Stories, Art, Food, Teaching, Travel, and the other Loves of my Life

Stories, Art, Food, Teaching, Travel, and the other Loves of my Life
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life?" Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gasp

This is just stunning. Hello, Winter Wonderland.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Recent Excitement

Three of my fiction students asked me if they could "talk me into" teaching them a private class. An advanced fiction workshop.

These students are currently publishing. I mean, they know a thing or two about craft, and frankly, I didn't know how much they'd get out of my class in the first place.

But apparently, they liked it! And I am just GIDDY coming up with the readings for this class... I'm thinking a mix of theory, craft, readings, and some good ol' fashioned workshop.

Eeeeeeek!!


Monday, December 13, 2010

What We're Having Tonight:


Errr, what we had Friday night.

There are about a million ways to make this dish, but this is the one I make 9 times out of 10. It's one of my favorite winter recipes, that only requires a handful of fresh ingredients so you can throw it together at a moments notice, and, for those of us from small towns in Northern California, tastes like home.

Posole: Feeds 6-8

Ingredients:
-Pork chops, cubed (I used about a pound)
-Shredded cabbage (I just get the bag from TJs)
-Julienned radishes (Skip this if you're not up to dicing tiny veggies)
-One large yellow onion, chopped
-2 28-oz cans white hominy, drained
-1 3-oz can diced green chilies, drained (as hot as you like)
-1 28-oz can diced tomatoes (the authentic version would omit these, but I try to squeeze in a few extra veggies)
-4-8 cloves of garlic, diced
-4 cups chicken stock (even at my laziest, homemade stock is worth it. I mean come on the soup practically comes straight from the pantry.)
-Olive oil
-Salt and pepper to taste
-Chile de arbol to taste

Directions:
-In a large dutch oven, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil over a medium flame until soft. Add the pork and cook until brown, about ten minutes. Add the green chiles and stir to combine. Sprinkle with chile de arbol, salt, and pepper.
-Add the hominy, tomatoes, and stock. Bring the soup to a boil for ten minutes.
-While the soup is boiling, fill bowls with a loose handful of the shredded cabbage and chopped radishes. Ladle the soup over the cabbage and radishes, let sit for a minute or two until the cabbage wilts. Serve with sour cream, lime wedges, and avocado, chopped cilantro if you're feeling fancy.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Candlelight Thoughts:




Happy Hanukkah, to those who celebrate.

I sometimes think it's unfortunate that Hanukkah and Christmas fall so close together on the calendar. Hanukkah is a minor holiday, and yet sometimes it seems to get a LOT of attention and fanfare (I'm writing this shortly after finding a lighted spinning dreidel lawn ornament and BB&B) for no other reason than to show Christmas what's up.

Well. That's not my battle. We just have a simple menorah, a few dreidels, and a handful of gelt. But the simplicity is welcome at this chaotic time of year: what better way to spend the darkest nights of the year, than gathering with your loved ones and marveling at their faces in the candlelight?

Hanukkah is not meant to compete with Christmas. It's quiet, simple, just a slight departure from the norm. But it is lovely. Right when most people are frazzled with lists, wrapping, and breaking the bank, we get to lie back, order crab meat cheese wontons, and pretend it's snowing.

And, can I just say, if it were to compete with Christmas, Hanukkah would definitely win the decorations award. Blue and silver look way better than red and green. I mean, come on.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Waiting...

... for E to finish his conference call so we can finish The Wire episode that is paused right at what is probably the MOST EXCITING MOMENT!!

Well. I've been meaning to write anyway.

I've never been that "in" to the holidays. I mean, I loved them, and loved making things for my loved ones and taking time to visit with family. But they always seemed to fly by in a flurry of late nights, pricked fingers, and stacks of cards I always meant to respond to. I think I resisted some of the obligation that comes with the holidays.

The last few years, that has changed. Oddly. You would think, as a new wife, I would feel even more obligated to do things like send handwritten cards and bake mini pumpkin pies for my husband to take to work. And, because I resist obligation (it's always suspicious), you would think I'd get a little more Scrooge-ier than ever.

Oh. That and the fact that I don't even technically celebrate Christmas anymore. It's Hanukkristmas. Or Christmukkah. Whatevs.

But actually, it has been the opposite. A few years ago, we started hosting "The Great Day After Thanksgiving ______." (We never finished the name, "party" wasn't quite right, E thinks "game night" is lame, we just call it "Day After Thanksgiving Night). And I am SO excited. I think maybe because now E's friends are starting to feel a little more like my own, and our families are not as new to each other, because we're one year further into our own little groove as a new, budding family.

That's right. Family. Holy mother!

I don't mean that in the 'guess-what-I'm-pregnant' way. I just mean it in the 'we're-in-this-together' way. The fact that we're beyond our 'let's go our separate ways for the holidays and I'll see you on New Years' phase. I guess we passed that a few years ago, but we're also just far enough along to be able to look back fondly on the years behind us, and have a few traditions of our own, and we're not too far along that we can't remember anything, or have time to sit around the tree in the dark, sharing a mug of tea, twisting our fingers together under a blanket.

