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.

IMG_1124 IMG_1140




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.


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.

blurry but brilliant Audrey

It’s funny. I first started this blog, way back in 2005 (!!!!!!!!!!!), after attending a reading that really inspired me. Tonight I went to a reading that re-ignited that inspiration: a reading series in Sausalito called Why There Are Words. My friend Audrey was reading with 5 other writers. It had been a long day at work, I was supposed to do a bike-run workout, and Oakland and Sausalito are probably two of the most inconveniently located spots (from each other) in the Bay Area. There’s no easy way to get there from here.

But it was my FRIEND, whom I love (and love her writing as well). She doesn’t do readings that often and I really wanted to go. So I scrapped the workout (shhh! don’t tell my other blog!) and headed over a bridge to get there.

I used to have these other friends who called me “Susanito from Sausalito” and kept urging me to move there so I could have an address like that. Hahaha. It was cute. But I’ve always had a weird little affectionate place in my heart for that touristy little town. When I first moved to California, maybe the first week, my cousin took me to the no name bar. I remember the green, plant filled garden out in the back, the fact that it seemed like a secret, magical place with no name… I think I had my first Irish coffee there. Or something.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in touch with that cousin (insert quiet, melancholic moment). But I was happy to be driving back to Sausalito to go to this reading.

Being there reminded me instantly why I love readings, and writers, and writing. It felt like it had been SO LONG. (it had). I used to go to readings all the time, like I go to workouts now. Sigh.  But the good thing about being away from a thing that maybe you used to take for granted, is that when you come back it just seems all the more wonderful.

Everyone in the place seemed to feel that way. It’s a gorgeous, airy art gallery with art that just made me feel happy that there is such a thing as art. I sat next to some people and asked them if they knew any of the writers. They said no. And this blew me away! Because usually, the vast majority of audiences at readings are comprised of the writers’ friends (who are usually also writers). And not people who are just coming because they happen to… what? Love literature? Like actualy patrons of the arts? This also made me really happy and like, wow, the world is not such a bad place after all.

My friend Audrey read from a short story, “Retreat,” that happens to be set in a place that is so near and dear to my heart. I happen to be hosting a writing/art/movement retreat (!!) at that very place in just a few weeks. (notice to the five people who are still reading this blog – there are spots open, and some MAJOR scholarship/discounts available!) It was, without bias, the best thing read all night. The audience burst into laughter about every 30 seconds, and people were chuckling and chortling and making resonant sounds throughout the whole thing. Audrey read dramatically, dryly and hilariously. We loved it.

The whole evening made me feel so in love with words again, and stories, and writers. Several members of my own (long-neglected) writing group were there, and I was so happy to see them and have missed them so much. I have GOT to find a way to get back. I must. I must.

So: check out this fabulous reading series here, which was founded and coordinated by this wonderful writer here.
And: Check out the “Stories of the Body” writing retreat! It is going to be amazing and blissful. It is the place of my heart.

the Hermitage at Santa Sabina

And go to a reading this month! Pick one out. I bet you can find one. Support a writer who has put his or her heart into those pages. It will do the world a lot of good. Then come back and tell us about it.

As any of you who ever read this blog anymore know, my posts here have been very few and far between. But recently I’ve been itching to come back. I have a little bit more to say about reading, writing and things other than food and bodies. (that conversation is still going strong)

It’s been a long time since I read an entire book. I think the last full book I read before this weekend was Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, which I read while on my first trip to Europe this past spring. It was an amazing and wonderfully written memoir. It made me feel so seen. And her writing just made me swoon. I recently wrote a little review of it for Pact’s newsletter and here are two excerpts I included that really really spoke to me:

“It’s complicated. Tracing (her word for “searching”) suddenly asks someone who has had one life to have two, and you can’t have two lives, you can only have one. The empty ghost, the wraithlike figure that has stalked me for years seems to be taking off her pale polka-dot dress… She opens a locker, with her own key, found after years of fumbling, and disappears into its depths.”


