Connect and Survive

August 20, 2012

August 20th

Very often, a creative block manifests itself as an addiction to fantasy. Rather than working or living the now, we spin our wheels and indulge in daydreams of could have, would have, should have. One of the great misconceptions about the artistic life is that it entails great swathes of aimlessness. The truth is that a creative life involves great swathes of attention. Attention is a way to connect and survive.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way Every Day



It’s been too long. It’s been ages. It’s been an interesting summer.

I’ve been too far away, too long away from this blog and that bothers me.

Back to teaching at the two colleges today, four classes. Time to jump back in.


I’m going to revamp the blog to better reflect where I am now in my life.

The theme will broaden more– still writing, yes, and books, but also to include other aspects of my life more fully, such as art, crafts, zines, vintage finds, making things, friends, gardening.

Connecting and surviving.


Oh, and of course Hal Holbrook the Dog—  who, if you remember, came into my life nearly a year ago (at the end of Oct. 2011).

So stay tuned. I promise I’ll be back.

Rob (and Hal!)

Rob and Hal, Ocean Beach Dog Beach July 2012

Symptoms of Recovery

November 21, 2011

Trusting our creativity is new behavior for many of us. It may feel quite threatening initially, not only to us but also to our intimates. We may feel–and look–erratic. This erraticism is a normal part of getting unstuck, pulling free from the muck that has blocked us. It is important to remember that at first flush, going sane feels just like going crazy. There is a recognizable ebb and flow to the process of recovering our creative selves. As we gain strength, so will some of the attacks of self-doubt. This is normal, and we can deal with these stronger attacks when we see them as symptoms of recovery.

— Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way Every Day

I don’t think I’m yet in the process of recovering my creative self, but I’ll get there soon. I do still write, have been writing, but it’s been very sporadic, only about once a week lately. But I’m feeling something bubbling beneath the surface, and i’m hoping that I can bring it up soon. I believe I can.

It’s been a season of change. End of a relationship, end of an era.

I’m in my early 40s and wondering where did it all go, and where am I going from here?

I’ve been feeling like I’m learning to walk and talk again. Or going through puberty. Awkward, insecure, doubtful, emotional. I rescued a lost dog a few weeks ago and can’t get it out of my mind, but someone told me recently that I’m projecting, synthesizing the dog and myself (not that I didn’t know this, but to hear it from someone else stung and, of course, made more sense).

My teaching semester is coming to an end, and i’m partly relieved. It’s been a trying semester. But also partly sad. I love my Creative Nonfiction class. The students there are gifted, talkative (for the most part), opinionated. I love the energy of our workshops, the excitement in their faces upon hearing that your essay moved someone, the disagreeing, the challenging,  that we are dissecting and explicating and encouraging someone’s piece of writing– scary and exhilarating. I’m recalling my own days in workshops in undergrad and grad school–the nervous lump in your throat when you go up for workshop. The relief after. The walking out of the classroom into the cool night. The putting away of the piece for a few days then returning to it.

I want to take each of the writers in my class and shake them and tell them to not give up, to keep writing, to be serious, to try new things, to read read read, to write every day, to trust their creativity. I want someone to shake me up too. To tell me all of these things. To get unstuck. To pull me free.

A Thousand Marilyns

November 2, 2011

Wow. It’s been a long time, no?

I have a thousand reasons why I’ve been away for so long, each one more elaborate than the other.

Let’s just say it’s been several months of change, good and bad. But I’m ready to start again, and what better way to start than with a new publication!

You can now purchase a Post-Card of my short-short, A Thousand Marilyns, from Post-Card Press! They are a fairly new lit journal that makes wonderful postcards of short-short fiction and poetry.

My piece is based on a true person, which I’m hoping at some point to turn into something bigger. Novel, bio/memoir, who knows?

In any case, I hope you’ll buy the post card and support this lovely new press! Purchase it here, heck get a subscription; you’ll get one postcard of poetry or fiction each month! And, they make great fun gifts to send to someone (remember that thing called snail mail?).

More blog posts to come, I promise!


July 22, 2011

I was called to Jury duty on July 11th and made it on to a trial. I’m off from work so it really wasn‘t didn’t seem like a big deal but we’re now heading into our 3rd week, beginning deliberations.

