Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Poems for Janell's Last Class

Two Prose Poems About Common Objects

A wooden box without a bottom, solid on top except for an oval hole in the middle. It probably has a name, but I know it as a cover to hold down the kleenex box while I pluck tissues from its stomach.


Standing in your base, a sentinel of sanitation, light blinking under soft button while charging, steady when charged. You serve your purpose when I pick you up, anoint you with the sacred cream, and stick you in my mouth.


Two more poems on the topic of lost and found:

A flake

of something white and papery

fell from the heavens

into my lap

as I sat at the front of the church,

casting about

for a way

to stanch the bleeding

of a scab I'd just picked.


When I finally got around to watching the movie Rent,

it included a wedding scene

in a sanctuary I used to know

like the back of my hand.

It had been decades

since I'd helped lead services there,

or sung in the choir.

Seeing that old familiar place

was like a cool breeze

from a younger sky.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How I Got to Read My Writing on Public Radio

I write twice a month with a group of people led by a published non-fiction writer and editor. After we had been together for a month or two, the leader, Kathy, suggested that I try to get one of my pieces on the radio, the Perspectives spot on KQED FM. I'd heard one or two Perspectives - I'm seldom listening to the radio at the times they are aired - and had thought to myself: I could do that.

Whether I could write something radio-worthy was my main concern; I'd done enough public speaking and acting that I enjoy interpreting my pieces aloud. I looked up the submission guidelines for a Perspective, and let the thought fade away.

About two weeks ago, though, all the pieces came together. I had chosen to participate in a vigil, march, and demonstration concerning a questionable police killing. The pastor who had conducted the funeral and I both belonged to an interfaith community organizing group. When he told me about the event, I volunteered to either supply a rabbi to participate in the prayers or to come and do so myself, to show Jewish support. Although I'm not formally trained as a rabbi or cantor, I've led dozens of services at my synagogue. Since the event was on a Friday evening, I couldn't find a rabbi, so I donned my yarmulke and prayer shawl and came myself.

That was April 24. On the 27th, I was in a different writing class and wrote three paragraphs about the event and how I felt about the spate of police killings that's dominated the news lately. Kind of a vignette about the march and a little rant against senseless killings.

On the 28th, I read the stuff to my writing group at Kathy's. She told me that someone who had come to our public reading on the 13th had told her that she loved my works and how I read them, and that I belong on NPR. This time, I absorbed the compliment and assessment of my writing, and another member of the group looked up the submission guidelines and gave me the name and email I needed to submit the piece.

I went home and, the next day, emailed an edited version to KQED, and left a message on the editor's phone mail so he could hear my voice.

Two days later, on Friday May 1, he sent me an email accepting the piece and asking me to make it longer. I did so. I read it aloud to him over the phone, and now it was too long. He edited it a bit, and decided to air it the following Tuesday. He instructed me to contact the station and make an appointment to record it at the studio on Monday. I did so, excited out of my mind.

And immediately my body hit the panic button with a sore throat that turned into a head cold over the weekend. Monday I called the editor to be sure they would let me do the recording. My voice was cloudy and lower-pitched, but still serviceable. He said to go ahead.

I didn't want to spread the news of my success until after I'd made the recording, at which point I could be fairly confident that the universe wouldn't snatch the victory out of my hands.

So, after I finished recording an acceptable take of the piece, I got on Facebook and spread the word. Congratulations poured in from friends from all sectors of my life: synagogue, DIFO, SFOP/PIA, fellow writers, a former co-worker, and other contacts going back to my college and junior high years. I was so jazzed by the taping that my hands were shaking for hours afterwards, and I could hardly sleep that night.

Not only did I get to read my piece on the radio, but the tape and transcript of the piece, and a picture of me, are archived on Here's the link to Perspectives; my piece is dated May 5, 2015.

My internal committee is flabbergasted. One voice, the one that had said "I can do that," is now saying, "I told you so. Why did it take you so long to do it?"

Another voice marvels that I was able to sell a piece of my creative writing to KQED on my first try. Most writers have to shop their stuff around enough to collect a pile of rejection slips.

A third voice says that I do well with short writings. I'd already published several prayers in my synagogue's prayerbook. I might take forever to write a novel and another eternity to sell it, but I can turn out several of my little creative non-fictions in an hour or so. So their number alone increases the odds that I'll kick out something interesting to someone.

And another voice suggests that spending over a decade writing little pieces for my blog (and another decade before that writing pieces for Mothertongue Feminist Readers' Theater), not to mention a 31-year career in technical writing and editing, may also have contributed to the quality of my work.

So now it's the day after my piece aired. I listened to one airing live, and recorded the last airing on my DVR for future reference. It's so cool hearing real radio announcers say my name, correctly.

