. . . Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm . . .—Robert Louis Stevenson

01 February 2017


My friends on Facebook do not understand why I would close my blog. They say they enjoy reading it. It is nice of them to say so.

Okay, here's the thing. My blog has disappeared before and no one noticed. I appreciate the support on FB, it's really nice, but for most of 2016 I posted nothing, absolutely nothing, and most posts were invisible. No one messaged me or commented about my silence.

The first time I took a break from posting new essays a couple of years ago, a dear friend commented that she enjoyed reading my posts most every day—but I had not posted a word in two months.

So I appreciate the kind words, I really do, but until I figure out what my purpose is, other than shouting into the void, I remain conflicted about whether it is worth my bother. It is actually depressing. I mean, I know people mean well to say they enjoy my writing, and I hate to be one of those people begging to a response, but the feel-good stuff is not what I am after. I want genuine readers engaging with my text. That used to happen. For the past four years or so 
one or two people read my post unless I link it to FB, and then the only response is a half dozen people clicking like.

I began my blog on the suggestion of fellow students after we completed our MFAs. My mother had died a week after our graduation and then there was a year of dithering and grieving before I realized I was not writing new fiction at all. I came to a halt. A couple of friends from my program suggested I start a blog and a Poets & Writers listing. I did both and found that I could write nonfiction. It was, in fact, the writing I was most familiar with, the sort of writing I had been doing since I was a child. While the fiction came to me very late in life, writing nonfiction, particularly persuasive and creative nonfiction, had been my bread and butter. I wrote so much that I took the skill completely for granted. 

It is interesting to me, looking back, to recognize the shift in my attention from one art media to another. My own mother would dive into a media, reach a level of proficiency and move on without pushing that media past that basic level. I recognized this pattern as a mistake for an artist when I was still a child. I have the distinct memory of understanding the need to choose a media and push it and push and push it to excellence. I would have been eleven or twelve years old. 

At the University of Washington  I began in ceramics during its golden age to complete a BFA, moved up the hill to metals for a second BFA, and ended with a BA in education. It was the last that earned me Phi Beta Kappa, ironic since the education degree (if not the actual teaching practicum) was the easiest work I did in college. The essays, of course, were a breeze. 

I taught art in a private Washington prep school for three years before moving home to Oregon. Here I thought I would teach Social Studies since I brought a broad range of undergraduate coursework and a passion for History, Philosophy, and Anthropology to the table. But it was made clear to me that I would not be hired to teach Social Studies unless I could also coach (literally true—the principal called me at home to warn me that he could not hire me unless I said I could coach). 

Instead, I was hired a year or so later to teach English, mostly on the basis of my broad reading and experience as a graphic designer (sideline freelance work I had done for years). 

There is a pattern here. 

I threw myself into teaching English and into figuring out what students needed to know and be able to do to succeed in college. I used portfolio assessment beginning in 1992, developed writing assignments that included analysis and persuasion, comparison and on-the-spot response. 

I went back to complete a graduate degree in fiction. Two years of writing hundreds of thousands of words. And then Mom died and I lost my focus. 

For the last nine years, the only fictions I wrote were short pieces written with my students. I wrote no new stories longer than 275 words. But I did not stop writing and my poems and essays (and a few old stories) found recent publication.

Last November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and completed a 76 thousand-word draft. Some chapters are rough and some polished. Here is the summary I posted on the NaNo site: 

Thena is building a new life outside Seattle after the breakup of a terrible marriage, when everything comes apart in the murder-suicide of a neighbor, her former husband, and her daughter. 
How Thena got to this tragic place and how she will find her way back to life are equally a mystery to her. She moves away, far enough away that no one knows her story, she takes the bus to a retail job each day, and she keeps her head down until a cry in the night wakens whatever it is that gives her existence meaning. 
We all carry the burden of regrets until we find a way to set it down.
As soon as it was complete, I wrote a fantasy story about owls and children. It has undergone a dozen drafts and feedback from two writers I respect a great deal. 

So. I am writing, and that is the important thing. Writing here uses up time and is barely read. Only one post shows before this one and no one is commenting on them here. What I want is a book, but books are hard, hard work. Nevertheless, if I am going to write in a near vacuum, do I want to have a blog to show for my hard, slogging effort or a book?

