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2012 Readings & Workshops

March 21: Berkeley, 4:00-6:00 pm: Ashby Village reading and book talk, Jewish Family and Children's Services, Suse Moyal Center, 2484 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

May 10: Oakland, 3:30-5:00 pm: "Conversations at AgeSong," The Terrace Room, 1800 Madison, Oakland

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Next Best Thing

My friend Judy Reeves, who bills herself as a writer, teacher, and writing practice provocateur, has tagged me for the Next Best Thing—a project in which writers answer questions about their latest work, and then tag a few more writers who do the same, and so on. I'll be getting to the questions soon, but in the meantime, a few words about Judy.

I met her through my brother, who lives in Barcelona. Funny how you sometimes have to go far away to meet people who live nearby. Judy is the author of A Writers Book of Days (among other books). Culling knowledge from the hundreds of writing workshops Judy has taught, A Writers Book of Days suggests a writing prompt for every day of the year. Good prompts, too, ones that dig deep. It's a great teaching tool, as well as a way for writers to get started, shake things up, or go where they never intended.

Judy is also the co-founder and former Executive Director of the nonprofit literary center San Diego Writers, Ink. I've had the chance to both read and teach there. It's a great space and a great group of writers. The Center offers workshops, readings, writing groups, space for community writing, and a lot of special events.

I've already lined up the writers I'm going to tag for my Next Best Thing post. Now all I have to do is answer the questions myself. Until then, check out Judy's answers to the questions about her new novel, All That Isn't Singing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Interview with Sally Gelardin for AgeSong Today.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Welcome Spring (and her rats)

Spring Warren, author of The Quarter Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year and Turpentine, has graciously agreed to guest blog this week. At our very first meeting, Spring and I discovered that we share a deep and abiding interest in rats, and since then we haven't been able to get off the subject. No topic, even books, has proven to be as fascinating and all-consuming. We can't seem to stop exchanging stories. Spring has really outdone herself this time. She has even included some very moving photography, guaranteed to blow your mind.

Urban farmers, gourmet cooks, animal lovers, and rat connoisseurs—do yourself a favor and check out her website. Here's a description of her book:

The Quarter-Acre Farm is Warren’s account of deciding—despite all resistance—to take control of her family’s food choices, get her hands dirty, and create a garden in her suburban yard. It’s a story of bugs, worms, rot, and failure; of learning, replanting, harvesting, and eating. The road is long and riddled with mistakes, but by the end of her yearlong experiment, Warren’s sons and husband have become her biggest fans—in fact, they’re even eager to help harvest (and eat) the beautiful bounty she brings in.

Full of tips and recipes to help anyone interested in growing and preparing at least a small part of their diet at home,
The Quarter-Acre Farm is a warm, witty tale about family, food, and the incredible gratification that accompanies self-sufficiency.

And here, without further ado, is Spring's account of the kinds of miracles, moral dilemmas, and moments of grace that happen every day in the garden:

When Leslie offered me the position of guest blogger on her blog, I knew what I should blog about. Leslie and I have a shared relationship to, if not interest in, rats.

Unfortunately, I’d shared all my rat stories with her already.

But here on the Quarter Acre Farm, the town lot on which I live and grow most of my own food, it seems that one is never finished with rats. First of all the Quarter Acre Farm is in California, where rat living is easy. Second, we have chickens, duck, and geese, and all of these creatures eat food that rats love. (Come to think of it -all creatures eat food that rats love.) Still, my husband puts out such a largess of birdseed, and fortified fowl food in nice little bowls so that the intended diners never manage finish it all up and so provides the rats with a welcome that apparently makes the rats feel unequivocally at home.

Luckily the cats do pretty well as an antidote for that welcome, and their ferocity keeps the rats from staying too long at chez Warren. We’ve had quite a few months of rat-free living lately - making me think the chicken coop down the street must provide even more chicken chow with even fewer cats than we have here.

Then again, maybe not.

Fixing up a new and improved rain shelter for the chickens, I moved a cinderblock to one side, tipping it over and disgorging a mass of leaves, fiber - and what appeared to be wriggling pink thumbs, into the dirt.

I can bet most of you said “Ewww!” as you guessed the thumbs were rat infants. I might have howled “ewww” myself except for the hens converging on the tiny rats. Any thought of an easy dispatch via chicken posse was too grisly to contemplate. I love my hens, but I’d been pecked by their rapier beaks myself and I couldn’t allow such a painful end to the wriggling pink babies.