I think the time between newlywed-dom and parenthood is a very special time. It is, for the time being, delicious. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Now if he could just get down here so I can get some snuggles with my eggnog and finish this freaking episode!! I mean, can you believe what happened to Dee?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Travel Plans: Thailand




Oh. Em. Gee.

We booked our tickets last night, it's official. We're going to Thailand. For three weeks.

Actually, the trip will include Tokyo, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

It hasn't quite hit me yet.

It will be the longest plane ride of my life, to date. 19 hours and 40 minutes. I'm looking into getting cryogenically frozen and thawed in Tokyo.

Color me ECSTATIC!!!




Thursday, November 4, 2010

Holiday Blues




Don't get me wrong, I'm feeling the festivities. Third annual DATN invites are out.

And I do look forward to it, even though I won't make it out to Georgia this year... the lovely lady in purple is graduating in May, so we'll be going then.

I hate having family thousands of miles away!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday Writing

Spent yesterday afternoon in a coffee shop with two of my "students," who have published way more than I have, and who are older than my parents.

It was such an awesome time. They were kind enough to read the excerpt of my novel that I'm sending the agent, and they know next to nothing about me, so it was great to hear about what was going through their minds as they were reading.

I have a lot to think about, writing wise. Figuring out the "occasion for the story" is never my strong point, 99 times out of 100, it was because I had a deadline. Now, I don't. And even if I did, that's a shitty occasion. I really have to think about it. Writing is a lot like problem solving, and in my own work, I have a hard time seeing the problems. Once I do, it's usually pretty easy for me to find the solution, and fix it, even if the only feedback I get is abstract (oh, Workshop, did you think I'd forget so soon?!), and along the lines of "putting pressure on the moment," "pushing this further," "peeling this back." Somehow, that jargon makes sense to me, and I can run with it.

But, I've never written a novel before. It's so hard to manage. I'm starting to agree more and more with James' definition of when a short story becomes a novel: when it becomes a "baggy monster."

In other news, my favorite/ brightest/ most eager HS student (not that I have favorites) is starting an independent study with me. We're reading the entire collection of Updike's edition of The Best American Short Stories of the Century and we're hoping to finish by 2011. Wheeeee!!!!

xoxo,
T

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dream Hair:


I always get the urge to change my hair in the fall. I'm not usually a fan of dyed/ highlighted/ permed hair, but for this, I just might change my tune. It's not much darker than my natural color, so maybe I could avoid the frizz/ roots/ fake look... or just lose my mind entirely and actually dye my hair.

PS: Could you tell this is Drew Barrymore?!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday: Wish I Were Here


At a party. Outside, in the sunshine, wearing a flippy skirt and laughing up at the sky. Preferably in a location that requires a passport for me to get there.

News, in a nutshell:
-Travel plans firming up: Looks like I'll be in Israel for Valentine's day
-I officially have no weekends until March. Whee.
-Nearly finished piecing the top of my first quilt. Pics to follow.

xoxo!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Fever


Sometimes, I tell you. Gah.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Deborah Eisenberg...



...said, "I can't teach you how to write a story. You already know."

*Gasp*Gasp*Gasp*

Monday, October 18, 2010

Writing: On Community

Positively buzzing after tonight's reading.

Yiyun Li, writer extraordinaire, who I was lucky enough to study under, who taught me a couple hard lessons about fiction, read tonight at the independent bookstore down the street.

The Vagrants

Biography

Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Her stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, O Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and awards from Lannan Foundation and Whiting Foundation. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction; it was also shortlisted for Kiriyama Prize and Orange Prize for New Writers. Her novel, The Vagrants, won the gold medal of California Book Award for fiction. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. MacArthur Foundation named her a 2010 fellow. She is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their two sons, and teaches at University of California, Davis.


I gathered up all my serious students and told them she would change their lives. We sat and listened to her read from her new book. We sucked in our breath when she paused and got goosebumps. We heard her read a story we had all read before and walked away with a completely different impression than we had before. I nearly cried. I hugged her and she signed my book and misspelled my name and I asked about her kids and she told me about the call she got from J's kindergarden teacher and I told her about the time G said she had a sperm donor not a dad and we laughed and I missed school and workshop so, so much.

Then, a bunch of my students went out for dinner and we talked about the story and the amazing experience of hearing an author read (when it's a good reader) and our own struggles with our work and how inspiring it is to hold hands with this little writing community, how rare it is to talk over a plate of taquitos and enchilladas, and be able to explain your delight at the way two images speak when situated next to each other correctly, and the way certain words can pull you out of a story and others can push you right back in, and the way sometimes another voice entirely takes over, and it's impossible to go back and edit thoughtfully without thinking you might be just a little bit crazy. We laughed. The youngest of us was 17 and the oldest was 66. We shared our favorite stories, exercises, and classes. We compared battle scars. We collectively wondered why, of all the things we could be doing with our lives, we are so compelled to write.

