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Seattle PBS author Mary Lou Sanelli Op-ed

Mary Lou Sanelli is a writer, dance teacher and literary speaker. She lives in Belltown.
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In what kind of world does a baby girl live in a homeless camp?

A bike ride past a small child in a blue-tarp homeless encampment stirs thoughts about society’s failures.

Even during our rainy months, as soon as I begin riding my bike, satisfaction flows into me quickly, like a sugar rush, just as when I was 6 years old, feeling the freedom of riding for the first time. But the real point is that I notice so much more at bicycle speed, and I want to notice.

And this morning would feel like too grand a luxury, too great a denial, to not notice the newest jury-rigged tarp strung between branches along the waterfront pathway, so stark and, yet, so full of determination, everything about its makeshift survival is admirable and horrifying at the same time. The layers of plastic persistence are etched into my brain.

I feel uncomfortable to think of it now, nearly as much as I felt then, when my first thought was what will our parks be like in 10 years as our city becomes more and more crowded and even more expensive, every tent standing alone and, yet, together in one continuous chain of poverty and addiction and a failing system of both health care and leadership.

A young man is standing on a sheet of muddy cardboard next to the tarp and for a moment the earth seemed to fall away under my feet. Because what else I see is tender and good and yet countless kinds of wrong in a country rich as ours: He (her father or brother, I don’t know), is holding a baby girl, maybe a year old. Their campsite is pretty tidy, but the one next to them is trash-strewn and reeks of urine and feces, the horrible smells we need to protect ourselves from.

I slowed, stopped, and without thinking said, “Good morning.”

He was a man battling some kind of chemical addiction; all you had to do was look at him to know it. To have no choice but to raise a child in filth and chaos is visible in the eyes. And I had this clear impression that I was seeing someone struggling to cope and losing his struggle at the same time. He looked at me, squinted, and said, sort of absently, “Good enough.”

I tried to continue riding as though nothing had happened, but the tension in my spine grew along with my guilt. I live with that image every moment now. I can’t let it go. A maternal anger has come over me. We don’t have time to work out what’s going wrong with the system, certainly not enough to save that little girl. I rode off wondering if her generation won’t even find homelessness newsworthy anymore because it’s so common.

My friends lean both ways.

One thinks that the homeless should be “rounded up.” That is exactly what she said. As if, like the sunspot she had lasered off her cheek, we can simply swipe them away, the whole problem disappearing if we apply enough heat.

Another started helping in a soup kitchen long before it was cool to do so.

My mother used to say: There but for the grace of God, go I.

I say: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the patience not to smack the head of the man in my building who said, “Mary Lou, Mary Lou,” repeating my name twice so that I, silly liberal, silly woman, would finally comprehend the world as he sees it. “What’s the point of more bike lanes if they encourage more people who can’t afford cars?”

“You are an imbecile,” I said.

It’s the kind of thing I say when I don’t say anything for a few seconds so that I can collect my thoughts.

It’s the kind of thing I say when I am fed up.

It’s the kind of thing I say when I feel desperate about our failings.

I tell you, homeless children are our truest failing.

A Woman Writing

In these wonderfully wise writings, Mary Lou Sanelli once again relies on her literary voice and candid sense of humor to explore all the realities true to anyone who has thought of making writing a part of her or his life. In a conversational style that entirely reflects her nature, she relates the comedy and the heartbreak of the writing life: how little it has to do with literary circles and clout and how much it has to do with limitless uncertainty, publishing anxiety, finding a way to make the process of writing, of life, one’s joy, rather than relying on any outcome and the importance of viewing each let-down along the way as a triumph. Most compelling is how these writings, chronologically collected, grow and twine on the page right in front of the reader, allowing us to relish each piece like a long conversation with a trusted friend.

Sanelli writes about themes as varied as marriage, politics, friendship, aging, nature, her distrust of too much technology (“no one wins like the guys who make the software”), what it feels like for an East Coast transplant to find herself living in the belly of Seattle, the challenges for a daughter to be caring for her elderly mother, and what went wrong at an Obama party once―all with spot-on insight, all through the eyes of a woman, a woman writing. And she compels us to find ourselves, and perhaps our own writing voice, in the process. She notices everything and she’s very funny.

