Category Archives: Laura’s Slices

Giving UP

Not writing.  Anne Lamott says, “Stop not writing.”

So, with my morning window whittled down to a half hour before I am in the dentist’s chair to complete a root canal (my second in a month) I am going to write.  

I’m looking for the tunnel to get back into my wealth inequality project I began to envision last year at the Ralston Writers’ Retreat. It excited me because it included cartooning and research with writing.

I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Given that truth, I have been watching my reactions to the ever widening wealth gap in my local view and what glimpses of the national scene I find the guts and attention to view.  And I have been informed that many people who come to America to thrive here in Silicon Valley do not donate to local poverty issues:  They send money to international organizations who provide relief for war torn refugees and victims of famine and large scale catastrophes.  

It makes the scale of poverty for those in America look, well, like a first world problem.  However, the increasing number of malnourished children and the decreasing ways OUT of financial disability in our country are on a rapid rise.  

And I have challenged myself to read what conservatives who write for social policy say try to understand the views of both poles of current political thought.  

One thing I observe is true is that the rising American inequality contains every  urgent social issue and it is affecting every community, school district, health, and civic engagement.

I tried one piece, a large sheet “info comic” on how the wide, wide wealth gap affects the health of a child.  

The Escalating Rift Between Worth and Want

Crema

Between bites of fluffy crust spinach-packed Quiche and laughs with L1, I have finally opened the blog and posted a title.  Crema.

This is the coffee-house where several years ago I came to meet up with a small group of women who wanted to write.  I was so excited I showed up a day early, and sat outside at a table with my tea, a YA book and my journal, feeling the slightly familiar tug of rejection as I realized no one was coming.

L1 laughed when I texted and she explained the writing group would meet the next day.  So I showed up that afternoon too. And the two of us, L1 and L2 decided to blog on the theme of “inspiring teachers to write.”  That was a huge noble-sounding idea, of which I will not evaluate the efficacy.

There have been times when we wrote for long stretches and shared a bit; times when we talked extensively and got a bit of writing down; and times when we wrestled with the clock and collaborated on how a weekend of professional development would fit into the session hours.  We even spent some coffee-house time working on an outline for a book proposal on how to best teach writing for EL students.  One time I got the idea for a comic page called “Your Brain on Writing.” Sometimes we ranted, sometimes we asked hard questions, and sometimes we told stories from our lives. Once, we collaborated on L1’s handwritten story in Spanish and I drew illustrations with my watercolor markers.

Good times.  That’s why I like the feel of this place.  And seeing L1 writing in her notebook now, working on a model piece for coaching a unit of study, I am truly content.  In spite of the shock that she had an unexpected baby and that her career maybe was going to send her to NYC, I still have a writing partner.

What is it?  I find there are people I share an internet easily with in terms of thoughts and attitudes.  L1 is one of those.  So I can write whatever I want or need to get down and expect to be understood and accepted on some level.  A trusted listener, a trusted reader is a treasure for a wanna be writer.

The concept of a coffee shop has always pleased me.  Chairs, tables, wi-fi, caffeinated drinks and pastries.  People visiting and people focused on their screens or journals.  Sometime ago, after a trip to New Orleans I wrote an ode to coffee shops.

Today’s ode is to the think space shared by putting a meeting at Crema on our calendars.  I like the sound of the espresso machine scalding the milk, the smell of roasted beans and the pleasant chatter of people around the comfy room. But what I like the most is that we can talk about writing and the writing project and our lives seamlessly.

My third of a century career in education was largely aimed at the question, “How do we teach writing?” And now that I’m retired, I’m still interested in the education angle, but more so, how do I develp as a writer, now that I’m not working time and a half?

Why write?

I must write it all out, at any cost. 
Writing is thinking. 
It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.   
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Suddenly

img_5378At 1:30 a.m. the chimes in the flowering cherry were clanging and the swaying branches from the Australian tea bush tripped the motion sensor on the garage floodlight.  I slid out from under my layers of blankets and pulled up one cell shade.  The yard was back lit from the moon and partly clouds.  Close up, in the window sash a black widow was out, hanging upside down waiting for prey.  I peered up at her and tapped the window a couple times, but she didn’t move. The whole night scene was waiting, for something.

