Relying on Kinsey Millhone

I’m not an avid mystery reader. I tend to read a range of things: literary fiction, juvenile books, fantasy, poetry, the occasional non-fiction tome. I do like mysteries and I pick them up on occasion. If truth be told, I’ve read the entire mystery series of only one author—Sue Grafton.

I finished Y a few months back and immediately began to anticipate Z. I had a lot of questions about Z. How would Ms. Grafton wrap things up? Would Kinsey take an early retirement and move to an exotic locale? (She seemed too matter-of-fact for that.) Would her readers have to suffer through the deaths of Henry and the sibs (Grafton swore she’d never do this.) Would Kinsey finally find the right guy? (I doubted it.) Would she take a break, only to be dragged into another dubious situation requiring her expertise? (A strong possibility, I thought.) I began looking forward to Z, already hating the fact that I had another two or three years to wait. I was convinced it would be a zinger. I was guessing I wouldn’t guess exactly what Sue Grafton would do with her much-anticipated ending.

I began reading her alphabet series around 1990 (I was younger than Kinsey then). I quickly caught up to H or I, and a new routine began. As soon as the latest letter was released, I was on it. All sorts of things happened to me in-between letters, but I was always happy to resume Kinsey’s story. This steady – dependable – release of installments became something to anticipate—like the new school year or that first summer road trip. I’d go into Kinsey’s world for a few days or weeks and find new resolve. Kinsey reassured me. She helped me remember how a strong-minded woman can solve problems, make things happen, live a remarkable life.

The end of waiting for that next letter—looming anyway with the thought of Z—coincides with big changes in my own life. Old touchstones are dissolving on me. I can’t help but feel I’m entering a new era on a personal level—and in the global sense. The world feels, well… slippery. At the moment, I’m newly retired from higher education, and I’m not exactly sure where to put my energies. I’m also a writer (not really in Grafton’s vein) who does not expect to retire any time soon, though I’m not sure what I have to say is relevant any longer. There’s so much to sort through and make sense of—online and off. Everyone’s a writer. Everyone’s journalist. It’s hard to imagine my work surfacing, in any significant way, through all the nattering that’s going on. That said, there is certainly no shortage of problems to pick apart.

I won’t try to draw parallels between Kinsey’s life and my own (though there are a few). I will note, I admire the way Grafton decided to break the mold when she created her famed character. She gave us a heroine who grapples with her times, not to mention a crime-ridden world—a woman who doesn’t think it’s strange that she is the action figure. Kinsey finds the courage to be her own person in the face of “how it has always been done.”

My favorite Kinsey character trait is her unwillingness to be cowed by fashion trends. She gravitates toward comfort, eschewing the sort of wardrobe that would have helped her gain entrance into the yuppie world. Remember, the word yuppie was being tossed about during the eighties, the decade during which Grafton’s alphabet series takes place. The fight for comfortable apparel for busy females was a “discussion” in those days, one Jockey took advantage of when they created their briefs for women. Though Kinsey is not one to stick in a box, PC or otherwise. She probably prefers sexy underwear. Kinsey is far being a yuppie with her studio apartment and VW bug. She makes use of community resources to do her work, returning to the library frequently to check the reverse directory in search of addresses. She hunts for significant public records printed on good old-fashioned paper. She keeps track of her hunches on index cards, moving them about before her, hoping answers will surface.

Grafton was quick to discuss her decision to let Kinsey age slowly, thereby keeping her in a pre-Internet world. I was happy to meet with the private investigator there. This wasn’t because I had so much nostalgia for the eighties. It was Kinsey’s authenticity that mattered. What drew me to her all those years ago had nothing to do with how well she might have kept up with technology (I’m sure she would have done a credible job). It was her take on the world that got me. She had her predispositions. She wasn’t always kind. She lived her own mores, that were far from perfect, though pretty sound. She was funny and self-deprecating, and she managed to get the job done! During those moments when I thought I’d never get out of some pedestrian bind, Kinsey’s brand of perseverance, often woven with moments of comfort-seeking, became a reassuring yardstick.

The alphabet series celebrates a remarkable person over new gizmos and slick scenes that are all action and no humanity. Readers become privileged to know Kinsey on the inside, not just her ability to knock a criminal flat. I loved spending time with this character, all of the quirky details that define her. Kinsey has been compelled to introduce me to her world—Santa Teresa and her ready-made family (Henry, the sibs, Rosie, and an occasional beau). And yes, it has been thrilling to watch her go after suspects. After all, action and suspense go hand in hand with what she chose to do in life.

