Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's the plan.

Most of the jobs begin like a blind date.  You meet people.  You size them up; they size you up.  What's different is that you try not to get screwed.  They have problems; you try to help.  You work hard.  Stuff happens.  You live by your wits.  Sometimes, you do things that make you proud.  Sometimes, you make a friend. 

Since 1976 I've worked small jobs in the construction trades: carpenter, plumber, electrician.  Some jobs last an hour.  Some take months.  That's a lot of blind dates.  And all the time, I was keeping a journal.  For the next year I'm going to remember some of the people, the problems, the craft, the joy and sorrow, day by day.

(This is the first post of a new blog I've started which will run in parallel with this Clear Heart blog.  I call it 365 Jobs.  Each day I'll pluck a job from my journals and try to figure out what happened, what was the larger meaning of the work I did that day.

It's an experiment.  I don't know exactly where it is going.  Please join me.  Come along for the ride.  At first, I'll cross-post each entry in this Clear Heart blog and also in the 365 Jobs blog.  I may also start issuing each new day as a podcast.  We'll see.  Like a lot of construction work, I'll just be learning how to do it as I do it.)

Have a happy new year, folks! 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Meet Tom and Devora Bratton

This article was written for the La Honda Voice newspaper.  Here are two people who have spent a lifetime working with their hands.

Maybe it all started with the sinking of a houseboat.  Devora Alpert, a young actress who performed with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco as well as occasional small parts in indie films, was living on an unwieldy, topheavy houseboat in Pete’s Harbor near Redwood City.  One day while she was away, the boat sank.  Losing all her possessions, she found a temporary summer home in La Honda.  It was 1970.  Music rang through the redwoods from huge speakers mounted in a section of Redwood Drive known as Hippie Loop.  A precursor of the Doobie Brothers, then known as Pud (or unprintable variations of that name), were regular players.  Devora walked among the music and the trees in long flowing dresses and met a handsome young man, a biker/surfer visiting from southern California, by the name of Tom Bratton.  Almost immediately he asked if she wanted to go just for a weekend to Rancho La Puerta in Mexico, where he had worked as an exercise instructor on a "fat farm" for Hollywood stars.  She agreed.  It was that kind of an era, and La Honda was that kind of a place.

Two years later, Devora and Tom set up a house and pottery-making operation on Cuesta Real, and La Honda Pottery was born.  Tom works the clay, Devora does the glazing.  Both have had mentors but are largely self-taught.

Tom had crafted pottery since childhood; Devora had been a painter but knew nothing of glazes.  Devora says, “If I’d known I’d be doing this, I’d have taken more Chemistry.”  Through trial and error, often working on hunches, Devora invents glazes to match custom color requests while Tom, using a process he invented, constructs giant one-of-a-kind urns that are sought by decorators and designers all over the world from Peru to Saudi Arabia to Japan. 

They started modestly, selling at craft fairs.  Devora remembers selling at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival when there were only ten vendors.  She remembers selling at the roadside on Highway 84 when dozens of Hells Angels thundered in to look at their work — and purchased delicate hummingbird feeders before they roared away on their choppers.  

Tom was a member of the La Honda Fire Brigade and, working at home, was often the only person who could respond at mid-day.  In the summer if he’d been busy at his kiln when the call came in, you might have seen a nearly naked fireman driving the one little red La Honda fire truck down Highway 84.  

Craft fairs were hard work, requiring lengthy packing and unpacking.  Finally in 1978 the fireman built a fire in his own back yard, invited friends over, burned the craft fair booth and cooked food over it.

To make it as a potter, you have to stand out in some way.  Devora’s custom glazes and Tom’s giant urns make them special, but it wasn’t always so.  At first they made the usual cups and saucers and vases, and then they hit on the idea of “Pottery for the Birds.”

They produced thousands of hummingbird feeders, bird houses, and feeding stations that were sold in Audubon Stores and other outlets all over the country.  Their success lasted 3 or 4 years before cheap imitations started crowding them out.  As Devora says, you have to be “on the pulse,” always staying slightly ahead of the crowd.

They had another success crafting fountains.  Tom currently is tempted to try his hand at making ceramic fence-post caps, something that might have a run similar to hummingbird feeders.

Meanwhile, there are always the giant urns.  Tom has developed his own mix of clay and uses his own process to create them.  It’s hard work, but he takes satisfaction in being an artisan creating something unique, hand-crafted, in his own style.

Maintaining a production schedule, and depending on pottery for his livelihood, makes Tom what he calls a “blue collar potter” — as opposed to an academic or hobby potter who doesn’t have to meet the real-world discipline of selling one’s work to actual people.  Tom takes pride in craftsmanship:  “You have to make it your own way, make it special to be more desirable than something cheap no matter whether you’re making pottery or beer.  It’s about being an artisan.”

They still make cups, vases, and platters which are much appreciated by the locals of La Honda.  Many a dinner is served on Tom's fine shapes colored by Devora's sparkling glazes.

Now for the first time, Tom and Devora have an additional, if perhaps temporary, source of income: a grant from the William T. Colville Foundation to hold workshops and pass some of their one-of-a-kind skills to a new generation of potters.  

Tom is interested in going green, installing solar panels to power his kilns.  Partly he’d like to lower his electric bill, which can run $500-1000 when he’s operating full blast.  But also, if he could be certified as a “green” producer, he’d have a leg up in selling to new buildings which will only accept green-certified products.  It would take a big investment, and the last two years have been lousy for the pottery trade, as for everybody else.  Tom measures his monthly production by how much clay he uses.  He buys clay by the ton, and in normal times can go through three tons a month, six in great times.  Lately, it’s been one ton a month.  Now, though, Tom senses that the rich people, at least, are loosening their purse strings again.  

Tom and Devora have lived in “The Compound,” as they call it, since 1972.  They have two Morgan horses, Max and Breezy, in a stable on the premises.  Devora tends their extensive gardens.  Pottery is strewn everywhere.  There are a dozen kilns of various shapes and sizes.  Occasionally black smoke belches briefly from one or another chimney, and once a neighbor called the fire department in a panic.  Mostly, though, it’s a quiet, productive oasis where beautiful works are created by hand.  It’s a mix of life, toil, and play all in one spot, and Devora never wants to leave:  “I’ve been here so long, I have moss on my north side.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"...Place..." by Diane Lee Moomey

To enjoy a book I have to trust the writer.  Only then can I give in to her power.  Sometimes trust is easy - a voice sounding just like my own, or not like mine but amply  warm or authentic or engaging.  Sometimes the voice is first contact with a mind utterly different than my own but clearly onto something - such as the voice of Diane Lee Moomey.

