Photos for January Stones and April PAD 2012 property of M J Dills (exception 1/16)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Swing Your Lantern High

Our children need us. But we need them, too. I needed mine, God knows. They kept me stable, going from day to day, year after year, when things around me sometimes felt like more than an earthquake. I know what Biden is talking about here, climbing into bed with them and holding your hand on their little tummies, the up and down, in and out, knowing that one thing is consistent, their sweet breath, their complete innocence, their dependence on you. Bless you, Joe; my heart weeps for you. I won't ever forget hearing my grandmother telling a friend on the day she buried her youngest son "We aren't meant to bury our children."
As Vice President Joe Biden's son was dying of brain cancer this spring, he delivered a speech at Yale that addressed to his own losses and talked about how important his bond with his children was to him. . . Click on the above for Vice President Biden's full speech. . . Thank you for reading.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Zero for the Mother

I weep for the marbled murrelet,
mollusks, brown pelican, the cutthroat trout,
and southern sea otter, least tern, red throated loon…
an infinite list of
Innocent, defenseless life that swallows elixir of death
and then is
… gone.

We insist on constant exploitation of endangered habitat
With no concern for our stewardship
Oblivious to 
Extinction by numbers, perishing in bleakness, desperation;
For nothing but lack of concern,
gluttony for money.

From the ether come the screams of John Muir, Rachel Carson, Farley Mowat,
When a tube buried deep within the earth
Its contents slithering like a slick venomous serpent and
allowed for Mankind to be engaged, once again, in the decimation
Ten by ten,
Thousand by thousand.

Score for casualty, score for excess, score for greed, score for ignorance, score for suffering, score for death, score for oil, score for tragedy.

Zero for the mother.


Thanks for reading.


Endangered and Threatened Marine Species


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd – The Movie

I’m not sure I’ve done a movie review on my blog but the images of this film are firmly lodged and this keeps me from doing real work….

Hardy took his title, Far From the Madding Crowd from the 1871 Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, a lengthy poem in which Gray lifted phrases from Dante and Petrarch; lots of thieving going on here.

The place, far from the madding crowd, in Gray’s poem, is a graveyard. Reading the piece, one can almost imagine Gray having gone forward in time and looking back to write about regret, peace, retribution, forgiveness, love, envy.

Each one of Hardy’s Crowd characters can be found in this poem on one line or another. Gray’s poetry depicts sheep grazing over rolling hills as the sun lowers on the horizon; woods and farm animals taking to roost or burrow for the night; images of a happy family household; the small hamlet; the wealthy kingdom; earls and land gentry; rich and poor.

Tribute of a sigh is another line in the Gray poem that Hardy could just as easily taken to describe his romantic and tender novel.

In the outer hallway of the massive theater where we had escaped to watch our movie, ticketholders pressed against one another in anticipation of another movie, Mad Max in 3D, a movie full of special effects, raw language, terror, violence and bloodshed. Our screen held the attention of a mere forty or fifty moviegoers, comfortably seated and ready for a different type of action.

There's little bloodshed in Far From the Madding Crowd but there are soldiers and there is much death, tragic in all cases. There’s no sex but there is so much lust packed into about 4 minutes of the entire film that I turned to my friend, shaking my head and, feeling woe for all womanhood, whispered “fucking hormones” in her ear.

Thomas Hardy, father of the cliffhanger (in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes, written in 1893, Hardy chose to leave a main character literally hanging from a cliff staring into the flinty eyes of a marine fossil embedded in rock that has been dead for millions of years), knew how to create suspense and just a little bit of terror. There was always enough to keep his readers on the edge of their seats and coming back for more. During a time when women wore cuffs to their knuckles and collars up to the chin, Hardy was able to portray sex scenes that deliberately left Victorian housewives and maidens trembling. You just won’t get that in Mad Max.

Carey Mulligan’s Bathsheba Everdene reveals a handsome, stubborn, intelligent and independent woman, unable and unwilling to respond to the advances of two eligible men. She makes the worst decision of her life when she solves her problem by marrying a third and most aggressive bachelor. 

