In front of the John Lennon Wall in Prague.

Monday, December 31, 2012

I Better Get a Move On

Today I came across a website listing the Wonders of the World.  The list is divided into categories:  eight lists with seven wonders in each as well as a final catch-all ninth list with 13 wonders from all over the world.  Being one of those people who love lists, and feeling cocky about my traveling credentials, I eagerly counted those I have visited.  Imagine my dismay at how many of the world's wonders I have yet to see. 

Here is my own personal list:


List 1 -  The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Of these, only one exists today, but it is an important one:  the Great Pyramid of Giza.  I can't quite forgive myself for missing out on that one, and need a plan to remedy this.   

I do give myself some credit for visiting Olympia last summer where I read about the legendary statue of Zeus which was once there - and a Wonder of the Ancient World.


List 2 - The Seven Wonders of the Medieval Mind

 I did much better with this one, having been to the Colosseum, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  However, there are four locations I have never visited.





List 3 - The Seven Natural Wonders of the World

For this category, I can only claim two wonders: the Grand Canyon and the Northern Lights.  I've actually been to the Grand Canyon more than once and seen the Northern Lights twice, so do those count as four?

List 4 - The Seven Underwater Wonders of the World

I  did even worse here since the only location on the list I've been to is the Galapagos Islands




Since I snorkeled for the first time in the Galapagos only five years ago, I guess this isn't so bad.








List 5 - The Seven Wonders of the Modern World

I was surprised that out of this list, I've only been to the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate BridgeFive more to go.


Lists 6, 7, 8 and 9 detail what they call the "Forgotten" Wonders 

I was unable to determine just what constituted a wonder being forgotten, so I can only surmise that there wasn't room for these places on the "A" lists.  As they include some of what I consider extremely important buildings and beautiful natural locations, it is hard for me to see how they could have been outvoted. However, since there are also many stunning places that weren't mentioned at all, I have to wonder who could have possibly forgotten those as well.  Since the 9th list comprised 13 forlorn wonders, what would a few more hurt?


From these four lists, I have collected Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, Mount Rushmore, the Parthenon, the Statue of Liberty and Gateway Arch in St. Louis (listed with the Eiffel Tower and the Parthenon? Really?).  How strange that the "forgotten wonders" are the ones I've been to the most.

As for one more from this list, last summer when I visited Tanzania, I was very close to Mount Kilimanjaro.  However, since it was night when I arrived, and the mountain was shrouded in mist during the day, I never actually saw it.  That will be my excuse to go back.

So, of the 63 wonders listed, I've only seen 14.  Obviously I've got some traveling to do

For the full lists, visit Wonder Club.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Let the Light Shine

    Today on this second day of winter in Northern California, a steady rain falls from a gloomy sky.  Contrary to the Mayan calendar predictions, the world still exists and we are still left to muddle through our muddly human lives.

When I woke this morning to the chilly gloom, I went around turning on the Christmas lights strung throughout the house.  Although I was raised in a Christian household, I know that there are many other spiritual traditions that center around light at this time of the year.  Today it is easy to understand why.

As I pack my suitcase to visit my family in even gloomier Portland, I am cheered by the promise of more lights, including the light of love.  Isn't that all any of us can really count on?  

So, everyone, let your own light shine - in whatever form that takes for you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


This year my birthday is 12/12/12, the last time in this century that such a triple digit date will occur, and  according to the ancient Mayans, it is supposed to be a day that begins a complete spiritual transformation. While not expecting any miracles today, I do find it interesting that in the last few days before my numerically special birthday I've gathered a few seeds of that could grow into something significant.

  About a month ago I wrote about one of my writing quandaries:  what can I consider "real" writing?  Should I count the writing I do for my teaching job as part of my writing regimen? I received loads of advice from people who all basically told me that I should change the way I view the place writing takes in my life.  Of course, being a stubborn first-born I didn't really listen to them.  Or maybe  like many people, I needed to hear this lesson over and over before I could figure out how to listen to them.  So now I've been hit over head a few more times -- and finally the message has gotten through.  

