Thursday, September 25, 2014


By wind, and by sea
flotillas of Velella velella set sail
& the skin of the ocean is their home.
Offshore pelagic dreams will beach them
on distant shores where people will puzzle
over their cobalt mantles and glassine sails.
They will make odd metaphors and similes,
reducing them to jellyfish—or man-of-wars,
not realizing that their strange uniqueness
makes these small by-the-wind-sailors 
a singularity in the animal kingdom
that defies simple classification.
& they'll set sail into the void 
to lodge in the flotsam 
of the mind.

By-the wind-sailror, purple sail, sea-raft, little-sail, or the euphonious Valella valella —Wiki

This is from a Facebook rant, I fought ignorance, lost the battle, but won a poem.

Way back when, I took biology classes at College of Marin, we'd go out to the marine station in Bolinas and hang out—and when the Vellela velella were blown ashore, it was class time! My biology teacher waxed poetic about Velella velella's uniqueness and that they have no close relatives. They are a singularity. Aka By-the-wind-sailors, velella are hydrozoans, or rather, a hydroid polyp with only one species in the entire genus. They're very special and are vaguely jellyfish-like. Sort of...but that doesn't make them jellyfish. Same phylum, and class, that's about all. 

Velella velella family tree

Phylum: Cnidaria
Subphylum: Medusozoa
Class: Hydrozoa
Order: Anthomedusae
Family: Porpitidae
Genus: Velella
Species: V. velella

Jellyfish family tree
Portuguese Man o War

Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Hydrozoa
Order: Siphonophorae
Family: Physaliidae
Genus: Physalia
Species: P. physalis

Of course everybody on the Facebook post wanted to take the easy way out and just label the creatures as jellyfish. I guess it's too hard for some folks to say 
Velella velella. They float on top of the water. They can't submerge like jellyfish. The Greek name for jellyfish is cuplike. Velella velella are not cuplike at all. Sure, they're gelatinous on the underside but so are slugs, tunicates, and slime mold, as well as grape jelly sandwiches. Shall we call all grape jelly sandwiches jellyfish because they vaguely resembles jellyfish? Or call screws nails because they're similar in shape? Agh!

It was a losing battle. 

A more accurate write-up than Wiki, which has old, outdated info, is Velella velella By-the-wind sailor "biologist have examined the Velella as a single hydroid... The most striking aspect of the Velella velella is the direction of its sail, beacause it represents the direction the Velella is going and eventually to what shore it will arrive."

In “By the Wind” Sailors: Seasonal Velella beaching mystery solved, my old co-worker in the schools, Michael Ellis wrote:" It averages two inches across its flattened oval body and has a prominent sail. This flexible, triangular projection catches the wind and can move the animal quickly along the water even in a gentle zephyr. It is this remarkable ability that inspired early mariners to christen it the “By-the-wind Sailor.”

Velella is in the same phylum as anemones, corals, jellyfish and hydroids. It was once thought to be a colony of animals similar to the infamous Portuguese Man-of-War, but careful research has shown that it is a complicated individual rather than an assemblage of animals."


By wind, and by sea they sail
the skin of the ocean is their home
Pelagic dreams drift to shore
where people puzzle over them
making poor metaphors
calling them jellies, not realizing
their uniqueness as they sail into the void.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Procrastination Syndrome

Yesterday, I was procrastinating over an important writing job I needed to finish, but kept putting off, so I read old blog posts instead. I meant to correct one small typo on a piece I'd written on St. Brendan in the Faroes Islands, and then just get on with it. Some 14 hours later, I was still at it, revising—hammer and tong. It occurred to me as I utterly destroyed my bloggy bit on St. Brendan, that:
a) I really, really should've saved a copy of the first draft, at present, it's unrecognizable, and 
2) The joy of writing is having the temerity to turn a piece into a dog's breakfast, knowing that eventually I'll have to rewrite my way out to the other side—having uncovered all kinds of connections that wouldn't otherwise have happened, had I played it "safe."

(Sheesh, I can't even think linearly within any given system: a), b). I had to change points mid-stream: a), 2). What's with that?) Oh look, shiny!

Out of destruction and chaos comes... But now I have to really fix the demolished's all over the place.(Or at least hide it from the web crawlers). But I'm stalling. Again. Procrastination. Again. Shun's the operative word here.

So far, this morning, I've mopped the floor, organized my hair bands and postage stamps, shuffled piles of horizontal files, uncharacteristically hung up his clothes, I also uncharacteristically rearranged his closet, cleaned out old emails from three different accounts (not an easy thing as I'm an obsessive reader, and need to read everything before I delete it), I beheaded basil flowers, thus disturbing the leafhoppers.

I thought about those bugs, wondering how many of them we accidentally eat, without knowing it, and about making pesto with sunflower seeds because I'm fresh out of pine nuts and they're too expensive anyway. Pesto would the perfect last hurrah before summer's end. But I'm fresh out of garlic. Phew. Sidestepped that one.

Meanwhile, I've got one thoroughly garbled post that needs mending. Or nuking. And that other thing I was avoiding yesterday. And today as well. Apparently.

With that, I bring you, Dear Reader, a little distraction for our reading pleasure: an article from the Atlantic Monthly, on writers and procrastination!
Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators
The psychological origins of waiting (... and waiting, and waiting) to work. (Which is adapted from Megan McArdle's The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.)

See, I too am an inveterate procrastinator. This morning I posted Facebook messages to a classmate whom I hardly knew, and haven’t seen in at least four point five decades... we took a spin down an unpaved memory lane. I also marvelled with childhood friend Micaela who found a photo by Brett Weston, of her mother Rosalind Sharpe Wall, in Bixby Canyon. That's how I "met" that old classmate.

