Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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Live your dream: It could Happen to You

By Mary Terzian

        10357802_993761714039738_3986780144559719337_oWhen I wrote Politically Homeless: a Five Year Odyssey across Three Continents, I addressed it to a general audience and, primarily, to educational institutions. I hoped that young adults, looking for a job at the completion of their education, would read it. My job search flung me half across the globe. Now my book has taken over the push. I did not expect three respectable organizations to extend their membership to me:

– Women of Distinction Magazine is looking forward to featuring you and your article. It will now be noted “Recipient of the 2016 Excellence Award ….”

– The Honors Department of  The International Women’s  Leadership Association (IWLA) selected Mary Terzian for her outstanding leadership skills, commitment to her profession and contributions her community.

– Continental Who’sWho has awarded a plaque to Mary Terzian as “Pinnacle Professional Member” inducted into Continental’s Who’s Who circle.

I am certainly honored to be a member of these organizations. Authors never know where their Masterpiece will land, and it is always a pleasure to find out that their book has touched deep feelings, which is essentially the purpose: to shake and wake the reader to alternative realities. Will I ever make it to the Pulitzer Prize? Doubtful, but it is alright to keep the dream alive.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of the book. You be the judge.

“Your place is in the kitchen,” Father thundered, his green eyes bulging from their sockets.”You don’t need more education. You had more than enough already for a girl.”

That phrase, “for a girl,” seared my soul ad infinitum, whether for higher education, going to the movies, attending cultural events or just belonging to a club. Those activities were reserved for boys. I was the extra hand at home, Stepmother’s helper, if not her replacement. I would become a spinster for life if a suitor didn’t ask for my hand soon. In the 1950’s that was the normal expectation from Armenian girls in Cairo who were lucky enough to complete high school.

“You can’t feed a husband with books! You’re a woman!” Stepmother echoed, “you’re destined to keep house!” as if I wasn’t doing it already.Housekeeping is no brainer for heaven’s sake! How long does it take to tidy up a place, or learn to fold grape leaves over seasoned ground meat to make sarma or stuffed dolma? When did a housekeeper ever win a Nobel Prize?

I looked at my parents with glassy eyes, pursed lips and a poker face, an acquired habit developed at the Immaculate Conception English High School in Cairo where I had just graduated. The Irish nuns had helped me gain self-confidence. Otherwise I would have lost my temper and hollered back at my parents, an unforgivable sin. Father accused them of “raping my mind.” He didn’t suspect that they saved my life, by diverting my suicidal thoughts towards hope and patience. Sister Mary Visitation taught us a phrase that is etched on my brain to this day: “I can and I will.”There and then I made up my mind. “I will challenge that destiny. You can’t stop me!”  Without that promise to myself I would have burst into a volcano from the anger piled up in me.

School, my only escape, was over now and I felt like a caged bird.

“I told you several times to quit reading those stupid books,” Father lamented, “You never listened to me! They’re useless when you’re hungry! Learn to sew. Start learning a trade, otherwise you’ll starve!”

Four years earlier my high school education had been threatened the same way. Had it not been for my older brother Kev’s sneaky intervention reporting to Aunt Esther about my staying at home, I would not have had the opportunity to attend secondary school at fourteen. Aunt Esther kept an eye on us. She had intervened on my behalf while Uncle Avedis, Mama’s brother, was still alive, his presence giving more weight to her authority then. It was different now.

“What’s the use of your education now, tell me! After all that money spent on you!” Father grieved. He sounded as if it were a waste.

Survival had been the preoccupation of my parents’ generation. The Armenians living in Aintab, Mother’s ancestral town, and those in Killis, Father’s birthplace, had witnessed the emaciated shadows of human beings marching through their town. They were dispatched to their death in the hot, arid Syrian deserts, their only sin being a Christian. They were mostly seniors, women and children. The able-bodied men, fourteen years old and over, had been taken care of, Ottoman style. History labeled these once industrious, then impoverished individuals “starving Armenians,” adding insult to injury. The majority perished on the road for want of a drop of water, a slice of bread, or a shelter from threat. Few survived.

Fearing the same fate of deportation and massacres of infidels could befall them, and unable to defend themselves any more, those who could escape left their town overnight, following the departure of the French Army after the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918. The French left behind not only the areas they had conquered, but also their promises of helping the population to take over their ancestral lands.

