© 2008 -- 2011 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Leaving Eden but Still Drifting

We close the gates behind us
today at noon .
Our travels aren't over.
Travels that took us
the last few days to Fairfax,
but always returned us to Sebastapol,
to the double wooden gates
at the end of a graveled lane
that open onto Eden.

Last night after the Sonoma County Fair,
we ate dinner in an Italian restaurant
at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa.
Today we'll have lunch
with my son and his family
to say goodbye
and to be with
our youngest granddaughter
one more time before driving to Jenner
on the coast and up Route 1 to Timber Cove
to an inn that sits on a cliff above the ocean.

When we get back to Atlanta,
I'll paint what I've seen
and let Eden infuse my days.

The house we've been staying in is at the end of a gravel lane. The property backs up to a state park, and there is a vineyard bordering the north side of the property. The land has an olive grove that the owners harvest to make their own olive oil each year. There are apple trees, peach trees, pear and plum trees, fig trees, walnut trees, and one lemon tree. The grounds are surrounded by blackberry bushes with the most lush blackberries I've ever tasted. There are flower gardens, rose trellises, a vegetable garden surrounded by huge lavender and rosemary bushes. Aside from Hawaii, it is the most Eden like setting I have ever been in. And everywhere you drive, it is more of the same.

This has been a time to just let go of schedules, of deadlines, of angst over whether or not we are doing the right things with our lives or over why we aren't doing the things we know we should be doing. It's been a good week, and there are a few days left, and I intend to enjoy them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gray Sonoma Morning

waiting to eat a second breakfast
with my granddaughter
it's overcast, not the typical fog
that rolls in from the ocean overnight
and obscures all but the hint
of an outline of hills
behind the olive trees
then burns off and lets
the sun come through

the fog is gone now
as it always is by this time

I can clearly see the field
and the hills with their foliage
but the crystal clear air
is chilled and filled with random
drops of condensation
and the sky is still grey
I've photographed the grove
and the hills behind
in as many different lights as I could
and I've stood or sat
just looking from the deck
to lock the various shades of light
and the olive trees
with the shivering silver
of their green leaves
inside my mind so that later
when I look I can see
what the photo doesn't show

it's grey this morning
a quiet calming peaceful grey
the quail
still walk along the edge of the yard
and through the bushes
behind the garden
the roses still stretch
up from the porch
as if pointing at the sky
where yesterday I saw
an eagle and three hawks
and last night
as I did the night before
I saw
through the front room window
two stars
rising above the eastern horizon
to shine brightly
through the distant trees

Monday, July 27, 2009

Still adrift in California

dancing before breakfast
and then the farmer's market in Sebastapol
coming away with fresh caught wild salmon
and baskets of tomatoes
eggs benedict market style for lunch
market style=no ham or bacon
spinach with sundried tomato pesto instead
then a visit to screaming mimi's ice cream
the hottest spot in town
for a taste of local strawberries
an afternoon of photos
and a set of new acrylic paints
red headed woodpecker in the tree outside the window
that evening planked honey mustard salmon
and roasted corn on the cob
home made pesto and summer squash
market tomatoes
and ice cream with
the sweetest blackberries I've ever tasted
all made sweeter by family
summer in Sonoma County

Sunday, July 26, 2009

California drifitn', back next week

adrift in Northern California
enjoying a private Edenic retreat
listening to Bob Marley's One Love
on S's play list
contemplating generations
and anticipating the soft sweetness
of the freshly picked blackberries
I plan to add to my next pot
of Twinings green tea

Monday, July 20, 2009

a rather disjointed post

My favorite NPR (National Public Radio) program is This American Life. Sunday night I was listening to it -- I know, I should have been on the blog reading all of your fantastic posts, but it was This American Life -- which is a collection of stories and this week's topic was fear of sleep.

The first story was about sleep walking and doing things when you did that could kill you. It happened to Mike Birbiglia, a comedian who told the story at a club called The Moth. You can access the club Web site here.

It would be worth your time to spend some of it on both of the sites linked above. But that's not what this post is about. Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, does very insightful commentary about the stories and the story tellers. When Birbiglia's story ended he gave background on the comedian and the club and concluded with the statement "Catch him before he becomes too famous." So I'm sharing him with you. But that's still not the point.

I've met a lot of people in the Blogosphere. And I've made a lot of friends. And I watch them become more and more famous. And they still say "hey" to me. That's good. The Blogosphere is a place to catch people before they become too famous. That's the point. I'm glad I'm here. because I'm glad you're here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I'm standing up for my writing


I have some kind of sciatic nerve problem, or at least that's what the physician's assistant thought it was yesterday. It's aggravated by sitting at my desk, partly because I don't have good chair poster when I'm leaning over the keyboard working. After about an hour or so, my leg begins to hurt enough to make me very uncomfortable, and after about another hour, I can't bear to sit there any longer. The only thing that helps is to stand up and walk around. So I started last week standing at the kitchen counter to work when it got bad.

