Sunday, December 30, 2007


Ron Carlson led the Squaw Valley workshop the day my story was discussed. The conversation was so provoking that I thought perhaps he knew a thing or two about fiction ;), and that it might be worth my while to check out his work. I just finished Five Skies.

It's a contemporary Western about three men who build a motorcycle ramp in the scrub brush of Idaho for a movie scene. The story deals with railroad ties, ten-inch carriage bolts, and all sorts of things I have no knowledge of. Which turned out okay because the descriptions were so simple and dead-on, I was able to picture precisely what was happening. I enjoyed the story and personal stories of each of the men, but I equally enjoyed the beautiful descriptions. It was like they were there for their own sake, to very satisfying results. It reminded me of Wayne Thiebaud's luscious, extant bakery cakes.

Bryan and I are off tomorrow to spend twenty-four hours in Florida with his Grandpa. New Year's with an octogenarian is just about my speed.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Post-holiday Humdrum

I realize I haven't posted much lately about what I read. But reading's as important as writing, so I'm going to make a better effort.

I finished What You Have Left. And as I'd suspected in an earlier post, didn't deal with America directly as a character. Great read, though.

On the advice of my husband, I picked up John Grisham's Playing for Pizza. It's a commercial fiction story about a humiliated NFL quarterback who goes to play for an Italian league. It's entertaining, but lacks the additional depth of character you'd probably find in a literary work. I don't want to be snobby about things, but I think it'd be interesting to know how the humiliation affected him. The first chapter finds the protagonist in a hospital following a concussion from a game he lost. The fans are ruthless, protesting outside his hospital room, and the media isn't much better. We are told these things are happening, but we don't know how the protagonist deals with it. It felt like a missed opportunity. Entertaining story, though.

It turns out my typewriters aren't terminal; Mitchell can get them all back up and running. All that's required are Q-tips; cleaner; new springs, ribbons, and knobs; one new platen; two rollers; hours of his time; and some welding. Not bad, eh?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Or Merry any other holiday that you celebrate.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Last-minute Shopping

A little after noon today, on December twenty-third, I finished my Christmas shopping. It's the longest I've ever waited, but I'll still beat my father by twenty-four hours. I have to confess, there's a little bit of a rush that comes when you're scurrying from store to store, scanning half-empty shelves and get employee head-shakes when you ask about having an item in stock. There's also a little bit of stress that could morph into full-blown discomposure if I weren't buying for someone who insists time together is all he wants.

Most people would read this and think, aw, isn't that sweet. And it is, but it means more because Bryan works seven days a week, almost sixty hours a week. After such a long week, he could want football on a big screen with his buddies, or a night at a bar. But all he wants is me.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Simple Pleasures

Bryan and I took my four typewriters to a guy named Mitchell in Kearney Mesa yesterday. He has an office supply business, but what he really loves to do is repair typewriters. Bryan knew I'd always wanted to start a typewriter collection, and these old units were his wedding gift to me.

After dropping them off, Mitchell offered to show us around his back room. He was filled with machines, from ones that type blind all the way to electric. He even had a Smith Premier No. 4, which has two QWERTY keyboards, an uppercase on top of a lower.

My little guy, a Corona 3 folding, is in pretty poor shape. So's the Remington No. 12. Hopefully Mitchell can put them back together.

Later that evening we went to Bryan's company Christmas party. Bowling!!! Unfortunately, a real ball is a little different than a Wii remote. But I still has a blast.

Manual typewriters, and manual bowling. It was such a retro day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Acceptances Do Come in the Mail

I received one today from SLAB. It's for a short-short I've been shopping around for nearly six months. Persistence pays off. This is a story I'd always liked (I'm never short on ire for my work), in spite of the dozen+ editors who rejected it. A few months ago, I received a thoughtful thumbs-down from an editor who liked where the story went, but thought the beginning was a bit standoffish. I considered his critique for over a week before deciding the narrator needed to be standoffish. So the story remained unchanged. And today, it becomes accepted.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Literary Tour of America, in All Its Manifestations

I recently read Gish Jen’s Typical American, a book about a Chinese immigrant in the mid-twentieth century. It came on the heels of Richard Russo’s The Bridge of Sighs in my reading list. Never mind the Italian reference, the book depicts the small town New England Russo has been doing so well for so long.

And then Delmore Schwatz’s poem “America, America!” And then this morning I finished David Wong Louie’s The Barbarians are Coming, another Chinese immigrant story. A workshop mate at Tomales Bay tipped me off to Louie, and I am thankful for his recommendation, and our conversations that week.

