Saturday, August 25, 2007

I feel better today.

The lesson is simple from this week: choose to learn and grow, or choose to hide and defend myself against my imperfections.

Growth feels better.

And I'm going to Hawaii for a week. No time to complain.


Friday, August 24, 2007

It has been a strange week full of opportunities to doubt myself, to feel inadequate, to see myself as imperfect and less than--which I have, unfortunately, taken.

Why, sometimes, do we face our own faults and rise above them, and other times, do we let them grow to crushing proportions? I haven't figured this out yet.

I do my best. Sometimes my best is outstanding. Stellar, even. Sometimes, it's barely scraping by.


I hope that I am learning a lot in the process. It's always hard to tell in the moment.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

All around me I see tragedy and hardship and heartbreak. And I'm not even talking about war or climate change.

Lately, in the circle of people I know, both intimately and indirectly, there has been a lot of suffering. From the dramatic and shocking--suicide--to the grueling crush of a relationship that didn't live up to its potential, it runs the gamut. It is a tricky balance to be there for others while also reminding myself of the goodness and beauty of my life.

It is the most important work of all to remember that just because others are suffering does not mean we have to join in. We can actually help others more by exhibiting love and balance and peace.

So right now I am working on just that. Feeling grateful and energized by the goodness in my life. My love, my writing, my work, my health, my friendships, my family--I truly have it all. May my joy spill over onto anyone who needs it.


RIP Grace.

Writer Grace Paley left the earth yesterday, but she leaves her words behind, lucky us.

Also, my friend Leora Skolkin-Smith is one of the lucky few to have had a book published by Grace's publishing house, Glad Day Books. Please read Edges, O Israel, O Palestine, a gorgeous lyrical novel that reminds us that the lines between Arab and Jew can be blurred. It is now being made into a movie.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sleeping with the Animals

Yesterday, E. and I were cranky. See, the night before we didn't sleep more than an hour or so. The lion kept us up. Roaring and panting, every 20 minutes or so. Remind me never to sleep near lions again.

The morning elephant visit was cool though--I had no idea what elephant skin was like--like leather that breathes. I fed "Butch" an entire bag of fruit--skins and all. Very aggressive snout he had. What an amazing animal to see up close. We also had visits by a baby Hyena (very much like a puppy) and a Servile--which is a big cat (bigger than a house cat, smaller than a leopard), cousin to the Ocelot with pretty apricot and black markings.

For E.'s big birthday I took him somewhere different. Very different--maybe too much so, though it was an experience we won't quickly forget. I initially went in the hopes that we could hold a monkey. We didn't, but a Capuchin monkey flirty madly with us and I would have liked to have spent more time with him.

We saw tigers and a bored kangeroo and some kind of giant rodent that looks like a mini kangeroo but isn't, and leopards and old toothless lions. It was almost like a Fellini movie.

The establishment is a place where "working" animals live. These animals star in films and TV. They're treated well, and it functions something like a zoo and a ranch put together. It's an odd place where the staff clearly likes animals more than humans, and where, though the safari tent we stayed in was cool--the staff clearly couldn't have cared less about our comfort. ("here's your breakfast" said the girl in the morning, swinging our basket of food at us like we were the animals, then lovingly patting the elephant at her side).

Still, it's only 20 minutes from Monterey, which is where we had dinner. I'm purposely not advertising for it here, though, as I don't know if I would recommend it unless you're truly, truly adventurous. What the tour should really advertise is: "Find out how it feels to be treated like an animal!" Nah, I'm exaggerating.

If I can figure out how to download photos from my phone, I will.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


As a theme, I'm very interested in the idea of decay, of rot. I like images of rotting houses or boat sheds, or abandoned cars as metaphors. I'd love to write an entire novel about a city that just dissolves slowly over time (and not Venice :). But when that kind of decay is in your own neighborhood, butted up against your home, it truly lacks all the poetry of fiction.

