Four years ago when I first began this blog column, it was with reluctance, and solely for the purpose of promoting my not-yet published book, Meeting in the Margins: An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People. It was one of those things, like ”having a Facebook presence” and hiring a publicist, that folks in the field said I had to do in order to successfully market my upcoming book.

So I began a Facebook page – which I’ve mostly ignored ever since. I hired a professional publicist, an expensive exercise in futility. And I made a commitment to myself that I would write and post one essay each month, for the purpose of marketing my book.


Even though it amazes me how fast the end of each month seems to approach, I have kept that promise. I’ve found that I really enjoy having a forum on which to air some thoughts, and how I enjoy having readers who respond to those ideas. Most of my posts have NOT been about my book, per se, but about the wide variety of margins that are part of our culture.


However, this month, in my 57th blog post, I need to crow again about Meeting in the Margins. The book just won a gold medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards – the “IPPY.” My award is in the Social Issues/Humanitarian category, and it’s very satisfying to have the book nationally recognized in this way. The IPPY comes with no monetary reward, but I do receive a certificate and a “gold” medal on a neck ribbon. PLUS, I get to affix gold medallion stickers to every cover of the book from now on!


That’s pretty much all I had to say this month. Except perhaps to invite you to stop by for a cup of tea, and I’ll let you take a turn at polishing my gold medal!

Sometime in 2012, a few women who have since dubbed themselves Seriously Fun Productions, headed by Diana Lindsay, realized they wanted to learn more about the local women they met in coffee shops, at workshops, at the gym, or choosing vegetables at the local farmers’ market. And how about the artists, the farmers, the full-time professionals, and the stay-at-home moms whose paths they hadn’t yet crossed? They knew there were fascinating stories everywhere. They decided to create an invitational version of TED Talks, focused exclusively on the stories of women who live on Whidbey Island.

Since then WOW – Women of Whidbey – has become an annual two-day celebration of the amazing diversity and sheer magnitude of great women who live on this oddly-shaped island of ours. The tickets are always sold out within a few weeks. I had never ordered one in time, and so had never gone to a WOW festival. Then last year, a wise friend bought a bunch of tickets the day they went on sale (maybe THAT’S how they get sold out so quickly!), and she offered me one of her Saturday tickets. (Thank you, Janice.)

So it was, that on March 12, 2016, I heard and saw my very first WOW stories. I was enchanted beyond anything I could have imagined. And, even more amazing for a confirmed introvert like me, I knew that I wanted to present my story too.

Here’s a secret that almost no one else knows (until now): that very night, on the drive home from the theater I began visualizing what my performance might look like. But a WOW!Story performance is limited to ten minutes. How could I summarize my twenty-five years of service in settings from slum streets to psychiatric hospitals to nursing homes to hospices to court rooms? In just ten minutes? But when I got home I grabbed my laptop computer, sat down with a cup of tea, and wrote out a script. It timed out at about eleven minutes! Then I put the script away, and waited.

In October of 2016, I was called by one of the “WOW Mammas,” asking if I would “consider” telling some part of my story, as a WOW presenter at the sixth annual WOW!Stories conference in 2017. Of course I knew my answer. But I held back for a dignified amount of time – at least a nanosecond or two – before I said Yes!

Then there was the conundrum of how to create the mannequin I’d need. It had to be life-size, life-like, androgynous, believable as I demonstrated a “street massage” from my years working in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. It also had to have sufficient “muscle” that I could move my hands in natural ways through the sequence of massage. And it had to be light-weight enough that I could carry it easily. A tall order.  Two dear friends, Anna and Pip, worked long and hard to create “Jo,” the perfect partner for my performance.

My performance on March 11, 2017, on the main stage of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, was a high point of my life. I will never forget what it felt like to share my story, to connect with 250 people in the audience, to feel their collective attention; to know, as I left the stage, that Jo and I had managed to bring stories of the People of the Margins into the lives and hearts of everyone who watched.

A week later I was asked to repeat the performance in April, at the Healing Circles Center in Langley, WA. I arranged to have it videotaped in that more intimate setting (40 people rather than 250) , and the performance this time was followed by forty-five minutes of Q&A with the audience, which I loved.

So now I invite you to be a part of the audience at that April performance. Return to the Welcome page of this website, and scroll down just a tad, to see the video of the eleven-minute performance. And then, if you wish, send me with any questions or comments by using the “post a reply” space below this blog post, or by emailing me at  Jo and I look forward to hearing from you!



All the chairs in a circle, Whidbey-Island-style, three recent authors gathered with a room full of writers to share our thoughts about “Writing as a Radical Act.”


Being wordsmiths, of course the assembled group played with the word “radical,” and were delighted that it contradicted itself and brought complexity to our conversation.


“Radical” means cutting edge, extreme, even fanatic, and one who is a radical can be a disrupter, a provocateur.


“Radical” also means fundamental, profound, even foundational, and a radical idea is one that is at the core, at the root of an issue.


One of dozens of online-thesaurus synonyms for radical is “beatnik,” which brought on a momentary wave of nostalgia for me – that was my era. I really wanted to rebel and be a beatnik, wearing black, smoking, writing poems like Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s. But I was too intent on being a straight-A “good girl” to qualify. When the era of “beatnik” morphed into the era of “hippie” I had already morphed into being the mother of three children. And now, in my 70s, I’m finally getting around to being a rebel. [Sigh.]


In fact, all three of us authors are AARP-eligible, and each of us has written a radical book. Theo Wells just turned 90, and her book Take Care of Dying, Get On With Living (coaching the reader through preparing advance directives – an essential task that most of us resist) was so hot off the press it was still warm to the touch. Mary Knight had just published Saving Wonder (a young adult novel whose context is mountaintop removal coal mining, a politically loaded topic in eastern Kentucky where she lives). Throw into the mix my own Meeting in the Margins (encouraging the reader to encounter the people our culture prefers to keep invisible), and a hint of the breadth of “writing as a radical act” began to take shape. [All three books are available at]


Throughout the afternoon our circle of writers risked asking some scary questions: What if nobody wants to read the controversial things I write? What if the people in my memoir resent my remembering? How do I get these huge feelings corralled into words? How do I make my radical message palatable enough to find an audience, yet still express what I know to be true?


It was a rich afternoon, and since it was also Earth Day, it’s appropriate that I remember our gathering in the double-radical image of a tree: limbs outstretched to the edges of our courage, roots sunk deep into our truth and the dark fertile soil of kinship with other writers. I am grateful.


Last week Meeting in the Margins and I were welcomed to Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle for a reading/discussion hour.

As I usually do, I began my presentation with stories of offering compassionate touch to the street people of San Francisco. Those are arguably the more compelling stories in the book; they catch the attention and imagination of the audience.

Those stories may also be the “safest” ones for listeners to hear, because homelessness and slums are more remote from the personal experience of many bookstore shoppers than some other margins such as hospitals and nursing homes, or people who are physically or addictively ill or dying.

Folks who hear the street-stories are convinced that they would/could never interact with the people on “skid row.” That may be so. But what about the other margins, the more familiar, less dramatic ones? What about our neighbors who reside in those margins?

A friend who attended last week’s reading suggested that “the margins are wherever the familiar is strange.” That’s an idea worth unpacking.

We are uncomfortable imagining being in the margins. It’s a matter of our inexperience combined with situations that are as yet unexperienced. We can’t know what we haven’t yet learned. We can’t be proficient in what we’ve never done before – we are inexperienced; we can’t understand what we’ve not ever encountered – it is unexperienced.

But could we be willing simply to pay attention in those unpredictable times where the familiar turns out to be strange (a person sitting . . . not on a porch but on a curb; a child hurrying . . . not on a tricycle but in a wheelchair; an elegantly-dressed woman . . . not at a luncheon but wandering in traffic)?

Or can we allow for the opposite: a place or time where the “strange” turns out to be unremarkable and familiar (the corner panhandler has in his pocket a paperback book by your current favorite author, and the two of you have a brief conversation of appreciation not unlike the one you had yesterday with your friend in the coffee shop)?

Or could we welcome a moment when the taken-for-granted becomes mystical (a man dozing and drooling in his wheelchair in a nursing home corridor suddenly reaches for your hand, looks into your eyes, and begins praying for you in words that seem to embrace your soul)? Could we stay in the wonder of that moment and not flee?

If there is any “secret” to encountering the invisible people of the margins, it is saying “yes” to just a few of these opportunities, accumulating enough small experiences (I promise you that this is possible) that we actually want to go to the places where these little miracles can happen.