I talked like a pirate about John Malcovich's stunning role as Blackbeard the Pirate (Edward Teach) in CrossBones—sadly cancelled after one season. I suggest that you watch all nine episodes today, it's international Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arr and avast, ye maties! Teach invented the pirate flag. I bet you didn't know that.

I even rewrote a Peter Piper tongue twister on Adair Lara's wall... If Peter piper (shouldn't that be a capital P, or should I use commas?) picked a peck of pickpocket-proof pants, was he peckish for pound notes? It's all her fault. She shouldn't have posted that cool Instagram photo. My mind was off and racing like the ponies at Golden Gate Fields. What about California Chrome, anyway?

Yes, I do procrastination quite well. Layers upon layers, embedded so deep, that I can no longer tell which particular task I'm avoiding. Or for what reason. And who among us doesn't suffer from "imposter syndrome"? I've been faking it for decades. So far, so good. Do you think they know?

I agree with that author Megan McArdle that among writers procrastination "is a peculiarly common occupational hazard." I wonder what other foibles writers use to distract themselves from themselves.

For example, I wonder if the incredibly prolific Maria Popova of Brain Pickings ever procrastinates? What is Adair Lara's particular, peculiar anti-writing vice? Besides posting photos of her new pickpocket-proof pants. 

I know Eugene O'Neill liked to sharpen a dozen no. 2 Ticonderoga pencils to weapons-grade perfection before he arranged them just so, on a dozen yellow legal-sized writing pads fanned out on the living room rug. By then, it was time for drinkies all around.

O'Neill did not view alcohol as a performance-inhibiting drug. Nor did Steinbeck, Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, or Styron. When novelists sober up, they usually dry up. Drinking is good for inhibiting the "imposter syndrome." There are sober coffee-table books, fergawdsakes, on writers and their favorite tipple.

I was thinking that writers' procrastination tricks might make for an interesting Brain Pickings column, but knowing Maria, she's probably already covered it several times over while procrastinating over her latest post. How does she do it week after week?

However, I have a quibble with Megan McArdle who wrote that:
Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A's in English class.
Not me! I really, really sucked at English. Speaking of grammar school, it could be that I'm dyslexic, or that Coach Harry Roche routinely threw erasers and chalk bits at kids who didn't have the right answer.
Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks.
Well, I do resemble that one—after I'd learned to read, that is. I stalled a couple years on that too. It wasn't until the end of third grade. I remember the day. I was so sick of seeing Spot run and Dick and Jane being such goody-two-shoes, that I read ahead the entire SRA reading library in self defense.

I read five years' worth of little glossy laminated folders on bats and echolocation, sonar, magma, and bee colonies within a year. Kids started calling me a walking encyclopedia, but I was never head of the class in anything—except art.

Mike Frank and Johnny Kaufman were great smart-asses, but they didn't become writers. They sucked at English, like me. They also had permanent eraser dust imprints on their foreheads. They never had the right answer. Former tennis pro Harry Roche had perfect aim. He never missed his shot. I was terrified that he'd find me out.

There were alternative procrastinational options. The drugs were pretty good in the 60s, and besides Janis Joplin lived on our road with Big Brother and the Holding Company, so we'd drop in for a spell, procrastinating over our homework. Home was a relative concept. As was homework.

What a long, strange trip it turned out to be. As in the Human Be-in with Timothy Leary. Yep, I was there. With my mom. Cutting school, procrastinating‚ again. My mom always said God Bless Timothy Leary as she tuned out. Those were the daze.

See, we all went to Lagunitas School District—that's LSD, for short. 'Splains a lot. Adair (Lara) Daly and her twin were in the smart kids' class. Harry didn't lob erasers at them. Adair automatically got A's in English classes. In college too. She was so good, she even ran off with my English teacher. Heady times. I barely passed English 1A. I was not a writer. Yet.

Yeah, Take another little piece of my heart. I became a writer at the age of 30, long after most kids graduated from grammar school. Can't exactly blame or credit any natural ability.

I got pissed off at Gary Snyder writing about my West Marin landscape all wrong and I took up poetry writing in self defense. David Bromige saw a spark in that divine chaos. And to his credit, he didn't interfere, he left me to it. I quipped: Would you trust a poet in your mouth? He said, Hey that's pretty good. Write it down. And so I did. One word led to another. So much for the imposter theory.

I was a stubborn bootstrap student, at best. But I did learn grammar AFTER I'd become a writer. It's vs its? Hadn't a clue, thanks to Harry Roche's missiles. But I did learn punctuation—eventually, through trial and error. I actually "hear punctuation." And I do like semicolons; em-lines are even better—all those dashes and interlocutions are written forms of procrastination all out of breath.

Deadlines are dreadlines. I am often paralyzed by the though of writing something that's for shit. But that doesn't seem to stop me. Failure is my middle name. But I keep at it. I can't claim that I find writing easy—that's why I do it. It's more like I can't help myself. It's an obsession, flip side of the procrastination coin. Or OCD.

When I write. I know fuck-all about "language, structure, and imagery. My mind wanders into distant meadows of thought. Gets lost on the forest of syntax (sin tax?), where the only way out is through. I've no idea what I've written —it's usually a wild sleigh-ride with no one holding the reins. I might get it, years later. Or not. But still I write.

Write on!

This post too, is a form of procrastination. I never did get those two writing jobs done. I rest my case. There's always another Monday.

