Friday, November 30, 2012

profiling lives

When I started work this summer on the two eBooks I wrote for Publishing 101's Careers series, I had to interview and profile a number of different people in each of the two careers I chose.  I had a routine all worked out for this, most of which consisted of a nervous stomach and semi-suicidal thoughts for the whole day before the interview, every time. Once I got on the phone, though, I was surprised by the experience.

First, I calmed down and relaxed by about five minutes into the conversation. Every time. [Except maybe for the first time. Which I wrote about here.] You'd think that would make things easier on subsequent attempts, but alas.

And second, I sort of fell in love.

Every time.

You can hear it in the recordings I made of each interview. I'm like a fourteen year old goo-gooing into the phone while writing a boy's name over and over on my Pee Chee folder.

The aim of the career eBooks series is to help people research, choose and move toward a profession, and the profiles are mainly intended to give a well-rounded sense of the job. But careers often define us. While I interviewed these people, I wasn’t just learning what it’s like to be an accountant or a glazier [that’s a glass-worker, someone who installs windows]. I was being given the distilled story of a person’s life. Every time. When you’re given so much of someone’s life, how can you not fall in love a little?

With the longtime journeyman glazier musing on the days before safety regulations: "Used to be a lot of the old timers were missing a finger or something. It’s so long ago that I don’t even think twice about it now, but when I first got into the trade, the first time I was holding a twelve foot long piece of glass, well, I was kind of a little nervous."

With the young glazier who described her trip to Wisconsin to represent her union during the fight for collective bargaining rights last year: “I have goose bumps right now, telling you this. I used to joke that I should have been born in an earlier time — to experience the sixties, with all the war going on, the protests — I always felt that was such a big moment in our recent history. Now I realize I do belong here.”

With the apprentice accountant who didn't like to see tax season come to an end: “You’ve just had four months where you’re crazy, coming into the office all day, every day and working your butt off to get it done. And then the day after, you walk into the office, and there’s nothing to do. That’s what I hate the most. The day after tax season.”

With the CPA who, as a child, probably could have seen his career choice coming a mile away: "I have a picture of me when I was six years old, and I’ve got a pocket protector with pencils in it."

 My subjects were ambitious entrepreneurs or starstruck dreamers or hitchhiking hippies. They were confident and expansive or cautious and abrupt or merry and nostalgic or cocky and naive. I fell in love with them all. I was gathering details for a book on what it is to be an accountant or what it is to be a glazier, but it surprised me how easily it turned into what it is to be human.


By the way, if you want to, you can check out my eBooks here:

Glaziers: Stories From People Who've Done It
Accountants: Stories From People Who've Done It

Or on the eBooks page on my website here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

burnt tongue 2 - a wrap-up

domi rocking a very burnt-tongue-like hairdo.
photo courtesy of kathy mcferrin
Writer, organizer and all-around powerhouse boi-about-town Domi Shoemaker put on a hell of a show last night at Crush Bar in Portland. Burnt Tongue 2 was the second in a quarterly series of readings created to honor Tom Spanbauer, author of four books and creator of Dangerous Writing. Emcees Doug Chase and [my husband] Stephen presided over a packed house, and in the lineup were current and former Dangerous Writers along with some special guests. I thought I'd try to give you a little snippet of thought about each.

Chloe Caldwell was up first with one of my favorite essays from her book Legs Get Led Astray. "My Mother Wanted to be Betty Boop" is a beautiful list poem about her mother - and ultimately about longing. I already loved this piece after having read the book, but last night, given that foreknowledge and given the pace of Chloe's reading, I was able to linger a little longer over each thing Chloe told us her mother wanted - so that when she came to the line "My mother: taking off her bra underneath her shirt when she came home from work, and saying that it was the best part of her day," my reaction surprised me. The line is funny and brought a chuckle from the audience, but underneath that is a realness and simple heartbreak that brought tears to my eyes.

photo courtesy of lidia yuknavitch

From motherhood, we shifted to the topic of chlamydia with a chapter from Colin Farstad's novel The Four Month  Summer. Down in Tom's basement during Thursday afternoon Dangerous Writing workshops, I've heard Colin read many different incarnations of many different parts of this book. And, as Stephen mentioned in his intro, I've even listened to Colin read the book in its entirety at a lovely salon. So, I have plenty of context for what he read, but for Burnt Tongue 2, Colin did some masterful editing to turn the chapter into a painfully hilarious stand-alone piece.

