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Preview: my current obsession

okay, let's go

Updated: 2018-03-06T13:14:43.032-08:00


How You Know That Mom Is Getting Into The Facebook


Okay, Let's Go Classic: From October 10, 2008 (previously unpublished, who even knows why) 

I signed my mom up for Facebook, partly because I want her to be hip and cool and partly because she hates scrapbooking so much. Many women her age scrapbook, and while scrapbooking is beautiful to look at, my mom and I are alike in that we share a mild contempt for anything besides stuffing photos into boxes marked "to go through someday." Or, as Russ and I have taken to saying lately when anything we don't feel like dealing with arises, "Hey, let's let future Russ and Sarah worry about that." It's actually very convenient. I highly recommend letting your future self worry about those ten boxes full of highly flammable photos. Or making wills. Or stocks.

Ha! Stocks being valuable. That's a little October financial humor for you.

To re-continue: My mom loves "the Facebook" and I realize that I signed her up at the exact right time. Because I realized, as all children of Cubs fans must realize at some point, that any social networking site simply becomes another venue for the bizarro-world roller coaster ride that is Cubs fandom. Earlier this month, I received some good natured heckling that involved me living in L.A. as part of the nefarious conspiracy known in Chicago as The Dodgers. This good naturedness was, of course, before the Dodgers finished the Cubs in three games and became, again, the butt of every joke. Once that happened, and in three humiliating games, I made the mistake of joking on my mom's Facebook that now it was time to root for the Dodgers.

Big mistake. Imagine fervent denunciation, so passionately Cubs-centric that there was no time for capital letters, just time for multiple exclamation points!!!! Then, my aunt told me I was breaking my Gramp's heart, rooting for those evil Dodgers. (I'm not sure what makes them so villainous — any insights on that?) Not being able to resist, I made it even worse by joking that Dodgers championship wear was coming their way for Christmas. I think my mom and the extended den of Cubs fans might have had a small stroke upon reading that, explaining the intriguing follow up comment of "aaaaaaaaaaaaa."

I should probably stop torturing Cubs fans. But if they didn't like torture, they wouldn't be Cubs fans.

Happy Towns Are All Alike...


On the rounds of my neighborhood, there are quite a few campaign signs displayed, as Monrovia has its big election in April. And when I say big elections, I suppose what I mean is small-town big elections. Which are the best. Because as much as this past presidential election was hailed as different than the elections of campaigns past, really, when you get down to it, it had much of the same ingredients. Charisma. Scandal. Intrigue. But when it comes to small-town elections, you get all sorts of different ingredients. Local station TV arguments. Possible grand theft allegations. Oh, and much, much better campaign signs.
My favorite? The slogan for a mayoral candidate: "Miracles Can Happen." Also perfect? He doesn't have a website, just a slightly creepy AOL handle.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Attention: All Is Not What It Seems


I recently just had my first real experience with buying porn.

It went something like this: I picked up the book off shelf, self-consciously tucked it under my arm, and tried to find the most sympathetic teenage check-out clerk that I could. My face was hot and red, and I wanted to sink through the cool white tiles beneath me. And when she scanned it, she looked at the cover and smiled up at me, "My friends are all into this, too."

Now my humiliation was on display. And I was going to have to converse about it.

"Oh really? Well, it is very entertaining," was what I said, smiling feebly.

I guess I must look wise, or maybe just like someone who might still be in college, because the checker asked me, "Do you recommend it?"

So I answered honestly and told her that I thought it was horrible writing, not realistic at all, and slightly disturbing.

And she looked at me, then back at the cover, like, then, what the hell is this?

I was actually getting a little sweaty by this point, like some Victorian guy who'd accidentally seen a pantaloon. I admitted that I was reading it in order to write a paper about it. Which was only true in the sense that I was thinking about trying to write a paper about it. But not true in the sense that I had no concrete plans to do anything except read the damn thing from cover to cover when I got home.

The Target check out girl then explained me that her friends had all tried to convince her to go see the movie, but as she put it, "Why would I want to go see a movie about some vampire romance? It sounded lame."

Smart girl. That DOES sound lame.

But I took the book with me when I left anyway. Because once you're in, you're in way too deep.

(More on the shame that is Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series in a bit.)

A Bad Idea Always Bites Twice


Yesterday, at Petsmart, doing Petsmart kinds of activities (wandering off leash, peeing on the floor knowing someone else would clean it up), I had an inspiration that I would very much like to purchase a fancy mouse. The kind that don't look half as fierce or capable of chewing through limbs as the fancy rats, which, despite being fancy and in a cage, would scare Russ out of the house for good. Because the man cannot hang with anything remotely in the shape, color, or style of what he calls "opossum tail." It could have to do with the sheer number of dead ones he has had to pull out from under our home, but then again, it could stem from the time he cornered a live one, spitting possum juice at him, on our porch. Or, simply his hatred of pay phone cords.

I have no idea why this struck me as an inspiration. Something about tiny wheels, maybe. But being a veteran of overdraft notices, I am not as impulsive as I used to be. As in, I no longer decide to spend 75% of my income on spur-of-the-moment purchases, or as Russ calls them, "Huh..." I did impulsively join and have been paying for it - literally - ever since. Every time I call them to cancel, they somehow talk me into using the stamps I already have, which I never, ever do, and which keeps them drawing a cool $15 out of my account every week. Someday, I will finally convince one of my friends to call for me.

So responsible as can be, I asked the teenage salesgirl if it would be kosher (a term I had to explain to her) to hold one of these fluffy white-and-tan mice, even if I didn't plan on purchasing one. You know, to see how we got along.

We didn't.

