| When our girls were little there was a picture book their grandma sent them called Earth Is Good. It was a simple celebration of nature, with drawings of an ebullient child playing outdoors and text that ran along the lines of, “Butterflies are good. The sky is good. Trees are good.” And every page ended with the line, “Earth is good.”
I once army-crawled through our upstairs hallway holding a videocamera, back in the pre-smartphone days, so I could surreptitiously film the scene of my oldest daughter, then about two and a half, sitting on the floor in her bedroom reading the book to an audience of her stuffed animals. In the clip, she is wearing a big hat from her dress-up bin that obscures both face and shoulders, and she recites the words, dramatically though phonetically, she’d heard so many times: “Urfiss Good.”Urfiss Good. When everything else seems to be spiraling out of control, that’s a simple truth to remind yourself: Earth is good.
This little affirmation is something I say to myself once in a while, when things in the news chronicle a world backsliding into chaos, the idle speed set to “rage.” When the Gaza fighting seems as senseless as it does unsolvable; when a civilian airline is blown out of the sky by Russian separatists who have been overserved, weapons-wise; when yet another brown-skinned boy is killed by police. At a time when humor seems like the only possible antidote, one of the world’s comedic greats succumbs to depression and we lose even that comfort. [Read More...]
|Parenting is obviously a delicate balance, a dance even, between bribing and threatening our kids to do what we want them to do. My mother once bribed, er, encouraged my son with $5 for each ‘A’ on quizzes, tests, progress reports and report cards when he transitioned from the beeswax and fairies of Waldorf education to public school at the beginning of 5th grade. Within months, she had shelled out a considerable sum of money, to which she complained,
“I don’t think we (she and my stepfather) can afford this. Maybe it should be just for his report card.”
“Mom,” I said, “you can’t change the terms until after the school year.”
I always thought myself better than offering external rewards (and punishments) for my children. The reality was much different. I cannot begin to count how many times I have said, “No treats until you finish everything on your plate,” or the more positive, “You get dessert after you eat all your dinner.”
But those were standard statements in the parenting arsenal. I’d avoided the more blatant forms of bribery, until now.
A few months ago, I signed up Miguel, now 16, for a two-week community service-Spanish-immersion-vacation in Costa Rica.
“Nope, not going,” he said.
“Yes, you are!”
The next day I offered, “You can drive the car over the summer until school starts if you go on the trip.”
“Okay,” he agreed. [Read More...]
|I passed my driving test first time at 17 and, in a slightly cocky manner, have always considered myself a damn good driver. I am probably delusional, but back up this assumption with the fact that I have never had an accident that has been directly my fault and, until I arrived in California, had a clean license. I adore driving and drive pretty fast, particularly navigating the narrow windy country roads in the beautiful south of England where I grew up. Thinking back, I suspect I often used to leave home late so I would need to drive extra fast to make it to where I was going on time (I like to be punctual). It would get my adrenalin pumping and I would arrive feeling more alive, having successfully mastered hairpin bends at 70mph and overtaken every pork-pie-hat-wearing old dear driving at a snail’s pace on the way! [Read More...]|
|God, I love the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Spending a week with 150 other people who are as connected to writing as emphysema patients are to their oxygen tanks is nothing short of nirvana. When I attended Squaw last year, I focused solely on fiction writing. No big surprise given my MFA. But during the conference, I was so busy critiquing manuscripts, scribbling notes during panel discussions, and confessing my darkest secrets in Gill Dennis’s “Finding the Story” workshop, that I had little time to sleep, let alone write.
This year, I re-visioned Squaw as my own writing retreat, where I wrote in the morning, attended panels and readings in the afternoon and evening and then returned to the laptop until I fell asleep.
And this time, I also broadened my genre perspective to incorporate nonfiction, because I want to expand my creative potential by telling the truth.
Then came the breaking news from Squaw’s “Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Narrative Strategies” panel: There’s no difference between fiction and nonfiction! Who knew?
Perhaps I’m oversimplifying. Perhaps I’m showing my Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, a symptom of those who write in both genres.
So I must share a few notes from the panel to give my schizophrenic self a chance for integration. [Read More...]
|By the time the third tire blew we were somewhere near Preston and we spun twice across two lanes of traffic. Three of us were in Andy’s Fiat Panda, a two-door hatchback. Andy was driving, J was in the front and I was packed in the back with the stuff of students heading back to college.The first tire blew about an hour into the journey. The car shuddered a little before we realized we had a puncture, and limped off the road into a garage, grateful that help was close. We emptied the suitcases from the trunk and with the help of the mechanic, got out the spare. He levered up the vehicle and swapped the tires, packing the punctured one back into the well where the spare had been.