Next up is What You Have Left by Will Allison. The story is set in America, but I don't think it will deal with America as a subject. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Weekend Fun

Bryan and I received an early Christmas gift from my parents. A camcorder! I felt the urge to find a horse at the Del Mar race track and film it a la Muybridge. But, alas, we settled for footage of Louie.

Why is it when you try to write a novel, you end up with a short story? And when you begin a short story, it expands into something much longer? Poets can't possibly have such problems.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

I saw this play Sunday night with friends. It's a posthumous stage adaption of Geisel's book. It must be strange for a writer to create a new piece from someone else's work, especially when the original artist isn't around to ask questions. "Ted, what were you thinking when you chose the name Cindy Lou?"

Anyhow...the play follows the book's storyline. The Grinch doesn't like Christmas, so after the "townies," the Whos, shop and decorate for Christmas, the Grinch steals it all. When one of the children befriends the Grinch, he changes his mind about the holiday. Which is all fine and good. But I kept wondering why the Grinch hated Christmas in the first place. What was the source of his anger? How did he get to such a misanthropic place? I don't want to put "the character on the couch" (to borrow a workshopping line from a past instructor), but doesn't this matter? Back story? Context? It could even be a separate story, a character study. I'll suggest it the next time I hear a writer complain of being blocked.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

First Place

It looks as though my car (or more accurately, its progeny) won an award:

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Moment Recalled, Suddenly, Long after it’s Passed

Getting married and hugging your family and friends. Then sending them off to the reception, and staying behind for photos. Because you want to remember. Moments. You want them made visual. You don’t want to rely on yourself to conjure them. You like springboards.

Smiling with your husband; and your husband and your dog; and your husband and your brother, who gave you the marriage. Pictures with other family. The best man and maid of honor. You and your husband and a gnome, because your family likes to keep a joke going.

And then the photographer takes you to the lifeguard tower. She wants you and your husband with the weather-beaten, wooden structure in the background; you don’t yet know that the lifeguard will let you up onto the top, three stories above the coastline.

Walking to the tower, barefoot in soft sand, flowers in one hand and your husband’s hand in the other, you pass a homeless man. You think of your new life, and the welcoming crew who sat in the onshore breeze while you made vows. And you feel optimistic. You feel like the home team, the undefeated boxer, a gambler on a streak. And you look at this man and wonder if he ever had such a support crew. You don’t know, but here’s what you do know: with this man's presence you will never forget what you have, and that it could all rush away like a falling tide.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christmas Toys

This is called poetic justice. :)

Culturally Fortified

Art is like riboflavin. By and large people don't actively search it out, but consume it passively without realizing. Bryan and I figure that the poem Patchen read so wonderfully at our wedding was, for many of our guests, the only poem they'll experience this year.

The government has guidelines for exercise, nutrition, international travel, immunizations, insurance company standards, and online gambling. But there's no recommended daily allowance of art--of books, paintings, music, sculpture.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I refuse to command my dog to "lay down."

I will not patron any fast food establishment that uses the spurious adverb "melty" in ad campaigns.

Why are "entertainment centers" never designed to hold books? They have slots for a big screen, a slew of DVDs and game consoles, picture frames and pretty candles. But the shelves are never suited for books. To some, the written word is still entertainment.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Crash Diet

Louie lost two inches in an hour today:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Come on, you knew it would happen...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vacuuming the Garage

Bryan and I took some of our wedding money and splurged on a Dyson vacuum. It is, as the hype says, the best vacuum on the market.

So with the wildfire ash having settled, I took another pass over the house this afternoon. Then I turned off the vacuum and thought. I thought for a second more. Then I wheeled the vacuum into the garage and turned it on. Louie of course watched me with his "what's the crazy girl doing now?" expression he's become so good at. But the ash (and dirt, and dust, and mold, and particulates, and dog hair, et cetera) has been removed from the garage. If only the machine had a longer cord and I could clean the sidewalks.

Identity Change

You'd think it would take Social Security more than fifteen minutes to process a name-change application. And not because of the bad reputation government offices have with efficency, but because it's a big change! The Israeli government supposedly questions travellers for an hour to decide if their reasons for wanting to enter the country are valid.

I took a number and waited ten minutes before being called by a processing agent. I turned over my paperwork, flashed a marriage and a driver's license, and was on my way.

I was happy that I wasn't stuck there for hours, a la the Beetlejuice scene in the Waiting Room for Lost Souls. But shouldn't it take a little more time? Maybe my concern isn't with the government's ability to vet people's intentions, but the ease with which you can change yourself.

My Yukon Experience

I'm not sure of the last time I didn't have cell phone reception for any significant amount of time. Grad school? Parts of Riverside County back in college?

My phone cut out at some point on Highway 1 on my way to Tomales Bay. But the isolation proved fruitful, because I made exciting progress on two stories.

When I emerged from the woods Monday morning, I met my old high school friend Melissa in Oakland for lunch before catching my plane. We ate at a restaurant within Jack London Square. London spent some time in Oakland, and the city/county/chamber of commerce/nice people took his cabin from Alaska and reconstructed it here with half of the original logs. Some of London's fiction would be drawn from his experiences in the Alaskan wild. It was fodder for writing that would come. Just like my time in rural Tomales Bay has been a springboard for stories.

Tomales Bay


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sense of Direction

It only took me three tries to make it to the workshop grounds this afternoon. I think it's a sign that the workshop is going to be great.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Off Again

Tomorrow I head north to the Tomales Bay Workshops. I think it will be a good shot in the arm of writing after being so busy with wedding planning. That is, if I don't get lost on the drive from the Oakland airport to Marshall, CA.

Monday, October 22, 2007


What you take:
Your husband
Your dog
Your wedding dress
An antique typewriter
One good book

What you have:
Good friends who will take you in

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I've been married for a week now. The change is like night and day, I tell you. Night and day. :)

Back to writing! Without a wedding to plan, or recover from, I find myself with time to feed my addiction. I worked on a short story today, one I haven't looked at in a couple weeks. The time has provided good perspective on the some of the issues I knew were present.

I leave Wednesday morning for a writing conference, which I'm hoping will be the literary shot in the arm I need after being distracted with nuptial planning.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I love you
because the earth turns round the sun
because the North wind blows north
because the Pope is Catholic
and most Rabbis Jewish
because winters flow into springs
and the air clears after a storm
I love you
because it is the natural order of things

From "Resignation"
by Nikki Giovanni

Friday, October 12, 2007


I haven't posted lately. And here's why. The key to a successful blog post is being able to get your head around the experience you want to chronicle, and I can't do this at the moment. These last few weeks of wedding planning have been so crazy and wonderful, and I'm unable to find narrative distance. But it will happen. Stay tuned. I'm about to marry the love of my life....He makes me a better person, so I know our big day will help me find perspective.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Glowing Bubbles

Along with table arrangements, ceremony site logistics, and reception music, Bryan and I also have to sample ice cream flavors for our wedding cake (Cold Stone!). We spent an hour at the store, trying different combinations of ice cream, mix-ins, and cake. Who would have thought cheesecake ice cream, blueberries, and chocolate cake was so delicious?! And mint ice cream, slivered almonds, white chocolate chips, and chocolate cake? Luckily, Bryan and I powered through combinations to find this out.

Becky, Pam, and I did a night swim with the Tri Club this evening. There was a full moon, and everyone was given a glow stick to attach to our wetsuit pulls. The phosphorescence was incredible! Every time your hand broke the water's surface, the bubbles glowed fluorescent green! There was some funky stuff on the ocean floor at one point that could freak you out, so I just focused on the shiny bubbles. And all was well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Head of the Class

Tonight was Louie's second day of school. Bryan and I don't want to be those elite, competitive parents, but , honey, he's waaaaaay ahead of all the other dogs. No jumping or barking. And if Bryan and I give a command correctly, he follows! Oh, and did I mention he's also the cutest dog there?

I am furiously working on a story (in between furiously planning a wedding, of course) for Tomales Bay. I've been kicking around some scenes in my head for several months now, and figured it would end up being a 5,000-to-7,000-word story. But as I write, it's seeming more episodic. Maybe closer to novella length? Or...? I can't bring myself to type the other "N" word.

My mom helped me mail out a story to journals this morning. I was critiqued by Michael Jaime-Becerra at Squaw. He really went above and beyond what's required of a critique, and his comments helped me see the story in a new way. I'm optimistic that someone, somewhere, in this vast land of literature, will want to publish it.

My brother is taking an impromptu vacation in Hawaii this week. Carpe diem!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Frog

I came. I saw. I survived. And conquered. And had a great time.

This race is a blast. The Navy Seals are an impressive group of athletes, and the volunteers are really friendly.

The race conditions (high surf, wind, rain) were not ideal for fast times, but did make the race crazier and more fun. How can you not laugh when the rip current puts you 100 yards north of the intended surf exit point? And then you have to run down the beach and do it two more times?

