29 December 2010

just before

Remember that can't-sleep anticipation of something really good coming? A childhood Christmas morning? Or the night before the first day of seventh grade? Or the entire day before the State track meet - such a big event that it was held at Ricks College?

I've not been disappointed.

Christmas morning, 1973, Fairchild AFB, Spokane, WA. Santa must have enjoyed the cookies because he left the Barbie Airplane made by Mattel United Airlines for yours truly. What more could an 8-year old girl want?!

Seventh grade began at Bountiful Junior H.S. with the only class I really wanted to take: Art. In a real art-classroom completely dedicated to making and learning art. I was in heaven. It almost made up for the completely lame excuse of a home-economics class later that same day in which I was instructed how to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a "milk-shake" made without a single scoop of ice-cream - a clear abomination in the household where I grew up. My father signed my class-withdrawal slip himself, and I believe I got to take shop instead. Total win-win.

And that track meet in Rexburg, ID. Spring 1981. I ran my best time in the qualifying heat of the 440-yard (no such thing as the 400m in the U.S. schools back in those days). My cousin Christine came over to the race and we got something to eat afterward, but I can't quite recall anything more - except for the feeling of pure elation that stuck with me for a long time. What put wings on my feet that day? Could have been the sunshine that broke through the rain clouds on that cold spring afternoon, or the way the air moved over the track. Or maybe just plain luck. I would never run a better race again.

 Now smack in the middle of the holidays, it's one week from the start of my first residency in the MFA program at Pacific University, and I am all kinds of excited. Christmas-Barbie-airplane-7th-grade-state-track-meet excited.

Of course, it takes a leap of sorts. The push-off the block at the starting shot. The release of a held breath. A step through an arch to a new freedom.

It could be big.

Feels like a good thing.

Sherri



"As he swung through the air, trembling, he saw the blackness give way below, like a parting of clouds, to a deep patch of stars on the ground. It was the pond, he hoped, the hole in the woods reflecting the sky. He judged the instant and let go; he flung himself loose into the stars." - The Living, Annie Dillard

14 December 2010

landing

It's foggy in Longview most mornings this time of year. I turn north with the wind to my back, and a bunch of geese are hanging in the air over the local soccer fields. They are landing, feet down, necks arched forward, wings bent and still. Kites loosed of their strings, gliding into the wind.

Landing.

Geese mate for life and will stay together during all seasons. Swans, too. I knew that when I was a kid from reading about Louis and Serena, the eventual mated couple in E.B. White's "Trumpet of the Swan." In the end, content and drifting in a state of almost-sleep, Louis thinks "how lucky he was to inhabit such a beautiful earth, how lucky he had been to solve his problems with music." Humans would be so lucky to know their life-long mate from the clear trill of a trumpet.

Geese on the soccer fields, Longview, WA
My own mate is away tonight, working. But he left me cozy at home with a full winter supply of stove pellets and new windshield wipers for an uneventful drive to and from Longview.

Let the rains come. Let it be cold. And I shall be happy for my best friend to return.

I am content. Lucky.

Sherri



They don't know how long it takes
Waiting for a love like this
Every time we say goodbye
I wish we had one more kiss
I'll wait for you I promise you, I will

I'm lucky I'm in love with my best friend
Lucky to have been where I have been
Lucky to be coming home again
I'm lucky we're in love in every way
Lucky to have stayed where we have stayed
Lucky to be coming home someday

Jason Mraz, "Lucky"

27 November 2010

a grateful heart

Photo by Zachary Kaufman / The Columbian
Late this morning, I drove around the corner from the store, and suddenly it was all lights and sirens. A procession of motorcycles stretched all the way up the old highway, escorted by more than a dozen police cars. It was the bikers' annual Toy Run. Harleys, Hondas, all kinds of bullet bikes, old-school BMWs, a few homemade varieties, what could have been an Indian, one with a restored sidecar. The riders wore all types and sizes of leathers, rain slickers, scarves, military uniforms, hats, helmets, bandanas, fringe, Carhartts, boots. They rode in rows of two, headlights on.

These last few days have been a time of intentional awareness for the gifts of my life. An opportunity to be shored up with gratitude - enough to summon up some courage and reach toward what would seem impossible. Better than New Year's resolutions, these wishes are borne on the strength of a grateful heart.

  1. Unpack. That "easy" move to the new house from just across the street was not exactly all that. At the very least, there are boxes of books and enough stacks of random "stuff" that I cannot park in the garage. Yet.
  2. Write more, second-guess less. I am defeated most often by my own self-doubt. With some practice, perhaps I'll be able to turn down the volume on those gremlins.
  3. The little black dress. Surely this is the year. C'mon. Otherwise my initial thoughts about the gym are correct - that it is just punishment for getting older.
  4. Embrace the moment. Every one is a gift. It is often in the smallest of moments when the universe reveals itself to our limited human eye. Trying not to miss it.


  5. And with an extra shot of courage for those more audacious, bigger-than-me wishes:

  6. Colts to the Superbowl. Because I'm a big, nerdy fan. 
  7. Two beautiful twin girls would knock at my door. Yes, our worlds are 25 years and a universe apart, but in so much beauty and wonder, there could be room enough for our own moment.
  8. Health to my clan. Health enough for us to love our families, serve with compassion, and witness the daily miracles as they manifest.
  9. Peace. That we might be a country not at war.


  10. Finally, the most audacious of all:

  11. A sustainable, living houseplant. Released from the curse of the black thumb.

Sherri



"Life is like a cigarette, smoke it to the butt." ~ Harvie Krumpet

23 November 2010

i am


Morning Moon
Originally uploaded by cazjane97
There is ice in the yard and a skiff of snow. The hummingbird feeders are frozen and have to be brought in the house to thaw, the birds tick-ticking their displeasure in the cold. My meditation today is to be in the moment.

I am.

Cold tingles in my nose like a bee sting. My eyes water. The moon is full on the horizon ahead of the dawn.

Later, pink clouds bring the sun up, and I drive north on roads slick with ice along the dark shores of the Columbia River.

I am, I remind myself.

I think my time is not my own, but I am here by choice and grateful for it. Many paths open before me, await my step. If I have the courage.

My friend runs and slides his feet on the frozen street and falls - almost. He laughs.

I am, I laugh.

At home, it's warm and there's my family. The street outside is blue with snow and moonlight. Inside we talk. Eat. Share stories. Listen. Read.

I pour the tea. Cool it with a splash of milk.

I am.

And so I am.

Sherri



Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching. ~ Satchel Paige



12 November 2010

any given day

Talking with my darling husband earlier today about the frailty and resilience of the human spirit, and the conversation evolved into something about the thought process of solving geometry theorems. I know, it sounds crazy. And super-nerdy.

Given a traumatic event followed by variable chaos (self-made and/or otherwise), prove happiness.

Prove faith.

Prove peace.