Last weekend I had to work both Saturday and Sunday, and I thought why even bother to sit down? So I used some wire shelving we have to hold my laptop and stood the whole day each day while I worked. I also found that in addition to my leg not hurting, standing let me think a little more clearly about what I was writing. Whenever I got stuck, I just walked around in a little circle and by the time I got back to the keyboard, the words I needed were there. So I kept standing all week long.

Yesterday when I saw the PA and she was giving me some exercises to do, she suggested that I should try to stand to work. (I told her that usually I could hardly stand to work, but I don't think she got it. So I just said OK.)

A few months ago I was working on an article about physical activity and I came across a research study that focused on the benefits of standing as opposed to sitting. It turns out that people who do their job mainly sitting (like bus drivers, for instance) have a tendency to die sooner than people who stand more. We all know about the value of exercise, but this was true even with low level physical activity. So maybe pain is not such a bad thing after all.

Here's the first draft of a poem I did today after coming across some notes I'd made for an essay. Too early to tell whether I like it or not, but I thought I'd share it.

The running of the ideas (first draft)

When the gates were opened for the running
of ideas, three men were trampled at the start.
Two more scrambled over the walls that lined
the street. And only the bravest stayed in front,
shouting the whole way, cheered on by rabble
leaning from the balconies above
and smiling critics -- middle-aged women and men
holding dry martinis, drinking rum.

At the ring the crowd roared as the first idea--
proud, brave, and very strong--gored the rider's
mount and threw the rider to the ground.

No one could slow him. No one could tire him,
until the bravest fighter of them all
stood before him and with his cape and grace
took pass after pass and brought him to his knees.

The crowd chanted its approval. They'd seen
a work of art. And the idea, its hind legs
lashed to the horse, was, without dignity
and without ears, dragged from the dusty ring.

© copyright 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.
All rights reserved

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The poet in me is a recluse

He doesn't want to be. He just withdraws.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Just some random and spontaneous thoughts on breaking into poetry

  • Who do you read? I know people who go to art museums and look at an abstract and say. "My five-year-old could do and has done better than that." The truth is, there's a lot of abstract work I don't like. But unless I look at a lot of that, and where it came from, I can't critique it. And if I can't critique it, I can't do it. Do you read one poet? Do you read one style of poetry? The abstract painter I appreciate understands and can do perspective and realism. In fact, the realism painters I appreciate understand and can produce the abstract concepts that underlie it. The same is true with poetry. If you can't see what there is that connects Billy Collins, Alan Ginsburg, Ezra Pound, John Milton, John Keats, and Timothy Steele, you need to read more.
  • Why do you want to write poetry? Do you have a vision to share? Or are you writing in your diary with broken lines? The point is poetry is an art form. If you want to become a poet, if you want to be read by other people, please make it because you want to share what you see. And to share, you have to be aware of an audience.
  • How resilient are you? Poetry is an art of rejection. Most people aren't going to understand you. And the gatekeepers, the people who edit the journals where your poetry is going to be published, aren't even most people. And the natural response to rejection is to become imitative. When you do, you've destroyed your reason for being a poet.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

the master s words

there is a way they have
............to make you feel dwarfed
....with all, their, commas,
.....and broken phrases
.......and misplaced parenthesis
........and wordsthatruntogether
........................to obliterate thoughts
it s a little like drinking christmas
............wine without a glass or
.......making illicit
........for the first time
they have a way to make you feel smaller than an ant
.........crawling across a super highway
but they lift you up above the clouds
.........................to drop you
....................past birds
........................for an updraft

Originally published in Wisconsin Review, May 1976.
published in A Matter of Mind, Foothills Publishing, 2004.
© copyright 2004, 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.
All rights reserved

Friday, July 10, 2009


water color on paper

Monday, July 6, 2009

It Was Just a Silly Typo

“Time came and went to fast.”
It gave up hours, minutes, gave up seconds.
It passed up the future, ignored the past.
All transactions pending were suspended.

Time came to seek a place of solitude,
To find a way that it could reckon
With the stationary sun over truths
And other matters it knew could not be answered

In earth’s day to day rotation. It called to
The stars to join them, to stop their dances.
It even asked the Western Wind to lie still
Against the water until it calmed the prancing

Waves. And when all things had bowed to time’s will,
Time rose again and went to have its fill.

Originally published in A Matter of Mind, Foothills Publishing, 2004.
© copyright 2004, 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.
All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

More signs of the time

Saw this in a gift shop on the square in Marietta, Georgia.

Hardwork must have killed someone.

Happy 4th.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Notes on Getting Published

(1) I once sent a group of poems to the Amherst Review. I waited a year to get a response. Finally, almost one year to the day after I sent them, I got a letter saying they wanted to publish one of the poems. I sent them the writer's info and waited again. One year later the issue with my poem was published.

They had left out a word.

(2) The only sure way to get published is to outlast the rejection slips.

(3) The times they are a changin.

