My recent writing is for a middle grade audience, magical realism, fiction, not memoir. The stories are populated with children, some I imagine, the ones I see everyday and others reside inside me. The world is complicated, sometimes scary and as my main character will show you, is full of pits, fiery mountains and saddened by loss. But because it’s Jess, loss is accompanied by learning and followed by joy. Eleven-year old Jess jumps right into all of it .
Her story worlds are based upon places I love, the things I think about with a little magic sprinkled on top. I hope my stories enliven children from 8 to young teen, and adults, entertaining all with Jess’ quirky charm and her love of the natural world. I hope the adults fall in love with Jess, her family and the world she creates and struggles to understand. I invent people for her to struggle with, big feelings for her to manage, confusion about important social issues and always passion. I hope to examine, explore and discover new worlds with Jess, and feed my own spirit of adventure.
When 10-year old Jess learns her mother has died in rehab, her search for belonging takes her underground where she joins a community of burrowing animals, who accept her more readily her family above ground.
When her mother brings home a woman from the shelter, Jess becomes a homeless advocate to get rid of her. But things get complicated when she befriends the woman’s son, her mother falls in love and she steals a horse. Jess thought her biggest problem was how to best use being invisible.
From My Blog
- Creating the World // March 25, 2021
“Some days I just need to get quiet and stay out of the way.” from Courtney Martin’s blog, an interview with Liz Powell, palliative care nurse
Some days I long to disappear. Instead of turning left and heading to New Leaf grocery store then driving through Lulu’s Coffee for an Africano to sip through a slit in the lid while driving, I’ll turn right. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll head north on Highway 1 and make my way an hour and a half north to San Francisco. I’ll stop for lunch, look in shop windows, get a haircut, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, my short absence is a welcomed relief for all of us.
You likely know by now that I live with my grandchildren. Actually, two of my grandchildren live with me, here in my house, in our house, the retirement home my husband and I remodeled for the two of us to live out our final days. We have plenty of those ahead. We are in our seventies. We have been inside this lovely home ALL FKN YEAR. We live in the forest with two children, Grandpa, a non-shedding dog, five chickens, an outdoor cat, with birdbaths and bird feeders to fill, branches to drag and gardens to tend. The children’s Dad lives alone next door. ALONE. My daily life is consumed with activities toward nurturing four living beings, collecting eggs, sprouting seeds and asking the others to help me.
Pandemic Proximity Bonding
With social isolation during this Pandemic year the compressed nature of our household relationships includes less talk. We ask questions that no longer get answered. Want to make buttermilk biscuits for dinner, turn the compost, check the worm bin, feed the chickens, gather eggs, fill the feeders with seeds or check the dog for ticks? Want to help make dinner? Make it on your own? The kids are now eleven and fourteen, teenagers with budding breasts, size eleven hiking boots and eyes that roll, shoulders that tense and hands that dig fingernail moons into their palms. They tell dirty jokes, keep secrets and eat a lot. They wear the answers to my questions on their faces. My granddaughter typically wears “No.” My fourteen-year-old grandson dons a “yes” but doesn’t really mean it. I notice his hands, the pause in his step, the way he glances at his feet hiding his real feelings, keeping peace.
This year we have become experts at reading one another. We display moods with eyebrows, stiffened toes, fingers and a twirl of our hair. We fling hands to feign disbelief, laugh in disgust, slam the door, stomp a foot, shed tears, chortle out the side of our mouths and stifle giggles. Like a mother watching her infant sleep, keenly aware of every twitch, fisted hand, eye flick or purse of lips, we know one another. Oh I remember those creased puffy legs, knees to chest, pedaling feet, soft, pillowed toes. So sweet. Each dimple alive with meaning. Attention is the language of survival, reciprocity and love. Living close, cave-dwellers, sharing air, counter space, food, odors, music, temperature and energy all day long, week after week and month after month. We no longer require words. Like a murmur of birds’ in an un-choreographed sky ballet, we feel our way through the dance of each day, each of us an attentive parent.
I understand that teens need us to back off, to leave them be as they strive for independence. They push us away. But they want us to pull them close and squeeze them, too. It’s a time I remember. The way it felt, I felt. Confused. Teens circle, like a cat finding a spot of sun, flop on their beds, to think, imagine, fret and touch themselves. Privacy. My two make decisions everyday about the amount of school work they do, how much game time, which friends to call, side chats to engage in as the teacher plays a booming rendition of the War of 1812 during a lesson about U.S. History. Teens make their own decisions, but like all developmental shifts, they are not yet good at it. Who is? One foot planted on home plate, they dare take off. The young child still hovers inside, fingers twitching as they feel the blanket silk at their feet during the first of six zooms of the day, a stuffy perched next to the 11-year-old’s computer screen, she holds up to the screen. They demand to be left alone and need for a snuggle, my touch, giggle time and car rides for long talks to sort things out.