It was an amazing night. After grad school, I lost such a huge sense of my community: everyone thinks they're a writer, and sometimes they are, but it's so nice to be able to exchange work with people who actually feel the same way about writing that I do: it's not fun, it's not therapeutic, it is simply necessary for my existence.



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Best Halloween Costume, Ever...


... just to see you smile!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday: Balance

That's my dedication this week.

In my yoga class, every week the class begins with a dedication (this week, it's humility) and then we're all supposed to think about our own dedications as well.

So, mine is balance, for a few reasons:
1) I hurt my shoulder Sunday night in a failed attempt at the Scorpion pose (and E really doesn't know how to spot), and
2) Life is feeling both really amazing and incredibly crappy right now.

For the following reasons:
1) I just signed six new students, which significantly ups our income and gives me more faith in myself as an educator and a business woman,
2) I am polishing the first 50 pages of my manuscript to give to an agent next week, and
3) Because of #1, I no longer am panicking about my career choice and have the luxury of time to really think things over. Also, because I'm no longer panicking, I'm no longer a walking ball of stress snapping at E over things like cupboards left open or happy hours scheduled without my explicit consent and a signed contract.
4) My yoga teacher worked out an arrangement where I get to practice as much as I want for free (normally it's $18 a class, homie don't play that game) and I'm feeling really good and strong and I'm able to do things now that I couldn't do a month ago.

But, some of that is balanced by this:
5) Nephew is having serious behavior problems at school. Sister switched him to a new school and thinks that will solve the problem, meanwhile I am stressing about a situation I have no control over and questioning decisions that are not mine to make.
6) Our weekends are basically non-existent until March because E has class on Saturdays, and because of this, I picked up more weekend students (see item #1).
7) I am feeling too far from home and like I'm not being there for my sister and the kids when I need to be.
8) I am really wrestling with this book and I have spent so much time with it that I can't tell the crap from the gems and I want to get another pair of eyes on it but a pair of eyes is hard to find because I need to find someone who a) knows nothing about my real life and therefore cannot fill in the blanks of my crappy writing with any sense of my autobiography, b) knows a thing or two about how to fix a MS, and c) has the time and energy to seriously look at 50 pages now and 175 in a month or so.

Gah.

So, yes. This week, balance. The kind that involves feet up a wall and not falling on a shoulder, and the kind that involves putting energy toward things in my sphere of influence, and not wasting energy on things beyond my control or things that should be beyond my control, and are not.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday: Wish I Were Here

Hunched over yards and yards of colorful fabric, upstairs. Tea on the windowsill, kitties on the futon. Patsy Cline on low.

But I'm downstairs, working on a cover letter. Grrr.

But, I wanted to share some of my current dilemma:

At the beginning of the summer, I started my first "quilt." I figured it would be like a first novel, a learning experience where the first one is guaranteed to suck, and you either have to just get the first one out of the way and move on, or spend a decade perfecting the first one.

I figured I'd just get this quilt out of the way. So I chose colors with reckless abandon, with no one in particular in mind. I figured it could be a lap quilt, or a baby quilt for my next niece or nephew. I firmly decided to just learn on this quilt, and not be upset if it didn't turn out perfectly.

I also resolved to actually iron the fabric. Quilting, turns out, is really mostly ironing.

So, I spent a few weeks tooling around on the machine. Here's what I got:

Problem is, now I love it. And I'm terrified to touch it.

It's time to start piecing the blocks together, and sewing borders and backing fabric. I have three fabrics I'm going to use, but I'm not sure which should be the inner border, and which should be the outer border.

Close up of my dilemma:


I'm thinking the flowery blue one should be the backing, because it's a tad girly to be next to the orange one. So then the question becomes, should it be an orange inner border (touching the blocks) and a blue outer border? Or vice verse?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Making Your Own Way:






I don't believe in any real rules for relationships. I think part of the reason they can be so hard and so good for you at the same time is because of the way they force you to get to know yourself more each day, you constantly have to ask yourself if you're okay with this, or that, or that. Things that maybe never would have occurred to you: am I okay with him answering business calls at ten pm, am I okay with our children going to Hebrew school, can I accept that I will never speak his mother tongue. And then, in the less selfish way, you have to think about whether or not your lover is having his or her needs met, and if not, can you do anything about it?

Relationships are hard because they're complicated, and they force you to look at yourself in all your failings, and recognize every single flaw. Right there, every day.

But they're so wonderful because they can also show you the person you want to be: not a more even-tempered, affectionate, higher-earning or gourmet-cooking version of yourself, but an honest view, the "maybe-I'll-always-be-stubborn-but-maybe-I-can-try-and-be-more-loyal" view. Where you see yourself and love yourself, but don't let yourself take the easy way out.

So, that was a big disclaimer to stand in for: it's nearly impossible for me to give relationship advice. I don't think anyone can tell you what you really need, or what you're really giving, besides you and your lover.

This in no way comes in the form of advice.

But I'm just going to share one of the smartest things E and I have done for our relationship: we invented our own holiday.

It started four summers ago. We worked together, and had been dating a little over two months. I woke up on September 26th to a fantastic San Francisco sunrise, checked the weather, and found it would be one of the last summer days that year. I convinced E to call in sick, and we had breakfast at the Cliffhouse overlooking Ocean Beach. We had a slow, leisurely breakfast, we ran through the waves and kissed like teenagers in the sand. We hiked down to Mile Rock Beach and sprawled across a cement slab, drank wine, and watched for dolphins. For lunch, we went to Park Chalet and had garlic fries and red ale. We read and napped in Golden Gate Park. At the end of the day, we came home and made gumbo together, sat in his living room and listened to the sounds of the freeway.

We decided to make it a regular thing, our own personal holiday. The next year, we were a little poorer (thanks, grad school x 2!), so we skipped the fancy breakfast and just sprung for the garlic fries and red ale. The next year, we were a little busier (thanks, thesis!) so instead of gumbo we had soup and salad. This year, we're a little richer, so we took the convertible and went to the Academy of Sciences.

The modifications don't matter. The important thing is, every year, we make a point to set everything else aside and run through the freezing ocean together. We put work and school on hold, let our lives rotate only around each other, for a whole day. The details change (breakfast, museums) but the important things stay the same: time off together, sunny San Francisco, the beach, garlic fries, red ale.

We both love it so much. And it's so silly, but damn, now that it's been a few years, I think it was so smart of us. Now the last days of summer always take me right back to the days when our love was young and reckless and shy, to the days he sat on my desk grinning like a fool and I looked at my feet every time I smiled. And when life swirls with jobs and deadlines and bills and family obligations and boredom and the wind just falls from your sails, sometimes that's exactly what you need.

Or, I do at least. You make your own way.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday: First Day of School

Today's the first day of my fiction class... yippee! I love teaching in a real classroom.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Writing: The Not Fun Kind

I usually have such positive associations with the word "writing"... I think of early mornings at my computer with a cup of tea next to me that I forget about until it turns cold, I think of scribbling lesson plans in my composition book with one hand and holding the current piece of inspiring literature in the other. I think of love notes tucked into E's work bag, I think of emails to my grandparents, cards to my cousins, old-fashioned invitations mailed out to friends addressed with my best attempt at calligraphy.

But sometimes, writing sucks. Think: appeals to traffic court. College applications. Resumes. Concerned letters to parents about what their child did/ said last week. Thankfully, I don't do much of this kind of writing, (and the college application process is blissfully behind me), so my writing is in a comparably luxurious state right now.

But when I have to do this not-fun kind of writing, I find it agonizing. And stressful. And it is one of the few things that can make a serious procrastinator out of me.

What kind of writing do you hate?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday: Wish I Were Here

St. Petersburg:





Ed's parents have Russian friends in town who are visiting the US for the first time. Yesterday, we had them over for a BBQ and were presented with our wedding present... our own set of Lomonsov tableware. I, true to form, burst into tears.


It's the closest I've ever been to St. Petersburg, the beautiful city where my love was born. I still can't believe that somehow, we were born half a world away, and yet ended up in each other's arms. Something about the impossible odds of something like that happening make me trust it even more.

So yes. St. Petersburg, I'll see you some day. Until then, pieces of you will lay on our table, we'll bring you out for special guests, holidays, Shabbat.

Nasdarovya.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What We're Having Tonight:

Seared Ahi with Cucumber Salad:


Not the prettiest picture, I know. But don't let the picture fool you, it actually plates up really well. The red ahi, the green and purple salad... ah! I wish I had purple and yellow plates!

One of my favorite dishes, ever, and so easy. Plus, it's healthy! We like our fish pretty raw, so if you like to make sure it's not actually moving when you eat it, up the cook time by 2 minutes per side.

So. I just use a very loose recipe. Combine all ingredients in the bottom of a baking dish:

2-3 T soy sauce
2 T sesame oil
Squeeze of half a lime
A few grates of ginger (or about 1 t, minced. Chill it in the fridge for 10 minutes and it will be so much easier to grate/ mince.)
2-4 cloves garlic, minced (This thing has really changed my life)
Optional: 2-3 t miso paste (I use red)

Mix it all together until smooth. Marinate the fish for 30 minutes. While it's marinating, heat your grill to high. You can make this cucumber salad in 5 minutes, flat.

In a medium bowl, combine:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
Water to taste

Whisk it all together, then add:
3 cups cucumbers, sliced (for this, I used 2 Persian cukes and one lemon cucumber from the garden. I have made this with about a thousand different cucumber combinations and have never been disappointed.)
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
If you're doing the lazy-mama version, (pictured!) stop here, if you're an over-achiever, add:
1/4 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper (mild version) or
1 T thinly sliced chili pepper (hot hot hot version)

Toss everything until it's evenly coated with the dressing, then let chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes. You can also make this salad way ahead of time, if you're having people over for dinner, you can put this salad together at lunch and be fine.

