Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Radio Woman

So I'm going to be on the radio this Friday, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on KVNI AM 1080. Kerri Thoreson set it up. Thanks, Kerri! And Joe Paisley will be interviewing me. Joe and I talked today. He sounded like he thought I was nice, what with my KNIFVES movie networking group, and my baseball novel and all. So I said, "By the way, I'm a lawyer." I figured full disclosure was important before we met in person.

You can listen to the program Friday morning at 7 a.m. on the radio at AM 1080 here in the Inland Northwest, or at the station's website at http://www.kvni.com/.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baseball Days

So last Saturday, I spent selling baseball novels again - this time, it was at a Spokane Indians game. The Indians had a five-game series at home against the Eugene Emeralds. They split it, 3-2. They lost the last game of the series, and the second one. We were at the second one. I wondered (until the fifth game, when I saw the headline the next morning) whether they would end up losing only one game - the game when I was there. People become known as jinxes, in such scenarios! But no such (bad) luck. Instead, just good baseball.
We sold over 10 books - about 13 total. The book's been out long enough that a number of people came by to tell me they had the book, enjoyed it, and wanted to let me know. That was a particularly nice way of finding out.

The game was going well - or so it sounded (as I sat outside the first base entrance, relegated to my table) - until I came back in the crowd. That's when the Emeralds went on a scoring streak. (Oops. Maybe I should have stayed out by my table, even in the dark.)

There were fireworks again (as there were two weeks ago). This time, the Indians didn't sit and watch. Perhaps it mattered whether they won or lost. Maybe this past Saturday, after the loss, the team wasn't in the mood to watch celebratory fireworks.
But before I went into the stadium to watch the game - around the third inning or so - a bi-plane, like a World War I style plane, flew over. At the American Legion World Series, that happened on both nights that I was there (Sunday and Tuesday). So - three times in a week. Nice. Someone, it seems, is flying high.

In fact, it could have been this very biplane -

photo credit: Ryan Pemberton - posted (with detailed information) by Tom Harnish, found here

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Memory Keepers

They're called keepsakes, or memorabilia. But for me, they're the things I have around the house to keep present with my memories...

The other day, I received a thank-you note from one of my nieces for a birthday gift I sent her. I felt a pang of guilt, because I'd never sent a thank-you note for the birthday gift I'd gotten a couple months ago from her (and my sis and her older sister). But it was a picture frame, and I had been waiting to get a photo to put in the frame so I could take a photo of it and send it along with my note. I wanted a photo from the last Christmas holiday - a photo of my two nieces and 2-year-old nephew. I knew a photo like that existed. I just didn't have a copy. So the note got delayed. (Please know this doesn't mean that I'm predictable about writing thank-you notes. I'm not - unlike my nieces, who are amazing.)

So then I thought - I may not have written the note, but I think about their gifts every day. This is because I've placed those gifts all over the house - on shelves, in corners, wherever the gift looked nice. And I thought - they don't even know that! Connecticut is a long way from Washington, and there is a whole group of them and just one of me, and so typically I see them by going out to Connecticut, and not the other way around. They did come one year, at the Christmas holidays - about eight years ago now. So they do know the structure of my house. But they haven't seen which rooms I've painted since then, or how I've decorated with their gifts...

So I sent them an email yesterday, saying "this is where I've put" this and "where I've put" that. I had about seven or eight pictures in all - and that didn't even capture everything! One of the photos that I sent was this one, of the gingerbread house that they made back eight years ago on their visit here. Yes, it's trying to fall apart, eight years later - but there's no way I can do anything but keep it on a shelf to remember that trip, and how sweet they were as they put it together:

And here's a photo of the frame from this past birthday. This is, in fact, my niece-and-nephew corner - I set it up that way on purpose - so almost all the knicks, and definitely all the knacks, come from one or the other of them (and the hippo was a gift from 13 years ago from my soon-to-be-30-year-old nephew who won it in a Las Vegas carnival contest of some sort. I watched him win it, cheered him on, and then he just turned around and gave it to me - such a good nephew):

