Sue’s News of Podcasts, Posts, and Puzzled Pups

Dear friends,
I’m deep into revisions on a book, so I offer you a look at the newsletter I sent out over the weekend.


I’ll be reading from my chapbook The Widow at the Piano Saturday, June 12, 4 p.m. PDT at The Poetry Box’s monthly event. Click here for info and zoom link.

I’ll be discussing childlessness and other topics with other childless authors over 50 at “Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen,” Sunday, June 20, noon PDT. Click here to register to listen live or receive the recording to listen to you at our convenience.  

I’m co-leading Willamette Writers’ Coast/Corvallis chapters’ open mic Monday, June 28, 6:30 p.m. PDT. Five minutes per reader. All genres welcome. You don’t have to be a member or live in Oregon to participate. And you don’t have to read if you don’t want to. Click here to register.New at the blogs:

Unleashed in “Driveway Camping” and “A Memorial Day Memory”

Childless by Marriage: “10 Challenging Thoughts About Childlessness” and “The Choices That Lead Us to Childlessness”


The Memoir Project: A thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life by Marion Roach Smith. Even if you’re not writing a memoir, the stories in this slender book are fantastic!

When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown. Best novel I have read in years. Have Kleenex handy.


A month ago, this area in South Beach, Oregon was wilderness, for 25 years part of our daily walk. Things are changing. Annie the dog says, “Hey! What happened?” 

 All the best,

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Looking Back at John Lennon

Lately I have been immersed in the Beatles, especially John Lennon. I just finished reading a 661-page biography titled Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music – The Definitive Life by Tim Riley. Wow. What a long time ago it all was. The surviving Beatles are in their 70s, and I’m almost 64, the age Paul McCartney wrote about in his song, “When I’m 64.” I had no clue about so many things in the Beatlemania days. I was in junior high when the Beatles first came to America in 1964 and in my early years of college when they broke up. Plus I was in love with Paul. John, kind of rough and sarcastic, didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t pay much attention to what he did post-Beatles. By the time Lennon was shot to death outside his New York apartment, I was in the process of divorcing my first husband and working as a reporter for the Pacifica Tribune. I had bigger things to think about than whose records were at the top of the charts.

I was so young and stupid in those days when I was begging my mother for the latest Beatles album, sold at $1.99 for mono and $2.99 for stereo. Oh please, I just have to have it. Once purchased, the album revolved on the stereo in the living room—the only one we had—while I sat with my head against the speaker, singing along. When not attached to the speaker, I was listening to my palm-sized transistor radio. I knew every word and every note of every song. I still do.

I still have my Beatles records, and a few CDs that came out later. The recordings were treasures to be acquired a little at a time. But now in this crazy Internet world, I have discovered that I can find almost everything the Beatles ever recorded online at YouTube, Amazon Prime or iTunes. I can read about a song in the book, go online and listen to it immediately. I can read about a TV interview from the ‘70s, and there it is on YouTube. I have downloaded a ton of Beatles music on my tablet for free and can listen to it anytime I want. It blows my mind.

I have read McCartney bios, but this is my first Lennon book. In recent years as an adult, I have come to admire Lennon’s talents as singer, songwriter and creative person. While I was living my life and obsessing over Paul, I missed so much. Where was I when John was making multiple comebacks and appearing all over American TV? What was I doing the day he was killed? Why wasn’t I paying attention?

Riley’s book is loaded with information, not just about Lennon and the other Beatles but about the times they lived in and the places where they lived. He gives a whole history of rock ‘n roll, linking Lennon’s work back to the musicians who inspired it and ahead to the ones who followed. He offers details behind every song and every album, how it was written, how it was arranged and recorded, who wrote which passages and what they were really about. He shares the times Lennon was drunk or stoned, the times he acted out, and the twisted childhood that tormented him all his life. I don’t know if I would have wanted to know all that when I was a teenage fan experiencing my first burst of vicarious lust years before I would interact with men in real life, but it’s fascinating now.

The research job here is incredible. Riley must have read everything ever written about Lennon, interviewed everyone who ever knew him, and taken in every bit of film, video, vinyl and digital media. Somehow he managed to pull it all together into a very readable book that I had to put down occasionally due to its massive size but didn’t want to stop until I knew the whole story. Now I’m playing Lennon music on my record player and my Kindle Fire, thinking wow, how did I miss all this?

There are many other books about John Lennon. It seems everyone who was a Beatle or knew a Beatle has written a book. I’ll never read them all, but I can’t imagine any of them could be as complete as this one. Bravo, Tim Riley.

Would you cross America by covered wagon today?

Longtime journalist Rinker Buck, suffering from a late-middle age slump, got a wild idea. He would travel the Oregon trail the way the pioneers did in the 1800s.

Longtime journalist Rinker Buck, suffering from a late-middle age slump, got a wild idea. He would travel The Oregon Trail the way the pioneers did in the 1800s. He would outfit an authentic covered wagon, hitch up a team of mules and traverse the country, starting at St. Joseph Missouri, traveling through Nebraska, Wyoming and Idaho and ending in Oregon. This being the 21st century, he would have to figure out how to deal with the freeways, shopping centers and homes that had been built over the old wagon ruts, but he was determined to do it. The result is Buck’s new book, The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, published this year by Simon and Schuster.

Rinker Buck had planned to go alone, but when he asked his brother Nick for help getting ready, Nick insisted on going, too, and bringing his little dog Olive Oyl.” Both men were dogged by demons from their past and sought the “Oregon Trail Cure.” The result is a tale that’s a blend of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. It’s funny, poignant and suspenseful. The Bucks have their share of mishaps, along with a big dollop of luck, and I find myself riding with them all the way, falling in love with the men, the mules and Olive Oyl.

Of course in modern times when a covered wagon shows up on the road, people lean out of their minivans to take pictures with their smart phones, but there are still long passages of pastures, mountains and deserts with no one around for miles. Their days on the trail fill the brothers with a joy I can feel right through the pages.

Buck writes in an easy-reading style that carries the reader along. When justified, he lets the f-bombs fly. When they screw up, he says, “I really screwed the poodle this time.“ But he also describes the scenery in lines that sound like poetry. Throughout the book, he includes information about all aspects of the pioneer journey. We learn about mules, wagons, the people who died on the trail, and the entrepreneurs who gathered at the “jumping off” places to sell the travelers all kinds of necessities and junk for the journey. We learn about the Indians and the Mormons and the big role they played on the trail.

They had their share of adventures, but of course the Bucks’ trip in 2011 wasn’t as rugged as it might have been back in 1850. They had planned ahead and had contacts waiting for them. They had transcontinental communication as long as they could charge their cell phones. Trail enthusiasts rushed to help them, feed them and honor them as celebrities. They were unlikely to catch cholera or smallpox. There were no Indians. But there were still long sections with dust, mud, broken wheels, no cell phone reception, no water and nothing but Hormel chili to eat. They could have called it off at any time, but they didn’t.

Most of my ancestors came from Europe. They either came directly to California by boat, took the train across, or traveled up from Mexico with horses and wagons when the Spanish ruled the land. There’s one branch of the family that might have crossed the country by wagon, but I haven’t found any information on that yet. Me, I’d never have made it out of Missouri. As soon as they told me I’d couldn’t take all my stuff and couldn’t have iced tea with my lunch, or maybe not even have lunch, well, I’d be going home. I like my creature comforts.

My husband, our dog Sadie and I did our own migration from California to Oregon, detailed in my book Shoes Full of Sand. We did it in a Ryder Truck. On a freeway. But there were breakdowns, hunger, heat, and desperation. For all three days. And sometimes all we had to eat were donuts. I retrace that trail several times a year in my Honda, and I keep meeting new Oregonians who have followed the same path, perhaps completing the migration that began long ago when their ancestors moved to California. We’re all pioneers in our own way.

Read this book. It’s great.

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