“You don’t want to drive too far on that,” said the garage attendant in his overalls. “That wheel’s got almost no thread.”
He showed us how we should be able to put a coin in the tire’s rubber indentations. There was nothing there. We were teenagers. Irresponsible. Immortal. My friend didn’t want to fork out a hundred quid for a new tire and we drove out of the garage on the spare. [Read More...]
|When my husband and I exchanged vows, I was smart enough to omit, “I promise to get you a dog.”I am a cat person. I love the moody, genius-friend way they stand in a corner staring at you. They love conditionally, but they give you space. They groom themselves and poop in appropriate places. Dogs, not so much.Kirk has begged for a dog as long as I’ve known him. I always had a great excuse. The kids are still in diapers. We don’t have a fenced yard. I am grieving over the loss of our cats. Last April, I ran out of reasons. With the kids grown up, a new house built, and the cats dead for years, it was doggie-time.We shopped online, and I had many criticisms: too big, too furry, too much butthole showing under the tail. We went to the pound, and I lucked out because my eight-year-old cried at the chaotic barking. At the Milo Foundation, I conceded. Quietly wagging his tail at me, with a “reporting for duty” cock of his head, sat Dusty. At home, my fears were realized. [Read More...]|
|There are signs of new life in the empty nest. For one thing, Ally has blown back in for the summer from a year teaching abroad in Spain. We don’t see much of her, but we can follow the debris trail all around the house to know that she’s alive and well.
The mess is even more apparent on our back deck. Dead grass, strands of shredded bark, an overturned container of old clippings. I can’t blame Ally, since this particular untidiness preceded her arrival. Has it really been so long since I’ve taken a broom to the redwood planks? Perhaps there’s been a localized wind storm. Or the neighbor’s cats, not content to merely pee on the plants and dig in the mulch, are upping their antisocial game. [Read More...]
|Trigger: an act or event that serves as a stimulus and initiates or precipitates a reaction or series of reactions.
My friend, Nancy, warned me about triggers while I was in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, two weeks ago with my kids, having last been in the tropical location with Verna in 2008 for an amazing vacation as we lounged alongside the crystal clear Sea of Cortes, toured the artist colony in Todos Santos, snorkeled in the Pacific, and cruised on the ocean at sunset.
When Maya, Miguel, and I made it to the resort pool at 6 PM on Friday, June 13, in the unseasonably humid desert air, and I saw the swim-up bar, I remembered how in 2008 Verna enjoyed returning to the resort by late afternoon because the drinks were two-for-one. But I was still in dad zone, just frolicking in the water to stay cooler. [Read More...]
|Writers write. I’ve read that advice many times. Slowly, article by article, course by course I have come to believe. I am a writer. I write.So when I accepted a full-time job I was determined to continue my writing. Grudgingly I admitted that the writing time might be less now that I had an hour commute each way and 40 hours at the office. Intellectually, I knew my brain might be too tired to write at night as I learned a new industry and used my brain in ways I had not for the 14 years I have been a stay-at-home mom. But the train, that was my daily opportunity to write.
Now two months in I see that the idea of writing on the train was a naïve one. Oh I suspected there would not be room to use my laptop. I fantasized about an ipad after a few pay cheques. In my mind the train would be my train. I hadn’t thought through the concept of shared space very well. Somehow I had a vision of myself like Katie Couric whisked to work in the early hours in a limo. Then I began to ride the commuter train. [Read More...]
Back in the Saddle; in front of the keyboard
About eight years ago I joined a community of women writers who were mothers, like me. I had heard some members of the group read their work in San Francisco at an event called Litquake and signed up on the spot. For about three or four years I was an active member, making friends, writing, and sharing my work at our readings, happily bringing food platters to share with our guests. It was a great experience for me, but sadly, for a variety of reasons, it ended.
Without the support of a community, I withdrew from my writing. Here and there I would peck out a letter to the editor or put loads of effort into a lengthy email to a friend. But it just wasn’t the same; I wasn’t doing the sort of substantive writing that I craved in order to express my deepest self. [Read More...]