Friday, February 23, 2018


Driving back from Letters: Cal Style, an annual calligraphy conference, my mind was brimming with ideas for blog postings and new creative projects. I was also listening to the radio. As I heard the young voices of the high schoolers from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, tears came to my eyes and down my cheeks. Once again, we find ourselves engulfed in horrific news and my blogging ideas faded away.

This Wednesday, those same students gave me hope. They descended on Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to talk with their government representatives. They participated in a Town Hall meeting organized by CNN. They stood strong, they spoke articulately, they wouldn't allow politicians or NRA representatives to get away with smooth, well-practiced answers. They demanded Yes or No answers to their questions about bump stocks, semi-automatic weapons, and funding from special interests groups such as the NRA. Those students, soon to be 18 and able to vote, gave me hope. They plan, among other events, to march on Washington, D.C., on March 24.

As a former middle school teacher, I know how long we have been engaged in this debate. During my early teaching days in the 70s, teachers became legally responsible for reporting abuse, though we received no training about recognizing signs of abuse. As a teacher though, you develop a sixth sense when something doesn't seem right. Even then, I doubted my instincts and I regret not reporting a young girl's cuts up and down her arm that she claimed were the result of a fall.

I had several other students who fit into an even more troubling category. One girl wrote insulting things about me on her desktop, became such a discipline problem that I contacted her parents for a conference with school personnel. The girl's private psychologist agreed that the girl identified with me and was taking out her anger on me. The young girl eventually painted my name in 6-foot high letters on a school wall and then was removed from my classroom, ran away, and eventually landed in jail for other crimes.

Another boy came to my English class only 2 or 3 times in the year. The rest of the time he was truant. While in my class, he refused to do anything other than to sit sullenly in place. I also taught his sister and her best friend in my art class. A couple years later, while the three of them were at home, the boy came out of his bedroom with a shotgun and killed both his sister and her friend, and then himself.

My point in mentioning these students: these events occurred long before Columbine. Even before then, troubled students have been identified by school personnel, but solutions for troubled kids can vary from effective to inconsequential. What can make a horrible difference: access to guns. I was lucky the girl didn't have access to a gun. The boy did. The result: three young lives lost. And remember how many more since then.

You tell me: do we need to have assault weapons and bump stocks readily available? They don't belong in anyone's home. They are military weapons, not meant for hunting. If you agree with me, stand up like the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and let your voice be heard.

Take a look at this article by German Lopez with comparisons of gun violence in various countries.

Friday, February 16, 2018


by Rose Owens*

For 2017, I wanted to return to the magical feeling of diving into a book, escaping the world at the moment, and learning about this new realm as well as something about myself. I wanted to get back to reading. I have been an avid reader since childhood, but had fallen out of any regular patterns due to working in the food service industry (and retail at large) for the past fifteen years. I initially shot for twenty-five books, and managed to read twenty-nine (missing finishing the thirtieth by a day!). It was a wonderful and enriching experience, and one that I am re-creating in 2018; still gunning for twenty-five books, but here's hoping I break my 2017 record!

What follows is a small sampling of books read during 2017. An additional note: I created a thematic goal within my goal, one which seemed prescient: to only read female/female-identifying authors, which turned out wonderfully and only had a couple hiccups. Please enjoy!

by Martha Slavin

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This debut novel by Gyasi was getting a great deal of good press for some time, but I stumbled upon it as a member of a book club called Page Views, sponsored by the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor. It was presented in connection with a show at the de Young called "Revelations: Art from the African American South." The art show alone is astounding and heart-breaking (and up until April 2018, go see it!), and plays with the idea of memory and identity formation, among many other things. Homegoing was a perfect fit, as it is a truly radical piece of work that moves back and forth between the life stories of fourteen different characters as their various families move around Africa and emigrate to the United States. It's riveting and Gyasi does an amazing job at keeping the reader fully immersed in the story. You feel as though you are walking alongside each character, sharing their pains and joys. There's surprise and magic, romance and sorrow, and above all Gyasi works (as have the other two authors I will mention here) to broaden the reader's worldview. This is not for complacent readers, but will force you to ask very real questions of yourself and how you negotiate with other people's experiences. It's a real commitment, but isn't that why we read? To learn and change for the better, to evolve and celebrate the dynamism of the world? You will not regret picking up this very worthy tome.

by Martha Slavin

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Truth be told, it took me a long time to get to this book because it had been so lauded for so many years. Perhaps it's the contrarian in me, but sometimes I am put off by books that EVERYONE says are great. Perhaps it's from reading said books and being disappointed that I wasn't as enraptured as I was supposed to be. Whatever the case for my putting it off, I decided I was going to read The Handmaid's Tale this year for multiple reasons: a) it fit my theme of female authors, b) the dystopian world which scarily mirrors our own, and c) I wanted to get ahead of the (then) upcoming television series based on the novel. However, I found once diving into its pages that this was more than just a case of getting ahead of the story. Atwood tells a startlingly recognizable tale, full of heart and hate, and with a protagonist who you can fully see. Offred is not an easy person to connect with, which I value. sometimes, one gets tired of endlessly relatable leads. We are pushed into uncomfortable zones, asked repeatedly if we would do the same, and realizing that no matter what, you cannot know what your reactions and response would be unless you are actually in that moment. I was very much enthralled by this book and soon became one of those talking head testimonials that I scoffed at for so many years. P.S. the show, while not slavishly devoted to the mother text, does some interesting things with the piece. Check both out!

by Martha Slavin

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I had long admired Roxane Gay for her unabashed proclamations about pop culture (if you haven't yet, do yourself a favor and read her piece about going to see "Magic Mike XXL"; it's celebratory and fun and not what you would expect about a movie that many have labeled "a frivolous chick flick"). So it was with excitement that I dove into this book of her essays, which run the gamut from pop culture to politics to sexuality to...Scrabble? It's a truly engrossing read that will keep you questioning your intake of gender role and racial representation, which is something we could always use, but especially during these days of #MeToo and terrifyingly inhumane proclamations regarding immigrants and people of color. Next up on my "hanging with Roxane" list is her memoir Hunger, which dives into discussions about body and self-image, and is another topic always worth diving into to tease apart common-held stereotypes regarding appearances. You go, Roxane, you go!

Check out Rose's list of 29, almost completed, 30 good reads. Click on the Book Lists page at the top of this post.


I'm attending the California Letters conference this week, so I asked Rose Owens to contribute this post. Thank you for reading and please let her know your response to her post by leaving a comment!

Friday, February 9, 2018


I learned to make a post last weekend. A post? The word post has several meanings. You can post something as a notice to others, you can use wood, metal or other sturdy material to make a support structure, or, in traditional Western papermaking, you can make a stack of freshly-made sheets ready to dry under a press. That stack is called a post.  Check out the website Paperslurry for a much more in-depth understanding of the process.

Most of us don't think about the paper that's around us: tablets, pads, pages from a book, and scraps for notes. We write on paper, draw or paint on it, read from it, eventually recycle it. With the digital age, do we use less? I don't think so, though new generations may turn away from paper more and more. For now, the tactile quality of paper attracts us still. The crackle of gift wrap, the rustle of a book's pages, the response of the paper to a drawn or painted line--all create a link for us to paper. Paper even has a memory. what happened the last time you set a wet cup on a piece of paper? The paper wrinkles up and once dry, won't smooth out unless you iron it. The paper 'remembers' its wet position.

I took the Tin Can Papermaking class by Julia Goodman at the San Francisco Center for the Book. Making paper in a tin can is a simple process:

We used two tin cans, a blender to pulverize the scraps of paper and cloth, and two screens to make small circular sheets. Paper, unlike cloth, is not woven together. Instead, in the agitation process, the fibers reach out to each other and form a bond that makes paper very strong. (If agitated too much, the opposite will happen and the paper will fall apart.) The end results from the class became rough surfaced circles, more appropriate for art-making than writing. To make the paper better for lettering, the paper needed to be pressed smooth and coated with sizing. 

I worked all day, blending scraps, pouring the pulp into a tin can through two different screens, agitating the pulp, pressing out the water, and letting the pieces dry. At the end of the day, I had a small post of still wet papers to take home with me. It took three more days for the pieces to thoroughly dry.

This sheet was made from denim scraps

Check out Julia Goodman's website for some amazing art pieces made from paper:

Go to Pamela Paulsrud's site to see a wonderful way to acknowledge our relationship to trees by using paper circles to write about experiences with trees:


Still trying to find an easy project for Valentine's Day?  Here are directions for a simple origami heart:

Use lightweight paper or origami paper cut to a square  (I used 6 inch x 6 inch)

Fold the paper diagonally in both directions

Take top point and fold to center

Open out & take opposite point & fold as in photo. Open up and refold with first point inside, then second.

Fold left point along center line

In origami, there is always one fold that is crucial. Make sure the inner folds match

Turn over and fold points down

Fold side corners to inside. Turn over.

You have a heart.

I folded part of a doily in a fan shape and stuck inside the heart.
Then I sealed the opening with a sticker from Mrs. Grossman's collection.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 2, 2018


Friends step into the breach. 
Friends give hugs. 
Friends sustain each other. 
Friends need you to be vulnerable with them.

Image by Kathy Barker, a calligrapher from Washington

For a long time, I thought that being a good listener and sharing experiences and adventures constituted friendship. I am a slow learner sometimes and it took me awhile to realize I needed to reveal my own vulnerabilities to other people. Friends want your willingness to share the hard parts of yourself. When I allowed people to see those parts of me, I became a better friend.

 I still have to work on that willingness to share all the time. I am an outgoing introvert, which is not really an oxymoron. I've always jumped into the middle of things, I like to lead, I even like to give speeches, I like to participate, but often people used to surprise me by saying, "You're so quiet." I grew to dislike that phrase with vigor. I worked hard, on my own and through therapy, to overcome that label. I haven't heard anyone say how quiet I am to me in a long time. As an introvert, I still need time by myself to restore my energy levels. It is easy for me to forget to reach out when I am content with being by myself and engaged in my own highly-focused projects. That 's what introverts do.

I was also raised in a family that taught self-reliance as a value. Nothing wrong with that, but for me to let other people know that I needed help was one of the hardest steps I had to take. I assumed I could get everything done myself. I can, but I discovered that in opening the doors so that others could see my needs, those people stepped right in, showing a willingness to help that astounds me.

Martha Slavin

A neighbor's husband is recovering surgery. I let other neighbors know and immediately they extended their offers of help. I am sure you know people who come forward in the same way. I think of the individuals who responded with such heart during the natural disasters that affected so much of the country last year, putting themselves at risk to help others.

This week, I've had two wonderful reminders of the value of friendship. I received an email from a long-time friend about how important our friendship has been to her. She wrote with a sensitivity that only two good friends could share. On another day, two friends and I went for a walk and coffee. On the walk, we talked over personal problems without judgments. To my delight, I have discovered that many people I know respond with the same caring attitude once I allow them to see the vulnerable parts of my life.

I could write a paragraph about each one of you here, but I want you all to know how valuable you have been in my understanding of what friendship is. Thank you for being such good teachers, you know who you are.

Martha Slavin

Check out work by Kathy Barker:
Thank you, Kathy, for allowing me to reproduce your work at Postcards in the Air