Back to the fish: Lightly brush the fish on both sides with vegetable oil (helps with grilling).
Sear that bad boy for 2 minutes on each side for maximum raw-ness (pictured). Again, feel free to increase the cook time, but keep a close eye on it, as ahi loves to dry out when you're not looking.

Serve with rice, a chilled white wine, or some Thai beer! (Though, if we're being honest, Hite is my favorite).

Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wishing you lots of apples and honey...



To those who celebrate...
L'Shanah Tova!

Wednesday Writing: Dan Savage

On Saturday, the lovely ladies behind the San Francisco branch of A Practical Wedding (the first blog I ever read religiously) will be discussing this book:

which I highly recommend to anyone, regardless of where you stand on the gay marriage debate. The writing is hilarious, insightful, and, at times, heartbreaking, everything I hope a good book will be. I almost peed my pants when I got to the diaper rash scene!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Best Pick-Up Line, Ever

Well, I know that married women are not supposed to be fazed by pick-up lines. This is inappropriate, at best, but I thought this guy at least deserved a little recognition, since he will otherwise have to to content himself with his dissatisfaction.

Wow, you can SO tell when I've been reading Flaubert.

Moving on...

Yesterday, we went to see the Birth of Impressionism exhibit at the de Young. We barely got tickets (the last day!) and I had been giddy all summer. In high school, I spent my nights flipping through "The History of Art," working my way through the pages Warner had tagged with Post-It notes, squinting at the glossy pages and trying to imagine the brush strokes. I thought I'd have to go to Paris to really consummate my long-standing love affair with Manet, but, amazingly, he came to San Francisco.

Anyway. I was dazed walking through the museum. It was all I could do not to cross that black line and smother my face against the canvases, I wanted to tear them from their frames and wrap myself in them. At the same time, I couldn't imagine lifting a finger to them. Suddenly, a man handed me a headset (one of those audio tour things) and said, "Excuse me, I wanted to give you this."

I looked at him, still dazed, sure I was probably in trouble, and that the staff was trying to hurry me along so the next round of museum patrons could work their way through.

Then he handed me a note, scrawled on a page from his planner. Thursday September 2nd- Wednesday, September 8th, 2010. Rosh Hashanah.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm no good at this. But I'm finding it really hard to focus. So it's all in the note."

As he turned to leave, he turned back toward me, extended his hand, and said, "By the way, my name is Brandon."

Ballsy, right?

It seems wrong to post his note on the internet, but, I want to give credit where credit's due. In sum, it described his inability to "focus until I hand you this," because he had encountered "a living beauty, among these idealized depictions, the classic goddess."

Holy moly.

Back to real life: E came swooping in, asked what I was reading and where I got the headset, asked who the guy was, asked if he was a jerk. I went back into my Cezanne-induced trance, and I must have read that thing a hundred times.

It's so bizarre, how embarrassingly flattering something like that can be. I feel BAD for not being able to take him up on his offer for brunch. It's not even that I "want" to, I just feel like, if someone goes to that much trouble and doesn't repulse you, you at least do coffee with them. I'm sure it's not him personally, but there's something about being noticed, picked out of a crowd by a total stranger, and not in a sleazy, Hey-baby-what-you-drinkin' kind of way, but an honest-to-God I-think-I-want-to-get-to-know-you kind of way. Everyone loves feeling desirable, I guess. I don't know. It's also embarrassing.

But I don't want his heroic efforts to be totally lost to the romantic void of the universe, it just seems too poetic to let die that way. Instead, Universe, I hope you put an eligible "living beauty" in Brandon's path sometime soon, that you let this "aspiring artist" find his muse.

Till then, ciao.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday: Wish I Were Here







Honeymooning. Melissa and I were lamenting the fact that you only really get one honeymoon. One chance to travel, to kiss obnoxiously at every opportunity, order wine at dinner no matter what, and bat your eyelashes to get your way.

I think we should make the honeymoon happen at least every few years. Where would you go?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Well, Hello.

I'm back. After a brief hiatus.
I always get flaky in the summer. The sunshine makes me stoopid.

But, I'm back, though I have nothing important to say... just exceedingly happy at the moment. Spent the weekend in Ashland at the Shakespeare festival, and I'm all fired up to write. The drive was beautiful, I spent half of it with my feet kicked out the passenger side window, the other half tapping my palms on the steering wheel, singing along with Boston and my lover. Bliss.

Met my parents and brother and Meliss there. Spent entirely too much time eating and wine tasting. My vote for Edenvale: two thumbs up. Drove back home yesterday, stopped in Woodland for brunch with my two oldest girlfriends. Came home and did glamorous things like unpack and clean out the kitty box.

And then I ordered these two lovelies:


And that about sums it up. Catch you on the flip side.



Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bringin' Sexy Back

Well, I'm back.
The boxes are unpacked, the walls are painted, the mountain of essays graded and grades submitted, my degree is somewhere in the registrar's office, where I'm told it will be for no less than four months before it gets to me.
I was like, "Are they hand-weaving the paper fibers?" Jeez.

