Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Gallo Girl



Bottom front page of Jane Friendly's Food Section, July 1, 1954, San Francisco Chronicle.

Found among my grandmother's papers: Aunt Jane Reilly was the first model for the Gallo wine girl commercial (it's a chalk rendering, she said the artist had to make her look Italian). Beginning in 1954, various permutations of this Vino Paisano di Gallo ad appeared in magazines and on billboards across the nation—including in Times Square.

This ad was an image I saw throughout my childhood. I thought everybody's aunt appeared on the back page of the Sunday funnies. Reading them after church was a family tradition. I loved The Phantom, Little Orphan Annie, Prince ValiantBlondie, and Peanuts... The anti-Irish sentiment in Bringing Up Father was over my head. But I remember my grandmother muttering over it. I used to save Prince Valiant, and The Phantom cartoon strips in a scrapbook—because of the horses, I guess.
During World War II, because of paper shortages, the size of Sunday strips began to shrink… to save the expense of printing color pages. —Wiki
Sometime after the Korean war, William Randolph Hearst's  San Francisco Examiner and the de Young's  San Francisco Chronicle, rival newspapers, merged and created a splashy fat Sunday Paper in living color. 

During the week, my grandmother read San Francisco News Call Bulletin which had different funnies, and no ads featuring Aunt Jane. When the Call Bulletin foundered in 1965, my grannie mourned. My grannie had no use for Hearst or The Examiner, but she loved to clip Kenneth Rexroth's columns. She had no use for the Chronicle either. Called them all a bunch of yellow journalists. Which was the equivalent of being a red commie. But the Sunday paper merger brought images of my aunt's likeness to the coffee table weekly.

I guess the likeness is close enough. When my Uncle John came home from Korea, and saw the ad blazoned in Times Square, he said, "Hey that's my sister! What's she doing up there?" to his army buddies. They said, "Yeah, right," not believing a word. But when they got home to San Francisco, she was an overnight sensation. Because of this ad, I imagine an entire generation of good Italian boys were looking for their Gallo Girl in all the wrong places.

I still haven't found the color version of the ad. I assume it was when Ernest and Julio Gallo changed the name of Vino Paisano di Gallo. I wonder if Gallo went to full color when it was on the back page of the Sunday Funnies.

Full color printing is a misnomer. The ad is red and green, the overlapping colors makes the brown bottle color. Color was a pricy prospect in the newspaper publishing business. Only front and back pages merited any color splashes. So when the Sunday Funnies were printed in full color (yellow, cyan, magenta), it was a very big deal.

This half-page ad on the front page in the Food section of the San Francisco Chronicle, is dated July 1, 1954. It took quite some time cleaning it up in Photoshop. Check out the price for a bottle of good dago red. I think the wine later morphed into Carlo Rossi. Gallo was up and running, turning suburbanites onto to cheap wine, buying out wineries from Sonoma to Stanislaus, and expanding their Modesto cooperative winery plant, including making the bottles. They helped build the industry. How many of you still have those old Gallo gallon jugs with the thumbhook, laying around?

I remember Grandma getting her Gallo wine jugs filled at the source. She favored Carlo Rossi. Her Italian neighbors, the Bianchis, the Schivos, Berinis, and the Tanzis made pilgrimages to the Italian-Swiss colony watering hole in Asti in Sonoma County for refills. Apparently, Tim Tanzi's grandmother bought it by the crateload, as getting to Asti was an arduous affair in those days. No Highway 101. I know the Gallo plant is in Modesto, so this must've been in the family. Younger brother Joseph Gallo had the Cheese Factory in the town of Sonoma. The Gallo brothers also bought wine from winery cooperatives in Sonoma and Napa too.

I found that the Vino Paisano di Gallo trademark of E & J Gallo Winery patent was filed June 8 1953, they opened for business in early 1954, so this is really the first ever Paisano ad; there were also television ads as well. I would dearly love to find the full color version of the ad from the late 50s. I've looked for it online. No joy. It was as if my mind were playing tricks on me, until I found the ads. This may be the first time that these Vino Paisano ads have appeared in print (on the internet), since the 1950s. Salud!

Full page ad, page 5, Sunday Pictorial Review, San Francisco Examiner, 1955



My Amazon Book Reviews 2014


A little known factoid, I sometimes write Amazon Book Reviews. It was a confluence of Amazon probing me to write reviews of purchases, an overload of bad (free) ebooks on my Kindle, and the rest is, shall we say—history.

OK, so now you know I have a Kindle, and a pipeline for free ebooks from the eReader Cafe and BookBub—and I've been an involuntary invalid. I've been known to read as many as four books in a day... Sometimes escape fiction is the ticket. However, I just can't believe there's so much bad escape fiction out there. In self defense, I'm doing something about it review, by review. Maybe it's also self-inflicted punishment for reading so much drivel. Cat-o-nine-tails. Reviewing books is not an easy writing form for me.