I can’t talk about the trial/case, or give details (I’ve been sworn!) but suffice it to say that all is not resolved in an hour, like on Law & Order (and there’s no Chris Meloni to be found!). Still, it’s been very interesting–who knows, maybe a book will come out of it???

There are certainly no shortage of characters when you hang around a courthouse.

Speaking of… of course my book is getting major neglect right now, though I’ve been sketching out ideas and scenes in my journal.

And summer is two thirds over! I think I have maybe a month left? Yes! A month to the day and I’ll be driving to campus. All those plans I had for a creative summer (writing, reading, making stuff…) are a bit hazy now.

Wahh, wahh, wahh! I’ve still got those four weeks, right?

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way Every Day says:

Creativity is inspiration coupled with initiative. It is an act of faith and, in that phrase, the word “act” looms as large as the “faith” that it requires. When we do not act in the direction of our dreams, we are only “dreaming.” Dreams coupled with the firm intention to manifest them take on a steely reality. Our dreams come true when we are true to them. Reality contains the word “real.” We begin to “reel” in our dreams when we toss out the baited hook of intention. When we shift our inner statement from “I’d love to” to “I’m going to,” we shift out of victim and into adventurer.

Pride (or is that an oxymoron here?)

July 15, 2011

I’ve hit the mother lode! My friend Justin brought over a huge box of vintage cookbooks for me– you know the kind your grandmother or mother had, with the really gloriously colorful, tacky photos in it?

Well, my favorite is this one,

and especially the wonderful photo recipe for this frosting party dress–click on it to see it up close in all its glory!  Happy San Diego Pride Everyone!

And, oh yes, you will see collage made of these!

Where did you shop and what did you buy on Save a Book Day?

June 27, 2011

Saturday was “Save a Bookstore” day and I did my part. By the way, did you know Save a Bookstore Day was started by literary agent Kelly Sonnack— of the Andrea Brown Lit. Agency– who has taught workshops at San Diego Writers, Ink?

Anyway I went to The Grove Bookstore in South Park San Diego (where I ran into a few other San Diego writers including Jill Badonsky) to find the book Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson which is getting great reviews (read this one from the NYTimes by the also wonderful writer Stacey D’Erasmo–just the first two paragraphs of the review had me hooked).

“By delving as deeply into the lives of her characters as she does, tracing their long relationships not only to one another but also to various substances, Henderson manages to catch something of the bloody, felt intersection of lives and cult bands, of overindulgence and monastic refusal, of the dark, apocalyptic quality of the ’80s. She gets extremes, and people who gravitate toward them.”

Alas, the book was not in stock so I purchased something else: The Crafter’s Devotional by Barbara Call. Sure, I need another book on craft projects like I need a hole in the head, but this one is different–really! It has something to do for every day of the year, i.e.

Monday: journaling

Tuesday: recycle, reuse, or revive

Wednesday: collection, stash, and materials

Thursday: personal history

Friday: noncraft inspiration

Sat. and Sunday: collaborate, gather, and experiment

Just something to keep the creative juices flowing. Right? See a sample page here.

So, where did YOU go and what did YOU purchase on Save a Bookstore Day?

Also, you may have heard, if you’re my Facebook friend, that I had a great time in my Sewing Class and came away with a really cool tote-bag. The class taught the basics of sewing machines and we practiced various stitches on a swatch of fabric until we felt confident enough to do some real sewing.

There were several different styles and designs of fabric for the bag but I decided upon the burlap coffee sack– acquired by Home Ec Studios by a local coffee merchant. For the most part the sewing was easy– straight lines up and down the sides of the tote bag, but then I had to sew a liner inside the bag, and then straps, and you have to do it all inside out which is very confusing, but somehow it all worked. And it was fun. It was me and 6 women– all laughing and chatting and breaking thread and getting our stitches all knotted up.

Now I just have to remember it all so I can use my own machine. I have a ton of really cool vintage fabric, mostly of cowboys and cowgirls, that I want to turn into pillows.

Here’s a poem  by Naomi Shihab Nye

Sewing, Knitting, Crocheting,

A small striped sleeve in her lap,
navy and white,
needles carefully whipping in yarn
from two sides.
She reminds me of the wide-angled women
filled with calm
I pretended I was related to
in crowds.

