My friend Teresa has this notebook. She got it from Elliot Bay Book Company in case you want one just like it. I found myself amused by the name, "Decomposition Book," and not just because it was 100% recycled, but because it made me think about decomposition. 

I am fascinated by decomposition. The first day I was at my father's house to begin the arduous task of packing his things, my husband and I wandered into the woods on his property, and found this completely decomposed deer just off his driveway. The poor thing must have been hit by a car and this is where it rejoined the elements, becoming one with the forest in body, if not in spirit. It left behind a boneprint. I supposed you could call it a skeleton, but I see it as so much more than that. I see it as art, structure and story.

Once upon a time, when I first got published, my editor at Chronicle Books, Victoria Rock told me that the basic structure of a picture book was: the words are the bones and the pictures are the flesh.

I completely agree. The bones are the story. They have to be strong and complete. You can't hang pretty pictures on a bad skeleton and create a good book. Once that structure is good and sound, then you can give them the right skin- to make that story appealing; to add to its' solid structure with layers of texture and nuance. But make sure the leg bone is connected to the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone, etc... otherwise that story won't be moving forward.

That deer was a story, and perhaps can still tell a story with the help of a ghost writer, but for now it is a forensic mystery. Maybe someday it will be a fossil relic. That's decomposition for you. As time goes by, if you did your homework and left your imprint in the right elements- perhaps some silica or Egyptian sand, your particular story may live on forever. Or at least the book won't go out of print.

There is another thing that I like about decomposition: it feeds other flora and fauna. I found this moss-covered decomposing log that was a necropolis-terrarium to a fabulous flora/fungi outcropping of oyster mushrooms. I was the fauna (along with my husband and sisters-in-law) who feasted on those beauties on top of fresh grilled Alaskan troll caught king salmon.

The mushrooms are symbolic to me. They symbolize how one situation, for example: the decay and decomposition I witnessed at my father's house, can grow things- say: ideas for stories- anew. So maybe it's not really "ashes to ashes" and "dust to dust." Maybe it's "mildew to memories," and "trash to treasure." You just have to stir things up, look under rocks, and be patient. Sometimes things have to process. Those oyster mushroom spores lay dormant for a year. They were there, however, all along, waiting for the perfect temperature and the right rains until they fruited. The key was that we found them just at the optimum moment. 

And that said, you need to make sure you have your Decomposition Book handy at all times. 

I hope your ideas and stories will be cropping up like mushrooms after the rain.

With Love,


Missing: One Voice

I lost my voice. Not my head. Thank God for that.

Last week I flew to the Hudson River Valley of New York to move my 79 year old father out of his falling-apart house with the upside-down mortgage, rotting porch, toxic air... Unfit for human habitation... and it took not only my breath away, but my voice, too.

Maybe it fell through the floor in the decrepit barn, full of my father's artwork that he left to the elements, crafted with love, entombed by depression, sentenced to death and decomposition.

Perhaps it is hidden in the stacks of LP's that are full of voices, sounds, symphony, and melody that are encrusted with dust and silenced forever; part of the piles that may bring the house down in the eventual applause of thunderous bulldozers.

It was reciprocated by a mute cat who came to visit while I packed. A silent echo in black and white who never made a peep but showed genuine affection and was the brightest, cleanest spot in the middle of the malodorous misery. We began a quiet friendship that needed no words.

There is a good chance I packed it away. The whole experience truly left me speechless most of the time.  If I'm lucky it will show up in Seattle when the moving container arrives in a couple of weeks. My voice may be back stronger than ever. Full of stories to tell. 

In the meantime, I'm drinking a lot of hot tea, sounding like a frog, and listening. Mostly listening. The voices in my head are speaking. They are telling me stories. They are taking in and processing all the sadness and neglect that they witnessed and they are trying to comprehend what happens when you give up in all senses of the word.

Yet even in all that filth and desolation there was still love. It was represented by a dirty rug on the nasty floor where I had to sleep on an air mattress. It was also the reason I was there. The house wasn't loved and it showed for it. My father needed love and he was going to go the way of the house, unfortunately faster. 

Now we are both in Seattle healing. I sure wish I could find my voice, though. By tomorrow. I'm speaking in a writer's conference. Maybe I'll find it there.

With Love, 


Not Writing

Sometimes words fail you. Sometimes friends fail you. What can you do? You have to keep going. Four days ago I lost a friend and neighbor to breast cancer that had metastasized. She was only 42. I think. It seems like such a short time ago we were celebrating her fortieth, and not much longer than that, we celebrated a year of her being cancer free.

But the cancer came back, an uninvited guest, and it wouldn't leave. She didn't want her friends to know. She didn't want to be known as "the cancer girl." I found out how bad things were five days before her death. She had come home to die with family and hospice care there by her side. Oxygen and pain killers made it somewhat bearable. If that is even conceivable.

I was initially beyond upset when I heard, but I understood her need for privacy. We don't get to choose the circumstances of our birth, but in some ways, if we are lucky, we can choose the way we die. "A Deathing," is what my "soul mother," Jeanne, called it. I wasn't there when my mom died from cancer in January of 1986. Jeanne, also an artist, became like a second mother to me. She, too died from cancer- ovarian cancer that had metastasized to her brain. Jeanne chose the way she wanted to go. I got to say goodbye to her on the phone, since she lived on the Oregon coast and I lived in Seattle, and she didn't want me to drive there. I never got to say goodbye to my mother.

I did get to say goodbye to my friend. I wrote her a letter. An uplifting letter. A letter that told her how beautiful and fun she is. A letter that told her that her parties were always a bright spot in our neighborhood. I told her how her love of certain cocktails inspired me to make my own version of Sloe Gin with wild Damson plums that grew down the road... And I gave her a bottle of that "Plummi Gin" in the hopes that she would drink it with her family.

I wish I could say that it cured her. It didn't. I heard that my letter was loved and appreciated and her father told me he couldn't wait to try the gin. I said what I wanted to say to my friend in that letter. I told her that she would always be in our hearts. I haven't written a word since then. That was just over a week ago. I've wanted to write. I've wanted to post. I just have not been able to do it.

What I have done is make the arrangements to move my 79 year old dad to live with us. The logistics are quite complicated, and he can't do any of the packing or organizing. He is upside-down in his mortgage. He is depressed and alone and doesn't take care of himself or the house. I can't let him live like that, and I certainly can't let him die like that. Sometimes it is time for action. The words will come later.

There will be a brief hiatus from posts here while I make this all happen.

I won't forget my journal or my camera, though. I hope I have some good stories upon my return.

Happy writing and creating...

With Love,