Bryan, my parents, and Louie came out to cheer me on. While I was biking through wind and rain, they were sitting in it. For hours. It means so much when the people you love support your crazy endeavors. Knowing they would be on the other side of the loose sand section of the run made each step easier.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Legally Binding

Bryan and I applied for our marriage license today. Imagine my delight and his chagrin to read in the fine print that he must cook me an egg sandwich once a week. Further down, it said I had to let him use my bike pump. I now see what people mean about marriage being a series of compromises.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wedding planning is pure bedlam.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

What I Didn't Know

I'm always discovering new things. Last night, I learned the neighborhood dog park has a social caste system to rival the Hindus'. There's the retrivers, labs, and big dogs. They participate in group-fetching, where they vie for the same tennis ball. There's a little-dog clique that congregates away from the big-dog whirling dervish up on the small hill. Their owners seem to know each other, and chat while the dogs sit and look pretty. And there are the parents with children who keep their distance in the playground area.

The whole thing kind of reminds me of high school. It's a good primer for tonight's 10-year high school reunion.

Monday, September 3, 2007


It's freakin hot.

Q + brick workout = hot triathlete.

Because I'm a louse, I postponed Saturday's brick (last long workout before beginning my Frog taper). So I had to do it today.

And since I am this previously mentioned louse, I returned to the house overheated, and took a cue from Louie.

I lay on the tile floor in front of a fan, ice cubes on my pulse points. Louie gave me a "this lady's crazy" look (it's the poodle part of him--very perceptive) and then munched on his own ice cubes.

After Saturday's lament about no responses from literary journals, three rejections arrived today. Don't editors have better things to do on Labor Day, like BBQ meat, than tell me I don't measure up?

The police in Mission Beach are donning riot gear today. The heat does strange things to people. Like cause them to brawl over a keg, or think they can make it as a fiction writer.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

So Cruel

What's so cruel? A lifeguard changing the posted temperature as you're walking down to the ocean, from an already chilly 68 degrees to a punishing 65. We got in as soon as possible before it dropped again.

Silence from short story submissions. I'm guessing this is the lull before a storm. What I don't know is weather the storm will bring a downpour of acceptances or malestrom of denials. But surely the cold water that's been flushed into the Cove is preceding a weather change.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Last month, I challenged myself to memorize a poem. One month + one day later I've finally selected one, "Hotel Insomnia" by Charles Simic. It's an unexpected piece with a strong sense of place, and by choosing it I'm giving a nod to this country's new Poet Laureate. I was lucky enough to hear Mr. Simic read while at New York. At the risk plagiarizing, I'll reprint the first stanza here, and post subsequent ones as I memorize them.

I liked my little hole,
its window facing a brick wall.
Next door there was a piano.
A few evenings a month
a crippled old man came to play
"My Blue Heaven."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Mighty West Coast

While tilling the patchy areas of the lawn today, I got to thinking about the ways that west-coast literature is underrepresented. It's no secret that what gets published is influenced by a number of factors; it's a lot more complicated than simply printing the best stories.

To be sure, the stereotype of west-coast excess has led people to dismiss the place. The Hollywood lifestyle and those damn shows "The OC" and "The Real Housewives of Orange County" have done a good job of showing the rest of the country how vacuous southern California can be. It can lead people to believe the only stories coming out of here involve sun-kissed debauchery. Except this isn't true.

But even if it were, Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis did a superb job of writing "literary," "heady" works about east-coast excess. So what gives?

(Parenthetical aside--thank God for ZYZZYVA.)

I talked about this a bit with Rick Moody while at New York. His response was that it's due to the agents and publishing houses being on the east coast. They privilege what they know.

Sadly, this seems true. I thought people read literature to discover new worlds. Maybe they just want a mirror.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Gardening and Sewing

Annual flowers and lawn patch have come to excite me. I spent an hour breaking a sewing machine needle, then troubleshooting every other problem that can go wrong with a forty-year-old machine.

When did all this happen? I'm not trying to avoid any writer's block.

What I'm desperately trying to do is rewrite a story I had a one-on-one critique with at Squaw. But the backyard won't stop calling.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Travels with Louie

Louie is still perpetually scared, but dealing with new places, people, and dogs like a champ. In the past few days Louie and I have been to Bryan's lab, UCSD, the lagoon, the beach (sort of), Petco, and plenty of shopping centers. It won't be long until we're taking a cross-country road trip a la John Steinbeck.

