Yosemite is magical


All families are crazy, but some are crazier than others.  All have families have their different ways of getting through family crises.  In our family, we all get together, talk together, hang together.  We believe in the power of love.

A friend of mine once said to me, “A good family isn’t always strong, but a good family gathers around its weakest member.” That stuck with me.  And it isn’t always the same person.  Sometimes one person needs help, sometimes someone else.  We gather.  I’d like to say that we always say the right thing, that we do the right thing, but that isn’t true.  We’re not god, we can’t see the future and we don’t always learn from the past.  Sometimes we convince ourselves that we are able to figure it all out, that we know the future, but we don’t.  I’m chatty, so I generally spin forth with my wisdom such as it is.

We are very small in the universe.  Planets revolve around the sun. The Milky Way spreads out for light years, and here we are infinitesimally small, hanging like a dot in space. But we make much of our travels, our art, our music, our relationships as well we might.  This is the life we have; let’s make the best of it.  We’re here in Yosemite where there is a very high danger of fire.  Sometimes when there is very high fire danger you have to be on high alert.  A person can only stay on high alert so long.  We have a wonderful family even when we find ourselves in fire danger, we have water.  We have water.

Published in: on July 25, 2015 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Off toYosemite


We are going to Yosemite tomorrow.  Oddly, our family has spent much time camping in the Sequoias, the beach, travelling up and down the coast but we’ve never camped in Yosemite and tomorrow we’re going up for three nights.    Stephen has spent some time in Yosemite so he’s going to show us around.

We went to sushi tonight at our favorite sushi bar, Arigato, and our sushi chef announced that he was closing the sushi bar for good on August 9th and he and his sister Judy are going to wander.  Although I’m a big fan of wandering, it’s going to be difficult to survive without our sushi bar.  I anticipate many months of searching for our next favorite sushi bar.

Mark and I were alone at this house for a couple years and now, there are six of us.  Molly, Tobi, Stephen and another kid who needed a place to stay for a bit.  He’s finding himself.

It’s a busy time at the press. We are launching our bookstore outreach program, and updating publicity, marketing and development.  It feels like the press is buzzing with activity and energy.

Life is a big adventure.  The music keeps on playing.

Published in: on July 24, 2015 at 10:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Carmina Burana and Eric Whitacre at the Bowl tonight

off to see Eric Whitacre and Carmina Burana tonight!

After going to the beach to see our friend Barbara Abercrombie with Tobi and Molly.

Last night I made dinner; we had a fine chardonnay and turkey lettuce wraps.

Haven’t figured out what food to bring to the Bowl yet, but will do.

We’re going to Yosemite this weekend to hike around.  Need to shop for that too. It’s not hard core camping there.

The campground has wifi.  Seriously?

Published in: on July 23, 2015 at 7:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Off to see Road Warrior

We are having such a great summer with our family.  In our family we are epic warriors.

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Like Michael Oatman UNO MFA faculty member pictured here, we should all reach for the sky

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Why start an MFA program?

Why start anything? A love affair, cooking school, martial arts, mountain climbing, spelunking, photography, why start making love, the world might end and you might not get to finish, or you might find that you’re not as good at it as you hoped you’d be. Or you find that there are others getting famous while you’re still cave diving in a thoroughly amateurish manner for months, maybe years.  We start writing programs because it’s a journey we want to take.  Because we want to start walking down a road, learning an activity that we might take years to get good at.

Among the many courses I took in college were: French, Spanish, horseback riding (seriously) dance (four years) theatre, astronomy (I was in love with Carl Sagan).  Of all of those, the most useful has been the Spanish.  But I’ve never regretted any of those.  I still ride horses, speak French, dance, (not as well as Amy Hassinger) love plays, and when I get out of the city, and I look  up at the stars, I can name them like old friends staring down on me just as they did when I grew up in the woods of New Hampshire and I could see the whole Milky Way and I used to say to myself, I am going to do something amazing in this galaxy not having a single clue how small I was.

When I started to take writing courses, I sucked and I continued to suck long after I graduated with a Master’s in writing, I continued to write a lot of really bad stuff, and I enjoyed the heck out of it.  I enjoyed getting my writing muscles going, swimming around in language and getting to read some big writers.  When I started, I was reading mostly science fiction.  My teachers said no to science fiction.  They told me to read Hemingway who I liked very much and I even went hiking in the woods and tried to imagine myself as a Nicola Adams, I liked reading all of it, even the big white male writers stomping around in the world.  I was so excited to be part of it.  I didn’t learn to be a writer in graduate school, I didn’t learn till later, but I was given the tools that would carry me forward into my future writing life.  When I graduated, that life stretched before me like blue hills to the horizon.  That’s why you start an MFA, to begin a journey, like learning to enter the caves of the imagination.  At first, it’s wet and dark and cold down there, and that’s all you notice and then your eyes adjust and you see that you’re inside a big story.