So far, I've over 30 50 reviews under my belt. My reviews rarely get read, but when I strike a negative chord—the loyal fans of authors with dreadful books, vote en masse. On one particularly atrocious novel—from a woman who teaches creative writing in San Francisco, no less—the negative votes outweigh positive tallies 21 to one. Ouch! Must be her loyal students voting. Rule of thumb: the more atrocious the book, the more negative fan votes I garner. Fans reward bad writing.

I'm not one to write a fluffy review, I try to be fair. I also try to be entertaining, hopefully not at the cost of the author—but sometimes I wonder if most ebook authors have ever heard of spellcheck, let alone, editors.

At present, I am writing under the handle of MoH (it's a hot cross-pun on moh, and the mohs scale of mineral hardness). I'm awaiting to see if there's any kind of backlash—so far, so good. I may upgrade my Amazon user name to MoHurley. But the problem is that makes me traceable on Google—as that's also my Twitter handle. And I'm not sure if I want unwarranted attention. Amazon's a big place.
Moh (Sanskrit muh: “to become stupefied, to be bewildered or perplexed, to err, to be mistaken”) stands in ancient texts for perplexity or confusion as also for the cause of confusion, that is, avidya or ajnana (ignorance or illusion). In another context, it stands for “the snare of worldly illusion, infatuation. —Wiki

If you so feel inclined, mosey on over to my Amazon Reviews, and if you like them, click on the Yes button. (You do need to have an Amazon account in order to participate, however...)

I still haven't gotten the generic title thing down. They're pretty sucky. I'm open to suggestions. I also have trouble entitling poems as well. Most of those generic titles may change when and if I get inspired.

When I write a review, I often push the publish button (there's no save draft button) to save my first draft before Amazon crashes, or stalls and wipes out my unsaved review. It's happened. I generally lose interest and won't rewrite a review if Amazon crashes.

Then, when I do go back and revise a piece (and I revise early and often), it's often an Amazon-inspired nightmare as it sometimes takes 10 or more tries to save the updated version/title. I never could get my final version and title of Worse Things Happen at Sea to load.

I can hear you saying now—so why don't you write a review offline? Don't be so sensible. There's something about the pressure of writing live, and knowing that it might crash before I've saved a draft that spurs me on. Apparently I need whip & spurs coupled with the ephemeral threat of textual oblivion—in order to write, so S&M!
   

(Don't know how long I'll keep up with reposting my reviews here. And I'm forever revising them as well. I noticed that the copy and paste method isn't quite working but I'm not willing to reformat all of these. They still should lead to the reviews, if it's easier to read them there. And maybe vote or leave a comment? Love ya.
It's getting harder and harder to "save' these posts as I add new reviews. I think the HTML is choking Blogger. I might need to make a new blogpost in order to continue to repost my Amazon reviews. "Allison" may be the proverbial straw... )


TO READ MORE REVIEWS, PLEASE VISIT:

MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2016
MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2015
My Amazon Book Reviews 2014
My Amazon Book Reviews 2013

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

a right grand sendoff


Me & my baby bro, Guy at our aunt Canice's wake, Druid's Hall, Nicasio, June 1, 2012. Photos I thought I had lost when my hard drive crashed, but they were still on a memory card. What you can't hear in this photo is the music. Father O'Sullivan, who officiated the memorial, on the tin whistle, the fabulous Cormac Gannon on the uillean pipes and Neil O'Neill on guitar & vocals. And a bagpiper to-ing and fro-ing us to the church and back again around the baseball diamond that passes for a town square. Most of the Walsh-Sullivan-Reilly clan gathered. It was a right grand sendoff. So many family wakes and weddings at Druid's Hall. If you've never seen the ceiling of the Druid's Hall, or St. Mary's church, they're like a wooden boat. Beautiful curved woodwork. We are ships sailing to far distant shores. OK, so maybe we were also two sheets to the wind. What of it? It was a real Irish wake. Everything went swimmingly until cousin Dave set off the cherry bombs and the cops came by...

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Names of Our Family Farms

We hold onto the names of our family farms in Bantry, County Cork, as if they were gold.

The Sullivan farms: GortnaScrenna, may not be spelled right. Gort = field ? screna? Ballineen (Baile = crossroads (town) n -een, could mean small, but it could also be another word. Need the Gaelic spelling.) One farm was lost for several generations, my family keened for it. But it came back into the family, the McCarthy landholder married a distant Sullivan cousin. Poetic justice working inn such strange ways.

The Walsh farm, 
Coomanore, where my great grandmother, Jane Sullivan Walsh lived, was lost in a family squabble, two brothers fighting over an inheritance.

My grannie Jennie Walsh Reilly, who was born at Coomanore always translated it as valley of gold, but it could also mean valley of yews...the tree of death, lives forever. Is there an old yew grove in Coomanore? Cum an Iubhair—this is why you need the Irish spelling of place names, not the Anglo mis-translations.

