Step Away From All Chariots (Burning Edition)

Antidote to road rage, oui?

Antidote to road rage, oui?

CONTENT WARNING: Vague to extreme silliness–and back again.

Since 1990 I’ve been visiting Ana S. every other month, less when I was younger and single and living on a leaky  sailboat and a semi-working actress with miracle hair never listing towards anything shy of chariot fire–an ancient Egyptian chariot, on fire–but here in the 21st Century, the Age when I come across as older than previously taken-for-granted (occasional hair strands glistening the gray of horror movie mist), I never miss an appointment, even though obtaining highlights means driving 75 miles. Because Ana S. won’t chop off my hair when I ask her not to and she listens to me when I describe side bangs, because she’s been helping my hair remain healthy since the ’90’s and so of course I trust her and will drive 75 miles to remain blonde-ish. You understand. Tiny pleasures–on a gargantuan scale.

Last Saturday I hit the road at 630a.m., stopped for gas, coffee and zoomed onto the freeway. After just getting on and switching lanes, I sensed the car on my right hovering. When I glanced over, an elderly gentleman shook his head at me with an exaggerated scowl, then focused on the road, dismissing me, I guess. Why??? I thought. What did I do??? What was my crime??? Did he despise Hyundai Sonatas with sunroofs and fantastic visibility? Did he think I was someone else? Was he following me and for how long? How long was he waiting for me to glance at him? It was early. There were hardly any cars at any of my stops, even the coffee place was practically empty. There was simply no one to offend. My joyous day of racing North to sit in a hairdressing chair was starting off with a rude stranger giving me his ugly scowl. And I wanted to honk my horn and flash my lights and drive inches from his slightly droopy bumper, I really did. That scowl worthy of retaliation on the scale of firebombed chariots.

But I took a breath and made myself laugh. Not unkindly–noise aimed at all the silliness so randomly rampant, silliness directed at me, in me. Oh, ho, I laughed. PB! You. Ohhh, ho…75 miles of forced laughter later I sat in the silly chair as foil was folded into my hair and I received my silly highlights and shine and it. Was. Great. And there is no poem in any of this, except possibly in the chocolates Ana S. offered me when I was under the dryer, but I did survive a potentially dangerous road rage incident. I am here, able to carry on as a mother and a wife and someone who sporadically has her poems published. Ah! It’s good to be grateful. Oui? Perhaps being grateful is the best revenge. That and highlights so shiny the gods must wear sunglasses—or maybe just Isis.

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Screens

hobbitonStaring at  my writing, I heard what I thought was our younger cat pulverizing the bedroom window’s screen, as he does when he’d like to be let inside, despite the little Hobbiton upside-down-U’s we had cut in pertinent doors, just for felines. But when I ran to investigate (because writers will love distraction), I discovered the sounds were coming from inside a dresser drawer. When I pulled the drawer open, our older cat, Al, blinked at me accusingly. I’d coffin-ized him. Not sure for how long. I rushed him to his food bowl with apologies and a scoop of holistic wet mush the pet person said was crucial for older cats. I watched Al for a bit, worrying. He ate, he bathed, he curled up on the dog’s bed and slept, hours…

I try to think of it not as writer’s block, but as a stressfully strict, seasonal (Fall Fall Darkest Fall–in Southern California!) gestational period. I’m coffin-ized–eyes wide open, roof-span right there, each natural whorl so close. I want to see, I insist (tired). I want to see.

Hobbiton exhibited at an airport. Or was it a train station? Public Hobbiton. The mind wanders...

Public Hobbiton.

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Relief (Death’s Placards Edition)

The Duchess, Hans Holbein the Younger, Dance of Death, 1538. Pretty sure if Death was playing a violin when my dad flew away, it was Mahler.

The Duchess, Hans Holbein the Younger, Dance of Death, 1538. Pretty sure if Death was playing a violin when my dad flew away, it was Mahler.

There are fairly positive placards to be discovered–usually somewhere behind closed eyes–when Death (not waltzes in, there was no waltzing in my dad’s case) knocks down continents to claim, abscond-with, pose in a peasant blouse splotched in redwood forest mulch and maidenhead ferns as Mother Nature. The placards read:

NO MORE PAIN P.S./A GOOD THING
or:
IS AT PEACE/OR SOMETHING LIKE IT OMG (scrawled in a hard, lava-red script bleeding through even the darkest dream)
or:
WHATSA MATTER WITH U: LIVE LIVE LIVE
or:
EFFING HELL EFFING JUST SAY THE BIG EFFING GOODBYE U BIG GRIEVING GOOF
or (my favorite):
ALLISWELLALLISWELLALLISWELL

All IS well. Emailed memories and snippets of our dad from friends of his we haven’t seen since we were kids fly in–breath-swiping missives. Much good is suddenly clarified about one half of the complicated unit that raised my sisters and me.

And so I let my breath out for the first time since somewhere deep in late July.

The sound resembles a mildly breaking wave (w/distant seagull call).

