Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anthony Bourdain Woke Me Up Early

I woke up thinking about writing and also that I had to meet someone at the gym and then meet with one of my writing groups and after that meet someone else, briefly, plus grade a poopton of papers AND get them entered electronically (deadline: Monday) and translate them into the new district-mandated, supposedly-objective but as it's turning out WILDLY subjective and bizarre grading "system". . . then I tried to go back to sleep. Five hours is not enough sleep for what I have to do.

Then I thought about writing again. Thought about how I'd gotten up at four every morning for over two years, reading and writing harder than I ever had, scaling back on the "busi-ness", saying no to a lot of things I say yes to now. And how good it felt. So I got up.

I thought I could start with yesterday, and am putting aside the nagging manuscript revision that I'm halfway through. I was halfway through it five weeks ago, too, but there's been a lot of happy hullabaloo to be busy with and so. For now, I'll write about yesterday.

The day started with a bookmaking workshop for educators at the Kaneko (cool place! Very cool place!) with Gary Frost and his partner Joyce Miller. I made a book! Actually, three little ones, one of them hardbound. No words yet.

Then I went to an Eid feast with my sister's new family. Actually, they are my new family, too, cause that's how they roll, and I'm good with it. There is a wonderful healing feeling spending September 11 in the home of kind Muslims. When I get caught up, I'll tell you about the wedding. (That's the sisters, old and new, down there.)

Finally, I slipped out early with my niece Fran and we raced down to the Holland Center to see the deliciously irreverent and hot-from-afar Anthony Bourdain. These tickets were purchase by her mother/my sister many months ago because Fran and I both love him; Kathleen also (most generously) obtained some of the coveted meet-and-greet after party tickets, but even without that, the seats were amazing.

If you've never been to the Holland Center, it's a gorgeous venue, an acoustic dream of pale wood and subtle lighting, more suited to Yo Yo Ma than a punk iconoclast food writer. All these months waiting, I kept thinking, "Bourdain at the Holland? What the hell?" I guess since cutting back on the cable channels I'd managed to forget he was a TV star. But when he walked out and the crowd went wild. . . well, he's a rock star, and for the next couple of hours, he never let us down. Started out sharing stories about embarrassing run-ins with people he'd publicly slammed (i.e. Rachel Ray and suchlike.) Moved on to snarky Food Network gossip (I know almost none of the food stars he was talking about, but it was still funny) and then to personal tales. Ranting, wicked, he was ON.

But here's the meat of it: As punky and ranty as he can be, he's deep down a very old-fashioned guy. Food and people matter; treated with respect, they enrich our lives. (Oh yeah! See "Eid feast" above.)

Anthony Bourdain has grown in his travels, matured with fatherhood, thrown away the earring and the Ramones t-shirts. He still drinks too much and still seems to think that's the only way to do his job (and that's where the not-as-hot-up-close factor really goes geometric) but he still occupies a dark little table in my heart, holding forth over a grappa or a pint of Guiness. So yesterday was a good day. And I'm late for the gym.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eco Challenge

CrAzy busy, and yet I have time to lose hours. . . but there are some pretty cool ideas over here that give me hope when hope is needed.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ireland, Day 1?

Well, it's 4 am and I'm wide awake. Maybe this counts as Day 2. Can't tell what time my body thinks it is but I can tell you that sitting on the tarmac for 2+ hous in NY and then flying with 2 little mini-Vikings kicking (my seat) and yelling the whole way over the ocean did not help me get much of a jump on rewiring my inner clock. All the melatonin did was muddle.

So yesterday was a weird blur of wandering and napping. Ventured out from the hostel a few times but mental fog was so acute that a block away I'd start to think I was lost or about to be.

I finally have a good wifi signal.

OK, tour some ruins today. Will repeort back then.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Racism Is Alive and Well in the Heartland

Well, they did it. The town of Fremont, Nebraska, population just over 25K, passed the Arizona-esque anti-immigrant ordinance making it illegal to hire or rent to "illegal aliens." Yes, I prefer the term undocumented. I'm one of those people who find it somewhat unsavory to call another human being illegal.