One of our neighbors, the one whose fence we must walk past when we step out our sliding glass side-door to go around to the back yard, used to have a dog. This dog used to keep us up at night, for many, many months despite desperate please to both neighbor and animal control alike. They built a fence around their front yard, and let the dog hang out in front some of the time, and this seemed like progress. While the dog was there, the yard was basically a toilet for the beast. A real pleasure on a hot day, let me tell you. Then one day, the dog was simply gone. And what had begun as a shit pile turned into a garbage pile. I never realized how many broken part, unused items and generally useless crap could accumulate. But that's the nature of rot--once you invite it in, it takes over. If there's a small pile of stuff, it takes very little effort for this to become a big pile of stuff. Indeed, the pile in our neighbor's backyard began to grow. It grew and grew, and the wind began to carry items into our yard.

It drew, rather than flies, ants. Whole new thriving colonies that for the first time in over a year and a half, have found their way into our home.

Then the refuse began to spill over to the little enclosure out front, so that when you passed by on the street it looked as if the house was throwing up. Broken toys. A battered arm chair. Bric-a-brac-- parts of things that are difficult to identify in their partial-ness. I kept thinking it would go away, that this was some stage of spring cleaning--they had to get it out of the house first so it could be discarded first.

It did not go away. It only grew, and I stopped seeing the children outside at all. I believe the man, whom I have met on a couple occasions, does nothing but work and still does not make ends meet. It seems like a rough and trying existence made worse by drowning in their own stuff.

Today, on my way to work, I noticed glass all over the driveway- It could have been from a car window or the house window, I didn't really stop to assess. It glinted a good twenty feet away from the driveway into the street. I had to pick my way carefully through it. And four hours later, when I came home from work, there were three trucks parked in the driveway. The front lawn was spotless. There were workman standing in what now looked to be an empty room on the second story.

The question is, has the crap gone for good?


The End of an Era

Every week or so I receive an update, as an alumni of Bennington College's Writing Seminars. We used to joke, when we were still in session, that a vast majority of the emails we got, usually forwarded by our director Liam Rector, were to tell of the death of a person, so if you saw that person's name in the email list, you'd clench up in anxiety, thinking: "Oh my god, Maya Angelou??"...

Today, in my email subject was, sadly:

Liam Rector, 1949-2007.

That was bad enough. Whatever one may have wanted to say about Liam, he was THE force behind that writing program, whose ego and energy colored it just the right shade. He was larger than life, yes, and a little pompous, but in the kind of way that made him strangely likable. He's the one who called me in person and told me I was accepted in 2003. Since I had been rejected one round, and had been accepted at Mills, I made the director of the program tell me why I should come!

Who can forget him taking great pleasure in showing us his favorite scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross in which Alec Baldwin is the powerful shark of a salemsan who humiliates all the men and ends with Liam's message to us: "Always Be Closing." Or his spiel about "the vortex" into which we would all fall during our intesive 11 day residencies.

Or him asking me at the end of my graduate lecture to define the word "pissy."

Or that grad student's speech in which she accidentally said "Liam Rectum..." followed by the phrase, "He's begun a movement."

Unfortunately, the email also said this:

"It is with unbearable sorrow that I write to tell you that our beloved founder and director, Liam Rector, killed himself yesterday morning."

See, if you knew Liam, you might believe heart attack, or emphysema or something related to his pleasures. I never thought this. As always, suicide makes everything seem worse. There are unanswerable questions. A death that could have been prevented. He leaves a wife and daughter behind, not to mention a program that adored him, and needed him, ran on his wild energy, and the poetry that I know was both boon and bane to him.

I'm really sorry to hear this. Deeply so.

Here's a quick entry from one of the "logs" I kept during grad school that remembers Liam for a brief moment: Our resident Patriarch, Liam Rector, was in a much more approachable mood this time around. Who knows if enough of us complained that he seemed aloof and rather elitest in our previous evaluations, but he mingled and chatted, even sat at my table one breakfast and we had a full-fledged conversation about my upbringing by, in essence, hippie parents. He encouraged me to write about this subject later that day, stopping me on the path to talk further. This was a very redemptive thing for him to do in my eyes. Not to mention he wins the best dressed award, looking very much like Our Man from Havana in a cream-colored linen suit, saddle shoes and a straw panama hat.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Apparently I am actually living my life for a change, and not just observing it. I just don't have anything to blog of late. Lots of good stuff is happening, but right now that's really all there is to say about it.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Happy 8 years to us today!

I am grateful for every day of it (more than 11 in total). I am married to an amazing man.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sorry I've been so quiet. I've been away for four days teaching at the Mendocino Coast Writer's Conference. It was an amazing experience!

More to come...

Monday, August 06, 2007


E. and I missed the Police reunion tour here in CA. So we're going to do the next most logical thing: Fly three thousand miles to New York to hear them in the intimate little venue known as Madison Square Garden on a restful, calm night in the Big Apple: Halloween.

I think this definitely qualifies as the furthest I'll have gone to hear someone play music :)

NOW (Sting looks like an Alien pod person version of his former self):

Friday, August 03, 2007

Making it Real

I've heard from other friends that when it comes to publishing, you are often the last to know about things related to your own book. Thus, it's been strange and exciting to get emails from writers who have received actual GALLEYS of my book--formatted and looking like a real book! The lovely Maryanne Stahl provided these photos!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Want humor, poignancy, good writing and memorable characters all in one book?

Then do not waste another moment before going to buy this fabulous book from one of my favorite authors, Ellen Meister. I mean it. Clickety-click...get you this book!!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

End of the Story

Long before graduate school, and well before I'd even heard of an MFA program...before i joined writer's groups or went to conferences or wore the turban of writer proudly around my head, I just wrote. Stories mostly. Lots of crazy journal entries and bad poetry (a sign of what a love my husband is, is that he let me read each one to him while we were courting and told me that they were all great). But mostly I wrote short stories about struggling, damaged people and their funny little lives. They flowed to me out of the ether. I couldn't not write them and sometimes I couldn't write them fast enough. I can remember spending six hours writing as a whole story came like a coil of ribbon unspooling all in one piece, like a perfectly pared apple peel. Some of these stories went on to be published and even win me some minor awards (the kind nobody has ever heard of). These stories got me into graduate school, where I then went to work on them with hacksaw and bulldozer.

And then I stopped writing them.

I wrote a few minor pieces of "flash" fiction after grad school ended ('05) but since then it is literally as if that vine just stopped producing fruit. The stories don't come anymore like they once did. Now what comes does so in chunks, like something sweetened condensed that I must add ingredients to and bake and parse and fluff and broil into novels. I don't know if I'd recognize a story anymore if it came to me. I'd probably call up one of my story writing friends and hand it over.

Though I feel as though I should miss them, the truth is, I don't. Oh I miss the fervor that would come with writing them, and the high I'd get from completing them, but that's about it. I definitely don't miss the submitting game. The hours spent priting pages and licking envelopes and spending scads of money on postage, and then waiting, waiting, hungry for approval that rarely came.

You might accuse me of having given up in the face of rejection, but you'd only be half right. Yes, I was rejected a lot. Hundreds of times, which made those few acceptances so very, very sweet. But I also recognized something. As a writer, when something stops compelling you, you're better off turning away and focusing on what does. You're also lucky if you have one form that you can do decently well. Because it takes all your reserves to persevere in the face of all that rejection.

My other great epiphany, one that I am shy to admit, is that I have no longings for literary fame or recognition. I realize that what gives me joy is the telling of and writing of tales. I hope someday to be paid to do this, to entertain and help people travel down a road of inquiry. But I don't aspire to be Virginia Woolf or Toni Morrison. I just want to have fun doing what I do, and live a life that is deep and balanced.

Somehow this feels like I am cutting myself free from something that I have tethered myself to for a long time. Like I might be escorted to the door of that elite club and told "my kind" isn't welcome there anymore. But if that's what it takes to be myself and do what I love, then I guess that's how it goes.

That's my story now.