In the next seat
a yellow burst of wool
grows into a hat with a tassel.
She looks young to crochet.
I’m glad history isn’t totally lost.
Her silver hook dips gracefuly.

And when’s the last time you saw
anyone sew a pocket onto a gray linen shirt
in public?
Her stitches must be invisible.
A bevelled thimble glitters in the light.

On Mother’s Day
three women who aren’t together
conduct delicate operations
in adjoining seats
between La Guardia and Dallas.
Miraculously, they never speak.
Three different kinds of needles,
three snippy scissors,
everybody else on the plane
snoozing with The Times.
When the flight attendant
offers free wine to celebrate,
you’d think they’d sit back,
chat a minute,
tell who they’re making it for,
trade patterns,

But a grave separateness
has invaded the world.
They sip with eyes shut
and never say
Look at us
May your thread
never break.

Sew, yeah… I am becoming my mother

June 16, 2011

Tonight I’m taking a sewing class at a local sewing shop called Home Ec. Studio in South Park. This is all part of my trying to be more creative thing. Have you been to South Park lately? It’s really become such a cool place to hang out. Lots of new shops– one of my new faves is Make Good, a store/collective of local crafters, artisans, designers and makers–  and bookstores (The Grove!), cafes (Rebecca’s) and bars (The Whistle Stop, Station Tavern). There’s even a small flea market on weekends.

Anyway, I’ve never ‘officially’ learned to sew though I’ve tried it and I even have a little Kenmore Beginner Sewing Machine but I only used it once– it intimidated me! All those knobs and bobbins and things.

My mother was an avid sewer. She spent hours in dim light, slouched over her machine. Her foot on the peddle like she was Speed Racer. Making everything from placemats to dresses to hats to shirts made of terrycloth (for me–yes, I was a trend-setter).

The rattle of the sewing machine is right up there with the dishwasher and clothes dryer when it comes to nostalgic sounds of my youth.

She also cussed like a sailor when she sewed. She’d rip seams apart like a serial killer and throw whole bolts of fabric across the room. But when she really got into the groove of her sewing she was lost for hours, cigarette in the corner of her mouth.  I remember watching the Playboy Channel through the lines, the volume down, while she sewed, her back to the television.

One time she sewed through her finger and the needle broke off–still in her finger. It had just nudged the bone. She called the doctor and he told her to pull it out with a pair of pliers! So she did. Then she downed a glass of White Zin and went back to the prairie dress she was making.

Anyway, this class I’m taking is called “Getting to Know Your Machine” and that’s what I intend to do. Oh, and we are making a tote-bag! Could it be any gayer? What I’d really like to do is use my sewing machine for my collages– I’d like to sew/put stitches on paper (<—like this cool blogger). For those of you who sponsored me in the Blazing Laptops Write-a-Thon, you might get your collage or postcard with some fresh stitching on it!

I wonder if, tonight at the class, when all of the sewing machines around me are buzzing, I’ll get that sensory perception? Might need to stop by the Station Bar after for a glass of White Zin!

Finding My Tribe

June 14, 2011

The NewYorker Summer Fiction Issue has arrived but so far I’ve only read the non-fiction parts of it. There are new fictions from George Saunders and Jeffrey Eugenides (two of my absolute faves) and Lauren Groff (I still need to read her book, The Monsters of Templeton). Again, I love these writers, but I thought the Summer Fiction Issue was meant to introduce new and upcoming fiction writers, no?

In any case, I did read the 5 Nonfiction pieces by: Jennifer Egan, Junot Diaz, Tea Obreht, Edward P. Jones, and Salvatore Scibona. They were all good, but my favorites were Scibona’s Where I Learned to Read, Jones’ Shacks, and Diaz’ The Money (and also Jones, but I’ll save that for another blog post).

As a side note, I’m currently reading Tea Obreht’s novel, The Tiger’s Wife, which is getting phenomenal reviews, she’s being called a new wonderkind, and Colum McCann says, “Téa Obreht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years.” I’m only about 100 pages in though I’m enjoying it–especially the magical stories the narrator’s grandfather tells her (hence the title), that are woven throughout the book, which is essentially a mystery (the narrator is trying to discover why her grandfather left home to die without telling anyone).

