Strike the Sky, a meditation

Have you ever heard the wind siren through the

camphor? Seen its sociable branches strike

the sky? They look harmless, and your mouth will 

water. But those sumptuous, black berries will

kill you.


Even magma simmers beneath the earth in

silence, and lava snakes through 

fractures. Should I have kenned the

explosion? Ingested the  judgment before

spitting it out?


Before she left, the heavens swept me dry as a summer

bone. I didn’t know I wasn’t breathing until the resolve

to keep her close began to stink, pinned my nostrils flat

against the stench. Betrayal comes from the


Does this make senses?


Does this make senses?

“What do you think of this sentence?” I asked the class. “Is there anything wrong with it?

We don’t teach a grammar class, my friend and I, we teach creative writing at a homeschool campus that is an offshoot of the public school district. We are “parent helpers” not paid teachers.

It gets worse: For six of the last seven years we have been quietly, gloriously, subversively imploring our students to ignore grammar, spelling and format, and just write. We tell them that all that formality and structure can be ignored for 90 minutes. All of that can (and will) come later, after the creativity has been let out of its structured, school-system cage.

Should we be booted out? Reigned in? Given strict boundaries?


Yesterday we had our largest class ever: 30 kids. In years past, our largest group was about twenty, with an average weekly class size of about 10-15.

“Mom, were you worried when you saw so many kids in there today?” asked my youngest after class, though she knew the answer already. Thirty kids in our classroom who were there by choice—who either already love to write or don’t but have heard, through the school grapevine that this writing class is different, fun? I could not have been more thrilled. I still am.

Does this make senses?

Our kids write (and often share) sensuous, funny, moving, oft-illustrated, brilliant pieces in genres they haven’t been formally taught (fiction, sci-fi, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, poetry, improv, fan-fiction, and more). This is what comes out of their funny, serious, deep, beautiful minds: sans mandates.

Yesterday one of our youngest students, a tender-hearted seven year old invited to class because his older sister already attends, shared his story with the class orally: over the weekend his precious fish died.

Last year, an older boy who had been viciously bullied in public school shared a poem so beautiful (and absent angst) that I was moved to tears (were it not for my teacher hat, I would have stood there sobbing).

Two weeks ago a boy with perfect handwriting but zero confidence as a writer stood up and read the beginnings of his sci-fi story. It was his first day in class. The story, brilliant.

Does this make senses?

If you think you are hearing tooted horns, think again. My friend and I are mere spectators, facilitators of creativity that is already pulsing inside these astonishing kids. Sometimes we see it first and gently coax it out. Other times, it bursts forward, unbidden.

Yesterday after our class on writing with the senses, a new student brought me a two-page essay he had written at home: “This is just for you to read,” he said, “I don’t want you to share it with the class, but I worked really hard on it and I’m proud of it.”

This makes perfect senses to me.



Being here

for tjl (1 of 1)

Katonah, New York

The trees are silent, frozen in place by last night’s winter. Sunrise creeps—truly, for so much slower does it rise than it sets—over a nearby hill. It bathes them in pseudo-warmth and they bask in it. They bend their limbs, their trunks, their stony wills to this commanding, golden goddess. It feels as if they have done this now, right before my very eyes; woken up and leaned in to this intensely beautiful morning.

Surely they were independent before: last night when their unwitting limbs wallpapered my closed eyelids, yesterday, when snow drizzled through them from a blue-white sky onto my wool coat, and later—when the new year swept me off to Manhattan to bask in my own sunshine: friends old and new, and they stood, stock still, waiting for no one—as if their naked branches lacked for nothing, not even to be clothed by their absent leaves. But now, as I study their curved, tilting trunks, their sun-dappled sway, I realize my error; everything—every one—needs something.

A tiny zephyr picks up the bottom of a single, dry-lingering leaf (One that has forgotten to fly south for the winter?) on a skinny, low-hanging branch. It was only seconds ago that the leaf was fluttering…yet it is unbelievably silent, as if the tree has shushed it; warned it not to make a fuss, not to beckon attention. It is so absent of motion now that I question whether it moved at all. I scan naked tendril after naked tendril for these holdouts. I wonder why they’ve stayed put and I didn’t.

