Cafe Conversation(s) – Literally!

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Independent coffee houses have long been a source of inspiration and a space where I submerge myself into the craft of writing.  How long? I remember when I felt conspicuous being one of the first people to be alone with a computer. Try and find a plug in those days. Wifi was just a Sci Fi suggestion at the end of a dial up connection.

In the café conversation series I observe people and use it as an exercise for practicing description and building character profiles. With the exception of my observations on Borders as they went under, my comments generally record with imagination but without much editorial, what I experience.

Recently I spent time with Bill Addison, one of the top food writers in the US. He currently is the restaurant reviewer for the massive web site.  I spent two days watching him ply his craft. The question has lingered since then, could I write a restaurant review? I’ve written book and photography critiques, would it be so much different?

In a review of art I always have a sense that there is no wrong answer. Art is open to interpretation. My opinion is just as valid as yours. With restaurants there is a foundation, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that must be met: Wholesome ingredients, correct temperature etc. Once these are achieved, the more subjective evaluation of taste, texture, etc. can begin.

Art may have a gallery or even how its framed. A book has its cover. A Cafe frames the food and beverage with the atmosphere and of course, the level of service.

Service delivery is a specific area of personal interest. For all my love of coffee houses, I’m not much of a coffee drinker and am willing to tolerate poorly prepared tea for the sake of the location. The environment fundamentally includes the staff and how they interact with the guests.

2015 07 iphone -1434On a recent visit, my first to the new location Songbird Coffee & Tea House,  my writing practice began with a description of the room then shifted into a personal discussion of how I’d been let down at two coffee houses where I truly wanted to be content. I am not typically one to complain, but obviously the suppressed disappointment sought to surface in my writing

The writing practice began this way.



The filaments of the Edison bulb that is mounted on a stove top espresso maker vibrates slightly as a 2015 07 iphone -man steps heavily past. His cowboy boots scuff slightly between the solid footfalls.

This improvised lamp has been placed in the center of a square side table that may have been designed equally as a bar stool.  A rippled antique windowpane frames this still life; the backdrop a watery filter of the view, across what was once a driveway, to an even older brick façade.

Photographically, the scene is ‘hot’ with the morning light overexposing the bricks and missing mortar. People flit past as the Songbird Café begins to draw its regulars.

2015 07 iphone --6I do not count myself in this circle of regulars, as this is my first visit to the new location. Up until recently Songbird was located a few blocks away on the much busier Roosevelt Ave. The new cafe boasts a shabby vintage look in an ancient (at least by Phoenix standards) house. There is increased seating and outdoor space that will come into its own in a few months when the cooler weather arrives.

This is not meant as a review of Songbird, but this piece is emerging as a Phoenix Coffee House update.

It’s no secret that one of my top five simple pleasures is hanging out in independent coffee houses. I am not a Starbucks ‘basher’ having enjoyed many hours and excellent service in their locations worldwide. But when there’s a choice, I will always lean towards supporting the small operator. The caveat, I have very high expectations: I want the environment to be comfortable and unique, for ‘dining-in’, real mugs for the hot beverages, glassware for cold is a bonus, the crowd diverse, and as a writer I need access to power and stable wi-fi.

Why have I drifted so far from the locations near my home? A spirit of adventure but also a desire to try somewhere new. Some of my local choices have lost their luster.

Union 32 (formerly Matador) was a favorite for years. I was willing to suffer through the lack of power outlets in exchange for the friendly and engaging barista’s that always greeted me by name. A change in ownership and the attrition of the familiar baristas, including the fabulous Nikki, saw all that I enjoyed begin to slip.

The new owner has seen me dozens of times but has never once greeted me by name. On my last visit the seating area was a mess, the bathrooms poorly stocked, and the owner disengaged from seeing any of it or me.

I will still go there and am grateful for the writing events he stays open for, but as hinted above, it no longer draws me to its tables.