Read Bhanu Kapil’s response to MFA programs, you’ll like what she has to say as well. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/03/bhanu-kapil-requests-apology-from-ryan-boudinot/?woo

Published in: on July 19, 2015 at 8:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Time to grow up.


What you’re supposed to do when it’s time to grow up.

  1. Stop getting drunk. In public. (for the record I haven’t done this for quite a while.0
  2. Work out. Get in shape and stay in shape. (working on it)
  3. Don’t cheat on whoever you are with.(I got this)
  4. Stay clean. In every way. (got this)
  5. Work, get some education and get one of those good jobs. (working on it)
  6. Do something interesting. Be interesting.(working on it)
  7. Straighten up and fly right. Come on out of the rain. (work in progress)
  8. Cook your meals. Don’t eat out of the can. Quit eating ramen. ((in progress)
  9. Know where your keys are. Know where all your stuff is. (on it)
  10. Know who you are. Quit trying to find yourself. Know yourself and above all else to thine own self be true.

I am not really grown up myself but I am working on it.

Published in: on July 18, 2015 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

How do you get things done?

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Some of us play helpless and get others to do it for us.  Some of us only play helpless when we’re dealing with a man.  If there isn’t a man around, we function just fine.

Some men pretend they can’t feed themselves whenever a woman is around.  That gets a little exhausting.  Come on, I want to say.  You can make pancakes. You can make toast.  How hard is it to cook chicken? But what they really want is to have a woman waiting on them.

Likewise with the ladies.  I admit. I could change a tire, but I don’t’ want to.  And as it happens, I don’t have to.  Anytime I need a tire changed, I call AAA or I stand by the side of the road and let my skirt blow.  Once, three guys came by who did not know how to change a tire.  Then a couple lesbians came by, and one of them changed it immediately.  Stephen was four.  He really liked those lesbians. One had a knife in her boot.  That early experience with lesbians prepared him for a lifetime.

I know people who are always sick or can’t work or can’t get to work on time, something is always wrong with them physically and we are all supposed to do their work for them.  That gets old.

Or you’re always late. And people are supposed to not mind. (I’ve been that person.)

Think about your characters’ gesture on the world.  What do they insist on doing themselves? What do they insist someone else do for them?

If you’re in need of help, can you ask for it?  Lisa and Kate Coles saved my life during the whole Mark crisis with dinners.  That was great and I was not afraid to admit I was running out of energy to do it all.

Think about how your character accepts help or doesn’t or how he/she manipulates others into doing something for them, think about what you do yourself.  What do you feel you should do yourself, and what do you feel you shouldn’t have to?

We all have a gesture on the world. Know your characters as if they acted upon you.

Published in: on July 16, 2015 at 1:18 pm  Comments (1)  

Three lectures today on story and outlaw, editing and the sprawl of the imagination

Of the three lectures I heard today, David Mainelli, Chad Christensen and Luke Hawley, all three were thought provoking.  Each writer spoke about different aspects of the world of books, stories, poetry, literature. I’ll start with Mainelli.  I came back with a few good ideas.  One is to know where you are on the spectrum of maximalism vs. minimalism as a prose writer.  Where are you on that continuum?  What do you like to read? Are your dreams spare or lush?  Do you dream in black and white?   I like to think about Hemingway vs. Pynchon.  Interestingly, the only female writer on the list of maximalists was Zadie Smith.  A huge sprawling novel written by a woman is considered a bit much.  A huge novel written by a man is genius.

Chad spoke about outlaws.  He spoke of Brautigan, Ginsberg, Bukowksi, Kerouac, Burroughs.  They drank, they had sex with people of both genders, they abandoned their lovers, they did drugs on couches and counters, beaches and snow banks.  Again, I couldn’t help thinking about how a woman would think about outlaws.  My first outlaw who I fell in love with was Judy Grahn who eloped at eighteen with a girl in the 50s, who was kicked out of the Air Force for being a lesbian.  Muriel Rukeyser who chose to raise her son alone.  Audre Lourde.  These are my outlaws. Being a writer at all is an outlaw thing for a woman to do.

