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The home where I grew up: a guest blog by Blair Roddan

I'm sure that most all of us have memories of the home we grew up in. I am no exception. I still have the memories of this house and how it was laid out. I hope my description of my home will jog the memories of others so that they will think not only about what that homes looked like, but also the memories that go along with it.

My parents built the home in 1952 at 548 Via Almar, Palos Verdes Estates, California, the first home built on the south side of that street. The architect was Carrington Lewis and the contractor was Bill Blymeier. The home was built into the side of a hill, a three-story split-level wonder.

As I remember it, there was a precipitously steep driveway up to the garage. Looking at it now it doesn't really look all that steep; I guess when you are young things becomes exaggerated. Once in the garage, there was a door right in front of you that, when opened, you could store stuff in. To the right were two trash cans. You had to leave the garage door open on trash days, as they had to pick up the cans.Toward the back and on the right was the gas water heater. Also on the right was the door for entry to the house. This was the first level. On this floor was a rumpus room that could be used as a rental unit, which my parents did once. There was also a bathroom with a stall shower. To the left of this bathroom was a closet door that housed the central heating unit. I remember when it rained that thhis room would flood for some reason.

Next, came the rather long narrow staircase that took you to the second floor. To the right was the kitchen with a breakfast nook where we ate our meals. There were four different colored stools around it. The kitchen had all the latest built-in appliances. If one was to walk further right he would be led to the master bathroom which was all done in blue. Walking through the master bathroom led, of course, to the master bedroom. It had custom built closets, as a bedroom should, plus large plate glass windows looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Continuing to one's right, there was a small hallway that had a linen closet as well as a storage area for a folding table and four chairs.

Upon emerging from this hallway you would enter the living room. To the left was a fireplace with a wood mantle. Also along this wall was a built-in bookcase. A series of plate glass windows offered spectacular ocean views. Off the living room was an entry hall. Not only was this where the formal front door was, but there was also a closet plus 3 chest drawers where Mother kept her silverware and games, amogst other things.

The third level was my brother's and my living quarters. We had to climb a few steps up to that level. There was a wood bannister we used to slide down. My bedroom was on the extreme left. It had a hardwood floor that was covered with grass matting. Then there was a full bathroom that my brother and I shared. On the right was my brother's bedroom. It also had grass matting, but had a built-in desk in the right hand corner.

Being that the house was built into the side of a hill, our parents planted ivy as ground cover. This was great for us kids! We'd climb to the top of the hill and slide down the ivy. Our Dad knew when we did this--the ivy was trampled! When he'd question us we'd always blame it on another local kid.

I encourage you to think back on the home you were brought up in. It not only brings back memories, it shows your offspring a side of you they might not have known. I know this memory is a big one for me.

I remember when my parents were going to sell this house in 1964. The Smith Realty sign was nailed to the garage door. I thought to myself, why is this happening?


Lady Caroline Blackwood

Reading "Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood" and feeling very alone, as alone as she must have felt, reading at 4:45 a.m. by lamplight in the big old living room.

When I couldn't sleep, not used to not sleeping with Lea Ann, the poet's words (I'm pretty sure it was Arthur Gregor), 'humming, humming, and an empty bed' fall like rain falls, one drop sounding like another. The words themselves seem to be leading me down the stairs, providing safe passage in the dark as long as I listen to them. Humming, humming, and an empty bed.

In the living room I settle in the big black chair, and open "Dangerous Muse". I'm on p. 144, just after Lady Caroline has left the painter Lucian Freud for the composer Israel Citkowitz, who she would not-too-much-later leave for the poet Robert Lowell. Sometime in-between these marriages and other liasions, the photographer Walker Evans, a much older man, took a keen interest in Caroline. His portrait of her is on the cover of the book, and is now the property of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Ending Writer's Block in Our Lifetime: a guest blog by Jon Obermeyer

Eventually, science finds a cure: polio, smallpox, measels, whooping cough, rinderpest (look it up), all gone. Eventually, those ladies and gents in the white lab coats wielding pipettes will get around to the debilitating condition known as Writer's Block.

Imagine if Big Pharma spent $1 Billion and 14 years of R&D effort, just like they do on allergy medicine and mood lifters: "Ask your doctor if Narrativa is right for you. Narrativa is a fast-flow, editor-inhibitor (FFEI) that works in your bloodstream to initiate poetry, prose, and young adult fiction. Side effects of Narrativa include job loss, missed meals, laptop battery wear, comma splices, and of course, death. For impoverished literary journal writers and creative writing program faculty adjuncts, Pfizer may be willing to subsidize the cost of your Narrativa dosing.

Maybe it's my undiagnosed, adult-onset ADD, but I rarely have a problem with writer's block, a daunting blank page, or picking a topic. I read a lot and that helps. I was recently reading a small Joan Didion book "South and West: From a Notebook" (2017), and she had a line in there about the prevalence of mattresses secured to car rooftops in Mississippi in the 1970's. So, I immediately created a blank Word document and wrote "Mattresses" as the title and saved it. I'll come back to it later to riff on the initial visual, and credit Didion of course.

One Saturday evening, I was reading a profile of an eighty-year old female playwright in The New Yorker, and I looked at the photograph and thought, "this could be my mother." So I immediately started a short story with the premise that my mother broke off her engagement with my dad in 1957 (which meant she didn't conceive me in 1958), and pursued her talent as a pianist and arranger for gospel quartets. In my story, her prescient career move, her talent and her perfect pitch, will land her in the middle of the 1960's folk-rock music scene in Los Angeles, whe she will link up with a fictional version of Michael Omartian, a Christian music producer famous for his work with those heathens, Steely Dan.

With this storyline, I now have a second story. What happened to my father after that break-up? How would his life turn out? And then, with genius and care, I will bring my not-mom and my not-dad back together at their 50th college reunion in 2007 in Santa Barbara (my parents divorced in 1978 and actually did go to their college reunion together).

The next morning, eating an Everything bagel, I was back in The New Yorker, trolling. I read a piece by the art critic Peter Schjeldahl about the opening of an exhibit by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran and Zurbaran's painting, the biblical "Jacob and His Twelve Sons" (1640-45), the dozen offspring who became the twelve tribes of Israel. I have two adult daughters; what the hell would it be like to raise twelve sons? I brought the Jacob story fast-forward from the Book of Genesis to the present day. I imagine Jacob's front yard strewn with the detritus of Big Wheels, Schwinn Stingrays and Triumph 500cc motorcycles. I make him a grocer because going to the grocery store for 18 people (the total household) became burdensome for both wives ("90 minutes just in the check-out line"), so they just built their own family Piggly-Wiggly location in back of the house.

So much for this flood-tide of material, most of it based on tiny prompts and snippets I read about or overhear. Is what I produce so prolifically any good? The jury is still out. I happen to think the quality is as high as ever; I'm just undiscovered, right?

What I do know is that I have a clipboard next to my writing desk, with a handwritten list of sixteen potential writing projects, poems, stories, plays, books that I'd like to tackle, and I'm sure I will, eventually. The one problem I don't have is writer's block.


Jon Obermayer is a Durham, NC poet, short story writer, essayist, editor and ghostwriter. He is a native of Santa Barbara, and a former resident of Potrero Hill in San Francisco.


Teilhard de Chardin's 'noosphere' 

We should petition to re-brand and re-name this country, now that there's such a tremendous opportunity to do so: instead of being known as The United States of America we will henceforth be known as The Nation of Advertising and TeleMarketing.

According to The New York Times, Stephen Hawking is dead. In Hawking's obit, TheNYT quotes him as saying, "It's the past that tells us who we are. Without it we lose our identity."

Mr. Hawking made a career of studying the 'black holes" of the physical universe. It now occurs to me that the black holes are not necessarily to be found in outer space but are actually here on earth in the person of people like Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence. The President of the USA hmself is a small little black hole of a man. He's best seen on tv, sitting at a large table surrounded by his minions, arms folded, looking tough. It's reassuring to see Trump this way, so tough, such a negotiator! At long last, leadership has become more common than the people it is leading.

Our pizza addicted populace has chosen the large Pepperoni/Cheese/Opioid Pizza with a side of fried churros dunked in white sugar, lapping up whatever this President does and says. He's been on tv, he had a reality show for many years didn't he? This establishes his cred. In reality his dad Fred, something of a slum lord in real life, gave his son $11 million so the son could get his career as a self-made man started; Donald Trump took it from there all by himself, or so the story goes.

The narrative is quite amazing, and that so many people buy it is even more so. It's tempting to call these people, 'good people' but perhaps it's like calling the Austrians who flocked to hear Adolph Hitler speak 80 years ago today at the Heldenplatz in Vienna and who applauded the annexation of their country, cheering the German troops as they marched into the city, 'good people.' Maybe good people too are black holes into which all the vacuity, emptiness, lies, and stupidity of a culture is poured so that nothing remotely resembling the truth can be seen.

I think it's time to disappear for awhile into de Chardin's 'noosphere'. The noosphere has always sounded good to me, a special place where serious people go to disappear to get perspective on what's real and what isn't.

https: teilhard


Gun-Free France--from IFSF Paris Bureau Chief Charlie Crummer

From an NRA member: "Remember when France was a "gun free zone before WWII?" The implication being that because there were regulations on who could own a gun and what kind, the Germans were able to walk in and take the place over.

OK, let's call France before WWII a "gun free zone" if you want to use that loaded phrase. France is "gun-free" now with less than 3 gun deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year and 31 guns per 100 inhabitants. For the US, there are about 10 gun deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year and yet the US has over 101 guns per 100 inhabitants. England is "gun-free." Australia is "gun-free." Norway is "gun-free." Spain is "gun-free." Sweden is "gun-free."...Switzerland has about 24 guns per 100 inhabitants but only about 3 gun deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year.1 Of course it is pretty well known that Switzerland's citizens form a well-regulated (by the state) militia. Per capita gun deaths in these countries are far below gun deaths in the US. "Gun-free" means safe from being shot by guns. When guns are outlawed, fewer outlaws will have guns.

There are people who think that France was occupied by the Germans because France was "gun-free" and therefore defenceless. The reason France was occupied by the Germans during WWII is that Marshal Petain capitulated to Hitler. He was the leader of France and collaborated with and aided the Nazis in their zeal to eradicate the Jews. (There's a lot of French history behind his decision, which was certainly a bad one. And a shameful one. One has only to read a few of the many plaques around Paris admitting to this horror to sense the shame.) The Vichy French and their army at the time were working for the German occupiers. They were responsible for heinous crimes against their own people, many of whom were Jews. The French of the Resistance did what they could and they were very brave. Here's a quote from the Wikipedia page "French Resistance:"

"The men and women of the Resistance came from all

economic levels and political leanings of French society,

including emigres; academics, students, aristocrats,

conservative Roman Catholics (including priests) and

also citizens from the ranks of liberals, anarchists and



The tide turned against Hitler, primarily due to the huge sacrifices by the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front and the US entry to the war, establishing a Western Front. Thus as a nation, Germany was defeated by the allied armies, not the brave Resistance even with US guns. The arms the US sent to the resistance, however, were a fine gesture and did play a part in the defeat of the Nazis.

There are some, in the US at least, who maintain that the presence of guns by citizens will serve as an effective deterrent to anyone who might want to attack with a gun. There is really no evidence for this idea though.

It is interesting to listen to the thoughts of people who have had experience in fire fights. I have never had to be in one. I, for one, instead of going off on wild fantasy, defer to our soldiers and police who have. Students, teachers, one young man who was carrying a weapon with a permit at a shooting in Oregon, hardened soldiers who have seen action, all are appalled that there should be talk about arming teachers. In a satirical piece 2 I "predicted" that the "Guns are the Solution, not the Problem" people would next recommend the arming of teachers, among other things. At what point had I gone past the point of decency? Arming students, smaller guns for the younger children, euthanising the little kids so they wouldn't have to suffer? Where?

In all this, I have learned something: In the face of such nonsense anyone's attempt at a reductio ad absurdum argument is doomed to fail except if he's preaching to the choir.


1 These statistics are taken from the page "List of countries by firearms-related death rate" on Wikipedia.

2 See "A Modest Policy Proposal at