“My mum all those years ago sensed a child who had been adopted was a child who could feel terribly hurt. And no matter how much she loved me… there is still a windy place right at the core of my heart. The windy place is like Wuthering Heights, out on open moors, rugged and wild and free and lonely… I struggle against the windy place. I sometimes even forget it. But there it is…you think adoption is a story that has an end. But the point about it is that it has no end. It keeps changing its ending.”

You can sure say that again. Keeps changing its ending.

Then today I just finished another memoir (trend here?) by Heather Sellers, called You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know. I don’t know if it was recommended me by a person, or by Amazon “you might like this” feature, but it any case I got it and took it up to the beach for the Labor Day weekend. Again, I was struck by the writing: fresh, warm, beautiful and tender. I just loved it. Maybe at first it would be an adoption memoir but instead it was about growing up with some Very Challenging Parents and later diagnosed with something called “face blindness.” Her tenacity and determination to underself is just really moving, and her ability to write about it impressive.

Both of these books really inspired me to Get Back Into It.

And to that end, I’ve signed up with a site called, which is like a kinder, gentler version of Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die site. I used that one a lot when I did NaNoWriMo, when I often needed threats of violence to get those 1600+ words/day in.

But is cute and encouraging. It gives out various animal stickers for different accomplishments. I am a sucker for stickers. (click on images to see details)

It also does these kind of random analysis of your writing, based on words you used a lot. Today it told me that I was “upset” and writing about “family.” Which actually was accurate. I was writing a little piece of fiction based on an odd interaction I witnessed in a video store last night.

It’s all kind of entertaining and keep me amused but like I said, I am a sucker for stickers and challenges etc so it’s a good incentive. I joined the month of September daily challenge (to see if I can write every day) and I have made the happy leap from journaling (zzzzzzzzzzzzz boring) to nonfiction and fiction. Which feels much better. To start my day with a nice little freewrite.

My last piece is writerly news is that I am on the brink of deepening my involvement with the ever inspiring and awesome Afghan Women Writers’ Project. Which I am excited about. More on that soon!

The wonderful Bloglily wrote on her blog recently about the idea of “bookstacks” – in fact the photo here is from her blog. I had kind of forgotten what (her definition of) bookstacks were, so I concocted my own notion of them in my head. Yes, it’s a stack of books. But for BL, it’s about wrapping a stack of books for a loved one. I guess they are new books.

MY idea of what “bookstacks” might be, was something different. Yes, a stack of books. Yes, giving to loved ones. But here’s my idea.

I’m going to make a bunch of special bookstacks for holiday time. I’m going to wrap them festively (like the picture) and put them underneath my tree. But this is going to be the deal: they are going to come from my (enormous) library. And I am going to give them to friends.

I am going to make bookstacks in the following categories (one stack each)

  • children’s books
  • cookbooks
  • short stories
  • parenting
  • poetry
  • adoption
  • nonfiction
  • fiction (novels)
  • writing

In order to be eligible for one of these stacks, all you need to do is come to my house, share a cup of tea or cocoa and a little snack, and visit for a short while. One stack per person. (your choice of category until the stacks are all gone) Email me to arrange a time to do this. If you desperately want one of the stacks and it is not feasable for you to come in person, then you must…. um… WRITE ME A HANDWRITTEN LETTER telling me about what is new in your life.  If you do not have my snail mail address, email me.

The thing is, I want to visit with people. Connect with people. And I need to decrease the # of books in my house, because I need to make room for the NEW books I put on my Santa wish-list. :-)

If you do not want any books (how could that be?!?) and just want to visit, that’s good too!

images-1Bookaholic. This really came home to me when today’s mail was delivered. FOUR big cardboard packages/padded envelopes that could only mean one thing: BOOKS. 

I really am incapable of dealing with libraries AT ALL (I neeevvvver return them) so if I hear of a book that intrigues me, I will go to Amazon Marketplace and see if I can get one for a dollar, or three. Plus postage, and it doesn’t feel like very much  - is it? Unless it’s a newly published book or one by a friend of mine, in which case I will buy it new. I try to balance my Amazon habit with my supporting-independent-bookstores habit.