Does it take a certain kind of philosophical introspection to surpass living at a level of survival? Why do some people experience life trauma and never recover, while others move through the same experiences seemingly unaffected? Or lifted to a higher plane of living as a direct result? Is the difference genetic? Spiritual? About willingness? Effort? Luck?

In retrospect, I would be a different person today if I had not passed through even the smallest darkness of my life. Definitely a different person for the light.

Given this day, prove awe.

Two hummingbirds sparred outside my window this afternoon. They flew in tight circles under the porch roof, grazing the tops of the BBQ grills at the edge of the deck, out into the yard and back again. One landed on the butterfly-bush against the fence while the other stopped at the feeder. They traded places briefly, and then resumed their chase. I only stood inside the window, a cup of hot tea in my hand.

Given any day, prove gratitude.

The universe is resplendent with wonder.

I thank whatever gods may be.

Sherri


If I have courage enough to open the next door, it is not darkness that spills out, but rather light that flows in.

05 November 2010

20-ish years

Pacific University mascot, Boxer
I am returning to school in January, accepted to the MFA in Writing program at Pacific University. Only 20 short/long years from my graduation from Weber State University and 28 years from my high school graduation. 

I admit, school was not always my favorite, but it had its moments.


Things in School I Did Not Love:

  • Mr. Eborn's Government class - right after basketball practice and way too disruptive of my attempts to catch a morning nap
  • Home Economics - after one week, I got to take shop instead
  • School assemblies
  • Dissecting frogs in Biology class
  • Detention - not ever like the Breakfast Club at all
  • Driver's Ed with Mr. Collier: "How many horses were in that pasture we just passed?!" So not on the test....
  • School lunch
  • 7am religion class (BYU) - who thought that was a good idea

Things in School that Did Not Suck:

The Shelley Russet
  • Basketball. Coach Jensen was the best, Stairway to Heaven was the song to play in the locker room to start a good game
  • Notes in class "Dear Bubbles.....Yours, Zero" (Yes, I was Zero)
  • Sound of Music, Camelot, Cinderella, Ten Little Indians, and Mr. Best's drama class (SHS)
  • The Shelley Russet
  • Summer school at Skyline H.S. in I.F., "21 Gun Salute" and everything by Queen and E.L.O.
  • Cutting class to go hang out at Tautphaus Park or ski Kelly's Canyon - depending on the season
  • Watching football reruns in Biology class
  • Lunch from Huntsman's Food Town: 1 bottle Mountain Dew, 1 Snickers
  • Track meets - Home or Away
  • Mr. Mortensen's Geometry, Trigonometry and Pre-Calc (SHS)
  • Mark Strand's writing class (UofU)
  • Dick Alston's economic history class (WSU)
  • Merlin Cheney's directed reading on Thomas Hardy (WSU)
  • Lee McKenzie (WSU) RIP
So excited for the next adventure. Having been a Shelley Russet, BYU Cougar, UofU Ute, and WSU Wildcat, I anticipate only the best as a Pacific University Boxer.

Sherri

15 October 2010

reading for First Wednesday

First Wednesday Readings* presents:

Sherri Hoffman and Mary Milstead
Wednesday, November 3
7 - 9pm


Blackbird Wine Shop & Atomic Cheese
4323 NE Fremont
www.blackbirdwine.com

Sherri will be reading from the middle of her new novel, The Wildish Boys.

Mary will be reading from her new novel that is not really about Bigfoot.

Also reading:
Jillian Starr
Christy A. Caballero

Very exciting! Look forward to seeing you there.

Sherri



*First Wednesday Readings is a series of readings, performances and wine-tasting held at Blackbird Wine Shop, 4323 NE Fremont, 7-9pm. This show is 21 and over.

26 September 2010

the small-big line

For context, I have spent several late nights/early mornings watching one of my most favorite movie actors, Clint Eastwood: The Outlaw Josey Wales; Unforgiven; Gran Torino; Pale Rider; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly; Fistful of Dollars. Small-big lines are those memorable, game-changers for which Clint is famous:

"Man's gotta know his limitations."

"Go ahead. Make my day."

"Right turn, Clyde."

"Get ready, little lady. Hell is coming to breakfast."

"Are you feelin' lucky, punk?"

"Sorry, Tuco."

It's the weight of the story, empowered by the plot, characters, and reader/viewer empathy. Some classics:

"What remains?" cried Ivanhoe; "Glory, maiden, glory!"
Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott

"Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!"
Bartleby the Scrivner, Herman Melville

"The horror! The horror!"
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"
Richard III, William Shakespeare

What's your favorite small-big line? Leave a comment or post it to my Facebook page - I'd love to know.

Sherri

p.s. This week is Banned-Book Week. September 25 - October 1. Support those amazing, thoughtful and unafraid authors; read something banned!

23 August 2010

fast forward

That idea that we are each in control of our own destiny is quite possibly a myth created by the same ivory-tower dreamer who wrote every Leave It To Beaver episode and Disney happy ending script. To quote one of my friends, Randy Allen: "It clogs my bullshit filter."

Oh, I'm a huge fan of happy endings. Don't get me wrong. And for all the whirlwind life-comes-at-you-fast events of the last month, I've got nothing to complain about.

My point is simply that control is an illusion. A grain of sand thinking it controls the incoming tides.

Last weekend, my family and I spent a few days with my parents and my baby brother and his family at a cabin on the Wenatchee River. "Cabin" being a relative term as it was a spacious vacation house with all the amenities: hot tub, gourmet kitchen, double-decks, BBQ grills. We canoed up and down the river, ate way too much food and blackberry pie, played tourist in the town of Leavenworth, scouted Lake Wenatchee, bought fresh peaches and beans from the local fruit stands.

One morning, a baby barn swallow must have crashed its first flight out of its nest. It fell onto the main deck where my daughters and nephew were all doing the morning chill session. My husband and I had taken the canoe across the river to look for the tracks of a mama bear and her cub reported in the area. We came back to my girls calling to me, "Help! Help! What do we do?" They were distraught that this small bird was huddled down on the deck.

My husband, always resourceful, cleared the way of deck furniture and miscellaneous child items from the deck so that the baby bird might at least run back towards the nest area. Which it promptly did and remained huddled against one of the stairs all day and all through the next night. The two parent birds continued to feed it, alternately pecking and chirping at it in some kind of bird-speak.

The next morning, the feedings continued. Then in an instant, not unlike any other instant before it, the baby bird flew away. The three barn swallows swooped out together over the river, and I lost track of them in the flurry of all the other swallows feeding on mosquitoes and mayflies over the water.

Controlled destiny? Sheer luck? I'm not a big believer in limited options, and I don't believe in luck (really), so I have to go with the life-happens theory.

The only catch is that sometimes it happens quickly. In the flash of a bird's wing.

Don't miss it.