Father’s family was among the escapees. They probably endured hunger during their voluntary displacements. Although we never had a shortage of food at home, and during World War II we were reasonably rationed, his memory and fears lingered. He humbly picked up the last precious crumbs of bread from the table as if they were particles of Holy Communion. World War II had revived the apprehensions of the immigrant Armenian community that had barely found its footing.”What will happen to us now?” was the common worry.

Egypt, then a British Protectorate, had been hospitable to these impoverished remnants of a proud nation who wanted to keep their identity intact. The local Egyptian-Armenian communities had extended a helping hand to facilitate the integration of the arriving compatriots. Charitable organizations and benevolent patrons had financed the education of children whose parents could not afford tuition in Armenian schools. Father, however, was a proud man. He would never accept help from anyone. He paid for our education, Kev’s and mine, but he considered sending me to school a “waste of money”.

“Why does she need education? If she can read that’s enough! She’ll stay home and rear children.”

Mother was adamant. She was a woman ahead of her time: well-educated, insightful, and intelligent.

“Times are changing. Mary should be educated at the same level as the boys. Don’t you see the women working in the Army nowadays?”

“Berj will soon start kindergarten. I have to provide for him too. He’s a boy. He needs it more.”

“God will send his kismet just as He did when he was born. Don’t sacrifice the girl for him!”

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How Do You Get Over Writer’s Block

By Mary Terzian

This question led me to thinking. What did I do when I ran out of ideas? Chances are, in the past I ran out of time, but not thoughts. Nowadays the situation has changed. I have slowed down. I chew oPilen my words and rely on dictionaries. When I can’t find the exact word that does justice to my tale, I spend hours chasing the exact word in different dictionaries until my need is satiated.

This question led me to thinking. What did I do when I ran out of ideas? Chances are, in the past I ran out of time, but not thoughts. Nowadays the situation has changed. I have slowed down. I chew on my words and rely on dictionaries. When I can’t find the exact word that does justice to my tale, I spend hours chasing the exact word in different dictionaries until my need is satiated.

When I am hopelessly blocked I go to the piles of discarded, homeless papers sitting on every flat surface in my house. They are the products of my peak moments of elucidation.  Filing them in some reasonable order calms my nerves. I delve into each pile, hoping to find new trends of thought or samples of my ideas of yore.  Sometimes I marvel at what I find in impeccable English, sometimes I am embarrassed at my not-so-bright expressions. Instead of decreasing or creating a nest for these in my files, my process expands the piles into indescribable mounds; telephone numbers with no names;  half-chewed songs, unfinished stories; bursts of anger;  sentences that need to be harvested because they sound so  good; business cards; illegible scribbles; a powerful quatrain looking for a title et al. I try to put the indescribable categories together, certain that if I drop them in a file I will lose track of them.

Among the paraphernalia, I come across some good ideas that have not been developed for lack of time. Facing Writers’ Block, in my undecided status of where to begin, I collect some ideas, dreams of yore, fresh directions to follow. However, I feel like I have inadvertently stepped on an ants’ colony and dispersed their community.  Some of the scribbles are unreadable but I am confident I will find fodder to ferment my imagination and set me going.  I get particularly annoyed when I find grocery lists, purchase receipts, bank deposit slips, credit etc. They certainly are not sources of inspiration. What do they have to do with writers’ block?

In my ‘triage’ I choose which paper slips will survive for another decade, and which will perish immediately. I am tempted to burn or toss them out without hesitation. Or perhaps blow them to the winds, and walk out of my addiction to pen and ink. Oops! I meant screen and website.

Sobriety takes over. I toss the odd paraphernalia into a separate basket, just like quality soiled linen, too dirty to wash but too precious to discard. I call them ‘basket cases’ because they are indefinable. I could throw them out, but of what use will my neat house be when my flashes of imagination disappear? To me they represent a savings bank of hopes and dreams, the sap that will now trigger new avenues of thought to cure my writer’s block.

This question led me to thinking. What did I do when I ran out of ideas? Chances are, in the past I ran out of time, but not thoughts. Nowadays the situation has changed. I have slowed down. I chew on my words and rely on dictionaries. When I can’t find the exact word that does justice to my tale, I spend hours chasing the exact word in different dictionaries until my need is satiated.

