Sunday, April 30, 2006

I like Spongebob Squarepants as much as the next person. But would I erect a larger-than-life sized blow-up version of him in my yard? No way!

My neighbors, apparently, foster a greater love for Mr. Pants than the average citizen:

Sorry for the crappy photos, but using the truck and the houses as guides, you get a sense for how large Bob was.


Saturday, April 29, 2006

Hello good people, friendly blog-surfers, (and you blog-stalkers too)...

Once upon a time I was a great phone chatter. In my teens, when I finally cajoled my parents into giving me my OWN line (which was as much a benefit to them as it was to me since they could now actually use the damn thing). In those days I could talk all day, into the night, until my jaw ached and my body was wracked with hunger pains. But somewhere in the strange twilight between the advent of the Internet--and thus email--and my acquisition of my first cell phone, the idea of talking on the phone took on the pleasure of a dental visit. Suddenly friends were chastising me for not returning phone calls, purposely avoiding them, and possibly even that most egregious of phone sins--screening my calls. I can't explain why, but it was as if I had reached maximum capacity with the phone. Perhaps I had a version of that syndrome that happens when you visit too many museums, a kind of spinning overwhelm, of the phone variety. And so, over the years, I've found that I spend as little time on the phone as necessary.

Well now, dear friends, the same thing is happening with email. I am shameless in that I love to receive them, and feel sure that I will respond to emails in kind, but my energy for responding wanes. Thus I sometimes go days to respond to an email that normally I would have dropped even the most pressing deadline to reply to. Part of it is that with all the typing I do my poor neck and shoulders are always in crisis, and it HURTS to type too much. I must do triage between writing fiction, writing for work, and sending emails. So instead I'm trying to blog a bit more, though it doesn't have anything personal for each of you, my friends in it, and most people can't be bothered to read all the blogs they'd like to, it makes me feel better, like I've got a beacon on if anyone should stumble through the dark to find it.

I'm really hoping this whole wave of telepathy-based products get developed soon.

* * *
The good news is that I'm writing like a fiend, and reading like a whore, and editing to beat the band and mixing metaphors and creating new cliches. No, really, I am doing those things but I'm striving once again to do these things in a kind of balance. No matter how heavy my plate, I want to be able to manage what I am doing without those little stress hormones kikcing through my gray matter and my soft tissue to knock me around. And I think the key to this is to return to meditation practice. I see no other way. A little exercise and a lot of meditation go a long way to keeping me sane.

Ah so...


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Today's Wednesday Essay is a good reminder that when you're feeling the least inspired is no excuse not to write...

I Have Nothing to Write About!
by Mike Kamrath

It's been four months now since I've written anything of any consequence. This time none of the usual tricks worked. I have tried various venues to no avail. Now, I am sitting in Aroma Roasters coffee shop on a beautiful April evening. A coffee shop is the perfect place for this writer. I've chosen one I rarely frequent, so there is little chance of being interrupted by people I know. My only distractions are self-induced and sometimes they end up on the page. And if not these pages, then perhaps in a future poem or short story.

Clean paper, sharpened pencil and an aromatic almond latte, and so far, the Muse has not arrived. But I feel her nearby. Over these last several weeks, I have tried writing while drinking wine, while straight and normal, and while high. The latter produced profound, albeit small pieces of writing brilliance that somehow faded in the light of day (and a clear head).

I've tried writing at night after my daughter is in bed and my wife is at work. I've tried writing in the morning, even before the cat is up. I've tried writing in my truck by the side of the road. Tonight, I am reverting to my old faithful way to tempt the Muse: Write about writing (or the lack thereof). Its been the topic of several of my poems over the years, and is a tried and true way to "get back in the groove". I suppose its really an off-shoot of Julia Cameron's concept of Morning Pages, wherein one writes whatever comes to mind, without judgment. Just write.

"Observe" says the Muse.

