Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day!

I was supposed to drive up to Delphi, Indiana today for an author visit and library talk--both of which I was very much looking forward to. But when I got up this morning at 5:30 to take Louise outside and could barely open my front door because of pile of snow on the porch, I knew I wasn't going anywhere.

In my view, snow days are one of things that make living in a place with crappy winter weather bearable. Mother Nature speaks up, reminding us that we're not really in charge of anything, forcing us to take a break from our regular routines. Kids are sprung from school (not to mention their happy teachers), people can’t get their cars out of their driveways to go to work. You can freak out, or go with the flow. Going with the flow is definitely the better choice.

So after Louise completed her bodily functions (with an amusing amount of confusion), I retreated to my cozy writing room where I drank coffee and worked on my novel, still in my pajamas, till after ten. It would have been perfectly pleasant to stay there all day. Owning a Jeep, however, I felt compelled to have a snow adventure.

I swept about a foot of snow off the windshield with a broom, picked up Jenny, Jake, and Heidi and we headed for the Original Pancake House, where we pigged out on a gargantuan breakfast. Chocolate chip pancakes and big glasses of chocolate milk for the kids; the Sunrise Breakfast (eggs, pancakes, sausage--and more coffee) for Jenny and me. Blech. I'm still stuffed hours later.

Fortified, we headed for Holliday Park to play in the snow. We were the first ones in the park, so we made the first footprints, except for the marks birds and rabbits left, and they got to clear the snow from all the slides—short ones, long ones, straight ones, curvy, tunneled ones.

FYI: Slides are very slick in the winter.

Heidi and Jake came rocketing down, laughing and screaming, creating fabulous little explosions as they hit the bottom. More than once, they flipped half-way down and flew out, landing face-first in the snow. They slid about a million times, their cheeks getting pinker and pinker, their parkas more and more covered with snow.

After sliding, they climbed the spider web for a while. The sun had come out as they played. The sky was was that blue, blue, blue that often comes after a storm, the bare trees looked beautiful against it, iced white with snow, and, at that moment, there was no place else in the world I'd rather have been. Though I have to admit that I was pretty darn happy later, too, when when I'd dropped them off and came home to my warm house where I spent the rest of the day just fooling around, doing nothing I was supposed to do, nothing I had planned.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poetry Friday: Food. Music. Memory


She says: Cupcakes. Brownies. Pies. She says:
Remember this. Bread. Stew. Sauce. She says:
All that time. She says: singing. All I taught
you. She says: Crayon. Alligator. By Scouts.
She says: Baseball. Soccer. Track. She says:
I was there. Remember?

I say: Shouting. Silence. Shouting. I say:
Remember this. Scotch. Vodka. Kahlua. I say:
Cupcake. Meatloaf. Sauce. I say: Singing. All
you would not tell me. I say: Crayon. Dancing.
Guitar. I say: Belt. Hairbrush. Hand. I say:
I was there. Remember?

Susan Marie Scavo

Susan Marie Scavo is a Certified Archetypal Therapist and Teacher of Teacher of Archetypal dreamwork. To hear her read several of her poems visit

Think about a relationship in your life that creates conflict because you and that person disagree about the way things really were. It might be a parent, a former friend, boy/girl friend, teacher. Choose two things that particularly characterize your disagreement (comparable to Scavo's food and music). Jot down a list of things that the other person says or remembers about those things, then create a list of your own memories that contradicts them. Use Scavo's poem as a model, using fragments and repetitions to write a poem that captures the essence of your own conflicted relationship.

(NOTE: It is not plagiarizing to use another poet's work as a model for your own. It would be plagiarism to publish it without acknowledging the other work, unless the work takes a leap from the model poem and becomes something completely new.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

They ARE Famous!