I watched the Italian Cypress by the Redwood first.  Not tipping side to side.  But the cherry and the bushes in the yard were stirring.  The wind chime clanged regularly, so I sighed.  “Have to go out and let down the patio umbrella.”  It was eerie warm and cool and still and stirring at the same time.  “Not raining yet,” I muttered to myself, “but I smell rain.” I let the shade down.

At 2:30 a.m. I awoke again to the same restlessness in the yard and my mind.  I sat up awhile, folding my legs and straightening my spine to meditate.  “What am I doing up at this hour?” I wondered.  I usually sleep solid through the night.  I slid down under the covers and drifted back into sleep.

When I awoke at 3:30 I began to feel scratchy-eyed.  I lay thinking, turning, and gauging how I would feel in the busy second grade class where I volunteer.  “I’ll be sleepy and grouchy and it will be craaazzzy time because it’s the day before vacation.”  Musing did not help.  When the alarm went off, I practically slammed the snooze button.  Cycling through that a couple times, I forfeited my yoga time and finally got up. Dragging.

Still no rain.  Still feeling off center.  I made tea and began to wonder if I was coming down with something. Contagious.  Thoughts about how maybe I should text my teacher friend and say I wasn’t going to make it.

I brought Mom her pills and coffee and pushed myself out the door, a bit late.  I carried an umbrella for the first time in months, noting the sidewalk grubby with dead leaves and dog poo. I checked in at the office, then walked into Ms. J’s classroom.

Seeing the balloons covered in paste paper she was handing out, I exclaimed, “Paper mache!!” and jumped in, helping  her get the first draft balloons out to the students, passing out more newspaper, and offering spray bottle and assistance to kids who added layers of newspaper and glue. Moving from table to table to offer more strips of clean newspaper and advice.

A wave of excitement.  I am in my milieu when there are art projects going.  I smiled and chattered with gratitude, navigating the mess and the excitement and the evolving balloon shapes.  Ms. J. had cool Christmas music on and some of us danced at the sink.  I consulted on finishing details stood on chairs to hang up masterpieces, and cleaned tables with kids. We worked and talked and laughed. The cloud burst in me.

After scrubbing glue-laden plastic bins and cleaning tables, while Ms. J’s students settled in with their book bins for independent reading, I headed for my favorite coffee shop.  Parked at a table with Numi tea, I watched the physical rain start shining up the sidewalks.  The rain I’ve waited for since last month.

 

 

Why I have not written on this blog since August.

Or, why haven’t I written on this blog since August?

While I was doing the Eat, Rest, Love thing in Provence in early August, I discovered it was tediously slow to upload photos to WordPress, so a post took forever.  Not a good way to share travel experiences.  After I left Aix, access to the internet was only when we drove into the village of Cuge le Pins and sat in the tech room of the library.  Dans la cabine, il n’y avait pas d’électricité.

The other part of this not-writing was that, when I came home from France, I had already developed a different relationship with time.  One part of that was no longer feeling driven to do the entire do list every day.  There were a few more retirement parties to attend and catch up on driving Mom to doctor’s appointments.  And writing project things to do and my yard was desperate for its gardener.

Then I got in prepping mode to paint my laundry room which was morphed into an art studio, thanks to the summer work of an excellent handyman.  Preparing one-hundred year old wainscot, bead board, that is not only thick with layers of alkyd and newer latex paints, but also has had the spaces where the boards joined “sealed” with a layer of silicone, was major work.  Many would have simply had a handyman tear the old wainscot out and install some new bead board, but it wouldn’t have been the same.  I was in “restore” mode. I wanted the original quaintness of the room. When I began using chemical warfare on the silicone, which was gummy and disgusting with nicotine and dirt, (besides being an annoying thing previous owner had done), then, with the scraping, my brain maps for painting kicked in and I got obsessive.  I wanted to take off all the paint, an entire century’s worth down to the wood.  Fast forward to two friends coming in and head nodding appreciatively for the project, but negatively wagging no no to the stripping, not at all impressed with the patch of 9 boards I had stripped.  I returned to get ‘er done mode, prepping the old paint for primer.  In painting mode I didn’t care what time it was, but we were getting on into late September.