Over there sits a Venus of Willendorf, a black woman in a purple top with three-quarter length sleeves, tight black capris and rust colored platform sandals Her hair is long, braided in neat cornrows and tied back like a pony tail. Amber tiger-eye dangling earrings accentuate the deep walnut hue of her cheeks. R. Crumb would love to draw her.

Across the room, a young woman bites her finger nails and sips her iced chai between chess moves. The fact I am aware of her chemise top with the delicate lace makes me aware of our differing ages and cultural disparity.

Ceiling fans spin at a high rpm. A brown haired woman in a brown top, brown pants and tan Birkenstocks leans back in her wooden chair, fingers idly circling the rim of her brown cup of cappuccino, her brown eyes staring vacantly out the window.
The couple next to me, two women separated by a generation, join in an animated conversation about elementary school education, the trials and tribulations of teaching, and of its rewards.

Two or three hand-scribbled pages later, I slow down, lean back and relax into the feeling of accomplishment, release, relief? I can still write.

A button down business man in brown oxfords sits at the internet bar next to a young woman, a student perhaps, with two-no three rings in her lower lip. My hand slips up to my left ear, touching the one piercing on my body done with a needle in a friend's apartment in Michigan thirty-five years ago.

I look around the room. The walls are a rich yellow ochre faux finish, warm and inviting, hung with large reproductions of French posters from the 19th century. Pelican Cigarettes, Cafe Martin, Fap ‘Ami “celuri des connaisseure”. Their bold greens, oranges, purples and blacks command attention. Everywhere in the room there is wood. Chairs, tables, salvaged church pews given a second life, the raised deck on which I am seated, wooden wainscoting on the main bar with its worn copper-topped counter. So worn in fact, the front edge has split and is now held together by several layers of yellowed and frayed scotch tape.

A ripple of red neon captured and then released by a window floats just above a no parking sign outside. I close my eyes, listening to an alto-soprano’s voice floating melodiously over a funky base rhythm.

I have never been more aware of the Muse. “See? And you thought you had nothing to write about.” The Muse pushes an earlier thought back into my mind: I write because its a way of connecting, of communicating. Its what I do. Even when I am not writing, I often think about writing And I read, always read. Searching for that connection.

I walk back to the counter for a 50-cent refill. The sign says “Honesty is what you do when no one is looking”. Like writing. Writing is what you do when no one is looking. You do it for yourself, and like honesty, it makes the world a better place.

BIO: Mike Kamrath has just had his first poem published in Minotaur 44, an on-going poetry anthology that has been around since the 60's, published by Jim Watson-Gove. Five of his poems will be forthcoming in a new anthology Present At The Creation (Poets writing about the process of writing), edited by Vilma Ginsburg and Doug Stout. He has had multiple entries on the Poets Against The War website, and was a featured poet on that website several months ago. Read a poem HERE.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

You didn't know about my secret car collection, did you? Which one fits me best?

1931 Ford Model A

1957 Plymouth Belvedere

1968 Firebird

Some exciting things in my new life:

I got a library card to the Santa Clary County library system. My tiny library rocks the casbah! They've got an outrageous amount of books on tape/cd, even music cds and DVDs. Their fiction section is their biggest section, and the place is always hopping--a good sign.

I discovered Blueberry Tea! Thanks to having to navigate a new supermarket (yay for "the Nob" as I call it), I discovered in a special aisle a new tea made by Celestial Seasonings that is full-on, hard core blueberry, my favorite berry. It is delicious! The Nob makes me happy. I like food shopping better than any other kind of shopping.

Book Smart is independently owned! The nearest Barnes and Nobles is twelve miles north on the freeway, so there's little chance of it going out of business. They will order any book I want, and if I later change my mind, they will not make me pay for it. AND--they sell ice cream :) When I mentioned Copperfield's Books, the Book smart lady had heard of them.

There are TWO japanese restaurants in my town. TWO. That's pretty f-ing cool. One of them serves lunch, the other only dinner. You think they drew straws?