When I am hopelessly blocked I go to the piles of discarded, homeless papers sitting on every flat surface in my house. They are the products of my peak moments of elucidation.  Filing them in some reasonable order calms my nerves. I delve into each pile, hoping to find new trends of thought or samples of my ideas of yore.  Sometimes I marvel at what I find in impeccable English, sometimes I am embarrassed at my not-so-bright expressions. Instead of decreasing or creating a nest for these in my files, my process expands the piles into indescribable mounds; telephone numbers with no names;  half-chewed songs, unfinished stories; bursts of anger;  sentences that need to be harvested because they sound so  good; business cards; illegible scribbles; a powerful quatrain looking for a title et al. I try to put the indescribable categories together, certain that if I drop them in a file I will lose track of them.

Among the paraphernalia, I come across some good ideas that have not been developed for lack of time. Facing Writers’ Block, in my undecided status of where to begin, I collect some ideas, dreams of yore, fresh directions to follow. However, I feel like I have inadvertently stepped on an ants’ colony and dispersed their community.  Some of the scribbles are unreadable but I am confident I will find fodder to ferment my imagination and set me going.  I get particularly annoyed when I find grocery lists, purchase receipts, bank deposit slips, credit etc. They certainly are not sources of inspiration. What do they have to do with writers’ block?

In my ‘triage’ I choose which paper slips will survive for another decade, and which will perish immediately. I am tempted to burn or toss them out without hesitation. Or perhaps blow them to the winds, and walk out of my addiction to pen and ink. Oops! I meant screen and website.

Sobriety takes over. I toss the odd paraphernalia into a separate basket, just like quality (delete -I have held on to)

soiled linen, too dirty to wash but too precious to discard. I call them ‘basket cases’ because they are indefinable. I could throw them out, but of what use will my neat house be when my flashes of imagination disappear? To me they represent a savings bank of hopes and dreams, the sap that will now trigger new avenues of thought to cure my writer’s block.

When I am hopelessly blocked I go to the piles of discarded, homeless papers sitting on every flat surface in my house. They are the products of my peak moments of elucidation.  Filing them in some reasonable order calms my nerves. I delve into each pile, hoping to find new trends of thought or samples of my ideas of yore.  Sometimes I marvel at what I find in impeccable English, sometimes I am embarrassed at my not-so-bright expressions. Instead of decreasing or creating a nest for these in my files, my process expands the piles into indescribable mounds; telephone numbers with no names;  half-chewed songs, unfinished stories; bursts of anger;  sentences that need to be harvested because they sound so  good; business cards; illegible scribbles; a powerful quatrain looking for a title et al. I try to put the indescribable categories together, certain that if I drop them in a file I will lose track of them.

Among the paraphernalia, I come across some good ideas that have not been developed for lack of time. Facing Writers’ Block, in my undecided status of where to begin, I collect some ideas, dreams of yore, fresh directions to follow. However, I feel like I have inadvertently stepped on an ants’ colony and dispersed their community.  Some of the scribbles are unreadable but I am confident I will find something that will set me going.  I get particularly annoyed when I find grocery lists, purchase receipts, bank deposit slips, credit etc. They certainly are not sources of inspiration. What do they have to do with writers’ block?

In my ‘triage’ I choose which paper slips will survive for another decade, and which will perish immediately. I am tempted to burn or toss them out without hesitation. Or perhaps blow them to the winds, and walk out of my addiction to pen and ink. Oops! I meant screen and website.

Sobriety takes over. I toss the odd paraphernalia into a separate basket, just like I have held on to soiled linen, too dirty to wash but too precious to discard. I call them ‘basket cases’ because they are indefinable. I could throw them out, but of what use will my neat house be when my flashes of imagination disappear. To me they represent a savings bank of hopes and dreams, the sap that will now trigger new avenues of thought to cure my writer’s block.


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AWP2016: A Quick Report

I believe I was a step closer to reaching my dream when I showed up at this year’s AWP, held for the first time in LA, barely 30 miles from my home. Although I dreaded to have to navigate the chocked freeway to downtown LA, it was this “now or never” thought that gave me the needed push to register for the conference. At least, I wouldn’t have to fly and live in a strange city all by myself. It turned out ideal that I had to commute back and forth over the three days instead of staying in a hotel room. I had not only conquered one of the biggest and most academic-oriented writers’ conference but also overcome my fear of driving the most crowded and vicious freeways and the part of town to me too wild, too noisy, too bewildered to visit unaccompanied.

