Sep 18, 2014


Hello readers,

I have been asked by my friend Amy Miller to participate in something called “My Writing Process Blog Tour,” or as I will now refer to it, MWPBT, because that rolls off the tongue. MWPBT has been making its way around the blogging world for some time now.  It’s a slo-mo relay race of blogger after blogger navel-gazing, writing about it, and handing off the navel-gazing baton to the next blogger. I am supposed to answer four questions about my (finger quotes) writing process. My last post was on July 21; what kind of process could I possibly have?  But Amy has faith in me and I have faith in Amy. She, unlike yours truly, has fully formed thoughts in her brain, and her blog has actual serious writing. 

Here I go with the four questions.

What am I working on? Many of you don’t know that besides the blog, I write poetry. And I must say that if this blog was all I ever wrote, that would be a sad state of affairs. (See above: last post July 21.)  I have a poetry manuscript that has been going door to door on the publication circuit, trying its darnedest to look cute and forlorn and like it needs a good home. So far about thirty publishers (who looked like such nice people!) held it at arm’s length like it had fleas and tossed it out the door. Two or three said it had nice eyes and one declared it a finalist, so I try to have hope, but I am starting to think that origami may be a better use of the paper. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre? Oh, I’ve got this one! This is easy: because I’m me! Picture a toddler on top of a picnic table, hands on hips.  No one else has my sense of humor, makes the same spelling and usage mistakes over and over again, has the same take on this odd, wonderful, wacky, pathetic world we live in. Blog or poetry, it’s all me, all the time.  Me, me, me.  Me.

Why do I write what I do and how does my writing process work?  (Did you see what I did there…rolled two questions into one?) In the blog, I write what I do because I’m pissed off. Like today, I am out of town with my husband, staying in a bed and breakfast.  The photos on the web looked so lovely.  The rooms were spacious and modern and well lit, the beds huge.  Well, I’d like to stay at that bed and breakfast, because our room is small and dark and the faucet in the tub drips.  And did you know that queen size beds are only sixty inches wide? I obviously did not, because my husband and I are now sharing what is only enough room for me and a newt and he’s much bigger than a newt.

At home we have a bed the size of Kansas, big enough for me to sleep on my stomach with my knee sticking out in his direction and there is still room for the body pillow I must have.  Do you hear me?  I need it! I can’t sleep without it, despite the fact that I abandon it as soon as I fall asleep. And the fact that it’s the equivalent of a third human in the bed doesn’t matter at all because we’re talking Kansas.  There’s room for everyone.  But this morning, not believing that the B and B’s inadequate bed-like structure could possibly be a queen, I Googled bed sizes and, in fact, queens are a mere sixty inches wide. I laid sideways to measure, using my 64-inch body, since I don’t carry a tape measure with me. Toes at one side, nose at the other.  Yep, it’s a queen. Never again.

And, if we’re talking about my poetry process, well, that’s much more mysterious, and organic, and a bit magical, as poetry tends to be.  Who knows where that stuff comes from?  I don’t.

Now I pass the baton to…Jennifer Swanton Brown.  Jennifer Swanton Brown published her first poem in the Palo Alto Times when she was in the fifth grade. She has degrees in Linguistics and Nursing, and completed her Master of Liberal Arts at Stanford University in 2012, with a thesis on the domestic poetry of Eavan Boland. Jennifer has been a poet/teacher with California Poets in the Schools since 2001 and joined their Board of Directors in March 2013. Her poems have been published in multiple local journals, including The Sand Hill Review, Caesura and The DQM Review. In October 2013, Jennifer became the second Poet Laureate of the City of Cupertino. You can follow her Poem-A-Day project "A Lane of Yellow" and other Cupertino Poet Laureate news at Jennifer also manages regulatory education for clinical researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine.  Her personal blog is "A Twirly Life"

Jul 21, 2014

Take 'Em Inside

Last night our neighbor's dogs barked for over an hour.  Over an hour?  Yes, a very long, loud hour. I'm sure these neighbors weren't home or they would have brought their beloved Rex and Fifi inside after fifteen minutes or so.  I would say 'after a minute or so' but my recent experience with local dog owners is they can easily sit out fifteen minutes without deciding to take the long walk over to the screen door and let the little canines inside.  No, they can wait out a whole lot of noise.  And, of course, that means the rest of us are waiting out the noise, too.

Last night's offenders clearly weren't home.  They were on an outing that kept them away from the house for a long time; and they'd decided to leave the four-legged guys outside so they wouldn't poop in the house or chew the arms off the sofa.  Concerned about their belongings, these dog/homeowners thought they'd throw the pooches in the back yard and head out on their trip. I picture these folks at a friend's house, sitting on the deck, enjoying margaritas and fajitas, laughing and happily forgetting all their worldly woes.  Good for them. 

But I have a plea to make.  PLEASE don't do that.  Please don't blithely drive away, forgetting what you've left behind. Please don't make your dogs my problem. Because even if you just drive to Trader Joe's to buy some guacamole and Two Buck Chuck; even if you just hop in the car to pick up your children from school; even if you just drop off the dry cleaning; it's going to take at least fifteen minutes.  And fifteen minutes of your dogs barking is a really long time when I'm trying to read, write, watch TV, enjoy my patio, work, talk on the phone, chat with my husband, host book club, throw a party, take a bath, sleep, or maybe think.

