book cover art by Mollie Ito Roark

book cover art by Mollie Ito Roark

I’m so excited. My mini-memoir, The Mouse Room, was published by SheBooks a few weeks ago.  Yahoo! I’ve been working not this crazy story for decades- first as fiction, then as part of longer piece, then finally as this little 33-page memoir. I’m proud of it. I worked really hard at it and had some fabulous editing by the folks at SheBooks.

I’ve gotten wonderful responses so far. Some very cool Amazon reviews. But one of the things I was not expecting, was to hear several people say to me, “I’d love to read your book, but I don’t have an e-reader!”

Don’t have a Kindle or a Nook? No problem! There’s a free Kindle reading app, so you can read it on virtually anything with a screen. Your laptop. Your phone. Your iPad. Your smart television!

free kindle

It takes a few seconds to download. Voila! Some people said, “Oh, cool! I didn’t know that! I’ll go do that right now!”

But some other people said, “I’m sorry. I’d love to read it. But I only read on paper.”

Wait. Really? But didn’t you just say this on email? Or in a text message? Or on Facebook?

You only read on paper?

I can understand this. I love paper books. In fact, I own thousands of them. THOUSANDS. I love the way that they look and feel and smell. I love being able to scribble in them. And turn down their little doggie ears. (another sacrilege to many, I’m sure)

On the other hand, I’ve had other people comment that they won’t buy or read a book if it’s NOT electronic, because too many trees have already been killed. And because books are too heavy and take up too much space and the bookshelves are already toppling over from the weight.

Noooo! Not the trees!

Noooo! Not the trees!

I was discussing this with another writer/reader yesterday. She said, and I think this pretty much sums it up for me,

“I love words. I just love words, in any form.”

That’s how I feel.

She went on. “What if Gutenberg said, Look at this amazing piece of writing I just produced on a printing press! Many people can read it at once!” And what if some people responded, warily, “No. I only read works that are written, by hand, in calligraphy. I only trust writing made by humans, not machines.”  And what if the first calligraphers were told by suspicious naysayers, “I’ll only read it if it’s chiseled in a stone tablet. Or painted in animal blood on a cave wall.” Etcetera.

What’s this about? Is it fear of change? Dislike of technology? I can relate to this on many levels. I, who was once (long ago) so enchanted by the zippy magic of email, am now mounting a personal handwritten letter campaign so that I can again enjoy the thrill of finding a personal letter in my (actual, wooden) mailbox. (yes. if you write me a handwritten letter, I promise that I will write one back.) I am even taking a calligraphy class next month in order to bone up on my rusty Weaver Writing Style!

write to me. I'll write back.

write to me. I’ll write back.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Just because we take up reading e-books, which I am doing more and more of these days, (I looooove getting free samples on my iPad to see if I really want to invest the time and money in a book), it doesn’t mean abandoning books forever. I love being able to increase the font size in an e-book to assist my (cough) aging eyes. I love carrying a hundred books with me in my phone that I can read while waiting in pesky lines.  My husband is fond of reading Gilead during half-time at Warriors games. (that’s my guy: preferring Marilynne Robinson over the Warrior Girls!) But I also love reading paper books and writing paper letters.  And even making paper.

making paper with our own little hands

making paper with our own little hands

So what’s it for you?  Would you never read an e-book? Never kill another tree for literature? Or do you just… love words?

 

 

cool souvenirs I brought home

cool souvenirs I brought home

BEFORE: I’m so excited. I’m so so so so excited! I should be packing, but instead I am poring over the schedule and all the details for the upcoming AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Seattle, where I’ll be headed tomorrow!!

I first attended AWP in Tempe, Arizona back when I was a MFA student twenty years ago (!) and one of our fantastic professors, Elmaz Abinader, took a little group of us to our first writers’ conference. It blew my mind, and introduced me to the incredible world of authors and poets and small presses and chapbooks, sessions about teaching pedagogy, readings from dawn till dawn, and amazing, inspirational panels about every topic imaginable (and some beyond imagining!). It broadened my life and horizons in ways I couldn’t even begin to describe.

Elmaz and two of her very first MFA students! (20 yrs later)

Elmaz and two of her very first MFA students! (20 yrs later)

I’ve had a few other opportunities to go to AWP, and every time has been wonderful in its own way. The last time I attended was in Vancouver, where I got to meet up with some of the other editors from Literary Mama.

