Tag Archives: Writing

“YOU ARE JUST TOO WORDY,” I say, to myself.


Being too wordy usually means throwing way too many many unnecessary words into one written piece. Like that. I suppose it could also mean always wanting to write—all those words you’ve absorbed over the years trying to get out? In my case, it appears to be both. Apparently I have too many adjectives and adverbs clogging my system and they escape onto every screen or page whenever there’s an opening. And then there’s the problem of nothing seeming real to me until I’ve written it down. Talking doesn’t help. I am not very articulate. Only writing eases the word bloat.

What to blame for this surfeit of words? Books of course; there are never too many to read or buy or touch or view or ponder or desire.

I have been writing a book. Or rather the first third of a book. Right now it’s being reviewed by my literary friends. Then it will go to a professional reviewer. After that, I’ll weep, edit excessively, and determinedly move on to write new chapters. Writing this seriously has been the most painful and pleasurable thing I’ve ever done. It took me well into my UCLA certificate program to gather the courage to approach this with earnest intent. I’ve finished the program…that old “I’m a writer” rubber is hitting the road. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile it is time to start blogging about my upcoming 2017 trips. From whence I derive the most joy. Blogging is brilliant, especially when fairly casual. Writing about travel, writing about books, sometimes about grandchildren and new recipes! In the future blogging about my history and my age. What could possibly be more fun than the latter? Blogging as I do it is ‘writing lite’, the best of all worlds if one is lazy and wordy.

This post is the first of a series about the reading I’m doing (or sadly, in some cases, just planning to do—but won’t) for my summer/fall 1) Road Trip and 2) Another Big Big Trip to the other side of the world…and farther.

At this point in time I’m in that stage when the outlines of the trips have been determined, and in the case of the international trip, the airline tickets purchased. That’s where my reading list is focused. It makes a great deal of difference to my engagement with and excitement about all of the places along the way if I have some knowledge of the history, geography, culture and customs. So I know the whats and whys and whereofs of all that’s about me. I’m not talking about scholarly research or needing in-depth knowledge—although I always mean to try for a little of that—I’m simply talking about a good history/adventure story/novel/murder mystery or two or three.

The countries to explore through words and in person: New Zealand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, India. Not so many really but of such world-impact that hundreds of books could not cover them. Particularly India, but also Southeast Asia’s Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Nepal because I can. New Zealand because travel buddy, Teresa, who’ll go adventuring in Vietnam with me, lives there.

The Book Worm Chronicles start here:

I read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen last year. It is quite possibly the best book I’ve read in a very long time. He has two new books of essays out which I will order the minute I post this. Teresa, who was not born until some years after the Vietnam War ended, is as in love with The Sympathizer as I am—and as it should be. Without some knowledge of what’s gone before how should we consider ourselves responsible citizens? A rhetorical question of course with history nearly banished from all education.

Finished Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh last night. Delightful, especially since I plan to spend much of my 10 or so days in India on trains. It is great fun to read, although naming and riding on 80 trains for one short book got a little heavy on the naming angle, while I would have liked just a few more details about the various stops…still she accomplished a major task, the kind of thing I would like to do, and she’s a good writer and good person with whom to go train-about.

Enough for one post. I’ll return with many more books and my progress reports. If you have suggestions please let me know.




I’m taking a sabbatical from book club to make my second serious stab at writing a real book, one with its own ISBN number, one for which some amount of money will change hands. I tried this once before, but when my enthusiasm lagged and it became obvious that only about a third of what I was writing was any good, i.e. readable, I stopped—thinking that I had a lifetime to finish! So Marjorie, I say to myself, that deadline is soon upon me (well not soon-soon but you know what I mean) and if I’m ever to have my name associated with an ISBN number it had better be now. Sadly they don’t give graduate theses those magic numbers or I would already be so anointed.

It would be nice if I were taking a sabbatical from work instead of weekly reading seminars—or, as I fondly refer to it, the Literary Lawyers Book Club (the group actually has a most erudite name which I find hard to remember). Since my fellow readers are all lawyers I’m trying to fit in by taking a Coursera introductory law course from the University of Pennsylvania—memorizing key legal phrases; for example, if the subject of transsubstantivity comes up, I’ll be able to respond knowingly. Finally. I’ve wondered about that for years…

I do enjoy this club a lot…as described earlier it’s an eclectic mix of literary seminar, bookish salon without a hip dress-code, and weekly political gnashings of teeth. I’ve already been introduced to two most interesting writers, previously unread by me. Don DeLillo and Paul Beatty. These discoveries have been passed on, in the case of Underworld, to my engineer granddaughter who is interested in waste, with Beatty’s Sellout going to my techie grandson who loves to argue issues of race with his many-hued and very smart friends.

Today at book club: we agreed The Sellout is brilliant in its own narrow way; Bob offered up Easter chocolates; and my kind friends offered to read the partial manuscript of The Book I must produce by August before I submit it for review. That made me both grateful and nervous…inspired and frightened…challenged and exposed…what if they hate it? So, talking to myself again, I say there (old chap) write it so they cannot possibly hate it. Done.


PLACES…I Have Known


I finished two books week before last; they appeared to be quite different at first but upon further consideration, and for purposes of including them in the same review, I’ll focus on their commonality which is, for me, that they are both about places I love—the Bay Area and the North of the World. It seems, again…for me, that all stories wind up being as much about the places in which they occur as about the occurrences themselves.

The American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst is a well-told tale of Hearst’s revolutionary years, her home territory of San Francisco, California and, to some degree, the whole U.S. during the mid-Seventies. Jeffry Toobin is a great documentarian, building his stories around big events or institutions that define and are defined by the times and places where the actions and moods of the country as a whole are playing out. This story of California in the 70s doesn’t disappoint.

In contrast, 60 Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home by Malachy Tallack is a lyrical, almost dreamy, travelogue that invites us along as the author contemplates the meaning of home on an improbable journey around the world at the 60th parallel. Tallack is a fine writer and all the ingredients for a great piece of travel literature are here—personal reflection and story, physical description laced with history from places along the 60th parallel. In fact the idea of 60 Degrees North is just so intriguing, and the author and his surroundings so interesting, that the ending let me down just a little. It seemed like he was a little tired of the whole project by the time he reached Scandinavia. Nevertheless it was a fine journey….

I loved traveling to the Bay Area and around the 60th parallel with Toobin and Tallack; they’re all places I’ve experienced on a deeper or slighter scale. I lived in San Francisco from 1989-1992, more than ten years after the days of the  pseudo-revolutionary activities of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), but the sense of San Francisco as a place where everyone somehow ‘fit’ and where possibilities for the human condition to improve was still strong. It’s a place of richly potent layers of the belief that all things are possible—from laughing and rebuilding in the cracked face of the big quakes to gold-rushing dreams to the summer of love to Berkeley marching and Alice Waters bringing the farm to the table.


 I moved to San Francisco just before the big earthquake of ’89, and the Mission was homeless/artist/refugee/gay heaven and Silicon Valley in Mountain View seemed quite a ways out of town. I took BART everywhere, frequently visiting dancers or potential donors connected somehow with the small black-box theater I was managing so I knew something of the small towns around the area. In other words, as the goofy SLAers drove from hideout to hideout I could visualize those streets and neighborhoods! Of course the random bombings and Berkeley in its radical heyday were in the past but, in my time there, the biggest anti-Iraqi war, anti-Bush peace march of which I know took place and I marched as a volunteer of Global Exchange, directed at that time by Medea Benjamin, one of my woman-warrior heroines. When I go back now to hang out with my granddaughter that rich Bay Area history is ever present and it all still looks familiar and I’m so happy to have been part of it all even for a little while.

Being introduced to Patty Hearst and the characters in her story including her fellow SLA pals or her lawyer F. Lee Bailey (a real jerk) by Jeffrey Toobin was fascinating but I certainly did not come away feeling either warm and fuzzy, admiring, appalled or much of anything for her or any of them. I always sort of admire the rebels whoever they are but there wasn’t a lot about the SLA to admire. They were mostly insecure misfits, rebels without a coherent cause. Patty did what she did and now raises show dogs. Damn, I wanted my revolutionaries to be more substantial than that. All in all a great account of a time and place.

It was one of those lovely ‘sick’ days when I finished these books, switching back and forth between the bed and the couch and between books, which took me from San Francisco to traveling the 60th parallel with Malachy Tallack—and what a great name he has!  Tallack begins in Shetland, the home he loves very deeply and yet feels compelled to escape…and does over the years for a variety of reason…personal searching longing reasons. Shetland lies directly on the 60th parallel, signifying the edge of the serious north and, it turns out, for Tallack offering a logical path around the world…always in search of home but also always exploring the world as experienced along a distinct line separating hardy northerners from the rest of the human race.

Reading travel/adventure literature is like being along on an intimate journey with the author, from the cranky brilliance of Theroux to the thoughtful historiography of Frazier. I am completely enamored of these guys and so many others; not quite so much so with Malachy Tallack. I’ve been trying to figure this out because I love this book and I do like Tallack but I never felt I knew him well enough to be sure he would be one of those perfect companions who shares exactly the right amount of information and degree of closeness you want for the road.

Tallack’s route around the 60th takes him from Shetland to Greenland to Canada to Alaska to St. Petersburg, backtracking to Finland, Sweden and Norway, and finally, ‘home’ again to Shetland. Even though I kept wanting some undefined ‘more’, the language almost more than made up for whatever might be missing. Tallack does have a way with the descriptive phrase. “Silvery lakes appeared, then were gone – rumours among the trees.” “…just the air fussing among the branches.” “Mount Redoubt, fifty miles away, towered above its neighbours, a scarf of cloud wrapped around its middle.” But I wanted some of the mundane as well, how did he get from here to there, how was he financing his trip, how long did it take…just a little more of the infrastructure, please.


It’s a beautiful engaging haunting-in-a-way book. I was right there for the wanderlust of it all, enjoying every bit of the poetic and personal ramblings of the author. Perhaps the ‘more’ is just that I wanted big stories about virtually each mile of the way. An impossible task of course without unlimited money, time, patience. There are after all big wonderful rich stories documenting practically every mile of any one of Tallack’s stops along the way including Maple Leaf Rag: Travels Across Canada by Stephen Brook; or doubling down in Russia, specifically Siberia with Travel in Siberia by Ian Frazier and Midnight in Siberia by David Green. Greenland: The End of the World which I’ve talked about recently offers a view of the southern tip of Greenland where the 60th parallel crosses—and I just visited.

The truth is 60 Degrees North is a wonderful read, enlightening, entertaining, and enjoyable enough to make me whine about there not being another thousand pages of it. Better yet I want to go on that same journey. I absolutely love the idea of following lines of longitude and latitude around the world. If I won millions in a lottery tomorrow I could still do that…if I hurried.




Finally. Finished My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Yes, in the beginning it was a bit of a struggle. Then I was hooked. So much so that the next two volumes of this six-volume series should arrive on my front porch today.

I’m taking writing classes, poetry classes; I am blogging, reading review after review, book after book so I feel literarily connected at the moment. In spite of all that I cannot quite figure out how to think about My Struggle. It’s not exactly about anything except Knausgaard’s life which is, all things considered, a rather ordinary Norwegian life. There is family drama but so far nothing that reaches murderous proportions; substance abuse that’s pretty horrific but leads to sadness and mess more than danger and tragedy; sibling discord that’s non-violent, and social and political landscapes with few threats.

Our hero isn’t an adventurer in the typical sense of the word and he appears, at least in the first volume, to be neither particularly brilliant nor brave. I read Tim Cope’s book, On the Trail of Genghis Khan, and that guy has one hell of an adventure, history, geography, social commentary, even animal, story to tell and he’s a very good writer as well. I mention Cope in relation to Knausgaard because the latter, at least in My Struggle includes none of the critical Cope elements.

Knausgaard’s writing is not fancy stuff. It’s straightforward, generally unadorned, like his life—at least externally. How do details in which we would not ordinarily be interested, here well enough told but without great literary flourish, keep us reading and reading:  “The water whirled slowly around the sink as it dwindled, gray-brown and turbid, until the last white suds were gone and a layer of sand, hair, and miscellaneous particles was left, matte against the shiny metal. I turned on the tap and let the jet run down the sides of the bucket until all the dirt was gone and I could fill it up with fresh, steaming hot water.”  It is a good sentence isn’t it? But not great, really. I’ve just read a whole book primarily made up of sentences like that about regular life, at times wondering why I kept reading but at the end not want to leave Karl Ove—which fortunately I don’t have to for another five volumes.

