Category Archives: milestones

I Love Vermont!

As I mentioned in my last post, my lovely bride and I have recently moved to Vermont. She hailed from Rochester, New York, before coming to San Francisco for graduate school and ensnaring me along the way, and had wanted for a while to be closer to where she grew up for access to family, friends, etc. So two years ago, we headed out to Salem, Massachusetts, which met her criteria (same time zone as family, same day drive, direct transport links, far enough from the city that we could have a little bit of space) and met mine (near a big city with major artistic resources, access to nature, and on the ocean). It was our best guess at a 2,700-mile remove about what might work for us. The thing is, it never really did.

Please don’t get me wrong, Boston is a great city, with a lot to offer. Salem has quite an active arts scene for its size, especially on the literary front (shout outs to my writing group and the folks behind Salem Writers and the Mass Poetry Festival). I worked with an inspiring group of people who were doing good things in the world at the Housing Partnership Network. And I made some friends during our two years there who I will keep for life (hopefully you know who you are!). But the pace of things was just a little too hectic for both of us, and Boston, as close as it was, was hard to get to without feeling like you’d fought your way through. For both of us it seemed like everything was a little too draining, too much of a struggle, and we didn’t have enough reserves left at the end of the day to get out and do the things we loved.

So, we traveled around, and kept our eyes out for places that might work for us. We found ourselves consistently drawn to the areas around Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Maine. Both had a lot of things in common- beautiful natural settings, smaller cities that were easy to get into and out of and get around in, but cultural scenes more like a big city in terms of art, music, literary happenings, events and food. Of the two, Burlington was better for access to New York, had a lot of resources around local-food and food-justice issues Abbey is passionate about, and I ka-loved the lake and mountain combination. (Ka-loving is like “loving”, but with a “ka-bam!” added). So I started a Vermont-centered job search in the Spring of this year that I honestly thought might take a while- a year, maybe more. But, I’ve observed in life that when something is ready to happen, it can unfold in a hurry. And so a July interview resulted in being totally up and moved by the end of August.

The verdict so far? I love it here! Abbey does too, although of course she can tell you about that herself. A few examples of the why’s and wherefores of my new-found love:

Mountains. One thing I realized I really missed from California while living in Massachusetts was mountains! This is the view from our driveway (and living room window, for that matter). Those are the Adirondacks in the background, over in New York across Lake Champlain. Which you could see if it wasn’t behind some low rising hills. You can see these guys, and/or the Green Mountains of Vermont, from pretty much anywhere you go.

Lake Champlain. I’ve always thought I needed to live somewhere near the ocean. It may still prove to be the case, as I feel heart pangs every time I see pictures of crashing surf. However, in the meantime I’m certainly enjoying being near a lake that stretches for over 100 miles, touching New York, Vermont and Canada along the way. Lake Champlain (seen here from the top of Mt. Philo, a few miles north of where we live) is the 13th-largest lake in the United States. However, if you read the fine print, you’ll discover that two of those are man-made lakes, two of those are saltwater lakes, and one of them is in Alaska. So I like to think of it as the eight-largest naturally occurring freshwater lake in the lower 48. And also possibly home to…

Champ. Sighted over 300 times since the 1600s, Champ is -a surviving pleisosaur? a relict zeuglodon? a giant sturgeon? a trick of the light and standing waves? Whatever. Put me near a possible cryptid, and I’m happy. Now to get a kayak and take up diving so I can find him! Her?  

Wilderness. Vermont is home to the Green Mountain National Forest (where Abbey and I found this handsome-looking fellow) as well as a wealth of State Parks, and the aforementioned Adirondack Park just across the bridge in New York. Nearly every weekend we’ve been tromping out somewhere. Including this weekend, when we went to North Hero State Park to take part in a beach cleanup to protect the habitat of baby turtles. I mean, come on, baby turtles is practically worth it’s own entry!