I was immediately rewarded for my bravery the minute I walked into the first panel of my personalized schedule, “Book Launch Confidential: Marketing Made Smarter, Not Harder.” The slideshow had started. I was sitting too far away from the screen but technology came to my rescue. Several screen shots later using my cellphone camera, I could read what were displayed to follow the conversation. I began learning. Terms like “campaign” and “PR expert” popped like corns and made me almost “feel the Bern” of a presidential campaign. On one slide were two columns, one labeled “Qualitative” and the other “Quantitative.” The panel moderator encouraged us to list our objectives under each one. What does an author want to achieve for herself and her book: connection, recognition, book deals, sale numbers, etc.? List them out and prioritize. See what activities you can do to achieve some or all of your goals without feeling depleted, drained, joyless. When overwhelmed, ask yourself: “What activities align with your campaign? What energizes you?”

She went on to say, “There are millions of things you can do to promote your book, from speaking/reading tour to radio talk to interview, but remember to schedule yourself.” In essence, I noted, do not let yourself be burned out (not “BERNed” out).

https://ithetiger.smugmug.com/photos/swfpopup.mg?AlbumKey=jFqwZn

“Social media have changed the world in a number of gigantic ways that shouldn’t be sneezed at,” said one panelist. “Publication is the creation of a new public,” said another.  We were reminded that the written world would come full circle to return back to its oral beginning and give voice to the people who do not know how to read nor write. In a way that’s how movies function, transforming script to sound and images.

The above were only my impressions and note from attending one of the many, many AWP sessions. I had about 30 pages of notes to review and digest and can only give you a glimpse into this wonderful, soul-affirming, craft-enhancing AWP experience. I returned humble but hopeful. The ambition for AWP to be more inclusive and diversified has kick-started. I was counted in the first Asian American writer caucus. During the conference I spoke up. I asked questions. I exchanged business cards. I breathed in inspiration and breathe out aspiration. I wondered how so many women could raise a family and write prolifically, just like I marveled at the way many of them could walk around the conference in skirts and high heels, when I could hardly manage to survive the day toddling around in my well broken-in sneakers.

To the next AWP,

 

 

PS. Below are a few BIG bullet points from the notes I took.

The myth busters:

  • Big 6: for work geared to the mainstream & mass market. Not easy to get in for lit fictions. Need agent to represent you, negotiate contracts, and champion your work. Agent’s style, personality, mode of communication need to fit those of an author for the relationship to last. Referral’s a PLUS for debut authors to get noticed.
  • Indie Press: prefer no agents. Partnership with author for publicity. In some cases, support authors better.
  • Platform: a must for nonfiction (except memoir)
  • YA: no e-books. Need print copies
  • Get on Twitter to connect with other writers, agents, authors and participate in insiders’ discussions. Learn about those special hashtags. More here: http://www.authormedia.com/44-essential-twitter-hashtags-every-author-should-know/ Keep Googling to discover & mine for treasured tags. Just now I discover you can pitch directly to agents via pitch contests on Twitter.

Tips: Authors with potential book series a plus. Suggested language in query letters: this is a standalone book with series potential. (Sounds like something you will find on Match.com, doesn’t it?)

 

…and much, much more. If you have more questions, ask me in the comment section of this blog and I’ll get back to you.


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First Tankas

2016 Feb HB Tanka

With Hiroko Falkenstein (my tanka teacher)

1.

Is it music or

math—I am counting on my

fingers like a child

My thought runs away it runs

free from the too strict counting.

2.

Tanka is tango

lulls me into a rhythm

tap tap side side step

paper and pen sashaying

to the music of my thought.

3.

It’ll be natural

to breathe in 5 7 5

7 7 stop

Morse-like, smoke signals, heart beats

silent then sound then sound then…

4.

It prevents you to

think too rashly, force you to

ralentissimo

think! Absorb! Soak in, drink deep!

become a tanka itself.

 

 


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Has Anyone Warned Them About Halloween?

When we first moved to our house, the one WE owned, it was an adventure in learning all sorts of new things. We learned all about homeowner’s insurance, how to shut off the gas in case of an earthquake and, most importantly, what to expect during Halloween.