photo courtesy of kevin meyer

Then John Hinds took us out of the men's room and into a jungle night laced with psychedelics in his short story "The Cosmic Raven of Enlightenment." I've always loved John's easy style as he writes about the big dark mysteries of the world. The piece he read last night came with a bonus segment on the particularities of farts that I can't believe he was able to read with a straight face.

photo courtesy of kevin meyer

photo courtesy of kevin meyer
Kathleen Lane. When I saw the order for the evening, I couldn't believe Domi was going to make me follow Kathleen Lane. One of the smartest, quirkiest writers around. She read one of my favorite short stories from a collection she's putting together, a fabulously voicey piece about a child's quest to discover if she might be the murdering type. I love Kathleen Lane's brain so much, if I were a zombie she'd be first on my list.

Next, I read a flash piece I was invited to write a while back for the launch of the mysteriously ill-fated website Reading Local: Portland. The story is called "Airplane Seat" and I think I read well, and since I'm not really here to talk about my own piece or performance, I give you another picture. Note the pumpkin sitting unceremoniously at the back of the stage.

photo courtesy of kathy mcferrin

Following me was Gage Mace, taking the stage and donning a hat, saying he'd brought it not knowing if he'd need it or not - presumably to keep the lights out of his eyes. You can see the hat, undonned for the reading, off to the left in the picture.

photo courtesy of kevin meyer
Gage read the opening to the novel he's been working on in Dangerous Writing, a story about coming of age while fiercely holding onto youth in the days following Bobby Kennedy's assassination. Thursday before last in the Dangerous Writing basement, he brought this piece in to be workshopped after tinkering with it to make it more stand-alone for the reading, and it was one of the treats of the night for me, getting to hear the finished result of that work, live, only a week and a half later.

photo courtesy of domi shoemaker
Closing out the first half was Kevin Meyer. Kevin has been a Dangerous Writer longer than I, and the novel he's been working on, which he's just in the finishing stages of now, is dark, funny, surprising and full of excellent snark. Not only is he a great writer, he's also a great editor, so when he left the group not long ago  in order to move to California, he left a huge hole in the DW basement. I practically jumped up and down when I found out he couldn't stand being away from the group and his novel and was moving back. The scene he read last night takes place at the edge of a South Dakota cyanide pit and involves abandonment, teen angst and butterscotch schnaps. I think I'll leave it at that.

Even the musical entertainment at intermission was put on by DW Alumni: Joe Rogers and Kai Mathisen cranking it as Post-Op Blondie. One voice and one guitar - a perfectly balanced edgy sound that seemed just right for the evening.
photo courtesy of kevin meyer

photo courtesy of kevin meyer
Bradley Rosen opened the second half with a big burst of burnt tongue - maybe the most excellent burnt tongue there is. The term Domi took for the name of her lit series comes from one of the techniques Tom Spanbauer most espouses in his Dangerous Writing school of thought. Burning language is taking language and messing it up in a way that creates character. If "character lies in the destruction of the sentence," Bunkie, the sweet, naive hero of Brad's novel The Bunkie Spills, is one of the richest characters in the world.

Event producer Domi J. Shoemaker took the stage next, reading a piece from her novel in progress, a novel of huge voice - in fact, voices, as the narrator Joni suffers from dissociative identity disorder [or what used to be called multiple personality disorder]. Although suffers from seems wrong here. The character has certainly suffered, but each different voice has such humanity that the multiple personalities seem like the one good thing that has come out of all of Joni's hardships. The spot where Domi wanted to sit for her reading was very dark, so emcee Doug Chase stood up to be her one-man lighting director.

photo courtesy of tracey trudeau
photo courtesy of domi shoemaker
Special guest and DW alumna Monica Drake read a sweet, funny essay about the anxieties and longings associated with brushes with celebrity - her "date" with Kristen Wiig, the famous comedienne who has optioned Clown Girl. Monica's such a master storyteller, and as much as I love her kooky fiction, I've been loving the pieces of nonfiction we've had from her lately, like this smart, honest piece. I'm so looking forward to her new novel The Stud Book, which can be preordered now.

