New piece in Huffington Post!

Mother’s Day, An Evolution


When I first hear about Mother’s Day, it seems like a silly holiday invented by Hallmark.  I didn’t grow up with Mother’s Day.  I grew up in a cult and we didn’t celebrate any holidays there.  By the time I hear about it, I am a mother and too exhausted to celebrate.  My ex-husband isn’t much of a roses and champagne person, but he is willing to take the kids to the park and let me get caught up on sleep.  Sleep is a great gift for a new mom.


My new mother-in-law likes brunches where we all wear white and as my sister-in-law says, she can play Rose Kennedy. These brunches last hours.  My kids finish eating and then start to tear up the place. I shut down our family going to the fancy brunches.


We try brunch at our house. I can see that my mother-in-law doesn’t like the yogurt and bowls of fruit.  She loves the pomp and circumstance of restaurants, waiters, linen, silver.


We start to separate for the day.  I tell my husband, What she really wants is you. I take my kids and we go out to celebrate.  We go to Venice Beach. We go out on the paddle boats in Golden Gate Park. We walk through the Haight. When they get older, we have Bloody Marys.  I love having  a day to spend with my kids doing whatever we want. My husband takes his mother to restaurants where I make reservations six weeks in advance.


This Mother’s Day we are going as a family to the Huntington.  My mother-in-law, my husband, my daughter and me.  We are going to have high tea, see the gardens and have champagne.  It will be crowded, but the Huntington is a big place.  Lots of ladies wear hats there.  I’ll encourage my mother-in-law to bring a hat.


At Red Hen, we love mothers, and we love giving books to mothers.  We have two books that are hot gifts for Mother’s Day:  Poems from the Pond by Peggy Freydberg who wrote these poems from ninety to one hundred and seven.  What mother doesn’t want to believe she can be inspired at any age? These poems ask you to slow down, to relax, to think about your life and what’s beautiful about it.


When the World Breaks Open, is Seema Reza’s story of running the writing program at Walter Reed Hospital while going through a divorce.  She’s raising her two sons, juggling the vets’ needs and taking care of herself in the cracks. That’s motherhood; mothers get what’s left.  Seema makes her own dive into single parenting an adventure and a dream of awakening into living life on your own terms.


Mother’s Day is coming.  Buy the mother in your life a book, a flower, a bagel, a glass of champagne.  Remind her to keep the windows open, let opportunities fly in.   When I think of big accomplishments in my own life, I think of my two kids.  The two of them turned out to be so amazing even though I didn’t know anything about being a mother.  I was running through the sprinklers with them to Leonard Cohen’s “Take this Waltz;” and giving them Otter Pops.  You could do worse, I tell them than a Leonard Cohen Otter Pop mom.


Published in: on May 6, 2016 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Meeting Erica Jong

Erica Jong wrote to me after the reading with Kim.

She loved my poetry.  She loved my memoir.  My agent Deborah was there!

It was one of those rare moments, like wow, I feel like a shining star.

I wanted to hug Kim and go dancing with her. I wanted to hug Erica.

Kim’s generosity is staggering.  Thom was there being adorable and their son

Adam who I love.  Erica, you changed the world.  And that’s all

I ask of myself. Change yourself. Change the world.

Published in: on May 6, 2016 at 7:41 am  Leave a Comment  

New York in springtime

New York is all in bloom, we green, and today, I walked everywhere with no umbrella and arrived wet to meetings.  But it’s cold here, and I don’t have a sweater or tights or gloves, so I’m enjoying the rush of wet cold air.  Tomorrow a great event with Kim, and then I wake and fly home.

Published in: on May 3, 2016 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Inner Life of Bees

“I’m king of the mountain,” I used to say as a kid.  “You may think you’re king, but you’d be dead wrong. I am the king of the mountain.” Usually when I said this, I was on top of something, a table, a bench, a rock, a stump, a hay bale, and from there, I surveyed my land and subjects.

“You realize,” my friend Lois would say, “that you are king of a barn?”

“Hey, some people aren’t king of anything.”

“Good point, well, bye king. Adios.”

“Come back, if you’re not here, then I have nothing to be king over.”

“You can be king of the goats.”

The goats were unsatisfactory subjects in that they ignored me.


I grew up in a cult in Southern New Hampshire.  The adults lived in one compound, and the kids were raised on a farm where we spent most of our time doing farm labor.  I try to remember what my inner life was like then.  What made me happy or sad?  It’s hard to remember the inner life of your past self.  What I mostly remember is being ashamed of being badly behaved but not ashamed enough to behave well.  I remember fear and shame every day of my life, and when something happens where I act badly and am punished in some way, I feel myself reenter that childhood self who was always down an emotional dark well.


But I wasn’t always in that dark place. Sometimes I claimed to be king of the mountain, sometimes I told stories.  As children, we figure out what coping methods will sustain us and those too become our thinking lives as adults.  You learn that you can claim to be king of the mountain but if nobody is there to appreciate it, then you’re just talking to yourself.


