Category Archives: Writing

Mundane Monday: Making a Move

Today’s Mundane Monday blogging prompt is “Making a Move.” On Dr KO’s blog, the move involves a cat.

I tried the new Word Press editor last night on my blog. Change is inevitable: even if it ain’t broke, people still try to fix it. So I was planning to “make a move” to the new editor. Use blocks! Paragraphs! Pictures! Galleries! It’ll be so easy, and my blogging efficiency and posting frequency will skyrocket!

Epic fail.

The problem for me centered on the picture galleries and the captions. They don’t work on iphones or ipads (at least). If you put your pictures into a gallery on the phone while you are waiting for a long intermission to finish, when you get back to the computer to finish up the post, the computer doesn’t recognize the pictures as a gallery at all and turns those gallery blocks into lists.  In list mode, rather than being under the pictures, the captions were to one side. And there were weird, annoying bullet points next to the text. The placement of the pictures wasn’t right either.

So I re-made all the galleries in the new editor and published the post. It looked fine to me. Then I got an email from a friend. On his ipad, my blog looked like this, with the pictures STILL messed up.

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New editor gallery block fail

So I went back to the classic editor. The blog looks fine now.  I hope. I’m not making that move yet. But please read the blog–I worked hard on it! Thanks to these editorial snafus, I didn’t get it published until very late, when most people east of me had already gone to bed.

When I first read this prompt, “making a move,” I actually thought of something different, however: a physical move. I am working on my holiday letter, which always puts me in a retrospective mood. I scroll back through most of the current year’s pictures, and sometimes those from previous years too. Three years ago, we got ready to make one of the biggest moves of our lives.

This is our realtor’s gift of flowers and a balloon, congratulating us on our new house (set in front of the door of the old house):

Congratulations

And our cars, on a truck ready to move across the country:

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And our empty house:

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This post about the move, “Gandalf’s Knock,” is still, more than three years later, my most-viewed post.

Am I glad we moved? Yes. But more on that another time . . .

 

 

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“Little Women” Holiday Tea Party and Author Talk

 

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Yesterday I gave a talk about Little Women at the Mountain View Public Library. It was similar to my presentations about geocaching and Geocaching GPS a couple of years ago.

The librarian was also a fan of Little Women as a child, and she organized the tea party and made the lovely flyer. I set my childhood copy of the book, and my Madame Alexander Jo March doll (in red), there on the table. And I dressed up like a character from the book too: long brown skirt, high collar with a brooch, lace sweater, hair up. (What does it say about my wardrobe that I had all those pieces easily available in my closet?) This is what I talked about.

The 150th Anniversary

Little Women 150th Anniversary, Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Volume I was published in September of 1868, and volume II, originally called Good Wives, was published in 1869. Nowadays they are usually combined into 1 volume and published that way. Louisa wrote the first part–402 pages–in less than 6 weeks. Good Wives especially was written at the request of her publisher and readers. They all wanted to know who the girls would marry. Louisa herself wasn’t particularly interested in this: she said it was better to be an elderly spinster and paddle your own canoe. And she purposely disappointed all the Jo and Laurie shippers and made Jo what she called a “funny match.”

Many modern women writers claim to have been inspired by Little Women and its unforgettable protagonist, Jo March. Among them are J.K. Rowling, Simone deBeauvoir, Nora Ephron, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Zadie Smith, Gloria Steinem, and Ursula K LeGuin.  Singer-songwriter and punk rocker Patti Smith wrote

There are some moments within literature when a new character is born, one who sits at the summit with others, emblematic of an age, or steps ahead of it. There have been many high-spirited characters before Jo March, but none like her, who wrote, remained herself. Creating Jo at a time when women had not yet won the right to vote was an unflinching move. She was an activist by example. And standing apart to extend a sister’s hand, she has always been there to greet maverick girls like myself, with a toss of her cropped hair and a playful wink to say come along. To guide us, provide encouragement, lay her footprints on a path she beckons us to follow.

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott was a writer, Unitarian, feminist, and abolitionist living in Concord Massachusetts. She hobnobbed with the Transcendentalists and had a crush on Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, when women were given school, tax, and bond suffrage in 1879 in Massachusetts.

As many of us know, Little Women was largely autobiographical. Like Jo, Louisa wrote, published, and supported her family with what she called “blood and thunder tales”–gothic thrillers with names like “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment” and “The Abbot’s Ghost or Maurice Treherne’s Temptation.” She wrote under the androgynous pseudonym AM Barnard.

But when asked by her publisher Thomas Niles to write a book for girls, she acquiesced, writing in her journal: “Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this sort of thing.”

Bronson Alcott and Fruitlands

Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott, was an idealist, philosopher, progressive educator, and man ahead of his time. He was not, however, a practical man, a farmer, or someone who knew how to put food on the table. When Louisa was 10, Bronson moved the family to Fruitlands, a utopian community based on Transcendentalist principles that he founded with Charles Lane in Harvard Massachusetts. This community had high ideals–for example, they eschewed cotton clothing, because cotton was picked by slaves, and they were abolitionists. But Fruitlands lasted only about 6 months. The men were more interested in talking about the Oversoul than bringing in the harvest, and the women and children couldn’t do all the work themselves. Louisa later wrote about her Fruitlands experience in the satirical short story, Transcendental Wild Oats.  Because of Bronson’s inability to make money, the Alcott family was often poor. Louisa’s writing career was a passion born of necessity. 

Orchard House

When the book was first published, it  was extensively pirated, and now it is in the public domain, but it is estimated that more than ten million copies were sold, not including abridged editions. It has been through 100+ editions and been translated into more than 50 languages. Her publisher persuaded Louisa to take a royalty rather than a flat fee, and as a result, the book and its sequels supported her and her relatives, plus some of her relatives’ relatives, for the rest of their lives.

Little Women and I

So what about me and Little Women?  I had a Jo doll, whose head and legs I had to reattach to bring her to the library. I was pretty into playing with dolls back then. I didn’t play mother and baby much though; I used dolls to act out stories. Little Women was one of those stories, and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were another. Some of my dolls had an elected government, with Chrissy, a tall leggy redhead whose hair grew when you pushed a button on her belly, at the top. It was like a girls’school or a women’s college: girls did everything.

I received the Illustrated Junior Library Edition of Little Women as a gift. I read and enjoyed the book as a tween, and my mother also read it to me. One of the things about this book that has stayed with me since childhood is the image on the cover: the family gathered around the piano singing. Even though I’m not much of a singer, I am a musician. I play the violin and viola. My daughter played a number of different instruments growing up and my son plays the cello. I’ve always felt that was the highest purpose in music, not performance or musical skill or putting in your 1000 hours, but to bring people together.

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Susan Bailey reading Little Women

When I started playing the violin and viola again after a long break, I started blogging at violinist.com.  I wrote about reading Little Women to my daughter, and my blog was noticed by Susan W Bailey, author of the blog Louisa May Alcott is my passion, who contacted me. I started reading and following her blog, and there I found out about the anthology, Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes, edited by Merry Gordon and Marnae Kelley at Pink Umbrella Books

As they explain in this interview, Gordon and Kelley believe that Little Women is a pivotal book for many women, one that they return to in different phases of life and learn something new each time. “I’m delighted to be part of it,” says Gordon of the anthology, “and to connect with a community of readers who are as passionate about the book as I am.” 

Finding the Googleplex Beautiful

I reworked the ideas from my violinist dot com blog and submitted them as an essay called “Finding the Palace Beautiful.” As part of the publicity for the anthology, the publisher asked the authors to send a picture of themselves reading Little Women next to a local landmark. I chose the Googleplex.

One hundred and fifty years later, is Little Women still relevant?

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Louisa May Alcott’s grave on Author’s Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord MA. Fans pay tribute by leaving pens at the site. Photo courtesy of Richard Ragan.

When I told my writers’ group that I would be doing this reading,  one guy said that he tried but he couldn’t get past the first chapter of Little Women. And some people claim, not without justification, that it’s not really a feminist novel. Everyone gets married off. Ambitions get smaller. Beth dies from her own self-sacrifice. And Jo marries Professor Bhaer, a man who deprecates her writing. Tween and teen girls these days read dramatic tales with kickass heroines like The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Hate U Give.  Is there still space for a book about four flawed sisters in which nothing much really happens?

For me the relevance of Little Women 150 years later is captured well in Joan Acocella’s New Yorker article of August 2018, called “How Little Women Got Big”.  Acocella argues that Jo had to marry Friedrich Bhaer, a poor immigrant Professor, because Jo, unlike her rich neighbor Laurie, thinks hard about things and fights (her) way through them in darkness.

Not surprisingly,  since like Jo I moved to New York and married a German, I’m “team Friedrich” not “team Laurie.” But even without that personal analogy, Jo’s marriage to Professor Bhaer isn’t just a funny match to me. It is a marriage of true minds and intellectual equals. Jo asks him to sing, “Kennst du das Land,” a favorite song that at first meant to him Germany, his country of birth, but later meant to both of them a purer, higher vision of home and love. The book’s ending is Louisa’s transcendentalist love letter and her philosophical masterpiece.

Thursday Doors: Birthday Library

For my birthday this year, I got my own Little Free Library. I’ve wanted one for almost as long as I knew that they existed, but I had been a little intimidated by the cost or by the thought of having to build one myself. Then I was also not sure about how to put it up in the yard. It seemed like a lot of effort.

But I really like these little libraries, and I’ve included a few in past Thursday Doors posts, for example here.

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This library sits outside the UU church of Palo Alto, which I have attended a few times. There is another outside Brewer Island Elementary School (where I taught about photosynthesis this morning), painted blue like the school.

And I recently found a geocache in this Little Free Library in Redwood City, in a neighborhood near Roy Cloud Elementary, where I am teaching tomorrow. It kind of looks like an elf lives there.

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I wish I’d been more systematic about taking pictures of all the libraries I’ve found, especially the ones where I’ve found geocaches.

Because finally, I am going to have my own! I got an unfinished one for my birthday. Right now it is still sitting on the floor in the front entryway, next to the shoe rack.

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But it is pretty close to being ready to go. And, because this is Thursday Doors, notice the nice doors on it! My husband ordered it from LittleFreeLibrary.org. The post came the next day. It is extremely tall (I include some of the room furnishings for scale):

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I’d like to paint it with some kind of music theme, or space/sci-fi theme. But the picture hasn’t quite crystallized yet. And it looks like I will have to dig quite a deep hole for that post!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time), on the linky list at Norm 2.0’s blog

Little Women Legacy: All Smiles from Silicon Valley with KL Allendoerfer, Featured Author

This week I am featured on Pink Umbrella Books’ blog! This appearance is part of a blog tour featuring contributing authors to “Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes,” an anthology for the 150th Anniversary of Little Women.

In this blog post series, we’ll feature contributing authors from our new anthology, Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy. Today we’ll catch up with KL Allendoerfer, California-based writer, science educator, and musician.

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Contributor KL Allendoerfer reads Little Women with “Pie,” the ubiquitous green droid in front of Silicon Valley’s Googleplex.


What is your favorite scene from Little Women?

It would be easy to say my favorite scene is the one I wrote about in my essay, in which Beth thanks Mr. Lawrence for the use of his piano and they become friends. I do love that scene, but there are so many others as well. I think the one that most got under my skin, and that I remembered many years later, was Jo’s disaster of a dinner party when Marmee decides to let the girls run things themselves. It shows Louisa has a wonderful sense of…

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Little Women Legacy: Sounding Off From Puget Sound with K.R. Karr, Featured Author

Pink Umbrella Publishing is doing a blog series on the authors of “Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes.” Meet K.R. Karr, another West Coast author with German connections!

In this blog post series, we’ll feature contributing authors from our new anthology, Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy. Today we’ll catch up with K.R. Karr, West Coast writer and academic.

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Contributor K.R. Karr on Puget Sound with the Washington State Ferry in the background. Photo credit: Kristina Berger.


What is your favorite scene from Little Women?

My favorite scene from Little Women is when Jo comes home with her hair cut, having sold it to pay for Marmee’s train ticket after Mr. March is wounded in battle. This scene really demonstrates to me Jo’s inner qualities, as well as her love for her family.

Who are some of your other “imaginary heroes” from literature?

I love this phrase “imaginary heroes” and some of mine include Emily of Deep Valley, Jane Eyre, Cassandra Mortmain of I Capture the Castle, Renee in Colette’s The Vagabond, Lucy Honeychurch and George…

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Little Women Legacy: Getting Bookish with Susan Bailey, Featured Author

Pink Umbrella Books is doing a series of blogs of featuring the authors of the “Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes” Anthology. This post features Susan W Bailey of “Louisa Alcott is My Passion.” I learned about the anthology on her blog, and have learned a lot about Louisa from her!

In this blog post series, we’ll feature contributing authors from our new anthology, Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy. Today we’ll catch up with Susan Bailey, author, Louisa May Alcott devotee, and proud New Englander!

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Contributor Susan Bailey cozies up with The Annotated Little Women in Massachusetts.


What is your favorite scene from Little Women?

My favorite scene is when Beth runs over to thank Mr. Laurence, impulsively puts her arms around his neck and kisses him, and ends up sitting in his lap. I thought that took a lot of guts to do that! I am a typical Yankee (“frozen chosen” as they call us in New England) – quite reserved, especially when it comes to showing physical affection, and I know I would have been far too self-conscious to do what Beth did. She totally forgot herself in the spirit of love and gratitude towards…

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In My Hand

newpinkumbrellalogoYesterday a small package arrived with two author copies of Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes. I’d sort of been expecting it; when I saw the pink umbrella on the envelope I knew what it was. (And I already know what I’m getting family and friends for Christmas this year–LOL!)

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It still took me a little bit by surprise, though. In this era of e-books and Kindle Unlimited and Print-on-Demand, paperbacks are something of a novelty.

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Illustration from “Little Women,” 1870. Library of Congress. From Lapham’s Quarterly

I mean, really, this is a book about the 150th anniversary of Little Women. This iconic picture of Jo March also represents her creator Louisa May Alcott: a woman, pen in hand, writing on paper, “scribbling” in the attic. It has to be on paper.

Or does it? Wouldn’t Louisa have at least dabbled in e-publishing if she had the chance? My guess is, yes, absolutely. She would have published her plays and potboilers and gained a wide following on the internet. And Friedrich Bhaer would just have had to smile and get over it.

But there’s still something special about holding your book in your hand:

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A Tale of Two Editors: the makings of The Little Women Legacy

A fun interview with Merry Gordon and Marnae Kelly, the editors of Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes. As someone who moved to New York and married a German guy in real life, I am naturally Team Friedrich!

Much ado about Little Women

I had to ask: Team Laurence or Team Bhaer? Editors Merry Gordon and Marnae Kelly talk Jo March’s ending, how they’d put the March sisters to work at Pink Umbrella Books (not just work of course – they’d go on holiday too), and surprises for fans in the to-be-released anthology, Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy.

Jo March’s ending – Jo with Friedrich Bhaer, Jo with Theodore Laurence, Jo single, or something else?

MERRY: I’m Team Friedrich. Unpopular opinion, perhaps, but Laurie is such a puppy.

MARNAE: I’m a big Bhaer fan because of the equality of minds in that relationship and the opportunities for growth in both characters.

Who of all the March sisters would you go on holiday with, where would you go, and why?

MERRY: I’d take an English holiday with Jo – specifically to hit up the literary landmarks, as we are kindred spirits that way.

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California’s Emerging Writers

Z Publishing House began as a blog in late 2015 (so my blog is actually older than it is! Jeepers!) I really like their philosophy and approach, which is to produce anthology samplers of different writers, to help compatible readers and writers find each other.

Back when I first started blogging–which is apparently now the dark ages in publishing terms–I wrote a post in which I explored my feelings about admitting that some people are just not ever going to get me, that I am not writing this book/blog post/story/poem/other creative work/ for them. The flip side of that uncomfortable “no” is the “yes” of finding your target audience and connecting with them. I think that process is what Z Publishing is trying to facilitate.

So without further ado, here is my latest publication, in California’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Non-Fiction.

CAEmergingWritersNonFiction

It is available directly from Z Publishing House, or from Amazon.

“We like to refer to publications in this series as “sampler platters” of writers and genres, such that readers can quickly and efficiently discover talented authors that they may otherwise have never heard of as well as compelling genres, topics, and themes they may never have given a shot before.”

I have a short essay in this collection. It was inspired by this blog post: Already? Why I don’t like Daylight Saving Time Anymore. This topic is a surprisingly big issue in California this year, with a proposition on the November ballot to institute year-round Daylight Saving Time. I’m against the measure, for the reasons described in my essay and blog. This article by George Skelton in the LA Times also makes a good case for continuing to switch the clocks.

I would personally prefer year-round Standard Time, but I think clock switching is one of those compromises that makes everybody grumble a bit while in the end taking most people’s diverse needs into account. While I don’t agree with the folks who love Daylight Savings Time, I hear and understand their concerns. I don’t think that year-round Standard Time would be fair to them. In fact, my original blog post was subtitled “why I hate Daylight Savings Time.” After a conversation with someone on the other side I re-read the title, with the word “hate,” and decided to change it, for both the blog and the essay. “Hate” is a loaded word, especially these days, and it doesn’t have a place in this argument. I hope that they on the pro-DST side would be willing to give me and my needs the same consideration.

This is now my second published essay that was originally inspired by a blog post, the first being my contribution to Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes. Some of the reasons I started blogging were to write shorter pieces, to practice writing, and to practice finishing a piece of writing. That seems to be working out!

Come out on Sunday, Sept. 30th at Orchard House for the 150th Anniversary of Little Women! Book signing for “Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy”

Susan W Bailey, another author in “Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes,” writes about the upcoming celebration at Orchard House. Her blog is where I first learned about the anthology and about the community of modern Alcott scholars.

Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

It’s coming up fast! In less than 2 months we will celebrate the anniversary of a classic; a book that has profoundly influenced women around the world since 1868. That book? Little Women of course!

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is throwing a bash and you’re invited – Sunday, September 30 from 1:30-4. Stay tuned for details …

A great way to do that is to follow Orchard House on Twitter – @LouisaMayAlcott

“Like” their  Facebook page too.

One detail I can share is that copies of Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy from Pink Umbrella books will be available for sale. Contributors will be on hand (including me) to sign your copy. 10% of all book sales will be donated to Orchard House.

My essay is titled “Louisa May Alcott as muse, guide and grief counselor.”

Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy is also available for pre-order…

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