Sherri

26 July 2010

take a chance on me

The brown moth on my front porch was about the size of my open palm. Close up, its patterns were luminescent browns, golds and reds. It flicked out a delicate, white antennae like a fine-toothed comb that followed the movement of my camera. Its body was covered in something like soft fur and seemed to shiver at one point. I snapped my photos quickly to catch it before it could fly away.

Nothing is exactly what you see. While there's something admirable about living without pretense, it's rarely not complicated. And always intriguing.

I have four sisters and two brothers, all younger than me. None of us are just alike, but there are some definite genetic markers. It's that nose, eye color, knock-knees or shape of our calves, curve of lips or high forehead, that resemblance to our mother, father, cousins, grandmother, great uncle, aunt.

But it's complex, beyond counting red-eyed flies and white-eyed flies. Throw in environment and upbringing. It's response to stress. Sleeping patterns. Thickness of vital arteries. Tendon flexibility. Favorite color. Propensity to tick. Tolerance to light and noise. Shoe size. Perhaps one despises cats or loves the rain. Has an amazing roll cast. Plays the piano by ear. Sketches portraits. Bakes perfect lemon meringue pie.

The great mystery is not so much the extent of potential—vast and varied, it seems—as it is what we do with it. All that we carry forward, genetic or developed, informs and supports what we do next. So what you see is just the beginning. I am more than my brown hair, hazel eyes, freckles over my nose and that little scar on my lip. Perhaps the unassuming ring on my finger may not appear sacred as it is for me. I may be quiet. Perhaps I laugh too loud. Perhaps I cry easily or not at all. There is story in every piece of me.

My collective story builds relationships, connects the dots, flexes perspectives and thought with a critical review, taps into my deepest fears and joys, draws beauty from the moment. From a brown moth.

I did not see the moth except for that single morning when the rain came down in a fine, summer mist like wet fog. By the time I checked the mail in the afternoon, the moth was gone. That's the other thing—it's all so fleeting.

Sherri

"You could be an astronaut if you wanted to, but you're not!"
~ Capt. Phil Harris

"I'm exactly what you see, honey; take a chance on me."
~ Bob Seger

18 July 2010

at work

Head down, I am in the middle of a rewrite, working out some issues with the structure of the novel. I shifted some pieces around about a month ago, and it changed up some real-life facts. The timeline shifts solved other issues, eliminated flashbacks and some "telling" to fill in the gaps - all important. Still feels like the right thing to do.

Last year about this time, I was struggling with POV, shifting verb tense and narration. Some big nuts and bolts to grapple with, and it felt overwhelming, but necessary. Solving for voice cleared the way for new variables to surface. Revealed the equation, so to speak. Solve for y; substitute, and solve for x.

The original novel timeline is mapped on a whiteboard over the desk in my home office. The most recent working timeline is a flexible set of post-its stuck to the top of my coffee table. I posted one version to my Facebook page the other day; this one is today's iteration. Note the bare space in the center. That's the transition to the start of 1976, still missing.

If I have learned anything, it's to trust the process. Keep writing forward. The missing post-its will appear; the stuck points will resolve. The human mind is an amazing place of relationships, connections and story.

The other thing I know is that for every decision I make, another writer out there will make the exact opposite one. I attended a fabulous session of the Tin House conference on Friday, disagreed completely with the presenter's evaluation of a Barry Lopez piece, and came away with some valuable perspective about my own plot structure. All hail diversity.

Today's morning trip to the grocery for toilet paper, milk and potato chips solved a piece of dialog. If I had a sign, I suspect I would have to wear it 24/7, taped to my forehead: Writer at Work.

Sherri


"I think," said Anna, playing with the glove she had taken off, "I think...if so many men, so many minds, certainly so many hearts, so many kinds of love."

~ Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

14 July 2010

only love

It is early summer, and my family loses one of its patriarchs. My friend loses a child. Another, her father.

The season is cool and unseasonably wet. In the midst of it, I spend several weeks with my 91-year old grandmother. She is frail, slow of step and hard of hearing, but with a quick wit and a girlish giggle. Her hair is a perfect coif so white it is silver.

Grandma tells me stories easily. I have only to ask a leading question and then sit back and listen. Her courtship and marriage to my grandfather. A miscarriage. The births of her children, three cesarean deliveries. The military years. The family Cadillac. Her house in China where they were stationed until the Americans were evacuated. How she was the only one to get off the ship in Japan, a young military wife with three small children, to wait for my grandfather. The estate in England. Her bridge club. The car crash that left deep purple scars on her knee. The other one that left her unharmed, belted into the flipped-over car. The beloved red cocker spaniel, stolen the night before they were transferred from Ohio. Texas rain. Hill Air Force Base.

She tells me how it was for her the night my grandfather died. She had become fatigued by his extended illness, and on that night, she slept alone in their king-size bed. She had been his wife for more than 70 years.

When we walk together, I support my grandma at her left elbow. In the grocery aisle. At the hairdresser. On Friday when we go to Ruth’s Diner with my aunt and mother. Grandma orders mac and cheese because it is soft for her new teeth. She eats most of her lunch and drinks two full glasses of raspberry tea. She is engaging and chatty. By the time we get back to the house, she is tired. I hug her goodbye.

"I love you, Grandma."

"I love you, too, dear."

Blue rainclouds hang low over the Wasatch Front on the morning I board my plane for home. The teenage boy next to me says he is from Kansas City. Missouri, not Kansas. His mother has told him to watch out the other side of the plane when we land in Oregon to see Mt. Hood. He's on his way to summer camp. The plane taxis down the runway for takeoff, and I am crying. Goodbye.

So many gone from me. My grandfather, his last days in the nursing home. Goodbye. My bright, beautiful, addicted cousin, last seen through the glass window of a jail cell. Goodbye. My friend, like a brother, died too young. Goodbye. My first two babies, given for adoption more than 25 years ago. Uncle John. Aunt Vernetta. All of my other grandparents and great grandparents.

Grief opens up a hollow space, fresh as dug earth and rich with the loam of loss that I will carry all my life. The plane turns at the end of the runway. Sunlight slips through the clouds to glitter in the rain, and I understand that only love could give rise to such sadness. Profound love.

The boy in the next seat fidgets and tries not to look at me. Our plane takes off, circles the valley, turns out across the Great Salt Lake. Goodbye.

I have nothing else, so I wipe my face with my jacket.

"Missouri, huh?" I say.

"Oh, yeah," the boy says. His eyes are blue. He looks relieved.

"Is all your family there?" I say. "In Missouri?"


Sherri


The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

~ Thomas Hardy (1900)

28 June 2010

the edge is okay

So I'm at the gym yesterday on the recumbent bicycle, iPod blasting (thankfully) an Audioslave album over the piped-in techno-remix muzak, reading a book about quantum physics and Buddhism. One of my friends waved and then called me a "strange duck." I think I'm okay with that.