Here I am in Katonah—twenty-eight hundred miles from home—scrunching up my eyes to determine whether what I am looking at now is a small patch of dirty snow or a gray rock plopped in the middle of the icy, brown-green grass at the base of the trees. But this isn’t what I’m wondering, not if I’m honest. I’m asking the question my husband is asking as he sits, without me, in California: Why did she go, he asks. Why am I here, I echo.

The answer hits me as if I am nineteen, as if answers have only started coming, as if I’ve never had answers before—or never asked the right questions. I am here because it is what I need. I am here, snatching at—clawing at is more accurate (yet in a somewhat dignified way, for I am blessed, not only by these stunning surroundings, but also by dazzling intellect and aesthetic perfection)—for some tiny, tentative, unexcavated, frozen piece of me.

I am refusing, with stubborn, unsentimental rights to myself, to fit snugly into my newly stable life. I am leaning, like these stalwart trees, toward this morning’s light: a sun salutation that breaks open my heart, reminds me that sometimes what we need demands no explanation.

Why am I here? Because, like these enchanting trees, I am.


It’s winter in California, and much needed rain is blanketing some parts. Wet, autumn-like leaves jumble themselves together on walkways, lawns and streets; evocative reminders, like multi-colored sticky notes, that the changes we’ve jotted down are just around a few warmer corners. Our fervent New Year’s resolves will finally thaw into a joyful, productive spring—or so we hope.

We can—at least— count on spring to warm our bodies with a fresh sun, the most perfect natural sphere ever plucked from God’s pocket. Soon, fragrant flowers will jut their heads confidently through ground we thought might stay concrete-dry for another eternal season. As they thrust their happy palette and delicate scents upon us, we will harvest these sweet promises like urgent bees gathering up powdery yellow pollen.

It’s likely, if we look closely, carefully folding back tender green blades, at the city park jungle (I’ve called it that since I was a kid—that teeming marketplace of shovel head worms, sow bugs, pincers and more—just under the grass) we will see an exoskeleton or two; a walking stick’s or perhaps, in the bushes, even a snake’s; near perfect replicas of their old selves.

Oh to have an exoskeleton; a reason to shed something we no longer need with regularity but without pomp and circumstance. Why do we humans find it so difficult to let go of that which does not serve us?

A recent conversation with a friend, one who has had the kind of hard-knock life that forges a deep, contemplative, beautiful soul, reminded me to give myself a body check. What am I carrying around that no longer serves me? Opinions, responsibilities, viewpoints, beliefs, habits, parenting styles, or even phrases I use?

It’s winter now, and I’m digesting this epiphany as fast as I can, like a ravenous tobacco worm munching leaf after leaf as she fattens herself up just before burrowing into the moist earth for her amazing transformation into a hawk moth.

What will I become? What kind of exoskeleton will I leave behind?

Beetle Larva



Carbon Friendprint


_DSC8278“Your pineapple plant has survived too!” I said to my dear friend, “Mine has even sprouted a second one.”

She leaned down, faffed with the fronds and said, “Looks like I have another one too.”

I leaned down to see her baby, just far enough to accidentally tip my open water bottle out onto her porch. “Oh gosh, I’m sorry, can I clean that up before I go?”

My friend waved me off, assuring me that it was no big deal. This is her nature. Always. Without exception. Nothing is ever a problem. She puts others first.

Driving home I thought about the mess I’d made on her porch, and even though it had been nothing more than water, I was struck by the blessing of her grace; how the most precious people in my life extend this gift effortlessly. I thought about the ease of some friendships and the difficulty of others.

Then I thought about the scent we waft, the residue that remains, the mark we leave upon friends we’ve spent time with, the way our presence either raises or lowers their blood pressure: our carbon friendprint.

Not too long ago, likely inspired by being plucked out of a few lives, I went through a mental weeding of my own (not an angry one, mind you), a process of evaluation: a selfish bout in which I questioned the value of nearly every relationship I claimed to hold dear.

Eventually I gave myself permission to let some grow and to let others fall back into fallow ground—no hard feelings for the closeness we failed to nurture, no regret over the empty bounty. A realization dawned: letting them go meant they would find others skilled at giving them what they needed, others who could plant, water and fertilize a beautiful friendship. What I or they or both of us had let die could be reborn, experience having taught us what matters most.