Santa Cruz Coffee Company makes AWESOME coffee.

The Community Center teaches a class on knitting, which I have decided I want to learn. AND there is a cool knitting store right in downtown. Are the yarn gods smiling down upon me, or WHAT?

For some reason we sleep like tiny baby kittens in our bedroom here. I don't know if its that we must go deeper into sleep to avoid being awakened by the freight trains, or if the Feng Shuei is just right. Or maybe not letting Figaro out at night has something to do with it.

P.S. I am getting my work done, believe it or not.


Monday, April 24, 2006


I feel like I'm in a dream. Or have just awakened from one. For just over two weeks we have been getting used to our new place. For the most part I am working no harder than ever before. Things have fallen into a relatively normal routine, and yet in another way, it takes more energy to blog, to respond to emails, to do research. I think I'm still in the learning curve, taking in new stimulus and adapting to it. As a result, I have not been posting here to tell you anything. I thought I'd be writing every day to talk about NEW THINGS--of which there are many, I promise you--but so far, I'm just too tired.

I mean, I will tell you that I really love walking one short block to downtown, stopping by The Good Life cafe for some excellent java, perusing Booksmart, getting delicious mexican food and, just a few blocks up and over, hitting the library--which has the most comprehensive collection I've ever seen for such a tiny location. There's a lot to love here.

Instead, i'll let the photos do the talking

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I am writing again people! Fiction, that is. Finishing a novel. It feels flippin' good. Next week I get to work on my Writer's Digest book in earnest, but right now the fiction is flowin'.

Now, though many people have done it with much more flair and elan than I, especially Susan DiPlacido, I'm going to weigh in on Idol last night.

You want to know if I have a favorite? I do, and I don't.

Taylor and Elliott seem like true, honest good souls. Good guys with a real passion for music. Taylor's got a little bit more crazy-mojo than Elliott, but you get the feeling that Elliott would keep a secret, pull you out of a burning fire, and sing you to sleep if you had insomnia. I think Taylor should do a record because his voice is really unique. Better than Bo Bice any day. Elliott has totally grown on me. He can sing, he's easy going, and he deserves it.

I know y'all are going to hate me for this, but I think Katherine has the most commercial voice. And I gotta confess, when she sings, it seems effortless to me. It doesn't feel like she's working at it. I like her sound. She reminds me of a young Linda Rondstadt. Now it's true that in our culture we hate the girls who know they're pretty and act confident. I don't know what it is about confidence that turns people off, but most people seem to agree that she seems "too good" for everyone. I suspect she just has healthy self-esteem and is a people pleaser, which means she's always "on"... but I think her voice is outrageously good.

Paris. Why does that girl bother me so? Is it her speaking voice? Is it the strange hyper-emotional undercurrent? Am I the only one that thinks that girl is going to turn into a major handfull one day? Does it bother anyone else that her mother cries every time Paris sings? I mean...what's UP? I also seem to be the only one who thought last night's performance was only okay. Sure, it was better than her Queen week, but I think her register is too low, and it sounds like she's about to break into a smoker's cough at times. Something about her gets under my skin, and not in a good way.

Kellie. Oh lord. At first I thought she really was smarter than she seemed. Now I think she IS dumb, but mostly because she keeps believing that playing dumb works in her favor. I think that when she sings well, it's a blast to listen to her, and when she doesn't, like last night, it's very, very painful. It must be hard for Simon, who looks like he wants to bang her each time, to have to tell her it was bad, because that surely reduces his chances with her.

Oh god. When will they put Ace out of my misery? He has got to be one of the most transparently narcissistic, mealy-mouthed, mama's boy candidates they have ever had. I can't even stand to look at him. He's just...insufferable! Simon described him as a bit nasally. Have you looked at his nasal canal? It's tiny. That boy will need surgery to sing well. He seems like he'd make a good scientologist.

Chris. I still think Chris has a fine voice, and has a commercial future ahead of him. But I just never really come away feeling anything when he sings.

