Motherhood & Words

loving the west

All of my stops in the Bay Area were fabulous. Thank you to all the gracious bookstore staff for welcoming me and making me feel at home. A special thank you to Judy at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton (for the homemade muffins and coffee and the book!) and to Jerry at Books, Inc. for being so warm and funny and generous. (I need to go to one of your disco parties at some point!)

Judy and Sheryl at Towne Center Books.

Jerry at Books, Inc.

My last day in Berkeley, I spent the afternoon at the O’Hanlon Center in Mill Valley, Marin, with a group of Write On, Mamas. I led a workshop for the first hour and a half, and then we wrote together—some of us typing away on our laptops, others putting pen to paper. I had planned to work on my novel, my sweet, neglected novel, but I realized that I hadn’t saved my latest version on the laptop. I couldn’t bear to rewrite at this point, and so I stopped and looked up around the room: a handful of us sat around two large tables. Others sat together on the long, narrow couch/bench. Others gathered outside, reading their work aloud in a critique group. The sounds that surrounded me were of fingers tapping on keyboards, pens scratching across paper, voices lowered and raised, speaking words that were written last night or last week or last year. Outside I could hear crows and the rustle of leaves in the breeze.

Earlier, as the group was working on a writing exercise during the workshop, I had gone downstairs to the bathroom. When I emerged and began to make my way around the center to the loft where we were meeting, I stopped short to find a young deer standing just feet away from me. We stood there, surveying each other, the deer’s wide pointed ears twitching, trying to gauge whether I was a threat or not. The beginnings of its antlers had sprouted, and I wondered how old it could be. He watched me and I watched him. When I slowly, quietly stepped off the threshold, he didn’t move. But as I took a step and then another, he backed up and then retreated up the stone stairs. But he didn’t run. He didn’t seem scared. He just watched me from above as I passed back into the center, to the room of women writing.

The O’Hanlon Center is beautiful and full of quiet, creative energy. Prints perch on the fireplace, and on the walls hang photos of artists who must have spent hours here creating. My favorite is a photo of an older couple, leaning in for a kiss on the wall above the sink. Tall windows let in the afternoon light and the green of the tall trees. What a haven for artists. And on Sunday, a cool evening breeze blew through the open sliding door.

Some of these women had been meeting for years, I know. Some were new to the group. They all have stories, and are working at getting them down on the page, out into the world. What important work. I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

Monday we left Berkeley and headed north, stopping at Point Reyes, where we hiked along the coast to the lighthouse, spying a small gray whale just off shore. Then we wound our way further north until we landed at Sea Ranch Lodge, splurge that was worth it.


The last few days have been full of more of the coastal highway, ocean, majestic redwoods, elk, snakes, and the amazing fern canyon. Stunning. And now we’re in Eugene, where I am gearing up for my reading/discussion at the University of Oregon’s Duck Store tonight at 6 p.m. Tomorrow we are heading up to Portland (via Willamette Valley). I am insisting that we visit at least two vineyards.

It’s been amazing trip so far with lots of family time. The next stops will be less hectic, so I’ll try to post more frequently.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.