I swept down and plucked the four rat pups out of the dirt to keep them from the ravening hens and waited for disgust to wash over me. But the little animals were warm and dry, and so cunningly miniature! The rat babies waved their pinhead paws, tails curled like a basenjii’s, and looked practically adorable. They smelled just like all babies seem to smell – a mix of milky sweet and somewhat sawdusty. Their skin was pink as bubblegum, and so fine I could see their dark eyes through their eyelids and the milk plumping their bellies. The siblings had obviously just enjoyed their afternoon meal, snuggled against their mama, warm, happy; I supposed they’d all been dozing happily when big monster me bumbled into their world and kicked over their concrete bunker that must have moments before seemed ideal- so safe and strong and situated handily besides the best restaurant in town.

As I stared down at them it seemed they looked somewhat familiar to me. I looked at them again with a measure of shock, as I realized what they reminded me of were the images in the first ultrasound photographs of human babies that newly pregnant couples seem to like to hang on the refrigerator.

So – what could I do? Any thought I might have had of dispatching the critters was now unthinkable. So I relocated the cinderblock two feet to the north, returned the stuffing to the western hole, wrapped the babies in a piece of terrycloth and put them back where they belonged - with a stern talking to.

“Just because the living is easy here, doesn’t mean it’s safe. We’ve got cats and hens and I’ve got a husband who isn’t above using rat traps. This is your moment of grace. Grow up here if necessary, but then head out to the ag fields, or even to the rental house just to the beyond the fence. Those students have parties four days a week, you can gorge on Fritos and beer and likely get stoned just by breathing. But don’t stay here. Spread the word.”

And so the rats got a reprieve. And I got a story and the chance to hold rat babies in hand and recognize how alike all us animals really are. And hopefully, our neighborhood party house got some new residents.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reading at Mrs. Dalloway's

If you're in the Bay Area and feel inclined, please stop by Mrs. Dalloway's Books on Thursday, March 10, @ 7:30, where I'll be reading from the newly-released paperback edition of Breaking Out of Bedlam.

Mrs. Dalloway's is a great independent bookstore that's even better since its expansion last year. Staff knows its stuff, shelves are well stocked, caf├ęs and restaurants steps away.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Breaking Out of Bedlam Goes Paperback!

The paperback edition of Breaking Out of Bedlam will be in bookstores tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Literatty Discourse

I recently read from Breaking Out of Bedlam at a benefit for Hedgebrook, where I met Spring Warren, author of Turpentine and The Quarter Acre Farm. I could go on and on about her books, her blog, her farm, and her food, but why not just check it out for yourself at her website?

The email she sent me after the reading spawned a rapid-fire exchange about some of our favorite topics. Turns out we have a lot in common, in particular an avid interest in rats. In case you'd like to eavesdrop on our high-falutin literary discussion, I include a portion of it below.

The stunning illustration above, by the way, is from the sketchbook Spring kept during her recent visit to Rome. It's called a Pharaoh's mouse, but it looks like a rat to me.

SPRING Warren wrote:

Hello, Leslie!

It was a pleasure to meet you the other night. I was sorry we didn't get to talk more. As is usual at big noisy crowded events I feel a little like a marble in a pinball machine, just madly beeping and bumping - then agonizing after I spin down the hole that I didn't bump and beep at the right people at the right time in just the right way.

Good writing!


Leslie Larson wrote:

Hi, Spring.

I just had a look at your website. Had I known you were so knowledgeable in the agriculture world, I would have been dogging your steps all Thursday night. I'm an avid back yard farmer. How'd you learn all that stuff?

All best,


SPRING Warren wrote:

Avid backyard farmer? How was it we didn't sit down and talk manure? We will definitely have to get together and share tomato stories or some such thing.



Leslie Larson wrote:

Tomatoes are a sore subject right now. I have a treasure trove of rat stories—indoors, outdoors, you name it. I live in South Berkeley if you ever make it to this corner of the world.

SPRING Warren wrote:

Omigosh, rats! I was walking by the hot tub about 2 hours ago and heard gnaw crunch smacking noises. I upended the step that covers the motor housing and they shot out in all directions. I felt a little bad because they'd made such a nice place there, lots of leaves, a shredded washcloth, orange peels, even a corner with shiny stuff (art collection, no doubt). It was a total ratspa! If I were a rat, there I would be, and now homeless, what a comedown in the world. Yes, they've been nibbling tomatoes, too. AND sweetpotatoes. Good riddance, now that I think about it, nasty vermin!