My grannie also named our place in Forest Knolls Coomanore. She left it to us so that we too could have a place called home. And now, like the original Coomanore, it too will be lost over a family squabble over inheritance, for gold. For gold.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Speck's Bar: Family Watering Hole


During the holidays, when the aunts and uncles gathered at my grandmother's house, invariably, it meant a visit to Speck's Lagunitas Tavern on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. I spent many an hour crawling the length of that mahogany bar (and sampling cigarette buts) as a toddler. During the late 1950s, pretty much all social life revolved around the bar.

Speck (Frank) McAuliffe was an old friend of the family, from the San Francisco days. His daughter, Lauretta McAuliffe, my mother's best friend, was my godmother. With his Mission Irish accent, Speck sounded like Archie Bunker, and looked like a gnome, smoking like a chimney, tamping the black leather liar's dice cup down on the bar with aplomb. Snake eyes! Someone called. Whoever lost bought the round.

Pat Mcauliffe (Decker), my aunts Jane and Toddy (Kathleen) Reilly


We've got some modeling photos of Speck's other daughter Patricia McAuliffe Decker, who was also a bartender at Speck's, with my aunts, when they were young, pouring Cook's Champagne. (My aunt Jane was the famous Gallo girl, before it was Gallo. You saw renderings of her on the back of every newspaper and magazine during the 50s.)



I've a great photo  from the early 60s, of my grandmother, aunt, and Cal Davis at a crab cioppino feed in the dining room. Speck had a big green parrot that ate sunflower seeds and swore like a pirate in the dining room. He liked carrots and children's fingers, as I can attest.

Speck owned the Lagunitas post office building too. His daughter, Pat McAuliffe & George Decker lived upstairs (before the downstairs was turned into a post office—not sure where it was before that. At DeLacy's Lagunitas store?) My mother and father also lived next door for a short while. 

The Lagunitas Lodge was also a livery stable when Speck (or rather his wife) bought it. When the the livery stable burned down, Old Pete, the last real cowboy, lived in a Slipstream trailer behind Speck's and kept his equally old strawberry roan horse over by Tanzi's place.

Sometimes Old Pete would saddle up the old roan and ride on over to the Forest Knolls Saloon when he was in need of a change in watering holes. The horse was resplendent all decked in tooled leather and silver, and old Pete slouched down in the saddle, a real low rider, would roll cigarettes one-handed.

Feilim on Tangerine

I've an old photo of my uncle Feilim on a painted horse in front of the livery stable. The horses were wintered on our property. So our family (eight kids) grew up on horseback.

Toddy on Baby Snooks, & my mom

Only one horse lived on in infamy. Baby Snooks, a big black horse with a big blaze, and splashy white feet, stood at 16 hands at the withers, but he was a handful, and famously mean, but everyone in my family rode him anyway.

Chiquita, my rescue horse from the glue factory, was originally from the livery stables—she was a horse my mom rode. But Chuquita was mine, all mine. She was my salvation, my way out. My escape from the valley.


see also
Speck McAuliff's Bar Burned Down
I really should combine the two posts. Clearly I'm not done with it yet.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

End of Year Writing Stats

The best training is to read and write, no matter what.  Don’t live with a lover or roommate who doesn’t respect your work. Don’t lie, buy time, borrow to buy time. Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write. —Grace Paley
End of year writing stats: this blog helps me keep track of my writing. It's often the only tangible evidence that I am still a writer, though most of the time I don't feel like a writer or a poet or a thinker. I suffer from the illusion of falling into the void of nihilism. I don't do many readings and almost no publishing. I don't even write every day (except on Facebook).

My generic goal is to average 52 poems (a poem a week) and I strive for a similar quantity of prose pieces. Some years I exceed my goals, other years I fail miserably. When I began this electronic writing process in August of 2007, I filed everything thematically. Well, that didn't work out so well. This year, I've tried to restore some semblance of chronological order. I've got a long ways to go, so my numbers are always in flux.

When I began this process, I also had misplaced ambitions of writing a blog piece a day. What was I thinking? I had read Guy Kawasaki's evangelical blog post, How to Change the World in 120 Days, in the Art of Blogging, April of 2006, and I founded this blog soon after, then let it lay fallow until mid-August of 2007. It's always a struggle to be productive. I was once more prolific a writer, but these days I take what I can get, wherever I can get it. Facecbook? so be it.

I probably have the poetry quota well met for this year as I have many haiku strings that I file as one item, though there may be as many as six or eight linked haiku in a file. But I tend to count them as one entry. And, I didn't even attempt to do NaPoWriMo, nor did I participate in April Poetry Month PAD, these two are where I usually stack up the writing bits. (Do I count the prose poems as poems too? I waffle, I waffle. Hold the syrup.)

I'm up to 90 pieces (I'm not sure I should count this one as it's an open letter). Don't know if I'll make my self-imposed quota but I've still got several orphan bits and pieces to whip into shape. Much of my writing these days comes from interacting with friends and with strangers in Facebook groups—especially my prose and essays.

