Monday, December 19, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

My son, after his first Portland State
University choir concert in 2009.

I'm happy to have one of my poems included in the new collection from The Poeming Pigeon. Poems About Music includes a chorus of powerful work by Tricia Knoll, Carolyn Martin, Judith Arcana, Shawn Aveningo, Claudia F. Savage, and many others. To buy a copy of the book, click

My contribution to the journal, a piece called "My Son, Singing," was inspired by the many Portland State University choir concerts I attended when my son was a member of the aptly named Man Choir. As the granddaughter of a drummer/dance band leader and the sister of a trumpet player, I've always been in awe of anyone with musical talent, although I'm proud to say that I've recently learned how to pick out "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" on the piano, much like George Bailey's daughter Janie does in It's a Wonderful Life.

Our family watches that movie every year, but this December it took on a new meaning. Mr. Potter, a wealthy, "frustrated, warped old man" steals $8,000 from good-guy George Bailey's puny business and gets poor George in trouble with the law. But never fear, the regular folks of the town raise the cash to keep him from going to jail. Mr. Potter gets off scot-free (and gets to keep the money), but who cares? The rest of the town celebrates Christmas together by singing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Let Those Love Now

Here is a small offering -- a poem published by The Poeming Pigeon: Poems About Food, which was launched this time last year. I wrote this piece on a happier day eight years ago, but the sentiment still applies today. Thank you to editor Shawn Aveningo and the contributors of this volume. You are all beacons of light.

Let those love now*

I want to make you all some good, hot food,
to feed you polenta baked until it forms a crispy
peppered crust, then serve up ruffled greens
and soft biscuits filled with steaming fruit.
I want to cook all morning and afternoon,
to make you valentine-shaped cookies
sprinkled with cinnamon, and also pies
packed with dark red cherries that sing
with a deep, bubbling juice,
like a choir joining voices beneath
a domed ceiling. I want to feed you all,
from the grandmother left sitting alone
in a shadowed room to the cool, pale sister
with the cracked-plate smile.
Come, let’s all take our places at a table
where our combined brilliance will outshine
all the candles and the stars and the sun at noon.
Let’s pass our stories to one another
like a bowl of plump, green olives
or a basket of warm, sighing bread.
Here, at this table, we can all savor the alchemy
of a creamy cheddar cheese laced with chives,
and when we’re done feasting, we can
each have a slice from a single cucumber,
so that its sweet, clean taste will linger
on our tongues.

*Thomas Parnell, Translation of “The Vigil of Venus,” attributed to Tiberianus;
“Let those love now who never loved before;/Let those who always loved, now love the more.”

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Wardrobe

My chapbook, Baila Conmigo, is featured on "The Wardrobe," which publishes work by women writers. If you have a book you'd like to submit, you can find the site at While you're there, scroll down and enjoy work by a number of creative and inspiring women writers, including Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Summer Stock

Surfers on the Oregon Coast in August.

It may be fall here in Portland, but summer is still ahead for Australia. If you're not quite ready to set our warmest season aside (along with your flip flops, beach blanket and sunscreen), you can still enjoy the bare feet and warm breezes of summer in the new anthology from Australian publisher Pure Slush. 

Among the stories in Summer (as this volume is aptly titled), is my flash fiction piece "Aptitude," which is basically a true story. O.K., I've never worked as a computer programmer, and I don't have a sister. But the feeling of being trapped in a job that sets your teeth (or maybe every single molecule in your body) on edge is a feeling I once knew well. While such experiences are character-building, at the time, all you want is to find the closest exit.

This issue from Pure Slush also includes evocative poetry by Janet Malotky, Mercedes Webb-Pullman and A.J. Huffman - to name just a few of the talented contributors.

To get a copy of Summer (as a print or e-book), you can visit

Friday, September 2, 2016

Anything Goes

This is an exciting time for memoir writers because when it comes to form, everything is up for grabs.

Some lines from recent memoirs. Left to right:
 Mary Norris, Ruth Reichl, Ann Patchett.*

If you're a songwriter, you can write lyrical musings like Patti Smith's M Train. For experimental writers, there's more free-form, surreal work such as Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior. Prefer pictures to words? Try creating a graphic memoir like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Letter aficionados can put together a collection of their own correspondence, foodies can structure their reminiscences around recipes, and people with more out-there interests can surprise us with their passion for jigsaw puzzles or punctuation rules.

