Archive for ‘writer’

Kathleen Canrinus

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022

A Tale of Two Remarkable Women: Interview with the author of The Lady with the Crown: A Story of Resilience by Helen Gibbons

Bay Area native Kathleen Canrinus wrote The Lady with the Crown: A Story of Resilience to honor her mother, Dorothy. When Kathleen was 15, her mother suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. After three months in a coma, Dorothy emerged partially paralyzed and cognitively impaired, upending the life of her family. 

Photo of Kathleen at work in her small office. Behind her is a painting by her father, who took up oil painting after retirement, immersing himself in it much as Kathleen has immersed herself in writing. Photo: Don Anderson
Photo of Kathleen at work in her small office. Behind her is a painting by her father, who took up oil painting after retirement, immersing himself in it much as Kathleen has immersed herself in writing. Photo: Don Anderson

Kathleen’s memoir focuses on the relationship between mother and daughter, particularly its evolution during the 54 years between Dorothy’s accident and her death at age 99. There were plenty of challenges, but also lots of laughter and, oh, so much love. It’s a story I will enjoy reading again and again, finding some new insight or well-crafted sentence to relish each time.

I met Kathleen in 2006 when we both joined the World Harmony Chorus in Mountain View, California, and our conversations over the years have focused mostly on music. I wanted to learn more about Kathleen’s writing life and in particular The Lady with the Crown. We exchanged some emails and then sat down to talk. Our conversation is edited and condensed.

Helen: When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer?

Kathleen: I came to writing late in life, that is, after I retired from teaching elementary school. When I signed up for my first writing class, I had in mind writing stories from my life and wanted to tell them well.  Even though I have now written a book that was published, and numerous personal essays too, I still hesitate to introduce myself to a stranger as a writer. But as far as thinking of myself as a writer, that came in the first few years of writing seriously, when I discovered that I was a person who noticed and remembered things, that I could write an occasional beautiful sentence, that I had a sense of how to shape a story, and most importantly, that finding words to match experience brought with it a thrill like nothing else. Writing lends meaning and purpose to my life. I like the Joan Didion quote: “I write to find out what I’m thinking.” 

Helen: How did The Lady with the Crown come to be?

Kathleen: The Lady with the Crown evolved from stories I wrote about my mother over a decade in various writing workshops and classes. My mother had a remarkable attitude about life in spite of epic reversals. She was funny too—good material. I was never writing about her for family alone but for people like my classmates and possible future readers who didn’t know her. I intended to honor her and others who live small lives with dignity and courage. Although I wrote about other topics like friendship, marriage, and aging, the response to the mother stories was the most positive. I planned to string them together in a book and had finished most of them when the editor at a small press offered me a contract.

Helen: What a great opportunity! What happened next?

Kathleen: Next I spent nine months finishing a manuscript. Everything I had already written needed to be revised and new chapters added to complete the story. My editor made a lot of suggestions that improved the book.

Helen: Can you share examples?

Kathleen: When I originally thought about doing a book, I thought I would take the stories I had written about my mother and link them very loosely, like the stories in Olive Kitteridge [a novel by Elizabeth Strout that is a collection of interrelated stories]. I thought that approach would make my task easy. But when I told the editor, she said, “No, no, no! Make it one story. And whether you like it or not,” she added, “you’re the main character. You need to put yourself into this story; you’re not just the witness.” 

Helen: Did following her advice make the task harder?

Kathleen: Yes, and it made the book better. Here’s another example: After my father died, my mother had a series of caregivers at her home in Santa Cruz—one bad one after the other. I was living hundreds of miles away in Southern California. I tried to make the arrangement work, but eventually I had to give up and take over. In my first draft, I summed it up briefly, something like, “We had a series of disastrous caregivers, and finally I brought my mother to live with me.” And the editor said, “No, no, you need to put that in scene.”

Helen: “In scene”?

Kathleen: Putting something in scene means that you don’t use a lot of narrative description. Instead, you use images, dialogue, and sensory details to bring the reader into the story. As Nancy Packer [short story author and emerita English professor at Stanford University] puts it, “Make it happen on the page.” So I went back and included phone conversations and moved through the caregiving calamities step by step. It’s harder to write that way. It would have been easier just to say, “That was a tough time.” It wasn’t a time I particularly wanted to re-experience, which is something that happens in the writing.

Kathleen and Dorothy.
Kathleen and Dorothy. Photo: Don Anderson

Helen: What else was going on in your life as you did this work?

