Good Literary Citizenship Post #1: A Reminder from Emma Lee's Blog

A couple of weeks ago,the blog post How to Be a Successful Poet on Social Media (Emma Lee's Blog, October 26, 2016) appeared in my inbox just in time to remind me of my responsibilities as a citizen of the literary community. In it Emma Lee, a blogger and writer based in England, asks some important questions such as:

When was the last time you shared someone else's status update/tweet/blog link on social media? When was the last time you shared a link to your blog? (Read the rest of the post here.)

Now that I'm in the process of marketing my new poetry collection, Always a Blue House (Saddle Road Press) due for release on December 10, 2016, I find myself in the position of asking people to help me spread the news of my book on social media and in literary journals. As for many writers, this process is not always comfortable. I'd much rather be sitting in my room writing poems. But in the publication world, it's a necessary part of the journey. 

So far, I've had many generous people give me opportunities for interviews and reviews. Emma Lee is one of those. Now she's reminded me that I can return the favor in my own small way. 

What better way to make myself feel less forward and self-important than to find ways to help get the word out for others' work? I've decided to do a series of posts featuring the work of other poets and writers. Just doing my bit.

So, people, check out Emma Lee's blog. She has some great resources for writers. It's fun to read about what's going on in the English poetry world. Who knows, you might find a place for your work beyond your own country.

SOL 2016 Day 31: The Last Day!

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

Now that this day has arrived,  I'm sorry to be done.  Along the way, more days than not I grumbled and moaned about committing to this challenge.  I'm so glad I kept going because this has been one of the best online writing challenges I've been involved in. What made this experience so special? The writers, and the amount of interaction between bloggers.  I've been in other online "communities" with almost no interaction at all. During the Slice of Life Story Challenge, for almost every post I got at least a few comments from readers, letting me know they appreciated my words. 

I know this project is so wonderful because it was created by teachers. The women behind Two Writing Teachers live what they espouse for developing writer capacity in students and teachers alike. I am so grateful I discovered their blog while researching  professional development ideas as part of my job. I've recommended their blog to other teachers in my district, and have added them to my reading list.

I'll be back for Slice of Life Tuesdays and look forward to reading
many of the blogs I discovered during this month. So farewell for now.

SOL 2016 Day 30: Taking What Others Give Us

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

The best thing about this month-long blogging challenge has been reading other blogs and gathering ideas for writing along the way.  A few weeks ago I saw this format in someone's blog (I wish I had written down whose! Maybe someone out there will tell me who you are!). Then yesterday I read someone else's blog (again - why didn't I bookmark it?) using the same idea. Thank you to those now-anonymous bloggers. Next time, I will bookmark your blog:

Currently enjoying a time of peaceful solitude 

Listening to the refrigerator hum

Drinking my second cup of coffee

Wearing my weekend clothes on a Tuesday

Reading over my words as they flow from pen to paper

Feeling that familiar doubt that always creeps in

Wanting to banish that critic for today

Watching sun light slant across the living room floor

Needing to breathe in and out

Thinking of all the things I could be doing but am not

Enjoying the spring flowers blooming outside my window

SOL 2016 Day 9: The Joy of Technology

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

I just ended a Zoom call with two of my friends. The amazing thing is that one of them lives in Southern California and one of them in Australia. Since I live in Northern California, this call was the only way we could see each other's lovely faces. How fun! 

I've Zoomed several times now, once with nine people. With each of us in our little square, we looked like we were on Hollywood Squares or the beginning of The Brady Bunch (I'm dating myself here. Those of you too young to know these, Google them!) 

Many teachers and parents bemoan the fact that young people seem to be glued to their phones or text each other while sitting right next to each other. I worry about that too. I also worry about all the parents I see walking with their small children while talking on their cell phones. What about talking to the kids, pointing out things around them? I wonder what will happen to those children without that kind of interaction.

Because we humans can be a gloomy lot when it comes to change, every new technological innovation seems to portend doom for "civilization as we've known it." And of course many technological "advances" have been horrific: the atom bomb, nerve gas just to name a couple. 

But then there is the technology that lets me Zoom call with my friends from far away. Then this blog post going out to hundreds of people I've never met. And the blog posts I will read and respond to tonight. These advances I am happy I've got.

Can I do this? -- Taking up the Slice of Life Story Challenge

It's been over three months since I last posted to this blog, and even that post was just a "hey, look at me" short notice of publications. No real writing, no real effort. That's been the issue with this blog ever since I took my new job.