And trust her I do.  She is kindred to the voices of Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard.  I’ve read her book three times now and will surely return again.  The book is called . . . Place . . . and that’s what it’s about: her lifelong search for …place… a state of mind, a home - not a structure or location but a spot in the spiritual and physical universe.

The power of the book is largely indirect, cumulative.  There are the people: James, her companion homesteader on their frozen one hundred hectares of Canadian Shield, gatherer of maple sap, a man she never fully reveals perhaps out of kindness, perhaps out of sorrow.  There is Marcel, a farmer who rides his tractor while composing poetry in his head, who sells candles at a fair where Diane sells porcelain eggs.  “When the fair is over… Marcel kisses me in front of everyone: a surprise kiss; a stong, hard kiss, beyond Quebec-polite.  This is not an invitation; it is a statement.  We could live Here together and do very well.” 

There is Evan, “another one of those rock-star potters that Ontario is famous for,” from whom she buys clay, with whom she shares a kiln and an attraction.  She says, “As Marcel is actually not wind, but the door through which wind blows, so Evan is not fire, but the kiln that contains it.”

And there is Will:  “Wherever he goes, he carries the presence of those red trees with him; the slow, tenacious movements of vines and of root hairs.  Winds do not blow him down; earthquakes do not topple him…  He moves like a plant, and thinks like one, too.  Days or weeks will go by with no apparent activity, then suddenly comes a flurry of blossoms, a setting of fruit.”

To read this book is to feel in your body - to your very core - how it is to walk (carefully) at midnight, sixty degrees below zero, in the Laurentiens: “No wind will blow; no snow will fall; storms move only in the much warmer regions near zero.  Smoke from chimneys will rise straight up, skies will be clear, stars clean and sharp.  Beneath the snow, Mouse and Shrew may sleep, may move about in tiny tunnels.  Above the snow, no sensible creature…” 

You will feel the dry heat of the noonday desert sun that paradoxically leaves you drenched: “I can feel the thin, high vibration of the ultraviolet seeping beneath arm hairs, altering my cells, changing my skin forever.” 

You will learn the smell of water, the personality of granite.  When a blue jay becomes trapped in your house, you will calm her with a spontaneous language:  “'Chikachikachik,' I continue, and walk slowly to the open door, carrying her in front of me.  As soon as she sniffs the plein air, she shoves off the dowel with surprising force and is gone.  I think, absurdly, of aliens coming to rescue earthlings as we flap against our own glass ceiling…”

You will swim naked at midnight in a small Adirondack lake:

On sudden impulse, I upend myself and dolphin-dive into the dark water, eyes open, pushing down as far as I can.  My fingertips brush the cold layer six feet beneath the surface.

I am not prepared.

Utter emptiness surrounds me.  This water is not simply dark, it is void.  It is nil, it is naught, it is no-thing and no-where.  It has no up and down, no cool and no warm.  It is the dark of the moon, the moment in the night before the dreams begin.  I feel no Presence or Non-Presence, nothing to comfort or to threaten, but all the same I thrash my way quickly back to the surface, splash hastily back to the shore, wrap myself in the towel and sit shivering on the dock.

I have seen my face before my parents were born.

Eventually from her birth on Canadian bedrock she comes to the Pacific Coast, a land crackling above the tectonic Ring of Fire, a land of “loose and temperamental stuff.  The occasional massive boulder on the surface is the black bear in the snowdrift, the swimming pool in the desert - astonishing by the mere fact of its appearance.”  To her surprise, it is Home.

Diane Lee Moomey settled for many years in La Honda, California.  Now she lives in nearby El Granada.  She designs gardens and is a frequent reader at Sullivan’s Lit Night in La Honda.  Perhaps one night, she’ll read this poem (from …Place…):


i drive the coast.
at the fault line,
soft ragged cliffs need only
a couple of richters
to go sliding into the sea.
i park here,
spread my blanket, picnic lunch.

deep beneath me,
rocks could wake, stretch,
roll over in their sleep.
they could, they could do it now.

i could drive on,
out of harm’s way,
but i won’t.

no, i don’t know why.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Meet Terry Adams

(I wrote this as an article for the La Honda Voice.  With a few changes, I'm reproducing it here.)

Terry Adams manages the Public Works Department for Cuesta La Honda, where he keeps the roads repaired and the water running.  He bought Ken Kesey's cabin, suffered a tremendous flood that nearly destroyed the place, survived theft of his tools and theft of the cabin's historical artifacts, and rebuilt it into the showpiece that it is today.

In college in the nineteen-sixties, Terry took ROTC and studied Creative Writing, getting an M.A. at Miami University in Ohio.  If you ever wonder what happens to English majors, here’s one story.

After ROTC, Terry was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He served at the Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Nebraska where they have a bunker that is designed to survive a nuclear hit. His job? He was the Top Secret Control Officer. Terry was the keeper of the targeting instructions for all the nuclear warheads that all the Air Force pilots would need if we launched a nuclear attack.  He was, he says, "Postmaster of the Apocalypse."  He was at the SAC headquarters while four students were shot dead at Kent State. He was there when the Top Secret command to bomb Cambodia came across his desk, and he says, “Everything remained right, normal, and calm in Omaha.” He says his corner of the bunker was a quiet place, buried under 300 psi concrete. Few people wanted to visit the bombing codes - and if they did, they'd better have a darn good reason - so Terry was rarely interrupted. He says it was a good place to play cards. Even today, 38 years later, he won’t talk about what went on in that place because it's still classified information.  Which indicates why Terry was a good man to be in charge of Top Secret bombing plans.

Eventually Terry decided to opt out of the destruction of civilization and left the Air Force as a Conscientious Objector in 1972. Back home in Ohio, Terry says, “My father refused to speak to me and changed the beneficiary on his life insurance from me to the United States Department of Defense.”  Terry decided: “It was time to move to California.” He found work in Palo Alto as a Vocational Counselor. He met and befriended Vic Lovell, to whom Ken Kesey had dedicated One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was to be a lifelong friendship.

