Tag Archives: Laura’s Slices


I need a new name. We get new tennies when our shoes wear out.  We upgrade phones. Some of us get new partners, new jobs, new houses.  Is this too much to ask in my generative years? I’ve had this name over 70 years.  It’s worn out, and I’m tired of caring what went before.

            One reason heritage poetry writing vexes me is that I’ve accumulated so much history. It makes me think deeply when I add my known ancestral history to my decades on the planet. I can’t help it.  Truly, I find it easier to make sense of the present than the past.

            Is this wanting a new name an attempt to articulate an identity for my retirement?  Or am I deep down still angry and unforgiving for the things that happened to Laura?  Have I not let her off the hook for failures, both real and imagined?  Jeez, I think I have.  Then we are asked to write a poem, and I’m doubting.

            A new name, a label, might affirm my freshly sprouting identity. [I am and am not the same person today.] I am outgrowing old ways, or, what if this name kick is simply a new tool for my survival kit? Then I should rather order up a new nervous system that doesn’t reverberate with trauma, instead of a new name.

            If I have to be Laura, I’d like my stolen childhood back. I don’t have much time left now to be free, playful, curious. If I am essentially the same person who walked through all those old life episodes, then I will throw the memoir baggage overboard. Am I reduced to an additive version of life? Really?

            I argue that my fresh name will not connect to wasted years because it will be founded in more than my poor parents and ancestors could do.  Why be stuck with being made out of the past when the present is so powerful, so lovely and provocative? Epigenetics, yes! Wait… I wonder if my genes are being turned off?

            I guess I wouldn’t be able to use it officially all over the place, because not being called “Laura” would be inconvenient for some, and probably hurt my mother’s feelings, since she gave it to me.

            Laura, the song, became a jazz standard.  It was written over a weekend by David Raskin for the movie of same name.  His wife left him and the romantic, haunting theme “wrote itself.”

            I never liked the sound of it when my mother sang bits of it to me and frankly, I was a bit burned on the romance thing during my life. Finally, I found a good therapist. I need to ask if I’m having a Late Life Crisis.

            I would like a name that means I’m acceptable, loved. I want a painter’s name, a writer’s pen name, an artist. My name will remind me to be in love with life.  Which I mostly am now, if I get enough sleep. When I’m not wrestling with memoir poems.

One that reminds me to love myself.  I’ve been growing and getting to know who I really am, sorted out from the filed labels, accusations and awards.  If that person will please stand up, we can pass out the new name badge.

            This name will embolden me to speak up for what I need, to say what it is I want. Like normal people do.

            Someone suggested my name will come to me in a dream.  Another said over her shoulder at the coffee pot, “The first word that came to my mind was, ‘River.'”

            “Huh, that sounds good,” I said. 


From zero words to 500, one character at a time.

The season of colds, holiday events, planning time for spring and summer writing project events, my mom’s very slow recovery from heart failure, and the lengthy winter nights try to add up as an excuse. The truth is, after my concussion, I simply haven’t gotten back to a writing habit. I used to use a blog simply or that – for daily writing to sit down for 20 minutes after work and blurt on the page.

Then blogging seemed to need purpose and I wrote commentary on teaching and explored ideas about writing process.

Now I share the blog with an instructional coach who is busier than I am. We co-write professional development and have brought another teacher in on a book proposal. Except we never find time to write on our blog.  Too busy doing it all to write about it.

A blog now seems too public to contain my free writing, that is, when I start doing it again.  Which, today, going for those 500 words, I intend to do. The return.

Anne Lamott said, “Writing.  Almost anything else is more fun.  But it’s a shitty life to wish you were writing.  In a great life, you get your work done.”

And here, with no one making me write, and writing badly, I’m already beginning to feel better.  To whom did I owe this non-writing apology, anyway?  No one else cares.

I have begun to pull out stories from my checkered life that seem to want to be written.  I have experience with teaching writing I want to share, if I can find a useful vessel for it.  I want to write.

And, since I’ve come back to my little writing desk in windowed corner of my room, my cat is on my lap, acting needy of attention.  Even my writing cat is out of shape and forgot the routine.  Jump up on the desk and sleep next to my laptop.

For now I will tolerate him seeking my warmth and resting his silly black and white head on my left arm as I plunge ahead, going for 170 more words.

Non-writing has also meant I’m writing for other people’s purposes.  Writing up the spring Saturdays, four workshops for K-6 teachers in teaching essay, making it synch with the 4-6th grade students who will attend.  Meeting the coaching requirements of my sharp co-writer.