And here is a photo of my mantel - on it is a blue glass crystaled pyramid that my younger niece gave me last winter - there it is, right in front of a green-dyed gourd that I got when a group of us (including my nieces) went on a cruise in Alaska, back a couple summers ago. It's a nice line-up of memories up there on the mantel, because both the pyramid and the gourd make me think of my nieces:

And speaking of Alaska.... off to the side from the mantel, on top of my built-in book shelves, is another Alaska memory. It is a blue glass I got on the ship. There was a special one night - for $10, you bought a particular liquor (as much as you wanted), and the glass for it. Great deal, right? So I spent the ten dollars, and picked out a glass - I had a choice, I went with blue - and then at the end of the trip, I brought home the glass - carefully, carefully - and put in on this shelf (one of my favorite shelves in the house - full of life and color). Can you see it in the foreground there? It keeps the memory well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Oklahoma Outlaws

The Outlaws stole the win last night, in the American Legion World Series finale.

And when I say "stole," I mean it in the most positive of terms. Those kids stole every base out there, including home. They played scrappy, and they won two games against the up-until-then undefeated Eden Prairie, MN team. They deserved the title, in the end.

And when I say "stole home," I don't mean from just an errant throw to second or something. One player decided to steal home on just a regular pitch. It took everyone by surprise - including the pitcher and catcher for Eden Prairie. And he made it! Safe. Amazing. And then another Outlaw who had just gotten a walk, and was acting like he was settling into first base, just took off and landed on second instead. Apparently the ball had still been in play, and the pitcher had not yet settled into the mound...

And for as miserable as a game that it turned out to be for Minnesota - set of games, actually - they did have some highlights. There was one throw to home where the catcher had to leap for the ball but was able to defend the plate anyway and tagged out the Outlaw running home. And then there was the eighth inning. There was one out, with Outlaw runners on first and third. The first base runner went to steal second, and the catcher threw the ball and got him tagged out. And the second base man immediately threw the ball to home - anticipating, by now, the third base runner's intention to steal home in that circumstance - and somehow the catcher tagged out that runner as well. So it was a double play, and the inning was over. Eden Prairie had finally figured out Oklahoma's methods. It was too late in the game to make a difference for the final score. But it had to have been nice for the Minnesota kids to have that play.

As I've written in recent posts, the American Legion World Series was in Spokane for the first time in its 85 years. I went out to the ballpark on Sunday and Tuesday for book signings, with net proceeds going to the Legion's World Series efforts. We raised a total of $300 from 39 book sales for the Legion (which is all proceeds except the wholesale cost of the book to me). So it was a nice roundup. And people from all over the country purchased the book, which is nice. A few umpires too! I told them to watch for the book's scenes with umpires. There are a couple fun ones.

There was another flyover last night of a World War I era plane. It wasn't announced, or expected. We all looked to the sky when it happened. People softly clapped, too. A surprise, but a nice one. And perfect, for a Legion event.

For as much as the games last night were not seriously in question, the skill of the players was something to watch - from both teams. Attitude, too, was admirable (for the most part). (I did see a couple jabs between players. But these are kids. They're learning too.)

Perhaps attitude is always improved on the field if you have to say a Sportsman Code before every game. This is the one that the Legion has - that they read to the players before each game - and that they had each team captain read to each of their teams, in front of everyone, before the first game last night:

I will
keep the rules
keep faith with my teammates
keep my temper
keep myself fit
keep a stout heart in defeat
keep my pride under in victory
keep a sound soul, a clean mind, and a healthy body

Words to live by. In fact, perhaps we all should say this Code every morning, the moment we wake up.

Next up: book signing at the Indians' game this coming Saturday. Fireworks night!

Monday, August 16, 2010

American Legion Baseball

Well, that was exciting!

In yesterday's blog, I talked about how I was going to a book signing yesterday out at the Spokane Indians' baseball field, which is currently being used for the American Legion's 85th World Series. I was looking forward to it - my novel "Until The End Of The Ninth" is about the 1946 Spokane Indians team that died in a bus crash midway through the season. Eight of the nine who died had served in World War II in some capacity. I'm sure they also played American Legion ball, or would have wanted to play it. So signing books at the Legion's World Series - the first time it has ever come to Spokane - seemed like just the right thing to do.