Our friendships are much like Earth’s precious resources, their preservation requiring us to eat locally grown food, or even better, to plant our own…to limit our negative impact on our planet.

Reminded today by an accidental splash of water to celebrate the beauty of my amazing galaxy of friends, all of whom leave the smallest friendprint imaginable, I am inspired to also tread with lighter, gentler, more graceful steps.






stormI’m not sure which came first, his fear or mine.

We were standing there, his sweaty hand wrapped around my dry one, his head cocked slightly to the left as he began to lean in for our first kiss (to hell with his mother’s opinion of me).

Screams erupted behind us, just beyond the wooded path we had traveled moments before and we both jumped and screamed in response, the romantic moment totally wrecked of course.

These parts were known for creepy, unexplained happenings (like deaths and stuff), which is why we had chosen to come to this exact spot; we wanted to reenact one of the murders, minus the dying part of course, and it was all supposed to have started with a kiss.

Now we were totally freaked out and shaking—the only way back to the car blocked by the screaming—until a young naked, shrieking couple emerged, shivering and muddy; the sudden downpour having rudely interrupted their activities.


Five Sentence Fiction, of Lillie McFerrin fame, offered up “rain” as this week’s writing challenge. 

Lillie McFerrin Writes

Ellie’s Shoes

Ellie's Shoe CollectionFor years I had known of my sister’s shoe collection. Strangely, I had never asked to see it. When she died the collection came to me; a nondescript brown box taped up and labeled “Ellie’s Shoe Collection.” Sure, I was curious, but I couldn’t open it;  couldn’t risk opening myself up to the barrage of emotions that would surely overtake me if I did. I put it up on a high shelf in the garage where it sat safely until I moved, seven years later. By this time I was helping Mom get settled into an assisted living facility nearby and was again unable, unwilling, or just too busy to open the ever-mysterious box of shoes. I had even considered taking it — unopened — over to the local Goodwill facility. Surely someone else would enjoy this box of shoes more than I would. Heck, I thought, I’m not even a shoe person. But I couldn’t do it and the box stayed under the stairs for another two years before I discovered it again. This time I opened it and began to unwrap a few of the bundles, curiosity getting the better of me. Cramped in a small space and pressed for time, I reconsidered and quickly wrapped up what I had started, sealed up the box and placed it on another high shelf in my garage.

_DSC8186Last weekend while reorganising (my husband is English; hence the fun spelling) a new round of chaos, I came across the box again.  Ten years, I thought, I’ve had Ellie’s shoe collection for ten years. It’s time to see what’s inside. I cleared a space and began. The ceramic baby booties were the first to appear; the ones I had seen before. Then came a pair of shoes that shocked me: vintage black heels with white polka dots and flowers, possibly Japanese. My first thought, oddly enough, was that my friend, Deborah Batterman, author of Shoes Hair Nails, should be standing next to me. She loves shoes. She would love this unveiling of them, I told myself. I continued unwrapping, mesmerized by an eclectic display of delicates that seemed in direct opposition to my sister’s personality: envision a beautiful yet rugged, athletic, sensible-shoe-wearing lesbian. Heels? Seriously El? I laughed…the pile of wrapping growing as large as the unexpected joy I was feeling; my smile huge.

_DSC8191Boots came next — made of metal, glass and wood; large, small and tiny. These seemed more in keeping with sis – she would have connected boots to my brothers, father, and grandfather; all in the building industry, all wearers of boots. The moccasins fit as well – she loved them, and bought them for me too. She and I were practical when it came to our footwear. This I could get behind.

Ellie's Shoe Collection But each time I unwrapped another delicate pair of shoes; the kind Carrie Bradshaw would have coveted, my emotions swirled. Moved? By shoes? Ah, but these were my sister’s shoes; shoes she had collected over many years. Each time she purchased a miniature set of flowery heels or sexy lace-up boots had she wondered what it would have been like to wear a fancy dress and some pretty Manolo Blahniks?  Or did she imagine a lover, dressed to the nines to impress her?

Emmie and Ellie, my older twin sisters

Perhaps these shoes spoke of a time in the past, a time when she and her twin had been carefree, shirtless little girls running around, blonde curls bobbing beneath matching white cowboy hats; a time before she had had to struggle through an identity unaccepted by the world, especially the teaching world of which she was a part.  Did this box of shoes represent more than a haphazard collection of miniatures? Did it represent all the facets of womanhood, versus the exact spot on the sexual spectrum where she had unwittingly landed?

_DSC8210When Mom’s actual baby shoes appeared, bronzed to last-forever-perfection, I choked up. Even though I had seen these before, displayed in my childhood homes, I hadn’t been expecting them to show up in El’s collection. Had this pair of shoes been the catalyst for all the rest?


Once I had them all laid out I arranged them in sections: boots, asian shoes, baby shoes, high-heeled shoes, moccasins, clogs, ballet slippers, a single roller skate, and even a glass slipper. Who would have thought that a small box of replicas I had pointedly ignored and very nearly discarded could provide unexpected healing — the shoes a perfect vehicle for walking past the pain; a bit of panache and bling thrown in for good measure and much-needed humor. Brilliant, Ellie, just brilliant.

Shoe shopping anyone?

Signs of life: watering miracles


Somehow my birthday flowers don’t get watered, only “vased” — in the mad scramble to pull off the surprise party, adding water to the vase falls low on the priority list. Days later I discover them, their parched petals mottled into a spotty disarray not unlike a child crumpled on the floor at the end of an exhausted tantrum; a tangled mess that doesn’t look anything like its original form. Still, I can’t part with them so I hang these Helianthus annuus from the shelf that holds the wine; they’ll be happy here I think. Weeks later I discover them again, note their dried perfection and start thinking about all the strange and wonderful ‘signs of life’ that have been turning up where I have been expecting atrophy instead.


This orchid has been nearly dead more than once over the past eighteen months.  After my friend Sandra (my husband’s previous wife) passes away we eventually move this plant from it’s safety on their old kitchen ledge to the home we are merging together. En route it is dropped down a flight of stairs then pieced back together, barely. The second time, looking nearly dead already, it crashes to the floor of our garage before finally making it to the kitchen, where it sits safely for nearly a year. Miraculously, having at least been watered, it grows without us noticing and then blooms on Sandra’s birthday weekend. Now it’s having babies — note the “roots” in two places that will eventually be potted separately to form new orchid “mothers.”


I’ve written about this African violet before. It’s my mother’s plant, one I hesitantly adopt in 2010 when she moves into a senior living facility.  It falls off the care radar and nearly perishes in 2013. In fact one day when Mom is on hospice care, taking the last of her 529,804,800 breaths, I am plucking the tired little clump that remains — have my fingers in its earth — when I see a bit of green. Shoving the sorry roots back into the dirt, I give it a quick water, relieved I won’t need to say goodbye to it as well, at least not just yet. You’d think that near misses would inspire me, yet all I can manage is keeping the pot filled with water (it’s the bottom-absorbing kind). Bloom food? Nope. Never. And then, a few months later, when I am forced to weed through the details of her estate, losing relationships with my brothers in the process, I see a purple flower, then another and another and another, until I realize the whole thing is covered in them; so many leaves filling the small pot that their corresponding flowers have to duke it out just to be seen. I stand in front of this striving thriving miracle, silent, reverent; tears form in the corners of my unbelieving eyes. Hi Mom, I say, grateful beyond words that she has orchestrated this brilliant mass of violet reassurance. It’s been blooming ever since, sans bloom food, and begins to bloom again today as I write this piece.


Late last March I am in the side yard, my gloves covered in the kind of muck that happens when I leave things out in the rain; things rodents love to hide under but eventually get cleaned up, when I see some green peeking out of an abandoned blue pot of what used to be the incredible lilies my mother was proud of. The last time they bloomed it was because they lived in my daughter’s yard and were cared for. When I eventually bring them home, I promptly forget about them —oh, for about two years, until this very moment when I cannot believe my eyes. Rain water is the only moisture this dirt has seen, and we’ve been having a drought for the past couple of years. I am incredulous and then urgent. It can’t stay in the midst of this dirty chaos. Getting closer, I am stunned to see about fifteen thriving leaves and three lilies nearly ready to open. The pot is heavy, so I drag it around to the front, and up two stairs to place it where it remains today. Chinese lilies, I find out, are typically given to young women on their wedding day or birthday. I am not young, but I find it meaningful that these have chosen to bloom just days away from my fiftieth birthday.

