Letter to the Editor (of many moons ago)

Opening Pandora's Box

This post is another request from a reader, it’s something that I have thought about doing for a while so I was happy to fulfil the request. I am going to write a letter to my younger self. Now as someone who is still considered young I wasn’t sure of what Ezra to write to, so I’ve decided to write to three Ezras. These Ezras represent the points in my life that were most foundational. So I will be writing to Ezra right after Toby was born (so I was 2.5 years old), Ezra right before starting kindergarten, and right before starting high school. Don’t get me wrong, I could write to an Ezra from every year of my life, since there are always great things that I could share, but for the sake of time, I’ll just write to these three. Enjoy.


Dear Ezra of June 30 1995…

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Letter to My Younger Self by Michelle Holland

Dear eleven-year old me,
At eleven, you are unchained, loud.  I loved your long lectures on God and the beauty of spiders that you gave from the crook of the old apple tree on the hill behind the house, expounding to the sky and leaves.  No audience.  And the books you wrote created a whole bookcase of stapled-together stories with illustrated, construction-paper covers.  No workshops, no instructions.  You didn’t need a publisher, or an online presence.  Let me return to follow the creek with you, that bordered our property, over the fence to the cow fields and a forested lot where the small stream curved into an oblivion you never pursued.
Soon enough you will realize that hand-me-downs from your cousins, no matter how well they fit, and how brilliant the colors of old hip-slung jeans were, they set you apart from those other girls who shopped for clothes, and had bedrooms fringed with puffy pink and posters of Davey Jones and Donny Osmond on the walls. 
Cherish that old leather baseball glove that you share with your brothers, the one always behind the radiator, where you dig it out, grab a bat from the porch, and take off for Hoag’s field in late spring to play pick-up baseball with the older kids.  Because you field well, and don’t flinch at pitches, you are always picked to play on one team or the other.  At eleven, you take this for granted, and just play. 
Stay eleven.  Somehow.  You can write poetry, love songs, and sing them to an audience of birds.  And at eleven, you don’t know your father is an alcoholic; you don’t know that it will take twenty years for your parents to pay off your grandmother’s hospital bills; you don’t know that the gardens that always need weeding, grow the food that your parents will not have to spend money on at the grocery store, and you don’t know that you are poor, or that it matters.
At eleven, the days you spend at your Aunt Dot’s camp with your cousins is magic.  There are inner tubes to float on, hotdogs and chips and potato salad and your Mimére’s chocolate cake.  Later on you will hear your aunts and uncles say that your parents don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.  All you know is that a clean pair of underwear and an undershirt is all you need to call a bathing suit, and the ability to dog paddle, and you, too, can run and leap off the dock trying to land as close to your thrown inner tube as possible. 
At eleven you can be oblivious.  The joy you feel is unadulterated and unselfconscious.  You kept that for me.  Bottled up like the glow worms that I know you collect in a jar, then let go all at once into the darkness.  You did that for me.  Thank you.

A Recent Visit to the D.H. Lawrence Shrine in San Cristobal, New Mexico

Eagle in New Mexico
by D.H. Lawrence
Towards the sun, towards the south-west
A scorched breast.
A scorched breast, breasting the sun like an answer,
Like a retort.
An eagle at the top of a low cedar-bush
On the sage-ash desert
Reflecting the scorch of the sun from his breast ;
Eagle, with the sickle dripping darkly above.


Lawrence actually spent very little time here, although we’d like to claim him as our own.


He and Frieda had separate rooms in life and in death:





The tree by his cabin inspired Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Lawrence Tree” painting.


I don’t particularly associate Lawrence with cats, but a friendly little sphinx seems to guard his grave.


Letter To My Younger Self by Karla Linn Merrifield

Dear Karla Linn:
I have a portrait of you, the poet as a young girl, carved in my memory like the scars from Daddy’s belt buckle on your back and thighs because you were to him:
Cursed at birth, left-handed. Cursed again in second grade, girl-child of Eve’s serpent, mirror-writing cursive messages as backward runes: .ekanS si eman yM.  Satan’s words, sinister, sinful, sin-filled, said the Father, who twine-+bound your hands to stop the Crayola, the #2 Ticonderoga pencil, the Parker ballpoint pen.
When the curse— Eve’s bloody punishment—came on at age twelve, curvaceousness ensued, then boys, then further, harsher punishments to purify the evil spawn of Daddy’s loins.
Trust me. You will survive.
Exorcised of Lucifer and related nonsense, you will at sixty-three still be forward-writing Siren’s words to fill Dear Diary, one of more than three hundred journals over your fifty-two years, to rival Anais Nin and William Heyen in volume, every single word de la main sinistre.
Proof you are ever traveling into the cymae of being, kissing away the curses on back roads to the curve of Time.

