A different sense of Proust (can you smell the music?)

Do you have a favorite song, or piece of music, that whisks you back to a memorable point in your life the instant you hear it? Maybe makes you cry, or remember your first love, your Grandma, or a pet you still miss?

The French writer Marcel Proust began his famous, epic-length novel series “In Search of Lost Time” (also called, in English, “In Remembrance of Things Past”), with a scene where the smell and taste of a madeleine dipped in tea creates a sudden overwhelming string of memories he can’t resist.

In his world, and I’ve read this in many articles since studying Proust, the sense of smell jolts the strongest memories, stronger than from any other of the five senses.

That may be — but for me, a strain of music can accomplish the same thing.

Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” always stops me in my tracks. As a little kid of 4 or 5, I saw it performed outdoors, complete with fireworks and cannon and chimes. And not just plain fireworks, but the kind that form real pictures as they blossom in the sky. These were of soldiers kneeling and shooting their rifles, from one side of the sky to the other.

I haven’t seen fireworks like that since I was little.

Any time I hear the “Zampa” Overture, by Héraut, I have to hop up and crank up the volume. My orchestra worked on that for months, and once we had it down, we performed it at every concert where it was an appropriate-length piece. The violins worked furiously! The tempo was wild! Toes tap intently, rapidly. Body parts move to the incessant push of it. It’s irresistible, and it was ours.

A movie that marked me as a little kid was one you’ve probably never heard of, “Miracle of the White Stallions.” During WWII, the Lippizaner stallions from the world-famous Spanish Riding School of Vienna were in danger. They had to be moved, for their safety; it was war movie, but for me, it was a horse movie. What little girl doesn’t love horses?!

And what horses they were! They danced, and pranced, and pirouetted to classical music, my first love. Throughout the movie, they played Schubert’s “Marche Militaire” (Military March), and still today, decades later, that march always whisks me back to the grand, panoramic scenes (a movie screen is enormous, when you’re five) of those impressive animals, dancing to that music.

Any time I hear Lara’s theme from the movie “Dr. Zhivago,” I see my father, sitting in his favorite stuffed flute-back chair next to the piano, reading his Sunday New York Times and listening dreamily as I played it. Each time I finished, he’d nod slowly, as if he’d just finally understood something, and say, “Play it again.”

The list is long! I have a slew of pieces that evoke instant memories, good or bad. How about you?

Go ahead — try it. Dig back. Think of a song or an instrumental piece you used to love. Where were you when you first heard it? How about the thousandth time? What need did it fill for you? Does it still?

Music can be a powerful experience. I hope you get to experience that power.


Happy Easter! Happy spring!

“In your Easter bonnet

With all the frills upon it…”

Anybody remember that song?

I miss church bells! When I moved to California, I noticed the absence. And on a day like Easter, it’s particularly noticeable.

I grew up in a European neighborhood of New York City called Jackson Heights, which has been called “the most diverse neighborhood in the country” by the NYTimes. It has always been diverse, although the demographics change.

Holidays there back then had a European character to them. Our family was from “the old country,” Poland, but on our block, every household celebrated holidays in different fashions. But whether a family was Polish, Slovak, German, Greek, eastern-European Jewish, whatever, decorations adorned doorways and windows, lights were lit, and all holidays were a noisy, wonderful, magical time. And the music of church bells played a large role in those celebrations.

Have you ever rung a church bell? One of the monstrous big ones that live high up in the belfry? You pull with all your might on the rope that’s as thick as your arm, and the whole church shudders before the vibration of the bell takes over. As the heavy bell begins to swing, you rise high up into the air, scared, holding on, wondering whether you should let go — but before you can decide, it swings back the other way and you touch the floor again…and then it begins to swing back and up you go again….

Whether you believed in the religious significance of Easter or not, the church offered enough pageantry and symbolism to make the season unforgettable. Statues, symbols, all depictions in the church were draped in purple cloth — the color of mourning — from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. No one could play music. I wasn’t allowed to play my piano!

Did you ever wonder why the Easter Rabbit delivers eggs? When’s the last time you saw a rabbit lay an egg?

