The Year of All Things Literary!

4 11 2019

Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.
—Jim Tully

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Spoiler Alert! This is a long post, but worth the read. This is what happens when you don’t do any writing of substance for several months.

This year’s Resolution #3: Write, has been a journey of starts, fits, and fizzles. For various reasons, I have not found a new groove or rhythm. The extent of my literary life has been hosting Literary Los Angeles events, supporting friends in their endeavors, and an occasional blog post, the last one commemorating my birthday in August. With only one more month of 2019 left, I feel as though I could have done better, but I am also not beating myself up about it. Having patience with myself, doing things to keep massaging the writing in one form or another, acknowledging that despite the discouragement, it is in the blood and I have to keep trying. These are baby steps I have been employing in this period of malaise.

I actually finished reading two books so far; a far cry from the 11 I wanted to have read by this point, but better than I’ve done in many years. I used to be a voracious reader, and somewhere, along with the writing, that voracity diminished. Not sure if I will get it back in full, but I do expect to finish reading four books before the end of the year—and reading does wonders to fuel the writing!

My Literary Los Angeles events have been the highlight of my year! Originally published in May of 2018, the CurbedLA blog post of places favored by Los Angeles writers was the inspiration to hosting these events. So, I have gathered as many writer friends as I could over the past 10 months to inhabit these haunts over drinks, dinner, or just a day trippin’ tour!

My first excursion was in January, with my dear friend Laura Rebecca at Langer’s Delicatessen and Restaurant. Despite the city’s reputation of the young, hip, and new, L.A. has lots of historic haunts, and Langer’s, open since 1947, is one of them.

Nora Ephron is one of my favorite writers. She loved Langer’s pastrami sandwich, and even wrote a New Yorker piece about it called “A Sandwich”. I had to see if it was worth the buzz (and the price). I must say, it did not disappoint.

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Hanging with my girl Laura Rebecca, a fellow scribe and Yogi at Langer’s Deli.

Later that month, fellow writer and entrepreneur Cheryl Leutjen joined me on a tour of Joan Didion‘s old house, which is now the Shumei Hollywood Center. Thanks to the docent Annie, I learned a lot more about Joan Didion, and about how the Shumei Center’s work. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and the gardens were blooming and beautiful. The landscaper Junzo told us the story of how he had to pull up the tennis court that was there previously and break up the fallow ground so it could receive water and seed. He also told us his vision for a water tower and some outdoor seating for events. Cheryl was happy to find a potential location for her Natural Muse writing group–win-win! The Center offers some cool classes, so whether it is for one of those, or for the Natural Muse meetup, we will definitely plan to return.

February’s Literary Los Angeles excursion was to the Beverly Hills Hotel, with dear friends and fellow writers Sharon Goldstein, Gail Upp, Matthew Shaffer, and Jeff Payton.

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From left to right: Jeff Payton, yours truly, Matthew Shaffer, Gail Upp, and Sharon Goldstein

The Beverly Hills Hotel oozes with urbane charm, glitz, and storied history. Along with the usual Hollywood celebrities, the iconic hotel often hosted writers such as Fran Leibowitz, Gore Vidal, Eve Babitz, and Brett Easton Ellis.

The Polo Lounge used to be a classic bar, but it had recently been remodeled to a restaurant with a small bar. Our plan was to just hang out at the bar, since a sit-down brunch is $95.00 per person—ain’t nobody got time for that.

Who knew it would be a Sunday of torrential rain, combined with the fact that it was Grammy Sunday; so the place was packed to the rafters. Thankfully the hostess took pity on Sharon, who literally needed to eat for her health, and she got us seated at a cocktail table near the bar.While drinks and appetizers were by no means cheap, it didn’t require the taking out of a small loan that brunch would have. I nibbled on some rare sliders which were quite good, Matthew and Jeff had Polo Garden Gimlets, Sharon had Chips, Salsa, and Guacamole, and Gail had Lox over Gluten free bread, with a spot of caviar. We had some great conversation about movies (we do live in L.A., after all), relationships and weddings, our writing ideas, church music and faith, while watching the well-heeled and the Hollywood elite wend throughout the renowned bar with their various comings and goings.

It was such a hit that we decided we must do it again. Musso & Frank was next on the Literary Los Angeles list, so the plan was to pinch all our pennies and make reservations for sometime in April, after Easter. While not as pricey as the Beverly Hills Hotel, it does require some budgeting—either that, or some sweet advances from book deals—the latter would have been nice….

I was the one who screwed the pooch with the planning. We all had Easter Monday set on our schedules: unfortunately I failed to check the website to see whether Musso & Frank was even open on Monday. It. Was. Not. Womp-Wah. So, we kept the date, but changed the venue to the next place on the list: The Frolic Room!

While Matthew and Jeff could not make it, Sharon, Gail, Laura, and this time Joe (Sharon’s husband and multi-hyphenate: one of them being writer) was able to come along.