Terry set up a car and motorcycle repair business, then a handyman business, then became a licensed contractor running a couple of crews, then tried fixing up and reselling houses, then became a manager in the Maintenance Department at Stanford University, and eventually wound up right here in La Honda managing the Public Works Department.
When financial and legal circumstances forced Ken Kesey to sell the old cabin in La Honda where Kesey, Neal Cassady, Merry Pranksters, and the Hell’s Angels all hung out, Vic Lovell advised Kesey that Terry Adams would be the perfect keeper of his legacy. After years of neglect, vandalism, misuse and squatters, the cabin was a wreck. And then right after Terry bought it, in February 1998, a flood nearly washed it away. The water, Terry says, ran "two feet deep through the house, knocked two walls out of the back room, pushed the front wall 4 inches off the foundation, and left a foot of silt throughout. It took away the bridge, ripped out the water and gas lines – the 250 gallon propane tank has never been found."

The flood left Terry and his wife, Eva, homeless for 18 months.  What had been planned as a ten-year rehab was, in desperation, completed in two years. Terry says, "By 2000, we restored it to museum quality with a new, raised foundation and a freeway-rated bridge as the driveway. We numbered and reinstalled each piece of the old pine paneling and reinforced the framing to seismic standards." The entire rehab is a story in itself to be told another day. (Also for another day - Limey Kay did some masonry on the Kesey cabin during the Merry Prankster era, a story that involves all the basic food groups: drugs, alcohol, guns, Hells Angels...)
All this time, Terry was a writer. He’s no academic in an ivory tower. His hands are callused; beneath his nails are mud and grease. His poems, meanwhile, are as polished as his cabinets and have been published in many magazines.  Now Terry has a book of poetry called Adam's Ribs, and it's a dandy. He’s accessible; he’s humane; he has that twinkle in the eye. He can write about love and death, dump trucks, and the male scrotum - all with wisdom and grace.

Terry is co-host of Lit Night, and you can hear him read some of his work on the last Wednesday of every month, starting 7 p.m. at Sullivan's.  For more photos and for samples of Terry's poetry, click here and here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Legends of La Honda: Limey Kay

Limey Kay was a gun-toting, hard-drinking, motorcycle-racing stonemason.  All around La Honda and the Santa Cruz Mountains you come upon samples of his masonry, usually with a whimsical touch. Often he mixed abalone shells among his bricks.

Limey's old house, built on a steep hillside between Laguna and Redwood Drive, is an eclectic mix of brick and stone reflecting different stages of his growth as a craftsman.

It's a small house, but it has six chimneys.  According to Debbie Kay, Limey's daughter-in-law, "The reason there are six chimneys and not the same amount of fireplaces is that Limey had built five or six chimneys for Neil Young's place and Neil shouldn't have more chimneys than Limey!"  No two of those six chimneys are alike.  Consistency and symmetry were of not much interest to Limey Kay. Neither were foundations, so some of his work hasn't held up particularly well.

In his day, Limey's work was in great demand, but you had to know how to approach him.  A six-pack of Coors was generally the cost of getting an estimate - or doing any kind of business with him. Joan Baez hired him by showing up at Apple Jack's with a pickup truck full of bricks and beer.  When he worked, he started the day (at 6:30 in the morning) mixing mortar and drinking Coors, even in the cold of winter.
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Besides Neil Young and Joan Baez, Limey was hired by another local celebrity: Ken Kesey.  This particular job ended unfinished after Kesey invited Limey to join in a Fairy Circle, a regular event at Kesey's in which various Pranksters sat in a circle under the redwoods behind Kesey's cabin.  In the Fairy Circle people would drop acid, hold hands, be quiet, and tell each other "where they were at."  Limey (and a few other locals) couldn't quite adapt to this hippie custom and stomped out, never to return.
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Limey had a series of vintage motorcycles.  An old Bonneville of his can still be seen around town.  With Hells Angels hanging out at Kesey's, and with Limey's history of racing motorcycles (which were not equipped with brakes),  along with Limey's fondness for guns and alcohol, trouble was bound to happen.  One day Limey held a gun to the head of a Hells Angel. For weeks thereafter Limey was on the lam, hiding out as the Angels sought revenge. Meanwhile Nancy Kay, Limey's wife, asked for mercy from her old friend Sonny Barger, who was head of the Oakland Hells Angels. Eventually Sonny called off the manhunt, and Limey came out of hiding.

For a while Limey carried a pearl-handled .44 Magnum revolver.  He had only one bullet, which he kept in his pocket.  Local residents still remember Limey laying the gun on the bar at Apple Jack's and demanding a beer, or Limey with a rifle threatening a neighbor's dog, or Nancy waiting until Limey passed out from drink and then tossing his gun in the lake. But here's the thing: Nobody has a story in which Limey ever fired a shot.
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Hubert Allan Kay was born  in December 1929 in Menlo Park, where he lived until 1961, when he married his first wife.  According to James Adams, "The name 'Limey' was supposed to have been because he raced English flat-track motorcycles on no-brake bikes. The real reason for 'Limey' was because his Mom was English and he would go to England with her in his youth."  Moving to La Honda, Limey built the two-story brick house on the hillside from the ground up, with his bare hands, in the early 1960s. The current owner of the house is working to preserve the house with all its eccentricities including, of course, the abalone shells.

On his 50th birthday, Limey married Nancy, who was 29 years old at the time.  They had a daughter five years later named Jody Rose.  Nancy says, “I had already had three kids and he had four from a previous marriage.  Jody was number eight and pulled the whole extended family together. Those were some of the best times of our life together.”

According to James Adams, "Limey had, at one time, 22 feral cats. [Descendants of those cats still hang around the woods near his cabin.] The cats knew they could trust him. He'd take Jody, his infant daughter, out with him to feed them in the mornings. He'd spend more money for huge bags of cat food than he'd spend at the bar, which was a lot."

Limey had a long-standing feud with the town of La Honda.  Rather than pay his water bill, he poured concrete over the water meter box. Eventually, with the aid of a backhoe (and police backup), the town got a reading of the water meter, and got paid.
Limey & bottle
Limey didn't always have the firmest grasp of finances. One day he walked into a local realtor's office and said, "I hate to do it but I'm broke and I'm gonna have to sell my house." The realtor replied, "Limey, I'm sorry to tell you this but I already sold your house for you - three years ago."

Limey seemed to have a soft spot for animals and children. If anybody drove too fast up our little roads, Limey would flag them down.  People were scared of Limey because he was gruff. If he spoke, he mumbled. And yet he often showed kindness. If your car was stuck in a ditch, Limey without being asked would pull you out with his monster jeep-like vehicle which he called The General.

Limey died in 2005, but his spirit lives on in La Honda, as well as examples of his craft. He was a folk artist, a pain in the butt, a one-of-a-kind stylist, and a local legend.

(The photo of Limey as a young man is by Susan Friedman in the book A Separate Place by Charles Jones.)