I went to a brunch, a rehearsal, and a meeting of that writing group yesterday, where I shared with them the events of the past week. It was a full and draining day. Now my cold is worse, with a cough and my voice is really bad. Sure glad it waited until today to fall apart. I hear a nap calling my name.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Morning Ritual

When I leave the house, I usually pray a Thank You song to God, for the morning and each new day, for friends and family, for my occupations, for every small pleasure, for music, light, and gladness. I pray thanks for folks who aggravate or intimidate me, and pray that I not be the one doing the aggravating or intimidating, and that I continue to grow into my role in the human family. I've always felt different and other, having social anxiety and abandonment issues.

I pray this prayer (sing it sometimes, when I'm alone in the car) to prepare myself for the day: to set my mind to notice good things, to set my heart open to other people, to counter my natural pessimism with a hint of hope, to at least acknowledge a possibility that the universe can be a friendly place and that I can both enjoy and contribute to it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Cars of My Youth

Grandpa Lou drove a red pickup truck with the words "Vinicoff Electric Company" on the side. I think I rode in it only once, when he picked me up at a friend's house after he had an accident at work.

Grandma Mil drove an ancient black Volvo, like an overgrown Beetle. It had a small, rectangular window in the curved back. I was told she drove it so slowly that its transmission had grown accustomed to shifting into third gear at an absurdly low speed.

Family friend Nancy drove a little Karmann Ghia - I don't remember its color - that she described at a sheep in wolf's clothing - a sports car with no guts.

Dad's first car was a 1956 Ford Thunderbird convertible. It was white, with a white removable hardtop and a black ragtop. There were little porthole windows in the hardtop, and I think it was a two-seater. I faintly recall an occasion in which we somehow crammed three adults and two children into those two seats. Dad liked to drive with the top down. Often, I was so cold that I'd curl up on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

After my brother and I came to live with him, Dad bought a green Ford Mustang, which at least had a back seat. I liked its shape and the round logo on its rear end.

My brother inherited the T-bird after Dad died. It had an electrically adjustable seat, and so much horsepower that my mother worried about me driving it. But there was no need for worry. With the seat up and forward as far as it could go, and my leg and foot stretched out as far as they could go, that car wasn't going more than 30 mph. My legs were too short for speed.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ladder Poems

In my last writing class with Janell, we read a fairly gloomy poem by Adrienne Rich and were asked to spend some time writing something based on it. I wrote the following:

Adrienne's Ladder

Adrienne wrote of a succession of movements, each one making the next one possible. I reach for a ladder of such movements when mired in the paralysis of depression. I cast about for the lowest rung, for any movement at all that seems remotely possible from where I hunker in darkness, afraid even to look up, afraid to draw the attention of a malevolent universe to my timorous, vile self.

Then, at a time that comes to me as a gift, the thought, willingness, and energy to put my foot on that ladder all coincide as the first rung glides into view, offering enough challenge to get me moving but not a discouraging amount.

And I take that step, breaking the locks on my joints and my mood, climbing that little bit up from the depths towards the light, the next movement, and the movement beyond that, feeling better, stronger, more worthy with each step.

But then, I pause too long, and the next step drifts out of sight. The upward momentum cannot be sustained. My energy ebbs, and I slide back down the ladder, acquiring splinters and blisters, until the next time.


Then, oddly enough, one of Janell's next prompts was a line about carrying a ladder. So I approached the same topic from a different angle:

Happy Ladder

We all need ladders to extend our reach,

to step on to touch the top shelf

or the sky.

Our legs and arms take us only so far;

we need help to go further

go deeper

go into a different realm

where fish swim through the air

and words array themselves on the page

and old thoughts are clothed in new words

and old words take on new meanings.

Ladders lift us up

take us over obstacles

up a fire escape

into a treehouse

through the looking-glass.

Each rung supports our weight

and lays a foundation for new realms

each step a higher realm

thrilling with more beauty and insight

taking us up and up and up.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What's Happening These Days

So, I finally more or less got over my flu/cold - writes she while blowing her nose and nursing a lingering cough.

At least I'm well enough to have participated in two previews/fundraisers for Pants: The Musical in the past ten days, with another one this coming Saturday (at 2 pm at Take 5 Cafe in Berkeley, on Sacramento south of Ashby).

These previews give us cast members opportunities to perform our backup singing and solos with the music in front of us while we are in front of small, appreciative crowds.

On top of which, we have a mini-talent show afterwards, in which I get to read some of my little writings to the same appreciative folks.

Which has helped encourage me to get back into sorting said writings into batches that might work together and be interesting.

I reunited all the pages and sorted them back into my original topics. And have put into chronological order those topics for which it makes any sense.

I'm thinking that my next steps will include reading through the topic groups, making copies of my electronic files that are also sorted into these groups, and further refining those groups by splitting up blog posts that combine materials that pertain to different topics.

In other news, I spent four hours last week training with a coalition of people who seek to reform Proposition 13. Prop. 13 was intended to protect aging homeowners from steeply increasing property taxes. However, it applies even more strongly to commercial property, and its effects have shredded government services that depend on property taxes and shifted much of the remaining tax burden from commercial property owners to homeowners.