On one of these car rides, doing some chores with my fourteen year old, I had an agenda. “Sex talk, consent and personal safety.” Destination? CVS. His topic was quite different. “Why do humans fear others that are unlike them? Why target Asians? Haven’t we done enough damage? Jeeze. I hate being a white man. We are the haters. How do I stop this?” How could I say, “sex is like offering a cup of tea” after that? I’d had it planned. So we drove along the shore stopped and watched the birds, waves and surfers. We discussed social equity and human nature, people who do the work, our change heroes. I praised his sense of justice and caring. We ate a scone, had coffee and hot chocolate, his with whipped cream that I dipped a finger for a taste. I told the tea story, a consent analogy.
He has a girlfriend he met in 7th grade. They talk every night. She’s coming to visit for the first time. So far they have seen one another for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, infrequently. But we are vaccinated, immune, and he’s a teenager who needs to socialize, so we agreed. When I asked what they were going to do he had no idea. I suggested a bike ride, a walk, art, cooking, watching a movie. He told me she’d be picked up in five hours. He said she hates hiking, bike riding, and does not like art. What does she like? Games on her phone. He doesn’t know. “She likes me.” Oh, does she now?
Sex Education and Health is part of his home-school curriculum. I chose units online and we were to begin next week. But today we’d look at condoms. He’ll think I’m expecting sex during his friend visit. I talk about STDs, how condoms are used for any sexual contact, not only intercourse. I ask him to watch the video on Monday and read some articles and we’d talk afterwards. “You need to be comfortable using condoms so that when you are 20 and want to have intercourse, condoms are already your best friend.” He nods. “These are not for your girlfriend visit. These are for you as we get into our studies, so you are familiar.” OMG. Who am I kidding?
We locate the condoms on the “Feminine-Hygiene-and-Family-Planning” aisle. Neither topic directions for a 14 year old looking for condoms. Another customer stands reading labels, so we make a U-turn. I get some paper products on aisle 7. He goes to the toy aisle. Digging through a rack of stuffed animals with huge eyes, he actually puts one to his cheek, letting me know he adores it. I flap my hand and he puts it down. The student of feminine products has moved on, the aisle clear. Girls are giggling an aisle over. My grandson sneaks along the boxes reading, shaking his head, “ribbed for stimulation, lubricated inside and out, super sensitive, more sensation.” I open a box and look at a packaged condom feel how sticky it might be. It’s blue and slimy. He shakes his head.
“I tried these on a banana once in sixth grade. I don’t know how to choose.” He grabs a 3-pack, no super duper claims, “protection and safety,” cheaper than the others. I stick a tube of lubricant in my bag and he drops in his condoms and we go to check out. He looks back to be sure he doesn’t know the gigglers in the next aisle. He doesn’t.
At the check out counter he plays with a model race car. Seriously. He opens the hood. It’s both childlike and somehow sexual. The cashier, a guy tend years older than my grandson says, “Cool car,” and spins the wheel. Back in our car, I say, “at home you can try one on. May be a tidy way to pleasure yourself.” I said that, I did. “There’s so much we can do on our own. No STDs, no pregnancies.” I said that, too. He looked out the window.
Size matters, Grandma
Would we have done this trip together had it not been for the Pandemic? We stopped to browse at our bookstore afterwards where he found book about being a man in today’s society, about preference, gender, being sexual and kind. That’s how he describes the book. It must be our long-term proximity that accounts for my 14-year old participating so willingly. It’s a result of our familial bonding, or maybe sex is just so damn interesting. I smile as I think about us, a grandma and a teen talking sex, condoms, responsibility and equity. Back home he steps out of his room and says, “These are huge, way too big.” I didn’t think about size. Eee-gads. I send him a website on measuring for a condom, length and girth. “I guess size matters after all, Grandma.” He laughs.
The next day I get some singles, picked up a handful at the grocery store for him to try. Then, I wisely step back, get quiet and stay out of the way. His girlfriend comes tomorrow. I mean visits. UGH. We already had the STD field trip, So I’ll save the video for next week. Is there an age-appropriate field trip for a fourteen and seventy year old on our next topic, “Porn”?
