Friday, March 31, 2017


Photos by Bill Slavin
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Spring and we hear the cry of a hawk in our neighborhood again. A hawk used to nest in the tree in our front yard, but crows chased that hawk away. Now the strong, high-pitched shriek of this new hawk thrills us as we spot him in the branches of the trees.

One morning we watched two doves lay down twigs and leaves in the roof gutter near our dining room window. Last year they successfully produced eggs, sat attentively on the nest till the eggs hatched, fed the babies repeatedly, helped the babies learn to fly and to feed themselves until, the parents' work done, the fledglings flew away. We watched the complete cycle for the first time. In previous years, because the nest is completely exposed, a hawk had gotten everything -- parents and eggs.

Now when we hear the scree of the hawk, we wince and hope the doves will be secure once more. On the one hand, we glory in the beauty and strength of the hawk; but on the other, we watch with kindness as the two doves build a nest and a hoped-for future.

The hawks and dove made me think how often we are faced with challenges that are not black and white. We may have reasons for favoring part of one side and the other. In one of my online classes several years ago, the instructor gave us a list of words and asked the question, "What is valuable to you?" I cut the list of words out and rearranged them in the order of importance to me. I tried the list among friends and discovered surprising differences and similarities in our lists.

Here is the list. Make a copy, cut the words out and place them in the order that is important to you. Cutting them out and re-assembling them in your order is an important part of the process. You may find yourself reorganizing the list after your first try. What would your friends choose? What would someone who doesn't agree with you choose?

Beauty and Creativity                                          Love and Compassion

Joy and Laughter                                                 Health and Well-Being

Respect for the Environment                               Knowledge and Truth

Appreciation and Contentment                            Justice and Morality

One step further:  would you agree with this list of basic American values?  What would you add? What order would you put these words in?

Freedom                                Individualism                    Pragmatism

Volunteerism                         Mobility                            Patriotism

Progress                                American Dream               Efficiency

Equality                                Achievement                      National Security

I found the American values list along with a detailed posting about what these values mean at GoldenLine, the LinkedIn website for Poland. Everyone in the world wants to understand us, don't they?

Friday, March 24, 2017


Cover for my sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library's Sketchbook Project

Daylight savings time, no matter how lovely that extra time in the evening is, fools me every night. I look up at the clock, am startled to discover that it is 6 P.M., which throws me into a panic. I think, "So little time left and I'm just getting started." People ask me how I begin writing. What is hard for me is to stop. Once ideas bubble to the surface, many follow.

A few pages from the sketchbook

One of my favorite parts about writing is the research. This week I've looked up the origin of margarine, which was developed in 1869 by Hippolyte Mege-Mouries (that name goes right into my list of names that I collect) in France as a substitute for butter for the armed forces. I've read about regulations against collecting birds' nests (in California we have a regulation, but the Fish and Game Department decided not to enforce it) and I hunted for the differences between jackrabbits and cottontails (we have a jack in our backyard). I've delved into the debate between private and public prisons (part of a teacher assignment at the middle school where I volunteer as a Writer Coach). I searched for Freya, the Nordic god of love, sex, and fertility after my sister sent me a quiz about "Which Nordic God Are You?"

I listened to a radio interview with someone whose two creative sons developed schizophrenia. I couldn't resist finding out more. Studies show that creative people and people who develop schizophrenia or bipolar disease often share a common gene, neuregulin I.* Think of Van Gogh or mathematician John Nash of A Beautiful Mind. For some people that gene increases their creative abilities or their ability to think divergently. They filter out less information than most and use that ability to formulate new ideas. For others, they may develop mental illness because their brains become overwhelmed in processing all of those details.**

I haven't come up with any new connections between margarine, rabbits, birds' nests, schizophrenia, prisons, and Norse gods. If you do, let me know. You are a creative person indeed.

These bits of information that I garner, along with all that I collect while talking with friends, walking through neighborhoods, gardening and de-cluttering our house become gems that could be turned into essays about life. With all those possibilities, when Daylight Savings Time comes around again, I'm gob-smacked when 6 P.M. shows up on the clock and it is time for dinner. I've been fooled by time again.

  You can find more information about the Sketchbook Project here: 

A link to my sketchbook:

Friday, March 17, 2017


One of my favorite websites, HOLSTEE, asked writers to submit articles to their blog about the topic, Simplicity. Just the word itself sent me on a mental quest. What a wonderful idea to have a simple life, something most of us crave. Do you have a favorite way to make your life simpler?

I have a friend who is a wiz at decluttering her house. She has removed objects that no longer matter to her. Walking into her house feels like taking a breath of fresh air. Her art adorns the walls, and the furniture is arranged so that you want to sit, relax and have a long chat. The best part of a visit is opening the door to the back yard into a lovely garden with a 180-degree view of bay waters, hills, and Mt. Diablo in the distance.

I haven't learned her art of decluttering. I tried the trendy method of holding an object to see if I still feel any connection to it. No luck for me. Not only do I have a response to almost everything, but the object becomes a new distraction as I sit down and look through its pages or rub the sides of the teapot to bring back fond memories or wander through the stacks of art materials in my workroom. I can always find something interesting that keeps me attached to the object.

Do you work at simplifying your life in other ways? I found one helpful idea from The One Hundred Hours Project, which offers a card to manage time. The card has circles that I can fill in each time I spend an hour on my designated interest. When I have 100 hours accumulated, I can give myself a reward for the time I've spent doing something meaningful to me.

Produced using a Gelli-plate

I spent a week one summer at Scripps Camp, a retreat for alumnae from Scripps College. We stayed in the simply-furnished dorm rooms with just a bed, desk and chair. To my surprise, I accomplished a lot, even forfeiting opportunities to take workshops and to attend get-togethers with other alums because the room opened my senses to the quietness and stillness of the world around me. I wasn't thinking of a million different things like I do at home. I had time to listen to the silence.

I still struggle with how to carve out that kind of space in my daily life. Going to our local coffee house, sitting outside, and sketching people at other tables gives me a little of that freedom. Cleaning out my workspace helps too. Walking on the Iron Horse Trail opens my eyes to the natural beauty around me. Occasionally I work somewhere else in the house instead of my workroom, which offers me another perspective.

What do you do to live a more 
simple, more fruitful life?

Two good websites to explore:



Friday, March 10, 2017


As a public school teacher, I was required to take a loyalty oath to the U.S. and California Constitutions. I didn't think much about it. I was used to saying the Pledge of Allegiance, the Girl Scout oath, and other symbolic words about honor. Other people have not been so quick to gloss over words that become superficial in their repetition. In 2008, a teacher in the Cal State University system was fired because she refused to take the oath for religious reasons. She was a Quaker and agreed to sign the oath if she could insert "non-violently" before the word support in the statement. (Read the statement below.) With media attention, she was rehired, but others who had similar religious objections have not been so fortunate.

I think about the oath now and realize that it was instituted during the McCarthy era in the 1950s to eliminate teachers who belonged to the Communist Party. (The oath, because of court decisions, has been revised to exclude firing because of membership in any club or organization.) I am part of the white privileged group in the U.S. who doesn't often experience the fear that can erupt when questions about our thinking, our origins, our family history, and/or our political positions arise.

Before I was born both my parents worked for Disney Studios until shortly after my dad's cartoon students joined striking artists at Disney in 1941. Disney thought my dad encouraged his students to strike. My parents left the studio and moved to Vermont where he worked as a freelance cartoonist and as an engineer in a New York company. When they returned to California, he began working for Western Publishing Company, which contracted with Warner Bros. to create the Bugs Bunny comic strip and books.

A cartoon that appeared in the company newsletter where
my dad worked as an engineer for a short time during WWII.

Many people involved in the entertainment industry were denounced, even without proof, to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s. My dad was a widely-published comic strip artist by then. He knew of one artist who couldn't find work because of suspicions about his loyalty. My parents worried about the threat of being accused of being members of the Communist Party, even though they were not politically active. I remember as a child feeling that fear from my parents.

One Saturday my family climbed into the car and drove to Alhambra to shop. My dad, as he usually did, left the car unlocked with windows open. When we returned, a flier had been thrown on the front passenger seat. My mother picked up the paper, which was an invitation to a Communist Party gathering, and hid it under her purse. At home, she put the flier on the entry desk with the intent of disposing of it later. Before she had a chance to do that, a friend came over. The flier was still on the table though no one mentioned it.

When the friend left, I remember the look of fear that crossed my parents' faces when my mother picked up the flier off the table. If the friend reported seeing the invitation, my dad could lose his job. Luckily for them, the friend either didn't see the flier or didn't care. The incident was soon erased when the paper was torn up and put in the garbage. But that sense of fear has never left me. I had an inkling of what some people live with every day and I haven't forgotten that.

My dad loved to draw horses and the freedom they represented.

"I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter."


In 2013, two artists from Britain went to Normandy to commemorate International Peace Day by marking the beach in honor of the men who were killed during D-Day of World War II. 
Their blog, reached by clicking on the link below, describes what they did: a beautiful example of caring about sacrifice, loyalty and honor.


Friday, March 3, 2017


My apron along with some of the name tags from calligraphy workshops

I put on my new apron, spread out my tools on my table and prepared to test my calligraphy skills to the maximum while I attended LETTERS: California Style, a workshop conference sponsored by the LA's Society of Calligraphers. At the end of a glorious day of working, wandering the conference center halls at Cal Poly, Pomona, gazing at incredible pieces of calligraphy, and rubbing shoulders with artists from all over the country, I walked outside. Rain poured down, my cheap, orange umbrella would not close when I tried to get into my car, I was thoroughly soaked by the time I returned to my hotel where I had to walk around the flooded carpeting to get to my room. But I woke up to sunshine ready for another day of practicing Copperplate, a traditional lettering style, which we worked to turn into more modern forms.

My pages of practice and my writing tools,
which include a potato to clean off the pen tip and a bar of chocolate

Using my own handwriting to develop an alphabet

Serendipity happened to me at the conference. I was on the waitlist to attend so my choice of class was limited to one. I say serendipity because I normally would not have chosen a class that depended on my skills in any calligraphic alphabet. I don't call myself a calligrapher. I've had a lifelong interest in type and letterforms, but I have not been consistent in practice. I usually select classes that allow me to be more free form. This time I spent three and half days in Jane Shibata's "Breaking with Tradition: Cool and In Vogue Pointed Pen Scripts." In Jane's class, we bent over sheets of paper with pointed pen from early morning to the end of the day just like scribes did long ago. Jane's class turned out to be one of the best I've taken since it forced me to concentrate on my lettering skills. Jane is a gentle, kind instructor who patiently offered suggestions and encouragement and talked about her own experiences as a student and teacher.

Jane Shibata demonstrates adding colored pencil to letters.

Marina Soria, one of the other workshop teachers, encouraged her students to produce calligraphic work based on a piece of weaving. I was reminded of one of my college professors, Douglas McClellan, who talked about the influence of weaving on the development of letterforms. Without the examples of crossing threads in weaving, he claimed that we would not have the alphabets we use today. He gave us the assignment to design an alphabet for an alien culture that did not weave. Good question: what would an alphabet look like that did not have lines that crossed?  Dots, dashes, perhaps? What would your design look like?

Examples from Marina Soria's class. Photo by Linda Yoshida