Anyway, back to the 5 Nonfiction pieces. I love it when NYer does these 1 page shorts, because they’re so easy to use/teach in a writing class. I’m definitely going to be using these in my Fall Creative Nonfiction Workshop at the college.

Scibona’s particularly appealed to me because it’s basically a love letter to reading– though told through a twisty series of events in his young school life. But it reminded me of my own growing up, sneaking away at recess and lunch to the library in grade school to read those short bios of famous people– called the Childhood of Famous Americans Series: Lincoln, Dolly Madison, Jim Thorpe, Betsy Ross, Jane Addams. Remember those bios? They were meant for grade school, probably only about 50 pages (if that) and had the most basic information about the peoples’ lives– though all told very melodramatically (lots of exclamation points!). These were some of my best friends from 2nd to 6th grade.(I SO remember reading this one– Narcissa Whitman, Pioneer Girl).

In talking about finding his way to reading Scibona writes:

By senior year at St. John’s, we were reading Einstein in math, Darwin in lab, Baudelaire in French tutorial, Hegel in seminar. Seminar met twice a week for four years: eight o’clock to ten at night or later, all students addressed by surname. On weekends, I hung out with my friends. The surprise, the wild luck: I had friends. One sat in my room with a beer and “The Phenomenology of Spirit,” reading out a sentence at a time and stopping to ask, “All right, what did that mean?” The gravity of the whole thing would have been laughable if it hadn’t been so much fun, and if it hadn’t been such a gift to find my tribe.

You can read it all here

You can also find out what these writers are reading this summer.

Brown Bag Tuesdays

June 9, 2011

Tuesday I returned (at long last!) as co-host to San Diego Writers, Ink’s Brown Bag Drop-in Writing Group. I host it every other week but had taken a leave due to my teaching schedule last semester.

The premise of BB is simple: you come in, I read a prompt from my black box of prompts, and then we write for a set period of time (within an hour). After the time limit we then read our pieces aloud. No critique, just listening.

I’m so glad to be back. It makes for such a rewarding hour, especially since it’s on Tuesday; it helps to ease me into the rest of the week.

If you’re someone who has trouble finding that time to write then definitely join or start a group like this, or, hold your own private, one-person Brown Bag writing hour. (I recommend using Judy Reeves’ A Writer’s Book of Days !)

I also love finding/getting my own prompts. Sometimes I’ll find them online, on a writing webpage, but most of the time I take lines from poetry or prose and use those as prompts. For example, here are some past prompts:

Write about Food and Comfort (from James Merrill’s Poem “Maisie”)

You became so attached to the objects of our home (from David Plante’s The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief)

This week’s prompt also came from James Merrill– I think all of the prompts I’ve used are from his book From the First Nine: Poems 1946-1976. (of which I have a first edition!).

Here is the prompt:

The street, if it ends at all, ends here (from “Light of the Street, Darkness of Your Own House”)

I’ve even used the title of the poem as a past prompt–which made for some great writing from everyone.

Here are some lines from the brief scene I wrote during that Brown Bag session:

There were no real streets on the reservation. No side walks. Nothing that indicated where one yard began and the other ended. No stops or starts. In this way we were all connected.  The warmth from the oven of one home was felt in the chest of someone in the next . The rise of bread, the sinking of hopes. An open window carried voices, songs, welcomed anger, provided temporary escape for regret.

If you’re in San Diego, come to Tuesday Brown Bag– every Tuesday 12pm to 1pm. Or Thursday Writers held at Lestat’s West Coffee House. More info here.

And definitely take a look at James Merrill’s poetry. It will inspire!

Talk Talk

June 6, 2011

A Writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.     -Thomas Mann

Yesterday had a great time at the Blazing Laptops Write-a-Thon to support San Diego Writers, Ink— the non-profit writing organization that I’m a part of. (you can still sponsor me! I really did write for 9 hours!). I’m offering a homemade collage postcard or collage book mark to anyone who sponsors $10 or more.