In the opposite direction is Saddlecreek Coffee. It is on my commute to the day job and often I will leave early on workday to stop and start my day with writing. The owner connected with me on an early visit and never fails to greet me by name. My challenge at his location, the eastern exposure. Even with window screens, the window tables are too bright for most of my morning writing hours.

I’ve written before about Press Coffee Roasters and am grateful that they survived City North to prosper at the Scottsdale Quarter. At least twice a month I settle beneath Carl Schultz‘s fabulous photos, Steve and Jimmy always stop to chat. On weekdays, Carrie engages with the regulars of which I am fortunate to be treated as one.

Living in Suburbia requires an exit from the bubble of daily life to experience more choices. On the days where my schedule is more spacious, I head south. My second tier of favorites includes the wonderful cacophony that is Lux Central, the urban austerity of Fair Trade Coffee, and the previous location for Songbird.

Recently there was another nominee for this list. Unfortunately, Changing Hands Bookstore, First Draft Bar and Coffee Phoenix location, now a year old, has failed to connect with me.

In addition to independent coffee houses, independent bookstores are another favorite. I am not a huge consumer of printed books anymore therefore I look to support their other revenue streams. On this day, I ventured back for what was to be a second try at Changing Hands.

First impression? I was disappointed that having been open a year that they still had not outfit their café (that also doubles as performance space) with comfortable or attractive seating. A few random tables barely fill the area and no care had been taken to reorganize the seating from whatever had been the previous night’s activity.

The barista greeted me with a friendly smile and took my beverage order. As I waited, my eye scanned a row of glass covered pastry displays on cake risers. These were easily within reach, set in a row on the top of the counter in front of the bar stools.

I pointed to a muffin and commented that, “I would also have one of those.” As I simultaneously reached to lift the cover and extract a selection, another staff member who had been busy at paperwork snapped at me “You’re not allowed to do that.“ She continued to tell me that “it was a violation of Maricopa health code, it was a display, and the staff needed to serve me.”

Momentarily stunned, I wondered if I should debate the topic with her. I had actually been thinking how fragile the glass tops were and if this was my café, I wouldn’t risk them being dropped or chipped. The question now rose, why were they within reach? Why wasn’t there a sign that they would be pleased to serve?

I had been scolded, reprimanded and a response was required. I succinctly commented “I had no way of knowing,” took my muffin and my coffee and went to my table. I didn’t stay any longer than it took to eat the muffin and drink the Chai.

The entire situation could have been diffused with a gentle coaching. It thrust me back into the day job mode where ‘customer service’ is all that matters. The ‘transaction’ can’t be more important than the ‘connection’ between server and guest. Like the watery filter of the old glass across from me, this employee couldn’t see me as a guest with a need for comfort and acceptance, but simply as someone breaking the poorly communicated rules.

On that day, my frame of mind was altered; I needed time and space to re-wire my brain for writing. Thankfully, Lux was around the corner.

I have no intention of returning to Changing Hands except for special events or perhaps to buy a book. Have I said it already? With so many choices, I would rather explore.

And there I was, on a recent day off, ready to explore, I was drawn to “Phoenix New Times” Lists the ’10 Best Phoenix Coffee Houses’. Was there anything new?  The Songbrid change of address caught my eye and prompted a ‘road trip’.

2015 07 iphone --4Songbird passed the first tests. An engaging environment, diverse demographic of guests, and a power strip below the seating. Michelle the barista was welcoming and they serve one of my favorites, the Maya Chai. They have a good selection of loose leaf teas but most of the guests have been drinking a nitrogen infused cold brew that I tried on my second visit.

Thanks to a short local vacation, I was able to come back twice in the period of a few days. The experience was repeated a week later as I gently ‘pretended’ to be a regular. Living so far away, this will have to be a special trip with expectations of an experience.

If you see me coming, remember to ‘see me’ as a guest who has chosen you, even if I am a bit blurred by the ancient glass that frames the world beyond, the world where people like me will come to your space and you can survive as a business.

One two of those three days, as I departed Songbird, the door closing behind me, Michelle called out to me by name, wishing me a great afternoon.


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Blog Hop (Part 1 of 2)

I received an invitation from a fellow writer to join a ‘blog hop’

The concept is very simple. Have a blogger answer some questions, post it to my site, readers of my blog hopefully will be intrigued then seek out their posts.  I become a link in a chain of referrals.

The specific link in the chain the precedes this post is from a wildly original voice:

Head Full of Glitter

The chain will continue soon with (3) links to other blogs.

Kevin S. Moul


Thanks to Photographer and co-instructor Tricia Cronin who caught this shot of me during a recent National Geographic Photography workshop where we had the pleasure of assisting, Dan Westergren and Annie Griffiths.

1)     What am I working on/writing?

Landers Gate is a 65,000-word urban fantasy novel that is about to go through its fourth and most important revision. It represents the furthest revision I have made in my canon of unfinished works.It’s not what you did last summer, it’s what you did in a previous life.

The novel follows the uniquely gifted Lander Gate as he unravels his recent past with the help of others seeking answers from their long distant past.

2)     How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I’m reading a novel, written in, and about Paris in the late 1800’s. By today’s standards, the level of detail in the description is ridiculous. It isn’t steeped in metaphor or a chain of clever allegories. The blocks of dense text fill the mind’s eye with everything you would see and feel.

What makes it a fascinating read is the need to slow down, meet the authors mind and be in that space. I can imagine him, sitting pencil in hand, with a broad sheet of rough artisan paper, scribbling, and the side of his hand black with smudges of charcoal.  Without saying it, it’s important to him that we can see, hear, smell, and touch the space where his story unfolds.

As a photographer and a writer, this leads me off on a tangent. In the late 1800’s photography, while invented in Paris, would still be a novelty.

Was the reader more patient? Not programmed as we are today and over-stimulated by photographs and television.

As both a professional photographer and a writer, I explore and want to celebrate the visual world. I often indulge myself during first drafts with pages of detailed description. Most of the words end up as scattered electrons in the computers trash bin. But often, one line or phrase will stand out, survive, and legitimize the exercise. This is how I hope my writing differs from others in the genre, a rich visual landscape of the physical world with a connection to the personal experience of the stories setting.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

Perhaps I have never been satisfied with the world as I experience it – I have an insatiable curiosity to ask “what if?”

I am also fascinated by our mortality, death, and the promise of what comes next. It’s not a self-destructive, morbid, or a dark inquiry. It’s accepting, whimsical, and asks readers to suspend their beliefs and consider the impossible.

 4)     How does my writing process work?

My writing is grounded in writing practice, in the style taught by Natalie Goldberg. I have studied with Natalie for over 12 years, assisted her at workshops, and photographed her for her web site and books.

I know it’s cliché but I like to write in busy café’s. I find inspiration and motivation in the people around me. They are there to witness me at work. I know that in reality they pay little attention to me, but if I’ve shown up, pulled out my notebook and computer. I am going to de-bunk the cliché by actually writing and not just talking about it, or pretending in the role.

My routine is built on a series of thresholds that begins with a 10-minute journal entry to clear the mind of the mundane.  Next a 10 minute Natalie Goldberg style writing practice, free form on a random topic, keep the pen moving, permission to write the worst shit. This is the mantra of my writing, stretching, flexing, releasing… dropping into my own mind.

Then I write.


Part 2 (coming soon) – links to other blogs



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Falling into memory: My Father’s Parkinson’s

My father had a fall yesterday.2012_07_Bowen Beach_019-Edit-2_Web

Thankfully, no broken bones but a frightening moment for all of us.

In particular for my father, for even as people came to his aid, he must have felt isolated and alone. I wasn’t there, but I can imagine somewhere beyond the pain of the bruises and the unsettling blood from the shallow cut on his forehead, that he was trying to reconcile his self-image of eighty five years of independence.

For the family, a chain of phone calls, “everything will be okay” but in low tones the discussion inevitably turns to the decision that he may not be able to go for walks on his own anymore.

I recall a recent dream where I awoke with a vivid image of a room in my parent’s home, accompanied by a feeling of intense emptiness. Both were linked to the progression of my father’s Parkinson’s disease.

I don’t often remember my dreams but this one lingered beyond the blinking eyelids and the slow-to-burn muscles required to get out of bed.

In the dream, I was standing in my father’s home office in West Vancouver. Home office being the modern term.  When growing up this room was always described as the study.

For a dream, all seems pretty normal. Just across the threshold, my footfalls are absorbed in the tight woven grey carpet, my eye scans the right-hand wall where there’s a filing cabinet topped by a desktop copier.  An oil portrait of my father is one of the two pieces of artwork. There’s something not quite right about the mouth or the shape of the jaw.

A wall mounted Antique pendulum clock that had been his fathers, is silent and stopped at 2:10.

At the far end of the room in front of the window is the big solid desk that has been with him in almost every house that we ever lived. I shake my head; it shouldn’t be there as my brother now has it. For the sake of the dream, I accept that it belongs instead of the much thinner, simpler desk that replaced it. In front of the desk, purposely centered, is an old style wooden office chair. The hardwood seat with no cushion leans slightly to the left. I don’t need to test it, but I know that the aged spring is coiled and ready to screech and groan when engaged with the weight of anyone committing to the desk.

On the top of the desk, also centered but a couple of centimeters from the edge, there’s a blotter pad holder with an ivory paper insert. His computer sits closed to the back of the work area. A mock Egyptian urn, matte black with white stenciling acts as a penholder. My brother Bryan brought it back from a Mediterranean school cruise forty years ago. I remember thinking how fragile it was to have come out of a suitcase. It survived the upgrade to the new desk.

A torn sheet of newsprint is folded with a yellow sticky note, the writing, from a thin red pen, lists a name. Not legible from this distance. Newspapers. There were always the daily newspapers.

To the left of his desk in the corner his Canon printer sits on a small round plastic patio table – how has my mother allowed that to remain all of these years?

The bookshelves have had, with only a few exceptions, the same books for forty years – I don’t know if he has read them. Two of them are mine – faux leather, two volumes of what was a failed attempt at building a personal library of classics: Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. The rest are a curious collection. I can only remember a few. A faded 1960’s hardcover, The Death of a President, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, The Peter Principle, a collection of Ogden Nash verse. The more recent additions are a few volumes on the history of Vancouver, specifically told in the context of either a fishing vessel or a tug boat.

Where the room gets interesting is on the floor.

My father likes to place piles of papers, grouped by client, estate, charity, or personal project. Officially he retired in his sixties but it was only then that his true work began. He became an executor to a series of estates for friends and family. He was invited to become a board member in companies ranging from an international auction house to a real estate holding company that operates suburban shopping malls. Many had been his clients in his professional capacity as a Charted Accountant (CPA in America). He continued and in some cases expanded his role as a board member of various charities.

He wasn’t one to get his hands dirty but made a lot happen. A friend of mine who is a social activist and has worked for many charity organizations affirmed how important people at that level were. Many ventures fail because of poor leaderships at the governance level. Passionate people and initiatives need the support of clear minded articulate thinkers like my father.

He parented the same way, literally didn’t get his hands dirty – “never changed a diaper.” my mother is known to recount. He was always calm and quiet with his three boys – able to solve a lot of problems with a rationale discussion, his pen or a phone call. I don’t recall him ever disciplining me. There was a threat of a wooden spoon, I don’t remember if it was ever used on me.