My job. I’m working at Middlebury College. Which, besides meaning I get to work with really nice people and see ridiculously pretty views like this every work day, also means I’m part of a fantastic, creative and progressive community. Founded in 1800, Middlebury was the first university in America to accept African-Americans, and one of the first to admit women on a co-educational basis. It reminds me of some of the things I missed about working at the Exploratorium. There are lectures, films and performances going on all the time, and there’s even a museum where I can visit Assyrian reliefs, mummies, classical statues and centuries of painting for lunch.

Vergennes. We live here. There are falls (as seen to the left). A riverside park where you can see a heron walk down the dock. A downtown that’s all of 3.5 blocks, but has a row of cute little shops and several excellent restaurants. And we actually live a little outside of town, where things look like the below right. That was a scene from strolling up the road we live on earlier in the summer. Farms, cornfields, rolling hills and mountains in the distance. We even saw a deer bounding across a field one day. It’s pretty ironic that someone who couldn’t wait to

escape from the country as a teenager is now thrilled to be greeted by the horse across the street who eyes me suspiciously as I go out to the car each morning, and then has a commute that regularly includes cow, horse, sheep and goat sightings (with occasional turkeys, vultures and the stray llama and gratuitous extra camel (yes, camel)). But I am thrilled! And best of all, we get to live someplace as laid back as this, but still be an easy drive to Burlington and all the city has to offer. Which in the last two months has included…

Last but not lease best, in fact most vital to who I am and what I do, Burlington is home to quite a vital writing scene. The last event pictured above was co-hosted by Geek Mountain State, which is delightfully just what it sounds like, a community encouraging geeky pursuits in Vermont, and the Renegade Writer’s Collective, a group that hosts readings, holds workshops and otherwise provides resources and support for local writers. I’ve already taken one of their workshops, and look forward to doing more.

Since getting to town, I’ve also started to become a regular participant in the ongoing writing feedback workshops held by the Burlington Writer’s Workshop, where people get together every week to provide critical (in the helpful sense) feedback on pieces submitted by local writers. Anybody who’s attended at least one session can sign up to have their work reviewed at a future one.

I could go on, but the point is, being here seems like it might just work out okay. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going!


Ten Years Gone By…

I just has a birthday this past Friday, which always gets me in a “looking back” kind of mood. Since I was born in 1970, this particular birthday also has me hoping that I’m about to discover the secret to:

That’s not what I’m here to discuss today, though. But I have, in fact, been thinking a lot about life. Being on the leeward side of 40 has made me wonder about the twists and turns my life has taken, what might have been, what might now be too late, etc. I don’t necessarily recommend this crazy-making line of thought, but it does lend itself to looking for the narrative.

And as it happens, one of the biggest turning points in my life recently had its own birthday, and has everything to do with narrative. In April 2002, the uranium pile of my first marriage had finally hit critical after a two and a half-year meltdown. This was a crisis I bore no small measure of responsibility for, and I was already going through a process of wrenching change and self-examination in trying to address the issues that had brought it on. Between that and the general void the collapse of a twelve-year relationship leaves in its wake, I was struggling to rediscover who I was and what I wanted from life.

One of the things I had put on the shelf about ten years before that was a lifelong interest in writing. Even as a kid, I had written short stories and movie scripts. I started keeping a journal and writing poetry in my teens, and kept it up all through my early 20s. Then, as I was gearing up for graduate school and working life after that, I stopped. I can’t even tell you why, exactly, but it went away, and was replaced by more “grown up” concerns. Not at all coincidentally, I think, addiction and darkness started ramping up at the same time.

Back to post-separation: alone, shaky, and rebuilding, in the summer of 2002 I decided to take an “Intro to Fiction”  course led by Junse Kim at the Bay Area’s excellent Writing Salon. I’d already started keeping a journal again in the last year of the marriage and the workshop further re-awakened literary stirrings. By late August I had realized, “You know what? I think I’m supposed to be a writer!” I began work on a novel.