I went. It was great. Great baseball, great people. Great plays. In one play, the second base man from Roseburg, Oregon bare-handed a grounder and then flipped the ball behind his back to his shortstop (since he didn't have an angle to first), who caught it and threw to first, just in time - well, just in time to make it a tie at first, so the runner was safe, by my oh my (as they say in the announcing world) - what a play. Everyone stood, including everyone from both benches, and gave him a standing ovation.

(Can I just say here, I think bare-handed it? I heard someone say that's what he did. It was spectacular, that much I know for sure.)

There were other highlights too. Great baseball! And there was a fly-over, before the start of the second game, of double-winged planes - like the ones used in World War I. There were four altogether, flying in unison. I thought of the 1946 baseball men - from World War II, not I - and thought what it would have meant to them, to have the World Series here, to have this flyover - a reminder of days gone by...

I sat right behind home plate, with a little table and a box of books, intensely in the sun, turning bright red, and people wandered past me with nary a look (or with an odd look, like "why's this woman in the way?" or "shouldn't she have some sunblock on?") and I thought, well at least I get to watch good baseball.

But then I sold a book. Hurray! To a man from Sandpoint, for his son who plays Legion ball.

And then the events organizer and I came up with the great idea of having the PA guy make an announcement over the loudspeaker, that I was there with the book and all. "Terrific book," he said during the announcement. (I didn't even give him that note!)

And that's when we sold 27 more. There was even a line. Very exciting.

All net proceeds are going to the Legion, so it was nice to be able to raise some money for the group. I'm going back on Tuesday for sure - which is the final game, the World Series finale - and maybe tonight (am going to try...).

I've heard much through the years about American Legion baseball. As I understand it, the organization gives kids a chance to play organized ball at increasingly skilled levels. As the linked article states, most major leaguers played American Legion ball at some point. And then they gather every year for a World Series, facing double elimination during the tournament itself. Here's a link to the main page of the American Legion, which is a veterans service organization.

What I loved yesterday was how they started each game with the American Legion creed - about health, and strength, and staying strong in defeat, and humble in victory... I can't find a copy of it on the Internet. Will try to write it down at the next game.

The two teams I'm rooting for - well, I root for all of them, and can't stand to see any of these kids lose - but if I have to choose two teams right now, they are the Roseburg, Oregon kids and the Minnesota team. Roseburg because it's the local team, Minnesota because I've been talking to all the Minnesota families (for some reason). And Minnesota brings me fond memories of the Duluth Dukes - the other minor league team that lost players in a bus crash, two years after the Indians' crash, in 1948. (Two bus crashes in two years, and then nothing more. Thank goodness.) I did a book signing at the stadium in Duluth back a couple years ago. Nice people.

So I hope to be out there at Avista Stadium tonight. And I definitely will be at the stadium for the game on Tuesday evening - or games, if there's more than one because of the double elimination system. I will be there from start to finish tomorrow evening for sure. And maybe tonight, I'll get a chance to sneak in for the game between - gasp - Oregon and Minnesota...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Spokane Events

On Friday, I received notice this weekend that Jive Five, a friend's band, was playing at the Garland Street Fair on Saturday. I'd heard of the fair but had never gone. It's the only blocked-off street fair in town, and is up in the Garland District - up north of the river by a mile or two. It's a place of history in Spokane - has the Milk Bottle restaurant, the old Garland Theatre that is still independent from the AMCs, and nooks and crannies of neighborhood shops. Its theme every year is "Wizard of Oz," because of Garland and Judy Garland. Fun.

Also on Friday, a friend of mine asked me if I'd gone out to the American Legion World Series games yet. The ALWS is in Spokane for the first time in its 80+ year history. It has only been in Washington three times before, each time in Yakima. My friend thought it would be a great opportunity for a book signing. I hadn't even thought of it, though I'd been reading about all that good baseball in the newspaper. It's odd that I didn't think of it, since I've been thinking about book signings recently. In fact, I've got one out at the Indians' stadium next Saturday, for fireworks night (another fireworks night).

So yesterday, I made it a Spokane day. First I headed to the baseball park - the ALWS is being held at the Indians' Avista stadium - and talked to the organizers about coming out for a book signing. I'll be there today for all three games. Fun! They'll even let me sit in a place where I can watch the games.