For a man, being an outlaw means that you decide not to take care of any women and children, not to make your own money, not to save your own money. Not to take care of anybody.  I’m very interested in this desire not to have to take care of anybody.  No nurturing necessary.

I am an outlaw.  I think being a woman outlaw is a lot more work than being a man outlaw.  In fact, I would suggest that being a male outlaw is almost effortless.  You just need to stop caring for anyone.  Just live for yourself. Write. Drink. Do Drugs and get others to support you.  This helps a lot if you are good looking.  If you are ugly, this is going to be a lot more difficult. I’m a woman so it doesn’t matter if I’m good looking or not if I’m an outlaw.  I do my best.  But Chad’s lecture gave me food for thought.

On to Luke’s lecture which is about the Lish/Carver relationship.  Lish chopped away, turning Carver’s pieces into masterpieces.  Should he have done it?  Luke obviously thinks yes.  The edits made the stories not just better, but immortal.  I think if the reason not to edit is that it might hurt the writer’s feelings, you should go ahead and edit anyway.  But I loved thinking about it.  Did Lish edit so brutally partly because he was not an important writer himself and this was his stab at immortality?  The editing of What We Talk about when we talk about Love may be Lish’s finest work.  Lish mostly edited men.

Men help other men. They pass around meat and potatoes.

Women give each other fruit and flowers.

Published in: on July 15, 2015 at 2:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Does your character eat quiche or bacon? It matters.


Describing your character is important but few characteristics are more vital than what food they eat. We all eat.  We all drink something.  The choices we make have a great deal to do with we are.  So let me roll through assumptions we make based on diet.

You eat red meat.  You’re a solid American male or you’re from one of the square states.

You eat kosher. You’re Jewish.

You don’t like sushi. You probably prefer barbecue to fine dining.

You like small cucumber sandwiches. You either are upper class or want to appear so. Seriously, who eats cucumber sandwiches unless you’re at the Huntington or high tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace which I simply love and when Teri and Karen come to London, we’re going.

You eat chicken liver and sour cream and herring.  You are of Russian heritage or you like Russian food.

You eat corn. You’re from the Midwest.

You eat lots of salads with avocado. From California.

You eat fast food. Not a good sign that you are classy or care about your figure.

You eat pizza. Not really much of a sign. Everyone eats pizza.

Make food work for you.  If you have your woman obsessing about what kind of lettuce has fewer categories, that tells you so much about her.  Once a year, a group of my women friends who all help work on the Red Hen benefit have lunch.  My friend Teresa who has now moved to Texas used to be part of the group.  We all ordered our ice tea or Arnold Palmers and our various salads.  Teresa ordered a rare burger and fries.  She has a beautiful hourglass figure, she is funny and cool but when she orders that burger and fries, I always think how brave she is, how boldly Texan she is.  How she is not hesitating from life.  How she dives in completely.  I chew on my arugula and think how lucky I am to have her as a friend.   Teresa is completely in love with life.  She doesn’t hesitate.  She orders what she wants for lunch and eats it.  Think, as a writer about what food you put on your characters’ plates.  Food isn’t everything about us, but it’s something.

Published in: on July 14, 2015 at 2:23 pm  Comments (1)  

Many things we assume based on our own experience are wrong.

I notice liberals assume everyone around them is liberal. In California, that’s mostly true.  In the red states, not so much.

We assume everyone has eaten sushi.

Stayed at a nice hotel.

Gone camping.

Held a child.

Taken care of a sick person.


Bought a nice outfit.

Shopped at Target.

Watched Home Shopping Networks.

Eaten truck stop food.

Gone to bed hungry.

Run from the police.

Been afraid they had cancer.

Been afraid they or their partner was pregnant.

Had too much to drink.

Broken speed laws.

Caught a taxi.

Stayed up all night.

Eaten bananas and whipped cream.

Been proposed to.

Been lied to.


Been robbed.

Flown in a plane.

Fallen in love.

You’re a writer. Don’t make assumptions.  All of these are true of me except one.  Unless you know really know me, you would not which one.  Know your character as well as your siblings, your best friends, your housemates.  Don’t make assumptions about your reader or your characters.  Go to bed with them. Let them move in. Let them take over your head space.  Write from cellular knowledge.

Published in: on July 13, 2015 at 2:26 pm  Comments (1)  

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