And no, I'm not saying let's throw our borders open. We need to fix this problem, improve security, all that. It's a complicated mess. But laws like this are so fueled by racism and ignorance that it makes me sick to my stomach.

A friend of mine over on the Facebook keeps tossing out this topic for discussion. Some of the responses are really nauseating. Some of those posters are avowed Christians. I wonder if they take their Christian hats off before talking about other human beings like so much unwanted garbage. Can't figure out how that works.

When I think about the "illegal" people I know, I don't think of them as lawbreakers, any more than I think of myself as a lawbreaker when I occasionally drive over the speed limit. I might justify driving too fast by saying, "But I don't want to lose my job/appointment with the chiropractor/good seat at the movie."

Likewise, many of the people who cross the border justify their lawbreaking with excuses like, "But my children are hungry." If I had children, and was in a situation where I could not provide for their health and safety, I'd do whatever I could to change that. I'd cross borders to feed them, and probably wouldn't wait the years required for the uncertain process of getting legal permission to do so.

I've often wished for a national strike day where all the "illegals" took a day off. How many factories and restaurants and landscaping services (and countless other businesses that work in the background of our lives) would continue to function? If they took a week off, it would be a national emergency. And my classroom would be a sterile place indeed.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, June 18, 2010

Getting Fitter

I accepted the special summer school gig because 1) $ duh, and 2) the hours, 10-2, are vastly superior to the regular summer school gig, 7:30-11:30.

I am at my best, physically and mentally, in the morning. Working regular summer school would force me to squander precious writing/gardening time in a computer lab monitoring unhappy "repeaters" as they slog through a preset online credit recovery program. Instead, I roll in at a very civilized hour and work with small groups of incoming ninth graders who need focused attention on reading skills. How I accomplish this objective is Any Damn Way I Want. Pretty awesome.

But here's the rub: in preparation for my trip to Ireland (oh my god, real soon!) I embarked a few months ago on a physical tune-up, if not overhaul. I’ve never been what anybody would call athletic, but I have been far fitter. The ravages of age and a sedentary avocation have led to issues with knees, feet, and, even more menacing, the lower back. This lower back business had increased in direct proportion to my commitment to my writing. Anyone with back issues knows that sitting for long periods can be much more exhausting and painful than walking.

So. A couple of months ago I thought I’d try acupuncture. After the very first session with Ellen, the veil of pain I’d been wearing was stripped off. The back still hurt, but less. The constant drain on my energy seemed to be gone, enough so that I started thinking I could maybe try getting into a little better condition-- maybe I really could jaunt and caper about Ireland in a holiday way. Maybe a Zumba class, something to loosen up my back. I called the sisters and they were in.

Somehow, in our search for a class, we ended up joining a health club and signing up to work with a trainer who will henceforth be known as KillBill. Ok, so, you’re never too old for transformation, right? And at the club I met a young chiropractor giving out “samples” of a new technique, ART, which works with muscle and tendon injuries, and he is not only taking my back to new levels of heath—he has actually reshaped my feet, which had so many misaligned bones in them that I’d almost given up the hope of walking without pain.

Long story shorter: I’m feeling much better, fitter, less trepidatious about my journey. But? The writing and gardening have been sorely neglected. Every morning for the last few weeks, I either go to the club or to the chiro, and physically that’s a great thing. But my spirit has felt somewhat deprived. Today is the first day I did neither. I felt a little funny about it, but while getting a few things done in the yard—a wee bit of weeding, sprayed the apple trees for rust – I found the writing returning, and thus this long overdue post. Even if nobody reads it, I’m grateful to know that while regaining other physical freedoms, I haven’t lost the ability to type. Sometimes you just have to skip the gym.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Big Balk

No excuses. I thought it had been maybe a month since I posted, but it's more like a month and a half, and the longer it goes, the balkier I get. I get balky. I don't know why, but it happens too frequently-- I start to feel overexposed, start to regret ever opening my mouth, both metaphorically and otherwise.
Here's Merriam-Webster on balk:

So I don't know exactly why the word balk seems to be the best choice for the feeling I have about writing these days, but it's probably a combination of #1 and #5. I need to get to the plowing, I need to complete some motions.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, March 22, 2010

Free Handguns for Patriots

In my mailbox this morning, the Washington Post daily headlines were waiting. Though I already knew that the House had passed HCR, I wanted to see how they were spinning it. Yee-ikes.

