Posts Tagged ‘St Mary’s College’

A Little Love for the SMC Gaels

March 15, 2017

In preparation for this year’s NCAA March Madness tournament, I’d like to take a look back into the annals of my personal history.  To say that I am a basketball fan is a bit of an understatement.  At one time, I had a favorite player from each team, and could identify colleges and hometowns for many of the players in the NBA.  I still, on occasion, will surprise somebody when they mention they went to Southwestern Missouri State and I ask if they’ve heard of Jackie Stiles, or they mention that they went to UC Riverside, and I say “Oh, the Highlanders?”  In college, I put this passion to work, as I broadcast the women’s basketball games for our campus station, KSMC.  This year, I expected to see both the Gaels’ men and women in the NCAA tournament for the first time since I began following SMC athletics.  Alas, the women’s team did not beat the Zags in the conference finals, and the NCAA wouldn’t let two or three teams in from the tiny West Coast Conference.

I get a little worked up about the NCAA tournament games, yes, but at a certain point, I’m cheering for the laundry.  Without cable (and I’m definitely not complaining here), it’s tough to watch any NCAA games.  I am a bit removed from my alma mater, which is understandable given that I graduated more than a decade ago; I haven’t met any of the Gaels’ current players, and I don’t expect to do so any time soon.  At the same time, I have had a positive relationship with virtually every student athlete that I’ve met from St. Mary’s.  I’d like to take the time to recognize two of these student athletes for their endeavors into the world of writing, as well as their kindness and care as ambassadors for our alma mater.

Jon Sanders (Class of ’05)

I had very little interaction with the men’s basketball team as a whole; I shared classes with one player, a reserve guard who played sparingly, and the only times I could see a men’s game were when the women’s team was out on the road or had a gap in their schedule.  For these and other reasons, I saw far less than I would have liked of Jon Sanders.  Sanders, a 6’8″ point forward from Colorado, transferred to St. Mary’s and began playing as a Gael during my freshman year.  I had very little interaction with Jon, except to occasionally see him around campus or at parties, so I never had any conversation that was of any real substance with the man.  However, I could tell from our many brief interactions, which are more likely to happen on a small college campus, that the man had a great outlook on life.  He called me “Little Buddy” on a couple of occasions, which probably was just what he called people, but I think he understood his role as a celebrity and as one of the many faces of St. Mary’s College.  It was also one of the few times in my adult life that I’ve been called little anything, so there’s a novelty to that expression.  My correspondence with Jon since he graduated in 2005 has been brief.  For a while, he became a post player for teams overseas (Taiwan and Lithuania). Now, he spends his time as a trainer, a coach, a poet, and an author of children’s books.  Jon expresses an interest in politics and race relations, and I think that these are evident in his most recent poems, “Confused, Naked, and Cursed,” and “JIM CROWING ONCE AGAIN!”

These poems, perhaps a result of the recent socio-political climate, include two speakers who both express pain.  The first poem, which is in the first person and is apparently written from a female’s perspective, is different from many of Jon’s poems in the sense that it has an alternating rhyming scheme.  In most stanzas, every even line rhymes.  It’s not a consistent rhyme scheme, as there are also rhyming couplets, and the first stanza has only a near rhyme of “kill” and “feel.”  “JIM CROWING ONCE AGAIN” is more indicative of what I’ve seen from Jon’s work to this point, with a free verse and no consistent rhyme scheme or meter.  He uses allusion or reference more than he uses rhyme, and is much more direct in his subject matter.  His first-person speaker makes very little reference to himself as a speaker, and only uses indications of the first person to set a conversational mood.

Jon published his first book, a childrens book, The Kid Who Found a Basketball, through McNally Jackson Press.  You can find it here.

You can read Jon’s poetry here.

Mikaela Cowles (Class of ’08)

When I signed on as the play-by-play man for KSMC radio coverage of St. Mary’s Gaels women’s basketball games, I held true to a mandate that I was to be a fly on the wall, and a guest to the teams that I covered. It was, indeed, a privilege to cover the women’s basketball teams and, on rare occasion, the men’s baseball team. To their credit, the teams largely left me alone; they were able to focus on their games, and I was able to focus on my broadcasting. This isn’t to say that they weren’t friendly, and there were several players that I saw around campus from time-to-time. Two were English majors in my graduating class, so I would see them virtually every day, except for when they were out on the road. I’ve lost touch with many of the players that I knew over the years. To the best of my knowledge, only one player has pursued a career in writing: Mikaela Cowles.

Mikaela is two years my junior. She came to SMC from the Seattle area.  As a 6’1″ forward, Mikaela may have guarded every position on the floor in her time as a Gael.  Mikaela was the definition of a student-athlete, as she not only was a member of our basketball team, she was also a member of the highly-prestigious Integral program, an intensive liberal arts program that was effectively a university-within-a-university, and SMC’s closest equivalent to an honors college.

Mikaela has taken a very different route to her blogging.  While I want to engage with my audience in order to share my experiences and thoughts as a novelist, Mikaela blogs to advertise her business; Mikaela runs Making Language Count, LLC, a language consultancy firm, where she assists in creating tag lines, generating copy for small and mid-sized businesses, and various forms of editing work.  Creating marketing and sales copy does not fall within my particular expertise. However, I have looked over Mikaela’s portfolio and blog.  Her writing illustrates several characteristics of language that make me reminisce of times spent with SMC’s creative writing instructors.

