Off to Santa Fe


This Sunday I am reading in Santa Fe and it’s going to be great. I am flying on Saturday to New Mexico.
Today’s reading with Andrew Lam was amazing. We rocked Santa Cruz! And then we went out with a bunch of students and faculty afterward for Chinese food at Shun Feng. Karen Tea Yamashita was there and she is a great writer; she teaches creative writing at UC Santa Cruz. We are staying at a place called Sea and Sand. It’s a very cool little hotel overlooking the ocean.

Andrew commented that in the East, people care about money and that in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh is unknown. I found that interesting. We search for what we do not have. We reach for what we do not have. The West is oozing with consumer goods made in China while the East is ready for the triumph of financial success. We want what we do not have.

Tomorrow we’re staying at the French Hotel in Berkeley and going to Revival with Tobi and Molly for Tobi’s birthday. We will have a grand time. It’s been good to get away. To get some rest, hear the waves and breathe. New Mexico with Darlene and Santa Fe reading!

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bitterness does not become you

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In Greece you see the widows everywhere dressed in black.  They are waiting to die.  They walk slowly in the spring air, out into the rock salt hills, they collect eggs from their chicken and milk from their goats. They make cheese and bread, and they regret the husbands who died long ago and the children who moved to America.  Around them the air breathes.

A lot of writers are like that.  They carry bitterness with them in pails like water.  Up hills and down them, splashing a little bitterness here or there on their shoes, on the rocks, on their feet, into the warm soil.  They say, I deserve better.  What they mean is that mediocre writers everywhere are winning prizes and getting jobs, being offered all kinds of juicy teaching positions and riding on elephants.  Okay, not riding on elephants, but you get the idea.  It looks like everyone around you is riding on elephants and you keep walking along on the jungle floor being eaten by ants.  And you know, for a fact that you too deserve an elephant ride and for the life of you, you can’t figure out why aren’t you getting one? So you get bitter.

I hear writers talking down the “big” writers with prizes, publications and tenured jobs.  I’ve heard myself make these remarks in the past, but now I just pass on it.  My life is a kite in the sky.  I’ve had a lot of love and a lot of sky.  I have nothing to be bitter about.  I feel gratitude that I’ve gotten to be part of the dance even though I’m not a very great dancer.

Bitterness does not become you.  It doesn’t become anyone.  One never wishes one could spend more time with someone who is bitter and one rarely wishes to help that person.  You want to get away.

Who knows what we deserve?  Maybe the problem is that we all think we deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I hear writers tell me what they should have.  Go get it I think.  Do I look like I have a Pulitzer in my back pocket?  I don’t have a Pulitzer, I’m not even on the prize committee.  I don’t have a tenured job.   Whining is never getting you anywhere, so when you hear yourself starting to feel bitter, do what I do.  I remind myself of how much fun my life is.  Of how many great friends I have and of how the air smells in the morning when I go out into the front yard.  The roses are in bloom, and these mornings, the air is damp and the fog is sweet along the streets, brushing the branches like the trees and the clouds are in love.

Published in: on October 22, 2014 at 2:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Paper or Plastik Café

I spoke with Dana Gioia’s class on Arts leadership at USC and had lunch at the University Club.  I saw Morten Lauridsen there and I was so excited to see him because I when I hear his music, I feel joy.  The class was great; the students very engaged intellectuals.  I gave them the history of Red Hen Press and they asked excellent questions about organizational work and intellectual activity and how all that fits together at a non profit press.  Now I am at Paper and Plastik Café and will soon be meeting with Cecilia Woloch and Brendan Constantine.  It’s an excellent little café full of people working on their laptops and quite a number of them appear to be doing homework.

The food looks outstanding.  I really want some of their caramels but they are ridiculously expensive.  They have foods like Fig and Olive Tapenade and pickled green tomatoes on ricotta toast which sounds highly unusual.  I bought some tea for Mark as he needs a constant supply of black teas.  We leave tomorrow night for Santa Cruz and we’ll be up there for a couple days.

The press is hopping.  It feels like we are all on fire and it’s sort of a non stop roller coaster.  I wouldn’t mind getting off it once in a while and getting in touch with the ground, but that’s obviously too much to ask.  It feels like we are all working at full tilt as we approach the biggest literary event we’ve ever had.  It’s touch and go on this one, and I can only hope that all this runs smoothly.  Mark is working on books, the anniversary staff are clicking away on the timeline for the event.  It’s a time of stress and work, not play.  But, we will get through it and come out the other side flying, singing and dancing. That’s just me joking around.  We’re not going to be doing anything like that until the press closes for the holidays in December.  Then we can drink some champagne.

Dana talked with his students today about gratitude.  There is a shortage of that in the literary world.  You give up everything to make a difference, to publish books that are being ignored and afterward you have to kind of clap for yourself because otherwise there isn’t much clapping.  But fortunately, we are rather centered people.  We keep living in grace and that’s the best you can do as an arts administrator.

Published in: on October 21, 2014 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Red Hen Press anniversary event


This 20th anniversary luncheon celebration is the biggest party we’ve ever thrown, and we at Red Hen like a good party. Writers/actors who have attended Red Hen’s readings and luncheons in the past include: Virginia Madsen, Billy Collins, Viggo Mortensen, Ray Bradbury, Mark Strand, Yusef Komunyakaa, Toi Derricotte, Robert Olen Butler, Joy Harjo, Ishmael Reed and the list goes on.
This year we have Pete Fromm, Sharon Olds, Richard Blanco and Pam Houston. We’re getting pretty excited as the day gets closer. I even bought a special dress for the occasion. Every waking moment I am trying to remember what I might have forgotten about the planning.

We did a tasting at the Westin so I feel good about the food, but I want everything to be perfect and if not perfect, then super fun. Tobi and Molly are coming and Stephen as well. Mark’s son Jared is coming. Douglas Kearney, Brendan Constantine, Nicelle Davis. Amy Gerstler, Dana Gioia, Mark Doty and Ron Carlson. It’s going to be stellar.

When I was responsible for the food, flowers and decoration, I had 99 red balloons on the ceiling because who didn’t like that song? But with our amazing committee there will be champagne and orchids of longing everywhere. There will be music and there will be books. The auction items include travel and jewelry, art and a Kindle. We are going to rock Pasadena.

One year after the anniversary event, I agreed to do a meeting on Sunday night. It was a big mistake. Even with my phone, I could not find my way and I remember when I arrived at the meeting with this very beautiful woman and my friend was there being very nice about the fact that I was so crazed my brain was rolling around on the restaurant floor. Never again. Now, we go out for a family event the night of the big anniversary event and no brains are necessary. That is such a good ad for a vacation. No brains are necessary. I like the idea of going on a vacation where your brain can go off someplace by itself and not bother anyone while you hike, swim, relax, drink, sleep, write, but write without thinking. If you think, they are edible thoughts which are the best kind of thoughts.

My friend Nicelle gave me caramels after our reading in Salt Lake and I am still thinking about them. Lisa gave me some when we were in London. I plowed through them like a little snow plow. I have a ridiculous addiction to caramels especially with sea salt.

Come to the Red Hen anniversary event. There will be caramel. There will be books and magic and fun. You don’t want to miss it. All the stories in the world swooping like great gulls in the washed light of morning light; they swerve, smudging the sand with their shadow, lifting the air with their sky dreams.

Published in: on October 20, 2014 at 11:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Who do you admire?, Parachute time

We all have our own role models, our people who we want to be when we grow up.  As a twenty something, I wanted to be Bette Midler.  I remember telling someone and she laughed at me.  You’re a tall blond Swede who wants to be short and Jewish?

I never had noticed that she was short and I didn’t know she was Jewish but I’ve always wanted to be Jewish because then I’d be one of the chosen ones, plus I’d be super smart and I’d have a back story.  I wanted to be Bette Midler because she has pizzazz.  She is not a smudge on the perfectly formed landscape, she is electric in her bones.  She is fully alive.  That’s what I want.

I still like Bette Midler.  People I have met in my life and would like to be like:  Peggy Shumaker, Joe Usibelli, Ben Saltman, my grandfather Gus Swanson, Blasé Bonpane and his wife Theresa, both my kids Tobi and Stephen because they are fearless.  People who I would like to be more like:  the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Frida Kahlo, and Cindy Sherman. It’s all about being creative, being a great leader, and having grace. I believe in grace.  I believe in kindness.  My friends Darlene and Lisa have enormous grace and wisdom.  I could use more wisdom.  I sometimes make decisions with my stomach when I should get my brain involved.  I am all about heart decisions, but I’m getting better.

It was an interesting reading last night at the King’s English.  They were so nice to us! It was amazing, I love the people at that bookstore.  The audience was mostly Nicelle’s friends and family.  Nicelle’s son JJ was there and he was so happy to see me and I got him some books which he needed, and he was being super good.  Nicelle’s family were so glad to see JJ too.

It’s weird when you travel and do readings how chilly the whole thing is in some ways.  When I was in Minneapolis, Jen picked me up at the airport and we went off to lunch and then we hung out together at her house and we went out to meetings and readings and it was a girl party and when I do readings in New Mexico, Darlene and I are hanging out. But if you drop into a town where you don’t have buddies, it feels like you are a parachute jumper.  You parachute in, you hang out in your room, you do your reading and that part is exciting and then you sip your warm coffee in the morning if you are lucky enough to have coffee and you get dropped at the curb and then you parachute out.

Next week when I go to Phoenix and Tuscon, I will be staying with Peggy and we will hang out and it will be like home away from home. We talk about our lives and who we are and where we are and what we’re working on.  I like reading places where your home girls show up and you’re still home, but a lot of times readings and workshops and talks are parachute time.  Be glad you have a parachute that works both ways, you fly in, and you fly out and then you tap your red shoes and say, There’s no place like home.  I’m flying back to Los Angeles right now.

Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 10:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Red Hen Press Champagne Anniversary is coming up! Do Not Miss It!

Landed in Utah at 2:30.  I always forget how dry it is here.  You can see from the air how stark and beautiful the valley is cupped into the mountains.

The reading tonight is at 7 pm so Kate Coles dropped me at her club downtown and took off.  It’s a nice room with high ceilings. I exited in search of food.  I ran five miles this morning and never got around to eating so I wanted something yummy.  I didn’t find anything yummy, but I found food.  Right across from my room is the Utah Republican party headquarters.  I walked past that and past the Joseph Smith building and found a café with some packaged food and bought a salad.  Sometimes anything is so much better than nothing.

The air seems very clear here.  The Mormon temple is impressive.  The city is cool and flat, and I will be home tomorrow.

Darlene asked me if I am excited about our 20th anniversary coming up, and I am.

This week, I am pretty excited about speaking at USC on Tuesday and at UC Santa Cruz on Thursday, two nights in Santa Cruz and then we are staying at the French Hotel in Berkeley and celebrating Tobi’s birthday which is actually on Halloween.

Then I fly to Albuquerque to hang out with my friends Darlene and Steve and read at Op Cit with Red Mountain authors and Ron Koertge.

On Halloween I’ll be reading in Phoenix and then Tuscon with Peggy Shumaker and Cynthia Hogue.

Then Bogota and Cartagena Columbia for the International Women’s Poetry Conference.

Then Colorado College where David Mason teaches.

Then the amazing Red Hen Press anniversary event.

Sometimes I think I can only get excited about so many things at once.  But I am already excited about Thanksgiving because we are going to have eight or ten of us and it will be great plus that will be a few days that I can breathe/think. I like breathing days.

The AROHO party/meeting was great, and seeing Tobi and Steve this week and then hanging with Darlene and then with Peggy is going to be amazing.  Life is beautiful.

But, back to that anniversary event.  It is going to be awesome and we are running out of seats/tables.  All four of these readers are going to rock your socks.  Be ready to be amazed.  We still have a few seats and one gold table.  So buy yours today.  See you on November 16th!

Published in: on October 18, 2014 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kate Gale, Kate Coles, Nicelle Davis at the King’s English tomorrow night in Salt Lake City

Tuesday night amazing reading we packed the Annenberg Beach House, then great party at Barbara Abercrombie’s house right on the beach down from the pier.

Then teaching, then joining my AROHO peeps in Crestline for a two night one day meeting/party. We drank wine, ate Mexican food and figured out everything for the Ghost Ranch conference next year.

Today, breakfast in Crestline with Darlene. Darling town! I want a little house there, I want to run around Lake Gregory. I was in love with it. The clouds rising off the water, the moon dipping into the trees, the lake spread out like happiness.

Then down off the mountain, met my home girl Jodi for lunch, drove to Beverly Hills for tea with Elaine Attias who is so cool! And her house is lovely. And now I’m in Larchmont at Peets getting ready to meet my home girl Susie in Koreatown at the Korean spa. She’ll want to drink afterward. Mark will want me to come home.

Flying to Salt Lake tomorrow for this reading. Sunday night going to the Master Chorale. I never say, I wish I was doing something more exciting. It all feels like a tango, maybe a waltz.

Published in: on October 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Red Hen Press: Genevieve Kaplan, Jessica Piazza, Leia Penina Wilson, Mary Johnson

Reading at the Annenberg Beach House tomorrow night

A Room of Her Own, To the Lighthouse winners

6:30-8 pm

We need to write more love letters

IMG_0161You will soon find more adventure in life


That’s what my fortune cookie said.  I don’t think that’s a good idea for me.  I think any more adventure and I’m going to be completely done in.  I like my adventurous life, but it’s a little exhausting.


We had a good dinner party last night.  Mary Johnson came over with her friends Carol and Bruce and Percival Everett and my friend Elise Capron.  Feeling energetic after my recent trip to Frankfurt followed by being ill, followed by an early five mile run, I did most of the cooking.  I wanted to do some baking for dessert.  Mark said, you aren’t going to want to do that, I said yes, I will. But he was right, by the time I was cooking the chicken and making the soup, baking was out of the question.  My friend Lisa is a really good baker and she likes it, but I am a slow little baker and even more pathetic as a candlestick maker. 


At this point, I am so tired that I can’t believe I am still sitting at my desk, but there isn’t anywhere else to sit.  I think that writing letters is under rated and we should all write more love letters.


If you were going to write a love letter, who would you write it to?  I could write love letters to many people.  Writers who stories hang with me, artists who make me happy.  Composers, activists.  And of course, my actual friends and family.


What about hate letters?  Who would you write a hate letter to? I wouldn’t write to anyone.  There isn’t anyone I hate.  There are people I might not want to go on a canoe trip with, but I don’t hate them. 


Rumpus contributor Steve Almond self-published a collection of hate mail that was sent to him (along with his responses) entitled Letters From People Who Hate Me. You can read Almond’s argument for self-publishing here. The following is an excerpt from his book:


Dear Asshole,

You are a fucking idiot!! And your daughter in the picture on your website looks like a maggot!You are a disgraceful american and it would have been so nice if you had been a passenger on one of the planes that crashed into one of the wtc towers on 9/11/01.




Dear J.,

Okay, you got me. My daughter does have kind of a maggoty look to her. For a while there, my wife and I were able to delude ourselves. I guess all parents do. We’d tell people her skin was alabaster, or sometimes pearlescent. We thought it might be the kind of soap we were using. But I think in our heart of hearts we knew something was wrong with her.

Then came her first interaction with carrion. There was some kind of dead animal in our backyard. My wife says it was a rabbit, but I’m almost certain it was an opossum. Anyway, Josephine somehow got wind of it and we found her out there, burrowing into the thing’s eye socket. The neighbors came out to watch. It was kind of awkward.

I guess it would be sort of like if you, Joseph Kelly, found yourself talking to some buddies at a party and you said, “You know that guy Steve Almond. I totally wish he’d been killed in the 9/11 attacks.”

And this voice behind you says, “Yeah, totally. We should have killed that filthy infidel Almond!” And you turn around, hoping to maybe give the guy a high-five, only to discover that it’s Osama bin Laden.

Published in: on October 13, 2014 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Princess Flowers

I ran five miles and made breakfast and am judging prizes and we are having a dinner party tonight.

Mark went to the market for our supplies.

A princess flower is what we need in the back yard, I told him.

Also known as the glory bush.

I tell myself to live with grace.

Which means breathing, getting enough sleep.

When I deplaned, I felt like I was dying, but I didn’t die.  Mark dropped me at shiatsu

and after a long time at CJs, where they give you acupressure,

I started to feel

like I could move.

Rag doll to Olympian.

I feel like a polar bear.  I want to sit around on an ice shelf and eat fish.9721_15203 images

Published in: on October 12, 2014 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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