The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Perception/Participation

I've been thinking a lot about my newly-acquired and appalling resistance to writing. It has something to do with the state of being I have to achieve before I can write. And no, this is not some ephemeral flash of creativity; it is something that happens with daily discipline and training.  It happens with work. I used to enjoy the work--even when it wasn't productive and was often frustrating. I still think about how I would like to write. I make plans to be disciplined. I make lists, long-term and short-term goals; I sign up for programs that will encourage me to write a certain number of words a day.

And then.

Nothing.

Nada.

Zilch.

I don't write. I doodle. I run errands. I clean. I cook. I call up a friend I haven't spoken to in a while. I read. I find a million other legitimate reasons to ignore that what I really need to do is set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and just. freaking. write.

And then a day goes by. And then another. And a week. And then a month. And now it is almost the end of this year and I haven't written in weeks both for my book and for my own personal sanity. 

I initially told myself that this drought of words was sign of my depression. And there was nothing I could do about it. I spun a narrative that kept me trapped in a desert devoid of joy and creativity. I indulged in my acedia. I mentally hunkered down to just move through my life until I reached a better time for writing--until my life was worth experiencing again.

But what does that mean really?  Life is worth experiencing when we decide to actually participate in it.  I just didn't want to participate. I didn't want to expend the effort to really see my world around me. It is easier to put my head down and just let the days flow over rather than raising my face, opening my mouth, and drinking in all that my life is: the bitter, the sweet, the sorrow, the joy, the mundane, the heart-racing, the difficult, the peaceful, the wretched, the beautiful. It's easier to keep my head down and let the hours pass. And pass they do. That is one thing. Time continues. Life continues whether you are there or not. So then you have choice: to participate or to live without perception. If I choose the latter, I know for a fact that I will look back at my life with all of its amazing wonders with deep regret.

I don't know exactly what I am going to do with this new awareness. I know what I should do (and I am making plans to do it), but then I have days like yesterday where I consciously refused to actually experience the moment when the silvered air moved across a cobalt bay because I would have opened a door to experiencing other things too.  It was easier to keep my head down and let the hours pass. This attitude both disgusts and scares me.  Yet I don't stop. I can't stop. I am frozen.

I started reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird again. In the introduction, she talks about hope:
Hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.
Trust.

Hope.

Wait.

Do good.

I think I can do that. At least, it's a start.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupied

Currently, in various cities around the nation (and world) people are participating in something called "Occupy [city of your choice]."  This movement started in New York with Occupy Wall Street and speaks for the 99% of the population who suffer under the current financial crisis.  I won't rehash all the information since I'm sure most people are more news savvy than I am and knew about this movement long before today. 

Occupy [city of your choice] is bringing together people of different races, cultures, and religions in almost 1000 cities (and growing) to speak out against exploitation and greed.  I love that.  Though the Occupy Movement has been criticized for lack of a cohesive focus and strong leadership, it has shown that individuals can take an idea from a certain source and turn it into a movement. Further, that this movement can spread from the individuals who read Adbusters to the larger masses is cause for celebration.  Occupy [city of your choice] is solid evidence that indeed one person acting truly from his or her convictions can have an affect on the world at large.  The movement is encouraging people to think, to speak with each other, and to consider what change we want to see in our culture.

I love love love that.

So now I would like to offer my voice.  Consider the above poster.  I downloaded this poster (for free) from the Occupy Together site. This site works to cohere all of the various Occupy [city of your choice].  It offers information and resources for those who wish to have their voices heard.  It brings together those who want to make a different and act for the good of humans rather than the good of the bottom line. 

Read the poster.  Read it again. 

"Right to remain silent."

"Let their money speak for you."


Apparently, there lies the problem: our silence and their money.


Though I can't find the original quote, Wikipedia cites Ron Paul as saying that the 99% of US citizens who are represented in the Occupy movement are victims: "the system has been biased against the middle class and the poor . . . the people losing jobs, it wasn't their fault that we've followed a deeply flawed economic system." We do indeed follow a deeply flawed economic system. Many of our corporations are indeed corrupt and exploitative, and our government has overtly perpetuated this corruption with bailouts and preference for big money lobbyists. What do we do about that? One of the demands at Occupy Wall Street was a 50 cent surcharge on all stock trades. Another demand is for higher taxes on big money (particularly investment banking) with fewer loopholes to get out of paying those taxes.  Okay, so we redistribute the wealth? But where does it go? What happens to it when it gets there?


One thing years of therapy has taught me is that only pointing fingers at legitimate wrongs done to you enables you to avoid pointing the finger back at yourself. It allows you to avoid your complicity in the problem. And when you avoid complicity and take the role of the victim, it's hard to act.  Yes, there is harm being done.  Yes there is inequality.  Yes corruption is rampant.  But remember, these corporations didn't just seize control over us: we ceded it to them.


What happens a month, six months, a year, when we can't camp out any longer? All the evil corporations have to do is wait us out. After all, unlike them, we don't have an unlimited supply of money. And most of us have jobs we'll have to get back to. So they can wait us out . . . or maybe just release the iPad3.  Then another sort of campout will form in front of Apple stores.  One with the sole intention of consuming the latest and greatest product a giant corporation has to offer.  I think that sometimes we are so conditioned to see our participation in consumer culture as normal that we don't see the connection between corporate greed and the Starbucks coffee we hold in our right hand and the Smart phone we hold in our left.

See we aren't exactly silent.  And it's our money too.


See, if there really is 99% of us out there who have been hurt by greed and corruption, then that means we have the majority.  And even if those 1% are richer than any one of us, there is no way that they can out-money the collective.

99%

That's sort of a lot.

That's more than sort of inspiring.  Especially now that we are all getting together and talking.  The possibilities of what we can do is endless. 

I emphasized we because I am less interested in investment bankers giving back their bonuses or big corn lobbyists having to curb their manipulation of public policy and more interested in what we--the 99%--will do with our money.  Because that's what we have direct, immediate control over.  Our money is what we'll be working intimately with for the rest of our lives.  And while I know that many of us don't have a lot of money, in a country where even our poorest is rich by many other countries' standards, I believe that even a little money used consciously has big potential for change.

