We bring our music with us. That way, when we’re driving away from Dublin, and there is a rainbow, we’re listening to “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” and when it began to rain as we came into Belfast, we were listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance me to the end of love,” and when during the last part of our drive coming into Connemara, Nina Simone was singing exquisitely, mournfully s as if her song was the whole world shattering and becoming a new universe. Connemara is cold, wet and here my head is a mass of curls. Mark and I walked last night to look at the hillside and the sheep. While we walked, I burnt the dinner, and we ate it anyway, and then had strawberries and cream. Why are the strawberries in Ireland so much better than the ones in California? We spent a few days decompressing and journeying, first to Dublin and Temple Bar which was, like many bars, very noisy. They played a mix of Irish music and songs about Reno and Texas. Then we went to the Giant’s Causeway, the rope bridge, the castles and cathedrals of Northern Ireland, the soldiers with machine guns, the heavy Presbyterian churches. We drove from Belfast to Connemara in a day, it alternately poured, showered and lightly drizzled, even a few moments of nearly sunshine. Our travel plans never include lunch. We have certain travel rules: We do not believe in stopping for lunch, checking luggage, listening to guides, travelling in groups, going on cruises and we rarely chat with anyone. Our friend Maureen would have made a dozen friends and several would have invited her over in the few days we’ve been here. She might even have a marriage proposal. We like to chill, to breathe, and Ireland is a great place for breathing. The air is wet and everywhere you walk in this little town, there’s the soft sweet smell of peat burning. The Irish flowers are mostly purple except the buttercups. At the market, they specialize in root vegetables and mushrooms. We have a huge celery root that I plan to make soup with. I didn’t buy turnips or parsnips, just onions, carrots, the celery root, sweet potatoes and mushrooms. From where I write, there are sheep grazing. Shearing season is early August. The lambs follow their mamas closely. Most of the sheep have horns. We are known in town as “the Yanks.” The shepherds have sheep dogs, the same kind of dog we had growing up. In our cabin, there are three copies of Paradise Lost, but for us Yanks, this is paradise found.


Published in: on June 13, 2017 at 1:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Botchan and Thousand Cranes

Mark and I read Japanese authors on the way to Boston. Mark read the new Murakami .  I read  Botchan by Natsume Soseki and Thousand Cranes by Yaunari Kawabata. It made me want to re-read Forbidden Colors by Yukio Mishima. Botchan is a Japanese version of Catcher in the Rye but with the main character in his twenties. He is a child man.  Our main character likes to take his daily baths; he wants to have his nurse back take care of him.  He misses being a little boy. Many kids want to grow up; want to act on the world, but not our Botchan. He wants to be acted upon. He likes the passive role.  But he’s such a funny endearing fellow.  You want him to be okay; you want him to have fun.  First published in Japanese in 1906; this book is a great look at Japan before both world wars.


Thousand Cranes is set in Japan after World War II; a slow sad book about love, hope, marriage, concubines and handkerchiefs, but also about families. What constitutes family? There are the family members we like and don’t like, but still they’re family.  We begin and end with the woman with the birthmark.  I thought about Hawthorne’s story “The birthmark,” and the idea that a person can be marked in such a way that their destiny is changed, and especially a woman. A woman with a birthmark is stained.  Beauty is one of the ways we have made our way forward for centuries, and even now, with access to education and jobs, good looks help a girl and having a birthmark messes with that. The girl with beauty might move forward.  The girl with the birthmark ends up neutered, ignored.  If you are too beautiful, they hate you, if you aren’t pretty, they ignore you. The choices for women aren’t good in this Kawabata novel, but I love learning about Japanese culture. The tea ceremony, the bowls, the dishes, the life of ceremony.

Published in: on May 29, 2017 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Alien Covenant


The day I returned from Japan, we went immediately to see Alien Covenant on opening day.  In our family, we are fans of the alien franchise, the first and second ones were good, and the first Prometheus movie was great and made us think about our god and our maker, our truth and our destiny. This latest movie didn’t have those kinds of deep waters. I missed Charlize Theron who carried the movie forward on her slim shoulders.  The great subtle beauty of this movie was the relationship between Michael Fassbender (always a pleasure to watch) and himself.  The deep longing between a man and another man was played so beautifully that you felt the keys of your heart being played like a symphony.


The horrific part is blood, guts, aliens and more aliens and an unraveling of plot.  It’s hard to be emotionally involved with these aliens with their blood that melts metal, and their complete lack of feeling.  The aliens are simply monsters. There is no passion, just the instinct to kill people.  Aliens erupt from human bellies; guts and blood poured forth all over the screen.  I wonder how many gallons of blood they used for this movie? The last movie made me want to see more Prometheus.  Now I’m not sure.  The other alien movies were sustained by our relationship with Ripley.  No one is alive for us to follow to the next movie.  It was an alien bloodbath.

Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 8:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

When are you coming home?

I’m on Amtrak getting ready to go to San Diego to hear the rehearsal for Imagine Dead Imagine


remembering the three years I came down every week to teach my students at San Diego State MFA who were terrific. I like the train lilting down the tracks, the part where you see the ocean rushing by and Mark would make me chicken drumsticks for the trip. Today I have only hard boiled eggs and an apple. But it will be fine.  I like being hungry on the train. It feels good.


My friend Karen Shoemaker is thinking of coming to California by train from the Midwest, and if she does, she’ll be snug in her berth writing her heart out, but also reading, staring out the window and reminding men on the train that she’s married. Part of Karen’s novel, Meaning of Names happens on a train, so I think she’s always figuring out ways to get back to the train and the story. We’ve taken off now in the early morning light.  This is one of the newer smoother trains, so I can read and type pretty easily.  The old ones are so bumpy you feel like your brain is being jarred.  I have five manuscripts to edit so no window gazing for me. Well maybe a little.  I’m on the ocean side, and the ocean is always talking to me and in the immortal words of Brendan Constantine,

“Oh yes, the oceans.

They asked what they always ask

And I promised I’d repeat it,

Why do you never call?

                                When are you coming home?”

Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 5:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Living in the Weather of the World, Richard Bausch is such an amazing collection of stories that it takes your breath away. If I had written either “Veterans Night” or “The Knoll,” I could just hang it up.  I could just start whistling “We are the champions,” I could start dancing in the streets.  When you are reading Bausch, you are in the hands of a master.  His writing is so good, you feel like you are in a hammock rocking back and forth.



My favorite Bausch book has always been Peace,



but now this book? The short story collection blew me away.  Bausch is a master of his craft.  These are the stories of the compressed life.  Read it and flex your writing hands. Have courage, young Skywalker.

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  


Nutshell by Ian McEwan is a book you don’t want to miss.  The whole book is told from the point of view of a babe in the womb.  The baby hears a murder planned, and his mother is in on the plan.  His mother is ready to kill, she’s ready to get blood on her hands, ready to kill the baby’s father.  You keep reading and it takes a while before you’re inside one of the greatest stories of English literature, Hamlet.  Gertrude my darling, why do you whet your knife as your belly swells? This has got to be one of the most fun books Ian McEwan has ever written.  You are inside your mother’s womb in the wet and slime of it, listening to the murder plans. You put the book down for a minute? You can’t wait to get back.

Published in: on May 3, 2017 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

If you stop and think

What if aliens are watching us and laughing that on this beautiful planet we spend so much time tapping keys.

Why do we have wars?

This 45th president is an outrage.

Why don’t we read more good books?

I need more sleep.

It’s my family that matters and creative work.

Not all of this work stuff really matters.

Why are so many people angry?

Why do I feel small when I could feel grand?

These trees, these clouds, these actual friends, how did I get so lucky?

