What a character

These days, as research for my own novels, I've been reading a lot of middle-grade novels (ages 8-12). The novels are just right for summer, where I spend a lot of time at the beach making art wherever I can. With these books I can dive right back into stories and times I remember from the olden days, when I was that age.

And I'm reminded of something that happened when I was 9:

When I was in 4th grade, I was out in left field quite a bit. That's where they put me in kickball during P.E., so I wouldn't do too much damage. Well, one time a ball was kicked to me at great speed. I tried to catch it. But the ball broke my left pinky. Unfortunately, not my right pinky, since I am left handed. I showed my broken finger to the teacher, who didn't believe it was broken. I guess she believed I wanted to get out of P.E. so badly I was willing to go to a military hospital. She sent me to the principal, who after a lot of needless questioning of my integrity, did believe me and sent me home, where no one was around, because my mom wasn't expecting me to need medical help midday.

Finally a neighbor took pity on me and dropped me off (yes! that's what they did in those days, I guess!) at the military hospital, where I was given a diagnosis of broken wrist, not finger (I imagine the doctor wrote illegibly). As I was getting my cast put on by a guy who seemed to be new at this, my dad found me--he seemed amazed to see me there--and drove me home, where I sat at the dinner table in agony. (Why did they not give me aspirin for this? Why did my parents not question the wrist/finger cast mistake?) My kind grandmother, who happened to be visiting at the time of the accident, did question it mightily, having been a nurse. "Are you sure you broke your little finger? So why did they put a cast on your wrist? That's ludicrous!" But she questioned me, rather than the doctor, and my parents repeatedly told her they were sure the hospital knew what it was doing. So nothing was done to fix the situation.

Why did so many people, from family to teachers to schoolmates, tease me about the accident, never asking, "Does it hurt? Can we help?" So I figured that it was supposed to hurt and hurt and hurt; it was my own cross to bear; I stayed quiet in deep pain. For the next 6 weeks my wrist was in a cast. I learned how to respond to the constant questioning and teasing (hunch shoulders, look down and reply politely but in short sentences), as well as to eat and write and dress with my right hand. Meanwhile my little finger continued to hurt like hell, unprotected as it was outside the cast and without aspirin. Today, decades later, my little finger is still bent at the angle where it was couched outside the cast, healed crooked. But with my flaw I have a secret strength: I play guitar for those in pain, stretching my bent finger across the wide spaces on the fretboard.

Here's what I'm finding in my reading:

In a middle-grade story, the main character (I tend to be drawn toward a brave girl) is an outcast, not understood by classmates, except maybe one kid more outcast than herself. She's also misunderstood by her family, except maybe one grandma or outlandish aunt. She decides on (or falls into) a plan to slowly resolve or blast through the issue that falls into her lap. She alone can do this, though she feels unworthy/unable/unaware of her strength. Before long, the forces of darkness (a rat? the posse outside the courthouse?) ramp up their game till the breaking point, when she REALIZES what she thought of as her flaw is actually her strength. The game is won, almost without her doing. By this time the game had reached the tipping point, because of time and placement of people and circumstances. And then it needed only the slightest tap to topple into the "falling action," the denouement. The resolution. A perfect answer. Love between characters bringing her into the circle in a new way that encompasses her flaw/strength. She is aware of herself, broken and healed crooked.

Garden vase and Annie California

"Garden vase in rain" (2017), is my newest piece, which I painted last week. The colors and the light work together to make splashing sounds, if you like.

For those who followed some early chapters of "Annie California" before, I want to tell you about how Annie's doing now. She's doing great. She's the star of my recently completed middle-grade fiction manuscript. Last year, the almost-completed manuscript won the Ruth Marcus Memorial Writing Scholarship through the Humboldt Area Foundation. The scholarship gave me the kick in the pants I needed to finish the darn thing and start to bring it out to the light. Pretty soon, I'm hoping, you'll be able to read the journal of a brave, smart, funny girl while she takes a dysfunctional family road trip across the country and meets some pretty cool people along the way.

Grateful for flat things--yesterday

Flat things are not often singled out for gratitude. But in the Joy Dare, we were urged yesterday to single out 3 flat things to be happy about.