 

Mary Lou Sanelli has published seven collections of poetry and two works of non-fiction, AMONG FRIENDS (Aequitas Books, 2009) and FALLING AWAKE (Aequitas Books, 2007). A WOMAN WRITING (Aequitas Books, 2015), is Mary Lou Sanelli’s newest title. Her regular columns appear in Seattle’s City Living MagazineArt Access magazine, as well as the Peninsula Daily News & Lilipoh health magazine. She has written for the Seattle Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Seattle’s NPR station KUOW FM, and many other publications and radio stations. She works as a successful literary speaker and is booked at regional and national conferences and many other venues. She is also a master teacher of Lyrical style Jazz Dance and teach classes & workshops throughout the world. She lives in Seattle.

Immigrant’s Table

Cooking. Poetry. “In this collection, Mary Lou Sanelli brings poems out of the ivory tower, straight to the family dinner table. No fast-food substitutes here, as the poet recreates a culture in which food preparation is a cherished ritual. Sanelli’s clear-eyed, yet loving, awareness of family members’ foibles, including her own, provides the reader with a menu that nourishes both body and spirit, a gourmet treat for the imagination”-Madeline Defrees. THE IMMIGRANT’S TABLE is a beautiful collection of poems and recipes, an odd pairing until you read how Mary Lou Sanelli has managed it. In the hands of this adept poet, these seemingly disparate elements flow together like pasta sauce and garlic, like Chianti and cheese. Sanelli introduces her reader to her family in the most Italian of settings: around a table. And in introducing her family, she also reveals those long-held family recipes for a great meal as well as those for a strong and lively family.

 

Mary Lou Sanelli has published seven collections of poetry and two works of non-fiction, AMONG FRIENDS (Aequitas Books, 2009) and FALLING AWAKE (Aequitas Books, 2007). A WOMAN WRITING (Aequitas Books, 2015), is Mary Lou Sanelli’s newest title. Her regular columns appear in Seattle’s City Living MagazineArt Accessmagazine, as well as the Peninsula Daily News & Lilipoh health magazine. She has written for the Seattle Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Seattle’s NPR station KUOW FM, and many other publications and radio stations. She works as a successful literary speaker and is booked at regional and national conferences and many other venues. She is also a master teacher of Lyrical style Jazz Dance and teach classes & workshops throughout the world. She lives in Seattle.

Among Friends

An intelligent voice. An illuminating book. Sanelli is unsparing as she explores the subject of friendship in the lives of women. This is a book of self-discovery … dauntless, smart, funny, beautifully written. Perfect for the book club or anyone willing to delve into the hodgepodge of emotions common to those who desire to befriend another.

“What does friendship look like to you?”

A friend asks Mary Lou Sanelli this very question—a seemingly simple one—and yet, at first, she’s not sure of the answer. And so begins her illuminating exploration of friendship. What is friendship? How do you find friends-for-life and what makes them that way?

As Sanelli chronicles her own life, friends made and lost, college friends and adult friends, she delves into what makes for a real friendship. Her gaze is unsparing as she shares examples of honesty gone awry, how babies (and lovers) can change a friendship, and the importance of anger. She recount the moments when you first meet someone, they seem small at the time but can be pivotal in the life of a friendship. And she reminds us, that even when friendships are difficult, oftentimes, there is nothing better than a phone call with a dear friend.

Ultimately, as Sanelli navigates through the bad, like the gossip that comes with any group of friends, she counteracts it with the good: laugher, those moments of realization and appreciation that make it all worth it, and the acceptance you find with those you love and trust. AMONG FRIENDS is a book of self-discovery, both for Sanelli and for the reader as friendships are made, broken, appreciated and cherished.

 

Mary Lou Sanelli has published seven collections of poetry and two works of non-fiction, AMONG FRIENDS (Aequitas Books, 2009) and FALLING AWAKE (Aequitas Books, 2007). A WOMAN WRITING (Aequitas Books, 2015), is Mary Lou Sanelli’s newest title. Her regular columns appear in Seattle’s City Living MagazineArt Accessmagazine, as well as the Peninsula Daily News & Lilipoh health magazine. She has written for the Seattle Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Seattle’s NPR station KUOW FM, and many other publications and radio stations. She works as a successful literary speaker and is booked at regional and national conferences and many other venues. She is also a master teacher of Lyrical style Jazz Dance and teach classes & workshops throughout the world. She lives in Seattle.