- Mary’s Sweater // March 13, 2021
Extending my imagination to create a world for Jess is a delight, an honor. In Jess Book 1 I celebrate her playful way with words as texture, as scenery dotted with soothing and sometimes jarring rhythms. This is a selection, a writing practice from my journal that I offer to inspire writing for our Jess.
I think of myself as tall like Mary.
Both of us once slim.
I was never as smart or as tender.
She was an artist, painted animals, bones beneath soil, water landscapes and apple blossoms.
Paintings that unearthed stories, told new ones.
Mary was a passionate teacher, a dreamer.
She painted with her heart, understood things, felt them
When I put on her soft woolen sweater, zip it up, snap it closed
I become more tender.
Mary would have required pockets
Big ample pockets for hands and collections
I wore it home from Julie’s who thought it suited me.
It had been in her closet for sometime, since Mary.
Dusty Rose, a color I rarely wear, never.
I wrap myself in it to go to dinner
Below the table I bother with a crusty blemish near the zipper
In the flickering candlelight, it smells of pea soup with hock.
I imagine Mary in deep conversation, sharing pea soup
On the bank of the Thames, a museum reflected in wobbly water.
The museum I missed the time I was in Paris.
Pinching the stain between my fingers, I want it to be chocolate.
Tasting would tell but I mustn’t. Mary would lick her finger.
They’d talk about the ducks floating in the river, pale blue bills
Glowing like paper lanterns, their invisible paddling.
The wind came up the first week I wore it.
I snapped myself into it each morning, wool soft from washing
Poked my hands into the pockets, zipped a twenty into one for shopping
Mary’s would have held her passport, a tissue, and a square-sided coin
Clinking against a periwinkle shell rolled like a croissant, in lavender.
The pocket smells like crumbled rosemary, like Mary’s garden.
Wearing it, I scuff my feet, bend my knees at new angles.
Dip my shoulders one at a time, my hips and legs loose
as if held together by hooks and eyes, the top half of a snap missing
I falter and miss a corner as I round it and bump my arm,
I laugh like Mary, mouth open, head back, lips peeled, teeth dry
I close my eyes as I listen and consider. Mary did that.
“How, Grandma, can we deal with our homeless crisis?”
I answer, seeking my Mary voice, her lips form my words,
snapping and unsnapping the pink dogwood blossom,
dusky carnation sweater made of Mary, I open my mouth.
My granddaughter saw tents along the road, more each day, too many
I answer like Mary in her sweater, hands tracing the coin’s edges
“Today more than ever, buddy-girl we need you,
your imagination and your paying attention to the world.
It’s your heart wisdom that will turn things around,
creativity. You must keep seeing and wondering.”
She puts both hands in my pockets and smiles showing her teeth,
Tosses her head back. I like this soft sweater, the pockets.
I zip it around her, losing her hands inside the sleeves.
It’s Mary’s, who put a baby just this color in a painting
and a swimming green frog.
Come I’ll show it to you.
- Upside Down // March 1, 2021
“He lifts himself into an upside down position on the couch, his legs cycling in the air, then stop, bent and relaxed. “I’m getting too long to go upside down on the couch.” His legs flop over the couch back. “But I have to do upside downs or I’ll stress out.”
I set a pillow on the floor next to an empty wall and suggest he try it. “Clean socks please.” I imagine with regular use the painted wall rubbed supporting this sacred place marred by dirty feet could start looking pretty nasty.
Self-aware for an eight year old, I learned from him everyday. Maybe today I’d call him self-absorbed, like myself, who as teenager falling asleep wondering how my hair would look when I got up for school. (fluff compared to his concerns) The first thing I did when I got up was look in the mirror. I wondered what others would see. Not my grandson. He checks in with himself for himself. “Do I need more sleep? Did I sleep well? Am I hurting anywhere? Takes a survey, belly, knees, back, headache?
He sits on the edge of the bed like an old man, readying to stand, readying to approach another day. Then fifteen minutes later, stands up and feels the floor against his bare feet, feels every fiber of the rug, grimaces at the cold bathroom tile. Some days it’s too much sensory input and he pulls his knees up and returns to bed. I call him again, to come downstairs as his breakfast gets cold. Most days.
Something snags his attention, an idea needing a solution. Often an architectural question he’s exploring, an engineering problem sits in the chute and must be solved before his mind can refocus on an any immediate request. Come down to breakfast.
“Your voice scares me. I can’t come down.”
Is he crying?
There’s that, his tenderness. “Honey,” I call up the stairs, ever so sweetly, “breakfast.” Each day I must break through a bubble of thin glass he’s blown around himself. I gently request his attention. “It’s a school day.”
How will this fast paced, loud, time scheduled, chock full of transitions world with more and more expectations embrace this brilliant, sensitive and reactive young man? He deserves a world that opens to him, offers him options. Can we support him, teach him what he must know and listen to what he has to tell us?
Will he thrive?
The world seems unready. He and I work to understand and set the stage, create space, identify the elements of a world that responds, that holds him dear, a world he learns to bear.
This is the world I’ll build for Jess, my fictional character. The world she stumbles through and finds her own way.
- August 2020 // February 25, 2021
Jess’ World, Book 2
Themes of family, homelessness, community activism and a little magic for a middle grade audience (9-13) This Jess book is inspired by my family’s recent evacuation with details harvested from our experience during the CZU Lightning Complex Fire August, 2020
Pieces of our summer fire story, August 2020:
After 4 evacuation moves, resettling, accepting welcomed help from son and daughter-in-law, newly married who live in town near the wharf, we have returned home. They had given the kids and I their cottage for two weeks, found shelter with friends. Now they can return home, too. I can’t sleep. Fire dreams. I keep checking the windows for sparks in the dark night. It’s still smoky and I expect them.
As I washed the ash from our concrete deck, I found burn marks from leaves that came from the sky, embers. Let’s hear it for Glen’s fabulous idea to engineer and build our cantilever concrete deck. A wooden deck may have caught fire. And the house? It’s very smoky here. I brought an air purifier home. Have two more ordered. Yesterday helicopters thwacked all day dumping water a little north of here. Unsettling. A wildfire 50% controlled burns nearby, as it does for thousands of people in our community. Climate change refugees, people say. The fire is active. It haunts us like a hot threatening ghost with terrible breath.
Others share my unsettledness. My area, with half-mile proximity to the fire line, has had evacuation orders reinstated with a warning, meaning things could change and we’d be asked to leave again. The only public access road remains closed for fire fighting. We did not have any fire around the house. We are cleared for repopulation but not allowed to use the roads to return. Not allowed to drive home. Equipment, mop up, fighting the fire line and utility access requires our road to remain free from local traffic. We got permission to use a private access, Back Ranch Rd running from Highway 1 along a ridge parallel to ours. Granddaughter and me in one car, her Dad in his. We met with boundary guards, a contact name assigned by the sheriff officer a note secured in my damp fist. We were told to be stealthy, stay home.
We drove 5 minutes home on the closed road seeing no cars, trucks or people, no signs of fire or damage. The fire action was at the western end of our road. Our road looked bigger, wider, scraped free of leaves and debris just days before the fire. It was eerie, yellow orange sky, red sun, as helicopters overhead dumped water scooped from the ocean over the ridge. A war zone. How dare I compare this to that?
Less smoke as we drove into our neighborhood, a peek at the ocean, but no breeze. The house is smoky, uninhabitable, yet hubby has been here for two weeks holding back the fire line with neighbors. He used to be a volunteer firefighter, one of the trained team. He felt safe.
Grandson and dog were already home. Hubby arrived in town when he heard our area was open and picked up our cooler, chicken food and bulky things and got groceries and headed back up with his helper, our grandson. His truck is marked with a code allowing re-admittance. A secret he’s not talking about. He was here the entire time, up at the house. (His is the real story.) My son the kids’ dad helped clearing brush and raking a line in the soil with hubby. He’d come to get his car. But didn’t realize the road closed, the map hid that fact from us. So neither his car or mine, both packed to the roof as we were un-evacuating, were allowed up. We had to return to the cottage at the beach (fortunately, still vacant.) We’d packed all our food in the truck now up at the house in the mountains. Hubby had food, eggs and milk in the cooler, left-over take out from last night, my morning tea. I turned a corner. Finally shed a few tears and that made me angry.
The map indicated our area was open. I packed up. Betrayed by Cal Fire, the Sheriff, the damn map-makers, my funk turned activist. They must not treat people this way. I am caring for children. Others are too. Some people don’t have a generous son in town with a cottage. Where are they? At the fairgrounds in a tent. Offering a false sense of hope, is a tease. You can go home, but sorry you cannot drive on the only road in. This wasn’t the first time I called, emailed messaged Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, a poor overworked guy, what could he do? So I called a distant family connection battalion chief, talked it through, on behalf of anyone using these maps as a lifeline, checking them dozens of times a day, the overlays on damage, loss of structures and repopulation. They were developed for public to receiving information. They shouldn’t make a grandma with two kids and a dog check out of her lodging, pack up… be turned away. We knew we could repopulate. We heard it on news, twitter, the maps showed us. We are good citizens. This isn’t right.
Can you please fix this? I asked. Desperate to get home, I lost track of reason. He gave me a contact at the sheriff’s office. Not to repair the map problem, lack of access, improve communications with the public, but to get me and my family home. A Private Deal was not what I was after, I wanted someone to understand the role of the maps, the way we all look to them, feel when access is offered but denied. We are on the edge I’d said. I’d hit the end of my leash. It’s graphic, I said, there on the map. I obsessed about their mistake. A fix was not to be. But silencing me was.
So the next day, I accepted the favor. I went home. But I hid it from my neighbors, the sheriff said only us, no one else. I’d abandoned the people I had been in communication with by email several times a day for the past two weeks. Has it only been weeks, seems like months? A week ago hubby was up home with other renegade brigade members and he came to the road boundary to pick up food, the chickens and the cat. I brought the car full. The cat was at my Mom’s wouldn’t come our from under the bed. He said it was safe at home, I should send the chickens. By the wharf fenced in little dirt patch by day and moved to a garage at night was hard to manage any longer. We thought we’d be home soon, hugged one another and waited. But the fire continued. It’s human nature to imagine things getting back to normal sooner rather than later. I learned that watching pandemic behaviors. Enough of this! I’d grown impatient, buttons pushed and I wanted the generous newly weds back in their cottage.
Happy to see us, hubby was surprised and relieved when we arrived, told it could be days before we came back. But he had food. We had phone and power. He told us story after story, talked about taking more fire safety measures and told more stories. He had an adventure, many of them. We were both tired. All glad to see him, bury our noses in his smoky clothes, beard and hair. Granddaughter took a bath first thing. She washed our car next to her daddy as he washed his. I washed the ash off the dying plants and patio and watered the garden. We can’t say I’m home, can we? Neighbors might call for a special favor of their own, could be an official retaliation of some kind, lengthening the time of the road closure. I let it go. Decided to be happy to be home and all safe. No fresh vegetables but a fresh box of tea.
I unpacked the car. Watched another helicopter bump along the ridge, grateful to have a home. I pulled my old lady card for a special favor. That’s what it was, right? I don’t do it often, hardly ever. I worried about what the neighbor’s would think. Then found out that they were up here, too, hiding out, special permission for all is hardly that. What sheriffs do is control the situation. Thank you for helping us regain a small bit of control.
- Jess Awakens Me // February 24, 2021
February 20, 2021, 3:20 am.
Jess is standing next to my bed eager to talk. “I couldn’t sleep,” she begins. “I have a problem with one of my tonsils.” I roll over rub my achy shoulder and open one eye. “Did you say tonsil?”
Jess nods. “My throat was sore so I looked inside and saw some white at the back where the tube turns to go down. It’s on one side. The other one looks fine.”
“Are you feeling sick?”
“No, but a white, puss-filled tonsil is not good. I might need surgery.”
I sit up, pat the bed. I can’t open both eyes, am grateful its dark. “What got you interested in tonsils?” I close my open eye.
“Don’t go back to sleep. This is serious. I read about tonsillectomies. They remove your tonsils and you can’t eat runtil the wound heals.” Jess exhales loudly. “I don’t want surgery. Would you get me some antibiotics?”
“I didn’t know you had a sore throat. You didn’t say anything.”
Jess scrubs her hands together faster and faster and paces around the bed.
“I don’t feel sore, just weird like there’s something in my throat in the way of my swallower.”
“When I was a child in the fifties many children had their tonsils out because parents were told tonsils made kids sick. Tonsillectomies grew popular. My mother didn’t believe it. So my sister and I have ours. Some kids at school thought our tonsils would them sick.”
“People still get them cut out. I read about it.” I hear Jess tapping her legs.
“Maybe we should take you to visit the doctor, to see what she sees in there.”
“I want my tonsils.”
I roll toward Jess and open my eyes. It’s not Jess. It’s my grandson, Ryan. He and Liza take turns bringing me middle of the night inspiration, acting as muse. Tonight is his turn.