Yours in sweeter dreams and a violin-playing Death (O Holbein–so crafty–for me it would be Beethoven’s 3rd, first movement–et tu?),

PB

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Big Waves, Big Moon (Aftermath Edition)

photo (2)There was no one in the emptied bedroom except for me. I stared at the almost blank walls and atrocious carpeting, stuck in a grief coma. The front door banged. And everyone arrived, I think all at once, it seemed all at once. They showed up with cold beer, Jameson and ginger ale, chardonnay and ice, plump cookies, gourmet cheeses and butter crackers and someone showed up with a roasted chicken and someone a bag of locally made, cilantro-fragrant fried tacos because grief and mourning make you hungry, famished, actually, and thirsty for a substantial drink at 11:30 a.m. The tiny, petal-precious great-granddaughter made the rounds of arms, watched over by her cousins while we emptied drawers and closets and loaded cars with my dad’s final cherishables and prepared the haul-aways to be hauled away as we drank and ate and laughed and sniffed, the barely-autumn light reaching us in fractures and sparkles through windows whose shades we removed and one of us had to duck anytime he neared the whirling ceiling fan. By four o’ clock we were exhausted and just then the ashes arrived, but not the urn, because mix-ups happen even with mortuary companies, apparently–despite the delicately crucial subject matter. We placed our dad’s unceremoniously (if not anti-climatically) boxed ashes in a shopping bag and trekked out of his condo and across the street to the hundred steps leading down to the beach, two of us carrying surfboards, some of us balancing body boards on our heads and one of us carrying my dad. We found our spot and set my dad on a striped beach towel with a perfect view of his family as we raced into the Pacific and swam and splashed and screamed and surfed off all of the day except memories–we rode those well into the night, my boxed father passed from lap to lap as stories were shared and discoveries acknowledged and children crashed on hoodies. moonpalmStay, stay–the night carried on and each time someone spoke, a touch of panic/touch of magic, a dully (though as if specifically) beating moon with a fringe of sea mist our constant watcher, sole-eye, power-face, bug-riddled lamp and, this night, old whisper, old friend.

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Partial Poem For The Day

1danapoint (2)If thou art worn and hard beset with sorrows
that thou wouldst forget,
If thou would read a lesson that would keep thy heart from fainting
and thy soul from sleep
Go to the Woods and Hills!
No tears
Dim the sweet look that Nature wears.

Sunrise on the Hills–H.W. Longfellow (of course)

Also: Go to the beach, Dear Ladies, go to the beach!

 

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Delirium

aearly5Labor Day sunshine? Ray-gun-in-the-face light. I drove South to my dad’s with the minivan’s windshield blasted by holiday sun and ratcheting temperatures. Even the beaches were infernos. Near Garden Grove, a little black car zipped onto the 405 Freeway, over a couple of lanes and into mine. I hit the brakes. My palm pounded the horn. I shouted the shout that immediately makes one hoarse, flashed my brights. The car’s driver held up a hand, waved feebly—baffling me—and sped into the carpool lane, hitting light speed.

My dad’s condo: sun-spackled, not dreary despite the stained carpeting he refused to have replaced, scorching (what condo by the beach needs A/C), governed by the oxygen machine’s pump. I joined my sisters, the three of us tending a felled giant who sometimes knew us from the hospital bed replacing his own, mostly not. “Hey, he needs more drugs,” my older sister told those she phoned as my dad fidgeted relentlessly and swatted at imaginary foes. “This is normal,” we were assured, and then told to up dosages.

The caregivers cried. The hospice’s priest we’d never met entered my dad’s room, nodded as he looked around (photos of us and our dad through the recent ages) and cried, quietly. The housecleaner showed up and she cried. A lot. So much crying, I remarked to my older sister. And we looked at each other, tearing up. And we looked away, at the patio, set with flowers for my dad to look at and hummingbird feeders doing their job and a birdbath my sister found at Gelson’s—a stunning luminous number with a glass bowl embedded in popsicle-orange koi.

My dad died. We thanked the caregivers, gave one of them a batch of teaspoons. She asked for spoons. The spoons comforted her. Apparently she’d had meaningful conversations with my dad over the last six weeks. Apparently he’d had meaningful conversations with all of his caregivers, and we were glad. We gave many things to the Goodwill, drove them over. We sorted and divided and divvied kindly. We are, apparently, made that way, my three sisters and I.

Kind.

Confession: I did not comfort the crying hospice priest, although that was my first impulse.

To each her/his own grief.

And the grief is relevant.

RIP Mike Bush

RIP Mike Bush

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Overcast In The Valley

Valley rose before cinderblock.

Valley rose before cinderblock. Okay, better than any graffiti.

Craving a view, I rode the escalator to the 3rd and final floor of that Macy’s and speculated on valley through tinted windows grand enough for a museum.

No thunderheads. Not the merest ribbon of blue sky. No sun. Mounds of gray clouds spread from Macy’s to the badly-chopped-cauliflower cliffs of Chatsworth, blackening over the Santa Susana Pass and its hint of semi truck glide.

It is rare to see my valley dull and perhaps that is why I decided the view was beautiful. Or perhaps I was delusional because of the surprise change in the weather–the dew on my browning grass that morning, the lack of glare filling the windshield as I drove my son to school, the reprieve from all that is made uncomfortably obvious by relentlessly scathing sunlight, the valley a bucket of constant light, filled, radiating, charring flip-flops and skin, melting dashboards and plastic eating utensils left on park benches too hot to sit on, everything here big and sizzling and over-bright, even in November–in fact, what Fall?–and certainly every February, our one freak overcast day making me giddy as I studied monochromatic scape usually ringed in glow so eerily orange it resembles atom bomb fallout, lifting, perpetually.

Gang graffiti on cinderblock in muted light rather than blaster-laser-in-your-eyes light? Interestingly vain. The seagull that should have been having its feathers ruffled by Zuma breezes perched instead on an Escalade in the parking lot, watching pigeons strut the gloom? Poetic–possibly (come on, bird–go home). The tobacco kiosks in the strip malls boulevard to boulevard, those tiny, barred fortresses persisting? Architecturally intriguing. A dullness as nagging as a mild hangover, got to me.