I took him to Panera today to have lunch with a fellow Squaw participant and he did great. My friend brought her dog and the two of them got along wonderfully. It was great to talk with another struggling/burgeoning writer. And someone who's local, too! I received emails today from past workshop mates about readings in New York and the bay area. There is no writing community in San Diego.

I may be nearly done with a short story about a woman and a bird. It even has a title!

Louie gets really excited about rawhide "tortilla chips." And whenever I top a meal with salsa (which is quite often) he won't stop sniffing the plate. He has a link to Mexico by way of his former parents, so we're a real multi-cultural family. I just know he'll get along with Veronika's cat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dark Days

Reading at Risk

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Introducing Louie

He's the newest thing in San Diego; the coolest cockapoo this side of the 5 Freeway; the cutest guy in this house (sorry, Bry); and the bees knees. He's a hepcat, except not a cat; cute to boot; and the best decision we've made since getting engaged.

His owner needed to find a good home for him and we feel so lucky to be that home. He travelled two+ hours in the car without so much as a wimper or bark. At home he hung out in the backyard for a while, then eventually came inside. He's currently resting his head on Bry's hand, so I think they're going to be best buds. In fact, I think we're all going to get along quite well.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Water Wimp

74-76-degree water + full wetsuit = a happy swimmer. The Cove was beautiful today! Garibaldi inside, but not much to see further out (except for friends trying to swim through kelp beds--hee, hee). Sadly, no leopard sharks at The Marine Room. My mom came with me and walked around LJ while I swam, taking photos and watching the crowd.

I've been thinking a lot about the "snowball" story I workshopped at Squaw and am preparing to do a big restructuring of the story to give it a story arc. Plot is usually a good thing.

A friend went on a blind date tonight through eHarmony. She is so brave!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The People in My Life

My parents arrived in town this evening after fleeing Hurricane Flossie (which my brother Brian deemed a "let down"). They'll be here through the wedding to help plan, coordinate, and keep me sane. I love you guys!

Today is my friend Joe's birthday. Happy birthday!

Patchen, I'm still doing all the positive thinking.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Head Above Water

Today I received my first piece of "fan mail" from a woman who read my story in Summerset Review. What a wonderful surprise to receive in one's email inbox.

I did the Shores swim this evening for the first time in six weeks. And yesterday, I rode the Frog bike course with a fellow entrant, then followed it up with a run. I am back!

I've finished unpacking, washed all the laundry I can, and read my backlog of mail (postal and electronic). I am officially caught up. Tomorrow I begin a new draft of the story I workshopped at Squaw.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I am home. And since I've spent nearly six weeks studying the craft of writing, I will rewrite my last statement for dramatic tension.


And I'm not going anywhere for a good long time.

Squaw Valley was incredible. A week of workshops, craft talks, and agent and editor panels, all organized by an amazing group of people who do it for all the right reasons. It really is a community of writers, in every sense of the phrase.

Friday, August 3, 2007


What an overwhelming week of movement, transitions, departures, reunions, and surprises. A week in New York with Bryan. A surprise bridal shower (graciously thrown by my future mother-in-law and attended by plenty of O'Neill women), a terrible Broadway show (thank goodness for half-price tickets), and art and science museums.

I'm off to Squaw Valley tomorrow morning. No internet access, so I'll have to save up all my Tahoe and writing adventures to recap here later.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Jamaica Kincaid was a bit late to this afternoon's Q&A. So to pass the time, poet Henri Cole asked audience members to stand up and recite any poems we had memorized. I was surprised and saddened to realize I didn't know any. The best I can do is the opening lines to A Prayer for Owen Meany...

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

It gets better from there, but I can't remember anymore. It's a great beginning, but I should know a poem, dammit! (And maybe a little more from Owen Meany's first paragraph.) So this is the task I'm set for myself, to memorize a really great poem. And then who knows? Maybe I'll want to memorize another. Another? For starters, I'm thinking maybe something by Carl Sandberg or Emerson.

I challenge others to do the same. Come on, at least it's not the multiplication table.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

With the Finish Line in Sight

Tonight was a one-two punch of literary readings...Robert Stone and Allan Gurganus. Stone's piece was an excerpt from his memoir, and concerned a trip he took with Ken Kesey el at. Merry Pranksters down to Mexico. So much of what I've heard here over the last month has been preoccupied with New York or the east coast, that it was refreshing to hear about somewhere. And not simply somewhere else, but California, even if it was the top half.