When I started blogging, I knew who I was, I knew what this blog would be about.  I was a poet and middle school language arts teacher who loved to travel.

Four years later, I'm still a poet and still love to travel. What has changed? My job. After 23 years teaching 7th and 8th graders, I left the classroom to become an instructional coach for language arts teachers. I'm still an educator and I'm in classrooms all the time. But teacher? I no longer grade papers or create lesson plans. I don't go to parent-teacher conferences or bus duty. I'm no longer responsible for 90 or more 12 and 13-year-olds on a daily basis. It's hard for me to say "teacher" when I realize that all the things that make teaching so complicated are no longer part of my working life. It almost seems like it would be an insult to all the teachers I know who are still in the trenches.

I never expected these feelings to stop my blog dead in its tracks, but they have.

Then in the course of doing some research on how to help teachers implement writing workshop in their classrooms, I stumbled across the Two Writing Teachers website. What a wealth of information!   For weeks I've been reading posts on tips about writing workshop and sharing it with teachers I work with.

Inevitably, all this led me to the Slice of Life Story Challenge. According to their website, "the individual challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008 and has grown each year. Adults, classroom teachers and their students across six continents participate in this weekly challenge as well as in the month-long challenge in March."

Basically, this challenge is designed to get teachers and students to write their own "slice of life" stories and share them with the world, to get them to embrace their own identities as writers. This is exactly what I'd like to inspire in the teachers I coach, hoping they will then bring this passion for writing to their students.

Since finding out about the challenge, I've been toying with the idea of contributing for months, but the idea of a daily challenge for an entire month sounded too daunting. Finally today I decided that I'd just go for it. After all, what better way to inspire others than by modeling it myself. Isn't that what teachers do? Maybe there is some teacher left in me after all.

So here is my first post. I have one more Slice of Life Tuesday to go before the March challenge begins, so I can see how it feels. All I know is, it's the first excitement I've felt about my blog in a long time.

Learning from Anne Frank's Tree

Leaving the classroom to become a coach for English/Language Arts teachers has left me in a bit of a quandary. I'm still a poet who loves to travel, but am I still a teacher?  Not having papers to grade or report cards or parent conferences anymore has made me more than a little guilty when I talk to my teacher friends. Coaching teachers isn't easy but  facing a class of 30 8th graders is much, much more difficult.  So, am I still a teacher? For the last few months I've wondered if I should continue this blog or change its title. Somehow I wasn't sure I had anything more to say here.

Then I found something I wanted to share.

One of the duties of my new position is writing curriculum that aligns with the Common Core State Standards. I know there is much debate about the new standards, but to me one of the most hopeful aspects of the new English/Language Arts standards is a renewed focus on the meaning of individual pieces of literature. In the former California State Standards, instruction centered around comprehension skills that were then tested with multiple choice questions. Trying to understand the author's real message was often lost. While writing this new curriculum, I've had to dig into texts in a way I have not done since I studied literature in college. It's been exciting.

The other day, while writing about and researching The Diary of Anne Frank, I came across an online project I had never heard of before:  Anne Frank Tree: An Interactive Monument. It has been a long time since I read Anne Frank's diary, and I had forgotten how important the chestnut tree outside her window was to her. She mentioned it over and over. I also didn't know that the actual tree had become diseased and was blown down by high winds on August 23, 2010. However, people had found a way to commemorate both Anne and her tree.

This interactive project is sponsored by Anne Frank House. Individuals can create a message about Anne and how her work inspired or affected them. This message is typed on a "leaf " that joins other messages to create a digital tree as a monument to Anne Frank's memory. As of today 709, 222 people have participated. I thought this would be a wonderful way for students to respond to Anne's story.

The actress Emma Thompson was invited to place the first leaf when the project was unveiled. In the video of her speech introducing the Anne Frank Tree Monument , she shared some interesting insights about Anne and her importance to us all:

Listening to her made me realize that this didn't have to just be for young students. I decided to place my own leaf containing the haiku I had written about Anne. And that haiku led to another one:

immersed in Anne Frank's baby leaves budding
story I still cry for all frothy yellow in sunlight
her lost future words soon they will glow green

I also learned about The Sapling Project. When it became obvious that Anne's tree could not be saved, The Anne Frank House began gathering chestnuts from the tree. These chestnuts were germinated, and the seedlings sent to various organizations around the world. The American Anne Frank Center in New York received 11 saplings that were distributed to places throughout the United States. One sapling was given to Sonoma State University not far from where I live. That tree became a part of the University's Holocaust and Genocide Program. Since discovering this, I plan to visit the tree soon.

