Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Recipe for Perfect Writer's Retreat

Cabin, preferably with a wood stove
Water, rushing is best, or waves
Inclement weather for 75% of the time
Walks that are safe enough for distracted minds to navigate, strenuous enough to keep the large muscle groups oiled, long enough to freshen the brain
Excellent Mexican restaurant within walking distance
Meals shared with other writers and artists
Healthy and unhealthy food in equal proportions
Music, either self-generated or on CD
A suitably engaging project
Books and notes for reference, inspiration and just plain escape
Excellent chair and desk
Just enough electricity to power laptop and music devices
Good writing friends

Take a rustic cabin, with wood stove inserted, and wide porch along one side. Add a dash of trees, or if available, a whole ridgeline. Place within walking distance of active water and dust with enough decent weather to get there every day (in the opposite direction will be the most excellent Mexican restaurant). Slowly stir in walks, a little bit at a time, alternating with meals (composed of equal portions of healthy and unhealthy ingredients) shared with other artists; toss in a soup├žon of music as needed. Briskly mix in suitably engaging project, inspiring books and reference notes, then pour into ergonomically correct chair and desk; simmer for two weeks. Check frequently for adequate electricity. Deep conversations will bubble up in the evenings; do not mash them down. The end result is quite tasty; participants always beg for more. Have printed recipe available to hand them as they leave.

originally posted on, November, 2007
Searchlights & Signal Flares page
permission granted by Susan Bono, Ed.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Are you a writer or an author?

That was the question posted at on the Searchlights and Signal Flares page; I missed the deadline (March 13th) to post an answer back to them. But it is a good q. So I'll answer it here.

An author or writer? At this point I'd settle to be considered either one, really. But upon reflection I'd say , that a writer is someone who practices the word-craft of writing, whether it be for their own work (novel, memoir, poems) or on behalf of another such as a newsletter, an indigent and lazy relative or writing a manual for a corporation or business. An author would be along the lines of the French auteur, a creator of a piece or body of work. The author, who could also be a writer, is promoting their personal vision in some way; only they could have created that work. The writer is a skilled artisan who builds for themself and others, creating work that another skilled craftsman could as handily do, though of course issues of quality/approach might come up.

So I think most of us are both, all rolled up in one tidy (or untidy, in my case) package. The writer in service to the author; the author driving the writer. As illustrated when my friend Ruth greeted me "Hey, here's our author" when I came into her office the other day. I turned halfway around to see who this Arthur was. "No, you, silly, you're the author." That pleased me; I had thought I was writing the essay for the newsletter, but I saw immediately that I'd also authored it. While another writer could have written a piece about the program, no one else would have written the mini-essay that I had.

It's possible that tomorrow I might post a different opinion. But no matter what, next month I'm going to get my rusty butt in gear and reply to this prompt:
What story are you being asked to tell? (deadline: 04/15/08)

find it at

Friday, March 14, 2008

a pub !

...a publication, that is, not a cozy drinking establishment.

I've been writing some small nature columns for our weekly faculty and staff e-newsletter, although my column tends to come out once a month during the semester. One just ran today, so I thought I would include it below.

Sustaining the Landscape
by Lakin Khan

Soon enough the dry days will outnumber the wet, and we'll relegate our Wellies and raincoats to the back porch for their hard-earned summer respite. But for now, umbrellas are staying in the car and sandals in the closet. One day a few weeks ago, during a welcome though brief intermission between bouts of drizzle and spitting rain, I splashed over to the Environmental Technology Building to meet Frederique Lavoipierre, the recently hired Director of the Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate Program.

We sat on a protected bench in front of the ETC; nearby lavender gleamed in the sudden benediction of sun. In front of us most of the community garden marinated under a soggy winter blanket of brown leaves and mulch; every so often the rich, fecund smell of leaves becoming soil wafted our way. It was a fitting location, Lavoipierre told me, for the sustainable landscape movement grew out of the green building concept. "It was as if, once the buildings were designed and built, we looked out the windows and saw the next step," she said.

Although the idea and plans for a Sustainable Landscaping Program have been around for years, this is its inaugural semester. The program is aimed at professional landscapers, gardeners and home-owners alike, who are interested in learning about healthier ways to design and manage our yards, gardens and greenbelts. Classes such as Soil Resources, Water Resources, Ecological Principles and Site Management, among others, are offered; students have a year to complete the program, including a project.

"I expect most students will come in with a project or garden in mind," Lavoipierre said and gestured toward the dormant garden "but if they don't, there are plots here they can use." I couldn't help but think that our entire campus could be a worthy project. Planting water-thrifty native species, implementing composting and mulching practices and integrated pest management should cut down on demands for water, soil amendments, pesticides and herbicides, thus reducing landscaping costs, a big plus in the upcoming budget-crunch year.
Sustainable Landscaping is one of a variety of terms that refer to practices that adhere to basic ecological principles. It means to work within the local eco-system, not against it, seeking to minimize drain on local water and soil resources, avoid releasing toxic chemicals or invasive species, and provide habitat for native wildlife who find their territories growing slimmer and slimmer as we and our suburbs expand into rural areas and wildlands.