The blog in question:
Sheep Islands: What about the sheep? Notes on the Voyage of St. Brendan

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tea vs Chai—if by Land, or Sea

I'm having me a nice cuppa Yorkshire tea in me hond.... But Yorkshire tea, which I discovered while housesitting Dave Hansen's flat in Amsterdam, is hard to come by in the US. I found a rare stash at the Petaluma Grocery Outlet and bought up a big flat of tea. Soon it will be gone.

Currently I'm stranded in a lost republic between teas (any old tea won't do—most of the organic designer teas are fancily packaged hogwash). My mainstay, Trader Joe's, changed its Irish Breakfast tea a while back, leaving me adrift in a vast sea of peaty mediocre teas. I have a drawer-full of straw-flavored teas that I periodically recycle into iced tea, which is more forgiving on the taste buds than hot tea.

T.J.'s new twin packs of Irish Breakfast tastes suspiciously like Tetley's English Breakfast teadust dregs. The round teabags also look suspiciously like Tetley's. I can't tell them apart. I miss the old square bags of Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast tea. It made for a good cuppa tea.

Besides, I have issues with the idea of English Breakfast—politically incorrect in our household—no matter how similar they are. I mean, can you really taste the difference between English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast teas?

At UC Berkeley's 1991 Celtic Colloquium Conference I was in charge of making the morning tea for our elevenses. I made real black tea, brewed in china pots—none of that tepid metallic urn water dumped into a mug with bagged tea that Americans are so fond of. 

Because the thirsty scholars were swilling tea (or free whiskey) faster than I could pour it, I opted for Tetley's bagged tea. A British scholar promptly dubbed the Tetley's tea as "chimp dust." 

When she saw my puzzled look, she explained that whatever was left over in the tea packing room, the cartoon chimps swept up afterwards and repackaged it as Tetley's. In other words, it wasn't the good stuff. But now, even the Tetley's chimp dust is also no longer as good as it used to be. 

I do like PG Tips, McGowan's, Lyons, or Barry's Irish Breakfast—when I can get it. But the tea's pricy and hard to get in bag form. T.J.'s Irish Breakfast tea was a real bargain at $2.99 a box. And it made a right good cuppa tae. OK, potta tae. I drink it by the potful.

I can hear you tea purists sniffing now: bagged tea? Unfortunately, I don't do mornings well. I'd need a strong cup of tea in order to make that pot of loose leave tea first thing in the morning—or I'd be in danger of scalding myself.

Morning tea should be nice and black. None of that pale amber stuff. Tea should be strong enough for mice to skittle across its surface. I guess salted yak butter tea qualifies. Never tried it. But milk and sugar will do.

So when someone posted a Facebook link to a blog, The Language of Food, about the origin of tea, I nearly swooned.  
 Tea if by Sea from The Language of Food: a Linguist Reads the Menu. By Dan Jurafsky

We drink a lot of tea in San Francisco—I guess you should expect no less for a city originally named Yerba Buena, after a local wild herb in the mint family (Satureja douglasii) used as an herbal tea....
The Language of Food is a delightful romp through the history of tea. It focuses on real tea, not herbal tea, though tea itself is an herb—a fermented Camellia sinensis leaf native to north Burma and southwest China.

During the Shang Dynasty, tea, or t'u, was used medicinally. The Chinese character for tea is , originally written as  (pronounced t'u.) The earliest records of tea consumption date back to the 10th century BC, and Chinese legends attribute the invention of tea to Shennong, ca. 2737 BC. A 3rd century AD, medical text by Hua Tuo, stated that: to drink bitter t'u constantly makes one think better. Bitter is better. With butter?

The Portuguese sailors introduced tea to Europe in the 16th c. In 1660, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II of England, brought the tea habit to Great Britain. Tea was not readily available to the masses in Britain until the 18th c,. so smuggling was rampant, and its importance led to the Boston Tea Party and led to the end of British dominion in America. The Brits should've just let everybody have their cuppa tae in the end.

Tea plant (Camellia sinensis) from Köhler's Medicinal Plants

When tea arrived to Europe by sea via the Portuguese in the 16th c., it was called chá. Somewhere along the line, it was changed to tea, probably by the Dutch. Tea is pronounced differently in various Chinese languages: chá in Mandarin; zo / dzo in Wu Chinese; or ta / te in Min Chinese. Other Chinese words for tea: jia, she, ming and chuan. (—Wiki). Dan Jurafsky follows a compelling linguistic thread to include the word chai traveling overland via the Mongolian to Persian route.

Jurafsky writes:
These tea words ("tea", "cha", "chai", "matcha", "laphet") are players in an unusual linguistic story, in which two differing pronunciations of a word reflect the two ways that Europe and Asia have traded over the last 500 years: by land or by sea.
Jurafsky goes to great lengths to prove that if tea arrived overland across the Eurasian Steppes (via the Silk Road), then it was called chai.
The very first written mention of tea in Europe in 1559 is as Chiai, with an -i, by the Venetian travel writer Ramusio describing the Persian traveler Chaggi Memet...
However, I do have a very minor linguistic quibble with the basic premise of the article tea by sea as the Portuguese sailors who brought it to Europe in the 16th c., called it chá. They definitely didn't go overland, and their Chinese contacts were strictly maritime.
The second group of languages describes tea with a word pronounced something like "tey"—the way our English word tea used to be pronounced. This group includes western European languages like French (thé), Spanish (té), Italian (tè), and Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Welsh, Irish, and Hungarian. And, mysteriously, the very much non-European languages Indonesian and Malay.
I'm not sure if I'm buying the linguistic aspect of the entire tea- vs chai- arrival theory. Both the T- and CH- sound are too closely related. It really comes down to a matter of spelling from two different languages (or dialects, depending upon which army), Southern Min (in Taiwan), vs. Cantonese. I am reminded of the H.L. Menkin quote: There is always an easy solution to every problem—neat, plausible, and wrong. 
CH- is a modern Western orthographic approximation of a non-Latinate language system. Using modern Latinate orthography on an aural interpretation of a non Indo-European language family, is, at best, a slippery slope of an argument to convey pronunciation of the word tea. It depends on the listener/recorder's native language. 

