Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saturday Morning Beach Report: Many Musings

It was all shimmer and shine this morning, the clouds in the distance as thick as marshmallows. Next to the water the sand was scooped low and a companion mountain of sand hid the houses. I'm on a deserted island, I told myself. No one lives here.

Farther along the sand was etch-a-sketched with giant drawings, silty black debris tracing out mountain ranges.

The debris line was full of shell and stones and charred-looking pieces of wood. This couldn't be from the fires, I thought to myself. There's been no rain to wash it into the ocean.

But the water itself was, in places, inky black with it--whatever it is. I have seen the beach like this at times in the past, but maybe even then it was airborne fire debris from somewhere.

2017 changed the landscape of this beach I walk on. The giant wall of rock that forms harbor mouth is no longer a wall from the beach side. The lower 90% of the wall is now covered by sand, and the sign (if it's not buried too) that proclaims Danger! No Climbing! would seem ridiculous since you can now just walk onto the top of the wall. There's a metaphor in there somewhere, (sandstorm of fake news, erosion of decency, buried alive by stupidity and cruelty) but I'm too busy thinking that I'd like to have a job some day naming things. If there's a new pink lipstick for 2018, I'd like to call it Godwit Pink.

It's a pity I'm not a real photographer, but if you look closely, maybe you can see the pink of this bird's beak. It's just so darn pretty.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


It's time to memorize (again)  this poem by Yeats.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Monday Morning Beach Report

Everyday the news is sad and terrible.
Look at the ocean, I tell myself, not at the headlines on your phone.
We love who we love. We breathe the air we have to breathe.
So drink it in, and hope the toxins and the sorrow will alter just a cell or two.
Look at the curlew going about his business.
Look at the new plume on the horizon and nod.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Fire/Day Nine. Really? Yep.

Mountains, I thought. I can see the mountains! Sure there's some smoke, but it looks good out there.
And, yes the situation is improving if you're not someone whose house has burned down or is still evacuated, BUT the fire is still burning.

The night the fire started a friend in Ojai got the emergency knock on her door at 1:00 a.m. Earlier she'd offered shelter to a friend who was evacuating from Santa Paula. A few days ago other friends who were evacuated from Ojai decided to go to Santa Barbara for a few days to escape the smoke. Then the fire spread and  now that's where the worst pollution is. Or maybe not today. Maybe it all blew down here.

I went to run some errands under this morning's rosy assumption. When I got out of the car at the shoe repair about 5 miles north, I choked. Ash blew into the car. The second errand was a half mile to the east from my house and the air was clear. But my neighborhood looked like this. Smoke goes wherever it wants to.

I'm inside now and I think I'll stay in. There's a big wide world beyond my front door, but I'm not going there.

Yesterday and this morning I pulled 44 pounds of paper out of my filing cabinet and had it shredded. I've dusted all the places I never dust. I've refurbished my emergency backpack, ordered some emergency water with a long shelf life, re-organized my writer's space,  Earlier evenings of the fire, I made dinners for friends, and tonight seems like a good time to do that again. Ratatouiile would be perfect.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Fire/Day 7 and its Crimson Lining

view from the Channel Islands Visitor Center tower of a smoke plume just beginning to form about 11:00 this morning
view of a big plume--maybe the same one--from my neighborhood 15 minutes later
 Fires make spectacular sunsets. So much destruction and then this beauty.
To the far left is the edge of Santa Cruz Island as the smoke rolls out to meet it

Saturday, December 9, 2017

This is About the Confederate Flag

It's day something or other of the Southern California fires. Six, I think.

Atlanta is not burning, but I wrote this about the Confederate flag. If you are a friend or a family member, I hope you will not post anything in the future in support of the Confederate flag.

Thanks for reading. It's longer than my usual blog post. Get a beer. Or a cup of coffee. Put your feet up. Open your heart.