Some billionaire patriot is giving away free handguns. For the coming uprising. Against the government, presumeably.

I mean, seriously, WTF?!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monster Haiku

So I'm multi-purposing here, been really too busy to even drop by, but one of my writing groups has started doing prompts every week. Thus, the Monster Haikus. I am so muli-purposing right now, I even used this assignment for my ninth graders today. Here goes.

Godzilla, Mothra, King Kong, Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, Frankenstein, Medusa, and Creature from the Black Lagoon.... and one more personal favorite, Cylon.

O my gorgeous green
rage, rise well up and fall hard—
crush our mess to bits.

Pupae in my head
this morning, stirs restlessly
ready to crack free.

You climb because what
else? Civilization hot
to cage up your lust.

We feed on each other
your heart sinewy, my mind
rW, unsavory.

Pale and pretty man
eyes drawing in, draining—
blood leaps to meet you.

Better than a man,
loyal and cuddly and brave,
my wild hairy luvah.

Or any other
part belonging to a man—
what’s this? A kumquat?

She shrinks from eyes, hides
her vicious lovely hair, her
stony loving gaze.

My worst date ever?
Did he have poor hygiene? Not
for a slimeball, no.

What to do with you?
kill, listen, frak, kill—why choose?
Frak—you’ll come again.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Little Optimism

Swamped, I tell you! So many tasks undone that when I'm alone, I slip into a slightly catatonic trance while the to-dos whirl, and yes, maybe I'm dreaming of poppies, what's it to ya?
But anyway, I've no time today, so I thought I'd just send you over to a very cool post by Robin Sloan at the 3six5 project. If you aren't already following, it's a year's worth of "what's happening today in the/my world" posts by 365 bloggers. (Yes, I wanted to be one of them, I can handle one assignment a year, but I didn't get picked.)

And Spring will come again. Meanwhile, it's exactly ZERO outside.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Lupercalia

No time to do much more than share a link to a great blog post: a debut writer's experience of the rapidly evolving publishing world. It starts out frankly depressing, and ends up powerfully hopeful.
And evolution is really an apt concept here-- the climate is changing fast, and those who can't adapt. . .

So my Valentine to you: Love the life you lead, and vice versa.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chopping Up My Darlings

We writers have heard it (and repeated it) many times, that old line about murdering your darlings. I'd never seen it in context before, so I went a-lookin'. Here's a bit, courtesy of Bartleby:

Style, for example, is not—can never be—extraneous Ornament. You remember, may be, the Persian lover whom I quoted to you out of Newman: how to convey his passion he sought a professional letter-writer and purchased a vocabulary charged with ornament, wherewith to attract the fair one as with a basket of jewels. Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation, you have something which Style is not: and if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

The latest version I've heard, and much more gently put, has been in several rejections: "beautiful writing, too quiet." I've been at this long enough to translate this agent speak: boring, boring, yawn. The last rejection used the word "beautiful" twice, ouchy.

But the good news is, the rejecting agent added, "Perhaps if you started with. . ." and here is where I get a little confused. She mentions events that occur in chapter 22 (out of 30 total chapters.) I vacillate between thinking she meant I should dump the first 21 chapters, or else simply tweak chronology, reshape, chop off a few fingers and toes, maybe a chemical peel, definitely some liposuction.

The second option seems too simple, so that is what I'm doing. Baby steps.

I am also coming around to the knowledge that my beautiful, beautiful prologue is a vain bit of ornamentation that may not survive the slaughter. I still harbor some hope that it might slip in somewhere later, when presumably my reader has learned to accept me, warts and all. But after having this funny feeling (like, wow, I love it, that can't be good) for way too long, reading this Pub Rant pretty much strapped my prologue to the chopping block.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Taking a Trip, Not Taking a Trip

Before me squats a to-do list as long as the Giant Squid I saw on the telly yesterday, and yes, that really is an apt metaphor. The list contains such items as "find birth certificate and get pics for passport" and "customize two chapters for deadlined submission". "Write travel grant" is one that keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the list because I've never written a grant before, but the deadline is 5pm Friday so if the bulk of it isn't done today, I can kiss it goodbye.

