Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thank You, GOOD People

The other day someone snatched a laptop from a café close to my neighborhood, jumped into a car and drove off. The laptop owner, a talented local musician who had his work stored on it, pursued the thief by clinging to the fleeing car, with tragic consequences. He was dragged, and died of his injuries.

This was an exceptional result of something that has sadly become all too common. Laptops, cell phones and IPods taken in full view of others because someone thinks they need not work or pay for what they want.

Only two days later, DD had gone for a walk with a friend in a nearby town. While visiting the Berkeley Rose Garden, now fragrant and in full bloom thanks to a good rainy season, her IPod managed to evaporate. At first, she assumed she had possibly left it at home. But when she returned, the whole family scoured the house and, no IPod.

It seems very possible, in light of the oh-so many swipes and snatches, that someone may have helped themselves to her pocket when she was distracted, smelling the roses, so to speak. But it was also possible, just maybe please –let-it-be, that it fell out of her pocket, and was still somewhere on the ground.

But if so, what were the odds it wasn’t picked up and pocketed after that?

DD remembered that the Rose Garden closes after dark. But she and DH drove there, and with the help of flashlights, it took but a minute to see that although the garden gate was indeed locked, someone had left her IPod off the ground right next to the gate.

And there was more. When an IPod is locked, apparently there is no way to open it and see who the owner might be. But there is one thing you can do, and that is take photos with it. The people who found it and left it so thoughtfully where she could come back for it, also left their faces by way of saying Hello.

We don’t know this family, but we love them. If you know them, thank them for us. Small acts like this make up for a lot. I’m also thankful for the many passers-by in Berkeley who chose not to take the IPod as it sat, waiting for DD by the gate, for five hours.

I will make sure to pay it forward, somehow.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


...a.k.a nom de plume

“...What is your name?”
The child hesitated for a moment.
“Will you please call me Cordelia?” she said eagerly.
Call you Cordelia! Is that you name?”
“No-o-o, it’s not exactly my name. But I would love to be called Cordelia. It’s such a perfectly elegant name.”

From ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L. M. Montgomery ©1908

Ever since I read these lines, way back in the wee days of self-conscious awakening of middle childhood, I knew I had a bosom buddy in Anne Shirley who so desperately wanted to be called Cordelia.

I’d already named myself many times. I have a prescription my mother saved from when I was two, and told the doctor my name was Skippy. What two-year-old would want to be called Mirka if she could be Skippy?

For authors, the pen name (or pseudonym) is an old and venerable tradition. The French idiom for it, nom de plume,  literally means "name of feather," which harks back to the quill pen, a writing implement used since 600 AD. The nom de plume used to be a way to hide identity if the writing was too racy, too politically sensitive, or just plain not the sort of writing one wanted to be known for.

Nowadays, most of the above reasons don’t hold for long. It’s too easy for an interested party to trace the true identity of a writer, and we don’t worry about casual interest. Only the truly interested could pose a potential problem down the line.

Most authors who opt for a nom de plume do so for reasons of branding. They may want to publish under different names for different genres of writing, or re-invent themselves after a less than brilliantly successful debut. Or, like Anne-with-an-E, they may find their legal name uninspiring.

"Oh, I'm not ashamed of it," explained Anne, "only I like Cordelia better. I've always imagined that my name was Cordelia—at least, I always have of late years. When I was young I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like Cordelia better now. But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E."
"What difference does it make how it's spelled?" asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

"Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can't you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you'll only call me Anne spelled with an E I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia." 

I have come a full circle from my days as Skippy. I have made peace with my legal name, and branding is something I still can’t wrap my head around.  I seek authenticity in what I read and what I write.

But every now and then, I wonder.
Dalilah Corazon?
Jo Bunkerville?
D. D. Durk?

Ah, the possibilities.

Who would you be?

A good article about the challenges of choosing a pen name is linked here.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Art of the SELFIE

Well, I knew someday I would try my hand at this thing called selfie. After all, everyone is doing it—

Even if not everyone approves—
^^^Former President Obama, Former British Prime Minister Cameron, and the former Danish prime minister Thoring Schmidt taking a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Michelle was not amused.
Sometimes I just want a photo of me with some iconic landmark in the background. It’s an I was there without asking others to take time and take the picture. Other times it’s Proof I’m still alive.

I see folks of all ages doing it. It’s not just for young’uns anymore. Something else I noted— no camera needed. The mobile phone has replaced it and few other things to boot.

