Monday, June 28, 2021

The Homes of Objects

I can't find the three hole punch, and that is unusual. It's one of the many thousands of objects I have in my visual memory as living inside a filing cabinet, resting on a shelf, or on the dining room table near the paper cutter. It is in none of those places, and I need it for my "Teaching Clown" chapters which are printed out, and for which I found a three ring binder, which was in precisely the place I remembered -- a box filled with three ring binders up in the Crow's Nest.

In the Crow's Nest, inside of the zippered front pocket of a suitcase, is a rhinestone applicator. There are two plastic squeaky pig toys on the bottom shelf of the cabinet in my writing room. If you want the grapefruit spoon, it's either in the slot with the regular spoons in the cutlery drawer, or with the sporks just below it. One of two 30 gallon rubbermaid containers lives under the stairs of the greenhouse. If you need a stick for your marshmallow roasting it's in the cabinet with all the collanders ("bowls with holes"). There are a few notes from Helen to me when she was eight years old in with the loose buttons inside the ceramic bowl with lid that she made when she took pottery classes. That bowl is on the upper right shelf in my writing room next to a stack of books that are resting on their backs in a jenga-like stack.

Writing about this has brought no order to my house, which is expanding with items both large and small, just like the map inside my brain which I rather pride myself on, not for the accrual of "stuff of a life," but for my ability to recall exactly where it is located. And on that map, somewhere deep in the Swamps of Lostness, is my missing three hold punch.

Sunday, May 30, 2021


Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house


                - Issa

Yesterday, while eating a quick lunch of ramen soup "shooshed up" with garden vegetables and a dash of chili oil, a gentle knock came to the kitchen door. Helen looked at me, and we shared a mild panic. "Who is that?" Dan stood up and opened the door a crack, and partway up the steps stood two women. "We're here to pick up an order of cinnamon buns."

Dan laughed and said, "Ah! How did you get past my camera alerts? We usually get a notice when someone is here." He abandoned his soup, thrust feet into boots and was out the door helping them in no time. Lunch is almost always, without fail, interrupted by a customer.

Helen and I stayed to slurp up noodles. It was rainy, and we'd already been out in it a number of times, getting thwacked in the face by the sodden mulberry, or slipping in duck goo. It was unseasonably chilly. The soup was just right.

"How did they even find their way to the kitchen entrance?" I wondered. Helen posited that they walked through the barn. We'd left the door open to the path, which means they went through the disaster of a prop room, where art supplies and theatre props are piled. Then they had to walk up the mangled path, where jutting bricks make a challenge even for the surest of feet. The fig and mulberry meet to combine a low soggy arch on rainy days, which if you aren't paying attention, will lick you in the face and leave your hair all combed with leafy bits. They worked through obstacles to get to our porch.

What was the prize for making it all that way? They saw all our coffee cans filled with rotting scraps for the compost heap, a muddy array of boots and shoes, an entire closet of plaid coats, pants, and rain gear hanging on hooks, a filthy rag dangling on the banister to dry (not working well on this day). Then, a few surprised faces sitting around a kitchen table.

While we are used to visitors to the farm stand and the barn theatre, we are not accustomed to people knocking on our kitchen door. I felt exposed.

All the coffee cans filled with banana peels and eggshells, loose boards, undusted surfaces, were seen by the audience. Not to mention the cast of maladroit insects we're too lazy to kick out.



Friday, May 28, 2021

Puppet Characters in Third Grade Classrooms

It's the end of the teaching season for me, and as usual, things are just getting good. For one of the programs I work in I've been with the students each week or two over the course of the full school year. We've done many projects, and the third graders are finishing up with lessons in puppetry. We built puppets with found objects, and this week we began exploring the characters they created. I conducted some improvised interviews with their puppets this week to get the character development underway, and these are a few gems:

Joe Joeington, a "regular Joe", 28, worked in business eight years, willing to work for $20 per day (even with extra hours, loads of paperwork, and weekend hours). He's bringing his best friend, "Hungry Bear" to the company picnic. Can't wait!

Shelly, a Miss American pageant queen, who makes her own casual rainbow belts, has an agent (Tom) who insists she wear her fancy costume everywhere. She wishes she could just wear her casual clothes. She donated her winnings to the homeless, and bought some groceries.

Dr. Joe, a robot doctor/dentist/game console. He treats everyone who programs him well, but sometimes he gets confused. He once tried to pull a tooth from a patient who just wanted to play a game, and the patient jumped out a window. Don't worry, it was just the first floor.

Kelly, a librarian who runs storytime in the Kids Zone part of the library. She's had a love of books her whole life, and got into the library business through a friend who lost a job.

The Clown Monster lives in her garden with her bee friends and all her flowers, who are also her friends.