For example, Manx and Irish are closely related dialects—you'd never know it, as English orthography was used to transcribe Manx, and Latin was used as the base language to convey Irish. 

In addition, in several IE languages, there are both soft and hard consonants: t/ch. What determines hard/soft (slender) sound is the vowel. Tea/chai. Also, Persian is an Indo-European language, like Hindi, not Turkic. "La" is another story altogether. 

I do love Dan Jurafsky's poetic statement: "chai if by land, tea if by sea." And it's probably more or less true. But it is a minor accentual difference. Like bags vs begs, or park/pahk in Boston. Or Ha ha ha vs Ja ja ja (same sound, different languages.)

What it really comes down to is this: the (Latinate-speaking) Portuguese traders of Hong Kong and Macao heard the word as chá, and the (Germanic-speaking) Dutch traders in Indonesia and Java heard it as tea.

Yes, in Irish, follows those "tey" rules, but that's a slender, or soft T sound, more like CHI. Full circle—except for the extra Persian case ending of -i, of course. But Jurafsky notes that extra i in cha-i is an alternative ending. "Persian nouns ending in long -â have alternative forms ending in -i." That makes it chaayi? In Ireland and Scotland, it's usually pronounced tae, as in the River Tay, not tea (tee).

So, how did the Persians really pronounce tea? Cha? (Wiki says the Persian چای is chay, derived from the Cantonese 茶 chá. So, chay rhymes with the Hibernio-English pronunciation of tae. Apparently the English word "tea" (tee), comes from Teochew Chinese "teeh".)

And of course, Starbuck's, in a rare tautological move, has chai tea on the menu—tea-tea. Like the River Avon (river-river), you might say something got lost in the translation.

Oops! My cup's emp-ty. Think I'll have another cuppa tea with me potta tae.

As my grannie would say: tea makes you pee.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams' Magic Mirror

The truth is, if anything, I'm probably addicted to laughter. —Robin Williams 1951-2014

It's really been upsetting reading the news with myriad gossip-mongers having a field day at Robin Williams' expense. Folks have been busy blaming Robin's turbulent drug-ridden past and/or a lack of money for his suicide.

According to his financial advisor, despite two divorces, Robin was not on shaky financial ground. He was solid. Royalties were coming in. He has three new movies about to be released. Income (or a lack thereof) wasn't the reason for his death.

Nor was vice the cause. His vices: he was clean from drugs having gone cold turkey since the day John Belushi died in 1982, and he was also sober for 20 years. Yes, Robin fell off the wagon in 2003 while on a movie set in Alaska, and when he began to fall off the barstool, with family intervention, he got back on the wagon in 2006—so he was eight years sober on round two.).

His vices didn't kill him; being bipolar is not a vice, it's an illness. Profound depression was the real enemy. I've seen what it did to my mother, the failed suicide attempts. When slitting his wrists failed, Robin hanged himself with his own belt, wedged over the top of the closet door. He could've saved himself, but death was the only escape route. The toxicology report is still out but I'm willing to bet it will come back clean.

Robin was also recovering from massive open heart surgery (2009), an operation that often leaves survivors profoundly depressed and suicidal. As if his plate wasn't full enough, we come to find out that he also suffered from early onset Parkinson's Disease, a neuro-degenerative disorder that affects balance, movement, and cadence; other symptoms include tremors, and facial paralysis.

One million Americans have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s; it affects as many as 10 million people worldwide. Men are more likely to get it than women. There is no cure. I wonder if Robin Williams had gotten a chance to talk to Michael J. Fox about his symptoms, if it would've made a difference? Or was being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease the final straw? With that prognosis hanging over his head, his future must have seemed like a bleak Godot.

Robin was a very prolific man, he's left behind a prodigious body of work with nearly 50 movies to his credit, and almost as many TV shows, not to mention comedy shows, and charitable work. In 1986 he helped found Comic Relief USA, raising $80 million for the homeless. He's won two Oscars Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Emmys, four Golden Globes, and five Grammy Awards.

His work literally defined who he was. Robin's very identity was wrapped up in his ability to mime and to mimic others. A man of a thousand voices and thousands of  characters. The magic mirror itself was shattered. And no amount of drugs or superglue could fix that.

RIP, Robin. You had the courage to dream big. You made your life spectacular. And we are all the better for it.

Oh, Captain, my Captain. 

There will be a one-minute worldwide standing ovation (preferably while standing on your desk or on your car roof) to celebrate the incomparable Robin Williams on Monday, August 18 at 1 PM, PST. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Spotting

Robin Williams at Redwood High School ca. 1969.

I met Robin at College of Marin in 1970. Even then, he was mesmerizing. I used to follow him everywhere around campus. Especially when he did silly walks while wearing a swimming cap and not much more than skimpy green gym shorts. He was the pied piper. I was just seventeen.