Through all stages of my life when I’ve made poor decisions or not fulfilled a responsibility to my parents, I felt his disappointment. That sinking feeling that vibrates before coalescing into a corrective action or a lesson learned. His participation in our lives was measured and constant. Sundays were a family day. I have a kinetic memory of him sitting next to me as I struggled to learn how to play the piano. Timing, at least transposing the songwriter’s idea of timing onto a piece of music was never my strong point. He would bang the inside ridge of his index finger; the steady beat for which I was to count out the timing. The impact audible as a shallow drumbeat, vibrated through the curved wooden edge of the keyboard’s lid. Eventually a wind-up metronome replaced his finger with a more mechanical click click click.  This impersonal device demanded less of my obedience. My struggle to become a musician didn’t last much longer.

He was worldly, respected, well known, and a person acted differently towards me when they found out I was his son. Two of my best friends from High School went to work for him. It was a strange transition for them to switch from calling him Mr. Moul, something all children did in my day, to Ed, in deference to a more collaborative office culture. As Senior Partner, then Office Managing Partner they often expressed gratitude for his mentorship and respect for his leadership.

His father had been a foreman in a pulp mill. Air quality wasn’t on anyone’s mind in those days. He was also a smoker.  Two strikes were enough and he died of lung cancer at 73.

His mother passed away peacefully in the bliss of an afternoon nap when she was 80. My father did very well for himself from these modest beginnings and I continue to benefit from the lifestyle and resources that he accumulated.

In my dream, I am standing a midst the piles of his work. A brief glance identifies purpose of each pile. Then I hear my mothers voice from a call a few nights prior. “He’s given up another estate and I wonder what the doctors will say about his driving.” I’m not really listening but dwelling on the, “he’s given up line.’’

It plays around in my head. His Parkinson’s is eroding both his memory and the ability to speak clearly—everything is being taken away from him.  And unlike me, when I drop a task or a project its normally because I need to replace it with something else—for him there is nothing else. I think about the choices I make everyday, giving things up, adjusting priorities, but it always shifting capacity from one task to another. It’s not about giving up things just because, and certainly not to be replaced by something else.

I feel for his profound loss – he’s never been idle a moment in his life. First his driving, and now, the routine and simple task of walking to the local post office.

In the dream I look again at the piles of paper and realize that they are changing. The top sheets, where once the name of a charity, a business, or a project was listed, the words were dissolving, the top sheet becoming a plain piece of paper. Like that memory card game where you try and remember the location of specific cards to make pairs.  I try point and remember what each pile had represented.

Will the memory loss numb him to what its like to stand in his empty office – in my dream it hurts so much as I look around, one of those piles used to have my name on it.


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Off the lesson plan, our teachers. Cafe Conversations

At the corner table, where a chess set that was missing a pawn used to sit, there’s a lovely thirty something woman tutoring a twenty something boy in college math.

The first time I notice the two of them is when her words rise above the bursts of steam from the nearby espresso machine.

“You take the six, and the six becomes….”

I thought she said ‘sex’ not six.

It got my attention and led me to look up from my writing to study the pair. I’ve had my share of math tutors throughout my education, but never one so lovely.

The young man is nodding in syncopation with her explanation but I have to wonder what words he is hearing. Is he really able to concentrate on math? I’m not sure I would be able to.

They’re leaning in, her legs are crossed under the table and their knees must bump from time to time. They’re close. The curve of the small round table allows them to share both the textbook and lined notebook where her pencil stabs at the page and flips expertly to press the nub of the eraser into a miscreant number.

She has straight, very dark brown hair; it might be black as the light that washes from the floor to ceiling windows along the front of the café weakens at the back. A frail braid, a little more than a twist, hangs below her temple from where her fingers run through it without purpose.

She’s pulled the thick cable of her hair away from the works space so it falls across her neck to the left, dusting the edge of the table as she bobs in and out.

“I can see what you did here but I don’t know why you came up with a seven?”

At least the conversation for them has moved beyond sex. I’m the one who’s having troubles getting to what’s important.

