A Summer Joy

Each summer, the public park directly across the street from our Sebastopol, (Sonoma County) California home is transformed into a site for festivals, concerts and live theater.  Ives Park is the summer home of Main Stage West, our resident theatre company, located two blocks away in “Downtown” Sebastopol.

sebastopol-signThis year, we were treated to two beautifully acted, staged, and costumed plays: a non-Shakespearean work: Carlo Goldoni’s classic comedy, The Servant of Two Masters and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.It’s hard to believe that theater can still be compelling, engaging and enjoyable when performances are carried out within earshot of nighttime Little League playoffs, but when it’s done as well as this, it is.   At its best, theater can transport an audience to another time and place, despite Billy’s cheering parents or the whoops of his teammates.



This year, I took my 12 year old Granddaughter, Marley, to both performances and she loved them. An out-of-town Granddaughter, Kelly (11), joined us for The Tempest. I wasn’t sure about taking kids this young to a Shakespeare play, but they loved it — especially the scenes with romance or slapstick humor.

I know I’m lucky to live where the arts and love theater are valued and where they are made accessible and affordable.

Thank you, Sebastopol!

Writing and the Art of Fermentation (Part 2)

It took me a while to realize that I’d developed a system for sustaining my writing over long periods of time.  There was nothing intentional about it.  It only became evident in hindsight.  Here’s how my writing process seems to work:

  1.  I get an idea for a writing project and start to think about it.  A lot of it’s just that.  Thinking.  Sometimes I also take notes.  If I can sustain my attraction to the idea for a few days or weeks, I’ll get serious and really get to work on it.
  2. Once started, I can almost guarantee that eventually I’ll run into an internal (or external) roadblock.  For me, that usually means that I don’t know how to proceed or that I’ve lost confidence in the validity of the project.
  3. Brick WallRather than bash my head against a wall, I’ve found that it’s better for me to simply stop working on the project that has me frustrated and set it aside to quietly “ferment” while I tackle something else.
  4. Since I have amassed a good quantity and variety of work in various stages of completion, this is when I take up a writing project that I had previously set aside.  In 9 cases out of 10, the magic of fermentation has done its work and what had seemed an insurmountable problem has been reduced to a manageable scale.
  5. The whole thing is a cycle.  While I’m working on one writing project, others are fermenting.  It seems so obvious, doesn’t it?  But when you’re stuck (or at least when I’m stuck) it’s not always easy to remember that you don’t have to sit there in misery.  You can move on and come back later.

Fermenting.  It’s not just for yogurt!.




Writing and the Art of Fermentation (Part I)

Over the past ten years, I’ve written five full-length plays, four short plays, one full-length historic reenactment, one full-length film treatment, two books of short fiction and one published memoir. Spelled out, it seems a respectable list, but on those days when writing is the last thing I’m able to manage, I grow critical for not getting to “it.”


But if I’m willing to take a deep breath and step away from self blame, I begin to see that what looks to me like inactivity often serves a function; the function of “fermentation.”  Just as with making sauerkraut or yogurt or wine, fermentation is an essential component of my creative process.

My fermentation has two stages.  The first one often comes on early.  Once an idea for a story or play begins to take shape, I’ll outline what I think the plot could be, what form it should take (short story, play, etc.) who the characters are, the location . . . the essentials.  If research is required, I’ll start that, too.  If the shape of the writing project is clear and I’m satisfied, then I can work steadily at it for days or weeks at a time.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of the writing process.

But often, after that initial burst of enthusiasm and creativity, I’ll run into what feels like a brick wall.  Nothing makes sense . . . what had recently felt exciting now feels uninspired and flaccid.  Rather than toss the project, this is the time for me to launch the first period of fermentation.

(To be continued)


Shhh. Don’t tell!

If you promise to keep it quiet, I’ll share a great discovery: The Summer Rep Theatre Festival at Santa Rosa JC. This is the first year I’ve bought season tickets and I couldn’t be happier.  So far, we’ve seen Fox on the Fairway by Ken Ludwig and Shreck the Musical. Both were extremely well produced with high-quality sets, elaborate costumes, tight direction, well performed live music and terrific acting. Students come from all over the USA to participate in this 5-show season.  Next week is Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance

For $15.00 a ticket, ample, close parking and two comfortable theaters it’s a package that’s hard to beat!

The fall season of the SRJC Theatre Arts Department looks good, too.  It includes Distracted, Les Miserables, and The Cherry Orchard.

To witness a new generation of students fall in love with theatre is more than enjoyable.  It’s hopeful!





Some Very Good Writing!

I just watched the National Theatre Live’s production of Helen Mirren, starring in The Audience by Peter Morgan at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol.

The Audience

In the course of her (so far!) 61 year reign, Queen Elizabeth II meets with each of her twelve Prime Ministers in a weekly audience at Buckingham Palace.  These meetings are completely private and the contents are not shared with anyone, even spouses.  What Peter Morgan has done is to imagine what might have been said in these private meetings between Queen and Prime Minister in order to create a funny, insightful and often touching portrait of some of England’s leaders.

Mirren is excellent, but so too is Haydn Gwynne as Margaret Thatcher, Nathanial Parker as Gordon Brown.

What could have been two and one-half hours of tedious, one-on-one political conversation instead flew by, thanks to Morgan’s witty and perceptive dialogue; brilliant staging and costumes, and a dramatic structure that seamlessly shifts forward and back in the chronology of her reign.

During the intermission, Peter Morgan was interviewed on camera.  He admitted that since the meetings were all secret, he couldn’t be sure of their content.  However, he did know what was going on just before and after each of the weekly encounters so although he couldn’t claim accuracy, he could claim truthfulness.

Take a minute to watch the Audience Trailer.  You’ll see why each of us in our party of 5 left the theater wishing the show hadn’t ended!


I Love You, California

Rezanov & 'Concepcion imageI’ve just completed the final draft of a “treatment” for a film and I’m feeling great.  It’s the first time for me to write a film treatment and it’s been quite a challenge.  It’s taken just over one year.

My involvement started at the end of March 2012 when I met a couple, Mikhail and Wendy, at Fort Ross, north of San Francisco. I’d been commissioned to write a series of historic scenarios for the Fort’s bicentennial celebration and this was a kick-off meeting. Fort Ross is where, in 1812, the Russian American Company established an outpost for agriculture and commerce to supply their main colony far to the north in what is now Sitka, Alaska.

Wendy approached me at the end of the meeting and asked if I would consider meeting with her and Mikhail to explore the possibility of writing a treatment for a film they had had long in mind. Of course I was intrigued and over the next weeks and months, I became increasingly sold on the project which for now has the working title, I Love You, California.

I Love You, California is the story of two men from Russia and two women from California. Each of the Russian men falls deeply in love with one of the California women and visa versa.  What separates the couples is time. One couple (Rezanov and Concha) is from the early 1800’s and their story is played out against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and the colonization of the what is now California, Oregon, Washington, Canada and Alaska by Imperial Russia. The other couple (Mikhail and Wendy) is from the 1990’s. Their story takes place in the first, tentative days of the “melting” of the Cold War and the chaotic dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The incredible circumstances that bring these two men and two women together, the enormous challenges they each face and struggle to overcome, and the many joys and sorrows that accompany these romances are at the heart of the story.

Now it’s time for us to look for a producer who has as much faith in the project as we do. If you know somebody who might be interested, let me know!

Dog Distractions

Sebastopol-20130307-00125I like to say that for the past two months, my writing has been constrained by our new dog, Mischa.  But really, it’s not her fault. She’s just being what she is: an enormous puppy that needs lots (and lots) of attention. Now one-year old, Mischa is a Newfoundland-Bernese Mountain-Dog mix. Mainly she’s Newfoundland. We’ve had her since early March when her original family found that she, along with their young child, were too much.

Mischa has exemplary qualities. For instance, she hasn’t yet consumed any of our other three, small dogs (one Corgi and two Dachshunds) nor has she dug up the two remaining  Rosemary and Lavender plants I added to our back garden last June. She’s even made more room in the house by biting a hole in the Swiss exercise ball I kept in the guest room. I wasn’t using it all that much and it did take up space.  And, she has an eye for interior design as evidenced by when she dragged a small Persian rug out of the living room and chewed off one corner. It must have clashed with the sofa.

Since we discovered a nearby dog park, I’ve taken her every day. Misha bursts out of the double-gated holding pen with the energy of a rodeo bull. Despite her size, she’s still a puppy and a very friendly, gentle one. She easily befriends most other dogs and their owners. Of course that makes me happy. There are rubber tubs filled with water and when she’s ready to take a break from playing chase with an elegant, white poodle or a pair of young, black labs, she jumps in to cool down. By the time we get back to the house, Mischa is ready to kick back and the rest of her day is mellow.

So how much of my current dry spell can I lay at Mischa’s paws?  Doesn’t really matter.  Next week I’m getting back on track!

The Pleasure of Reading (Part II)

OK, so we’ve licked the honey off the page to guarantee a sweet association with reading.  But now, at 11 or 12 or 13, you’re way past needing artificial sweeteners and by now have discovered that the real sweetness is in the act of reading itself.

The Black Stallion (all of them!);
The Black Tanker and other books by Howard Pease;
Treasure Island;
Hardy Boys (all of them!);
David Starr, Space Ranger and other books by Isaac Asamov

And so many other wonderful books that drew me in and transported me to other worlds.  Mostly I read to myself, by myself.  But there were times, especially with my older, girl cousin, when we would read “together.”  We’d lie on the floor and she’d read her book and I’d read mine.  I don’t remember that we talked much about what we were reading, but there was something quite magical in being in the same place at the same time and just reading.Black Tanker

Do you have memories of reading with a friend or relative and when that was enough?

The Pleasure of Reading (Part I)

When I was a toddler, my mother put a drop of honey on a page of one of my cloth books and told me to lick it off, hoping that I would make the association between reading and sweetness. It’s been a long time since I’ve licked my books, but the pleasure of reading remains. I have photos of my mother reading to me as a youngster, but I don’t need them to remember the books:

The Goops and How to Be Them

The Story About Ping

The Little House

Paddle to the Sea

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Babar the Elephant

and of course, the Little Golden Books like this one . . . 


And so many more!

Just before my mom remarried, the first thing my soon-to-be new dad brought me as a gift was a book about cars. I was 7 and I’ve never forgotten.

What are some of the books you remember with pleasure from your childhood?
(To be continued)



What I’m Reading Now (Continued)

It was a warm, early spring day at the farm and perfect to sit outside and read.

Russian River-Coastal-20130210-00072I don’t often have unbroken stretches when we’re in Sebastopol and, in part, that’s what I enjoy about town living where everything is at hand and it’s easy to distract myself with errands, meetings or outings.   But at the farm, nothing is at hand.  The closest supermarket is a 45-minute drive and there’s no need to jump up every few minutes to silence the dachshunds that break into ear-splitting barking duets whenever a pupil arrives for a guitar lesson at the home of our nearest neighbor.  When we first moved to Sebastopol, we had gotten out of the habit of silencing these sweet but raucous brothers, but a few visits from our guitar-teaching neighbor and one from the Sebastopol police were all we needed.  Now, at their first outdoor bark, I’m up and out the back door calling Oni and Taro back into the house.


But I wasn’t in town.  I was at the farm, happily reading Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor’s wonderful book, My Beloved World.  I was completely absorbed in her memoir.




My Beloved World

Justice Sotomayor’s story is compelling, lively and straight-forward.  She pulls back the curtain on her life and reveals herself as a flawed, driven, but compassionate woman.  Whether writing about her childhood, her diabetes, her education, her marriage/divorce, or her legal career, Sotomayor’s prose is clear and lively and she destroys any lingering stereotype of the stuffy, closeted jurist. My Beloved World is packed with insight into New York’s Puerto Rican community, the American legal system, prejudice and injustice, and what it means to be a bright and determined Latina in what has long been a white-man’s world. Regardless of what draws you to it, her Beloved World is worth knowing.