(I wrote this article for the La Honda Voice, where it originally appeared.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Interview

I was just interviewed by Liana Burnside for a research project at Brigham Young University.  The questions were interesting...

 1. What first prompted you to distribute some of your material for free online?
In March 2008 I read an article in the NY Times about podcasting novels, and I instantly loved the idea.  All literature has its roots in oral storytelling.  Somehow we have come to believe that only printed works are true literature, but they are merely an imitation - and sometimes a poor substitute - for oral storytelling.  My own writing has always been geared toward the sound of words, especially the extensive dialog.  I'd been writing podcast-ready novels for 40 years and hadn't known it.

Or is the question about doing it for free?  Well, initially I thought a free podcast of the novel might entice listeners to buy the printed book.  I was wrong.  Most of them are happy just to listen.  But the podcasting process turns out to be exactly what I like about literature, so I'll continue even without making any money from it, although - ahem - I appreciate the occasional donation from the occasional grateful listener.

2. When writing your novel Clear Heart, did you know you were going to turn it into a podiobook? If so, how did that affect the writing process?
I had completed Clear Heart just before I discovered podcasting, so the writing was intended for print.  Reading aloud, of course, is a great editing tool, so the writing became better as I prepared the podcast.

Currently I'm producing a podcast novel that is strongly influenced by my podcasting experience.  It affects the story in several ways - most obviously in my use of music which I incorporate into the plot.

3. How have you promoted your work? In addition, what sort of online networking have you participated in?
I suck at promotion.  It doesn't fit with my personality.  I have a blog and a website.  Sometimes I comment on other people's blogs.  I do a few internet radio interviews.  That's about it.  Eventually, the podcast itself is my best promotion.  Without any publicity, my downloads increase every month.  People find me through word-of-mouth recommendations.

4. You offer a few of your books in both audio and print versions. Do you feel like the different versions offer different experiences? Is one superior to the other?
I want both versions to be good, and I try hard to make it so.  And yes, of course the experiences are different.  Listening to a podcast is an incredibly intimate experience.  My voice is literally inside the listener's head - inserted through ear buds.  People won't allow that kind of intimacy for long unless they really like you - so I have to be as good as I can be.

5. What is your primary motivation for writing?
Creating characters and bringing them to life.  Creating my version of the world.  A kind of birth.

Thank you again for assisting me with my research.

Interesting questions, Liana.  A pleasure.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A nice review of Clear Heart

I've been taking a break from blogging while I concentrate on preparing my next novel/podcast.  But somehow, in spite of my absence, the internet keeps on going...  I just became aware of a new review posted on Amazon by a reader/listener:

Clear Heart by Joe Cottonwood, is a story about life. Just that, life. There are no car chases or gunfights or deadly diseases, although there is one race with death that had me praying for a positive outcome.

Wally, a building contractor is just existing, each day a struggle to overcome the death of his wife as well as her betrayal. His highest hope is to create a house that is as close to perfect as possible for an impossible client, while his own life and home are in chaos.

His best friend, Juke, is a misfit with no responsibilities and seemingly no cares except to do his best work for his boss, Wally.

A fateful accident introduces Opal, the force that causes a catharsis, the healing and growing that takes place in this tale of life.

Abe, Opal's son, an immature high school grad who was accepted into Princeton until he pulled a trick on the wrong man.

And last but not least is Frog Girl, Amanda, a pregnant, seventeen-year-old run away.

Throw all these personalities into a pot and stir, add a few side characters for spice and the race to finish the perfect house as the fire. Let it stew. With these ingredients, it simmers, boils, and simmers again. Just like life.

As a member of the audience, allowed a peak into the life of these people, you are shown all the imperfections of Wally and watch as he was able to say good bye to his wife and fall in love again. Watch as Opal realizes she does not need the perfect man, a banker or lawyer for a partner. Watch as Abe and Juke both mature into men who, after being tossed around the water, floundering a bit, learn to grab hold of life and realize what is important. Watch as Frog Girl discovers the mystery and bonds with her unborn baby and makes better and stronger decisions as her life continues.
There were times I did not like the characters, just as in real-life. Some decisions were made that would not be the decisions I would have made, but usually, after some learning and searching, things got back on course again.

I did not like Opal very much, all the way through. I thought she learned the least and did not really understand the minor miracle that was happening in her life. But that is just like real-life, too.

Joe Cottonwood is a carpenter. The details are sometimes overwhelming, but embellish the story and add a "scent" (I could smell as well as feel the redwood).

All in all, when I finally got the very end and looked back, I was amazed at the depth of this book. A story does not always need a car chase to be an excellent tale. I really liked Clear Heart. 

The reviewer is Arlene RadaskyShe's a writer/podcaster herself.  Her story The Fox is available as a podcast here or as an ebook here or as a printed book here

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ann Emerson, continued...

About Doctor G.

He still goes out of his way every time to ask
how I’m doing: he is the tree whispering through

the cracked hospital window, the shiver of white
narcissus, the breeze lifting the skirt of the nurse

opening my door. He is the song in my head
that doesn’t stop at night, the way curious medicine

wanders my blood--I no longer go out of my way to
picture the mound of earth dug just my size.

Sometimes someone touches your hand in an
unexpected room and you close your eyes

like the lid of a music box that’s been wanting
quiet for years.  When I start to die, this is

how it will be:  no terrible music, no one taking
my place, his footsteps in silence carrying on.

—Ann Emerson

From the journal of Ann Emerson:

Friday, January 22, 2010 1:55 AM, PST
a long week has just ended, with the last 36 hours in the wilderness passed without phone, water, heat, and light. i knew when i signed the lease to this cabin 15 months ago there’d be times like this one.  i knew when i decided to embrace living with cancer there’d be times like this too--times of rough poetry at best.

there may not be all the time i’d prefer left to see the rest of the world or even to improve my poetry much, but there is plenty enough left to deepen my relationship to life.  further,  i am discovering that to delay doing this just because my health isn’t optimal is more than an excuse; it’s a sin.

my epiphany in the darkness is simple and stark.  i wasn’t put here to be a poet. i wasn’t put here to achieve one single thing. i was put here only to love.

and, friend, i’m warning you, that is the only reason why you are here too.

let’s begin.
Ann's journal is ongoing at CaringBridge.  It is open to the public.  Make a visit.  Say hello.

I introduce Ann Emerson here:
Meet Ann Emerson

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Meet Ann Emerson

(I wrote this article for the La Honda Voice newspaper.  Oddly, some people on this planet don't subscribe to the Voice, so I thought I'd repost an expanded version here with some additional comments.)