At the memoir table, there's room for everyone -- including writers of traditional works that begin with childhood and move on to adult adventures. Age, too, is no barrier for contemporary memoir. We all have a wealth of stories, whether you’re a recent college grad or a retiree.

Of course the current freedom in memoir writing can also be a curse. Advice-givers always say to write what you know, but with so many topics and forms to choose from, where do you start? You may think you want to write about your trip to India then realize you'd rather focus on your college romances or the grandmother who taught you to golf. With first-person writing, we often have two kinds of memories: the ones we want to write about and the ones that want to be written.

For female writers who want help getting started, I'm teaching a class on Creative Memoir for Women this fall. In this group, we’ll read excerpts from a wide range of personal narratives, then we’ll mine our own memories as we write from prompts, generating material for potential essays, stories, poems, journal entries or hybrids of these genres. I'll also suggest assignments to help each participant keep her pen moving outside of class.

Whether you want to record your memories for future generations or you have a yen to explore your experiences through writing, I invite you to join this encouraging group and see what rises to the surface.

Creative Writing for Women

Mondays, October 3 - November 14
10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
$12 to drop in for a class or $70 for all 7 weeks
All experience levels welcome
Taborspace, 5441 SE Belmont, Portland 

* Mary Norris, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015.

Ruth Reichl, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Live, Random House, New York, 2015.

Ann Patchett, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Harper Collins, New York, 2013.

Graphic by F. Ferguson, 2016.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Taking Note

My contributor's copy of Cloudbank Journal #10 just arrived in the mail the other day, and it's full of treasure. Open the journal to any random page and you'll find a gem like Richard Jones's poignant "Tidying Up as a Spiritual Exercise," in which the narrator speaks of searching his house for skeletons, or Andrea Hollander's poem with the wonderfully counterintuitive title,"Against Reading." Also in this collection is Kim Stafford's "My Critics Have Erred," which has a sweet, breath-catching last line.

I've heard Kim Stafford speak of the little notebooks he carries with him so that he's always ready to jot down an interesting image he sees or a snippet of conversation he overhears. I, too, like to take notes...or even to write entire rough drafts while I'm walking. When I composed my contribution to Cloudbank #10, "A Walk Near Laurelhurst Park," I was literally walking and scribbling in a notebook at the same time. Movement, I've found, helps jostle loose ideas that are stuck in the hard rocky places in my brain...or buried beneath the weight of old skeletons that have accumulated there.

As a bonus, having a notebook on hand is useful when you're away from home and your kid gets the urge to explain a calculus concept to you.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Picnic Season

 Always a fun lady,
 my mom once gave me a 
 hat decorated with mini-

My only story written for young readers began as a Christmas gift for my niece. Inspired by the bond she and my mom share, I wrote a brief tale about a picnic featuring a hula hoop and a pink umbrella that provided protection from sharks.

You can read "Lucy's Picnic" at

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Gathering of Women

My mother and Gram. 

My grandmother (or "Gram," as she liked to be called) was one of those ladies who was up for anything. Besides working full time and raising my dad, she loved to swim, play lawn bowls and get together with her female pals Martha, Lois, Gertrude, Kitty and Jan. A cancer survivor, she outlived two husbands (both popular Portland-area bandleaders) and her beloved son, who was her only child. 

This warm, feisty woman made a big impact on everyone in our family. For me, I felt especially happy to know that Gram liked the fact that I was a writer. Although she died five years ago (at the age of 101), to this day her past support help gives me the courage to begin filling yet another blank page with words or to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and read a newly published poem.

In the spirit of Gram and her unceasing encouragement, I'm offering a new creative writing class for women this summer. Like most of the classes I teach, this one will focus on self-expression, providing creative inspiration, practice, and support.