Literary Mama Kate Hopper reading from her memoir

Literary Mama Kate Hopper reading from her memoir Ready for Air

AWP is often described as a fantastic reunion, and for me this is true. I am so thrilled to be meeting up with some of my favorite writers and friends, some of whom I don’t get to see for many years at a stretch.

SheBooks reception. The perfect wine!

SheBooks reception. The perfect wine!

Are you going to AWP? I just started putting together my already overpacked schedule, and here’s where you’ll find me, through the next few days.

We were in a writing group together 23+ years ago!

We were in a writing group together 23+ years ago!

(Oops) AFTER AWP:

It was great. It was exciting. And overstimulating. And exhausting. And yes, a big giant writers’ reunion. I got to hang with some of my favorites. The panel I was on turned out to be fantastically well attended and lively. (see a review of it here)

"How Far, Imagination: Writing Characters of a Different Race" panelists

“How Far, Imagination: Writing Characters of a Different Race” panelists

I barely slept. I got hoarse from speaking loudly in crowded rooms. I was absolutely melted when it was all over. But worth it? Absolutely.

keynote speaker Annie Proulx

keynote speaker Annie Proulx

 

 

 

blurred-eye-chartI’ve been putting off going to my eye doctor for a couple of years now, even though I really need it. I’m supposed to go annually ever since my diabetes diagnosis. Even though I have to take off my glasses and hold a piece of paper up to my nose to read it, I still procrastinate. Beyond having a ridiculously busy schedule, I have to ask WHY? I keep forgetting the name of the opthamologist. I keep having to ask my endocrinologist, What was her name again? And I write it down. And then I forget again.

Today I remembered something which I think is the clue to my “forgetfulness.”

I remember sitting in the chair with my eyes all dilated and blurred. I think the doctor asked me something about my medical history. I said I did not know because I was adopted. (sigh)

She said, “You were adopted? How CUUUUUUTE!”

I was stunned. For one thing, I was over fifty years old. This was a real trigger for someone who really, really dislikes being seen as an eternal adopted “child.” Even if we are thirty, fifty or ninety years old, some will always see us as “children.”

As I was peering blindly at a printed page this morning, this memory suddenly hit me and I realized why I will never, ever go back to this opthamologist again. This is just one of those microaggressions that has a long lasting internal ripple effect. Even if she meant no harm. (I’m sure she didn’t! She thinks adoption is cute!) I just realize I have no desire to go back to a health professional and use my eye exam time educating her about adoption. I just want to get my damn prescription fixed.

Now I’ve got to start searching through the fine print of the Yellow Pages and find one  that might have a clue.

IMG_1354The final leg of my nomadic writing sabbatical took place last week in a Secret Undisclosed Location in the Sierra foothills. One of my dear writing friends recently bought an amazing cabin/cathedral/barnlike structure DEEP in the forest (and I mean deep!). It is very beautiful and very remote. She invited me and another friend to come and have a writing retreat there. It’s quite stunning, out there in the woods.

I woke up to amazing views of the forest.

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It took some very lovely walks and got back into the silent walk>writing routine. That was really nice.

manzanita forest

manzanita forest

We shared some wonderful meals together. It is so nice to cook and eat with friends. Here we invented a gorgeous dish of black rice pilaf with caramelized onions, shredded Brussels sprouts and toasted walnuts. With steamed artichokes and THREE dips (Sriracha, black olive and lemon paprika). Can you say yum???

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I had some time to do some right-brain art. I’d signed up for an online art class and was stressing because I didn’t have the right materials or enough time or whatever. But once I got started, it was really quite wonderful.

"Mermaid In Distres"

“Mermaid In Distress”

Mermaid #2

Mermaid #2

It was good to be away. But even in remote locations, distractions can tumble in. I spent most of Friday distracted because I heard that my girl had gotten into a bicycle accident.  Her dad was working all day and hard to reach by cell. Long-distance fretting ensued. She needed to go to the ER and get a head scan. Fret fret fret. The scan turned out to be negative for bad stuff (wheww) but that took all day. And she still had a bad bump and a lopsided face and a black eye and concussion. So not much happened that day. (maybe that was the art day?)

And then there was Monday of course. The Boston Marathon and all of its heartbreak. I had several friends running in that race. Needless to say I didn’t get much done on that day other than this blog post.

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I guess that’s what I’m learning. There are distractions. We do as much as we can. The world leaks in. I’ve decided to draw my nomad days to a close. For one, it was awfully nice to come  home to my Own Bed.