I guess if I were to include my 60 Amazon book reviews, I'll have met my prose quota as well, but though a lot of thought and analysis goes into the process, I don't consider it to be new writing—nor does it take one's breath away, as Grace Paley put it.

In general, my prose writing begins as a small nugget, then as I research and expand an idea, a day has slipped by, and I'm stuck wrestling long cephalopodic pieces into coherent shapes. Not always succeeding, I might add. Prose, where I seem to spend most of my time working on, is always difficult, but it also won't let me alone. I do read and write very day, no matter what. But rendering finished pieces is not always so easy. This dark craft. 

The blog format forces me to go back and wrest fragments into being. Maybe it's the fear and the tyranny of the printed page. Or maybe it's the thought that someone might actually read the pieces that motivates me.

I am especially grateful to those of you who visit this blog from time to time and leave comments. So I thank you all for your interactions. For keeping the home fires burning. Something I hold especially dear, as the process of writing is often akin to falling into the void.

Dear Google, Using Blogger is a Painful Experience

Dear Google,

It's become so painful to use Blogger that I often resist posting new work. I'm using Safari/Snow Leopard, and a wonky ATT DSL (read variable speed). But these problems persist even under Mavericks OS... So either it's a variable ATT issue, or you don't support Macs.

Before you lay all blame on my legacy Mac OS and low-end DSL, let me remind you that there was once a time when Google products really shone, they zipped right along, and loaded right up with even older software (Tiger, Safari 4.1). No waiting. Gmail was a dream. It just worked—despite bad ATT DSL. That is why I embraced Google products. You might even say I was evangelical—like Guy Kawasaki, who got me into this blogging mess to begin with. BTW, I'm an old customer: I scored a coveted Gmail invite waaaay back when you had to know someone who knew someone at Google.

Now, unless one has fast DSL, using Google products has become an unpleasant experience. I have complained and yowled long and mightily to you in the past via your Report a Problem button, especially when you first rolled out this version of Blogger. But clearly no one at Google cares, or is listening. Blogger is long in tooth and in dire need of an overhaul. 

So once again I find myself writing into the void in the rare hopes that maybe someone at Google might actually read this plea and instigate an overhaul of the painfully sluggish Blogger, and fix an equally sluggish Gmail, AND also ensure that they still continue to work with older software (and a weird internet connection).

I now am forced to use the classic Gmail in basic HTML as the current version of Gmail won't even load with Safari 5.1. It's not much better under the latest Safari and Mavericks OS. Nor is it improved by using the latest Firefox, or Chrome.

I can't begin to tell you how many emails and Blogger posts I've lost to the cyber-void due to Google software hanging somewhere between first saving and uploading.

I mourn for those lost posts as I put considerable time and scholarship into them. One post I was able to rescue as it was cached on another open page. But usually I'm not so lucky. That particular rescued post just so happens to be your number one post on on the Google search engine—The Viking-Irish Redhead Gene Myth. (Use "Viking redhead myth" for your search words).

Since Google products used to work just fine before you revised your suite a few years back, despite the fact that we have the world's worst ATT DSL service, the blame can only lay square on you. You've designed fatally flawed software. In the process of trying to make it cool, you've sunk your flagship with too many bells and whistles and not kept enough elegant structure—for which you were once justly famous for. I expected so much more of you, Google. 

When I say Blogger is painfully slow, it's not hyperbole. When I load the Blogger dashboard, I get a white page, and it hangs for five or more minutes—or longer—before I can get to the post icon to write. By that time, I could care less about posting a blog. I go make myself a cup of tea, and see if it's loaded yet. I wind up drinking a lot of tea while waiting for Blogger to load, Maybe I should take up wine instead?

For example, I have some screenshots I wish to share with you and I can't upload them, because, yes, they're hanging. Again. (So far, third time is not a charm...just sayin'. Forget about multiple images, I'm lucky to load one image to load at a time.) Hanging here....

My Blogger experience is punctuated by these white windows hanging for as long as 2 to 5 minutes each. Sometimes they hang forever. Loading and loading and loading. Just like the current Gmail.
I spend too much time watching this spinning cursor. This is where things can go horribly wrong if it's the first save and publish. OMG!
This is is a particularly devilish window, because even if you hit the Dismiss link, sometimes the screen goes white and there's no text at all. All my hard work gone. Poof! Sometimes it takes 20 tries to get past this red warning bar and upload the revised blog. Click on the orange Update button. Wait five to ten seconds, sometimes longer. One-and-two-and-three.... Wait for the red bar to appear. Click Dismiss. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Oh, and I revise a lot. So I count a lot too. One-thousand one.... You get the picture.
Oh, and about loading photos, this is a particularly slow loading page, that blue loading bar typically gets stuck, and most of the options are hidden behind white expanses. I had to find the right buttons by trial and error.
Photos typically hang when I do get this far. It generally takes me 3 to 5 tries to upload photos. Notice that the drop down list under MORE is invisible.
And may the gods help you if you get this window. There is no cure, no exit strategy. It will repeat endlessly. Only thing left to do is to copy your blog post to a clipboard and make a whole new document.

