Friday, May 31, 2024


Theo and his baseball team attend a game at Tokyo Dome

As soon as we moved into our rental in San Francisco, Bill became more and more thrilled with living in a city. We'd lived in other big cities, New York, Tokyo, and Paris at various times in our lives. Still, I didn't understand what Bill's best reason for moving to a bustling place was until he said, "I've had a dream since boyhood of being able to walk to a ballpark to see a pro baseball game." We have Oracle Park just a couple of blocks away and an easy walk for us. We used to share Oakland A's season tickets with a good friend and spent many an afternoon in the hot sun watching good, young players. The A's are known for trading their best players and we would watch the World Series on TV partly to pick out the former A's on the Series teams.

As a kid, baseball was my favorite sport to play. My sister and I would hit and throw balls back and forth under the maples in our backyard. I played pick-up games after school and headed toward the school's diamond at recess. I remember the first time I really connected with a ball. I was so surprised that I stood mesmerized as I watched the ball sail into the air out to right field before teammates shouted at me to move toward first base.

I lost interest in playing as a teenager, but Bill persisted through college and shortly after graduating. Rarely, I would get out on a field with friends, stand up to bat, and surprise myself with a hit. Mostly, though I watched. I watched the World Series every year no matter which teams were playing, I watched Bill play in college, and I watched our son Theo being coached by Bill in both Danville and Tokyo. One of the best games for the three of us was a parent vs players game in Tokyo. The kids, some who had never played baseball before the season started, rallied to challenge the parents to a thrilling game.

Bill learning to bunt

Sports have a way of drawing people together, even when they root for opposing teams. They all stand during the seventh inning to sing, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The fans delight in good plays and favorite players. As I sit in our apartment writing Postcards with the windows open, I can hear the crowd cheering.  I look out the window and see the action replayed on the big screen and hope the Giants are winning again. As a young player, Bill learned to support his teammates, calling out to them when they made a good play. Neither of us likes to hear the strident USA chant that sometimes reverberates at sporting events, but we can ignore that when a ball sails with force out over the bleachers, above the excited crowds as they watch it fly past the brick walls around the outfield to land in the Bay beyond the stadium when maybe it is scooped up by one of the kayakers or boaters who circle the stadium and yearn to catch a home run ball.

A day game at Oracle Park


Stephen Hawking said it best:

 "We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that I am extremely grateful." 

Mostly May

Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Adding flourishes to a letter  by M. Slavin

When I returned to lettering by hand, I first took a class from Yukimi Annand, a well-known calligrapher and teacher. We played with various tools: twigs, cola pens, (pens whose nibs are made from bent pieces of a soda can), bamboo, sponges, and balsa wood, anything we could dip into ink to make a mark. This abstract mark-making creates a totally different way of using letterforms from the traditional calligraphy that we find on certificates and diplomas. The lettering on certificates and diplomas has been drawn either with a pointed pen with its flexibility to create thick and thin lines or a broad-edged pen that needs to be turned to make thick and thin lines. Traditional calligraphy often requires years of study to learn the exact point to flare or turn a pen to make a letter correctly. In contrast, Yukimi's class let us experiment with letterforms in different ways.

Mark-making using letters to form shapes

While trying to find alphabets that I liked and could learn to do, I noticed that, much like other areas of creativity, calligraphers look for inspiration from each other and from trying new lettering styles. Pinterest is filled with modern calligraphy with its style of ignoring the baseline to write a word. Blackboard writing with chalk became visible at every restaurant for a while.

Chalkboard writing poster  by M. Slavin

For the last couple of years, I saw a renewed interest in styles from the 1920s. The Neuland alphabet and Ben Shahn alphabets came from that period and are popular with letterers and calligraphers along with monoline lettering. As a left-handed person, I was attracted to these three for their ease of use as a lefty. They don't require the extreme hand manipulations of pointed pens or broad-edged pens that I needed to do to make the lettering beautiful. If you watch the TV series Gentleman from Moscow, you will that the background of the title is done in a Futuristic style similar to the artwork of Kandinsky, with a font that would have been selected by someone from those long ago times. 