If money talks, let's start doing that. 

What I am saying is that we need to stop mindlessly participating with our rampant consumption in a culture that has corporate and political greed as a product.  We need to opt out.  We need to stop being mindless consumers.


This is a photo I took of my dining room window (I rent--and Monterey rarely looks this gorgeous).  On it I have three headings: Unthinking Consumerism, Thinking Consumerism, and Conscious Stewardship.  Under these headings, I've written what I do that falls into each of these categories.  The lists are by no means complete.  They are what I quickly jotted down yesterday morning.  But they are a start.  A beginning of a thorough analysis of where I spend my money and how it contributes to the current system of greed and corruption. 

Above the Conscious Stewardship list, I wrote out my goals:  Empty unthinking consumer list. Move as many thinking consumer items to conscious stewardship [as I can]. 

The biggest problem is that we just don't think about how we consume.  We don't assess the downstream (or upstream) consequences of what happens when we buy a particular product.  We allow ourselves to be lulled into mindless consumerism by advertising and slick talking. 

We do it every day.  We see something shiny or pleasurable or convenient or "cheap" and spend our money on it.  Often we don't think twice; the money just goes to what we want at the moment.  And our culture has grown to cater to that mentality.  We live in a culture where everything is disposable--where it is actually easier to throw away a perfectly good item for the next new thing rather than deal with the outdated.  Everything is disposable--even people. 

When we mindlessly consume, we are directly contributing to what the Occupy Movement protests against.  Actually, Ron Paul, it is our fault: we gave our money to that 1%.

But no longer.  Because once we start talking and thinking, then we aren't silent anymore.  We can make decisions to become thinking consumers who choose to buy things for specific reasons because they have a specific value, not just because we saw it advertised during the Super Bowl.  We can choose used rather than new.  We can choose sustainable rather than convenient.

We can choose, when the romance of the Occupy Movement has ended and we are all back to our everyday mundane lives, to make the really hard decisions between wants and needs, between what seems like it will make us feel good and what actually does good. 

These aren't easy decisions.  These are decisions made every day for the rest of our lives.  These are decisions made when we are all alone and tired and the energy of a group of people connecting for a cause is not immediately evident.  These are decisions made after taking a good hard look at ourselves.  These are decisions made that may make you go without because it just isn't right.

But these are decisions that if made consistently will affect change in our world.

I am ashamed that the only thing I could legitimately put on my Conscious Stewardship list was my CSA. I'm ashamed that after a year of opting out of consumer culture that I jumped right back in with both feet.  These are things I am going to rectify.  I intend, rather than watching an episode of Mad Men, to put in the time to assess where my money goes.  I intend to research all my purchases from toilet paper to investments.  And I intend to then change how I spend the money I have.  I am going to move beyond the emotional fulfillment of a massive movement with big talking to actually act as an individual.  I am going to possibly spend more money on something because it is not tainted by greed and exploitation.  And I am going to have say no to something else because I just won't have the extra funds for it.  I am probably going to screw up sometimes and mindlessly consume because the product is shiny and convenient and cheap, but then I am going to remember that this is the rest of my life.  And then I will make a decision for conscious stewardship next time.

I want to commit to a life of conscious stewardship.  If that means not watching TV because the broadcast company is doing something with its money I don't agree with, then so be it.  If that means switching my phone company because they are violating our rights and making our private conversations available to the government, then so be it.  If that means wearing secondhand clothes because clothing companies continue to exploit child labor in other countries, then so be it. 

I want to live a life that does good and affects change.

Some might call these actions radical and too extreme.  Are they any more radical and extreme than a bunch of people around the world squatting in various financial districts so that their voices can be heard?

I don't think so.

Do good.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nothing Better

Than that first airport beer as you embark on a child-free weekend . . .

Unless it is the two glasses of wine you've drank at home in anticipation of that airport beer.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mammoth

Every time I plan a trip to the Sierras, I begin to feel I'll finally get to be me.  Not that I'm not me at sea level, it just seems that at altitude in the range of light, the non-essential me, the me that gets wrapped up in the petty stresses of life maintenance will burn away in the crystal thin light and all that will be left will  be the me of pure joy who can just be.

Because really, I struggle the most with just being.  I am constantly five steps (if not five years) ahead of where I am, uncertain how I will maintain this pace forever (because, of course, if you are constantly looking ahead, then you will project the fatigue and anxiousness of the now onto the future while exponentially increasing its intensity). 

But in the Sierra Nevadas, I can't do anything about anything, so I let it go.  For a few glorious days, I wake up with the sun and let the day have its way.  I make time to sit in the hot tub before going to bed to look at the deep black sky that is peppered with more stars than my eyes can make sense of.  I can actually take the time to wait for my eyes to adjust to the utter darkness of night so that more and more and even more pinpoints of starlight become visible framed in the silhouettes of pine tree shapes as the milky way dusts across west. 

I am fully aware that I can CHOOSE to do the same in Monterey (though the stars would be hard to see through the perpetual marine layer).  So when I say "I can" do something in the Sierras, it is not that I am not physically unable to do that here . . . yet it sort of is.  Somehow, I am conditioned in the Sierras to turn off the incessant patter of "you should's" that pepper my waking (and sometime sleeping) mind in other places.  I can't seem to stop that patter anywhere else.  So while I have a choice other places, actually enacting that choice is not as easy as knowing that I have one.

But I guess that knowing is a start of sorts.  And also choosing to go to places that offer respite is another start.

If you want to put a positive spin on it.

One of the things I love about the Sierras is that the light there is completely clear, causing everything to fall into sharp relief.  It's as if you could, if you could focus your eyes right, see clearly to infinity.  There is very little to no blue of distance there--the jagged peak that is 5,000 feet above you seems close enough to cut your finger on. 


Maybe that's one of the reasons I find peace there: in the true light, the future doesn't seem so convoluted and tedious.  In the thin air, the marine layer of uncertainty can't sustain its clawing scrabble over the ridge to smother joy. 

