Sunday, February 2, 2014

Oops, It's February Already!

Zoom zoom zoom – that was the last couple of months, zipping by on their way to future calendars depicting different years. See you later! Here is a recap of recent highlights from the City by the Bay.

What would I write just for myself if I had the time, and no paid work to do? People ask me that often. Early in January, when work was slow, I had a chance to find out. After three weeks of focused work, I am now ready to enter a memoir contest. Those three weeks weren’t all about writing, of course. First, the contest rules ask for just the first 5,000 words of a memoir. Second, I spent at least a week arguing with myself about taking on the project, even as the words I needed danced in my head and taunted me for having doubts.

Overall, the work was fun and easy except when it was frustrating and hard. That’s how writing goes. “I guess I am doing this,” I said to a friend over lunch. She pointed out that whether or not I am named a finalist (if I am, I get a short time to complete the manuscript) I can always give the work to Milo, my grandson, when he is older. Good idea!

I did not start with my great-grandparents, worthy subjects though they may be, and I did not write a traditional narrative. Chronology is not always an interesting approach, in my opinion, and the research, the fact checking and the required drilling into the memory bank all seemed too overwhelming. I chose instead to tell stories, out of order, with slender threads tying them together.

A slight digression: I once went shopping for a couch with my five favorite female friends because I wanted to buy new furniture that all of us found comfortable. I approached the memoir project in a similar way. A few friends, mostly randomly selected, read different drafts of the piece as I worked. They all provided encouragement and some offered insightful critiques, especially the “hired gun,” a former copy chief at the newspaper where we worked. With each bit of feedback, I wrote more and the manuscript grew and breathed more freely.

One friend, no slouch when it comes to writing himself, posed an interesting question. After offering several compliments, he said, “My question is: Where is this going? This is a great beginning -- I can't imagine the readers will not be hungry for more. Just be sure you know what that more will be. If they ask you how this memoir is going to end, what will you say?”

As it turns out, I do have an ending, a perfect ribbon to tie it all together, ready to go. Tomorrow I will turn in the initial entry, and then wait to hear if I am chosen as a finalist.

On Saturday, I was a clear winner. My friend Emmeline Craig threw a party to celebrate the first anniversary of The Blissful Gallery, her serene art space in Stinson Beach.  (See Emmeline was my first new friend in the Bay Area, and I happily volunteered to take photos at the party. My son recently helped upgrade my camera equipment, and I was excited about working with the new stuff. I packed a little pouch with lenses, a back-up battery and the flash and headed out for the gallery. When I got to the party, I realized I had left the actual camera on my desk. Oh well! I shot pictures with Emmeline’s camera instead.

Patrons of Emmeline’s are really interesting people, and it was fun to mingle and meet new friends. Kelsey and Ben overheard me tell another guest that I moved to San Francisco from St. Louis, and they wanted to discuss Midwest roots. She is from St. Louis, and he is from Cape Girardeau. Kelsey’s grandmother lives in Chesterfield, and sends her stories about the Bay Area that are published in the Post-Dispatch – including one I wrote about the joys of West Marin! (If you missed it, see

One more note: Milo just turned 2, and we have dinner together at least once a week. One recent evening, I said, “What would you like for supper?” His response? “A quesadilla.” Though I was impressed with his perfect pronunciation, I didn’t have tortillas on hand, so we settled on another dish. Maybe next time, Milo will cook.