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Doing what one does best in the Frolic Room: Drink, and frolic!

The Frolic Room was the regular watering hole of writer Charles Bukowski in the 1970s, while he was cranking out some of his seminal works, Post Office, and Mockingbird Wish Me Luck.

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It started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy in the 1930s. Once Prohibition was repealed, it became a legit bar. In the 1940s, along with the Pantages Theater next door, it was owned by Howard Hughes until 1954. Many stars bellied up to the bar, including Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. It is also infamous for being the last place Elizabeth Short (“The Black Dahlia”) was seen alive before her gruesome murder in 1947.

While every bar in Los Angeles and the surrounding environs seems to be turning into a Gastropub (Lord, spare us from hipsters), The Frolic Room has maintained its divey vibe, and the five of us were happy to drink it in along with Coke, Gin and Tonic, Bloody Mary, and a Martini, while trying to name all the golden-age celebrities in the Al Hirschfeld mural that lines the wall across from the bar.

It turned out to be a busy Summer for all of us, so Musso & Frank would wait a while longer. In the meantime, I celebrated my friend Cheryl Leutjen and her Nautilus award-winning non-fiction book Love Earth Now at a book signing at Zweet Cafe in Eagle Rock, where Cheryl penned a lot of the book! Cheryl read some excerpts from the book, along with fellow author Dr. Davina Kotulski, who she met during one of those Zweet writing jags.

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I think a regular weekly visit to a coffee shop might do me some good in establishing a rhythm; but I haven’t found a haunt in Pasadena that I absolutely adore. Time to start looking, I guess.

I was asked in July to be the guest on a podcast! Lori Bisser, a fellow Yoga instructor and graduate of the New Day Yoga 300-Hour training program from which I also graduated, asked me to share my story of gratitude on her podcast appropriately titled “Gratitude Sandwich”. Whenever she launches it, that will be a link I plan to promote. While not writing, it is storytelling, so it counts toward the writer’s life, and the drive towards word creation.

Musso & Frank finally happened toward the end of August. Matthew was wrapped up in his dance competition tour and also on the cusp of his second book release, Dancing Out of the Closet, so he and Jeff could not join us. It was up to the core fabulous five to eat some old school food in old Hollywood, and boy, did we!

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It was good timing, as Musso & Frank is celebrating 100 years in Hollywood! Very few restaurants in Los Angeles hold that distinction; long-standing restaurants in L.A. are about as ephemeral as a three-book publishing deal.

Opened in 1919 by Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet, Musso & Frank hired French chef Jean Rue to design the menu. Rue would not only launch the kitchen, but would hold it down for 53 years! In 1927, the name partners sold the restaurant to two Italian immigrants named John Mosso and Joseph Carrissimi, and the restaurant is still mostly family owned: Mark Echeverria, the COO, CFO and current proprietor of Musso & Frank happens to be John Mosso’s great-grandson. Talk about a Hollywood story!

From the leather menus, to the dark wood, to the black and white photos of executives, business men, guys and dolls enjoying a martini and a cigar, Musso & Frank has legend dripping from its walls, and wafting through its doors. I had one of their classic Martinis (apparently the best in Los Angeles), along with some exquisitely prepared rare lamb chops. Gail had sweet meats with Brussel sprouts—a dish (the sweetmeats) that is hard to find anywhere. After dinner, even I wanted to break out a cigar or cigarette, and I don’t smoke either one! It was like stepping back to a time where food and atmosphere were a package deal, and your dinner was not only splendidly presented, but prepared with flavor, finesse, and substance. An other-worldly experience that was well worth the price tag.

My annual trek to Chicago for the Columbia College Chicago Alumni Board retreat was in September. I came into town earlier in the week than usual, because we were cutting the ribbon on the college’s first-ever Student Center, so two days of events were planned ahead of the weekend board activities. One was a VIP reception for the Board, Trustees, and donors to the Center. The second was the grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting, which was quite the treat!

What was even more of a treat was running into two writing mentors: Randall Albers, one of my instructors who helped to shepherd me toward graduate school. And Gary Johnson, who took me through the ropes of editing my first fiction piece toward publication in Columbia College’s Fiction Anthology, Hairtrigger 9 & 10. Both men remembered me, which was an honor, and Gary remembered my fiction piece “The Foot” a parody of Nikolai Golgov’s “The Nose” with great detail—the man has an incredible brain! Gary was hosting the Writer’s Room at the Student Center Grand Opening, where his most accomplished fiction students were reading from their original works. It brought back so many memories of years of writing classes, diving into the story workshop method of sitting in a circle, closing my eyes, and listening out into the street… Sense experiences that then were poured onto the page, and ultimately transformed into unique stories. As the students read their work aloud, the visceral, rhythmic flow of words poured over me like a warm blanket. It took me back to a time when I was on the edge of my seat both in my listening and in my writing, and made me hungry to get back there.

I was able to talk to Randy briefly, and he encouraged me to find a workshop that would allow me to delve deeply again. Another voyage of exploration along with that coffee shop in which to write.