My fiction class started two weeks ago, and it's awesome.
Awesome in that okay-I-guess-I'm-going-to-sink-or-swim kind of way.
Which is good, really. My teaching has been very comfortable for the last year or so, this class is already a huge challenge, and I can tell my toes have gotten lazy. But now I'm back on them.

I haven't written anything since my thesis, which was not the plan. This summer, I imagined having at least an hour a day to write. But I've gotten strangely into working out (wtf?) and am gravitating toward weights in the mornings, rather than my computer. I doubt it will last long though : )

It feels like the routine should be starting to settle in now, I love that feeling. Where things haven't necessarily been crazy for a few weeks, but they have definitely been scattered and unpredictable, and you feel ready to sink back into the familiar rhythm of things... but at the same time, you have the chance to define that new rhythm from scratch. Oh, transitions, how I love thee so!

Cooking will become more important. Writing and teaching are always hot on the stove. We've been 90% more social lately than we were when I was living out of the car half the time. I see a spin class in my future. And a Russian class. And, if I can find it, this:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Apologies

I'm not really sure why I feel so obligated to write. Though I know I can count the people who read this thing on one hand, obviously, I must be letting my readers down if I don't post daily.

Well, I loves me some delusions.

Whatever. I've done too much grading today and my head is mushy.

But, we are more or less moved in to the new place. Err, at least we are totally moved OUT of the old place. We still need to hang things on the walls, and unpack no less than 8 more boxes (down to single digits! YES!) but it is starting to look like we actually live here.

We ran the dishwasher for the first time today. Talk about music to your ears.

Despite the fact that the last few days have been insane, they've also been pretty blissful. I wake up, have coffee and smoothies with the hubs, go for a swim (in a pool that is near boiling, not sure how long this "workout" will last) then waddle up and down the stairs with boxes, and finally sit down to grade this mountain of blue books around 6:00.

I always get a little sad at the end of the academic year. I mean, happy to have summer, but sad to see everyone go.

Maybe that's why Glee brought me to tears?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday: Wish I Were Here





Barcelona!

Zac and Alex were just there for nine days, and their pictures look amazing. Sometimes I think I was meant to be Spanish, though I have no logical reason to think this, I just look at photos and drink Spanish wine and smell saffron and feel some connection I think can only be explained by the fact that I was obviously born there and by some cosmic error raised somewhere else and never yet returned to my homeland.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What We're Having Tonight:


Take Out Thai Food

It has been a crazy few weeks, and we're heading up to Napa on Saturday with Asia and Stas to celebrate my birthday weekend with all my favorite things... good friends, wine tasting, massages, and reading in the sunshine. I could just faint with excitement.

But, because we're moving in nine days and HAVE PACKED ALL OF TWO BOXES, we're staying in to do some serious packing before jetting off to California's mini-paradise. And that means, Thai food to go.

I will at least mix up some yummy drinks: there's really no recipe for this, I just do it "white trash style." (That's for you, Jo Mama!) Pour half a cup of chilled white wine, squeeze some lime into it, add some OJ, grate some ginger or sprinkle sugar over the top. Delish!


Wednesday Writing

Last week was nuts. I had my thesis defense, which was surprisingly awesome, and so very helpful. It was also the first time I've ever had to write an aesthetic statement, which was a very weird thing for me to do. There's not a standard format or anything, so I just decided to wing it.

The English major in me wonders... what's the past tense of "wing it?" I "wung" it? "Winged" it?

Haha. Oh, the dilemmas of my life.



Aesthetic Statement

The story you will hear today is the most important thing I have ever written. Not because it’s the longest (it is, but more on that later), or even because it’s the best, but because it’s the story I’ve been trying to tell for so long. I’ve written versions and snippets of this story hundreds of times, in short stories, poems, and flash fiction pieces. Every time, it felt like there was too much going on. I wanted to tell the whole story, but I didn’t know how to get it all down in so few pages. I spent my first year in the program trying to tighten everything up, get my sentences to somersault across the decades, develop my characters in a paragraph or a handful of images.

I wasn’t always successful. The workshop developed a refrain: “Too many stories here!” “What’s this really about?” After getting the same feedback a few hundred times, I realized that, yes, there was too much going on in my stories. I grew up in two different homes, and I was so comfortable with change that I had no trouble flashing back and forth between scenes, having eight characters appear by page two, and having parallel worlds with separate sets of tensions. But, my readers weren’t as willing to rocket around the narrative as I was. I had not yet learned how to organize my unwieldy story, manage so many people, or balance the back-story with the present moment.

I kept at it, though. Finally, at the end of fall quarter this year, I realized that I couldn’t say everything I wanted to in twenty-five pages. I couldn’t say it in fifty. So, I called Pam, in a panic, and put this project on a wildly different course. And now, here we are.