Falling Awake: An American Woman Gets a Grip on the Whole Changing World – One Essay at a Time

Cultural Writing. Essays. Mary Lou Sanelli’s FALLING AWAKE: AN AMERICAN WOMAN GETS A GRIP ON THE WHOLE CHANGING WORLD—ONE ESSAY AT A TIME brings a sharp eye and sophisticated wit not only to the sometimes disheartening, sometimes encouraging aspects of our current politics and culture, but also to issues specific to her home city of Seattle. “Mary Lou Sanelli…offer(s) a sensitive, personal look at life’s tug-of-wars like those between age and time, male and female, war and peace, place and belonging” – Knute Berger, former editor, The Seattle Weekly

 

Mary Lou Sanelli has published seven collections of poetry and two works of non-fiction, AMONG FRIENDS (Aequitas Books, 2009) and FALLING AWAKE (Aequitas Books, 2007). A WOMAN WRITING (Aequitas Books, 2015), is Mary Lou Sanelli’s newest title. Her regular columns appear in Seattle’s City Living MagazineArt Access magazine, as well as the Peninsula Daily News & Lilipoh health magazine. She has written for the Seattle Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Seattle’s NPR station KUOW FM, and many other publications and radio stations. She works as a successful literary speaker and is booked at regional and national conferences and many other venues. She is also a master teacher of Lyrical style Jazz Dance and teach classes & workshops throughout the world. She lives in Seattle.

Craving Water

In Mary Lou Sanelli’s sixth collection, the author shows, in poem after poem, just what place means to her: the people, the landscape, the gardens, the cafes, and, yes, the water. She does, indeed, crave the water. For Sanelli, rain, for which the Northwest is so well known, has a mission to revive and cleanse rather than to depress or sadden, and she learns, along with her readers, how to grow and to thrive in this notorious rain…And it’s about Sanelli’s sojourns away from her home, her trips to the mountains of New Mexico, to the islands of Hawaii, and down the long peninsula of Baja California, sojourns she makes which only intensify her love of the Northwest. You’ll come away from this book with a deep appreciation of this corner of America and, quite likely, with a longing to know your own home town and your own neighbors a little better than you do now.

 

Mary Lou Sanelli has published seven collections of poetry and two works of non-fiction, AMONG FRIENDS (Aequitas Books, 2009) and FALLING AWAKE (Aequitas Books, 2007). A WOMAN WRITING (Aequitas Books, 2015), is Mary Lou Sanelli’s newest title. Her regular columns appear in Seattle’s City Living MagazineArt Accessmagazine, as well as the Peninsula Daily News & Lilipoh health magazine. She has written for the Seattle Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Seattle’s NPR station KUOW FM, and many other publications and radio stations. She works as a successful literary speaker and is booked at regional and national conferences and many other venues. She is also a master teacher of Lyrical style Jazz Dance and teach classes & workshops throughout the world. She lives in Seattle.

Women in the Garden

Poetry. “Sensuous, sensual, brave and insistent, Sanelli’s work shows the enclosures we tend provide no refuge. Cruelty, violation, aging or sudden death aren’t invaders; they’ve been under our feet all along: ‘the world, suddenly, too over-exposed/ to see, too piercing to hear.’ This gardener is…unprotected by pose. Her poems lead us out of self-consciousness into the risk of presence and truth…” -Jody Aliesan.

“I came away from her poems resolved to look more intimately at life and with a fervent desire to write down my own observations. That alone is the highest compliment I can pay this excellent poet” – Laurie Wagner Buyer.

 

Mary Lou Sanelli was raised in Connecticut, educated in Boston, and now lives and works in Port Townsend, a small coastal town located on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, and in Seattle’s vibrant downtown Belltown district. Sanelli’s previous collections include Close at Hand (High Plains Press), Long Streaks of Flashing Daylight (Blue Begonia Press), and Lineage (Empty Bowl Press). Her poems have also been published widely in journals and anthologies including The Seattle Review, Calyx, Crab Creek Review, Pontoon, and others. Her work will appear in Woven on the Wind: A Collection of Western Women Writers (Houghton-Mifflin, 2001). She coordinates Port Townsend’s celebrated Sunday at One Poetry Series, now in its fifteenth years, and she is Artistic director of The Moving Arts Dance Company.

Observations from listeners at her readings: When Mary Lou Sanelli reads her work, her energy says to audiences, these words or images or ideas exist in this poem for a reason—listen to them and pay attention. Because she performs her work this way, her listeners help make the poem as she is reading it.” Audiences have commented that Sanelli’s readings are “inspiring,” “informal, friendly,” “playful,” and “have real emotion.” One final listener observation: “Throughout her reading and her interjections, I would be set to hear one thing and another would come out. Her poems follow the pattern of surprises at every bend in the road.”Carmen Germain, Foothills Writers Series