And if you get to Davis, come on by, I'll put the kettle on, we'll drink tea and hate rats.

Leslie Larson wrote:

Wow, sounds like you broke up a real Shangri-la. Your description of the place makes ME want to live there.

A few months ago, I was turning over the compost when a geyser of teenage rats erupted from the middle and ran in all directions. It's nice to know the neighbors DO come out of their houses when they hear screaming.

You know, people can't get enough rat stories. We should edit a book of anecdotes. Or a coffee table book of full color photos of rat house interiors like the one you described. RATPADS!

SPRING Warren wrote:

You are a genius - We'll be rich! Start collecting stories—and pictures of Ratpads—and by this time next year, we'll have ratspas of our own.

Leslie Larson wrote:

I've been thinking a lot about the rat book and I'm wondering if RATPADS should be a chapter rather than the subject of the whole book. Other chapters might be personal experiences with rats by famous writers (do you know Toni Morrison?), profiles of particular rats, and general background on rats—though I think we should concentrate on California rats (who have vegetarian diets and hot tubs as opposed to slimy east coast rats who live in sewers, eat garbage, and hang out with cock roaches). I was awake @ 3am this morning composing the introduction in my mind.

The book will make more money than all our novels combined!

SPRING Warren wrote:

Sure, that sounds good, and maybe a chapter on famous rats like Ben, Willard, Wormtail and the rats in that Disney chef rat movie, and how famous rats differ from basic rats (narcissism).

In research for a book I'm working on I found rats ate corpse's eyeballs and livers first in the WWI trenches. Hard to see how that could be

Leslie Larson wrote:

European rats sound even worse than New York rats.

SPRING Warren wrote:

Eurotrash rats must really be bad. Hot tub repairman came by to check out the gnawing problem on our wires and left a message on the phone later that "the wire that had ordered" and he would be replacing it in a few days.

I told him there had been rats in there, but I guess he couldn't bear to even speak the word rat. Doesn't go well with the image they sell of someone bobbing around in a hot tub with a Cosmo, apparently.

Leslie Larson wrote:

The rats must have been wearing their mouse masks when the repairman was there. Anyway, hope they lay off the wires.

SPRING Warren wrote:

There is now a rat in my attic, I kid you not, that sounds like it is the size of a beagle. It sits on the heating duct and gnaws something (please god, not the electric cables) and the reverberations through the aluminum flumes makes a sound akin to chopping wood. It might have been a mistake to evict the rats from the hot tub.

I'll end there, although rats, their pads, and their relationship to our own species provide endless stories—like the time I thought there was a pink, foot-long snake hanging out of the magazine rack next to the toilet, but it was only a rat tail!

Watch for RATPADS in bookstores or, better yet, pre-order The Quarter Acre Farm, which will hit shelves March 1.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Time To Dye

In my mother's day you dyed your hair, but now you color it. I often use the wrong term, which sends my hair stylist into a furious Rumplestiltskin-like jig. At any rate, moments ago I colored my hair and am now sitting at the keyboard waiting for it to take, as my grandmother—whose color for forty years was “Saucy Brown”—would say. With my membrane-sheathed hair plastered to the top of my head, I resemble a cross between a Cupie doll and a calf so new to the world, it hasn’t yet shed its caul.

Some day I hope to be able to stroll blithely into the world in this state—to pick lettuce in the garden or walk to the mailbox on the corner—even to chat with the teenage boys who gather in front of my house every afternoon to spit and smoke pot. But I’m not there yet. Far from it. I’m housebound for the forty minutes it takes to brown up, scuttling from room to room, ducking when I pass in front of a window, freezing if I hear someone coming up the steps.

I never thought I’d color, but when I turned forty and saw a picture of myself fresh out of the shower with a suffering look on my face and long, mousy hair, I was struck by the resemblance to paintings of Christ on the cross. Christ, only older. “Gray Jesus,” I said to my girlfriend, who promised then and there that if I decided to dye, she would always do the dying. She’s been true to her word. She even reminds me. I might be grinding coffee, checking out at Walgreens, or waiting for the train. All she has to say is, “Gray Jesus,” and I know it’s time to dye.