Allan Guganus read a funny, sad, indelible story about a senile old man, told from his son's perspective.

Today was my last workshop. It's been an incredible month, helpful to my writing in myriad ways...ways I know I won't fully comprehend for another few months.

Ten-year high school reunion!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Two-for-one (Entry for Friday and Saturday)

Last night's reading included Ricky Moody. His piece was a sequel to a story titled "Story with Advice*," which he previously published in Conjunctions. The basic premise is a newspaper advice columnist continuing to answer readers' questions, all of which center around death and the afterlife. Suffice to say, it was very funny and astute.

I realized I haven't yet commented on this second workshop, which is lead by Rick. So here's my comment: it's going great. There are seventeen of us brave workshoppers, almost half of whom are from New York. Last session, nearly half of the participants were Californians.

A friend who's also training for Superfrog has begun calling it "The Frog." So henceforth, this blog will simply refer to it as "The Frog."

I did a brick today in preparation for The Frog, 2:30 on an exercise bike and a 30-minute run. I spent a good amount of the cycling session wondering why exercise bikes don't have split seats (and why I didn't bring my bike with me to Skidmore). There have been sweeping advancements in the world of exercise equipment--elliptical cycles, neoprene-convered dumbbells, disinfectant to rid machines of cooties. Why can't someone streamline the shape of the exercise bike seat and put a crevice down its middle?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Too Smart For My Own Blog

While waiting for tonight's reading to begin (Lee Abbott and Binnie Kirshenbaum, both very enjoyable) I looked over at the person next to me, an older gentleman, and silently remarked to myself the chances of seeing someone at a literary event who looks like John Updike. He had his thick grey hair, his sport jacket, his characteristic nose, everything your mind flashes to when picturing the great novelist. And so while Lee Abbott read, my mind wandered (although Lee's story was engrossing, really) and I wondered how my situation would make an interesting blog entry--sitting next to someone at a reading who looks like John Updike. I really turned it over in my head--the generous smile, the brown leather loafers, it all fit the "type" of John Updike.

Later at the reception, a workshop mate tipped me off to the fact that John Updike was in fact in the audience. And yes, he was sitting next to me. I hear he has a house nearby, and sometimes drops in for the Skidmore readings. Usually, writers of stature sit in the cordoned-off front row. But he chose to slip into the audience...and next to a spacey young woman.

So what was going to be a funny blog entry is hopefully still that, but in a different way. I never mind when the joke is on me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


So I am finally going to do Superfrog this year. Since I'm without my bike for a month, the best I can do is an exercise bike in Skidmore's gym. This evening I did a 75-minute cycle and 20-minute run. It went surprisingly well, but that could be because the "bike" was devoid of wind resistance, three-way stops, stop lights, traffic, Del Mar Fair traffic, hills, angry motorists, flying objects, potholes, road construction, other cyclists, runners, baby strollers, skateboarders, rain, wind, or lobsters on the road (to be fair, I only encountered this once). It was easy, but it was boring as all hell. And I was forced to watch some western on the tv nearest to me. I don't know how this guy, or this guy, did it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lake George

A woman in my workshop took myself and another workshop mate out on her boat on Lake George. After being on campus for two weeks, it was a perfect getaway. And the weather coorperated, too; high seventies, no humidity. We swam and motored around a portion of the very big lake.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Halfway Point

Marilynne Robinson read from Gilead this evening. At the reception, my class assembled three tables and a bunch of chairs, and peppered her with questions about writing. She led our workshop for a week, but somehow there wasn't enough time to ask these questions. She graciously answered one and all.

Most of the people in my workshop aren't staying on for session II and gave me what they didn't want to take home. Anyone need a hangar? I wish I had enough clothes to use them all.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The McCannMan

Tonight was the Tri Club McCannMan Aquathlon. I did my own McCannMan in honor of Jim here in Saratoga Springs by swimming in the pool and running through campus. I almost left the conference early, opting to head home after the first session, but life is appallingly short.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Long-haul Trucker

Joyce Carol Oates read tonight and it was simply amazing. Her story, which imagined the last days of Ernest Hemingway's life, had a deeply affecting compassion for the characters, delivered with a lyric intensity that seduced a listener, like a snake charmer's flute to a cobra. After nearly two weeks at Skidmore--my time spent considering and reconsidering and re-reconsidering how one tells a story--to hear something complete and successful and beautiful reminded me that it can be done, and why I want to do it.