I'm experiencing the rare chance to take a long artist retreat. Sounds ideal, doesn't it? One caveat: you will have all the resources you need to paint, but you have to take all your voices with you.

The first week I was here, I went to a yard sale and found for $10 an old wooden drawing board, the kind that can tip horizontally or vertically, with a nice lip to hold canvases or what-have-you. The next week, I went to a couple of art supply stores and bought a lot of things I still haven't used yet: watercolors and pads and brushes and colored pens and acrylics and four square canvases on sale, 2 for 1. I set up the nicest art studio I've ever had, in the space between an old barn and the outdoors, in a large courtyard, with an old blue cabinet to hold things.

But there was the old voice asking none too gently, "Are you about to slather paint on squares of cloth? What makes you think that's worthwhile in the Grand Scheme of Things? Don't you need to pay some bills?" Another voice asked, " Don't you need a degree for that? Don't you need a pack to hang out with? Don't you need years of angst in New York?" Then another voice chimed in, asking, "Why haven't you done it yet? What are you waiting for, a muse?" It took me a long time to sort out those voices to hear one clear one (mine) saying, "I just want to, that's all." Then, finally (after reading Vonnegut's Bluebeard, of all things, whose main character is an Abstract Expressionist) I plopped on a floppy sunhat and tromped down to the barn, and under the porch roof where the honeysuckle are already giving off promises of home far away, I made these yesterday:

copyright 2013 margaret kellermann. Not to be reprinted without permission.

"Some Days Are Like That"

copyright 2013 margaret kellermann. Not to be reprinted without permission.

"You Are Here"

copyright 2007 margaret kellermann. Not to be reprinted without permission.

"Storm Vision"

Another thing that boosted my confidence a bunch: I pointed out this 2007 painting, "Storm Vision," the other day to my friend Mark. It wasn't even for sale. He said he might like to buy it. Which meant, he did.

3 gifts tasted

"A poem should be
palpable and mute as globed fruit."
More than 3 perfect nectarine gifts to taste, at a fruit stand
on the way to Astoria on Highway 30. I love the presentation:
barn red basket and Sunday funnies packaging.

Photo Eric Smith

Taking the Joy Dare, starting now

Has everyone else heard of the Joy Dare? Where you're urged to come up with 3 photographs or poems or tiny journal entries per day, according to the prompts in the Joy Dare, to find and express gratitude for 3 gifts a day? Sometimes the gifts can seem ironic, dark, even horrifying, and that's part of the overall plan: See everything as a gift, not just the brightly wrapped shiny things. This seems perfect for livejournalists. So if you're intrigued, and you haven't started already, I dare you.

I'm a bit late to the 2013 party, I fear, but the author of the blog A Holy Experience assures me I've arrived right where I am, right on time. And if I forget, or get distracted until December, that's all right, too.

So, to begin today, April 30:

Gifts given, made, sacrificed:

Paring down, I'm giving this lovely fairy queen to a poet friend who fills her walls with paintings of women of strength and beauty. I bought it at a yard sale two years ago from a woman who was also paring down; we shared stories of real fairy sightings in Ireland.

"There is nothing you can see that is not a flower." --Basho. I made this card recently, testing out watercolors again after years away. It's hard not to judge my art against the way I want it to look, but I'll just be grateful for watercolors and send it to my new grandson, 1 month old. He won't judge it. And besides, there is nothing you can see in the painting that is not a flower. (The yellow mug is a favorite, from Kensington Potteries, England.)

My concoction---freshly shaved coconut, unsalted peanuts and Ghirardelli chocolate drops---was a gift sacrificed to my stomach this morning. (The tablecloth is from a local kitchen shop, and the plate is old diner china.)


     Backyard bluebells coming out of the dark, Astoria   c 2007 mds

On this darkest and longest of winter nights...see what we can all look forward to.  Come on, spring!

Cherry tree ka-bloom, Portland   c 2008 mds

Kindly words, part 2

Abe and Isaac
as found at

Feb 2 (continued)

Joe turns to the preacher and shouts something, so the preacher walks over. All I hear is the preacher saying "Jesus" very gently several times in the conversation, and then he walks across the street and is gone. Joe turns to me and asks proudly, "Did you hear what I said?"