There was a point when, if you'd looked from a distance, you would see me, shaking my hand as a fancy white-and-tan mouse hung vertically from it, clamped onto my index finger solely with its fancy teeth. It would've been Chaplinesque, except that my gasps were not silent and the blood was quite red. See evidence. I can only hope that the term "fancy" includes "does not carry rabies or plague."

My flailing caused the teenage boy who'd been shadowing me the whole time - and who would not take the hint to get lost - to actually run away. IN FEAR. Really. I cannot describe how fast he took off, not even if I was capable of drawing a diagram with little motion lines and a cloud reading "poof!" Had it happened earlier, that might've been a point of pride, as in, "Yeah, that's right, you better run, emo bangs." But honestly, it was only the threat of tiny mouse teeth that worked to get rid of him.

Clearly, the best reason ever to own mice.

Of All The Stranger-Than-Strange Things to Happen At A Wedding, The "Write Insights" Is Pretty Strange


Out of all the events that took place over Christmas, the strangest, at least to the casual observer, is the fact that one of my aunts got married in the basement of my mom's house in Illinois. Why the basement, you ask? Naturally, she wanted my Grandma, who lives there, to attend. Why does my grandma live in the basement of my mom's house? Well, it's technically not the basement, more like the lower level of a tri-level. But to me, it's down, and anything down is basement. It's not like we have Grandma chained to a cold lead pipe, shivering and surrounded by cat poo. She has her own bathroom and fireplace. She also is pool adjacent, which, I admit, is not of much use when the temperature is hovering around, oh, say, ten below zero. But posh, no?

A word on the cold in the Chicago area, which is so severe, it makes my teeth hurt. Ever been that cold? I don't advise it.

But stranger than even attending a wedding in the lower-rec-room-basement floor of my mom's house was that at the reception, I sat at a table with a man who analyzes handwriting to discover personality, temperament, and quirks. I AM NOT JOKING. He looks at it and sees things, but is quick to correct misperceptions such as my niece Beyonce voiced: "Are you a psychic?" He is not. Nor does he see dead people. He is just a guy who knows that the loop in your y really means that you are either a go-getter on the verge of making it big or gearing up to be the next Jeffrey Dahmer. If any of our y's gave us away, though, our handwriting guru kindly kept that information to himself. But he now knows who to avoid for, basically, ever.

Anyway, he went though my friends Diana and Chris, nailing both of them, through my mom, Beyonce, Russell, and me. I now know things that no one should ever have to know about people seated with them at a wedding reception, no matter how close they are. You might be wondering at this point how well our handwriting guy knew all of us. Answer: Not well. Some, he was meeting and speaking to for the first time. And yet, when it came down to the writing, there we were, apparently, butt naked on paper. I don't know how he got so much out six different versions of "I am truly happy to be here today" and a signature. But he read us all in the most amazing and strange way -- I remember that he said my mom is the bigger influence on me, that I am impatient (the way I write my "r" shows that, somehow), and that I am extremely efficient and planned-out. In other words, I should be planning your next big event.

If you are interested in being fully known (in the handwriting sense) by a relative stranger, I am including a link to Dale Roberts' website, Write Insights. It is truly amazing. I would advise it over marital counseling any day. For a fee, he has you send him samples of your handwriting and then, goes about telling you how your handwriting can or will wreck your career, relationships, or chance of winning Wheel of Fortune.

Go on, do it. You have nothing to lose but any chance of ever sustaining the illusions that keep you sane.

Fox News, Here I Come...


...Though I doubt they would have me, after giving my own analysis of what lately happened to the McCain campaign. Ah, well.

Keep in mind: My thoughts were written at the beginning of September, soon after the Republican National Convention, and so, are a bit expired, relevance-wise. But still. Cool, right?

Wii Fit Be Damned!


As I mentioned in my last post, I spent...okay, wasted, a bunch of time entering into a contest for a Wii Fit that I had so little chance of winning, I might as well of just put my name on the November presidential ballot. But there are two upsides to all this wasted time. As I was leaving my certain number of comments, which I'm not telling, I stumbled upon another Wii-wanting-to-win-ista who has a blog for mothers and left a comment like, "I'm having the same contest and I've only had 200 entries." So I clicked on the blog and found out it was a parent blog. All you had to do was leave motherly advice about how you, personally, are saving the environment. Not being a mother, but a committed dog owner, I figured this qualified me and so, I entered this contest a few times, with such gems as "Turn off the lights" and "Recycling is really great." Then, as I was leaving more comments on the original site and dreaming of being told I was overweight by the judgmental Wii Fit voice, I came across another contest from another blog that was for some CDs and some homemade peanut brittle. And I was like, what the hey? So I entered that contest, too.

This is yet another reason why online is often better than real life -- you have contests giving away actual desirable prizes, like potentially delicious baked goods, vs. the ten letters I get in the mail everyday that promise "$80 for two hours of your time giving your ideas about how to improve the Los Angeles Times." Not that I ever turn down $80. Like a good whore, I will go anywhere air conditioned in the summer and sit there for as long as I possibly can. Font size, you ask? I've got a treatise on it.

As one of eight contestants, I'm holding out hope that I'll receive the "you've won peanut brittle and CDs!" email someday soon.