Kathleen: The pandemic offered uninterrupted writing time. While I was finishing the book, I stayed active in writing groups, but on Zoom. I also sang world music with our chorus—for a while on Zoom, and then distanced and masked outdoors. I hiked, swam, made sourdough bread, and explored Japanese cuisine. I reread memoirs that, like mine, describe caring for or coping with a severely brain-damaged loved one—Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, for example, and Family Life by Akhil Sharma. At the end of the summer, I sent my publisher the final draft of the manuscript from Montana where I was visiting my daughter. It took another four months to polish the writing, work out cover and interior designs, and plan publicity, during which time my husband had a knee replacement—a lot to juggle! Getting the word out is an ongoing project.

Helen: Did you read parts of the book to your mother?

Kathleen: No. Because of my mother’s short-term memory problems, I never read any of the book to her. I talked to her about her grandmother though, and early days on College Avenue [the Los Gatos house where Dorothy grew up and Kathleen spent her early years], things she remembered. Several times, I mentioned to her that I was writing about her. “Me?” her shrug and blank expression seemed to say. “Why me?” 

Helen: How about other family members?

Kathleen: In general, I’ve kept my writing life mostly private. My family was aware that I was taking writing classes, but I never talked much about them or about writing except to other writers. For years I have thought of myself as a person learning to write, practicing, with nothing quite good enough to share yet. With the book, I had to go public. Before I sent it to the publisher, I read it aloud to one daughter, who is also interested in writing, and she made suggestions. My husband read it after I sent off the manuscript. I didn’t ever mention to family members that I was writing about them because, although they appear, the story is very focused on my mother and me and does not include much about other parts of my life.

Helen: In many of the scenes from your girlhood, you are reading. What are some of the books you enjoyed?

Kathleen: My parents read to me and my brother when we were little—nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and picture books like Make Way for Ducklings and The Golden Egg Book. The book that turned me into a reader is Pam’s Paradise Ranch. I lived my dream life while reading that book. As a girl, I consumed horse books by Walter Farley and others. Nancy Drew was a favorite, Cherry Ames too. I grabbed Boys’ Life magazine before my brother could read it. I also recall reading volumes of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books that were around the house. Later, I enjoyed Louisa May Alcott and the Brontës, Pearl Buck, and Jade Snow Wong. Gone With the Wind was the first book I read through the night to finish, or nearly. I read quite a lot of French literature in high school and college, all forgotten now except for titles.

Helen: What do you read now?

Kathleen: These days I particularly enjoy books by or about people my age—novels like The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. I read younger authors too, like Lauren Groff and Curtis Sittenfeld. One of my favorite genres is literary nonfiction—three good examples are The Beak of the Finch, A Civil Action, and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. I enjoy many genres—poetry, biography, cookbooks, you name it—and I have read at least a hundred books about writing. 

Helen: Who are the authors that have most inspired you?

Kathleen: Certainly the two memoir writers I already mentioned: Abigail Thomas and Akhil Sharma. But if I could write like anyone, it would be Grace Paley. No one can, and that’s what makes her special. She wrote short stories that came directly from her life. “Wants” is my favorite short story by Paley.

Helen: What have you written besides The Lady with the Crown, and what are you working on now?

Kathleen: In addition to the memoir, I have published about a dozen essays—two since the memoir came out—and a book review. I wrote a poem about my father right after I finished the memoir. It’s hard to write about him because I can’t see his faults, I can’t see him really as human. After my mother’s accident, he stayed with her—he did all the cooking, he did the caregiving, he did everything. He didn’t complain, and he didn’t ever talk about his life being hard. He just carried on. I have always admired him for the choices that he made, and I want to write more about him. Meanwhile, I have three short stories underway. Fiction is harder for me than memoir, but it interests me and is a nice change.

Helen: Has writing become central to your life?

Kathleen: It has. The creativity of writing thrills me. Starting with a blank page and making something—it’s so different from anything else I have ever done. I loved collaborative teaching, but something about the non-collaborative aspect of writing, being on my own, appeals to me. From nothing to something, and I did it!

Helen: Do you have any advice for aspiring memoir writers?

Kathleen: Read. Read memoirs especially. And take a class. In a class, not only will you learn what to do and what to avoid when writing, but you will read great stories, both by published authors and by classmates. The first class I took was through a Bernard Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. In this class, an English woman who had worked at Bletchley Park [an Allied code-breaking center during World War II] sat next to a German woman who had survived Kristallnacht [a violent attack on Jews and Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues throughout Nazi Germany in 1938]. Both were terrific writers with compelling stories. Another classmate grew up poor in Hungary, came to this country, started a company, and invented a computer language. From other students, I learned what it was like to grow up in Iran and Holland, Michigan, and on a farm. If you don’t think you can remember enough to write about, try this: Imagine yourself in the home you grew up in or spent years of your childhood in. Walk through the rooms. I’ll bet you can even draw a floor plan. Open drawers. Listen for sounds like the front door closing. Add family members if you like.

Kathleen does a lot of writing at her kitchen table. Photo: Don Anderson

Helen: Did writing The Lady with the Crown help you process some of the trauma of your mother’s accident?

Kathleen: The answer to that is two-fold: “That’s not why I wrote it,” and “Yes, in a sense it did.” I wrote my memoir to share my remarkable mother. I included the dark parts like facing and owning up to a few unpleasant truths about myself to render the complete story and so others with similar experiences would know they are not alone. What’s true also is that the process of writing about this trauma, turning the chaos of experience—in my case a random tragic accident and its fallout—into a story with a beginning, middle, and end, giving the story shape and meaning made a difference in the way I hold the memories. I feel lighter. This is a therapeutic effect of the writing process. But for the record, no goal, whether freeing yourself, healing yourself, or even honoring a beloved mother excuses a writer from the hard work of making art. Writing about personal experiences is not easier than other kinds of writing. Good storytelling of any kind involves doing research, creating a narrative arc, and using all the elements of craft—dialogue, scene, and description—to bring the pages to life.

Helen: The Lady with the Crown was released in January of this year. What kind of feedback have you received?

Kathleen: The book has gotten good reviews, online and at readings. The feedback is extremely gratifying because the book has touched people. Every couple of weeks I get an email from someone who has just read it. Often, they have their own story, of placing a parent in a memory unit or caring for a mother who became ill when they were young. There are very few people whose lives have not been touched by something like this.


You can order The Lady with the Crown: A Story of Resilience from independent booksellers everywhere. It’s also available at public libraries in Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Los Gatos. 

Kathleen Canrinus enjoys attending book clubs in person and on Zoom to participate in conversations about The Lady with the Crown. Contact her at: theladywiththecrown at gmail dot com

Helen Gibbons worked for many years as a science writer and editor in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. Highlights included blogging from an icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean and editing the newsletter Sound Waves. Now retired, she enjoys reading, singing, walking, and writing an occasional article as a USGS volunteer.

Ever Rodriguez / La Feroz Press

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020
Ever Rodriguez and Gabriela Valencia in the studio of La Feroz Press.
Ever Rodriguez and Gabriela Valencia in the studio of La Feroz Press.

Ever Rodriguez was born and raised in Mexico and has lived in California since the early 1990s. He writes prose and poetry on themes related to his experience, including immigration, biculturalism, music, language and nature. Ever is a pragmatic writer for whom the common becomes the special as a way to contrast the abject against the normal.  His education includes a B.A. in Spanish Literature and a M.A. in Library & Information Science from San José State University. He has worked for the Stanford University Libraries for the past 25 years. Ever’s letterpress studio, La Feroz Press, focuses on handmade editions with original texts and translations. His work often has the intention of amplifying the voices and concerns of his marginalized community.

Although we live a short bike ride apart, we conducted this interview via email while sheltering-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whirligig: What is the history of La Feroz Press?

Ever: La Feroz Press officially started with this name in January of 2019. We had been working under the name of Taller de Tinta y Texto since 2015, which was the time when our printing press project really took shape. It is wise to say here that when one has the intuition or the wish to do something, one has to follow up with at least one decisive action that would move further towards that direction to really get started. 

For me, the decisive action that put me on the printing track was taking a letterpress class. This allowed me not only to learn the basics of letterpress printing, but it also laid out the challenges I would need to overcome in terms of space and equipment, and it put me in touch with the printer and bookmaking culture and communities that would inspire me to fully embrace this activity.

Out of such initial inspiration I was able to create a space for myself at home where I could potentially house a printing press and other essential equipment. For years our one-car garage was filled with unused furniture, souvenirs and unwanted items, so one day I just decided to get rid of all of it and remodel the space to make room for a printing studio.  

Once I had the space, I started itching to find me a press. At first, I was looking for a hand press, but those are as rare as they are expensive, and I even started looking at the possibilities of making my own wooden hand press. I figured that if Gutenberg’s contemporaries were able to build those presses without the tools we have today, I should be able to build one press half as good. I found and bought a book entitled The Common Press, by Harris and Sisson, which has drawing plans and notes about the construction of the Franklin hand press, owned by the Smithsonian Institution. But I deviated from that adventure for a different alternative.