Composing in my head while I’m driving and then not getting to the desk is another kind of non writing that has been going on.  Musing out the window at the winter changes and not knowing what project to begin.

So, that ceramic sculpture of the clay person is out the window, in my view.  He says tell the truth about some of my unconventional life experiences and take that Hemmingway adage to heart to write about what hurts.

Then, in this process of this discovery draft, I realize what I already knew, all along.

I just need to write.

Goal 1 Get a Writing Group

People of Clay

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My next door neighbor is a clay, tile and pipe cleaner artist and one of my writing desk windows looks out to his backyard filled with bushes, trees and life size sculptures.  In June Ted Fullwood participated in our neighborhood open studio.  I had been looking at this 3 foot tall cookie cutter man, a piece unlike anything else Ted has done.  I bought it and placed “Henry” as Ted dubbed in my backyard by the garden.  He has overseen the chrysanthemums blooming out and the heritage tomato produce masterpieces.

I have been puzzled by the magnetic quality of this piece, a bit surprised I bought a clay sculpture. I finally realized I like to draw a gesture style outlined person as the simplest of cartoons, like a moveable gingerbread man shape.

Sunday was the monthly writing group, No Bad Sundays, and, thinking about it on Saturday, I knew what I want to explore.  I voice recorded a memo to the effect that I want to make a graphic novel that is memoir, except that the main character will be this clay shape kind of drawing, very simplistic and fluid.  And what is most important will be writing and drawing without reference to gender, race, age, nationality…possibly not time references…even though I am drawing on events, some poignant, from my own checkered history.  If the reader begins to suspect, or figure out it is me, that’s fine.

I drew a quick sketch in the group on Sunday and then wrote the memory for half and hour.  I learned, as I read it aloud that I’ll need to draw, write, and then draw more frequently because a who chunk of memory poured out and, while it bore the pain and loneliness of those events, it was confusing to my listeners when I read it aloud.

Then a clay artist who writes talked to me after and suggested I used one of those wood armatures to sketch my clay person in various poses, which I thought about as I drove home.  Then the idea came to make a cookie cutter shaped person of fabric and cover the wooden armature, so that I can get fluent with this character in sketches.  A flat thing has to look like it is bending and moving in 3-D.

Writing without reference to gender was difficult, yet I think it necessary.  I want the reader to co-create the character fully with me.  And, the drawing acts as kind of a mask, a safe place to write from, as some of my experience, like every one of us, includes some suffering and some novel twists and turns.

So, here I am writing about writing.  And, this idea is taking hold, maybe because it has come out of the roots of some time in the making.  I know that a blog is not the format for this work.  I will continue to post something here, at least on Tuesdays.  Mini-stories from school and slices of my life as an interventionist.




This Morning

It’s the second day of meetings and trainings at my school district.  It’s also day 2 of Whole 30 for me, a food cleanse.  I was out for my 2 mile walk-with-intermittent-moderate-running mixed in.  As I came up the side street near my house a neighbor was pulling up to intersection in her little blue VW bug.  Laura rolled down the window.

“Are you retired?” she asked. She’s a teacher, too, but at a different school district.  At first I was surprised, then I realized it was the likely explanation for me not being in my car, usually a bit earlier than her.

“Oh! No, I’m on my way to a training this morning.  Kids start next week.”

And we bid each other good luck.  And I was a teensy bit late for that training this morning which is very out of character for me.  I reset my departure time for tomorrow.

Year before last I engaged in the fantasy that I was retired, but was just showing up for my day gig because I value my work life.  “Yeah, how’s that working out for you?” my sarcastic friends and colleagues wanted to know.  I think it helped.  A lot.

Last year I didn’t have a master plan…except survive a new principal and try to have a life.

Well, this school year, as I really am closer to retirement, I think I have the mantra.  It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that

1) I’ll never be young and pretty again

2) nor will I be slim,but

3) I want to be fit.  That much I can do.

I think my tactic with school this year is to not buy into the numbing  and stay fit and alert.  Many of us teachers know the numbing with food, complaining, booze, etc. that we think helps us cope with the sheer exhaustion of teaching.

Yes, I have drawings on my desk and healthy reminders of vacation to prompt me to not obsess over my job.