Last night I had an hour to kill and just happened to be nearby one of my favorite indy bookstores. It was such an amazing pleasure to walk around, touch and pick up and browse dozens and dozens of books. Mmm! In the end I had to buy two: John Crowley’s newest, Endless Things, and Peter Carey’s His Illegal Self

Today, the mail brought me: two copies of the new Asian adoptee literary ‘zine Grinding Up Stones (looks great!), Joyce Carol Oates’ The Faith of A Writer: Life, Craft and Art (some writer buddies were raving about it and I got intrigued) and Shrink Yourself, a book about emotional eating (and which, curiously, was blurbed by Senator Ted Kennedy!). 

And that’s only in the last 24 hours.

images-1OK, so both my  daughter and my high school friend have remarked that I have not blogged here in an awfully long time. Busted! It’s true. I actually wrote two extreeeeeemely long blog posts while at AWP, which I will be putting up shortly. The issue is that they both had a lot of links in them so I kept putting them off because links are just a little time consuming. That’s just silly.

The other reason is that I have been rather preoccupied with some health stuff and have been doing a lot of personal writing on that topic. I’m hoping that things are getting on a good track now and I will be able to balance that and this. But you know, trying to be healthy is like a JOB, man. It takes a lot of time, thinking, preparation, and more time. Which is why busy people who don’t think about being healthy are often… unhealthy. I wasn’t keen on spending a whole lot of time thinking about it, until it came up and kicked me in the butt.

So unfortunately this happened after that big proclamation that I was going to write every day. Har dee har har. That did not happen. But I’m trying to not stress over it. It will happen when it happens. Like when I’m 65, or something.

Going to AWP did remind me how very much I do love writing though – and talking about it, thinking about it, debating, musing, doing it. I love everything about it. I love writers. I adored meeting my Literary Mama comrades very much. It was all good.

And for those of you who wondered, I chose to read “McMemories” at the Chicago reading. And sat down and thought, what a dumb choice. But then this couple approached me afterward (she commented on the poll blog) and told me their parents had just moved in and how much the column had resonated for them! So it was actually the right choice after all.

I think this blog post took me all of seven minutes to type out. I have to remember that when I think I “don’t have time to blog.”

I’m going to Chicago with a bunch of other Literary Mama editors, columnists and writers (and I am SO EXCITED to meet many of them for the first time!) to do a panel. Here’s our entry:

Literary Mama: A Model of Grassroots Literary Community Building. (Caroline Grant, Amy Hudock, Susan Ito, Rebecca Kaminsky, Kristina Riggle, Shari MacDonald Strong) Literary Mama evolved from a mothers’ writing group into an online literary journal featuring a variety of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. One of Writers’ Digest‘s 101 Best Web Sites for Writers and a Forbes Best of the Web pick, Literary Mama‘s diverse editors work from four nations and reach 40,000 readers monthly, offering a model for building a vibrant grassroots literary community. Our panel offers readings from contributing editors, followed by discussion of literary community-building.

On Friday night, February 13th, we’re also doing a public reading at Women & Children First bookstore in Chicago, and I’m planning to read one of my Life in the Sandwich columns, or an excerpt of one. I can’t decide which one, though.

The one about my mother’s weekly breakfasts at McDonald’s?

The one where I nearly burst an aneurysm trying to buy bathing suits for all of us?

My daughter’s last birthday party at home?

Packing for college?

Or redefining home?

Please help me decide. Let me know which one you might enjoy hearing out loud. Please go back to the Archives and browse a little. What do you think??

Ooooh, I am in a book group again. It’s been many many many years, partly because for a long time I had no time for reading, and then no time for monthly meetings. (if you count up all the monthly meetings I attended, it added up to really having some sort of meeting every 3 days) I was in a mother-daughter book group for a lot of years, and that was great, but you know, different.

I used to be in a fabulous book group but that was long ago and somewhat far away. So I was verrrrrrrry excited when I got an invitation to join this new startup group. Our first meeting was last night, and the book we discussed was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Wow, what a book. I gobbled it down in one sitting (actually, lying on the bed) during our vacation. It’s a total page-turner. Beautiful, horrible, devastating, intense and really unforgettable on so many levels.