Frank, friend of Anthony the accordion dog, lives in a party house. He likes to read, and parties are constant. His favorite thing to do is swing on the swing outside, and it somehow makes him angry when parties stop, even though he likes to read and it's hard to read with the parties going on all the time.

McClaren, British rock star who never travels. His largest audience was two million puppets, where he sang that famous song of his. I asked McClaren to sing it for us, and he hummed a few bars. It was catchy, so I joined in.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

For a Young Writer

Today I received an email from a high school student who had some questions about the writing life.

How do you gain inspiration and motivation to write?

My motivation and inspiration are directly connected to discipline. I get up very early to write, and write every single day. Even if what is coming from me that day is pure drek, I write. I write with no particular expectations, and if it turns out to be good, well then so much the better. If it's not, then I hope I get the chance to wake up again tomorrow and try again.

Do you enjoy this profession?

Yes. What fascinates me about it the most is the play of language. I enjoy playing with words the same way a musician plays with rhythm, or a welder "plays" with heat. The right words, in the right order can connect people through shared feeling and experience, create change, make someone fall in love, or out of love. Words have power. I'm not particularly power hungry, but I know words are meaningful, and they matter.

What are some challenges to expect in this career?

Doubt. Fear. I'm a poet, and a playwright, and I can say that the challenges in this field are that of most creative careers. Watch out for egos getting in the way of your work (your own, and those of others). Getting work published can be like trying to win the lottery. Be persistent, and have a tough outer shell. It's ok for work to come back rejected. It happens to all writers. Send it out again when you're ready. Edits are necessary for you to grow as a writer. Pay is abysmal for poetry and plays, so if you're wanting to make your living at creative writing, write in many forms and be prepared to send work out a lot. Write all of the time, and learn from everyone you possibly can. Go to readings, classes, support your fellow writers.

Would I recommend becoming a professional creative writer?

We have to start with what "professional creative writer" means here. Does it mean published? Paid by the word? Article? I suspect it's a combination, as our culture appreciates and recognizes those things as marks of success. I recommend following what fascinates you, learning as much about it as you possibly can, paying attention to those who went ahead of you on that path, and helping those who are trying to get to where you are. Be curious, supportive, encouraging, and say yes to opportunities when they arise. See where that curiosity, determination, and dedication leads you.

Thursday, April 22, 2021


The editorial scythe is brisk today, smile-slicing through words before I even write them. "Believe that you have something to say that is worthwhile," is a handwritten note I keep above my desk. To the right of that one is another note on a smaller piece of paper: "When it doubt, kick something over."

That is my process, for the most part.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Self-Portrait at 52

Hex of snow I pluck,
lattice of lines I live with,
and this body, Saturnalian,
still rises at 5 a.m.
A quick jerk, upright
each minute the last minute
in this hollow hour.
Bees spark inside me,
and stones moss over,
the entrance shaded.
There’s less to say now.
I see.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Romayne's Game

 My grandmother fans a deck of cards across the table and back again. She plays with the standard Hoyle Pinochle deck. The back of each card is printed in red ink with images of Neptune emerging from a shell. She cuts the deck in half, taps it against the table, then brings each stack to touch at the corners, her thumbs guiding the flipping cards to sift together. Cobalt veins bulge in my grandmother’s hands, map up the length of her bare forearm. After sliding all of the cards back in line, she taps a perfect, frosted fingernail of pointer finger on the top of the deck.

It is summer. A small glass of pale beer waits for my grandmother’s sip. The door to the apartment is open to the shouts of the landlords kids who are playing a lazy game of two-kid football on the lawn outside. Their little dog, Tannie, yips, leashed to her doghouse in the wooded grove by the salon. It is warm and humid. I can feel my hair expand. The waistband of my shorts cuts into my belly as I peel off the top layer of a licorice Allsort with my bottom teeth.

I am finally learning how to play pinochle. Romayne’s game. This is it. I’ll be an adult. No longer relegated to games of Uno or Go Fish, or simply watching from my spot on the floor as cold cuts are passed, and laughter fills the room above me.

Romayne cuts the deck, snaps the edges down hard, sifts them together. She lights a Parliament, dragging deeply through pursed lips, then on the exhale begins to explain the two-player rules.

I hear a lot of words that are new to me: trump, meld, trick. There are classes of suits, and assignations of points for certain cards. I don’t write anything down. If my grandmother gets this, so will I. We are soulmates.

I suck the nonpareil off of a jellied Allsort as she deals. The cards brush onto the table like waves against sand. My grandmother has become Neptune, welding her trident of cigarette, describing “melding the dix” and “declaring out.” My brain buzzes with sugar. Numbers blur with hearts, and I mistake a club for a spade.

It’s not time yet. I’m still too young, but she doesn’t say so. She simply rises out of the waters of the game and we shift to Uno, or Skip-Bo, or Go Fish. Games where I live for the giddy power of Reverse.