Then I headed over to the Garland Street Fair, in time to see the Jive Five play. They were so good! Almost a big band sound, with jazz thrown in. The sound is hard to describe, but I kept hearing people around me talk about how good they were. Definitely a treat.

Here's a hard-to-see-them photo of the Jive Five, at Garland and Post:

And here's a photo of the red boots I bought from the now-closed Ruby Slipper (a very cool, upscale shoe store in Spokane that went out of business but had a few shoes left to sell at the Fair). I felt a little bad about the great deal - but they are trying to clear out merchandise:

And then here's a very-bad photo of the Milk Bottle (off to the left) - which is a greasy spoon restaurant in the shape of a milk bottle - quite the conversation piece in the Garland District - also at the corner of Garland and Post, across from where the Jive Five was playing.

Here's a better photo of the Milk Bottle that I found on Flckr, coming at the restaurant from an opposite (and clearly better) angle, though not taken during the Fair itself. Photo credit goes to Christphre Campbell. Photo is found here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Billy McLaughlin - "Into the Light" - with update

A couple weeks ago, I bought a new CD - "Into the Light," by Bill McLaughlin. It's as wonderful as any of his other CDs - in fact, a little more wonderful, because of the title song.

As I listen to it, I can see Billy playing - my memory sees him, immersed, engrossed, lost on stage to the music.

It has been more than a decade since I saw Billy McLaughlin perform. But I can still see him, in my mind's eye, as I listen to his music.

Billy was born for this. He was a miracle musician - playing his own compositions that, for nearly any other guitar player, would require two guitarists. But for Billy, it took just one. I know that's what amazed so many - his ability to play on one guitar what should have taken two, or even three.

For me, it was the music. It sang into my heart - touched my soul - from soul to soul. The music had come from God to me through Billy, is how I felt. It was like having a conversation with God for me, to listen to Billy play. And yes, there was something miraculous about seeing him play in concert, because he did in fact play all the notes himself, almost with sparks flying from the guitar, almost beyond possibility. But the music itself is what compelled me to return.

"Into the Light" - now, finally, recorded under a CD of the same - was the first song I ever heard Billy play. He was at the Gardenia Center in Sandpoint, at their Sunday service. I happened to be at the service too. He was giving an introduction to his music that he would be playing that night in Sandpoint, and the next night in Spokane. And he started playing "Into the Light." That is where I went, with him. Into the light. I was mesmerized - hooked - had to bring a passel of people with me to the next night's coffee shop concert in Spokane... I bought a couple CDs, and hoped "Into the Light" would be on the next CD. Over the next couple years, I'd look for that CD, and at his Tour Schedule to see when he might be coming back to Spokane from his home in Minnesota....

and then, I lost track of him. There just was so little movement...

Turns out, in 2001, Billy was diagnosed with a disease called focal dystonia. It caused his left hand to seize up when he played the guitar. As he explains, he had symptoms for awhile. "Something had crept in ... into my hand, my wrist, my arm....an unwanted guest that wouldn't leave. I had no name for this visitor who caused my fingers to suddenly curl, caused the music to veer out of control as audiences cringed, caused my solo career to slowly (against all my stubborn nature) grind to a halt." As he also explains, he was almost relieved by the diagnosis, so he could know he wasn't going crazy. Yet it was devastating too. Though only on his left side (hence the modifier "focal"), it could ultimately spread throughout his body. Doctors told him to stop playing the guitar altogether. Instead, this left-handed guitarist decided to retrain his right hand to do what the left had been doing. And he has been on a long road since.

I didn't know any of this until recently. My heart broke for him when I heard. How does that happen? How does one of the most gifted guitarists on the planet come down with such a debilitating disease? Especially a musician whose music comes from such a place of purity....

I wondered - what is supposed to come from this? how is he supposed to use this? or - us? or - something.

I wasn't trying to put a rosy picture on it. I meant it. Music that comes from God, through a human body - there has to be a bigger picture purpose when that same body no longer can perform as it did.