Your bloatware is worse than Microsoft Word. Rethink the process Google. You know the adage: KISS (Keep it simple, stupid, but I'd rather call you sweetie).

Don't even get me started on Google+, I literally cannot use the site which is linked to my other Gmail account—and in this case, Safari is not at all to blame, as I use the latest beta version Firefox for that account. Because it is so buggy, I've pretty much had to abandon my Google+ account. Luckily, I've found a way to access my old legacy Gmail and Picasa albums, otherwise they're as good as lost to me under Google+. 

I am also cross-posting this note to you on my Blogger page, because it is patently clear that you do not actually listen to customer feedback submitted via your "Report a Problem" button. So I put this plea out to you, warts and all. And I challenge you to do a much better job next time, when you do overhaul Gmail and Blogger. (Please let it be soon, before I am forced to use another email server. FWIW, IOS, by comparison is much better with Google interface. Keep in mind, that ATT DSL is little better than dial-up, with its variable speeds, causing this iteration of Blogger to repeatedly crash. Something to consider for the next iteration.)

Your latest slate of programmers have done Blogger and Gmail a grave disservice, and by extension, your (formally) fiercely loyal customers as well, by designing such flawed software, that you leave legacy folks with laptops in the dust. Bells and whistles are merely that, and if they interfere with the bones of the program, in the form of bloatware that can't upload, then you need to rethink your strategy. Sometimes cool is not very cool at all. It's so yesterday.

Or why don't you just come on up and wifi-ify Oakland too so we can have great internet. Some of these Blogger problems are bound to disappear with fast, regular DSL. I'll be more than happy to make you all a nice cuppa tea too. Cookies?

A disgruntled writer....


Saturday, December 13, 2014

BIOLUMINESCENCE

BIOLUMINESCENCE


In deep summer, when luminescent 
plankton washed ashore, 
we used to head out to Goat Rock 
and drink cheap wine under a full moon. 
We'd scrawl our names in the sand, 
glowing, magical script in blue starlight,
until dawn broke and spoiled it all.


12/13/14

Friday, December 12, 2014

Knee Therapy


Today, my knee doctor gave me double injections of steroids for pain, thus causing me even more pain. I threatened to slug him, and then nearly passed out. It felt like I was sucker-punched in the stomach. Burning hole. Like a case of the bends. Then I was head-spinning and frog-barking. Corker burps that a 12-year-old boy would turn green with envy to be able to pull off in public. Nothing quite like a case of the pre-heaves. All the frogs were answering me back in the parking lot. It was raining like hell. Pineapple Express. Atmospheric river. How deep is the water? Knee-deep said the frogs. So much for running errands afterwards. I was entertaining a chorus of millions.


12/12/14

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Finally I get to test drive my Irish rainboots after three dry years. Esnorkeleamos!


Finally I get to test drive my Irish rainboots after three dry years. Esnorkeleamos! I dug my old leaky Goretex jacket out of the Goodwill bag (it's seen precious little action in the past ten years). The rainboots were new three years ago...but they never got any real action at all. Never buy rainboots during a drought cycle. The rubber's still good. Can't say the same for the jacket. 

And such lovely Wellies they are, with heathery plaid wool on the outside, but they're more like riding boots than Wellies. No handles. A little tight in the calves. So I wore capris and knee braces. Very fetching with my plaid boots.

Water under the bridge. It was about a foot deep under the underpass at Lakeview Road at Lakeshore, Oakland. Luckily the road is humped there, like the old carriage roads, so the center was only under a few inches of water.

I had to get food, gas, etc., (someone tried to hack my account.—so I had to go to the bank.) It was a breeze driving on 580 & 80. No cars.

Ashby underpass had a floater bobbing about. I guess the car didn't hydroplane. Just deep enough to drown a car. Kermit the Frog is dying of laughter on the dashboard.

The rich brine-laden air at the Richmond Costco gas station was like being on the high seas. Envigorating.

Did you know there's an Adopt A Drain program? My cousin was helping friends sandbag their house in Novato. Deep water on the horizon. People were out adopting drains. I think it's an excuse to play in puddles.

If we get an average amount of rain within a calendar year, and the snowpack holds until April, then it stops being a drought—which, of course, does not mean that we have enough water in our reservoirs. No snow pack = no summer water. We'd need weeks of steady snow to get enough water to break the drought.

The average yearly rainfall in Seattle is 36 inches, compared to 24 inches in San Francisco, Half Moon Bay 29", Berkeley 27", San Rafael 35", Kentfield 48", Occidental 57", Healdsburg, 42", Calistoga 41", and Santa Rosa gets 31 inches of rain per year. Then there's Cazadero at 100 to 200 inches.... Woodacre gets 38" so Forest Knolls is probably 45". The US average is 37 inches.