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For the rest of my April sabbatical, I will be short-distance commuting to my new office spot at the Grotto. I brought my desk in there yesterday and am looking forward to making it all writing-conducive.

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I’ve been to some amazing places this month. I’ve gotten good work in. But in the end, the place doesn’t matter as much as just sitting down and getting the damn thing done. Onward!

the silent walking cure

the silent walking cure

As it turned out, I was not as happy or productive being completely alone as I’d anticipated. In fact, things got a little weird during the three days I was in the Crabby Cottage on my own, before my friend M arrived.

I’d been at many colonies and retreats before – LOVING the solitude – for periods as long as eight weeks. But those situations involved being alone for most of the day but then gathering with other writers for dinner in the evening. I had no idea how different it would be 24/7.

It wasn’t just being lonely. I was pretty lonely. It was more that I somehow lost the ability to take care of myself. Which shocked me. I’m a mother, a daughter, an uber-caregiver. And when I was on my own, things just sort of fell apart. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I kept putting off taking a shower. The idea made me nervous. I didn’t want to be cold, wet, or naked. I lost the ability to make decisions around eating (ME!?!?!? yes.) and would either eat strange, random food, or nothing. At one point I got nervous that the tilapia I’d purchased would go bad, so I found myself cooking it at 10pm and then eating it alone on a melamine plate. It looked pretty sad. I also “forgot” (huh?) to turn on the heater, and found myself shivering under a thin blanket all night, curled up like a shrimp. SAD.

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I could not face my Pages. I did not, could not, go there. I did other stuff. I wrote letters. I read some. I watched some junky TV (okay, a lot of junky TV) on Hulu. I walked (no, hobbled to town) every day. My hip was bothering me pretty badly. I spent a good part of one day seeking out the little town’s only physical therapist. It turned out, after it took me hours to figure out my insurance coverage, that she didn’t even have any openings in her schedule until the following week. :-(

Relief, please?

Relief, please?

It was all rather sad and strange. It was like I didn’t even know myself. But on Friday morning, when I knew M was on the road and would be coming soon, I perked up considerably. I took a shower and cleaned the cottage. I fixed myself a proper breakfast.

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As soon as M’s little red car pulled into the driveway, I got happy again. Really, really happy. It was sort of stunning the difference that it made to me. And it made me realize that I need the balance of alone + company to really make it work. She jumped out of the car and then everything Started for real.

M is a meditation teacher. When I described to her my despair over the previous few days, she nodded and said that this was not uncommon in people who do long meditation retreats. Suddenly their bodies and minds are wildly uncomfortable. People are convinced they are dying, she says, when all of the distractions are taken away.

We immediately went out to the beach for a walk. She and I began this practice of silent walking, and then writing, over fifteen years ago. It felt like home to me. We walked up and down the beach, not speaking, for an hour, and then returned to the cottage, put water on the stove for tea, and wrote for an hour. Then we shared and talked. This is the core of our practice together. It was such a relief and a joy.

So much happened in the next four days together.

  • We wrote out our writing goals for the month of April, for the periods of May-September and then October-December 2013.
  • We made a daily/hourly schedule for the rest of the weekend. Walk, write, share, individual work, collaborative work, meals, a trip to the library,
  • I taught her what I knew about Scrivener.
  • She taught me what she knew about organizing my computer, which was a painful, tear-inducing mess.
  • We spoke out loud our fears and hopes. The things – the many things- that have gotten in the way of our writing work.
  • I realized that I have EIGHT unfinished book projects.
  • We began to dream and process about her writing retreat space in her own beach house (still under renovation) and elsewhere
  • We committed. Over and over and over.
  • Lots of crying. Lots of laughing.
  • Pages were written. Amazing pages.
  • I procured a used softball for $1 and fixed my own hip. :-)
  • Gratitude.
  • For courage.

    For courage.

    Putting a book together.

    Putting a book together.

    The walks. Incredible.

    The walks. Incredible.

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    Best medicine.

    Best medicine.

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    Library with the best view

    Library with the best view

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    farewell

    farewell

     

After flying back to California and taking care of some business, I’m ready to head off for the next leg of sabbatical – this time another retreat in the woods – with two friends. (thank goodness) Next stop: Volcano, California.

bedroom decor in the cottage

bedroom decor in the cottage

I have been waiting for this time for so very long! Like, YEARS.