First I received a post from one of the blogs I follow:  Writing Through Life by Amber Lea Starfire. Titled Blogtalk: A Writer's Attitude  this post discussed the same issue I have been struggling with:  should all the writing I do that is not "creative" count as part of my writing life.  Ms. Starfire says yes! Her advice has encouraged me to pay more attention to all the writing I do thoughout my days and make sure that I work to craft everything I write with attention and care.
  Then I found a link to a beautiful video created by David Shiyang Liu that is based on a lecture by Ira Glass: Ira Glass on Storytelling.  Glass discussed the dilemma that a beginner in any field faces: that the craft she produces cannot come close to her aspirations.  Instead, the beginner artist must persevere in spite of the disparity between her ability and the ideal to which she aspires. While not technically a beginner in the writing field, like most writers I know, I do suffer from writer-doubt.  So it was good to hear encouragement - once again - about not letting imperfections stifle my writing.  While I know all this, sometimes I need to be reminded.

And the final piece to the puzzle came together when a friend shared an article on Facebook:  The Art of Being Still by Silas House published in the Opinion Pages.  In this article, House offered advice on learning to cultivate what he calls a stillness of mind that would enable me to go through the day observing the world from a writer's point of view.  By doing this, writers can consider themselves as writing everyday even when not physically putting words to paper.  While it would be tempting to take advantage of this technique to the exclusion of actual writing, I decided to try it that very day.  While driving to a friend's house, I practiced my stillness of mind.  During that 30 minute drive, I thought about several new ideas for a memoir piece I've started including some inspired on the weather I contemplated that day.  

I also got the idea for this blog post.  So happy birthday to me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The New Writer's Block

For the last few months I've been in a serious writer's funk.  All my usual tricks for getting myself motivated to write after a long day of teaching middle school hadn't seemed to work.  Blank days on my writing calendar, an empty daily journal, my book of writing prompts ignored -- who cares?  Even my writing group and a new poetry workshop left me feeling high and dry. 

Then on election night I went to my poetry group meeting instead of sitting at home grinding my teeth at the election results. I was so afraid that everything I cared about would be defeated.  Here in California we were fighting for Proposition 30 to save the public school system (and my job) and fighting against union-bashing Proposition 32. And of course, there was the very real threat of a new president who said he didn't worry about poor people and a vice president who wants to dismantle the medicare system.

When I left the house that night, Romney had won 133 electoral votes while Obama had only 3.  Proposition 30 was losing and Proposition 32 was winning.  What better thing to do than sit in a cafe talking about poetry even if I hadn't written a word in weeks?  Finally at 9 p.m., unable to stand the suspense any longer, I surreptitiously checked my iPhone.  As soon as I read the good news about Obama's re-election, I felt a weight lift.

The next day, the good news kept rolling in.  Because of Prop. 30, the threat of losing a month's salary has lifted.  California's working people - including this introverted poet who went door-to-door precinct walking -  were able to successfully defeat the multi-millionaires who had flooded our state with money to destroy our unions.  That was a good day. 

And, unexpectedly, since then I have been able to write.  Who knew that political anxiety could create such writer's block?  It had never occurred to me that my fears were affecting me so powerfully. Hopefully I'll have the next four years to get ready for the next onslaught.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Blogging as a Family Affair

I don't follow many political blogs - even liberal ones.  However, my brother Paul does and actually posts to them.  Recently he stirred up quite a stink over his comments about liberals who support public education in the abstract but not when it comes to the schools their children attend.  I enjoyed his comments so much I thought I'd share his post here:

 Liberal Lemmings
We live in a liberal oasis.  Our Pacific Northwest city is famous for its light rail, bicycling, beer, swooshy shoes and amiable eccentricity.  I can go weeks without having another human being say –to my face anyway-  something conservative/stupid. But the human capacity for finding new veins of throbbing insecurity is infinite, and parents-of-eighth graders (a mob prone to hysteria) become foaming rodent idiots when forced to the abyss: choosing a high school. 