My few attempts so far have been rather pathetic. It helps to have a good phone, and it helps even more to have the ability to pretend it is not a phone you are looking at. Maybe I should take acting classes.

But I can’t leave you there. Here’s a link to a post by someone who does know how to do it. I like this link, because it makes no pretense that selfies aren't show-offies. But if we are vain, might as well be successfully so.

Still working on it^

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Incidence of Coincidence

Still thinking of the passage of years, I wonder what are the odds that someone I knew for only a year in second grade (and haven't been in touch with at all) would pop back into my life fifty plus years later, and halfway around the globe, and we’d turn out to be living in the same neighborhood.

I know, this is “too improbable.”

Well, it happened to me.

Here we are in second grade. We were good friends living on a tree-lined street in a lovely neighborhood in west Jerusalem.

And here we are a short time ago having coffee two continents away in our lovely neighborhood café, on the west coast of the United States, and what-da-y’know, also on a tree-lined street.

If I get another rejection to my fiction novel where the editor says the coincidences in my story are improbable, I’d have to point to this blog-post and add a few even more striking “improbables” from my life. I can document them all.

Fiction has nothing on real life when it comes to the amazing weave that is the fabric of our lives.

I’d love to hear about your improbable incidences, and no need to call them coincidences.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

This Is Called an ANNIVERSARY---

How do we count them?

By one plus one, by five plus five, by ten plus ten, and then...

If we’re lucky, we get old. If we’re very lucky, we get old together.
©1993 By Karen Shapiro
{Best wedding present you can get if your friend is a talented artist}

We get silver anniversaries, and then our hair tells the same. Hair color gives us gold at the golden anniversary.

Black & White photographs make all those colors timeless. They also fade less, and so once a year we can look at them and think---

We weren’t babies. But my, we were young(er). ^

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Do You Have a Bucket-list?

The other day I realized my bucket-list is just about empty.

{Clarification: I count only the things I can significantly affect, not wishes like winning the lottery, publishing with a big-five house, or becoming the queen of England. I suppose I could take steps to make any of the above improbably possible, but my list had only the things I could do if I chose to do them.}

The few things that were left on my bucket-list just leaked out or evaporated, as in an open bucket left in the sun for days. A few I had actually accomplished, at least to my own satisfaction even if no one else knows it.

Among the wishes that turned to vapor were—

*Standing in Moscow’s Red Square as snow is falling in January. Think Doctor Zhivago.

{Somehow the romance of it has gone away, and I hear it is much nicer in summer, anyhow.}

*Staying at a five-star hotel or an English country estate for a week with nothing to do except have breakfast in bed and stroll by the river before afternoon high tea.

{The budget isn’t there for this, but neither is the charm. I’d rather watch Masterpiece Theatre with others doing it.}

*Spending a month in Kyoto, Japan, taking in the traditional aesthetic.

{Something of this remains in me, but it’s barely a whiff of a longing and I recognize it as wishing inner balance and peace, not a physical space.}

And so on.

Bit by bit my bucket has emptied. I don’t know if this is a good thing, or an ominous sign of folding it in.

Oh, and I did want to write a truly great novel. I’ve done that, and my agent is shopping it. So far no takers, but for myself that one got checked off: done.

Do you have a bucket-list? How have you gone about emptying it?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Achieving independence is not a little thing.
 Maintaining independence may even be a bigger thing.
Learning to balance independence with interdependence is the greatest thing of all. 

Countries, like individuals, families and clans, are not lone wolves. We’re at our best when we find and sustain the precious balance of autonomy and interconnectedness. 

This is what I resolve to continue to work on, and celebrate today.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Not complaining, mind you. I live in the land of eternal Spring. But it’s also the place where Mark Twain famously said, “the coldest winter I ever spent was Summer in San Francisco.”

So while we are not sweating away, nor sipping lemonade on the porch, some things are decidedly summery.

Days are longer…
Dinners are later…
            My kitties wake me up earlier…

And I continue the rhythm of not writing first drafts until the school year resumes.

I no longer have kids at home climbing on my knees as I try to concentrate. Well, DD is home, but she treats me more like a suite-mate than a padded chair. I don’t have the excuse of years past that I will wait until they are back in school during the day and I can count on uninterrupted time.

However, I discovered that re-charging the creative batteries is serious business. For years, I wrote original stories from September to late May, and only revised or polished in summer. I found this rhythm worked for me.  I’ve kept it.