I reached into my boho bag and pulled out a small notepad and Pier One bling pen. I gazed through the Macy’s windows and took notes. Bruised, woolly and flannel were not allowed into the notebook. What was allowed will hopefully become a poem one (no doubt) bright, bright sunshiny day.

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Tropical Impression

I thought: I’ll blog every day. But then we landed, left the sweetly palms-infused airport and drove straight to the ocean.

"Stop the car! We must swim" type of water.

“Stop the car! We must swim!” type of water.

I know as well as anyone how distracting ocean is—sunrises, sunsets, all the dancing, lightening blue in between those hours–and distraction was the norm on our island. I barely finished morning coffee before our feet were in glassy, snorkel-and-mask-navigable water. I rose in the middle of the night and sat on the balcony, staring at glowy incoming froth and surge, my heart synching with wave rhythm, sky the dark, sparkling gown of a Disney princess with an edge. We traveled with snorkeling gear and body boards in the trunk at all times, scouting out those beaches where we’d hold hands and glide through shallows, snorkel-gasping at the darting rainbows beneath us. Each dusk, after dinner, we were there again, knee deep in ripples, silhouetted by sky fire as sea turtles nibbled lagoon bits a couple of feet from our toes. Who can write when vacationing by/in such ocean?

Sunset swim.

Sunset swim.

Not I. Not me, either.

Any attempt at writing the first line of a poem or a holiday blog post turned me into a Merwin poser. Or possibly a Twain poser. Example of posing: Line above involving Disney princess gown. Example 2: The swaying-gold-and-green-pocket-watch that is an island slash master hypnotist.

IMG_7078

 

 

When what I felt the entire trip was so pleasantly, profoundly Muse-stirring.

Surge. The beyond-the-reef blues. Aquarium-shallows. No sharks.

This is not a boast: I’ve always considered myself to be very good at hind-sight. Time will tell.

And below is a monk seal, endangered, sleeping. Shh. He probably just ate. After monk seals eat, they must sleep before swimming again, or they’ll throw up and possibly die. Kind of like me (Bukowski? Ah, I wish). Good night, Merwin! RIP, Twain. Thank you for your deductions and truths pertaining to tropical islalnds. Sometimes, from that one Mulholland Drive “scenic” lookout, the distant hiss of the 101 Freeway is an ocean speaking. Though never paradise.

Digesting.

Digesting.

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Never Fails

Text conversation with my writing mentor as I attempted to send her crucial re-written novel pages before her plane took off, pages I was anxious for her input on so that I could meet a writing deadline ASAP, pages she generously agreed to read, despite the fact that she was in the middle of traveling (I love her):

Mentor (txt): Hurry we are taxi-ing down the runway.

Me (panicking before computer): Where did the document go??? Okay, attach the–but where is it??? Okay, attach–WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SEND BUTTON? WHY IS IT HIDING???????

My fingers became slugs. The world slowed down so much, I could feel it spinning. Days, perhaps weeks passed as I evolved into someone who has never used a computer in her life.

Me (with screams): Oh my god, there it is! SEND! SEND! SEND!

Me (txt): Gah just sent!!!
Mentor (txt): Got it!!!!

Me (in crumpled heap on floor as dog’s cold nose sniffed my face): Blrrrrrgh…

And here is a bird:

IMG_5277

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Mornings Become Them (Birds Edition)

Birds, birds everywhere.

Birds, birds everywhere.

615am–I get out of bed to let the dog outside and get back in bed forgetting to let the dog back in and he barks and I shoot out of bed not wanting the dog to wake the first grader and I let the dog inside and I get back in bed and the dog curls up on his saucer-bed by the bedroom bookshelves and for a second it’s quiet and then the house finches in the trees outside our bedroom window ignite in song, which wakes the keet who starts calling himself a good bird, such a good, good, bird, which wakes the Dragonbeast conure who shoots out of his yellow fuzzy cave-bed and rings his 6 dangling bells with attitude and I get out of bed and wheel the birds into the kitchen, flicking on the light before I leave them there so they won’t think I’m abandoning them, even though I am and they know it, and I get in bed and my iphone’s cello starts playing and I hear my husband’s limbs rustle sheets as he fights consciousness since he was up freelance writing until probably 3am so I get out of bed and the dog and I leave that scrumptious slumber-room and I shut the door behind us just in time to hear the coffee maker’s timer go off and at least there’s coffee and since I’m the only one in our house who drinks it I can be sure it’s just the car-oil-with-vanilla-cream way I like it and I pour myself a cup and sit before my Lenovo and focus on changing the climax of my children’s novel, making a mutant antagonist even more antagonistic, and after a bit my eye is caught by the bouquet of now wilting sunflowers w/roses my husband surprised me with for no reason a week ago and as the conure picks at a strawberry and the keet nibbles his slice of organic apple and the best light of the day for our house, morning light, illuminates interiors (and even wilting flowers) into paradise, I sip my coffee and wish for nothing (except, perhaps, more Muse, Muse, Muse…but who doesn’t wish for that…er, Her…). Good morning. Happy writing.

