Saturday, December 29, 2012

moderation, perhaps?

Dear Rain,

It's not that I don't like spending so much time with you, the way you make the green so green we turn into hobbits, the way geese and sandhill cranes flood the sky, the way you make the Willamette River a shiny split in the city. You, my sweet, are a charmer I wouldn't live without.

It's just that the fourth rainiest year in Oregon history means shoes not drying between walks with my dogs, means not walking the dogs as often, means my bike shoes stiffen in the basement, not getting their air, their due. Call me lazy. Call me ungrateful.

Maybe we should slow things down a bit, visit with some other weather. I've heard the Midwest ask about you. Texas is a lovely place; they really appreciate a juicy drop or two. I'm not talking forever. I can share. How about a week or month?

Don't get me wrong. You make my heart puddle.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Brave on the Page reading

Yesterday the honor was all mine. I was lucky enough to read with Stevan Allred, Scott Sparling, Jackie Shannon Hollis, and Liz Scott at Backspace in Old Town, Portland. We were celebrating the publication of Brave on the Page, which is the brainchild of Laura Stanfill (she with tireless energy around writing and promoting all things writing).

What makes this group of writers and this anthology stand out is the intimacy of the writing. The issues taken up are raw, tender, and kind. There is a lot of love among us and between writer and reader. It's such a privilege to spend an afternoon with others dedicated to telling stories, to crafting sentences, to putting on the page what is difficult to face so that others may have an easier time facing them.

Thank you, Laura. Thank you, dangerous writers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

This is just to say...

by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
This morning when I went out into the sticky, thick light from the east on our front porch, I found a bag of fresh plums. They were left by a really sweet guy, whom I met through Craigslist. Who knew that selling my very first recumbent would become such a lovely experience? 

For years I resisted selling my blue R40 Vision recumbent with underseat steering. The bike I called, "Joni Mitchell Blue," had taken me from my despair at never being able to row again to the joy of a whole new world of cycling. In the fall of 2005, I think, I walked into Coventry Cycle where younger and older men with aprons wielding tire irons and metric wrenches, looked up from bike stands and greasy chains, and escorted me through recumbents and trikes and collapsible bikes. They talked technical, which I loved, even if I didn't have a clue what they were saying.  And I tried out a long-wheel base (wobbly) and a short-wheel base (too cool), and eventually bought Joni. 

All fall and winter she took me through traffic and sleet and sloppy sidewalks. At lights I toppled over, not quite managing to get my foot up to the pedal in time or slipping off. At Hagg Lake in the dead of winter, I made figure-eights at the pullouts on tops of rollers as prizes for making it up the hills, and as practice for turning, which seemed like sure ways to buck myself off the little sportscar of a recumbent. With the handlebars under the seat, I wanted a seat belt to keep me on the bike. For the first four months of riding, I fell almost every time I rode. But I learned. And Joni got me where I needed to go (and back). 

After riding Seattle-to-Portland the next summer and many events afterwards, I needed a bigger front wheel, needed to ride higher on the road. I moved to a Bacchetta with regular sized wheels. Her name is "Iris," big and yellow. Her picture is on this blog. But Joni has been my backup, my winter indoor trainer, and I haven't been able to let her go.

Until last weekend. One day on Craigslist, and a very sweet man responded whose third recumbent had been stolen, and he commuted every day on his recumbent, the exact same kind, even though the manufacturer has long gone out of business. He arrived, and we found our names were chosen for similar reasons: Gray, what is between black and white. That's his first name and my last name, both chosen. 

