Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bible Math, a bad poem

Great idea, a poem a day. During "holy week," my most unholy thoughts surface. First, I am reminded of my favorite, tongue in cheek (I think!) poem by Ogden Nash,


My contribution, a kind of venting in preparation for my long-awaited essay, "Religion and Other Sacred Cows," is my first attempt at poetry, one day early:

Adam's Rib = Eve
Serpent = Cain's Dad
Serpent = Satan
Therefore, Cain's Dad = Satan
Family Values = Disobeying God leads to fratricide
Original Sin = Seeking Knowledge in defiance of those who would keep you from it
Original Sin: At least half of Americans believe it's hereditary.
Widely-used parenting and teaching styles in America = still based on previous statement.

If you are inclined to lend credence to any of the above, I recommend you take a look at Matt Gronig's cartoon version of Genesis. He puts no "spin" on the story, he simply illustrates it, and what a horrific story it is.
Happy Easter everybody.

April is Poetry Month

Not unlike Nanowrimo in November, April is about writing one poem a day no matter how bad. Are we up for the challenge? Can a poem land on our blog at least once a day for a month?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Assorted Hostages of Personal Crisis

Lean guy in gray t-shirt. Slumps over an illuminated keyboard. Focused. Silent. Shadows his own face. Coffee half empty. Stubs of cigs just beyond the cup. One stoic, stern, uncompromising, young, straight man in S.F. Totally tech’d out. Head, double-sized by black headphones. Hips, graced by thin white cords. Clothes ragged, stylin’ rips, but the gear, top notch. Beanie over stubble hair. Matching beard stubble darkly up the face. Goatee two inches long. Eyes so direct…don’t look into them unless you are strong--like his nightly retreat to the chaos of the street strong. Escapes made into the glowy ever-light of downtown from dorm boys, dorm noise, dumb dorm norm. 3rd floor, room 324: two 19 year olds fight and cry and fight with the same pissiness every night. Overhead: the ceiling thuds. Throaty voices. Miscued laughter. Perverse giggles. Hip Hop booms. Cigars. Vodka. Texas Tea. No one sleeps, try or not. The lean guy either. Prowling the almost empty streets for hours with a lens as big as his mind. Photos hobos, whores, and other assorted hostages of personal crisis. Mostly older white men, all muted—nowhere near as desperate as the straight, young man in gray t-shirt. He’s losing his grip. Disappointment red raw. His island, nearly worn back into the sea. Who then is he left to be? Solitary man. The city night bursts with multiple plains of empty windows. People and garbage decay on the sidewalks, side by side, no hope alive. Tipsy mannequins display come-ons behind barred up panes of glass. Prissy objectives of the academy—as solid as the fog that daily blocks out the morning sunlight. Nothing desirable to hold on to. Just the terror that turns his guts. Head and heart pound sometimes even in rhythm. That’s never good. Rest helps a lot. The orderly anger of rap sooths. Soaks up tension. With camera and laptop, wifi’ing and shooting. This, a purpose driven life. The purpose: Keep living. Never settle. Occasionally sleep.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Dottie sat side-saddle on the couch, a steaming mug of coffee in her hand and her eyes fixed intently on the ominous thunderhead forming on the far horizon. In the forty odd years of her adult life this ritual was her only haven, her port in the storm as it were, her stay at home existence at it’s happiest. As the decades passed she had made many concessions to accommodate both her fears and responsibilities while she trudged through her life, a stranger within her own skin.

She had always had a passport and, as they each expired, their spines unbroken, their pages bereft of a single stamp, they went into confinement in the bottom drawer of the dining room sideboard along with the maps and the odd travel brochure gathered in haste and ignored in leisure.

Once, when she was thirteen, her family had sent her to visit relatives, flying her out in a driving rain to pass through the ferocity of the storm and land in a verdant, sunny city far, far away.

Uncle Joe and his wife felt the compunction to keep her entertained every minute of every day, dining on exotic foods from distant lands and roaming museums and galleries. On Saturday they went to see the local baseball team play a home game inside a giant building. Dottie had never been inside a building that big, let alone one that housed a baseball field and all its attendant fans. Uncle Joe had waited until she arrived to get tickets and so the only seats left were rather high up in the second balcony leaving the teams to appear no bigger than insects on the green diamond below. However that mattered not one whit to Dottie because those seats put her on eye level with what appeared to her to be the world’s largest television set. She heard the man to her left refer to it as the JumboTron and, while her eyes were roaming its surface, it suddenly burst forth with a flash of video fireworks. Dottie jerked back as though pulled by a rope but her eyes never left the magic screen and she was amazed to see the gigantic head of a man fill the screen as his disembodied voice, booming and echoing throughout the arena, intoned everyone to, “Please stand for the National Anthem…” Had she looked down below she would have seen an ordinary man, partly hidden by a plywood partition, speaking in front of a video camera on a black tripod. But there was no way she could tear her eyes from the deified, massive talking head before her. She had never seen anything remotely like it, even in her dreams.