It's been a while, I know. I meant to write this post a little sooner, but I've been busy with this slightly-smaller-than-large obsession for the last two days. Once I entered into a sea of 40,000+ others, it was hard to stop raising my odds, no matter how minuscule the chance of success or how many other, much more pressing matters were on the table. Like, say, making money to keep us from crossing over from "cute bohemian artisan poor" to "total Dickens-style destitution." Yes, it is a fine line and Russ and I delight in toeing it all summer. Another current obsession worth looking into? Wisecrackers and sun-dried tomatoes.The great part about summer is that it's most convenient to engage in these minor indiscretions from the convenience of my couch. (Confession:) I've also taken to afternoon yoga sessions in my living room (truly bohemian, right?). If not for my love of getting the mail, I would probably never emerge. This is all more poignant because about a month ago, I learned that my grandma, who is also very partial to her living room - she's slept on her couch ever since my grandpa died about 15 years ago - was going to have to give up her home. She's been there for over 50 years, and through phases of hideous rust-colored shag carpeting and heavily scotch-guarded draperies. The house, as I remember it, was famous for the clusters of carefully collected, dusty pitchers on shelves, an encyclopedia set written so long ago that the car was still depicted as a Model-T, and a downstairs bathroom that smelled so strongly of Lysol that you couldn't walk by it without being completely sterilized. My grandpa would spend hours in the there and when I was younger and a complete doof, I thought it was because he just really liked to read National Geographic. (The yellow tobacco stains didn't even register.) I grew up in that house; my real house was next door, but because both my parents worked so much and separated when I was eight, I found the orange shag a lot more comforting than the awkward silences at my house. Plus, my grandpa let me not only watch Unsolved Mysteries, which helped me develop an ever-present fear of being followed, but Cheers - and only with the promise that I would never engage in promiscuous sex in a classy bar/pub. Gram was never the vocal one, but she was always in the background, always offering her famous peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise sandwiches, which have scarred me for life, but also, back scratches with those wonderfully long nails of hers. I'd just lean over her lap, even after I weighed more than her as a ten year-old, and she'd just scratch as long as I asked. Even now, when I think of heaven, I'm hopeful that there's back scratching like that involved. She was proud of how long she'd lived in that house, proud that they'd paid only $17,000 for it in the late 1950s, proud that she'd been content with it even after my grandpa made his first million. Her home was just fine, she always said. I have everything I need here -- why do I need a big, new home -- to spend more time cleaning? If there's anything my grandma and I share, it is a straight up abhorrence for keeping linoleum clean.But now she's moving out, after she couldn't smell a gas leak. Her new digs are quite nice - she's moving in with my mom, who graciously offered her the bottom floor of her tri-level - but I've been in wistful mode every time I think about it. When I mentioned this to one of my aunts, she let me know that the house was most likely going to be bought by a family friend, who would have no problem letting us wander through, if we wanted. But that misses the point of my reverie. Because it isn't about the house at all.[...]

Next, Part II


If spring comes in like a grumpy lion, then the beginning of summer comes in like the slowly clacking roller coaster cars en route to the top. So much anticipation for what comes next, which in my case, is hopefully some much needed writing, reading, and tomato growing. So far, I’m deep into the tomato part, thanks, in part, to Christina, who graciously shares all her seeds and seedlings with her seed-needy friends. I have taken to calling the side of the house “tomato mania,” since I have fourteen different types of heirloom tomatoes and seventeen total plants. I had my first sample yesterday and it reminded me of what real tomatoes taste like: sweet, with a little pop of acidy goodness. It tastes like what I love about summer. As far as tomatoes are concerned, that clackity-clackity car could not be moving any more slowly, although I know once July hits, that drop will come fast and furious. And there are different types of anticipation, too. I anticipate the rising temperatures with some amount of dread, being in my 1906 rambler of a cottage with a huge attic and only meager accoutrements when it comes to cooling systems. I find myself biting my fingers when I think about money and specifically, the lack of it in the summer. I look forward to the days of reading and writing, and more sunlight to hike through the canyons up the street from my house, but in the back of my mind, I also know that once the drop comes, those days fly by in a blur and all at once, I’ll be back to that mind-numbing week before school starts. I try to savor these days, like I would one of my tomatoes that took weeks to flower, set, and mature, but once July hits, that drop comes fast and furious. The knowledge that it’s all going to go so fast is always in the back of my mind. It makes summer so much more precious and at the same time, so much more anxiety-ridden. I know it's all going to end so much sooner than I want it to. As you may have guessed, I am (Sarah and I’m) a reluctant teacher. I do it because I need to more than because I want to, and while I do enjoy my students – some of them have made a huge impression on me – I still do it with a bit of feet dragging. And though I enjoy it, even the students who look at me with a mixture of disdain and boredom when I’m pouring out my best thoughts, and even though I enjoy bettering my semesters with new ideas and activities, I still resent it. I resent that I have so little creative energy to exert on my own writing. I resent that all my attention is poured into others and never into myself. I resent that my abilities and time are not reflected by a decent health care plan. I resent that I spend hours commenting on drafts that are turned in just the same or with two more commas inserted. Yes, I know, I need to let go of being so resentful, but as a very wise person pointed out, then what would I do with the resulting free time? But then, there are lots of things I don’t resent. I don’t resent getting paid (especially right now). I don’t resent getting to work with some wonderful people who are both artistic and total smarty-pantses. I don’t resent when my students grow and transform as writers and people and I have the front row seat to the event. I don’t resent getting to talk about issues that are important to me and, I hope, to the future of the entire world. I don’t resent opportunities to make writing, for a handful of select students, something fun and not dreadful. I don’t resent the sense of purpose I have from doing something that other people consider valuable to society. So see, between the resenting and the reading of papers, there are moments of brilliance. This may be why the last season of Angel made such an impression on me and for the first time ever, Angel himself. Angel is the poster boy[...]

Next, Part I


Much like early California spring, school has sprung. This means that I'm in classes from 12:00-10:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Wednesdays and Fridays being mostly recovery days from so much brain and leg work. I have thought about shoes more than I ever have before -- I tend to be a pacer when I am at work in front of a class, an incessant pacer, more like, and the first day I came home from a full day of pacing, my feet actually felt a bit numb. And these were Naturalizers, no less! Some of my paycheck this month will be spent on (gulp) the most sensible of shoes. Something that can sustain my pacing and commuting and general on-my-feetness for these next 14 weeks.

