Well, I almost made my goal of 30 poems in 30 days…

Way back last month in April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day in honor of Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo. And I truly thought I had. But my husband had to go and count. “What happened to #14?” he asked.

I really thought I had written and posted a poem on April 14, but I checked, and he was right. At the end of 30 days, I had written only 29 poems. Now, exactly a month after I thought I’d met my challenge, I will make up for my oversight.


An Afterthought in Late May

I made a goal and planned it out

Sure of my reliance

It really wasn’t hard to do

It’s not like rocket science

So every day I wrote some verse

Or that’s what I recall . . .

But when my husband counted up

I was one short of all

It may be late, but now I know

the total is complete

my afterthought of guilty verse

will save me from defeat

Stornoway puts on a great show

stornoway lead singer
Brian Briggs, lead singer and songwriter*

I’d like to say a few reasons why I loved the Stornoway show last Friday.

First: it was just a great show. They played the two songs I know and love (“Zorbing” and “I Saw You Blink”), the music was wonderful, the banter between songs was genuine and sweetly funny, and it wasn’t distorted or too loud.

Second: It was at this small venue called the Brick & Mortar, where the cocktails are good and they’re served in real glasses, not those plastic cups that you usually get at concerts. We got there at 6:35, early enough to snag one of the few tables, which made a big difference to me. (I’m not a happy stander.)

Third: The show started at 7:00 and was over by 9:15. We ate dinner afterward and were home in by 11:30. (The last concert we’d gone to, we had to leave before the show was over because we are old people and were too tired to stay past midnight.)

Fourth: The opening band started on time and they were good. They were called Horse Thief, and they were from Oklahoma City. Since a horrible tornado had just swept through Moore, Oklahoma, a few days earlier, they dedicated a song to the survivors and to those who lost loved ones there. Afterward I asked two of them where they went to high school, just in case we shared an alma mater, but neither was actually from Oklahoma City. One was from Edmond (the suburb where one of my sisters lives), and the other was from a small town I’d never heard of. But it didn’t hurt to ask. You never know…

Stornoway at The Brick & Mortar in San Francisco

There were only about 75 people at the early show, but they were doing a second show later that night—presumably for the younger folk who don’t blink at having to stay awake past midnight—which I’m guessing was more crowded.

I don’t know why they chose the name Stornoway, but I do know that it’s the name of a city in Scotland, even though none of them are from there. (The two brothers, Rob and Oli, are from South Africa, Jon is from London, and Brian is Irish.)

If you get the chance to see them live or just listen to their music, I highly recommend it.

*I’m willing to admit that these aren’t the greatest concert photos, but they are mine—I didn’t take them off their website or Google Image, and they will just have to do.

Take advantage of the perks, but sometimes it’s just better to read the book

To Repair the WorldLiving in the Bay Area to me means having the world at my feet. If I lived in, say Barstow, California or I still lived in Oklahoma City, I don’t think I’d have the same opportunities. Nearby San Francisco hosts a lot of big names and events, Berkeley has one of the finest and most respected universities in the world, and the whole Bay Area is well known for its liberal leaning. Eve Ensler and David Sedaris are going to be lauded here whereas they might be less welcome in a small town in the Bible Belt.

And though it’s not often, I also get opportunities as a copyeditor. For instance, last Thursday I received a free ticket to hear doctor/anthropologist/public health advocate Paul Farmer in San Francisco in conversation with journalist Adam Hochschild as part of the City Arts & Lecture series.

I had copyedited To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation and became an instant fan of this inspirational man of medicine. He’s a natural storyteller, and his writing was its best when he related personal accounts of his work in his adopted homeland of Haiti. And though one wouldn’t think it possible, there is plenty of humor and optimism to accompany the tragic tales set in a country that had little and lost much due to natural disaster and poor infrastructure. Of course, the book is essentially a collection of speeches he’s made, mostly at graduations, which by nature are supposed to be uplifting. It isn’t often that I’m at my computer and find myself laughing out loud and tearing up while editing the same piece, but that is how I spent much of my time working on To Repair the World. Reading it, I definitely got the sense that Farmer is a man who has high standards and great hope. So I was excited to see him in person.

Hochschild & Farmer
An admittedly poor photo of Adam Hochschild and Paul Farmer from the back of Nourse Hall.

Some of that spirit came through in his recent appearance, but I felt as if he was just really getting warmed up when it was time to file out of Nourse Hall.

The format was a familiar one: a locally respected person interviews the guest of honor onstage for forty minutes or so and then turn on the house lights and elicit questions from the audience.

