Friday, January 24, 2014

Comin' Thro' the Rye

Long before Holden Caulfield ever imagined himself on a cliff catching children, Robert Burns (that sexy, self-educated Scotsman) wrote his song “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye.”

Gin a body meet a body
Comin’ thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?

Gin a body meet a body
Comin’ thro' the glen
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warl' ken?

Ilka lassie has her laddie,
Nane, they say, ha’e I
Yet all the lads they smile on me,
When comin' thro' the rye.

Burns was born 255 years ago on January 25. If you feel like giving it a try, enjoy the rolling rhythms of  his “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” by reading it aloud -- or even sing it, if you know the tune. Then light a candle and kiss someone in celebration of the life of this poet who continues to urge us all to relish our own lives.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ground Control to Major Tom

My daughter recently got into David Bowie, and I’ve had the first line of his song “Space Oddity” going through my head for the last few weeks. I find myself singing it (in my best pre-Ziggy-Stardust voice) at random times throughout the day – while I’m driving to work or cooking a carrot soup or checking my email.

I suppose that’s what happens when you hang around other people – their habits and hobbies and interests tend to rub off on you. During my sixth grade Gone With the Wind kick, I addressed my mother as “Miss Barbara” (in a Southern drawl, of course), and she returned the favor by calling me “Miss Linda” for many years to come. I started researching the life of Emily Roebling when our son, at age eight, got obsessed with the Brooklyn Bridge, which Emily's husband built, and I immersed myself in John Lennon lore during our family’s Beatlemania phase. Thanks to that obsession, I even ended up writing a short story, “The People v. Hiroko Uno,” which was published by Imitation Fruit a few years ago. (

That’s one of the many things I love about teaching creative writing classes – all the participants inspire each other. We hear someone read a story that cracks everyone up, and we all know we want to try our hands at humor too. Or another writer will share an elegiac piece that’s so moving the room is silent for a moment after she’s done reading, and we feel the call to tiptoe into new territory.

Luckily for me, I reap armloads of creative inspiration through all the students I teach each week. This Saturday I get to meet with yet another small group at 100th Monkey Studio, and you’re welcome to join us too. Besides leaving with some new material of your own, I guarantee your unique voice will serve as inspiration for someone else.

Creative Writing Saturdays
100th Monkey Studio, 1600 SE Ankeny
Saturday, January 18, 10 – 11:30am
Cost: $20

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Read On, Macduff!

Dear Friends,

My daughter spent her winter break composing college essays. One question asked her to write about a piece of art that expanded her world view. Here are some books that did that for me in 2013.

Margaret Fuller: A Life. Megan Marshall takes her meticulous research about the famous feminist icon and spins a spellbinding story of a living, breathing woman.

Nine Horses by Billy Collins. The plain-speaking former poet laureate reflects on a chess piece found in the park and a song looping through his head and somehow touches on our need for transcendence.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. A call for us all to work and love and learn and rise.

Clair de Lune by Jetta Carleton. An odd, newly discovered novel about a young depression-era teacher who yearns to live a larger life. Jetta Carleton’s words are like rare jewels catching light.

Mink River by Brian Doyle. A lyric novel peopled with a cast of colorful characters singing a mischievous, healing song.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. A woman keeps dying and getting a chance to live her life again. No, that’s not it. I’m too in awe of Kate Atkinson, the Empress of Dark Wit who also has the humanism of E.M. Forster, to attempt to describe her newest book in a few sentences. Let me just say that reading her work is a little like listening to Mozart or seeing one of Shakespeare’s plays or watching the sun rise over Mt. Hood. How can it be that this world of ours, which has produced internment camps and juntas, has also graced us with such art?

Wishing you all a happy new year full of your own reading adventures!