In January of 2015, I found a small press for sale online. The press was not ideal, and it was certainly nowhere near the Franklin hand press, but it was an inexpensive alternative that would get me started. So I bought it and the next day I drove to Los Angeles to pick up a midsize (14 x 24) Morgan Line-O-Scribe proofing press. This was the very first piece of equipment that I owned, and it came with a little bit of awful metal and wood type, but that satisfied the itching.

I experimented with that proofing press for about one year, and then Matt Kelsey—printer and owner of Camino Press, in Saratoga, California—told me about a Chandler & Price (C&P) 10×15 platen press that somebody was selling in Gilroy. I decided to buy that press, and a few printer friends helped me pick it up, bring it to my garage and install it. Mark Knudsen and Kim Hamilton made beautiful wooden feed boards and a treadle for it, and other printer friends gave me some tools and made me feel welcome to letterpress printing. 

The acquisition of this C&P press gave me added impetus to get more serious about letterpress. I acquired both new and used metal type and other essential tools and items through friends and referrals, and then I started to get more adventurous with printing and designing other things beyond postcards. All along, my wife—who I call Gaby—had been supportive about my new adventure, and I think that when she saw me purchasing that big, old C&P press and hauling it into our garage, she realized that my temporary craziness had turned into long-term seriousness. I think she was happy but surprised and concerned all at once. Once Gaby realized that these old devices and tools were here to stay, and she saw how excited I was about them, she got excited as well and started making lemonade with my lemons.

LFP_ZoombiesCard

A couple of years passed, and in 2017 our friends Linda Stinchfield and Kim Hamilton gave us a beautiful Griffin etching press, thus helping me to expand my horizons to allow for more and better relief printing, which now includes linocuts and occasional woodcuts. Finally in June of 2019, I was lucky to bid on and win a Vandercook SP15 press at a local auction and that is now part of La Feroz Press.

By then I had taken several letterpress printing classes and I even earned core letterpress diplomas from the San Francisco Center for the Book on both the platen and the cylinder press. So far that is the story of La Feroz Press, which is still in the making.

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Jan Rindfleisch

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Jan Rindfleisch

Jan Rindfleisch is an artist, educator, writer, curator and cultural worker. She was the executive director of the Euphrat Museum at De Anza College in Cupertino for 32 years. During that time Rindfleisch laid the groundwork for an engaged and inclusive museum environment by continuously tapping the diverse local voices of Silicon Valley. Rindfleisch continues her work as a community builder with Roots and Offshoots: Silicon Valley’s Arts Community, a history of the art of the greater South Bay area from the post-Mission era artifacts of our First Nation peoples to the artists and activists that have made the western/southern half of the Bay Area the rich and vibrant scene it is today.

Rindfleisch has a BA in Physics from Purdue University and an MFA from San José State University. Her awards include: Silicon Valley Business Journal Women of Influence (2014); San José City Hall Exhibits Committee (2006–2013); The ABBY Awards (2010); Silicon Valley Arts & Business Awards; Arts Leadership Award; Santa Clara County Woman of Achievement, (1989); Leadership Vision Award in the Arts, Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce (1993); Civic Service Award, City of Cupertino, Cultural Arts, and the Asian Heritage Council Arts Award (1988).

Whirligig: What was the impetus for you to write this book?

Roots and Offshoots cover image

Jan: I am one of those people that love to question boundaries. I started thinking: How did we get past the exclusion in the art world in the monochromatic 1970s, which didn’t reflect the breakthroughs of the 1960s, such as women’s rights and civil rights? How did we take that early cultural landscape, break new ground, and build new forms for the future? After decades as an arts museum director and a lifetime career as an artist, author, community advocate, and educator with an earlier background in the sciences, I decided to put some of the explorations and findings together.

My book and project Roots and Offshoots: Silicon Valley’s Arts Community begins with an essay entitled The Blossoming of Silicon Valley’s Arts Community and a profile of artist/activist Ruth Tunstall Grant. A Spiral Through Time follows threads between the ancestral Muwekma Ohlone, Juana Briones in the 1800s, Marjorie Eaton and her arts colony in the 1900s, and artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood today. Over a period of years of research and writing, the book grew to about twenty profiles and two additional guest essays; one by Maribel Alvarez about MACLA, Doing that Latino Art Thing, and the other by Raj Jayadev about Silicon Valley De-Bug, The Anatomy of an ‘Un- Organization.