Afterwards she took audience questions, and at one point compared her job as a writer to that of a truck driver. In essence, she makes the long haul, day and night and with blinding oncoming lights, occasionally careening into ditches and then having to get the darn thing back out the mud, all for the finish line. Which isn't really a finish line but a quick rest stop, before making the trip again.

Random non sequitur: check out this house. Who knew Agoura was so hip?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007, Flashlight Reading

Alix Ohlin and Charles Simic read tonight. I'd heard good things about both of them (they both lived up to their press) and was looking forward to the reading. But I didn't expect it to be such a memorable evening. With the power out across campus (and the city of Saratoga Springs), they read by flashlight. Charles Simic confessed he couldn't read the poems he'd originally planned on, and instead chose ones appropriate for the unusual evening...including one referencing Hieronymous Bosch...any poem referencing Hieronymous Bosch is a-okay with me.

I know you're wondering, is she feverishly typing to get this out before her computer battery dies? Thankfully, the power was eventually restored, and my air conditioner is churning out cool air.

I met with Marilynne for a one-on-one about my manuscript. Essentially, she told me to wipe away the artifice of an imposed plot, and trust my instinct about what first interested me in the story. It's good advice...and requires a big rewrite. And one I won't be doing until I get the okay from my instinct.

Monday, July 9, 2007


My novel excerpt was workshopped today. It was very helpful. I'm going to let the thing sit for a few months and return to short stories, but really, this means it was very helpful.

Everyone in the Writers program has told me I look about 18. So I've gotten used to feeling like a young'in here, as some nebulous, ill-defined "they" say. But when lifting weights this afternoon in the school's gym (the weather gods are playing a cruel joke on the northeast, and I couldn't possibly run in 9000% humidity), with gangster rap music blaring, I made one final pull on the rowing machine and thought, I am old.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


I've been trying to photograph one of these suckers for a week now. This is the fuzzy result.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Bedtime Story

Michael Ondaatje read tonight from his latest book, Divisadero. A Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist reading a story set in central California in an auditorium in upstate New York. It almost made me forget who I was and what was real and imaginary.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Breakfast with Ballerinas

The Summer Writers Institute is one of several summer programs happening at Skidmore. This morning I ate breakfast (a surprisingly good bowl of oatmeal) surrounded by ballerinas--each in footless tights, at least one article of pink clothing, and their hair pulled into a perfect bun (even the ones who looked eight years old. Are hair buns as elementary as first position? Mine are always lopsided).

Yesterday I passed several suspiciously masculine-looking girls on my way to the cafeteria. Once there I saw a dozen young boys in drag. These are the same kids who I've also seen spooled in masking tape. There must be a theatre program on campus.

And lots of other artsy-types in general. Because on my way across campus, I spotted the world's longest daisy chain.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fourth of July

This best sums up my Fourth of July. No, I didn't reread one of my favorite books. And no, Richard Ford wasn't on campus. But with Skidmore completely denying the holiday, and saddled with 90 pages of manuscripts to read, this is as close as I got to any type of American celebration. Maybe next year.

My day's most festive activity was a run in the rain. It was beautiful.

Mary's take-way phrase from today's workshop was "No Cheetos in fiction." Which means no fluff. Making every word count. It applies to my month here, too. Making every writing and reading session count. Then I'll go home, back to the real world, and make every moment with Bryan count.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Skidmore College

The sights...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

New York, New York

When a workshop mate tells you how, while wearing a tomato-red down parka, she smacked into Mikhail Baryshnikov on a busy sidewalk and levelled the lithe dancer, you know it's going to be an epic summer in New York.

Monday, June 25, 2007

This was my first day of either being unemployed or a full-time writer. (Perspective is everything.) And on this day, I received my first payment for a piece of fiction. $25 from the groovy Joseph Levens at The Summerset Review. Thanks, Joseph.

I wore a wetsuit for tonight's swim; no screwing around with hypothermia like on Saturday. I wore it for the San Diego International Tri yesterday, too. Bryan and I swim-buddied and were happy to have a layer of neoprene. Swimming slowly alongside an unsure athlete sucks your body heat into the water. Congrats to Tom, Becky, and Pam on great races.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Carpe Diem

(Photos by Bryan O'Neill)

Tom, Greg, Bryan L, Pam, and I braved the 67-degree ocean this morning (no wetsuits, only weenies wear wetsuits in open-water swims) for the 2.5k Pier-to-Cove swim put on by the fine La Jolla Cove Swim Club. Here's my race report: it was cold. It was cold and I can't sight for shit. But it was fun.