You never really know a person until you know who they are alone.  When my husband is alone, he’s happy.  He’s writing and reading, thinking and breaking his diet to eat grilled cheese sandwiches.  He isn’t wishing for applause or someone to listen to him.  He’s deeply involved in a creative and intellectual life.  When he is around other people, he can sit quietly or he can talk.  We all know men who can dominate the conversation and go on and on seemingly unaware that everyone at the table is bored to tears.  Mark rarely goes into long rants except perhaps at the office because his inner life doesn’t demand an echo.  He had as hard a childhood as I did, but he came out of that and developed an inner life that focuses on thinking and contentment.


When I met Mark, I needed encouragement. I didn’t want to say, “I’m king on the mountain” and have no one there to hear.  I relied on a network of girlfriends to let me know that I was okay. My inner life as a child was all about the dark. I saw myself as a damaged person going nowhere, but with an amazing capacity to have fun on the road to nowhere.  When I met my husband, I liked his centered way of being and slowly I reworked my own inner life as I imagine people do in therapy.


Like my husband, I don’t spend much of my life thinking about myself.  I think about books I want to write, books I’m reading, ideas I’m tossing around, I think about teaching and the business of the press, but I like to think about big ideas. Having just had a birthday, I’m thinking about some life goals, but I don’t talk down to my little self.  I don’t need to any more.  I can analyze something I’ve done wrong without thrashing myself to bits.


Like many kids raised without loving parents, I used to do my own extreme inner parenting.  I was always either the king of the mountain or the village idiot.  There was no room for growth.  Many poets have an inner life that bounces between self loathing and self aggrandizement.  Neither is particularly helpful because they don’t go anywhere.  Added to this, I have a tendency shared by many children from abusive backgrounds of catastrophizing.  That’s a great word that covers a lot of strange behaviors.  Everything is the end of the world.  Oddly, I grew up being told the world was about to end, and literally when things go wrong, my inner conversation used to be, “It’s over!”


I’m still working on the stories I tell myself.  I’m writing a new story.  Your inner life is how you see yourself based on the conversations you have with yourself, and it becomes how other people see you as well.  We project our own inner life and it becomes a reality.  At my most despairing, my son and daughter message me, “You’re going to be fine.  You’re amazing,” and I remember that I can continue to learn from my mistakes, practice integrity and compassion.  I tell myself, I got this.


I think about the inner life of bees.  Just as they sting you, they know it’s over, they will die, but still they sting you in the hot sunlight because that’s their nature.  We are not bees; we can divide by ten.  We can change our inner life so we do not die in the bright sunlight needlessly.  “This is a problem,” I say to myself now.  “What’s the solution?”  Future Kate will have an even more amazing inner life.


Published in: on May 1, 2016 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

I climbed the sky; I found the morning.

Last night’s reading with Percival Everett, Brynn Saito and Maxine Hong Kingston at City Lights was packed, and it was a rumble of beauty.  Percival starting off with protest pieces, Maxine reading about old San Francisco and then lovely Brynn reading from her launch book, her Keatsian poems unfolding like a fan.  We went with Maxine to dinner at the Stinky Rose and some  had the 40 clove garlic chicken, and we drank wine and then I flew To Chicago where the plane stumbled down through thick clouds into this cold thick air and then the sales meeting where I am heading shortly.  With enough coffee, you forget sleep.  I climbed the sky, I found the morning. I need to write and sleep and work out.  What am I doing?

Published in: on April 28, 2016 at 5:26 am  Leave a Comment  

My Life Was One Big Summer Camp


They said, “summer camp,” when I was a child. What they meant was, “You will be camping all summer.” I grew up in a cult in Southern New Hampshire run by a charismatic English evangelist who instructed us to be preppers, to raise our own food, to climb mountains, to hike forests, to speak in tongues.  We lived in dorms where we slept on the floor, and did a lot of things normal American kids do at summer camp. We learned archery. We rode horses, climbed mountains canoed rivers in British Colombia. We killed chickens, gutted, plucked and cleaned them. We fried up chicken livers with a side of green beans.


We were frontier kids, dirty all summer. We picked apples and made cider.  We rode horses, mostly bareback. We did a lot of field work. When I hear people talk about the joy of gardening, I laugh. When you are actually raising all your own food, it’s a lot of seeding, weeding, and then picking. We gardened in New Hampshire and went on mountain climbing expeditions. We climbed all the White Mountains. I climbed Mount Washington in my bare feet. On the way up, we ate lemon and honey. Our cult leader had been told by God that honey is important because it is mentioned many times in the Bible. It’s also mentioned many times by Winnie the Pooh, but that didn’t seem to have as much weight.


In British Columbia, we lived in long hogans and camped. Eighty kids in two buses drove across Canada, boarded the ferries and crossed to Vancouver Island. Along the way, we were given small Ziploc bags of peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips. We were hungry. We saved the chocolate till last. We rolled it around in our fingers; it melted in the sun. There, we washed all our own clothes on washboards, we learned survival skills. We caught salmon in the Georgia Straits and cooked them in fires we made on the shore.


