Pen to Paper


THIS WEEKEND is the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and I have friends descending, all eager to take part. However, I have a weekend of writing in front of me, so the next couple days will be about prioritizing and balance. I have been thinking a lot about the working-writer’s life a lot especially after reading Susan Straight’s wonderful essay for the L.A. Times about the perception of what the writer’s life is and the reality of trying to steal time between all else stacked up in front of you.

From her piece:

“I wrote the stories in my first book by hand, in these places: at the counter of the Mobil station where I worked in 1979, between customers, eating beef jerky and stale cashews out of the nut mix no one ever bought from the cloudy glass compartments beneath my notebook; sitting on a huge rock at the beach in Rosarito, Mexico, in 1983 after my husband fell asleep in the tiny hotel where we spent our two-night honeymoon, writing in my notebook; sitting at a card table in married student housing in 1984 in Amherst with the small blue Smith-Corona my mother had given me for high school graduation . . . ”

Back in college, when I was first beginning to think of myself as a writer, I worked in a bookstore. Nightly, after our brisk pre-dinner rush and between cash-register duties, I would write on yellow pads until we closed at 9PM. During the day, I often wrote through my geography or philosophy class lectures (an idea springing up, rolling into something else) or would steal some time in a secret corner library carrel near a window before I met friends for dinner. I too always wrote in longhand. Even years later when I was writing full time for a newspaper, I sometimes scratched out ideas for a story or an essay on the hard cardboard covers of my reporter’s notebook. While I was teaching, I carried an extra slim composition-style book just to set down dialogue or an observation — fragments of things that I hoped might grow into stories — fiction or essays or something in between.

The longhand notes and paragraphs symbolized something separate, a different creative trail, a different purpose.

One of the most valuable writing workshops I ever took wasn’t in graduate school. It was an after-work session with a poet who explained at the outset that you create a “writer’s retreat” when you create the space within your crowded day to write. Only we could do it. Only we could honor that time. That was nearly 20 years ago, and I’ve thought about it ever since. I’ve written in hospitals, in movie theaters before the lights have dimmed, at the mechanic — marooned between places. And yes, even in my car — like Susan Straight.

Her piece was an essential reminder that that “room” is really inside of yourself. You simply find a way — and space — to write.

You must.

To read the rest of Susan’s essay go here.

more jazz appreciation



I’M ROUNDING the final stretch of Thomas Brothers’ 2006 book Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans and just stumbled upon this dreamy quote of Sidney Bechet’s :

‘No matter what he’s playing, it’s the long song that started back there in the South. It’s the remembering song. There’s so much to remember. There’s so much wanting, and there’s so much sorrow. My people, all they want is a place where they can be people, a place where they can stand up and be part of that place, just being natural to the place without worrying how someone may be coming along to take that place away from them. There’s a pride in it, too. The man playing it, he makes a place. For as long as the song is being played that’s the place he’s been looking for. And when the piece is all played and he’s back, it may be he’s feeling good … Maybe he starts wanting the place he found while he was playing the song.’

… sad that this one is almost over … I have learned so much ….

some jazz appreciation

OF THE many Thelonious Monk quotes that get tossed around (and there are a plenty many), my favorite is his answer to the much-asked question “Where is Jazz going?”

Monk’s retort was quick and sharp: “Where’s jazz going? I don’t know. Maybe it’s going to hell. You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens.”

I was reminded of this the other night at Walt Disney Concert Hall as a friend and I settled in into a nice aerie of seats above the stage for a concert featuring pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman fronting his quartet. Tables turned, I for once was the very happy “plus-one” this evening. redman

I had spent so much of my early jazz-listening days running around hoping I could hear the last of the masters play in person. I got to see many — Elvin Jones, Stan Getz, Max Roach. But there were so many I had missed, some by just a hair. It always hit hard when a name would float up in an obituary, another one down, another one gone. It was like chasing ghosts.

What I heard in Wednesday night’s show was sure evidence of the past and a promise for the future. Music 2012 Brad Mehldau Where Do You Start Two master musicians in the prime of their playing years showing not telling and, in the process, eloquently answering that question. Mehldau’s set was a study in flowing introspection — standards, originals and a props-nod to lesser-known players of the bebop/post-bop era (Case-in-point: You bet I went home and pulled out some Elmo Hope). Redman’s quartet came out swinging — literally: A solid, mood- shifting groove. The quartet went on to lay out a collage of tunes that were pulled both from the American Songbook (a crack-your-heart-wide-open interpretation of “Stardust” for one) and originals — late in the set Redman stared down one his own compositions “GJ”, which he introduced with this admission. “Well, I wrote it, now I’ve got to stick with it.”

And sewn within that tossed off remark, yet another promise.

Here’s that nod to Elmo Hope that sent me digging:

Jazz Appreciation month is off to a very good start …

Life’s Bits and Pieces

WHAT CHERI PANN reminded me of yesterday as she generously led me and my friend Patricia through the twists and turns of her home — the Mosaic Tile House in Venice — is that life is all about repurposing — plans, dreams, discards, old ideas of ourselves.



Pann and her husband Gonzalo Duran have been collaborating on this living work of art for more than a decade — adding rooms, levels and studio workspaces. As Cheri told us at the beginning of our walk through, the problem was, “It was a really ugly house. Really. We had to figure out something to do with it.


Both artists are native Angelenos entrenched not just in soil, but in the spirit of the place. Their personal story winds through the old bungalow — in the details day-to-day living as well as on whimsical canvases and within the intricate mosaics themselves.

As Patricia remarked as we prepared to depart to go and find some place to have a meal, wait out traffic and look at the water, “It really is a love song, isn’t it?”










for more info about the Mosaic Tile House click here.

Adventures in the Book Trade: Convening Consciousness

MY PIECE about Eso Won Books in Leimert Park is now up at KCET Departures.
Great long afternoon spending time with Tom Hamilton and James Fugate talking about the changing landscape of book selling both here and across the country and why brick-and-mortar stores and the relationships they foster still very much matter.

To read the piece up at KCET Departures please click here.

(image by Alvaro Parra for KCET Departures)