It was during one of those snowed-in periods a few weeks ago I realized it's time to get out of this country for a while. Other than a short camping trip on Vancouver Island in 1977 and an afternoon in Nogales some time in the late 80's, I've never left the Estados Unidos. A year and a half ago, my dear brothers and sisters started a travel account in honor of my fiftieth birthday, intending to fulfill my childhood ambition of going to Paris, and it's grown by dribs and drabs ever since.

During those snow days, there were too many reports of people who died tragically in their own front yards, slipped and somehow froze before morning. A woman was killed by a snowplow in her own parking lot. People die all the time, often with no warning at all. A random bullet, a slippery sidewalk, a freak stroke. It came to me then that the travel account wouldn't spend itself.

Yet my desires have mellowed. Sure, it would be cool to hang around in the cafes, sip espresso where Beckett sat smoking and scowling, but I feel no sense of urgency about Paris. I still want to visit the Louvre before I die, and Shakespeare and Co., before or after, but if I only get one trip before a chunk of blue ice gets me, I want to go to Ireland.

A cousin, the family genealogist, has traced our family to Bunclody, near Enniscorthy in County Wexford. Our ancestors were involved in the revolution that led to Ireland's war of independence. I think I'll be splitting my time between the old home county and the glories of Dublin. Maybe I'll even run into the lovely writer who my aforementioned cousin contends is a distant cousin to us all. Plus there'll be mounds and castles, which hold a special attraction for a nerd like me, so there you go.

Paris can wait.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ghost Story, For Reals

Original staircase, Staab House inside La Posada, Santa Fe

Sorry it's been so long. The three of you (Hi there loyal readers!) must really think I'm a slacker, but believe me, I've been wicked busy. Among other things, we started a new semester with a fresh crop of students, and I'm getting ready to start teaching a new Title 1 after-school program, plus brainstorming/researching for the Latino Literature course for next year. Plus shoveling. Fun busy, for the most part. I just got back from a conference in Santa Fe where I stayed in La Fonda, a hotel I would never have been able to afford on my own, and that is where this adventure begins.

The conference topic was Content Area Literacy: Reading and Writing Nonfiction. I'm not getting into the details here, but one of the tasks we had to complete was a Group Inquiry, wherein the group selects a subject pertaining to Santa Fe, researches the topic, and presents to the conference on the last evening. My group (Courtney and Barbara are teachers from Arkansas, Stan is an English teacher from my own school) chose The Ghosts of Santa Fe on account of there being so many of them. We all had different reasons for being drawn to the topic, but for me it was mainly the opportunity for capers and hijinks.

Me, Stan, Barbara, Unofficial La Fonda Ghost Guide Gloria, Courtney

Our hotel was supposed to be swimming in spooks. There's the shotgunned bride, the salesman suicide, the stalking stranger in a long dark coat. Much spectral activity has been observed on the second floor (my floor, oh yeah) and in the basement. Several field trips to the basement failed to stir anything up, though we all agreed it was a little creepy. The only troubling disturbance I noted on the second floor was the noise of my neighbors, who did not seem to be used to margaritas. OK, I was a little freaked out to come in one night and see that all the lights were on in my room, even lights I had never turned on, but when I saw the chocolates on my pillow (!) I decided not to make a fuss.

Saturday night, Stan and I spent the evening with the other two conference attendees from our school, Sally (her group was researching the art market) and Rick (architecture) (how mature.) After an amazing dinner at Pasquale's , we headed over to La Posada to check out their ghosties.

A posh joint, La Posada is built around the old Staab House. We didn't yet know that the ghost of Julia Staab, heartbroken by miscarriages and the death of a child, still walks the halls, rearranges the furniture, and may be responsible for a hair-pulling incident that caused a hotel guest to bash his head into a wall. We were just on a lark, taking pictures and sneaking up the old staircase, trying to look like we were guests. (We also didn't know that genuine current guests of La Posada, Megan Fox and Mickey Rourke, are making a movie in Santa Fe, though Mickey was giving out a Golden Globe at the same time we were creeping around in the hotel.)