I understand Sue Grafton was struggling to find the story of Z is for Zero as she undergoing cancer treatment. The book now remains an intention. I probably shouldn’t try speculate about Z, but I’m wondering if she would have turned a mudslide into a plot element for this final chapter (in Kinsey’s time and place, of course). Sue Grafton experienced her last weeks with the Thomas Fire raging. That must have been an eerie backdrop for anyone going through the dying process. While she did bring today’s increasing wildfire threat into her series, perhaps she would have expanded on the theme if she’d lived to survive this disaster. And the mudslides in Montecito following California’s largest fire to-date have been nothing short of shocking. I have no doubt Kinsey – wherever she ended up in her post-alphabet life – would have felt that deeply. Then she would have rolled up her sleeves and headed for Montebello.

 

 

Voice Break Now Available in a Kindle Edition

 

Voice Break Book Cover

Voice Break by Kari Wergeland
Kindle Edition
$2.99

I’m not sure how many people actually read poetry books in eBook format. Poetry is one genre that seems to demand the printed page. Still, I thought I’d experiment with an eBook version of Voice Break to see if readers prefer it to the paperback. That edition came out more than five years ago. Voice Break did receive some attention in a few media outlets in Oregon. It is now in a few libraries (probably donated review copies). Still, I couldn’t get my launch to garner a lot of attention. Voice Break is a self-published book. Enlisting CreateSpace to help me put the paperback together was an experiment, too.

Voice Break is a short memoir in verse about singing and writing. It focuses on setbacks, if not outright failure. It is also about getting back in the saddle. My adventures with singing and writing continue to unfold. Though I view writing as my first priority, singing has become a second art form for me (and this has been a huge surprise). I’ve just finished performing in a series of choir concerts on the Oregon Coast. I’m now looking forward to seeing what singing opportunities lie ahead. I have no doubt regular singing informs my writing, particularly the rhythms that bubble up as I compose poems. Strong rhythms aren’t only important for poetry. Good prose has interesting beats. As I write, I find myself trying to feel the rhythm of the words lining up inside my head. I listen for it, too.

I am timing the release of the Kindle edition of Voice Break in anticipation of the upcoming promotional launch of my new chapbook, Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts (Finishing Line Press). Breast Cancer won’t be available until mid-June, though I plan to begin plugging it in February. If I’m lucky, my publicity efforts will help with the prepublications sales of Breast Cancer, while also generating some interest in Voice Break (particularly the less expensive eBook). I guess I’m dipping a toe in on this: testing how Voice Break will do in electronic format. If I do find there is enough interest in the Kindle edition, I may also release The Ballad of the New Carissa and Other Poems as an eBook. To be completely honest, I’m hoping Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts will nudge me and my work firmly into traditional publishing, where I’d like to park my computer and stay a while.

Here’s the jacket blurb for Voice Break:

Following the advice of a community college music instructor, Kari Wergeland began taking voice lessons with a respected teacher at the age of 24. After roughly two years of study, with dubious results, she decided to stop singing. She began working as a librarian and eventually turned to writing newspaper articles, fiction, and poetry. Twenty years later, and on something of a whim, Wergeland enrolled in a workshop called The Natural Singer, with vocal coach Claude Stein. Inspired to resume voice lessons, it wasnt long before she discovered her singing had changed. Voice Break is a long poem of possibility that tells the story of the authors voice.

As an FYI, a shorter poem is embedded within the longer text of Voice Break; it’s titled “The Next Mountain: a Riddle.” This riddle poem actually has a specific answer, one that serves as a key to the entire piece. When I first put the manuscript together, I considered placing the answer at the end of the book, in case the reader became stumped. I decided against it, thinking poets don’t usually explicate their own work. Now I’m wondering if this decision was a mistake. I have a suspicion most readers didn’t assume there was a concrete answer to “The Next Mountain: a Riddle,” just a feeling tone. I have this suspicion because nobody ever suggested any answer to my face in an attempt to ask if they got it right! Ah well. The joy of self-publishing. It’s a learning curve, that’s for sure.

Special note to poetry aficionados who prefer good old fashioned printed books: I will be signing copies of Voice Break and The Ballad of the New Carissa and Other Poems in the Indie Author Pavilion at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 11, 10 am – 12 pm.

My First “Real” Chapbook (and What Happened After Voice Break)

I just got the news that prepublication sales for my first traditionally-published chapbook, Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts, will begin on February 20 through Finishing Line Press. I’m pretty excited about this, because I’ve waited a long time for my first book contract. I have four other book-length manuscripts in the wings, and I’m hoping this modest milestone will help me move forward with all of these projects.

Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts isn’t really my first book. My first book is Voice Break, a longer poem about singing and writing. I self-published it through CreateSpace after one of my MFA program advisors at Pacific University suggested I come up with a musical cover and publish it. Voice Break is the reason this blog exists at all. The decision to take the project into my own hands, in lieu of waiting for a press to accept it, may be viewed as jumping the gun. But I was almost 50 at the time, really ready to bring attention to my writing efforts.

Voice Break Book Launch at Toad Hall in Yachats, Oregon, April 22, 2012

Voice Break Book Launch at Toad Hall in Yachats, Oregon, April 22, 2012

The thing is, I’m still living Voice Break, an outcome I wouldn’t have anticipated in 2012, when the book came out. Back then, I saw this long poem as being an exploration of an earlier failure I never fully came to terms with: my haphazard attempt to become a singer. I didn’t necessarily expect to continue singing as an aging adult. Yet a late-bloomer, “lifelong learning,” exploration of voice has taken on a life of its own, even through the trials of cancer treatment. I work at my singing these days—not with any big goal in mind—but because it has been truly fulfilling.

Voice Break ends as the narrator is performing as a soprano choir singer for the very first time at the age of 48 (before this, the only choir she ever sang in was Fifth/Sixth Grade Chorus at Valley Oak Elementary School in Davis, California). This soprano singing opportunity came about after a long break from her earlier tango with voice training that ended badly when she was 26. Not only did she wipe out as a singer, she walked away convinced she wasn’t really a soprano, because she can sing low. Yet when she returns to the art form some twenty years later, “just for fun,” to work with a new voice teacher, she learns how to sing soprano well enough to hang in there with the Cuyamaca College Choir, not to mention the chorus of a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors.

 Here’s how this singing story has played out from there (details not found in Voice Break):

The following year, the narrator notices the other college in her community college district has a choir that is going to perform in The Nutcracker, accompanying the San Diego Ballet. She’s curious to learn if she can join this choir, known as the Grossmont Master Chorale. She auditions and gets in, but not a soprano—as an alto one. She knows she cans still sing soprano if she stays with the Cuyamaca College Choir (where she is also on the faculty), so she asks her voice teacher, Esther Jordan, which way she should go. Esther suggests that since the Grossmont Master Chorale is a more advanced choir, the narrator’s musicianship would most likely take several leaps—if she can survive the GMC performance schedule. The narrator ends up taking Esther’s advice. She gets through more than three years with the Grossmont Master Chorale, singing as an alto one, before she is sidelined by breast cancer.

The narrator takes time off from studying voice (and everything else) as she undergoes breast cancer treatment. She wonders if she is done with singing, especially during the misery of chemotherapy. She does continue to work on her writing, particularly a long poem about her experiences with breast cancer. But once her life is back in order, she resumes voice lessons with Esther for a few more months, before retiring from the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (in El Cajon, California). She plans to take a break on the Oregon Coast to work on her health, write, and regroup.

Shortly after arriving in Oregon, she is pleased to note the Central Coast Chorale is holding auditions. She shows up and offers herself as either an alto one or a soprano two. The Central Coast Chorale lets her in—they place her in the soprano two section (remember, the narrator hasn’t performed as a soprano since 2011). Instead of dealing with the break altos face, the one that plagued her in her 20s (as detailed in Voice Break), the narrator is encountering the passaggio that flips singers off the treble clef. As an aside, the narrator no longer cares about voice type—she just enjoys the thrill of performing with an ensemble. As she practices with her new choir, she works hard to remember what Esther has taught her about the passaggio, particularly how she needs lighten her sound across this break, so that it doesn’t pop out at the conductor. She hasn’t noticed many frowns—so far so good!

The Central Coast Chorale will be performing its annual Wishes and Candles Holiday Concert on December 8, 14, and 15 in Lincoln City, Newport, and Yachats. For more information, see the flyer below.

CentralCoastChorale

Holiday Concerts on the Oregon Coast

I’ll be singing in a series of concerts on the Oregon Coast next month.

CentralCoastChorale

That’s My Farmer!

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I’m taking a breather on the Oregon Coast so I can regroup after months of breast cancer treatment, retiring from higher education, and a major move. I’m not really starting over in this location—I’ve lived here part-time for some 19 years. The push to roll in for this current leg took some doing—months of it. I didn’t try to reflect on the state of my life until I was finally settled and feeling cozy. I do have a number of writing projects on my plate, which I quickly unloaded and began to tackle. Yet one morning, I found myself staring at the blank calendar on my wall, only to experience a major moment of, “Now what?”

I was pleased when the opportunity to join the Central Coast Chorale surfaced, as the choir has added some structure to my free-flowing schedule. Then a friend sent me information on That’s My Farmer, a nutrition and wellness program for cancer survivors. This set of workshops is designed by Samaritan Cancer Resource Centers, located in Albany and Corvallis. While That’s My Farmer has been successful in the Willamette Valley for several years, it is new to the central coast.

It didn’t matter that I received my cancer treatment at Moores Cancer Center in San Diego. All cancer survivors are welcome to enroll (the fee is nominal: $20). Upon arrival, I was immediately surprised by this forward-thinking course which pairs Samaritan Cancer Resource Centers with the local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement—in other words, local farmers. Indeed, the best part of the program proved to be the CSA boxes of luscious locally grown organic produce. Every participant received a new box each week—the specific contents were always a surprise, which added a fun element.

One of the reasons I’m taking time off is this gut feeling I have around the need to rethink aspects of my life, particularly diet, exercise, and emotional well-being. Fortunately, the team responsible for That’s My Famer included a registered dietician, health trainers, and a medical social worker. These speakers covered a range of topics pertinent to my concerns: anti-inflammatory diets, fitness, stress reducers, and mindful eating.

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I was already in the know about how fresh vegetables might help my body fight cancer; yet I was fascinated to learn about a new nutritional pyramid. The last time I checked, the food pyramid was buttressed by a nutritional group focused on bread, cereal, rice, and pasta (as recommended by the USDA). However, there is a newer food pyramid under discussion, one designed with a foundation of vegetables. Our dietician, Athena Nofziger, specifically extolled the value of heaping half of one’s plate with veggies. She went on to say a quarter should include a protein dish—a quarter can be devoted to starch.

While I did glean plenty of useful information from these weekly presentations, I particularly enjoyed the informal conversations centering on “what people did with their box of produce last week.” During the first session, participants were given an instructive cookbook, Farm-Fresh and Fast: Easy Recipes and Tips for Making the Most of Fresh, Seasonal Foods by FairShare CSA Coalition (2013). In addition, our presenters passed out informational sheets centering on specific vegetables, the “Local Pick of the Week,” if you will.

One participant had never cooked with chard; one didn’t like beets; one had never eaten leeks; one was at a loss for what to do with a fresh fennel bulb. We were all charged with coming up with creative ways to incorporate this healthy fresh stuff into our meals. The discussions resulting from our homework proved to be though-provoking, because attendees really did roll up their sleeves and experiment with ways to break out of old patterns. For example, one woman made a chocolate cake using her beets as a key ingredient. Several others expressed enthusiasm over the fresh pesto they whipped up. A lot of soups were concocted—salads, too.

For my part, I enjoyed moving away from my usual cooking ruts, which in my old life often included not cooking at all (AKA going out for a meal). I actually like to cook, but not when my days are crazy-busy. This slower-paced “schedule” has afforded me time for leisurely tinkering in the kitchen. I didn’t want all of that good food to go to waste, so I ended up eating way more vegetables than I usually do.

OK, I’m not sure if I’ll ultimately change my dietary habits for good. I’m bound to get back into the fray at some point and live a more stressful life, which means my new diet could easily fall by the wayside. For now, I’d like to continue mulling over fresh organic produce, so I can figure out what to make of it.

America’s Little Theaters

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My first “arty” movie theater was the Bijou in Eugene, Oregon (officially, Bijou Art Cinemas). I experienced this uncanny space shortly after it opened in 1980—I’d just become a freshman at the University of Oregon. I usually attended the Bijou with new friends, the people I was meeting on campus. We were delighted by the fact that the cinema was housed in an old funeral home. Sitting in that drafty building with Italian Gothic vaulted wood ceilings, one could not help but think of coffins. But that didn’t prevent me from becoming a fan of foreign films. It felt like these movies were hard to come by—like only a lucky few got to view them, because they weren’t being shown all over town. It was particularly satisfying to describe one of these flicks to someone who’d missed it. You’ve just got to see… You knew they’d probably never get the chance.

I continued to covet quirky movies houses after I moved to Seattle, and then later, San Diego. By then such theaters were being called independents. Only larger cities and college towns seemed to offer them, not to mention the independent movies they screened. It was sad to watch some of these theaters eventually close as people began forgoing cinemas in favor of home-viewing.

I must admit, I enjoy binge watching as much as anyone else, but I still manage to make my way to the movies when I’m in the mood to get out of the house. I’ve got my fingers crossed Americans will continue to support their movie theaters, even the larger chains. While the home-viewing experience has improved dramatically, it can’t always match the grandeur of the big screen. Some films are just better up there.

Last winter I discovered The Minor Theatre in Arcata, California. It originally opened in 1914 and claims to be one of the oldest movie theaters in the country. Needless to say, it’s gone through a number of incarnations. It was once even in danger of becoming a parking lot. These days, the Minor Theatre has been retrofitted to offer extra leg room, not to mention little tables for the enhanced concessions they sell in the lobby: microbrews, wine, pizza, wraps, baked goods, and the usual theater fare, including upscale hot dogs. It was an icy winter night—I was happy as a clam.

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Now that I’ve begun my retirement on the Oregon Coast, I expect The Bijou Theatre in Lincoln City (not affiliated with the Bijou in Eugene) to be a welcome respite from the rainy days soon to commence. It’s the only theater in miles offering independent films on a regular basis. It is also an old theater—it opened in 1937 as the Lakeside Theatre—that has been retrofitted and brought up-to-date, though it has plenty of arty touches. The women’s bathroom harkens back to an earlier era of coffee houses, while the cozy lobby showcases movie posters, old and new. All tickets for regular features cost $7.00 (most of the time). The concessions are reasonably priced, too.

I will say the audience is often, well… pretty gray. I’ve been noticing this phenomenon in other audiences—at dance concerts, music performances, and plays. This sea of gray is loud in the little theaters of America’s larger cities, not just places where there are a lot of retirees. Younger people seem to have brushed off live worlds in favor of something else. The strange thing is, this country boasts a lot of worthy, if not prestigious, schools that train people to how to act, dance, sing—play music. And there are plenty of people who still seem to want to learn how to perform. If this graying trend continues, maybe these younger artists will have to settle for the stage that appears on in-home screens.

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Eclipse!

IMG_2264It’s a clear morning on the central Oregon Coast, the first one in a while. We’re hoping for a similar weather pattern a week from now, when the solar eclipse moves to barrel across the country (in actuality, the planet will turn, like it always does, beneath the eclipse). The spectacle will hit the Oregon Coast first, crossing a section that spans from Waldport to a stretch of coastline above Pacific City.

People around here have been bracing themselves. Roads, parks, and area establishments are already overrun with extra tourists. Nightmare traffic is being predicted for next weekend (these tales are mildly reminiscent of predictions I once heeded when Y2K was looming). I’m hoping to avoid a traffic jam on Highway 101 by making it into the area of totality the night before the moon blocks our morning light. On the Oregon Coast, lots of people have been fretting about fog or low clouds getting in the way of the whole show. Today, however, the weather forecast for Newport on August 21 reveals a happy sun. Let’s hope this icon remains nice and yellow.

On Sunday night, I’ll be attending a slumber party consisting of three women who don’t want to drive on the day of the eclipse. In the morning, we plan to have breakfast with friends of the hostess of this said party, so we can all view the eclipse from their eastward facing back deck. Sounds like as good a plan as any.

Normally, I would be back at work by now, kicking off the new semester at Cuyamaca College, in El Cajon, California. I’ve just become a full-time writer (a.k.a. retiree). It’s strange to consider my former coworkers, the ones still living in my old routine. It’s even stranger to think about my own schedule, the unknowns before me. Writing is one of my reasons for this recent passage. And I have been writing most days. I’m particularly happy with two submissions that were born of intensity only a significant amount of time could have brought about.

I’ve also got a number of short stories going, some poems, plus the first draft of a novel that should keep me grappling a while. Yet my works-in-progress pretty much recount worlds I encountered as a working woman. Indeed, my work life has proven to be fodder for much of what I have to say, in my fiction, anyway. Now that I have so much free time, I’m wondering where new material will come from. While my surroundings are gorgeous, the pace of life here is slow. Certainly, my imagination will continue to reach back to earlier times for nuggets that will help me round out this story or that poem. But what about current vicissitudes? Yes, I will spend time with a tribe of people who volunteer, work on their health, travel, and natter in coffee houses. I’ve already joined the Central Coast Chorale. I’m not suggesting there won’t be stories in these dimensions, but I’ve just released a big chunk of me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my days in higher education kept my self-esteem whole. I had my place on a fine team—we were accomplishing something. I was continually learning new technologies. I worked at developing my teaching style. I enjoyed the college culture—the camaraderie I experienced with passionate educators. I don’t regret my decision to retire, but I do feel the need to remake the fabric of my life so that I actually have something to say.

I will note, the solar eclipse has already made its way into one of my short stories. While my character has decided to walk some eight miles along the beach to Waldport, in order to get into the area of totality, she still doesn’t know what this event will mean for her life. Hopefully her creator will come up with something after she experiences the little gathering on the back deck of the home of these folks she hasn’t yet met, the ones living in Newport.

Update (8/21/17) Newport, Oregon, comes through!