Before I wrote The Real Sister, I had never written anything over thirty pages. My approach has been clumsy at best, but this time, it feels right. It feels far more honest, more real, than any of the other versions I tried to write. I feel like I’ve found the time and space to render my characters in all their complexity, as well as the disparate worlds that they inhabit. The Real Sister spans fifteen years, and tells the story of six characters in three radically different households. The novel form has allowed me to hone my aesthetic goals: to start to render the world in a way that feels right to me. I’m learning to render a world that is fractured and patched, where every minute of the past informs the present moment, where conversations with six people are the norm, not the exception.

To prepare myself for the task of writing a novel, I stood on the shoulders of giants. I read My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates, and learned the ways a narrator can toggle back and forth between telling a story in retrospect and then narrating again in the present moment. I read Ha Jin’s Waiting and learned about the ways that a story can operate in the past without losing its momentum. I re-read Toni Morrison’s Jazz and was reminded of the ways her long, lyric sentences can make the back of my neck itch. I read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and learned the meaning of “quiting,” a word which can mean both repaying a debt and taking revenge. I became particularly interested in the ways that Chaucer’s characters use story telling as a means to “quite” one another, and the way his repetition of words and images creates a continuous thread throughout the separate tales.

When I began my story, I was primarily interested in capturing the relationship between Jamie and her ‘stepsister,’ Alexis. When Jamie and Alexis meet as children, they already display markedly different temperaments: Jamie is stubborn, calculating, and reserved, where Alexis is spontaneous, indecisive, and exciting. As the girls mature, they become increasingly competitive, and their personalities become even more polarized: yet they remain deeply attached to one another. However, as I wrote, I discovered tensions and chemistry in places I hadn’t planned on: between Jamie and her brother, Luke, between Anne and Tina, even Walter and Sean.

Through their relationships, I explored issues of nature and nurture, the effects of place and micro-cultures on the people who live in them, and the malleability of time. While I thought I was writing a pretty traditional bildungsroman, now I think I’m reaching for larger themes: how people are simultaneously products of their environments and their genetics. I am interested in the degree of control that individuals can exert over their actions and desires, their emotions, and their destinies.

I am also interested in issues of loyalty, forgiveness, siblings defining themselves in opposition to each other, and what constitutes a “real” family. I am interested in the ways families redefine themselves, and the rifts they must negotiate around, the wounds that will either heal like bones, and always have a weak spot, or heal like muscles, and grow back stronger.

This novel is very much a work in progress. As I was writing, I did not take much time to revise, because it felt like I was rearranging furniture in a house that wasn’t yet built. However, now that it’s all on paper, I plan to do serious revision. I know there are several areas I need to address: primarily, the pacing, and Jamie’s father, who just drops out of the narrative without any explanation or fanfare. I need to examine the relationships in the story, and make sure I’m pushing all the tensions to the surface.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who stood by me during this whole process, and made this day possible. I want to thank my family, Mom and Donry and Laura and Terren and Adam, for giving me a place to start and filling my childhood with enough material to keep me writing into the next millennium. I want to thank Ed for cheering me on every morning, forcing me to read Russian writers, and making the best cappuccinos in Mountain View. I want to thank Pam for her unwavering faith and support, for the time she pulled me aside as an undergrad, took me to Ciocolat and said, You can do this, if you want to. I want to thank Joe for introducing me to Toni Morrison (way back in 2002), and Beth for helping me think more critically about my own work. I want to thank Carey Newman, who called me the day after I turned in a story for workshop, and said, Girl, you need to write a novel. Finally, I want to thank everyone who has ever read and reacted to one of my stories, I want to thank you a thousand times, because without you, none of this would have ever happened.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What I Hope It's Like

This is what I hope for, down the line... it just feels right.

Beautiful love note that Jordan wrote Paul on their five year anniversary:

Five years ago today Paul and I got married. For sure it is the best decision I've ever made. In the past five years we've had two children, lived in two small San Francisco apartments, kept the same trusty 2001 Honda Civic, traveled to Paris, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, New York, Boston and Hawaii. We've owned 7 sofas (and sold 6 of them). We've both gone from working full time to working for ourselves. We've felt rich and felt poor. I have learned Illustrator, Photoshop, Letterpress and how to blog. We've thrown lots of parties and eaten at lots of good restaurants and made lots of interesting friends. If you would have told me five years ago what my life would be like now I would have kissed you on the mouth. Almost every good thing in my life is a result of marrying this good man. Here is to five more happy years--Love you Paul!

Monday: Wish I Were Here



Lake Tahoe:

It's drizzling, and I'm grading midterms, hot tea in one hand, bundled in a thick sweater and slipper socks, feeling ridiculous for May. I wish I were in Tahoe, either in front of a fireplace or chasing E down the mountain on my new board, snow flying behind me.

Somehow, rain can be so much drearier than snow. Especially in May.

Not sure how it works like that, but it does.

Me and E at Heavenly in December

What We're Having Tonight:




That's because we're going out with our dear friends A and S. We're meeting downtown for Mediterranean food and sangria, across from the live flamenco bands they have across the street. It's the perfect kind of night for dinner on the patio, clinking wine glasses with friends, then walking around in the moonlight.