Not the Last
by Ann Emerson
-- with gratitude to Jane Hirshfield

In this story I am an old animal
and not sad in the way people think

about horses vanishing in the West.
Stanford Cancer Center.  The hills behind the

research lab are stitched tight with barbed wire.
Things now are just as they said it would be:

steel devices and PKC412.
End-stage: I am a feral horse untouched

by human hands, lithe as grasses on
high plains.  Pink gasps of lungs for air.

This isn’t the last poem I will write about
orchids on the desks of doctors from grateful

families of the dead.  Here, in this closed
room, I grow restless pricked with silver

hooks and tools.  I am not sad no one
has figured me out and I do not wonder why things

turn out as they do: my sky pouring gold through
the window, the crack of wind setting me free.

Meet Ann Emerson
by Joe Cottonwood

Ann Emerson self-portrait
You may not have met Ann Emerson, though she's been living in La Honda for a couple of years.  "I'm kind of a hermit," she says. 

Four and a half years ago, Ann learned that she has a rare form of cancer called malignant mastocytosis.  She was given 3 to 5 years to live.  "This prognosis was very good," she says, "because now I know there's an end in sight.  I'm at heart very lazy.  I need to evolve.  Now there's a compression of time, an intensity.  I'm more selective about who I spend my time with." 

Mostly, she spends her time with two old cats at her little cabin in the redwoods in a chair overlooking San Gregorio Creek, where she writes poetry.  She calls her home Lazy Eye Ranch in honor of a lazy-eyed cat.

Besides writing poetry, Ann runs something of a hospice for old cats, usually blind ones.  "I've always worked with dying animals," she says.  Currently she cares for two of them, Blinky (one-eyed) and Babar.  In boxes by the window are the ashes of 3 cats who have passed on: Wabisabi, Flossy, and Piccola.  "When I die," Ann says, "I want my ashes mixed with theirs."

Morbid?  Depressing?  Not at all.  Spending time with Ann is to be embraced by the clarity of her life, her spirit, all of which shines through her poems.

Born in Oakland in 1954, Ann grew up in a not-so-good neighborhood in Richmond until 1968 when it was destroyed in the rioting after the assassination of Martin Luther King.  Her father was a professor of medieval musicology; her mother was a child prodigy concert pianist who at age 8 appeared in Steinway ads, but who gave it all up, as was expected in the 1950's, to raise Ann.  Her mother became a reference librarian in the Richmond Library, where Ann would hang out and read everything, first children's books and then moving to the adult section.

Ann in 1976
Ann majored in Physiology at U.C. Berkeley and wanted to be a veterinarian, but the Dean of the Vet School at U.C. Davis "chewed me out, called me a hippie (I had hair down to my butt) and told me he wouldn't admit me because I was only going to drop out and have babies."  This was 1975.

So instead of veterinary science, Ann studied literature in graduate school but only as an academic pursuit, never as a creative writer.  In those days (and perhaps still) there was a strict boundary: You were either academic or creative, never combined.

At age 27 Ann worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.  "She was a pistol," Ann says.  "A tough cookie.  A down to earth, gritty woman.  She took no personal interest.  To her, all that matters is your service to others."   On a wall of Ann’s cabin hang the words:
Three things in human life
are important;
The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind.
The third is to be kind.
  --Mother Teresa

Ann worked for 20 years in the California Employment Training Panel, an agency started by Governor Jerry Brown to retrain workers.  For 15 of those years Ann visited employers, meeting CEO's, helping workers from the cubicles of Silicon Valley to the hot fields of broccoli farmers.  What she learned, she says, is that "American workers work really hard."
Finally, with her illness, Ann had to quit.  She can't go more than a few hours without sleep.  With the clarity coming of a life-threatening illness (Ann, in her Buddhist group, doesn't use the word "terminal"), Ann came to see many of her acquaintances as shallow, concerned with shopping and shoes.  She gave up her life in San Carlos and moved to a little cabin in the redwoods.  Meanwhile, she joined an experimental writing class offered to cancer patients at Stanford.  Under teacher Sharon Bray, she discovered she had a calling as a poet.  At last she is a creator, not an academic.  And she is blossoming.  Now she meets with Ellen Bass, a Santa Cruz poet, and had an inspiring encounter with the poet Jane Hirshfield.

Ann has turned to poetry with a passion.  "You go for broke," she says.  Her lessons from Mother Teresa ("All that matters is your service to others"), from broccoli farmers ("American workers work really hard"), and from her own trials with chemo and blood transfusions and all the medical technology that Stanford can bring to bear, have taught her this: "It's not what you do but how you do it.  You do it with all your heart and all your passion."

And this: "Getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me."
 After posting this article, Jane Hirshfield commented:
The finished poem is perfect, more than perfect--it is devastating and gorgeous and true.
Thank you for this story--and Ann, thank you, for your presence, your words, and your teaching--
Ann keeps a journal at the wonderful website CaringBridge.

There's more about Ann Emerson here:
Ann Emerson, continued...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Meet David LeCount

crossing the cattleguard--
     a lone cow studies
     how we do it

David LeCount's poetry has been published on tea bottles all over the world.  How many other writers can make that claim?