So here we are, ten years later. I’m still writing! It doesn’t pay the bills, but it remains the core of how I think of myself: I’m a writer. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I have “enough” to show for it. The part of me that does this because it is my truest and deepest calling in the world gets mixed up with the part of me that wants it to have some kind of concrete outcome in terms of recognition and success. Well, for both those parts, I’d like to bear witness to what I have produced so far:

  • First (and perhaps foremost?) I ended up doing 7 drafts of that novel that I began in 2002, Out in the Neon Night, before finishing it in 2006. I ended up sending out queries for it to 27 agents in 2007, 3 of whom requested a look. While none ended up coming through, I do from time to time consider doing another round of queries, or even e-publishing and promoting it myself. In the mean time, you can read a sample chapter.     
  • My essays “Kissing Girls in the Dark” and “Watch the Skies!” appeared in the 2005 and 2006 issues of the late, great compendium of true tales of the unseemly Morbid Curiosity. I will always be grateful to Morbid‘s editor (and darkly wonderful writer) Loren Rhoads for publishing me for the first time.
  • My confession of my mid-30s discovery of a love for heavy metal, “I Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll” appeared in the 11th issue of the sadly departed “Magazine For People Who Think Too Much” Kitchen Sink in 2005.
  • While I was engaged in endless rewrites of Neon Night in 2005-2006, I started a much more lighthearted “new novel” to have something fun to work on in the midst of revisionitis. It eventually petered out at 20 chapters, and I set it aside in favor of other things. But I’ve been feeling some enthusiasm for resurrecting it recently… 
  • I wrote several articles on arty (and boozy) aspects of San Francisco life for in 2007. 
  • SoMa Literary Review published my poems “untitled” and “Twelve Steps to the New Israel of the Beats” in 2009. Sadly, their online back-archive is currently in search of a host, but I can send you copies if you want to read them!   
  • Slouch Magazine published a short prose piece of mine, “relapse in 26 lines” in August 2009. 
  • My prose poem “Young Karl Marx” was featured on Opium Magazine’s website in late 2009. 
  • In 2010, my essay “Bachelors of Armageddon” appear in When I Was There, an anthology of tales of student life at UC Berkeley.
  • From 2007-2011 I finally pursued a lifelong interest in film-making as a member of the Bay Area independent film co-op Scary Cow. During a four year-period I worked on 13 short films in a variety of capacities, including 6 that I wrote or co-wrote. You can get more of a description, and links to several of the films I helped write, produce or direct, here   
  • Even my bad adolescent poetry has had its day in the sun, being read on stage as part of the Mortified reading series in San Francisco and Boston multiple times from 2006 through 2012. 
  • My Short Story “Ave Maria” was published in 2012 in the anthology Warpaint, available from Amazon on Kindle, and in several other electronic and print formats from the publisher, Zenfri. Meanwhile I have three more short stories making the rounds of submissions. They vacillate between despair at ever seeing the light of day and feeling terribly encouraged by Ave Maria’s success.   
  • Earlier this year I completed the first draft of my first full-length screenplay. I’ll be revising and finishing it over the next year, and then confronting the intriguing sell/make decision… 
  • I also just finished revising a collection of 40 poems (written between 2000 and 2010) which I am now starting to submit to publishers and prizes. 

So there you have it. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like such a bad output for my first ten years (re)devoted to being a writer. That belief wavers a little whenever I hear about a 20something author’s big debut. Then I remember that Raymond Chandler didn’t publish his first story until he was 45, or his first novel until he was past 50. And the truth is, should success come sooner, later, in a form I can barely recognize, or even never, it doesn’t really matter. I have to keep doing this. I’m a writer!




Among the various things I did this weekend, I met a photographer to get some pictures taken.

It’s handy to have a photographer on board, since I often end up feeling like I come out looking like a Muppet in photos despite not looking entirely like a Muppet in real life. Professional help obviously is called for. It’s also handy to have some pictures for promotional purposes, since one of my goals for the New Year is to put my creativity out in public more, and some good stills to go with online publications couldn’t hurt. That was sort of an afterthought, though.

The main reason I wanted to get some pictures taken was to follow through on one of my other intentions for the New Year: to get back into the world of dating and relationships again after a break of nearly two years.

To be precise, after a nine-month relationship ended in December 2005, I briefly did what I have usually done, which is to get right back out there again. Only to find that I was still acting out my own insecurities by choosing people with whom things were certain to not work. I realized it was time to stop, withdraw, and focus on myself until I could come back to it from a different place, because if I didn’t change, then the things that were happening wouldn’t change either.

So I began this formal process of withdrawal in February 2006. Except for two brief defections in late 2006, each lasting for two dates, I didn’t date, pursue dating or respond to other people’s pursuit. Instead I focused on learning to love myself, growing my own life and deepening my connection to my creativity and my spirituality. Especially after I had finally bottomed out on drugs and alcohol at the end of 2006, this was almost my sole focus in life in 2007.

So now, two years later, I do love myself more, have cleaned up a lot of things in my life, have a much larger creative life and a deepened trust in my recovery and that the universe is conspiring to bless me. Not perfect, by a long shot. But real. And feeling the call of getting out there again, because I think some of the further growth lessons in my life are going to come from this realm.

So I met the photographer and I’m working on an online personals profile, which I’ll probably go live with by the end of the month or so. This feels momentous, and at the same time very normal and real. The one thing that I am sure of is that, like everything else this past year, it probably won’t be like I think it will, and along the way I’ll learn and grow.

Here I go….

All is quiet on New Year’s Day

I believe that what I’m doing on New Year’s Eve has some kind of link to what will happen in the year ahead. We could get Jungian and call it synchronicity, or newagian and call it manifesting a vision, or just plain call me a superstitious ignorant peasant, but there you have it. I first noticed this phenomenon about ten years ago, and the fit has actually been quite good.

For New Year’s Eve 2005 I was at a party with an unavailable budding potential ladyfriend, drinking and listening to her friends spin heavy metal records all night long. Sure enough, 2005 was a year of relational mismatch, drinking, and renaissance of interest in heavy metal.

2006 began in a small neighborhood bar, with a single friend, wistful glances at women in the distance and lots of whiskey and beer. The year delivered on the eve’s promise of an increasingly small life where distance from people grew as drinking expanded.

At midnight on December 31, 2006 I was in rehab, hoisting a caffeine free diet coke aloft with a few friends from the program. The next morning I wrote that if that meant that 2007 would be a year of sobriety and focus on recovery with a few really good friends in my life, that was all right with me. Blessedly, that was exactly what 2007 turned out to be.

So this weekend I was on a recovery-oriented spiritual retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. At 11:00 last night, I went to a candlelight meditation in the chapel. After a half hour there, I went to the main lodge where a dance was in progress and got my ass out on the dance floor. At midnight I was surrounded by beautiful, happy people, who had just spent an intense emotional and spiritual weekend with each other, all hugging and wishing each other Happy New Year.

I reckon 2008 will be filled with emotional growth, spiritual connection, active realtionships with others. And love. Happy New Year to all of you!

One Year

Last night as I was out in the Mission I realized, “Holy shit, all I have to do to have one year is go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning!” While you can’t take either one of those entirely for granted, they seemed pretty achievable. It dawned on me that I really was going to do this thing.

And lo and behold, I did wake up this morning. And now I have one year clean and sober.

I was actually out past midnight, so technically my reign of non-terror began before I went to bed. Being out last night itself struck me- I was onstage in front of a few hundred cheering people at Mortified, laughed so hard at the other performers that my face hurt, and then spent a few hours after the show hanging out and talking with beautiful, creative people.

I’ve still got my fears and insecurities. I feel frustrated sometimes with the pace of change in my life. Some things come up now, un-numbed for the first time in years, that I hardly even know what to do with. But a year ago, shaking, sweating, and scared shitless knowing that something had to change or I might not make it, I no longer knew that the kind of night I had last night was even possible.

Now it’s not only possible, it’s becoming normal. Normal that I’m losing my fear of people. Normal that my creative life is expanding, Normal that my world is getting bigger, rather than smaller. Not only that, I have a chance now to reach out to people who are where I was a year ago and tell them it will be okay. That they can make it. That there’s a way out.

I reckon all that’s worth sticking around for, and I’ll try a year and a day next.