WOW: The Invisible Picket Fence

Becca, who I count among those “friends as yet unmet in person” is hosting a summer writing roundtable called “Write on Wednesday.” Today is Saturday, but she assures me it’s not a problem, and her first question has been tumbling around my head for a few days.

She asks: “Why in the world do you come to the page?”

At first my answer was flippant and terse: Because I have to.

But it’s a question that deserves more than a four-word answer.

I write to explore, to create, to still the buzzing of ideas in my head, to give other ideas new life. I write because sometimes a conversation overheard on line in the grocery store or in a cafe is just enough to spark a story. I can’t follow a stranger home to observe the next part of their life, but I can imagine what might follow.

Did the mother of the five teenagers like whatever chocolate they chose at Tom Thumb while their harried father gave advice, at nine PM on the Thursday before Mother’s Day? Did the kids get stuff THEY wanted after all? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that there was something about this poor man surrounded by gangly young people trying to make sure his wife had a present from every child without blowing their budget that touched me. He had a story, and I wanted to know more.

Or what about the poet I used to chat with when I was 19 and working at a bookstore/cafe in San Jose? He let me read some of his work, asked me advice on word choice and comma placement, and never guessed that almost twenty years later I’d be thinking of him in his ratty fisherman’s sweater and jeans, scribbling in what I now know was a Moleskine notebook, and sipping slowly on latte after latte, as I worked on my novel. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the angular script he used, and the soft grey of the pencil strokes on the unruled paper.

In one of my favorite books ever, Outside Lies Magic, the author, John Stilgoe, mentions that if you’re riding a bike along-side a picket fence, and manage to find just the right speed, the fence becomes essentially invisible. The rational part of me knows that it’s just an optical illusion, that the fence is as solid as ever, and that the right speed simply synchronizes our active vision with the gaps between the slats, so we’re never looking at solid boards.

The more fanciful part of me – the observer, the writer – that part of me accepts that sometimes you can find magic in ordinary things.

For me, those things are words.

I write so I can see – and share – what’s behind the invisible picket fence.


I’m primarily a reader of books but there are times when a magazine is the best thing ever, and other times when there is no other reading material available.

I like all kinds of magazines, but am especially partial to literary zines filled with short stories, and home decor / lifestyle publications like Real Simple and Mary Englebreitt’s Home Companion, and sometimes, I confess, I do read good old Martha, even if the fact that her hair is always in her eyes constantly annoys me.

At the salon, I indulge in my guilty pleasure: fashion magazines filled with everything from diet pill reviews to runway fashion shoots, and dishy celebrity gossip. These are the magazines I refuse to actually buy, but enjoy in small doses.

At home, we accept delivery of only three or four magazines: The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Discover and National Geographic.

Everything else, we only pick up as the mood suits.

Your turn: What magazines do you read? Which ones do you avoid at all costs?

Do You Remember…?

I have a long memory that is at some times vague and at others very specific.

My earliest specific memory is from when I was two or younger, and involves my grandmother’s back door, with the gauzy translucent curtain that veiled (but did not completely obstruct) the view through the heavy glass of the door, and their black dog, Misty. There are no details, beyond the presence of the dog, the fact that the door was closed. I think she may have wanted to go out, but I was far too little to even reach the doorknob.

It is somehow appropriate that I remember this dog in soft focus, as she was to fade from life before I really had memories of interaction before.

I wonder if I was born a “dog person” or made one, later. I’ve always responded more to canine pets, even before cats began to make me sneeze.