A Poetry Lover Confronts Her Closet

All you liberal arts, English major types might enjoy this.  It’s a poem I wrote after staring at my closet one day and having verses from a couple of poems flit into my mind.


A Poetry Lover Confronts Her Closet2881576414_fee6127938


About clutter I was never wrong.

And had I but world enough and time, I might have more.

Clutter to the left of me, clutter to the right of me,

But clutter is junk and junk clutter.  That is all I know on earth and all I need to know.


Today we have the purging of clothes.

Oh shorts, thou art stained—no grandeur in these dappled things.

Ignorant stray socks have clashed too long by night,

And your gossamer threads caught somewhere, oh my tights.


I’m martyr to a surplus all my own.

The apparition of these t-shirts in a pile

Is too much with me and lays waste my floor.

There is no going gentle into that top drawer.


Two earrings diverged on an unknown trip.

One with somewhere to go sailed calmly on.

Safe in its alabaster chamber, its mate’s forlorn.

Nevermore, I quote the raven, to be worn.


Here are some pants against which I have no official complaint.

But will there be time?  Will there be time

To arise and go, and go to Hems R We

Because rolled bottoms are too old for me?


I real cool.

I shopping fool.

Beware the credit card, my son—

Since feeling is first, we want no dream deferred.

Getting and spending in ah!—bright hopes,

Little we see in paychecks that is ours.


Shall I compare thee to what so much depends upon?

 The chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

Or perhaps that is not what I meant at all.

Perhaps that is not it at all.


Authors Galore!

With author William Powers at the 2008 Backspace Conference in New York
With author William Powers at the 2008 Backspace Conference in New York

The Fourth Annual San Diego City College International Book Fair is just around the corner! It opens on Friday eve., October 2, with two speakers and a knock-your-socks-off concert by Perla Batalla, and then continues all day Saturday, October 3. I’m really excited and deeply honored to be one of the writers on the program.

The biggest excitement for me is the chance to connect again with a fellow author I met several years ago on a panel at a conference in New York. William Powers writes with quiet dignity and eloquence about what he calls the “soft world.” His subjects are indigenous people living amid the cultural onslaught and environmental degradation of international corporations in places like West Africa and South America. His books UNDER THE PANDA’S THUMB, and BLUE CLAY PEOPLE are must-reads for people advocating for true global citizenry, and Bill himself serves as a good example of what one tenacious person can accomplish.

He would be a hard enough act to follow, but looking at the schedule I see that I also have to come after someone who is arguably the best-known person on the program. Marilyn Chin is a renowned poet who has now written what sounds like a very entertaining debut novel about two young Chinese women trying to balance assimilation with traditionalism while driving a delivery van for a (bad) Chinese food joint.

An hour of inspiration followed by an hour that promises lots of laughter, and then it’s my turn. Gulp.

Nevertheless, I must admit that I am truly excited about the opportunity to speak about UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH. Most of my appearances since the publication of THE FOUR SEASONS have been about that book, and I have been hoping for opportunities to share with audiences what I learned from writing UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH. After a short introduction to the book’s specific subject matter—Jews who fought back against the Nazis in Vilna, Lithuania—my experiences writing the book will be the primary focus of my talk.

The fair is an important part of San Diego City College’s emergence as a hub for writing in the San Diego area. It’s the brain child of Professor Jim Miller, the original director, and thrives now under current director Virginia Escalante, with the enthusiastic support of college president Terry Burgess, the City College Foundation, and many local sponsors. Come on down, if you can, and bring your kids–there a whole children’s area for budding authors. Here’s a complete list of speakers and events.


Happy New Year and Thanksgiving

medtashlichviIt’s mid-September, so what’s up with these greetings? My Jewish friends will understand the first. This weekend marks the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (“Head of the Year”). The High Holy Days, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, are a time for reflection on the past year in a uniquely Jewish way.

One important part of the process is a meditation known as Vidui. It’s essentially an inventory of all the ways a person can fall short of the mark. Though much of the prayer is focused on what is perceived as improper behavior toward God, there are also sections in which the focus is how we might have let ourselves and others down by not being the best person we can be.

The idea is to identify shortcomings and make amends if these have caused harm to others. Being sorry is not enough. One has to act on that sorrow with a genuine desire to heal the damage, directly if possible and indirectly if not, and then resolve to not fall short in that way again.

It’s a deeply moving process, if taken seriously. I have found in my own life that the High Holy Days have helped me come to grips with the unfinished business of the past, find a healthy and forward-looking resolution, and truly feel I can move on. Whether a believer of another faith or not, reviewing the Vidui for yourself can function as a form of self help–free therapy from an ancient rite! Those who want the secular take can scroll quickly through the rest.