At the Write-a-Thon (which I did/teamed up with my BFF Kelli) I worked mostly on my novel. I did try a few of the prompts that were given out during the day but the bulk of my writing went to a new chapter. I drank a lot of coffee! Now that I’m off from teaching and have basically no real work for the summer (a good thing? a bad thing?) I’m ready to dive back in full time on the novel. As much as I had fun yesterday, I have to admit that being in a room full of people and trying to seriously write was difficult. I’ve always been one who needs quiet and my own space to write in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the company of other writers and creative people, but I really cherish my office and how I can close the door and be in my own world in there. It helps that it has a terrific view of the Coronado bridge and some of downtown San Diego. I can’t remember if I’ve posted pics of the office here, but I’ll post some soon just in case.

The scene I was working on yesterday had several characters (most of them minor minor) talking– the main character of the book (or one of the main characters) was describing a scene where a bunch of Hollywood suits comes to his reservation to talk about the upcoming filming of a movie– and I realized that when I’m writing dialogue I need to ‘talk it out’ while writing, which was kind of hard to do in a quiet room of 20 people! I practice the dialogue that I write to see how it sounds, but I couldn’t really do that yesterday! arghh! I guess I’ve always done this but it seemed much more obvious to me yesterday because I couldn’t do it.

It made me think about writers who are good with dialogue– who are they?

I suppose Hemingway is considered a strong dialogue writer.

I like the dialogue in the new Nicole Krauss book, Great House, too. Though for me it’s always been about the interior monologues of her characters.

I’ve always thought Joshua Ferris was a master of dialogue (though he’s a relatively new writer).  Read his NewYorker story The Dinner Party to see what I mean.

Here’s an excerpt:

“They come in,” he said, “we take their coats. Everyone talks in a big hurry as if we didn’t have four long hours ahead of us. We self-medicate with alcohol. A lot of things are discussed, different issues. Everyone laughs a lot, but later no one can say what exactly was so witty. Compliments on the food. A couple of monologues. Then they start to yawn, we start to yawn. They say, ‘We should think about leaving, huh?,’ and we politely look away, like they’ve just decided to take a crap on the dinner table. Everyone stands, one of us gets their coats, peppy goodbyes. We all say what a lovely evening, do it again soon, blah-blah-blah. And then they leave and we talk about them and they hit the streets and talk about us.”

“What would make you happy?” she asked.

“A blow job.”

“Let’s wait until they get here for that,” she said.

She slid her finger along the blade to free the clinging onion. He handed her her glass. “Drink your wine,” he said. She took a sip. He left the kitchen.

He sat on the sofa and resumed reading an article. Then he got up and returned to the kitchen and poured himself a new drink.

“That’s another thing,” he said. “Their big surprise. Even their goddam surprises are predictable.”

“You need to act surprised for their sake,” she said.

“Wait for a little opening,” he said, “a little silence, and then he’ll say, he’ll be very coy, he’ll say, ‘Why don’t you tell them?’ And she’ll say, ‘No, you,’ and he’ll say, ‘No, you,’ and then she’ll say, ‘O.K., O.K., I’ll tell them.’ And we’ll take in the news like we’re genuinely surprised—like, holy shit, can you believe she’s knocked up, someone run down for a Lotto ticket, someone tell Veuve Clicquot, that bastard will want to know! And that’s just the worst, how predictable our response to their so-called news will be.”

“Well, O.K.,” she said. “When that happens, why don’t you suggest they have an abortion?”

He chewed his ice and nodded. “That would shake things up,” he said, “wouldn’t it?”

“Tell them we can do it right here with a little Veuve Clicquot and one of the bedroom hangers.”

“Delightful,” he said. “I’m in.”

The kitchen was small. He would have done better to remain in one of the other rooms, but he wanted to be with her. She was sautéing the garlic and the onion.

“He’s O.K.,” he said. “They’re both O.K. I’m just being a dick.”

“We do this, what—at most, once or twice a year. I think you can handle it. And when they have the baby—”

“Oh, Christ.”

“When they have the baby, we’ll see even less of them.”

“Holiday cards. Here’s our little sun-chine. See our little sun-chine? Christ.”

“You aren’t the one who’s going to have to go to the baby shower,” she said.

“How much you wanna bet they buy a stroller?”

“A stroller?”

“A stroller.”

“A stroller,” she said. “To cart the baby around.”

He put cheese on a cracker. “For to cart the baby around in, yes,” he said.

“And you, if you had a baby, there’d be no stroller, right, because it would be oh so predictable? Absolutely no stroller?”

But who else? Who do you consider a great writer of dialogue?