Contrary to what you may think, unless the Pineapple Express visits the Sierras, especially the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and the Mokelume River watershed, and suddenly turns cold, and snows, we ain't out of the drought yet. No rain at all in the Truckee River watershed. Tahoe's down by more than 85 feet.

There may be ten Mississippi Rivers' worth of rain stored in that long atmospheric river (nice one KQED), but the storm's dumping its payload in the coastal hills. It needs to rain lots in the southern Central Valley too. Not wash out to sea. We’ll only be able to say whether the drought is really over months from now. So don't flush.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why I Teach, or Why I am a Writer, final draft


WHY I TEACH, OR WHY I AM A WRITER   MANIFESTO   —Maureen Hurley
due 12/13 SAT  5 min presentation/performance.

It's hard to choose between teaching and writing
each process informs the other.
See, I was an artist before I became a poet.
I was a poet before I started teaching kids art,
but I was also literary jailbait. It was a bootstrap affair.
 I arrived late to poetry all out of breath,
with things to say and nowhere to channel them.
I was a bad student in high school and college.
Least likely to succeed. I couldn't keep what I learned.
It was like a hive of bees swarming inside my head.
Stinging my tongue so I couldn't speak.

I didn't know the parts of speech, but I loved to read.
Art was my saving grace, I found my passion,
or, rather, I found something I could excel at.
I had no idea I was dyslexic, I hid my secret from the world,
wondered what was wrong inside my head. Those angry bees.
Because I read voraciously to escape the grim world,
no one tested me for learning disabilities. They called it laziness.

I was in 3rd grade before I learned to read. I remember the day.
A blue sky filled with whorls and a pinging sound
like champagne bubbles bursting. But it was all about fucking Dick
with that goody-two-shoes Jane and their stupid dog, Spot.
So I tuned out for the next nine years. It was the 60s.

At college I took bonehead classes for dummies.
In grade school, I was already labeled: Not college material.
My counselor steered me towards the typing pool and teaching.
I was a recalcitrant student. Mule-stubborn, I refused to learn to type.
I’d give my eye teeth now for that skill. At best, I’m a 4-fingered typist.

But then, my counselor disappeared, it was during the 70s,
the school misplaced my SAT scores and aptitude tests.
So I took advanced Biology 1A and English 1A classes.
The first half of the semester I failed miserably at both,
but then, mid-semester, both my teachers were replaced.

My biology teacher was nearly killed in a plane crash,
my English teacher ran off to bicycle across Europe,
(and then married my classmate, Adar Lara).
It was the early 70s, everybody was busy finding themselves).

Mid-semester, my teachers were both replaced by radical women,
and I began to excel. It was also the birth of Women's Studies.
Our teachers were Joanne Griffin, sex worker Margo St. James, of COYOTE,
Gloria Steinem, our guru-goddess, and Our Bodies, Ourselves, our tome.
Experimental behavioral psychology: BF Skinner, Konrad Lorenz. Imprinting.
We began to de-program the past to fit our future.

But back to Biology and English, I went from failing the courses
to receiving As and Bs. My counselor couldn't figure it out.
He scratched his head. Other than the fact that I scored high
at the likelihood of becoming a Spanish-speaking nun scientist
like Sor Juana de la Cruz, those tests weren't much help.
I was allergic to religion. According to my SAT test scores,
I shouldn't have taken those 1A classes—and yet, I passed with flying colors.
I was straddling genres. And clearly, I didn't test well. That much was certain.

I adored my biology teacher, Dr. Fatt from Finland,
who told us stories about her Siamese cat. 
The dark fur on their extremities is sensitive to cold—
So she strapped frozen sponges onto the cat's white belly,
and the poor kitty's tummy fur turned black.
She taught us through stories and by cause and effect.
She tested the territorial behavior of stickleback fishes.
Proved that they saw red when presented with something red.
She teased them with red things like they were little bulls.
Even though bulls are colorblind, and can't see red,
it didn’t matter. The stories stayed with me.

I don't remember if the English teacher told us stories,
but I do remember Dan Niblock, sang "Geordie" during class.
I was mesmerized. I loved Irish and English ballads.
When Vic Damone’s daughter sang My Funny Valentine
I got the chills. Finally—an opening wide enough to let me in.
We entered the English literary tradition via ballads and song.
Writing papers was my nemesis. I had to cut and paste everything.
But the ballads told stories. The teacher must've broken the mold.

Shakespeare’s plays led me to the theater department,
so while I pursued an AA in art, I was also enmeshed in theater.
Too shy to try out for parts, I designed costumes, painted stage sets.
My theater classmates moved onto Julliard (Robin Williams, James Harper,
Joel Blum, Anni Long, Mark Rasmussen). Theater was not my calling.