Emma Thompson said that Anne Frank's "would haves are our real possibilities." I believe Anne would have liked that phrase. For myself, I think reading Anne's words again has made me see that teaching and writing is not only about making my own possibilities come true but also helping others as well.  

If you have never read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, I urge you to do so. If you have already been touched by her story as I have, perhaps you will write a message on a leaf. 

Happy New Year!

According to, "Civilizations around the world have been celebrating the start of each new year for at least four millennia. The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon." That's a long time.

Just what is it that makes human beings feel the need to celebrate cycles, reflect on our past and wonder about our future? I guess it is one of the things that makes us humans. Since I am not a philosopher, psychologist or minister, I'll leave the whys to someone else. Suffice to say that today I have joined the millions of us around the world who feel the need to do a little reckoning of our lives on this day.

Today my inbox has been filled with blogs from others doing just what I am doing right now. And the problem is that all our musings and reflections are of little use to anyone except ourselves. With the burgeoning of blogs and online sharing of every sort, we often reveal too much too many times. I don't want to fall into that category so I'll just say this:

It's been a strange year for me. I changed jobs after 23 years, and am no longer a classroom teacher. I didn't use my passport once, the first time in over a decade that I didn't travel somewhere internationally. And there have been other strangenesses that are too personal to reveal here.

While much of the year has left me shaken, there is one accomplishment of which I am particularly proud: my daily haiku writing. Over the past 365 days, I have written 365 haiku. I will admit I missed three days (one of them was my birthday for which I can be forgiven), but did make up for those by doing double haiku afterwards. Most of my hundreds of haiku were just plain horrible as far as poetry goes, but some I think actually can be called poems.

Along the way I have had the deep pleasure of being involved in an online Facebook community of fellow haiku writers, most of whom I have never met in person. Even so, I have learned so much about these wonderful people through their haiku. Along the way we have become writing buddies, "liking" and responding to each other's work. It has been a joyous experience. 

So to ring out the old year and welcome the new, what better way than with a haiku? It may not be one of my best but it's the last of 2014.

                          day scrubbed shiny clean
                          sunlight streaming through windows 
                          new year's eve wishes 

Discovering Ourselves: Memories of Making a Blog Mask

How delighted I was when a notice from my friend and AROHO alum Martha Andrews Donovan popped into my email inbox announcing a post for her blog, MarthaAndrews Donovan: One Writer's Excavation.  Reading this post, I felt a real burst of pride.  After all, I had been there when the seeds for that blog were planted.

 At the 2013 A Room ofHer Own Foundation’s summer writing retreat, Martha and I participated in Tania Pryputniewicz’s small group titled “Transformative Blogging”.  The focus of the group was the creation of a mask that could be a physical representation of what our blogging persona would be or become.  Along with making a mask, we wrote about what we wanted from blogging, what our writing focus would be, what the mask might reveal – or not reveal - about ourselves.  

Thanks to Tania I had been blogging since the 2011 AROHO retreat and had already taken another blogging class she taught, so I didn’t really expect any new insights about my writing.  I just wanted to make a mask and have fun.  As the participants paired up, I found myself with Martha.  Although we had met in 2011, we hadn’t really gotten to know each other.  Deciding to make masks together felt a bit risky. 

We started with me.  I lay down on my yoga mat, and Martha began putting the plaster strips on my face.  It was very cool and wet.  We had read in the instructions that the person putting on the plaster should talk to the “plasteree“ during the drying process, so before we started I asked Martha to tell me stories about her mother’s life.  Since my mouth was covered in plaster, I couldn’t interrupt her or jump in with my own stories.  All I could do was make murmuring noises to show I was listening and feeling fine.  It was wonderful listening to Martha’s calm, soothing voice tell stories of her India-born mother and missionary family.  I could picture that world of India and missionaries, of a New England family so unlike my own.  She made me want to meet those women and ask them about their experiences. 