The Gershwin song Summertime casts its spell, magical and wistful as ever.

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high
Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry
One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky
But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by…

©Shelagh Duffett 

Yup, it’s summer.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Rich Man’s Omelette

A few days ago I wished my picture book critique group a good summer and sent this as a good omen for getting lots of reading done—
© Summer Reader by SHELAGH DUFFETT

One of my critique buddies  responded with, “I want to be where this gal^ is.”
I thought how I am exactly where this reader is.
I mean, almost.

I do have cats, and one of them will jump on my lap, though never when outdoors. She’s too dignified for that, I think.
I do have a view of the bay if I walk a few blocks up the hill.
I have good books to read. Maybe I would read more if the to-be-read pile by my bedside was not so dauntingly tall.
And when I’m sitting by the blooming plants, it’s not to read, but to weed. I told you it’s an almost.
I do have a tree in the backyard I lean against. I do so when I’m tired of yard work.

All of that got me thinking about the old story of the rich man’s omelette.

A poor man returned home and told his wife he’d had the most amazing meal at a rich man’s house. The wife, eager to replicate it, asked what it was.
“We’ll need some eggs,” the man began.
“We’ve got that!”
“And some butter,” said the man.
“Well, we don’t have butter. But I can use margarine.”
“And some French cheese, such as Boursin or Pont-l'Évêque, ” the man added.
 "We don't have anything like that, " the wife said.
"What do we have? " the husband asked.
“We’ll use Velveeta,” the wife said.
“And we'll need fresh shallots,” the man continued.
“Onion power will do fine,” the wife says.
As they sat to eat, they had to agree that it was, well, almost.

This made me resolve to at least now and then try and narrow the gap between the summer reader above, and my life.

Be nice to yourselves, out there.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

This Day in History

Many things happened on this day in recorded history, some good and many bad. But I choose to focus on something great that happened this date a century and a half ago. I’m only sorry I’m a year late to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary.
1866 US House of Representatives passes 14th Amendment. (Civil rights)
It is this amendment that finally fulfilled America’s declarations of independence, which stated all men were created equal and endowed by the creator to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (It would take a few more years before this would come to stand for all men and women.) It is the fourteenth amendment that made former slaves into full citizens.
Here is what section one of this amendment is says:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Aspects of this important constitutional clarification are debated even to this day. But most Americans hold it as part of the fabric that is our nation, one that is based on an idea, not on a nationality or racial ancestry or a specific religion.
There’s what to celebrate.
{From the front page of the Cleveland Leader June 14 1866}

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


There is a spiritual notion that the reason for suffering in this world is so we may experience moments of happiness. After all, if we were blissful at all times, how would we even know it?
Most modern picture books are based on a similar notion. There has to be a problem. It is better if the stakes are high, and the problem is a BIG problem. There must be an attempt to solve the problem. The formula recommends three attempts increasing in intensity before the resolution. Striving and struggling leads to a happy or satisfying ending.
Reading stories works as a catharsis. The reader and listeners undergo a whole cycle of worldly strife in a few minutes. It also serves pedagogically as a map for struggle and triumph over what all of us go through and will continue to go through as long as we live.
But recently I found myself reading some picture books that were of a different stripe. They were written years ago, and it’s easier to locate them in a library where deaccession isn’t frequent, or in collectors’ bookstores.
DS gave me just such a gem he found in a specialized bookstore. A PENNY AND A PERIWINKLE by Josephine Haskell Aldridge was published in 1961. The main character has no conflict, and, in fact, pushes senseless stimulation away. It is meditation about being content with a simple and purposeful life.  

It was a gift for my birthday, and I’ve read and re-read it almost every day since. I think young kids would love it.


I wish there were many more like it on the market.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Magical Mystery Mouse

Long ago DD had a bosom friend that went with her everywhere. She called him Mousie.
Here they are, hand in hand, inseparable, in a photo almost a generation old. A friend’s mother embroidered a mouse on a T-shirt for her, and DD became known as the girl with the mouse.