Flying Crippled: Inadvertent Adventures in my World of Invisible Disability

Disabled Traveler

Earlier this summer, my husband Rich and I drove across country. It was a wonderful experience, one I thought I’d never have. Long periods of sitting really spike my already chronic pain level. But if there is anyone who knows how to “accommodate” me, it’s Rich. He made it fun, he made it easy, and I’ll take some credit myself—for asking bluntly for what I needed (to be active—driving, walking—for only 2/3 of each day and then to rest).
Part of what made it doable was that while Rich drove back, I flew. Ostensibly quicker, and less crippling. Ha ha. I should have driven.
My first problem was immediate—I was flying from Baltimore to Boston. I was happy to get pre-boarded on a flight without assigned seats. I boarded, left my cane on my seat, and went to the back bathroom.
Then this ensued.
Stewardess: Why didn’t you use the bathroom before you got on the plane?
Frankly, I was stunned, but I said: I’m disabled, my cane is on my seat, in BWI this seemed easier. I’m sorry, but is the bathroom available?
Stewardess: Where are you sitting?
I gesture, Behind the wing.
Stewardess: Why didn’t you use the bathroom up front?
I stared at her.
Stewardess: Well, this is just getting too complicated.
Me: I agree!
Stewardess: You can use the bathroom.

No sooner did I shut the door, than I found myself sobbing. I’d done everything I could to take care of myself and inconvenience no one, and it wasn’t working.

Do some people—even service professionals—dislike, scorn, or fear me because I’m disabled? I’m thinking: yes. What I feel in terms of prejudice is of course the assumption that I’m able bodied. But it’s more than that. My disability—made visible by the cane—seems to make people REACT—with pity, or negativity, with unwanted advice, with dislike or even sadism.
I want to say: LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE. My problem is not yours—it’s mine—and if you’d comply with the law and common sense we’ll be fine. Got it?

I got to Boston. A few days later, I flew to Dallas. Then, in a that-fast-bit-is-impossible afternoon, I was on a flight to Santa Fe that got delayed twice, finally cancelled.

The gate agent was re-booking us…a long line.
“Can you accommodate me?” I gestured to my cane.
“You can sit and wait until everyone is done,” he said.
Of course I was not asking that. I was asking—can you hold my spot in line? But he wouldn’t.

People suggest a wheelchair in airports, and it may come to that, but I don’t want one. I’m so grateful I can walk—it takes hours of PT and more each week. And walking helps as a break from sitting. Why should I be less mobile just because others can’t deal with a woman on a cane? Is it either wheelchair or trouble?

I wrote a letter of complaint about the Baltimore bathroom fiasco. My request: don’t ask people why they need the bathroom. I started thinking about it—infection, pregnancy, miscarriage, ostomies, cancer, autoimmune disease and more may be implicated. Did the stewardess really want to hear an answer like that? Travel sites also stress using the airplane bathroom as little as possible. Well, it’s there for a reason.

I got sort of an apology, and a $50 travel voucher. Better than nothing.

Jaime Sabines Translated by Claudia Hagadus Long

The moon can be taken by teaspoonfuls,
Or in pill form every two hours

It’s useful as a sleeping pill or a sedative

And soothes those drunk on philosophy

A sliver of moon in your pocket is a better charm than a rabbit’s foot

It can help you find your beloved, helps you be rich without anyone knowing
And keeps the doctor away. You can give it to children for dessert when they
won’t go to sleep
And a couple of drops in an old man’s eyes help him die in peace.
Put a tender leaf of moon under your pillow
And you’ll see what you should see.

Always carry a little jar of moon air for when you’re drowning
And give the moon key to the prisoner and the disenchanted.
For those condemned to death

And for those condemned to life
There’s no greater solace than the moon

Given in precise and controlled doses.

Jaime Sabines

a cucharadas

o como una cápsula cada dos horas.
Es buena como hipnótico y sedante

y también alivia
a los que se han intoxicado de filosofía.

Un pedazo de luna en el bolsillo
es mejor amuleto que la pata de conejo:
sirve para encontrar a quien se ama,

para ser rico sin que lo sepa nadie

y para alejar a los médicos y las clínicas.
Se puede dar de postre a los niños
cuando no se han dormido,

y unas gotas de luna en los ojos de los ancianos

ayudan a bien morir.

Pon una hoja tierna de la luna
debajo de tu almohada
y mirarás lo que quieras ver.

Lleva siempre un frasquito del aire de la luna
para cuando te ahogues,

y dale la llave de la luna

a los presos y a los desencantados.
Para los condenados a muerte

y para los condenados a vida

no hay mejor estimulante que la luna

en dosis precisas y controladas.

Monday Feature: Michaela Kahn on Memorizing Poetry

Poetry Memorization …

The first poem I remember having to memorize for school was for my 6th grade English class. We all got to pick our own and had to recite it in front of the class at the end of the week. I had a gorgeous anthology of poetry at home which I sadly can’t remember the name of now. It had a green cover with yellow flowers and lavish illustrations throughout – with poetry in English from the 18th century to the mid-20th. So for my memorization exercise I picked a Shakespeare “poem” which actually turned out to be one of the songs from “As You Like It” (as I discovered much later). To this day the words float into my head now and again – friendly, sort of comforting. A snippet of beauty from a period which tends to be hard for everybody (ah, Middle School). I still have the whole thing memorized … probably because in a way I’d cheated with a song that includes a refrain! I am curious what poems others had to memorize in school that gently haunt them (in a good way) to this day?

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Who doth ambition shun
And loves to lie i’ the sun,
Eating the food he eats,
And pleased with what he gets,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Letter To My Younger Self by Baro Shalizi

Letter to my Younger Self

At sixteen, you think you are quite worldly. You have lived in four countries, two of those in boarding schools far from your home and family. You are responsible. Looking back, kiddo, I must say, you were too responsible.

Remember the time you left home to come to America for school. You stopped in London overnight and stayed with family friends. They begged you to stay a few days see the country, but you adamantly refused because school had already started. It turned out you were bored in school and often fell asleep in class. The standard of education was so much lower in the US than what you were accustomed to. You could have spent a few days in England and been none the worse off. But you did the right thing. In college, while many of your friends experimented with drugs, you abstained and focused on your studies. Decades later, those friends are doing just as well in life as you are. At the time you didn’t realize that there were two ways to learning – academic and experiential.

But your instincts stood you in good stead. You have traveled to numerous countries, worked for the UN, started numerous businesses of your own, but most importantly you have a plethora of friends. Friends who are always there for you – the biggest treasure in the world. To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. You have done well, young man.

Creative Writing at SFCC: Come Join Our Fiction Classes!

There are spaces in Intermediate Fiction (English 225) at SFCC this fall. It’s aimed at focused development of craft and stories. Russ Whiting is the instructor—and I’ve asked him to talk about the class below.
There are still a very few spots left in my on-line fiction class (English 221)—take it from anywhere in the world! Focus is on flash fiction. Terry Wilson’s writing class (English 120), always a jump start, is also open to a few more folks.

Check out http://www.sfcc.edu

And feel free to ask me directly about our AA, certificate, and individual classes at: miriam.sagan@sfcc.edu

Interview with Russ Whiting

What are the major one or two things students will learn in the class?

I hope that students take away many things from the class, but I suppose the main thing we learn is  that writing is a craft and a practice, and we get better at it each time we go to the well.  The course is built around practice and I see my job as a facilitator or coach to prompt each student’s best writing.  The second thing I try to impress upon students is that the story, whether short or long, is the most important element.  We can work out the details as we share and critique as a group.  We work on ideas, plot, description, dialogue, point of view, and all the necessary elements of the story, but the most important thing is just going for it.

Will you address longer forms of story like the novella or novel, or mostly short stories?

I like all the forms that stories take and it is up to the students to decide which forms suit them.  Often, a short story can be a chapter or an outline of a novel or novella, so everything is fair game.  I will definitely discuss the difference between them, what is selling in the market, what editors and agents are looking for, and how to build each form and what each includes.  I’ve lined up a New York agent to do a phone interview with the class and answer questions about how the literary world has changed and what really works for readers.

What is your opinion about the central challenge that writers face?

I grew up on a farm and worked on ranches, doing the toughest labor you can imagine, but writing is still the hardest job I’ve ever done.  As a newspaper editor and reporter, freelance journalist, and now fiction writer, I think that shaping words to tell a story, entertain, educate, and elicit a visceral response in the reader is the ultimate challenge.  We want it to “sound” beautiful, have characters that jump out of the pages and become real in our minds, and tell a story that somehow matters.  In order to do all these things, we have to sit and write, usually alone.  Overcoming the obstacle of our own inertia is probably the toughest wall we have to climb, but that’s what the class is for.  We learn that we are not alone, that there are specific things we can do to break the resistance, and ways to trick the muse into action.

Anything else?

Only to say that I really love teaching this class.  We become a community of artists.  I have students who have published novels that began in this class, script writers who are producing short films and entering them into national contests, and even one student who is now teaching creative writing at a college in Missouri and continuing to write her own novels. It always gives my writing a boost and I want to be able to do that for other writers.