Creative Writing for Women
Tuesdays, 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
July 5, 12, 19 & 26
TaborSpace, 5441 SE Belmont

$12 per class, drop-in; $40 for the 4-week session

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Note for the Teacher

I was teaching a creative writing class for homeschoolers last fall when one of my students slipped me this note.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Experience Necessary

I've been doing a lot of yoga lately, and the teacher is a lovely, quirky young woman who keeps saying yoga is all about the experience. "Don't worry about locking into what you think is the perfect pose - have an experience," she says. I had no idea what she meant the first time she said that, but it sounded really nice.

On Saturday evening, I had the pleasurable experience of participating in a feminist poetry reading at Tsunami Books in Eugene, Oregon. My son and I took the bus there from his apartment. Since the bus stop was several blocks away from the bookstore, we walked the rest of the way, plunging into a rain storm. The wind kept blowing my umbrella inside out, and it rained so hard we had to leap over the little lakes that formed at every intersection. By the time we got to the reading, my socks were wet inside my shoes, but I couldn't have cared less because everything about the evening was pure magic. Tsunami Books is a small store filled with new and used books, greeting cards, calendars and even LP's. In the back, it has an intimate space for readings and other events - small enough that I could feel the words of the other readers resonate in my bones.

After the reading, my son and I went back to his apartment. He set out an air mattress for me in his spare room, and in the morning I got up and saw the shape of a tree through the blinds. I stretched and relished the experience of looking out the window as the sun rose in the sky.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hunger Games

Ravenous for a good read? Here are some books I enjoyed in 2015:

Two sisters are searching for a new husband – a Man at the Helm – for their newly divorced mother who is prone to popping pills and writing odd little plays instead of taking care of her three children. A master of wit, author Nina Stibbe brings her story to a thoroughly satisfying end that’s a lot like raspberry jam – sweet but full of sharp little seeds.

In A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson revisits the Todd family, who appeared in her 2014 Life After Life. This time she focuses on Teddy, a supremely decent man who bombs German towns (and the people in them) during World War II. Atkinson so clearly describes all of the details of being up in a Halifax on a horrific mission that I found it hard to believe she was not a bomber pilot in another life.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is one of those books – yet another story about teens with an improbable load of depressing problems. Eleanor is poor, despised at school, and overweight. To top it all off, her mother is living with an abusive man who becomes an increasing threat to Eleanor with every page. Park is a slight, sensitive, half-Korean boy who stays chummy with the school bullies to keep himself safe. I didn’t expect to like this book, but I was quickly hooked by the hidden sweetness and humanity of these two kids and the story of how their slowly developing affection keeps them both afloat in a horrible sea of teen and adult cruelty.

The Chapel by Michael Downing – To be honest, I didn’t always get what this book was driving at, with its hefty discussions about the 14th century Italian artist Giotto and Dante’s Divine Comedy. But the banter between its two main characters (a depressed widow in her fifties and a silver-haired smoothy she meets in Italy) is pretty divine itself. Like all great writing, these sections show (don’t tell) us about the tremendous warmth and need beneath the characters’ snappy wit.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy – “Why do we have to read this?” many high schoolers automatically complain when their lit teachers assign a classic. In this case, I would respond by saying that Far From is just plain great. It’s the tale of a young woman who becomes the boss of a big farm in a day when women didn’t do such things. She’s hilarious and also heartbreaking – a living, breathing character who makes some devastating mistakes. Sure, there are some boring parts to get through (particularly the long conversations written to reflect a rural English dialect), but you can always skim over those and get on to the good parts, like when Miss Everdene (Bathsheba, not Katniss) lies back on her horse in order to ride under some low branches and then rises again in one smooth, lithe motion.

Meghan Daum comes off as a cranky, wise-cracking aunt who isn’t afraid to tell you how she really feels in her collection of essays entitled Unspeakable. In a piece called “On Not Being a Foodie,” she reveals that she hates buying and cooking food. In “Honorary Dyke,” she bemoans a culture that reveres makeovers and diets and elaborate wedding showers. She also confesses in “Not What It Used to Be” that she feels no nostalgia for her college days, and, in fact, spent her time in school longing for the shenanigans to be over so that she could get on with her life. Sometimes people who are known for “telling it like it is” can come off as being insensitive or rude. Daum’s truths, however, feel like a brisk, refreshing breeze ruffling the pages of more socially-pleasing views.