Monday, December 23, 2013

From Rosemary to Rudy - An Accidental Love Song

I don’t read newspapers much. I find it hard to keep heart if I’m fully aware of what’s going on – the kidnappings and hurricanes, the smoking remains of a crumpled cockpit and the hard set of a senator’s jaw in the midst of a campaign. One day, though, I was in a coffee shop and a headline caught my eye: It said that the singer Rosemary Clooney had died.

Movie musicals have always lit up my family life. My mother and I used to sing “Shall We Dance?” as we dusted the living room, taking care to imitate Yul Brynner’s accent as the King of Siam. Later on, my son would put on a plastic top hat and pretend he was Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. My four-year-old daughter continued the tradition when she asked for a wedding gown for Christmas so that she could look like Tevye’s eldest daughter in Fiddler on the Roof’s “Sunrise, Sunset” scene.

My husband and I were visiting my parents for the holidays when we first saw White Christmas. Joining my brother and his wife on the couch, we all delighted in the movie’s over-the-top Technicolor corniness, collectively cracking up when Bing Crosby called Danny Kaye a “weirdsmobile” and also when the two actors (with batting eyes and fluttering fans), pranced through their “Sisters” routine.

Of the two actresses in the movie – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen – we all loved Rosemary. She was the cool, womanly one, looking as solid and strong as her voice sounded while she struck sultry poses and sang “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me.” In a black mermaid dress that left her broad white back and shoulders bare, she was the opposite of the poor, ailing Vera-Ellen, in her pony tails and turtle necks.

After reading Rosemary’s obituary – and the details of her professional and personal descent in the 1960’s, which was followed by a career revival and a late marriage to a lover she’d jilted four decades before – I decided I wanted to write about her. However, the words, as they tend to do, took a different turn, and I somehow ended up writing an ode to Rudolf Nureyev instead.

Here’s to more curving paths in the coming year. Sometimes they take us where we need to go.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Dear Friends,

You know that feeling -- the burn of embarrassment over some old picture of yourself. I was not entirely thrilled when my beloved cousin posted this photo of me online. The pixie haircut and red bathing suit were bad enough, but the angry I-want-my-graham-cracker-now! look on my face was just downright humiliating.

When my son and daughter saw the picture, though, they laughed with approval. "You're roaring!" they both said. Yeah. I like that -- a different way of seeing myself. Maybe I'll make this photo my coat of arms and fly it from my balcony.

You might want to give it a try too. Take a look at an old picture of yourself. You just might see something new.

Speaking of roaring, my short story "Some Tigers" was just published by Gold Man Review. In the piece, tigers live amongst people. They're not exactly pets -- more like friends or relatives. Trouble and other good things ensue. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013


We had a fantastic time last month at my Saturday morning creative writing class. With the studio's red walls and collages and mobiles all around us, we let our imaginations run wild as we wrote about lobster bibs and red berets, a log cabin and a pink Camaro, Marilyn Monroe and Mahatma Gandhi.

I can't wait to see where our writing will take us next time.

Creative Writing for Adults (ages 16+)
Saturday morning, 10-11:30am
December 14th
100th Monkey Studio, 1600 SE Ankeny St.
Cost: $20 per class

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Yours ...Truly

What are your obsessions? Your interests, your hobbies, your passions that make you uniquely you?

Our neighbor has a room in his basement where he hand paints tiny replicas of real French soldiers. In his garage-turned-woodshop, my husband has a display of old saws. Our friend, whose dream is to open a brew pub, owns over a thousand beer glasses.

As for me, I have a thing for the funny dresses I find in the Goodwill bins. Dresses with big flowers and flounces and pleats and puffs. They're usually crammed into a narrow closet full of things I don't actually wear in public, but every now and then I pull one out and put it on, and all day long I want to laugh.

On my silly dresses I often wear a little pin - a bluebird, a butterfly, a ladybug. By far my favorite one is the honey bee. I've had it so long I don't even remember who gave it to me, but I like to think it was a gift from my grandmother.

Gram lived to be 101. A few weeks before she died she took my cold hand between her two warm ones. By the time I left her, my whole body felt like a glowing furnace, like I could heat a room, a house, the world with the warmth Gram gave to me.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

O Pioneers!

Hello friends! 

I’m about to have a birthday, which makes me think of new adventures. Not African safaris or expeditions into the Amazon. I’m thinking about the kind of adventures I see people all around me embracing every day as they explore new territories within their own lives. Like our movie-loving friend Jeff who left his longtime job as an ad-man to re-open a theater appropriately named The Joy. Or the couple next door who just got married at an outdoor wedding in the Columbia Gorge. Or my brother James - a father of two grown children - who's started running races in recent years. Or our teenage daughter who decided to be a vegan and eagerly searches the web each morning for new recipes. Or her English teacher, Mr. Gordin, who went back to school to get his master’s degree. Or our son who’s creating an online consortium of movie critics. Or my cousin’s husband who’s been learning to speak Spanish. Or my friend Lindy who retired from her job as a high school counselor and is diving into the art of fiction writing. Or my husband, who once learned to swim at his neighborhood's Cabana Club and has just taken up the sport again, stopping at our community center to do a few laps before coming home from work.