Though I love the fading blue of distance, sometimes having perfect perspective can offer a bit more hope that is sorely needed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hiking Essentials

Random wrecked car about 4 miles in at Portola Redwoods S.P.
Mid-August, I will be doing a long-ish hike in Mammoth with some friends.  Initially (over a few beers), we envisioned doing 28 miles of the John Muir trail in one day.  One of our party, who is from that area, mentioned that she had done that stretch in 4.5 hours when she was in her twenties, and that comment set all of us off on visions of doing the same with small allowances for 15+ years of aging, living at sea level, not currently in training for marathon-length distances, etc . . .


Because I really don't have a realistic idea of how long it takes to hike specific distances on rough terrain (I know my marathon and half times, but running in a city is very very different than hiking trails), I started hiking the areas around Monterey to get an idea of time needed as well as how much water, food, and other sundries I will need to carry.  


Touriga for stamina
Things I've learned:
~I can do almost any hike on a well-maintained trail in flip flops if the distance is under ten miles
~I cannot do 28 miles in a day and enjoy it
~I live in close proximity to some absolutely gorgeous places
~I love redwoods and cypress trees
~banana slugs look like scary, skinny penises
~I tend to over pack and gravitate towards non-hike friendly foods
~arm-warmers are utter miracles of clothing science
~packing in a Klean Kanteen of beer or a bottle of wine makes even a 14-mile hike well worth it

Saturday, July 16, 2011

No Focus

I woke up this morning and it was still winter (in Monterey, it is always winter and never Christmas).  But then about halfway through today, it became-if not summer-an absolutely lovely late spring day.  Clear, warm, slight breeze, all sun and varying shades of blue.  


It is so clear right now that you can actually see all the way across the bay to Santa Cruz--the first time I've been able to do that in the year that I've lived here.  Of course all this clarity of air and sparkle of sun will be short lived. Even as I was marveling at how giant this bay is and how beautiful Santa Cruz looked in the blue of distance, the marine layer started lapping at that city's coastal boundaries.  Soon they will be shrouded in cloud while I still have sun (pleased smirk). 


Since it is so gorgeous, I got all sorts of motivated.  I started sorting and organizing the multitude of bags and boxes I keep in my room to drop random stuff.  Started being the operative word here. I am very very good at beginning projects for organization and not so good at seeing them through to completion.  Often I live surrounded by piles of half completed projects.  Piles that I just shift around as guests come and go before finally dumping them into one of those bags or boxes in my bedroom.


I don't like that I do this.  I wish I could just focus on one task at hand before moving to another, but that is not how my brain works.  As I begin to pile all my already read books to got back to the shelves, one of them invariably triggers a memory or a thought about something else I have to do.  Like in Mourning Diary (Roland Barthes) there was a slip about the care of guinea pigs which reminded me that I need to feed them this morning. When I get to the refrigerator to get their lettuce, I see how a bottle of sparkly wine sitting in the door. I then turn and look at my east-facing porch that is in full sun right now but will lose it soon and decided that I should do my sketch for the day right now while I have the light.  So I open the sparkly and the patio door and see my plants which reminds me that I should water the plants.  I set down the glass, my pencil and paper, and turn to get my watering pitcher and my eyes light upon a  New Yorker which reminds me of the pile of them in my bedroom that I am organizing, so I return to my bedroom but then I hear an angry "WEEP!" from the direction of the guinea pig cage and  . . . .


You get my point.  The lack of focus isn't limited to household chores.  Once I was organizing and deep cleaning my son's room while he and his dad were out playing baseball.  They returned hours later to find me surrounded by a colossal mess (I had taken literally everything--everything, books, toys, blocks, stuffed animals--off the shelves and dumped them on the floor so that I could more easily determine where they would go once organized), reading  A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle).  But actually, I didn't start with that book.  I started by reading The The Wolves in the Walls (Neil Gaiman) then that made me want to read  The Sandman (ibid.) then I saw Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney)--which my son hasn't read yet--and started reading that (since I was cleaning his room, I thought I should read a graphic novel that he could actually read--Sandman, while awesome, is a bit old for a seven-year-old).  Then I decided I would rather introduce my son to a classic I loved when I was a kid so I started The Indian in the Cupboard (Lynne Reid Banks) which then made me want to read A Wrinkle in Time.  


See.


Today, I didn't want to go down my rabbit hole of infinite connections and no productivity because I have a week of house guests planned starting today and didn't think it would be that fun for them to have to vacation around my mess.  I kept pulling myself back to the original task at hand: organizing my room mess.  And I did it.  With lots of aborted sidetracking where I physically jerked myself away from another activity to return to the one at hand.


So right now, my room looks clean (all the mess are in bags and boxes down in my studio).  The guinea pigs are not fed. My plants are not watered. My sketch is not done. But I do have a glass of sparkly to my left as I finish this blog.   And my guests have just arrived.


WEEP!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Technology Amazes Me

I can now email myself blogs?

It's like magic invisible sprites are taking my very unedited thoughts and whisking them into computers everywhere.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Sex in the City Syndrome

I've just realized something . . . that no matter how inane your blog might be, if you end it with a series of questions, you sound smart and introspective. I think of this as the Sex in the City syndrome: Carrie Bradshaw pecks away at her computer after some life crisis, and what does she come up with? A series of rhetorical questions for her audience. She never actually asserts anything. Yet we are all stuck with our hands on our chins going "Hmmmm, this show is amazing. It is funny, sexy, and wise. I must watch more of it."

Boy have I been fucking this up.

My inane blog could be so much cooler. With a few well-place rhetorical questions, I could even rate a bucket list or at least some readers.

I've decided to battle everything that was taught to me (and that I taught for four years) in rhetoric and composition: namely, don't EVER use a question. Express yourself ONLY in statements because questions allow the reader to intrude into YOUR argument.

But now I ask myself, why fear the reader intrusion? (see look at me go--a question already--sort of) If my reader is hella smart, then he or she is going to project his or her hella smartness on my writing as long as I don't ever state an actual opinion.

However, something in me wants to rebel against this trend (more in another post on how if you disagree with everything that is mainstreaming, you will seem that much cooler . . . and then another post on how if you are disagreeing ironically with all that is mainstream then you are so cool that you kick way ass). Relegating my writing and opinions to a series of questions is like only following the prefabricated, safe PS book club guide at the end of a trade paperback without adding any analysis and synthesis and relevance to your life. You won't own anything you read unless you mentally do the work to engage with it. Prefab questions are a cop-out, used to assuage the latent sense of intellectual inferiority that runs through our culture.

Should I have phrased that last bit in the form of a question?

I don't want to be too perverse. Deep breath. I am going to do it. Or am I going to it? Lots of questions. Lots of questions?

Why is it that we engage more readily if invited to intrude into a conversation via a series of questions (no matter how scripted and shallow they may be)?

Why don't we recognize that all writing is predicated on dialogue and needs it to thrive?

Why can't we see that we are fools to forget the above and allow an author free reign in influencing our thoughts?

Why don't we work anymore as readers to claim the text as ours?

Are we too fearful of asserting our own opinion when another is speaking with confidence?

Or is it like Taylor Mali says, it is now just uncool to actually have a real opinion?

Why did the convenience store fail to stock Cheez-Its today?

Why do I always buy the bad coffee there?

Will I ever finish The Interrogative Mood?

Why didn't Padgett Powell at least incorporate some sort of narrative into the question(able) story?

Why don't we think back at authors? Why do we need a question to make us understand that we already contain the answer?

Wait.
Let me rephrase.

We do not need prefabricated PS questions. We can think on our own.

Any questions?

My weekend (in a list)

a girl and her goat

Between Thursday and Sunday the following happened at least once but sometimes more:

Drank beer and ate free popcorn at the Lucky 13 (discovered that they had a back patio and a black and white photo booth)

Bought a waffle maker

Drove to Oakland to retrieve and drop off my cooking club ladies (the Divas)

Received a stuffed goat

Got up between 5am and 530am every morning because we couldn't figure out how to turn off the alarm clock

Watched the sunrise over the hills of Napa

Had coffee by 6am

Had champagne and/or (but mostly and) a bloody mary by 7am

Made caramelized onion and jalapeno waffles

Rode around Napa in a limo with the Divas and previously gifted stuffed goat

Took said goat to every winery we visited

Drank wine at chichi Napa wineries for free because "I'm in the industry"

Spent $250 on two (2) bottles of wine at one of the above wineries

Watched more TV than I've ever seen in my life which included but was not limited to Bring it On Again and three (3) hours of "Yes to the Dress"

Macerated strawberries

Laughed so hard that I peed my pants (in public)

Cried

Watched Bridesmaids

Ate about a zillion pounds of buttered popcorn even though I was completely and painfully stuffed from the above waffles

Ate brie baked with caramelized onion jam

Ate a pasta dinner followed by macerated strawberries with basil

Never stopped drinking

Found a water glass from Tyler Florence's Rotisserie & Wine restaurant in my purse on Saturday morning (one of the Diva's also found a jalapeno from Florence's store in hers--Sorry Tyler)

Went to a scary train and dollhouse store

Drove over the Bay Bridge for the first time

Attempted to park my giant-ass truck for an hour in San Francisco

Purchased Invisible by Paul Auster at City Lights Books

Read the above at Vesuvio's

Walked to the Ferry Building because I really wanted a samosa from the farmers' market there

Found out the market was closed

Bought a coffee at Starbucks even though I wanted a coffee at Blue Bottle or Caffe Trieste more because I needed the free wifi to find a place that sold samosas.

Walked to an Irish bar that sold Indian food

Ate Samosas back in my car while frustrated people waited for me to pull out so that they could take my parking spot

Drove south from San Francisco to Monterey on the 1

On my way out of San Francisco, drove by the Blue Bottle coffee shop on Jessie street and cried a little because there was no parking

Made regular waffles for a hungry small child as soon as I got home

Made a fava bean soup for the hell of it

It's amazing what you can get done in a day if you get up at 5am.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Broccoli Lemon Spinach Lasagne

Just so I remember this awesome dinner I just made up after stealing a magazine (fine, it was Martha Stewart Living) from the hospital yesterday (didn't really need the magazine because I didn't follow the recipe anyway, so I sort of feel bad about the stealing part--my alien baby made me do it). I couldn't follow the other recipe because I needed to get rid of the shit-ton of broccoli my CSA is giving me. But I did steal the lemon idea from it. But really, I promise, this recipe is all me me me mine myown myself me:

Ingredients
oil
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic (skins on, whole)

1 container of ricotta
1/2 c Kefir, plain
spinach leaves
basil leaves

broccoli, finely chopped

2 lemons

No-boil noodles
mozzarella, grated
parmesan, grated

Directions
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss onion slices with oil. Roast onion and garlic for 30min.

Meanwhile, thinly slice lemons, put in a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Boil 7min. Take out of water and lay on paper towels to drain (take seeds out of lemons).

When onions and garlic are done, reduce oven heat to 350F. Combine onions, garlic (squeeze out of skins), ricotta, Kefir, spinach, and basil in a food processor. Puree.

Oil casarole pan, spread the puree on the lasagna noodles and layer as follows:
noodles
broccoli
mozzarella
lemons
parmesan

Repeat layers two more times (3 total).

Bake covered for 30 min. Then uncover and broil on high for 5 min (okay, so I also stole the bake time).

Broccoli will be crunchy.

This is good. I promise.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

If I Had a Bucket List . . .

Putting a lock on this bridge in Germany would be on it.
Photo by Louisa Osorio

As would post-it noting someone's car like this.
Photo by Marian Cristina Debenedetti

And I just like this one . . . hey, it's reading! And reading in Amsterdam! For sure on my retroactive bucket list.
Photo by Peter Leeuwerink

From GOOD.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm Putting this Here Because I am Definitely Going to Want to Find It Later

So there:

Covers of Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah”

I may have a bit of an obsession . . . as apparently does everyone else.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bucket List-less

I learned a new term today: bucket list.