In Germanic legend, the goddess Eastre / Oestre / Austra / Ostara (she had lots of different names in different places) found a wounded bird in the forest, and to save its life, she changed it into a hare (rabbit). But it retained some of its bird-like qualities, and out of gratitude, each year it laid an egg for Eastre, the goddess.

So the baskets of food that everyone took across the street to the Polish church to be blessed for Easter always contained eggs, and ham, butter, bread, some salt. Each food represented something. The old folks from the ‘old country’ all had tales of what each food represented in their village, what they called it, who used to make it, out of what, who used to prepare it and how, where the baskets came from…. But one of the casualties of WWII was that no one from ‘the old country’ wanted to be considered different, or identifiable. Everyone wanted to be American. And the old ways were lost.

So the kids — my generation — knew only that the old folks carried baskets across the street, and the priest blessed them. So much more than just cultural folklore was lost! — but that’s what happens when people move to another place.

Even seasonal Easter, or spring, is no big deal in a place like California, where I live now. Back in New York, I used to get so sick of shivering, of being unable to feel my fingers or toes, of being wet and freezing outside and dry and freezing inside! So sick of winter!

Easter there was truly symbolic, as it must have been in Europe where it began millennia ago. It was the oh-so-long-awaited warmth, the throwing off of the woolens and heavy protection against ice, snow, freezing winds.

Here, it’s all about chocolate and candy and flowers. And church, if your family still goes.

How much of Easter is religious and how much is seasonal? Or cultural?

It’s been a seasonal holiday for thousands of years. The name Easter comes from ancient cultures in the mid-east (Ishtar) and northern Europe. The symbol of the rabbit delivering eggs is from ancient Germanic peoples, before there was a country called Germany. The symbol of the egg has probably always been a symbol of re-birth and renewal, as long as there have been people, and eggs. And people have decorated, carved and colored those symbolic eggs all over Europe and the mid-east for thousands of years.

So whatever your take on this season of renewal, I hope this spring is a time of good new things for you!

Happy Easter! Happy spring!

Going abroad with (little) kids

When I was young, taking small children abroad was practically unheard-of. Nowadays, everybody and his uncle is writing about taking the tikes to Timbuktu. When mine were little, so were my best friend’s, in France. So off we went when mine were almost-4 and almost-6, just the three of us, for a few weeks in France and England to get acquainted.

The first test came even before we took off; a 5-hour delay at San Francisco Airport — announced after we were dropped off, of course. Fortunately, there’s almost nothing to climb on, in an airport, just glass walls and plastic chairs. And an endless array of luggage conveyor belts, many of which were in constant motion — as was my son.

If you’ve been to Paris, you know that the French frown on walking on the huge lawns in the parks. All that beautiful, manicured grass…unusable! Just for looking at. Unfortunately, the oldest, most climbable trees sit out in the middle of those lawns.

So any time I heard a police whistle, I’d cringe. I knew who they were shouting at. Fortunately, my French is fluent, and I’d shrug a very apologetic Gallic shrug, shake my head and say something about “Kids!” in French. They never cited us.

Version 2

Boundless physical energy drives both my kids — but their little legs were shorter than mine. So we walked mile after fascinating mile every day, until everyone was ready to fall into bed and stay there all night.

That’s really the key to traveling with kids successfully. Kids and dogs are alike in that; as the old axiom goes, ‘a tired dog is a happy dog.’ Same for kids — especially very athletic ones!

So we visited every playground we passed (and stayed until the other mothers got upset with my son’s climbing antics). We walked miles of subway tunnels and staircases.

And, of course, Alex being who he is, that is, someone who can — and must — climb everything, I have lots of stories about the unforgettable moments, the ones I’ll never be able to erase from my memory, no matter how hard I try! Someday I’ll put those all together for you to enjoy (maybe ‘enjoy’ is not quite the word!).

But we survived — and had a blast!

If you’re curious how to survive an 8-week-long trip abroad alone with little kids, send Version 2me your questions, and I’ll write about that later. I have piles of tips!


How rock climbing and conducting an orchestra are similar

Does your city have a classical music radio station? Do you ever listen to it? Do you ever wonder what “classical” really means? (Probably not what you think!)

Classical music has always been part of my life — making it, as well as listening to it. When I was a little kid, back in New York City, the first time I saw and heard a live orchestra, I dreamed of someday conducting one myself!

Not many people with that dream ever get the opportunity. So when we moved to West Sacramento and I discovered that for any cultural experiences one had to cross the river into Sacramento, I realized that was my chance of a lifetime!

I advertised everywhere I could (with no budget, but with encouragement from the West Sac government offices), and little by little, amateur musicians from all over the region came out to help form our ragtag group: the West Sacramento Community Orchestra.

Organizing and running an orchestra is a feat of endurance, a more-than-full-time job. I didn’t know it was impossible for one person to do it all — so I just did it all. I had no experience, no guidance, only a burning desire to do this.

I had watched conductors, on TV and in person, all my life.  I had a vague idea of what their job consisted of, at least in public, but not what led up to that public moment. So I set out to learn. My father-in-law had played the flute with the Sacramento Symphony, decades prior, and he helped me figure out what I needed to do, and especially, what I needed to learn.

And boy, did I learn! How to read an orchestral score (the very complex music the conductor reads as the orchestra plays). Where to seat the musicians. How many of each instrument we would need, and what to do if we didn’t have them. How to conduct them, so they could learn the music and produce an integral, symphonic (“playing together”) sound. How to promote our orchestra, advertise, solicit players, find places to practice and perform. I did the work of several people, while learning the fine art of conducting.

Oh, and let’s not forget — how to ensure that all of those musicians (artists, all!) manage to get along and play well together.

It was an overwhelming work load. The first few months passed in a blur, as I cared for two very small children, in a new house in a new neighborhood, and taught college classes in the evenings. But then, it arrived — our first concert! In public!

Our first concert venue was a community center in West Sacramento. It had a wonderfully large area in front, big enough for the whole orchestra of about 25 musicians, plus instruments. Percussion. Piano. The whole bit — a real symphonic orchestra.

And then I discovered the similarity between conducting and rock climbing.

I wasn’t a climber then. My son was four years old, my daughter six. Now, though, I can recognize the experience for what it was: fear.

Now, as a climber, I know fear, and know that I can stubborn it out, talk it down, do successful battle with it. I know that now. But then….

Then I was just a Mom, a teacher, and more recently, a conductor. But deep down, where it counts, I knew what I really was: a fraud.

And if I messed up, everyone would know it.

So I didn’t allow myself even a moment of uncertainty. I over-prepared. I over-rehearsed the musicians. I oversaw every detail — chairs, music stands, drums, piano, printed programs, cookies in the vestibule — there was no detail too small for my attention.

When I finally stepped out, smiled, bowed, and stepped up onto the podium, I knew that everything was perfect. I had learned the one, main secret of success: over-preparation. And it brought with it a feeling of satisfaction that I wasn’t prepared for.

As I smiled at my musicians — my orchestra! — and raised my baton that first time, I acknowledged — and dismissed — the wave of fear that made my hand tremble for just a moment. I knew I had the antidote to that fear. I had prepared it away. I had killed it by meeting it head-on, early, and not allowing it in.

No one that night suspected that I might not know what I was doing, that I might not have been trained for this job. They only saw me, the conductor.

I was an orchestra conductor because I believed I was.

When my son suggested that we climb Half Dome together, I felt the same fear: I’m not a real climber. I’m a fraud, not trained enough to do the route he suggested, called Snake Dike, that snakes up the shoulder of Half Dome. I didn’t belong up there, climbing at almost 9,000 feet.

But the photo of both of us standing on top of Half Dome that day hangs on my kitchen wall as proof that you can do whatever you believe you can do. Version 3


p.s. I created/founded the West Sacramento Community Orchestra in 1990, and conducted it for four years. We played in venues all over West Sacramento and in Sacramento, including Downtown Plaza. When I moved away and could no longer continue as director or conductor, the orchestra continued under a new baton. They now perform two holiday concerts each year in West Sacramento.

Surviving a 10K – How I Became a Runner

Back in another life, I used to take our large, powerful dog, a malemute (Alaskan sled dog) out for evening walks. With Juno’s long legs and body built for pulling, it quickly turned into a trot (for me), and then a run. Once I came home breathless and told my son, Alex, “I just ran a mile!”

An outrageous statement for me. I grew up in a house completely filled with cigar and cigarette smoke. Anything more energetic than sitting, and I was breathless.

His reply: “If you can do one, then you can do one and a half.” Shrug.

His logic was irrefutable.

Several evenings later, I came home and announced, “Juno and I just ran a mile and a half!”

“Cool.” Another shrug. “If you can do a mile and a half, you can do two.”

You get the rhythm.

My daughter is a runner. She’s crazy about it, and gets crazy if she can’t do it for a while. But she and her brother were in their twenties then. I wasn’t.

When I reached three miles, I started exploring on line. What did runners really do? I knew they closed down streets now and then. That was about all I knew.

Then I saw an ad for the Run to Feed the Hungry, to help the local food bank for Thanksgiving. Wow. 6.2 miles (10K) sounded outrageous! Sure, I ran around the neighborhood with the dog, occasionally slowing to a walk, but 6 miles? Six miles!!

But it was for a good cause. So I signed up.

Juno and I ran every evening, and once in a while, I’d go running and leave her home (she stopped a lot). I ran in jeans and sweats; I knew nothing yet about ‘real’ runners. I worked more than full time, and was dealing with very messy estate work from two different estates. That’s more than a full-time job right there. Every moment of my day was spoken for. Running became my escape.

Alex was going to Spain for a climbing competition, and returning the evening before the run. But when I mentioned that I’d signed up for it, he said “Sign me up, too.”

Really? The morning after a 12-hour transatlantic flight? I would have been a zombie. But he seemed sure, so I signed him up.

Thanksgiving morning. I put on my jeans, my T-shirt, flannel shirt and big white sneakers (I really didn’t know anything about running!). I woke Alex, who had slept in his clothes after his late-night arrival, and off we went to my very first road race!

I had grave misgivings when I saw the huge crowd assembled at the Start. Thousands of people! High-energy, running types, in their Spandex and turkey costumes — all clearly better informed than I was!

Trepidation battled with excitement as the gun went off! It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. All those people, just trying to be better! Out there to help people, by the thousands, single-minded and having a blast.

For me, it was anything but fun. I gasped, I struggled to breathe. It was all new — the jostling crowd, the bands playing to cheer us on, the crowds of onlookers, the Porta-Potties — I’d never done anything physically competitive in my life. I was out of my element.

Alex ran alongside me, and told me about Spain. As I gasped for air, trying to ignore the pain, he talked about his adventures. I couldn’t imagine how he could breathe enough to talk while running! His tales were fascinating. He entertained me with descriptions and anecdotes as he ran backwards in front of me,  alongside me, in circles around me, occasionally zigging or zagging up someone’s lawn.

He became my single focus as I forced myself to keep going. When I knew I couldn’t manage one more step, I’d look at Alex and try to picture him having the adventures he was relating. When I needed to stop, he stopped with me, carried my sweaty shirt, kept up his recounting of the week before. I made myself focus on his words.

When we passed the halfway mark, I still didn’t think I’d finish. I can’t count how many times I might have stopped, had my attention not been on something besides my physical misery. I couldn’t breathe. My feet hurt. My knee hurt. I was too hot. The waistband of my jeans was digging into me. My sunglasses kept sliding down my nose. This wasn’t fun.

Somewhere between the fourth and fifth mile, something changed. I still followed his voice, still couldn’t breathe. But my own footfall began to replace his voice. I listened to it instead of my ragged breath. Suddenly, with a clarity I’d never felt before, I knew I’d finish.

When I glimpsed the finish line, several blocks ahead, I realized my life had just taken a sudden turn. I had no idea where it was going to lead, but I knew there was no going back. I was a runner. I’d have to buy some real runner’s clothes, some good shoes. There was probably — certainly! — lots more I needed to know. But I’d just learned the really important stuff — I could do this.

Who knew what else I could do?

I’ll never know for sure whether I would have finished if I hadn’t had Alex’s voice to follow the whole 6.2 miles. Maybe the stubbornness — or is it tenacity? — I’ve since discovered as a rock climber would have surfaced then and saved the day? I’ll never know.

But I’ll always be grateful for that voice.

Music, my friend and solace

Music is my oldest friend. Life has ebbed and flowed, changed me so much that I hardly recognize who I used to be. Friends and family have come and gone, moved in and out of my life, died. But music has always been there.

A number of threads make up the tapestry of my life — and woven through it all is music that has stood the test of time. Groups, singers, popular and folk music — they all have their place. Some of them have moved me to tears, woven their way through parts of my life. But the music that supplied the underpinning of my whole life has been around a lot longer than all of them.

The first sounds to move me were the old Polish folk tunes and dances that I heard at home, on the piano, the accordion, and sung around the piano. Through them, the minor mode always had a power over my emotions that major-mode sounds can’t duplicate.

I learned to play those by ear when I was 5, but once I started learning to read music, at 7, I discovered that those old guys — like Chopin, Schubert, Mendelssohn and all the others whose company I enjoy — all wrote down secret messages to me! Okay, not only to me — but they tell me, in their own words written on their music, how to play the notes they wrote. Their suggestions in this secret language come to me over the centuries, and help me understand how it should sound. Magic!

256px-Keyboard_of_grand_piano_-_Steinway_&_Sons_(Hamburg_factory)Music has always been my solace. When I was a teen and things got tough between my mother and me, I’d retreat to my piano, often for hours, and pound away my frustrations. When adult life ganged up on me, the piano welcomed me and listened patiently. My survival, my sanity, has often depended on it.

What do you do, to survive life? I find that next to a journal, a piano or other musical instrument is the best therapist. Working on a Chopin Nocturne, figuring out the sounds, the fingering, how it should sound — how he wanted it to sound — can take you into what the modern media call ‘the zone,’ or ‘the flow.’ Once there, cares, problems, trauma cease to exist. Or rather, they exist outside the universe you’re now in. Outside your zone.

My son often mentions in his interviews that state of flow that he gets into when he’s free-soloing. And although my daughter doesn’t often talk about it, that ‘flow’ is most likely the reason she can’t seem to live without running. It’s compelling, addictive even — but in an oh-so-healthful way.

As I get older, climbing and running will no doubt fade away. But music, my oldest friend, will always be there, my one, immutable solace, always ready to listen and give counsel.

What more could you want from a friend?128px-Black_Piano_Acccordion

Food for Thought

Here’s some

Food for Thought

for a

Happy Valentine’s day!

Here’s a Valentine’s Day gift from me to you!

My original short story, “Food for Thought,” won 1st prize in the National Writer’s Association’s Short Story Competition. I can’t publish it here, because it’s for sale elsewhere.

But if you’d like to read a short story that will leave you smiling and feeling good, go down to the Comments section and leave me this comment (just copy & paste it):


Please email me my free copy of the award-winning short story, “Food for Thought.”


If you don’t think I have your e-mail address, send it to me at my last name, at gmail.

And don’t forget to sign up below to receive a notification when there’s a new blog at my site. Wouldn’t want to miss some more good food for thought!

Swapping Leads

     In climbing, “swapping leads” means that the leader and the follower switch roles as they climb a multi-pitch route (“leap-frog” up the wall). When I climbed with my son the first time, we switched roles that way, and our dynamic changed, forever. 

This was my first published climbing essay. about climbing a route called Munginella, in Yosemite, with my son. It appeared in “Climb” Magazine, in the U.K. Enjoy!


Swapping Leads:

a Climb of Epic Proportions


“See that, Mom?” my son Alex shouted down to me from his belay ledge on the rock wall near Yosemite Falls.

Not only had I seen the lightning strike he pointed out, I’d noticed every one of the seven or so earlier ones. Not a big fan of electrocution, I pondered the wisdom of continuing our three-pitch climb, but Alex assured me we had plenty of time. Since he practically lives in Yosemite Valley for part of the year, I deferred to his experience — against my own better (parental) judgment.

My peripheral vision caught another flash, on the opposite side of the Valley. A storm had been slowly rolling around the Sierra peaks for over an hour, rumbling like an empty stomach.

I squinted upwards. The flake I was arguing with stood out from the wall about a foot or so at its gaping bottom. Too wide to reach around, too high to step over, too everything. I stood there and talked to myself far longer than my son had the patience for, I knew, although he never said so.

I tried again. Fell again. Another raw knuckle to ignore. The damn flake was beginning to make me doubt my meager credentials — if I couldn’t get over this little thing, I was no rock climber. I was fooling myself; I didn’t belong out here. No matter which angle I tried, which movement, the next holds were just centimeters out of reach.

Crack! Another bolt, on our side of the Valley this time.Version 2

“Come on, Mom, you got this.” His voice was a study in control. Was he trying really hard, for me, or was he always this nice to every newbie gumby climber he happened to be saddled with?

Crack! Blinding this time, right next to our climb!

In a few seconds that I have absolutely no memory of, I was over the flake and moving really fast. I was rock climbing. All it took was an act of God.

A feathery, insistent rain followed me up the rest of the pitch. At the belay ledge, as we exchanged gear for the last pitch, it tickled our faces, chilled us. I didn’t voice any of my fears about the possibilities, unwilling to make them real.

As I belayed Alex up, the rain slackened. The worst is over, I thought as I balanced on the fast-drying sandy ledge.

Did I say newbie?

As I followed him up the last pitch, the sky blackened and rain began pelting my back, drumming on my helmet. After a few holds that turned out to be less slippery than I’d feared, I thought, Okay, I’m wet, but this is easier than I expected. I can do this. No biggie.

Once I reached the top, my instinctive choice was to just curl up tight against the wall and wait it out. Then another bolt struck nearby. Alex had no trouble convincing me to try the walk-off, even though it was now a rushing river of mud.

I come from a place where summer rain is soft, inviting, a tease to the senses. This was icy whips that startled and battered. We slithered slowly down the trail, as much on our butts as our feet, grabbing whatever we could to keep from sliding off.

After a few dozen meters, I thought, I can do this. This is okay. I pictured standing on flat ground again.

Then Alex stopped. I couldn’t hear what he said over the pounding, roaring rain. He pointed ahead. The wide granite slab that the trail crossed gleamed under the rushing water that covered it. Completely. No question of getting across such a waterfall.

Dead end.

“We’ll have to rappel,” he shouted over the roar.

I couldn’t believe I’d heard him right. Was it safe to rappel in driving, freezing rain? I was too new to know. I’d just learned to rappel, had done it once. I looked straight down; definitely too far to scramble through the brush. We’d only descended about one pitch. Another loud Crack! helped make up our minds.

While Alex anchored us to a pair of rappel rings, I tried to keep my teeth from chattering too hard and to remain vertical in the rushing mud we stood in. I did try to get my harness ready, but my hands were shaking too hard to be of any use. The rest of me wasn’t good for much either. I just stood there, like a clueless toddler, as Alex attached the rope to my belay device. I vaguely remember apologizing. I knew I should have been doing something, but couldn’t get my fingers to cooperate.

“Okay, Mom, you go first.”

Me? First? Did he really know what he was doing? I couldn’t get my chattering teeth to form the words, so I just followed his instructions.

He’d found a relatively empty, straight section of wall for us to lower down, secured my rope, checked my knots, done everything. He was good. All I could do was shiver as if I was going to shatter. All I could think was, My son does this all the time. Just another day at the office.

“You know what to do?” he shouted against the wind.

I nodded, grabbed the rope, turned around and stepped off. The one time I’d rappelled hadn’t prepared me for this. My feet skidded around in the mud. Each time I braked the rope, water spurted up from the sponge that the rope had become. Icy water tossed in my face did not help my concentration.

By the time Alex reached the ground beside me, the rain had stopped. Chastened, humbled and exultant, I waited for him to untie and coil the rope, and we headed back to the base where we’d left our packs sitting between a tree and the wall.

I saw red as we approached. And green, and black. Some kind of long, vivid-colored snake had curled up on the wall to dry out — right above our packs.

Neither of us knew what it was. Neither of us wanted to find out the hard way whether it was
poisonous. Alex went first, dashed between the tree and the IMG_7903 copywall, grabbed his pack on the fly and kept running. Really fast. The snake didn’t move. I followed. We stopped, breathless, and put on the packs for the walk down.

When he’s home, Alex still calls me Mom, and still follows some of my rules. But we both know who’s in charge when we go outdoors together

The Monster on my Desk

Little kids love monsters — love them, or love to hate them. When I was really little, my ‘monster’ was a huge, black-&-silver, shiny Remington Rand typewriter that lived on the tiny desk in my room.

It was definitely love at first sight. One touch, of just the right force, was enough to create the most astonishing miracles — letters, symbols, words, poems, stories — the only limit was my imagination! And my touch.

As soon as I was old enough, I started writing stories. Half the fun of creating them was getting the touch just right, hearing the authoritative clack of each metal key as it struck the platen, smelling the oil and metal and new paper, fresh out of its box.

The ribbon was the star. Everything depended on it. As I struck a key, the small cage-like metal square that held the cloth ribbon would rise like a hiccup, just a smidgen, barely visibly, and the long metal bar with a letter or symbol at the end would strike up and pound the ribbon onto the platen, around which I’d rolled a beautiful, clean sheet of paper by twisting it slowly, one click at a time, until it was placed just perfectly to receive my words.

It was magic!

Writing has never ceased to be magic. Writers don’t choose to write; it chooses them. We have no choice but to comply.

While I was still teaching, I wrote for newspapers, magazines, publishers, local, domestic and international. But as any language teacher can tell you, teaching someone to speak a foreign language is more than a full-time job. (In fact a teacher of just about anything can corroborate this.) So I never had a moment to myself. If I complained about my frenetic schedule, my mother-in-law was always quick to remind me that if I didn’t write, I’d have lots of free time!

She was right, of course — except that if you’re a writer,il_570xN.330210452 you can’t not write. A climber climbs, a runner has to run. A writer has to write. It’s not a choice

What drives you?



My Newest Language: CSL

CSL – Computer as a Second Language. Like ESL (English as a SL) but oh-so-different! It’s not my second language. I speak (and have taught) several languages — but this one is proving the most…elusive.

Normally when I learn a language, I try to surround myself with native speakers, so I can become a little kid again, learning to talk — listen, listen, listen, then repeat, babble and ask lots of questions. It’s how we all learned our native language, and the most effective way to learn a foreign language. But it doesn’t work here.

Here I sit, alone, at my keyboard, trying to learn to set up a website. I’ve tried all the forums, but usually find — after hours of searching, scrolling, guessing — that no one has ever asked my question, exactly. So I ask it. And wait. And wait. How long must one wait to get a forum reply? Days? Weeks? I’ve done both.

For a real language, I ask a question and get an immediate answer, to prove or disprove a conclusion I might have come to about what I hear around me. Now, I get no answers, and there are no native speakers around me to offer any.

Lots of books offer insights… Indecipherable, mind-numbing books, for someone who has no computer inclinations. And, of course, there are forums…which have proven more frustrating than helpful.

I guess that’s the price for wanting to do it myself. When I became an independent publisher, I talked with other indies and got answers. When I wanted to start conducting an orchestra, I mined the expertise of my father-in-law, who had played in one for years and who had taught music. Answers — real, human answers — were always abundant.

But now, most of my questions go un-answered, sometimes for weeks, sometimes forever. Most of the time, I don’t know what things are called, which makes it impossible to phrase the question right.

A couple months before I left on a climbing trip to Greece, I found a website where I could learn some more Greek (I had learned some as a kid). Every evening, I conjugated verbs, copied vocabulary, memorized grammatical forms. But the most important, the most effective teaching tools were the conversations I listened to and watched. I could stop, re-play again and again, watch other people saying the same things…. But in this new endeavor, CSL, I can’t stop someone who just said something to ask them to repeat, or to explain. I’m on my own.

So even though learning languages has always been one of the biggest delights in my life, this one, CSL, will never find a place on my list of favorites! I’ve learned some of the basics, enough to do this thing you’re reading now, but I’ll never be a ‘native speaker.’ In terms of life’s pleasures, it will always rank right up there with going to the dentist.

So if you see something here that could be prettier, or more functional, or clearer, please let me know…but when you do, please tell me what it’s called and how to fix it!