When he took Joni for a spin, she looked like an extension of his body. She fit. They are a good pair. And I found her old pedals and left them on my porch last night for him. He exchanged plums for them, so sweet and so cold.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

One of the best things about my life is the immersion in Story. Most of the year I'm immersed in students' stories, the honor of reading, the pain of witnessing all they survive. In the summer (with apologies to my colleagues who are working year-round), Story enters me like air, breathes me. Fiction. The books, the movies, the TV shows fill me with characters and actions and insights that have fancy and impossibility and terror and one tick away from reality, which is a comfort. Fiction feeds me, whether it is poetry or playwriting or the elusive art of short story, or a fine lie. I haven't read enough this summer, yet, but Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses swept through me with its sparse, elegant prose. As a trainer for leaner business practices once said, "Apple has won the market share because they offer a few, elegant choices." I've thought about that a lot since I heard the phrase. My writing is more like a PC, lots of too much. Maybe that's why fixies (fixed-gear) bikes are so popular. Simplify... Let the operator or reader have room. Support her with elegance, sound structure, gorgeous choice. And of course, I had to read the second Hunger Games book, Girl on Fire. Had to. That book is scary and plot-based, and as my friend, Sharon Hashimoto, put it, teaches about conflict. Every moment is driven by conflict. My writing tends to be driven by folly, the delicious sound of words, the whim of associative logic. Conflict, hm.... Story is a powerful and sustaining force. I am very lucky to ride it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

favorite sign

Today was one of those magical rides, where what you plan and why you planned it work out. The forecast was for heat and wind, and so, I thought early and north-south, not east-west. Around 7am I had everything loaded (and dogs fed, walked, watered, and bribed in the cabin) in the car, and drove down 7-Mile Hill and on to 84 and off at Hood River, and began the climb up Rt. 35 toward Mt. Hood. The day was already hazy with the temperature already about 70 degrees, so unusual for Oregon. Through the repaving project, past the sign for Odell, I parked at a bakery, which I knew would be a welcome sight after the ride. From there I started uphill, and up and up, with views of Mt. Hood as rewards, I rode. At first the self-doubts were getting to me, but earbuds and peppy music helped me spin the wheels. The rough pavement lasted a few miles, but soon I was alongside the East Fork of Hood River, its glacier water sending waves of freezing air over me. I shivered. Then, the warm, dry shafts of the canyon swept over me. I sweat. No wind, mercifully. In 16 miles I was at the trailhead where Cheryl and Rafi and I had just hiked last week, a gorgeous short hike along the river to stunning falls.

The downhill was glorious. There is a speed around 33 mph where I find I can't keep up, and I have to coast. I was above 30mph much of the way, with views of the entire fruit valley and Mt. Adams, and suddenly, the downhill was over. There was a good slog of an uphill, and I found my very favorite sign in biking:

Few things are more rewarding.

Well, there was the chocolate-chip-peanut-butter cookie at the bakery, the rhubarb jam, and the marionberry empanada for later...

Do this ride.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My sister's recovery and the long flat, June 6

Forgive me for posting the same thing to two blogs, but this post has lots to do with biking. The references to rowing are due to my years of competitive rowing and my sister's family's continued involvement in the sport. Her husband's name is John, and her son, Ben, is 6'6," thus the reference to his large hands.

Hi, my little potato bug,

Tomorrow you leave Spaulding, and despite Corinne’s beautiful smile and Brooke’s cajoling and Anne’s insistence on one more step or lunge or arm curl, you won’t look back. That’s the point, of course. I’m including a photo from the window you’ve had for the last 8 weeks.

Recently a neighbor who’s started biking asked how to improve her speed on the flat. I’m no expert; I’ve been riding for only 8 years or so. But on rides of 3-8 hours, you think about technique, especially when you run out of other thoughts.

And riding is surprisingly like rowing: technique matters. When you’re riding hard and well, the strokes feel light. The stroke should be quite different than the recovery. (Funny what context does for words like stroke and recovery…) In biking, the rpm is higher than in rowing (80+ rpm ideally), and therefore, more difficult to analyze. Near the top of the revolution is the time to push, before the top, and then, relax for a split second, and pull around the bottom of the revolution, relax, push, relax, pull… It’s important not to work all the time, to utilize big muscle groups like both quads and hams, and most of all, look up. Last weekend along the Columbia River, heron and osprey and kestrels and seagulls laughed at me. As usual.

Ten days ago at Spaulding you were doing things you couldn’t have done when I saw you the last time: walking without mechanical devices, feeding yourself, spotting someone approaching you from the left side. Ten days ago you walked along the Charles, cut your food with your fork in your left hand, zipped up your jacket, and did lunges. Lunges. One foot out. Balance. Lower your weight. Balance. Back foot forward. Breathe. Other foot out. Balance. Lower. Step. Your ballet training kicking in.

You are making such fast progress it may be hard for you to analyze what you’re doing. You are pushing the pedals at just the right places and propelling yourself forward. Those of us lucky enough to see you can tell you that you are blazing fast, that your technique is perfect, that Lance Armstrong is your peer.

And the next few weeks will be the flat. It may be a long route, but you have more determination and more drive than anyone I’ve seen. Quick and light strokes are good for biking. For you, I imagine the trick is the repetition, the unconscious movements like picking up that fork, and the looking up, seeing John walking toward you, or feeling the playful touch of Ben’s enormous hand making your hand look like a child’s. Those will be your osprey, not laughing at you, but cheering you on, encouraging you on the flat. I’m cheering you, too, from just a little farther away.

You go, girl.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

tears downhill, May 23

(Here's a piece of a letter to my sister, Kim, posted on Letters to Kim. I'm using it here because there's biking in it.)

Cousin Pam wrote to tell me to ask if little whimpers of pain were escaping my heart from Aunt Priscilla’s death (she’s quite a writer), and I said, yes, and some pains are paper cuts, somewhere between a whimper and a gut punch. For instance, last weekend at our cabin in Mosier, Oregon, when walking my dog early in the morning, I heard a sound I’d never heard before, getting louder coming toward me. It was a short burst, a lung-full, high, scared. Then, I saw deer bunch up when they saw me and were more afraid of me than they were of the thing chasing them. That sound. Just sometimes when I’m not sure where to go.

To Pam I tried to articulate the tears that sprang into my eyes on a steep downhill on the path at the end of my 45-mile ride (3,200 ft elevation), the same path we all walked last summer when all the siblings came out here. I don’t usually cry on downhills (sometimes uphills…), but the cold in the eyes was a good cover for the mix of emotions. The way you sidle up to each of your siblings (and possibly son and husband) and those long, piano-fingers become pinching machines has trained us to love your closeness and laugh/cringe at what you deliver. We spent that walk weaving in and out of each other, all of us sibs.

And the tears were for missing you and for the joy of getting to see you this weekend and for the joy of your seeing that garden that Penny and others have prepared and the tender way that John will hug you into the car and out of the car and into the wheelchair and through your garden and to your new spot. It’s all magic, a mix of strength and mischief and undeniable love.

See you this weekend, my sweet.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

new news

Yesterday, we discovered the real cause of my sister's brain bleed. It wasn't a stroke. It wasn't an aneurism. It was AVM or cerebral arteriovenous malformation. (That's what the main character, Nate, on Six Feet Under had in case you saw that HBO show.) Now we know. Less than 1% of the population has this condition, and it may be the root cause of what we call "the family aneurism." It's congenital. 

The following poem I started writing when my sister Kim was in the worst shape, that first week in Neuro ICU. I tried everything I could to get images out of my body, to find words to deal with the grief that was too huge to contain: wrote in a journal, prayed, wrote a blog, etc. In Boston I had no bicycle; that would have helped. 


My sister is bulb, paper-shelled, cloven,
six inches under soil, prepped and turned.

My sister is cumulus, extravagant thermals,
wisps lifting eyelids, eyebrows, and lips.

My sister is earthworm, segmented,
soft plow, persistent and slick.

When nurses plunge suction down her breathing tube,
closed eyes cry, and bleating, she is lamb.

When doctors wake her, rake knuckles
across her sternum, she is volcano, shaking.

Like rhododendron after clearcut
Like marram grass on sand

Like bracken ferns after fire
my sister is prayer

How lucky we are that she is no longer in this state. And she remembers nothing. I'm learning how to hold this tremendous gift. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

too much too soon

Why? That's what most people would ask: 50 miles, 3,000 feet total elevation. I set new records for slow... Three weeks ago when I did a similar ride I was amazed that my bike could move that slowly and NOT tip over. Yesterday I rode even more slowly.

At the start of the ride, the vista was eastern Oregon, looking out over the desert, The Dalles, the Columbia River in the distance. It was probably 35 degrees, and going down the hairpin turns, no guardrails, was a little like skiing on the edge of the world, ice in the eyes, trusting your weight will take you around the turn. There's a lot of trust in biking.

I've found the best route I can, I think, through The Dalles, and then, the route takes me into wheat. Emerson Loop is a good uphill, through the country, along creeks, muddy and full right now. The trees are budding, yellow against the new wheat.

Always a reward: Mt. Hood in the distance over the old wheat, the lines of hard work, the tractors. Throughout this ride I got to see Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, all mystery and fiction. Just beautiful.

At this point both the day and I were warming up a bit.

The Dalles is really an amazing little city, with the Dalles dam, and the river, and the two presiding mountains. What a gift this day was.

I almost tanked with no calories left to burn. Stopped at a roadside taco stand, that was fabulous and had lunch. Then, up the hill, 1700 feet in 2.5 miles, oh my! Mt. Hood greeted me around turns.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Letters to Kim

On March 23, 2012, my sister suffered a massive and devastating stroke. She is slowly waking up from a coma in Massachusetts General Hospital under the watchful care of incredibly dedicated medical folks and my good and loving brother-in-law, John, and nephew, Ben. I spent a week there, 4 nights of which I  stayed in her room in ICU. I wish I could do so much more.

I may start writing letters to my sister in this blog. Here's the first.

April 4, 2012

Dear Kim,

This morning the air in Portland is cool, nearly white like Pond’s Cold Cream. Remember the blue containers? There was something mesmerizing about gathering the cold on to your fingers in a swirling motion. It felt too light for face cream, too light for something you could see collecting on your fingertips. And the smell was spring but a contrast to the cold in the jar.

One time when I was staying a weekend in the office, where Dad lived when Mom and Dad were freshly divorced, after the fire at our house, I smeared Pond’s Cold Cream on the back of the toilet tank in the bathroom upstairs. It was cold on cold, and maybe that’s what I was trying to do: fit things together that made sense together. When Dad raged and asked me why I did it, I said, “I didn’t know. It felt good.” And those were both true statements. I was so confused when he punished me because, after all, I was telling the truth.

Truth is it’s hard to be here in Portland. Walking around, I’m more cold cream than flesh. This is my second day back, and it’s your day 12. On day 11 you left ICU, which is a really good thing. They were incredibly good with you, and in your single room, you had floor-to-ceiling windows. The light flooded your room, which is a really good thing for your circadian rhythms. The view from Lunder 624 was expansive. The gold dome of the Mass. capitol beamed. The streets of Beacon Hill sped away on a slight diagonal. At sunset I could watch the shadows cast on each floor of buildings on the east side of the streets and then tip up, recede. One of the things you’re missing, which is hard, is the blossoms. The delicate branches were reaching through all those brick buildings. Now that you’re on a new floor, I don’t know what the view is like or what your room sounds like. It’s harder not being able to see and hear and smell where you are.

Here’s what I said to you every morning:
--I love you, Kimmy.
--John and Ben are doing OK.
--John is a rock. When he comes in the room, he says, “Morning, Darlin’,” a little like John Wayne, but softer. He’s taking good care of himself and of you. John comes around 11 every morning and stays to about 6 every evening. He’ll be here soon.
--Ben has Maggie, who clearly loves him. They seem to be a good team. And as you know, Ben and John are an unflappable team. Ben comes for a few hours every day. He’ll be here around lunchtime.
--People are praying for you all over the world.
--Did anyone ever tell you you have beautiful ears? How did you get those ears?
--You have beautiful hands.
--You are the best sister ever.
--I am your favorite.
--You love Obama. Really.
--You’re doing great, and I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but keep fighting, Kim.
--You’re not alone. I’m right here.

The white sky this morning has pink and white blossoms reaching into it. It’s pretty cold here in Portland, about 38 degrees. We’re all ready for warm weather. Maybe next weekend, Easter. You may feel real air today if you get moved to the rehab facility. You love the outdoors, and for the moments you are transported from Mass General to Spaulding, I know you’ll feel the cool Boston air pass over your face, like something refreshing, like something that saturates your skin and feeds you.

I love you, Kimmy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

for every writer (with iPads)

Here's a cool app that will help you construct the world of historical characters: Video Time Machine. Since the novel I'm writing now is set in two time frames, 1963 and 1951, and since I was 3 in 1963, I need help visualizing clothes, cars, houses, politics. This app allows me to select the year and then the news, sports, advertizing, and more. Wow, it is amazing. Just saying.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


            Incantation for the Man Outside

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up
and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
~Mark 1:35

There is no silence like the night by the train station
after trains leave, after moonset, after Venus moves
in an arc across the night to a spot blocked by Earth.

There is no silence like the brown bag, crumpled, supple,
drenched, the doorway filled with sack and trash, the way
the viewer’s eye reduces the weather-beaten man to drink.

There is no silence like the one in the tongue
where words wait for tooth and breath and nerve,
where threat floods the brain, knocking thought out.

What silence can there be for him when all sound is threat,
when outside is razor wind, when piss rims the nose, when inside
is forbidden, or inside the mind, a movie plays too loud?

The din stretches dawn to dusk. Pray.
The morning is still very dark. Pray.
Pray, make silence safe.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


It wasn't easy, but yesterday, in Mosier, I rode the loop from Dry Creek, down State Road to Mosier proper, east on Rt. 30 to The Dalles, right on Chenoweth Loop Road, right on 10th, right up State Road. The last 2.5 miles were 1800 feet up.(In the picture to the left you can see the summit sign.)  I didn't know my bike could stay upright when I was going so slowly: 3.6 miles an hour, but it did. I did. Slow and steady. No land speed records. Just perseverance.

Saw two sets of hawks dueling it out in the air, aeronautic acrobats, crying and diving.

Friday, March 16, 2012


This week at Bud Clark the table was nearly full. We had 7 around the table, the most to date. If laughter were people, the table was crowded. During the first long write, though, there were tears. One woman excused herself, took her journal, and left the room quietly. I followed her into the hall, and asked if she were OK, if I could do anything. She held her journal close, the other hand opening her apartment door down the hall, her sobs coming harder. She shook her head.

But she came back. When she came back, she came over to my side of the table and held her hand out with a little something in it. I extended my hand, and she put a book the size of my palm in my hand: Native American Wisdom. And in it was an inscription to me. Here was someone who has so little giving me something. I stopped the tears of gratitude before they rose up.

And it was the same woman who had a great line about the postcards. We write postcards to each writer after each session with very specific comments about their work that week. The postcards are really fun to write. And this week they mentioned them for the first time. The same woman said, "I wondered when I saw it, 'who the hell was writing me a postcard?' and then I realized, 'so cool!'" She was on a roll.

It was a wonderful, raucous, real session.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

beautiful March day

Today will be session #4 of the group at Bud Clark Commons, and I know enough to expect nothing. I do hope, though, to see the writers from last week, and the week before. Session #3 of any group tends to turn a corner, and last week followed that pattern. Even though there was only one person from the week before. Even though there were only 3 people. It was sweet. We laughed. We were quiet. We talked about silence.

This evening with its 60+ degrees, with the full moon last night, with the daffodils and cherry blossom buds, who knows what stories or writers will emerge.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Silence (rough draft of a poem)

     Incantation for the Man Outside

 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up 
 and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 
~Mark 1:35 

There is no silence like the night by the train station
after trains leave, after moonset, after Venus moves
in an arc across the night to a spot blocked by Earth.

There is no silence like the brown bag, wet, crumpled, worn,
the doorway filled with sack and trash, the way the eye
speaks so loud the man with weather-beaten skin cannot.