David LeCount David and his wife Arla have lived in La Honda long enough to raise three children along with horses, pigs, chickens and a Guernsey cow.  David loves milking cows and making butter, but most of all he loves teaching, a profession he has practiced for 40 years.  At one point in his youth, he was considering a career in the Secret Service but chose teaching instead.  He says "It's the best decision I made in my life."  His students would agree.
talking to the nun--
a little girl closes her eyes
and whispers
David grew up in Lagunitas, a small rural town in Marin County not too different from La Honda where his father was a professor and gentleman farmer.  Later he moved to Marin City, a not-so-bucolic town where he says one of his classmates tried to knife the principal, a girl kept a loaded .38 in her desk, and the school was surrounded by concertina wire facing inward—to keep the students from leaving.  With that experience, he says his early teaching assignment in the Ravenswood school district in East Palo Alto didn't frighten him for physical violence, though he felt "terrified" to actually perform as a teacher.  He takes the job seriously.  He says, "I was throwing up for the first six months of teaching."  Apparently his digestive system settled down, and he has taught English at Menlo-Atherton High School and Pescadero High.  He describes teaching as "magical," and says, "I had a wonderful blessed time at Pescadero." 
in the rain
the bell
drips into silence
David is adept at languages.  He can dabble in Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Greek, Arabic, Swahili, Italian, and a bit of Japanese.  He has now retired from teaching but keeps busy tutoring.  In addition he is leading a "World Travel Club" in which students learn languages and cultures combined with a meal at a restaurant.  Right now the assignment is Egypt, and he would appreciate any tips for a good, cheap Egyptian restaurant.  David went to tiny Deep Springs College in Nevada joining a class of 8 freshmen, followed by the somewhat larger University of Alaska.  Eventually a Creative Writing Fellowship led him to the University of Massachusetts.  He has written two books for teachers of creative writing, Nonstandardized Quests: 500+ Writing Prompts That Matter and Dream Writing Assignments: 600+ Prompts for Creative Writing
blowing moon--
the ghost of the pampas grass
comes to life!
He moved to La Honda in 1977, deciding the town offered "the same things that brought me to Alaska."  It seemed a place where "my kids could collect the eggs" as he had done as a child in Lagunitas.  La Honda, he says, "is heaven for me."  A long-time writer of haiku, he was amazed to discover that J.W. Hackett, a well-known haiku master, was living in the same town.  They soon became friends.
angel gull
out of the salty fog
shadows the sand
David has stacks and stacks of journals he has kept, writing mostly in haiku, tanka, or other poetic forms, rarely in prose.  He is working on an epic poem about the Lakota Sioux. His haiku have been published in various journals and the Christian Science Monitor.  In 1988 he won the Grand Prize, "my equivalent of the Nobel Prize," from the Modern Haiku Society of Japan.  He has spoken at the World Haiku Festival in Amsterdam.  Through his haiku David has made friends and visited them in Romania, Japan, Croatia, Paris.
along the shore
a driftwood fire
hisses salt
  Tea's Tea loAnd then there are those bottles of tea.  A bottle of Ito En tea purchased in Japan displays in both Japanese and English script:
into the dusk
the doe's tail
flees its own white
while a bottle of Teas' Tea Green White, purchased at the New Leaf Market in Half Moon Bay, displays the haiku:
ten heron heads
blow as pampas grass
in the morning fog

Usually appearing with half a dozen pens in his pockets, David has been a reader at Lit Nite, the last-Wednesday-of-the-month celebration of writing at Sullivan's Pub in La Honda, where the haiku combines with beer and wine.  And perhaps a bottle of tea.  
the wind shapes
the sand dune
shapes the wind 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lit Night at Sullivan's Pub

Caroline Graham, one of La Honda's talented teens, joined with me at the most recent Lit Nite to read a few passages from a novel of mine, a work-in-progress that might have the title Jesus at the Mall or perhaps Wormheads.  We'll record it as a podcast later this year.  (Copyright © 2010 by Joe Cottonwood.)
     Jaz Lee hung up the phone and saw that her mother was staring.     “Who was that?” Linda Lee asked.
     “Hoot?  He’s a bird?”
     “No.  He’s a kid.”
     "Does he go to your school?”
     “Yes.”  For some reason, Jaz felt herself blushing.
     “Is he a nice boy?”
     “He collects waterfalls.”
     Jaz knew she was turning bright red.  Trying to avoid her mother’s probing gaze, Jaz swept her eyes around the kitchen — and noticed a shiny white toaster.
     “What’s that?”
     “Oh.  I got a new toaster.”
     “You what?”
     “It was broken, Jasmine.  So I got a new one.”
     “Couldn’t we fix it?”
     “Jasmine, you don’t repair toasters.  You replace them.”
     “But we had that toaster all my life.”
     “You want it, Jasmine?  It’s in the garbage.  You can keep it in your room if it’ll make you happy.”
     “Mo-ther.  That isn’t the point.”
     “What is the point?”
     “The point is you got a new toaster.  And it’s white.  Toasters are chrome.  We’ve always had a chrome toaster.  All my entire life.  How could you?”
     Linda Lee sighed.  She folded her arms.
     Jaz recognized the expression on her mother’s face, the grim forbearance.  She’d known that look all her life.  It was reassuring, somehow.  Cozy and constant.  Like an old Christmas carol.  And Jaz was being unreasonable; she knew the toaster wasn’t the issue — and so did her mother who was asking, "What are we talking about, Jaz?  I mean, really."
     "Did somebody die?  Is it about death?"
     "Nobody died, Mom."
     "Then what are we—"
     The phone rang.
     Jaz answered.  “Hello?”
     “It’s me.  Hoot.”
     “What do you want?”  It sounded a little harsher than she intended.  But she didn’t know how to take it back.
     “Is there a Hair Nebula?”
     “God, Hoot.  I have no idea.”
     “Well, I just painted one.”
     “What are you talking about?”
     “I thought you knew about nebulae.”
     “Well I don’t know all their names.”
     “Oh.  Okay.”
     He hung up.
     Jaz stared at the phone in her hand.
     Her mother was watching.  “Who was that?”
     Linda Lee was shaking her head, smiling.  “So now boys are calling my darling daughter.”
     “No they’re not.”
     “Oh.  Excuse me.”
     “We were just talking.”
     “Right.  Absolutely.”
     Jaz watched as her mother went to the refrigerator and took out a gallon jar of pickles.  Removing the lid, she started fishing with a pair of tongs for the last kosher dill.
     Linda Lee looked up.  “What?”
     “Don’t take that pickle.”
     “Why not?”
     “It’s the last one.”
     “You want it?”
     “Then what—?”
     “If you take it, they’ll be gone.”
     “We can buy another jar.”
     “That isn’t the point.”
     “What is the point?”
     “The point is that’s the last pickle.  And if you take it, they’ll all be gone.  Forever.”
     "Okay, now I get it."  Her mother put the pickle jar back in the refrigerator.  "I understand."
     "You do?"
     “You’ve got a birthday coming up.  Fourteen."
     "You're ambivalent."
     "Ambivalent?  I don't have a choice."
     "Precisely.  Even the late bloomer has to bloom.  But I can offer one choice.  Of course I like to surprise you but I’m just wondering:  You want anything in particular?”
     “Yes.  A … ring.”
     “Any old ring?”
     “A navel ring.”
     “From the navy?”
     “Na-vel.  With an e.”
     “Jasmine?  Is a navel ring what I think it is?  Is it something you put around your belly button?”
     “Actually, I think it goes through the little fold of skin just above.”
     “Like, pierced.  You know.”
     “I’ll have to talk this one over with your father.”
     “That means no, doesn’t it?”
     “Why do you want a navel ring?”
     “Because … Mimi Bucher doesn’t have one.  She wouldn’t have one.  She’s too cute.  She’s bought.”
     “She bought what?  Who’s Mimi Bucher?”
     “She’s somebody who would never have a navel ring.  Now do you understand?”
     “I’m not sure I like this idea, Jasmine.”
     “There’s a shop that’ll pierce it but I have to get parental consent.  You sign it.  A form.”
     “I don’t know, Jasmine.  I don’t know how sanitary this is.  And more than that, I don’t know about the idea of putting rings in a place like that.  I’m not sure you understand how it might seem.  How it might look.  To boys, I mean.  You never let me talk about this, but you’re becoming a young woman.  Boys are starting to notice and we need to talk about—”
     “No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no!”
     Jaz opened her eyes, unplugged her ears, and saw that her mother was standing with arms folded, fuming.  “I understand ignorance, but I cannot tolerate willful ignorance.  Read the book.  That book.  WILL YOU PLEASE READ THE BOOK I GAVE YOU?”
     “Will you ask Dad?  About the ring?”
     “Yes.  We will definitely talk.”
     “Thanks, Mom.”
     Jaz danced a little jig step that took her right out of the kitchen and up to her room and her cat and her stuffed animals on a shelf all in a row.
     Jaz sat on the bed.  Her eyes caught sight of the book her mother had given her — Our Bodies, Ourselves — which she’d never read, which she didn’t need.  She’d learned all that stuff back in third grade, and she wouldn’t get pregnant.  Not the first time.  You can’t get pregnant the first time.  That's what she learned in third grade, and the facts don't change.  And after that first time, if you don’t want to get pregnant, all you have to do is hold your breath while you do it.  Nobody ever gets pregnant if you hold your breath.  Facts don't change.   They just don't.
     Jaz opened the Oxford Book of Christmas Carols, then set it on her chest as she lay back.  She hummed The First Noel.  She made up better words.  Softly she shared the carol with the stuffed animals she had played with, the cat she had loved, the room where she had lived all her whole entire life.