Today in Portland the sky is a solid sheet of November gray, but the golden leaves are glowing and new possibilities are astir, as thrilling as an autumn breeze.

Here’s to all of you, dear friends, as you each embark on your own adventures. May we all continue to delight, surprise and inspire each other in myriad ways and at any age.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Some BLT's and a Pot of Tea

Here's an excerpt from my essay "Baila Conmigo," which appeared in Perceptions Magazine of the Arts last spring -

El Día de los Muertos is a day of celebration. In Mexico the banks are closed and in Guatemala people fly giant kites. People all over the world make elaborate altars, ofrendas, in their homes and prepare the favorite foods of their departed loved ones.

If our family celebrated the Day of the Dead, I'd make BLT's for my grandmother, who lived to be 101. For my mother-in-law, who grew up on a farm in Scotland, I’d serve biscuits with a pot of Tetley Tea. To honor my father, we’d have handfuls of cookies and bowls of ice cream—the foods he wasn’t allowed to have when he was living.

Some say that the souls of the dead return to earth each year. I think my mother-in-law, who died 18 years ago, returned last spring. I dreamed I saw her wearing a tweed skirt and a cardigan she’d knit herself.

Sometimes I think of this:  E.M. Forster’s life and mine overlapped for eight years. Maud Hart Lovelace was living in California when I first read her book Heaven to Betsy. Laura Ingalls Wilder was still alive when my parents met.

“Only connect,” our friend E.M. famously said.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dance, Dance Revolution

Teachers. I like them. I even married one. Our daughter was four when she started taking ballet.  I’d always been drawn to dance and had tried taking a class myself, but when my smirking teacher saw how lost I was, he told me I could just stand in the back and watch.

I didn’t have the nerve to try ballet again until I saw how patient my daughter’s teacher was. A few months later, I signed up for Miss Barbara’s adult class, and the year after that I appeared on stage in my first performance. (“What’s Love Got To Do With It,” an essay about those early attempts at dancing, has just been published by Mount Hope Magazine

As much as I love ballet, I was also dazzled by Miss Barbara’s teaching, and I knew I wanted to do that too – to share what I loved with other people. The first time I taught Creative Writing, I had a group of kindergarteners peer into a pool of waving water and dictate to me what they saw. Since then, I’ve had the good fortune of working with kids of all ages as well as adults who bring an eagerness and sense of adventure to every class.

I have two new adult creative writing classes coming up this fall. In these hour and a half sessions, we’ll write from prompts to create fresh images, voices or subjects that may become the raw material for poems, stories, personal essays and other creative pieces.  All experience levels are welcome.  Tutus are optional.

Creative Writing for Adults
Saturday mornings, 10-11:30am
November 16th & December 14th
100th Monkey Studio, 1600 SE Ankeny St.
Age: 16+
Cost: $20 per class

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Devil's Attic

What was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid? My husband still remembers the robot suit his dad made for him out of a cardboard box and a roll of foil.

When we were little, you'd see a parade of hobos and gypsies, cowboys and clowns all parading along the dark suburban sidewalks. The devil, in a leering red paper mask, was another popular one.

I never dressed as the devil, but every now and then I do feel like he's taken up residence in my head. Here's a poem of mine that won a prize from the Oregon Poetry Association and was published in Verseweavers this year.

The Devil’s Attic

Anger has found himself a home,
nestled in the apartment upstairs,
he’s put up red velvet drapes and
an antique lamp he found in the street,
installed a stereo system and rolled out
Persian rugs.  Taking pleasure in everything,
he especially enjoys his evenings, stretching
his fingers toward the fire, his skin glows
as he pokes at the logs, making new sparks
before the flames dull to smoke.

These are the quiet times, between
the heated parties, the shrill laughter
and the shattered glass, the pounding feet
dancing to a drunken beat, a clashing cymbal,
the occasional scream.  He is the undesirable
tenant who never leaves—even when I hang
white laundry on the line or make a point of
sniffing a pineapple sage leaf.  I can smile until
my jaws ache, eat a cherry, sew a new skirt,
tie a satin ribbon around my waist, and Anger
will still sit back in his plush chair and let me slide
leather slippers on his feet, he will keep
holding up his glass, and I’ll be there,
ready to pour him a drink. 




Sunday, October 20, 2013

In Good Company

You’ve been in love – you know what it’s like.

My creative essay “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” will appear in the next issue of Mount Hope Magazine. As thrilled as I am to be published in this journal, I got even more giddy when I saw that Margot Livesey also had an essay in Mount Hope’s last issue.

Ms. Livesey is the author of seven novels, including The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Gemma, a 1960’s version of Jane Eyre, is an 18-year-old orphan with a passion for math and enough moxie to handle her Mr. Rochester (called Mr. Sinclair in this book), despite their creepy age difference.

