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 http://www.mounthopemagazine.com/.)

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   http://themiloreview.com/all-the-sweet-and-beautiful-boys/.)
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.”