Hochschild was certainly acquainted with Farmer’s career and earlier publications and asked some relevant questions, but he got sidetracked on what must have been a topic that most interested him—Farmer’s relationship with God. The fact that Farmer had been raised Catholic and had read some progressive theology early in his studies fueled Hochschild’s inquiries, taking up time that could have been used to let Farmer tell some of his wonderful stories. Had Farmer been a bishop or religious activist, I would have understood Hochschild’s focus, but Farmer is an infectious disease specialist who has treated people in Rwanda, built hospitals in Haiti, and founded an international organization dedicated to providing the best healthcare possible to those who need it the most (Partners in Health). Maybe it’s partly because I’m an atheist, but I don’t really care about Paul Farmer’s relationship with God.

It wasn’t until audience members got a crack at the microphone that we got to listen to what I had come hoping to hear. Even though I had read the book being sold in the lobby—probably more thoroughly than anyone there—I would have preferred listening to Farmer read aloud one of the inspirational speeches that had made me laugh and cry.

But I did get to see a real hero in person, albeit from fairly far back in the auditorium. And of course, I have the book.

David Sedaris never disappoints

Sedaris coverI naively thought that arriving at Book Passage 45 minutes early would land me a seat for the reading on Tuesday night, but that didn’t even guarantee a spot in the parking lot. I know David Sedaris is a Bay Area favorite, so I probably should have realized that all the seats in a small, independent book store would be gone by 5:30 for a 7:00 reading.

So my new regular companion for attending readings (who also happens to be my daughter) and I got in line for food so that we could eat our dinner while watching Sedaris on the monitor set up in the bookshop’s café. We got the last table there. Despite their being out of tomatoes and iced tea, we managed to stave off our hunger and get a seat for the show, albeit not in the same room.

Sedaris started by reading the story that made Kylie fall in love with his writing in the first place, a touching and humorous piece highlighting an event from his childhood when he and his sister Amy sang “Kookaburra” in bed, to the great dismay of their father.

As he traditionally does, he read excerpts from his diary, omitting any that contained obscenities, explaining that it didn’t feel right to use such language in daylight. (Of course, had it been winter, it would have been dark at 7:15 pm when he was reading. But nobody was going to argue that just because it was almost summer in the Bay Area, it wasn’t fair of him to censor his own diary.)

He also recommended a book to us, even suggesting that we buy it rather than his own book because it was better written. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember the title or the author’s name, but I do recall him saying the book store had three copies if anyone wanted to purchase it. He also recommended podcasts (Mark Maron‘s WTF) and one by Julie something—I know, I should have taken better notes).

Then he had a long question and answer period. Because you never know who has the most interesting questions or who are the people who are just raising their hands because they like to hear their own voices, this part of the program can be a mixed bag. I can’t help but wish the questions were vetted ahead of time, but you get what you get. I mean, I could have answered the woman who wanted to know how many brothers and sisters he had. ( 4 sisters and 1 brother, if you care) But I enjoyed his in-depth answer to the question concerning the best interviewers.

Sedaris let us in on some of the behind-the-scenes artifice that goes on in the world of television talk shows. Apparently, at the bigger shows like Letterman’s, someone on staff conducts a 45-minute long pre-interview with guests while they’re getting their make-up done. Then someone decides which parts will work best and turns it into a script that the guest is supposed to memorize for the five minutes of air time. Not being an actor, Sedaris feels pressured and somewhat ill-equipped to perform this way. But with Jon Stewart at The Daily Show, things are different: Jon drops by the dressing room and chats cordially with guests for about 15 minutes, just to establish a comfort level, and then on stage allows the interview to take its natural course, whether that includes specifically talking about the book being promoted or whatever. When Sedaris asked if he could tell a joke, Stewart said yes but not to tell him ahead of time because he wanted to be able to laugh at it spontaneously and not have to “fake-laugh.”

waiting for David Sedaris

Because we were not in the seated area of the reading, we were near the back of the line when it came to signing books. Luckily, we befriended the two people in front of us, who were friendly colleagues, which made the wait seem a little shorter. We’d queued up around 8:15 and had only moved a matter of inches by 9:00. It was around that time that Jeff, the man in front of us, borrowed one of the now-empty folding chairs to sit in while in line. His colleague joined him. Kylie followed suit, and before long, chairs snaked back into the store by twos, resembling a curved bus. Despite the strict warning that no photos be taken, I didn’t think anyone would mind if I took a picture of the signing line itself.

For over two hours, Sedaris chatted with fans individually and asked them questions. At some point he also ate dinner. He had a mysterious box of trinkets that he occasionally opened to produce small gifts or to retrieve something to show. The twelve-year-old girl who related to Me Talk Pretty One Day because she too had gone to speech therapy got her choice of bracelets. Jeff explained that in his heart of hearts he was wearing a Count Chocula T-shirt (in reference to a remark Sedaris made during The Daily Show  interview), at which point Sedaris pulled out a Count Chocula T-shirt to show (not to give away).