Amidst thinking about shoes, I've also been watching the series Angel, long after I finished Buffy and Firefly. There are reasons for this, the most important being that I never liked Angel. I thought he was boring. I tend to dislike gloomy brooding on screen for long stretches of time; this, perhaps, is why I can never seem to get through dramas like The English Patient. So much brooding compels me to check to see what new, stupid, exciting thing Britney has recently done, to everyone's shock and horror. Maybe it's sensational of me, but because I feel like I spend so much time in my own mind, milling around, brooding about lessons or writing or how much writing I'm not lately getting done, when I'm outside of it, I like to be compelled.

But now I've arrived at the end of fourth-beginning of the fifth season and all the sudden, Angel is fascinating. At the end of the fourth season, the Angel Investigations team has been fighting against the nefarious metaphyscial law firm, Wolfram and Hart, who have been working on AI's destruction since season one. After a series of unfortunate events, Wolfram and Hart decides to GIVE the law firm to AI, with no provisos except that they use the facility however they want. For good, for evil -- Wolfram and Hart is fine with whatever. And through another series of unfortunate events, Angel makes an executive decision and takes this deal.

What is fascinating to me, and will be fascinating to watch, is where the dividing line between good and evil falls. In creating Angel, Whedon and Co. were trying to find a metaphor for life in your twenties and in this, they've found it. For me, my twenties have been a constant besiege of whether or not to abandon the artistic aspirations I started them with -- in other words, do I follow my dream of being a writer and continue to do so, even when I can barely pay my bills? Do I go to grad school for my MFA, a completely impractical degree, or do I pursue a degree that will allow me some security while marginally incorporating my love of writing into it?

I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to go with the unabandoned dreams of writing route. And I've been well-served by this. I've grown as a person, as a writer, as a thinker, and hopefully, in other, more undefinable ways. But there are moments, as my feet are paining me and my computer is being used not for creating stories, but for lesson plans and assignment handouts, that I start to wonder if I made the right choice.

I Am Slowly Becoming The Woman Who Throws Her Arm Across The Passenger Side and Decorates In Cubs Blue


I grew up in one of those households who screamed at the TV whenever sporting events were on. My parents saw no oddness about screeching and jerking and jumping up and down when any of the various teams they supported were doing well or mostly, doing badly. This includes, in short succession, the Bears, the Bulls, the Cubs (mom); a majority of the screeching dealt with any team either of my parents felt in any way threatened their team's dominance and/or good cheer. Which was everyone. There were nights I would stare at my ceiling as they screeched downstairs and I wished for parents with pearls, good china, and inside voices.

Somehow, I ended up not being a sports watcher. This, of course, bars the Olympics (by which I mean Summer; the Winter Olympics are iffy -- as Kenneth says, "From the glory and the pageantry of the summer Olympics, to the less fun Winter Olympics..."). In fact, one of my primary reasons for working is to be able to buy cable for this summer's Olympics so that I can orgy out on multiple events that no one else wants to watch, like Judo and Trampoline. My parents know this about me and it was never a big deal, more like a lovable quirk, the kind of patronizing grin you'd give to Joey on Friends after he said something so boneheaded you weren't sure that his brain wasn't composed of chimps pounding on broken typewriters. The fact that I have no Cubs throw pillows or Bears blankets is just one of those "look what we made!" moments of parental amusement.

But, like flu season, the Superbowl arrives and somehow, my TV is on and I am watching. Like the summer Olympics, there's a lot of pageantry, in the form of truck commercials, jets streaking smoke, and Tom Petty on a guitar shaped stage. Sometimes, this watching is as my most cynical teenage self, sometimes as an indifferent passerby, and once in a while, as genuine interested participant.

It was in this last capacity that I heard myself yesterday. Because late in the fourth quarter, as the ball was launched, I leaned forward, clenched my fists, and screeched.

A Eulogy With Resolve


Last week, my friend Mary died.

She was the first someone who died after my dad, who I knew, who I cared about, who I had laughed and cried and eaten and partied with at length. We were both on the Elder board at Church and I sat by her when I wanted to exchange looks and notes with someone who I knew would be as bored as I was when going over the endless financial statements.

My reactions evolved over the week before the funeral. When I heard she passed, I was talking covertly in a dressing room and between the hip music and the conversations about florescent-induced skin tone, it was hard to understand, to fully comprehend. Then, there was dinner with the kids on Wednesday nights, where I talked to them like I normally would, about school and the Superbowl and then, listened quietly as Russell got to the real stuff -- how it happened, what happened. The tragedy of it all made me sad that night, but sad deep inside and not out my eyeballs. On Friday, I was driving somewhere and the Grateful Dead song "Box of Rain" came on and between the beauty of the words, the melody, and the snow-capped foothills to my right, I was suddenly tearing up, remembering someone who probably loved this song and loved the foothills, too. The tears were there, but as I remembered her dancing in her kitchen around Thanksgiving turkeys, they disappeared and were replaced by smiling and my loud singing.

Another song I played a lot this week was Iron and Wine's "Naked As We Came," a song I have always loved and loved to play, and I thought about making a CD for the kids with both this and the Grateful Dead song, songs that to me, make death-sense. They helped put some words to something so senseless. But on a second listen, I hesitated -- they were so perfect that it was sad and hurtful and hard to hear these songs without thinking of Mary's untimely death. I didn't want to make things worse, so I quietly tucked away these songs for myself, and proceeded to the funeral.