    Jaz peered in the eyepiece and adjusted the focus knob.
    “Here, Hoot, take a look.”
     They were in Jaz’s back yard.  Light streamed from windows.
     Hoot bent to the telescope.
     “See ’em?”  Jaz asked.
     “I see a bunch of stars.”
     “Those are the Pleiades.  The Seven Sisters.  Except with magnification you can see more than seven.  Can you see haloes?”
     “You mean they’re angels?”
     “The stars.  Each Pleiad.  They have haloes.  Sort of bluish white.  Can you see?”
     There was too much light in the yard.  Jaz wished they could go somewhere out in the country.  Somewhere dark.  With the stars.  Alone.  “The haloes are dust.  Reflecting starlight.  On clouds of dust.  Which are nebulae.  So you’re looking at haloes which are dust clouds which are nebulae.  Young ones.”
     “Huh,” Hoot said.
     “You know what?  The light that you’re seeing — the light that’s going into your eyeballs right now — that light left those stars years ago.  Years and years.  The light that's in your eyes might have left those stars when Jesus was alive.  And so right now Jesus is alive in your eyes.  And mine.  That is, if you care about Jesus.  Do you care about Jesus?"
     "He's all right."
     "I'm sorry I shouldn't have talked about Him.  But the light that’s starting its journey from those stars right now won’t come to our eyeballs until you’re an old man.  And I’m an old woman.  Or maybe we’ll be dead.  Maybe centuries will have passed.  But those stars will still be young.  Isn’t that awesome?”
     “Uh.  Yeah.”
     “You really think so?”
     “Yeah.  Awesome.”
     The night was cool.  Jaz could see her breath.  There was something electric in the air that had made Jaz want to call Hoot and invite him to look at stars.  She could hardly hold still.  Didn’t he feel it?  He seemed almost bored.
     Jaz tried to explain:  “It’s so big.  So … vast.  Does it make you feel insignificant?”
     “Sort of.”
     “Not me.  I love it.  I love the, the bigness of space.  It makes me feel all tingly all over.”
     “Yes.  Tingly.  Because I’m a part of it.  Whatever I do here on this planet affects what happens on the Pleiades.  Because everything’s connected.  It’s the Butterfly Effect.  Because what happens to a butterfly affects the whole—”  As Jaz was speaking she cast her hand in a wide circle around herself to indicate the whole of the universe — and struck somebody’s shirt.
     Her father.  Standing behind her.
     “Daddy!  What are you doing here?”
     “I just came out.”
     “To check on things.”

     “God, Daddy, you could give me a little warning before you go sneaking up on —”
     “I wasn’t sneaking, Jasmine.  I just walked out the back door.”
     He just walked out the back door in time to hear her say she felt tingly all over.  Tingly.  Of all times.  And the only reason he would want to check on her would be because there was a boy with her in the back yard as if — as if she were the kind of girl who would need to be checked on just because she felt tingly all over.  God.  How humiliating.
     “We were looking at the Pleiades,” Hoot said.
     “That’s nice,” Mr. Lee said.
     Her father had eyeglasses.  A big nose with hair hanging out.  Why didn’t he trim it?  Ears with more hair bursting out.  Disgusting — and it was all black.  Black body hair.  God.  What Hoot must think of her, to have such a father.
     Hoot said, “Jaz told me you were a mathematician.”
     “That’s right,” Mr. Lee said.
     “I’m trying to understand the Theory of Relativity.”
     “Good luck.”
     “Do you understand it?”
     “Pretty much.”
     “Is space really curved?”
     “In layman’s terms.”  Mr. Lee rubbed his big nose, thoughtfully.  “The question is:  Curved as compared to what?”
     “You mean a curve is relative?”
     “Everything is relative.”
     “Daddy,” Jaz interrupted, “you can go back inside now.”
     “But this young man wants to talk about relativity.”
     “No, he doesn’t.  He’s just being polite.”
     “No,” Hoot said.  “I’m really interested.”
     “Ah.”  Mr. Lee smiled.  “There.  You see?”
     Jaz saw.  Hoot would rather geek with her father than with her.  She stomped across the yard and into the house.  Behind her, she heard Hoot asking a question and knew without looking that her father was rubbing his nose back and forth with his finger, thoughtfully, smecking the big nostrils and those horrible hairs back and forth, back and forth.
     She slammed the door.
     Her mother was at the kitchen table grading papers.  “What’s wrong, Jaz?”
     “I invited Hoot to come over and look at nebulae and now Daddy’s out there talking about mathematics.”
     “Math?  Your friend must be bored to death.”
     “No.  He’s interested.”
     “Well if he’s trying to make a good impression on your father, he’s certainly on the right track.”
     “He’s not faking it.  I don’t think Hoot fakes things.”
     “He seems like a nice boy.”
     “God, Mother.”
     “What?  What did I say?”
     “You’re always saying.”
     “Saying what?”
     “Judging people.”
     “All I said was he seems like a nice boy.  Jasmine.  I talked it over with your father.  We think, the ring, not yet.”
     “Then when?”
     “Later.  When you’re older.”
     “I need it now.”
     “Nobody needs a navel ring, Jasmine.”
     Mr. Lee came in the back door rubbing his nose and said, “He seems like a nice boy.”
     Jaz made fists, clenched her jaw, swallowed a scream, and ran out to the yard.
     Hoot was gone.
     She ran to the gate.
     Hoot was walking down the street toward home.
     He turned.  “What?”
     “I’m sorry.”
     “Hey.  It was fun.  Let’s do it again.”
     Then he turned and continued walking.
     Jaz slammed the gate shut.
     Somewhere on the other side of the universe, butterflies were trembling.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Plumbing and literature