I work from home.  I love my home.  My husband loves our home.  But our home with a barking, whining, howling, baying soundtrack is a whole lot less enjoyable. 

Mar 10, 2014

I Rue Detective

Why, oh why, do good shows go bad?  Is it peer group pressure?  Are the mediocre and truly lousy shows roughing up the good shows in the back of the studio lots, sticking fingers in their chests and growling, "Yer makin' us look bad, raising the curve. So here's what yer gonna do..." 

In this case, I'm not just talking about a good show, but a great show.  True Detective.  For seven episodes this was some of the best TV ever.   Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson  as the detectives. Michelle Monaghan. All incredible actors. Creepy, creepy murders.  Haunting scenes and cinematography.  Tension up the wazoo.  A plot that made sense and a trail to follow. 

And then, the finale.  Even that was going pretty well until the detectives pull up at the suspect's house.  When they have no cell phone reception to call for back up, do they turn around in the driveway and go get help?  Of course not. These two guys plow ahead on their own.  One goes through the house, the other heads out back and chases the evildoer though high reeds and weeds for a really long time and finally into an abandoned structure that looks like an enormous brick beehive.  The inevitable fight ensues and here's where it all goes south. (Spoiler alert: if you don't want to learn what happens, stop reading.)

McConaughey takes a knife to the gut.  Not just any knife but one that looks like it goes all the way through to his backside; one that creates an enormous, gaping wound that's pumping blood like nobody's business when he later pulls the knife out.  He loses blood at a rate that should kill him in minutes. He, of course, survives.

Harrelson evidently has a map, night vision goggles and word on a shortcut, so he shows up a moment later, just in time to get a hatchet to the chest.  Right through the sternum. Bad guy takes a bullet to the brain and keels over dead. Harrelson drags himself over to McConaughey's side and sits up, completely lucid and seemingly not in pain.  He, too, survives.  What's a little hatchet in the chest when you've got a friend to cheer on? The cavalry arrives a moment later, having received a phone call from Harrelson while he was searching the house.  They, too, seem to have taken a shortcut or mastered time travel.  And they've brought helicopters!

Is it too much to ask that writers follow a few basics?  For example, if a character receives a mortal wound, said character dies.  If the writer doesn't want said character to die, s/he should give them a much less dangerous wound or have the bad guy miss. If it takes one character x amount of time to cover some land, it should take y and z characters the same amount of time. These seem like simple rules to follow.  If these writers had, True Detective could have been truly great.

Jan 2, 2014

Life Lessons

As we move into the new year, I've gotten a bit philosophical and my mind has wandered to life lessons. What do we learn from our parents?  What do we teach our children?  Parents try to pass on certain values and ethics to their children, but often as not the kids have a very different take-away.

For example, my parents used to take my sister and me on Sunday afternoon rides in the country.  Cindy and I would lie upside down on the back seat and count the trees and telephone poles as we sped along. Our father would take the little hills too fast in order to give us all a roller-coaster-like thrill.  We would lift off the seat and plop back down, filled with the rush of excitement/daring. I remember once our father had to brake suddenly and my young body flipped over the front seat and landed near my mother's lap. Laughter ensued from the grownups and then I was folded back over the seat.  I think our father had several life lessons in mind on those rides: seize the day, have your fun when you can, be unconventional, don't follow the rules, getting out in the country is good, etc.  What lesson did I take?  Wear seat belts.  Always wear seat belts!  They weren't even invented yet, but I was looking ahead.

Our parents were working class people, hardworking, stressed, and they had expectations that we would learn how to do chores and help around the house.  They did not have high aspirations for us because they were realists and they only knew what they knew. There was no expectation that my sister or I would go to college, nor our younger brother.  We would get jobs, marry, settle down. My sister and I were taught the inside chores: laundry, dishes, dusting, etc.  Our brother was taught the one outdoor chore: cutting the grass. Despite the fact that our father helped with cooking and cleaning, and even enjoyed them, and would have made a damned good stay-at-home dad, gender roles were high on the list of lessons to be passed on to us.  What did I take from this? Sexism bad, feminism good.  Sexism bad, feminism good.  Also, I must go to college.  Not sure why, but I must go.  

Now of course, I wonder what my daughters have learned from my husband and me.  If we tried to teach them anything, it was to be left wing.  Politics were very one-sided in our home.  And we taught them that entertaining is a good thing to do; have parties, invite friends, cook good food.  But what else did they learn from us through all the day-to-day living?  All the times we weren't trying to pass along any nuggets of wisdom.  When I was driving, or reading, or going out with my friends...when their dad was working, or napping, or making enchilada sauce...what were they peeking under the table to see? What did they absorb and to what did they inwardly resolve to always do the opposite?  Too early to tell.    

As I look back at that list in the first paragraph, I see that some of my dad's lessons stuck after all: have your fun when you can: check.  Getting out in the country is good: check. Be unconventional: check. We've definitely passed that one on to our children, too, whether we were trying to or not. One example: when our younger daughter was in first grade, her teacher asked each of the students what his or her favorite movie was.  Around the room the little darlings declared "Little Mermaid” or similar kid stuff.  Our daughter? "Lethal Weapon Two," she announced to the stunned teacher.  Not just Lethal Weapon, no, she preferred the second in the series. Hmmmm, showing our first-grader R rated movies...maybe "Don't follow the rules" stuck, too.