At the funeral, the three kids - whom I only call kids as an endearing term and has no bearing on their maturity and general coolness - performed a trio rendition of "Naked As We Came." And my sad insides were suddenly all over my outsides, running down my cheeks and out my nose. I sobbed and went through tissues, until I had mounds of them in my purse, like small, white bats hiding in the corners. That pew in the front, where she slid in late every Sunday, would never be filled in the same way. As the final chords were struck, I looked up and saw both the misery and the resolve in each of the kids' face. It was in this moment that I was aware, not only by the power of words that so perfectly fit who I was missing, but by the power of us, to move forward, even despite what seems like impossibility.

Pursing Without Shame


A while back, I was listening to This American Life, as I am wont to do when the powers that be deny me a new hour of Car Talk, and I heard David Segal explaining why he just couldn't get a couch. It was sort of funny, in a weird, I'm-totally-going-to-gossip-about-you-behind-your-back-now way, and I didn't think about it much until the other day.

See, it's all about how David Segal was on a search for the perfect couch, not for religious or allergic reasons, but just to replace the train wreck that was his first couch. The only problem? He went looking with a specific image in his mind and it really didn't fit with the Ikea reality at all. Sort of like Goldilocks syndrome, an affliction in which nothing is ever right and the Mama and Papa Bear are ultimately responsible. This all culminated in visiting an artisan furniture maker who was custom designing couches, with these supremely cool materials, and even then, David Segal just couldn't bring himself to buy it. It just wasn't what he imagined. And so, welcome back the old, ratty couch.

When I heard this, partly because of his nasally voice, I figured he was a Woody Allen type. Extremely neurotic except Segal's neurotics just focused on upholstery instead of emotionally unavailable women. Because, I thought, who would ever spend so much time reflecting on a fucking couch? And while this bad attitude could possibly be attributed to hunger pains, hangover, or itchy bra strap, I'm pretty sure that it was just eight minutes spent ranting about couches.

But the other day, I realized I'm just like this guy. In fact, I am the couch guy. And here's why: I cannot find a purse/bag/junk carrier that I like. And reason? Because I somehow envisioned this idealized purse and now, cannot find one individual with leather binding abilities who has executed what was in my own mind. I've been going a little nutburgers trying to find my vision, dashing in and out of Pasadena stores, searching across eBay, enduring the jumbled mess that is Craigslist -- all for bupkis.

I will try not to go on here - I am about hitting the eight minute mark on typing and starting to feel slightly guilty that I am doing a David Segal here. But I have to say that I'm not sure if I will ever be able to buy a purse again and if I do, it will only be the purse that I sort-of-kind-of-can-live-with, instead of the purse I live-to-dream-about. And, I have to say, I understand Segal -- it's sort of a letdown to find out that what you really want is unattainable. I can even say that it's worth spending eight minutes talking about it on National Public Radio, without shame. Because it's not just a couch or a purse anymore.

As a matter of interest, if any of you, searching around, find a battered leather purse, big enough for library books and notebooks, but not bigger than my entire rib cage, with a little hardware on the front (perhaps in the form of pockets) and both a sling shoulder strap and two shorter carrying handles, email me immediately.

How Does Your Fondness Grow?


I've been gone a long while, so hopefully, that has made you all the more interested in where I've been and what I've been doing. Unfortunately for both of us, it's dreary and uninteresting, a bit like one of Shakespeare's kingly dramas. Luckily for both of us, I feel no need to publish it at all.

And my resolution? Short entries. Nonfiction abounding. In other words, watch this space.



This always happens at the start of a new semester. No matter how prepared I think I am, no matter what writing schedule I set for myself at the start of the fall semester, I always get overwhelmed in mere minutes of passing through the doors of any academic institution.

I am so busy, I have not even read the new Buffy comic. Yikes.

Not only has been a semester of intense proportions, but more than ever, I'm unsure about my gig as college writing instrutctor-naire. Because I'm not sure the -naire part is happening. This will find its way here, soon, or maybe a little later than soon, but just know that I have had some not-so-nice conversations with up-there authority figures about my own skills when it comes to instructing the younguns. And that's been a little destructive, but also, a little helpful. Because I'm thinking about myself in terms of work and myself in terms of work is maybe not who myself is at this very moment. In other words, maybe myself is disconnected from the work and thus, needs to find other work. Again, more explanation in mere months.

In leui of no writing of consequence, of having nothing much to say at this juncture, I offer you photos. Hopefully, enjoy.
(image) niece Be
(image) lucy and derrion
(image) nephew Junior
(image) waiting in airports this summer was boring
(image) dog sitting for sparky
(image) tanya