Friday was the first CAAN Board event, a meet-and-greet at the home of one of the faculty couples. I engaged in conversation with the husband Jason Stephens, associate professor of instruction in the Business and Entrepreneur program. I related my joy in re-discovering the life and vibrancy of the story workshop method and the prescient fluidity it produced in the student’s writing. This led to brainstorming about using writing faculty or students to help the data and marketing students learn to tell stories with their numbers and information, and a light bulb went off for Jason on this potential new building block to help his students view their information in a different way.

Long story short, Jason invited me to speak to his data analytics class about storytelling! When an alumni addresses a class, it is called a “Master Class”, so it was a privilege to be asked to do so, and a new experience for me talking about the elements involved in creating a story, and how one might apply it to data information. Another opportunity to use my gift and knowledge of wordsmithing to address a different medium!

The icing on the cake of my Chicago trip was visiting the American Writer’s Museum on the Magnificent Mile. The interactive space opened in 2017, and it was a lovely afternoon spent reading about some of my favorite authors, finding information I did not know about others, and playing interactive games with their words, getting reacquainted with a typewriter, and generally having a good time soaking up the literary vibe of the place.

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I couldn’t leave without swag, so along with some free bookmarks that had a particular writer, a quote from his or her work, and the address to their museum or historical society, I nabbed a magnet that says simply, “Write On”, and a great mug with quotes from one of my writing inspirations: Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.

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Finally, I ended the month of October at a book presentation and signing for my friend Andrea Wilson Woods’ medical memoir, Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days, about her 15-year old sister Adrienne Wilson’s battle with liver cancer.

I trekked out to Pomona to a really cool bookstore called Cafe con Libros (where are these places closer?! Sigh…), where Andrea read a chapter from the book, and spearheaded a meaty discussion on why a great story always trumps bad writing, the difference between a memoir and a biography, why having a platform is essential for any writer, what social media platforms are best, and how to balance privacy of others but remain truthful about facts.

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November 1, 2019 Cafe con Libros: Book presentation and signing for “Better Off Bald”-Andrea Wilson Woods

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Andrea now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, so this was the tail end of her annual visit back to Los Angeles to visit her sister Adrienne’s grave, and make some connections for her non-profit and advocacy organizations, Blue Faery, and Cancer U. We spent some good time together on Monday at a Yoga class and over lunch, and she was flying out early the next day; so this was just another opportunity to support a friend in their success in not only getting the words on the page, but getting them published and recognized! The book is doing quite well, and getting rave reviews. Buy it!

November has only just begun, but it is already packed. Gail is encouraging me to do one more Literary Los Angeles event, perhaps Chateau Marmont or Clifton’s Cafeteria. I can also spend the remaining two months of 2019 finding that coffee shop and scoping out a writing workshop in order to establish a rhythm that will get me writing more regularly. So I guess resolution #3, while not resulting in copious words on the page, served to keep the literary fires stoked on different fronts so the words can be forged and poured forth at the proper time.

To rephrase Descartes, “I write, therefore I am.”





New Year’s Resolution #1: Use All the Things

13 01 2019

“Start living now. Stop saving the good china for that special occasion. Stop withholding your love until that special person materializes. Every day you are alive is a special occasion. Every minute, every breath, is a gift from God.” — Mary Manin Morrissey

Resolutions generally involve losing something (weight, clutter) or gaining something (time, money). While my resolutions involve both of those, one in particular involves using what I have and making the most of it—particularly in the kitchen.

When I got married over 11 years ago, I used the opportunity to acquire some great cooking and serving dishes because I love to entertain. We had just bought a house with lots of space, so it was exciting unpacking the goodies and finding places for each and every one.

We had a few years of major Holiday, barbecue, and dinner events where I was able to use some of these treasures; then we fell into tragic circumstances, we lost the house, and the majority of these things ended up stored in boxes. After some fits, starts, and a few weeks in an extended stay hotel, we ended up in a place that was smaller than the living room at our old home, with little storage. So all those serving pieces, bakeware, and glasswares ended up staying in boxes—for seven years.

Twenty-eighteen afforded the blessing of moving to larger digs; not as large or as much storage space as our old home, but just enough to be able to finally unpack those boxes again and rediscover the wealth of items at my disposal.

In my re-discovery, my goal is not to get rid of any of it, but to USE it. Not just for entertaining and special occasions, but for every day.

So when I have a glass of wine or a drink, I ALWAYS use the good glasses.

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I have been cooking up a storm over the holidays and into the New Year, and have been using my beautiful Emile Henry bakeware instead of my Pyrex or loaf tins.

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What this does is break patterns of holding back and waiting on “someday”. Living in the present moment involves utilizing the tools you have in that moment. Someday may never come, so in terms of my culinary treasures, I am living for now, and treating me and my husband as if we are the honored guests, and as though dining together is the special occasion.

Hoping this will be one of the game changers of 2019.








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