Inauguration Day

We bundled up and set forth into the frigid day. There were happy, friendly people everywhere, decked out in a variety of Obama paraphernalia, some with little American flags sticking out of their hats or pockets or boots. Our hotel was at 12th & G Street, but security was tight along the parade route, so we had to walk up to K Street, then cut over on 18th. Most streets were closed, buses cleverly parked at the intersections to allow only pedestrian traffic; there was the constant whoop-whoop of sirens. Occasionally, police and army guys in camouflage stopped the crowd at an intersection to let motorcades or long lines of buses through. We waved, they waved.

A guy stood on the steps of a church holding two signs: “MLK is Smiling Today” and “One Nation Under the Groove.” Two very respectable looking ladies posed with a sign that said, “Arrest Bush.” Of course, there had to be some hate signs—the usual religious nuts with bullhorns, railing sin and salvation. People swarmed around them as if they weren’t even there.

The Washington Monument looked magnificent rising into the American sky. The Jumbotrons were replaying parts of Sunday’s concert. Gulls swooped and squawked, adding to the festive atmosphere. Kate had somehow managed to get five inauguration tickets, which she nobly gave to me, Steve, Jim, Heidi & Jake, and when we came to our first big crunch, at 15th Street, we assumed it was a check-point and parted company. But it wasn’t a checkpoint. We got through the crunch only to find out that 14th Street was closed. Period. The mall was full, and there was no way we were going to get any closer. By the time we figured this out, they’d closed 15th Street, too, so we couldn’t go back to where we’d been. We couldn’t even have gotten out to go back to the hotel, if that’s what we’d wanted to do. And there was no Jumbotron in sight.

But we were there, breathing it all in—and that seemed enough to me. Nonetheless, I was very glad when, after an hour or so, they opened 15th Street again and we were able to cross back and get close enough to one of the Jumbotrons to see what was happening. By this time it was about 11, and dignitaries were arriving. There was a collective “Awwww,” when Malia and Sasha appeared in their beautiful, colorful outfits. There were hearty “Boos” for W. and for the Vice, along with murmurs of satisfaction to see him in a wheelchair. (He hurt his back moving boxes in his office, someone said. Yeah, probably carrying out incriminating stuff he didn’t let anyone see, said someone else.)

Then—whoa! There was Aretha Franklin in a hat that made her look like she was wrapped up as a gift, singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” which I remembered singing myself every morning in elementary school. The prayer by evangelist Rick Warren was predictably non-inclusive, but balanced a bit by the humor at the end of Reverend Joseph E. Lowery's benediction. (“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.”)

Anyway, finally, the moment came. First, Cheney vanquished with Biden’s oath. Then Barack Hussein Obama became President. People cried, screamed, hugged, danced, and prayed when it was over. Some stood silent, their eyes closed. The black woman beside me held up her and I gave her a high-five. I felt like crying myself. I thought of growing up in the Fifties, watching the TV news and seeing the hateful people screaming at the first black children enter formerly white-only schools. It seemed incomprehensible to me then (and now). I was eight years old, and I suddenly understood that “liberty and justice for all” really meant “liberty and justice for some.” The disconnect between what I’d been taught about my country and what my country actually was grew over the years—Vietnam, Watergate, the greed of the Reagan years, the growing gap between the richest and poorest Americans, Iraq, Guantanamo—until I had zero trust in any politician and no hope that our country could be anything close to what we claimed we were. My fist real glimmer of hope was when Michelle Obama said, “Finally, I can be proud of my country.” I knew exactly what she meant. And because she thought it and had to guts to say it, I began to think maybe I could feel the same way.

Tuesday, watching Barack Obama take the oath of office on the Jumbotron, for the first time in my life, I felt proud to be an American. I was flooded with hope that we might, finally, redeem the promise of real freedom, real equality, real democracy.

“Yes,” I kept saying, during the inaugural address. “Yes.”

It was, to say the least, a challenge getting back to our hotel afterwards. It was long gridlock, followed by moments of movement. I held Heidi’s hand tightly; Steve stayed in front to buffer the press of the crowd. Jim followed, Jake on his shoulders. At some point a kid got hoisted onto one of the Port-a-Johns and called out that it wasn’t moving anywhere. Memorial. People were mostly cheerful, though—especially when the helicopter carrying W. to Andrews Air Force base went over. Heidi, Steve, and I got separated from Jim and Jake, but kept going forward—there was no other option. I’ve got to say, Heidi was a trooper! We walked and walked and walked. It was freezing.

The police at 18th Street told us we could cross over at 20th Street, well beyond any parade barriers. Then when we got there, army guys (who looked about twelve-years-old) blocked it, arms out. We had to go to 23rd, they said. Which was,pardon me, bullshit. There were people walking on 20th Street. It was all about keeping things clear for the empty buses that lined the street. The mood of the day was power-to-the-people-mood of the crowd, so we—and whole bunch of others-broke the line and crossed.

Heidi, the school-lover, disapproved. “Bepo,” she said afterwards, “I only say this because I care about you. Do not break the freaking rules.”

We walked on, stopping to do a little souvenir-shopping before we got back to the hotel. Buttons with the First Family on them, a blue and red heart made of “diamonds” with Obama written across it, a tee-shirt. Then, finally, warmth and a place to collapse, share our inauguration day stories, and watch President Obama and First Lady, Michelle, enjoy their parade.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


For more than a year I wore a black button that said just, "1/20/09." It was great. People would ask, "What does that mean?" and I'd get to say, "George Bush's last day in office." Answering this question made me especially happy when I could tell that the person who asked it was a fan of W." Passive-agressive, I know. But I'd think, hey, they asked! As it turned out, 1/20/09 became something so much more than just the end of W. Standing in the midst of two million people, listening to Barack Obama speak as President for the first time, it felt like the world was beginning all over again. May every spirit bless him!

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK Day in Washington, D.C.

So important to start the day getting a fix on the news! We read about...ourselves (well, ourselves and maybe a million others...) and what happened here yesterday. Then we watched the news on TV and had our daily hotel hall race before setting out for the...

Spy Museum! It was way cool. Heidi liked getting her code name, which was Angelina Falcon. Jake's was Billy Henderson. They liked watching the movie about spies and their missions. Heidi got a spy walkie-talkie in the gift shop, and Jake got night vision binoculars. My own personal favorite spy device was a "dog doo transmitter." Slightly alarming was the video teaching us how to pick locks:-)

We went to the White House Visitors' Center, where there were pictures of the presidents and their families. We got good stuff to paste into our Washington School notebooks. We signed the "What's Your Dream" poster--and wished for peace.

Coach Bepo's special physical fitness event of the day was a race on the mall. Julia won!

After the race, we walked along the reflecting pool toward the Lincoln Memorial, where a lot of people had gathered to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. A guy lent us his "I Am Obama" sign so we could take a picture with it. We saw loads of really cool buttons and tee-shirts for sale. It was a long walk back to the hotel! Our feet were killing us!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Here We Are!

This picture of my goddaughter, Jacky Shin, and her dad is exactly what it felt like to be in Washington, D.C. today. The energy was amazing, everyone smiling and friendly, full of happy anticipation. It felt like "We the People," and it was a good feeling!

Here's a cool picture of one of the many jumbo TV's that are all over the place. As we walked back towards the Mall, they were doing sound checks, someone singing "The Star Spangled Banner" over and over. I never in my life have been moved by that song. In fact, I really don't like it. Today, though, hearing it as I walked toward the Washington Monument gave me a little chill.

This afternoon, we met up with our friends Leah, Bumshik, Julia, Jacky and their visitor from Korea, and took a long walk down the Mall to the Capitol Building, where we could see all the chairs set up for the Inauguration on Tuesday. We took a turn past the Library of Congress--alas, it wasn't open today, then took a run up and down the Capitol steps. (Well, the kids and Kate did.)

The high point of the day for the kids was getting interviewed by Roll Call Magazine. Fame seemed imminent!

And if it doesn't work out by way of Roll Call, there's always MSNBC. They were broadcasting on the Mall, and we hung out there a long time, cheering every time the camera swooped our way.

Onward to the Natural History Museum.

And, finally, after a long, but wonderful day--back to the hotel!

Friday, January 16, 2009

We Made it to Washington, PA

Blog post from Heidi:

The ride was so long! I worked on my computer, then I finished the first Lemony Snicket. It was awesome! Then I played on my DS. Then I slept for the rest of the time. (Everyone slept, except for the driver.)

When we stopped for gas, Jake got some toys and I just got some stinkin' candy:-(

When we got to the Hampton Inn we brought in all of our stuff on luggage carts. It took me a tough time to get it out of the door! We have a lot of treats: muffins, cookies, peanut butter crackers, chips, water, and pretzels. Jenny, Jake and Jim are sleeping in one room. Me, my grandma, grandpa and mom are sleeping in the other.

We are going to get up early and drive the rest of the way. Jake and I are really looking forward to going to the Spy Museum.

Evening with the Muse

These days, all arts organizations, large and (especially) small, are experiencing hard times. The Writers’ Center of Indiana is one of them. I have a long history with the WCI. It was a brand new organization in 1979, when I finally got up the courage to try to write--I can’t imagine how I’d have begun if it hadn’t been there. I often wonder if I’d have begun. I took my first classes at the Writers' Center, but more importantly I learned that there was such a thing as a community of writers—even in a place like Indianapolis. Over the years, I took more classes, and I attended readings and mini writers’ conferences at the Writers’ Center, some of them featuring accomplished writers, like Tim O’Brien and Mary Oliver. Eventually, I taught classes and was a presenter at Writers’ Center events. In 2002, I became writer-in-residence; in 2006, I became the program director; and a few months ago I agreed to take over the reins as director. Alas, major cuts in funding made it impossible for us to proceed with our plans. We’ve given up our leased space at the Arts Center, laid off our paid staff—but…

The world needs organizations like the Writers’ Center more than ever—and we’re going to do what we can. Which means me continuing as a volunteer and a whole bunch of people helping out where they can. (More on this in later posts.) Sometimes I wake up, bug-eyed, in the middle of the thing thinking, Oh. My. God. I said I would do what?

Really, it is pretty crazy.

But, you know what? The challenge of reinventing the Writers’ Center to suit these difficult times feels a lot like writing a novel. A vision in my head, the pleasures and frustrations I feel as I try to figure out how to translate it to the real world. The surprises along the way—some happy surprises, others disappointing.

That feeling of being “in-process” makes the effort seem worthwhile to me. But what I think about most when I feel discouraged is “Evening with the Muse.” This group of poets meets the second Sunday evening of every month at the Writers’ Center. There’s a featured reader, a break for socializing and refreshments (brought by the regulars), then an open mic. Most of the poets are older, some with many publications to their credit, with a long history of supporting and benefiting from the Center.

Let me give you an example of how important poetry is to them. A while back, I attended Poetry Salon, a free critiquing group run by Richard Pflum, to help plan an upcoming program. One of the regulars, Rohana McCormack, wasn’t there. She’d had an eye operation that afternoon, Richard said. We made our plans, and I left them to their work. As I pulled out of the parking lot, here came a taxi bearing Rohana, wearing a black patch on her eye. I will never forget that. It is a picture definition of what writing means to some people.

As we say in the Writers' trade, "Show, don't tell."

The “Muse” regulars were, needless to say, distressed to learn that they’ll be losing their meeting space, but when they met last Sunday evening, the conversation was less about that and more about their feelings for the group and their long history with the Writers’ Center.

I was touched by this—and, listening, made up my mind to find a way to make this program continue, no matter what.

So for this week’s Poetry Friday, here are two poems that were read Sunday evening at the “Muse.”

One Last Thing To Blame On Bush

Scatter ashes slowly,
meticulously over the beloved valley.
All around mountains shimmer,
or shiver in the cold.
There are countless trees.
Dust on the needles of the pines.
Needles perform tricks
and necessities in sharpened words.

What forest is this we come from?
What wilderness have we lost?
The sky over this peculiar country
turns and turns.
Seeds in the dark soil persist.
The moon still calls them.
And poems continue in the darkness,
moving toward the light.

Steve Roberts

WRITERS' (1/11/09)

Note: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics posits the impossibility of learning both a particle's position and mass because their measurement necessarily alters at least one.

We gather again
the strange ones
who relish words and feelings
and we each toss in a verse
for our potluck poetry
revealing our peculiarities
and our favorite
comfort clothes.

We celebratingly study
rivers, trees and mountains
that utterly ignore us.
Hope against hope
we think
that the Heisenberg principle
might apply in this world too,
that the motley verse
might change something.

Nicholas Georgakopoulos

Write a poem about something that matters deeply to you in a way that decribes that thing but does not mention it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Washington School

I got a little carried away with the Washington School thing. I spent hours googling and downloadng stuff about Washington D.C. and the inauguration--including materials from a homeschooling site, which, can I just say, had a lot of misspellings and other errors. Then I went shopping. I bought cheap digital cameras, glue sticks, scissors, scotch tape, sparkly red, white & blue star stickers, and plastic folders with closeable flaps to put it all in. I bought hard-bound journals. I happened upon these cool things with the heads of all the presidents and information about them below that fan out like a deck of cards--and, of course, I had to buy those, too. Then I got a bunch of books from the library.

I spent virtually all day Saturday making the curriculum:

Saturday, January 17-Tuesday, January 20


Teacher: Ms. Nommie (Assistant teacher: Heidi Welsh)
Coach: Bepo (Assistant coach: Jake Plant)
Students: Heidi Welsh & Jake Plant

Learn Stuff
Stay fit
Wear warm clothes and comfortable shoes
No bickering and/or whining

Reading about Washington D.C. and the American Presidents
Vocabulary words
Journal writing and collecting stuff to paste in journals
Drawing pictures and taking pictures to paste in journals

Students will create a “Washington Book” with writing, pictures and information about what they learned.



Field Trips
Washington Monument
Lincoln Memorial
Vietnam War Memorial
World War II Memorial

Learning, reading and writing with Ms. Nommie

Gym with Coach Bepo
Morning jumping jacks, catch & hotel hall race
Hotel swimming
Special event: Run the length of the Reflecting Pool

It goes on more or less like this:




We had orientation this evening. I brought Heidi and Jake to my house after school, they made the Washington School sign, made a list of treats to take in the car and another one of people to whom they wanted to send postcards. All this was done with a minimum of bickering...

...until we taped up the sign and Jake had a slight meltdown during the photo op. He was being stubborn about being photographed, but when Heidi said he was being stubborn, he burst into tears. "She's being mean, Nommie. She called me stubborn," he wailed. I tried to explain since he actually was being stubborn, she was only making a statement, which was not exactly the same thing. Needless to say, this did not help. Thus, there is no good picture of the two of them with their sign. Oh, well. The sign, itself, is very cool--as you can see. Especially Jake's drawing of Obama, wearing sunglasses and a red tie and Heidi's flag with "Proud to Be An American" underneath. (I was tempted to add "finally," but restrained myself.)

The rest of the travelers, Jake's parents, Jenny and Jim, and Heidi's mom, Kate, came for the meal part of orientation: pot roast and pound cake, with Cool Whip and raspberries. Heidi read the curriculum aloud, punctuated by an impressive burp. More lists were made and a 4:00 departure time was set for Friday. Our daughters thoughtfully offered to let us take both children in our car and even keep them in our hotel the whole time we're in Washington. "Ha, ha," we said, like they were joking.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Poetry by People Who Aren't Dead Yet: "Snow"


Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.
For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels
had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.

Then we were on the roof of the lake.
The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn't know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

When it's snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor.
Our voices hung close in the new acoustics.
A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked.

David Berman

I love this poem for its sensory details that make me I feel like, reading it, I'm outside in the snow; I love the way it tells a story; and I really love the end, which is, in my mind, what makes it a poem because the question the little brother asks so beautifully reflects the willingness with which young people believe and suggests the tangle of complication that can ensue when we don't take them seriously. Poetry's favorite kind of question is one that can't really be answered, and the little brother's question resonates at the end of the poem, suggesting a million other unanswerable questions in the reader's mind.

David Berman is a living American poet, cartoonist, and singer-songwriter best known for his work with indie-rock band the Silver Jews.


1) Think of an experience that hinged on some sort of weather condition: snow, rain, hail, humidity, heat, cold, a sunny or cloudy day. First, freewrite maybe ten minutes about the experience.
2) Freewrite about the weather itself, making simple observations and comparisons, using sensory details of all kinds to capture how being in the weather feels.
3) "Carve a poem" from the freewrite of your experience. Use a highlighter to isolate the most effective lines, then write them down. Note that "Snow" uses dialogue. You can use it, too! Play with what you've got, considering sequence, line breaks, rhythm, etc. Highlight details and language in your weather freewrite to add imagery to the poem.
4) End with a question that somehow reflects the nature of the experience.
5) Revise. Add/subtract/tinker. Do it again. And again. Until it's right.

This exercise was adapted from one created by Matt Buchanan.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Plans for the POWER TO THE PEOPLE! Express

The day after Barack Obama was elected president, my son-in-law Jim decided we should go to the inauguration and booked two rooms at the Marriott, just a few blocks from the White House. (Don’t ask me how much they cost. I do not want to know.) So we are taking a family road trip to Washington, D.C.

Last night my granddaughter Heidi had a sleepover and we spent some time making plans, which include Washington School. I will be the teacher, because I am a professional. She will be the assistant, because her cousin Jake is only in the first grade and is likely to need a lot of help. Bepo, AKA her grandfather, will be the coach of recess—for which, she suggested, he “might want to get some balls together.”

Heidi is in the second grade, and very enamored of the whole concept of school, especially the part about rules. She loves rules—and there will be rules in Washington School, strict ones, about what we will be learning, when we will be learning, when there will be homework, when there will be tests, when there will be field trips, and, of course, when we will eat lunch. She spent considerable time making folders for herself and Jake, including one for “Thought Protection” which you don’t put stuff in, but prop on your desk like an open book to protect your thoughts from others. (I don’t know whether I think this is genius on the part of whatever teacher thought this up, or whether to be alarmed because, apparently, kids aren’t allowed to use the word “cheat” any more.)

After getting the rules set in stone and the folders under control, we moved on to contemplate what supplies will be necessary for Washington School (i.e. glue sticks, new markers, special notebooks, more folders, stickers for good work, etc) and when we could schedule the trip to Office Depot to buy them. (Probably this weekend.)

The actual academics of Washington School remain pretty hazy. But that’s okay. No doubt we’ll all learn something! And, being the professional, I get to make up the tests, so I’ll make sure everyone passes.

Stay tuned. We leave Friday evening, January 16. Blogging will part of the Washington School curriculum.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Poems by People Who Aren't Dead Yet

When I was the writer-in-residence at Broad Ripple HS, my friend Doris used to let me teach a poetry unit to her juniors every year that I called “Poetry by People Who Aren’t Dead Yet”—the idea being that you pretty much had to be dead to get into English textbooks. It was a blast! And a fair number of students actually opened up to poetry enough to give writing it a try. My favorite observation about this process was from a science guy: [writing a poem is] “…kind of like testing out a hypothesis. You keep trying different things till you figure it out.” Well, yeah.

So here’s my New Year’s resolution—one I might actually be able to keep. I’m going to jump on the bandwagon of Poetry Friday, with a little bit different spin: Poems by People Who Aren’t Dead Yet, with a suggestion for all you aspiring young writers out there about how to use each one as a springboard for a poem of your own.

How Poetry Comes to Me

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light

Gary Snyder


Use a series of metaphors to describe what it feels like to write a poem.