Sunday, June 11, 2023

Some passages from my journals about my good friend Robert Hill

Robert Hill was my second close friend to pass away in a very short period of time, and I've been looking through my old journals for stories I wrote down about both of them. I compiled a bit of a post with excerpts for each of them, and this one is for Robert—a sadly inadequate and incomplete collection as my journaling is scant at times, especially in these later years full of projects and not enough time. But I'm thankful for the memories I did write down, and I thought I'd share for anyone who's missing him.

Some commentary and explanations in italics before the entries. 


This took place at the home of Tom Spanbauer where I and some friends were in his Dangerous Writing workshop. The "outside group" I mention is a small writing group threesome of Steve Arndt, Kathleen Lane, and me, that we were talking about expanding, and which eventually became the Henry Writing Group (because we met at the Henry, across the street from Powell's). Diane and Dian are different people, not a typo. I honestly can't remember whether I had met Robert by now. It's the first mention of him in my journals.
Friday, February 22, 2008, 2:25 PMPages went wellrewrite passedof course, Diane wasn't there. 

And outside, we were talkingKathleen, Steve and meabout the outside group. She's spoken to Robert Hill, who's interested, and she wants to invite Dian.

Just a tiny snippet about when I started reading Robert Hill's first book When All Is Said and Done.
Thursday, February 28, 2008... 2-28-2008... nice10:28 AMFinished Now is the Hour yesterday morning and have started Robert Hill's book.

Lots of voice. I've already come across good humor and sadness and social issues.

This was a writing retreat the Henry Writers took together, and Robert used the time to work on a story he was writing for the book Stephen and I were producing, The Untold Gaze.
Monday, October 20, 2014, 4:05 PMLovely day-long writing retreat at the Tiny House. It was Liz, Kathleen, Robert, Sara and I, and the house was lovely. I spent most of the writing time up in the loft bedroom, which was so low you had to crawl across the floor to get to the bed, and the roof was a steep slant over your head. It felt cozy sitting on the bed with pillows and a window at my back. Sounds of frogs through that window. And geese. Geese were flying over constantly. At one point, I sort of stretched and craned my neck back and upside-down saw so many geese fly across the sky. Lovely sounds to write by. That and the occasional giggling of Robert just about directly below me in the great room. Giggling to himself about the piece he was writing for Stephen’s book. In the end he told me he was a little over the limit. “You wanted 600 words, right? Mine’s…” squinty-eyed face, “eleven hundred.”

Snippet from Henry Writing Group.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015, 9:41 AM—Laura surprised us all with the opening to a new book, and Kathleen surprised us with a piece from a whole book she’s written in a month and a half. Both were amazing. Robert with a gorgeous new early piece to his new book, which was very different and added so much to the story. Sara with an essay on rape, which was strong but which we were able to give her a lot of good feedback on. Which she’s writing for a submission to an anthology headed up by Roxane Gay. Dian with a great story she wrote in a garden in France. Liz with a rejection letter for her memoir that she wanted feedback on. It was a night of being enriched in the company of some of my favorite people. And inspired.

More writing group. The reference to "poeh-treh" is about a performance Stephen and I did at the Poe Show, but what I love about this entry is that it was the first time Robert saw copies of The Remnants, his second book, which Forest Avenue Press published and whose cover I was honored to design.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016, 2:20 PM—had Group last night to fill my soul up again. I read for the first time in months. It felt very pedestrian and not that interesting, but I just wanted to get them back on track with the reading and me back on track with bringing stuff in. All evening, Liz, Steve and Robert kept talking about “poeh-treh” and laughing and talking about how good we were. Liz said as soon as we finished performing, she stood up in applause. “And I hate standing ovations!” she said. Robert walked me to my car afterward and asked me where the inspiration for Lord and Lady Bungalow came from. So funny that it just popped out of our mouths while driving around, on the way to Cape Meers that early trip when we found Bayocean and didn’t get swept away by a tsunami. Laura brought the first copies of The Remnants, hot off the press. She gave Robert a copy of the Poets and Writers that has the piece on Forest Avenue Press and followed it up with pulling out six copies of the book and handing him one. The delight on his face. So fun to watch him look at the actual book for the first time. A couple times I caught him just sort of lightly petting the cover like it was a delicate bird. 

Then the wrap-up of Robert's Powell's book launch for The Remnants.
Friday, March 18, 2016, 10:24 AM—Well, Robert’s launch was a lovely night. Looks like there were at least 75 people. The party at Liz’ beforehand was very nice. Stephen and I met Wes at the call box, and that was a lovely surprise. There were maybe 25 people at the party, and then Group had the front row for the reading, which I think was nice. Stephen and me, Kathleen, Steve, Liz, Dian, Sara (Margaret was out sick but just found out she was one of the runners up for the PEN, which is amazing), Laura, of course, Norm. Stevan Allred. Brad came, which was nice. Jamie, sitting alone in back. Liz was the intro, which was fabulous, and Robert gave a lovely tribute to Tom, which I told him about in my letter. Robert had flowers and/or presents for folks he was thanking, and mine… I sat on the floor and opened it with Kathleen and Steve and inside… so clever. First I unwrapped what looked like crackers and I thought, OK, where’s the cheese. It wasn’t until I finished going through it that it occurred to me, and I said to Kathleen, no, this is just like in the book! Tea and saltines! He gave me two tea cups and saucers, tea and saltines. And a sprig of apple blossoms which—he searched for… what is it in the book… cherry blossoms? But this was a good substitute. He really had the crowd laughing as he read. Stevan likened it to Shakespeare, how at first, you’re a little lost in the language and then you click into it and it becomes this understood, beautiful language you ride, and I think it’s true—the laughter just built. 

Another snippet from writing group, this time on Zoom, with a mention of the next book Robert had been working on. (The "poor mouse" is something a crow left in our birdbath, if you must know.)
Wed, May 12, 2021 at 12:08 PM—I had Henry group, which was just Liz, Robert, Steve and me as Kathleen, who was supposed to join us at the beginning and then the end, couldn't get back on at the end. I only saw her for a moment as she was getting off (I was a little late because of the poor mouse). Robert read the end of his book, which was amazing, and Liz read the beginning of a new project. So it felt like a momentous meeting. We talked and talked about just the last few lines of Robert's book, and it felt like a privilege to do so. 

Finally, here are Robert's final words from the final email I got from him. I wanted to share them, not because he mentions reading the book I've been writing, but because I like to picture him there, sitting outside, just enjoying some coffee, and goofing around, beautifully, with words like always.
It's going to be 88 here today. It's glorious out. I'm sitting on the front porch with my coffee looking at a haze of sage pollen waft across the driveway just in my sight line to a cluster of daffodils across the road.

Bugs are buzzing, an owl is hooting, in the distance several dogs are engaged in an a cappella argument.

I have barely had any clarity to work on STUCK. Maybe 4 pages in the past 3 weeks? Ugh. But... I am looking forward to devoting a church of outdoor time today to diving into your book because it's so charming. And so you. And so therefore attention must be paid! Wait... Willy? Is that you? Are you home from Albany? The boys have a bone to pick with you! What? Lunch with the mayor of Providence? How... special. I made meatloaf for dinner. Digestion must be made.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Some passages from my journals about my good friend Mara

I recently lost a very close friend who I'd known since I was six and she was four. I started to poke through my old journals, the ones I'd transcribed to computer (which is far from all of them), where I could do a search of her name and see what I found. Most of what I found was nondescript, mentions of hanging out, vaguely-described good times. But I pulled out some passages that were more particular, going back through the years, that I thought I'd share for anyone who knew Mara. 

Some commentary and explanations in italics before some entries. Spelling and punctuational errors intact because at the start of this, I am eight.


I had a cassette tape and was getting various friends and family to sing and talk on it with me.
January 31, 1978—On my tape, Mara and I had made a martian story. Something happened & the tape speeded up. We were talking fast & high. It echoed. It sounded so neat!

I'm ashamed to share this one because Mara and I were playing a ditch 'em game from my sister Edina, and how mean is that? Also, apparently we were climbing around Mara's monkey bars with pillows on top of it... eek. But it was a very particular memory I have of being with her, just the two of us.
April 9, 1978—today Mara and I were trying to get away from edina, and we had an idea. it took a while But I got over mara's Fense. I let mara in the T bar had pillows on it and we got on it, and got the giggles. 

We were camping at a place called Campland, and they were shooting some sort of commercial. Friendly the Wolf was the place's mascot.
May 11, 1980—Today I got in another comercial. I was a background. We made a mound of sand for friendly the wolf to sit on. Shena, Heather, Tom, Edina, Mara, Ryan and I walked in the background while friendly the wolf talked. We went home. I watched video taped movies.

The "(s)" below is me describing a motion with the hands that looks like an S.
September 30, 1982—Edina's birthday. We went to the French Pantry for Edina's birthday. Alaine (a waitress) teaches sign language. She gave us name signs. Mine's an "E" (left hand) rubbing my right arm. (I like to make music). Edina is 2 "E"s signing "talk". Frankie is an "F" with the 3 last fingers chomping the thumb for Pac-Man. Heather is "H" (s) Shena is 2 "S"s playing a flute. Alaine's is an "A" dancing. Mara signs "Super Jew." 

October 16, 1982—We played our soap opera. You see, about a weak ago we made a soap opera. I'm Lisa Van Jua, a snob. Mara's my sister Andrea. Heather's Stephany Shore. Edina's her 16 year old sister Kathy Morgan. Shena is Jackie Benit. Frankie is Christopher Shena's son & Heather's adopted son. I'm a modle. It's a lot of fun!

The Butlers were/are Shena and Mara's good friends.
February 20, 1983—We went to a mission. Then we ate breakfast out. Then we went home. Noni had a big get-together, the Butlers came. I was so mad. Shena and Mara were acting all hot. I got to Special on Lady bug again. We had sundaes. 

May 29, 1983—We swam in the lake again. Today I lost one of my ear plugs in the water. Heather & Frankie made up a "Star Wars" presentation & after it we came home. Tonight, Mara & Heather spent the night. We swam in the pool. We watched part of "The Blue & the Grey", I turned it off & I went to sleap.

This entry really got to me because Mara's personality shines through so beautifully. It was a visit with a good friend Ian, who we hadn't really hung out with since his brother (my first best friend) had died a year before. (Colleen was a friend of the family and I guess Sean was her son. I don't remember him.)
Oct 4, 1984, 6:47 PM—Well, Colline brought Ian and Sean over this after noon. We (Shena, Mara, & I) saw them drive up in the van they've always had, as we walked home from school. Mara, instantly tore off her shoes and began to run toward our house and I followed close behind. Shena, however, stayed back abit. Ian got out of the van and it's true. He's almost as tall as I am. Mara gave him a big hug. I don't know why I didn't. I guess I was too scared to know what to do. Mara said a few words and started, with Shena, towards their house. We went in our house. Colline and Mom were talking and Ian and I just stood around for awhile. He seemed as scared as I was. But, then, we both began to loosen up. We played Sean a couple games of pin-ball. Ian got 500,00 on one game. Sal and Susan were over with Chandler. Then, we all began to play tag. It was Ian and me against all the kids. The boundaries were the whole house and yard and we captured them and put them in our "dungeon" It was like old times. Later, Mara came back up and she, Ian, and I talked in my room about old times and things. We talked about Big Bear and the hill behind his house and the tree house he has in his back yard and camping and playing zoo. I was really sad when he left. I think he's coming back on next Tuesday or something.

12/25/84 7:11 P.M.—Shena and Mara came by and we took a boat ride with Coco in which we sang songs and saved someone's volleyball. Now, they're gone and we're back at the McFerrin's lake house where we're spending the night.

There are a lot of years between my childhood and the millennium that I haven't transcribed for computer. Here, Mara was getting married and friends and family were making a quilt for her as a wedding gift, each person making one square.
Saturday, July 21, 2001, 6:49 am—I started painting background squares for Mara's quilt square yesterday. I have it laid out and am now onto the painting portion. I hope the thing doesn't look completely stupid. I'm using the story of Mara from our childhood, in which they had just moved in and she was going up and down the street asking if parents had any kids she could play with. I'm leaving Kirsten out and just doing a cartoon of Mara at an open door asking the question, with an inset, then, of an older Mara—because we could find no good childhood photos amongst Mom's stuff, nothing that didn't have a hand in front of the face, etc.

Thursday, July 26, 2001, 6:21 am—Last night, I finished up the square for Mara. I think it looks fine. The picture of her looks pretty good and I was able to use the light board to trace some lettering onto the cloth. I was afraid about that because you can't just draw and erase on cloth like you can on paper, so this worked out well.
Another jump forward. I feel like this might have been the first time we saw Mara's house when she and the boys moved in, here in Portland.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007, 2:41 PM—And then the evening was Stephen, Frank and me with Mara and the family at her house, a tour of her house and pizza, then Stephen home and Frank and I went off with them to the zoo for Zoo Lights. Asher and Boston were bouncing off the walls and it was so much fun. Rainy and wet but lovely lights all around and a train ride.

Lastly, an account of the Zoom surprise birthday party Shena and the boys arranged for Mara in 2020.
Thursday, 6-25-20 8:25 PM—The lovely, funny chaos of the surprise birthday party for Mara. 

I logged on about five minutes till. A few people on already, not Shena. Kirsten (formerly) Butler, which was cool and she said, "Hey, Gigi, do you remember me?" Let's see, the group ended up being Shena, Stephen and me, Peg, Boo, various Woodruffs I mostly know by name, Adam, Kirsten, Dave Lambert (who at first couldn't make his sound work and almost gave up), Michael, Heather, Molly and Ryan Silbernagel, and the boys, sometimes on their own devices and sometimes in the room with Mara. 

At first Mara was on a work call and Asher was doing all this reconnaissance, trying to get Mara off of work and on with us without giving away the secret. When she finally logged in and started to see people she burst into tears. She didn't have it on gallery view, so she kept discovering people one by one, which was cute, and calling out names and sometimes crying again. It was mostly total chaos and Stephen downstairs and I upstairs just sat and took it in. She kept saying funny things and making oopsy faces at the screen, which was cute. We sang the lamest, most halting, most flying-apart-at-the-seams Happy Birthday song ever. 

But she loved it and felt very loved. It was three thirty in the morning in Barcelona. Shena had big, white bulb lights running in an inverted V over her head. Heather made jokey comments about how dare Kirsten be so hot. When I said I thought David didn't have audio or whatever the ability to talk is, Mara made a joke about, oh good, David should shut up, and then Peg said that David had been the one who delivered the flowers and the cake. Shena was told that as leader of the meeting, she could mute people at will and there was joking about someone having his TV on. Someone had a gorgeous set of windchimes ringing here and there in the background. We were all on in the chaos for about an hour and it was sweet and funny. It was a nice, big group.