Sally, Rick, and Stan

So anyway, I was taking the goofy kind of pictures that tourists take, having my co-conspirators stand and point at things, and then I had Sally take a picture of me pointing. I pointed at an old picture of the Staab House and said, "Loookie, here's a ghost." Ha ha.

Caper over. On the way out, we stopped and talked to Carlos, the guy in charge of valet parking. That's when we learned about Julia, and about how people have sometimes seen weird things in the picture of the old house. I said, "Oh, we took a picture of the picture," and I pulled out my camera. We looked at the picture of me pointing but we didn't see anything.

I meant to advance to the next picture, but I hit the wrong button-- did you know the Sony Cyer-shot can zoom in while in review mode? Well, I didn't. So I hit zoom and everybody's looking at the little screen and we got a little freaked out.

I don't want to say what I see, nor will I say what other people see, because we are not in agreement. We all see something, but I won't say what unless there are comments. Do you see anything?

PS We went back the next day with our inquiry group and took a bunch of pictures from different angles, but the things we think we see in the Saturday night pics are just not visible Sunday morning. Thoughts?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Well, I've read about as many top ten lists as I can take. Actually, I quit reading them over a week ago, along with the articles about the futility or stupidity or redundancy of such lists. Still, it's natural to look back, and at the turn of a decade, always interesting to go back to the last turn of a decade, so.

I've been thinking quite a bit about the changes in my life over the last ten years, and despite the busy-ness of the last few days, fully intended to sit down at some point and write about it. It's writing that helps me understand myself. Ah, narcissism.

Anyway, this post over on Mira's list (which, if you don't know, is a gold mine of info on artist's grants, residencies, and fellowships, subscribe now!) inspired me to sit down and get to reminiscing.

In January of 2000, I was still living in the basement of my struggling little bookcafe in Kimballton, Iowa. I was still swathed in pressure garments from the waist down (and would be until sometime in 2001.) Still taking several medications that swathed my brain in a grayish haze as my body slowly rebuilt the burned tissue. (Yes, doubly swathed. Should I say swaddled? Swaddled in despair, cuddled in gloom?) My marriage was a grim deadlock. My "business" was a joke. Things were not looking good, and I had no hope for the future, could not imagine any scenario where my life might turn out alright.

Soon, my husband would be gone and I'd pay off the building by myself. I'd teach part time in Omaha so I could keep the bookcafe open at least a few days a week. From January-June of 2002 I would close up the shop and live in NYC, helping my sister with her new baby.

In January 2003, acknowledged my failure and sold the building for half what it cost (it needed a new roof, and because of the debt incurred after my uninsured hospitalization, I couldn't get a loan.) Moved back to Omaha with my first dog, a handsome young mutt named Alice, and started over at the age of 45.

Moving out.

Young Alice.
Fast forward: Spend 2 1/2 years living in a studio apartment over a garage, chip chip chip away at the debt. For the first time since getting my teaching license in 1991, I apply for an actual full-time teaching gig. And get it! And don't really want it! But take the job, full of fear and trepidation, whatever, fear and trepidation is by now my confirmation name. Forward.

2005 become a homeowner. 2007 begin (oh, fear and trepidation!) an MFA in writing with the University of Nebraska's low-residency program, enabling me to continue teaching full time. (They are down there right now, at the Lied Lodge, having their workshops and lectures and readings without me; this is the first new year I've spent at home since I began the program.) Finished the book I'd started back in Kimballton, graduated in August, 2009.
Writer friend Erin Arellano marinating in the ambiance at Lied Lodge, January 2009

It's January 2010. It's 0° outside, but I have a warm Gertie on my lap as I type, and Alice snoring on her pillow at my feet. Though ten years ago home ownership was a distant dream, a fantasy I didn't dare indulge in, I am in a little house that is mine all mine (ok, and the bank's.) I have a job with benefits, even insurance, even a retirement plan. Ten years ago I didn't even think I could want those things, much less get them.

In two weeks, I am flying to Santa Fe for an education conference, courtesy of my employer. I'm seeking representation for my book and some days that seems an impossible dream, but though it's colder than a warlock's heart outside, the sun is shining. I fully expect this to seem a quaint yearning when I look back in 2020.

Stumble Upon Toolbar