 

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All Schedules Thrown

IMG_6201 (2)And, suddenly, for a week, until summer camp started, the newly ex-Kindergartner and I were face to face over our morning pancakes, not an elementary school deadline in sight. “Let’s go to the beach!” he suggested. We did. “Museums!” We went there, too. “Waterpark!” Well, almost, but Hurricane Harbor had such bad reviews on Yelp (Hurricane Horror, Septic River…) I decided against it. We rode the ferry to Balboa Island instead–which is definitely not the same as shooting down a water slide, but surprisingly thrilling all the same. I was reminded of the years before my son started elementary school–the many outings we had–me slyly educating him on marine taxonomy at the beaches (“That’s an invertebrate, Mama!”—mwahaha!), me with him in my lap, wrapped in my arms, both of us watching the ocean change color (“Magenta, Mama!”—mwahaha!), me educating him on orchid varieties in the botanical gardens–and quickly realizing I know nothing about orchids, IMG_6204except that they’re pretty. This time, though, for a week, my son educated me, outing to outing—on the soaring capabilities of the Draco lizard, that dinosaurs are all around us because they’re birds, that he is perfectly capable of walking over to the surf from the towel I’ve placed on the sand BY HIMSELF and frolicking in the very-very-extremely-shallows BY HIMSELF without drowning or getting carried out to sea by a riptide or great white shark. For the week, we reconnected in a way I will always make time for in the future, when First Grade starts up and all that’s coming out of my mouth are nagging reminders. I’ll surprise him with dinner at the beach. Or we’ll do homework in a park with an accompanying picnic. Mix it up. Before it’s suddenly some unfathomable year and he is driving off into the sunset where colleges   live.IMG_6206

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Sad Santa Barbara

beach1My son and I were visiting his cousins when it happened. My husband, at home in Los Angeles, called me early Saturday morning with the news. I felt the same shock thousands of others were feeling in my town. The sun didn’t come out Saturday. The cloud cover was literally the pall we all felt.

But I have a child and he has young cousins. So I took them to breakfast by the beach and then I took them on the beach and we found a large crab shell, pointed at dolphins just off shore, and ran like crazy. So I took them to the Sea Center on the pier and despite having been there a million times the children eagerly studied shark egg sacs through a microscope, put on a marine puppet show in the booth provided by the center, and for about 5 minutes my son explained to me that sperm whales dive deep and eat giant squid and have scars on their bodies from fighting the squid.

In the gift shop, the salesgirl asked me how I was. I just had a feeling she was a college student and I asked her how she was holding up. She immediately told me she lived in Isla Vista, had heard the gun shots just as she was sitting down to eat dinner, knew people who were killed by the ‘lunatic’. “I’m in shock,” she told me. “It’s a nightmare.”

The children didn’t hear any of this. I told the salesgirl to take good care.

mission3Later, we walked my son and his cousins over to the Santa Barbara Mission to look at the iMadonnari chalk ‘paintings’ in progress. The paintings were beautiful, filled with positive messages celebrating our planet. It was dusk. The mission glowed serenely in its lighting. From the top steps, we could see all the way down through the city to darkening ocean.

On the steps, I closed my eyes and sent a prayer, a feeling, a bit of light, as much as I could muster.

mission1

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I-5 Pretty

In a previous post I regaled our drive from Los Angeles to parts further Northeast known as Tracy, Stockton and Sacramento. Namely, that interminable length from the end of the grapevine to whatever that KABOOM exit is that has Corral in the title, but all the locals call it Coral, even though it’s spelled Corral…

5on3I didn’t take any pictures of the I-5’s generous weather display that I described in the post, which is good as I was driving–but my husband took 2 pictures, something I discovered only yesterday, roughly 2 weeks after the trip. I think. Time is a strange invisible fog around here—is, furthermore: compressed eons filled with daily heroes, homework challenges for extremely young individuals, and many internal debates on sanity vs. naps–because napping means missing-out-on getting things done, in addition to strength. Feel the scales tip.

Bottom (helpful) truth? Beauty is everywhere (I hope)? Even on the I-5, along that grueling, Dante-ish bit of freeway between here and Tracy.

Yours in endless revision,

P (revising everything) B

5two

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Spring Break Snoozing (Wide Awake Edition)

During this luscious week of no school for the Kindergartner, we snooze well.

Except when we are awakened from chasm-sleep somewhere between 2a.m. and maybe 4:30a.m.—after the bars have closed, but before the rooster across the alley busts its lungs—after we’ve been asleep since pre-midnight eras, but before we’re ready for homemade banana pancakes (secreted with carrot puree and a teaspoon of some famous Vegan’s famously grassy powder). That iffy chunk of night when, if one should gasp to consciousness, one might plunge effortlessly back into sleep, as if nothing sleep-distracting had ever happened. Or, one might experience toe spasms (all 10), dreads thought dead, that the bedroom clock ticks, the inconvenience of 8 pillows on an outdated mattress gone (only at this time of night-morning) nails.

What happens:

16lb orangesicle kitten in repose.

16lb orangesicle kitten in repose.

I sit up with a soul-freezing gasp, the dog’s nose pushing into my palm. Staggering to the patio door, I let the dog out, falling backwards into the piano keys with a moan because the yard’s sensor lights flick on and are so very bright, just like they are every night. Toes cramping, I hobble outside: the dog’s barks are low and vicious and he’s just a friendly yellow lab who insists on love instead of peace—and there’s my 16lb kitten way out in the North 40, hunched on the wall, staring at something on the other side and I’m terrified he’ll jump or be attacked and I’m about to trek across the grass when back in the house the conure tucked in his bird mansion screams and my husband emerges from a giant’s shadow, shout-whispering WHAT THE HELL GET IN HERE PB as one of the 2 ancient cats does his all-is-lost Egyptian-tomb-echo yowl and I wonder why we even try to sleep, because really we’re missing out on so much—writing time, the black night’s silky cool, that strictly poetic mist gyrating around my kitten balancing a wall’s precipice, the magnificent pose of our dog protecting what he believes is his in fading sensor light—the Kindergartner’s sleep, undisturbed—my husband and I hovering over him, hand in hand, watching beauty in action.