Imagine Robin wearing a women's swim cap with strap dangling. (Redwood HS ca 1969)

To my mother's delight (she was an actress at the Gate Playhouse in Sausalito), I joined the College of Marin theater department so I got to see Robin in all his zany roles. He did an incredible yellow-stockinged cross-gartered Malvolio that absolutely stole the show. He also stole my heart way back then and never gave it back. I was too frightened to audition for roles but I did costume design and ushered shows.

Robin was a brilliant actor. The comedy angle, he just couldn't help himself. It was always bubbling over. Robin would spontaneously riff on Shakespeare solliloques until we wet ourselves laughing. He drove director James Dunn nuts but we all loved Robin. College of Marin was like an extended childhood—we both attended CoM for three years. 

Offstage, Robin was just about as shy as I was, so at cast parties we'd sort of sit there looking down at our feet kicking rocks and go au-um. I absolutely adored him. I think he knew it too because he once invited me to a party at his house in Tiburon. I hopped into in my old Volvo panel truck (at least it started), and followed his VW Bug to Strawberry. We gassed up at the station, he dropped a rolled-up dollar bill and took off. The wind fluttered it to my feet. I picked it up. Portent of things to come.

I remember going over to the Trident restaurant on the Sausalito wharf just to watch Robin who was working as a busboy/waiter. He'd juggle plates, knives and glasses, do cartwheels, and a side dish of stand-up comedy while bussing dishes. It was always hilariously entertaining until the owner shooed us out.

I was no stranger to the Trident. In the mid-60s, my actress-mother was once a famous Trident waitress wearing little more than a bustier and fishnet stockings—she knocked 'em dead nightly with those showgirl legs—Bing Crosby autographed a napkin for her. Even in the 70s, Trident glitterati included: Grace Slick, Carlos Santana, David Crosby, Bill Graham, Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Bill Cosby.

Another favorite Robin-spotting pastime was watching Robin-the-mime greet perplexed shivering tourists at the end of the trolly car line in San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square. Or watch him improv at the Old Spaghetti Factory. I saw him once at The Boarding House, but by then his fame was growing, and it was crazy jammed, so I left without saying hello or goodbye.

Robin took the LA comedy clubs by storm, and in 1973, he was accepted to Juilliard along with other classmates of mine, Mark Rasmussen, and Joel Blum (a 2-times Tony winner), but Robin always kept up his west coast connections. Marin was home.

Robin Williams & Joel Blum in the wild west version of Taming of the Shrew, directed by James Dunn,  1971, went on to win the Best of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that summer. Many of us helped raise funds (car washes) for the tour, but didn't go with the cast. Harvey Susser was also my drama teacher. It's his photo. Don't know why the Daily Mail is claiming it.  Great interview with James Dunn, though. 

I only saw Robin once again in 1981 at a concert after he got famous. Backstage, after a Bread & Roses show at The Greek Theater (I was the resident calligrapher for Mimi Fariña), I ran into Robin later with Michael Pritchard, and Eric Idle. Robin did a wild ribald set with Michael Pritchard that had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Robin Williams & Michael Pritchard at the Other Cafe reunion in SF (photoNathan Nayan)

I watched the show from the wings. Robin came offstage and recognized me...which shocked me. He gathered me up in his arms saying, I know you! I know you!!! and kissed me soundly. I said: Eww! Gross. Stop. Sweaty! swatting him off...

I got to hang out backstage with Robin, Mike and Eric Idle and watch them crack each other up. I don't remember what was said, one-upmanship was involved, and I had laughed myself senseless. Somewhere I have photos of the show.

Robin said he'd keep in touch. Never happened. 

I always thought I'd see him one more time again.

special thanks to Nathan for letting me use his photo.

Squirrel Bath

The red squirrel left three green acorns at the bottom of the half-full glass on the fence so I filled it up with fresh water. They no longer have a potable water source, so my pint beer glass wedged in the fence is their only wellspring. They run up the fence from the street trees for their daily drink. Next morning, the glass was half-empty again and the water was filthy. The acorns were gone. The squirrel went snorkeling to get them back. I guess the bottom of the glass wasn't such a good place to hide his nuts after all. But he's now one very clean squirrel.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Half a Hole

Math puzzle: If it takes 6 men 6 days to dig 6 holes, how long will it take 3 men to dig half a hole?

How can you possibly dig a half a hole? That's sort of like being half-pregnant. Or like running a half-distance race (where you never, ever, ever get to point B).

A hole is a whole hole no matter how misshapen or shallow it might be. Some holes are holier than others, but they're also in the dark. They don't see the light. No! No! Don't go toward the light!

I have some questions: Were the 6 men digging for 24 hours each? Or are we talking 8-hour days here? Did they get time off for lunch and two ten-minute breaks? Union? Non-union? Were they US citizens? Were they assholes? Did they dig all the way to China? What about doughnut holes?

You can probably tell I never did well on the verbal math tests—too many variables and then there's the conundrum to consider. I'll take that doughnut hole now, I prefer the chocolate glazed ones, TYVM. But I'd be happy to share half my doughnut hole with half of those three men digging those half-holes. How many pieces would that be, if eaten over a three-day period?


One AM phone call: a man slurred: 
"You'd better come get me. 
I can't make it." And hung up. 
Wonder if he ever made it home?

Bum Steer

Sometimes our neighbor Les Stone would put us up on Ralf, the Jersey milk cow and she'd buck and lunge like a champion rodeo bull. My friend Stephanie named her after the sound she made when she attempted to moo. Ralf had a big knotted abscess on her cheek and a lisp, so her I'm so lonely song came out RALF! RALF! RALF! 