When you're by yourself for an hour, you think about things. I thought about how Jim was always encouraging people interested in triathlon to give it a try. You've never swum in the ocean? We want you. The only bike you've ridden had training wheels? We want you. You're overweight? We want you. And we don't just want you to show up and complete the workouts or finish the races. We want you to find what you can do to help others. We want you to take those ideas you've been kicking around and make them happen.

So I swam the race with thoughts of Jim. It was a beautiful day.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sonic Boom

I heard the shuttle return home today. I was on my way to lunch with Veronika when the boom resounded through campus. All of southern California knew the shuttle had returned.

But things and people come and go all the time. And their movements are rarely accompanied by a signal flare.

There's a lot of snatching going on. People are whisked away. They slip out.

TCSD attracts all types. Some of us are tri geeks, others are casual athletes. Some dream about durace casettes, others are happy with a cleansing Friday Cove swim. But we all love this sport. And Jim wanted us to be a part of it. Every *single* one of us. He knew it would make us more confident, more physically fit, reduce our stress, provide direction and goals, distract us from work, give us utter joy. And most of all, we would find great friends.


This was my last day at work. Another ending and the possibility of a newness with another beginning. You use what's passed to propel you up the next hill. You use the legacy of someone to effect those still with you.
Club Website
Triathlete Magazine
San Diego Union-Tribune Forum
Competitor Magazine
TCSD Ironman Interview

Thursday, June 21, 2007


The Tri Club's president passed away yesterday. Perhaps I'll have some perspective on this soon, but for now I'm simply numb. This is a huge loss for everyone who knew him and the local triathlon community.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Good, Bad, and Good of Human Interaction

My dad called this afternoon. He'd read yesterday's entry and wanted to know if his phone call would make it onto the blog like Patchen's. He said he thinks blogs are interesting because readers can gauge the pritorities of the writer. That man is so incisive. Anyhow Dad, of course you made it here.

Riding home from work, a passenger shouted something while his truck was passing me. I'm sure it was obscene, but I honestly have no idea what he said. Come on, misogynistic men of the world; if you're going to insult women on bicycles, please make your words audible! I like to know what people find so wrong about me riding along, mind my own business and sticking to the bike lane, sparing the world some CO2.

I returned this evening to a short story. On Saturday my writing workshop gave comments, and these have proved enormously helpful. In the rest of our lives we are incredibly different. But once a month we gather to talk about stories and poems, to give our thoughts and suggestions. This is going on all over the world, in the smallest cities and among all types of people. Thanks, ladies.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Insert Your Own Title Here

I ducked out of work for a couple hours this afternoon for my book club. This month was "favorite children's stories" and the girls shared books they'd bought for their newborns on a recent trip to a bookstore. We had an interesting discussion on whether children should be exposed to fairy tales and other "lies" like the Tooth Fairy. Most of the girls thought it was fine, but some believed it would only delude the child about the harsh realities of life. These girls have gone through hell in their short lives, but I don't always realize the profound effects of such a trauma. It was only a couple minutes into the discussion that I realized I'd been holding my breath.

After work I jetted over to Shores for a swim. It was my first Monday swim of the year without a wetsuit. The water was 67, which is just on the cusp of being comfortable for me. As Pam and I waded in, we looked at each other and wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into. Nearly everyone else was covered in neoprene. But the water was fine once I got going. Stopping at the halfway buoy, though, was another issue. Swim, swim, swim, and I'm fine. Stop for one second and I'm instantly cold, kicking a mean eggbeater and sculling to try and stay warm. Its effects were only marginal and I swam double-time back to the shore. Still, it was a great swim, and a bit liberating being without a wetsuit.

I emerged from the sea to a voicemail from my good friend Patchen. A couple months ago, I'd asked him to give a reading at my wedding (something related to love or life or some equally serendiptious thing). He'd called to say he may not be able to make it because of work. Which makes me sad but I completely understand. The best part of his phone call was the declaration that "I've been writing 500 words every day. It doesn't matter if they're good words because I'm doing it consistently." This made me so happy. Juggling a pay-the-bills job with an artistic pursuit is difficult. Especially with the complications of rent, health insurance, the approval of family, the salary raises of friends and feeling like you don't measure up. But Patchen is capable of some really fine writing and although we can get distracted, you always return to a stasis of what you should be doing.

Opening Day

With a bag of peanuts slung across my shoulder and a wad of singles for change, I'm ready for business. This blog has come about for an upcoming trip to the New York State Summer Writer's Institute, where I'll spend a month working on a novel.