IMG_0955

 

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A Weekend Of “Instead-Of’s” (Big Beach Edition)

Instead of the LA Times Book Fest, the beginning of my son’s Spring Break:
beachwalk

Instead of the LA Times Bookfest Poetry Tent, this:

tandtuckerhappy

Also a cave (!):

beachcave

This:

treebones

Er–and this (at a different beach–a short while later–if whiles can be short–why certainly they can be)

bchenrytalyor

But this evening? Spring Break or no? After 8pm (hopefuly 7:35pm for all involved), this:

mewrite

Happy Book Fest, Happy Beachfest, Happy Spring Break, (happy weather?) Happy Writing.

P (forging ahead) B.

 

 

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Spring Spirit 2014

Trafficjamoninterstate5atpyramidlake[1]We’d hoped to leave our valley by 10am. 430pm we were finally on the road. The little boy erupted in sneezes and coughing fits at the top of the Grapevine. When we stopped somewhere on the other side of the mountains to purchase cough syrup, Advil (for me) and really-bad-for-you popcorn (for the dadda), the dadda, the boy and I got out of the minivan and froze. Literally. Ahhhhh! Where Winter went! we said, ours having been depleted by the onslaught of heatwaves since Summer 2013.

The normally insufferable 5 Freeway offered views of wide, distant rainstorms. Sun penetrated clouds in glowing shafts—celestial sleeves (I said), until they turned green and became: Greeeensleeeeves, a lightshow on fields. Ahhhhhh! we remarked when the windshield wipers were activated. Weather! Rain! Glorious! Most beautiful drive up the 5 I’ve ever experienced. I’m always telling my son there is exciting weather in this world, weather that has nothing to do with consistent scorch. He finally believes me.

Driving to Citrus Heights.

Driving to Citrus Heights.

830am the next morning I was in Citrus Heights, which is a bit beyond Sacramento, and there was coffee in the community center’s main huge room and tasty treats, like donuts and things I never eat and totally did and enjoyed every last crumb. What could be better than coffee, donuts and Jay Asher giving the keynote? After listening to him, I decided not to let any potential rejections bother me for the rest of the year.

The conference sessions began. Okay, Spring Spirit organizers–Patricia Newman, Catherine Meyer and their crew–have the conference running like a well-oiled BMW. Sessions began promptly, were well presented and topics were timely for published to unpublished attendees. As for the attendees: So friendly. On breaks, we shared writing experiences, backgrounds and info—a fulfilling experience all around. Plus, I got to chat with writer Beth Hull, perhaps the biggest treat of the day for me.

Nikki Grimes gave the closing keynote. She talked about the importance of patience when writing and how she doesn’t have much of it, yet has loads. But not really. Which is how books happen. If you can ever hear her speak, you should–she has a great story to tell.

View of Midtown from the Magpie.

View of Midtown from the Magpie.

Suddenly it was over. How the HE** did that happen? On my way out of the center, I picked up my manuscript (first 25 pages of), which had been critiqued by a professional, an option offered by the conference. Later that night, after dinner with my niece at Magpie in Sacramento, the drive back to Stockton, too many chocolate chip cookies and a big glass of my father-in-law’s favorite zinfandel from a local winery, I read the critique and was stunned.

My critiquer was generous with her thoughts and comments in a constructive, positive manner. I could tell she really took the time to comb through those 25 pages and with the touch of a critic genuinely trying to help a writer. A wonderful end to the day.

Feed your Writer-You and go to the Spring Spirit. This was my second visit. I’m looking forward to next May. You can count on SS to give you more than what you’ve paid for. And who knows? You might see some weather. And hopefully my writing mentor  giving the keynote.

And here is a bird. Watching. You. Revise.

And here is a bird. Watching. You. Revise.

Yours in productive writing experiences (with Advil, if necessary, and cough syrup standing by, no donuts, but definitely coffee and hopefully some rain, although we’re back up to 95 degrees in our perpetually broiling valley),

P (achoo) B

 

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Discoveries (Balancing Edition)

It's good to go outside.

It’s good to go outside.

The huge benefit of being thrown by a horse and not being able to exercise for over a week or lie down on the bed without screaming in pain or do anything in between carrying on as a mother except sit in a high-backed chair in front of my computer with a cup of coffee, a bowl of organic strawberries and painkillers at the ready, is that I’ve re-learned the lesson of how much writing is required of writing.

I try to balance my writing schedule with exercise (an hour a day). I’m not a spring chicken and I have a six year old, so it’s very important to me that I am strong for my son. I want him to remember an energetic mom who ran with him in parks (he never has to know how much I am, sometimes, yearning for a nap during those runs). I don’t want him to see me always in front of the computer working, or always hastily vacuuming because I’ve spent so much time exercising and writing that the house is falling to dusty pieces around us.

Balance, I tell myself.

Yet—cutting out the exercise and vacuuming and having daily four hour writing stints of late? Talk about getting up close and deeply personal with a novel. I understand, now, why writers go on solitary writing retreats. I don’t want to go on a solitary writing retreat, but I get it.

Now that I’ve been given the all clear to (slowly) start exercising again, I’m wondering if I can get to bed earlier and rise earlier in order to allow more time to write. Unlike my husband, who rises at 530am each day to go jogging, I’m not a 530am type. 630am, okay, but by then it’s time to make the boy’s breakfast. It’s going to be interesting.