And for a scenic turn out, Mom and I took an 8-day road trip to Ashland, which time spent at my sister’s “hobby farm” further reinforced the Eat, Rest, Love theme of retirement.  I came home to the feeling of being retired as a kind of floating…

Finally I got the painting done and a refinish-er redid the fir flooring that had been under plywood and bad vinyl for years.

 

And then my studio sat.  I showed my project to admiring neighbors and friends. I made my atelier but I was not moved to make art.

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It is November, almost Thanksgiving. Where did the time go?  I have led Saturday classes, volunteered in second grade, taken my mom to doctor visits as her back pain has practically immobilized her, and yet all I’ve done in the art space is prep some posters for a Saturday Seminar.

So now it has become a thing.

I’m studying the pattern, just like that brickwork, those marvelous old stone cobbles from Le Castello.  On one hand I see that my days fill so easily and that I have not mandated any protected time for sketching or playing with paints, even though I have daily schedules for yoga, meditation, volunteering, mom care, etc.  What sort of inspiration am I waiting for, exactly? I’m going to give myself the gift of scheduling a daily appointment in the studio.

Writing and art are complementary for me like stones and mortar.  They mean stepping into a creative space and doing something — but with this mental attachment I’ve created — putting so much significance on doing creative work — like, I retired so that I would have time to draw and paint, which are the truest expressions of who I am.  Well, I have cast myself into doubt.  Frozen myself with the idea that somehow now I must do something significant. Uh oh, a recipe for delusion.

And some days the truth seems to be that I retired at this time to be able to take care of my almost 90 year old mother who needs more assistance now.  Or maybe it is that time thing and I was unprepared for how it would feel when my parachute came out and my full tilt work life slowed on the runway.

Other days, I’m mulling and hoping to be preparing for what I want to do.  Noticing.  Thinking about the project I launched a year ago to do info comics, in order to place poor, minority people in the same frame with the obscenely wealthy, insulated people — to show the effects on health, education, civic engagements, etc. that the ever widening wealth gap in our nation is causing.  It was so engaging when I did one last year.  I don’t know.  Who’s my audience? What’s up now? Would it be just more yammering about problems?

I’ve been spending a couple days up at my daughter’s home in the Russian River resort area and doing nothing more noteworthy than making a magnificent soup from scratch for her coming home from work yesterday.  Being.  Yes and resting.  And, this afternoon, magically, I took out my laptop, perched on her couch and began blogging.  She’s home now making things fragrant from the kitchen.

Those cobblestones are like the brain maps in my head, and like the patterns of living built up over 70 years.  I appreciate their order and movement the same way I am very grateful for my health and life.  But, expecting this art thing to pop up out of nowhere has been truly naive.  As I writing teacher I always see the good stuff grow.  It is tessalations from lives.  It never is tabla rasa, then boop, some art.

This post has the feel-good of soul confession.  I have to start somewhere.  I just hate that starting means not really knowing where it’ll go.  Not as clear as booking a flight to France. Dang, it’s going to be like Anne Lamott always says, “Get to the desk (drawing table), butt in chair, write (sketch) badly…”

Tessalations.  Connect and begin wherever I am. I will meet myself at 3 pm in the studio, most days, from now on.

 

 

Cezanne’s Atelier

Here are a few highlights of the studio Cezanne had built atop a hill in Aix-en-Provence.  I walked up that hill in the heat.  The garden outside the studio vibrated with a chorus of cicadas:

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Cezanne’s studio is upstairs in a room that is like a 50 m cube, with the main feature, the windows.

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The objects he liked to paint were parked on tables and shelves and the gray wash paint made everything else fall back.

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The simple elegance of his tools and space:

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There was a video about his painting running in the shed outside and that was about it.  A bottle of water and sitting a few minutes before I hiked back into Aix Centre.

This Morning

I was sleeping in, after the late night partiers laughed until after midnight.  More noises from the square sounded like chairs being put away, shuffling.  I got up for a peek.

Ah, the farmers’ market!

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Not only will I get my petite dejeuner, but I will shop for something to cook for supper.

Of course pain au chocolate would be petite dejeuner, but I could not stop taking pictures to go over to a bakery or cafe’.