Laugh, Dante...Part 3


At first, it was easy. I could get it anonymously, thanks to the miracle of Ebay. I could find the issue I needed, and bid on it with my oh-so-covert screen name and then, someone from a distant land would put it through the mail. Ta-da! But then, I realized that I was being ripped off. These comic peddlers were tuned into people like me, and knew that we would pay high prices for the luxury of sitting at home, away from any store front with any word resembling comic and book and store. We had to pay to maintain the illusion that we were still separate, that we weren't so into "Buffy" that we were fine just gleaning the basic plot from the reviews on They knew we needed more, and like any good dealer, they knew we'd pay for it. It was right around my birthday that episode five was issued, and for a few days, I stalled leaving my house in the direction of the local comic book store that is a mere two blocks away. I think this was my little vacation to limbo. Russ was on the couch, sick with a debilitating cold, and I used him as my excuse not to venture down the alley. I had a feeling akin to the first day of school, when there are those general barfy feelings one gets on walking into a room of entirely unfamiliar faces. But, if you read my last post, you all know that it was more than that. I was unwilling to cross over, either into heaven or hell. I wanted the continuing gratification of being involved in a world of characters that I love. But I wasn't sure I was ready to enter a world where I would possible become one of those comic book people, who went to the stores on new release dates, quoted issue numbers and lines, and heatedly debated matters like whether it was an axe or a crossbow that killed the chaos demon in issue number 2. These are all huge stereotypes, admittedly. But I carried them and still carry them around as reference tools, because I know only one or two other people who buy and read comics, and they don't talk about it. So all I have are vague impressions, like the one I got of the two guys sitting next to me on my last plane trip home from Chicago. They were talking about a comic I'd never heard of, heatedly debating the planetary qualities of some world or distant star, and then, when the announcement was made that we were going to have to board a new plane, I heard one of them say, in a hugely stereotypical flem-coated voice, "This plane better be able to crush atoms or fly at the speed of light." Did I want identification with that? The short answer is yes, I do. Because I walked to the comic bookstore and with a deep breath, entered to the familiar sound of customer bell rather than Chewbaca-themed growl or something else comic bookesque. The guy behind the counter was not wearing a novelty t-shirt, but a Hawaiian shirt and he was not over or underweight. And all the sudden, I was happy to be there. He was not a stereotype, and I wasn't either. We were probably just two people who liked good stories and were just searching out ways to find them (oh, and he probably wanted to make money doing it). Like Kristan commented, there is something subversive and hilarious about giving the finger to the powers that be and joining in at the fringes. As someone who was always a cool girl, but also, a rule-following girl, this might just be one of my most rebellious moves ever. It was fitting that this adventure happened around my birthday. Sometimes I wish that we humans had a skin-shedding system more akin to snakes, where it gets tighter and tighter until it's just no good anymore and has to be removed. The process of shedding isn't easy. Snakes repeatedly[...]

Laugh, Dante...Part 2


Intermission: This afternoon, I was chatting with my friend Jeremy, who teased me about my AIM status activity bar, which usually reads "around, writing," because I usually am around and in some way, writing. This afternoon, I happened to be writing a syllabus for my upcoming semester, which is not really "writing," but is a lot like writing. You need the same focus, the same ability to pull ideas from some void in the nether regions, but unlike writing, a patience for the hair splitting tedium of daily details. Anyway, Jeremy's first words to me were something along the lines of "A MFA who writes? I thought we all ditched that gig when we graduated." He was joking, but it's pretty sort of true, that in the world of the real, there is much writing of the syllabus type and not as much writing of the writing type. And I thought about this blog, where I have let this part two lapse for at least three weeks, and not that any of you were dying to see what happened in this second part - except maybe Christina - but this conversation with Jeremy reminded me that there is much writing to be done, lest I become a casualty of the MFA, like so many before me. This is also, in part, for Kristan, in her blog reading, Planet Earth watching, tea-into-the-sink existence at the moment.So...This all started with Buffy. No wait -- it goes further back than that, all the way to reading and rereading The Babysitters Club over and over until the spines no longer held together and one by one, pages started dropping out. Then, it was All Creatures, then Sweet Valley High, then those demon-awful Frank Peretti books, and then, the Christy Miller series. Then, there was college, where I tried not to read anything serialized at all, for fear of betraying the not-so-secret English major code that serialized books are dumb. This, of course, was my own take on it and not like anything resembling reality. (Well, maybe just a little.) My friends were still reading Tolkien and Lewis and watching the X-Files, but I wanted to be cool. Cooler than cool. And cooler than cool was more like obscure Medieval theologians and contemporary Irish writers than hobbits and David Duchovny. So there went I, tripping after what I thought would make me smarter-looking and cooler-sounding, when in essence, I was just following the usual hipster-wanna-be directives like a neatly-laid, vintage cobblestone path. Man, I was lame. Another not-so-secret English major banner is about the rejection of science-fiction as a lesser, or bullshit, writing style. Back to Buffy. This was the first serialized anything that I ever stayed up all night to watch in chronological order on DVD, the first series I had bought since junior high, or the first series where I searched out reviewers' analysis of each show and poured over them like a Rosetta stone. I checked out books at the library where fans like me wrote funny and insightful articles about as topics as varying as Platonic ideal in the Buffy verse, or (and much less impressively) Buffy's perfect relationship match. I memorized the soundtrack to "Once More, With Feeling." If I'd been around when the show was still in its hey-day, I might have gone to Comic Con or a meet-and-greet with the stars. But who am I kidding? I wouldn't have -- I was way too cool for that back then. The whole Buffy experience, when I thought about it, was a little unsettling. I, literary type who's been trained in tiny cheeses and art-for-art's-sake public readings, suddenly felt as though nothing could reach the pinnacle of the story arcs and characters that I found in Buffy. And that's when I realiz[...]

Laugh, Dante, This Is Serious Comic-dy (Part 1)