Me: No, I couldn't hear over the traffic.

Joe: I shouted, "Hey, what are you selling?" And he didn't get the joke, so he came over and said, "Jesus." And I said, "You can't sell Jesus!" He didn't get it. So I said it again, What are you selling, and he said it again: Jesus. And then he asked me if I wanted to be baptized! "Are you kidding?" I said. He just said something about Jesus again and left. He wasn't very good at marketing!

M: Wow.

J: I've been selling for a long time, 30 years, and when you've got a customer, you don't just give up that fast. Unless you know you don't have a sale. Then you just walk away and you don't waste your time.

M: Maybe he knew he didn't have a sale.

J: You know, you're right. That could be. But you have to at least respond. You don't just walk away. Anyway, he was just reading out loud on this street corner. Nobody could even hear him. What a waste!

M: I couldn't hear much, but I could tell it was parts of the Bible. You know, I'm a Christian, too. And I was just writing about that man here in my journal. I was writing that it's very hard for me to judge whether or not it's foolish for him to be out here on the sidewalk. Because God asked people in the Bible to do some very strange things. He told Abraham to go up on a mountain and sacrifice his son, and at the last minute God stopped him and said, "No, that's okay, I believe you trust me enough to do that." So maybe God is asking that man to read and sing out on this busy street.

J: Because maybe one little word will seep through.

M: Yes.

J: I used to think I was right about everything. But now I'm older I know I don't know everything. I'm-- what is the word when you know you can die anytime?

M: Mortal.

J: Yes, mortal. Life is so fragile. You're not invincible. You can get hit by a truck and it's over. You didn't have time. You thought you had time to think about what you would do, but it's over too fast.


Kindly words

What are they trying to tell us?
A random Jesus van, not in Portland.

Feb 2 

A young man crouches on the sidewalk, pierced nose and bangles, holding a sign that just says "Seeking kindness." So am I, so I smile, and he responds in kind.

Once again I'm sitting at a cafe table outside my favorite coffeehouse, and Conor is with me. Even though it's an incredibly noisy street corner, there is always something of interest going on. It's about noon, and I've just had my almond latte. I'm thinking about what to have for lunch, when a young Mexican woman offers to sell me a chicken jalapeno tamale from her traveling cart. I say yes, because I've had them before, and they are autentico, delicioso -- I rave about these tamales to the man sitting at the neighboring table, and he takes two. His name is Joe, I find, and we are instantly serenaded by an older gentleman standing on the corner. I've seen him there before, and in fact he turns and gives me a knowing nod before he begins. His choice today is "Faith of Our Fathers," all verses.

...Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach thee too, as love knows how,
By kindly words and virtuous life......

Then the street preacher opens his Bible and reads a long passage from Jeremiah. I can hardly hear him through the crush of buses and trucks, with a shouting match between a pedestrian and a driver, each claiming right-of-way over the traffic signal. All I can think of is that Jeremiah was thrown into a muddy pit because his listeners hated what he had to say.

I have no beef with this Christian on the corner. (Now he's singing "I Surrender All.") He doesn't try to shout above the city chaos-chorus. He seems a part of it. He could be the grace in all this law. He could be John the Baptist crying in the wilderness. He could be a little Christ, who -- the first time we glimpse him in the Gospel of Mark -- is found walking around, preaching, "Repent and be saved, for the kingdom of God is at hand."

Now here's where it gets interesting....

Oh, on second thought, I'll tell you tomorrow!


Look at him

no title

Jan 31-Feb 1

It's been a quiet weekend, after so much fluster all week. I keep telling myself I could go here or there, but I end up putting another kettle on the boil. I need this time to myself.

I'm not sure why, but when I go outside and walk around Portland, I find I'm often treated as an object of scorn. I moved to Astoria from Seattle partly for that reason. I didn't want to be rejected with a look or remark, just because I don't fit a standard of youthful beauty. I never got that treatment in small-town Astoria, where people look at you to see if they know you, say hi even if they don't. But now that I've moved into a big city again, I get that scorn again.

It happens more than once a week. I guess I've reached the age where I'm not beautiful anymore to some people, who have been taught that any woman of 50 and up who has a few wrinkles is disgraceful and ugly. They say anything they like, either because they don't think I can hear them or because I don't seem to have anyone to defend me.

Each time it happens, it slides under the armor like a pen knife and sticks under my ribs. It comes in the form of a business contact meeting me for the first time in person, not even trying to hide shock that I'm not younger and prettier. It comes in the form of two strangers coming down the street and making a rude, under-the-breath comment about my looks. Or two people stand waiting for a friend to walk in the restaurant and find I'm not who they were expecting, and they are so disappointed they groan and say, "Uggh, not her!"

All week I've been thinking about this passage:

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

--Isaiah 53

This is my lowly, almost pitiable Messiah, the one who knows me utterly, the one I worship.

Haunting, wild

The Spectrum c 2007 Eric Smith --blue glass ball
made from volcanic ash from Mt St Helens eruption

Jan 27-30

27. Workshop Night #3, with a very civilized glass of red wine during the break. Not since my times in Ireland have I joined such a round-robin what-have-you, where one person can start an original song on guitar and the others gradually join in with voice harmony. As I told someone the other night, we span such a wide spectrum, but we understand each other very well. He said, "You've found your tribe." Yes, that's it.

There's one singer-songwriter in the workshop I am learning so much from, just by listening: Hale Lupe. Listen to Black Crows:  you can hear the crows flying around as she sings.

Some in the circle have known each other for years. Others -- like me-- are coming with only three weeks of experience in this particular pack of haunting, wild coyotes. And if you've ever heard a pack of coyotes crying out their song in nature, you'll know I mean that in the most congenial way.

28. Songwriters Anonymous, it could be called. Portland songwriters gather at a cafe each Wednesday to speak truth and hear one another. Really listen, respectfully urging one another on. Two women from our songwriting workshop, Mindy and another Margaret, appeared and joined me at a table, where we shared a glass of wine -- seriously, Mindy asked if I would share her glass of wine -- and 20 or 30 of us listened to one another sing. A backup band came on at 9, and when my name was called I decided to be brave and stand onstage and tell the very supportive band "This is in G, with D and sometimes just for kicks E minor" and with Mindy singing harmony, launch into that song I'd written that week:

...You need somewhere to give up lonely
Be afraid, that's all right
Lie down and give up all your empty...

In writing it, I'd played with words, taking on the mantra of our workshop, "It doesn't have to be good," adding, "It doesn't even have to make sense." I've been thinking lately that the more deeply personal and heart-opening a song is, the more it can touch the listeners. Well, there's a limit to that, of course. Nobody wants to hear someone's journal scrawls... but you know what I mean.

After my set, a man came up to me, stood there for a minute, then said, "Good. Good." He said a number of other things, too, but I couldn't hear them over the canoodling of the band between songs. It's just as well. Margaret doesn't need a swollen head, as some in the past have said to deflect compliments on my art. (Somehow, non-art success can be cheered without similar concern.) A song doesn't have to be good, make sense or touch people, but it's nice when it accidentally does. I don't think my head swells when I hear a compliment on my art. My heart does.

29. This morning, I received a note asking me to join a song circle this evening at a friend's backyard studio. The note added "BYO," as in Bring Your Own __________ [fill in the blank]. I brought a bottle of syrah cabernet merlot, 3 red wines in one. Others brought a bottle of beer or an herbal teabag.

I thought. This event will not be wild. But the music was wild. Sounding like a cross between Natalie Merchant and Tom Waits, Kate Mann sang her crowd-pleaser Bird in My House:

There's a bird in my house
and I don't know what to do
Somebody let the window open
and in the bird flew.

Kate sang it like she was calling 9-1-1 about a bird flapping and crashing through her house. And we all sang with her, in loud minor tones.

30.  Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens. --Fay Weldon. This is one of those "Nothing happens" days. I could have gone to one of two folk music events tonight, but *can* there be too much beautiful live music? For me, yes. At some point last night I reached my limit of folk for the week. Now I want to rest at home with Conor -- as I give him a taste of rice and locally made chicken apple sausage -- and wait for the third part to happen again.