When I was in high school, I struggled with math. I exhausted the patience and abilities of the teachers who were willing to give me extra time so my mother sought out a math tutor.

She doesn’t remember how she found him, probably in a weekly community newspaper, such as The Kerrisdale Courier. In those days, tiny columns of fine print filled the back pages. This is where people went to buy, sell, and trade for services. There were no Craig’s lists or eBay. There was also a prevalent attitude that if it was in print, it could be trusted.

2003 09 Dan Serious Closer Edit

This is not my math tutor, but a kind and gentle friend with whom I studied an entirely different topic. He has a similar look to my tutor so I respectfully offer this image to illustrate the ‘look’ albeit without the ‘disheveled or dirty’.

The man she found for the task was a Merlin archetype mixed with b-movie mad scientist. Beneath the shiny crown of his bald head, patches of wiry gray hair got lost in his scraggly and tangled beard.

He lived on the third floor of an old brick walk-up on Broadway near Cypress St. in Vancouver. The room was always dark and mildly claustrophobic. There were mysterious shaded piles of magazines and newspapers that cluttered every horizontal surface in the room making it seem smaller. His side of the building provided a western exposure. At the hour I used to go it should’ve been flooded with warm afternoon light, but the black-out shades were always drawn.

The apartment and his clothing smelled of moist and mildewed noodles.

He cleared a space for my worksheets and text book on a thin square kitchen table that was pushed up against an over-loaded book case. The titles were more about Physics than math.

With his guidance I managed to complete my high school math requirements and didn’t expect to ever see him again

Five or six years later, I was working at the front desk of a luxury downtown hotel. It was late in the evening shift and the vast lobby was empty. I was working through a task on a NCR 250 when I looked up and saw him approach.

I greeted him courteously but without familiarity. Did he recognize me? What did he want?

His purpose became evident when he lifted a cloth bag full of coins, the size of a grapefruit, onto the counter and asked if he could convert it to paper currency. Normally we wouldn’t encourage transaction for non hotel guests.

The jumble of coins and his disheveled appearance spoke to a different role than from when I had known him. It was unlikely that he was trading math tips for small change in the doorways and dark corners of downtown Vancouver.

He was polite but not engaging, pretty much how we had been when math was on our shared agenda. I think he must have recognized me and as least as I remember it, we chose not to discuss it and I respectfully didn’t want to embarrass him. I did imagine that he watched me very carefully when I counted out his bills knowing that math wasn’t my strong point.

When he was gone I reflected on how such a smart person could be on the street looking for handouts. Somehow, he hadn’t been able to fit into the system, either academic or corporate. His finely tuned mind couldn’t rise above a lack of social grace or an ability to interact with people and be socially engaging.

It was also the first time I was confronted with a less fortunate, in this case possibly a homeless person, where I knew at least something of the person’s story. I know my attitude changed that day and a little compassion seeped into me.

At the neighboring table the math tutorial continues. She taps away at a hand held calculator while he clenches his jaw and presses his face to almost touching the paper.

I wait and listen to see if this time they both come up with the same answer, lest it be a 6 or any other number.




Posted in Cafe Conversations, Teachers, Writing Practice | 1 Comment

What’s that smell? and Where does it take me? (Writing Practice)

What’s that smell?  Asparagus

I’m confronted by a blank page and about to begin a ten minute writing practice when the retro nasal olfactory neurons fire. The smell makes me think of the odoriferous quality of pee after eating asparagus. And I wonder, as I have before-–what causes that? In the spirit of writing practice, I have to go with this.

(*See Post Script if you have either never eaten asparagus, or observed its effect).

It’s not a scent normally associated with a busy café.

A couple has settled on a leather love seat a few feet away and are organizing their meal. One of them is eating a combination of cheese, spinach, and egg on an English muffin. The other has a quiche. The act of identifying the items has already begun to correct my sense perception but the question to my inquiring mind lingers – why does pee smell different after eating asparagus?

For those that don’t know me, I typically don’t let questions go un-answered. So what’s different? It’s obviously not the first time I have considered this question yet I haven’t researched an answer. Why?

It’s all a matter of time and place. Specifically the time that separates the stimulus (the smell), to having access to a mode of research (normally the internet).

I don’t make it a habit of taking a computer, or even my Kindle Fire with me to the bathroom. Understandably this is where the smell arises and with it the question (again and again).

Despite being intent and re-invigorated to find an answer I never remember to. It’s as if the meditative act of washing hands clears the mind, and the question is forgotten. Until?  Well, you get the point. Let it be known that asparagus is a very common vegetable in my kitchen.

This absence of portable technology next to my toilet isn’t to deny the need or importance for bathroom reading. The slippery porcelain lid of my toilet tank is oft dusted by magazine newsprint, coiled with the cover folded under to mark my progress.  I even use little post-it tabs to mark my place.

For about two years, these have alternated between back issues of The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

Why these two publications?

About six years Magazine Backlogago, Natalie Goldberg (writing mentor, and often the subject of my camera ) kindly offered to read some of my prose. Without the least compunction – a piece was returned with a large X in the middle of a page where she wrote in green ink, ‘Bullshit’.

I was momentarily shocked but genuinely thankful for some honest feedback. All too often, first readers are culled from family and friends who are compelled to provide favorable, softened, and encouraging criticism.  Not very useful, at least not at my stage where I need to polish and finish drafts.

Natalie followed this up by telling me that fiction wasn’t her forte. In that same conversation she referred me to her friend, and an acquaintance of mine, Rob Wilder (Daddy Needs a Drink, Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge) who she explained is much more talented at explaining why?.. It’s Bullshit.  I can’t remember if she actually repeated that word, but a second opinion would be forthcoming.

She also suggested that I subscribe to The New Yorker Magazine and read their fiction selections to get examples of writing with a strong or unique voice.

As any dutiful student would do –I found a very inexpensive introductory two year offer.

I have a strict policy about magazine subscriptions. If I am more than two full issues behind, I am not allowed to renew. The New Yorker began to arrive with alarming regularity, a staggering 47 issues per year.

I think I made it through about four copies before the stack began to grow more rapidly than I could consume the issues. A magazine is considered finished when I have reviewed each article to the point where I know the basic topic or thesis and make an educated choice if I will read it.

Admittedly political and sports articles are not engaging and quickly dismissed.

The arts, social commentary, music reviews, single pane comics, and the fiction section were of great interest. Consuming these first four issues was at the expense of my other reading. When I began to balance my reading by returning to novels, writing, and photography magazines, the pile grew more quickly.

As I retrieved them from the mailbox I would stop and consider the quirky covers before stacking them in reverse date order in a wide low brim basket next to my ostentatious Oxford inspired blue, green, and red striped wing-back chair.

If anyone needs to know, based on the soft and slippery finish – anything over fifty issues becomes unstable.  Mid-way through the flood of New Yorkers, I inadvertently triggered a free one-year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. More to read and the pile rose even faster.

As previously written in other entries, I have a love of music and used to be an avid fan of Rolling Stone. Somewhere in the crawl space beneath my parents’ home is a box of relevant/select back issues. If laid them out, the origins of the magazine would be seen in the different formats, from a thick wedge of folded newsprint though different sized formats from the 60s and 70’s. I was curious to know the magazine again but it would be slow going.

For the architects among my readers, it may or may not be a surprise that the tower of New Yorkers became more stable with two slightly different sized magazines.Magazine Backlog

I needed a system to begin consuming these back issues.

Bathroom reading was the solution. Now this raises another issues that will only be lightly touched on – as a guy, would I be willing to sit down to pee to expedite the consumption of these magazines.  Of course! A writer reads – under all circumstances.

By the time I got around to this plan the magazines were over three years old. There is an interesting side effect, a déjà vu of reading old ‘current-affairs’ magazines. Out of context the breaking news is past history and the accuracy of predictions known.

I read with curiosity how disrespectful Rolling Stone could be about Michael Jackson’s ‘weirdness’. At the time they weren’t speaking about the dead. The growth of the Kindle and e-books, the release of the i-phone and i-pad, all prompted much speculation, prediction, and denial, about the impact the devices will have on traditional publishing.

If nothing else it made me feel much more informed than I probably am.

And as to the original reason for subscribing, The New Yorker fiction section has been a rewarding study.

I should establish that I don’t see the word ‘genre’ as being a negative term nor do I join the debate on the social hierarchy and therefore the value or importance of all things literary. They all have a place in my reading world.

I will say, that the trend (at least in the editorial choices of the New Yorker) to select fiction with abrupt endings is personally unsatisfying.

I’m not looking for happily-ever-after, but I do believe that a strong piece of writing begins at a moment of change or conflict and requires some form of change in the character or the resolution revealed to a problem or riddle.

From the pages of the New Yorker I read (and re-read) many brilliant scenes, savoring the imagery and the use of language. At the end, I would often flip back and forth from beginning to end to understand where a story had taken me.  In many cases it was subtle and an imperceptible nod on my head would be witnessed by the sole light bulb or toilet paper roll. Many of the stories though, just end with a door closing, a person walking away, or a meal finished.

I may recant the following assertion as I grow and develop as a writer, but for today, as a reader; it isn’t my job to wonder why this snapshot of time was selected. At least, not on the occasion of when I’ve been invited to read a story. If it’s about the acuity of the writer to bring a world to life then let’s not call it a story but a literary photograph.

The beautiful language, clever analogy, and descriptions are akin the special effects that wow you at a movie. If you’re wondering how ‘they did that’, then your removed from the story.

As I write this, I feel a growing sense of unease that my definition of story is too narrow. In a conciliatory moment I will accept that these pursuits have their value and perhaps that’s the point. Even from a perch on the porcelain throne, reading these pieces suspends my life and replaces it with a glimpse of something unique. As my mind connects with the writer’s mind I am transported and become a tourist in a scene. The story then becomes my own and in a most subtle way, I’m the character that changes.

And what about research into the cause of asparagus scented pee?

The next few moments are crucial. When the wide trails of ink fade to dry I will close this notebook. The cap on this fountain pen screws tight instead of with a closing click. Both have their assigned spots in my green canvas messenger bag.  There are two over sized plastic clips that secure the flap. The shoulder strap is always twisted and requires straightening before I walk from away from this writing practice.  Will the asparagus question still be on my mind?

Alas, similar to the fumbling bathroom ablutions, I forget to conduct the research.  Until the next time, when I open the pages of a New Yorker, especially an hour or so after dinner where those graceful spears were on the menu.


Let it be known that unlike going to the bathroom or doing writing practice, the act of typing up and editing a blog puts impulse and technology together to at last read about this fascinating topic.

According to some research – only about 50% of the population will know about what I am writing about. And of the 50%, there are some that don’t know because even if they produce the unique odor I write about, they genetically can’t smell it….


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2012 NaNoWrimo

My fourth year completing NaNoWrimo. All the earlier lessons apply (See previous blog posts).

This year I kept telling myself to push against comfort zones. There was security in knowing that nobody else will ever read such a loose first draft. It gave me the permission to explore.

Much of what I wrote may become reference material and back story. The final product will be better for having explored those area.

Now it’s time to let it rest and get back to the fifth draft of Lander’s Gate.



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A borrowed landscape

The dining room window at Mabel Dodge Luhan house, a threshold to the private and sacred lands of the Taos Pueblo. The kitchen garden leans into the borrowed landscape with a splash of color,  a contrast to the storm cloud sage and stunted pinon trees the cover the mesa to the gentle slope of Taos Mountain.



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