Because the happy truth is: I love that I like writing or revising for 4+ hour blocks, instead of 2 hours here and 2 hours in the evening, or 3 hours here and dashing to the computer in between flipping pancakes or while the meatloaf bakes and the boy watches a show, or while the boy is in the bath with his toys, etc. (My pancakes get 2 mins each side, so if I’m flipping a dozen, the minutes add up, but still–it’s just not the same, is it?) I’d go 5 hours, even 6 if I could, but then chaos would take over the world as no one would get fed and I wouldn’t be showering, so that’s out.

“I find it easier to get up early in the morning, and I like to get through by one or two o’ clock. I don’t do very much in the afternoon. I like to get out doors then if I can.”
—John Dos Passos

Yes! (And maybe still run to the computer in between flipping pancakes…etc.)

Yours in evolving writing schedules,

PB.

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Article At ‘Through The Tollbooth’!!!

My mentor. Absolute diamond herself.

My mentor. Absolute diamond herself.

My writing mentor, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, was interviewed by Catherine Linka (I’ve heard Catherine speak at SCBWI events–she is positively famous in our SCBWI Los Angeles circles) over at Through The Tollbooth. The interview is about Kathryn’s mentoring experience–er, of me! I read with my heart in my throat, and afterwards found a box of tissues. And now I am getting to work with gusto as I told Kathryn I would be sending her the revised first half of my novel along with (drumroll) the newly revised 2nd half, all the way to The End.

Check out the article! Check out Kathryn’s blog, A Twisted Clump of Seaweed.

Just one of Kathryn's many diamonds.

Just one of Kathryn’s many diamonds.

Read her multiple award winning books. If, like me, you are deep in the throes of creating and/or revising your middle grade novel, you’ll be so glad you’ve read Kathryn’s books. Every. Single. One.

And if you, too, think it’s high time you had a mentor, check out the SCBWI/California North Central site and read up.

Right–get to work!

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Falling (Whinnying Edition)

IMG_0402Leapt down the vastly spaced steps to the stalls, rounded the corner, Indy saddled up and ready to go, I talked to him, rubbed his cheek as I led him to the ring, a man opened the gate for me, in we went as I was informed my instructor was on her way, looked up, the sky was its special Spring blue, though it’s too early for Spring, but tell that to the buds and blossoms and nest-building finches fluttering around the eaves of the stalls, fixed the stirrups to No. 7, clicked my guy around to the mounting block, put one foot in the stirrup, other leg in mid-air as it headed over Indy’s back when he bolted–partial rearing, followed by crazed bolt towards the rail, when I pulled the reins they were longer than my body and my thighs weren’t even in the saddle, I was already tilting back and I knew I didn’t stand a chance of getting any kind of a grip, I was going to fall, so I let go and in the brief time it took to hit the ring’s coarse sand, I thought: land between your shoulders, don’t land on your spine, you’re a mother, you’ve got to walk, land between your shoulders and WHAM, I was down and in my periphery I saw Indy still bolting to the far side of the ring and I heard myself gasp and I thought: you can’t lie here, get up before you seize up and I said, Can someone help me up, please? and a man said, No, stay still, don’t move, but I had to move and when he wouldn’t help me, I rolled to my hands and knees and the man said, Look at you, you’re Superwoman, I thought you broke your arm, but it wasn’t my arm, it was my back and getting my breath to fit between my shoulders and this was difficult, but then the man helped me, I think he helped me up and then he disappeared and the stable hands just stared at me from behind the fencing, terrified, they watched me place one hand on the rail and one hand on my hip and try to breathe and suddenly one of them passed me leading Indy and I shouted, WAIT, WAIT! and staggered to Indy and stroked him and soothed him and told him he was such a good boy, what a good boy, that it was okay, everything was okay and Indy’s head jerked and his ears twitched and he was still partly in spook-mode, but I was so glad I petted him, so glad I assured him he was fine before I lurched to the minivan and drove off while calling my husband and then I was in tears, not for me, not for the pain, but because Indy had had such a bad scare and I didn’t know why and they hate it when their riders fall, they’re so sensitive, and suddenly my husband was saying he was hanging up and then he called back with an Urgent Care location because my doctor was ‘booked’ and I drove to Urgent Care and limped inside and they said, Ah,  it’s you, we’ve been expecting you, and they put me in a room where I wept and wept and apologized for being a big baby and then they pulled up the back of my new gray collared riding shirt that I picked up in the men’s section at JC Penney’s and they said, Oh wow and the doc took a picture of my backside with his phone and showed it to me and most of my back looked like it had been ripped up by tiger claws, but I don’t remember getting dragged, just slamming down, but before I could comment on such weirdness, they shot me in the arm with something and cleaned me up and prescribed ibuprofen, and another pain killer, and a narcotic painkiller and an antibiotic and then my husband was at my side and he drove me to get xrays and when we got home he helped me into bed and said, Oh, I guess they padded your butt for you, but it wasn’t padding, it was an extra black and blue butt that had blossomed on what used to be my original butt, although I didn’t feel the pain because I’d taken the narcotic pain killer with the other painkiller thinking I was taking ibuprofen with the other painkiller as I was told I could do and suddenly I felt goooood, so good and lay down and now it’s Friday and the scratches are healing and we looked at the xrays with the doc and he pointed out: absolutely nothing wrong. You are lucky, he said. You could have been Christopher Reeve (yes, he did actually say that). You are lucky and I am lucky and our son is lucky, said my husband. Whether I ride another day with a clear conscience instead of feeling like an irresponsible mother remains to be seen. One thing I learned despite all the weeping I did? I’m stronger than I ever realized. Lucky. Stronger. Grateful.