Okay, so it's not all that new. I've heard/read it many times on people's blogs, and I've inferred that it has something to do with things you want to do in your life. But I never actually looked up the term to see why these (hella long) lists were called bucket lists.

So, once I figured out all the meaning and etymology behind bucket list, I began mentally compiling mine. But then I stopped for a few reasons (and not very good ones at that):

1. I don't know how to put a bucket list tab on my blog page (other people are doing it on Blogger, so it must be possible). I am embarrassingly computer-stupid.

2. But even if I did know how to put a bucket list tab on my blog, what if my bucket list isn't cool enough to hang out with all the other bucket lists? What if instead of being a clever shortening of the term, my bucket list is indeed a b-list?

I have a fear of being a b-list person. It's my own private (or not so much now) personal insecurity: people find me a b-list person. I fear mediocrity and b-list smacks of it. This fear is grounded in some experience.

a) I was home-schooled and didn't have any friends besides books (and goats and rocks and trees--sort of like a Disney heroine except I have bad hair and a shitty singing voice and no fairy godmothers (that I know of)) for many years of my life, so this whole being in the company of peers thing is still relatively new (say about 1/3 of my life). I lack the social graces that apparently you pick up when you are being tormented in junior high. I'm often awkward.

b) I have had some friends(?) close acquaintances(?) who very obviously considered me their b-list friend: if something better came up (and it often did), they had no problem with abandoning me to my own devices (luckily I had all that practice reading books and not having friends as a child, so my devices are quite competent). This behavior wasn't some soul scaring thing for me. It was a bit sad, but I recognized the situation and didn't spend (too) much time wondering why these people didn't want me a an a-list friend. But the psychological damage has been done. [Of note, three people, who don't know each other at all, have randomly apologized for making me a b-list friend . . . while that apology (which confirmed everything) is nice, it didn't do much to assuage my fears that I am indeed a b-list person.]

c) My name starts with a "b," so I am perpetually on a b-list somewhere by virtue of that (though I do love the letter b. It makes me think of that Sesame Street song, "Letter B").

And further, what if my b-list is not only completely uncool, but it is also shorter than 100 (or 101 for some blogs) things. WHAT IF I AM SO BORING I CAN'T COME UP WITH 100 COOL THINGS TO DO BEFORE I DIE?

Seriously, people the Internet over are judging each other by the items on their b-list.

"Oooh, she wants to catch fireflies in a jar" (read: quirky, appreciates aesthetics, yet enjoys the simple things in life)

"and he wants to run an ultramarathon barefoot in Mexico with the Tarahumara tribe" (read: super in shape yet knows how to party, impenetrable feet, loves nature and being in solitude for a long time, reads books on running)

You get my point. How do you even think of stuff like this? I can't. My b-list would contain: drink wine and read books. Then I would cross those off over and over and over and over again because I do them everyday. But they aren't things I want to stop. They aren't things that you can do just once and say "whew, that reading thing, glad I got that one over with, now I'll never read again." I like drinking wine. I love reading books. I want to do so much more of both of those before I die ("have sex" is something else that has happened before and I would like to have happen again, so it would probably be on my list too--I guess I could cool that one up with a location or type of sex act, but honestly, how do you know when you've crossed the creepy line? The goats (happily) never taught me those kind of social skills . . . did I just cross the line there?)

3) And speaking of thinking of my b-list contents, how do you organize your head enough to even make a list of things you want to do before you die? Nothing I want to do stays static. I tend to get passionate about something for a period of time and then I just abandon it along my road of life without a second glance. I would have to update my list every week or so to accommodate the new things I want to do and get rid of all the stuff I no longer am interested in. And we all know I wouldn't actually update it, so then I will go back to it in like 13 years and have a panic attack because I never made my son homemade blueberry pancakes. Or, worse, I'll feel so committed and locked into doing the things on my list that I'll sneak into my son's college apartment on a Saturday morning as he's sleeping off his hangover from the night before and make said pancakes only to be surprised by his naked roommate coming out of the bathroom. Then the roommate and I will have to sit down and eat the pancakes because my son won't be awake yet, and I'll have to pretend that the roommate isn't naked and all shaved and pierced (was that crossing the line? Damn those goats). It will be awkward for all of us.

4) Maybe I'm ascribing too much weight to this b-list thing, but if I am going to put down life goals in writing, I really want to make sure that they are things that I really want to do and not just filler. However, sometimes I won't know whether or not something should be on my b-list until after I do it (and we all know how dissatisfying it is to add something you've already done to a list just to cross it off). For example, "jumping in puddles and rescuing worms with my son during a rainstorm followed by "hot-tubbing" it in our giant bathtub with (kinder)beers" wasn't something that I wouldn't have included on my list de novo, but now that I've done it, I know my life needed that moment to be complete. Our lives need hundreds and thousands of these little moments to be complete, and we often don't know it until they've happened. They are moments that can't be anticipated and that is why they are so precious. How do I take those moments and condense them into a pithy little line and then cross them off? I think something is lost. I want to live my life, not necessarily make it a to do list.

I love lists. I love having goals and desires (in fact, I have so many of both that I have been referred to as a cavern of want). Yet I am reluctant to merge the two. Maybe because I can't solidify what I actually want to do with my life. Maybe because I am afraid of the reckoning that articulating something brings. Maybe because I just don't really want to examine all that I want to do before I die. Maybe because I'm afraid of what would happen to my heart if I actually put something like "write a book that gets published" into print and then I am 95 years old, dying, and it didn't happen.

Maybe I am making this whole bucket list thing into a way bigger deal than it really is.

That's likely.

In any case, I am now going to drink wine and read. So I can cross those off my list

again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Two Books, Two Pictures



Yay! It's finally spring and my CSA is delivering again.


I am making a soup from the oyster mushrooms tonight (and a kale and baby mizuna salad--baby mizuna not shown). These absolutely gorgeous mushrooms makes me think of a rainy San Francisco morning, walking through a bedraggled farmers' market in the financial district. Shining bright yellow through the wet grey were a bunch of yellow oyster mushrooms as if the earth had actually sprouted the missing sunshine. An impulse purchase of these mushrooms left me holding a soggy paper bag and munching on a piece of Northern California turf while walking up to Caffe Trieste in North Beach. The mushroom's earthy smoke flavor perfectly complemented my coffee.


It was indeed never a waste of life.


(The book is one of my 2011 reads. It is very good scifi/post apocalyptic reading. I will be sending it to my Australia wife shortly).



This picture is for @coldfuture. He is teaching me the name of the wind.


I thought something as rare as fantasy that covers the big questions of life (such as when truth can be as damaging as a lie and how to achieve the ability to do things simply because they are right no matter what they are) should be paired with something as incongruous as sparkling wine in a juice can with a kicky pink straw.


'nuff said.


(okay, so it is actually three books)


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Feeling Angsty

So, I just got back from a long weekend that filled me so full of creative spark and excitement, I thought I was going to burst when I got back to Monterey. I was so full of all the creative ideas and projects I wanted to finishing/revisit/start. I felt I would set the world ablaze (oh yes, I am a firestarter) with the sheer magnitude and volume of what I have to express.

Then I got back.

And now I have just undirected angst and the itch to do something but what? What? WHAT?

Part of it is that I am trying my hardest to back out of a commitment I made, and I can't seem to do it. At the weekly meeting I have with those involved with the project, I quietly mumbled things like "I don't think this is right for me" or "I may not be the kind of writer you are looking for" or "We need to have better focus before I continue." And no one heard me.

It may be that I am so awesome and valuable to their project that they just don't want to acknowledge that I want to leave and so hope that by ignoring it, I'll stop talking and just stay.

But more likely it is that I am an inveterate conflict avoider, so my quiet mumbles are probably more like inaudible whines.

Seriously, this is a huge character flaw I have. I either lay down and let everyone move me around however they see fit or I get blindingly full of rage and then destroy everything that is dear to me in my attempt to be heard. There has to be a happy medium where I am heard yet I don't hurt (myself and others).

Still looking for it. And so in the meantime, I'm left with angsty rainy Wednesdays and have no one to blame but myself.

[And to top it all off: I can't speak French!]

Henry Miller (who could speak French) gets the last word:
What I secretly longed for was to disentangle myself of all those lives which had woven themselves into the pattern of my own life and were making my destiny a part of theirs. To shake myself free of these accumulating experiences which were mine only by foce of inertia required a violent effort. Now and then I lunged and tore at the net, but only to become more enmeshed. My liberation seemed to involve pain and suffering to those near and dear to me. Every move I made for my own private good brought about reproach and condemnation. I was a traitor a thousand times over. [...] because "they" needed me, I wasn't allowed to remain inactive. Had I died I think they would have galvanized my corpse into a semblance of life.

(Actually, he doesn't) How do you say no to good things when all you have to go on is that there is a slight possibility of a better thing in the future if you are available and ready?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Long Way Home

You can end up with a day of blessings in ways that would never make it on the "blessings I expect" list. Certainly, I wasn't looking for any blessings on my first-long-drive-post-stupid-freeway-accident-while-leaving-the-city-I-love-to-return-to-a-town-I-am-ambivalent-about-potentially-driving-in-a-brutal-storm (snow! at 500ft in Southern California. That's just crazy, ya'll.).

But blessings come, whether we expect them or not. We just need to live (and drive) with our eyes open.

Here are a few of the wondrous things I saw on my way from San Diego to Monterey:

  • The brutal storm of the night before had scrubbed the air clean. Even LA, with its perpetually made-up and grimy face, was fresh and bright. For the first time, I could see its natural beauty--a white city nestled against stark hills and opened to a wide ocean. Towering clouds caressed the hills as they paraded across a gun metal blue sky. Even the sprawl almost looked beautiful.
  • Snow-covered hills, frost frozen, looked filigreed from fragile crystal. The lower hills, dusted with snow, were muscled and sinewy like the flanks of a silver stallion. The rocky crust looked like the hide of a great and powerful and vibrant beast. These hills transitioned to impossibly green (for Southern California) slopes, laced with shadow and light as the clouds danced around the sun on their cobalt dance floor. The fruit trees on either side of the highway added whimsy and sheer joy as their delicate blossoms responded to the sun or cowered from the passing rain.
  • Layers of rain curtains awaited me near Paso Robles. Once I passed through the first, it was like pushing through a room strung with grey gauze. The sun back lit the rain so that some of the curtains were opaque, hiding the world from view, while others gleamed silver and overlaid the green hills, still an improbable emerald.
  • Snow! Snow! In Paso. The whirling wisps streaked into my headlights in complex patterns like a throng of moths trained in military formation mobbing a flame.
  • Beyond Paso, I became transported to Ireland. So much green in the dying light. Ghost layers of hills tried on every variation of the color, only outshone by the silver clouds that seemed to possess a light source separate from that of the sun sinking behind them.
  • From Salinas to Monterey, the setting sun transformed the clouds from silver to purple-pink, lined with a fierce orange. Closer to Monterey, the cypress trees began to appear, clawing at the remaining light.

Sheer pleasure in the beauty of it all.

Don't forget to breathe.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Walk in the Park

When I was in San Diego last week, my favorite moments were the ones when I walked/ran with my friend C and her 3yo daughter around Balboa Park. We'd meet in the morning and take turns pushing the red Baby Jogger down the arched corridors, across the light-strung El Prado bridge, through gardens, and around fountains and museums. Being fairly flat, the park is the perfect place to run while burdened with a 50lb stroller. C and I would traverse the outdoor space, moving through sun and shadow, making easy conversation about things like our kids or delving into deeper topics about things like vocation and community. Often we'd run for stretches in silence, our feet marking a tandem rhythm.