So I am putting more energy into exercise expecting it to give back.  Wow, if I put my 10 minutes of meditating in there, too, without getting up at 3:00 a.m. I’d be cooking.  So far, except for moments of feeling a bit weak and shaky in the afternoon, I feel great eating whole foods and avoiding the processed flour, sugar, alcohol, etc. that’s on the NO list.  The yes list has so many things I really like.

So, no I’m not retired.  I’m not living like I’m retired.  I am working on fitness.  And showing up for those meetings and contributing where I can.


We All Have a Shadow

Post WWII times found intellectuals and artists seeking to deepen their understanding of human nature to find ways to avert the devastation of another world war.  Carl Jung articulated a theory of archetypes and work in psychiatry since has confirmed that Jung’s understanding of human consciousness, of the mind and soul as peopled with various energies and intents, has proven true.  The main point he made is that everyone has a dark side.  Even Mother Theresa.  He was not promulgating the Western Christian idea of being basically hopelessly sinful, but bringing our view in line with what other civilizations recognized already.  We have a shadow.

So, as I write in my lime green journal, trying to find the thread of thinking that would make what I view as extreme cultural polarization in my country make sense, I’m wondering how to get the disaffected whites who are rapidly becoming the minority, the immorally super rich who live insulated from the effect of their extreme luxury on the rest of the citizenry, the angry black people who are asserting their lives matter more than my white trash life does, and the fundamentalists who don’t think deeply about what Trump is saying but like that someone is defying the status quo — how do I get these people into a real conversation, into hearing one another, and having some empathy?

The polarization has a great deal of heat in it. Why the passion of the liberal writer who mocks the right wingers?  Why the redneck defiance that would rather shut down the damn government than give in to the dehumanizing sell-off that has been accomplished economically on the watch of the past several administrations?

I revert to questions.  Why has our country been put on auction?  How did it happen with educated, prosperous people who supposedly didn’t want another world war?

I think that the Dunning Kreuger effect may play into some of my well-intentioned liberal sentiments:  there’s a high correlation between exuberent confidence with a lack of knowledge, with low cognitive ability.  We just think we’re great, think our system is good, when it isn’t at all.  If the right are pessimists, then we liberals are optimists.

Economically the USA is closer to feudalism than I’d really like to think.  The health care scam and the continual dehumanization of weaker groups are bits of evidence that democracy, as I learned it in school, is seriously broken. (Or never existed?)

A deeper question underneath this public display of inhumanity and disrespect toward any other person or people group who doesn’t agree with our politics, is how do our beliefs allow us to forget our humanity?  Just because another person’s position is “wrong” how do I get to be indecent in my speaking or actions? Hateful, shaming and hurtful, even?

I’m really concerned for the co-opting and squashing of voices that are not going along with this polarized culture.  It is like reverse (inverse?) racism.  People who say “all lives matter” are publicly shamed and bow to the agenda, “black lives matter.”  Why?  Well because white people are privileged.  There is absolutely no historical mention or present understanding of the hardship that the poor white, the trash as it is acceptable to refer to them, have endured to survive. (Can you imagine referring to blacks as “trash” nowadays?)  Whites, Scots in particular, were enslaved before or at the moment of their arrival in this grand country.  If they lived beyond the Revolutionary War, legally they were freed.  But free to follow Boone into wilderness, or strike out onto the prairie to squat, but they did not have lives anyone by any stretch could call privilege.  Not for generations did some of these people do more than eek out an existence, enslaved by the Industrial Revolution and then spat out by the Dust Bowl and Depression.  And not only the Scots of course.  We don’t talk about the history of struggle we just look at the privilege they now enjoy.  Well, as a white woman who grew up poor, I have had a few breaks, but now I’m the enemy?  Really?  All races are being economically oppressed right now in the USA.  How dare we divide and call each other the damned?

What we can’t talk about is the oppressiveness of immoral power in the hands of the super rich. This is economics of power, not race, people.   What we can’t do is realize that there are a raft of people groups — the majority who are not benefiting from modern corporate and governmental deals — and that we are really all in the same boat.

No, when we get our fundamental Christian system going in our head, then there are the damned. The liberals.  And the liberals vilify the conservatives in the Bible belt just the same.  All these citizens really believe, or fear, that they are surrounded with the damned.  Just my social group is saved.  Just my club.

We all think we are on the side of good.  And we’ve seen two public candidates trying to articulate an anger, a fed up-ness with this shiny, rich country which is not nurturing it’s people, but lurching off into feudalism at an appalling pace.  There are problems we don’t really want to hear about.  Well, not on the media, controlled by four corporate entities.

How does the position of being ultra wealthy lessen the moral weight of our responsibility?  How can people in the valley where I live own two million dollars worth of cars and not care that child poverty has grown rapidly in our county?  It is indeed harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, then, isn’t it?

Well, the poor are the damned in the minds of some.  Poverty is shaming.  Power is saving.  The dark side of the fundamentalists is a violent self-righteousness.  The dark side of liberalism is a doctrine of inclusion and diversity that promotes inverse racism. It is a do-gooding acquiescence to the “rigged” system because we have paychecks.

I am rather worried that the tone of much of our public life has become rude and egotistical.  I was shocked that at the Olympics last night one of “ours” insulted a Russian with name calling, who was clean and clear to participate.  The stupidity of the reporters who made hay of that little act of snobbery was the most appalling.  It was like a teenage girl. The anchor was  playing it up rather than ignoring it. That hints at a new wave of Russia hating that is not good.  And mainly really poor sportsmanship.  Like in the political campaigning being aired.  The whole idea of the Olympics was to bring together nations to compete in excellence and forget their historic grudges.

So, now there’s old people hating.  And hating white people whether they are rich or struggling to make ends meet in some hick town, and there’s hating the immigrants, even when many of the Latinos who get the heat are citizens…and fear.  There’s fear underlying this behavior.

Whatever group you identify with — I’m an educator watching my almost middle class status evaporate — watching my job be co-opted by huge testing companies and an over-developed administrative structure –and  I have to remember my dark side.  Teachers often do more shaming and harm to the creativity of growing children than we want to face.  Teacher unions back the wrong leaders and muddle the political machinery.  Teachers buy into the idea that our job is to create manpower for a corrupt business system — depersonalizing it by calling it the feared “global economy.”  Are we really creating a literate, thinking public?

Like other Americans, we just get tired and want to do our jobs efficiently and go home with something left over.  It is taxing and tiring to read deeply and think what the real issues are.

I still do not understand the cultural war in my country, which has been apparent for a generation now, at least.  I only have questions.  Why the heat?  Why the anger?  Why mock the voices of discontent?

We are not going to get big money out of politics with this polarization.  We are not even really going to talk about or face the issues of violence and economic immorality — the real problems with our nation — because we’ve got two sides who think they are perfect and living in the light.  Two sides spinning their wheels to go after the other, both believing they are saved and the other damned.  And that works fine for the big bosses and those who have sold our country down the river.  Nobody is going to notice what they are up to.





Quotes from PacLit16

Narrative is the deep structure of all good sustained writing.  ~ Thomas Newkirk

Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head. ~ Malcom Gladwell

You don’t make reading more rigorous by making it harder. Rigor resides in the energy and attention given to the text (not in the text itself).  ~ Bob Probst

Reading requires an element of tentativeness…   ~ Bob Probst

Do writing to find writing.   ~ Don Murray

Tell me what surprised you.  ~ Kylene Beers

Nonfiction comes into our world and tells us a purported truth.  Fiction invites us intot he author’s world.    ~ Kylene Beers

We have to write — if we want kids to be excited about writing.    ~ Kwame Alexander

How to Live

A 3 minute quick write off a line from Charles Harper Webb (see title)

“stay strong and lean”

I forgot how to live as a dancer

the rigor of ballet and jazz

I forgot how to win a twist contest

with a sweet guy in eighth grade.

I forgot how to mark out the pillings

of a Scottish Country dance.

And I forgot the roll of a salsa rueda

Afro Cuban music and great calling.

For that matter, I forgot how to bounce

springing on my tippy-toes

As a toddler and well into elementary.

I forgot how.



Message on My Mind

Response to Chapter 5, Writing Without Teachers

Walking 4.2 miles with my girlfriend in Westgate Shopping Center one night last week was exercise with the benefit of air conditioning and fun talk. She’s one of those friends Elbow refers to — “that’s why it’s so magical when you have a friend who actually understands much of what you are trying to say. It makes you want to say things you never thought you had in you.” [pg 122] We really do get each other. And we were laughing and talking up a storm, in our typical style with five or six open incomplete threads, sentences that would be picked up after other anecdotes or comments.

For me, this was an art tour of the high-end handbags in various name brand stores, partly because my friend had just attended a graduation where her ex was invited. For some reason, her way of making him “eat his heart out” was for her to be dressed super fashionably with all the right labels. I surmised he’d always required that kind of class of her. Now she was my docent.

My theme was trying to articulate why one purse got my attention or some repelled me. We were in yet another a store, both having agreed that the best handbag was an unusually textured Ives St. Laurent. My friend K. wanted to know the price, so an obliging saleswoman opened it and found a card.

My friend realized that, in my inattentiveness, I hadn’t gotten it. To help it register, she said “nine grand” in an aside with teeth in her words. Just to let me know. Which was maybe information for her, but I went on mute. Underwater, into the fog. Something I couldn’t articulate, and wouldn’t expect K. to understand. I could do some math: ten times less expensive would still be $900. Who would spend that on a purse? And ten times less again would put it down to $90, a lot for one at Marshalls.

Recent national events have been roiling pictures in my mind I cannot reconcile, on the one hand seeing extreme luxury — the local reality of people living in dream homes, driving super cars and buying small islands for get-away — people from banking and investing who are so ultra wealthy that I don’t get it. Someone has to lean in and put teeth into the nine figure sums like I don’t speak English.

And on the other hand, seeing deprivation and poverty — the pictures I’d seen all day of poor people downtown, and people online who had been shot or man-handled, and I read things that made me envision so many more in small towns scraping out a living. I couldn’t stop feeling the weariness of people ground down with overwork and fines, and betrayals from landlords and layoffs for downsizing that upsized somebody’s pocket.

After that Ives St. Laurent registered with me, I couldn’t shake a dull feeling. Over the next few days, I’d remember the moment, looking up at the carefully lit plate glass the handbag sat upon. Glittering light around a very sleek finish. It was no longer just a handbag. This underwater mute feeling.

I tried to put those divergent people in the same room in my mind. I wanted them to have a look at each other and maybe talk. One criminalized for his skin color and hustling CD’s. Another selling cigarettes because a prison record handicapped an able body from work. And another, a corporate CEO whose pay increased 148% over the past three years, standing with an elegantly dressed lobbyist who knows the ways of Washington. Paid per hour what would sustain a poor household for a week.

Some may have honestly and accidentally risen to this luxury, as happens in history. As happens to some who fall on hard times. Yet, lately I apprehend some of these men and women as the profiteers who have done covert, criminal things for their wealth. I don’t mean the Mafia. I mean out in the open, on Wall Street, in committee hearings, in corporate deals unhampered by the laws that apply to me. They don’t get shot. Never have a hand slapped. This court fines you three Ives St. Laurent handbags for raping our economy and compromising the federal legislature with bribes.


Today I did a quick write for 10 in response to a magical Elbowesque response to a passage from Peter’s Writing Without Teachers.  This Elbowesque response was a dramatized talk between Peter and a neighbor that centered around clay making and brought out key points in the passage Susan was responding to.

What happened for me was a memory drifted in.

When I lived in San Francisco in the early 1970’s, I had a kick wheel and small kiln in the basement of the Marina apartment building my husband and I managed. The basement was coo, a quiet cavern with old things stored from the 70 year old owner, a Mr. Brown.

Of course, I had to take a pottery class to learn how to throw a pot. My best friend from high school and sister-in-law, Nadra, lived in San Francisco, too. I’d drive us in my ’66 Volkswagen bus out to the avenues for our class.

The focus of the wheel. Centering. Yes, I was reading a book on Zen with that title at the time. In class I would immerse my attention in the clay and the slip. I would prepare clay and throw a pot, revise it by crumpling it up and slamming the air out of it to center it again on the wheel for another take.

Opening up a piece of perfect consistency clay is delightful. Carrying it aloft to shape a vessel is amazing.

What sticks with me the most, though, is the drive home. Steering my VW bus over street car tracks in the road and the sudden unevenness of all pavement was amplified to the point that I felt driving to be a strange undertaking. The bumps and the steering wheel like a wild horse I must manage. My brain was so attuned to center, to balance from the pottery wheel.

That similar thing also happened back then when I took hand drafting classes at Galileo High adult program. After drawing machine parts and ruled notes I could scare walk through our apartment without straightening photos and pictures on the wall. So much is always off level and yet, to me 90 degrees as square and 180 degrees horizontal became acutely noticeable.

This brain tuning interests me. I think there’s a reason for power in daily, continual free writing. Like knowing the center of clay, and the angle of a drafted shape, the writer gets tuned in to a – what? — a source from the mind, a word reserve.