They feasted on hot dogs and sodas, the other team won by a large margin and then they filed out with the thousands of disenchanted fans into the night.

The next day was Sunday and the three of them traveled up to the University District to attend a sprawling Street Faire. There were jugglers, fire-eaters, falafels, kites, kids, maidens, mugs and musicians. They struggled to keep together in the undulating throng but, inevitably, Dottie lost track of the others and was forced to move along, flotsam on the tide of humanity, until she squeezed herself out of the crowd into a shadowy alcove between two old brick buildings. She turned her back on the wall of flesh and was startled to find herself face to face with a giant of a man with uncombed black hair and piercing hazel eyes. Dressed all in voluminous black silks he played an antique hurdy-gurdy while his companion, a small monkey with a tin cup, hopped from person to person soliciting tips. The music was hypnotic and Dottie’s eyes followed the monkey’s every move. It sported a small, tasseled, maroon fez perched jauntily on its head and wore a heavily brocaded jacket with a stiff collar that stood up so high it almost seemed like a pair of leathery wings rising from its back. Mesmerized, she stood rooted to the spot willing her fear to ebb into fascination.

Eventually she was reunited with her kin and, although they lingered late into the day, nothing filled her thoughts save those moments before the gypsy scoundrel and his simian assistant.

She stayed for nine days, saw much, understood little and then caught the flight home to the Midwest and the life she knew all too well. Often daydreaming of another flight of fancy, she regrettably never again slid out of the gravitational pull of her hometown.

As she grew older she often thought that it had been the storm raging around that departing flight which had given her the impetus to make good her one escape and, although she never spoke of it to a soul, in later years she would drive to the abandoned family farmhouse in the fiercest storms and, sitting in a broken down old kitchen chair, she would cling to the edges of the seat with both hands, clench her teeth, screw her eyes tightly shut and beg the wind gods to spirit her away once more.

Levering herself up off the couch she poured the cold dregs from her cup, slipped on a well worn coat and went off to day thirteen thousand seven hundred and sixty two of her career at the library. She spent the day being helpful and friendly, punched out at five o’clock and shuffled home on auto-pilot to a microwave dinner and two hours of solitude in a hot bath. She made the rounds of the house making sure all the lights were off, slid her ragged red slippers under the bed, crawled under the covers and drifted off dreaming of the surprisingly gentle caress of a tin hand on her shoulder.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Not Gingrich - but handsomer....

Now mating at Table Mountain, a great place to begin your Spring.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

the Declaration of

There is nothing
to miss
from a man who
has not had
the privilege

in the midst of the desk
the bottle, the words
the paint, the wall

a thought crosses
and double crosses

and declares itself
imbedded, like a virus

like a sin

waiting like blank paper
to speak

I am a liar.

Actually,  I'm confused about this.  Isn't there a problem here?  I mean, if this statement is true and I am indeed a liar, then would I not be telling the truth?  And if I'm telling the truth, then that statement must be false. So, if the statement is false, then I am not a liar.  If I'm not a liar, I'm contradicting myself, eh?

I don't know why I'm concerned about this.  I should just go finish my laundry and let it go, but the notion that this statement can be shown to be true if it is false and false if it is true has made me wonder if falsity and truth-ity are just concepts that don't really exist.  That is, maybe it is both true and false at the same time.  If that's the case, then maybe there isn't a false camp separate from a true camp.

We're all just camping together and don't know it.  ?

OK.  Enough.  Laundry time.

P.S. It turns out that the Greek philosopher Eubulides first wrestled with this in the fourth century BC.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Throw Me Something, Mister

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my novel that takes place on Mardi Gras day in Mickey’s neighborhood. Uncle Biggy is parading in the neighborhood marching club, Mickey and her friends are watching the parade from the playground.