So that's that.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

You know what? I'm done with talking serious today.
Religion? DONE!
Global warming? OVER IT!
Possible nuclear war with Iran? FUGGEDABOUTIT!

I don't care if you're related to me or are a mere blog-surfer stopping by, an agent or the Ambassador of Estonia... I don't want to hear about problems or tragedy or childhood scars or the shape of your spiritual nature or your love or lack thereof of Christ, or your tarred and scarred soul.

I want to talk about who's going to rock the house on American Idol tonight and who should get sent home on their talentless little ass (cough *Ace* cough). I want to talk about whether Katie is going to do the whole "Silent Birth" thing and how she became a pod person and if Angelina is going to have her Pitt-babe in Naimibia. I want to freaking talk about Jessica Simpson's love life! Do you understand me? I want gossip, I want People Magazine and Access Hollywood and Paris Hilton's new CD.

Do not do Earth Day. Don't GO there with me. No peace marching either.

Right now I want hard core bubblegum celebrity trash and I do not plan to let anything, not even the end of the world, come between me and my desire.

Just so you know

Things I have learned

As I should have expected, posting about Jesus while not being a practicing Christian myself has produced some well...I don't know what to call it, among my readers. Some irritation, some frustration, some honest attempts to fill in my gaping areas of knowledge. I am reminded of what a precarious thing religion is, and how, though I will always have trouble respecting, say, anyone who calls themselves a Christian but believes that gay people are an abomination, I have to admit that faith is personal--which actually I'm really groovy with. I start to tremble in my heathen boots when religion gets used like an axe or a fish-net, which seems kinda often to me.

And if you don't adhere to one of the major religions, or "traditions" as some prefer to call some of them, people tend to believe you have no spiritual life. That you don't believe in something greater than yourself. I think there needs to be a new term for people who believe that God is not in a form that can be understood so easily, or rather, God is in every form. God just IS everything. I so wish I was John Stewart right now. He'd have a great term.

I promise we'll get back to talking about writing again.


Monday, April 17, 2006

My old office

My NEW office

My friend Stephanie Anagnonson always helps me remember important lessons. I really liked her reminder about loving kindness for others today.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Jesus Bunny

Here it is coming on Easter and I haven’t thought about Jesus at all. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. I’ve thought about how and why one man in history came to absorb so much symbolic power and resonance and command the piety of millions upon millions of people across the country for centuries. I find it a bit ironic that what by today’s standards would be considered a liberal, hippie hair-farmer who’s always harping on about the underdog and for, well, Christ’s sake, supports hookers, lepers and sinners, is lauded by the Christians who disparage those same qualities in someone protesting at a peace march or lobbying for single-payer healthcare.

Why has Jesus captured the hearts of so many? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think he was probably a really cool guy; probably told a good joke and was one of those friends who had a way of making you feel good about yourself no matter how fat your butt or bad your hair that day, and probably got on your case when you were self-deprecating, reminding you that you had to love yourself first and all. I’ll bet Jesus could make farting sounds under his armpit and even short-sheeted a few straw palates in his time. I’ll bet he was like your favorite uncle or charming older cousin.

Buddha and Mohammed were apparently quite charismatic and convincing too, though, so how did Jesus win the popularity award? Or do Christians just seem to talk louder and carry bigger sticks? (Please don't get on me about the mid-eastern terrorists thing okay? I'm not talking about fundamentalism, just garden variety religious practices).

Never having had the, uh, luxury, of being raised religious I can only speculate. I never got inculcated with a love of God or a holy spirit or drank the blood of Christ or got baptized. The few times I’ve sat in church were either with friends, or for weddings. So I know I’m not exactly the best judge of what makes someone holy, but tomorrow around the world people will be celebrating the resurrection, right? Isn’t that what Easter is about? I’m not sure what the eggs and the rabbits, or for that matter the marshmallow peeps and my favorite—Cadbury’s cream eggs--have to do with Jesus’ alleged resurrection, but hey, just call me sacrilegious.