It made me think of Beethoven, going deaf. He was deaf when he wrote his Ninth Symphony - his masterpiece - the first symphony to have a chorus in it (the fourth movement). In the end, his curse became our blessing. His lack of ability to hear outside noise seemed to transform him to a place where he could hear only purity instead. It was as though all his works - amazing in themselves - were just setting the stage for the Ninth.

Except... that's where Billy McLaughlin started... in that place of deafness - not that he ever had to lose his hearing - just that he already did keep the extra noise out when he wrote and played the music he had within. Or so it seemed to me.

Billy's situation also made me think of a passage from "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" - a book I have not read since I was a teen - that I probably couldn't get through today, as idealistic as it is (as I recall it). There is one part of that book that I've never forgotten. Jonathan is trying to figure out how to fly as fast as possible, so he dives from the highest of heights, only to break up at a certain speed. But then he comes up with the idea of pulling his wings into his body. This way, the wind can't pull on his outstretched wings - can't hold him back. It's a brilliant idea. A brilliant move. It works. Jonathan dives, and reaches an unbelievable velocity.

Except he hadn't thought ahead to imagine how to get out of such a fast dive once he got into it. And when he turns to pull himself out of it, he's going too fast. Instead of moving up and out, he crashes into the ocean like he's hitting a brick wall. We wonder if he's dead. He isn't, but almost.

That could have cured him from his desire to go so fast. But it doesn't. Instead, he realizes that he will need to adjust his turn out of his dive to accommodate his velocity. So he practices. And figures out that, at that speed, to change course doesn't require an entire flapping of wings. It only requires the flip of a couple feathers. He practices and crashes a few more times, until he has the formula set. He realizes that not only has he succeeded, but he has succeeded with ease. Once he made one part of his path easier, the whole path could follow, with similar ease, if he just imagined it. And now he could move to the next level.

With Billy, he's become a voluntary ambassador for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. There's a PBS special on him called "Changing Keys" (cool title - I'm trying to get Spokane's PBS channel to show it). And as for his music, he's added an orchestra. He continues to compose. In 2007, he generated the above-mentioned "Into the Light" cd - with orchestra. I'm so grateful to hear the music now, whenever I want, on my new CD.

Yes, he's retraining his right hand to do what his left hand could do before. But he's expanded his options too. And while he is not the only one to play his music anymore - at least at this time - not at one sitting, anyway... I wonder what else he might be able to do because his disability asks him to stretch there. I wonder - as he flies - what he will see and imagine to get him beyond, into all levels possible.

And I wonder what I can learn from his journey, as I listen to the first CD recording ever made of "Into the Light." I wonder where I'm trying to do everything myself - could just expand further if I allowed for more than just my individual effort - or a different, easier individual effort than how I am doing it now.

And as I listen to "Into the Light" - that one miracle composition that drew me in, from the beginning... As I listen to it, I can imagine what it might feel like, to fly always into the light.

UPDATE: CBS News just did a feature story on Billy (this a.m., May 27, 2011). Read the article and watch the video here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/27/earlyshow/main20066772.shtml

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fun Game!

Well, I did it - I finally went to my first Indians' baseball game of the season last night. It was such a blast. How in the heck did I delay going? They're always so much fun. The team is owned by the Brett brothers (including George of KC fame), and they have, for years, done a stellar job at the park with mixing fun, in-between-inning events with the beauty of the game itself.

Last night was no different. There's always something to watch. For instance, there is the new edition of Recycle Man. He runs through the stands towards the end of the game, collecting things to recycle. Here's his profile. Notice under school: "OF COURSE!" And favorite activities: Cleaning Up and Indians Baseball. Funny. Oh, and here's the photo I took of him - chased him down, in fact, to get it:

He couldn't make his normal heroic pose, because his hands were full of recyclable items - but maybe that's the most heroic pose of them all, since recycling is what makes him a hero in the first place.

And then, beyond Recycle Man and the like, the Indians won! 8-1. That was the great thing.

It was a fairly quiet game through the fourth inning - no scoring, almost no hits - and then Yakima, the visiting team, scored a run. A sense of panic rippled through the crowd. But for me, it was a good sign. "Now they'll have a fire lit under them," I told my friend Greg (who was there at the game with me). And by the first batter at their next at-bat, the Indians went on a scoring streak. Really, all they needed was something to fight for.