If you stop and think

Published in: on April 26, 2017 at 11:37 am  Comments (1)  

The Nest Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney


I met Cynthia at the Pasadena Festival of Women’s books and she had the dynamic energy of a five year old, she’s like a dancer/trapeze artist.  Stuff I liked:  The description of New York, I liked the Grand Central description including the Campbell Apartment bar there, and I liked the feeling of walking around Brooklyn in the book.  The writing is wonderful, such spiff and polish of language, the story of the twins, one gay, one straight, the gay uncles, but the thrust of the story, the arc, is the “nest.”  The kids are waiting for an inheritance.  At first I was annoyed with the nest. I didn’t care whether these well off New Yorkers inherited more money. But the story grew on me, I began to realize that the point was if you know something was going to change your life, you’d wait all the time for it and that anticipation changes everything. It’s really a story about how we wait and why we can’t move beyond waiting.  We live in a culture where we don’t like to wait.  We pause to play with our phones in the line at Starbucks; we can’t stand any moments when we are alone. Anticipation changes the Plumbs’ lives.  They glorify the one of the siblings who is a shiny person. In many families, the family member who is glorified is not the one with the most compassion and integrity.  I like the ending of the book, but I won’t spoil it for you.

Published in: on April 24, 2017 at 9:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Answer 2

My grandfather said don’t tell me anything bad, just tell me the good.
Left me hovering over corpses in the yard like a seagull.
Waiting for someone who had a story covering the past, making it new.

Then Joseph, the Mexican kid who wouldn’t go by Jose, cast off the coat
of many colors to be American with a blond girlfriend, me.
He wanted to woo me and every one else from his Chippendale perch.

He wanted to chip away at the idea that the American cowboy had to be white.
I wanted to try for a dream where I was on the sill of success
taking off into the sky. Circling the wagons from the air.

Joseph and I went out on the town, rewrote our stories in the clouds.
I wasn’t poor. He wasn’t Mexican. We weren’t infidels from our faiths.
We were born again somebodies, soon to be discovered like sunshine.

You open the window, and there we are, so welcome, so lovely.
So everywhere you want to be. So California, so shining.
So catalog perfect, so gleaming and golden and glittering.

America is where you can bury your story corpse, till the soil,
plant new beans and come up singing with a new music.
We danced to the fancy dance music on the sawdust floors.

In Mexico, rich kids broke the law, smoked weed in the streets and cantinas.
Joseph and I broke no laws. We’re just into tequila, we said. Go ahead.
Do what you do. Hiding the true story. There was no one to rescue us.

We could rot in Mexican jails till the cops come home from the whorehouses,
And still we’d be there. No one rapping on the windows, no one offering bail.
All of you have an escape hatch. We admitted to no one our hatchless condition.

When I left him next to the taco stand to move to California, the sun was setting.
I could see it shining through his hair. I left him with a wet kiss.
We said, I will see you again. We said, I will call you in the morning.

In California, there were heaps of riches for somebody else.
Elegant houses for other people. Dresses, cars, streets, shops and bellhops
for people born into the right families. Jobs and suits and funny shoes.

My fist shaking days are past. Fistfuls of hair. Now I breathe in smog and run.
You breathe. You don’t have to keep up. If you were born without legs.
You learn to fly. Your dark parts touch the sky. Your dark parts matter only

In that they define your reason to fly. Oh California, I’m on to you.

– Kate Gale



Published in: on April 20, 2017 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hanif Kureishi, Intimacy

Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy takes you inside a man’s head, a man who lives with a wife he despises.  “Your arms are tongs,” his wife complains, Touch me with your hands.” But he cannot touch, he cannot love.  He wants intimacy but he doesn’t have the ability to love.  He’s a terrible father as well.  He admits that he put brandy in his baby’s bottle.  “I booted him hard up the nappy before he was even walking,” he says.  He threw the baby into his bed backwards hitting the baby’s head.  He isn’t much better to his mistress or his girlfriends.  Love, as it happens in this story, can’t heap up and nest and flourish in a hollow man.  It needs a moist home, and that moisture is the ability to love.  If you cannot love, you wouldn’t feel love.  “It is the saddest night, for I am leaving and not coming back.”  That is the first line of our book on intimacy.  Sadness is a closed fist, a closed heart.

Published in: on April 17, 2017 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment