Memoir: Mick Jagger sings in my childhood, but what I hear cannot be about me.

Lately, I’ve had these clear memories, images of a specific minute in a specific year, a time, a place, a sound. Yesterday, I remembered being in Davis, California, in 1980 or so, in an ice cream shop called Rocky Mountain High. It was a big place, and there was a balcony up over the main counter where you could sit at a round dark wood table and watch the people below. I was with a friend listening to the Rolling Stones being piped through the restaurant, raunchy old Mick Jagger singing, “When you’re old, when you’re old, nobody will know, that you was a beauty … “

I was fifteen. I wondered immediately: years hence, would anyone know about me as a 15 year old, or would I just be hobbling around on a cane, ignored by the world? Would I even be alive as an old person?

I knew the song. I had purchased the Rolling Stones’ black vinyl album, Emotional Rescue, and played it on my tabletop stereo in my bedroom at home. When I look at the music video today, I think my God, but Mick looks like my boyfriend from high school. That’s not entirely a good thing, since now we know that Mick ran through a lot of women, left some substantially worse off then when they started, suicidal or suicides. My boyfriend from high school has had a few questionable moments as well. I try to avoid him but his name still comes up, because actually we had two children together.

At 15 I did not believe I was beautiful. So I knew the song could not be about me, even remotely. If one were beautiful, they would feel beautiful. It would go down to your soul and give you peace.

Mick Jagger’s words were suspect because his motives were suspect. Although I agreed with him about one thing: time has seemed dangerously short from the very moment I began to consider myself an adult.

I don’t know if, at 52, I’m old. But it’s interesting to note that this week I got called beautiful by my 19 year old daughter. “Oh come on Joline,” I say. “Not really.” So maybe I am somewhat the same, after all these years.

That said, I think it’s different to be beautiful to your daughter than to yourself. Meanwhile, as far as Mick Jagger goes, and all the random male claims that we women are beautiful, I think they’re serious, but I also think the implications are not the same as we believe they are. Because for me, beauty would have to go deep into who I am, while for men — sometimes it’s only skin deep, I’m afraid.

Online Memoir Summit from Village Writing School: Going on now, and it’s free!!!

All right, if you don’t have something to do this weekend, and you’re interested in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction, or you just want to listen to  some very cool and inspirational writing videos by some knowledgeable and admirably-published writers, MFA teachers, and industry insiders, here’s your gig.  And you don’t even have to pay for it.  Unbelievable.

What: Village Writing School Memoir Summit

When:  This weekend

Where: Your home computer

How: By Youtube video

Why: Because it’s the exact same type of presentation you get from going to a writer’s conference, without the travel time and the price tag of $100 to $400.

I lost my fountain pen over a week ago …

My affection for fountain pens goes way, way back. I first found out about them at the El Patio University Book Store, where I got replaceable cartridges and Schaeffer Scrip fountain pens

No, I haven’t stopped writing, of course, I just switched to a purple gel pen.  But having

The purple gel pen with which I replaced the Waterman, my daily driver

just read a pretty good essay reflection on the writing implement and its connection to writing as such, I had to admit, there is something about your own personal pen that a writer can get attached to.  My pen, a Waterman, has a thick sliver barrel and writes a fine line. I fill it from a bottle of blue or purple ink. I’m pretty sure the lost pen is somewhere around here on the main floor of the house.  Probably under something.

Yeah, I can write without it.

But it’s not the same.

My affection for fountain pens goes way, way back.  I found out about them at the El Patio University Book Store, where I bought my first Schaeffer Scrip fountain pens. These came with a chrome nib, a plastic barrel, two refill cartridges, and a cheap pot metal lid, all for about $6.00.  They became known around the house as “cartridge pens.” I used them for years until they became impossible to find at any store.

The Silver Waterman

Enter Waterman and the Schaeffer brand refillable fountain pens.  They cost about $100 each. I tried other brands but had problems of leaking, skipping nibs, blotting ink.  Or quickly wearing out, the “feed” of ink running dry.

I journal about 500 pages of longhand script per year. My daily driver pen is, metaphorically speaking, a long-haul vehicle.

I used to order the pens from the now-defunct Joon Pen of New York City, but these days, I just get them from Amazon or Ebay.

Fountain pen nibs wear out after a couple years.  On some occasions I buy new nibs. But ultimately, the pen itself always seems to get lost, including the gold-plated Shaeffer which Leo had engraved with my name.  Which is why I’m a little worried about the one that’s currently missing.  Not that I won’t buy another pen. It’s just that I’ve had this one for three or four years and it’s special.

When you order another pen, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. It’s like sending off for a mail order bride.  It’s a serious relationship, not one you want to take a chance on, but you do what you have to do.

I will have to get searching the lists of options. The decision is always a fraught one. Once a new pen arrives, there’s the feel of the effortless flow of ink onto a page as I immerse myself in the remarkable spiritual consolation that only writing with a fountain pen can provide.





I fought the Muse and the Muse Won …

Nine Muses card by Emily Balivet

I’m building on a blog post from Unbolt Me here in which Tony Single is discussing the question of what the writer’s muse really looks like, and whether you can create your own, and whether you should trust the @#$%^&** muse anyway. I claimed in the comments thread that in the past I never got past the idea of the nine muses of classical myth. I claimed that the idea that I might have my own muse, a sort of personal creative guardian angel, hadn’t yet formed. Actually, that’s inaccurate. My muse was forming years and years ago and I throttled it for personal reasons.

Yet this week, again, it is re-forming.

To understand why I tried to kill the muse, you have to go with me back to college. I am reading Adrienne Rich’s poem “Snapshots of a Daughter in Law,” the lines of which have echoed in my head ever since, in which the young writer hears the ‘angels (her muse) chiding’ her:

“Only a week since They said: Have no patience.

The next time it was: Be insatiable.
Then: Save yourself; others you cannot save.”

In my mind, as an undergraduate reading Rich’s work, I thought ‘yes, yes, the poetry is good, but Rich’s husband killed himself after she left him. Her liberation killed him, Her muse killed him.’

The muse was telling her to destroy her family. But maybe I misunderstood.

Rich wrote of the struggle to be a woman of letters while caring for small children, one of the great paradoxes of our age, since there’s no reason these days you can’t be a woman of letters and a mother, it’s just the hour-to-hour process of doing it is so damn difficult and intimidating, it feels like sitting in the landing craft the night before D Day waiting to land on Omaha Beach. From the same poem, Rich encapsulates:

“Reading while waiting
for the iron to heat,
writing, My Life had stood–a Loaded Gun–
in that Amherst pantry while the jellies boil and scum …”

Back then, Adrienne Rich was telling me my life and it terrified me. Right away, in seconds, I rejected Rich’s rejection of domesticity. I asked, ‘how can we abandon the men and children to get time to ‘actualize’ ourselves; men and children do horrible things and become horrible things in our absence?’

Details on that will have to wait for another blog post.

Her muse was too close to my own, with whom, back then, I had written a novel about adultery which I then foolishly showed to my family, who luckily misinterpreted it as being about my parents’ divorce. But my mother-in-law saw through the hoax.

“This book isn’t very good,” she told me, giving me the eye of accusation. In her view it was worse than not good. It was subversive.

“That’s it,” I thought, terrified of what family and others might do to me if the rest of them realized what the muse and I were cooking up. “Now I will stuff my muse and all the impulses that led to the adultery novel in the secret bag, which I will hide under the dresser.” For decades. I did get away from the marriage and among other things my original mother in law, ultimately. But that muse was never allowed back out again. I had conflated her voice with all the disasters of those years.

But now, the idea comes to me: If I let the muse out again, now that I am (I hope) a stronger, different person, what would the muse tell me to do say or do this time? What would he or she look like?

More on the muse to follow. I’m wondering: how many other writers think about the muse?

Of the Long Distance Drive and Easy Rider

We just drove back to Texas from Florida over the last two days, a drive of 17 hours made worse by the fact that the battery needed to be replaced in Port St. Lucy.

Yesterday, as we powered through Alabama, Leo made a comment about traveling on I-10, and Easy Rider.  Adult daughter Tiara asked “What is that?”

“It’s this movie with Henry Fonda,” I say.

“Peter Fonda,” Leo corrects.   Easy Rider is an interesting case for writing reflections because Peter Fonda cooked up the concept and then they shot, basically without a script, using people they met on the way.  It’s an interesting idea for how to spark creativity:  Get yourself on location, and record.

“What happens?” Tiara wants to know.

“Well there’s these guys, hippie guys, they go on a road trip.  There’s Peter Fonda and this other guy … ”

“Jack Nicholson,” I say.

“No, the other one.”

“Dennis Hopper.”

“Yeah.  They made a cocaine deal.  They stuff all the money in the American Flag gas tank of a chopper … ”

“A helicopter?” asks Tiara.

“No, like a motorcycle with ape hanger bars … ”  Leo demonstrates.  “They go east until they get shot in Alabama.”

“For what?”

“Flipping some guy off, one of those red neck guys.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, yeah, that’s the movie.”

“You really only have to see it once,” I chime in.  “They do meet some people on a commune, and a guy who married a lady who won’t use birth control … and then they pick up Jack Nicholson but he gets killed pretty quick.”


“It’s not clear.  He’s a lawyer in the movie so maybe that’s why.  Or maybe it’s just the lifestyle … waking up and someone’s dead.”

Leo tells Tiara about when we were in New Orleans, when we went on the cemetery tour.  The guide said when he started doing the tours, he had never seen Easy Rider.  People kept mentioning it, asking about it.  So he watched it, and told the story, “So they’re right here, in the cemetery, and they’ve picked up these prostitutes and Dennis Hopper is shagging this chick right here in this alcove.  And then I’m like whoa,  what is this, and I ask ‘how’d they get permission to shoot this in the Catholic cemetery? And then I find out the Archdiocese of New Orleans says ‘we never knew they were in here.”  And that’s why to go in the cemetery now, you have to have a licensed guide, and pay an entry fee.”

Well, the movie was shot in 1969.  What do you expect?

Leo loads up Easy Rider on the cell phone, the opening credits.  “Get your motor running … head out on the highway … “sing Steppenwolf.

“Why are they dressed like that?” asks Tiara.  “Look at that fringe on his jacket!”

“Yeah, they’re hippies,” says Leo.  “Peter Fonda admitted that he couldn’t remember most of the shooting of the film.”

“Why, because he was taking so many drugs?” Tiara asks.

“Yeah,” Leo concluded.

“It was the time.  That was the way it was,” I finish.  “it’s lucky your parents survived it all.”

And we get the motor running.  And we head out on the highway.


In Which I read Maya Angelou’s Memoir, “Gather Together in my Name” and get my head Expanded

gather together in my nameI was down at the library trying to help my 14-year-old find a book, but it didn’t work because I told him he had to branch out from WWII, which he is somewhat obsessed with, and he already has a number of books about that at home.

But I did quite casually pick up Angelou’s memoir and start reading and got hooked right then and there.

I’m not sure what it is about this book.  I think it’s the men, such as the old cook who, when the writer worried about her new job at the Creole Cafe, teaches her how to make Creole food with maximum efficiency:  “Sheeit. Ain’t nothin but onions, green pepper and garlic. Put that in everything and you’ve got Creole food.”

And it works!

There’s this vision of the serendipity in the universe with Angelou.  I remember it well from her poem, which my students memorized and recited last year, “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me at All.”  And in this memoir, life doesn’t frighten her either.  She savors it, both the lows and the highs.

Since everything frightens me, this view of life is very helpful, consoling, healing maybe even.  Now, in Chapter 4, a man (not a young man) called Curly shows the 17-year-old writer the time of her life, and then leaves her for ‘his girl,’ who’s gotten done with a job in San Diego (reader wonders:  hey Curly, if you’ve already got a girl, what would you call this young lady you’re showing around town, pretending to be her baby’s daddy, keeping her up all night at your hotel and making her fall unforgettably in love with you?  Huh?  Isn’t she your girl too?)  But I think I understand Angelou.  A guy who’s that much fun really can’t be blamed or hated much after he’s left.  Yes, I understand.

This, perhaps, is the magic of living without fear:  you get to fully experience all the joy of the current day.  And when I felt that idea coming over me like a wave, that was when I thanked Angelou for expanding my vision.  And I’m only halfway through Chapter 7.

Cheryl Strayed, People who Leave you at the Worst Possible Moment, and Two Links to Writing Prompts

I have been reading Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and have found in her a fellow-traveler in more ways than one.  Not just someone who felt she had to go somewhere for spiritual exercise — in her case, a 1000-mile trek by herself on foot alone along the spine of the Sierras — but someone who had to deal with that old problem, life not happening the way you want it too, in a TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE WAY.  I’m not talking about getting a speeding ticket, people, I’m talking about people dying and/or leaving you, on purpose, for reasons that you simply cannot fathom.  At the wrong time.  Without, apparently, considering what their leaving could do to you.

It’s like that song by Randy VanWarmer from my youth, as in “you left me just when I needed you most.”


Okay, I’ve stopped crying.

This is a big issue, people who leave.  For another example, I was just reading K.E. Garland’s blog about her anthology Daddy, which considers the importance these men have on us and what happens when they don’t participate.  Strayed’s journey was undertaken to help her recover after her mother died suddenly and unexpectedly when Stayed was in her early 20’s.  My own current memoir project is about my father’s ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease, but it’s really about my quest for forgiveness of his decision to throw me out of the house when I was 16.  No, I was not a rebellious child.  The problem seemed to be that he and his new girlfriend didn’t want me around.

People let you down, guys.  What do you do?

Well, if you are to take Wild as a guidebook, I suppose you must challenge yourself and take care of yourself and prove to yourself that you are worthy just as you are, no makeup, no embellishments, no relying on other people, learn to police your own shortcomings, and find your own meaning.

Another opportunity would be to write your feelings down.  Toward that end, I found two sets of Cheryl Strayed’s writing prompts.

These writing prompts are from Albert Flynn DeSilver’s Blog:

These writing prompts are from and were linked by @CherylStrayed, who you can follow on twitter:


Now I will warn you:  some of these are tough.  “Write about a time when you were mistaken?”  Aw man, I don’t want to do that.

But it might be good for me.