IMG_20140611_095523My son, now eleven, planted this plumeria when he was four; the take-home from a planting class at our local community center he took with his little sister. Neglected (by me) and nearly ready for the trash a few years ago, my older daughter rescues it; researching, in her typical fashion, the best way to care for these gems. It isn’t long before leaves began to sprout and she gives it back to me for continued care, which I don’t do. Nope. I neglect it, again. Though it doesn’t die, our relationship does and the poor plant is left on its own — again; a sad reminder of the state of things. The circumstances of the end of this relationship are nebulous still, at least to me, but I accept the fact that I haven’t always given my children what they’ve needed and that sometimes things fall apart; things that are my fault. Still, I place the poor plumeria on the front porch and try to remember to water it now and again. I remind myself that this poignant stalk of “holy fuck I miss her” is an organism whose cells are protected by a thick rigid wall, much like my feelings. One afternoon I discover buds. I add water and try not to hope, but a couple of weeks later I see leaves, leaves that don’t die but keep growing. They’re growing still.


I’ve successfully grown things before, but the past few years have been so busy with painful endings and intoxicating beginnings that to plant things requiring maintenance has been unthinkable. I’m ready now with a newfound confidence that surprises me; I’m not just waiting for miracles, I’m expecting them.








Street Signs Freeway Morph

“It’s time. Everyone’s sleeping?”

“Yes. Put this blindfold on while I change. I’m driving. No peeking”

“I see the  chapel!  Do you have the rings?”


The marvelous and marvelously hilarious Jayne Martin tossed out a challenge: Hint Fiction. A beginning, middle and end in just 25 words or less. Join in the fun. Give it a whirl here. 




What Isn’t Sexy

body image
Sometimes I long for the days when my body was simply a vehicle for self-expressive fun: climbing trees, playing dodgeball, or my favorite–chasing boys. I didn’t worry about what it looked like or how it compared to other girls’ bodies. I certainly didn’t worry about what other boys thought of it. That burden came later.

Somewhere along my personal broken road, in between puberty and motherhood, I became aware of my imperfections and began trying to change them. I was already an athlete, so becoming a runner came easily. A quick diet, however, turned into nearly a decade of on-and-off Bulimia. My self-esteem sank lower and lower. Hell-bent on improving myself from the inside out, I adopted a mantra: I love my strong, healthy, beautiful body. I said it often, although it sounded silly and wasn’t true.

That affirmation slowly began to change how I felt about my body. I took care of myself; I looked good in my clothes. Getting naked was another issue entirely. Intimacy was something I merely endured. Taking off my clothes for someone, unless the lights were low (preferably off), made me feel self-conscious. Imperfect breasts, roadmaps of stretch marks, and various other parts I felt didn’t measure up made it difficult to just relax and enjoy my partner.

Where had I developed such a surety about what was required to turn a man on–what was required to enjoy sex? Sadly, the vast majority of sexual images of the magazines, movies and television of my youth featured insanely perfect women, women who had either been Photoshopped or genetically blessed. While I was comparing myself to these unrealistic images, my male friends were fantasizing to similar but less chaste images they hid in their closets or under their beds.

Looking back I can’t help but wonder how many women have been through similar battles with their bodies; battles heightened by unrealistic images of what men should find sexy. Sure, beautiful bodies are sexually alluring, but fantasy sex is not the same as the deep, fulfilling intimacy that real men have with real women who embrace their sensual selves, imperfections notwithstanding.

Sensuality is sexy. So is confidence. How many times do we derail our sex lives by worrying about how good our bodies look? How many times are we “not in the mood” because our skinny jeans didn’t fit that day? How much darned good lovin’ could we be enjoying if we just let ourselves go?

Men certainly find beauty in women of different shapes and sizes, but more than anything, I have learned, they are turned-on by how desirable we make them feel and by how desired we let ourselves be.

In the end, being perfect isn’t what makes us sexy.