I think I have a healthy respect for life, and my fellow human and though my sense of humor is a bit crooked, and I like irreverence as much as the next heathen, I wonder if any Christian can really refute my belief that to worship the gorgeous hillsides or the tiny shoots of daffodils that come bursting through the dirt this time of year is any less holy than worshiping a man, who probably would have preached—in my fantasy—that worship of nature is possibly the wiser path.

At least it's warm in hell; I hate being cold.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Today's Wednesday Essay is from a highly talented woman, Jane Merryman, whose work deserves to be widely published.

Attention Depth Disorder
by Jane Merryman

I don’t read reading anymore; I read writing.

I often catch myself reading as a copy editor, finely attuned to the typo, the esoteric grammatical error, the usage “infelicity.” Since I began trying to do some writing myself and participating in a writing class, I not only read my own work more critically, but I also read everyone else’s work as if it were in the hot seat in front of the class.

I first noticed this when I succumbed to an uncontrollable urge to red pencil Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse when I read it for my book group. She has a maddening quirk of separating her pronouns from their nouns, a scenario in which “he” becomes so lost that the reader has no idea to whom this pronoun refers. Her conversations are long and each character’s contribution is marked only by quote marks, not X said, Y said. After half a page I don’t know who is saying what.

Other authors get my copy editor’s goat for much less. I love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, so gritty and irreverent, and sexy, but she constantly spells all right as alright. Arrgh! I get so distracted by such errors I can’t enjoy a good story.

I long to give Doris Lessing a good drubbing. In The Summer Before the Dark she makes the point in the first few pages that her protagonist has spent twenty years as a good wife and mother, completely at the service of others. Then Lessing spends pages ruminating and rolling around in it. We get it already. Let’s move on and see how this situation forms the premise of a good story.

My impatience with repetition stems from what might be called the wabi-sabi school of writing, to which I belong. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic of simplicity, naturalness, and intimacy. It is unpretentious and wants to get rid of all that is unnecessary. Things wabi-sabi are small, compact, quiet, and inwardly oriented—a tea bowl, an old barn, crows cawing in a winter field. They are the opposite of the slick, saccharine, corporate style of beauty that prevails around us.

Sometimes I think I may have fallen into the malaise of the age: the ten-minute time byte. I worked in a high school from the early seventies to the late nineties. During that period the staff increasingly complained that students’ attention spans had shrunk to the amount of time between commercials on the average television sitcom. My problem is not so much attention span as it is attention depth. I’ve heard all the story lines—the variations on those grand themes, greed and lust. One of the vexations of maturity is that experience has put me in the FasTrak lane. I want to whip through the toll plaza and get into the heart of the city, that roaring, pulsating rush at the center. Perhaps the role of literature is to travel in the slow lane of the information highway and carry us along in a leisurely way. I only ask that, if I must be patient, the words be graceful and elegant.

A critic said of Mozart’s compositions, “Too many notes.” I say of contemporary writers too many misspellings, too few helpful punctuation marks, too many pronouns separated from their nouns.

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to grow up to be a teacher. I thought correcting papers looked like fun. Now I hate my schoolmarm self. I would prefer to read reading, for the pure joy.

Jane Merryman lives in Petaluma, where she tends her eclectic, crowded garden and walks by the river at dawn. Her personal essays have been published in Fine Gardening magazine, Anderson Valley Advertiser, Petaluma Argus-Courier, and Redwood Coast Review.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I had forgotten how much work moving is! We moved not only to a new place, but to a new community a couple hours of driving away from our old, beloved home (thanks Joel!).

When we finished cleaning our old place and were about to pack up the cat, he sat at the front stoop and cried to be let in. And then E. and I cried, just started sobbing. We needed to do that--to feel the grief of letting go of a home in a community we have loved so much. Change hurts, and I think it is necessary, that pain, in order for growth to take place. It's like when you were a kid and your bones were growing so fast that you ached at night. It hurts a little, but it's for the better.