I’ve most always been a very cool girl with a nerd inside. This, perhaps, is not unique. Maybe everyone has a secret nerd division of self, that loves Scrabble or reading Wikipedia or setting up sum charts on Excel. Maybe it’s when you look at junior high photos and see just how screwed up that perm was, just how ridiculous that gold chain with matching ID bracelet looked. Or it could be as simple as overabundant knowledge in any area – of Johnny Cash, say, or international soccer fantasy leagues, or, as I found about one of my friends today, of complex home brewing techniques casually mentioned as just something with which you experiment once in a while (never mind the colossal brewery that fills up most of your garage). We all get white and nerdy. Some people are just better at hiding it than others. I didn’t learn how to hide it until high school, which accounts for being often lonely and slightly fearful of many of my classmates for the first seven years of school. The most apt example of this would be the fact that my friend Julian, who I went to school with for 13 years, once asked me in high school, with no trace of sarcasm, “You went to this school in junior high?” I was just quietly weird. I didn’t know how to take care of my wild curly hair, my pants were always splitting down the butt seam, I was into stencils and poetry, and I wrote dramatic one-acts. I won awards for civic service announcements. I never knew the top 40 radio hits that the other girls in my class knew because I was too busy listening to Amy Grant and old Johnny Mercer tapes. I was also devious – I went to camp in Wisconsin every summer, and when I was nine, I disliked my bunkmate so much that I told her every single horrible occurrence in the book of Revelations (which I had read for just such an occasion) and watched her have a small meltdown as I nonchalantly predicted that the end was near. “I hope you said bye to your parents,” I said. A few hours later, she was packing her bags, still crying, to leave camp. Of course, some of the other girls listening in were scared, too, but they were the kind of girls who came to camp with their names written in all their clothing, ziplocked in bags by day, color coordinated, always with a little note from Mom. I was insanely jealous of all that. I would often write myself notes from my mom, who never thought of packing my clothes any time except for five minutes before departure. So I never felt too sorry for those crying girls, only sorry for my own wrinkled tops and holey socks. When I was in eighth grade, I made cheerleading and decided that I needed to study up on this whole fitting in thing. So I observed. I got myself partnered with one of the coolest girls in the class for science projects. I sat at her table. I listened to her and her friends flirt with boys (mostly with amazement, since I, myself, had not had any guy friends since fourth grade). I learned that the best lunch was some combination of one part soda and one part candy. I learned that Great America was probably the best date you could ever have, though when I went for the first time that year, I had a goliath zit above my upper lip and spent the day ducking into the girl’s bathroom for follow-up squeezings, thus squashing any chance at romance. I got invited to parties and tried not to talk about the yearbook, but about how many times I’d seen The Cutting Edge. I learned, too, that people perceived me totally differently than I thought, that they all thought I was cool, but too fiercely private and a little snotty. I had n[...]

Wild America


Right now, I'm typing with a blister on the tip of my index finger, one that makes it look as though I have started mutating, Gremlins style. What actually happened is that I was making ice cream and, while carmelizing, touched the silicone spatula. The sugar practically melted onto my finger and it took a few seconds to get it off. I've been reading various internet remedies about blister-care, and each one says something different -- pop it. Don't pop it. Bandaid it. Ice it. Pop it and squeeze! So I've taken the only possible course of action in situations like these and done nothing. Between "blister" "remedy" "how to treat" "finger" searches, I have been hiking and beaching. Mostly hiking, although I know of no better way to celebrate independence than to be crowded onto a beach with thousands of other people (and their dogs). Our dog obsessively chased her cat-sized rubber balls up and down the beach until she physically could not stand, an activity which is nil at all other locations and times, and let children touch her. CHILDREN! (aka, those who must be growled at.) Even this daft kid who was trying to squash her with his fists -- no bitey, no growly, just a ducked tail and sheer panic in Tanya's eyes. I see this as Russ and my good influence on her, although when confronted with a feral batch of kittens in the backyard yesterday, she actually caught one (with her teeth) and didn't let go until I screamed and our neighbors came flying out of their house, probably wondering whether I was, in some way, finally losing it. On Sunday afternoons, back in the day, my sister and I would complain that there was nothing on TV and my dad would roll his eyes and tell us to go outside. After we'd hem or haw that it was too hot, too cold, we were too tired, there was nothing to do - the basic arsenal of responses - he would usually click around and land on old reruns of Marty Stouffer's Wild America. Even as a nine-year old, I knew it was in the super cheesy category, but I still dug the close-ups, the freeze frames, and especially the slow-motion action shots of exotic and not so exotic animals. I took bike rides and walked my dog for miles around our neighborhood, hoping to see something more exotic than a cardinal or Cubs fan, but there was nothing even minimally interesting about wild life in Aurora. Now I live in the foothills of the San Gabriels, the gateway into the Angeles National Forest. And that's where I hike, in Monrovia Canyon and Chantry Flats and every time I set off, I always come across unexpected forms of nature -- the other night, while exiting the canyon, a huge coyote ran across my path and I watched him run until he disappeared behind a hill. Yesterday, Russ and I watched dolphins showing off right beyond the wake, jumping and splashing in criss-crossed aerial dances. You can't go very far in the canyons without seeing baby rattlesnakes these days (or standing adjacent to them, as Christina did) or deer grazing lazily on the slopes. A few years ago, I saw a bobcat and watched her run across a meadow in short, graceful bounds. And then, there are the animals right in my backyard -- the parrots that hang out in the persimmon trees and squawk at dusk; the neighborhood skunk that hides behind our daylilies; all manner of feral kitten; and the bats, which are my favorite to watch, soaring in their erratic flight patterns and letting out high-pitched exclamations from time to time. I love throwing pebbles up into the air and watching them descend upon it within seconds. So I'm trying not to[...]

David Lee Roth Sang It Best: Panamaaa


This is where in the world I'm at right now...(image)
More specifically, I was in Panama City, in the neighborhood of Casco Viejo, which is the historical district of Panama City and on a whole, much poorer than the downtown. Panama City, the fancy downtown part, where Donald Trump is building his next mega project, looks like this: (image)
But Casco looks more like this: (image)
Now we are in Barro Guadalupe, which is about as different from Panama City as you can get. We're up in the highlands, in cloud forests with over 800 types of orchids growing. In fact, we went to an Orchid Sanctuary (Fincas Dracula) today that grows over 2600 types of orchids, the second largest sanctuary in the world. (image) Their premiere orchid is called "Dracula," because it's got a slightly sinister face inside the petals.

Russ and I follow the German travel methodology -- pack light, make plans as you go, and try and do as much as possible. Since I arrived on Saturday night, we have done everything from visiting the Canal to visiting Barro Colorado Island, recently featured in National Geographic as the place with the most diverse bat population in the entire world. Our guide on the island, Juan Carlos, was very fun -- he loves watching Lost and called Costa Rica "cheesy." Everywhere we go, thus far, people have been amazingly friendly, which is essential, since our Spanish is amazingly embarrassing. I am the human sugar cube, and the mosquitoes can't get enough of me. Here's a pretty normal size bite: (image) Now imagine them all over my body. I'm one itchy chica.

