Friday, October 26, 2018


Watercolor cut and assembled as a mixed media piece

Can you draw? So many people I know tell me they can't draw. I know that is not true. Like learning how to do math problems or how to build a bridge, drawing is a skill that is developed over time. If you look at my early artwork, you would wonder why I persisted. They were no better than yours. I had one advantage. Everyone knew I came from an artistic family. They expected me to be an artist. My family encouraged me to develop my creative and artistic skills as well.

Early painting with an attempt at calligraphy

I have to remind myself of my belief in everyone's ability to draw when I get stuck at a level in any artistic technique including watercolor or writing poetry. I persist, which has taken me a long time to learn. When I was young, I knew I was an artist (hadn't everyone told me so?) and thought everything artistic would come easily for me. When something turned out to be harder than I expected (ceramics comes to mind), I put the learning aside. As an adult, I find learning takes me longer, but I'm more forgiving of myself.

Right now I am at a point in my watercolor pursuit where parts of my paintings work well. They have the fresh appeal that you expect from watercolor, not the muddiness that often happens when I overwork an area. I look to Winslow Homer or Andres Zorn for masterful watercolors. Sometimes I can rescue a practice piece (all my paintings are practice pieces) or sometimes I cut them up into little squares and mix them up on another piece of paper.

Cabins and trees are a frequent theme of mine. This painting is resting right now.

A myth about watercolors:  they can't be fixed. Yes, they can. I learned to use original Viva paper towels, a drafting eraser shield, and the original Mr. Clean sponge to help me lift off paint from the paper. I wet either the towel or sponge and dab through the shield over an area I want to lift up. It works except with heavily staining colors such as alizarin crimson and Winsor Violet. Try it!

Friday, October 19, 2018


The leaves may be turning, pumpkins may gather on porches, and early sunsets may come, but Autumn doesn't arrive for me until I am back in a classroom. Long ago I walked through the halls as a student, then as a teacher and now, I am back as a WriterCoach Connection volunteer. Today I am at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley. The building was dedicated in 1923 and hasn't changed much since then. The stale smells of cafeteria food mingle with the odors of sweaty teenagers. The wood doors have transoms over them, the plaster walls show scuffs and dings from one door to the next, and the linoleum floors squeak when someone in athletic shoes strides by. It's a warm day and the fans in each classroom counter the beating sun.

I sit across from one of the four students I will mentor this year. They all study using the Common Core guidelines. The two 8th graders are reading Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, and the two 7th graders have written paragraphs based on Anne LaMott's book, Bird by Bird. The assignments are harder than I remember from my student or teaching days. Most of all they encourage critical thinking. The students often need to talk through their ideas, which helps them to put their thoughts on paper.

The Vonnegut story is science fiction about a world where everyone is the same or is made the same by various external devices such as wearing ear buds that emit screechy noises when someone starts to think. The two 8th graders understand the ideas expressed by Vonnegut. They grasp the difference between being the same and being equal. They also relate the story to some present-day experiences such as using social media and other technology.

The seventh graders are new to the program. They don't know what to expect so I explain that I am there to assist them where they think they need help with their writing. In years past, I have had 7th graders who had a hard time getting anything on paper. Sometimes they were timid in front of a strange adult, other times they needed help discovering a personal event they could write about. This time both students bring me short memoir pieces full of detail and good transitions from one event to another.

I ask all four of them what they need with their essays. One asks for advice on each sentence, one wants to know how to end a humorous experience, another shows me two paragraphs that are his reaction to what he read in class. The last student fidgets, wants to get a drink of water, doesn't answer questions but finally begins to discuss what the difference between equal and the same are. He gets it. I write down his conclusions so he will have notes to use to begin his essay. He pops up, grabs his computer and backpack, and bolts out the door.

Autumn is definitely here.

To read the full text of Harrison Bergeron, click here:

To learn  more about WriterCoach Connection, click here:

Friday, October 12, 2018


Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I think it's also a good month to champion women, to look for heroes among us and to examine how those heroes have influenced our lives.  Who are your female heroes and where did you first learn about them?

Growing up, did you read the funny papers? I did.

Dale Messick, the creator of Brenda Starr, Star Reporter                     Chicago Tribune photo

Brenda Starr may have been my first role model. She was the main comic strip character of "Brenda Starr, Star Reporter." She was a woman journalist, who was assertive and adventurous, and the creation of Dalia Messick.

My first hero really should have been Dalia Messick, but I didn't know her story back then. Messick started her career drawing greeting cards (one of my ambitions). In her spare time, she created several comic strip ideas; but to get them published, she needed to change her name to Dale Messick. She submitted her work to her boss, Joseph Medill Patterson, the Chicago Tribune editor in 1940, who agreed reluctantly to print her strip. It didn't appear in the comic pages, but was relegated to a special advertising section. The strip became so popular anyway that it eventually was syndicated nationally.

Messick named Brenda Starr after a debutante,  styled her to look like Rita Hayward, and patterned  her after real-life Nelly Bly. Starr became the role model for many women who aspired to be journalists, but she also was a product of her time, mainly mid-twentieth century.

In the strip, she ventured out to exotic locations, used her feminine wiles to attract handsome millionaires who either came to her aid or entrapped her, and returned with a fantastic story to print.  Like Nancy Drew, she was a hero to young girls, but needed a man to rescue her in difficult situations. At least Starr got a byline.

According to Suzi Parker, a current journalist, Brenda is "Perpetually torn between the demands of her career and her romantic proclivities. Her life has proved a long litany of frustrations. Romance, usually doomed, has dogged Brenda's footsteps throughout her long career."

I liked Brenda Starr's adventurous spirit and her confidence in getting her stories published. My young self incorporated some of her spirit into my own. After I stopped reading the funny pages, Brenda Starr continued with a very modern day version of life. She married, had children, divorced, and became an editor at her paper. Dalia Messick continued to draw the strip into the 1980s when it was taken over by different female teams of writers and illustrators.

Looking back on the comic strip now, I know that Dalia Messick was the true hero She stood up to people who thought that women artists didn't belong on the funny pages and laid the path for many others to follow.

To read more about Dalia Messick:

Friday, October 5, 2018


Bill handed me a piece of paper at breakfast yesterday. I decided to share his words with you.

Jellica passed away quietly last Monday night.
She stopped eating on the weekend and slept in her favorite chair
 until she was too weak to move.

 She had a rough start in life.
When our son Theo picked her out of the crowd at the Dublin shelter, 
she was already street-smart, independent and determined not to be threatened by anyone anymore.
She was also a doting mother and we did not believe in separating children from their mom. 
We still don't.

  We brought her daughter home with us too.

Theo named the mother Jellica and the baby Tangier.
They took up residence here and Jellica methodically examined
 and explored every nook and cranny.
She was naturally curious,
 but she had also learned to plan possible exits in case of emergency.

Though she was playful and loved to be scratched,
it took another ten years before Jellie purred.

She was a constant presence in Martha's studio;
helpfully kibitzing on (or in) every project.

She accepted our love and maintained her dignity right to her quiet end.
Her absence has left a sad void.
She is now at rest outside the family room, next to the fountain and under 
a camillia bush.

Rest in peace, Jellica

From this short essay,  I think you can see what a kind heart Bill has. He reminds me that not all men are bullies or braggarts or unable to see how their actions can affect other people.  In an article in YES! magazine, Chris Winter proposed "Men, We Can Do Better." 
I know you know men who are like my husband. 
They are better than what we see on TV.

All photos by Bill Slavin

If you would be interested in having an essay you wrote published in Postcards in the Air, please let me know either by leaving a comment in the Comments section here or by email at