The Unintentional Reader: Is It You?

In my first year writing course at the University of Washington, Tacoma, students have completed their first of three essays for this quarter, a brief piece of writing known as “the personal essay.” The theme of the course is “Create Your Own Adventure,” so their topics varied from cooking to snowboarding. A bit of explanation: instead of assigning them specific topics this quarter, they are free to choose their own within the parameters of three general categories: 1. The Personal Essay; 2. Rhetorical Analysis essay; and 3. Argument essay. By the time they leave the course, they will have gained a bit of experience in writing the kinds of essays which they may encounter in some form in their other courses.

This week, we have been discussing the meaning of “rhetoric,” applying our analytical lens to essays in The Best American Essays, 7th College Edition edited by Robert Atwan (2014). Believe it or not, those of you out there who did not particularly enjoy your first year writing course, we’ve been having some great conversations about context, audience, and the making of meaning.

One of the toughest concepts for any writer–myself included–is the notion of “audience.” When you’re a first year college student taking a composition course with 19 other first year college students, who can your audience be outside of your instructor and a few classmates? How can I make this writing “real” for them? My experiment (if I can get them to buy into it) is to allow me the privilege of sharing excerpts from their work on this blog. I want them to meet their “unintended reader.” Who is this mysterious person who stumbles across an essay in a happy set of circumstances? I want to meet this person! At any rate, the idea that someone outside of our classroom may read their work sounds like a good way to give them a sense of an actual audience rather than a manufactured one.

For this to work, I need your help: my students need readers!

So I am inviting you–YOU, the mysterious entity who is reading these very words–to stay tuned for some interesting pieces of writing from some highly motivated first year college students. The deadline for their work will be in a few weeks, so here is how I plan to prime the pump in the meantime. As this blog will be posted on Facebook, I will be inviting all of my friends to agree to help with this project for the benefit of the students. To participate, you need to do two things: read their posts and leave a comment.

I will be back next week with an update: in the meantime, happy reading!

Book Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Oh, to write like Ann Patchett. Sigh. The Dutch House is a glittering, luscious jewel of fiction. The characters fly off the page and become real from the first page. The house is a place you want to visit, or better yet, inhabit. Or maybe the house inhabits you as you read it. Maeve and Danny, the children. Andrea, the step-mother. Cyril, the real estate genius. The house itself becomes a character, and a transparent one at that. As Danny tells us in the beginning, the windows are situated so that from the street, provided there are no leaves blocking one’s view, you can see straight through the house from front lawn to backyard. A metaphor? Maybe, but this house will live in your imagination long after you put the novel down. A nostalgic ache settled into my heart as I read this novel. I don’t know why–I’ve never been to a house like it. I’ve never known people like this. Or have I? The fiction reveals a truth, like all good fiction does: in this novel we learn a bit more about about what it means to be human, and from the ordinary emerges the extraordinary. It feels effortless, this magic, and yet we know it is anything but. I for one am glad that Ann Patchett continues to write, each one of her novels a revelation and a blessing. The Dutch House is a must read!

New Record to be released this fall!

My new record, Dancing on the Edge, will be released mid-September and I can’t be more excited! The fourteen songs on this record, true to my style, run the gamut from blues to folk and everything in between, including pop! My producer and sound engineer, Bradly Miranda, is THE BEST–so very lucky to be working with him. Bradly also plays drums–and he rocks! On bass is Kyle Miller of Biddadat–so honored! And on lead is Chris Adkins of MXPX–also an incredible honor. I can’t possibly say enough about the talents of these three guys. I am blessed!

I will be playing at the Fox Island Chapel on Thursday, June 27th and at the Bostwick Cafe in Tacoma on Friday, June 28th. You can see all of my upcoming dates on my Reverbnation page,

Washington Black (2018) by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black (2018) by Esi Edugyan

This is one of the best novels I have ever read.  By turns heartbreaking and inspiring—I was enthralled from the first page to the last.  I read it in a matter of hours because I could not put it down.

The plot involves a young slave named Washington Black, called “Wash,” who leaves Faith plantation on Barbados with a white man, Christopher Wilde, the adventurous brother of the hateful plantation owner, Erasmus.

Initially set in Barbados in 1830, the story immerses us in the cruelties and horrors of slavery, all while giving us reason for hope with the arrival of Wilde’s brother “Titch” as Christopher is known.  Early in the story, Titch takes Wash into his care because, as we find out, he needed a boy of a certain height and weight for his flight in the Cloud-Cutter, a balloon reminiscent of those in a Jules Verne novel.

As he learns to trust Titch, Wash also learns more about himself and his own talents: he is an artist and a visionary.  Titch encourages his growing talents and depends on Wash to help him complete his plans to launch the Cloud-Cutter.  With the help of the other slaves, the two take off but soon hit bad weather, and the balloon collides with a ship.  On this ship, they reach America, but their troubles are not over. They will encounter many dangers as well as see incredible beauty before the novel comes to an end.

Edugyan takes readers on an adventurous, perilous ride in which Wash discovers who he is and who he wants to be.  The story has the feeling of magical realism, but for all of the “magic” that happens, we remain grounded in the realistic depictions of the brutality of slavery and the consequences of hating our fellow man.

This book is in the grand tradition of the bildungsroman—in every way this is a coming of age story.  But it is so much more than that.  Wash’s story is one for our times, one for all times, when it is all too easy to turn a blind eye to the suffering that is right underneath our noses. Washington Black is a lesson in how to survive; it is primer on human behavior—the good, bad, and inbetween. It is also a love story of great depth and beauty—not just between Wash and Tanna (the daughter of a marine scientist with whom Wash works), but between the reader and the narrator.  His voice is haunting, right up to the end of the story.  I wanted more, but he had finished with what he wanted to tell us.  The story he tells is life-changing.


Poem for the day

Out walking the other day, I thought of how luxurious it is to be anonymous, if only for a for an hour.  To be completely unknown, unseen, and unheard.  To escape the sometimes overwhelming pressure of attention that must be paid to the overlord of responsibility.  Sigh.  Taking a simple walk on a nice, fall day feels like heaven. Listen to my heart.

I disappear in increments

too small for any instrument to see;

Afraid to make a run for it

thinking of all that I would leave

behind me.

On occasional days I vacate my life

pretending to be elsewhere.

It’s easier to handle stress and strife

when I can numb the screaming fear

inside me.

The phrase “Getting away”

takes on new meaning

when you’re forced

to stay

not quite against your will.

It’s just that still, sometimes,

after all these years

I whisper-wish I were Nobody

in a deep-blue knee-length hoody,

a shadow on someone’s lawn

where I could sleep ’til dawn

before going home where I must belong.

Happy New Year, 24 days late

Hey, peeps!

Welcome to 2018.  Yes, I know I am 24 days late, but who’s counting? I have been dozing through these winter days, longing for light like a drowsy moth.  The rain keeps pelting us like little silver pearls out here in the PNW, but at least we aren’t buried up to our eyeballs in snow, or floating away in a flood, or running for our lives from raging fires. Life is good. Oh, well, except for the constant threat of earthquakes.  We were reminded of that just a couple of days ago when a rather large quake rocked the area off the coast of Kodiak, AK. The weather across the country has been nothing short of alarming.  Climate change is real.  Is it natural?  Yes.  Is it man-made.  Yes.  It’s both, in my very unscientific opinion.  So don’t quote me.

The school year has gotten off to another great start.  The students are hanging tough through flu season.  And I think most of the teachers are as well.  We hold our breath in class and carry around gallon bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

I am teaching a completely online course this quarter, and I really love it!  I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it’s kind of interesting.  Students have been great about meeting the deadlines.  And they seem to like the discussion boards every week.  I think that it is especially good for students who are shy in class because their shyness is no barrier online.  They can “talk” as much as they want.  I encourage them to be creative as well.  For one recent assignment they have to make a video explaining a stage diagram of a scene from “Trifles.”  Their pictures will indicate the type of stage they are using, such as a Thrust stage or a Black Box, as well as blocking, lighting, props, etc.  Students who have never been in a play learn something of what it is like, and those who have performed before get a chance to demonstrate more of their knowledge of stagecraft.

I have also been writing more songs–it is my perfect escape.  Regardless of what is going on around me–teaching, meetings, whatever–taking time out to follow the thread of a song into completion gives me peace and satisfaction.  It is like putting together a puzzle; or tracing a design in the air, only to see it become real and solid. It is somewhat difficult to describe, I guess.  I only know that it suits me.  I have no regular writing schedule for this escape–I know when it’s time.  When I was about three years old, I remember being extraordinarily moved by the music at church during the offertory.  And then when my brothers started playing the piano, I did, too.  At about age four or five, I remember climbing up on the piano bench and trying to recreate the little songs my brothers were learning to read in their music books.  Music, it seems, has always been there, like a friend. When things got crazy at home or school, or wherever, I knew that music would be there. I’ve been in many choirs over the years–all through grade school into adulthood.  Ah, but I go on too long. Songwriting is my haven.  I think it is a calling, just like teaching. I can’t NOT do it!

Time to sign off.  Hopefully it won’t be another 24 days or more before I write again.  Take care. Don’t get the flu.  And keep on walking. Or running. Or flat-out flying!

Read any good books lately?

Happy Sunday!

I am celebrating the end of a great weekend with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, a good book, and a nice, warm fire.  It is pouring outside as I write these words.  Those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest know that there are several different words to describe the rain: according to a humorous website I ran across, you may be from the Pacific Northwest if “you are unfazed by 7-day weather forecasts that show only ‘showers followed by rain’ or ‘rain followed by showers.'” I had to laugh when I saw that one.  Although La Nina promises drier weather for the rest of the country, not so for us in the PNW.  It is time to get ready to enter the long tunnel of darkness known as late fall and winter and dream in technicolor of the spring, which, if you are from here, you know it will never come soon enough.  It is time to hibernate with a glass (or two or three) of wine, a good book, and a nice, warm fire.  Ahhhhh.

I binged on my latest Netflix obsession, Stranger Things (don’t worry–no spoilers here!), and I finished the last of the Doc Martin installments for the next two years (can you believe that?  I have to wait two years to see new episodes!), and so I remind myself that I love to read, hahahahahaha.  I am currently reading a book called The Book of Dust: Volume I La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. You will no doubt say “Isn’t that a children’s book?”

cover of the book of dust volume one la belle sauvage

I pay no attention to labels like “Children’s Books” or “Adolescent Fiction.” Pshaw.  A good story is a good story, right?  If you’ve read The Golden Compass books, or have seen the movie of the first book, you will have met Lyra and her crew.  La Belle Sauvage takes up when Lyra was a baby of about 6 months old and introduces readers to her small “bodyguard,” Malcolm.  I am already building this world in my mind, completely enchanted.  Pullman’s is a unique world–peopled by those who distrust religion of all kinds and who embrace diversity.  The bad guys, like those in Harry Potter, are those who want to control the mind and shut down ideas with which they disagree.  They want to centralize power in one place, curtailing freedoms of every kind.  Hmmmm.  Sound familiar?

I find myself drawn to stories like these because in them I find that the chatter of everyday life recedes into the background and the things that are really important rise to the top: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Although Pullman was criticized for attacking Christianity and promoting atheism in his first trilogy, he maintains that he does not object to God, necessarily, but to the often hypocritical institutions of religion. As Jenn Northington said in 2013, “One could further say that they promote a sense of spirituality and a belief in the possibility of things beyond our comprehension. There’s a word for that; some call it faith.” Who says faith has to be attached to a particular religion?  Faith and hope of any kind seem to be in short supply these days.  I will take it where I can find it.  This kind of faith is an inner glow that carries you through the darkest of nights and gloomiest of days.

Lest you think I have strayed too far from my cozy fire and glass of wine, I will close this chapter of my blog by exhorting you to find your own remedy for the winter rains and build your own nest of mental solitude.  Goodness knows we need solace in these times.  And think of it this way: fortified with good feelings, you will go out into the soggy winter with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.  What could be better?

Happy reading!

Getting back to what matters

Saturday, November 4, 2017.

Can’t believe it’s been so many months since my last blog post: so much has happened!  After my book was published, I guess I just rested for nearly 8 months, hahahahaha.  Now I am back teaching this fall, celebrating the release of No Limits, my latest CD, and looking for new projects!  Never a dull moment.  Things I’ve learned: stay focused on the things that matter: cultivating more loving relationships, creating good in the world, reading good books, staying healthy, and getting enough sleep!  This past summer, my husband and I went to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and to two big game reserves in Botswana.  It was a most amazing journey.  We did not know exactly what to expect, but there was not a moment on the trip that was anything resembling ordinary:  the first morning at the Victoria Falls lodge, I was piling my plate full of breakfast when a small monkey jumped up on the ledge in front of me and tried to grab a piece of fruit from my plate.  For some reason, I didn’t freak out!  On our way to and from dinner at the Chobe Game Reserve, we walked by a group of warthogs eating the grass.  Okay, cool.  No need for lawnmowers if you have warthogs around, right?  And at Camp Moremi, we could hear lions roaring near our hut every  night.  The sunsets were glorious. The animals spectacular.   And we learned to live in the moment.  Out there, anything can happen! Trying to remember that now that I’m back home is harder than I thought.  “Going with the flow” is a necessity on a game drive: here, it is easy to imagine that I am in control of what happens.  It is a necessary illusion, I suppose, but it also gets in my way quite often.  Learning the art of letting go, it turns out, is a lifelong quest.  But one that is well worth it.  Now that I have returned to this blog, I will be writing every Sunday.  I hope you will join me in my meanderings.


I can hardly believe it’s been three months since my last blog post. A lot has happened since Christmas.

  1.  I survived Winter Quarter, hahahahahaha!
  2. My book is now published! Virginia Woolf and The Power of Story: A Literary Darwinist Reading of Six Novels, available through McFarland or on Amazon.
  3. I have started playing more gigs at the Swim Deck in Port Orchard–so grateful for the opportunity!  Thank you, Dave Tagert!
  4. I am back in the studio as of May to record my next album, as yet unnamed.  Hey, maybe that’s a good title, what do you think?
  5. I have a brand new music website:  Click here to check it out!
  6. My husband and I will be going to Africa on safari this summer!  Once in a lifetime trip for us, for sure.  I’ve been dreaming of this trip since I was a child reading National Geographic and watching Wild Kingdom with Marlon Perkins.

That’s about all my news for now–just feeling so blessed.  And looking forward into the future with great anticipation.

On a more solemn note, I must say that with everything that is happening in our country, I have been struggling to stay optimistic.  I’m Just trying to focus on what is positive in my life and in the lives of family and friends, looking for ways to be of service to my community. When I get depressed about the present state of affairs, I remember what a good friend of mine told me: “if you just hang on, things will come around again.  They always do.” It’s tough to remember that sometimes when things look dark, but then, I’m blessed to have a wonderful husband, fabulous friends, and a great job.  So I’m not so much worried about myself, but about those who are caught up in this maelstrom, some who literally fighting for their lives. It is time for us all to join hands with them–together we are stronger!

Roots Music Review of Little Queenie!

I just had to share this with you all: Roots Music has reviewed my CD, Little Queenie!  I am beyond excited about this.  Getting a positive review from this website is nothing short of amazing.  Still a bit speechless, just wanted all to celebrate with me for a few minutes.  Woo-hoo!

Click here to read the report! Thank you, Roots Music!