon ideas.

Nothing new here: Just ph thinking aloud.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Source

It occurred to me after I posted the blog about baseball, that I left out basketball. Lucky me, I have a friend who is totally tuned into March Madness and a couple of other friends who keep up to speed on the status of the Sacramento Kings, so I usually have a decent idea about how things are going in basketball.

And while I'm at it, let me add that I have two friends who give me the low down on the Academy Awards, each from their own perspective.

So I am source rich. Who needs NPR? I'll just keep listening to my audiobooks and checking my email.

Take me out to the ballgame

I'm not much of a sports fan, but as a teacher I learned it was very helpful to be up on what was happening in major sports like baseball and football (and sometimes soccer and tennis and golf). It really helps in establishing rapport with the younger guys in class, the ones I was always looking for ways to appear any way but motherly (not the best image to offer an 18-22 year old guy). But what's a gal to do when she simply doesn't watch much TV and prefers audiobooks to radio in the car?? How was I supposed to keep abreast of what was going on?

Enter my best email buddy, who is an avid Giants fan and is generally up to speed on what is going on in the rest of sports world too and who almost always gives me a daily baseball update, beginning as soon as Spring training starts that continues on through the World Series, even IF/WHEN her darling Giants don't make the grade.

Here is today's report which not unlike the Saturday poker report makes me grin (especially noticing how this Giants fan maintains heart when her team has failed miserably):

Baseball is getting very interesting. The American league is tied at one a piece but our league has the Rockies 3-0 against the D'Backs and they could close out today. The cool thing is that the Rockies have won 20 of their last 21 games! That is unheard of! The other cool thing is there are some old Giants on the Rockies team that are really doing well. Also, the pitcher who gave up the winning home run to an ex-Giant last night was an ex-pitcher for us too!

Why, you might ask, do these reports remain important now that I've retired? There are men in my family who talk sports (surprise, surprise), and I admit that I simply do not like to be left out of any conversation by lack of understanding. Plus it helps for jiving with the convenience store clerk and the neighbor walking his dogs. I'm ever eager to establish rapport and sports talk works.

And of course, there is also the language in these little ditties. Can you hear it? The lingo that rings with pleasure?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog Heaven

This morning, I was tweaking on the Internet when I should have been working on my review of Forever Plaid, and I made a glorious discovery: The Bookstore's Blog. OMG, it's the greatest.


Because not only do I love to read, but I also love to read about books and what others have to say about them. The folks writing this blog are obviously well-read (and I might add well-connected to books). The side-bar includes short bios on each contributer in which they describe their main interests and something about their love for books.

I've been holding on to a subscription request for The New York Review of Books for about 3 months, wanting to subscribe but not wanting to pay for it. I'm glad I waited because this blog is just what I'm looking for: a current and thoughtful appraisal of what's going on in the book world and because it's a blog there are hyperlinks and podcasts that make it ever so much more interesting.

Also, instead of jotting the name of a book to locate on Amazon at some later time, which is necessary when reading print reviews, I can click the link and go right to the book's Amazon page. I know!!! That's what Amazon is hoping I'll do because they want me to buy, but so far I've just put books on my wish list (Are you reading this Cindy? Aren't you proud of me?).

But this leads me to another topic--the one that got me looking at in the first place this morning. I wasn't looking for a book. I was doing research of another sort, something prompted by a book I'm reading called The Purple Cow by Seth Godin (a book, I might add, that I checked out of the library).

But I'll save the topic of the purple cow for tomorrow.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Poker Face

I'm a newbie Texas Holdem player and what I love as much if not more than the game is the language of the game. When I don't make it to my local Friday night game, my poker garu sends me a report, usually posted in the wee hours of Saturday morning before she goes to bed. I'm so addicted to these reports that I check email on Saturday before even brewing the tea. This is poetry of a different ilk (and poker lessons as well). Here's this morning's report:

Tonight's game had 17 players. . . The ladies dominated the final table. I was short stacked early in the game, had middle pocket pairs, and kept running up against bigger pairs: 77 vs KK and 99 vs AA. I was barely alive as the blinds escalated and I played some wicked warrior poker.

I busted Morgan with 77 at the final table; she had KK but I hit a 7 on the flop and check raised her for her whole stack. When it came down to it, ALL of the ladies made the final table. Kathy was short stacked but hung aroung a while. Clayton went out fifth, Robert M. bubbled, Corrinne took third, I got second and Peter became the first player to win back to back. I had him dominated when we came down to heads up play, but he caught some hands and made some on the flops until I was again against it. The final hand was J 10 vs J 9. He made the straight up to the nine with a 5678 on the board.

No poker face for me on Saturday morning. These reports start my day with a delicious smile.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Easy Face

The Family

For those of you who don't get the local paper and those who live far away, my daughter's family made the news last night. (See how beautiful they be)

Here is a link to the article if you want to take a peek. It's longish but tells a version of one of my favorite love stories, that between my daughter and her husband:

Here is what my 10 year old grand-daughter had to say to her mother after reading the article: "They make you and Papa sound like the funniest people and like we are all a bunch of sanguine people happily doing the housework together."

Her mother's reply: "Well, I guess that's our goal dear. "
Yoga class lesson today
(not a direct quote but close enough) When moving into a place of intensity, assume an easy face.
This is a little like "fake it until you make it" combined with "smile and the world smiles with you." My mantra for today and the next and the next is going to be: "Easy face."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Paying Homage

My friend Kathy recently sent me an email message with Charles Schultz’s Philosophy. The message was about the folly of trying to remember who won the Nobel Peace Prize or the Academy Award for best actor because those details are not what’s really important in life. More important is remembering those who made a difference in our lives. The message included a list of questions. In homage to those who have made a difference in my life, I am reporting my answers here:

1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school. These are some of my influential teachers though not all of them were part of school life. Marion was my swim coach who made me exert every effort toward excellence; Aleta was a teacher in college who made it perfectly clear what needed to be learned and provided multiple ways to grasp the info; Jim made me think outside of the box and never let me get away with a shallow argument; Nancy has walked me through some of life’s hardest lessons with guidance grounded in Buddhist precepts; Cherie is my yoga teacher extraordinaire whose insightful instruction always transcends the body to engage the spirit. (This list does not include any of my marvelous writing teachers—topic for a later blog)

2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time. This is really hard to keep to three because I have a lot of friends, so here are the ones who have been with me through my most difficult times: Oldest friend: Raymond who was there for so many years, helping me learn about love that knows how to let go. Old friends: Carol M., who always made me see my life from a fresh vantage point; Trish, who shares my name and birth month and with whom I sorted through the heavy-handed cultural conditioning regarding “married-for-life”; Linda, who helped me see the world and women more authentically; Tia, who stood beside me during all manner of professional difficulty and who kept me well-groomed to boot. Newest friends: Lynn, who is my loyal email buddy thereby providing me the remarkable gift of writing a daily review of life; Kathy, who arrived on the scene as I was melting in a puddle of professional sorrow and revived me with a multiplicity of goodness; Annie whose brilliance astounds me and challenges me to keep thinking and growing and always, always keep playing, a challenge that got me through my last year at the college.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile. My mother taught me to see everyone’s good reason. Buck taught me that I am lovable even when enraged. Lori taught me that the hardest lap is the third one in a four lap mile. Crackers taught me about the complexity of love between two women. My kids teach me humility, delight, surrender, humor, and unfathomable love.

4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special. Linda S. was the first person I remember giving me a gift that was all about knowing me. Jeff asked me how my day was when it seemed like no one else cared. Andrea is a generous reader of my writing and feeds me on my birthday. Jay has always treated me with amazing respect and understanding. Anna Mae makes me cards and gifts and calls me on the phone and always remembers to ask how I’m doing. Cindy thinks I’m beautiful and says thank you when I don’t even know what I’ve done that deserves thanks.