There is no silence like the one in the tongue, between fat taste buds
and epiglottis where words wait for tooth and breath and nerve,
where threat floods the brain, knocking thought out.

What silence can there be for him when all sound is threat, when outside
is razor wind, when smell rims the nose with citrus piss, when inside is
forbidden, or more daggers from a daddy’s hand, or food used cruelly?

The desert stretches dawn to dusk. Pray.
The morning is still very dark. Pray.
Pray, make a place for a silence that is safe.

Monday, February 27, 2012


On Sunday, when there was a break in the cloudbursts, I hopped on my bike. Twenty miles for training, but the day was cold and wet. So, I chose flat, north-south, and didn't think there'd be many folks on the Springwater. There weren't too many.

After the Steel Bridge, so exciting to ride next to a moving train, all steel and noise, I had to move through a crowd of folks lining up for some free meal beneath the west side of the bridge. There was a gap in the line, so I had no problem riding through.

Awhile later, after potholes, train tracks, loading docks of Front Ave, crossing the rail yard and coming back to NW via Yeon, I came back under the Steel Bridge. There was no gap in the line. But one man saw me, yelled ahead of me at the men in line, "Move aside. Taxpayer coming through."

His gristled face, my cold face, we shared a laugh, big, full, the joy in his words.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Land of Inside

If I were just an English instructor, I'd ask, "Inside what?" and my mind would grind and whirl on prepositions and their dependence on objects, the way they finish each other's sentences, the coffee ready in the morning and left in the thermos, hot and ready.

But instead I heard, "It's been a long time since I've been inside," and the Land of Inside spread out before us last night, the writers around the table: carpet, painted walls, chairs. And heat and doors that lock and clean water. And lights that make waking and sleeping their own thing. The Land of Inside keeps some out, can give some such dignity.
random inside space

When you're not from the Land of Inside, you enter as a stranger, and sounds can knock the lid off, can pry open. Especially electronic sounds, like TVs and fans and central heating vents, the smallest rattle because what's Outside is bigger.

I didn't know. Being an Insider, I haven't known Inside.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

a new week

It's taken a week to be able to write about the first session of the Write Around Portland group I'm facilitating. I was right: this group will change me.

The first meeting was more challenging than I had imagined it would be. I've never facilitated a group with so many folks managing so many things pulling on them, tugging from the outside and the inside. Unfortunately, one writer couldn't manage the strain of those forces, and I didn't know how to help him. The group unraveled.

But they wrote a lot.

This week the sun is out, and I have support coming to the group, and I have more plans, a better idea of who and when and where and how much. It's such a privilege to be able to walk in.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

a crossing

This morning the view across the water is dark teal, a little muddy, maybe silver here and there. I've stood at a ferry dock before, stood on the deck of the ferry, rumbling with huge engine power, and understood: the shoreline ahead will change me. Fact. No doubt. And I'm choosing to move right into whatever I will be, after the crossing.

Today I meet with someone from Bud Clark Commons who will answer questions, show me around. Today I head into change.

Have a sweet Valentine's.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

in their eyes

Last Thursday I found out that I will be facilitating a Write Around Portland group at the Bud Clark Commons, for chronically homeless men. I'm very excited.

And on Friday, Cheryl dropped me off to bike around Sauvie Island and back through NW Portland, in the sun, in the wind. On parts of the island I was biking sideways, the east wind gusting probably 35 miles an hour. A little crazy, but it was the first longish ride of the season, a long season. It was good to be out, to hear that crackly throat of the Sandhilll Cranes, to see a dozen Snow Geese, white and tall in a field.

And weaving through the streets of NW, I was tired from fighting the wind. There were many people in the shadows, doorways, walking on the dried mud of the sidewalks, where last week there were rivers. And about the woman who raised her head as I rode by, her face flat without her teeth, I wondered if I'd be writing with her. And to the man walking in the bike lane toward me, his wool hat low on his face, his Carhart jacket doing little against the wind, I nodded. Will we write together? 

Now we all have pens. Before, we were so different.