Looking toward Ventura

I loved him, my Robert E. Lee, for his horse—though I can’t remember if I knew the horse’s name the day I brought my replica of the Confederate general home. Complete with saber, pistol, and a Confederate flag secured to the back of the saddle, both horse and rider were cherished. All of the various accessories were separate pieces, and sometimes at night, I would unsaddle the horse, remove the general’s gray hat and lay them both on the ground (which, in reality, was a shelf in my bedroom) to sleep. In the morning I’d set them up again, saddle the horse, place Robert E. Lee astride him, and prepare for another day of battle, saber raised, flag flying. In my head, this involved galloping, and Traveller, whose name I learned at some point, was a galloper beyond compare.
             I knew about galloping. And I knew the names of some of the other horses in my collection because I learned them from television. Buttermilk and Trigger were excellent gallopers too. I was five years old in 1957, the year that I received my final horse and rider, and my head was a receptacle for whatever I saw on TV. Galloping with abandon toward the screen astride my palomino Wonder Horse, it’s a wonder I didn’t give myself whiplash bouncing on that spring-loaded steed. Roy Rodgers, Dale Evans, the Lone Ranger, and Tonto were my heroes, and it was thrilling to keep pace with them.
            I have 13 of the Hartland horse and rider sets manufactured in the 50s. I memorized to which general, TV cowboy, U.S. president, or Indian warrior each pistol, feather, spear, rifle, bow, knife, saber, flag, or hat belonged. I did not know the history of the Confederate flag or that my General Custer had engineered genocide. On TV cowboys and Indians fought each other. Soldiers defended the nation. Women and children needed protecting. By the time I finished grade school in 1969, I must have known something about the Civil War. Walter Cronkite was already covering the Civil Rights Movement on the evening news. When I started high school, I must have learned something about the struggles of Native Americans, but all that comes to mind is the anti-littering crying Indian TV commercial. At least I knew enough not to throw my Coke bottle and Hostess Cupcake wrapper out the car window. By that time Robert E. Lee, General Custer, and their anachronistic companions had been in my possession for more than a decade, and my head was still soft as a Twinkie when it came to social consciousness.
            There were approximately 40 horse and rider sets manufactured (some were different poses of the same character) by the Hartland Company in the early and mid-1950s. My 13 were acquired one horse and rider at a time. My father bought them for me. Some auditory memory track tells me that Sundays he took me to church to give my mother time to rest at home with my little brother. I have no memory of actually attending church with my dad--a Presbyterian who’d tried and failed to convert to Catholicism when he married my mother. Maybe he told my mother he was taking me to church in the same manner than he told her he’d convert while failing to mention that he was divorced and therefore not eligible to become a Catholic. What I remember is holding my father’s hand in a cramped store that smelled like cigarettes, cigars, and candy. My dad would buy a newspaper for himself while I had the agonizing delight of choosing a new horse and rider for my collection.
            It wasn’t until I left for college that the collection was packed away. Knowing how much I valued them, my mother wrapped each horse and rider and hid them away in the attic in a sealed box out of reach of my little brothers. My sophomore year of college my father died suddenly of a heart attack one February night after supper. His death was so unexpected that I never thought of asking for one of his vintage silk ties or one of the pens he carried in his shirt pocket. The neon sign from his business would have been a treasure, but I had nothing of his (until my mother gave me a pair of cufflinks year later) except the box of Valentine’s Day candy that he’d already mailed to my dorm by the time I was en route to his funeral. And my horses and their riders, still tucked away in my mother’s attic.
            I was in my 30s, a mother myself, by the time my mom sent the box from her house in Iowa to my house in Los Angeles. When I displayed the horses and riders in my family room, I wasn’t thinking of the Confederate flag or racism or genocide. I was thinking of my father and how I’d tell my kids that the grandfather they’d never know bought each and every one of those horses and riders for me. The collection lived a quiet life in that house, tucked away in dark room with garishly unfashionable carpeting and used only as a playroom and occasional guest quarters for visiting relatives.
            The collection has moved with me four more times over the years. It’s garnered many compliments from my children’s friends and nostalgic children of the 1950s. No one has ever exclaimed, “Cool! A Confederate flag!” Or "How terrible! A Confederate flag!" Mostly the generals, presidents, cowboys, and Indians have kept a low profile, sandwiched between books and travel souvenirs on an upper shelf in a study or family room until, post-divorce, I moved into a house where I could put anything anywhere I wanted. In this house that I moved into with my mother, I put the horses and their riders in my kitchen on a high perch above the kitchen cabinets overlooking the kitchen island that is the heart of every gathering.
            This year, post Charlottesville, I hosted a writers’ salon and there were writers of color attending. Some of us do not really know one another personally, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone or come under suspicion as an idiot or a racist. I took the horses down. It was easy. Robert E. Lee and Traveller were not purchased by my father to inculcate me with racist values. They were purchased to indulge my love of horses and to indulge my father’s love for me. My Robert E. Lee has no chance of attracting a gathering of white supremacists with Tiki torches, but by removing him and his companions, I was honoring my respect for my fellow human beings.
            The Confederate flag was, and is, the banner of the seven states that seceded from the United States of American in order to preserve for themselves the institution of slavery. The Confederate flag, often argued as being about Southern pride or history or patriotism, is first and foremost the emblem for the states that chose not to abolish slavery. We pour a lot of fiction into the heads of children, and as adults we are exposed to fiction too—on Facebook, on TV, and on talk radio. Sometimes it’s difficult to track down the beginnings of ignorance, but we can always find its end. As for knowledge, there’s no end to it. Or to paraphrase the actor Iron Eyes Cody (not a Native American, but an Italian American who pretended to be an Indian) in the famous crying Indian commercial: People start prejudice; People can stop it.  
Looking toward the past

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Fire/Day Five

Things are improved today. The water in the marina is rippling ever so slightly the other way--meaning the wind is shifting, and there's now a whisper of a breeze off the ocean. A couple friends are returning home. A couple are still under evacuation orders. Mind you the fire is still burning. And there are five other fires in Southern California.

The smoke is intense. I'm staying in doors. The masks I ordered from Amazon arrived around noon. For a while today I wore it inside my house. Later this afternoon I was lucky enough to get an air filter installed. What a boon it would be if some agency or another could pass those things out. Some area hotels are offering free rooms or discounts for evacuees.

Yesterday afternoon's smoke cloud arriving .

Today the smoke is everywhere. There is no blue sky. From here on out though, I think things will get better. Thanks for checking in. I'm okay. Breathing easy. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Fire, Day 3

Owl's Head Blown Off by High Winds
The owl on my balcony lost his head this morning or maybe it was yesterday. Everything is topsy turvy. No sense putting it back because the wind is kicking up again. Luckily, no flames here in this paradise though the fire is just 10 miles away. Friends have been evacuated. Friends have lost a home.

View from Ventura Marina Last Evening
Smoke Above Oxnard Today
I bought a membership at Costco and went there to breathe today as the smoke clouds stalled over my house. I bought a bunch of things for an easy dinner and had friends over. They arrived wearing masks. It's that bad. But now that the winds are blowing again the air is much clearer here. But. Those winds are very bad news for the fire.
More Oxnard Smoke
 I am safe. Here is the bulletin from the city of Oxnard: "At this time there is no threat of active fire in the city of Oxnard and the municipal water system is functioning normally, and the water supply is safe to drink."

And I'm all set for a power outage due to the high winds tonight. All devices charged.

Thanks for all of the messages of love and concern. It helps.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fire and Water

View from my living room window last night at 9:30 pm

Santa Paula, a place I love dearly, is burning. The fire has spread to parts of Ojai and Ventura. Last night I could see flames that looked to be two blocks away. With so many other big fires, there was no information to be had. A drive in the windy dark proved that it was farther away than it looked, but not far enough to sleep easily.

Then the power went out. The internet even via cell phone was sketchy. The emergency alert came through on the cellphone. Check the website it said. The emergency website wouldn't load.

I hate trying to sleep in a room that isn't really dark, but last night kept the shades up with one eye on the flames.

Things are okay here chez moi. For now. There's water between me and the fire, but it's worth noting that the water is super super high in the Marina. I'm gonna say that's a good thing. So my personal paradise isn't on fire, but a lot of other people's edens could be mistaken for the gates of hell right now. The wind is howling like a hungry monster. New fires are popping up. Friends have been evacuated. Prayers, please. So many are in danger.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Your Smart Phone is Listening. Really.

I'd heard it said once or twice that our smart phones can listen to us, and I've read what I believed to be a couple of fringe-y headlines claiming the same.  Nah, I thought.

This morning the granite repair guys came to my house to measure the cracked and crumbling granite around my kitchen sink. My faucet is shot too, and I have a new one waiting in the wings. "Look, Pierre," I said, "I bought the faucet you suggested." There was some discussion then about whether or not I'd bought the right faucet and if it could be installed without the escutcheon--or if I'd need a different escutcheon if the size of the new faucet was different from the old faucet. Escutcheon, I said. Escutcheon, Pierre said. We said it twice, maybe three or four times. Escutcheon.

I went for a walk after that. Took a yoga class. Showered. Ate lunch. Did a bunch of chores around the house and yard. I finally sat down to work on the last few pages of the first draft of my book around 1:45. I googled something about women and shame, birthmothers and shame, the effects of shame, and clicked on the link to the article shown above.

Check out the ad. Those are escutcheons in case you don't know what an escutcheon is.

I google a lot of things. Weird things that might give someone pause. I'm a writer.  And in my ordinary life I google things like best non-toxic cookware and most opaque yoga pants. I google how to tell one type of gull from another and if cassava root is really gluten free. Ten days ago I googled kitchen faucets, and yes for a day or so faucets showed up in the ads on my Facebook page and wherever. I get that. I don't even mind it since I hate to shop and kinda like it if something I'm looking for magically appears. But I didn't google anything at all today until I googled the stuff about about shame.

So shame on me for not knowing that all this while my phone has been listening. And your creepy phone is probably listening to you. I've turned off my microphone in Safari. Maybe I can put a pillow over its face too.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday Morning Beach Report

Immense waves roaring in one behind the other, no space between them.

And tiny sea salps, spaced out on the sand like bread crumbs marking a path to who knows where.

And this, posted by a friend on FB: Art from Guantanamo detainees who were imprisoned next to the sea, but not allowed to see the water.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

There was a party here.

I invited my yoga friends over for a birthday brunch.
They brought presents. That along with the birthday wishes that deluged my Facebook page and my email made for a fun couple of days.
I'm on Medicare. And I'm still having fun.
I'm lucky. Blessed. Fortunate. Letting the good times roll.
Thank you, everyone.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Eyes of Fire

It's that time of year when the windows in the condo building across the way reflect the rising sun. At first glance the place looks like it's engulfed in flames, the windows like giant eyes of fire.

In Oaxaca it's two hours later, and the sun stays up til six in the evening there. The skies are nearly cloudless all through the daylight hours, and the chill in the morning air is crisp, not damp. I love being home, but my body feels soggy and tired.

I dreamed of my mother last night. She was younger--maybe the age I am now or even in her 50s. We were all gathering somewhere for a family get-together. At my brother's house, maybe, or my son's. There were plans to sightsee and go to a concert. Picking up the tickets was confusing and my car had somehow downloaded the software to be a self-driving car. It was disconcerting, sitting in the back seat while the car inched its way through city traffic without a driver. I climbed into the front seat anyway--no easy feat to make it from the back seat of a Prius into the driver's seat, but I did it, twisting my body this way and that, and then realized it really wasn't necessary.

Wherever it was that we were, the house was full of us, arriving and deciding who would sleep where, and then changing our minds. My mom decided to drive herself back to her apartment a day early. She grabbed my older daughter in a hug and told her she lived too far away. I don't know when I'll see you again, she said.

I woke too early this morning, waiting for the first sliver of daylight before I flung off the covers. I walked toward the building that was glowing, and on the grass found a playing card. Two of clubs. What is the significance of the two of clubs? I googled. It's the card of conversation. The two of clubs person is gregarious and entertaining. It's the card of communication.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


No matter where I've been, I'm always thrilled to come back to California.
The airport shuttle drove up the Coast Highway. Over two hours in traffic is almost tolerable when you get to look out over the ocean at sunset.

It felt like I hadn't walked on the beach in ages.
The beauty of it is always new.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Art in Oaxaca, Mexico

I'm not a visual artist. I'm a writer. But at a friend's suggestion, I joined her for this:

With the focus on Day of the Dead, I decided my project would be an altar box dedicated to my mother. The instructors were fantastic, and the box, I think, honors my mother's life, her beauty, and her spirit. I also included her twin sister. That 's my aunt on the left and my mom on the right. These are the doors on the outside of the box

Below is the complete view of the inside of the box.

Here's a close up of the inside side panels which reflect her life in California and her last birthday party.

This last picture is a close-up of the center inside panel.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Visiting the cemeteries

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is a celebration as deep and wide as a field of marigolds. While All Souls Day is November 1st, the towns stagger their celebrations so people can visit more than one cemetery. I came to El Dia de Los Muertos in Oaxaca for the first time last year. My mother had been dead for only seven months, my boyfriend Dan for a little more than two years. I brought their photos to place on the altar of the place I stayed and prayed for a glimpse of them or some sense of their presence. My mother was elusive, but I saw Dan in the base player of the ensemble who played at the graveside party for the husband of my hostess. Once or twice in the crowded streets, he seemed to be ahead of me before turning a corner and vanishing into another throng of people.

This year the artists hosting the workshop took us to three cemeteries. The care in cleaning and decorating the tombs, the density of the flowers, the whole place awash in candlelight after the sun sets, the mix of solemnity and celebration as evidenced by the loud music, the children playing among the graves is like nothing I've ever experienced in a cemetery in the U.S.. I think I saw a sign at the cemetery where my parents are buried prohibiting live flowers. Or did I dream that? After a week here, it seems like that can't be real. Here in Oaxaca, you can sit next to your loved one in the candlelight, breathing in the scent of marigolds while waiting for the cotton candy vendor to come by.

The four photos below are from Xoxochotlan.

We also visited the large urban cemetery in Oaxaca City.

On the way into the cemetery, there's plenty of food and games.



San Felipe Cemetery might have been the most beautiful. The photos below were taken there.


Archways of marigolds mark the doorways of houses, businesses, offrendas, and tombs so the dead can find their way back to visit the living.