When we talk about language, we observe several things.  On the macro level, we might talk about the content of the story versus the delivery.  On the micro level, we might talk about diction, or word choice.  I’ve observed the particular treatment that SMC professors give to word choice.  Within poetry, it may come down to a single word choice, but short story writers are also highly concerned with the delivery of the message, from the individual sentences on out to the entire 500 or 2,000+ word story.  Mikaela uses both of these to address concrete tasks, such as creating a bio, as well as the more abstract or bare bones, such as pacing a narrative.  When investigating her site for the purposes of this post, I uncovered her post about reasons for and against using long sentences.  It reminded me of one of my classes.  My professor drove home the point about using long sentences sparingly.  He, of course, showed us examples of long sentences followed by incisive, short sentences.  I’m sure that he isn’t the only writer who feels this way, and wasn’t the only professor at SMC to advocate for short sentences.  I am also certain that, if he ever read this post, he would immediately point out a dozen sentences that were too long for his liking. It makes me think that Mikaela was also one of Professor Tenorio’s students.

Through editing my own work, I’ve realized the usefulness of being terse.  There are actually statistics to back me up on this. In his recent blog post for Medium, Joshua Isard directed readers to this site: LitCharts.  Note where Hemingway stands relative to other great novels of the early 20th Century.  Note where The Grapes of Wrath lies relative to Hemingway.  One of the most recognized works by one of the most recognized writers in American history averaged less than 10 words per sentence.  Furthermore, neither Hemingway nor Steinbeck provide a high frequency of long words; in fact, they venture far below the average when it comes to words that exceed eight letters.  In terms of making language count, there’s a clichéd sports term that may apply: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Find out more about Making Language Count here.

Thanks to fellow Gaels Jonathan Sanders and Mikaela Cowles for showing great examples of scholars and athletes.  Before I go, there’s one other Gael wordsmith-athlete that I’d like to mention; Tom Meschery, the former San Francisco Warrior, graduated from St. Mary’s in 1961.  Before he ended his career as a professional basketball player, he published his first book of poems in 1970.  Tom Meschery retired after a second career as a teacher, and continues to write poetry and blogs.

Most, if not all, of Tom’s blog posts end with a poem. Check them out, here.

The countdown to tipoff is starting, and I’m looking forward to the NCAA tournament.  Are there any Gaels writer-athletes I’ve missed?  How about any other writers who were also collegiate athletes? Feel free to mention them in the comments below.  Until next time, Go Gaels!

On to victory, the Red and Blue will win today…


In case you missed them above:

The Poetry of Jon Sanders

The Kid Who Found a Basketball

Making Language Count

Meschery’s Musings on Sports, Literature and Life

For more information:

Saint Mary’s College of California

KSMC 89.5: The Voice of St. Mary’s College


Writing: A Little Gael Pride

February 20, 2017

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my alma mater: St. Mary’s College of California.  A sophomore in the Integral Program called me to learn about what I’ve done since college, and to try to convince me to donate.  She was an outstanding representative of the college, and knew that the best means of encouraging an alumnus to donate is to get them to reminisce and to talk about themselves.  Over the course of the conversation, it came out that the student had participated in JanNoWriMo during St. Mary’s College’s Jan Term course.  In that month, her professors set a goal for 32,000 words in a month.  This is well short of the 50,000 words that participants in NaNoWriMo target, but it is a great target for a college student.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past six years.  In that time, I’ve worked on a different project every year.  Two of those projects have completed drafts, and I’m finally making a push to publish the first one, Absconded by Sin.  In each of those years, I’ve made an effort to knock down at least 1,667 words per day in order to get to that 50k.  During some years, that has been easy.  I’ve knocked out 5,000 words in a day before.  If word counts are the object, then that puts me well in the black (as opposed to the red — accounting analogy).  As my faithful readers have seen in my other posts, a long story doesn’t make a novel.  So, whether 50,000 in a month or 32,000 in a month, it’s quite a task to get the right words on the page.

When I went through Jan Term at St. Mary’s, it wasn’t always about the classes.  Yes, some classes were amazing.  Adam Desnoyers gave us a truly memorably short story writing class in my first year.   As a senior, my ’60s in Film class was also amazing.  Learning about the whole vampire mythos and C.S. Lewis was fun as well. However, I could probably speak for many in my social group to say that Jan Term was also the biggest social month in the school year, and there were tons of distractions to keep me away from my studies.  Every week was a four day week, meaning Friday and Saturday would often be a combination of trips to the City, hikes behind SMC’s cross, and late nights with the gang. If I had NaNoWriMo to look forward to (I hadn’t heard of it at this point), I would have been the most antisocial person during the most social month at SMC.  To borrow from Carl’s Jr.:”don’t bother me, I’m writing!”

To say that 32,000 words in a month is NOT a challenge would be a grave mistake, particularly when your world is full of distractions.  To all of those SMC students who hammered out 32,000 words during their January Term, I salute you!  Even starting a novel during the most distracting month of the year is quite a task!  Mitali Perkins, facilitator for JaNoWriMo, this was a great idea! I wish I had that push when I was at SMC!

My distractions usually come from being too tired (as I suppose they did back when I was in my early 20s).  When I get home from work and have dinner, the call of YouTube is frequently very strong.  As a slightly-reformed gamer, I’ve been getting into the “Let’s Plays” that appear on the Internet, and watching the likes of WhiteHawke, NintendoCapriSun, CarlSagan42, and Grand POOBear play Super Mario Maker over the past year.  It’s a nasty habit, and I initially started this in order to better capture natural speaking patterns (believe it or not) through hearing individuals say what they will when they’re relaxed and focused on something else.  Nevertheless, as I have come to learn, good writing cannot continue when distractions sap what little energy you have.  I am trying to cut the LPers out of my habits, particularly as my dream of being published seems so close.

Interested in anything I’ve said above?


St. Mary’s College of California:


Mitali Perkins:




Grand POOBear: