Baja Wordsmiths ~ February 23, 2017

The back patio at La Estancia Restaurant in Rosarito holds birdsong and sunshade umbrellas, a fountain waterfall telling its stories in waterspeak as it finds the narrow pool below, and seven writers gathered at a table to sharpen their verbs and polish nouns.

Robbie presents the exercise we will undertake which includes four categories (People, Places, Things, Themes). The task of listing four items after/under/within/whatever each of those categories is ours individually. Once we’ve given the initial four their four items, the neighboring writer to the left (without knowing what items we’ve listed in the various categories) chooses two of the categories. Our objective: Find new ways to connect old things.

Ready. Set. Write!

We have ten minutes.

My lists run thusly:

PEOPLE: Maya Angelou, Elsie Ivy, Mama, Friend
PLACES: Todi, Italy; Mira Loma; Pub; Casa
THINGS: Weeds; Books; Clothes; Hearts
THEMES: Angst; Loneliness; Confidence; Strength

Jen, the writer on my left,  chooses Places and Themes as the two categories from which I then select Todi, Italy and Strength as the items I will connect. This is what I wrote:

FOR SIX WEEKS after my return from Italy, I cried. Not all the time; not uncontrollably; and, often, not visibly. The thing is, just because mascara doesn’t run, dancing charcoal rivers down cheeks, doesn’t mean the heart isn’t sick.

I was heartsick for the small hill town with its thick Roman walls and crenelated roofs where I (and six other retired women) had spent four weeks. All liberals, all democrats, we were sorely disappointed and angry when — on Italian TV — President Clinton announced he “did not have sex with that woman.”

Not one among the seven of us gathered wanted to hear our President lie. But this is an aside meant to inform of the era when I was there — in Todi, Italy.

After my return to the states, I was homesick and heartsick because of the ease among people in Todi, the Italian hill town. Every evening people met in the piazza, strolled arm in arm, young with old, men with men, women with women, boys with boys, while children raced around and between them, hid in shadowy alcoves and jumped out to tag another among them.

The Italians of Todi had the strength of thick Roman walls surrounding their town, the strength of centuries of knowing skin-touching-skin meant nothing more than human contact.

At home in rural America, skin touching skin happened infrequently and seldom in public. Boys walking arm in arm or leaned into each other on a bench in a public park would be (or could be) attacked, bullied, vilified.

Writing this, coming to terms with the “then” and the “now,” I am crying. No tears on the outside, but oh the ache, the pinch in my heart, the bruise of knowledge … of how we are.

And, how we could be (what to call it?) a little more Todi-an.


I’ve made a few edits to the final two paragraphs above 1.) for clarity’s sake; and 2.) because I couldn’t read my handwriting.

The thing is, I can still hear the birdsong surrounding us on the back patio of La Estancia today; I can still hear the water tumbling hard into the pool near us; I can still hear the words other writers shared at our table, and I want to say Thank you to those who made it happen.

Thank you, each and all!



750words Jan 31 2015 — I’m Pretty Sure It’s Not Art

When I think about all the things I’ve made (there must be hundreds, thousands), I go off course (as with that parenthetical, and this one) because I can’t settle on where to take this sentence, end this thought.

By “made” I mean constructed, built, brought into being via needle and thread, embroidery floss, hoop, yarn and hook, canvas and brush, oils, acrylics, watercolors, sanded paper and pastels, sewing machines, scissors, fabric, beads, looms, buttons, white glue, mortar, concrete, draw knives, logs, seeds and tubers and bulbs, saplings, cuttings, mulch, clay pots, broken china, this womb, classes and jobs and neighborhoods (where friendships bud and bloom), paper, pen, keyboard and words.

With words I’ve built poems, moments, emotions, scenes, stories, landscapes, towns, farms and congregations. I’ve built people from scratch, borrowing fragments from real lives (the broken-veined nose of an old farmer who drank too much, an eyelid that refuses to open from a George Carlin comedic routine, hands and forearms dusted with flower and the knobby knuckles of a grandmother, anger from an aunt’s husband, pathetic self-pity from myself), and patched them into singular beings. I’ve transplanted a beating heart into the breast of the ocean, given swells and breakers a pulse, drowned a dolphin with six-pack carrier plastic, and shared the imagined life of a rock.

With broken china I’ve built benches and bird baths, embedded horseshoes and bedsprings between concrete rubble and marble chessboards to create patios, sidewalks and planters. Gardens emerged from cuttings and mulch—red bud saplings bloomed cyrise through my Februarys, Aprils and Mays. Flags of iris waved, hollyhocks spired to the house eaves, pink roses fell in cascades from the Trees of Heavenly Light along the road to the creek while corkscrew willow curved paths skyward from the muck of the mosaic’d pond.

The sofa in Grandma Due’s Borger, Texas apartment is where I sat as she taught me to thread a needle, embroider the fur on a kitten and french-knot the centers of daisies. The sofa at Grandma Ivy’s is where she showed me how to loop yarn around a finger to cross my palm for tension and maneuver a metal hook in and out of a chain stitch with single, double, and triple crochets. The sofa in the first house Al and I shared is where I taught myself to knit from book.

Nine years later, he taught me how to straddle a log, lean out as far as arms could reach, snug a draw knife’s sharpened edge into bark at an angle—and pull. Long curls of bark peeled away. Callouses toughened my butt as I slid back along those logs. There were 800 of them. I didn’t work alone. His dad, his brothers, our nine year old son, neighbors—pitched in and peeled. Eventually, we hired help. Eventually, we started bolting logs together. Eventually, we had a lodgepole pine home two stories tall and heated with burning love.

From this womb, three babies had their beginnings. (Passive construction is the only way I know how to describe my part in their becoming. I provided fertile territory for seeds to take root and thrive.)

Friendships sprang up across the hills and valleys of this life.

How do I take credit for these? I can’t.

I can’t take credit for any creation listed above. Oh, I did become a tool, I suppose, for continuing with a craft. Maybe a bit more than a tool. Maybe a partner … and still a partner … with Grandmothers—Emma and Elsie—with Mama, Daddy, my children (and theirs), friends, lovers, lovers, friends. But the things—all the things—wouldn’t be, would not have become without the hands-on help and direction of others.

So many others.

My children wouldn’t be who they are if it weren’t for who they were to begin with, that mysterious spark of life, that mix of Al and me. My friends wouldn’t be my friends if they didn’t find some redeemable quality in me, if they didn’t have patience with my stubborn side and often moody disposition.

Even these words strewn across the screen wouldn’t amount to much if there weren’t a reader—a partner—taking them in. Like a teeter-totter needs counterweight for the ride to be real, for the rise and the fall to occur, story (or whatever you may want to call this) needs audience. Eyes and minds to decipher what in blue blazes the words may be intended to say. I use the word “may” because the meaning, the base material out of which this construct began, has frayed. Broken threads all over the place. Repairs and alterations are in order. Or not. It could be I’ve built something here. It could be … but … I’m pretty sure it’s not art.