Monthly Archives: March 2007


I’ve had insomnia for the past three nights. I have no trouble falling asleep, but then I wake up at 3 or 4 or 5 (5:30 this morning) and am awake for hours (which is why I’m blogging, because I’m too tired to do much else). What do I think about as I lay awake, staring at the ceiling (before I finally get up and read or fall back to sleep)? This morning I thought about:

1. Lori P. She was one of my two best friends when I was a kid and we lost touch after her family moved to PA. I recently found her via Private and sent her an e-mail. She wrote back. She was excited to hear from me and she has three kids, etc. I wrote her a long e-mail updating her on my life over the past 20 years. Never heard back from her. I finally sent her another e-mail saying, “Hey Lori, did I say something to offend you?” No response. So I lay awake this morning wondering, Why didn’t she write back?

2. Lost. (*SPOILER ALERT* If you didn’t see last night’s episode, skip to number 3.) I lay in bed this morning thinking A. I KNEW they weren’t dead! I guessed it! I guessed it! I kept telling Martin, “It’s like Romeo and Juliet when one of them took that poison that just makes them look like they’re dead. Otherwise they would have buried them by now. And they haven’t even closed their eyes.” B. If Jack had been there, he would have known they weren’t dead. C. I don’t remember that guy having an accent before. D. Wouldn’t they still have had pulses? But then I guess Romeo’s (or was it Juliet’s?) pulse slowed until it wasn’t perceptible.

3. Those bars when we were kids. Thinking about Lori got me thinking about those bars on the playground and whether playgrounds still have them. At my elementary school, all the girls did all recess (from about 1st to 5th grade) was play on the “bars.” They were about thigh high on an adult and horizontal and I remember in first grade trying to get the courage up to swing around one on my legs. I think that whole year I did it with my arms wrapped under and around my legs so I wouldn’t fall. Then by 2nd or 3rd grade I finally got good at doing it with my hands on the bars. And we would go around around forever—forwards and backwards. (And I did fall off once and hit my chin on the ground, but just once.) I want to try one of those bars now! I wish they had big ones for adults. I also remember people climbing up onto the high bars. (I forget what they’re called), hanging by their knees and dropping off. I was too scared to drop off without holding on because I was afraid I’d face plant into the dirt. I think dropping off had a name, like the cannonball or something like that.

And halfway through my pre-dawn reveries this morning, I poked Martin (I can do this because I know he’ll fall right back to sleep):
“Hey Martin, Martin.”
“Those guys weren’t with the Others. Sawyer just thought that because they had the walkie talkie.”
“Oh yeah.” (and he’s back to sleep.)


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Yahoo is so f—– this week! If you’re in a Yahoo group (and I’m in four or five), you’ve been getting multiple (sometimes 10+) of every e-mail. I also have POP access, and all the e-mails that downloaded after I returned from Patagonia (about 90) have now downloaded two more times. Because a new e-mail may get mixed in with them, I have to go through all 90 and delete them one by one. What a pain!

(P.S. I know they just upgrade to unlimited storage, which is probably what is causing the problems.)

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Getting It Done!

I took this two-day motivational seminar last week offerd by efficiency expert Martha Borst of Avista Consulting. A lot of it was stuff I already knew, but to be reminded and to spend two whole days focusing on what you can do to be more effective/productive was really useful. I have a binder full of planning sheets (Daily Planning, Weekly Planning, Action Planning, etc.) that are really useful. One of the first steps is to divide your To Do list (and mine is endless, I keep it open at all times in a Word document on my laptop) into “Priority A – Must Do,” “Priority B – Should Do,” and “Priority C – Nice to Do.” I’ve been taught this method before, but I used it more for big goals like “Learn Japanese” and “Publish a book.” Now I have everything on my To Do list divided into those three categories so that each day I focus on my A priorities (and the B ones eventually get shifted to A as deadlines get closer) instead of running around all day working on things that aren’t urgent. I also have strict deadlines. I have to revise a chapter a week, even if that means canceling plans to climb or go out in order to get it done by Saturday night. A big part of the seminar was about commitment and keeping agreements, which, for me, means getting out of bed earlier. I’ve also been getting up earlier and making it to my writing office by 9 a.m. instead of 10:30 or 11. That means I’m back to taking the casual carpool, with mixed results. (I love saving the money, but I could do without the loud radio, the jerky and aggressive way some people drive and the sob stories about being late for a job that doesn’t pay enough in the first place.) I guess the other big thing I took away from the workshop was being more conscious overall – both about starting work on time, spending less time on the Internet and discovering all the free time I have that I could be using to write. So now instead of saying, “Oh, I didn’t have time to write today” I have to say “I CHOSE to watch The Wire for an hour (or two) instead of write. It’s kind of like keeping track of the calories you eat or the money you spend. Just by being more conscious of how you spend your time, you waste less. I watched The Wire (DVD) on Sunday and Lost last night, but that’s it, rather than two hours/night.

So if you don’t see me on the blog as often in the coming weeks, it’s because I have GOALS to achieve and AGREEMENTS to keep. And I’ll keep you posted (now and then) on the progress.

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bizy backson.

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Writing Workshops at the Grotto

The Grotto is going to start offering writing workshops beginning next month. Here’s the skinny:

The Grotto is pleased to announce a new series of seminars and workshops for people who are serious about writing. These classes are designed to offer high-quality instruction to students who have a professional interest in writing, and will be comparable to those taught in MFA or graduate journalism school programs. All classes are taught by professional writers devoted to teaching practical aspects of craft to committed students in a comfortable environment. The Grotto writing classes will give students an opportunity to become familiar with the Grotto literary community, and hopefully, to develop a supportive writing community for themselves.
We offer courses in the short story, the novel, memoir, magazine writing, literary journalism, book reviewing, screenwriting, and book length non-fiction writing. Our faculty members have taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Stanford, California College of the Arts, St. Mary’s, USF, the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, San Francisco State, and include winners of a wide variety of national and international awards. Most courses are limited enrollment and requite an application with a writing sample.
The Grotto, now in its second decade, was established as a space for professional writers to work, to provide a sanctuary for creativity and to nurture the broader literary community.
To register for classes, please send a non-refundable $100 deposit to your teacher at the Grotto by April 7. The Grotto address is 490 Second St. #200, San Francisco, CA 94107.
Fine print policies: Class spaces are limited and will be first come, first served; your check will be returned if there is no space for you. Checks for the balance of the course fee ($495) will be due the first day of class. Students have the option of dropping the course after the first day of class, but the teacher will keep the deposit. After the first class, there will be no refunds. For further information about the class, please email the individual teacher, below.

Meet the teachers: Come to a reception at the Grotto April 12 at 6:00 pm to meet the teachers of the upcoming Grotto Writing Workshops.
***Grotto Workshops Co-sponsored By The Booksmith***

Instructor: Julia Scheeres
Number of sessions: 8
Meeting times: Tuesday nights, April 24 through June 12, 6:00 to 8:30
Course fee: $595.00
Translating your life story into a vivid, compelling and ultimately, salable manuscript is the focus of this class. Through reading, discussion, and writing, and re-writing, we will explore the changing shape of memory and the creative license that it affords us on the page. The writing assignments will build toward a 20-50 page excerpt for use in a nonfiction book proposal. Class size limited to 12 people.
Students will learn how to:
– Find their memoir’s “theme”
– Enhance their memory of people and events
– Distinguish between emotional and factual truth
– Research their own lives
– Revise their manuscript until it sings
– Find and query agents
Admission Requirement:
Please submit a writing sample of up to 1,500 words, preferably written in the first person, to Julia Scheeres ( If you don’t have a writing sample, send a one-page synopsis of your memoir. Students will be notified by e-mail if they have been accepted.
Instructor bio:
Julia Scheeres is the author of the memoir Jesus Land (Counterpoint 2005), which made both the New York Times and London Times bestseller lists and has been translated into Swedish and Norwegian. Jesus Land was the recipient of the American Library Association’s “Alex Award” and the Quality Paperback Book Club’s “New Visions Award.” Scheeres, who has a an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Southern California, is a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

Instructor: Ethan Watters
Contact:, 415-348-1849
Number of sessions: 8
Meeting times: Thursday nights, April 19th through June 7th, 6:30 to 9:30
Course fee: $595.00
This class will put beginning and intermediate writers on a path to getting published. We will focus on developing magazine pieces and book projects. An emphasis will be placed on getting students to begin pitching ideas to magazine editors and agents. Students will be expected to develop two magazine projects during the class or one book proposal. These will be workshopped during class. There will be a reader and short weekly writing assignments both in and out of class. Class size limited to 14 people.
Students will learn how to:
-Find ideas for non-fiction writing
-Write effective query letters for magazine
-How to craft book proposals and magazine features
-Understand the magazine market place
-Develop relationships with editors and agents
-Critiquing and re-writing first drafts
Admission Requirement:
Instructor bio:
Ethan Watters has been a freelance writer for 20 years. He has taught non-fiction writing at Berkeley and Stanford extension and is currently an adjunct professor in the masters writing program at California College of the Arts. He’s written for The New York Times Magazine, Men’s Journal, Outside, Esquire, Discover, Spin, Mother Jones, GQ, Details, HG, and San Francisco Magazine, among other national and regional publications. He has also created pieces for Public Radio International’s This American Life. He has written three books: Making Monsters, Therapy’s Delusions and Urban Tribes. Ira Glass has purchased the rights to Urban Tribes and is currently developing it into a major motion picture at Dream Works. In 1994 he co-founded the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

Instructor: Laura Fraser
Contact:, 415-227-0353
Number of sessions: 8
Meeting times: Wednesday nights, April 25 through June 20, 6:00 to 9:00 (out of 9 weeks, one week will be off. To be announced.)
Course fee: $595.00
This course is aimed at helping experienced writers take their craft to a new level. We will focus on writing articles and essays that sparkle—with crisp language, clear structure, and thorough research. We will explore different non-fiction genres every week, discussing the differences between personal essays, reported features, profiles, travel articles, essays, and department-length articles. We will deconstruct successful articles to understand what makes them work. Students will be expected to develop two magazine articles or essays during the class, or one book proposal. These will be workshopped during class. There will be a reader and short weekly writing assignments both in and out of class.
Students will learn how to:
-Write effective beginnings and endings
-Organize their work into a coherent structure
-Seamlessly weave research into an article
-Read like a writer
-Edit their own work
-Develop relationships with editors and agents
-Critique and re-write first drafts
Admission Requirement:
Please email the instructor a non-fiction writing sample, preferably published, of up to 1500 words, by April 15. Students will be notified by email if they have been accepted.
Instructor bio:
Laura Fraser has been a freelance writer for 25 years. She has taught at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, Aspen Summer Words, UC Santa Cruz, and other venues. She is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including O the Oprah Magazine, More, Mother Jones, the New York Times, Self, Wired, Gourmet, and many others. Her travel memoir, An Italian Affair, was a best-seller. Her previous book, Losing It, was a critically acclaimed expose of the diet industry. Her personal essays have appeared in numerous anthologies.

Instructor: Xandra Castleton
Thursday evenings, 6:00-9:00
Contact: email
Course fee: $595.00
Xandra Castleton will be teaching an Introduction to Screenwriting course designed to workshop the screen story premise of each student into a solid screenplay outline and the first ten pages of a script. The course will focus on screenplay structure, both traditional and alternative, with each class organized around one key element of a successful screenplay. Each class will also incorporate film clips, readings and group discussion.
This course will be followed by an Advanced Screenplay workshop that will begin with a completed draft of a screenplay and focus on character, dialogue, atmosphere and further examples of both traditional and alternative screenwriting choices.
Instructor Bio:
Xandra is a writer and producer whose film and television credits have earned her multiple awards, including an Emmy. She co-wrote the critically acclaimed dramatic comedy, FULL GROWN MEN, which stars Judah Friedlander, Alan Cumming, Amy Sedaris and Debbie Harry.

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Tings Dey Happen


We saw Dan Hoyle’s one-man show, Tings Dey Happen Friday night, and it exceeded all expectations. I had heard Hoyle and Charlie Varon, who directed and co-developed the play, interviewed on NPR a while back, but I didn’t rush out and buy tickets until I saw Hoyle perform at Grotto Nights. He was fantastic. And the show has been extended through April 21, so go buy tickets. The Marsh is a great theater, by the way, right on Valencia near 826, Ritual Roasters and We Be Sushi.

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Ten Years Ago Today


Ten years ago today my mom died. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years, and I remember March 7 (?), 1986, five days after my sixteenth birthday, when my mom said the same about her mom. “It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years.” I think about what she missed in those ten years: both of my college graduations and my wedding, and I think about what I missed in those ten years: her 80th birthday party, her smile, her laugh. When she died I collected a bunch of things to make into a scrapbook–lots of photos, recipes, letters, etc., but I still haven’t done it. I’ve also wanted to make a website dedicated to her, but I haven’t done that either. The latest was a plan to make a recipe book, illustrated with photos of her and images of her handwritten recipes, and I STILL plan to make that happen one of these days. Off the top of my head, those recipes would include her:

Beef stew
Chicken casserole (with bread crumbs on top)
Chocolate fudge
Peanut brittle
Chicken and dumplings
Corn chowder

Hmm. That’s all I can think of right now. We must have eaten more than that! I remember eating spaghetti with beer in the sauce, hashed beef with beans and sugar-coated biscuits on top, lots of chicken, lots of pork chops, steak sometimes, fish (which I hated) now and then. I remember fish sticks and pot pies, canned green beans and hot dogs and beans, but you can’t put those in a recipe book. I guess I largely associate my mom with cooking, since dinner was ready at 6 o’clock sharp every night of the week. I also associate her with reading historical and romance novels and watching who dunnit shows on TV. I associate her with her glasses hanging down on her nose while she read the newspaper in the morning, a cigarette dangling loosely from her lip and the ash about to fall on the table. I associate her with running to the top of the stairs, then yelling down, “I can’t remember what I came up here for!” and looking for her glasses when they were on top of her head. I associate her with taking care of kids of all ages, from my older sisters’ little babies to my older sisters themselves. I associate her with the pets she fed every day – the cats my brothers dragged in and the dogs she brought in herself. I associate her with gardening, kneeling outside for hours picking weeds and planting tomatoes, pumpkins and rose bushes. I associate her with typing school reports and ironing school uniforms, making sandwiches and having breakfast on the table by the time I got downstairs. I associate her with driving me through the snow to school when I missed the bus and playing cards with me when no one else wanted to. I associate her with wearing curlers to bed and putting drops of perfume on lightbulbs, with whistling her favorite tunes and laughing until she cried.

So with or without a scrapbook, a website or a recipe book, she lives on in the hearts of those who remember her. And someday I’ll be telling my kids, “That’s a lazy man’s load” when they try to carry too many things at once, and they’ll say “How is it lazy? I’m carrying everything at once!” just like I said to her.


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