To read more go to: Liberal Lemmings

Saturday, September 29, 2012

AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer Interview with Nikki Loftin

I remember being particularly impressed when I met Nikki at the 2011 AROHO Retreat.  Here was a woman who had made the journey from teacher to writer - and a writer of books for middle readers, no less.  This is a genre with which I am quite familiar. As a middle school teacher myself, I have read many a book written for young readers.  I always admire those writers who are successful at capturing adolescent readers' attention without sparing language or depth of subject matter.  Nikki's book The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy fits that ticket.  I enjoyed hearing some of her work at the retreat and am now in the middle of finding out for myself just what makes Splendid Academy such a sinister place.  Yesterday I told my seventh graders a bit of the story, and they seemed hooked as well. So it was with great pleasure that I got to know Nikki a little better through this interview.  I hope I can find out the real truth about just what rules she broke at Ghost Ranch - maybe at next year's retreat!

How did you make the transition from teacher to writer?

Well, I had a few years between as Director of Family Ministries int he Presbyterian Church.  So, I spent my time equally working with children and thinking about God, grace, redemption, know, the small stuff.  I think it flowed naturally into living my writing life.  Those sorts of thought patterns form narratives of their own, and reading great texts, like Thich Nhat Hanh's writings, the Bible, and so many more, nurtures a response life. My response was in my writing.

What made you decide to focus on middle reader literature for your first book?
I didn't choose it - it chose me! I had gone to school in literary fiction, and thought I might try my hand at creative nonfiction, but when the stories came to me, they were all suited for younger readers.  Of course, this works well for me, as I have two very keen middle grade readers at home to try my new material out on!

Nikki Loftin lives with her Scottish photographer husband just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, and small, loud boys. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, is available now. You can visit her online at   twitter: @nikkiloftin
  To read more of my interview with Nikki, visit AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Child's Garden of Poetry

Listen to a young girl describing the effects of how poetry "zaps into your takes you somewhere." Or another child who tells us that through poems we can "find something that will stay with you forever." And what better writing advice could any poet get than to write your words in "a soft, drifty way."  These are just some of the words of wisdom spoken by the children interviewed in the delightful HBO documentary titled A Child's Garden of Poetry.

Yesterday I watched this short film.  Produced by HBO along with The Poetry Foundation, the film makers have combined clips of young children detailing the joys of  poetry and recitations of famous and some not-so-famous poems.  Some of the poems are read by actors and singers such as Dave Matthews and Julianne Moore.  Three were recorded by the poets themselves: E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Carl Sandburg.  Along with lovely animation to accompany each one, the poems come alive on the screen. 

Another delight is footage of children performing Romeo and Juliet and middle schoolers performing in a poetry slam.

Poets included are:  Li Bai, Matsuo Basho, Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, Emily Dickinson, Mary Ann Hoberman, Langston Hughes, Edward Lear, Claude McKay, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carl Sandburg, William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Wordsworth, William Butler Yeats

Any teachers interested in using this video for their classrooms will be happy to know there is a downloadable book of the poems so students can follow along.  I know I plan to use this in my classroom.

Monday, September 3, 2012

What is “Real” Writing?

For the last year I have indulged in a subtle form of self-flagellation by keeping a calendar of my writing days.  On days when I write, I get a green star on the calendar. On days without writing, the blank white calendar square stares at me reproachfully.  A few days ago, feeling guilty about one more day away from my writing desk with no poems drafted or revised, no blog posts written, one more day when I could not put a star on the calendar, it suddenly occurred to me that I had just spent the last three days working for hours on curriculum for my upcoming classes. 