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I bought some lavendar soaps, a bunch of basil, a shallot, 6 shrimp, 3 peaches, a fresh chevre, a wonderful paste made of black fig and walnut, and a baguette. My eyes devoured everything.

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I exused myself when I leaned in for a photo and a woman had her camera aimed.  “I’d rather do art than eat, wouldn’t you?” She laughed and said yes.  She snapped her photo and moved on with her husband in the wake, commenting, “Then you and I would make a pair because I like to eat.”

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So I went upstairs to my apartment and made a small brunch and a cup of green tea.

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Time Transitions

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The first leg of the flight was 11 hours from SFO to Frankfurt.  If it had been just 11 hours sitting in an airplane that would be something, but we were flying east so it was getting later and later. I left on Thursday afternoon and arrived on Friday afternoon.  In Lyon it is 3:20 in the afternoon at the moment, but it is only 6:20 in the morning in San Jose.

So, after the calming parts of the flight, the serving of snacks, drinks and then dinner, the movie offerings bore me and I’ve tired of listening to The Alice Network, which is a good historical fiction book, I pull the navy cotton blanket around me and the teensy pillow and decide I should sleep.  Earplugs helped with the constant swooping air against the plane body mixed with the engine percussion.  I have even wearied of  watching the two hour sunset, tomato red at the horizon and splayed out across the huge patch of the horizon.  Not like our little in-town sunsets.  As the plane is flinging us east at over 600 mph, or some such speed, the sun keeps going down for a long time.

I shut the window shade and settle in.  In intervals which become shorter and shorter, I settle into rest, then shift to one hip and curl up a knee, then the other, then sit facing ahead and try another position, longing to recreate horizontal. But I can only approximate it.  This sleep, shift, wake, drop back into half-sleep seems to go on forever.  The hours pass and I never truly sleep.  So it goes for most of us on the flight until the cabin lights are turned on and breakfast comes down the aisles on carts.

I notice that my seat mate, a young woman who travels a great deal, has her phone charging on the screen as she watches a movie.  I regret that my charger is in the bag I put overhead.  But then I think, “I’ll have an hour layover in Frankfurt and I can charge it then.”

Landing in Frankfurt was part of my plan to avoid the delays at Parisian aeroportes.  As we deplaned, I looked on my text for boarding and it said Gate A21 but the marquis in the airport read A60.  I’d heard part of an announcement at the end of our flight about checking with the airport because some gates had been changed.  So I headed down the wide hallway, walking and walking, and turning down another hallway, walking more, for what seemed like a full mile.  Then there was a sign for A1-60 pointing down an escalator.  I followed a number of people into a room with automatic passport check lanes on the right and manual, meaning wait for a person at a booth to look at passports.  I pushed my passport into the auto read and a big x came up with the image of an attendant.  I tried again and a woman behind me simply pushed past me and inserted her passport.  I had to excuse me, excuse me back through the swarm of people and get in line for a person to check my passport.  This seemed unnecessary because I just got off a plane and a continuing flight shouldn’t need this, but a rather testy young agent assured me and another dissenter asking if we were in the right place, that we did indeed need our passports checked.

Then I headed back up the long hall I had walked down, now really pushing it, because it was boarding time.  I kept up with a young woman in cowgirl boots who was striding along with a big backpack. When I got back to the literal other end of the airport, I scanned my ticket and when into the little hall with a line of folks.  Our boarding path suddenly turned left down stairs (huh?  a stair they roll out to the plane?) and then into another little hall, through double doors and out to a curb where a bus waited.  “What?? I didn’t sign up for a bus to Lyon.”  A man looked at my ticket and waved me to the bus.

We squeezed in and the driver took the load of us through twisty turns and tunnels in the bowels of the Frankfurt airport.  Then his route went out into the taxi area and we dodged other busses and various transports driving.  It was hot and the AC was barely cooling the over crowded bus.  Finally we drove out to an area with Lufthansa planes parked and pulled up next to a small one being serviced.  The driver gave an announcement in 3 languages asking us to be patient.  I am beyond patient.  I’m going into full jet lag stun.  We duly watch the mechanic with the machinery finish whatever he was doing on the jet engine.