Our new place is much bigger and we're so close to the new downtown that we will never have to worry about finding parking. There is an office supply store directly across from our place, which I find to be providential. There is also a bead store, which some of you will grasp just how fated it seems to be :)

There is no Copperfield's books, but there is Booksmart, which may be small and a little crowded, but still has a great selection and sells ice cream and hot dogs to boot. We had delicious Mexican food for lunch and the Albertson's is in walking distance. There's a lot of scouting to be done, and laying down of rituals, like certain ways you take to get somewhere, and times of day that services take place. There's getting used to the roar of the freight train that passes through every couple hours and the occasional whining and yipping of various dogs next door. In other words, we have to become reacquainted with the noises of civilization. We were spoiled by the silence of our little west-side street, so quiet that our first night there the hush of silence sounded like rain.

But we have more space and the hills look so much like the familiar ones in sonoma county that it's comforting. The town has charm and feels like a town in transition, one that seems as though it can only go up.

Other than trying to remember which drawer I put the can opener in, and where to find the aspirin, I feel like I will find familiarity soon enough. My little upstairs castle of an office is set up nicely, and though we're on dial up for another week or so until our DSL gets turned on, I'm not complaining.

Change hurts, but it's necessary sometimes.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Today's Wednesday Essay is one of my favorite authors. Her novel, The Book of Dead Birds absolutely will blow you away. She's also a gracious and kind person, and starring in a production of Annie Get Your Gun.

by Gayle Brandeis

We share our house with silverfish. It is an uneasy coexistence.

There is certainly room enough for all of us. Silverfish are small (at least most of them are—I’ve seen some that are the size of big toenails. The babies are tiny as eyelashes. Most approximate large grains of rice.) They’re pretty cool looking—silvery and prehistoric, with long antennae, and three wispy filaments that emerge from the end of their scaly bodies. They look like something that should be fossilized on a piece of shale, but they move like drops of mercury.

I would be perfectly at peace with this cohabitation if it weren’t for one thing: silverfish eat paper. Scads of it. And we have scads of paper in our house. They eat it like candy. Writing paper, tissue paper, onion skin paper—they love it all. I’ve heard they love the starch and sizing in the bindings of books, the linen in book covers. I’ve been told they don’t like newsprint, but we’ve found plentiful evidence to the contrary. Whenever a piece of paper falls into a crack behind a desk or dresser, the silverfish turn it into lace—they chew notches along the edges, gnaw feathery holes throughout the page.

The silverfish like the shelf paper in my daughter’s closet and our kitchen drawers. They adore our recycling bin. They find great pleasure in any schoolwork that has drifted to the floor.

I am a paper hound, and have a pile of old manuscripts and not-yet-filed flyers and articles and mail and other bits of print in the corner of my office. It is a grand buffet for the silverfish. They nibble the sides of pages, give the paper scalloped edges. I bought plastic bins to protect my work, but the silverfish have found their way inside. They haven’t destroyed anything too important yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time.

This house was theirs before it was ours (at least it was the toenail-sized ones’; silverfish can live for up to eight years.) My vegetarian, not-wanting-to-kill-anything, pesticide-avoiding self is averse to bringing in the exterminators. I’ve read that boric acid—which is not so bad for the environment—can work, but somehow I haven’t gotten around to buying any. In a way, I’ve grown fond of the little buggers. I don’t wish them harm, even though they chewed up the single article I kept about my book launch. I’ve heard they like dried beef. Maybe if I scatter some jerky throughout the house, they’ll turn their backs on our papers.

Silverfish can’t help but keep a person humble. They remind me that the words that I’ve committed to paper are transitory, fleeting, destined to be eaten up by time; they remind me to keep my focus on the moment, on the creative process, rather than trying to strive for any sort of permanence. They remind me that despite all our human hubris, it is bugs who will have the final word.

--Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperSanFrancisco), Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications), and The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel(HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change. Her second novel, Self Storage, will be published by Ballantine in 2007. Gayle is writer in residence for the Mission Inn Foundation's Family Voices Project, and was named a "Writer Who Makes a Difference" by The Writer Magazine. She lives in Riverside, CA with her husband and two children. You can visit her online at her website,, her blog,, or her MySpace page,

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tonight I had the delightful opportunity to hear one of my own short stories read by a talented theater professional via the new Page on Stage production. Page on Stage features stories written by local authors, read by professional actors before a live audience, recorded for KRCB radio. This evening's event will be broadcast on April 26th, and you can listen online if you can't catch it on the dial. I can't explain what a rush it is to hear your own words read by someone who knows how to read dramatically. It must be what a playwright feels the first time a rehearsal of his play takes place.

Actor Scott Philips was fantastic at reading my story (below), titled "The Change." He infused it with just the right amount of hostility and insanity. It was spot-on! Much better than being published in static old printed text any day!

For Sonoma County writers, I recommend checking this gig out.

“The Change”

Henry gently pats dirt around a hungry little fern he brought home from work today. He sets it up on the windowsill, where he told them he would, so they could use it as the transmitter. He hums a few bars of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” He takes his dinner from the oven—just macaroni and cheese bubbling up in the corners and smelling like his mother used to make it—cozies up in his recliner and turns on the television, loud.

It doesn’t matter to Henry anymore that Mr. Foss has a gun safe crowded with big rifles and sleek, deadly wheel guns right next door. Henry’s days of peering through the curtains and eyeballing the room where the safe is kept, are over. Yes sir, over.

Now when he bothers to look out the curtain at all, he no longer has to turn down the television to hear what Mr. Foss, with his cruel un-neighborly ways, might be saying loud enough for Henry to hear. Nope. No more of Mr. Foss plotting to steal Henry’s land, or rubbing in the way things are with Lucinda. Now he can come and go from his new job at the nursery—one he fully intends to keep—without having to rush home several times a day to monitor Mr. Foss. Doesn’t have to check his ceiling and phones for bugs, doesn’t have to tie thin plastic lengths of fishing wire across doors to see if Mr. Foss has been inside again.

This change has amazed him, honestly. When he ordered the implant, he didn’t expect such great results. Such calm, such confidence in the order of all things. And now he doesn’t have to take his mother’s advice of checking himself into some anger management program. He doesn’t even have to feel ashamed of the restraining order that Mr. Foss put out on him. There is nothing to be restrained from anymore. Since the change, he’s forgiven Mr. Foss for calling him a crazy, sick moron. He’s forgiven Mr. Foss, with his perpetually muddy boots from working around pigs and cows all day, for his filth. He’s forgiven Mr. Foss for marrying Lucinda, whom Henry had gone steady with in the fifth grade, and whom he knew one day would be his own wife.

With his television up as loud as he wants, Henry doesn’t have to hear anything unpleasant. When the Kandarians come with their arsenal of other-wordly weapons -- things that incinerate and dissolve atoms, ones that suck carbon right out of whatever they touch, those that turn solid matter into liquid
-- he won’t have to hear Mr. Foss’s screams of terror, or Lucinda’s pleas that they not evaporate her, that she’s sorry, she married the wrong guy and if they just let her remedy that mistake, she will do it in a heartbeat. No sir. Henry won’t hear a thing.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Well friends, the man and I are getting ready to move. Montana did not claim us, we're still here in the Golden State, just some hours away from where we currently reside. Our house is a maze of boxes and you can hear echoes in our now-empty closets. The cat eyes us suspiciously every time he finds a new item in his regularly-trod pathway. Moving requires an enormous act of letting go and learning to embrace chaos for awhile.

So if I'm slightly less of a presence for a little while, don't fear...I will return. Meanwhile, I'll leave you in the good hands of visiting essayists, memoirists and other sundry writers.