I am on a quest to know and understand Norway better before my trip next summer. Knausgaard is a Norwegian writing about the most mundane actions of life in Norway and Sweden. It’s not the history, politics, biography, or murder I’m usually reading. But here’s the funny part. I feel like I am living in ‘old country’ as my parents’ generation referred to the land of their birth. I’ve been there. I’ve visited Karl Ove and his brother, maybe went with them to see their dead father, helped clean up the horrific mess at Grandma’s house—sometime I’ll tell you about Aunt Sally’s place and the smell of urine and the piles of cat shit—but that’s another story.

Knausgaard’s struggle has by now, at the end of volume one, become my struggle too. Let me say it again. I am addicted.

My Struggle’s ordinariness has a momentum like regular life. We get up….blah blah blah…we eat…we sleep…we mourn…we try and try and try…and we die.

I wrote this before reading the reviews although I had read a few much earlier when I first started the book. I just now read James Wood’s review “Total Recall” in the August 13, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, purposely waiting until I had said what I wanted to say. While it is much better written, I think what it says is what I was trying to say—although I missed the huge significance of death in the writing. It is very present, but you have to stand back to see the bigness of it for Knausgaard.



My new UCLA class is called “The Lyric Essay: Writing by Associative Leaps.” It’s brilliant I think…I’ll be a more lyrical person when I emerge on the other side a couple of months from now (and, it is safe to say, lyricism has never been my strong suit). To put it simply, as I understand it so far, it’s about paying more attention to the sound and rhythm of language and expressing oneself more freely partially through an emphasis on images rather than the usual focus on narrative. This will not be easy for me but then where’s the challenge if it were to be otherwise.

Images are proving to be one problem—odd isn’t it? Every moment our eyes are open there are images before them. I’m surrounded by images captured first-hand, when my eye sees the thing(s) directly or second-hand, when a photographer or filmmaker or sculptor has already captured the image for me.

How hard can it be then to jot down ten images in a day?  REALLY HARD, it turns out. Because an image worthy of capturing, to use in our writing should have something distinct about it, right? Not beauty or drama or even extremes of any kind but something surely.

Then there’s the second issue, my need to take photos of some interest to someone/anyone for my blogs versus my need to capture these ten writing-prompt images for my class. They may or may not be the same at all.

The following photos will give you an idea of why there is a problem. I leave my comfortable but non-descript house, drive unprepossessing winter streets to my run of the mill place of work, notable only for its colorful but fading paint job. I leave there at the end of the day and drive to the gym, another plain brown Albuquerque building. Then back home to my very ordinary house and ‘hood. I’ve tarted a few of these photos up to make your viewing journey more fun than it would be in real life.

Where are the images for my exceptional photos and extraordinary essays?

I’ll get back to you on that…after I’ve checked in with my IMAGINATION.



This is about Serious Writing

This blog will henceforth be about Serious Writing. At least for awhile. Namely work from a Creative Non-fiction Writing course on-line through UCLA. The class costs money and offers a grade (which my forever-6th grade heart loves). It’s possible to get a certificate of some kind if you take a number of these classes which I may decide to do if this actually makes me try harder and with more consistency TO WRITE.

I was hesitant initially but have decided to post my class assignments here on PLATFORM OF WORDS although I did create another blog for this purpose. Unfortunately I don’t like the other blog’s format and cannot figure out how to change it so here I am. I would welcome feedback from any one that happens to read any of this.

So here was part of my class introduction. Just so you know what I’m trying to do.

The goal is to write a memoir of movement (travel) in three parts. The first (Up North) is a book about my family’s first thousand years and their travels from the Arctic north of Europe to a near-Arctic place called Minnesota and my early life there. The second (The First Hundred are the Hardest) is a compilation of vignettes from my travels to date. The third (And Miles to Go Before I Die…) is planned as a blog that accompanies me as I try to reach the final 95 or so countries on The List. I call the entire project Window Seat and I have been working on it, rather haphazardly I’m afraid, by compiling notes, focused reading and blogging for some time.

I am having great difficulty trying to figure out how to meld some variation of my personal blogging voice and stories with material that offers geographic, historical and cultural context. I look forward to this class helping me channel Paul Theroux, add a heavy dash of personal memoir and produce books of which I will be very proud whether they’re published or not.

Next.  The Time was Then; The Place was Up North