And we wait for the paperwork to be complete.  And then we board, but after taxiing the plane out onto the runway, another apology announcement explains that due to such and such about air traffic we won’t be allowed to start the engines for at least half an hour.  My hour layover spent traipsing up and down the Frankfurt airport and I’m on a small plane that has no outlets.  My phone is running out of juice and so am I.

We take off finally and this plane lurches and twists its way into the flight course, nothing like the big jet we’d spent 11 hours on.  At the Lyon airport, which is set out in a field, I claim my suitcase and add the carry-on on top of the handle and head out the door.  There are, I realize, various young persons in fatigues moving slowly out the door, each a couple yards distant from the other, maybe 8 of them, each cradling a machine gun, in their arms.  It is surreal.  I try to take it as support.

Lugging my two roller cases atop each other out toward the train, I ask a man walking by me on the road if I am headed in the right direction for the Rhone Express.  He says something affirmative in French, then offers to take my suitcases.  I am sleep starved and the sun is blazing, so it feels like a rescue as he navigates them down escalators to the train platform. “Merci!  merci!”

When I get off the train at Part-Dieux Station and cross to get a taxi, the driver does not know of my location, and consults with another cab driver about the address, then nods that he will take me to Octavio Mey.  I’d seen it on a map when I was going to take an Uber, but now my phone was at 3% and I was saving it to call my host.  The cab rushed through streams of traffic and I began to wonder if he did indeed know where he was going, but then he pulled over, took out my suitcases and I paid the Euros.

I was on the phone when my host came downstairs out of my apartment.

This was the moment, during his cheerful explanation of the keys and the apartment and a pitch for all the touristy things to do, that I realized I didn’t bring an adapter for French electrical outlets. I nodded and thanked my host and hurried him out.  With the last 2% on my phone I googled and found FNAC and hand wrote directions down for an 18 minute walk in the morning down river.  Without my phone for a day, I had no idea what time it was.

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The late afternoon in Lyon was blazing hot and I had to have the big double windows facing west shuttered. There seemed nothing to do except recharge, so I fell asleep with the fan blowing on me. I awoke and walked outside awhile to get some salad, then slept more.  All night I’d sleep a few hours and then awake to the people in the cafe’s below the window laughing, talking, drinking.  Which they did until about 5 a.m.

Later I realized I could keep the time by looking a the Gare St. Paul out the window.

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At dawn I listened to the scraping of metal chairs as the bakery was setting up and the smell of fresh bread baking wafted up into my apartment.

Finally, after pain au chocolate and a good long walk down river and back, then another one, with thunder and rain, because the first adapter I got wasn’t the right one, my jet lag left me.

 

 

Eat, Rest, Love

Those are the instructions on the front of one retirement card from my younger daughter.  I’m resting my feet on my  carry on bag in the SFO airport after eating a spinach salad with goat cheese and strawberries.

I arrived a bit early.  But everything else to do was done at home and I was so wired up.  Now I’m passing the time before we board for Frankfurt, then on to Lyon.

This blog seems a good place to post some photos and I can share the short link with my peeps so they can enjoy my retirement celebration vicariously.

Too bad I don’t have any cool photos — yet.

Teacher

Around the corner of the building at SJSU this morning comes a pair of legs with two strong hands clasped around a stack of boxes. It looks like a homemade robot as it lurches to a halt round the turn.  A large backpack, a coffee and a bag dangle from arms and a hand. Boxes of medium and small-size fit loosely together, and are piled up above the face.  But I recognize the hair.  Trigger happy, I’m unzipping my camera case and pulling for the lens cap immediately,

But, no, an assistant rushes over to help the box lady.

“Don’t help her!” I urge, getting closer and focusing.  “Hey, step back!”

But he’s a good man who ignores me completely and helps Ms. J. by taking half the load.  There’s her smiling face, so, as they head upstairs, I walk along side, admitting my human depravity.  “Hey, that was a portrait!  It was teacher. Yes, I’m bad. I cared more for an image in that moment, than for helping a fellow human being.”

She shrugs and takes the stairs to ready for Power & Poetry, her class at SJAWP Writing Workshop.

I’m still seeing her arrival.  Boxes.  A pile almost as tall as she is.  Prep for today’s discovery and deep thinking for her class.  It’s a portrait in my mind.