On our last walk, we decided to eschew the level and paved terrain of the park proper and headed down into the canyon trails that run along the 163. These trails are magical. In an instant, you can leave behind an entire city, becoming sequestered under tall oaks and rust-colored hills, before unexpectedly popping out in the middle of Hillcrest right next to a coffee shop. The trails are steep, rocky, and full of ruts and runnels from the recent rain, with the surrounding foliage glowing an impossibly vivid green. Our route took us up and down and around hills, under boughs and bridges, over the 163, and up to Hillcrest city streets and a well-deserved cup of coffee.

Because the trails were so steep at times, C and I took turns pushing the stroller, laughing at the burning in our legs, encouraging each other to push just a little further, then taking the burdensome stroller from the exhausted pusher just at the right time. In at least two places on the trail, neither of us could push the stroller alone, and so both of us grabbed a side of the handle and used our combined force to get the stroller over or down the current obstacle. At one point, we jointly reached the summit a particularly steep incline before realizing that we needed to take a different trail. Instead of lamenting the energy we'd just expended as wasted, we grinned at each other--acknowledging the duo accomplishment we'd made in getting up the hill in the first place. Then we each took a firm grip on a side of the stroller handle and, with bent knees, our torsos arching back to offset the pull of gravity, we eased the stroller back down the hill and to the correct trail.

This trek embodied community: together, C and I shared a burden without judgement and with joy and grace and love, helping and encouraging the other as needed. We didn't keep score of who pushed the stroller more--it didn't matter that her daughter was in the stroller; we both knew it could just as easily be my son.

And more importantly, we knew that ultimately the exact nature of the burden didn't matter.

What mattered was that we were in it together. That we set out committed to walking a certain path and to help each other finish it. The point wasn't to be done--or even to always be on the right trail so that we wouldn't waste any energy or time. The point was to do it together. There was no need to get resentful while pushing the stroller up a steep hill when C was four feet ahead and stroller-free because the whole time, she was looking back with encouragement and love. Further, she would--when I needed it most--meet me and take the burden on herself so that I could rest. There was no need to be frustrated if after a difficult part, we found we had gone the wrong way because, as long as we stayed in community, there was no wrong way.

At the end of our walk, scalding coffee in our left hands and both our rights directing the stroller through the side streets of Hillcrest, C walked me by some of the places she'd lived in San Diego. It was a moment of such familial and familiar friendship. Sharing with her the joy of her past, the control and direction of the present embodied in her daughter in the stroller, and the infinite possibilities of the future together in community.

Thank you, C. Love you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Quality Time

Small son goes into the bathroom. He's there a suspicious amount of time. I wander in to see him sitting on the pot with the empty dispenser of Kandoo in his hands. He's staring intently at the open lid. I assess the situation and assume

a) (correctly) he's out of wipes
b) (incorrectly) that he needs more and wants me to finish wiping him.

He's really too old for that, and we both know it. But sometimes the mom thing of a toddler still kicks in and I just act. Often, much to his and my embarrassment.

All business, I grab a refill of Kandoo, take the Kandoo dispenser out of his hands, bend him over, and do a quick and unnecessary wipe.

"MOM!!!" He shrieks. "You just interrupted my Internet browsing! You took away my computer and now I lost my web page."

Apparently, he was done with the actual cleaning post poo part and was using his "quality time" on the pot to check his Twitter on his Kandoo laptop.

It's started. Be suspicious of every Tweet from Tinyman from now on.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Soup is my Soup-er Power

So, I make soup a lot. Like three times a week. And they are awesome (usually, sometimes they look like my garbage disposal backed up, and I served bowls of the fluid that is sitting in my sink--but only sometimes).

Here is the soup I made tonight because
a) it kicks ass so much that it is WAY,
b) I made it up myself, and
c) it is vegan so if you eat it you will be better than everyone else (like the super power of an evil ex)


Celeriac, Apple, and Fennel Bisque
Ingredients:

olive oil
4 leeks, cleaned and sliced (white and pale green parts)
6 parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 celeriac thingies, peeled and cubed
4 stalks celery, cleaned and sliced
5 apples (maybe Fuji, but really whatever you want), peeled and cubed
2 TBS fennel

no-chicken broth or any non-tomato veggie broth(2 cups + more for thinning if needed)
3/4 c raw cashews

Salt and pepper to taste
Truffle oil (optional)

In a stock pot, heat olive oil. Add leeks, parsnips, celeriac, celery, apple, and fennel. Saute until tender making sure nothing gets brown or burnt. While that is going on, take 2 cups of stock and blend with the cashews until creamy like milk (could take a minute or so). Add cashew milk to the pot. Add a bit more stock to an appropriate amount. Simmer until everything is super soft. Blend until super velvety (again, patience, this could take a minute or so). Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer a bit more until it is the temperature you want.

Serve in bowls with the truffle oil drizzled over the top.

Oh wow. So good.
Make it!
Do it!
Now!

Burn After Reading


So, at the beginning of 2010, a friend asked me what the most influencial book I'd read in 2009 was. I really thought hard about that question, but the problem was that I couldn't only remember the books that I had read in the past few months and none earlier in the year. So for 2010, I decided to take a picture of every book I read and post a blog about them.


Well, I did take many pictures. The blogs . . . maybe that'll be my goal for 2011.


Here's a link to all of my books (my other goal was to read at least 60 books in the year). I know there are a few I don't have pictures of (like The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake) but this will have to do. Now that I know what I read, I still need to think about which was the most memorable.

Enjoy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Anything Better?

Than an unexpected afternoon to yourself. No fussing about homework or folding laundry or getting dinner done exactly by 6pm.

No.

There is only the reward of sun and wine and books and written-by-hand correspondences after a long morning of writing about microbes and metabolism with maybe a little immune maturity thrown in for good measure.

Yes.

Then a sudden flurry of effort to quickly organize and evaluate a friend's poetry, reveling in her sheer talent at putting the words in such a way that they snap into focus. Into an image that you have never seen or envisioned before but still seems so completely familiar.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hope, Feels Like

The other day, as I was finishing up my run, I had the fortuitous moment of having Tiesto's "Adagio for Strings" reach the point of heartbreaking strings just as I was cresting my last hill.