The discussion was fantastic. Our terrific host had a list of thought-provoking questions and the answers were super animated, deep, smart and brought up many ideas that had never occurred to me. I could just FEEL my brain lighting up like crazy, neurons firing like sparklers as we all talked. It was great. Yummy treats, too: Rice Krispie treats, chocolate chip cookies, strawberries and tofu!! (although if it had been my old group, we would have been eating book-themed food like canned beans, Coca-Cola and powdered grape drink)

Did you know that The Road is going to be a movie coming out in November? I think we might have to take a little field trip outing to see it, although some people felt that the visuals were just too awful to want to actually watch on screen. I don’t know; the father character is played by Viggo Mortensen and that’s not something I want to pass up.

We haven’t chosen next month’s book yet but I am really looking forward to it.

It’s hard to believe the state I’m in right now, relaxed and with so much time and space around me. Today I had an amazing post-birthday lunch with a friend, then came home and took a long nap in the afternoon heat. I woke up. I contemplated going to an air-conditioned movie, but now the air is cool coming in through the windows. I got first dibs on the New Yorker that came in the mail, and actually GOT TO READ IT THE SAME DAY THAT IT ARRIVED. (more on that later)

For so long (how long? I can’t even remember) I have NOT had a day like this. I am so used to answering, when someone asks, “How are you?” the constant “I’m crazy! Crazy crazy crazy! As always!”  By crazy, I mean hectic and nonstop and just going at a frenetic pace, multitasking and racing from thing to thing. And I wasn’t really complaining, just hyperventilating and feeling that there wasn’t really any alternative.

But now my older daughter is in college.  Our contact has been reduced to a few lines (if I’m lucky) of text-messaging a day. We are left with one extremely low-maintenance dog, which I only understand since the high-maintenance dog is gone.  The younger daughter left this morning for a week-long camping trip with her high school. (what a civilized way to begin a school year! she is in Yosemite, taking classes in “bread and cheese making” and “spoon carving.”) My job is in a lulled state, down to two days a week, post-camp. I’m teaching an online class but it has not begun yet.

So today I had time to do things that I really could only dream about. I read a bit of a new novel I got last night. I sat on the sofa and actually leafed slowly through a coffee table book that has sat on my coffee table since a few Christmases ago.

Tonight, since my movie idea didn’t pan out, I grabbed the New Yorker which had arrived in today’s mail and headed to the coolest room in the house. Normally, my husband will sequester away the New Yorker and keep it hidden on his side of the bed and he will read it weeks or even months before I ever get to it. But today I got to it first! And what a treasure. A new story by Alice Munro!!!! (this is akin to a new song being released by one’s favorite band) And: (be still my heart!) A review of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel, Home. I had to really reach for the smelling salts on that one. As long time blog readers may know, her novel Gilead is one of my all-time favorite books EVER and probably the only book other than Little, Big that I have read cover-to-cover  more than three times. (children’s books don’t count, because often you have to read those three times a NIGHT)

So I learned that this new novel has many of the same characters as Gilead, kind of a spinoff. And as I read the review, I started crying, just as I did when I read Gilead. Just a few passages quoted, and also the beautiful analysis by the reviewer, and it just did me in. I think that is a first. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever cried from reading a book review. I do know that often authors cry when reviewers are cruel about THEIR books, but this is different.

Anyway, you might be wondering about the writing. Why am I not writing, with all of this delicious time? Well, I did do some writing last night. After being on hiatus for too long, I returned to my freewriting group last night and managed to crank out a few rusty pages. It wasn’t pretty. But it was something. And it was very, very good to be returning to the company of these very fine and talented people. (note to others who are also on hiatus: come back!!!!!)

I’m writing a really long blog post right now, something I haven’t done in such a long time. And it’s not about Sarah Palin either, hooray!

This weekend I will meet up with a brand new book group. I used to belong to a wonderful book group a million years ago, ie. before children, and for a while I belonged to a mother-daughter book group with my older daughter. But this feels like a very good return. I am really looking forward to it. The first book on the list was The Road, which completely blew me away.

