A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. Writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I suffocate. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how to start. They want me to tell them how. Because they asked the question, I’m reasonably sure they will never be writers. If you are a writer, you write. No one has to tell you how or when. You will write and you will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.


I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a book. It was as if a switch had been thrown in some circuit in my brain. Words felt right.

Putting words on paper was exactly the same as speaking, but took longer. I didn’t mind the extra time because I could go back and fix written words. Being able to change my words and keep changing them until they said exactly what I wanted them to say was the grail.

old favorite books

I was awkward socially and my verbal skills were not suited to my age and stage in life. I was not talented at sports. No one wanted me on her team. But I could write, I could read. It gave me wings.

If you are going to be a writer, you know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand how to build a plot  and produce books that publishers will buy, but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it.

computer gargoyle

Writers have words waiting to be written. Heads full of words, full of sentences, full of pronouns and adjectives and dependent clauses.

Talent comes in an endless number of flavors. Gifts are given. It’s up to us to use them well. My advice to all hopeful writers is: write.

Don’t just talk about it. Do it. Write a lot, as often as you can, even if most of it is bad. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way. If you don’t write, it is your loss, but maybe the world’s loss, too. You will never know how good you could be if you don’t try.


It’s a matter of definition. I say, magic is nowhere — or magic is everywhere. 

I prefer to believe it is everywhere. When I click the lights and a room is illuminated; when I flip the switch and the coffee begins to brew; when Amazon delivers and packages appear neatly piled by my back door. That’s magic.

Magic circleWhen the winter snow melts and the earth wakes up, bringing green leaves and flowers, nothing else can explain it. It is magic. I count on it.

Ultimately, when I turn on my computer and connect. I write, you write. I read you and you read me. That is magic. How is it possible for you, on the other side of this spinning globe, get my messages in real time?

circle of life teepee door

Just because we don’t stand in a circle and chant, we might as well be doing that. I understand about as much of how my computer uses all its written code to do what it does.

Chrysanthemum autumn

Why should all that “code” (read “magic”) make it work? I know how to write code — not well, but enough to understand its intent. That said, why do computers obey such writing? These codes?

British author Arthur C. Clarke formulated three laws:

  1. When a distinguished, but elderly, scientist states something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

My Corollary to Clarke’s Law: Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

Life is magic to me. All of it.


The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir


I recently bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.

A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.

gladiators2The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from all the books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not pretty.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. Ben Sapir only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books is challenging. If you can buy or borrow one, it’s a must-read, even if science fiction is not normally your favorite genre. It’s a worth your time.

It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. Read it if you can.

Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a gripping story too.

Happy hunting and with a bit of luck, happy reading!


I don’t even know how many times WordPress has run this prompt or some close version of it. I do not know how many times I have responded to it, but here is a clip from my book that is pretty much on target. If WordPress is going to run the same prompts over and over again, I guess I can run the same posts too.

People are surprised when I tell them that Uxbridge, with its oak woods, huge plots of land, picket fences and farms reminds me of the neighborhood in which I grew up. I was raised in the middle of Queens, one of five boroughs that make up the city of New York.

My neighborhood was an anomaly. The city had grown up around us leaving us in a tiny rural enclave within easy walking distance of the subway.

My childhood home was more than a hundred years old or at least its foundation was. It had been changed by each family that lived in it. I’m sure the original builder would never have recognized it. It began life as a four room bungalow. Subsequent owners added to it, seemingly at random. By the time our family moved into it in 1950, it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd little rooms.


Two staircases went to the second floor, both of which ended on the same landing. Eighteen doorways on the first floor meant that there was not a single unbroken wall in any room. The living room was cavernous and dark.

Amongst the many unfathomable additions to the house was the living room’s huge field stone fireplace that lacked a chimney. No mere faux ornament, the fireplace was a massive construction that completely dominated the room to no real purpose.

Despite the strange interior, the setting was stunning. Beautifully situated on more than two acres, it stood at top of a hill, enfolded by mature white oaks. They were the last remaining mature white oaks in New York state, the rest having been cut down to make masts for tall ships.

Because of their rarity, the city of New York cared for the trees free for as long as we lived there. My mother was passionate about trees, which is why she’d wanted the house. She became a fierce protector of her trees, never letting anyone as much as trim a branch from one of her precious oaks.

All the land belonging to the house lay either in front of it or off to the side. There was no back yard except for maybe a 15 foot sliver separating the house from the back property line. After that, the land there dropped abruptly downward … so sharply that it was useless for any purpose.

The house had been placed at the highest point of land on the property, set back about 250 feet from the road. The enormous trees towered over it. Summertime, when the trees were in full leaf, the house was invisible from the street. In all seasons, it was a long climb from the street to one of the house’s many doors.

Our oak trees loomed. No sunlight penetrated their canopy. The house stayed comfortable through most of the summer because of the perpetual shade, but was bitterly cold in winter.