Below, where the bay usually glistens grey and blue, lay a shining silver lake of clouds. A giant tsunami wave of molten white cumuli rose from this lake as if it were going to crash against my hill, sweeping me away in its glory.

It was the perfect moment of music, light, and release from the physical exertion of running up hill. It stole my breath.

It was hope embodied.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oh My, Oh Bounty







Bird by Bird

I have entered a very painful time in my relationship with my son. I knew it would happen someday, but I thought I had until he was at least 13 before I was totally annoyed with him and he hated me. Apparently, with the right impetus, the schism can happen when your child is as young as six. And that impetus for us is writing stories together.

It's not like we are sitting down and engaging in fun and free writing where anything is possible and the entire English language is at our service (or not if we don't want it). Rather, every week, he has ten disparate spelling words that he must weave into a coherent narrative. Couple that task with shaky handwriting skills at best and a patchy knowledge of English conventions and you have a definite challenge for any six-year-old.

The challenge for me is not letting him know just how thin my patience gets when we are doing this part of his homework. That's not easy: he's freaking annoying as hell.

Composing a narrative should be easy for him. He can tell stories like no one's business--most beginning with "When I was three"--yet when it comes to actually writing these stories down, he's suddenly pen-tied (oh no, not tongue-tied because even as he whines that he has nothing to say, he manages to keep up a nearly constant patter of talk that in no way uses a single spelling word) and completely unable to just. sit. still.

(Like Moby) I try. I bribe. I yell. I threaten. I look at each spelling word and find connections to our life ("Look honey, 'whale' is one of your words. We live on a bay that is full of whales. Would you like to write about that?" "Nah." "Okay. Here are some pictures of whales on the Internet. Oh look, the blue whale is the biggest animal ever. Even bigger than dinosaurs. Would you like to write about that?" "Nah."). I even (gulp) make connections to his video games ("We can write a story about Sonic and a whale." "Nah, I want to write about Mario and a whale" "[Ecstatic that we are getting somewhere] Okay, let's do that!" "Nah.").

Nothing works. In fact, the more I try to engage his writerly self, the more active his body becomes in a Tourette's-like litany of wiggles and twitches and rolling and pencil tossing and exorcist-like head rotations, searching for any distraction at all ("Mom, why is there a turtle in that picture? Mom, look at that bird out there on the house. Mom, check out how my pencil rolls farther than this cookie."). One second he writes a single letter (poorly) and the next he is doing a three-legged down dog.

Nothing. Works. And then I lose it. I leave the room (instantly he drops to the floor and starts playing with the cat, singing his spelling words instead of writing them down), and I start screaming in my head:
Why doesn't he love writing like I do?
Is he even my son?
He hates salsa too, maybe there was a switch at the hospital.
Why won't he stop moving?
Is he going to be a dumb jock?
I am so just going to give up.
It's not worth it.
Let him be a math nerd.
I don't care.
I won't share my books anymore with him, see how he feels then.
How is his writing process different from mine?

I stop there.

How is his writing process different from mine?

I get ready to write every morning. Then I wander the house, call a friend, write a sentence or two, fold laundry, do dishes, make tea, put on some music, check to see if the chickens have laid any eggs, write another sentence or so, delete it all, dance a little to a really good song, check Twitter, etc . . . I may fake a bit more purpose than holding a pencil in my mouth and barking like a dog, but my writing process isn't really all that different from my son's six-year-old version.

Ultimately, we are both trying to accomplish the same thing: we are seeking order in the colorful, butterfly-winged words that skitter and flit and zoom and swoop constantly in our heads. All our movement and procrastination is an attempt to shake these words into a semblance of form without being overwhelmed by their sheer power--to pin them down in a way that makes sense on the confines of 70% recycled, brown, lined paper.

I loosened up. The story about Mario feeding a singing whale a cube of chopped old and new fish got written. Peace reigned again in our house.

Until next week at least.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Breathing Through Tomorrow

The vibration of the seven-forty-seven moves
my body like the shaking apart of the tangles
in marionette strings. The film of no time falls over me,
creating a greasy layer of plastic skin. The gray

Pacific's glazed surface below gives no indication
of the International Dateline. I know that tonight,
it will be tomorrow morning. And after I meet you,
stiff unable to embrace properly because 28 hours

of flight has frozen my joints and slimed my limbs,
I will drop dead--pass out cold at eight p.m.. You'll have
to carry me up the spiral staircase, careful not to lean
too hard on the PVC pipe banister or bang my head

against the hard iron, cylindrical center or my foot
against the cinderblock door jamb. I'll wake up
at four thirty the next morning, ready to play
and won't understand for a few moments why

it's so dark when my body says the sun is high
and I have over-slept my morning class. Even
when I am finally able to stay up until midnight
and wake to the island morning, a tiny lump at the base

of my diaphragm, right where it meets the spine,
will remind me that something isn't right. That little
lump will keep me from taking full, deep, purging
breaths of the trade wind tossed tropical air as a wet,

impossibly green banana leaf slicks across my face
while I struggle through the jungle to summit Nimitz Hill,
dripping red blood from a delicate tracery of paper-fine
cuts of saw grass. I'll feel it when I gasp under

the hammering cold of Cetti waterfall and writhe
internally as tiny, pearly pink, freshwater shrimp
climb between my bare toes. It'll still be there when I
simultaneously fall into and fly over the Marianas

Trench while still sweating in the tepid salt water
off Apra Harbor. That lump will remain until three
months, four days, and 28 hours later when I--bound
for San Diego--arrive at LAX, where the smog layer

makes the multicolored pillars of light look like glow sticks
through fake fog at a warehouse party. Then as I breathe
in that unbelievably salty, dry, chilled air, the lump will
finally dissolve and my lungs will expand in satiation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

This is My Future

Except I probably won't have such a nice, quirky house. And, if the past is any indicator, I'll be reading while doing something dangerous like straightening my hair, and then I will accidentally burn my face. True story.