(My mother was a costume designer/actress, so the stars of stage and screen including Tommy Smothers, Lloyd Bridges, and Sterling Hayden were my babysitters). I was also allergic to the tinsel promise of Hollywood’s pipe dreams.

It was time to leave the idyllic nest and graduate to the next stage of life.
It was more like being kicked out kicking and screaming, but that's another story.
What was my calling? What was my passion. I loved art, but it didn’t feed me enough. Angry clouds of words buzzed in my head with nowhere to go.

Meanwhile we were still protesting the Vietnam war, practicing civil disobedience— ours was the only high school in the nation to make the 6 O'Clock News, and the cover of Time Magazine. Our class president, Jared Rossman, baby brother to Mark, who was Abby Hoffman's left-hand man. And yes, I was there in Sproul Plaza, witnessing the famous Free Speech movement. Didn’t understand a thing. Older brothers and sisters boarded that Greyhound bus at the San Anselmo Theological Seminary, to march on Selma, Alabama. Some were drafted, and some never came back. The times, they were indeed a-changin'.

And now we're back at it again. Oscar Grant is not forgotten in this town. Eric Garner and Mike Brown. The new martyrs. I despair. I live equidistant between Oakland and Berkeley and every night the enraged air vibrates with 'choppers circle overhead like we were back in 'Nam…. Anger swarms at the crossroads.
But I’m off task. I applied to San Francisco State, but the shock of urban culture and casual violence undid me. It was still a time of protests, riots, chain gangs, a murder in the men’s room, and a girl raped in the library stacks; for comic relief, there was this guy dressed in tinfoil, selling plots on the moon. I might as well have been on the moon for what it was worth.

The art department was dismal. The painter who I was to study with, Wayne Thiebaud, took a year off. Bob Bechtle had us painting 2-inch squares from Monkey Ward catalogues. Outhouse work. Helene Aylon was experimenting with the razor edges of art—we were way beyond dada, we were shit-deep into the theater of the absurd. Julian Beck, Ann Halprin, and the Committee were our tabula rosa. The art building was condemned, so we painted murals on the walls to prove we were there, and watched the demolition ball swing. We were also homeless.

So, I split to Sonoma State. I should've guessed things weren't going to go smoothly at Granola State. The art department was dismal. So there I was, once again, without anchor, without a mentor I could respect. Sonoma State was in the process of being built, so we were shoved in the basement of Darwin Hall. Art and science were rigidly divided. There was no community. Perhaps that’s why I gravitated to poetry. But I didn’t know how to write.

During my first years of becoming functionally literate, it was a bootstrap effort,  I learned by doing. Then I was in a car accident and when I was tested for motor skill coordination, I failed. It was a relief to know that there was some odd wiring in my head. And it had a name: dyslexia. It gave me a doorway to access my thought processes. The bi-cameral mind. I just had to figure out how to break down the door and enter the house of memory.

From there, I was able to unravel that tangled morass of thought and memory and put information into my head so I could (sometimes) retrieve it. One must begin with what is interesting. What is interesting? Stories. After hearing Gary Snyder read stories of my home at Olney Hall, I said: I can do that, and I began to write.
The personal story and rant of Beat poetry was relevant, like the stories and ballads of my childhood, like the things my grandmother told me again and again. My mother was nuts, her stories needed extensive retranslation, so I was raised by my Irish grandmother, who was a bearer of an ancient oral tradition. I had a foot in both worlds.

But I was hungry for synthesis and I drifted into an experimental cross-discipline cluster school, Expressive Arts. And there I found community and my life's calling. Not one arts discipline, but many. We were an ongoing psychology experiment, there was no dividing line between teachers and students: Jack Crimmins, Fred Curchack, Elizabeth Herron, Mac McCreary, Red Thomas (who founded SSU and taught us to “follow your passion”), and guest speakers including Natalie, and Carl Rogers. We learned that our vocation is the place where passion meets the world’s hunger.

Honing my craft, I also attended poetry workshops. One summer, we crashed Port Townsend's Centrum Foundation, slept in abandoned barracks, and on beaches. Sharon Doubiago, Tobey Kaplan, Leonard Cirino and I went to sit at the feet of Meridel LeSueur. The Centrum Foundation tried to throw us out, we were personae non grate—but Meridel said: The California poets stay, or I go. Showdown. And so we did. Sharon read from her manuscript, Hard County. Meridel said it HAD to be published, and so it happened. All those craft lectures began to filter down and settle into the crevices of my brain. I learned by osmosis.
Because I was working for alternative newspapers, I attended the Napa Valley Poetry Conference, as a photojournalist, and then I began to sneak into the workshops. Dave Evans, the director, knew I had no money so we traded photos to study poetry with the greats: my teachers were Carolyn Forché, Galway Kinnell, Gerald Stern, Carolyn Kizer, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, Steve Kowitt, Linda Gregg (whom I went to grade school with), and Jane Hirshfield (who was my co-poet at CPITS). They were my tribe. It was a long time coming, but I finally found out where I belonged.

One spring, we all ran off to the Bahamas to create the first and last international Napa Valley poetry conference. Through the workshops, I was meeting poets from across America, and abroad, exposed to myriad voices. The Bahamian voice, so like our own home-speak. Poetry didn’t have to be about the ivory towers of academe, it was also the language of the street. Poetry was a secret language, a form of code switching.

I also began to travel, because I was teaching Sonoma County history and poetry, I landed in the USSR, carrying art and poetry both directions. I was an accidental ambassador, giving readings, teaching poetry in Soviet schools, and translating poetry. I never meant for any of  it to happen. Time and place and circumstance.
I brought the books of Larry Ferlinghetti and Dave Eggers to the USSR. The Soviets didn’t know what to make of this free form writing. Poetry rhymed! These were forbidden books. 

But who knew Dr. Zhivago was the mother lode? The Soviets were a hundred years behind the times in poetry. I carried back new Soviet poems from Chernobyl, and rough translations from the White Square. We published Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost in tamizdat editions. Then, poetry of the Eastern Bloc, and Mother Africa. I was consumed. A fire burning in my head.
The free form process of poetry allowed me to express myself, I had something to say—and a way to say it. Before that, I was mute, afraid to speak out, afraid to be wrong. And yet, there I was…

It took another decade for me to fully arrive as a writer. Prose was never my strong suit. Because I worked as a photographer, I found myself writing captions, and soon I was writing poet interviews, and art reviews and other stories followed. For someone who couldn't write, and had no organizational skills inside the head, it was a huge achievement.

Then one day, I found myself standing in front of a class of kids teaching poetry. I wanted the ground to swallow me up whole, like right now. Teaching. Me. Imagine. I was the one who was least likely to become a writer, let alone, a teacher.

Because poetry became my lifeline, I hosted poetry readings, art openings in Sonoma County. Because I also needed money, I trained as a poet through California Poets in the Schools, and taught at multi-arts residencies funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. I had seven California Arts Council artist in schools grants in Santa Rosa, and a pilot project at the client library at Napa State Hospital. I was teaching painting, drawing, and calligraphy to students with learning disabilities similar to my own.

I was a bad student in school.
Least likely to succeed.
I couldn't keep what I learned.
A hive of bees swarming inside my head.
Stinging my tongue so I couldn't speak.

When I realized there were so many kids who were like me, no sense of belonging, no sense of achievement. There was something that they could excel at. Poetry. I realized that poetry saves lives. It saved me because in poetry there was no one right answer. It was the "begin anywhere" approach that saved me. It didn't matter how my brain was wired. I jumped in, and blindly thrashed around, and shape began to emerge from the chaos. And all this time, I realized those angry bees in my head were gathering nectar from the gods of poetry. There was a divine purpose, and I was the last to know.

Poet-activist Muriel Rukyeser wrote: the universe is made of stories, not atoms. And it was the stories that led me to my calling. I was following all the stories home, like a well worn cowpath to the heart of the barn. It was also the most political thing I could do.


Living Between Worlds


Tonight I bring my angst and steal chocolate cake abandoned in the hallway because I forgot to eat. Again. When I get hungry it's always too late. Sort of like my life. Always feeling inadequate, always feeling late. Always wishing I had a bit more time. So I rewrote my homework in my head. There was a wreck on the highway and I was sitting in traffic anyway. Trainwreck between storms. We've been cleaning out my grandmother's house and since it was my home too, I'm finding things from the past. A time capsule spanning decades. Among my grandfather's papers, receipts for guns purchased for the revolution. The sheriff's ID card. He had a foot in two worlds. My first communion veil, prayer book with latch, the tiny silver spoons I brought back from Holland. Windmills frozen in time. We joust at the past, both antiquated and precious. But the dark side includes all the chaos, the randomness. What we make of our lives as we plow through it, and then time gives us the new order of things. Seeking relevance I did not expect to find the broken pieces of the self neatly scissored and stored in plastic bags amid the news of the day. I was that girl, that artist, that writer. Keeping vigil. Meanwhile, the streets are filling with angst, a storm brewing, brewing, gathering in. The 'choppers slicing the air above my head, we are living in a police state. We are living between worlds.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

KING TIDE haiku


During the king tide:
the bay rises up to greet
the fallowing field.

added, rev. 4/17, from an orphan line:
The bay rose up to greet the field.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

First rain


Usually the first rain flushes out the culverts. But we've been in drought mode for several years. Then there's the problem of houses built on flood plains. When the rivers and creeks rise, it floods. Culverts aren't the problem then. The water has nowhere else to go. Higher ground. We used to love the flood season on the Russian River. I've been through some major floods. We'd get landlocked in Forestville, cut off from the world. And party like rockstars. Those were the days.

added 4/17