When I tell people about the blood, mud, hiking fifty miles at thirteen with an eighty pound backpack in Keds, being bucked off a horse, winding a shirt around my head until it stopped bleeding, when I tell people, they say, how did you manage?  We climbed trees and slid down them until the insides of our legs were raw. Nobody said don’t do that. People ask, how did you survive? How did you leave?


The story of summer camp is that all that hiking and canoeing, all that riding, all that time picking apples and berries, making cider and carrot juice, all that danger and wild, all of it made me know I could do anything. That’s the coin toss of life. You toss your kid into camp; it feels like you’re severing the umbilical cord. It feels unbearable, like you’ve thrown your kid into the dark, but you haven’t. You have thrown your kid forward into the future, their future. A future in which they will love you for letting them grow up and create that cocoon around themselves that we need as adults.


Americans send their kids to summer camps to learn to act for themselves. To learn to be able to wake up bored, lonely, or scared, and to solve those problems. When our kids are young, they turn to us for everything, and that has to end sometime. Summer camp is a step in the direction of independence. Our children don’t necessarily need to ride horses or shoot arrows or climb trees. But we want them to become adults who can act on the world, have agency in their own lives.


My childhood was unnecessarily extreme, but as a parent, my husband and I sent our kids to summer camp. We took them camping. We taught them to raise vegetables and chickens and swim, but also to ride horses, ski, and ice skate which are completely unnecessary skills in So Cal. We climbed Mt. Whitney. In summer camp, our kids learned how to create their own world.  The skills of community building helped my daughter when she came out and moved to San Francisco. She made a new identity in a new world in a new city. My son graduated from high school and went to Nepal to work in an orphanage when he was nineteen. He’s been travelling the world since, supporting himself as he backpacks through Australia, New Zealand, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Europe. He wrote to me this morning that he’s going to cycle at least part of the way from India to Bangladesh. When I think of him out there, biking around East Asia, I want to say to parents, “Send your kids to summer camp.”


We have an aviary, and you can hear the birds arguing about when it’s time to push the babies out of the nest. Finally they do, and the birds climb down from the nest, and then they do what they were born to do, they start flying. Don’t you want to see your kids fly?


Published in: on April 27, 2016 at 9:28 am  Leave a Comment  

The language the stars spoke before the moon and sun got involved.

Mark gave me the birthday present I wanted.  All of Richard Bausch’s books which our friend Jon Peede will agree will take a lot of time to read and even longer to think about, but now that I have them all, off I go to the races.  Peace is one of his books that literally  knocks my socks off.  His language is the original language the stars spoke to each other before the moon and the sun got involved.

Ren Faire yesterday was good and tiring.  Turkey drumsticks. Cider/beer.

Huge balls floating in pools with one kid in each one, tumbling and their parents cheering. Each child alone yet able to see the other children. Some with their phones, taking pictures as they turned over. The parents taking pictures too.  An ideal 21st century kid activity.

Jason went from LAX to Mapplethorpe to our house to sushi. Today he is visiting Don Bachardy.

Today I am teaching and then Book Soup reading which everyone should come to because it will be fantastic. All three of these poets are dangerously sweeping the cosmos for big ideas.

This week—San Francisco, Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Barbara.  I like Virgin Airlines. At SFO, I have a favorite Kombucha place.  We will get away this weekend and walk by the water. Isn’t there still water in all the stories?

The sky is blue.  The sun is still rising. There is still water. There is water that moves and water that’s still. Both are good places to be.

Published in: on April 25, 2016 at 11:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Someone to watch over me

The purple bougainvillea is climbing the tree and then cascading down, its purple petals washing the sky, light flaming through them.  The playhouse is –now that the painting is completed–green and orange, nestling cottage like between the trees. The tea garden and the herb garden smell lemony and sweet. The oranges are all over the garden now. Blood oranges.

Some people will never forgive you.  Breathe.

The blood oranges make a good mimosa, the juice exploding from them, orange blood everywhere.

Some people will always need to punish. Breathe.

The Empress tree has huge leaves like hands. Through those hands, the oranges glow like liquid gold.

You can only say, “This was my intention.” You cannot speak to the intention of others.

The blood oranges are underfoot.

After you at least partially forgive yourself, you go on putting one foot in front of the other.

Still not quite over the jet lag. I sleep thickly and dream wildly. Of falling. Of flying very awkwardly.

But flying still. The purple petals pile around the blood oranges.  I am not alone. I have someone to watch over me.

Published in: on April 23, 2016 at 9:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Don’t miss this great event at Book Soup. On my birthday!

Published in: on April 23, 2016 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Friends help you eat pickles and sea animals in the sky

The mistake is to think you should have lots of friends. A human connection with someone you trust, threads of trust through the heart doesn’t come easily if you have a complicated heart. When you have a friend, you sit down and have tea or vodka or wine and you share stories.  Stories are the fabric of a friendship.

In Virginia, I was first learning friendships as a semi adult.  I sat down with some kids at a park and we ate pickles and potato chips.  We were in the park, lying down eventually looking at the clouds, and we found animals in the sky.  That was the beginning.  Pickles, potato chips and animal clouds are a very good beginning.

Published in: on April 18, 2016 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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