February 2013

My friend and mentor Priscilla Long introduced me to the abecedarium, a collage format in 26 sections, “a considerable space to contain and thankfully to restrain a large subject,” she says in her excellent manual, The Writer’s Portable Mentor. Two of Priscilla’s alphabetical essays inspired me to try my own. There are a lot of ways to look at life from A to Z, but I seized on food as the natural choice, the source of much of my writing and the ideal way to encapsulate some highlights and lowlights, from the comfort food of childhood to the haggis in Scotland.

An additional treat was to have my essay, “Leftovers on Lettuce: ABCs of a Life in Food,” published in Middlebrow Magazine, with its play on Virginia Woolf’s snooty but tongue-in-cheek essay in which she castigates “middlebrow” as “the bloodless and pernicious pest who comes between” the highbrow and the lowbrow, “the bane of all thinking and living.” The editors seek to reclaim it as a positive concept, calling Woolf’s own essays middlebrow, so I consider myself in good company on their pages.

My piece opens with an epigram from Woolf, who wrote frequently and evocatively about food. So, in homage to Virginia and with thanks to Priscilla, here’s my latest.

I sometimes say that I don’t like to write from prompts–I’m a slow starter, & brilliance doesn’t flow at the drop of a hat or a word. I need to mull it over, let it steep. And yet. And yet, a number of my successful essays have come from prompts, especially the ones from Judy Reeves’ Saturday retreats. Back in the summer of 2011 a theme was food, one of my favorite topics in life and in writing. My notebook section from that day is marked with a red-stamped strawberry. At one point during the day Judy distributed some paeans to food from Pablo Neruda’s brilliant Odes to Common Things. We read them aloud–I remember bread and tomatoes, onions and artichokes. When we finished, Judy said, “Now write your own.”

Last summer I sifted through my old writing notebooks, where I sometimes find hidden gems, what Virginia Woolf calls “orts, scraps and fragments” that I might stitch into something new. And there was my long-forgotten “Ode to Basil.” I rewrote it in prose form–I don’t think I changed a word–and sent it to Susan Bono’s charming Tiny Lights Journal. A feature at Tiny Lights is the “Flash in the Pan,” what Susan describes as “those shining flecks of pure gold that often appear when we least expect them, when our hunger for bigger prizes is temporarily sated, when we relax and take the time to look at what’s really in our hands.”

I’m delighted to have “Ode to Basil” (linked here) in the latest “Flash in the Pan” from Tiny Lights. With thanks to Judy for stirring the pot of creativity.

Last year I had three essays published in print journals. Print, as in words on paper, volumes that I can hold in my hands, flip through their pages. And yeah, to see my own stories in print.  Unlike online journals, though, I can’t pass them on with links, and I can’t expect people to buy these somewhat obscure journals. I thought it seemly to wait before posting them here, but as this is the repository for my writing, it’s time. It’s a new year and I have more work coming out this spring, so I want to “go public” with these recent forays into my life. The titles will link you to my reprints of these works, with credit – and thanks – to the original publishers.

“Love at First Bite” is a story of love, life and sushi. It was published in City Works 2012, the journal of San Diego City College.

“My Space” pays homage to Virginia Woolf, as does much of my work. It reflects on my quest for “a room of my own.” It was published, appropriately, in the first issue of a new journal, Killing the Angel, “a literary experiment inspired by Virginia Woolf.”

“Walking in the Light” is about my love affair with opera. It was published in an Australian journal, Skive, in a special memoir issue in September 2012.