Ralf was also a consummate escape artist. Her middle name should've been Cowdini. So my neighbors resorted to electric fences to keep the cow in. But come morning, there was Ralf straddling the electric fence, udderly devastated by the height of the fence and the fact that her full udder, in need of milking, wouldn't clear the hurdle—facts colluded. She'd stand there, with back hunched up to lift her udder off the electric fence, waiting patiently to be rescued, muttering ralf, ralf, ralf under her breath. 

Come spring, she'd charge right through that fence to find Old Grandad the Herfie bull in Nuneses' upper pasture on Mt. Barnabe. And she'd bust out again to have her calf in the woods. She'd hide out and blend in with the trees. I swear that cow could tiptoe. We'd have to go hunt her down hidden in the oaks with her newborn calf. We'd follow the calf's yellow fresh milk spoor. Busted!

Poor Ralf loved freedom and we couldn't explain to her why wandering the backroads was not a good idea for a fawn colored cow and calf—especially during deer hunting season.


The last afternoon waltz is over.
Revelers leave the Rancho Nicasio in droves
and gun their pricy cars lining the square. 
The wild turkey chicks straddling the fence, 
chime in with pullet-sized "feed-me" peeps 
and teenage angst squawks at passers-by
or maybe they 're hoping to audition 
as backup singers for the band. 
Mama deer parades her twin fawns, 
their spots like constellations in the dry grass 
as they head down to the creek for their evening drink.
They watch, amused by all this Sunday hubbub. 
The turkeys risk crossing the road: 
they have a lot to say while holding up traffic 
at the 2nd base outfield.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Math Whiz, Not

My personal strength is visual acumen. I can remember faces and images. I score high on those kinds of equations. As long as it doesn't involve numbers. I had to take the CBEST test and failed the SIMPLE math portion. SIMPLE...yes? I scored @ 60%, so I got a math tutor studying for her (she, not he—very important) PhD. She was fascinated by how I solved the problems. She said I was bored with simple math, but had somehow taught myself algebra & geometry—that my reasoning was sound. But I did odd things like add figures in the subtraction columns, I flipped numbers (6/9, and 4/7), etc., a classic case of dyslexia. But I passed the blasted test. Tears were involved. And the spectre of Coach Harry Roche lobbing chalk and erasers at Johnny Kaufman and Mike Frank, didn't boost morale, of course. My grandfather had an eidetic memory. He could speed-read any book and had perfect recall. I have it too, but only partial recall. However, when it comes to math, I reverse numbers....and get all jumbled up. No matter that I've been clocked with an IQ of 138-40, math is my Achilles heel. And I have math whizzes on both sides of the family. The gene's there, but it's all damseled about. Even the late, great Olympic runner Archie Williams who broke track records with Jesse Owens, couldn't teach me a lick of math. And my mother's cousin was a mathematician on the Manhattan Project. So it runs in the family. It just ran away with me. Or more like from me.

Monday, July 28, 2014


A deer ambled up to the kitchen window
popped down roses as if they were potato chips.
Beautiful blood-red petals slid down her throat.
She gobbled them up not even taking time to savor them.
I rapped on the glass but she kept on munching away.
We were inches from each other. Eye to eye.
But she knew the difference between glass and roses.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Old work, new vision

Lately I've been uploading old work—mostly poems from the 1980s and 1990s. It's a bit of a surprise to revisit one's old writing all at once like that. I started at the beginning. Only work that made the electronic cut was uploaded. It's been a tedious process fraught with technical difficulty (read: incompatible formats) and more than a few poems weren't all there. As in physically not all there (no that's not a value judgement.)

And of course, I don't have hard copy for any of my old work, my big clippie-board mss binder has gone on walkabout. So I can't fill in the missing words and lines, nor date some of my old work. I'm sure there are myriad formatting typos. Long dashes (em lines) reverted to accented ós, and line breaks disappeared. I've been burning the midnight oil—nay, more like 2AM, removing those pesky ascii artifacts. But some are insidious.

See my very first entry of 1979 to read all about it. But rereading and reformatting all those poems is labor intensive. (I'm up to 1993). There are gaps becaue I didn't date my earlier work—incestuous nepotism? It dated me and now it's haunting me. Everything's relative.

Yeah, there was a lot of love gone wrong stuff. Rites of passage. Painful stuff. Painfully funny stuff: comparing women to pears with PTSD, imagining myself as an asparagus stalk, eating white oil paint because it reminded me of ice cream. OK, so I was four, it was my first metaphor.

Weird to review ones life for the past 35 years via poetry—shuffling the poems into the right creation date has created an interesting timeline.

Don't know how much more I'll upload during this round. My eyeballs hurt. I've moved all the orphan poems to relative dates within a 2-4 year period. Usually to Jan 1,19xx, so I can find them later. I still have a rat's nest of early poems filled in 1994—that was the latest file date saved. Need to track them down too.

Too much circular reading. Sorry for the typos, Working on them.

When This Blog Really Began—Aug 2008
Old Posts, New Posts
The Paper and the Sonoma County Stump

Poem titles are in CAPITAL LETTERS, and you can search the blog, using the word 'poem" in the search box at the top or clicking on the word "poem" on
the hotlist below the dates. Other poetic categories too: haiku, ekphrastic poetry, collage, etc. Some poems also sorted by region: from the Andes to the USSR, and Zenia.

    found poem 


A surprise bonus:
recycling dishwater
forks in the planters.

Dumping dishwater
in thirsty planter boxes
a fork serenade.

Tossing the dishwater
a cacophony of forks
dig into the ground.

