Saturday, June 3, 2023



There She Stood on the Edge of Her Feather, Expecting to Fly

First draft written with a vintage Olivetti Lettera 32 Typewriter

Watercolor with the same title – artist: Toni Youngblood

Toni Youngblood – 30 April 2023

Title inspired by the Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield song: “Expecting to Fly”

I pushed hard with my left foot to try and release my right foot from the force holding it. My left foot became stuck, too. Alternating a push with each foot, I continued to try to get loose from the suction. Each foot sank deeper into a substance that felt and looked like chocolate pudding. The sun was on its way down and I was being sucked deeper, ankles, knees, thighs, hips. It was liquefied soil, the most gelatinous mud I had ever encountered, and now I was being pulled into it like quicksand with every move I made.

One of my favorite places to run in the late 1970's and early 1980's was up in the hills above the Stanford University campus. At the summit is the “Dish”, a radio telescope that is visible from areas around Palo Alto. From the vantage point of the summit, you could sometimes see Felt Lake to the west, if it had enough water in it, and the panorama of Menlo Park, the Stanford Campus and Palo Alto. In winter and spring, the hills became lush and green. Summer, they turned golden,

and this is what I think of when California is called the “Golden State”. But for the golden orange poppies which Early Spanish settlers called “copa de oro,” or cup of gold, and the 1848 Gold Rush, California eventually officially got its nickname. Most precipitation occurs in winter between November and March. Summers are dry. Fires are common in the dry summers and can easily begin with lightning strikes or a spark from a car's catalytic converter as the vehicle speeds along the freeway. Vegetation lost during the fire season, often results in unstable soil during the rainy season. Landslides ensue. Two-lane California Scenic Highway 1 has been completely blocked by landslides several times over the years.

Today the Stanford “Dish” area is a popular hiking trail. At the time I enjoyed running along the rambling dirt road there, I seldom saw another person. Cows grazed the grassy hills, often standing frozen in the middle of the road as I approached them. They held their heads down in a menacing pose, staring at me as I got closer, like a bull getting ready to charge. It was intimidating at first to me, but I soon learned as I got closer that they were more afraid of me. They would suddenly jerk up their heads in an “ah ha”, gesture and amble off, giving me the right of way. Other creatures I saw were White-tailed Kites, hovering overhead as they surveyed the tall grass for small rodents. I would see an occasional Great Horned Owl as daylight faded. Their piercing yellow eyes followed me and their necks quickly turned through seemingly impossible positions. While running in the area one early evening, my college boyfriend, Nels who introduced me to this running trail, discovered a dead Barn Owl in the crotch of a tree.  He cut off three wing feathers and gave them to me, as I have had a life-long love of birds. He gave the carcass to Nathan Oliveira, an artist and Professor of Studio Art at Stanford University, for whom Nels occasionally stretched canvases. Among other subjects, Nate painted birds of prey. While the sun was still hot in summer, I sometimes saw small rattle snakes sunning themselves across the dirt road.

On the early evening that I found myself stuck in the mud, I was running in the hills near the radar dish and it was winter. On a typical evening after work, I would park my car at the building by the golf driving range on Links Road. I would get out of the car, put one foot on the rear bumper and lean over, touching my head to my knee, then repeat the stretch with the other leg. Ready to run, I jogged westward on Links Road, crossing Junipero Serra Boulevard. On the other side of Junipero Serra, Links Road came to a fork. On the right side was the entrance to the Stanford Golf Course and Pro shop. The fork in the road to the left was abruptly halted by an imposing eight-foot tall chain-link gate. I would make my attack on the gate by jumping at it as high as I could while grabbing onto the chain link with my hands and positioning my feet in it for the lift off. Up over the gate I would throw myself and drop down the other side. Once on land again, I started off running up the winding road surrounded by old trees and natural landscape. I would pass by an unassuming building that housed the National Bureau of Economic Research. On the opposite side of the road, nestled in a curve was the Center For the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, along with a small caretaker's cottage. At the top of the dead-end road was a four-foot-high fence with a rudimentary ladder going over it. I hopped up the ladder and down the other side where the landscape opened onto a field of tall grass, a few old oak trees here and there. As I knew there were rattlesnakes in the area, I usually sprinted through the tall grass until I reached the open dirt road.

Past the dish, the road ran straight for awhile and then made a series of gentle curves rolling up and down in elevation. Towards the end of my route the road took a sharp hairpin turn and began a steeper drop down hill. Shortly after the turn is where my story begins.

A couple of days before when I ran the route, I noticed a sort of muddy spot in the road, nothing big. Today, I thought nothing more of it as I ran around a barricade set up with a “ROAD CLOSED” sign on it, though those items had not been there on my previous run. “Oh, that's just to let folks that don't come up here often know about the muddy spot”, I thought to myself.

I continued on the trail as I had always done and quickly realized the mud was thicker than it was the last time I ran. By then my right foot was stuck. It was winter and there had been rain. The uphill side of the bank had apparently become saturated by rain water and slid down over the road. It's surprising how unnoticeable it was to the eye. But it was now wetter and thicker. So here I was on a hilltop about three miles out, surrounded by pastures where the only living creatures were cows, birds, rodents and snakes. As I sank deeper into the muck, up to my waist now, I thought “There could be cows submerged below me in this stuff! Perhaps a small maintenance vehicle driving along the trail a day before, had disappeared into this mess!” Suddenly, I felt panic at visualizing what could be my fate. I tried to gain leverage to crawl out. There was nothing solid around me to grasp. I couldn't move my lower body, as the viscous mess held onto me from the waist down. I tried again while at the same time reaching with my arms towards the uphill of the bank. Nearly reclining on my left side with legs still angled down into the mud, I clawed at the earth on the bank for stability. Slowly, bit by bit, fueled by a surge of adrenaline, I eventually had the strength to pull enough of my lower torso out to begin to crawl, as small rocks tumbled into the mud from the bank. With a with a major effort, my legs, then my feet were free.

I rolled over on my bottom, jumped up, stomped my feet to shake off some of the thick mud built up on my running shoes. I squealed, “Yee, ha!”, and took off down the hill, considering my good luck escaping the death grip of the invisible landslide.

To say I ran faster than usual is an understatement. As I was flying down the hill, I saw another runner making his way uphill towards me. He glanced at my lower half, which was covered in dark mud from my waist to my gloppy shoes, and he said, “Oh, you fell!” I nervously barked out “Yeah.”, and kept running without slowing.

My running shoes stood outside my apartment door for a week like sentinels guarding my psyche. As the case with most apartment dwellers, I didn't have access to a hose, and I wasn't keen on the idea of taking my mud-encrusted running shoes into my bathtub to shower them and risk plugging the drain. Every time I left my apartment and returned, I would look at my mud-caked shoes and relive parts of my close encounter. Eventually, my thoughts included the memory of the runner coming up the hill as daylight faded. I recalled there had been no barricade with “ROAD CLOSED” sign to warn anyone taking the uphill approach as he was. In the dark, the mudslide would have been invisible . He wouldn't have known what was ahead of him nor seen it before he ran into it. In my own acute stress response of survival fight and flight, having just self-rescued from a miserable suffocating death, possibly eternally entombed with my bovine sisters, it hadn't occurred to me to warn the uphill runner of the impending danger.

Over the years since my harrowing escapade, from the perspective of my somewhat-more-mature self, I've felt a sense of regret that it had not occurred to me to tell the other runner about the mudslide. I also realized that I was embarrassed to tell what happened to me---I had, in fact ignored the sign and barricade that were put in place to protect people. Some amount of my young know-it-all pride had given me the nudge to go around the barrier, believing it was meant for everyone but me. Hindsight can be a kick in the butt, albeit too late. I hope the runner made it through his course without incident, and that no missing person's report was filed by his family.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Photo:  Photo: Lynn Goldsmith

In the Beginning, It Wasn't About a Typewriter – Toni Youngblood
First draft of this essay was typed on a Smith Corona Classic 12 typewriter. April 23, 2023 (My greyhound, Tesla's tenth birthday)

It began with noble intention. I read an article in the New Yorker magazine: “Five Ways to Declutter by Reckoning With Your Mortality, Plus One Bonus Tip” by Annie Mebanne (August 1, 2016).

Decluttering has been on my mind for quite awhile, especially after having purchased a second home for the purpose of fleeing cold, snowy winters at the location of my five-bedroom primary residence. My “plan” was to permanently relocate to the barely two-bedroom getaway cottage at some point. Consideration of down sizing was definitely in order. The article “Five Ways to Declutter by Reckoning with Your Mortality...” seems appropriate for my eventual move to a home less than a third the size of the home I've occupied for over sixteen years. The other thought, more morose, hovered around the vision of relatives (nieces and nephews) walking into my five-bedroom, fully furnished and-then-some home and seeing my “collection” of stuff as just a bunch of STUFF. A responsible Auntie would have a well-appointed will that spelled out any gifts, and have otherwise organized an estate sale from which proceeds would go to a favorite charity, maybe nieces and nephews included. I saw the article as a helpful outline from which to proceed.

All was good in Mebanne's account of her journey to successfully let go of things. Then she came upon her beloved Hermes 3000 typewriter that she hadn't used in decades. Many thoughts had turned into words on paper through her use of this typing machine. She mentioned that Tom Hanks had this model in his collection of over 200 typewriters, and it was a favorite of his. At this point, I will say that I did read the entire article, though I don't remember much more about it. Since her reference to the typewriter, I took a fast and furious dive into the world of typewriters, the sequence of the details traveling down that road have become fuzzy. In case you didn't know, there is a typewriter revolution going on, and “THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TYPEWRITTEN!” ~The Boston Typewriter Orchestra.

I found a short YouTube of Tom Hanks changing the ribbon on one of his typewriters. Then I ran across a reference to a documentary called “California Typewriter”. Oh, god, help me, I found it on FreeVee (or some other free film-watching vehicle) and watched with great interest. There were interviews with Tom Hanks, of course, but also Sam Shepard, John Mayer, David McCullough, and others. An opening scene describes the re-creation of an event involving artist Ed Ruscha, a friend and a photographer throwing a typewriter out of a car window while traveling along Highway 91 in California. This event occurred in 1966, was subsequently photographed (post murder of the typewriter) and assembled into an art book by Ruscha. I was hooked. Lots more information was shared about typewriters in the film by owners and employees of a typewriter shop and repair business in Berkeley, California from which the film title came. My trip down the typewriter rabbit hole continued.

After informally, but curiously researching typewriter brands and models by era and functions, I zeroed in on a model that I believed could work for me. For what purpose? Writing. WRITING---something I'd not done very seriously since writing my thesis in partial requirement of my M.Arch degree, Master of Architecture which I completed in 1990. Other than that (and descriptions of on-site construction visits during my architecture career) there was the occasional blog post that included a bit of research on a topic, and my thoughts on it, for my own entertainment.

I didn't keep track of the time that went by before I found the model I was looking for, maybe a week, a week and a half. I set my sights on the Smith Corona Classic 12. The “12” describes the 12-inch carriage which allows for an 8-1/2 inch x 11 inch sheet of paper to be turned horizontally, as well as accommodating a tabular size sheet of paper, 11 inches x 17 inches, in vertical orientation. After searching on eBay and Etsy, I found two machines in good condition at reasonable cost on Facebook Marketplace, one in my current city and the other in the town where my getaway cottage is located. I settled on the current city machine, as I could try it out right away. A day after the purchase, I ran across a list online of well-known writers and the typewriter models most often used during their careers. It turns out that Patti Smith used the same Smith Corona Classic 12 model that I purchased last Sunday. She also borrowed Sam Shepherd's Hermes 3000, back in the days when they were an item. (Read her book, “Just Kids” mostly about her love and friendship with Robert Maplethorpe, for more on that and other meaningful people in her young life.)

At this point, I must return to the interviews with the likes of John Mayer, Sam Shepard, David McCullough, and Tom Hanks in “California Typewriter”. Their views resonated with me concerning my lack of focus living in our world of the internet, social media “communications” and the massive distractions they create. McCullough mentioned the “solitude” of using the typewriter in his work, versus the inevitable breach of that which comes with word processing on a computer with internet lurking. Hanks likes to personally type “Thank You” notes. He despises email “Thank you's” and will delete without reading! Mayer spoke of the intimacy of writing lyrics on his typewriter and being able to easily pick up the pages within arm's reach, instead of storing them on a hard drive which he never looks at again! Sam Shepard likes that the typewriter forces him to think more about what he wants to say and how to say it before typing it on the paper.

In the seven days since purchasing my Smith Corona, I have happily been practicing typing on a daily basis by copying articles from issues of the New Yorker magazine that I borrowed from the Little Free Library on my block (placed there by my neighbor who played in our local symphony orchestra for more than thirty years). I have also continued online to search for favored easy-touch machines, as my Smith Corona manual requires “pounding” my fingers on the keys to elicit clear type. I never realized how useless my left pinky finger is, until typing on this machine, although I had similar experience attempting to hit the lowest notes on my alto saxophone. A positive is that the action of typing on this machine tends to strengthen my core muscles which weakened after acquiring a hernia during the pandemic. I had surgery three weeks ago to fix the hernia and no physical harm is being done by typing.

Reviews and tips abound on the internet. Anecdotal accounts by Tom Hanks, as well as typewriter repair persons, and all-around typewriter lovers describe “flying fingers” and “butter soft” touch when typing with an Olivetti Lettera 22, Italian designed and manufactured beginning the middle of the 20th Century. One of these machines is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art Department of Architecture and Design, as a fine example of design.

After seven days of owning my first typewriter in decades, I purchased a second machine: the Olivetti Lettera 22 from an eBay seller. It will ship out to me tomorrow, Monday.

How is my own de-cluttering project going?

De-accessioned: One coffee mug
Acquired: Two vintage typewriters


Thursday, February 23, 2023

My New Artist Website




    Click here to go to my new website:



Artist Websites by FineArtStudioOnline




Portrait in Progress: Self-Portrait with Hounds

Portrait in progress:  This updated version includes both my hounds I had through 2022.  Sadly, we lost my boy Westwise in November 2022.  He is now included in the portrait, the white and black greyhound on the left.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Wednesday, April 27, 2022



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...