You knew things were going the way of the Tribe when the third base runner scored the third run for no apparent reason. I asked a guy sitting to my left - twice, because the first time I didn't understand his answer - if he saw what happened. His explanation was that the third base man had overthrown the pitcher. Oh. (I should have known he didn't know what he was talking about, since his reaction to my questions was to move to the other side of his wife, apparently so I no longer would be able to "interrogate" him!)

So this is what really happened. Apparently Yakima's pitcher asked for a time out, and the ump didn't allow it. So then the pitcher wanted a new baseball, and threw the one he had towards the Indians' dugout. Unfortunately for Yakima, that was still a live ball. So then the pitcher ran to chase it down (which dang ball is it, anyway??) and the runner ran on home while the pitcher was otherwise occupied.

Loved how they wrote it up in the newspaper today -

The capper for Spokane during a charmed night came during the fifth inning, when the Indians scored their third run and most people at Avista Stadium had no idea why....

Two walks, one passed ball, one wild pitch and one error later, Spokane led 2-1 and Santiago Chirino stood at third base.

That’s when confusion took over.

Wilson called for a timeout, but home-plate umpire John Silva didn’t grant it. Wilson then wanted a new baseball and threw the other one toward the Indians’ dugout. What he – and many fans – didn’t realize was that the ball was live.

“I looked away to say something to (Chirino),” said Indians manager Tim Hulett, who serves as the club’s third-base coach, “and the next thing I hear was somebody yelling, ‘Go get it!’ ”

Chirino scored as Wilson chased down the ball...

I thought of my friend Charlie last night (as I ran into other people I know) - who sat in the same seats for years, at these Indians game. He passed away a few short weeks ago. It was the only moment of sadness last night, thinking of how I couldn't wander down to Charlie's seat to say hello.

Getting the tickets in the first place had been a bit challenging. Turns out, Saturday night was fireworks night - one of those popular nights where the games sell out. When I came for tickets on Wednesday, the only ones left were waaaay out in left or right field. Sigh. After asking a variety of questions to make sure there were no other choices, I said, "Well, I did write the book." The guy helping me said, "You did?" I nodded. "You know." I said. "'Until the End of the Ninth.' The novel on the 1946 team." He smiled and nodded - he knew the book. "So...." I said, glancing at his ticket-generating computer, "are there any good tickets available now?" He dutifully looked at the computer again, and shook his head no. Well, I knew he was telling the truth the first time - but it didn't hurt to ask! In the end, I got tickets a couple days later in relatively decent seats because they freed up (from a group that ended up not using the entirety of their blocked-out seats). By then, of course, the guys in the ticket office knew I was the author (since I'd talked about it before). One thing led to another and, by the time I had left with my tickets, I had also left behind a signed copy of the book. Hey, if ever a group of people should have a free copy of my baseball novel, it's the guys running the Spokane Indians' ticket office.

After the game, there were fireworks. Spectacular! so much fun. They did a countdown on the scoreboard, down to "0", and then lights went out, and all was black for an instant before the fireworks began. As the show progressed, we noticed the Indians' team sitting on the grass in the dark, right outside their dugout. There they were, the team that had won the night, that deserved a moment of sparkle... As they sat, almost glowing in their stark white uniforms, intently yet casually watching the sky, I thought - they love the game. Just like the 1946 guys, just like any of the men that have played before them. They are playing for the love of the game, and as a team, and in this moment, they can rest. Everyone deserves a moment of rest.

I tried to take a picture of them, sitting there. But it didn't turn out. Maybe that's for the best. Maybe there was something there that just couldn't be captured on film.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Four Women Justices

It's official. Elena Kagan will take the oath today to be the 112th United States Supreme Court Justice - and the fourth woman ever. For the first time in this country's history, there will be three women justices sitting on the highest court at the same time.

It makes me think of all the women lawyers who have come before me - of the ones who very clearly were the first to mark an unmarked path for the rest of us to follow.

Elena Kagan is not one of the first - she is more like one of me (though 10 years ahead of me in legal seniority). But Sandra Day O'Connor? She is one of the originals. She graduated third from Stanford Law School in 1952, behind William Rehnquist (who graduated first), but she only got one job offer from private law firms upon graduation - and it was an offer as a legal secretary. She went into public service at that point, stayed there and, from there, became the first female Supreme Court justice in 1981.

That is where this all started - not in 1981, but decades earlier, on the backs of women who refused to let their spirits be broken by a profession unwilling to welcome them. We have those women to thank for our own law degrees and for our lighter paths. For no matter how challenging it has been to be a female lawyer in this still-male world (and trust me - it has been), our path has been easier because of women like Sandra Day O'Connor who long ago made the choice to enter the profession in the first place.

And now there are three more - all to serve at the same time. Justice O'Connor must be proud.

I met Justice O'Connor once, in Arizona, back in 1991. I was clerking for a 10th Circuit court judge at the time, and went to the circuit's annual conference that summer in Sedona, Arizona (the state where she lived most of her life). It was hot. Beautiful, but hot! She ended up having a special meeting with us, the handful of women who had attended the conference. Before that moment, I'd had my frustrations with her as a justice. I'd studied her opinions of course, and had shook my head at many of them. In that meeting, though, I fell in love with her. She was steady and clear. She spoke from the heart, with heart. I was so proud of what she'd done, how she had come from where she did, how she had faced down the naysayers back in 1952 and beyond. Funny that I was proud, like I somehow had helped her when I wasn't even born, but that was how I felt. And then she said how proud she was of us - of the still-handful of women there at the meeting with her. And she urged us on, to do well and do right by what might come upon our own paths. As did the two women judges who served on the 10th circuit at the time - Judge Seymour and Judge Tacha, philosophically completely different judges, but always encouraging the few women, young lawyers, who were clerking for the 10th circuit that year (and other years, I'm sure). They were like Justice O'Connor - the women who made this path possible for women lawyers like me. In life moments, that day and that year - and those women - stand out in my memory as remarkable.

And then in the years following, when I would read Justice O'Connor's opinions, I didn't always agree with them, but I could hear her voice in them. I understood them, in context. In her context. And I knew she meant to do right by them, the best she knew how. It's all any of us can do.

The protest against Elena Kagan - that she had never served as a judge before - was just bizarre in light of the fact that there is nothing unusual about that resume. Forty of our 112 justices had never been judges before they were appointed to the Supreme Court - including Rehnquist and Earl Warren, who both came to that bench as chief justice. But I guess opponents had to have something to say.

And now, it is over. She has been confirmed. She will be sworn in. The ceremony is at 2 p.m. ET. I intend to watch it. I hope Justice O'Connor is there. Wouldn't that be something? If she were there too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


A couple weeks ago, I got an email from a young woman named Emma Trotter, who wanted to feature my blog on www.become.com (which is a comparative shopping website - one of the top such websites on the Internet). Turns out, Emma wrote her thesis on Sherman Alexie's work, and had the impression that my work had some similarities - or at least was about the same region of the country. For anyone who doesn't know, Sherman Alexie is a writer from just north of here - and I think he went to high school in Spokane - who has wonderful, funny, poignant work, including "Smoke Signals," "The Business of Fancydancing," and "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven" (my favorite title). He is Native American, which flavors his writing. We both have a "magical realism" style (where the extraordinary can be seen in the ordinary, is perhaps a good way to describe it). Having someone use my name and his in the same sentence was quite a compliment. And then she wanted to write about my blog too.

Here we are, two weeks later, and voila! Emma has been true to her word. On the "pocketbook change" section of become.com, there is now a feature blog entry on Accidental Rabbit Trails (or ART, for short). (The article is currently linked on the front page too, probably just for the day though - www.become.com). I love the color she used to frame the photo. (Oh, and some of you may recognize the photo as Taryn Hecker-Thompson's work, from www.pricelessnotpricey.com - she did my photo shoot in January - this is one of the photos she took.)

Become.com is ranked one of the top ten deal-tracking shopping sites on the web. (In fact, in this survey in PC Magazine, it was ranked number one out of the ten because of its AIR technology - "Affinity Index Rating." As the article says, "In layman's terms, the [AIR] service is capable of crawling through buying guides, expert reviews, articles, product specs, forums, merchants, and other useful information available on the Web" and apparently gets you to a wide variety of products based on price and quality without requiring you to be the informed one.) "Pocket Change" is a segment of become.com and is intended to give more specific advice to shoppers about what's out there, blog-wise and otherwise. I'm excited to have ART featured on the site!

And the process of getting there was interesting. Emma had me answer a series of questions, about what my background is, what my writing exercises are, what advice I'd give to aspiring writers... It was interesting to put my thoughts down on paper about those topics, and then to see how Emma was able to condense that all into a concise review. So, a great process all around. Check out the feature and keep the become.com link among your favorites.

Here's the photo part of Emma's article - nice colors, right?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

where to live, where to live...

A couple weeks ago, I saw a local news headline and sighed. "I've got to move," I thought to myself.

This happens every six months or so. As much as I love Spokane, and this region, something flies up and hits me in the face and just says, "you don't fit here."

The most recent "thing" was a headline out of Sandpoint - a North Idaho town 90 miles northeast from Spokane - that the Republicans there were protesting the county's fair theme, "Fiesta at the Fair," because they are English-only folk and felt the fair should reflect that. I swear I am not making this up. The Republicans were going to decorate their booth with the word "celebration" - which they said meant the same thing as "fiesta" - and they had written the governor of Arizona asking for Arizona license plates that they could use to help decorate the booth, to show solidarity with Arizona and its recent passage of draconian laws (aimed at illegal immigrants but likely to snag a lot of U.S. citizens instead).

So I saw this headline and story, and I sighed, and I marveled at these Republicans' total miscomprehension of the Spanish language ("fiesta" means "celebration"?) and I thought, I gotta move.

See, here's the issue. It isn't that there aren't people everywhere who are intolerant. Of course there are. But here, intolerance is - well, celebrated. When an official component of society in this region can feel as though its preference for intolerance and spitefulness would be widely supported - that a "protest" at the word "fiesta" would be not only accepted but applauded - then I have to face facts: I am not meant for the Inland Northwest.

Luckily the "protest" has been largely rejected. News articles have poked fun (I loved the headline, "what's English for 'burrito'?), and informal surveys have shown that the bulk of the public agrees with me, and not the Republicans up north. So my need to move immediately has passed.

But still - every six months or so, something like this happens, and I think, I gotta move.

And then other things happen and I think, I love Spokane. Just two days ago, I was at a busy intersection on the south side of Spokane (called South Hill) and I saw an older man crossing the street who didn't look well. He was stumbling and looked disoriented - like he had Alzheimer's, actually. I made my turn and then pulled over into a grocery store parking lot and called Crime Check, our local non-911 police dispatch number. I described what I had seen. The man on the phone said they would send someone right away to check into the situation. And I knew they would. I knew that, if that older man was in any danger, he would be out of that danger within a couple minutes.

There is something heartwarming about living in a place where people can be made safe so quickly. Which is, I guess, why I'm so likely to get upset when an official component of society is bent on making people feel rejected and targeted. Do these people not understand that this is a place of hospitality and compassion?

... maybe it is ... and maybe it isn't. I can't seem to figure it out.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Remembering Readers

A baseball author friend of mine, Barbara Gregorich (author of "She's on First," among other books), pointed out this article in Publisher's Weekly entitled "Tour of Duty." It's written by a children's author who makes book tours to rural community schools, and is about how she almost always finds one child on each tour who lights up as a result of her visit - how giving this one glimpse of a larger world to a child who knows only what is just in front of him or her may make all the difference in that child's life. It's a touching article. It made me think of stories of mine, when I've been on the road with the baseball novel, and of the people who have come up to talk to me about the book. I think of the man who said he read it when he was sick in the hospital - it gave him hope. Or I think of the family whose daughter had a plan for when she would read it - after she had attended a challenge camp - so she would be ready. And then there were the four people - two couples - who just beamed at meeting me in person after having passed the book between them a couple months before. These memories, and others, inspire me to remember the power of the story itself - and the power of how one book, one visit, can have an impact beyond what anyone imagines. The ripple effect.

I will remember this the next time I unload a box of books, and my poster, and the easel for the poster, and all the rest of my accoutrements that I lug around when doing book signings. Makes it all a little more worth it, to imagine an outcome outside of the moment right before me.