30 May 2010


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.



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.


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

17 May 2010


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.


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.


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.


02 May 2010


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.


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