Typically, when you send a poem to a literary journal, you can expect to wait anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to get a response. Ideally you can use that time to get your mind off the work you just sent out and turn to other work that needs to be completed and sent out. Then when the to-be-expected rejection letter comes, it's no big deal, because you've already moved on to other things that have assumed greater priority. That let's you get reacquainted with the work that came back. You can look at it objectively and analyze it to determine whether you need to trash it, revise it, or simply find a better match to send it to.

But now we use the Internet to submit our work. Some journals still take three months to decide to tell you no. But one day last week, I got a rejection email 12 hours after I had sent the poems.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I know I haven't posted much about the agonies of editing recently. Wait. Come to think of it I haven't posted much of anything recently. Hmmmm. Well, anyway, as I was saying, I got this gem of a sentence today in an article about feeding an adult dog.

An adult dog's diet can contain up to 50% carbohydrates, including 2.5% to 4.5% fiber, according to the National Research Council, a scientific research unit of the nonprofit National Academies.

.............. let's take a look at that sentence. First of all, it's 30 words. Now 30 words is a long sentence in an article aimed at an audience whose reading skills are defined as basic. The company I'm doing this work for defines basic as high school level. But that may actually be a little high for the general lay audience of adult readers they are trying to reach. When I edit or write for them, I shoot for an eighth grade reading level. (Which has nothing to do with the level of the intelligence of the audience. It only involves the ease with which the audience can take the information in.) The reason I aim for an 8th grade level is that a 6th grade level, which is more accurate, takes more time than they want to pay me for.

But this isn't really about reading level (or how much I get paid). It's about putting information in a sentence the audience can use. Now when we take a look at the sentence, it seems there's some important information in there. How do I know? Because there's a really impressive source being cited. Come on, we all know about the "National Research Council, a scientific research unit of the nonprofit National Academies," don't we?

PROBLEM # 1: Who says this (or "says what," because by the time I get to the end of the sentence I've forgotten what I was being told)? And why am I supposed to believe them? Their name sounds impressive. But who the hell are they? I just formed a group here in Atlanta where the CDC is located. We call ourselves the National Citizen's Healthcare Oversight Committee. Now we're probably going to be able to convince a lot of people about what we say. Why? Because we're right here where the CDC is.

Actually, my group is going to be more successful. Everybody has heard of the CDC. Well, not everybody, but enough. Can I have a show of hands. How many of you out there know what the "National Academies" are, or is it is?

Solution #1: Actually, I happen to know a little bit about both the National Academies and the National Research Council. But I'd have to Google them to be able to tell you who they are and what they do. And there was a paucity of hands raised just a moment ago.

So the first thing to ask as an editor is does the writer explain anywhere in the article who or what these agencies are? No. As a matter of fact, that is the only time their names appear in the article. So the solution seems easy. If you are going to call on an authority to vouch for your claim, then you need to make sure your readers know who that authority is. So the first option is to tell them.

But, no. That's a problem because it's going to take up a lot more space than it warrants and that's going to take the reader farther away from the real point of the article: What kind of dog food should I buy for my dog? (As I type this, Yeats is staring up at me with a hungry look in her eye. But then, she's still a puppy. Puppies are supposed to be hungry.)

The second thing I ask as an editor is do we really need the attribution. The answer is no. This is not a scientific paper for a peer reviewed journal. The website where this article will appear has a major reputation as an authoritative source. And underlying that is a rigorous fact checking and medical review process. Plus they hire good editors who are going to check these things out, even before the article gets to those stages. So we drop the attribution and come up with this:

An adult dog's diet can contain up to 50% carbohydrates, including 2.5% to 4.5% fiber.

Now that's much better. The message is clear with nothing about the National Academies to get in the way. It works because the website and the parent company have believability.

And look at that. I've actually solved two problems. I've cut the sentence in half. It's now just 15 words. A manageable chunk of information.

Problem #2: Yes there is a problem number 2. How do you calculate and confirm those percentages when you buy dog food. And I'll tell you that elsewhere in the article the writer pointed out that coming up with this information is hard because you can't rely on the label. And right. The writer didn't tell the reader how to determine the necessary percentages. Oh, me. An editor's work is never done.

Solution #2: Ignore the problem. Let the readers do some research of their own. You of course know that's not the correct answer. The correct answer is to send the article back to the writer and ask for more information. Taking the attribution out was an editor's call. Explaining how to figure the percentages is a writer's job.

Unfortunately, I didn't send it back. I didn't have time, and this article is part of a major launch, which is scheduled to happen very soon. My decision to let the article go as is was based on the fact that there was enough information in the article to make it useful and interesting and that it was an important part of the launch and needed to get into review. That was step 1 in figuring out a solution. Step 2 was realizing there really isn't enough time to make the article complete. It needs to go into review.

I would never knowingly make that kind of decision with an article that would involve injury. But now you know how articles that are less than perfect end up in print or on the web.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Protecting cyclists

A friend sent me these two awareness tests. Let me know how you do.

Here's the first:

And Here's the second: