Review – A Different Kind of Fire

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In her debut novel, A Different Kind of Fire, Suanne Schafer weaves a compelling tale of a young woman’s struggle to become an artist. The story kept me cheering for Ruby Schmidt on every step of her journey from young love in rural Texas to art school in sophisticated 1890s Philadelphia.

Ruby loses everything dear to her in the process of leaving home, training as an artist, and having love affairs with a woman and a man. Page after page one wonders how she’ll overcome the high cost of following her dreams. It’s easy to identify with Ruby’s struggle to be true to considerable talents in spite of pregnancies and failed relationships. The book provided a fascinating glimpse of how times were different in the past and reminders that so many of life’s challenges for women haven’t changed that much in more than a hundred years.


An Evening with Stormy Daniels

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Stormy Daniels Stormy Daniels burst on stage to the sounds of “American Woman” at her Rancho Cordova show at Gold Club Centerfolds. What was I doing there? The chance to see a woman who stood up to Donald Trump had piqued my interest to the point that I bought tickets to the show. In this era, the United States is a theater that includes a porn actor and movie director who allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump. I just couldn’t resist.

It wasn’t hard to convince my male friend to accompany me. We had arrived early to secure good seats. The large venue had a stage with a couple of highly-polished brass poles. A dozen upholstered chairs lined the edge of the stage and others surrounded small circular tables. A hostess had directed us toward a good viewing area. Stormy would perform in an hour.

While we waited, a series of naked dancers performed. Besides the on-stage entertainment, the off-stage action was intense. Working the room were about 20 college-age women dressed in thongs, string-like bras, and high-heeled platform shoes. A woman would sit next to a solo man, touch him on the shoulder or leg, and appear to listen attentively to whatever he had to say.

Now and then a dancer and man stood up and strolled toward the hallway with a red neon sign indicating the entrance to the “Platinum Room.”  I peered down the hall and discovered an ATM machine; a convenience for someone who might need last minute cash on his visit to this mystery room with a nearly naked woman.

The middle-aged general manager who wore black tailored pants and a black and white checked blazer visited our table. My friend asked her to explain the entryway sign that indicated the regular dancers don’t get paid by the club. The women, she said, are independent contractors who run their own businesses; the women pay the club to work there, not the other way around. Days later I considered whether the regular dancers made the equivalent of minimum wage and whether they had health insurance.

But that evening, Stormy Daniels held our attention.  Moments after her entrance, Daniels whipped off her full-length sequined red, white, and blue cape to reveal a star-studded Wonder Woman type bra. Blue and red lights flashed.

After a few more seconds passed, her top and the blue thong slid off.  Piece by piece, the costume went missing. Stormy caressed one pole, strutted across the stage, and climbed up and down the other one.

She did acrobatics, got down low on the stage, rolled this way and that, face-up and facedown, and waved her tail. Finally, she raised a plastic bottle over her head and squeezed a pink liquid down her body.

As she crawled to the edge of the stage, men and women drew closer—a scene similar to what had we seen with the local dancers. She wagged her breasts on men’s faces. Guests plastered bills to her wet skin. The show was short, but I’m not complaining. Nothing about Stormy Daniels was left to the imagination. Although she didn’t say a word on stage, she told her story in her recently published book, Full Disclosure.

I admire her tenacity in winning the right to talk about Donald Trump, fighting and gaining release from a non-disclosure agreement. Her battle contributed to public discussion and debate about that type of contract.

After the show, we talked to one of the couples in our age bracket — the over-50 crowd. The wife said they had come to the show to view a newsmaker who won’t be forgotten soon.  Those were my thoughts exactly.

Like many people, I tend to judge others by their actions and myself by my intentions. Without question, some of the ticket holders came to see Stormy Daniels in the buff, but others, like me, were there out of wonderment over a woman who stood up to power. My curiosity was satisfied. After all, there was no mystery here. On stage and in her book, Stormy Daniels exposed a great deal. And for 40 dollars, I bought a glimpse of history.

“An Evening with Stormy Daniels” appeared as a guest commentary in the October 14, 2018 edition of the Davis Vanguard, an online news magazine.


Fast Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life Story in 45 Hours by Rachael Herron

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Rachael Herron’s new book Fast Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life Story in 45 Hours gives an aspiring writer the feeling of having Rachael as a navigator on the road to finishing the first draft of a memoir. The essence lies in the way she teaches the writer how to write a fascinating book rather than a boring one.  Herron steers writers toward drafting an engaging memoir by either covering a specific passage of time in one’s life or by composing chapters based on a theme. She provides precise step-by-step instructions together with ample expressions of sincere confidence in the writer’s ability to follow her guidance.

Writers differ on the value of revising one’s work along the way or waiting until a first draft is completed. On this question, Herron is firmly in the camp of finishing a first draft before moving on to revise one’s work.

With the help of Herron’s advice, a person can stop careening across the writing highway, make forward progress between the lines, and successfully complete the first draft of a memoir. Now if only I can follow her advice.

Finding peace

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Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. —Dalai Lama


Key West, Florida. On Key West’s Duval Street, I meandered past the trendy boutiques, seedy bars, and an array of restaurants, including Jimmy Buffet’s original Margaritaville. This was American kitsch at its best.

When I noticed something different — a banner outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church announcing the “Drepung Gomang Tibetan Monks Sacred Art Tour” — I turned away from the steady stream of winter visitors and stepped inside the sanctuary.

Monks - Outside banner

A cosmos away from the outside world, Buddhist monks labored over the creation of a brilliantly colored sand mandala. Seated on a platform on the sanctuary floor directly below the wooden crosses and cerulean blue stained glass windows, the monks from southern India, applied millions of particles of dyed sand to a peace mandala.

The sand, colored with vegetable dyes or opaque tempera, was poured onto the mandala platform with a narrow metal funnel called a chakpur which was scraped by another metal rod to cause sufficient vibration for the grains of sand to trickle out of its end. The two pieces of the chakpur symbolize wisdom and compassion. In the sand mandala ceremony, I found threads of wisdom for life and more compassion for others and myself.

The monks dedicated a week to the construction of the compassion mandala. As I watched the monks at work, a church volunteer explained that the Mandala sand would be swept up and deposited into the sea in a few days.

According to the monks, students of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the sand mandala is a vehicle to generate compassion. The mandala’s construction and deconstruction is intended to help people realize the impermanence of reality.

As the sands journey around the world through rivers and oceans, the process  is also meant to promote the lofty goal of a cosmic  healing of the environment.

Monks 1 Flags inside

On Sunday afternoon the monks, along with spectators, traveled to the Key West harbor where the sand was ceremonially poured into the sea to spread the healing energies of the mandala throughout the world. Some of that healing energy must have reached me that day.

I mentally swept up the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years that I spent with loved ones who are no longer present in my life and imagined pouring the memories into the ocean.

Just as the monks intended, the sand mandala experience helped me move a bit closer to embracing  the temporary nature of our lives.

The current carried away the sands of the mandala. Some of the sand may be washed back ashore at Key West  while other particles will reach distant shores. Maybe the monks have it right and the sand will spread healing energy throughout the world.

Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile. —Franklin P. Jones




Acceptance 101, Making a God Box

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I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess. Martin Luther


One year when I was enrolled in Self-Pity 101 and deeply involved in my studies, a close friend who belonged to a 12-Step program invited me to a women’s weekend at the Ralston White Retreat in Marin County. I doubted that her program could do a better job than mine of addressing my top concern – myself—but I agreed to attend because the destination intrigued me.

The historic house, now a retreat, was nestled in the redwoods. I arrived on a wet, windy Saturday mooning in December. Long branches of moss-laden redwoods swayed as a storm ripped through Northern California.


That afternoon, rain pounded against the picture windows while I sat on a sofa in a workshop on God Boxes. I listened to thirty-something Jessie, who held a cigar box covered with a collage of paint, photos, and rice paper. She said, “My God Box holds the problems I turn over to my high power.”

I crossed my legs and amused myself by rolling my ankle and counting the times it circled around. This craft project might be a misplaced belief in magic. A decorated container seemed as helpful as magic underwear. That is, not at all.

Perhaps my problems were far from one-of-a-kind. Yet I pouted privately that even so, they were worse than anyone else’s because my children left to live with their father after our divorce, leaving my nest emptier earlier than other mothers’ empty nests. I held tight to my self-pity.

As if she read my mind, Jessie laughed and pushed back her dark, curly, long hair. “Everything I’ve let go of has claw marks on it.” That caught my attention. She shared her story about leaving a physically abusive partner and struggling with alcohol, coming across happy and calm. I wanted the peace she had.

Jessie shared a quote from Martin Luther, “I have held many things in my hands and have lost them all, but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.

She continued, “A God Box holds that which one places in God’s hands: unsolved problems, unanswered questions, sorrows, and unrequited love—the things you wish to let go of and give to God.”

“On a slip of paper, write a sentence, please, or a single word about the relationship or any other concern that seems to have no solution,” she said. “In so doing, a ritual is created that will help you let go and turn it over to God. You can more easily let go after making a symbolic gesture of turning over the concern to God.”

I moved to the long table with magazines, glued a copy of Martin Luther’s quote on the inside lid of a box, and made my own God Box.

The words I wrote on two slips of paper were the names of my daughter and son. When I tucked the papers inside the God Box, I recalled Jessie’s words, “Life has its mysteries and I am not in charge.”

As we finished our boxes, Jessie said, “You may say it’s only a box, but it’s no small thing to make a ritual of letting go. Whatever you place in your god Box, you turn over to the Divine.”

That weekend I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about my son and daughter. They were on their own paths. I still missed then, but I started accepting the fact that their lives no longer revolved around me.

Having two incredible children who are healthy and pursuing their own forms of happiness was truly a blessing whether or not the children, now adults, visited me as often as I would have preferred.

My situation was a slice of the human condition, a drama, yes, but a plain vanilla one because almost all parents wish to see more of their children. I started seeing myself as not so unique, but as a parent among parents, a mother among mothers.

Life wasn’t all about me. After all, the children were ok; they loved me, and I loved them. They were healthy and busy following their dreams. I felt truly blessed.

Driving home, I surveyed the sun-kissed landscape and decided it was time to enroll in acceptance 101.

The Sonoma Coast State Park, Pure Bliss for Max

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Max and I found dog heaven on a recent trip along the California coast. The Sonoma Coast State Park offered a choice of more than half a dozen different beaches, all of them dog-friendly,

The seventeen-mile stretch of sandy beaches, secluded coves, and craggy rocks that form the park is located less than a two hour drive north of San Francisco. oOn our late January trip I searched for a beach with just the right kind of access. The parking lot needed to be close to the shore. Yes, lazy me wanted an easy stroll to the beach, but that wasn’t the only reason. As soon as Max exited the car and sniffed the sea, he would be prone to leaping off tall rocks to get to the water, a feat he tried some years back.

On that initial visit Max was an energetic two-year-old  who had never before seen the ocean. His enthusiasm knew no bounds. We had parked high above the sea and descended a narrow trail to reach the beach a thousand feet below. Scrub brush enclosed the trail most of the way so Max couldn’t see the water.

  • img_1408But then, when the trail widened atop a huge boulder, the ocean came into plain sight. There was also a remaining drop in elevation of twenty feet between us and the beach. The sight of Pacific Ocean triggered Max’s instinctive love of water. He flew into the air straight off the rock.

I stared at Max, frozen in shock. My mind registered the seconds between his leap and his landing as a slow motion movie. My heart pounded with fear that many of poor Max’s bones were about to shatter. To my amazement, he landed, shook himself, and raced to the surf. He happily immersed himself in the sea.

Over and over, Max ran into the waves and back to me, wagging his wet tail with joy. The ocean was his holy grail and he had found it.

img_1404But this year, Max was older and calmer. The trek to the shore was uneventful. I walked along the sun-splashed sandy beach while Max sniffed at the kelp and crab shells.

Intrigued by the magnificence of the surf crashing ashore and curling back to the sea, I failed to notice the black sand beneath my feet was wet for a reason. With little warning, one of the mesmerizing magnificent waves rumbled toward us nonstop. Foaming saltwater swirled wildly over and around my previously dry feet and legs. All the warnings to be aware of the dangers of fast moving waves are true. Fortunately, this was a fairly small wave.

While I scampered away from the ocean, Max pranced away without even getting wet. At the end of our morning at the beach, Max was sandy but perfectly dry. This year I was the wet one.

Many websites offer helpful information. This one is comprehensive:  The Sonoma Coast State Park.

The Tideline is edited by Marianna Shearer.