The music rounding the corner warned us the parade was coming. The big tuba made me forget all about falling down and the steady, marching drum made me jump to my feet and get in step with the rhythm. The whole band swung into a shuffling beat that got us all dancing around. Two steps up and one step back, swaying side to side with each step. Buster snapped his fingers right in time, loud and clear. Charlie's legs shook like rubber and bent so low his behind dragged on the ground until he tripped over his cowboy holster hanging down. My soggy tutu sprayed waterdrops everywhere as I shook my hips in time with the trumpet leading the second line of marchers down the street.

Tommy had already scrambled to the top of the chain link fence, waving and yelling at the marchers to throw him something. We all climbed the fence to grab some beads; this time I swung my leg over the top of the fence and sat there with both hands free so I could catch as many beads as possible.

Sal, the grocery man, was out front strutting like a king; his purple and gold satin suit shimmered straight and tall while his gold painted shoes tapped down the street. His feet kept up with every beat, but his stiff torso seemed to keep the music inside him.

I caught Mr. Sal's eye, he winked, and tossed me a bunch of colored beads that Charlie tried to snatch away, but I yanked them free. Mr. Sal laughed and threw another bunch right at me. It was raining down beads all around us. I even heard some of them clinking on the swing poles in back of us. A glittering gold necklace went sailing over my head, way out of reach, and twisted around the crossbar of the swings.

Some of the marchers were already drunk, stumbling in sloppy circles, their sequined capes swirling in a blur of color. Uncle Biggy was behind the band; I could see him bringing up the rear with the rest of the stragglers who were walking instead of dancing. I hoped he'd saved me some good beads.

"Uncle Biggy, Uncle Biggy," I yelled. "Over here. Throw me something."

Finally he heard me and reached into his shiny, satin bag and scooped out a tangle of colored beads too heavy to throw so he ran to the fence and handed it all up to me. His face was red from laughing so much.

"Hey, Mickey. You sure got the best spot to watch the parade," he chuckled. Then he plucked a yellow paper rose from the bunch wrapped around his cane and tossed it up to me---oh man, only big girls got crepe paper flowers.

"Thanks, Uncle Biggy." I smiled as I stuck the rose into my pile of beads. Maybe he was being nice for yelling at me so much. He had to run to catch up with the parade that was starting to break up as the marchers reached the crowds of family and friends waiting outside the bar. From my perch I could see some of the marchers grabbing women and older girls from the crowd and dancing in the street with them. It seemed very special to get chosen like that in front of everybody.

"Hey Mickey, how are you going to get down with all those beads?" Charlie yelled from the ground. "Toss 'em down to me. I'll hold ‘em for you."

"No, sirree," I shouted back. "You're not getting any of my beads."

I stuck the yellow rose between my teeth and stuffed the whole armful of beads down the front of my leotard which easily stretched to carry the load as I climbed down the fence. On the ground I started to pull out my beads so we could see who caught the most stuff, but I'd forgotten the toilet paper wads stuck in the front of my costume. One of them slipped out in a tangle of beads and fell to the ground like a crumpled white flower.

Buster spied it before I could mash it with my shoe. "Hey, what's that?" he asked, because he really didn't know.

Charlie had older sisters, though, and he knew. "Man, look at this. Mickey's got paper tits."

Even Buster started laughing when he caught on. "Paper tits,” they all chanted.
I was too mad to cry and wanted to yell at them but something deep inside kept me still. Somehow I knew the best way to make them stop was to be quiet.

“Lopsided,” Charlie taunted. “Mickey’s got lopsided tits.”

Tommy laughed so hard he fell down and pulled Charlie with him. “Goddamn paper tits,” Tommy gasped as they rolled around with laughter. Buster jumped on top of them shouting, too.

I stayed silent until they quit laughing and then I just walked away as slow as I could even though my cheeks were trembling. I was half way across the baseball field before I heard Buster say,

“Aw, c’mon back, Mickey. It was just a joke."

But I kept on walking away, with that stillness inside me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"There is grandeur in this view of life...."

Ariel Gore visit sounds like a winner! I don't want to push that announcement off the front page, so let me just advertise my longest post ever on my blog today, March 12, with the same title as above, a quote from the end of Darwin's "Origin." It, and the day before, is a collection of recent nature photos accompanied by observations and attitudes designed to provoke thought and, hopefully, not put me in danger. blackoaknaturalist Joe Willis

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ariel Gore coming to speak with us and read to us! Save the date APRIL 14th

Below is her bio lifted from

Ariel Gore has been called the "Indiana Jones" of literature. Born on the Monterey Peninsula and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ariel Gore spent the years she was supposed to be in high school as an international bag lady traveling through Asia and Europe. She returned to California at age 19, baby in tow. Following her misspent youth, she graduated from Mills College and earned a master's degree in journalism from U.C. Berkeley.

In 1993, she founded Hip Mama, an award-winning parenting zine covering the culture and politics of motherhood. Widely credited with launching maternal feminism, the New Yorker said, "It's the quality of the writing that sets Hip Mama apart."  Ariel's pregnancy and parenting books, The Hip Mama Survival Guide (Hyperion, 1998), The Mother Trip (Seal Press, 2000), and Whatever, Mom (Seal Press, 2004), have been called "delightful" (Glamour), "Terrific and important" (San Francisco Chronicle), and "revolutionary" (The Seattle Times).

Her lyrical teenage memoir, Atlas of the Human Heart (Seal Press, 2003), was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. The Utne Reader says: "Ariel Gore's transformation from globetrotting teenager to the hippest of mamas reads like a movie script about a Gen-X slacker following her bliss to unlikely success."

Her guide to writing and the creative life, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead (Three Rivers, 2007) was praised by Booklist as "The snappiest, most useful books a writer for hire is likely to read."

She was named one of "20 Under 30" influential women by Working Woman Magazine and called "conservative Americva's worst nightmare" by San Jose Mercury News. She debated Newt Gingrich on MTV and is a sought-after expert on creativity and women's issues interviewed on NPR and Life & Style as well as CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and MTV news.

Ariel's essays, articles, and short stories have appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines, and periodicals including the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, Salon, Parenting, and Utne, as well as in anthologies including Wild Child (Seal Press, 1999), the American Book Award-winning Mothers Who Think (Washington Square Press, 2000), Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation (Seal Press, 2001), Because I Said So (HarperCollins, 2005), Lost On Purpose (Seal press, 2005), and Portland Noir (Akashic Books, 2009).

She will be reading from her latest book, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness, (2010) Farrar Straus Giroux. She currently lives in Portland Oregon with her partner Maria and her son Maximilian.


Ariel will be on campus at FRC April 14th with a craft lecture/workshop on writing and the creative life from 2:30-4 pm. She will be reading from her new book from 5:30-7. Both events will take place in the Gallery on FRC campus and are free to all students, staff, faculty and the general public. Books will be available for purchase through Epilog books. Ariel Gore will be available for book signings as well after the reading. Donations to Feather River College Writing Club are always appreciated to defray costs and raise money for upcoming events.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"One Thing?"

I couldn't let another week go by without seeing a change in the opening post. Great Writers Group meeting today (pun intended). Met two new people, debated some topics, and, the icing on the cake was being introduced to a new author by Chris. This lady, B. M. (unfortunate initials) Bower, AKA B. M. Sinclair, was not a great writer, but she wrote so many books that I can admire her for that alone. The book Chris had in hand, called "The Lookout Man," was all about experiences on Mt. Hough and vicinity, and, in our library, it's under lock and key due to its age and fragile condition. I will do as Chris did and go to Book Finder. Meanwhile, I checked out a couple of her other books. The one called "Cabin Fever" has one of the best opening lines I've ever read. Not exciting or titillating, but playing directly to one of my biases, that is, an analysis of boredom. "There is a certain malady of the mind induced by too much of one thing." With a title like "Cabin Fever" you can tell where she's going with this. The first few pages were entertaining enough that I'll probably try to finish it. It might turn out to be a letdown, but the opening line will stay with me for a long time - in fact, I just made a blog entry at blackoaknaturalist about it. Why didn't Thoreau get cabin fever? Or did he? Could the Dalai Lama ever get it? Could too many video games cause it? Spending too much time trying to learn the multiplication tables? Attending school? Anyway, as I said in my blog, I've hiked the same trail hundreds of times, but it was actually never the same trail twice.
Thanks, Chris.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This is a Writer's Blog?

Hi everybody. Don't ya think a writer's blog should have some writing EVERY DAY? February 26 to March 3 - that's almost another week gone by. We have around ten in our group. How about we schedule, starting today, maybe in alphabetical order or something, and each person adds at least a little something to chew on on his/her day. Here's mine: I was researching the etymology of the word "attitude" for an essay on my blog. Found it has the same root as aptitude. In perusing my dictionary in the A's, I came across Attleboro and Asheville, two towns that mean a lot to me. I might get it posted today, but, if not, at least I've done this - plus (Hi, Lance) put in a little plug for my blog. It's blackoaknaturalist. "You are not a gadget." Jaron Lanier.