There are people in Silicon Valley connected with incredible history, but their story isn’t being told. Their experiences tell a different story of who we are. Origins of organizations are often forgotten or rewritten, and the originators erased. How can one or a few names stand for an organization/period/idea and the rest be forgotten? How does this erasure affect our view of ourselves as creators and as being worthy of judging or promoting art, or taking a larger role in our community? I wanted to add some of these missing pieces that contribute to a richer story of Silicon Valley’s art scene. Frustration with systems can be a motivating force. Another big personal motivation was gratitude. This book is a way to thank so many people who paved the way and with whom I worked.

Whirligig: The Bay Area is deeply rich in terms of cultural diversity and creative output. How did you determine which groups to represent, likely knowing that you could not include them all? Who was left out? Will there be a second volume?

Jan: The book is not a survey of the South Bay Area scene. I wanted to tell the story of the trailblazers who truly made a difference in Silicon Valley, and to provide broader historical context for their experience. A major/shared motivator was to share with the reader how the artists/activists in this book enrich us personally. The artists/activists open us to the art of daily life, and to the artist within each of us. They get us to examine ourselves, to question our lives, and to think freely. They inspire us to dream and imagine and effectuate change—to build connections (not walls!) and enliven our communities.

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Diane Cassidy

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Diane Cassidy After Manet's dejeuner sur L'herbe

Bay Area photographer and artist Diane Cassidy celebrates her 82nd birthday this month with the showing of a new series of photographs at the annual San Francisco Altered Barbie show, and the launch of her first website. Cassidy studied photography at San Jose State University in the late 1980’s, and continues to take classes with respected photographers through various peninsula venues. A monograph of Cassidy’s work is scheduled for publication by Hunger Button Books in 2013.

Whirligig: How did you come to be an artist?

Diane: For me, becoming an artist was an indulgence. Throughout my formative years I was equally interested in making art and natural science. An unfortunate marriage ending in divorce left me, at a very early age, completely responsible for myself and my two children.

My first plan in preparing myself for a well-paying job was to get a degree in Art Education. Being young and impatient, I just couldn’t tolerate the necessary Mickey Mouse curricula; those how to educate courses were so so boring. I had trouble staying awake. One day while conversing with fellow classmates I learned that with a degree in a related science I could qualify for an internship in Medical Technology. I made the switch. How I relished those difficult chemistry and physics classes. A welcome relief.

During my 20 year stint as a Medical Technologist I was always taking art classes and workshops. Art was my hobby. Then one day in the 70’s while on vacation I stopped at the Script’s Institute. I noticed some images of shore life displayed on their walls that I really liked. Upon asking I learned that they were hi-contrast photographs. Thus began my foray into photography.

One day I attended a photo workshop in portraiture with Margo Davis at the Palo Alto Cultural Center. While she went over her bio she mentioned that though she had a BA in French from San Jose State, she returned to get a MA in photography. I had gotten a BA in Biology from San Jose State years ago; maybe I could return to get a MA in photography. Which I did. I retired as early as I could from Valley Medical Center and concentrated on photography in earnest.
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Julia Bradshaw

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Photographer and video performance artist Julia Bradshaw is exhibiting seven different series of work in her first one person show at Fresno City College this month. Her work often comments on language and the mixed messages of cross-cultural exchanges.

Bradshaw was born in Manchester, England. She spent nine years working and living in Munich, Germany where she studied with Michael Jochum before coming to California in 1995. She received her MFA from San José State University in 2007. Bradshaw is Assistant Professor of Photography at California State University, Fresno.

Whirligig: At Fresno City College you are exhibiting seven different series of photo-based works: Cut Pieces (2010), Case X (2010), Nocturnal (2010), On Photographing Breasts (2009), Tissue Blowing Project (2007), Constraints (2003), and Companions of my Imagination (1994). What is the thread between these bodies of work?

Julia: I am interested in the photographic series as a means to problem solve or comment on everyday life. Apart from the Nocturnal series, all of these projects have something to do with our culture and society. Cut Pieces, On Photographing Breasts and Case X are all linked in that they have to do with my investigations into libraries and books. They consider book content, the public’s misuse of books and a library’s policy on “protecting” books. The Constraints Series has to do with the various societal dictums that potentially have something inherently good and bad associated with them. For example, I have an image and text combination I call “polite conversation.” In this image I am trying to say that “polite conversation” is positive in that it ensures a civil society, however it also has a negative aspect in that polite conversation also can prevent people engaging at a deeper level. Likewise in the Tissue Blowing Project I am also thinking about language. In this project I visually represent miscommunication, disputes, failed advances, diametric viewpoints and avoidance and absence in relationships.

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