Finally, I got back to a Leather Soles dance class/party yesterday. Great exercise, and today, after a nice hot bath, my legs have almost recovered.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day

It's 3/14/15, which are the first five digits of pi.

I finally got back to my DIFO meeting in person today, and my support group resumed meeting this week after a hiatus, so I'm basking in the renewed support.

Which is needed. Traveling halfway around the globe without a companion was hard on this introvert, and I'm back on a psychiatric med to keep a current bout of anxiety from blossoming into major trouble.

It was also helpful getting back to my two writing groups: the class with Janell Moon, and writing at Folio Books with Kathy Dalle-Molle. Between an upcoming reading by our Folio group next month, and the musical comedy Corduroy Pants, which is in previews, I've had to write two short autobiographies in the past week. One focused on my writing, and the other focused on my theatrical experience, so there's not much overlap.

So here are some recent writings, including the biographies:

Public Speaking

Surveys relate that more people read public speaking than are afraid of death. Rank me with those who fear death the most.

I've been acting and engaging in various forms of public speaking since I was in grade school. Plays, forensics tournaments, the high school valedictory address. As long as I have a script to follow, or at least have some idea of what I want to say, I'm fairly content to stand up in front of people and sing, or act, or lead worship, or read poems or other writings.

But that doesn't make me an extrovert. No, no, no. Cocktail parties, meeting new people, hanging out in a group all terrify me. I can only spend a few hours in a party situation or with a group of people before I need to escape somewhere alone and replenish the energy I've lost. I'm definitely an introvert, albeit of the showoff or performer variety.

Watch me take a piece of my mind and share it with you. That's OK; it's what I do.


Cast Bio

Dana Vinicoff played the chief elf in The Elves and the Shoemaker at age 8. In junior high, she played Ulga in Dinny and the Witches, and the Jester in Twelfth Night. She wrote and performed with Mothertongue Readers' Theater in the '80s and '90s. More recently, she played Harvey in Joan Furst's musical comedy, Dykes on Broadway. The next year, she played a Latina with mental health issues in Roke Noir's production, Mad Love.


Writing Bio

Dana Vinicoff came to San Francisco in 1974 to go to law school and never left. She has retired after 31 years as a legal writer, editor, and publication manager. In between acting gigs and community organizing, she writes creative non-fiction with any group she can find, maintains her blog, and tries to massage her writings into one or more collections that some people might enjoy reading.


Santa Monica Summers

At the beach, the smell of Coppertone lotion and the pricier Bain du Soleil. The stickiness they left on the skin. The heat of the sun beating down on my hair, freckling my nose, and setting my skin up for cancer and my eyes for cataracts.

Stepping into the water and plowing above, below, or through the waves until I get in a good location for body surfing. I catch one wave, and travel halfway back to shore. Another wave sneaks up on me and I am tumbled in a washing machine.

Sand accumulates in my swimsuit and I duck down and try to swish it out. I step on seaweed and cringe away from its slippery feel.

Having been hit by three more washing-machine waves, I've had enough for today. I head back to my beach towel, after some searching with my near-sighted eyes.

I sit down on the towel, and the sand that already clung to my feet is gradually joined by wind-blown grains all over my body. And I pick up more sand from my towel itself.

But there's a can of soda in a cooler to wash the salt out of my mouth. And a taco stand not far away, where I can buy a mystery meat taco wrapped in yellow paper and a rainbow snow cone. I bring my prizes back to my towel, triumphant.


I met Beverly Sills once. Nee Bubbles Silverman, she was proudly claimed as Jewish by my family. She was at the peak of her career as an opera singer, and had a voice of the type my voice teacher claimed I was acquiring.

I'm not quite remembering where we met. It probably was the Hollywood Bowl or some other Los Angeles concert venue, since I was a music major at U.C.L.C. in those years - the early 1970's.

I congratulated her on the wondrous facility of her coloratura runs. I've a faint memory that she had sung florid variations on "Ah, vous dirais-je, Maman," a tune we Americans know as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

I can be fairly sure of having actually met her, because I still have her autograph on the page from that tiny notebook I carried with me even then.

But as for encouraging me to take my musical gifts in the direction of opera? Nope. I decided that I was not going to earn a living in music, and went on to law school.

Now that I'm retired, though, I'm returning to the artistic endeavor I favored in junior high school - musical theater.


I'm reminded of the time I spent a day at the Elizabeth Arden salon in Los Angeles - a gift from my mother to prepare me for the high school juniors' ball. When I was done there, I looked like a million bucks. To be more precise, I looked like a 35-year-old woman whose husband was a millionaire.

And I didn't exit the building before a young man came up to me and tried to charm himself into my life. Nonplussed, I wound up inviting him to the small Santa Monica apartment where I was living with my mother and brother, to swim in the pool.

When he arrived and saw my true age and circumstances, the dollar scales fell from his eyes, and he faded away at the first opportunity.