Good to know.

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Spacks Street

BarrySpacks[1]

Painting by Jack Smith

Sunday, a memorial for the poet Barry Spacks took place. I arrived at Santa Barbara’s Museum of Contemporary Arts 10 minutes early for the service to find it mobbed. Wonderful! Seats went fast. I sat next to the poet Dan Gerber. The last time I saw Dan was at a “Moon” poetry reading at the art gallery Sullivan Goss  (Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara), which was the last time I saw Barry Spacks. Dan Gerber, Barry Spacks, poet/songwriter Will Jennings and I each read poems in honor of full moons and the art of Lockwood de Forest, whose “moon” paintings were featured in the SG gallery at that time. A bonifide full moon ringed its light through a heavily misted Santa Barbara. Twinkle lights twined every palm tree. On the gallery’s front balcony, artists sketched the moon and sketched the mist as guests mingled and admired Lockwood’s creations. And there was Barry with his moon poem, his eyes radiating his own trademark twinkle.

Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Chryss Yost started off the (standing room only) memorial by letting us know what a blessing it is to have many more friends than chairs, and then she turned the mic over to Barry’s family, close friends, musicians, artists—you could say Renaissance Man, absolutely, to describe Barry–poet, actor, musician, artist, teacher, mentor to so many, including me—he was a dedicated explorer of life.

Barry’s art will be featured at Sullivan Goss Thursday, April 8th. Each piece will cost $108, the money benefitting a charity he believed in. Spacks Street T-shirts will also be for sale. If you don’t know what Spacks Street is, go to spackstreet.com and have a read. After visiting Spacks Street, if you didn’t know Barry, you will wish you had.

My little tribute to Barry was posted in the museum with other tributes. Here it is:

When I was 17 years old, I was cast in a production of Tartuffe’s, ‘The Miser’, at Santa Barbara City College. I played Marianne, the naif slated to marry the miser himself, who was played by Barry Spacks. In the make-up room, Barry sang. A lot. His eyes were constantly twinkling as he powdered up and he was full of a bubbly (yes, bubbly) energy that infected cast and crew. He walked around in his costume tights as though he wore them every day. He was unselfconscious, really friendly and always interested in what others in the cast were up to or their opinions on the works of Moliere and the play. Then he’d get on stage and be this nasty miser guy that scared the bejeezus out of me. One thing I remember so well is how, in the makeup room, powder and hairspray wafting everywhere, he would proclaim how excited he was that his Lady Love was either going to be in that night’s audience, or he was all excited to be joining her for some fun evening after the show. At 17, I had never heard a man call his woman a Lady Love before. I never forgot that. When I was 18, Barry was the first “real” poet to critique my weird fledgling poetry. He was very generous with his comments. He gave me words of advice I remember to this day (luckily). In the theatre, it’s so important to be able to trust your castmates. Everyone trusted Barry. He went for his ‘Miser’ role with major, humbling gusto. In the decades to come, whenever I saw Barry, we shared a giggle about ‘The Miser’. I am so very grateful to have known him. I always have and will continue to learn about poetry through his work.

Thank you, Barry.

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The Women’s National Book Association

Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Keynote Speaker!

Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Keynote Speaker!

I was made aware of the WNBA/LA thanks to my middle grade writing mentor, Kathryn Fitzmaurice (ask me if I am lucky to have her as my mentor and you will hear amplified hell yeah’s).

She gave one of this weekend’s conference keynotes. It was very exciting for her to prepare this speech as she was expected to talk for 45 minutes. A one-woman show, indeed!

Kathryn is as good a choice for a keynote speaker as she is a mentor. She reminds me of Glinda the Good Witch, but wicked smart. Kind, enthusiastic, wise and filled with patience and writing news and constructive criticism, Kathryn is also extremely book-business-savvy, not to mention generous and the list goes on and on. If you’re a middle grade book writer, you must read her novels. You will learn so much and enjoy yourself while learning.

Kathryn and I share a huge love of the ocean, beaches, seashells (her blog is called ‘A Twisted Clump of Seaweed’). Since my middle grade novel centers around all of these things, she is, truly, the perfect mentor. I am very grateful.

If you are looking for a mentor, then keep watch on the SCBWI CA/North Central site for news of the next mentorship program.

And do it.

If you’re looking for an organization within which to network and attend conferences and panels, then definitely visit The Women’s National Book Association LA, or check to see if they have a chapter in your state. They just might.

I really wanted to be at Kathryn’s keynote, but I have a 6 year old with the stomach flu and a hard working husband. I am positive every second inside of every minute of the entire 45 was worth listening to.

Posted in books, Children's Books, Faction, Fiction, middle grade, Writing, Writing Progress, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Farewell February

IMG_5131Because it’s my birthday month, because it’s not only a pink month, or red for hearts, or purple for amethyst (birthstone), because I had a milestone birthday and went all crazy in the head and panicky in the days (who am I kidding: months) leading up to my birthday, because having the penultimate birthday led me deep into thanks and recognition of a multitude of blessings in my life, because I will use anything for an excuse to have a toast with a glass of good Chardonnay—even though I don’t have any Chardonnay, good or bad, in the house at the moment—I bid you, O Valentine February, a fond–yes, that’s right, fond, not resentful—farewell. I have grown up so much in your 28 days and have calmed down since blowing out the singing blue thing on a birthday cake so perfectly round and sweetly topped and chocolatey I cried and ate more than two pieces. I look forward to growing for the rest of 2014 (not growing huge from eating lots of cake, but growing wiser) in areas of motherhood, spousal partnership, writing, and staying in the damn saddle during my lessons. I am so happy to be here, in this unique world of opportunity and creativity. Thank you, February. In your final hours, go and be good to others—send Muses and excellent grammar to writers, confidence to ever-vigilant mothers and fathers everywhere, and apple carrot cookies to horses.