I’d read the book during an August heat wave. As I sprawled on the couch with a fan aimed at my legs, Ms. Livesey took me on a trip to the Orkney Islands – where the natives wear Wellies and heat their houses with peat fires – then she flew me over to Iceland, with its bright-colored houses and jagged mountains. While the fan in my living room provided some relief, Ms. Livesey’s artistry was as refreshing as an alpine breeze, and I’d found two more people to love – both the fictional Gemma Hardy and her creator.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Ghosts of U of O

My friend was a photographer, but I liked taking pictures of her. She had long dark bangs that hung in front of her big dark eyes. That first year at U of O, I snapped a picture of her laughing with a Knack album resting on her knees, and one of her on the lawn outside my dorm, her own camera dangling from a strap in her hand. In another shot, she’s standing in the Pioneer Cemetery, the slanting graves and glowing autumn light behind her, emphasizing her other-worldness, that quality that put her just a little out of reach.

Today the U of O library has a new reading room – a quiet place with cushioned seats set by tall, wide windows that look out onto the cemetery with markers that memorialize a young mother, a judge, an infant son, a Civil War veteran and a young girl who died of diphtheria. Outside, new students pass by, lugging loaded backpacks. They could be on their way to a class or the cafeteria, or maybe to meet a friend....

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Out, damned spot!

My mom took me to see The Sound of Music when I was about 10 years old. Later that day she noticed me moping around the house. When she asked what was wrong I burst into tears and said, “I want to be an actress!”

That same year I fell in love with Shakespeare and used to memorize whole speeches, pretending I was Beatrice giving Benedict a run for his money or Helena chasing after Demetrius into the forest.

While I have yet to pursue a career on stage or screen, I think the impulse to create fictional characters on the page is akin to acting. As a writer, you can imagine what it's like to be a detective, as Kate Atkinson does in her Jackson Brody mysteries, or a boy who impulsively quits his grocery store job, as John Updike did in his story "A & P."

My latest story is about two sisters living in a fictional country during a fictional war, and while I was writing it I was immersed in those characters and that world. (You can read “All the Sweet and Beautiful Boys” at
As for my theatrical ambitions, I’m a bit past the age where I could play one of the singing von Trapp children or the lead in a Shakespearean comedy, but Lady Macbeth is still a possibility….

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dear Diary

At the age of 15, James Drummond Ferguson left his working-class school in Glasgow, Scotland to apprentice as a printer.  By the time he was in his mid-60’s, he and his wife, Bessie, were retired and living in Starlight Hills, a modest suburb in Fremont, California – also known as the end of the BART line. He went to church on Sundays, paid his union dues and sat in his mushroom-colored recliner after supper to watch his favorite TV shows, like Cheers and Seinfeld.

James, who was my husband’s father, also kept a daily diary. Although his letter-writing style was both humorous and elegant (with the rhythm of his rich Scottish brogue giving his correspondence with old friends a rolling, musical quality), his diary entries were different. Each one was brief. Almost as dry as a grocery list, they provided a simple record of that day’s activities – “Walked around Lake Elizabeth,” “Met with elders,” “Potluck with the Moores,” “Phoned Neil.”

I still remember him showing me one of these volumes after dinner one evening in 1988. Although I’d worked professionally as a business writer and an editor, I’d never been interested in keeping a diary before that moment and certainly never thought of myself as being especially creative. Inspired by my father-in-law’s simple entries, though, I started my own journal the next week. Like James, I began by keeping my entries short, but soon (and with no conscious effort on my part), they gradually morphed into tentative explorations of storytelling that were sprinkled with metaphors and images and a voice that sounded a lot like me.
Looking back, I can see how, with my father-in-law’s help, I accidentally tricked myself into becoming a fiction writer and a poet. Instead of picking up a pen and saying “I shall now write a Poem,” I simply opened my Week-at-a-Glance diary and began with the words “Murray and I drove to Brookings.”


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I'll Get You, My Pretty

My flash-fiction piece “What I Do When I Can’t Sleep” just came out in the fall 2013 issue of Cloudbank, a print journal. It’s the story of a witch who wears a green satin dress and carries a torch for an astronaut. The dress was real, a gift to me from my dad’s Aunt Jimmie, a small, gravelly-voiced lady who wore red lipstick on her creased lips and offered us chocolates, probably Van Duyn’s or Whitman’s. When I was about eight, I dug Aunt Jimmie’s green satin dress out of my dress-up box and wore it for Halloween as part of my witch costume. Some people think an interest in clothes is frivolous, but that dress, with its gleam, had power. Just thinking about it now, makes me feel like I could fly….

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Secret Lives of Artists

I’ll let you in on a secret – writers aren’t all the hair-pulling, angst-ridden artists portrayed in books and movies.
They’re people who like to tell a funny story  or craft a clever line.  People who want to explore the paths of their own imagination or revisit the events – both big and small – that make up their own lives.  People who have something they’ve been wanting to say and people who simply like to make things, to play.  In other words, writers are people just like you.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cinderella's Famous Ride

My poem "The Ride" is in the summer issue of VoiceCatcher.  I wrote this poem when our children were small.  We all had a thing for the story of Cinderella, and so we acted out different versions of it every night.  Our son was a prince with a paper crown and my husband got a kick out of playing the wicked stepmother...but that's another story. Here's a link to the journal -