For that curriculum I created writing prompts for my students to follow, crafted sentence frames to help them generate ideas, researched sources for them to use, wrote my own examples of assignments to model for them and then revised my ideas until I felt they were ready to give to  students.  Let me see, the words I just used were “created,” “crafted,” “researched,” “wrote” and “revised” – all words that are used by people who write.  So why – after all these years – have I never seen the writing I do for my teaching job as real writing?  This led me to the question – just what do I mean by “real” writing? 

As with most people who call themselves writers, I have a day job that earns me the money that allows me to keep body and soul together (and have a comfortable middle class lifestyle – no artist in the garret for me!) so that I can write.  However, unlike many writers – and unlike myself for many, many years before becoming a teacher - my day job is not just something I do because of necessity.  My day job is something that I love and find incredibly rewarding and creative.  In fact, I have never thought I really wanted be a “full-time” writer – to be truly fulfilled, I need to teach as well as write.  So if I think teaching is so creative – truly an art – then why do I ignore the writing I do for that art?  Instead of saying I hadn’t written for the last three days, why didn’t I just name what kind of writing I did – educational writing?

The day of that revelation I had lunch with my friend Barbara Ann Yoder, a fellow writer and writing coach.  Barbara has written a book about writing primarily aimed for women who have trouble slaying their writing demons.  I met her at the AROHO Retreat in New Mexico last August, but luckily for me she also lives in the Bay Area. We’ve started to meet now and then to talk about our writing lives -- and our demons.  That day, sitting outside the Ferry Building on one of those sunny days so rare for summer in San Francisco, I told her about my new conflict. She suggested that perhaps my writing calendar couldn't tell the truth of my writing life.  Just having a small space to show yes or no – so black and white, so unlike my writing life that ebbs and flows, has fits and starts –doesn’t let me tell the whole story.

Barbara gave me a tip that she has shared with some of her clients: keep a writing journal in which I record what I create - or don't create - each day as well as a short reflection about my thoughts and feelings about that day's work.  This idea resonated with me.  I know how important self-reflection is for my own students.  I have them reflect about their writing all the time. Why didn't I think about it for myself?  I had nothing to lose.  Besides, it would give me a chance to buy another journal to add to my large collection.

After several days of online research looking for the perfect tool for this new way of recording my work, I found what I wanted at Journals and Notepads (coincidentally owned by Deonne Kahler, another AROHO friend!): a weekly calendar that would give me a small space to write about each day with a place to list plans for future projects. I wanted to keep my notes brief, otherwise I would be tempted to spend all my time writing about writing instead of actually writing. 

Since the day my journal arrived, I have recorded my progress each day.  I still have conflicting feelings about the days when I don't work on what I'm now calling, for lack of a better term, my artistic writing.  However, being able to record the events or emotions of a day when I haven't been able or willing to sit at my desk has helped me feel better about my work. I also can give myself credit (doesn't that sound like a teacher?) for my educational writing. 

I still keep my calendar as well, and  only give myself a green star for a day with artistic work. After all, even though I know I work with many kinds of writing each day, the words that make me feel like a writer are the ones in a poem or memoir or this blog. 

So, I thank Barbara for giving me some better tools to sustain me and supporting me to get a little clearer about how I think of myself as a writer.  That journal has already helped to keep me from derailing myself when guilt or doubt creeps up.  Unfortunately, I'm the still only person who can get me back to the writing desk - even the best writing coach in the world couldn't do that.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Case You Missed It...

A few weeks ago I posted about the delay in the online journal Sugar Mule #41: Women Writing Nature. Now it is up and ready for your reading pleasure. Two of my poems, "Star Coral" and "Come Sing" were published in this volume.  Just download the pdf and find the table of contents. Each name is a hyperlink that will take you directly to that person's poems. As well as my own, there is a cornucopia of wonderful writing by other women. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Continuing Journeys of The Sneaky Observateur

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

Outside Hampton Court outside London, February 2012

The British Museum, London, February 2012

The British Museum, London, February 2012

The British Museum, London, February 2012
The British Museum, London, February 2012

The British Museum, London, February 2012

Drepano, Greece, June 2012

Drepano, Greece, June 2012

Nafplio, Greece, June 2012

Syntagma Square, Nafplio, Greece, June 2012

Ancient Greek Theater at Epidavros, Greece.  June 2012
The Fish Market, Athens, Greece, June 2012

Agamemnon's Tomb at Mysennea, Greece, June 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sugar Mule Delay

I just got an email from the editors of Sugar Mule saying that they are having technical difficulties with the Women Writing Nature issue.  Stay tuned for an update on when the journal will be ready for reading.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Poems Published!

My poems "Star Coral" and "Come Sing" were published in Sugar Mule, an online journal.  The theme is Women Writing Nature.  

Download the PDF and enjoy. You can find my work on page 197! Check them out.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Greece I Saw, June, 2012

Of course I could write about postcard Greece: the pebbly beaches, the sky stretching out clear, dotted with clouds at sunset. Or the blue, blue sea, the bluest water I have ever seen, unlike any other place in the world. Or about the sun beating down hot and demanding as I walked down the small road from our tiny rented apartment to the beach. Or the food – black and green olives, anchovies and tiny whitebait fish served up crisply fried. All this is what I would expect to see – and to write about. The Greece everyone wants me to tell them about – because isn’t that what we all desire when we go on vacation?

But that wasn’t the Greece that touched me most deeply.  Instead, there was the Greece I could not ignore, the one with the brave face with terror barely hidden underneath. 

The Greece I saw was filled with row after row after row of empty buildings lined up on the road spreading out from Nafplio, a small town on the Peloponnese Peninsula. The lovely town square was filled not with tourists but locals.  I heard someone on the street comment that it should have been crowded in mid-June.  Instead many shops in the surrounding streets were shuttered and closed, and shopkeepers in those still open were desperate for any sale we might give them.  One salesman told us no one was coming to Greece now and certainly very few people were spending money. 

The Greece I saw was the Greece of political rallies before their June 17th election with an edge to the air, a palpable uneasiness, so few smiles but instead nervousness about their future.  The streets of Athens dingy, graffiti-filled with much of the neighborhood around my hotel closed and empty with signs saying “For Rent” - but who would possibly open a business now?  And the cafes stood half empty, the roof garden of my hotel with chairs to spare when five years ago I had to fight for a table. The night our Greek friend, T. tried to find us a restaurant to eat in – one after anther gone, gone, gone – and her quiet unease at showing us what must be a daily occurrence to her, this woman whose job has been reduced to four hours a day.

Signs of protest were splashed everywhere – raised fists and slogans painted on walls, the whole place showing peoples' anger and frustration with their broken government.   This was the Greece of high unemployment rates, especially for young people. 29.6% of young people in Greece are unemployed, according to What can they feel about Greece's future?  Where will their lives lead? 

What about those who have worked their whole lives only to find their savings or pensions gone?  When D., a retired teacher, told me in his broken English, “We are very poor,” of course I thought about what I would feel, being reduced to this after giving years to teaching. His few words were filled with so much weight, leaving me with many questions - really none of my business - but I wanted to know where his teacher pension has gone, how he makes do, what this all means for education in his country.  But his English was not good enough for him to explain, and I know only a smattering of Greek.  I am left with only those few poignant words.

That was not necessarily the Greece I wanted, but it was the Greece I feared so much that I almost didn’t go - the only time I have come close to cancelling a trip abroad.  But I decided that I wanted to be a traveler and not only a tourist, to experience more than just the highlights of a country.  So I went.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Bowl of Words

Today I bought a bowl created by an artist in Swaziland.  It is made out of magazine pages stitched together - a bowl of words.  This lovely and practical piece of art gave me a wonderful idea.  Why not start my own collection of words to put in my bowl?  Maybe a magazine article or a wonderful turn of phrase from one of my students?  Even snippets of conversation I hear while sitting in cafes or riding BART or fortunes from fortune cookies.  For some reason the idea of a bowl full of words gives me great pleasure.  If they are words I simply collect instead of write myself, there will be less pressure for me to be brilliant.  Since I seem to be going through a rather dry writing period right now, perhaps my bowl of words will shake something loose in me.  I like the idea that those words will have their own physical life in their bowl home - a more tangible presence than if they were written in a notebook.

I think the first words I will put in my bowl are the beginning lyrics to the Tears for Fears song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."  Remember that band from the 1980's? Today when I was driving home with my bowl, I heard this song on the radio.  It's one of those songs that I turn up full blast whenever I hear it.  It has become "mine" because it always conjures up the memory of a pivotal moment in my life.  I listened to it while packing for my first solo trip to Europe.  I was 30 years old, and the opening line "Welcome to your life. There's no turning back..." hit me profoundly.  Those were the kinds of words that meant a lot to me when I was 30 and scared to death about what life might bring me. 

See, the bowl is working already.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Teachers Can Never Tell...

Today I learned that a young man I taught about ten years ago is the current reigning heart throb on a Philippine television show titled "My Bonondo Girl"  This exciting news tidbit came to my attention when a news crew from a local Bay Area Filipino television station showed up to film at Ben Franklin Intermediate, our little Daly City, California middle school.

When I was his 7th grade teacher, I knew him as Alex Lim.   My memory could be faulty (after all, I've taught 10 more years since Alex was in my class!) but I think of him as being rather artistic.  He was a sweet boy with a good sense of humor. Nowadays he goes by the name of Xian Lim, and he is quite the good looking young man!  Check out the photos on his website to see how dreamy he is now.  No wonder he's a heart throb.

All this just goes to show that teachers can never tell where their students will end up.  We spend our days together for nine months in a very intense relationship which ends abruptly when they fly away in June. Sometimes my students stay in touch with me, but more often than not, I never hear from them again.  What a pleasure to find about a former student who has made a success of his life.  Of course, I'd like to take some credit for that success; after all, teaching him English must have had some effect on his ability to act!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Writing Odes with Eighth Graders

You’ve all heard it over and over:  overcrowded classrooms, decaying buildings, reduced budgets, furlough days without pay and constant teacher-bashing by political pundits and the media.  These issues weigh heavy on the shoulders of all teachers -- even a 21-year veteran like myself.  More and more these days, I have to remind myself why I chose this profession and have stayed in the classroom – with 7th and 8th graders no less – all these years. 

And then, just when I start dreaming of early retirement, the sun shines through the dirty, cracked windows of my classroom, and I forget all the bureaucratic and political hoo-ha to fall in love with teaching all over again. That’s what happened when I spent the day writing odes à la Pablo Neruda with my 8th graders.  

I first fell in love with odes as an English major in college when I read Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Ode to a Grecian Urn” with it’s famous lines “beauty is truth, truth beauty,' – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  But it wasn’t until many years later that I  thought of odes as a genre for teaching poetry in middle school – they seemed too serious and formal to attract most young people. 

That was until I read Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things.  Neruda’s odes to everyday items such as tomatoes or socks or salt were just the thing to interest adolescents in writing poetry.  The ode’s extravagant praise for something important in their lives appeals to the emotional exuberance of 12 and 13 year olds.  They can swoon over their first love, kiss up to their mothers or proclaim their undying devotion to their iPods or basketball.  They love it, and so do I.   They play with language in a way that makes their voices come alive on the page, and when they read their poems during our poetry reading, every one of them is a true poet.

I wish I could print some of those poems here but there are privacy issues with student work.  However I can provide you with the next best thing:  a link to the odes posted on my classroom website –
You can check them out there if you want.

And of course, since I try to practice what I preach, here is my own ode "eighth grade style":

Ode to My Backpack

You backpack,
so worthy
of my praise.
Zippered one,
orange as the sun,
snug and secure
on my back.
I need you!

You are always
with me -
constant companion,
strong, expansive,
heavy or light,
your pockets
ready for my
every need.

Compared to you
suitcases are like
rocks in my hands.
Purses are as useless
as tiny boxes.
Only you, backpack
hold my life.

When we travel together
you keep me safe,
hold my memories:
evil eye from Turkey,
stones from Zanzibar,
shells from ocean waves.

I want to slip
your straps over
my shoulders,
slide into your
warm embrace.
You proclaim,
"We're on our way!"

For you I will
brush the crumbs
from your pockets,
shake the sand
from your seams.
Oh backpack,
lead me
again and again
through the world.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Joys of Cross-Posting!

I decided to take the advice of  Tania, who taught a blogging class through Story Circle Network and created my first cross-post on BlogHer.  The post appeared today and so far it has gotten 479 reads and several comments and "likes" on Facebook.  How exciting to have my writing reach a wider audience.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Our Missing Sister Writers

My first - and for many years only visit - to Westminster Abbey was in 1987.  I was a young and starry eyed English major who had studied all the classic writers of English and American literature.  I was also a sometime writer who considered myself more of a scribbler than anything else.  Perhaps I was just afraid to hope for more than that -- after all, none of my teachers or professors had ever encouraged me to take my writing seriously.  So when I walked through Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, I was awed by the graves and memorials of some of the most celebrated writers of England:  Shakespeare of course, but also Byron, Robert Browning, Chaucer and many others. 

I had such fond memories of that first visit that when after 25 years I returned to London a few weeks ago, I was excited to revisit Poet's Corner once more.  I could not have been more surprised by my reaction -- anger and disappointment.  Everywhere I looked, I saw names of male writers.  Where were the women? Of course, there were the paltry few:  Elizabeth Barrett Browning's name stuck like an afterthought at the bottom of the memorial to her husband and an admittedly good-sized memorial to Mary Anne Evans who we all know as George Eliot.  Also, after much searching, I found a tiny plaque with Jane Austen's name almost completely overshadowed by the huge monuments to men that surrounded her.

Why had I not noticed this before?

I was quite the feminist firebrand in my youth, but why hadn't I felt anger over this meager recognition for women writers? Was it my own lack of confidence that made me ignore the disregard for women?  And if that is the case, what had changed to make me notice this so much on my recent visit? To my mind it's a good sign that in my middle years I still have the energy to feel resentment at this inequality. I also think that since I have a better sense of myself as a writer, I no longer question the right of any women to sit at the table of English literature, just as I no longer question my own right to call myself a writer.  Score one point for my development as a person and writer.  Mourn the fact that such a problem still exists in our day and age.

I was not allowed to take photographs among the graves of Westminster Abbey so all I have are my notes about my visit.  How appropriate that I wrote those notes in a notebook with a reproduction of the cover of Virginia Wolfe's famous essay, "A Room of One's Own."  I bought that notebook after having attended the summer writer's retreat sponsored by A Room of Her Own Foundation -- an incredible organization dedicated to nurturing women writers.  Virginia's essay describes what life would have been like for Shakespeare's sister if she had wanted to write.  Instead of flourishing like her brother, she  would have had to fight for every ounce of artistic expression she could manage.  Wolfe passionately argues for the right of all women to have a "room", a place of their own where they can create the lives they want instead of those dictated to them by a society that sees them as less worthy than men.

Near my desk I also still keep my copy of Wolfe's book from my college days with its rather "groovy" cover.  I've kept it all these years as a talisman against the forces that would make me doubt my abilities or those of any other women.  While we all know things have improved for women in the 21st century, Poet's Corner shows that we still have a long way to go before women are considered equals in the world of literature - and in the world at large.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Today was Awards Day!

Today I received my awards from the Bay Area Poets Coalition contest as well had the opportunity to read my poems to a wonderful audience.  There was even a small cash prize! 

Since this is the first time I've ever won a writing contest - even though I've entered many - today I'll bask in the glory.  Tomorrow it's back to the writing desk.