Matthias Schoenaerts, (a must-see in Rust and Bone) is outstanding as the Farmer Oak, who inevitably and deservedly will win the heart of Bathsheba. The supporting cast, especially Tom Sturridge as the sexy, bad-boy Frank Troy, are all worthy of statues. The cinematography stands alone, chilling and warming, all in stride. 

Skip Mad Max and have yourself a treat with developed characters and no special effects (unless you count Sturridge's ruby-red puckering lower lip.)
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May 3rd

This morning a writer friend sent a YouTube video via private message. It’s A Beautiful Day’s "White Bird." Not sure why James sent it, but no matter… it was a lovely gesture. "White Bird" has significance for me though I've not thought about the song in years. 
Today my mom would have been 94. The gorgeous woman with the camera here. The wind is blowing her skirt; it’s not a thread holding it in place, like a magazine shot. A gust just came along to make this photo perfect. She’s looking into the lens of a box camera and must have been heavily concentrating; one had to hold them very still to get a decent picture. A car is parked on the street behind her and I believe this is taken in Enumclaw. I wonder who is taking the photo of her but I can guess. 
I miss my mom. She was hard on me, most of my life, but she loved me dearly and I know that. It wasn't always easy being her daughter. She was demanding of everyone around her. She expected a lot. My mom had special disdain for people who slept well. She could not bear to let us kids sleep in and when we were adults, she deliberately made phone calls very early in the morning. The devil got his due when she was elderly and would miss the final moments of television shows and movies, nodding off.
My mother put me on rigid diets from the ages of about 12 – 15, until I rebelled. I was never fat but I was not sleek and thin like other women in my family. It bothered her immensely. And then I became a hippie. It nearly killed her but was nothing compared to what I did later, getting pregnant out of wedlock. Shame for the family. Twice. 
Mom and I became friends after my father died; he had always been my great defender and perhaps she felt the job fell into her camp. She read just about every word I wrote. She praised my writing and was proud. When she was dying, she asked me to print out some of my poetry and she would sit and read it, her head wrapped in a silly turban to hide the hair loss. I have a strong image of that. 
My mother shared her birthday with her sister, who was born on May 1st, five years later. They’re together now, having died two years apart. When I was young, our families got together for every occasion and made a very big deal of anniversaries, graduations, confirmations and such. There were a lot of photos taken; lots of shutterbugs in the family.

Many years ago I was living in Los Angeles and pregnant with my little girl. I had a close friend at the time and she was quite hip. Tanya’s mom owned a "poodle parlor" in San Diego and Tanya went by the last name of Lord, though that wasn't her real name. She moved in with me and we were soul sisters, doting on my baby boy and waiting for my next baby to be born. Tanya and I bonded in a way I never really have with another woman. Most people thought we were lesbians and we were not, but we never denied it. 
Tanya was a Taurus like my mom, and there were odd similarities I couldn't help realizing. it was a strange type of perfectionism they shared. Once Tanya took me to a party high in the hills of Hollywood. There were candles and flowers floating in the pool and famous people there but I'd been out of touch, having babies, so she explained to me who they all were. Tanya was very in tune with current culture and I've never forgotten when she brought albums home. It’s a Beautiful Day was one of her favorite groups. We listened to "White Bird," mesmerized by the melody and the lyrics. We spun that LP over and over until the grooves were deep as our thoughts and desires.
So this morning when James sent me the video, just as I was waking up and thinking about Mom’s birthday, clouds of images took over. 
I lost touch with Tanya long ago. I've no idea where she ended up. Mom's been gone for five years this July. My hair's turning gray and my children are different people from those to whom I gave birth. 

"The sunsets come; The sunsets go; The clouds roll by; And the earth turns old; And the young bird's eyes Do always glow…."

Happy Birthday, Mom and you, too, Tanya, wherever you both are.

Thanks for reading.



Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine’s Day – The Mouth of My Monster

February 14th is different for me. Years ago, I was married on this day. Two months prior, I nearly bled to death. As life drained out of me and my skin color blended with the white sheets in the emergency room (you can’t believe it unless you've seen it), I received a proposal of marriage. It was meant to give me the will to live. It wasn't necessary. I was in good medical hands and had no desire to go anywhere. My life was my three kids and my desire for them to have a typical family. The five of us were coming to that but we had put off making a legal commitment. Three kids as part of my bargain didn't seem to represent a fair prospect for him.


They normally don’t allow people in the ER beyond the waiting room but he just walked in after locating me in the warren of swinging doors and bright lights. That was the kind of man he was. No was not in his acceptable inventory of responses.  Nobody stopped him. I saw his face among those who were tending to me; I accepted him to have found me. He later said he counted 17 people in that room, not including the two of us. I remember, even now, racing to the OR watching the ceiling tiles whiz by overhead, some pieces missing with wires and pipes exposed, like in a movie. I woke hours later in the ICU and watched flakes of snow whirling outside the foggy window. A nurse told me he’d just left; it was 5 a.m. and I should let him get some sleep. She phoned him and he was standing next to me the next time I opened my eyes. The weather was torturous. It was 12 degrees and he’d gone home and checked the wrapped pipes, turned around and came back. He brought my hairbrush. He was that kind of man.


Over the years, we had a grand party every Valentine’s Day. We invited everyone we knew and they all came. A bartender was hired; glasses were rented; food was cooked for days. It was a festive gala, a chance for people to dress up and make merry in what was usually the dullest, grayest time of year. Photos have been lost; tossed out, I suspect, by a bitter child. But that’s another story.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point about the process of memory in his chapter about The Power of Content.  [Transactive memory is part of what intimacy means and when a unit is broken up, as it is in divorce, depression develops due to the] loss of [] external memory systems. 
And so… my recollection is only half of what it should be. I could make a pie chart of where collections of memorable events exist. I've lost much; I've way too many living ghosts.


I hate hospitals. The weeks and months of smelling those odors, hearing those sounds. I became far too familiar with routines, schedules and movements. I was often mistaken for a doctor or nurse, even without a uniform. 
We came to refer to it as the drive-by germ. It hit our house in late January, just as we were planning the next Valentine party.   
I slept in his ICU room for nearly a month. They moved him to a standard room and I had to sleep in a chair. I couldn't leave. He lost his ears, his toes, half his fingers. He was on breathing machines at 100% for too damn long. He lost his mind, his memory, the things we shared together, the things we cherished, the moments, the harmony, the sweet accord that made us whole.


I thought I’d gotten over him. Last year a phone call came in the night and we rushed to that place I hate…the hospital. It was eleven years since I'd seen him. You get over a person in that amount of time, right? Especially if that person is not even recognizable as whom he was to you, when he was a complete, sane person?

I honestly didn't think he’d make it through the night. There was blood everywhere, a huge gash in his forehead, broken bones on both sides on his body, his back. Intubated; those familiar tubes trailing from his nose and mouth, the pumping of air into lungs that resist each thrust. He’d been hit by a pizza delivery car; stepped off a curb in his usual oblivion and BAM! Here we were again.  


“He has nine lives,” we joked. It was funny. Sort of. He’s escaped death more than anyone I know, twice as a child in horrible accidents. I visited him three times again after that, twice in the ICU, where they had him stabilized; then again in a regular room when he was awake and aware. He didn't cling to my hand like he had when he didn't really realize who I was. He dismissed us all with the wave of his deformed, damaged hands.  I closed the door.


Christmas is difficult. We had such a multitude of traditions and so much fun; it’s never been the same. I've chosen to be in Mexico for the holidays, where the culture captures me and I don’t dwell on how our typical family completely fell apart, shattered in so many pieces, no pot of glue could put it together again.

Valentine’s Day, however, follows me wherever I go. Those many years ago, my first one without him... friends, who took pity, invited me to dinner. A mistake. After they talked about him through the entire meal, I excused myself to go back to the hospital, sit next to him and listen to the wheezes and beeps, the monitors and machines that were keeping him alive. I woke at dawn, drove home and fell back to sleep curled in a ball. Those things I remember.

When he came out of the coma, woke and spoke, he recognized no one and thought I was someone named Sheila. Slowly he began to come back to us but he never really reached that point where we knew him. His transactive memory was gone. It was the death of our intimacy.


My life has gone on. I've had magic and wondrous times. I've even had love again, which was something I doubted would ever revisit me in this mortal existence. I've been lucky and there are few regrets. Valentine’s Day though… it’s a burden I shoulder.

Thanks for reading. 

Heart in Her Hand painting of me by Michael Hale 

(At the time of his illness, a vaccination was being developed for meningitis, which is highly recommended for teenagers, who are more susceptible than younger children. Too late for Breeze, who lost his spleen as a young boy in one of the aforementioned accidents. Had it been only a couple years later, he would have been eligible and chances are we would still be making memories.)


Monday, June 30, 2014

My Leg of the Blog Tour in Progress

First and foremost, my genuine THANKS to Nancy Coats Posey for inviting me to join this Blog Tour. 
A word about Nancy:
Nancy is a lot like me, having so many interests, she needs to be twins and even some days, triplets. Nancy is an Alabama native who has lived in North Carolina since 1995, an English instructor, poetess, wife, mother, and grandmother, a photographer, and a perpetual beginner mandolin player. She has a couple blogs she floats in and out of for poetry, general information, and art projects. Her regular blog "Discriminating Reader" is devoted to her lifelong love of books. She reviews her recent (and excessive) reading and sometimes just chats about books and reading in general. Check her out at whenthepenbleeds,blogspot You’ll be happy you did.

The tour is comprised of questions starting with

       1.  What am I currently working on?

I HAD A BOY, my latest novel about Robin Dockery, a pregnant teenage runaway in Los Angeles, during the music explosion of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Robin gives her baby up for adoption but gets him back when she marries a handsome British lad so he can get his Green Card and stay in the USA with his boy friend, the son of a Venezuelan diplomat.

I completed writing BOY last year and had some interest, mainly from Anderson Literary in NY, who send me the kindest, most informative rejection letter a person could ever hope to receive.

BOY is a unique story because it is mine… I lived it and felt all the pain and joy that’s transferred onto the pages. The music scene in LA was a magical one and music really was everywhere. I take great liberties with facts and plot twists, giving cameos to the quick and the dead.

As she moves up and down the coast, over a couple decades, between Southern California and a small town in rural Washington, Robin is continually torn between her self-made family and the gnarly nest of her religious and mildly demented mother, her browbeaten father and redneck siblings with whom she has never been able to relate. I’m happy to report these characters are not based on my own personal family.

Robin’s story is important because she represents a generation of females whose choices were limited. Birth control was not quite impossible to get, but it was a challenge. Pharmacists kept condoms, (which were known by the objectionable name rubbers) behind counters so they had to be asked for. If a girl purchased a condom, she was considered nothing less than a slut and usually underwent interrogation by some white-coated pervert. Boys inquiring about prophylactics were shamed with stupid questions like “What size? You want extra large or extra small?” by the chuckling jokesters.  Roe v. Wade was on the horizon, but aborting a pregnancy was way too expensive for the majority, whether they could have the procedure legally or not. I've knew girls who found surgical solutions. They went through horror and humiliation. Some never fully recovered.

So… what happened to Robin and others like her, when their children realized they could've had a different life with someone else, someone not related to them? They might have grown up in a fantasy family, chosen and adopted. or maybe with that completely uninterested father.  

What about the mothers who didn't know who was the father of their baby? That was more common than most want to admit. Or those who barely knew him; their sperm donor, as we have semi-fondly referred to those guys who showed up for maybe a night or two, then disappeared down the road, taking responsibility and their last name with them.

How does it feel to have men come back into a mom’s life, who previously insisted she illegally abort her baby, but now want to play the role of father, grandfather, cuddly best friend and confidante?

My goal with BOY, at this point, is to re-edit… once more, and make it just a bit rawer than the original. Ms. Anderson, the literary agent, gave me some recommendations that I do believe it would be wise to pursue.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I HAD A BOY and my previous novel SING, AND DON’T CRY are about my personal adventures, turned upside down with fictionalization. Not that it hasn't been done before, but no one has ever told my story. 

I weave a certain amount of lessons in my tales, without being moralistic. John Irving wrote about the morality of abortion without ever being political or didactic. The same could be said about Mark Twain and racism; he didn't beat you over the head with it. Stephen King told stories about the death penalty and the mortification of prison life but it wasn't his intention to make his reader be shamed or feel guilty. Good teachers and I aim to emulate them.

3.   Why do I write/create what I do?
4.   How does your writing/creating process work?

I say this with a grand heaving sigh: I don’t have a choice in the matter. Words flow out of me, and like many artists, I wonder whom I’m channeling. I've stories to tell and if I try to do it through spoken word, I’m likely to be whacked over the head with a 2X4 until I shut up. So writing seems like a healthier alternative. More than once I've been told “you should write a book.” It seems like the things that have happened to me over the course of six decades are not your ordinary life. Everyone has a story to tell. My position is that some of them really neeeed to be shared. Point is, I know I like to read a good book and my aim is to give others the same pleasure.  

I work best in the mornings, which is odd, since I always used to consider myself a night owl. I’m not; I just have a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings on some days.

I like background music when I’m writing and if I want to get super inspired, I put CD’s on like soundtracks from ChocolatThe Mission or Amélie.

I can write in chaos or tranquility. There are boxes in drawers and closets with reams that attest to the fact. I possess notes written in darkened hallways, adjacent to deathbeds; bright glaring hospital rooms where my own personal cot was tucked in the corner of the patient room; boats pitching on the open sea leaving no resemblance of proper penmanship; humid jungles where cicadas screamed so loud, writing was more conducive than talking.

I've trained to perform in a circus; single-handedly midwived a baby into the world, with no training; marched, sat and sang for equal and civil rights; worked with famous people in theater summer stock and held lead and minor roles in plays and musicals; sang in a rock band; moved to a foreign country where I had to teach myself the language and then owned and ran, not one, but two businesses;. That’s just the tip of my literary iceberg. 

I end my blogs by saying “Thanks for reading” and what I mean by that is thank you for reading my blog; thank you for reading and buying books from first and second hand stores; thank you for reading poetry, mine and everyone else’s; thank you for reading newspapers and the internet; thank you for reading to your children; thank you for reading billboards; thank you for reading graffiti (because it's often someone’s creation meant to be shared); thank you for reading your emails; thank you for reading recipes; thank you for reading report cards and progress reports; thank you for reading your homework; thank you  for reading famous authors and not so famous authors; thank your for reading directions, the manual, the map and instructions; thank you for reading cereal boxes; thank you for reading The Magna Carta, The Constitution, the Bible, the Koran and the Talmud; thank you for reading... you know… Thank You for Reading.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Music was a huge influence in my parents’ lives. They danced; they sang. My mother and her brother participated in Dancethons in California, when they both lived there, he in the military in Wilmington and she building stealth gliders.
Jo Stafford’s I’ll Be Seeing You, along with every other young American in love during the war, was my parents’ song. My dad was too old for the service (b 1905) but he made good money tending bar and that’s how he met my mother. When she left California with a broken heart, she never intended to be swept off her feet by a handsome bartender in Seattle, sixteen years her senior. They were married three weeks after meeting; a marriage that lasted 42 years.
They loved to dance and I have fond memories of singing hits of the 40’s with extended family, gathered around the piano while mom tickled the ivories. I think a lot of people left a hunk of their heart in that decade. They lost so much.
Soldiers and sailors were everywhere. Seattle was a port and young men, some who lied about their age to enlist, were shipping out at Bremerton.
There were many restaurants and clubs in Seattle, including the Black and Tan (12th and Jackson), where my mom told me the jazz was incredible, the crowd very dark-skinned and the atmosphere never boring. She said famous people, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton played there and toured up and down the coast. The Town Ranch (at 8th and Pine) was one of their favorite spots and they frequented John Q Public, which is where this photo was taken in the spring of 1944. Pictured with my parents are three young boys who were shipping out the following day. The child on the left called himself Johnny Angel. My mom said he couldn’t have been over 16, maybe younger.
When I think of D-Day, I always picture these three sailors, getting pickled with my parents the night before they boarded ship to go win a war. Normandy was a slaughter, as we know. There was an estimate of 4,500 allied soldiers who died that day; 10,000 more casualties.
Give a listen to Jo Stafford to take you back to a different time.
May all our sweet young boys rest in peace. Thank you to all who have served.