I think the book is the better choice. 

29 January 2017


"The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?' "—MLK

Gary is downstairs listening to Joni Mitchell's "River" and I have turned off the stock I was simmering on the stove. I caramelized two onions for an hour with some red wine gifted to us by friends. Later this afternoon I will use the stock to make soup with carrots and mushrooms and leeks and potatoes. Those onions will go into it.

I have scored four papers from my college class this morning—regardless of my intentions, setting work aside for the weekend is uncomfortable. I like to be busy, but my eyes are old so I must pace myself, reading a few at a time.

Yesterday we went to Portland and ate tamales at the Farmers' Market and shopped for the leeks and carrots and mushrooms for today's soup. We went to Cargo where I bought a scarf someone will eventually receive as a gift, three bells, and notecards I will give to my students in June. 

When we got home from our trip, I edited an application essay for a former student who is applying to graduate school. We watched television and went to bed early. 

We walked on sand yesterday and this morning. The dog has been playful, and that is good because she had a couple of bad days. 

I share all of this because my life is good, even blessed. I am a most fortunate woman.

Please understand that my political posts are motivated by my hope that all people will enjoy such blessings. I do not think I was singled out for such goodness. I do not think I was entitled. My life was not entirely earned. I think I worked hard and I was very, very lucky.

Life is hard for many people in our country and throughout the world, much harder than it needs to be. Our political system is supposed to make our lives safe and comfortable, to open doors and make possible the good fortune I enjoy . . . for everyone. 

I am not one of those people who believe "there will always be poverty and war." The people who say such things believe what they say. They are sincere, but I think it is a cop-out, a way to excuse inaction. I choose to have hope.

Someone was trying to stir anger the other day on FB about "illegals voting and receiving welfare" and I wanted to pat his hand and tell him to relax. I know he is genuinely upset, but like so many of these angry memes, it is based on lies intended to divert attention from genuine problems. I see so many angry posts, so many people angry at one group or another.

There are also the posts by former students who have family at risk, who have loved ones in the military they hope will not be sent unnecessarily into danger. I have granddaughters who deserve their chance at fair treatment, who need to grow up knowing that "locker room talk" is not how all men speak about women, that their bodies are their own, and no one should deny them. I live on the very edge of this continent and every morning I find thousands of bits of plastic on the sand, but I also see eagles fly where there were no eagles for decades because DDT was in use. I dream of my home flooding due to global warming and climate change. I worry about my future if the Social Security and Medicare system I have paid for since I was fifteen is allowed to go under. I worry about the clerk at a local store who has been so harassed for wearing a headscarf that store security had to stand beside her one day. She only honors her faith and modesty. She wants the best for her children too. 

But even if I were without dependence on Social Security and soon on Medicare, even if I had no grandchildren or former students afraid of how they will be treated, even if I did not know that clerk's name and she did not know mine, I would still want the world to be kinder to all of us. 

A very old friend disagreed with a post I put on Facebook and other friends, who do not know him, argued vigorously with him. He responded with courtesy. We disagree on many things, I am sure, but he is a reminder that when people are upset and addressing someone they do not know, they sometimes speak out of turn with rudeness and perhaps false assumptions. No political persuasion has the monopoly on rudeness. I make my mistakes, but I value courtesy because while it might mask private disregard, courtesy is at the base of what I most value. It is the beginning of conversation, and Facebook is not a conversation nor a source of reliable news. 

To be kind and courteous to someone who has not earned it is a great accomplishment.

Understand that politics can not merely be something we endure every four years, and are grateful for when it is over. We are political animals and our republic demands our participation and concern. If we want our government to represent us properly, we must make clear to those who represent us what we consider proper. 

Surely we can imagine behavior that we do not consider proper. And just as surely we know what we want: the innocent protected, the hard working rewarded, the damaged healed, the lost to be found. These are not merely my values, but values at the heart of every world religion and philosophy. We survive in community and we thrive when we are willing to concern ourselves with the general health of community, those concerns beyond our own. 

Compassion and empathy, careful study of the facts and a look at the long term implications of our actions, evaluation of what is truth and what merely seems appealing—these concern me. This is what I consider proper.