Poet and plumber Terry Adams has written a profile about me for the La Honda Voice, our local newspaper.  You can view it here.

Previously, I wrote a profile of Terry.  It's here.  As you can see from the giant pipe wrench in his hand, Terry shares my feeling of intimate comfort with pipes and dirt and water.

Plumbing and literature.  Keeping it real.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lit Night at Sullivan's Pub

Thank you, New Yorker Book Bench, for posting about La Honda's Lit Nite. Our next Lit Nite will be Wednesday, May 26 at Sullivan's Pub in La Honda, starting about 7 pm.  You never know who will show up, but here's a sampling of the readers from last month:

Randy Vail teaches English at Pescadero High School.  He's an equal-opportunity reader, selecting passages from authors famous or utterly obscure.

Diane Lee Moomey read a passage from her newly-published, not-yet-officially released ...Place...The Heart of the Dragon.  Diane is a multi-talented artist who designs gardens for a living.

Terry Adams is co-host of Lit Nite.  Tonight he read his poem "Last Draft" which is one of my favorite poems in the English language.  You can find it in his book Adam's Ribs.  Terry, like myself, works in the building trades. 

Jean Williams is a La Honda local, quite the character.  She introduced herself to me as "I'm your local bag lady."  Then she said, "There's too many intelligent people in this town."  This original poem was her first reading, and it was a good one.  Intelligent, actually.  We're pleased to welcome bag ladies to Lit Nite.

Beto has written about his travels in Costa Rica.  Tonight he read about "Coffee."

As host, I've learned to put Carol Nelson at the mic as soon as she walks in the door.  Otherwise, she might be gone again.  Tonight, luckily, I caught her in time so she could share her heart-felt poetry.

Dan is somebody I've seen around town for a long time and never come to know.  This poem was his first reading with us.  I hope to learn more about him.

Susan Henkin-Haas lives in an old stagecoach stop/hotel in San Gregorio.  Sometimes she raises goats - and writes about it.  Tonight she read from a ghost story.

Ann Emerson stepped up to the mic and gave her first public reading.  She introduced herself by saying she'd recently been diagnosed with cancer, upon which she quit her job, left her home, and moved to La Honda. She said "Being diagnosed with cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me."  She then proceeded to read a poem that knocked me out.  What an opening.

Kelly is an energetic reader who was making her second visit to Lit Nite.

Sparkle Debbie's art work graces the walls of Sullivan's, as her poetry graced our night.

David Strohm produces the children's audio magazine Boomerang.  He is often the highlight of our nights.  This time, he read a touching story about Grandma's Proverbs, which always contained wisdom in unexpected dimensions.

Then there's me, Joe Cottonwood, co-host.  On this night I read a ghost story from my novel Famous Potatoes.

Vanessa, wearing an elf costume which she did not explain (costumes are not uncommon at Lit Nite), gave a passionate reading of one of her works.

Paris, who is usually seen in the company of Vanessa, read reflections on his travels in Spain.

Jane Sullivan (shown here explaining the Lit Nite weapons policy) (are we the only literary gathering that has a weapons policy?) read a chapter from the memoirs of Patrick Colgan, a La Honda character and beloved citizen of the world who, sad to say, passed away a week later.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Symbionese Liberation Army! Holy F***!!!

This morning at 5 a.m. after too little sleep I awoke with a jolt and the thought: "Symbionese Liberation Army!  Holy fuck!!!"

Probably not too many other people can say that.  Anyway, what it means is that in my subconscious dream world the neurons finally clicked, and I realized that my novel and podcast of Famous Potatoes make a reference to the Symbionese Liberation Army, which didn't exist until 1973 and didn't become nationally infamous until 1974 when they kidnapped Patty Hearst. 

In my podcast description, and in the ebook edition, I state that the events of the novel take place in 1971.  Actually, the story covers more than one year, and one of those years obviously has to be 1973 or later.  I'll correct this in the podcast description and in the ebook blurb as soon as I can - which might take a few days for the changes to percolate through all the various servers out in the internet world.

Most of Famous Potatoes is based on, or at least inspired by, actual events in my life which took place in the years 1967-1971.  Billie, the character who mentions the SLA, is somebody (name changed) I met in 1970.  Obviously the real "Billie" couldn't have mentioned the SLA because it didn't exist back then, but the fictional Billie could because, hey, this is fiction.  I wrote the novel in the years 1974-1976.  Hence my confusion when, 35 years later, I wrote the podcast description and ebook blurb.

And by the way, isn't it time for a revival of the SLA?  They were hilarious - and murderous.  Naive - and despicable.  Nuts with guns, not too different from what we have today in certain groups making the news.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Famous Potatoes, the podcast, is complete.

I've uploaded the final episode.

Famous Potatoes, the podcast, is complete.

I'll read a selection from it tomorrow at Lit Nite.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reading at Sullivan's Pub

Next Lit Nite will be this Wednesday, April 28 at Sullivan's Pub in La Honda.  As the poster says, Come listen.  Come read.  Newcomers welcome.  Our readers (and authors) range from 8th grade to 80 years old.  Last month's subjects ranged from goat raising to April foolishness to cancer death to the meaning of places to being stopped by cops while driving a yellow milk truck full of marijuana.  We heard poems, fiction, memoirs, essays and rants. We had 3 brand new readers plus a mix of old-timers.  We celebrated the launch of Diane Lee Moomey's new book Place: The Heart of the Dragon (Volume 1).

I admit I was skeptical about the idea of starting a Lit Nite, but now it's becoming a La Honda institution.  Come eat.  Come drink.  It's casual, it's friendly, it's touching and profound.  We share, we learn, we enjoy.