If you would like to participate in the (usually) Wednesday Essay slot, please email your submissions to: jordansmuse (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject "Weds. Essay" Your Title, and your name. Please limit them to 1000 words.

Today I give you Donna Emerson:

For James

Your childhood home was not only “off the road apiece.” It was a mile up, at the top of a brown winding path strewn with pink and white dogwood. In what some would call a forest. The long drive around the rounded hillside, the welcoming Doric columns, through the carriage entrance to deep porches, broad staircases, sunrooms bigger than my living room. Secret back stairways, hallways of family portraits. All of it bigger than William Penn’s house, the only mansion I knew.

And acreage. Thick pink, red and white camellias tossed about the grounds. Fully grown. Many gardens. Azaleas in all colors, hardwood trees, taller than the house, taller than any building in my town. Servants at work inside and out. It felt like a party and it was just Tuesday.

Days seemed slower, dearer, with customs I did not know, like being at home after church and Sunday dinner until whenever they left, because these were the calling hours. Dressing for dinner. All meals served by brown hands and silence.

Walking down the streets of Selma with your big, friendly father, in his white shirt and tie. He tipped his hat or took it off, grabbed all the light colored hands and shook them, arms around because he loved them all, people wearing hats and gloves, they all knew him, they took time together, the people of his town.

He was the cotton merchant, the broker in two states, the man, the wealthiest man. He showed how cotton was combed and bundled. When I asked, he took me to his fields to watch the picking, even let me pick some myself. Sticky and thorny stuff, hard to pry off the boll. It pricked my fingers. Nobody else’s fingers bled.

We talked about polyesters, he worried about how they were taking over. I said we’d come back to cotton because it felt better on the skin, more wholesome. I liked his certainty, lighting up when he saw me. My own father was never this grand.

And your Little House, the one below your Big House, the one where Grandmother came to live, the one you had parties in when you got older, with your sisters and friends. We all sat in front of its fireplace and sang songs our last night. I wanted your sisters to like me, yet we approached everything differently. They were certain, I was not.

When we ended the night singing “Dixie,” I felt bitten by the sound of your gritty endings. Believed all of it, knew it had to do with your fierce attachment to this land, your hired help: you knew them and they knew you. Real love there, lifelong, in one town, the soft cotton, the Sunday mint juleps on your verandah, a way of life which lined your soul like batting and made all the rest of creation, far away. I wasn’t sure why I felt surrounded.

BIO: Donna Emerson is a college instructor, licensed clinical social worker, photographer, and writer of poetry and prose. Recent publications include “Father,” in Drum Voices Revue, “Unexpected Meditation” for The Labyrinth Society, where she won second prize, and she is a finalist in poetry for the Dickens eighth annual contest, 2005.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

...and now for something completely different

by Rob Loughran

A writer walks into a bar and orders a bourbon. “How’s the writing game?” asks the bartender.

“Not too good, I sent an article into the local paper and it came back with a rejection slip.”

“What was the name of the article?”

The writer says, “I *Screwed a Bear.”

“No wonder it got rejected. You have to improve the title.”

A month later the writer returns and orders a bourbon. “How’s the writing game?” asks the bartender.

“Not too good, I renamed the article, sent it back into the paper and it came back with a rejection slip.”

“What did you rename the article?”

The writer says, “I Screwed a Bear for the FBI.”

“That title is terrible. It’s offensive. You have to rename it.”

A month later the writer returns and orders a bourbon. “How’s the writing game?” asks the bartender.

“Fantastic. I renamed the article, sold it to the paper, they printed it and it was picked up by Parade Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and The Christian Science Monitor. I just sold the movie rights to Disney and A&E is turning it into a documentary.”

“What did you rename the article?”

“I Screwed a Bear for the FBI and Found Jesus.”

*Original joke contained the F-word

Rob Loughran’s novel High Steaks won the 2002 New Mystery Award and his second novel Norman Babbit, Scientist will be published in 2006. He has a series of obscene jokebooks available at