“Meeting in the margins” turns out to be a simple equation: one human Being unconditionally being with one other human Being for just a moment in time.

Meeting in the margins is the skill of being fascinated by the familiar and the strange, both at the same time.

READING AT THE BOOK LAUNCH - Photo by Johnny Palka

READING AT THE BOOK LAUNCH – Photo by Johnny Palka

Throughout the evening there was a Knowing that THIS was a high point in my life. “Take it in,” the Knowing said. “Revel in it. Give this reading your very best attention and care. Oh, and don’t forget to ENJOY as well.”

The event was the Book Launch Party celebrating the previous week’s publication of my book, Meeting in the Margins. Folding chairs had been brought in and all the furniture had been rearranged in the dining room and the living room of Enso House, the end-of-life residence where I have volunteered as a caregiver over the years. The lights in all the rooms glowed; the friend-baked cookies were mounded on plates in the Garden Room, next to the tea and coffee and handmade cups; nearly 60 friends and neighbors were gathering, and some guests I hadn’t met yet; MoonRaker Bookstore was set up with piles of the newly-minted book for sale. Special-bought pens were waiting for me to inscribe books.

And then it was time to begin. I went to that place inside myself from which the best of my writing comes, that place where the essence of the people of the Margins meets the essence of me and tutors me. And from that place I read and spoke and for a few minutes I gave voice to our society’s invisible people, and they received the love and the affirmation of the assembled listeners. And it was very, very good.

It was, as the inner voice assured me – that Knowing voice of the wise people of the Margins – a singularly high point in my life.


[Meeting in the Margins: An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People is available at your local bookstore, and from]









meetinginthemargins-cover       Sharing thoughts – from the profound to the profane – this, as I understand it, is the purpose of a blog. Blogs are shared with friends and interested others. Writing and posting a blog takes less time than inviting and scheduling twenty individuals for a cuppa at a local coffee shop, and less effort than writing twenty different emails or paper letters (yes, I do still send those sometimes, as do two of my grandchildren, bless ‘em). Blogs may be the lazy person’s best way of reaching out and touching lots of someones.

This week the contents of my brain, from which my blogs emerge, are almost all centered around my book launch party coming up in just three weeks. On October 13, Meeting in the Margins: An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People will be presented in public! I will then be not just a writer, but an AUTHOR!

And in my brain the wonderings are whirling: will the books be shipped in time for the launch (the publisher has assured me they will). Did I remember to ask enough friends to bake cookies for the party refreshments? What kind of pens should I use to sign the books? Can I make myself heard without a sound system? What should I wear – does an author dress differently than a writer?

Even more important, how shall I organize my presentation? I can’t just read from the book the whole time, so how do I pace the readings and balance them with speaking off-the-cuff, and balance both of those with time for Q&A? I feel a little like the Flight Director counting down for a launch at NASA. (Sorry, I mean no offense to real Flight Directors!)

The only thing I know for sure is that all my questions will have been answered by the BIG DAY and the BIG EVENT.

For those of you in the Seattle, Whidbey Island area, the time and place are:

OCTOBER 13, AT 6:30PM, AT ENSO HOUSE, 6339 WAHL ROAD, FREELAND. If you need driving directions, you’ll find them at

I’ll also be offering book readings at the wonderful Freeland Library, on November 9 at 1:00PM and November 10 at 6:30PM.

And for those of you who live farther afield, I’d love to do a book reading in your area, especially if you have an independent bookstore near you that would like an opportunity to sell the books at the reading – I’m happy to share the joy (and the selling-price) of getting this book out into the world. Let me know if you think of a place that would like to have me present my book – I’ll be putting together a mini-tour after the first of the year, and will base my itinerary around suggestions from friends about their favorite bookstores or workshop spaces. I’d also be delighted to give presentations at churches, discussion groups, book clubs, schools.

There. That’s what’s whirling around in my brain this week, so that’s the content of this month’s blog. And there is yet one other wondering: now that I’ve become an author (and, God help me, a book marketer), how long will it be before I can return to being just a writer again? Just a poet? That’s the occupation I love the most. And I guess that will have to wait for a while, until the dust of the book launch settles, like rocket exhaust eventually does.