And don’t forget to write.

The singing blue thing, lights blown out.

The singing blue thing, lights blown out.

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Speaking of Passivity

Ice_Cream_dessert_02It went like this: Google. Amazon. Facebook. Facebook IM. Back to Amazon. Weather (from Bing–weather.com is too hideous). Figuring out how to make Bing stop showing up whenever I clicked on a new tab. The Holy Checking of Email. And then I was about to launch into important revisions of my ms when I blundered into Grammar Girl and a post regarding the passive voice. Recently, on Facebook, friends of a friend were all hot and bothered and up in arms about the passive voice and when it is or isn’t and Grammar Girl is quite helpful and succinct and admits that even though was might be in a passive voice sentence, it’s not necessarily the reason the sentence is in the passive voice, but is, rather, a clue that the sentence is probably written in the passive voice or something like that and Ben & Jerry’s just came out with CORE ice cream, did you read about that? Let’s go get some. Right now. And switch into present participles. Before we become too passive. And. You know. Fragmented. And let’s be Advil swallowing! Using wine.

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Staying The Course

iggySaturday morning I rose when our son (impossible to wake on a school day) woke at 5:30a.m. to begin a weekend of attending birthday parties, completing school projects, and constant verbalized hankering for Minecraft (it was Survivalcraft, until we realized the animals “kill” and, therefore, the player must “kill” the animals in order to survive–wolves, lions, it seemed as if even the donkeys attack?—yes, I discovered the non-violent Survivalcraft playing mode after completing Internet Research For Freaked Out Moms Like Me, but in a city whose buses are currently emblazoned in pictures of Liam Neeson wielding a gun, to which my son responds–as I drive him to Kindergarten–COOL–safe or non-safe Survivalcraft must just, seriously, be banned in our happy home.

dragonsNo, you’re not nuts–I’m still writing within the parentheses: As a kid, I was forbidden to watch The Flintstones, or Scooby Do. My mother despised how the Flintstones yelled at each other. Probably because she and my dad did a good job of that on their own. I don’t know why she objected to Scooby Do, specifically, but all would probably have been well by banning those programs IF we had not lived in England at the time, where The Flintstones was ridiculed,  but Scooby Do was HUUUUGE. And, because Scooby was an American show, I was expected, by my peers, to know what was going on episode to episode. I was trying to make new friends in a foreign country and I was forbidden from watching one of that country’s most popular shows amongst its young…

Still in parentheses and lunging for parallels: My son’s Kindergarten pals rave about Survivalcraft. I am the mom saying, NOOOO MY LITTLE LOVECUP . We become our parents? Although, I was never referred to as LOVECUP by my parents…I want him to know about the games his peers are playing–but he’s only 6. He’s only 6. He’s only 6…)

quacken

Books–the ultimate antidote for anything troubling

O Weekend! Your sun shines, your parks and beaches and birthday parties and independent bookstores with gratifying children’s books sections are calling as your device screens are touched—–to black.

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Poems By Lantern Light

pome4Well, the Good Luck Bar never disappoints, does it? The red and tasseled lanterns are BIG, which is an extremely smart decorating move as they make an instant impression when you trip over the threshold into the semi-seamy (but not really) sparkle-darkness of one of the coolest bars in town. Rhapsodomancy, under the astute eye of Wendy Ortiz, comes on in and turns the bar’s faux opium den into a poetry reading den and it works, it all just works and magic takes over and everyone chats with people they’ve never met before and listens well as they sip their drinks, all cozy on the lounge-like (vaguely tasseled) seating. It’s the sort of bar that transports you into a time you enjoy not actually placing. At least, that’s what happens to me in there. You go on, now, go and see for yourself in April, at the next reading.

I read this poem, among others. It’s one of my favorites, one of the first I wrote coming out of my fog of sleepless motherdom. Askew Poetry Journal first published it. All hail Phil Taggart and Marsha de la O, editors–a truly creative duo.

Run

Sun the fog’s ball snagged by a suburban barrier
of giraffe-necked palms. My lawn in recess: churched
(this formal stillness, fog-tuned).
My lawn is Winter’s readied bride, her chill-
wrap tight over tips, her delicate sweat.
Here, the deciduous
mutter off their leaves by the evening’s folding light
as I watch 2 boys chasing impulse
in cold separating the fog, setting the moon
risen so early in her hypocrisy of flaws
(O pocked resilience).
Run, run.
Their rocket gasps, blood-worked,
tidal energy
pushed the length of my yard’s
walls of safe. I search for comfort
in time-traveling domesticity and grippable
martyrs: books I resented others
owning until I arrived
in this pocket of breathy Eden, clueless.
Cold frills the air. I watch
the Cyclops bent on counter-
clockwise logic, its eye’s glass-cuts
old trickery I won’t translate. Won’t.
Run. Run.
Sun shatters into anemone sky.
My speck-titans so suddenly famous:
they in their sweet hides, I in my cloak-bane,
howling with half-sight, knocked (I get: you),
ever on the chase.

hee hee

hee hee

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