Mainstream has never been my gig. I always felt out of place growing up. Outside the group. Not at the cool kids' lunch table. Not quite the back-of-the-bus crowd. Flailing to find a place, I acted out in a lot of different directions to fit it, some more harmless than others.

If you can survive the cold and inevitable heartbreak, there are gifts to being on the edge. Perspective. Objectivity. Scope of vision. Variety of thought and experience. Deep friendships. Freedom. Love.

I've stood at the tops of the tallest buildings in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Tokyo. Sheared sheep. Danced the Charleston. Sang Ave Maria on stage in a nun's habit, no less. Played the piano in a New York City penthouse. Rafted the Snake River. Stood on Mt. Fuji. Built a barn. Roofed a house. Barrel raced from Butte, Montana to Rigby, Idaho. Rock climbed. Loved a man with long, dark hair and eyes like blue ice. Skied heavenly powder and raucous moguls. Ran away. Milked cows and mucked stables. Looked down into the Grand Canyon. Stole food for my children. Witnessed a solar eclipse. Fished deep rivers. Played my guitar and sang nursery rhymes to children in a single-room schoolhouse in a Mexican village. Hiked over the Great Divide. Shot a rat in the kitchen of a house in Malibu. Laughed with my friends. Walked through rice paddies in Taiwan. Birthed babies. Saw whales. Rode a horse over a rattlesnake. Lived on the streets of big cities. Jumped waves in Lake Michigan where the sand squeaked under my shoes. Played the violin. Married my one true love in a meadow at the foot of a volcano. Camped in the rain. Sang until I thought my heart would burst with happiness. Shook hands with a President. Rode an elephant. Saw green sea turtles on a black sand beach. Flew over the English Channel in a WWII-era Russian bomber trainer. Stood in Hiroshima. Watched a river of lava flow into the sea. Drove many miles to see meteor showers. Bought cannoli at a deli near Times Square in the middle of the night. Lost children. Drove across the United States, coast to coast. Witnessed a thunderstorm rise over the Grand Tetons and sweep across Leigh Lake. Put my bare feet in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans from both sides. Wept.

Eyes open, I'm just happy to be here.

Sherri

"To live in an evolutionary spirit means to engage with full ambition and without any reserve in the structure of the present, and yet to let go and flow into a new structure when the right time has come."
— Dr. Erich Jantsch, astrophysicist

06 June 2010

meditation on rain

A gentle tapping on the leaves outside my bedroom window. Music in the drainpipe.

Grieving for a friend, my night had been restless. The rain soothed me to sleep in the early morning hours so that I awoke purposefully in the gray of dawn before the phone or any alarm clock.

In this life, I have spent many years in drier places. East in the high-mountain deserts of the Rocky Mountains where rain is scarce and water sources instead from snow-melt, there are massive clonal colonies of Quaking Aspens. Populus tremuloides. Quakies. The round, silver-green leaves shake at the slightest breeze, a soft patter. The sound of rain. I came to call them "raindrop trees." A dry rain. Same soothing sound.

My home in the Pacific Northwest is blessed with rain, glittering, wet drops to adorn each leaf and branch with brilliance. Rain is not exclusive; it touches all. White oak and cedar. Lupine, stonecrop, vine maple. Garden path. Weeping cherry. Black basalt with silver slick skin. Walnut shell.

Its whisper is deep water, ocean surf, waterfall, tide. River. Fog. Cloud. Heartbeat. Sweat and skin and blood. Water in and through me. Of me.

I am rain.

I am nothing.

Everything.


Sherri


"Human beings were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another."
— Tom Robbins (Another Roadside Attraction)


30 May 2010

solitude

A few weeks ago, I spent some time at the Oregon Extension in Lincoln, Oregon. It gave me some space to focus solely on my writing, specifically on the Wildish Boys novel. Funny how it was just a few weeks ago and it already feels like months. That brief moment of stillness came and went, quickly followed by the excitement of the reading at the Press Club, travel arrangements for my darling husband, and a flurry of graduation preparations for my daughter from the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics and my brother, a new PhD graduate from the University of Washington.

Lincoln is a place given to the study of spiritual matters and contemplative retreats. It is a place where men are hand-milling the wood for the building of the new chapel in the meadow across from the bunkhouse, near where I saw grazing deer.

My own spiritual center is nurtured in solitude. It glistened with the rainwater on the leaves of the fir tree in the morning. Spread out thick and rough with the bark of the Ponderosa pines. Paused with the attention of a black-tailed deer. Reflected in the gray-white clouds from the slick surface of the millpond, cut through with the vees of the swimming Canadian geese.

I can reach back and touch that quiet from Lincoln. It opens like the winter memory of cherry blossoms. As restorative as the recall of a child's birth. Sacred as love. I carry it with me, writing forward.

Grateful.

Sherri


Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

25 May 2010

shout out!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the reading at the Press Club. It was a really great experience for me, and I was honored to be included with my fellow writers, Joanna Rose and Scott Sparling. They both read pieces that were engaging, unique and full of real life.

Reading from the podium was a bit nerve-wracking. Had to keep pulling my breath from deep, like the monks taught in meditation. That seemed to work. Kept me from feeling like I was drowning. Had my game-face, my story-telling voice and my favorite boots. On.

Once I started, I didn't look up so that I wouldn't lose my place (that was the nightmare from the night before, along with the one where I turn the page and it's blank, and so is the next one, and the next...). 

Keep pace. Keep breathing. Don't rush or your tongue twists up. Read my story.

It's a far cry from my 9-year old self. Dyslexic. Displaced, this time into a whole new country called the United States. With a severe lisp that landed me in special education for a few years. (You can still hear it, soft, but still there.)

It's even further from some dark places where I ended up in later years. Spiraled down and dragged along the bottom for far too long. Or perhaps just long enough.

The victory for me last night was just to be there. Bonus points for the positive response to the Wildish Boys.

A big shout out to the Mountain Writers Series. They continue to sponsor readings every third Wednesday of the month at the Press Club. Check their website for the list of events, including the upcoming conference: www.mountainwriters.org.

Another to the Pinewood Table Writing workshop. That's the fancy name for Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose, both amazing writers and poets, mentors and teachers. Both my friends.

I remain grateful. And amazed.

Sherri

"Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can."
 - Annie Dillard

17 May 2010

simmer

Sometimes in the middle of the night, I wake up and realize the answer to a stuck point. It's the solution to some twist in the story, or blank spot in the plot or one of the characters.

It always feels odd, but I shouldn't be so surprised. It's happened that way for years. When I am doing heavy programming (in my alternate work-life), the midnight epiphany is sometimes the untangling of code or direction of structure. Graphic designs have come to me in the night, a vision of layout or branding.

Occasionally it is so amazing, I have gotten up out of bed and headed to the home office for immediate implementation. Other times, I write it down on some scrap of paper or bookmark. On the headboard, there is a collection of torn-out corners of notebooks, sticky-notes, and magazine pull-outs, each with some middle-of-the-night scribble. Even my cell phone has a set of digital night-notes.

