Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Coffee Talk: World Book Night 2014

When my daughter was small I’d throw her in the umbrella stroller and head down to Java Junction.  Java is a quirky-cool coffee shop in my little town in Western NY.  It is a place where you can grab a cup of coffee and a fresh baked scone and settle right in.  Kids and babies are always welcome.  So, when my, now thirteen year old, daughter was just a wee thing, I would escape to Java.

I could nurse her without being looked at sideways or being asked to leave.  I could sit for as long as I wanted while she slept peacefully in the stroller or squirmed in my arms. As she grew, she didn't just want breast milk though, I could get her a bagel or a grilled cheese and a lidded cup of juice.  I was given cookies and smiles and boxes of crayons for her active little hands. It didn't matter if she was fussy or quiet; she –and all children—were always welcome.

Fast forward a few years and my son came into the picture.  Now, I had new infant snuggled in the sling as well as a slow-shuffling toddler. The five minute walk now took what felt like twenty years.  Yet still, we went and the years passed swiftly by.  Soon, strollers and slings and wagons were abandoned and we would walk and skip and sometimes dance to our downtown destination.

We’d meet friends or have coffee with my husband. We’d have prolonged breakfasts that eased into leisurely lunches.  We’d run in for a cold drink in the summer or a cookie and hot cocoa in the winter.  Today we still go to Java, though everyone can get there on their own steam, and my girl can now go there all by herself when the urge calls to her.

The sense of home and love and family is why I chose to pass out Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City to my friends at Java Junction for the second year in a row.  There we all sat with coffee and bagels and tea and cookies.  Several of us sent our kids off to school that morning, and others came with toddlers and infants.  We passed around little baby Phin and I looked at his sweet face as he swatted Cheerios on the table.  I saw my girl and boy and every “Java Baby” in his eyes, and I knew I had chosen the right place, the right people, the right book; a book that could take us far away to the other coast to visit with Mona and Mrs. Madrigal, and Mary Ann. We could close our eyes and see a city bright with life in the not too distant past.  Each and every one of us needed an escape and a gift, and I was thrilled to be able to hand over those books to some very happy women.

The best “thank you,” though, came from Bobby, the owner of Java.  She is a business owner and baker and mom to three lovely children.  When I handed her that book, her smile was the brightest I’d ever seen, and my heart was glad.

Thanks to World Book Night 2014 for making this all possible.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On Not Writing

Last week, all the literary "things" happened.  I gave away books on Shakespeare's birthday, read poetry at a local bookstore, hosted a literary reading at an art gallery, and attended and read at an open mic.  I offered advice to a friend as she chose a cover for her new book.  I helped form a local writer's group. I had a Tiny Poem published in a wonderful magazine.

But the one thing I didn't actually do was...write.

I haven't written in a dog's age, as they say.  I sit down in front of my computer or with a pen and my journal and nothing comes.  Nothing.

I do everything but write, actually.  I meditate and practice yoga.  I work, of course, and run errands. Countless errands.  I volunteer. I lift weights.  I make healthy meals.  I balance the check book.  I walk the dog. Watch TV.

But I don't write.

There was a time that I would wake in the night with an idea fresh in my mind.  I would get up and write and write until it was all out and I shook with relief.  Something was created and purged and spoken into the ether all at once. I would sleep deep and feel refreshed. Other days I would form whole stories and essays in my my head as I ran. When I returned from my jog I would have to type furiously lest I forget my ideas.

But not now.

Perhaps my Muse will return. Maybe not.  For now, I think, my role is to watch others as they write and help them when I can.

Maybe I'll write tomorrow.

But not now.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Burning the Old Year (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Letters swallow themselves in seconds. 
Notes friends tied to the doorknob, 
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn't,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn't do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Burning the Old Year" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

When Sarah posted Nye's poem on Facebook I felt a keen, driving need to touch, feel, hold the ephemera of 2013.  I should count my stones instead, but there is an urgency to this, a voice shouting, "Take account.  File, save, treasure, or burn the hand written petitions of the year gone by."

I take heed.

Artist's postcard. I took a snowy January walk to her art show.  Snow drifted in the streets and flakes stuck to my hair and scarf.

"Patron Receipt" from a quick library trip. Cloaked in Red.  Did I read that?  No, one of the kids, I'm sure of it.

 Ikea sales slip.  I recognize only one item on the list and realize it was a friend's receipt, not mine.   She bought me a Skydda mattress pad.

Date book entry, April 7: "Write thank you notes" (for what? i can't remember), "Pay bills," "Balance the budget."  What isn't written: "Mary passes."

Yoga practice created by my friend Stephanie.  It's on lined note-book paper with little stick figures demonstrating how to perform the poses.  At the top is written "Stability."  She underlines this word twice.

Fluorescent yellow post-it note.  "Sheets, drawers, E. BD, camping list, $ store, B. library."  Only B. library, sheets, and camping list are crossed out.

Broccoli soup recipe.  The grease stains suggest that I've used it several times this year, and it's true.    A note at the top tells it like it is: "It's easy and fast!"

Stack of cards from my surprise birthday party.  The top one reads, "#40, You Go Girl! Love, Amber."  There was so much love.

Newspaper clipping. "Club prepares for Brockport Giftaway with Toy Drive." Thousands of toys.  Tears.  Fatigue.  Joy.

Christmas card.  The very last holiday card of 2013 reads: "Wishing you much Peace & Love in 2014."

Even as I recycle and shuffle and file these feather-light tokens of the last twelve months I realize that these *are* the stones.  If each one erupts in flame and is reduced to ash they will still be gems, still golden, still treasures. Even those things that go up in smoke carry supplications and griefs and gratitudes to the heavens, perfuming the air with prayer.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow Globe

Today was one of those days that makes you want to capture each scene and trap it in a snow globe: winter play, cookie baking, sleeping in, reading, goofing off.  Days like these both exhilarate and frighten me since underneath it all I feel shaky like the whole pretty snow globe is built on tooth pick legs. Beneath the joy is so much grief and fear, but I worked hard today (harder than I should have to) to let that go and "live in the moment," as they say.  

My friend Sarah said that December is the month to feel all the feelings, and it is true.  Every little thing feels so tender and momentous and wonderful and rocky all at the same time.

It's exhausting maneuvering these ship-swaying December waves of emotion.  These one moment excited-and-giggly and the next moment teary-and-scared feelings. 

I miss my mother and my sister who live far away beyond mountain ranges and states.  I miss my deceased father and grandmothers who live beyond even the sea and sky now.  I miss my far-away friends who are everywhere but here in my tiny little town. I miss friends who are only streets away but who have grown as distant as if they are in foreign lands. 

But despite this heart-sore missing of so many people I do recognize that I am surrounded by love.  My good, kind, sweet friends and family, near and far, shower me with light and affection, and I know I am blessed and lucky.  I want to push this feeling of happy gratitude to the front of my life and to feel those feelings more deeply than those that pull me down with sadness.

I try.  God knows I try.  And sometimes, on days like today, I win this little battle, and I will crawl into bed contended and warm. Tonight I will sleep the sleep of the fortunate, and I will dream of the sea and the mountains and I will taste sea salt on my tongue and smell redwood in the air.  I will wake in the morning to the sound of the snow plow and ready myself for another day.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Light Ekphrastic

I have a couple of poems in The Light Ekphrastic today.  Please head over and check it out.  I worked with the amazing photographer, Lynne Parks.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Body the Battleground

Today I  wrote the featured post over at Antonio Valladares's Healthy
Urban Kitchen. 

Antonio is a personal trainer and nutrition/lifestyle
couch as well as the founder of Burn Sports in NYC.  He has been
featured in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, The Washington
Post, Time Out New York and many other magazines and publications.

It was an honor and privilege to write for Antonio.  It was a tough
piece to write, and there is a raw edge to it, for sure.  I hope you
or someone you love can relate to my story.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to Clean Your Sink

9:00 AM

Tell yourself that you will write for one hour straight, no interruptions.  It is your Writing Day after all.

Make a cup of tea.  There may be grease and grime and some weird food-stuff stuck on the tea kettle.  Clean it.

As you wash the tea kettle you will see that the sink is gross.  Gross as in you need to get out an old toothbrush and the bleach gross.

Since you clearly cannot write while your sink sits in the kitchen all dirty and gross you must postpone the beginning of your Writing Day. This will only take a minute anyway.

To make sink cleaning more “literary” you should find a lecture by Lynda Barry on You Tube to listen to while scrubbing. 

While Barry talks about “creative concentration” and how to transform images and memory into stories run your paper towel covered finger nail around the metal edge of your old 1950s sink.  It’s really the only way to get out the grime.

Your buddy Lynda will mention “imaginary friends" and "imaginary enemies” and you will cry thinking of an old friend who has dumped you unceremoniously and unkindly.  Not to worry, tears bring up the shine on the porcelain.

Use the toothbrush on the faucet and handles.  Wipe off the soap pump.

Your tea is now cold. Stick it in the microwave to revive it.

Do you know what goes well with tepid tea?  Pickles.  And cheese.

After the pickle-tea-cheese snack return to the sink.  Buff it dry with a clean rag.

While you have the rag and toothbrush out you might as well clean the counters, too.  And the stove.

Have another piece of cheese.

Scratch off the words “Writing Day” on your calendar. There is always next week. 

10:00 AM