I don’t know how this leisurely existence will last (um, probably through the weekend) but all I have to say is, I like it. Finally, my blog title fits: I’m reading, writing, and living. Ahhhh.

As soon as I got my copy of Mama, Ph.D., I knocked my forehead and said, “Why didn’t I write something for this?” And then immediately, I knew. When I first read the title for the call for submissions way back when, I sent it to all my mama friends who HAD Ph.Ds. I didn’t really consider my lowly MFA to be worthy of consideration.

But as I thumbed through the poignant, intelligent essays in this collection, I soon understood that a lot of the women in this anthology didn’t have Ph.D.s either. They were abandoned or veered away from when children raised their siren calls.

I gave birth to my second child a week after waddling across a hot stage to receive my master’s degree in writing. Many of my classmates were on to doctoral programs, but I felt I was at the end of my particular line.
So it was with a mixture of envy, regret and relief that I read this collection; reading of the intense sacrifices of mixing a life of academy + family.

It seemed that most of the women in this anthology were pursuing Ph.D.s while pregnant or with very young babies or children. I would have been very interested in reading about women who pursued graduate or doctoral degrees when their children were older, in high school or college or beyond; maybe, coincidentally because now that my elder child is heading to college, it is the first time the notion of a Ph.D. is wiggling its seductive little finger at me. I don’t think I’ll probably go down that path, but for so many years it was “No, no, no WAY” and now again it’s “Hmmm… could I do that? Do I want to?”

The writing in this book is alive, often very humorous, often fraught. The quality of these narratives is uniformly excellent. It’s creative nonfiction at its best: true stories that often read like fiction, with compelling narratives, and characters for whom much is at stake. I was pulled in immediately by the funny-but-extremely-thoughtful first essay, Jamie Warner’s “The Conversation.”

Jamie: Do you think you want to have kids?
George: I don’t know. Do you think you want to have kids?
Jamie: I don’t know either… and why don’t you know? What else needs to happen? Is this a question of timing, or is more of an existential question?
George: I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I also loved Sonya Huber’s exquisite “In Media Res,” an ode to her unborn “Goat-baby.” I want to see you; I am hungry for the plot, for the tiny details of your story contained in the pads of your fingers, and your plans for rebellion and creation.

Loved Jennifer Eyre White’s “Engineering Motherhood,” about a “troubled youth” turned electrical engineer/mother/grad student. Susan O’Doherty’s “The Wire Mother” masterfully examines motherhood and psychology, and Elisabeth Rose Gruner’s “I Am Not A Head On A Stick.” My daughter, still in utero, used to kick books off my belly when I’d rest them there to read. My husband and I joked that she knew they were competition. Maybe it wasn’t a joke.

I have to admit that in reading this, I was biased. I was biased towards the mothers who hung in there, who used their Ph.D.s, who walked around their universities with people calling them “Doctor.” How could someone go through so much and then… not use it? Are there people who battle their way through medical school and then decide not to become doctors? Maybe it’s because of my own road-not-traveled regrets and longings. I have to say that I felt a twinge when I read editor Caroline Grant’s “The Bags I Carried,” which described her leaving academia and really not looking back. She ultimately found Literary Mama (for which I am personally grateful!), which gave her another powerful venue for the world of words and ideas, of sharing them with other thinking, writing mothers. But I couldn’t help hoping that when her children are older that she might turn back to her Ph.D.

Only after reading the entire book did I feel like maybe it was a bit … TOO uniform. I would have loved to have heard more from older women, lesbians, more women of color. Hmm, is that why they call it the Ivory Tower?

This is one reason why I particularly loved Angelica Duran’s essay, “One Mamá’s Dispensable Myths and Indispensable Machines.” She brings in the many layers of race, culture, gender, and grapples with them beautifully.

While my mother would have been patient with me if I had used her as a babysitter from my Anglo-American contextual culture rather than appreciated her as an abuelita from my Latino root culture, I managed to be a mamá so that she in turn could be an abuelita.

Truly, every piece in this collection is strong, provocative and gives much food for thought. I’ve been turning these womens’ stories over and over in my head for weeks, having silent debates with them and myself, and I suspect the conversation is going to go on for a long time.

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