So why is it Thanksgiving? This is more personal. There’s a ceremony on the first day of Rosh Hashanah called Tashlich, where Jews throw bread upon water as a way of casting aside the last year and moving into this period of renewal. I feel I keep a pretty close watch on myself year-round. I think I do a pretty good job of being mindful of the needs and feelings of others, and I do my best not to behave in a way that loads others down with burdens that rightfully I should carry. I’m pretty good about finding what requires atonement and doing it at the time. Since I’m not very good at coming up with a long list of things to repent, I use Tashlich a different way.

As I stand at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, I do my best to be grateful for something specific as I throw each morsel of bread. I’m grateful for friends and family; for meaningful work to do; for a comfortable standard of living; for opportunities to grow artistically, intellectually, and spiritually; for good health, and for so many other things. I give thanks, in essence, for the opportunities life provides me for happiness and the ability to move on from the things that stand in the way. May it always be so. Happy New Year!


The Same Me

“You know, there’s someone else with the same name out there publishing books,” an acquaintance said to me a few days ago.

“Seriously?” I’m definitely listening.

“Yeah–I saw the titles online. They were really different from your books, though.”

A light is starting to dawn. “Were they mostly about countries? Shorter books maybe, for teenagers?”

“Maybe….” She still looks puzzled, but I’m not. “That’s not someone else,” I tell her. “It’s the same old me.”

When I launched this website in January 2009, I made a decision to streamline a lot of what had been on my separate websites for THE FOUR SEASONS and UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH. One of the things I eliminated was a page about the books I had written


when I was just starting to write for publication. My first published volume was for Lucent Books in 1999, a Young Adult (YA) book on Kenya. I followed that over the next several years with sixteen other YA titles, mostly in a series called Modern Nations. My other strong interest was Judaica, and I ended up writing several YA books on aspects of that (images of the book covers for those are shown here).

I stopped writing for Lucent Books in 2004, when Michael Bart asked me to be the author of UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH. It was a good experience writing for young adults, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in trying out the idea of a career as a writer. I discovered a great deal about the overall process of publishing a book, including all the behind-the-scenes roles others play. I learned to work within parameters for such things as word count and level of reading difficulty. I learned about meeting deadlines and following formats, and about the reciprocal expectations of author and editor. But most of all, I learned to write more clearly and succinctly, and to explain things well. This above all played a role in my successful transition to adult non-fiction with UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH.

Lucent Books publishes primarily for libraries, so if you’re interested in books by the “other me,” or in the subjects I’ve written about, you might want to check out your kids’ or grandkids’ school library, or your local branch of the public library.


Instructions from My Imagination

Funny how a misunderstanding can sometimes lead to an entirely unrelated insight. A few days ago my partner was talking about a paper he was working on in his scientific field, and I heard him say, “it’s an instruction from my imagination.”

“That’s exactly what writing is like for me!’ I replied.

Turns out what he actually said was “it’s a construction from my imagination,” and that’s apt too, but fiction writers already know that our work is constructed out of our heads. It was the misunderstanding that provided real insight into my own creative process.

Some people may picture the Muse as a creature with a toga and a crown of laurel muse_erato1(which I like to think of as a Laurel Corona). She sits on a writer’s shoulder and sings inspirational songs while accompanying herself on the lyre. My muse isn’t like that at all. She’s more like a drill sergeant barking orders. Get up! Get to work! Stay put! You have a novel to write! With all my novels, it was like getting instructions from my imagination, instructions I had no choice but to accept.

I’m not saying I don’t love my Muse. She has never let me down (although, as for all authors, the Muse’s relationship to our unwritten books is yet to be seen). But writing is a real taskmaster, and writing a book feels like going to a very, very long boot camp.

Long indeed. I realized the other day that I have written four full-length books–three novels (THE FOUR SEASONS, PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER, and my in-progress work, THE LAWS OF MOTION) and one narrative non-fiction work (UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH) in six years. I have never not been writing a book since the beginning of 2004, and in some cases, most notably with UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH, rewriting and heavy editing overlapped with creating the first draft of THE FOUR SEASONS.

Those are some pretty serious marching orders! So I’ve been appreciating the fact that, with the first draft of THE LAWS OF MOTION done (and with no editor yet to take the place of the Muse), I have no orders at all. I’m back to having only one full-time job, teaching humanities at San Diego City College, and it is really a treat to be able to give it my full attention. Who knows? I might actually do some reading for pleasure this fall. Play a little more tennis. Get back regularly to the gym. Read more than the headlines in the paper. This could be fun!

But I’m keeping quiet about it. You never know what the Muse might do if she starts feeling insecure about her hold on me. But I don’t worry too much. Whenever she wants to return I will welcome her with open arms–that is, after dropping and doing a few sets of push-ups.