When we finally arrived at the signing table, I asked him about the Julie he’d mentioned earlier because he’d said he couldn’t explain Sedaris signed pageher humor to the whole crowd but he’d be happy to talk about her one on one. Looking up at Kylie, who was standing next to me, he asked her how old she was before he answered my question. It took Kylie several seconds to remember that she was 20, but apparently that was old enough for Sedaris to say the word he thought might be objectionable to younger folk. I told him how much I loved his Billy Holiday imitations, after which Kylie asked if he might not sing a bit for us. He said he hadn’t sung in years and would only do so if someone had passed around a hat to collect money for such a performance. I asked how much it would take to get him to sing, and he thought for a moment, then answered “two hundred dollars.” Then he drew a picture of an owl and signed my book. He asked Kylie if she had any Chinese friends (we never did find out where that question was leading to) to which Kylie replied almost guiltily that although she had Korean and Japanese friends, she did not currently have any Chinese friends. Then he asked her how much she spent for the most expensive piece of clothing she owned. She looked down at her outfit composed mostly of thrift store items or pieces borrowed from me until she remembered the one pair of shoes that she’d bought some months ago that were on sale for $150. With that, Sedaris flipped through a sticker book he had, found a pair of red mary janes, and stuck it on the title page of Kylie’s copy of his book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.

The whole experience was somewhat random but satisfying.

Eve Ensler is a standing-ovation inspiration

Eve EnslerMy daughter Kylie recently came home for the summer from college and wanted to visit our favorite local independent book store, Pegasus. While perusing books, I noticed a small poster advertising an appearance by author activist Eve Ensler at the First Congregational Church in Oakland, sponsored by the Berkeleyist of radio stations, KPFA.

I loved Vagina Monologues, and I’ve seen it performed three times now. It’s the only show that Berkeley High does every single year. Kylie was a narrator in her college production. I thought it might be a nice mother-daughter outing, and the bookstore was selling tickets,  so I bought them.

I didn’t know how much I was going to love Eve Ensler.

The ticket price included a copy of her latest book, In the Body of the World, a memoir that includes meeting women in the Congo who were beaten and raped, her battle with uterine cancer, and her thoughts on the current and ongoing devastation of Earth.

Not exactly upbeat fare.

But Ensler was amazingly positive, inspirational, even funny, and genuinely grateful for being alive. She recounted how, through her cancer treatment, she got to really know her sister and how she finally inhabited her body in a way she never had before. And she discovered that the love she had sought all her life had been there all along.

She read passages, or, as she called them “scans,” from her memoir that had her audience cheering and sobbing. An especially memorable and humorous one was “Farting for Cindy,” an account of her recuperation in the hospital after her surgery that removed a tumor from her uterus “the size of a mango.” As anyone who is trying to recover from surgery today knows, the event everyone awaits eagerly to signal that your body is getting back to business as usual is farting and/or pooping. Cindy, a sort of fart whisperer, was dedicated to making that happen and had a gift for producing what she called “music to [her] ears.” When Ensler discovered that Cindy was an unpaid volunteer, she felt even more compelled to pass gas, just to please her.


Ensler read aloud beautifully from her memoir that often took the form of poetry. She did not read as a rape victim and cancer survivor—she read as a woman who successfully fought her demons and has great faith that humankind will figure out a better way to treat the Earth and each other. With tears in our eyes, we gave Ensler her third standing ovation of the evening.

And my daughter and I walked back to the car hand in hand, holding our signed copies of her book, filled with hope for the future.

Be SMART—it’s worth a try

SMART goal setting

There’s a sign at my gym that says fitness programs should be SMART, which is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and something that begins with “t.” So as I was stretching out my triceps, I realized that just about any goal could be approached this way.

I mean there’s so much to do and only so much time to do it. It can all get to be overwhelming. If I started to list everything I wanted to get done in the next year, I might throw my hands up and just head for the bar…

So I’ve come up with something that works for me (so far, anyway). I keep in mind my larger goals in life, but try not to think about them in that way that keeps them hanging around my neck, weighing me down. When I label something a goal, it gains a gravitas that can be a bit intimidating. But if I call it a mini-goal, it sounds more fun, like those bite-size candy bars.

Instead of promising to revise my early grade reader, submit my middle-grade chapter book everywhere, write a daily blog, and work on beefing up my platform, I decided to choose one project to focus on for a month.

On the last day of March, I was poring over my email and something caught my eye. A group fashioned after NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which is November) was challenging writers to write a poem a day in honor of Poetry Month. So I logged onto the NaPoWriMo website and signed up. And for those of you who follow my blog regularly, you know that I did it!

The poem-a-day concept was specific—write a poem every day in April.

It’s certainly measurable—once I published my daily blog post, I was done!

Apparently it’s attainable because I did it.

And it’s definitely relevant because I am, after all, a writer. (My business card says so.)

Since I don’t remember what the “t” stood for, I can’t attest to how it rates on that scale. But four out of five is pretty good, yes?

Of course Poetry Month is over now, which means I’ll have to come up with a new mini-goal that’s just as SMART.

But now I know I can do it.