It makes me feel like we're back in Italy!

Image courtesy of http://my.qoop.com/

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wednesday Writing

I don't know what to do with myself when the weather is this gorgeous. Sometimes the only way to write is in a bikini on the patio with an obnoxiously wide brimmed hat on my head, squinting at the screen.

This is page one of my most recent nonsense.

No title as of yet. It's more of an exercise than a story... to cure myself of my third-person-phobia.

Untitled:

The wife is on a mission to re-organize the pantry. She lined up mason jars across the counter, tied key labels around them with twine, labeled things: Basmati. Black beans. Barley. She filled the jars with the contents of the twist-tied plastic bags heaped on the shelf and stacked them back in the cabinet, labels facing forward.

Now she opens the cupboard just to look at them, and smiles.

She is a young wife, and has not yet gotten used to the word. She has never been a wife before. She thinks being a wife has something to do with keeping fresh flowers in the house, shaving her legs every day, wearing nighties to bed instead of boxers and tank tops. Her married friends tell her this will change. They mean that she will go back to shaving her legs every other day. They tell her this is the “honeymoon phase.”

The husband is older than the wife, but not by much. He has never been a husband before either. He thinks being a husband has something to do with the car the wife drives, letting her pick the restaurant, listening to her talk on the phone with her mother without complaining. His friends tell him to not let the wife get fat.

The wife is a piano teacher. Her students come to the apartment and touch the keys with their fingers, ask if it is right. The wife smiles a closed lip smile when she is very pleased, and an open lip smile when she is just regular-pleased. She tells her older students to write their own songs and listens with narrowed eyes as they play them for her.

It’s good, she will say, but too predictable.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Monday: Wish I Were Here

In a Convertible:



Well, Ed talked me into a new car.
I am not a "car girl" by any stretch of the imagination, but this is my first convertible.

"When we're fifty," he says, "We'll be glad we did this."

I didn't buy it at first but that was before we tore down the freeway in the sunshine, my hair tornado-ing behind me, arms in the air like we were on a roller coaster.

Things are different now.



Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thursday: Mad Chaucer Debate

Class was really fired up over the Wife of Bath debate we did today.

I just split them down the middle and called one side "The Optimists" and one side "The Pessimists" and asked them to answer the following questions as a team:

"Did the Knight really change? Or is he just 'gaming the system?' Is the woman actually a sovereign being, or does she end up perpetuating the cycle?"

They already knew the answers, based on what team they were on, but then they had to find evidence from the text.

At first, I was worried it wouldn't work because I "assigned" them a position, but I did it because I wanted them to think through both sides, not necessarily just form an opinion. And, much to my surprise and delight, they took OFF.

And now, a picture that warms my heart:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wednesday Writing

Not that I have any babies to name or anything, but I always have names kicking around in my head. I'm a fiction writer, and I figure, they're characters waiting to be born.

I will actually often go and search for names from specific countries if I'm working on a character who I've come up with a background/ history for, but not yet named. If I didn't look, my characters would all sound like the same WASP-y or Latina kids I grew up with. Which is fine when that's what I'm writing about, but often, it's not.

I wrote a story a long time ago about a nurse in Johannesburg who adopts a baby boy. I looked for African names online and found one I love: Kefentse.

I also thought Asher was a really cool, unique sounding name (this was found during my Hebrew-name search). I liked that one so much, I filed it away under "possible future baby names," thinking I was so original and off the beaten path.

But, according to this, I am so not. Number FIVE on top 100 boy baby names of 2010. Lame. Maybe by the time we have kids it'll be as original and uncommon as I thought it was.

Do you have any tricks that help you write stories?

Face Off

Don't get me wrong, I love Anthropologie, and if I won the lottery it would probably make the top three places I'd go first, after Etsy and REI. Maybe fourth, after Cost Plus. But, Anthro has always reminded me of stuff I'd find at the flea market or antique store for way cheaper, if I could just comb the stalls long enough.

Then, the problem becomes... the waiting. In a month I will have a kitchen that's three times the size of the one I have now and it's soooooooo tempting for me fill those cupboards. Gah.

But, when I found this, the challenge became clear: which one is the $6 glass, and which one is the $3 glass? Both are available for purchase right now.

Heh heh heh

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Place...

... has a yard.

A small one, but an honest-to-goodness, plant-stuff-in-the-ground, surrounded-by-a-fence YARD.

I am just a wee bit ecstatic.

Monday: Wish I Were Here


Morocco

I've been working my way through this cookbook for a few months now, and I have the travel bug, bad. The pictures just make we want to teleport.

We're moving June 1st, and the new place will have a designated classroom for me and my students. I'm so excited! We're picking out colors to paint the walls as we speak. I have been really inspired by some of the rich reds and golds and vibrant sea blues, and think they would work well in a room that will do triple duty as a classroom, office, and guest room.

If you could teleport right this very minute, where would you go?