I'm giving up on
5/7/5 haiku lines
to count water drops.

When I tossed the dishwater into the garden
the plants drank in a cacophony of forks
A good tine was had by all.

The dishwater sang
tine-y bubbles whined about
a fork in the road

But the owl flew off
with a runcible spoon think-
ing it was a mouse.

When in drought save gray
water, the whales are dreaming
of rain on this plain.

Anonymous comments button turned off

So very tired of the spate of Anonymous commenters posting spammybits to my Irish Redheads post (my most popular blog post with 38,352 strikes—OK, so 5000 of those are probably Vampirestats). Like cuckoos laying their eggs in other birds' nest, these nefarious commenters sneakily embed URLs in their posts–which I can't disable. So the Anonymous comments button is turned off for now. Wish I could just turn it off for that blog post, But it's all or nothing. To leave a comment, you must now register, or have Open ID. So sorry. I hate captchas. Some of my best commentators have been Anonymous posters. (Sigh).

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Greedy squirrel knocks
my china cup off the fence—crash!
He's looking at me so guiltily 
he's beating his chest
as if to say mea culpea.


Our waterdogs were MUCH more stocky than this fellow, more like a coastal giant salamander but they weren't spotted. For all we know, they could've been a new species. —Wiki

When I was a kid, there were giant (Pacific Coast) salamanders that lived in a creek that ran down from the slopes of Mt. Barnabe, behind the Stone's house.

Three salamanders were dressed in different shades of liver, brown and russet. And they were built like small stocky bulldogs—about a foot long. They looked much bigger to us then, and of course we thought they were Loch Ness monsters, or Sumo wrestlers. We made our first unoriginal metaphor: we called them moving poops. Unfortunately Stephanie's little brother probably killed them. You know how it is with little boys and rocks and slow moving targets.

I still feel bad when I think of those salamanders. Even then, we knew it was wrong to lob rocks at them. We were probably 7 or 8 years old. We had no idea that they were rare prehistoric creatures. When teacher said that dinosaurs were extinct, we knew better, they were alive and well and living in the gorge at the foot of the mountain.

Apparently the giant salamanders can bark too. Hence the name: water dogs. It was probably their barking that attracted our attention. Because they were so far outside our experience of the known world, not like the regular salamanders—petite, delicate creatures that came out after a heavy rain, and they barked, I was shaken.

The terror of unknown was suddenly real. We hiked up the gorge many times looking for those strange monster waterdogs, but we never saw them again. They reappeared in dreams, barking, as if beckoning me towards the unknown. Or alerting me to danger.

I chalked the memory up to a collective bout of wild unreined childhood imagination, until Trane DeVore posted a photograph of a giant Japanese salamander, and at that moment I realized that my childhood monsters were indeed real, and they were barking like wild dogs.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Once, long ago, on an unreasonably hot day
like today, while waiting for the Anacortes ferry,
I jumped off the dock to cool off in Puget Sound.
Baby flounders scattered like rusted fall leaves.
One tiny fish swam into my palm—and settled in.
His eyes hadn't yet migrated all the way to one side,
so he watched me as carefully as I watched him.
When his jewel-spots changed to blend with my hand,
his eyes retained the dreams of sea and sky.


I suppose I could call it a blue-eyed flounder...
this poem prompted me to dig out some old fishy poems and upload them.




Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Alan Watts, early 1970s, Everett Collection, Brain Pickings

 —The only way to make sense out of change 
         is to plunge into it, move with it, 
         and join the dance.Alan Watts

When I was a child, I swear
Alan Watts was older than dirt.
Now from a photo, he gazes out 
looking younger than I am today. 
Sausalito in the good old days, 
when Varda lived on the old ferryboat 
and nailed his paintings to the walls, 
& from the captain's cabin,
Alan danced at the helm,
with his seadog legs braced
against the raging '50s tide, 
steering the '60s into oblivion.


With special thanks to Maria Popova, whose scintillating blog Brain Pickings, inspired this piece. If you don't know about Brain Pickings, you're in for a real treat. Mind candy.

LOL, I thought vampire stats & Technorati web crawlers had attacked my blog, this post got 500 hits—Come to find that Maria tweeted a link. I am grateful to all of you for stopping by. I'm lucky to get 20 hits on a poem.

♡ After reading a Brain Pickings article about Alan Watts (), a woman wrote this beautiful poem

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Deer browsing brush pile
red plum leaves taste good to her.
They taste good to her.

Young deer at old well
wallows in the dust. Her spots
slipped off midsummer.

An abandoned well
Young deer wallows in the dust
Look! her spots slipped off.

First summer berries
rattlesnakes lying in wait
I step carefully

My tongue sings sweet praise
to ripe berries. Snake rattles,
wants something sweet too.

Bluebird's maiden flight
grounded. Wait 'til your feathers
grow all the way in.

Birdlet, not the time
to fledge, the snake's dreaming of
feathering his nest.

Asleep on the couch,
3 AM—raccoons cleaning
the BBQ grill.

Raccoons arguing
all night cleaning the camp grill.
No point sleeping now.

Raccoons quarreling
over the grill. Either way
we'll have to clean it.

Greedy squirrel knocks
cup off of fence—crash! Guilty.
He's beating his chest.

I rushed home to catch 
a play only to have him 
cancel at curtain call.

Little girls screaming
in unison and in pitch
with the power drill.

Raiding the freezer.
Old cake with freezerburn, hey!
chocolate is chocolate.

Baby halibut
swims into my hands, looks up
with his sea-blue eyes.

Young halibut changed
his spots to hide—but not the
color of his eyes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How Writers Write Poetry

Maybe someone else will have better luck accessing these craft talks. YouTube never works for me. You will need to sign up for this free online workshop led by Iowa Writers' Workshop.

How Writers Write Poetry MOOC (Facebook link)

Talks on Craft and Commitment
The Course
How Writers Write Poetry, a six-week course beginning on June 28, 2014, is an interactive study of the practice of writing poetry.

How Writers Write Poetry Syllabus

Before the first class begins on Saturday, June 28, please watch our Preliminary Video Session: "Getting Started with Marvin Bell"
To meet your moderators, learn when they will be online, and find out how and when they will be leading workshops of your poetry, please see our Moderator and Workshop Schedule
Please also note our Rules of Workshop Conduct
Saturday, June 28
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
**All videos will remain available for the duration of the course, so once a video has been posted, you may watch (and re-watch) at any time.
Class Topic: Sketching Techniques
Video Session #1: Robert Hass
Assignment: Exercise #1
Monday, June 30
Due: Exercise #1​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Tuesday, July 1
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Collecting and Repurposing Lines
Video Session #2: Kate Greenstreet and Lucy Ives
Assigned: Exercise #2
Wednesday, July 2
Exercise #1 Workshops open
Thursday, July 3
Due: Exercise #2​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Friday, July 4
Exercise #1 Workshops close
Saturday, July 5
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Building a Poem
Video Session #3: Daniel Khalastchi
Assigned: Exercise #3
Exercise #2 Workshops open
Monday, July 7
Due: Exercise #3​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Exercise #2 Workshops close
Tuesday, July 8
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Mindful Writing
Video Session #4: Sridala Swami and Alexandria Peary
Assigned: Exercise #4
Wednesday, July 9
Exercise #3 Workshops open
Thursday, July 10
Due: Exercise #4​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Friday, July 11
Exercise #3 Workshops close
Saturday, July 12
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Prosody (Meter)
Video Session #5: Richard Kenney and William Trowbridge
Assigned: Exercise #5
Exercise #4 Workshops open
Monday, July 14
Due: Exercise #5​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Exercise #4 Workshops close
Tuesday, July 15
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Containing Multitudes
Video Session #6: Dora Malech and Tarfia Faizullah
Assigned: Exercise #6
Wednesday, July 16
Exercise #5 Workshops open
Thursday, July 17
Due: Exercise #6​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Friday, July 18
Exercise #5 Workshops close
Saturday, July 19
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Other People's Words
Video Session #7: Nick Twemlow and Kiki Petrosino
Assigned: Exercise #7
Exercise #6 Workshops open
Monday, July 21
Due: Exercise #7​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Exercise #6 Workshops close
Tuesday, July 22
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Poetry As Pleasure
Video Session #8: James Galvin and Kwame Dawes
Assigned: Exercise #8
Wednesday, July 23
Exercise #7 Workshops open
Thursday, July 24
Due: Exercise #8​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Friday, July 25
Exercise #7 Workshops close
Saturday, July 26
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Constraint Based Poetry
Video Session #9: Shane McCrae and Teemu Manninen
Assigned: Exercise #9
Exercise #8 Workshops open
Monday, July 28
Due: Exercise #9​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Exercise #8 Workshops close
Tuesday, July 29
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Sonic Association
Video Session #10: Carol Light and Larissa Szporluk
Assigned: Exercise #10
Wednesday, July 30
Exercise #9 Workshops open
Thursday, July 31
Due: Exercise #10​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Friday, August 1
Exercise #9 Workshops close
Saturday, August 2
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Looking Outward
Video Session #11: Michael Dennis Browne and Caryl Pagel
Assigned: Exercise #11
Exercise #10 Workshops open
Monday, August 4
Due: Exercise #11​ by 11:59 pm (CDT)
Exercise #10 Workshops close
Tuesday, August 5
Video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)
Class Topic: Free Verse | Prose Poem
Video Session #12: Marvin Bell and Mary Hickman
Assigned: Exercise #12
Wednesday, August 6
Exercise #11 Workshops open
Welcome to Class Session 1: Sketching Techniques
Saturday, August 9
Exercise #11 Workshops close
Course Closes
Final video class will be posted at 7:00 AM CDT (GMT - 5:00)

Saturday, June 28, 2014
Robert Hass discusses one-, two-, three-, and four- line sketching techniques.
Former Poet Laureate Robert Hass is the author of seven books of poetry, numerous critical articles, and many translated works. Hass is the recipient of numerous awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize, for his 2007 poetry collectionTime and Materials.
How to Begin:
1) Watch the class video. Captions are available: press play and then press the cc button at the bottom right of the video for captions.
2) To read the writing assignment that was presented in the video, look below the video.
3) Join the discussion. To talk about the craft issues and writing processes presented in the video with Mary Hickman and our Moderators, click on the link below titled “Class Session 1 Discussion - Sketching Techniques.”
4) Submit a writing exercise. To post your writing exercise for discussion with your fellow poet-participants, click on the link below titled “Exercise 1 Submissions - Sketching Techniques” and add your poem as a new forum topic. **If you would like your exercise to be considered for workshopping, you must post it by 11:59 PM CDT (GMT – 5:00) on Monday, June 30.
5) Join the workshops. Workshops for this writing assignment will begin on Wednesday, July 2 and will end on Friday, July 4.

Using Robert Hass's sketching techniques, write a one-, two-, three-, or four- line poem. Submit it to our course forum via the link below the video marked "Exercise 1 Submissions - Sketching Techniques." You may submit as many poems as you like!