I applied for a few writing residencies last year and when I didn’t get any of them, I decided to put together one of my own. Why wait for someone else to grant me the time and place to write? I decided that April would be my month of Getting Back Into It and Making Some Headway into Finishing a Damn Book.

Part one of my “sabbatical” involved taking a leave of absence from my physical therapy job. I hung up my name badge last week and won’t be picking it up again until May. That was kind of a big deal. I’d worked a LOT in December and January in preparation for this time. I will miss seeing some of my patients, but I have found that trying to combine many kinds of work is very challenging. So I’m doing the total-immersion approach for a month and see how that goes.

goodbye until May!

goodbye until May!

I flew out to New York. First part of the sabbatical involved meeting up with my BFF on her birthday, and celebrating with a trip to Ithaca, where we met each other in a writing workshop o so many years/decades (!!) ago. It was a deep immersion in nostalgia, back where our friendship and mutual writing support began.

We rented a not-so-little YURT (2 bedrooms! 2 levels!) that was adorable and cozy. We spent some hours writing, and also Thinking About Writing via this new-to-us software called Scrivener, which is an amazing organizational tool for bookwriters.

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Scrivening.

Scrivening.

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We also spent some time hiking around Ithaca’s beautiful falls, which I will never grow tired of.

Lucifer Falls, Treman Park, Ithaca

Lucifer Falls, Treman Park, Ithaca

Because, the thing is, if you’re going to spend hours hunched over or under a laptop (as is in my case, since I do a lot of writing lying on my back), you GOTTA get out and move the body and get some air too.

After the blissful weekend, we drove back down to Manhattan and checked out this excellent play (about transracial adoption, a topic near and dear to both of us). I found it very inspiring and provocative.

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The Call, by Tonya Barfield

Yesterday, I left the city to come out to the very tippy-tip tip of Long Island, to the little town of Montauk. Most of it is closed down because it is still winter here. But it is quite beautiful, and I lucked upon an adorable, very retro little place.

IMG_1224 IMG_1217 IMG_1223It’s wonderful. But now that I am here, all on my own for several days (until another writer friend joins me), I’m finding that I’m not just pounding out dozens of pages. In fact, quite the contrary. What I’ve needed in the past several years has not been page-producing (I’ve actually done a bit of that) but time and space in which to THINK. Which is why Scrivener is such a gift at this time. I’ve had it on my computer for years, but it never made any sense to me until now. But now! YES.

I am finding that “writing time” also includes:

  • reading (other books for inspiration/structure/plot)
  • reading (books, mostly by friends of mine, I have been putting OFF reading until I have TIME)
  • Scrivening (which is awesome but also makes my brain feel like it’s doing quantum physics)
  • napping and/or sleeping late
  • getting outside and moving around (good thing for me, I am 1.2 miles from Town, and I do not have a car!)
  • dealing with various and sundry Details of my Life Back Home
  • nutrition (I LOOOOOOVE not having to prepare meals! Thus far I have been subsisting on coffee, Cutie oranges, trail mix and cheese)
  • blogging!
  • ART! Yeah I’m pulling out all the creative stops. I’m going to be taking an online art journal class starting on Sunday and I bought some colored pencils and watercolors to jog that part alive as well…

Because all of these things involve different parts of the brain (and body). Well, that was today, anyway. Tomorrow I might blast out a ton of pages. But one of the biggest gifts about having time like this is about having the flexibility to do all the different things that will help one’s writing. And not just writing.

Yesterday I sat myself down at the Grotto and attempted to write fiction for the first time in … many years. YEARS. I’ve blogged and written a number of essays during that time, but fiction? Not a word.

And wow. It was hard. It was NOT like riding a bicycle. Or maybe it was, because riding a bicycle can be very, very difficult for me. It was painful, and creaky, and I stared at every word in horror as it emerged.

I had an idea for a story. It was actually something of a challenge, where one of your friends says, “Hey, writer, why don’t you write a story about THIS?!” I have been mulling this idea for a long time, turning it over in my head, thinking of ways I might change it, embellish it, make the character and setting different. I thought about it for months and yesterday I finally felt ready. I had the time. I was in an awesome space.

I almost choked. It was hard. I squeezed out several paragraphs -maybe a page worth and pretty much was horrified by it all.

But it was a beginning. I’m using muscles that have almost atrophied into nothing. But I picked up a little two-ounce weight, and I started. I hope that next time might be a little bit easier.

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