Tomorrow, we'll be grabbing a bus and heading down to Bocas Del Toro, which is on the Caribbean side of the country, and doing the beachy thing, snorkeling and trying to spot the multitudes of sea turtles that live off the coast during this time of year.

Summer Vacation Begins


Besides the fact that I have 60-some reserach essays to grade, I consider today my first day of summer break. This is because I went to the library and instead of just picking up my held books, I purused multiple shelves. (Yes, I am using purused in the correct sense, not the commonly misused way.) I found some gems - a collection of Amy Hempl stories was very exciting. Her writing being mostly one or two pages makes it feel very doable. I also found the new M. Ward and the old Elliot Smith, which isn't exactly summer-like music, but will supplement the other music I'm listening to this week, some very throwback R&B-girl-group tunes. Which is most definitely summer.

Why is it so hard to grade essays? I know my students worked hard on them, that many of them are wonderful, and that once I get just one done, the rest will fall like dominoes. But it's sitting down with the special grading pen (not red) and reading that first page that's the real work of this business. It's a lot like writing in that way. Once you start, it mostly begins to fall into place, but those first tentative key strokes are the worst.

Russ won a scholarship award today from his department, by unanimous decision of the faculty. It's called the "creativity award," which his professor Joan Woodward compared to the Macarthur Genius Grant, just without the $500,000 cash prize. I was so proud of him that I was first, sentimentally weepy and then, manically clappy and hooty. I probably would've peed myself if there had been a generous cash prize. I told Russ he should keep his award with him at all times and wave it at his classmates every time they disagree with him.

Yes, Photo Header


Okay. So all I've wanted to do today was put a photo in my header box here. But after reading hours of unintelligable instructions, I'm no closer to doing so. Any help here?

The Weather


One of my writing professors at Long Beach once told my class that the way they narrowed down six applicants from 200 was by reading the first paragraph of the story; if there was any mention of the weather, they set it aside. Being from the Midwest, I am prone to have long conversations with the peeps back home about the weather. My aunt has said it's because I come from farmers whose whole lives depended on the weather. Thus, they liked to dish about it. I tend on the side of boredom during these conversations, where the temperature is relayed at least three times with a vocal exclamation mark. This is happens especially with my grandma. She obsessively watches the Weather Channel, although now that she's lost most of her hearing, she watches it on mute. This is just one of the many things I love about her. While I have always enjoyed watching the "Tropical Update," I've never watched it for seven hours consecutively. So since this is all in my blood, this weather talk, let me tell you how lovely it's been around here lately. Russ and I spend a lot of our minimal free time outside in the backyard, trying to make it sustainable, edible, and beautiful. It feels good to pull Bermuda grass, battle earwigs (which we have in legion), and exorcise lurking alley cats and their ass faces. But Russ took it to a whole new level this weekend by providing a lunch for about 150 people that was all sustainable, edible, and beautiful. Using produce grown on Cal Poly's campus, meat from a semi-local California ranch from a local butcher, and all recyclable-compostable dishes and flatware, he threw a lunchtime gala without the usual trash bags that follow. He didn't do all this himself, of course -- he had help from volunteers, but when it all comes down, he was the hands carrying it all out, from harvesting the veggies to designing the menu to barbecuing the meat during the event. For me, it was a new way to experience from the farm to the table -- and let me tell you, it's a lot of work. Processing lettuce and cabbage is especially taxing. The snails and slugs hide inside the deepest layers and most of the leaves need to be removed in order to get at them. I have a new appreciation for farmers, especially the herb lady at the Pasadena Farmer's Market.Russ had to plan a menu around the weather -- he was hoping for peas and beans, but because LA had a little bit of chill-n-rain over the last few weeks, they hadn't grown as fast as expected. He had to rearrange the menu at the last minute, figure out how to pull it all together without what he expected. But he was excited about that, strangely, becaues it reminded him that we're so used to having what we want available, we rarely have to rearrange in such a way. And I was struck by just how good it was to chat about the weather and not be bored. [...]

Extended Eulogy


When I first read Kurt Vonnegut, I was in college. Someone showed me the cover of Breakfast of Champions - I think it was Melissa, Carlos, or maybe Natalie - and then opened up the page to one of the famous drawings -- the one that looks like this:

If you've ever read Vonnegut, you know what that means.

And that was all it took. Life-long fan.

Working on a Full House


My house is like a Garth Brooks song right now. We found a dog last week and this dog has been living here for the last two weeks, disrupting the delicate balance of small housedom in which Russ, Tanya, and I exist. The three of us are like one pulsing mind -- we each know that space is sacred, as is downtime, and we each take it in our respective corners. Me with a book, Russ with his computer, and Tanya with her giant pillow. People always say that having two dogs isn't so different than one, but I beg to differ. This new dog does not need this sort of alone time or space. She is not so much chilling in her corner as under my feet, scratching me with her claws, which I haven't cut because I'm afraid of animal claw-cutting and the splurting blood that usually follows.
But, she is sweet and wonderful and full of cuteness, and she doesn't walk on a leash as much as skip. She is an incessant shaker. She loves to prey on birds and has the bad habit of wandering into people's houses when not supervised. She has a mustache, a clear identity crisis for a she-dog, which is also endearing. We think she rather looks like one of the founding fathers as well as Robert E. Lee. We've been calling her "Puppy Goo-Goo," as a tribute to the best Simpsons character of all time. And now that she has a new owner which she'll be joining this weekend, I realize that despite her I-don't-quite-fit-into-your-separate-corners household, I will miss her cute little antebellum face.