Neuland alphabet & a MacIntosh alphabet version using different pencil weights

Hermann Kilian's Built-up Capitals has appeared in workshops all over the country and online recently. In many of his designs, the words are drawn to touch each other with no separation between a line of words. The lettering becomes a design element so that the viewer has to stop to figure out what is said on the page. Each letter is a simple monoline with slight thickening at the tails and curves of the letters.

Here are some of my sketches using the Built-Up Capitals and Monkey Cap alphabet:

Based on Hermann Kilian's alphabet
Based on Monkey Caps alphabet

Another version of Monkey Caps Alphabet
Which do you like best?

In contrast, designing illuminated letters similar to what Medieval monks produced has become a popular workshop course. The monks incorporated flowers, leaves, animals, and man-made objects such as ships and buildings into the small square that surrounded a letter. Albert Mirbasoo, a calligrapher who creates works for the City of Los Angeles, incorporates these kinds of images into the certificates for note-worthy people in LA. Learning to create the flourishes that enhance a letter is another creative opportunity for a calligrapher to customize their work.

Certificate award drawn
by Albert Mirbasoo
 for the city of Los Angeles

Check out these two websites for inspiration: 

Friday, May 17, 2024


One of more than 100 heart sculptures in San Francisco.
This one is in front of the Kaiser Medical Building in Mission Bay.

I thought I was done with cities when we returned from living in Tokyo and Paris after almost six years. I was tired of the crowds, of trying to fit into different cultures, and of the subtle differences in the taste of chicken and milk. Though I took language lessons, I needed more skills to feel literate. Living in another city was not on my list of places to buy a new home. Wind is my least favorite weather. I knew that San Francisco was windy most of the time.

Once we sold our house, we became vagabonds, testing different possibilities. First an extended stay hotel, then a rental in Aptos near the ocean. We moved from there to two different apartments in the same complex in San Francisco while Bill had successful radiation treatments. 

Each time we moved, we left with memories of the place we vacated. At our old home, we left frequent visits with friends, the garden and wildlife who shared our backyard, my studio and kitchen which were delights to work in and a lot of monthly expenses. At the extended-stay hotel, Bill found a place that he liked, a local sports bar that served his favorite rye Manhattan. In Aptos, we loved being near the ocean and discovering the friendly people and restaurants in town. I connected with a high school friend and a fellow writers' group member who lived in Aptos. 

We weren't done moving yet. We moved to the City, but after two months, we left our first apartment for another in the same complex. We missed the sun streaming through the south-facing windows of our first place but were glad to move away from the noise of the garbage trucks that clanged down the street almost every morning.

Once we moved to our second apartment on Long Bridge Street, we looked in earnest all over the Bay Area for a new home. One day while walking around our neighborhood, we noticed an open house sign in a condominium complex. We couldn't resist taking a look. We met a realtor who in the next couple of weeks guided us to possibilities around the City. We were hooked when we walked into a light-filled condo with a wonderful view of the skyline and still close to the ballparks.

The heart sculpture outside an apartment complex in Mission Bay

 While we are preparing to move to the condo, we think about what we will miss at this apartment: the corner coffee cafe and the friendly servers, the close walk to Gus's Community Market and to Chase Center when the Warriors are in town, the park that runs along Mission Creek, the hummingbirds who flutter at our eighth-floor windows, and the view of the tide ebbing and flowing along the creek, which runs into the Bay. 

I no longer feel that I am done with cities. I am enjoying the theater and museums, walks along the shoreline of the bay, and traveling by bus, streetcar, and BART to explore parts of the City where we have never been. I like the busyness of the streets, but also the ability to rise above the crowds in our quiet apartment where I can watch the seagulls gliding from one point to another. I'm still trying to get used to the wind. At the cafe at the end of the block, I listen to all the different languages that are spoken around us while a walk to the ballpark for a game is an easy way to enjoy being part of the excitement of a city.


Read one of Alice Munro's short stories.

One of my favorite writers passed away recently and she is worth remembering. Read one of her books.

Friday, May 10, 2024


When I was young and reading books such as Peter Pan and Treasure Island, my family traveled to San Francisco. As we walked down a street, a pirate turned the corner and brushed past us with his parrot on his shoulder. He had a pirate's hat and eye patch and jangled when he walked. I was enthralled and wondered if he came right out of the books I'd been reading.

I was reminded of the pirate the other day as I turned off Market Street and stepped down the stairs at Jessie Square to Yerba Buena Gardens. In front of me, a large grey pit bull paced rapidly over the stairs and into a flower bed. A long lead extended from his collar to a man dressed in a Union Army coat, with heavy black boots with metal-like shields going up his calves. The man had at least four knives (all plastic) stuck in scabbards on his right side and a shinier knife on his left. His large black hat with the Union insignia at the crown hid his face except for the grey beard that flowed down his front. He seemed to have dropped out of the sky into our century. The two of them cruised down the stairs past the Press Club towards the gardens across the street. I wondered if San Francisco doesn't have a portal to other times that occasionally opens to allow someone from another time to come through. And what would they think of us?

Living in a city is like that. You never know who will appear around a corner. People come to cities to seek anonymity so they can try on different parts of themselves. Others yearn to duplicate other times in history or to return to their own roots. When we lived in Paris, we rode the subway to the Garde du Nord. Out of the window, as the train slowed, I saw a group of men in a drum circle, but not the usual casual drum circle that we see in San Francisco. These men were the fiercest men I've ever seen. They wore the clothing of their home countries -- white robes and turbans. They seemed to have just ridden out of the desert in a cloud of sanddust, the drum beats compounding their intensity. They reminded me of the men at a Samurai parade in Japan who changed from the typical Japanese working man carefully dressed in coat and tie into powerful warriors as they posed in Samurai regalia. I could almost hear their rough growls, jangling body shields, and collective hard stomping of their boots as they approached a battlefield.

Friday, May 3, 2024


Friends kid Bill and me sometimes about the number of books we have, even after we took 40 boxes to the various library book sales last spring. We still have mounds of books, though we don't come close to the 6000 books that the journalist Robert Kagan claims to have, but books have gained ground on us again as we find enthralling first sentences in new books, take them home, and stack them on shelves ready to be opened. I value being able to read and ignore the minor controversy about Kindle vs real books. I read any surface -- cereal boxes, upside down papers on someone else's desk, on my iPad while traveling, and in my hands with the comfort of a paperback (I don't usually read hardcovers because they are too heavy in bed at night). I also limit myself to reading novels just before I go to sleep. I made that rule for myself because otherwise, I found I became thoroughly engrossed in a novel at the expense of doing anything else during the day.

Because of all the turbulence, cultural changes, and similarities to our present moments, I count my favorite era for novels between 1915 and the end of World War II. I've recently discovered a series of WW II mystery stories written by James R. Benn, a retired librarian. His character Billy Boyle is a detective in the U.S. Army, and he becomes part of the events leading up to the defeat of the Nazis. He travels from Africa to Italy to France to the Pacific and to Russia to solve crimes during a time when thousands/millions were being killed because of war. Benn has researched the conflicts and events of the war so that the reader has a window into the lives of people involved in the fighting. The female Russian fighters the Nazis called Night Witches become the center of one story because of their daring exploits and quiet approach to battlefields.

I also finished Rachel Maddow's Prequel, similar to her podcast Ultra, which explores the far-right isolationists and Nazi sympathizers in America and their attempts to keep the U.S. out of WW II.

Between these historically based novels and non-fiction, I've been reading Susan Orleans' group of essays, On Animals, which gives me a delightful look at human and other animal interactions. Orleans wrote one of my favorite books, The Library Book, about the development of the LA County Library.

Another recommendation, retired Oakland librarian Dorothy Lazard's book called What You Don't Know Will Make a Whole New World, starts with these lines:

"My family arrived in California the winter after the Summer of Love. Ours was not the journey or eager anticipation of the nineteenth-century gold miners who rushed to the Sierra or of the anxious desperation of the Dust Bowl refugees who came before us. We were reluctant migrants."

 I am looking forward to Britney Grimer's book Coming Home. In an interview recently, Grimer, the WNBA player imprisoned in Russia for 10 months, revealed that she had two books, the Bible and a Sudoku book, with her during her incarceration. She read the books but also used the margins to write a makeshift journal of her time behind bars. She noted that writing and reading helped her through each day of the horrible days. Her memoir is coming out soon.

If you've noticed how many times the words library and librarians appear in this post, please join me in support of your local library.