Sustainable landscaping implies that our manipulated and designed landscapes can sustain and support the local eco-system, providing sustenance, shelter, beauty and joy to humans and animals alike; it implies that the landscapes can be sustained easily because they've been designed to cooperate with the environment.

Although dealing with plants, soil, rocks and water, traditional landscaping practices can't always be deemed "natural," sustainable or even beneficial in the long run. Rather than build around and within the constraints of the local environment, traditional landscaping often seeks to create the handsome lawns and gardens that thrive in water-rich environments, a practice driven by home-owners and clients who want the typical American yard, with little regard to the over-strained, meager water supply of our semi-arid, Mediterranean climate.

They modify the land to accommodate the non-native plants, using fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, rather than fit the plants and plans to the land. The amendments might keep the lawns perky and vibrant, but the chemical run-off infiltrates the water supply; affecting indigenous plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals, altering the food chain and skewing the habitat-web. Some of the imported plant species, like Scotch Broom, water hyacinth or ice plants can thrive too well and became invasive, crowding native species out of their niches.
The loss of native plants then becomes a lack of necessary food and/or shelter for the more particular native insects and animals that have co-evolved within this habitat. As habitats shrink or become noxious, so go those species.

Much has been learned over the years about our effect on our environment and different ways to mitigate it. Programs such as this Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate can hasten the spread of accurate knowledge and the implementation of sustainable, regenerative practices. There sure is high interest, for the response from the community, both among professionals and non-professionals, has been thrilling, Lavoipierre says.

The rain clouds thinned as we sat, the soft music of dripping bushes and eaves surrounding us. But as the sky darkened and the wind picked up, pushing the branches around and stirring up trouble amongst the soaked leaves, we hustled back to Darwin Hall where our umbrellas waited patiently, leaving the garden to revel in all that the weather and new students would bring.

For more information on the Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate Program, please go to

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Blessing of the Birds

Opening the front door on this chilly, damp morning, I welcome the sun as it arrives through the still bare branches of the ailing sycamore across the street. A raven flings itself off the neighbor’s roof, swoops in front of my face as I walk out to my car, parked curbside. I am delighted by this brief almost-intersection between his glossy feathers and my feeble, just-washed, still-damp hair. I have a bounce in my step, a smile on my face as I stand in line for my morning java-jolt. The barista raises her eyebrows; this was not my usual demeanor.

Later, on the way to campus, I see a flurry of large red-brown wings in a field to my left: a hawk has found breakfast! Beating mightily, it lifts up out from some low bushes; I slow down to see what might be wriggling in its talons, annoying the line of cars behind me to no end, no doubt. The hawk struggles, turns and flaps full-force across the road right in front of my slowing car. I catch sight of a tawny chest in the upsweep of wings, then the burnished brown of wingtops; I see nothing clutched in its claws and then it is gone, passing over me. I’m thrilled at this blessing of the hawk, as if picked out to be honored from the thick line of now-honking cars. I step on the gas, grinning like a delirious idiot; it is beginning to feel like a red-letter day.

No particularly great news awaits me at the office. According to the messages in my voicemail, I have won neither the Pulitzer nor the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize, although student Y wants to speak with Professor X and the reconciled spreadsheet for the department’s budget is expected in the Dean’s Office by noon. Still, the song in my heart runs on, undismayed. I take the opportunity to hand deliver a few items across campus, and return the long way, along the winter creek and across a small, somewhat neglected patch of lawn. In a heartbeat, a phoebe sweeps in front of me, almost lands about two feet away, pulls a U-ey, then races back across my path to the tall fir it came from, a single flowing motion, quick as an sketch artist looping out a smooth line. My spirits pick up again, the grin repaints my face: three bird blessings on a spring day. If these are omens, they are good omens.

The day is about over. I’ve not won anything, nor received notice that any of my stories or essays have been accepted for publication, nor been offered a groovy new job or a raise. My kin-folk had neither good news nor bad news; they are all dealing as best they can with the same issues that plague us all: commuting, trying to balance school studies and work obligations, the lack of funds for all our heart’s desire. But perhaps the bird blessings have little to do with these daily concerns. Perhaps the blessing is that even while connecting student Y with Professor X and making Excel behave, I spent most of the day with a smile on my face for no reason other than a bird (or three) lifted its wings to me.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Another cool thing

This summer, I have the good fortune of being Fiction Assistant at the Napa Valley Writers' Conference. I'm pretty jazzed about this, because I've enjoyed being at the conference, I've enjoyed all the writers there (staff, faculty & participants), and I've especially enjoyed working with Anne Evans, the Program Director. It's a groovy conference, in my mind (admittedly, I'm biased) with a nice ratio between particpants and an excellent teaching faculty. Great setting too.

See link on LinkLog for further details.