There was the time in the supermarket when she set Mousie down  in order to help put a jar of peanut butter in the basket. Moments later, she realized she didn’t have him. It was pandemonium. Only when we found him again, resting patiently on top of another jar, was peace restored.
Then there was the time she had gone to sleep with him, as always, but must have let go in the middle of the night. Mousie was located behind her bed, and the promise of a good day was with us once again.
These separations became more frequent, but DD’s insistence that life can’t go on without Mousie did not abate. I worried that one day he would indeed leave us for greener pastures. I dreaded that day. Mousie was no longer a transitional object, as the clinical definition goes. He was a full-fledged member of the family.
One day, I found Mousie on the kitchen floor, all by his lonesome. I picked him up and almost returned him to DD, who was drawing with great concentration in the next room. Then I thought better of it, and put him away in a safe place where I can locate him if she asks for him.
She never did.
I forgot about him. Dust settled over many details of those times, and the colors faded as they do in old photos, both in albums and in my mind.
 Two years ago, DD and I were looking through an old box, when out fell Mousie.

DD gasped.
“Oh, my,”  I said. “Do you remember this?”
“Do I remember?” she said. “I thought about him and wondered where he was every day, for years!”
“You never asked...” I said.
“I didn’t want to upset you,” she said. “I thought I had lost him, and I didn’t want you to feel bad.”
I don’t know what lesson to take from this. I was thinking about it the other day, when I thought how often we don’t ask and don’t tell because we want to spare others. I wanted to tell DD, who still doesn’t share things when she wants to spare me, that she should have asked.
But the other side of it was that Mousie had to grow up, and he, as well as DD, had to move on.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

HAVE Your Cake and EAT it, Too

Living in our world, in a nutshell, can be summed up by the title of this post, which is also a well-known cliché. But it’s a cliché for a reason.
We swallow these contradictions all the time. Literally.


We don’t want to meddle in the affairs of other, be they neighbors or nations. But if we don’t, aren’t we complicit in the wrong doings we witness?


We mustn’t compare our efforts or results to anyone else’s. But then, what does any sort of rating ever mean, be it on Yelp, Amazon, or an informal comment?


We want to keep a smiley face on not only for others, but to buoy our spirits. But we commit to truthful and honest interactions and encourage others to do the same.


When public good and private good collide, we rationalize. When we can’t rationalize, we declare reason overrated. Then we question others’ rating. Who says it’s so?


I woke up this morning with a strange realization: life is about managing contradictions.


Now I’m excited about fashioning a story that explores just that. No doubt, it will have a neat ending, suggesting a resolution after all was said and done.


But this, too, will be an oxymoron.

And so it goes. Told you.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

It’s a Walk in the Park

Or, actually, a stroll.
I woke up this morning, itching for some jolly good news.
The usual sources didn’t yield it. But, alas, a peculiar old song crept into my parched mind and made my day.
Strolling Through the Park
While strolling through the park one day
In the merry merry month of May
I was taken by surprise
By a pair of roguish eyes
I was scared but I didn't run away

He walked along so daintily
Moving as graceful as can be
His legs were like the trunks of trees
I hardly came up to his knees
He looked at me again
And I knew we would be friends
He's just a little bigger than me!

He had the cutest baby too
About as old as me and you
Maybe soon one day
We could all go out and play
And be friends with one
Elephants in the park

He walked along so daintily
Moving as graceful as can be
I though I'd seen a lot of things
From New York to Colorado Springs
From his tail up to his trunk
From the back up to the front
The elephant is so astonishing
This elephant is so astonishing
This elephant is so astonishing
You can hear a bit of this marvelous ditty here – or here
And then go on whistling, because—NEWS FLASH— this is The Merry Merry Month of May~~~
It’s been that^ for over a hundred years, so who needs the news.? It would manage a dark take on it anyway...

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Invisibility Cloak

There are days when I wonder if I’ve inadvertently donned an invisibility cloak. You know, the Inbox is empty, the phone doesn’t buzz, and whatever good vibrations I had sent out seem to have faded at the universe’s horizon.

A good friend told me she just had one of those days. “I wondered if I actually died, and I’m the only one who doesn’t know it,” she said.


It doesn’t happen to me often. My inbox influx can testify to that. But when it does, it’s both eerie and unsettling.

My best way of coping with outer silence is to write, because that is a form of turning inward while staying wide awake to life. Another helpful action is to spend some time “liking” and such on social sites. (I keep it genuine, for to do otherwise would bring a feeling of spiritual demotion.) Facebook will immediately bring into my inbox others who liked the same.

Hey, it’s proof I’m alive.

The next day the floodgates open, and all those waves I had sent out come back to shore, seemingly at once.
This is good to remember: unlike earthly death, the invisibility cloak will slide off. It isn’t permanently glued on.