5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
Cindy—I still miss her every minute we are a part; Christine—We always pick up right where we left off; Michael—We both love JL enormously, making our time together a gabfest that always circles back to her; Ginger--One smart baby sister who I love to walk and talk with. Nell—Every moment with her is entertaining and super sweet.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Shakespeare TaDum

I just returned from 5 days in Ashland, Oregon at the Shakespeare Festival during which time I saw 6 plays, 4 by Shakespeare, 1 by Moliere, and 1 by Tom Stoppard. Because I was with a Columbia College trip, there were other perks: a prologue given by an actor before every play, an acting workshop, a set design workshop, a conversation with an actor, and a backstage tour. It was all marvelous as well as fodder for self-criticism, like "I'm probably the most uncreative person in the world" and "I'm a fool to think I can write" and "If I were truly an artist, I would have accomplished something by now . . . like the book that I finished 3 years ago would be published." There were 14 young people with us who were smart and witty and full of verve, like none I ever felt way back in my 20s. I struggled for 5 days to keep from drowning in self-pity and recrimination. On the bus on the way home, I made myself write a list of what I learned during the 5 days and how I was going to use it to stimulate my creative life. (thanks to ZenChump who wrote a list a week or so ago) Here is my list:

Shakespeare stole or copied most of the ideas for his plays. I will take an idea from somewhere, anywhere and grow a piece of writing from it, tweak a line of poetry, or copy it and put in new words, or copy an essay, paragraph by paragraph but change the subject (like I did for my critical paper).

Shakespeare, in one year (forget what year??? 1598???), wrote 5 of his best plays. I must write more. I have to put writing FIRST, i.e. put my bottom in the chair everyday and write, make lists of ideas to write about; start copying quotes in my quote book and write about them; set up my office space to work better for writing; set a schedule; keep making lists of ways to generate more work . . . write them in the idea book.

Vilma Silva (who played Kate in Taming of the Shrew) talked about facing the language in a play and recommended a book, Clamorous Voices to learn how to use the silence. Hmmm . . . where is the silence in a piece of writing and how might it be used. Get the book for study.

Chris Albright (who played Juliet) said she had the goal to play Juliet for 10 years before it happened. Once I finished the goal of completing my book, I have written less, though last summer I wanted to write 1-2 essays and I accomplished that. Set a goal. (Will it be the Borgquist book?)

As You Like It touched me deeply, made me weep. Leave the chaos behind; go into the forest. Be kind and devoted. Make these themes in my work. "Like a doe, I go find my fawn and give it food . . " (Orlando speaking of Adam; Act II Scene VII).

On the Razzle. Read Stoppard's Arcadia (because I know it's famous). Is there a movie of Arcadia? Fun for fun's sake, slap-stick, puns, playing with language, making it as goofy as possible with lots of repetition. Write short pieces and poems that are goofy until I get better at it. For instance, how could I make this post more funny. Could I go on the razzle? Or am I stuck with a rattle, shaking loose change in my pockets with not a funny thought in my wallet? Keep trying PH.

Tartuffe: OMG, religious hypocrisy NEVER goes away. Am I stuck with an inabliilty to turn it all into a farce while it sits like a huge elephant in the living rooms of my family. Where does the whole idea of an Interfaith conversation fit in with what I need and want regarding religion and hypocrisy?

The Tempest: Memorize the revel speech. Wear scarves and capes, especially chiffon with jeans. Something flowing like the blue outfit I bought at the second-hand store. Be the sky for Halloween. Wear blue eye-shadow.

The Stage Tour: Theater is a complex operation that requires cooperation and collaboration and lots of money. Theater companies need audiences and volunteers and donors. Comedy is always better attended than serious drama (dark or sad stories). Dressers become actors and actors become dressers. Playwrights need money so they work theater jobs (sometimes). My favorite actor (the one who played Adam in As You Like It) led part of the tour. He was a devoted member of the troupe who lives year to year not knowing if he will be signed again despite having been with OSF since 1969. He's proud of the company, generous with his praise, full of gratitude to audiences without being effusive, and knows and willingly shares the story of OSF. So much to emulate in all of this.

Report back here on my success with this list one month from now on November 8.