photo courtesy of domi shoemaker
Our penultimate reader was Lidia Yuknavitch, another special guest for the evening. Though she's not a DW alum, her writing is so full of voice, her poetry burnt, her themes a straight shot down to the sore place Tom is always asking us as writers to go to. She read a piece of her latest novel Dora: A Headcase, a chapter that talks, in fact, about one of Tom's favorite artists, who he evokes more than any other artist when talking writing, Francis Bacon. This particular piece from the book takes you seamlessly from narrator Ida's on-fire broken-teen anger-whirlwind voice to the beautiful, hopeful voice of a five-year-old in love with her mother. Young Ida is watching her mother play a piano recital:

"...Her back is straight and strong. Her hair is wrapped and wrapped up around in great swirls of French twist. Her gown is off white silk and chiffon, and off of her shoulders, so that her shoulders look to me like perfect pearl drops. Everyone is holding their breath in anticipation.

"No one is everyone more than I am. I am hot underneath my black velvet and a little itchy and yep a little bit I have to pee but I'm also wanting. I could eat her. I want to run up that instant and crawl into her lap and fold myself between her jaw and and collar bone and suck her shoulder..."

If I could, I'd transcribe like a whole page of this part of the book for you, so you could really understand what it was that made me cry, watching Lidia read this.

photo courtesy of domi shoemaker
Last up was the man of the hour, Tom Spanbauer. Which I suppose rhymes a little too much. Tom read a chapter from his upcoming novel I Loved You More. As a Dangerous Writer who has had the privilege of hearing Tom read pieces of this yet-to-be-published novel in his own basement, I feel... well, there's a part of me that feels like I kind of own this book the way you feel you own something just for loving it. And there's part of me that feels jealous of this book, jealous like, hey, other people aren't supposed to get to hear it, only me. Last night's piece was at times scary, at times sexy, at times gross [part of it takes place in the aftermath of an explosion of sewage], at times beautiful, at times heartbreaking. And at the bottom of it all, it's about what the whole book seems to be about in so many different ways: what it is to be a man. I'm floored every time I hear a segment of this book - the grace and the enormity of it.

Reminiscing about the evening, Stephen had this to say, and I think it's the perfect comment to sum up this sweet thing Domi put together:

"Married to a writer, I go to a lot of readings and hear a lot of great writing. But last night was something very special. And one of the incidental delights of the evening was watching Lidia Yuknavitch across the room - she was in my direct line of sight - just beaming as she listened to the other writers read, her love for what her fellow writers do and who they are was so obvious. And I keep thinking that it was just the perfect expression of the amazing, loving camaraderie that is what Portland's writer's community is all about."

Friday, November 23, 2012

thing collection

Many writers use prompts to get their writing started. It might be a word, a theme, a picture - any small thing to get the creative energies flowing, to use as a seed for story. Writer Kathleen Lane has a cool set of visual prompts over on the blog of her new website. She calls it a "thing collection" - and she has this to say about it...

An interesting thing happened when I tried writing off of a prompt from Kathleen's thing collection. This is the picture I chose:

But after a while of freewriting where nothing grabbed me, I gave that picture up and went back to her blog and found another.

It's not a pineapple, but it looked like a pineapple to me, and that's what I ran with. It took until I was halfway into the piece I was writing that I realized I was actually utilizing that first prompt after all. Here's the story that came out of the exercise.



You’re not going to believe me, but I can stick a whole pineapple up my nose.

I’m serious.

Shut up, I’m serious.

OK, it’s not like it’s a gigantic pineapple, like the size of my head or anything, it’s a small pineapple, but I bet you can’t fit anything up your nose, like probably not even a pea.

Shut up, I’m serious, I can do it, look.


OK, it’s not a real pineapple, it’s just a charm from my mom’s charm bracelet, but that doesn’t mean I lied, it just means there’s more to the story. That’s what makes a story interesting. That’s what Mom says.

Mom has all sorts of charms I can fit up my nose. This gold apple, this little shoe, this tiny rose. Not the one shaped like the Space Needle, I don’t stick that one up my nose, at least not very far.

Mom keeps her charm bracelet hidden in a box in the back of her closet inside the empty binoculars case, and she only wears it when Dad’s out of town. She doesn’t think I notice when she’s wearing it. She thinks that bracelet is her secret, but I have secrets too. How I stick her charms up my nose is my secret. Sometimes when I see that gold all sparkling on her wrist, my nose itches, and sometimes I sneeze, but I pretend it’s because I’m allergic to milk.

I always sneak into her closet to see if she got a new charm. After her thirtieth birthday, she got this tiny butterfly, see? Once when she had the flu so bad she got this little gold teddy bear. She got the Space Needle one after a trip she took where she said she was visiting Aunt Tammy but when she came home she acted all dreamy and I don’t think there are any Space Needles in Omaha.

Here’s a heart with an M on it, except Mom’s real name is Christy. It’s too big to fit up my nose and has a ruby in it and it’s probably fourteen carrots or eighteen carrots or even a hundred and fifty carrots. More carrots make your jewelry better. I learned that from Mom’s friend the jeweler who lives down the block and has a barbecue for neighborhood parties and a pool table.

One time, when I was home sick, he came to our house. When I went to the kitchen, they were there talking quiet at the table, and Mom had her charm bracelet on. He was holding her hand. As soon as he saw me, he pulled his hand away fast, but Mom said, “Oh, sweetie!” Like she was glad to see me. Like she’d forgot I was home. “Mike’s here to appraise my jewelry!”

She put her hand back out to him and he took it. “Twenty-four carrots,” he said. He looked at Mom, not her ring. “Beautiful,” he said.

Mom laughed.

He has black hair and a long nose and a face like a wiener dog, and I hate him. He smiled at me and said, “Hey, partner, did I ever tell you what carrots mean?”

Whenever Mike the jeweler calls me partner, Mom makes dreamy eyes at me like she always makes dreamy eyes at him. I went out into the hall where everyone takes off our shoes so we don’t track dirt all over Mom’s white carpets. I could tell which shoes were Mike’s because they were big and black and not Dad’s. Quick, I shoved his shoelace up my nose.

I don’t care how many times he calls me partner and tries to get me to sit on his lap—I’m not his partner.

Mom has so many charms that if Mike the jeweler keeps giving her more, she’ll need to get a new bracelet. Here’s one shaped like a tiny typewriter. Here’s one shaped like a miniature diamond ring. Here’s the one shaped like a baby. I don’t know where that one came from—Mom’s had it a long time. Plus, the only baby Mom ever had is me.


I'll be reading alongside Kathleen Lane and a whole host of great writers at Crush Bar on Saturday night. You can check out the event page for that here. And check out Kathleen's website and her thing collection here. If you write a story off of one of her prompts, let me know!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Make Vegetarian Thanksgiving Gravy in Eight Easy Steps

Step One.

Step Two.

 Step Three.

Step Four. [also known as "A Good Dog Waits"]

Step Five.

 Step Six.

Step Seven.

Step Eight.


Monday, November 12, 2012

a circus walks over my grave

I never thought about creating an Amazon author page before it was suggested to me by the marketing team of the publisher of my two eBooks. To be honest, I didn't know an author could create an Amazon author page at all. I guess I thought they had cybercorporate shoemaker elves to do that. When I got on to create my page, I figured I'd include the books Portland Noir and The Pacific Northwest Reader, since I'm a contributor - and how about my two children's picture books, which I wrote years ago under an old name - clicky, clicky - and suddenly:

I have an author page.

Under my old name.

OK, you don't understand. I tried for years to shed that name. Fifteen years. Pretty much since I got married to the man and ran off to the circus in the first place - or maybe before. My way of trying not to make a big mistake in my life back then was to make it and then spend fifteen years pretending I hadn't. I'm not here to tell tales on that marriage. But it's been finished for years, that name has been gone from me for years - and yet here it is again.

You know that feeling when the devil walks over your grave? Is that the expression? A ghost? No, a circus parade. With lots of trombones and one of those cars where you open the door and the clowns keep coming out. There was only one book attached to this page, one of the children's books, and I sure as hell wasn't going to add any more so I clicked like mad trying to get it to go away but in the end had to give up and go to work.

All day at work I could hardly concentrate, knowing this was out there. Shouldn't have been a big deal - that children's book already had my old name on it, after all - and I'd probably - hopefully - be able to set things right with an author page for the me I was now - but the memories of those old years, me with that old name, the way I felt about myself when I was that person with that old name - each memory was another clown out of the car.

"Don't worry," Stephen said. "You'll be you again soon."

In the evening I sent a very detailed e-mail to Amazon. For every change you try to make, Amazon gives you steps to fix the problem and then you have to wait five days for the changes to happen. After that five days I had an author page.

Under my old name.

With all my books on it.

Clown car.

Another e-mail to Amazon, another five days. Eventually I got things sorted out and now I have a brand new author page under the right name and for the right me...


But it surprised me how much the whole situation unnerved me. Tegge. One tiny word I wore for fifteen years. That was mine for fifteen years. That I could hardly stand, now, to look at. Tegge. Five tiny letters full of the shame I felt at never fully fitting in in the circus, the shame I felt at letting myself be buried under other people's lives and wants, the shame I felt at staying so long where I didn't belong, the shame I felt at leaving. Most of what I recoil at in that name is not the husband I left but the me I was. Tegge. Five letters - and look. Those two Gs sitting dead center. My first name buried inside. Clown car. You can run away from the circus and join some other life, but in some ways, that old you is still inside.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Seen on the way to lunch after Stephen's lovely art talk at Froelick Gallery. A fitting little plant since today is also the anniversary of the day a good man asked me to marry him. Stephen, I love you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

in the globes

Four years ago, on the eve of the election, I was cutting snowflakes out of book pages for holiday decorations for Powell's City of Books. Yesterday on the eve of another, I did something similar, although decidedly more three-dimensional. The globes were made by cutting circles out of damaged books, gathering them in stacks of twelve and sewing down the middle. My job as a helpmate yesterday was to unfold them to get ready for our resident artist to hang them in holiday book art installations.

On impulse I jotted down a list of the random bits of book pages I unfolded...

A text called Civil Wartimes Illustrated.

Diagrams of molecules:


Photo with caption: "Coretta Scott King mourns her husband."

Pink pages illustrated with drawings of the different stages of a fetus.

Map of the country.

Map of the world.

Medical sketch illustrating the woman's reproductive system.

Dictionary pages full of words:


Sunday, November 4, 2012

getting ready for the reading

book plus lovely scarf laura
knitted me as a thank you for
designing the cover - part of
my outfit for the afternoon
I'm getting myself ready for the Brave on the Page Reading and Launch party. This means practicing my piece alone in my writing room, sitting on the couch with Nicholas on my lap, reading with the door closed even though Stephen's away, at work. This means taking my shower and doing my makeup, then taking Nicholas out for a walk, reciting memorized bits of my essay quietly under my breath as we walk down a sidewalk scattered with wet leaves. Reciting. Reciting. Stopping whenever I see a dog walker up ahead so they don't think I'm nuts.

I iron my blouse, get dressed. Do my hair. Take special care that it curls under on the bottom, curls back on the top, spray it with that stuff.

When I get back from Powell's after picking Stephen up from work, as soon as we walk in the door, Stephen says, OK, put the curling iron on.

Oh yes, this was always part of the plan. I'm no fool.

Les Lunettes, Stephen O'Donnell, acrylic on panel

You don't marry a man who paints himself in dresses and elaborate hairdos without taking advantage of his talents, especially if you're a woman with no sense of style whatsoever. Early in our relationship, I used to get defensive when Stephen wanted to fix my lame attempts at primping, but by now, we've gotten to that place in our marriage where both of us simply agree that it's just better to do the job right. I press the button to start the curling iron warming up again, and we consult on jewelry, stacking bracelets and earrings out on the table.

Before we get started on the hair, Stephen glances at my blouse and his face does that crumple thing that means he's politely letting me know that though I made a valiant effort, some assistance is in order. I take my shirt off. He goes and gets the iron.

Alas, sometimes even Stephen can't keep me on task. Re-ironed and re-curled, re-dressed and happily dolled up, I grab my book and am out the door to the reading - leaving the array of carefully-chosen jewelry behind.