Granted, it's not always the greatest of thoughts or the be-all-end-all answer. Some of my notes make absolutely no sense the next morning. Like this one:

"Anticipation is the 32nd Flavor."

No clue.

The process is what I latch onto. Like simmering a good sauce, distillation of the thought jumble. My brain turns it around and over while I grocery shop, drive to the kids' school and back and forth and back, cook dinner, water my garden. Sleep.

I become our own best fortune teller. Holding my questions forward, the answer manifests. Whether it is in the night, on the elliptical at the gym, or smack in the middle of some really horrific draft of writing.

It's a good day when I get to participate in the process. In those terms, I've certainly been gifted with a lot of good days. I remain grateful.

Sherri

10 May 2010

not so big

My extremely fabulous friend Mary Milstead spent time with me yesterday, on Mother's Day no less, to help me work on a chapter in my novel. We started out sitting on her front steps in the sun until it got far too bright and hot for May. Then we moved to the backyard, dubbed Little Italy for the fig tree and the big wooden table that was built by the neighbor, Mike Suri (of Suri Iron, and my daughter's metal sculpture mentor).

I am so grateful for Mary and the community of writers of which I find myself a part. I came here 15 years ago and at the time knew only one person in all the the Portland/Vancouver area, and he has since moved away (Love you, Max!). And yet I am blessed to be surrounded now by so many dear friends and colleagues, some of them talented writers, musicians and artists, many of them wonderful spouses or partners or parents, some with bevies of busy children, or skilled professionals completely willing to share their time and craft. There is a vibrant culture of cooperation and collective well-being in this area, and I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for having landed in this place when I did. I was so broken when I got here, and in large part, the community that embraced me has also helped heal me.

In a job interview last week, one of the questions was: how did you hear about this job? And why did you apply?

"Well, one of my friends, Jen Kilcoyne, a really amazing graphic designer, knew I was looking for work, since all of my friends knew I had been laid off, and she sent me an email forwarded to her from one of the businesses in the building where her office is located saying that another business that was doing really well and had recently moved to a new location had an open position. I met Jen some years ago through a programming friend, Eric Miller from Squishymedia, with whom I worked on a complex back-end-front-end website project, and he introduced me when I needed a designer to do a company rebrand. A year later, I worked with Jen on another really cool project where I worked with a super great team of programmers and designers (we should do Happy Hour again sometime, guys), after which I moved to another company when another friend called to say they had the perfect job for me, which it was until it wasn't, which left me unemployed, so I applied here because this looks like a great opportunity."

Or the short version:

"A friend forwarded me the job announcement, and since my previous contract was not renewed, I have been looking for a job just like this."

Tomorrow I meet with Joanna Rose, from The Pinewood Table Writers (I think the actual table that inspires the name is hers) to prepare for our reading at The Press Club. Then to the local university to check out their program. Then good coffee with one of my former supervisors to talk shop and compare life stories.

But first, I have an appointment with my trainer at the local gym, where she is still mad at me because my previous employer is responsible for the installation of the billboard near her apartment complex that features a mega, super-sized photo of her ex-boyfriend. With lights, so she can see it at night. Yup, that's it at the top. (sigh)

The world is not such a big place.

Sherri

07 May 2010

reading at the Press Club

Pinewood Table Writers are reading at The Press Club
Monday, May 24
7:30 - 9 pm


Joanna Rose, reading from her new novel, Ruby's Roadhouse.
Scott Sparling, reading from his new novel, Wire to Wire.
Sherri H. Hoffman, reading from her new novel, The Wildish Boys.

The Press Club
2621 Southeast Clinton Street
Portland, OR 97202

*Update: Hosted by the Mountain Writers Series. Suggested donation at the door: $5. Visit their website for more information, or download the event flyer (note: the flyer has a 7:00 pm start time, but the correct time is 7:30 pm)

Follow Scott on Twitter: @sparling
Follow the Press Club on Facebook
Follow the Mountain Writers at www.mountainwriters.org

Very exciting! Look forward to seeing you there.

Sherri

02 May 2010

anticipation

A pair of finches is working really hard to make a nest in the hanging bowl of jasmine on the front porch. They both flew out of there, incensed and squeaking, when I watered this morning. Is it the same pair that battled for that spot last year?

The robins are back, same as every year, to the nests in the arbor, and there's a red-cheeked flicker on top of the suet feeder, practicing his shrill scree for the annual mating performance from the chimney cap on our roof. The tulips are almost gone, but the columbine is up and the oak trees are filling in green and thick. In the garden, violets are everywhere. The first daisy is about to bloom.

It is an awkward juxtaposition of familiar cycles and my own unknown path. I am out of work but not without options. My daily schedule fills with writing and tasks, meetings with friends and people, job possibilities and networking. Time goes both fast and slow.

Another turning point, to be sure. Anticipation feels just like being in trouble. I stir the wet garden dirt with my fingers to hold me in this moment.

By this time next year, there may be finches in the planter again. There will be these same spring days of hard rain and sun breaks, columbine and daisies in the garden.

Perhaps exactly like today.

Sherri

"There's no normal life, Wyatt. There's just life."
 - Virgil Earp (Sam Elliott), Tombstone, 1993.



16 April 2010

smack

I have re-written the last chapter three times in the last couple of weeks. Not well. Just re-written. Most of what I wrote today and yesterday is what I call "smack." 99.9% of it will be the pieces left on the floor after the final cut. It's the stuff generated during a spin-cycle. Writer's block. Call it what you will.

In theory, the act itself is supposed to be helpful, like working a muscle during the off-season. Writing my way off the fabled plateau that my trainer at the gym is also strategizing to break me out of. In light of her recent workout plan that has left me limping with sore hamstrings, perhaps I need some new interval writing workout. Some kind of power program that launches the chapter into the next level.

I feel a sudden need for some leg-warmers.

Sherri

28 March 2010

sacred objects

Yesterday I attended the launch party at St. Johns Booksellers for Dixon Ticonderoga, a new zine issued by Stevan Allred. At the party, some beautiful pieces were read, some fabulous haiku (the one by Harold Johnson was my favorite) and, of course, cake in the shape of a pencil. It was a personal journey for Stevan, and I respect and admire him for the courage it took to take this project through from creative thought to final launch.

Then I zoomed home from St. Johns, picked up my family, and we were privileged to attend the opening of the e-merge 2010 art exhibit at the Bullseye Gallery. Fellow writer and artist Greg Bell had a piece accepted into this prestigious show. All of the pieces were some kind of glass-work, of which I know nothing. My lack of knowledge of process allowed me to view each piece simply for its beauty, delicacy, and astounding visual impact. They were all stunning pieces. I was quite amazed by the iterations of form. Greg's piece was beautiful and, for me, evoked a thoughtful, timeless leap into what could be the origins of the universe.

Pretty heady stuff, the stimulation of words and art. I am moved by what opens up in response. We connect instinctively to those objects around us, even the most mundane items of our daily lives. It is why we buy souvenirs at the London Underground gift shop, keep the pens from the Hilton at the Walt Disney World Resort, save the photos of our last visit to the coast, and still have a cardboard box in the attic full of papers, trinkets and beer bottle caps from when we were in college.

I heard the term "sacred objects" from Stevan and Joanna Rose during a writing session at the Pinewood Table, but the theory is not new. Raymond Carver wrote about it in his essay "On Writing" (Fires, pg 15):

"It's possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman's earring—with immense, even startling power."

The secret, if that's what it could be called, is that the objects themselves are not what moves us; it is our own human context to which we respond. John Gardner wrote, "Fiction seeks out truth." (The Art of Fiction, pg 79) We respond to those great human truths that are the basis of all of human emotions as they filter down and are applied to our own experiences.

The glass Radio Flyer in the art exhibition touched my memory of the day I came home from the hospital with my second daughter and gifted my oldest, then two and a half years old, with her own red wagon to go along with her new baby sister. My emotional response was emphasized by the fact that both of these daughters stood with me at the gallery, grown now and in their early 20s, beautiful, unique, intelligent and creative. It was a sweeping feeling of joy and pride—deep emotions evoked by this single object of art.

John Gardner goes on (pg 80):

"Restating old truths and adapting them to the age, applying them in ways they were never before applied, stirring up emotion by the inherent power of narrative, visual image, or music, artists crack the door to the morally necessary future. The age-old idea of human dignity comes to apply even to the indigent, even to slaves, even to immigrants, now recently even to women."

(I laugh at this quote every time I read it because of the last phrase—but that is another tangent of thought.)

The objects that recur in my own writing are often simple—coffee cup, ring, candle, rolling pin—or those thrilling one-time discoveries of the unusual or unexpected that then become endowed with the power of the moment—rabbit's foot, found arrowhead, hand-tied marabou jig, or a single 9mm bullet scarred along the cap. What life-changing moments are attached to each of these sacred objects? To clarify the truths connected to those moments is the ongoing challenge.

I write forward with purpose, having worked through Gardner's exercise suggestions to the final one that is the last line of The Art of Fiction:

30. Write a fabulous story using anything you need.

Sherri

22 March 2010

echoes

Lately there is a recurrent theme in my private circles about childhood and those places we came from. Coincidentally, in this month's Smithsonian magazine, Joyce Carol Oates wrote a beautiful piece about her home: Joyce Carol Oates Goes Home Again.

I have made previous reference to my own childhood as nomadic; my father served in the USAF and moved us at least once every year of my life until I was 13 when we landed in southern Idaho. It proved to be the longest stretch of time in my life up to that point in which I lived in one area. I attended both Shelley Jr. and Shelley Sr. High School and graduated in 1983.

Those years were often inglorious for me, but to be fair, they were not without light. Dickens's two cities had nothing on Shelley, Idaho. In the midst of turmoil and what would prove to be far-reaching developments, I also had some solid and joyful moments.

Most of the goodness in my memories comes from the kindness of people in my life: friends, teachers, coaches, piano and guitar instructors, sheepherders and horse handlers. And from the wind-swept, sun-warmed, rolling landscape of the foothills of the Rockies. On a clear day, the pristine tips of the Grand Tetons might peek over the hills to the east. To the west, the snub-nose of a cinder cone was the marker by which I gauged the setting sun's seasonal movement along the horizon. I spent many evenings in the back of my parents' house perched on the top bale of the haystack or up on the metal roof of the horse barn, hoping for the sun to land right in the center of the scooped out crater.

In the best of my dreams now, peace manifests as one of the frequent rides on horseback down the long country roads or across the freshly turned up wheat or potato fields, my gold and white dog, Topper, loping alongside.

Those memories still move me. Continue to inspire. Inform a foundation that sustains my beliefs of family, faith and, perhaps more significantly, love. Much of the character development in my writing reaches back and taps into those times, those people and the dynamics that swirled around my life.

If one writes what one knows, it is inevitable that the extension of place should touch each story. People I know, places and unfortunate ghosts reflect in my characters: Sandra and Howdy, Thad, Maverick and Sebastian, Wilson Taylor, Jack Melvin, Vincent, and the Wildish boys. None of these would exist without the people whose paths my own has crossed and perhaps re-crossed, for better or worse.

I am better for it all.

Sherri


"I have sometimes sat alone here of an evening, listening, until I have made the echoes out to be the echoes of all the footsteps that are coming by and by into our lives."
~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

15 March 2010

3.14: pi day

π = C/d

Pi is an equation I learned somewhere along the mathematical education path long before grumpy old Mr. Collier in 8th Grade pre-algebra. Long before Mr. Mortensen's geometry class at Shelley High School. Its formula is burned into my brain, but in the last 20-ish years that I can think of, I haven't had to use it for anything. At least not directly.

There's all kinds of theory proven and otherwise about right-side and left-side brain activities. Do math-minded people write better novels? Do musicians program better software systems? If I make an amazing huckleberry pie, am I also disposed to write beautiful poetry?

The text for my Art 202: Drawing class at Weber State University was "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." The book remains one of my favorites to this day. Its theory is to engage the brain with a new perspective that opens up the ability to draw at a deeper state of creativity, even a subconscious level. I recommend it to every writer, poet, artist and math geek.

Because in the end, everything we do is all about perspective and the engagement of thought. Whether we are writing novels, designing bridges, practicing medicine or baking pies.

I baked two pies today. One blackberry and one huckleberry. In celebration of Pi Day.

3.14. Celebrate infinitely.

Sherri

07 March 2010

writing rules

Elmore Leonard compiled his writing experience and wrote a list of rules for writers. His 2001 article in the NY Times: WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.

Inspired by Leonard's list, The Guardian recently collected writing rules from Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy, Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson: Ten rules for writing fiction.

I love these. I love how conflicted the lists are. I love "Hooptedoodle." While I can't speak at the celebrity-level success as these authors, I do write. Here's some things I know. Also conflicted.

1. Write every day. I would love to have a special, established, sacred time in which I get to write, but I don't. That is the nature of my current reality. So I write whenever and wherever I can. Even if it is a single line that shakes out of my head while I am going to work and I have to write it on the back of a grocery receipt while driving down the freeway, although not advised due to some of the traffic implications. My writing brain does not stop just because I have to buy a gallon of milk or do a load of laundry. Honor that.

2. Capture those brilliant epiphanies in the moment. No matter what it is. If I wake up in the middle of the night with some amazing turn of phrase, I make myself get up and write it down right then so that I can read it in the morning and usually discard it for the rubbish that it is. Otherwise, it is gone from my head by morning, and I am left with a nostalgic fragment of memory that I had The Perfect Line. The glory of those moments of brilliance is generally "hooptedoodle," but the regret of not writing them down is real, and the process is far more important - it keeps me engaged.

3. Muses are overrated. Vodka was my Muse for a very long time. Although my writing from those vodka-years was mostly drivel, it was necessary. In retrospect, I probably could have written loads of drivel without the vodka, but that is not my reality. After a ten-year dry spell without either vodka or writing, I discovered that writing doesn't need a muse as much as it needs a sustained, consistent, daily practice.

4. Discover what process works for you and then keep doing that. My brain works faster than my fingers and eyes. It always has. They have real names for this now: ADD, OCD, neurosis, etc. I lack a formal diagnosis. But more than 25 years ago, my math teacher sat me down in front of an Apple computer (DOS), instructed me to write, and turned off the screen. When I just need to get what is in my head out, I turn off the screen and type. Or close my eyes. The trick is two-fold: don't stop until it's all out; and for god's sake, keep your fingers on the home keys.

5. Get everything down at least once. I always write more than what ends out in a finished piece. Better to write it all, and then cut the crap. Some of the crap will end up in something else. Some of it, thankfully, will never surface again. It's all part of the process.

6. Every pre-conceived ending always changes. I just expect it now.

7. Read every day. Novels, biographies, non-fiction, articles, blogs, newspapers, magazines, billboards, websites, backs of cereal boxes. I need language in all forms if I ever expect to be able to write it.

8. The greatest source of authentic dialogue is real people. I hang out in coffee shops, markets, business meetings, parties, hallways, city streets - anywhere there are people talking to each other - and listen. Then I write it down. Word for word if I can. I have not found any better published source for teaching real dialogue.

9. All input has value. A renowned national poet laureate evaluated one of my early pieces (from the vodka-muse years) in a university class I was taking at the time, and his written comments included a suggestion that I choose a different art form. After the sting had worn off, I was able to find helpful direction in his comments. If I am unafraid to look at it, both the negative and the positive input, I always learn something. For the record, I took up drawing and am an adequate artist to this day.

10. You can't make up better stuff than real life. For all the hair-brained, elaborate, whimsical, imaginary stories that flit through my head, the best ones for me are about real life. My absolute favorite rejection letter came from an East coast magazine declining my story, "Doing Time in the Real World" that said, "...while the writing was genuine, the material itself seemed unbelievable." The story, later published online by the Noneuclidean Cafe, is based on my several years of employment in the child welfare system as an Outreach worker, and my own early poverty-stricken years as a college student living in a trailer court with two small babies. All the facts are real, even if they are not exactly mine or not factually in order. Among other things, I did find a fly wrapped up in a package of meat, and there was a horribly embarrassing scene at the grocery afterward. Once I did burn my bangs right off with a lighter. And I was miserably grateful for government cheese back in those early years. I don't actually think you can do better than reality when it comes to a good story.

So there they are. Not so much rules, as just my experience.

Sherri

01 March 2010

we are not so big

A man of great compassion and teaching called Sam Dunlap officiated the ceremony of my wedding more than twelve years ago. And while I cannot quote him exactly, as he offered up prayers to the Four Directions, he said of us humans, "We are so small and weak."

And we are.

12 January 2010. Léogâne, Haiti. Earthquake magnitude 7.0. Currently 230,000 confirmed dead.

27 February 2010. Off the coast near Concepcion, Chile. Earthquake magnitude 8.8 on the Richter scale. Damage is still being assessed.

28 February 2010. 7000 miles away from Chile, in Hilo Bay, Hawaii. The waters of the bay ebbed and flowed in 20-minute cycles to the depth change of about one meter. All the water in the entire bay.

Each of these events has been widely broadcast. Yesterday, I watched a live feed from Hilo on the internet. All Pacific islands were on tsunami alert, as far away as Japan and the Aleutian Islands. The wave did hit, but thankfully caused less damage than was expected.

For all our human accomplishments, the world in which we are but Guest is a big place. We tap into the very smallest fringe of its enormity when we launch rockets into space, erect towering skyscrapers, transmit the Olympic Games from Vancouver, B.C. Canada.

The earth below us shifts in what must be a relatively minute way in the greater Universe, and Haiti crumbles. Chile collapses. All the water in Hilo Bay rises and falls. Over and again.

In keeping with the rules of Universal Paradox, as small as we are, we remain a part of the greater whole. Understanding what that means is reached through the practice of compassion. Meditation. In the extension of service to others.

My wedding ceremony more than twelve years ago was held in a meadow at the foot of Mount Adams. Before our families, friends, and the Universe itself, my husband and I spoke vows of love and commitment to each other and to our children. To All that is Sacred and Greater than Us All.

Because it is an honor, and also a great responsibility, to have the opportunity to carry love with us on our journey through this big universe.

Sherri

"For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love."
~ Carl Sagan

21 February 2010

touchstones

In times of change, I reach back for those most familiar, my touchstones to old foundation.  

Meus terra firma.

(*groan* my readers say. she's going to quote Joyce or Tolstoy or Yeats. some classic favorite she's mad about.)

Perhaps near the end. But here, near the beginning, I give honor to the name returned to me three times yesterday: Seth Godin. His blog rolls into my iGoogle every morning; he was referenced in a job application I completed; and his Facebook page sent me a notice. You can't ignore that.

Seth says:

"Your most vivid fears are almost certainly not the most important ones. We pay attention to the loud and the urgent. This can lead us to ignore the important and achievable paths open to us--because we're so busy defending against the overwhelmingly dangerous (but unlikely) outcomes instead." (Seth Godin's Blog, Feb. 21, 2010)

Life happens. Jobs change. People change or go away. Or come back. Medical procedures happen. Grief happens. I ride out the sorrow, fear, joy and hope, as tossed as the crab fishing boats on a stormy Bering Sea. I can only hope to be half as graceful as the mighty Hillstrands or the late Capt. Phil Harris.

Early this morning when the light was still pre-dawn out my window, the words of George Webber came to me, through unsettling dreams and foggy half-sleep:

from Chapter 47: Ecclesiasticus

". . .the essence of belief is doubt, the essence of reality is questioning. The essence of Time is Flow, not Fix. The essence of faith is the knowledge that all flows and that everything must change. The growing man is Man-Alive, and his 'philosophy' must grow, must flow, with him." (You Can't Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe)

In this moment, the white and yellow daisies in a glass bowl on the table were given to me in love. I can hear my youngest child awake in the other room, and I'm fairly certain there is another cuppa tea in my very nearest future.

I remain grateful.

Sherri

13 February 2010

this is called the Mystical Whole

Reading the Teh Ching today, and the chapter suddenly sounded far more familiar than from my own studies:

from Chapter 56: "He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know."

Jackie Chan's voice spoke the words in my head. It took my brain a few minutes to do a data sort, seeking the recognition (visualize the Windows turning hourglass or Mac spinning rainbow).

From The Forbidden Kingdom (2008):

Jason Tripitikas: What do we do now?
Lu Yan: How good is your Gung fu?
Jason Tripitikas: [puzzled look]
Lu Yan: He who speaks, does not Know; He who Knows, does not speak. Surely you're masterful.

One of my favorite movies. How could anyone not adore the first and only movie (so far) starring both Jackie Chan and Jet Li? I've watched it more times than I can count. First at the HD theater, Cinetopia, and lately every time I'm channel surfing and it's on HBO.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to hear Taoism from a Chinese Immortal, Jackie's character, Lu Yan. Sometimes the dots don't come together too quickly for me. Probably means my learning is not complete.

No surprise there.

Sherri

23 January 2010

real life is way too funny


Here's my latest comedic bit*:

"The economy is still pretty rough where I live. Last night I was in my car, stopped at a red light, and I got rear-ended by a licensed massage therapist. She gave me her insurance info, her card, and phone number. And 10% off."

ba-da-boom.

True story - you can't make up stuff like that.

"An attorney standing on the corner witnessed the entire thing."

da-boom.

Thanks, folks. I'm here all week.

Sherri

*Inspired by my sister-in-law's husband, comedian Justin Worsham. He is a funny guy. Check out his website at www.justinworsham.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/justincomedy.

08 January 2010

love equals

My parents taught me and my siblings to play tennis mostly by demonstration. We would all go to the courts, and they would play. The four (or six) of us would spread out on the adjoining court and throw tennis balls at each other over the net. Flail our rackets around. Lay on the side in the grass. Push the babies fast in the stroller. I can't put a clear finger on how old I was. It just seems like a regular ritual during my childhood.

We got better. Relatively. Anything was better once we started making intentional contact, racket and ball. From the front.

Sometimes we made up our own scoring system, similar to ping pong. Or basketball. Both seemed more logical. What does "Love" equal? Really? I always thought that someone must have got it backwards, that it should be the culminating score of the winner.

The best games were later when I was in high school. Those were hard years. I was always in a lot of trouble it seemed. With my family. Teachers. Coaches. Sibs. But every so often, a couple of my friends - Linda, Barb or Brett - would rescue me from myself, even for the briefest moment. We would drive fast out of Shelley, west towards I-15 to a park on the east bank, inside curl of the Snake River. (Searle Park - was that its name? Or is that just what we called it?) To play tennis.

We were such rebels. Perhaps. Or maybe we were just a bunch of kids being kids. Those were good times. We played, scored Love-to-Win, argued line-checks and serving faults, form, rackets. Then sat around in the grass or leaned up on the car to talk about life. School. Parents. The Future. We might have smoked a cigarette. Or drank a Pepsi or a Mountain Dew from a glass bottle.

Given some genie-wish opportunity, I wouldn't re-live those angst-filled, chaotic years for any price. But I remain grateful for those softer memories of tennis. Family. And good friends.

Sherri

03 January 2010

under my feet


My mother was surprised this holiday season to get a greeting from an old friend with whom she had lost contact over the years, another military wife like herself from years ago when my father was serving in the USAF, and we were stationed in Japan. My mother called last night, excited to tell me about her found-friend.

Even though I was young, I remember many of those same places and people as my mother. Our perspectives are different, and often the only reason I remember certain families is because I remember their children, older or younger than me.

I have six brothers and sisters, but there were only four of us when we lived in Japan, one born there, so she was just a baby. Many of my memories are visual - the smooth wood floors of our home in Kokobunji with its sunroom and beautiful garden, the red girders of the Tokyo Tower and the gray water and enormous ships in Tokyo Bay, deep square baths tiled with little square tiles, the white and red bullet trains, Pocky sticks, markets and open-front stores, and the standard school uniforms of white shirts and dark skirts or shorts and knee-high socks. I loved school, and I loved cartoons. My heroes were the Samurai and the super-hero warriors prevalent in the local culture. I also loved the reassuring snow-white peak of Mt. Fuji that I could see from my bedroom window.

We were transferred around in Japan. We lived off-base, then on. I learned to ride a bicycle when we lived in the military housing with The Big Tree - a set of three two-story apartment buildings arranged in a horseshoe. In the center of the open yard grew a single, enormous tree, a pine or fir of some kind. All of us little girls and perhaps some of the boys were so impressed and enamored by the teenage Gunnell boys who could climb The Big Tree. Evenings we would sit out on the apartment stoop as it got dark to see if a game would start up of "No Bears Are Out Tonight" and to see how long we could stay out before our mother would insist we come in. My parents were connected to a tight-knit group of other military families in their church as well, and I remember it was a very nurturing and supportive community within the larger whole of the Japanese culture. I did not at first know what my father did for a living; I assumed that he was one of the armed military personnel like the security guards who saluted us in and out of the bases.

By the time we came back to the states, that community life was all I knew, and re-entering the U.S. was a culture shock in all its glory. My early context was completely different from that of my peers - of geography, language, social structure, TV characters and superheroes. I had grown up as a minority in a vivid, ancient culture of respect and ritual. Our beautiful and quiet nanny/housekeeper had assured me, "Buddha love you same as Jesus," and my sense of the world had been broadened by the miles of travel and the wonders we had seen: Hiroshima, Shinto shrines, peaceful gardens, small villages, the Cherry Blossom festival, Kyoto, fishermen throwing their nets in the ocean, rice paddies, the pink and blue fish kites of Boys' and Girls' Day. I loved the elaborate silks of the kimonos, the white swans in the moat around the dark stone walls of the Imperial Palace, and old stone and wooden pillars of the Buddhist temple. I had danced the Obon with my mother and sister to celebrate our ancestors and couldn't begin to find the words to explain to my new American schoolmates what that even meant.

To make my social integration more difficult, I had a severe lisp and, to my shame, was put in a special education class for language and reading. The little square flash-cards of vowels kept in my childhood scrapbook still evoke a twinge of pain, although it feels more like sorrow today.

My father served his final year at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Wash. Afterwards, he moved us to Bakersfield, California. Then Tustin. Then Idaho, Utah, and back to Idaho. Along the way, I gained three more siblings, several dogs, a horse, a guitar, and a reinforced sense of nomadic detachment. Over the years, it would manifest regularly as a light flutter that would kick around inside my stomach, telling me it was time to move on. In 1984, my parents settled in Utah, and I continued to move, ungracefully, through my life and to different places and spaces until I landed in the Pacific Northwest in 1995.

So much happened that year, good and bad, change and more change. I moved nine times in the next 12 months. But the spiral of journey had turned inward, and I moved one final time and have since remained in the same place for ten years, content for the time being.

I remain grateful for those years during my formative childhood. They continue to influence my life for good today. Perhaps it is, finally, something else our Japanese nanny told me so many years ago when I was young and full of questions.

She said, "Answer under your feet."

Sherri