No, really. When we were first married and living in a rental for the first couple of years, we got maybe 4 or 5 kids on Halloween— tops. And we really didn’t decorate that much, since there weren’t that many trick or treaters.
September rolled around after we’d moved to our new place and we were at a neighborhood get together. We were talking about the latest neighborhood news when one of our neighbors said, “Hey, has anyone warned them about Halloween?” The hubby and I looked at each other and then to our new neighbors.

“Why, do you guys have problems on Halloween?” I asked.

“Oh no, no. Well, I guess it depends on what you would call ‘problems’.”

Another neighbor chimed in, “Oh, it’s just that we get a lot of kids on Halloween.”

Relieved, I said, “Oh, ok. So how many do you usually get? Like 50 or something?”

Apparently, I said something incredibly funny because everyone laughed.

The first neighbor responded, “Well, we counted the kids we had last year. It was around 600 or so.”

“WHAT?!” But then I thought to myself, “Oh that’s ridiculous, they’re just messing with the newbies.“ Yeah, that’s pretty funny,” I said, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“Nope. No joke. 600 last year. So make sure you buy enough candy.”

The hubby and I looked around at their faces and it didn’t SEEM like they were joking.

That night, he and I were discussing the conversation. “Do you really think they had that many kids or are they just pulling our leg?” I asked. The hubby’s attitude was “Let’s wait and see what happens.”

“Oh sure,” I told him, “On Halloween night I’m gonna send you out for another 500 pieces of candy while I have a mob of kids at our door, waiting. That sounds like a wonderful plan.”

Later that week, I seemed to have my answer. Visiting a neighbor’s house, I saw literally a MOUNTAIN of candy, at least 3 feet high, piled on top of their dining room table.

Eyes wide, I asked, “That’s your Halloween candy?”

“Yes. Have you started getting yours?”

“I will as soon as I leave.”

Even as we went shopping for what seemed like an incredible amount of candy, I was hesitant. Who has this many kids at Halloween? I’d never heard of it. But then as the month went on, I began to see many of the houses in our neighborhood getting pretty decked out in preparation for it. Most houses were decorated head to toe with spider webs, ghosts and any other Halloween appropriate scary stuff.

One house apparently had all the talented people. They actually set up a guillotine, complete with a “body” with its head waiting to be chopped off. When you walked by, you triggered a device, which in turn, released the blade at the top of the guillotine down to the bottom and chopped off the dummy’s head. I was impressed at the craftsmanship of the neighborhood’s Halloween animatronics.

With all the house decorating and animatronics, it seemed like there was a wee bit of competitiveness there, people checking out what new things others were putting out for Halloween and who was just staying with their old standards. We had bought some new stuff, but really nothing could compare with what our neighbors had. I was in awe.

In all our prior years of Halloween, we always did the same thing.  Sat in the living room, waited for someone to ring the doorbell and then answered the door, gave the kids their candy and then went back and to wait 15 – 20 minutes for the next doorbell ring. Our first Halloween night in our new house, the little kids started coming around 4pm. However, once it became dark, the flow of kids knocking on our door became incessant to the point where as we were giving out the candy to one group, we could see the next group coming up the walkway. We finally just sat on the steps outside the house and handed out candy.

The stream of parents and kids was so steady at one point, it almost looked like a line at Disneyland! One of our neighbors came to check on us and said, “Oh yeah, we should have mentioned, you might wanna get some comfy chairs since there’s no point in being in the house. We just bring our lawn chairs out and make a night of it.” This went on for five and a half hours. FIVE AND A HALF HOURS! My butt was numb from sitting on concrete steps all that time.

The kids kept coming. We had bought 650 pieces of candy and used every single one of them. We ended up having to turn kids away, saying “We’re all out of candy” and hoping we didn’t get “tricked.” What a night! Over 650 kids for our first Halloween in our new house. The hubby and I were exhausted after we got done. His advice? “Time to move. Especially if we have to do THIS every year.” Many years later we still haven’t moved, but the number of kids on Halloween has increased…last year one of our neighbors counted 1400 for that particular night.

It’s getting close, so time to start getting ready for the Halloween crowd!


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The Chick Sexer – A Novel Education: Part 2

Zeitgeist – the spirit of the age. What better way to get a feel for an era than reading the work of authors who lived and breathed at that time? Nobel prize winner, Yasunari Kawabata, wrote a book called The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa. Basically plotless, the book’s sensual impressions of the seedy slum of Asakusa during the 1920’s and 30’s was exactly what I was looking for to bring Frankie Honda’s yakuza, gangster, uncle to life. The area, on the northern fringe of Tokyo, was home to a colorful parade of actors, hawkers, dancers, bums, con artists and prostitutes. Asakusa was a place that never slept.

I learned that the great depression hit Japan before America’s disastrous crash of October 1929. Tokyo had not yet recovered from the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 in which 140,000 people were killed. When Frankie’s Uncle Hitomi gives him the rickshaw tour of Asakusa in The Chick Sexer they pass Hanayashiki park, thick with the jobless and the homeless. “Under the Stars Boarding House,” says Uncle Hitomi. “Biggest hotel in Japan.”

“Desires dancing naked…Asakusa, heart of Tokyo…marketplace of humans…strange rhythm.” Pieces of lyrics drift back to Frankie as his rickshaw puller sings a popular song of the day. Japan was known for her pleasure districts. In the early 1900’s girls were sold into prostitution if their parents couldn’t support them or if they were orphaned. Sandakan No. 8 (Brothel 8) is a heart-wrenching Japanese movie on the subject, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1974.

A fellow with the Flickr name of Okinawa Soba has an amazing collection of photos of old Japan. With a high quality scanner he turns 3-D stereoscopic post cards into wonderful vintage photos. Popular postcards of the day included geisha posed in gardens with parasols or in rickshaws, oiran in their impossibly high shoes and prostitutes behind bamboo bars in the pleasure quarters, prisoners of poverty.

Oiran, mistress, geisha, geiko, prostitute – different status? Different levels of female degradation, but then arranged marriages for many women also meant a life of drudgery. Mother-in-laws treated their son’s wives as slaves. Memoirs of a Geisha – I reread the book and watched the movie again. When the film was released in 2005 I was anxious to hear my Japanese American students’ opinions of it. Most of them were peeved that the main actress was Chinese.

Many young Nisei who were sent back to Japan for education didn’t speak the language well and were unfamiliar with the status concepts in the country of their ancestors. Often they didn’t know the who and the how and the depth of the Japanese bow. In the opening scene of The Chick Sexer, sixteen-year-old Frankie realizes his teacher is waiting for him to bow. His young class mates find his fumbling attempt at the respectful gesture hilarious. Frankie thinks: How should I know how to bow? I’m an American. I have never bowed to anyone in my life.

to be continued . . .


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September’s Theme: Back to School

back to school

“Call me sometime, when you have no class.”

– Thornton Melon

“A man must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings.”

– Albert Einstein

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”
– Tom Bodett

 


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West of Whittier

Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West

Because I admire Jessamyn West, I keep a file on her, hoping to one day assemble thoughts and details into an article. I might even put “Friendly Persuasion” on my Netflix queue for motivation. At the moment I am reading an autographed copy of her 1973 Hide And Seek — A Continuing Journey and would like to share an excerpt, to close out the month of August and to celebrate our Writers’ Club theme “Vacation.”

As background, please know that Jessamyn West proudly proclaimed “Solitude has always excited me.” Me, too! It’s the ultimate vacate-tion. She added that she wasn’t sure it would be quite so exciting if condemned to a prison cell or cast away on a desert island, but “when the opportunity for solitude must be stolen…it is, like stolen fruits, very sweet.”

In Indiana at age four (and probably until she was six in Whittier) little Jessamyn would sit in a round metal washtub and admonish her baby brother “Stay out!” As a school-aged girl in Yorba Linda she “found larger quarters: a piano box instead of a tub” where she could secretly observe adults, children and animals. As an adult she escaped via travel trailer, one which she named Walden on Wheels, planting herself along the Colorado River. “Was Thoreau never lonely?,” she asked. “Certainly. Where do you think writing like his comes from? Camaraderie?”

She also admitted, to my delight, “I’m not the greatest woman in the world for going, but when it comes to stopping, I am hard to beat.”

Thank you, Ms. West. It’s been a pleasure traveling with you.

—Jessamyn West became an Honorary Member of WCW in the 1970s.


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Of Pens and Poetry

In my last blog post I wrote about Bill and his homemade pens. I thought I was done with the off-vacation topic. After all, there is only so much to write about a man and his pens, pretty as they are. I was wrong!

Now my readers want to know more about Bill’s pens–where to find them and, if money can buy happiness, buy them? As if to help me address those inquiries, Bill, pens in his pocket as usual, a notebook and several papers in his hand as usual, appears at my poetry workshop—which is unusual, something Bill never did, or shall I be more specific, hasn’t done.

He shows me his teeth when we meet–he grins.

“I like your post,” he says, perhaps to explain why he bares his fangs on me.

Ah, I reckons, pleased. Bill knows how to get to me. “So do you sell them pens?” I ask.

“I give them out as gifts,” he says to my astonishment. He really knows how to be a gentleman and a fast-moving one! But he hasn’t finished speaking. “I’m making them to give out at my next reunion.”

Dang!

“Can I come?” I almost burst out, eyeing his pocket. But of course I’m too well raised to ask such a question, and not too callous enough to put Bill into a tight corner between a woman, young enough, and a fellow writer, daring and desperate enough to make her blog quota. I swallow hard and snuff my pen-desire.

Bill flashes his set of enamel again.

“You aren’t the only one approaching me,” his eyes twinkle, his newly regrown beard trembling with pride, obviously flattered.

“I attract people on the street now,” he confides, pauses, then…as if deciding to come clean with himself, adds, “with my pens.”

Ah, with his pens! It makes sense, because for a split second I think he refers to his beard, which he’s been sporting for a few months now like he used to when he was a hippie with a ring in his ear and a finger hooked to his Jeans pocket, below the wide leather belt with a brass buckle, striking a pose with his lean, mean machine like John Wayne, strutting, his shoulder-length blond hair tied in a ponytail—very alluring without the help of pens.JWaynePen

Our workshop leader delicately put an end to Bill’s ego self-stroking with a gentle reminder, “So glad you finally decide to join us.”

Bill looks at her from above the silver rims that encircle his grayish gaze. The twinkles have disappeared from the depth of his Irish soul.

“I come to observe,” he rumbles, emphasizing, “as a member-at-large. To bring back a report to the Board.”

I can see the future as he says those words. I see him pulling out one of his crafty pens, click the gun barrel, and write out in long hand: A Bards Report to the WCW Board.


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Summer Crossing: a Telltale With Neither Head nor Tail

v shaped branchI meet Bill today at my critique workshop and talk a bit with him on our way out. Bill is working on his memoir, a humorous yet tender piece of work full of boyish farces and old man’s reflections.

Besides writing, Bill also makes pens, wooden pens more specifically. So it is most natural to see Bill walking about with an armpit-ful (my expression) of papers and always carrying a few pens in his shirt pocket.

Today, on top of all his usual items, he also toys with a branch of some sort, knotty with a V-shaped end. Knowing Bill, I cannot tell if the branch will be made into a writing tool or a slingshot. So I ask. Appraising the wooden stick, he gives my question some thoughts, his grayish eyes reflecting the changing patterns of his brainwaves from twinkling naughtiness to a deepening hues of pensive mood. He admits it may become a pen, mostly. And seeming to make his point more resolute, he pulls one such sample out of his pocket, saying, “My latest invention,” clicking and waving it in front of my eyes and so, without having to add anything, clearly indicating to me that it is for me to admire but not to handle.

It is a beautiful retractable pen, with a cap and end barrel made of lustrous metal and some smooth, artfully-colored material, possibly wood, for body. I express my appreciation for the chic design and, having my doubt for its usefulness, wanting to know about its practical functionality. After all, a pen isn’t any good if it’s not meant for effortless, fluid writing. Bill proudly boasts, “Of course it writes beautifully. But gun-averse folks won’t like it.”

“How so,” I ask, looking at the beautiful shape in his hand. The pen has an unusual clicker, its slender, curved shape more like a jewel. Bill explains to me that it is fashioned after a gun part, and if I am an arm connoisseur I would surely notice it.

“Then I won’t like it as much,” say I to him, laughing.

Another writer in our group catches up to us and, pointing at the odd-looking branch in Bill’s hand, says, “If I were you, I would put that away. They may place you in a home.”

Another person joins us, and after peering at the same branch, suggests, “Is that the thing they use for seeking water in the old time?”

Yet another one thinks the object may rightfully belong to a witch. Or a Navajo Indian.

And so the tales pour forth from mouth to mouth until we separate at the crossing.