My mother was stingy about heat. The furnace, an old converted coal burner, was nearly as old as the foundation and very inefficient. With huge amounts of hissing and groaning, it delivered some heat to the first floor of the house and almost none to the bedrooms on the second floor. I was cold from fall through spring, no matter how many blankets were piled on my bed. Some mornings, a thin skin of ice formed on the glass of water on my night table.

Being such a small, thin child, I was cold even when I was fully dressed. All complaints drew the same unsympathetic response from my mother.

“Put on another sweater,” she said. End of discussion.

Pointing out that there was a practical limit to the number of sweaters that I could actually wear was pointless. Once my mother had her mind made up, she was not going to be confused by facts.



The shadows of oak trees were always present, summer and winter. They were magnificent, but also ominous. Many branches of those oaks were bigger than the largest tree on our land in Mumford. As a child, I would watch those branches sway during storms and wonder when one of them would crash through the roof and crush me like a bug.

I was just past my fourth birthday when we moved into the house in Queens. I was considered a precocious child, which meant, I suppose, that I knew a lot of big words and could talk in full sentences. I’d had no contact with children my age and was a complete social retard.

When winter turned to spring and the weather warmed up, I was told to go out and play and so discovered that there were other little girls in the world. I hadn’t the slightest idea what I was supposed to do about that. I might as well have been commissioned to make peace with the Martians as make friends with other kids.

First contact took place on the sidewalk in front of my house. There we stood, three girls, all not yet five years old, staring at one another. We stood on one foot, then the other, there on the sidewalk until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism.

“I live up there,” I said, and I pointed at my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I felt left out, as if the two of them formed a private club into which I already knew I wouldn’t be invited. And they were both pretty. I felt lumpy and awkward, standing there on the sidewalk.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with a sweet, smooth face. Her hair was absolutely straight. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild and curly, always full of knots.

“I live down the street.” She gestured in the general direction. “There,” she pointed. The house was a barn red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, pink-cheeked, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial across. There were bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long, red brick staircase leading uphill to the house. I’d never seen either geraniums or vase-shaped masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other, old friends, the in-crowd. I the stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

“I’ve got a big brother,” I announced.

They were not impressed and I found myself at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. And they turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again because at four years old, I hadn’t the experience to know that our future as friends was a virtual inevitability given the proximity of our homes.

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block.

To be continued …

From “The 12-Foot Teepee” by Marilyn Armstrong – Copyright 2007


Song of Myself (1892 version)

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

Marilyn with shawl, Cooperstown by the shores of Lake Otsego

Marilyn with shawl, Cooperstown by the shores of Lake Otsego

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

Continue reading >>>


Greetings from the birthplace of James Fenimore Cooper, and the Baseball Hall of Fame. We are poised on the shore of Lake Otsego. We just got here less than an hour ago … and I opened the back door to our room and voilà … Glimmerglass!

72-Lake Otsego_02

For anyone still under the impression that young James Fenimore Cooper was raised in a log cabin on the frontier, he was actually raised in a big, white mansion at the head of Lake Otsego. To be fair, it had indeed been wilderness when his father settled there. Today, it is gentrified and expensive. Manicured farmland abuts mansions. An elegant area of exceptional beauty.

James’ father, the venerable William Cooper, founded the town. Will Cooper hung out with John Adams and George Washington and was a big deal even before his son became America’s first best-selling author.

Glimmerglass in the books is, of course, Lake Otsego. Tonight, as we were coming back from dinner, the lake looked like a gleaming gem in a deep green setting.

72-Lake Otsego_05

Everything you might want to know about James Fenimore Cooper, America’s first novelist, here.

It’s kind of gray and rainy today. Tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, the sun will shine, or so they promise . I hope I will have more pictures to show you and stories to tell tomorrow.

An interesting point about lake side living is that it’s at least 15 degrees colder out back than out the front door. All the folks in the back barbecuing or just watching the day end are wearing heavy jackets. Those on the front porch, in the rocking chairs are wearing tee shirts. Natural air conditioning at work.


 There’s no making up for a lifetime of too little sleep.

A while ago, I asked Garry if he thought I would ever catch up on the years of very little or no sleep.


He said “no” and I think the same goes for him. We lived for many decades on short hours and long days. I still don’t sleep well.

There’s no way to make up for a lifetime of lost sleep. Some morning’s are better than others, but in the end, there’s always tiredness, the wistful feeling a couple more hours of sleep would have been so nice.

In answer to this morning’s question, I think the last time I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to dive into life was before my son was born — more than 46 years ago …


Come Sleep, O Sleep …

Sir Philip Sidney

Come, Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,
Th’ indifferent judge between the high and low;
With shield of proof shield me from out the press
Of those fierce darts Despair at me doth throw!
O make in me those civil wars to cease!—
I will good tribute pay if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf of noise and blind of light,
A rosy garland, and a weary head;
And if these things, as being thine in right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella’s image see.

NOTE: If you read this sonnet aloud, “press” in Elizabethan English was pronounced “preese” to rhyme with release. At least, that’s what my they told me back in college.