Then when my mask was done, Martha decided I should plaster her foot instead of her face.  It was such an intimate experience making that foot mask.  I’m not sure I had ever touched a relative stranger’s foot before. I loved the feel of the plaster as I smoothed it with my fingers, how delicate my movements had to be to keep from bunching up the strips.  It was almost meditative to dip the strip in water, lay it and then smooth it until no seams showed.  It was almost like caressing her foot.  I felt I was giving her something, helping to uncover a part of her in some way.  Dipping and smoothing, dipping and smoothing. I didn’t want to stop.

As I had lain on the floor with the plaster drying, in my mind’s eye my mask looked exactly like me only better with smoother skin and no wrinkles. I pictured Martha’s hands smoothing the plaster over my face to create this mask.  I imagined how strong it would be once it was dry, strong and able to face the world. I pictured what I would do with my mask, how to make it represent my true self, the one I am so often afraid to unveil to the world.  I would use it not to hide behind, but to affirm.

Afterwards, when I first saw my mask I was disappointed.  It didn’t look like a face at all; rather it was rough and mummy-like.  Martha apologized and asked if I wanted to change it, but I decided keep its original form.  Perhaps its roughness could tell me something.  And as I began to paint it, that coarse texture became something other than a face, it became part of the landscape around me.  The blue New Mexico sky, the clouds that rose over the desert each day, Pedernal Mountain.  I surprised myself with that painting – because I had painted a place,  not a person.  I realized it all made sense because it is places that that so often are important to my writing and to me.  Finding my place, describing places I go, building the world one word at a time as I describe where I have been or where I am right now.

My mask is not a face, but a landscape.  And Martha’s mask isn’t a face either, but a foot.  A foot to embody the journey she is on, trying to find the way along her path.  When it came for her to decorate this mask, she covered her foot with the most amazing assortment of beads, feathers and scraps of paper with inspirational quotes. It is ornate and intricate.  And as I read her blog post about photographs of people unknown to her, or small objects found buried, I realized that her foot mask, rather odd and not quite the usual thing, was like one of those enigmatic objects that so fascinate her.  This mask could represent her impetus to uncover mysteries left by others.  Because by writing about those mysteries, Martha tries to stand in the world of those unknown people for just a while.

And so those masks we made last summer really do reveal our deepest motivations for writing, what our blogs would be, have turned out to be.  In her blog, Martha uses a Telugu proverb she learned from her mother: By digging and digging the truth is discovered.”
 Isn’t that what all writers are trying to do?  Digging down to find the truth about themselves and the world around them?  Even though I didn’t believe it at the time, making those masks was an important step in that digging process for Martha and me.   

Altars of the Uncertain Kind

In August I spent an amazing week at the A Room of Her Own Foundation's writing retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. At the ranch, the incredibly beautiful mountains and mesas that had inspired Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings watched over me. It was a week of writing, contemplation and meeting amazing women writers from all over the country. On my way home, I sat in the Albuquerque airport with Tania, who happened to be on the same flight back to Oakland. Tania and I had just realized that we had met years ago at another writer’s conference. This was just one of the many serendipitous – and for me unnerving - interchanges and intersections that had occurred that week.

As we talked about all the things that you tell someone you barely know but find you really like, we reminisced about some of our experiences at the retreat such as the intense group discussions, meditation sessions and walking the labyrinth. Women had talked over and over about spirituality and religion and the soul – all concepts that make me very uncomfortable. I told Tania all the reasons why I am not a spiritual person, that in fact I even hate the word “spiritual.” But then I had to admit that my carry-on bag was heavier than it should be because it was full of rocks and pebbles that I had collected on my walks around Ghost Ranch. That I had compulsively taken photographs of the same mountains over and over at different times of the day to record every moment of my journey.

Those rocks and photographs were destined to join the shells and pieces of coral, pine cones and sage bundles, the icons and Virgin Mary’s, the tin milagros and Buddha’s that I had strewn about my house. From every place I go – and I am an obsessive traveler – I take a little piece of something to remind me of how I felt in that place or the person who gave it to me. I had to confess that I loved creating altars of all sorts – but that I was not spiritual in any way.

I also admitted that I had never wanted to write a blog because I didn’t think there were any of my thoughts that I needed to inflict upon the world, but Tania thought I should take photos of my altars and blog about them. Unsettled but intrigued, I couldn’t forget that conversation. I had to admit that something had happened at that retreat among those mountains that I didn't understand but couldn't ignore. So, because all that week I had been guided by the “spirit” of Georgia O’Keefe and the inspiration of those creative women, I did what Tania said I should do.